Acts 18The foregoing chapter acquainted us with the small success which St. Paul found of his ministry at Athens: upon his preaching Jesus and the resurrection there, the philosophers and wise men mocked and derided him. If natural dispositions and abilities had fitted men for grace, we might have expected the greatest number of converts at Athens, where many were mockers, but very few believers.
Hereupon Paul leaves Athens, and goes to Corinth, a famous city in Achaia; where he meets with more encouragement and better success; for here he gathers a famous church, unto which he wrote two epistles, under the title of the First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
The apostle being now come to Corinth, where he was altogether a stranger, and wanting money for his subsistence, the providence of God directed him to the house of Aquila and Priscilla; who being of the same trade with himself, tent-makers, he works with his own hands to maintain himself, that he might not be burthensome to others.
Here observe, 1. The occasion of Aquila's and Priscilla's coming to Corinth, with whom St. Paul lodged. The Roman emperor Claudius had banished them from Italy and Rome, ver. 2. Claudius commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome.
Thence note, That a wicked world is soon weary of the saints of God, and longs to worm them oft of their cities and societies, never considering that their own preservation from ruin is for the saints' sake; as the alleys in a garden are watered for the sake of the flowers, which otherwise would lie dry.
Observe, 2. That the apostle had learned a trade, tent-making, before he was called to the ministry, and he wrought upon it occasionally after he was a minister. The most learned among the Jews did always learn some handicraft trade, it being a tradition amongst them, "That he that doth not learn his child a trade, teaches him to be a thief." So that although their children were designed for students, yet they did learn some trade.
Accordingly St. Paul having learned to make tents, (much used in those hot countries, by soldiers and others, to keep off the violence of the weather,) he works at Corinth, upon his trade for his own subsistence.
Men separated to the ministry of the gospel, may upon an exigency labour for their living; not but that the apostle had power and sufficient warrant to challenge maintenance for his preaching, as he often intimates in his epistle; but there was not yet any church at Corinth to maintain him; and when there was, they were mostly of the poorer and meaner sort of people, and he would give them a convincing demonstration that he sought not their's, but them.
He demands therefore no maintenance, lest it should hinder the success of his ministry; but being of the same trade with Aquila and Priscilla, he takes up his lodging with them at Corinth, and works at their trade.
Observe here, How vehemently desirous the holy apostle was to plant a Christian church at Corinth, and to bring the Jews of Corinth to embrace the gospel: He was pressed in spirit, and testified, that is, reasoned with them with great vehemency and earnestness of affection, as well as with great judgment, concerning the Messias.
Observe, 2. That the Jewish synagogue at Corinth was the preaching place that St. Paul made choice of, hoping to gather the beginnings of his Christian church out of the converted Jews: He reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath-day. Still the apostle kept to his commission, to preach the gospel first to the Jews, and afterwards, upon their rejection, to the Gentiles.
Observe, 3. The blasphemous opposition which the Jews made to the doctrine of the gospel: They opposed themselves, and blasphemed; that is, they opposed his doctrine, reviled his person, and blasphemed Christ, whom that apostle preached.
Observe, 4. How the holy apostle clears himself of the blood of those Jews, whom he had now preached the gospel unto: He said, your blood be upon your own hands; I am clean.
The faithful ministers of Christ shall never have the blood of a perishing people laid to their charge; they having warned them of their damnable state, and discovered the way of life and salvation to them, deliver their own souls; whilst the people which they preached to, die in their sins, and for their sins.
Observe here, 1. That the opposition which St. Paul met with while he lodged in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, moved him to change his quarters, and betake himself to a new lodging: he goes into the house of Justus, by birth a Gentile, but a Jewish proselyte, whose house joined nigh to the synagogue where St. Paul's preaching work lay, to such as would be willing to hear him.
Observe, 2. The good success which the apostle had in his preaching at Corinth: Crispus the chief ruler of the synagogue, and his household, were brought to believe, and were baptized; after whose example, many of the people in Corinth believed also. Rulers and great men are looking-glasses, in the places where they live, by which many dress themselves.
Observe, 3. That notwithstanding this good success which St. Paul had at Corinth, he seems, through human frailty, to be possessed with fear, and under an apprehension of danger from the Jews, and accordingly has thoughts of leaving the city; against which fears God antidotes him with a gracious promise of his presence with him: Be not afraid, for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee.
Hence learn, 1. That the best and holiest of God's saints and servants are sometimes under sad and slavish fears, and prone to be discouraged, when they meet with difficulties in the way of their duty.
2. That the promise and assurance of God's gracious presence with them, will raise them up above their fears, and be a sufficient encouragement to them, for their abiding in any place, and amongst any people, let the difficulty or danger be what it will: Be not afraid, for I am with thee, and none shall hurt thee.
Observe, 4. A farther encouragement given by God to the apostle, to continue his ministry still at Corinth: I have much people in this city. That is, here are many souls whom I design effectually to call and bring home by thy ministry: accordingly the apostle continued his ministry among them a year and six months.
Learn hence, That although the ingratitude and perverseness of a people do sadly discourage their ministers, and tempt them to remove from them, yet God encourages them to their duty; that for the malice of some, the salvation of others may not be neglected.
2. That no opposition must discourage the ministers of God in the way of their duty; God's servants must not suffer themselves to be outdone by the devil's slaves, but bear down all opposition made against them, with patience and joyfulness. And notwithstanding all the malicious opposition made by the Jews against the apostle, yet did he continue a year and six months to preach at Corinth.
Christ had a great harvest a-ripening in that city, to be reaped by the apostle's ministry; and being encouraged with the promise of his protecting presence, he committed himself to the divine care, and the Lord both preserved and succeeded him.
Observe here, 1. How St. Paul, taking heart from the foregoing promise made by God unto him, goes on courageously in the work of his ministry at Corinth; but the unbelieving Jews were so enraged against him, that they combined together as one man, and with one accord made insurrection against Paul.
Where note, What great unity and unanimity there is among wicked men, the devil's friends; he well knows that his kingdom could not long stand if it were divided. The unity of all society is their strength.
Observe, 2. They accuse the apostle before Gallip the deputy, for persuading men to worship God contrary to the law of Moses.
Who would not think but these men were truly pious, virtuous, and good, who were so zealous for the worship of God according to the law? and yet they were wicked men, and fiery persecutors. There is a noisy religion in the world? some men think, by crying the Church! the Church! and by pleading loud for the worship of God, as established by law, to atone for all their immoralities.
Praying is good, hearing and receiving the sacrament are good, if they be joined with holy walking; but if otherwise, the howling of wolves is as acceptable to Almighty God, as the prayers of those men who call Christ Master, and the church mother, but do not the things which they have commanded; yea, the very dogs which follow them to the public assemblies, shall as soon find acceptance as themselves, if they do not obey him whom they pretend to adore. It is no matter what church a wicked man is of, for it is certain he can be saved in none.
Observe, 3. What low and mean thoughts Gallio had, and all persons prejudiced against religion and the power of godliness have, of sincere Christianity: If it be a question of words and names, says Gallio. As if he had said, "Do not trouble me about the niceties of your religion, decide such questions among yourselves; for I will be no judge in such matters." The great men of the world little care to trouble their heads about the matters of religion; they look upon it only as a matter of notion and speculation; whereas it is not a speculative science, but a practical art of holy living: and accordingly, like Gallio, they care for none of these things.
Observe lastly, That although this Gallio had no kindness for Christianity, yet God made use of him as an instrument, at this time, to preserve and screen St. Paul from the rage of his enemies, insomuch, that he drove his accusers from the judgment-seat.
Thus God performed his promise to Paul, suffering no man to hurt him; but causing Gallio the governor to defend him, who his enemies were in hopes would have destroyed him.
Lord, how happy and wise is it for thy servants to commit the care of themselves to thee in well-doing! If we, with a purity of intention, concern ourselves for thy glory, thou wilt certainly take care of our safety; or if any danger should come, danger itself shall do us no harm.
A farther account is here given of the laborious travels of the great apostle St. Paul; namely, from Corinth to Ephesus, from Ephesus to Cesarea, from Cesarea to Antioch, &c.
Where observe, 1. That St. Paul having continued a year and a half at Corinth, and planted a church there, which yet soon after sadly degenerated; he determines now to sail to Ephesus; and accordingly at Cenchrea, a haven near to that city, he shaved his head, for he had a vow; that is, the vow of a Nazarite, which he (that is, Aquila, say some; St. Paul, say others) had before taken upon him for a time, whereby he was obliged to abstain from wine, and shaving his head, and touching of the dead.
But having now accompolished his vow, he shore his head, and returned to the common way of living; where the wisdom and moderation of this great apostle, in complying in indifferent things, is to be noted and imitated: To the Jews he became a Jew, that he might gain the Jews.
He willingly compiled with their weakness, to show that he was no contemner of their law; for which reason he caused Timothy to be circumcised, and purified himself in the temple at Jerusalem: and behold the success of this his compliance; for, by gratifying the Jews in this condescension to the prescription of the law, he brought over very many of them to the faith of Christ.
