CHRIST’S GOSPEL TRIUMPHS OVER ALL ADVERSARIES
A sermon by B.H. Carroll
TEXT: But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost; for a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries. – 1 CORINTHIANs 16:8.
(Scriptures read: Acts 18:18-21; 19:1-41; 17:38; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.)
I am not able physically to preach the sermon that is in my mind on this text, having been quite ill since last Thursday, but as well as I may under the circumstances, I want to call your attention to the salient points of the text.
The Bible history of the case may be gathered from the Scriptures read. Luke tells us (Acts 18:18-21) of Paul’s first visit to Ephesus, accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla, his short stay, but active ministrations in the synagogue, the pressing invitation to return, given by the Jews. While Paul is away, Apollos comes from Alexandria, knowing only the baptism of John, and labors in the synagogue, but after being “instructed in the way of the Lord more accurately” by Aquila and Priscilla, departs for Corinth. After long absence Paul returns, and for more than two years labors there as he himself describes in a subsequent address at Miletus to the elders of the church (Acts 20:17-38), and in such perils as he depicts in his great argument on the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:32) and in his second letter to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). All these Scriptures should be carefully compared and studied. Besides this inspired record, profane history and ecclesiastical tradition have much to say about this wonderful place, Paul’s more wonderful work and its wide spread and long-continued effects.
First, I want to get before you clearly some idea of the scene of this lesson. Asia Minor, bordering on the Mediterranean Sea, was settled largely by colonists from Greece, and Ephesus in particular was settled by a colony of the Athenians. It was at the mouth of a little river that lay between two larger streams, and was on the great thoroughfare of travel between the East and the West, that is, from Rome to Antioch. It was also on the line of sea travel. All vessels navigating the Mediterranean Sea were accustomed to stop at that port, so that it was upon a thoroughfare both by land and sea. It was a very large city and immensely wealthy. This city, so far as religion was concerned, had a garrison of such number and strength that it would seem to be absolutely impregnable by Christian attack. This is referred to under so much of the text as says, “there are many adversaries.” I will call your attention to these adversaries in the order in which they are mentioned in the history.
First, there was the adversary of an imperfect knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as is evidenced in the case of the disciples of John. They had been baptized doubtless by someone who pretended to perpetuate the baptism of John, but John had no successor; he had been dead twenty or twenty-five years; no man was authorized to keep up his mission, and therefore the baptism which they had received was without authority from God. They were wholly ignorant of the fact that the Lord Jesus had come and that he had died and was buried and had ascended into heaven and had sent the Holy Spirit down from heaven. And Paul found these men, and by the instruction of the gospel, he removed the difficulties out of their way. They believed on Jesus as the Messiah, were baptized, and then by the laying on of his hands received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, the miraculous power of speaking with tongues and working miracles.
The second adversary that opposed his progress in this city was a Jewish one. There was a vast number of Jews here, very much attached to the ritual of their fathers. They were the Pharisees, similar to those who held the ecclesiastical as well as much of the civil power in Jerusalem, and it was almost impossible to get a hearing from them outside of their regular lines of thought. You see that when he devoted three months’ labor in their synagogue, endeavoring to show them from their own Bible that the Messiah that they looked for had come, that he was Jesus, and that every proof of the Messiah met in him and could meet in no one else, a number of them were converted, but the others, as they did in every other place where he preached, very bitterly opposed his work.
The two lines of thought were irreconcilable – what they thought and preached and what he thought and preached and whenever that is the case, there is no remedy but a separation. Hence the apostle drew the line of cleavage. He separated the disciples. He said, “You cannot worship here with these people. We will have to go away to ourselves and leave them to themselves.” So he found a place where a certain teacher of philosophy, a man by the name of Tyrannus, had a school, and that schoolhouse was opened up to him as a place of preaching. There for two years he preached to the Gentiles, casting out demons.
