Acts 21

The public course of the apostle was closed so far as scripture informs us. The remaining chapters of the Acts are occupied almost entirely with the personal history of the apostle, especially his collision with the Jews publicly, and through them with the Gentiles. In the first and last of these chapters we have a little of his relations with the Christians. The Book closes with him, the Lord’s prisoner, in Rome, though not without liberty to see all who sought him, to whom he preached the kingdom of God and taught the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Considerably later traces appear in the last of his Epistles. It was important in the mind of the Spirit to give us the early ministry of Peter, chiefly in Judea and Samaria, as well as in opening the door to the Gentiles. After that Paul fills up the entire scene to the close of the Book.

‘And when it came to pass that we were parted from them and had set sail, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the next day unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara; and, having found a ship crossing over into Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail, and as we had sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed unto Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unlace her cargo. And having found out the disciples, we remained there seven days, and these said to Paul through the Spirit that he should not set foot in Jerusalem. And when it came to pass that we had completed the days, we departed and went on our journey, and they all with wives and children brought us on our way, till we were out of the city, and kneeling down on the beach we prayed and took leave of one another, and we went on board ship, and they returned home. And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day’ (vers. 1-7).

Such is the succinct account of the voyage. On the day after (as we shall see) they took their land journey through Palestine; in the previous verses now before us, it was sailing. Nothing more simple, yet on the journey of such a man and his companions the Spirit of God loves to dwell, and that we should dwell. We wrong His grace in thinking that the Holy Ghost has only to do with extraordinary matters, as striking utterances, strange tongues, miraculous signs, and sufferings still more fruitful when unostentatiously borne. Undoubtedly He is the power for all that is good and worthy of Christ; but as Christ Himself lived much the greater part of His life in the utmost obscurity as regards man, perfectly doing the will of God, before and to Whom not a moment was lost, so does the Spirit of God enter into all the details of life in those who are Christ’s. Surely if anything could give dignity to the passing circumstances of each day, this must: but do God’s children do we believe it? If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit; let us not be vain-glorious, provoking one another, envying one another.

Let us associate the commonest things with Christ’s will and glory. Certainly there is nothing more closely approaching the animal than eating and drinking; yet the word of God would have us appropriate even these things to the highest purpose, and there is no way so simple and sure as by that faith which, looking upward, partakes of them in His name. ‘Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.’ Thus shall we give no occasion of stumbling either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God. Grace avoids questions, as it abhors sin and teaches us to please all men in all things, but not with a view to one’s own profit, but rather in divine love to the many that they may be saved. It was so Christ walked in the ungrieved power of the Spirit; it is so we are called to walk, though alas! we too often grieve Him. But there is no rule of life so true, so full, and so direct; and here therefore the path becomes of deep interest. ‘To me to live is Christ’ underlies what we are told of the great apostle.

‘And when it came to pass that we were parted from them.’ The last verb may be softened down sometimes, but the natural meaning implies a wrench. Christian affection is a reality on earth: in all the narrative what an absence appears of turning aside for objects of natural interest! ‘We came with a straight course unto Coos, and the next day unto Rhodes.’ We may be sure from the character and the capacity and the attainments of the apostle that he had an eye for natural beauty and a mind for every historic association that presented itself here below. ‘But this one thing I do’ was not more his word to others than his own life — ‘to me to live is Christ.’ The claims of the new creation altogether outweighed those of the old. So when we saw him alone at Athens with ample leisure to look around on the remains which have attracted men of the old world as well as moderns beyond most spots here below, what was the effect on him? His spirit was provoked within him, as he beheld the city full of idols. It was not sculpture that enchained him, not architecture that blinded him. He measured all around by the glory of Christ, and yet none could show more tact in discoursing to them. If he probed their idolatry to the bottom, he availed himself of the least point of truth which the vain city confessed — the altar with the inscription, ‘To God unknown’.

Truly Paul walked by faith and not by sight; should not we? Is it really come to this, that because we have not apostolic authority or miraculous powers, we are to abandon the life of faith? Is not the Holy Spirit sent down, and sent down to abide with us for ever? It were humbling indeed to answer like the twelve men at Ephesus (who could not speak truly otherwise): ‘We did not so much as hear whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ If we Christians say so now, it is guilty unbelief of the sure and standing privilege of God’s church. All we want is to judge ourselves and walk in faith, truth, and love; the Spirit will then manifest His gracious power.

‘And having found a ship crossing over unto Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail.’ It is good to notice the providential dealings of the Lord. The same heart that abides wholly unmoved by the most violent and dangerous storm, ought to be thankful for a fair wind and a quiet journey; and so it was and is. Circumstances never create faith, though God may use unlooked-for facts to deal with conscience. But the same simple faith it is, which, in rough weather or in smooth, can alike give thanks to God. Certainly it is not indifference; but the known will of God is always good, and acceptable, and perfect; and the heart is kept up in the confidence of His love. So His hand would be seen in their finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia. It would appear that the vessel in which they first set out did not proceed beyond Patara in the desired direction, and now, having found one bound for Phoenicia, ‘we went on board and set sail.’ Thus in the outward but gracious ordering of God there was no loss of time.

‘And when we had sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed unto Syria, and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unlade the cargo.’ No doubt the term ‘sighted’ is technical for mariners, but can we conceive that the apostle passed the island without recalling the scene of his early ministry, and of his elder brother Barnabas, and his younger, John Mark, whom they once had as their attendant? We have already had proof of the goodness of Barnabas, and the Holy Ghost has pronounced upon it; and this was proved at a still later day, when he left Antioch, from the midst of an active work of the Lord, to seek for Saul of Tarsus, and brought him to labour with himself at that great centre of Christian blessing (Acts 11:22-26). But Barnabas and Mark bad parted from the apostle, yet the apostle’s heart sought them both, and felt a love that rose above all their failings, as he proved, not only by word, but by deed to the last.

And surely Syria and Tyre where they landed must have recalled deep reflections to the apostle. Here the Lord Himself had withdrawn during His earthly ministry, and from those borders came to Him the woman of Canaan who drew out from Him, not merely an answer of mercy that she wanted for her daughter, but that praise of her own faith which will never be forgotten.

Here the delay of the ship was no less ordered of God at Tyre than the finding it at once had been at Patara. The unloading of the cargo gave the apostle and his companions the time, not exactly to find disciples as in the Authorized Version, but to find ‘out’ the disciples. We cannot as in the Greek idiom say, ‘found up’, though we do say ‘hunted up’. It would appear hence that they were the object of search, not of casual discovery. They were the disciples, and ‘so they tarried there seven days’. This we have seen before at Troas and remarked on, as giving an opportunity to spend at least one Lord’s day for the communion of the Lord’s Supper.

From an incidental statement we learn how full the early church was of the power of the Spirit: ‘And these said to Paul through the Spirit that he should not set foot in Jerusalem.’ Assuredly the apostle lacked not warning, as he said himself to the elders from Ephesus, ‘Behold, I go bound in the [i.e., my] spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there, save that the Holy Spirit testifieth to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.’ Evidently however the apostle regarded it rather as a note of danger that awaited him than of personal direction which he must obediently follow. His own mind was made up, whatever the danger, whatever the suffering, to go through with it; as the Master had done in matchless perfection for His infinite work at all cost.

‘And when it came to pass that we had completed the days, we departed and went on our journey; and they all with wives and children brought us on our way, till we were out of the city, and kneeling down on the beach we prayed and took leave of each other; and we went on board ship, but they returned home’ (vers. 5, 6). It is another beautiful peculiarity of divine affection — the family as well as social character of Christians in early days. This ought to be of great price now, if we are wise. In this cold world the saints are peculiarly exposed to grow chilly, if kept from fleshly excitement and worldly frivolity.

‘And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we saluted the brethren and abode with them one day’ (ver. 7). Here at a port called Accho in days of yore, now St. Jean d’Acre, they arrived; and though it was but for one day, how gladly they spent it with the brethren! For such there were at Ptolemais, apparently already known.

What we have seen was the voyage of Paul and his companions; that which follows is their land journey. ‘And on the morrow we254 departed and came unto Caesarea; and entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we abode with him’ (ver. 8).

The words of the inspired writer are full and distinct. From their precision one might think it impossible that any intelligent mind could fail to discern the person meant; yet no less a one than the father of ecclesiastical history contrived to misunderstand the verse, and to confound Philip the evangelist with Philip the apostle. It is no pleasure to point out a lapse so strange and unaccountable in any intelligent reader of scripture; but it becomes a duty to notice the error, and urge its importance as a warning to those who cry up the authority of ancient patristic writers. Indisputably Eusebius was neither better nor worse than most of the Christian fathers. For superstitious eyes he has the advantage of holding a decidedly early place amongst them, for he flourished in the days of the Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-337). No ancient MS. of the Greek New Testament that survives was written before his day, and but two can pretend to be as early. Yet it is plain that, with the text as it stands before him, he grossly erred, not on a point of nice doctrine. but in a plain matter of fact. For we are here in the Acts told that the Philip, with whom the apostle’s party stayed, was not the evangelist only, but one of the seven, i.e., one of the seven men appointed by the apostles for diaconal service during the days of first love, soon after Pentecost.

If the unquestionable meaning of scripture could be thus overlooked, and so serious a mistake find its way into Eusebius’ history, what confidence ought to be reposed in any alleged facts or statements outside the scriptures? Not that any evil object is imputed to that historian; but the circumstance proves that in those days, as in our own, there is deplorable ignorance of God’s word where one might least expect it. Patristic authority in divine things is no more reliable than modern systematic divinity. The value of scripture practically as well as dogmatically is incalculable. It is the standard as well as source of truth.

‘Now this man had four daughters, virgins, who did prophesy; and as we tarried many days there came down from Judea a certain prophet named Agabus; and coming to us and taking Paul’s girdle, he bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So [thus] shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and deliver him into the hands of [the] Gentiles’ (vers. 9-11).

The fact stated in the 9th verse deserves full consideration. Philip had four unmarried daughters, of whom it is declared that they prophesied; that is, they had the highest form of gift for acting on souls from God. Such prophesying was yet more than teaching or preaching. We cannot doubt, therefore, that they used their gift on the one hand; and on the other that it was forbidden to use it in the assembly. ‘It is shameful’, had Paul written in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:34, 35), ‘for a woman to speak in [the] assembly.’ At Corinth it seems that some were bold enough to attempt this and other innovations: but it also seems to have been at that time a very unusual and unheard of notion.

In general, Christian women understood their place better in these early days. Still, there might arise some such desire here or there. At any rate, the apostle found it necessary in his First Epistle to Timothy to write (1 Tim. 2:12), ‘I permit not a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in quietness.’ The word αὐθεντεῖν does not convey the sense of ‘usurpation’, but the possession or exercise of power, where it does not mean committing murder. The woman is not set in authority, nor is she to act as if she were. As to this, there can be no dispute for subject minds. ‘If any one thinketh himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write unto you, that it is the commandment of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 14:37). The Lord’s will for us is on record unmistakably, if indeed we respect scripture.

But these maiden daughters of Philip did prophesy, if not in the assembly, somewhere else. Decorum would have forbidden it still more to have been in public, if God’s order prohibited it for the assembly. No place can be conceived more suitable than one’s father’s house. 1 Cor. 11:2-16 renders it plain that the woman, in praying or prophesying, was to see that she bore the mark of subjection, for even in prophesying she must not forget that she is a woman, and that the head of the woman is the man as the head of every man is Christ. The woman, therefore, should be veiled while the man was not so to be. ‘Every man praying or prophesying, having [anything] on his head dishonoureth his head; but every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonoureth her own head, for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. For if the woman is not covered,’ says the apostle, ‘let her also be shorn; but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered; for a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, being God’s image and glory but woman is man’s glory.’ Both have their place respectively in the Lord, Who, if He give power, maintains order no less; but each has a place of its own which He has assigned, as all things are of God. So His word regulates all, and we should remember this the more in days when man’s voice is loud, and God’s word exposed and subjected to increasing slight.

We are not told whether these maidens predicted anything about Paul but we do hear that Agabus the prophet added to the warnings already given him by others. Not only so, but he came and took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, ‘Thus saith the Holy Spirit, The man to whom this girdle belongs shall the Jews thus bind in Jerusalem, and deliver him up into the hands of the Gentiles.’ This was quite in the symbolic manner of the ancient prophets; and it filled those who beheld and listened with sorrow for the honoured apostle. ‘And when we heard these things, both we and those of the place besought him not to go up to Jerusalem; then Paul answered, Why do ye weep and break my heart? For I am ready, not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done’ (vers. 12-14).

It is clear that the apostle did not understand that the Lord meant him to turn from Jerusalem. He only heard reiterated by Agabus, as he had been so often warned by others, what he must suffer there. Indeed from his conversion it was intimated how many things he must suffer for the Lord’s name’s sake. Paul clearly must have concluded that the Holy Ghost spoke, not to dissuade him from his perilous path, but rather to prepare him in it — certainly for prison, and perhaps death. The brotherly kindness of others would have screened him from all that was awaiting him in Jerusalem, but love goes beyond brotherly kindness. So it was working in the servant, as it had with all perfection in the Master.

The apostle now passes on to that city which had so large a part in his affections, or at least to the saints there, little as it might be conceived by those who saw in him only the apostle of the uncircumcision. ‘And after these days we took up (or made ready) our baggage, and went up to Jerusalem’ (ver. 15). ‘Our carriages’ would convey a mistaken impression to ears familiar only with modern English. It is possible that at the time of our Authorized Version, the word was used in a double sense, as has been suggested; not only as now for the vehicle which carries, but also for what was carried in it. The Old Testament likewise contains the word in its old meaning, which of course is found in profane writers of that day also.

‘And there went with us also [certain] disciples from Caesarea, bringing one Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge’ (ver. 16). An ‘old’ disciple is certainly not exact, and may not even be true, ἀρχαίῳ expressing not his age as a man, but his discipleship from the beginning. It is interesting thus to find incidentally that Cyprus had been blessed of God, not only through the visits of Paul and Barnabas, but even before.

‘And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly and the day following Paul went in with us unto lames and all the elders were present, and when he had saluted them, he explained one by one the things which God wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry; and when they heard it, they glorified God’ (vers. 17-20). Here we see in full vigour the love and honour which reigned among the saints. Not that there were no trials and special trials in those days: it could not be otherwise. In this world no difference of a religious character could compare for depth with that which severed Jews from Gentiles. God Himself under the law had maintained the separation between them to the full, as our Lord did up to the cross. This closed the old order to introduce the new — the order of grace and of the new creation in Christ which the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven carried out in power and joy and intelligence. Thenceforward Christ becomes all, and indeed He is worthy; as He is all, so is He in all; and the distinction of Jew and Greek, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, vanish in Him before God.

Yet is there nothing which Christians find so difficult to apprehend and enjoy and practise as Christianity. Nevertheless the Spirit given to every Christian is not a spirit of fear nor of bondage, but one of power, and of love, and of a sound mind, with Christ before our eyes. The path may be difficult, but as it is true, so is it the exercise of love; and it is all a question of appreciating Christ, and of applying the truth in a spirit of grace. As the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. We have only to believe, not to fear man, any more than to pursue our own thoughts.

The word of God is now revealed as a full answer to Christ, and by the Spirit it will be found to solve every difficulty in detail. In no place, however, were the difficulties greater than in Jerusalem, the natural focus of extreme Jewish feeling. Thither the apostle had come, animated by strong feelings of love and pity for his nation, as he himself explains in Acts 24:17: ‘Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.’ This was hardly his proper calling, though the love which led to it always wrought powerfully in his heart, as we know from Gal. 2 and other scriptures.

But there was another reason which made his presence in Jerusalem critical for the apostle. His assigned province was toward the Gentiles (compare Gal. 2:7-9); and certainly the Holy Spirit had through prophets given many warnings along the road of perils in this city. No man, no apostle even, is strong, save in dependence on the Lord, as he said himself, ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’ For Christ’s ‘strength is made perfect in weakness.’ And Paul above all could say, ‘Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’ But it is instructive to see that Antioch proved a dangerous place for Peter as Jerusalem did for even Paul. The Lord wrought effectually in Peter, yet it was mainly and conspicuously for the apostleship of the circumcision. He also assuredly wrought by Paul with the Gentiles, if ever He wrought mightily by man on the earth.

But we anticipate. The arrival of Paul and his party in Jerusalem received a hearty welcome from the brethren. It would appear that James’s house was the known place for any special gathering of elders at any rate; as we heard of a meeting for prayer at the house of Mary, mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). ‘The following day accordingly Paul went in with us,’ it is said, ‘unto James’; and all the elders were present.’ There must have been very many groups of Christian Jews in Jerusalem, where their numbers were now to be counted by thousands. Large buildings appropriated to the assembly were as yet, it would seem, unknown. The present occasion, however, was not for the meeting of the assembly, only the elders were present. They no doubt came from those many groups, and their meeting together as elders would powerfully contribute to keep up order and unity, without in the least degree superseding, while truth governed in a spirit of grace, the responsibility of the assembly. We can readily understand that James’s house was a suited place for such to meet. The verse does not give us the impression of an assemblage on this occasion only, though it was very likely that the news of Paul coming and come might account for ‘all the elders’ being present at this time. There are constant wants which would call for the meeting of the elders ordinarily; but this occasion of course had the extraordinary element of Paul’s presence.

‘And when he had saluted them, he explained one by one the things which God wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.’ There was perfect openness on his part. No effort to put prominently forward what God had wrought among the Jews or in the synagogues. He spread before them particularly what had been given him to do among the nations. Doubtless this was intended of the Lord to enlarge their hearts. They were accustomed in Jerusalem to see or hear but little of their Gentile brethren. The apostle put it forward carefully; and when they heard it they glorified ‘God’ — for this appears to be the true reading, rather than ‘the Lord’.

The apostle could say, ‘If any man preacheth any gospel other than this which we preach, let him be anathema’ (Gal. 1:9). A different gospel is not another. It is the abandonment of what Paul preached, or a human substitute for it. It may be questioned whether any other apostle could speak so absolutely. Paul preached what they preached, but one may fairly doubt that they preached all that Paul preached. If we bear in mind the special manner of his conversion and truth therein revealed, it helps us to understand this. He commenced with a Saviour in glory, and had the wondrous truth communicated to him from the first that Christ and the Christian are one: ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’ A saint now is also a member of Christ’s body. This the others learnt; but the apostle Paul had it revealed to him from the starting point, and he was the Lord’s special instrument for carrying it out in the world. It was not ‘the gospel of God’ only, rich as this expression is, but ‘tine gospel of the glory of Christ’.

It was Christ, known no more after the flesh, but risen and glorified. Gentile darkness and Jewish law were left behind, and even promise was eclipsed by a brightness far beyond it. It was grace in its fullest exercise and highest splendour in the person of Christ, with Whom we are associated in the closest relationship — Christ is the Head over all things, but is also the Head given to the church which is His body. The church is not among the ‘all things’, but is united with Him Who is over all things, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. Hence the apostle preached the gospel of the glory of Christ as none other is reported to have done. This comes out very distinctly in 2 Cor. 3, 4, 5. Substantially it appears in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians; but there it is rather called the mystery of the gospel. ‘This mystery is great,’ says he, ‘but I speak of Christ and of the church’ (Eph. 5:32). He being the exalted Head, she being His body and bride, the church is even now one with Him. For the church He gave Himself up, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water by the word, that He might present the church to Himself glorious, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.

The glory of Christ on high is the answer to His humiliation below, whatever else may follow. Nor is there any witness to it so bright. Hence the apostle speaks of ‘my gospel’, and ‘our gospel’ where he names his companions along with himself. The gospel of the glory of Christ was given him to preach it in all its height of blessedness; and hence the danger of letting it slip, if even one that once knew it begins to preach grace at a lower level only, true as it may be. Nothing so completely lifts above the tradition and the thoughts of men.

