Part 4 of An Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles newly translated from an amended text.
The public course of the apostle was closed so far as scripture informs us. The remaining chapters of the Acts are occupied almost entirely with the personal history of the apostle, especially his collision with the Jews publicly, and through them with the Gentiles. In the first and last of these chapters we have a little of his relations with the Christians. The Book closes with him, the Lord's prisoner, in Rome, though not without liberty to see all who sought him, to whom he preached the kingdom of God and taught the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Considerably later traces appear in the last of his Epistles. It was important in the mind of the Spirit to give us the early ministry of Peter, chiefly in Judea and Samaria, as well as in opening the door to the Gentiles. After that Paul fills up the entire scene to the close of the Book.
'And when it came to pass that we were parted from them and had set sail, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the next day unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara; and, having found a ship crossing over into Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail, and as we had sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed unto Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unlace her cargo. And having found out the disciples, we remained there seven days, and these said to Paul through the Spirit that he should not set foot in Jerusalem. And when it came to pass that we had completed the days, we departed and went on our journey, and they all with wives and children brought us on our way, till we were out of the city, and kneeling down on the beach we prayed and took leave of one another, and we went on board ship, and they returned home. And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day' (vers. 1-7).
Such is the succinct account of the voyage. On the day after (as we shall see) they took their land journey through Palestine; in the previous verses now before us, it was sailing. Nothing more simple, yet on the journey of such a man and his companions the Spirit of God loves to dwell, and that we should dwell. We wrong His grace in thinking that the Holy Ghost has only to do with extraordinary matters, as striking utterances, strange tongues, miraculous signs, and sufferings still more fruitful when unostentatiously borne. Undoubtedly He is the power for all that is good and worthy of Christ; but as Christ Himself lived much the greater part of His life in the utmost obscurity as regards man, perfectly doing the will of God, before and to Whom not a moment was lost, so does the Spirit of God enter into all the details of life in those who are Christ's. Surely if anything could give dignity to the passing circumstances of each day, this must: but do God's children do we believe it? If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit; let us not be vain-glorious, provoking one another, envying one another.
Let us associate the commonest things with Christ's will and glory. Certainly there is nothing more closely approaching the animal than eating and drinking; yet the word of God would have us appropriate even these things to the highest purpose, and there is no way so simple and sure as by that faith which, looking upward, partakes of them in His name. 'Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.' Thus shall we give no occasion of stumbling either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God. Grace avoids questions, as it abhors sin and teaches us to please all men in all things, but not with a view to one's own profit, but rather in divine love to the many that they may be saved. It was so Christ walked in the ungrieved power of the Spirit; it is so we are called to walk, though alas! we too often grieve Him. But there is no rule of life so true, so full, and so direct; and here therefore the path becomes of deep interest. 'To me to live is Christ' underlies what we are told of the great apostle.
'And when it came to pass that we were parted from them.' The last verb may be softened down sometimes, but the natural meaning implies a wrench. Christian affection is a reality on earth: in all the narrative what an absence appears of turning aside for objects of natural interest! 'We came with a straight course unto Coos, and the next day unto Rhodes.' We may be sure from the character and the capacity and the attainments of the apostle that he had an eye for natural beauty and a mind for every historic association that presented itself here below. 'But this one thing I do' was not more his word to others than his own life — 'to me to live is Christ.' The claims of the new creation altogether outweighed those of the old. So when we saw him alone at Athens with ample leisure to look around on the remains which have attracted men of the old world as well as moderns beyond most spots here below, what was the effect on him? His spirit was provoked within him, as he beheld the city full of idols. It was not sculpture that enchained him, not architecture that blinded him. He measured all around by the glory of Christ, and yet none could show more tact in discoursing to them. If he probed their idolatry to the bottom, he availed himself of the least point of truth which the vain city confessed — the altar with the inscription, 'To God unknown'.
Truly Paul walked by faith and not by sight; should not we? Is it really come to this, that because we have not apostolic authority or miraculous powers, we are to abandon the life of faith? Is not the Holy Spirit sent down, and sent down to abide with us for ever? It were humbling indeed to answer like the twelve men at Ephesus (who could not speak truly otherwise): 'We did not so much as hear whether there is a Holy Spirit.' If we Christians say so now, it is guilty unbelief of the sure and standing privilege of God's church. All we want is to judge ourselves and walk in faith, truth, and love; the Spirit will then manifest His gracious power.
'And having found a ship crossing over unto Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail.' It is good to notice the providential dealings of the Lord. The same heart that abides wholly unmoved by the most violent and dangerous storm, ought to be thankful for a fair wind and a quiet journey; and so it was and is. Circumstances never create faith, though God may use unlooked-for facts to deal with conscience. But the same simple faith it is, which, in rough weather or in smooth, can alike give thanks to God. Certainly it is not indifference; but the known will of God is always good, and acceptable, and perfect; and the heart is kept up in the confidence of His love. So His hand would be seen in their finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia. It would appear that the vessel in which they first set out did not proceed beyond Patara in the desired direction, and now, having found one bound for Phoenicia, 'we went on board and set sail.' Thus in the outward but gracious ordering of God there was no loss of time.
'And when we had sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed unto Syria, and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unlade the cargo.' No doubt the term 'sighted' is technical for mariners, but can we conceive that the apostle passed the island without recalling the scene of his early ministry, and of his elder brother Barnabas, and his younger, John Mark, whom they once had as their attendant? We have already had proof of the goodness of Barnabas, and the Holy Ghost has pronounced upon it; and this was proved at a still later day, when he left Antioch, from the midst of an active work of the Lord, to seek for Saul of Tarsus, and brought him to labour with himself at that great centre of Christian blessing (Acts 11:22-26). But Barnabas and Mark bad parted from the apostle, yet the apostle's heart sought them both, and felt a love that rose above all their failings, as he proved, not only by word, but by deed to the last.
And surely Syria and Tyre where they landed must have recalled deep reflections to the apostle. Here the Lord Himself had withdrawn during His earthly ministry, and from those borders came to Him the woman of Canaan who drew out from Him, not merely an answer of mercy that she wanted for her daughter, but that praise of her own faith which will never be forgotten.
Here the delay of the ship was no less ordered of God at Tyre than the finding it at once had been at Patara. The unloading of the cargo gave the apostle and his companions the time, not exactly to find disciples as in the Authorized Version, but to find 'out' the disciples. We cannot as in the Greek idiom say, 'found up', though we do say 'hunted up'. It would appear hence that they were the object of search, not of casual discovery. They were the disciples, and 'so they tarried there seven days'. This we have seen before at Troas and remarked on, as giving an opportunity to spend at least one Lord's day for the communion of the Lord's Supper.
From an incidental statement we learn how full the early church was of the power of the Spirit: 'And these said to Paul through the Spirit that he should not set foot in Jerusalem.' Assuredly the apostle lacked not warning, as he said himself to the elders from Ephesus, 'Behold, I go bound in the [i.e., my] spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there, save that the Holy Spirit testifieth to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.' Evidently however the apostle regarded it rather as a note of danger that awaited him than of personal direction which he must obediently follow. His own mind was made up, whatever the danger, whatever the suffering, to go through with it; as the Master had done in matchless perfection for His infinite work at all cost.
'And when it came to pass that we had completed the days, we departed and went on our journey; and they all with wives and children brought us on our way, till we were out of the city, and kneeling down on the beach we prayed and took leave of each other; and we went on board ship, but they returned home' (vers. 5, 6). It is another beautiful peculiarity of divine affection — the family as well as social character of Christians in early days. This ought to be of great price now, if we are wise. In this cold world the saints are peculiarly exposed to grow chilly, if kept from fleshly excitement and worldly frivolity.
'And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we saluted the brethren and abode with them one day' (ver. 7). Here at a port called Accho in days of yore, now St. Jean d'Acre, they arrived; and though it was but for one day, how gladly they spent it with the brethren! For such there were at Ptolemais, apparently already known.
What we have seen was the voyage of Paul and his companions; that which follows is their land journey. 'And on the morrow we1 departed and came unto Caesarea; and entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we abode with him' (ver. 8).
1 'Paul, and we that were with him', is a later reading, which slipped into the Text. Rec., the Authorized Version, et al.
The words of the inspired writer are full and distinct. From their precision one might think it impossible that any intelligent mind could fail to discern the person meant; yet no less a one than the father of ecclesiastical history contrived to misunderstand the verse, and to confound Philip the evangelist with Philip the apostle. It is no pleasure to point out a lapse so strange and unaccountable in any intelligent reader of scripture; but it becomes a duty to notice the error, and urge its importance as a warning to those who cry up the authority of ancient patristic writers. Indisputably Eusebius was neither better nor worse than most of the Christian fathers. For superstitious eyes he has the advantage of holding a decidedly early place amongst them, for he flourished in the days of the Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-337). No ancient MS. of the Greek New Testament that survives was written before his day, and but two can pretend to be as early. Yet it is plain that, with the text as it stands before him, he grossly erred, not on a point of nice doctrine. but in a plain matter of fact. For we are here in the Acts told that the Philip, with whom the apostle's party stayed, was not the evangelist only, but one of the seven, i.e., one of the seven men appointed by the apostles for diaconal service during the days of first love, soon after Pentecost.
If the unquestionable meaning of scripture could be thus overlooked, and so serious a mistake find its way into Eusebius' history, what confidence ought to be reposed in any alleged facts or statements outside the scriptures? Not that any evil object is imputed to that historian; but the circumstance proves that in those days, as in our own, there is deplorable ignorance of God's word where one might least expect it. Patristic authority in divine things is no more reliable than modern systematic divinity. The value of scripture practically as well as dogmatically is incalculable. It is the standard as well as source of truth.
'Now this man had four daughters, virgins, who did prophesy; and as we tarried many days there came down from Judea a certain prophet named Agabus; and coming to us and taking Paul's girdle, he bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So [thus] shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and deliver him into the hands of [the] Gentiles' (vers. 9-11).
The fact stated in the 9th verse deserves full consideration. Philip had four unmarried daughters, of whom it is declared that they prophesied; that is, they had the highest form of gift for acting on souls from God. Such prophesying was yet more than teaching or preaching. We cannot doubt, therefore, that they used their gift on the one hand; and on the other that it was forbidden to use it in the assembly. 'It is shameful', had Paul written in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:34, 35), 'for a woman to speak in [the] assembly.' At Corinth it seems that some were bold enough to attempt this and other innovations: but it also seems to have been at that time a very unusual and unheard of notion.
In general, Christian women understood their place better in these early days. Still, there might arise some such desire here or there. At any rate, the apostle found it necessary in his First Epistle to Timothy to write (1 Tim. 2:12), 'I permit not a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in quietness.' The word αὐθεντεῖν does not convey the sense of 'usurpation', but the possession or exercise of power, where it does not mean committing murder. The woman is not set in authority, nor is she to act as if she were. As to this, there can be no dispute for subject minds. 'If any one thinketh himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write unto you, that it is the commandment of the Lord' (1 Cor. 14:37). The Lord's will for us is on record unmistakably, if indeed we respect scripture.
But these maiden daughters of Philip did prophesy, if not in the assembly, somewhere else. Decorum would have forbidden it still more to have been in public, if God's order prohibited it for the assembly. No place can be conceived more suitable than one's father's house. 1 Cor. 11:2-16 renders it plain that the woman, in praying or prophesying, was to see that she bore the mark of subjection, for even in prophesying she must not forget that she is a woman, and that the head of the woman is the man as the head of every man is Christ. The woman, therefore, should be veiled while the man was not so to be. 'Every man praying or prophesying, having [anything] on his head dishonoureth his head; but every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonoureth her own head, for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. For if the woman is not covered,' says the apostle, 'let her also be shorn; but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered; for a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, being God's image and glory but woman is man's glory.' Both have their place respectively in the Lord, Who, if He give power, maintains order no less; but each has a place of its own which He has assigned, as all things are of God. So His word regulates all, and we should remember this the more in days when man's voice is loud, and God's word exposed and subjected to increasing slight.
We are not told whether these maidens predicted anything about Paul but we do hear that Agabus the prophet added to the warnings already given him by others. Not only so, but he came and took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, 'Thus saith the Holy Spirit, The man to whom this girdle belongs shall the Jews thus bind in Jerusalem, and deliver him up into the hands of the Gentiles.' This was quite in the symbolic manner of the ancient prophets; and it filled those who beheld and listened with sorrow for the honoured apostle. 'And when we heard these things, both we and those of the place besought him not to go up to Jerusalem; then Paul answered, Why do ye weep and break my heart? For I am ready, not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done' (vers. 12-14).
It is clear that the apostle did not understand that the Lord meant him to turn from Jerusalem. He only heard reiterated by Agabus, as he had been so often warned by others, what he must suffer there. Indeed from his conversion it was intimated how many things he must suffer for the Lord's name's sake. Paul clearly must have concluded that the Holy Ghost spoke, not to dissuade him from his perilous path, but rather to prepare him in it — certainly for prison, and perhaps death. The brotherly kindness of others would have screened him from all that was awaiting him in Jerusalem, but love goes beyond brotherly kindness. So it was working in the servant, as it had with all perfection in the Master.
The apostle now passes on to that city which had so large a part in his affections, or at least to the saints there, little as it might be conceived by those who saw in him only the apostle of the uncircumcision. 'And after these days we took up (or made ready) our baggage, and went up to Jerusalem' (ver. 15). 'Our carriages' would convey a mistaken impression to ears familiar only with modern English. It is possible that at the time of our Authorized Version, the word was used in a double sense, as has been suggested; not only as now for the vehicle which carries, but also for what was carried in it. The Old Testament likewise contains the word in its old meaning, which of course is found in profane writers of that day also.
'And there went with us also [certain] disciples from Caesarea, bringing one Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge' (ver. 16). An 'old' disciple is certainly not exact, and may not even be true, ἀρχαίῳ expressing not his age as a man, but his discipleship from the beginning. It is interesting thus to find incidentally that Cyprus had been blessed of God, not only through the visits of Paul and Barnabas, but even before.
'And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly and the day following Paul went in with us unto lames and all the elders were present, and when he had saluted them, he explained one by one the things which God wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry; and when they heard it, they glorified God' (vers. 17-20). Here we see in full vigour the love and honour which reigned among the saints. Not that there were no trials and special trials in those days: it could not be otherwise. In this world no difference of a religious character could compare for depth with that which severed Jews from Gentiles. God Himself under the law had maintained the separation between them to the full, as our Lord did up to the cross. This closed the old order to introduce the new — the order of grace and of the new creation in Christ which the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven carried out in power and joy and intelligence. Thenceforward Christ becomes all, and indeed He is worthy; as He is all, so is He in all; and the distinction of Jew and Greek, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, vanish in Him before God.
Yet is there nothing which Christians find so difficult to apprehend and enjoy and practise as Christianity. Nevertheless the Spirit given to every Christian is not a spirit of fear nor of bondage, but one of power, and of love, and of a sound mind, with Christ before our eyes. The path may be difficult, but as it is true, so is it the exercise of love; and it is all a question of appreciating Christ, and of applying the truth in a spirit of grace. As the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. We have only to believe, not to fear man, any more than to pursue our own thoughts.
The word of God is now revealed as a full answer to Christ, and by the Spirit it will be found to solve every difficulty in detail. In no place, however, were the difficulties greater than in Jerusalem, the natural focus of extreme Jewish feeling. Thither the apostle had come, animated by strong feelings of love and pity for his nation, as he himself explains in Acts 24:17: 'Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.' This was hardly his proper calling, though the love which led to it always wrought powerfully in his heart, as we know from Gal. 2 and other scriptures.
But there was another reason which made his presence in Jerusalem critical for the apostle. His assigned province was toward the Gentiles (compare Gal. 2:7-9); and certainly the Holy Spirit had through prophets given many warnings along the road of perils in this city. No man, no apostle even, is strong, save in dependence on the Lord, as he said himself, 'When I am weak, then am I strong.' For Christ's 'strength is made perfect in weakness.' And Paul above all could say, 'Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.' But it is instructive to see that Antioch proved a dangerous place for Peter as Jerusalem did for even Paul. The Lord wrought effectually in Peter, yet it was mainly and conspicuously for the apostleship of the circumcision. He also assuredly wrought by Paul with the Gentiles, if ever He wrought mightily by man on the earth.
But we anticipate. The arrival of Paul and his party in Jerusalem received a hearty welcome from the brethren. It would appear that James's house was the known place for any special gathering of elders at any rate; as we heard of a meeting for prayer at the house of Mary, mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). 'The following day accordingly Paul went in with us,' it is said, 'unto James'; and all the elders were present.' There must have been very many groups of Christian Jews in Jerusalem, where their numbers were now to be counted by thousands. Large buildings appropriated to the assembly were as yet, it would seem, unknown. The present occasion, however, was not for the meeting of the assembly, only the elders were present. They no doubt came from those many groups, and their meeting together as elders would powerfully contribute to keep up order and unity, without in the least degree superseding, while truth governed in a spirit of grace, the responsibility of the assembly. We can readily understand that James's house was a suited place for such to meet. The verse does not give us the impression of an assemblage on this occasion only, though it was very likely that the news of Paul coming and come might account for 'all the elders' being present at this time. There are constant wants which would call for the meeting of the elders ordinarily; but this occasion of course had the extraordinary element of Paul's presence.
'And when he had saluted them, he explained one by one the things which God wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.' There was perfect openness on his part. No effort to put prominently forward what God had wrought among the Jews or in the synagogues. He spread before them particularly what had been given him to do among the nations. Doubtless this was intended of the Lord to enlarge their hearts. They were accustomed in Jerusalem to see or hear but little of their Gentile brethren. The apostle put it forward carefully; and when they heard it they glorified 'God' — for this appears to be the true reading, rather than 'the Lord'.
The apostle could say, 'If any man preacheth any gospel other than this which we preach, let him be anathema' (Gal. 1:9). A different gospel is not another. It is the abandonment of what Paul preached, or a human substitute for it. It may be questioned whether any other apostle could speak so absolutely. Paul preached what they preached, but one may fairly doubt that they preached all that Paul preached. If we bear in mind the special manner of his conversion and truth therein revealed, it helps us to understand this. He commenced with a Saviour in glory, and had the wondrous truth communicated to him from the first that Christ and the Christian are one: 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?' A saint now is also a member of Christ's body. This the others learnt; but the apostle Paul had it revealed to him from the starting point, and he was the Lord's special instrument for carrying it out in the world. It was not 'the gospel of God' only, rich as this expression is, but 'tine gospel of the glory of Christ'.
It was Christ, known no more after the flesh, but risen and glorified. Gentile darkness and Jewish law were left behind, and even promise was eclipsed by a brightness far beyond it. It was grace in its fullest exercise and highest splendour in the person of Christ, with Whom we are associated in the closest relationship — Christ is the Head over all things, but is also the Head given to the church which is His body. The church is not among the 'all things', but is united with Him Who is over all things, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. Hence the apostle preached the gospel of the glory of Christ as none other is reported to have done. This comes out very distinctly in 2 Cor. 3, 4, 5. Substantially it appears in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians; but there it is rather called the mystery of the gospel. 'This mystery is great,' says he, 'but I speak of Christ and of the church' (Eph. 5:32). He being the exalted Head, she being His body and bride, the church is even now one with Him. For the church He gave Himself up, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water by the word, that He might present the church to Himself glorious, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.
The glory of Christ on high is the answer to His humiliation below, whatever else may follow. Nor is there any witness to it so bright. Hence the apostle speaks of 'my gospel', and 'our gospel' where he names his companions along with himself. The gospel of the glory of Christ was given him to preach it in all its height of blessedness; and hence the danger of letting it slip, if even one that once knew it begins to preach grace at a lower level only, true as it may be. Nothing so completely lifts above the tradition and the thoughts of men.
Hence the danger even to the apostle himself when in Jerusalem. Another atmosphere was breathed there. It is not that they did not confess Jesus to be the Christ, and look for His kingdom and glory; but out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 'And they said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many myriads there are among the Jews of those that believe, and they are all zealous for the law. And they have been informed concerning thee, that thou teachest all Jews that are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs' (vers. 20, 21). This witness was true as far as they themselves were concerned; but what they were informed about Paul was an exaggeration. Whatever his sense of Christian liberty, none was more tolerant of Jewish conscience, on the other hand, none more resolute to teach the Gentile believers that they had nothing to do with law, but with Christ dead and risen. What could Gentile believers have to do with circumcision or the other institutions and customs of Israel? For heaven, as in heaven, all this was unknown.
As the full grace of God preached by the apostle startled not a few of the saints in Jerusalem, a gloss was sought to prove that he was a good Jew notwithstanding. 'What is it therefore? They will certainly hear that thou art come. Do thou this that we say to thee: We have four men with a vow on them; these take and purify thyself with them, and be at charges over them, that they may shave their heads, and all shall know that there is no truth in the things whereof they have been informed concerning thee but that thou thyself also walkest orderly keeping the law' (vers. 22-24).
This was not strange advice for the Christians in Jerusalem to give, but it seems a descending path for the apostle Paul to follow. No one knew better than he to walk as dead with Christ and risen with Him, no one better than he to please the Lord without fear of the opinions of men, or even of his brethren. With him it was a very small thing to be examined of others or of himself. Had he looked to the Lord for His guidance now, perhaps he would have advised James and the rest to judge nothing before the time till the Lord come, Who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart, and then shall each have the praise from God (1 Cor. 4:5). Indeed it is doubtful whether anything done as a witness to ourselves (and this seems the gist of James' counsels to Paul) is ever blessed of God or satisfies man. We shall see what the issue was in this instance.
In their past dealings with the Gentiles who believed (Acts 15:22-29), the apostles and elders had acted with divine wisdom. So it is here added, 'But, as touching the Gentiles that believed we wrote [or, enjoined] giving judgment, that they should keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols and blood and things strangled and fornication' (ver. 25). These injunctions were clearly understood before the law was even given to Israel. It was not natural religion which ignored sin and the fall. For God man needs revelation; but in such things Christianity only confirms the broad principles God had laid down before Israel existed.
'Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them went into the temple, declaring the fulfilment of the days of the purification until the offering was offered for every one of them' (ver. 26).
