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Bible Commentaries
Acts 13

Hawker's Poor Man's CommentaryPoor Man's Commentary

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Verse 1


The Holy Ghost specially ordains Barnabas, and Saul to his Service. They are sent forth. Elymas the Sorcerer, is struck blind. Saul, (who also is called Paul) preacheth in the Synagogue. The Jews blaspheme. The Gentiles believe.

Verses 1-4

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. (4) So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

We enter here upon one of the most interesting records which we have in the word of God, as it relates to the ordination by the Holy Ghost, to the ministry. And, after referring the Reader to what hath been already offered, on the Person and character of the Spirit, by way of Commentary, in this work, (see the 14th, and two following Chapters [John 14:0 ; John 15:0 ; John 16:0 ] in the Gospel according to John), I very humbly beg his permission, to enlarge a little more particularly, on this gracious office of God the Holy Ghost, as it is here set forth, in calling to the work of the ministry, Barnabas and Saul.

It should seem, that in this Church of Christ at Antioch, (from whence Barnabas and Saul, as related Acts 11:29-30 had been sent to Judaea, with their alms for the poor saints, and were now returned;) there were some, who were called Prophets and Teachers. By which are meant, I presume, those who ministered in holy things. It was at one of their public meetings, that God the Holy Ghost spake as is here said. And, as at the day of Pentecost, he had made an open, and visible manifestation of himself; so here, he was pleased to renew the token of his divine presence, by a voice, declaring his sovereignty and power. I beg the Reader not to lose the recollection, that God the Father did the same, when, by a voice from heaven, he declared Christ his beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased, Matthew 3:17 . This revelation of God the Holy Ghost, contains in it Three distinct, and special acts, in confirmation of his Person, Godhead, and Ministry; all which merit the Reader's close attention.

First. His Person, is as clearly proved by the action of speaking, calling, and sending, as the actions of any Being whatever, can prove, personality and identity. The pronouns, me, and I, are wholly personal; and are not capable of being made use of any other way. And as much as we infer, the person of a man, by the actions of a man; so the Person of God the Holy Ghost is as fairly and fully inferred, by the actions here ascribed to Him.

Secondly. His Godhead must also be admitted, if the authority he here exercised, of calling and ordaining to the sanctuary service, be (as indeed it must be,) wholly the province of God. No man taketh this honor unto himself but he that is called of God, Hebrews 5:5 . The Holy Ghost called Barnabas and Saul to this honor; and consequently proved thereby, his eternal power, and Godhead.

And thirdly. The service, to which the Lord the Spirit separated and called, and sent forth Barnabas and Saul, is strongly marked as his service; for he said: Separate me, or for me, Barnabas and Saul. So again, the Lord adds, to the work whereunto I have called them. They are not said to be separated to the Lord, or to the service of the Church; but the Holy Ghost saith, separate me, that is, to my service. As if to shew, that his is the Almighty ministry in the Church; and all that act in it, act under him, and in his service, as well as by his appointment, John 14:26 .

And were it not for swelling the pages of this Poor Man's Commentary, I should find it no difficult matter to prove, that as the Holy Ghost anointed Christ, the Great Head of his Church, in his priestly office, when the Spirit was given to him without measure: John 3:34 . So all his members, and especially his ministers, from Him derive all the unction necessary for their high calling, according to the measure of the gift of Christ, Ephesians 4:7 . But, I must abridge myself of this pleasure, and shall only beg to make a short observation, (taking occasion, from this ordination of Barnabas and Saul, as here stated,) on this work of God the Spirit, and on the characters of those men ordained.

I venture to conclude, that so palpable the truth appears, in this history, of the necessity of the Lord the Spirit's ordaining, all that are called to any holy function, no one will question it. And, from the character of those men the Lord here ordained, it will be equally plain, that God the Holy Ghost calls none to the ministry, but what he hath before called by his grace. Should any one of my brethren condescend to read these poor labors of mine, I hope that he will not be offended with the observation. Let the characters of Barnabas and Saul be well considered, and the point will, I conceive, be abundantly plain. Of the former we are told, in a preceding Chapter, that he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, Acts 11:24 . And, concerning the latter, we know of his wonderful conversion by the Lord Jesus himself. So that both, were savingly called, and regenerated, and made rich partakers of grace, before that the Lord the Holy Ghost sent them forth, to preach grace to the people.

