Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE ESSENTIAL BUT THE INSUFFICIENT. (Vers. 1-5.) At Ephesus Paul met with disciples who had been baptized "unto John's baptism" (ver. 3), but who had not learnt to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, nor even heard that there was a Holy Ghost (ver. 2). These men were well on the way to salvation by Jesus Christ, but they were far from the goal. Repentance is essential, but it is not sufficient of itself.
1. It is essential; for without it the heart remains estranged from God, the soul unturned from self and sin, the life unrelieved of that which is false and wrong; and without it there is no sense of that spiritual need which welcomes a Divine Savior with humility and trust, which rejoices in a Divine Lord to whom full submission may be made. The Christian preacher who does not enforce repentance is fatally lacking in his duty; the Christian disciple who has not experienced it is fatally short of fulfilling the condition of acceptance with God.
2. It is not sufficient; for
(1) it leaves the soul without any pledge of Divine forgiveness;
(2) it leaves the heart without that personal union with a Divine Redeemer in which consists the very essence of spiritual and eternal life;
(3) it leaves the spirit of man without the abiding indwelling and quickening influence of the Spirit of God. Therefore let the Christian teacher make much of the distinctive doctrine of the faith he preaches, and continually testify not only "repentance towards God," but "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
II. THE VALUABLE BUT THE TEMPORARY. (Ver. 6.) "When Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues," etc. It was desirable, then, that the presence and power of the Divine Spirit should be manifested by "signs and wonders." It was, at that stage of the progress of the gospel, a very valuable contribution to its triumph; it gave assurance to those on whom he came, and evidence to those who "were without." Experience soon proved (e.g. the Corinthian Church) that this order of evidence and influence was open to abuse, and that it was not of the kind that could be permanent in the Church.
1. We can plainly see that in these days it would be practically useless: it would be, to ordinary observers, indistinguishable from the jugglery and affectations of the impostor.
2. God has given us that which is better, with which we may well be content, and for the perfection of which we should strive and pray. He gives us, as the consequence of our faith and as the response to our believing prayer, quickening influences in the soul; a Divine action upon and within the spirit, of the actual working of which we are not usually conscious at the moment of operation, but the effects of which are obvious to ourselves and to others. They are these:
(1) an assurance of sonship (Romans 8:16);
(2) a desire to bear witness unto Christ, so that without any gift of tongues we shall overcome all obstacles, and speak of him and for him;
I. LESSONS FROM PAUL IN THIS RELATION. His care for souls is comprehensive, zealous, and wise.
1. "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?" Is your religion genuine? Is it profound? Is it a living consciousness of God within the soul? Or a dependence on forms, on creeds, on ideas merely? How many trained and taught as Christians must answer, "We know not yet the Holy Spirit"! the new birth, the love, "the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father"!
2. "In whom were ye then baptized?" A question also for us. What means the name "Christian" that you bear? Is the devil and all his works daily renounced? Baptism reminds us of God the Father, and of childhood to him; of God the Son, and of redemption through his blood; of God the Holy Spirit, and of the temple we ought spiritually to be. Let us ask ourselves the questions Paul asked of the disciples of the Baptist.
II. LESSONS FROM THE DISCIPLES OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
1. They are typical, as we have seen, of many among us; and those who resemble them among us should be treated in like manner. There are those who stand upon a lower step of faith. They know that the gospel requires them to give up sin; perhaps not yet that it calls them to the perfect trust and the love that casts out fear. They confess themselves ignorant if questioned of this "higher life."
2. The testing question. A living faith, a life in conformity with the baptismal profession, a sanctified speech and life, give the only satisfactory answer.
3. The unity of all disciples under one Master. "One is your Master, and all ye are brethren" Human teachers impart their words, Christ his Spirit. Human teachers lay the foundation, give the elements; he leads on to perfection, guides to the goal. Many are the schools of philosophy, one is the Church of Jesus Christ. - J.
I. THE SUPREMACY OF THE GOSPEL.
1. To Judaism.
2. To reformed Judaism with the new hopes revived in it by John.
3. To mere moral change and reformation of life.
II. THE PRACTICAL POWER OF A TRUE FAITH. Those that believed as Paul would have them believe became, not only spiritual men, but preachers. The faith which evangelizes is not a cold assent to truth, not a mere principle of religious reverence and order regulating the individual life, not a mere setting of Christ on the throne of the intellect as the highest Teacher, but a faith which works by love through the energy el the Spirit bestowed. They believe, and therefore speak. The test of true faith is its aggressive tendency. That which sits at home is paralyzed. - R.
I. THAT THE STRESS OF THE PASSAGE BELONGS, NOT TO THE SUBJECT OF BAPTISM, BUT TO THE SUBJECT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. The point of departure of Paul is from the question, "Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?" His first inquiry is not respecting the baptism of those whom he was addressing.
II. THAT THE DISPENSATION OF CHRISTIANITY IS TO BE EMPHATICALLY APPRAISED AS THE DISPENSATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Too little stress is ever laid upon this grand fact. Too much stress cannot possibly be laid upon it. And whatever the causes of the former of these things, it may be said that the apostle, from the very first, did what in him lay to provide against a defect so disastrous in its certain tendency and work.
III. THAT BAPTISM IS THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, WHATEVER REFERENCE IT MAY OBVIOUSLY AND FOR OBVIOUS REASONS CARRY TO HIM, IS EQUIVALENT TO THE SIGN OF ADMISSION TO ALL THE PRIVILEGES OF THE SPIRIT, AND TO IMPLICIT SUBMISSION ON THE PART OF THOSE OF MATURE YEARS TO THE FULL RULE OF THE SPIRIT.
IV. THAT TO INVEST THIS FACT WITH THE GREATEST POSSIBLE PLAINNESS AND EMPHASIS, EVEN THE SPECIAL GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN APOSTOLIC TIMES WERE BESTOWED AS THE SEQUEL OF BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. - B.
the Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word." A sentiment is allowed to prevail that "revelation must always be perfect and complete." It is always perfect in its fitness to its times and to its purpose, but any particular revelation is only a piece and a part of the truth, and it is imperfect when it is treated as separate from the whole of which it is a part.
1. There is historical progression in Divine revelation. Broad principles, covering the general relations of God with men, were given to the early world. Each passing age was helped to fill in some part of the outline. There was a fullness of times for the manifestation of Messiah, and, step by step, truth had advanced to meet the revelation which he brought.
2. There is progression in our apprehension of the Christian truth. No man can grasp it all at once. It comes to us all bit by bit, step by step. Some of the more advanced Christian truths cannot possibly be grasped until certain other and preparatory ones are well learned; and some even of these preparatory truths cannot be really grasped until we have passed through the sanctified experiences of middle life. Take, for instance, the Fatherhood of God. A man must experimentally learn the mystery of the human fatherhood before he can really receive the full revelation of the Divine Fatherhood. As a son he may know how he feels towards the Father, but until he is a father he cannot know how the great Father feels towards him. In the matter of our salvation the Divine order of progress seems to be
(1) John and repentance;
(2) Jesus and faith;
(3) the Spirit and holiness.
I. IS THE PROGRESSION OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH, THE DOCTRINE OF THE HOLY GHOST IS THE HIGHEST REVELATION YET MADE. It comes last. It comes after and through the objective Christ. It is the inward witness to him who lived, labored, died, and rose," God manifest in the flesh." The spiritual operations of God in men's minds and hearts may be traced in Old Testament times. All spiritual life always is by the energy of God's Spirit. And the specialty of the working of the Holy Ghost in the new kingdom is not that he is some new Spirit, but that his agencies of motive, persuasion, and instruction are all taken from the manifested life of the Son of God. He "takes of the things of Christ, and reveals them unto us." Our Lord said of him, "He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you."
II. THE TRUTH OF THE HOLY GHOST, BEING THE HIGHEST TRUTH, IS THE ONE WHOSE PRACTICAL INFLUENCE IS MOST ESSENTIAL TO HIGH AND HOLY LIVING. We are responsible for attaining the best that can be attained. We are not at the highest when we accept of the truth of Christ for us; that is but a low first step of spiritual apprehension. We have but taken a little step]up when we apprehend the truth of Christ with us. We only gain the wonderful experiences, and reach the highest Christian power, when we know of Christ in us. All growth in the Christian life is response to the life of the Spirit in our souls. Growth
(1) in knowledge;
(2) in graces;
(3) and in the mastery of the soul over the body.
His presences and his working in us are the spring of all our impulses to whatsoever is good and wise and true.
III. THE TRUTH OF THE SPIRIT, BRING THE HIGHEST TRUTH, IS THE ONE MOST EASILY IMPERILLED. Therefore we should be most jealous of the doctrine and the personal experience of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. The Christian sin that is of unspeakable sadness is quenching or grieving the Spirit. The sin that hath never forgiveness is sin against the Holy Ghost. The prayer that utters forth to God a soul's innermost agony is this: "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me." The highest truths are always likely to fade first. In the individual experience, and in the Church doctrine, the truth of the Spirit will fade from its place and power long before any dimness seems to pass over the figure of the manifested human Christ. Trees mostly die from the top downward. And the first effect of wearing and weathering is to rub off those delicate touches and tints, which are the highest efforts of the artist, and give the supreme charm to his work. Impress that we may be, like these Ephesians, behind the revelation that has been made for us, or indifferent to it. Then we may pity them, but we must blame ourselves. And we must humble ourselves, and repent, if, knowing of this gentle, awful, gracious, comforting Holy Ghost, we are found neglecting his Divine inworkings. He is the last and highest revelation of God to men; then let us not "grieve the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption." - R.T.
I. THAT THE SUPERNATURAL IS TO BE SUBORDINATED TO THE SPIRITUAL. (Vers. 8-12.) We remember how our Lord refused to gratify the unworthy craving for signs and wonders in his day: "There shall no sign be given to this generation" (Mark 8:12); repeatedly he discouraged the demand for the miraculous, because it interfered with the teaching of truth, and so with the furtherance of his spiritual work. We find Paul making comparatively little of these great "gifts;" his chronicler does not enlarge on them, but disposes of them in very few words, no doubt reproducing and reflecting thus the mind of the apostle; he himself does not make a single allusion to them in his address to the eiders at Miletus (Acts 20.); he disparages rather than magnifies their importance in his Epistles (2 Corinthians 13., 14.). We are led to feel that the "special miracles wrought by the hands of Paul" are of very secondary value, as compared (ver. 11) with his diligence in persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God" (ver. 8), and with his enterprise and zeal in so acting that "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (ver. 10). We need not sigh for departed times when the gospel had some sanctions and supports which it has not now. All that is of first importance, all that is truly redemptive and Divine, abides with the Church of Christ, and will remain for ever.
1. The knowledge of the living and saving truth.
2. The love of it, and joy in it.
3. The privilege of making it known.
4. The accessibility of those heavenly influences which make it powerful and efficacious to our own hearts and to the souls of those whom we address.
II. THAT THE NATURAL CANNOT DO THE SPECIAL WORK or THE SPIRITUAL. These exorcists (ver. 13) had probably been so far successful that they had induced their fellow-citizens to believe that in them resided a strange power over the insane or the possessed. But when they used the name of Jesus in order to effect their object, they failed signally and disgracefully. In this respect they are types of those who attempt to do God's work without Divine weapons. Only the spiritual can do spiritual work. It is true that unspiritual men may
(1) understand much of the Divine thought;
(2) speak what they know with skill and force;
(3) assume a sacred tone and spirit, and may affect men by that assumption;
(4) maintain for years a reputation for devotion and usefulness. But it is also true that
(1) if any spiritual result should follow, it will be through the overruling power of God, - it will not be their work, in any true sense;
(2) no considerable or permanent results will follow, - such unreal conditions will not stand the test of time;
(3) there will come exposure and humiliation, either here or hereafter. Wherefore let us honor the spiritual as that which is the one true, abiding Divine power. Let us:
(1) Welcome to our heart the first teachings and leadings of the Divine Spirit.
(2) Establish our whole life on the basis of the spiritual; live and walk "in the Spirit," as those who realize that outward shows are as nothing to the great spiritual realities.
(3) Do the work of God with spiritual weapons; not attempting to build up the kingdom of God by bodily benefits, political economies, or human philosophies. These have their place and their work, as handmaids and auxiliaries, and are by no means to be despised. But the Christian minister must make men "hear the words of the Lord Jesus," must speak of those things which distinctively "concern the kingdom of God;" he must utter specially Christian doctrine, and look for positively Divine influence. - C.
I. THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL SEEN IN THE ACTIVITY OF PAUL. It becomes a two-edged sword in his hand against all the powers of darkness. Three months' continuous preaching of great evangelical truths may lay the foundation of spiritual building for the lifetime of many souls. In three relations this influence of the gospel is felt:
(1) upon the hard and unbelieving hearts (vers. 8-10);
(2) upon forms of sickness;
(3) upon the dark works of godless magic.
1. With reference to the first, he refused to throw pearls before swine. Or, like a faithful shepherd, he separated the untainted sheep from the rest of the flock, that they might not be injured. To attempt in act or thought to separate or excommunicate individuals from the true Church is a usurpation of Divine authority; a violent plucking of the supposed tares from the wheat. It is a different thing to go apart one's self from those believed to be in error. This is an exercise of personal liberty; the former an encroachment on the rights of others.
2. With reference to the second, it appears to have been the vital health of the inspired apostle which opposed and conquered bodily sickness. Not relics of a dead man, but clothes of a living man, were the instruments of the cure. The means are of slight importance when the Divine power is present. It was not Peter's shadow at Jerusalem (Acts 5:15), nor here at Ephesus Paul's handkerchief, which wrought the cures, but the living spiritual force in the will, that is, the faith of the worker. The Roman relic-worshipper expects life from dead things, salvation from that which in the nature of things has no healing power. Nor is the expectation of life and spiritual health from rites and ceremonies more reasonable. The service of dead works is placed in the room of the inward organ of a living faith.
3. The third mode of St. Paul's activity: the people placed in trust of God's Word had fallen into the practice of the most foolish magic arts. The impostors' mode imitate the apostle's. Not in teaching the truth nor in converting souls, but in aping the wondrous deeds of the apostle, so seeking to secure a like credit. 'Tis the way of all false teachers and spurious imitators; they can mimic the gesture, cannot catch the spirit. The counterfeit is all but the original; but an immense chasm lies in that all but! "Jesus whom Paul preaches." The faith of very many is but a faith in the faith of some one else - a dependence on hearsay, like that of these teachers. And this is weakness itself. The "seven sons of the high priest" may remind us of the old commonplace that external association with sacred things is not always favorable to piety. On the contrary, the old proverb says, "The nearer the church, the further from God." This is an extreme way of stating a patent truth. But the evil spirit defies the feeble imitator, will not yield to his spells, knows the difference between the man filled with and the man empty of God. If we advance to the combat without a call and without an inspiration, we shall incur humiliation. We cannot create an inspiration, nor call ourselves. "Paint a fire; it will not therefore burn." Mock enthusiasm will be found out. "Jesus and Paul I know; but who are ye?" Try to preach without believing your own doctrine, speak of Jesus as a Friend while the heart is averse from him; the mocking voice of the fiend will be heard within, and efforts to convince others will be as the blows of one that fighteth the air. The lie of the heart will paralyze the mightiest eloquence; but the simple truth of the conscience will be a power made manifest in weakness. The false teachers are impotent in the presence and before the attack of the passionate evil spirit; they are overpowered, and flee naked and wounded out of the house. The devil is a thankless master, and puts to shame his most zealous servants. 'Tis a condensed tragedy, this scene. A naked and a wounded soul is all that we may expect to carry from the service of falsehood.
II. THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL IN THE AWAKENED CONSCIENCE,
1. Fear fell on all. Falsehood bows before the majesty of truth. The devils give witness to Jesus. His Name is glorified by the triumph of his servants and the subjection of his foes. Silence was broken, guilty reserve vanished. Probably both converted and unconverted had sin to confess. Fear is in the soul what the earthquake and the tempest are in the physical world. It breaks up the hard crust of habit, lets the pent-up lava-floods break forth, brings purification and health in its train.
2. Confession is freely made. We have no right to force the secrets of the heart. Happy is it when they are volunteered, and when the soul brought to itself thus of its own accord "gives glory to God."
3. Practical results. We need not debate the question of the confessional." More important is it to recognize that genuine confession is followed by a renouncement of the sin. Here those who had seen the error of their superstition promptly undid it. They brought their books and burned them in public. It seems a pity that we should thus have lost valuable information. They might have renounced the teaching of the books and spared the books themselves. The records of human aberration are equally useful to us with the records of sound philosophy. Experiments that have failed will not readily be tried again. But in the fervor of a first love all is excusable. Where great corruption has prevailed, there will be presently a reaction, and extreme Puritanism will set in. Where pleasure has run to license legitimate pleasure will presently be looked upon with suspicion. The example of the Ephesians is not to be followed literally, but in spirit. Evil, like good, is everywhere present. Burn bad books, they will be read the more. Denounce "spiritualism," etc., and people's curiosity wilt be inflamed about it. Sophistry is hydra-headed: directly we seem to make little way against it. The best counsel is - Let alone what you know is injurious to you. Let the understanding be strengthened and the affections purified, and superstition will fall from the mind as an eruption disappears from the skin when the body is restored to health. "Thus mightily grew the Word of God." Live for the truth; sow it, plant it out in all minds, and let there be no room for the ill weeds to grow. - J.
Acts 19:8-20 (or ver. 20)
I. THE PECULIAR GRACIOUSNESS of the miracles wrought at Ephesus, as speaking so loudly against the prevalent superstitions.
1. As showing forth a greater power than was dreamed of amongst men.
2. As connecting the working of signs with the messages of mercy. Paul disclaimed all power of his own, and simply invited faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. As rebuking and dishonoring the falsehoods and presumptions of those who were enslaving the people.
4. As revealing the benevolence and philanthropy of the gospel in distinction from the selfish and sordid practices of those who used sorcery for their own profit.
II. THE MARVELLOUS SPIRITUAL POWER PUT FORTH. The whole neighborhood ringing with the fame of the miracles and with the story of the gospel.
1. The special difficulty of effecting a change in such men. Their interests involved. Their pride wounded. Their ignorance and self-deception binding them fast.
2. The vastness of the change wrought. The burning of the books, their very means of livelihood. The value great - two thousand pounds stealing. The publicity of the act made it irrevocable.
3. The widespread influence of such a testimony, more than words, more than personal confession. It would preach the gospel to all Asia.
4. The beneficent effect on the future of the people in delivering them from the entanglement of magical superstitions, and so leaving them open to the preaching of the gospel. "Fear fell upon them all, and the Name of the Lord Jesus was magnified (of the similar event at Florence under the preaching of Savonarola). - R.
I. A HOME OF SOME SAFETY FOR DISCIPLES. Such a home should be able to show:
1. Shelter from the "hardened" world; the world that does not believe, and resolutely will not believe; the world that, being thus disposed as to itself, is also manifestly disposed to disturb the belief and peace of those who do believe, seeking to enter in to ravage "the flock" (Acts 20:29). This it was abundantly easy to do in the synagogue by every kind of dishonest quibble and disputatious debate. It should not be by any means so possible within the fold of the Church.
2. Teaching of the truth. The truth should be certain of being obtained here, and the teacher should be competent. He will teach, not by force of authority, but by persuasion of the truth. He will be listened to and esteemed because he shall prove his word, and prove it to be a word of power.
3. Sympathizing companionship. It is needed
(1) for prayer and the exercises of religion;
(2) for daily social life;
(3) for the stimulating of religious purpose and work.
II. AN OPEN DOOR OF ENTRANCE AND A WELCOME FOR THE WORLD.
1. Nothing more dishonors the place of the Church of Christ, or disowns all that is most characteristic of his Spirit, than exclusiveness.
2. The door of entrance is to be large enough to admit not only the honest seekers, not only those who already show the signs of penitence, not only those by nature humble and meek, but all who will enter - the worst, the most unpromising. These cannot, indeed, enter into the Church itself of Christ; but even to them welcome may be given to the place of the Church, that "haply they may be born" again therein. If, indeed, they enter and stay to show themselves the disturbers of disciples and the resolutely "hardened," we have here our authority how to proceed. But otherwise let them be free to enter within the walls of Zion. Let them there hear the Word and, if needs be, debate it. Let them be free to hear the prayers and join the songs of disciples; for "much people" for Christ may be amongst them. This is at least one of the ways by which the world is to be gained for Christ. It does not, indeed, exempt the Church from missionary and "aggressive" work - work which probably, in the more settled ecclesiastical state of our own country, has been lamentably overlooked. But it appears that it was the method by which, during "the space of two years, all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." When the world's turbulent streams dash by that river, full and deep and peaceful, of the city of God, the very contrast will arrest attention and arouse reflection in not a few. - B.
There must have been many an anxious hour, many a bitter struggle, many an exciting debate, before the Jews finally adopted a tone, not only of decided rejection, but even of so fierce an opposition, that St. Paul was forced once more, as at Corinth, openly to secede from their communion. We do not sufficiently estimate the pain which such circumstances must have caused to him. His life was so beset with trials, that each trial, however heavy in itself, is passed over amid a multitude that were still more grievous. But we must remember that St. Paul, though a Christian, still regarded himself as a true Israelite, and he must have felt, at least as severely as a Luther or a Whitefield, this involuntary alienation from the religious communion of his childhood." We do but suggest three lines of thought; the treatment of them will depend upon the standpoint of the preacher.
I. SEPARATION AS AFFECTING THE IDEA OF THE CHURCH. Several distinct conceptions of Christ's Church on earth are found established among Christian people. Show how the idea of separation stands related to each; and how the Church, as a whole, ought to stand to any separated members.
II. SEPARATION AS AFFECTING THE FELLOWSHIP OF CHRISTIANS. Show that as fellowship depends on common Christian life and interests, we may reasonably expect it to triumph over differences in modes of worship, places of worship, and even over diversities of opinion.
III. SEPARATION AS AFFECTING THE RELATIONS OF MINISTERS TO SECTIONS. Especially point out the peril of over-estimating the point of division, and setting it in undue prominence in public teaching. A minister may preach sectional opinion rather than the "whole counsel of God." - R.T.
I. IN WHAT THE SPECIALTY OF THESE MIRACLES CONSISTS. We are taught the answer in one verse.
1. They are wrought without the laying on of the hands of Paul, without his presence, without his voice, without (so far as appears) even any knowledge on his part of the persons or the needs of the persons who received healing. These four circumstances do incontestably entitle them to the description of "special;" the nearest approach to them being miracles of the kind that were wrought when one touched "the hem of the garment" of Jesus. But Jesus did then perceive and know that "virtue was gone out of him."
2. They are wrought with intervening signs of most unusual kind; the connecting visible links being handkerchiefs and aprons that have been in some contact with the body of the apostle, and are now carried to the sick and possessed by any one - presumably any one of their friends. The nearest approach to anything so "special as this may, perhaps, be considered to occur in the conduct of those who brought their sick on their couches into the streets, that haply the mere shadow of Peter might overshadow some of them" (Acts 5:15). But in these cases there was far nearer and closer connection between the miracles wrought (if such were wrought) and Peter than the connection of handkerchiefs fitfully carried by any one.
II. THE OBJECTS OF THIS SPECIALTY OF MIRACLE.
1. To arrest a lively attention.
2. To suggest really far deeper thoughtfulness in all those who had thought to think.
3. To spread far and wide blessings themselves, each one of which had a hundred tongues to speak the praise of some one.
4. To attract attention to the miracle itself and the blessing wrapt in it and to the real Worker of it, rather than to suffer attention to be distracted by an apparently too close relation of the miracle to Paul personally. It is true that many in their blindness might still think and speak of all the wonderfulness of Paul, and even of the body of Paul. But yet others would be helped to see (what with time all the world would be sure to see) that it was no more due to Paul than to the handkerchief, that the miracle was wrought, but all due to God, and all to his praise and glory.
III. THE MORE GENERAL AND PERMANENT LESSONS OF THIS SPECIALTY OF MIRACLE. For the "special miracle" helps to reveal only the more definitely and distinctly the meaning of any miracle.
1. It is for the attainment of a great moral end; to give sufficient and just ground, for instance, to believe, to trust, and to act the things which, without it, might be only believed and trusted by credulity, or not at all.
2. It is to attain this moral end, without overriding the exercise of men's own reason and heart and conscience. The just suggestion, s of a miracle, forcible as they ought to prove, are still only moral helps and guides.
3. The miracle is so far forth for darker days and for the more backward stages of humanity. The foundation work for much to be built upon as time should travel on; the time fittest for the miracle is the earlier time, the more childish time of the world. Then the besetting snare of the miracle would, at all events, count for less harm, and the moral good of it would be enshrined a "possession for ever."
4. The miracle is useless if permanent. Evidently the day of miracle was drawing near its end when Peter's shadow was waited for. But very near indeed to its end was it when even Scripture says, "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul." If their end had not been now near, one of two things must have followed. Either they must have taken their place as grateful resources for the healing of the diseased and the dispossessing of the possessed, or, in order to keep their moral virtue and effect, they must have been becoming in long vista yet more and more "special." - B.
signs, and always wrought for the sake of some immediate or prospective moral benefit. This may be affirmed, however singular the mere form of the miracle may be. The circumstances under which God sees fit to allow his servants to work miracles need careful examination and consideration. In connection with the text we find special circumstances. St. Paul had separated the disciples, and formed a distinct Christian community. For his own sake, and for the satisfaction of the people, it was important that some attestation of the Divine approval should be given. The question had to be settled - Was the Christian community, thus separately constituted, as fully under the power of the Holy Ghost as the older Jewish Christian community had been? The speciality of the miracles is designed to intimate that, under these circumstances, a new and mightier baptism of God's Spirit came upon the apostle, so that, apart from conscious efforts of his own will, healing virtue went forth from him. It is also noticed that "This great effusion of healing power, which, it is implied by the tense of the verb wrought, continued for some time, was granted as a counterpoise to the magical and theurgic practices to which the Ephesians were addicted" (vers. 13,19). In explanation of the agency of "handkerchiefs and aprons," the following notes from Eastern travelers may be helpfully suggestive: - Thomson, in 'The Land and the Book,' says, "The external instruments connected with working miracles had, in ancient times, transferred to them, in imagination, a portion of the sanctity and reverence due to him who used them, or to that Divine power which was transmitted through them. This applied not only to the staves, robes, and mantles of prophets while living, but to such things as their bones also, and even their very gravestones, when dead. It is now common to bind on or wrap round the sick some part of the robes of reputed saints, in the belief that healing virtue will be communicated from it." Morier says, "At a short distance, near the roadside, we saw the burial-place of a Persian saint, enclosed by very rude walls. Close to it grew a small bush, upon the branches of which were tied a variety of rags and remnants of garments. The Persians conceive that these rags, from their vicinity to the saint, acquire peculiar preservative virtues against sickness; and, substituting others, they take bits away, and, tying them about their persons, use them as talismans." How far God was pleased to fit in with the common sentiment of the age, in his gracious condescension, requires consideration; we may observe that such special manifestations of miraculous powers were strictly temporary, limited to the particular occasion for which they were required. We view these "special miracles" as the outward sign of three things.
I. GOD'S APPROVAL OF ST. PAUL'S ACTION IN SEPARATING THE DISCIPLES. That action had been intensely trying to the apostle himself; and a very questionable thing to the view of the synagogue folk, and of the disciples who followed the apostle. If miraculous attestations had been withheld just at this juncture, the enemies of St. Paul would have been enabled to assert the Divine disapproval of his conduct, and St. Paul would himself have been disheartened. Compare how graciously now God often gives success to his servants when they are called to take special action; giving them converts in unusual numbers, and so silencing their adversaries.
II. GOD'S ATTESTING PRESENCE WITH THE CHURCH'S LIFE AND LABOR. In those days miracles were the strong affirmation, - " God is with us." The very point of them is that they were wrought in the power of God. The very purpose of them is to bring home to men's hearts the conviction that what the miracle-worker says is from God, seeing that, so evidently, what he does is from God. Miracles are needed when men are dependent on outward and sensible proofs. Miracles are not needed when men are able to estimate moral and spiritual proofs. And, therefore, miracles are not needed now.
III. GOD'S CONDESCENSION IN PERSUADING THE EPHESIANS BY ADAPTING HIS DEALINGS TO THEIR SENTIMENTS. They were inclined to magic, and based their belief on superstitious rites. God would not admit the truth of their "black arts," but he would consider the tone and temper of mind which characterized them, and adapt his dealings so as to meet their prejudices and persuade them. So teaching us that while we must never misrepresent or prejudice God's truth, we must always seek so to know men that we may adapt our presentations of truth to them, and meet them on their more impressionable sides. - R.T.
