William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,Acts Chapter 19
Here we have another fact of deep interest as illustrating the state of souls not as yet favoured with the apostolic or even more ordinary gospel testimony. The grace of Christ displays its elasticity in meeting them with the truth which they needed, in order to bring them into the full enjoyment of the Christian condition:
'And it came to pass, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having gone through the upper parts, came [down(?)]1 unto Ephesus, and finding2 certain disciples, said unto them, Received ye [the] Holy Spirit since ye believed? And they [said]3 unto him, Not even if [the] Holy Spirit was did we hear. And he said,4 Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. And Paul said, John baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him that was coming after him, that is, on Jesus'5 (vers. 1-4).
1 Text. Rec. ἐλθεῖν, BHL., most cursives and Versions; κατελθεῖν AE, many cursives, Arm.
2 Text. Rec. εὑρὠν . . . εἶπεν, DEHLP, et al. εὑρεῖν . . . εἶπέν τε AB, several cursives, Vulg., et al.
3 Text. Rec. on large authority adds εἶπον, which does not appear in ABDE, et al.
4 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν simply AE, et al. έἰπε τε Text. Rec. with BHLP and most (HLP, et al, adding πρὸς αὐτούς).
6 Text. Rec. has τὸν χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν HLP, most cursives; as some with several Versions support 'Jesus Christ' but the best τὸν Ἰησοῦν, D giving only χριστόν.
It is important to recognize what is here clearly made known in the inspired narrative that these imperfectly instructed souls, whom Paul found at Ephesus, after Apollos had gone to Corinth, are owned as disciples. The apostle does not question the reality of their faith. He observed probably a certain legalism in them, which raised the question not whether they were born of the Spirit, but whether they were sealed by Him. 'Received ye the Holy Spirit since ye believed?' Their answer makes the distinction as plain as it is momentous. They had not so much as heard of the Holy Spirit as the apostle asked. They were doubtless not unacquainted with the Old Testament, nor of course with John's testimony, as appears from what followed. They were therefore familiar with the Holy Spirit as spoken of in the scripture, and must have heard directly or indirectly that John declared the Messiah was to baptize with the Spirit. Whether this was a fact yet, they knew not.
The existence of the Holy Spirit was never in question. What they had not even heard was of any answer to the promise, still less had they been made partakers. This raised the further question, To what then were ye baptized? with the answer, To John's baptism. They were not therefore even on the ground of Christian profession, for, as the apostle wound up, John's was 'a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him that was coming after him, that is, on Jesus.' Christian baptism supposes Him to be dead and risen, the work of redemption accomplished, with eternal life and remission of sins proclaimed in His name. They were believers, the Holy Spirit had wrought in their souls so that the word of God had entered, but they were wholly short even of those immediately conferred privileges which faith in the gospel enjoys.
Now the case before us is not without its bearing on souls around us in the present day. How many saints there are who know nothing beyond the new birth, imagining this to be the common blessing of Christianity if they be not also betrayed thereby into the delusion of what they call higher life, holiness, sanctification, or perfection! The last three of these are scriptural terms, but when treated as a goal of attainment, and especially in the sense of the amelioration of nature or the practical extinction of sin within, they veil very grave deflections from the truth.
It is therefore to be noted how careful scripture is to distinguish between the early vital work of the Holy Spirit in awakening souls by the application of the word, and the subsequent reception of the Spirit when the gospel is believed. In the men at Ephesus before us there was as yet no such reception; yet they were born of God, which never is apart from subjection to His word. But it may be far from the gospel of His grace. Any part of the divine word, one might say generally, is applicable to quickening a soul, hardly as in this case going beyond what an Old Testament saint experienced. How many in Christendom rest on promise and have no notion of accomplishment! They of course allow that the Saviour is come, but of salvation come, and of God's righteousness revealed, they are wholly ignorant. They are still in quest of what they have not got as the present gift of God, they if earnest are therefore anxious, tried, groaning after they know not what, if not over their own proved unworthiness and the treacherous evil of their hearts. They quite overlook the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ; still less do they rest on His work of redemption as valid for their own souls. Am I His, or am I not? is the question that harasses them habitually. Attracted by His love they listen to His words and are momentarily bright, then the thought of self rises in their conscience, and they are in the depths, wholly unable to reconcile the love of a holy God with their actual state which they cannot but feel. Hence they are driven, from ignorance of the gospel, to search after as many signs of a renewed condition as they can discover within them; and thus they toil in a life of hopes balanced against fears, having as little sense of total ruin as they have of God's love toward them. And no wonder, for they are occupied not with Christ but with themselves. How then can such escape that sense of internal misery inevitable to the spirit, and the more so if born of God, till they know, by faith, the mighty work of Christ, where all evil is judged, all sins forgiven, perfect righteousness established without us and yet for us immutably, and ourselves brought nigh to God as His saints and children without a question unsettled?
Of all this the Ephesian disciples could know nothing. They were avowedly waiting where John's doctrine and baptism left them, believing on Him that should come after him, that is, on Jesus. But they were wholly unacquainted with the blessing that had already come, the glad tidings taking the place of promises, because all that God requires, as well as every need of the poorest of sinners, is already accomplished in the atoning work of our Lord Jesus. And so it is practically with many a believer now, not speaking merely of schools of doubt, where on principle the right state is laid down to be the most painful shrinking from rest in the saving grace of God, but in view of the thousands who, without a doubt of Jesus as the only Saviour, have no idea that God is proclaiming peace to them through the blood of the cross of Christ.