Let not any suspect this for a sinful compliance with the Jews, in observing a ceremony which the gospel had abolished, nor censure it for a low and mean stoop in so great a man to the humour of the people; for though the ceremonial rites died with Christ, yet they were a long time in burying, and the Jews were indulged in the observation of them till they came to a clearer sight of their Christian liberty; accordingly the apostle yielded to them for the present in indifferent tings, without dissimulation or blame.
Observe, 2. The apostle being now come to Ephesus, he taught in the synagogue of the Jews, and reasoned with them.
Where we may note, both how close the apostle kept to his commission, in first preaching the word of life to the Jews, and also the fervent love which he bare to his own countrymen, whom though he had suffered all manner of indignities from, yet doth he give them precept upon precept, line upon line; and, with an unwearied diligence, dispenses the word of life and salvation to them.
Observe, 3. Our apostle stays not long at Ephesus, but hastens to Jerusalem to keep the feast there, namely, the feast of the passover; not that he took himself obliged to observe the feasts, or any of the antiquated ceremonies: but because of the vast concourse which he knew would be at Jerusalem at the time of the feast, from all quarters, and which would give him an opportunity to make Christ known to a great multitude. The ministers of the gospel, without the imputation of vain-glory, or seeking popular applause, may warrantably desire, and occasionally lay hold upon, an opportunity of dispensing the word to a numerous auditory, in hope that casting the net among many, they may inclose some.
Observe, lastly, The incessant care, indefatigable diligence, and unwearied pains, of this great apostle, in travelling from place to place, and at such great distances, to preach the everlasting gospel to lost sinners. From Ephesus he sails to Cesarea, from Cesarea to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Galatia and Phrygia. See how the care of all the churches was upon him, and how he laboured more abundantly than they all.
Lord, what a pattern is here of ministerial diligence and faithfulness! What pains did St. Paul take! What hazards did he run, in planting and propagating the gospel of Christ! In labours more abundant, in sufferings above measure! Well might he say, I am able to do all things through Christ that strengthens me. And blessed be God, the same power that assisted him, stands ready to succour us; and if ever he calls us to extraordinary service, he will come in with more than extraordinary strength.
The first thing here observable, is, How the wisdom of God provided for the several churches, that in the absence of one powerful preacher they were supplied with another; when the providence of God called St. Paul from Ephesus and Corinth, it brought Apollos thither: so that what Paul planted, Apollos watered. The judicious Calvin, upon the place, piously admires the providence of God over his church, in not suffering it to be without a settled minister; but upon the removal of one, to raise up another.
Observe, 2. How admirably qualified Apollos was for the work of the gospel, and excellently fitted and furnished for the places he was called to, Ephesus and Corinth, famous for philosophers and orators; accordingly he is a man of ravishing eloquence, who, by his profound knowledge in the sacred scriptures, was both apt to teach the truth, and able to maintain it.
Hence learn, That scripture knowledge is the choicest qualification and highest commendation of a gospel minister. Apollos, an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures: without this, he can never truly and savingly make known and discover Jesus Christ: without this, he can never rightly divide the word of truth; without this, he can never convince gainsayers, either gainsayers in opinion, or gainsayers in practice; without this, he can never instruct the people fully in their duty, nor declare to them the whole council of God.
Observe, 3. The great humility of Apollos: although he was an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, yet he did not disdain farther instruction. Those that are most knowing, if humble, are most sensible of their ignorance: the knowledge of the best, while they are on this side heaven, is capable of improvements. Apollos knew much, yet Aquila and Priscilla catechize the great Apollos, and add something to the treasure of his knowledge.
Observe, 4. The place where Apollos preached: in the Jewish synagogue, ver. 26. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. It was a custom among the Jews to allow a liberty for learned men, though no priests, to teach in the synagogues. Thus Paul, though of the tribe of Benjamin,and not of the tribe of Levi, was permitted to preach in their synagogues, as we read throughout this book of the Acts.
In like manner we find Apollos here preaching in the synagogue: Non ut habens auctoritatem sed scientiam, says Estius; taking the advantage of that indulgence which the Jews gave him in their synagogues, to preach and spread the doctrine of Christ.
Observe, lastly, That this Apollos afterwards became an eminent authorized preacher in the church of Corinth, and is called St. Paul's helper and brother: and when he came to Corinth, was so eminent, that he proved the head of a sect and faction: One sayeth, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos. And here at Ephesus he mightily convinced the Jews, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
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