And God worked special miracles by the hands of Paul:
It should be carefully shown that Scripture miracles are never mere wonders, or displays of mere power. They are always signs, and always wrought for the sake of some immediate or prospective moral benefit. This may be affirmed, however singular the mere form of the miracle may be. The circumstances under which God sees fit to allow his servants to work miracles need careful examination and consideration. In connection with the text we find special circumstances. St. Paul had separated the disciples, and formed a distinct Christian community. For his own sake, and for the satisfaction of the people, it was important that some attestation of the Divine approval should be given. The question had to be settled - Was the Christian community, thus separately constituted, as fully under the power of the Holy Ghost as the older Jewish Christian community had been? The speciality of the miracles is designed to intimate that, under these circumstances, a new and mightier baptism of God's Spirit came upon the apostle, so that, apart from conscious efforts of his own will, healing virtue went forth from him. It is also noticed that "This great effusion of healing power, which, it is implied by the tense of the verb wrought, continued for some time, was granted as a counterpoise to the magical and theurgic practices to which the Ephesians were addicted" (vers. 13,19). In explanation of the agency of "handkerchiefs and aprons," the following notes from Eastern travelers may be helpfully suggestive: - Thomson, in 'The Land and the Book,' says, "The external instruments connected with working miracles had, in ancient times, transferred to them, in imagination, a portion of the sanctity and reverence due to him who used them, or to that Divine power which was transmitted through them. This applied not only to the staves, robes, and mantles of prophets while living, but to such things as their bones also, and even their very gravestones, when dead. It is now common to bind on or wrap round the sick some part of the robes of reputed saints, in the belief that healing virtue will be communicated from it." Morier says, "At a short distance, near the roadside, we saw the burial-place of a Persian saint, enclosed by very rude walls. Close to it grew a small bush, upon the branches of which were tied a variety of rags and remnants of garments. The Persians conceive that these rags, from their vicinity to the saint, acquire peculiar preservative virtues against sickness; and, substituting others, they take bits away, and, tying them about their persons, use them as talismans." How far God was pleased to fit in with the common sentiment of the age, in his gracious condescension, requires consideration; we may observe that such special manifestations of miraculous powers were strictly temporary, limited to the particular occasion for which they were required. We view these "special miracles" as the outward sign of three things.
I. GOD'S APPROVAL OF ST. PAUL'S ACTION IN SEPARATING THE DISCIPLES. That action had been intensely trying to the apostle himself; and a very questionable thing to the view of the synagogue folk, and of the disciples who followed the apostle. If miraculous attestations had been withheld just at this juncture, the enemies of St. Paul would have been enabled to assert the Divine disapproval of his conduct, and St. Paul would himself have been disheartened. Compare how graciously now God often gives success to his servants when they are called to take special action; giving them converts in unusual numbers, and so silencing their adversaries.
II. GOD'S ATTESTING PRESENCE WITH THE CHURCH'S LIFE AND LABOR. In those days miracles were the strong affirmation, - " God is with us." The very point of them is that they were wrought in the power of God. The very purpose of them is to bring home to men's hearts the conviction that what the miracle-worker says is from God, seeing that, so evidently, what he does is from God. Miracles are needed when men are dependent on outward and sensible proofs. Miracles are not needed when men are able to estimate moral and spiritual proofs. And, therefore, miracles are not needed now.
III. GOD'S CONDESCENSION IN PERSUADING THE EPHESIANS BY ADAPTING HIS DEALINGS TO THEIR SENTIMENTS. They were inclined to magic, and based their belief on superstitious rites. God would not admit the truth of their "black arts," but he would consider the tone and temper of mind which characterized them, and adapt his dealings so as to meet their prejudices and persuade them. So teaching us that while we must never misrepresent or prejudice God's truth, we must always seek so to know men that we may adapt our presentations of truth to them, and meet them on their more impressionable sides. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: