Alexander Maclaren.

Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts online

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'Jesus whom Paul preached.' They spoke His name tentatively, as an
experiment, and imitatively. To command 'in the name of Jesus' was an
appeal to Jesus to glorify His name and exert His power, and so when
the speaker had no real faith in the name or the power, there was no
answer, because there was really no appeal.

I. The only power which can cast out the evil spirits is the name of

That is a commonplace of Christian belief. But it is often held in a
dangerously narrow way and leads to most unwise pitting of the Gospel
against other modes of bettering and elevating men, instead of
recognising them as allies. Earnest Christian workers are tempted to
forget Jesus' own word: 'He that is not against us is for us.' There is
no need to disparage other agencies because we believe that it is the
Gospel which is 'the power of God unto salvation.' Many of the popular
philanthropic movements of the day, many of its curbing and
enlightening forces, many of its revolutionary social ideas, are really
in their essence and historically in their origin, profoundly
Christian, and are the application of the principles inherent in 'the
Name' to the evils of society. No doubt many of their eager apostles
are non-Christian or even anti-Christian, but though some of them have
tried violently to pluck up the plant by the root from the soil in
which it first flowered, much of that soil still adheres to it, and it
will not live long if torn from its native 'habitat.'

It is not narrowness or hostility to non-Christian efforts to cast out
the demons from humanity, but only the declaration of a truth which is
taught by the consideration of what is the difference between all other
such efforts and Christianity, and is confirmed by experience, if we
maintain that, whatever good results may follow from these other
influences, it is the powers lodged in the Name of Jesus, and these
alone which can, radically and completely, conquer and eject the demons
from a single soul, and emancipate society from their tyranny.

For consider that the Gospel which proclaims Jesus as the Saviour is
the only thing which deals with the deepest fact in our natures, the
fact of sin; gives a personal Deliverer from its power; communicates a
new life of which the very essence is righteousness, and which brings
with it new motives, new impulses, and new powers.

Contrast with this the inadequate diagnosis of the disease and the
consequent imperfection of the remedy which other physicians of the
world's sickness present. Most of them only aim at repressing outward
acts. None of them touch more than a part of the whole dreadful
circumference of the dark orb of evil. Law restrains actions. Ethics
proclaims principles which it has no power to realise. It shows men a
shining height, but leaves them lame and grovelling in the mire.
Education casts out the demon of ignorance, and makes the demons whom
it does not cast out more polite and perilous. It brings its own evils
in its train. Every kind of crop has weeds which spring with it. The
social and political changes, which are eagerly preached now, will do
much; but one thing, which is the all-important thing, they will not
do, they will not change the nature of the individuals who make up the
community. And till that nature is changed any form of society will
produce its own growth of evils. A Christless democracy will be as bad
as, if not worse than, a Christless monarchy or aristocracy. If the
bricks remain the same, it does not much matter into what shape you
build them.

These would-be exorcists but irritated the demons by their vain
attempts at ejecting them, and it is sometimes the case that efforts to
cure social diseases only result in exacerbating them. If one hole in a
Dutch dyke is stopped up, more pressure is thrown on another weak point
and a leak will soon appear there. There is but one Name that casts a
spell over all the ills that flesh is heir to. There is but one Saviour
of society - Jesus who saves from sin through His death, and by
participation in His life delivers men from that life of self which is
the parent of all the evils from which society vainly strives to be
delivered by any power but His.

II. That Name must be spoken by believing men if it is to put forth its
full power.

These exorcists had no faith. All that they knew of Jesus was that He
was the one 'whom Paul preached.' Even the name of Jesus is spoiled and
is powerless on the lips of one who repeats it, parrot-like, because he
has seen its power when it came flame-like from the fiery lips of some
man of earnest convictions.

In all regions, and especially in the matter of art or literature,
imitators are poor creatures, and men are quick to detect the
difference between the original and the copy. The copyists generally
imitate the weak points, and seldom get nearer than the imitation of
external and trivial peculiarities. It is more feasible to reproduce
the 'contortions of the Sibyl' than to catch her 'inspiration.'

This absence or feebleness of personal faith is the explanation of much
failure in so-called Christian work. No doubt there may be other causes
for the want of success, but after all allowance is made for these, it
still remains true that the chief reason why the Gospel message is
often proclaimed without casting out demons is that it is proclaimed
with faltering faith, tentatively and without assured confidence in its
power, or imitatively, with but little, if any, inward experience of
the magic of its spell. The demons have ears quick to discriminate
between Paul's fiery accents and the cold repetition of them.
Incomparably the most powerful agency which any man can employ in
producing conviction in others is the utterance of his own intense
conviction. 'If you wish me to weep, your own tears must flow,' said
the Roman poet. Other factors may powerfully aid the exorcising power
of the word spoken by faith, and no wise man will disparage these, but
they are powerless without faith and it is powerful without them.

Consider the effect of that personal faith on the speaker - in bringing
all his force to bear on his words; in endowing him for a time with
many of the subsidiary qualities which make our words winged and
weighty; in lifting to a height of self-oblivion, which itself is

Consider its effect on the hearers - how it bows hearts as trees are
bent before a rushing wind.

Consider its effect in bringing into action God's own power. Of the
man, all aflame with Christian convictions and speaking them with the
confidence and urgency which become them and him, it may truly be said,
'It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh
in you.'

Here then we have laid bare the secret of success and a cause of
failure, in Christian enterprise. Here we see, as in a concrete
example, the truth exemplified, which all who long for the emancipation
of demon-ridden humanity would be wise to lay to heart, and thereby to
be saved from much eager travelling on a road that leads nowhither, and
much futile expenditure of effort and sympathy, and many
disappointments. It is as true to-day as it was long ago in Ephesus,
that the evil spirits 'feel the Infant's hand from far Judea's land,'
and are forced to confess, 'Jesus we know and Paul we know'; but to
other would-be exorcists their answer is, 'Who are ye?' 'When a strong
man armed keepeth his house, his goods are in peace.' There is but 'One
stronger than he who can come upon him, and having overcome him, can
take from him all his armour wherein he trusted and divide the spoils,'
and that is the Christ, at whose name, faithfully spoken, 'the devils
fear and fly.'


'After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he
had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying,
After I have been there, I must also see Rome. 22. So he sent into
Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timotheus and Erastus;
but he himself stayed in Asia for a season. 23. And the same time there
arose no small stir about that way. 24. For a certain man named
Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought
no small gain unto the craftsmen; 25. Whom he called together with the
workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft
we have our wealth. 26. Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at
Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and
turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made
with hands: 27. So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set
at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should
be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia
and the world worshippeth. 28. And when they heard these sayings, they
were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the
Ephesians. 29. And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having
caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in
travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre. 30. And when Paul
would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.
31. And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto
him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.
32. Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly
was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come
together. 33. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews
putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would
have made his defence unto the people. 34. But when they knew that he
was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out,
Great is Diana of the Ephesians.' - ACTS xix. 21-34.

Paul's long residence in Ephesus indicates the importance of the
position. The great wealthy city was the best possible centre for
evangelising all the province of Asia, and that was to a large extent
effected during the Apostle's stay there. But he had a wider scheme in
his mind. His settled policy was always to fly at the head, as it were.
The most populous cities were his favourite fields, and already his
thoughts were travelling towards the civilised world's capital, the
centre of empire - Rome. A blow struck there would echo through the
world. Paul had his plan, and God had His, and Paul's was not realised
in the fashion he had meant, but it was realised in substance. He did
not expect to enter Rome as a prisoner. God shaped the ends which Paul
had only rough-hewn.

The programme in verses 21 and 22 was modified by circumstances, as
some people would say; Paul would have said, by God. The riot hastened
his departure from Ephesus. He did go to Jerusalem, and he did see
Rome, but the chain of events that drew him there seemed to him, at
first sight, the thwarting, rather than the fulfilment, of his
long-cherished hope. Well it is for us to carry all our schemes to God,
and to leave them in His hands.

The account of the riot is singularly vivid and lifelike. It reveals a
new phase of antagonism to the Gospel, a kind of trades-union
demonstration, quite unlike anything that has met us in the Acts. It
gives a glimpse into the civic life of a great city, and shows
demagogues and mob to be the same in Ephesus as in England. It has many
points of interest for the commentator or scholar, and lessons for all.
Luke tells the story with a certain dash of covert irony.

We have, first, the protest of the shrine-makers' guild or
trades-union, got up by the skilful manipulation of Demetrius. He was
evidently an important man in the trade, probably well-to-do. As his
speech shows, he knew exactly how to hit the average mind. The small
shrines which he and his fellow-craftsmen made were of various
materials, from humble pottery to silver, and were intended for
'votaries to dedicate in the temple,' and represented the goddess
Artemis sitting in a niche with her lions beside her. Making these was
a flourishing industry, and must have employed a large number of men
and much capital. Trade was beginning to be slack, and sales were
falling off. No doubt there is exaggeration in Demetrius's rhetoric,
but the meeting of the craft would not have been held unless a
perceptible effect had been produced by Paul's preaching. Probably
Demetrius and the rest were more frightened than hurt; but men are very
quick to take alarm when their pockets are threatened.

The speech is a perfect example of how self-interest masquerades in the
garb of pure concern for lofty objects, and yet betrays itself. The
danger to 'our craft' comes first, and the danger to the 'magnificence'
of the goddess second; but the precedence given to the trade is salved
over by a 'not only,' which tries to make the religious motive the
chief. No doubt Demetrius was a devout worshipper of Artemis, and
thought himself influenced by high motives in stirring up the craft. It
is natural to be devout or moral or patriotic when it pays to be so.
One would not expect a shrine-maker to be easily accessible to the
conviction that 'they be no gods which are made with hands.'

Such admixture of zeal for some great cause, with a shrewd eye to
profit, is very common, and may deceive us if we are not always
watchful. Jehu bragged about his 'zeal for the Lord' when it urged him
to secure himself on the throne by murder; and he may have been quite
honest in thinking that the impulse was pure, when it was really
mingled. How many foremost men in public life everywhere pose as pure
patriots, consumed with zeal for national progress, righteousness,
etc., when all the while they are chiefly concerned about some private
bit of log-rolling of their own! How often in churches there are men
professing to be eager for the glory of God, who are, perhaps
half-unconsciously, using it as a stalking-horse, behind which they may
shoot game for their own larder! A drop of quicksilver oxidises and
dims as soon as exposed to the air. The purest motives get a scum on
them quickly unless we constantly keep them clear by communion with God.

Demetrius may teach us another lesson. His opposition to Paul was based
on the plain fact that, if Paul's teaching prevailed, no more shrines
would be wanted. That was a new ground of opposition to the Gospel,
resembled only by the motive for the action of the owners of the slave
girl at Philippi; but it is a perennial source of antagonism to it. In
our cities especially there are many trades which would be wiped out if
Christ's laws of life were universally adopted. So all the purveyors of
commodities and pleasures which the Gospel forbids a Christian man to
use are arrayed against it. We have to make up our minds to face and
fight them. A liquor-seller, for instance, is not likely to look
complacently on a religion which would bring his 'trade into
disrepute'; and there are other occupations which would be gone if
Christ were King, and which therefore, by the instinct of
self-preservation, are set against the Gospel, unless, so to speak, its
teeth are drawn.

According to one reading, the shouts of the craftsmen which told that
Demetrius had touched them in the tenderest part, their pockets, was an
invocation, 'Great Diana!' not a profession of faith; and we have a
more lively picture of an excited crowd if we adopt the alteration. It
is easy to get a mob to yell out a watchword, whether religious or
political; and the less they understand it, the louder are they likely
to roar. In Athanasius' days the rabble of Constantinople made the city
ring with cries, degrading the subtlest questions as to the Trinity,
and examples of the same sort have not been wanting nearer home. It is
criminal to bring such incompetent judges into religious or political
or social questions, it is cowardly to be influenced by them. 'The
voice of the people' is not always 'the voice of God.' It is better to
'be in the right with two or three' than to swell the howl of Diana's

II. A various reading of verse 28 gives an additional particular, which
is of course implied in the received text, but makes the narrative more
complete and vivid if inserted. It adds that the craftsmen rushed 'into
the street,' and there raised their wild cry, which naturally 'filled'
the city with confusion. So the howling mob, growing larger and more
excited every minute, swept through Ephesus, and made for the theatre,
the common place of assembly.

On their road they seem to have come across two of Paul's companions,
whom they dragged with them. What they meant to do with the two they
had probably not asked themselves. A mob has no plans, and its most
savage acts are unpremeditated. Passion let loose is almost sure to end
in bloodshed, and the lives of Gaius and Aristarchus hung by a thread.
A gust of fury storming over the mob, and a hundred hands might have
torn them to atoms, and no man have thought himself their murderer.

What a noble contrast to the raging crowd the silent submission, no
doubt accompanied by trustful looks to Heaven and unspoken prayers,
presents! And how grandly Paul comes out! He had not been found,
probably had not been sought for, by the rioters, whose rage was too
blind to search for him, but his brave soul could not bear to leave his
friends in peril and not plant himself by their sides. So he 'was
minded to enter in unto the people,' well knowing that there he had to
face more ferocious 'wild beasts' than if a cageful of lions had been
loosed on him. Faith in God and fellowship with Christ lift a soul
above fear of death. The noblest kind of courage is not that born of
flesh or temperament, or of the madness of battle, but that which
springs from calm trust in and absolute surrender to Christ.

Not only did the disciples restrain Paul as feeling that if the
shepherd were smitten the sheep would be scattered, but interested
friends started up in an unlikely quarter. The 'chief of Asia' or
Asiarchs, who sent to dissuade him, 'were the heads of the imperial
political-religious organisation of the province, in the worship of
"Rome and the emperors"; and their friendly attitude is a proof both
that the spirit of the imperial policy was not as yet hostile to the
new teaching, and that the educated classes did not share the hostility
of the superstitious vulgar' (Ramsay, _St. Paul the Traveller_, p.
281). It is probable that, in that time of crumbling faith and
religious unrest, the people who knew most about the inside of the
established worship believed in it least, and in their hearts agreed
with Paul that 'they be no gods which are made with hands.'

So we have in these verses the central picture of calm Christian faith
and patient courage, contrasted on the one hand with the ferocity and
excitement of heathen fanatical devotees, and on the other with the
prudent regard to their own safety of the Asiarchs, who had no such
faith in Diana as to lead them to joining the rioters, nor such faith
in Paul's message as to lead them to oppose the tumult, or to stand by
his side, but contented themselves with _sending_ to warn him. Who can
doubt that the courage of the Christians is infinitely nobler than the
fury of the mob or the cowardice of the Asiarchs, kindly as they were?
If they were his friends, why did they not do something to shield him?
'A plague on such backing!'

III. The scene in the theatre, to which Luke returns in verse 32, is
described with a touch of scorn for the crowd, who mostly knew not what
had brought them together. One section of it kept characteristically
cool and sharp-eyed for their own advantage. A number of Jews had
mingled in it, probably intending to fan the flame against the
Christians, if they could do it safely. As in so many other cases in
Acts, common hatred brought Jew and Gentile together, each pocketing
for the time his disgust with the other. The Jews saw their
opportunity. Half a dozen cool heads, who know what they want, can
often sway a mob as they will. Alexander, whom they 'put forward,' was
no doubt going to make a speech disclaiming for the Jews settled in
Ephesus any connection with the obnoxious Paul. We may be very sure
that his 'defence' was of the former, not of the latter.

But the rioters were in no mood to listen to fine distinctions among
the members of a race which they hated so heartily. Paul was a Jew, and
this man was a Jew; that was enough. So the roar went up again to Great
Diana, and for two long hours the crowd surged and shouted themselves
hoarse, Gaius and Aristarchus standing silent all the while and
expecting every moment to be their last. The scene reminds one of
Baal's priests shrieking to him on Carmel. It is but too true a
representation of the wild orgies which stand for worship in all
heathen religions. It is but too lively an example of what must always
happen when excited crowds are ignorantly stirred by appeals to
prejudice or self-interest.

The more democratic the form of government under which we live, the
more needful is it to distinguish the voice of the people from the
voice of the mob, and to beware of exciting, or being governed by,
clamour however loud and long.


'And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing
the things that shall befall me there: 23. Save that the Holy Ghost
witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.
24. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto
myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry,
which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the
grace of God. 25. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I
have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. 26.
Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood
of all men. 27. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the
counsel of God. 28. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the
flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed
the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. 29. For
I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in
among you, not sparing the flock. 30. Also of your own selves shall men
arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31.
Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I
ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 32. And now,
brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is
able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them
which are sanctified. 33. I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or
apparel. 34. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered
unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. 35. I have shewed
you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and
to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more
blessed to give than to receive.' - ACTS xx. 22-35.

This parting address to the Ephesian elders is perfect in simplicity,
pathos, and dignity. Love without weakness and fervent yet restrained
self-devotion throb in every line. It is personal without egotism, and
soars without effort. It is 'Pauline' through and through, and if Luke
or some unknown second-century Christian made it, the world has lost
the name of a great genius. In reading it, we have to remember the
Apostle's long stay in Ephesus, and his firm conviction that he was
parting for ever from those over whom he had so long watched, and so
long loved, as well as guided. Parting words should be tender and
solemn, and these are both in the highest degree.

The prominence given to personal references is very marked and equally
natural. The whole address down to verse 27 inclusive is of that
nature, and the same theme recurs in verse 31, is caught up again in
verse 33, and continues thence to the end. That abundance of allusions
to himself is characteristic of the Apostle, even in his letters; much
more is it to be looked for in such an outpouring of his heart to
trusted friends, seen for the last time. Few religious teachers have
ever talked so much of themselves as Paul did, and yet been as free as
he is from taint of display or self-absorption.

The personal references in verses 22 to 27 turn on two points - his
heroic attitude in prospect of trials and possible martyrdom, and his
solemn washing his hands of all responsibility for 'the blood' of those
to whom he had declared all the counsel of God. He looks back, and his
conscience witnesses that he has discharged his ministry; he looks

Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 42 of 57)