Chapter 20

Acts 20
It would appear from the Epistle to the Corinthians, that the tumultuous meeting in the theater was but one incident of a dangerous crisis at Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:3232If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die. (1 Corinthians 15:32)). Certainly the apostle did not quit the city till there was a lull.
“And after the uproar had ceased, Paul having called for, sent1] for the disciples, and exhorted and saluted [them], departed to go into Macedonia. And, having gone through those parts and exhorted them with much discourse, he came into Greece. And having spent three months, and a plot being laid against him by the Jews, as he was about to sail for Syria, he determined to return through Macedonia.2 And there accompanied him (as far as Asia3); Sopater, a Berean, [son] of Pyrrhus;4 and of Thessalonians Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and of Asia Tychicus and Trophimus. These going before waited for us at Troas; and we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened [bread], and came unto them to Troas in five days, where we tarried seven days” (vers. 1-6).
In this passage, as in many others of scripture, we have a living testimony to the joints and bands which operated so efficaciously in apostolic times to preserve the saints in unity, fellowship, and love. There was no lack of missionary zeal; but, besides, the Spirit of God wrought much in the exhortation and encouragement of the saints. Thus was the body of Christ built up. It is in this care that we see the most manifest contrast of modern times with the primitive. If the converts are guarded from turning aside, it is in general the most that is now attempted. Zeal habitually goes out towards the conversion of sinners, and those devoted to that work are regarded as eminently faithful and enlightened if they do not yield to superstition on the one hand or to philosophy on the other. Growth in the truth is rare and practically unknown even among the teachers, not to speak of the converts. The consequences are deplorable: teachers and taught in these circumstances are ever liable to the many misleading influences around.
In these early days we see on the contrary the utmost care and zeal in visiting afresh those who had been already brought to God, and gathered to the name of Jesus. Nor was it only by oral instruction. That new and characteristic form of Christian instruction which expressed itself in the apostolic Epistles was now fully in operation. No composition admits of greater candor and intimacy; none gives such scope to the affections of the heart. It was from Ephesus that the apostle wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians, as grand a development of Christian and church truth as was the Epistle to the Romans, written not long after as we shall see, on the great foundations of grace in justifying the ungodly, and on the reconciling of the indiscriminate gospel with the peculiar promises to Israel, as well as on the practical walk of the believer in view of all this.
There is no fresh inspiration going on now; but these two modes of seeking the edification of souls ought surely both to proceed. Preaching and teaching have a most unquestionable importance in reaching souls more simply and directly than any other; but there is an exactness as well as a fullness of treatment, which are best conveyed in a written (and, we may add, a printed) form. There is another object also of great value attained in the latter way—that souls can be reached thereby all over the world, most of whom neither could nor would listen to oral instruction of distinctive weight.
In those early days then we see not only the principle of both oral and written teaching, but the highest form of either ever reached on the earth, The apostles and prophets were the foundation on which the church was built. By the gracious power of the Holy Ghost they had immunity from error. It was not men doing their best, but God conveying His mind perfectly through chosen instruments.
Their writings alone constitute the Christian standard. Others at the present day may be raised up to recover what is forgotten, and to propagate this and all truth; the Spirit may work energetically by them, and give reliable accuracy to their thoughts and words in unfolding revealed truth; but they are in no wise a standard. Their writings are not God-inspired; and, as they are not entitled to issue their convictions under the authority of “Thus saith the Lord” (Mal. 1:1313Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord. (Malachi 1:13)), for every or any word of theirs, so the saints are responsible to judge all they say or write, and still more what they do, by unerring scripture.
Here then, after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for and exhorted the disciples, and, after bidding them farewell, departed to go into Macedonia, the scene of his former labors. There too we find him passing through those quarters; and, after exhorting the saints with much discourse, he came into Greece. It was during the three months spent there that he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. He had long desired to visit Rome in person, but was hindered hitherto. Urgent duties detained him elsewhere; and God had it in His purpose that His servant should enter Rome only as a prisoner. It was not so that even the apostle would have ordered matters, still less the saints themselves. It is good, however, to learn and accept God’s profound wisdom in all these dealings of His.
In weakness, and fear, and much trembling, Paul at first testified at Corinth (1 Cor. 2:33And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:3)). After much danger and persecution he had left Ephesus. An ill-understood man, his deep spirituality and zeal ran athwart much prejudice at Jerusalem. He could at length only go to Rome with a chain. Such were the ways of God in the unequaled path and service of the blessed apostle.
Nevertheless thorough sobriety pervades the action of Paul. When there was a plot on the part of the Jews against him, as about to sail into Syria, he avoids it by adopting the resolution of returning, not from Achaia direct, but through Macedonia. The Jews had enormous influence in that great commercial entrepôt, Corinth; and injury or death could easily have been, humanly speaking, inflicted upon him as a passenger in one of the numerous ships of that day. He therefore changed his plan and returned through the northern province. And there accompanied him Sopater, Pyrrhus son, a Berean, and of Thessalonians Aristarchus and Secundus, and Gaius of Derbe and Timothy, and of Asia Tychicus and Trophimus.
It was not therefore that merely the apostle labored in all directions. Here we find not less than seven companions in service, who were in no way restrained to one fixed local sphere. The presbyters or elders labored and took the lead locally. There were many others besides the apostles who moved about with perfect liberty, seeking the blessing of the faithful and the spread of the gospel. Of these laborers we may discern at least two classes. Some few attached themselves as much as possible to the companionship of Paul. Of these we have a sample before us. But there were others like Apollos who labored in a more independent way and enjoyed less of his society, though they had his entire love and confidence.
In verse 5 we learn of another deeply attached personal companion, Luke, the inspired writer of this very Book. “And these having gone before awaited us at Treas.” Thus quietly does this honored man intimate that he too was with the apostle at this time and at Philippi. It will be remembered that it was in these regions that Luke had first become the companion of Paul (chap. 16:10-12).
“And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened [bread], and came unto them to Troas in five days, where we tarried seven days” (ver. 6). Why the party did not move together, why the others went before, and Paul and Luke waited till after the feast, we can only conjecture. But we see the special association of Luke with the apostle and utterly reject the vain key to it which Wieseler suggests, that Luke traveled with him as his physician. If men cannot trace below the surface of the word with spiritual insight, how sad that they should exercise their wits in such degrading ingenuity! And will even saints [earn how deeply the church is fallen when such thoughts are repeated instead of provoking indignation?
The delay of seven days furnished the ever-desired privilege of partaking the Lord’s Supper together. That the stay of the brethren for that time had a special and spiritual aim appears from what follows.
“And on the first [day] of the week, when we5 were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed to them, about to depart on the morrow, and prolonged the word till midnight. And there were many lights in the upper room where we were gathered together. And a certain youth, by name Eutychus, as he was sitting6 in the window, being overpowered with deep sleep, as Paul was discoursing yet longer, fell overpowered by the sleep down from the third story, and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and fell upon him, and clasping him round said, Be not troubled, for his life [soul] is in him. And when he went up and broke the7 bread and had eaten, and conversed with them a long while till daybreak, so he departed. And they brought the boy alive and were not a little comforted” (vers. 7-12).
There is no real difficulty or doubt as to the day intended. It was not the Sabbath or seventh, but the first, day of the week marked out to every Christian by the resurrection of our Lord. So we find the disciples meeting on that day, the first of the week—the very day that Jesus came and took His stand in their midst risen from the dead. So it was eight days after, when Thomas was with them and was delivered from his unbelief (John 20:19-2919Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. 24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20:19‑29)). It was the day of new (not old) creation, of grace and not law. There was no transfer from the seventh day to the first, nor is the first ever called Sabbath-day; but as the apostles and others who had been Jews availed themselves of the Sabbath and of liberty to speak in the synagogue, so the first day was unequivocally the special and honored day for the Christian assembly. When they were all together from Pentecost and onwards in Jerusalem we can understand their being day by day in close attendance with one consent in the temple and breaking bread at home. Here we find among the Gentiles, when time had passed over, that the first day called the Christians together as such. This is made the more marked in the passage before us because it is said that Paul discoursed “to them”. Twice over it is said that “we” gathered together (vers. 5, 6). The constant duty for all the family of God as distinct from the Jews was to assemble on that day to break bread; the special object of Paul’s discourse then was found in the saints who lived at Troas: “Paul discoursed to them” (vs. 7).
This is entirely confirmed by 1 Cor. 16:22Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:2): “Every first day of a week let each of you set by himself a store according as he may thrive that there may be no collections then when I shall come.” The “first day” of the week was clearly a settled institution for the Christian body.
Not the first day but the Sabbath was the memorial of creation rest, which the law imposed in due time as a most holy commandment peculiarly bound up with God’s authority and honor. The resurrection of Christ has brought in a new creation, after having by Himself purged our sins on the cross. Hence the first day is the day of manifest and triumphant life in Christ, our life, when our hearts go forth in worship, communion, and service. A bodily rest which one shared with the ox and the ass certainly does not rise up to the blessed associations of Christ risen from the dead. Nor does the canon of the New Testament close without stamping this day as “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:1010I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, (Revelation 1:10)). Efforts have not been wanting on the one hand to make this a prophetic day with which it really has not one idea in common. For “the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:55To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:5)) will be one of ever-increasing and solemn judgments from God on the earth; whereas “the Lord’s day” is one of heavenly grace, bringing us already into the victory of His resurrection from the dead, the pledge of our own resurrection or change at His coming. On the other hand it is to lower the character and authority of the first day of the week beyond calculation, to treat it merely as the day appointed by the church.
Thus neither creation nor law nor human arrangement had to do with it. The first of the week is a day marked out by the Lord’s repealed appearing, by the inspired sanction of the Holy Ghost, and by the final sanction of it as devoted to the Lord in the one great prophetic Book of the New Testament; just as the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:2020When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. (1 Corinthians 11:20)) alone shares, as distinct from all other suppers, the same striking and distinctive designation.
Again, some have sought to lower the breaking of bread at Troas, here spoken of, to the love-feast; but there is no ground whatever for such a notion. From the first, the breaking of bread was appropriated to the Lord’s Supper: so we see it from the beginning of Christianity (Acts 2:4646And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, (Acts 2:46)). It is there clearly distinguished from partaking of food with rejoicing and singleness of heart. Earlier in the chapter, verse 42, the breaking of bread or the loaf refers solely to the Lord’s Supper. This is shown by its surroundings—the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. These constituted the united holy walk of the saints; and no doubt they had the most powerful influence on the ordinary habits and necessary wants of believers every day; but it is plain that the verse distinctly speaks of that which was most sacred.
Nor is it denied that “breaking of bread” (ch. 2:42) might be said of an ordinary meal, when the context so demands. So we find on a most impressive occasion where the Lord Himself taking the loaf blessed and, having broken, gave it to His disciples (Luke 24:30-3530And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. 31And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? 33And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, 34Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. 35And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread. (Luke 24:30‑35)). It remains true however, that where the context speaks of the communion in the breaking of bread, the Lord’s Supper alone is meant. So it is here; and, in this most interesting way, the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day were thus bound up together. It was no doubt a time when the assembly enjoyed the exercise of gifts, as here Paul discoursed to them, not “preached” as the Authorized Version says, which might convey the thought of the gospel proclaimed to unconverted souls. “Discourse” is clearly a word of more general bearing, and quite as applicable to those within as to any without.
But the circumstances of this moment were peculiar. Paul was about to set out on the morrow, and extended his discourse till midnight. This gave occasion to the painful incident which befell Eutychus. It was not done in a corner; for “there were many lights in the upper room where we were” (vs. 8). The youth so named was sitting on the window-seat; and being borne down with deep sleep, as Paul was discoursing at great length, he fell, overborne by the sleep, from the third story to the bottom, and was taken up dead. It must be acknowledged that the inspired physician who wrote the account was a most competent witness. It is not merely that he appeared dead, or that he was taken up for dead, as some have said. He was really dead, but Paul went down, fell upon him, as the prophet of old notoriously did, and clasping him said, “Trouble not yourselves, for his life (soul) is in him” (vs. 10). Assuredly the apostle in these words had no desire to make light of the power of God which had wrought in this miracle.
Some have supposed that when Paul had gone up and broken the loaf and eaten, it was the interrupted celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This appears to me opposed to the intimations of the context. Scripture describes it, not as fellowship, but solely as the personal act of the apostle. No doubt it was “the loaf” of the Lord’s Supper; but it was that loaf now partaken of by the apostle for his own refreshment, after so long speaking and circumstances so trying, about to go forth on his journey. This seems borne out by the word, γειςἀμενος literally, “tasted”. We can readily understand therefore why the Lord avoids such a word in calling on His disciples to “take, eat”, in the institution of His supper. The word φαγεῖω could be, and is, used in the most general way, but it is here γεύομαι. Again, the apostle’s “conversing” with them a long while, till daybreak, much better suits a meal than the assembly. So, we are told, he departed; as they brought the boy alive and were not a little comforted. The joy much exceeded the sorrow.
Such was the close of the visit to Troas. At this time the apostle appears to have been deeply impressed that his ministry, in the east at any rate, was soon to close. So he had intimated to the saints in Rome a little before, for he lets them know that as he had been hindered these many times from coming to them, so now that he had no more any place in “these regions” he hoped to see them (Rom. 15:22, 2322For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you. 23But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; (Romans 15:22‑23)).
Paul was bent on his ministration of the contribution from Macedonia and Achaia for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. This done, his purpose was to go on by Rome into Spain, assured of coming to the saints in the capital with the fullness of the blessing of Christ. This deep feeling appears to have affected his ministry wherever he went. It was no doubt in the earnestness to which it gave rise that he had discoursed so long the last night of his stay in Troas.
But now the journey must be entered on. “But we, having gone before on board the ship, set sail for Assos, there intending to take up Paul, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go on foot” (ver. 13). Here was another effect of the same solemn feeling. There is a time for social intercourse, there is a time also for isolation; and the apostle who enjoyed fellowship of heart with his brethren as no saint ever perhaps equaled, realized that it was now a season to be alone. One can hardly doubt that this was by no means an unfrequent thing for one so actively engaged in public work as Paul. His habitual piety would dispose him now and then to seek such an opportunity of unburdening his spirit, and of renewing, in a marked and full way, his sense of dependence on the grace of Christ. These secret dealings with the Lord were so much the more needful, because the exigencies of the work called for energy and prominence before men.
At this juncture, beyond any question, we see that Paul had appointed to be apart from his beloved companions, who went on board ship, even though it involved his own more laborious progress by land. It is left for us to judge its motive and meaning,8 and we cannot but think that what is here suggested is a better key than the mere notion of a visit to one and another by the way. The general context rather adds to the conclusion that Paul was avoiding all but indispensable visits just then, and that, having but a short time for his journey, he gave what time he could spare to the most important objects before his heart. Unnamed visits would scarcely have furthered this aim.
