Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.…
1. Paul and Barnabas did not violently separate themselves from old traditions and religious companionships. The Christian is not the enemy of the Jew; he owes everything precious in his civilisation and in his hope to the Jew. There was a custom in the synagogue which we have not in the church. The rulers of the synagogue, noticing distinguished persons in the audience, would invite them to address the assembly. In the olden time they believed that the Word was its own defence, that the fire of the Lord would disinfect whatever it touched, and that to be in the synagogue was to be deeply religious, and loyal to the spirit of the house. These things have all changed. Men can be in the Christian church in an unchristian spirit. The mere verbalist, yes, and even the mocker, may find his way into the church, and be only too glad to have an opportunity to contradict what he did not understand. The usual challenge having been given, Paul stood up. That was an event in history. In that brief sentence you have the beginning of a battle which was concluded with these words — "I have fought a good fight," etc. Paul did not stand up by himself. Men are lifted up. Every action of the loyal life is an action of inspiration. The good man lays no plans, and makes no arrangements which can exclude the sudden and incalculable inspiration of God.
2. This is Paul's first recorded speech. I like to be present at beginnings. There is a subtle, tender mysterious joy about planting roots and sowing seed, covering it up and leaving it in the darkness; then what a surprise it is to come back in due time and find the green lancet puncturing the soil and coming up to look at the light it has been groping for all the while! Sometimes our first speeches were very poor because they were our own. We made them, wrote them out, graved them upon the unwilling memory, and they were like something put on, not growing out; and so we begged our friends, who were unhappy enough to be able to quote some portions of them, to forget them if they could! But the first speeches of the Christian defender were incapable of improvement. They were as complete as the fiat of God which said — "Let there be light: and there was light."
3. Paul based his apology on the model of Stephen. We cannot tell of what elements our life is made up. It is no one shower of rain that makes the summer green. We are gathering from every point all day long. Paul was no student of rhetoric when he listened to Stephen; but Stephen's speech, like all vital speech, got into the man, and became part of his intellectual and spiritual life. Paul began as Stephen did, with a narrative of Jewish history. To their credit be it spoken, the Jews were never tired of hearing their own history. Are we patient under the citation of the facts which make up our history? We cannot live in sentiment. You cannot build a castle in the air that you can live in; it must be founded upon rock, however high up into the air you may carry it. This was the great law of Jewish eloquence and Jewish appeal, basing the whole argument upon the rock of undisputed history. Do not some of us occasionally say, "Tell me the old, old story of Jesus and His love"? — therein we are partly Jewish — that is our story! As the Jews began from the formation of themselves as a people, we begin at Bethlehem, and in proportion as we are in the right spirit and temper, we are never tired of hearing the old, old story.
4. Notice in this speech what we may call Paul's grip of God. I know not any speech of the same length in which the sacred word occurs so frequently. The factor we have omitted from our sermons is only — God! We are afraid or ashamed of His name; we pronounce it hesitatingly, mincingly, timidly. Paul did not use it so; he hurled it like a thunderbolt; he measured everything by that grand standard. All through history he saw a Figure after the similitude of God. You can dislodge a man from any position but that.
5. As we find Stephen's character in Stephen's apology, so we may find Paul's character in Paul's exposition. Mark his courtesy. He was no rough intruder, but a gentleman born, and indestructible all through and through, polite, refined, courteous, gentlemanly. His tact is most wonderful; he notices how the assembly is made up — he is a poor speaker who takes no note of his hearers. Paul saw not only the Jews, but the Greeks and proselytes, who, wearied with the absurdities of polytheism, had come to believe there was one God, a spiritual, invisible, eternal God! So Paul accosted both classes, "Men of Israel" — always distinguishable, never to be confounded with others — "and ye that fear God" — converted from mythology to true spirituality of thought — "give audience." How delicately he puts the case in ver. 27!
6. How wondrously Paul introduced the right way of quoting Scripture! There is hardly a quotation which he makes here which is not a double or a treble quotation turned into one: e.g., ver. 22 cannot be found in the Old Testament; it is at least three passages made into one. It is all in the Bible, but is in no one place in the Scripture. He does not quote the Bible who quotes mere texts. The Bible is larger than any one text that is in it. There is a spirit of collocation and a spirit of quotation, a Bible spirit that can bring from east, west, north, and south lines that shall focalise in one intense and dazzling glory.
7. Paul's voice surely had a quiver in it which no reporter could catch — for in reports we do not get the tonic colour and force of speech — when he said, "God gave unto them Saul," etc.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.