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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Acts 16

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XVI.

Paul, having circumcised Timothy, and being called by the Spirit from one country to another, converteth Lydia, and casteth out a spirit of divination. For which cause he and Silas are whipped and imprisoned. The prison doors are opened. The jailor is converted, and they are delivered.

Anno Domini 53.


Verse 1

Acts 16:1. A certain disciple—named Timotheus See the passages in the margin, and the preface to the first epistle to Timothy.


Verse 3

Acts 16:3. And circumcised him In order to do justice to St. Paul's conduct in this affair, we must recollect, that he always openly avowed that the Gentiles were free from the yoke of the Mosaic ceremonies, and that the Jews were not to expect salvation by them; and he also taught that they were not in conscience obliged to observe them at all, except in cases where the omission of them would give offence: but because his enemies represented him as teaching people to despise the law of Moses, and even as blaspheming it; he therefore took some opportunities of conforming to it publicly himself, to shew how far he was from condemning it as evil. This is the true key to his conduct here, and in ch. Acts 21:21, &c. And though, when the Jewish zealots would have imposed it upon him to compel Titus, who was a Greek and Gentile, and of Gentile parents, to be circumcised, even while he was at Jerusalem, he resolutely refused, Galatians 2:3-5. Yet here he voluntarily persuaded Timothy to submit to that rite; knowing that the omission of it in him, who was a Jew by the mother's side, would have given offence: besides, he was the more desirous to obviate any prejudices against this excellent youth, whose early acquaintance with the Scriptures of the Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:15.) might render him peculiarly capable of preaching in the synagogues with advantage; which, had he been uncircumcised, would not have been permitted. Timothy had most probably been baptized when he first embraced Christianity; but it does not appear that he then received any spiritual gifts, or miraculous powers, very probably because of his unripe age: but as he had, since his baptism, approved himself in a distinguishing manner, and much beyond his age, and was now pointed out for an evangelist by the Spirit of prophesy, (1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 4:14.) the apostle laid his hands upon him, and imparted unto him the Holy Spirit, 2 Timothy 1:6 that is, to qualify him for the great work, whereunto God, by the mouth of his prophets, had appointed and called him.


Verse 4

Acts 16:4. The decrees, Namely, those which were determined as a rule for their direction, by the apostles and elders in full council at Jerusalem. See the preceding chapter, Acts 16:22, &c. The word Δογματα, rendered decrees, says L'Enfant, always signifies something temporary and ceremonial, and not laws of perpetual and universal obligation. Compare Ephesians 2:15. Colossians 2:14.


Verse 6

Acts 16:6. To preach the word in Asia, That is, in Asia Proper, or Proconsular Asia, as all the places mentioned in the former verses lay in Asia Minor. It is also apparent that flourishing churches were afterwards planted there; particularly at Colosse, Laodicea, Sardis, Thyatira, and Philadelphia; so that it seems to have been the determination of Providence, that, instead of going through this region now, by such a leisurely progress as that in which they proceeded in their former journey through Pamphylia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, &c. they should hasten to Europe directly, and preach the gospel first in Philippi, which was a Roman colony, and then in the neighbouring parts; while, in the mean time, the Asiatic provinces now passed over, might hear some report of it from their neighbours, and so be prepared to receive with greater advantage the labours of the apostles, when they should return to them, as St. Paul afterwards did: ch. Acts 18:23, &c. By this means the spread of the gospel would, in any given time, be wider than (other circumstances being equal) it would have been, had they taken all the interjacent places in their way.


Verse 7

Acts 16:7. The Spirit Many manuscripts and versions of undoubted authority read here, The Spirit of Jesus.


Verse 9

Acts 16:9. There stood a man of Macedonia, Some think St. Paul knew his country by his dress, or language; but there was no need of his attending to such particularities, as the vision itself mentions the country: it has also been thought, by some, to have been a particular person with whom St. Paul was acquainted in Macedonia, and therefore they would render the Greek literally a certain Macedonian. Grotius has suggested that it was the guardian angel of Macedonia, who appeared in human form. See his note on the place.


Verse 10

Acts 16:10. Immediately we endeavoured This is the first place in which St. Luke intimates his attending on the apostle; and it is remarkable, that here he does it in a very oblique manner; nor does he indeed throughout the whole history once mention his own name, or relate one thing which he said or did for the service of Christianity; though St. Paul speaks of him in the most honourable terms, Colossians 4:14. 2 Timothy 4:11 and probably 2 Corinthians 8:18 as the brother, whose praise in the gospel went through all the churches. The same remark may be made on the rest of the sacred historians, who every one of them shew the like amiable modesty; and what is admired so much in a Caesar, surely should not pass unapplauded in the inspired penmen. We may observe, that when St. Paul speaks of his own services, it is by no means in an ostentatious way, but in his own necessary vindication, appealing to his enemies for the known truth of them: by which means Providence has so ordered it, that the memory of many important facts, which would otherwise have been lost, is preserved, and preserved in such a manner as to carry the strongest evidence along with it. Such instances of the Divine wisdom occurring in the Scripture, are worthy our attentive observation, and thankful acknowledgment.


Verse 11-12

Acts 16:11-12. Samothracia, &c.— An island in the AEgean sea, near the Hellespont: Neapolis was a city of Macedonia. Sailing from thence up the river Strymon, they came to Philippi, which was a city or town of the first division of Macedonia, and a Roman colony. It had more anciently gone by the name of Crenides, probably from the springs or fountains which arose there. It had afterwards the name of Datus, because of the gold mines which were near it; and, lastly, it was called Philippi, from Philip king of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, who very much improved the town, and increased the number of its inhabitants. St. Luke calls it a colony: and, as he makes use of the Latin word κολωνια, instead of the usual Greek term αποικια, it is most likely he designed to intimate, that it was made a colony by the Romans; which is further confirmed in Acts 16:21 where he represents the Philippians as calling themselves Romans. From some ancient coins and inscriptions it appears, that a colony was planted there by Julius Caesar, and afterwards much augmented by Augustus. Livy informs us, (lib. 45. ch. 29.) that Paulus AEmilius, who conquered Macedonia, and brought it into subjection to the Romans, ordered it to be divided into four parts or regions; and that one of these, and the first part, was all that lay between the rivers Strymon and Nessus. In that first part, and between those two rivers, stood Philippi.


