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Bible Commentaries
Acts 23

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Verses 1-11

Acts 23:1-11

And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren.

Paul before the council

1. The history of apostolic missions is finished; but before the parchment is rolled up, the line of one life is carried a few stages farther that we may see the promise fulfilled, “Lo, I am with you alway,” etc. We learn here how the Lord reigneth; how He makes effectual the command, “Touch not Mine anointed.” When we see the waves rising, we cry like Peter as if all was lost. Here the Lord, in mingled reproof and encouragement, would seem to say, “Oh, thou of little faith,” etc.

2. The Sanhedrin had assembled, and Paul, led in, eyed the assembly. If there be courage in the heart it finds an expressive outlet by the eye. Cowards cannot stand a brave man’s look, nor lions. In Paul’s case a good conscience and a strong faith added power to his look.

3. Paul did not wait till a charge was preferred, for he was not on his trial. He is sent by the Roman authorities in order that his case may be investigated by experts for the guidance of the governor. So Paul was the first to speak.

4. The apostle had an intelligent object in view when he said, “Brother men.” He saw those who had been his fellow students, and even juniors, and had done nothing to forfeit his position as their colleague.

The high priest insulting Paul.

1. As soon as Paul had begun to speak Ananias abruptly ordered the officers to smite him on the mouth, which reveals the extreme corruption and degradation of Jewish society. The chief magistrate perpetuates an act of ruffianism from his bench. In rejecting the Messiah the hierarchy were given over to a reprobate mind.

2. We have here a general law. When a sinner accepts Christ there is an immediate elevation of the moral sense. He becomes a new creature. But the converse holds good. When Christ comes near to any mind and is rejected the last state of the rejecter is worse than the first. Those who waste privileges and quench convictions sink lower than those who never enjoyed them.

Paul answering the high priest. The pungency of the apostle’s reproof needs no other justification than the one he gave. Luther was wont to launch such thunderbolts, and great and earnest men in all ages have brought their unjust judges suddenly to the bar. Ananias seems to have been struck dumb, and some courtiers or aspirants for favour endeavoured to shield their astonished patron by flinging his official dignity over the ermined culprit whose conduct they dare not excuse. For Paul there is no need for apology. He had cause to be angry, and in his apology made clear an important distinction between the office and the man. He respects the priesthood while he denounces the criminal. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Paul before the council

1. The scene is shifted from a torture chamber to a court of justice, from heathens to Hebrews, from soldiers to ecclesiastics, from Roman tyrants to the missionary’s schoolmates and countrymen; but the change only subjects him to ruder insults and more deadly perils.

2. Bad men’s impatience of real goodness is not uncommon. The prisoner looked straight into the faces of these councillors. If they had expected a criminal’s frightened, wandering eye, they were disappointed. With the swiftness of memory, and possibly for a moment with its tenderness too, some of them thought, “Why, this is the same Saul we used to know.” Then the man “before the council,” as they might have anticipated, without exordium and with easy self-possession, assured them that since he had met them he had “lived in all good conscience before God.” Instantly, the gentle offices of memory ceased. The present arose. “Smite him on the mouth,” was the high priest’s command. To this mad bull Paul’s “good conscience” was the red rag. Just so was it that David’s innocence wrought upon King Saul, the quietness of the Prince of Orange upon Alva, and Jesus upon this very Sanhedrin.

3. Yet in such antagonism goodness proves its power. Meekness is quite consistent with self-respect. The exposure of a sham is benevolent and just. To resent and defeat a wrong often becomes the plainest duty. Paul did his duty here. The judge is silenced by the prisoner, and during the approaching “Jewish war” he is murdered by assassins--God smites the “whited wall.”

4. But Paul will not have it supposed that in mere anger he had been betrayed into disrespect toward “God’s high priest.” “I wist not that he was high priest,” said he composedly, Further effort in behalf of the high priest nobody attempts. In the swift hours which make history such rubbish as Ananias is soon put out of the way.

5. Then one learns how a man with a “good conscience” may be served by his wits. Paul’s had not been wasted by disuse, dulled by self-indulgence, nor worn out by his sufferings. The irony which he had just used so effectively against Ananias becomes almost mirthful in its shrewdness, as he now disposes of the other councillors. Well Paul knew how cordial were the contentions of two chief parties in Jerusalem. “Of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question,” cried Paul. Then followed the conflagration. How comical it must have seemed as these high councillors flew at one another! For more than half the court what a meritorious person had the accused suddenly become! Especially would Paul appreciate “the scribes which were of the Pharisees’ part.” To one so familiar with the rapacity and heartlessness of their partisanship, whose own strategy had accomplished this marvellous change of front, the lofty air, the love of truth, the conscientiousness, the fear of fighting “against God,” must have been ludicrous. Nor is the solemnity of the scene enhanced by the sudden reappearance of Lysias and his soldiers. Shall the rulers of the people of God be set to rights by the worshippers of Mars?

6. As, however, the earnest missionary goes back to the castle, his smiles would quickly fade at the sad contrast between this fanaticism and religion. Zealots are not always saints. The high priest and Pharisees and Sadducees were capable of dying for their shibboleth. And, though our bigotry be of a milder sort, we need Hot despise a warning. The best time to kill thistles is when they are sprouting. We furnish a climate for them as well as Jews, but it is but poor soil in which Calvinism or Episcopacy or Arminianism thrives more than godliness. How does charity thrive? There is the question for all sects and for all ages.

7. But there are times when moralising must wait. Life’s problems and contests are too vast; our weakness yields under them. What we require is not authority, but tenderness. Such an hour had arrived for this weary missionary. Yesterday and today bad been even full of perils and excitements. The man is too weary to sleep. Who is there to comfort him? Not unaccustomed was Paul to have the fairest visions on the darkest roads. The dungeon at Philippi had become to him a throne of glory. Expelled from the Corinthian synagogue the Lord draws near to him there. And the same vision that was to strengthen him on his way to Rome comforts him now: “The Lord stood by him and said, Be of good cheer, Paul.” And we may suppose that he who had been too weary to sleep was now too happy to sleep.


1. We think of the preciousness of a good man. We have bad here the usual variety of men--a pretentious hypocrite, his furious associates, an average heathen captain, his stupid soldiery, and besides these one man who “lived in all good conscience before God.” It is easy to see who is Master, and He rules our hearts today.

2. Yet the good man is among enemies. He did not imagine that to be on the right side is to be on the easy side.

3. But the good man among enemies has God’s care and love. (H. A. Edson, D. D.)

Paul before the council

It was a scene of strange contrasts and apparently unequal conflict--one man, face to face with the representative body of a whole people, hot for merciless judgment. And yet he does not seem to be disconcerted. He rises to the occasion, and, “looking steadfastly on the council,” begins his defence.

Paul spoke out of an honest conviction.

1. “I have lived before God in all good conscience.” The apostle refers not so much to character as to purpose. The “chief of sinners,” as he calls himself, would hardly make boast of his faultlessness; he simply asserts that he is actuated by a supreme desire to do right in the sight of God. It is true he has broken with the religion of his fathers, but he is not a fanatical extremist and destructive. His only anxiety is to honour God.

2. Hearty conviction is ever a prerequisite of power. It is not the truth which we touch with our fingertips, but the truth which we grasp firmly, that is made “mighty through God.” Mere speculation or half faith are worth little. The men of mark in history have been men of strong convictions. Napoleon devoutly believed in what he called his “star,” and his faith in it made him the great soldier of Europe. More especially is it true that, in advancing the gospel, its defenders need definite convictions

Paul frankly admitted his errors of judgment.

1. The apostle had spoken without knowing whom he addressed, and he was in haste to state that his fault was one of ignorance, and not of intent. He stood for truth, and had no wish for anything but legitimate methods of defence.

2. It is never judicious for the advocates of truth to assume that they are infallible, and their opponents always wrong. In the conflict between science and revelation, and between Church and Church, assumption on the one side and the other is altogether too prominent. The true spirit of teachableness is always ready to admit its fallibility.

Paul made use of the things in which he and his hearers were agreed, to lead them to consider the things in which they disagreed.

1. It was a shrewd stroke, but it was not the trick of a demagogue. It was in the line of Paul’s uniform policy. To the Jew he became as a Jew. His business was to win men to Christ, and any expedient that helped to that end was legitimate. Especially was it fitting that he should enlist the sympathy of some of his hearers by assuring them that, in common with them, he had faith in immortality, and that the doctrine he taught was vitally related to that grandest of truths.

2. There is instruction here for those who endeavour to induce men to accept the gospel. How can we best get a leverage upon men? Certainly not by assault, but by advancing from the admitted to the unknown. Christian believers and the irreligious world hold some truths in common--the existence of God, the fact of sin, the need of pardon, the endless hereafter; and the efficient Christian worker puts himself on a level with the mass, owns a common frailty, emphasises common needs, and shows the way to a common salvation. To lead men, not to drive them into the kingdom--is the ideal of Christian work. (E. S. Attwood, D. D.)

Paul before the council

1. Paul could look steadfastly at the council, for he was no criminal whose own knowledge of guilt should cause him to hang his head in shame.

2. Paul realised that he was living before God. A man is not likely to go far wrong so long as he remembers that God’s eye is constantly upon him.

3. Paul had that best of all possessions, an approving conscience. Therefore Paul was confident and independent.

4. Paul’s words enraged Ananias. Nothing arouses a bad man’s anger sooner than a reminder of a good man’s goodness.

5. Paul could feel and express a righteous indignation. Christianity never takes the backbone out of a man.

6. Paul could righteously regret his indignant response after it was uttered. The best Christian makes mistakes of ignorance. (S. S. Times.)

