“And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.”
IT is a striking spectacle to see Paul, on his entrance to Corinth, with which his name was to be so remarkably associated, looking around, probably in the Jewish quarter, for manual employment, that he might be sure of his bread. Similarity of craft introduced him to Aquila and his wife Priscilla, who had been recently expelled from Rome by the imperial edict. At this time they were in unbelief, but were apparently converted by the words the apostle addressed to them as they sat together over their daily toil.
How eager Paul was, not only to preach the Gospel to the crowds that thronged the gay and sunny streets of Corinth, but to win individual souls for his Master’s kingdom. Some are eager enough in this holy quest, when they occupy the pulpit, and are conscious of many eyes being fixed upon them; but they are careless of the individual souls cast in their way. Not so was it with the Master, who went out of His way to find one Samaritan woman, and stopped beneath the tree to call down one publican.
Not so was it with Philip, who spoke to the eunuch as eagerly as to Samaria. Not so was it with the apostle, who was as intense in his endeavours for a jailer, a Lydia, a Timothy, as for the crowds that were going to destruction.
Is not this God’s secret test? If we are not careful about the ones and twos, He will not use us to the crowds. Indeed, it is the experience we obtain in dealing with individuals that equips us for multitudes. The way in which the kingdom of God comes ordinarily is, “One by one.” How much might be done if each Christian workman would seek to win his neighbor!
“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.”
THIS was Paul’s first question to these twelve disciples. He knew perfectly well that they could not have believed without the special grace of the Holy Spirit; but now he asked if at the moment of regeneration and conversion they received Him.
Obviously, his question implied his belief that there was a special enduement of the Spirit of God for a consecrated and useful life over and above His initial work on the soul.
It is a question which is in these words addressed to every Christian reader. You have believed in Christ through the ministry of the Spirit; but did you at that or any subsequent moment receive the infilling and unction of the Pentecostal Spirit? You may not be able to point to some marked manifestation; but are you conscious of those fruits which are the invariable accompaniments of that supreme gift? If not, learn to receive, and receive them now.
In how many instances might this inquiry be met by the reply which the apostle received: “Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Ghost was given.” John the Baptist clearly foretold that Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire; but in his days Pentecost was still more than three years away, and these, His disciples, had never heard that the last days foretold by God had already been inaugurated. Alas that it should be possible after these centuries for many Christian people to be in ignorance of the special glory and characteristic of this age, and be content to live without seeking for themselves all that Pentecost means! Ephesus was moved in every avenue of her corporate life, and the worship of Diana imperilled—and all because twelve men received the fullness of the Spirit.
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
THERE are many lessons in this verse.
(1) The Christian worker must not neglect his own soul. He must take heed to himself, as well as to the flock. Our temptation is to neglect our close walk with God in our eagerness to save others.
(2) The overseer, elder, or bishop, is not set over the flock, but is in it. Note the force of the Greek: the flock in the which they are made bishops. So to the end of life the most eminent of God’s servants must remember that he is but a saved sinner, needing the blood and righteousness of Christ as much as the weakest of his flock; and he also must lie down in green pastures, and be led beside still waters.
(3) The office of the minister is given by the Holy Ghost. It is He who lays on him the burden of souls, and equips him for his work. He, too, is willing to direct and use. How awful and solemn the responsibility! Woe be to us if we exercise our ministry only for the eye and ear of our fellow-men!
(4) Notice that the Church is distinctly asserted to be God’s.
“Feed the Church of God.” We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. His by choice, by purchase, by the drawing of the Holy Ghost. We must get a right understanding of this doctrine of the Church, that she had been taken out of the world to be God’s peculiar possession and delight.
(5) The purchase money of the Church is here said to be God’s own blood. It is a remarkable expression. It stands alone in the Word of God, but brings out very distinctly the thought that the entire Godhead achieved man’s redemption in the offering of the Cross. We are dear to God, and must give Him the benefit of His great expenditure!
“And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.”
IT is thus that Christians say farewell. On their knees, within sound of the breaking wavelets, men, women, and children, gathered in a weeping circle around the servant of God, who had been to so many of them the apostle of a new life. There is no attitude more befitting than this, at times when the heart-strings are strained to cracking, and it seems as though the sacrifice were too great for trembling hands to place on the altar of God.
But it is thus that Christians never say farewell. The relationship which is founded in the love of God cannot be broken. Of such friendship there is no past or future, but always a blessed present tense. What has been, is, and will be. And as severed hearts meet in prayer, though the bodies may be divided by hundreds of miles of sea and land, there is no separation. They are one in the Father’s presence, eternally, indissolubly, and blessedly one.
When we are called to part from those whom we love better than ourselves, let us kneel down and pray; let us abide alike in the attitude and exercise of unceasing intercession; let us realize that space and time are mere accidents of being, and not essential; let us be sure that they who are near the King must be near to all who, in heaven or on earth, are nearest Him also. For such there is “no more sea.”
It is easier, for the most part, to go on board ship, than to turn home again. There are the interest and excitement of new scenes and people to divert the traveller. But how grey is the common landscape from which the light of the dear presence is withdrawn!
God alone can comfort the bereaved.
“And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.”
THE will of God is general and particular. We may know it generally from the book of creation, the Ten Commandments, the beatitudes, and the conscience. But, in addition to this, God has a particular will for each of His children. The moon shines on the sea, but there is a special path of moonbeams to the spot where you stand, where you should be born, live, and die; what you should accomplish by your life; with what souls you should be brought into contact.
God comes still, as He did to Paul, with a great summons, calling His own from the midst of their fellows, and entrusting to them the sacred prerogative of knowing, seeing, and hearing. Happy are they who are prepared to arise at once, leave all, and follow. To them it will be given, as to Paul, to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, so as to unfold them to others.
You have been appointed to know His will—be sure of this; and if as yet it is not clearly made known, adopt these precautions: (1) Carefully remove all your preconceptions and prejudices, so that your mind and heart can be a tablet for God to write on.
(2) Set aside much time for waiting on God, in the study of His Holy Word.
(3) Let the glory of Jesus be the supreme consideration with you.
(4) Do not run to and fro, asking your friends and companions what they would recommend.
(5) Wait for the Lord’s timing, do not dare to act unless you are sure that you are in the line of His purpose.
(6) Mark the trend of His providence, for it will certainly corroborate His inner voice.
(7) When you have once made up your mind in faith and prayer, dare to act, and never look back. He will not let you be ashamed.
“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”
CONSCIENCE is what one knows with oneself. That at least is an exact translation of this Latin word. It is a man coming to himself, facing himself, looking deep into his own eyes as he stands before the mirror of God’s truth. There are varieties of conscience—the weak conscience, which is ever questioning; the defiled conscience, which has a consciousness of neglected duty or unforgiven sin; the morbid conscience, which is perpetually discussing infinitesimal niceties, and splitting hairs. In contrast with these is the good conscience, of which the apostle speaks.
We have to live with our conscience, and if it is disquieted and restless, we find that it will make life almost unbearable. Like the restless sea, it frets and foams through the dark hours; and is always casting up the bitter memories and sad regrets of bygone days. As it was with King Ahab, so it is with all who have sinned against conscience, they get the vineyard of Naboth; but with it they get Elijah, standing like an incarnate conscience at the door, and taking pleasure and enjoyment from their possession.
Paul could not have made this statement unless he had been very accurate and careful in his daily walk and conversation; but he tells us that he perpetually exercised himself to have a conscience void of offence toward God and man. Let us subject ourselves to a similar discipline, and often expose ourselves to the searching scrutiny of the Holy Spirit, so that we may say with the apostle,
“My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost” (Acts 24:16; Rom 9:1).
It is a marvellous experience to stand before God; but how much more so to live before Him!
“But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:”
FOR want of a better term by which to set forth Christianity— whether by friend or foe is immaterial—the new principle which it represented was called the Way.
Saul “desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” (9:2). At Ephesus some were “hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that Way before the multitude,” (19:9). “And the same time there arose no small stir about that Way” (19:23). “Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that Way” (24:22). “And I persecuted this Way unto the death” (22:4).
It is a beautiful and significant phrase. Christ is Himself the Way. He has opened the way to God. Through the heavens He passed in His ascension, leaving behind Him at every step a way by which we may travel till every one of us appears in Zion before God. In Christ we have found the way to the Father, and have learned a rule of life. The word Methodist is closely akin to this.
The followers of Wesley have been obeying on a new method which their illustrious founder opened.
“Men of the Way”; such is the designation by which Christians should be known. They are pilgrims and strangers, wayfarers, having no abiding city, but always passing on. We may say of them as the psalmist did of the pilgrim hosts that went up yearly to worship at the feast, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the Ways of them.” (Psalm 84:5). And is not this the Way that Isaiah spoke of when he said, “an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness” (Isaiah 35:8-10)?