"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus, who for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles, and salute the church that is in their house."—Romans xvi. 3-5.
Even in the scanty notices which we have of this wife and husband, there are many interesting points and instructive lessons. The facts concerning them may be briefly told.
Aquila was a Jew; whether Priscilla was a Jewess we do not know. Her name is Roman, but that does not decide as to her race, for Jewish men, at all events, frequently bore Latin names. If she were not a Jewess by birth, we have in her case a mixed marriage, such as was not uncommon, and of which Timothy's parents give an example. She is sometimes called Prisca, which is the correct form of the name, and of which Priscilla is an affectionate diminutive. The couple had been living in Rome, and had been banished from that city by Claudius, as Jews have been hounded out of every country in Europe. They had come thence to Corinth, possibly en route to Aquila's native Pontus, on the Black Sea, when they met Paul, and their lives were revolutionised. Their association with him was at first a purely business connection; they went into partnership as tentmakers, a craft of which one principal seat was Paul's native Cilicia. But as they sate at their work, there would be many earnest talks about the Christ, and the power of Paul's teaching and the magnetic influence of his great personality drew both husband and wife to Jesus. The bond thus knit was too close to be easily severed; and so, when Paul returned across the ^Egean to Ephesus, his two new friends kept with him, which they would be the more ready to do as they had no settled home, and a move to Ephesus would be bringing them nearer Pontus. They remained with Paul during his somewhat prolonged stay in the great Asiatic city; for we find greetings from them in i Cor., which was written from Ephesus about that time. But when Paul left Ephesus their companionship seems to have ended; and we next hear of them in the Epistle to the Romans (about a year after I Cor.), in which they are saluted as then resident once more in Rome. A gap of probably about eight years intervenes, and then we catch one more glimpse of them in Paul's last letter (2 Tim.). At that supreme moment, with death staring him in the face, his heart goes out to his two old friends, and he sends them a parting token of his undying love. There are only two salutations in the letter, and one of them is to Prisca and Aquila. At the mouth of the valley of the shadow of death he remembered the old days in Corinth, and the, to us, unknown instance of devotion which these two had shown, when, for his life, they laid down their own necks. Such is all that we know of Priscilla and Aquila. Can we gather any lessons from these scattered notices thus thrown together?
We may find in them an object-lesson as to the effect of Christianity in hallowing domestic life and wedded love. In the majority of the references to this couple Priscilla is named first. She seems to have been "the better man of the two," and Aquila drops into the background. Now, such a pair, in which the wife took the foremost place, would have been absolutely impossible in heathendom. But they are typical figures, "a little mirror which shows a great matter," giving a glimpse of what Christianity was doing then all over the Empire, and what it is doing everywhere to-day—lifting woman to her rightful place. These two, "yoked in all exercise of noble end," and aiding one another in Christian service, and bracketed together by the Apostle as "his fellow-helpers in Christ Jesus," stand before us as a living picture of what sweet family life and wedded love may be glorified into, if the light from heaven shines down upon them, and is thankfully received into them. Such a house as was the shifting home of Priscilla and Aquila is the product of Christianity, and such should be the home of every Christian husband and wife, even one of " the tabernacles of the righteous," in which "the voice of rejoicing and salvation" is ever heard. All our loves are then most precious when into them there flows the ennobling, calming, transforming thought of Christ and His love. Still, as at the rustic wedding at Cana, where He is a guest He becomes a Host, and heightens the water of earth-born joys into the "best wine" of joy in Him.
These two had "a church in their house." It was centuries after their time. before there were buildings exclusively devoted to public worship. So Priscilla and Aquila had some room—perhaps the workshop where the tents were stitched— spacious enough for part of the brethren of the city where they might be to meet in. The meeting may have been small in number and devoid of organisation, but Paul has no scruple in calling it a church. That gives us not only a glimpse into the primitive simplicity of the early worship, but puts a stringent question to all of us as to what our homes are. Fathers and mothers, who are responsible for the religious atmospheres of their homes, may ask themselves if any one would see there a house with a church in it.
We may gather further an object-lesson as to the hallowing of common life, trade, and travel. It does not appear that, after their stay in Ephesus, these two were closely associated with Paul, and certainly they were not among what we may call his evangelistic staff. Nor do they appear to have met him again after that time. Their gipsy life was probably forced on them by the exigencies 01 Aquila's trade. When he had made tents in Ephesus for a while, he moved on somewhere else, looking for work. Yet Paul calls them his "fellowworkers in Christ Jesus." A roving life is not generally conducive to depth of spiritual character; but their wandering career did not hurt this Christian pair. They took their religion with them wherever they went: and they spoke about it wherever they took it. It did not depend on locality, as does that of people who are "religious" when they are at home, where many know them, but seem to send it to their bankers with their silver when they go for a holiday. No matter whether it was in Corinth or Ephesus or Rome, these two carried Jesus Christ with them where they went, and while they were plying their trade (for Priscilla, no doubt, could sew the goat's-hair cloth as well as her husband) were also preaching Christ. If all Christian tradesmen, merchants, and travellers would take a leaf out of the book of these two, what a mighty agency would be called into being, and how society would be leavened with Christian influences!
But Priscilla and Aquila are also a brilliant example of the heroic self-devotion which is kindled by true Christian faith. "For my sake," says the Apostle, "they laid down their own necks." We do not know to what incident he refers; possibly it may be the riot in the theatre at Ephesus, in which he was in great danger, and which made a deep impression on him. But the language seems both more emphatic and more specific than that incident would warrant. Probably it was at some serious juncture of which we know nothing, one of those "deaths oft," the mention of which was but once forced from the Apostle, that these two, the brave woman and her husband, offered themselves as victims in his stead—"Take us, and let him go. His life is worth more than those of a hundred like us. We are glad to lay our heads on the block if he may live and serve the Churches." The sacrifice was not accepted, but Paul felt the heroism of it in his deepest heart, and not he "only, but all the Churches of the Gentiles"—as well they might. That magnanimous self-surrender was a wonderful token of passionate admiration and love towards the Apostle; but its deepest motive was a yet deeper love to the Apostle's Master.
Faith in Christ and its consequence, love to Him, should turn cowards into heroes, and by destroying self-regard, should make the utmost self-sacrifice natural, easy, and blessed. Such heroism may be exercised in, and is needed for, prosaic daily life, and the same spirit which has carried martyrs to the pyre or the block finds ample field for its manifestation in the monotonous routine of uneventful lives. If the love of Christ is in us, as it should be, we shall be ready to yield ourselves living sacrifices, and to be brave in action and steadfast in endurance.
Long years after that unconsummated sacrifice, the Apostle, on the further edge of life, remembered those two who had been "ready to be offered." Much between had become dim; trusted friends had dropped away like Demas; he was about to lay his own neck on the block; but before he gave himself up to the headsman he waved his farewell to the pair who had remained faithful, and wrote in his last letter: "Salute Prisca and Aquila." Paul's Lord is not less mindful of his friends' love, nor less eloquent in praise of their faithfulness. He "will never forget any of their works." "Whosoever therefore will confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven."
Before we part with Priscilla and Aquila, we may draw from their history a suggestion as to the unexpected issues of little things. A complicated chain of circumstances had one of its ends fastened round the Apostle, and the other round the husband and wife. It steadily drew them nearer and nearer, till they met, strangers but destined to be inseparably linked together from that moment. Claudius had banished the Jews from Rome, in some whim of absolute power, or from one of the spasms of needless fear which avenge humanity on despots. So the couple were uprooted, and floated like driftwood to Corinth. We do not know why they went thither, and perhaps they did not know, but God knew. And while they were thus being brought from the West, the Apostle was, in like unconscious ways, being pushed thither from the East. He had been prevented by the Spirit from preaching in Asia Minor, and forced against his intention to Troas, and drawn across the sea to Macedonia, and hounded out of Philippi and Thessalonica, and smuggled out of Beroea, and left Athens, having done little there, and so at last found himself in Corinth, face to face with the tent-maker from Rome and his wife. In his solitude and apparent depression he was glad to find some human kindness in them, and by degrees the three came closer, none of them foreseeing the issue. Who proposed the partnership in business we know not, but whichever did so the connection could not have been meant to be lasting. They "rough-hewed" the ends, but God "shaped" them.
What came of that apparently "accidental" meeting? First, the conversion of Aquila and his wife, and the effects of that are being realised by them in heaven at this moment, and will go on to all eternity. We may learn the lesson that, in the infinite complexity of events, and the inextricable tangle of results ever growing and interlacing, like the undergrowth of tropical forests, we shall do little good by trying to force our own way through the jungle, we can see but a small space ahead, therefore we need not worry ourselves by forecasting. We shall be wisest if we trust God, and be sure that the Force which is pushing us is impelling us in the right direction, and that, if we yield to its gentle, firm guidance, we shall be brought by " the right"—though it may be a roundabout—"way to the City of Habitation." We are like a prisoner groping with his hand in the dark along the walls of his cell, who unawares touches a spring, which moves a stone and discloses an opening that lets in a breath of pure air, and clears the way to freedom. So we go on, as if stumbling in the dark, and presently, when we least think it, do some trivial act that originates a train of events which shape our whole future to a better end than we knew.
When Priscilla and Aquila were in Ephesus they made another " chance" acquaintance, brought there by another concatenation of circumstances, apparently equally fortuitous, really equally pre-arranged. A brilliant Alexandrian Jew, Apollos by name, had received in that great centre of Jewish learning a profound knowledge of the Old Testa'ment, no doubt of the usual Rabbinical type. But he had come under another influence, that of John the Baptist's teaching, which he had probably received at secondhand. What brought him to Ephesus we do not know, but we may be quite sure that he was not seeking what he was destined to find there. He came across Aquila and his wife, who were drawn to him by his Scriptural knowledge and fervency. So, though he was probably much their superior in education and ability, and, as an Alexandrian, a more polished person than the tent-maker from Pontus, "they expounded unto him the way of the Lord more perfectly." They little knew what a mighty power for Christ was sleeping in that man, who, with all his knowledge, knew so much less than they did, but, with all his knowledge, was willing to be taught by them. They took him in hand, just as Paul had taken them, and he became a preacher only second to Paul, and, in the eyes of some, superior to him. Thus the circles widen and widen, when the stone is thrown into the lake. God's grace fructifies from one man to another, and spreads onward and outward. All Apollos' converts, and all their converts, and theirs again, right down the ages, and perhaps the Epistle to the Hebrews, may, in one view, be traced back to Aquila and Priscilla.
We need not be solicitous about the issues of our deeds, which we can neither influence nor perceive; let us be careful as to what we can see and influence —their motives. If we look after this end, God will look after the other. Seeing that "thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that," or how much any of them will prosper, let us grasp all opportunities to do His will and glorify His name.