And, indeed, had this not been the case, how should they have suited for the ministry of Jesus? A man can never speak of the malignity of sin, who hath never in himself felt the evil of sin, neither been made acquainted with the plague of his own heart, 1 Kings 8:38 . A man cannot describe the love, the grace, the mercy, the favor of Jesus, who hath never felt, or known, those precious things from Jesus in his own soul. But he who hath felt, and known both; and in his own heart, hath experienced both; will best minister to others, when from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. This was what made the Apostles so animated in the service of the Lord. They themselves were awakened, and their chief bent was as instruments in the Lord's hand, to awaken others. They held forth that bread of life, which they themselves had eaten of, and by which their souls lived. They called the people to the water of life, in Jesus, which they had drunk of, and found, as Christ had said, that it was in them a well of water springing up to everlasting life, 1 John 1:1-3 ; John 4:14 . Oh! that all who minister in holy things, were thus first made partakers of the manifold gifts of God; and proved their ordination, like Barnabas and Saul, from God the Holy Ghost; in that the word of Christ dwelt in them, by coming with power from them, and the Lord giving testimony to his truths, and to the word of his grace, by them. Almighty Lord the Spirit! vouchsafe in this our day, as in those days of the Apostles, gracious manifestations of thy divine ordination of thy servants to the ministry! Oh! for that voice to be again heard in spirit, and felt in power, as it was then sounded: Separate me (multitudes of the true) Barnabas's and Sauls, for the work whereunto I have called them!

Verses 5-12

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 subtlety 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.

I pass by all the observations which might be made of the extent of their labors, in those different places, to call the Reader's attention to what is here said, of the opposition made to the preaching of Barnabas and Saul, by Elymas the Sorcerer. The account is but short, but it is awful. His name, Elymas, is probably descriptive of his employment, a magician. But the Holy Ghost hath more strongly marked his real character. The Apostle, under his Almighty influence, called him, child of the devil. And, his opposition to a child of God, as the deputy governor Sergius Paulus proved to be, is at once a decisive proof of the different kingdoms to which they belonged. The father of this Elymas, even the devil, knew, both of the conversion, and ordination of those servants of the Lord. And when Sergius Paulus called for Barnabas and Saul, desiring to hear the word of God; all hell was up in arms, to withstand their preaching. Elymas, one of the serpent's brood, is stirred up to oppose. And the event is here recorded. But the Reader will not have drawn all the improvements from this scripture history, which it is designed to bring, if he doth not learn under the Holy Ghost's teaching, that the same is going on every day throughout the world, and must go on to the end, in the holy war, between the seed of Christ, and the seed of the serpent. Nay, the enmity must be eternal. We have many an Elymas in our day, to oppose the truth; and who oppose it from the same cause. And if the same awful judgment of bodily blindness doth not always follow; a still more awful condemnation always takes place on the soul. The Holy Ghost, by his servant Jude 1:1 , hath said; that to them is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. And the same Scripture explains the cause. See Jude 1:6-19; Jude 1:6-19 . See also the Poor Man's Commentary on Matthew 12:30-35 .

As at this place we now drop the name of Saul, with which indeed we are not so much accustomed, and from henceforth call this zealous servant of the Lord, Paul: I would just detain the Reader to remark, it is very probable that he used both names. For it is here said, Saul, who is also called Paul. The name of Saul, which is a Jewish name, was no doubt given him by his parents. And this of Paul, is the name he was chiefly known by among the Gentiles, which is a Roman name, and given him because he was a citizen of Rome, Acts 22:28 . But, as this name is first spoken of in this place, and at the conversion of Sergius Paulus, the Roman Deputy; is it not probable, (I ask the question, but not decide,) that it was now particularly chosen on account of this man?

Verses 13-25

Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. (14) But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. (15) And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. (16) Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. (17) The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with a high arm brought he them out of it. (18) And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. (19) And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he divided their land to them by lot. (20) And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. (21) And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. (22) And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will. (23) Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Savior, Jesus: (24) When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. (25) And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose.

The Reader is perhaps aware, that it was the custom in the Synagogue, after the reading of the law, and the Prophets; for holy men to expound to the people, as they felt their minds disposed, the word of God. And as Barnabas and Paul had the reputation of being sacred characters, the chief ruler of the Synagogue invited them to speak, if they had anything particularly to say. No doubt the Lord overruled the occasion. And we of this hour, find cause to bless the Lord for it, in the delightful discourse here recorded. But, I do not think it necessary to comment upon it. The whole is short, and so fully explained by Scripture, that it can require no further illustration.

Verses 26-41

Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. (27) For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. (28) And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. (29) And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulcher. (30) But God raised him from the dead: (31) And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. (32) And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, (33) God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. (34) And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. (35) Wherefore he saith also in another Psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (36) For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: (37) But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. (38) Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: (39) And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. (40) Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; (41) Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.

