There is no change in the habits of any nation more striking than that which passed over the Jewish race in that interval of four centuries between Malachi and Matthew of which we have no record in the sacred Scriptures. In the Old Testament we see the Jews pent within the narrow limits of Palestine, engaged mainly in agricultural pursuits and jealously guarding themselves from intermingling with foreign nations. In the New Testament we find them still, indeed, clinging with a desperate tenacity to Jerusalem and to the idea of their own separateness; but their habits and abodes have been completely changed: they have given up agriculture and betaken themselves with extraordinary eagerness and success to commerce; and with this object in view they have diffused themselves everywhere—over Africa, Asia, Europe—and there is not a city of any importance where they are not to be found. By what steps this extraordinary change came about it were hard to tell and long to trace. But it had taken place; and this turned out to be a circumstance of extreme importance for the early history of Christianity.
Wherever the Jews were settled, they had their synagogues, their sacred Scriptures, their uncompromising belief in the One true God. Not only so: their synagogues everywhere attracted proselytes from the surrounding Gentile populations. The heathen religions were at that period in a state of utter collapse. The smaller nations had lost faith in their deities, because they had not been able to defend them from the victorious Greeks and Romans. But the conquerors had for other reasons equally lost faith in their own gods. It was an age of skepticism, religious decay and moral corruption. But there are always natures which must possess a faith in which they can trust. These were in search of a religion, and many of them found refuge from the coarse and incredible myths of the gods of polytheism in the purity and monotheism of the Jewish creed. The fundamental ideas of this creed are also the foundations of the Christian faith. Wherever the messengers of Christianity traveled, they met with people with whom they had many religious conceptions in common. Their first sermons were delivered in synagogues, their first converts were Jews and proselytes. The synagogue was the bridge by which Christianity crossed over to the heathen.
78. Such, then, was the world which Paul was setting out to conquer. It was a world everywhere pervaded with these three influences. But there were two other elements of population which require to be kept in mind, as both of them supplied numerous converts to the early preachers: they were the original inhabitants of the various countries; and there were the slaves, who were either captives taken in war or their descendants, and were liable to be shifted from place to place, being sold according to the necessities or caprices of their masters. A religion the chief boast of which it was to preach glad tidings to the poor could not neglect these down-trodden classes, and, although the conflict of Christianity with the forces of the time which had possession of the fate of the world naturally attracts attention, it must not be forgotten that its best triumph has always consisted in the sweetening and brightening of the lot of the humble.
HIS MISSIONARY TRAVELS
79-88. THE FIRST JOURNEY. 79, 80. His Companions. 81. Cyprus. Change of his Name. 82-87. The Mainland of Asia Minor. 83. Desertion of Mark. 84. Antioch-in-Pisidia and Iconium. 86-87. Lystra and Derbe. 88. Return. 89-108. THE SECOND JOURNEY. 90, 91. Separation from Barnabas. 92, 93. Unrecorded Half of the Journey. 94-96. Crossing to Europe. 97-108. Greece. 97-101. Macedonia. 99. Women and the Gospel. 100. Liberality of Churches. 102-108. Achaia. 103-105. Athens. 106-108. Corinth. 109-114. THE THIRD JOURNEY. Ephesus, Polemic against Superstition.
THE FIRST JOURNEY
79. Paul's Companions.—From the beginning it had been the wont of the preachers of Christianity not to go alone on their expeditions, but two by two. Paul improved on this practise by going generally with two companions, one of them being a younger man, who perhaps took charge of the traveling arrangements. On his first journey his comrades were Barnabas and John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas.
80. We have already seen that Barnabas may be called the discoverer of Paul; and, when they set out on this journey together, he was probably in a position to act as Paul's patron; for he enjoyed much consideration in the Christian community. Converted apparently on the day of Pentecost, he had played a leading part in the subsequent events. He was a man of high social position, a landed proprietor in the island of Cyprus; and he sacrificed all to the new movement into which he had been drawn. In the outburst of enthusiasm which led the first Christians to share their property with one another, he sold his estate and laid the money at the apostles' feet. He was constantly employed thereafter in the work of preaching, and he had so remarkable a gift of eloquence that he was called the Son of Exhortation. An incident which occurred at a later stage of this journey gives us a glimpse of the appearance of the two men. When the inhabitants of Lystra mistook them for gods, they called Barnabas Jupiter and Paul Mercury. Now, in ancient art Jupiter was always represented as a tall, majestic and benignant figure, while Mercury was the small, swift messenger of the father of gods and men. Probably it appeared, therefore, that the large, gracious, paternal Barnabas was the head and director of the expedition, while Paul, little and eager, was the subordinate. The direction in which they set out, too, was the one which Barnabas might naturally have been expected to choose. They went first to Cyprus, the island where his property had been and many of his friends still were. It lay eighty miles to the southwest of Seleucia, the seaport of Antioch, and they might reach it on the very day they left their headquarters.
81. Cyprus—Change of Name.—But, although Barnabas appeared to be the leader, the good man probably knew already that the humble words of the Baptist might be used by himself with reference to his companion, "He must increase, but I must decrease." At all events, as soon as their work began in earnest, this was shown to be the relation between them. After going through the length of the island, from east to west, evangelizing, they arrived at Paphos, its chief town, and there the problems they had come out to face met them in the most concentrated form.
Paphos was the seat of the worship of Venus, the goddess of love, who was said to have been born of the foam of the sea at this very spot; and her worship was carried on with the wildest licentiousness. It was a picture in miniature of Greece sunk in moral decay. Paphos was also the seat of the Roman government, and in the pro-consular chair sat a man, Sergius Paulus, whose noble character but utter lack of certain faith formed a companion picture of the inability of Rome at that epoch to meet the deepest necessities of her best sons. In the proconsular court, playing upon the inquirer's credulity, a Jewish sorcerer and quack, named Elymas, was flourishing, whose arts were a picture of the lowest depths to which the Jewish character could sink. The whole scene was a kind of miniature of the world the evils of which the missionaries had set forth to cure.
In the presence of these exigencies Paul unfolded for the first time the mighty powers which lay in him. An access of the Spirit seizing him and enabling him to overcome all obstacles, he covered the Jewish magician with disgrace, converted the Roman governor, and founded in the town a Christian church in opposition to the Greek shrine. From that hour Barnabas sank into the second place and Paul took his natural position as the head of the mission. We no longer read, as heretofore, of "Barnabas and Saul," but always of "Paul and Barnabas." The subordinate had become the leader; and, as if to mark that he had become a new man and taken a new place, he was no longer called by the Jewish name of Saul, which up to this point he had borne, but by the name of Paul, which has ever since been his designation among Christians.
82. The Mainland of Asia.—The next move was as obviously the choice of the new leader as the first one had been due to Barnabas. They struck across the sea to Perga, a town near the middle of the southern coast of Asia Minor, then right up, a hundred miles, into the mainland, and thence eastward to a point almost straight north of Tarsus. This route carried them in a kind of half circuit through the districts of Pamphylia, Pisidia and Lycaonia, which border, to the west and north, on Cilicia, Paul's native province; so that, if it be the case that he had evangelized Cilicia already, he was now merely extending his labors to the nearest surrounding regions.
83. At Perga, the starting-point of this second half of the journey, a misfortune befell the expedition: John Mark deserted his companions and sailed for home. It may be that the new position assumed by Paul had given him offense, though his generous uncle felt no such grudge at that which was the ordinance of nature and of God. But it is more likely that the cause of his withdrawal was dismay at the dangers upon which they were about to enter. These were such as might well strike terror even into resolute hearts. Behind Perga rose the snow-clad peaks of the Taurus Mountains, which had to be penetrated through narrow passes, where crazy bridges spanned the rushing torrents, and the castles of robbers, who watched for passing travelers to pounce upon, were hidden in positions so inaccessible that even the Roman army had not been able to exterminate them. When these preliminary dangers were surmounted, the prospect beyond was anything but inviting: the country to the north of the Taurus was a vast tableland, more elevated than the summits of the highest mountains in this country, and scattered over with solitary lakes, irregular mountain masses and tracts of desert, where the population was rude and spoke an almost endless variety of dialects. These things terrified Mark, and he drew back. But his companions took their lives in their hand and went forward. To them it was enough that there were multitudes of perishing souls there, needing the salvation of which they were the heralds; and Paul knew that there were scattered handfuls of his own people in these remote regions of the heathen.
84. Can we conceive what their procedure was like in the towns they visited? It is difficult, indeed, to picture it to ourselves. As we try to see them with the mind's eye entering any place, we naturally think of them as the most important personages in it; to us their entry is as august as if they had been carried on a car of victory. Very different, however, was the reality. They entered a town as quietly and as unnoticed as any two strangers who may walk into one of our towns any morning. Their first care was to get a lodging; and then they had to seek for employment, for they worked at their trade wherever they went. Nothing could be more commonplace. Who could dream that this travel-stained man, going from one tentmaker's door to another, seeking for work, was carrying the future of the world beneath his robe!
