Surely the first introduction of the gospel into Europe must be of very great interest. It evidently sprang from God’s distinct ordering. That soldier of the Church, ambassador and diplomat of heaven, the Apostle Paul, in his missionary journeys came to Troas, a town situated in the north-east corner of the province of Mysia in Asia. Europe was not far away. A short distance from Troas were the Straits of Hellespont that narrow sheet of water, separating Asia from Europe. A sailing boat could reach the shores of Europe in three or four hours. We wonder if the keen spirit of the Apostle looked across those straits, and yearned to carry the gospel thither.
This intrepid servant of Christ slept and God spoke to him. “A vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9). Assuredly gathering that the Lord was calling him to go further afield, he took ship and landed at Samothracia, the next day he journeyed by land to Neapolis and from thence reached his first objective, Philippi. These former towns were in Thrace; Philippi was in Macedonia, Greece, and the vision had called him to Macedonia.
Little did the inhabitants of Philippi know that one of the greatest days in the history of Europe, or of the world indeed, was that on which unannounced, quietly, unobserved, Paul walked into their city. Yet so it was. Our hearts rejoice to think of this simple scene with so much involved in it, more important by far than the rise of ancient dynasties, the fall of which we have been witnessing these last twenty years.
Nowadays when a missioner descends on a city, it most generally means weeks of preparation. Committees are formed, influential citizens are begged to give their patronage, possibly a civic welcome is extended by the chief magistrate, the largest building is secured, a choir of some hundreds are drilled, and with a big flourish of trumpets the mission begins.
How different the way in which the gospel entered Europe. Paul found a few women meeting for prayer outside the city by the banks of the river. On one memorable Sabbath he joined this humble company of God-fearing women, sat down beside them, and spoke to them. Nothing spectacular in that, yet what a moment it was for Europe and for the world from that day to this!
What an encouragement to Christian women to think that this great work of God in Europe began with a few praying women. How surprised these women must have been when they heard Paul speaking wonderful things to them concerning the kingdom of God.
One woman is singled out for notice. Her name is Lydia, a seller of purple, evidently a person with a lucrative business, perhaps a widow, for she was the head of a household. The Lord opened her heart. How encouraging this is! Before Paul came, she was known as one that worshipped God. May there not be many seekers after light that God takes note of in places where the pure gospel has not yet penetrated? The first name of a European convert was that of a woman, peacefully employed in her lawful calling, yet having a fear of God in her heart and seeking light.
There are some Christians, who can take you to the very spot where they were converted. They can tell you the very day and hour when it happened. Many, cannot do this, especially the children of Christians, who have had the truths of the gospel presented to them from their infancy. We have known Christians troubled because they could not tell the time of their conversion. We remember years ago a soldier Christian in Canada saying with a bright smile, “I have had two birthdays one natural, the other spiritual. I don’t know the year in which either took place. But I know I was born naturally into this world for I am alive now; and I know that I was born spiritually because I trust and love the Lord.”
The Lord opened Lydia’s heart. Just as a bud gradually opens till it becomes a full blown flower, so her heart expanded under the rays of God’s love. She attended to the things spoken by the Apostle Paul.
Evidently the blessing extended to her household, for she and her household were baptised in the name of the Lord. This was the first baptism in Europe. It needed great courage. If she was of the Jewish faith, it meant cutting herself adrift from all her old religious associations and the parting from many friends. If she was pagan, it meant the same thing. In these lands we have no idea what it means to take such a stand. It means braving persecution, the refusal of work whereby to secure a bare living, the severing of the closest family ties, to step forth as a pariah, a dog, whom to kill would be in their eyes to do God’s service. Lydia took this step.
Then she becomes a practical Christian. It she has been faithful, will Paul come under her roof? “And she constrained us,” for Silas and Timotheus being the companions of the Apostle in this eventful journey.
What an example does this first European convert give us? We have known towns containing large numbers of Christians, and those responsible to arrange for some servant of the Lord, have appealed in vain for some shelter for the preacher. Many a preacher has had this experience.
May Lydia’s example be stimulating. May we give not only ourselves, but our homes to the Lord. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
There is a pretty story told of Peter the Great, the Emperor of Russia, a man of peculiar moods. One day he disguised himself as a beggar, wandered into a village, and begged alms. Only one poor man in the whole village showed him kindness, taking him into his home and feeding him. Next day the imperial carriage entered the village, and took this poor man to live in the royal palace at Moscow. All the inhabitants of that village wished they had shown kindness to the beggar man. But it was too late.
Shall many of us wish we had acted differently to what we have done when the rewards come? Possibly!
We would appeal to newly-married couples to begin right in these ways. They will never regret it. “Whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say to you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42). “Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it UNTO ME” (Matt. 25:40). What an honour! What an opportunity! And love will find a hundred ways in which to do it.
This mission ended in the missioners being cast into prison. It looked a sorry finish to an encouraging beginning. The jailer was coarse and brutal. He received his prisoners, with scourged and bleeding backs, thrust them into an inner prison, putting their feet into the stocks, so that they could not lie down or rest. Nor were prisons in those times, and countries anything but places of real horror, damp, noisome, alive with vermin and evil pests. And yet, and yet, these prisoners at midnight in such awful conditions sang praises to God.
And then came the earthquake, and the brutal jailer is alarmed at first lest his prisoners should escape, and then about his own eternal welfare. “What must I do to be saved?” was his eager question, as he called his prisoners “Sirs.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31), came the ready answer, and the jailer was converted with all his household. Hallelujah! The devil had outwitted himself. His servants got a wonderful advertisement, though they paid for it with bleeding backs. The magistrates, finding they had beaten Roman citizens, now politely and urgently besought their erstwhile prisoners to step forth free men out of the prison, and to their shame requested them to leave their city. So turning to Lydia’s house again, they saw the brethren, comforted them and departed.
Some ten years later Paul writes an inspired epistle to these Philippian saints. They had stood the test. They formed a live assembly. But Paul is again in prison. What then is the keynote of this inspired letter? Depression? Sadness? Complaints? Not a bit of it. “REJOICE in the Lord alway: and again I say REJOICE” (Phil. 4:4). Evidently he had kept up the singing all these years, and in similar circumstances, possibly not so terrible as in the prison circumstances at Philippi, he is found still rejoicing in the Lord. He perhaps could not rejoice in his circumstances, but he could in the LORD. Certainly he could not exhort the saints at Philippi to rejoice, unless he were rejoicing himself. May we be found rejoicing in the Lord likewise, and learning useful lessons from this simple narrative.