I request the Reader to remark with me, some of the many blessed things contained in this sermon of Paul's. Here he is indeed preaching Christ, fully, sweetly, and powerfully. Let the Reader first observe, how he opens his discourse. Men and Brethren, for so they were, as he himself was by birth a Jew. And children of the stock of Abraham; and this, no doubt, was peculiarly grateful to them, as they prided themselves on their descent from that honored Hebrew. But, that the Gentiles might consider themselves as included also in his address, (as no doubt many of the proselytes to the Jewish religion were present,) he added; and whosoever among you feareth God. S o that he included the whole. And thus the Lord commanded the Gospel to be preached to every creature, Mark 16:15 . But, let not the Reader fail to observe at the same time, that while it was the province of Paul thus to preach, and all the truly ordained ministers of the word, like Paul, to do the same; (for neither he, nor they, can do more;) unless the word of this salvation is sent, that is, directed by the power, and grace of God the Spirit; neither Paul's preaching, nor any other man's watering, will prove profitable, 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 .

Before we proceed further, I would beg the Reader to pause, and make this view of the subject somewhat a little more practical.

The substance of Paul's preaching, he himself sums up, in what he calleth the word of salvation. And the Gospel of Christ, in every point of view, corresponds to this character. For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone that believeth, Romans 1:16 . And, whoever is made the happy partaker of it, hath a blessed apprehension in his own heart, of the blissful consequences. He finds it to be a salvation, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to the living God.

And, I pray the Reader to ponder well the distinguishing nature of this blessing of salvation; in that, it is said to be sent. It comes, by divine appointment. And it is sent, by divine direction. Like the rain, of the dew of heaven, it waiteth not for man, neither tarrieth for the sons of men. The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people, Micah 5:7 . And what endears it yet more, is the distinguishing nature of it, in that, as it waits not for man's deserving; so neither for man's preparing to receive it. The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, doth not suppose men to be in a state of grace, but void of it: for, if the Lord was to wait till a man had prepared himself to receive, this would be to expect life in the dead; and corrupt nature to do that for itself, which salvation comes to give. Very blessedly, therefore, is it said to be sent; and to be sent to the dead in trespasses and sins. I am come, (said Jesus,) that they might have life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, John 11:25; John 11:25 .

There are numberless beauties in this sermon of Paul's, which, I hope, the Lord the Spirit will graciously unfold, and give efficacy to in the heart of the Reader. But I dare not enlarge. I must not however pass by noticing, the very comprehensive expression of the Apostle's, when he saith, that by Him, (that is, the Lord Jesus Christ,) all that believe are justified from all things; from which no justification could be found, by the law of Moses. I Have often thought, how very gracious it was in God the Holy Ghost, in directing his servant Paul thus to teach the Church. The Lord well knew, how many of his people of little faith are at times sharply exercised, by reason of the slenderness of this principle; so as sometimes from the temptations of the enemy, and their own misgiving hearts, to call in question whether they have the least measure of faith. And, what a relief to the souls of all such ought it to lie, and no doubt hath frequently proved, when they are here told, and from an authority which cannot err, that all that believe; whether strong believers, or weak believers; whether babes in Christ, or fathers in God: all are alike justified from all things, by Christ. And, the reason is given. It is by Him. Yes! Christ's Person, and Christ's blood and righteousness, are the sole causes of justification; and perfectly distinct from, and unconnected with, any other circumstance whatever. It is indeed a very blessed thing, and calls for great thankfulness in the hearts of those, whom grace gives the power to enjoy it; when a child of God is strong in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. But it never should be forgotten, at the same time, that it is not our faith, but Christ's salvation, which is the whole security of the Lord's people. And the weakest believer, as well as the strongest, are alike safe in Christ Jesus. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory, Isaiah 45:25 .

And, let me offer a short observation more. As faith is the entire gift of God, which, like our stature, we can neither add to, nor take from; a soul in grace, however conscious of the weakness of this blessed principle, should always take comfort in the assurance, that it is a gift of God which can never die; for the gifts and calling of God, are without repentance, Romans 2:29 . A child of God, by virtue of that grace-union in Christ, which was given him in Christ Jesus, before the world began; Ephesians 1:4 , is, during this time-state of the Church, quickened into spiritual life, in Christ Jesus. Now, this quickening can never die. This incorruptible seed liveth and abideth forever, 1 Peter 1:23 . Death itself cannot destroy it. Hence, the Apostle blessedly saith: He that hath the Son hath life, 1 John 5:12 . And Jesus declares it to be life eternal, John 17:2-3 . So that neither in life, nor death, can there be any alteration here. And the reason is evident, because it is in Christ; yea, it is Christ himself, John 11:25 . How truly blessed is it then, to behold our safety wholly in Christ. There are no procuring causes. Neither great faith nor little faith, have the least hand in the great work of salvation; And though, as was remarked before, it is a matter which calls for much love and praise, to the Almighty Author and Finisher of our faith, when we can cheerfully pass through a tabulated path of darkness, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God; yet even in that path, though lightened by faith, this must be the believer's song, when his heart is rightly tuned, and which is as much the portion of the weak believer, as the strong: In the Lord have I righteousness and strength; even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed, Isaiah 45:24 .

