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قراءة كتاب St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians: A Practical Exposition

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St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians: A Practical Exposition

St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians: A Practical Exposition

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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Ephesus, were threatened by very ominous perils. 'Very grievous wolves were entering in, not sparing the flock; and among themselves men were arising, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them[34].' St. Paul's rapturous tone must be accounted for by causes independent of the Ephesian or Asiatic Christians in particular. Among these causes, as we have just seen, must be reckoned the fact, the significance of which we have been dwelling upon, that St. Paul had now reached Rome, the centre of the Gentile world. But it must also be remembered that St. Paul had seen a great conflict fought out and won for the catholicity of Christianity, and that now for the first time there was a pause and freedom to take advantage of it.

A great conflict had been fought and won. The backbone of the earlier Jewish opposition to the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles on equal terms had been broken. They had in fact swept into the Church in increasing numbers. Their rights were recognized and their position uncontested. There is now, in the comparative quiet of the 'hired house' where St. Paul was confined, a period of pause in which he can fitly sum up the results which have been won, and let the full meaning of the catholic brotherhood be freely unfolded. It is time to pass from the rudiments of the Christian gospel, the vindication of its most elementary principles and liberties, the 'milk for babes,' to expound the spiritual wisdom of the full-grown Christian manhood, the 'solid meat for them of riper years.'

It is this sense of pause in conflict and free expansion in view of a vast opportunity, which in great part at least interprets the glow and glory of St. Paul's epistle.


iv.

The Epistle to the Ephesians might, so far as its contents are concerned, have been addressed to any of the predominantly Gentile churches; but to none more fitly than to Ephesus and to the churches of Asia, where the progress of Gentile Christianity had been so rapid, and where St. Paul's ministry had been so unusually prolonged. Let us attempt to answer the questions—what was Ephesus? what was the history, and what were the circumstances of the Ephesian church?

Ephesus had a double importance as a Greek and as an Asiatic city. A colony of Ionians from Athens had early settled on some hills which rose out of a fertile plain near the mouth of the Cayster. This was the origin of the Greek city of Ephesus. Its position gave it admirable commercial advantages. It became the greatest mart of exchange[35] between East and West in Asia Minor, and though its commerce was threatened by the filling up of its harbour, it had not decayed in St. Paul's time.

Among Greek cities it also occupied a not inconspicuous place in the history of art, and at an earlier period of philosophy also. Here was one of the chief homes of the Homeric tradition; hence in the person of Callinus the Greek elegy is reputed to have had its origin, and in the person of Hipponax the satire. It was the home of Heracleitus, one of the greatest of the early philosophers, and of Apelles and Parrhasius, the masters of painting[36].

And the greatest artists in sculpture—Phidias and Polycletus, Scopas and Praxiteles—had adorned with their works the temple of Artemis, which, in itself one of the wonders of the world, the masterpiece of Ionic architecture, became also, like some great Christian cathedral, a very museum of sculpture and painting.

If Greek artists built and decorated the temple of Artemis, they attempted no doubt to represent the goddess under the form which her Greek name suggested, the beautiful huntress-goddess; but the Greeks never in fact succeeded in affecting the thoroughly Asiatic and oriental character of a worship which had nothing Greek about it except the name. The interest of Ephesus as an Asiatic city centred about that ancient worship which had its home in the plain below the Greek settlement. It was there before the Greeks came, it held its own throughout and in spite of all Greek and Roman influences; all through the history of Ephesus it gave its main character to the city—the noted home of superstition and sorcery.

The Artemis of Ephesus was, as Jerome remarks[37], not the huntress-goddess with her bow, but the many-breasted symbol of the productive and nutritive powers of nature, the mother of all life, free and untamed like the wild beasts who accompanied her. The grotesque and archaic idol believed to have fallen down from heaven was a stiff, erect mummy covered with many breasts and symbols of wild beasts. Her worship was organized by a hierarchy of eunuch priests—called by a Persian name Megabyzi—and 'consecrated' virgins. It was associated, like other worships of the same divinity called indifferently Artemis or Cybele or Ma, with ideals of life which from the point of view of any fixed moral order, Roman or Greek no less than Jewish or Christian, was lawless and immoral.

It is very well known how the Asiatic nature-worships flooded the Roman empire, and even at Rome itself became by far more popular than the traditional state religion. And among these Asiatic worships none was more popular than the worship of Artemis of Ephesus, whose temple was the wonder of the world, and who not only was worshipped publicly at Ephesus, but was the object of a cult both public and private in widely-separated parts of the empire. Such a temple and such a worship would naturally collect a base and corrupt population; but what would in any case have been bad was rendered worse by the fact that the area round the temple was an asylum of refuge from the law, and that, as the area of 'sanctuary' was extended at different times, the collection of criminals became greater and greater. It had reached a point where it threatened the safety of the city, and not long before St. Paul's time the Emperor Augustus had found it necessary to curtail the area. The history of our own Westminster is enough to assure us that a religious asylum brings social degradation in its train.

Such was the commercial and religious importance of the beautiful, wealthy, effeminate, superstitious, and most immoral city which became for three years the centre of St. Paul's ministry. On his second missionary journey St. Paul was making his way to Asia, and no doubt to Ephesus, when he with his companions were hindered by the Holy Ghost and turned across the Hellespont to Macedonia[38]. On his return to Syria, he could not be satisfied without at least setting foot in Ephesus and making a beginning of preaching there in the synagogue[39]; but he was hastening back to Jerusalem, and, with a

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