“And when he met with us at Assos, we took him up, and came unto Mitylene; and having sailed thence on the morrow we arrived over against Chios, and on the next day we touched at Samos, and [having remained at Trogyllium] the day after we came unto Miletus. For Paul had determined to sail past9 Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost” (vers. 14-16).
There is no spiritual reason to dwell upon the associations which Assos or Mitylene, Chios or Samos, Trogyllium or Miletus might suggest. They are here brought before us simply as the varying points of the apostolic journey, from which it would divert us if we occupied our minds with historical questions interesting enough as to each of them.
Suffice it to say that, although Paul had his heart filled with that which was of the deepest importance for the saints in Ephesus, Miletus was the point of approach, rather than the capital of Asia. Here too the motive seems plain. Had he gone to Ephesus itself, with a strong affection and the many ties he had with the numerous saints there, he could not have left them without a considerable delay. He therefore preferred to sail past Ephesus, that he might not frustrate the object of his journey to Palestine. If one so known and loved and loving as he was had visited Ephesus, he could not have avoided a stay of some length among them. He therefore made Miletus his place of passing sojourn, in order that nothing should hinder the fulfillment of his desire to be at Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost.
On the other hand, it was of the utmost moment that the saints at Ephesus should receive words of wise and gracious counsel at this moment. The apostle therefore adopts a method by no means usual. “And from Miletus he sent unto Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church” (ver. 17). These presbyters were the fitting medium. They had the regular and responsible ecclesiastical charge in that city. We can hardly doubt, from the general impression of the rest of the chapter, that they were not a few in number. As this does not fall in with the usual habits and thoughts (not to say, selfishness) of men, the notion slipped in even from ancient times that the elders of all the churches round about are meant. But such a tampering with the word of God is not to be allowed for a moment. The apostle sent to Ephesus and called to himself the elders of the church there, not of the churches around. There may have been many meeting-places in Ephesus; but, as is well known, scripture never speaks of the assemblies, always of the assembly or church, in a city. Hence, however numerous, they are here styled the elders of the church; and they no doubt cared for the affairs of all. Whilst local responsibility was also preserved in its place; unity was not therefore forgotten. Common action would be the natural and proper result. So it was in Jerusalem, as we know from the revealed notices of that assembly, which consisted of many thousands of saints; and so we see it here in Ephesus, though no details of numbers are given. The grand principles of the church prevailed and were the same everywhere, though at first there were Jewish elements at work in Jerusalem if some of them indeed did not linger still. But such unity was of and for heaven, not of Judaism, being pre-eminently of the Holy Spirit. “There is one body and one Spirit” (Eph. 4:44There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; (Ephesians 4:4)).
Another matter may claim brief notice here, though it may seem somewhat of an anticipation. The elders of the church are designated “overseers” or “bishops” by the apostle (ver. 28): “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Ghost made [set] you bishops, to feed [tend] the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.” This identification falls in with every scriptural notice we possess. Such is the genuine inference from 1 Tim. 3:1-71This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1‑7) as well as from 1 Tim. 5:17-1917Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. 18For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his reward. 19Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:17‑19), and still more plainly from Titus 1:5, 65For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. (Titus 1:5‑6). compared with verses 7, 9, as well as from Acts 11;14;15;16, and 21., and from 1 Peter 5 and James 5, no less than Phil. 1:11Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (Philippians 1:1). The great distinction which soon reigned in Christendom between bishops and presbyters is wholly unknown to the word of God.
Not one, but more were appointed in each assembly or city, where charges were conferred at all. There was regularly a plurality of elders and bishops. They might be men of gift, teachers, or evangelists; but the indispensable work was to “rule” or “preside”. This was the object of their appointment; for appointed they certainly were by apostolic authority, direct, or indirect when an apostle could not be there (as for instance by Titus commissioned for the purpose by the apostle Paul (Titus 1:55For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: (Titus 1:5)). The gifts, on the other hand, were given by Christ without any such intervention. A pastor, teacher, or evangelist, as such, was never nominated by an apostle or an apostolic delegate.
The distinction from elders or deacons, it is well to bear in mind. “The seven” at Jerusalem, who rendered diaconal service, were chosen by the multitude of the believers, before they were appointed by the apostles (Acts 6:1-61And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 2Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 5And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: 6Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:1‑6)). That this election by the church does not apply to elders is plain from every scripture that treats of their appointment, which lay exclusively with the apostles or their expressly authorized deputies. Still less was there by men an election of those so-called gifts: in their ease Christ chose. As Christ gave them, they preached or taught on their direct responsibility to Him. Where Christians gave of their means, they were allowed to choose dispensers in whom they had confidence. Such is the uniform teaching of the New Testament, and the only legitimate inference from it. The painful departure of Christendom, nationalists and dissenters, Catholics and Protestants, is so glaring that one only wonders how godly men can overlook the facts in the word which make the will of God manifest, or, how, if they apprehend them, there can be indifference to the truth and to the inalienable duties involved by it.
It is the more important to notice the fact that the elders were of “the church in Ephesus”, because the old error of lrenæus re-appears, among other moderns, in Dr. Hackett’s Commentary on this Book. “Luke speaks only of the Ephesian elders as summoned to meet the apostle at Miletus; but as the report of his arrival must have spread rapidly, it could not have failed to draw together others also, not only from Ephesus, but from the neighboring towns where churches had been established” (pp. 334, 335). The truth is that ancient and modern arrangements are alike inconsistent with Scripture. Irenæus was embarrassed by the prejudice of episcopacy, as were the authorized translators; but the plurality of elders or bishops from the church in Ephesus is not a whit more compatible with the “minister” of the dissenting bodies. It is certain that neighboring towns or churches are in this instance wholly ignored, and that the presbyters of Ephesus only were summoned, and are alone addressed. Verse 25 is quite consistent with this. But it will be noticed that the apostle summoned the elders with authority, and that they responded to his call without question. To lower the apostle to the place of an ordinary minister is wholly unscriptural.
“And when they were come to him, he said to them, Ye know from the first day that I came to Asia how I was with you all the time serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and10 tears, and temptations, which befell me by the plots of the Jews; how I kept back nothing of what is profitable, so as not to announce to you and to teach you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (vers. 18-21).
Here the apostle does not refrain from reminding them of his own service in their midst. This was a habit of his, as we see very particularly in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and elsewhere; burning zeal and a good conscience before God alone account for it. Nothing could be farther from his character than liking to speak of himself. He calls it his folly in reminding the Corinthians of his labors and his sufferings; never would he have said one word of either, had it not been of the utmost moment for the saints. They knew very scantily what the glory of Christ demands, what the walk and service and devotedness of the Christian should be. They had been conversant only with the gross darkness of heathenism, or with the hollow and pretentious hardness of the Jews. They needed not precept only, but, what is so much more powerful along with it, a living example to form and fashion the ways of Christ.
Unswerving fidelity characterized the apostle’s course habitually, as he says, “Serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and tears, and temptations which befell me by the plots of the Jews.” Such an one could well appeal to others who knew him, as he does now with peculiar solemnity to the Ephesian elders. It is not learning or success in ministry which he puts before them, but serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind. How often that service pulls up the novice! What dangers surround even the most experienced! Lowliness of mind is of all moment in it, and the Lord helps by the very difficulties and griefs which accompany it. Paul was not ashamed to speak of his tears any more than of the temptations which befell him through the plots of the Jews, the constant adversaries of the gospel, animated with special bitterness against Paul.