They too are under law in effect; and hence in a state of habitual bondage through fear of death, feelings as to themselves constantly clouding the simple truth (on which the gospel insists) that we are lost, and that all is grace on God's part, Who has been already glorified perfectly as to sin in the cross, so that He can righteously afford to bless the believer fully. Ignorant of this wondrous grace which excludes all thought of self save as evil and lost, what can one do but look for good as a ground of hope with God, while vaguely conscious withal that nothing but mercy will do? In truth all is comparatively vague in such a state, alas! far too common in Christendom, where not the wicked only need the gospel, but many a righteous soul, quickened by the Spirit to feel in a measure for God, but as yet never realizing that it is for the lost the Son of man came and died, that they, resting by faith on His blood, might know their sins blotted out, and their old man crucified with Him that the body of sin might be destroyed that they henceforth should not serve sin, but, freed from it and become servants of God, have their fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life.
Now, in the state described, it is too much to assume that souls, wretched in the present, and drawing a precarious and oft vanishing comfort from the future, albeit prayerful and pious, have received the Holy Spirit, the incomparable privilege of the gospel; and this, because they have not really moved on from the promise to which an Old Testament saint clung rightly as to his sheet-anchor in a storm when the light had not yet dawned. It is sad for a disciple now to be in a similar state, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God and thus having peace with Him, as justified by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are none of us apostles, but it is no mean part of our work and testimony to meet the true' wants of such souls. Else in vain do you look for an unworldly walk, for worship in Spirit and in truth, in vain, or worse than vain, do you force on these weakly plants into the high region of the church's privileges as Christ's body, or even of its responsibilities as of God's house. Such souls really need the gospel as well as the Spirit in power for their souls. It is after hearing the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation, that saints, it may be as in the case before us born of God are on believing sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. Then, and not till then, can they thrive, flourish, and bear the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God. The blessing turns on 'the hearing of faith', not on works of law, which works wrath and a curse. 'They which be of faith are blessed' - they only.
It can hardly be supposed that the twelve disciples in Ephesus here brought before us had enjoyed the teaching of Apollos, still less the help of Aquila and Priscilla who unfolded to him the way of God more exactly. If so, they would have been led on, as they were by the apostle afterwards. For it was pure ignorance which hindered their advance in truth, and not either obstinacy or the absurd and wicked error imputed by some to them, which appeared later in the East, and left traces to a recent epoch, as Neander states in the first volume of his Church History. John's baptism, in scripture, went with his call to repent, as we have just seen, and that they should believe on the coming Messiah, i.e., Jesus. In no way was it the blasphemy of accepting John as Messiah. They knew of promise, not of accomplishment: but that was to stop short of the gospel. They are now given to receive the full truth and blessing. Paul preached to them Jesus. What is there for souls which is not through Him and in Him?
'And when they heard this, they were baptized unto the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spake with tongues and prophesied; and they were in all about twelve men' (vers. 5-7).
But here it is well to understand what is taught; for some have inferred from the inspired historian that the original formulary had lapsed, and that the apostles here and elsewhere in the Acts are represented as baptizing only to the name of the Lord Jesus. This is a serious position. It professes to stand on the letter of scripture which cannot be broken; yet is it one which demands and deserves the fullest consideration, for it really annuls scripture. It has been entertained, and even acted on, by not a few whose principle it is to abhor any view or practice which puts a slight on the immediate authority of our Lord. Yet no one denies that He clearly laid down for that institution baptizing to the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
So it is laid down in the earliest of the Gospels, where the great commission is given to the eleven. They were told to go forth and disciple all the nations, the Jews having already been made the object of their testimony in Acts 10:5-6. But now, Messiah being not only rejected but risen, and themselves associated with Him, the circle is enlarged consequently on His death and resurrection; and it is no longer a question of the rights of Jehovah, the one true God and Governor of Israel, but of God fully revealed, not only in the person, but by the work, of the Lord Jesus; and those disciples His servants are to baptize unto the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Here in Matthew was the fitting place to make that Name known, for in this Gospel more than any other, we have the consequences of the rejection of the Messiah, and the new witness substituted for the old, all authority being given to Him in heaven and on earth. From this point of view the rejecting and rebellious Jews are left with their house, and, we may add, their city, desolate till grace works repentance in their hearts another day. Meanwhile, in virtue of the accomplished work of the crucified Christ now risen from the dead grace sends out a message of sovereign mercy to all the Gentiles. It is not the Son of David filling the throne of Israel, nor is it the Son of man with His dominion and glory and kingdom given Him, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him - His dominion an everlasting one which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
These are glories of the new age when the Lord Jesus is displayed from heaven in power and presence on His return. Here it is the Trinity revealed and testimony to be rendered before that day, when they were to teach (not the law nor the prophets, but) all things whatsoever Jesus enjoined on them. And the Lord said, 'Lo! I am with you all the days until the completion of the age' an age not completed till even the last week of Daniel's seventy is fulfilled. This may not be and is not the revelation of the mystery which was reserved for the Holy Spirit through the apostle of the Gentiles, but it is in contrast not only with the law of Moses, but with the promises given to the fathers and the seal attached to them. And Paul could say, as the twelve could not, that Christ sent him not to baptize but to preach the gospel. Yet did he in his place as a confessor submit to that institution of the Lord, as he also baptized from time to time those who confessed Him, as the inspired history abundantly testifies.
But nothing would be less like scripture than to rehearse the formula every time a record of baptism was made in it. The fact was stated, and the mode of statement in scripture is invariably formed according to the character and design of the Book wherein it occurs. Now it lies on the face of the Acts that the Holy Spirit is throughout bearing testimony to Jesus as the Lord. Baptism therefore when predicated of any in its course is so described. This exactly accords with the record, and is as it should be, if the Book be really stamped with that design, as it evidently is to any intelligent eyes. Besides it is in the highest degree probable, that those who administered baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as bound by the injunction of the Lord, would also add the Lord's name as confessed by the baptized. So in some way it is habitually done at this day by those who follow in their steps. Certainly the Book of the Acts has Christian baptism mentioned as 'on', 'in', or 'to' the name of the Lord, each case being in strict harmony with its own character. But this in no way warrants the inference that the twelve, or Paul, or any other dispensed with the divinely given formulary. The form of the history is due to that design equally divine which controls this Book like every other in the Bible.
Another circumstance may be noticed: namely, that these Ephesian disciples received the Holy Spirit through the imposition of Paul's hands as the Samaritans did through the hands of Peter and John. It was a signal mark of God's honouring the apostles. As the work in Samaria was due to the free action of the Spirit in Philip, it was the more necessary to bind all together lest there should have been with God's sanction a church in Samaria independent of that in Jerusalem. The unity of the Spirit was safeguarded by giving the new converts the seal of the Spirit only in answer to the prayers and by the hands of two chief apostles from among the twelve. What simpler proof that, as the Spirit is one, so is the church, however locally severed? So it is now. The Ephesian disciples, baptized to Jesus on hearing the gospel, had Paul's hands laid on them in order to receive the Holy Spirit. It was one body everywhere; and Paul's authority, as of God set first in the church, is attested like that of Peter and John before him.
It is in vain to argue that the Holy Spirit here conferred means only spiritual powers. These powers indeed were included in the divine gift, as the close of verse 6 intimates. But speaking with tongues, or even prophesying, was not all that the reception of the Spirit conveyed, nor yet the best part of the blessing. It is the Spirit Himself Who is given, as well as gifts for sign or for edification, which are both particularly indicated here. Even Bp. Middleton, according to his own too narrow and defective principle, would have been compelled to own the Holy Spirit here personally given. And this gift it is which is never withdrawn, and which indeed makes the Christian and the church to be such. There is neither the one nor the other if there be no gift, nor sealing, of the Spirit any longer.
Nor is it true that this gift depends on an apostle, or an imaginary apostolic succession which is wholly unknown to scripture and excluded by it. For the intervention of apostles, as in Acts 8 and 19, was exceptional, however right and wise on each occasion. The large and typical instances were when He was given, first to Jewish believers at Pentecost and afterwards to Gentile believers at Cornelius' house; at neither of which times does scripture speak of the apostles laying on hands. The Spirit was given directly on their faith of the gospel, a fact made absolutely certain and clear beyond controversy in the case of the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46), which of course is especially of interest and importance to us who are not of Israel. Such a fact is decisive for one who believes in the wisdom and goodness of God, not only in so doing then, but in recording it for the comfort of souls ever afterwards; lest they, ignorant of the direct gift to Jewish and Gentile believers, as warrant for the like expectation afterwards, might fall into the error, either of despair because the apostolic order existed not, or of presumption in dreaming of a fresh apostolic choir or band as being necessary for the supply of that gift, or for any other kindred function. The Catholic systems indeed suppose a sort of perpetual apostolicity, and thus solve the difficulty by an error no less portentous, Protestantism believes not in the abiding presence of the other Paraclete so as to make good the promise of the Father for ever; while Irvingism boasts of a new apostolate (well nigh gone) to effectuate an order which would ignore the ruin-state of the church - a gross moral mistake. But the truth is as blessed in its permanence, as these errors are pernicious.
The rather peculiar but instructive case of the twelve disciples in Ephesus being given, the apostle is next seen resuming his service among the Jews at their synagogue. Compare Acts 18:19-21. He was there according to his pledge.
'And entering into the synagogue he spoke boldly for three months, discoursing and persuading the1 things concerning the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, discoursing daily in the school of 2 Tyrannus. And this was done for two years, so that all those that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord,3 both Jews and Greeks. And God wrought uncommon powers by the hands of Paul, so that even upon the sick were brought from his body handkerchiefs, or aprons, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits went out' (vers. 8-12).
1 Some MSS. and Versions omit the article, but most insert it, which Luke's usage confirms.
2 Most support Text. Rec. in adding 'a certain', but the most ancient omit.
3 Text. Rec., with HLP and most cursives, adds 'Jesus, but not ABDE, and all the old Versions.
The apostle's patient perseverance was great. For three months he spoke boldly in the circumscribed sphere of the synagogue, 'the things concerning the kingdom of God' (ver. 8) being the matter of his discourse and persuasion, as we can readily conceive of all subjects the most suited to inquiring Jews, who knew the law and the prophets. The godly, as we hear of Joseph of Arimathea, were looking for the kingdom of God (Luke 23:50-51). This involved his opening to them the sufferings of Christ and the glories after these. It never occurred to his mind to disparage that kingdom, still less to deny it, because of higher possessions and richer grace in the great mystery as to Christ, and as to the assembly (Ephesians 5:32) meanwhile revealed for the Christian. Even salvation as now opened in the gospel of God's grace has depths beyond the kingdom. But the Jews, from tradition with its darkening effects, and from unbelief which overlooks what is of the deepest import in scripture, were apt to turn from Jesus as the Christ, and thus got blinded in presence of that light which if heeded would have made everything manifest. It is only by light divine in Him that all things have their true character exposed, and His grace not only frees us from all fear of consequences from it, but emboldens us to desire it as the assured blessing of our souls to God's glory. Some there were who did go on in faith and taste that the Lord is good; others stumbled at the word, being disobedient.
'But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way4 before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, discoursing daily in the school of Tyrannus' (ver. 9).
4 [In apostolic days the Christian faith seems to have acquired the name of 'the Way'; see Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9; Act 19:23; Acts 22:4, Acts 24:14; Act 24:22. Peter uses the term, 'the way of truth' (2 Peter 2:2).]
The truth preached in the synagogue had now brought out plainly those who received the love of it that they might be saved, and with at least as much distinctness those whose hard rejection of it led them to speak evil of the Way in presence of the multitude. To have continued longer could have answered no good end; it would have led to bitterness of altercation and reviling from the adversaries. To withdraw from them at this point was clearly of God. Thus were the disciples separated in the capital of the province, the religious centre of an area far larger still. The synagogue being no longer a seemly place, a room commodious enough was due, not only to the disciples, but to the testimony; and the apostle carried on his work of daily discourse in the school of one who was, as far as we can judge, a rhetorician or a philosopher.
What a contrast in that school, no doubt at different hours of the day, between the Christian teacher and the heathen! The one was filled with the grace and truth which, as a revealed whole, came into being by Jesus and in His person, flowing from the love of God to man, and with not a whit less divine authority than the law pronounced at Sinai more than fifteen centuries before, and last, not least, which brought home to heart and conscience by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, a Spirit not of fearfulness, but of power, and love, and a sound mind; the other, not perhaps lacking in imaginative thought clothed in attractive language, gave out speculation, being wholly destitute of certainty on all that most deeply concerns God and man, ignorant of all means of his reconciliation with God on a righteous basis, or of forming near and holy relationships with Him, possessing no present assurance of His will nor affections for every day's enjoyment and obedience, and still less able to lift up the veil which hides the unseen and eternal. Yet here each of them addressed his hearers, Paul, if not Tyrannus, day by day; the one presenting a work of art which gave scope for excellency of speech, and the assumption, but not the reality, of wisdom; the other a simple yet deep witness, dependent on the Holy Spirit, to the One Who gave Himself a ransom for all, the testimony in its own times, for God delights in grace.
Hence it is, that the place of testimony was of no moment: all the value, virtue, truth, grace, and glory that we boast is in the One preached. Holy place, or most holy, was nothing now, Jesus only. Had He not been cast out by the people of God, by their scribes and doctors, by Levites, and priests, and high-priests? and when they slew Him by the hand of lawless men, had not God Himself testified by rending the veil from top to bottom? Earthly holiness was utterly desecrated. The temple therefore is nothing, nor Jerusalem, nor the mountain of blessing in Samaria. One sacrifice has swallowed up all others, and is alone efficacious. AH centres in the crucified but exalted Jesus on high, where is the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, not man; where is the Great Priest, even Jesus Himself.
Hence the same building, which man misused for vanity, faith could use for magnifying the name of the Lord. The consecration of a building since the ascension of Christ is a return to Judaism and one of the beggarly elements of the world; and the grander the building is, the more flagrant its inconsistency with the cross. Popery in all this is consistently but outrageously wrong, in rebellion against God and the truth, resuscitating all that received its death-blow in the death of Christ; for it boasts of its temples, its priests, and its sacrifices for the living and the dead. But where is the consistency of the Anglican who, admitting the one sacrifice as already complete and accepted, contends for earthly priests as well as holy places? where is that of the Dissenter, who, discarding an earthly priesthood, clings to the delusion and pride of his temple, chapel, or miscalled 'church'?
The practice of the early church coincided with and confirms this principle. For those who had boldness to enter into the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, the Great Priest over the house of God, what mattered the mere place of assembling themselves together? Alas! indeed, that a place of earthly splendour must cloud the truth and moral glory of the cross. An upper room, a private house, however obscure the quarter, or (if occasion required as here) 'the school of Tyrannus', any place, small or great, according to the exigencies of the time, sufficed for the assembly. If numbers grew in a large town, they might for convenience meet in many rooms, but never so as to jeopard the characteristic truth that it was 'the church', not 'churches', in that town. Where unity is abandoned, save for the foundations, it is no longer God's church, but man's.
At Ephesus as yet things were in their infancy, the disciples were separated (i.e., from the Jews who adhered to the synagogue), and in 'the School of Tyrannus' the apostle discourses daily. 'And this was done for two years, so that all those dwelling in Asia, heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks' (ver. 10). A great and effectual door of testimony lay open to him, if there were many adversaries. Proconsular Asia had the gospel before it. Many may not have listened more than once, for curiosity reigned among the Greeks, which, if easily attracted, is not less easily sated. But if ever an attractive centre existed for Asiatic Greeks, it was in Ephesus. It was a time too, when men, weary of pretentious philosophy and sick of the mental and moral horrors of paganism, yearned after something sure, solid, and good, if they knew not what, which they had found very partially in the synagogue.
