[This chapter is based on Acts 19:1-20.]
While Apollos was preaching at Corinth, Paul fulfilled his promise to
return to Ephesus. He had made a brief visit to Jerusalem and had spent
some time at Antioch, the scene of his early labours. Thence he travelled
through Asia Minor, "over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia"
(Acts 18:23), visiting the churches which he himself had established, and
strengthening the faith of the believers.
In the time of the apostles the western portion of Asia Minor was known
as the Roman province of Asia. Ephesus, the capital, was a great
commercial centre. Its harbour was crowded with shipping, and its streets
were thronged with people from every country. Like Corinth, it presented a
promising field for missionary effort.
The Jews, now widely dispersed in all civilised lands, were generally
expecting the advent of the Messiah. When John the Baptist was preaching,
many, in their visits to Jerusalem at the annual feasts, had gone out to
the banks of the Jordan to listen to him. There they had heard Jesus
proclaimed as the Promised One, and they had carried the tidings to all
parts of the world. Thus had Providence prepared the way for the labours
of the apostles.
On his arrival at Ephesus, Paul found twelve brethren, who, like
Apollos, had been disciples of John the Baptist, and like him had gained
some knowledge of the mission of Christ. They had not the ability of
Apollos, but with the same sincerity and faith they were seeking to spread
abroad the knowledge they had received.
These brethren knew nothing of the mission of the Holy Spirit. When
asked by Paul if they had received the Holy Ghost, they answered, "We
have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost."
"Unto what then were ye baptised?" Paul inquired, and they said,
"Unto John's baptism."
Then the apostle set before them the great truths that are the
foundation of the Christian's hope. He told them of Christ's life on this
earth and of His cruel death of shame. He told them how the Lord of life
had broken the barriers of the tomb and risen triumphant over death. He
repeated the Saviour's commission to His disciples: "All power is
given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all
nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Ghost." Matthew 28:18, 19. He told them also of Christ's
promise to send the Comforter, through whose power mighty signs and
wonders would be wrought, and he described how gloriously this promise had
been fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.
With deep interest and grateful, wondering joy the brethren listened to
Paul's words. By faith they grasped the wonderful truth of Christ's
atoning sacrifice and received Him as their Redeemer. They were then
baptised in the name of Jesus, and as Paul "laid his hands upon
them," they received also the baptism of the Holy Spirit, by which
they were enabled to speak the languages of other nations and to prophesy.
Thus they were qualified to labour as missionaries in Ephesus and its
vicinity and also to go forth to proclaim the gospel in Asia Minor.
It was by cherishing a humble, teachable spirit that these men gained
the experience that enabled them to go out as workers into the harvest
field. Their example presents to Christians a lesson of great value. There
are many who make but little progress in the divine life because they are
too self-sufficient to occupy the position of learners. They are content
with a superficial knowledge of God's word. They do not wish to change
their faith or practice and hence make no effort to obtain greater light.
If the followers of Christ were but earnest seekers after wisdom, they
would be led into rich fields of truth as yet wholly unknown to them. He
who will give himself fully to God will be guided by the divine hand. He
may be lowly and apparently ungifted; yet if with a loving, trusting heart
he obeys every intimation of God's will, his powers will be purified,
ennobled, energised, and his capabilities will be increased. As he
treasures the lessons of divine wisdom, a sacred commission will be
entrusted to him; he will be enabled to make his life an honour to God and
a blessing to the world. "The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it
giveth understanding unto the simple." Psalm 119:130.
There are today many as ignorant of the Holy Spirit's work upon the
heart as were those believers in Ephesus; yet no truth is more clearly
taught in the word of God. Prophets and apostles have dwelt upon this
theme. Christ Himself calls our attention to the growth of the vegetable
world as an illustration of the agency of His Spirit in sustaining
spiritual life. The sap of the vine, ascending from the root, is diffused
to the branches, sustaining growth and producing blossoms and fruit. So
the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Saviour,
pervades the soul, renews the motives and affections, and brings even the
thoughts into obedience to the will of God, enabling the receiver to bear
the precious fruit of holy deeds.
The Author of this spiritual life is unseen, and the exact method by
which that life is imparted and sustained, it is beyond the power of human
philosophy to explain. Yet the operations of the Spirit are always in
harmony with the written word. As in the natural, so in the spiritual
world. The natural life is preserved moment by moment by divine power; yet
it is not sustained by a direct miracle, but through the use of blessings
placed within our reach. So the spiritual life is sustained by the use of
those means that Providence has supplied. If the follower of Christ would
grow up "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the
fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13), he must eat of the bread of
life and drink of the water of salvation. He must watch and pray and work,
in all things giving heed to the instructions of God in His word.
There is still another lesson for us in the experience of those Jewish
converts. When they received baptism at the hand of John they did not
fully comprehend the mission of Jesus as the Sin Bearer. They were holding
serious errors. But with clearer light, they gladly accepted Christ as
their Redeemer, and with this step of advance came a change in their
obligations. As they received a purer faith, there was a corresponding
change in their life. In token of this change, and as an acknowledgement
of their faith in Christ, they were rebaptised in the name of Jesus.
As was his custom, Paul had begun his work at Ephesus by preaching in
the synagogue of the Jews. He continued to labour there for three months,
"disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of
God." At first he met with a favourable reception; but as in other
fields, he was soon violently opposed. "Divers were hardened, and
believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude." As
they persisted in their rejection of the gospel, the apostle ceased to
preach in the synagogue.
