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shoal water, where they could wade, would be reached in a few minutes
or moments.

'And so it came to pass, that they all escaped safe to the land.' So
Paul had assured them they would. God needs no miracles in order to
sway human affairs. Everything here was perfectly 'natural,' and yet
His hand wrought through all, and the issue was His fulfilment of His
promises. If we rightly look at common things, we shall see God working
in them all, and believe that He can deliver us as truly without
miracles as ever He did any by miracles. Promptitude, prudence, skill,
and struggle with the waves, saved the whole two hundred and
seventy-six souls in that battered ship; yet it was God who saved them
all. Whether Paul was among the party that could swim, or among the
more helpless who had to cling to anything that would float, he was
held up by God's hand, and it was He who 'sent from above, took him,
and drew him out of many waters.'


'And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called
Melita. 2. And the barbarous people showed us no little kindness: for
they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present
rain, and because of the cold. 3. And when Paul had gathered a bundle
of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the
heat, and fastened on his hand. 4. And when the barbarians saw the
venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt
this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet
vengeance suffereth not to live. 5. And he shook off the beast into the
fire, and felt no harm. 6. Howbeit they looked when he should have
swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a
great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and
said that he was a god. 7. In the same quarters were possessions of the
chief man of the island, whose name was Publius: who received us, and
lodged us three days courteously. 8. And it came to pass, that the
father of Publius lay sick of a fever, and of a bloody flux: to whom
Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.
9. So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the
island, came, and were healed: 10. Who also honoured us with many
honours: and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were
necessary. 11. And after three months we departed in a ship of
Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and
Pollux. 12. And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days. 13.
And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after
one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli; 14.
Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven
days: and so we went toward Rome. 15. And from thence, when the
brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum, and
The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took
courage. 16. And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the
prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell
by himself with a soldier that kept him.' - ACTS xxviii. 1-16.

'They _all_ escaped safe to land,' says Luke with emphasis, pointing to
the verification of Paul's assurance that there should be no loss of
life. That two hundred and seventy-six men on a wreck should all be
saved was very improbable, but the angel had promised, and Paul had
believed that it should be 'even so as it had been spoken unto him.'
Therefore the improbable came to pass, and every man of the ship's
company stood safe on the shore. Faith which grasps God's promise
'laughs at impossibilities' and brings them into the region of facts.

Wet, cold, weary, and anxious, the rescued men huddled together on the
shore in the early morning, and no doubt they were doubtful what
reception they would have from the islanders who had been attracted to
the beach. Their first question was, 'Where are we?' so completely had
they lost their reckoning. Some of the inhabitants could speak Greek or
Latin, and could tell them that they were on Melita, but the most part
of the crowd that came round them could only speak in a tongue strange
to Luke, and are therefore called by him 'barbarians,' not as being
uncivilised, but as not speaking Greek. But they could speak the
eloquent language of kindness and pity. They were heathens, but they
were men. They had not come down to the wreck for plunder, as might
have been feared, but to help the unfortunates who were shivering on
the beach in the downpour of rain, and chilled to the bone by exposure.

As always, Paul fills Luke's canvas; the other two hundred and
seventy-five were ciphers. Two incidents, in which the Apostle appears
as protected by God from danger, and as a fountain of healing for
others, are all that is told of the three months' stay in Malta. Taken
together, these cover the whole ground of the Christian's place in the
world; he is an object of divine care, he is a medium of divine
blessing. In the former one, we see in Paul's activity in gathering his
bundle of brushwood an example of how he took the humblest duties on
himself, and was not hindered either by the false sense of dignity
which keeps smaller men from doing small things, as Chinese gentlemen
pride themselves on long nails as a token that they do no work, or by
the helplessness in practical matters which is sometimes natural to,
and often affected by, men of genius, from taking his share in common

The shipwreck took place in November probably, and the 'viper' had
curled itself up for its winter sleep, and had been lifted with the
twigs by Paul's hasty hand. Roused by the warmth, it darted at Paul's
hand before it could be withdrawn, and fixed its fangs. The sight of it
dangling there excited suspicions in the mind of the natives, who would
know that Paul was a prisoner, and so jumped to the conclusion that he
was a murderer pursued by the Goddess of Justice. These rude islanders
had consciences, which bore witness to a divine law of retribution.

However mistaken may be heathens' conceptions of what constitutes right
and wrong, they all know that it is wrong to do wrong, and the dim
anticipation of God-inflicted punishment is in their hearts. The swift
change of opinion about Paul is like, though it is the reverse of, what
the people of Lystra thought of him. _They_ first took him for a god,
and then for a criminal, worshipping him to-day and stoning him
to-morrow. This teaches us how unworthy the heathen conception of a
deity is, and how lightly the name was given. It may teach us too how
fickle and easily led popular judgments are, and how they are ever
prone to rush from one extreme to another, so that the people's idol of
one week is their abhorrence the next, and the applause and execration
are equally undeserved. These Maltese critics did what many of us are
doing with less excuse - arguing as to men's merits from their
calamities or successes. A good man may be stung by a serpent in the
act of doing a good thing; that does not prove him to be a monster. He
may be unhurt by what seems fatal; that does not prove him to be a god
or a saint.

The other incident recorded as occurring in Malta brings out the
Christian's relation to others as a source of healing. An interesting
incidental proof of Luke's accuracy is found in the fact that
inscriptions discovered in Malta show that the official title of the
governor was 'First of the Melitaeans.' The word here rendered 'chief'
is literally 'first.' Luke's precision is shown in another direction in
his diagnosis of the diseases of Publius's father, which are described
by technical medical terms. The healing seems to have been unasked.
Paul 'went in,' as if from a spontaneous wish to render help. There is
no record of any expectation or request from Publius.

Christians are to be 'like the dew on the grass, which waiteth not for
man,' but falls unsought. The manner of the healing brings out very
clearly its divine source, and Paul's part as being simply that of the
channel for God's power. He prays, and then lays his hands on the sick
man. There are no words assuring him of healing. God is invoked, and
then His power flows through the hands of the suppliant. So with all
our work for men in bringing the better cure with which we are
entrusted, we are but channels of the blessing, pipes through which the
water of life is brought to thirsty lips. Therefore prayer must precede
and accompany all Christian efforts to communicate the healing of the
Gospel; and the most gifted are but, like Paul, 'ministers through
whom' faith and salvation come.

The argument from silence is precarious, but the entire omission of
notice of evangelistic work in Melita is noteworthy. Probably the
Apostle as a prisoner was not free to preach Christ in any public

Ancient navigation was conducted in a leisurely fashion very strange to
us. Three months' delay in the island, rendered necessary by wintry
storms, would end about the early part of March, when the season for
safe sailing began. So the third ship which was used in this voyage set
sail. Luke notices its 'sign' as being that of the Twin Brethren, the
patrons of sailors, whose images were, no doubt, displayed on the bow,
just as to-day boats in that region often have a Madonna nailed on the
mast. Strange conjunction - Castor and Pollux on the prow, and Paul on
the deck!

Puteoli, on the bay of Naples, was the landing-place, and there, after
long confinement with uncongenial companions, the three Christians,
Paul, Aristarchus, and Luke, found brethren. We can understand the joy
of such a meeting, and can almost hear the narrative of perils which
would be poured into sympathetic ears. Observe that, according to what
seems the true reading, verse 14 says, 'We were consoled among them,
remaining seven days.' The centurion could scarcely delay his march to
please the Christians at Puteoli; and the thought that the Apostle,
whose spirit had never flagged while danger was near and effort was
needed, felt some tendency to collapse, and required cheering when the
strain was off, is as natural as it is pathetic.

So the whole company set off on their march to Rome - about a hundred
and forty miles. The week's delay in Puteoli would give time for
apprising the church in Rome of the Apostle's coming, and two parties
came out to meet him, one travelling as far as Appii Forum, about forty
Roman miles from the city; the other as far as 'The Three Taverns,'
some ten miles nearer it. The simple notice of the meeting is more
touching than many words would have been. It brings out again the
Apostle's somewhat depressed state, partly due, no doubt, to nervous
tension during the long and hazardous voyage, and partly to his
consciousness that the decisive moment was very near. But when he
grasped the hands and looked into the faces of the Roman brethren, whom
he had so long hungered to see, and to whom he had poured out his heart
in his letter, he 'thanked God, and took courage.' The most heroic
need, and are helped by, the sympathy of the humble. Luther was braced
for the Diet of Worms by the knight who clapped him on the back as he
passed in and spoke a hearty word of cheer.

There would be some old friends in the delegation of Roman Christians,
perhaps some of those who are named in Romans xvi., such as Priscilla
and Aquila, and the unnamed matron, Rufus's mother, whom Paul there
calls 'his mother and mine.' It would be an hour of love and effusion,
and the shadow of appearing before Caesar would not sensibly dim the
brightness. Paul saw God's hand in that glad meeting, as we should do
in all the sweetness of congenial intercourse. It was not only because
the welcomers were his friends that he was glad, but because they were
Christ's friends and servants. The Apostle saw in them the evidence
that the kingdom was advancing even in the world's capital, and under
the shadow of Caesar's throne, and that gladdened him and made him
forget personal anxieties. We too should be willing to sink our own
interests in the joy of seeing the spread of Christ's kingdom.

Paul turned thankfulness for the past and present into calm hope for
the future: 'He took courage.' There was much to discourage and to
excuse tremors and forebodings, but he had God and Christ with him, and
therefore he could front the uncertain future without flinching, and
leave all its possibilities in God's hands. Those who have such a past
as every Christian has should put fear far from them, and go forth to
meet any future with quiet hearts, and minds kept in perfect peace
because they are stayed on God.


'And it came to pass, that, after three days, Paul called the chief of
the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them,
Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people or
customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem
into the hands of the Romans; 18. Who, when they had examined me, would
have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. 19. But when
the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not
that I had ought to accuse my nation of. 20. For this cause therefore
have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that
for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain. 21. And they said
unto him, We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning thee,
neither any of the brethren that came shewed or spake any harm of thee.
22. But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning
this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against. 23. And when
they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging;
to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them
concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the
prophets, from morning till evening. 24. And some believed the things
which were spoken, and some believed not. 25. And when they agreed not
among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word,
Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esias the prophet unto our fathers, 26.
Saying, Go unto this people, and say. Hearing ye shall hear, and shall
not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: 27. For the
heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of
hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with
their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart,
and should be converted, and I should heal them. 28. Be it known
therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the
Gentiles, and that they will hear it. 29. And when he had said these
words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves. 30.
And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all
that came in unto him, 31. Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching
those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence,
no man forbidding him.' - ACTS xxviii. 17-31.

We have here our last certain glimpse of Paul. His ambition had long
been to preach in Rome, but he little knew how his desire was to be
fulfilled. We too are often surprised at the shape which God's answers
to our wishes take. Well for us if we take the unexpected or painful
events which accomplish some long-cherished purpose as cheerfully and
boldly as did Paul. We see him in this last glimpse as the centre of
three concentric widening circles.

I. We have Paul and the leaders of the Roman synagogue. He was not the
man to let the grass grow under his feet. After such a voyage a pause
would have been natural for a less eager worker; but three days were
all that he allowed himself, and these would, no doubt, be largely
occupied by intercourse with the Roman Christians, and with the
multitude of little things to be looked after on entering on his new
lodging. Paul had gifts that we have not, he exemplified many heroic
virtues which we are not called on to repeat; but he had eminently the
prosaic virtue of diligence and persistence in work, and the humblest
life affords a sphere in which that indispensable though homely
excellence of his can be imitated. What a long holiday some of us would
think we had earned, if we had come through what Paul had encountered
since he left Caesarea!

The summoning of the 'chief of the Jews' to him was a prudent
preparation for his trial rather than an evangelistic effort. It was
important to ascertain their feelings, and if possible to secure their
neutrality in regard to the approaching investigation. Hence the
Apostle seeks to put his case to them so as to show his true adherence
to the central principles of Judaism, insisting that he is guiltless of
revolt against either the nation or the law and traditional
observances; that he had been found innocent by the Palestinian
representatives of Roman authority; that his appeal to Caesar, which
would naturally seem hostile to the rulers in Jerusalem, was not meant
as an accusation of the nation to which he felt himself to belong, and
so was no sign of deficient patriotism, but had been forced on him as
his only means of saving his life.

It was a difficult course which he had to steer, and he picked his way
between the shoals with marvellous address. But his explanation of his
position is not only a skilful piece of _apologia_, but it embodies one
of his strongest convictions, which it is worth our while to grasp
firmly; namely, that Christianity is the true fulfilment and perfecting
of the old revelation. His declaration that, so far from his being a
deserter from Israel, he was a prisoner just because he was true to the
Messianic hope which was Israel's highest glory, was not a clever piece
of special pleading meant for the convincing of the Roman Jews, but was
a principle which runs through all his teaching. Christians were the
true Jews. He was not a recreant in confessing, but they were deserters
in denying, the fulfilment in Jesus of the hope which had shone before
the generation of 'the fathers.' The chain which bound him to the
legionary who 'kept him,' and which he held forth as he spoke, was the
witness that he was still 'an Hebrew of the Hebrews.'

The heads of the Roman synagogue went on the tack of non-committal, as
was quite natural. They were much too astute to accept at once an _ex
parte_ statement, and so took refuge in professing ignorance. Probably
they knew a good deal more than they owned. Their statement has been
called 'unhistorical,' and, oddly enough, has been used to discredit
Luke's narrative. It is a remarkable canon of criticism that a reporter
is responsible for the truthfulness of assertions which he reports, and
that, if he has occasion to report truthfully an untruth, he is
convicted of the untruth which he truthfully reports. Luke is
responsible for telling what these people found it convenient to say;
they are responsible for its veracity. But they did not say quite as
much as is sometimes supposed. As the Revised Version shows, they
simply said that they had not had any official deputation or report
about Paul, which is perfectly probable, as it was extremely unlikely
that any ship leaving after Paul's could have reached Italy. They may
have known a great deal about him, but they had no information to act
upon about his trial. Their reply is plainly shaped so as to avoid
expressing any definite opinion or pledging themselves to any course of
action till they do hear from 'home.'

