“We see God sending a riot into the temple at Jerusalem in order to have Paul arrested just before the apostle, far, far from the will of God is about to have a Jewish priest offer a blood sacrifice for his cleansing … It was better for Paul to be arrested for stirring up a riot than it would have been for him to have committed the blasphemous sacrilege which he was about to do.”
D.G. BARNHOUSE, KESWICK, 1951
He is a bold man who challenges so colossal a figure as Paul the apostle, though we have learned to expect this behaviour from time to time by those modern philistines who take a derogatory view of Scripture itself.
Such gentlemen received a crushing answer half a century ago by one who hardly belonged to our encampment, but who had a clear and incisive mind, and an ability to appreciate greatness. We refer to the late W.R. Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s, London. To Paul’s hardness, he had this to say:
“There are very few men in history who are alive enough to be hated after 2,000 years”
But we wrestle today, not with that Sadducean tribe of scholastics whose trade is to reduce the Bible to the base currency in which they are won’t to deal. We are at grips rather with evangelical preachers, some of whom entertain large audiences of devoted Christians with slanderous attacks on Bible heroes and who in particular single out the apostle Paul, among all New Testament figures, as their target.
It was not in some modernistic temple but in Keswick’s hallowed tent that the late Donald Grey Barnhouse, D.D. of U.S.A. thundered against the great apostle in the words quoted above.
Dr. Barnhouse has gone to his reward and no doubt has already met the great apostle on the golden streets. We trust that in that place where preachers no longer see through a glass darkly, he has tendered his apology.
We who are left on earth, however, have, a duty to fulfil not merely to defend the Lord’s eminent servant (a man like Paul needs no defence anyway) but as an exercise in true exposition; to rescue preaching from the slough of base or mediocre exposition and to re-establish the Word of God in the full power of its proclamation.
The charges made against Paul by evangelical authors and preachers are very stereotyped and fall under the usual heads;
1. His quarrel with Barnabas
2. His allegedly mistaken sermon to the Athenians on Mars Hill
3. His insistence on going to Jerusalem for the last time
4. His presence under a ritualistic vow in the temple
5. His behaviour before the Jewish Council.
THE BREACH WITH.BARNABAS
The breach with Barnabas is described in Acts 15:36-41. Barnabas was determined to take his nephew Mark (the author of the gospel bearing his name) on the projected missionary journey to the cities of Asia Minor. Paul was of another mind, having no confidence in a young man who had so lightly set out for home a short time after being admitted to the apostolic party (see Acts 13:13).
Young men need discipline and till they have learned their place and given themselves: time to mature; they are of little use to God or man. Mark leaned heavily on his relationship to Barnabas, and Barnabas like many another great and good man, was inclined to be over indulgent to youth. Paul would have none of it, and would not admit the young man again to his confidence till he had learned his lesson the hard way - a result happily achieved later on in Mark’s life.
A sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas was inevitable, seeing that the former was governed by principle and the latter by emotion. Both were truly great men, but Barnabas was of lesser mould, as an important subsequent event determined.
The breach was providentially brought about in the wise foreordination of God, as we shall also see.
The projected missionary journey did not take place: God had other plans, so far-reaching that they have affected the history of the world ever since. The task of Barnabas, which was to introduce Paul to the stage of public events in the name of the Church, was ended. Barnabas left for Cyprus taking John Mark with him. Paul left for - where, O Reader? Where did the Spirit of God lead Paul? Mark well and learn.
Without premeditated plan, step by step, Paul was led to forsake Asia and lay the foundations of the gospel in Europe, which from then till the end of time was to be the principal theatre of the Church’s conflict and history.
As the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul must be set free from all Jewish fetters, and all accountability to the rulers of the Church at Jerusalem. The breach with Barnabas was designed by Providence to, show to all men for all time, that no bonds must be laid on Paul, and no mixture made of Jewish elements in the fulness of the gospel dispensation committed to him.
The Church was stretching itself painfully within the boundaries of the Synagogue from which it sprang and whence it derived its first numerical strength.
The breaking away of the child from the parent was a painful process and was not completed so long as the temple stood and Israel remained a nation. The great Mosaic Law, established by God on Sinai was not lightly to be set aside by any Jewish believer till God had made it abundantly clear that the old covenant had passed away and the new covenant had supplanted it. The apparatus of the Law finally disappeared when the Roman War of A.D. 70 engulfed in its flames, temple, priesthood and people and made a Final and violent end of the Jewish order and the Jewish dispensation.
The convulsions in the Church itself when Gentile admissions to the fellowship began to multiply far beyond the Jewish aggregate of believers, need no enlargement here. Paul had a principal part to play in that drama. Peter and Barnabas played a rather ignoble role. For a while it was “Paul against the world” - as in a later age it was “Athanasius contra mundum”.
PETER’S SECOND DENIAL
Peter’s grave dissimulation in the presence of Judaising teachers only too well known and is fully described in the second chapter of Galatians.
“I withstood him to the face”, declares Paul. And where are those modern convention speakers who tell us that after Pentecost. Peter was a new man - never the same vacillating Peter as he was in the courtyard of the High Priest ?
Alas for these false opinions upon which so great consequence is set. Peter was the same Peter after Pentecost as he was before. If he trembled before the men and women in the high priest’s courtyard that awful midnight of the Betrayal and the Denial, he trembled still and with much less reason, when “certain came from James” and Peter withdrew himself from gentile company lest he be compromised with his influential colleagues in Jerusalem - and so denied his Lord a second time.