They wanted, in the language of Job, 'an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man what is right for him, and God could be gracious to him and say, Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom' (Job 33:23-24). And in the apostle they had one of the rarest interpreters, and, more than that, one who beyond all men could feel for Jews and Greeks; for no Jew had, in his unbelief, ever hated Jesus more bitterly than he, no Greek more proudly than he despised that name. And who had felt or developed so much the riches of God's grace in Christ? For the space of two years all that dwelt, not in the city only, but in the province (where the seven Apocalyptic churches and others are afterwards known to have been gathered), heard the word of the Lord from one so laboriously zealous and so every way competent to proclaim and unfold and apply it. He was content to go about preaching the kingdom; nor was it enough for him to urge on perishing souls repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. He did indeed testify the gospel of the grace of God; but he shrunk not from declaring the whole counsel of God. Nowhere do we see a spot so favoured; nowhere did this wise master-builder lay a foundation so broad deep, and strong, though indeed it was none other than that only one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But who laid it so well as Paul at Ephesus, according to the grace of God which was given to him?
In due time God's building in Ephesus comes before us with a wonderful lustre and fulness, not only in the Book now occupying us, but in the apostolic Epistle to the saints that were there and the faithful in Christ Jesus. To no assembly elsewhere does the Holy Spirit so freely bring out the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit, and by none was it revealed as by the apostle Paul and to no saints communicated as to those addressed in that Epistle. Yet in the eyes of tradition the church in Ephesus is of slight account compared with that in Antioch, or in Alexandria, to say nothing of Rome or of Constantinople afterwards. But God's ways are higher than man's ways and His thoughts than those of the sons of men. No more humiliating proof of the departure of Christian profession from the divine estimate than is found in ecclesiastical history, with its ever-increasing homage to the spirit of the world.
But we may notice the honour which God at this time put on the apostolic testimony to the Lord Jesus and the gospel in the new sphere. 'And God wrought uncommon powers by the hands of Paul, so that even upon the sick were brought from his body handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits went out' (vers. 11, 12). The beneficent power of God in man and for man was thus attested. By-and-by it will triumph in the kingdom where all things are to be put into the hands of the glorified Son of man. But He is glorified already, although we see not yet all things put under Him. Meanwhile the Spirit is here on earth to bear witness of Him and His victory achieved in righteousness over Satan. This is the principle of those early displays of divine energy in man. They were testimonies to His defeat of the devil in man's favour, powers of the world to come, though of course but samples of what will be then universal. Certainly neither the church nor any individual saint has ground for long centuries to boast on this score. But God did work marvellously not only by Paul but in the assembly, as we see even in Corinth, to the glory of Jesus, that man might learn on all sides and in every way the delivering power in His hands, not only over human infirmity, but over all the power of the enemy.
Through the apostle this victorious power was manifested here with no little splendour. The God, Who gave and sent His Son to become a man as well as a propitiation for our sins, is not indifferent to man's miseries, or to Satan's malicious pleasure in rebellion and ruin. And these early days of the victory of the ascended Christ were illuminated with brilliant manifestations that all power in heaven and on earth is in Him Who is at God's right hand, and Who answers to the faith that called on His name. Nor was it only in the presence or at the word of the apostle: what had touched his person did not fail upon the sick who could not approach him. The faith that brought handkerchiefs or aprons from him to them had its reward: the diseases departed from them, and evil spirits (a distinct class) went out. Truly it was delivering energy to the Lord's glory in and for man; and it could not but deeply impress those who are sensitive enough to their interests and feelings in this life. But what is it at the best compared with the still deeper glory of the Son of man when God was glorified in Him dying for sin, that there too righteousness might be vindicated and be for ever on the side of man, of believing man unequivocally and absolutely?
But the Lord was pleased to manifest in another way, negatively indeed but effectively, what His grace delivers from in this present evil age.
'And certain ones of the Jewish exorcists that went about took in hand to call upon those that had wicked spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of Sceva, a certain1 Jewish chief-priest, doing this. But the wicked spirit answering said to them, Jesus I know, and Paul I am acquainted with, but who are ye? And the man in whom the wicked spirit was, leaping upon them and mastering them both,2 prevailed against them, so that they fled out from that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, that inhabited Ephesus. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. Many too of those that had believed came confessing and declaring their deeds. And not a few of those that practised curious arts brought their books and burnt them before all. And they summed up the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So with might the word of the Lord increased and prevailed' (vers. 13-20).
1 So it stands in the Vatican and other good authorities. The ordinary text has 'certain ones, sons of . . .", and much the larger support.
2 The better reading is ἀμφοτέρων (ABD, et al.), not 'them', as in the common text, a change to suit the 'seven', whereas two only were concerned in this case.
During His ministry (Matthew 12:24-28), the Lord answered the reproach of the scornful Pharisee by appealing to those sons of Israel who cast out demons; He did so Himself by the Spirit of God. The spirits were subject not to the twelve only (Mark 6:7), but to the seventy also through His name, nor was there any exhibition of divine energy which more affected their minds (Luke 10:17). It was the first sign which, when He rose from the dead, He promised should follow those that believe (Mark 16:17). Whether by sickness or by spirits' unclean possession, there was no case which resisted the power of the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:16). We have seen a similar record of Philip in Samaria (Acts 8:7), and especially of Paul (Acts 16:18; Acts 19:12).
