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The time being now come for the fulfilling of God's purpose and determinate counsel concerning Paul, recorded Be of good cheer, Paul, as thou hast testified of me at Jerusalem, so shalt thou bear witness also at Rome. Acts 23:11
Pursuant to this purpose of God, Festus the Roman governor delivers the apostle and his associates, Luke, Timothy, and Aristarchus, to Julius, in order to their sending, with several other prisoners, who probably were great malefactors, to the city and court of Rome, where all appeals made to the Roman emperor were heard and determined before himself.
Now here we have observable, 1. The person whom the apostle was delivered to: Julius, a very civil person to the apostle, who suffered him to see and receive the civilities of his friends. Thus God raises up his people friends in the midst of their sufferings, and when persecutors send his saints to prison, he will provide keepers for their turn. Julius, an heathen soldier, was kinder to him than his own countrymen the Jews.
Observe, 2. The villianous company of malefactors and prisoners that the innocent apostle was packed with, They delivered Paul, and certain other prisoners, to Julius. Saints and sinners, good and bad, innocent and nocent, share together in the same outward miseries: but though they be thus jumbled together in this world, (where all things come alike to all,) yet the righteous Judge will make a difference between them in the other world, according to their works.
Observe, 3. Though the apostle was thus yoked with malefactors and criminals in the ship, yet God favoured him with some companions which were according to his heart's desire; namely, his dear associates, St. Luke, Timothy, and Aristarchus. It is a great comfort to the afflicted to have good companions in their afflictions; Optimum Solatium est Sodalitium.
But above all, it was the happiness of the apostle that he enjoyed the presence of God with him in so comfortable a manner, in and under all his sufferings, according to his promise, I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee. Acts 18:10
The gracious special presence of God with his children and people, is a sure and sufficient support unto them in and under all the difficulties and trials, which his wisdom seeth fit to exercise and try them with.
Observe, 4. What an additional favour it was from God, that St. Paul found friends in Sidon, such saints as he could comfortably converse with, and receive refreshments from, even needful accommodations for his tedious voyage.
Learn hence, That God's care of, his compassion towards, and provision for, his children and people, is universal and perpetual, at all times and in all places.
An account is here given of the very hazardous voyage which the apostle had from Cesarea towards Rome. He sails from Cesarea to Cyprus; from Cyprus to Cilicia to Crete; and having been long at sea, and the summer wearing away, and the great fast being past, that is, the anniversary of expiation, which was on the tenth day of September. After which the sea growing temptuous, the ancients left off sailing until March, because of the shortness of the days. St. Paul, forseeing the danger of the season, and being also to the lives of those that were in it, and advised them to venture no further till the sea was calmer; but the owner and governor of the ship (who was supposed to be better skilled in his own art) advising otherwise, the captain of the guard prefers his judgment before Paul's, and so sets forward, but with great hazard, and greater loss, as the event declared.
From the whole we gather, That the fittest seasons ought to be observed and taken for every enterprise, both sacred and secular. Winter journeys by land, or voyages by sea, are unsafe, as well as uncomfortable. A season is beautiful for all things, and has a lustre upon it above all other parts of time. This winter voyage, about our October, was very hazardous and unseasonable; for the winds were boisterous and contrary, the days were short, the light little, the night long, the clouds thick, the weather dark, the storms raging; therefore the apostle advised to winter in the Fair Havens, knowing that the season for sailing was now past.
The farther difficulties and dangers which the apostle met with, in this winter voyage, are here described and declared, and the properest lessons of instruction which can, I think, be gathered from them, will be by way of allusion.
Thus, 1. The ship in which he sailed is an emblem of the church, in her militant state here on earth; she is afflicted, tossed with tempests, and in danger of being shipwrecked every moment; many tempestuous Euroclydons arise suddenly, and threaten her fatally; but her wise pilot sits at the helm, steers her with a fixed eye and steady hand between rocks and shelves, undergirding her by his everlasting arms of power and love which are underneath her; and when in our apprehensions she is brought to a hopeless and helpless state, without the light of sun or stars to comfort her; then doth the Lord enlighten our darkness, and at midnight there shall be light.
Again, 2. This voyage, neglected in the summer, and undertaken in the winter season, to the peril of the passengers,and the loss of the ship, liveily represents unto us both the folly and danger of persons who suffer the spring of youth and the summer of ripe age to slide and slip away from them; and when the winter of old age comes upon them, then they think of launching forth towards the fair haven of eternal happiness, and not before.
Set we forth never so soon, the winds will be contrary, the weather tempestuous, the rocks many, the difficulties great. And yet, Lord! how is our precious time spent and spilt! When age comes upon us, we complain we want time, whereas we foolishly waste it; how are miserable souls that set out late for heaven, (when we can serve sin no longer,) benighted, bewildered, shipwrecked, eternally and irrecoverably lost!--Behold, now only is the accepted time now is the day of salvation.
Observe here, 1. The hopeless, helpless, comfortless state, which St. Paul, and those in the ship with him, were now reduced to: neither sun nor stars appeared, and the weather proved very tempestuous, and when they utterly despaired of life, then God gives Paul, and he the rest, a comfortable assurance that nothing should be lost, but the vessel only.
O how does God delight to deliver those that are forsaken of their hopes; what a present help is he to the helpless: He reserves his holy hand for a dead lift! our extremities are the seasons of his succour.
Observe, 2. The great and special favour which God indulged the holy apostle, even to send an angel to him to comfort him: The angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, said, Fear not.
O what an encouragement is it to us to enter upon, and be faithful in, the service of God, when he causes his holy angels, upon all occasions, to serve us! When visible dangers are before us, God has invisible servants round about us, both to succour and secure us. Lord, help me in sincerity to say, Thine I am, and thee I serve! Let me be found faithful in all the instances of my duty to thee,and then shall I find (as the apostle here) that safety evermore accompanies duty.
Observe, 3. How God was pleased for St. Paul's sake to save all that were with him in the ship; sinners are spared and saved for the saints' sake, whom yet they hate and seek to destroy. The wicked are oft-times delivered from temporal destruction for the sake of the godly who live among them, and intercede with God for them; there were two hundred threescore and sixteen persons, all heathens, except three or four, saved for St. Paul's sake, who no doubt begged their lives of God.
Lord, what fools and madmen are the wicked, who seek the destruction of those for whose sake it is that they are not themselves destroyed! The breaches which wicked men make by sinning, they make up by praying.
Observe, 4. How steady and steadfast the apostle was in the faith and belief of God's promise and providence for his own and the company's preservation: I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
We honour God exceedingly, when we depend upon his promise, rely upon his power, believe his word, though what he says be very improbable, and unlikely to come to pass.
A farther account is here given both of the apostle's imminent danger and extra-ordinary deliverance; for fourteen days together the ship was continually tossed in the sea; at last the mariners cast four anchors out of the ship, and, by the help of a boat, intended to make their escape, leaving the passengers to shift for themselves: St. Paul, perceiving this, told the centurion and the soldiers, that, though Almighty God had promised to preserve them, yet they must not expect it without using due means for their own preservation, which was to stay the mariners in the ship; whose help and diligence, direction, and care, would be especially needful to them on such an occasion. Hereupon the soldiers, to prevent the mariners' design, cut the ropes of the boat, and let it fall into the sea.
Learn hence, That the end and the means are always joined together in the purpose and decree of God. The same God that ordained the end, ordained the means in order to that end; therefore, as to trust to means is to neglect God, so to neglect the means is to tempt God.
As here, That God who decreed that they should not perish with the ship, decreed that the skilful seamen should abide in the ship. Almighty God likes not to be tied to means himself; but it is his pleasure to tie us.
Sometimes, to show his sovereignty, he is pleased to work without means.
Sometimes, to show his omnipotency, he works against means; the fire shall not burn, the water shall not drown, the iron shall swim, the sun shall stand still, nay, go several degrees backward.
