The Apostles went first to the Synagogue, and the effect of their discourses there was such, that great numbers both of the Jews and Greeks (i.e. Proselytes or Heathens, or both) believed the Gospel. The unbelieving Jews raised up an indirect persecution by exciting the minds of the Gentile population against those who received the Christian doctrine. But the Apostles persevered and remained in the city some considerable time, having their confidence strengthened by the miracles which God worked through their instrumentality, in attestation of the truth of His "Word.
There is an apocryphal narrative of certain events assigned to this residence at Iconium: and we may innocently adopt so" much of the legendary story, as to imagine Apostle Paul preaching long and late to crowded congregations, as he did afterwards at Assos, (Acts 20:7- 11) and his enemies bringing him before the civil authorities, with the cry that he was disturbing their households by his sorcery, or with complaints like those at Philippi and Ephesus, that he was "exceedingly troubling their city," and "turning away much people." (Acts 16:20, 19:26).
We learn from an inspired source (Acts 14:4) that the whole population of Iconium was ultimately divided into two great factions (a common occurrence, on far less important occasions, in these cities of Oriental Greeks), and that one party took the side of the Apostles, the other that of the Jews. But here, as at Antioch, the influential classes were on the side of the Jews. A determined attempt was at last made to crush the Apostles, by loading them with insult and actually stoning them. Learning this wicked conspiracy, in which the magistrates themselves were involved, they fled to some of the neighboring districts of Lycaonia, where they might be more secure, and have more liberty in preaching the Gospel.
It would be a very natural course for the Apostles, after the cruel treatment they had experienced in the great towns on a frequented route, to retire into a wilder region and among a ruder population. In any country, the political circumstances of which resemble those of Asia Minor under the early emperors, there must be many districts, into which the civilization of the conquering and governing people has hardly penetrated. An obvious instance is furnished by our Eastern presidencies, in the Hindoo villages, which have retained their character without alteration, notwithstanding the successive occupations by Mohammedans and English.
Thus, in the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire there must have been many towns and villages where local customs were untouched, and where Greek, though certainly understood, was not commonly spoken. Such, perhaps, were the places which now come before our notice in the Acts of the Apostles, - small towns, with a rude dialect and primitive superstition (Acts 14:11, 12, &c) - "Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia." (Acts 14:6)
We resume the thread of our narrative with the arrival of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra. One peculiar circumstance strikes us immediately in what we read of the events in this town; that no mention occurs of any synagogue or of any Jews. It is natural to infer that there were few Israelites in the place, though (as we shall see hereafter) it would be a mistake to imagine that there were none. We are instantly brought in contact with a totally new subject, - with Heathen superstition and mythology; yet not the superstition of an educated mind, as that of Sergius Paulus, - nor the mythology of a refined and cultivated taste, like that of the Athenians, - but the mythology and superstition of a rude and unsophisticated people.
Thus does the Gospel, in the person of Apostle Paul, successively clash with opposing powers, with sorcerers and philosophers, cruel magistrates and false divinities. Now it is the rabbinical master of the Synagogue, now the listening proselyte from the Greeks, that is resisted or convinced, - now the honest inquiry of a Roman officer, now the wild fanaticism of a rustic credulity, that is addressed with bold and persuasive eloquence.
These introductory remarks prepare us for considering the miracle recorded in the Acts. We must suppose that Paul gathered groups of the Lystrians about him, and addressed them in places of public resort, as a modern missionary might address the natives of a Hindoo village. But it would not be necessary in his case, as in that of Schwartz or Martyn, to have learnt the primitive language of those to whom he spoke.
Paul addressed them in Greek, for Greek was well understood in this border-country of the Lystrians, though their own dialect was either a barbarous corruption of that noble language, or the surviving remainder of some older tongue. He used the language of general civilization, as English may be used now in a Welsh country-town like Dolgelly or Carmarthen. The subjects he brought before these illiterate idolaters of Lycaonia were doubtless such as would lead them, by the most natural steps, to the knowledge of the true God, and the belief in His Son’s resurrection. He told them, as he told the educated Athenians, of Him whose worship they had ignorantly corrupted; whose unity, power, and goodness they might have discerned through the operations of nature; whose displeasure against sin had been revealed to them by the admonitions of their natural conscience.
On one of these occasions (Acts 14:8, &c) Paul observed a cripple, who was earnestly listening to his discourse. He was seated on the ground, for he had an infirmity in his feet, and had never walked from the hour of his birth. He looked at him attentively, with that remarkable expression of the eye which we have already noticed. The same Greek word is used as when the Apostle is described as "earnestly beholding the council," and "as setting his eyes on Elymas the sorcerer." (Acts 23:1, 13: 9). On this occasion that penetrating glance saw, by the power of the Divine Spirit, into the very secrets of the cripple’s soul.
Paul perceived "that he had faith to be saved." These words, implying so much of moral preparation in the heart of this poor Heathen, rise above all that is told us of the lame Jew, whom Peter, "fastening his eyes upon him with John," had once healed at the temple gate in Jerusalem. In other respects the parallel between the two cases is complete. As Peter said in the presence of the Jews, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk," so Paul said before his idolatrous audience at Lystra, "Stand upright on thy feet." And in this case, also, the word which had been suggested to the speaker by a supernatural intuition was followed by a supernatural result.
The obedient alacrity in the spirit, and the new strength in the body, rushed together simultaneously. The lame man sprang up in the joyful consciousness of a power he had never felt before, and walked like those who had never had experience of infirmity.
And now arose a great tumult of voices from the crowd. Such a cure of a congenital disease, so sudden and so complete, would have confounded the most skilful and sceptical physicians. An illiterate people would be filled with astonishment, and rush immediately to the conclusion that supernatural powers were present among them.
These Lycaonians thought at once of their native traditions, and crying out vociferously in their mother-tongue, - and we all know how the strongest feelings of an excited people find vent in the language of childhood, - they exclaimed that the gods had again visited them in the likeness of men, - that Jupiter and Mercury were again in Lycaonia, - that the persuasive speaker was Mercury, and his companion Jupiter.
They identified Paul with Mercury, because his eloquence corresponded with one of that divinity’s attributes. He was the "chief speaker," and Mercury was the god of eloquence. And if it be asked why they identified Barnabas with Jupiter, it is evidently a sufficient answer to say that these two divinities were always represented as companions in their terrestrial expeditions, though we may well believe (with Chrysostom and others) that there was something majestically benignant in his appearance, while the personal aspect of Apostle Paul (and for this we can quote his own statements) was comparatively insignificant.
How truthful and how vivid is the scene brought before us! and how many thoughts it suggests to those who are at once conversant with Heathen mythology and disciples of Christian theology! Barnabas, identified with the Father of Gods and Men, seems like a personification of mild beneficence and provident care; while Paul appears invested with more active attributes, flying over the world on the wings of faith and love, with quick words of warning and persuasion, and ever carrying in his hand the purse of the "unsearchable riches."
The news of a wonderful occurrence is never long in spreading through a small country town. At Lystra the whole population was presently in an uproar. They would lose no time in paying due honor to their heavenly visitants. The priest attached to that temple of Jupiter before the city gates, to which we have before alluded, was summoned to do sacrifice to the god whom he served. Bulls and garlands, and whatever else was requisite to the performance of the ceremony, were duly prepared, and the procession moved amidst crowds of people to the residence of the Apostles. They, hearing the approach of the multitude, and learning their idolatrous intention, were filled with the utmost horror. They "rent their clothes," and rushed out of the house in which they lodged, and met the idolaters approaching the vestibule. There, standing at the doorway, they opposed the entrance of the crowd; and Paul expressed his abhorrence of their intention, and earnestly tried to prevent their fulfilling it, in a speech of which only the following short outline is recorded by Luke.
This address held them listening, but they listened impatiently. Even with this energetic disavowal of his divinity and this strong appeal to their reason, Paul found it difficult to dissuade the Lycaonians from offering to him and Barnabas an idolatrous worship. (Acts 14:18) There is no doubt that he was the speaker, and, before we proceed further in the narrative, we cannot help pausing to observe the essentially Pauline character which this speech manifests, even in so condensed a summary of its contents.
It is full of undesigned coincidences in argument, and even in the expressions employed, with Apostle Paul's language in other parts of the Acts, and in his own Epistles. Thus, as here he declares the object of his preaching to be that the idolatrous Lystrians should "turn from these vain idols to the living God," so he reminds the Thessalonians how they, at his preaching, had "turned from idols to serve the living and true God."
Again, as he tells the Lystrians that "God had, in the generations that were past, suffered the nations of the Gentiles to walk in their own ways," so he tells the Romans that "God in His forbearance had passed over the former sins of men, in the times that were gone by;" and so he tells the Athenians, (Acts 17:30) that "the past times of ignorance God had overlooked." Lastly, how striking is the similarity between the natural theology with which the present speech concludes, and that in the Epistle to the Romans, where, speaking of the Heathen, he says that atheists are without excuse.