Verse 13

Acts 16:13. And on the sabbath we went out, &c.— It should seem that there were but few Jews settled in this city, and those chiefly women, who could not afford to have a synagogue; but where they could not have a synagogue, they used to have an oratory, or a proseucha; that is, "an open court of prayer," commonly built upon the sea-side, or on the banks of a river, which they probably preferred, as being more retired. Some of the Latin poets make mention of proseuchas: (see Juven. Sat. 3: 50. 215.) and into one of them our Saviour is supposed to have gone; Luke 6:12. Some render the Greek here, where, as usual, there was an oratory. These proseuchas differed from the synagogues in several particulars: For, first, in the synagogues the prayers were offered up in public forms, in common for the whole congregation; but in the proseuchas they prayed, as in the courts of the temple, every one apart. Secondly, the synagogues were covered houses; but the proseuchas were open courts, like the forums, which were inclosures open at the top, or like the court of the women, before the temple of Jerusalem. Thirdly, synagogues were generally built within the cities to which they belonged; whereas the proseuchas were commonly out of the city, either by a river, or by the sea-side, and often upon a hill or mountain. One of these being near Philippi, St. Paul and his assistants, well knowing that it was the custom of the Jews to assemble there for their devotion on the sabbath-days, attended there on the first sabbath after their arrival; and though the proseuchas were commonly used only for private prayers, and there was no reading of the law or the prophets in them, nor anydiscourses usually made there, yet they sat down, after the manner of the Jewish doctors, and discoursed concerning the gospel doctrine to the women who assembled there, and who were partly Jews, and partly proselytes of the gate; for it was the custom of the great apostle of the Gentiles every where to begin with such, and first to offer the gospel to them.


Verse 14

Acts 16:14. Thyatira, Was a city bordering both on Asia and Lydia; and this woman seems to have derived her name from the latter on that account. She was a proselyte of the gate; that is, one who worshipped the true God, though she did not conform to the Jewish law in all its rites and ceremonies. She heard St. Paul with serious attention; and, through the goodness and grace of God, her heart was affected, and her mind convincedofthetruth and excellence of the Christian religion, which she immediately embraced with the heart unto righteousness, and was baptized with her whole family.


Verse 16

Acts 16:16. As we went to prayer, Or, To the oratory. The manner in which St. Luke relates this history,plainly implies that he considered it as a real possession, and that St. Paul himself considered it in that view: nor can we account either for the woman's behaviour, for St. Paul's, or for that of her master's afterwards, without allowing this to be the case. A spirit of divination, is in the original, a spirit of

Pytho, or of Apollo; concerning which see the notes on Leviticus 19:31 and Deuteronomy 18:11.


Verse 18

Acts 16:18. But Paul, being grieved, He might imagine that if the Gentiles believed the testimony of the woman, it might invalidate his doctrine and miracles; and by leading them to suppose that there was a confederacy between them and the evil spirit, it might make the one to be esteemed the effect of magic, and the other no better than the doctrine of devils. He could not but be persuaded, that if the Jews heard of this testimony, it might have a bad influence upon their minds, and make them entertain a suspicion of St. Paul and his associates, for having the approbation and praise of the prince of darkness. The dispossession of the damsel wholly obviated all those inconveniences.


Verse 19-20

Acts 16:19-20. Unto the rulers, The word στρατηγοι, made use of in the 20th verse, denotes with the Greeks Roman praetors; and if it was applied to the Duumviri, who were the governors of colonies, it was by way of compliment. At the first appearance of the Christian religion, some of the Gentiles considered the Christians as no other than a particular set of Jews, because at that time those who professed it, were descended from the same stock, born in the same country, and received the same scriptures: and this was certainly enough to denominate them Jews, (as we find them called here,) among those who were strangers to both religio


Verse 21

Acts 16:21. And teach customs which are not lawful, &c.— Tertullian and Eusebius assert, that the Romans had an ancient law, which forbad the worship of new deities without the permission of the senate; and it is plain from Livy, that, as often as it was violated, it was publicly vindicated by the authority of the state. It is remarkable, that Tully, in his "Book of Laws," gives us the very law in question: The sense of it is to this effect: "No man shall worship the gods clandestinely, or have them separately to himself; nor shall any new and foreign god be worshipped by individuals, till such god hath been legally approved of, and tolerated by the magistrates." If the plea of these Gentiles be founded upon this law, as undoubtedly it was, the inferences they drew from it were generally acknowledged. The comment which the great author just quoted has given us on this law, not only supports this assertion, but seems to be the same: "For each man to have his gods (says he) in peculiar, whether new or stranger-gods, without public allowance, tends to defeat and confound religion:" and what was that, but the same as the miserable plea of their troubling the city exceedingly? But the letter of Mecaenas to Augustus, in Dion Cassius, sets this matter in a stronger light. According to him, "The introducing a new religion, or a new god, if indulged, would indispose men toward the magistrate, and make them less fond of the civil and religious constitutions of their country; from whence factions and confederacies against the state would arise." The apostle's enemies seem to lay great stress upon their being Romans; and the reason of their doing so, appears, from what we have observed, that the Romans were remarkable for not introducing into their public or established worship any new rites, though the Grecians did. This difference was founded on the different genius and origin of the two people; for Rome rising on her own foundation, independent on, and unrelated to any other state, and highly possessed with the enthusiasm of distinction and empire, would naturally esteem her tutelary idol gods as her own peculiar deities, and therefore would reject all foreign mixtures. On the contrary, the Grecian states, related to, and dependent on each other, would more easily admit of an association of their national idol deities; yet we must not hence conclude, that the introduction of a new public worship was allowed even in the Grecian states: it was permitted, but not without the licence of the civil magistrates. Plato has recorded the same law as we quoted from Cicero; and it is further remarkable, that the crime for which Socrates was brought to his trial, and capitally condemned, was the introducing of new deities. But the apostles went further; theycarried the pretensions of the Christian religion so high, that they claimed the title of the only true one for it; and, not stopping here, they urged a necessity for all men to forsake their national religions, and embrace the gospel. What true fortitude did they display through grace! and how exactly similar is the plea of persecutors in all ages! A Socrates must die on this ground in the Heathen world; and an infinitely greater than Socrates must be crucified as a slave on the same plea! Let the faithful confessors of Christ glory when honoured with the same treatment on the same plea, whether from Heathens, Papists, or Protestants.


Verse 22

Acts 16:22. The magistrates rent off their clothes, This was the Roman method of proceeding in such cases, and it was also practised among the Jews. The latter part of this verse might be rendered more clearly thus: And the officers tearing off their garments, that is, of Paul and Silas, commanded them to be beaten with rods, by the hands of the lictors, or public beadles, to whom that office belonged.


Verse 24

Acts 16:24. Made their feet fast in the stocks,— It is generally supposed that these were the cippi, or large pieces of wood used among the Romans, which not only loaded the legs of prisoner's, but sometimes distended them in a very painful manner. So that the situation of Paul and Silas must have been very affecting, especially if they lay with their bare backs, so lately scourged, on the ground, as it is very probable they did. This circumstance renders their songs of praise the more remarkable. Beza explains the original word of the numellae, or pieces of wood containing five holes, in which the neck, hands, and feet were confined in the most uneasy posture that can well be imagined.


Verse 25-26

Acts 16:25-26. And at midnight Paul and Silas, &c.— These blessed apostles were as little daunted at suffering, as elevated when they were caressed and about to be adored for their miraculous cures. This was true fortitude; a composure and firmness of mind arising, through divine grace, from a sense of having done their duty, and being accepted by their great Lord and Master. From this consciousness of their integrity, and this sense of the divine favour, Paul and Silas, at midnight, when such wounds and torments as they endured give the greatest uneasiness, instead of uttering sighs and groans, prayed and sang hymns of praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God so loudly and so cheerfully, that all the prisoners heard them, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ. While they were at this extatic devotion, they had a miraculous and extraordinary token of the divine acceptance, as remarkable as the sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices of old; for on a sudden there was a great earthquake, all the prison-doors were opened, and all the prisoners' bonds were loosed.


Verse 27

Acts 16:27. He drew out his sword, &c.— By the Roman law, if a prisoner escaped, the gaoler was to suffer what the prisoner was to have suffered. When therefore this man apprehended that all the prisoners were fled, and remembered what strict orders he had received the day before concerning Paul and Silas, he was afraid of the most rigorous treatment from the magistrates, for having executed their orders no better; and, on this account, in his hurry and consternation, was about to have killed himself. Though it be true that some of the philosophers condemned self-murder, yet it was not only justified by many others of them, but had, in fact, prevailed much among the Romans, especially about that time; and had, in the memory of some then living, been dignified, as it were, in Philippi, by the examples of those great men, Brutus and Cassius, who fell on their own swords there. Such is the religion of nature, so called by the infidels, in its most polished state!


Verse 28

Acts 16:28. But Paul cried with a loud voice, St. Paul, like a true Christian, a benevolent and brave man through the grace of God, was tender and solicitous about the life of one, who, but a few hours before, had treated him with such rigour. As they were all at present in the dark, it is not easy to say how St. Paul knew of the gaoler's purpose, unless it were by hearing some desperate words that declared it, or by some immediate suggestion from God; which, amid such a scene of wonders, is by no means improbable.


Verse 29-30

Acts 16:29-30. Then he called for a light, As φωτα, lights, is plural, it seems to imply, that, on this alarm, several of his attendants came with torches, and were present at the inquiry which immediately followed; nor did he in the least scruple to throw himself down before his domestics at the feet of these his holy prisoners, who had been so evidently honoured by the God of nature. Grotius thinks, that in his inquiry what he should do to be saved, the gaoler went upon the natural principles of the immortality of the soul. Whitby, with much greater propriety, supposes that he spoke thus, as referring to the testimony of the Pythoness, which had been so often and so publicly repeated: (Acts 16:17-18.) but the sense of what he utters seems to be more extensive. Probably, a vast multitude of ideas rushed into his mind at once. He saw, by the earthquake, the power and displeasure of God; and, together with this, the sweetness and joy of Paul and Silas in their bonds:—their willing continuance in prison, when they might so easily have escaped; their generous solicitude for the life of one who had used them so ill, were also circumstances fitted to strike powerfully on a mind so passionate as his seems to have been; and might concur towards convincing him, that these men were indeed divine messengers, and that the divine displeasure was falling on the city, and particularly on himself, for persecuting them. Perhaps some kind and pious words, which Paul and Silas, who took all opportunities of doing good, may have uttered while he was fastening their feet in the stocks, might throw farther light on his mind, when recollected amid such extremity of danger: and no doubt the Spirit of God added conviction and energy to all.


Verse 31-32

Acts 16:31-32. And they said, Believe, &c.— "Humbly trust in, and fully commit thyself to the protection of that great and only Saviour whom we preach, and thou and thine house will be brought into the sure way to eternal salvation." The meaning cannot be, that the eternal salvation of his family could be secured by his faith, but that his believing in Christ would be the best securityof his family from present danger; and that if they also themselves believed, they would be entitled to the same spiritual and everlasting blessings with himself; which St. Paul might the rather add, as it is probable that many, if not all of them, under this terrible alarm, might have attended the master of the family in the dungeon. When St. Paul exhorts the gaoler, as the way to salvation, to believe in Christ, and commit himself to him, it obviously and immediately implies a submission to the further instructions of these his special ambassadors and authorized messengers,concerning the whole wonderful scheme of this salvation, the full import whereof Paul and Silas would not fail to open to their new convert as soon as possible; and accordingly it is added by the sacred writer, that they spake unto him the word of the Lord. They taught him and all his family the Christian doctrine, laying before them the proofs, evidences, and nature of it, as far as the time and circumstances would permit; the result of all which was, that the gaoler was convinced, embraced Christianity, and was converted.


Verse 33

Acts 16:33. And he took them the same hour, &c.— It appears from this circumstance of the gaoler's washing their stripes, that the apostles had not a power of working miraculous cures whenever they pleased, either on their own bodies, or those of their dearest friends. Had they possessed such a power, it would have been their duty to have used it, unless they had a discovery of the divine will, that in such and such instances the use of it should be waved. The continual use of such a power would certainly have frustrated many of those noble purposes in providence, which their sufferings answered, and would have introduced many inconveniencies. The gaoler, in proof of his altered sentiments and genuine sincerity, not only washed the stripes, and took care of the apostles, but was baptized, he and his house, immediately, as the converts to Christianity commonly were in the apostolic age; for that had been the way by which the Jews used to receive whole families of the Heathens, when they became full proselytes to the Jewish religion; and our Saviour had appointed it as the way of initiating persons into the Christian church. The Jews would naturally have inquired of John the Baptist what the meaning of baptism was, and not why he baptized, though he professed he was not the Messiah, if it had not been a rite which theythemselves made use of when they received proselytes into the church; and our Saviour, in like manner, would not have commanded his apostles, Go, and baptize all nations, without explaining what he meant by baptizing them, unless it had been a thing well known, and which they had no need to have explained to them. It is very remarkable, that we have two instances in this one chapter of whole households being in this manner, and at once, received into the Christian Church; and such expressions as Lydia's being baptized and her house, and the gaoler and all his family, cannot be understood with their proper emphasis, unless we suppose them to be allusions to such a remarkable and well-known custom. We may just observe, that the practice of Abraham, with respect to the initiating rite of circumcision, was agreeable to this. See Genesis 17:26-27.

But I feel myself obliged in dutyto consider further the argument which this passage affords us in favour of infant baptism. There is no room to doubt, considering Abraham's character, but that when God first made his covenant with him and his seed, and ordered every male in his house to be circumcised, all the adult males of his family were instructed in the knowledge of God, and of his covenant, in order to their having the token of it applied to them, as well as to the children and himself, according to God's appointment: (Genesis 17:7-14; Genesis 18:19) And the same may be said in respect to the Jewish proselytes and their families; since, as to this point, there was one law to the Israelites and the strangers: (Exodus 12:48-49.) and therefore its being said, that Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the gaoler and all that were in his house, Acts 16:32 when the gospel seal of the covenant was to be applied to him and all his, is no more an argument against his having children baptized, than it is that there were no male infants in Abraham's family to be circumcised, nor any infants in the families of proselytes to be baptized as well as circumcised; because the adult persons in both were to be instructed, before either of those rites was to be applied to them; as the adult persons in the gaoler's house were first to be taught, that they might be baptized upon their own personal profession of faith, and by their own consent. And if any suppose that there were no children in his house, nor in Lydia's, Acts 16:15 they take that for granted, which it isimpossible to prove: but it is certain, that the terms household and a man's house, all along in the Old Testament, generally include the children of the family: and if, as it is asserted by many great writers, it was a well-known and long-continued custom among the Jews, to admit proselytes into the church of Israel, by baptizing them and their whole families, inclusive of their infants, (see Lightfoot's Harm. on John 1:25.) there is a plain reference to that custom, when in this chapter it is said, that Lydia and her house, and the gaoler and all his, were baptized: and it is very remarkable, in my judgment, that in this history of the acts of the apostles, God's covenant with his people and their seed, and the application of the New Testament seal of it to children as well as adult persons, is strongly intimated, first with respect to the converted Jews, afterwards to the Proselytes of the gate, and then again to the idolatrous Gentiles, in some of the first openings of the gospel dispensation among them respectively. As to the Jews, St. Peter called them to repent and be baptized, because the promise was to them and to their children, and ran in the like strain to such as should be called from among the Gentiles: Acts 2:38-39. As to the Proselytes of the gate, Lydia and her household, Acts 16:15 or, as the Syriac has it, the children of her house, were baptized; which shews at least, that, in those early times, children were deemed such parts of the household as were baptized. As to idolatrous Gentiles, the gaoler and all his were baptized. And it seems highly improbable, that the gaoler and his house were baptized by immersion; since, as far as appears, that ordinance was all on a sudden administered to them severally, while they were in the prison; and since the mangled condition of Paul and Silas's bodies, by means of their being severely scourged the day before, made it very improper, not to say unsafe, for them to go at midnight into the water so deep, as that mode of baptizing would oblige them to do.


Verse 35

Acts 16:35. The magistrates sent The magistrates who had ordered Paul and Silas to be scourged and imprisoned without a legal trial, or any crime proved against them, seem to have had a more disturbed night than their innocent prisoners. Very probably they had since reflected in a more cool manner upon their miraculously curing the Pythoness; and, according to the reading of two ancient manuscripts, had felt the earthquake, and were terrified thereby: but whether that reading be genuine or not, before the next morning they appear to have been very sensible that they had gone beyond their commission; and that they were in danger of being called to an account by their superiors for their illegal and rash proceedings: for the Jews were generally, throughout the whole Roman empire, allowed the free exercise of their religion, and to make as many proselytes as they could by fair and legal methods; and the Christians were thus far looked upon as a sect of the Jews, and had the same privileges.


Verse 37

Acts 16:37. They have beaten up, &c.— The magistrates, in their treatment of Paul and Silas, had violated no less than three laws: First, in punishing them without a trial, which was not only an infringement of the Roman law, but of the law of nations. They had likewise violated the Valerian law, which forbad that a Roman citizen should be bound: and, thirdly, the Sempronian,or Porcian law, which forbad any man to punish a Roman citizen with rods. If it be asked, Why Paul and Silas did not plead their privilege before? We answer, That the hurry and noise of the execution prevented it; and perhaps, amidsuch a tumult, it might be apprehended that the people would have murdered them, if they had not been in some measure appeased by their sufferings; not to say how possible it is, that the plea, if made, might not be regarded, amid so riotous a mob. The circumstances of St. Paul, when he pleaded it, ch. 22; 25 were very different. If it be further asked, Why it was now so soon believed? It may be replied, not only that it was extremely hazardous to make such a claim falsely, (for Claudius punished it with death,) but also that there was a certain dignity in the manner in which St. Paulmade this plea, which added a sensible credibility to it; especially as they had now no further sufferings to apprehend, and as the earthquake, which might perhaps affect the whole city, seemed to have referred so evidently to their cas


Verse 38

Acts 16:38. And the serjeants, &c.— St. Paul seems, in his own conduct here, to have had a regard to the honour and interests of Christianity in this place, as well as to their own civil rights as men and Romans; for such a token of public respect from the magistrates, as the serjeants or lictors were commissioned to require, would undoubtedly encourage the new converts, and remove a stumbling-block out of the way of others, who might not have discerned the true lustre of the characters of Paul and Silas amid so much infamy as they had before suffered.