Further, he could say that they knew how he kept back nothing of what is profitable. This needs faith without which fidelity will fail; for the apostle was altogether above the fear of man, and withheld in nothing what was for their good, but announced to them and taught them publicly, and at their houses, testifying both to Jews and Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
Naturally the subject-matter points to his work from the beginning of his arrival at Ephesus, but also to that which every soul needs as the first testimony of the gospel. Hence we hear of testifying to Jews and Greeks. It is what every man wants that he may come to God. Repentance and faith are inseparable where there is reality, and the language is as precise as we arc entitled to expect from one who not only had the mind of God but expressed it like the apostle. As there is no genuine repentance without faith, so there is no faith of God’s elect without repentance. Repentance toward God is the soul judging itself, and confessing its ways as in His sight. Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ is the soul receiving the good news God sends concerning His Son. “Repent”, said Peter on the day of Pentecost to the Jews already pricked in heart, who accepted the word and set to their seal that God is true. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house,” said Paul and Silas to the Philippian jailor and to all that were in his house. How unfounded it would be to imagine that in the one case there was repentance without faith, or, in the other, faith on the Lord Jesus Christ without repentance toward God! In a divine work both arc given and found.
The Holy Spirit, Who works all that is good in the soul, takes care that repentance and faith shall co-exist. There may he difference in the outward development. Some souls may manifest more deeply the sorrow of repentance; others may be abounding in the peace and joy of faith; but wherever it is a true operation of God, there cannot but be both. We must allow for the different manifestations in different persons. No two conversions present exactly the same outward effect, some being more simple, others going through the dealings of God more thoroughly. It is well when the repentance toward God is as deep as the faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ is unhesitating. All then goes happily forward with the soul. But this is far from a common case. In most so far as we can see, faith may be somewhat feeble, and consequently the soul is not a little tried with the sense of its sinfulness before God. In such circumstances self-occupation is apt to cloud the heart.
The spiritual eye is to be set on Christ as the object of faith, but with scrutiny of self subjectively before God, and hence comes a real judgment of sins and sin. There may not be peace, and there is not when this self-judgment with sorrow of heart begins; but faith in a God revealed to the conscience is surely there, though not yet rest by faith in the accepted and appropriated work of redemption. When Christ’s work and God’s grace are better and more fully known, the self-judgment of repentance is so much the more profound. In this case the judgment-seat or Christ, however solemn, is no longer an object of dread. All is out already in conscience, and the flesh is judged as a hateful thing, and so evil really that nothing but the cross of Christ could be an adequate dealing with it; but there it is now known that our old man was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be done away (not merely our sins he forgiven), so that we should no longer serve sin; for he that died has been justified from sin. As surely as death has no more dominion (sin never had over Christ, Who, having died to sin once for all, lives unto God; even so we also may, and should, reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:6:11). We died with Him.
Repentance toward God then is not the gospel of His grace, nor is it remission of sins, but is that inward work in the conscience by the Holy Spirit’s use of the word, without which the privileges of the gospel are vain and only hurry on the soul the more rashly to destruction. The low views which make repentance a human work as a preface to faith arc no less objectionable than the so-called high views which merge all in faith, making repentance no more than a change of mind. Neither legalism nor antinomianism are of God, but the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. Truth does not spare the flesh or its works; faith and repentance bow in self-loathing to Christ; and grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Repentance then is not mere regret or remorse (which is expressly μεταμἐλεια); μετάνοια is that afterthought, or judgment on reflection, formed by God’s working through His word to which conscience bows, self and its past ways being judged before God. It is never apart from a divine testimony, and hence it is from faith; God’s goodness, not His judgment only, leads to it; and godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation not to be regretted, as the sorrow of the world works death (2 Cor. 7:1010For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)). “I have sinned against heaven and in Thy sight” (Luke 15:2121And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. (Luke 15:21)); “God be merciful to trio the sinner”: such is its confession and cry in a broken and contrite spirit. The gospel, the good news of grace, is God’s answer.
Next, the apostle turns from his ministry at Ephesus to the prospect before him. He was well aware that the severest trials awaited him (compare Rom. 15:30, 3130Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; 31That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; (Romans 15:30‑31)); and it would appear, he had no slight presentiment that Jerusalem would prove the source of much that was imminently hanging over him. “And now, behold, I go bound in the [or, my] spirit11 unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Spirit testifieth to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me” (vers. 22, 23).
Though he was not aware of the precise shape, he thus lets it be known that he went with eyes open to that coming pressure of troubles, which was only interrupted for a little while before all terminated in a martyr’s death. He knew further that, whatever might be the close, bonds and afflictions intervened; and what could be more serious for the testimony of the Lord and saints generally to the heart of one who loved the church? Nevertheless God was in it all; for during these very bonds Paul wrote the Epistles which furnish, as we happily know, the fullest and brightest light of Christ and on heavenly things that was ever vouchsafed for the permanent instruction and comfort of the saints of God. We shall see that loving remonstrances did not fail on every side, which must have added so much the more to his grief in resisting all such appeals.
Indeed the apostle here gives the pith of his answer to every entreaty and dissuasive: “But I hold not my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God”12 (ver. 24). Nothing could frustrate such a resolve. It was to him no question of success, as men speak, nor of present effects, however promising. His eye was on the glory of Christ, his car only for the will of God. Suffering or death as a sequence he would not allow to deter him for an instant. His Master had shown him, in the highest degree and for the deepest ends, how in a world of sin and misery suffering glorifies God.
Undoubtedly there was that in the cross of Christ which belongs to none but Himself. The expiation of sin falls exclusively to Him, the infinite Sacrifice; but sacrifice, though the deepest, is far from being the only element in Christ’s death. There were other sufferings which the saints arc permitted to share with Him—to be despised, to be rejected, to suffer for love and truth, as well as for righteousness. These sufferings arc not confined to Christ, as it was to suffer for sin; and Paul perhaps more than any other was one who could rejoice in his sufferings for the saints, as well as fill up that which was behind of the tribulations of Christ in his flesh, for His body which is the church. The sufferings of the gospel also were for him to glory in; and no mere man before or since ever won so good a title or those honorable scars (Col. 1:2424Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: (Colossians 1:24); Gal. 6:1717From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Galatians 6:17)).
Most truthfully, therefore, could the apostle say that he made no account of his life as dear to himself: nor is it merely before the Ephesian elders that he felt transport, or on any transient occasions of like kind. Ηe had it before his heart to finish his course with joy, and the service which he had received of the Lord Jesus to testify the glad tidings (or gospel) of the grace of God. The large-heartedness of the apostle is as refreshing as instructive. Who had such a crowd of daily pressure on him? Who like him bore the burden of all the assemblies? If he had to do with weak consciences, who could be weak like Paul? Who went out in heart toward one who stumbled as he did? Nevertheless the gospel was as near to his spirit as to the most earnest evangelist. There was no one-sidedness in this blessed servant of the Lord. He was here simply to carry out all the objects of His love, to promote His glory wherever His name penetrated; and Christ is not more the Head of the church than the sum and substance of the gospel.
It will be noticed that the gospel is here designated “the glad tidings of the grace of God” (vs. 24). This appears to be the most comprehensive title given to it in Scripture. Elsewhere the apostle speaks of it as “the gospel of the glory of Christ”, where its heavenly side is meant to be made prominent. Again, he speaks of it as “the gospel of God” (vs. 24), when its source in divine love is pointed out. Furthermore, we hear of “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:1616For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)), where He is in view through Whom alone the glad tidings become possible from God to man. In the Gospels we read of “the gospel of the kingdom” (Mark 1:1414Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, (Mark 1:14)), looking on to Messiah in power and glory: in the Revelation, of the “everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:66And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, (Revelation 14:6)), the revelation of the bruised Seed bruising the serpent’s head. Each has its main or distinctive meaning; but as none can be, apart from Christ, so none of them appears to be so full as “the gospel of the grace of God” (vs. 24). Nor is any other designation of it more than this last in keeping with the Acts of the Apostles, as well as with that apostle’s heart who was now addressing the Ephesian elders. The person and the work of the Lord Jesus are fully supposed although not expressed by it; for in whom, or through whom, can God’s grace shine out, save in Him or by Him?
“And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom13 [of God], shall see my face no more” (ver. 25). It is his farewell. His work, as to presence in their midst, was ended.
Here we have another and distinct topic, and one that is apt to be overlooked in modern preaching, viz., “The kingdom”. He who examines the Acts of the Apostles will find how large a place it occupies in the preaching, not of Peter only but of Paul, and, we may be assured, of all the other servants of the Lord in those early days. It is a grave blank where the kingdom is left out as it is now. Nor is it only that the future according to God is habitually lost to the faith of saints through the unfaithfulness of modern preachers, but thereby the gospel of God’s grace also suffers. For in that case there is sure to be confusion, which, mingling both characters, never enjoys the simple and full truth of either14: for the kingdom will be the triumph of righteousness by power when Christ appears in His glory. A truth it was, most familiar, to those who were bred in the constant and glorious vision of Old Testament prophecy. Christianity, though it open to us heavenly things, was never intended to enfeeble this prospect; rather should it enable the believer to taste its blessing more, as well by imparting a deeper intelligence of its principles as by bringing in the heavenly glory. We can enjoy it in an incomparably larger and more distinct way; and we have its principles explained by a deeper and fuller view of its basis in the reconciling work of the Lord Jesus on the cross.
“Wherefore I testify to you this day that I am pure from the blood of all. For I shrank not from announcing to you all the counsel of God” (vers. 26, 27). The apostle could thus solemnly attest his fidelity to the trust the Lord had confided to him. (Compare Ezek. 3:18-2018When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. 19Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. 20Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. (Ezekiel 3:18‑20)). Twice at least (vers. 20, 27) he disclaims expressly that reserve which some bearing the Christian name have not been ashamed to avow as a merit learned from Him Whose death rent the veil, and Who puts all true followers of His in the light of life, the light which makes everything manifest. Walking in darkness now that the True Light shines is a walk in the flesh without God. With such doctrine no wonder that “the hungry sheep look up and are not fed.”
It is a mistake that “all the counsel of God” (vs. 27) means no more than the plan of God for saving men unfolded in the gospel. “The gospel” is indeed the preaching of salvation in a dead and risen Saviour; “the kingdom”, whether morally or in its fully manifested form, has its own distinct force in God’s reign, as we have seen; “all the counsel of God” (vs. 27) rises still higher and embraces His purpose in its utmost extent (e.g., Eph. 1:9-129Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. (Ephesians 1:9‑12)).
Having thus solemnly set before them his own ministry, he now turns to the elders and their work. “Take heed15 to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Ghost set you overseers to tend the assembly of God, which He purchased with His own blood” [or, the blood of His own One] (ver. 28).
The first of all duties is to take heed to our own selves, whatever may be our position; and this an overseer is more particularly to weigh. For what can be more dangerous than activity about others when there is carelessness as to ourselves? It is not from the word abstractedly, but from its shining on the path of our own experience that most is learned practically. Undoubtedly we may learn from others, and through others; but how can there be reality, unless we take heed “unto ourselves”?
Still the object in appointing elders was to oversee the flock and all the flock. There might be, and in general were, several overseers; but the duty of the overseer is to take heed “to all the flock” (vs. 28) where he lives. This is the more important, as it humbles the spirit while it enlarges the heart; for who is sufficient for these things? It tends to neutralize the self-importance or “my people”, as well as the rivalry when one thinks of another and “his people”. The “one body” was a new thing then; it is absolutely unheard of in modern Christianity. The saints had to learn that God had but one flock here below. There was unity whether in each place or all over the world. Yet the elders had to do with all the flock where they resided, not elsewhere. Eldership was a local charge.
In this the elders are wholly distinct from “the gifts” (Eph. 4:8-118Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; (Ephesians 4:8‑11)) which arc in the unity of the body of Christ. They themselves of course were members like others, and as such consequently belonged not to “a body”, but to “the body”. But the office of eldership was within definite limits; the charge did not run beyond the particular assembly or city wherein they were appointed. It is admitted, nay pressed, that no one could claim to be an elder unless he were duly appointed; and it is plain from scripture that none could appoint save the apostles, or one positively commissioned by an apostle for the purpose. In other words the bishops, or elders (for they are identical in God’s word), depended for their due installation on an apostle, directly or indirectly; but when thus appointed, it could be said, as here, that the Holy Ghost set them as bishops or overseers: His sanction accompanied apostolic nomination.
The Authorized Version has gone a little beyond what the inspired word really says, “Over the which the Holy Ghost hash made you overseers.” It is rightly rendered in the Revised Version, “in the which”. They were thus made to feel that they were in and of the flock of God like every other saint. Nevertheless no one ought to deny that the responsibility of every elder was to rule. For, as the apostle says to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:1717Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17)), “Let the elders that rule well be accounted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching.” They might not all labor in teaching: but they were all set to “rule”, or preside, and they were responsible to rule “well”. They were expressly appointed to the lead, as that which pertained to their office. They were in the flock, but in the Lord they were over their brethren, though they were by no means the only persons who were.
This in no way interfered with the gifts in the body. Some may be pastors and teachers, others evangelists; but both were on a quite different footing from the elders. The business of the gifted men was the ministry of the word, whether to those within or to those without; and they were accordingly to labor entirely apart from a designated charge over any circumscribed or particular spot. Eph. 4. is decisive for this principle and fact. It is not only that apostles and prophets had an unrestricted field of work; the lesser gifts, who were the fruit of Christ’s grace to the church, had a similar title, though in a humbler way. Thus all gifts as such are in the unity of Christ’s body; none of them is merely a local official (as we have seen the elder to be); though he might also be appointed to a charge, his gift otherwise goes beyond it.
The overseers then are exhorted by the apostle to tend or shepherd the Assembly of God. Here again we see how strong is the contrast of scriptural truth with the system, which reigns to-day, of this congregation for one “minister” and that for another. For of old the elders were all as overseers to tend the assembly; and here the whole of it in Ephesus. No doubt their duty was to carry on oversight where they resided; but it was to shepherd the church of God there, and not each one a part of it only.16 The largeness of the scriptural truth is as evident as the contractedness of men’s arrangements ever since apostolic days. Men, in their wisdom, may have judged it necessary to allot a portion to this one and another to that one in the same city; but earthly prudence, however respectable and useful for present interests, is ever to be distrusted in divine things. When in fact the break-up of the flock of God came to pass, the clerical order which had crept in could not but pave the way for not schisms only, but sects, each with their governing functionaries.
