PAUL AT MILETUS.
A Pastor's review of his ministry.
Parting address to the elders from Ephesus.—Conscious fidelity in pastoral life.—Life reviewed from a turning-point.—The pasioral work as a work of life.—Self-questionings as to the wisdom of having chosen the work. —Remembrance of the hopes relinquished.—The choice not regretted. —Paul's review of his pastoral work.—He had done all he could for men's souls;—had suppressed no Divine truth;—had set an example of industry.—Claim of the ministry to support.—This claim may be foregone.—Good effects of ministerial diligence.—Paul's calm contemplation of the future.—Of that which mig/tt happen.—Of that which would happen.
"And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God."
Acts Xx. 25—27.
WHEN the Apostle Paul addressed the elders of Ephesus, assembled by his request at Miletus, he was on his way to Jerusalem., It was his purpose, if possible, to be there on the day of Pentecost. In order not to lose time, he had determined "to sail by Ephesus"—napa-rXivaa1 rijv *E<j>iaov,—that is, to pass it without stopping there.
The discourse which Paul delivered to them is one of the most tender, affecting, solemn, and instructive in the New Testament. It may be regarded as especially valuable, not only as describing his labours in Ephesus, and as, we may presume, giving a fair account of his usual modes of labour elsewhere; but, at the same time, as furnishing the most touching and beautiful delineation to be found anywhere of the true method of labour for a Christian minister. It presents a more impressive view, not only of his own fidelity, but of the nature of the ministerial work, than any other connected portion of the New Testament; and with this now in our possession, we cannot but feel that the Volume of inspiration would have been incomplete if such a discourse had not been delivered and recorded.
We are to remember, that Paul laboured longer at Ephesus than at any other place; and this description will, therefore, furnish the best illustration which can be found in his own life of the design and nature of the pastoral relation. The discourse was not conceived or uttered in a spirit of vain-glorying or boasting, but it bears throughout marks of the deepest humility; yet, at the same time, it evinces a consciousness of great fidelity on the part of the speaker, and is proof of the fact that he had been eminently faithful. A man must have lived in accordance with this representation; he must have had a character to which no suspicion could be attached; he must have been pure, industrious, and upright, to have been able to make such an appeal in the presence of those with whom he had been in familiar intercourse for three years, and who had had an abundant opportunity to know what his manner of life was, and what was the estimate entertained of him by the church and the surrounding world. Every minister—every Christian —ought to have a character so stainless and pure, to have a reputation so unmistakable for fidelity and uprightness, and to be so certain that his life is without just cause of reproach, as to be able to make such an appeal, with the assurance that it will meet a response in the hearts of those who know him best; and any man may thus live, even in a world which is so unfavourable towards religion as ours is, and where there is so extensively a willingness to find in the lives of professed Christians that which is irreconcilable with the truth or the claims of their religion.
As Paul had been, in fact, to all intents and purposes, the pastor of the church in Ephesus for about three years—a longer time than had been spent by him in any other particular church—it may not be improper to take occasion for proposing as a subject for consideration, A Pastor's Review Of His Ministry.
This was not, indeed, the close of the life and ministry of the Apostle; nor is there reason to suppose that he so regarded it. But a review of the past is as proper in the middle of life as at its close; and it would be wise for Christian ministers, and for all men, to pause often in the midst of their way, and to consider what life has been thus far. It may be desirable to change our plans, or our manner of life; it may be that in the course which we are pursuing, we are not making the most of life; it may be that the remainder could be better spent than the past has been; it may be well, as far as possible, to "settle up the account" thus far; it may be well to go over the past in anticipation of that day when all must be reviewed in the presence of God. Besides, in any such review of life, whether at the end of a day, a week, a month, or a year, or whether in those crises or turningpoints of life in which we pass from youth to manhood, or from manhood to approaching age, it would be well to remember that we may be near the close, and that the review which we then take, may be, in fact, the final one.