If I may be indulged one moment longer, it shall be to observe, how solemnly the Apostle finished his sermon, in the concluding sentence of it. He had said, all that could be said, by way of encouragement to poor distressed, broken-hearted sinners which were present, in proclaiming the fulness, greatness, and freeness, of this salvation: and now he makes an appeal to any stout-hearted persons which were there, who would still neglect so great salvation. Behold! ye despisers, and wonder and perish!

There is somewhat tremendously awful in calling to their recollection their own scriptures, in confirmation of what he had said, and by quoting this passage from the Prophet, of those who not barely slighted, but despised the counsel of God, against their own souls, boldly to shew them the dangerous state to which they were exposed. See Habakkuk 1:5 . I do not upon this, or any other occasion, desire to speak decidedly, but I beg the Reader to ask himself, whether the Apostle doth not, by the manner of speaking here made use of, very plainly intimate the total impossibility of those men he alluded to, of receiving the truth of God. They despised, and yet they wondered, they looked with astonishment at what they heard, but yet determined to resist all conviction. They tasted, but rejected the word of life. See Hebrews 6:4-6 and Commentary. And, Reader! have you not seen similar things in the present generation? I have. Oh! what numbers are there in the earth, who, like Agrippa, are almost persuaded to be Christians; but, like him, prefer time to eternity; and for the moment's gratification, rush into infinite woe, Acts 26:28 . Would the Reader learn the cause? The word of God explains, See Isaiah 6:9 ; 2 Peter 2:12-17 ; Jude 1:4 .

Verses 42-52

And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. (43) Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. (44) And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. (45) But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. (46) Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. (47) For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. (48) And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (49) And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region. (50) But the Jews stirred up the devout and honorable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. (51) But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. (52) And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.

It appears very plainly from what is here said, as the immediate consequence of Paul's eloquent discourse, that as it is for the most part now, so was it then; some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not. The Gospel hath always been, and always must be, in proof of its divine truth, the savor of life unto life, and of death unto death, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 . And while the Reader remarks upon what is here said, of the whole city being moved with the relation of the Apostle's preaching, I think it will strike him, that similar effects are not unusual now. What a day of hearing is the present! And how is almost the whole city up in arms to attend preaching! But, alas! what consequences follow? Perhaps there never was a period since the reformation of less vital godliness!

But here is the relief to every child of God, which this history teacheth, and which every age of the Church affords the same. We are told, that in the mixed multitude of Jew and Gentile, the Lord's testimony was given. For, as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed. Reader! this is the grand and essential standard. This forms the blessed decision, amidst all doubts and questions of men. All that were ordained to eternal life, in the Father's gift, Christ's purchase, and the Holy Ghost's regenerating grace, believed. Provision was made for these blessed effects from everlasting. Thy people (said Jehovah to Christ,) shall be willing in the day of thy power, Psalms 110:3 . All that the Father giveth me (said Christ) shall come to me, John 6:37 . According to his mercy (said Paul) he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, Titus 3:5 . Precious Lord Jesus! while thy redeemed are daily praying for an increase of faith, give us grace to praise thee for the least portion, which so fully proves our interest and everlasting safety in thee. As many as were ordained to eternal life believed!

Verse 52


Almighty God the Spirit, blessed be thy holy name, for the open and signal display which thou wert pleased to make of thyself, and thy sovereignty, in the ordination of Barnabas and Saul to the ministry of thy word. Do thou, gracious God, in mercy preside over all the assemblies of thy people, and especially in the setting apart to the sacred office the ministers of thy Church and people. Hast thou not said, with an eye to this unspeakable mercy, I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding. In mercy, Lord, be it according to thy word, in an eminent manner, in the present day and generation!

Lord, grant that the fearful judgment of Elymas, may deter the sworn foes of our God, and of his Christ, from daring to oppose thy faithful sent servants. And for the word of salvation which our God hath sent, very sure we are that it will never return unto thee void; but as thou hast promised, give thy people grace to wait the accomplishment of it, for it must fulfill thy pleasure, and prosper in the thing whereunto the Lord shall send it!

Oh! precious Lord Jesus! cause thy people to rejoice in thy full and finished salvation. By thee, all that believe, are justified from all things. Here then, Lord, give thy people grace to rest. Let there be nothing wavering, nothing unsettled, in our faith; while everything in the covenant of grace is ordered, and sure in all things. Oh! for faith, in lively exercise, to believe the record God hath given of his dear Son. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee. Let all thy faithful therefore of the present hour, as were the disciples of old, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus, and, like them, be filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.

Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 13". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pmc/acts-13.html. 1828.
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