The apostle yielded to his Jewish brethren. It was in no way a step which flowed from his own judgment before God; and we shall see that it was wholly in vain as far as the Jews were concerned. No doubt there was misunderstanding on their part; but we can scarcely say, whatever one's reverence for the apostles, that the light of the Lord shone upon the course that was then recommended or pursued. Their conduct might not be without failure in this or that particular; whilst their teaching, beyond all doubt in what was written in the Spirit for the permanent direction of the church, was perfectly guarded from the least error. 'We are of God' (said one of them): 'he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error' (1 John 4:6). This is stringent, but it is the truth; and, if so, it is really grace to let all saints know that there is such a standard — not Christ's person only, but the apostolic word. If we truly confess Him, we shall surely hear them: if we refuse them, we do not really own Him Who sent and inspired them. If we reject Him and them, we are irretrievably lost, and guiltier than Jews or heathen, who had not such privileges. For the true light now shines. God is fully revealed in Christ, and the written word makes both known.
It was a singular sight: Paul purifying himself to show that he walked orderly and kept the law. He was evidently walking according to the thoughts of others, which no more glorifies God than it satisfies man. 'And when the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia when they saw him in the temple stirred up all the multitude and laid hands on him, crying out, Men of Israel, help. This is the man that teacheth all everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place; and moreover he brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath defiled this holy place. For they had before seen with him in the city Trophimus the Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul brought into the temple.1 And the whole city was moved, and the people ran together, and they laid hold on Paul and dragged him out of the temple; and forthwith the doors were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, tidings came up to the chief officer (chiliarch) of the cohort, that the whole of Jerusalem was in confusion, and immediately he took soldiers and centurions, and ran down upon them, and they, when they saw the chief officer and the soldiers, ceased beating Paul. Then the chief officer came near and laid hold on him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains, and inquired who he might be, and what he had done. And some shouted one thing, and some another, among the crowd. And when he could not know the certainty because of the uproar, he commanded him to be brought into the castle (lit., camp). And when he came upon the steps, so it was that he was borne upon the soldiers, because of the violence of the crowd. For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, Away with him' (vers. 27-36).
"Zelotes putantes saepe errant (Bengelius); 'Bigots often err in their suppositions'.
No more devoted servant of the Lord than Paul ever lived. This however did not hinder the effects of a mistaken position. He had departed from those to whom the Lord sent him, out of his excessive love for the ancient people of God. At the instance of others he had sought to conciliate them to the uttermost, but the effect in no way answered to the desire either of James or of Paul. Can we say that, in going up to Jerusalem there was such a following of Christ as he loved to commend to the saints? 'Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.' When the Lord went up for His last and fatal visit, how great the difference! He cast out all them that sat and bought in the temple, He overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and of them that sold doves; He healed the blind and lame that came to Him. There He confounded those that demanded His authority; He laid before the proudest of them their inferiority to the publicans and harlots whom they despised; He set out their past and present history in the Light of God, so that they could not but own the miserable destruction which impended over their wickedness, and the passing away of God's vineyard to other husbandmen, who should render to Him the fruits in their seasons. And whatever their enmity, they feared the multitude because they took Him for a prophet. And when the chief religious leaders came in succession to tempt Him, He silenced them Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians: and wound up the entire scene by the great test-question for the Jews, how David's son could be, as He incontestably is, David's Lord. It is a question which no Jew was able to answer then, any more than from that day to the present. Hence He could only pronounce woes upon their actual state, and on their proved ruin prophesy of the kingdom which He is Himself to bring in as the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Undoubtedly none the less was He rejected and crucified, but He was the faithful witness. There was not a shadow of a compromise: He said nothing, did nothing, seemed nothing, but the truth to the glory of God. He witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, the high priest of Israel having shown himself baser and more cruel than the most hardhearted heathen who condemned the Lord to be crucified.
Yet assuredly the apostle loved the Lord, and answered to His mind as no man did, even among the apostles; still he was a man; and human feeling in its most estimable shape betrays him into (I will not say a contrast with, but) a deflection from our Lord in Jerusalem. For Christ, whatever the depth of His humiliation, oh, what triumph hung on His decease which He accomplished there!
For Paul it was not death at Jerusalem, but the hatred which threw him into the hands of the Gentiles to be, as yet a prisoner only, not yet to die though ultimately what befell him among the Gentiles was his true glory, and there he suffered simply and solely a witness for the truth. He had his heart's desire, the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, becoming conformed unto His death.
'And as Paul was about to be brought into the castle, he said unto the chief officer, May I say something unto thee? He said, Dost thou know Greek? Thou art not then the Egyptian who before these days stirred up to sedition, and led out into the wilderness the four thousand men of the assassins (or Sicarii)? But Paul said, I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I beseech thee give me leave to speak unto the people. And when he had given him leave, Paul standing on the steps beckoned with his hand unto the people; and when there was great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying' (vers. 37 40).
Here again Paul takes very different ground from that which was his wont, he pleads his Jewish race to the commander. Elsewhere who so firm to hold to the grand truth that Christ is all? who more completely above any human distinction of plea in the service of the Lord? It was Paul the apostle indeed, yet not here in the Gentile province assigned him, but in Jerusalem, seeking to reconcile the irreconcilable. Is it too much to say that here there appeared to be the weakness of one who was strong by grace beyond all others on his own ground?
In the earlier part of this Book we had the history of the apostle's conversion in its historical order, bearing profoundly upon the progress of the gospel and the revelation of Christian truth. Here we have the account of it as a part of his defence before the people of Israel. It has therefore a specific object, marked by the use of the Hebrew language, which accounts for its other peculiarities. Discrepancy there is really none, any more than in other parts of scripture. The appearance of it is due solely to the difference of design, which here is most obvious, as it undeniably is later in the Book. In Acts 26 we have a short account modified by the fact that it was addressed to the king, Herod Agrippa the younger, as well as to the Roman governor. Whatever peculiarities have been observed, they are due to the same cause. The same principle in fact applies to the treatment of every object among men of intelligence. Scripture only adopts the same rule, but in a perfection to which men are unequal. Our place as believers is to learn by that which offends incredulity against all reason.
'Brethren and fathers, hear ye the defence that I now make unto you (and when they heard that he spake to them in the Hebrew tongue, they were the more quiet, and he saith), I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, and brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to strictness of the law of the fathers, being zealous for God, even as all ye are to-day. And I persecuted this Way unto death, binding and delivering unto prisons both men and women, as also the high priest beareth me witness, and all the elderhood, from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and proceeded unto Damascus to bring those also that were there, bound to Jerusalem that they might be punished' (vers. 1-5).
There was a providential training in the apostle's case as in others, but strikingly manifest in him who was a Jew, not a Gentile proselyte. He was born in Tarsus, a renowned centre of letters and philosophy at that day. But he was brought up in Jerusalem at the feet of the most celebrated Rabbi of his day. Yet if Gamaliel was learned and strict as an orthodox Pharisee, we have already had remarkable proof, quite apart from the apostle, of his singular moderation, when the Sadducees began to persecute the faith. It is not often erudite men are equally known for prudence, still less for the wisdom which brought in God, not formally, but with conscience; and God used it completely to turn away the council from their unbelieving and sanguinary thoughts (Acts 5:34-40). At Gamaliel's feet was he brought up who was to be the Holy Ghost's witness to the grace of God in our Lord Jesus as no other man was since the world began.
His early training in Jerusalem would have conveyed no such presentiment to mortal eyes: he was instructed according to the strictness of the law of the fathers. If the Pharisees of Jerusalem were zealous beyond all others, he was yet more so; but in truth when faith came, he could all the better realize the complete change from law to grace. Those who never pierced below the surface of the one fail to appreciate the other; they are apt to mingle the two — the great bane of Christianity, whence law is no more law, and grace is no more grace.
Law is the demand of human righteousness. Grace has now revealed God's righteousness, and this only is what the apostle designates the righteousness which is of faith; for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. It is not a question of man's effort, still less of his performance. He is not called to ascend to heaven any more than to descend into the abyss. It was Christ Who came down. even as Christ risen from the dead is gone up, and we become God's righteousness in Him. Salvation is wholly of Christ, it is what God loves to do — cannot but do consistently with His character in virtue of the work of Christ. 'The word, therefore, is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart', not the word that man prepares for God, but the word which God sends to be preached: 'If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation' (Rom. 10:8-10). Thus has God indeed dealt, and can afford to deal, with sinners. It is His grace, but it is also His righteousness.
Now the more Saul when quickened studied the law, and entered into its righteous inexorable claims on man, the more were his eyes opened to the impossibility of salvation under law. It was weak through the flesh, and must be bondage, bitter hopelessness could only result when conscience became enlightened. For salvation is altogether a question for God Who, sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. Thus only could there be salvation. The law was able to do nothing but condemn the sinner. The gospel proclaims sin condemned, root and fruit, and the believer saved and set free to walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
It was exactly therefore such a zealot of law, who, when his heart was opened by grace, could to the full see and appreciate the deliverance of the gospel. The same principle applies even now, though there is no doubt an incalculable distance between the apostle and other saints howsoever blest in our day or any other. Still the men who most enjoy and are best fitted to set forth the gospel, are often those who, in the days of their ignorance were deeply attached to law and ordinances, which necessarily gender bondage where there is an exercised conscience.
And this must have told powerfully upon the Jews who weighed the apostle's address. The apostle had never been a careless light-hearted Israelite! as his training was most strict, so his personal zeal was thorough. Indeed he had given the fullest proof, for he persecuted this Way unto death. None like Saul of Tarsus, who was so active in binding and delivering into prisons both men and women! He was just a sample in the highest degree of those that have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Who therefore could speak like him from personal experience to men ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own? So much the more did he now subject himself to the righteousness of God.
Nor could the high priest himself ignore the fact, but rather bear witness, and all the elderhood too; for they are reminded that he also received letters to the brethren, i.e., the Jews elsewhere, and journeyed to Damascus to bring also those that were there to Jerusalem in bonds in order to be punished. He who was to go out to all the world with the gospel, could not of old rest in his legal zeal within the bounds of Jerusalem or Judea.
The apostle now recounts his own marvellous conversion; and as it was addressed to Jews, it is presented in a way suited to disarm their prejudices, if this were possible.
'And it came to pass, as I was journeying and drawing near to Damascus, that about midday there suddenly shone out of heaven a great light round about me, and I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And He said unto me, I am Jesus, the Nazarene, Whom thou persecutest. Now they that were with me beheld the light1 but did not hear the voice of Him that was speaking to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Rise up, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which it hath been appointed for thee to do' (vers. 6-10).
1 Text. Rec. adds on large authority of MSS. et al., καὶ ἒμφοβοι ἐγένετο, 'and they were affrighted', but ABH, several cursives, and the best Versions leave the words out.
Thus the intimation here is that it was 'about midday', still more precisely than we were told in Acts 9:3. This makes the vision far more striking. It was not a trance, but an open fact. The light which shone round about him out of heaven transcended the sun at midday, in the presence of men who were travelling with him. Deception was impossible. As far as we know, he, and he only, was converted thereby. The voice addressed no. other at that time; and here it is particularly said that the rest heard not the voice of Him that was speaking to him. The same historian, who gives this as the distinct statement of the apostle, had himself told us that his fellow-travellers stood speechless hearing the voice but beholding no one. This to a casual reader looks like a discrepancy, but a reader must be careless indeed, or bent on evil, who does not perceive that the two statements are altogether in harmony beneath the surface. In Acts 9 we learn that his companions heard a sound, and no more; and in the present chapter2 we learn that he alone heard the voice of Him that spoke to him. To the others it was inarticulate; to him it was not only intelligible, but the turning point of a life beyond all others rich in testimony to His grace Who spoke to him.
2 In Acts 9 φωνή 'sound' or 'voice' is in the genitive, and merely partitive in Acts 22 it is the accusative which has the largest bearing on the object and is not partitive.
For the time was now fully come for a new step in God's ways. The heavenly glory of Christ was to be seen by a chosen witness called by Him in sovereign mercy from on high, the persecutor from the midst of his religiously rebellious career. It is grace no doubt in every case where the soul is brought from darkness into the marvellous light of God. But here all the truth shines with the utmost brilliancy. Stephen dosed his testimony with the sight of Jesus in the glory of God. Saul begins his testimony for Jesus with Him seen in the same glory. It reminds one somewhat of the two prophets of old, one of whom ended his course with being taken up to, heaven, whilst the other commenced it from that glorious sight which gave him thenceforth such a mighty impulse. It was none the less remarkable in the present case, because Saul had been privy to the death of Stephen, and had kept the clothes of the false witnesses who stoned him whose spirit went up to the Lord Whose glory he had just seen and testified.
And if a brief interval elapsed after Stephen's death, it was filled up by Saul still breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. Nevertheless the light out of heaven suddenly shone out round about him now. Smitten to the earth, he heard the voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?' Embittered though he was with tradition and prejudice, he could not but ask with astonishment, 'Who art thou, Lord?' No man was ever more assured that he was rendering service to God in putting out of the synagogue, or even in killing, the disciples. He had a good conscience, according to the law, in the zeal that persecuted the church (Phil. 3:6). As yet he knew neither the Father nor the Son. The True Light had never entered his soul. But now the light which shone round about him was but the harbinger of a better glory invisible to human eyes, 'the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ'. His companions saw the outward brightness, they did not behold that which none can see, unless they are, by the power of God, brought out of darkness into it.
To his amazement he learned that He Who spoke, Whom he could not but acknowledge to be the Lord of all, was the very Jesus Whom he was persecuting. For thus He was known in the persons of His own: Christ and the church are one. Immense discovery! and so much the more in circumstances so unparalleled. The erstwhile enemy, broken down and henceforth obedient to the heavenly vision, has Christ in glory, God's Son, revealed, not to him only, but in him. See Gal. 1:16. He is life, and the Christian is one with Him. If it was true of the disciples whom he persecuted, it was no less true of their persecutor, now himself a disciple. 'He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.' When we see the Lord at His coming again, we shall be like Him, even in body changed into the same image. If we are being transformed now, even as by the Lord the Spirit, we shall be conformed then to the Lord and by the Lord; for we shall see Him as He is (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:3).
These great principles were all involved in the apostle's vision, though of course it is not meant that they were all unveiled to his spirit at the moment. But in due time no one knew better than he, nor so well; though these truths were thus conveyed, and in the most powerful way, in that great fact, incalculable in its bearing on the church, and even for the world. For who of all men ever made good a commission so unlimited as the apostle's? It was felt and acknowledged by the twelve that he was the apostle of the uncircumcision as truly as they of the circumcision. This in no way precluded their seeking the good of the Gentiles; still less did it hinder Paul from labours abundant among the Jews, as every place, we may say, testified where there were Jews. But it did not mark the characteristic breadth of his mission. He might seek to build up the church in entire and heavenly separation from the world; but it was his beyond any man to fulfil the word of his Master, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to all the creation.'
What an appeal, too, his own account of his conversion was to the crowd of Jews that were then listening! None could deny the facts; the high priest could not but bear witness, all the elderhood of Israel in Jerusalem would have gladly contradicted if they could. The letters he received to his Jewish brethren could not be gainsaid, any more than his own bitter persecution of the Christian Way unto death, as well as prison. The companions of his journey to Damascus, why were they silent? If they heard not the words of Jesus, they were not deaf to the preternatural sound, and they did see the light above the brightness of the sun shine round about them all.
But all wonders fail to convert the heart to God. It is the voice of Christ that quickens the dead, and now is the hour for quickening souls; as by and by there will come another hour, when the voice of the Son shall summon from the grave those that have done good to a resurrection of life, and those that have done evil to a resurrection of judgment, which last act of Christ solemnly closes the history of this world. But sovereign grace is now awakening the souls that hear the word of the Lord; and as this was in the most extraordinary manner manifested to Saul of Tarsus, so was he called in the highest degree to be a minister of God's sovereign grace, and of Christ's heavenly glory. 'And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lords aid unto me, Rise up, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which it hath been appointed thee to do.'
Here again was a singular break with all the apostolic antecedents. The Lord commanded no return to Jerusalem. Saul must enter Damascus and there, not through a previous apostle, still less the apostolic college, but through a disciple set in no high position, learn what it had been appointed for him to do. So does grace reign: have we really learnt this?
We have already seen in commenting on Acts 9 what an important event took place that day: a distinct and fresh step in the ways of God for bringing out the church (already formed, it is true) into manifestation by his ministry who was then converted so extraordinarily that divines treat it as one of the standing and most striking evidences of the truth of Christianity.
Still all was not yet done even as regards Saul of Tarsus, the basis was laid, but no more. The blindness physically which had come upon him was to be taken away; and assuredly very much more light spiritually was yet to shine into his soul; but the principle that was to be fully developed in due time was already involved in the character of the word of the Lord to him. 'And as I could not see for the glory of the light, being led by the hand of those that were with me, I came into Damascus; and one Ananias, a pious man according to the law, borne witness to by all the Jews that dwelt there, came unto me, and standing by said to me, Brother Saul receive thy sight, and in the very hour I looked upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath appointed thee to know His will and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from His mouth. For thou shalt be for Him to all men a witness of what thou hast seen and heard. And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and get baptized, and have thy sins washed away, calling on His1 name' (vers. 11-16).
1 So the most ancient MSS. and Versions, but HLP and most read τοῦ κυρίου 'of the Lord,' as in the Text. Rec.
As Paul was to be, beyond all others, a witness of Christ to the Gentiles so God took special care to remove from every fair upright man all suspicion of collusion on the part of any Jew. Outwardly the vision of glory was unmistakable before many witnesses. What passed between the Lord and His servant was necessarily confined to Saul alone of the company. But divine wisdom apprised Ananias of what had happened, independently of Saul and of every other on earth. We are not told here of his fasting for three days and nights, but the fact was patent that by the hand of those that were with him he had to be led into Damascus. That blindness furnished occasion for a fresh display of divine power. The channel of it was a simple disciple, yet was he a devout man according to the law, and well reported of by all the Jews that dwelt there. Unsought, he came; and standing by him who was blind he said, 'Brother Saul, receive thy sight', and the word was with power: Paul received his sight and looked upon him. In Acts 9 we hear of the vision that Saul had preparing for the visit of Ananias, as the same chapter lets us know that Ananias had a vision in which the Lord sent him, by no means willing, without delay to Saul. For it was well known at Damascus, as well as in Jerusalem, what a zealous persecutor of the church had been the learned Jew of Tarsus — now a man of prayer.
Here, again, we have the beautiful fruit of confidence in the word of the Lord. 'Brother Saul' — how refreshing it must have been to the heart of the converted zealot! The key to what is here stated, and to what is omitted, is the design: the apostle is recounting his conversion to the Jews. 'The God of our fathers' appears here alone. It was He, as Ananias said, and not another, Who had appointed him to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice out of His mouth. It is much more than the simple fact that the Lord, even Jesus, had appeared to him in the way which he came.
Here we learn, too, that Ananias told the apostle before he was baptized that he should be a witness for Christ unto all men of what he had seen and heard. This ought to have prepared the Jews for the wide scope given to Paul's ministry. Would they have him resist the 'God of our fathers' and His known will? There were two witnesses, by whose mouth every word should be established. In Acts 9 his commission is named to Ananias by the Lord, but the historian does not there mention that this was repeated to the apostle. Here we learn that so it was, for he repeats it himself. Everything comes exactly in place and season.
In Acts 9 we are told that, when he received his sight, he arose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened, as well as the all-important fact that he was then and there filled with the Holy Ghost. There is no apostolic succession in this case assuredly. Ananias was but a disciple. God was acting extraordinarily in the case of Paul. Jewish order was quite set aside for the apostle of the Gentiles; yet none but the enemy of grace and truth could deny that he was an apostle, with a calling at least as high as the twelve, and called to a work incomparably more extensive and profound.
Here also we have the interesting fact of the terms in which Ananias called him to 'get baptized' or submit to baptism, on which a few words may be well, as to some there is no small difficulty. The reason of the departure from the Authorized Version, as well as the Revised, however slight, is an endeavour to express the force of the Middle Voice, as it is called, in Greek. This, however, is independent of the (to some) doctrinal difficulty in calling on the apostle to have his sins washed away in baptism. Why should this seem hard? It is what baptism always means, though indeed it means yet more, even death to sin, as the apostle himself treats it in Rom. 6:3, 4. Baptism is the sign of salvation, as another apostle teaches, who carefully lets us know in the same context that the effectual work rests on Christ's death and resurrection (1 Peter 3:21, 22). Without faith no doubt all is valueless before God; but, however precious may be that which faith receives through the word, the outward sign has its importance. So much is this so, that no one stands on the external ground of a Christian, who has not been baptized with water to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. To refuse baptism is to despise the authority of the Lord, as unbelief slights His grace. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not, even if baptized, shall be damned (or, condemned).
The remarkable vision with which Paul first began was by no means the only one; we learn here of another on his return to Jerusalem. 2 Cor. 12:1-4 speaks of them also in a more general way. But what happened in Jerusalem he himself now proceeds to tell in detail. 'And it came to pass that when I had returned to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw Him saying unto me, Make haste and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not receive of thee testimony concerning Me. And I said, Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue those that believe on Thee; and when the blood of Stephen Thy witness was shed; I also was standing by and consenting,1 and keeping the garments of those that slew him. And He said unto me, Depart, for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles. And they gave him audience unto this word; and they lifted up their voices and said, Away with such [a fellow] from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live' (vers. 17-22).
1 The Text. Rec. adds with many MSS. et al. 'to his death,' evidently imported from Acts 8:1, but the best copies (ABE) and versions do not sanction it.
The incident at Jerusalem is full of interest spiritually, because it communicates the perfect ease and intimacy in which scripture sets forth the relations of the servant with the Master. It would have been easy to have suppressed the account, if it had not been of standing moment and general value. The statement of it had the most distressing effect on the Jews who had listened till then. This excited their indignation to the highest. Nevertheless, as we see, the apostle brought it plainly out to vindicate the direction of his labours without limit as apostle to the Gentiles. We may be quite sure that naturally he had as great a reluctance to go at the word of the Lord on such an errand as the Jews had to hear about it. Traditionally the Jew was everything in the matter of religion; all this feeling and the ground of it was overthrown in the cross of Christ. How true, as the apostle wrote to the Corinthians in his Second Epistle (2 Cor. 5:17), 'The old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new, and all things are of God, Who reconciled us unto Himself by Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation'! The power of such a ministry is especially shown, not in abiding at Jerusalem, but in going out toward the Gentiles wherever they may be; for we are not Israelites, nor yet the lost sheep of that house. We are not the people, but rather in comparison 'dogs' according to the law. Now, however, all is changed. It is the gospel, and all things are become new. As the mission of our apostle is for heaven, so is his direction towards the Gentiles.
No wonder that he himself shrank even in the presence of the Lord; but so Paul is to learn in his trance at the temple of Jerusalem. 'Make haste,' said the Lord, 'and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not receive of thee testimony concerning Me.' This was very painful to the apostle's heart, others had tasted similar sorrow even before Christianity. Moses knew it in early days, though the stiffneckedness of the Jews then was as nothing compared with what it was proved at the cross. And afterwards Jeremiah and others of the prophets drank enough of this cup to feel the bitterness and grief. But Paul was as remarkable as Moses for the love of Israel, and tasted the bitterness of the Jew more perhaps than any of their prophets. In divine ways he was just the more suited to be sent as Christ's ambassador to the Gentiles. Had he loved Israel less, he had not been so fit for the new and heavenly mission. In everything it must be above nature to represent grace in any measure aright.
How little those that saw or knew of Paul evangelizing the Gentiles appreciated the feelings with which he had entered on the work! 'And I said, Lord, themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believe on Thee.' His heart yearned over Israel, his burning desire was to have laboured in their midst. When the Lord had told him to retire from Jerusalem, because the Jews would not receive of him testimony concerning Christ, he even pleads that he was just the man to go to Jerusalem, that they themselves knew how he had hated the Way, how he had imprisoned and beat in every synagogue the believers. Yea more, he summons up the most terrible tale of persecuting zeal as the crowning reason to be allowed to preach to the Jews, and as a reason why they must surely welcome him if no other preacher of the gospel. 'And when the blood of Stephen Thy witness was shed, I also was standing by and consenting, and keeping the garments of those that slew him.' It is evident that Paul used all this as standing him in good stead to labour among the Jews. But He that made the heart knew best, better far than Paul, and He said unto him, 'Depart; for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles.'
The determining word was thus spoken: whatever might be Paul's feeling, he now learns the will of the Lord concerning his labours. It was not merely now, Get thee quickly out of Jerusalem, but 'I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles.' No Israelite more fervently sought to commend the gospel to the Jews; no servant pleaded for it more earnestly with his Master. The freedom with which he appeals is a standing lesson to us of the liberty into which the gospel brings us. 'Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty' (2 Cor. 3:17). But we should also learn that the gospel leaves no uncertainty for the path and the service. The true light shines. Christ is the way, as well as the truth and the life, and He is not more truly the way to the Father than in Paul's case toward the Gentiles. The gospel is heavenly light shining into the heart and on the path here below.
Early in this Book we had in Peter a beautiful instance of a conscience purged by blood (Acts 3:13, 14). So complete was it that he could openly tax the Jews with denying the Holy One and the Just. Had he not been guilty of this very sin himself in a more direct way than any other? Yes; but this was now wholly blotted out through the blood which cleanseth from all sin; and so conscious was he that it was gone before God, that he could without a blush charge the Jews with the same sin, without a thought of himself save of infinite mercy towards him.
Similarly, in the verse we last had before us the apostle Paul is another instance, if possible more touching, and no less instructive. He says to the Lord in his desire to preach the gospel to them, 'They themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue those that believed on Thee; and when the blood of Stephen, Thy witness, was shed, I also was standing by and consenting, and keeping the garments of those that slew him.' Not a trace of the guilt remains on his conscience. As Peter proved in preaching to others, so he, Paul, publicly states to the same people how he had spread it personally before the Lord as the ground on which he wished to be sent as a witness to his brethren after the flesh. But the Lord knew all perfectly. Paul was His chosen vessel, not for Jerusalem, but far hence unto the Gentiles. His conscience was perfectly purged; but the mind of the Lord alone is perfectly right and wise; and so here it was soon proved. 'They gave him audience unto this word, and they lifted up their voices and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live' (ver. 22).
Intimately familiar as the apostle was with the feelings of the Jews, he was at this time scarcely prepared for their implacable jealousy of the Gentiles. Yet was it what he himself was too conscious of in his unconverted days: the people were now where he was then. The change in him was so complete that he seems to have failed in realizing their condition. Christ was all to him. That they should so abhor the grace of God, rising above all man's sin, whether Jewish or Gentile, is indeed astonishing, and the clearest proof that man is lost. Hatred of grace is in no way mitigated by intelligence, learning, or religiousness. All these had united in Saul of Tarsus, and they might be found more or less in some of the Jews of Jerusalem. But the same pride of nature and abuse of God's promises which had led the nation to crucify the Messiah, hardened them now to reject and hate the gospel, above all the sending it to the Gentile no less than the Jew.
'And as they cried out and threw off their garments and cast dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the castle, directing that he should be examined by scourging, that he might know for what cause they had shouted thus against him. And when they had tied him up with the thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful to scourge a man that is a Roman and uncondemned? And when the centurion heard it he went to the commander and told him, saying, What art thou about to do? For this man is a Roman. And the commander came and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? And he said, Yes. And the commander answered, With a great sum I obtained this citizenship. And Paul said, But I am also [so] born. Then they that were about to examine immediately departed from him, and the commander also was afraid when he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him' (vers. 23-29).
The exasperation of the Jews is manifest in this striking scene. They were roused to the highest degree of feeling on behalf of their religion as they considered it. It is only the faith of Jesus which gives us to see things in God's light. Had they measured themselves by this standard, they must have been in the dust themselves, and owned that it was all over with them as a people. It was not only that they had failed in righteousness; they had rejected God come down among them in infinite love. Repentance, there fore, of the deepest kind alone became them. They would then have seen that it was not for a guilty people to judge of God's ways. They would have learnt how admirably suited was grace, now that they were ruined in the last trial that God could make: Jehovah rejected of old by His own people, the Son come in love rejected, the Holy Ghost with the gospel, all rejected. It is in vain to talk of law, or even promises, before the cross. Yet God is now free to save the lost who believe in Jesus whatever they may be.
Granted that the Jews had exceeding privileges and a distinctive covenant, but the Jew had been foremost in slaying Him in Whom all the promises centre, their securer and their crown. All relationship with God for man on the earth, and we may say for Israel especially, was broken and gone, but grace could shine from heaven, and call to heaven all who believe in Christ, and this is exactly what the gospel is now making good. There is a new head and a new calling; but all is in Christ above; and consequently earthly distinctions, as well as disabilities, are alike vanished away. If man universally, Jew or Gentile, is lost, the Son of man came to seek and to save that which is lost. This, by the gospel, is effected for those who believe; and Paul's mission being both the highest and the widest, was pre-eminently to the Gentile world. It was for this heavenly and indiscriminate task he was really fitted when awakened to see his intensely Jewish zeal, now judged in the light, not only of the cross, but of the heavenly glory of Christ. He was the apostle of the uncircumcision. It was therefore a mistake to put himself forward specially before the Jews in Jerusalem, as before with the Lord in the vision.
But there is another element of interest in the passage. The commandant had given orders to examine the apostle by scourging, in order that the cause of the clamour against him might be found out. Paul has resort to a plea most natural, in order to escape pain and ignominy; for it was a serious breach of law that he, a Roman and uncondemned, should be tied up for scourging. Nothing can be calmer too than the manner in which he put it forward. There was no excitement, still less the smallest approach to the assertion of right, which was not unknown then, but has taken an extreme hold of men in our days. The centurion names it to the commander, who inquires and learns that, whilst he had bought his own citizenship, Paul was a Roman born. This, of course, put an end to all thought of torture, and the commander was afraid because he had bound him. But was it the accustomed height of Christian truth on which the apostle stood? Where do we find an approach to it in his Epistles? And where does heavenly and suffering grace shine as in these? Present oneness with Christ effaces all our natural conditions: Jew or Greek, Scythian or barbarian, bond or free, what matters it? Christ is all, as He is in all that are His.
It would appear that what excited the alarm of the commander and the centurion was the tying up Paul with the thongs. This was a great offence against a Roman citizen. 'Because he had bound him', I understand to be for this purpose, for in an ordinary way it appears that he was not absolutely loosed. 'But on the morrow desiring to know the certainty why he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him, and commanded the chief priests and all the council to come together, and brought Paul down and set [him] before them' (ver. 30). Whatever Jews might do or wish, the Roman law was equitable enough to insist, that an accused person should have his accusers face to face, and be allowed to answer for himself as to the charge laid against him. First, however, the commander sought to learn what the accusation was.
'And Paul, fixing his eyes on the council, said, Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day. And the high priest Ananias commanded those that stood by him to smite his mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God is about to smite thee, whited wall. And dost thou sit judging me according to the law, and breaking the law commandest me to be smitten? And those that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? And Paul said, I did not know, brethren, that he was high priest, for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people' (vers. 1-5).
It is scarcely to be supposed that this was a regular assemblage of the Sanhedrim, it was done hurriedly to meet a crisis. A military commander had no authority so to assemble the religious chiefs of the Jews. This may serve to explain what ordinarily would seem scarcely intelligible. Paul appears not to have known that the high priest was present. Had he been in his official robes, this could scarcely be understood; especially as we are told that Paul looked steadfastly at the council. If it were an informal meeting, neither high priest nor other may have worn any distinctive raiment.
Ananias is quite distinct from Annas the high priest in the earlier days of which the Gospels treat; nor had he been so long appointed that Paul must have remembered him. He may have been a comparative stranger to the apostle, especially in his official capacity. But, what is of more importance to remark, the apostle's testimony was that he had lived before God in all good conscience unto this day: not a word about Christ or the gospel. It was thoroughly true. Even of his unconverted days we know that he could say, 'Touching law, a Pharisee; . . . touching righteousness that is in law, found blameless' (Phil. 3:5, 6). Of this he thinks and speaks as he confronted the council. Surely it was not according to this new calling and that which was his life now. For Christ was all to him. He was thinking of the Jews, he declared what seemed thoroughly calculated to meet their thoughts. But it utterly failed, and the high priest Ananias commanded those that stood by to smite him on the mouth. This was an injurious insult, perpetrated by the judge, and in the teeth of the law. But it is not surprising that the apostle's words provoked the high priest, and none the less, because he was as far as possible from the conscientiousness of a Gamaliel.
But the apostle resented the contumely and reproved it severely. 'God will smite thee, whited wall.' In every respect this was true. Ananias was no more than a hypocritical evil-doer. Our Lord had made an allusion in Matt. 23:27 which will help us to understand this; and it appears that God did smite the hypocrite not long after.
As high priest he was sitting to judge Paul after the law, and there contrary to the law he commanded him to be smitten; but did Paul rise in his quick rebuke to the height of grace any more than of truth? The apostle is thoroughly righteous, but he descends rather to the same ground on which they stood; he had spoken with warmth however truly, so that the bystanders could say, 'Revilest thou God's high priest? And Paul said, I did not know, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people.'
The apostle hastens to acknowledge the error, as far as it was such, whatever might be the unworthiness of the conduct and of the language that occasioned it. Still Ananias was high priest that day. This Paul owns. He ought not to have spoken so of one in that position. The word is plain, 'Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people.' Overruled of God and prophetic, was it Christ-like? Was it not rather the immediate resentment of a righteous man at an unrighteous deed? He at once apologizes, when he learnt the official state of the judge however unjust. 'I did not know' . . . But God loves to guide those who are kept immediately dependent on Him, even when they know nothing of the circumstances.
The apostle throughout scarcely seems to be breathing his ordinary spiritual atmosphere. This comes out still more plainly in what follows. 'But when Paul perceived that the one part were of Sadducees and the other of Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees1; concerning the hope and resurrection of [the] dead I am judged' (ver. 6). Here the root of the matter appears. The apostle avails himself of a rent between the two great parties of the Jews, to take the ground which would enlist the more orthodox and God-fearing in his favour. 'I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees,' he cried. Was this again according to the height of the truth he preached and loved? It was incontestably true; but was it Christ all in all? Was it not rather a prudent appeal sure to split up the crowd before him for himself to fall back on a ground altogether lower than his wont?
1 Such is the reading of the most ancient MSS. with the Vulgate and Pesch. Syr.
Nevertheless there was truth and important truth before all here. 'I am judged concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead.' This thoroughly falls in with the Book of the Acts. Luke begins here as his Gospel ends with the resurrection and ascension, and gives full scope to the testimony of the risen Lord throughout. The apostle everywhere consistently urges the hope and resurrection of the dead. It was bound up with Christ, the Son of man; but he does not directly introduce the full truth of His person any more than he puts forward at this time the resurrection 'from' the dead. The resurrection 'of' the dead is a great and needed truth notwithstanding; and to this, not the Sadducees who now were in power, but the Pharisees in their way held firmly.
The apostle knew resurrection in an incomparably larger measure. To him it was inseparable from the glorified Christ, the Head of the church Who really was his life and his testimony; and for this he endured habitual rejection and suffering. But in Jerusalem the apostle is not found in the same power as elsewhere. The spirit of the place had its influence; in all this business we find him by no means according to that heavenly light which so shines throughout his accustomed orbit.
The high priest Ananias was too truly a representative of the people as a whole. They were no better than a whited wall; and they too in due time afterwards fell under the smiting of God. The apostle turns to the audience as we saw, when he perceived that the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, and cried out in the council, Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees, touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am judged. 'And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit; but Pharisees confess them both. And there arose a great clamour, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees' part stood up and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man; and [what] if a spirit spoke to him, or an angel?' (vers. 7-9).
We have seen all through the Acts of the Apostles that the Sadducees were as prominent in opposition after the resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Spirit, as the Pharisees had been while the Lord was on earth. There seems a certain fitness in this. The Righteous One was intolerable to the earthly-minded champions of human righteousness, ever found wanting when weighed in God's balances. When He rose from the dead, the Sadducees were naturally roused to action, more especially as at the time they were in outward power. The high priests successively seem to have been of that party. The resurrection of Jesus was a death blow to their system, as it is to infidelity at all times. For it is God's intervention in power whilst the world goes on as it is, the pledge that the risen One will come and judge it, for He it is Who is of God ordained Judge of quick and dead. Resurrection is the sole and final condition of man which answers to the counsels of God, and which will manifest His glory.
Paul, therefore, perceiving that if one part of his audience were Sadducees, the other were Pharisees, avails himself of the truth held by the Pharisees, which ought to have lifted all above personalities and prejudices. In all cases grace loves to do so, even as flesh finds its wretched pleasure in continual strife and self-seeking. Here too it was of moment to press resurrection as a conditional truth of Christianity, resurrection being not merely at the end but before the end comes. Not that the apostle here refers to resurrection as specifically from the dead; he is content to speak of that which every God-fearing Jew acknowledged — the hope and resurrection of the dead, which was certainly not for judgment of the wicked. Resurrection was not disputed but held from the beginning. Old Testament saints waited for it, not merely Israelites but those who were outside like Job, as may be seen in Job 19:25-27, when the Redeemer stands on earth at the latter day. Christ personally becomes, as every believer in Christ knows, the seal of the truth of resurrection, for in His case it is not only the dead man raised but raised from among the dead, and so it will be for those raised at His coming.
No Pharisee doubted the resurrection of the dead. Paul was not only a Pharisee but a son of Pharisees, a stronger expression than that which obtains in the Received Text or the Authorized Version. He belonged to a family of Pharisees, who rejected free-thinking and held to the common faith of God's people.
The effect was immediate. There arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. No doubt the apostle was not here preaching the gospel nor rendering that testimony to which his heart turned habitually. Christ resorted to no such measures when He was being judged; but it was surely righteous in itself if not according to the height of grace in Christ. Yet it was the means of no deliverance to Paul, on the contrary his adversaries were divided, but power was on the side of those who felt the blow struck at their infidelity. 'For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit, but Pharisees confess them both.'
The Sadducees were the sceptics of that day and of the lowest kind; they were blinded by materialism, the poisonous error which is now prevailing everywhere throughout Christendom. How solemn that the worst unbelief of Judaism should now pervade an immense part of the baptized in Christendom! Catholic or Protestant, high church or low, or dissent makes little difference. The great expansion of experimental science has in past days fed this distemper far beyond the effect of pure or mixed sciences. Even the discoveries which have added so much to personal ease and selfish enjoyment, all tend to help it on. Man in his present life becomes everything: God is excluded, not to say denied, because He is unseen.
The resurrection of the dead, and yet more from the dead, is the grand weapon of faith against prevailing error and in favour of souls in danger of destruction. The God Who raised up Jesus from the dead is sending remission of sins through His name. To Him give all the prophets witness (how much more the gospel!), that everyone who believes on Him shall receive both the forgiveness he needs, and the life in Christ without which there can be no living to God. This alone is the true deliverance from Sadduceeism then, or from that which is akin at the present time.
'And when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul should be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them and bring [him] into the castle. And the night following the Lord stood by him and said, Be of good cheer,1 for as thou hast fully testified concerning Me at Jerusalem so also must thou testify at Rome' (vers. 10, 11).
1 'Paul' is not in the best authorities.
The Gentile in chief command was not used to the gusts of violence that blew among the Jews when a question of religious difference sprung up and roused them. At this time indeed religious indifference prevailed excessively among the heathen. It was not so among the Jews, though their modal condition was wretched in the extreme. The chiliarch, therefore, being alarmed at the agitation, had Paul removed from the midst of men who seemed excited enough to tear him in pieces.
It was a time when the apostle might have been much tried. He had appealed to orthodox feeling against the Sadducean unbelief that sought his destruction, but he was a prisoner still, though safely guarded by Roman soldiers. It was not the happiest position for one who valued nothing but Christ. So much the more gracious was that which we last read, 'And the following night the Lord stood by him and said, Be of good cheer, for as thou didst fully testify the things about Me at Jerusalem, so must thou also testify at Rome.' Truly the Lord is good: not a word of blame, nothing but assurance of help, and this by so remarkable a manifestation at the very time when discouragement would have been natural. The apostle's visit to Jerusalem had not resulted in the least as he himself desired. He might have regarded it as only a failure. The Lord noticed nothing but his faithful testimony; and He adds that so he must testify at Rome also
This was evidently then the corrected and proper scope of Paul's allotted sphere: Jerusalem was outside it. For Peter had been entrusted with the gospel of the circumcision, as Paul was, beyond all controversy, with that of the uncircumcision, under which came Rome as the then metropolis of the world. Thither the apostle was to go, not free but in bonds, a prisoner, as suited the Lord, whilst it was a part of His moral government because he would go to Jerusalem. The greatest representative of the gospel was to enter Rome in a chain!
Has the gospel ever been otherwise at Rome? It is not that God had not work there already done. Many souls there were before this, calling on the name of the Lord, both Jews and Gentiles, as the Epistle to the Romans lets us see, but the great witness of the gospel was to enter Rome as a prisoner. If released afterwards, he returned, a prisoner again, to die at Rome for Christ. It was indeed a solemn type, as foreshadowing what Rome would ever prove to the gospel of God.
'And when it was day the Jews, having made a combination, put themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. And those that made the conspiracy were more than forty, who therefore (οἵτινες) came to the chief priests and the elders, and said, We have put ourselves under a great curse,1 to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. Now therefore do ye, with the council, signify to the commander that he bring him down unto you,2 as though ye would judge his cause more exactly. But we, before he come near, are ready to slay him' (vers. 12-15).
1 'We have cursed ourselves with a curse' it is literally; which may be correctly rendered, 'a great curse'.
2 'Tomorrow', though read by HLP and most, is not in the oldest witnesses, but implied of course in the story.
It is sorrowful to read the dark conspiracy of the Jews at this time. They were no better than the heathen, but rather worse as knowing better. So it ever is where light shines in measure without grace; it becomes deeper darkness. Deceit and violence characterized them, especially where the gospel was concerned, and none was so identified with it as Paul. God's word in the Law and the Psalms and the Prophets was too truly verified in their case. Their feet were swift to shed blood, and with their tongues they used deceit. They did not know the way of peace, but hated most him who preached and lived it. Alas! there was no fear of God before their eyes. And it is evident that the ecclesiastical chiefs were quite as much implicated as the blood-thirsty rabble, the prey of crafty leaders who taught that religion sanctifies murder (John 16:2). It is therefore said to be 'the Jews' not merely 'some of the Jews', as in the softened words of the Received Text. Accordingly, when the conspirators told the religious leaders their plot to murder Paul on his way to the council, not a word of remonstrance or horror! The chief priests and the elders were really therefore the more guilty. Dr. Hackett and others cite from Philo a passage which remarkably illustrates such conduct as a principle calmly laid down without the smallest sense of its atrocity. Now Philo was a contemporary Jew of Alexandria.
But God knows how to defeat wicked efforts against His servants. As He had comforted Paul's heart privately, so now He wrought providentially and, singular to say, through a relative of Paul himself who was there. 'But Paul's sister's son heard of the ambush, and having come and entered into the castle, he reported it to Paul. And Paul called to [him] one of the centurions and said, Bring this young man to the commander, for he hath something to report to him. He therefore took and brought him to the commander, and saith, The prisoner Paul called me to [him] and asked me to bring this young man to thee, as he hath something to say to thee. And the commander took him by the hand, and going aside privately asked, What is that which you have to report to me? And he said, The Jews have agreed to ask thee to bring down Paul to-morrow into the council, as though they would inquire somewhat more exactly concerning him. Do not thou therefore yield to them; for there lie in ambush for him more than forty men of them, who put themselves under a curse neither to eat nor to drink till they have slain him, and now they are ready, looking for the1 promise from thee. So the commander let the young man go, charging him, Tell no man that thou didst show these things unto me' (vers. 16-22).
1 Not 'a', but what they counted on already.
Whatever may have been the haste of Lysias at first, he appears to have waked up thoroughly to his duty on behalf of the prisoner against his relentless enemies, and to have sought at last to make up in kindness for the wrong then done.
It is instructive also to observe how far the apostle was from fanaticism in his proceedings. For, although the Lord had miraculously guaranteed his preservation that he might have the desire of his heart in bearing witness of Christ in Rome, he did not count it beneath him to advertise the military chief of the plot against his life. Confidence in the word of God does not despise or dispense with legitimate means. Perhaps men are not wanting who flatter themselves that they may be more faithful or spiritual than he.
The commander was prompt in action, as we have seen him considerate with Paul's young kinsman. 'And he called unto him some two of the centurions and said, Make ready two hundred soldiers, that they may go as far as Caesarea, and seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen,1 at the third hour of the night. And [he bade them] provide beasts that they might set Paul on and bring [him] safe through unto Felix the governor, having written a letter in this form: Claudius Lysias to the most excellent governor Felix, greeting. This man when seized by the Jews and about to be slain by them, I coming up with the soldiery rescued, having learnt that he was a Roman. And wishing to know thoroughly the cause for which they accused him, I brought [him] down unto their council, whom I found to be accused about questions of their law, but to have no charge laid worthy of death or bonds. And when it was shown to me that a plot would be against the man, I forthwith sent [him] unto thee, charging his accusers also to speak against him before thee. [Farewell]' (vers. 23-30).
