Paul pleadeth his Cause before the Council. A Dissension takes place in consequence of it among his Accusers. He is sent to Felix.
And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God unto this day. (2) And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. (3) Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? (4) And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? (5) Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.
While we cannot but admire the faithfulness, and intrepidity, of the great Apostle, in thus challenging his enemies, and contending for his integrity; we must not strain Paul's words too far, as though he meant to say, that he had always lived without guilt upon his conscience before God. This was far from the Apostle's meaning. All he intended to assert, indeed all he did assert, was, that his conscience could not reproach him with having done anything to expose him to their laws, or their just displeasure. It is a point well worth attending to, in our estimate of men and things, to observe, that in the Scripture account of holy men, and of their integrity, nothing more is implied, than that in life, they conduct themselves in all the departments of it, uprightly, and with a good conscience towards men. They draw a line of distinction, between the judgment of men, and the tribunal of God. Thus David calls upon the Lord to plead his cause, with unrighteous judges. judge me, (said he,) 0 Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me, Psalms 7:8. But, when David contemplated God's tribunal, and not man's, he cried out: Enter not into judgment with thy servant, 0 Lord, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified, Psalms 150:6. And thus, in like manner, other holy men of old, considered the vast difference: See Job 27:5-7 with Job 9:20-21. So that Paul's justifying himself in this place, is wholly with an eye to human laws, in the transactions of one man with another.
The passionate behavior of Ananias, and the hasty retort of Paul, both proved the common Adam-nature to which they both belonged. Though grace had renewed the mind of Paul, yet the unrenewed body had all the old man of sin remaining! So Paul said, and so all the children of God know, by experience, Romans 7:23, to the end. But, though Paul spake hastily, yet there was truth in what he said: and it should seem to have been somewhat prophetical. Sinners are smitten of the Lord, when judgment overtakes them. And the unjust judge can expect no other. Reader! do not overlook the humble acknowledgment of the Apostle, of his error, by haste and inadvertency. True grace, will always induce such effects.
But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. (7) And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. (8) For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. (9) And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God. (10) And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
I need not dwell upon the evident design of Paul, by this declaration of his. Neither will it be necessary for me to go into the subject, of those very different sects, of which the present Council consisted. But, I would rather take occasion from hence to remark, what an awful day must it have been, in the Jewish Church, when the Seventy, or Sanhedrim, forming the High Court for judgment in all things sacred, was made up of such a motley body of men. Reader! do, I beseech you, look at the Scripture account of the Lord's institution of this Council, as stated in the book of Numbers. Attend to what the Lord himself said, concerning this Council of Seventy of the Elders, chosen for this express purpose. Remark Jehovah's promise, of putting his Spirit upon them; and then, look at this degenerate Council, with such a character as Ananias at the head of them! Oh! what an awful change! See Numbers 11:16-17. See also Acts 4:7 and Commentary.
And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
Pause over this verse for the sweetness of it. How very gracious was it in the Lord Jesus, thus to favor his servant with another vision, as he had done before! (see Acts 18:9 and Commentary.) And how blessed in the Lord, by way of shewing him that all the contrivances of his enemies for his destruction at Jerusalem, should not affect his life; that the Lord had business for him yet to perform at Rome. And this was peculiarly consolatory to the Apostle, because though Agabus by the Spirit had prophesied of his being bound at Jerusalem, yet now from the Lord himself he was taught, that at this time he was not to die there. Precious Lord Jesus! who shall count, yea, what imagination of men, or angels, can fully conceive the boundless love of thine heart? And, oh! how sweet to my soul is the recollection, (in the very moment of writing this Poor Man's Commentary,) that to Paul, upon this occasion here recorded, and upon every other to thy Church and people, all that love of thine, and the communication of it, flows from thy double nature, thy God-Man love, to endear it ten thousand fold to our souls!
And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. (13) And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy. (14) And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul. (15) Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you tomorrow, as though ye would inquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him. (16) And when Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul. (17) Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him. (18) So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee. (19) Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me? (20) And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul tomorrow into the council, as though they would inquire somewhat of him more perfectly. (21) But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee. (22) So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast showed these things to me.
