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We have here the Apostle entering on Ship-board, to be conducted to Rome. The Voyage is attended with danger. The Lord comforts Paul with a Visit in the Night. He foretells the Loss of the Ship, but of the saving of all the Crew. They are shipwrecked, but escape all to Land.
And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band. (2) And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us. (3) And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself. (4) And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. (5) And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia. (6) And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein. (7) And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone; (8) And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.
It is very blessed to watch the Lord's dealings with his people. Here seems to have been an overruling providence of the Lord, in relation to this voyage, in that Paul should be accompanied with several dear friends and companions. Luke, the writer of the Acts, it should appear, from certain passages in Paul's writings, was with him in this voyage, 2 Timothy 4:11 ; Philemon 1:24 . And, as he saith afterwards, when writing his last Epistle to Timothy, that he left Trophimus sick at Miletus, he must have been also with Paul at this time. And Aristarchus is mentioned by name, as here. This man, though but little known by us, we have reason to believe, was very dear to Paul; and what is infinitely more important, well-known in the book of life. He is spoken of, Acts 20:4; Acts 20:4 ; Philemon 1:25 . And we at length here of him as Paul's fellow-prisoner, Colossians 4:10 . Oh! what multitudes have there been of the Lord's faithful ones hidden from public view, like some sweet flower of the desert which hath opened its beauties to the sun, and shed its perfumes to the air unnoticed, and unknown of men, but which will be found transplanted into the garden of the Lord, when the great day shall appear!
Do, Reader, remark the courteous behavior of Julius the Centurion towards Paul. The Lord gave him favor, as he did in the instance of Joseph with Potiphar, Genesis 39:1-6 . And before that Julius and Paul parted, the Centurion found, as Potiphar had in the case of Joseph, what a blessed thing it is, to have the Lord's people with us in everything, Acts 27:24 .
It must have been a refreshing season indeed to the disciples at Sidon, (for as Tyre and Sidon were nigh each other, no doubt, upon such an occasion they met, see Acts 21:3-4 .) Here Christ himself exercised his ministry in the days of his flesh, Matthew 15:21 . And we read that the Church in this place was made glad, when Paul and Barnabas passed through this neighborhood some time before. See Acts 15:3 .
Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them, (10) And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives. (11) Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul. (12) And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the southwest and northwest. (13) And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete. (14) But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. (15) And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive. (16) And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat: (17) Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, struck sail, and so were driven. (18) And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; (19) And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.
There is nothing more striking to represent the life of God's people in their passage through the world, than that of the storms and tempests of the deep. The Psalmist hath as accurately, as beautifully described it, when he saith, They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. I beg the Reader to turn to the 107 th Pslam (Psalms 107:23-31 ), and read the finest piece of writing on this subject the imagination can conceive. The Sacred Writer describes what Paul and his companions here felt, the raising of the stormy wind, the lifting up of the waves to heaven, and going down again to the depths beneath, the reeling of the people, and the melting of the heart through fear. Their crying to the Lord in their trouble, and the Lord's delivering them from their distresses. Such is the voyage of life to the saints of God! Storms and tempests everywhere abound. But Christ is an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest! And sweetly he manifests himself to them, as a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones, is as a storm against the wall, Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 25:4 .
I admire the very gracious behavior of Paul on this occasion, in admonishing the ship's company of the dangers they were about to encounter. No doubt, among the gifts of the Spirit, Paul possessed that of prophecy, 1 Corinthians 12:10 . And, though in this first exercise of it before the crew, they very lightly regarded what he said; yet it laid the foundation for greater respect to what he said after. It hath been thought by some, that the fast here spoken of, was the great fast observed by the Jews on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 23:27-28 . The winter now approaching, and in those days, navigation being but very imperfectly known, sailing was considered dangerous.
And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away. (21) But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. (22) And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. (23) For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, (24) Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. (25) Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. (26) Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.
The description here given of the heavenly bodies affording so obscure a light, and the tempest of the sea raging so furiously, must have rendered the state of this ship's company very deplorable indeed. But, though all hope of being saved by human means was over, yet Paul knew the resource he had in the Lord. His confidence, therefore, so far front abating, gained strength, and his affectionate address to the crew, accompanied with a declaration of the message he had received from the Lord, had a very blessed effect, as it appears, upon the minds of the people. His foretelling that they should be cast upon a certain island, was no doubt intended as a proof, that when the event took place, they might put the greater confidence in what he had told them of the Lord.
I must not suffer the Reader to pass on, without observing, that a beautiful instruction of a spiritual nature ariseth from hence, which the believer in Christ would do well to keep in view. In the voyage to the city of the living God, the Church, and every individual of the Church, more or less, meet with storms and tempests, threatening shipwreck. And not unfrequently, while suffering the fury of the waves of the sea, the heavenly bodies seem to suspend their light. No Sun of righteousness for many days can they discover, neither do they find light from the ministers of Jesus, as the stars he holds in his right hand. And, while these things are so, unless great grace, like that given to the Apostle, be given to the Lord's people, all hopes of being saved, are for the time lost. They indeed, who like him, can bless a taking God, as well as a giving God, can, and do, live upon the Lord, when all other resources dry up.
But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country; (28) And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. (29) Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day. (30) And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, (31) Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. (32) Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off. (33) And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. (34) Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. (35) And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. (36) Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat. (37) And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. (38) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.
How truly interesting the whole narrative is. And what a lovely view the Lord hath given us of Paul. No doubt, his cheerfulness in the midst of the storm, very much contributed to animate the whole ship's company. I do not apprehend, that when Paul admonished them to eat some food, saying, that it was the fourteenth day they had fasted, and had taken nothing, that he meant they had been all that while without the smallest food. For strictly, and properly speaking, had this been the case, life would have been, in some instances at least, if not in all, destroyed for want of food. But I rather suppose, that he meant they had not, on account of the storm ; taken their usual meals in a regular manner; but only caught a morsel of food now and then, as the tempest would suffer them. Some have read the passage different from our translation, and rendered it, as if Paul had said, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried for, and continued fasting, having taken nothing, that is, ye have continued this whole day fasting. So that in this sense, they had not fasted but this day. And, certainly, this sense is much more probable, for in the other view of fourteen whole days' fasting of two hundred, threescore, and sixteen persons, nothing short of a miracle could have kept them all alive.
It hath been supposed by some, that Paul made this meal somewhat sacramental, by taking bread as Christ did, and giving thanks. But it appears to me to be a wrong idea. The Ordinance of the Supper would have been unsuited to the whole ship's company in their then circumstances. And we can hardly suppose that the Apostle would have brought that sacred service, which is peculiarly and specially intended for the sweet memorial of Christ's death in the Lord's family, to be received in common with those who know not the Lord.
And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship. (40) And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoisted up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore. (41) And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmovable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves. (42) And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape. (43) But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: (44) And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.
How our nature shudders at the cruel and desperately wicked purposes of the soldiers, in the proposal they made to kill the prisoners. Reader! do observe, not all the horrors of the shipwreck they had escaped, could soften the hardened nature of the unawakened mind. The devil raged more in their hearts than the storm of the sea upon their bodies. But, while we trace this temptation to the devil, do not fail to remark also, how the hand of the Lord was in this business, by his gracious influence on the mind of the Centurion, to counteract and defeat their inhuman policy. Oh! how blessed is it to trace the Lord's mercies both in providence and grace! Neither Jews nor Gentiles at Jerusalem and Caesarea, neither tempest of sea, or the raging of men or devils on land, shall destroy Paul; for the Lord hath said, Fear not Paul, thou must be brought before Caesar. Be of good cheer, for as thou host testified of me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome, Acts 23:11 . And how often may it be seen in the life of every child of God, both in spiritual concerns, and temporal, that when the enemy cometh in like a food, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him? Isaiah 59:19 .
How very beautiful, yet simple, the language with which the chapter closeth: And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land. Yes! The Lord had said it, and so it must be accomplished. Even from the mouth of an enemy, the Lord hath forced the confession; God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Numbers 33:19 . And, depend upon it, so it shall come to pass with all the Lord's family, embarked as they are with Christ, and passing through the storms and tempests of the present time state of the Church. Jehovah hath given to his dear Sons all them that sail with him. And he will bring them unto the haven, where they would be! Oh! that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! Psalms 107:30-31 .
How blessedly the Prophet Nahum spake, when he said, the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind, and in the storm! And how fully proved, was that way manifested, in all the circumstances of this voyage? Well might the Apostle say, in perils often, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. But, said he, as upon another occasion, out of them all, the Lord delivered me. Reader! it is well to be brought into exercises, that we may discern the Lord's hand in bringing out. The loudest cries of the awakened soul, are, when all is dark and discouraging, and when neither sun nor stars appear for many days. A child of God will then indeed pray, and pray hard, and in earnest, while the hand of chastening is upon him, and the grace of the Lord is within him, leading him forth in acts of faith and trust, upon the Lord his righteousness. Who of the Lord's people but would gladly pass through a storm, like this of Paul's, to have Paul's Lord with them, in the storm in such visions of the night? Oh! the unspeakable felicity, whether in storms or calms, in rough or smooth seasons, when a soul can say, there stood by me this night, the Lord and Angel of the Covenant, whose I am, and whom I serve. Reader! it is not simply an act of faith, but faith is then become the substance, realized into possession; when you and I, can, on sure grounds, say, I am God's property by grace; . sure I am, that I shall be equally enabled to say, then am I God ' s care by his covenant love and faithfulness, Lord! help all thy redeemed to cast all their care upon thee, and into thy hands; for Jesus will bring home the whole, and everyone to land, and bring them in to his everlasting haven, where they would be!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 27". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany