ing hopes who wished to share in their labours. Soon after, as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, separate to me Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them arvay.

To this memorable æra Pearson refers Paul's vision of the third heavens, and if he be accurate in the date of the second Epistle to the Corinthians, that event will certainly be coincident with this grand mission to the Gentiles. The time assigned to it is peculiarly happy. Hitherto Saul had not been the soldier of Christ without peril, suffering, and reproach; but he was now to commence a warfare, wherein he achieved victories which will always be celebrated by the Gentile churches. He was to do, and to suffer more for Christ than any other apostle. His dereliction of the Pharisaic cause merited the peculiar rancour of the unconverted Jews; his apostleship to the Gentiles exposed him to the misconstructions of judaising christians; the recollection of his persecutions was a source of perpetual humiliation to himself; and his being ~ born, as he expresses it, out of due season, his not having been an eye witness of Christ's ministry, nor of the twelve originally appointed to the apostleship, were circumstances tending to depreciate him in the church. But with all these disadvantages, the Lord intrusted to him the leading of the vanguard; and, to fill him with more than human ardour and fortitude, was pleased to display to him visions of glory, disclosed to none but himself, and which Moses seems to have asked for in vain. For he was caught up into the third heaven, into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not possible for man to utter. Happy Saul, who, while a sojourner on earth, tasted the ripe fruits of immortality! Who heard the words of the Almighty, and contemplated truth and virtue in the fairest forms, and without those veils under which they are presented unto men! Now was he prepared fearlessly to take the field against the armies of the aliens. Ministers should themselves feel the powers of the invisible world, before they can hope to make others feel them; and be enabled, in some good degree, to anticipate, by faith and hope, the exceeding greatness of their reward, before they are prepared to count the loss of all things gain, so that they may win Christ.

But as what Saul witnessed was more than human language could utter, so, it should seem, it was of a nature which the humility of man could ill support. As God had said to Moses, no man can see my face and live, so there was a danger lest the great apostle should perish in the midst of these everlasting glories, Therefore,

lest he should be exalted above measure, by the abundance of the revelation, there was given to him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. The expression, a "thorn in the flesh," and its "buffeting" him, sufficiently indicate the pungency and violence of the temptation. That it was not a common nor transient evil which he suffered, is clear, from his praying the Lord thrice that it might depart from him; from our Lord's thrice declining to remove it, saying, my grace is sufficient for thee; and from Saul's acquiescence, glorying in his infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon him. To this affliction St. Paul appears to allude, when writing to the Galatians; Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh, I preached the Gospel unto you at first; and my temptation, which was in the flesh, ye despised not nor rejected. From the whole the inference is justified, that the case by divine permission was preternatural; that it continued with him some years, if not for life; that its effects were visible in his person, were noticed by the Galatians, and were of such a nature, as exposed him to the contempt of unworthy minds. The field of conjecture is without bounds, and must be resorted to with caution. Beyond what has been said, there is no clue in scripture to conduct our researches. It is to be wished, that conjectures should not be hazarded where there is so little to justify them, and much less that they should be given from the pulpit with as much confidence as if they were susceptible of demonstration. Let us rather direct the attention of our people, and especially our own, to the valuable instruction held out to us. Christians, and ministers especially, have temptations and afflictions peculiar to themselves. So great is the weakness, so inveterate the depravity of man, that even visions of glory may lead to mansions of darkness. The greatest and best of ministers need a counterpoise for their high attainments and extensive services. The afflictions of the good man are his greatest mercies; a fence to the feeble root of his virtue against the foot of pride. Let us then, like St. Paul, glory in our infirmities, and be assured, that all things shall work together for good to them that love God.

The 13th and 14th chapters of the Acts contain a concise account of the labours of the apostle on this mission, until, in about three years, he returned to Antioch. At Paphos he obtained a signal victory over the sorcerer Elymas, whose opposition he subdued with apostolic authority and power, reproaching, in pointed terms, the malignity of his heart, and punishing him with temporary blindness. This confirmation of his doctrine had proper weight with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, who readily embraced the faith of Christ. From this time the apostle appears to have

assumed the name of Paul, probably to accommodate himself to the Gentiles, and to bury in oblivion a name under which he had persecuted the Church. Wherever Paul went, he made the first tenders of salvation to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; but though some were found every where to glorify God in the day of their visitation, yet the majority not only persisted in unbelief, but excited the Gentiles to violence. The latter, however, received the truth with much readiness; and considering the nature of the gospel as opposed to all the lusts of the human heart, and the prejudice and malevolence which the Jews laboured to infuse into them; it is wonderful that the apostle did not find more violent opposition. At Iconium Paul and Barnabas yielded to the storm, and saved themselves by flight; but at Lystra it burst suddenly, and spent its fury on them. The changeable multitude, who were with difficulty restrained from sacrificing to them as gods, at the instigation of the Jews of Iconium and Antioch, fell upon them suddenly as infamous malefactors, stoned Paul, and, supposing him dead, drew him out of the city. But as the disciples stood round, lamenting his death, he rose up, returned into the city, and the next day departed with Barnabas to Derbe. Undismayed by suffering, they returned again to these places, confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must, through much tribulation, enter the kingdom. Do the gospel and its ministers meet with a different reception now? We fear not. Sheltered and protected by the wisdom and equity of our governors, we boast not of stoning and bonds for the sake of the Lord Jesus; but obloquy and reproach, contempt and derision, uncandid and injurious representation, are and must be the portion of our cup. Invest Jesus Christ in what garb you will, he is still despised and rejected of men. His innocence cannot disarm malice, his holiness cannot escape censure, his benefits cannot compel gratitude, nor can his wisdom avoid persecution. From the first, he declared it should be so, and that no man could be his disciple unless he took up his cross and followed him; and St. Paul lays it down as an invariable rule, that, whosoever will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution: For he that is born after the flesh, will, in one shape or other, persecute him that is born after the spirit.

At Antioch the apostle made a long stay, until no small dissension and disputation were excited by some zealots from Judea, who would have imposed on the Gentiles the yoke of the ceremonial law. To compose this disagreement, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to consult and settle the question with the other apostles, passing in their way through Phenice and Samaria, and

rejoicing the brethren with the pleasing information of the conversion of the Gentiles. At Jerusalem Paul found a most cordial and honourable reception. His Apostleship was recognized, his conduct to the Gentiles fully approved, and the question in debate determined agreeably to his wishes. Barsabas and Silas, men of high character, were associated with Paul and Barnabas, to carry to Antioch the determination of the sacred college. Thus was this delicate question amicably settled to general satisfaction, and Jews and Gentiles were as one fold under one shepherd. But St. Peter was himself the occasion of the revival of this dispute some months after, when he visited Antioch, and it was then carried to an alarming length. Even Barnabas was carried away by his dissimulation, and a schism, destructive to peace and brotherly kindness, seemed inevitable. But the vigour and firmness of the great apostle at last prevailed, and the peace of the church was settled on a solid basis. This was, perhaps, the severest trial which Paul ever met with. To contend with false apostles, though grievous, was a far lighter thing than to stand against a true one, and to oppose a man whom our Lord himself had designed as a rock of the common faith. With what firmness and what admirable delicacy and tenderness was it necessary for him to use the rod of reproof! How painful, how injurious to both, must any misunderstanding between them have been!

This cloud having happily blown over; in the year 50, Paul and his fellow soldier, Barnabas, determined on a second journey to visit the churches they had planted. Here we notice, with concern, the unhappy difference which arose between them, respecting Barnabas's nephew, John Mark. Paul objected to his going with them on this journey, as in the former one he had proved himself unequal to the work, and had forsaken them in the midst of danger. With this opposition Barnabas was so much offended, that, taking Mark with him, he abruptly departed for Cyprus, while Paul, who seems to have conducted the dispute in better temper, chose Silas, and being recommended by the prayers of the church to the grace of God, immediately entered on his journey. But it should be observed, that Mark did not deceive the good opinion of Barnabas: he turned out a good soldier of Christ, merited the testimony of Paul, and again took part in his honourable labours.

From the 16th chapter to the end of the Acts, we have a continued, though a concise history of Paul's travels and labours, down to the year 62, when he was in daily expectation of taking his trial before Nero. A few observations on the most striking incidents of his life, without a critical attention to settle with accu

racy the dates of various transactions, are all which can be admitted in these memoirs of St. Paul. Throughout his travels we observe the hand of providence directing the steps of the apostle, at one time restraining his labours from some countries not yet fully prepared to receive the good seed, and at another time commanding them to other countries, which promised a more liberal harvest. If it were not in St. Paul to order his way aright, much less are common ministers equal to the task. It surely then becomes us, the less we are authorized to hope for extraordinary direction, to be more careful in weighing those arguments which should determine our choice, and in shunning those indirect views and evil tempers, which might give a bias to our election. Every good tree will not grow and flourish in every soil. The court, the city, and the country, require very different talents in the minister of truth. May we know our true character, and pray fervently to God to assign us a station suitable to it!

At Philippi Paul's ministry found uncommon acceptance, and the church planted there had a most paternal interest in his heart. There, therefore, he met most violent and disgraceful persecution from the god of this world, who will not quietly see his kingdom taken from him. For having, by the power of Christ, cast out an evil spirit from a damsel, who was a diviner; her masters, who saw that the hope of their gain was gone, seized Paul and Silas, drew them to the market-place, and virulently accused them to the magistrates. Their accusations, seconded by the clamours of the multitude, induced the magistrates to break through all ordinary forms of justice. Their clothes were torn off, and they were severely beaten with many stripes, and then thrust into the inner prison, where their feet were made fast in the stocks. Bruised, and covered with their blood, they fainted not; but prayed to him who was able to save them; and sang the praises of God, till the children of guilt heard with astonishment the resigned and joyful melody of their triumphant fellow-prisoners. At that moment God shook the foundations of the prison, threw open every bolted door, and struck the shackles from every hand. In this lofty style did the Lord claim his prisoners. The magistrates heard his voice, trembled, and obeyed. The gaoler and his household became Christ's freemen, and Paul and Silas were conducted out of the city with an honourable attestation of their innocence, and an acknowledgment of the injurious treatment which they had re


At Thessalonica also, Paul had an open door to the Gentiles, and some Jews were obedient to the faith; but others excited a

« VorigeDoorgaan »