Reader! pause over the sad relation here recorded of those awful men! What a proof is here of the desperately wicked heart of man. See with what earnestness they entered into an oath, or as the Jews called it, cherem, or anathema, for shedding blood, which, if broken, called for God's curse upon them that made it! Beheld no less the awful state of the chief priests and elders, who, as men, and especially as members of the Sanhedrim, the moment the proposal was made to them of bringing down Paul to the council for this purpose, should have brought them forth before the council to be punished for the intentional murder. But, Reader! mark with yet more earnest attention the overlooking and disposing grace of the Lord, to save his servant, and frustrate the devices of the wicked. See what a poor instrument in Paul's sister's son the Lord makes use of for this purpose. No doubt the Lord who sent his angel, and opened the prison doors upon several occasions before, (Acts 5:18-20; Act_12:7 and Acts 16:26) might have done it now. But the work and mercy were not less the Lord's, because brought about by human means. And, oh! how frequently is the same grace manifesting itself now in life, in the daily ten thousand instances of it, were our inattentive minds awakened to watch and see how the Lord is watching over us, 2 Chronicles 16:9. Who would have thought that this youth (for so he is called, 2 Chronicles 16:14.) should have been chosen by the Lord for to be the highly honored instrument to save the life of this great Apostle! And how is his memory honored in the Church through all generations from that hour for the service, without which we should never have known that Paul had a sister, or that sister a son. Let all our youths, (if any such read this Poor Man's Commentary,) learn from hence, how sure it is that the eye of the Lord is always upon them. And let the thought keep their minds under a constant regard to his Almighty inspection. And let them be looking to the Lord, while conscious that the Lord is always looking upon them, that they may seek for grace to be sanctified before Him. Who shall say whether the Lord may not, as in the instance here recorded concerning Paul, employ them to his service, and make them the honored instruments of his mercy to others, and bless them in their own souls also? I beg all such, if the Lord should bring those lines before them, not to pass away from this train of thoughts before that they have turned to those scriptures, and carefully read them. 1 Chronicles 28:9; 2 Chronicles 34:1-3; Proverbs 1:8-16; 2 Timothy 3:14-15.
And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night; (24) And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor. (25) And he wrote a letter after this manner: (26) Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting. (27) This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman. (28) And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council: (29) Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds. (30) And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell. (31) Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris. (32) On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle: (33) Who, when they came to Caesarea, and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him. (34) And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia; (35) I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall.
I should not have thought it necessary to have detained the Reader at this place, but to remark to him how the Lord must have wrought, upon this chief captain's mind, through fear for his own safety to provide for Paul's. It appears from his letter to Felix, as here inserted, that he wanted to shew the governor what an high regard he had fur the Roman name, but he artfully concealed that he had bound Paul, while he tells him that he understood he was a Roman. And I pray the Reader yet further to observe, with what contempt he speaks of the accusations brought against Paul, which he called questions of their law. The resurrection of the dead, and a world to come, which Paul was called in question for, (see Acts 23:6) was, in this poor heathen's view, things of no moment! Reader! think of your mercies in Christ! Since the Son of God brought life and immortality to light through his Gospel, oh! how precious the thought, that these things are no longer questionable, 2 Timothy 1:10. Oh! what unspeakable mercies hath Jesus brought his Church! And, oh! what distinguishing grace, when a soul is made the happy partaker of Christ, and all his mercies with him? Hebrews 3:14. Reader! what saith your heart to both?
I would summon my own heart, while I call upon the Reader's also, in the review of Paul's appeal before the council, to solemnly enquire whether we have lived in all good conscience before God unto this day? It is an important question, and not hastily and presumptuously to be answered. We are such partial judge s of evil thoughts, when that judgment respects ourselves, that self-love too often gives a bias to the opinion. But, when we come to be weighed in the balance of unerring truth, not according to our view of things, but according to God's righteous judgment, the question then becomes solemn indeed, how is the Lord sanctified in the soul? Reader! doth it not strike you, (I bless the Lord it doth me,) that it is well for poor fallen sinful creatures, we have a better righteousness than our own to trust in, and to plead before God, under all the misgivings of conscience, and under all the accusations of sin and Satan!
Let not the Reader overlook (I pray the Lord I may not) the Lord's watchful care over his servant, amidst the host of foes with which he was surrounded. Beautiful is that scripture, and here it was fully proved, The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation. Paul had no knowledge, but the Lord had, how he should escape, when both Jew and Gentile seized upon his person. It would be very blessed for me, if I always had this in remembrance. There are numberless anxieties I crowd into life for want of recollecting, that these things are my Lord's concern, and not mine. Jesus hath said by his servant, casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you. I know this in theory as well as words can make it. And frequently under this authority I do cast all my care upon the Lord, and bring the whole to his throne of grace. But soon after, yea, sometimes in a few moments after, I discover that I must have fetched them all away again, and taken them up, for they are all upon me. Oh! thou dear Lord! is it thus I learn my unworthiness and faithlessness to know more thy grace and all-sufficiency?
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 23". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent