“9) Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: 10) For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10)
When Paul arrived in Corinth and was facing some opposition to the gospel, he seems to have gotten afraid and discouraged. The Lord came to encourage Paul with boldness to not be afraid to preach the gospel because God already had “much people” in this city. Not only were there born-again people of God already in Corinth but there wasn’t just one or two; there were “much people” of God in this city who needed to hear the gospel. Knowing God already had a people in this city was not a “deterrent” to evangelism but was a tremendous “encouragement” to greater evangelism for Paul. Knowing that salvation is by grace alone with no action of man contributing to eternal life does not discourage us from preaching, but rather it encourages us to know that God already has a people who need to know that he has saved them from their sins. There are God’s people who are already “ordained to eternal life” (Acts 13:48) in our cities who need to know the gospel. This should be an exciting encouragement to us to boldly preach the gospel in our local communities, knowing there are God’s people there with quickened hearts who need to know that Jesus Christ has already saved them from their sins on the cross.
When Paul first came to Corinth, he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews every sabbath and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks (Acts 18:1-5). He pressed the Jews hard that Jesus was the Christ, but when they opposed him and blasphemed, he condemned them and turned his attention to the Gentiles (v.6). Paul then proceeded to post up his ministry right next door to the synagogue, as he stayed with Justus, whose house was right beside the synagogue (v.7). There was one prominent Jewish convert, Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue who believed with all his house. Then, there were many other Corinthians which heard, believed, and were baptized (v.8). This was usually the general reaction and disposition to Paul’s preaching: the majority usually rejected him but also quite a few believed and were baptized as well. It appears Paul had become afraid and somewhat discouraged from the Jews’ rejection of the gospel yet again, now in Corinth, and then just as a whole that more people were not responding to the gospel message.
In this midst of this fear and discouragement, the Lord speaks to Paul in a vision by night saying, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.” (v.9-10) It appears Paul was afraid. Sometimes we think of Paul as being so bold and strong in faith, that he could never be afraid. Instead, we see clearly that Paul is a man of like passions just like us. He got afraid when facing opposition too. Paul writes of his time in Corinth that he was with them “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). It is hard to envision someone we view like Paul as so bold and fearless that he was actually trembling in fear, but he did. Paul recounts another time in Macedonia when he was “troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (2 Cor. 7:5). Paul later writes to Timothy to be bold and not ashamed to preach the gospel because God has not given us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7-8). We read Paul’s instruction to the young, trembling, afraid minister and think that Paul never had that fear of preaching the gospel. Instead, Paul had that same fear in his nature. God here encourages Paul to not be afraid but to speak and not hold his peace. It appears Paul was getting afraid to speak, but God emboldens him to preach boldly. Then, Paul can deliver that same message of encouragement to Timothy later; not just scolding him for being afraid but giving the same message of encouragement in fear that he received from the Lord, that “I am with thee, and no man will hurt you”.
How could Paul not be afraid but to preach boldly in Corinth? Because God promised to be with him – “for I am with thee”. Paul had no natural ability to speak in an elegant, impressive way to their natural ears. Instead, the accusation against Paul was that he was “rude” (untrained) in his speech (2 Cor. 11:6). Many thought his writing and letters were weighty and powerful, but then said his bodily presence was weak, and his speech was “contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). Paul’s natural speech was generally rude and contemptible, and he looked very weak physically. What then was the power of Paul’s preaching that removed his fear? He preached by “demonstration of the Spirit and power” so that their confidence would not be in a man, but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:4-5). Paul could preach boldly because it was the Holy Spirit that would give him the words to say. God also promises providential physical protection that no man will harm him in Corinth. That promise of providential physical protection gave Paul great boldness to preach in this city. He ended up staying in Corinth for 18 months, preaching the word of God and establishing the church there (v.11). Paul’s time in Corinth was one of his few extended stays in one location because the Lord gave him confidence to boldly preach because God had much people in this city and promised protection as well.
God encourages Paul to boldly preach the gospel in Corinth because “I have much people in this city” (v.10). How did God already have people in the city of Corinth? There were already born-again people of God in Corinth with a heart ready to receive the gospel. Most of Christianity would teach that God doesn’t have a people in any city, but we have to preach the gospel to them so they will believe and “become his people”. God’s people are not “created” by hearing and believing the gospel. Instead, God’s children are “identified” publicly when they profess a belief in Jesus Christ. Belief or active faith is not how one is born again or saved eternally, but belief is just an evidence that one is “already born again”. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24) Most of Christianity believe we have to go out into the city to make children of God, to make God a people to go to heaven, and if we don’t, they will die and go to hell. Instead, God encourages Paul that I “already” have much people in this city. God’s people in Corinth were not on the verge of going to hell if Paul didn’t preach to them. They were already God’s people that Jesus saved from their sins (Matt. 1:21). God’s people in Corinth did not need eternal life, but they needed the “gospel knowledge” to know and praise God for the salvation they “already had” through Jesus Christ. Not all of God’s people will be visibly identified by us, similar to where Elijah stood alone and thought he was all alone in serving God, but God had still reserved 7,000 faithful men that were not visible to Elijah (1 Kings 19:18). God still had much people in Israel, even though it was not as obvious externally as we would prefer.
