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1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
Ver. 1. In all good conscience ] Good, both with the goodness of integrity and of tranquillity. A recta conscientia transversum unguem non oportet quenquam in omni sua vita discedere, saith Cicero (Ep. ad Attic.). Let a man keep his conscience clear. Better offend all the world than conscience.
2 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.
Ver. 2. To smite him on the mouth ] So when Henry Zutphen, martyr, was bound hard to a ladder and cast into the fire, he no sooner began to pray and to repeat his creed, but one struck him upon the face with his fist, saying, Thou shalt first be burned, and afterwards pray and prate as much as thou wilt: (Acts and Mon.)
3 Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?
Ver. 3. God shall smite thee ] He was afterwards cruelly slain by Manaimus, a captain of the Jews in the beginning of the Jewish wars. As Master Bradford went towards the stake, he was met by a brother-in-law of his, called Roger Beswick, which as soon as he had taken Bradford by the hand, Woodroof, sheriff of London, came with his staff and brake the said Roger’s head, that the blood ran about his shoulders. But within half a year after, God so struck Woodroof on the right side with a palsy, or whatever it was, that for eight years’ time, to his dying day, he was not able to turn himself in his bed, &c.
Thou whited wall ] That is, thou hypocrite,Matthew 23:27; Matthew 23:27 . So Master Philpot, martyr, to Doctor Morgan that scoffed him, I must now tell thee (said he), thou painted wall and hypocrite, that God shall rain fire and brimstone upon such scorners of his word and blasphemers of his people as thou art. What an arrogant fool is this (said Bonner to Philpot), I will handle thee like a heretic, and that shortly. I fear nothing (answered Philpot) that you can do to me; but God shall destroy such as thou art; and that shortly, as I trust. So when Shaxton, Bishop of Salisbury, said to William Wolsey, martyr, and some others with him, Good brethren, remember yourselves and become new men; for I myself was in this fond opinion that you are now in, but I am become a new man; Wolsey replied, Ah, you are become a new man! Woe be to thee, thou wicked new man; for God shall justly judge thee, &c.
4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?
Ver. 4. Revilest thou God’s high priest? ] Some think it was not the high priest himself, but his surrogate, such as Dic of Dover was to the Archbishop of Canterbury, active against the martyrs in Queen Mary’s days, and known by that name.
5 Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.
Ver. 5. I wist not, brethren ] Whether he spake seriously or ironically it is doubtful. He might not know him, as having been long absent from Jerusalem. Or his present heat might so darken his judgment, that he might not for present acknowledge the high priest’s authority. It was certainly some disadvantage to Paul, that (although provoked and unjustly smitten) he called the high priest whited wall; he was glad to excuse it by his ignorance. We may not be too bold or too forward to speak in a good matter, lest we overshoot. Luther confessed before the emperor at Worms, that in his books against private and singular persons he had been more vehement than his religion and profession required. And he cried to our Henry VIII for mercy for his uncivil handling of him.
6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
Ver. 6. But when Paul perceived ] Paul lacked not human prudence; wise as serpents we should be to improve all advantages that we may with the safety of our consciences. Religion doth not call us to a weak simplicity; but allows us as much of the serpent as of the dove. The dove without the serpent is easily caught; the serpent without the dove stings deadly. Their match makes themselves secure, and many happy.
Of the hope and resurrection ] For fiducia Christianorum est resurrectio mortuorum, the faith of the Christians is the resurection from the dead, saith Tertullian. Christians look for great things at that great day, and in that other world, which the Hebrews call saeculum mercedis, the world of wages.
7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.
Ver. 7. A dissension betwixt the Pharisees ] So among Papists, the priests disparage the Jesuits, the Jesuits the priests, the priests again the monks, the monks the friars, and the Jesuits all.
8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
Ver. 8. Sadducees say there is no resurrection ] The occasion of this heresy is said to be this: when Antigonus taught that we must not serve God, as servants do their masters, for hope of reward, his scholars Sadoc and Baithus understood him as if he had utterly denied all future rewards or recompense attending a godly life; and thence framed their heresy, denying the resurrection, world to come, &c.
9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.
Ver. 9. We find no evil in this man ] God, when he pleaseth, can find patrons of his cause among his very enemies. (Beza.)
But if a spirit or an angel, &c. ] It is well observed by a reverend man from this Scripture, that men will grant truths or not, as their passions lead them. Before Paul revealed himself to be a Pharisee, they all with one consent cried out, "This man is not worthy to live." But now that he shows himself to be on their side, "I am a Pharisee, and the son of a Pharisee," oh, how finely do they mince the matter. "Perhaps an angel hath revealed it to him;" he was an honest man then. So men either judge, or not judge, as their passions and affections carry them.
10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
Ver. 10. To take him by force ] This the soldiers did, for none other end than to prevent sedition and man slaughter; but God had a further end in it, viz. to preserve his servant for further noble employment; ideoque caecas manus illuc dirigit, saith Calvin, and therefore he directeth their blind hands thereunto. The truth is, every creature walks blindfold. Only he that dwells in light sees whither they go.
11 And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
Ver. 11. The Lord stood by him ] Turned his prison into a palace, as likewise he did to Algerius, Christ’s prisoner, and Master Philpot, thus to his friends, Though I tell you I am in hell in the judgment of this world, assuredly I feel in the same the consolation of heaven, I praise God; and this loathsome and horrible prison is as pleasant to me as the walk in the garden of the King’s Bench.
12 And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
Ver. 12. Bound themselves, &c. ] The constable of France, when he covenanted with God, that if he had the victory at St Quentin’s he would set upon Geneva, thought no doubt that he had made a great good bargain with God. Much like to Julian the emperor, who going against the Persians, made his vow that if he sped well, he would offer the blood of Christians. But what did God? Came not both their vows to like effect? "My times are in thy hand," saith David. Pilate could do nothing against Christ were it not given him from above. Commit we therefore ourselves to God in well-doing, as to a faithful Creator.
13 And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.
Ver. 13. And they were more than forty ] The assassins are a kind of most desperate men among the Mahometans, who, strongly deluded with the blind zeal of their superstition, and accounting it meritorious by any means to kill any great enemy of their religion, for the performance thereof, as men prodigal of their lives, they desperately adventure themselves into all kinds of dangers. Such also are the Spahyels among the Turks, a kind of voluntary horsemen in mere devotion to gain paradise by dying for the Mahometan’s cause. (Blount’s Voyage.)
14 And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.
Ver. 14. And they came to the chief priests and elders ] With whom they knew they should hereby ingratiate. Rulers’ vices as seldom go unattended as their persons. If Herod mock Christ, his men of war will do so too, Luke 23:11 ; "If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked," Proverbs 29:12 .
15 Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.
Ver. 15. As though he would inquire ] Craft and cruelty are combined in the Church’s enemies; neither of them wanteth his mate, as the Scripture speaketh of those birds of prey and desolation, Isaiah 34:16 , and as the asp is said never to wander alone without his companion with him.
16 And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.
Ver. 16. And when Paul’s sister’s son ] A sweet providence that this boy should be by, to detect and defeat their wicked counsel. God will be seen in the Mount; he suffereth often his enemies to go to the utmost of their tether, and then pulls them back with shame to their task. He delights to make fools of them. He lets them have the ball on their foot till they come to the very goal, and yet makes them miss the game.
17 Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him , and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him.
Ver. 17. And said ] i.e. prayed, Acts 23:18 . The poor man speaks supplications, Proverbs 18:23 , puts his mouth in the dust, speaks as out of the ground in a low language, in a submissive manner, when a suitor especially; for in that case the answer commonly cuts off half the petition, as the echo doth the voice.
18 So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him , and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.
Ver. 18. Paul the prisoner ] But therein happier than any potentate, Psa 89:27 with all his chains of gold. Τιμη αλυσεις, δεσμα μαργαριται , said Ignatius; my chain is my honour, my links pearls. One hour changed Joseph’s fetters into gold chains, his stocks into a chariot, his jail into a palace, Potiphar’s captive to his master’s Lord, the noise of his gyves a into abrech. So and much more than so shall it be with all Christ’s prisoners at his coming: besides their prison comforts in the meanwhile; those divine consolations that Philip Landgrave of Hesse, prisoner to Charles V, for defence of the truth, said that he sensibly felt in the time of his sad captivity, Divinas Martyrum consolationes se sensisse dixit. This made Chrysostom say that he had rather be Paul the prisoner of Jesus Christ than Paul rapped up into the third heaven. (Homil. in Eph 3:1 )
a An instrument of torture (invented in the reign of Hen. VIII by Leonard Skevington or Skeffington, Lieutenant of the Tower), which (bringing the head to the knees) so compressed the body as to force the blood from the nose and ears. Also Skevington’s gyves, irons. ŒD
19 Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him , What is that thou hast to tell me?
Ver. 19. Took him by the hand ] Courtesy and affability in high degree is very attractive; it easily allureth men’s minds, as do fair flowers in the spring the passenger’s eyes.
20 And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul to morrow into the council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly.
Ver. 20. As though they would ] See Acts 23:15 .
21 But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.
Ver. 21. Which have bound themselves ] Gr. ανεθεματισαν , wished themselves dead, or given up to the devil, except they brought their purpose to pass; and likely enough they had their wish, for they missed their purpose. Cursing men are cursed men. See Acts 23:17 .
22 So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me.
Ver. 22. See thou tell no man ] Taciturnity is reckoned among the virtues. Detexit facinus fatuus, et non implevit, saith Tacitus (that best historian) of a fool that could not keep his own counsel, and so marred the design.
23 And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;
Ver. 23. At the third hour of the night ] A well chosen season is the greatest advantage of any action, which, as it is seldom found in haste, so it is often lost in delay.
24 And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.
Ver. 24. That they may bring him safe ] The Vulgate Latin adds, For he feared lest the Jews would take him away by violence aud kill him, and so he should suffer blame, as if he had been hired to permit it. But this the Greek hath not.
25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:
Ver. 25. And he wrote a letter ] Gr. an epistle, cuius ornamentum est ornamentis carere, saith Politian.
26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.
Ver. 26. Unto the most excellent ] Felix was (as likewise Haman) of base birth, but highly advanced in court by means of his brother Pallas, a great favourite of Nero’s, insomuch as he became husband to three queens successively, as Suetonius writeth. He cruelly killed Jonathan the Jewish priest, and committed many other outrages in this province; so that being complained about at Rome, he had been put to death, but for the greatness of his brother, who begged his pardon. (Josephus.)
27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.
Ver. 27. Understood that he was a Roman ] He saith nothing of binding him to have been scourged against the law. Nature needs not be taught to tell her own tale. Every man strives to make his own penny as good silver as he can.
28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:
Ver. 28. I brought him forth into their council ] As being himself ignorant of their religion; and haply having as evil an opinion of it as Cicero had, who disdained at the Jews for their slighting the Roman superstition, and censured their religion as false, because they and their religion were in subjection to the Romans. a
a Gens illa quam chara Diis immortalibus esset docuit, quod est victa, quod elocata, quod servata. Cic. pro L. Fiacco.
29 Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.
Ver. 29. Questions of their law ] Which these profane heathens held to be mere trifles and niceties, quae nec ignoranti nocent, nec scientem iuvant, as Seneca saith. See Acts 18:15 . See Trapp on " Act 18:15 "
30 And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.
Ver. 30. And gave commandment to his accusers ] For no man is bound to accuse himself; and, De secretis non iudicat lex. In the courts of men it is safest to plead Non feci, not guilty, saith Quintilian (though in God’s court it is otherwise).
31 Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.
Ver. 31. To Antipatris ] So called by Herod (who had repaired it) in honour of his father Antipater. Christ, the everlasting Father, Isaiah 9:6 , hath his name far better propagated and perpetuated by his sons and daughters, Psalms 72:17 , his name shall endure for ever ( filiabitur nomine eius ) by a continual succession of spiritual children (so the Hebrew word signifieth), who shall build his house, and keep up his name, much better than Rachel and Leah did the house of Israel, Ruth 4:11 .
32 On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:
Ver. 32. And returned to the castle ] Whereof see Acts 21:34 .
33 Who, when they came to Caesarea, and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.
Ver. 33. Presented Paul also before him ] And so was fulfilled in him that of our Saviour, Matthew 10:18 . See Trapp on " Mat 10:18 " Neither was he more afraid of Felix, than Moses and Micaiah were to stand before Pharaoh and Ahab, when once they had seen God in his majesty. Animo magno nihil magnum. With a great soul, nothing is great. (Seneca.)
34 And when the governor had read the letter , he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;
Ver. 34. Of what province he was ] So the Romans called the countries by them subdued; looking upon themselves as lords of the world, Luke 2:1 . See Trapp in " Luk 2:1 "
35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s judgment hall.
Ver. 35. I will hear thee ] Pergam te audire, et auditionem absolvam (so Beza rendereth the Greek, διακουσομαι ), I will hear thee out, when thine accusers are come. In the mean while I will keep, ους αδιαβλητον , mine ear free. a I will not be prepossessed; nor hear one tale till I may hear both. This was well done of Felix, and judge like; qui
" Si statuat aliquid, parte inaudita altera,
Aequum licet statuerit, haud aequus fuerit. "
At Rome, the accuser had six hours allotted him to accuse; the guilty or defendant had nine hours to make his answer. This Felix knew full well.
a καθαρον ους φυλαττω και αδιαβλητον , said Alexander.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Acts 23". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent