XXVIII: 1, 2. (1) |And after they had escaped, they knew that the island was called Melita. (2) Now the barbarians showed us no little philanthropy; for they kindled a fire, on account of the rain that was falling, and on account of the cold, and brought us all to it.| In calling the islanders barbarians, Luke adopts the style of the Greeks, by whom all nations were styled barbarians except themselves. The term had not the same sense of reproach which it bears now; yet those to whom it was applied were regarded as comparatively uncivilized. Their kindness to the shipwrecked strangers was true philanthropy, being prompted by the simple fact that they were men in distress. It was a most timely relief to the drenched and chilled and exhausted voyagers.
3-6. While they were endeavoring to make themselves comfortable around the fire, an incident occurred which had an important bearing upon the future welfare of the travelers. (3) |Now Paul, having gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, a viper came out from the heat, and fastened on his hand. (4) And when the barbarians saw the beast hanging from his hand, they said one to another, No doubt this man is a murderer; whom, though he has escaped from the sea, Justice permits not to live. (5) Then he shook off the beast into the fire, and suffered no harm. (6) But they were waiting for him to swell up, or suddenly fall down dead. And when they had waited a great while, and saw that no harm came to him, they turned about, and said that he was a god.| This scene is like that at Lystra reversed. There the people first took Paul for a god, and afterward stoned him. Here they first suppose him to be a murderer, and then a god. Their bad opinion of him had not been based upon the mere fact that he was bitten by a serpent, for they knew that innocent men were liable to the same misfortune, but by the occurrence of this incident in so close connection with his safe escape from an almost hopeless shipwreck. The fact that he was a prisoner helped them to the conclusion that he had committed murder, and was now receiving a just retribution in a violent death. They attributed his punishment to the goddess of justice, using the Greek term Dike, the name of that goddess. When, after watching a long time, they found that the bite, so fatal to other men, had no effect on him, their heathen education led them irresistibly to the conclusion that he was god.
It is almost universally conceded that the island here called Melita is the modern Malta, which lies directly south of Sicily. The evidence for this conclusion is fully summed up by Mr. Howson, to whom the inquisitive reader is referred.
7. The admiration awakened by this event among the rude populace finally led to a more comfortable entertainment of the ship's company. (7) |In the regions around that place were the estates of the chief man of the island, Publius by name, who received us and entertained us courteously three days.| This |chief man| is supposed to have been the Roman governor of the island. It was an instance of distinguished hospitality, to entertain for three days, with food and lodging, two hundred and seventy-six strangers.
8-10. But no man ever loses by such hospitality, especially if it be extended to a servant of God. Publius was not without a reward for his kindness. (8) |And it came to pass that the father of Publius lay afflicted with fever and dysentery; to whom Paul went in, and having prayed, laid his hands upon him, and healed him. (9) When this was done, others also in the island who had diseases came and were healed. (10) And they honored us highly, and when we were departing, loaded us with such things as we needed.| The voyagers had lost every thing in the shipwreck, yet, through the services of Paul, they had lacked nothing during their stay on the island, and were now about to leave it with all the necessaries for the remainder of the voyage, supplied free of cost. At the beginning of the voyage Paul was one of the most unobserved of all the passengers; but he had gradually become the chief dependence of the whole company, and had acquired an ascendency over every mind. Much of this was due to his inspiration; yet native force of character and superior talent, place them where you will, will elevate their possessor to distinction and authority. Especially will this be true in times of danger and difficulty.
We can not suppose that Paul healed diseases so generally among the islanders, without mentioning the name of Jesus. On the contrary, though Luke makes no mention of it, we can not doubt that, from the palace of the governor to the remotest hamlet of the island, the name and power of Jesus were fully proclaimed during the three months of the apostle's stay.
11-14. (11) |Now after three months we set sail in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the island, whose emblem was Castor and Pollux. (12) And landing at Syracuse, we remained there three days. (13) Thence, taking an indirect course, we arrived at Rhegium. And after one day, a south wind sprang up, and we went the next day to Puteoli. (14) Finding brethren there, we were entreated to remain with them seven days; and so we went to Rome.| Castor and Pollux were represented, in Greek mythology, as sons of Jupiter, and the patron deities of sailors. Their images, carved or painted on the prow, served the purpose of distinguishing this vessel, as do the names painted upon ships and steamboats at the present day. The ship would now be called the Castor and Pollux.
Syracuse, the famous capital of Sicily, where they remained three days, was directly in their route, and the delay was probably for the purposes of trade. From this place to Rhegium they were again troubled with unfavorable winds, as is evident from their sailing by an |indirect course,| and the mention of a south wind springing up the second day after they reached this port. The south wind was directly in their course, and they sailed rapidly before it to Puteoli, accomplishing a distance of one hundred and eighty miles on the next day after they started.
It was, doubtless, an unexpected pleasure to Paul to find brethren in Puteoli, and equally unexpected to them to have the great apostle to the Gentiles in their midst. The request that he should remain with them seven days indicates a desire to have him present at their Lord's-day meeting. It is suggestive of a season of religious intercourse, terminated by the day on which the disciples came together to break the loaf. The ship had reached her final port; for Puteoli, situated on the northern side of the Bay of Naples, was the chief landing-place for vessels engaged in the trade between Rome and Egypt. The remainder of the journey was to be performed on foot, and there was nothing to prevent Paul's delay with the brethren, except the will of the centurion, who was under too great obligations to him to refuse any reasonable request.
15. The delay of seven days was long enough for news to reach the brethren in Rome, that Paul was in Puteoli on his way to their city. (15) |And the brethren, having heard from that place concerning us, came out to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Taverns. When Paul saw them he thanked God and took courage.| The two place here mentioned were about ten miles apart, and it was doubtless two different companies who met them, having left Rome at different times. One party had come about forty miles, to Appii Forum, and the other about thirty, to the places called Tres Tabernæ, or Three Taverns. Such a mark of respect extended to him in his bonds was highly gratifying, and no wonder that he |thanked God and took courage.|
16. Finally, the gates of |the eternal city,| as it was proudly styled, were entered. The prisoners were at the end of their long journey, and soon learned the disposition to be made of them for the time being. (16) |And when we came into Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the Prætorian Prefect; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.| The Prætorian Prefect was commander of the imperial guards, and had custody of all persons to be tried before the emperor. It was probably the influence of Julius, the centurion, in his favor, which obtained for Paul the distinguished privilege of living in his own rented house, with only a single guard.
Paul had now accomplished a journey which he had contemplated for many years, and had met with some of the brethren whom he had called upon two years and a half ago, to strive together with him in prayer to God that he might come to them with joy, by the will of God, and with them to be refreshed. God had twice promised him that he should visit Rome, and now the promise was fulfilled, and his prayers were answered. But how different his entrance into the imperial city from what he had fondly hoped! Instead of coming in a free man, to appear in the synagogue, and in the forum, for the name of Jesus, he is marched in between files of soldiers, reported to the authorities as a prisoner sent up for trial, and kept night and day under a military guard. How poor his prospect for evangelizing the vast population! If Paul the tent-maker, a penniless stranger, had commenced his labors in the commercial emporium of Greece, |in weakness, and in fear and in much trembling,| how shall Paul the prisoner, with all the suspicion of crime which attaches to such a situation, begin the work of salvation in the capital of the whole world? The prospect was sufficiently disheartening; but he had one consolation which he did not enjoy in Corinth. He was not a stranger here; but was well known to all the brethren, who had heard his Epistle to the Romans read in the Lord's-day meetings, and who were eager to form his personal acquaintance. He had already thanked God and taken courage, when some of them had met him on the way, and now he was emboldened, by their sympathy, to send forth even from his prison-walls a voice of warning to the vast multitudes around him.
17-20. He made no delay in beginning his work; and his first appeal, according to his uniform custom, was addressed to his own kinsmen according to the flesh. (17) |And it came to pass, after three days, that he called together the chief men of the Jews; and when they had come together, he said to them, Brethren, I have done nothing against the people, or the customs of the fathers; yet I was delivered a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans; (18) who, having examined me, were disposed to release me, because there was no cause of death in me. (19) But the Jews opposing it, I was compelled to appeal to Cæsar; not that I had any thing of which to accuse my nation. (20) For this cause I have requested to see you, and speak to you. For it is on account of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.| The propriety of this interview, and of the individual statements in the speech, is quite obvious. It might have been supposed, from the fact that he was accused by the Jews, that he had been guilty of some crime; and from his appeal to Cæsar, that he intended to prefer charges against his accusers. The fact that the Romans would have released him but for the opposition of the Jews, was much in his favor on the first point; and on the latter, his own disavowal was sufficient. His closing remark, that it was for the hope of Israel that he was bound with a chain, was well calculated to enlist their sympathies; for it was no uncommon thing for Jews to be persecuted.
21, 22. The response of the Jews was candid and becoming. (21) |And they said to him, We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor has any of the brethren who had come reported or spoken any evil concerning you. (22) But we think it proper to hear from you what you think; though concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is everywhere spoken against.| It is rather surprising that they had heard nothing of the exciting scenes of Paul's life in the last two years; but it often thus happens that events pass almost unnoticed by a living generation, which are destined, in subsequent ages, to figure as the leading events of history. By hearing nothing, however, they had heard nothing prejudicial to him, except that the sect of which he was an advocate had a bad reputation. If they had acted on the principle which often governs predominant religious parties, this would have been sufficient to turn away their ears. Doubtless, they had acted somewhat on this principle toward the preachers of the gospel who had preceded Paul in Rome; but the direct personal appeal which he made to them, and the conciliatory manner and matter of his address, induced them to think proper to hear what he thought. In these words, they gave good expression to an important rule of conduct; for, however a party who attempts to show us the truth may be spoken against, it is always proper to hear them before pronouncing sentence against them.
23, 24. Before the Jews took leave of Paul, they made arrangements for a formal and deliberate hearing of what he thought. (23) |And having appointed him a day, there came to him into his lodging a greater number, to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and the prophets, from morning till evening. (24) Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.| Sufficient time was occupied to place the whole subject before them, and to support each separate proposition with suitable evidence. The result was such a division of sentiment as almost uniformly attended the preaching of the gospel.
25-28. From what follows, we have reason to suppose that the unbelieving party gave some unbecoming expression to their sentiments. (25) |And disagreeing among themselves, they dispersed, Paul saying one word: Well did the Holy Spirit speak through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, (26) saying, Go to this people and say, With hearing you will hear and will not understand, and seeing, you will see and not perceive; (27) for the heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn, and I should heal them. (28) Be it known to you, therefore, that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it.| The purpose of henceforth turning to the Gentiles, implied in the last remark, indicates that far the larger portion of his hearers rejected the gospel.
The quotation from Isaiah furnishes the true explanation of the failure of the gospel to effect the salvation of all who hear it fully proclaimed. The theory that the human soul must be regenerated by an immediate influence of the Holy Spirit, or that the Spirit must impart a special force to the Word in individual cases, before the gospel can be received, is an attempt to explain this matter; but it is not consistent with the explanation here given by Paul. Upon those theories, when a part of Paul's hearers went away unbelievers, the reason was that they had not enjoyed a divine influence which was granted to the others. On Paul's theory, however, the Lord had done as much for the one party as for the other; and the reason why one party were not believers was because, unlike the others, their ears were dull of hearing, and their eyes were closed. Neither was this condition superinduced without their own volition; for they are expressly charged with closing their own eyes. As they closed them voluntarily, they could have kept them open. Had they done so, it is implied that the process would have been reversed. They would have seen the truth; seeing it to be the truth, they would have given it a respectful hearing; hearing they would have understood it, and would have turned to the Lord that they might be healed. This was precisely the experience of the party who believed. They had themselves once been gross of heart and dull of hearing, and had closed their eyes against the truth as presented by previous preachers in Rome; but now they opened their eyes to what Paul presented, and the consequence was, they turned to the Lord. We conclude, therefore, that the power of the gospel is sufficient for the conversion of all who will see and hear. For this reason, it is sent to all in the same words; all who hear enjoy the same divine influence, and those only are lost who wilfully refuse to hear the truth, or obstinately resist it. In this arrangement there is no respect of persons with God, nor can any man attribute his final ruin to a withholding of saving influences on the part of the Holy Spirit.
29. Notwithstanding the principal part of Paul's visitors went away unbelievers, they could not at once cast the subject off from their attention. Luke follows them, as they went away, with this remark: (29) |And when he said these things, the Jews departed, having much disputation among themselves.|
30, 31. The narrative is now brought abruptly to a close, by the following statement: (30) |Now Paul remained in his own hired house two whole years, and received all who came in to him, (31) preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all freedom of speech, no one forbidding.| Here, again, Luke observes the distinction between preaching and teaching. Originating in the apostolic commission, which was the starting point of Acts, it has been preserved throughout the narrative, and now appears at its close.
The liberty granted Paul, of living in a rented house with the soldier who guarded him, enabled him to pursue these labors to the utmost advantage possible for one in military confinement. The brethren needed no invitation to visit him and hear his teaching; while their influence, actively exerted, was sufficient to bring in a large number of persons to hear his preaching.
The results of these efforts Luke does not see fit to enumerate; nor does he gratify the natural curiosity of the reader by continuing to its final close the biography of Paul. He leaves him at the end of two years' imprisonment, without even informing us whether he was then released. True, the remark that he |remained in his own hired house two whole years, and received those who came to him,| seems to imply a change after that time; but it might have been a change to closer confinement, so far as is indicated by this remark.
It is probable that the narrative was brought to a close here, partly because the composition of it was concluded just at this time. The two years of comparative inactivity which Luke enjoyed while a companion of the prisoner Paul afforded a good opportunity for writing it, and it is quite certain that the last paragraph was not written till the close of this period.
But, independent of this consideration, the leading purpose of the narrative itself rendered this a most fitting point at which to bring it to a close. Having started out to show the manner in which the apostles and evangelism executed their commission, he had now led his readers from Jerusalem through Judea, Samaria, the provinces of Asia Minor, the islands of the Mediterranean, Macedonia, and Achaia, to the imperial city of Rome; and leaving the principal laborer here, still engaged in |preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ,| his purpose is accomplished, and the narrative closes.
A commentary on Acts, strictly confined to the subject-matter of the text, would here be brought to a close. But as it has been a part of our purpose to give somewhat more fullness to the biography of Paul, by introducing information derived from other inspired sources, we have yet a few paragraphs to pen. Fortunately, the intense curiosity awakened by the closing chapters in reference to the further career of the apostle may, in some degree, be gratified. This curiosity directs itself chiefly to two questions suggested by the later portion of the history: first, what were the results to the cause of his long-wished-for visit to Rome? second, what was the result of his appeal to Cæsar?
In reference to the first question, we have already remarked, that his entrance into Rome was far different from what he had fondly hoped, and he could not reasonably expect to accomplish much while confined with a chain, and resting under the suspicion of being deservedly in confinement. But we have already seen that he continued to preach and teach for two years, and we learn something of the extent and success of his labors from epistles which he wrote during this period. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were the earliest of these epistles, being written at one time, and forwarded, the former two by Tychicus, and the last by Onesimus, the two messengers traveling together. In the two former there are indications of great anxiety in reference to the success of his efforts, and intimations of serious obstacles in the way. He exhorts the brethren to pray for him, that a door of utterance might be opened to him, and that he might have boldness to speak the gospel as it ought to be spoken. This request shows that there were some obstructions to the proclamation of the truth, and that they were such as were calculated to check the boldness of his utterance.