Here were evil spirits, who had been with Satan, cast out of heaven, and who had obtained possession of the souls of men and dominated their spirits, just like they do now, very largely in Spiritualism, Mormonism, and Mohammedanism. These demons had possession of the souls of men, and they were among the adversaries that Paul had to combat. Not only was this true, but he had to bear a conflict with false exorcists of evil spirits. There were Jews who claimed to have the power to cast out these demons. They agreed with him that demons did take possession of men’s minds and did control them, but they claimed that they had the power to exorcise the demons, and they ran an opposition method of exorcism against that exercised by the apostle Paul in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. When they saw that their method was not as potent as his, they determined that they would continue their work by using the name that he used, the name of Jesus, attaching a magical influence to it, thinking that, if they would simply pronounce it over one who was possessed of a spirit, he would depart.
The idea of a name having this magical power is inwrought in all the Oriental stories. How often you find it in the Arabian Nights. How often you find it in Oriental history and legend, such an instance as this, where a magical name is carved on a sword, and whoever carries that sword will conquer. Now, they had such a thought as that, and hence they came to one possessed of evil spirits and tried its magical influence: “We adjure you by the name of Jesus, whom Paul preacheth.” But the evil spirit knew Jesus and knew Paul, and did not know them; so he prompted the man to leap on them and seek to destroy them, and so remarkable was this demonstration that it led to the conversion of a great many people, and that adversary was overthrown. So devils are made to testify for Christ.
Another adversary was magic, as connected with idolatrous worship. If I had the time, I could give you a great deal of history and legend on what were called the Ephesian letters. They were used for magical purposes. Two or three letters would be written upon a garment that would be worn next to the skin as an amulet or charm, and were said to be able to protect against any disease or any enemy. You remember that when Croesus was dying, on his funeral pyre he called over the magical Ephesian letters. You remember in another ancient story it is said that a wrestler overcame every adversary until he dropped in the struggle the magical Ephesian letters which had given him his power. Ancient history and legend are full of this.
Now, the apostle Paul preached a gospel that was designed to uproot the very foundation idea of reliance upon magic of any kind. That adversary stood before him and he over whelmed it by the truth of Jesus Christ. Magic, however, was supported by a literature which expounded it and showed how it was to be made efficacious – marvelous and costly books. And you will find that whenever any sin becomes really formidable, it fastens itself in a literature which is committed to its maintenance, and that before you can ever uproot it you must overturn the literature which sustains it.
The gospel of Jesus Christ came against this magic and its literature; the Book of God against these books. It was a question of power as to which should triumph. Here was a literature that had obtained a power over the minds of men through hundreds of years. It had ruled the souls of kings as well as of slaves. Paul came with the simple gospel of Jesus, and the books fell before the Book of God. They became useless in men’s hands. They were shown to be the exponents of error, and those who owned them brought them and piled them up in a heap, and, as the Greek expresses it, kept bringing them and kept piling them and kept burning them, so that the smoke and the sparks and the flames from that conquered literature went up to heaven, and told to the stars that looked down, the mighty power of the gospel of Jesus over the evil literature that there is in this world. It went up as a protest against that evil. It went up as a prophecy which forecast the ultimate destruction of all evil literature.
Every newspaper which advocates a false idea, every book which defends an evil philosophy, every book which is devoted to the inculcation of the doctrines of idolatry and of error of every kind, shall meet the fate of the magician books at Ephesus. If they burn not now, they will burn when God wraps the world in fire, and, with their defenders, shall utterly perish, and this venerable Book shall be lifted above them and be placed on the white throne of the judgment, and shall be the arbiter of their fate.
We notice that the next adversary he had to confront was idolatry; and, brethren, such an idolatry! We cannot realize it now. The ancients had seven great wonders, called the seven wonders of the world. This was one of them – this Temple of Diana at Ephesus. It was four hundred and twenty-five feet long and two hundred and twenty feet wide. It had no roof, but it was a succession of colonnades, pillars standing sixty feet high-marble pillars. There were one hundred and twenty-seven of these marble pillars. A king exhausted his treasury to give each one of them. Some of them were marvelously ornamented, with chapiters at their top, and there was a winding stairway that went up which was one vine that had been cut down in an island of the Mediterranean Sea, and already had the natural curve of a stairway. This was the most magnificent building at that time standing in the heathen world. It was so magnificent that Alexander the Great offered all the spoils of his Eastern conquests if he might carve his name alone on that temple; his offer was declined.
The idolatry of Ephesus is not wholly dead. What was it? It was the worship of a woman. Not that Diana of the Athenian Greeks, the chaste huntress, but a horrid Oriental image, a monstrosity, said to have fallen down from heaven, whose servitors were celibate priests and nuns, with a high priest over them. There substantially was every form that you may witness today in Mexico, in the South American republics, in Spain, in Italy, a woman exalted as God, with priests and nuns, vowed to celibacy, serving at her altars and distributing her images for worship. That was the idolatry that had possession of the Ephesian mind.
This idolatry was linked to commerce. That temple was the treasure house of Asia. All of the surplus gold and silver and jewels of neighboring nations were stored there. It was the great international bank, the place of deposit, and that horrid monster stood over that treasure and guarded it – the treasure of kings and of provinces – and linked itself to every coin that went into circulation, and linked itself to every trade by which men subsisted.
Not only this, but it was an idolatry that attached itself to all the theaters and games and amusements and entertainments of the people. From the height of that temple you looked down on that grand theater where their dramas were performed, and where probably Paul himself was mangled by wild beasts, as a martyr to their hate. You looked out on where their May festivals were held – for they were held in the month of May. The world met there on the first of May to hold their festivals and attend the theater and attend these races and take part in them, and this idolatry was thus attached and linked onto the public games, the public amusements, the public entertainments, as well as the commerce of the world. Not only so, but it had created a ring of craftsmen, whose subsistence depended upon its maintenance-men who made their fortunes by making the models of that image, the miniature silver shrines – little goddesses that you could tie about your neck, that you could carry home and hang up in your room, – so that when you got up in the morning you could bow down before that shrine and pray to that household image. By the manufacture of these images a vast number of silversmiths derived an immense fortune. They had what you know all about in this country, a craftsmen’s ring, a trade union, an organization that continually looked to the best interests of that particular union. Idolatry had fastened itself upon that trade union and was the power back of the organization.
Not only this, but it was connected with all of the travel of men who came to look upon the curiosities and wonders gathered here. People came thousands of miles just to see that temple, just to see that statue of the goddess, just to see the marvelous thing that could be witnessed in that theatre. Now, you see how deep-rooted this idolatry was. Their religion said, “I will give you a theater, I will give you a racecourse, I will give you festivals where you may drink out of every cup of pleasure, and where you may lie down on every bed of flowers, and where you may gratify every appetite of the body or of the mind, and I will give you gold that will glitter by day and by night, and I will give you everything that is beautiful to the eye and sweet to the taste and pleasant to the fancy, and thus I will make the perpetuity of this idolatry and the commercial prosperity of this city stand or fall together”. Such was the field to which Paul came. And how came he? Heard you any trumpet that announced his coming? Did any messenger go before him to say, “Lo, a king with his host cometh? Had he letters of introduction to the bankers and priests and Asiarchs? He came afoot, walking in the dust. He came by himself. He came where the souls of these people were walled in by all of the power of this dark superstition, and walked up to the door and knocked, and he said, “Let me in with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” And ignorance caught the knob of the door and said, “No.” And demons roused up and put their shoulders against it and said, “No.” And magic came and put its seal on the keyhole and said, “No.” And commerce, in all of her mighty power, said “No.” And games and festivals and amusements and howling mobs and roaring beasts in the arena came up and massed themselves against that door and said, “You cannot enter.” But the text says, “I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost; for a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.
How, then, did he get it open? I paint a picture for you. John saw it in Apocalyptic vision on Patmos. I borrow the picture from the gallery of John, the great apostolic limner. He says, “I saw Jesus, exalted and glorified, and having at his girdle the keys of David with power to open and no man could shut, and with power to shut and no man could open.” “This Jesus with the keys,” says Paul, “will open that door for me.” And the key is put in the lock, and the adversaries press themselves against the door, and the arm of Omnipotence opens it wide and crushes them that oppose. And Paul goes in with the power and the salvation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord pity the arrogant and vain and deceived and doomed man, though he be a preacher, that expects to go out and open the door of gospel acceptance against such adversaries as keep it shut, without reliance upon him who holds the keys of death and hell.
Listen to the Scriptures: The heart is locked. He opened Lydia’s heart and Paul’s gospel entered. Paul’s tongue was locked and he opened him a door of utterance and breathed on him a divine affatus, so that he spoke thoughts that breathed and words that burned. The Bible was locked and he opened the Scriptures and light after light flashed from heaven across its pages and made them luminous. Men were locked in unbelief and he opened unto them the door of faith and they saw the Son of God in his beauty. Enemies came and pressed upon God’s people and hemmed them up, and he opened unto them a door of deliverance. Temptation shut them in and reached out in beguiling and seductive power to destroy them, and he opened a way of escape. Tyrants put them in prison, as Herod put Peter, and he opened the prison doors and let them out. Death came and put his cold seal on their dumb lips, and he opened the doors of death and called them back to life again. Hades shrouded their disembodied spirits and he opened the realm of Hades and called their spirits back again. Not only were the keys of death and hell at his girdle, but when heaven was shut, he opened that door and they entered in with singing and shouting and triumph.
Without such a door opener, what advantage have we in our perils and sufferings? 1 Corinthians 15:30-32: “And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” Why, there was a time there at Ephesus when they condemned him and they took him out to that theater and threw him to the lions and tigers, and it would seem they killed him and God raised him from the dead. I infer that from the passage in 2 Corinthians, where he said, “Brethren, I would not have you to be ignorant of the great trouble which came upon me in Asia, where my life was pressed out of measure, and the sentence of death was ended on me, but God delivered me from it and will deliver me from it again.”
Let us consider another formidable adversary – the aroused and awful mob. Siberian wolves, in countless hordes, or such as followed Mazeppa, bound naked on the wild horse of the deserts – these with tireless speed and hungry eyes and cruel fangs and ominous howlings, are awful foes to a defenseless and belated traveler, but not so cruel and terrible as the Ephesian mob stirred to madness against Paul. Read their history in the downfall of Paris.
But how was this mob excited? Superstition, combining with self-interest, called the craftsmen’s ring together. “Blow your trumpets and gather your workmen together and hold your secret conclave. Our craft is in danger. This man is ruining our trade. This image of Diana is brought into disrepute, whom all the world worshiped. He is turning upside down the prosperity of this city, and our harbors will not more have ships of trade and commerce, and the multitudes will no longer come unto our May festivals, and our city will parch like a desert spot if you do not stop this Paul. And if any man seeks to argue, drown his voice by continually howling: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”
And so the howling mob shut in around him, raging like the storm-tossed sea. And what said Paul? Into their fifty thousand glaring eyes of hate he looked and said, “I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.” The door of courage was opened unto him, sublime courage, the kind of courage that Luther had when he said, “I will go to the Diet at Worms, though there be as many devils there as there be tiles on the roof.” I will tarry here where God placed me, and I will rely upon the King of kings, who has the keys of death and hell, and finish my work,” said Paul. He never left until that roar ceased.
Tradition says that one hundred thousand people were converted in that meeting. Go read the letter that Pliny wrote to the Roman emperor stating that the Christians had captured that part of the world, that they were everywhere, and that the altars of the gods were barren of gifts. Oh, it was a famous meeting, where men had religion enough to confess openly their evil practices and forsake them and to burn, not sell to others, the means of their unholy traffic.
Now, I will say this: If I have any religious conviction at all; if I have any religion worth talking about; if I have any definite or bright or sweet hope of heaven, it is all based on just that uncompromising kind of preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever the church strikes hands of friendship with the world, whenever it borrows the mantle of idolatry, its power is gone. Whenever it makes alliance with theaters, games, and infamous traffics, its power is gone. It can cast out no devils, can break up no stronghold of the enemy; it can only beguile – it cannot save. I would just say this to the brethren: Where there is wealth and fashion and amusement and gain, you have no power at all if you separate from Jesus – none at all. Every vestige of your strength is gone from you. You are like Samson shorn of his locks. You must go out and stand with the Book in your hand that has conquered every other book hitherto, and oppose it to all the evil literature of the world, whether it comes in the guise of philosophy or in the fairy garments of poetry, or in the rose colored costume of romance. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as it comes from God – that is the sword of the eternal Spirit by which alone we can win this fight.
We must just go to men, no matter how rich they are, no matter how fashionable they are, no matter how deeply intrenched in custom and tradition their evil courses are – we must go to them and say, “There is no compromise between the religion of Jesus Christ and what you do. One must die. We do not shake hands at all. We do not lie down in the same bed. We do not rest under the shadow of the same tree. We do not sing the same songs. We do not camp on the same grounds. It is war, truceless war, that is never to know an interval until victory or death comes to end the contest.” And given a little church, just a handful of brethren and sisters who believe the Bible – I mean believe it – who believe what it says about death and hell and heaven and the judgment; who believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, in omnipotent power, is with his people and standing right by them, having his presence with them, never stopping to ask which shall win and which shall not, but saying as he said to us, “Stand up and testify; he did not send us as philosophers; he sent us as witnesses to stand before the door of the heart and testify that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only hope of salvation. We bear witness to that fact. God did not put it upon us to go back and give any philosophical reasons for it at all. We come as witnesses to a fact, and a fact which has touched our own hearts and filled our own souls with peace that we hold up before you, and invite you in God’s name to stand upon the same platform.”
Given such a church, it will turn the world upside down. Do that and let alone apologies; quit putting your weak shoulder to the granite of God’s revelation, as if without your prop it would turn over. You let it stand. It will stand. Do not defend it. Preach it! Bear witness to it, and rely upon him that sent you, and you will conquer.
Will you do that? Will this church do that? Will you promise? Will you covenant here today before God, that no matter how the city may increase in riches; no matter how many railroads may come; no matter how dark and pestilential a miasma of error may impregnate its atmosphere, and no matter if the vampires of evil from the depths of hell shall come and hover and brood over this city and darken it with outspread Plutonian pinions, will you, as a church, stand firm upon this, that there is no salvation except in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?
If you do, I can say this for you, that whatever other things may go down, whatever dynasties of kings may pass away and become a memory; whatever monuments of time, after becoming hoary with age, shall crumble in the dust and be swept away, or be buried under the accumulating sands of the ages, whatever revolutions may sweep over the earth, whatever stars may expire in darkness, your candlestick will never be removed. It will be shining as a light in the darkness when the trumpet sounds and the dead wake up to find the Master come.
But when you forego it, now, or twenty, or a hundred or a thousand years from now-when the simplicity of the gospel is changed in your Sunday school teachings, in the lives of our members, in its ordinances, in the purity and power of its truth, God Almighty will remove the candlestick of this church and there will be darkness where there had been a bright, shining light. One of the sweetest thoughts that comes to my mind is that when Jesus comes, the First Baptist Church of Waco will be engaged in celebrating the Lord’s Supper in obedience to his commandment, “This do until I come,” and that from the communion table you will go to meet the Lord.