1 'Spearmen' is rather a guess for δεξιολάβους, which has been variously but not yet satisfactorily explained. Meyer cites Const. Porphyrog. who distinguishes the δεξιολάβους from bowmen and targeteers. Grasping the weapon with the right hand is not very distinctive.
How the letter became known to the Evangelist we cannot say; but there it is with every mark of genuineness, and so much the more, because we can readily see that the commander was not scrupulous as to truth, and sought to commend his own zeal and services to the governor. God is not straitened as to means, knowing all without means, and ever and anon communicating what is good for us to know as He sees fit. The commander in fact only learnt that Paul was a Roman after he had caused him to be tied up for scourging, a serious infraction of the law as against a citizen. But it is quite natural that he, a heathen, should do what he could to hide his past fault by professing zeal exactly where he had failed. Little did he anticipate that a letter meant only for the eyes of Felix was to stand on the indelible page of Holy Writ with the falsehood rendered evident by the history without a word of comment, as is the manner of Scripture. Nor was there the smallest wish in the blessed prisoner to expose the wrong. But God would give us to learn thereby what man is, and what God is, confiding in His care in abhorrence of evil and cleaving to good.
The immense guard provided for the safe conduct of a prisoner, confessedly not guilty of punishment, proved the commander's estimate of Jewish perfidy and violence; and this on the night when his information of their plot was received. How sad to see vindictiveness and deceit in the Jews abhorred and thwarted by heathen resoluteness to stand by earthly righteousness and order' Truly the foundations were out of course: not that the Romans were not evil, but that God's people, the Jews, were yet more deplorably bad.
Nor was Felix, the procurator of Judea, ignorant of their moral state, though himself a man of more than usually mean, cruel, and abandoned character. Not only was he married to a Jewish wife, but he seems to have been a joint-governor for years before his promotion to the sole dignity, though herein Tacitus and Josephus clash not a little. During his office he had ample experience of insurrection and of intrigue, of bloodshed and of plots, in dealing with which his servile origin gave only, as is usual, a haughtier tone and stronger impulse to his ruthless policy. Still he easily understood on what slender grounds the Jews might pursue to death an object of their unrelenting animosity. A Roman governor too was not to be less firm in upholding Roman law in the presence of Jews who boasted of a divine revelation. All this God's providence used in favour of His servant. The notion that so large a retinue was intended as a special honour of Christ's minister is a blunder, from not seeing that the true glory of the Christian is in his conformity to Christ's cross.
'The soldiers therefore, as it was commanded them, took up Paul and brought [him] by night unto Antipatris. But on the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him and returned to the castle; and they, when they entered into Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, presented Paul also to him. And when he had read [it] and asked of what province he was, and understood that he was of Cilicia, I will hear thee fully, said he, when thine accusers also are arrived. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's praetorium' (vers. 31-35).
The description is vivid, as we ordinarily find in the narrative of Luke. Kefr-Saba was the ancient name of the city whence the foot-soldiers returned, as all danger of ambush or pursuit was then past. When Herod rebuilt it, he called the new city Antipatris, in honour of his father. It was some twenty-six miles from Caesarea, but considerably more from Jerusalem, even by the direct route through Gophna, discovered by Dr. Eli Smith, with many a mark of Roman use. The Jerusalem Itinerary makes the distance of Caesarea from Jerusalem sixty-eight miles, but this was the more circuitous route by Bethhoron and Lydda. Nowhere did Herod lavish such effort to render a city magnificent. It is now an utter ruin. There the apostle remained a prisoner for years before he was sent on to Rome. But of this we are to hear more in the history that follows.
Religious rancour is prompt and indefatigable. Disappointed of its prey by lawless violence, it loses no time in availing itself of legal processes, where unscrupulous abuse may succeed, even if the judge were not venal but only disposed, like human nature in general, to take the popular side against the righteous and godly.
'And after five days came down the high priest Ananias with certain1 elders and an orator, one Tertullus, and they [the which] laid an information before the governor against Paul. And when he was called, Tertullus began to accuse, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great peace, and by thy providence reforms2 are made for this nation, we accept [it] every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. But that I be not further tedious to thee, I entreat thee to hear us briefly in thy clemency. For we found this man a pest, and moving imsurrections3 among all the Jews throughout the world [inhabited earth], and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, who also attempted to profane the temple; whom we also seized (and would have judged according to our law. But Lysias the commander [or chiliarch] came and with great violence took [him] away from our hands, commanding his accusers to come unto thee); from whom thou wilt be able, by examining, thyself to take knowledge of all these things of which we accuse him. And the Jews joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so' (vers. 1-9).
1 τινῶν ABE, et al.
2 διορθωμάτων the more ancient reading, rather than κατορθωμάτων as in the Text. Rec.
3 The plural form is best attested, though Dean Alford will have it to be a correction.
The importance attached to the trial is evident from the going down of the high priest so great a distance and with so little delay, though we may well receive the more ancient witnesses which speak only of certain elders, instead of the Sanhedrim as a whole as in the Received Text. But the more modern copies in this case present without doubt the more difficult reading. Had the authorities been reversed, the critics would probably have regarded τινῶν as a softened correction of τῶν.
The orator from his name (a diminutive of Tertius like many others so formed in Latin) seems to have been one of the young Romans or Italians found wherever there was a court of justice in the provinces, and the Jews in all probability employed him as being versed in the methods of procedure before the governor. Certainly his opening is as servile as his statement is false and scurrilous. The flattery of Felix is in flagrant contrast with the grave censure of the historian Tacitus (Annales xii. 54, Historia v. 9, as naturally referred to), while there was enough in the vigorous putting down of plotters and rebels to give some semblance of reason. What the alleged ameliorations or good measures were does not appear. Josephus does not differ from the Romans in an evil report of Felix, who only escaped condemnation for his misgovernment in Syria through the influence of his brother Pallas with Nero.
'Providence' is given here, rather than 'forethought', as it was apparently borrowed from the application of the more high-sounding term, common on the imperial coins, as Eckhel shows in his 'Doctrina Vet. Num.' passim.
Having thus and yet more grossly sought to conciliate the governor, Tertullus after verse 4 turns to the calumniating of Paul. He represents the apostle not merely by the vague but most injurious appellation of a pest or pestilent fellow, but more definitely as moving seditions among all the Jews throughout the world, notoriously open to such mischievous excitement beyond all others through their untoward circumstances as well as their presence everywhere since their dispersion. Next, he taxes Paul as an heresiarch, or rather sectarian chief, employing (here only in the New Testament) against the Christians that name of contempt which they fixed on their Master — 'a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.' Lastly, he renews the old accusation of profaning the temple: the unfounded rumour which had originally set on the Jews to slay Paul in Jerusalem.
The bracketed passage in verses 6-8 may be questioned fairly. It is omitted by the witnesses of chief value, and consequently is not received by the Editors, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, nor by Mill and Bengel before them. Alford writes undecidedly. Undoubtedly the variations are great in the manuscripts which have the substance. De Wette represents a class of men usually bold: but here it is admitted that it is hardly to be supposed that Tertullus should have said so little, or that Luke should have omitted if he said more; and again it is plain that to stop at the seizure of Paul by the Jews, without explaining how he got rid of them and came into the custody of Lysias before being taken to Caesarea, leaves the speech remarkably abrupt. But Alford sees in verse 22 a strong argument for the genuineness of the words in debate, because γαῤ οὗ, if the words be inserted, refer, naturally to Lysias, and we find Felix there putting off the final hearing and decision till the arrival of Lysias. If the words are not genuine, γαῤ οὗ would rather refer to Paul which the Dean considers unlikely. Others on the contrary allow that at an anacrisis, or first hearing, this is quite correct, and altogether independent of torture, which in the case of a Roman was of course illegal. More might be added in evidence of the uncertainty which hangs over the bracketed words; but it seems unedifying to say more, if one cannot adduce proof enough to clear up the question either way. Abridgment is at least a rare fault in the copyists, who were more prone to venture on insertions in order to ease the sense when it seemed obscure.
It is sad to see how contemptible the Jewish party, high priest and elders. made themselves, even in Roman eyes, through spite against the gospel (ver 9). There they all were not only assenting to the base servility and downright falsehood of Tertullus (indeed they had instructed him), but now they joined in his attack against all truth and justice. And so the Lord had forewarned His followers. 'Remember the word that I said unto you, A servant is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for My name's sake; because they know not Him that sent Me' (John 15:20, 21). Yes, there is the secret. The people who claimed to be His witnesses, and were so responsibly knew Him not, and proved it by rejecting Him Who is the image of the invisible God, the true and faithful Witness, His only and beloved Son. Hence their enmity against a servant of His, who made their consciences feel the truth they could not overthrow and would not believe or confess. Deadly hatred ensues: the way of Cain against the accepted and righteous Abel, which stops not short of death. Therefore the Lord went on to say in John 16:2, 3, 'They shall put you out of the synagogues, yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do, because they have not known the Father nor me.
It has been not otherwise in Christendom, and from the same source. Men have gone back to Jewish elements (now no better than Gentile idols as the apostle tells us in Gal. 4:1-9), and lost all true knowledge of the Father and the Son, as well as of every gospel privilege and blessing. This has ever led to enmity against those who abide in the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. For man is at bottom the same everywhere and at all times. But far be it from the Christian to glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to him, and he unto the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God (Gal. 6:14-16).
The defence of the apostle is characterized by straightforward truth and courteous dignity, as the accusation had been by servility to the governor and abuse of the accused. It is noticed, on the one hand, as the Jews joined in their venal advocate's assault, affirming that his falsehoods were fact (ver. 9), that, on the other (ver. 10), there was no haste to reply till the governor gave the sign to that effect.
'And when the governor beckoned him to speak, Paul answered, Knowing that since many years thou art judge to this nation, I 1 cheerfully make my defence: as thou canst ascertain2 that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship at Jerusalem; and neither in the temple did they find me discoursing with anyone or making a tumult of a crowd, nor in the synagogues, nor throughout the city. Neither can they prove to thee3 the things of which they now accuse me. But this I confess to thee, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I serve the God of the fathers believing all things that are according to the law and that are written in the prophets, having hope toward God, which these also themselves look for, that a resurrection4 is to be of both just and unjust. Herein also do I exercise myself to have a conscience without offence toward God and men continually. Now after several years I arrived to bring alms unto-my nation and offerings; in which they found me purified in the temple, not with crowd nor yet with tumult but5 certain Jews from Asia, who ought to have been present before thee, and to have accused, if they had aught against me. Or let these themselves say what6 wrong they found in me when I stood before the council [other] than for this one voice that I cried out standing among them, Touching the resurrection of [the] dead I am judged this day before you' (vers. 10-21).
1 'The more' is not sustained by the best copies (ABE, et al.).
2 'To know fully', 'recognize', or 'ascertain', is the preferable reading (ABE, et al.).
3 'To thee' is omitted wrongly in the Text. Rec.
4 The best MSS. (ABC et al.) omit νεκρῶν 'of dead'.
5 'But' is in verse 18 read by the better authorities, as in verse 16 it should be omitted.
6 'What', not 'if', is right.
The length of time that Felix had passed in official relation to the Jews was a plain matter of fact, of which the apostle justly availed himself. Their feeling, habits, and prejudices were thus necessarily more familiar than to a new procurator. On this circumstance the apostle grounds his cheerfulness in making his plea. Flattery is wholly absent.
As to himself, it was so brief a space since he went up to Jerusalem that his course there could easily be traced. And when he did go — but twelve days before, it was 'to worship', the very reverse of moving sedition or other pestilent conduct, least of all to profane the temple. On the contrary he brought 'alms to his nation, and offerings'. Could anything be more opposed, either to riot, or to profanation? He was at liberty to discourse if he had judged meet, but in point of fact 'neither in the temple did they find me discoursing with any one, or making a tumult of a crowd', common as this was in a people so zealous and so excitable, 'nor in the synagogues', numerous as they were, 'nor throughout the city'. What could be less like an agitator? 'Neither can they prove to thee the things whereof they now accuse me.' More than this distinct challenge, or at best denial, of the vague and general calumny the apostle does not allege. The facts stated, of which the evidence was easy and ample, refuted the talk of Tertullus.
But far from denying what was said of 'the sect' (ver. 5), he avows it openly. 'But this I confess to thee, that according to the Way which they call sect, so I serve the [or, our] fathers' God.' This was of moment for the governor. Tolerant as the Romans were toward the religious convictions of the nations they ruled, they were stern in disallowing innovations, especially such as tended to stir up civil discord. The apostle accordingly prefers here, as on two other occasions not quite similar, to depart from the usual phrase, and says πατρώῶ θεῳ rather than τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν as Kühn&oulm;l and others have noticed. As the heathen, without God themselves, called the Christians godless or Atheists, because they had no idols, so the Jews called the church 'a sect'. Yet was it the only institution on earth that could not be a sect while true to Christ. The apostle goes farther however, and confesses his faith in all things according to the law and in the things written in the prophets. There is no hesitation in declaring boldly his faith in all the ancient oracles before the high priest and the Sadducean party, who notoriously slighted the prophets, as they had no real reverence for the law. If any Pharisees were in alliance with them as 'elders' of Israel, what a position in confederating with infidels against a more thorough believer than themselves!
Further, there is nothing left indistinct here. For the apostle adds, 'having hope toward God, which they themselves also look for, that a resurrection is to be of both just and unjust.' This could hardly have been said if there had not been then present Pharisees who confessed the resurrection of the dead. They must therefore have made up their difference with the heterodox Sadducees in their eagerness to put down and punish Paul. The tendency among the Jews seems to have been to regard resurrection as the privilege of the righteous simply, which would be sure to degenerate into the reward of Israel in the kingdom of Messiah. But the apostle, guided of the Holy Spirit, shows its universal character 'of both just and unjust'.
So this was to be inferred even from a book so ancient as that of Job, which was of the deeper interest in this respect as evidence of the faith of Gentile believers before the law. Yet it is certain that in Job 14:12 Job speaks of man's resurrection (i.e., of man, as such) when the heavens are no more and eternity begins, contradistinguished from the rising of the righteous like himself, to enjoy their hope when the Kinsman-Redeemer shall stand on the earth, which is clearly for the kingdom. Naturally the resurrection of the just, the resurrection from among the dead, the better resurrection, and other kindred phrases, are more frequent as a cheer and incentive to saints in present suffering; but John 5:28, 29, and Rev. 20:4-6, 12, 13, give doctrinally and prophetically the twofold resurrection, severed by a thousand years, to which Paul here alludes as that which had roused so much feeling on the part of his Sadducean adversaries.
Nor this only, for he lets them know by the way that on himself the hope of resurrection was most influential practically. 'In this [Therefore, or Accordingly] I also exercise myself to have a conscience without offence toward God and men continually.' Here not only were the Jews, but Christians for the most part are, weak indeed, rising in faith but little beyond thoughtful heathen who reason on the immortality of the soul. No doubt the God-inbreathed soul, the inner man, is immortal; but as this is no security against sin, so neither does it involve immunity from judgment. Indeed it is rather the ground why sinful man, alone of beings on the earth, has moral responsibility, from which he cannot disengage himself; for, if he refuse life eternal in the Son, he must be judged by Him at the last, as Scripture abundantly testifies. The believer of course needs no such awful measure to vindicate the rights of Christ, but, what is far better, honours Him now in the day that follows His cross, honours Him not by that tremendous and irresistible constraint, but with a ready mind as the One Who for him died and rose that he might live no longer to himself but to Christ.
People may reason, as alas! not a few in Christendom have not been ashamed to do, that the blessing of the soul is of a more spiritual nature and that any hope associated with the resurrection of the body is external. But they are beguiled of the enemy in thus preferring their own thoughts to God's word which insists on the fullest blessing for the soul now, even salvation in the richest way, but on resurrection or change at Christ's coming as our proper hope. Then only shall we be like Him when the body of humiliation is conformed to the body of His glory. It is this hope which gives power in the Spirit to mortify our members on the earth, instead of indulging the common dream of present ease and honour here before the soul goes to heaven for its glory. Never does Scripture so speak It does declare the superior blessedness of departing to be with Christ, as compared with remaining here. But it never stops short of Christ's coming for our everlasting and glorious change as the true hope which purifies us meanwhile on the earth.
The apostle next states that after a lapse of several years he arrived bringing alms to his nation, and offerings. Was this the action of a seditious pestilent man? 'In which [business of the offerings] they found me purified in the temple, not with crowd nor yet with tumult.' Was this again profaning the temple? 'But certain Jews from Asia' — they were the true culprits in the matter. It was they whose guilty rashness imputed the false charge. For the four men under the vow were not Greeks, but Jews; and with these only was Paul associated in the temple at the instance of James. Why were these Asiatic Jews not here face to face, as Roman law required? 'Who ought,' as the apostle here quietly adds, 'to have been present before thee, and to have accused, if they had anything against me. Or let these themselves (the Jews then present) say what wrong they found in me when I stood before the council, [other] than for this one voice which I cried out among them, Touching the resurrection of [the] dead I am judged this day before you.'
It was irrefragably and solely the Jews themselves who made the riot (stirred up by the blunder about those brethren from Asia), who were not there to be convicted that day, as Felix could not but see. Even though the witnesses were not present, those actually there were challenged to state any wrong whatever done by the apostle, unless it was his putting forward the great truth of the resurrection: as really embarrassing to the Pharisee elders now as before; for they assuredly would regard such a cry as true and right, and in no way a fault. But 'evil communications corrupt good manners'; and those who at first felt sympathy for the truth at stake, now give their support to the enemy against the great representative of the gospel, even when they all were convicted of the grossest mistake, and of unfounded calumny. So hard is it for men engaged in a campaign, above all a religious one, to stop short of glaring injustice when arrayed on an evil side. When men are right, they can afford to be gracious. Wrongdoers and malicious men add turbulence also.
The procurator had more now to help him than his considerable experience of the Jews in the past. He had just heard an eminently and transparently truthful reply of Paul to the speech of Tertullus. He could well enough have decided on the merits of it, had it pleased him. But he was a governor as well as judge, and had to do with a people ever refractory. Policy dictated his course, not justice, as too often happens in this world, to say nothing of the heathenism of the Romans and the unscrupulousness of Felix in particular. Bright the day, when judgment shall return to righteousness. Even now' though Christianity has raised the moral standard of men in certain respects, we are far from that state when a King shall reign in righteousness, and princes rule in judgment.
Nor does the gospel indeed propose any such present amelioration of the world. It is the proclamation of grace to the ungodly in the name of Jesus, which shows us the heavens opened for all that believe made one with Him glorified above. The Christian is called therefore to glory in nothing but the cross of Christ, whereby he is crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to him. There is no common ground therefore possible between the world and the Christian if consistent. For the world adjudged to a death of guilt and shame and suffering Him Whom the Christian confesses as the Lord of glory, alone righteous, holy and true. The world would cease to be the world if in deed and in truth it confessed Him. Not only so: the Christian sees in the cross not only the world's misjudgment of the only worthy One, but God's judgment of himself as only and altogether evil before Him, but that evil laid on Christ to be not only judged but effaced righteously. And he sees further the unbelieving world judged with its prince, though the inevitable and irreversible sentence be not executed till the Lord Jesus appear in His glory, and we too along with Him in the same glory, Thus separation from the world is alone according to truth for the Christian, as the world abides the sure object of divine vengeance. 'Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?'
It was this that made Felix unjust toward Paul, as it had decided Pilate to let the Lord Jesus suffer. 'But Felix, having more accurate knowledge concerning the Way, adjourned them, saying, When Lysias the commander [or, chiliarch] is come down, I will determine your matter. And he ordered the centurion that he should be kept in charge and should have indulgence, and not to hinder any of his friends from ministering to him' (vers. 22, 23). The latitude allowed indicated not obscurely the mind of the unjust judge, if he had chosen to judge according to his convictions. But we learn also how God took care of His servant, and, while granting him to suffer for Christ's sake, assuaged the captivity through the judge himself, not on His servant's petition. Truly all things work together for good to them that love God, Who is honoured by their faith.
'And after certain days Felix, having arrived with Drusilla his wife being a Jewess, sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned concerning righteousness and temperance and the judgment to come, Felix became terrified and answered, For the present go, and when I get a convenient season, I will send for thee, hoping at the same time that money would be given him by Paul; wherefore also he sent for him the oftener and communed with him. But when two years were fulfilled, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and Felix, willing to gain favour with the Jews, left Paul in bonds' (vers. 24-27).
The essence of unbelief is that, even if God be owned in word or theory He is in fact wholly excluded. And so it was evident in the next incident, where Felix with the beautiful wife of Azizus, king of the Emesenes, whom he had seduced and taken as 'his own', had the apostle before them to hear of the faith in Christ. Little was the guilty Roman prepared for the many sides of the truth, which the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven turns to deal with the hearer as he is. Paul discoursed, not on the prophets as with Jews, nor on the resurrection as with Athenians, nor on the cross even as at Corinth, but about righteousness, and self-control, and the coming judgment. A bad woman, they say, is more shameless than a bad man. Certainly if Drusilla knew more than Felix, she appears to have felt less. The inspiring Spirit records the alarm of the man, not of the woman. But it was no more than a passing terror. There was no repentance toward God; else he would not have got rid of the searching, yet saving, word of the gospel; he would not have been content to wait for a 'more convenient season', which never really comes.
But a baser motive rises up to prompt frequent interviews afterward — that love of money which is a root of all evil. Therefore was it Paul's lot to remain a prisoner for two years of enforced separation from those active and free and wide labours of love so precious to his spirit, because Christ filled him to overflowing. But the same Christ strengthened him to accept his bonds patiently, as Felix fully proved his depravity. Indeed, Felix was only screened from the just punishment of his manifold atrocities by the influence of his brother with the emperor.
The new governor, Festus, gave a fresh opportunity to the Jews. Morally more respectable than Felix, he knew not God and therefore could not be trusted for man. Faith to him was quite unintelligible, an enthusiasm. But he soon learnt enough of the Jews to make him guilty in his willingness to gratify them in the sacrifice of Paul. Policy is a sad destroyer of conscience.
'Festus, therefore, having come into the province, after three days went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they besought him, asking a favour that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait to kill him on the way. Howbeit Festus answered that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself was about to depart [there] shortly. Let them therefore saith he, that are of power [authority] among you go down with me, and if there is anything amiss in the man, let them accuse him' (vers. 1-5).
