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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : LESSON XXII. THE APOSTLE OF THE GENTILES.

The Chosen People by Charlotte Mary Yonge

LESSON XXII. THE APOSTLE OF THE GENTILES.

|Of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him, and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between His shoulders.| -- Deut. xxxiii.12.

After Saul's marvellous call from Heaven, he spent three years in solitude in Arabia, ere entering on his work. Then returning to Damascus, he began to set forth the Gospel. The Jews were so angry at his change, that they stirred up the soldiers of the Arabian king, Aretas, and he only escaped them by being let down over the wall in a basket. Coming to Jerusalem, the gentle Levite, Barnabas, was the first to welcome him, and present him to the company of the Apostles; but he spent some years in retirement at his home at Tarsus, before Barnabas summoned him to come and aid in his preaching at Antioch. There the Word was heartily received, and the precious title of Christians was first bestowed upon the disciples; there, too, on the occasion of a famine in Judea, the first collection of alms for brethren at a distance was made.

At Antioch, a heavenly revelation signified that Paul and Barnabas were to be set apart for a special mission; and after prayer and consecration they set out on their mission, accompanied by the nephew of Barnabas, John, surnamed Mark. Barnabas had once had great possessions in the isle of Cyprus, and thither they first repaired, preaching in all the chief places; and then going into Asia Minor, where they showed such power from on high, that the rude people of Lycaonia fancied them gods in the likeness of men, and had well-nigh done sacrifice to them, though afterwards the spiteful Jews led the same men to draw Paul out of the city, stone him, and leave him for dead. In such perils, Mark's heart failed him, and he departed from them.

Returning to Antioch, they found the Church in doubt whether the Christians of Greek birth were bound to obey the rites of the Jewish Law. To decide this, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, after fourteen years' absence, taking with them a Greek, named Titus; and here was held the First General Council of the Church, a meeting of her Apostles and elders, in the full certainty that the Divine grace would inspire a right judgment, according to the promise that Christ would be with those who should meet in His Name. St. James presided, and St. Peter spoke; and it was decided that the whole object of these rites had been fulfilled, therefore that they were among the old things that had passed away; and that no such rule need be imposed on the Gentiles, save that given to Noah ere the parting of the nations. It was agreed that St. Paul should go especially to the Gentiles, and St. Peter and St. John to the scattered Jews, while St. James remained at Jerusalem. Two Jewish Christians, Silas and Barsabas, went back with the two Apostles, to notify the resolution to the Church at Antioch, and St. Peter shortly followed them; but there continued to be a great tendency among the Christians of Jewish blood to avoid their Gentile brethren, and St. Peter was drawn in to do the same, so that St. Paul, always more stedfast, was forced to rebuke him. Paul and Barnabas intended to set out on a second journey, and Barnabas wished again to take his now repentant nephew, but Paul would not trust him a second time; and after a dispute on the subject, Barnabas left him, and took Mark to Cyprus, where it is believed that the |Son of Consolation| was at length martyred.

Paul, taking Silas as his companion, went over the former ground in Asia Minor, and at Iconium ordained a disciple, named Timothy, whose father was a Greek, but whose Jewish mother and grandmother had faithfully bred him up in the knowledge of the Scriptures. A Greek physician, named Luke, likewise at this time joined him; and with these faithful companions, he obeyed a call sent him in a dream, and crossed over into Macedon, where he gained many souls at Philippi and Thessalonica, but the Jews stirred up such persecution, that he was forced to go southward into Greece. Athens was no longer a powerful city, but it served as a sort of college for all the youths of the Roman Empire who wished to be highly educated; and it was full of philosophers, who spent their time in the porticos and groves, arguing on questions of their own -- such as whether, this life being all of which they were sure, it was best to live well or to live in pleasure. The Stoics were the philosophers who upheld the love of virtue and honour; the Epicureans said that it was of no use to vex themselves in this life, but that they might as well enjoy themselves while they had time. St. Paul was well learned in all these questions, and set forth to the Athenian students, in glorious words, that the truth was come for which they had so long yearned, and declared to them the Unknown God Whom they already worshipped in ignorance. Some few believed, but the others were too fond of their own empty reasonings, and Athens long continued the stronghold of heathenism. He had better success at Corinth, where he spent eighteen months, working at his trade as a tent-maker, and whence he wrote his two Epistles to his Thessalonian converts, about the time that St. Luke was writing his Gospel, it is thought by direct revelation, since neither he nor St. Paul had been with our Lord. The Jews hunted them away at last; after a short stay at Jerusalem, they went back to Asia Minor, and passed three years at Ephesus, whence were written the Epistle to the Galatians, against the Jewish practices, and the First to the Corinthians, on some disorders in their Church. Ephesus was the chief city in Asia Minor, and contained an image of the Greek goddess of the moon, Diana, placed in a temple so beautiful, that it was esteemed one of the seven wonders of the world, and thither came a great concourse of worshippers. There was a silversmith who made great gain by selling small models of her temple; and he, growing, afraid that his trade would be ruined if idols were deserted, stirred up the mechanics to such a frenzy of rage, that for two hours they shouted, |Great is Diana of the Ephesians!| and they would have torn Paul to pieces, had they not been with much difficulty appeased. He was obliged to leave the city, and go to Macedonia, whence he again wrote to the Corinthians, to console them in their repentance, and he also wrote to the Church at Rome, which he had never yet seen. After visiting the Greek Churches, a Divine summons called him back to keep the feast of Pentecost at Jerusalem, though well knowing that bonds and imprisonment awaited him there; and on his way he had a most touching meeting at Miletus, with the elders of Ephesus, who sorrowed grievously that they should see his face no more. His beloved Timothy was left with them as their bishop.

At Jerusalem, a terrible tumult arose against him for having, as the Jews fancied, brought Greeks into the Temple, and he was only rescued by the Roman garrison, who treated him well on finding that he was a citizen. Then the Jews laid a plot to murder him, and to prevent this he was sent to the seat of government at Caesarea, where he was brought before the procurator, Felix, and his wife, Drusilla, a daughter of Herod Agrippa. His words made Felix tremble, but the time-server put them aside, and neither released him nor sent him to Rome for judgment, but on going out of office left him in prison. Festus, the new procurator, could not understand his case, and asked the young Agrippa and his sister Bernice, to help him to find out under what accusation to send him to Rome. Again St. Paul's speech struck his hearers with awe, and Agrippa declared himself almost persuaded to be a Christian, but he loved too well the favour of the Jews and Romans, and his petty tetrarchy of Trachonitis, to become one of the despised sect. The noble captive would have been set free, but that he had sent his appeal to Rome, and therefore could only be tried there.

On his way, coasting along as sailors did before the compass was known, came his shipwreck at Malta, when the life of his shipmates was granted to him. The Emperor Nero was so much more disposed to amusement than business, that St. Paul's cause was not heard, but he lived in his own hired house, under charge of a soldier seeing the Christians freely, and writing three beautiful epistles, full of hope and encouragement, to his children at Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi, also a friendly intercession for a runaway slave to Philemon, and letters of pastoral counsel to Timothy at Ephesus, and to Titus, who was Bishop of Crete. It is thought that the Epistle to the Hebrews, which shows how the Old Covenant points throughout to the New, must be also of this date; but we have no longer the inspired pen of St. Luke to tell of St. Paul's history, and it is not certain whether he were ever at liberty again, though some think that he was free for a short time, and went to Spain, Gaul, and even to Britain. St. Peter had likewise come to Rome. He had met with St. Mark, and taken him as his companion, and, as it is believed, assisted in composing his Gospel. St. Peter likewise wrote two epistles to the Jews dispersed abroad. But dark times were coming on the Church. St. James, who left an epistle, was, in his old age, slain by the Jews, who cast him from the top of the Temple, and then beat out his brains. The Emperor Nero had also broken out in sudden rage. In a fit of folly, he set Rome on fire to see how the flames would look, and then persuaded the citizens that it was done by the Christians. St. Peter, who is considered as the first Bishop of Rome, and St. Paul, were thrown into a dungeon; and about that time Paul wrote his last letter, to call to his side Timothy, and also the once weak Mark, now profitable to the ministry, even as the ever faithful Luke. The fight was over, the crown was ready, and on the same day, the two Apostles went to receive it; the Roman citizen by the sword, the Jewish fisherman by the cross, esteemed dishonour by the Romans, but over-much glory by the saint, who begged to suffer with his head downwards, so as not to presume on the very same death as that of his Master. Many Christians likewise perished; thrown to wild beasts, or smeared with grease, and then slowly burnt, to light the Romans at their horrible sports; but to them death was gain, and the Church was only strengthened. St. Timothy went back to his post at Ephesus, and St. Mark founded a Church at Alexandria, where, many years later, he was martyred by being dragged to death through the streets.

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