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Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts online

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one bound for Tyre, and apparently ready to sail. The second part of
their voyage took them right out to sea, and their course lay to the
west, and then to the south of Cyprus, which Luke mentions as if to
remind us of Paul's visit there when he was beginning his missionary
work. How much had passed since that day at Paphos (which they might
have sighted from the deck)! He had left Paphos with Barnabas and John
Mark - where were they? He had sailed away from Cyprus to carry the
Gospel among Gentiles; he sails past it, accompanied by a group of
these whom he had won for Christ. There he had begun his career; now
the omens indicated that possibly its end was near. Many a thought
would be in his mind as he looked out over the blue waters and saw the
glittering roofs and groves of Paphos.

Tyre was the first port of call, and there the cargo was to be landed.
The travellers had to wait till that was done, and probably another one
shipped. The seven days' stay is best understood as due to that cause;
for we find that Paul re-embarked in the same ship, and went in her as
far as Ptolemais, at all events, perhaps to Caesarea.

We note that no brethren are mentioned as having been met at any of the
ports of call, and no evangelistic work as having been done in them.
The party were simple passengers, who had to shape their movements to
suit the convenience of the master of the vessel, and were only in port
at night, and off again next morning early. No doubt the leisure at sea
was as restorative to them as it often is to jaded workers now.

II. Tyre was a busy seaport then, and in its large population the few
disciples would make but little show. They had to be sought out before
they were 'found.' One can feel how eagerly the travellers would
search, and how thankfully they would find themselves again among
congenial souls. Since Miletus they had had no Christian communion, and
the sailors in such a ship as theirs would not be exactly kindred
spirits. So that week in Tyre would be a blessed break in the voyage.
We hear nothing of visiting the synagogue, nor of preaching to the
non-Christian population, nor of instruction to the little Church.

The whole interest of the stay at Tyre is, for Luke, centred on the
fact that here too the same message which had met Paul everywhere was
repeated to him. It was 'through the Spirit.' Then was Paul flying in
the face of divine prohibitions when he held on his way in spite of all
that could be said? Certainly not. We have to bring common sense to
bear on the interpretation of the words in verse 4, and must suppose
that what came from 'the Spirit' was the prediction of persecutions
waiting Paul, and that the exhortation to avoid these by keeping clear
of Jerusalem was the voice of human affection only. Such a blending of
clear insight and of mistaken deductions from it is no strange
experience.

No word is said as to the effect of the Tyrian Christians' dissuasion.
It had none. Luke mentions it in order to show how continuous was the
repetition of the same note, and his silence as to the manner of its
reception is eloquent. The parting scene at Tyre is like, and yet very
unlike, that at Miletus. In both the Christians accompany Paul to the
beach, in both they kneel down and pray. It would scarcely have been a
Christian parting without that. In both loving farewells are said, and
perhaps waved when words could no longer be heard. But at Tyre, where
there were no bonds of old comradeship nor of affection to a spiritual
father, there was none of the yearning, clinging love that could not
bear to part, none of the hanging on Paul's neck, none of the deep
sorrow of final separation. The delicate shades of difference in two
scenes so similar tell of the hand of an eye-witness. The touch that
'all' the Tyrian Christians went down to the beach, and took their
wives and children with them, suggests that they can have been but a
small community, and so confirms the hint given by the use of the word
'found' in verse 4.

III. The vessel ran down the coast to Ptolemais where one day's stop
was made, probably to land and ship cargo, if, as is possible, the
further journey to Caesarea was by sea. But it may have been by land;
the narrative is silent on that point. At Ptolemais, as at Tyre, there
was a little company of disciples, the brevity of the stay with whom,
contrasted with the long halt in Caesarea, rather favours the
supposition that the ship's convenience ruled the Apostle's movements
till he reached the latter place. There he found a haven of rest, and,
surrounded by loving friends, no wonder that the burdened Apostle
lingered there before plunging into the storm of which he had had so
many warnings.

The eager haste of the earlier part of the journey, contrasted with the
delay in Caesarea at the threshold of his goal, is explained by
supposing that at the beginning Paul's one wish had been to get to
Jerusalem in time for the Feast, and that at Caesarea he found that,
thanks to his earlier haste and his good passages, he had a margin to
spare. He did not wish to get to the Holy City much before the Feast.

Two things only are told as occurring in Caesarea - the intercourse with
Philip and the renewed warnings about going to Jerusalem. Apparently
Philip had been in Caesarea ever since we last heard of him (chap.
viii.). He had brought his family there, and settled down in the
headquarters of Roman government. He had been used by Christ to carry
the Gospel to men outside the Covenant, and for a time it seemed as if
he was to be the messenger to the Gentiles; but that mission soon
ended, and the honour and toil fell to another. But neither did Philip
envy Paul, nor did Paul avoid Philip. The Master has the right to
settle what each slave has to do, and whether He sets him to high or
low office, it matters not.

Philip might have been contemptuous and jealous of the younger man, who
had been nobody when he was chosen as one of the Seven, but had so far
outrun him now. But no paltry personal feeling marred the Christian
intercourse of the two, and we can imagine how much each had to tell
the other, with perhaps Cornelius for a third in company, during the
considerably extended stay in Caesarea. No doubt Luke too made good use
of the opportunity of increasing his knowledge of the first days, and
probably derived much of the material for the first chapters of Acts
from Philip, either then or at his subsequent longer residence in the
same city.

We have heard of the prophet Agabus before (chap, xi. 28). Why he is
introduced here, as if a stranger, we cannot tell, and it is useless to
guess, and absurd to sniff suspicion of genuineness in the peculiarity.
His prophecy is more definite than any that preceded it. That is God's
way. He makes things clearer as we go on, and warnings more emphatic as
danger approaches. The source of the 'afflictions' was now for the
first time declared, and the shape which they would take. Jews would
deliver Paul to Gentiles, as they had delivered Paul's Master.

But there the curtain falls. What would the Gentiles do with him? That
remained unrevealed. Half the tragedy was shown, and then darkness
covered the rest. That was more trying to nerves and courage than full
disclosure to the very end would have been. Imagination had just enough
to work on, and was stimulated to shape out all sorts of horrors.
Similarly incomplete and testing to faith are the glimpses of the
future which we get in our own lives. We see but a little way ahead,
and then the road takes a sharp turn, and we fancy dreadful shapes
hiding round the corner.

Paul's courage was unmoved both by Agabus's incomplete prophecy and by
the tearful implorings of his companions and of the Caesarean
Christians. His pathetic words to them are misunderstood if we take
'break my heart' in the modern sense of that phrase, for it really
means 'to melt away my resolution,' and shows that Paul felt that the
passionate grief of his brethren was beginning to do what no fear for
himself could do - shake even his steadfast purpose. No more lovely
blending of melting tenderness and iron determination has ever been put
into words than that cry of his, followed by the great utterance which
proclaimed his readiness to bear all things, even death itself, for
'the name of the Lord Jesus.' What kindled and fed that noble flame of
self-devotion? The love of Jesus Christ, built on the sense that He had
redeemed the soul of His servant, and had thereby bought him for His
own.

If we feel that we have been 'bought with a price,' we too, in our
small spheres, shall be filled with that ennobling passion of devoted
love which will not count life dear if He calls us to give it up. Let
us learn from Paul how to blend the utmost gentleness and tender
responsiveness to all love with fixed determination to glorify the
Name. A strong will and a loving heart make a marvellously beautiful
combination, and should both abide in every Christian.



PHILIP THE EVANGELIST

'... We entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one
of the seven; and abode with him.' - ACTS xxi. 8.

The life of this Philip, as recorded, is a very remarkable one. It is
divided into two unequal halves: one full of conspicuous service, one
passed in absolute obscurity. Like the moon in its second quarter, part
of the disc is shining silver and the rest is invisible. Let us put
together the notices of him.