When the Sabbath came round, they would cease from toil, like the other Jews in the place, and repair to the synagogue. They joined in the psalms and prayers with the other worshipers and listened to the reading of the Scriptures. After this the presiding elder might ask if any one present had a word of exhortation to deliver. This was Paul's opportunity. He would rise and, with outstretched hand, begin to speak. At once the audience recognized the accents of the cultivated rabbi: and the strange voice won their attention. Taking up the passages which had been read, he would soon be moving forward on the stream of Jewish history, till he led up to the astounding announcement that the Messiah hoped for by their fathers and promised by their prophets had come; and he had been sent among them as His apostle. Then would follow the story of Jesus; it was true, He had been rejected by the authorities of Jerusalem and crucified, but this could be shown to have taken place in accordance with prophecy; and His resurrection from the dead was an infallible proof that He had been sent of God: now He was exalted a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance unto Israel and the remission of sins.
We can easily imagine the sensation produced by such a sermon from such a preacher and the buzz of conversation which would arise among the congregation after the dismissal of the synagogue. During the week it would become the talk of the town: and Paul was willing to converse at his work or in the leisure of the evening with any who might desire further information. Next Sabbath the synagogue would be crowded, not with Jews only, but Gentiles also, who were curious to see the strangers; and Paul now unfolded the secret that salvation by Jesus Christ was as free to Gentiles as to Jews. This was generally the signal for the Jews to contradict and blaspheme; and, turning his back on them, Paul addressed himself to the Gentiles. But meantime the fanaticism of the Jews was roused, who either stirred up the mob or secured the interest of the authorities against the strangers; and in a storm of popular tumult or by the breath of authority the messengers of the gospel were swept out of the town. This was what happened at Antioch in Pisidia, their first halting-place in the interior of Asia Minor; and it was repeated in a hundred instances in Paul's subsequent life.
85. Sometimes they did not get off so easily. At Lystra, for example, they found themselves in a population of rude heathens, who were at first so charmed with Paul's winning words and impressed with the appearance of the preachers that they took them for gods and were on the point of offering sacrifice to them. This filled the missionaries with horror, and they rejected the intentions of the crowd with unceremonious haste. A sudden revolution in the popular sentiment ensued, and Paul was stoned and cast out of the city apparently dead.
86. Such were the scenes of excitement and peril through which they had to pass in this remote region. But their enthusiasm never flagged; they never thought of turning back, but, when they were driven out of one city, moved forward to another. And, total as their discomfitures sometimes appeared, they quitted no city without leaving behind them a little band of converts—perhaps a few Jews, a few more proselytes, and a number of Gentiles. The gospel found those for whom it was intended—penitents burdened with sin, souls dissatisfied with the world and their ancestral religion, hearts yearning for divine sympathy and love; "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed;" and these formed in every city the nucleus of a Christian church. Even at Lystra, where the defeat seemed so utter, a little group of faithful hearts gathered round the mangled body of the apostle outside the city gates; Eunice and Lois were there with tender womanly ministrations; and young Timothy, as he looked down on the pale and bleeding face, felt his heart forever knit to the hero who had courage to suffer to the death for his faith.
87. In the intense love of such hearts Paul received compensation for suffering and injustice. If, as some suppose, the people of this region formed part of the Galatian churches, we see from his Epistle to them the kind of love they gave him. They received him, he says, as an angel of God, nay, as Jesus Christ Himself; they were ready to have plucked out their eyes and given them to him. They were people of rude kindness and headlong impulses; their native religion was one of excitement and demonstrativeness, and they carried these characteristics into the new faith they had adopted. They were filled with joy and the Holy Ghost, and the revival spread on every hand with great rapidity, till the word, sounding out from the little Christian communities, was heard all along the slopes of Taurus and down the glens of the Cestrus and Halys.
Paul's warm heart could not but enjoy such an outburst of affection. He responded to it by giving in return his own deep love. The towns mentioned in their itinerary are the Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe; but, when at the last of them he had finished his course and the way lay open to him to descend by the Cilician Gates to Tarsus and thence get back to Antioch, he preferred to return by the way he had come. In spite of the most imminent danger he revisited all these places to see his dear converts again and cheer them in face of persecution; and he ordained elders in every city to watch over the churches in his absence.
88. The Return.—At length the missionaries descended again from these uplands to the southern coast and sailed back to Antioch, from which they had set out. Worn with toil and suffering, but flushed with the joy of success, they appeared among those who had sent them forth and had doubtless been following them with their prayers; and, like discoverers returned from the finding of a new country, they related the miracles of grace they had witnessed in the strange world of the heathen.
THE SECOND JOURNEY
89. In his first journey Paul may be said to have been only trying his wings; for his course, adventurous though it was, only swept in a limited circle round his native province. In his second journey he performed a far more distant and perilous flight. Indeed, this journey was not only the greatest he achieved but perhaps the most momentous recorded in the annals of the human race. In its issues it far outrivaled the expedition of Alexander the Great, when he carried the arms and civilization of Greece into the heart of Asia, or that of Caesar, when he landed on the shores of Britain, or even the voyage of Columbus, when he discovered a new world. Yet, when he set out on it, he had no idea of the magnitude which it was to assume or even the direction which it was to take. After enjoying a short rest at the close of the first journey, he said to his fellow-missionary, "Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they do." It was the parental longing to see his spiritual children which was drawing him; but God had far more extensive designs, which opened up before him as he went forward.
90. Separation from Barnabas.—Unfortunately the beginning of this journey was marred by a dispute between the two friends who meant to perform it together. The occasion of their difference was the offer of John Mark to accompany them. No doubt when this young man saw Paul and Barnabas returning safe and sound from the undertaking which he had deserted, he recognized what a mistake he had made; and he now wished to retrieve his error by rejoining them. Barnabas naturally wished to take his nephew, but Paul absolutely refused. The one missionary, a man of easy kindliness, urged the duty of forgiveness and the effect which a rebuff might have on a beginner; while the other, full of zeal for God, represented the danger of making so sacred a work in any way dependent on one who could not be relied upon, for "confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth or a foot out of joint."
We cannot now tell which of them was in the right or if both were partly wrong. Both of them, at all events, suffered for it: Paul had to part in anger from the man to whom he probably owed more than to any other human being; and Barnabas was separated from the grandest spirit of the age.
91. They never met again. This was not due, however, to an unchristian continuation of the quarrel; for the heat of passion soon cooled down and the old love returned. Paul mentions Barnabas with honor in his writings, and in the very last of his Epistles he sends for Mark to come to him at Rome, expressly adding that he is profitable to him for ministry—the very thing he had disbelieved about him before. In the meantime, however, their difference separated them. They agreed to divide between them the region they had evangelized together. Barnabas and Mark went away to Cyprus; and Paul undertook to visit the churches on the mainland. As companion he took with him Silas, or Silvanus, in the place of Barnabas; and he had not proceeded far on his new journey when he met with one to take the place of Mark. This was Timothy, a convert he had made at Lystra in his first journey; he was youthful and gentle; and he continued a faithful companion and a constant comfort to the apostle to the end of his life.
92. Unrecorded Work.—In pursuance of the purpose with which he had set out, Paul began this journey by revisiting the churches in the founding of which he had taken part. Beginning at Antioch and proceeding in a northwesterly direction, he did this work in Syria, Cilicia and other parts, till he reached the center of Asia Minor, where the primary object of his journey was completed. But, when a man is on the right road, all sorts of opportunities open up before him. When he had passed through the provinces which he had visited before, new desires to penetrate still farther began to fire his mind, and Providence opened up the way.
He still went forward in the same direction through Phrygia and Galatia. Bithynia, a large province lying along the shore of the Black Sea, and Asia, a densely populated province in the west of Asia Minor, seemed to invite him and he wished to enter them. But the Spirit who guided his footsteps indicated, by some means unknown to us, that these provinces were shut to him in the meantime; and, pushing onward in the direction in which his divine Guide permitted him to go, he found himself at Troas, a town on the northwest coast of Asia Minor.
93. Thus he had traveled from Antioch in the south-east to Troas in the northwest of Asia Minor, a distance as far as from Land's End to John O' Groat's, evangelizing all the way. It must have taken months, perhaps even years. Yet of this long, laborious period we possess no details whatever, except such features of his intercourse with the Galatians as may be gathered from the Epistle to that church. The truth is that, thrilling as are the notices of Paul's career given in the Acts, this record is a very meager and imperfect one, and his life was far fuller of adventure, of labors and sufferings for Christ, than even Luke's narrative would lead us to suppose. The plan of the Acts is to tell only what was most novel and characteristic in each journey, while it passes over, for instance, all his repeated visits to the same scenes. There are thus great blanks in the history, which were in reality as full of interest as the portions of his life which are fully described.