It is the more important to press the word of God as to those evil possessions, because, on the one hand, the bias of man has set in so strangely in modern times to treat their existence with unbelieving contempt, where, on the other hand, people are not given up to besotted and blinding superstition. For Satan catches men by snares of the most opposite kinds. The truth is the one thing which men do not affect. And as they treat evil spirits in possession of human beings as an exploded old-wives' fable so they no less scout the reality of the Holy Spirit's dwelling in every believer, and working in some by way of special gift, not to speak of His action in the assembly. The Book of the Acts is most explicit in bearing witness to spiritual power, good and evil: to doubt the continuance of both is mere incredulity, and unworthy of the believer particularly.
Here the Lord displayed His resentment of those who, without owning Himself, sought to avail themselves of the apostolic action in His name as a charm to which divine energy must be attached. Seven were concerned in a general way, two (it would seem) directly, on whom consequently the blow fell. Their position too, as sons of a Jewish chief-priest, drew the more attention to so solemn a discomfiture. In vain did they call over any the name of the Lord, indeed their daring to adjure 'by Jesus Whom Paul preacheth' brought out the more distinctly His vindication of His servant, and their own impotence, as well as the reality of the enemy's power. For the wicked spirit attested at once his acquaintance with Paul and his knowledge of his Master, not only with withering contempt for the hollow profanity of those who abused His name, but with the most practical demonstration that the evil power could tread down and put them to shame, instead of submitting to a victory at such unholy lips.
It is interesting to note how the wicked spirit identifies himself with the one whom he possesses, just as the Spirit of God is graciously pleased to work in those who are made, by His dwelling in them, vessels to magnify the name of Jesus. It is He Who effects all that is blessed yet is it all blended with their minds and affections; so that it is as a whole set to their account. Thus here the demoniac, 'leaping upon them and mastering both, prevailed against them, so that they fled out from that house naked and wounded.' It was his doing, though he could not by any means have done it save by that terrible power. The moral impression of this defeat was great on all outside in Ephesus. Nor was it only that fear fell on them all, but the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. It was not simply that God and the enemy were brought before men's consciences; there was a testimony to the Deliverer also.
But there was even more. What became known universally acted with especial power on many of those who had believed. They came confessing and declaring their deeds; and if any went farther still, they gave the best proof of the abhorrence with which they now regarded their tampering with the wicked one. For 'not a few of those that practised curious arts brought their books and burnt them before all.' The price was reckoned up. and it was found not inconsiderable. Living facts brought home the power of the word, and conscience responded at once.
This was one of the many ways in which the Holy Spirit wrought at Ephesus; as we find the varied action of the Spirit one of the most prominent characteristics of the Epistle written to the saints long after. It was the word of the Lord that thus mightily grew and prevailed: not a company of saints merely, but the word of the Lord - that word which He has magnified above all His name. It is now the holiest answer on earth to Christ in heaven; and how precious to see, not merely the fear of His name overawing Jews and Greeks, but those who believed so zealous for His glory as to tell out their own shame and worst degradation in converted days, and to take vengeance on all they had, no matter how costly, which breathed of the enemy's power and wiles!
Yet it is salutary to bear in mind that, whatever be these dark arts and diabolical energies, the god of this age carries on his most widely destructive work by methods of no seemingly unusual character, but suiting his delusions to the passions and the lusts of the flesh, even to the natural affections as well as interests of men, through the meshes of that world of which he is the prince. It is in this way above all that souls are kept blind through the exclusion of the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. In Christendom now, as of old in Judea, the mass perish, not in the terrible displays which appear here and there or now and then, but under the placid surface of what is respected and enjoys an unquestioned character of patriotism and even religion, where the Father is unknown, and consequently it is not the true Christ brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit. But the word of the Lord accomplishes the gracious purpose of Him Who sends it forth, and extensively too in the conversion and blessing of souls, if no longer in the might of apostolic days.
Thus in Ephesus did the word of the Lord grow and prevail 'with might' according to the remarkable expression of Luke. Every testimony had been at full tide there, the evident power and presence of the Spirit, attested by tongues and prophesyings, bold preaching of the kingdom of God for months in the synagogue, and still less restricted discoursing daily in the school of Tyrannus for two years, during which time the disciples took up their due separate position; so that not only they of Ephesus, but, speaking generally, all those that dwelt in the province of Asia, Jews and Greeks alike, heard the word of the Lord. The uncommon powers wrought by the hands of Paul proved even externally where and with whom God was, as the ignominious penalty of the Jewish exorcists demonstrated that even Satan despised their selfish and profane use of the name of Jesus, so as to overawe all inside, and to exercise healthfully the conscience of many within, where it was for the Lord's glory. What need was there for the prolonged stay of the apostle whose heart went out to the regions beyond?
'Now after these things were fulfilled, Paul purposed in his spirit, passing through Macedonia and Achaia, to proceed unto Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there I must see Rome also. And having sent into Macedonia two of those that ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in1 Asia for awhile' (vers. 21, 22).
1 Dgr has ἐν, but this is evidently to avoid the difficulty of εἰς, which expresses the direction of the apostle, though it was only a question of abiding where he was, a pregnant construction not at all infrequent.
It is not correct to interpret 'in the spirit' here of the Holy Ghost. No more is meant than that the apostle purposed it 'in his spirit'; a frequent phrase of his, not only in this Book but elsewhere. He longed once more to go to Jerusalem after passing through the two Roman provinces of Greece. He felt that his work was closed for the present at Ephesus, and that after visiting Jerusalem he must see Rome also. With this we may compare Romans 1:9-13, as well as Acts 15:22-29, though the journey to Spain appears nowhere else in the inspired writings, and we know not that it was ever realized.