So completely arc the children of God fallen from His mind that the various denominations of Christendom are now supposed even by saints to be a providential arrangement, which only enthusiasts could wish to disturb. But as this is not according to the word of the Lord, so it is far from the path of faith. Human reason can never overthrow the plain, sure, and abiding revelation of God’s will as we have it in scripture, the especial safeguard in the difficult times of the last days as the apostle tells us (2 Tim. 3). Difficulties may be enormous, dangers may increase, the trials be immense; but obedience is of all things the most lowly for man and the most acceptable to God. Let every believer weigh these matters as in His sight: His will should be dear to all the children of God.
The apostle then gives the more seriousness to the task which the overseers had before them, by the consideration not only that the assembly was God’s rather than theirs, which it is never said to be (however common may be the word in man’s mouth), but “which He purchased or acquired to Himself”.
“With His own blood” (vs. 28) is beyond controversy a difficult expression, and especially in the best representation of the text, which deserves careful examination. It is not meant that there is the least cloud over the truth that He Who shed His blood for us was God. If the Saviour here was not God, His purchase would have only a creature’s value, and must be wholly insufficient to acquire on God’s part the assembly as it was, yea, as it is. Being a divine person, His gaining it to Himself by blood has an infinite and eternal efficacy.
But the expression, as it stands in the Authorized and Revised Versions, is unexampled in scripture; and what is more, as already remarked, it is peculiarly embarrassing for the Christian scholar, because the form of it, now most approved on the best grounds, is extremely emphatic instead of being general. Indeed it would be easier to understand the sense as commonly understood, if the form had been, as in the vulgar reading, τοῦ ιδίου αῖματος. The critical reading, though at first sight it may add to the difficulty, seems however the right one, τοῦ αἴματος τοῦ ἱὄίου. But it is suggested that we should take τοῦ ἰὄίοου in government rather than in concord. The meaning that results from this would be “the blood of His Own One”, i.e., of Christ, His Son, rather than “His own blood”. This meaning, if certain, would make all plain.
It was in all probability the perplexity here felt which led some copyists in early days to substitute the church “of the Lord”, for that “of God”. But this reading, though externally well supported (ACpm. DE, et al.), is at issue with New Testament usage, and is thus on the whole inferior to that of the common text, though as far as “God” goes no one need be surprised that Wetstein and Gricsbach adopted it; but it is not so intelligible why Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles are not here found rather with Mill, Wolf, Bengel, Scholz, Alford (in all his editions since the first two), Wordsworth, Westcott and Hort, who hold to τοῦ θεοῦ. It is Alford’s mistake that Matthäi prefers the same; for in both his editions he follows his Moscow copies, and has the same conflate reading as the Complutensian, τοῦ κυρίοῦ καἰ θεοῦ, (C3HLP 110 or more cursives). Other varieties there are, scarce worth noticing on any ground, as, τοῦ κυρίοῦ θεῦυ (3,95~~), τοῦ θεου καὶ κυρίοι (47). Some ancient versions represent τοῦ χριστοῦ, one old Latin “Jesu Christi”, and the Georgian—τοῦ κυρίοῦ τοῦ θεου.
Dr. Scrivener therefore fairly enough says that our choice evidently lies between κυρίῦ and θεοῦ, though Patristic testimony may slightly incline to the latter, as he does himself. But why he should consider that the usus loqucndi of the apostle, though incontrovertibly sustaining θεοῦ against κυρίου, “appears little relevant to the case of either”, is to my mind unintelligible. For the utmost that can be said for the immense weight on one side is that it may not have been impossible to have said the other in this sole instance. Scripture beyond doubt is larger than man’s mind; but assuredly he is rather bold or careless who could slight an expression invariably found for one never found elsewhere, and here easily understood to be a change in order to escape a sentiment extremely harsh and unexampled if taken as it commonly is.
It may not be without profit to conceive how the discovery of the Sinai MS., and a clearer knowledge, not only of the Vatican copy, but of other weighty authorities, must have modified, if not revolutionized, the judgment of Griesbach. “Ex his omnibus luculcnter apparet, pro lectione θεοῦ ne unicum quidem militare codicem, qui sive vetustatc sive intcrna bonitate sua testis idonei et incomipti laude ornari queat. Non reperitur, nisi in libris reccntioribus iisdemque vel penitus contemnendis, vel misere, muftis saltem in locis, interpolatis. Sed nee vcrsionum auctoritate tucri se potest. Nulla enim translatio habet Otoi; praeter Vulgatum recentiorem, (quam redarguunt antiquiores libri latini,) et Philoxenianam syriacam,... Tandem nequc apud Patres certa lectionis istius vestigia deprehenduntur ante Epiphanium,... Quomodo igitur salvis critcae artis legibus lectio θεοῦ utpote omni auctoritatc justa destituta, defendi queat, equidem haud intelligo.” (N. T. Gr. ed. sec. ii. 115, Halae Sax. et Lond. 1806). It is now certified, not by Birch only, who might have been more heeded, notwithstanding the silence of the collation for Bentley, but by the personal and expressly minute examination of Tregellcs, who rather looked for an erasure, but found no sign of it in B, but θεοῦ, as also in א. Now no sober and intelligent mind can doubt that the weight of It and B is at least equal to ACDE.
Among the cursives, as usual, some may be of slight account, but others are really valuable and undeserving of so sweeping a censure. As to Versions, none can be produced of greater value than the Vulgate, and the most ancient and excellent copies, such as the Amiatinc, Fuldensian, Demidovianus, Toletanus, et al., as well as the Clementine edition, have “Der”. It is rather audacious to begin with Epiphanius among the Fathers in face of the well-known allusion of Ignatius (Πρὸς Εφεσίους ι) which this verse alone can account for. Greek and Latin Fathers cite the common text, or refer freely to it (as Tertullian Ad Uxorem ii. 3, Clement Alex. ii. 3, 44), though no doubt there is a vacillation which answers to the various readings.
Griesbach also argues on the improbability that Athanasius could have read the text as it stands and deny as he does against Apollinarius that αἰμῦ, occurs, ascribing such an expression to the Arians; indeed many besides Athanasius objected to such language. And it would have been truly impossible if διά τοῦ ἱδίου αἱματος had been the true reading. But it is not. The majority of later copies may support it, as they do the unquestionably wrong τοῦ κυρίοῦ καἰ θεου but all late critics agree to follow אABCDE, et al.
It would appear then that the great champion of orthodoxy must have understood τοῦ ἰδίου to be expressive of Christ, as God’s “own” One. Otherwise the emphasis, if we take τοῦ ἰδίου in concord, renders the phrase so intolerable that nothing but necessity could justify it. Is there any such need? In other words, if the true text were διἀ τοῦ ἰὁίου αὄματοδ, we must translate it as in the Authorized Version and all others which were based on that reading now recognized as incorrect; and we could then understand the phrase only as predicated of Him Who is God by what theologians call κοινωμάτων. And Meyer considers that the true reading was changed to the common but indirect one because τοῦ ἱδίον, as it ought to be, might be referred to Christ. Dœderlein, Michaelis, and other moderns, when they so refer τοῦ ἰδίου, may have had low thoughts of Christ; but certainly not such was Athanasius, who, it seems, must have so understood the passage. Can it be questioned that the emphatic contras tic force, if we take it as God’s own blood, brings the phrase under what he calls the τολμήματα των Αρειανων?
It is easy to ask for justification by Greek usage. This is exactly what from the nature of the case could hardly be; for in all the New Testament, as there is no other instance of a noun followed by τοῦ ἰδίου, there is no distinct matter for comparison. But it is to be noticed that, where Christ goes before, what follows is διά τοῦ ἰδίου αίματος (Heb. 9:12; 13:1212Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:12)
12Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. (Hebrews 13:12)
). It is reasonable therefore to infer that, as the emphatic contrast would be dogmatically extravagant, the rendering most entitled to our acceptance is “through the blood of His own One”. Dr. Hort indeed suggests “through the blood that was His own, i.e., as being His Son’s” (The N.T. in Greek, ii. 99). It may be doubted whether this will commend itself more than Mr. Darby’s.
The general truth is untouched. The question is how best to solve the very real difficulty. The suggested version seems much less objectionable than Dr. Hart’s conjecture at the close of his note, that υιού may have dropped out of the τοῦ ἰδίου at some very early transcription affecting all existing documents. Conjectural emendation17 in N.T. scripture has never approached a proof of its need or value in a solitary example. He Who gave us His word has watched over it; and we need not distrust Him here.
The reasoning of Bp. Middleton (Greek Article, Rose’s Ed., 291-5) is founded on the erroneous vulgar text, and directed mainly against Mr. G. Wakefield, whose version and notes are here, as ever, devoted to the confirmation of his heterodox views. But Michaelis was not so ignorant as to translate the common text as the Bp. says he did; nor ought a writer on the Greek article to have overlooked an emphasis in the repeated article, as compared with the ordinary form, which would be hard indeed to predicate of God as such, when the unemphatic only is applied to Christ’s own blood. It is to be doubted therefore whether Bp. Middleton, or those who cite him in this connection did really comprehend or see the true conditions of the question. For on the one hand the common deduction involves us in thoughts and expressions wholly foreign to scripture; on the other hand, if the Greek can honestly mean by the blood of His own One, the balance of truth is at once restored, and the utmost that can be alleged against the construction is that its seeming ambiguity might be supposed improbable for the apostle’s mouth. That it is sound Greek to express this meaning will scarcely be disputed save by prejudiced persons who do not sufficiently bear in mind the graver objections to the other version.18
Returning then from the consideration of the passage, one may conclude that the Text. Rec. is right in reading church or assembly “of God”, but wrong in following that form of expression at the close of the verse which would compel us to translate, contrary to all the phraseology of scripture elsewhere, “through His own blood”. The reading of all critics with adequate information and judgment might, and ordinarily would, bear the same meaning with the force of a contrasting emphasis, which is never used even of our Lord; if said of God, it is wholly unaccountable. It seems that this moral improbability made Athanasius deny the phrase (found in Ignatius, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian) to be in scripture; which nevertheless has it, and has it in the most pointed form, if we are bound to render διἀ τοῦ αἴματος τοῦ ἰδ as scholars usually do, without speaking of the Oriental Versions, which cut the knot by giving “the Lord”, “the Lord and God” (ch. 11:17), and “Christ”. But it seems only prejudice to deny that τοῦ ἰδίου may be as legitimately in regimen as in concord: if in regimen, the sense would be “of His own One”, and the difficulty of the right text is at an end. In this case the apostle employs unusually touching terms to enforce on the elders to shepherd the assembly of God. which He acquired to Himself through the blood of His own One, special personality being merged in a purchase so beyond measure dear and precious. That the Saviour is the on of the Father from everlasting to everlasting is certain to the believer; but the Book of the Acts habitually presents the truth from a broader point of view with which the apostolic charge would here coalesce.
Taking heed to themselves as well as to all the flock of God was the more necessary because of the sure and dark prospect which the apostle now puts before them: “I know that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise speaking things perverted to draw away the disciples after them” (vers. 29, 30).
On earth it has been always thus. So Moses warned Israel, when he was about to depart (Deut. 32:15- 3315But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. 16They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. 17They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. 18Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. 19And when the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters. 20And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. 21They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. 22For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. 23I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them. 24They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust. 25The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs. 26I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men: 27Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this. 28For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them. 29O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! 30How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up? 31For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges. 32For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: 33Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps. (Deuteronomy 32:15‑33).). Those under grace, we now learn from the apostle, would behave themselves in the house of God no better than the people under law. And so it came to pass, as the Old Testament shows us: Israel utterly ruined, everywhere dispersed, despised outcasts, nowhere more than in their own land; and so the New Testament everywhere warns of a like result in Christendom.
The Lord Himself, in the great parabolic series of Matt. 13, sets forth its corruption from the beginning. The tares once sown were never to be rooted up until the harvest; and the time of the harvest will be the judgment of the quick on earth. So, in His great prophecy on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24-25), the Lord does not hide the sad future. The evil servant would say in his heart, “My lord delayeth His coming” (Luke 12:4545But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; (Luke 12:45)), and would begin to beat his fellow-servants, as well as to eat and drink with the drunken. There cannot be, there is not, either recovery, or a general progress for good. Christ’s appearing in judgment will deal with the evil effectually. It is not shown otherwise in the beautiful picture of the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. Was not failure apparent and complete, when all slumbered and slept, while the bridegroom tarried? Grace assuredly awakes the wise, who had oil in their vessels, to trim their lamps, and go in with the Bridegroom to the marriage. As for the foolish, who had no oil and are therefore busied here and there in procuring it-in vain, the door was shut. So with the servants that traded with the talents given: nothing but judgment will rectify the wrong done to the Master. Not only is there to be no such thing as universal prevalence of the gospel, but within its own limited range of profession misrepresentation of Christ and opposition to His will are to characterize it to the last. No one denies that there will be, till He comes, as there ever has been, a witness of Christ and truth in life and suffering for His name; but there is also the sad and ever swelling succession of the evil done to that name, not merely by persecution from without, but still more painfully and shamelessly by every spiritual pravity within, The Epistles entirely confirm and fill up the dark outline presented by our Lord. Of this declension we have spoken perhaps sufficiently elsewhere; but surely 2 Thess. 2 is the adequate testimony, and from an early day: 1 Tim. 4, and 2 Tim. 3 fall in with this preparatively. Peter in his Second Epistle (chap. 2.), and Jude both announce the same in yet more sombre colors; and none goes more to the root of the matter than John, not only in his Epistles, but prophetically in the Revelation.
Here, however, we have the inroad of the declension stated by Paul as a marked starting-point: “I know that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise speaking things perverted to draw away the disciples after them.” There is much unbelief as to this, even among Christians otherwise well disposed. They fail to see that the power of Christianity lies in the ungrieved guidance of the Spirit of God according to His word; and His Spirit can freely work only in Christ’s name to God’s glory. When men act on human principles, where the spirit of the world prevails, ruin is the necessary result. As long as the apostle was here, the spiritual power and influence to restrain was immense. There was then the most vigilant and the most decided resistance to evil of every kind. He knew that after his departure spiritual energy would decay more and more, and that the glory of the Lord would thus be swamped. So easy, so deadly, among the saints of God is compromise, to which amiability, prudence, desire of peace, love of numbers, and similar expedients, would expose them.
The commentators tell us that grievous wolves are not persecutors, but rather false friends. Real foes should enter in among those who bear the name of the Lord and spare not the flock. But the commentators are surely wrong in identifying the grievous wolves with those described in verse 30, “From among your own selves shall men arise speaking things perverted.” Surely these arc manifestly different classes of evil men, the first more violent, the second more subtle; the first seeking their own gratification and advantage, and the second doing the deadlier work of speaking things perverted to draw away the disciples after them. To take advantage of the flock for selfish means is wicked; to set up self and error in the place of Christ is yet worse, if more seemly in appearance.
Here it may be noticed that the Authorized Version fails to represent the full malignity of the evil. Every party leader seeks to draw away disciples. Here it is the more aggravated effort to draw away “the” disciples after them. It was to mislead them all, to subject all saints to themselves. Hence the apostle’s solemn appeal: “Wherefore watch, remembering that by the space of three years I ceased not admonishing each one night and day with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all that are sanctified” (vers. 31, 32).
The ministry of Paul in Ephesus at this latter day was just an answer to what it had been among the Thessalonians earlier, first as nurse, then as father (1 Thess. 2:7,117But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: (1 Thessalonians 2:7)
11As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, (1 Thessalonians 2:11)
). It was for the elders now to watch and not to forget that loving example of love; but love will never abide, never bear the strain, without real faith in God for that work; and therefore the force of his “commending them” to God and to the word of His “grace”. It is not commendation to one only, but to both. Without God before the heart the word becomes dry and sapless, and we grow discouraged and impatient; without the word to direct the life, we are in danger from the will and the wisdom, or from the folly, of man. The word of His grace becomes the grand test and resource, while looking to God for every step and in every question. So we find the apostle laying it down by the Holy Ghost in 2 Tim. 3:1515And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15), which passage also, by the ways helps to decide the true reference of what has been questioned: in Acts 20:3232And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32), should it be, “which” is able, or “Who” is able, to build you up? The comparison strengthens the former rendering.
The apostle had thus set before the elders a prospect most grievous, which lapse of time has fully confirmed. Indeed, before his departure the signs of coming evils were already apparent everywhere, so that when his later Epistles more especially prophesied not merely of decay, but of utter ruin, even then he had to speak of the seeds of these coming evils as already sown. No greater error was there than that which ere long began to prevail, and most extensively in modern times, the dream of progress. It is directly opposed to these apostolic testimonies, and no less to the plainest possible facts in Christendom.
Even on the loose estimate of bare profession, how far is the Christian faith from having title to that triumph of which men fondly speak? Indeed, if these vain hopes were realized, would they not present a glaring contrast to all that the Bible teaches us of that which is committed to human responsibility? From Adam downwards the history of man is the history of failure. Not that grace has not wrought, and wrought wonders, in the narrow path of Christ here below; but as the rule, everywhere and always ruin has followed every fresh trial of man, and every fresh testimony of God because of man. Look at him in Eden or out of Eden, before the deluge or since it: have truth and righteousness prevailed for the mass? That God has wrought by individuals, that He has blessed families, that He has owned righteousness in a people, as well as faith wherever His own grace made it good in the elect, is clear. As the race as well as its head broke down, none the less did Israel, notwithstanding the singular favor which God showed; and as the people, so the priests, and so the kings, till there was no remedy, and God swept them from His land, not only by the Assyrian and by the Babylonian powers, but still more by the Roman.
That Christendom is no exception we have already seen, and this not from experience only, but from the distinct, and repeated, and complete testimony of the inspired men who laid its foundation; and yet men venture to hope—“to hope”! Is it their hope that the apostolic words will prove untrue? Is it that men, so utterly fallen as they are now in Christendom, will do better than those in whom the Spirit of God first wrought with a power as much beyond consequent as precedent? But alas! poverty in its lowest state is apt to be the proudest. God will surely be true, and every man who opposes Him a liar. This decline from truth then was briefly and profoundly set forth by the apostle about to depart from Ephesus.
Let me notice again how the ordinary translation of verse 30 weakens the force of the last words. It is not merely to draw away “disciples” after them: every heretic seeks to do and does this; but the object of the enemy through these perverse men is to draw away “the disciples., the body of those that confessed the Lord on the earth. Not less than the desertion of the whole flock was the blow aimed at the glory of Christ. He only is entitled to the loyalty of all the disciples, and if it is a serious thing for any one disciple to be drawn away from Him, from His will about His own below, how much more to seek the misleading of all! But self-will is blind to all but its own will and soon learns to confound itself with the will of the Master. But think of the dishonor which is thus cast upon His name!
“Wherefore watch ye,” says the apostle to the elders, “remembering that for three years I ceased not admonishing each one night and day with tears.” This little glimpse, which necessity wrung out from the apostle’s heart, lets us see his entire devotedness. It was not business, nor the spread of truth even, still less the prevalence of his own opinions for good. It was one who loved Christ, and pressed this devotion to Him and to His own above all on those who took the lead. Untiring, tender, watchful care filled his heart, with the deepest feeling habitually and at all cost. Such he would have us feel, as well as those he addressed that day. Who is sufficient for these things? The sufficiency is in and from God.
So Paul continues, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all that are sanctified.” Whatever be the days of danger, difficulty, and ruin, God abides faithful, the Saviour unchangeable, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever. If all the apostles, since they and the prophets laid the foundation, have passed away, the word of His grace remains as does the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. He only had divine power even when apostles were there. There is no excuse therefore for unbelief. Faith shines the more in a dark day, and devotedness is called out by the sense of His dishonor Who is dearest to the heart.
Nor is there anything in comparison with the word of His grace in ability to build us up. Boldness of thought and beauty of language are all vain, if there be not the truth; and the truth is never so sure, and strong, and holy, as in His own word, which is truth. This searches the conscience, this strengthens the heart, this nourishes faith and makes the blessed hope abounding and mighty in the love which is the strength of all that is good. For love is of God, and God is good, and as His word builds us up now, so it gives us the inheritance among all that are sanctified. The word of God truly received delivers from the love of this present age, from the world and the things of the world.
Hence adds the apostle, “I coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel; yea, yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those that were with me” (vers. 33, 34). Life in Christ is infinitely blessed, and it is the portion of the believer by the grace of God; a life wholly and absolutely different from that old Adam life, which meets its doom, not in death only, but in judgment without end. For the Christian our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be annulled that we might no longer serve sin, so that each can say, “I am crucified with Christ, and no longer live 1 but Christ liveth in me, but in that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)).
It is ruin no doubt to set aside the grace of God, as the reintroduction of the law must do. But how terrible to give a false unworthy testimony to the grace of God by allowing the desires of that life which should be buried in the grave of Christ! The old man covets silver, and gold, and apparel. All these minister to the lusts of the body as well as of the mind. Love serves others, love with faith alone glorifies God; and it is well when those who teach these things arc living ensamples of all they urge on others. How few can say truthfully and throughout with the apostle, “I coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel; yea, yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those that were with me. In all things I gave you an example, how that so laboring ye ought to help [support] the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (vers. 33-35).
Then let no one who seems or claims to be a leader now forget them; yea, let us all remember these ways of the apostle and these words of the Lord Jesus. This is certainly not after the manner of men, not yet of Israel, nay, nor of Christendom. They are the words of Christ, and His life here below is the most blessed comment upon them. It certainly is not enjoyment, or present honor, but His love in tending and feeding the sheep of His pasture, looking for the day of reckoning when the Chief Shepherd shall be manifested, and faithful shepherds shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Yet the account is not complete without the parting scene which proves that faith in the unseen hinders not, but imparts, the love which is of God in this world of sorrow and selfishness. “And having thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and falling on Paul’s neck, fondly kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the word which he had spoken, that they should behold his face no more. And they brought him forward unto the ship” (vers. 36-38). Such was the bearing of the greatest of apostles. Oh, how fallen from its reality are those who vaunt themselves his successors! How far short are any of us who abhor such pretensions! As truth and love receded, hierarchy in every shape made for itself a throne, as far from the mind of Christ as earth is from heaven. But let us beware lest our love grow cold in presence of abounding iniquity.