Of this there is a startling proof in an Epistle which he wrote within the period covered by the Acts of the Apostles. His argument calling upon him to enumerate some of his outstanding adventures, "Are they ministers of Christ?" he asks, "I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods. Once was I stoned. Thrice I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day have I been in the deep. In journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."
Now, of the items of this extraordinary catalogue the book of Acts mentions very few: of the five Jewish scourgings it notices not one, of the three Roman beatings only one; the one stoning it records, but not one of the three shipwrecks, for the shipwreck so fully detailed in the Acts happened later. It was no part of the design of Luke to exaggerate the figure of the hero he was painting; his brief and modest narrative comes far short even of the reality; and, as we pass over the few simple words into which he condenses the story of months or years, our imagination requires to be busy, filling up the outline with toils and pains at least equal to those the memory of which he has preserved.
94. Crossing to Europe.—It would appear that Paul reached Troas under the direction of the guiding Spirit without being aware whither his steps were next to be turned. But could he doubt what the divine intention was when, gazing across the silver streak of the Hellespont, he beheld the shores of Europe on the other side? He was now within the charmed circle where for ages civilization had had her home; and he could not be entirely ignorant of those stories of war and enterprise and those legends of love and valor which have made it forever bright and dear to the heart of mankind.
At only four miles' distance lay the Plain of Troy, where Europe and Asia encountered each other in the struggle celebrated in Homer's immortal song. Not far off Xerxes, sitting on a marble throne, reviewed the three millions of Asiatics with which he meant to bring Europe to his feet. On the other side of that narrow strait lay Greece and Rome, the centers from which issued the learning, the commerce and the armies which governed the world. Could his heart, so ambitious for the glory of Christ, fail to be fired with the desire to cast himself upon these strongholds, or could he doubt that the Spirit was leading him forward to this enterprise? He knew that Greece, with all her wisdom, lacked that knowledge which makes wise unto salvation, and that the Romans, though they were the conquerors of this world, did not know the way of winning an inheritance in the world that is to come; but in his breast he carried the secret which they both required.
95. It may have been such thoughts, dimly moving in his mind, that projected themselves into the vision which he saw at Troas; or was it the vision which first awakened the idea of crossing to Europe? As he lay asleep, with the murmur of the Aegean in his ears, he saw a man standing on the opposite coast, on which he had been looking before he went to rest, beckoning and crying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us." That figure represented Europe, and its cry for help Europe's need of Christ. Paul recognized in it a divine summons; and the very next sunset which bathed the Hellespont in its golden light shone upon his figure seated on the deck of a ship the prow of which was moving toward the shore of Macedonia.
96. In this passage of Paul, from Asia to Europe, a great providential decision was taking effect, of which, as children of the West, we cannot think without the profoundest thankfulness. Christianity arose in Asia and among an Oriental people; and it might have been expected to spread first among those races to which the Jews were most akin. Instead of coming west, it might have gone eastward. It might have penetrated into Arabia and taken possession of those regions where the faith of the False Prophet now holds sway. It might have visited the wandering tribes of Central Asia and, piercing its way down through the passes of the Himalayas, reared its temples on the banks of the Ganges, the Indus and the Godavery. It might have traveled farther east to deliver the swarming millions of China from the cold secularism of Confucius. Had it done so, missionaries from India and Japan might have been coming to England and America at the present day to tell the story of the Cross. But Providence conferred on Europe a blessed priority, and the fate of our continent was decided when Paul crossed the Aegean.
97. Macedonia.—As Greece lay nearer than Rome to the shore of Asia, its conquest for Christ was the great achievement of his second missionary journey. Like the rest of the world it was at that time under the sway of Rome, and the Romans had divided it into two provinces—Macedonia in the north and Achaia in the south. Macedonia was, therefore, the first scene of Paul's Greek mission. It was traversed from east to west by a great Roman road, along which the missionary moved, and the places where we have accounts of his labors are Philippi, Thessalonica and Beroea.
98. The Greek character in this northern province was much less corrupted than in the more polished society to the south. In the Macedonian population there still lingered something of the vigor and courage which four centuries before had made its soldiers the conquerors of the world. The churches which Paul founded here gave him more comfort than any he established elsewhere. There are none of his Epistles more cheerful and cordial than those to the Thessalonians and the Philippians; and, as he wrote the latter late in life, the perseverance of the Macedonians in adhering to the gospel must have been as remarkable as the welcome they gave it at the first. At Beroea he even met with a generous and open-minded synagogue of Jews—the rarest occurrence in his experience.
99. Women and the Gospel.—A prominent feature of the work in Macedonia was the part taken in it by women. Amid the general decay of religions throughout the world at this period, many women everywhere sought satisfaction for their religious instincts in the pure faith of the synagogue. In Macedonia, perhaps on account of its sound morality, these female proselytes were more numerous than elsewhere; and they pressed in large numbers into the Christian Church. This was a good omen; it was a prophecy of the happy change in the lot of women which Christianity was to produce in the nations of the West. If man owes much to Christ, woman owes still more. He has delivered her from the degradation of being man's slave and plaything and raised her to be his friend and his equal before Heaven; while, on the other hand, a new glory has been added to Christ's religion by the fineness and dignity with which it is invested when embodied in the female character.
These things were vividly illustrated in the earliest footsteps of Christianity on our continent. The first convert in Europe was a woman, at the first Christian service held on European soil the heart of Lydia being opened to receive the truth; and the change which passed upon her prefigured what woman in Europe was to become under the influence of Christianity. In the same town of Philippi there was seen, too, at the same time an equally representative image of the condition of woman in Europe before the gospel reached it, in a poor girl, possessed of a spirit of divination and held in slavery by men who were making gain out of her misfortune, whom Paul restored to sanity. Her misery and degradation were a symbol of the disfiguration, as Lydia's sweet and benevolent Christian character was of the transfiguration of womanhood.
100. Liberality of the Churches.—Another feature which prominently marked the Macedonian churches was a spirit of liberality. They insisted on supplying the bodily wants of the missionaries; and, even after Paul had left them, they sent gifts to meet his necessities in other towns. Long afterward, when he was a prisoner at Rome, they deputed Epaphroditus, one of their teachers, to carry thither similar gifts to him and to act as his attendant. Paul accepted the generosity of these loyal hearts, though in other places he would work his fingers to the bone and forego his natural rest rather than accept similar favors. Nor was their willingness to give due to superior wealth. On the contrary, they gave out of deep poverty. They were poor to begin with, and they were made poorer by the persecutions which they had to endure. These were very severe after Paul left, and they lasted long. Of course they had broken first of all on Paul himself. Though he was so successful in Macedonia, he was swept out of every town at last like the off-scourings of all things. It was generally by the Jews that this was brought about. They either fanaticized the mob against him, or accused him before the Roman authorities of introducing a new religion or disturbing the peace or proclaiming a king who would be a rival to Caesar. They would neither go into the kingdom of heaven themselves nor suffer others to enter.
101. But God protected His servant. At Philippi He delivered him from prison by a physical miracle and by a miracle of grace still more marvelous wrought upon his cruel jailor; and in other towns He saved him by more natural means. In spite of bitter opposition, churches were founded in city after city, and from these the glad tidings sounded out over the whole province of Macedonia.
102. Achaia.—When, leaving Macedonia, Paul proceeded south into Achaia, he entered the real Greece—the paradise of genius and renown. The memorials of the country's greatness rose around him on his journey. As he quitted Beroea, he could see behind him the snowy peaks of Mount Olympus, where the deities of Greece had been supposed to dwell. Soon he was sailing past Thermopylae, where the immortal Three Hundred stood against the barbarian myriads; and, as his voyage neared its close, he saw before him the island of Salamis, where again the existence of Greece was saved from extinction by the valor of her sons.
103. Athens.—His destination was Athens, the capital of the country. As he entered the city, he could not be insensible to the great memories which clung to its streets and monuments. Here the human mind had blazed forth with a splendor it has never exhibited elsewhere. In the golden age of its history Athens possessed more men of the very highest genius than have ever lived in any other city. To this day their names invest it with glory. Yet even in Paul's day the living Athens was a thing of the past. Four hundred years had elapsed since its golden age, and in the course of these centuries it had experienced a sad decline. Philosophy had degenerated into sophistry, art into dilettanteism, oratory into rhetoric, poetry into versemaking. It was a city living on its past. Yet it still had a great name and was full of culture and learning of a kind. It swarmed with so-called philosophers of different schools, and with teachers and professors of every variety of knowledge; and thousands of strangers of the wealthy class, collected from all parts of the world, lived there for study or the gratification of their intellectual tastes. It still represented to an intelligent visitor one of the great factors in the life of the world.
104. With the amazing versatility which enabled him to be all things to all men, Paul adapted himself to this population also. In the market-place, the lounge of the learned, he entered into conversation with students and philosophers, as Socrates had been wont to do on the same spot five centuries before. But he found even less appetite for the truth than the wisest of the Greeks had met with. Instead of the love of truth an insatiable intellectual curiosity possessed the inhabitants. This made them willing enough to tolerate the advances of any one bringing before them a new doctrine; and, as long as Paul was merely developing the speculative part of his message, they listened to him with pleasure. Their interest seemed to deepen, and at last a multitude of them conveyed him to Mars' Hill, in the very center of the splendors of their city, and requested a full statement of his faith. He complied with their wishes and in the magnificent speech he there made them, gratified their peculiar tastes to the full, as in sentences of the noblest eloquence he unfolded the great truths of the unity of God and the unity of man, which lie at the foundation of Christianity. But, when he advanced from these preliminaries to touch the consciences of his audience and address them about their own salvation, they departed in a body and left him talking.
105. He quitted Athens and never returned to it. Nowhere else had he so completely failed. He had been accustomed to endure the most violent persecution and to rally from it with a light heart. But there is something worse than persecution to a fiery faith like his, and he had to encounter it here: his message roused neither interest nor opposition. The Athenians never thought of persecuting him; they simply did not care what the babbler said; and this cold disdain cut him more deeply than the stones of the mob or the lictors' rods. Never perhaps was he so much depressed. When he left Athens, he moved on to Corinth, the other great city of Achaia; and he tells us himself that he arrived there in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.
106. Corinth.—There was in Corinth enough of the spirit of Athens to prevent these feelings from being easily assuaged. Corinth was to Athens very much what Glasgow is to Edinburgh. The one was the commercial, the other the intellectual capital of the country. Even the situations of the two places in Greece resembled in some respects those of these two cities in Scotland. But the Corinthians also were full of disputatious curiosity and intellectual hauteur. Paul dreaded the same kind of reception as he had met with in Athens. Could it be that these were people for whom the gospel had no message? This was the staggering question which was making him tremble. There seemed to be nothing in them on which the gospel could take hold: they appeared to feel no wants which it could satisfy.
107. There were other elements of discouragement in Corinth. It was the Paris of ancient times—a city rich and luxurious, wholly abandoned to sensuality. Vice displayed itself without shame in forms which struck deadly despair into Paul's pure Jewish mind. Could men be rescued from the grasp of such monstrous vices? Besides, the opposition of the Jews rose here to unusual virulence. He was compelled at length to depart from the synagogue altogether, and did so with expressions of strong feeling. Was the soldier of Christ going to be driven off the field and forced to confess that the gospel was not suited for cultured Greece? It looked like it.
108. But the tide turned. At the critical moment Paul was visited with one of those visions which were wont to be vouchsafed to him at the most trying and decisive crises of his history. The Lord appeared to him in the night, saying, "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee; for I have much people in this city." The apostle took courage again, and the causes of discouragement began to clear away. The opposition of the Jews was broken, when they hurried him with mob violence before the Roman governor, Gallio, but were dismissed from the tribunal with ignominy and disdain. The very president of the synagogue became a Christian, and conversions multiplied among the native Corinthians. Paul enjoyed the solace of living under the roof of two leal-hearted friends of his own race and his own occupation, Aquila and Priscilla. He remained a year and a half in the city and founded one of the most interesting of his churches, thus planting the standard of the cross in Achaia also and proving that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation even in the headquarters of the world's wisdom.
THE THIRD JOURNEY
109. It must have been a thrilling story Paul had to tell at Jerusalem and Antioch when he returned from his second journey; but he had no disposition to rest on his laurels, and it was hot long before he set out on his third journey.
110. In Asia.—It might have been expected that, having in his second journey planted the gospel in Greece, he would in his third have made Home his principal aim. But, if the map be referred to, it will be observed that, in the midst, between the regions of Asia Minor which he evangelized during his first journey and the provinces of Greece in which he planted churches in his second journey, there was a hiatus—the populous province of Asia, in the west of Asia Minor. It was on this region that he descended in his third journey. Staying for no less than three years in Ephesus, its capital, he effectively filled up the gap and connected together the conquests of his former campaigns. This journey included, indeed, at its beginning, a visitation of all the churches formerly founded in Asia Minor and, at its close, a flying visit to the churches of Greece; but, true to his plan of dwelling only on what was new in each journey, the author of the Acts has supplied us only with the details relating to Ephesus.
111. Ephesus.—This city was at that time the Liverpool of the Mediterranean. It possessed a splendid harbor, in which was concentrated the traffic of the sea which was then the highway of the nations; and, as Liverpool has behind her the great towns of Lancashire, so had Ephesus behind and around her such cities as those mentioned along with her in the epistles to the churches in the book of Revelation—Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. It was a city of vast wealth, and it was given over to every kind of pleasure, the fame of its theater and race-course being world-wide.
112. But Ephesus was still more famous as a sacred city. It was a seat of the worship of the goddess Diana, whose temple was one of the most celebrated shrines of the ancient world. This temple was enormously rich and harbored great numbers of priests. At certain seasons of the year it was a resort for flocks of pilgrims from the surrounding regions; and the inhabitants of the town flourished by ministering in various ways to this superstition. The goldsmiths drove a trade in little silver models of the image of the goddess which the temple contained and which was said to have fallen from heaven. Copies of the mystic characters engraven on this ancient relic were sold as charms. The city swarmed with wizards, fortune-tellers, interpreters of dreams and other gentry of the like kind, who traded on the mariners, merchants and pilgrims who frequented the port.
113. Paul's work had therefore to assume the form of a polemic against superstition. He wrought such astonishing miracles in the name of Jesus that some of the Jewish palterers with the invisible world attempted to cast out devils by invoking the same name; but the attempt issued in their signal discomfiture. Other professors of magical arts were converted to the Christian faith and burnt their books. The vendors of superstitious objects saw their trade slipping through their fingers. To such an extent did this go at one of the festivals of the goddess that the silversmiths, whose traffic in little images had been specially smitten, organized a riot against Paul, which took place in the theater and was so successful that he was forced to quit the city.
114. But he did not go before Christianity was firmly established in Ephesus, and the beacon of the gospel was twinkling brightly on the Asian coast, in response to that which was shining from the shores of Greece on the other side of the Aegean. We have a monument of his success in the churches lying all around Ephesus which St. John addressed a few years afterward in the Apocalypse; for they were probably the indirect fruit of Paul's labors. But we have a far more astonishing monument of it in the Epistle to the Ephesians. This is perhaps the profoundest book in existence; yet its author evidently expected the Ephesians to understand it. If the orations of Demosthenes, with their closely packed arguments between the articulations of which even a knife cannot be thrust, be a monument of the intellectual greatness of the Greece which listened to them with pleasure; if the plays of Shakspeare, with their deep views of life and their obscure and complex language, be a testimony to the strength of mind of the Elizabethan Age, which could enjoy such solid fare in a place of entertainment; then the Epistle to the Ephesians, which sounds the lowest depths of Christian doctrine and scales the loftiest heights of Christian experience, is a testimony to the proficiency which Paul's converts had attained under his preaching in the capital of Asia.
HIS WRITINGS AND HIS CHARACTER
115-119. HIS WRITINGS. 115, 116. Principal Literary Period. 117. Form of his Writings. 118. His Style. 119. Inspiration. 120-127. HIS CHARACTER. 121. Combination of Natural and Spiritual. 122-127. Characteristics. 122. Physique; 123. Enterprise; 124. Influence over Men; 128. Unselfishness; 126. Sense of having a Mission; 127. Personal Devotion to Christ.
115. Principal Literary Period.—It has been mentioned that the third missionary journey closed with a flying visit to the churches of Greece. This visit lasted several months; but in the Acts it is passed over in two or three verses. Probably it was little marked with those exciting incidents which naturally tempt the biographer into detail. Yet we know from other sources that it was nearly the most important part of Paul's life; for during this half-year he wrote the greatest of all his Epistles, that to the Romans, and two others only less important—that to the Galatians and the Second to the Corinthians.
116. We have thus alighted on the portion of his life most signalized by literary work. Overpowering as is the impression of the remarkableness of this man produced by following him, as we have been doing, as he hurries from province to province, from continent to continent, over land and sea, in pursuit of the object to which he was devoted, this impression is immensely deepened when we remember that he was at the same time the greatest thinker of his age, if not of any age, and, in the midst of his outward labors, was producing writings which have ever since been among the mightiest intellectual forces of the world, and are still growing in their influence.
In this respect he rises sheer above all other evangelists and missionaries. Some of them may have approached him in certain respects—Xavier or Livingstone in the world-conquering instinct, St. Bernard or Whitefield in earnestness and activity. But few of these men added a single new idea to the world's stock of beliefs, whereas Paul, while at least equaling them in their own special line, gave to mankind a new world of thought. If his Epistles could perish, the loss to literature would be the greatest possible with only one exception—that of the Gospels which record the life, the sayings and the death of our Lord. They have quickened the mind of the Church as no other writings have done, and scattered in the soil of the world hundreds of seeds the fruits of which are now the general possession of mankind. Out of them have been brought the watchwords of progress in every reformation which the Church has experienced. When Luther awoke Europe from the slumber of centuries, it was a word of Paul which he uttered with his mighty voice: and when, one hundred years ago, our own country was revived from almost universal spiritual death, she was called by the voices of men who had rediscovered the truth for themselves in the pages of Paul.
117. Form of his Writings.—Yet in penning his Epistles Paul may himself have had little idea of the part they were to play in the future. They were drawn out of him simply by the exigencies of his work. In the truest sense of the word they were letters, written to meet particular occasions, not formal writings, carefully designed and executed with a view to fame or to futurity. Letters of the right kind are, before everything else, products of the heart; and it was the eager heart of Paul, yearning for the weal of his spiritual children or alarmed by the dangers to which they were exposed, that produced all his writings. They were part of his day's work. Just as he flew over sea and land to revisit his converts, or sent Timothy or Titus to carry them his counsels and bring news of how they fared, so, when these means were not available, he would send a letter with the same design.
118. His Style.—This may seem to detract from the value of these writings. We may be inclined to wish that, instead of having the course of his thinking determined by the exigencies of so many special occasions and his attention distracted by so many minute particulars, he had been able to concentrate the force of his mind on one perfect book and expound his views on the high subjects which occupied his thoughts in a systematic form. It cannot be maintained that Paul's Epistles are models of style. They were written far too hurriedly for this; and the last thing he thought of was to polish his periods. Often, indeed, his ideas, by the mere virtue of their fineness and beauty, run into forms of exquisite language, or there is in them such a sustained throb of emotion that they shape themselves spontaneously into sentences of noble eloquence. But oftener his language is rugged and formless; no doubt it was the first which came to hand for expressing what he had to say. He begins sentences and omits to finish them; he goes off into digressions and forgets to pick up the line of thought he has dropped; he throws out his ideas in lumps instead of fusing them into mutual coherence.
Nowhere perhaps will there be found so exact a parallel to the style of Paul as in the Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell. In the Protector's brain there lay the best and truest thoughts about England and her complicated affairs which existed at the time in that island; but, when he tried to express them in speech or letter, there issued from his mind the most extraordinary mixture of exclamations, questions, arguments soon losing themselves in the sands of words, unwieldy parentheses, and morsels of beautiful pathos or subduing eloquence. Yet, as you read these amazing utterances, you come by degrees to feel that you are getting to see the very heart and soul of the Puritan Era, and that you would rather be beside this man than any other representative of the period. You see the events and ideas of the time in the very process of birth.
Perhaps, indeed, a certain formlessness is a natural accompaniment of the very highest originality. The perfect expression and orderly arrangement of ideas is a later process; but, when great thoughts are for the first time coming forth, there is a kind of primordial roughness about them, as if the earth out of which they are arising were still clinging to them: the polishing of the gold comes late and has to be preceded by the heaving of the ore out of the bowels of nature. Paul in his writings is hurling forth the original ore of truth. We owe to him hundreds of ideas which were never uttered before.
After the original man has got his idea out, the most commonplace scribe may be able to express it for others better than he, though he could never have originated it. So throughout the writings of Paul there are materials which others may combine into systems of theology and ethics, and it is the duty of the Church to do so. But his Epistles permit us to see revelation in the very process of birth. As we read them closely, we seem to be witnessing the creation of a world of truth, as the angels wondered to see the firmament evolving itself out of chaos and the multitudinous earth spreading itself forth in the light. Minute as are the details he has often to deal with, the whole of his vast view of the truth is recalled in his treatment of every one of them, as the whole sky is mirrored in a single drop of dew. What could be a more impressive proof of the fecundity of his mind than the fact that, amid the innumerable distractions of a second visit to his Greek converts, he should have written in half a year three such books as Romans, Galatians and Second Corinthians?
119. His Inspiration.—It was God by His Spirit who communicated this revelation of truth to Paul. Its own greatness and divineness supply the best proof that it could have had no other origin. But none the less did it break in upon Paul with the joy and pain of original thought; it came to him through his experience; it drenched and dyed every fiber of his mind and heart; and the expression which it found in his writings was in accordance with his peculiar genius and circumstances.
120. The Man Revealed in his Letters.—It would be easy to suggest compensations in the form of Paul's writings for the literary qualities they lack. But one of these so outweighs all others that it is sufficient by itself to justify in this case the ways of God. In no other literary form could we, to the same extent, in the writings have got the man. Letters are the most personal form of literature. A man may write a treatise or a history or even a poem and hide his personality behind it; but letters are valueless unless the writer shows himself. Paul is constantly visible in his letters. You can feel his heart throbbing in every chapter he ever wrote. He has painted his own portrait—not only that of the outward man, but of his innermost feelings—as no one else could have painted it. It is not from Luke, admirable as is the picture drawn in the Acts of the Apostles, that we learn what the true Paul was, but from Paul himself. The truths he reveals are all seen embodied in the man. As there are some preachers who are greater than their sermons, and the principal gain of their hearers, in listening to them, is obtained in the inspiring glimpses they obtain of a great and sanctified personality, so the best thing in the writings of Paul is Paul himself, or rather the grace of God in him.
121. His character presented a wonderful combination of the natural and the spiritual. From nature he had received a strongly marked individuality; but the change which Christianity produces was no less obvious in him. In no saved man's character is it possible to separate nicely what is due to nature from what is due to grace; for nature and grace blend sweetly in the redeemed life. In Paul the union of the two was singularly complete; yet it was always clear that there were two elements in him of diverse origin; and this is, indeed, the key to a successful estimate of his character.
122. Physique.—To begin with what was most simply natural—his physique was an important condition of his career. As want of ear may make a musical career impossible or a failure of eyesight stop the progress of a painter, so the missionary life is impossible without a certain degree of physical stamina. To any one reading by itself the catalogue of Paul's sufferings and observing the elasticity with which he rallied from the severest of them and resumed his labors, it would naturally occur that he must have been a person of Herculean mold. On the contrary, he appears to have been little of stature, and his bodily presence was weak. This weakness seems to have been sometimes aggravated by disfiguring disease; and he felt keenly the disappointment which he knew his bodily presence would excite among strangers; for every preacher who loves his work would like to preach the gospel with all the graces which conciliate the favor of hearers to an orator. God, however, used his very weakness, beyond his hopes, to draw out the tenderness of his converts; and so, when he was weak, then he was strong, and he was able to glory even in his infirmities.
There is a theory, which has obtained extensive currency, that the disease he suffered from was violent ophthalmia, causing disagreeable redness of the eyelids. But its grounds are very slender. He seems, on the contrary, to have had a remarkable power of fascinating and cowing an enemy with the keenness of his glance, as in the story of Elymas the sorcerer, which reminds us of the tradition about Luther, that his eyes sometimes so glowed and sparkled that bystanders could scarcely look on them.
There is no foundation whatever for an idea of some recent biographers of Paul that his bodily constitution was excessively fragile and chronically afflicted with shattering nervous disease. No one could have gone through his labors or suffered the stoning, the scourgings and other tortures he endured without having an exceptionally tough and sound constitution. It is true that he was sometimes worn out with illness and torn down with the acts of violence to which he was exposed; but the rapidity of his recovery on such occasions proves what a large fund of bodily force he had to draw upon. And who can doubt that, when his face was melted with tender love in beseeching men to be reconciled to God or lighted up with enthusiasm in the delivery of his message, it must have possessed a noble beauty far above mere regularity of feature?
123. Enterprise.—There was a good deal that was natural in another element of his character on which much depended—his spirit of enterprise. There are many men who like to grow where they are born; to have to change into new circumstances and make acquaintance with new people is intolerable to them. But there are others who have a kind of vagabondism in the blood; they are the persons intended by nature for emigrants and pioneers; and, if they take to the work of the ministry, they make the best missionaries.
In modern times no missionary has had this consecrated spirit of adventure in the same degree as that great Scotchman, David Livingstone. When he first went to Africa, he found the missionaries clustered in the south of the continent, just within the fringe of heathenism; they had their houses and gardens, their families, their small congregations of natives; and they were content. But he moved at once away beyond the rest into the heart of heathenism, and dreams of more distant regions never ceased to haunt him, till at length he began his extraordinary tramps over thousands of miles where no missionary had ever been before; and, when death overtook him, he was still pressing forward.