The subtlety of Satan was so effective that “even Barnabas himself was carried away with their dissimulation”.
To Paul it was given single-handed to destroy the conspiracy.
He was an apostle outside the regular apostolate yet the greatest of them all. He received in the court of heaven itself (whether in the body or out of it, who can tell?) his commission at the hands of the glorified and risen Lord. To Paul, we say it was given, alone to stand against the whole world and establish the Church on the ample foundations of eternal truth, and carry it into those historic territories where it was to have its home for the next 2,000 years.
Such a man my brethren! Paul the meek, the despised (like his master), yet sublime in the commission given to him, heroic, uncompromising implacable against errors and defaulters - such a man, a greater Augustine, a greater Luther, raised up as the unique instrument of The Sovereign and Glorious Son of God, to settle the course of the Church for all time and draw her Bill of Rights and her Charter of imperishable Truth!
Barnabas must needs fade from view. That apostleship of Paul’s must be shared with none. The breach must be made on the solid ground of principle. John Mark represented that Jewish element in the early Church which ever looked back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Barnabas himself could not be trusted to free himself from those shackles, as the record in Galatians 2 clearly shows. Paul must go on alone.
See, O Reader, how superficial are these theological slaughtermen who hew down the prophets with their invective and let loose their rhetoric against the great and the sublime, daring to sit in judgment even upon Paul. How little do these men perceive the prophetic nature of Holy Scripture and how utterly they fail to read its true lessons.
THE GREAT SERMON AT ANTIOCH
Let us go, my brethren, to the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch to be present on that never to be forgotten Sabbath when Paul delivers his first recorded sermon
John Mark has just forsaken the little band (verse 13). Paul’s Jewish name of Saul has but recently been discarded in favour of his gentile name of Paul, to denote his office as apostle of the gentiles (see verse 9 of this chapter).
The Law and the Prophets have been read from the old lectionary arranged for the regular and methodical reading of the scriptures (i.e. of the Old Testament) in the Jewish synagogues throughout the world.
The dignitaries of the assembly perceive there are distinguished strangers in the house - men of obvious standing and intellect. A message is conveyed to Paul that a word of exhortation will be welcomed.
The unknown apostle stands up and beckons with his hand. That day history is made. Without formal preparation, and inspired totally by the Holy Spirit, Paul delivers a discourse the like of which has seldom been heard since preaching began.
The staggering effect this sermon had upon the hearers and upon the entire population of a great city marks its importance in the inspired history.
Paul’s inspiration in this address was not of the kind common to the Old Testament prophets. He spoke no less than they by the Spirit of the Lord, yet the divine impulse used in his case the profound knowledge conveyed to him by years of meditation on the written Word of God, in the deserts of Arabia. He spoke what he knew, and he knew what he had thought upon and painstakingly read and studied of the 0.T. Word. Above and beyond of course there was that operation of the Holy Spirit associated with his apostolic gift which gave to his words the divine infallibility of Holy Scripture.
His theme arose from the readings in the synagogue that day. Dr. Bengel in the 17th century ascertained and proved by profound study and Teutonic exactitude, that the lectionary readings in the Jewish synagogues throughout the world on that Sabbath day were taken from the first chapters of Deuteronomy, and of Isaiah. That lectionary, based on the three great sections of the Old Testament, the Law the Writings and the Prophets, was heard in sequence by pious Jews throughout the world.
Paul uses two important words in the Greek, corresponding to the same words found in the opening chapters of Deuteronomy and Isaiah (compare Acts 13:17, “exalted” with Isaiah 1:2, “brought up”; and Acts 13:18, “suffered” with Deuteronomy 1:31, “Bare thee”) The remarkable use Paul makes of these words is memorialised in the A.V. where the translators did an unusual thing by putting the Greek word into the margin, with a lengthy explanation to show the correspondence of the quotations despite an apparent difference in use.
Later in Paul’s address our translators put another of Paul’s Greek words into the margin (verse 34) in explanation of Paul’s remarkable and most significant use of Isaiah 53:3 as proof of the Lord’s bodily resurrection.
A close study of the whole reveals the profound knowledge Paul had of the text of Holy Scripture both in the Hebrew and in the Septuagint Greek (a version said to have been compiled under the patronage of Alexander the Great, and in general use amongst the Jews of Paul’s day, to whom Hebrew had already become largely a dead language). It is n example of how those who have ambitions for the Christian ministry should be deterred from easy and frivolous expositions, and should prepare themselves by profound study and meditation of the sacred text in order to bring out the concealed treasures of the inspired Word.
Incidentally the apostle’s vigour of mind and body, and readiness at a moment’s notice to expound what had just been read from the desk, makes nonsense of the rationalistic sneer that Paul was an epileptic or otherwise physically or mentally handicapped, or not in entire possession of himself in his labours and teachings.
We cannot do better here than quote from the late F.W. Farrar’s important “Life and Work of St. Paul”:
“St. Paul’s sermon is not only interesting as a sign of the more or less extemporaneous tact with which he utilised the scriptural impressions which were last and freshest in the minds of his audience, but far more as a specimen of the facts and arguments which he urges in his first addresses to mixed congregations of Jews and proselytes. It is further important as an indication that even at this early period of his career Paul had been led by the Spirit of God, if not to the full comprehension, at least to the germ of those truths which he afterwards developed with such magnificent force and overwhelming earnestness”.
(With that last sentence of course we are not in agreement, for we believe that the apostolic gift in Paul was always at its fullest and highest. The admission of Dr. Farrar that Paul might well have furnished to Luke the outline of this address much later on in his ministry, is proof that we have here not merely the germ, but the full and mature development of Paul’s mind and doctrine).
