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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

Acts

- Acts

by William Baxter Godbey

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

PROLOGUE

Luke is the writer and Paul the dictator. The hired house in Rome is the place and A. D. 61-63 the time. As Paul does not appear on the stand till the sixth Chapter, doubtless Luke availed himself of his ample opportunities in Palestine during Paul’s two years’ imprisonment in Caesarea, A. D. 58-60, to travel round over the country, visit Jerusalem, and spend much time with Peter, John, James and other apostles, prophets and saints; meanwhile he gathered up materials for this wonderful history of the Apostolic Church which he afterward wrote, pursuant to the dictation of Paul during his Roman imprisonment. Luke accompanied Paul on his long anticipated journey to Jerusalem to bear alms to the saints, having spent the winter of A. D. 57-58 at Corinth, setting out early in the spring and arriving at Jerusalem in the latter part of May. Paul, having been arrested by the roaring mob and dragged out of the temple, was only saved from a cruel death by the opportune intervention of Lysias, the Roman chiliarch, with his army. Having permitted him to stand before the Jewish Sanhedrin, and signally failing to find any charges against him criminal in Roman law, and having discovered a formidable conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, he nobly interposed and sent him away by night protected by an armed escort, and committed him to the custodianship and jurisdiction of Felix, the proconsul, at the same time presenting no criminal allegations whatever against him. Felix, unlike the noble Lysias, was unfortunately a great money lover, a notorious tyrant and a very corrupt man. On the first trial he saw, like Lysias, that the prisoner was utterly innocent; meanwhile, he became awfully convicted by his straight and terrible preaching, so that he trembled from head to foot under a mighty paroxysm of alarm. While it was his imperative office of duty, and Paul’s inalienable right, to release him without further procedure, yet the avaricious tyrant held him in prison two long years, actuated by the vain hope that money would be paid for his release; meanwhile he sat under the powerful preaching of Paul like millions of others, his terrible convictions resisted and the Spirit grieved away till the powerful preaching of Paul could no longer move him to repentance. At the expiration of two years the opportune removal of Felix out of office, his dethronement, degradation and arraignment before the emperor at Rome, providentially secured the release of Paul from his two years’ imprisonment at Caesarea. Festus, the successor of Felix in the governorship, was a high- toned Roman gentleman like Lysias. Finding Paul left in prison by Felix to purchase Jewish favor in his terrible calamities, he immediately brings him to trial, calling down the Jewish magnates from Jerusalem to prefer charges against him. Finding Paul perfectly innocent, astounded and convicted by his preaching, he declares the legal possibility of his immediate release. At this salient epoch, behold! Paul appeals to Caesar, pursuant to the inalienable right of a Roman citizen, thus forcing the governor to send him to Rome, there to stand before the imperial tribunal. Paul had long earnestly desired to visit the world’s capital and preach the Gospel in the great metropolis of all nations. This was a great undertaking in those ages when navigation was in its infancy, the steam engine and mariner’s compass as yet undreamed of. It was as great an undertaking at that time as it is now to travel round the world. In 1895 I traveled the very same route from Jerusalem to Rome in the short space of ten days. As Paul was utterly incompetent financially to make this trip, he availed himself of his right as a Roman citizen to stand at Caesar’s judgment bar, not that he cared anything about the verdicts of earthly tribunals, as our Savior, when He met him on the Damascus road, had already revealed to him a martyr’s destiny. Thus, using his wonderful natural sagacity, illuminated by the Holy Ghost, he avails himself of his right to appeal to Caesar, thus forcing his enemies at their own expense to carry him to Rome that he might preach the Gospel in the world’s metropolis. When Festus found that he had appealed to Caesar, and that Roman law compelled him to send him to the diagnosis of the world’s emperor, he regarded it a sine qua non that he also send the criminal charges against him, as the very novelty and inconsistency of sending a prisoner for trial with no bill of charges would expose his administration to criticism and burlesque at the imperial court. Hence he does his utmost, even availing himself of the co-operation of King Agrippa, an adept in all Jewish law. They both do their best to find criminal allegations against Paul, but signally and hopelessly fail. Hence Festus is forced to meet the issue and actually write a letter to the emperor stating that he had only sent the prisoner pursuant to his own right of appeal as a Roman citizen, there being no criminal allegation whatever against him. The letter of Festus and the exceedingly favorable report of Julius, the Roman centurion who had charge of the prisoners during the voyage, and saw the power of God on Paul during the awful shipwreck and miraculous deliverance, besides the wonderful miracles of healing wrought by him on the island of Melita, gave Paul an exceedingly favorable introduction to the authorities at Rome, at once commanding the unparalleled leniency of the imperial administration, virtually setting him free, making his imprisonment but nominal; meanwhile “unhindered” he proceeds to establish a great mission in the heart of the world’s metropolis. Having sailed from Caesarea in September, after his long and perilous voyage he arrives at Rome late in February, A. D. 61, inaugurates his gospel mission, in which he preaches two years; meanwhile he dictates to Luke this wonderful history of the Apostolic Church, founded on the day of Pentecost, entrusted with the responsible mission of preaching the gospel of the coming kingdom to all nations, thus preparing the world for the return of the glorious King. Why was Paul, at the expiration of two years, ruthlessly dragged out of his gospel mission, and, loaded with chains, brought a prisoner into the barracks of the praetorian army? This resulted from the death of Burrus, the commander-in-chief of the imperial guards, who, in lieu of the emperor, had received the letter of Festus and the report of Julius, and administered in the case of Paul on his arrival as a substitute for the emperor, being completely won over into sympathy with Paul and magnanimously protecting him as long as he lived. Now Paul’s only influential and powerful friend and protector at the imperial court having passed away, there is nothing left for him but the rigors of military despotism. During these memorable two years in his hired house, he not only preaches day and night, but dictates to Luke, his faithful amanuensis, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