"Indeed, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest among them, for God has manifested it to them; For the invisible things of Him are perceived from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that were made - both His eternal power and Godhead - so that they are without excuse; Because when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but they became vain in their own reasonings, and their foolish hearts were darkened. While professing themselves to be the wise ones, they became fools." (Romans 1:18-22, HBFV)
The crowd reluctantly retired, and led the victims away without offering them in sacrifice to the Apostles. It might be supposed that at least a command had been obtained over their gratitude and reverence, which would not easily be destroyed; but we have to record here one of those sudden changes of feeling, which are humiliating proofs of the weakness of human nature and of the superficial character of religious excitement.
The Lycaonians were proverbially fickle and faithless; but we may not too hastily decide that they were worse than many others might have been under the same circumstances. It would not be difficult to find a parallel to their conduct among the modern converts from idolatry to Christianity. And certainly no later missionaries have had more assiduous enemies than the Jews whom the Apostles had everywhere to oppose.
Certain Jews from Iconium, and even from Antioch, (Acts 14:19) followed in the footsteps of Paul and Barnabas, and endeavored to excite the hostility of the Lystrians against them. When they heard of the miracle worked on the lame man, and found how great an effect it had produced on the people of Lystra, they would be ready with a new interpretation of this occurrence. They would say that it had been accomplished, not by Divine agency, but by some diabolical magic; as once they had said at Jerusalem, that He who came "to destroy the works of the Devil" cast out devils "by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." (Matthew 12:24). And this is probably the true explanation of that sudden change of feeling among the Lystrians, which at first sight is very surprising.
Their own interpretation of what they had witnessed having been disavowed by the authors of the miracle themselves, they would readily adopt a new interpretation, suggested by those who appeared to be well acquainted with the strangers, and who had followed them from distant cities. Their feelings changed with a revulsion as violent as that which afterwards took place among the "barbarous people" of Malta, (Acts 28:4-6) who first thought Apostle Paul was a murderer, and then a God.
The Jews, taking advantage of the credulity of a rude tribe, were able to accomplish at Lystra the design they had meditated at Iconium. (Acts 14:5) Apostle Paul was stoned, - not hurried out of the city to execution like Stephen, the memory of whose death must have come over Apostle Paul at this moment with impressive force, - but stoned somewhere in the streets of Lystra, and then dragged through the city-gate, and cast outside the walls, under the belief that he was dead. This is that occasion to which the Apostle afterwards alluded in the words," once I was stoned," in that long catalogue of sufferings, to which we have already referred in this chapter.
Thus was he "in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the Heathen," - "in deaths oft," - "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in his body… Alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in his mortal flesh" (Compare 2Corinthians 4:8 - 12 and 11:23 - 27).
On the present occasion these last words were literally realized, for by the power and goodness of God he rose from a state of apparent death as if by a sudden resurrection. Though "persecuted," he was not "forsaken," - though "cast down," he was "not destroyed." "As the disciples stood about him, he rose up, and came into the city." (Acts 14:20). We see from this expression that his labors in Lystra had not been in vain. He had found some willing listeners to the truth, some "disciples" who did not hesitate to show their attachment to their teacher by remaining near his body, which the rest of their fellow-citizens had wounded and cast out.
These courageous disciples were left for the present in the midst of the enemies of the truth. Jesus Christ had said, (Matthew 10:23) "when they persecute you in one city, flee to another;" and the very "next day" (Acts 14:20) Paul "departed with Barnabas to Derbe."
But before we leave Lystra, we must say a few words on one spectator of Apostle Paul's sufferings, who is not yet mentioned by Luke, but who was destined to be the constant companion of his after-years, the zealous follower of his doctrine, the faithful partner of his danger and distress. Paul came to Lystra again after the interval of one or two years, and on that occasion we are told that he found a certain Christian there, "whose name was Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess, while his father was a Greek," and whose excellent character was highly esteemed by his fellow-Christians of Lystra and Iconium.
It is distinctly stated that at the time of this second visit Timothy was already a Christian; and since we know from Apostle Paul's own expression, - "my own son in the faith," - that he was converted by Paul himself, we must suppose this change to have taken place at the time of the first visit. And the reader will remember that Apostle Paul in the second Epistle to Timothy (2Timothy 3:10, 11) reminds him of his own intimate and personal knowledge of the sufferings he had endured, "at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra" - the places (it will be observed) being mentioned in the exact order in which they were visited, and in which the successive persecutions took place.
We have thus the strongest reasons for believing that Timothy was a witness of Apostle Paul's injurious treatment, and this too at a time of life when the mind receives its deepest impressions from the spectacle of innocent suffering and undaunted courage. And it is far from impossible that the generous and warm-hearted youth was standing in that group of disciples, who surrounded the apparently lifeless body of the Apostle at the outside of the walls of Lystra.
We are called on to observe at this point, with a thankful acknowledgment of God’s providence, that the flight from Iconium, and the cruel persecution at Lystra, were events which involved the most important and beneficial consequences to universal Christianity. It was here, in the midst of barbarous idolaters, that the Apostle of the Gentiles found an associate, who became to him and the Church far more than Barnabas, the companion of his first mission.
As we have observed above, there appears to have been at Lystra no synagogue, no community of Jews and proselytes, among whom such an associate might naturally have been expected. Perhaps Timothy and his relations may have been almost the only persons of Jewish origin in the town. And his "grandmother Lois" and "mother Eunice" (2Timothy 1:5) may have been brought there originally by some accidental circumstance, as Lydia (Acts 16:14) was brought from Thyatira to Philippi. And, though there was no synagogue at Lystra, this family may have met with a few others in some proseucha, like that in which Lydia and her fellow-worshippers met "by the river-side." (Acts 16:13).
Whatever we conjecture concerning the congregational life to which Timothy may have been accustomed, we are accurately informed of the nature of that domestic life which nurtured him for his future labors. The good soil of his heart was well prepared before Paul came, by the instructions (2Timothy 1:5) of Lois and Eunice, to receive the seed of Christian truth, sown at the Apostle’s first visit, and to produce a rich harvest of faith and good works before the time of his second visit.
And now we have reached the limit of Apostle Paul's first missionary journey. About this part of the Lycaonian plain, where it approaches, through gradual undulations, to the northern bases of Mount Taurus, he was not far from that well-known pass which leads down from the central table-land to Cilicia and Tarsus. But his thoughts did not center in an earthly home. He turned back upon his footsteps; and revisited the places, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, where he himself had been reviled and persecuted, but where he bad left, as sheep in the desert, the disciples whom his Master had enabled him to gather. They needed building up and strengthening in the faith, (Acts 14:22) comforting in the midst of their inevitable sufferings, and fencing round by permanent institutions.
Therefore Paul and Barnabas revisited the scenes of their labors, undaunted by the dangers which awaited them, and using words of encouragement, which none but the founders of a true religion would have ventured to address to their earliest converts, that "we can only enter the kingdom of God by passing through much tribulation." But not only did they fortify their faith by passing words of encouragement; they ordained elders in every church after the pattern of the first Christian communities in Palestine, and with that solemn observance which had attended their own consecration, and which has been transmitted to later ages in connection with ordination, - "with fasting and prayer," - they "made choice of fit persons to serve in the sacred ministry of the Church."
Thus, having consigned their disciples to Him "in whom they had believed," and who was "able to keep that which was entrusted to Him," (Acts 14:23. Compare 2Timothy 1:12) Paul and Barnabas descended through the Pisidian mountains to the plain of Pamphylia. If our conjecture is correct, that they went up from Perga in spring, and returned at the close of autumn, and spent all the hotter months of the year in the elevated districts, they would again pass in a few days through a great change of seasons, and almost from winter to summer. The people of Pamphylia would have returned from their cold residences to the warm shelter of the plain by the seaside; and Perga would be full of its inhabitants.
The Gospel was preached within the walls of this city, through which the Apostles had merely passed on their journey to the interior. But from Luke’s silence it appears that the preaching was attended with no marked results. We read neither of conversions nor persecutions. The Jews, if any Jews resided there, were less inquisitive and less tyrannical than those at Antioch and Iconium; and the votaries of "Diana before the city" at Perga (see p. 143) were less excitable than those who worshipped "Jupiter before the city" at Lystra. (Acts 14:13) When the time came for returning to Syria, they did not sail down the Oestrus, up the channel of which river they had come on their arrival from Cyprus, but traveled across the plain to Attaleia, which was situated on the edge of the Pamphylian gulf.
Attaleia had something of the same relation to Perga which Cadiz has to Seville. In each case the latter city is approached by a river-voyage, and the former is more conveniently placed on the open sea. Attalus Philadelplus, king of Pergamus, whose dominions extended from the north-western corner of Asia Minor to the Sea of Pamphylia, had built this city in a convenient position for commanding the trade of Syria or Egypt.
When Alexander the Great passed this way, no such city was in existence: but since the days of the kings of Pergamus, who inherited a fragment of his vast empire, Attaleia has always existed and flourished, retaining the name of the monarch who built it. Behind it is the plain through which the calcareous waters of the Catarrhactes flow, perpetually constructing and destroying and reconstructing their fantastic channels. In front of it, and along the shore on each side, are long lines of cliffs, over which the river finds its way in waterfalls to the sea, and which conceal the plain from those who look toward the land from the inner waters of the bay, and even encroach on the prospect of the mountains themselves.