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The Message of Paul's Life by J R Miller
J. R. Miller, 1904
Paul's First Missionary Journey:
Cyprus (Acts 13:1-13)
Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14-52)
Iconium and Lystra (Acts 14)
Paul's Second Missionary Journey:
Antioch to Philippi (Acts 16:6-15)
The Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:16-40)
Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1-15)
At Athens (Acts 17:16-34)
Close of Paul's Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:1-22)
Paul's Third Missionary Journey:
Ephesus (Acts 19:8-20)
The Riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-20:1)
Farewells (Acts 20:22-38)
Close of Paul's Third Missionary Journey (Acts 21:1-17)
The Arrest (Acts 21:17-22:29)
The Plot (Acts 22:30-23:35)
Before Felix (Acts 24:10-27)
Before Festus and Agrippa (Acts 25, 26:19-32)
The Voyage (Acts 27:1-26)
The Shipwreck (Acts 27:27-28:10)
In Rome (Acts 28:11-31)
Conversion of the Persecutor
The first mention of Saul is in Acts 7:58, at the close of the story of the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. We are told that when the witnesses who had given testimony against Stephen were about to cast the first stone at the condemned man, they "laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul." It is further said of him that he was consenting to Stephen's death, or taking pleasure in it. Although Saul was called a young man, he was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, Acts 26:10, and so must have been above thirty years old. Men were called young in those days—until forty or forty-five.
Young as he was, Saul was full of zeal for the Jewish church, in which he had been trained. Earnestly believing that the followers of Christ were making a mistake, he became a chief agent in persecuting those who were known as Christians. Having received authority from the rulers, he searched far and near for the deluded people. Entering into every house, he dragged out men and women, committing them to prison.
It was perhaps after he had been engaged in the work of persecution for several months, that he went to the high priest and asked for letters to the rulers of the synagogues of Damascus, authorizing him to search there for Christians and take them away. As there were perhaps thirty or forty synagogues and not less than forty thousand Jews in Damascus, he thought he would have abundant opportunity to serve God there, by uncovering those who had become adherents of "the way," as the Christians were described. The Christians still worshiped in the synagogues. The men and women whom he uncovered, were to be taken to Jerusalem to be tried before the Sanhedrin, which alone could pronounce the death sentence.
The time necessary for making the journey to Damascus would be five or six days. Saul was allowed to go on unhindered until he had nearly completed his journey. Then "suddenly a light from heaven shined around about him." We gather further facts from the other accounts of this occurrence given by Paul himself in chapters 22 and 26. The time was about noon, and the sun's light was at its brightest; yet this great light shone above the brightness of the sun. Saul's companions saw it—as well as himself. It was not any natural phenomenon, like lightning. It was not a mere vision—but an actual occurrence. It was nothing less than the appearance to the persecutor—of the glorified Jesus. This is evident from the words addressed to Saul, "Why do you persecute me?" Also from what Ananias said to him subsequently; from the words of Barnabas; and from Paul's own reference to the fact that he had seen Jesus (chapter 22:14; 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8).
Every word in the question asked him by Jesus is emphatic: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" What could be the reason? What cause had Jesus ever given for such treatment? If he had been a despot or a tyrant when on the earth; if he had gone about burning towns and pillaging and desolating homes, crushing the weak and the poor, and causing pain and poverty and sorrow, there would have been some excuse for Saul's animosity. But he had gone about doing good, scattering blessings, healing, comforting, lifting up, helping, and teaching. "Why this treatment?" "Why do you persecute me?"
The question became personal. He had to stand face to face with the glorified Christ and answer why he, Saul, was his enemy. This personal relation of every human soul to Christ is a very startling thought. We are not lost sight of in any crowd. We must each stand before Christ as individuals, and settle our own relation to him.
"Why do you persecute me?" He had never lifted a hand against Christ. It is not likely that he ever saw him. This persecution Saul had been carrying on—had not touched Christ. Ah! But whatever touched any of his followers—touched him. Christ identifies himself so closely with his own people—that he feels every pain, every wrong, and every cruelty toward any of them—as personal to himself! Parents can understand this. If anyone strikes my child, he strikes me! A husband can understand it. If anyone injures his wife, the injury touches him. These close human relationships help us to understand how dear believers are to Christ, and how well defended they are. This truth teaches us also to be most careful how we treat others lest we be found lifting up our hand against Christ—in the person of some of his lowly followers.
Saul's reply was instant: "Lord, what will you have me to do?" Here is a case of immediate surrender to Christ. He had not believed Jesus to be the Messiah. He had supposed him to be but an ordinary man, perhaps self-deceived, perhaps a deceiver. He had supposed that he was dead, and that the belief of his followers in his resurrection was either a delusion on their part, or a conspiracy. Now, however, he saw Jesus for himself, saw him living and glorified; heard from his own lips who he was. Before this plain appearance, all doubt vanished. He saw that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. And at once he accepted him and yielded to him, transferring his allegiance to him and asking for direction.
This second question also presents several emphatic points. "What will you have me to do?" Every disciple must do something; everyone has a mission. "What will you have me to do?" Christ has the sole right to command us and give us our work. We get our work from him. "What will you have me to do?" Duties are individual. Each one's work is personal. Everyone's life is a plan of God. "What will you have me to do?" It has been remarked that he showed the same eagerness of zeal that many young converts show, in wanting to do something right away, while there was something to be done in him first.
Jesus told the trembling man to go into the city; it would be told him what he must do. And this is how Jesus prepared the way for him. He spoke to Ananias, one of his disciples in Damascus, as follows: "Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul." This remarkable verse shows how intimately acquainted our Lord is with all the circumstances of our lives. He knows our names and the street and the number of the house in which we live or are stopping, and just what are we doing. We need never fear that we are forgotten or overlooked by him in the crowd, or that he has too many things to do at any moment to attend to our needs. Especially if we are seeking light and peace we may be sure that he keeps his eye upon us and will not fail to send help.
The reason was clearly stated why Ananias should seek Paul: "Behold, he prays." When men pray on the earth, God knows it. A little child sat musing on her mothers' knee, and she said to herself, "When I being to say my prayers, God says to the angels, ‘Keep quiet; I hear a noise!' And when they ask, ‘What noise?' he answers, ‘A little girl's prayer.' Then all the angels stop their singing and playing on their harps until I say Amen." The child's sweet imagination is not far from the truth. Although God does not need to stop the angels' songs, he does hear every "little girl's noise," and listens until she says Amen. He knows when anyone is praying anywhere on this crowded earth.
But Ananias objected, "Lord, I have heard . . . of this man, how much evil he has done."
It is hard for us to believe that a very wicked man has truly been converted. We are apt to doubt his profession. We need to be very careful at this point lest we refuse Christian sympathy and help to one whom Christ wants us to help in starting in his new life.
Jesus' answer was ready, "He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name." He is a vessel—nothing more. We are nothing in ourselves; we have nothing in ourselves to give to men; we are only vessels to carry that which God may give us. "A chosen vessel." He had been chosen from the beginning, for the work to which he was now called. He spent years as a bitter enemy of Christ—but he was still the Lord's chosen vessel, waiting only the appointed time to be called into service. He was to bear Christ's name. That is what God wants us to do in this world, not to carry our own wisdom, our own sympathy and love, our own help—to men; but to carry his name, the message of his grace and love, the bread from his table.
Ananias obeyed at once. Coming into the house of Simon, and finding Saul, "Ananias . . . putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, Jesus, has sent me." God often uses his human servants to answer men's prayers. He likes to send blessings to distressed souls—through human hands. We should always be ready to impart comfort or strength or to give help or joy to other souls, for it may be that God has sent us to them for this very purpose. We should give a cordial welcome and prompt brotherly friendship to every new convert. He may never need our help so much again, as just at the beginning. A hand of friendship now, may lead him into the light; that hand withheld, may leave him to walk long in darkness.
Then Ananias ministered unto Saul, who had been blind since he had seen the vision of Jesus. His sight was restored, and he rose and was baptized. From that day, he was a zealous in the service of Jesus—as he had been in the persecution of the Christians. He remained some days with the disciples in the city. That was not the way he had meant to pass his time in Damascus. He intended to search out all the believer in the city and drag them off to Jerusalem for trial, and perhaps for death. He intended to begin a fierce and unrelenting persecution against the disciple. Instead of this, he was with the disciples in close and loving fellowship. He came hating them; he stayed loving them and forming close friendships with them. He came to destroy; he stayed to help. This shows what the grace of God can do, what one look at Jesus can do.
More than this, he became a worker for Christ. "Immediately he preached Christ in the synagogues." 9:20. Here is an example for all young converts. They should at once begin to testify for Christ. They should immediately show where they stand. It is better for themselves, for by boldly confessing Jesus before the world—they cut themselves loose from all entanglements.
A young sailor was converted at the Mariner's Bethel, New York. One evening at the close of the service, he came to the minister in charge with a large card and asked him if he would write something on it for him. "You can do it better than I can," he said. The minister took the card and asked, "What shall I write?" "Put on it," said the young seaman, ‘I love Jesus—Do you?' Make it large and plain." When the words were written the minister asked him what he was going to do with the card. "I go to sea tomorrow," he replied, "and I am going to tack this on my bunk before I sail, and then they will all know at once where I stand." He did the right thing. He took his true place at first, and there was no question after that—as to where he stood.
A Christian who has not come out boldly for Christ, is always entangled by his old associations. He had better cut all entanglements by coming clear out for Christ, at first. This is the true way, too, to honor Christ. As soon as he has saved us and we have given ourselves to him—we should begin to serve him and work for him.
There was another strong impulse in Saul's case. He had been a bitter persecutor. He had done all he could to destroy the cause of Christ. Now he felt an irresistible desire to correct and undo the evil he had wrought. Still another motive in the same direction—is our duty to others. We have found Christ ourselves, and we should seek at once to have others receive the same blessing.
Of course, the Christians were surprised. They began to ask, "Is not this the man who destroyed those who called on this name?" Yes, the same man. Yet it is not wonder the people could scarcely believe it. Surely it was a marvelous transformation. It would indeed be far less strange if we saw a lion changed into the gentleness and harmlessness of a lamb! We must not fail to ask how this transformation was wrought. Was it the result merely of Saul's own meditations and reflections on the way to Damascus? Was it caused by a lightning flash which stunned and blinded him and threw him from his horse, thus frightening him? Was it affected by the talk he had with Ananias and his earnest words in the house of Judas? Was he won over by the disciples into whose company he had fallen?
The simple answer to the question, is that he met Jesus in the way and was thoroughly convinced that he was the Messiah, and at once accepted him as such; and that he received the Holy Spirit when Ananias visited him. The change was wrought therefore by seeing Christ, believing on him and being filled with the Holy Spirit. It was as much a divine work—as was the creation of Adam. This same power is working in Christianity wherever it goes. That is what gives such triumph to the gospel everywhere.
As Saul's work continued, he "increased the more in strength." This is another point to be marked in the history of this young convert. He seemed very earnest at first—but he grew in grace. He became stronger—stronger in faith, stronger in work and argument, and stronger in influence. The same should be true of every young Christian. No matter how well he starts, his course should be like "the shining light that shines more and more unto the perfect day." Faithfulness is good in a Christian—but progress is better. There are too many people who enter the Church and never get past their starting point. Babies are very sweet and beautiful—but we would not want them always to remain babies. Yet a good many Christians remain "babes" all their life. See Ephesians 4:13-15 for a description of what should and should not be the history of every Christian life. Saul is an example of the right kind of life. He grew.
Naturally the Jews did not welcome this activity on the part of one who had been their helper. They "took counsel to kill him."
The world does not like earnestness. It has killed many of its best and most earnest men, and has persecuted many more. So long as a man moves on quietly and takes no decided stand, and does not have any opinions of his own, or, if he has, does not press them with any particular ardor—the world will let him live in peace, and will pat him on the back and call him "a good fellow." But let him grow earnest and begin to think for himself, and then put emphasis into his utterances, and begin to work with zeal and intensity and enthusiasm, and the world wants to kill him! It is a great deal easier and safer just to live quietly and never speak out and never grow enthusiastic. Whether it is the best way—is another question. When these Jewish enemies sought to kill him, and lay in wait for him at a gate of the city, he escaped in a basket, which was let down from the wall by some of the disciples. Then he hurried back to Jerusalem.
At Jerusalem Saul tried to join the disciples—but they were afraid of him. A bad name clings to a man for a long time. It is almost impossible to outgrow it. One's past life throws a shadow over one, from which it is hard to escape. It takes a good many years sometimes of faithful life and service—to win back the confidence which has been forfeited by a very brief period of wrong living.
"But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles." Here we have an illustration of the office and the value of true Christian friendship. Saul yet lay under suspicion among those who had known him in his former days as a fierce enemy of Christianity. Barnabas knew that he was now a sincere Christian and ought to be no longer under suspicion, and he became his friend, speaking manly words for him and winning for him the confidence of the other believers. It was a noble and beautiful act, and shows us what we should be ready to do on every similar occasion. How much help it was to Saul—we can easily understand.
Many a young Christian needs just such a friend as Barnabas was to Saul. Most of us have known others who were unjustly under suspicion, who was suffering from some past error, or who was misunderstood. Have we spoken the few brave words needed to set them in proper light? It is very easy to fall into the current that sets against another, or to keep quiet even when we know the person is unjustly blamed; but it is not the Christian way. The way Barnabas treated Saul, is the Christian way.
