And when they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not permit them.
I. THE CALL OF GOD. Paul and Silas went whithersoever they were directed. They forebore to go to some places because the way was closed by the Divine hand (vers. 6, 7); they went to others because "they assuredly gathered that God had called them" (ver. 10). God does not vouchsafe to us now such plain and indubitable signs of his will as he granted in apostolic days; we have no such visions and voices as they had to guide them. Nevertheless he does direct our steps. He either calls us or "suffers us not" to go where we had designed to work, by some method, of his Divine procedure.
1. He may enlighten our minds by enlarging our faculties; so that, though we are not conscious of any special influence, we see clearly what is the right and wise course to pursue.
2. He may inspire us with such promptings that we feel assured that we are being moved by his own hand.
3. He may, by his providential ordering, shut us out from, or shut us up to, the path in which he would not, or would, have us walk. It is for us to inquire reverently what is his will, which way he does not desire us to take, when he calls us to preach the gospel, and then promptly and cheerfully to obey.
II. THE APPEAL FROM MAN. (Ver. 9.) Thin vision appeared to Paul In the night." We need not wait for the night in order to have a vision and to hear a voice, in which men will cry, "Come over and help us." If we had but the car to hear" the still, sad music of humanity," we should have borne to us on every wind the pitiful plaint of the sin-stricken children of men. We should hear:
1. The cry of conscious spiritual distress. There are those who know the hollowness of their old superstitions, or are vainly looking out for the truth; from those who are groping in the darkness, we may well hear the cry," Who will lead us into the light of life?"
2. The prayer of inarticulate distress. There are countless multitudes that hunger and thirst for they know not what. They have empty, aching, longing hearts, with boundless-capacities. These hearts are unfilled, unsatisfied, and they are inarticulately but earnestly pleading for the bread of life, of which if any man cat he shall never hunger more. There are also the vast multitudes of the suffering - of the sick, of the lonely, of the disappointed, of the bereaved. These are praying us, with silent but strong supplication, to send the knowledge of the Divine Comforter, of him who alone can bind up the broken heart and heal its wounds.
3. The appeal of pitiful degradation. The advocates of slavery used to contend - for lack of better argument - that those who were in bonds were contented with their condition. As if this were not the very heaviest indictment against the cause they pleaded! Surely the fact that slavery made men and women satisfied with degradation and dishonor was the most damaging impeachment which could be framed! And it is the fact that so many thousands of those who were created for purity, wisdom, worship, righteousness, eternal life, are satisfied with the darkness and death of sin, - it is this which constitutes the most eloquent appeal to take them that enlightening truth which will awake them from their shameful apathy, inspire them with a manlier and nobler hope, and satisfy them with a treasure which cannot fade, with a joy that abides for ever, with a life which is eternal and Divine. Unchristianized humanity stands ever before the eyes of a living Church and pleads with a powerful if not a passionate entreaty, "Come over and help us!" - C.
Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia.A.D. 51 or 52: — The form of the Greek expression implies that Phrygia and Galatia are not to be regarded as separate districts — but the land originally inhabited by Phrygians, but subsequently occupied by Cauls. Paul does not appear to have had any intention of preaching the gospel here. He was perhaps anxious at once to bear his message to the more important and promising district of proconsular Asia. But he was detained by a return of his old malady "the thorn in the flesh" — some sharp and violent attack which humiliated him and prostrated his physical strength. To this the Galatians owed their knowledge of Christ. Though a homeless, stricken wanderer might seem but a feeble advocate of a cause so momentous, yet it was the Divine order that in the preaching of the gospel strength should be made perfect in weakness. The zeal of the preacher and the enthusiasm of his hearers triumphed over all impediments. They did not despise the temptation in his flesh. They received him as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. They would have plucked out their very eyes if they could and have given them to him." It can scarcely have been any predisposing religious sympathy which attracted them so powerfully. The gospel as a message of mercy and a spiritual faith stood in direct contrast to the gross and material religions in which the race had been nurtured. But if we picture to ourselves the apostle, as he appeared before the Galatians, a friendless outcast, writhing under the tortures of a painful malady, yet instant in season and out of season, by turns denouncing and entreating, perhaps also, as at Lystra, enforcing his appeals by some striking miracle, we shall be at no loss to conceive how the fervid temperament of the Gaul might have been aroused. In the absence of all direct testimony we may conjecture that it was at Ancyra, now the capital of the Roman province, as formerly of the Gaulish settlement, "the most illustrious metropolis," as it is called in formal documents; at Pessinus under the shadow of Mount Dindimus, the cradle of the worship of Cybele, and one of the principal commercial towns of the district; at Tavium, at once a strong fortress and a great emporium, situated at the point of convergence of several important roads; perhaps also at Juliopolis, the ancient Gordium, formerly the capital of Phrygia, almost equidistant from the three seas, and from its central position a busy mart; at these, or some of these places, that Paul founded the earliest Churches of Galatia.
And were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the Word in Asia.
(J. Fawcett, M. A.)
(H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
I. THE TIME OF WAITING. Proconsular Asia and Bithynia were before Paul and his companions; they were without the gospel; they needed it; Paul was ready to give it. And yet the gospel was not preached. It was not a time to labour, but a time to wait.
1. Yet it was a time of endeavour to labour. Paul did not choose the waiting for himself. He honestly and earnestly tried to preach the gospel. He went to the frontier of the province of Asia Minor intending to enter and preach. Prevented there, he tried Bithynia next. Preaching was the one word that summed up all Paul's life. Every Christian is called to work. His mission in life is to proclaim Jesus Christ.
2. Paul's endeavour to do his work was thwarted. He wanted to labour for Christ, and he was prevented from doing so. He went into many a place only to be driven out with stones. He planned great journeys and found himself in prison. It would be a very instructive thing to look over the Scriptural records of Paul's life and tabulate the thwarted plans recorded. No man makes every Christian endeavour he undertakes a success. As God makes the flower cast many a seed to the ground that one or two plants may spring up, so He gives it as a law of spiritual accomplishment that there shall sometimes be many failures to one success. And Paul, like a wise man, did not quarrel with law.
3. The strange part of Paul's experience at this point was that the thwarting of his purpose to preach the gospel in proconsular Asia and Bithynia was directly due to God. Some of Paul s failures were due to the interference of Satan (see 1 Thessalonians 2:18), who we may believe goes about endeavouring to hinder God's people in God's work. What are we to think of this?(1) God was leading Paul away from the conversion of Asia Minor to the conversion of Europe. Paul, having but one human life and one man's natural power, could not do both. God set before him the larger work. To accomplish it involved the exclusion of the smaller.(2) Asia Minor was undoubtedly approached more advantageously by the gospel from the westward, when the weight of European success added a new commendation to Paul's teaching, which it lacked when it came from the eastward. If you want to win a man to anything it is better to await the favourable moment than to rush in at first sight. It was better for Asia Minor and Bithynia not to have the gospel preached to them just yet.(3) God's thwarting of Paul's plans would have been all right even if we could see no reason whatever in it.
4. The Holy Spirit was present with Paul, directing and equipping him, quite as well in the time of waiting as in the time of work.
II. THE CALL. Paul had found his intentions foiled; Asia Minor and Bithynia were closed to him; Europe remained. Should he seek those shores? He needed direction, and it was given. The vision of the Macedonian, perhaps authenticated as from God in some way unknown to us, showed Paul where his labour lay.
1. The vision was that of a pleading man. The gospel is for the world, and the whole world.
2. The figure in the vision voiced the need of help; it did not define just what was needed. The call that rises from the human race is a cry for help, whatever the help be. It is not always a cry for the gospel; for many times when the gospel is offered it is blindly refused. It is the function of the gospel sometimes to create desire as well as to satisfy it. When Paul landed in Macedonia he found no crowd standing with outstretched hands to welcome him. No, he "tarried certain days" before there was any sign of the gospel being wanted, and then the sign came only to Paul's search for it.
3. The Macedonian was a representative. He said not "Come over and help me," but "Come over and help us." All needed Christ, and not only the few souls who were already near to the kingdom — like Lydia, the first convert.
4. The request that was made by the pleading man of the vision was in Paul's power to grant. He could go over and help them if he wanted to. So can we help the nations who seem to stand before us in vision beseeching us to help them.
III. THE ANSWER.
1. Paul was led to make an answer by using the mind God had given him. He and his companions consulted together and "concluded that God had called them for to preach the gospel unto them." The supernatural vision seems to separate Paul's experience from ours. We are not so led in our work. But his consulting with his friends and reasoning out as well as he could the conclusion which God wanted him to make, brings his way of being led back into similarity with our own.
2. Having made up his mind that he ought to go to Macedonia, Paul "sought" to carry out that purpose. Assurance of success and the accomplishment of success are in God's hands, but we can at least try. If God is willing to bless, and we are able at least to try, if Christian work sometimes does not greatly prosper, what is the reason?
3. Paul's answer to the meaning of the vision was immediate. "Straightway we sought to go." The reaction of Paul's converted soul in the presence of spiritual need was instant. If he responded instantly to the call of need we can respond so too, if we will.
4. The call's being from God was what made Paul's reply so quick. Obedience was a primal element in Paul's religious life, and so he is seen to be truly of the company of Him who was "an obedient Son."
IV. THE RESULT.
1. It was not visible at once. Over in Troas there was the exciting vision of the pleading Macedonian. But in Macedonia there was nothing but indifference. Paul was received, as the missionary of the cross is almost always received, with perfect indifference.
2. Paul used means to bring a result about. He did not sit down with folded hands, saying to himself, "Macedon has cried to me for help; I have come a long way at great trouble in order to give help: now if the Macedonians want me let them speak out." Paul assumed that the Macedonians needed everything and acted as though they desired nothing. He waited not for them to seek him, he sought them. Work is a spiritual as well as a natural condition of success.
3. A small beginning was made. Paul was not disheartened at its smallness, but content with its being a beginning. No heathen were allured to the gospel at all. No men were reached. One woman, and she half converted already before Paul's appearance, was the harvest of Paul's effort. The beginning is not yet the end, but it surely has the end hidden in it, in however small circumference.
4. Fellowship was established. Lydia brought her household into the faith and took Paul and his friends into the sweet communion of this new Christian home. When that Christian fellowship was formed the success of Paul's Philippian mission was assured. A group of real Christian friends can leaven a city.
V. LESSONS CONCERNING MISSIONARY WORK.
1. The relation of God and man in gospelising. God calls; man's imperative and immediate duty is to obey. God sends the Holy Spirit to direct and empower in Christian work. "For it is God that worketh in you." God sends us to try all plans in the world with His gospel. He only knows where we shall succeed in planting it.
2. The laws of gospelising. Persuading for Christ is like other persuading. Paul did not preach when he made his first European convert. What a spectacle he would have made if he had proceeded to deliver a thunderous oration like that on Mars' Hill to these half-dozen women! He sat down and talked with them. The gospel begins its work in small ways. Europe's conquest for Christ is heralded in the saving of one woman. The gospel uses the God-made relations of human life for its propagation. Lydia brought her household to Christ. The family is recognised and utilised by the gospel.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
(Horace Bushnell.)1. Here is the direct action of the Holy Ghost. The early Christians realised that they were living in the age of the Holy Spirit. Why should there be any difficulty in believing that spirit may affect spirit? We believe that matter affects matter. It is quite scientific to believe that; yet to believe that mind can affect mind, that spirit can touch spirit, is fanaticism! I have not so learned life. It is easy for me, having seen the action of metal upon metal, to believe that there may be a kindred action of soul upon soul, God upon man.
2. The action of the Spirit is as morally mysterious as it is personally direct. Why should the Holy Ghost forbid the apostles to preach the Word anywhere? That we cannot explain; but then you cannot explain yourself. We are forbidden to do certain things. The things themselves are good, but the time is wrong, or the place is ill-chosen, or another opportunity is greater and ought to be absorbent. It is not enough that you are in a good place, doing a good work; your object should be to live and move and have your being in the Spirit of God, so that wherever He may point, your heart may outrun your feet in attaining the destination. Where life is bounded by programmes and outlines, and purposes merely human, life will be a succession of mistakes and stinging disappointments.
3. It is, to our degenerate piety, quite difficult to believe that the early apostles — yea, the prophets ages before them — could live so familiarly in the presence of the supernatural. Everything depends upon the level of your life. It is possible to live so high up in intellectual and spiritual companionship as to receive with grateful ease and friendly recognition appearances and communications which at one time would have affected us with the surprise of a miracle.
4. What did Paul see, then, in his vision?(1) A man. He who truly sees a man must ever be moved by the pathetic sight. We do not see one another whilst we are in the crowd performing the day's jugglery. We do not see the man, but having once seen him under favouring lights, we must feel that man is a name high up in the register of life.(2) A man in earnest prayer, praying to a fellow man. It was all, perhaps, the Macedonian suppliant could then do. We are allowed to pray at such altars as we can find. If you fell down before the least flower, before your mother's old armchair, it would be shrine enough. And by and by you will want a whole heaven for a church and altar. Begin where you can.(3) A man in earnest, and a man seeking help. There are cowards that run away when poor, ill-used people call for "help." Christianity is "help" or it is nothing. This is a typical instance. If the Church could have its eyes opened today, it would see every unevangelised country and every land in sore strait or difficulty typified in this Macedonian man.
5. "And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured —" Luke here joins the company. Up to this time the narrative has been written in the third person; it will now be written in the first. The missionaries came "to Philippi." There is a city plan of evangelisation; the apostles followed that plan. They did not hide themselves in obscure places; we find great names in their record. What is the justification of these metropolitan names? This — and higher there is none — "Beginning at Jerusalem." So we shall find in these missionary records Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Philippi, Athens, Ephesus, name upon name of local eminence and dignity, yet all the names put together are not equal to London! Give us London, and we have the key of the world. Converted London would seem to mean converted England; and converted England would be almost equal to a converted world!
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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