On Acts 20:18-21

Acts 20:18-21
It is the more important to notice the fact that the elders were of “the church in Ephesus,” because the old error of Irenaeus reappears 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. Irenaeus 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 here 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 them 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, and 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” (Acts 20:18-2118And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, 19Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: 20And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, 21Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:18‑21)).
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 puffs 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, so as to announce to them and to teach 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 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 are entitled to expect from one who not only had but expressed the mind of God 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 are 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 be 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 be but both. We must allow for the different manifestations in different persons. No two conversions present exactly the same outward effects, 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, as 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 fully known, the self-judgment of repentance is so much the more profound. In this case the judgment-seat of 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 be forgiven), so that we should no longer serve sin; for he that died is 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. We died with Him.
Repentance toward God then is not the gospel of His grace, not is it remission of sins, but 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 are 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 anti-nomianism 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 μεταμέλεια; μετάνοια is that afterthought, or judgment on reflection, formed by God’s working through His word to which conscience bows, as self and its past ways are judged before God. It is never apart from a divine testimony, and hence from faith; God’s goodness, not His judgment only, leads to it; and godly sorrow works repentance onto salvation not to be regretted, as the sorrow of the world works death. “I have sinned against heaven and in Thy sight”; “God be merciful to me 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.