But we proceed:
“The doctrine of justification by faith and of the inutility of the works of the law to procure remission of sins, lie clearly involved in this striking sermon, which also gives us some insight into Paul’s method of applying Scripture”.
Paul’s entire effort was to convince his Jewish hearers of their enormous crime in rejecting the promised Redeemer in face of the long record of divine mercy shown towards them as a people. He shows that God and bore his people through the wilderness with the tenderness and solicitude of a nurse caring for a helpless child.
This is his theme: God’s dealings with Israel began in grace and continued in grace. All was designed to prepare the way for the coming of the Son of God. The preparatory ministry of John the Baptist is introduced to show that redemption does not automatically follow because a man is a Jew, but that the condition of entrance into the promises is always repentance - a word which very few orthodox Jews of that time could bear to hear.
Paul proceeds, that the rulers of the Jews fulfilled the Scriptures when they condemned Christ. “But God raised him from the dead”. He proves the doctrine of the resurrection from the 2nd Psalm, reinforced by another text from Isaiah 55:3 – “The sure mercies of David”.
Again our translators thought fit to put the Greek word in the margin, for there is a fulness in it which baffles translation (see their note to verse 34). That word means more than can be put into equivalent English. We must use a whole sentence. The “sure mercies of David” are God’s covenant undertaking to give to David an eternal throne, a promise which requires for its fulfillment the resurrection from the dead of the true David, our Lord and Redeemer, Christ Jesus.
In his concluding sentences, Paul enforces the doctrines of pardon and justification by faith, under solemn warning of the appalling consequences of unbelief.
The gentiles crowded round him to hear the blessed Word and besought the preacher to tell them more the next Sabbath. The envious Jews spurned the Word, “contradicting and blaspheming” and were solemnly rebuked by the apostle in the significant words – “Seeing ye put it from you and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, WE TURN TO THE GENTILES”. (verse 46)
“And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (verse 48).
At the outset of his ministry therefore, Paul shows the clearest vision concerning the gospel, and those to whom it is sent. He foresees the national unbelief of Israel, as warned by the prophets (verses 40-41) and the enlargement of the Kingdom of God to receive from the gentiles that vast number whom grace had foreordained to eternal life.
This is what Paul preached, and he never preached anything else; but when he did preach he used all the resources of the inspired Word of the Old Testament and made the ancient pages live and resound with new and glorious and undreamed-of meaning. Alas, how has expository science fa11en and evangelical preaching become so sickly!
After that introductory phase and in preparation for the full development of his apostleship, Paul must part with Barnabas. The Lord in His sovereignty divided the two men asunder, Barnabas to continue to preach to the circumcision; Paul to establish the Kingdom of God in the great gentile world.
The Word of God foretold that the whole earth, not just the Jewish portion of it, would be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters covered the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Haggai 2:14).
That time had come, for those prophetic words refer to the gospel age and the going forth of the Word of life to all the world.
THE DRAMATIC SEQUEL TO THE BREACH
That Paul’s breach with Barnabas was entirely an honourable thing on his part, forced upon him by the necessities of the case, is proved by the dramatic sequel. Not only did Barnabas show his Jewish weakness when he fell before the Judaizers of Galatians 2, (thus vindicating Paul’s decision in the case of John Mark), but a new direction was given to Paul’s apostolic ministry which was to affect the history of the world from that time onward. Paul must be separated from Barnabas, to be free to pursue that apostolic task given to him alone to execute.
Barnabas goes to Cyprus. Paul is recommended by the brethren at Antioch to the grace of God (they knew upon which side the right fell) and the apostle takes Silas with him as his helper on a last journey through Syria and Cilicia (gathering up Timothy on the way). He intends to pursue his ministry in the provinces of Asia Minor where the Word through him had proved so fruitful, but his way is walled up. The Spirit of God forbids, diverts, and closes up the path.
He arrives weary and perhaps more than a little disconcerted, at Troas, and sees in the night a vision - a man from Macedonia (Europe) calling to him for help. He assuredly gathers that the Spirit is directing him across those narrow waters which divide Europe from Asia, to those benighted regions where the children of Japheth had dwelt from the dawn of history.
The time had come for Noah’s prophecy to be fulfilled: “God Shall enlarge Japheth and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem” – that is, the privileges of the divine Word would pass from the custody of the Semitic peoples who had held those privileges for so long, and now at last, the people who walked in darkness were to see a great light, and upon those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death the light was to shine. (Isaiah 9:2).
Reader, pause and consider the wonder of God’s hand upon history. Many ages had run since it was ordained that Shem’s privileges, stored up in earthly Israel, should pass to Noah’s eldest son. The Word of prophecy was at last to be verified as the gospel began to pass over the narrow seas to find its destined home and fortress henceforth in the Great West, where it would achieve its principal triumphs amongst peoples peculiarly fitted by Providence for virile and adventurous thought and action. The immense energies of Japheth were to be harnessed henceforth to the Lord’s chariot wheels.
God has all history in the hollow of His hand. Who will direct the Spirit of the Lord or be His counsellor and adviser. God has His own Strategy and spreads His purposes over a broader canvas than man can comprehend. Even the evangelistic purpose of an apostolic man like Paul must be channeled into designs known only to God. How much less account is to be attached today to the boastful and sometimes frenzied planning and purposing, organising and personality-mongering of an age like ours when man-centred Arminianism proposes revivals and evangelistic revolutions which after-fifty years of uninhibited exercise have left the Church weaker than for centuries, and the knowledge of the Word of God at the lowest ebb since before the Reformation.
Let us now trace the footprints of the Almighty across the page of history, as He leads His apostle to the fulfillment of a destiny which had lingered in the purpose of God since the days of the Flood, now at last to be realised in that invasion of territory given over to Satan since God separated the sons of Noah. The Word of God through one man crosses over into Europe and crashes upon the Roman Empire, that mightiest institution of man, and sweeps it away.
It had to be this way, Paul. Asia must be given over to stagnation; to dependence on Japheth and his glorious sons, now to be called into the Kingdom of God, that stone cut out without hands which was about to smite the image of world power on its feet of iron and clay till the rumble of its fall and dissolution should affright the nations to the ends of the earth.
SHEM PASSES THE TORCH TO JAPETH
There is no intrinsic reason why the gospel should not have gone east and found its most congenial home in Persia, India or China. These races are great peoples, capable of deep thought and culture. But God had His eye throughout history on the great European field of conflict where the drama of redemption would be played out to its finish. In the harsh climate of the west and the north He found nations whom He had moulded and prepared through the ages that they might be a bastion not only of human liberty, but of human enlightenment.
Shem must pass on the torch to his eldest brother who in turn would wave it far and wide so that Ham also might see the glory of God, and so all the earth be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Paul could not know, as WE know, all that God had in view when He so wonderfully prepared and led him in OUR direction.
He gave him companions suitable for his task. In place of Barnabas, Timothy appears, half Greek, half Jew, with a foot in both worlds. Luke, the beloved physician is added and Silas, faithful unto death like Timothy, makes up the party. The Spirit suffers them not to remain in Asia. Not here, Pau1. Elsewhere, O man. Keep moving Paul keep moving … West.
And so they came, weary and mystified, to the shore of the Hellespont and could go no further.
It was historic ground. This was the Passage of the Greeks the Hellespont - the narrow neck of water which divides the Old Semitic World from the misty West and North. In the 12th century B.C., Troas was Troy. On that very spot where the apostle stood, Hector and Achilles, Agamemnon and Paris and the other great heroes of the classical past fought the great and ruinous war which decided that the centre of history should finally swing west to Europe while Asia stagnated in its own past. Rome was founded as a direct consequence of the fall of Troy.
Now a greater warrior than Achilles or Hector stands on that historic shore, gazing across the narrow strait to the misty continent of Europe. That night the descendants of Japheth cry for deliverance. “Come over and help us”, is their anguished call. Paul’s vision is clear. Across the water he must go to conquer as another of the great world conquerors before him - but in the opposite direction. Alexander plunged into the Bosphorus sword in hand; this man came with a more potent weapon of unseen though terrible power - the Word of God.
HISTORY DECIDED AT PHILIPPI
The morning breaks, and the little party pack their meagre belongings and set sail along the coast till they come to Philippi where they land. There is no committee of welcome; no public reception, but once again they are on historic ground as well they might have known. Troy … Philippi. Here, scarcely a century before, another great battle was fought to decide the course of history. Here the legion of Augustus and Mark Antony met the forces of Brutus and Cassius, the murderers of Caesar. That day decided that Rome should be an empire and not a republic. The people of Philippi were largely the descendants of the soldiers who fought on that decisive day - soldiers whose valour created the throne of the Caesars, who in turn conferred upon the Western world a universal peace and a system of safe and free communications which ensured the rapid spread of the gospel.
Japheth was preparing himself for his destiny. In consummate wisdom and predestinating providence God had ordained this moment from the foundation of the world.
So much for the breach with Barnabas which will now be clearly seen as a part of the arrangements of “glorious predestination” to bring about the salvation of the readers of this Broadsheet. About what are they complaining? Their own mercies?
Barnabas was by far the weaker man of the two. The strength of character necessary to meet the great crisis in the affairs of the early Church, was not given to him. To him could not be committed the task of ensuring Christian liberty and establishing the Word of God in the centre of the gentile world. The original purpose which brought Paul and Barnabas together was now fulfilled. Barnabas provided the link between the old and the new: between those who, in the interim period till the destruction of Jerusalem, had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcision, and the great soul to whom God had entrusted the gospel to the gentiles. Though both gospels were the same, the former had a Jewish overlap so long as it continued to find shelter in the synagogue. The page of history was not fully turned till A.D. 70 when God publicly abolished the temple and the priesthood and brought the old order to an end.
Good and gracious though Barnabas was, he could not grasp the vital issue that was at stake, Peter knew better, but Peter was weak.
What was this great difference which the Gospel had made? Paul saw clearly that more than ceremonies was involved in the controversy. What was at stake was:
the entire principle of Justification by faith, the worldwide nature and finality of the Kingdom of Christ, and the right understanding and exposition of those mighty Old Testament prophecies which gave to the New Testament Church her right and title to the promises made to Abraham and to Israel.
The Judaizing faction is still with us, and has almost engulfed the evangelical world with its enthusiasm for Jewish prerogatives, its rabbinical interpretations of prophecy, and its avowed purpose to re-establish on the ruins of the temple mount at Jerusalem the Jewish altar and priesthood, circumcision, ritual cleansing, and bloody sacrifice, Read any dispensational tract for confirmation of this.
In declaring war on this conspiracy we follow our great Apostle Paul: we take his side in the contention with Barnabas, and we withstand Peter to the face in any conspiracy to take from us our right to all the promises of God which to us, whether citizens of Corinth, Philippi, Rome, Britain or America, are yea and amen, in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s inspired and eagle eye perceived at once the peril. He saw that the re-establishment of Jewish prerogative diverted faith from Christ, destroyed the gospel, and brought the conscience into slavery. This is the theme of his Epistle to the Galatians.
When we consider what the Law meant to the Jew we find it a marvel of divine grace that such as Paul, the only apostle with a thorough pharisaic training, a veritable prince and champion of Judaism before the light of God broke in upon his darkened mind, should have seen so clearly and struggled so hard, to assert the complete emancipation of the believer, from legal forms.
He was not averse on his own account to the voluntary use of these outward rituals as a temporary measure to preserve his invaluable connection with the Jewish world till that world was completely overthrown and abolished in A.D. 70 (which Paul did not live to see), for it was ever his principle to be as a Jew to gain the Jews, but as a gentile to establish the liberty of the gospel among the gentile tribes outside the Law: “I am made all things to all men that by all means I might gain some”.
(1 Corinthians 9:19-22).
PAUL IN THE TEMPLE
Let this stand also then for the confutation of that other slander against Paul - that he was “far, far away from the will of God” when he presented himself with shaven head in the temple under vow. The public testimony he was rendering to the Mosaic Law, was not for himself, but for the peace of the Church at Jerusalem in its delicate association with official Judaism. The Law was ordained by God through Moses and God had not yet seen fit publicly to abolish it. The long suffering of God is great and His patience is wonderful. The rending of the temple veil at the death of Christ ended the Old Testament order, but the temple still stood for another 40 years during which the gospel was preached “to the Jew first”.
It was proper therefore for Paul as a Jew to pay an outward and voluntary reverence to the institution of God during the interim period when the Judaic economy was still running its course. Paul would not in Jerusalem give cause for offence to the rulers of his people, and by his public observance in the temple he saved the suffering people of God who lived and worshipped there from further molestation on his behalf.
He surrendered no principle. He brought trouble upon no-one. He kept an open door for Jews to enter the gospel kingdom. He did the will of God in Jerusalem by his respect for the temple and its order, as he did in heathen Antioch, by forbidding the extension of temple jurisdiction over the gentiles. God solved all problems in due time when the entire Jewish order was swept away, though evangelical teachers today reserve to themselves the right on the one hand to denounce Paul for his tolerance of the Temple and on the other to promise to Jewry a future Temple 2,000 years after Almighty God saw fit to abolish it for ever.
How strange the times in which we live!
PAUL AND THE HIGH PRIEST
A vain and unworthy attempt is made to impugn the character of Paul for his behaviour before the Jewish 8anhedrin or supreme council, both for his severe censure of the high priest Ananias, and his alleged subtlety in dividing the council by raising the Pharisees against the Sadducees, (Acts 23).
The facts are that for daring to plead not guilty to the charge of ecclesiastical deviation and insubordination, Paul was commanded to be smitten on the mouth.
“God shall smite thee, thou whited wall; for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?”
Thus Paul to the high priest. Intemperate language! Hasty temper! Hot blood!
So Paul’s armchair critics.
When bidden to remember who it was whom he was addressing - none other than God’s high priest - the undaunted apostle rejoined “I wist not brethren that he was the high priest; for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people”.
No, Paul was not apologising, nor yet was he excusing himself for bad eyesight, He well knew who was in the chair, and he addressed himself to the chair and to him who sat thereon.
The fact was that Paul did not recognise God’s high priest in this evil and blasphemous infidel who denied all that was solemn and true and holy in the faith of God’s Word. He was a Sadducee, was this Ananias. That is, he was a scornful and contemptuous modernist who was glad enough and wicked enough to aspire after the highest office in the church, but accepted it only to destroy the faith he was paid to defend. He denied the possibility of life after death (like all the Sadducees), He believed neither in heaven nor hell, neither in angel nor the immortality of the soul. He was ‘advanced’ in his theology and had no time for narrow-minded evangelical fundamentalism, and old fashioned views about bodily resurrection, heavenly rewards, reunion in heaven with loved ones gone before, memory preserved, knowing one another in the next life, and such like. All this was denied by the man who claimed to be ‘God’s high priest’ - as it is denied today by many who have inherited the dregs of the Reformation only to deny the inheritance to which they have succeeded.
Did not Paul have every right to declare, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall”? Did not the Saviour Himself denounce in even stronger terms the forerunners of this same Ananias, with all the scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, who obstructed entrance of the poor and the wretched into the Kingdom of Heaven? – “Whited sepulchres - full of dead men's bones”? (Matthew 23:27)
And was not Paul’s declaration proved to be prophetic and inspired by God, in the result? For Ananias was indeed “smitten” by the judgment of God not many years later, slain by one of the Jewish factions which arose about the time of the Roman war of A.D. 70. His was one of the first heads to roll as a prelude to that dreadful, punitive judgment which fell upon the nation which for forty years of probation after the crucifixion of Christ, underwrote their crime in rejecting their God and Saviour, as they now were in the act of rejecting Paul.
“I wist not that he was the high priest”, said Paul, his mouth bleeding from the cruel blow. He refused to recognise the office and authority of this evil man who usurped the highest place in the Jewish church. Since Christ died and rose from the dead as High Priest of His people, no mortal man could justly claim the title -least of all such a man.
We need not apologise, brethren, for our denunciation of all and every man who takes office in the church, who does not confess without hesitation or reserve not only the bodily resurrection of Christ, but the bodily resurrection likewise of every individual of the human race, with all the consequences, physical, human and spiritual which that confession entails.
The Sadducee element is ever present in the church. It is the constant peril of nonconformity (and now of the establishment also) - the upsurge of rationalism, the denying of the supernatural, and the repudiation of the unique, exclusive claims of Christ as the ever blessed God and Saviour.
The Pharisee element in Judaism was the conservative side of the Jewish community. They stood for the traditional view, but their error lay in their externalism - their addiction to form - their substitution of ceremony and man-made regulations for the spirit of truth and grace. They were equally the foe of the evangelical cause, as they are still.
Respect where respect is due, is certainly a Christian duty, but only in so far as it is deserved. Ananias earned no respect from Paul, who knew him through and through, and it was time someone rebuked the God-denying prelate.
The Scottish authorities sent for Samuel Rutherford when the saint lay dying on his last bed. They would have dragged him to the gibbet if they could but they were too late.
“Go and tell your masters”, said the dying man, “that I have received a prior summons to appear before a higher court and it behooves me to answer my first summons. Tell them that before their day comes, I shall be where few kings and great folks come”.
And Paul proceeded to set all those wild dogs by the ears. Perceiving that there was no fair hearing to be obtained in that packed court he set Pharisees and Sadducees at each other’s throats on the subject of bodily resurrection and survival after death - then left the howling pack to tear themselves to pieces.
THE JEWS’ LAST WARNING
Those who rebuke the apostle for this had better look to their own manhood. Paul was, as usual, defending more than himself. Beyond all human considerations, there was the purpose of God. So near to the final overthrow of the nation, Paul was ordained to appear in their Great Council as the last witness for Christ against their unbelief. Their treatment of Paul, SEALED THEIR DOOM.
But he should never have gone to Jerusalem in the first place (say the critics). Did not the Holy Spirit warn him against the journey? Was he not engaged in a total act of willful disobedience?
The answer is plain.
THE HOLY SPIRIT SENDS PAUL TO JERUSALEM
Paul also was a prophet and had obtained a prior revelation. “I go bound in spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me”. (Acts 20:22-23)
These are not the words of a disobedient man but of a brave and resolute man who counted not his life - dear unto himself, so that he might finish his course with joy. (Acts 20: 24)
Whose counsel was Paul to follow that of Christ’s spirit in his own heart, or the importunities of his dear friends who, warned of what awaited him in Judea, implored him t consider his own safety.
The critics have only one sentence on which to hang their theory - Acts 21:4 –
“Finding disciples (at Tyre) we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem”.
Now it is noteworthy that we do not have here the actual words of the Holy Spirit, but the effect of them which was to foretell the coming arrest and imprisonment of Paul. His friends urged him in consequence of this warning not to make the journey, much as Luther’s friends sought to prevent his appearing before the Emperor at Worms.
Luther knew his commission, and declared, “I will go to Worms though all the tiles on the roofs were devils”.
It is clear that the Holy Spirit could not warn Paul of a fate which was only conjectural upon whether he went to Jerusalem or not. It is also clear that Paul had a directive from the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem and that his course in this world was nearing its end. His only concern (Acts 20:24) was to complete his ministry. The warnings of coming events only underlined the resolute devotion of this great man, and showed in clearer light what Christ’s true servants are prepared to endure for His dear sake, even when their eyes are opened to the consequences of their dedication to Him.
Paul, we exonerate thee, thou glorious witness to the Lamb. Take thine honoured place amongst those witnesses who, like thy brother Peter and thy brother John, loved not their lives unto the death.
Yet vacation speakers at summer festivals sit in judgment upon the great, and bring in their pompous verdicts:
“Far, far from the will of God.”
* * * *
May heaven defend us!
* * * *
The final word is this:
Beyond all human considerations there was a solemn purpose of God in Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem. So far from his journey being a defiance of God’s will, it was a decree of God as a last witness to a nation about to be overthrown. Paul’s voice was the last prophetic voice to thunder through that ill starved council chamber when the grand SANHEDRIN met to prepare for the death of a people. There the prophet of God announced the fall of the high-priesthood of Israel: “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall”. There he warned the evil Council that he was there only to witness to the resurrection from the dead of their rejected Messiah. There, in that scene of unbelief, pride, and envy, their treatment of Paul SEALED THEIR DOOM.
PAUL AT ATHENS: HIS SERMON A MISTAKE?
We scarcely know how to restrain our feelings as we proceed to Paul’s alleged ‘mistaken’ sermon to the Athenian philosophers at the Court of Areopagus or Mars’ Hill. To be required to vindicate this sermonic masterpiece which contains everything a sermon ought to contain is not a task that gives us pleasure. It is a token of the depressed state of Bible knowledge from which all the evangelical world is suffering, that so preposterous a lie concerning Paul’s great message could have been propagated in the first instance, and in the second, to have been so eagerly and almost universally adopted by evangelicalism.
The idea that the Holy Spirit could have inspired Luke to memorialise this sermon in Acts for no other purpose than to show the Christian world how not to do it, is surely to present a degraded view of inspiration and rouses suspicions concerning the ramifications of such an ‘inspiration’ as this in many another part of Holy Scripture. Just at the time of writing we received from a friend in the South of England, attending University on special course, an example of what we complain about. Our friend tells us that at a recent session of the University Christian Union it was asserted (apparently with much acceptance) that Moses was not even converted when he fled from Egypt for ‘maybe’ 40 years. Is there not a need for someone to expose the shallowness of much which passes today for Bible teaching?
The criticism of Paul’s sermon usually follows these lines: (1) It was an attempt to reason with the philosophers on purely human ground; (2) It does not mention the atonement; (3) it was a failure so far as results were concerned; (4) Paul’s remark in the first Corinthian epistle that when he first arrived in Corinth from Athens he ‘determined not to know anything but Christ and him crucified’ was tantamount to a confession that the sermon in Athens was a mistake.
1. What is wrong with reasoning with sinners? Does not God do the same in Isaiah 1: 18? To convince of error and pave the way to repentance is a most effective way to preach the gospel. The Holy Spirit uses this method throughout the Old Testament in convincing the sinners of Israel of the vanity and wickedness of their idolatry. See Isaiah 40-41 which Paul might well have been quoting when he declared to the Athenians, “We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or precious stones, graven by art and man’s device”.
2. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost did not mention the doctrine of the atonement but no-one has dared to say that his sermon was a mistake. Though Peter mentions the crucifixion he does not connect it with any doctrine, but lays principal stress on the resurrection from the dead as the crowning proof that Jesus Christ is Lord - and this is precisely what Paul does at Athens (Acts 17:31). Conviction of guilt and sin is surely necessary before there can be repentance and faith in a crucified Saviour, and Peter and a Paul were both alike inspired to make that clear. If there is one note above all others missing from preaching today it is the note of repentance. Repentance was the first word of the ministry of John the Baptist, the first word of Christ’s ministry, the first word of Peter’s and Paul’s (see especially Acts 26:20). It was also the first word of the glorious Reformation. (See the first of the 95 theses of Martin Luther with which the Reformation began – “When Jesus Christ in the gospel says repent, He means that the whole life be one of repentance”). But it is a word which has fallen into disuse in these days of utilitarian evangelism.
3. Since when did ‘results’ prove or disprove anything? This objection could only arise from that Arminianism which hinges the purposes of God on the wisdom of men; which has invented the word ‘soul-winning’, (which has nothing whatever to do with two isolated texts in Proverbs and James) and judges a man’s ministry by counting heads. In any event, Paul’s sermon was not a failure even in that regard. The last verse of Acts 17 shows there were some notable converts following that sermon in Athens.
4. Paul’s remark in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 has nought to do with his manner of preaching at Athens. The suggestion that he tried the method of learned talk with the philosophers there, is not born-out by an examination of the sermon itself. To prove idolatry to be false; to prove idolaters to be fools; to talk about a day of judgment, the proof being that the One appointed to be the Judge has been raised from the dead, is about as far removed from worldly philosophy and wisdom as anything that can be imagined. One can well perceive what the philosophers concerned would have said if our modern evangelists and pseudo-theologians had ventured to interrogate them afterwards as to the learned philosophy they had heard from Paul. Indeed we have the verdict in their own words. They would have forgiven Paul if he had approached them in learned language and philosophic tones, but to be treated like the common herd, and be subjected to a sermon which spoke of hell, judgment, repentance and rising from the dead - this was what they could not stomach.
“When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter”.
This was precisely what Paul claimed in his letter to the Corinthians to be always his practice. When he declared that his preaching was ‘not with enticing words of man's wisdom’ he was referring neither to natural eloquence and fluency of utterance (which every preacher should cultivate) nor yet to that reasonable approach to mankind which always aims to touch men where they are found and to come down to the level of their thought so as to be understood.
What Paul abjured was the use of rhetorical flourish and display of learning. Anyone who suggests that the plain, manly reasoning of Paul with the Athenians was designed to commend himself as a man of intellect and culture, could not be further from the truth. There was nothing but plain truth and commonsense in his approach to the Athenians, and as we have shown, his remarks were far removed from the kind of thing that was calculated to establish him amongst those worldly wise and vain men as a philosopher who deserved to be heard.
The real result of the attempt to impugn the apostle’s credit is to impale his critics on their own argument. It is THEY, not the, apostle who ought to be ashamed of their own style of preaching. Was evangelical preaching ever at so low an ebb as today, with its sketchy outline of the gospel and its reliance on the ‘appeal’ to make up for lack of exposition? A touch of Paul’s plain dealing would be a welcome relief from the stories and anecdotes which often compose three quarters of a Sunday night sermon.
PAUL’S MIGHTY SERMON
Paul’s sermon requires only to be studied for its grandeur, reasonableness, profundity, faithfulness to truth, to be appreciated. Happy that preacher who can model his own discourses on this mighty utterance.
Paul begins at the right place - the fact of God. He shows the culpable ignorance of those who degrade the knowledge of the eternal Creator by their own base inventions. The knowledge of God is the beginning of all true religion and the fountain of all knowledge. Paul does not spare his hearers, though he is courteous and condescending to them.
“We ought not to think …” proceeds the preacher as he exposes the vain conceptions of deity harboured by these worldly-wise-men, He gives them their first and most elementary lesson in godliness. They were not ready yet for that tender message which steals into the heart and brings the comfort and assurance of faith - that God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son. Most of those present were there not to be instructed but to have their curiosity aroused, to scoff and argue, condemn and criticise, and to be busy about trifles and scraps.
Paul’s first task was to turn their thoughts to higher things. God was unknown to them, not because He was hidden; but because their sins had come between as a thick cloud. They were far, far from the point where they could know the blessedness of being able to say, “I am my beloved’s and my belovedmine”. Not yet had divine mercy taught them to say “This God is my God, and will he my guide even unto death”. Not yet for them the blessing of knowing that God is a pardoning God, who hears and answers prayer, who leads deeper and deeper into the mystery of loving Him and being loved, till with Peter the soul can say, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee”, or with John, “We love Him because He first loved us”.
