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fire in the high priest's chamber.

The lesson is - trust your own experience, whatever people may have to
say against it. If you have found that Jesus Christ can help you, and
has loved you, and that your sins have been forgiven, because you have
trusted in Him, do not let anybody laugh or talk you out of that
conviction. If you cannot argue, do like Rhoda, 'constantly affirm that
it is so.' That is the right answer, especially if you can say to the
antagonistic party, 'Have you been down to the door, then, to see?' And
if they have to say 'No!' then the right answer is, 'You go and look as
I did, and you will come back with the same belief which I have.'

So at last they open the door and there he stands. Peter's hammer,
hammer, hammer at the gate is wonderfully given in the story. It goes
on as a kind of running accompaniment through the talk between Rhoda
and the friends. It might have put a stop to the conversation, one
would have thought. But Another stands at the door knocking, still more
persistently, still more patiently. 'Behold! I stand at the door and
knock. If any man open the door I will come in.'


'But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace,
declared unto them how the Lord had brought him forth out of the
prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the
brethren, And he departed, and went into another place.' - ACTS xii. 17.

When the angel 'departed from him,' Peter had to fall back on his own
wits, and they served him well. He 'considered the thing,' and resolved
to make for the house of Mary. He does not seem to have intended to
remain there, so dangerously near Herod, but merely to have told its
inmates of his deliverance, and then to have hidden himself somewhere,
till the heat of the hunt after him was abated. Apparently he did not
go into the house at all, but talked to the brethren, when they came
trooping after Rhoda to open the gate. The signs of haste in the latter
part of the story, where Peter has to think and act for himself,
contrast strikingly with the majestic leisureliness of the action of
the angel, who gave his successive commands to him to dress completely,
as if careless of the sleeping legionaries who might wake at any
moment. There was need for haste, for the night was wearing thin, and
the streets of Jerusalem were no safe promenade for a condemned
prisoner, escaped from his guards.

We do not deal here with the scene in Mary's house and at the gate. We
only note, in a word, the touch of nature in Rhoda's forgetting to open
'for gladness,' and so leaving Peter in peril, if a detachment of his
guards had already been told off to chase him. Equally true to nature,
alas, is the incredulity of the praying 'many,' when the answer to
their prayers was sent to them. They had rather believe that the poor
girl was 'mad' or that, for all their praying, Peter was dead, and this
was his 'angel,' than that their intense prayer had been so swiftly and
completely answered. Is their behaviour not a mirror in which we may
see our own?

Very like Peter, as well as very intelligible in the circumstances, is
it that he 'continued knocking,' Well he might, and evidently his
energetic fusillade of blows was heard even above the clatter of eager
tongues, discussing Rhoda's astonishing assertions. Some one, at last,
seems to have kept his head sufficiently to suggest that perhaps,
instead of disputing whether these were true or not, it might be well
to go to the door and see. So they all went in a body, Rhoda being
possibly afraid to go alone, and others afraid to stay behind, and
there they saw his veritable self. But we notice that there is no sign
of his being taken in and refreshed or cared for. He waved an
imperative hand, to quiet the buzz of talk, spoke two or three brief
words, and departed.

I. Note Peter's account of his deliverance.

We have often had occasion to remark that the very keynote of this Book
of Acts is the working of Christ from heaven, which to its writer is as
real and efficient as was His work on earth. Peter here traces his
deliverance to 'the Lord.' He does not stay to mention the angel. His
thoughts went beyond the instrument to the hand which wielded it. Nor
does he seem to have been at all astonished at his deliverance. His
moment of bewilderment, when he did not know whether he was dreaming or
awake, soon passed, and as soon as 'the sober certainty of his waking
bliss' settled on his mind, his deliverance seemed to him perfectly
natural. What else was it to be expected that 'the Lord' would do? Was
it not just like Him? There was nothing to be astonished at, there was
everything to be thankful for. That is how Christian hearts should
receive the deliverances which the Lord is still working for them.

II. Note Peter's message to the brethren.

James, the Lord's brother, was not an Apostle. That he should have been
named to receive the message indicates that already he held some
conspicuous position, perhaps some office, in the Church. It may also
imply that there were no Apostles in Jerusalem then. We note also that
the 'many' who were gathered in Mary's house can have been only a small
part of the whole. We here get a little glimpse into the conditions of
the life of a persecuted Church, which a sympathetic imagination can
dwell on till it is luminous. Such gatherings as would attract notice
had to be avoided, and what meetings were held had to be in private
houses and with shut doors, through which entrance was not easy. Mary's
'door' had a 'gate' in it, and only that smaller postern, which
admitted but one at a time, was opened to visitors, and that after
scrutiny. But though assemblies were restricted, communications were
kept up, and by underground ways information of events important to the
community spread through its members. The consciousness of brotherhood
was all the stronger because of the common danger, the universal peril
had not made the brethren selfish, but sympathetic. We may note, too,
how great a change had come since the time when the Christians were in
favour with all the people, and may reflect how fickle are the world's
smiles for Christ's servants.

III. Note Peter's disappearance.

All that is said of it is that he 'went into another place.' Probably
Luke did not know where he went. It would be prudent at the time to
conceal it, and the habit of concealment may have survived the need for
it. But two points suggest themselves in regard to the Apostle's
flight. There may be a better use for an Apostle than to kill him, and
Christ's boldest witnesses are sometimes bound to save themselves by
fleeing into another city. To hide oneself 'till the calamity be
overpast' may be rank cowardice or commendable prudence. All depends on
the circumstances of each case. Prudence is an element in courage, and
courage without it is fool-hardiness. There are outward dangers from
which it is Christian duty to run, and there are outward dangers which
it is Christian duty to face. There are inward temptations which it is
best to avoid, as there are others which have to be fought to the
death. Peter was as brave and braver when he went and hid himself, than
when he boasted, 'Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I!' A
morbid eagerness for martyrdom wrought much harm in the Church at a
later time. The primitive Church was free from it.

But we must not omit to note that here Peter is dropped out of the
history, and is scarcely heard of any more. We have a glimpse of him in
chapter xv., at the Council in Jerusalem, but, with that exception,
this is the last mention of him in Acts. How little this Book cares for
its heroes! Or rather how it has only one Hero, and one Name which it
celebrates, the name of that Lord to whom Peter ascribed his
deliverance, and of whom he himself declared that 'there is none other
Name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.'







TO THE REGIONS BEYOND (Acts xiii. 1-13)


JOHN MARK (Acts xiii. 13)


LUTHER - A STONE ON THE CAIRN (Acts xiii. 36, 37)

REJECTERS AND RECEIVERS (Acts xiii. 44-52; xiv. 1-7)

UNWORTHY OF LIFE (Acts xiii. 46)

'FULL OF THE HOLY GHOST' (Acts xiii. 52)

DEIFIED AND STONED (Acts xiv. 11-22)

DREAM AND REALITY (Acts xiv. 11)

'THE DOOR OF FAITH' (Acts xiv. 27)



A GOOD MAN'S FAULTS (Acts xv. 37, 38)


PAUL AT PHILIPPI (Acts xvi. 13, R.V.)

THE RIOT AT PHILIPPI (Acts xvi. 19-34)



PAUL AT ATHENS (Acts xvii. 22-34)

THE MAN WHO IS JUDGE (Acts xvii. 31)

PAUL AT CORINTH (Acts xviii. 1-11)


GALLIO (Acts xviii. 14, 15)

TWO FRUITFUL YEARS (Acts xix. 1-12)



PARTING COUNSELS (Acts xx. 22-85)

A FULFILLED ASPIRATION (Acts xx. 24; 2 Tim. iv. 7)

PARTING WORDS (Acts xx. 32)




AN OLD DISCIPLE (Acts xxi. 16)

PAUL IN THE TEMPLE (Acts xxi. 27-39)


ROME PROTECTS PAUL (Acts xxii. 17-30)