The scriptures teach, and Primitive Baptists believe, that God chose a “people” in Christ before the world began, and Jesus Christ saved his people on the cross and there is no action of man that is required in eternal salvation, including belief and active faith. God has “his people” in Corinth, and in every nation, kindred, and tongue, whether they ever hear the gospel to inform them of their eternal salvation or not. When some people hear the doctrine of unconditional election, that the gospel has no bearing on eternal life but it just brings life and immortality “to light” (2 Tim. 1:10), they usually ask, “Then why do we need to preach the gospel at all then?” They think that God already having a people is a “deterrent” to preaching the gospel. Why would you even preach then if people’s eternal destination is not on the line? Well, that is why we have to properly understand the purpose of the gospel. Having knowledge that there are born-again people outside the church, we see that the gospel is not a “deterrent” to evangelism; instead, we see hear from God to Paul it was an “encouragement” to greater evangelism. God has a “people” out of every nation, kindred, people, and tongue (Rev. 5:9, 7:9). Therefore, God already has a people just about anywhere we could go in this world. Men are born again by the sovereign work of God, not by the gospel, belief, or any action of man (John 3:8). That means there are born-again people of God in gospel ignorance that we can bring to the knowledge of their salvation in Christ in just about any place we preach. Knowing that there are a people there whose hearts are already tendered by grace and can hear and receive the gospel is an amazing “encouragement” to preach because we know there are already people out there who can and will hear it. That was God’s encouragement to Paul. God tells Paul, I already have born-again people in Corinth but many of them have not heard the gospel yet. Therefore, you need to be bold to preach in this city because there are people who can and who will hear your message. Again, unconditional election and the new birth apart from the gospel is not a deterrent to evangelism, but it actually gives us excitement to know there are born-again people who are seeking the truth that can join the church in each of our cities.
When Paul was previously preaching in Antioch, God’s “people” in that city responded to the gospel. “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) Notice the inspired and preserved language of the word of God in the King James Version. Those who believed did not gain eternal life. Actually, it is the exact opposite. Those who were already “ordained to eternal life” are those who responded to the gospel and believed. How were these believers already “ordained to eternal life”? These are God’s people that were chosen in Christ before the world began (Eph. 1:4-5), predestinated to heaven (Eph. 1:5, Rom. 8:29), justified by Christ on the cross (Rom. 8:30, John 19:30), and already called in the new birth (Rom. 8:30, John 3:8). The gospel is foolishness to those who are not already God’s people, but the gospel is the power of God to those who are already born again (1 Cor. 1:18,21). Therefore, we see that those who were already God’s people, already ordained to eternal life, already born again by the Spirit, when they heard the gospel, they knew it applied to them, they joyfully received it and were baptized into the church. Men are not given eternal life when they believe. Instead, everyone that believes has already been ordained to eternal life by God from before the foundation of the world.
Who then are God’s people? One does not become a child of God, a sheep, or among God’s people by an action we perform or by believing on Jesus Christ. God already has chosen before the world began who he desired to be his people. God chose Old Testament Israel as a special, holy people to bless as a picture for us of how he chose his spiritual people. “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” (Deut. 7:6) The elect are the Lord’s special people unto himself. Blessed are the people whom God has chosen for his own inheritance. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” (Ps. 33:12) Happy is that people whose God is the Lord. “Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord.” (Ps. 144:15) We have been chosen out by God to be a “peculiar people” in this world to manifest the praises of Jesus Christ in a dark world. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9) God’s people were chosen before the world began, long before they ever come to a knowledge of the gospel in their life.
Who did Jesus come to save? Did Jesus come to save anyone who was willing to believe in him? No, Jesus Christ came to save “his people” from their sins. “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21) Notice that Jesus already had a people before he was born. Jesus came into this world with a distinct group of people to save. His people were given to him to save on the cross. Jesus promised that he would not lose one of his people “given unto him by the Father” (John 6:39, 17:2). Jesus already had a people given unto him when he came into this world, and that is the same exact definite, fixed group of “his people” that he saved from their sins on the cross. How diverse are God’s people? God chose his children out of every “people”, kindred, tongue, and nation (Rev. 5:9, 7:9). God literally has “his people” among every people group in this world. That is why we can have such boldness, just like Paul in Corinth, to preach the gospel in every city, following the direction and open doors of the Spirit. God has a people in every city that needs to hear and know the gospel of what Jesus Christ has already done for them on the cross.
I believe this passage should be an encouragement for local evangelism for us today as well. We know that God has his born-again people everywhere, out of every people, nation, kindred, and tongue. Therefore, I’m confident the Lord has his born-again people in our individual cities as well. Sometimes we think evangelism is only going to foreign countries or some distant location. Instead, the greatest need for evangelism is in our local cities and communities. We might be discouraged that no one wants to hear our message or maybe no one will believe it. While it’s possible that we might not have anyone join our church from these efforts, that does not mean that God does not still have “his people” in our local cities and communities. Those are people that are already born again, that already have a grace tendered heart that can be receptive to the gospel. We have to rely on the Holy Spirit to open their eyes to believe the gospel of God’s sovereign grace, but we never need to be discouraged from sharing the gospel in our cities. I believe we all have “much people” in our local cities and communities too that need the good news of salvation by God’s sovereign grace. Let our fear be quenched and be emboldened to preach the gospel in our local cities and communities because I believe we all have the encouragement as Paul. I believe God has “much people” in our local cities and communities as well, and let’s do our best to bring the gospel to these starving people of God.