SUFFERING AS CHRISTIANS.
--ACTS 21:30-39.--MAY 3.--
"If any man suffer as a Christian, let
him not be ashamed."--1 Pet. 4:16.
WHEN the Apostle Paul and his companions arrived at Jerusalem they were cordially received by the brethren--they had further manifestations of the same loving brotherhood specially noted in our last lesson. The Church was called together that the Apostle might make a general and public report, and might turn over to the proper authorities the funds donated for their poor by the churches amongst the Gentiles. Apparently several of the Apostles still resided at Jerusalem, "James, our Lord's brother," being in some particular sense the leader or chief spokesman. Tradition tells us that the different apostles ultimately scattered in different directions, preaching the Gospel--Andrew to Cythia, Jude to Assyria, Thomas to Persia and India, Peter to Babylon and Rome. We infer, however, that they had remained at Jerusalem up to this time, since Paul seems to have been the leader in the work amongst the Gentiles; quite probably his report of the Lord's blessing upon his efforts, in conjunction with the subsequent persecutions at Jerusalem, led the other apostles to go into the foreign fields of service.
It was now but twelve years before the destruction of Jerusalem, and less than half that time before the beginning of the factionalism and anarchy which led up to that destruction. The apostles quite probably in due time bethought themselves of the Lord's injunction that they must ultimately flee out of Jerusalem before it would be encompassed with armies and escape be impossible. We today are living within a corresponding twelve years of utter overthrow of churchianity, and must not be surprised if in the Lord's providence the bitterness and opposition against the present truth should become more and more open and violent, thus hindering our efforts amongst the professed people of God today, and compelling us to go more particularly to those who make less boast of their loyalty to God.
The apostles and brethren at Jerusalem were fully in sympathy with the Apostle Paul, though evidently their minds did not grasp so clearly as did his the complete breaking down of "the middle wall of partition" which previously had separated Jews from Gentiles, nor did they appreciate so fully as he that the Law was merely a pedagogue, a servant, to lead to Christ--to his school. Practically the Jerusalem friends said to the Apostle: We are in full accord with you and the noble work which you have been prosecuting, and we perceive the Lord's blessing upon it, and recognize the true Christian spirit in these brethren who have come with you, as representatives of the work of the Gospel amongst the Gentiles. However, you know how great is the opposition here; how bitter is the hatred of the Jews, and that they have heard of you. Jews who have come from Ephesus and Corinth and other places, evidently misunderstood some things that you taught there, or [R3188 : page 138] at least misrepresented your teachings. They have heard that you are an enemy of the Law, while we know that you believe that "the Law is just and holy and good," and full of shadows of better things to come. But now, as an offset to their pernicious presentations, and as an object lesson to some of our own brethren who are not just strong along this line, and for the benefit also of some whom we are endeavoring to interest in the Gospel of Christ, we have something to propose to you, and to these brethren: it is that you go into the Temple, as a worshiper, and associate yourselves with some of the rites and ceremonies there in progress, that thus all may know that you are not disrespectful toward Moses or the Law or the Temple,--that their misapprehension and evil-speaking may be counteracted. Amongst us are three brethren who have made certain vows to the Lord, called the vows of the Nazarites, and we suggest that you show your sympathy with them and with the arrangements, acting as sponsor for them--paying for the sacrifices which, according to the Law, they must offer, etc. Thus you will be seen with them, and in performance of certain ceremonies, for about a week, in the court of the Temple known as the Court of the Women, and we hope that much good will result therefrom, and much misapprehension be abated.
We can easily imagine that the bold champion of the truth in foreign lands would never have chosen such a course of his own volition, and that when the suggestion came to him it was not enthusiastically received. Nevertheless, since it seemed to be the judgment of the apostles and brethren in general--seemed to be in their interest and according to their view of advantage to the general cause, the Apostle yielded his own preference. We cannot suppose that he yielded to that which was wrong, yet we can easily imagine some one inquiring, Would it not be sin for the Apostle or other Christians to participate in any measure in sacrifice in the Temple?--were not all these sacrifices done away in Christ, and henceforth abominations in the sight of God,--sacrilegious?
We answer, No, not at all. The sacrifices which pointed to Christ, and which he fulfilled, were no longer proper, but these sacrifices which the Nazarites offered in connection with their vows did not typify Christ's sacrifice, but rather the consecrations and devotions of the people, the antitypes of which will prevail during the Millennium. It was no sin, therefore, on the Apostle's part to join in this procedure, and yet we incline to doubt the wisdom of the course pursued. We incline to believe that it was rather a temporizing acknowledgment of the dignity of the Temple and its services; whereas by this time the real Temple and the real service had been inaugurated;--for the Church itself is the antitypical Temple in which God has been present by his holy spirit since Pentecost. Although it is not distinctly so stated, we incline to believe that the Apostle Paul and all of his associates in this matter took a different view of it subsequently, as being a compromise which, without being sinful, was not advantageous, and reflected no special credit upon any connected with it. Perhaps such a lesson was needed by the apostles and the Church at Jerusalem, that they might learn to be the more courageous in their presentations of the truth--that they might be less fearful of the Jews, more bold in their presentations of Christ and the New Covenant arrangements in his blood--the better sacrifices, better vows, etc.
It was while the Apostle and these brethren, who were really Jews by nature, but who saw beyond the types and symbols, and appreciated the antitypes, were engaged in the performance of the typical, or symbolical rites, that the Jews recognized Paul and one of his companions, and became furiously incensed, either believing or claiming to believe that the Apostle was attempting to do the very reverse of what he and the Jerusalem Church intended--that he was attempting to discredit the Law and dishonor the Temple by violating, and getting others to violate, its holy precincts. As the excited shouts arose in the air a mob was quickly gathered; and as in Ephesus "the mob ran together, the greater part not knowing wherefore," so here again the mob merely knew that some of its leaders were frantically indignant at the Apostle Paul, and believed that he should be killed. He was dragged out of the Temple, and immediately the great doors of the Beautiful Gate of the Temple were closed--that no rioting or bloodshed might occur within the sacred enclosure.
The Tower of Antonia was close by the Temple Court, and steps connected the two. In this castle a band of Roman soldiers was quartered--evidently several hundred, because each centurion was a commander, or captain, of a hundred men. The riotous commotion brought forth the garrison, which appeared at just the proper time to deliver Paul from his enemies, who were beating him.
The chief captain, Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26), caused the arrest of Paul and commanded that he be chained to two of the Roman soldiers--much after the manner in which now a culprit is sometimes handcuffed to an officer. Each Roman soldier carried, as a part of his outfit, an iron chain and a leather thong, for use in just such an emergency. While this handcuffing, which fulfilled the prophecy of Agabus, was in progress, Lysias made inquiry respecting the Apostle and the crime which had occasioned the commotion and indignation of these religious people. As a Gentile, he would naturally suppose that such a commotion [R3189 : page 139] amongst religious worshipers must have been incited by some atrociously evil conduct, some villainy or sacrilege, or that a disguised robber or assassin had been discovered. The multitude shouted out its various conjectures, and, it being impossible to judge the case at the time on such evidence, he commanded that Paul be brought into the prison.
Lysias, the foreign officer, had probably a very imperfect knowledge of the language spoken by the Jews, which was either Hebrew or Syriac, his own language being the Greek. Knowing this, the Apostle spoke to him in the Greek language, and with such fluency as to cause the commander great surprise. From the account, he evidently had confounded the Apostle with an Egyptian leader of an insurrection of some time previous. Paul's request was that he be permitted to speak to the people, who were in such commotion and crying out, "Away with him!" He evidently thought that he might correct some false impressions and pacify the multitude. At any rate he would lose no opportunity for declaring the gospel of Christ. The Lord influenced the heart of Lysias to grant the request. The people quieted as they perceived that the commander had permitted the prisoner to make them an address from the stairs leading to the castle. Here was a most excellent opportunity for presenting Christ before a large number of seemingly devout people--Temple worshipers. Undoubtedly there were some grains of "wheat" in that multitude, though evidently the great mass was "chaff." The Apostle's words would be a blessing to the wheat, and serve to test, prove, demonstrate, that the others were without the real kernel of truth in their hearts, although they had the outward appearances of being devout worshipers of the true God.
It is worthy of remark that the Apostle never allowed opportunities to pass by him without doing all in his power to use them in the Lord's praise and for the forwarding of the truth. The majority of us, probably, would have been so affected by the excitement of such an incident and by the bruises resulting from the beating, that we would perhaps have forgotten all about the greatest and most important work of all committed to our care, and might have been much less prompt than the Apostle to seek an opportunity to testify to the Lord's praise and for the opening of the eyes of any who might be his people amongst our assailants. Let us learn this lesson: let us be instant in season and out of season, so far as our own convenience and feelings are concerned, if only we can find opportune seasons for reaching others. The Apostle here illustrated his advice to Timothy, "Be instant in season and out of season,--preach the Word." It was in season for the multitude, because they were gathered there, and their attention was riveted upon him. Had he consulted his own convenience he would have said that it was very much "out of season" for himself;--that he was in no condition to speak, his nerves were excited and his body was bruised. But thinking of the convenient opportunity he spared not himself. In this he had the spirit of the Master, that he himself admonished us to have, saying that as Christ died for us we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren--in season or out of season, so far as our own convenience is concerned.
In a few well-chosen words he told the people the story of his own experience: he had, like themselves, been an opposer of Jesus, a persecutor of all the followers of the Lord; how he had been miraculously interrupted in this work, and led to consider the claims of Jesus from the standpoint of the Word of God--the Law and the Prophets; how he had become fully convinced that Jesus is indeed "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world," the deliverer who should come out of Zion, and through whom a blessing should come to all that would receive his message. He then proceeded to tell them what should have brought joy to their hearts; viz., that the Lord sent him to be a messenger to the Gentiles, to tell them of the good tidings, that they also might participate, as well as the Jews. But their hearts being evil and selfish, this mention of divine favor and mercy going to others incensed them; they heard the Apostle in peace and with profound attention up to this point, and then all their prejudices seemed to be aroused with the thought that this man claimed and taught that Gentiles could have favor with God equal to that bestowed upon the Jews. They cried out against him in much the same language that they had used against the Lord, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live;" and while they thus cried out and threw dust in the air, and gesticulated with their arms, and threw their garments about, they made a wild, weird picture. The Roman commander, not understanding the Hebrew language, had not been able to follow the Apostle's discourse, and considering it evident that after he had had so quiet and orderly a hearing for a time, and now there was such a wild burst of indignation at what he said, it implied something very deep and treacherous and evil in the man, else his words would not thus arouse the passions and malice of religious people. He, therefore, ordered the Apostle to be scourged to make him tell a true story of his differences with the Jews.
Matters are somewhat the same today, though on a different plane. A stranger or worldly person, hearing some sectarian Christian animadvert against some one who has been preaching the true gospel of the Lord Jesus, would be inclined to suppose that the message [R3189 : page 140] must contain something very vicious, very terrible indeed, else it would not so arouse those who have outwardly so much "form of godliness." And if, as in the case of the Roman officer, an audience be granted, and the truth be presented in their hearing, they cannot understand it;--that is to say, "the world by wisdom knows not God," knows little of his plan, understands little of the language of his Word--it is a different language from that to which they are accustomed. And when, after a presentation of the truth, they find bitter opposition and invective against it on the part of religious teachers--modern scribes and Pharisees and doctors of divinity--we must not be surprised if they are the more inclined to side with those who represent popular theology--so-called "orthodoxy," and assume that the true gospel, because believed and taught by so few and opposed by so many of influence, must necessarily be something very evil.
Nevertheless, it is for us to take the Apostle for our guide, and to be faithful in the use of every opportunity to let the light shine forth, even though it arouse the bitter opposition and persecution and prejudice of darkness. The darkness hateth the light, because it is reproved thereby, is our Lord's explanation. Nothing seemed so much to incite the scribes and Pharisees of eighteen centuries ago as the reasonableness of the true gospel. The common people heard it gladly, unless intimidated by their religious rulers, and led to doubt those who had been teaching them to the contrary. Hence, the rulers were incensed against the gospellers: "They were grieved because they [the apostles] taught the people." They held, on the contrary, that only the scribes and Pharisees, the doctors and leaders, should be taught, and that the people should simply follow them blindly, and without requiring a reason and a "Thus saith the Lord" for their faith.
Our Golden Text for this lesson is well chosen. Paul's experience illustrated it; he was suffering as a Christian--because he was loyal to the Lord and his Word. He was not suffering because of having followed the admonitions of the brethren in going into the Temple, for very evidently the hatred that was against them in the hearts of his enemies would sooner or later have manifested itself anyway, and they would have sought his life, as on previous occasions. We merely see in this incident that the attempt of the apostles to create a favorable impression toward the Apostle Paul and his work amongst the Gentiles failed, and probably brought the matter of his arrest, etc., more quickly to the front than would any other course have done.
The Apostle was not ashamed of his sufferings, because he realized that they were endured for Christ's sake. Any man or woman would feel and should feel deeply pained at a public arrest and imprisonment as a felon, as a violator of the law. But when these things are experienced, and we can realize that they are coming to us because of our faithfulness to the Lord, in following in his footsteps, we may rejoice in ignominy, rejoice in things which otherwise would be shameful and detestable. If, therefore, in the Lord's providence, arrest or imprisonment or scourging should come to any who read this article, and if they can directly or indirectly trace their tribulation to faithfulness to the Lord and his truth, let them not be ashamed; let them glorify God on this behalf, rejoicing that they are accounted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ, and remembering that even thus also it was with our Lord Jesus. He was placed under arrest; he was bound; he was scourged; he was publicly insulted; he was even crucified as a blasphemer against God.-- 1 Pet. 4:16.
Another lesson which we may learn here is, not to trust too implicitly in the voice of the multitude, and if we find the rabble shouting against any one, either orally or through the press, we should not unquestioningly accept their verdict. We should remember the experiences of Jesus, the experiences of Paul, and of the other Apostles, and how the multitude cried out, "Away with them!" The Christian whose mind is thus relieved of prejudice is the better prepared to judge wisely respecting whatever may properly come under his observation or criticism. And then, if he have similar experiences himself, he will be the better prepared for them.