CHRIST'S WITNESSES (Acts xxiii. 11)

A PLOT DETECTED (Acts xxiii. 12-22)

A LOYAL TRIBUTE (Acts xxiv. 2, 3)

PAUL BEFORE FELIX (Acts xxiv. 10-25)

FELIX BEFORE PAUL (Acts xxiv. 25)


FAITH IN CHRIST (Acts xxvi. 18)


'THE HEAVENLY VISION' (Acts xxvi. 19)

'ME A CHRISTIAN!' (Acts xxvi. 28)

TEMPEST AND TRUST (Acts xxvii 13-26)


A TOTAL WRECK, ALL HANDS SAVED (Acts xxvii. 30-44)

AFTER THE WRECK (Acts xxviii. 1-16)

THE LAST GLIMPSE OF PAUL (Acts xxviii. 17-31)

PAUL IN ROME (Acts xxviii. 30, 31)


'Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and
teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of
Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch,
and Saul. 2. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost
said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have
called them. 3. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their
hands on them, they sent them away. A. So they, being sent forth by the
Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to
Cyprus. 5. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God
in the synagogues of the Jews; and they had also John to their
minister. 6. And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they
found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was
Bar-jesus: 7. Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus,
a prudent man, who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear
the word of God. 8. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by
interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from
the faith. 9. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the
Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, 10. And said, O full of all subtilty
and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all
righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the
Lord? 11. And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou
shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there
fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to
lead him by the hand. 12. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done,
believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. 13. Now when
Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in
Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.' - ACTS
xiii. 1-13.

We stand in this passage at the beginning of a great step forward.
Philip and Peter had each played a part in the gradual expansion of the
church beyond the limits of Judaism; but it was from the church at
Antioch that the messengers went forth who completed the process. Both
its locality and its composition made that natural.

I. The solemn designation of the missionaries is the first point in the
narrative. The church at Antioch was not left without signs of Christ's
grace and presence. It had its band of 'prophets and teachers.' As
might be expected, four of the five named are Hellenists, - that is,
Jews born in Gentile lands, and speaking Gentile languages. Barnabas
was a Cypriote, Simeon's byname of Niger ('Black') was probably given
because of his dark complexion, which was probably caused by his birth
in warmer lands. He may have been a North African, as Lucius of Cyrene
was. Saul was from Tarsus, and only Manaen remains to represent the
pure Palestinian Jew. His had been a strange course, from being
foster-brother of the Herod who killed John to becoming a teacher in
the church at Antioch. Barnabas was the leader of the little group, and
the younger Pharisee from Tarsus, who had all along been Barnabas's
_protege_, brought up the rear.

The order observed in the list is a little window which shows a great
deal. The first and last names all the world knows; the other three are
never heard of again. Immortality falls on the two, oblivion swallows
up the three. But it matters little whether our names are sounded in
men's ears, if they are in the Lamb's book of life.

These five brethren were waiting on the Lord by fasting and prayer.
Apparently they had reason to expect some divine communication, for
which they were thus preparing themselves. Light will come to those who
thus seek it. They were commanded to set apart two of their number for
'the work whereunto I have called them.' That work is not specified,
and yet the two, like carrier pigeons on being let loose, make straight
for their line of flight, and know exactly whither they are to go.

If we strictly interpret Luke's words ('I _have_ called them'), a
previous intimation from the Spirit had revealed to them the sphere of
their work. In that case, the _separation_ was only the recognition by
the brethren of the divine appointment. The inward call must come
first, and no ecclesiastical designation can do more than confirm that.
But the solemn designation by the Church identifies those who remain
behind with the work of those who go forth; it throws responsibility
for sympathy and support on the former, and it ministers strength and
the sense of companionship to the latter, besides checking that
tendency to isolation which accompanies earnestness. To go forth on
even Christian service, unrecognised by the brethren, is not good for
even a Paul.