APOLOGUE

This book is invaluable, giving us the inspired history of the founding, progress and establishment of the Apostolic Church, with its organization emanating from the hand of the Divine Founder. As we read and study this book we can see all the differentia of our Lord’s institution for the evangelization and salvation of the world. We find the organization exceedingly simple and practical, consisting of the episcopos, i. e., the overseer, having charge of the spiritual interest of each little ecclesia, i. e., holiness band. Then the deacon, the custodian of the temporal interests of the ecclesia. To these two specific officers is added the eldership, really an institution established in Israel by Jethro, the Midianitish priest belonging to the Patriarchal dispensation, and the father-in-law of Moses. This well- known institution in Judaism was transferred by the apostles to the Christian Church, an auxiliary of both the pastor and the deacon, having charge of the general interest, and constituting a safety-valve and a balance- wheel for the general security of the whole machinery and the efficiency of its operation. All these officers are determined by the Holy Ghost, the Builder and Proprietor of the institution. When a church needs a pastor, a deacon or an elder, let all the members fall on their knees before God and ask Him to supply the deficiency. He will always do it, clearly revealing to His spiritual people the one on whom the lot falls. If divisions arise in the membership, remain on your knees before God and He will heal all the breaches and happily unify His people. Rest assured, there is universal harmony in the baptism of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:13). “Let God be true and every man a liar.” The Word of God is the umpire in every case; that Word says, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Carnal parties will frequently lop off, manipulated by Satan. This we can not avoid; yet God’s true people are a unit, and will ever so remain. Brethren, all who disagree and would have charity to please us, union there never can be unless we be one in Jesus; one as He is one in God in spirit and in disposition; this the Holy Scriptures teach; it is plain without an exposition. If the churches of Christendom would go back to New Testament simplicity, all partition-walls would tumble down and denominational lines, in due time, disappear. There is no reason why there should be a schism in the Church of God. None of us will ever see His face without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which invariably unifies all who receive it. The people of God in non-essentials may yet differ as widely as in the Apostolic age, when thousands of Jewish Christians were practicing circumcision, bloody sacrifices, watery catharisms, Nazaritic vows and all the institutions of Moses, and the Gentile Christians doing none of these things. Yet they were all bona fide members of the same gospel church under the immediate eye of the apostles. Hence there is no reason why trineimmersion, foot-washing and kissing Tunkers and utterly non-ritualistic Quakers should not be bona fide members of the same New Testament church, worshipping together in perfect harmony and fellowship. This magnification of non-essentials, which has divided up and alienated the Church of God, is simply a prominent form of Satan’s idolatry. The New Testament [which really contains in practical revelation al the symbolic truth of the Old] is our only code of laws. You may legislate as much as you will, yet it is all null and void, merely optionary, unless it be at least a substantial transcript of the New Testament. So long as the Christians were anathematized, persecuted and martyred by the world, they got along without a human creed, satisfied with the simple Word of God.

When the conversion of the Emperor Constantine took them from the lion’s mouth and the burning stake to Caesar’s palace, the first thing they did was to call an ecumenical council to Nice, Bythnia, and make a human creed, under the presidency of the Emperor sitting in a golden chair, thus passing from New Testament simplicity out into the complicities of human ecclesiasticism, so moving off into darkness and entering upon that ominous downward trend, soon culminating in priestcraft, prelacy and popery; and picking up the murderous weapons for three hundred years used by their pagan predecessors, they turned them against the heretics, i. e., the Lord’s true people, who dared to walk in the light, follow Jesus, be true to the Holy Ghost and His Word, and thus separate from the Catholic Church, lighting the fires of the Inquisition, and again deluging the world in martyrs’ blood. Holiness people, beware! The moment you depart from New Testament simplicity you are off in the track of fallen Judaism, Romanism, and the dead churchism of the Protestant world. Shall we not profit by the wreck and ruin of our predecessors? Our only possible security is in sticking pertinaciously to New Testament simplicity, walking in the triple leadership of our Heavenly Father, His Word leading our intellects, His Spirit our hearts and His Providence our bodies. If true to this triple leadership, we are as safe on earth as in heaven. We are certain to have much conflict with the various leaders of human ecclesiasticisms, who are practical rivals of the Holy Ghost, the only Leader of God’s people.

When you make rules and regulations, recognize them as an optionary convenience of your own, and do not give them the force of law. Let it be understood that the New Testament is your only code of laws and the umpire in every case. If we holiness people, whom God has raised up in every nation under Heaven to rescue the truth from the debris of human ecclesiasticism, perversion and misrule and proclaim the pure, free and full gospel to the world, do not get back to the New Testament in its original simplicity and there abide, we will forfeit the crown of glory which God has in heaven for us. Lord, for Jesus’ sake, fortify us against all side-tracking devices of the enemy, and help us in the light of the Omniscient Revelator to read and study God’s holy Word and to walk in the clear light of infallible truth with one eye on Jesus and His hand on us under the blood, robed and ready, looking for our coming King.