He bears a name which makes it probable that he was not a Palestinian
Jew, but one of the many who, of Jewish descent, had lived in Gentile
lands and contracted Gentile habits and associations. We first hear of
him as one of the Seven who were chosen by the Church, at the
suggestion of the Apostles, in order to meet the grumbling of that
section of the Church, who were called 'Hellenists,' about their people
being neglected in the distribution of alms. He stands in that list
next to Stephen, who was obviously the leader. Then after Stephen's
persecution, he flies from Jerusalem, like the rest of the Church, and
comes down to Samaria and preaches there. He did that because
circumstances drove him; he had become one of the Seven because his
brethren appointed him, but his next step was in obedience to a
specific command of Christ. He went and preached the Gospel to the
Ethiopian eunuch, and then he was borne away from the new convert, and
after the Spirit had put him down at Ashdod he had to tramp all the way
up the Palestinian coast, left to the guidance of his own wits, until
he came to Caesarea. There he remained for twenty years; and we do not
hear a word about him in all that time. But at last Paul and his
companions, hurrying to keep the Feast at Jerusalem, found that they
had a little time to spare when they reached Caesarea, and so they came
to 'the house of Philip the evangelist,' whom we last heard of twenty
years before, and spent 'many days' with him. That is the final glimpse
that we have of Philip.

Now let us try to gather two or three plain lessons, especially those
which depend on that remarkable contrast between the first and the
second periods of this man's life. There is, first, a brief space of
brilliant service, and then there are long years of obscure toil.

I. The brief space of brilliant service.

The Church was in a state of agitation, and there was murmuring going
on because, as I have already said, a section of it thought that their
poor were unfairly dealt with by the native-born Jews in the Church.
And so the Apostles said: 'What is the use of your squabbling thus?
Pick out any seven that you like, of the class that considers itself
aggrieved, and we will put the distribution of these eleemosynary
grants into their hands. That will surely stop your mouths. Do you
choose whom you please, and we will confirm your choice.' So the Church
selected seven brethren, all apparently belonging to the 'Grecians' or
Greek-speaking Jews, as the Apostles had directed that they should be,
and one of them, not a Jew by birth, but a 'proselyte of Antioch.'
These men's partialities would all be in favour of the class to which
they belonged, and to secure fair play for which they were elected by
it.

Now these seven are never called 'deacons' in the New Testament, though
it is supposed that they were the first holders of that office. It is
instructive to note how their office came into existence. It was
created by the Apostles, simply as the handiest way of getting over a
difficulty. Is that the notion of Church organisation that prevails
among some of our brethren who believe that organisation is everything,
and that unless a Church has the three orders of bishops, priests, and
deacons, it is not worth calling a Church at all? The plain fact is
that the Church at the beginning had no organisation. What organisation
it had grew up as circumstances required. The only two laws which
governed organisation were, first, 'One is your Master, even Christ,
and all ye are brethren'; and second, 'When the Spirit of the Lord is
come upon thee, thou shalt do as occasion shall serve thee.' Thus these
seven were appointed to deal with a temporary difficulty and to
distribute alms when necessary; and their office dropped when it was no
longer required, as was probably the case when, very soon after, the
Jerusalem Church was scattered. Then, by degrees, came elders and
deacons. People fancy that there is but one rigid, unalterable type of
Church organisation, when the reality is that it is fluent and
flexible, and that the primitive Church never was meant to be the
pattern according to which, in detail, and specifically, other Churches
in different circumstances should be constituted. There are great
principles which no organisation must break, but if these be kept, the
form is a matter of convenience.

That is the first lesson that I take out of this story. Although it has
not much to do with Philip himself, still it is worth saying in these
days when a particular organisation of the Church is supposed to be
essential to Christian fellowship, and we Nonconformists, who have not
the 'orders' that some of our brethren seem to think indispensable, are
by a considerable school unchurched, because we are without them. But
the primitive Church also was without them.

Still further and more important for us, in these brief years of
brilliant service I note the spontaneous impulse which sets a Christian
man to do Christian work. It was his brethren that picked out Philip,
and said, 'Now go and distribute alms,' but his brethren had nothing to
do with his next step. He was driven by circumstances out of Jerusalem,
and he found himself in Samaria, and perhaps he remembered how Jesus
Christ had said, on the day when He went up into Heaven, 'Ye shall be
witnesses unto Me, both in Jerusalem _and in Samaria_, and unto the
uttermost parts of the earth.' But whether he remembered that or not,
he was here in Samaria, amongst the ancestral enemies of his nation.
Nobody told him to preach when he went to Samaria. He had no commission
from the Apostles to do so. He did not hold any office in the Church,
except that which, according to the Apostles' intention in establishing
it, ought to have stopped his mouth from preaching. For they said, when
they appointed these seven, 'Let _them_ serve tables, and we will give
ourselves to the ministry of the word.' But Jesus Christ has a way of
upsetting men's restrictions as to the functions of His servants. And
so Philip, without a commission, and with many prejudices to stop his
mouth, was the first to break through the limitations which confined
the message of salvation to the Jews. Because he found himself in
Samaria, and they needed Christ there, he did not wait for Peter and
James and John to lay their hands upon his head, and say, 'Now you are
entitled to speak about Him'; he did not wait for any appointment, but
yielded to his own heart, a heart that was full of Jesus Christ, and
_must_ speak about Him; find he proclaimed the Gospel in that city.

So he has the noble distinction of being the very first Christian man
who put a bold foot across the boundary of Judaism, and showed a light
to men that were in darkness beyond. Remember he did it as a simple
private Christian; uncalled, uncommissioned, unordained by anybody; and
he did it because he could not help it, and he never thought to
himself, 'I am doing a daring, new thing.' It seemed the most natural
thing in the world that he should preach in Samaria. So it would be to
us, if we were Christians with the depth of faith and of personal
experience which this man had.

There is another lesson that I take from these first busy years of
Philip's service. Christ provides wider spheres for men who have been
faithful in narrower ones. It was because he had 'won his spurs,' if I
may so say, in Samaria, and proved the stuff he was made of, that the
angel of the Lord came and said to Philip, 'Go down on the road to
Gaza, which is desert. Do not ask now what you are to do when you get
there. Go!' So with his sealed orders be went. No doubt he thought to
himself, 'Strange that I should be taken from this prosperous work in
Samaria, and sent to a desert road, where there is not a single human
being!' But he went; and when he struck the point of junction of the
road from Samaria with that from Jerusalem, looked about to discover
what he had been sent there for. The only thing in sight was one
chariot, and he said to himself, 'Ah, that is it,' and he drew near to
the chariot, and heard the occupant reading aloud Isaiah's great
prophecy. The Ethiopian chamberlain was probably not very familiar with
the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which he seems to have been
using and, as poor readers often do, helped his comprehension by
speaking the words he sees on the page. Philip knew at once that here
was the object of his mission, and so 'joined himself to the chariot,'
and set himself to his work.

So Christ chooses His agents for further work from those who, out of
their own spontaneous love of Him, have done what lay at their hands.
'To him that hath shall be given.' If you are ambitious of a wider
sphere, be sure that you fill your narrow one. It will widen quite fast
enough for your capacities.

II. Now let me say a word about the long years of obscurity.

Philip went down to Caesarea, and, as I said, he drops out of the story
for twenty years. I wonder why it was that when Jesus Christ desired
that Cornelius, who lived in Caesarea, should hear the gospel, He did
not direct him to Philip, who also was in Caesarea, but bid him send
all the way to Joppa to bring Peter thence? I wonder why it was that
when Barnabas at Antioch turned his face northwards to seek for young
Saul at Tarsus, he never dreamed of turning southwards to call out
Philip from Caesarea? I wonder how it came to pass that this man, who
at one time looked as if he was going to be the leader in the extension
of the Church to the Gentiles, and who, as a matter of fact, was the
first, not only in Samaria but on the desert road, to press beyond the
narrow bounds of Judaism, was passed over in the further stages by
Jesus, and why his brethren passed him over, and left him there all
these years in Caesarea, whilst there was so much going on that was the
continuation and development of the very movement that he had begun. We
do not know why, and it is useless to try to speculate, but we may
learn lessons from the fact.

Here is a beautiful instance of the contented acceptance of a lot very
much less conspicuous, very much less brilliant, than the early
beginnings had seemed to promise. I suppose that there are very few of
us but have had, back in the far-away past, moments when we seemed to
have opening out before us great prospects of service which have never
been realised; and the remembrance of the brief moments of dawning
splendour is very apt to make the rest of the life look grey and dull,
and common things flat, and to make us sour. We look back and we think,
'Ah, the gates were opened for me then, but how they have slammed to
since! It is hard for me to go on in this lowly condition, and this
eclipsed state into which I have been brought, without feeling how
different it might have been if those early days had only continued.'
Well, for Philip it was enough that Jesus Christ sent him to the eunuch
and did not send him to Cornelius. He took the position that his Master
put him in and worked away therein.

And there is a further lesson for us, who, for the most part, have to
lead obscure lives. For there was in Philip not only a contented
acceptance of an obscure life, but there was a diligent doing of
obscure work. Did you notice that one significant little word in the
clause that I have taken for my text: 'We entered into the house of
Philip _the evangelist_, which was one of the seven'? Luke does not
forget Philip's former office, but he dwells rather on what his other
office was, twenty years afterwards. He was 'an evangelist' now,
although the evangelistic work was being done in a very quiet corner,
and nobody was paying much attention to it. Time was when he had a
great statesman to listen to his words. Time was when a whole city was
moved by his teaching. Time was when it looked as if he was going to do
the work that Paul did. But all these visions were shattered, and he
was left to toil for twenty long years in that obscure corner, and not
a soul knew anything about his work except the people to whom it was
directed and the four unmarried girls at home whom his example had
helped to bring to Jesus Christ, and who were 'prophetesses.' At the
end of the twenty years he is 'Philip the evangelist.'

_There_ is patient perseverance at unrecompensed, unrecorded, and
unnoticed work. 'Great' and 'small' have nothing to do with the work of
Christian people. It does not matter who knows our work or who does not
know it, the thing is that _He_ knows it. Now the most of us have to do
absolutely unnoticed Christian service. Those of us who are in
positions like mine have a little more notoriety - and it is no
blessing - and a year or two after a man's voice ceases to sound from a
pulpit he is forgotten. What does it matter? 'Surely I will never
forget any of their works.' And in these advertising days, when
publicity seems to be the great good that people in so many cases seek
after, and no one is contented to do his little bit of work unless he
gets reported in the columns of the newspapers, we may all take example
from the behaviour of Philip, and remember the man who began so
brilliantly, and for twenty years was hidden, and was 'the evangelist'
all the time.

III. Now, there is one last lesson that I would draw, and that is the
ultimate recognition of the work and the joyful meeting of the workers.

I think it is very beautiful to see that when Paul entered Philip's
house he came into a congenial atmosphere; and although he had been
hurrying, out of breath as it were, all the way from Corinth to get to
Jerusalem in time for the Feast, he slowed off at once; partly, no
doubt, because he found that he was in time, and partly, no doubt, that
he felt the congeniality of the society that he met.

So there was no envy in Philip's heart of the younger brother that had
so outrun him. He was quite content to share the fate of pioneers, and
rejoiced in the junior who had entered into his labour. 'One soweth and
another reapeth'; he was prepared for that, and rejoiced to hear about
what the Lord had done by his brother, though once he had thought it
might have been done by him. How they would talk! How much there would
be to tell! How glad the old man would be at the younger man's success!

And there was one sitting by who did not say very much, but had his
ears wide open, and his name was Luke. In Philip's long, confidential
conversations he no doubt got some of the materials, which have been
preserved for us in this book, for his account of the early days of the
Church in Jerusalem.

So Philip, after all, was not working in so obscure a corner as he
thought. The whole world knows about him. He had been working behind a
curtain all the while, and he never knew that 'the beloved physician,'
who was listening so eagerly to all he had to tell about the early
days, was going to twitch down the curtain and let the whole world see
the work that he thought he was doing, all unknown and soon to be
forgotten.

And that is what will happen to us all. The curtain will be twitched
down, and when it is, it will be good for us if we have the same record
to show that this man had - namely, toil for the Master, indifferent to



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 45 of 57)