free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
PAUL’S VOYAGE TO ROME—SHIPWRECK AT MALTA
1. Setting Sail; or, from Cæsarea to Fair Havens (Acts 27:1-8).
2. Caught in a Storm; or, from Fair Havens to the Coast of Crete (Acts 27:9-14).
3. Drifting on the Deep; or, Preparing for the Worst (Acts 27:15-26).
4. Nearing the Breakers; or, a Night of Anxiety (Acts 27:27-36).
5. Running Aground; or, Escaping Safe to Land (Acts 27:37-44).
Acts 27:1. Determined.—By Festus. Not as to purpose (Acts 25:12), but as to time, which was late in autumn, A.D. 60, and manner, which was by sea. We.—Last used (Acts 21:15-18). Here including, besides Paul, Luke and Aristarchus of Thessalonica (Acts 27:2; Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4). Luke’s presence on shipboard accounts for the liveliness of the ensuing narration. Certain other—additional, not necessarily different in character (Meyer, Zöckler, Plumptre)—prisoners.—This shows (Lardner, Paley) that it was customary to forward accused persons to Rome to be tried; an inference confirmed by Josephus (Life, § 3). Julius.—Tacitus (Hist., ii. 92, iv. 11) mentions about this time a centurion of this name, Julius Priscus, one of the prætorians, who, seven years afterwards, was promoted by Cæsar Vitellius to be Praetorian Prefect, and who, when his royal patron died a miserable and dishonourable death, declined to survive, and committed suicide by falling on his own sword. Hausrath (Der Apostel Paulus, p. 466) conjectures he may have come to Palestine on some important mission, and been entrusted with command of the prisoners about to be despatched to Rome. Augustus’, or, the Augustan band to which he belonged has been supposed to be
(1) a cohort of soldiers from Sebaste or Samaria (Kuinoel), in support of which is cited the mention by Josephus (Ant., XIX. ix. 2; XX. vi. 1) of a squadron of Sebastene cavalry; or
(2) a bodyguard organised by Nero, and called by him Augustani (Suet., Ner., xx. 25) or Augustiani (Tacit., Ann., xiv. 15), which would harmonise with the preceding statement from Tacitus (Wieseler); or
(3) an auxiliary cohort belonging to Agrippa’s army, and bearing the name Augustan in honour of the emperor, as many other cohorts did (Holtzmann, Ramsay); or
(4) an independent cohort which waited on the procurator, and was styled the Augustan because it corresponded to the emperor’s life guard at Rome (Hackett). That it was identical with the Italian cohort mentioned in Acts 10:1 (Meyer, Ewald) is doubtful (Zöckler).
Acts 27:2. Adramyttium.—Not Hadrumetum in North Africa, but a seaport of Mysia in Asia Minor, situated at the head of a bay of the same name, and on the River Kysos; called to-day Adramiti or Edramit. To this port the ship on which Paul embarked at Sebaste, the harbour of Cæsarea, belonged, and was a coaster homeward bound. It was obviously Julius’s intention either to trans-ship for Italy at the Asian harbour, or from that point to take the land route to Rome (see “Homiletical Analysis”). Meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia.—The best authorities for μέλλοντες read μελλοντι, which was about to sail, not along the coasts, but for the places on the coast of Asia.
Acts 27:3. Sidon—Hebrew, Sîdôn (meaning, perhaps, fisher town); on Assyrian monuments Sidunu—was situated on the Mediterranean coast, not far from Lebanon, and only five miles north of Tyre. In ancient times the most important of the Phœnician towns, it named itself upon its coins “The Mother of Tyre.” The modern town of Saida stands upon the site of the old, from which numerous relics of antiquity have been recovered, the most remarkable being the marble coffin of the Sidonian king, Eschmunazar, B.C. 350–300. (See Riehm’s Handwörterbuch des Biblischen Altertums; art. Sidon.) Refresh himself.—Lit., to meet with, or receive attention from his friends. By obtaining from them that outfit for the voyage which, on account of the official precision of his custody at Cæsarea, he could not there be provided with (Alford, Holtzmann).
Acts 27:4. Cyprus.—See on Acts 4:36.
Acts 27:5. Sea of (better, off, or along) Cilicia and Pamphylia.—On the reverse voyage (Acts 21:3) Cyprus was passed upon the left hand—i.e., the ship sailed south of the island. The neighbourhood of Myra, two or three miles from the coast, is full of magnificent ruins. Its haven was the neighbouring Andraki. In later times it became celebrated as the seat of the supposed bishopric of Nicolans at the time of the council of Nice, A.D. 350.
Acts 27:6. A ship of Alexandria, Probably belonging to the Alexandrian fleet in the Imperial service, (Ramsay).—See “Homiletical Analysis.” That part of her cargo was wheat is obvious (Acts 27:38), though she may have carried other goods (Acts 27:18), which were cast overboard before the cereals were thrown away.
Acts 27:7. Scarce.—Better, with difficulty. The wind not suffering us may mean not suffering the ship to get to Onidus to find shelter in its harbour (Hackett, Hausrath, Holtzmann), or not suffering it to get any quicker over against Cnidus—explaining the preceding clause (Alford, Lechler), or not suffering it to proceed farther (Conybeare and Howson, Revised Version, Spence).
Acts 27:8. Hardly passing it (Crete) should be with difficulty coasting along it. The participle is a nautical term. The harbour of Fair Havens, though mentioned by no ancient writer, was undoubtedly that still known by the same name (Kali) on the south of Crete, a few miles to the east of Cape Matala, beyond which the land suddenly springs towards the north. “The harbour consists of an open roadstead, or rather two roadsteads contiguous to each other, which may account for the plural designation.” The epithet “fair” may have been given to it in joke, on account of its unfavourable character, Acts 27:12 (Zöckler). The town of Lasea, probably mentioned as better known, is still recognisable by “two white pillars, masses of masonry, and other ruins,” which “occur on the spot” (Hackett). Its discovery by “a Scotch yachting party may be classed among the really valuable geographical evidences of the truth of the Bible which have been accumulating of late years” (Spence).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 27:1-8
Setting Sail; or, from Cœsarea to Fair Havens
I. The passengers.
1. The prisoners.
(1) Foremost among these was Paul, the venerable and weather-beaten missionary of the Cross, who had already, by sea and land, travelled farther, and suffered and laboured more than all the other apostles, singly or together (2 Corinthians 11:23). A veritable king of men, his moral majesty will, before this voyage ends, assert itself, and place him, though now a prisoner, high in rank above all on board ship beside him. The finest qualities of good men are evoked by situations of trial, as the stars shine clearest in the darkest nights.
(2) Along with him voyaged certain other prisoners who, for various offences laid to their charge, some probably as imaginary as those advanced against the apostle, were being despatched to Rome for trial before the emperor’s tribunal. That it was customary so to ship accused persons to the capital Josephus (Life, 3) has shown, by relating how he himself, when a young man, was wrecked in the Adriatic when proceeding to Rome for the purpose of defending “certain priests of his acquaintance, and very excellent persons they were, whom on a small and trifling occasion he (Felix) had put into bonds and sent to Rome to plead their cause before Cæsar.”
2. The centurion.
(1) As to his identity, he was probably the Julius Priscus mentioned by Tacitus as a Prætorian officer, who may have been despatched on some imperial errand to Palestine, and to whom the company of prisoners was entrusted.
(2) As to the Augustan cohort or “troop of the Emperor” (Ramsay) to which he belonged, the different views stated in the “Critical Remarks” are all worthy of consideration, though the likeliest makes him a commander either in Nero’s or the procurator’s body-guard. Never before had Julius been entrusted with so remarkable a prisoner as Paul—a prisoner of Jesus Christ rather than of Cæsar. Had he known that Paul was the servant of a more exalted king than Nero, an officer in a more distinguished army than that of the Augustan band, and journeyed to Rome on a more important mission than that which had brought him to Palestine, he would have hesitated before taking up such a charge as had been thrust upon him. Could he have understood the gospel of which Paul was the bearer, he would have learnt that not Paul, but he, was the real prisoner.
3. The fellow-voyagers. These were certainly two.
(1) Luke, the writer of the Acts, who, in resuming the first person at this point in his narrative, gives his readers to understand that in all that relates to the voyage Romeward he writes as “an eyewitness.” The detailed account which Luke furnishes of this voyage reveals the estimate which Luke had of its importance, in the providence of God, as a link in the chain of events which brought Paul to the capital of the world.
(2) Aristarchus of Thessalonica (Acts 27:2), who had probably been with, or near Paul during his two years’ imprisonment at Cæsarea and may have been now returning home to Macedonia, though the subsequent alteration of plan on the part of Julius (Acts 27:6) led to his being carried on to Rome. It would not be difficult for either Luke or Aristarchus to get a berth on board Paul’s ship. Christ can raise up friends for His people in the darkest hour. Note.—The opinion here expressed is not that of Professor Ramsay (St. Paul, etc., p. 316), who thinks that Luke and Aristarchus would not find it easy to obtain a passage in the corn-ship, and must have accompanied Paul “as slaves, not merely performing the duties of slaves, but actually passing as slaves,” and that in this way “not merely had Paul faithful friends always beside him,” but “his importance in the eyes of the centurion would be much enhanced.” The Professor, however, must surely have a different conception of Paul’s character from the present writer, if he believes that Paul would assent to so much deception on the part either of himself or others.
II. The ships.
1. A ship of Adramyttium. Adramyttium, on the coast of Mysia, and opposite Lesbos, was then a flourishing city; though no antiquities have been found on its site except a few coins. The selection of this vessel, apparently engaged in the coasting trade, was due to the two facts
(1) that direct communication between Cæsarea and Rome was at that time irregular, and
(2) that the ship of Adramyttium was on the eve of sailing (see “Critical Remarks”). At Adramyttium, should they reach it—which they never did—it would most likely be Julius’ purpose to tranship himself and prisoners into another craft going west, across the Ægean, or, to take the overland route described below. How frequently in life are man’s plans overturned! Man proposes, but God disposes.
2. A ship of Alexandria. On reaching Myra, in the south of Lycia—or rather, since Myra stood back two or three miles from the coast, on casting anchor in the port of Myra, Andriace, which has been identified as the bay of Andraki—the centurion, no doubt counting himself fortunate, fell in with a larger vessel, an Alexandrian corn-ship, in those days much esteemed for its size and sea-going qualities, on her way to Italy, to which he forthwith transferred himself and party. At this point Besser well remarks: “Had not another than the chief officer of the imperial troops lifted Paul and his companions into the ship, the whole ship’s company would have come to grief.” By this trans-shipment the number of souls on board, including crew and passengers, was brought up to two hundred and seventy-six—not an unlikely figure when it is remembered that the ship in which Josephus was wrecked contained six hundred persons (Life, § 3). The ship must thus have been about the size of the largest merchant vessels of modern times. (See “Critical Remarks.”) That she was carrying corn from Alexandria receives explanation from the well-known fact that at that time Egypt was the granary of the world. If she left Alexandria about the beginning of August, when grain cargoes from Upper Egypt were usually shipped at that port, she might easily have reached Myra towards the end of the month, or beginning of September, and been found lying in the harbour, detained by contrary winds, when Paul’s ship arrived. The west wind which enabled the Adramyttium vessel to tack along from Cæsarea to Myra might have forced the Alexandrian merchantman to hold due north till she found shelter in Myra (see Conybeare and Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, ii. 337).
III. The voyage.
1. Its destination. Rome (see on Acts 28:16). Both Jehovah and Julius concurred in this. Both were conducting the apostle thitherward, but for different ends. The way thither also God had arranged, not Julius. Julius’ plan was first to sail to Adramyttium, and then proceed to Rome—either by sailing from that port, or by “the overland route, the great Via Egnatia from Neapolis through Philippi, Thessalonica, and the Macedonian towns to Dyrrachium, the port for Brundusium” (Lewin). Jehovah, however, altered that at Myra, and put the centurion, with his company, on board the corn-ship of Alexandria. Then, Julius expected, it may well be assumed, to sail direct to the port of Rome. But again Jehovah interfered. Julius and his fellow-voyagers had to drift about the Mediterranean and be wrecked at Malta before the voyage ended. Again, “Man proposes but God disposes,” and none but God can count on working out the counsel of his own will (Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11).
2. Its stages.
(1) From Cæsarea, or Port Sebastus, which was left in August, A.D. 58, to Sidon. On Cæsarea see Acts 12:19. The latter city, Sidon, upon the Assyrian inscriptions Sidunu, “had anciently one of the finest harbours in the East.” The rival of Tyre (Acts 21:3), it was, in Paul’s day, celebrated for its wealth and commerce. The present-day Saida, built upon the site of the old town, is pleasantly situated at the foot of the snow-capped Lebanon, and is surrounded by a circle of orchards, whose fruit is far-famed (Riehm’s Handwörterbuch des Biblischen Altertums; art. Sidon). Its distance from Cæsarea, sixty-seven miles, with a favourable wind, might easily have been accomplished in a day. The ship having cast anchor in the harbour during the time in which the captain was transacting his business, either putting out or taking in cargo, an operation which occupied some hours, the centurion permitted Paul to go ashore, in company, of course, with a guard, and visit such friends as he had in the town. The narrative, it has been pointed out (Hackett), tacitly assumes that Paul had informed the centurion he had Christian brethren in Sidon, which Luke’s narrative, indeed, in its earlier parts (Acts 11:19, Acts 21:4), renders highly probable. Paul’s object in making their acquaintance may have been to offer them some word of exhortation, but was more likely, as Luke states, to refresh himself, or receive attention from them—i.e., obtain from them a supply of such things as he might need upon the journey (Holtzmann).
(2) From Sidon to Myra. The direct course would have run to the southward of Cyprus, but as the wind continued westerly, the ship steered in a northerly direction, passing Cyprus, not upon the right (Meyer), but upon the left (see “Critical Remarks”), sailing under the lee of the long island, from Salamis to the promontory of Dinaretium, rounding which it headed westward before a land breeze usually prevailing along the coast of Asia Minor, till it had crossed the Sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, and landed at Myra (see above).
(3) From Myra to the Fair Havens. How long the voyagers stayed in the Lycian harbour of Andriace is not reported. Probably not more than a day. Having embarked on board the Alexandrian corn-ship above described, Julius and his company proceeded on their voyage, but so slowly that it took them “many days” to reach Cnidus, distant not more than a hundred and thirty miles from Myra. This slow progress was, doubtless, owing to a contrary wind from the north-west which ordinarily prevails in the Archipelago during the summer months (Pliny says it blows for forty days from the beginning of August), and which, though it permitted the ship to work up to Cnidus with difficulty, nevertheless rendered it impossible for her to proceed farther in that direction. Having, therefore, stood away southward, or rather south-south-west to the easternmost point of Crete, she rounded that island and again commenced a struggle with wind and wave along its southern coast, till the harbour of Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea, was gained (see “Critical Remarks”).
1. How all things are made to wait upon the servants of God. When God’s time was come for Paul to be despatched to Rome, ships were ready to convey him, friends and companions to cheer him, winds and waves to bear him along. “More servants wait on man than he’ll take notice of” (Herbert).
2. How God transforms men’s plans to suit Himself. His own plans never change, but men’s are often changed against their will. Julius’ route was altered, that Paul’s character might be further revealed, that Paul might have Aristarchus’ company to Rome, that a great ship-load of immortal souls might have a better opportunity of hearing the gospel, and that God’s grace and glory might be seen in all.
3. How God conducts His people by devious paths and brings them into port by contrary winds. To few, one might almost say to none, is the voyage of life all smooth and pleasant sailing.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 27:1. Paul’s Voyage to Italy.
I. Determined by Festus.—As to time and manner—the procurator being probably guided in his judgment by the opinion of Agrippa and the presence of Julius, who was about to return to Rome.
II. Carried out by Julius.—The shipmasters were his servants and instruments whom he used for the execution of his plans, which he formed and altered at will.
III. Over-ruled by God.—Along the whole course of the voyage the hand of God can be seen interposing for higher purposes than those of either Festus or Julius. It was more God that was leading Paul to Rome than Festus that was sending him or Julius that was conducting him.
IV. Reported by Luke.—The liveliness of the narration indicates the pen of an eyewitness, which could be no other than that of the good physician who accompanied the apostle (see “Introduction”).
V. Endorsed by Paul.—The second epistle to Timothy, by attesting Paul’s presence in Rome, shows the likelihood at least that this voyage was performed.
Acts 27:3. Paul’s Friends—the Sidonian believers.
I. The ground on which Paul claimed them as friends.—Their Christian discipleship, which meant their common relationship to Jesus Christ, and as a consequence their common membership in God’s house.
II. The service Paul expected to receive at their hands.—Refreshment, a supply of such things as might be needful for the voyage (see James 2:16, and compare 2 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:21).
III. The probability that Paul’s expectations were fulfilled.—Not simply because they were disciples, to whom his name would be well known, but because in all likelihood he had personal acquaintances among them, having recently been at Tyre (Acts 21:3) and at Ptolemais (Acts 21:7). Besides, he may have passed through Sidon when travelling with Barnabas from Antioch to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30; Acts 15:3).
Acts 27:4. Contrary Winds—
I. Frequently occur on the voyage of life.
II. Are seldom agreeable to the voyagers.
III. Always useful, furthering the designs of the chief shipmaster, God.
Acts 27:8. The Fair Havens.
I. Many havens counted fair by man are incommodious to winter in.
II. One haven only is secure against life’s storms—that of heaven.
Acts 27:9. Sailing meant the further prosecution of the voyage. The fast signified the Great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29 ff; Leviticus 23:26 ff.; Jos., Ant., XIV. xvi. 4), which the Jews celebrated on the 10th Tisri—i.e., about the beginning of October, after which season, according to Philo, no prudent man thought of putting to sea. “The Greeks and Romans considered the period of safe navigation as closing in October and recommencing about the middle of March” (Hackett). Accordingly Paul admonished, or exhorted them—i.e., the shipmaster, shipowner, and Julius (Acts 27:11)—to remain in “The Fair Havens.”
Acts 27:10. Hurt.—ὅβρις, not to be taken in a moral sense as meaning “presumption” (Ewald, Meyer), a meaning unsuitable for Acts 27:21, but in a physical sense, as signifying violence—as, e.g., of the waves (Zöckler, Holtzmann), a significance the word has in Josephus (Ant., III. vi. 4, ἀπὸ τῶν ὅμβρων ὕβρις) and in 2 Corinthians 12:10. Compare nisi ventis debes ludibrium (Hor., Odes, I. xiv. 15). Loss expressed what would result from the “violence.”
Acts 27:11. The master of the ship corresponded to our steersman or captain; the owner was the person to whom the ship belonged. Ramsay says the owners of private merchant ships were called ἕμποροι, as distinguished from ναύκληροι, who were captains of the Imperial fleet (St. Paul, etc., p. 324).
Acts 27:12. The more part showed that the situation had become critical, and that a general consultation had been held. Phenice, rather Phœnix, was a haven situated on the south of Crete, a little to the west of Fair Havens. Strabo (10:475) mentions a harbour with this name on the south of Crete, and Ptolemy (Acts 3:17), a town called Phœnix, with a port which he names Phœnicus. Smith, whom Alford, Conybeare and Howson, and Plumptre, follow, Zöckler, and Hertzberg in Riehm’s Handwörterbuch, identify the port with the modern Lutro, which, as seen from the sea, lieth towards the south-west (λίψ, Latin Africus) and the north-west (χῶρος = Caurus), lit., looking down the south-west and the north-west winds—i.e., looking north-east and south-east (R.V.). Hackett, Lechler, Zöckler, and Holtzmann, regard this interpretation as incorrect, and understand Luke to say that the haven looked towards the south-west and the north-west, while the lands encompassing it were directed towards the north and the south.
Acts 27:13. Loosing thence.—Better, having weighed anchor. Close by Crete meant close in to the shore, nearer (ἅσσον) than usual.
Acts 27:14. Euroclydon, or Euraquilo (according to the Sinaitic text), was an east-north-east wind of great violence—lit., a typhonic wind—a hurricane, which either struck against it, the ship (A.V., Hackett, Lechler, Winer, Zöckler), not the island (Kuinoel, De Wette, Meyer), or burled itself down from it—viz., Crete, the island (Alford, Howson, Humphrey, Wordsworth, Plumptre, Spence, Holtzmann).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 27:9-14
Caught in a Storm; or, from Fair Havens to Crete
I. The advice proffered by Paul.—
1. The purport of it. Whether “Julius the centurion and the captain and the pilot and other naval officers, met in council,” at which Paul, through the courtesy of Julius, was invited to assist (Lewin), can only be conjectured. In any case, whether asked or volunteered, Paul’s counsel was, not to quit the shelter of the Fair Havens, incommodious though it was, but to spend the winter there. Though not exactly stated in the narrative, from the considerations urged by Paul it may be reasonably inferred that this was the tenor of his admonition.
2. The reason of it. The apostle apprehended, not from supernatural guidance, but from the exercise of his own judgment, looking to the lateness of the season—the Fast or Great Day of Atonement, which fell about the beginning of October, being past—that to proceed further with the voyage would only result in disaster to the vessel, and probably in loss of life to the crew and passengers. It is noticeable that Paul says “Our lives,” since no angel had as yet given him assurance of his personal safety (contrast Acts 27:23).
3. The rejection of it. Though his advice was disregarded, the event showed that he was right at least in recommending the voyage to be arrested and the ship laid up for the winter months. His fear lest life should be lost likewise proved so far correct that only a merciful Providence prevented it from being realised.
II. The mistake committed by the centurion.—He “gave more heed to the master and the owner of the ship than to those things which were spoken by Paul.” This was—
1. Perhaps natural. Considering that Paul was a landsman, whereas the master (pilot, steersman, or captain) was an experienced mariner, and the owner of the vessel possessed at least some knowledge of nautical affairs, humanly speaking, Julius with whom, as the highest officer on board, the ultimate decision lay (Ramsay), could hardly be blamed for listening to their words rather than to those of Paul. Julius, however, overlooked two things—
(1) that experts are not always correct in their judgments, while non-experts are not always wrong, and
(2) that Paul, besides being no common man, had had considerable experience in sailing on Mediterranean waters, having once narrowly escaped from drowning, after shipwreck, by drifting about on a spar—hardly swimming (Ramsay)—for a night and a day (2 Corinthians 11:25-26), and so was better qualified than most people to pronounce an opinion on the advisability of risking a winter voyage. Yet the centurion’s mistake was—
2. Certainly serious. It led to all the future misfortunes that befell the large ship and its crew. To proceed at the late season which had then arrived was a false step, and, like other false steps, when once taken could not be retrieved.
III. The course recommended by the crew and passengers.—
1. The tenor of it. To put to sea at once and make for the harbour of Phœnix, on the south of Crete. If the Alexandrian sailors knew of the existence of such a harbour, recent geographical discovery has shown the accuracy of their information. It was long held that no spot on the south shore of Crete answered the description of Phœnix furnished by Luke; but “at length the point was entirely settled and made clear by the publication of the charts of our British surveying officers. There is no difficulty now in identifying Phœnix with Lutro in the narrowest part of the island of Crete. It is a place of admirable shelter, with deep water close under the rocks and precisely protected from south-west and north-west winds as was said in the discussion at Fair Havens” (Spence).
2. The arguments for it.
(1) That Fair Havens was not a suitable harbour to winter in. This appears to have been the case. The anchorage there, while affording shelter from the northwest gales, was open to those from other points of the compass.
(2) That Phœnix was better adapted for winter quarters. This also accorded with fact. According to Luke’s narrative Phœnix looked toward the south-west and the north-west, which the best expositors explain as meaning that its two openings looked down the directions of these winds, or, in other words, that it faced the north-east and south-east (see “Critical Remarks.”) “Lutro,” with which Phœnix has been identified, “is an admirable harbour. You open it like a box; unexpectedly the rocks stand apart, and the town appears within.… There are fifteen fathoms in the middle of the harbour, diminishing gradually to two close to the village” (Conybeare and Howson, 2:343).
3. The adoption of it. The majority having recommended that Phœnix should be made for, the captain, favoured by a change of wind from strong north-west to soft south-east, weighed anchor and sailed along close in shore, so little apprehensive of danger that the ship’s boat was left towing astern (Acts 27:16).
4. The mistake of it. The treacherous character of the wind which had decoyed them forth from the Fair Havens soon revealed itself. Suddenly it reverted to its old quarter and swept down with hurricane fury upon the ill-fated corn-ship. Whether named Euroclydon or Euraquilo, the wind belonged to the typhonic order, an east-north-easter fierce and strong, “a sudden eddying squall,” before which the vessel could not stand.
“Colder and colder blew the wind
A gale from the north-east.
The snow fell hissing in the brine,
And the billows frothed like yeast.
“Down came the storm, and smote amain
The vessel in its strength;
She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,
Then leaped her cable’s length.”
“Every one,” writes Ramsay (St. Paul, etc., p. 327), “who has any experience of sailing on lakes or bays overhung by mountains, can appreciate the epithet ‘typhonic’ which Luke uses”—adding that a ship captain when relating an experience of his own in Cretan waters, said, “The wind comes down from those mountains fit to blow the ship out of the water.” Turning her back to the gale Paul’s ship ran before the wind.
1. The danger of either always trusting to experts or always following the majority. In this case the sailors and passengers were wrong, and Paul right.
2. The almightiness of God, as seen in the elements of nature. Wind and wave are only instruments in God’s hand, and vehicles of His power.
3. The wisdom of always acting with prudent foresight. Boast not thyself of to-morrow. Hurricanes may succeed south winds.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 27:9. Dangerous Voyages.—Such are those which are undertaken—
I. At unsuitable times.
II. Over stormy seas.
III. Against advice from the experienced.
IV. With overweening confidence in one’s own ability.
V. In defiance of almost certain risks.—Many such voyages of a moral kind are made by souls.
Acts 27:10-14. The Counsel of the Good.
I. Is often despised by the world.—
1. Because it proceeds from the good.
2. Because it is unpleasant, and contrary to the world’s wishes.
II. May sometimes appear to be uncalled for.—This probably was felt to be the case with Paul’s advice to the captain and owner, which was—
1. Not asked, and may have looked officious.
2. Not probable, as emanating from a landsman and a prisoner.
III. Can seldom be neglected with impunity.—Before the voyage was over, all on board must have wished they had hearkened to the apostle.
Acts 27:12. The Vote of the Majority.
I. As a general rule it is wise that the majority should prevail.—On this principle only can social government or co-operative action proceed. To set aside the will of the majority where all have equal rights, in favour of the wish of the minority is of the essence of tyranny and oppression.
II. There are times when the majority should bow to the minority.—As, for instance, when the subject in debate is one upon which the minority is better informed or more likely to be able to give a right decision. To refuse to do so is not intelligence, but stupidity, not principle, but stubbornness.
III. The vote of the majority has not unfrequently been wrong.—Instances might be quoted from almost every department of life—business, politics, religion.
Acts 27:14. The Storms of Life.—Are most—
I. Unexpected in their coming.
II. Severe in their operation.
III. Long in their continuance.
IV. Disastrous in their effects.
Acts 27:15. The result was that the vessel could not bear up into the wind—lit., could not look into, or face the wind—a remarkably expressive phrase, considering that in ancient ships eyes were painted on each side of the bow; English sailors still call the “bow” the eyes of a ship (Conybeare and Howson)—so that the sailors let her drive or gave way to her, and were driven (R.V.)—lit., having given up the vessel to the wind, we were borne along at its mercy.
Acts 27:16 clauds, or, according to best authorities, Cauda, or Gauda; Claudos (Ptolemy); presently named Gaudo by the Greeks, and Gozzo by the Italians; an island twenty-three miles south-west of Crete, “different from the similarly-called island near Malta” (Holtzmann). Much work to come by the boat.—Lit., we were able with difficulty to become masters of the boat—i.e., to get possession of it; which, however, they did; hoisting it up on board so that it might not be dashed to pieces in the storm, and might serve as a last means of escape (Acts 27:30).
Acts 27:17. Helps, undergirding the ship.—I.e., ropes, chains, and such like, for putting over the gunwale and under the keel, so as, by drawing them together, to strengthen the hud and keep it from falling to pieces. The term for this in the English navy is “frapping.” Com-Hor., Od., I. xiv. 6: “Sine funibus vix durare carinœ possint, imperiosins œquor.” The quicksands, or the Syrtis, were the Syrtis Major, on the coast of Africa, south-west of Crete, a dangerous shoal or sandbank, of which ancient mariners were much afraid (Jos., Wars, II. xvi. 4). Here Virgil placed the shipwreck of Æneas (Æneid, i. 153). Strake sail.—Lit. lowered the gear, the verb being that employed to describe the letting down of the boat into the sea (Acts 27:30), and of Paul over the wall of Damascus (Acts 9:25; 2 Corinthians 11:33). What was lowered was, either
(1) the sails, so that the vessel scudded along under bare poles (Meyer, De Wette, Hackett, Lechler, Holtzmann); or
(2) the great yard, or top hamper, leaving only a small storm-sail (Conybeare and Howson, Smith, Alford, Plumptre); or
(3) the stern anchor, so as, by dragging, to retard as much as possible the ship’s progress (Brensing). And so were driven, or were borne along—i.e., they drifted.
Acts 27:18. They lightened the ship.—By casting out what of the cargo could be spared. This occurred during the second day of the storm. The ship had obviously sprung a leak.
Acts 27:19. On the third day the tackling followed. This was either
(1) the yards, masts, and sails of the ship (Olshausen Ewald, Smita, Conybeare and Howson); or
(2) the tables, chests, beds, and the like, the ship’s furniture (De Wette, Meyer, Alford, Lechler, Hackett, Holtzmann); or
(3) the baggage of the passengers (Wetstein, Kuinoel, Winer, Plumptre). The best texts read they instead of we cast out.
Acts 27:20. When neither sun nor stars in many days appeared.—This, the overclouding of the sky, “a circumstance not unusual during a Levanter” (Conybeare and Howson), rendered ancient navigation perilous, as without a compass they had no other means of determining their position than by observation of the heavenly bodies.
Acts 27:21. Long abstinence.—Not necessarily entire (compare Acts 27:33), but partial, and occasioned not by lack of provisions, but by fear and the difficulty of preparing food during the continuance of the gale. Ye should have hearkened unto me was said, not so much to rebuke them as to secure their attention to what he was about to state.
Acts 27:22. Be of good cheer.—Compare Acts 23:11. “Look and tone, we may well believe, helped the words. It was something in that scene of misery and dejection to see one man stand forward with a brave, calm confidence” (Plumptre).
Acts 27:24. Fear not, Paul.—One naturally infers from this that the apostle was not entirely free from anxiety (compare Acts 18:9). Thou must be brought, or stand (R.V.), before Cæsar.—Compare Acts 23:11.
Acts 27:26. This whole passage (Acts 27:21-26) has been pronounced an interpolation by the writer of the Acts (Zeller, Overbeck, Hilgenfeld, Holtzmann), on the ground that it does not harmonise with the statements in Acts 27:10; Acts 27:31. But while God’s purposes are certain in fulfilment, man is not, on that account, relieved from the necessity of employing means for their accomplishment. See “Hints” on Acts 27:21-26.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 27:15-26
Drifting Upon the Deep; or, Preparing for The Worst
I. Making for shelter.—This the storm-driven vessel found for a little under the lee of a small island named Clauda or Cauda, the modern Gozzo, about twenty miles south-west of Cape Matala. The word used by Luke “running under,” it has been observed (Smith, The Shipwreck of St. Paul, 2nd ed., p. 100), is a striking nautical term which expresses first that the ship had the wind behind it, and secondly, that it had the wind between itself and the island. Hence the inference is that it passed to the south-east of the island.
II. Hoisting up the boat.—This, as already remarked, had been towing astern when the ship left the Fair Havens. Either the storm had arisen so suddenly or had not been expected to continue, so that at first no attention was turned to the boat. When the vessel was fairly caught by the hurricane, it was impossible to do anything in the way of securing the boat. In the temporary shelter afforded by the island, the sailors managed, though with difficulty, to get it brought on board. It had obviously by this time become waterlogged. It was not much of a protection for two hundred and seventy passengers; but should things come to the worst it might be the means of saving some, if not all.
III. Frapping the ship.—So apprehensive were the captain and owner that the violence of the storm might cause the ship’s timbers to start, and the ship to spring a leak, that they resorted to a practice which, though seldom necessary, in consequence of the superior construction of modern vessels, is nevertheless still occasionally employed by sailors in a storm. They used helps, undergirding the ship. They put chains under the keel and over the gunwale of the vessel, and probably ropes along its sides, to strengthen the hull and keep it from being battered to pieces. Mr. Smith and Conybeare and Howson mention several instances of the practice here referred to, of which the following may be cited.
1. At the battle of Navarino the Albion man-of-war received so much damage during the action, that it became necessary to have recourse to frapping, and the vessel had chain cables passed round her under the keel, which were tightened by others passed horizontally along the sides, interlacing them; and she was brought home in this state to Portsmouth.
2. On December 20th, 1837, the schooner St. Croix, fifty-three tons burden, bound for Kingston, Jamaica, encountered a severe gale from south-west and lay to for seven days. On the 26th she shipped a heavy sea, which took away about one-third of her deck-load. For the preservation of the crew, vessel, and balance of deck-load, it was found necessary to secure the top of the ship, which was done by passing a coil of four-inch Manilla rope round and round the vessel, and making them as tight as possible by means of heavers. One of the chains was also passed round and fastened with tackles and heavers, so that the top of the vessel was secured and the leak in the waterways was stopped. In this way the vessel reached its destination.
IV. Lowering the gear.—Considerable dubiety exists as to the exact import of this expression—some supposing it to mean that the sails were taken down so as to let the vessel scud along under bare poles, and others that the stern anchor was paid out, that, by dragging, it might impede the ship’s progress; but the opinion most in favour is that the top hamper was lowered and the mast rigged with only a small storm-sail. The reason for this precaution was that the sailors dreaded being driven upon the Great Syrtis (to-day called the Gulf of Sidra), a dangerous shoal upon the coast of Africa, which was a terror to all ancient seamen—“a place terrible to such as barely hear it described,” said Agrippa in his memorable speech, dissuading his countrymen from going to war with the Romans (Jos., Wars, II. Act. 16:4)—and on which, according to Virgil, the ship of Æneas was wrecked (Æneid, 1:157). This might, to some extent, have been hindered, if not wholly prevented, by the second of the above methods, lowering a stern anchor—by the first not at all; but the probability is that the course adopted was that suggested by the third,—viz., lying to, with the ship’s head turned towards the wind or brought as near it as possible, with as much canvas set as would prevent her from falling off into the trough of sea. Smith, Conybeare and Howson, Lewin, Penrose, and other competent authorities, are of opinion that she lay to within seven points of the wind on what is called the starboard tack.
V. Lightening the ship—The violence of the gale continuing, additional measures were required to ensure safety.
1. A part of the cargo—perhaps the deck cargo, or whatever portion of the freight could be most easily spared—was thrown overboard on the second day of the storm. That all was not thrown out appears later on (Acts 27:38).
2. The tackling of the ship followed on the succeeding day, the third of the hurricane. What the spare gear meant cannot be definitely stated. Mr. Smith conjectures it may have been the mainyard, “an immense spar, probably as long as the ship, which would require the united efforts of passengers and crew to launch overboard,” and adds, “The relief a ship would experience by this would be of the same kind as in a modern war-vessel when the guns are thrown overboard.” In this work of casting out “the ship’s furniture” the A.V., following certain ancient MSS. represents Luke and his companions, perhaps including Paul, as taking part; but, according to the best texts the work was done by the sailors alone.
VI. Despairing of safety.—This was the condition of the crew and passengers for the next few days. When the ship lay to under the starboard tack she began to drift away westward, or, more correctly speaking, west by north, at the rate of (say) thirty-six miles in twenty-four hours. With a ship manifestly leaking, a wild storm raging, a grey sky overhead during day, concealing the sun, and a black pall at night shutting out the stars, so that no observations could be made of their whereabouts, it was not surprising that all on board began to anticipate the worst. Tossed about at the mercy of wind and wave, with creaking and slackening timbers, they had no more cheerful prospect than that before long their ship would founder and go down, as Josephus’s vessel, with six hundred souls on board, had done in this same sea, the Adriatic.
VII. Taking heart of cheer.—How many days had passed before Paul interposed with his words of comfort is not told. Despair had laid its icy grasp on every heart. Nobody cared for food, and nobody could have eaten though food had been prepared. In such circumstances the apostle, the hurricane having for a moment lulled, it may be conjectured, stood forth among them, crew and passengers, to offer words of cheer.
1. He reproved them for not having acted on his advice when he counselled them to winter in Fair Havens (Acts 27:10);—which perhaps shows that Paul regarded that advice as having been founded on more than his own natural sagacity. Had they listened to his suggestion, they had not come by their present injury and loss.
2. He assured them that no lives would perish, though the ship would be lost. This he stated, not as an inference of his own foresight, but as the result of a communication made to him during the preceding night, direct from heaven, by an angel of the God whom he served, and in answer to prayer. That heavenly ambassador had repeated an intimation previously made (Acts 23:11), that he must go to Rome and stand before Cæsar (which implied that his life would not be lost in that storm), adding the further statement that, in answer to his supplication, God had granted him the lives of all his fellow-passengers.
3. He exhorted them to be of good cheer. Twice used (Acts 27:22-25), this expression revealed at once his earnestness and strong conviction of the truth of what he said—a conviction which arose from his faith in God, whose promises to him were Yea and amen (2 Corinthians 1:20). He believed that what God had spoken to him would come to pass. Hence he could afford to dismiss all anxiety as to the issue of the voyage. Could they have believed him, as he believed God, they might have done the same. That Luke and Aristarchus were relieved of their apprehensions by Paul’s address need hardly be questioned. But that the crew and passengers continued in alarm is apparent from the circumstance that when next Paul spoke to them, on the fourteenth night (Acts 27:33), they had not broken fast.
4. He told them they would be cast upon a certain island. As land was not then visible, this announcement must be regarded as having formed part of the communication made to Paul by the angel. The addition of this fact reminded the crew and passengers that, even if they did credit Paul’s assurance, there was still need for caution, lest in the stranding of the vessel they should, after all, be drowned. God’s promise in no way relieved them of the necessity of caring for their own safety.
1. The helplessness of man when he falls into the hands of God. Sailors and passengers realise this when caught in a storm at sea.
2. The worthlessness of material treasure when compared with life. “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath, will he give for his life.”
3. The holy courage which true piety inspires. Paul lost neither heart nor head in the storm.
4. The certainty that worldly and unbelieving men receive many blessings from God for His people’s sakes.
5. The assurance possessed by faith that God will keep His promise.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 27:15. The Drifting Life and Its Opposite (compared with John 6:21).
1. The drifting life is our first subject. Its name is legion. It is not the only life of the human being—but it is the life of hundreds of thousands. “Drifting” is its superscription. Caught by the Euroclydon of chance and change, of accident and circumstance, it gives way to it, and so is driven. It drifts. Its very framework and setting—its external condition, its employment, its occupation, its profession—has perhaps been accident. It had a home, and it went to school, it did its lessons, and ate and drank, and it grew up, and it took its chance, and here it is. The outward life drifted. If this were all, something might be said of its quiet submission to a higher guidance—human guidance or even Divine. But this is not all. The life which we are describing is not only passive in the sense of submission—it is passive also in departments where it is death not to be active. For example, there is such a thing as drifting into associations, drifting into habits, drifting into a course of conduct. How else can we describe nine-tenths of the companionships, nine-tenths of the attachments, nine-tenths of the marriages, which may almost be said to have the life itself in their keeping? Drifting is the explanation of half the personal habits which make a good or a bad life. Letting alone is another word for it. Habits are only tricks on a large scale; every one knows how easy these are to fall into, how difficult to get rid of; what else are those habits of temper, habits of speech, habits of thoughts—sloth, debt, intemperance, profaneness, immorality—what else are they but negligences at first, things thought not worth attending to, so trivial, so immaterial, so easily dropped at any moment if they should go too far or become troublesome? We drift into them. There are positive habits and negative. You let your morning prayer pass one morning—you just drifted out of the good habit, as you drifted into the bad one. There are habits of the mind as well as of the life. Opinion is a habit of the mind—not least on the highest subjects. Faith itself is a mental habit—faith, and its opposite. But how few are they, by comparison, who carefully and earnestly form these mental habits. Reflect for a moment upon your reasons for thinking this, for believing that. “Be ready,” St. Peter says, “to answer when men ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you”—can we obey that precept? Must we not say, most of us, I drifted into my faith—it is the religion of my home and of my country. Very sad, sometimes, is the spectacle of this kind of drifting.
2. Thus we reach the second text, and the second picture, and the second parable—that which shows us the disciples crossing the sea of Galilee through wind and storm, terrified in the midst of it first by the absence and then by the apparition of their Master, then calmed by His voice of reassurance, receiving Him into their ship, and straightway finding themselves at the land whither they went. The opposite of a life of drifting is obviously a life of aim, of purpose, of directness. A life which goes, not anywhere, but somewhither. A life with a terminus, with a destination, with a haven. A life possessing both helm and pilot, a controlling hand and a guiding will. Such a life may be, and yet be earthly. A business life may have, in terms at least, all these conditions. But how when we take into view the whole of being—eternity, as well as time? How then? We want to know what is the security against drifting when we take in two worlds. And we find it in the words, “They received Him into the ship.” No life is safe from drifting unless it has religion in it. A strong will cannot prevent the ship, which is the life, from being caught by some Euroclydon, and driven, helpless, before it.—Dean Vaughan.
Acts 27:15-20. The Voyage of Life.—As depicted in that of Paul from Crete. Such as sail across the ocean of life are—
I. Often exceedingly tossed with a tempest.—
1. Of physical affliction.
2. Of mental tribulation.
3. Of heart-anxiety.
4. Of spiritual distress.
II. Sometimes reduced to such straits that they must part with all they count dear.—
1. With material substance.
2. With intellectual wealth.
3. With (supposed) spiritual riches.
4. With all ordinary means of saving themselves.
III. Not unfrequently plunged into despair.—
1. About their bodily life.
2. Concerning their soul’s salvation.
Acts 27:22. Good Cheer for Christian Sailors.
I. No soul shall be lost, however severe may be the tempests that arise against it.
“Let troubles rise and terrors frown,
And days of darkness fall;
Through Him all dangers well defy,
And more than conquer all.”
II. No guarantee that everything else may not be lost.—The ship the Christian sails in may be lost. His body may perish. His creature comforts may be removed. All he confides in may be shattered. He himself shall be saved (1 Corinthians 3:15).
Four Anchors.—The message—“I exhort you to be of good cheer”—is Christianity’s message to storm-tossed souls. When the long voyage has been one of continual storm; when you look back and see nothing but cloud, and darkness, and disappointment; when the very cargo that you ventured all upon has been thrown overboard, and there is nothing left; when you look forward and hear the surf pounding on the rocks—a sign of death close at hand;—then Christianity comes with this message: “I exhort you to be cheerful.” In such a time as that there are four anchors which the Christian may throw out while he wishes for day. They are, Duty, Hope, Christ, and God.
I. Duty.—When there is no longer any inspiration in life; when you can no longer see that you can do anything; when it seems that all life thus far has been a failure; when you cannot see that you can accomplish anything in the future;—then comes Duty to stand by your side and say, “Do not leave the ship. You are in peril with others; you are bearing a burden with others: bear the burden, and do not throw it off upon them.” Duty—all her surliness turns to serenity, and all her serenity to peace. Let a man live for happiness—for himself, for his wife, for his children, for his home, for others—and sooner or later the time of shipwreck will come to him. Let him live for what men call honour, and honour will not leave him in the hour of shipwreck. It was duty that enabled the six hundred to make that charge at Balaclava, though some one had blundered, and they rode to death. It is duty that enables many a man to stand where honour has no reward for him, and fame no value to him, and yet to stand, and, having done all, still stand; for duty inspires him, and duty is the voice of God speaking in conscience.
II. The second anchor is Hope—that is, immortal hope. Let a man live under the impression that the horizon of this present time is the horizon of his life, and I do not see how he can help at times asking himself, Is life worth living? and shaking his head sorrowfully in reply. One is prosperous and makes money, and is wealthy—what then? What can he do with it? Life is like an ocean voyage. The man comes out in the morning from his cabin and starts to walk the deck. Whether it is a little boat or a big one does not make much difference, for after a few years he has traversed the whole deck from stern to stem, stands on the bow, and knows all the life that is. What then? Lie down to sleep, wearied one; in the morning we shall wake in the harbour, a new continent before you, and your friends there waiting to receive you. This is the anchor that you are to throw out while you wish for day: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Blessed are those that believe in a morning.
III. The third anchor is Christ—Christ as a real Saviour from sorrow and sin, here and now; Christ as the noblest example of heroism; Christ as the inspiration to right life, because one that has entered into life and borne the brunt of life’s battle; Christ, the power to live the life that is worth living.
IV. And then in all these, God.—“My God, whom I serve, sent His angel to stand by me this night.” The presence of God. God in the garden and God in the desert; God at the cradle and God at the grave; God at the wedding-feast and God at the funeral; God in the hour of plenty and God in the hour of famine; God in that voice of duty, making conscience really Divine; God in that word of hope, the God of all hope, filling us with hope; God in that Christ, coming to take man’s burdens and show them how, not to get free from them, but how bravely to tear them. Christ’s message to the men who are storm-tossed, whose past is one long cyclone, whose future is an unknown grave, and the only comfort in whose ears is the sound of the breakers on the shore—the message of Christ to them is: Be of good cheer; Duty still lives, though happiness is dead; Hope has come—it beckons from beyond the grave; Christ is the model of a perfect heroism and the power of a Divine life; and over all, and in all, and through all, is the Father, God.—Lyman Abbott, D.D.
Acts 27:23. The Confession in the Midst of the Storm.—Paul here speaks—
1. Decidedly. He is no waverer, no halter between two opinions. He has made up his mind. He is thoroughly decided. He speaks as one who has made his choice.
2. Certainly. He interposes no “if” or “perhaps,” but speaks as one who knows his relationship to God.
3. Calmly. These are not the words of excitement or fanaticism.
4. Joyfully. They are the words of one exulting in the consciousness of this Divine relationship.
5. Earnestly. With him all connected with God is a profound reality. Such is our model! Though we be not apostles, we are to take our stand here. Nothing less than this will do. Indecision, oscillation, half-heartedness, will not do. Compromise will not do. Lukewarmness will not do. Formalism will not do. In everything relating to God there must be reality, sincerity, completeness. The whole heart must be there.—H. Bonar, D.D.
Paul’s Personal Religion.—It is Paul’s personal religion, then, that these words of his bring before us—not in any of its doctrinal details, but, bettor still, in the whole of its practical essence. We will try to read some of its features as the words reveal them.
I. First, we will note what we may call the clearheadedness of Paul’s religion. The religion of too many is a thing of haze. They do not see through it, and they do not know their position in it. Their abounding experience is that of mist. They may be Christians, happily, but also they may not; they themselves, at least, are not clear on the subject. Yet it is in their own consciousness that the evidence ought to be strongest. Now, in Paul’s religion there is not a trace of this. His religious outlook is clean and clear. He does not at this moment know very well where he is as a voyager on God’s world; but he does know distinctly where He is, and what he is, as a religious being under God’s government. He is a Christian as surely as he is a man. He lays his own hand on all that belongs to a Christian. There are mysteries enough without having this, too, for a mystery. “The God,” says he to the hearkening crowd on the deck, “whose I am, whom also I serve.” Paul does not see what is awaiting him in Rome, but he will tell himself, and he will tell other men, that he foresees sufficiently well what is awaiting him in the heavenly “city of the great King.”
II. A second thing, then, which we note in Paul’s religion is its clearheartedness. Paul, it is easy to see, is not embarrassed with his religion. There is nothing of load or weight in it—nothing of the entanglement of anxiety, or fear, or concealment, or shame. It is plain that he is rather proud than otherwise of his religion. These words declare his religion, throb with it, glory in it. On that long voyage he has never kept it a secret from any man how it stands between God and him. This of itself is proof enough that there is no degradation in his religious position. There can be nothing in it that is unworthy of a man, nothing that is uncongenial to the most gifted and capacious of human spirits. Does it appear to have broken his energy, or crushed his high spirit—this submission of himself and his powers to the control of his God? Nay; if all the truth were told, Paul was never Paul at his best, or anything near it, till he could say, “The God whose I am, whom also I serve.”
III. A third thing we have to note about the religion of Paul is its outward expression—the form it presents to the observation of men. This appears in the phrase “Whom also I serve.” That signifies, “To whom I do worship—to whose honour I perform all my religious rites, and at whose hands I take all my religious duties.” In a word, Paul worships his God—obeys worshipping, and worships obeying. His religion, rich with reverence, seeks outward manifestation of itself, and the manifestation it finds is worship—the observance of all the prescribed yet untrammelled methods of homage which are suitable to such a God as his. Those listening men had most of them their gods, to whom they did service, gave honour, made offerings—divinities whose anger they sought to soothe, whose favour they coveted to win, whose temples they were fain to frequent. Men could thus read their religion. So it was, more finely, with Paul. His religion, much more than theirs, was a spiritual religion, but it was not left altogether bodiless. He prayed, he praised—alone, or in company with brethren.
IV. But a fourth thing which we must now note about the religion of Paul is its inward thoroughness—its personalness, and depth, and solidity. The essence of Paul’s religion, we have said, is in this passage; we may now say that the essence of the passage is in these three words: “Whose I am.” Paul, then, simply does not belong to himself, but to his God. For him, “to live is Christ,” and to die is only more of Christ. But we must let those three words of Paul’s mean to ourselves the whole that they meant to him. Assuredly enough, he had consecrated his life to God’s will; but he had done more. He had given his whole being to God Himself—to Father, Son, and Spirit. “Whose,” says he, “I am”—precisely meaning what he says. Of course Paul was His—His, as the flower on the mountain-side is His who made it; as the silent, far-off star is His, and all the bustling burden of our wheeling world; for they bear upon them the lines of His creating hand. Of course Paul was His, for nothing else than His all-working providence from moment to moment could have preserved Paul to this hour. True; but the words carry more intensity in them than these considerations could ever have inspired. Paul had seen more to stir him, and had seen what stirred him more, than all creation and all providence. Paul, with his vision Divinely cleansed, had looked and beheld how his God, as the Man Jesus, had girded Himself to meet the desperate needs of Paul, had pitied Paul in his helplessness and guilt, had set it before Himself to redeem Paul at any cost that stayed short of unrighteousness, and had verily redeemed Paul at the cost of comfort, companionship, reputation, lordship, life—borne down under a great lone enduring to which the world can bring no parallel. “I am Thine: Thou hast saved me.”
V. The last thing we will note about the religion of Paul is its temporal and eternal actuality. That we may better feel this momentous characteristic of Paul’s religion, let me ask you to think again of the simple facts of the record. Paul knows that his God is great enough to be invisible, and mighty enough to be controlling all things everywhere. He knows he is the friend of his God. He is now in jeopardy. Paul’s religion, then, with all its soaring sublimity, and all its nearly incredible creed, was still a system of facts, and not of fancies. His religious sentiment worked among actualities, and not among shadows. His religious reliance had a vastness of substantially behind it, and not an infinitude of cloud. Paul felt his foot firm, and had reason—firm for time, and firm for eternity. It will be little more than extending our consideration of this last characteristic of Paul’s religion if, ere we close, we turn our eye upon the first three of this messenger’s words—the keynote of his message—“Fear not, Paul.” Absolutely speaking, this is the key-tone of the whole religion of Christ, and it is the key-tone of no other—hardly a tone at all of any other. Not the best of other religions can even pretend to carry into the very heart of a man such strong self-possession. But do not these three words bring a breath of good cheer to every Christian of us who, like Paul, is on lines of duty set for him by a gracious Providence, and on those lines is meeting with what is adverse, threatening, dangerous? As obedient Christians, as dutiful men and women of Christ, the last thing for us to do is to fear.—J. A. Kerr Bain, M. A.
Acts 27:23-24. The True Greatness of the Christian.—Whether minister or private believer.
I. His exalted character.—He belongs to God—“whose I am.”
1. By right of creation.
2. By title of purchase.
3. By act of voluntary dedication.
II. His noble profession.—He serves God—“Whom I serve.”
1. Intelligently, not blindly.
2. Heartily, not grudgingly.
3. Constantly, not intermittently.
III. His heavenly privilege.—
1. Visited by angels—There stood by me this night an angel of God.” “Are they not all ministering spirits?” etc. (Hebrews 1:14).
2. Admitted to the throne of grace. Paul had obviously been praying for his fellow-voyagers.
IV. His wide-reaching influence.—He becomes a means and a cause of blessing, even to those who love neither him nor his God. “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee” (compare Matthew 5:13).
Acts 27:24. Paul’s God.
I. His glorious majesty.—
1. Served by angels.
2. Worshipped by men.
II. His wondrous condescension.—In noting the drifting ship.
2. In visiting His suffering servant
3. In answering that servant’s prayer.
III. His regal sovereignty.—
1. Over the sea.
2. Over the lives of men.
3. Over the course of events.
IV. His absolute faithfulness.—In keeping His promised word to Paul—that he should stand before Cæsar.
V. His boundless mercy.—In granting the lives of all on board the ship, of whom most knew Him not, and many loved and served Him not.
The divine “Must”; or what the Angel’s words signified.—Six things.
I. Three to Paul.—
1. That his life would be spared. Against all the probabilities of opposing nature, whoever else might perish, he would not. “All things possible with God”; and “Our times in His hand,”
“Not a single shaft can hit
Till the God of love sees fit.”
2. That his appeal to Cæsar had not been wrong. If Paul had ever felt misgiving as to whether he had followed the right course in claiming to have his cause determined by the Emperor, the angel’s words must have reassured him, must in fact have led him to conclude that his action had been dictated by the Spirit of God, and was accordingly approved by God as right. To a good man it ever is a source of highest consolation to know that his footsteps are being guided by the Lord.
3. That the issue of his trial would be favourable. The angel who said “Fear not” could hardly have intended that the Emperor would condemn him.
II. Three to Paul’s fellow-voyagers.—
1. That Paul was under the special protection of heaven. This must have imparted considerable importance to Paul in their eyes, and perhaps convinced them of his innocence. God is able to exalt his servants before men, however strongly appearances may set against them.
2. That Paul was in God’s sight the principal person in the ship. The real steersman and commander, while all the rest only sailed with him. How differently are men’s positions even in this world estimated, when God is the judge!
3. That Paul would be to them a better protector than either Julius or the captain. For Paul’s sake were the whole ship’s company to be saved. The men of the world little know how many benefits they receive at God’s hand, simply because God’s servants are among them.—Compiled from Stier.
Acts 27:25. God and the Believer.
I. God’s promises to the believer are—
II. The believer’s faith in God is—
Acts 27:21-26. Adrift upon the Deep; or, Paul’s Heroism in the Storm.
I. The magnificent spirit he displayed.—
1. Calmness. The only man on board the tempest-tossed merchantman that lost not his head, but whose coolness was equal to, and even superior to, the occasion, was Paul. Of the two hundred and seventy-six souls that formed the vessel’s living freight—master and owner, centurion and prisoners, sailors, soldiers, and passengers, perhaps not even excepting Luke and Aristarchus—it is obvious that all were filled with alarm, plunged in despair, preparing for the worst, expecting every moment to go to the bottom. Of course these were not to be blamed. It is easy to be cool when sailing over placid seas; but to be caught in a Euroclydon, which whistles through the canvas, makes the cordage rattle, strains the timbers or iron plates of the ship, and tosses it about upon the boiling waters like a plaything—is sufficient to try the nerves of the strongest, bravest, and best men. Even the disciples in similar circumstances were afraid (Matthew 8:23-27). Yet Paul was self-possessed and cool, prisoner though he was, working all day (Acts 27:19) and at night not sleeping, though he could have done so more peacefully than Jonah (Acts 1:5), but waking, visited by angels and communing with heaven, praying for himself and his fellow-voyagers. Might it not be said, “And he thought of Christ, who stilled the wave on the Lake of Galilee”? Not every Christian could behave so in a foundering ship!
2. Courage. Having stepped forward amidst the crowd that were huddled on the deck he reproved the captain, centurion, and passengers, for not listening to his advice, when he besought them not to leave Fair Havens (Acts 27:10). To some it may look as if it were rather an irrelevant, if not unbecoming and boastful, not to say cruel, speech to make at a moment when all were standing face to face with death. But it was none of these. Rather it was needful to be said if Paul was to gain a hearing for what he had next to communicate; and it was manly, fearless, and noble.
3. Confidence. He had no doubt as to the truthfulness of what he next told them—that all would eventually go well with them; that their fears were unnecessary; that though the ship would be lost they would not; that the ship would be wrecked upon a certain island (God had not promised him the safety of the ship, Acts 27:22)—what island he could not say—but that not a life would be lost. It seemed all in the highest degree improbable; but nevertheless Paul believed all that he had said to be certain, because all that he had said had been revealed to him from heaven. Hence his confidence. Had his fellow-voyagers believed him, they too would have become confident; but they did not. Hence their hearts were a prey to black despair.
4. Cheerfulness. While on every countenance sat gloom, on his shone the lustre of joy. Though exhorted to partake of food, they could not. But he, standing in their midst, took bread and, having given thanks, brake it and began to eat. What a picture of Christian gladness! (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
II. The secret of his lofty behaviour.—The assurance which he had of three things.
1. Of his soul’s salvation. Paul knew that, though the ship went to the bottom, it would make no difference to his eternal destiny, it would only hasten him to his Master’s presence. He understood and remembered the relation in which he stood to God, and God stood to him. He belonged to God—“whose I am” (compare Isaiah 43:1)—and lived for God—“Whom I serve.” And God, he could have reverently added, belonged to him (Psalms 16:5), and watched over him. Whatever happened he could have sung—
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea-billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well with my soul!”
God and he, Christ and he, could not be partod (Romans 8:35-39).
2. Of his body’s preservation. The angel had told him—what once before his Lord had revealed to him (Acts 23:11)—that he must stand before Cæsar; and that implied that he could not drown. The knowledge of that kept him calm, courageous, confident, and cheerful, so far as his own fate was concerned. Whoever might be lost, he could not be! Yet more!
3. Of the safety of his fellow-voyagers. It is hardly likely that Paul would have been either calm or cheerful if he had known that, while he himself should be saved, all the rest of the ship’s company should be lost. But he was spared this trial. The angel’s communication was that all should be rescued. And so the mystery of his singular behaviour was solved.
Lesson.—They who would show Paul’s calmness, courage, confidence, and cheerfulness, amid the storms and tempests of life, must be acquainted with Paul’s God, possess Paul’s religion, and exercise Paul’s faith.
Note.—With regard to the objection urged against the historical credibility of these verses (see “Critical Remarks”), the following observations may be pondered:—“We may at once grant that the narrative would go on without any obvious awkwardness, if Acts 27:21-26 were omitted, which is of course true of many a paragraph describing some special incident in a historical work.” … “But it is half-hearted and useless to cut out Acts 27:21-26 as an interpolation without cutting out Acts 27:33-38; there, too, Paul is represented as the prophet and the consoler on a higher plane, though he is also the mere passenger suffering from hunger, and alive to the fact that the safety of all depends on their taking food and being fit for active exertion in the morning. Some critics go so far as to cut out Acts 27:33-35. But it is not possible to cut these out alone; there is an obvious want of sequence between Acts 27:32 and Acts 27:36, and Holtzmann therefore seems to accept Acts 27:33-35. But if they are accepted, I fail to see any reason for rejecting Acts 27:21-26; these two passages are so closely akin in purport and bearing on the context, that they must go together; and all the mischief attributed to Acts 27:21-26 as placing Paul on a higher plane is done in Acts 27:33-35.” … “Further, the excision of Acts 27:21-26 would cut away a vital part of the narrative.
(1) These verses contain the additional fact, natural in itself and assumed in Acts 27:34 as already known, that the crew and passengers were starving and weak.
(2) They fit well into the context, for they follow naturally after the spiritlessness described in Acts 27:20.” … “But let us cut out every verse that puts Paul on a higher plane, and observe the narrative that would result: Paul twice comes forward with advice that is cautiously prudent, and shows keen regard to the chance of safety.… The Paul who remains on the interpolation theory could never have written the Epistles.” … “Finally, the reason why the historian dwells at such length on the voyage lies mainly in Acts 27:21-26; Acts 27:33-38.… But the interpolation theory would cut out the centre of the picture.” … “There remains no reason to reject Acts 27:21-26 which I can discover, except that it introduces the superhuman element.… But the superhuman element is inextricably involved in this book: you cannot cut it out by any critical process that will bear scrutiny. You must accept all or leave all.”—Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, etc., pp. 337–339.
Acts 27:27. The fourteenth night dated from the rising of the gale, which occurred soon after leaving the Fair Havens. The Sea of Adria.—See “Homiletical Analysis.” Though applied to the sea between Greece and Italy, it also embraced the ocean waters around Sicily and as far south as the coast of Africa. The country towards which the ship drifted was not the island of Meleda near the Dalmatian coast, but that of Malta, south of Sicily, so that the course of drifting was west-by-north.
Acts 27:29. They cast four anchors out of the stern.—One advantage of doing so was that the ship was thus ready for running ashore. Besides, had they anchored from the prow, the vessel might have swung round and been dashed against the rocks. Cæsar (De Bel., Civ., i. 25) secured his ships by means of four anchors: naves quaternis anchoris destinabat, ne fluctibus moverentur; and Nelson is said to have anchored his ships in this way at the Battle of Copenhagen, having been led to do so by reading on the morning before the battle the twenty-seventh chapter of the Acts (Conybeare and Howson).
Acts 27:30. Cast anchors out of the foreship should be, stretch or lay out anchors from the foreships. The idea seems to have been to pretend to sail out from the bows in the boat with one or two anchors, so as to drop them into the sea at the full length of the cables. The intention was to escape and leave the soldiers and prisoners to their fate.
Acts 27:31. On the seeming inconsistency of this verse with Acts 27:22 see on Acts 27:26. Notwithstanding Paul’s previous assurance of safety, nothing but death could result if the only persons who could man the vessel were allowed to leave it.
Acts 27:32. The soldiers to whom Paul gave the alarm prevented the base attempt of the sailors to desert the ship from being successful.
Acts 27:33. Paul besought them all to take meat, or food.—Because of their long fast, and because of the labours which the dawning day might bring them. Before they could reach the shore, much fatigue would require to be endured and for this they would need to recruit their strength by means of food,
Acts 27:35. He took bread and gave thanks.—Neither celebrating a love-feast or Eucharist (Olshausen, Ewald), nor acting as a father of a family (Meyer, Hackett), since there is no mention made of any distribution of the bread, as in Luke 24:30; but simply setting them example as a pious Jew or Christian, who asks a blessing on his food (De Wette, Zöckler, Alford)—an example which they all followed (Acts 27:36).
Acts 27:37. Two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.—The number is probably correct, though some ancient authorities read about threescore and sixteen. The vessel must therefore have been quite equal in size to the largest class of modern merchantmen. Its keel, it has been estimated, would be about one hundred feet in length, while its carrying capacity would be about eleven and twelve hundred tons.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 27:27-37
Nearing the Breakers; or, a Night of Anxiety
I. The situation on the fourteenth night.—(I.e., from the bursting of the storm, which occurred soon after leaving Fair Havens, perhaps on the same day, at nightfall.)
1. Drifting in the Adria. Though usually applied to the Gulf of Venice, or the sea between Italy and Greece, the term “Adria” comprehended, in a wider sense, the ocean around Sicily, near which was Melita. The later Greek and Roman writers even called by this name the entire sheet of water as far as Africa. In what direction they drifted can be inferred from the statement that they were wrecked on Melita, or Malta, near Sicily, not the island of the same name on the Dalmatian coast. It was on this Ocean of Adria that Josephus was wrecked (Life, 3).
2. Nearing land. The time was now midnight. Whatever that may be to poets and landsmen, to tempest-tossed sailors in a sinking ship, with no moon or stars in the firmament overhead, or even with these, it must ever be a season of deep horror and great danger. With the sound, too, of breakers ahead announcing the proximity of unknown land, the acuteness of distress felt by crew and passengers in such a plight must be simply appalling.
“And fast through the midnight dark and drear,
Through the whistling sleet and snow,
Like a sheeted ghost the vessel swept
Towards the reef of Norman’s woe.
“And ever the fitful gusts between
A sound came from the land;
It was the sound of the trampling surf
On the rocks and the hard sea-sand.”
Such was the position of Paul’s ship on that terrible fourteenth night. The sailors on the look-out surmised, from the sound of foam-crested billows dashing against rocks or breaking on the beach, that they were “drawing near to some country,” and this surmise the soundings forthwith taken confirmed—first twenty fathoms, and again, after a little space, fifteen fathoms.
3. Letting go anchors. So imminent was the peril, and so great the fear of being hurled amid rocks, that the mariners dropped into the sea from the stern four anchors, in the hope of retarding the fate which now appeared inevitable. Ancient vessels, not carrying so large anchors as modern ships, had often more of them. Lucian (Nav., v.), in describing the Alexandrian corn-ship, speaks of her as having anchors (in the plural). “Athenæus mentions a ship which had eight” (Hackett); and that Paul’s possessed more than four is expressly stated (Acts 27:30). The reason for dropping the anchors from the stern, instead of from the prow, as was customary (Anchora de prorâ jacitur, Virgil, Æn. 6:902), is evident. Had the ship been anchored from the bows it might have swung round and struck upon the rocks, whereas, anchored from the stern, it was ready to be run ashore at any moment. The anchorage in St. Paul’s bay, the traditionary locality of the shipwreck, is reported good. “While the cables hold there is no danger, as the anchors will never start” (Sailing Directions).
4. Longing for the day. Whether or not the crew and passengers cried “every man unto his god,” as the mariners on Jonah’s ship did (Jonah 1:5), and as it may well be believed Paul did (see Acts 27:24), all on board fervently wished the night gone, since, for aught they knew, any moment the ship might founder, or the cables might snap. “The tension of hope and fear, the suspense which made men almost cry—
‘And if our fate be death, give light and let us die’—
is vividly brought brought before us by Luke’s words” (Plumptre).
5. Attempting to escape. Under pretence of paying out anchors from the foreship a number, perhaps all, of the sailors lowered the boat into the sea, and, mean spirited and selfish, would themselves have been overboard had not Paul, with his eagle eye, perceived and frustrated their design by informing the centurion and the soldiers, adding, with a peremptory tone of authority, that unless the sailors remained on board, the rest of the ship’s company could not be saved. Either Paul had received a Divine intimation to that effect, or he reasoned that, should the sailors abandon the vessel, no possibility could remain of successfully working it in any favourable emergency that might arise.
6. Defeating the (would be) deserters. “Nothing can show more forcibly,” says Lewin, “the absolute ascendency which Paul had gained over his comrades than the implicit faith with which they now executed his commands.” “With military promptitude the soldiers held no discussion on the subject, but decided the question by immediate action. With that short sword with which the Roman legions cleft their way through every obstacle to universal victory, they ‘cut the ropes,’ and the boat fell off, and, if not instantly swamped, drifted off to leeward into the darkness, and was dashed to pieces on the rocks” (Conybeare and Howson). Beautifully writes Besser: “It was a strong faith which did that. The last bridge between the lost ship, for which there was no deliverance, and the near land was, with this act, broken. At the same moment that the centurion ordered the boat’s ropes to be cut and the boat to be dropped into the sea, he stepped with his soldiers into the salvation boat of Paul’s word, which was hung with fast cords to the faithfulness of Almighty God. Do thou also hew the cords from every boat upon which thou hast placed thy confidence alongside of God, and then will to thee a morning light dawn in thy night, when thou shalt see the glorious help of God.”
II. The situation on the fifteenth dawn.—At length the grey light of coming dawn began to relieve the intolerable gloom which had prevailed during night. The rain fell in torrents (Acts 28:2). The crew and passengers shivered through cold, wet, hunger, and fear. A second time, therefore, Paul addressed himself to the company.
1. He repeated his assurance of safety for all on board. Not a hair of their heads should perish—not even of the sailors who had so meanly attempted to leave them. Thus did he requite their evil with good, and heap coals of fire upon their heads (Romans 9:20). How they were to get ashore lay, as yet, beyond his knowledge. Only the fact that all should reach the beach alive had been revealed to him, and he believed that that would come to pass which God had said. When God speaks, faith immediately proceeds to hush her doubts, knowing that nothing can be too hard for omnipotence (Jeremiah 32:17).
2. He besought them to take food. For fourteen days and nights they had eaten nothing—at least, nothing adequate to their necessities, having been able to obtain no regular meals, and having had no heart to eat what they could obtain, fear and despair having quenched their appetites. The idea that they had been keeping a religious fast is not for a moment to be entertained. “Appian,” says Doddridge, “speaks of an army which for twenty days together had neither food nor sleep: by which he must mean that they neither made full meals nor slept whole nights together. The same interpretation must be given to this phrase” (quoted by Hackett). “It was physically impossible that the two hundred and seventy-six who were on board could have gone on for fourteen days without any food at all. Scanty rations had, we must believe, been doled out to those who came for them; but the tension of suspense was so great that they had not sat down to any regular meal” (Plumptre). As an inducement to their compliance with his entreaty Paul explained that this was absolutely necessary for their safety; meaning that, though they might not perish through drowning, unless they took support they might die of weakness induced by starvation.
3. He himself set them an example. Having taken bread, he gave thanks to God in presence of them all, and began to eat. There is no ground for assuming either that Paul intended his action to be commemorative of the Lord’s Supper or that the Christians present (who must have been few) understood it in this light. Just as little did he purpose to represent himself as the father or head of the family, since he did not distribute among the company the bread which he took. Simply he designed, one may suppose, to exemplify his own precept; and in so doing he properly acted as a pious Jew or a devout Christian, giving thanks to God in presence of them all for the lives He had hitherto preserved amid the dangers of the deep as well as for the prospect of safety that lay before them; for the food which, in His providence, they still possessed, and for the comparative calmness of mind in which at last they were allowed to partake of it—after which, having broken it, he began to eat. It must have been a sublime as well as strange spectacle to that shipload of heathen soldiers and prisoners, sailors and passengers, all shivering and shrunken, poor, emaciated creatures, starving and cold—to look upon the face and hear the voice of the one unperturbed spirit among them—a physically weak but spiritually strong Jew; a shackled prisoner, standing on the deck in the grey light of dawn, amid the rain and storm, the howling of the winds and dashing of the waves, perhaps the shrieking of the passengers, the cursing of the soldiers, and the shoutings of the prisoners, lifting up his soul to God in prayer, and then quietly partaking of food. “Were I a painter,” writes Besser, “I would paint that scene!” And one feels disposed to say, A men! One would like to have heard Paul’s “grace,” and to have seen the faces of them who listened to it! How it impressed them may never be known; how it affected them is told. “Then were they all of good cheer, and themselves also took food.”
1. Man’s helplessness, apart from God, amid the storms of life.
2. The unspeakable baseness of the natural heart, as shown in the mean attempt of the sailors.
3. The value of a good man in times of difficulty and danger.
4. The sublimity of true religion, as seen in Paul.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 27:27. Midnight on the Sea.
I. A gloomy picture.—
1. A stormy ocean.
2. A drifting wreck.
3. A starless sky.
4. A rocky coast.
5. A despairing crew.
II. A suggestive symbol.—Of the Christless soul.
1. Tossed about upon the sea of life.
2. Drifting he knows not whither.
3. Without a star of hope in the interior firmament of his soul.
4. Nearing an unknown country, the future world.
5. Filled with alarm for his safety.
III. An instructive contrast.—The voyage of the Christian soul different in these respects.
1. Tossed about by life’s tribulations, he is not afraid.
2. Driven to and fro, he always knows whither he is bound.
3. Though stars shine not without, they do within.
4. The country he nears is not unknown.
5. A stranger to despair, he is conscious of a settled peace and holy joy.
Acts 27:29. Anchored from, the Stern.—Many whose faces are, or seem to be, turned towards the shore of the better country are held back, being anchored from the stern—
I. By their secret lusts.
II. By their earthly affections.
III. By their worldly occupations.
IV. By their darling enjoyments.
Acts 27:31, along with Acts 27:22. Theological Doctrines and Theological Mistakes.
I. Theological doctrines.—
1. The doctrine of Divine Fore-ordination. That God fore-knows and fore-ordains (or, vice versâ, fore-ordains and fore-knows) everything that comes to pass illustrated by the promise that no life should be lost.
2. The doctrine of human freedom. That man is responsible for working out his own destiny exemplified by the statement that, except the sailors remained in the ship, neither they nor the rest could be saved.
II. Theological mistakes.—
1. That Divine fore-ordination precludes human freedom. This is an error, since the same wisdom that ordains the end ordains also the means—viz., human freedom.
2. That human freedom precludes Divine fore-ordination. This the twofold mystery of God’s relation to His intelligent creatures, that He can create free beings without Himself ceasing to be free, and that He can fix His own plan without fixing (in the sense of coercing) man’s.
Acts 27:34. A Daring Prophecy. “There shall not a hair perish from the head of any of you!”
I. Most unlikely in the view of reason.—Beyond all reasonable ground of hope or expectation it must have seemed to crew and captain, centurion and owner, soldiers and prisoners, that, with a sinking ship on a wind-driven ocean, and an unknown coast to the leeward, with multitudes on board who could not swim, none of them should be lost! Had any one asserted it but Paul, it would instantly have been scorned as unworthy of credence. As it was, it is not evident that much trust was reposed in the prediction. So most of God’s predictions (not, however, the world’s, which always seem reasonable!) are spurned by the unbelieving world as contrary to common-sense, if not impossible.
II. Absolutely certain in the eye of faith.—To Paul it looked neither impossible nor incredible that what he had affirmed should come true. Paul believed—
1. That God had the power to perform this unlikely thing; since all things were possible with God, and nothing could be hard for Him who held the water (Isaiah 40:12) and the lives of men (Daniel 5:23) in the hollow of His hand.
2. That God was faithful, and would perform that which He had promised (Acts 27:25). Such faith characteristic of God’s people (Romans 4:21). On these grounds the Church rests her confidence to-day in the predictions of Scripture.
III. Exactly fulfilled in the course of experience.—Precisely as Paul had said it came to pass. At one time failure threatened (Acts 27:30-31), but in the end all escaped safe to land (Acts 27:44). So in the long run will every word that God has uttered be fulfilled (Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35).
Acts 27:35. Paul’s Prayer upon The Ship’s Deck; or, Grace before Meals.
I. A time-honoured practice.—Rendered venerable and sacred by the example of Samuel (1 Samuel 9:13) and of Jesus (Matthew 14:19; Mark 8:6-7; Luke 9:16).
II. A highly becoming practice.—Considering whence the meals come (James 1:17) and the undeservingness of the recipient (Genesis 32:10).
III. A truly religious practice.—Practically enjoined upon Christians, not alone by Christ’s example and Paul’s (1 Corinthians 10:30), but by direct Scripture precept (1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Timothy 4:4).
IV. An eminently useful practice.—Being calculated, when not done with ostentation or timidity, or in secrecy, but humbly yet courageously, so as to let its true character be seen—being calculated to seriously impress beholders.
V. A greatly neglected practice.—Much reason to fear that, even in pious households and with individual Christians, this hallowed custom has much fallen into disrepute—greatly to the injury of religion.
Acts 27:10-35. Paul in the Storm.—A noble picture—
I. Of manly courage.—
1. His prudent counsel (Acts 27:10).
2. His presence of mind (Acts 27:31).
II. Of Christian peace of mind.—
1. His friendly address (Acts 27:21).
2. His confident trust in God (Acts 27:25).
III. Of apostolic unction.—
1. His prophetic exhortation (Acts 27:24).
2. His priestly love-feast (Acts 27:35).
Paul in The Storm.—Christ’s glory reflected in the apostle.
I. Christ’s prophetical office.—In Paul’s warning (Acts 27:10) and promise (Acts 27:25).
II. Christ’s priestly office.—In Paul’s pastoral care (Acts 27:21) and love-feast (Acts 27:34-35).
III. Christ’s kingly office.—In Paul’s greatness of mind (Acts 27:35) and the souls given to him and rescued for his sake (Acts 27:24; Acts 27:31).—Gerok in Lange.
Acts 27:38. They lightened the ship.—For the third time (see Acts 27:18-19). Either because of its sinking condition, or because they wished it to get nearer shore. What they threw out was the wheat, τὸν σῖτον. Either
(1) the ship’s provisions (Alford, Plumptre, Holtzmann, Hausrath) which were now no longer needed—against this has been urged that by this time these must have been so reduced as to make little difference to the load (Smith), though it must not be overlooked that for the past fourteen days these provisions had been barely touched; or
(2) the remainder of the ship’s cargo (Smith, Conybeare and Howson, Zöckler).
Acts 27:39. A certain creek with a shore, or bay with a beach, as distinguished from the island in the middle of the sea (ver, 16). St Paul’s Bay, supposed to be here referred to, “is situated at the north-west extremity of the island of Malta, and is formed by the main shore on the south and the island of Salmonetta on the north” (Hackett). They were minded.—Better, they took counsel.
Acts 27:40. They committed themselves should be the anchors unto the sea.—Having no time to haul in the anchors, the sailors cut the ropes and abandoned them. The mainsail, ὁ is considered a wrong translation by nautical authorities, who substitute for it the foresail—i.e., the sail attached to the mast nearest the prow.
Acts 27:41. A place where two seas met was probably the channel between the smaller Salmonetta and the larger Malta (Smith). The sea flowing in from both sides would create a sand-or mud-bank, upon which the vessel ran aground before reaching the beach.
Acts 27:42. The inhuman proposal of this verse, which proceeded from the soldiers, because they were, in a measure, answerable for the safety of the prisoners, could only be equalled by its base ingratitude, since it involved the killing of Paul, to whom they had already more than once owed their lives.
Acts 27:43. Willing should be wishing to save Paul.—This clause shows the impression made by Paul upon his keeper, but need not, on that account, have been a later interpolation (Zeller). Should cast themselves first into the sea should be having cast themselves overboard (from the ship, ἀπὸ) should go forth first (ἐκ, from the sea) upon the land.—This would enable them to assist the others, and prevent the escape of the prisoners.
Acts 27:44. It is a comfort to know that Baur and Weizsäcker recognise the historical credibility of this chapter. “Although here and there betraying another hand,” says the former, “it is for the most part authentic;” the latter adds, “with this section we tread the firm ground of history”; “here everything is fresh, simple and natural, and reported with a skilful pen.”
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 27:37-44
Running Ashore; or, Escaping Safe to Land
I. Preparing the ship.—After all on board, following Paul’s example, and doubtless comforted by Paul’s assurance of safety, had partaken of food, they commenced to make ready for the work which lay before them of beaching their vessel. In order either to keep it afloat or to enable it to run as far in towards the shore as possible, they, for the third time, lightened it, by casting overboard the wheat, by which must be understood either the ship’s provisions, which would be no more needed, or the ship’s cargo (or what remained of it) which, in any case, would be damaged and rendered practically worthless, if it was not totally lost. (See “Critical Remarks.”)
II. Selecting a place.—This was found in a certain bay which the morning light revealed, but which they did not recognise, on account of its not being the usual spot for landing at Melita. It had a beach of sand, which made it look a promising locality in which to land their disabled craft. Selecting a spot where two opposite currents appeared to meet, they resolved at that point to make the attempt, in which, however, they were not certain of succeeding. Hence the clause “if it were possible” (A.V.), or as it is in the R.V., “they took counsel whether.” The bay is believed to have been St. Paul’s bay, on the northern extremity of Malta, in front of which lay the small island of Salmonetta (see “Critical Remarks”).
III. Running ashore.—First, the four anchors having been cast off, because, in all probability, the sailors could not afford the time necessary to take them up, were left in the sea. Next, the rudder bands were loosed—i.e., the lashings with which they had been secured were untied. Then, hoisting up the foresail, the seamen made for the beach. Passing the island of Salmonetta, and observing the water behind they ran the ship in that direction. In a sandbank, most likely caused by the meeting of counter currents, the forepart of the vessel stuck in the ground, while the stern continued to be lashed by the waves.
“She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as the carded wool;
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.”
IV. Escaping to land.—
1. The counsel of the soldiers was inhuman, that the prisoners should be killed, in case they should escape. Even if explainable by the terrible responsibility which attached to soldiers entrusted with the safe keeping of prisoners (compare Acts 12:19; Acts 16:27), it was a gruesome proposal, which might have been carried out had not Julius interposed.
2. The suggestion of the centurion was generous. Dictated, if not by humanity, by a desire to protect Paul, it served to show the influence Paul’s personality had begun to exercise upon his mind. One cannot help recalling here that it was a Roman centurion who recognised the superhuman majesty of Paul’s Master (Matthew 27:54). The course recommended by Julius was that those among the soldiers who could swim should cast themselves overboard and get first to land—in which case they could both look after the prisoners as they arrived upon the beach, and extend a helping hand to any of the passengers that might need their aid.
3. The escape of the others was accomplished with difficulty. The ship, unable to resist the storm, fell to pieces. Those on board were driven to save themselves as best they could. Happily, by means of planks of wood and broken pieces of the ship, this was effected. Not with comfort or with ease, but with complete bodily safety, all contrived to reach the land
1. That God helps those who help themselves. Though Paul had assured his fellow-voyagers that their lives would be spared, it was needful that they should take every precaution against their lives’ loss.
“Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn.”
The barbarous proposal of the soldiers to kill the prisoners was even worse than the attempt of the sailors to desert the ship.
3. That the silent influence for good of a good man is often all the greater that it is unconsciously exercised. Paul’s presence on board that ship saved the prisoners from a bloody death.
4. That God can always find means to fulfil His promises. He had promised that not a life on board that ship should be lost, and so it came to pass that they all escaped safe to land.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 27:37. A Great Ship’s Company.—Two hundred threescore and sixteen souls—
I. Exposed to a common peril.—That of foundering in mid ocean.
II. Inspired by a common hope (Acts 27:34).—That of ultimate safety.
III. Engaged in a common work (Acts 27:38).—That of self-preservation.
IV. Partakers of a common mercy (Acts 27:44).—That of final deliverance.
Acts 27:42. The Soldiers’ Counsel.
I. A proposal of truculent barbarity.
II. An example of base ingratitude.
III. An instance of heartless selfishness.
Acts 27:44. The Voyage of the Church of Jesus Christ. Like that of Paul’s ship in respect of five things.
I. The stormy sea over which it sails.
II. The fierce and sudden hurricanes it encounters.
III. The unknown country which it nears.
IV. The mixed company which it bears along.
V. The ultimate safety to which it reaches.
The Barque of the Church Compared to Paul’s Ship.
I. Its dangers.—
1. Contrary winds (Acts 27:4; Acts 27:14).
2. Foolish guides (Acts 27:11-12).
3. Superfluous possessions (Acts 27:18-19).
4. Disunited associates (Acts 27:30; Acts 27:42).
5. Concealed rocks (Acts 27:39; Acts 27:41).
II. Its means of help.—
1. The testimony of pious teachers (Acts 27:9; Acts 27:21).
2. The prophecies of the Divine word (Acts 27:23-24).
3. The comforts of the holy sacraments (Acts 27:35).
4. The blessing of believing prayer (Acts 27:35).
5. The rescuing hand of the Almighty (Acts 27:24; Acts 27:34; Acts 27:44).—Gerok in Lange.
I. The conflict of the ship with the elements.—Winds and waves (Acts 27:14-15).
II. The exertions of the sailors.—They undergird the ship and cast the furniture into the sea (Acts 27:16-19).
III. The apparent hopelessness of safety.—Through the leaking of the ship (Acts 27:20).
IV. The wonderful rescue.—Paul’s exhortation and God’s aid (Acts 27:33-43).—Lisco.
The Voyage of Life.
I. The setting out.—
1. The various changes of surrounding objects (Acts 27:1-2; Acts 27:4-8).
2. The friendships (Acts 27:3).
3. The first clouds in the heavens (Acts 27:9-15).
II. Fear and hope.—
1. The fear of unbelief (Acts 27:16-20).
2. The confidence of faith (Acts 27:21-26).
III. The contest with adversities.—
1. Trouble discloses hearts (Acts 27:27-32).
2. Trouble leads to God (Acts 27:33-38).
IV. The haven of rest.—
1. The shipwreck and the billows of death (Acts 27:39-43).
2. The rescue and the landing on the unknown land of rest (Acts 27:44)—Lisco.
Acts 27:44. “And so it came to pass”; or, thoughts concerning providence and grace.—Human life often likened to a voyage: “Ask what is human life,” etc. (Cowper’s Hope, 1–6). Paul’s ship an emblem of the Church, whose members are sure of everlasting safety. The safety of Paul’s ship’s company came to pass.
I. In accordance with the Divine purpose and plan.—Twice over was this announced to Paul by God and by Paul to his fellow-voyagers (Acts 27:22; Acts 27:34). Not a life would be lost, not a hair of their head would perish. So—
1. In providence, everything comes to pass in accordance with the same Divine plan and purpose. “He doeth according to His will,” etc., said Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:35). “He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will,” says Paul (Ephesians 1:11). “My counsel shall stand, and I shall do all My pleasure,” adds Jehovah (Isaiah 46:10). It is not conceivable that any event should occur outside and beyond God’s fore-knowledge and fore-ordination (see on Acts 2:23). And—
2. In grace. The salvation of believers occurs in accordance with the same Divine purpose and plan. They are chosen, called, sanctified, and saved, by sovereign grace (Acts 13:48; Acts 22:14; Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:4-11; Ephesians 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). It is not supposable that God does not know beforehand what the issues will be of His own scheme of redeeming grace.
II. In spite of every obstacle or hindrance. At least four things threatened to defeat the Divine purpose to save Paul and his fellow-voyagers:
1. The severity of the storm.
2. The attempted desertion of the sailors.
3. The inhuman proposal of the soldiers.
4. The breaking up of the vessel. Nevertheless it came to pass that all escaped safe to land. So again—
1. In providence, the Divine purpose may seem to be, and may actually be, opposed by similar forces. Take, for instance, the determination to settle Abraham’s descendants in Canaan. Notwithstanding their descent into Egypt and enslavement there, the turning away from them of the royal favour, the inhuman edict that their children should be cast into the Nile, the failure of Moses’s first attempt at their liberation, the general breaking down of their national spirit, their occupation of Egypt became, in God’s time, an accomplished fact.
2. In grace, nothing can prevent the ultimate salvation of Christ’s people—neither the ills or calamities of time nor the falling away of professed disciples, nor the remains of indwelling corruption in the hearts of sincere disciples, nor the breaking up of ecclesiastical institutions; in short, nothing and no one will be able to separate them from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus their Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
III. Through the use of means.—Paul and his fellow-voyagers had to use means in order to effect their preservation. Even after they had been assured that not a life would be lost they had, in a manner, to work out their own deliverance, by lightening the ship, running her ashore, and either swimming to land or getting ashore on planks or broken pieces of the ship. So—
1. In providence, the Divine plans and purposes are carried out through the employment of ordinary means wielded by man’s intelligence. And equally—
2. In grace, the salvation of believers is effected, not without, but with and by means of, their own co-operation, their ultimate attainment to eternal life and glory being accomplished through their abiding in Christ, following holiness, and generally working out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Acts 27:1-44. (On the whole chapter.) Paul and His Fellow Voyagers—a Comparison and a Contrast.
I. The comparison.—
1. Partakers of a common humanity.
2. Bound for a common port.
3. Exposed to a common peril.
4. Subjects of a common deliverance.
II. The contrast.—
1. Grace and nature. With the exception of Luke and Aristarchus, Paul was probably the only Christian among them.
2. Sagacity and dulness. Paul’s forecast of the storm, and the want of insight on the part of the centurion, the owner, the pilot and crew (Acts 27:9-12).
3. Faith and unbelief. Paul’s confidence that no lives would be lost: their doubt of the correctness of this assertion (Acts 27:22-26).
3. Courage and despair. Paul’s intrepidity throughout: their universal faintheartedness (Acts 27:31-33).
4. Piety and wickedness. Paul’s prayers for (Acts 27:24), and exhortations to (Acts 27:25; Acts 27:33-34) them; the baseness of the sailors (Acts 27:30), and the inhumanity of the soldiers (Acts 27:42).
III. The conclusion.
1. That all are not alike because they happen to sail in the same boat.
2. That common experiences do not always produce on different men the same effects.
3. That circumstances which call forth the nobility of the good frequently serve to evoke the meanness of the base.
4. That goodness makes the best leaders of men.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 27". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29