Paul's was a nature of the same stamp, full of courage and adventure. The unknown in the distance, instead of dismaying, drew him on. He could not bear to build on other men's foundations, but was constantly hastening to virgin soil, leaving churches behind for others to build up. He believed that, if he lit the lamp of the gospel here and there over vast areas, the light would spread in his absence by its own virtue. He liked to count the leagues he had left behind him, but his watchword was ever Forward. In his dreams he saw men beckoning him to new countries; he had always a long unfulfilled program in his mind; and, as death approached, he was still thinking of journeys into the remotest corners of the known world.
124. Influence Over Men.—Another element of his character near akin to the one just mentioned was his influence over men. There are those to whom it is painful to have to accost a stranger even on pressing business; and most men are only quite at home in their own set—among men of the same class or profession as themselves. But the life he had chosen brought Paul into contact with men of every kind, and he had constantly to be introducing to strangers the business with which he was charged. He might be addressing a king or a consul the one hour and a roomful of slaves or common soldiers the next. One day he had to speak in the synagogue of the Jews, another among a crowd of Athenian philosophers, another to the inhabitants of some provincial town far from the seats of culture. But he could adapt himself to every man and every audience. To the Jews he spoke as a rabbi out of the Old Testament Scriptures; to the Greeks he quoted the words of their own poets; and to the barbarians he talked of the God who giveth rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
When a weak or insincere man attempts to be all things to all men, he ends by being nothing to anybody. But, living on this principle, Paul found entrance for the gospel everywhere, and at the same time won for himself the esteem and love of those to whom he stooped. If he was bitterly hated by enemies, there was never a man more intensely loved by his friends. They received him as an angel of God, or even as Jesus Christ himself, and were ready to pluck out their eyes and give them to him. One church was jealous of another getting too much of him. When he was not able to pay a visit at the time he had promised, they were furious, as if he had done them a wrong. When he was parting from them, they wept sore and fell on his neck and kissed him. Numbers of young men were continually about him, ready to go on his errands. It was the largeness of his manhood which was the secret of this fascination; for to a big nature all resort, feeling that in its neighborhood it is well with them.
125. Unselfishness.—This popularity was partly, however, due to another quality which shone conspicuously in his character—the spirit of unselfishness. This is the rarest quality in human nature, and it is the most powerful of all in its influence on others, where it exists in purity and strength. Most men are so absorbed in their own interests and so naturally expect others to be the same that, if they see any one who appears to have no interests of his own to serve but is willing to do as much for the sake of others as the generality do for themselves, they are at first incredulous, suspecting that he is only hiding his designs beneath the cloak of benevolence; but, if he stand the test and his unselfishness prove to be genuine, there is no limit to the homage they are prepared to pay him. As Paul appeared in country after country and city after city, he was at first a complete enigma to those whom he approached. They formed all sorts of conjectures as to his real design. Was it money he was seeking, or power, or something darker and less pure? His enemies never ceased to throw out such insinuations. But those who got near him and saw the man as he was, who knew that he refused money and worked with his hands day and night to keep himself above the suspicion of mercenary motives, who heard him pleading with them one by one in their homes and exhorting them with tears to a holy life, who saw the sustained personal interest he took in every one of them—these could not resist the proofs of his disinterestedness or deny him their affection.
There never was a man more unselfish; he had literally no interest of his own to live for. Without family ties, he poured all the affections of his big nature, which might have been given to wife and children, into the channels of his work. He compares his tenderness toward his converts to that of a nursing-mother to her children; he pleads with them to remember that he is their father who has begotten them in the gospel. They are his glory and crown, his hope and joy and crown of rejoicing. Eager as he was for new conquests, he never lost his hold upon those he had won. He could assure his churches that he prayed and gave thanks for them night and day, and he remembered his converts by name at the throne of grace. How could human nature resist disinterestedness like this? If Paul was a conqueror of the world, he conquered it by the power of love.
126. His Mission.—The two most distinctively Christian features of his character have still to be mentioned. One of these was the sense of having a divine mission to preach Christ, which he was bound to fulfill. Most men merely drift through life, and the work they do is determined by a hundred indifferent circumstances; they might as well be doing anything else, or they would prefer, if they could afford it, to be doing nothing at all. But, from the time when he became a Christian, Paul knew that he had a definite work to do; and the call he had received to it never ceased to ring like a tocsin in his soul. "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel;" this was the impulse which drove him on. He felt that he had a world of new truths to utter and that the salvation of mankind depended on their utterance. He knew himself called to make Christ known to as many of his fellow-creatures as his utmost exertions could enable him to reach. It was this which made him so impetuous in his movements, so blind to danger, so contemptuous of suffering. "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." He lived with the account which he would have to give at the judgment-seat of Christ ever in his eye, and his heart was revived in every hour of discouragement by the vision of the crown of life which, if he proved faithful, the Lord; the righteous Judge, would place upon his head.
127. Devotion to Christ.—The other peculiarly Christian quality which shaped his career was personal devotion to Christ. This was the supreme characteristic of the man, and from first to last the mainspring of his activities. From the moment of his first meeting with Christ he had but one passion; his love to his Saviour burned with more and more brightness to the end. He delighted to call himself the slave of Christ, and had no ambition except to be the propagator of His ideas and the continuer of His influence.
He took up this idea of being Christ's representative with startling boldness. He says the heart of Christ is beating in his bosom toward his converts; he says the mind of Christ is thinking in his brain; he says that he is continuing the work of Christ and filling up that which was lacking in His sufferings; he says the wounds of Christ are reproduced in the scars upon his body; he says he is dying that others may live, as Christ died for the life of the world. But it was in reality the deepest humility which lay beneath these bold expressions. He had the sense that Christ had done everything for him; He had entered into him, casting out the old Paul and ending the old life, and had begotten a new man, with new designs, feelings and activities. And it was his deepest longing that this process should go on and become complete—that his old self should vanish quite away, and that the new self, which Christ had created in His own image and still sustained, should become so predominant that, when the thoughts of his mind were Christ's thoughts, the words on his lips Christ's words, the deeds he did Christ's deeds, and the character he wore Christ's character, he might be able to say, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
PICTURE OF A PAULINE CHURCH
128, 129. THE EXTERIOR AND THE INTERIOR VIEW OF HISTORY. 130-143. A CHRISTIAN CHURCH IN A HEATHEN CITY. 131. The Place of Meeting. 132, 133. The Persons Present. 134-137. The Services. 138-148. Abuses and Irregularities. 139, 140. Of Domestic Life. 141-143. Inside the Church. 144. INFERENCES.
128. History Without and Within.—A holiday visitor to a foreign city walks through the streets, guidebook in hand, looking at monuments, churches, public buildings and the outsides of the houses, and in this way is supposed to be made acquainted with the town; but, on reflection, he will find that he has scarcely learned anything about it, because he has not been inside the houses. He does not know how the people live—not even what kind of furniture they have or what kind of food they eat—not to speak of far deeper matters, such as how they love, what they admire and pursue, and whether they are content with their lot.
In reading history one is often at a loss in the same way. It is only the outside of life that is made visible. It is as if the eye were carried along the external surface of a tree, instead of seeing a cross-section of its substance. The pomp and glitter of the court, the wars waged and the victories won, the changes in the constitution and the rise and fall of administrations, are faithfully recorded; but the reader feels that he would learn far more of the real history of the time if he could see for one hour what was happening beneath the roofs of the peasant, the shopkeeper, the clergyman and the noble.
Even in Scripture-history there is the same difficulty. In the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles we receive thrilling accounts of the external details of Paul's history; we are carried rapidly from city to city and informed of the incidents which accompanied the founding of the various churches; but we cannot help wishing sometimes to stop and learn what one of these churches was like inside. In Paphos or Iconium, in Thessalonica or Beroea or Corinth, how did things go on after Paul left? What were the Christians like, and what was the aspect of their worship?
129. Happily it is possible to obtain this interior view of things. As Luke's narrative describes the outside of Paul's career, so Paul's own Epistles permit us to see its deeper aspects. They rewrite the history on a different plane. This is especially the case with those Epistles written at the close of his third journey, which cast a flood of light back upon the period covered by all his journeys. In addition to the three Epistles already mentioned as having been written at this time, there is another belonging to the same part of his life—the First to the Corinthians—which may be said to transport us, as on a magician's mantle, back over two thousand years and, stationing us in mid-air above a great Greek city, in which there was a Christian church, to take the roof off the meeting-house of the Christians and permit us to see what was going on within.
130. A Christian Gathering in Corinth.—It is a strange spectacle we witness from this coigne of vantage. It is Sabbath evening, but of course the heathen city knows of no Sabbath. The day's work at the busy seaport is over, and the streets are thronged with gay revelers intent on a night of pleasure, for it is the wickedest city of that wicked ancient world. Hundreds of merchants and sailors from foreign parts are lounging about. The gay young Roman, who has come across to this Paris for a bout of dissipation, drives his light chariot through the streets. If it is near the time of the annual games, there are groups of boxers, runners, charioteers and wrestlers, surrounded by their admirers and discussing their chances of winning the coveted crowns. In the warm genial climate old and young are out of doors enjoying the evening hour, while the sun, going down over the Adriatic, is casting its golden light upon the palaces and temples of the wealthy city.
131. Meanwhile the little company of Christians has been gathering from all directions to their place of worship; for it is the hour of their stated assembly. The place of meeting itself does not rise very clearly before our view. But at all events it is no gorgeous temple like those by which it is surrounded; it has not even the pretensions of the neighboring synagogue. It may be a large room in a private house or the wareroom of some Christian merchant cleared for the occasion.
132. Glance round the benches and look at the faces. You at once discern one marked distinction among them: some have the peculiar facial contour of the Jew, while the rest are Gentiles of various nationalities; and the latter are the majority. But look closer still and you notice another distinction: some wear the ring which denotes that they are free, while others are slaves; and the latter preponderate. Here and there among the Gentile members there is one with the regular features of the born Greek, perhaps shaded with the pale thoughtfulness of the philosopher or distinguished with the self-confidence of wealth; but not many great, not many mighty, not many noble are there; the majority belong to what in this pretentious city would be reckoned the foolish, the weak, the base and despised things of this world; they are slaves, whose ancestors did not breathe the pellucid air of Greece but roamed in savage hordes on the banks of the Danube or the Don.
133. But observe one thing besides on all the faces present—the terrible traces of their past life. In a modern Christian congregation one sees in the faces on every hand that peculiar cast of feature which Christian nurture, inherited through many centuries, has produced; and it is only here and there that a face may be seen in the lines of which is written the tale of debauchery or crime. But in this Corinthian congregation these awful hieroglyphics are everywhere. "Know ye not," Paul writes to them, "that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you." Look at that tall, sallow-faced Greek: he has wallowed in the mire of Circe's swine-pens. Look at that low-browed Scythian slave: he has been a pickpocket and a jail-bird. Look at that thin-nosed, sharp-eyed Jew: he has been a Shylock, cutting his pound of flesh from the gilded youth of Corinth.
Yet there has been a great change. Another story besides the tale of sin is written on these countenances. "But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." Listen, they are singing; it is the fortieth Psalm: "He took me from the fearful pit and from the miry clay." What pathos they throw into the words, what joy overspreads their faces! They know themselves to be monuments of free grace and dying love.
134. The Services.—But suppose them now all gathered; how does their worship proceed? There was this difference between their services and most of ours, that instead of one man conducting them—offering their prayers, preaching, and giving out the psalms—all the men present were at liberty to contribute their part. There may have been a leader or chairman; but one member might read a portion of Scripture, another offer prayer, a third deliver an address, a fourth raise a hymn, and so on. Nor does there seem to have been any fixed order in which the different parts of the service occurred; any member might rise and lead away the company into praise or prayer or meditation, as he felt prompted.
135. This peculiarity was due to another great difference between them and us. The members were endowed with very extraordinary gifts. Some of them had the power of working miracles, such as the healing of the sick. Others possessed a strange gift called the gift of tongues. It is not quite clear what it was; but it seems to have been a kind of tranced utterance, in which the speaker poured out an impassioned rhapsody by which his religious feeling received both expression and exaltation. Some of those who possessed this gift were not able to tell others the meaning of what they were saying, while others had this additional power; and there were those who, though not speaking with tongues themselves, were able to interpret what the inspired speakers were saying. Then again, there were members who possessed the gift of prophecy—a very valuable endowment. It was not the power of predicting future events, but a gift of impassioned eloquence, the effects of which were sometimes marvelous: when an unbeliever entered the assembly and listened to the prophets, he was seized with uncontrollable emotion, the sins of his past life rose up before him, and, falling on his face, he confessed that God was among them of a truth. Other members exercised gifts more like those we are ourselves acquainted with, such as the gift of teaching or the gift of management. But in all cases there appears to have been a kind of immediate inspiration, so that what they did was not the effect of calculation or preparation, but of a strong present impulse.
136. These phenomena are so remarkable that, if narrated in a history, they would put a severe strain on belief. But the evidence for them is incontrovertible; for no man, writing to people about their own condition, invents a mythical description of their circumstances; and besides, Paul was writing to restrain rather than encourage these manifestations. They show with what mighty force, at its first entrance into the world, Christianity took possession of the spirits which it touched. Each believer received, generally at his baptism, when the hands of the baptizer were laid on him, his special gift, which, if he remained faithful to it, he continued to exercise. It was the Holy Spirit, poured forth without stint, that entered into the spirits of men and distributed these gifts among them severally as He willed; and each member had to make use of his gift for the benefit of the whole body.
137. After the services just described were over, the members sat down together to a love-feast, which was wound up with the breaking of bread in the Lord's Supper; and then, after a fraternal kiss, they parted to their homes. It was a memorable scene, radiant with brotherly love and alive with outbreaking spiritual power. As the Christians wended their way homeward through the careless groups of the heathen city, they were conscious of having experienced that which eye had not seen nor ear heard.
138. Abuses and Irregularities.—But truth demands that the dark side of the picture be shown as well as the bright one. There were abuses and irregularities in the Church which it is exceedingly painful to recall. These were due to two things—the antecedents of the members and the mixture in the Church of Jewish and Gentile elements. If it be remembered how vast was the change which most of the members had made in passing from the worship of the heathen temples to the pure and simple worship of Christianity, it will not excite surprise that their old life still clung to them or that they did not clearly distinguish which things needed to be changed and which might continue as they had been.
139. Yet it startles us to learn that some of them were living in gross sensuality, and that the more philosophical defended this on principle. One member, apparently a person of wealth and position, was openly living in a connection which would have been a scandal even among heathens, and, though Paul had indignantly written to have him excommunicated, the Church had failed to obey, affecting to misunderstand the order. Others had been allured back to take part in the feasts in the idol temples, notwithstanding their accompaniments of drunkenness and revelry. They excused themselves with the plea that they no longer ate the feast in honor of the gods, but only as an ordinary meal, and argued that they would have to go out of the world if they were not sometimes to associate with sinners.
140. It is evident that these abuses belonged to the Gentile section of the Church. In the Jewish section, on the other hand, there were strange doubts and scruples about the same subjects. Some, for instance, revolted with the loose behavior of their Gentile brethren, had gone to the opposite extreme, denouncing marriage altogether and raising anxious questions as to whether widows might marry again, whether a Christian married to a heathen wife ought to put her away, and other points of the same nature. While some of the Gentile converts were participating in the idol feasts, some of the Jewish ones had scruples about buying in the market the meat which had been offered in sacrifice to idols, and looked with censure on their brethren who allowed themselves this freedom.
141. These difficulties belonged to the domestic life of the Christians; but, in their public meetings also, there were grave irregularities. The very gifts of the Spirit were perverted into instruments of sin; for those possessed of the more showy gifts, such as miracles and tongues, were too fond of displaying them, and turned them into grounds of boasting. This led to confusion and even uproar; for sometimes two or three of those who spoke with tongues would be pouring forth their unintelligible utterances at once, so that, as Paul said, if any stranger had entered their meeting, he would have concluded that they were all mad. The prophets spoke at wearisome length, and too many pressed forward to take part in the services. Paul had sternly to rebuke these extravagances, insisting on the principle that the spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets, and that, therefore, the spiritual impulse was no apology for disorder.
142. But there were still worse things inside the Church. Even the sacredness of the Lord's Supper was profaned. It seems that the members were in the habit of taking with them to church the bread and wine which were needed for this sacrament; but the wealthy brought abundant and choice supplies and, instead of waiting for their poorer brethren and sharing their provisions with them, began to eat and drink so gluttonously that the table of the Lord actually resounded with drunkenness and riot.
143. One more dark touch must be added to this sad picture. In spite of the brotherly kiss with which their meetings closed, they had fallen into mutual rivalry and contention. No doubt this was due to the heterogeneous elements brought together in the Church; but it had been allowed to go to great lengths. Brother went to law with brother in the heathen courts instead of seeking the arbitration of a Christian friend. The body of the members was split up into four theological factions. Some called themselves after Paul himself. These treated the scruples of the weaker brethren about meats and other things with scorn. Others took the name of Apollonians from Apollos, an eloquent teacher from Alexandria, who visited Corinth between Paul's second and third journeys. These were the philosophical party; they denied the doctrine of the resurrection, because it was absurd to suppose that the scattered atoms of the dead body could ever be united again. The third party took the name of Peter, or Cephas, as in their Hebrew purism they preferred to call him. These were narrow-minded Jews, who objected to the liberality of Paul's views. The fourth party affected to be above all parties and called themselves simply Christians. Like many despisers of the sects since then, who have used the name of Christian in the same way, these were the most bitterly sectarian of all and rejected Paul's authority with malicious scorn.
144. Inferences.—Such is the checkered picture of one of Paul's churches given in one of his own Epistles; and it shows several things with much impressiveness. It shows, for instance, how exceptional, even in that age, his own mind and character were, and what a blessing his gifts and graces of good sense, of large sympathy blended with conscientious firmness, of personal purity and honor, were to the infant Church. It shows that it is not behind but in front that we have to look for the golden age of Christianity. It shows how perilous it is to assume that the prevalence of any ecclesiastical usage at that time must constitute a rule for all times. Everything of this kind was evidently at the experimental stage. Indeed, in the latest writings of Paul we find the picture of a very different state of things, in which the worship and discipline of the Church were far more fixed and orderly. It is not for a pattern of the machinery of a church we ought to go back to this early time, but for a spectacle of fresh and transforming spiritual power. This is what will always attract to the Apostolic Age the longing eyes of Christians; the power of the Spirit was energizing in every member, the tides of fresh emotion swelled in every breast, and all felt that the dayspring of a new revelation had visited them; life, love, light were diffusing themselves everywhere. Even the vices of the young Church were the irregularities of abundant life, for the lack of which the lifeless order of many a subsequent generation has been a poor compensation.
HIS GREAT CONTROVERSY
146-148. THE QUESTION AT ISSUE. 149-153. THE SETTLEMENT OF IT. 149, 150. By Peter; 151. By Paul; 152, 153. By the Council of Jerusalem. 154-156. Attempt to unsettle it. 157, 158. Paul crushes the Judaizers. 159-162. A subordinate Branch of the Question: the Relation of Christian Jews to the Law.
145. The version of the apostle's life supplied in his own letters is largely occupied with a controversy which cost him much pain and took up much of his time for many years, but of which Luke says little. At the date when Luke wrote, it was a dead controversy, and it belonged to a different plane from that along which his story moves. But at the time when it was raging, it tried Paul far more than tiresome journeys or angry seas. It was at its hottest about the close of his third journey, and the Epistles already mentioned as having been written then may be said to have been evoked by it. The Epistle to the Galatians especially was a thunderbolt hurled against his opponents in this controversy; and its burning sentences show how profoundly he was moved by the subject.
146. The Question at Issue.—The question at issue was whether the Gentiles were required to become Jews before they could be true Christians; or, in other words, whether they had to be circumcised in order to be saved.
147. It had pleased God in the primitive times to choose the Jewish race from among the nations and make it the repository of salvation; and, till the advent of Christ, those from other nations who wished to become partakers of the true religion had to seek entrance as proselytes within the sacred enclosure of Israel. Having thus destined this race to be the guardians of revelation, God had to separate them very completely from all other nations and from all other aims which might have distracted their attention from the sacred trust which had been committed to them. For this purpose he regulated their whole life with rules and arrangements intended to make them a peculiar people, different from all other races of the earth. Every detail of their life—their forms of worship, their social customs, their dress, their food—was prescribed for them; and all these prescriptions were embodied in that vast legal instrument which they called the Law. The rigorous prescription of so many things which are naturally left to free choice was a heavy yoke upon the chosen people; it was a severe discipline to the conscience, and such it was felt to be by the more earnest spirits of the nation.
But others saw in it a badge of pride; it made them feel that they were the select of the earth and superior to all other people; and, instead of groaning under the yoke, as they would have done if their consciences had been very tender, they multiplied the distinctions of the Jew, swelling the volume of the prescriptions of the law with stereotyped customs of their own. To be a Jew appeared to them the mark of belonging to the aristocracy of the nations; to be admitted to the privileges of this position was in their eyes the greatest honor which could be conferred on one who did not belong to the commonwealth of Israel. Their thoughts were all pent within the circle of this national conceit. Even their hopes about the Messiah were colored with these prejudices; they expected Him to be the hero of their own nation, and the extension of His kingdom they conceived as a crowding of the other nations within the circle of their own through the gateway of circumcision. They expected that all the converts of the Messiah would undergo this national rite and adopt the life prescribed in the Jewish law and tradition; in short, their conception of Messiah's reign was a world of Jews.
148. Such undoubtedly was the tenor of popular sentiment in Palestine when Christ came; and multitudes of those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and entered the Christian Church had this set of conceptions as their intellectual horizon. They had become Christians, but they had not ceased to be Jews; they still attended the temple worship; they prayed at the stated hours, they fasted on the stated days, they dressed in the style of the Jewish ritual; they would have thought themselves defiled by eating with uncircumcised Gentiles; and they had no thought but that, if Gentiles became Christians, they would be circumcised and adopt the style and customs of the Jewish nation.
149. The Settlement.—The question was settled by the direct intervention of God in the case of Cornelius, the centurion of Caesarea. When the messengers of Cornelius were on their way to the Apostle Peter at Joppa, God showed that leader among the apostles, by the vision of the sheet full of clean and unclean beasts, that the Christian Church was to contain circumcised and uncircumcised alike. In obedience to this heavenly sign Peter accompanied the centurion's messengers to Caesarea and saw such evidences that the household of Cornelius had already, without circumcision, received the distinctively Christian endowments of faith and the Holy Ghost, that he could not hesitate to baptize them as being Christians already. When he returned to Jerusalem, his proceedings created wonder and indignation among the Christians of the strictly Jewish persuasion; but he defended himself by recounting the vision of the sheet and by an appeal to the clear fact that these uncircumcised Gentiles were proved by their possession of faith and of the Holy Ghost to have been already Christians.
150. This incident ought to have settled the question once for all; but the pride of race and the prejudices of a lifetime are not easily subdued. Although the Christians of Jerusalem reconciled themselves to Peter's conduct in this single case, they neglected to extract from it the universal principle which it implied; and even Peter himself, as we shall subsequently see, did not fully comprehend what was involved in his own conduct.
151. Meanwhile, however, the question had been settled in a far stronger and more logical mind than Peter's. Paul at this time began his apostolic work at Antioch, and soon afterward went forth with Barnabas upon his first great missionary expedition into the Gentile world; and, wherever they went, he admitted heathens into the Christian Church without circumcision.
Paul in thus acting did not copy Peter. He had received his gospel directly from heaven. In the solitudes of Arabia, in the years immediately after his conversion, he had thought this subject out and come to far more radical conclusions about it than had yet entered the minds of any of the rest of the apostles. To him far more than to any of them the law had been a yoke of bondage; he saw that it was only a stern preparation for Christianity, not a part of it; indeed, there was in his mind a deep gulf of contrast between the misery and curse of the one state and the joy and freedom of the other. To his mind to impose the yoke of the law on the Gentiles would have been to destroy the very genius of Christianity; it would have been the imposition of conditions of salvation totally different from that which he knew to be the one condition of it in the gospel.
These were the deep reasons which settled this question in this great mind. Besides, as a man who knew the world and whose heart was set on winning the Gentile nations to Christ, he felt far more strongly than did the Jews of Jerusalem, with their provincial horizon, how fatal such conditions as they meant to impose would be to the success of Christianity outside Judaea. The proud Romans, the highminded Greeks, would never have consented to be circumcised and to cramp their life within the narrow limits of Jewish tradition; a religion hampered with such conditions could never have become the universal religion.
152. But, when Paul and Barnabas came back from their first missionary tour to Antioch, they found that a still more decisive settlement of this question was required; for Christians of the strictly Jewish sort were coming down from Jerusalem to Antioch and telling the Gentile converts that, unless they were circumcised, they could not be saved. In this way they were filling them with alarm, lest they might be omitting something on which the welfare of their souls depended, and they were confusing their minds as to the simplicity of the gospel. To quiet these disturbed consciences it was resolved by the church at Antioch to appeal to the leading apostles at Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas were sent thither to procure a decision. This was the origin of what is called the Council of Jerusalem, at which this question was authoritatively settled.
The decision of the apostles and elders was in harmony with Paul's practice: the Gentiles were not to be required to be circumcised; only they were enjoined to abstain from meat offered in sacrifice to idols, from fornication, and from blood. To these conditions Paul consented. He did not, indeed, see any harm in eating meat which had been used in idolatrous sacrifices, when it was exposed for sale in the market; but the feasts upon such meat in the idol temples, which were often followed by wild outbreaks of sensuality, alluded to in the prohibition of fornication, were temptations against which the converts from heathenism required to be warned. The prohibition of blood—that is, of eating meat killed without the blood being drained off—was a concession to extreme Jewish prejudice, which, as it involved no principle, he did not think it necessary to oppose.