The providence of God is still in action. On the one hand the Jews sought under colour of favour to have the apostle waylaid on the road to Jerusalem; on the other the governor stood to the dignity of his office, and would not have it lowered. As Paul had already been sent to Caesarea, he declined moving him back to Jerusalem. It is possible that he knew little or nothing of their murderous designs. If so, it was the secret care of God for one unjustly assailed. But rumours would easily get currency as to any such plot. At this time the governor was not prepared to surrender a Roman citizen to the malice of his enemies, especially of a Jewish sort on a religious dispute. The Lord in any case watched over his servant. The accused was in Caesarea, and if anywhere in that land the supreme seat of judicature was there in Roman eyes. The governor by his decision hindered the execution of their plot. He was returning to Caesarea himself shortly: if therefore any wrong was in question, they had their opportunity to come down and accuse the prisoner.
'And when he had tarried among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down unto Caesarea, and on the morrow he sat on the judgment-seat, and commanded Paul to be brought. And when he was come, the Jews that had come from Jerusalem stood round about and laid many and grievous charges which they could not prove; while Paul said in his defence, Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned at all' (vers. 6-8). The case was as plain as could be. The accusations were without proof; the defence was complete. The Jews were simply bitter enemies. The apostle had not transgressed as to any of the many serious charges they had laid to his account.
But Festus was really little better than Felix. The change of judge was only slightly in favour of justice. There was the same selfishness which had counteracted equity before. Impossible to expect the fear of God in a heathen man, though some may have been more depraved and unjust than others.
'But Festus, desiring to gain favour with the Jews, answered Paul and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?' (ver. 9). So little can man be reckoned on. Festus had refused this very favour to the Jews in Jerusalem; he could scarcely be in the dark as to the reason why Paul had been hurried down to Caesarea. His motive was to curry favour with the Jews. 'But Paul] said, I am standing before Caesar's judgment-seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou also very well knowest' (ver. 10).
The apostle must have had cause for speaking so plainly. 'If then I am a wrong-doer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die. But if none of these things is [true] whereof these accuse me, no man can give me up [or grant me by favour] unto them. I appeal unto Caesar' (ver. 11). It is clear that all the righteousness of the case lay with Paul. He therefore avails himself of his title as a Roman citizen against those who would have infringed Roman law. He agitated no change of law, he sought nothing for himself, he employed no lawyer. The law had already ruled, and he pleaded it before one in office to administer it.
Thus so far the difficulty was terminated. The governor was bound by the appeal. 'Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Thou hast appealed unto Caesar: unto Caesar shalt thou go' (ver. 12). The king, or emperor, was to hear, no less than subordinate magistrates, and this not by fawning on, or seeking access to, the princes of this world, but as holy sufferers with Christ and for His name (Matt. 10:18).
It was Paul's purpose to visit Rome after going to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21), and God gave effect to it, for it was God's purpose (Acts 23:11). But how different was the way under His hand from the apostle's expectation! He must go a prisoner to Rome. This befell him through his appeal to Caesar — an appeal by no means always granted, as it was evidently liable to abuse. If the guilt were manifest, it was refused: so also if the case were frivolous enough to be unworthy of the emperor's hearing. Paul, whose innocence was unquestionable, while the case was rendered in the highest degree serious through Jewish illwill, appealed when he saw the procurator trifling with justice to gratify the Jews. This decided matters for the present.
But the Spirit of God saw further testimony needed by man, and this was brought about by a visit of distinguished visitors to the Roman governor soon after.
'Now when certain days passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to salute (or, having saluted) Festus. And as they were spending several days there, Festus set Paul's case before the king, saying, There is a certain man left prisoner by Felix, about whom when I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews filed information, asking for condemnation against him. Unto whom I answered, that it is no custom for Romans to give up any man before that the accused have the accusers face to face, and have had opportunity of defence concerning the complaint. When therefore they came together here, I made no delay but next day sat on the judgment-seat and commanded the man to be brought; concerning whom when the accusers stood up, they were bringing no charge of such evil things as I supposed, but had certain questions of their own religion, and of one Jesus dead as He is, Whom Paul affirmed to be alive. And I, being perplexed in the inquiry concerning these things, asked whether he would go to Jerusalem and there be judged of these things. But when Paul appealed to be kept for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I should send him unto Caesar. And Agrippa [said] unto Festus, I also should wish to hear the man myself. Tomorrow, saith he, thou shalt hear him' (vers. 13-22).
The royal personage here introduced was son of Herod Agrippa I., whose awful fate was described in Acts 12. Too young to reign at his father's death, he was by Claudius given Chalcis, the principality of his uncle, with certain privileges in Jerusalem; and Philip's old tetrarchy and more were added by the same emperor soon after, with the title of King. Bernice was his elder sister, Drusilla his younger, and each of them famous or infamous in that day with reason too grave. As Felix and Drusilla had a most solemn warning from the prisoner, so now were Agrippa and Bernice with Festus to hear an appeal which leaves no soul as it is found. The truth before the conscience carries with it a responsibility which eternity, not to say the judgment-seat of Christ, will fully manifest. Yet the man involuntarily forced to feel its power can ask, What is truth? and goes out hard and wretched from His presence Who alone can give the adequate answer. But wisdom is justified of all her children; as she learnt, who had been till then a child of folly: Jesus was of God made to her wisdom and every other good she lacked (Luke 7:35-50). Why was it not so with these high estates?
The governor's motive for bringing Paul before Agrippa appears to have been his own doubt what to report to the emperor. Festus was just a man of the world. Of grace, of truth, he had no notion. The invisible and eternal realities were to him only imaginative ideas. Present things, changeable and fleeting as they are, were his life and all. God was in none of his thoughts, apart from the Lord Jesus He remains unknown.
There was another obstacle in his way, even his good opinion of himself, and his endeavour to claim from others the highest character for honesty and honour, energy and prudence. This runs through his speech, as we saw it pervading the self-applauding letter of Claudius Lysias in Acts 23:25-30. What is man to be accounted, whose breath is in his nostrils? One look at self in God's presence puts in dust and ashes, as in Job's case when approved of Him, for his three friends were not. How can ye believe, said our Lord (John 5:44), receiving as ye do glory one of another, and the glory that is from the only God ye seek not? Where there is no self-judgment, the Saviour is but 'one Jesus', like any child of man. He who so speaks is a sinner ripening for judgment.
What the sentiments of Festus were about the mythological reveries of the Greeks and Romans, bound up with their paganism, we know not. Scepticism, ever the fatal dissolvent of society and the body politic, as it is the reaction from idolatry, was then all but universal among the educated class. It is clear that, with the contempt usual in such men, they never conceived of the truth outside themselves. Above al] appeared the strange tale and great stumbling-block of unbelief, Jesus dead and risen, and this in the midst of the busy heedless world, among a despised and subject race. It is just named incidentally (ver. 19) as a psychological phenomenon in Paul and as singularly rousing the animosity of the Jews, an ever-turbulent race.
Unable to give the emperor any reasonable account of the prisoner who had appealed, Festus states the case to one whom current report declared to be, on the one hand well versed in all Jewish questions, and in some respects the more zealous religiously because he was not of Israelitish lineage, as on the other he was notoriously devoted to the Roman interest. So indeed Agrippa continued throughout the great war that demolished the Jewish polity, their 'place and nation', and throughout a long reign to the first year of Trajan. To hear the case might gratify the curiosity of Herod Agrippa and perhaps also relieve Festus of some perplexity.
The explanation to the king was not unskilful. It was in truth, as he intimated, a matter of Felix left over for him. Paul was a prisoner when Festus entered on his province, who could not therefore be expected to know all from the first. Next, it was certain that the leading Jews were grievously incensed against him, which could not but weigh with a governor of little or no experience locally. Roman self-complacency breaks forth in the assertion of their policy of inflexible and impartial equity: an excellent principle by no means the rule in the provinces, any more than at home, but convenient to lay down by a governor as a cheek on flagrant injustice, which Felix and Festus surely saw in the actual prosecution. Again, who could reproach himself with lack of zeal in the public cause? The Jews had been prompt enough in coming down from Jerusalem to accuse in Caesarea, and the governor had lost not a day in sitting to judge the case, if there had been one according to Roman law. But there was nothing tangible before the court; no infraction of the public peace or propriety, any more than private wrong in violence or corruption. It was absurd to bring before a Roman tribunal such matters as occupied Paul's accusers. Facts there were none; only questions for it of a visionary nature.
It is improbable that even a Roman procurator of Judæa would be so uncourteous as to speak of the views in controversy as a 'superstition', especially in speaking to king Agrippa; any more than that Paul so characterized the Athenians, when he was setting before them Jesus and the resurrection. It seems better therefore to avail ourselves of the better or at least colourless, sense which the word undoubtedly bears in authors of that day still extant. 'Religion' is therefore here chosen, while 'system of worship' has also been suggested in a similar sense.
But when one knows the infinite truth that the Son came to bring God into the world and put sin out of it, how shocking is the dark incredulity that slurs over facts so transcendent in the words, 'one Jesus now dead, whom Paul asserted to be alive'! The vindication of God's moral glory and the display of His love, and the proof of coming judgment, all turn on it. Without it sin reigns in death, and destruction for sinners without exception or hope. There is no kingdom possible of righteousness and peace, only hell filled with the wicked and accursed. Jesus alive from the dead for evermore has changed all.
Nor need we wait to see the glorious results. The Christian sees and walks by faith, not by sight. We rest, not only on a God that cannot lie, but on the fact already accomplished that Jesus died as propitiation for our sins, rose from the dead, and has taken His seat at God's right hand in heaven. We rest on the accomplishment of God's will in Christ's one offering of Himself for sins; and now He sits as truly man on the Father's throne, as He came down from God to become man and bring in new and everlasting glory to God by His death. He therefore is made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; and we who believe are of God in Him, as once we were only in Adam, heirs of sin and ruin. When the Lord appears again, the results will appear before the universe, and the creation, all the creation that now groans in bondage and corruption will be delivered: for He is the Second man and Last Adam, and we shah reign along with Him in glory.
But the wisdom of the world is folly, which slights the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ, Who came to His own things, and they that were His own received Him not. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. So Festus showed now, as did Agrippa afterward in the same blindness of unbelief which pervaded other princes of this age: for had they known they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. And Christendom is returning to the darkness of heathenism. Never among the baptized did naturalism so govern men's minds; never before did nominal Christians manifest such incredulity in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, or even in creation. If the dead Jesus is alive, He has the keys of death and hades; and where is then philosophy? Where is natural law? What has natural law to do with creating? Still less can it apply to grace reigning through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
But to return; when Festus mentions Paul's declining to go to Jerusalem and his appealing to Caesar, Agrippa expresses the wish himself to hear; and an audience is fixed for the morrow. This leads to a yet fuller testimony as we shall see, before not a governor only but a king.
The purposed hearing of the apostle before Agrippa wholly differed from that before Felix and Drusilla. This was private, and the apostle availed himself of it in divine love and holy courage to strip the guilty pair of their vain show, and to let them see themselves as God regarded them, as He will judge by and by through our Lord Jesus. Were men not insensate by the wily power of Satan, they would feel how gracious it is of God to send one faithful and able, willing and loving, to tell them the unerring truth, that, believing, they might be saved. But if they hug their sins, it cannot be. True repentance is the inseparable companion of true faith. From both, the enemy finds plausible excuses to hold souls back. Conscience may tremble: but there is no repentance till self is judged before God, and faith alone produces this.
Here it was even more public than the indictment before Felix or Festus. And the appeal to the emperor, though it relieved Festus in the main, embarrassed him in that he had no tangible rational explanation of the case to lay before Nero. Hence when Agrippa expressed the desire in person to hear the accused, Festus gladly caught at it and fixed the next day for the purpose. Agrippa's known familiarity with Jewish affairs was too good to be lost, besides gratifying the wish of so exalted a guest.
'Therefore on the morrow when Agrippa came, and Bernice, with great pomp, and they entered into the audience-chamber with the commanders and the distinguished men of the city, at the command of Festus Paul was brought. And saith Festus, King Agrippa, and all men that are here present with us, ye behold this man about whom all the multitude of the Jews applied to me both in Jerusalem and here, crying out that he ought not to live any longer. But as I found that he had done nothing worthy of death, and as he himself appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him about whom I have nothing certain to write to my lore Wherefore I brought him forth before you, and especially before thee, king Agrippa, so that, after examination had, I may have what I shall write. For it seemeth to me unreasonable in sending a prisoner not also to signify the charges against him' (vers. 23-27).
Our Evangelist as usual presents the scene most graphically; for which reason probably tradition gave out in error that he was a painter, whereas scripture is positive that he was a physician: a fact abundantly confirmed by evidence in both his Gospel and the Acts. The king and the queen are before us with great pomp; military chiefs add to the show, as well as the most distinguished civilians; the governor gives the word of command and the prisoner is brought into the hall of audience. Festus opens the proceedings. It is hardly to be allowed that the courteous Roman meant to insinuate a slur on Bernice when he said, 'King Agrippa, and all men that are here present with us.' Undoubtedly the word is not the general ἄνθρωποι but the precise ἄνδρες, expressive of men as distinguished from women (γυναῖκες), The truth is however that ἂνδρες is used regularly in addresses as more respectful, though women may be present (cf. Acts 1:16; Acts 2:14; Acts 3:12; Acts 13:16; Acts 15:7; Acts 17:22), and in this sense only is it here employed. Out of courtesy the distinction is ignored for the time. That the queen's presence was implied to be improper is not the thought.
Festus addresses himself directly to the point. 'Ye behold this [person] about whom all the multitude of the Jews applied to me, both in Jerusalem and here, crying out that he ought not to live any longer.' There was no doubt of the general and vehement antipathy of the Jews to the noblest man of their stock and the most honoured servant of the Lord. Their cry in the holy city and elsewhere was that he ought not to live longer. He, the governor, found that Paul had committed nothing which deserved death, but does not explain why he himself had occasioned the appeal to the emperor by the proposal that the prisoner should go to Jerusalem for judgment. Paul knew too that worldly religion is of all things least just and most cruel, and, declining such a change from Caesar's tribunal, appealed to Augustus. To this Festus agreed, as we know, and he repeats, 'I decided to send him.'
But thereon arose a difficulty. What was he to write to send with the appellant: 'About whom I have nothing certain to write to my lord'? This was his main motive for the hearing before Agrippa, versed as he was in Jewish customs and learning and prejudice. 'Wherefore I brought him forth before you, and especially before thee, king Agrippa, so that, after examination had, I may know what I shall write.' The governor naturally considered it senseless, as he adds, to forward a prisoner without signifying the accusation laid to his charge. We shall find however that the issue was a true and fresh testimony to Christ far more than a solution of the governor's perplexity.
Luke sets the scene vividly before us. The king, whose opinion the governor sought, and who himself was desirous of hearing, gives courteous leave, and the prisoner enters on his defence with out-stretched hand. Orators no doubt used the same action to engage the ear of their countrymen, rhetoricians in their schools; but Paul's heart went out thus in desire over souls about to hear that message from God which, in whatever manner put, is the turning-point of salvation or perdition to all in contact with it. No doubt the soul is beyond all price for everyone in view of such everlasting issues. Yet it was no light thing even for the apostle to confront, without his seeking it but at their own desire, the great ones of the earth with all that swelled their train.
'And Agrippa said to Paul, It is permitted thee to speak for1 thyself. Then Paul stretched out his hand and entered on his defence. Touching all things of which I am accused by Jews, king Agrippa, I count myself happy that I am to make my defence before thee today,2 especially as thou art skilled in all customs and questions that are among Jews. Wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
'My manner of life then from my youth which was from the beginning among my nation and3 at Jerusalem know all Jews, knowing me before from the outset, if they be willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand to be judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers, unto which our twelve tribes earnestly serving night and day hope to arrive. And concerning this hope I am accused by4 Jews, O king4. Why is it judged incredible with you if God raiseth dead [men]?' (vers. 1-8).
1 Here and elsewhere in these verses occur several readings scarce affecting a version.
2 Beza alone adopted εἰδώς (in his edition of 1582 and afterwards) 'in uno codice peruetusto — certainly an error, for the three cursives that give it are comparatively modern. Had he known ἐπιοστάμενος there would have been better reason, as AC, et al., have it. But either is a gloss.
3 ABEgr., et al.
4 των and Ἀγρίππα omitted by the best authorities τῶν by almost all.
It may be a small matter, yet it is well to avoid the mistake of confounding the apostle's act here with what he did in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:16), or what Alexander did in the tumultuous assembly at Ephesus (Acts 19:33). This was 'beckoning with the hand', quite different in character and aim from stretching it forth, here too with a chain. What a witness of the world's enmity to God's infinite grace in Christ! For, to say nothing of his loving labours, wherein had His servant done wrong? He was sharing the sufferings of Christ.
It will be observed that the apostle graciously passes by the various calumnies of the Jews which had been put forward by their venal orator and the unscrupulous men who supported his charges. He expresses his satisfaction at having to speak before one so exceptionally competent as the king in all the ways and controversies of Jews, as he does not fail even in this acknowledgment to preface it with an allusion to such accusations coming from Jews, not 'the' Jews.
In this connection there is no article in the text of verses 2, 3, as there should be none in verses 4 and 7, though in verse 4 there is much conflict among the MSS. (even the best uncials), and only Lachmann, and Alford, Tregelles, with Westcott and Hort, follow BCpm. E, et al., here, against the rest in omitting the article. Nor is it to be wondered at that Tischendorf who had dropped it in his later editions up to the seventh, went back in his eighth to that of his earlier issues in 1841 and both of 1842. The fact is that the sense required in this phrase here seems without example in the New Testament, where in other cases πάντες οἱ Ἰουδῖιοι is the correct form, and the article, as far as I have noticed, could not be omitted without damage. Here there is a distinct and unusual peculiarity; for 'all the Jews' are not meant, but all Jews knowing Paul before from the outset. This accordingly requires πάντες Ἰουδαῖοι προγινῶσκωντές με ἄνωθεν.
All Greek Testament students know of course the late Dean Alford's note on verse 2, which seems a long-standing reproach to scholars and ought to have been repudiated far and wide: for I cannot doubt there must be not a few besides the late Bishop of Durham, who are aware of the fallacy. 'There is no force in Meyer's observation that by the article before Ἰουδαίων, Paul wishes to express that the charges were made by some, not by all of the Jews. That omission is the one so often overlooked by the German critics (e.g., Stier also here), after a preposition. See Middl. ch. vi. § 1, and compare κατὰ Ἰουδαιόυς in the next verse, of which the above cannot be said' (Greek Test. ii.. 276, fifth ed. 1865).
Now it is admitted that the celebrated German expositor's remark is imperfect, even though in many cases true. The omission of the article is due here and everywhere to presenting the word or combination of words characteristically, whilst the use of the article presents it as an object before the mind. There may be a very few exceptions, but these only prove that the rule is otherwise universal. And prepositions are in no way an exception, though they admit freely of serving to define the characteristic design of the anarthrous construction, which has been overlooked by English scholars quite as much perhaps as German. This is exactly one of the great defects of Bishop Middleton's able treatise, which has for effect the making imaginary exceptions as numerous as the rule. This of itself ought to have indicated failure in generalization. John iv. 9 is a plain illustration of the principle: not only πῶς σὺ Ἰουδαῖος ὤν which every one sees, but Ἰυοδαῖοι Σαμαρείταις where the article for either would be out of place if the object were, as it certainly is, to mark both characteristically.
It is no question of 'some' no doubt. And the article might have been with truth prefixed to both; but the meaning would have been altered. The two peoples would then stand contrasted as objects, not characteristically as they are now. Compare for this a selection from the book of the Acts: Acts 2:5, 7, 9-11; Acts 11:19; Acts 14:1, 5, 19; Acts 18:4; Acts 19:10, 17; Acts 20:21; Acts 25:10. Again, any intelligent examination of the Greek Testament cannot fail to convince that the preposition makes no difference whatever. The article is or is not used with the word in question like every other, in accordance with its principle of insertion or omission.
Thus in Matt. 28:15 character is the point, and therefore it is παρὰ Ιουδαίοις. In John 4:22 the Jews are the object, and hence it is ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων: so in John 10:19, and John 11:54, ἐν τοίς Ἰουδαιονς; in John 11:19, ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων; in John 18:38, πρὸς τοὺς Ἰουδαοίυς. It is really a total oversight of the nice shades of thought in the Greek language to conceive that there is the least laxity or exception after prepositions. Perhaps the notion is due to the difficulty of always representing the distinction in English, which sometimes compels us to use our definite article where there is none in Greek. But this is no right reason to deny that there is invariably an intended difference. Weigh Acts 23:8 where we have Σαδδουκαῖοι and Φαριοαῖοι without the article, though there is no preposition. If οἱ had been prefixed to each, it would have been true; but the absence of the article makes them characteristic, however hard it may be to express it in English.
And there is an analogous difference in the cases before us, alike when with or without prepositions. 'I am accused by Jews' in verses 2 and 7 is far more forcible than if the article had been inserted. It was not lost on Agrippa or Festus or the Jews that heard it. Of all men Jews were the last to have accused Paul for proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection that is from among the dead. Sadduceanism had alas! withered up their old faith. As a fact too, which may have weighed with Meyer and Stier, the Pharisees diverged in Acts 23 from the dominant faction which persecuted Paul. The preposition clearly gives no licence, (ὑπό) Jews, not the Jews, being meant. Nor is it otherwise with κατὰ Ιουδαίους, however confidently urged. Doubtless 'according to the Jews' would have been true in fact but it is stated characteristically, and here again as 'Jews', not 'the Jews' is the force intended, so it is evident once more that the preposition does not really affect the question. The article is inserted or omitted with prepositions on its own principle. Lastly, to be correct, πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι would require οἱ προγινώσκοντές qualifying the subject, πάντες Ἰουδαῖοι προγινώσκοντές is correct as it is given; for it means only all such Jews as previously knew Paul from the outset. In a word it is characteristic and therefore anarthrous. Not only is πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι the more usual expression, but quite distinct in sense; for it means the whole Jewish people as a known, definite and complete object, whereas the phrase here means all Jews qualified by the peculiar and described knowledge of Paul.
Returning from this digression, we may note that the apostle begs for a patient hearing from one so skilled as Agrippa, and dwells (vers. 4, 5) on his known early life under strict Pharisaic belief and discipline 'among my nation and at Jerusalem', as all Jews cognisant from its outset could testify if willing.
