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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Acts 21

 

 

Verse 2-3

Chapter 17

A PRISONER IN BONDS.

Acts 21:2-3; Acts 21:17; Acts 21:33; Acts 21:39-40; Acts 22:22; Acts 22:30; Acts 24:1; Acts 26:1

THE title we have given to this chapter, "A Prisoner in Bonds," expresses the central idea of the last eight chapters of the Acts. Twenty years and more had now elapsed since St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. These twenty years had been times of unceasing and intense activity. Now we come to some five years when the external labours, the turmoil and the cares of active, life, have to be put aside, and St. Paul was called upon to stand apart and learn the lesson which every-day experience teaches to all, -how easily the world can get along without us, how smoothly God’s designs fulfil themselves without our puny assistance. The various passages we have placed at the head of this chapter cover six chapters of the Acts, from the twenty-first to the twenty-sixth. It may seem a large extent of the text to be comprised within the limits of one of our chapters, but it must be remembered that a great deal of the space thus included is taken up with the narrative of St. Paul’s conversion, which is twice set forth at great length, first to the multitude from the stairs of the tower of Antonia, and then in his defence which he delivered before Agrippa and Bernice and Festus, or else with the speeches delivered by him before the assembled Sanhedrin and before Felix the governor, wherein he dwells on points previously and sufficiently discussed. We have already considered the narrative of the Apostle’s conversion at great length, and noted the particular directions in which St. Paul’s own later versions at Jerusalem and Caesarea throw light upon St. Luke’s independent account. To the earlier chapters of this book we therefore would refer the reader who wishes to discuss St. Paul’s conversion, and several of the other subjects which he introduces. Let us now, however, endeavour, first of all, to gather up into one connected story the tale of St. Paul’s journeys, sufferings, and imprisonments from the time he left Miletus after his famous address till he set sail for Rome from the port of Caesarea, a prisoner destined for the judgment-seat of Nero. This narrative will embrace from at least the summer of A.D. 58, when he was arrested at Jerusalem, to the autumn of 60, when he set sail for Rome. This connected story will enable us to see the close union of the various parts of the narrative which is now hidden from us because of the division into chapters, and will enable us to fix more easily upon the leading points which lend themselves to the purposes of an expositor.

I. St. Paul after parting from the Ephesian Church, embarked on board his ship, and then coasted along the western shore of Asia Minor for three days, sailing amid scenery of the most enchanting description, specially in that late spring or early summer season at which the year had then arrived. It was about the first of May, and all nature was bursting into new life, when even hearts the hardest and least receptive of external influences feel as if they were living a portion of their youth over again. And even St. Paul, rapt in the contemplation of things unseen, must have felt himself touched by the beauty of the scenes through which he was passing, though St. Luke tells us nothing but the bare succession of events. Three days after leaving Miletus the sacred company reached Patara, a town at the southwestern corner of Asia Minor, where the coast begins to turn round towards the east. Here St. Paul found a trading ship sailing direct to Tyre and Palestine, and therefore with all haste transferred himself and his party into it. The ship seems to have been on the point of sailing, which suited St. Paul so much the better, anxious as he was to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. The journey direct from Patara to Tyre is about three hundred and fifty miles, a three days’ sail under favourable circumstances for the trading vessels of the ancients, and the circumstances were favourable. The northwest wind is to this day the prevailing wind in the eastern Mediterranean during the late spring and early summer season, and the northwest wind would be the most favourable wind for an ancient trader almost entirely depending on an immense mainsail for its motive power. With such a wind the merchantmen of that age could travel at the rate of a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles a day, and would therefore traverse the distance between Patara and Tyre in three days, the time we have specified. When the vessel arrived at Tyre St. Paul sought out the local Christian congregation. The ship was chartered to bring a cargo probably of wheat or wine to Tyre, inasmuch as Tyre was a purely commercial city, and the territory naturally belonging to it was utterly unable to finish it with necessary provisions, as we have already noted on the occasion of Herod Agrippa’s death. A week, therefore, was spent in unloading the cargo, during which St. Paul devoted himself to the instruction of the local Christian Church. After a week’s close communion with this eminent servant of God, the Tyrian Christians, like the elders of Ephesus and Miletus, with their wives and children accompanied him till they reached the shore, where they commended one another in prayer to God’s care and blessing. From Tyre he sailed to Ptolemais, thirty miles distant. There again he found another Christian congregation, with whom he tarried one day, and then leaving the ship proceeded by the great coast road to Caesarea, a town which he already knew right well, and to which he was so soon to return as a prisoner in bonds. At Caesarea there must now have been a very considerable Christian congregation. In Caesarea Philip the Evangelist lived and ministered permanently. There too resided his daughters, eminent as teachers, and exercising in their preaching or prophetical functions a great influence among the very mixed female population of the political capital of Palestine. St. Paul and St. Luke abode in Caesarea several days in the house of Philip the Evangelist. He did not wish to arrive in Jerusalem till close on the Feast of Pentecost, and owing to the fair winds with which he had been favoured he must have had a week or more to stay in Caesarea. Here Agabus again appears upon the scene. Fourteen years before he had predicted the famine which led St. Paul to pay a visit to Jerusalem when bringing up the alms of the Antiochene Church to assist the poor brethren at Jerusalem, and now he predicts the Apostle’s approaching captivity. The prospect moved the Church so much that the brethren besought St. Paul to change his mind and not enter the Holy City. But his mind was made up, and nothing would dissuade him from celebrating the Feast as he had all along proposed; He went up therefore to Jerusalem, lodging with Mnason, "an early disciple," as the Revised Version puts it, one therefore who traced his Christian convictions back probably to the celebrated Pentecost a quarter of a century earlier, when the Holy Ghost first displayed His supernatural power in converting multitudes of human souls. Next day he went to visit James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, who received him warmly, grasped his position, warned him of the rumours which had been industriously and falsely circulated as to his opposition to the Law of Moses, even in the case of born Jews, and gave him some prudent advice as to his course of action. St. James recommended that St. Paul should unite himself with certain Christian Nazarites, and perform the Jewish rites usual in such cases. A Nazarite, as we have already mentioned, when he took the Nazarite vow for a limited time after some special deliverance vouchsafed to him, allowed his hair to grow till he could cut it off in the Temple, and have it burned in the fire of the sacrifices offered up on his behalf. These sacrifices were very expensive, as will be seen at once by a reference to Numbers 6:13-18, where they are prescribed at full length, and it was always regarded as a mark of patriotic piety when any stranger coming to Jerusalem offered to defray the necessary charges for the poorer Jews, and thus completed the ceremonies connected with the Nazarite vow. St. James advised St. Paul to adopt this course, to unite himself with the members of the local Christian Church who were unable to defray the customary expenses, to pay their charges, join with them in the sacrifices, and thus publicly proclaim to those who opposed him that, though he differed from them as regards the Gentiles, holding in that matter with St. James himself and with the apostles, yet as regards the Jews, whether at Jerusalem or throughout the world at large, he was totally misrepresented when men asserted that he taught the Jews to reject the Law of Moses. St. Paul was guided by the advice of James, and proceeded to complete the ceremonial prescribed for the Nazarites. This was the turning-point of his fate. Jerusalem was then thronged with strangers from every part of the world. Ephesus and the province of Asia, as a great commercial centre, and therefore a great Jewish resort, furnished a very large contingent. To these, then, Paul was well known as an enthusiastic Christian teacher, toward whom the synagogues of Ephesus felt the bitterest hostility. They had often plotted against him at Ephesus, as St. Paul himself told the elders in his address at Miletus, but had hitherto failed to effect their purpose. Now, however, they seemed to see their chance. They thought they had a popular cry and a legal accusation under which he might be done to death under the forms of law. These Ephesian Jews had seen him in the city in company with Trophimus, an uncircumcised Christian belonging to their own city, one therefore whose presence within the temple was a capital offence, even according to Roman law. They raised a cry therefore that he had defiled the Holy Place by bringing into it an uncircumcised-Greek; and thus roused the populace to seize the Apostle, drag him from the sacred precincts, and murder him. During the celebration of the Feasts the Roman sentinels, stationed upon the neighbouring tower of Antonia which overlooked the Temple courts, watched the assembled crowds most narrowly, apprehensive of a riot. As soon therefore as the first symptoms of an outbreak occurred, the alarm was given, the chief captain Lysias hurried to the spot, and St. Paul was rescued for the moment. At the request of the Apostle, who was being carried up into the castle, he was allowed to address the multitude from the stairs. They listened to the narrative of his conversion very quietly till he came to tell of the vision God vouchsafed to him in the Temple some twenty years before, warning him to leave Jerusalem, when at the words "Depart, for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles," all their pent-up rage and prise and national jealousy burst forth anew. St. Paul had been addressing them in the Hebrew language, which the chief captain understood not, and the mob probably expressed their rage and passion in the same language. The chief captain ordered St. Paul to be examined by flogging to know why they were so outrageous against him. More fortunate, however, on this occasion than at Philippi, he claimed his privilege as a Roman citizen, and escaped the torture. The chief captain was still in ignorance of the prisoner’s crime, and therefore be brought him the very next day before the Sanhedrin, when St. Paul by a happy stroke caused such a division between the Sadducees and Pharisees that the chief captain was again obliged to intervene and rescue the prisoner from the contending factions. Next day, however, the Jews formed a conspiracy to murder the Apostle, which his nephew discovered and revealed to St. Paul and to Claudius Lysias, who that same night despatched him to Caesarea.

All these events, from his conference with James to his arrival under guard at Caesarea, cannot have covered more than eight days at the utmost, and yet the story of them extends from the middle of the twenty-first chapter to the close of the twenty-third, while the record of twelve months’ hard work preaching, writing, organising is embraced within the first six verses of the twentieth chapter, showing how very different was St. Luke’s narrative of affairs, according as he was present or absent when they were transacted.

From the beginning of the twenty-fourth chapter to the close of the twenty-sixth is taken up with the account of St. Paul’s trials, at first before Felix, and then before Festus, his successor in the procuratorship of Palestine. Just let us summarise the course of. events and distinguish between them. St. Paul was despatched by Claudius Lysias to Felix, accompanied by a letter in which he contrives to put the best construction on his own actions, representing himself as specially anxious about St. Paul because he was a Roman citizen, on which account indeed he describes himself as rescuing him from the clutches of the mob. After the lapse of five days St. Paul was brought up before Felix and accused by the Jews of three serious crimes in the eyes of Roman law as administered in Palestine. First, he was a mover of seditions among the Jews; second, a ringleader of a new sect, the Nazarenes, unknown to Jewish law; and third, a profaner of the Temple, contrary to the law which the Romans themselves had sanctioned. On all these points Paul challenged investigation and demanded proof, asking where were the Jews from Asia who had accused him of profaning the Temple. The Jews doubtless thought that Paul was a common Jew, who would be yielded up to their clamour by the procurator, and knew nothing of his Roman citizenship. Their want of witnesses brought about their failure, but did not lead to St. Paul’s release. He was committed to the custody of a centurion, and freedom of access was granted to his friends. In this state St. Paul continued two full years, from midsummer 58 to the same period of A.D. 60, when Felix was superseded by Festus. During these two years Felix often conversed with St. Paul. Felix was a thoroughly bad man. He exercised, as a historian of that time said of him, "the power of a king with the mind of a slave." He was tyrannical, licentious, and corrupt, and hoped to be bribed by St. Paul, when he would have set him at liberty. At this period of his life St. Paul twice came in contact with the Herodian house, which thenceforth disappears from sacred history. Felix about the period of St. Paul’s arrest enticed Drusilla, the great-granddaughter of Herod the Great, from her husband through the medium, as many think, of Simon Magus. Drusilla was very young and very beautiful, and, like all the Herodian women, very wicked. Felix was an open adulterer, therefore, and it is no wonder that when Paul reasoned before the guilty pair concerning righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come, conscience should have smitten them and Felix should have trembled. St. Paul had another opportunity of bearing witness before this wicked and bloodstained family. Festus succeeded Felix as procurator of Palestine about June, A.D. 60. Within the following month Agrippa II, the son of the Herod Agrippa who had died the terrible death at Caesarea of which the twelfth chapter tells, came to Caesarea to pay his respects unto the new governor. Agrippa was ruler of the kingdom of Chalcis, a district north of Palestine and about the Lebanon Range. He was accompanied by his sister Bernice, who afterwards became the mistress of Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem in the last great siege. Festus had already heard St. Paul’s case, and had allowed his appeal unto Caesar. He wished, however, to have his case investigated before two Jewish experts, Agrippa and Bernice, who could instruct his own ignorance on the charges laid against him by the Jews, enabling him to write a more satisfactory report for the Emperor’s guidance. He brought St. Paul therefore before them, and gave the great Christian champion another opportunity of bearing witness for his Master before a family which now for more than sixty years had been more or less mixed up, but never for their own blessing, with Christian history. After a period of two years and three months’ detention, varied by different public appearances, St. Paul was despatched to Rome to stand his trial and make his defence before the Emperor Nero, whose name has become a synonym for vice, brutality, and self-will.

II. We have now given a connected outline of St. Paul’s history extending over a period of more than two years. Let us omit his formal defences, which have already come under our notice, and take for our meditation a number of points which are peculiar to the narrative.

We have in the story of the voyage, arrest, and imprisonment of St. Paul, many circumstances which illustrate God’s methods of action in the world, or else His dealings with the spiritual life. Let us take a few instances. First, then, we direct attention to the steady though quiet progress of the Christian faith as revealed in these chapters. St. Paul landed at Tyre, and from Tyre he proceeded some thirty miles south to Ptolemais. These are both of them towns which have never hitherto occurred in our narrative as places of Christian activity. St. Paul and St. Peter and Barnabas and the other active leaders of the Church must often have passed through these towns, and wherever they went they strove to make known the tidings of the gospel. But we hear nothing in the Acts, and tradition tells us nothing of when or by whom the Christian Church was founded in these localities.

We get glimpses, too, of the ancient organisation of the Church, but only glimpses; we have no complete statement, because St. Luke was writing for a man who lived amidst it, and could supply the gaps which his informant left. The presbyters are mentioned at Miletus, and Agabus the prophet appeared at Antioch years before, and now again he appears at Caesarea, where Philip the Evangelist and his daughters the prophetesses appear. Prophets and prophesying are not confined to Palestine and Antioch, though the Acts tells us nothing of them as existing elsewhere. The Epistle to Corinth shows us that the prophets occupied a very important place in that Christian community. Prophesying indeed was principally preaching at Corinth; but it did not exclude prediction, and that after the ancient Jewish method, by action as well as by word, for Agabus took St. Paul’s girdle, and binding his own hands and feet declared that the Holy Ghost told him, "So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that own-eth this girdle, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles." But how little we know of the details of the upgrowth of the Church in all save the more prominent places! How entirely ignorant we are, for instance, of the methods by which the gospel spread to Tyre and Ptolemais and Puteoli! Here we find in the Acts the fulfilment of our Lord’s words as reported in Mark 4:26 : "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how." It was with the last and grander temple of God as it was with the first. Its foundations were laid, and its walls were built, not with sound of axe and hammer, but in the penitence of humbled souls, in the godly testimony of sanctified spirits, in the earnest lives of holy men hidden from the scoffing world, known only to the Almighty.