Paul scales the tremendous heights of divinity. He shows in a glorious statement of uninhibited Calvinism (spare the name, that we might enforce a point) that God is Creator, sovereign, arbiter of history, governor of the nations, and architect of time.
“He has determined the times before appointed and the bounds of the nations’ habitations”.
He shows that all history has an end - a meaning and purpose - that end is REDEMPTION:
“That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him
and find him….”
Higher and more intimate yet, Paul comes closer. This God is intimately involved and concerned in creation. He is not like the ridiculous Jove of these Athenians, whom they imagined to dwell far away and aloft amid the eternal snows of yonder Mount Olympus.
“Though he be not far from every one of us”.
Man, the offspring of God, was first made in the divine image and likeness and for the holy glories of his great Original.
“Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God….”
The Greeks were not ignorant of this, as Paul proves by two cogent quotations from their own poets. It has been held that Paul’s address at this point is rich in quotation of the great philosophers of Greece, showing a breadth of learning most unusual in a pious Jew. We know not. But Paul shows an inspired tolerance of the errors of those yet in ignorance. He came not to denounce and threaten, but to remonstrate and reprove with reason and charity. That God was all that he (Paul) was seeking to show was something which was beyond dispute, yet the patience of God had tarried long with the ignorance of these who thought they were wise:
“At times of this ignorance God winked at, but how commandeth all men everywhere to repent…”
THIS ATHEISTIC AGE
And how will Paul’s critics manage their own ministry in such a day as ours? The men Paul addressed were not atheists, even though they may have been cynics. Today we live in an even more dangerous age of false science - false insofar as it ignores the fact of a Creator who is the centre of all things, without whom nothing lives or moves. This has been banished from most if not all our great institutions of learning in the Western world. We do not even stand where the Greeks stood. We face a situation which none of our fathers faced on so wide a scale. The great preachers of the last century found an audience not yet acclimatised to the idea of a creation without a Creator or a world without a plan or a purpose.
Great churches were crowded with enormous congregations. Spurgeon was not phenomenal in the numbers attending his ministry. The number of congregations which assembled in thousands all over the British Isles was very considerable. Spurgeon was different only because of the prophetic nature of his message. The crowds were nothing.
Since his day the sense of God and truth has perished. Art, letters, beauty (all so marvellously represented in the civilisation of the Greeks) have changed their meaning today. Negation, distortion, anarchism, ugliness, bestiality, have token over.
Hence the phrenetic ravings of those who hold before a grasping and ignorant world the barefaced lie that our population is outgrowing the resources of the planet, and the stupid, dangerous philosophy of population-destruction or limitation (they call it ‘planning’) which can only result in the disappearance of civilisation beneath Asiatic hordes and the complete engulfing of morality and of the blessings of home and human society as we see happening before our eyes.
Hence too the rise of crime and of violence because respect for law and authority disappears from a society whose only pursuit is animal enjoyment, as before the Flood:
“The earth was filled with violence”.
Spurgeon was only one of many who swayed thousands of worshippers with inspired eloquence and surging waves of true piety. He was unique in that he symbolised the answer of God to the first whispers of rationalism in the church. He saw what was coming and died in giving voice to his warnings.
We are one hundred years on, and there has been no general revival in our century. If Paul spoke to guilty men, how much more do we? The voice of truth is needed, disencumbered from the weedy accretions which a century of declining Bible knowledge has permitted to grow. Brethren, help us!
PAUL AND MATTHIAS
A correspondent "RS" asks us to comment on the theory that the choosing of Matthias (Acts 1) to take the place of Judas the traitor was a mistake. The vacancy in the number of the apostles should (according to the theory) have been reserved for Paul.
The answer is clear. Paul did not appear on the scene for a long time after Pentecost, and meanwhile it was essential for the preservation of the historic and prophetic character of the Church that the perfect number Twelve, the scriptural signature of the Church in Old and New Testaments, should be presented at the inauguration of the Church of the New Testament.
The Divine wisdom decreed there should be twelve patriarchs to represent the Old Testament phase of the Church (the typical Israel) to prepare the way for the full development of the divine purposes in the true and spiritual Israel which was to be established according to prophecy on the day of Pentecost.
Matthias was chosen after prayer and the consultation of the prophecies concerning the defection of Judas, and those who theorise that this was a mistake show a complete misunderstanding of Holy Scripture. The fact that Matthias was not heard of again means nothing. Very few of the apostles were ever heard of again after Pentecost.
The modern objection to Matthias springs from a failure to grasp the significance of Paul’s altogether unique and solitary apostleship of the gentiles. He was never numbered with the original Twelve. He met very few of them, was seldom in Jerusalem, and was unknown by face to the churches of Judea
Our correspondent also asks us to comment on whether the histories in the New Testament written by Luke and Mark put them into the character of the apostles who as touching their teaching authority “sit on twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). The answer is, No. These non-apostolic men, though fully inspired by the Holy Spirit in their writings, did in fact write under authority and direction of the apostles. Mark was associated with Peter, and Luke with Paul. In their Gospels they followed the example of Matthew, who properly comes first in the New Testament. John, the second apostolic writer of the Gospels opened a new chapter of divine revelation in his Gospel (see our commentary on John’s Gospel). This gives the apostolic imprimatur to his Gospel and repels the allegation that the Fourth Gospel was of non-apostolic origin.