The first cause can suspend the power and operation of second causes, when he pleases. But as the care of the end means belongs to us, and must be used when they may, and where they can be used.
Accordingly here, the mariners, in order to their own and others' preservation which was needful. The purpose of God to prolong our lives, must not lessen our care for the preservation of our lives; when God has ordained and appointed means, we cannot expect to find safety in the neglect or contempt of those means.
Observe here, 1. What honour God put upon the holy apostle: although he was a poor prisoner in chains, yet God made him the only counsellor and comforter unto all that were in the ship.
First, he adviseth them to eat, because that through consternation of mind, and horror of death, they had made no set meal for fourteen days; not that they subsisted miraculously without any nourishment at all, but eat so little that it was in a manner continual fasting.
Next he becomes the chaplain of the ship, He gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; that is, he desired God's blessing upon what they eat, and praised him for it. Thanks should be returned when benefits are received from the hand of man, much more from the hand of God. What shall we think of those that sit down to a full table as a beast to his forage, without taking any notice of the bountiful hand that feeds them?
St. Paul having thus refreshed himself, and by his example and words encouraged all the rest to do the like, an account is taken of the exact number of persons which were in the ship, and it was found to be two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. Probably this was done at the motion of St. Paul, that so, after their deliverance, it might appear how exactly his prediction, mentioned, That there shall be no loss of any man's life, nor an hair fall from the head of any, was verified and fulfilled. Acts 27:22
Whatever God speaks by the mouth of his holy servants, be it by way of prediction or denunciation, shall certainly be accomplished and come to pass: God is honoured in his truth, when his promises are fulfilled towards his people, and threatenings inflicted on his enemies.
Here observe, 1. How willing men in distress are to part with all things for the preservation of life; these sea-faring men are here found three times lightening their ship of her lading and burden; first the merchandise was cast overboard, Acts 27:18 next all the ship's furniture was heaved over, Acts 27:19 and now Acts 27:38 goes over the very wheat, which they had provided for their daily bread; future provision is cast away to save life at present: life is the most precious treasure, the most excellent thing in nature; a man will part with all the comforts and supports of life, rather than with life itself.
Observe, 2. What a wonderful work of God was here upon the hearts of these poor Pagans, thus to venture their lives by parting with their food which they had to live upon, barely upon St. Paul's word, that they should want wheat no more in the ship. Such an influence has God upon the hearts and minds of men, when he pleases to make use of it.
Observe, 3. How God's delivering power is most gloriously manifest in the most deplorable extremities of his people.
Now, when the ship was fallen into a place where two seas met, when she ran aground, and was broken with the violence of the waves, this extremity was God's opportunity; and this strait was the season of his succour.
Observe, 4. What horrid and cruel ingratitude was found with these wretched soldiers towards the apostle: they design to take away his life, who had taken such care of them, and for whose sake all their lives were preserved!
It is no new thing for an unkind world to return evil for good, and hatred for good-will; but to do good and to suffer evil is the Christian's exercise at present. They consulted to kill the prisoners, (of whom the apostle was chief,) lest any of them should swim out and escape.
Observe, 5. How God put it into the centurion's heart to defeat their barbarity and bloody counsel, and to save the apostle, for whose sake the centurion and all in the ship were saved.
Many are the wicked devices in the heart of man, but the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.
Observe, 6. How God performed his promise to the apostle to a very tittle: they were all saved, not a man drowned, no not any one of the bloody soldiers who gave counsel to kill Paul.
O how good is God to the unthankful and unholy! his tender mercies are over all his works; and how well do sinners fare sometimes for the saints' sake.
Thus, after a long and dangerous voyage, the providence of God brought St. Paul, with the rest of the passengers at last safe to shore.
O how punctual is God to what he promises! What he foretells he will fulfil. He had foretold by Paul, that they should suffer shipwreck, and at last be cast upon a certain island: and accordingly here they escaped to an island called Melita; where what signal instances of humanity they received from the hands of barbarous heathens, the following chapter fully informs us.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Acts 27". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany