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PAUL'S PARTING ADDRESS TO THE ELDERS AT MILETUS.—A.d. 60.
Acts Xx. 13—24.
13. And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot
14. And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene.
15. And we sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios; and the next day we arrived at Samos, and tarried at Trogyllium; and the next day we came to Miletus.
16. For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
17. And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
18. And 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,
19. Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:
20. And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,
21. Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is affecting to find St. Paul thus calling upon the elders of the church, the elders of his own appointment over churches of his own planting, to bear witness to his faithfulness. He speaks, indeed, as one serving the Lord with all humility of mind. He appeals to them, as knowing the character of his teaching. He had kept back nothing that was profitable unto them. He might have spoken, not as pleasing God, but men. But he did not; he spoke, " not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth the heart."1
The human mind, it seems, was the same then as now. The hearer might wish some truth to be kept back: the preacher might be tempted to indulge the hearer's wish. The prophet might prophesy falsely, because the people loved to have it so.2
Paul, however, kept back nothing that was profitable, but showed and taught them both publicly and from house to house.
We have seen how he taught publicly. Wherever there were Jewish synagogues, these he entered, and expounding the law and the prophets, "showed from the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ." When, as at Ephesus, he could no longer attend the synagogue without danger, or when, as at Athens, there was no Jewish synagogue, he
1 1 Thess. ii. 4. :See Jer. v. 31.
used the most convenient place of meeting, as the school of Tyrannus; or even disputed in places of public concourse " with them that met with him."3 Thus he acted as what he was, a herald, one who has something to announce; and the subject of his announcement was, Man a sinner, and Christ a Saviour: repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
But public preaching must not supersede private instruction. It opens the way for it; but does not supply it. The one draws the bow at a venture; the other carries the arrow home, and lodges it in the heart—not to wound, but to heal; not to destroy, but to save. Therefore he taught both publicly and from house to house. He had thus opportunity of pressing his doctrine more closely upon the conscience, and also of explaining it more accurately. He could resolve doubts, as well as declare truths. He could reach the individual case: and prove to every heart which "knew its own bitterness," the nature of that "grace of God which had appeared unto all men."
Thus he fulfilled his mission, to the Jews, and also to the Greeks. Both, it seems, required the same. Both required repentance towards God. The Jews had offended against the law which God had revealed to them: the Greeks had offended against "the law written in their hearts'." So that "there was no difference; for that all had sinned, and come short of the glory of God."*
3 See xix. 9; xvii. 17.
* See the argument in the Epistle to the Romans, ii. and iii.
All, though in various degrees of guilt, were to come before God in one common attitude as sinners. But as repentant sinners, intending "to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking henceforth in his holy ways." And, also, as sinners who sought acceptance with God, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance towards God was to lead to faith towards Christ Jesus. Sorrow for sin was to produce love of the Saviour. The law, convincing them of sin, was to bring them to Him who takes away sin. They were shown their condemnation in the sight of God, that they might embrace his offer of salvation. And if they were thus taught repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, nothing was kept back which was profitable for them.
22. And now behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:
23. Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying, that bonds and afflictions abide me.
24. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
The exact nature of his trials was not revealed to Paul. All that the Holy Ghost witnessed, was what from the first he had been taught to expect. From the first he had been shown "how great things he must suffer for Christ's sake."5
3 ix, 16.
It is mercy to man that a map of his wanderings is not laid before him. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Sufficient also is the provision against evil, if He is with us whom Paul was proclaiming: if we are able to say, through whatever unknown ways we may be called, "Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." 6 This was Paul's support: he had a certain duty to fulfil, a certain course to follow: and he set out to meet the trials of every day in sure confidence of " doing all things through Christ who strengthened him." And this alone was his desire, that he might finish his course with joy. As he more fully describes his state of mind, when writing to the Philippian disciples, (Phil. iii. 13,) "This one thing I do; forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
His was a peculiar course. But so is every man's. Every man's condition is a course to himself, requiring to be run, like Paul's, with patience unto the end. Every situation, every relation of life, has its own duties, and its own difficulties. Every individual heart has its own temptations. We proceed, not knowing the things that shall be/all us; save this, that the Holy Ghost witnesseth, that "strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life:" but that " God is faithful, who will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are
Ps. xxiii. 4.