Again, we notice the advice given by James and the course actually adopted by St.. Paul when he arrived at Jerusalem. It has the appearance of compromise of truth, and yet it has the appearance merely, not the reality of compromise. It was in effect wise and sound advice, and such as teaches lessons useful for our own guidance in life. We have already set forth St. Paul’s conception of Jewish rites and ceremonies. They were nothing in the world one way or another, as viewed from the Divine standpoint. Their presence did not help on the work of man’s salvation; their absence did not detract from it. The Apostle therefore took part in them freely enough, as when he celebrated the passover and the days of unleavened bread at Philippi, viewing them as mere national rites. He had been successful in the very highest degree in converting to this view even the highest and strictest members of the Jerusalem Church. St. James, in advising St. Paul how to act on this occasion, when such prejudices had been excited against him, clearly shows that he had come round to St. Paul’s view. He tells St. Paul that the multitude or body of the Judaeo-Christian Church at Jerusalem had been excited against him, because they had been informed that he taught the Jews of the Dispersion to forsake Moses, the very thing St. Paul did not do. St. James grasped, however, St. Paul’s view that Moses and the Levitical Law might be good things for the Jews, but had no relation to the Gentiles, and must not be imposed on them. St. James had taught this view ten years earlier at the Apostolic Council. His opinions and teaching had percolated downwards, and the majority of the Jerusalem Church now held the same view as regards the Gentiles, but were as strong as ever and as patriotic as ever so far as the Jews were concerned, and the obligation of the Jewish Law upon them and their children. St. Paul had carried his point as regards Gentile freedom. And now there came a time when he had in turn to show consideration and care for Jewish prejudices, and act out his own principle that circumcision was nothing and uncircumcision was nothing. Concessions, in fact, were not to be all on one side, and St. Paul had now to make a concession. The Judaeo-Christian congregations of Jerusalem were much excited, and St. Paul by a certain course of conduct, perfectly innocent and harmless, could pacify their excited patriotic feelings, and demonstrate to them that he was still a true, a genuine, and not a renegade Jew. It was but a little thing that St. James advised and public feeling demanded. He had but to join himself to a party of Nazarites and pay their expenses, and thus Paul would place himself en rapport with the Mother Church of Christendom. St. Paul acted wisely, charitably, and in a Christlike spirit when he consented to do as St. James advised. St. Paul was always eminently prudent. There are some religious men who seem to think that to advise a wise or prudent course is all the same as to advise a wicked or unprincipled course. They seem to consider success in any course as a clear evidence of sin, and failure as a proof of honesty and true principle. Concession, however, is not the same as unworthy compromise. It is our duty in life to see and make our course of conduct as fruitful and as successful as possible. Concession on little points has a wondrous power in smoothing the path of action and gaining true success. Many an honest man ruins a good cause simply because he cannot distinguish, as St. Paul did, things necessary and essential from things accidental and trivial. Pigheaded obstinacy, to use a very homely but a very expressive phrase, which indeed is often only disguised pride, is a great enemy to the peace and harmony of societies and churches. St. Paul displayed great boldness here. He was not afraid of being misrepresented, that ghost which frightens so many a popularity hunter from the course which is true and right. How easily his fierce Opponents, the men who had gone to Corinth and Galatia to oppose him, might misrepresent his action in joining himself to the Nazarites! They were the extreme men of the Jerusalem Church. They were the men for whom the decisions of the Apostolic Council had no weight, and who held still as of old that unless a man be circumcised he could not be saved. How easily, I say, these men could despatch their emissaries, who should proclaim that their opponent Paul had conceded all their demands and was himself observing the law at Jerusalem. St. Paul was not afraid of this misrepresentation, but boldly took the course which seemed to him right and true, and charitable, despite the malicious tongues of his adversaries. The Apostle of the Gentiles left us an example which many still require. How many a man is kept from adopting a course that is charitable and tends to peace and edification, solely because he is afraid of what opponents may say, or how they may twist and misrepresent his action. St. Paul was possessed with none of this moral cowardice which specially flourishes among so-called party-leaders, men who, instead of leading, are always led and governed by the opinions of their followers. St. Paul simply determined in his conscience what was right, and then fearlessly acted out his determination.

Some persons perhaps would argue that the result of his action showed that he was wrong and had unworthily compromised the cause of Christian freedom. They think that had he not consented to appear as a Nazarite in the Temple no riot would have occurred, his arrest would have been avoided, and the course of history might have been very different. But here we would join issue on the spot. The results of his action vindicated his Christian wisdom. The great body of the Jerusalem Church were convinced of his sincerity and realised his position. He maintained his influence over them, which had been seriously imperilled previously, and thus helped on the course of development which had been going on. Ten years before the advocates of Gentile freedom were but a small body. Now the vast majority of the local church at Jerusalem held fast to this idea, while still clinging fast to the obligation laid upon the Jews to observe the law. St. Paul did his best to maintain his friendship and alliance with the Jerusalem Church. To put himself right with them he travelled up to Jerusalem, when fresh fields and splendid prospects were opening up for him in the West. For this purpose he submitted to several days’ restraint and attendance in the Temple, and the results vindicated his determination. The Jerusalem Church continued the same course of orderly development, and when, ten years later, Jerusalem was threatened with destruction, the Christian congregations alone rose above the narrow bigoted patriotism which bound the Jews to the Holy City. The Christians alone realised that the day of the Mosaic Law was at length passed, and, retiring to the neighbouring city of Pella, escaped the destruction which awaited the fanatical adherents of the Law and the Temple.

Another answer, too, may be made to this objection. It was not his action in the matter of the Nazarites that brought about the riot and the arrest and his consequent imprisonment. It was the hostility of the Jews of Asia; and they would have assailed him whenever and wherever they met him. Studying the matter too, even in view of results, we should draw the opposite conclusion. God Himself approved his course. A Divine vision was vouchsafed to him in the guard-room of Antonia, after he had twice experienced Jewish violence, and bestowed upon him the approbation of Heaven: "The night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer; for as thou hast testified concerning Me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome." His courageous and at the same time charitable action was vindicated by its results on the Jerusalem Church, by the sanction of Christ Himself, and lastly, by its blessed results upon the development of the Church at large in leading St. Paul to Rome, in giving him a wider and more influential sphere for his efforts, and in affording him leisure to write epistles like those to Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae, which have been so instructive and useful for the Church of all ages.

Another point which has exercised men’s minds is found in St. Paul’s attitude and words when brought before the Sanhedrin on the day after his arrest. The story is told in the opening verses of the twenty-third chapter. Let us quote them, as they vividly present the difficulty: "And Paul, looking steadfastly on the council, said, Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day. And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: and sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? And Paul said, I wist not, brethren, that he was high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people."

Two difficulties here present themselves.

(a) There is St. Paul’s language, which certainly seems wanting in Christian meekness, and not exactly modelled after the example of Christ, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, and laid down in His Sermon on the Mount a law of suffering to which St. Paul does not here conform. But this is only a difficulty for those who have formed a superhuman estimate of St. Paul against which we have several times protested, and against which this very book of the Acts seems to take special care to warn its readers. If people will make the Apostle as sinless and as perfect as our Lord, they will of course be surprised at his language on this occasion. But if they regard him in the light in which St. Luke portrays him, as a man of like passions and infirmities with themselves, then they will feel no difficulty in the fact that St. Paul’s natural temper was roused at the brutal and illegal command to smite a helpless prisoner on the mouth because he had made a statement which a member of the court did not relish. This passage seems to me not a difficulty, but a divinely guided passage witnessing to the inspiring influence of the Holy Ghost, and inserted to chasten our wandering fancy, which would exalt the Apostle to a position equal to that which rightly belongs to his Divine Master alone.

(b) Then there is a second difficulty. Some have thought that St. Paul told a lie in this passage, and that, when defending himself from the charge of unscriptural insolence to the high priest, he merely pretended ignorance of his person, saying, "I wist not, brethren, that he was high priest." The older commentators devised various explanations of this passage. Dr. John Lightfoot, in his "Horae Hebraicae," treating of this verse, sums them all up as follows. Either St. Paul means that he did not recognise Ananias as high priest because he did not lawfully occupy the office, or else because Christ was now the only high priest; or else because there had been so many and so frequent changes that as a matter of fact he did not know who was the actual high priest. None of these is a satisfactory explanation. Mr. Lewin offers what strikes me as the most natural explanation, considering all the circumstances. Ananias was appointed high priest about 47, continued in office till 59, and was killed in the beginning of the great Jewish war. He was a thoroughly historical character, and his high priesthood is guaranteed for us by the testimony of Josephus, who tells us of his varied fortunes and of his tragic death. But St. Paul never probably once saw him, as he was absent from Jerusalem, except for one brief visit, all the time while he enjoyed supreme office.

Now the Sanhedrin consisted of seventy-one judges, they sat in a large hall with a crowd of scribes and pupils in front of them, and the high priest, as we have already pointed out, was not necessarily president or chairman. St. Paul was very short-sighted, and the ophthalmia under which he continually suffered was probably much intensified by the violent treatment he had experienced the day before. Could anything be more natural than that a short-sighted man should not recognise in such a crowd the particular person who had uttered this very brief, but very tyrannical command, "Smite him on the mouth"? Surely an impartial review of St. Paul’s life shows him ever to have been at least a man of striking courage, and therefore one who would never have descended to cloak his own hasty words with even the shadow of an untruth!

Again, the readiness and quickness of St. Paul in seizing upon every opportunity of escape have important teaching for us. Upon four different occasions at this crisis he displayed this characteristic. Let us note them for our guidance. When he was rescued by the chief captain and was carried into the castle, the captain ordered him to be examined by scourging to elicit the true cause of the riot; St. Paul then availed himself of his privilege as a Roman citizen to escape that torture. When he stood before the council he perceived the old division between the Pharisees and the Sadducees to be still in existence, which he had known long ago when he was himself connected with it. He skilfully availed himself of that circumstance to raise dissension among his opponents. He grasped the essential principle which lay at the basis of his teaching, and that was the doctrine of the Resurrection and the assertion of the reality of the spiritual world. Without that doctrine Christianity and Christian teaching were utterly meaningless, and in that doctrine Pharisees and Christians were united. Dropping the line of defence he was about to offer, which probably would have proceeded to show how true to conscience and to Divine light had been his course of life, he cried out, "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees: touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question." Grotius, an old and learned commentator, dealing with Acts 23:6, has well summed up the principles on which St. Paul acted on this occasion in the following words: "St. Paul was not lacking in human prudence, making use of which for the service of the gospel, he intermingled the wisdom of the serpent with the gentleness of the dove, and thus utilised the dissensions of his enemies," Yet once more we see the same tact in operation. After the meeting of the Sanhedrin and his rescue from out of its very midst, a plot was formed to assassinate him, of which he was informed by his nephew. Then again St. Paul did not let things slide, trusting in the Divine care alone. He knew right well that God demanded of men of faith that they should be fellow-workers with God and lend Him their co-operation. He knew too the horror which the Roman authorities had of riot and of all illegal measures; he despatched his nephew therefore to the chief captain, and by his readiness of resource saved himself from imminent danger. Lastly, we find the same characteristic trait coming out at Caesarea. His experience of Roman rule taught him the anxiety of new governors to please the people among whom they came. He knew that Festus would be anxious to gratify the Jewish authorities in any way he possibly could. They were very desirous to have the Apostle transferred from Caesarea to Jerusalem, sure that in some way or another they could there dispose of him. Knowing therefore the dangerous position in which he stood, St. Paul’s readiness and tact again came to his help. He knew Roman law thoroughly well. He knew that as a Roman citizen he had one resource left by which in one brief sentence he could transfer himself out of the jurisdiction of Sanhedrin and Procurator alike, and of this he availed himself at the critical moment, pronouncing the magic words. Caesarem Appello ("I appeal unto Caesar"). St. Paul left in all these cases a healthy example which the Church urgently required in subsequent years. He had no morbid craving after suffering or death. No man ever lived in a closer communion with his God, or in a more steadfast readiness to depart and be with Christ. But he knew that it was his duty to remain at his post till the Captain of his salvation gave a clear note of withdrawal, and that clear note was only given when every avenue of escape was cut off. St. Paul therefore used his knowledge and his tact in order to ascertain the Master’s will and discover whether it was His wish that His faithful servant should depart or tarry, yet awhile for the discharge of his earthly duties. I have said that this was an example necessary for the Church in subsequent ages. The question of flight in persecution became a very practical one as soon as the Roman Empire assumed an attitude definitely hostile to the Church. The more extreme and fanatical party not only refused to take any measures to secure their safety or escape death, but rather rushed headlong upon it, and upbraided those as traitors and renegades who tried in any. way to avoid suffering. From the earliest times, from the days of Ignatius of Antioch himself, we see this morbid tendency displaying itself; while the Church in the person of several of its greatest leaders-men like Polycarp and Cyprian, who themselves retired from impending danger till the Roman authorities discovered them-showed that St. Paul’s wiser teaching and example were not thrown away. Quietism was a view which two centuries ago made a great stir both in England and France, and seems embodied to some extent in certain modern forms of thought. It taught that believers should lie quite passive in God’s hands and make no effort for themselves. Quietism would never have found a follower in the vigorous mind of St. Paul, who proved himself through all those trials and vicissitudes of more than two years ever ready with some new device wherewith to meet the hatred of his foes.

III. We notice lastly in the narrative of St. Paul’s imprisonment his interviews with and his testimony before the members of the house of Herod. St. Peter had experience of the father of Herod Agrippa, and now St. Paul comes into contact with the children, Agrippa, Drusilla, and Bernice. And thus it came about. Felix the procurator, as we have already explained, was a very bad man, and had enticed Drusilla from her husband. He doubtless told her of the Jewish prisoner who lay a captive in the city where she was living. The Herods were a clever race, and they knew all about Jewish hopes and Messianic expectations, and they ever seem to have been haunted by a certain curiosity concerning the new sect of the Nazarenes. One Herod desired for a long time to see Jesus Christ, and was delighted when Pilate gratified his longing. Drusilla, doubtless, was equally curious, and easily persuaded her husband to gratify her desire. We therefore read in Acts 24:24, "But after certain days, Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, which was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus."

Neither of them calculated on the kind of man they had to do with. St. Paul knew all the circumstances of the case. He adapted his speech thereto. He made a powerful appeal to the conscience of the guilty pair. He reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come, and beneath his weighty words Felix trembled. His convictions were roused. He experienced a transient season of penitence, such as touched another guilty member of the Herodian house who feared John and did many things gladly to win his approval. But habits of sin had grasped Felix too firmly. He temporised with his conscience. He put off the day of salvation when it was dawning on him, and his words, "Go thy way for this time, and when I have a convenient season I will call thee unto me," became the typical language of all those souls for whom procrastination, want of decision, trifling with spiritual feelings, have been the omens and the causes of eternal ruin.

But Felix and Drusilla were not the only members of the Herodian house with whom Paul came in contact. Felix and Drusilla left Palestine when two years of St. Paul’s imprisonment had elapsed. Festus, another procurator, followed, and began his course as all the Roman rulers of Palestine began theirs. The Jews, when Festus visited Jerusalem, besought him to deliver the prisoner lying bound at Caesarea to the judgment of their Sanhedrin. Festus, all-powerful as a Roman governor usually was, dared not treat a Roman citizen thus without his own consent, and when that consent was asked Paul at once refused, knowing right well the intentions of the Jews, and appealed unto Caesar. A Roman governor, however, would not send a prisoner to the judgment of the Emperor without stating the crime imputed to him. Just at that moment Herod Agrippa, king of Chalcis and of the district of Ituraea, together with his sister Bernice, appeared on the scene. He was a Jew, and was well acquainted therefore with the accusations brought against the Apostle, and could inform the procurator what report he should send to the Emperor. Festus therefore brought Paul before them, and gave him another opportunity of expounding the faith of Jesus Christ and the law of love and purity which that faith involved to a family who ever treated that law with profound contempt. St. Paul availed himself of that opportunity. He addressed his whole discourse to the king, and that discourse was typical of those he addressed to Jewish audiences. It was like the sermon delivered to the Jews in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia in one important aspect. Both discourses gathered round the resurrection of Jesus Christ as their central idea. St. Paul began his address before Agrippa with that doctrine, and he ended with the same. The hope of Israel, towards which their continuous worship tended, was the resurrection of the dead. That was St. Paul’s opening idea. The same note lay beneath the narrative of his own conversion, and then he turned back to his original statement that the Risen Christ was the hope of Israel and of the world taught by Moses and proclaimed by prophets. But it was all in vain as regards Agrippa and Bernice. The Herods were magnificent, clever, beautiful. But they were of the earth, earthy. Agrippa said indeed to Paul, "With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian." But it was not souls like his for whom the gospel message was intended. The Herods knew nothing of the burden of sin or the keen longing of souls desirous of holiness and of God. They were satisfied with the present transient scene, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Agrippa’s father when he lay a-dying at Caesarea consoled himself with the reflection that though his career was prematurely cut short, yet at any rate he had lived a splendid life. And such as the parent had been, such were the children. King Agrippa and his sister Bernice were true types of the stony-ground hearers, with whom "the care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word." And they choked the word so effectually in his case, even when taught by St. Paul, that the only result upon Agrippa, as St. Luke reports it, was this: "Agrippa said unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar."


Verse 17

3

Chapter 17

A PRISONER IN BONDS.

Acts 21:2-3; Acts 21:17; Acts 21:33; Acts 21:39-40; Acts 22:22; Acts 22:30; Acts 24:1; Acts 26:1

THE title we have given to this chapter, "A Prisoner in Bonds," expresses the central idea of the last eight chapters of the Acts. Twenty years and more had now elapsed since St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. These twenty years had been times of unceasing and intense activity. Now we come to some five years when the external labours, the turmoil and the cares of active, life, have to be put aside, and St. Paul was called upon to stand apart and learn the lesson which every-day experience teaches to all, -how easily the world can get along without us, how smoothly God’s designs fulfil themselves without our puny assistance. The various passages we have placed at the head of this chapter cover six chapters of the Acts, from the twenty-first to the twenty-sixth. It may seem a large extent of the text to be comprised within the limits of one of our chapters, but it must be remembered that a great deal of the space thus included is taken up with the narrative of St. Paul’s conversion, which is twice set forth at great length, first to the multitude from the stairs of the tower of Antonia, and then in his defence which he delivered before Agrippa and Bernice and Festus, or else with the speeches delivered by him before the assembled Sanhedrin and before Felix the governor, wherein he dwells on points previously and sufficiently discussed. We have already considered the narrative of the Apostle’s conversion at great length, and noted the particular directions in which St. Paul’s own later versions at Jerusalem and Caesarea throw light upon St. Luke’s independent account. To the earlier chapters of this book we therefore would refer the reader who wishes to discuss St. Paul’s conversion, and several of the other subjects which he introduces. Let us now, however, endeavour, first of all, to gather up into one connected story the tale of St. Paul’s journeys, sufferings, and imprisonments from the time he left Miletus after his famous address till he set sail for Rome from the port of Caesarea, a prisoner destined for the judgment-seat of Nero. This narrative will embrace from at least the summer of A.D. 58, when he was arrested at Jerusalem, to the autumn of 60, when he set sail for Rome. This connected story will enable us to see the close union of the various parts of the narrative which is now hidden from us because of the division into chapters, and will enable us to fix more easily upon the leading points which lend themselves to the purposes of an expositor.

I. St. Paul after parting from the Ephesian Church, embarked on board his ship, and then coasted along the western shore of Asia Minor for three days, sailing amid scenery of the most enchanting description, specially in that late spring or early summer season at which the year had then arrived. It was about the first of May, and all nature was bursting into new life, when even hearts the hardest and least receptive of external influences feel as if they were living a portion of their youth over again. And even St. Paul, rapt in the contemplation of things unseen, must have felt himself touched by the beauty of the scenes through which he was passing, though St. Luke tells us nothing but the bare succession of events. Three days after leaving Miletus the sacred company reached Patara, a town at the southwestern corner of Asia Minor, where the coast begins to turn round towards the east. Here St. Paul found a trading ship sailing direct to Tyre and Palestine, and therefore with all haste transferred himself and his party into it. The ship seems to have been on the point of sailing, which suited St. Paul so much the better, anxious as he was to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. The journey direct from Patara to Tyre is about three hundred and fifty miles, a three days’ sail under favourable circumstances for the trading vessels of the ancients, and the circumstances were favourable. The northwest wind is to this day the prevailing wind in the eastern Mediterranean during the late spring and early summer season, and the northwest wind would be the most favourable wind for an ancient trader almost entirely depending on an immense mainsail for its motive power. With such a wind the merchantmen of that age could travel at the rate of a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles a day, and would therefore traverse the distance between Patara and Tyre in three days, the time we have specified. When the vessel arrived at Tyre St. Paul sought out the local Christian congregation. The ship was chartered to bring a cargo probably of wheat or wine to Tyre, inasmuch as Tyre was a purely commercial city, and the territory naturally belonging to it was utterly unable to finish it with necessary provisions, as we have already noted on the occasion of Herod Agrippa’s death. A week, therefore, was spent in unloading the cargo, during which St. Paul devoted himself to the instruction of the local Christian Church. After a week’s close communion with this eminent servant of God, the Tyrian Christians, like the elders of Ephesus and Miletus, with their wives and children accompanied him till they reached the shore, where they commended one another in prayer to God’s care and blessing. From Tyre he sailed to Ptolemais, thirty miles distant. There again he found another Christian congregation, with whom he tarried one day, and then leaving the ship proceeded by the great coast road to Caesarea, a town which he already knew right well, and to which he was so soon to return as a prisoner in bonds. At Caesarea there must now have been a very considerable Christian congregation. In Caesarea Philip the Evangelist lived and ministered permanently. There too resided his daughters, eminent as teachers, and exercising in their preaching or prophetical functions a great influence among the very mixed female population of the political capital of Palestine. St. Paul and St. Luke abode in Caesarea several days in the house of Philip the Evangelist. He did not wish to arrive in Jerusalem till close on the Feast of Pentecost, and owing to the fair winds with which he had been favoured he must have had a week or more to stay in Caesarea. Here Agabus again appears upon the scene. Fourteen years before he had predicted the famine which led St. Paul to pay a visit to Jerusalem when bringing up the alms of the Antiochene Church to assist the poor brethren at Jerusalem, and now he predicts the Apostle’s approaching captivity. The prospect moved the Church so much that the brethren besought St. Paul to change his mind and not enter the Holy City. But his mind was made up, and nothing would dissuade him from celebrating the Feast as he had all along proposed; He went up therefore to Jerusalem, lodging with Mnason, "an early disciple," as the Revised Version puts it, one therefore who traced his Christian convictions back probably to the celebrated Pentecost a quarter of a century earlier, when the Holy Ghost first displayed His supernatural power in converting multitudes of human souls. Next day he went to visit James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, who received him warmly, grasped his position, warned him of the rumours which had been industriously and falsely circulated as to his opposition to the Law of Moses, even in the case of born Jews, and gave him some prudent advice as to his course of action. St. James recommended that St. Paul should unite himself with certain Christian Nazarites, and perform the Jewish rites usual in such cases. A Nazarite, as we have already mentioned, when he took the Nazarite vow for a limited time after some special deliverance vouchsafed to him, allowed his hair to grow till he could cut it off in the Temple, and have it burned in the fire of the sacrifices offered up on his behalf. These sacrifices were very expensive, as will be seen at once by a reference to Numbers 6:13-18, where they are prescribed at full length, and it was always regarded as a mark of patriotic piety when any stranger coming to Jerusalem offered to defray the necessary charges for the poorer Jews, and thus completed the ceremonies connected with the Nazarite vow. St. James advised St. Paul to adopt this course, to unite himself with the members of the local Christian Church who were unable to defray the customary expenses, to pay their charges, join with them in the sacrifices, and thus publicly proclaim to those who opposed him that, though he differed from them as regards the Gentiles, holding in that matter with St. James himself and with the apostles, yet as regards the Jews, whether at Jerusalem or throughout the world at large, he was totally misrepresented when men asserted that he taught the Jews to reject the Law of Moses. St. Paul was guided by the advice of James, and proceeded to complete the ceremonial prescribed for the Nazarites. This was the turning-point of his fate. Jerusalem was then thronged with strangers from every part of the world. Ephesus and the province of Asia, as a great commercial centre, and therefore a great Jewish resort, furnished a very large contingent. To these, then, Paul was well known as an enthusiastic Christian teacher, toward whom the synagogues of Ephesus felt the bitterest hostility. They had often plotted against him at Ephesus, as St. Paul himself told the elders in his address at Miletus, but had hitherto failed to effect their purpose. Now, however, they seemed to see their chance. They thought they had a popular cry and a legal accusation under which he might be done to death under the forms of law. These Ephesian Jews had seen him in the city in company with Trophimus, an uncircumcised Christian belonging to their own city, one therefore whose presence within the temple was a capital offence, even according to Roman law. They raised a cry therefore that he had defiled the Holy Place by bringing into it an uncircumcised-Greek; and thus roused the populace to seize the Apostle, drag him from the sacred precincts, and murder him. During the celebration of the Feasts the Roman sentinels, stationed upon the neighbouring tower of Antonia which overlooked the Temple courts, watched the assembled crowds most narrowly, apprehensive of a riot. As soon therefore as the first symptoms of an outbreak occurred, the alarm was given, the chief captain Lysias hurried to the spot, and St. Paul was rescued for the moment. At the request of the Apostle, who was being carried up into the castle, he was allowed to address the multitude from the stairs. They listened to the narrative of his conversion very quietly till he came to tell of the vision God vouchsafed to him in the Temple some twenty years before, warning him to leave Jerusalem, when at the words "Depart, for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles," all their pent-up rage and prise and national jealousy burst forth anew. St. Paul had been addressing them in the Hebrew language, which the chief captain understood not, and the mob probably expressed their rage and passion in the same language. The chief captain ordered St. Paul to be examined by flogging to know why they were so outrageous against him. More fortunate, however, on this occasion than at Philippi, he claimed his privilege as a Roman citizen, and escaped the torture. The chief captain was still in ignorance of the prisoner’s crime, and therefore be brought him the very next day before the Sanhedrin, when St. Paul by a happy stroke caused such a division between the Sadducees and Pharisees that the chief captain was again obliged to intervene and rescue the prisoner from the contending factions. Next day, however, the Jews formed a conspiracy to murder the Apostle, which his nephew discovered and revealed to St. Paul and to Claudius Lysias, who that same night despatched him to Caesarea.

All these events, from his conference with James to his arrival under guard at Caesarea, cannot have covered more than eight days at the utmost, and yet the story of them extends from the middle of the twenty-first chapter to the close of the twenty-third, while the record of twelve months’ hard work preaching, writing, organising is embraced within the first six verses of the twentieth chapter, showing how very different was St. Luke’s narrative of affairs, according as he was present or absent when they were transacted.

From the beginning of the twenty-fourth chapter to the close of the twenty-sixth is taken up with the account of St. Paul’s trials, at first before Felix, and then before Festus, his successor in the procuratorship of Palestine. Just let us summarise the course of. events and distinguish between them. St. Paul was despatched by Claudius Lysias to Felix, accompanied by a letter in which he contrives to put the best construction on his own actions, representing himself as specially anxious about St. Paul because he was a Roman citizen, on which account indeed he describes himself as rescuing him from the clutches of the mob. After the lapse of five days St. Paul was brought up before Felix and accused by the Jews of three serious crimes in the eyes of Roman law as administered in Palestine. First, he was a mover of seditions among the Jews; second, a ringleader of a new sect, the Nazarenes, unknown to Jewish law; and third, a profaner of the Temple, contrary to the law which the Romans themselves had sanctioned. On all these points Paul challenged investigation and demanded proof, asking where were the Jews from Asia who had accused him of profaning the Temple. The Jews doubtless thought that Paul was a common Jew, who would be yielded up to their clamour by the procurator, and knew nothing of his Roman citizenship. Their want of witnesses brought about their failure, but did not lead to St. Paul’s release. He was committed to the custody of a centurion, and freedom of access was granted to his friends. In this state St. Paul continued two full years, from midsummer 58 to the same period of A.D. 60, when Felix was superseded by Festus. During these two years Felix often conversed with St. Paul. Felix was a thoroughly bad man. He exercised, as a historian of that time said of him, "the power of a king with the mind of a slave." He was tyrannical, licentious, and corrupt, and hoped to be bribed by St. Paul, when he would have set him at liberty. At this period of his life St. Paul twice came in contact with the Herodian house, which thenceforth disappears from sacred history. Felix about the period of St. Paul’s arrest enticed Drusilla, the great-granddaughter of Herod the Great, from her husband through the medium, as many think, of Simon Magus. Drusilla was very young and very beautiful, and, like all the Herodian women, very wicked. Felix was an open adulterer, therefore, and it is no wonder that when Paul reasoned before the guilty pair concerning righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come, conscience should have smitten them and Felix should have trembled. St. Paul had another opportunity of bearing witness before this wicked and bloodstained family. Festus succeeded Felix as procurator of Palestine about June, A.D. 60. Within the following month Agrippa II, the son of the Herod Agrippa who had died the terrible death at Caesarea of which the twelfth chapter tells, came to Caesarea to pay his respects unto the new governor. Agrippa was ruler of the kingdom of Chalcis, a district north of Palestine and about the Lebanon Range. He was accompanied by his sister Bernice, who afterwards became the mistress of Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem in the last great siege. Festus had already heard St. Paul’s case, and had allowed his appeal unto Caesar. He wished, however, to have his case investigated before two Jewish experts, Agrippa and Bernice, who could instruct his own ignorance on the charges laid against him by the Jews, enabling him to write a more satisfactory report for the Emperor’s guidance. He brought St. Paul therefore before them, and gave the great Christian champion another opportunity of bearing witness for his Master before a family which now for more than sixty years had been more or less mixed up, but never for their own blessing, with Christian history. After a period of two years and three months’ detention, varied by different public appearances, St. Paul was despatched to Rome to stand his trial and make his defence before the Emperor Nero, whose name has become a synonym for vice, brutality, and self-will.

II. We have now given a connected outline of St. Paul’s history extending over a period of more than two years. Let us omit his formal defences, which have already come under our notice, and take for our meditation a number of points which are peculiar to the narrative.

We have in the story of the voyage, arrest, and imprisonment of St. Paul, many circumstances which illustrate God’s methods of action in the world, or else His dealings with the spiritual life. Let us take a few instances. First, then, we direct attention to the steady though quiet progress of the Christian faith as revealed in these chapters. St. Paul landed at Tyre, and from Tyre he proceeded some thirty miles south to Ptolemais. These are both of them towns which have never hitherto occurred in our narrative as places of Christian activity. St. Paul and St. Peter and Barnabas and the other active leaders of the Church must often have passed through these towns, and wherever they went they strove to make known the tidings of the gospel. But we hear nothing in the Acts, and tradition tells us nothing of when or by whom the Christian Church was founded in these localities.

We get glimpses, too, of the ancient organisation of the Church, but only glimpses; we have no complete statement, because St. Luke was writing for a man who lived amidst it, and could supply the gaps which his informant left. The presbyters are mentioned at Miletus, and Agabus the prophet appeared at Antioch years before, and now again he appears at Caesarea, where Philip the Evangelist and his daughters the prophetesses appear. Prophets and prophesying are not confined to Palestine and Antioch, though the Acts tells us nothing of them as existing elsewhere. The Epistle to Corinth shows us that the prophets occupied a very important place in that Christian community. Prophesying indeed was principally preaching at Corinth; but it did not exclude prediction, and that after the ancient Jewish method, by action as well as by word, for Agabus took St. Paul’s girdle, and binding his own hands and feet declared that the Holy Ghost told him, "So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that own-eth this girdle, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles." But how little we know of the details of the upgrowth of the Church in all save the more prominent places! How entirely ignorant we are, for instance, of the methods by which the gospel spread to Tyre and Ptolemais and Puteoli! Here we find in the Acts the fulfilment of our Lord’s words as reported in Mark 4:26 : "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how." It was with the last and grander temple of God as it was with the first. Its foundations were laid, and its walls were built, not with sound of axe and hammer, but in the penitence of humbled souls, in the godly testimony of sanctified spirits, in the earnest lives of holy men hidden from the scoffing world, known only to the Almighty.

Again, we notice the advice given by James and the course actually adopted by St.. Paul when he arrived at Jerusalem. It has the appearance of compromise of truth, and yet it has the appearance merely, not the reality of compromise. It was in effect wise and sound advice, and such as teaches lessons useful for our own guidance in life. We have already set forth St. Paul’s conception of Jewish rites and ceremonies. They were nothing in the world one way or another, as viewed from the Divine standpoint. Their presence did not help on the work of man’s salvation; their absence did not detract from it. The Apostle therefore took part in them freely enough, as when he celebrated the passover and the days of unleavened bread at Philippi, viewing them as mere national rites. He had been successful in the very highest degree in converting to this view even the highest and strictest members of the Jerusalem Church. St. James, in advising St. Paul how to act on this occasion, when such prejudices had been excited against him, clearly shows that he had come round to St. Paul’s view. He tells St. Paul that the multitude or body of the Judaeo-Christian Church at Jerusalem had been excited against him, because they had been informed that he taught the Jews of the Dispersion to forsake Moses, the very thing St. Paul did not do. St. James grasped, however, St. Paul’s view that Moses and the Levitical Law might be good things for the Jews, but had no relation to the Gentiles, and must not be imposed on them. St. James had taught this view ten years earlier at the Apostolic Council. His opinions and teaching had percolated downwards, and the majority of the Jerusalem Church now held the same view as regards the Gentiles, but were as strong as ever and as patriotic as ever so far as the Jews were concerned, and the obligation of the Jewish Law upon them and their children. St. Paul had carried his point as regards Gentile freedom. And now there came a time when he had in turn to show consideration and care for Jewish prejudices, and act out his own principle that circumcision was nothing and uncircumcision was nothing. Concessions, in fact, were not to be all on one side, and St. Paul had now to make a concession. The Judaeo-Christian congregations of Jerusalem were much excited, and St. Paul by a certain course of conduct, perfectly innocent and harmless, could pacify their excited patriotic feelings, and demonstrate to them that he was still a true, a genuine, and not a renegade Jew. It was but a little thing that St. James advised and public feeling demanded. He had but to join himself to a party of Nazarites and pay their expenses, and thus Paul would place himself en rapport with the Mother Church of Christendom. St. Paul acted wisely, charitably, and in a Christlike spirit when he consented to do as St. James advised. St. Paul was always eminently prudent. There are some religious men who seem to think that to advise a wise or prudent course is all the same as to advise a wicked or unprincipled course. They seem to consider success in any course as a clear evidence of sin, and failure as a proof of honesty and true principle. Concession, however, is not the same as unworthy compromise. It is our duty in life to see and make our course of conduct as fruitful and as successful as possible. Concession on little points has a wondrous power in smoothing the path of action and gaining true success. Many an honest man ruins a good cause simply because he cannot distinguish, as St. Paul did, things necessary and essential from things accidental and trivial. Pigheaded obstinacy, to use a very homely but a very expressive phrase, which indeed is often only disguised pride, is a great enemy to the peace and harmony of societies and churches. St. Paul displayed great boldness here. He was not afraid of being misrepresented, that ghost which frightens so many a popularity hunter from the course which is true and right. How easily his fierce Opponents, the men who had gone to Corinth and Galatia to oppose him, might misrepresent his action in joining himself to the Nazarites! They were the extreme men of the Jerusalem Church. They were the men for whom the decisions of the Apostolic Council had no weight, and who held still as of old that unless a man be circumcised he could not be saved. How easily, I say, these men could despatch their emissaries, who should proclaim that their opponent Paul had conceded all their demands and was himself observing the law at Jerusalem. St. Paul was not afraid of this misrepresentation, but boldly took the course which seemed to him right and true, and charitable, despite the malicious tongues of his adversaries. The Apostle of the Gentiles left us an example which many still require. How many a man is kept from adopting a course that is charitable and tends to peace and edification, solely because he is afraid of what opponents may say, or how they may twist and misrepresent his action. St. Paul was possessed with none of this moral cowardice which specially flourishes among so-called party-leaders, men who, instead of leading, are always led and governed by the opinions of their followers. St. Paul simply determined in his conscience what was right, and then fearlessly acted out his determination.

Some persons perhaps would argue that the result of his action showed that he was wrong and had unworthily compromised the cause of Christian freedom. They think that had he not consented to appear as a Nazarite in the Temple no riot would have occurred, his arrest would have been avoided, and the course of history might have been very different. But here we would join issue on the spot. The results of his action vindicated his Christian wisdom. The great body of the Jerusalem Church were convinced of his sincerity and realised his position. He maintained his influence over them, which had been seriously imperilled previously, and thus helped on the course of development which had been going on. Ten years before the advocates of Gentile freedom were but a small body. Now the vast majority of the local church at Jerusalem held fast to this idea, while still clinging fast to the obligation laid upon the Jews to observe the law. St. Paul did his best to maintain his friendship and alliance with the Jerusalem Church. To put himself right with them he travelled up to Jerusalem, when fresh fields and splendid prospects were opening up for him in the West. For this purpose he submitted to several days’ restraint and attendance in the Temple, and the results vindicated his determination. The Jerusalem Church continued the same course of orderly development, and when, ten years later, Jerusalem was threatened with destruction, the Christian congregations alone rose above the narrow bigoted patriotism which bound the Jews to the Holy City. The Christians alone realised that the day of the Mosaic Law was at length passed, and, retiring to the neighbouring city of Pella, escaped the destruction which awaited the fanatical adherents of the Law and the Temple.

Another answer, too, may be made to this objection. It was not his action in the matter of the Nazarites that brought about the riot and the arrest and his consequent imprisonment. It was the hostility of the Jews of Asia; and they would have assailed him whenever and wherever they met him. Studying the matter too, even in view of results, we should draw the opposite conclusion. God Himself approved his course. A Divine vision was vouchsafed to him in the guard-room of Antonia, after he had twice experienced Jewish violence, and bestowed upon him the approbation of Heaven: "The night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer; for as thou hast testified concerning Me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome." His courageous and at the same time charitable action was vindicated by its results on the Jerusalem Church, by the sanction of Christ Himself, and lastly, by its blessed results upon the development of the Church at large in leading St. Paul to Rome, in giving him a wider and more influential sphere for his efforts, and in affording him leisure to write epistles like those to Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae, which have been so instructive and useful for the Church of all ages.

Another point which has exercised men’s minds is found in St. Paul’s attitude and words when brought before the Sanhedrin on the day after his arrest. The story is told in the opening verses of the twenty-third chapter. Let us quote them, as they vividly present the difficulty: "And Paul, looking steadfastly on the council, said, Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day. And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: and sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? And Paul said, I wist not, brethren, that he was high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people."

Two difficulties here present themselves.

(a) There is St. Paul’s language, which certainly seems wanting in Christian meekness, and not exactly modelled after the example of Christ, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, and laid down in His Sermon on the Mount a law of suffering to which St. Paul does not here conform. But this is only a difficulty for those who have formed a superhuman estimate of St. Paul against which we have several times protested, and against which this very book of the Acts seems to take special care to warn its readers. If people will make the Apostle as sinless and as perfect as our Lord, they will of course be surprised at his language on this occasion. But if they regard him in the light in which St. Luke portrays him, as a man of like passions and infirmities with themselves, then they will feel no difficulty in the fact that St. Paul’s natural temper was roused at the brutal and illegal command to smite a helpless prisoner on the mouth because he had made a statement which a member of the court did not relish. This passage seems to me not a difficulty, but a divinely guided passage witnessing to the inspiring influence of the Holy Ghost, and inserted to chasten our wandering fancy, which would exalt the Apostle to a position equal to that which rightly belongs to his Divine Master alone.

(b) Then there is a second difficulty. Some have thought that St. Paul told a lie in this passage, and that, when defending himself from the charge of unscriptural insolence to the high priest, he merely pretended ignorance of his person, saying, "I wist not, brethren, that he was high priest." The older commentators devised various explanations of this passage. Dr. John Lightfoot, in his "Horae Hebraicae," treating of this verse, sums them all up as follows. Either St. Paul means that he did not recognise Ananias as high priest because he did not lawfully occupy the office, or else because Christ was now the only high priest; or else because there had been so many and so frequent changes that as a matter of fact he did not know who was the actual high priest. None of these is a satisfactory explanation. Mr. Lewin offers what strikes me as the most natural explanation, considering all the circumstances. Ananias was appointed high priest about 47, continued in office till 59, and was killed in the beginning of the great Jewish war. He was a thoroughly historical character, and his high priesthood is guaranteed for us by the testimony of Josephus, who tells us of his varied fortunes and of his tragic death. But St. Paul never probably once saw him, as he was absent from Jerusalem, except for one brief visit, all the time while he enjoyed supreme office.

Now the Sanhedrin consisted of seventy-one judges, they sat in a large hall with a crowd of scribes and pupils in front of them, and the high priest, as we have already pointed out, was not necessarily president or chairman. St. Paul was very short-sighted, and the ophthalmia under which he continually suffered was probably much intensified by the violent treatment he had experienced the day before. Could anything be more natural than that a short-sighted man should not recognise in such a crowd the particular person who had uttered this very brief, but very tyrannical command, "Smite him on the mouth"? Surely an impartial review of St. Paul’s life shows him ever to have been at least a man of striking courage, and therefore one who would never have descended to cloak his own hasty words with even the shadow of an untruth!

Again, the readiness and quickness of St. Paul in seizing upon every opportunity of escape have important teaching for us. Upon four different occasions at this crisis he displayed this characteristic. Let us note them for our guidance. When he was rescued by the chief captain and was carried into the castle, the captain ordered him to be examined by scourging to elicit the true cause of the riot; St. Paul then availed himself of his privilege as a Roman citizen to escape that torture. When he stood before the council he perceived the old division between the Pharisees and the Sadducees to be still in existence, which he had known long ago when he was himself connected with it. He skilfully availed himself of that circumstance to raise dissension among his opponents. He grasped the essential principle which lay at the basis of his teaching, and that was the doctrine of the Resurrection and the assertion of the reality of the spiritual world. Without that doctrine Christianity and Christian teaching were utterly meaningless, and in that doctrine Pharisees and Christians were united. Dropping the line of defence he was about to offer, which probably would have proceeded to show how true to conscience and to Divine light had been his course of life, he cried out, "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees: touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question." Grotius, an old and learned commentator, dealing with Acts 23:6, has well summed up the principles on which St. Paul acted on this occasion in the following words: "St. Paul was not lacking in human prudence, making use of which for the service of the gospel, he intermingled the wisdom of the serpent with the gentleness of the dove, and thus utilised the dissensions of his enemies," Yet once more we see the same tact in operation. After the meeting of the Sanhedrin and his rescue from out of its very midst, a plot was formed to assassinate him, of which he was informed by his nephew. Then again St. Paul did not let things slide, trusting in the Divine care alone. He knew right well that God demanded of men of faith that they should be fellow-workers with God and lend Him their co-operation. He knew too the horror which the Roman authorities had of riot and of all illegal measures; he despatched his nephew therefore to the chief captain, and by his readiness of resource saved himself from imminent danger. Lastly, we find the same characteristic trait coming out at Caesarea. His experience of Roman rule taught him the anxiety of new governors to please the people among whom they came. He knew that Festus would be anxious to gratify the Jewish authorities in any way he possibly could. They were very desirous to have the Apostle transferred from Caesarea to Jerusalem, sure that in some way or another they could there dispose of him. Knowing therefore the dangerous position in which he stood, St. Paul’s readiness and tact again came to his help. He knew Roman law thoroughly well. He knew that as a Roman citizen he had one resource left by which in one brief sentence he could transfer himself out of the jurisdiction of Sanhedrin and Procurator alike, and of this he availed himself at the critical moment, pronouncing the magic words. Caesarem Appello ("I appeal unto Caesar"). St. Paul left in all these cases a healthy example which the Church urgently required in subsequent years. He had no morbid craving after suffering or death. No man ever lived in a closer communion with his God, or in a more steadfast readiness to depart and be with Christ. But he knew that it was his duty to remain at his post till the Captain of his salvation gave a clear note of withdrawal, and that clear note was only given when every avenue of escape was cut off. St. Paul therefore used his knowledge and his tact in order to ascertain the Master’s will and discover whether it was His wish that His faithful servant should depart or tarry, yet awhile for the discharge of his earthly duties. I have said that this was an example necessary for the Church in subsequent ages. The question of flight in persecution became a very practical one as soon as the Roman Empire assumed an attitude definitely hostile to the Church. The more extreme and fanatical party not only refused to take any measures to secure their safety or escape death, but rather rushed headlong upon it, and upbraided those as traitors and renegades who tried in any. way to avoid suffering. From the earliest times, from the days of Ignatius of Antioch himself, we see this morbid tendency displaying itself; while the Church in the person of several of its greatest leaders-men like Polycarp and Cyprian, who themselves retired from impending danger till the Roman authorities discovered them-showed that St. Paul’s wiser teaching and example were not thrown away. Quietism was a view which two centuries ago made a great stir both in England and France, and seems embodied to some extent in certain modern forms of thought. It taught that believers should lie quite passive in God’s hands and make no effort for themselves. Quietism would never have found a follower in the vigorous mind of St. Paul, who proved himself through all those trials and vicissitudes of more than two years ever ready with some new device wherewith to meet the hatred of his foes.

III. We notice lastly in the narrative of St. Paul’s imprisonment his interviews with and his testimony before the members of the house of Herod. St. Peter had experience of the father of Herod Agrippa, and now St. Paul comes into contact with the children, Agrippa, Drusilla, and Bernice. And thus it came about. Felix the procurator, as we have already explained, was a very bad man, and had enticed Drusilla from her husband. He doubtless told her of the Jewish prisoner who lay a captive in the city where she was living. The Herods were a clever race, and they knew all about Jewish hopes and Messianic expectations, and they ever seem to have been haunted by a certain curiosity concerning the new sect of the Nazarenes. One Herod desired for a long time to see Jesus Christ, and was delighted when Pilate gratified his longing. Drusilla, doubtless, was equally curious, and easily persuaded her husband to gratify her desire. We therefore read in Acts 24:24, "But after certain days, Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, which was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus."

Neither of them calculated on the kind of man they had to do with. St. Paul knew all the circumstances of the case. He adapted his speech thereto. He made a powerful appeal to the conscience of the guilty pair. He reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come, and beneath his weighty words Felix trembled. His convictions were roused. He experienced a transient season of penitence, such as touched another guilty member of the Herodian house who feared John and did many things gladly to win his approval. But habits of sin had grasped Felix too firmly. He temporised with his conscience. He put off the day of salvation when it was dawning on him, and his words, "Go thy way for this time, and when I have a convenient season I will call thee unto me," became the typical language of all those souls for whom procrastination, want of decision, trifling with spiritual feelings, have been the omens and the causes of eternal ruin.

But Felix and Drusilla were not the only members of the Herodian house with whom Paul came in contact. Felix and Drusilla left Palestine when two years of St. Paul’s imprisonment had elapsed. Festus, another procurator, followed, and began his course as all the Roman rulers of Palestine began theirs. The Jews, when Festus visited Jerusalem, besought him to deliver the prisoner lying bound at Caesarea to the judgment of their Sanhedrin. Festus, all-powerful as a Roman governor usually was, dared not treat a Roman citizen thus without his own consent, and when that consent was asked Paul at once refused, knowing right well the intentions of the Jews, and appealed unto Caesar. A Roman governor, however, would not send a prisoner to the judgment of the Emperor without stating the crime imputed to him. Just at that moment Herod Agrippa, king of Chalcis and of the district of Ituraea, together with his sister Bernice, appeared on the scene. He was a Jew, and was well acquainted therefore with the accusations brought against the Apostle, and could inform the procurator what report he should send to the Emperor. Festus therefore brought Paul before them, and gave him another opportunity of expounding the faith of Jesus Christ and the law of love and purity which that faith involved to a family who ever treated that law with profound contempt. St. Paul availed himself of that opportunity. He addressed his whole discourse to the king, and that discourse was typical of those he addressed to Jewish audiences. It was like the sermon delivered to the Jews in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia in one important aspect. Both discourses gathered round the resurrection of Jesus Christ as their central idea. St. Paul began his address before Agrippa with that doctrine, and he ended with the same. The hope of Israel, towards which their continuous worship tended, was the resurrection of the dead. That was St. Paul’s opening idea. The same note lay beneath the narrative of his own conversion, and then he turned back to his original statement that the Risen Christ was the hope of Israel and of the world taught by Moses and proclaimed by prophets. But it was all in vain as regards Agrippa and Bernice. The Herods were magnificent, clever, beautiful. But they were of the earth, earthy. Agrippa said indeed to Paul, "With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian." But it was not souls like his for whom the gospel message was intended. The Herods knew nothing of the burden of sin or the keen longing of souls desirous of holiness and of God. They were satisfied with the present transient scene, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Agrippa’s father when he lay a-dying at Caesarea consoled himself with the reflection that though his career was prematurely cut short, yet at any rate he had lived a splendid life. And such as the parent had been, such were the children. King Agrippa and his sister Bernice were true types of the stony-ground hearers, with whom "the care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word." And they choked the word so effectually in his case, even when taught by St. Paul, that the only result upon Agrippa, as St. Luke reports it, was this: "Agrippa said unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar."


Verse 33

3

Chapter 17

A PRISONER IN BONDS.

Acts 21:2-3; Acts 21:17; Acts 21:33; Acts 21:39-40; Acts 22:22; Acts 22:30; Acts 24:1; Acts 26:1

THE title we have given to this chapter, "A Prisoner in Bonds," expresses the central idea of the last eight chapters of the Acts. Twenty years and more had now elapsed since St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. These twenty years had been times of unceasing and intense activity. Now we come to some five years when the external labours, the turmoil and the cares of active, life, have to be put aside, and St. Paul was called upon to stand apart and learn the lesson which every-day experience teaches to all, -how easily the world can get along without us, how smoothly God’s designs fulfil themselves without our puny assistance. The various passages we have placed at the head of this chapter cover six chapters of the Acts, from the twenty-first to the twenty-sixth. It may seem a large extent of the text to be comprised within the limits of one of our chapters, but it must be remembered that a great deal of the space thus included is taken up with the narrative of St. Paul’s conversion, which is twice set forth at great length, first to the multitude from the stairs of the tower of Antonia, and then in his defence which he delivered before Agrippa and Bernice and Festus, or else with the speeches delivered by him before the assembled Sanhedrin and before Felix the governor, wherein he dwells on points previously and sufficiently discussed. We have already considered the narrative of the Apostle’s conversion at great length, and noted the particular directions in which St. Paul’s own later versions at Jerusalem and Caesarea throw light upon St. Luke’s independent account. To the earlier chapters of this book we therefore would refer the reader who wishes to discuss St. Paul’s conversion, and several of the other subjects which he introduces. Let us now, however, endeavour, first of all, to gather up into one connected story the tale of St. Paul’s journeys, sufferings, and imprisonments from the time he left Miletus after his famous address till he set sail for Rome from the port of Caesarea, a prisoner destined for the judgment-seat of Nero. This narrative will embrace from at least the summer of A.D. 58, when he was arrested at Jerusalem, to the autumn of 60, when he set sail for Rome. This connected story will enable us to see the close union of the various parts of the narrative which is now hidden from us because of the division into chapters, and will enable us to fix more easily upon the leading points which lend themselves to the purposes of an expositor.

I. St. Paul after parting from the Ephesian Church, embarked on board his ship, and then coasted along the western shore of Asia Minor for three days, sailing amid scenery of the most enchanting description, specially in that late spring or early summer season at which the year had then arrived. It was about the first of May, and all nature was bursting into new life, when even hearts the hardest and least receptive of external influences feel as if they were living a portion of their youth over again. And even St. Paul, rapt in the contemplation of things unseen, must have felt himself touched by the beauty of the scenes through which he was passing, though St. Luke tells us nothing but the bare succession of events. Three days after leaving Miletus the sacred company reached Patara, a town at the southwestern corner of Asia Minor, where the coast begins to turn round towards the east. Here St. Paul found a trading ship sailing direct to Tyre and Palestine, and therefore with all haste transferred himself and his party into it. The ship seems to have been on the point of sailing, which suited St. Paul so much the better, anxious as he was to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. The journey direct from Patara to Tyre is about three hundred and fifty miles, a three days’ sail under favourable circumstances for the trading vessels of the ancients, and the circumstances were favourable. The northwest wind is to this day the prevailing wind in the eastern Mediterranean during the late spring and early summer season, and the northwest wind would be the most favourable wind for an ancient trader almost entirely depending on an immense mainsail for its motive power. With such a wind the merchantmen of that age could travel at the rate of a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles a day, and would therefore traverse the distance between Patara and Tyre in three days, the time we have specified. When the vessel arrived at Tyre St. Paul sought out the local Christian congregation. The ship was chartered to bring a cargo probably of wheat or wine to Tyre, inasmuch as Tyre was a purely commercial city, and the territory naturally belonging to it was utterly unable to finish it with necessary provisions, as we have already noted on the occasion of Herod Agrippa’s death. A week, therefore, was spent in unloading the cargo, during which St. Paul devoted himself to the instruction of the local Christian Church. After a week’s close communion with this eminent servant of God, the Tyrian Christians, like the elders of Ephesus and Miletus, with their wives and children accompanied him till they reached the shore, where they commended one another in prayer to God’s care and blessing. From Tyre he sailed to Ptolemais, thirty miles distant. There again he found another Christian congregation, with whom he tarried one day, and then leaving the ship proceeded by the great coast road to Caesarea, a town which he already knew right well, and to which he was so soon to return as a prisoner in bonds. At Caesarea there must now have been a very considerable Christian congregation. In Caesarea Philip the Evangelist lived and ministered permanently. There too resided his daughters, eminent as teachers, and exercising in their preaching or prophetical functions a great influence among the very mixed female population of the political capital of Palestine. St. Paul and St. Luke abode in Caesarea several days in the house of Philip the Evangelist. He did not wish to arrive in Jerusalem till close on the Feast of Pentecost, and owing to the fair winds with which he had been favoured he must have had a week or more to stay in Caesarea. Here Agabus again appears upon the scene. Fourteen years before he had predicted the famine which led St. Paul to pay a visit to Jerusalem when bringing up the alms of the Antiochene Church to assist the poor brethren at Jerusalem, and now he predicts the Apostle’s approaching captivity. The prospect moved the Church so much that the brethren besought St. Paul to change his mind and not enter the Holy City. But his mind was made up, and nothing would dissuade him from celebrating the Feast as he had all along proposed; He went up therefore to Jerusalem, lodging with Mnason, "an early disciple," as the Revised Version puts it, one therefore who traced his Christian convictions back probably to the celebrated Pentecost a quarter of a century earlier, when the Holy Ghost first displayed His supernatural power in converting multitudes of human souls. Next day he went to visit James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, who received him warmly, grasped his position, warned him of the rumours which had been industriously and falsely circulated as to his opposition to the Law of Moses, even in the case of born Jews, and gave him some prudent advice as to his course of action. St. James recommended that St. Paul should unite himself with certain Christian Nazarites, and perform the Jewish rites usual in such cases. A Nazarite, as we have already mentioned, when he took the Nazarite vow for a limited time after some special deliverance vouchsafed to him, allowed his hair to grow till he could cut it off in the Temple, and have it burned in the fire of the sacrifices offered up on his behalf. These sacrifices were very expensive, as will be seen at once by a reference to Numbers 6:13-18, where they are prescribed at full length, and it was always regarded as a mark of patriotic piety when any stranger coming to Jerusalem offered to defray the necessary charges for the poorer Jews, and thus completed the ceremonies connected with the Nazarite vow. St. James advised St. Paul to adopt this course, to unite himself with the members of the local Christian Church who were unable to defray the customary expenses, to pay their charges, join with them in the sacrifices, and thus publicly proclaim to those who opposed him that, though he differed from them as regards the Gentiles, holding in that matter with St. James himself and with the apostles, yet as regards the Jews, whether at Jerusalem or throughout the world at large, he was totally misrepresented when men asserted that he taught the Jews to reject the Law of Moses. St. Paul was guided by the advice of James, and proceeded to complete the ceremonial prescribed for the Nazarites. This was the turning-point of his fate. Jerusalem was then thronged with strangers from every part of the world. Ephesus and the province of Asia, as a great commercial centre, and therefore a great Jewish resort, furnished a very large contingent. To these, then, Paul was well known as an enthusiastic Christian teacher, toward whom the synagogues of Ephesus felt the bitterest hostility. They had often plotted against him at Ephesus, as St. Paul himself told the elders in his address at Miletus, but had hitherto failed to effect their purpose. Now, however, they seemed to see their chance. They thought they had a popular cry and a legal accusation under which he might be done to death under the forms of law. These Ephesian Jews had seen him in the city in company with Trophimus, an uncircumcised Christian belonging to their own city, one therefore whose presence within the temple was a capital offence, even according to Roman law. They raised a cry therefore that he had defiled the Holy Place by bringing into it an uncircumcised-Greek; and thus roused the populace to seize the Apostle, drag him from the sacred precincts, and murder him. During the celebration of the Feasts the Roman sentinels, stationed upon the neighbouring tower of Antonia which overlooked the Temple courts, watched the assembled crowds most narrowly, apprehensive of a riot. As soon therefore as the first symptoms of an outbreak occurred, the alarm was given, the chief captain Lysias hurried to the spot, and St. Paul was rescued for the moment. At the request of the Apostle, who was being carried up into the castle, he was allowed to address the multitude from the stairs. They listened to the narrative of his conversion very quietly till he came to tell of the vision God vouchsafed to him in the Temple some twenty years before, warning him to leave Jerusalem, when at the words "Depart, for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles," all their pent-up rage and prise and national jealousy burst forth anew. St. Paul had been addressing them in the Hebrew language, which the chief captain understood not, and the mob probably expressed their rage and passion in the same language. The chief captain ordered St. Paul to be examined by flogging to know why they were so outrageous against him. More fortunate, however, on this occasion than at Philippi, he claimed his privilege as a Roman citizen, and escaped the torture. The chief captain was still in ignorance of the prisoner’s crime, and therefore be brought him the very next day before the Sanhedrin, when St. Paul by a happy stroke caused such a division between the Sadducees and Pharisees that the chief captain was again obliged to intervene and rescue the prisoner from the contending factions. Next day, however, the Jews formed a conspiracy to murder the Apostle, which his nephew discovered and revealed to St. Paul and to Claudius Lysias, who that same night despatched him to Caesarea.

All these events, from his conference with James to his arrival under guard at Caesarea, cannot have covered more than eight days at the utmost, and yet the story of them extends from the middle of the twenty-first chapter to the close of the twenty-third, while the record of twelve months’ hard work preaching, writing, organising is embraced within the first six verses of the twentieth chapter, showing how very different was St. Luke’s narrative of affairs, according as he was present or absent when they were transacted.

From the beginning of the twenty-fourth chapter to the close of the twenty-sixth is taken up with the account of St. Paul’s trials, at first before Felix, and then before Festus, his successor in the procuratorship of Palestine. Just let us summarise the course of. events and distinguish between them. St. Paul was despatched by Claudius Lysias to Felix, accompanied by a letter in which he contrives to put the best construction on his own actions, representing himself as specially anxious about St. Paul because he was a Roman citizen, on which account indeed he describes himself as rescuing him from the clutches of the mob. After the lapse of five days St. Paul was brought up before Felix and accused by the Jews of three serious crimes in the eyes of Roman law as administered in Palestine. First, he was a mover of seditions among the Jews; second, a ringleader of a new sect, the Nazarenes, unknown to Jewish law; and third, a profaner of the Temple, contrary to the law which the Romans themselves had sanctioned. On all these points Paul challenged investigation and demanded proof, asking where were the Jews from Asia who had accused him of profaning the Temple. The Jews doubtless thought that Paul was a common Jew, who would be yielded up to their clamour by the procurator, and knew nothing of his Roman citizenship. Their want of witnesses brought about their failure, but did not lead to St. Paul’s release. He was committed to the custody of a centurion, and freedom of access was granted to his friends. In this state St. Paul continued two full years, from midsummer 58 to the same period of A.D. 60, when Felix was superseded by Festus. During these two years Felix often conversed with St. Paul. Felix was a thoroughly bad man. He exercised, as a historian of that time said of him, "the power of a king with the mind of a slave." He was tyrannical, licentious, and corrupt, and hoped to be bribed by St. Paul, when he would have set him at liberty. At this period of his life St. Paul twice came in contact with the Herodian house, which thenceforth disappears from sacred history. Felix about the period of St. Paul’s arrest enticed Drusilla, the great-granddaughter of Herod the Great, from her husband through the medium, as many think, of Simon Magus. Drusilla was very young and very beautiful, and, like all the Herodian women, very wicked. Felix was an open adulterer, therefore, and it is no wonder that when Paul reasoned before the guilty pair concerning righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come, conscience should have smitten them and Felix should have trembled. St. Paul had another opportunity of bearing witness before this wicked and bloodstained family. Festus succeeded Felix as procurator of Palestine about June, A.D. 60. Within the following month Agrippa II, the son of the Herod Agrippa who had died the terrible death at Caesarea of which the twelfth chapter tells, came to Caesarea to pay his respects unto the new governor. Agrippa was ruler of the kingdom of Chalcis, a district north of Palestine and about the Lebanon Range. He was accompanied by his sister Bernice, who afterwards became the mistress of Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem in the last great siege. Festus had already heard St. Paul’s case, and had allowed his appeal unto Caesar. He wished, however, to have his case investigated before two Jewish experts, Agrippa and Bernice, who could instruct his own ignorance on the charges laid against him by the Jews, enabling him to write a more satisfactory report for the Emperor’s guidance. He brought St. Paul therefore before them, and gave the great Christian champion another opportunity of bearing witness for his Master before a family which now for more than sixty years had been more or less mixed up, but never for their own blessing, with Christian history. After a period of two years and three months’ detention, varied by different public appearances, St. Paul was despatched to Rome to stand his trial and make his defence before the Emperor Nero, whose name has become a synonym for vice, brutality, and self-will.

II. We have now given a connected outline of St. Paul’s history extending over a period of more than two years. Let us omit his formal defences, which have already come under our notice, and take for our meditation a number of points which are peculiar to the narrative.

We have in the story of the voyage, arrest, and imprisonment of St. Paul, many circumstances which illustrate God’s methods of action in the world, or else His dealings with the spiritual life. Let us take a few instances. First, then, we direct attention to the steady though quiet progress of the Christian faith as revealed in these chapters. St. Paul landed at Tyre, and from Tyre he proceeded some thirty miles south to Ptolemais. These are both of them towns which have never hitherto occurred in our narrative as places of Christian activity. St. Paul and St. Peter and Barnabas and the other active leaders of the Church must often have passed through these towns, and wherever they went they strove to make known the tidings of the gospel. But we hear nothing in the Acts, and tradition tells us nothing of when or by whom the Christian Church was founded in these localities.

We get glimpses, too, of the ancient organisation of the Church, but only glimpses; we have no complete statement, because St. Luke was writing for a man who lived amidst it, and could supply the gaps which his informant left. The presbyters are mentioned at Miletus, and Agabus the prophet appeared at Antioch years before, and now again he appears at Caesarea, where Philip the Evangelist and his daughters the prophetesses appear. Prophets and prophesying are not confined to Palestine and Antioch, though the Acts tells us nothing of them as existing elsewhere. The Epistle to Corinth shows us that the prophets occupied a very important place in that Christian community. Prophesying indeed was principally preaching at Corinth; but it did not exclude prediction, and that after the ancient Jewish method, by action as well as by word, for Agabus took St. Paul’s girdle, and binding his own hands and feet declared that the Holy Ghost told him, "So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that own-eth this girdle, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles." But how little we know of the details of the upgrowth of the Church in all save the more prominent places! How entirely ignorant we are, for instance, of the methods by which the gospel spread to Tyre and Ptolemais and Puteoli! Here we find in the Acts the fulfilment of our Lord’s words as reported in Mark 4:26 : "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how." It was with the last and grander temple of God as it was with the first. Its foundations were laid, and its walls were built, not with sound of axe and hammer, but in the penitence of humbled souls, in the godly testimony of sanctified spirits, in the earnest lives of holy men hidden from the scoffing world, known only to the Almighty.

Again, we notice the advice given by James and the course actually adopted by St.. Paul when he arrived at Jerusalem. It has the appearance of compromise of truth, and yet it has the appearance merely, not the reality of compromise. It was in effect wise and sound advice, and such as teaches lessons useful for our own guidance in life. We have already set forth St. Paul’s conception of Jewish rites and ceremonies. They were nothing in the world one way or another, as viewed from the Divine standpoint. Their presence did not help on the work of man’s salvation; their absence did not detract from it. The Apostle therefore took part in them freely enough, as when he celebrated the passover and the days of unleavened bread at Philippi, viewing them as mere national rites. He had been successful in the very highest degree in converting to this view even the highest and strictest members of the Jerusalem Church. St. James, in advising St. Paul how to act on this occasion, when such prejudices had been excited against him, clearly shows that he had come round to St. Paul’s view. He tells St. Paul that the multitude or body of the Judaeo-Christian Church at Jerusalem had been excited against him, because they had been informed that he taught the Jews of the Dispersion to forsake Moses, the very thing St. Paul did not do. St. James grasped, however, St. Paul’s view that Moses and the Levitical Law might be good things for the Jews, but had no relation to the Gentiles, and must not be imposed on them. St. James had taught this view ten years earlier at the Apostolic Council. His opinions and teaching had percolated downwards, and the majority of the Jerusalem Church now held the same view as regards the Gentiles, but were as strong as ever and as patriotic as ever so far as the Jews were concerned, and the obligation of the Jewish Law upon them and their children. St. Paul had carried his point as regards Gentile freedom. And now there came a time when he had in turn to show consideration and care for Jewish prejudices, and act out his own principle that circumcision was nothing and uncircumcision was nothing. Concessions, in fact, were not to be all on one side, and St. Paul had now to make a concession. The Judaeo-Christian congregations of Jerusalem were much excited, and St. Paul by a certain course of conduct, perfectly innocent and harmless, could pacify their excited patriotic feelings, and demonstrate to them that he was still a true, a genuine, and not a renegade Jew. It was but a little thing that St. James advised and public feeling demanded. He had but to join himself to a party of Nazarites and pay their expenses, and thus Paul would place himself en rapport with the Mother Church of Christendom. St. Paul acted wisely, charitably, and in a Christlike spirit when he consented to do as St. James advised. St. Paul was always eminently prudent. There are some religious men who seem to think that to advise a wise or prudent course is all the same as to advise a wicked or unprincipled course. They seem to consider success in any course as a clear evidence of sin, and failure as a proof of honesty and true principle. Concession, however, is not the same as unworthy compromise. It is our duty in life to see and make our course of conduct as fruitful and as successful as possible. Concession on little points has a wondrous power in smoothing the path of action and gaining true success. Many an honest man ruins a good cause simply because he cannot distinguish, as St. Paul did, things necessary and essential from things accidental and trivial. Pigheaded obstinacy, to use a very homely but a very expressive phrase, which indeed is often only disguised pride, is a great enemy to the peace and harmony of societies and churches. St. Paul displayed great boldness here. He was not afraid of being misrepresented, that ghost which frightens so many a popularity hunter from the course which is true and right. How easily his fierce Opponents, the men who had gone to Corinth and Galatia to oppose him, might misrepresent his action in joining himself to the Nazarites! They were the extreme men of the Jerusalem Church. They were the men for whom the decisions of the Apostolic Council had no weight, and who held still as of old that unless a man be circumcised he could not be saved. How easily, I say, these men could despatch their emissaries, who should proclaim that their opponent Paul had conceded all their demands and was himself observing the law at Jerusalem. St. Paul was not afraid of this misrepresentation, but boldly took the course which seemed to him right and true, and charitable, despite the malicious tongues of his adversaries. The Apostle of the Gentiles left us an example which many still require. How many a man is kept from adopting a course that is charitable and tends to peace and edification, solely because he is afraid of what opponents may say, or how they may twist and misrepresent his action. St. Paul was possessed with none of this moral cowardice which specially flourishes among so-called party-leaders, men who, instead of leading, are always led and governed by the opinions of their followers. St. Paul simply determined in his conscience what was right, and then fearlessly acted out his determination.

Some persons perhaps would argue that the result of his action showed that he was wrong and had unworthily compromised the cause of Christian freedom. They think that had he not consented to appear as a Nazarite in the Temple no riot would have occurred, his arrest would have been avoided, and the course of history might have been very different. But here we would join issue on the spot. The results of his action vindicated his Christian wisdom. The great body of the Jerusalem Church were convinced of his sincerity and realised his position. He maintained his influence over them, which had been seriously imperilled previously, and thus helped on the course of development which had been going on. Ten years before the advocates of Gentile freedom were but a small body. Now the vast majority of the local church at Jerusalem held fast to this idea, while still clinging fast to the obligation laid upon the Jews to observe the law. St. Paul did his best to maintain his friendship and alliance with the Jerusalem Church. To put himself right with them he travelled up to Jerusalem, when fresh fields and splendid prospects were opening up for him in the West. For this purpose he submitted to several days’ restraint and attendance in the Temple, and the results vindicated his determination. The Jerusalem Church continued the same course of orderly development, and when, ten years later, Jerusalem was threatened with destruction, the Christian congregations alone rose above the narrow bigoted patriotism which bound the Jews to the Holy City. The Christians alone realised that the day of the Mosaic Law was at length passed, and, retiring to the neighbouring city of Pella, escaped the destruction which awaited the fanatical adherents of the Law and the Temple.

Another answer, too, may be made to this objection. It was not his action in the matter of the Nazarites that brought about the riot and the arrest and his consequent imprisonment. It was the hostility of the Jews of Asia; and they would have assailed him whenever and wherever they met him. Studying the matter too, even in view of results, we should draw the opposite conclusion. God Himself approved his course. A Divine vision was vouchsafed to him in the guard-room of Antonia, after he had twice experienced Jewish violence, and bestowed upon him the approbation of Heaven: "The night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer; for as thou hast testified concerning Me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome." His courageous and at the same time charitable action was vindicated by its results on the Jerusalem Church, by the sanction of Christ Himself, and lastly, by its blessed results upon the development of the Church at large in leading St. Paul to Rome, in giving him a wider and more influential sphere for his efforts, and in affording him leisure to write epistles like those to Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae, which have been so instructive and useful for the Church of all ages.

Another point which has exercised men’s minds is found in St. Paul’s attitude and words when brought before the Sanhedrin on the day after his arrest. The story is told in the opening verses of the twenty-third chapter. Let us quote them, as they vividly present the difficulty: "And Paul, looking steadfastly on the council, said, Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day. And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: and sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? And Paul said, I wist not, brethren, that he was high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people."

Two difficulties here present themselves.

(a) There is St. Paul’s language, which certainly seems wanting in Christian meekness, and not exactly modelled after the example of Christ, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, and laid down in His Sermon on the Mount a law of suffering to which St. Paul does not here conform. But this is only a difficulty for those who have formed a superhuman estimate of St. Paul against which we have several times protested, and against which this very book of the Acts seems to take special care to warn its readers. If people will make the Apostle as sinless and as perfect as our Lord, they will of course be surprised at his language on this occasion. But if they regard him in the light in which St. Luke portrays him, as a man of like passions and infirmities with themselves, then they will feel no difficulty in the fact that St. Paul’s natural temper was roused at the brutal and illegal command to smite a helpless prisoner on the mouth because he had made a statement which a member of the court did not relish. This passage seems to me not a difficulty, but a divinely guided passage witnessing to the inspiring influence of the Holy Ghost, and inserted to chasten our wandering fancy, which would exalt the Apostle to a position equal to that which rightly belongs to his Divine Master alone.

(b) Then there is a second difficulty. Some have thought that St. Paul told a lie in this passage, and that, when defending himself from the charge of unscriptural insolence to the high priest, he merely pretended ignorance of his person, saying, "I wist not, brethren, that he was high priest." The older commentators devised various explanations of this passage. Dr. John Lightfoot, in his "Horae Hebraicae," treating of this verse, sums them all up as follows. Either St. Paul means that he did not recognise Ananias as high priest because he did not lawfully occupy the office, or else because Christ was now the only high priest; or else because there had been so many and so frequent changes that as a matter of fact he did not know who was the actual high priest. None of these is a satisfactory explanation. Mr. Lewin offers what strikes me as the most natural explanation, considering all the circumstances. Ananias was appointed high priest about 47, continued in office till 59, and was killed in the beginning of the great Jewish war. He was a thoroughly historical character, and his high priesthood is guaranteed for us by the testimony of Josephus, who tells us of his varied fortunes and of his tragic death. But St. Paul never probably once saw him, as he was absent from Jerusalem, except for one brief visit, all the time while he enjoyed supreme office.

Now the Sanhedrin consisted of seventy-one judges, they sat in a large hall with a crowd of scribes and pupils in front of them, and the high priest, as we have already pointed out, was not necessarily president or chairman. St. Paul was very short-sighted, and the ophthalmia under which he continually suffered was probably much intensified by the violent treatment he had experienced the day before. Could anything be more natural than that a short-sighted man should not recognise in such a crowd the particular person who had uttered this very brief, but very tyrannical command, "Smite him on the mouth"? Surely an impartial review of St. Paul’s life shows him ever to have been at least a man of striking courage, and therefore one who would never have descended to cloak his own hasty words with even the shadow of an untruth!

Again, the readiness and quickness of St. Paul in seizing upon every opportunity of escape have important teaching for us. Upon four different occasions at this crisis he displayed this characteristic. Let us note them for our guidance. When he was rescued by the chief captain and was carried into the castle, the captain ordered him to be examined by scourging to elicit the true cause of the riot; St. Paul then availed himself of his privilege as a Roman citizen to escape that torture. When he stood before the council he perceived the old division between the Pharisees and the Sadducees to be still in existence, which he had known long ago when he was himself connected with it. He skilfully availed himself of that circumstance to raise dissension among his opponents. He grasped the essential principle which lay at the basis of his teaching, and that was the doctrine of the Resurrection and the assertion of the reality of the spiritual world. Without that doctrine Christianity and Christian teaching were utterly meaningless, and in that doctrine Pharisees and Christians were united. Dropping the line of defence he was about to offer, which probably would have proceeded to show how true to conscience and to Divine light had been his course of life, he cried out, "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees: touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question." Grotius, an old and learned commentator, dealing with Acts 23:6, has well summed up the principles on which St. Paul acted on this occasion in the following words: "St. Paul was not lacking in human prudence, making use of which for the service of the gospel, he intermingled the wisdom of the serpent with the gentleness of the dove, and thus utilised the dissensions of his enemies," Yet once more we see the same tact in operation. After the meeting of the Sanhedrin and his rescue from out of its very midst, a plot was formed to assassinate him, of which he was informed by his nephew. Then again St. Paul did not let things slide, trusting in the Divine care alone. He knew right well that God demanded of men of faith that they should be fellow-workers with God and lend Him their co-operation. He knew too the horror which the Roman authorities had of riot and of all illegal measures; he despatched his nephew therefore to the chief captain, and by his readiness of resource saved himself from imminent danger. Lastly, we find the same characteristic trait coming out at Caesarea. His experience of Roman rule taught him the anxiety of new governors to please the people among whom they came. He knew that Festus would be anxious to gratify the Jewish authorities in any way he possibly could. They were very desirous to have the Apostle transferred from Caesarea to Jerusalem, sure that in some way or another they could there dispose of him. Knowing therefore the dangerous position in which he stood, St. Paul’s readiness and tact again came to his help. He knew Roman law thoroughly well. He knew that as a Roman citizen he had one resource left by which in one brief sentence he could transfer himself out of the jurisdiction of Sanhedrin and Procurator alike, and of this he availed himself at the critical moment, pronouncing the magic words. Caesarem Appello ("I appeal unto Caesar"). St. Paul left in all these cases a healthy example which the Church urgently required in subsequent years. He had no morbid craving after suffering or death. No man ever lived in a closer communion with his God, or in a more steadfast readiness to depart and be with Christ. But he knew that it was his duty to remain at his post till the Captain of his salvation gave a clear note of withdrawal, and that clear note was only given when every avenue of escape was cut off. St. Paul therefore used his knowledge and his tact in order to ascertain the Master’s will and discover whether it was His wish that His faithful servant should depart or tarry, yet awhile for the discharge of his earthly duties. I have said that this was an example necessary for the Church in subsequent ages. The question of flight in persecution became a very practical one as soon as the Roman Empire assumed an attitude definitely hostile to the Church. The more extreme and fanatical party not only refused to take any measures to secure their safety or escape death, but rather rushed headlong upon it, and upbraided those as traitors and renegades who tried in any. way to avoid suffering. From the earliest times, from the days of Ignatius of Antioch himself, we see this morbid tendency displaying itself; while the Church in the person of several of its greatest leaders-men like Polycarp and Cyprian, who themselves retired from impending danger till the Roman authorities discovered them-showed that St. Paul’s wiser teaching and example were not thrown away. Quietism was a view which two centuries ago made a great stir both in England and France, and seems embodied to some extent in certain modern forms of thought. It taught that believers should lie quite passive in God’s hands and make no effort for themselves. Quietism would never have found a follower in the vigorous mind of St. Paul, who proved himself through all those trials and vicissitudes of more than two years ever ready with some new device wherewith to meet the hatred of his foes.

III. We notice lastly in the narrative of St. Paul’s imprisonment his interviews with and his testimony before the members of the house of Herod. St. Peter had experience of the father of Herod Agrippa, and now St. Paul comes into contact with the children, Agrippa, Drusilla, and Bernice. And thus it came about. Felix the procurator, as we have already explained, was a very bad man, and had enticed Drusilla from her husband. He doubtless told her of the Jewish prisoner who lay a captive in the city where she was living. The Herods were a clever race, and they knew all about Jewish hopes and Messianic expectations, and they ever seem to have been haunted by a certain curiosity concerning the new sect of the Nazarenes. One Herod desired for a long time to see Jesus Christ, and was delighted when Pilate gratified his longing. Drusilla, doubtless, was equally curious, and easily persuaded her husband to gratify her desire. We therefore read in Acts 24:24, "But after certain days, Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, which was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus."

Neither of them calculated on the kind of man they had to do with. St. Paul knew all the circumstances of the case. He adapted his speech thereto. He made a powerful appeal to the conscience of the guilty pair. He reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come, and beneath his weighty words Felix trembled. His convictions were roused. He experienced a transient season of penitence, such as touched another guilty member of the Herodian house who feared John and did many things gladly to win his approval. But habits of sin had grasped Felix too firmly. He temporised with his conscience. He put off the day of salvation when it was dawning on him, and his words, "Go thy way for this time, and when I have a convenient season I will call thee unto me," became the typical language of all those souls for whom procrastination, want of decision, trifling with spiritual feelings, have been the omens and the causes of eternal ruin.

But Felix and Drusilla were not the only members of the Herodian house with whom Paul came in contact. Felix and Drusilla left Palestine when two years of St. Paul’s imprisonment had elapsed. Festus, another procurator, followed, and began his course as all the Roman rulers of Palestine began theirs. The Jews, when Festus visited Jerusalem, besought him to deliver the prisoner lying bound at Caesarea to the judgment of their Sanhedrin. Festus, all-powerful as a Roman governor usually was, dared not treat a Roman citizen thus without his own consent, and when that consent was asked Paul at once refused, knowing right well the intentions of the Jews, and appealed unto Caesar. A Roman governor, however, would not send a prisoner to the judgment of the Emperor without stating the crime imputed to him. Just at that moment Herod Agrippa, king of Chalcis and of the district of Ituraea, together with his sister Bernice, appeared on the scene. He was a Jew, and was well acquainted therefore with the accusations brought against the Apostle, and could inform the procurator what report he should send to the Emperor. Festus therefore brought Paul before them, and gave him another opportunity of expounding the faith of Jesus Christ and the law of love and purity which that faith involved to a family who ever treated that law with profound contempt. St. Paul availed himself of that opportunity. He addressed his whole discourse to the king, and that discourse was typical of those he addressed to Jewish audiences. It was like the sermon delivered to the Jews in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia in one important aspect. Both discourses gathered round the resurrection of Jesus Christ as their central idea. St. Paul began his address before Agrippa with that doctrine, and he ended with the same. The hope of Israel, towards which their continuous worship tended, was the resurrection of the dead. That was St. Paul’s opening idea. The same note lay beneath the narrative of his own conversion, and then he turned back to his original statement that the Risen Christ was the hope of Israel and of the world taught by Moses and proclaimed by prophets. But it was all in vain as regards Agrippa and Bernice. The Herods were magnificent, clever, beautiful. But they were of the earth, earthy. Agrippa said indeed to Paul, "With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian." But it was not souls like his for whom the gospel message was intended. The Herods knew nothing of the burden of sin or the keen longing of souls desirous of holiness and of God. They were satisfied with the present transient scene, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Agrippa’s father when he lay a-dying at Caesarea consoled himself with the reflection that though his career was prematurely cut short, yet at any rate he had lived a splendid life. And such as the parent had been, such were the children. King Agrippa and his sister Bernice were true types of the stony-ground hearers, with whom "the care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word." And they choked the word so effectually in his case, even when taught by St. Paul, that the only result upon Agrippa, as St. Luke reports it, was this: "Agrippa said unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar."


Verse 39-40

elete_me Acts 21:17

Chapter 17

A PRISONER IN BONDS.

Acts 21:2-3; Acts 21:17; Acts 21:33; Acts 21:39-40; Acts 22:22; Acts 22:30; Acts 24:1; Acts 26:1

THE title we have given to this chapter, "A Prisoner in Bonds," expresses the central idea of the last eight chapters of the Acts. Twenty years and more had now elapsed since St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. These twenty years had been times of unceasing and intense activity. Now we come to some five years when the external labours, the turmoil and the cares of active, life, have to be put aside, and St. Paul was called upon to stand apart and learn the lesson which every-day experience teaches to all, -how easily the world can get along without us, how smoothly God’s designs fulfil themselves without our puny assistance. The various passages we have placed at the head of this chapter cover six chapters of the Acts, from the twenty-first to the twenty-sixth. It may seem a large extent of the text to be comprised within the limits of one of our chapters, but it must be remembered that a great deal of the space thus included is taken up with the narrative of St. Paul’s conversion, which is twice set forth at great length, first to the multitude from the stairs of the tower of Antonia, and then in his defence which he delivered before Agrippa and Bernice and Festus, or else with the speeches delivered by him before the assembled Sanhedrin and before Felix the governor, wherein he dwells on points previously and sufficiently discussed. We have already considered the narrative of the Apostle’s conversion at great length, and noted the particular directions in which St. Paul’s own later versions at Jerusalem and Caesarea throw light upon St. Luke’s independent account. To the earlier chapters of this book we therefore would refer the reader who wishes to discuss St. Paul’s conversion, and several of the other subjects which he introduces. Let us now, however, endeavour, first of all, to gather up into one connected story the tale of St. Paul’s journeys, sufferings, and imprisonments from the time he left Miletus after his famous address till he set sail for Rome from the port of Caesarea, a prisoner destined for the judgment-seat of Nero. This narrative will embrace from at least the summer of A.D. 58, when he was arrested at Jerusalem, to the autumn of 60, when he set sail for Rome. This connected story will enable us to see the close union of the various parts of the narrative which is now hidden from us because of the division into chapters, and will enable us to fix more easily upon the leading points which lend themselves to the purposes of an expositor.

I. St. Paul after parting from the Ephesian Church, embarked on board his ship, and then coasted along the western shore of Asia Minor for three days, sailing amid scenery of the most enchanting description, specially in that late spring or early summer season at which the year had then arrived. It was about the first of May, and all nature was bursting into new life, when even hearts the hardest and least receptive of external influences feel as if they were living a portion of their youth over again. And even St. Paul, rapt in the contemplation of things unseen, must have felt himself touched by the beauty of the scenes through which he was passing, though St. Luke tells us nothing but the bare succession of events. Three days after leaving Miletus the sacred company reached Patara, a town at the southwestern corner of Asia Minor, where the coast begins to turn round towards the east. Here St. Paul found a trading ship sailing direct to Tyre and Palestine, and therefore with all haste transferred himself and his party into it. The ship seems to have been on the point of sailing, which suited St. Paul so much the better, anxious as he was to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. The journey direct from Patara to Tyre is about three hundred and fifty miles, a three days’ sail under favourable circumstances for the trading vessels of the ancients, and the circumstances were favourable. The northwest wind is to this day the prevailing wind in the eastern Mediterranean during the late spring and early summer season, and the northwest wind would be the most favourable wind for an ancient trader almost entirely depending on an immense mainsail for its motive power. With such a wind the merchantmen of that age could travel at the rate of a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles a day, and would therefore traverse the distance between Patara and Tyre in three days, the time we have specified. When the vessel arrived at Tyre St. Paul sought out the local Christian congregation. The ship was chartered to bring a cargo probably of wheat or wine to Tyre, inasmuch as Tyre was a purely commercial city, and the territory naturally belonging to it was utterly unable to finish it with necessary provisions, as we have already noted on the occasion of Herod Agrippa’s death. A week, therefore, was spent in unloading the cargo, during which St. Paul devoted himself to the instruction of the local Christian Church. After a week’s close communion with this eminent servant of God, the Tyrian Christians, like the elders of Ephesus and Miletus, with their wives and children accompanied him till they reached the shore, where they commended one another in prayer to God’s care and blessing. From Tyre he sailed to Ptolemais, thirty miles distant. There again he found another Christian congregation, with whom he tarried one day, and then leaving the ship proceeded by the great coast road to Caesarea, a town which he already knew right well, and to which he was so soon to return as a prisoner in bonds. At Caesarea there must now have been a very considerable Christian congregation. In Caesarea Philip the Evangelist lived and ministered permanently. There too resided his daughters, eminent as teachers, and exercising in their preaching or prophetical functions a great influence among the very mixed female population of the political capital of Palestine. St. Paul and St. Luke abode in Caesarea several days in the house of Philip the Evangelist. He did not wish to arrive in Jerusalem till close on the Feast of Pentecost, and owing to the fair winds with which he had been favoured he must have had a week or more to stay in Caesarea. Here Agabus again appears upon the scene. Fourteen years before he had predicted the famine which led St. Paul to pay a visit to Jerusalem when bringing up the alms of the Antiochene Church to assist the poor brethren at Jerusalem, and now he predicts the Apostle’s approaching captivity. The prospect moved the Church so much that the brethren besought St. Paul to change his mind and not enter the Holy City. But his mind was made up, and nothing would dissuade him from celebrating the Feast as he had all along proposed; He went up therefore to Jerusalem, lodging with Mnason, "an early disciple," as the Revised Version puts it, one therefore who traced his Christian convictions back probably to the celebrated Pentecost a quarter of a century earlier, when the Holy Ghost first displayed His supernatural power in converting multitudes of human souls. Next day he went to visit James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, who received him warmly, grasped his position, warned him of the rumours which had been industriously and falsely circulated as to his opposition to the Law of Moses, even in the case of born Jews, and gave him some prudent advice as to his course of action. St. James recommended that St. Paul should unite himself with certain Christian Nazarites, and perform the Jewish rites usual in such cases. A Nazarite, as we have already mentioned, when he took the Nazarite vow for a limited time after some special deliverance vouchsafed to him, allowed his hair to grow till he could cut it off in the Temple, and have it burned in the fire of the sacrifices offered up on his behalf. These sacrifices were very expensive, as will be seen at once by a reference to Numbers 6:13-18, where they are prescribed at full length, and it was always regarded as a mark of patriotic piety when any stranger coming to Jerusalem offered to defray the necessary charges for the poorer Jews, and thus completed the ceremonies connected with the Nazarite vow. St. James advised St. Paul to adopt this course, to unite himself with the members of the local Christian Church who were unable to defray the customary expenses, to pay their charges, join with them in the sacrifices, and thus publicly proclaim to those who opposed him that, though he differed from them as regards the Gentiles, holding in that matter with St. James himself and with the apostles, yet as regards the Jews, whether at Jerusalem or throughout the world at large, he was totally misrepresented when men asserted that he taught the Jews to reject the Law of Moses. St. Paul was guided by the advice of James, and proceeded to complete the ceremonial prescribed for the Nazarites. This was the turning-point of his fate. Jerusalem was then thronged with strangers from every part of the world. Ephesus and the province of Asia, as a great commercial centre, and therefore a great Jewish resort, furnished a very large contingent. To these, then, Paul was well known as an enthusiastic Christian teacher, toward whom the synagogues of Ephesus felt the bitterest hostility. They had often plotted against him at Ephesus, as St. Paul himself told the elders in his address at Miletus, but had hitherto failed to effect their purpose. Now, however, they seemed to see their chance. They thought they had a popular cry and a legal accusation under which he might be done to death under the forms of law. These Ephesian Jews had seen him in the city in company with Trophimus, an uncircumcised Christian belonging to their own city, one therefore whose presence within the temple was a capital offence, even according to Roman law. They raised a cry therefore that he had defiled the Holy Place by bringing into it an uncircumcised-Greek; and thus roused the populace to seize the Apostle, drag him from the sacred precincts, and murder him. During the celebration of the Feasts the Roman sentinels, stationed upon the neighbouring tower of Antonia which overlooked the Temple courts, watched the assembled crowds most narrowly, apprehensive of a riot. As soon therefore as the first symptoms of an outbreak occurred, the alarm was given, the chief captain Lysias hurried to the spot, and St. Paul was rescued for the moment. At the request of the Apostle, who was being carried up into the castle, he was allowed to address the multitude from the stairs. They listened to the narrative of his conversion very quietly till he came to tell of the vision God vouchsafed to him in the Temple some twenty years before, warning him to leave Jerusalem, when at the words "Depart, for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles," all their pent-up rage and prise and national jealousy burst forth anew. St. Paul had been addressing them in the Hebrew language, which the chief captain understood not, and the mob probably expressed their rage and passion in the same language. The chief captain ordered St. Paul to be examined by flogging to know why they were so outrageous against him. More fortunate, however, on this occasion than at Philippi, he claimed his privilege as a Roman citizen, and escaped the torture. The chief captain was still in ignorance of the prisoner’s crime, and therefore be brought him the very next day before the Sanhedrin, when St. Paul by a happy stroke caused such a division between the Sadducees and Pharisees that the chief captain was again obliged to intervene and rescue the prisoner from the contending factions. Next day, however, the Jews formed a conspiracy to murder the Apostle, which his nephew discovered and revealed to St. Paul and to Claudius Lysias, who that same night despatched him to Caesarea.

All these events, from his conference with James to his arrival under guard at Caesarea, cannot have covered more than eight days at the utmost, and yet the story of them extends from the middle of the twenty-first chapter to the close of the twenty-third, while the record of twelve months’ hard work preaching, writing, organising is embraced within the first six verses of the twentieth chapter, showing how very different was St. Luke’s narrative of affairs, according as he was present or absent when they were transacted.

From the beginning of the twenty-fourth chapter to the close of the twenty-sixth is taken up with the account of St. Paul’s trials, at first before Felix, and then before Festus, his successor in the procuratorship of Palestine. Just let us summarise the course of. events and distinguish between them. St. Paul was despatched by Claudius Lysias to Felix, accompanied by a letter in which he contrives to put the best construction on his own actions, representing himself as specially anxious about St. Paul because he was a Roman citizen, on which account indeed he describes himself as rescuing him from the clutches of the mob. After the lapse of five days St. Paul was brought up before Felix and accused by the Jews of three serious crimes in the eyes of Roman law as administered in Palestine. First, he was a mover of seditions among the Jews; second, a ringleader of a new sect, the Nazarenes, unknown to Jewish law; and third, a profaner of the Temple, contrary to the law which the Romans themselves had sanctioned. On all these points Paul challenged investigation and demanded proof, asking where were the Jews from Asia who had accused him of profaning the Temple. The Jews doubtless thought that Paul was a common Jew, who would be yielded up to their clamour by the procurator, and knew nothing of his Roman citizenship. Their want of witnesses brought about their failure, but did not lead to St. Paul’s release. He was committed to the custody of a centurion, and freedom of access was granted to his friends. In this state St. Paul continued two full years, from midsummer 58 to the same period of A.D. 60, when Felix was superseded by Festus. During these two years Felix often conversed with St. Paul. Felix was a thoroughly bad man. He exercised, as a historian of that time said of him, "the power of a king with the mind of a slave." He was tyrannical, licentious, and corrupt, and hoped to be bribed by St. Paul, when he would have set him at liberty. At this period of his life St. Paul twice came in contact with the Herodian house, which thenceforth disappears from sacred history. Felix about the period of St. Paul’s arrest enticed Drusilla, the great-granddaughter of Herod the Great, from her husband through the medium, as many think, of Simon Magus. Drusilla was very young and very beautiful, and, like all the Herodian women, very wicked. Felix was an open adulterer, therefore, and it is no wonder that when Paul reasoned before the guilty pair concerning righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come, conscience should have smitten them and Felix should have trembled. St. Paul had another opportunity of bearing witness before this wicked and bloodstained family. Festus succeeded Felix as procurator of Palestine about June, A.D. 60. Within the following month Agrippa II, the son of the Herod Agrippa who had died the terrible death at Caesarea of which the twelfth chapter tells, came to Caesarea to pay his respects unto the new governor. Agrippa was ruler of the kingdom of Chalcis, a district north of Palestine and about the Lebanon Range. He was accompanied by his sister Bernice, who afterwards became the mistress of Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem in the last great siege. Festus had already heard St. Paul’s case, and had allowed his appeal unto Caesar. He wished, however, to have his case investigated before two Jewish experts, Agrippa and Bernice, who could instruct his own ignorance on the charges laid against him by the Jews, enabling him to write a more satisfactory report for the Emperor’s guidance. He brought St. Paul therefore before them, and gave the great Christian champion another opportunity of bearing witness for his Master before a family which now for more than sixty years had been more or less mixed up, but never for their own blessing, with Christian history. After a period of two years and three months’ detention, varied by different public appearances, St. Paul was despatched to Rome to stand his trial and make his defence before the Emperor Nero, whose name has become a synonym for vice, brutality, and self-will.

II. We have now given a connected outline of St. Paul’s history extending over a period of more than two years. Let us omit his formal defences, which have already come under our notice, and take for our meditation a number of points which are peculiar to the narrative.

We have in the story of the voyage, arrest, and imprisonment of St. Paul, many circumstances which illustrate God’s methods of action in the world, or else His dealings with the spiritual life. Let us take a few instances. First, then, we direct attention to the steady though quiet progress of the Christian faith as revealed in these chapters. St. Paul landed at Tyre, and from Tyre he proceeded some thirty miles south to Ptolemais. These are both of them towns which have never hitherto occurred in our narrative as places of Christian activity. St. Paul and St. Peter and Barnabas and the other active leaders of the Church must often have passed through these towns, and wherever they went they strove to make known the tidings of the gospel. But we hear nothing in the Acts, and tradition tells us nothing of when or by whom the Christian Church was founded in these localities.

We get glimpses, too, of the ancient organisation of the Church, but only glimpses; we have no complete statement, because St. Luke was writing for a man who lived amidst it, and could supply the gaps which his informant left. The presbyters are mentioned at Miletus, and Agabus the prophet appeared at Antioch years before, and now again he appears at Caesarea, where Philip the Evangelist and his daughters the prophetesses appear. Prophets and prophesying are not confined to Palestine and Antioch, though the Acts tells us nothing of them as existing elsewhere. The Epistle to Corinth shows us that the prophets occupied a very important place in that Christian community. Prophesying indeed was principally preaching at Corinth; but it did not exclude prediction, and that after the ancient Jewish method, by action as well as by word, for Agabus took St. Paul’s girdle, and binding his own hands and feet declared that the Holy Ghost told him, "So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that own-eth this girdle, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles." But how little we know of the details of the upgrowth of the Church in all save the more prominent places! How entirely ignorant we are, for instance, of the methods by which the gospel spread to Tyre and Ptolemais and Puteoli! Here we find in the Acts the fulfilment of our Lord’s words as reported in Mark 4:26 : "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how." It was with the last and grander temple of God as it was with the first. Its foundations were laid, and its walls were built, not with sound of axe and hammer, but in the penitence of humbled souls, in the godly testimony of sanctified spirits, in the earnest lives of holy men hidden from the scoffing world, known only to the Almighty.

Again, we notice the advice given by James and the course actually adopted by St.. Paul when he arrived at Jerusalem. It has the appearance of compromise of truth, and yet it has the appearance merely, not the reality of compromise. It was in effect wise and sound advice, and such as teaches lessons useful for our own guidance in life. We have already set forth St. Paul’s conception of Jewish rites and ceremonies. They were nothing in the world one way or another, as viewed from the Divine standpoint. Their presence did not help on the work of man’s salvation; their absence did not detract from it. The Apostle therefore took part in them freely enough, as when he celebrated the passover and the days of unleavened bread at Philippi, viewing them as mere national rites. He had been successful in the very highest degree in converting to this view even the highest and strictest members of the Jerusalem Church. St. James, in advising St. Paul how to act on this occasion, when such prejudices had been excited against him, clearly shows that he had come round to St. Paul’s view. He tells St. Paul that the multitude or body of the Judaeo-Christian Church at Jerusalem had been excited against him, because they had been informed that he taught the Jews of the Dispersion to forsake Moses, the very thing St. Paul did not do. St. James grasped, however, St. Paul’s view that Moses and the Levitical Law might be good things for the Jews, but had no relation to the Gentiles, and must not be imposed on them. St. James had taught this view ten years earlier at the Apostolic Council. His opinions and teaching had percolated downwards, and the majority of the Jerusalem Church now held the same view as regards the Gentiles, but were as strong as ever and as patriotic as ever so far as the Jews were concerned, and the obligation of the Jewish Law upon them and their children. St. Paul had carried his point as regards Gentile freedom. And now there came a time when he had in turn to show consideration and care for Jewish prejudices, and act out his own principle that circumcision was nothing and uncircumcision was nothing. Concessions, in fact, were not to be all on one side, and St. Paul had now to make a concession. The Judaeo-Christian congregations of Jerusalem were much excited, and St. Paul by a certain course of conduct, perfectly innocent and harmless, could pacify their excited patriotic feelings, and demonstrate to them that he was still a true, a genuine, and not a renegade Jew. It was but a little thing that St. James advised and public feeling demanded. He had but to join himself to a party of Nazarites and pay their expenses, and thus Paul would place himself en rapport with the Mother Church of Christendom. St. Paul acted wisely, charitably, and in a Christlike spirit when he consented to do as St. James advised. St. Paul was always eminently prudent. There are some religious men who seem to think that to advise a wise or prudent course is all the same as to advise a wicked or unprincipled course. They seem to consider success in any course as a clear evidence of sin, and failure as a proof of honesty and true principle. Concession, however, is not the same as unworthy compromise. It is our duty in life to see and make our course of conduct as fruitful and as successful as possible. Concession on little points has a wondrous power in smoothing the path of action and gaining true success. Many an honest man ruins a good cause simply because he cannot distinguish, as St. Paul did, things necessary and essential from things accidental and trivial. Pigheaded obstinacy, to use a very homely but a very expressive phrase, which indeed is often only disguised pride, is a great enemy to the peace and harmony of societies and churches. St. Paul displayed great boldness here. He was not afraid of being misrepresented, that ghost which frightens so many a popularity hunter from the course which is true and right. How easily his fierce Opponents, the men who had gone to Corinth and Galatia to oppose him, might misrepresent his action in joining himself to the Nazarites! They were the extreme men of the Jerusalem Church. They were the men for whom the decisions of the Apostolic Council had no weight, and who held still as of old that unless a man be circumcised he could not be saved. How easily, I say, these men could despatch their emissaries, who should proclaim that their opponent Paul had conceded all their demands and was himself observing the law at Jerusalem. St. Paul was not afraid of this misrepresentation, but boldly took the course which seemed to him right and true, and charitable, despite the malicious tongues of his adversaries. The Apostle of the Gentiles left us an example which many still require. How many a man is kept from adopting a course that is charitable and tends to peace and edification, solely because he is afraid of what opponents may say, or how they may twist and misrepresent his action. St. Paul was possessed with none of this moral cowardice which specially flourishes among so-called party-leaders, men who, instead of leading, are always led and governed by the opinions of their followers. St. Paul simply determined in his conscience what was right, and then fearlessly acted out his determination.

Some persons perhaps would argue that the result of his action showed that he was wrong and had unworthily compromised the cause of Christian freedom. They think that had he not consented to appear as a Nazarite in the Temple no riot would have occurred, his arrest would have been avoided, and the course of history might have been very different. But here we would join issue on the spot. The results of his action vindicated his Christian wisdom. The great body of the Jerusalem Church were convinced of his sincerity and realised his position. He maintained his influence over them, which had been seriously imperilled previously, and thus helped on the course of development which had been going on. Ten years before the advocates of Gentile freedom were but a small body. Now the vast majority of the local church at Jerusalem held fast to this idea, while still clinging fast to the obligation laid upon the Jews to observe the law. St. Paul did his best to maintain his friendship and alliance with the Jerusalem Church. To put himself right with them he travelled up to Jerusalem, when fresh fields and splendid prospects were opening up for him in the West. For this purpose he submitted to several days’ restraint and attendance in the Temple, and the results vindicated his determination. The Jerusalem Church continued the same course of orderly development, and when, ten years later, Jerusalem was threatened with destruction, the Christian congregations alone rose above the narrow bigoted patriotism which bound the Jews to the Holy City. The Christians alone realised that the day of the Mosaic Law was at length passed, and, retiring to the neighbouring city of Pella, escaped the destruction which awaited the fanatical adherents of the Law and the Temple.

Another answer, too, may be made to this objection. It was not his action in the matter of the Nazarites that brought about the riot and the arrest and his consequent imprisonment. It was the hostility of the Jews of Asia; and they would have assailed him whenever and wherever they met him. Studying the matter too, even in view of results, we should draw the opposite conclusion. God Himself approved his course. A Divine vision was vouchsafed to him in the guard-room of Antonia, after he had twice experienced Jewish violence, and bestowed upon him the approbation of Heaven: "The night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer; for as thou hast testified concerning Me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome." His courageous and at the same time charitable action was vindicated by its results on the Jerusalem Church, by the sanction of Christ Himself, and lastly, by its blessed results upon the development of the Church at large in leading St. Paul to Rome, in giving him a wider and more influential sphere for his efforts, and in affording him leisure to write epistles like those to Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae, which have been so instructive and useful for the Church of all ages.

Another point which has exercised men’s minds is found in St. Paul’s attitude and words when brought before the Sanhedrin on the day after his arrest. The story is told in the opening verses of the twenty-third chapter. Let us quote them, as they vividly present the difficulty: "And Paul, looking steadfastly on the council, said, Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day. And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: and sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? And Paul said, I wist not, brethren, that he was high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people."

Two difficulties here present themselves.

(a) There is St. Paul’s language, which certainly seems wanting in Christian meekness, and not exactly modelled after the example of Christ, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, and laid down in His Sermon on the Mount a law of suffering to which St. Paul does not here conform. But this is only a difficulty for those who have formed a superhuman estimate of St. Paul against which we have several times protested, and against which this very book of the Acts seems to take special care to warn its readers. If people will make the Apostle as sinless and as perfect as our Lord, they will of course be surprised at his language on this occasion. But if they regard him in the light in which St. Luke portrays him, as a man of like passions and infirmities with themselves, then they will feel no difficulty in the fact that St. Paul’s natural temper was roused at the brutal and illegal command to smite a helpless prisoner on the mouth because he had made a statement which a member of the court did not relish. This passage seems to me not a difficulty, but a divinely guided passage witnessing to the inspiring influence of the Holy Ghost, and inserted to chasten our wandering fancy, which would exalt the Apostle to a position equal to that which rightly belongs to his Divine Master alone.

(b) Then there is a second difficulty. Some have thought that St. Paul told a lie in this passage, and that, when defending himself from the charge of unscriptural insolence to the high priest, he merely pretended ignorance of his person, saying, "I wist not, brethren, that he was high priest." The older commentators devised various explanations of this passage. Dr. John Lightfoot, in his "Horae Hebraicae," treating of this verse, sums them all up as follows. Either St. Paul means that he did not recognise Ananias as high priest because he did not lawfully occupy the office, or else because Christ was now the only high priest; or else because there had been so many and so frequent changes that as a matter of fact he did not know who was the actual high priest. None of these is a satisfactory explanation. Mr. Lewin offers what strikes me as the most natural explanation, considering all the circumstances. Ananias was appointed high priest about 47, continued in office till 59, and was killed in the beginning of the great Jewish war. He was a thoroughly historical character, and his high priesthood is guaranteed for us by the testimony of Josephus, who tells us of his varied fortunes and of his tragic death. But St. Paul never probably once saw him, as he was absent from Jerusalem, except for one brief visit, all the time while he enjoyed supreme office.

Now the Sanhedrin consisted of seventy-one judges, they sat in a large hall with a crowd of scribes and pupils in front of them, and the high priest, as we have already pointed out, was not necessarily president or chairman. St. Paul was very short-sighted, and the ophthalmia under which he continually suffered was probably much intensified by the violent treatment he had experienced the day before. Could anything be more natural than that a short-sighted man should not recognise in such a crowd the particular person who had uttered this very brief, but very tyrannical command, "Smite him on the mouth"? Surely an impartial review of St. Paul’s life shows him ever to have been at least a man of striking courage, and therefore one who would never have descended to cloak his own hasty words with even the shadow of an untruth!

Again, the readiness and quickness of St. Paul in seizing upon every opportunity of escape have important teaching for us. Upon four different occasions at this crisis he displayed this characteristic. Let us note them for our guidance. When he was rescued by the chief captain and was carried into the castle, the captain ordered him to be examined by scourging to elicit the true cause of the riot; St. Paul then availed himself of his privilege as a Roman citizen to escape that torture. When he stood before the council he perceived the old division between the Pharisees and the Sadducees to be still in existence, which he had known long ago when he was himself connected with it. He skilfully availed himself of that circumstance to raise dissension among his opponents. He grasped the essential principle which lay at the basis of his teaching, and that was the doctrine of the Resurrection and the assertion of the reality of the spiritual world. Without that doctrine Christianity and Christian teaching were utterly meaningless, and in that doctrine Pharisees and Christians were united. Dropping the line of defence he was about to offer, which probably would have proceeded to show how true to conscience and to Divine light had been his course of life, he cried out, "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees: touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question." Grotius, an old and learned commentator, dealing with Acts 23:6, has well summed up the principles on which St. Paul acted on this occasion in the following words: "St. Paul was not lacking in human prudence, making use of which for the service of the gospel, he intermingled the wisdom of the serpent with the gentleness of the dove, and thus utilised the dissensions of his enemies," Yet once more we see the same tact in operation. After the meeting of the Sanhedrin and his rescue from out of its very midst, a plot was formed to assassinate him, of which he was informed by his nephew. Then again St. Paul did not let things slide, trusting in the Divine care alone. He knew right well that God demanded of men of faith that they should be fellow-workers with God and lend Him their co-operation. He knew too the horror which the Roman authorities had of riot and of all illegal measures; he despatched his nephew therefore to the chief captain, and by his readiness of resource saved himself from imminent danger. Lastly, we find the same characteristic trait coming out at Caesarea. His experience of Roman rule taught him the anxiety of new governors to please the people among whom they came. He knew that Festus would be anxious to gratify the Jewish authorities in any way he possibly could. They were very desirous to have the Apostle transferred from Caesarea to Jerusalem, sure that in some way or another they could there dispose of him. Knowing therefore the dangerous position in which he stood, St. Paul’s readiness and tact again came to his help. He knew Roman law thoroughly well. He knew that as a Roman citizen he had one resource left by which in one brief sentence he could transfer himself out of the jurisdiction of Sanhedrin and Procurator alike, and of this he availed himself at the critical moment, pronouncing the magic words. Caesarem Appello ("I appeal unto Caesar"). St. Paul left in all these cases a healthy example which the Church urgently required in subsequent years. He had no morbid craving after suffering or death. No man ever lived in a closer communion with his God, or in a more steadfast readiness to depart and be with Christ. But he knew that it was his duty to remain at his post till the Captain of his salvation gave a clear note of withdrawal, and that clear note was only given when every avenue of escape was cut off. St. Paul therefore used his knowledge and his tact in order to ascertain the Master’s will and discover whether it was His wish that His faithful servant should depart or tarry, yet awhile for the discharge of his earthly duties. I have said that this was an example necessary for the Church in subsequent ages. The question of flight in persecution became a very practical one as soon as the Roman Empire assumed an attitude definitely hostile to the Church. The more extreme and fanatical party not only refused to take any measures to secure their safety or escape death, but rather rushed headlong upon it, and upbraided those as traitors and renegades who tried in any. way to avoid suffering. From the earliest times, from the days of Ignatius of Antioch himself, we see this morbid tendency displaying itself; while the Church in the person of several of its greatest leaders-men like Polycarp and Cyprian, who themselves retired from impending danger till the Roman authorities discovered them-showed that St. Paul’s wiser teaching and example were not thrown away. Quietism was a view which two centuries ago made a great stir both in England and France, and seems embodied to some extent in certain modern forms of thought. It taught that believers should lie quite passive in God’s hands and make no effort for themselves. Quietism would never have found a follower in the vigorous mind of St. Paul, who proved himself through all those trials and vicissitudes of more than two years ever ready with some new device wherewith to meet the hatred of his foes.

III. We notice lastly in the narrative of St. Paul’s imprisonment his interviews with and his testimony before the members of the house of Herod. St. Peter had experience of the father of Herod Agrippa, and now St. Paul comes into contact with the children, Agrippa, Drusilla, and Bernice. And thus it came about. Felix the procurator, as we have already explained, was a very bad man, and had enticed Drusilla from her husband. He doubtless told her of the Jewish prisoner who lay a captive in the city where she was living. The Herods were a clever race, and they knew all about Jewish hopes and Messianic expectations, and they ever seem to have been haunted by a certain curiosity concerning the new sect of the Nazarenes. One Herod desired for a long time to see Jesus Christ, and was delighted when Pilate gratified his longing. Drusilla, doubtless, was equally curious, and easily persuaded her husband to gratify her desire. We therefore read in Acts 24:24, "But after certain days, Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, which was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus."

Neither of them calculated on the kind of man they had to do with. St. Paul knew all the circumstances of the case. He adapted his speech thereto. He made a powerful appeal to the conscience of the guilty pair. He reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come, and beneath his weighty words Felix trembled. His convictions were roused. He experienced a transient season of penitence, such as touched another guilty member of the Herodian house who feared John and did many things gladly to win his approval. But habits of sin had grasped Felix too firmly. He temporised with his conscience. He put off the day of salvation when it was dawning on him, and his words, "Go thy way for this time, and when I have a convenient season I will call thee unto me," became the typical language of all those souls for whom procrastination, want of decision, trifling with spiritual feelings, have been the omens and the causes of eternal ruin.

But Felix and Drusilla were not the only members of the Herodian house with whom Paul came in contact. Felix and Drusilla left Palestine when two years of St. Paul’s imprisonment had elapsed. Festus, another procurator, followed, and began his course as all the Roman rulers of Palestine began theirs. The Jews, when Festus visited Jerusalem, besought him to deliver the prisoner lying bound at Caesarea to the judgment of their Sanhedrin. Festus, all-powerful as a Roman governor usually was, dared not treat a Roman citizen thus without his own consent, and when that consent was asked Paul at once refused, knowing right well the intentions of the Jews, and appealed unto Caesar. A Roman governor, however, would not send a prisoner to the judgment of the Emperor without stating the crime imputed to him. Just at that moment Herod Agrippa, king of Chalcis and of the district of Ituraea, together with his sister Bernice, appeared on the scene. He was a Jew, and was well acquainted therefore with the accusations brought against the Apostle, and could inform the procurator what report he should send to the Emperor. Festus therefore brought Paul before them, and gave him another opportunity of expounding the faith of Jesus Christ and the law of love and purity which that faith involved to a family who ever treated that law with profound contempt. St. Paul availed himself of that opportunity. He addressed his whole discourse to the king, and that discourse was typical of those he addressed to Jewish audiences. It was like the sermon delivered to the Jews in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia in one important aspect. Both discourses gathered round the resurrection of Jesus Christ as their central idea. St. Paul began his address before Agrippa with that doctrine, and he ended with the same. The hope of Israel, towards which their continuous worship tended, was the resurrection of the dead. That was St. Paul’s opening idea. The same note lay beneath the narrative of his own conversion, and then he turned back to his original statement that the Risen Christ was the hope of Israel and of the world taught by Moses and proclaimed by prophets. But it was all in vain as regards Agrippa and Bernice. The Herods were magnificent, clever, beautiful. But they were of the earth, earthy. Agrippa said indeed to Paul, "With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian." But it was not souls like his for whom the gospel message was intended. The Herods knew nothing of the burden of sin or the keen longing of souls desirous of holiness and of God. They were satisfied with the present transient scene, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Agrippa’s father when he lay a-dying at Caesarea consoled himself with the reflection that though his career was prematurely cut short, yet at any rate he had lived a splendid life. And such as the parent had been, such were the children. King Agrippa and his sister Bernice were true types of the stony-ground hearers, with whom "the care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word." And they choked the word so effectually in his case, even when taught by St. Paul, that the only result upon Agrippa, as St. Luke reports it, was this: "Agrippa said unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Acts 21:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/acts-21.html.

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