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Bible Commentaries

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT

Acts 20

Verse 1

The foregoing chapter acquaints us with a very great and imminent danger which the apostle escaped at Ephesus, where he had like to have been torn in pieces by those heathenish idolaters; which gave him occasion to say, That after the manner of men he had fought with beasts at Ephesus. 1 Corinthians 15:32

In this chapter we find, that the apostle, yielding to the fury of his persecutors, prudently withdraws from Ephesus into Macedonia: yet not so much for his own safety, (for he was willing to die Christ's sacrifice, if he might live no longer Christ's servant,) as for the church's future advantage, that the disciples in Ephesus might be no farther persecuted upon his account.

Hence learn, That the ministers of the gospel may depart from a place and people, where their ministry has been very successful, when driven from thence by the fury of persecution. Thus St. Paul here obeyed the command of Christ elsewhere: When they persecute you in one city, flee to another, Matthew 10:23.

Observe, 2. Though St. Paul withdrew from Ephesus, to allay the fury of persecution there; yet he left Timothy behind, to confirm and comfort the disciples as his substitute, and to strengthen them in the faith of the gospel, I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, &c. 1 Timothy 1:3

Observe, 3. The apostle no sooner escapes the fury of the Heathens at Ephesus, but he is in danger of his life at Macedonia, by his own countrymen the Jews, ver.3. The Jesus laid wait for him.

Well might the apostle say, he was in deaths often, in perils of robbers, in perils in the city, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils among false brethern, 2 Corinthians 11:26.

The wicked Jews, when they could not prevail against St. Paul by open force, contrive his ruin by secret treachery; but God gave him knowledge of their designs, and he avoided them, by turning another way.

Thence learn, That it is high presumption, and a bold tempting of God, to run headlong upon evident and imminent dangers; and not to improve all lawful means we can to prevent and decline them. To trust to means, is to neglect God; but to neglect the means for our own preservation, is to tempt God. St. Paul would not tempt God by running into dangers, though his cause was never so good.

Observe, 4. The persons are mentioned by name who accompanied the apostle, and administered unto him; to wit, Sopater, Arisarchus and Secundus, Gaius and Timotheus, Tychicus and Trophimus; these accompanied the apostle, not out of state, but for necessary service: to which may be added St. Luke; but, being the penman of this book, he declines mentioning of himself by name, though his praise will for ever be in the gospel, and ecclesiastical story.

Verse 6

The next journey of St. Paul is from Macedonia in Greece, to Troas in Asia, where he abode seven days. During his stay here, several are to be remarked and observed.

Observe here, 1. How this great apostle became all things to all men, though he would not become sin to any man: To the Jews he became as a Jew, for he stayed his journey all the seven days of the Jewish Passover solemnity, and would not set forth to travel that time, because he would not offend the weak Jews; accordingly he sailed not from Philippi till after the days of unleavened bread. Thus did St. Paul comply with the Jewish rites, which, though dead by the death of Christ, yet were not buried; and therefore his compliance was not sinful, but managed with design to gain the Jews.

Observe, 2. That the change of the sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week, was of apostolical observation now, as it was before of Christ's institution; on this day the Lord arose, on this day the disciples met, and Christ honoured them with his presence, John 20:1 on this day the collection for poor saints was made, 1 Corinthians 16:2.

Now this necessarily infers the abrogation of the Saturday sabbath: for six days they were commanded to labour, and if they rested the seventh day, and first too, they violated the law of God, which we cannot suppose they did, and consequently the apostles and primitive Christians observed the first day of the week in remembrance of the work of redemption, as the Jews of old observed the seventh in remembrance of the work of creation.

Observe, 3. The fervent zeal and unwearied diligence of the great apostle for the souls of men; and also the patience and complacency with which his auditors attended upon his sermon at this time: Paul preached till midnight, ver. 7. A very long sermon upon a particular occasion is neither unscriptural nor unapostolical. We do not find that either the apostle was weary, or the auditory drowsy, at the dead time of the night; their wakefulness at midnight under a sermon, condemns our sleepiness at mid-day.