Acts 8:18, 19), they propose to themselves to take their chance at least in using and abusing the "glorious and fearful Name." And they suffer for their blasphemous and profane attempt. Notice -
I. THE PRESUMPTION INVOLVED.
1. They dare to try the use of the name of Jesus without any authority. No doubt Paul was cognizant of the aprons and handkerchiefs taken from his body, and willingly authorized the proceeding. Nothing analogous, however, finds place now with the exorcists.
2. They use that Name to supersede and as an experimental substitute for the name, or odious deceptive practices, whatever they were, which they had been accustomed to use.
3. They do this for no high-minded ambitious (even if erroneous) adventure, but doubtless for the adventure of money gain alone.
4. Those who do it are Jews, and they are sons of one who was "chief of the priests," and they conspire, seven in number, to do it.
II. THE EXPOSURE.
1. It is the exposure, not of Paul (as in the case of Simon Magus it was of Peter), nor of the horror of true disciples, nor of Heaven's intervention by lightning or thunderbolt.
2. A more humiliating exposure is reserved for these. Even the evil spirit cannot bear the presumptuous and intolerably conceived iniquity. And in the keen satire of truth, which perhaps none know better to accentuate than evil spirits, this ill spirit resents the puny challenge and scathes the hollow deception by a question following upon an honest enough confession, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?"
3. The mournfully afflicted man himself joins to make patent the exposure. No doubt already by the usurped organs of his speech it was that the ill spirit had uttered forth his trenchant rebuff, but now the record gives us to understand that the man himself (from whatever source he gained his inspiration) joined hand and limb, and suited the action to the word. The exposure surely needed no more to make it complete.
III. THE PUNISHMENT.
1. It was summary. Naked and wounded, the seven fled out of that house.
2. It was retributive. The man on whom they had experimented, and perhaps not now for the first time, had doubtless (like he of the tombs) often been "naked and wounded;" but now it is they who are in this plight.
3. It was essentially humiliating. "Seven flee before one" (Deuteronomy 28:7, 25), and him the despised or pitied one of long time!
4. It was humiliating in its circumstances. For it was not only patent at the time, but it became notorious. "It was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus." So sometimes even now iniquity reaches its height, the cup is filled to the full, the bold daring face that sin sets to heaven is overwhelmed with confusion, and the hour of judgment is arrived.
IV. THE EFFECTS. Whatever may be said too often, too inconsiderately in modern days, to the disparagement of faith in miracles and faith in prayer, and among other things faith in providence and the veritable nearness of the Divine hand, "strong to save" or "swift to smite," there is no doubt that these things were all heartily believed in by the early Church. They were also believed in by many who were not "disciples." Nor is this evidence traveling down from those who were on the spot in the alleged age and place of miracles unimportant. In the present history, just as true as anything else recorded, must this be held, when we read that the great effect was that "fear fell on them all, and that the Name of the Lord Jesus was magnified." If we are open to learn, we may receive help in the firm persuasion that there was such a thing as the possession by alien and evil spirits of the organs of the human body; that there was such a thing as miracle, special Divine interposition to the suspension of the ordinary course of things; and, dread suggestion that by whomsoever else, evil spirits are not to be overmastered by, but rather overmaster, evil men. - B.
I. THAT WHEN WE ACCEPT JESUS CHRIST WE YIELD OURSELVES TO HIM. To exercise a living faith in him is to take everything from him and to give everything to him; therefore to give ourselves to him and to his service. It is to recognize and respond to his supreme claims on heart and life.
II. THAT TO GIVE OURSELVES TO CHRIST MEANS TO ABANDON ALL THAT IS HATEFUL TO HIM. HOW can we love him and not hate and shun the things which are painful and offensive in his sight?
III. THAT TO ABANDON WHAT IS HATEFUL TO CHRIST IS TO PUT AWAY ALL THAT IS FALSE AND IMPURE. To live a life of imposture; to be systematically enriching ourselves at the expense of the credulity of others (as these Ephesians had been doing); to be acting falsehoods daily, or even frequently; to be introducing a large measure of vanity or folly into that which should be good and pure; - this is hateful to him who is the holy and the true One; this is unendurable by him in one who bears his name and professes to be like him and to follow him.
IV. THAT TO PUT ASIDE THAT WHICH IS PROFITABLE OR PLEASANT FOR CHRIST'S SAKE IS A SURE SIGN OF SINCERITY. The burning of these profitable "books" was the very best guarantee that could be given of the sincerity of the Ephesian converts. If we want to know how deep and true is a man's conviction, we do not ask what strong things he can say in its favor, or how eloquently he can descant upon it, or what fervor he shows on one or two occasions respecting it, but how much he is prepared to part with on its account. We ask what deep-rooted habits he will cut away, what cherished treasures he will put aside, what keen enjoyments he will forego, what money he will sacrifice, what prized but hurtful friendships he will surrender. This is the test of sincerity. A man that will do one or more of these things, "we know the proof of him.
V. THAT DELIBERATE SELF-SACRIFICE IS THE MOST APPRECIATED WITNESS WE CAN BEAR FOR CHRIST. So mightily grew the word of God," etc. (ver. 20). There is no way by which we can so powerfully affect the judgment and win the sympathy of men as by sacrificing for Christ's sake that which all men prize and strive for. When the world sees all who "profess and call themselves Christians" not only engaging in devotion, and endeavoring to make converts, but also denying themselves pleasures they would otherwise enjoy, spending on others the money they would else have spent on themselves, foregoing worldly advantages which they cannot conscientiously appropriate, then it will be convinced by arguments which now are without any cogency, and will be won by persuasions which now are urged in vain. - C.
I. TO COME VOLUNTARILY AND CONFESS.
II. TO DISCLOSE, AND TO DISCLOSE VOLUNTARILY, UNDER NO PRESSURE OF TORTURE OR INDUCEMENT OF FEAR OR BRIBE.
III. TO REPUDIATE FORMER WAYS, EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE THE WAYS OF LIFE'S LENGTH, OF GETTING A LIVELIHOOD.
IV. TO PUBLICLY RENOUNCE THE VERY INSTRUMENTS BY WHICH THE FORMER LIFE AND PROFESSION WERE SUSTAINED. This renunciation was particularly satisfactory in the present instances, inasmuch as it was:
2. A renunciation of large value of capital.
3. A determined putting away from the eyes the things that had often fed temptation.
4. And an effort to put the old evil course, as far as might be possible, out of memory itself. To this hardest thing of all God would give his gracious and effectual help, for its very endeavor's sake. - B.
I. SINCERE AND EARNEST CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ALWAYS, IN GREATER OR LESS DEGREE, ANTAGONISTIC TO THE FORMER LIFE. A man may take up with religion as a mere matter of profession, and find that such a religion makes little or no demand for change in his general sentiments or conduct. But if a man is truly regenerate, if religion is to him a serious, searching reality, he will soon find out that it is out of harmony with much in his former life, and as he cannot give up the religion he must give up the old habits and indulgences. This applies not only to such evils as intemperance and immorality, but also to more minute forms of questionable indulgence. Earnest Christian life is found to be corrective of even our cherished ideas, our views of truth and duty; and the most moral and amiable man is made so sensitive to purity and truth by a Divine regeneration that he finds something in his former life and thought which is out of harmony with his new feeling. It appears, therefore, that our Lord's principle is much more minutely searching than we imagine it to be: "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." The point of this head may be represented in full detail, as it concerns the several classes of a congregation. The principle enunciated will gain force by precise application to the class evils which sincere piety resists.
II. SINCERE AND EARNEST CHRISTIAN LIFE CAN ONLY BE MAINTAINED BY SETTING LIFE, ACTION, AND RELATIONS IN RIGHT TONE. A man may feel how opposed his sentiments and his habits are to the Christian profession he makes, and yet he may do nothing towards readjusting their relations. He may try to live his old self-willed life, and at the same time try to keep his faith in Christ and his soul-allegiance to him. But the point on which we now insist is, that he cannot do this. He imperils his Christian life in the attempt. He keeps himself open to Satanic temptations. He is in the almost hopeless, and certainly dishonorable, condition of those who, in olden times, "feared the Lord and served other gods." Full consistency between life and profession is absolutely necessary. In any case of conflict between the two, the Spirit of God will help us to a victory. If, even in small matters, we fail to keep the full harmony between piety and conduct, piety loses its tone, and gradually its very life. Formalism can allow license. Piety never can.
III. EFFORTS TO ADJUST CONDUCT SO AS TO MATCH RELIGION MAY INVOLVE SERIOUS SACRIFICE. As in the case of these Ephesian Christians. They destroyed books representing a great wealth. They might have sold them; but since others might be injured by them, they destroyed them, at great personal sacrifice. Illustration may be taken from certain forms of trade, which Christians feel they can no longer carry on; or from certain pleasures, in which they feel they can no longer indulge. Impress, in conclusion, the teaching of our Lord about the foolishness of the man who would take up a Christian profession, and does not "sit down first and count the cost." - R.T.
e.g. "His Word runneth very swiftly "(Psalm 147:15). "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified" (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
I. THE GROWING POWER OF GOD'S WORD. Reference is to the gospel message - the tidings brought to men concerning Jesus Christ; the message brought by Jesus Christ, the message centering in, and gathering round, Jesus Christ. Put into all kinds of moulds and shapes and forms of language, the "Word of the Lord" is this: The heavenly Father has himself overcome the hindrances and separating difficulties dividing him from his children. He is become a reconciling God, and in Jesus Christ his Son he is willing to pardon; he is waiting to welcome back home every returning, repenting, believing child. The apostle thinks of this gospel message as a "living thing," and so he speaks of its "growing. Wherever there is life there is growth. If there be life in the seed, there will be growth of blade, breaking the soil, and shooting up into the light. If growth ever ceases in our bodies, death ensues. And so, if there be life in God's gospel, it will have the power of widening, spreading, and enlarging its influence. The sign of growth noticed in connection with the text is the power which Christian truth increasingly gained over the feelings and the conduct of the Ephesian disciples, leading them to a most impressive public act of self-denial. Show that the growth takes two forms.
(1) Inward growth; the gospel as the soul's new life, gaining an ever-increasing self-mastery.
(2) Outward growth; the gospel as a testimony, winning more and more adherents as it is proclaimed more fully and widely. And impress
(3) that these two modes of growth are mutually related and mutually helpful. Culture of inward spiritual life always should bear its fruit in enlarged Christian activity; and greater energy put into Christian work should always be felt to make greater demands on Christian life and feeling. Illustrate this twofold growth from the history of the early Church.
II. THE PREVAILING POWER OF THE WORD. This sets before us two points.
1. Since there is life in the Word, and that life is seen in growth, it will be sure to meet with opposition. If the apostles would only have ceased to witness for Christ, they would have suffered no persecution. If any of us will let the life in Christ fade down and die within us, the world will cease to present any opposition. The dead in trespasses and sins have no difficulties; but they that will live godly must suffer persecution." It is a simple condition of growth, that it involves resistance; it pushes its way against opposition. And, in the case of earnest piety, this opposition becomes more than resistance - it is enmity and willful endeavor.
2. Since there is life in the Word, we may be sure that it will overcome the opposition; or, as the text says, it will "prevail - gain the mastery. This may be illustrated from martyr-times, when Christianity has seemed to be crushed, but the life has proved stronger than all outward resistances. See especially, in recent years, the result of persecutions in Madagascar. Illustrate also from missionary spheres, in which various kinds of hindrances are presented, yet the life in the Word gains gradual mastery. Illustrate by St. Paul's sublime triumphs over all forms of opposition tact with in his missionary work. And show how the prevailing power of the Word is found in individual experience; in the gradual mastery of personal habits; and in our external relations and circumstances. Impress that faith in the growth" and "prevailing power" of Christianity needs to be kept alive in the Church and in all our hearts; and that such a faith would prove an abiding inspiration to holier living and to nobler laboring. - R.T.
I. ONE STRONG ADVERSARY WHICH HAS TO BE OVERCOME. The world will never be renovated until many strong "interests" have been bravely encountered and utterly overthrown. The gospel of Christ cannot be proclaimed in its fullness without giving occasion for many to say, here and there, now and again, "This our craft is in danger" (ver. 27). It is the inevitable tendency of all purifying truth, not only to eradicate evil from the hearts of men, but to bring to naught the hurtful institutions of the world. But by these men live; with these their material interests are closely bound up. Whether it be "drunkenness, slavery, or war," which have been declared to be "the three great evils which have cursed mankind." or whether it be any other harmful thing which Christ purposes to overthrow, his truth must occasionally and incidentally assail the temporal interests and prospects of men. And such is our human nature that, when it does this, it will call forth the most bitter, vehement, crafty, determined opposition. It is in this incidental way that Christ comes, "not to send peace on earth, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). And we may learn
(1) that it is doubtful whether we are declaring the whole counsel of God, if we are provoking no hostility by our utterance;
(2) that we need not wonder that the coming of the kingdom of God is delayed when we take this envenomed hostility into account.
II. THE SUCCESS OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH, NOTWITHSTANDING. By the confession of Demetrius: "This Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people," etc. (ver. 26). There may have been a note of exaggeration in his speech, but it is a significant fact that these "shrines were in much smaller request in consequence of Paul's preaching. Truth will tell, sooner or later. Against all prejudices, material interests, social habits, civil laws, military forces, it will ultimately prevail. Imperceptibly at first, but in growing numbers and accelerating force, it wins its way until it is accepted, honored, crowned.
III. THE SUBTLETY OF SIN. When the silversmiths of Ephesus find their craft in danger, they say so, plainly enough, while they confer together; but when they face the populace, they disguise their selfishness under the cloak of piety, and cry, Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (ver. 29). Sin sometimes fights without any mask at all; it shows itself in its native hideousness, - the rank, foul, selfish, shameful thing it is. But usually it seeks to conceal its ugliness by draping itself in something which is elegant and becoming. It affects piety, benevolence, patriotism; it is concerned for the comfort, the temporal necessities, or even the spiritual well-being of the world. God strikes through such miserable pretences with his penetrating eye, and it is often open to our human intelligence to recognize the hateful features beneath the graceful folds.
IV. THE WEAPONS OF DIVINE WISDOM. These are three, as suggested here.
1. Prudence. This is least in virtue and value; but it is not unimportant. The town-clerk of Ephesus is a model of the politic in behavior and address (vers. 35-41); what he employed so admirably in the discharge of his secular duty, we may use advantageously in the fulfillment of our high mission. The disciples of Ephesus showed a wise prudence in not suffering Patti to enter the theatre; humanly speaking, they saved his life (ver. 30). He himself prudently left the city after this great disturbance. We may be and should be politic and prudent when our caution is not cowardice nor faithlessness (John 16:8).
2. Courage. Paul was ready to go into the midst of the excited, violent, murderous multitude (ver. 30). The same unfaltering courage carried him over perilous seas, into dangerous countries, among hostile peoples,-everywhere, if only he saw the Master's pointing finger or heard the cry of spiritual distress.
3. Faithfulness. It was the preaching of the cross, the telling of the old, old story of redeeming love, whatever the Jew might demand or the Gentile crave, which was the source and secret of the apostle's power. - C.
I. ITS CAUSES. Most radical of all was the instinct of self-seeking. This is the dark background out of which all manner of fiendish shapes arise to contend against the light. Then it was self-seeking under the guise of religious zeal. Demetrius is the type of all those who make great professions of interest for the "truth," the "honor of God," the "cause of religion," and the like, while their real motive is personal profit, honor, or notoriety. They appear to be aiming at the highest, are really driving at the lowest object. At the same time, consistency with self gives an appearance of truth, no matter how corrupt and base the self may be. Hence selfish men often earn a credit and reputation refused to the more conscientious. For the egoist always "knows his own mind," though it be a bad mind; the conscientious man has frequent self-doubts and conflicts, the signs of which cannot be suppressed.
II. ITS MEANS AND INSTRUMENTS. The imagination of the multitude must, as usual, be acted upon. For good or for evil, great movements among the masses, are due immediately to influences upon the imagination. The preacher's power lies here, and also that of the sophist and the demagogue. The ideas connected with profit and those connected with religion have immense governing newer over the mass. We remember the commotion a few years ago among the match-makers in the east of London when it was threatened to tax their industry. So with bread-riots, land riots, and the like All the instincts of self-preservation rise against those who appear to menace the very means of existence. Religious ideas are only a degree less powerful. Society rests upon religion. We can only faintly imagine how the Athenian felt about his guardian goddess Athene, or the Ephesian about great Artemis. The Greek city was to each native as one large house or home, the very hearth of which was the altar of the god, the very foundations of which rested on reverence for that god. Here, then, were two of the mightiest instincts of human nature roused up and armed against the gospel - the self-seeking and the religious or superstitious instinct.
III. THE VICTORY OF THE TRUTH.
1. The kingdom of sense and of nature is represented by the great gods of Greece. Christianity is the kingdom of the spirit. The worship of the Greek cities was that of the beautiful; art and science were supreme. Christianity makes the moral ideal supreme.
2. The true temple is the spirit of man. And no worthy temple can be built to God unless his Spirit purify the heart, and his strength be perfected in weakness. Without the internal cultus of the heart, the external, in buildings and ritual, is vain.
3. The spiritual kingdom alone is abiding. Ephesus and its temple have long been in ruins; but against the Church of Christ the gates of hell cannot prevail.
4. The security of the faithful amidst the storm. They are concealed in a safe place till the hour of danger be over past (vers. 30, 31). Help is raised up in unexpected quarters (ver. 35, et seq.). The storms of angry passions are subdued (ver. 40). The ark of the Church is guided safely through the tempest.
5. Character brought to light in troublous scenes. The chancellor at Ephesus is an example of undaunted courage, of calm prudence, of impartial justice, and of human kindness. - J.
I. An example of INTENSE DEVOTEDNESS.
1. Care of the Churches. Bad news from Corinth. Apostolic supervision required. Help for the poor saints at Jerusalem.
2. Love of souls. The message must be preached everywhere, even at Rome.
3. Self-sacrifice. The labors at Ephesus great. The weakness of the apostle a constant temptation to lessen his toil. The prospect both at Jerusalem and at Rome one of dark suffering, persecution, and probable death.
II. THE PURPOSE OF GOD BLENDING WITH THE PURPOSE OF MAN.
1. No self-assertion, but simply absorbing desire to be employed for God.
2. Although the course of events unforeseen, yet the issue worked out gave the apostle "the desire of his heart."
3. The separation from Ephesus, which might have been painful and injurious to the Church there, prepared for by the occurrences in the city. It was necessary that Paul should go for his own personal safety. The disciples willingly parted with him. - R.
I. ALL FALSE RELIGION RESORTS TO VIOLENCE TO PROTECT ITSELF. Idolatry was afraid of the truth. The corrupt Church has condemned itself by the use of such methods. All departure from the peaceful spirit of Christ has wrought evil results.
II. ALL BUSINESS WHICH PROFITS BY THE IGNORANCE, SUPERSTITION, AND EVIL PASSIONS OF MEN IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE GROWTH OF CHRISTIANITY. The immoral traffic by which men satisfy their greed of wealth cannot be too strenuously denounced. True religion remodels society in all respects. The working men should be taught that Christianity is their best friend; not any form of it, but the pure gospel.
III. EVEN IN THE HEATHEN WORLD GOD HAD WITNESSES TO HIMSELF. In Roman law and discipline; in common sense; in that natural religion, which doubtless prompted the more cultivated men of the time to doubt the extravagances of idolatry; in the moral instincts of conscience, which could appreciate the law-abiding and peaceful efforts of the new teachers and protect them from mob violence.
IV. Comparing this scene and its revelations with the Epistle to the Ephesians, we learn how the TRUTHS OF CHRIST WERE ADAPTED TO LIFT UP MIND, HEART, AND LIFE in the heathen world, substituting a better worship, a purer theology, a more stable society, a grander future, for all that then held mankind in bondage. "Silver shrines to Artemis" being abolished, the handicraft of men is turned to build up the earthly state, that it may bless those who live in it and the God to whose Name it is consecrated.
V. Face to face with the disorderly violence of the ignorant and misguided, the rule of all Christian enterprise is to withdraw as much as possible from contention; not to meet violence with violence, but to trust implicitly to THE ABSOLUTE SUPERIORITY OF MORAL OVER PHYSICAL FORCE. "Force is no remedy." Let the potsherd strive with the potsherd. Religion should regulate politics and social life by indirect means. As far as opportunity permits, the regulation of earthly matters should be left in the hands of the secular powers. Let the town-clerk dismiss the assembly. Let not Paul mix himself up in the strife. "Cast not your pearls before swine." Jesus did not strive, nor cry, nor make his voice heard in the streets. - R.
I. THE ADMITTED ROOT OF GRIEVANCE WITH THE WORLDLY MAN. The illustration which Demetrius here affords of what is often deepest down in the heart of the world - love of money gain, faith in money gain, the illusion that money gain is the one thing needful, and by which alone men live - seems for a moment pleasantly relieved by his apparent free admission of it. Any sense of relief, however, arising from this consideration is speedily largely discounted:
1. By the fact that the ready admission of it but speaks the deeper root of the malady, and that it is a fact grown to be viewed as venial, perhaps natural, nay, very probably necessary, and therefore true to right nature.
2. By the fact that the admission, though apparently free enough, was, when it occurred, only of a semi-public character. Demetrius owns and unfolds the state of his own mind, not to the wide world, but to his own "craftsmen," whose sympathies would lie very near his own - and he knew it.
II. THE UNDERTAKING TO ENLIST A VASTLY WIDER CIRCUMFERENCE OF FEELING, BY MIXING THE PERSONAL OR AT MOST CLASS GRIEVANCE UP WITH THE RELIGIOUS SENSE OF "ALL ASIA AND THE WORLD? The opportunity was no doubt a tempting one. And though too evident to allow of its inferring any great talent on the part of Demetrius, yet he skillfully avails himself of it. Some persons will miss very tempting opportunities, which are as evident as they may be tempting. "The children of this world are," however, "wiser in their generation," as a rule, "than the children of light;" and this was one instance of it. It took most successfully.