They are politely cautious, but they cannot help letting out some of
their bile in their reference to 'this sect.' Paul had said nothing
about it, and their allusion betrays a fuller knowledge of him and it
than it suited their plea for delay to own. Their wish to hear what he
thought sounded very innocent and impartial, but was scarcely the voice
of candid seekers after truth. They must have known of the existence of
the Roman Church, which included many Jews, and they could scarcely be
ignorant of the beliefs on which it was founded; but they probably
thought that they would hear enough from Paul in the proposed
conference to enable them to carry the synagogue with them in doing all
they could to procure his condemnation. He had hoped to secure at least
their neutrality; they seem to have been preparing to join his enemies.
The request for full exposition of a prisoner's belief has often been
but a trap to ensure his martyrdom. But we have to 'be ready to give to
every man a reason for the hope that is in us,' even when the motive
for asking it may be anything but the sincere desire to learn.

II. Therefore Paul was willing to lay his heart's belief open, whatever
doing so might bring. So the second circle forms round him, and we have
him preaching the Gospel to 'many' of the Jews. He could not go to the
synagogue, so much of the synagogue came to him. The usual method was
pursued by Paul in arguing from the old revelation, but we may note the
twofold manner of his preaching, 'testifying' and 'persuading,' the
former addressed more to the understanding, and the latter to the
affections and will, and may learn how Christian teachers should seek
to blend both - to work their arguments, not in frost, but in fire, and
not to bully or scold or frighten men into the Kingdom, but to draw
them with cords of love. Persuasion without a basis of solid reasoning
is puerile and impotent; reasoning without the warmth of persuasion is
icy cold, and therefore nothing grows from it.

Note too the protracted labour 'from morning till evening.' One can
almost see the eager disputants spending the livelong day over the
rolls of the prophets, relays of Rabbis, perhaps, relieving one another
in the assault on the one opponent's position, and he holding his
ground through all the hours - a pattern for us teachers of all degrees.

The usual effects followed. The multitude was sifted by the Gospel, as
its hearers always are, some accepting and some rejecting. These double
effects ever follow it, and to one or other of these two classes we
each belong. The same fire melts wax and hardens clay; the same light
is joy to sound eyes and agony to diseased ones; the same word is a
savour of life unto life and a savour of death unto death; the same
Christ is set for the fall and for the rising of men, and is to some
the sure foundation on which they build secure, and to some the stone
on which, stumbling, they are broken, and which, falling on them,
grinds them to powder.

Paul's solemn farewell takes up Isaiah's words, already used by Jesus.
It is his last recorded utterance to his brethren after the flesh,
weighty, and full of repressed yearning and sorrow. It is heavy with
prophecy, and marks an epoch in the sad, strange history of that
strange nation. Israel passes out of sight with that dread sentence
fastened to its breast, like criminals of old, on whose front was fixed
the record of their crimes and their condemnation. So this tragic
self-exclusion from hope and life is the end of all that wondrous
history of ages of divine revelation and patience, and of man's
rebellion. The Gospel passes to the Gentiles, and the Jew shuts himself
out. So it has been for nineteen centuries. Was not that scene in
Paul's lodging in Rome the end of an epoch and the prediction of a sad

III. Not less significant and epoch-making is the glimpse of Paul which
closes the Acts. We have the third concentric circle - Paul and the
multitudes who came to his house and heard the Gospel. We note two
points here. First, that his unhindered preaching in the very heart of
the world's capital for two whole years is, in one aspect, the
completion of the book. As Bengel tersely says, 'The victory of the
word of God, Paul at Rome. The apex of the Gospel, the end of Acts.'

But, second, as clearly, the ending is abrupt, and is not a satisfying
close. The lengthened account of the whole process of Paul's
imprisonments and hearings before the various Roman authorities is most
unintelligible if Luke intended to break off at the very crucial point,
and say nothing about the event to which he had been leading up for so
many chapters. There is much probability in Ramsay's suggestion that
Luke intended to write a third book, containing the account of the
trial and subsequent events, but was prevented by causes unknown,
perhaps by martyrdom. Be that as it may, these two verses, with some
information pieced out of the Epistles written during the imprisonment,
are all that we know of Paul's life in Rome. From Philippians we learn
that the Gospel spread by reason of the earlier stages of his trial.

Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 56 of 57)