How immense the energy which comes out in these few words! How much more, when we consider how fully he preached the gospel of Christ, not where He was already named, but where the good news had never penetrated before! It was also a spiritual capacity and zeal that embraced not heavenly truth only, and the whole scope of divine counsels for eternity, as well as the Old Testament prophecies of the kingdom, but the most ordinary matters of need for the peace and fellowship of the saints, yea, even for their temporal good day by day. We see too, how with apostolic authority he directed the service of others, and this at all cost to himself personally, for at this very time he sent into Macedonia two of those that ministered to him, not Erastus only, but the fellow-labourer nearest to his heart, his beloved child, Timothy, whilst he himself stayed awhile in Asia.
'And about that time arose no small disturbance about the Way. For a certain [man] by name Demetrius, a silver-beater, making silver shrines [miniature temples] of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans, whom he gathered together with the workmen of like nature, and said, Men, ye are aware that we2 have our prosperity from this business. And ye behold and hear that this Paul hath persuaded and turned away a considerable crowd, not only of Ephesus, but of almost all Asia, saying that they are no gods that are made by hands. Now, not only is there danger for us that this trade come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be counted for nothing, and that even she should be deposed from her3 magnificence, whom all Asia and the world [habitable earth] revereth. And when they heard, they were filled with wrath and kept crying out, saying, Great is Artemis of the Ephesians. And the city was filled with confusion; and they rushed with one accord into the theatre, having seized together Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's fellow-travellers. And when Paul was minded to enter unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. And some of the Asiarchs also, being his friends, sent unto him and urged him not to adventure himself into the theatre' (vers. 23-31).
2 Tischendorf has shown the mistake of Griesbach in giving ὑμῶν for ἡμῖν (ABDE, et al.), instead of the vulgar ἡμῶν. This error is faithfully repeated in the notes of Scholz, a very inferior critic.
3 τῆς μεγαλειότητος ABE and near 20 cursives, et al., rather than τὴν μεγαλειότητα as in Text. Rec.
Such was the fresh effort of the enemy, not so much by means of Jews as Gentiles, and accordingly by an appeal to worldly lusts rather than by spiritual power in an evil shape. Nevertheless, religious motives, such as they were, even here threw a certain halo around that which was really selfish and utterly sordid. Nor is any device of the enemy more common or permanent. Satan contrives in this world to interweave debasing and destructive superstition with the present interests and honour of mankind. This being so, one cannot wonder that the mass of men are most readily inflamed by the testimony of the truth which threatens to undermine their religion and their worldly property. It is the same today, in principle, as then at Ephesus. An active leader was easily found to take the matter up and blow it into a flame. The artisans and the workmen engaged in the trade of the silver shrines of Artemis were roused by their employer Demetrius, who appealed to their covetousness and at the same time pointed out that Paul's teaching threatened not only their trade but the discredit of the great goddess Artemis. And the appeal was not in vain; it never is, save where grace makes known the truth.
Man, ignorant of God, will fight for nothing more keenly than for his wealth and his religion. Nor could it be denied that throughout much more than Ephesus, or even Asia, Paul had persuaded and turned away much people from their gods many and lords many. There was no doubt that he really did mean that those are no gods which are made with hands, that to us there is one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we unto Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things and we through Him (1 Corinthians 8:6). We ought not to think, therefore, that the divinity is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man. And that one God now commendeth men that they should all everywhere repent, because He hath appointed a day in the which He is going to judge the world, or habitable earth, in righteousness by the Man Whom He hath ordained, giving to all proof of it in that He raised Him from the dead. So had Paul openly preached at Athens during his brief visit; assuredly his long abode in Ephesus was not less fruitful in the solemn proclamation of the truth. We need not have wondered if the silversmith had taken fire at the beginning of his stay. But grace knows how to make the wrath of man praise God, as well as to restrain the residue of wrath
It was well ordered, however, that the outburst should come while the apostle was still there. Two of his fellow-travellers were actually seized; and Paul intended to go in to the raging populace in the theatre, but the disciples would not suffer him. And very interesting it is to see the moral effect of Paul's teaching and life on certain of the chief officers of Asia, who while distinguished from the disciples are expressly said to have been his friends. These sent unto him and besought him not to trust himself in the theatre. What is more, the scripture shows that Paul, whatever his own courage or feeling, did not despise these friends, notwithstanding their position. but gave way to the remonstrance of his brethren. He who on fit occasion knew how to wield on earth the power of heaven for the Lord's glory, and who wrote with divine authority for the saints here below till Christ comes, could graciously bend to others, as well as stand alone where this was of God. Only the Holy Spirit can give the discernment at the moment, where the eye is single to Christ.
Such was the uproar which pervaded the crowd in the theatre at Ephesus. 'Different ones therefore kept crying somewhat different things; for the assembly was in confusion, and the mass knew not wherefore they were come together. And from the crowd they instructed1 (or, drew together) Alexander, the Jews putting him forward; and Alexander waving his hand wished to make defence to the people. But when they came to know he was a Jew, one shout arose from all, crying for about two hours, Great [is] Artemis of [the] Ephesians. And the town clerk after stilling the crowd, says, Ephesians, which of men is he who knoweth not that the city of [the] Ephesians is temple-keeper of the great Artemis and of what fell from the sky? Since then these things cannot be gainsaid, you must be quiet and do nothing rash. For ye have brought these men, neither temple-robbers nor blasphemers of our (or, your) goddess. If then Demetrius and the artisans with him have a matter against anyone, court-days are going on, and there are pro-consuls: let them accuse each other; but if you make any inquiry about other things, it will be settled in the lawful assembly. For indeed we are in danger of being accused of riot today, there being no cause concerning which we shall be able to render an account of this concourse. And having said thus (or, these things) he dismissed the assembly' (vers 32-41).
1 συνεβιβασαν is the best reading (ABE and many cursives) and means as above. The vulgar text hardly falls in with προβαλόνῖων following without tautology.
In this Book we have already had the Holy Spirit's account of religious excitement among the Jews, not only when it issued in the death of Stephen, but on other occasions where they were the chief instigators of the heathen against the gospel and its messengers. It was meet that we should have a living picture of a quasi-religious tumult among the heathen themselves, and this in the most capacious theatre of which there are remains to the present day. Assuredly the Gentiles were rather more senseless than the Jews, though their convictions were in no way so deep. 'Some, therefore, cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was tumultuous, and the most knew not wherefore they were come together.' Whatever the selfish motives underneath, their expression of wrath was about the great Artemis, of whom Ephesians boasted. Nevertheless, as we have seen, God wrought providentially through wiser men of high station among them, for the Asiarchs, whose chief or chiefs lived at Ephesus, had the easiest means and best position in the state, and by their very office would be expected most to resent any dishonour done to their religion. But kind feeling, if not conscience, made them tender the prudent advice to Paul that he should not adventure himself into the theatre. God used them to shelter His servant, where zeal and courage would have been unavailing, and might have exposed him to danger.
Here again we find the Jews putting forward Alexander. This, nevertheless, was a move, which however craftily devised, did not benefit themselves, but rather inflamed the multitude so much the more. The instincts of the heathen resented such an apologist. Was it in common honesty possible that the Jews would have more respect than the Christians for their great goddess?
It was in vain, therefore, for Alexander to beckon with his hand in the desire to make a defence to the people. It was enough that they perceived him to be a Jew, and therefore hostile to their idolatry. There was one voice from all, about the space of two hours, as they cried out, Great [is] Artemis of [the] Ephesians. What a true reflection of the world governed by prejudice and feeling in what is of all moment, not only for the life that now is, but also for that which is to come! God, the true God, is not in their thoughts, which are therefore open to any and every delusion.
The town clerk, or recorder, now appears on the scene; a much more important person in that age and country than in most others, as we learn from ancient inscriptions and otherwise. He was a heathen like the rest; but his common sense was shocked by their objectless excesses, and his speech sets forth in plain and pointed terms their own folly and wrong, not as to God but as among men, and more particularly before their Roman governors.
Having stilled the crowd, he says, 'Ephesians, who1 is there of men that knoweth not that the city of the Ephesians is temple-keeper of the great Artemis, and of that which fell down from Zeus (or, the sky)? As these things cannot be gainsaid, ye ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For ye have brought these men neither temple-robbers2 nor blasphemers of our goddess. If, therefore, Demetrius and the artisans that are with him have a matter against anyone, court-days are going on, and there ere pro-consuls: let them accuse (or prosecute) one another. But if you make any inquiry about other things,3 it will be settled in the regular assembly. For indeed we are in danger of being accused for the riot of today, there being no ground concerning which we shall4 be able to give account of this concourse. And, having said this, he dismissed the assembly.'
1 The γάρ, 'for', not expressed in our version, or perhaps any other, implies, without bluntly saying, Why this ado? For 'which of men is there who knoweth not . . .,
2 All the old Protestant English Versions have the absurdly false rendering 'robbers of churches'. So inveterate is bad habit, even beyond the vulgar. Wiclif and the Rhemish were preserved from it by adhering to the Vulgate.
3 B and many cursives support περαιτέρων, and so Mr. T. S. Green, 'further', which makes good sense, but the ancient versions are adverse.
4 'The best authorities add a negative here. It may be due to οὖ immediately preceding. If genuine, it may be explained by emphatic speech, which is not always logically correct.
Thus is man beguiled. He assumes as unquestionable what is a mere delusion of the enemy. No intelligence secures against the lie of Satan, nothing but the truth brought home by the Spirit of God. For this man, otherwise sensible, the great Artemis and the stone that fell from the sky, were things which could not be gainsaid. On this supposition he insists on calmness as the only state of mind befitting his co-religionists. He urges that those concerned were neither temple-robbers nor revilers of their goddess. Why, therefore, should such men be brought before them? But he is more precise also, and sets before Demetrius and the artisans in company with him, that their procedure was irregular and dangerous for all. A charge must be laid at a proper time and place, and before the suited judge. There alone could there be a lawful result. Any other enquiry must be settled in the lawful assembly, which the present was not. More than that, 'we are in danger', nor they only, but 'we', of being accused of riot for this day's proceedings, no cause existing for which they could render an account of this concourse. The Romans, it is well known, were most jealous of such disorderly assemblages; which they often punished with bloodshed without measure. As his speech thus closed with a most significant hint, he had no difficulty thereon in dismissing the assembly.
He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.
Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
And all the men were about twelve.
And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.
But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.
And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:
So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.
Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.
Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.
So he sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timotheus and Erastus; but he himself stayed in Asia for a season.
And the same time there arose no small stir about that way.
For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen;
Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.
Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:
So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.
And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.
And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.
And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.
Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.
And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people.
But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?
Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly.
For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.
Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another.
But if ye inquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.
For we are in danger to be called in question for this day's uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse.
And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.