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But let us return to the history of Paul.
After the uproar has ceased he sends for the disciples, embraces them, and
departs for Macedonia; he visits that whole country, and comes into Greece.
The beginning of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians gives the details of
this part of his history. In Greece he remains three months; and when the
Jews lay wait for him, he goes round by Macedonia, instead of sailing
straight to Syria. At Troas (where a door had been opened to him on his way
into Greece, but where his affection for the Corinthians had not allowed
him to remain) he spends his Sunday, and even the whole week, in order to
see the brethren. We perceive the usual object of their assembly: they
"came together to break bread"; and the ordinary occasion of holding
it-"the first day of the week." Paul avails himself of this to speak to
them all night; but it was an extraordinary occasion. The presence and the
exhortations of an apostle failed in keeping them all awake. It was not
however an assembly held in secret or in the dark. There were many lamps to
light the upper chamber in which they met. By the place in which they came
together we see that the assemblies were not composed of very many persons.
The upper room in Jerusalem received, perhaps, one hundred and twenty. It
appears by different salutations, that they met in private houses-probably
in several, if the number of believers required it; but there was only one
Eutychus pays the penalty of his inattention; but God bears testimony to
His own goodness, and to the power with which He had endued the apostle, by
raising him from a state of death. Paul says that his soul was yet in him:
he had only to renew the connection between it and his physical organism.
In other cases the soul had been recalled.
Paul chose to go alone from Troas to Assos. We see all through the history,
that he arranged, by the power that the Spirit gave him over them, the
willing services of his companions-not, doubtless, as their master, yet
more absolutely than if he had been so. He is (under Christ) the centre of
the system in which he labours, the centre of energy. Christ alone can be
by right the centre of salvation and of faith. It was only as filled with
the Spirit of God that Paul was the centre even of that energy; and it was,
as we have seen, by not grieving Him, and by exercising himself to have a
conscience void of offence both towards God and towards men.
Paul does not stop at Ephesus, because in so central a place he must have
stayed some time. It is necessary to avoid that which has a certain moral
claim upon us, if we would not and ought not to be detained by the
obligation it imposes upon us.
It was no want of affection for the beloved Ephesians, nor any thought of
neglecting them. He sends for the elders, and addresses a discourse to
them, which we must examine a little, as setting before us the position of
the assembly at that time, and the work of the gospel among the nations.
The assemblies were consolidated over a pretty large extent of country, and
in divers places at least had taken the form of a regularly ordered
institution. Elders were established and recognised. The apostle could send
for them to come to him. His authority also was acknowledged on their part.
He speaks of his ministry as a past thing-solemn thought! but he takes them
to witness not only that he had preached the truth to them, but a truth
that spoke to their conscience; setting them before God on the one hand,
and on the other presenting to them Him in whom God made Himself known, and
in whom He communicated all the fulness of grace on their behalf-Jesus, the
object of their faith, the Saviour of their souls. He had done this through
trouble and through difficulty, in face of the unprincipled opposition of
the Jews who had rejected the Anointed One, but in accordance with the
grace that rose above all this evil and declared salvation to the Jews, and
going beyond these limits (because it was grace) addressed itself to the
Gentiles, to all men, as sinners and responsible to God. Paul had done
this, not with the pride of a teacher, but with the humility and the
perseverance of love. He desired also to finish his ministry, and to fail
in nothing that Jesus had committed to him. And now he was going to
Jerusalem, feeling bound in spirit to do so, not knowing what would befall
him, but warned by the Holy Ghost that bonds and afflictions awaited him.
With regard to themselves, he knew his ministry was ended, and that he
should see their face no more. Henceforth responsibility would specially
rest upon them.
Thus what the Holy Ghost here sets before us is, that now, when the detail
of his work among the Gentiles to plant the gospel is related as one entire
scene among Jews and Gentiles, he bids adieu to the work; in order to leave
those whom he had gathered together in a new position, and in a certain
sense to themselves. [see note #30]
It is a discourse which marks the cessation of one phase of the
assembly-that of apostolic labours-and the entrance into another-its
responsibility to stand fast now that those labours had ceased, the service
of the elders whom "the Holy Ghost had made overseers," and at the same
time the dangers and difficulties that would attend the cessation of
apostolic labour, and complicate the work of the elders on whom the
responsibility would now more especially devolve.
The first remark that flows from the consideration of this discourse is,
that apostolic succession is entirely denied by it. Owing to the absence of
the apostle various difficulties would arise, and there would be no one in
his place to meet or to prevent these difficulties. Successor therefore he
had none. In the second place the fact appears that, this energy which
bridled the spirit of evil, once away, devouring wolves from without, and
teachers of perverse things from within, would lift up their heads and
attack the simplicity and the happiness of the assembly, which would be
harassed by the efforts of Satan without possessing apostolic energy to
This testimony of Paul's is of the highest importance with regard to the
whole ecclesiastical system. The attention of the elders who are left in
charge is directed elsewhere than to present apostolical care (as having no
longer this resource, or anything that officially replaced it), in order
that the assembly might be kept in peace and sheltered from evil. It was
their part to care for the assembly in these circumstances. In the next
place, that which was principally to be done for the hindrance of evil was
to shepherd the flock, and to watch, whether over themselves or over the
flock, for that purpose. He reminds them how he had himself exhorted them
night and day with tears. Let them therefore watch. He then commends them,
neither to Timothy, nor to a bishop, but-in a way that sets aside all
official resource-to God, and to the word of His grace which was able to
build them up and assure them of the inheritance. This was where he left
the assembly; that which it did afterwards is not my subject here. If John
came later to work in these parts, it was a great favour from God, but it
changed nothing in the position officially. His labours (with the exception
of the warnings to the seven assemblies in the Apocalypse, where judgment
is in question) regarded the individual life, its character, and that which
With deep and touching affection Paul parts from the assembly at Ephesus.
Who filled the gap? At the same time he appealed to their consciences for
the uprightness of his walk. The free labours of the apostle of the Gentiles
were ended. Solemn and affecting thought! He had been the instrument chosen
of God to communicate to the world His counsels respecting the assembly,
and to establish in the midst of the world this precious object of His
affections united to Christ at His right hand. What would become of it down