But the question, he insists, for which he stood for judgment was the hope of the promise made by God unto our fathers (ver. 6), unto which our twelve tribes earnestly serving, day and night, hope to arrive (ver. 7). How strange and flagrant that, of all men, Jews should lay accusation against him for that hope! Certainly his testimony to the risen Jesus did not weaken faith in the promise of the Messiah or in the resurrection of the dead. Yet the whole nation in their public and earnest service of God night and day bore witness of their hope of attaining to that promise. Why is it judged incredible if God raises dead men? The prisoner assuredly did believe what the service of the chosen nation confessed night and day. Were Jews then gainsayers of their own boasted faith?
The apostle returns from argument to the account of his own life, from which he had turned aside for a moment.
'I therefore thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus the Nazarene; which things I also did in Jerusalem; and I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received the authority from the chief priests, and I railed against [them] when they were put to death; and throughout all the synagogues, often punishing I was compelling them to blaspheme, and being exceedingly mad against them I was pursuing them even as far as to the outside cities' (vers. 9-11).
We have repeated allusions in the Epistles to Paul's life before conversion. Thus to the Galatians he wrote, 'For ye have heard of my manner of life at one time in Judaism that beyond bounds I was persecuting the church and ravaging it, and was advancing in Judaism beyond many of mine own age in my race, being more exceedingly' a zealot of my ancestral traditions' (Gal. 1:13, 14). To the Philippians his language is, 'As to law a Pharisee, as to zeal persecuting the church, as to righteousness that is in law found blameless' (Phil. 3:5, 6). Lastly, to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:13) he says, 'Though formerly a blasphemer, and a persecutor and an insulter; but I obtained mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.'
Here he lets us see how unsafe a guide conscience is for the natural man, no matter what may be his religious helps. He considered it his duty to oppose the name of Jesus and zealously persecute all who called on Him. Nor does God accept such a plea. He had sent His Son with adequate proof of His Messiahship for all who would compare His written word with the facts of Jesus the Nazarene: prophecy accomplished, miracles wrought not only by Himself but by His servants, and of a character quite peculiar, yet harmonizing with a teaching altogether unexampled; and a moral power of holy life ending in a death of deepest shame on the cross, which He ever held out as not man's sin only, but God's grace as the ransom for sinners, to the reality of which all sacrifices pointed from Abel downward. Paul therefore had acted ignorantly in unbelief, as do others who refuse all revelation or misuse one part to reject another still fuller and more glorious.
The greater the religious zeal in such a state of unbelief, the farther it carries the devotee from the present testimony of God. Hence it was that Paul gave himself up with all his soul to opposing the faith of Jesus as the Christ in Jerusalem, which he would feel was outraged by His claims. Here, before Agrippa, he does not hesitate to confess to his own shame that he shut up 'many of the saints' in prisons. To the Jews he had employed the more vague expression, 'this Way' (Acts 22:4); as Luke in the history spoke of 'the disciples of the Lord' (Acts 9:1). How little he so thought when he received the requisite authority from the chief priests! Nor was it only imprisoning. When it was a question of putting them to death, had he not given an adverse vote? Notably it was so in Stephen's case, as this Book records. Had he not visited all the synagogues, often punishing souls and forcing out blasphemy if possible? And had he not in his excessive madness pursued them even into cities outside the land?
But a mighty change was at hand. Not a hint of relenting appears here or elsewhere, not one emotion of pity for the victims, not a trace of self-judgment or hesitation in his own course. Who verified so conspicuously the Lord's own words? 'They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour cometh that whosoever killeth you shall think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do, because they have not known the Father nor Me' (John 16:2, 3). This is the new revelation of the Messiah come and rejected; and on that rejection bringing to light the Father and the Son, wholly unknown to those who in their zeal for the law broke out into hatred and persecution of what was beyond them and condemned their unbelief.
'On which [business] when proceeding unto Damascus with authority and commission of the chief-priests, at midday on the road I saw, O king a light above the brightness of the sun shining round me and those that were proceeding with me. And when we all fell to the earth, I heard a voice saying unto me in the Hebrew language, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? [It is] hard for thee to kick against goads. And I said, Who art Thou Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest' (vers. 12-15).
Never was sovereign grace so signally demonstrated. I do not speak of the wonder. But now evidently the Lord was giving a typical case, in the letter it would seem for the Jews by and by, in spirit for the Christian now. For what could more completely prove that Christ is all to him that believes? To a man up to that moment blinded by his legal zeal against the grace of God in Christ, that very Christ reveals Himself, sweeping into nothingness all that a Jew boasted of and rested in, and identifying Himself in the glory of God with the One Who died, between two crucified robbers, the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
On earth Messiah is to be set God's King on His holy hill of Zion. This is the decree. Judgment will surely silence all that oppose, be they kings or nations, rulers or peoples. Their rage is as vain as all their imaginations to the contrary. Execution of judgment will make all plain to every eye. Then will Messiah ask and receive the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. Then will He break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. It will be no longer as now grace preached, but the kingdom established by divine power seen and felt beyond question; and the kings of the earth will be wise, and the judges instructed, serving Jehovah with fear and rejoicing with trembling (Psalm 2).
Now Christ sits in heaven on the Father's throne, and has a new object of love and a new testimony carried on here below by the Holy Spirit suited to His glory on high and that object of love is the church which is His body. This mystery is great, as it must be, for we speak about Christ and about the church; concurrently with which goes forth the gospel of God's grace to every creature under heaven, all distinctions of Jew and Gentile vanishing meanwhile.
Paul was called to be a minister, both of the church and of the gospel, as he says himself in Col. 1:23-25. And the special manner of his conversion was exactly suited in the wisdom and goodness of God to this ministry. For it was not only unmistakable grace in its deepest character, but from heavenly glory entirely above the distinctions so important on earth. And Paul alone was there personally favoured, though the truth of it was to act most powerfully on souls all over the earth. This may help to show the immense importance of what the apostle recounted that day, in substance recorded now for the third time in the brief Book of the Acts.
Impossible to doubt that a divine person speaks out from the brightness beyond that of the sun at midday. If all were prostrate and heard but a sound, Paul could not mistake the voice of His lips, saying to him (and in the Hebrew language), 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?' How overwhelming, yet how blessed, to hear in answer to his question of astonishment, 'I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest'! Thus even from the starting-point he heard the truth that the saints are one with Him. To persecute them is to persecute Jesus.
Doubtless the blessed apostle had revelations of the Lord, and from Him, not a few afterwards; and the bearings of the mystery, as well as its consequences were made known to him by the Spirit. It is, however, full of interest to learn that the germ of all was planted in him, as we see here, from the moment that grace wrought in his soul and brought him into God's marvellous light. He obeyed the truth immediately. It is hard to kick against goads, on the one hand; and on the other the Lord had drawn his heart into the love of the truth, whatever it might cost.
He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, which thenceforth gave its impress to his life, his faith, and his testimony. 'And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that He is the Son of God.' He was Messiah, but far more; eternally the Son; now exalted and given to be Head to the church in the heavenly places; universal Lord to the glory of God the Father, in virtue of Whose name all things shall bow; as indeed He is our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Henceforth Saul could and did say, 'For me to live is Christ'.
The decisive words, 'I am Jesus,' were uttered to one who could not doubt the utterer was the Lord; nor this only, but 'I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest', the germ of that mystery (and it is a great one) which the astonished hearer was to develop beyond all others, even of the apostles. Thereon follows what is of the deepest interest.
'But rise up and stand on thy feet; for to this end I appeared to thee, to appoint thee a servant and a witness both of what thou hast seen and of those things wherein I shall appear to thee, taking thee out from the people and from the Gentiles unto whom I send thee, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness unto light and the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith that is in Me. Whence, king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but reported both to those in Damascus first, and in Jerusalem, and through all the country of Judæa and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. On account of these things the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to slay me. Having therefore obtained help that is from God I stand unto this day, witnessing both to small and great saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said should come, whether Christ should suffer, whether He first by resurrection of [the] dead should announce light both to the people and to the Gentiles (vers. 16-23).
Such a vision to such an end stamped on Paul the apostolic title in its highest character. It was from heaven in the power of resurrection life and ascension glory; and this not only by one determining act, but with the guarantee of all that was to be made known from him personally in the future. We should not know from this account that he was blind for three days and that Ananias was sent directly by the Lord to heal as well as baptize him. Nor have we particulars of his testimony either in Damascus or in Jerusalem, any more than of his going away into Arabia. Each fact is set forth where it was called for; all was stated not only with truthfulness but according to holy and divine design, as is invariably the case in scripture. The Lord led either Luke or Paul according to His will to say what was fitting. Here the apostle gives summarily what was of moment for his audience, and for all that should read and weigh the words afterwards.
It was not only to convert and save him that the Lord had spoken to Saul of Tarsus. He was to arise and stand on his feet; for the Lord had appeared to him to appoint him a servant (ὑπηρέτην) and a witness both of what he then saw and of those things in which He was to appear to him. A work lay before him of immense magnitude and unprecedented character. And the Lord's revelations then and afterwards were of all moment. He was to be a typical servant too, though his own calling might be unique; for no such appearing of the Lord was to be the portion of those who should follow in the faith and footsteps of Paul.
Verse 17 is not well given by either the Revisers or the Authorized Version. Though the word may bear 'delivering', as it often signifies, its simpler meaning of 'taking out' is far more suitable to the context and the truth intended and verified in the apostle's career. It is admitted on all hands that the Lord's taking Saul out from the people (or the Jews) is suitable, but De Wette and Meyer allege that it does not chime in with the Gentiles. This seems quite a mistake. Separation from both is most appropriate to characterize his position, and there is no need to extend 'unto whom I send thee' beyond the latter. He was to be apostle of Gentiles or uncircumcision, and as such magnifies his function in Rom. 11:13, 14. The 'I' is emphatic, and the adverb 'now' only added by inferior witnesses.
The difficulty these scholars feel is owing to their ignorance of Christian position, and even of Christianity according to scripture. For the Jew believing in Christ is not levelled down to a Gentile, nor yet is the believing Gentile raised up to that of the Jew; but the Holy Spirit unites both to Christ in heavenly glory, while at the same time the gospel of grace goes forth indiscriminately, but to the Gentile practically, as the once favoured nation is given up to temporary blindness in God's just judgment. Never was there a more striking representative of both than the apostle, minister of the church and minister of the gospel (Col. 1:23-25). Stier has only noticed half the beauty of the contrast; for if Peter declares himself a witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed', Paul was a witness of the glory of Christ and a partaker of His sufferings; and it is him we are called to imitate, though we only by faith see Christ glorified. To share His sufferings is the Christian's and the believer's moral glory.
Then follows in verse 18 a vivid description of Paul's work among the Gentiles: 'to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness unto light and the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith that is in Me'. Doubtless Jews needed these operations of grace no less really than the nations; but in the latter case the necessity was far more conspicuous, besotted as they were not only in shameless immorality but by gross superstitions which darkened and demoralized them more than if they had had no religion at all. If, as the Jews say, it was reserved for the Messiah to open the eyes of the blind literally, here we see how He sent His apostle to do the work not physically alone but, morally. And this was manifested by Gentiles, when they heard the call of the Lord, turning from darkness into light, and (defining yet more their sources) from the power of Satan unto God, followed by the great characteristic privileges of the gospel, the reception of remission of sins and allotment among the sanctified by faith in Christ. For there was now a new, deeper, fuller sanctification, not fleshly or by ordinance merely as Israel's was; but living and genuine by believing on Christ, the permanent result of an accomplished separation to God from the Christian's starting-point.
The effect of such an announcement of sovereign grace, not only for Paul himself but in his mission, was immediate and Immense 'Whence, king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but reported both to those in Damascus first, and in Jerusalem, and through all the country of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance' (vers. 19, 20). Undoubtedly, it had been not only rebellion, but madness and destruction to have slighted such a vision and call; but this voucher the apostle gave, which nothing but self-willed folly could evade or escape, a life of unequalled sufferings as well as labours in bearing witness of its truth — truth so all-important to every child of man. Hence his burning zeal in reporting to all near or far off that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. For as the ground of the gospel consists of a Person revealed and facts accomplished (not merely a promise as of old), no call to believe can be agreeable to man's heart, and grace only can effect aught vital or acceptable, the conscience being bad and the will estranged from God, yea enmity against Him.
There are doctrines infinitely deeper elsewhere, and beyond comparison nearer to man's heart, to say nothing of their essential furtherance of God's glory. But all the doctrines flow from Christ and His work, and a renewed child can rest confidingly in both and be drawn out in wonder love and praise, as well as in a life of devotedness and self-sacrifice. This, however, never can be apart from repentance and turning to God. As surely as there is the faith of God's elect there is a divinely wrought repentance, which through the confidence which Christ inspires wins the soul to God in self-abhorrence and earnest pursuit of His will, doing works worthy of repentance.
It would be incredible if it were not the most certain fact that a faith and life so formed are abominable in Jewish eyes. 'On account of these things the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to slay me' (ver. 21). But none of these things swerved or even moved the blessed apostle, save to sorrow over them. 'Having therefore obtained help that is from God, I stand unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying nothing but what Moses and the prophets said should come, whether Christ should suffer, whether he first by resurrection of [the] dead should announce light both to the people and to the Gentiles' (vers. 22, 23).
It is not that the Jews erred in looking for a glorious kingdom of Messiah, of which Israel should be the centre on earth, but that the law and the prophets were clear that the Messiah should suffer and die as a sacrifice, as well as in rejection by man and even Israel, and thus risen from the dead bong in blessing of grace and mercy to faith before the glory be revealed publicly. For it needs no reasoning to prove that the suffering and death cannot be after the glory; 'but first must He suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.' 'Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?' So Christ, beginning from Moses and all the prophets, interpreted in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).
The truth was fairly set before the king. The prophets and Moses had told out what was now accomplished in the Christ that Paul preached. If their testimony was divine, He Who had suffered and risen from the dead is their sure fulfilment, however much may remain. The question whether the Christ should suffer, and whether He first by rising from death should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles can admit of no answer but the most distinct affirmation. The Messiah to suffer, die, rise, and so shed light on man universally, is the surest force of the law and the prophets. This alone gives meaning to sacrifices, this explains the cleansing of the defiled. No doubt there is the kingdom to come, and the judgment of the world as well as of the dead, but the basis even of all the rest lay in the dead and risen Messiah, the object of faith for salvation to every believer, Jew or Gentile. Here, however, the apostle does not go beyond present facts.
'And as he thus defended himself, Festus saith with a loud voice, Paul, thou art mad, much learning doth turn thee to madness. But Paul saith, I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but speak forth words of truth and soberness. For the king is cognizant of these things, unto whom also I speak with openness; for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him, for this hath not been done in a corner. Believest thou, king Agrippa, the prophets? I know that thou believest. And Agrippa [said] unto Paul, With little [pains] thou art persuading1 to make me a Christian. And Paul [said], I would to God that both with little and with great [pains]2 not thou only but also all that hear me this day should become as I too am, except these bonds. And 3the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them; and when they had retired, they spoke one to another, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or bonds. And Agrippa said to Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar' (vers. 24-32).
1 A reads πείθῃ, 'thou art persuading thyself', which Alford adopts, but BEHLP, et al, support πείθεις as in the Text. Rec. Only instead of γενέσθαι AB and four cursives with several ancient versions sustain ποιῆσαι.
2 μεγάλω AB, six cursives, and almost all the ancient versions instead of πολλῳ, as in most copies followed by the Text. Rec.
3 The Text. Rec. adds 'when he said these things' with the mass, contrary to the most ancient and best copies. The ancient text gives the impression of an abrupt closure on Agrippa's part; the addition takes it away.
Festus, ignorant of God and His word and bewildered to the highest degree by the assertion of Messiah's resurrection, forgot the gravity of the occasion and of his own office, and branded the apostle as a madman, though softening the term by imputing it to his much reading. Calm in the sense of God's presence and of the truth which alone gives true freedom, Paul shows the only moral elevation discernible in that splendid throng, and so with real courtesy rebuts the senseless charge with words bearing the stamp of the 'truth' he testified, and of the 'sobriety' in which he laid all before others.
Love gives a single eye. With that keen discernment which characterized him, he turns from the benighted heathen who saw nothing beyond the present life and therefore saw it only as a question of power and pleasure and fame, an utter degradation for the undying soul, consistent only in shutting out the light of the truth and even the warning of conscience not wholly ignorant of sin. From the heathen he turns to the Jewish king who, immoral though he was, knew what altogether condemned himself as well as the glorious visions of which Messiah is the centre in Holy Writ. 'For the king', said he, 'is cognizant of these things, unto whom also I speak with openness, for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him: for this hath not been done in a corner.' It was notorious that no man living was more interested in or familiar with all that affected the Jews than the younger Herod Agrippa. But how little such acquaintance with facts avails, unless the Holy Spirit bring the word of God home to an exercised conscience! unless a soul bow to God in the overwhelming sense of its own sin and ruin, yet clinging to the hope of mercy in Him! Still to one that owned scripture as divine the apostle could speak as he could not with the same degree of freedom to another who denied and scorned it.
Therefore he turns in the most unexpected way with an appeal to the king's conscience: 'King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.' Surprised out of his imperturbable self-complacency, and endeavouring to cover his confusion by a jest the king replies for it is no answer, 'With little pains thou art persuading to make me a Christian.' Thus appears to be the sense if we take into account the critical reading μεγάλῳ in what follows. Were the Received Text justified which gives πόλλῳ, 'much', this rendering could hardly stand, for the more natural force would then be 'in a little while', distinguished from 'much time'
It is plain that Agrippa had no answer to what had been shown from scripture and the gospel facts. It is equally plain that the conclusion was irresistible, which he strove to parry. The truth is no question of reasoning but of faith in the testimony of God: only there is no root save in the conscience that owns sin and looks to God's grace in spite of it. And Christ and His work on the cross give the troubled soul confidence; because God sent His Son into the world for the twofold blessing, blessings equally needed by the sinner and flowing from God Himself, that we should live through Christ, and that He should die a propitiation for us. Faith in God's testimony of His love Who therefore gave His Son receives these infinite blessings in Christ. But it is not mere mind that makes the discovery; and if it were, it could avail nothing. It is only to the babe, to the broken in heart? to the consciously ruined sinner, that the truth comes from God. For He is calling souls to the knowledge of Himself, not training theologians. It is salvation made known in Christ, not religious science which the world builds up for itself out of it.
So the apostle takes up the king's word to escape further parley, and takes it up with a love and dignity suited to the Holy Spirit that dwelt in him. It is the simple but deep utterance of a heart supremely happy in the Saviour, and in the assurance of grace in Him that could embrace not Agrippa only but all that composed his audience that day, What mercy to man! What goodness of God! What inexhaustible power and fullness in the name of Jesus! Even in the most general form such an ardent wish of blessing had been much. But the more clearly we regard his words the wonder grows. 'I would to God that both with little and with great pains not thou only but also all that hear me this day should become as I too am, except these bonds.'
This largeness of heart suits admirably Paul who made known God's righteousness unto all and upon all those that believe. This readiness to take all pains is in keeping with the debtor both to Greeks and barbarians, both to wise and to foolish, who working night and day not to burden any, preached the gospel to all. But the perfect happiness of his soul flows over when he wishes to God for them that they might be as he too was. What! the man who had been beaten for dead, and in prison for years, known to be innocent by successive governors, yet chained to a soldier night and day to please a people whom these governors despised and hated. Yes, this is the man who wishes for them all, by little pains and by great as the case might be, that they might not be forgiven or saved only, good a wish as this is, but far far more, that they might become even as he, filled with the conscious joy of being blessed with Christ and enjoying the present cloudless favour of God. Indeed nothing less is normal Christianity. Yet he adds, 'except these bonds': this he could not, did not, wish for one of them. Truly it was a soul that kept itself in the dove of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Was there one heart that responded, one conscience pierced? We know not, but only that forthwith the court retired, yet owned that the prisoner's cause deserved neither death nor bonds. Agrippa especially, and he was the most competent to speak, declared that he might have been set at liberty but for his appeal to Caesar. How little the king knew God's purpose or ways! Paul, as he suffered with Christ, was called in due time to suffer for Him. In due time he was to have his wish to become conformed to the death of Christ (Phil. 3:9-11).
Thereon follows the voyage of the apostle to Rome, a narrative full of interest in every way. What believer can fail to find refreshment and cheer as he ponders its details and sees the prisoner as perfectly master of the situation on board ship in a storm and wreck, as before in the presence of judges and a king who attested his guiltlessness? But what reader of any version, even if believing, could anticipate, what every scholar ought to know, that here is more of real information about an ancient merchant ship, quite simply and incidentally conveyed, than is found perhaps in all the extant remains of Greek and Roman authors? So the late Dean Howson owns in Smith's Bible Dictionary, as indeed the soundness of the judgment is notorious.
'And when it was determined that we should sail away for Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other-prisoners to a centurion named Julius of an Augustan cohort. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium about1 to sail to2 the places along Asia, we put to sea, Aristarchus of Macedonia, a Thessalonian, being with us. And the next day we arrived at Sidon, and Julius treated Paul kindly and permitted [him] to go unto the (or, his3) friends and receive attention. And thence putting to sea we sailed under the lee of Cyprus because the winds were contrary. And having sailed across the sea that is along Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came unto Myra [a city] of Lycia. And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy, and put us on board. And sailing slowly many days and coming with difficulty abreast of Cnidus, as the wind did not further suffer us, we sailed under the lee of Crete abreast of Salmone, and coasting it with difficulty, we came unto a certain place called Fair Havens, near to which was [the] city of Lasaea. And much time being spent and the voyage being already dangerous because the Fast was already past, Paul admonished them saying, Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship but also of our lives. But the centurion believed the master and the ship-owner rather than the things said by Paul. And the harbour being ill-suited to winter in, the most gave counsel to put to sea thence, if by any means they might arrive at Phoenix to winter in, a harbour of Crete, looking north-east and south-east. And when a south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and coasted close by Crete' (vers. 1-13)
1 μέλλοντι (i.e. the ship) AB, some 30 cursives, and the ancient versions. μέλλοντες (i.e., we) Text. Rec. with which agrees HLP and most MSS.
2 εἰς is doubtful, but the sense remains.
3 The article is genuine, though omitted in the Text. Rec.
We see at once that Luke is with the apostle on his voyage, and Aristarchus also. 'One' (ver. 1) in this case is quite uncalled for, as in all the Protestant English Versions from Tyndale. The fact is that he has been before us from time to time in this Book as the companion of the apostle. See Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; as he is afterwards named in Col. 4:10; Philemon 24. Neither appears to have been at this time a prisoner. Both became partakers with the one that was so used. Love led these to Join him in the face of shame and danger. They did not therefore cast away their boldness which has great recompense of reward.