Notwithstanding these obstructions, the last of the three letters above named reveals some success which had already rewarded his labors. Out of the very dregs of the dissolute and corrupt society of the metropolis, a Greek slave, who had run away from his master, a convert of Paul's in Asia Minor, had, by some means, been induced to visit the apostle and hear the gospel. It proved the power of God to free him from a bondage far worse than that from which he had fled. After he became a disciple, Paul found him profitable to him for the ministry; being of service, no doubt, in bringing within the sound of the gospel many of his former companions. For this reason he had a strong desire to retain him as an assistant; but having no right to do so without the consent of Philemon, his master, and being unwilling to enjoin by authority upon the latter the obvious duty of liberating a slave capable of so great usefulness, he sent him home to his master, with an epistle, in which he delicately intimates his wishes in the premises, but leaves the whole subject to his own sense of propriety. Sending him home without the means to recompense his master for any thing of which he had defrauded him, Paul promises to pay the sum, if any, out of his own purse. Thus his preaching had begun to take effect upon the most hopeless class of the city population, at a time when he was urging distant congregations to pray that God would open to him a door of utterance.
But, eventually, in answer to these prayers, a door of utterance was thrown open far wider than he had reason to expect. In the Epistle to the Philippians, written at a later period, when he was expecting his trial and release, he says: |I wish you to understand, brethren, that the things which have happened to me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel, so that my bonds in Christ are made manifest in all the palace, and in all other places, and many brethren in the Lord, growing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.| From his prison, the Lord had opened a door of utterance into the imperial palace itself; so that Paul the prisoner had an audience whose ears would have been wholly inaccessible to Paul the unfettered apostle. His discourse before the emperor, if we may judge by that before Agrippa, must have awakened new thoughts and emotions in the Roman court; and what awakened new interest there could not be long in spreading to |all other places.| The Lord had led him by a strange method to Rome, and surrounded him with many discouragements; but his purpose was now unfolded, and Paul saw in the result, as it affected both the disciples and the community at large, a wisdom which before had been inscrutable. He had now demonstrated what he had once written to the Romans, that he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and was ready to preach it even in Rome; for he had preached it to both the proudest and the poorest of the population, and that with a chain upon his arm.
No two years of Paul's life were better filled with earnest labor than these two spent in his Roman prison. Besides the oral efforts just referred to, and the epistles to Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians, he is supposed, also, near the close of this period, to have written Hebrews, the most profound, next to Romans, of all his productions. He was not alone in his toil and danger, but was constantly surrounded by some of those noble brethren who were so ardently attached to his person. Timothy joins with him in the opening salutations of Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians. Aristarchus and Epaphras were his fellow-prisoners; Mark, who once forsook him and Barnabas, and went not with them to the work, was now with him; Demas, who afterward forsook him, |having loved the present world,| was as yet by his side; and Luke, the beloved physician, who shared the perils of his voyage from Cæsarea, continued to relieve the dreariness of his imprisonment, and indited the last paragraph of Acts, as we conjecture, just as the two years expired.
The question as to the result of Paul's appeal to Cæsar is not settled by direct scriptural evidence, yet it is determined, to the satisfaction of nearly all the commentators, that he was released at the end of the two years mentioned by Luke. The evidence on which this conclusion is based consists partly in the unanimous testimony of the earliest Christian writers after the apostles, and partly in the difficulty of fixing a date for the epistles to Timothy and Titus without this supposition. There are events mentioned in these epistles, for which no place can be found in the preceding history; such as his leaving Timothy in Ephesus, to counteract the influence of false teachers, while he went into Macedonia; his leaving Titus in Crete, to set in order the things that were wanting there, and to ordain elders; his visit to Miletus, when he left Trophimus there sick; and to Nicopolis, where he spent the winter. The argument drawn from both these sources is very fully and satisfactorily stated by Mr. Howson, to whom the more inquisitive reader is referred.
On the supposition of his release, the subsequent known facts are best arranged as follows: He first fulfilled the purpose so confidently expressed of the Philippians of visiting them again; and next took advantage of the lodging which he had directed Philemon to prepare for him at Colosse. While in Asia, he would scarcely pass by the city of Ephesus; but it is after a short visit to Spain, that we locate that visit, at the conclusion of which he left Timothy there and went into Macedonia. It was contrary to the expectation once entertained by Paul, that he was once more greeted by the brethren in Ephesus; for he had bidden them farewell four years ago with the conviction that they would see his face no more. Leaving Timothy in Ephesus, and going to Macedonia, he wrote back to him the First Epistle to Timothy, in which he expressed a hope of rejoining him soon at Ephesus. This he most likely did, as he soon after visited Crete, in company with Titus; and the most usual route from Macedonia to this island was by way of Ephesus. Having made a short visit in Crete, he left Titus there, to |set in order the things which were wanting, and ordain elders in every city.| Shortly after leaving the island, he wrote the Epistle to Titus. He was then on his way to Nicopolis, a city of Epirus, where he expected to spend the winter. On the way he had passed through Miletus, where he left Trophimus sick; and Corinth, where he left Erastus. Whether he spent the whole winter in Nicopolis, or was imprisoned again before spring, is not certainly known; but the next that we know of him, he was a prisoner in Rome the second time, as is indicated in his Second Epistle to Timothy. From this epistle we learn several interesting particulars of his imprisonment, and of the beginning of his final trial. His situation was more alarming, and he was attended by fewer friends than before. Demas forsook him, through the love of this world, and went to Thessalonica; Crescens, for some reason unexplained, went to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Tychicus he had sent to Ephesus. Luke, alone, of all his former fellow-laborers, was with him, though he was expecting Timothy to soon rejoin him, and bring Mark with him.
At the time of writing, he had passed through the first stages of his trial, and was awaiting the second. The want of human sympathy which he had felt in his prison was realized still more intensely during his trial. He says: |At my first answer, no man stood with me, but all forsook me. I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.| Even Luke, who dared to visit him in his prison, and remain with him when others fled, shrunk from the fearful position of standing by his side in the presence of Nero. But the venerable man of God, though deserted in his most trying hour by human friends, was able to say, |Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.| Thus again had he fearlessly and fully vindicated his preaching in the presence of the imperial court, and passed, a second time, through the fiery ordeal, without personal injury. The declaration that he was delivered out of the mouth of the lion is an allusion to the case of Daniel, of which his own reminded him.
But there was another stage of his trial yet before him, and from this he had reason to anticipate the most fatal results. From all the indications in view, he was induced to write to Timothy, |I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.| He had some years before declared, |I hold not my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the favor of God.| Now, he was about to yield up his life, and upon looking back over the course he had run, and the ministry with which he had been entrusted, the conditions specified were completely fulfilled. With all confidence he is able to say, |I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.| All who have followed his course with us in these pages can bear testimony to this declaration, and, after glancing back with him over the long series of stripes, imprisonment, and exhausting toil through which he had passed, can enter into the feeling of relief and joy with which he looked forward and exclaimed, |Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me at that day; and not to me only, but to all them also who love his appearing.| Like a mariner on a long voyage, whose bark had been tossed by many waves, and shrouded in the gloom of many a storm, his soul was cheered, at last, by a view of the desired haven close at hand. He is still, however, beaten by the storm, and one more dark billow is yet to roll over him, ere he rests upon the calm waters within the haven. Here the curtain of inspired history closes over him, and the last sound we hear is his own shout of triumph as he braces himself for the last struggle. It only remains for the earliest uninspired history of the Church to confirm his own anticipations, by testifying that his trial finally resulted in a sentence of death, and that he was beheaded outside the gates of Rome, in the last year of the reign of Nero, a.d.68. We bid him adieu till the resurrection morning, well pleased that the course of the narrative on which we have commented has been so directed as to keep us for so long a time in his company.