Paul before the council

The narrative--

Teaches the comfort and necessity, under such circumstances, of a good conscience. Paul, standing before the council, could look his enemies in the eye. He had done nothing he was ashamed of. What misery has he whose former sins must be concealed from his fellow men! Only he who is conscious of rectitude can maintain his peace and self-possession in the face of foes. There was no assumption of self-conceit in Paul’s quiet assertion. His statement was simply the truth. Self-respect is very different from self-conceit.

Throws some light on the duty and manner of rebuke.

1. An innocent man, whom malignity is seeking to crush, cannot but be indignant. Shall he express his mind to his enemies? The Bible tells us, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him”; but immediately adds, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” This apparent contradiction means that we must be governed by circumstances. Ananias had been guilty of a brutal outrage. Christ’s example on a similar occasion is, to be sure, somewhat in contrast to that of the apostle (John 18:22-23). And yet, on occasion. He called the Pharisees “serpents,” “generation of vipers,” and, as Paul evidently remembered in his appellation of Ananias, “whited sepulchres.” Rebuke, then, is proper at certain times. But it is equally clear that such a weapon should be used cautiously. It is easy to be hasty, unkind, presumptuous in rebuke.

2. The narrative certainly makes one important limitation to rebuke, as it shows that one’s office may command respectful treatment, when personal character does not. “I wist not, brethren,” etc. Do we, in this irreverent age, remember this? The president of the United States deserves a certain consideration as president which he might not receive as a private citizen. We must honour his office, if not him. We grievously wrong ourselves and our country when we indiscriminately denounce those high in authority. We weaken government in bringing our lawgivers, judges, and executives into public contempt. Let it be apparent that a public office exposes one to slander and disrespect, presently the office will go a begging for good men; only those whose unworthiness makes them callous to dishonour will consent to take it. So with the ministry.

Shows the value to the Christian in trouble of a familiarity with the Scriptures. How readily and happily Paul handled God’s Word! The Christian in trouble has no such defence as the Scripture. Here is an armoury whence may be drawn weapons for every need. But, to be available, it must be always at hand. As soldiers, in time of war, sleep on their arms, ready at a moment’s warning to spring to their feet, rifle in hand, so must we have the texts of Scripture so familiar that we can without delay bring them to bear as needed.

Reveals the method to be used in presenting truth. First find a common standing place in some truth on which both agree, and then work up from this. Paul addressed the council as “brother men.” This was one point of union. He claimed to have lived in all good conscience; and all acknowledged the authority of conscience. He declared himself a Pharisee: a third point of union. He then advanced to doctrines which a part of them held in common--immortality and the resurrection. Paul pursued the same method in his famous speech at Athens. This was sanctified wisdom. Before we ascend the pyramid together, we must rendezvous at the base. In confuting the arguments of unbelievers, the first thing is to find out what we hold in common. In winning souls to Christ the first step is to establish an identity of interests and views on such fundamental truths as our sense of sin, our longing for heaven, our need of salvation, our dependence on Christ.

Illustrates the place of expediency in the Christian’s conduct. Paul’s words started a dissension which instantly divided their forces. Paul’s course was shrewd. How far is such shrewdness allowable? Notice that Paul first attempted to meet his accusers on high ground, which is met with a blow on the mouth, he can hope nothing, then, from such a course. He has tried the first horn of his dilemma; he must now take the other, and answer a fool according to his folly. It is possible to be keen, quick witted, swift to seize advantages, turning disaster into victory, and yet be honest, truthful, and perfectly fair. Our Saviour blames His followers because “the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light”; and elsewhere commands them to be “wise as serpents.” Still we feel strongly that there is a limit here. It is hard to draw the line. The question must rather be decided by each man in the individual emergency. On the one hand, however, it is plain that the Christian may use all his quickness of intellect to escape from difficulties; while, on the other, he must in no way do aught that is unfair to his fellow men, belittling to himself, or dishonourable to God.

Teaches us God’s care. What a contrast between the confusion and tumult of that day was the quiet night succeeding, when the apostle saw Jesus standing beside him, and heard Him lovingly say, “Be of good cheer,” etc. This is the best part of life, when, after the troublous scenes of our daily battle, Christ comes to us to cheer and strengthen us. (A. P. Foster.)

Incidental characteristics

1. We sometimes pay compliments unconsciously, and tributes to power in the very act of appearing to despise it. Paul never appeared socially greater than when sent to Caesarea with “two hundred soldiers,” etc.

so small a man. We have entered into a new region of apostolic history; we shall sometimes be almost amused by certain aspects of it--such great courts and such a small prisoner.

2. And yet Paul is like his Master--the only quiet man in all the tumult. Paul had himself once been a member of the council which he now addressed as a prisoner! He looks as well in the dock as he looked on the bench; but the remembrance of his once having been on the bench gives him his first sentence--“Men and brethren.” Think of the criminal addressing the judge as a brother! The quality of men comes out at unexpected places. In no company was there a greater man than Paul.

3. How proud his beginning with a humble pride! (verse 1). Earnest speakers reveal themselves in their first sentence.

4. But goodness always awakens wickedness. Hearing a man claim a good conscience, the high priest was reminded of his own evil career, and “commanded them that stood by Paul to smite him on the mouth.” That is the only thing the bad man can do. He has no other shot in his locker.

5. Now we see quite a near aspect of Paul. He has borne so much that we thought he would bear everything to the last; but there was a priestism which Paul could not bear, so he exclaimed, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall”--a mass of clay chalked over, a white robe covering a black character. Nor was this mere anger. It was inspired by moral emotion and conviction. The reason of this anger is given. We are bound to defend eternal rectitude. It is a sin to appear to be satisfied when the heart is filled with a conviction that things are wrong. Paul speaks here not for himself only, but for every man who suffers wrongfully. The prophecy was fulfilled: the beast was dragged out not long afterward and killed by vengeful hands.

6. It is curious to notice, and most instructive, how religious some people suddenly become. “They that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?” Hypocrites, everyone I

7. In what follows Paul has been condemned, and commentators have endeavoured to screen him from the sight of those who would be only too anxious to discover a flaw in such fine porcelain. But Paul needs no defence. We may read, “I did not sufficiently reflect that he was the high priest”; or, better still, ironically, “The high priest breaking the law! This cannot be the high priest!” Again Paul advances a moral reason--for that was the great battering ram with which he delivered his most terrific blows. “For it is written,” etc. Mark the composure, the ability, the gentlemanliness. Up to this point Paul has the best of it. Surely someone must be standing at his right hand whom we cannot see. In this history note--

That it is lawful to break up unholy truces. The Pharisees and the Sadducees have combined in a common cause, whereas they are themselves divided by the greatest differences. Paul says, “I will break this up.” His suggestion was effectual. The Pharisees and the Sadducees fell upon one another, and the Pharisees took his part. It was a master stroke, and we should not forget it in modern controversies.

That it is lawful to defeat unholy conspiracies. Forty men had bound themselves together neither to eat nor drink until they had slain Paul. Never believe in the oath of bad men; and if you have overheard their plots, publish them. There are confidences we gladly hide away in the heart, but they have no relation to courses which would unhinge society. Put every possible obstacle in the way of bad men. Imagine the forty Jews baffled in their design, and not knowing how they had been baffled! Said they, “Who knew about this? The oath has been broken by some traitor,” and nine-and-thirty voices reply to the fortieth, “No.” “Then how is this?” There is the mysterious element in life, the anonymous force, the mischief that upsets our mischief. This is always God’s purpose. We do not know how things happen. But something always does happen.

That in the most saintly lives there are moments of apparent desertion by God. Throughout these exciting events, where is the living Lord? The apostle is smitten on the mouth and sent away as a criminal. How is this? Is this the poor return for all the labour we have traced? Yet we ourselves have been in exactly those spiritual circumstances. God does stand afar off sometimes. Why does He not always stand close to the heart that has never struck but in His praise? What is this desertion? It may only be the sleep of the soul, the winter time in which God is giving the life deep rest, and a time of recruital and renewal. Sleep is not death; the conscious absence of God is not atheism. We must learn to bear these vacancies; we cannot always be upon the mountain top. It is part of our larger education.

That the desertion is apparent, not real; or temporary, not final. Verse 11 shines over all the rest of this dark chapter. Tomorrow night is coming; this night is not the final darkness. This verse brings us face to face with the fact that Christian consciousness is the beginning of Christian argument. Elisha had the inner vision which saw the nearer army. Jesus Christ combined both the statements upon which we are now dwelling in one sublime utterance; said He, “I am alone, yet not alone; for the Father is with Me.” We must destroy the character before we can destroy the testimony.

1. This is a good answer to all attacks upon the altar of prayer. “Has your prayer been answered?” When the suppliant can say “Yes,” that settles the question. The appeal is not to your little scholarship or criticism. Here the man--the well-known man, the man with the solid character, and the sensible, penetrating mind--says, “My prayers have been answered.” We have been now so long with Paul that we have come to know somewhat about him. He is a strong man, a man of great mental capacity, of distinct logical faculty and unexampled common sense, and now he steps into the witness box and says, “The Lord stood by me.” What is our answer?

2. Here also we find illustrations of the supreme argument for immortality. This is not a question to be determined by logical fencing and historical research; we must go by the instinctive nature. As for our immortality, we know it; it is graven upon the very substratum of our life.

That the enemy is made to serve the cause he would destroy. “Thou must bear witness also at Rome,” and the enemy shall pay the expenses. The enemy is always forced into servitude. God maketh the wrath of man to praise Him. Everything is working for Christ, if we could only see it so; all secular progress is simply making a wider road for the chariot of Immanuel. There is a shorter way from Jerusalem to Rome now than there was in the days of Paul. The invention of steam was an incident in the development of Christian progress. Christians ought to keep their eyes open. The moment there is a new way of travelling invented, the first traveller should be a missionary. The instant you can find a shorter way of communicating with the distant parts of the earth, you should send a Christian message through the new medium. The ships are Christ’s, and you have let other people use them first for merchandise, and the missionary has been stowed away somewhere as a thing not wholly welcome. “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” I would have the Church buy up all bad houses and make good places of them; I would have the Church advertise gospel services in every newspaper; I would have the Church--alive! The Church is not the heroic force of this day, saying, “I must see Rome also.” When the Church goes to see Rome, the Church goes in a tweed suit, in holiday attire, incog. What is our calling in Christ? Is it to fall asleep, or to be the first force in society? Let me call younger men to heroic temper in this matter. Never mind the charge of madness; in His own day they said that Jesus had a devil, and that He was mad; and later on they said that Paul was beside himself. If Christianity is not a passion supreme in the soul, it is the greatest mistake ever perpetrated by intellectual men. (J. Parker, D. D.)

I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.--

A good conscience towards God

proceeds from--

1. True faith in Christ, which obtains forgiveness of sins.

2. The assurance of Divine grace and eternal life.

3. The renewal of the Holy Ghost to a new life.

4. The faithful performance of our calling. (Starke.)

The comfort of a good conscience

On what basis it rests.

1. Justification by faith.

2. Diligence in sanctification.

To what purpose it serves.

1. Courageous working.

2. Joyful suffering. (K. Gerok.)

Conscience in review of the past

Remark how the apostle describes his early life in Philippians 3:4-6. Those who attribute to Christianity a gloomy condemnation of, and a certain injustice towards, the natural man, and that which is good in him; or even those real devotees who, going beyond the truth, think badly of and inveigh against themselves and their former life, may learn here from Paul’s example that a regenerate man may rejoice before God and man, even in his former relatively good conscience, when in a position of error and sin, if his present conscience in Christ bears him witness that he has not been a hypocrite. When a warrior, honourable in his vocation, is taunted after his conversion as a devotee and a hypocrite, he may boldly say, “Sirs, I have always been an honest and good comrade to you; trust me that I shall be so now.” (R. Stier, D. D.)

Conscience not the whole of Christian character

There are many men who are very conscientious; but conscience is not the crown of Christian character. Love is the master, and conscience must be its servant. Conscience is a hewer of wood and stone, and a bringer of water. Conscience is necessary; it is indispensable. But suppose a man were to build a house. No doubt it would be indispensable that he should have good square sills and strong corner posts. It would be essential that all the timbers should be of ample strength, and well knitted together and braced. But suppose, after all the timbers were in place and properly jointed, he should ask me to come to his house and see him. A house with nothing but timbers would be like a character which was made up of conscience and nothing else. Before a man asks you into his house, he covers the timbers up outside and inside, so that the walls are smooth and pleasant to come in contact with and to look upon; and if a man’s character is to be complete, conscience in that character should be covered up by other qualities and made sweet and smooth. Oftentimes, where a man invites his friends to see him, the ceiling of his house is frescoed, and the floor is richly carpeted, and the rooms are light and cheerful, and on every hand are tokens of hospitality. Hospitality does not ask you to sit on a log because a log is necessary to the building of a house. But many men are square-built, conscience-framed men. I would as lief sit on the square end of a log all my life as to live with men who, though they have consciences, are harsh and unlovely and unfruitful, because there is nothing in them to cover up that conscience. Conscience is desirable and necessary; but in order to make it tolerable, love should be thrown around it. Conscience is the frame of character, and love is the covering for it. (H. W. Beecher.)

And the high priest Ananias commanded … to smite him on the mouth.--

Judicial incongruity

Neither animals nor men look well in incongruous situations. On the ground the sloths are about the most awkward and pitiable creatures that can well be imagined, for their forelegs are much longer than the hind ones; all the toes are terminated by very long curved claws; and the general structure of the animals is such as entirely to preclude the possibility of their walking on all fours in the manner of an ordinary quadruped. In this, which is an unnatural situation, they certainly appear the most helpless of animals, and their only means of progression consists in hooking their claws to some inequality in the ground, and thus dragging their bodies painfully along. But in their natural home, amongst the branches of trees, all these seeming disadvantages vanish. It is obvious, therefore, that when the sloth is not in the trees he is in an incongruous situation. And what a lesson his absurd position there should be to us not to make ourselves ridiculous by appearing on scenes where we can only exhibit our incapacity, and evoke either the pity or laughter of mankind! A mart with an inapt, unjudicial mind, presiding on the bench of justice, and performing his functions under the inspiration of a bad heart and an uneven temper, is a spectacle whose incongruity equals that presented by the most clumsy sloth that ever ambled out of its element. Monstrously incongruous, too, is that other spectacle, of a man who has a jockey’s tastes and a bulldog’s nature, stalking down to the gilded chamber occupied by the highest wisdom in England, for the purpose of displaying himself as a hereditary legislator ruling a free people. Poor awkward sloth! dragging yourself in unhandy fashion over the ground along which you were never intended to travel, you may be a sad illustration of a creature in an incongruous position, but you are not the most laughable one. These men dispute with you the prize for being the most ridiculous. (Scientific Illustrations.)

The outrage of justice by a judge

It was most unprovoked. Was there anything to justify such gross insolence and injustice?

1. Was there anything in that look of Paul’s? He seems to have given them a wonderful look. It was one of conscious innocence and of searching observation. We may rest assured there was nothing insolent or hard in it, and it must have filled him with melting memories. Certainly there could have been nothing in the look to have provoked the high priest.

2. Was there anything in his address? His declaration that he “had lived in all good conscience before God until that day” was far more adapted to conciliate than to offend.

It was nobly met.

1. With manly courage. The spirit of Paul, instead of cowering before this insult, rose into noble defiance. The heavenly Teacher Himself denounced the Pharisees as “whited sepulchres.” The words may be either an imprecation or prediction. If the former, it was an outburst, not unjustified, of a warm temper which formed the foundation of a noble nature. Indignation in itself is not wrong, but a virtuous passion when roused, as in this case, by the vision of a moral enormity. If the latter, the apostle spoke under the inspiration of truth. Josephus informs us that Ananias, with his brother Hezekiah, were slain, when the insurgent ruffians, under their leader Manahem, had got possession of the holy city.

2. By commendable candour. “Then said Paul, I wist not,” etc. Some suppose that the apostle speaks ironically; that he meant to say, “I never could suppose that a man who so outraged justice should sit in her seat and administer her affairs.” Others suppose that he really meant what he said; that he really did not know that he was a high priest. Those who take the latter view must regard the apostle as in some measure apologising for his hastiness. The best men are liable to be overtaken by temper, and a candour like Paul’s is a rare excellence. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall.--

Whited walls

Paul’s characterisation recalls at once our Lord’s denunciation of the Pharisees. This proverbial expression is common over all the East, and the custom which gave rise to it goes back to the times of the ancient Egyptians. Old Egyptian tombs consisted of a deep shaft sunk in the rock, with a subterranean chamber, and sarcophagus containing the body. At the top of the shaft was built a sacrificial chamber, or chambers, which it was the custom to decorate richly with coloured sculptures. Thus, the chamber above ground was decorated with scenes of life and gladness, strangely at variance with the gloomy chamber below. In Palestine most of the mukams, or little sacred buildings built in honour of the local saints, are cenotaphs or tomb buildings. These mukams may be seen on almost every hilltop; they are kept with scrupulous care; offerings are placed in them frequently; and they are whitewashed before every great religious festival. The ordinary Mohammedan graves are often heaped with rubble, which is then covered with stucco. A somewhat similar comparison to that in the text appears in the early Christian writers; as, for instance, in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians. Speaking of certain offenders, Ignatius says, “These to me are monuments and tombs which bear only the names of men.” Here there may be another allusion besides that which is apparent to the Western reader. In rabbinic the word nephesh means the “vital principle,” a “person” himself, and a “tomb.” Of nephesh in this last sense, it might punningly be said to be nephesh--or a living person--only in name. (S. S. Times.)

Whited walls

Holy offices, spiritual titles, priestly dignities, are but as white lime if they cover an impure heart. (G. V. Lechler, D. D.)

Threatenings merciful

All denunciations of what will happen to the doer of evil are merciful calls to repentance; and had Ananias turned from those sins which Paul denounced when he spoke of him as a whited wall, he might have been saved from the punishment which befell him, and would have Shared the blessedness given to penitents in the life to come. (Bp. Wordsworth.)

And they … said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?--

Reviling dignitaries

There could hardly be a greater crime, according to Jewish rabbinical notions, than to fail in proper respect to the religious authorities. “There is for thee no greater honour than the honour of the rabbis, nor fear than the fear of the rabbis. The Sages have said, ‘The fear of the rabbi is as the fear of God.’” The rabbins also provide that proper respect should be paid to them in greetings. The man who meets a rabbi must “not give the shalom [the greeting, Peace be upon thee] to his rabbi, or return it to him, as he gives it to his neighbours or returns it to them. But he must bow before his face, and say to him with reverence and honour, Peace be upon thee, my master (rabbi).” And the penalties for contempt of rabbinical authority extend also to the next life. “No man who despises the Sages,” it is said, “will have part in the world to come.” (S. S. Times.)

Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest.--

Paul’s ignorance of the high priest

Considering the disrepute and insignificance into which the high priesthood had fallen during the dominance of men who would only, as a rule, take it for a short time, in order to “pass the chair”; considering that one of these worldly intruders took it wearing silk gloves, that he might not soil his hands with the sacrifices; considering, too, that the Romans and the Herods were constantly setting up one and putting down another at their own caprice, and that he people often regarded someone as the real high priest who was no longer invested with the actual office; considering, too, that in such ways the pontificate of these truckling Sadducees had sunk into a mere simulacrum of what once it was, and that the real allegiance of the people had been completely transferred to the more illustrious rabbis--it is perfectly conceivable that Paul, after his long absence from Jerusalem, had not, during the few and much occupied days which had elapsed since his return, given himself the trouble to inquire whether a Kamhit or a Boethusian, or a Canthera, was at that particular moment adorned with the empty title which he probably disgraced. He must, of course, have been aware that the high priest was the Nasi of the Sanhedrin; but in a crowded assembly he had not noticed who the speaker was. Owing to his weakened sight, all he saw before him was a blurred white figure issuing a brutal order, and to this person, who, in his external whiteness and inward worthlessness, thus reminded him of the plastered wall of a sepulchre, he had addressed his indignant denunciation. That he should retract it on learning the hallowed position of the delinquent was in accordance with that high breeding of the perfect gentleman which in all his demeanour he habitually displayed. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

Paul’s ignorance of the high priest

Paul would never have guessed the priestly character of Ananias from his conduct. Outside testimony was necessary to show that the religious ruler was there. It is a great pity when a man has to furnish some other evidence than his speech and conduct that he is worthy of respect and confidence. It is not to a man’s credit when those who have seen him and heard him speak can say, “I had no idea from his style of speech that he was a clergyman”; “I did not suppose that he was a church member”; “I am surprised that he holds a position of trust.” Even a child ought to be known by his doings. It is to his shame if those who watch him say, “He does not act as though he had a good mother”; “He certainly fails to show that he has been well brought up”; “I cannot understand how that boy has been in a good Sunday school for five years.” How is it with you? Would everybody who meets you wist that you are as worthy of a good name and of an honourable station as you claim to be? (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)

Verses 6-10

Acts 23:6-10

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out … I am a Pharisee.

Paul before the Sanhedrin

Objections to his conduct.

1. That when he said he was a “Pharisee,” it was not true in the sense which the term would naturally convey, he was not now of their party. He had renounced all connection with them, and had everywhere opposed their characteristic doctrines and practices.

2. That what he affirmed to be the main point involved in his present troubles, “the hope and resurrection of the dead,” was not really the point for which he was “called in question,” but for undervaluing the Hebrew institutions; for apostasy from the faith; and for polluting the temple.

3. That this was the trick of an orator rather than the act of a noble-minded man; that it was designed to embarrass, and divide, but that it constituted no defence in regard to the charges which had been brought against him; and that it had no tendency to enlighten the mind of Lysias, or to aid him in the performance of his duty.

Its vindication.

1. We are to bear in mind that the Sanhedrin had properly no jurisdiction over the case and that it had not been submitted to them at all with that view. It was solely referred to them to ascertain the cause of the riot. That one thing discovered, the case would then be entirely in the hands of the Roman authorities. But even in regard to this point, it was manifest at the very opening of the trial, that there was no hope of justice. The command given by the high priest took away all prospect of obtaining a fair hearing. If now, in this state of things, Paul could prove that, in condemning him, as it was manifest they were determined to do, the majority would condemn themselves, and must deny doctrines for which they had always been contending, could it be regarded as unfair or unmanly to show them that this must be so? It is certain that this was his aim.

2. There was, in fact, an important difference of opinion in the Sanhedrin on the most vital subjects of religion. That difference of opinion Paul did not make, nor did he increase it.

3. It was a matter of fact, also, that, so far as these two parties were concerned, Paul was wholly with the Pharisees by ancestry and conviction. Paul had no sympathy with the Sadducees whatever. Moreover, he attached all the importance to the doctrine of the resurrection which the Pharisees had ever done. It had lost none of its value in his estimation by his having become a Christian.

4. Paul held that doctrine now in a form which was to him most convincing in the fact that one had actually been raised from the dead. We may easily suppose that he had the consciousness that he was now able to confirm the views in which he and they had been educated, by an argument vastly superior in strength to that in which they had been trained.

5. It was this doctrine, as thus held, which was the real cause of all that Paul had suffered; and it was, in fact, this for which he had been “called in question.” He had laid this doctrine at the very foundation of all his arguments for the truth of the Christian religion; and in order to diffuse a knowledge of this he had gone over the world, enduring all forms of privation and suffering. (A. Barnes, D. D.)

Paul and the Sanhedrin

1. There is sometimes a gain to the right in setting the forces of the wrong to attacking each other, and to wearing each other out.

2. There is nothing which will so speedily bring the Pharisees to espouse Paul’s cause as the knowledge of the fact that the Sadducees hate him.

3. There is little love for one another felt by the various adversaries of Christianity. True love is too much of a Christian virtue to be exercised by those who hate Christ.

4. There always arises a great clamour when two theological parties, both in the wrong, are aroused to discussion, of the very theological point upon which they most strongly differ.

5. There was no love for the truth in this suddenly manifested zeal of the Pharisees for Paul. The Pharisees only hated the Sadducees a little worse than they did Paul--that was all.

6. There is sometimes as much danger in being in a fight as there is in being the object of a fight. Paul had to be hurried out of danger, even after the direct assault upon him had ceased. (S. S. Times.)

Paul’s strategy: its vindication

Was Paul disingenuous? No--

He was a Pharisee by birth and education; he had a right to throw himself on the only section of the crowd with which he had any sympathy, and it would be a great mistake to suppose that there was not a great deal in the better Pharisees of that day with which Paul and every good man could heartily sympathise, if it were nothing else but their firm belief in a spiritual world, and their sincere attempt to live cleanly. If Paul was to stand his ground for a moment in such an assembly, it must be by an immediate appeal to anything friendly to be found there.

Was it true that he was a prisoner on account of his belief in the resurrection? Was he not rather a prisoner because of his sympathy with the Gentiles? Was he not submitting a false issue at the expense of truth in order to extricate himself from a perilous position? Not at all--he was strictly within the letter and spirit of uprightness. True, the beginning of his troubles had to do with the Gentiles, but the last scene which ended in his being hailed before the Sanhedrin was directly connected with the message he claimed to have had from the Risen One; the mission to the Gentiles held for him its consecrating force directly and solely from “the power of His resurrection,” and, like a skilful orator, again Paul takes up, not the central grievance at first, but the controversy just where it had left off in chap. 22:21. That is what Paul stood on--the authority of the risen life. The resurrection happened to be held a verity by the Pharisee and a delusion by the Sadducee--it happened to draw all the Pharisees over to Paul’s side--and it was an oratorical feat to pit the two sects against each other, no doubt, but it was justifiable. The plea was perfectly true, consummately opportune, and absolutely successful. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)

A diversion

During the early excesses of the French Revolution, a rabble of men and women were rioting in the streets of Paris. Lafayette appeared and ordered a young artillery officer to open fire upon them with two cannon. The officer begged the general to let him try first to persuade them to withdraw. “It is useless to appeal to their reason,” said the general. “Certainly,” answered the officer; “and it is not to their reason, but to their vanity, I would appeal.” The officer rode up to the front of the mob, doffed his cocked hat, pointed to the guns, and said, “Gentlemen, will you have the kindness to retire; for I am ordered to shoot down the rabble.” The street was cleared at once; for none could brook the idea of being classed with the scum of the city.

Paul’s policy vindicated

If a general, who had never distinguished himself by his bravery, should, in some hazardous enterprise, proceed with a caution bordering on timidity, and thus bring off his men in safety, but gain no victory, he might be suspected of cowardice, and it might be thought that a more determined leader would have boldly attacked and routed the enemy. But if the very same caution, with the very same result, had been used by a veteran who had manifested his prowess in many a hard fought field , all would be satisfied that he had good reason for what he did, and would admire the union of courage and circumspection which met in his character. Let this obvious and just mode of judging be applied to Paul. If we knew no more of him than what we learn from this transaction, we might suspect that his fears had led him to suppress a part of his principles. Or had it been Mark who now acted in this manner, we might have ascribed his conduct to timorousness. But when it was Paul, who was familiar with danger and with suffering, and whose coming at this time to Jerusalem was in the face of foreshown peril, and with a readiness to be bound or even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus; every rule of judging compels us to conclude that his wariness was not the result of fear, but manifested a circumspection which adds to the lustre of his character, and shows that his sufferings were not incurred by rashness or self-will, but were the unavoidable consequence of his faithfulness in preaching the gospel of Christ. (J. Fawcett, M. A.)

Of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

Proofs of the resurrection

Every impulse and feeling we have within us teaches a prolonged and immortal existence.

1. As to proofs from the conscience. Conscience of guilt speaks with great certainty of a future life.

2. Proofs from our affections: from our human affections in the remembrance of lost friends. Rev. Octavius Winslow has beautifully said that this assurance of heaven grows stronger gradually as the family on earth grows less, and there are more to meet us above. Further from our religious affections. Can the saint who has spent long years in learning to realise the presence of God here be made to believe that he shall be cut off from it hereafter?

3. Proofs from the will and desires.

4. Proofs from the imagination. The mind of man in every age, in every country, has been busied in painting a future life. The mythology of all religions from Egypt to Mexico, from the civilised Roman to the unenlightened Druid, are full of this. This may be called the weakest of our proofs, but it is the most universal. (E. Sharpe.)

The hope and the resurrection

Not a little light will be thrown upon Paul’s conduct if it be remembered that his address from the stairs was unfinished, and that his mind must have been full of the thoughts which, if altered, would make that address complete. Verse 1 is the natural conclusion to the argument of the preceding chapter, which shows the sincerity with which he embraced and held his present views. Another interruption occurs, and as soon as it subsides the apostle resumes, to deal with a subject which is never absent from his speeches. Seeing Pharisees present Paul recognises a providential moment for proclaiming their favourite doctrine and his own; and it is interesting to compare the whole paragraph with Acts 24:14-15; Acts 26:5-6. “The hope,” which should be distinguished from “the resurrection,” was unquestionably the advent of the Messiah which Paul had proved had taken place, inasmuch as Christ had appeared unto him (Acts 22:6-10). With the hope, the calling of the Gentiles (the ground of the uproar-- Acts 21:28-29) was inseparably bound up, as any impartial student of prophecy will admit, and as Paul tried to show (Acts 22:18; Acts 22:21) when he was compelled to break off. And then, further, upon the hope the resurrection was founded and made sure. Consider--

The hope. It was--

1. An ancient hope: as old as the fall, renewed to the patriarchs, repeated by the prophets and psalmist. In all its vicissitudes Israel had been supported by this hope, and men were eagerly waiting for its fulfilment when Christ came.

2. It was a sure hope. It was no brilliant speculation or dream of a golden age. It was no vague impression that as God in wrath had closed the gates of Paradise, He might, perhaps, in mercy, send a deliverer to open them once more. It was a hope based upon certain definite promises made by God again and again.

3. It was a wide hope. With the Scriptures in their hands it is hard to account for Jewish exclusiveness. The primeval promise was made to humanity; the patriarchal promises embraced all the families of the earth, and the glowing prophecies of Isaiah show clearly that without the Gentiles the Jews themselves could not be made perfect.

4. It was a glorious hope. It included--

(1) Redemption from sin.

(2) The establishment of a universal kingdom of righteousness and peace.

5. The hope has been fulfilled. Have you any part in it? The Jews rejected Him who was the subject of it. He now offers Himself, and it to you. How will you escape if you neglect so great salvation?

The resurrection as founded on the hope. The fulfilment of the hope for this life only would have frustrated its purpose--to make men blessed. Its very revelation would have engendered despair at the thought that it would one day come to an end (1 Corinthians 15:19). But connected with the revelation it is an eternal hope, it opens vistas of glory and bliss that stretch out forever.

1. Christ has redeemed the body as well as the soul. The future life and happiness which He purchased for the one He has secured for the other.

2. Christ gave a security for our resurrection by His own.

3. Christ promised it in connection with Himself, “the hope.” (J. W. Burn.)

And when he had so said there arose a dissension.--

The effect of the apostle’s policy

It answered the end he sought. It divided the Sanhedrin, and got the Pharisees on his side. Three results came out of it.

1. A great excitement through a sectionising dogma. “The resurrection of the dead,” which was a grand truth to the apostle, was a mere dogma to them; but it was just that dogma that divided them into two sects. As a rule, whatever idea divides one religious sect from another is the idea which awakens sectarian bitterness. Immersion, Presbyterianism, Independency--these things make sects and awaken irritation in the parties they divide.

2. A demonstration of the apostle’s innocence. So little impressed was the Sanhedrin with the idea of the apostle’s criminality, that they forgot all about it in the disputation amongst themselves; and, more than this, the Pharisees actually said, “We find no evil in this man.”

3. His deliverance from Jewish persecution (verse 10). (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The strife between the Pharisees and the Sadducees

There are plenty of indications in the Talmud that there was no love lost between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Edersheim quotes several Sadducee sayings regarding the scrupulosity of the Pharisees. “It is as a tradition among the Pharisees to torment themselves in this world, and yet they will gain nothing by it in the next.” “By and by,” said the Sadducees, “the Pharisees will set about purifying the round sun itself.” They also talked of “the plague of Pharisaism”; and enumerated seven kinds of Pharisees, of whom only one kind was praiseworthy. Nor was this strife regarding Paul the only occasion on which a serious disturbance was provoked by the differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in pouring the water of libation upon the altar on the feast of tabernacles, and the Pharisees did. On one occasion the dispute was so intense that it led to a riot in which the blood of both parties was shed. In the modern East, such appeals as Paul made to the fanaticism of the Pharisees are matters of everyday occurrence. (S. S. Times.)

And there arose a great dissension.--

Religious dissensions

There is hardly anything which men are more ready to quarrel over than religion. And the less religion they have, the harder they will fight for it. The last thing which dies out in an ungodly man’s religious life is his sectarianism; and as long as any of that remains, he will argue in its defence and denounce its opponents. When the Churches in any community are coldest and most inactive, then sectarian bitterness is most likely to prevail When those Churches are warmed into new life, and become active in their Master’s service, and in zeal for souls, they think less of that which separates them in name, and more of that which they hold and love in common. Sectarian dissensions are a sign of a low spiritual state. If you are ready to note your differences with your religious neighbour, it is a pretty sure proof that you have not enough religion to quarrel over. If you are really possessed with religious zeal, you will be on the look out for points of agreement in its behalf, in your neighbour’s opinions and practice. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)

We find no evil in this man.--


Of course, the Pharisees found no evil in Paul when they learned that he was on their side of the question at issue. We are not inclined to see faults in the man who agrees with us in any difference we have with others. He who defends our denomination, or our political party, or our views of financial policy, or our theories of education, stands better in our eyes than he could under other circumstances. Let a prominent politician change his party associations, and how quickly the whole community is affected in its opinions of his personal character. The men who before praised his spirit and ability are now sure that he never amounted to much any way. They always knew him to be unprincipled, and he is no gain to any party. And those who have been his enemies are surprised that he had been so misunderstood. At all events, they now find no evil in him, and they wonder if a spirit hath not spoken to him, or an angel. Would not it be well--safe as well as charitable--to ask this question about a man while he is on the other side from ourselves, of questions which divide our common country, or our common Christianity? (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)

Paul’s rescue by the dissensions of his enemies

When Cadmus had sown the dragon’s teeth and they sprang up from the ground armed giants, a great army, he took up a rock and threw it among them. So that instead of slaying him they went to fighting one another. And they slew one another till only one tall giant remained, and he became the helper of Cadmus in carrying stones for the walls of the city of Thebes he began to build. So it is wise to let the enemies of Christianity fight one another; one tears down what another builds up. So it has been through the ages, whether they use historic criticism or geology, or antiquarian researches or development theories, or any form of science for their weapons. But always after the battle is over there is left some solid, settled truth which never fails to help build the city Of our God. (Christian Age.)

Verses 11-35

Acts 23:11-35

And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul.

Paul in the castle at Jerusalem

On two other occasions a special Divine encouragement was given to Paul similar to the one here (Acts 18:9-10; Acts 27:23-24). At other times he acted under the general promises which God makes to all His people; but in these instances, special difficulties made a special promise appropriate. Note--

The difficulties and dangers which surrounded Paul.

1. The conspiracy which had been secretly formed against his life. Of this it may be remarked--

(1) That it was made sufficiently strong to render success morally certain. More than forty men who bound themselves over to destruction--to the wrath of God--if they did not succeed.

(2) It might be presumed that Lysias would readily grant a request which would relieve him of embarrassment.

(3) Had the request been granted, it would have been an easy matter to have carried their purpose into execution, for it is not probable that a strong guard would have been sent on an errand apparently so peaceful. In the vision Paul was assured of protection from this danger; and he was rescued in a most remarkable manner (Acts 23:16-24).

2. The trials before the Roman governors of Syria. The character of Felix (chap. 24); a man corrupt in heart and life (Acts 23:25); ready to be bribed (Acts 23:26); disposed to do anything to gratify the Jews (Acts 23:27); afforded little reason to hope for justice. The probability that Paul would be delivered up to the Jews, and life again endangered, was not less in the trial before Festus who (chap. 25) was equally disposed to conciliate the Jews (Acts 23:9); which led Paul to appeal to Caesar, and secure what had been promised him in the vision. It is easy to see how, when brought before Felix and Festus, the promise that he should “bear witness at Rome” was necessary to sustain him.

3. The voyage to Rome. In the storm, and shipwreck, all human probability of reaching Rome would fail entirely. Amidst these scenes, Paul could not but fall back on this Divine assurance.

The assurance given is the vision, as an illustration of the arrangements which God has made to keep us from despondency.

1. There is need of such an arrangement. We are often surrounded with perils, and are disappointed in our plans. We see no egress from our difficulties; no way of escape from our danger. Obviously we need some arrangement that will inspire hope.

2. We are secretly conscious to ourselves that there is such an arrangement. The world, though full of disappointment and trouble, is not inactive or despairing. There is a conscious something--which inspirits the mariner, the warrior, the farmer, the merchant, the traveller, the Christian. What is this arrangement? How does it appear that it is of Divine origin, and marked by Divine benevolence? In reply to these questions I shall advert--

(1) To the records of the past. We have unconsciously before us, in our difficulties, the memory of the general success which crowns the conflicts of life. The arrangements of God show that the general tendency of things is favourable to effort and to virtue, and preserve the world from idleness and despair.

(2) To the general promises of the Bible. In reference to temporal matters, the promises in regard to success in this life (Isaiah 33:15-16; Psa 37:25; 1 Timothy 4:8; Psalms 84:11; Philippians 4:19; Psalms 23:1; Hebrews 13:5), and temporal good (Leviticus 19:25; Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 16:15; Deuteronomy 28:4; Psalms 67:6) are of a general character; but in reference to the future life they are absolute (Matthew 4:7-8; Mark 16:16; John 6:37; Revelation 22:17). That there are dangers and enemies in the way of our salvation, and that it requires a struggle is certain; but the promise of victory is positive.

(3) To what may be designated an internal confidence of success and safety. How much of hope there is in the young man, the mariner, the merchant, the farmer, etc. God has created the mind buoyant, elastic, hopeful. He leads men to think of recovery and success, rather than to anticipate disaster and defeat. He has thus said to every man, not in distinct vision, yet really, “Be of good cheer!” (A. Barnes, D. D.)

Good cheer from past and future service

From the midnight whisper of the Lord to Paul we may draw forth sweet encouragement. Paul was like the rest of us, made of flesh and blood, and therefore liable to be cast down: he had kept himself calm at first; but, still, the strong excitement of the day no doubt operated upon his mind, and when he was lying in prison all alone, thinking upon the perils which surrounded him, he needed good cheer, and he received it.

1. This consisted, first, in his Master’s presence: “The Lord stood by him.” If all else forsook him, Jesus was company enough; if all despised him, Jesus’ smile was patronage enough; if the good cause seemed in danger, in the presence of his Master victory was sure. “The Lord stood by him.” This shall be said of all who diligently serve God. Dear friend, if you are a worker of the Lord Jesus, depend upon it He will not desert you. Did you ever forsake a friend who was spending his strength for you? If you have done so, you ought to be ashamed of yourself; but I think I hear you say, indignantly, “No, I have always been faithful to my faithful friend.” Do not, therefore, suspect your Lord of treating you ungenerously, for He is faithful and true.

2. The next comfort for Paul was the reflection that the Lord’s standing by him proved that He knew where he was, and was aware of his condition. One is reminded of the Quaker who came to see John Bunyan in prison, and said to him, “Friend, the Lord sent me to thee, and I have been seeking thee in half the prisons in England.” “Nay, verily,” said John, “that cannot be; for if the Lord had sent thee to me, thou wouldst have come here at once, for He knows I have been here for years.” God has not a single jewel laid by and forgotten. “Thou God seest me” is a great consolation to one who delights himself in the Lord. The Lord stood by Paul despite doors and locks: he asked no warder’s leave to enter, nor did He stir bolt or bar; but there He was, She Companion of His humble servant. If we come into such a peculiar position that no friend knows our experience, none having been tempted as we are, yet the Lord Jesus can enter into our special trial and sympathise in our peculiar grief. Jesus can stand side by side with us, for He has been afflicted in all our afflictions. What is more, that part of our circumstances which we do not know ourselves, Jesus knows, and in these He stands by us; for Paul was not aware of the danger to which he was exposed, he did not know that certain Jews, to the number of forty, had banded together to kill him; but He who was his shield and his exceeding great reward had heard the cruel oath, and arranged to disappoint the bloodthirsty ones. Before Satan can draw the bow the Preserver of men will pus His beloved beyond the reach of the arrow. Before the weapon is forged in the furnace, and fashioned on the anvil, He knows how to provide us with armour of proof which shall turn the edge of She sword and break the point of the spear.

3. When the Lord Jesus came to Paul He gave him a third reason for courage. He said, “Be of good cheer, Paul: for thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem.” There was much comfort in this assurance that his work was accepted of his Master. We dare not look for much joy in anything that we have done, for our poor works are all imperfect; and yet the Lord sometimes gives His servants honey in the carcasses of lions which they have themselves slain by pouring into their souls a sweet sense of having walked in integrity before Him. Herein is good cheer; for if the Lord accepts, it is a small matter if men condemn. The Lord says to Paul, “Thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem.” The apostle had done so, but he was too humble to console himself with that fact till his Lord gave him leave to do so by acknowledging the brave deed. It may be that your conscience makes you more familiar with your faults than with your services, and you rather sigh than sing as you look back upon your Christian career; yet your loving Lord rovers all your failures, and commends you for what His grace has enabled you to do in the way of witness bearing. It must be sweet to you to hear Him say, “I know thy works; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.”

4. A fourth comfort remained for Paul in the words, “As thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” The Lord would have us take comfort from the prospect of future service and usefulness. We are not done with yet, and thrown aside as vessels in which the Lord hath no more. This is the chief point of comfort in our Lord’s word to the apostle. Be of good courage, there is more for you to do, Paul; they cannot kill you at Jerusalem, for you must bear witness also at Rome. Wycliffe could not die though the malicious monks favoured him with their best wishes in that direction. “Nay,” said the reformer, “I shall not die, but live, and declare all the evil deeds of the friars.” The sight of rogues to be exposed roused his flickering life, and revived its flame. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Paul’s vision

1. Christ is constantly with His followers, and He often manifests Himself at the very moment when the future looks darkest to human eyes.

2. Christ manifests Himself with a cheering message: “Be of good cheer.” The poor persecuted disciple, whom apparently only his enemy’s mutual jealousies preserve from instant death, is made to feel that the power of Omnipotence is behind him.

3. Christ manifests Himself with words of cheer for His followers, but He does not assure them that their troubles are yet over. Paul has testified in Jerusalem, and must go on to bear witness at Rome.

4. Christ gives no furloughs until the conflict is over. All Paul could look forward to in this world was a mere change of battlefields.

5. Christ gives no furloughs here, but gives the assurance of a final honourable discharge to those who fight the battle out. Paul testified for Christ in Jerusalem and Rome; Christ testifies for Paul in the New Jerusalem of God. (S. S. Times.)

The vision in the castle of Antonia

Learn that--

Faithful service in the past is rewarded by the comfort of Christ’s manifest and marked encouragement. Rewards of Christian service are not all kept for heaven. We may not have the crown here, but we may feel the grasp of the hand that shall presently put it on (Isaiah 41:13). We may not, while on earth, see the Saviour “as He is”; we may nevertheless feel His presence.

1. The Lord’s way of comforting His servants is by His presence. When a little child is in great sorrow, only a mother’s comfort suffices. Servant’s, and sister’s, and even a father’s comfort are not enough. So we want the mighty volume of His sympathy who alone is sufficiently “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”

2. The Lord’s words of comfort are words of direct encouragement. How characteristic of the Saviour this language is. “Fear not,” and “Be of good cheer,” are words constantly on His lips. To Abraham, to Moses, through Isaiah, God whispers, “Fear not.” To Mary, Joseph, the women, Zacharias, Jairus, the “little flock,” the daughter of Sion, John in Patmos, etc., Christ and His angels say, “Fear not.” Christ spake it to the man sick of the palsy, to the frightened disciples in the storm, and to the suffering Church which in the world must have tribulation.

The faithful service of the past is a qualification and commission for the difficult duties of the future. “As thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must,” etc.

1. The past had qualified Paul for the future. Jerusalem, and all that went before, would help him to preach at Rome. The trials here would make him strong before Nero, and his hearers would look on this well-tried servant, and become stronger in his past fidelity and deliverances.

2. His past was also his commission for the future. This new service was the reward of the old fidelity; this new battle the honour conferred for the past victory. Marlborough’s minor victories in 1702 make way for Blenheim in 1704 and Blenheim in turn makes way, later on, for Ramillies. So Talavera, and Salamanca, and Vittoria are but Wellington’s preface and commission for Waterloo. Nelson fought St. Vincent and the Nile only to go on to Trafalgar. So our Lord is wont to say to His servants: “Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many”; “Thou hast been faithful at Jerusalem, reward is to testify at Rome.” They who fight their smaller battles well, will find larger field s and nobler victories.

The words which Christ speaks as to the faithful past, guide and strengthen His servants in trials get to come. Christ’s words--

1. Guided Paul as to his after appeal to Rome. When Festus asked, “Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 25:9), Paul replied, “I appeal unto Caesar.” Some good men have accused Paul of weakness and error here. No! Paul felt clear about his duty, and had no regret when Agrippa said, “This man might have been set at liberty if he had not appealed unto Caesar.” The Saviour Himself had said, “Thou shalt bear witness at Rome.”

2. Gave Paul patience during a long and tedious course of waiting. The apostle’s heart had long been set on visiting Rome. His enemies were playing into his hands and were undertaking the charges of his journey. But for two whole years Festus kept Paul bound. But the Saviour had promised Rome, and that was enough. Thus patience was born of former faithfulness.

3. Afforded assurance to Paul amidst the terrific dangers of the journey.

4. Was strength to Paul in Rome. (F. G. Marchant.)

Paul’s final departure from Jerusalem

Was marked by--

A visit from Christ (verse 11). This advent was--

1. Opportune. We may well suppose that Paul’s sensitive nature would be subject to many painful memories, gloomy thoughts, boding anxieties, and perhaps sceptical thoughts.

2. Cheering: What a contrast to the words of falsehood, cursing, blasphemy, which during the previous days had been addressed to him! Christ’s words were words of--

(1) Commendation. Had Paul been allowed the mental agony of questioning whether he had done the right thing in Jerusalem? If so, here is a scattering of the dark thought: “Thou hast testified of Me”--well done.

(2) Information. Paul had long been intensely anxious to visit Rome (Acts 19:21; Romans 1:10; Romans 15:23-24). Perhaps he had given up this long-cherished purpose, and had wept bitter tears of disappointment on the wreck of the loved hope. Christ’s words now assured him.

3. Suggestive that great trials in duty--

(1) Are no evidence of unfaithfulness.

(2) Are all known to Christ.

(3) Do not release us from the obligation to persevere.

A conspiracy of enemies (verses 12-16). This conspiracy was--

1. Malignant. The sufferings to which he was already subject did not satisfy them. Like wild beasts they thirsted for his blood.

2. Determined. “They bound themselves under a curse.”

3. Strong. “More than forty.”

4. Cunning (verse 14). Being in the charge of the Roman officer, he could only be got at through the Sanhedrin. The fact that these wretches could make such a request demonstrates the immorality that prevailed amongst the rulers.

An interposition of providence. In the verses that follow (16-35) we find Divine Providence--

1. Thwarting the evil. In the method here recorded we find three things which generally characterise the procedure of Providence.

(1) Simplicity. The agency employed was “Paul’s sister’s son.” This is all we know of the family of Paul. Here is a young man, probably uninfluential and obscure, who does the work. It has ever been Heaven’s plan to employ insignificant means for the accomplishment of great ends.

(2) Unexpectedness. Little did the conspirators expect that their plan would be defeated by an obscure youth; little did Paul expect that deliverance would come for him from such a quarter. Means often most unlikely are employed to accomplish important results.

(3) Naturalness. It was natural

(a) for Paul’s nephew, having heard of the malignant plot, to seek access to his uncle, and to warn him of it.

(b) For his uncle to despatch him to the chief captain.

(c) For the chief captain, as a man of honour, to act as he did.

2. Delivering the good.

(1) Paul secured a safe journey to Caesarea. God’s resources are greater than the devil’s. There were forty murderers in quest of Paul’s life, but God raised nearly five hundred brave soldiers to protect him. More are they that are for us than they that are against us.

(2) Paul secured a good introduction to the Roman judge, in the letter that was written by Lysias to Felix. So far Paul is safe, and on his way to the imperial city he long desired to visit. Truly, “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The call from heaven, “Be of good cheer,” is for all Christ’s faithful servants

1. To comfort them at the unrighteous judgment of the world.

2. To indemnify them for the reproach of their ministry.

3. To allay their doubts as to their procedure.

4. To strengthen them for future contests. (K. Gerok.)

And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse.--

The plot of the Jews

Note that hatred--

Rises early, but love rises earlier. When morning came the Jews sought Paul’s life, but the Lord had stood by Paul long before the morning dawned.

Always binds men with a curse, and the curse is on the haters, not on the hated. Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.

Demands satisfaction, though bodily wants go unsatisfied. But no soul can live long on hatred’s poison.

Demands satisfaction, but it does not secure it, when love appoints otherwise. These plotting Jews died of thirst and starvation if they were faithful to their murderous vow.

Is injudicious. It confides its murderous designs to forty men, half of whom are probably constitutionally unable to keep a secret.

Is prompt and energetic. It were well if more of Christ’s followers had a little of the fiery zeal for Christ that His enemies display against Christ.

Is lying, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, mean. Under the pretence of sending for Paul to question, it makes ready to stab him. (K. Gerok.)

The assassins

One fancies they were chiefly young men, such as are usually foremost in daring and reckless deeds of violence. Probably many of them were students in the rabbinical schools, just as many Nihilists now in Russia are students of the universities. Paul could hardly wonder that some of them should be wrought up to this desperate and cruel undertaking, when he remembered how, a little over twenty years before, he himself had persecuted the Christians in Jerusalem, dragging men and women to prison, and, like some fierce monster, “breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” (J. A. Broadus, D. D.)

Confederacy in evil

In union there is strength--strength for evil as well as strength for good; and many a man will consent to wrong-doing in a ring, or in a corporation, or in a society of which he is a member, when he would never think of consenting to that same evil if he were all by himself in action. We have no need to go back to the days of the apostles for illustrations of this evil spirit. Instances of it abound in the European Nihilists, and the international dynamiters, and the gangs of robbers for both political and material plunder, in our American cities and in our American borders; all of whom exhibit everything that was evil in the course of the Jewish zealots, without the mitigating feature of an honest conviction, or of an accord with the prevalent spirit of the age. There is a timeliness in this Bible illustration of this accursed spirit of secret conspiring in an unholy brotherhood against law and religion, and against life and decency. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)

The conspiracy against Paul

In the story of the sack of Troy, Virgil has told us of the coming of Venus to AEneas to persuade him to abandon the useless defence of the city. She dispels the cloud which dims his vision, and enables him to see invisible deities who assist the Greeks in their work of conquest and destruction. AEneas now learns that he has done battle, not against “flesh and blood,” but against spiritual forces mightier than all the powers of earth. The classic story clearly pictures the natural blindness of men to the spiritual forces which overrule their lives, and the special favour bestowed upon him whose eyes are opened to see events in the light of the unseen world. And this is the great lesson here.

God is ever present and active in human affairs. Not always manifestly. The young man who stood by the side of Elisha at Dothan saw nothing at first to persuade him that God was present. But when his eyes were opened he saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire.” The forty conspirators here sought no help and feared no hindrance from the hand of God, although their design was made in the name of their religion. But when the fruits of religion are hatred and wrath and thirst for blood, God is not in it. The help to which these men turned was their own cunning. “If we can manage Claudius Lysias,” they said, “nothing shall save Paul.” And yet God was present and active, giving them freedom to make their plans, and some degree of freedom in executing them, but keeping results in His own hand. So, let us believe, He always works.

God’s agents in these events were blind to this transcendent fact.

1. Claudius Lysias was unconscious of anything of the sort. He was only a shrewd man, bent upon extricating himself from perplexing difficulties. Alarmed by the, to him unaccountable, violence of the Jews, and disturbed by his non-recognition of a Roman citizen, he fixed upon the plan of sending Paul to Caesarea, as a safe way of relieving himself from further responsibility.

2. More culpable was the blindness of the chief priests and elders and conspirators. How came it that they, belonging to the nation chosen of God to receive the special revelation of His will, were so blind to His purposes? The answer is: Their moral blindness was a result of past sins. We can see God in His plans and wishes only along the line of a sincere and holy purpose.

The apostle was the one man of open vision. Nothing in his outward condition had power to obliterate or to disturb his sense of God’s nearness, and of His infinite grace. The Roman barracks had been to him a Bethel.

1. To find the reason for this vision we must go back to the very beginning of Paul’s Christian life. In the saying, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,” is to be found the reason why at critical moments in his life the Lord “stood by him” to reassure his heart. There is a wonder working instrument of science, by the aid of which one may hear the voice of a friend who is in the heart of a distant city. So upon devoutly attentive ears there may fall, distinct and musical, the still small voice of God, which not all earth’s many voices can drown.

2. The apostle’s assurance of God’s presence led him not to a passive reliance, but to cooperation. As he saw the power of the Roman soldiery enlisted in his behalf, he gladly availed himself of their protecting care. When the young man came into his presence to reveal the plot of the conspirators, be immediately availed himself of this information, and laid claim to the help of the chief captain. (W. G. Sperry.)

Divine assistance

1. God strengthens His servants internally by the promise of His grace (verse 14).

2. He reveals the designs of their enemies (verse 16).

3. He stirs up for them active friends (Paul’s nephew) and powerful protectors (Lysias).

4. He brings them uninjured through the midst of their enemies (verse 23).

5. He gives them an honourable testimony on the way (verse 25, etc.). (K. Gerok.)

Divine protection

Required against the crafty designs of enemies who--

1. Unite against the righteous (verses 12, 13).

2. Disguise themselves under a pious appearance (verses 14, 15).

Experienced. God--

1. Brings the wickedness to light (verse 16).

2. Directs the hearts of men for the good of the righteous (verses 17-22). (Lisco.)

And they came to the chief priests and elders and said … signify to the chief captain.--

Evil-doing by proxy

Many persons who would not themselves commit a crime can be induced to have a share in the results of crime. There are railroad stockholders who would not themselves attempt bribery, who will accept a dividend on stock which has been made profitable through a bribery of the Legislature for its advantage. There are bank stockholders who will share without a protest the proceeds of a guilty compromise made by the bank officials with bank robbers for the recovery of stolen funds. And there are Christian voters who will vote for a corrupt man in city councils or in the Legislature, because his corrupt ways increase the value of real estate, or improve the health and comfort of the community. Those Jewish conspirators knew something about human nature when they went to the chief priests and elders, and said, All we ask of you is to get Paul into the open street; then we’ll see to it that he never troubles you again. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)

Verses 16-22

Acts 23:16-22

And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he … told Paul.

Paul’s sister’s son

From this subject we learn--

That humble and nameless individuals are sometimes of great service in the world. There are anonymous ministries in life that are of unspeakable importance. The agent is unknown or forgotten, but the deed lives forever. As ships meet during night at sea, a moment together, and then never to cross each other’s path again; as a figure appears upon the canvas of a moving panorama, for an instant arresting every eye, and then never to be looked on more; so, in the page of history, and in our own observation, some individuality suddenly appears in the foreground, and fills an important mission, and then as quickly vanishes, and is forgotten. Well, perhaps, some of you are at times tempted to a feeling of discouragement, because you are never likely to occupy a position of prominence or distinction. Outside of your own family your name is not known, nor ever likely to be. Never mind that. You may do splendid work notwithstanding. The craving for notoriety is often a serious drawback to real usefulness. Many a noisy and fussy philanthropist is doing a far less solid and valuable work than some quiet and unobtrusive Christian. It has often been said, that there are few things better fitted to humble a young man than to be thrown into this great world of London; for, however conspicuous he may have been in the place he came from, here he is at once lost in the mighty throng. And yet, if a man has anything in him, and especially if he has the grace of God, he will not be long without finding scope for its exercise; and often the opening turns up in the most unlooked for quarter.

The value of promptness in action. Had the youth before us paused an hour or two, in all human certainty the apostle would have been slain. It is a life-long disadvantage to many a youth that he is so slow and lethargic in his movements. In these busy days in which we live time means money; and the young fellow who looks as though he were half-asleep will be left far behind by his more agile companion. The proverb, “Slow and sure,” sound though it often is, is responsible for a good deal of wasted time; for there is many a case in which “prompt and sure” would be a wiser adage. Sir Walter Scott wrote: “Beware of a propensity which easily besets you--I mean what women call dawdling. Let your motto be Hoc age. Do instantly whatever is to be done, and take your recreation after business, never before it.” Remember, however, that despatch does not mean hurry. Hurry is the mark of a weak mind, despatch of a strong one. When a regiment is under march, the rear are sometimes thrown into confusion because the front are lazy and irregular; so the whole arrangements in a house of business may be thrown out of gear, because the lads who do the initial work are dilatory. The dawdler, like a squirrel in a revolving cage, has the appearance of being busy, but accomplishes no results; has a hundred irons in the fire, but few of them are hot, and with the few that are he only burns his fingers. It is said of one who came to great distinction in the House of Commons, that the first occasion of his opening his mouth in that assembly was when, as quite a young man, he rose and gave prompt expression to his views. He sat down nervous, and afraid he had made a blunder. In a few minutes a little piece of paper was handed to him with two words written on it by the greatest statesman of the day--“You’ll do.” The incident yielded him so much stimulus that he retained that morsel of paper as one of his greatest treasures; it was preserved as an heirloom in the family; and today may be seen in the hall of the mansion, handsomely mounted and framed, pointing the lesson to all young men who enter, to be prompt, decisive, and courageous: “You’ll do.” We live in a prompt universe, and all through the handiwork of God we find that time is kept to a second. I am the more anxious to impress this upon you, because there is an epidemic of laziness abroad. Look down the advertisement columns of the newspapers, and how often you will read, “A young man desires a light situation.” Ward Beecher got a letter from such a youth, asking him to find him an easy berth. He replied as follows: “If you wish an easy berth don’t be an editor. Do not try the law. Do not think of the ministry. Avoid school keeping. Let alone all ships, stores, shops, merchandise. Abhor polities. Don’t practise medicine. Be not a farmer nor mechanic; neither be a soldier nor sailor. Don’t work. Don’t study. Don’t think; none of these are easy. Oh, my friend, you have come into a hard world. I know of but one easy place in it, and that is the gravel.”