The Spirit of God had wrought with and through Paul in his labours for
his countrymen. Sufficient evidence had been presented to convince all who
honestly desired to know the truth. But many permitted themselves to be
controlled by prejudice and unbelief, and refused to yield to the most
conclusive evidence. Fearing that the faith of the believers would be
endangered by continued association with these opposers of the truth, Paul
separated from them and gathered the disciples into a distinct body,
continuing his public instructions in the school of Tyrannus, a teacher of
Paul saw that "a great door and effectual" was opening before
him, although there were "many adversaries." 1 Corinthians 16:9.
Ephesus was not only the most magnificent, but the most corrupt, of the
cities of Asia. Superstition and sensual pleasure held sway over her
teeming population. Under the shadow of her temples, criminals of every
grade found shelter, and the most degrading vices flourished.
Ephesus was a popular centre for the worship of Diana. The fame of the
magnificent temple of "Diana of the Ephesians" extended
throughout all Asia and the world. Its surpassing splendour made it the
pride, not only of the city, but of the nation. The idol within the temple
was declared by tradition to have fallen from the sky. Upon it were
inscribed symbolic characters, which were believed to possess great power.
Books had been written by the Ephesians to explain the meaning and use of
Among those who gave close study to these costly books were many
magicians, who wielded a powerful influence over the minds of the
superstitious worshipers of the image within the temple.
The apostle Paul, in his labours at Ephesus, was given special tokens
of divine favour. The power of God accompanied his efforts, and many were
healed of physical maladies. "God wrought special miracles by the
hands of Paul: so that from his body were brought unto the sick
handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil
spirits went out of them." These manifestations of supernatural power
were far more potent than had ever before been witnessed in Ephesus, and
were of such a character that they could not be imitated by the skill of
the juggler or the enchantments of the sorcerer. As these miracles were
wrought in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the people had opportunity to
see that the God of heaven was more powerful than the magicians who were
worshipers of the goddess Diana. Thus the Lord exalted His servant, even
before the idolaters themselves, immeasurably above the most powerful and
favoured of the magicians.
But the One to whom all the spirits of evil are subject and who had
given His servants authority over them, was about to bring still greater
shame and defeat upon those who despised and profaned His holy name.
Sorcery had been prohibited by the Mosaic law, on pain of death, yet from
time to time it had been secretly practised by apostate Jews. At the time
of Paul's visit to Ephesus there were in the city "certain of the
vagabond Jews, exorcists," who, seeing the wonders wrought by him,
"took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of
the Lord Jesus." An attempt was made by "seven sons of one Sceva,
a Jew, and chief of the priests." Finding a man possessed with a
demon, they addressed him, "We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul
preacheth." But "the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I
know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit
was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that
they fled out of that house naked and wounded."
Thus unmistakable proof was given of the sacredness of the name of
Christ, and the peril which they incurred who should invoke it without
faith in the divinity of the Saviour's mission. "Fear fell on them
all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified."
Facts which had previously been concealed were now brought to light. In
accepting Christianity, some of the believers had not fully renounced
their superstitions. To some extent they still continued the practice of
magic. Now, convinced of their error, "many that believed came, and
confessed, and showed their deeds." Even to some of the sorcerers
themselves the good work extended; and "many of them also which used
curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men:
and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of
silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed."
By burning their books on magic, the Ephesian converts showed that the
things in which they had once delighted they now abhorred. It was by and
through magic that they had especially offended God and imperilled their
souls; and it was against magic that they showed such indignation. Thus
they gave evidence of true conversion.
These treatises on divination contained rules and forms of
communication with evil spirits. They were the regulations of the worship
of Satan--directions for soliciting his help and obtaining information
from him. By retaining these books the disciples would have exposed
themselves to temptation; by selling them they would have placed
temptation in the way of others. They had renounced the kingdom of
darkness, and to destroy its power they did not hesitate at any sacrifice.
Thus truth triumphed over men's prejudices and their love of money.
By this manifestation of the power of Christ, a mighty victory for
Christianity was gained in the very stronghold of superstition. The
influence of what had taken place was more widespread than even Paul
realised. From Ephesus the news was widely circulated, and a strong
impetus was given to the cause of Christ. Long after the apostle himself
had finished his course, these scenes lived in the memory of men and were
the means of winning converts to the gospel.
It is fondly supposed that heathen superstitions have disappeared
before the civilisation of the twentieth century. But the word of God and
the stern testimony of facts declare that sorcery is practised in this age
as verily as in the days of the old-time magicians. The ancient system of
magic is, in reality, the same as what is now known as modern
spiritualism. Satan is finding access to thousands of minds by presenting
himself under the guise of departed friends. The Scriptures declare that
"the dead know not anything." Ecclesiastes 9:5. Their thoughts,
their love, their hatred, have perished. The dead do not hold communion
with the living. But true to his early cunning, Satan employs this device
in order to gain control of minds.
Through spiritualism many of the sick, the bereaved, the curious, are
communicating with evil spirits. All who venture to do this are on
dangerous ground. The word of truth declares how God regards them. In
ancient times He pronounced a stern judgement on a king who had sent for
counsel to a heathen oracle: "Is it not because there is not a God in
Israel, that ye go to inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron? Now
therefore thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on
which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." 2 Kings 1:3, 4.
The magicians of heathen times have their counterpart in the
spiritualistic mediums, the clairvoyants, and the fortune-tellers of
today. The mystic voices that spoke at Endor and at Ephesus are still by
their lying words misleading the children of men. Could the veil be lifted
from before our eyes, we should see evil angels employing all their arts
to deceive and to destroy. Wherever an influence is exerted to cause men
to forget God, there Satan is exercising his bewitching power. When men
yield to his influence, ere they are aware the mind is bewildered and the
soul polluted. The apostle's admonition to the Ephesian church should be
heeded by the people of God today: "Have no fellowship with the
unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." Ephesians