Hence the danger even to the apostle himself when in Jerusalem. Another atmosphere was breathed there. It is not that they did not confess Jesus to be the Christ, and look for His kingdom and glory; but out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. ‘And they said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many myriads there are among the Jews of those that believe, and they are all zealous for the law. And they have been informed concerning thee, that thou teachest all Jews that are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs’ (vers. 20, 21). This witness was true as far as they themselves were concerned; but what they were informed about Paul was an exaggeration. Whatever his sense of Christian liberty, none was more tolerant of Jewish conscience, on the other hand, none more resolute to teach the Gentile believers that they had nothing to do with law, but with Christ dead and risen. What could Gentile believers have to do with circumcision or the other institutions and customs of Israel? For heaven, as in heaven, all this was unknown.

As the full grace of God preached by the apostle startled not a few of the saints in Jerusalem, a gloss was sought to prove that he was a good Jew notwithstanding. ‘What is it therefore? They will certainly hear that thou art come. Do thou this that we say to thee: We have four men with a vow on them; these take and purify thyself with them, and be at charges over them, that they may shave their heads, and all shall know that there is no truth in the things whereof they have been informed concerning thee but that thou thyself also walkest orderly keeping the law’ (vers. 22-24).

This was not strange advice for the Christians in Jerusalem to give, but it seems a descending path for the apostle Paul to follow. No one knew better than he to walk as dead with Christ and risen with Him, no one better than he to please the Lord without fear of the opinions of men, or even of his brethren. With him it was a very small thing to be examined of others or of himself. Had he looked to the Lord for His guidance now, perhaps he would have advised James and the rest to judge nothing before the time till the Lord come, Who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart, and then shall each have the praise from God (1 Cor. 4:5). Indeed it is doubtful whether anything done as a witness to ourselves (and this seems the gist of James’ counsels to Paul) is ever blessed of God or satisfies man. We shall see what the issue was in this instance.

In their past dealings with the Gentiles who believed (Acts 15:22-29), the apostles and elders had acted with divine wisdom. So it is here added, ‘But, as touching the Gentiles that believed we wrote [or, enjoined] giving judgment, that they should keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols and blood and things strangled and fornication’ (ver. 25). These injunctions were clearly understood before the law was even given to Israel. It was not natural religion which ignored sin and the fall. For God man needs revelation; but in such things Christianity only confirms the broad principles God had laid down before Israel existed.

‘Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them went into the temple, declaring the fulfilment of the days of the purification until the offering was offered for every one of them’ (ver. 26).

The apostle yielded to his Jewish brethren. It was in no way a step which flowed from his own judgment before God; and we shall see that it was wholly in vain as far as the Jews were concerned. No doubt there was misunderstanding on their part; but we can scarcely say, whatever one’s reverence for the apostles, that the light of the Lord shone upon the course that was then recommended or pursued. Their conduct might not be without failure in this or that particular; whilst their teaching, beyond all doubt in what was written in the Spirit for the permanent direction of the church, was perfectly guarded from the least error. ‘We are of God’ (said one of them): ‘he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error’ (1 John 4:6). This is stringent, but it is the truth; and, if so, it is really grace to let all saints know that there is such a standard — not Christ’s person only, but the apostolic word. If we truly confess Him, we shall surely hear them: if we refuse them, we do not really own Him Who sent and inspired them. If we reject Him and them, we are irretrievably lost, and guiltier than Jews or heathen, who had not such privileges. For the true light now shines. God is fully revealed in Christ, and the written word makes both known.