Observe, 4. The pious and prudential care which the apostle and his hearers took that their night-meeting should not fall under any calumny, or their selves reproached, for doing any thing indecently in the dead of the night; to prevent this, the 8th verse informs us, that there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together; exposing themselves, and what they did, to the view of all.

Religious meetings in the night season are not only lawful in times of persecution, but necessary; yet a special care ought to be taken to avoid all occasion of calumny, that the least suspicion may not arise, concerning the honesty and holiness of those that do assemble at such unseasonable times.

Observe, 5. What a warning the Holy Ghost here leaves upon record for such as sleep under the preaching of the word: Eutychus, when asleep under St. Paul's long sermon, falls down from the third loft, and is taken up dead.

Here note, The time when he was overtaken with sleep: not at noon-day, but at midnight; and it was not a sermon of an hour long that he was asleep under, but after St. Paul had preached several hours. This is not the case fo our common sermon sleepers, who at noon-day sleep under the word; nay, settle and compose themselves to sleep, and do what they can to invite sleep to them! What if with Eutychus any of them fall down dead! here is no Paul to raise them up; or, what if this wretched contempt of the word provoke God to say, Sleep on, and be so stupified that no ordinances shall awake you! Sleep on, till hell flames awake you!

Observe, 6. Eutychus is raised to life by a miraculous power communicated to St. Paul, which was matter of great consolation to the spirits, and great confirmation to the faith, of the disciples, ver 12. They brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted; not only for the young man's sake, but especially for their own sakes:for hereby God gave a convincing testimony to the word of his grace,-- God did hereby bear witness to it, and many were thereby confirmed in the belief of it.

Verse 13

Here an account is given of several travels of the apostle; namely, from Troas to Assos, from thence to Mitylene, next day to Samos, then to Trogyllium, and the day following to Miletus, passing by and not touching at Ephesus; for the apostle having an earnest desire to be at Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost, so that he might in that concourse have a larger opportunity for spreading the gospel, he would not now call at Ephesus, lest he should be detained too long by the brethren there.

From the whole note, 1. The indefatigable diligence of this great apostle, and his unwearied industry in the service of the gospel; how he travels from place to place, and here from Troas to Assos, on foot all alone by land; he did not effect to ride with a pompous train and retinue, but he goes on foot, expecting to meet with more opportunity of sowing the seed of the gospel as he passed through towns and villages by land, among those he conversed with; so intent was this holy man on the work of winning souls; whereas had he travelled by sea, this opportunity had been lost. An happy example for all the ministers of Christ, to prefer an opportunity of doing good to the souls of others, before their own ease or profit.

Note, 2. The true reason why St. Paul was so very desirous to be at Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost: not that he placed any religion in observing this abrogated feast, but because the vast concourse of people at such times would give him a fairer opportunity to glorify Christ, and to propagate the gospel. This made him so desirous to get to Jerusalem by the feast of Pentecost.

Learn thence, that the ministers of Christ, without the imputation of vain-glory, or seeking popular applause, may warrantably desire, and occasionally lay hold upon, an opportunity of dispensing a word to a numerous auditory, in hopes that, casting the net of the gospel among many, they may enclose some.

Verse 17

The foregoing verses acquainted us how very intent St. Paul was upon his journey to Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost, he hoping then and there to have a precious opportunity for preaching Jesus Christ, and him crucified, to his countrymen the Jews: now, lest he should be hindered in his expedition, he determines to slip by Ephesus, without touching there; but could not satisfy himself without seeing of, and speaking to, the ministers of Ephesus, whom for that purpose he sends for to Miletus, and there in a grave and pious discourse, which warmed their hearts, and melted them into tears, he takes his farewell of them.

Here note, 1. That St. Paul speaks much in his own vindication, but nothing by way of ostentation. A minister, when he is leaving his people, may modestly enough say something in his own vindication; for there are enough, as soon as his back is turned, will say more than is true by way of accusation.

Note, 2. That when the apostle here speaks much that looks like self-condemnation, it is rather to propound himself as a mirror for gospel-ministers, and a pattern for all pious pastors; that whenever they leave their people they may go off with a clear conscience, and be able to appeal to the consciences of their people as touching their carriage and conversation amongst them.

Note, 3. The several particular instances of his ministerial faithfulness:

1. He instances in his own humility; though he was lofty in his ministry, yet was he lowly in his mind; He served the Lord with all humility of mind. The better any man is, the lower thoughts he has of himself. Almighty God renders that man most honourable, that minister most serviceable, whom he finds most humble. In his affectionateness in preaching the gospel, he mingles tears with his exhortation, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears.

2.In his constancy in preaching, and private inspection: publicly in the synagogues, and privately from house to house, like a good shepherd, labouring to understand the state of his whole flock, and of every lamb in it, that no soul might miscarry through his neglect, for which the great and good Shepherd died.

3. He acquaints them, not only with the manner, but also with the matter of his preaching; namely, Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; which two graces comprehend the sum of a Christian's duty. Ministers must join these two together in their preaching, and our hearers must not separate them in their practice. They who repent without believing, or believe without repenting, do indeed do neither.

Verse 22

Here the apostle proceeds not to boast of himself, but to clear himself of any charge or surmise of ministerial miscarriage, and also to propound himself as a pattern of ministerial faithfulness to the elders of the church at Ephesus.

And here again, 1. Our apostle instances in his holy and heroic resolution and activity for God: I know that bonds and afflictions abide me: nevertheless I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, and nothing moves me. As if he had said, "I am fully resolved, by the grace of God enabling, that nothing shall divert me from my duty; neither deterring fear or deluding favour of men shall ever affect me; but I will go out and go on in the strength of Christ, running my race with patience, and finishing my course with joy."

Hence learn, 1. That the apprehension of suffering must not shake the resolution of a Christian, much less daunt the courage of a gospel minister, ver. 24. None of these things move me. True ministerial courage delights in the air of that danger where duty dwells, and will neither be beaten off from doing an incumbent duty, nor be beaten on to a compliance to any known sin.

Learn, 2. That the ministers of Christ should endeavour not only to finish their ministry and course of Christianity with faithfulness, but with joy; and that they may do so, let them see that they give up themselves wholly to the service of Christ without restriction or reserve, and live daily by faith on the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here was such a masculine spirit in our apostle, as bid defiance to death and danger; and the argument that excited him was, that he might finish his course with joy.

Next, the apostle declares his impartiality in preaching the gospel, ver. 27, I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

Where observe, He doth not say he had declared the whole counsel of God, (for who but God himself can do that?) but he had not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God; that is, he had not concealed from them any truth necessary to salvation. And this freed him from the blood of souls; if any perished, it was not long of him, but their blood was upon themselves: I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.

It is happy when the ministers of God can appeal to the consciences of their people, and summon them in as witnesses to bear record for them at the bar of Christ.--

Lastly, The apostle tells them, they were never like to see his face again; a cutting, killing word. How would it fire the zeal of ministers, and inflame the affections of a people, did they remember, that in a short time they must see the faces and hear the voices of each other upon earth no more!

Lord, what fervent prayer for, what yearning of bowels towards, perishing sinners, would be found with us; what zeal for their conversion, what endeavours for their salvation, did we believe that the grave was making ready to receive us! how should we louden our cry to God, and how fulfil our trust to man, did we consider our grave and coffin are at hand our glass has but a little sand; now we are preaching, but anon it will be said of us, we are gone: And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching, shall see my face no more.

Verse 28

The blessed apostle having, in the former part of his farewell sermon to the elders of Ephesus, vindicated his own sincerity among them, both as to his doctrine and practice, and cleared himself by close addresses and smart appeals to their consciences; he now urges them in a rousing and heart-melting exhortation to the utmost care and dilgence in the exercise of their pastoral charge; and to take heed to themselves and the flock, to the whole flock which Christ had purchased with his blood, and the Holy Ghost had committed to his care, ver. 28. Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.

