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Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts online

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and how blessed it is to think of Him as such. Paul tells the Athenians
with deep significance that He who is to be their and the world's Judge
is 'the Man.' He sums up human nature in Himself, He is the ideal and
the real Man.

And further, Paul tells his hearers that God judges 'through' Him, and
does so 'in righteousness.' He is fitted to be our Judge, because He
perfectly and completely bears our nature, knows by experience all its
weaknesses and windings, as from the inside, so to speak, and is
'wondrous kind' with the kindness which 'fellow-feeling' enkindles. He
knows us with the knowledge of a God; He knows us with the sympathy of
a brother.

The Man who has died for all men thereby becomes the Judge of all. Even
in this life, Jesus and His Cross judge us. Our disposition towards Him
is the test of our whole character. By their attitude to Him, the
thoughts of many hearts are revealed. 'What think ye of Christ?' is the
question, the answer to which determines our fate, because it reveals
our inmost selves and their capacities for receiving blessing or harm
from God and His mercy. Jesus Himself has taught us that 'in that day'
the condition of entrance into the Kingdom is 'doing the will of My
Father which is in heaven.' He has also taught us that 'this is the
work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.' Faith in Jesus
as our Saviour is the root from which will grow the good tree which
will bring forth good fruit, bearing which our love will be 'made
perfect, that we may have boldness before Him in the day of judgment.'


'After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; 2.
And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from
Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded
all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. 3. And because he
was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their
occupation they were tent-makers. 4. And he reasoned in the synagogue
every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. 5. And when Silas
and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit,
and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. 6. And when they
opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto
them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I
will go unto the Gentiles. 7. And he departed thence, and entered into
a certain man's house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose
house joined hard to the synagogue. 8. And Crispus, the chief ruler of
the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the
Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. 9. Then spake the Lord
to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold
not thy peace: 10. For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to
hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. 11. And he continued
there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among
them.' - ACTS xviii. 1-11.

Solitude is a hard trial for sensitive natures, and tends to weaken
their power of work. Paul was entirely alone in Athens, and appears to
have cut his stay there short, since his two companions, who were to
have joined him in that city, did not do so till after he had been some
time in Corinth. His long stay there has several well-marked stages,
which yield valuable lessons.

I. First, we note the solitary Apostle, seeking friends, toiling for
bread, and withal preaching Christ. Corinth was a centre of commerce,
of wealth, and of moral corruption. The celebrated local worship of
Aphrodite fed the corruption as well as the wealth. The Apostle met
there with a new phase of Greek life, no less formidable in antagonism
to the Gospel than the culture of Athens. He tells us that he entered
on his work in Corinth 'in weakness, and in fear, and in much
trembling,' but also that he did not try to attract by adaptation of
his words to the prevailing tastes either of Greek or Jew, but preached
'Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,' knowing that, while that appeared to
go right in the teeth of the demands of both, it really met their
wants. This ministry was begun, in his usual fashion, very
unobtrusively and quietly. His first care was to find a home; his
second, to provide his daily bread; and then he was free to take the
Sabbath for Christian work in the synagogue.

We cannot tell whether he had had any previous acquaintance with Aquila
and his wife, nor indeed is it certain that they had previously been
Christians. Paul's reason for living with them was simply the
convenience of getting work at his trade, and it seems probable that,
if they had been disciples, that fact would have been named as part of
his reason. Pontus lay to the north of Cilicia, and though widely
separated from it, was near enough to make a kind of bond as of
fellow-countrymen, which would be the stronger because they had the
same craft at their finger-ends.

It was the wholesome practice for every Rabbi to learn some trade. If
all graduates had to do the same now there would be fewer educated
idlers, who are dangerous to society and burdens to themselves and
their friends. What a curl of contempt would have lifted the lips of
the rich men of Corinth if they had been told that the greatest man in
their city was that little Jew tent-maker, and that in this
unostentatious fashion he had begun to preach truths which would be
like a charge of dynamite to all their social and religious order! True
zeal can be patiently silent.

Sewing rough goat's-hair cloth into tents may be as truly serving
Christ as preaching His name. All manner of work that contributes to
the same end is the same in worth and in recompense. Perhaps the
wholesomest form of Christian ministry is that after the Apostolic
pattern, when the teacher can say, as Paul did to the people of
Corinth, 'When I was present with you and was in want, I was not a
burden on any man.' If not in letter, at any rate in spirit, his
example must be followed. If the preacher would win souls he must be
free from any taint of suspicion as to money.

II. The second stage in Paul's Corinthian residence is the increased
activity when his friends, Silas and Timothy, came from Beroea. We
learn from Philippians iv. 15, and 2 Corinthians xi. 9, that they
brought gifts from the Church at Philippi; and from 1 Thessalonians
iii. 6, that they brought something still more gladdening namely, good
accounts of the steadfastness of the Thessalonian converts. The money
would make it less necessary to spend most of the week in manual
labour; the glad tidings of the Thessalonians' 'faith and love' did
bring fresh life, and the presence of his helpers would cheer him. So a
period of enlarged activity followed their coming.

The reading of verse 5, 'Paul was constrained by the word,' brings out
strikingly the Christian impulse which makes speech of the Gospel a
necessity. The force of that impulse may vary, as it did with Paul; but
if we have any deep possession of the grace of God for ourselves, we
shall, like him, feel it pressing us for utterance, as soon as the need
of providing daily bread becomes less stringent and our hearts are
gladdened by Christian communion. It augurs ill for a man's hold of the
word if the word does not hold him. He who never felt that he was weary
of forbearing, and that the word was like a fire, if it was 'shut up in
his bones,' has need to ask himself if he has any belief in the Gospel.
The craving to impart ever accompanies real possession.

The Apostle's solemn symbolism, announcing his cessation of efforts
among the Jews, has of course reference only to Corinth, for we find
him in his subsequent ministry adhering to his method, 'to the Jew
first.' It is a great part of Christian wisdom in evangelical work to
recognise the right time to give up efforts which have been fruitless.
Much strength is wasted, and many hearts depressed, by obstinate
continuance in such methods or on such fields as have cost much effort
and yielded no fruit. We often call it faith, when it is only pride,
which prevents the acknowledgment of failure. Better to learn the
lessons taught by Providence, and to try a new 'claim,' than to keep on
digging and washing when we only find sand and mud. God teaches us by
failures as well as by successes. Let us not be too conceited to learn
the lesson or to confess defeat, and shift our ground accordingly.

It is a solemn thing to say 'I am clean.' We need to have been very
diligent, very loving, very prayerful to God, and very persuasive in
pleading with men, before we dare to roll all the blame of their
condemnation on themselves. But we have no right to say, 'Henceforth I
go to' others, until we can say that we have done all that man - or, at
any rate, that we - can do to avert the doom.

Paul did not go so far away but that any whose hearts God had touched
could easily find him. It was with a lingering eye to his countrymen
that he took up his abode in the house of 'one that feared God,' that
is, a proselyte; and that he settled down next door to the synagogue.
What a glimpse of yearning love which cannot bear to give Israel up as
hopeless, that simple detail gives us! And may we not say that the
yearning of the servant is caught from the example of the Master? 'How
shall I give thee up, Ephraim?' Does not Christ, in His long-suffering
love, linger in like manner round each closed heart? and if He
withdraws a little way, does He not do so rather to stimulate search
after Him, and tarry near enough to be found by every seeking heart?

Paul's purpose in his solemn warning to the Jews of Corinth was partly
accomplished. The ruler of the synagogue 'believed in the Lord with all
his house.' Thus men are sometimes brought to decision for Christ by
the apparently impending possibility of His Gospel leaving them to
themselves. 'Blessings brighten as they take their flight.' Severity
sometimes effects what forbearance fails to achieve. If the train is on
the point of starting, the hesitating passenger will swiftly make up
his mind and rush for a seat. It is permissible to press for immediate
decision on the ground that the time is short, and that soon these
things 'will be hid from the eyes.'

We learn from 1 Corinthians i. 14, that Paul deviated from his usual
practice, and himself baptized Crispus. We may be very sure that his
doing so arose from no unworthy subserviency to an important convert,
but indicated how deeply grateful he was to the Lord for giving him, as
a seal to a ministry which had seemed barren, so encouraging a token.
The opposition and blasphemy of many are outweighed, to a true
evangelist, by the conversion of one; and while all souls are in one
aspect equally valuable, they are unequal in the influence which they
may exert on others. So it was with Crispus, for 'many of the
Corinthians hearing' of such a signal fact as the conversion of the
chief of the synagogue, likewise 'believed.' We may distinguish in our
estimate of the value of converts, without being untrue to the great
principle that all men are equally precious in Christ's eyes.

III. The next stage is the vision to Paul and his consequent protracted
residence in Corinth. God does not waste visions, nor bid men put away
fears which are not haunting them. This vision enables us to conceive
Paul's state of mind when it came to him. He was for some reason cast
down. He had not been so when things looked much more hopeless. But
though now he had his friends and many converts, some mood of sadness
crept over him. Men like him are often swayed by impulses rising
within, and quite apart from outward circumstances. Possibly he had
reason to apprehend that his very success had sharpened hostility, and
to anticipate danger to life. The contents of the vision make this not

But the mere calming of fear, worthy object as it is, is by no means
the main part of the message of the vision. 'Speak, and hold not thy
peace,' is its central word. Fear which makes a Christian dumb is
always cowardly, and always exaggerated. Speech which comes from
trembling lips may be very powerful, and there is no better remedy for
terror than work for Christ. If we screw ourselves up to do what we
fear to do, the dread vanishes, as a bather recovers himself as soon as
his head has once been under water.

Why was Paul not to be afraid? It is easy to say, 'Fear not,' but
unless the exhortation is accompanied with some good reason shown, it
is wasted breath. Paul got a truth put into his heart which ends all
fear - 'For I am with thee.' Surely that is enough to exorcise all
demons of cowardice or despondency, and it is the assurance that all
Christ's servants may lay up in their hearts, for use at all moments
and in all moods. His presence, in no metaphor, but in deepest inmost
reality, is theirs, and whether their fears come from without or
within, His presence is more than enough to make them brave and strong.

Paul needed a vision, for Paul had never seen Christ 'after the flesh,'
nor heard His parting promise. We do not need it, for we have the
unalterable word, which He left with all His disciples when He
ascended, and which remains true to the ends of the world and till the
world ends.

The consequence of Christ's presence is not exemption from attacks, but
preservation in them. Men may 'set on' Paul, but they cannot 'hurt'
him. The promise was literally fulfilled when the would-be accusers
were contemptuously sent away by Gallio, the embodiment of Roman
even-handedness and despising of the deepest things. It is fulfilled no
less truly to-day; for no hurt can come to us if Christ is with us, and
whatever does come is not hurt.

'I have much people in this city.' Jesus saw what Paul did not, the
souls yet to be won for Him. That loving Eye gladly beholds His own
sheep, though they may be yet in danger of the wolves, and far from the
Shepherd. 'Them also He must bring'; and His servants are wise if, in
all their labours, they cherish the courage that comes from the
consciousness of His presence, and the unquenchable hope, which sees in
the most degraded and alienated those whom the Good Shepherd will yet
find in the wilderness and bear back to the fold. Such a hope will
quicken them for all service, and such a vision will embolden them in
all peril.


'And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was
pressed in the spirit, and testified.' - ACTS xviii. 5.

The Revised Version, in concurrence with most recent authorities,
reads, instead of 'pressed in the spirit,' 'constrained by the word.'
One of these alterations depends on a diversity of reading, the other
on a difference of translation. The one introduces a significant
difference of meaning; the other is rather a change of expression. The
word rendered here 'pressed,' and by the Revised Version 'constrained,'
is employed in its literal use in 'Master, the multitude throng Thee
and _press_ Thee,' and in its metaphorical application in 'The love of
Christ _constraineth us_.' There is not much difference between
'constrained' and 'pressed,' but there is a large difference between
'in the spirit' and 'by the word.' 'Pressed in the spirit' simply
describes a state of feeling or mind; 'constrained by the word'
declares the force which brought about that condition of pressure or
constraint. What then does 'constrained by the word' refer to? It
indicates that Paul's message had a grip of him, and held him hard, and
forced him to deliver it.

One more preliminary remark is that our text evidently brings this
state of mind of the Apostle, and the coming of his two friends Silas
and Timothy, into relation as cause and effect. He had been alone in
Corinth. His work of late had not been encouraging. He had been
comparatively silent there, and had spent most of his time in
tent-making. But when his two friends came a cloud was lifted off his
spirit, and he sprang back again, as it were, to his old form and to
his old work.

Now if we take that point of view with regard to the passage before us,
I think we shall find that it yields valuable lessons, some of which I
wish to try to enforce now.

I. Let me ask you to look with me at the downcast Apostle.

'Downcast,' you say; 'is not that an unworthy word to use about a
minister of Jesus Christ inspired as Paul was?' By no means. We shall
very much mistake both the nature of inspiration and the character of
this inspired Apostle, if we do not recognise that he was a man of many
moods and tremulously susceptible to external influences. Such music
would never have come from him if his soul had not been like an Aeolian
harp, hung in a tree and vibrating in response to every breeze. And so
we need not hesitate to speak of the Apostle's mood, as revealed to us
in the passage before us, as being downcast.

Now notice that in the verses preceding my text his conduct is
extremely abnormal and unlike his usual procedure. He goes into
Corinth, and he does next to nothing in evangelistic work. He repairs
to the synagogue once a week, and talks to the Jews there. But that is
all. The notice of his reasoning in the synagogue is quite subordinate
to the notice that he was occupied in finding a lodging with another
pauper Jew and stranger in the great city, and that these two poor men
went into a kind of partnership, and tried to earn a living by hard
work. Such procedure makes a singular contrast to Paul's usual methods
in a strange city.

Now the reason for that slackening of impulse and comparative cessation
of activity is not far to seek. The first Epistle to Thessalonica was
written immediately after these two brethren rejoined Paul. And how
does the Apostle describe in that letter his feelings before they came?
He speaks of 'all our distress and affliction.' He tells that he was
tortured by anxiety as to how the new converts in Thessalonica were
getting on, and could not forbear to try to find out whether they were
still standing steadfast. Again in the first Epistle to the
Corinthians, you will find that there, looking back to this period, he
describes his feelings in similar fashion and says: 'I was with you in
weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.' And if you look forward
a verse or two in our chapter you will see that a vision came to Paul,
which presupposes that some touch of fear, and some temptation to
silence, were busy in his heart. For God shapes His communications
according to our need, and would not have said, 'Do not be afraid, and
hold not thy peace, but speak,' unless there had been a danger both of
Paul's being frightened and of his being dumb.

And what thus brought a cloud over his sky? A little exercise of
historical imagination will very sufficiently answer that. A few weeks
before, in obedience, as he believed, to a direct divine command, Paul
had made a plunge, and ventured upon an altogether new phase of work.
He had crossed into Europe, and from the moment that he landed at the
harbour of Philippi, up to the time when he took refuge in some quiet
little room in Corinth, he had had nothing but trouble and danger and
disappointment. The prison at Philippi, the riots that hounded him out
of Thessalonica, the stealthy, hurried escape from Beroea, the almost
entire failure of his first attempt to preach the Gospel to Greeks in
Athens, his loneliness, and the strangeness of his surroundings in the
luxurious, wicked, wealthy Greek city of Corinth - all these things
weighed on him, and there is no wonder that his spirits went down, and
he felt that now he must lie fallow for a time and rest, and pull
himself together again.