In reference to a pastor's review of life, the points which naturally occur for consideration, are such as the following:—The work itself, as a work of life; the proper duties of a pastor, as indicated by this address of Paul; and the calm contemplation of the future, in view of a faithful performance of these duties.
I. The work itself, as a work of life.
This is not, indeed, in so many words, referred to in the address to the elders at Miletus; but it is manifest in that address that Paul looked back upon his life in the ministry with approbation; he felt that his own life in that "profession" had been well employed; he had no painful recollections in having given up for that profession the bright hopes of his early years; and he had now no longings for the honours which he might have secured from the world if he had pursued the career on which he had early embarked. It is on the basis of these facts, that I shall make a few remarks on the work of the ministry as it appears to a man, either when mid-way he pauses to contemplate it, or when he contemplates it at the close of life. In such a review, a comparison will naturally occur to a man between the ministry which he has chosen, and the course of life which he might have pursued, and the honours and emoluments which he might have obtained, in some other calling.
To all men there will be times of reflection on the wisdom of the course of life which they are pursuing; to all men there are moments of discouragement and despondency in regard to the profession which they have chosen; and to all men there are times when they will compare the reality in their actual course of life with the brilliant hopes which they cherished in their earlier days. In those dark moments, they cannot but ask themselves whether they might not have been happier in some other calling; and, if they have changed an early purpose of life, whether they might not have done better to have pursued it.
There are moments in the life of a minister of the Gospel, when he cannot but ask himself whether he would not have done better to have been a lawyer, or a physician, or a merchant, or a banker, or a teacher, or a farmer. What might not John Wesley have been in wealth and fame and rank, if he had been a statesman instead of a Methodist preacher! Could such a man, on the review of his life, doubt that he had given up much, very much of what the world calls great, for the privilege of preaching the Gospel and making the Saviour known to men? It is but expressing the idea that Paul was a man, to suppose that to a mind like his even under the influence of the Gospel, a recollection must at times have occurred to him of what he had given up, and an inquiry as to what he had gained by the change.
It is not from a want of religion, and is not a proof that a man has no religion, when this inquiry crosses his mind: for it need not be accompanied with any longings for that which has been abandoned, but, on the contrary, the result may be to augment his sense of the wisdom of the change, and of the value of that which has been obtained as compared with that which has been relinquished. In his lonely journeys in India or Persia, with no brilliant earthly prospects, far away from home and friends, sick and feeble, travelling often through the entire night, we cannot but think that to Henry Martyn there would recur the memory of past years; the honours which gathered around him as "senior wrangler" at the University; his reputation for scholarship, and his early aspirings. We cannot but suppose that he would compare what he might have been in that honourable career, with what he was as a missionary of the cross in a heathen land. Yet this may not have been, and we have every assurance that it was not, attended with any regret that he had forsaken all this, or with any desire that this might now be his, or with any feeling that he had made a wrong choice. The effect of all such reflections might have been only to increase his sense of the goodness of God to him, and to make him value more the life which he had chosen.
There can be no doubt on the question how Paul, in this review of life, regarded his work. He speaks as a man who was conscious that the work in which he had been engaged was a noble work, and one which might properly task the best powers of man ; that it furnished no occasion for regret either in regard to its nature and object, or in view of what had been abandoned in order that it might be pursued, or in view of what had been suffered in endeavouring to carry out its great design. Neither in this discourse, nor in any of his epistles, is there the remotest suggestion that he repented the choice which he had made, or that he sighed for the honours or the wealth which he might have secured in a secular calling. The language which he subsequently used in reference to himself was as applicable to the voluntary surrender of these things, as it was to his early views of religion, " I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things" (Phil. iii. 8). Not when men take a true estimate of the value of things to be gained or lost,—not when, casting their eyes over the past and looking out on the future, they ask what life is, and what is its design, and what is the value of the human soul,—not then do they pour forth tears of regret that they have resigned even the most brilliant of earthly prospects that they might become ministers of the Gospel, or feel that they have given up the greater to embrace the less when they have turned from the bar, or the senate, or the gains of commerce, or the attractions of science, and have left the ranks of the rich, the worldly, and the gay, in order to spend their lives in telling the tale of redemption even to the humblest dwellers on the earth.
II. The second point to which I referred is the character of a pastor, or the nature of the pastoral office, as indicated by this address of Paul.
In the last chapter I had occasion to refer to the proper aims and efforts and manner of ministerial work as illustrated in Paul's address to the elders of the church in Ephesus. But there are other aspects in which his example, as bearing on the particular subject now before us, calls for attention.
(1.) The first is, that he could say, appealing to them as witnesses of the truth of what he affirmed, "I am pure from the blood of all men" (ver. 26).
The meaning of this language is plain. It is derived from such expressions as occur in Ezekiel, where the "watchman," by whose neglect or unfaithfulness men are left to perish unwarned, is declared to be guilty of their "blood" (their ruin), and where the faithful watchman, though men reject his message, and perish in their sins, is declared to be innocent (Ezek. iii. 18, 19). A declaration of similar import we have from the Apostle Paul himself: "We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish" (2 Cor. ii. 15).
The statement of the apostle, as made to the Ephesian elders, implies two things;—his consciousness (a) that he had stated nothing in his ministry which was fitted to lead them away from God, or to ruin their souls; and (&) that he had done all he could do to save them. He had brought before them such truth, and had urged it so constantly, and plainly, and faithfully, and perseveringly, in private and in public, that he was now certain that if they perished the fault would not be his, but would be their own. With the same consciousness he said to the Jews at Corinth, "Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean" (Acts xviii. 6).
It is much, very much, for a man in the ministry, on a review of his life at any period, to be able to say this. There are, in fact, few men, even with the low views of the design of the ministry which prevail among such as are engaged in that work, who are able to say this in sincerity. Few men could make such a statement without a fear that it might be denied by those to whom it was addressed. Few have been the men, few are now the Christian men, in any walk in life, who can feel that they have done all they could have done to present the truths of salvation to their fellow-sinners, or who have any degree of assurance that they might not have been the means of saving more souls if they had laboured more faithfully, more sincerely, more constantly, in the cause of their Master.
(2.) The second thing to be noticed in regard to Paul's work as a pastor is, that he had "not shunned to declare all the counsel of God "—iraaav T>)v /3ouxjjv Tov Qtov (ver. 27). This word counsel—j3o«/A»f—means properly counsel as given, that is, advice (Acts xxvii. 12); then, counsel as taken by any one,—determination, purpose, decree (Luke vii. 30; Acts ii. 23; iv. 28; xiii. 36; Eph. i. 11; Heb. vi. 17). Here it means all the purposes, determinations, plans, decrees of God, so far as made known, and so far as bearing on men. It would include His general plan in regard to the method of salvation, and His particular purposes in regard to the application of that plan to individuals—either as affecting their salvation, or as determining their duty. The word used by Paul in the original, viri<mCka\ir\v,—and rendered "I have not shunned" has reference to a sail, as meaning to send or draw under; to contract; to furl. Hence it means to draw back, under cover or out of sight, as one does when he hides himself; and then, to draw back anything in the sense of keeping it back, or suppressing it . The language used by the apostle might imply that there is some danger of doing this, or some temptation to do it; but if there was any such danger or temptation in the case of Paul, he had been able to overcome it, and had not withheld, concealed, or suppressed any part of the truth of God as made known for the salvation of men.
Of the danger of doing this, all men in the ministry must be conscious; few, in the review of life, could say that they had never done it. Many of the doctrines of religion are very repugnant to the feelings of the natural heart; many of those doctrines come in conflict with the maxims of the world, many are such as make it necessary for the minister of religion to advert with apparent severity to the methods of gain, the follies, the vices, the amusements of mankind; many come in conflict with the views of philosophy which prevail among men; many are imagined to represent God as harsh, stern, severe; many are easily perverted by wicked men as arguments against the Bible, or as excuses for remaining in sin. It requires much moral courage to present these doctrines steadily to a world lying in sin; to urge them upon the wicked and the abandoned; to introduce them to circles of gaiety and vanity; to vindicate them before sceptics or philosophers, eminent in politics, in learning, or in science. It is to be remembered, also, that in the early periods of Christianity those who declared these doctrines were often exposed thereby to fiery persecution, and declared them at the peril of life.
Especially are these remarks applicable to those higher doctrines of religion which are now called " doctrines of grace," and which bring into view that which would be most naturally suggested by the word "counsel" here—(3ovj—the sovereignty of God. These great doctrines of the Divine counsel—or will,—comprising under the general idea the doctrine of decrees, of predestination, of election, etc., as in accordance with a purpose,—are, as we well know, among the most unpalatable that can be presented to mankind. They are those which men are most reluctant to hear, and which are most easily perverted. They seem, too, to many, to have so little practical bearing on the salvation of sinners or on the Christian life, (while the plainer and more practical duties of repentance, faith, and holy living, seem to have so much more decided claims to attention,) that preachers of the Gospel often "shun to declare" them.
It is implied, however, that Paul in his preaching at Ephesus had not hesitated to avow his belief in those doctrines, and that he had, in fact, made them prominent in his ministry. What he understood by "the counsel of God," and what were the doctrines which he actually preached, we may learn from the Epistle to the Ephesians, where these doctrines enter into the very essence of the epistle, and constitute its very substance. No man can read that epistle, and have any doubt that "the whole counsel of God" comprised in the view of Paul the doctrines of sovereignty, of decrees, of eternal purposes. That these doctrines might be unpopular, that they might be abused, that men might turn away from them, was, in his apprehension, no reason why they should not be "declared," and he had declared them. In reviewing the life which he had led at Ephesus, it was to him now no cause of regret that he had proclaimed them; and when, now, in a review of the past, a minister of the Gospel looks out on the eternal world, and contemplates appearing before his final Judge, it will be to him no cause of regret that he has made God prominent in his teachings, and that his great aim has been to exalt Him as the Sovereign Ruler over all worlds.
(3.) A third thing not improper to be noticed is, that he had set before them an example of industry; that he had been willing to forego his claim on them for support, and had showed them that he was not influenced by a love of gain:—" I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel; yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me" (vers. 33, 34).
Paul, on proper occasions, was strenuous in urging the right of the ministry to support. That great principle had been incorporated into the Jewish religion, and had been adopted in the Christian system. "Who goeth a warfare," says he, "at any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? It is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things ?—Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel" (1 Cor. ix. 7—14). As a principle of religion, this is everywhere recognized in the Bible; as a matter of equity, it commends itself to all men. The teacher of the young, the physician, the man who advocates the cause of violated rights, and defends the widow, the fatherless, the wronged, the falsely accused, confers benefits that are more than equivalent for what he receives, and has, like other men, a full claim to compensation for the time, and talent, and study, and skill employed in behalf of others; and, in like manner, even laying out of view the bearing of the ministry on another world, the faithful Christian pastor confers benefits which are more than equivalent to the amount he receives. In the promotion of intelligence, industry, honesty, temperance, domestic order, peace, and happiness, he renders back to society more in regard to its real prosperity than is required for his support.
Yet, while this is a right to which the minister of the Gospel is entitled, there are not unfrequently circumstances in which it is proper to forego the right. It was often so with Paul. "I," says he, "have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me" (1 Cor. ix. 15). When the urging of the claim might lead to the charge of covetousness; when it might be oppressive and burdensome; when a people were very poor; when the fair interpretation of the act might be that he was acting merely from the principles and motives of a profession, it might be better for a minister to labour for his own support. Paul, in connection with Aquila, "of the same craft," so laboured in Corinth (Acts xviii. 3); and for the same reason, and doubtless in the same occupation, he had laboured at Ephesus. Whatever special reason there might have been for this in Ephesus, the example could not but have had an important influence on those to whom he ministered.
An example of industry is always of great advantage in a community. Whether it be in manual labour, or in study; whether it be in the regular line of a man's calling, or in something not immediately demanded by his profession, whether it be in an employment different from that in which other men are engaged, or whether it be in the same, the example itself is always of great value. The example of an industrious farmer is of advantage not only to other farmers, but to professional men; the example of an industrious minister of the Gospel in his studies, his preaching, his visiting, though he never touches a plough or a hoe, is of itself of immense value even to those whose bread is gained by "the sweat of the brow." He who can, at the close of his ministry, honestly say that he has himself been industrious; that he has toiled early and late; that he has not eaten "the bread of idleness;" that he has employed in his profession at least as many hours of his life as the merchant in his counting-room, or the clerk in a bank, or the weaver at his loom, or the blacksmith at his forge, is a man who, in respect to the interests of this life, has not lived in vain.
III. In the third place, I propose to consider the calmness with which Paul, in view of the past, contemplated the future; and the illustration thus furnished of the confidence with which one who has faithfully performed his duty can look forward to whatever may happen. Paul's feelings are expressed in the following language:—"And now, behold, I go bound in the 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. 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" (vers. 22—24). His trials and persecutions in the past had made it probable that he would experience similar trials and persecutions in the future; and he had the assurance from Him who saw all that was to come—the Holy Ghost—that he had nothing but this to expect wherever he went. He was going now into new dangers. He was taking leave of a people greatly endeared to him, among whom he had laboured happily and successfully for three years, and was going where he had reason to anticipate new and severe forms of trial.
In looking into the future, there are two things for us to contemplate:—(a) Those events which may happen to any of us; and (b) That which we know certainly will happen.
(a) Those which may happen. Paul knew that there was no form of persecution which he might not be called to experience. As a man, too, he knew that there might be sickness, disappointment, poverty, or reproach, in his path. So it is with us. We are in a world where these things do occur, and they may occur to us as well as to others. Any man may contemplate it as a possible case that any one of these things may befall him. There is no way in which he can secure himself against any one of these; there are some of them which will, in all probability, come upon him. Present exemption is no evidence that he will always or will long be exempt; and, at any moment, he may be plunged into any one of these forms of sorrow.
(b) That which we know must happen. Whatever may be uncertain in the future, one thing is certain— death. To Paul this was certain; it is certain to us all. The time, the manner, the circumstances, are wisely and benevolently concealed from us; but the fact is certain, and is the only thing in all the future that to us is certain. And death is essentially the same thing to all. What it has been to the countless millions who have gone before us, it will be to us. We look upon a dying man; such we shall be. We view the mortal paleness on his cheek, and the cold drops which stand on the brow; so it will be with us. We look upon the body when the vital spark is extinct, and when it becomes cold and rigid; such ours shall be. We look on the eye, now deprived of all lustre and brilliancy; such ours will be. We look on the body, clad in the habiliments of the grave, placed in the narrow coffin, borne from the late dwelling to the new habitation—the grave; let down into the lowly resting-place, covered with earth, left alone in that narrow, cold, still, damp, chilly abode, to remain there, day and night, summer and winter, until all shall be lost in undistinguished dust. Such we shall be. We look on the company of mourners, as they turn away from that grave, to look on that pale face no more for ever. So will the mourners turn away from our graves. We look on the gay and busy world now forgetful of the sleeper there, and sporting in folly, or immersed in cares; and so will the world be gay and busy while we lie low in the grave, and moulder slowly back to dust.
Yet in the prospect of all that, Paul was calm. "None of these things move me." The thought that he had been faithful to his God and Saviour, and the hope that he would be blessed for ever, made him calm; and so it will make us calm. There is nothing in all the future, known to us or unknown, which, if we have been thus faithful, and if we have such a hope, should move or disturb us. When life has been well spent; when there is a conscience without reproach; when there is faith in the Saviour, when there is a well-founded hope of heaven, there can be nothing that should disquiet us. From any point in our journey where we pause to contemplate the past, if we have this consciousness, we may look calmly on to the future; and on the outer limit of life, when death has come, if we have this consciousness, we may look calmly into the dark valley which we are entering, and say, "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."