It was a singular sight: Paul purifying himself to show that he walked orderly and kept the law. He was evidently walking according to the thoughts of others, which no more glorifies God than it satisfies man. ‘And when the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia when they saw him in the temple stirred up all the multitude and laid hands on him, crying out, Men of Israel, help. This is the man that teacheth all everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place; and moreover he brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath defiled this holy place. For they had before seen with him in the city Trophimus the Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul brought into the temple.1 And the whole city was moved, and the people ran together, and they laid hold on Paul and dragged him out of the temple; and forthwith the doors were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, tidings came up to the chief officer (chiliarch) of the cohort, that the whole of Jerusalem was in confusion, and immediately he took soldiers and centurions, and ran down upon them, and they, when they saw the chief officer and the soldiers, ceased beating Paul. Then the chief officer came near and laid hold on him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains, and inquired who he might be, and what he had done. And some shouted one thing, and some another, among the crowd. And when he could not know the certainty because of the uproar, he commanded him to be brought into the castle (lit., camp). And when he came upon the steps, so it was that he was borne upon the soldiers, because of the violence of the crowd. For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, Away with him’ (vers. 27-36).

“Zelotes putantes saepe errant (Bengelius); ‘Bigots often err in their suppositions’.

No more devoted servant of the Lord than Paul ever lived. This however did not hinder the effects of a mistaken position. He had departed from those to whom the Lord sent him, out of his excessive love for the ancient people of God. At the instance of others he had sought to conciliate them to the uttermost, but the effect in no way answered to the desire either of James or of Paul. Can we say that, in going up to Jerusalem there was such a following of Christ as he loved to commend to the saints? ‘Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.’ When the Lord went up for His last and fatal visit, how great the difference! He cast out all them that sat and bought in the temple, He overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and of them that sold doves; He healed the blind and lame that came to Him. There He confounded those that demanded His authority; He laid before the proudest of them their inferiority to the publicans and harlots whom they despised; He set out their past and present history in the Light of God, so that they could not but own the miserable destruction which impended over their wickedness, and the passing away of God’s vineyard to other husbandmen, who should render to Him the fruits in their seasons. And whatever their enmity, they feared the multitude because they took Him for a prophet. And when the chief religious leaders came in succession to tempt Him, He silenced them Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians: and wound up the entire scene by the great test-question for the Jews, how David’s son could be, as He incontestably is, David’s Lord. It is a question which no Jew was able to answer then, any more than from that day to the present. Hence He could only pronounce woes upon their actual state, and on their proved ruin prophesy of the kingdom which He is Himself to bring in as the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Undoubtedly none the less was He rejected and crucified, but He was the faithful witness. There was not a shadow of a compromise: He said nothing, did nothing, seemed nothing, but the truth to the glory of God. He witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, the high priest of Israel having shown himself baser and more cruel than the most hardhearted heathen who condemned the Lord to be crucified.

Yet assuredly the apostle loved the Lord, and answered to His mind as no man did, even among the apostles; still he was a man; and human feeling in its most estimable shape betrays him into (I will not say a contrast with, but) a deflection from our Lord in Jerusalem. For Christ, whatever the depth of His humiliation, oh, what triumph hung on His decease which He accomplished there!

For Paul it was not death at Jerusalem, but the hatred which threw him into the hands of the Gentiles to be, as yet a prisoner only, not yet to die though ultimately what befell him among the Gentiles was his true glory, and there he suffered simply and solely a witness for the truth. He had his heart’s desire, the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, becoming conformed unto His death.

‘And as Paul was about to be brought into the castle, he said unto the chief officer, May I say something unto thee? He said, Dost thou know Greek? Thou art not then the Egyptian who before these days stirred up to sedition, and led out into the wilderness the four thousand men of the assassins (or Sicarii)? But Paul said, I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I beseech thee give me leave to speak unto the people. And when he had given him leave, Paul standing on the steps beckoned with his hand unto the people; and when there was great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying’ (vers. 37-40).

Here again Paul takes very different ground from that which was his wont, he pleads his Jewish race to the commander. Elsewhere who so firm to hold to the grand truth that Christ is all? who more completely above any human distinction of plea in the service of the Lord? It was Paul the apostle indeed, yet not here in the Gentile province assigned him, but in Jerusalem, seeking to reconcile the irreconcilable. Is it too much to say that here there appeared to be the weakness of one who was strong by grace beyond all others on his own ground?

254 ‘Paul, and we that were with him’, is a later reading, which slipped into the Text. Rec., the Authorized Version, et al.