The play of natural affection. The youth was probably a Pharisee; but natural affection triumphed over the bitterness of religious animosity. The chivalrous spirit of the young man was roused; and, by all means, his uncle, in spite of his heresy, must be saved. We applaud the lad for this. He was better than his creed. Perhaps the apostle had him in mind when he wrote to Timothy, “If any have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home.” His own nephew set a good example. Some of you, perhaps, might do well to take a leaf out of his book. I have known men who, when they got on a bit, seemed to forget that they had any relatives in the world. But there is not a finer sight than that of a young man who has got on well in the world sending substantial help to a widowed mother, or taking in hand the education of a younger brother, or saving so much from his weekly wage or quarter’s salary, to help some other relative who was in need. Verily I say unto you, such a man shall in no wise lose his reward. (J. Thain Davidson, D. D.)

Paul’s sister’s son

1. When Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he did not himself sit helplessly down and wonder how in the world Uncle Paul would get out of his troubles.

2. He went straight at work to frustrate it, and his first step was to inform Paul of its nature. It is seldom a kindness to conceal a friend’s danger from him.

3. He carried out the undertaking nobly. None of Paul’s family were on intimate terms with the word “fail.”

4. When brought before the chief captain, he doubtless dreaded the meeting, but he was received courteously, questioned carefully, and dismissed pleasantly. A Christian duty is seldom so formidable a task as at first sight we fear it may be.

5. The young man and Paul himself were treated with marked consideration by those around them. Which goes to show that even in the dim light of a dungeon it is easy to recognise pure characters and lofty aims.

6. Paul’s sister’s son was dismissed with a caution against indiscriminate talking, and, so far as we know, he always heeded it. If some modern Church members would only give attention to his example in this regard! (S. S. Times.)

Paul’s sister’s son

The incident teaches us--

That unknown men may be immortalised--By association with a good cause. All unknown to himself, this unknown youth was identifying himself with the cause of Christ, and thus obtains a few lines in the Christian book which has made him famous in every clime. No matter how humble a part a man may play in God’s Church or in the cause of humanity, there is a record kept which will one day be read out before an assembled universe.

That feeble instrumentalities may be capable of the mightiest service. This youth could mot have done what his uncle afterwards did, but without his nephew’s help Paul himself would have been unable to do it. We may thank Paul’s sister’s son for Paul’s testimony at Rome and for some of his great Epistles. And, as this narrative shows, he got prompt credit for it, which is not usually the case. And yet where would commerce, e.g., be but for young men? We wonder at the stupendous business done by a certain house, and admire the genius of its head; but where would he be but for the army of clerks, apprentices, etc., who are behind him? Is the comparative stagnation of the Church due to its neglect of young men?

That the best-constructed schemes may be foiled by insignificant incidents. Nothing could have been better laid than this plot. No means likely to ensure success were omitted. Craft, power, and prestige were on the side of the conspirators. But “murder will out.” A hint was somehow dropped, somewhere, and by some means was wafted to the ears of Paul’s nephew--that was all. God has strange ways of frustrating wickedness. He does not need the aid of thunder nor lightning. A mysterious line in a letter, the prattle of a little child, a trifling accident occasioning a moment’s delay, the unaccountable misdirection of a message are enough.

That evil once discovered should be unmasked. The prompt action of this young man cannot be too widely imitated. When opportunity serves, the wrong-doer of course should be confronted with the hope of his reformation. But there are circumstances in which evil should meet with a summary and public exposure. Knowledge without revelation may be guilty complicity.

That good men should take precautions for their own safety. Paul might have been indifferent, relying on the Divine promise; but God’s promises are often fulfilled by the use of means. The best men often display lamentable carelessness about interests which are dear to Christ and the Church. But no one ought to be above advice to take care of his health, and defend his reputation.

That duty once undertaken should be bravely carried through. Paul’s nephew probably little expected so august an interview, and very likely would have shrunk from it if he had. But plucking up courage, he told the grim warrior all he had related to his gentler uncle. Let no man, having put his hand to the plough, look back. (J. W. Burn.)

The chief captain took him by the hand.--

How to treat young men

The scene is a graphic and touching one. Paul’s nephew was taken with his great secret into the presence of the chief captain who, with the frankness and affability of a true gentleman--noticing no doubt the shyness of the youth for the first time in the presence of a man of rank--took him by the hand, drew him gently into a quiet corner, and having thus put him at his ease, invited his confidence. The conduct of this Roman aristocrat towards a young Jew is not without its bearing on the Church today. Let us take each act and draw out the lessons.

He took him by the hand. Young men want taking by the hand, not by the hair, not by the neck, not by the shoulders. Understand this--

1. Literally. What an amount of good a little more hand shaking would do. It would be more effectual than many sermons and many prayers. Young men impervious to expostulation or appeal might easily be won by the kindly pressure of a hand. Yet how sadly seniors stand aloof, satisfied with a nod, or a “Good morning,” or even with less. They are willing to put their hands anywhere rather than into those of their young brothers--ready to undertake all the work of the Church, which would lose nothing, but gain much, if some of it were entrusted to younger hands.

2. Metaphorically. To take one by the hand means--

(1) Welcome.

(2) Brotherliness.

(3) Encouragement.

(4) Confidence.

These are all that young men want; let them be ungrudgingly rendered, and the Church of the next decade will have different results to show. The cry is, How to retain our young men? The answer is simply--Take them by the hand.

He went aside with him. It would do no harm, but much good, if young men were taken aside into--

1. The homes of the elders of the Church. Thousands of useful lives are thrown away through the friendlessness of young men plunged into city life. They know no one, they have nowhere to go, no one cares for them, and so they wander into the haunts of sin. What a blessing if their senior brethren would ask them home occasionally for a social hour!

2. The official meetings of the Church. They would then see its inner working, and thus be trained for more effective service. As a rule young men know nothing, and consequently care nothing, for the machinery of the Church, and so eventually lose all interest in its work.

He asked him, what is that thou hast to tell me? Young men should be asked--

1. About their temporal interests. This need not be done obtrusively or so as to excite suspicion of curiosity. But many a young man is yearning for someone to open a conversation which shall lead to a statement of difficulties, or a request for advice.

2. About their souls. How helpful to a youth when wandering into the ways of sin or on the brink of making the great decision, for some older brother to say, “Would you like to have a talk on religious matters?”

3. About the welfare of the Church. Young men sometimes fail to fall in with existing or projected schemes, because they have schemes of their own. The Church would do no harm if it were to draw them out, even though their projects should be declined.


1. Young men are the hope of the Church--a trite saying but fatally disregarded.

2. Let the Church make the most of its young men. (J. W. Burn.)

Verses 22-35

Acts 23:22-35

So the chief captain then let the young man depart.

Varied duties

Paul’s nephew could do nothing. He was therefore told to hold his tongue--a very necessary duty sometimes. There is a time to speak, and well did the young man use his opportunity; but there is a time to keep silence, and he discharged this duty no less well. Had he, inflated with his success, or with his interview with the great man, boasted even in a whisper, all might have been upset, and himself dishonoured. So many gifted men spoil all their past good service by some momentary indiscretion of speech. Be content that you have done a good work and do not talk about it. Be content also to see others work sometimes without complaining that you have no part in it, or criticising them and it.

Lysias could do something. He could provide for Paul’s safety and give him a recommendation; but he could not set him at liberty. Even had he possessed the power, it would have been unwise to exercise it for Paul’s sake. Learn the limitations of human ability and respect them. Do not try to do too much or you will spoil what you can do. Be content to do what you can do well, and leave it to be said about you, “He hath done what he could.”

Felix could do everything. He could give the apostle a fair trial and set him at liberty. But we see from his case that men with the greatest abilities do next to nothing or worse than nothing. Paul was tried, and the governor was convinced of his innocence, but kept him in prison for the worst motives. How much better to be able to do little and to do it well, than to have great abilities and abuse them! (J. W. Burn.)

Verse 31

Acts 23:31

Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul.

Paul’s last departure from Jerusalem

1. The mournful departure of a witness of the truth, whose message of salvation his blinded people have rejected.

2. The glorious triumphant march of a servant of God, whom the Lord leads victoriously through the midst of enemies.

3. The solemn homeward journey of a warrior of Christ, who goes to meet his last fight, his last victory, his eternal reward. (K. Gerok.)

The protection and honour of Christ’s people

A bodyguard of nearly five hundred men accompanied the apostle; he had never before journeyed with so strong an escort and so great a following. He was certainly indebted for so much respect primarily to his Roman privileges. But still it was a matter of fact that so strong a force was demanded for the security of his person. Christ not only protects His people, but also honours them. And the honour which is often unintentionally conferred on a child of God reflects back upon Him by whose grace a converted sinner is what he is. (G. V. Lechler, D. D.)

An historical parallel

Who will not in Paul, with his military escort, be reminded of Luther, his brother in spirit, successor in office, and companion in fortune, when he was conveyed by armed knights, and brought in safety to Wartzburg. (K. Gerok.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 23". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/acts-23.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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