Of Julius the centurion nothing more is certainly known than what is here recorded? but we are enabled to see at least his amiability, and the moral respect inspired by the apostle from first to last, hindered, one may say perhaps, at one point which must in the sequel have increased it more and more as we shall observe. It would seem that there was no special Augustan cohort, nor does the text say more than that he commanded a cohort which bore that designation. It is known that the emperor Nero had a body-guard organized at this very date, consisting of veterans specially called out for service. Julius may have been an officer among them. They were called Augustani (Tacitus Annales xiv. 15). Why he was in Palestine does not appear: if there, we can readily understand the prisoners and soldiers being under his charge on his return to Rome.
It seems amazing that there should be the least doubt about 'Asia' in verse 2. Neither the continent, nor even Asia Minor is meant, but the Roman province, which was but the western seaboard of the latter according to the usage of the Book.
'The [or his] friends' were the believers in Sidon, a mode of speech which we find in the Third Epistle of John (ver. 14). Evil times made them manifest: false brethren turned aside, ashamed of the cross. What the 'attention' was that is meant is conjectural, and may be expressly left so to meet any case in future.
The lee of Cyprus was in this instance to the north of the island, the winds being contrary. Hence they coasted along the south of Cilicia and Pamphylia. Otherwise the direct course must have been south of Cyprus. But it would seem that the ship had to touch at places (ver. 2). which called them north. Myra lay due north of Alexandria; so that the ship from this port met the one of Adramyttium1 in that Mysian harbour. Both ships were in their right course according to the winds then blowing. Where the first was bound we are not told. But the centurion avails himself of that from Alexandria, which had a cargo for Italy, and transferred all his company accordingly (ver. 6).
1 It is a strange oversight of Grotius, followed by not a few commentators, that Hadrumetum on the African coast is here meant. Even to this day Adramyti retains its old name, though reduced from an important seaport to a poor fishing village.
Great difficulties speedily follow; but disciples need not be agitated if the Lord seem not to heed. 'Scarce' as in the Authorized Version (ver. 7) does not give the thought intended, but 'with difficulty'. The wind being about N.W., as Mr. Smith shows in his interesting Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul, made it slow and hard work to bring up the ship from Myra and Cnidus, even though with the advantage of a weather shore and a westerly current. The wind did not allow them to go on (not, to put in); so that their course lay under the lee of Crete, and this time its south side after sailing abreast of its eastern point, Salmone (called Sammonium by Pliny the elder, as by Strabo Σαμὠνιον). And it may be mentioned that Fair Havens to this day bears the same name corrupted — Kalolimounias, five miles west of Cape Leonda, in the immediate neighbourhood of which inland, lie the ruins of Lasaea, as distinctly identified by our countrymen lately.
The insurmountable delay from adverse winds and other circumstances brought them to a season of no small peril in that sea (ver. 9); and the apostle gave counsel on which events soon after, but too late, impressed the seal of indisputable value. Nevertheless he seems not to claim divinely given foresight for his warning: the terms employed in verse 10 are rather his own judgment simply, in apparent contradistinction from the prophetic intimation announced in verses 21-26. 'I perceive', introducing a general admonition of danger, differs widely from 'I believe God' with a precise assurance of the loss of the ship but of no life among the passengers and crew, which last he was unable to guarantee when he first spoke out.
But the shipmates and the shipowner were opposed to the warning words of the apostle; and we can easily understand why the centurion paid more heed to the opinion of men accustomed to the sea (ver. 11), themselves no doubt disposed to regard cheaply what a landsman might think or say. Then again, whatever its title promised, Fair Havens was beyond doubt inconvenient for wintering in, as the bay is open to almost one-half of the compass; and as all could see this, the majority advised to put to sea also from there, as from other places before (ver. 12): not that they meant to pursue the voyage to Italy in such weather and at such a time, but hoping to reach the unquestionably better port of Phoenix,1 now identified as Lutro, though well aware of their risk in attempting it.
1 This harbour on the south of Crete ought to have been distinguished by its true name from Phoenice or Phoenicia (Acts 11:19; 15:3; 21:2), the Canaanite land of Tyre and Sidon: the one deriving its designation from the palm tree that flourished there; the other from the famous dye, or shell fish, that produced all shades from red to violet, generally called purple.
It may interest some to know that competent men declare Fair Havens to be a better harbour than its exposed look conveys at first sight. Mr. Smith who studied the whole question on the spot with minute care and professional skill pronounced it to be 'so well protected by islands and reefs, that though not equal to Lutro, it must be a very fair winter harbour; and that considering the suddenness, the frequency, and the violence with which gales of northerly wind spring up, and the certainty that, if such a gale sprung up In the passage from Fair Havens to Lutro, the ship must be driven off to sea, the prudence of the advice given by the master and owner was extremely questionable.' (Smith's Voyage etc., p. 88, 2nd ed.) Hence we may learn that there is such a thing as divine guidance in the ordinary things of life, short of inspiration, no doubt, but superior to man's experience and wisdom. Are we so unbelieving as to deny its reality save in an apostle? Blind indeed must we be, if we do, to the facts of every day among God's children.
The value of a close adherence to the text is remarkably shown by the numerous mistranslations of this chapter, which had introduced confusion and insuperable difficulty for exposition. A striking instance occurs at the end of verse 12, where the Authorized Version represents this haven of Crete, Phoenix or Lutro, as lying 'toward the south-west and north-west.' What the clause says is that the harbour looks 'down' (κατὰ) south-west and down north-west. But looking down a wind means along or with the direction in which it blows, and not to the quarter whence it came. The meaning therefore is that the port of Phoenix looks north-east, and southeast, the points precisely opposite to those which have been understood. Now this (says Mr. Smith) is exactly the position of Lutro, which 'looks' or is open to the east; but, having an island in front which shelters it, it has two entrances, one looking to the north-east, which is κατὰ Λίβα, and the other to the south-east, κατὰ Χῶρον.1
1 The translators not only mistake κατὰ in this connection, but they omit the precision of the repetition of it from Tyndale downwards, as others did before them.
Hackett, who does not think it safe to give up the common interpretation, objects to this view of Mr. Smith that it involves two inconsistencies. First, it assigns opposite senses to the same term, viz., south-west as the name of a wind and north-east as the name of a quarter of the heavens. Secondly, it destroys the force of βλέποντα, which implies that the wind and the harbour confronted each other, and not that they were turned from each other. But the reasoning is faulty, because the fact is misunderstood. The harbour in question does look with the wind in each case, so that the force of 'looking' is preserved intact; and again the winds in question are preserved in their exact force and not confounded with aught else. Only looking down south-west wind and down north-west wind means in fact looking north-east and south-east. The Authorized Version confounds κατὰ with πρός or εἰς. The direction toward the source of the wind is expressed by the latter; whereas the nautical phrase of down the wind means whither it blows. Hence Phoenix looked north-east and south-east. The look of the harbour signifies the direction to which — not from which — these winds blow. The harbour looked down the southwest and down the north-west winds, i.e., in both directions; and hence to the north-east and south-east quarters, as the resulting force. The winds are only to mark the outlook definitely. Nautical phrases abound in the chapter. Josephus uses κατὰ λίβα just as it is here (Antt. Jud. xv. 9, 6). See Liddell & Scott on κατὰ B.I. 1.
But appearances often deceive, as they did here. For when a south wind blew softly they thought to gain their purpose, and weighing anchor ('lifting' is the technical phrase), they coasted close by Crete. Here the Vulgate misled Wiclif, Tyndale, and Cranmer to give the imaginary port of Assos (the true place was away in Mysia, compare Acts 20:13, 14), instead of 'close', rectified in the Geneva Version after Beza who refuted the proper name with ability, and proved the necessity of understanding the adverb.
The result justified the apostle's advice notwithstanding a fair start. But seamen ought to have remembered how apt a mild southerly breeze, in those seas especially, is to shift to a violent northerly wind. So it was now.
'But not long after there beat down it a tempestuous wind that is called Euraquilo1; and when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave up and were driven. And running under the lee of a certain small island called Clauda2, we were able with difficulty to secure the boat: and when they hoisted it, they used helps, frapping the ship, and fearing lest they should be cast upon the Syrtis, they lowered the gear and so were driven. But as we were exceedingly pressed by the storm, the next day they began a clearance overboard; and the third [day] they3 cast out with their own hands the gear [or, furniture] of the ship. And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm lay on, at last every hope that wished us saved was taken away. And when they had been long without food, then Paul stood forth in their midst and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened to me, and not have put to sea from Crete, and have gained this injury and loss. And now l exhort you to be of good courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, only of the ship. For an angel of the God Whose I am and Whom I serve stood by me this night saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must stand before Caesar; and, behold, God hath granted thee all that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good courage; for I believe God that it shall be as it hath been spoken to me But we must be cast upon a certain island' (vers. 14-26).
1 So in the oldest MSS. and Versions; but most have Euroclydon.
2 In the Vatican and Vulgate it is Cauda.
3 Most MSS., et al., have 'we', but not the most ancient.
The hurricane that caught the ship 'beat down' from Crete, which appears to be the true force of κατ᾽ αὐτῆς, not 'arose against it', i.e., the ship, as in the Authorized Version (ver. 14). This is confirmed by Luke 8:23, though ἔβαλε κατὰ is a far more forcible expression than κατέβη . . . εἰσ as indeed the case here demanded. Compare also, as Mr. Smith suggested, κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ in Luke 8:33. Other ways of taking the words are unnatural in the extreme. Tyndale, after Luther probably, refers 'it' to 'their purpose' in verse 13. The version of Geneva (1557) should be noticed: 'But anone after there arose agaynst Candie, a stormye wynd out of the north-east.' Now this was not the fact. The wind blew down from Crete, not against Crete, which it could not do. Besides the accusative not the genitive would have been employed in that case. The Authorized Version, with most, understood the ship, which however is in the context always πλοῖον, and therefore ungrammatical. Only in verse 41 is ναῦς employed. The beating of the tornado down the highlands of Crete seems a far more graphic account than its striking against the ship, which was a matter of course in that sea when exposed to a rushing east-north-east wind.
And here it may be remarked that Euroclydon is no known appellation, nor is there any satisfactory source of the word. The more ancient εὐρακύλων is to be preferred, testified by the best MSS. and Versions. J. Bryant's objections to the compound are not well grounded. Euro-Auster is a similar hybrid. A north-easterly wind fully accounts for the course of the ship. 'Bear up into' is more literally to 'face', a term often applied to the collisions of warfare and of common life. Some have attributed it to the practice of painting an 'eye' on each side of the prow, so common of old and not unknown still in the Levant.
The small island to the leeward of which they drove before the wind is now called Gozzo. Chlavda they say on the spot, which is the Romaic pronunciation of Clauda; so that the identification is certain. It was under this lee that they got the boat on board, though with difficulty (ver. 16). When ἄραντες was used absolutely as in verse 13 (cf. Thucydides ii. 15), it meant weighing anchor, here in verse 17 it has its ordinary force of lifting or taking up. The 'helps' in question were means to counteract the violence of the gale, rather than the aid of the passengers as some have thought. 'Frapping' is the technical English expressed by 'undergirding'. It is done by passing a large cable four or five times round the ship's hull. It was common of old, but has been practised in recent times and on British ships, mercantile and naval. The precariousness of mere scholarship in explaining such a thing may be seen in the learned A. Bockh's notion that the cable was applied horizontally. Indeed on his authority Dr. L. Schmitz so gave it in the article on 'Ships' in Dr. W. Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
What is rendered in the Authorized Version 'the quicksands' ought really to be 'the Syrtis'. Two Syrtes are spoken of. This was the greater or eastern, now the gulf of Sidra, which Admiral Smyth was the first to survey adequately, as shown in his Memoirs on the Mediterranean: an object of great and natural dread to ancient seamen.
In this same verse (17) occurs one of the most serious of the many mm takes in the older versions, even Meyer and other moderns perpetuating them. Had they 'struck sail', the ship must inevitably have been driven directly into the Syrtis. 'It is not easy (says Mr. Smith) to imagine a more erroneous translation than that of our Authorized Version "Fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, they strake sail, and so were driven." It is in fact equivalent to saying that, fearing a certain danger, they deprived: themselves of the only possible means of avoiding it.' Some sail, as the authorities lay down and as common sense feels, is absolutely requisite to keep the ship steady, and hinder her from pitching about and rolling so deeply as to strain and work herself to pieces. Hence the measures necessary were that storm-sails should be set, and the ship go on the starboard tack. 'Lowering the gear' is the right translation. Kypke who was a sensible man and sound scholar, is surprisingly loose in his annotations here. He will have it to be 'letting down the anchor'! as βλέποντα κατὰ in verse 12 and elsewhere: he illustrates by βλέποντα πρός. It is singular that Kühn&oulm;l, De Wette, and Meyer followed in this wake, so inconsistent with the context.
In verse 18 we see them reduced to the very frequently adopted resource of getting rid of cargo, ἐκβολὴν ποιεῖσθαι being the proper terms employed, as we may see in the Onomasticon of Julius Pollux. In verse 19 they go farther, and 'with their own hands' the seamen threw away — what they would not have done save in imminent danger — the ship's furniture, spare gear, etc. The inability to see sun or stars added to their danger, and also the violence of the weather so prolonged.
But now leaving the details of the voyage, interesting though they are in the decisive proof they afford at every turn of the absolute reliableness of the divine word, and of its incomparable superiority to all the versions and the commentaries of the learned and pious, let us turn to the devoted servant of the Lord, who stands forth in the hour of need and danger and darkness. If he gently recalls their former slight of his counsel, it is neither to pain them nor to exalt himself. Dwelling in love, he dwelt in God and God in him; as every Christian should; and thus he is enabled to use wisely what grace gave.
He confesses openly the secret of favour from on high, a favour that extended to them; for the true God despises not any, while He loves perfectly those whom He adopts as sons to Himself by Jesus our Lord. Yet He does not overlook His offspring, as the same apostle once preached to the Athenians, idolatrous though they were. It is of no small moment that we too should remember this; for evangelical men are apt to think only of the relations of grace. These are of all importance, and only too feebly held by the saints in general. We can scarcely exaggerate what sovereign grace has given us in Christ. But we do not well to slight what scripture reveals of the place man has, as man, and sinner though he be, in the divine mind and compassion. It is the more to be remembered in these days when infidel dreams of development or evolution entice and defile real believers. Truth ignored or neglected by the faithful is the constant resource of Satan for those who know not God and His Son.
Man has a relationship to God which he alone of earthly beings possesses. Other creatures here below began to live when they were organized. Not so man, till Jehovah Elohim breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, the ground of his immortal soul and of his immediate responsibility to God. Therefore, when for him death came in through sin, he alone is to rise again and to give account to God.
Undoubtedly another than Adam was in the counsels of God, the Second Man and Last Adam, infinitely higher than man, even the Son of God, no less than the Father, in due time to become the new Head of divine blessing to God's glory, far, far, more than retrieving in obedience unto death what the old head had lost through disobedience; so that mercy might rejoice over judgment, and grace to the sinner be a display of God's righteousness in virtue of the blood of Jesus.
There are three considerations of no little moment to hold intact and without confusion. First, the moral nature of God abides in its invisible purity and honour. He loves good and hates evil. His will alone is entitled to guide and govern. The creature is responsible to obey Him. Secondly, the race being fallen and sinful (for Adam innocent had no child), grace in Christ alone produces what suits God's nature according to His word and by His Spirit; as grace alone provided an adequate and everlasting redemption in Christ's blood and gave that life in Him which is ever holy, dependent, obedient as He Himself was in all perfection. But, thirdly, God does not for all this give up His place as 'a faithful Creator.' He is the Saviour (i.e., Preserver) of all men, specially of those that believe. Not a sparrow falls on the ground without our Father; yea, the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Surely there is no reason to fear those that kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. He only is to be feared Who is able to kill both body and soul in hell. Not only are others not to be feared, but, as the children and servants of God, we are in a position, and ought to have the heart, to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings for all men; for kings and all that are in high places. no less than for the wretched, and suffering, and degraded, whom their fellows avoid and despise. Grace not only elevates above all the present glory of the world by uniting us to Christ at God's right hand, but sheds abroad in our hearts the love of God through the Holy Ghost given to us.
All these elements we may see here full, and active, and in harmony. Christ before the heart delivers from mere and barren theory as well as onesidedness. Not only is there the union of humbleness and dignity, but faith and love with the unflinching confession of Him Whose he was and Whom he served. There is no seeking to please or win men as his aim. He abides the Lord's bondman. He testifies a direct revelation sent at that very time. He declares the witness it bore to God's compassion toward them all, united to His special favour to His servant; and all this in the midst of this busy, blind, selfish, ungodly world.
Two things are to be noticed in that divine message to the apostle, while a prisoner in the hands of the Gentiles through the malice of the Jews. First, he can speak of all his fellow-voyagers given him by God, not of course for eternal life, but for present security. Secondly, he predicts that they must be cast on a certain island, without pretending to know more. God had not disclosed its name: and he faithfully follows. Revelation was given to exalt not man but God.
'But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven to and fro in the Adriatic, about midnight the sailors surmised that they were drawing near to some country, and on sounding, found twenty fathoms, and after going a little farther and again sounding, found ten fathoms; and fearing that haply we should be cast off on rough places, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished that day were come. And as the sailors were seeking to flee out of the ship and had lowered the boat into the sea, under pretext as though they would lay out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat and let her fall off. And while daylight was about to come on, Paul exhorted them all to partake of food, saying, [The] fourteenth day today ye wait and continue without food, having taken nothing. Wherefore I exhort you to partake of food for this is for your safety; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish. And when he said this, he took bread, and gave thanks to God before all, and having broken, he began to eat. And all were of good cheer, and themselves also took food. And we were in the ship, all the souls, two hundred and seventy-six. And being satisfied with food, they lightened the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea. And when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but perceived a certain bay with a beach, on which they took counsel, if they could, to drive the ship. And casting off, they left the anchors in the sea, at the same time loosening the lashings of the rudder and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the bow stuck and remained immovable; but the stern began to break up by the violence [of the waves]. And the soldiers' counsel was that they should kill the prisoners, lest they should swim out and escape; but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, hindered them from their purpose, and commanded those able to swim to cast themselves off first and go to land, and the rest, some on planks and some on things from the ship. And it came to pass that all got safe to land' (vers. 27-44).
A fortnight's drifting under such a storm brought the end near, which is set as clearly before us as their previous course and efforts. The sounding of the lead indicated the approach of land, and no small danger imminent, which the night made more felt. There is no real difficulty in the Adriatic (ver. 27); because it was often used in a much wider application than to the sea between Greece and Italy, as has been shown in Ptolemy and in Pausanias. Modern usage confines the Adriatic to the gulf only. There is no ground, therefore, on this score to conceive of another Melita (that is, Melida) instead of Malta, as generally understood. The breakers (which are characteristic of the point of Koura, near St. Paul's Bay, as Mr. Smith has shown from Smyth's view of the headland), gave occasion, probably, to the surmise of the sailors, confirmed as it was by their repeated soundings (ver. 28). Anchoring from the stern (ver. 29) was the safer course under such circumstances; and ancient ships had many anchors. It is shown from the sailing directions that the ground is exceptionally good there; so that there is no danger as long as the cables hold.
The unworthy design of the sailors was defeated by Paul. It was not exactly 'casting out anchors', which would not require the use of a boat. Under pretence of extending anchors from the prow, which was no unusual measure, they meant to desert the ship (ver. 30); but his word of warning to the centurion and the soldiers sufficed: 'Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved' (ver. 31). With the promptitude of their class, they cut off the ropes and let the boat fall off (ver. 32). God had given His word to save all, but it must be in His way; and He Who promised the end insists on His own means. We have only to be subject and obey.
Nor was the apostle vigilant only thus; he sought, and not in vain, to comfort all and animate them with courage and confidence in God on the eve of the utmost apparent peril. He besought all to partake of food after their long abstinence, assuring them absolutely of preservation (vers. 33, 34), and he set the example himself after thanking God before all (ver. 35). There is no ground for the observation of Olshausen that it was, for the Christians, the celebration of the Lord's Supper or of an agape. For though the terms are just such as were so employed, they are no less expressly applied to an ordinary meal in Luke 24:30, and elsewhere. Indeed, there is no small superstition in the sense too often attached to them. It is the object of the Eucharist which gives it its character; and this was quite out of place here. But the most ordinary food should be sanctified by the word of God and prayer, and the apostle here acts on his own instructions to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:5, 6). No wonder that all became cheerful and took food (ver. 36) after long dejection and disinclination with death before their eyes! Their number (ver. 37) is carefully added as two hundred and seventy-six, and then the lightening of the ship (a fresh nautical expression) by casting out the corn (ver. 38). They had eaten their last meal before the wreck, which is minutely described in the closing verses.
Wonder has been expressed that none of the sailors knew the land (ver. 39), but we are told by those competent to judge, that, remote from the well-known harbour of Valetta, this spot possesses no marked feature by which it might be recognized.
The Authorized Version here (ver. 40) is far from accurate. They did not take up the anchors, but cast them away (lit., round), and abandoned them (not 'themselves') into the sea. The loosing of the bands of the rudders, attached to the stern on each quarter, was a necessary act; for when a ship was anchored by the stern, the rudders had to be lifted out of the water and secured by lashings, which again were loosed when the ship got under way. Further, it was not the 'mainsail', but the foresail, which they raised to the wind. Possibly the French term misled here, but the weight of practical or circumstantial evidence, as in Smith's Dissertation iii., seems decisive. In this sense ἀρτἑμὼν occurs in no ancient Greek author. We see a foresail in an old painting of Pompeii. Luke alone designates it here. It is remarkable how the master and the pilot vanish from notice at all these times of danger, and for wise measures. The apostle really guides at the crisis. The sailors are only mentioned as meditating ineffectual treachery. The centurion takes action, with the soldiers on one occasion, on another preventing a cruel deed to secure themselves from risk as to the prisoners.
For now the supreme moment had arrived. The ship must be stranded, as it was impossible to save it any more than its lading. Making for the beach, they fell into a place where two seas met, apparently through the island now called Salmonetta, in St. Paul's Bay; and there they drove the ship aground (ver. 41). In few spots, save there, could the fact have been as here described, owing to a deep deposit of mud, where the bow stuck and remained fast, whilst the stern began to break up, exposed as it was to the force of the waves.
The soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners (ver. 42). They were responsible under the severest penalties not to let them go, as even this Book itself shows on more occasions than one. But the centurion, not so much out of pity for the rest as through regard for Paul, interfered to save him at all cost (ver. 43). 'Wishing' is the force, not merely 'willing'. His order was for such as could swim to cast off and get to land; as the rest did, some on boards, and some on parts of the ship now going to pieces. They all got safe ashore, as verse 44 tells us. The promise was made good, to God's glory, as a living God and faithful Creator.
The land to which they escaped they subsequently learnt to be Malta. This ought to be beyond controversy. Yet it has been contested even to our own day. The first who argued for the islet in the Gulf of Venice called Meleda seems to be Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who hazarded this opinion in his work on the Administration of the Empire, one of the Byzantine historians and of weight in what he personally knew. But he, like the few who adopted his view of the scene of the apostle's shipwreck had not duly considered the revealed account, any more than the actual facts of the two places as fitting in with that account. The direction of the wind favours Malta, as it blew them from Crete and Clauda toward the dreaded Syrtis. This could not have driven toward the north of the Gulf. Nor is there any need to narrow the Adriatic to that gulf; for it is well known that in ancient usage, and by such careful writers as Claudius Ptolemy, the famous geographer, it comprehended the open sea where the ship really drifted to Malta, and considerably farther. Then again there is nothing in the local features, soundings, anchorings, 'rough' or rocky places, creek with a beach, place with two seas, which can apply to Meleda as to Malta. And the argument founded on 'the barbarians' is quite invalid; for the Romans like the Greeks applied the term to those who were, not savages, but speakers of a language strange to themselves. Nor am I aware of any proof, even if the word meant 'savages', that this then applied to the inhabitants of Meleda more than to those of Malta, though it is difficult to suppose that that insignificant isle would have such residents as Publius, his father, and those that honoured Paul and his friends with many honours and kind supplies, to say nothing of the universal kindness to the soldiers and ship's company. Malta, from its position and value from of old to this day, has been an important island, never Meleda.
Scaliger and Bochart with their usual discernment and massive learning had no hesitation in refuting the mediaeval mistake, and vindicating the claim of 'St. Paul's Bay' in Malta as the true scene of the wreck and the escape. Bryant's reasoning, and later still S. T. Coleridge's pleas in behalf of Meleda against Malta, have no real ground-work.
'And when got safe we then ascertained that the island was called Melita. And the barbarians [or, natives] showed us no common kindness; for they kindled a fire-heap and took us all in because of the then rain and because of the cold. But when Paul gathered a certain quantity of sticks and laid [it] on the fire-heap, a viper came out through the heat and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the beast hanging from his hand, they said one to another, Certainly a murderer is this man, whom though got safe from the sea, justice refused to let live. He, however shook off the beast into the fire and suffered no harm. And they expected that he would be inflamed or fall down dead suddenly; but when they were long expecting and beheld nothing amiss happen, they, changing their mind, said that he was a god' (vers. 1-6).
Mr. Smith has well explained that there is no difficulty in understanding how the crew and the officers failed to make out the locality, even if ever so familiar in a general way as an Alexandrian ship with the great harbour of the island. They had drifted there in the dark, and there is no such definite landmark on the adjacent coast as to make identification easy; and whatever peculiarity may be there, they only discovered when they got close in before the ship ran aground. But the barbarians, or men of a foreign tongue,1 behaved with unusual philanthropy, which puts to shame what has too often been experienced on British shores and other coasts alas! since Christianity. They lit not a 'fire' merely, but one so large that the term employed is one usually applied to a funeral pyre (πυρά), as indeed would be needed to meet the urgent need of such a dripping crowd with rain falling heavily, and severe cold.
1 Their tongue was then Punic fundamentally, as springing from Phoenicia, the great source of eastern enterprise and commercial marine. So it was in Carthage also. But Malta has seen radical changes, and in nothing more than its race of inhabitants and consequent language, which is now and has long been an Arabic patois, however much they flatter themselves on their descent from the Phoenicians.
This gave occasion to the incident related so graphically in verses 3-6. The apostle, with his usual earnestness and lowly love, gathers a faggot of sticks near the spot and laid it on the fire-heap, when a viper, no doubt before this dormant in the neglected wood, was roused as well as irritated by the heat and seized on the hand of Paul. It was ordered of God to verify the promise of the Lord Jesus (Mark 16:18), and as a sign to the kind heathen, and so much the more as they quite mistook its import at first by leaving out God as unbelief habitually does. For when they saw the noxious creature hanging from his hand, they were assured that he must be a murderer, escaped from the sea, only to meet a just retribution. But when he shook off the serpent into the fire without suffering anything out of the way, and they looked long in vain for either virulent inflammation or sudden falling dead, all was changed, and they called him a god. Such is the worth of human opinion outside its own sphere. Little could they conceive that he was a man of God, a prisoner in heathen hands because of the deadly hatred of God's people, the Jews, and this really because of the good news of Christ he preached to the Gentiles. But moral enigmas in this world are more surprising than the greatest of intellectual difficulties. Of one thing we may be sure, that the natural man is here invariably astray.
Nor was this all. The signs of Christianity are characteristically beneficent, samples of that power which in the age to come will banish the evil one and chase away the dire effects of sin, when mankind as a whole, and pre-eminently Israel, shall sing, 'Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, Who heareth all thy diseases' (Psalm 103:2, 3). That day has not yet dawned on Israel and the nations, but meanwhile for the inauguration of the gospel and in honour of Him Who was crucified by men but now exalted of God in heaven, there was, wherever it seemed fitting, a display of the powers of the coming age, not only over a vanquished enemy, but in pity for his poor victim, suffering man. Thus another of the signs to follow those that believed was soon after added: 'they shall lay hands on sick persons, and they shall be well' (Mark 16:18).
'Now in the country surrounding that place were lands belonging to the chief1 of the island, by name Publius, who received and entertained us three days courteously. And so it was that the father of Publius lay ill of a fever2 and dysentery; unto whom Paul came in and laid his hands on him with prayer, and healed him. This then being done, others also that had sicknesses on the island came and were cured; who also honoured us with many honours, and on sailing put on board [or, laded us with] things for our need' (vers. 7-10).
1 There is good reason from more than one ancient inscription to regard 'the first', or 'chief' as a title and not a vague distinction.
2 Fever is in the Greek plural, being a malady of renewed attacks. No writer in either the Old or New Testament abounds in such medical technicality as Luke; and nobody has so elaborately evinced this fact as Dr. W. K. Hobart in his Medical Language of St. Luke, an interesting volume of the Dublin University Press Series.
Here then we have the gracious healing power attached to the Lord's name, but no pretentiousness on the apostle's part. He prayed and laid his hands on the sick man. The healing of one so prominent arrested attention. Many others in the island came with their sicknesses and were cured also, for grace is no respecter of persons. Nor did Paul or Luke decline their attentions and kind offerings, though assuredly they sought nothing at their hands. Indeed it is of all consequence that the Christian, while valuing as our Father does even a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, should render a simple and true testimony that the gospel, the grace and truth of Christ, has everything to give; it is never to gain what self seeks in this world. God is a Giver Himself, the Giver of the best and indeed of all good, and He loves that His own keep up the family character in this respect as in all others (2 Cor. 9:7). On the other hand, it is very far from the ways of Christ to cherish a narrow, hard, and unappreciative heart where kindness is meant, especially because of His word and work. It is only the Holy Spirit keeping Christ before the eye of faith that can enable us to discern the path in the midst of difficulties and dangers on all sides.
'And after three months we sailed in a ship of Alexandria after having wintered in the island, with Dioscuri3' for a sign. And landing at Syracuse we tarried three days; and thence having gone round we arrived at Rhegium, and after one day when a south wind sprung up we came on the second day unto Puteoli, where we found brethren and were besought to tarry with them seven days; and so we came unto Rome. And thence the brethren having heard about us came out to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae, whom when Paul saw, he thanked God and took courage' (vers. 11-15).
3 These were Castor and Pollux, the fabulous patrons of seamen among the heathen, as is familiar with those who have read the Greek and Latin poets.
We have seen how the Lord attracted hearts by His gracious power to that truth which is for heaven and eternity, but received here only by faith, and here productive of good and holy and godly fruits to His praise, the comfort of love among His own, and no small testimony to His name among those that are not His, if peradventure they might be won and called out of darkness into His marvellous light.
In the early spring they took ship again, this time also of Alexandria that had escaped the storm which had wrecked their former ship because the master and crew had slighted the warning of the apostle. We do not hear of preaching, though we may be sure that the grace of Christ and the love of souls did not slumber in the hearts of His servants. But we see the place given to them, and to Paul in particular, by their past experience rising more and more as God saw fit to use each occasion where man's wisdom or power was unavailing.
Syracuse, a famous city of Sicily, was soon reached, but after a stay of three days they compassed the coast and came to Rhegium and the next day to Puteoli. The former was in the south-west extremity of Italy, a port of Bruttium on the sea. The latter, in the Bay of Naples, was celebrated for its thirty-three mineral wells which indeed gave it its name, as well as for its earth valued even to this day for its uses.
Here brethren were found who entreated that the apostle and the rest should remain with them seven days, the old term of a visit so natural among Christians who valued, above all, the joy of fellowship on the Lord's day and at His Supper, along with the manifold opportunities of edification, prayer and the word, meanwhile. 'Then we went unto Rome.' What a contrast with the great ones of the earth, victor or vanquished, who had so often taken the same road! 'His be the Victor's name' was their life-song and brightest triumph — His Who 'trod all our foes beneath His feet By being trodden down.' His servants tread in His footsteps, though it was His alone to suffer for sins.
But ere they reached the metropolis of the world, a fresh witness of love greeted the apostle and his company. How refreshing to his spirit! From Rome, when the brethren heard of their arrival in Italy, 'they came out to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae'. The former was less than forty miles, the latter more than thirty miles from the great city. Neither place enjoyed a good repute even in heathen eyes. A classic poet has left a lively record of his passing through the more distant of the two with its low yet extortionate taverns and squabbling bargemen. How different the meeting of the apostle of the Gentiles with those saints of Rome to whom he wrote not long before he was taken prisoner! He was nearing brethren he had longed to see that he might impart some spiritual gift for their establishment, or, as he humbly and beautifully put the matter, that he with them might be comforted in them, each by the other's faith, both theirs and his.
And now two companies had come forth to welcome him; for this is made plain by the mention of places distant by a few miles, but no short way from Rome in days when travelling was far from so easy as it is now. None of these was troubled by the badness of the water, nor complained of mosquitoes or marsh-frogs or bantering slaves or lazy boatmen; no elation in the company by great friends or good cheer, still less by the wordy wars of buffoons while they dined. But debtor to Jew and Greek he that prayed for fruit to God's glory through Christ the Lord gave Him thanks and took courage when he saw those whom love in the truth had brought from Rome to welcome him. And what a joy for men delivered from the false glitter of the world and their selfish profit from its grinding tyrant, the many-headed Beast, to recognize by grace in Paul the prisoner the most honoured servant of the Lord, the inspired writer to them of an Epistle yielding to none in depth and comprehensiveness of treating and enforcing the foundations of a saint's relationship with God, and the walk and service proper to it now!
It will be noticed that there is not a trace of Peter either now or subsequently, any more than in the Epistle more full of personal notices in its last chapter than any other in the New Testament. How unaccountable if the great apostle of the circumcision were then at Rome in any capacity whatever, still more if he there held the position assigned by some traditionmongers! And if Peter did not found the church in Rome, certainly no other apostle had a hand in it. Indeed, Paul near the beginning and before the end of his Epistle to the Romans, gives us two statements irreconcilable with that ancient fable. In Romans 1:13 he evidently regards the head of Gentiledom as falling within his province, no less than heathen lands east of it, whilst the Epistle itself from the first chapter to the last is the fullest proof of a large number of saints already there, even both Jews and Gentiles. Then again, in the chapter before the last, he lays down what was the regular and constant aim of his ministry — his labours where Christ was not named and his avoidance of building upon another man's foundation. For, as already noticed, there was a lack in Rome of what an apostle could best supply (Rom. 1:11), which it is inconceivable to suppose asserted if Peter or any other apostle had visited the city before Paul wrote or went. We may therefore dismiss absolutely what Eusebius states in the Armenian text of the Chronicon, followed as it is in the main by Jerome (Catal. 1) and by heaps of Romanists, that Peter visited Rome as early as A.D. 42! and stayed there twenty years! (Jerome et al. say twenty-five years): a statement as impossible to stand with what scripture tells of Peter as with what we learn there of Paul.
Yet we do see Paul needing to take courage, as he drew near the city he had so longed to visit in the Lord. He seems as deeply conscious of weakness and fear and trembling as when preaching at Corinth years before. His experience of the Lord's gracious care on the last perilous voyage and wreck, also the proofs of His power accompanying him with their effects on all at Malta, did not hinder this. Indeed it is in weakness that the Lord proves the sufficiency of His grace, as He had taught the Corinthians after no less real experience of delivering power in Ephesus (2 Cor. 1 and 12). And here the Lord works not by such a vision as had sustained Paul when in danger of yielding to depression (Acts 23:11) but by the faith and affection of the brethren from Rome. For it would seem that the delay at Puteoli, due to brethren there who would have him stay a week in their midst, gave occasion for the tidings of his arrival in Italy reaching the saints in Rome and of their coming to meet him. And no difficulty, it is clear, was interposed by the authorities, who held him a prisoner, such was the moral respect inspired among the Roman officials, and not least in the centurion who had witnessed his ways and words all the journey from the east to the west.
But how sweet and wondrous the dealings of grace to know from indisputable authority that the saints he was going to help so mightily were used of the Lord for the cheer of the apostle himself on the road: the best comment on his own words written to them beforehand — his desire to have mutual comfort among them, each by the faith that was in the other, both theirs and his!
How practical is the truth that the body of Christ is one, and has many members set each one in the body even as it pleased God! 'And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again, the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary: and those parts of the body which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness, whereas our comely parts have no need. But God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honour to that part which lacked, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it' (1 Cor. 12:19-26). Such is the church, called to be on earth the answer to Christ in heaven. Oh, how soon the declension, how far the departure, and how universal the ruin! Do we feel it, judge ourselves, and seek His will?
Thus the apostle comes to the metropolis of the world a prisoner. Such was the will of God. There were saints in it then, as we know from the Epistle written to them from Corinth (Rom. 16:3). Many assemblies were apostolically founded, not that in Rome. So did God anticipate by condemning the pride of man which later on indulged in this tradition, as groundless as are most others. The chief city of the Gentiles, which lay within Paul's province, not Peter's (Gal. 2:8), could boast truthfully of no apostle as its founder. But more, there the greatest witness of the gospel came in bonds. So was the gospel to fare even more bitterly in the torture and at the stake when the pagan Babylon became the mystery of impiety, the papal Babylon. Yet the word of God was not bound, any more than crueller fiats consumed it later, even when a pseudo-Christian priest sat on the throne of the Caesars, and men masqueraded in the garb of the Lamb's followers who were ravening wolves, and really heathen in heart and unbelief.
'And when he came to Rome [the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the praetorian guard, but]1 Paul was allowed to remain with the soldier who guarded him. And it came to pass that after three days he2 called together those that were chief of the Jews; and when they were come together he said unto them, [Men] Brethren, I, though having done nothing against the people or the customs of our fathers, was delivered a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans; who, after examination, wished to release me because there was no cause of death in me. But when the Jews spoke against [it], I was constrained to appeal to Caesar, not having anything to accuse my nation of. For this cause therefore did I call for you to see and to speak with, for on account of the hope of Israel am I bound with this chain. And they said unto him, We neither received letters from Judæa concerning thee, neither did any of the brethren on arriving report or speak anything evil concerning thee. But we beg [or, think well] of thee to hear what thou thinkest; for concerning this sect it is known to us that it is everywhere spoken against' (vers. 16-22).
1 The most ancient copies do not recognize the bracketed clause.
2 The Text. Rec. wrongly reads 'Paul' here on insufficient evidence.
Two things appear in the apostle: entire superiority to the rancour that had hitherto pursued him from the Jews, and also untiring zeal to seek that they should hear the truth, and not judge themselves unworthy of eternal life. Nor was there the least underhand work. He invited their chief men, not the less informed, and he explained that, without wrong to the Jews or to their hereditary customs, he was a prisoner from Jerusalem among the Romans, who after examination were minded to acquit him but for the opposition of the Jews, which forced his appeal to the emperor. But he points out the real offence — his stand for the hope of Israel. He might have exposed their conspiracy to murder him when in Roman hands, a fact which, if published in Rome, would have as completely served himself as blasted the Jews. But not a word escapes him, save of unselfish love, saying he had no charge against those that had so persistently sought his death. It was truly for the hope of Israel he wore the chain — for the Messiah fraught with blessings of every kind, never to wane, for Israel. And if Jews turned a deaf ear, those sure mercies (before which Israel one day will melt in true repentance) must find suited objects, if not in the favoured land, in the barren wilderness where open outcasts now live to God's glory, the objects of the grace of Jesus
Of this grace to Gentiles, however, which had roused the hate of Jews elsewhere, the apostle does not yet speak, but simply of the fact that it was for the Christ, the hope of Israel, that he was a prisoner.
The fact is that the Jews, having failed, with successive governors, and even with king Agrippa, were shrewd enough to apprehend the folly of carrying their complaints of Paul to Caesar. They had no true criminal charge. And what would a Roman emperor care for their religious accusation? The Jews therefore replied that neither letters nor visitors had laid any formal complaint before them against Paul, but that they wished to hear what he had to say of the sect so universally spoken against as Christians. This was precisely what the apostle's heart desired.
'And having appointed him a day, many came unto him into the lodging, to whom he expounded, testifying the kingdom of God, and persuading them1 concerning Jesus, from both the law of Moses and the prophets from morning till evening. And some assented to the things that were said, and some disbelieved. And being disagreed one with another they left, Paul having said one word, Well spoke the Holy Spirit through Isaiah unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people and say, With hearing ye shall hear and in no wise understand, with seeing ye shall see and in no wise perceive. For the heart of this people became gross, and with [their] ears they became dull of hearing, and [their] eyes they closed, lest they should see with [their] eyes and hear with [their] ears and understand with the heart, and return, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you that this2 salvation of God was sent to the Gentiles: they also will hear' (vers. 23-28). Verse 29 in the Text. Rec. as represented in the Authorized Version is not found in the ancient Greek MSS. To cast out an innovation is the reverse of innovating.
1 The Text. Rec. adds 'the things'.
2 The Text. Rec. inserts 'the': 'this' is the reading of AB, good cursives, and many of the most ancient versions.
Thus God gave His servant an open door to the very people whom he loved so well and whose brethren's malice made him a prisoner, and so much the longer because there was no one to lay a definite charge. It was a moment of exceeding solemnity to the apostle's spirit, as there in Rome he laid bare the truth of God's kingdom and of the Person of Jesus from the law and the prophets for one long day; and with the result that some were persuaded of the things that were said, while others disbelieved, a stronger expression than their simply not believing. The word of God in the light of Jesus comes to put them to the proof, as it does and is intended to do.
But if disagreeing among themselves they took their leave, Paul reiterated the long suspended sentence, already pronounced by the Judge Himself in John 12:37-41 seven centuries and more after Isaiah was inspired to utter it from the vision in the temple in the year when king Uzziah died (Isa. 6). What a witness of divine patience as well as of sure judgment on His own people! Jehovah, the God of Israel, sent His prophet with the message originally. Then Jehovah-Jesus toward the close of His rejected testimony of love and light in their midst departed and hid Himself, after having done so many signs which manifested the Father and the Son at work in grace. Yet they believed not in Him, according to Isaiah 53, yea more, they could not believe, for the judicial spell was taking effect, fruit of despising every word and proof of God Himself, the Son, on earth
'These things said Isaiah, because he saw His [Christ's] glory, and he spake of Him' (John 12:41). Such is the comment of the inspired Evangelist. Now the word is again cited by Paul, only with this emphatic reference — 'Well spoke the Holy Spirit.' He Who of old gave the prophet to see, hear, and write, was now sent down from heaven to make good Christ's glory, and is declared to be the One Who then and thus spoke. The Spirit had been rejected by the Jews as the witness of the glorified Son of man, as truly as the Son on earth had been, and Jehovah as such of old On the ground of responsibility all was over with the chosen people, who, having failed in righteousness, abhorred sovereign grace in the gospel. But the mercy they despised will be their only ground in the latter day, when the last empire of the Gentile rises up to oppose the returning Lord at His appearing in glory, in alliance with the Antichrist in the land of Israel. These are the Beast and the False Prophet of the Revelation.
Meanwhile the Jew is finally cut off, and before the apostasy is come and 'the man of sin' revealed, the gospel goes forth on its errand of heavenly mercy to the Gentiles. 'They also will hear,' said the messenger from his bonds in Rome. And so it has been; so it is; though the shadows deepen as the end of the age draws near. Then an ungrateful Christendom will cast off the faith, and more and more return to naturalism, in love not only of present things but of idolatry, and in man set up as true God, that wrath may come to the uttermost on all, whether Jew or Gentile, who spurn grace and bow down to the creature lifted up to destruction by Satan in the despite and denial of the Father and the Son.
But meanwhile 'this salvation of God was sent to the Gentiles.' For the grace of God goes down to the lowest when the light of the knowledge of His glory shines, as now in the gospel it does in the face of Jesus at His right hand. Thus Israel is cast off, the Gentiles hear and the apostle was in bonds. So the history ends.
But the apostle, a prisoner in Rome, sent thence to the Jews the deepest message they ever received from God, as also Paul sent to the saints at Ephesus and Colosse the fullest words on the body and its Head, and on Christian experience to the Philippians, and personally to Philemon: so fertilizing was the stream that flowed through him in his captivity.
'And he remained two whole years in his own hired lodging, and received all that came unto him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all boldness unhinderedly' (vers. 30, 31).
Such is the simple, solemn, and dignified close of inspired ecclesiastical history. Some speak of it as abrupt, because it does not tell us of the subsequent imprisonment of the apostle and his death. It is the same spirit of unbelief which complains of the two Gospels that do not set before us the ascension scene, as if God did not know best how to reveal His own truth. Paul is a prisoner, yet not so as to hinder the going forth of the truth even in Rome. To know more of the apostle we must read closely the word; yet even so nothing is there to encourage curiosity, superstition, or hero-worship, but everything that God in all things may be glorified by Jesus Christ.