1. It is the speedy outcry of" the whole city." And the movement spread so rapidly from the craftsmen class interest, that when the whole city is "come together" (ver. 32), "the more part knew not wherefore." It made little difference. They had their throats and their limbs with them, and a couple of victims, "Gains and Aristarchus" (ver. 29), traveling "companions of Paul."
2. Most combustible fuel was forthcoming to add to the fire, in the person of a Jew (ver. 34), who was probably unpopular with his own people. He was thrust into prominence by his own people (ver. 33), either that he might be their scapegoat and bear the brunt, or possibly because he was judged to be the most competent man. Of this view there is some evidence in his ready preparedness to address the surging multitude and to "make his defense." Anyway, for two hours more did the conflagration burn more fiercely for that one move. And it was a move which derived its force from "the burning religious question."
3. The success of the scheme of Demetrius is illustrated most significantly in what it elicited from the lips of the "town-clerk" (vers. 37, 38), especially in his huge fallacy of asserting to acclamation (which no doubt rang again in that theatre, but to the fiat denial of truth and time succeeding and now "of all the world", "Seeing that these things cannot be spoken against,"
III. THE COLLAPSE. However uninformed in religion the town-clerk was, it is plain that he was a competent man.
1. He defends Gains and Aristarchus, and presumably Paul He finds and pronounces it boldly that "these men" have done nothing amiss. They are neither sacrilegious "robbers" nor "blasphemers" albeit of an idol!
2. He reduces the swelling hazards of Demetrius to their proper proportions. It is a mere matter of himself and his friends. And it is a mere matter of whether he can prove anything that will entitle him to redress. If he can, he must go to the right place to do it, and take the right course. Probably Demetrius, having set the fire going, had some time ago dropped into the background. But if not, if he and his party had stayed to keep up to the full the excitement, they must inevitably have felt now very small. It were not to have been wondered at if the multitude had turned upon them, with the threat of lynch law.
3. He apprises the whole city that disaster may be the sequel of a whole day's wasted uproar and undefended concourse. And the people seemed open to his wisdom, and wiser by far than Demetrius at all events. So ends in smoke the work of wickedness, the worldliness of the worldly, the self-seeking and avarice of the man who has far keener foresight for gain and money than any care, past, present, or to come, for truth and religion. The day has been uproar; the human nature of that day has been mere confusion: unseen presences have, however, been in the scene, and still voices at last prevail, which pronounce condemnation on the evil-doing ringleader, which reduce him to shame and humiliation in the eyes of those whose passion he had needlessly excited, and most remarkable of all, which demand and obtain silence. It is no dim augury of the close of the world's day, when time shall be ripe. - B.
shrines were miniature models of the temple, containing a representation of the statue of the goddess," and they were chiefly made for the visitors to take away as memorials of their visit. "There was a sacred month at Ephesus - the month of Diana - when a great religious gathering took place to celebrate the public games in honor of the goddess. It was the pleasant month of May. Trade was brisk then at Ephesus, not only from the large temporary increase of population, by the presence of provincials, and strangers from more distant parts, but from the purchases they made in the shops and markets. Among the tradesmen of Ephesus, there were none who depended more upon the business of this month than did makers and dealers in holy trinkets." "In the sacred month of the third year of St. Paul's stay in Ephesus, the makers of the ' silver shrines' found, to their consternation, that the demand for their commodity had so materially fallen off as most seriously to affect their interests. Upon this one of the leading men of their guild convened a meeting of their craft, and, in an inflammatory speech, pointed out Paul as the person who, by his preaching that there were 'no gods made with hands,' had not only produced this crisis in the trade, but had endangered their glorious temple, and imperiled that magnificence which the world admired." Kitto well says, "Here we witness a carious, but not unparalleled, union of the 'great goddess Diana' with the great god Self, whose worship still exists, though that of Diana is extinct." This brings out the point which seems to have practical interest for us, which we have suggested in our heading. Self-interest opposes
(1) vital religion;
(2) earnestness in Christ's services; and
(3) the very progress of Christianity. We observe -
I. CHRISTIANITY IS A LATE. It is a Divine inward renewal; it is a new creation; it is an impartation of Divine life; it is not, primarily, an interference with social evils, or any endeavor to set the world's wrong right. St. Paul preached the Christian truth, and bade men seek Christ for themselves, that "they might have life;" but we have no reason whatever for supposing that he attacked the shrine-makers, or even made any peril for himself by arguing against the claims of Diana. The power of Christianity still lies in the change which it works in each individual, the regeneration of the man, his possession of a new life. Christian teachers must deal afterwards with the relations between the Christian life and the family and society; but the Christian preacher comes first and declares that "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his son: he that hath the Son hath life."
II. CHRISTIANITY IS SURE TO EXERT A SOCIAL INFLUENCE. It comes to save souls; but the action of the renewed cannot fail to tell on social life, bringing in a new set of sentiments and habits, and steadfastly resisting some of the older ones. Illustrations may be found in connection with slavery. Christianity makes no plea against it, and yet, when men become Christians, they are sure to feel the evil of slavery, and are ready to resist it, as a social custom, even at a great sacrifice. So with war. At Ephesus no word need have been spoken about the superstitious use of charms and amulets; but when the Ephesians accepted Christ as their Savior, a social sentiment against these superstitions would speedily be raised. The one all-effectual counteractive to social and moral evils is strong, vigorous, noble Christian life; and just this the world so greatly needs today.
III. CHRISTIANITY, IN EXERTING ITS SOCIAL INFLUENCE, IS SURE TO BEAR HEAVILY ON SOME. It did on the shrine-makers of Ephesus; it has done on slaveholders in England and America; it does on drink-sellers, and on all whose trade is in any form immoral: it does on those who would make personal gain out of the superstitions and fears of the people; it does on those who proclaim skeptical and infidel ideas.
IV. THE INTENSEST OPPOSITION TO CHRISTIANITY IS AROUSED WHERE SELF-INTEREST IS AFFECTED. Men may feel more deeply when they are touched in their emotions, but they make more immediate and active show of their feelings when they are affected in their self-interests. And, on the ground of such self-interest, combinations of men are easily made to resist a truth or a reform. Show how this finds application in these our own milder times. Spiritual Christianity finds itself affecting men's purely worldly interests nowadays. Many a man wages a great fight with himself ere he lets his piety master his very trade; and wins a willingness to sacrifice golden opportunities of advancement and wealth, rather than lose his soul's eternal life. And there are modern illustrations of the way in which men, whose self-interest is touched, will combine to resist revival and reformation. In so many forms the principle laid down by our Lord finds ever fresh illustration: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Remarking on the deceptions which lead men to combine against established order or new truth, Bode names the following: -
1. One pretends to high aims, and is influenced by the grossest selfishness.
2. One thinks himself free to act, and is the involuntary instrument of crafty seducers.
3. One values himself as enlightened, and commits the most unreasonable acts of folly.
4. One prides himself that he contends for the right, and perpetrates the most unrighteous deeds of violence.
5. One is filled with extravagant expectations, and in the end gains nothing. - R.T.