Barnabas had been sent to Jerusalem to take charge of the Christians in the city. He found that everywhere there seemed to be an open door for the gospel. He saw at once that there was need for other helpers. Then it was that he thought of Saul. Saul had left Jerusalem and had retired to his old home in Tarsus. He seems to have been living there in obscurity. He probably had become disheartened and discouraged, perhaps feeling that he was not to have an opportunity to do much in the Church.
There are good men whom the coldness and indifference of others, prevent from taking the place in the Church which they might take. Sometimes men get even soured and embittered by the lack of confidence and interest in them. We do not know precisely what Saul's mood was in Tarsus—but it seems that if it had not been for Barnabas, he might have remained there altogether, and have been lost to the Church, buried in his studies, living perhaps the life of a recluse, and all his magnificent labor would have been lost to the Church. But when another man was needed to enter upon the great work at Antioch, Barnabas thought at once of Saul. The record says, "Then Barnabas departed to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch."
One of the most distinguished scientific men of the latter part of the eighteenth century was Sir Humphry Davy. He made many great discoveries and added many valuable contributions to science.
Among those who worked with Sir Humphry Davy as a journeyman and amanuensis was Michael Faraday. He was employed at first only at weekly wages in unimportant positions. But soon it became apparent that Faraday was himself possessed of a great genius for scientific researches and discoveries. It is said that when Sir Humphry Davy was asked what had been his greatest discovery, he said, "Michael Faraday!" He claimed to have been himself the discoverer of Faraday, of his gifts and possibilities, and the means of bringing him to public notice and to his high place.
We may say that Barnabas was the discoverer of Paul. He seems to have been the only man who recognized in the young convert, the abilities he had for work and service. But for Barnabas, Saul might have remained all his life in obscurity! Think what the world would have lost—if Paul had not been discovered and had never been led into his place of marvelous usefulness. So far as we can see, Christianity never would have attained the place it holds in the world—had it not been for Paul. He became the great missionary, carrying the gospel to all lands. He became the writer, also, of the fourteen Epistles which have had such wonderful influence all these centuries. It is high honor, therefore, that belongs to Barnabas in having been the discoverer of Paul.
It showed also a beautiful spirit in Barnabas that he was willing to bring into the work with him at Antioch, a man who almost certainly would soon surpass him in usefulness and power among men. At the beginning we read of Barnabas and Saul—but soon the order of the names is reversed, and we read of Saul and Barnabas. Some people are afraid to help others into positions, or to encourage them in doing their work—lest these people excel them and go beyond them, by and by, in honor. Barnabas seems to have been entirely free from any jealousy or envy of this kind. He was willing to help Saul to a place of usefulness, although he knew that in a little while—he himself would be left in the shadow by the superior brilliance of his young helper. The Christian who would do the greatest good in the world—must have the same spirit as Barnabas. Jealousy of each other is always a most unchristian spirit!
We must seek first the honor of Christ and the advancement of his cause—and not the promotion of our own dignity and influence! There is not one of us who may not be tempted at some time, to wrong behavior in this regard. Suppose Barnabas had grown jealous of Paul when he saw him in Antioch revealing his best gifts, preaching wonderful sermons, getting masterly influence over the people, and going quietly forward in his humility and lowliness—to the highest place!
The man who accepts the lowest place, when it is evident that the Master wants him to take that place, and does the work humbly, sweetly, rejoicingly, honoring meanwhile his brother, who is being divinely led to the highest place—is showing a spirit like his Master's. On the other hand, the man who is not willing to take a lowly and obscure place, claiming a place of earthly honor instead—is only dishonoring himself, and belittling his influence for power and good.
Paul's First Missionary
We have here the beginning of foreign missions. It was at Antioch, the church which had been built up by Barnabas and Paul, which proved a center of holy influence, reaching out widely. This church was blessed with an unusual number of earnest and efficient workers. Being so strong, it became its duty to spare some of its valuable helpers to carry the gospel elsewhere.
It is interesting to study the names here recorded. Some of them are mentioned only here. Manaen was an active Christian worker, foster brother of Herod. There could not have been a much worse man than Herod. Yet the boys were nursed by the same foster mother, growing up amid the same influences, and Herod became a wicked, unscrupulous, degraded man—while Manaen grew into saintly character. There is encouragement here for those who find themselves living in unfavorable conditions. No boy need decide that, because his home influence is not wholesome, therefore he is doomed to be a wicked man.
It is probable that the meeting referred to in the second verse, had been called by the ministers to pray for the heathen world, and to ask for guidance regarding their own duty. When God wants to have a good work done—he puts the thought into one or more of his people. Then they begin to pray—and the blessing comes!
We should notice that the missionaries were not chosen by the Church itself—but by the Holy Spirit. So this foreign missionary movement was not merely an outgrowth of religious enthusiasm. God himself began it. He named the first missionaries. When the Spirit had indicated who should be sent out on this new mission, the Church set them apart. "When they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." It was not easy to give up these two good men. They were the best ministers of this Antioch church, too, that were chosen for this mission to the heathen. Yet the people did not say, "We cannot spare these good men!" They were ready at God's call to make the sacrifice and to give up their best workers to carry the gospel message over the sea.
The men went forth under the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit. "They, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit . . . sailed to Cyprus." It is a great thing to be sent forth by the Holy Spirit. If we live as we may live—we are thus divinely sent forth every day and upon every errand. If we start always at God's feet in the morning, asking him for guidance, he will lead us where he would have us to go and give us the work he would have us to do.
There is a work for all kinds of helpers. A little sentence here tells us about John who went with Barnabas and Saul as their attendant. This is the Mark whom we know through the Gospel he wrote. He was not a preacher or even a teacher at this time; he was only a helper. He probably had to do many things that were not easy. This suggests that there are ways of helping in the Lord's work—besides being pastors, elders or Sunday school superintendents. The lesson is for young men like Mark. If they cannot be teachers, they can be helpers, and can find a great deal to do in the Lord's service.
Samuel ministered to the Lord in the tabernacle when he was only a child. He could not then do the work of a priest—but there were many things he could do. He could tend the door, look after the lamps, and run errands for Eli. So always there are many things which even the youngest Christians can do for the Master!
Wherever the gospel of Christ goes—it finds opposition. These missionaries in their work came into contact with a sorcerer who withstood them, and sought to interfere with their work. It was a superstitious age—and fortune tellers abounded everywhere. Even men of distinction—governors and others—were often under the influence of these men, and turned to them for counsel. This sorcerer was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, and when he found that his patron was listening to the teaching of the Christian missionaries, he tried to interfere. "Elymas the sorcerer . . . withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith." It is a great sin to try to turn any believer away from Christ, or to prevent anyone from coming to Christ. Yet there are at all times, people who are doing this very thing. They seek to cast doubt upon the religion of Christ and to keep back those who would accept it.
Paul (whose name in this form appears her for the first time) very strongly rebuked the sorcerer. He unmasked his heart, showing its blackness. "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?" This is not a bit of bad temper in Paul; he is exposing the man's wickedness, as the Spirit of God revealed it to him.
Judgment came swiftly upon the sorcerer. Paul said to him, "Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun! Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand." It was not Paul—but the Lord who inflicted this judgment. Elymas had been trying to blind the eyes of others—that they might not see Christ; and now he himself is struck with blindness! In Roman history is a story of one who had been hunted by the authorities, who, in order to save his life, disguised himself by wearing a black patch over one eye. When he had worn this for a long while, and when there was no longer any danger of his being discovered, he removed the patch—but his eyesight had now been destroyed. The darkening of the eye for a time in the practice of deception, led to the putting out of its light. If we stubbornly shut our hearts against the truth—the light that is in us will become blindness.
The influence of this judgment upon the proconsul was to lead him at once to accept Christ fully. "When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord!" The very punishment of Elymas became convincing proof to the proconsul of the power of God in the missionaries.
It is somewhat discouraging to read about John Mark's defection. When Paul and his company passed over into Perga, "John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem." When he saw what hardship he would have to endure if he continued on this missionary journey, he decided to withdraw. It showed lack of courage and of constancy in the young disciple. No one knows how much Mark lost through his discouragement and failure. Yet we must not too severely condemn him. It is probable that his early failure made him all the better Christian afterwards. At least his defection was only temporary.
It is pleasant to read, also, later in the story, that even Paul at length commended Mark, speaking of him in words of strong approval. We know that Mark became highly honored, also, as a writer of one of the Gospels. The lesson we learn is, that though a young man at the beginning of his Christian life may fail; this should not discourage him nor prevent his returning with new fervor and earnestness, to the work which he has once deserted.
Antioch in Pisidia--Acts 13:14-52
A change in the relative place of the two missionaries appears about this time. It was Barnabas and Paul when they were sent out—Barnabas, the leader, Paul, the associate. Now it is Paul and Barnabas. The reason for this change no doubt was that Paul, by his superior ability, naturally came to take the lead as the work went on. There is no indication of any feeling of envy on the part of Barnabas when he was thus superseded. Evidently he was so sincere in his devotion to his Master, and in his interest in the work—that he cared not who was first—if only the cause of Christ were advanced. It is not easy, however, for anyone who has been first—to take the second place, keep sweet and cheerful and work as earnestly as ever; but Barnabas seems to have gladly yielded to Paul, the place of leader. Love for Christ constrained him!
Paul and Barnabas attended the Jewish synagogue the first Sabbath after their arrival. After the opening worship, the presence of strangers being noted, and they being visitors from another country, they were invited to speak. Paul promptly availed himself of the invitation and spoke long and earnestly. He was addressing his own people, the Jews, and he told them the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his life, death, and resurrection. He then declared, "We declare unto you good tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God has fulfilled."
The people besought Paul to tell them the story again the next Sabbath. It would seem, too, that many at once accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Paul and Barnabas spoke to these new Christians and urged them to continue faithful. All the week the meeting was talked about and the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the new teaching.
Those who came out on the following Sabbath were not only the Jews—but also the Gentiles. This made the Jews angry. "When the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy." There are some people who never can bear to see others enjoy blessings. If they cannot have the good thing all to themselves, they do not want it at all. One of the first evidences of true conversion, is interest in others and the eager desire to tell others of the Savior and share the blessings of redemption with them.
It could not but grieve the missionaries, to have their own people treat the gospel in this way. But all they could do was to preach to those who would receive them. "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles." One truth taught here is that sinners can get clear of Christ—only by actually thrusting him away. He waits long and pleads earnestly with men. He presses the blessings of heaven upon our souls with loving persistency.
Another truth taught here, is that rejected blessings fly away. Who can tell what these Jewish people lost that day, in thrusting Jesus Christ from them? When they had rejected him, the offer was withdrawn from them and carried to others who would receive it. We must not forget Christ's command to the apostles, to shake off the dust from their feet as a testimony against the cities or towns that would rejectthem, while they hastened on to other places.
Then, we must never forget that every offer of grace which comes to us, leaves us under deeper guilt if we reject the offer. Let us beware lest through our rejection, our very light make the darkness of the world to come, more terrible for us. A writer says, "You may buy a New Testament for a dollar, yet it may be to you at last, the most costly possession you ever had." It may condemn you, because, having it, you rejected its light.
Paul put the rejection of Christ in an unusual light, when he told his hearers that their refusal to accept him, meant that they judged themselves unworthy of eternal life. The way we receive the Word of God when it comes to us—reveals our true character in God's sight. Every lost soul writes its own condemnation! Men perish only because they will not be saved. The very words of divine love, become droppings of divine fire upon the soul that rejects them.
It brought great joy to the Gentiles when the missionaries turned to them with the gospel. "When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad." Ofttimes it is not those who seem the most likely to accept the grace of God, who actually receive it. The Jews, who had been looking for the Messiah, rejected the Messiah when he came; while theGentiles, who had been regarded by the Jews as unworthy of salvation, gladly received Christ and entered the kingdom!
In the first verse of the following chapter, we are told that the missionaries "spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed." How did they speak—as to convince and lead to Christ, such a multitude of people? Was it their eloquent manner, or was it something in what they said, that won people's hearts and drew them to Christ? We all would like to know, for who does not with all his heart, desire to be a winner of souls? Who does not want to learn the art of speaking in such a way—as to lead men to believe? Many of us go on talking for years, and yet almost none are persuaded by our words to accept Christ. What is the trouble? Is it some defect in our elocution? Would it remedy the defect, if we should take lessons in oratory? Or is the fault in our language, and would a few lessons in English grammar and rhetoric make us more successful? Or may it be that the trouble lies within us, in our own hearts? Is it not worth while when we are at this place in the story—to try to find out just what the trouble is? How did Paul and Barnabas "speak" that the multitude believed?
As another illustration of the perverseness of human nature and its natural opposition to God, we are told that the "the Jews who refused to believe, stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds" against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. There are some people who when they do not like a person or when they have some grudge or prejudice against him, will take every opportunity to influence others against him.
One person, evilly disposed, can poison the minds of a whole community, turning them against the one he dislikes. We need to watch, lest unwittingly and unintentionally we fall into the habit of saying things against others—which we ought not to say of them. We have no right to use our dislikes to injure others.
Iconium and Lystra--Acts 14
The healing of the lame man at Lystra, made a great stir in the town. Lystra was a wild place. The traditional meaning of the name was Wolf-land, and the character of the people corresponded to this designation. They were easily excited and knew no self control. Paul was preaching and this lame man was in the audience. He had been a cripple—"a creeple," one who creeps—from his infancy. He had never walked. There seems to have been no request from the man himself for healing. There was something, however, in him which interested Paul. Probably it was the man's infirmity. His sorry condition made its own appeal. As Paul observed him from time to time, he noticed his intentness and earnestness, and saw that the man was accepting Christ. So he spoke to him, saying, "Stand upright on your feet." Instantly the man's faith responded, and he leaped up and walked.
People say there are no miracles in these days, and that if there were, that they would believe on Christ. But are there no miracles? Christianity itself is the most marvelous miracle the world ever knew. We have but to think what it has wrought in the world. Every day we see about us evidences of a divine power in the changing of lives, and in victories over weakness, temptation, sin and sorrow!
The effect of the miracle upon the people was startling. "When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, The gods have come down to us in human form!" What they said was true in a sense. God had come down in the likeness of men in Jesus Christ. Christ had returned to heaven, having accomplished his work on the earth—but now he lived again in the lives of these missionaries who had come to tell the people of God's love and mercy. God himself, though unseen, walks ever with us and lives among us. We do not need to go far to find him. Christ lives also in all his true followers. "Christ lives in me," said Paul himself. We do not need to speak of Christ's kindnesses in the past tense.
The apostles were great grieved, however, when the people came to offer sacrifice to them as deities. "When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you!" They would not for a moment accept the homage which belonged to God alone. They were but ministers of Christ, human messengers from God to the people, and they were horrified at the thought of being worshiped.
No one is coming to fall down and worship us and call us "gods," and yet we are in danger of allowing ourselves to come in between people and God. When we are doing Christ's work, helping and blessing others in his name: when people love us and express their gratitude for the good they have received at our hands—we are in danger of forgetting that the honor does not belong to us—but to Christ, and that if we take it as our own and do not point the grateful people to our Master—we are accepting that which ought to be laid at his feet only! It is always easier to get people to love us and thank us—than to love and thank Christ! We should most jealously guard the honor of our blessed Lord and turn every thought and every adoring word and all gratitude and trust—toward him; seeking to be nothing—that he may be all in all.
Paul and Barnabas hastened to tell the people what they should do. "We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them!" Idols are worthless things. They have no power to give help. We all know this. We would not turn to a marble statue of Jupiter, if we were in trouble; we know that it could give us no help. But there are idols which are not carved in statues. Wealth, power, pleasure, honor, self—are idols, and are just as really vanities—empty and worthless things—as were those which Paul and Barnabas condemned. When we are in need, in trouble, in sorrow, in the depth of remorse, in the presence of death—what power have any of these things to give us comfort, help, or deliverance? There is only one living God, who can aid us in any of the great needs of life. If we rest on anything but God—we shall find ourselves in fearful plight when our trust is swept away from us—and we have nothing left to which to cling!
The missionaries spoke to the people further of the living God whose messengers they were. He had not left himself without witness even to heathen people—but had done them good, giving them rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. We ofttimes forget that the common mercies of life are evidences of a Father's loving thought and care for his children. There is no such thing as 'chance' in this world. God, too, sends the rains, orders the seasons and brings the harvests. In enjoying the gifts—we should not forget the Giver. In accepting and using the blessings, we should not fail to see the Hand which brings them to us!
Now we have an illustration of the fickleness of these Lystrans. One hour they came with their garlands and their offerings to honor the missionaries as deities; the next hour they were stoning them and dragging them out of the city! They dropped the garlands they had brought—and picked up stones and began to hurl them at Paul!
There is too much of the same kind of friendship in all times. Many people are very enthusiastic in their devotion to a leader—until someone comes and talks against him, when they veer around at once and become his violent enemies! Their friendship is only a selfish impulse. True friendship rests on character and is constant and firm, unaffected by what other people say. When enemies malign our friend—we cling to him all the more closely and stand by him all the more loyally, if our friendship is sincere. One of the lessons to learn here, is not to rely too much on the admiration of professed friends, when we are on the wave of popularity. Any evil word, any sinister influence, may in a day turn the whole drift of sentiment.
Another lesson to teach here, is the baseness of such fickle friendship as this. When we are friends, let us be loyal through all changes of sentiment. We see an illustration of this kind of faithfulness in the Christians at Lystra. "The disciples gathered around him." When Paul had been stoned and dragged out of the city, and left for dead, those who had become followers of Christ through his preaching, gathered around him, no doubt weeping over him as a friend they had lost. The secret was that these men had accepted Christ. Christ was the common bond. How nobly this little group, standing around the apparently lifeless body of the apostle, contrasts with the fickle crowd! It was dangerous at that time to profess friendship for the apostle—but these disciples did not think of their danger. They were one in Christ!
Paul's Second Missionary
Antioch to Philippi--Acts 16:6-15
Paul was "forbidden by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word in the province of Asia". We would say there is no place where one should not be glad to preach. But we see here that sometimes, even where there are people who need the Word, it may not be our duty to speak to them. God shuts doors—as well as opens them. We are not to do whatever work we find for ourselves—but what God gives us to do. Opportunities are not always doors of duty. There are needy places to which we are not to go—some other one must go to these, while we pass on to farther fields. We must then be as ready to accept the Lord's restrainings, as his leadings forward.
One night Paul had a vision. He saw a man of Macedonia standing, beseeching him, and saying, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us!"
Twice in the preceding verses, have we seen doors shut, because the Lord did not wish Paul to enter them, having other work waiting for him a little farther on. Now a great door was opened. There was a large and needy field lying beyond in the darkness. The gospel had never yet crossed over into Europe, and now God wanted Paul to carry it there. That is why he had hindered him from entering the other fields. So for all of us—some doors are shut and others opened. No vision may come to guide us in our work—but there will always be some kind of guidance if we are ready to go wherever God wants us to go.
Paul understood it now, and was eager to go into Macedonia. He was sure God had called him. "Immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia." This is a splendid example. Mark the word "Immediately." There was no loitering. The moment the Master called—the servant was ready. We should always promptly and cheerfully go wherever God sends us. We can never know what will come out of our doing just what he wants us to do, even though it be not what we would choose to do. Who can tell the result of Paul's crossing into Europe that day? He took Christianity there, and it became a power for blessing to all the Western world! Does there never break on our ears the cry, "Come over . . . and help us"? There certainly are human needs somewhere that appeal to us; what shall our answer be?
Paul's first preaching in Europe, was to a mere handful of godly women. It seemed a small beginning—but it was like a little spring from the mountains which are the source of a mighty river. No one can ever estimate the extent or the value of the influences which took their rise in that women's prayer meeting. Lydia was in the right place that day, too. She was in the place of blessing. It surely paid her well to shut up her shop and keep the Sabbath. Had she been absent for any reason from that service—she would have missed a great blessing which might never have come to her again. If we would make sure of receiving all the blessings God wants to give us—we must always be at the place of duty. It is never safe to stay away even once, from the Sunday school, or the church, or the prayer meeting, for that may be the time when some special blessing will be there for you!
"One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message." First, she listened while the apostle preached. Then the Lord opened her heart, yet in a certain sense she opened it herself. She never would have been saved—if there had been no divine hand at the door. The Lord has many ways of opening people's hearts.
"She was baptized." She did not wait until she had a certain experience as a Christian; she at once made confession of Jesus as her Savior, and herself as one of the friends and followers of Jesus. She did not try to be a Christian quietly, with no public confession, no declaration of her intention. She made her confession at once, and was the first person in Europe to become a Christian and to be baptized. She did the right thing. There should not be one hour's delay when one has decided to accept Christ. There is no place provided in the gospel, for secret discipleship, and dallying is always perilous. There are many people who are trying to be Christians—but hesitate about the public act of confessing Christ, and delay, thinking that by and by they will be better able to live a Christian life. But the whole New Testament is against any such delaying.
"When she was baptized, and her household, she begged us, come into my house, and abide there." Lydia promptly showed her faith by her works, and by her changed life. Not only did she become a Christian herself; she also brought her family with her. Everyone who is saved, ought to try to bring his family and his friends, also, to Jesus. Every parent who receives Christ, should strive to bring his children with him.
Another immediate fruit of her conversion, was her hospitality to the missionaries. Believing in Christ warms our hearts toward all Christ's friends. Love for Jesus—makes us love those who are his disciples. For his sake we want to show kindness to others. This is one of the surest marks of the Christian life. If the cruel man still remains cruel after professing to follow Christ, there must be something wrong; his heart has not admitted Christ. A man ought to be better, gentler, kindlier, even to his dog or his horse, after he has Christ in his heart. Especially must he be gentler and kindlier to other people, to other Christians, to the sick, to the poor, the weak, and the troubled.
The Philippian Jailer--Acts 16:16-40
As Paul and Timothy were going to the place of prayer at Philippi, they were attracted by an unfortunate girl possessed by a demon. She was used by her owners to make money for them. "She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling." They traded upon her supposed inspiration, using her as a fortune-teller. Paul was disturbed by her following him, and, being sore troubled on her behalf, he turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ—to come out of her!" Instantly the demon obeyed, and the girl was left sane. Her owners, however, were very angry, and had Paul arrested and dragged before the magistrates.
The missionaries were cast into a dungeon—but nothing could make prisoners of them. They refused to be crushed by the sufferings through which they had passed. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into the lower dungeon, their feet being fastened in stocks. At midnight a strange thing happened. The prisoners in other parts of the prison heard praying and singing. It seemed a strange time and place for a prayer meeting. It is not so surprising to hear of men praying in such circumstances, for even wicked men turn to God in distress—but it is certainly unusual to hear hymns in a dungeon.
Most people are in the singing mood, only when their condition is pleasant, and too often a very small trouble hushes every voice of song. But here were men singing, in the midst of greatest suffering. What was the secret? It was their strong faith in God. These missionaries had learned to rejoice even in tribulations. They had the peace of God in their hearts. Christ was with them in their prison, and instead of being cast down, they rejoiced.
Something else happened. There was a great earthquake. The prison walls were shaken, the doors were opened and the prisoners' chains were loosed. This was Heaven's answer to the prayers and songs of the dungeon. Heaven is not very far from earth—at least, it did not take long for the prayer to ascend and the help to return after these good men began to plead. No doubt the prayers rose all the more swiftly because they went up on the wings of song. God likes prayers that are songs—he likes them far better than complaining, repining prayers, such as too many people offer up when they are in trouble.
The prisoners were listening that night to the songs, and they must have been deeply impressed; but there was another Listener. We do not know for what these men prayed in the prison. Perhaps it was for release, if that were God's will. They may have recalled Peter's release, when the angel came and took off his chains, opened the gates and led him out to liberty. They knew that God could get them out in some way if that were the best thing for them, for he knows how to deliver his own children. No doubt they prayed that if God did not see fit to set them free—he would give them strength to bear their imprisonment submissively.
There is no prison too strong for God to break open; there are no chains too heavy for him to snap asunder, there are no walls too thick for him to shatter. There are other kinds of prisons besides those built with stone—prisons of trial, of temptation, of trouble, of circumstances. If we are in any of these, God is just as able to bring us out of them—as he was to release his servants that night at Philippi.
The conduct of the jailer was singular. When he was roused from sleep and saw the prison doors open, he supposed that the prisoners had all escaped, and knowing that he would be held responsible for them—he drew his sword to kill himself. He knew no better refuge from his trouble than this. But there was a better refuge. Paul saved him from this rash act. The gospel does not merely save men's souls from the pains of death; it also saves them from earthly dangers.
But soon another fear fell upon the jailer. Some strange power touched him, and, trembling from fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" What frightened the jailer so? Why did he ask this question with such dread? The danger was past; the earthquake was over; his prisoners were all safe. The worst danger in this world is not found in earthquakes and falling walls and the displeasure of despotic rulers. The jailer had a glimpse of another Judge, besides the emperor at Rome. He had a glimpse of God, and in the light that shined upon him he saw that he was a lost man!
The jailer had brought his question to the right place. Paul himself had experienced the consciousness of a perishing condition, had asked the same question and had found the true answer. So he told the jailer what to do, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ—and you shall be saved." Suppose the jailer had received a wrong answer—suppose someone who did not know how to answer had tried to tell him what to do. His soul would have been hopelessly lost! We should always be prepared to give the right answer to those who may come to us with questions like this. There was only one Savior, and the only way of salvation is by believing on him. What is it to believe on Jesus Christ? It is not enough to give an intellectual assent to the truths of the gospels. To 'believe on one' is to commit oneself to the person. There must be a committing of the soul with all its needs and dangers into the strong hands of Jesus Christ.
The trembling jailer accepted the gospel, committed himself to Christ and rose up a Christian man. We see the evidence of this at once—in the man's new spirit and character. "He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, set food before them, and rejoiced." Immediately after believing on Christ, the cruel pagan became as gentle as a kind woman! The love of Christ began to work in his heart—and to work out through his life. He became kindly and compassionate. At once he began to love the Disciples of Christ and to relieve the sufferings of the men who had told him the way of salvation. At once he made confession of Christ before his family and friends, and was baptized. He also began to rejoice. The songs the prisoners had been singing a little while ago in the dungeon, broke now from this new convert's lips, too. No better proof of conversion can be found, than what we see in him.
Thessalonica and Berea--Acts 17:1-15
The passage begins with an account of the passing of Paul and his company from Philippi to Thessalonica. These missionaries never rested. They went on continually from place to place. They were men with burning hearts. They had a great mission, and were intent upon fulfilling it. They had entrusted to them heavenly blessings which they must hasten to carry to a perishing world. Sometimes they only passed through a town, finding no way of reaching the people. But whenever they came to a place where they could stop and speak their message, they lingered. Thus, at Thessalonica, they found a Jewish synagogue, and at once began to tell there the story of Christ. We should get a lesson of earnestness, from the example of these men. God has given us the bread of life. All about us everywhere are hungry souls perishing! Are we eager to pass the bread to those who need it so sorely?
We have a glimpse of Paul's earnestness in this narrative. He had no missionary board back of him to support him. He worked at his trade of tent-making during the week, and then on the Sabbath went to the synagogue and preached. They were Jews to whom he spoke, and he sought to make it plain to them that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah for whom they had been waiting and hoping. As a rose with all its beauty and fragrance lies folded up in the unopened bud, so Paul found the whole gospel of Christ with all its preciousness wrapped up in the Old Testament. To him the Old Testament was like a nut. He broke the shell and found food in it, which he gave to the hungry people. "The Jews were like little children who had a fruit tree in their garden. They had gathered the nuts and laid them up with reverence in the storehouse—but they knew not how to break the hulls so as to get the meat out of the nuts." Paul does this for them, extracting the fruit and giving it to them.
The result of Paul's preaching was not entirely discouraging. Some of his hearers were persuaded and joined the company of the missionaries. They became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed their Messiah. As soon as they were thus convinced, they came out openly and joined Paul's party. This was the right thing for them to do—just what young people should always do when they receive Christ. They should consort with Christ's people, finding their friends among them and taking them for companions. They should come out and be separate from the world, thus casting all their influence on Christ's side. Too many people in these days join the Church—and yet stay in the world, keeping their companionships, their friendships, their pleasures, their business, and their amusements in the world.
It has always been true, that women were ready in great numbers to accept of Christ and enter his service. Jesus had many personal women friends. There are many Christian women named in the Acts. In these modern days, it is said that at least two thirds of all church members are women. Many of them are engaged as teachers and physicians on mission fields. Women's boards are gathering a large proportion of the money that is used in sending the gospel to heathen lands. Women's hearts and hands make the Christian homes—whose influence is so rich in the world. It is good to hear that in this ancient city, where Paul preached, there were many prominent women who took their place on Christ's side.
But there were enemies, also, rejecters of Paul's teaching concerning the Messiah. They were not content merely to reject—they became active enemies. "The Jews, moved with envy, took . . . certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar." The two parties which were formed were very distinct, with marked differences. Those who attached themselves to the missionaries were of good character. But it is a very different class that we see gathering on the other side, "certain lewd fellows of the baser sort." These were the idle, worthless men, like those who, in modern cities, are found about saloons and pool rooms, who are always ready for anything that will cause excitement. Not all those who are outside of churches, belong to this rough class—there are people of refinement and culture who do not accept their place among Christians. But the vile fellows of the rabble are still found among the opposers of Christ and Christianity.
It is good to make the enemies of the gospel write its history and describe its triumphs. Many of the finest and truest things said about Christ, are words that were spoken by his bitter foes. For example, when the Jews saw the publicans and sinners drawn to Jesus they said, "This man receives sinners, and eats with them." Again, when Jesus went home with Zacchaeus, they said that he was "gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner." Both these bitter words really expressed great truths which were the very glory of Christ's commission. In their charge against these missionaries, the Jews first gave a striking testimony to the influence of the gospel in the world at the time and the work Christianity had done. They confessed that the missionaries had been turning the world upside down. And one says, "The world is wrong side up, and needs to be turned upside down to be right side up."
It is sometimes a duty to flee from opposition and persecution. The missionaries, when they could no longer preach in Thessalonica, went quietly away to Berea. Here they found themselves in a different atmosphere. The people of Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica, "in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." The Thessalonians refused even to listen to Paul or to give him any opportunity to verify his statements from their Scriptures. The Bereans, on the other hand, were ready to listen and to consider carefully what the apostle said. Not only did they listen—but they listened with childlike teachableness, ready to receive every word of truth which they heard. They were willing to know the truth, whatever it might be—even if it made havoc among their pet ideas. That is what everyone should do who listens to a sermon or a Sunday-school lesson. Do not say that what you hear is not true—but take it to the Word of God, and compare it with this divine rule, and see whether it is true or not.
The result of this examination of the Scriptures was that many of the Bereans believed. They found that what Paul had said was according to their scriptures, and they received Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah. When we find that the Words of God are true, we should unhesitatingly accept them. Believing, in the Bible sense, means the shaping of life and conduct according to the divine teaching. If you are satisfied that Jesus is the only Savior, you should immediately receive him as your Savior, by personal faith.
At Athens--Acts 17:16-34
Paul did not go to Athens as a tourist, nor as a student of art; he went there as a missionary, carrying the gospel of Christ. "He was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols!" No wonder his spirit was stirred within him. Among others he encountered certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, some of whom were curious to know what this "babbler" would say. Others decided that he was a setter forth of strange gods, because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. They took hold of him, therefore, and brought him into the Areopagus—a council of the first men of Athens, a sort of court—not for trial, however—but that his opinions might be presented.
Athens was full of splendid temples and magnificent works of art—but these temples were the shrines of idols, and these works of art were worshiped as gods by the people. However, Paul had not a word to say about the fine architecture or the wonderful statues he saw. His soul was so full of the compassion of Christ, that in such a place as Athens the one thing he saw was that perishing souls worshiped idols, instead of the true God. He forgot the beauty in his pity over the delusions, amid which souls were perishing, and could not but speak out of the fullness of his heart.
Utterly alone, he did not hesitate to declare Jesus Christ in the face of the world's wisdom and culture, and to present the truth of the gospel in the presence of those who almost certainly would have only sneers and contempt for what he said. Paul began his address in a courteous way, referring to the apparent devoutness of his hearers. He then spoke of an altar he had seen as he passed through the city. "I found an altar with this inscription, to the UNKNOWN GOD." It was said that it was easier in Athens to find a god than a man. Although there were so many gods, with temples and shrines everywhere, yet the people's hearts were not satisfied. They still reached out after some other god, and since nothing that they knew of or could conceive of, would answer their cravings, they had set up this altar to an unknown god.
It may be safely said that in Athens heathenism had done its very best. Literature, art, poetry and philosophy had attained their proudest heights. If any people ever had an opportunity to test the value of "culture" the Athenians certainly had. If there is enough in learning and in art and in philosophy to meet the needs of human souls—it ought to have been proved there. Yet what do we see? Amid all this beauty, with thirty thousand gods, the people were still unsatisfied. Paul's words are very suggestive—he brings them the God for whom unconsciously their hearts were crying out. He says, "Whom therefore you ignorantly worship—him declare I unto you!"
He then proceeds to declare to them the true God, "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands." One of the Athenian schools taught that there was no God, that the world was formed by 'chance'. Another taught what is called Pantheism—that all things were God and God was all things. Then there was a popular mythology, a system of fables and fancies about a great many gods and goddesses.
Paul taught that there was a God, that there was only one God, and that he was not only Creator—but sovereign Ruler and Dispenser of all things. He taught that God is a spirit and, "dwells not in temples made with hands." He thus swept away all idolatry and declared every splendid temple about him to be vanity. He declared also that the true God is not "worshiped with men's hands, as though he needed anything." The Greeks brought costly offerings in food and drink, as though the gods required such things. The true God, said Paul, needed no such attention. Instead of requiring men's gifts to keep them alive, he is the Giver of all the things that men need to keep them living.
Next he declared that all nations were alike, springing from one source, offspring of the one God. Thus he struck at the pride of the Athenians who claimed to be a superior race by themselves. He taught also the great truth of divine providence which extends to all creatures and to all their actions. This teaching was in the face of the Athenian belief in the doctrine of 'chance'.
Paul taught further that it was the duty of all men to find the true God. "God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." This is a vivid description of men in the natural state, without the gospel. They know not God—but they have a great hunger for God, stretching out their hands in the darkness and trying to find him.
Paul quotes to the Greeks, one of their own poets who had given expression to a truth which belongs also to the very heart of the gospel. "As some of your own poets have said, We are his offspring."
Paul accepts this truth–that we are the offspring of God. This means more than that God is our Creator. Rocks, trees, flowers and birds were made by God—but they are not God's offspring. That which distinguishes man from all other creatures is that he is made in the image of God. God breathed into him his own life, and man became a living soul. "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill."
Accepting this truth which they themselves admitted, Paul showed how unreasonable it was to suppose that God would be like idols of gold, silver, or stone, fashioned by human skill. Thus again Paul attacked idolatry, showing how false, how unsatisfactory, how unreasonable, it was. God had always been very patient with men in their ignorance and sinfulness; but now a new dispensation had been introduced. "In the past, God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent!" Before the light of divine revelation had broken on the earth—God dealt with men pitifully and patiently, bearing with them in their sinfulness, overlooking their ways. But now Christ has come—and all men are called to repent!
Paul's Second Missionary Journey
Nobody noticed a plain man walking along the streets of Corinth, one day, travel-stained and weary. Yet his coming into Corinth meant more for that city than the entrance of any other man in the city's whole history. He brought the gospel there, and the gospel is the power of God wherever it goes.
There was a Divine Hand guiding his steps that day. As he went about seeking employment, he came upon two people who from that time proved good friends to him and helpers also in his work. He "found . . . Aquila . . . with his wife Priscilla." It was a happy providence that brought these people together. It gave Paul a lodging place and a home in the great city. It furnished him also an opportunity to work and support himself while he was engaged as a missionary. Then, no doubt, his influence upon them was also very great.
The other day one friend wrote to another, "You have the power of bringing to the surface the very best that is in my nature, and of making me try to live up to my highest possibilities." Like power Paul seems to have had, over Aquila and Priscilla. There was in them much that was good, and it needed only Paul's coming to them—to bring out the good, to wake up the possibilities of beauty and strength that were in them.
The emperor had expelled the Jews from Rome. No doubt Aquila and Priscilla thought it a great hardship to be driven from their home in Rome. But in the end blessing came to them and also through them to the Church of Christ from this hardship. Being in Corinth, they had the opportunity of knowing Paul and of having him as a resident of their own home for many months. Thus rich blessing came to them from him, and they in turn became a blessing to him and to the Church. By and by they went back to Rome, carrying with them all they had received from their contact with the apostle. Even the hard things of our lives, over which we grieve at the time, if we commit them all to God—will prove in the end full of blessing to us and to others.
It was a good custom of the Jews to require all their boys to learn a trade. They were thus fitted for any emergency which might make it necessary for them to earn their own bread. If Paul had had no trade, he would not have been able to support himself in Corinth while doing missionary work. But by means of his trade, he was able to care for himself by working during the week, while he preached the gospel on the Sabbaths.
There are thousands of young men in our country who fail in life, because in youth they have not been trained to any useful employment. Thrown upon their own resources later, by some accident or misfortune, they are helpless. Work is honorable and dignified. Paul was a tentmaker; Jesus was a carpenter. No matter how rich a young man may be—he should never be content to live in idleness.
Paul was not satisfied, however, merely to be a tentmaker in Corinth. He had come there with the gospel, and he must preach. He did not abandon the ministry to go into business, as some men find it easy to do. He wrought at his trade during the week—that he might give his Sabbaths to preaching. A great many Christian people do this all the time. There are business men who spend six days in intense occupation—and then give the Sabbath to Christian work in Sunday schools or missionary efforts.
It would seem that Paul got discouraged in some way. At least we are told that when his friends Silas and Timothy came, his strength was renewed. Paul was a man who needed human love. The coming of Silas and Timothy made him all the more earnest as a preacher. This suggests one way in which we can help in the work of Christ. If we cannot ourselves be great workers—we can give cheer and encouragement to those who are carrying the burdens, pouring fresh hope and earnestness into their hearts. We should never be discouragers of others—we should always seek to be encouragers. We do not know what help a little kindness, or a word of cheer may give to one who is working under great pressure.
Not all of Paul's work was successful. Not all who heard him yielded to Christ. There were some who opposed and blasphemed. But having preached the gospel faithfully, Paul was able to lay upon the people themselves the burden of their rejection of Christ. "He shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility!" He loved them still, with a deep and yearning love. But he had done his work faithfully, with a loving heart, and now he was free from responsibility. He could do nothing more for them. If they persisted in perishing, their blood would be upon their own heads. They could not say to him in the judgment that he had not been faithful to them.
We must be very faithful, dealing with our friends and neighbors so that when we meet them at last on the judgment day—they may not say to us that we did not warn them of their danger, nor tell them of the Savior. We must so bear ourselves now in our relations to them, that if any of our friends perish—we cannot blame ourselves.
Christ is always an encourager of his people. Even the best Christian workers will sometimes feel disheartened when after faithful and diligent effort, people still resist Christ. But even then, they are not to conclude that their work is in vain. The harvest which does not ripen today—may ripen tomorrow. Paul was distressed by the small results of his preaching—but the Lord said to him, "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent." Probably there was personal danger also, for he seems to have been afraid. The words read as if he were even thinking of giving up, for he was bidden to continue to speak and not to be silent.
If such a man as Paul got discouraged, it is not strange that other workers for Christ have similar experiences at times and even feel like giving up their work. But the Lord's encouraging words to Paul are for all times and for all workers. No matter how much we may feel disheartened for the seeming failure of our work, by opposition, even by persecution, we must not yield to depression. God is with us, and his work never can fail.
In the midst of Paul's discouragements, when it seemed that he was making no impression, the Lord brought him a most cheering message, saying to him, "I have many people in this city." This was cheering news, indeed. It was as when Jesus told the weary, discouraged disciples, after their fruitless, all night toiling, to cast their nets again and they would make a catch. Paul was thinking there was no use in preaching anymore in Corinth, that there could be no results. Then the Lord told him that he had many people in that city—and that they would believe—if the apostle continued to preach the gospel faithfully.
They were sinners yet, buried away in the world—but when the gospel was preached they would accept it and be saved. This was a wonderfully inspiring assurance. We should never allow ourselves to give up too soon in a place where no results come at once. We should labor on, believing that there are yet blessings to be obtained by our continued faithfulness. If Paul had ceased preaching in the midst of his discouragement, and had gone away from Corinth, these people of Christ's in that city would not have learned of the Savior.
From the beginning, Christianity sought the cities as great centers of influence. Ephesus was an important city. It was a great center of heathenism, having in it the magnificent temple of Diana, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. As usual, Paul began his work in Ephesus with his own people, the Jews, to whom he spoke boldly. But they rejected his preaching.
One result of the opposition of the Jews, was the abandonment of the work in their synagogues. For two years Paul preached in a public hall. It was a glorious opportunity for Christianity. Ephesus was a great commercial center, and people from all Asia Minor resorted there. Many of these continually heard Paul's preaching, and thus the gospel was widely diffused. Ephesus became a center of evangelism in another way. Paul had a band of noble helpers who went out into the surrounding country, and a number of churches were established.
There was an unusual display of supernatural power in connection with the work in Ephesus. One remarkable example of this is given in the narrative. "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." These sick people were not cured by the handkerchiefs and aprons—God wrought the miracles. He saw fit to use the instruments of healing.
From every truly godly man there goes forth an influence of blessing. Everything he does seem to be hallowed by his touch. Even his most commonplace words have a power that the words of other men have not. A portion of his own spirit—seems to enter into whatever his hand touches.
As in the case of the magicians of Egypt, when Moses and Aaron were working great miracle there, the enemies of the gospel in Ephesus tried to outdo the work of the apostles. "Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed." If these enemies of Christianity had been able to do the works which the servants of Christ were doing, they might justly have claimed equal power. When John the Baptist sent from his prison to know if Jesus were really the Promised One, Jesus pointed the messengers to the works he was doing—the healing of the sick, the opening of the eyes of the blind, and the cleansing of the lepers, the raising of the dead. These were the proofs of his Messiahship, he said.
Christianity still points to its works—as its best evidences. Paul cast out evil spirits and healed the sick—by naming over them the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Could those exorcists do the same thing? They tried, and ignominiously failed. We should point to the works of Christianity and ask its enemies if they can do the same things. Take the history of missions. Look at the nations and people lifted out from the degradation of heathenism. Can the enemies of Christianity do the same? Have they any record to show that they can? Look at individual cases—men saved from the most depraved vices—and changed into nobleness, purity and saintliness. Can infidelity imitate these works? Look at the benevolent institutions which Christianity has established—hospitals, orphanages, asylums and homes of all kinds. Where are the benevolent and philanthropic institutions erected by skepticism and atheism? "You shall know them—by their fruits."
Even demons recognized the power of Christ and his authority, and could not be deceived by those who thought by using the same formula, the words the apostle used, to invoke the divine power. "Jesus I know, and Paul I know—but who are you?" In the same way evil yet resists the efforts of pretenders to master it and expel it.
The evils in our own hearts—wicked dispositions, lusts and unholy tempers, reply in the same way to our personal, unaided efforts to dispel them! It is the same with the vices of society, with all the world's evils and corruptions. Human power alone is not able to drive them away! They look up and say, "Jesus I know—but who are you?" Jesus is well known all over Satan's kingdom. He is recognized as the Almighty Conqueror, before whom all satanic power has to yield. "But who are you?" Here is where all pretended power fails, where all false religions are proved insufficient. Only Christ's power is strong enough to drive out Satan. If we would have our own hearts rid of the evil that is in them—we must give ourselves to Christ, for these evils will recognize no other Master!
The effect of this remarkable display of supernatural power was felt at once. The people recognized the difference between the real power exercised through the apostle and his helpers—and the pretended power of the magicians, and were awed by the manifest presence of God among them. Always the religion of Christ is characterized by the divine presence and work, thus evidencing its supernatural origin. Heathen religions pretend to do wonderful things—but they have no power to make the world better. They cannot comfort sorrow. They do not build up sweet homes. The work of Christianity is proved to be divine—by what it does for men wherever it is accepted.
"Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number of them who had been practicing magic brought their books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars!" Acts 19:18-19
One proof of the power of Christianity, was in the way these new believers at Ephesus renounced their evil ways and gave up their profitable sins. They saw the emptiness and folly of the things in which they had been trusting, and openly confessed the sinful deeds they had been doing. Many of them who had been engaged in the practice of magic arts, brought their books together and made a bonfire of them in the public square.
Always, those who follow Christ should be ready to part with whatever is sinful in their life and work, that Christ may be honored above all. Sins kept in the heart—poison the life, hide God's face, and shut out blessing. No matter what it may cost, our sins must be sacrificed, or they will destroy us!
The burning of these old Ephesian books suggests that it would be good, if in many places there might be bonfires of evil books. There are many books which ought to be burned! They carry in them Satan's poison! To read them is to debauch our own souls. To put them into the hands of others—is to ruin them.
In India, a man took down a book from the shelf—and a viper came out of the book and stung him to death! Just so, there are many books in which deadly vipers lie hidden. We should be most careful in choosing the books we read. A good book is a great blessing—but a bad book is a curse!
The Riot at Ephesus--Acts 19:23-20:1
The gospel does not interfere with business—unless the business is sinful. When it is right, it is really a part of Christian living—as is attendance at prayer meetings. We may serve God as acceptably on Monday at our common work—as we do on Sunday in our religious worship. But there are certain kinds of business which do not harmonize with Christian living. If the business be sinful, we cannot be diligent in it—and at the same time be serving the Lord. The gospel made a great stir in Ephesus, it is said, because it was in conflict not merely with the worship of Diana—but with a profitable business which the worship of the goddess had built up. Wherever the gospel goes—it makes a great deal of stir. Wicked men do not like the gospel, because it interferes with their life, or with their methods of business.
This opposition to the gospel took an organized form in Ephesus. A man named Demetrius seems to have had a sort of monopoly of the 'Diana shrine business'. At least he was prominent among those who were engaged in this business. So he called a meeting of the workmen of his craft, and said to them, "Sirs, you know that by this craft we have our wealth." Here we see at once the secret of the opposition to Christianity. Paul's preaching was damaging the business of these men. If he were allowed to go on preaching, soon nobody would believe in the goddess or care to worship her—and the result would be that no more little shrines could be sold. Anything that touches men's pockets—is apt to be opposed by them. There are instances of this same spirit in our modern days. Note how the rum dealers of all grades, hate Christianity, because it preaches temperance and tries to rescue men from the power of alcohol. Christianity declares open war against all evil, especially against every influence that debauches and destroys human lives and wrecks homes, and destinies!
Unintentionally Demetrius pays a high compliment to the influence of Paul's preaching. He says to the men he is trying to stir up against the gospel, "Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all." Paul had made no attack on the business of these men—but he had proclaimed the truth of the one God, declaring that idols were no gods at all. This is the way Christianity does wherever it goes. It does not directly start crusades against certain men or certain evils—it merely proclaims the great truth of Christianity, and then lets these truths have their own legitimate effect.
Demetrius was greatly alarmed over the prospective result of the preaching of the gospel. He said there is danger "that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised." This temple was a splendid ornament—the pride and boast of the city. The argument of Demetrius, was that if Christianity were allowed to spread, that this temple would lose its splendor, and the city would be the sufferer. That is, he looked at the matter in a purely business way. Christianity would injure the fame and distinction of the city. He thought nothing about the people's souls. The gospel came to Ephesus, not to conserve heathen institutions—but to save the lost! It came to turn men from idols, and to lift them up to purity, righteousness and heaven. Yet the damage to business and the dimming of the fame of an idol—were greater interests in the eyes of the silversmith, than were all the blessings to the people's lives which the gospel brought to them.
The excitement was very great when Demetrius ended his speech. His fellow craftsmen who had heard his words were filled with wrath, and the whole city was filled with confusion! The meeting assumed a riotous form, and the men rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging some of Paul's companions with them. When Paul learned this, he was wanted to go into the theater himself. This incident gives us a glimpse of Paul's heroic soul. His companions and friends had been seized by the mob and dragged into the theater, while he was outside and kept in a secure place by other friends. But he was determined to share the danger of his friends and speak in their defense. It took sublime courage, thus to desire to face the mad crowd, when he knew that they might tear him to pieces the moment he faced them. But the spirit of Paul was equal to it, and only the restraint of his friends kept him from rushing in before the furious mob. When others are brought into trouble on our account—we should desire either to rescue them, or to share the trouble with them.
Others also besides Paul's companions saw his danger and sought to rescue him. "And some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater." It seems strange that any of these distinguished men, so high in rank, should care enough for this Christian preacher in this heathen city, to make any effort to save him. It seems still stranger, to read that these men were his friends. Yet it only shows that God can raise up friends for his people, wherever they may be.
God had brought about these friendships before this trouble arose, so that his servant might be helped in the hour of need. In like manner Joseph and Nicodemus, two rich and influential men, were provided in advance as friends of Jesus, though only secretly, so that when he had died on the cross his body might be by them rescued from dishonor, and might receive fitting and loving burial. We need not fear if we are God's true and faithful children—that he will ever fail to raise up friends for us in our hour of need, wherever we may be.
The counsel given by the town clerk at this time, which led to the quieting of the mob, is very worthy of our thought. He said to them, "You ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly." That was good advice that day, and this town clerk showed much wisdom by the way he handled this mob.
But the counsel is one that we may all with profit take to ourselves and put down among our life maxims. "Do nothing rashly." Rash people are forever getting themselves and their friends into trouble. They are continually doing things today—which tomorrow they regret and wish they had not done. A great many of us have tongues that are always speaking rash words. We make rash promises that we fail to keep. We speak rashly when we are angry and then lose friends by our hasty sayings. Then many of us are continually doing rash things which cause any amount of trouble. We make rash bargains, and enter into rash speculations and spend money rashly. A very large percentage of the blunders many of us make, are due to rashness—and could be prevented if we could always stop to think before we speak or act. It would be well for all of us—to take counsel from the town clerk of Ephesus frequently!
Paul was on his way to Jerusalem. The ship which bore him stopped at Miletus. There he sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus and spoke to them some earnest farewell words. He spoke first of his journey to Jerusalem as leading him into suffering. "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there." We never know what lies just before us.
Paul did know, however, that he would suffer bonds and afflictions at Jerusalem. Yet this did not deter him from going forward. The incident shows noble heroism. "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself," he says, "so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus." His life was valuable only for one purpose, that with it he might do the Master's will and fulfill his mission. Life is worth living—only when it is devoted to duty!
The counsels which Paul gave to the elders at Ephesus, are valuable for us today. He first counseled them to take heed unto themselves. We should never neglect our own garden—in caring for the gardens of others. The life which concerns us personally and most intimately, the one for which we are immediately responsible, is our own! Other people may need watching, and we may have some responsibility for them—but our first business is to watch ourselves. This is a responsibility no one can lift off us. We should take heed to our own hearts—and be sure that they are kept with all diligence. We should take heed to our personal habits. We should take heed to our companionships. Watchfulness has abundant rewards!
But the duty of watching does not terminate with ourselves. These elders had a responsibility beyond their own lives. "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." The official position made them responsible for all the care they could possibly give to others. The office of pastors is a very sacred one. They represent Christ on the earth in caring for his flock. When they give us advice or warn us of temptation or danger—we should not be vexed—but should remember that they do this because they love us.
Paul puts a high honor on the Church. A great price was paid for it. He also gives us a glimpse of the infinite value of Christ's death. He says the Church of God was purchased with his own blood. If our souls are so dear to God, should we not care for them ourselves? If we were purchased at such great cost, should we ever do anything to degrade or dishonor ourselves? Then if Christ purchased us—we belong to him and are to live for him and for him alone.
It is a sore loss to many, when a good minister is taken away. There are plenty of wolves, yet, which watch for every opportunity of breaking into the fold, and they never spare the flock! There is no holy home into which they do not try to creep. There are bad papers and books circulated by the millions, which are indeed "grievous wolves," and make terrible havoc among tender lives. There are evil companions that creep in, wearing sheep's clothing—but are really wolves that come to devour. Every parent should keep sacred watch to protect his home and the children from the devouring wild beasts, and every teacher should use all diligence to shelter his class from such dangers. Keep the fences good, and let the under-shepherds never relax their vigilance for a moment!
Paul could say for himself that he was pure from the blood of all men. He meant that he had been so faithful in the presentation of Christ, toiling early and late, never sparing himself in his efforts to save others—that no one could ever say he was lost because Paul had not done his part. All who are responsible for souls—should so discharge their duty as to be able to say the same.
It is a great thing for a pastor or a teacher to be conscious of setting a worthy and good example before those he instructs and seeks to lead. Paul says here, "I have showed you all things." He refers to his own diligence. Although a minister of Christ and an apostle, he had labored with his own hands during the week at his trade—that he might preach to the people on the Sabbath and minister to them in holy things. In every way Christians, not only ministers and teachers—but all Christians, should so live that their lives shall be examples to those who know them! One really never can preach higher truth—than he lives. There is no use in telling the people about the love of God, the compassion, the gentleness, the forgiveness of God—if they do not see these divine qualities, at least in some dim measure, in our own lives!
Once Christ came to this world to show us in human life, what God is. But he is not here any more, and he wants us, his followers, now to show the people what God is like—not in our words, merely—but in our conduct, our disposition, our character. We are always giving examples, even unconsciously. There is not even a little child, that has not some imitators. Somebody will do—as we do. It will be a fearful thing if we show anyone the wrong way, if we set an example, the following of which would lead anyone to destruction!
One of the great teachings of Christianity has always been the duty of caring for the weak and the poor. Paul enunciates this teaching here. "You ought to support the weak." Jesus was especially kind to the weak. He never broke a bruised reed. He reached out his strong hand to lift up those who had fainted and fallen along the way. He looked after the sick, saying that the healthy did not need the physician. There are many weak ones about us. Some are weak in body, feeble and sickly. We ought to be gentle to these and to help and encourage them. Some are weak in courage and resolution, in moral power. They cannot resist temptation. We ought to help these, by giving them sympathy and inspiring courage in them. "Bear one another's burdens" is another of Paul's words. Elsewhere he says, "We who are strong—ought to bear the infirmities of the weak."
Another great lesson which Paul gave these Ephesian elders, is contained in the words, "It is more blessed to give—than to receive." This is one of the lost words of Christ, which Paul picked up and saved for the world. It is not found in any of the Gospels. We may be very thankful, however, for its rescue, for it contains a great truth. It does not seem to us to be true—that giving is better than getting. We all like to receive, and many of us do not like to give. But Jesus did not say it is more pleasant to give than to receive—but more blessed. Receiving and not giving—feeds and inculcates selfishness; giving trains toward unselfishness. "Not to be ministered unto—but to minister," was the motto of Christ's own life; not to receive—but to give. "He is the first among you," Jesus said to his disciples, "who serves with the most complete self-forgetfulness." Blessed is Christ-likeness, and he who gives, not he who receives, is most like the Master!
Paul's Third Missionary Journey
Life is full of parting and meetings, of letting go things that are past and laying hold of things in the future. The missionaries and these friends had been together but a week, and yet they had become so attached to each other, that their parting was tender. Wherever true Christians meet, they are at once drawn to each other in holy affection. Jesus said that his disciples should be known in the world, not by their dress, nor by their creed, nor by any other external mark—but "by this shall all men know that you are my disciples—if you have love one to another."
Wherever we go, we will find something to do and may leave blessings. The ship which carried Paul's party stopped at Tyre to unload its cargo. This would require a week. But Paul was not the man to sit upon a ship's deck in idleness for a week, with a whole city of needy people close to him. He improved the opportunity. He left the ship and sought out the Christians who were in the city and did all he could for them during his stay. Here is a good suggestion for those who may be detained in some places for a while. Instead of passing the time in sight-seeing or in idleness, let them look up the Christian people of the place or let them find those who need help.
Not all human interpretations of divine teachings are right. These disciples at Tyre knew through the Spirit that danger lay before Paul if he went to Jerusalem. Then they inferred that he ought not to go on his way. "Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem." These friends probably considered the forewarning of danger, a providential indication that Paul ought not to go on. We must be careful, however, in interpreting God's purposes in his providence. Difficulties looming up in the way of our advance, are not always divine intimations that we should stop in our course, or turn aside. Shut doors are sometimes to be opened; and open doors are not always to be entered. The fact that we learn of dangers in our path, which it will cost us much to encounter, should not always be considered as forbidding us to proceed. It may be that the meeting of dangers and the enduring of sufferings and sacrifices, is part of God's will for us, and therefore part of our duty. We must be careful not to misread providences, lest we draw wrong inferences.
He who does people good, soon wins a place in their affections. Paul's week's stay at Tyre was full of kindness and helpfulness for the Christians there, and when the time came for them to leave, the parting was very tender. "When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, we said good-bye to one another."
Paul was a large-hearted man, sympathetic, ready always for helpfulness, with a rare genius for friendship. He had been only a week in Tyre—but when he came to leave, the people had learned to love him so much—that it almost broke their hearts to have him go away. He was not one of those stately men who impress others with their intellectual acuteness, but are cold as icebergs. He was a mighty man intellectually, but he was also gentle, affectionate, and kindly.
We all want to have friends. The reason Paul had friends—was because he was a friend to the people. The reason people loved him so tenderly—was because he loved them so truly. Nothing but affection—will win affection. We never can get these friendships by patronizing airs, by empty talk about how much we think of people, nor even by gifts bestowed upon them. We must love—if we would be loved. We must be a friend—if we would have friends. Paul really loved people. He desired to help them and was ready to make any sacrifice in doing so. Like his Master, he came not to be ministered unto—but to minister. His friendship for his people was not shown in mere professions, in soft words and in flattering phrases.
The beauty and influence of a Christian home, are well illustrated in the family of Philip the evangelist. We remember Philip—we saw him first as one of the seven deacons. But he became an evangelist, also. He seems to have settled as a missionary pastor at Caesarea. No only Philip himself—but his four daughters as well, were engaged in the work of the gospel. They had given themselves to Christ's service. It were well if the daughters in every home were prophetesses, speaking out their message in whatever way Christ desires them to speak. We do not know in what particular ministries for Christ, these young women were engaged. If they had lived in our day, they would probably have taught classes in the Sunday school and would have been active in some kind of Christian endeavor, or some other form of young people's work. Every young woman who has given herself to Christ should find some way of working for her Master and of winning souls. Always, women have been friends of Jesus. Their hearts are warm, their hands are gentle, and they are fitted for noble service.
One of the blessings of life—is that we do not know our future. Sometimes people rashly wish they could know what lies before them; but it is a great deal better they do not know. If we knew our joys—it might unfit us for the toils and tasks of our common days. If we knew our sorrows—it might make us afraid to go on and lead us to doubt and unbelief. It is better we should not know.
In our story, however, the veil was lifted a little way for Paul, and he had a glimpse of trouble awaiting him. We see how this knowledge affected the apostle's friends—they would have him turn away from the duty before him—because of the danger that lay in it. It would have been better if they had not been told of what was before him.
When in any way we are made aware of dangers before us, we must not allow the dangers to make us less heroic and faithful. He who turns back because he sees trouble before him—is failing Christ. Paul's heroism was noble. "I am ready not only to be bound—but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus!" It was not easy for Paul to make this determination. He was among friends who loved him and besought him to stay with them. Yonder were Jerusalem and the lifted veil showed him suffering, and trial there, possibly death. Should he stay—or should he go? The struggle was hard, and almost broke his heart. Such pleadings of love make duty hard. But Paul had no doubt about what he ought to do. The will of the Lord was plain to him. He was needed at Jerusalem. So his heroic purpose was formed. He did not ask what it might cost—chains or death—he was ready for either.
Duty to his God must come first. Luther, on his way to the Diet of Worms, affords another illustration of like heroism. We will have duties that are hard to meet, and friends with loving hearts will throw about us the silken cords of endearment, trying to hold us back. Then we must be brave to go on to do what Christ bids us do, in spite of love's persuasions and all the power of enemies.
Paul had just come to Jerusalem after the close of his missionary journey. The elders feared there would be trouble when it became known that he had come. They arranged, therefore, for an observance of Jewish rites in the temple, in which Paul would take a public part. It was when this observance was about completed, that he was discovered in the temple by some foreign Jews, who recognized him, seized him, and raised a great clamor against him. For him there was nothing new in this hostile outbreak.
They thought they had caught him in the very act. They cried out, "This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place." Their words were a gross misrepresentation. Paul never had uttered a word against the Jewish people, the law or the temple. Many people take the words of others, give a wrong sense to them, and then repeat them! Others exaggerate what they hear. There are many ways of misrepresenting others and many people who are ready always to do it.
Misrepresentation is a grievous sin. Many a calumny that destroys a fair name, grows out of a mere misstatement, an inexact reporting of what is said or done. We should be scrupulously careful in repeating, if we must repeat a matter at all—that we state the precise truth. No fault of speech is more common that lack of accuracy in quoting or narrating. Most people's ears seem to hear with a bias in favor of their own prejudices. Then, in reporting what they have heard, the bias is too apt to show its influence a second time in the way the speaker's words are twisted or distorted.
This is only part of the misrepresentation, however. They charged further that Paul had taken Gentiles into the temple, thus defiling it. Some of them had seen Paul on the street one day in company with a Gentile Christian from Ephesus, and now when they recognized Paul and his four companions in the temple, they jumped to the conclusion that this Gentile was one of the four. The charge was an entire misrepresentation. They "supposed" that this Gentile was one of the men with the apostle. The supposition was altogether groundless. But that is the way a great many evil stories about people are started. Somebody "supposes" something about another, and tells his supposition as a fact, and it goes on its ruinous errand! A good man does an entirely harmless and proper thing—but someone imagines something wrong in back of it, and reports his imagination as a fact, and a character is blackened! Many a scandal grows out of what some evil-disposed person supposes.
The lesson is, the duty of sacredly cherishing the good names of others, never permitting ourselves to infer evil—when there is no real basis for it. We have no right to "suppose" that another has done a wrong thing and then state our supposition as a fact. A large proportion of the miserable gossip which is retailed by idle people in drawing rooms and other places—is started just as this story about Paul was started.
The government of Rome was not intentionally friendly to Christianity. In the case of Paul it, not only delivered him at this time from the hands of his own people who were his bitter enemies—but a little later carried him without personal expense to Rome itself, where, under the continued shelter of the government, though a prisoner, he wrought as a missionary in the very capital of the Gentile world! So the wrath of man—is overruled for the glory of God.
God is always active in the affairs of this earth, overruling all the things so that they work together for good. We need never be afraid to put into his hands, the things that seem to be against us—the enmities, the dangers, the plots, the hurts of life, with the confidence that none of them can do us any harm—if only we stay close to Christ and leave all in his hands. The mob in the temple that day tried to kill Paul—but they only started him on his way to Rome with the gospel of Christ! Enmities and efforts to harm us—will always bring good rather than evil to us and the cause of Christ—if we let God take care of them and keep our own hands off!
The mob did not know why Paul was being dragged away. They did not know what the charges against him were. They did not understand the motives of the Jews who had raised the first clamor against him. They merely saw his arrest, and then heard the violent outcry against him, and joined the crowd—they did not know why.
The same thing happens in these days. Somebody starts an opposition against a man—and others join in the clamor, not making any inquiry into the matter to know whether the charges are true, or even to know what the charges are! People are like sheep. If one sheep starts in a certain way, all the flock will follow. Common justice requires, however, that we investigate assertions and accusations against others before we believe them and join the crowd of maligners. It is a crime against a man to pursue him with evil charges, or to take any part whatever against him, without knowing the truth about the matter.
Lysias, too, had a wrong impression about Paul. He thought he was a notorious Egyptian, who had led four thousand assassins in sedition. This passage is full of misrepresentations and of unjust charges against the apostle—charges, too, not based on any testimony—but simply inferred. Lysias supposed that Paul must be a bad man, a great criminal in fact, or the people who not have set upon him so mercilessly when they found him in the temple.
We should never take anybody's opinion about another when it is evil, without first making inquiries of our own to see if the things alleged are true. We should not join in every hue and cry raised against another, and begin to shout, "Away with him!" because that is the voice of the rabble. We should inquire into the truth of the charges and know upon what grounds they rest. Then if we find that the person is falsely charged and is suffering innocently, we should be brave enough to become his friend and defender—instead of his enemy and defamer. That was the course of Lysias here. He inquired who Paul was and what he had done, and when he found out the truth he protected him from the mob. Every man should have the benefit of our charity—until we know he is guilty. To condemn anyone unheard—is an act of gross injustice!
The night after the stormy meeting described in the early portion of this chapter, Jesus appeared to Paul and bade him to, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." This assured Paul that his life was safe amid all the plots of his enemies.
It is strange how bitter human hate may grow, and to what depths of wickedness and treachery men may descend, under the influence of passion. The records of persecution have many times since told of similar plots for the destruction of holy men and women, whose only crime was that they worshiped God according to the dictates of their own conscience.
A fouler murder could not have been planned, than these men plotted. Yet their chief priests and elders—the representatives of religion in the land, were ready to help carry out this nefarious conspiracy! They professed to want to look into the case of Paul more carefully. We may not be the objects of any such human conspiracy in our Christian land—but there are unseen enemies who are always plotting our destruction, and we need to fear these. There are many assassinations of souls of which no record is made in this world's chronicles.
God knows all that goes on in the most secret places. Men may make their plots in the darkness or in inner rooms, where no human ear can hear what they are saying—but there is an ear that always hears. Nothing can be hidden from God. No conspiracy ever can surprise him, or defeat any purpose of his.
The method of the apostle's deliverance, is well worth careful study. Forty desperate men used to just such work, "formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul." They had asked the chief priests and elders to aid them by furnishing the opportunity for the assassination, and these holy ecclesiastics had promised to do so. The prisoner was to be called for by the Sanhedrin on the plea of completing the hearing of his case. Then, as he passed from the barracks to the court room, the assassins would spring up out of their hiding place and kill him! It looked as if nothing could thwart the plot.
But our God is a loving God, and no human power can defeat his plans. Paul had a sister living somewhere, and she had a son. No other mention is made anywhere of this young man. How he came to be at Jerusalem at this time—we know not. We know only that God had him there at the right time, and that in some way he learned of this conspiracy and then hurried to the castle to tell his uncle about it.
It is interesting to see on how many little things Paul's deliverance depended—the presence of his sister's son in the city, the young man's learning of the plot, his admittance to the castle, his ready access to Lysias, the chief captain's interest in the prisoner, and his prompt action when he heard of the plot. That is the way God always takes care of each one of his children! He keeps his eye on every life, every moment—so that nothing ever occurs without his notice and permission, in the life even of the smallest or obscurest believer!
Of course, he does not always deliver his people from their enemies. Stephen was not delivered. But God helped him in another way—by giving him grace to die so triumphantly, and to witness so grandly for Christ in his death; that even the sparing of his life for years could not have done so much for Christ's kingdom, as Stephen did in his martyrdom. Only let us settle it in our minds, that this is a sample of the care God is taking of each one of us day and night—if we are his children.
The prophet Agabus had foretold that Paul should suffer in the hands of enemies, and Paul said he was ready to die at Jerusalem, if need be, for the sake of Christ. Yet here when he learns of the conspiracy to murder him, he does not let the plot go on without an effort to defeat it. Though willing and ready to die for Christ—he wants to live and does not needlessly throw away his life. We are required to use all lawful means to preserve our own life, as well as the lives of others. We are not needlessly to rush into the jaws of death. We are to protect ourselves against plots and dangers by all right means, though never by doing anything wrong. We are never to lie or commit any sin against God—in order to save our life. God does not want his plans carried out—by the breaking of his commandments. But in all right ways, we are to defend our own lives and seek their preservation.
God has his plan for every life, and each one is to help to work out that plan for himself in his own case. God promises deliverance from danger and victory in temptation—but we ourselves have something to do in realizing the deliverance and the victory. It will not do to take up a promise and plead it—while we put forth no hand of our own. We are saved altogether by grace, yet we have much to do in saving ourselves. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
All the powers of the world are subject to God's command, and when he needs them—he calls for them. Here he calls into service nearly five hundred men of the imperial army of Rome to defend one despised missionary. The Roman officer did not know that he was helping to carry out a plan of Almighty God, when he ordered up the escort that night to carry his imperiled prisoner away from the hands of his enemies. Men are every day unconsciously fulfilling God's promises and carrying out God's plans, without the slightest thought of what they are doing!
With true oratorical instinct, Paul began his address with a kindly word to Felix. He had confidence in appealing to him, since the governor had been so long in his position that he knew well the laws, and could understand and appreciate the facts which Paul was about to state. Paul's fine courtesy appears in these words. Some good people are careless about their manners. They do not think it worth while to be always kindly and refined, and sometimes they speak brusquely or act rudely. This is not the Christian way. "Love is not rude." Courtesy is a Christian duty. We should study the art of pleasing others. Many a man's light is kept from shining out brightly by the faultiness of his manners.
"I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect." While Paul was most strenuous in denying the false charges against him, he was very careful to confess himself a believer in Christ. We should never be ashamed in any place or in any circumstances to own ourselves Christians. Anyone can confess Christ in a Christian prayer meeting, where all are doing the same, or at the Lord's Table, where only Christians are sitting. But our Master wants those who confess him here to confess him just as boldly, when they are out among his enemies in the world.
"I have the same hope . . . that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." This was part of Paul's confession of Christ. The hope of the resurrection was a wonderful one. The grave is not the end—if we are Christians we shall rise again in a new body and shall live on forever with Christ. For the Christian the truth of resurrection is full of the most inspiring hope. Immortality is before us. This truth should be a great power in our life. We should live for the eternal years—not for the brief passing moment.
"Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." "Herein" refers to what Paul had just been saying about the resurrection and the judgment. He gets his motive of daily living from these great facts. If only we could realize and always remember that we shall rise again and go on with our life for eternity, and that every thought, word and act here will have a bearing on our character in the after-life, it would certainly have its effect upon us, in all that we think and do.
Paul's rule of life, with its mighty motive behind it, ought to be the motive of every Christian. We should train ourselves to live conscientiously. A true conscience keeps itself void of offence both toward God and toward man. Some people are apparently devout toward God—and yet selfish and mean toward men. Others are philanthropic and benevolent toward men—tolerant, charitable, kind, generous, and yet pay God no homage, no love, no service, never bow at his feet, never recognize him.
"As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix trembled." Paul's arrows had gone straight to the mark. He had aimed truly and had not missed. Under his fearless words concerning righteousness, self-control and judgment, Felix saw his own life in the mirror of truth and holiness which the preacher held up before his eyes. We should often look our own life squarely in the face. If we are afraid to do this, something is wrong.
Of course, if we are living in some sinful way it is not a pleasant thing to do. It hurts. Yet we are cowards if we are afraid to do it. We are worse than cowards—we are fools, for some day we shall be compelled to look ourselves in the face, with every shred of veil torn away! It will not do to deny the Bible teachings, saying we do not believe them, that they are only old wives fables. Such denials will not do away with the facts of eternity.
An old sea captain would not believe that there was a rock at a certain spot indicated on his new chart. He said he had sailed those waters for years, and he knew there was no rock there. Coming near the place he said, "Now I will show you that there is no rock there." He then ran his ship right upon the place where the rock was marked on the chart; there was a grinding and a crash and his vessel went down. Men disbelieve in the chart which marks judgment at the end—but too late they will discover that judgment is no myth, no fancy of devout souls—but a terrible reality.
"When I have a convenient season, I will call for you." That is the way many men do. They hear the truth, feel its power, are terrified—but postpone action. Felix was false to his own best interests that day. He was not honest with himself. Under the apostle's preaching, he clearly saw the wrong in his life. He had a glimpse, too, of the judgment day as the preacher lifted the veil. He was terrified. He knew right well what he ought to do—and yet he put the matter off. He did not doubt the truth of what the preacher said; he did not actually reject the Savior he offered—he merely postponed action. Some other time he would find it more convenient than now to adjust his life to the proper conditions. This way of postponement is a well-trodden road—and there always are thousands going down to destruction upon it!
For two years Paul remained in prison. Good came from this imprisonment, not only for Paul himself—but for others and for the cause of Christ. It was a mild imprisonment. Every possible indulgence was granted to him. His friends had free access to him. The rigors of prison life were greatly softened for him. No doubt the long rest did Paul good physically. He was not a robust man, and he had so spent himself in his missionary journeys, amid hardship, persecution and suffering, that he was exhausted and sorely needed rest. Besides physical recuperation, he also got spiritual blessing in his quiet months. He learned new lessons in life which made him a better preacher ever after. Then his prison was a busy missionary center to which people came continually with their questions, their needs, their temptations and their sorrows.
Before Fetus and Agrippa
Acts 25, 26:19-32
When Paul told his judges of the command of Jesus that he should work for him whose followers he had persecuted, he said, "I was not disobedient." The trouble with too many people, is that they are disobedient. They hear the voice of God—and do not obey it. They have glimpses of the lovely things of Christian life and do not strive to reach them. If only we would always be obedient in little things—as well as in great things, our feet would constantly be lifted higher and higher, each step taking us into a nobler, truer life, nearer to God.
It was the heavenly vision which Paul obeyed. There are visions that are earthly and there are visions that are heavenly. This world starts dreams in our hearts. But he who follows only earthly visions, wins nothing that he can keep forever. There are also heavenly visions—glimpses of God's beauty, revealings of God's will, intimations of lovely things which we may attain. It was a heavenly vision that Paul had—a vision of Christ himself in his divine glory. Heavenly visions come to all young people, inviting them to pure, good, true, holy things. The Christian mother's teachings, as she holds her little one on her knee and talks to it of Christ, place before the young eyes a vision of the Savior in his beauty and love. When we meditate upon a verse of Scripture and it opens, giving us a glimpse of something lovely in character or starting in our minds a thought of duty, it is a heavenly vision that we are having. Every fragment of loveliness we see in a human life is a vision sent to win us toward better things. We should never be disobedient to any heavenly vision—but should follow it as an angel sent to woo us nearer to God.
Obeying the heavenly vision, Paul declared to the people, "that they should repent and turn to God." Repentance is a good word. It means to turn—to turn away from the things we have found to be foolish and sinful. The other phrase is also important, "turn to God." It is not enough to drop the sins out of our life. If this is all we do, if we simply stand with our back on our evil ways, taking no step in the other direction, we have gained nothing. The mere giving up of bad habits will not save anyone.
These people were told, moreover, that they should "do works fit for repentance." The Ephesians did works worthy of repentance, when they brought out their books of black arts and burned them. Zacchaeus did works worthy of repentance, when he made restitution to those he had wronged and began a new life with Christ. We need not talk about having repented, unless our life proves our repentance.
Paul had now been a Christian about twenty-five years, and these had been years of struggle, amid enemies and dangers. But the heroic old apostle had never faltered, never turned back. He had stood faithful and true through all. It was a grand record—but he takes no praise to himself. He says the help came from God, for all this standing and witnessing. Some young people are afraid to set out on a Christian life, because they fear they will not be able to stand. Here is the word for all such—they may obtain help from God for every duty, for every hour of danger, for every struggle. God never puts a burden on us, without providing us with the strength we need to carry it.
"You are out of your mind, Paul!" That is what the world is constantly saying about those who are very earnest in religious life. They said Jesus was crazy—his own family thought he was. Festus said that Paul was insane. But who really was the madman that day—Paul who believed on Christ and was living for the invisible things; or Festus, who sat there and sneered? Who is mad now—the devout and fervent Christian who loves Christ and serves him—or the scoffer and reviler? There is no madness like that which disbelieves the realities of eternity, and rejects the mighty love of Christ. Men really only come to themselves, when they awake to their true condition as lost sinners and return to God their Father.
Agrippa after listening to Paul's speech and to the further personal appeal to yield his heart to Christ, said, "You almost persuade me to be a Christian!" Paul had turned from Festus to King Agrippa, asking him if he believed the prophets. Perhaps the reply of Agrippa was only a sneer. Possibly his heart was touched and he wished to hide it. No matter; one thing we know—this was Agrippa's one great opportunity for salvation, and he threw it away! Such opportunity comes to all. Every lost one was at some time on the edge of being saved. Men reach the door—but do not enter. They are near the kingdom of God—and then turn away unsaved.
There is a story of a woman lost in the Alps. All night she wandered, seeking the way to refuge. In the morning they found her a few steps from the hotel which she was vainly striving to reach. Just so, close about heaven's gates, countless souls perish—almost saved, yet lost. Almost will not avail.
The intensity of Paul's desire for the conversion of his judges was shown by his next words:
"I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains." Paul knew that he had something which Agrippa and the others had not. Sometimes Christian people forget that they are children of God, that they have eternal life, that heaven is theirs. But even in the presence of the king, the governor, and the other people of rank that day—Paul was conscious that he was far richer than they were, had a higher rank. He had something which they had not, and to possess which would greatly add to their happiness. If Christians all had this realization of their dignity, honor, and noble calling—it would greatly add to their power in urging others to come with them into the same blessed life.
After a conference, those who had heard Paul, agreed that "this man might have been set free, if he had not appealed unto Caesar." So it looked as if Paul had made a serious mistake in appealing Caesar. If he had not done so—he would have been set free that day. His appeal that day, however, made it necessary that he should be sent to Rome. To some it would have seemed better that he should have been released from prison—that he might go out to preach. But there was another Hand that was at work, unseen those days, amid the complicated movement of things. God's plan was being wrought out in spite of, even in and through, men's enmities and persecutions.
Paul had a mission to Rome. He was needed to carry the gospel there. If he had been released at this time he would probably have been seized again by the Jews and might have fallen a victim to their rage and hatred. This appeal made it necessary that the government should take him to Rome. Thus protection was assured to him and he was carried to the world's capital, without personal expense, that he might there preach the gospel. Thus Rome itself became a helper in extending Christ's kingdom through the empire. God's plans for our lives are always good, and we need only to submit to them.
Paul's voyage to Rome was interrupted by a furious storm. It is recorded that "there arose . . . a tempestuous wind." The winds seemed to be fighting against Paul. We must not always decide, however, that opposition, difficulty, or hindrance shows divine displeasure. This ship was carrying God's servant to his destination, and yet this terrible storm arose on the sea. God's people are passing though this world—to heaven, and yet they meet obstacles and hardships in the very path of duty. They must not conclude that these things indicate God's displeasure. There are reasons known to God, why trials are better for us sometimes, than favoring circumstances. If this ship had had smooth sailing right through, we would never have had this wonderful story of Paul's sublime faith and God's wonderful deliverance. This is one of the most remarkable chapters in the annals of Paul's career.
"The next day they lightened the ship." They hoped that by casting out some of the freight they might save the ship and the lives of those on board. Next day, as the storm grew worse, they threw out even the furniture. Valuable and important as these things were, they must be sacrificed that something more important might be saved. It often becomes necessary in life's voyage to lighten the ship—in order to save it. That is one of the blessings of tempests and storms in our lives; they compel us to cast out the things of earth and our sins—in order to save our souls. There are some things we never can take to heaven. If we ever get there we must lighten the ship or it will sink with us in the dark waves of death.
There are too many people, however, who are not willing to make sacrifices of earthly things, even to gain spiritual blessings. There are stories of men who, on sinking ships, have sought to carry off their gold—but have lost their lives in the effort. We ought to be willing to sacrifice anything, in order to gain the favor of God. It is more to be desired than anything else.
If the master of the vessel and the officers in charge of the prisoners had remained in the safe shelter, as Paul had urged, they would have been safe. So Paul said to them, "Sirs, you should have hearkened unto me, and not . . . have gained this harm and loss." Many a trouble in life comes from not taking good advice. No doubt the seamen laughed at Paul's counsel about not leaving Crete. He was only a landsman, and what did he know about seamanship? By and by they learned that if they had only taken his advice—they would have been spared the trouble and loss which the storm cost them. If they had only stayed in the quiet shadow of Crete, instead of putting out to sea, they would have been in no danger during this terrible tempest.
There are young men who refuse to stay in the shadow of the Church, under the influence of parental love and home tenderness, beneath the protection of God's commandments, and who, disregarding all advice, put out to sea, and are caught in wild tempests. Then they learn what a mistake they made when they took their own way, instead of listening to wise counsel.
After rebuking them gently for their failure to hearken to him, Paul spoke encouraging words. "There stood by me this night the angel of God." So there are angels who come to earth with messages and ministries for God's children. God will always find some way to help his children in the dark hours of their earthly experiences. The oldsailors on that ship did not know where they were that night—but God knew where his servant was, the angel had no trouble in finding the ship on the sea, and the man he sought amid the ship's company. Not one of God's children need ever have any fear of being lost to God or forgotten by him—in this time of need.
Paul was proud to proclaim himself a follower of him who had sent his angel to speak to him; he said, "Whose I am, and whom I serve." Many people profess to belong to Christ, and yet they do not serve him. They sing consecration prayers—but do not live their hymns and prayers. Their consecration is more a matter of sentiment than of life. Paul really belonged to Christ, and, therefore, served him. At his conversion he relinquished all claim to himself, and all right to the direction and control of his own life. The highest nobleness in heaven or on earth is to serve the Lord Christ, saying from the heart, "I belong to Christ."
The message of the angel was an assurance of safety. "Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar." If he must stand before Caesar in Rome, he could not perish in the sea on the way to Rome. Everyone, doing God's will, is immortal until his work is done. If God has something for us to do next year—he will not allow us to die this year. It ought to be a great comfort to us amid the sickness and danger of this world—that each life is in the care of God, that no disease or accident can reach one of God's children, without his permission. We need never give ourselves any anxiety about anything; our only care should be to be true to God, and faithful in duty. Then God will take care of us, and death cannot touch us until our work on earth is finished.
The angel had a further assurance for Paul's companions: "God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you." This word is very suggestive. Paul had been praying, not only for himself—but for his fellow passengers and for the sailors. We see, therefore, that God answers prayer. If Paul had not been on that ship and if he had not prayed, all would have been lost in the storm. The men's lives were saved, because there was one man on board who knew God, and who had faith in prayer.
Another suggestion here is how much even wicked people owe to the godly. The lives of two hundred and seventy-five people were carried safely through the storm—for the sake of one godly man, and because of his intercession. We never know how much we owe to the prayers of our friends. The wicked in any community, know not what blessings come to them for the sake of the godly people around them.
Probably those to whom Paul told these things, looked as if they did not believe. Paul was content to rebuke them by making the assertion of his own faith.
"I believe God that it shall be, even as it was told me." Paul's faith was very sublime. There was no human reason to expect anything but the foundering of the ship, and the perishing of all on board. The angel of God had come to Paul with the assurance of his deliverance, and Paul simply believed his word. It was against all probability, yet Paul said quietly, "I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me." That is faith—the laying hold of a Word of God—and absolutely believing it, believing it so really as to venture everything upon it. Any Word of God—is a word that we may take hold of. Those who cling to God's promises, shall never perish.
When in the midst of the tempest, an angel stood by Paul and assured him that he must be brought before Caesar; which meant that he could not perish in the sea, he was assured that for his sake all on board should escape, thought the ship would be lost.
"Except these abide in the ship, you cannot be saved," was the assurance. Yet Paul had said before, that there should be no loss of life on the ship. He had received this assurance, too, from the angel. If it was the divine purpose that no life should perish in this storm—then why did Paul say here, that unless the seamen stood at their posts, the passengers could not be saved? The divine assurance of safety—did not do away with the use of all proper human means for securing deliverance.
More and more the prisoner was revealed as the man for the emergency. "Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat." We must always care for our bodily health. When Elijah was fleeing from Jezebel's threat, despairing because of the seeming failure of his work, an angel found him under a juniper tree, wishing he were dead. Instead of giving him good advice, or even reminding him of the divine promises, the angel brought him something to eat. Then, after he had eaten, he slept. Food and sleep, were what Elijah needed. There are times when what people need is not a gospel tract, nor good advice, nor even a prayer—but something to eat, clothes to keep them warm.
The influence of Paul's act was magical. "They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves." By being brave, cheerful and composed in time of danger, Paul lifted up the whole ship's company into the same confident mood. By his cheerful manner and loving interest in the others—he inspired them all with confidence. There are few things the world needs more, than just such influence.
There come experiences in life when material things must be sacrificed for the sake of higher interest. In this storm the cargo was thrown overboard, in order that the ship might be beached and the men's lives saved. We cannot reach the haven of eternal rest laden down with the things of this world. When a vessel was burning near the shore, and all were leaping into the water to swim to safety, there was one man who tied his gold about his body, thinking to carry it to shore; but the moment he leaped into the water—he sank to the bottom like a stone! If he had been willing to give up his gold—his life might have been saved.
We have an illustration of this truth in the history of the flight of Cortez, on that fearful night when the Aztecs compelled the invaders to escape for their lives. The vast masses of gold that had been accumulated were more than could be carried off, as each soldier would have to fight his way through the army of the enemy. Each man was allowed to take what he would—but their commander warned them against overloading. Said he, "He travels safest in the dark night—who travels lightest." The more cautious men heeded the advice—but others were less self-restrained. Some bound heavy chains of gold about their necks and shoulders, and some filled their wallets with the bulky ingots until they literally staggered under their burdens. All who tried to carry off the gold—became an easy prey to the lances of the enemy.
Anchors are very important—but here even they must be cast off. There are anchors which hold many people from salvation or from a full consecration to Christ. Sometimes a secret sin is the chain, sometimes it is a human companionship or friendship, sometimes love for the world's riches or pleasures. Christ made this very plain when he said that if our hand or our foot causes us to sin—we should cut it off; that we would better escape into life, halt or maimed, than keep both hands and feet and perish. If we find that there is any such thing, no matter how dear it is to us—we should resolutely cut it off and cast it away!
The narrative tells us that "the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners." After a battle, a wounded enemy within the lines piteously cried for water. An officer ran to him and gave him drink. Refreshed and revived by the water, the wounded man, seeing that his benefactor was of the opposite army, drew his pistol and shot him. Something like this was the spirit of these soldiers. The centurion, however, shows us the reverse spirit—gratitude. He remembered how much they all owed to one particular prisoner, and checked the evil purpose of his men, not only saving Paul himself—but for his sake, all the prisoners.
The centurion's plan was far better than that of the soldiers. "He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety." We have here a beautiful parable. The voyage itself is a parable of the Christian's life voyage. The island represents heaven. Everything has to be given up to reach it. But it will be noticed that not one person was lost—all reached the land. However, not all got to the shore in the same way. Some swam out, while others had to cling to pieces of board, thus barely escaping. Not all Christians reach heaven in the same way. Some enter triumphantly, with song and shout; some are barely saved, gaining the shores of glory only on the shattered fragments of their earthly hopes. Happy will we be if we get into heaven at last in any way, through any difficulty or earthly loss! But it is possible for all to have the "abundant entrance," and we should strive so to live that we may secure it.
It must have been a happy hour for Paul when he saw Rome and entered the gates. For a long time he had earnestly wished to preach the gospel there. He came, however, not as a free man—but as a prisoner. Yet this was really favorable, for he was under the protection of the Roman Government and free from Jewish persecution—much more free to preach than if he had gone there merely as a missionary. His prison was not a dungeon—he "was allowed to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him." He was treated kindly, with as little restraint as possible. He was secured by a slight chain round the right wrist to the left wrist of a soldier—but was allowed to be at large within the palace, or even, if he could afford it, to hire lodging for himself outside. His prison became a center of influence for good, a place to which people were constantly coming.
"After three days Paul called together the leaders of the Jews." Paul lost no time. As soon as he was settled in his new lodgings he began his work. Some good people waste a great deal of time in waiting, before taking up their duties. They loiter over their tasks. They put things off. They let golden days and hours pass unimproved. It is very important to learn how to use time—so as not to waste it. For one thing we need an earnest purpose in the heart, and Paul carried a burning fire in his bosom, the love of Christ, which impelled him to instant and strenuous service. He had a message to men—and he could not rest until he had delivered it.
"I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar," he explained to the Jews his presence in the Eternal City. It seems remarkable that it was necessary for him, thus to put himself under heathen protection in order that he might do Christ's work freely. It is also very pleasant to think how the providence of God overruled this appeal. Paul was carried to Rome under the protection of Roman soldiers. This is another illustration of the providence of God in the lives of al his people. We need not suppose, either, that Paul was exceptionally a man of providence. The same God who cared for him—is thinking of us and of our lives, planning our circumstances and conditions, and is always ready to overrule what may seem to be evil—if only we put all into his hands.
With simple fervor he said, "Because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain." He held up his arm with the chain on his wrist while he spoke these words. He was a prisoner, and yet we see in him, nothing of the spirit of the captive. Indeed, he was the freest man in all Rome that day! A canary, when put into a cage, flies up on a bar and begins to sing. That is the kind of prisoner Paul was. He was a rejoicing captive. He was wearing a chain, not because he was a criminal—but because he was a Christian for Christ's sake. This fact made him bear the chain, without being ashamed of it. It was not in his eyes, a mark of dishonor. When a criminal looks down upon his chain he sees in it a toke of shame and degradation. But Paul's chain never brought a blush to his cheek. No chain of gold ever worn by prince or noble, was such a mark of honor—as the iron chain which the apostle held up that day. He gloried now that he could wear a chain for Christ. Then the chained hand was not idle.
While in his prison Paul wrote many letters, among others one to the Philippians, the most cheerful and joyous of all his epistles. Every line of it is full of gladness and bird songs. No part of his ministry yielded sweeter influences, than that wrought in his prison. We shall not likely have the privilege of literally wearing chains for Christ—but there are many hindrances and limitations in every Christian life, which are really chains upon us. Sickness sometimes shuts us in. Poverty ties the hands of many. Christians who are not free to do what their hearts prompt them to do for Christ, should study Paul with his chain—and gather the lesson of victoriousness and rejoicing. His prison life was not lost time for him—there went continually from his place of activity, rich blessings for his fellow men.
At that time the Christian Church was only a poor, despised handful. The little church in Rome seemed to have no influence in the great center of worldly power. But what did it grow into? Old Rome has long since gone. Its glories have perished. Only a few of the ruins of the ancient city, tell now the story of its greatness. But that despised sect, then everywhere spoken against, touches now all the world with its influence. We need not fear when our cause is weak and despised. Almost every great movement for good, began in the same way. A divine life, however, was in Christianity, and it could not be crushed. The little stone cut from the mountain without hands—now fills all the earth. We must not let the world's judgment of Christianity, affect our confidence in it.
We are told that "Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house." Prisons have often become centers of blessing in this world. The history of these years in Paul's prison in the heart of Rome, never can be written. Thousands came to hear the gospel from his lips and went away rejoicing to tell the story to others. Letters were written there which went out to distant churches with their words of life starting immortal influences. Nero was emperor then. Contrast Nero's palace with Paul's prison—and then the influence of Nero's life with Paul's. Which was the happier man—the emperor or the prisoner? Which made his life the nobler, the more beautiful, the greater blessing in the world?
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