So here we have, in this great champion of the faith, in this strong
runner of the Christian race, in this chief of men, an example of the
fluctuation of mood, the variation in the way in which we look at our
duties and our obligations and our difficulties, the slackening of the
impulse which dominates our lives, that are too familiar to us all. It
brings Paul nearer us to feel that he, too, knew these ups and downs.
The force that drove this meteor through the darkness varied, as the
force that impels us varies to our consciousness. It is the prerogative
of God to be immutable; men have their moods and their fluctuations.
Kindled lights flicker; the sun burns steadily. An Elijah to-day beards
Ahab and Jezebel and all their priests, and to-morrow hides his head in
his hands, and says, 'Take me away, I am not better than my fathers.'
There will be ups and down in the Christian vigour of our lives, as
well as in all other regions, so long as men dwell in this material
body and are surrounded by their present circumstances.

Brethren, it is no small part of Christian wisdom and prudence to
recognise this fact, both in order that it may prevent us from becoming
unduly doubtful of ourselves when the ebb tide sets in on our souls,
and also in order that we may lay to heart this other truth, that
because these moods and changes of aspect and of vigour _will_ come to
us, therefore the law of life must be effort, and the duty of every
Christian man be to minimise, in so far as possible, the fluctuations
which, in some degree, are inevitable. No human hand has ever drawn an
absolutely straight line. That is the ideal of the mathematician, but
all ours are crooked. But we may indefinitely diminish the magnitude of
the curves. No two atoms are so close together as that there is no film
between them. No human life has ever been an absolutely continuous,
unbroken series of equally holy and devoted thoughts and acts, but we
may diminish the intervals between kindred states, and may make our
lives so far uniform as that to a bystander they shall look like the
bright circle, which a brand whirled round in the air makes the
impression of, on the eye that beholds. We shall have times of
brightness and of less brilliancy, of vigour and of consequent reaction
and exhaustion. But Christianity has, for one of its objects, to help
us to master our moods, and to bring us nearer and nearer, by continual
growth, to the steadfast, immovable attitude of those whose faith is
ever the same.

Do not forget the plain lesson which comes from the incident before
us - viz., that the wisest thing that a man can do, when he feels that
the wheels of his religious being are driving heavily, is to set
himself doggedly to the plain, homely work of daily life. Paul did not
sit and bemoan himself because he felt this slackening of impulse, but
he went away to Aquila, and said, 'Let us set to work and make
camel's-hair cloth and tents.' Be thankful for your homely, prosaic,
secular, daily task. You do not know from how many sickly fancies it
saves you, and how many breaches in the continuity of your Christian
feeling it may bridge over. It takes you away from thinking about
yourselves, and sometimes you cannot think about anything less
profitably. So stick to your work; and if ever you feel, as Paul did,
'cast down,' be sure that the workshop, the office, the desk, the
kitchen will prevent you from being 'destroyed,' if you give yourselves
to the plain duties which no moods alter, but which can alter a great
many moods.

II. And now note the 'constraining word.'

I have already said that the return of the two, who had been sent to
see how things were going with the recent converts in the infant
Churches, brought the Apostle good tidings, and so lifted off a great
load of anxiety from his heart. No wonder! He had left raw recruits
under fire, with no captain, and he might well doubt whether they would
keep their ranks. But they did. So the pressure was lifted off, and the
pressure being lifted off, spontaneously the old impulse gripped him
once more; like a spring which leaps back to its ancient curve when
some alien force is taken from it. It must have been a very deep and a
very habitual impulse, which thus instantly reasserted itself the
moment that the pressure of anxiety was taken out of the way.

The word constrained him. What to do? To declare it. Paul's example
brings up two thoughts - that that impulse may vary at times, according
to the pressure of circumstances, and may even be held in abeyance for
a while; and that if a man is honestly and really a Christian, as soon
as the incumbent pressure is taken away, he will feel, 'Necessity is
laid upon me; yea, woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.' For though
Paul's sphere of work was different from ours, his obligation to work
and his impulse to work were such as are, or should be, common to all
Christians. The impulse to utter the word that we believe and live by

Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 40 of 57)