But although Luke speaks of the Church sending them away, he takes care
immediately to add that it was the Holy Ghost who 'sent them forth.'
Ramsay suggests that 'sent them away' is not the meaning of the phrase
in verse 3, but that it should be rendered 'gave them leave to depart.'
In any case, a clear distinction is drawn between the action of the
Church and that of the Spirit, which constituted Paul's real commission
as an Apostle. He himself says that he was an Apostle, 'not from men,
neither through man.'

II. The events in the first stage of the journey are next summarily
presented. Note the local colouring in 'went _down_ to Seleucia,' the
seaport of Antioch, at the mouth of the river. The missionaries were
naturally led to begin at Cyprus, as Barnabas's birthplace, and that of
some of the founders of the church at Antioch.

So, for the first time, the Gospel went to sea, the precursor of so
many voyages. It was an 'epoch-making moment' when that ship dropped
down with the tide and put out to sea. Salamis was the nearest port on
the south-eastern coast of Cyprus, and there they landed, - Barnabas, no
doubt, familiar with all he saw; Saul probably a stranger to it all.
Their plan of action was that to which Paul adhered in all his after
work, - to carry the Gospel to the Jew first, a proceeding for which the
manner of worship in the synagogues gave facilities. No doubt, many
such were scattered through Cyprus, and Barnabas would be well known in

They thus traversed the island from east to west. It is noteworthy that
only now is John Mark's name brought in as their attendant. He had come
with them from Antioch, but Luke will not mention him, when he is
telling of the sending forth of the other two, because Mark was not
sent by the Spirit, but only chosen by his uncle, and his subsequent
defection did not affect the completeness of their embassy. His
entirely subordinate place is made obvious by the point at which he

Nothing of moment happened on the tour till Paphos was reached. That
was the capital, the residence of the pro-consul, and the seat of the
foul worship of Venus. There the first antagonist was met. It is not
Sergius Paulus, pro-consul though he was, who is the central figure of
interest to Luke, but the sorcerer who was attached to his train. His
character is drawn in Luke's description, and in Paul's fiery
exclamation. Each has three clauses, which fall 'like the beats of a
hammer.' 'Sorcerer, false prophet, Jew,' make a climax of wickedness.
That a Jew should descend to dabble in the black art of magic, and play
tricks on the credulity of ignorant people by his knowledge of some
simple secrets of chemistry; that he should pretend to prophetic gifts
which in his heart he knew to be fraud, and should be recreant to his
ancestral faith, proved him to deserve the penetrating sentence which
Paul passed on him. He was a trickster, and knew that he was: his
inspiration came from an evil source; he had come to hate righteousness
of every sort.

Paul was not flinging bitter words at random, or yielding to passion,
but was laying the black heart bare to the man's own eyes, that the
seeing himself as God saw him might startle him into penitence. 'The
corruption of the best is the worst.' The bitterest enemies of God's
ways are those who have cast aside their early faith. A Jew who had
stooped to be a juggler was indeed causing God's 'name to be blasphemed
among the Gentiles.'

He and Paul each recognised in the other his most formidable foe.
Elymas instinctively felt that the pro-consul must be kept from
listening to the teaching of these two fellow-countrymen, and 'sought
to _pervert_ him from the faith,' therein _perverting_ (the same word
is used in both cases) 'the right ways of the Lord'; that is, opposing
the divine purpose. He was a specimen of a class who attained influence
in that epoch of unrest, when the more cultivated and nobler part of
Roman society had lost faith in the old gods, and was turning wistfully
and with widespread expectation to the mysterious East for

So, like a ship which plunges into the storm as soon as it clears the
pier-head, the missionaries felt the first dash of the spray and blast
of the wind directly they began their work. Since this was their first
encounter with a foe which they would often have to meet, the duel
assumes importance, and we understand not only the fulness of the
narrative, but the miracle which assured Paul and Barnabas of Christ's
help, and was meant to diffuse its encouragement along the line of
their future work. For Elymas it was chastisement, which might lead him
to cease to pervert the ways of the Lord, and himself begin to walk in
them. Perhaps, after a season, he did see 'the better Sun.'

Saul's part in the incident is noteworthy. We observe the vivid touch,
he 'fastened his eyes on him.' There must have been something very
piercing in the fixed gaze of these flashing eyes. But Luke takes pains
to prevent our thinking that Paul spoke from his own insight or was
moved by human passion. He was 'filled with the Holy Ghost,' and, as
His organ, poured out the scorching words that revealed the cowering
apostate to himself, and announced the merciful punishment that was to
fall. We need to be very sure that we are similarly filled before
venturing to imitate the Apostle's tone.

III. The shifting of the scene to the mainland presents some noteworthy
points. It is singular that there is no preaching mentioned as having
been attempted in Perga, or anywhere along the coast, but that the two
evangelists seem to have gone at once across the great mountain range
of Taurus to Antioch of Pisidia.

A striking suggestion is made by Ramsay to the effect that the reason
was a sudden attack of the malarial fever which is endemic in the
low-lying coast plains, and for which the natural remedy is to get up
among the mountains. If so, the journey to Antioch of Pisidia may not
have been in the programme to which John Mark had agreed, and his
return to Jerusalem may have been due to this departure from the
original intention. Be that as it may, he stands for us as a beacon,
warning against hasty entrance on great undertakings of which we have
not counted the cost, no less than against cowardly flight from work,
as soon as it begins to involve more danger or discomfort than we had
reckoned on.

John Mark was willing to go a-missionarying as long as he was in
Cyprus, where he was somebody and much at home, by his relationship to
Barnabas; but when Perga and the climb over Taurus into strange lands
came to be called for, his zeal and courage oozed out at his
finger-ends, and he skulked back to his mother's house at Jerusalem. No
wonder that Paul 'thought not good to take with them him who withdrew
from them.' But even such faint hearts as Mark's may take courage from
the fact that he nobly retrieved his youthful error, and won back
Paul's confidence, and proved himself 'profitable to him for the


'Saul (who also is called Paul)' ... - ACTS xiii. 9

Hitherto the Apostle has been known by the former of these names,
henceforward he is known exclusively by the latter. Hitherto he has
been second to his friend Barnabas, henceforward he is first. In an
earlier verse of the chapter we read that 'Barnabas and Saul' were
separated for their missionary work, and again, that it was 'Barnabas
and Saul' for whom the governor of Cyprus sent, to hear the word of the
Lord. But in a subsequent verse of the chapter we read that 'Paul and
his company loosed from Paphos.'

The change in the order of the names is significant, and the change in
the names not less so. Why was it that at this period the Apostle took
up this new designation? I think that the coincidence between his name
and that of the governor of Cyprus, who believed at his preaching,
Sergius Paulus, is too remarkable to be accidental. And though, no
doubt, it was the custom for the Jews of that day, especially for those
of them who lived in Gentile lands, to have, for convenience' sake, two
names, one Jewish and one Gentile - one for use amongst their brethren,
and one for use amongst the heathen - still we have no distinct
intimation that the Apostle bore a Gentile name before this moment. And
the fact that the name which he bears now is the same as that of his
first convert, seems to me to point the explanation.

I take it, then, that the assumption of the name of Paul instead of the
name of Saul occurred at this point, stood in some relation to his
missionary work, and was intended in some sense as a memorial of his
first victory in the preaching of the Gospel.

I think that there are lessons to be derived from the substitution of
one of these names for the other which may well occupy us for a few

I. First of all, then, the new name expresses a new nature.

Jesus Christ gave the Apostle whom He called to Himself in the early
days, a new name, in order to prophesy the change which, by the
discipline of sorrow and the communication of the grace of God, should
pass over Simon Barjona, making him into a Peter, a 'Man of Rock.' With
characteristic independence, Saul chooses for himself a new name, which
shall express the change that he feels has passed over his inmost
being. True, he does not assume it at his conversion, but that is no
reason why we should not believe that he assumes it because he is
beginning to understand what it is that has happened to him at his

Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 29 of 57)