Verse 39

Acts 16:39. And besought them The word Παρεκαλεσαν, here rendered besought, is in the very next verse, as well as in many other places, rendered comforted; and so it should have been rendered here, as it gives us the idea of a more respectful treatment. Some manuscripts have an addition here, importing that the magistrates, in a respectful manner, conducted them out of the prison, and humbly begged of them to leave the city.


Verse 40

Acts 16:40. They comforted them and departed. Such an extraordinary interposition of God for his suffering servants, and such an addition made to their church, had a natural tendency both to cheer their hearts, and to invigorate their pious resolutions.

Accordingly, it appears from St. Paul's Epistle to this church, that there were many excellent Christians among them, who expressed an affection for him, and a zeal for their holy religion, in a considerable degree correspondent to such encouragements and obligations. See Philippians 1:5-7; Philippians 1:29-30; Philippians 4:10; Philippians 4:14-18. Though many circumstances might now have invited their stay at Philippi, they wisely complied with the request of the magistrates, that they might not seem to express any degree of obstinacy or revenge, and might give no suspicion of any design to stir up the people to sed

Inferences.—From the chapter before us, we see by what various methods divine grace operates upon different persons. As for Lydia, she was touched by a gentle influence descending upon her like dew from heaven. Her heart was melted under the word, as snow by the sun; and by the soft, yet powerful hand of our blessed Saviour, was made willing and obedient.—But when the Lord came to subdue the stubborn heart of the savage gaoler, who seems to have taken a barbarous pleasure in afflicting his pious prisoners, he comes in the whirlwind, the tempest, and the fire. 1 Kings 19:11-12. His soul, as well as his house, was shaken with an earthquake, and the foundations, as it were, laid bare. A sudden transport of astonishment convinces him of his extreme danger. His hand is mercifully stopped in that terrible moment, in which he was rushing on to seek a refuge in hell from the seeming dangers of earth; and being touched by a secret grace which he had not as yet been instructed to seek, he falls down before Paul and Silas, and honours them as among the first of mankind, whom he had just before treated, not only as slaves, but as the worst of miscreants. He is now ready to receive the law and the gospel from their mouth; seeking the way of salvation from them, and declaring his readiness to submit to whatever they shall tell him.

In this man we have a striking example of true conversion, which seems to afford very useful matter for serious consideration. Though the scriptures continually insist upon the absolute necessity of conversion, there are multitudes of nominal Christians so wholly unacquainted with that necessity, and with the nature of true conversion, as to imagine the very idea absurd.

Conversion, in the direct meaning of the word, is a turning from, and particularly a turning from the service of sin and Satan, to the service of God and holiness. And in this sense it is used by God himself to the children of Israel, who, like the visible Christian church now, were then his professing people: and if they were called upon to turn, or be converted, surely there is the same reason for the same proceedings now. As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked should turn from his way, and live: Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

Conversion, therefore, it plainly follows, is absolutely necessary for all those, whatever name they bear, who walk in their own ways, if they would live, if they would save their souls alive. The true nature and full meaning of conversion is shewn us by the history of the gaoler; and we there learn, that three things are required to a real conversion; namely, 1 a conviction of sin: 2 a firm and applicatory belief in the divine propitiation for sin in Christ Jesus: 3 a change of heart and life.

First, a miracle highly alarming convinced the gaoler, and laid him prostrate at the apostles' feet, desiring to know what he should do to be saved. Fears for his soul's eternal welfare now first filled his heart; and a sense of his own sinfulness, and the divine greatness and justice, awakened in his bosom the most dreadful apprehensions. There were the same reasons for these apprehensions and fears before, as now; but his danger had never been so great, his views of eternity never so near. And the same is the case with all the unawakened: there is at all times, while in an un-converted state, the same reason to be alarmed; for death may come in a moment;—in a moment we, poor, perishing mortals, may be disabled from making the inquiry!

Now by whatever means this important inquiry is first raised in the heart; by whatever means the soul is led to see the danger, and guilt, and condemnation of sin, and stirred up to seek after salvation,—this is the beginning of conversion; this is the happy preparation for the spiritual, heavenly life, and, if properly pursued by agonizing prayer and active faith, will assuredly lead the penitent to a thorough conversion, and a genuine revelation of Jesus Christ in his soul.

But, 2nd, faith in Jesus Christ; a faith founded on the apostolic testimony, as recorded Acts 16:31 provides such a convicted sinner with a full and perfect answer to the great question urged, Acts 16:30 and with full and perfect peace for his conscience. There, in the grand atonement on the cross, he sees how God was just in punishing sin; there he sees how God may be merciful, consistently with his justice, in pardoning him a miserable sinner: and thus, finding experimentally in his belief of this glorious truth, what is quite sufficient for his guilty soul, he lays hold upon Christ by faith; he knows that all his sins are forgiven; he becomes a thankful disciple of the suffering Jesus; and, by the power of the blessed Spirit, he walks in his steps,—is renewed in heart and life.

This is the grand test of conversion, the indisputable proof of his sincerity, both to the sinner and to others. This was one of the grand touchstones which the fathers and first preachers of the gospel always applied to the conviction and conversion of their hearers, by the word of faith which they preached. "What great command the divine precepts of the gospel (say they,) have upon the minds of men, daily experience shews. Give us a man that is passionate, and we will, through divine grace, make him mild, if he will but believe; covetous, and we will make him liberal; lustful, and we will make him temperate; cruel, and we will make him merciful; unjust and vicious, and we will make him just and unblameable. Hast thou an unchaste wife? bring her to religion; it will make her continent: hast thou an undutiful child? bring him to religion, it will make him obedient: hast thou an unfaithful servant? it will teach him fidelity. We warrant our faith, not by working of wonders, but by converting of sinners; by changing filthiness into holiness; by turning incarnate devils into mortal angels."

Just such was the mighty operation wrought upon the gaoler in the instance before us: his works immediately witnessed his sincerity. Those servants of the most high God, whom ere now he had thrust into the lowest dungeon, he brings out, and the same hour of the night washes their stripes, sets meat before them, and rejoices, believing in God. He witnesses his repentance and faith by a real reformation in his nature; and not content to hear Paul preach, to believe and be baptized; he shews, moreover, the power of his conversion in his private personal calling and profession. He becomes a good gaoler, full of pity and compassion toward his prisoners; he becomes a good father, and a good master: all his house must be taught and baptized, as well as himself.

And certainly the truth of conversion will evidence itself in the ordering and reforming of our personal calling. Religion is not a matter merely of public and common profession; is not to be found only in churches and meeting-houses; but it will enter into our private houses, and bid itself home to us as Christ did to Zaccheus, Come, "I must lodge in thine house:" it will have access and sway in all our employments; it will shew itself in all our dealings one with another; and make a man no less careful to discharge his duty to his neighbour and his brother, than to his God and Father.

True conversion will moreover manifest itself in commiserating the poor servants of God, and shewing mercy to them; in making all possible amends to those whom we have by any means injured; and in shewing all thankfulness to those whom God has been pleased to make the instruments of conveying to us his salvation. A proof of all these,—of love to his neighbour, of pity to the afflicted servants of God, of reparation for injuries, and thankfulness to the ministers of salvation,—was that act of the gaoler's, namely, his washing the stripes of Paul and Silas. And thus we see that true conversion consists in real repentance for sin; a cordial belief in that great Atonement wrought out by Christ Jesus; and in a thorough change of the dispositions and the life,—in short, a change of nature and actions; such a change as fills the heart with love to God, and to every brother, and to all mankind; and draws it forth in real acts of kindness and regard.

The only question then with us all, should be, whether or not we are in this saving state? It is in vain, and a self-delusion, to reply, "Doubtless we are; for we have been baptized; we frequent the church or meeting-house, and the other means of grace." Alas, how many perish under this specious deceit! It is not to bear a name, or to perform the mere outward services of religion, which will bless us with God's favour, or preserve us from death eternal. A true and anxious desire for our soul's salvation; an experimental knowledge of the guilt and danger of sin; a faith unfeigned in the merit and intercession of Christ, producing in us a consciousness of our adoption into the family of God; and a life of obedience and love; these alone can truly stile us children of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Whatever may be the delusions with which men labour to sooth and satisfy their consciences, these are marks wherein no man can easily deceive himself: and surely in a matter of so great moment, as that of acceptance with God, no man would wish to deceive himself. The scriptures are plain and explicit, that without this conversion,—this repentance for sin, this living faith, and this life of obedience, we can never see God. Be it then our care, as we tender our eternal salvation, to see that those marks by God's grace be found in us, as they were in the gaoler before us; ever bearing in mind, that it is the most unreasonable folly, to pray constantly for these things, as nominal Christians do, and not to exert one endeavour towards the obtaining of them. May God enable us to be wise for ourselves in time; and thus to avoid a conduct so scandalous to our profession, and so ruinous to our immortal souls!

REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have an account of St. Paul's travels, and his acquaintance with Timothy, who, under his tuition, afterwards grew so eminent.

1. St. Paul's first visit was to Derbe and Lystra, where the Lord had provided for him an assistant and companion in his travels, a certain disciple, a young man named Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess, his father a Gentile. His exemplary conduct and excellent parts had gained him a great character among the brethren at Lystra and Iconium; St. Paul therefore was desirous to engage him to go with him; and the zealous youth readily consenting, he took and circumcised him; not as necessary to salvation, or as an obligation on him to observe the ceremonial law, that point having been settled by the apostolic decree; but as a matter in itself indifferent, and because he knew the prejudices which the unbelieving Jews would entertain against him, because they knew his mother was a Jewess; and that unless he were circumcised, they never would admit him to preach in any of their synagogues, or converse with, him, which might greatly obstruct the usefulness of his ministry. In condescension therefore to the prejudices of his countrymen, he took this step, and to the Jews became as a Jew, that he might gain the Jews; a proof of his warm affection toward his kinsmen after the flesh, though persecuted by them as their inveterate enemy.

2. 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. Though he had for a particular reason circumcised Timothy, he meant not to lay any stumbling-block in the way of the Gentile converts thereby, but asserted their entire liberty from all the legal institutions, according to the copies of the apostolic decree which he delivered to them. And so were the churches established in the faith; particularly, in the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, and of acceptance with God through Jesus Christ without any respect to circumcision or the Mosaical ordinances; and increased in number daily, the Lord, by the ministrations of St. Paul and his young assistant, adding to the church numbers of souls, which, under his grace, were the fruit of their labours. And that is the supreme joy of the faithful ministers of Christ, and a fresh bond to quicken their zeal and diligence, when Christ is pleased to make them see this travail of their souls.

2nd, We have,

1. St. Paul's travels continued through Phrygia and Galatia. He had purposed to go on through the proconsular Asia; but by a secret impulse of the Holy Ghost, he was forbad, other work being provided for him. His next remove was to Mysia, to a people despicable to a proverb; but the grace of Jesus knows no respect of persons: all may come to him, if they will. Thence they had designed to go into Bithynia, another province of lesser Asia: but the Spirit suffered them not, under whose guidance they directed all their motions. Therefore passing by Mysia, without making any stay, they came to Troas, near the place where the ancient city of Troy had stood; and here, it is supposed, St. Luke, the writer of this history, joined St. Paul and his company, as henceforward he usually says we, as one of those who travelled with the apostle.

2. At Troas, the Lord in a vision directed St. Paul which way to bend his course. A man of Macedonia, or, more probably, an angel, in the garb of a Macedonian, stood by him, and entreated him to come over into Macedonia, and help them by his prayers and preaching. Hereupon, assuredly concluding that this was a divine call to preach the gospel unto them, he and his fellow-travellers immediately prepared for their voyage, and came to Samothracia, a little island lying in the Archipelago, or AEgean sea; and the next day they arrived at Neapolis a port on the confines of Macedonia; and continuing their course, they reached Philippi, the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a Roman colony, governed by the Roman laws and magistrates. Note; (1.) When we see an evident call of God to a place, we may go to our work with confidence. (2.) They who are sent on God's work, must run at his bidding, and make no delay. (3.) Chief cities often afford the greatest field of usefulness, and the gospel sent thither becomes a more general blessing.

3. The first days of their arrival seemed to promise but little success: they abode there certain days, perhaps unnoticed, and unable to find a door of utterance. There seems to have been no synagogue of the Jews in this place; but some devout women, whether Jews or proselytes, resorted to an oratory without the city, near the river-side, where they used to meet for prayer on the sabbath-day: thither the apostle and his fellow-travellers went, and joined their devotions, taking an opportunity to preach to them the gospel, and lead them to the knowledge of the great salvation which is in Jesus Christ.

4. A blessing attended their labours. A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, either of silk or cloth, or the purple dye, a native of Thyatira, a city of Asia, but who was now settled at Philippi, and worshipped God, as a proselyte of the gate, heard us with great seriousness; whose heart the Lord opened by the powerful efficacy of his grace, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul, and received the truth in the light and love of it. And as she made immediate profession of her faith, she was baptized, and her household; whereupon she besought St. Paul and his friends, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, seeing you have received me into your number, shew me the confidence you place in me, and come into my house, and abide there; so desirous was she of testifying her gratitude to those from whom she had received so great spiritual blessings, and solicitous to enjoy as much as possible of their conversation, that she might grow more established in the truth; and she constrained us. Unwilling to be burdensome, they were at first backward to accept her invitation; but at last, overcome with her importunity, they consented. Note; (1.) One soul turned to God, is a great acquisition, and well worthy to be recorded. (2.) Providence sometimes brings us far from our native home, with views we little thought of; and so orders the place of our abode as to be greatly subservient to the salvation of our souls. (3.) Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God; they who sit under a preached gospel, are in the Lord's way. (4.) They who have received a blessing from God's ministers, and owe to them, under God, their souls, think they can never sufficiently shew their gratitude to them for their labours of love. (5.) We cannot but desire the approbation of those who are eminently good, and wish so to act as that they may judge us faithful to the Lord.

3rdly, A singular occurrence soon made these great preachers of the gospel more taken notice of.

1. There was a damsel possessed with a spirit of divination; for in these times of ignorance and idolatry, the devil used many such deluding instruments. And as she was paid when consulted, and was reputed of extraordinary skill, she brought her masters much gain by her soothsaying. And when St. Paul and his companions went out of the city to their oratory, this damsel for several days followed them, crying, These men are the servants of the most high God; which shew unto us the way of salvation; by which means the devil designed to prejudice the cause of Christ, as if these preachers were promoting the same interests, and were influenced by the same spirit as this soothsayer. Note; (1.) It is the honour of ministers, that they are the servants of the most high God. (2.) There is no way of salvation, but that which the gospel points out to us; without it we must for ever lie down in ignorance, guilt, and misery.

2. Grieved at her continual clamours, and justly apprehensive, lest there should seem to be a confederacy between them and her; and sorry that Satan, by her means, should deceive and delude the people of Philippi, Paul turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her, and instantly Satan's power was broken, and he came out the same hour.

3. Her masters, highly exasperated to find all their gains gone, and her soothsaying at an end, caught Paul and Silas, the two most active persons; and dragging them violently along to the forum, where the magistrates sat to administer justice, preferred a heavy complaint against them, covering their private revenge with the pretence of zeal for the public welfare, saying, These men being Jews, the refuse of the earth, and the pests of society, do exceedingly trouble our city, fomenting riots and disturbances, and interrupting the peace of the people; and teach customs which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans; their doctrines and practices being utterly opposite to, and subversive of the worship of our gods, the manners of our country, and the laws of the empire. Note; (1.) The love of money is the root of all evil. (2.) Revenge and malice often wear the cloak of religious zeal, to conceal their malignity. (3.) They who are the preachers of the gospel of peace, have often thus been branded as the disturbers of society, and as the firebrands of discord.

4. The giddy multitude, inflamed by a charge so invidious, rose up in a popular tumult, ready to tear them in pieces; and the magistrates, without form of trial, swimming with the stream, rent off their clothes, and commanded the lictors, their officers, to scourge them severely with rods, as the most infamous malefactors, 1 Thessalonians 2:2. And, not content with this cruel treatment, after the many and deep stripes they had laid on them, they committed them to the town prison, strictly charging the jailor to keep them safely, that they might not escape; while they consulted what farther to do with them. And he failed not to execute the charge with abundant severity, thrusting them into the inner prison, the place allotted to the vilest criminals; and, to prevent all possibility of escape, made their feet fast in the stocks. Note; Christ's servants must prepare for sufferings, and not stagger at any reproach which, for his sake, they may be called to bear.

4thly, The misery, pain, and wretched condition in which these two innocent prisoners might be supposed to lie, would lead us to expect many a doleful groan; but wonderful to tell! we find them happier in their filthy prison, than their persecutors on beds of down.

1. At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, committing themselves cheerfully to God, looking up to him for strength to bear whatever more might be laid upon them; remembering, no doubt, their persecutors, and begging God to forgive them, not forgetting their cruel jailor; and they not only prayed, but sang praises unto God, rejoicing in their bonds, that they were counted worthy to suffer for their Master's name; and were filled with such divine consolations as made them forget all the horrors of a prison, and brought down to that dreary mansion a taste of heavenly felicity; and the prisoners heard them; so loud, so hearty were their praises, being not ashamed of their Master's service. Note; (1.) Prayer is an ease to the heart in every affliction, and joint sufferers should unite their supplications. (2.) Our trials should never untune our hearts for praise; in the midst of all, we have much, very much, for which we should be thankful. (3.) The singing of psalms or hymns is a blessed gospel ordinance, and we should never be ashamed of being heard in our families, though foolish and wicked men may ridicule the service.

2. God miraculously gives a token of his presence with them, and of his acceptance of their prayers and praises. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, a testimony of God's displeasure against their persecutors, and of his appearance on the behalf of his suffering ministers, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed; an intimation to the prisoners, that the gospel which these faithful preachers declared, was designed to deliver their souls from the more grievous bondage of guilt and corruption.

3. The jailor himself becomes a convert.

[1.] Awaked by the terrible shock, and starting from his bed, he saw, with astonishment, the prison-doors wide open; and supposing all the prisoners fled, for whose escape his own life must pay, he drew his sword in the first transports of despair, to put an end to his life, in order to prevent a more dreaded public execution.

[2.] St. Paul, who probably by divine revelation knew the fatal resolution the jailor was about to take, stays with a loud voice his uplifted arm, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. Paul and Silas thought not of escaping, and the rest were held by an invisible power. Note; The gospel word is, Do thyself no harm; all God's warnings, rebukes, and calls, are purely to rescue us from the ruin into which we were running, and to save us from sin, the cause of all our miseries.

[3.] The jailor, whose conscience the convictions of sin had now shook more terribly, than the earthquake the prison's foundations, called for a light and sprang in eagerly; and came trembling, under the most fearful sense of his dreadful guilt, and fell down before Paul and Silas, with deepest respect and veneration, and brought them out of the horrid dungeon where they were, and said, Sirs, What must I do to be saved? He now felt all the wickedness of his past conduct, particularly his cruel behaviour to these messengers of God; and, confounded at his provocations, he eagerly begs their forgiveness, and direction how he may obtain pardon at the hands of God. Note; (1.) God's Spirit works in different ways on different persons; some, like Lydia, are gently led to Christ; others pass first through the most dreadful terrors, sometimes brought to the gates of despair, and even tempted to self-murder; and yet even this, if they continue penitent, works together for their good, in order to make Christ more precious to their souls. (2.) They who have before despised and ill-used God's ministers, will, when seized by convictions of sin, entertain very different apprehensions of them, and address them with very different language. (3.) To a soul convinced of sin, all other considerations are swallowed up in that one great concern, What must I do to be saved?

[4.] Paul and Silas have an immediate answer ready for his question: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house; the salvation which they preached being free for him, though an idolatrous Gentile and bitter persecutor; and his family also would be permitted to share his blessing. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house, who were assembled on this joyful occasion. Note; (1.) The gospel proposes a free salvation in Jesus Christ to the chief of sinners. (2.) Nothing but faith in a Redeemer can bring true peace to a guilty conscience, or obtain the salvation which a sinner needs. (3.) Masters of families, who know the Lord themselves, cannot but be desirous that all under their roof may share their blessings, and be brought with them to the knowledge of the truth.

[5.] Filled now with gratitude and love, the jailor, deeply affected with the blessed truths which he heard, took them and washed their stripes, to supple and ease the wounds which their severe scourging had made in their backs, and was baptised, he and all his, straightway, desirous to come under the bonds of the covenant with his family, and to make public profession of Christianity: which done, he brought Paul and Silas into his house, and set meat before them, to refresh them, after the fatigues and fasting which they had endured; and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house, who rejoiced with him in the salvation which they had now embraced. Note; (1.) Believing in Christ is called believing in God, for he is very God; and on his being so, our everlasting hopes depend. (2.) Joy is the happy fruit of faith; they who see a reconciled God blotting out all their transgressions, cannot but rejoice in his salvation.

5thly, We have,

1. The message of the magistrates to these prisoners. In the morning, when their passion was cooled, they probably reflected upon the illegality of their proceedings; and, if they felt the earthquake, this might still more alarm their fears. Therefore they sent their serjeants to the jailor, with orders to dismiss the prisoners, willing to hush up the matter, without farther animadversion.

2. The jailor, glad to convey this message to his guests now, rather than his prisoners, informed them that they were at liberty to depart, and advised them to haste away, lest perhaps the present mind of these magistrates should change; and he wishes that all blessings and happiness may attend them.

3. St. Paul appears in no haste to go. His own innocence required vindication; and, for the sake of the disciples, he meant to assert his civil rights and privileges, and therefore bade the serjeants carry back this message to their masters, They have beaten us openly, cruelly and ignominiously, though uncondemned, without even a form of trial, being Romans, whose privileges, as citizens, are not thus insolently to be trampled upon; and have cast us into prison, as if we were the vilest slaves and criminals; and now do they thrust us out privily? as if we wanted a clandestine escape, and had broke from prison? nay verily, we will accept of our liberty on no such terms; but let them come themselves and fetch us out, acknowledging our innocence publicly, removing the reproach they have cast upon our characters, and taking shame to themselves for their illegal and tyrannical procedure, that they may act more gently for the future. Our civil rights are thus often a barrier against the fury of persecutors: the fear of the law often restrains those, who are withheld from injuring us by no fear of the Lord.

4. The magistrates, justly apprehensive of the consequence, if St. Paul should cite them before the tribunal of their superiors for their illegal proceedings, came very submissively, and besought them not to take advantage of the law against them, but to forgive the injuries they had received; and brought them out of the prison, publicly acknowledging hereby their innocence, and desired them to depart out of the city, that there might be no farther disturbance. Thus has the violence of persecutors often involved them in proceedings which they were unable to vindicate, and which have at last brought shame and confusion upon their own heads.

5. Being thus honourably discharged, they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia, their former hostess; and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, with an account of God's wondrous appearance for them, and the success of the gospel even in their prison; encouraging them therefore to stand fast in the confidence of support under all their trials; and hereupon they departed, to spread the gospel through the other provinces of Greece; leaving behind them a very flourishing church, which, from these small beginnings, rose to singular eminence.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 16:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/acts-16.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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