Here observe, A two-fold duty, and a three-fold motive to enforce that duty: the first duty is to take to themselves: the second is to take heed to all the flock.

The first part of a minister's duty is to take heed to himself: Committe animam diligentibus suam, says St. Bernard: He that neglects his own soul, will never take a faithful care of the souls of others.

We must first look to ourselves, that our judgments be sound, our hearts holy, and our lives exemplary: we must take heed to ourselves, that we be fit for the employment which we undertake. This is not a burthen for a child's shoulder; he that is himself a babe in knowledge, is altogether unfit to teach men the mysteries of salvation.

Take we heed that our example doth not contradict our doctrine, that our practice doth not give our profession the lie; that we do as well as teach; not preach angelical sermons, and lead diabolical lives; but securing that grace to ourselves which we offer unto others, and shunning that sin ourselves which we condemn in others; and this, because we have a depraved nature and vicious inclinations in us, as well as others, because we have a heaven to win, and a soul to save, as well as others; yea, when others have only their own souls to account for, we have not only our own, but others' too; in a word because our sins do more dishonour God, discredit religion, more gratify the devil, more harden sinners, and have more of wilfulness in them, more perfidiousness in them, and more hypocrisy in them, than other men's; and we shall certainly be adjudged by God to a double damnation for them.

Well, therefore might the apostle say to the Ephesian elders, take heed unto yourselves; next he adds, and to all the flock. That is, with a constant care and laborious diligence acquaint them with their duty, inform them of their danger, show them where their happiness lies, and the way and means for attaining of it; and, in order to this, all the flock must be known, that it may be heeded, and we must labour to be acquainted with the state of all our people as fully as we can; we must, as the apostles before us did, visit our people from house to house, that we may know their persons, know their inclinations, and know the manner of conversation; what sins they are most in danger of, what temptations they are most liable to, and what duties they neglect, either for the matter or manner of them; and give them the best encouragement, directions, and assistance, we are able.

This is the sum of the apostle's exhortation to the elders of Ephesus; Take heed unto yourselves, and unto all the flock. The motives to enforce the duty follow; and they are,

1. Drawn from their office; they are overseers of the flock, that is, officers appointed by solemn ordination to teach, to guide, to govern the church's committed to their care, and under their charge.

2. From the authority and excellency of him that called them to their office, the Holy Ghost. We read of some that were nominated by the special and immediate instinct of the Holy Ghost, as Acts 1:24 and Acts 13:2.

Others were ordained by the apostles, who were guided by the Holy Ghost then: and whoever is set apart to that office now, according to the rule of God's word, may truly be said to be made an overseer by the Holy Ghost; Almighty God concurring to own and bless his own institution.

3. From the dear purchase which Christ paid for, and the tender regard he bears to, this his flock. Feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his blood.

Where observe, The divinity of Christ asserted; he is expressly called God, in opposition to the Arians, and their unhappy spawn, the Socinians, who will allow him to be only man; but then his blood could never have purchased the church, which it is here said to do, being God and Man in one person: Man, that he might have blood to shed; and God, that his blood might be of infinite value,and inestimable preciousness when shed.

Observe also the force of the apostle's argument: " If the church be thus dear to Christ, the chief Shepherd, she ought to be very dear to all under-shepherds; if Christ judged her salvation worth his blood, well may his ministers judge it worth their sweat."

4.From the danger which the church is in by seducers and false teachers, ver. 20. Grievous wolves will enter, not sparing the flock; and even from among yourselves shall arise heretics, who will vent their unsound doctrines to debauch men, first in their principles, and then in their practices: therefore take heed to all the flock.

Now, from the whole, note, 1. The church is Christ's flock, consisting of sheep and lambs: Christ himself is the great and good Shepherd: his ministers, under-shepherds and overseers: bloody persecutors, heretical seducers, and false teachers, are wolves which worry and divide the flock.

Note, 2. That every flock should have its own pastor, and every pastor his own flock.

Note, 3. That the flock should be no greater ordinarily, than the overseers are capable of taking heed of.

Note, 4. That every overseer of Christ's flock ought to take great heed, both to himself and to the whole flock, in all the parts of his pastoral work, particularly public preaching and private inspection.

Verse 32

Here the apostle takes a very solemn farewell of the elders of the church at Ephesus, commending them to the guidance and protection of the grace of God, which was able to build them up in holiness here, and bring to heaven hereafter.

Where observe, 1. His courteous compellation, and therein his great condescension. Although he was an apostle of the highest eminency, yet he disdains not to call these elders, who were both in office, and also in gifts, and graces, much inferior to him, by the name of brethren: And now, brethren, says the apostle to the elders of Ephesus. But probably together with the elders of Ephesus here were some of the church and people of Ephesus, who came to take their last leave of their departing apostle; and then we may remark that there is a near relation, even that of brethren, between ministers and people, as well as between the ministers and themselves, and this founded upon the account of religion and grace.

Observe, 2. The apostle being now to take his last leave and farewell of the ministers and people at Ephesus; he commends them to God. It well becomes the faithful ministers of Christ at all times when they are with their people, but especially when they are about to leave their people, to commit and commend them unto God; that is, to recommend them to God's care and keeping, and to commit them to his conduct and guidance; and this as a testimony of our faithfulness to God, whose our people are, and for whom we must become accountable to him; and also as a testimony of our love to our people, and of our fervent desires for their salvation.

Observe, 3. As the apostle commends them to God, so likewise to the word of his grace. To God as the efficient cause, and to the word of his grace as the instrumental cause, of their building up: I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up.

Here note, 1. That the gospel is the word of God's grace; so called, because it is the effect, the fruit, and product of rich mercy and free grace; because it reveals the free grace of God in Christ to poor sinners; because it works inherent grace and holiness in the hearts of sinners; and because it carrieth on and perfecteth the work of grace unto glory.

Note, 2. That believers who are in a state of grace, have need of the word of God for their edification and building up.

Note, 3. That the word of God is able to build up believers; it is able to preserve them and keep them from decaying in grace and holiness, and it is able to further their growth in grace, and to bring it to perfection.

Well and wisely therefore doth the apostle say, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace; he doth not say, I commend you to God, and the impulse of his spirit: or, I commend you to God, and to the light within; or, I commend you to God, and to the traditions of the church; but I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up.

Observe, 4. A superadded commendation, which is here given of the word of God's grace; it is not only able to build us up, but to give us an inheritance amongst them that are sanctified; that is, the word of God, if we follow the dictates and directions of it, will infallibly bring us to the glorious inheritance which God hath provided for all his saints, or sanctified ones.

Here note, 1. That heaven is an inheritance, not like an inheritance on earth; but it is the most sure, the most satisfying, the most durable, and the most delightful inheritance, an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

Note, 2. That heaven is the inheritance of saints, of all sanctified or holy persons, and only of such; it is purchased for them, it is promised to them, it is taken up in their names, and possession of it kept for them by their forerunner; in a word, heaven is prepared for them, and they shall be adjudged to them at the great day.

Note, 3. That this inheritance of heaven is a gift, and a free gift: It is your Father's pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 This inheritance is all of grace, our right and title to it is of grace, our fitting and preparing for it is of grace; all of grace, nothing of merit; all of God, nothing of ourselves; nothing in a way of meritorious causality, but only in the way of ministerial endeavour.

Note, lastly, That God gives this inheritance by his word: To the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you on inheritance. The word reveals to us the notice and knowledge of this inheritance; the word makes an offer of this inheritance to every one of us, yea, it calls us to the acceptation, and invites us to the participation of it.

Finally, God by his word begets his people to a lively hope of this inheritance, 1 Peter 1:3-4. And also prepares and fits them by the word for the participation and possession of it; Giving thanks to the Father, who has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:12

And how doth our Father make us meet for this inheritance in glory, but by the word of his grace? I commend you therefore, brethren, says the apostle, to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified.

Verse 33

In the conclusion of St. Paul's discourse to the elders of the church at Ephesus, he vindicates himself from the sordid sin of covetousness, affirming, that he had coveted no man's silver or gold; but by the labour of his hands had maintained himself, and them that were with him.

Where note, That it is not simply unlawful for a minister of the gospel to labour with his hands, for his own and his family's support, when the poverty of the members of the church is such that they cannot maintain him without it.

Observe farther, He directs these elders to labour as he did, if the case required it with them, as it did with him, that they might, by labouring as he, be in a capacity to support the weak, and relieve the poor.

Yet note, He doth not propose this his practice as a precept, or precedent, or rule, to all ministers; for though St. Paul laboured with his hands in a case of necessity, and because false teachers were watching all advantages against him, yet he often declares a right and privilege which he had to be maintained by the church, without labouring with his hands for his own livelihood and subsistence; nay, asserts it to be the ordination and appointment of God himself, That they which preach the gospel, should live of the gospel.

Observe lastly, A remarkable saying of our blessed Saviour, not recorded by the evangelists, but undoubtedly spoken by him; namely, That it is more blessed to give than to receive. That is, the condition of the giver is more desirable than that of the receiver, and giving is more commendable than receiving.

1. The condition of the giver is more desirable than that of the receiver, because,

1. Giving is a sign of sufficiency and power. He that gives to another, is supposed to be well provided himself; he that gives, looks like a full being, and like a swelling river, whereas, receiving implies want and weakness, emptiness, and unsatisfied desires.

Because giving includes choice; for what a man parts with to another, he has a freedom to keep himself; but the receiver is not to be his own carver, but must depend upon the courtesy of his neighbours.

2. Because the condition of the giver implies an honourable trust committed to him by God Almighty. Givers are God's almoners and stewards, the poor's guardians and patrons. An honourable trust this is, by which the lives and livelihood of the poor are in a manner committed to us. by all which it appears, that the condition of the giver is more desirable than that of the receiver.

Note, 2. That giving is more commendable than receiving; it is a clearer evidence of a noble and virtuous disposition of mind: for,

1. It is a sign of our victory over the world, and that our conversation is in heaven; that we have worthy apprehensions of God, and honourable thoughts of his providence; and that we can trust him, and give him a part of his own whenever he calls for it.

2. Giving is better than receiving, because there is a more lasting pleasure in giving than in receiving: an alms taken is soon spent and forgotten, and the pleasure of it is over in two or three moments; but the pleasure of giving bears us company all along in this world, and will keep us company in the next: there is no such satisfactory pleasure as in doing good, Let us then often remember, and always put in practice, the words of our Lord Jesus, which he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Verse 36

Observe here, 1. What a solemn and sacred farewell St. Paul and the elders of Ephesus take of each other: They kneeled down and prayed together; instead of a parting cup, here is a parting prayer, and this accompanied with tears: They all wept sore. There is sufficient occasion for sorrow and weeping, when the church loses a faithful pastor; it is a public loss, and many are concerned in it.

Observe, 2. How loth, how very loth, they were to part with the apostle, who had so exceedingly endeared himself unto them, by his holiness, humility, and universal usefulness. Accordingly they accompany him unto the ship, and when gone off to sea, send a long look after him; being more especially grieved at these words, That they should see his face no more.

Learn thence, That a faithful minister of Christ is enjoyed with much love, and finally parted from with much sorrow, by those who believe and obey the gospel.

Parting work is hard work: how hard is it for a husband and wife, for parents and children to part! and perhaps it is as hard sometimes for ministers and people, who have lived in mutual endearments, to the glory of God, and singular comfort of each other, when they are pulled one from another alive by cruel persecutors, or when dying by the king of terrors.

The parting is sad; but, blessed be God, the next meeting will know no parting. When ministers and people meet together at the right hand of God in heaven, they shall never part more, but shall for ever be with the Lord.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Acts 20". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/acts-20.html. 1700-1703.