Paul is here very busy at Ephesus to do good.
I. He begins, as usual, in the Jews’ synagogue, and makes the first offer of the gospel to them, that he might gather in the lost sheep of the house of Israel, who were now scattered upon the mountains. Observe,
1. Where he preached to them: in their synagogue (Acts 19:8), as Christ used to do. He went and joined them in their synagogue-worship, to take off their prejudices against him, and to ingratiate himself with them, while there was any hope of winning upon them. Thus he would bear his testimony to public worship on sabbath days. Where there were no Christian assemblies yet formed, he frequented the Jewish assemblies, while the Jews were not as yet wholly cast off. Paul went into the synagogue, because there he had them together, and had them, it might be hoped, in a good frame.
2. What he preached to them: The things concerning the kingdom of God among men, the great things which concerned God’s dominion over all men and favour to them, and men’s subjection to God and happiness in God. He showed them their obligations to God and interest in him, as the Creator, by which the kingdom of God was set up,—the violation of those obligations, and the forfeiture of that interest, by sin, by which the kingdom of God was pulled down,—and the renewing of those obligations and the restoration of man to that interest again, by the Redeemer, whereby the kingdom of God was again set up. Or, more particularly, the things concerning the kingdom of the Messiah, which the Jews were in expectation of, and promised themselves great matters from; he opened the scriptures which spoke concerning this, gave them a right notion of this kingdom, and showeth them their mistakes about it.
3. How he preached to them. (1.) He preached argumentatively: he disputed; gave reasons, scripture-reasons, for what he preached, and answered objections, for the convincing of men’s judgments and consciences, that they might not only believe, but might see cause to believe. He preached dialegomenos—dialogue-wise; he put questions to them and received their answers, gave them leave to put questions to him and answered them. (2.) He preached affectionately: he persuaded; he used not only logical arguments, to enforce what he said upon their understandings, but rhetorical motives, to impress what he said upon their affections, showing them that the things he preached concerning the kingdom of God were things concerning themselves, which they were nearly concerned in, and therefore ought to concern themselves about, 2 Cor. 5:11; We persuade men. Paul was a moving preacher, and was a master of the art of persuasion. (3.) He preached undauntedly, and with a holy resolution: he spoke boldly, as one that had not the least doubt of the things he spoke of, nor the least distrust of him he spoke from, nor the least dread of those he spoke to.
4. How long he preached to them: For the space of three months, which was a competent time allowed them to consider of it; in that time among them that belonged to the election of grace were called in, and the rest were left inexcusable. Thus long Paul preached the gospel with much contention (1 Thess. 2:2), yet he did not fail, nor was discouraged.
5. What success his preaching had among them. (1.) There were some that were persuaded to believe in Christ; some think this is intimated in the word persuading—he prevailed with them. But, (2.) Many continued in their infidelity, and were confirmed in their prejudices against Christianity. When Paul called on them before, and preached only some general things to them, they courted his stay among them (Acts 18:20); but now that he settled among them, and his word came more closely to their consciences, they were soon weary of him. [1.] They had an invincible aversion to the gospel of Christ themselves: they were hardened, and believed not; they were resolved they would not believe, though the truth shone in their faces with ever such a convincing light and evidence. Therefore they believed not, because they were hardened. [2.] They did their utmost to raise and keep up in others an aversion to the gospel; they not only entered not into the kingdom of God themselves, but neither did they suffer those that were entering to go in; for they spoke evil of that way before the multitude, to prejudice them against it. Though they could not show any manner of evil in it, yet they said all manner of evil concerning it. These sinners, like the angels that sinned, became Satans, adversaries and devils, false accusers.
II. When he had carried the matter as far as it would go in the synagogue of the Jews, and found that their opposition grew more obstinate, he left the synagogue, because he could not safely, or rather because he could not comfortably and successfully, continue in communion with them. Though their worship was such as he could join in, and they had not silenced him, nor forbidden him to preach among them, yet they drove him from them by their railing at those things which he spoke concerning the kingdom of God: they hated to be reformed, hated to be instructed, and therefore he departed from them. Here we are sure there was a separation and no schism; for there was a just cause for it and a clear call to it. Now observe,
1. When Paul departed from the Jews he took the disciples with him, and separated them, to save them from that untoward generation (according to the charge Peter gave to his new converts, Acts 2:40); lest they should be infected with the poisonous tongues of those blasphemers, he separated those who believed, to be the foundation of a Christian church, now that they were a competent number to be incorporated, that others might attend with them upon the preaching of the gospel, and might, upon their believing, be added to them. When Paul departed there needed no more to separate the disciples; let him go where he will, they will follow him.
2. When Paul separated from the synagogue he set up a meeting of his own, he disputed daily in the school of one Tyrannus. He left the synagogue of the Jews, that he might go on with the more freedom in his work; still he disputed for Christ and Christianity, and was ready to answer all opponents whatsoever in defence of them; and he had by this separation a double advantage. (1.) That now his opportunities were more frequent. In the synagogue he could only preach every sabbath day (Acts 13:42), but now he disputed daily, he set up a lecture every day, and thus redeemed time: those whose business would not permit them to come one day might come another day; and those were welcome who watched daily at these gates of wisdom, and waited daily at the posts of her doors. (2.) That now they were more open. To the synagogue of the Jews none might come, nor could come, but Jews or proselytes; Gentiles were excluded; but, when he set up a meeting in the school of Tyrannus, both Jews and Greeks attended his ministry, Acts 19:10. Thus, as he describes this gate of opportunity at Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8, 9), a wide door and an effectual was opened to him, though there were many adversaries. Some think this school of Tyrannus was a divinity-school of the Jews, and such a one they commonly had in their great cities besides their synagogue; they called it Bethmidrash, the house of enquiry, or of repetition; and they went to that on the sabbath day, after they had been in the synagogue. They go from strength to strength, from the house of the sanctuary to the house of doctrine. If this was such a school, it shows that though Paul left the synagogue he left it gradually, and still kept as near it as he could, as he had done, Acts 18:7. But others think it was a philosophy-school of the Gentiles, belonging to one Tyrannus, or a retiring place (for so the word schole sometimes signifies) belonging to a principal man or governor of the city; some convenient place it was, which Paul and the disciples had the use of, either for love or money.
3. Here he continued his labours for two years, read his lectures and disputed daily. These two years commence from the end of the three months which he spent in the synagogue (Acts 19:8); after they were ended, he continued for some time in the country about, preaching; therefore he might justly reckon it in all three years, as he does, Acts 20:31.
4. The gospel hereby spread far and near (Acts 19:10): All those that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus; not only all that dwelt in Ephesus, but all that dwelt in that large province called Asia, of which Ephesus was the head city—Asia the Less it was called. There was great resort to Ephesus from all parts of the country, for law, traffic, religion, and education, which gave Paul an opportunity of sending the report of the gospel to all the towns and villages of that country. They all heard the word of the Lord Jesus. The gospel is Christ’s word, it is a word concerning Christ. This they heard, or at least heard of it. Some of all sects, some out of all parts both in city and country, embraced this gospel, and entertained it, and by them it was communicated to others; and so they all heard the word of the Lord Jesus, or might have heard it. Probably Paul sometimes made excursions himself into the country, to preach the gospel, or sent his missionaries or assistants that attended him, and thus the word of the Lord was heard throughout that region. Now those that sat in darkness saw a great light.
III. God confirmed Paul’s doctrine by miracles, which awakened people’s enquiries after it, fixed their affection to it, and engaged their belief of it, Acts 19:11, 12. I wonder we have not read of any miracle wrought by Paul since the casting of the evil spirit out of the damsel at Philippi; why did he not work miracles at Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens? Or, if he did, why are they not recorded? Was the success of the gospel, without miracles in the kingdom of nature, itself such a miracle in the kingdom of grace, and the divine power which went along with it such a proof of its divine original, that there needed no other? It is certain that at Corinth he wrought many miracles, though Luke has recorded none, for he tells them (2 Cor. 12:12) that the signs of his apostleship were among them, in wonders and mighty deeds. But here at Ephesus we have a general account of the proofs of this kind which he gave his divine mission. 1. They were special miracles—Dynameis ou tychousas. God exerted powers that were not according to the common course of nature: Virtutes non vulgares. Things were done which could by no means be ascribed either to chance or second causes. Or, they were not only (as all miracles are) out of the common road, but they were even uncommon miracles, such miracles as had not been wrought by the hands of any other of the apostles. The opposers of the gospel were so prejudiced that any miracles would not serve their turn; therefore God wrought virtutes non quaslibet (so they render it), something above the common road of miracles. 2. It was not Paul that wrought them (What is Paul, and what is Apollos?) but it was God that wrought them by the hand of Paul. He was but the instrument, God was the principal agent.
3. He not only cured the sick that were brought to him, or to whom he was brought, but from his body were brought to the sick handkerchiefs or aprons; they got Paul’s handkerchiefs, or his aprons, that is, say some, the aprons he wore when he worked at his trade, and the application of them to the sick cured them immediately. Or, they brought the sick people’s handkerchiefs, or their girdles, or caps, or head-dresses, and laid them for awhile to Paul’s body, and then took them to the sick. The former is more probable. Now was fulfilled that word of Christ to his disciples, Greater works than these shall you do. We read of one that was cured by the touch of Christ’s garment when it was upon him, and he perceived that virtue went out of him; but here were people cured by Paul’s garments when they were taken from him. Christ gave his apostles power against unclean spirits and against all manner of sickness (Matt. 10:1), and accordingly we find here that those to whom Paul sent relief had it in both those cases: for the diseases departed from them and the evil spirits went out of them, which were both significant of the great design and blessed effect of the gospel, and the healing of spiritual disease, and freeing the souls of men from the power and dominion of Satan.