The Gospel in Europe
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; there stood a man of Macedonia, beseeching him, and saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us — Act_16:9
Europe was Reached with the Gospel through the Vision of One Man
It was in the second missionary journey of St. Paul that the passage was made to our own coast of Europe. Kings have made the crossing with great armies; peoples have come pushing westward over the sea; but no irruption of Asiatic hordes, and no army bent on a world-conquest, has made such a change upon the life of Europe as did this traveler of our lesson. I think we all know how Paul found himself at Troas, and how, when there, the vision appeared to him. I think that among all the men mentioned in the Bible, there is none more familiar than this man of Macedonia. And then the voyage and the visit to Neapolis and the preaching at the riverside at Philippi — have we not known all that since we knew anything?— there is no page of history that we love more. What little beginnings the mightiest issues have! How insignificant is the start of mighty movements! It is good to think of Western Christendom today with its long record of saintly men and women, with its vast cathedrals and its countless churches, with its hospitals and infirmaries and asylums, with its innumerable charities, with its homes for the aged and the children, all of which owe their existence to the Gospel— it is good to think of that wonderful and rich life with its thousand activities that we call the Christian life, and then remember that we can trace it back to these few travelers on the quay at Troas. Do not despise the smallness of beginnings. The fate of a continent may be in one little boat. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth.
Visions Come Only When We Obey
Now three truths arrest me in this story. First, it is only when we obey that visions come. Scholars have disputed about the “region of Galatia” (Act_16:6), whether it is a great territory or a small one. But there is no dispute about a much more important thing, namely, that two wills are seen at work right through these verses. On the one hand there is the will of Paul saying, “I think I should go here; I must go there.” On the other hand there is the will of God closing this door and that before the apostle. Of course there was no physical force exerted. If Paul had been weak enough to be an obstinate man, he could have got to Asia or to Bithynia nicely. But Paul recognized that the say must lie with heaven, and he yielded himself up in freest self-surrender. He was willing that his own plans should be shattered and that his schemes and dreams should vanish if God bade, and it was thus that he was led to Troas, and it was then he had his vision in the night. Now that just means that if we are ever to have visions we must walk along the path of self-surrender. We shall never see the best and brightest things unless (as Jesus says) we are pure in heart. If we are blindly and obstinately set on our own way, the likelihood is that God will let us have it. We shall go away into half-wild Bithynia, and perhaps we shall never be heard of again. But it is when we hold our own plans very lightly and are ready to yield them up to God, if need be— it is then that we reach our Troas and get our vision of a larger service than we had ever dreamed of.
The Vision Must Be Followed by Endeavor Immediately
Next, the vision must be followed by endeavor. There is one great word in the vocabulary of the Bible that would make an excellent study for our leisure. It is the word immediately. There were no laggards among the Bible heroes. Life was a great thing, and time was very precious. When the trumpet sounds and the call from heaven comes— look in the next verse and you will find immediately. So it was here. Paul was asleep when he had his vision at Troas. Self-surrender makes an easy pillow. It was in a dream that the man of Macedonia appeared, crying “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And I think I see Paul leaping from his couch, in the burning certainty that God had spoken, and sending Luke post-haste down to the harbor to see when the next ship was likely to set sail. “Immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia.” The vision must be carried out in action. All effort must be made loyally to fulfil what had come to Paul in the glory of the night. Now what does that mean for us? It just means this. We must interpret our bright gleams in instant duty. All that is highest comes to us in vision, and we must translate it into the common task. When we awaken to God, that is a vision; it is a vision when we first see Jesus as our Savior. It is in a vision that we first see life’s possibilities and the way ahead of us and the cross we shall have to bear. And all life, if we mean to live it well, will be little else than the endeavor to carry out that vision through the dust and dreariness and song and sunshine of the years that are going to be our life.
In Spite of His Obedience, the Task Was Hard
Lastly, the endeavor often seems to contradict the vision. You note that it was a man who appeared to Paul. It was a man’s voice that summoned him to Europe. And in the man’s words there was a great appeal; it was as if Macedonia hungered for the Gospel. Yet there is no trace that Neapolis welcomed Paul. And the first convert was a woman, not a man. The first men whom we read of in the story are the angry masters of the poor neurotic girl. I have often wondered if Paul was disappointed. The work was so utterly different from the dream. He had seen in his vision the hands of Macedonia stretched out, and now they were indeed stretched out, but only to lead him to the inner prison at Philippi (Act_16:24). It was a strange and startling contradiction. A weakling would have been tempted to deny the vision. But Paul was far too faithful to despair, and we see now that God was in it all. So when the vision of Jesus comes to us, and we set out to do some little service for Him, there will not be a task and there will not be a day in which the vision will not be contradicted. Our service may not turn out as we hoped; our prayers may not be answered as we wished; we may get no welcome from those who seemed to call us; we may look for liberty and find a prison house. But God makes no mistake. The work is His. He can transmute our failures into tomorrow’s triumphs. When the dawn of the cloudless morning breaks above us, we shall waken to find He hath done all things well.