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Bible Commentaries

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary
Acts 16

 

 

Verse 1

CONTENTS

We are here first brought acquainted with Timothy. Paul hath a Vision to call him to Philippi. The Lord opens the Heart of Lydia. Paul and Silas are imprisoned. The Jailor is converted, Paul and Silas depart from Philippi.


Verses 1-5

Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: (2) Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. (3) Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek. (4) And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. (5) And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

It is astonishing, after what is related in the preceding Chapter, and after what we read of Paul's sentiments concerning circumcision, Galatians 5:2, that the Apostle should have so temporized in relation to Timothy. But how sweetly do all the infirmities of men, yea, and great men too, when the Lord the Spirit is our teacher, preach the glories and perfections of Christ, and our complete need of him.


Verses 6-13

Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, (7) After they were come to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. (8) And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. (9) And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; there stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. (10) And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. (11) Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; (12) And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. (13) And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.

I do entreat the Reader to remark what is here said of the Holy Ghost. What can be an higher proof of His Almighty Ministry in the Church? He forbids to preach in one place. He sends to another. Can anything more strongly define distinguishing grace? So the Prophet speaks, in the name of the Lord, I caused it (said the Lord,) to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city, Amos 4:7. And I entreat the Reader to observe with me, that when the persons of his people are concerned, then it is no longer the place which is objected to. This Bithynia, when the Lord's people are there, the Lord will send to. Hence Peter, directed so to do by the Holy Ghost, sends his Epistle to Bithynia. See 1 Peter 1:1, See Jeremiah 3:14.


Verse 14-15

And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. (15) And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

Every circumstance in the history of this woman is striking, and merits our attention.

First s We find a special call of Paul to Macedon; and the first reason for it, is given in the history of this woman being called to God, through the instrumentality of Paul's preaching. The Lord hath said, he will seek out his sheep, and deliver them out of all places whither they have been scattered, Ezekiel 34:12.

It is further remarkable in the case of this woman's conversion, that though she was in this city of Philippi, when Paul was sent here, she was not an inhabitant of this place, but of Thyatira, a country far removed from it; for Philippi was in Europe, and Thyatira on the borders of Asia. So that the Lord must have brought her to Philippi, and then called Paul thither, to bring about the purposes of his grace. Doth the Reader ask, whether the conversion of this woman might not have been accomplished without those means, had she remained in Thyatira? I answer, Yes, without doubt, the Lord might so have wrought. But the Lord is pleased not unfrequently, to appoint otherwise; and what the Lord appoints must be right. And it is very precious when we see how the Lord, who fixeth the bounds of his people's habitations, arrangeth everything for his glory, and his people's happiness.

There is another sweet circumstance in this woman's history. Though in the eyes of the world she was a person of no great rank or character, a seller of purple only, not one dressed, as the rich man in the parable is described, in purple and fine linen, but one that moved about from place to place to get her daily bread, yet so precious in the eyes of Jesus, as one of his jewels, that a special messenger shall be sent to her to tell her words whereby she must be saved. Reader! learn from hence how valuable in the eyes of Jesus are all his redeemed ones, Luke 16:19.

I pray the Reader to consider another feature respecting this woman. God the Holy Ghost hath caused her name to be handed down in the Church with honorable testimony. Had she not been precious to the Lord, neither her history, nor name would have been given. But now her name is known by thousands, and her history also, while millions of the human race, and multitudes which have made a figure also in their day and generation among the carnal and ungodly, and thought themselves persons of no small consequence, are now buried in everlasting oblivion, and are known no more. Oh the blessedness of being in Christ! Oh, the blessedness of being recorded in his book and having our names written in heaven, Philippians 4:3; Luke 10:20; Revelation 13:8; Psalms 139:16.

But the principal feature to be noticed in Lydia's history, is, that the Lord opened her heart to attend to the things which were spoken by Paul. Yes. For if the Lord had not opened her heart, Paul never could. Reader! this is one of the most important points in the Gospel to be regarded. Oh! that it was well and duly considered, because in every instance it must be the same. For it is not man's preaching, but the Lord's ordering, and the opening of the heart is the Lord's work, and not man's. Did men but consider what a work is wrought when conversion-work is wrought, how different would be their views concerning the importance of salvation from what they now have of it. In every instance, all the persons of the Godhead must, and do concur. No man can come to Christ, without the drawings of the Father. And these drawings are a proof of his everlasting love, John 6:44; Jeremiah 31:3. None can open the heart but He who hath the key of David, Revelation 3:7. None but that God who moved over the face of the waters at the old creation, can cause light to spring out of darkness in the new, 2 Corinthians 4:6. So that the whole persons of Jehovah put their Almighty hand to the work in the conversion of Lydia; and the same is essential in the instance of every sinner, whom the Lord makes willing in the day of his power, Psalms 110:3. Reader! what saith your experience to this scriptural testimony? If He who opened Lydia's heart hath mercifully opened your's, you can best explain the greatness of the work, the difficulties of it, the state of your mind before it was wrought, in the dominion of sin and Satan, and the state of your heart since God was so gracious, as will render unnecessary any observations of mine upon the subject to explain. All those blessed effects which marked Lydia's conduct, will more or less manifest themselves in your life and conversation. All the Lord's faithful servants, his ordinances, his word, his sabbaths, his people, will be dear to the heart. Nothing will be judged equally valuable as Christ and his.


Verses 16-18

And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: (17) The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation. (18) And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

There is somewhat very singular in what is here related. This damsel was evidently under an evil possession, as the craft she was engaged in proves. But what she said was strictly true, for the Apostles were the Lord's servants, and shewed the way of salvation in preaching Christ, John 14:6. But whether the Lord over-ruled the enemy which deluded her, to give an unwilling testimony to the truth, as it is in Jesus, as he did in the days of his flesh concerning Christ himself, Mark 1:24, or whether the Lord did by her, as he did by the poor man possessed of an evil spirit among the tombs, suffer this evil possession to be for a time, for the greater manifestation of the Lord's glory, I cannot presume to say. See Mark 5:1-20 and Commentary upon it. But it is worthy remark, that when in the name of the Lord Jesus, Paul commanded the evil spirit to come out, the infamous gain of her masters was at an end, and affords a reasonable hope, that, as in the case of the poor man among the tombs, this damsel might have been delivered, as he was, from the power of Satan to the living God. It is true that the scripture is silent, and hath not added this part to her history. We have therefore no authority to make the conclusion as certain. But it is equally true, that she was delivered from the delusion under which she had been, and therefore we are in some measure authorized to hope it. But here we leave the subject.


Verses 19-24

And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, (20) And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, (21) And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. (22) And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. (23) And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely: (24) Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

Reader! while attending to what is here said, in the conflicts and sufferings of God's faithful servants, do not forget what the Lord Jesus said, In the world ye shall have tribulation. In me ye shall have peace, John 16:33. Paul refers to this unjust and cruel treatment in his Epistle to the Thessalonians; and makes use of it to shew that the Lord's promise had its accomplishment. For yourselves (said he) brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain; but even after we had suffered before, and were shamefully treated as ye know at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the Gospel of God with much contention, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2. And it is very blessed to behold, how stripes occasioned strength; and the malice of enemies endeared the Lord to the hearts of his suffering servants. Look at these holy men under every conflict. Wherever they were, how shamefully soever, as Paul saith, they were handled, the bitterness of persecution only rendered them more impregnable to suffering. None of these move me, (said Paul,) neither count I my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God, Acts 20:24. What a blessed frame of mind! Oh! what a gracious God to give it!


Verses 25-34

And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. (26) And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. (27) And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. (28) But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. (29) Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, (30) And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (31) And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (32) And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. (33) And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. (34) And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

Here are several very interesting subjects opened to our meditation within the limits of these few verses, of a different nature, but all sweetly corresponding to one great point, namely, to set forth the glory and prayer of the Lord Jesus. The situation of Paul, and his companion, when thrust into this loathsome place, and with many stripes on their backs, and their feet made fast in the stocks, was truly exercising; but as no prison can shut out Christ, so no prison can shut in the soul. Jesus giveth songs in the night, and the midnight hour is a day-light hour, when God the Holy Ghost calls up his people to prayer and praise!

This was not the first time the Lord had answered the prayers of his saints by an earthquake. See Acts 4:31 and Commentary upon it. How Sweetly that promise was here fulfilled, Isaiah 65:24. And was it not (I ask the question,) as if to teach them of His abiding presence, who came down in an open display of glory at Pentecost? Acts 2:1, And what a courage it must have imparted to the Apostles, when such decided testimonies were given them, both of the Lord's presence, and the Lord's power? Reader! do not overlook the rich assurance such things bring with them to the present hour, of the same presence and power, though such open manifestations may not be now made, because they are not needed. Read, in confirmation of it, only these two promises, and if the Lord applies them to the heart, they will be fully conclusive, Matthew 28:20; Isaiah 27:2-3.

The effect wrought upon the jailor, prompts the mind to ask, whether the Lord in rich mercy had not suffered his sent servants to be imprisoned, purposely to bring about the wonderful event of this man's conversion. But be this as it may, surely no faithful servant of the Lord would shrink from stripes and a prison, if by such means the Lord should be pleased to minister to the salvation of a sinner. And if we call to mind that this visit of Paul to Philippi, had been induced by the effect of a vision, there will be no great violence to suppose, that the Lord's providence in thrusting Paul and Silas into this prison, was intimately connected with the Lord's leading them into Macedon. We may indeed enquire, speaking after the manner of men, how this rugged jailor, whom we may suppose by virtue of his office, rarely, if ever left the prison, should have heard Paul preach, except as by a means like this, Paul came into the prison to preach there?

But, Reader! do not in the earthquake of the prison, given in answer to the prayers and hymns of Paul and Silas, overlook the still greater earthquake the Lord made in the jailors soul. No convulsion without, unaccompanied with trembling within, would have put such a cry as this awakened sinner uttered, when he sprang in and fell down before his prisoners. There was a divine light from the Lord shining inward upon his soul, before that he called for the common light of the house to lighten the wards of the prison. Convinced by this illumination of his own lost estate, and of those prisoners being the servants of the Lord, the language of his very soul earnestly desired to know what must be done for salvation.

The answer of Paul and Silas to the question is short, but sweet, and fully comprehensive to what the Gospel of salvation hath stated. Thus our dear Lord, during the days of his flesh, dwelt much upon it, See Matthew 8:10; Mark 9:23; Luke 17:6. And his servants following their Lord's steps, Acts 8:37; Act_14:9. But it should be remembered, that in all these instances, and numberless others, it is not meant a mere acknowledgment of the truths of the Gospel. In this sense, devils believe and tremble. But true faith is the conviction, not of the head, but the heart. And this is God's giving, not man's creating. Unto you, saith the Apostle, it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake, Philippians 1:29.

And let it be further observed, in the instance of this man, that his faith was manifested to be genuine by the effects which followed. For we are told, that he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he, and all his, straightway. Here were decided tokens of a work of sovereign grace wrought in his soul! He took them from the prison to his house. The stripes which he himself had so unmercifully laid on them, he now softened with the oil of love. Their breadless prison was now changed into a bountiful supply of food. And the deadness and darkness of his mind, in a state of nature, was now done away for life and light in the soul. For it is said that he rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. Reader! behold what grace can accomplish! See here, what hath God wrought! Oh! who shall limit the sovereignty of the Lord, when the word of the Lord abounds with such wonderful instances of the power of grace.


Verses 35-40

And when it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, Let those men go. (36) And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace. (37) But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. (38) And the sergeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans. (39) And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city. (40) And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

It is more than probable that the report of the earthquake had reached the ears of the magistrates. Indeed, it is hardly to be supposed possible that it should not. But neither earthquake, nor the relation made of the change wrought on the jailor, could effect any change upon the magistrates. Oh! how plainly, clearly, and fully, doth every circumstance in life preach the doctrine of distinguishing grace. Reader! it is very blessed to trace the Lord's hand in all the Lord's appointment; and, like Paul and Silas, watch the Lord's leadings, both for removals or abidings, wheresoever his providence appoints.


Verse 40

REFLECTIONS

Amidst many gracious improvements to be made of this Chapter, I would desire to remark the Lord's merciful manifestations, in the instances here recorded of sovereign grace, in opening the heart of Lydia by the sweet constraining cords of love; and in alarming into conviction the heart of the Jailor, by the trembling convulsions of horror, and anguish of soul. Oh! how various, how wonderful, and how full of mercy in all, are the multiform ways of our wonder-working God! He will beautify the meek with salvation. He will pull down the strong-holds of sin in his people; and make the stubborn knee of the soul to bend to his power.

Reader! have you observed, carefully observed, what is said in this Chapter of God the Spirit? How truly awful to read of his forbidding the word to be preached in Asia! How strikingly solemn, that when the servants of the Lord assayed to go into Bithynia, the Spirit suffered them not. Reader! have you noticed these things? And can you notice such things without pausing to remark, yea, and to remark with astonishment, wonder, love, and praise also, that the Lord hath not long, long since forbidden it in our guilty land? Oh! the forbearance of our God to the present Christ-despising generation! Lord! let it never be said of our British Judah, I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it! But, oh! in mercy grant, that the goodness and long suffering of our God may lead to repentance.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 16:4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pmc/acts-16.html. 1828.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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