XXVIII. 1. Melita or Malta, is about twelve miles broad, twenty long, and sixty distant from Sicily to the south. It yields abundance of honey, (whence its name was taken,) with much cotton, and is very fruitful, though it has only three feet depth of earth above the solid rock. The Emperor Charles the Fifth gave it, in 1530, to the knights of Rhodes, driven out of Rhodes by the Turks. They are a thousand in number, of whom five hundred always reside on the island.
Verse 2. And the barbarians - So the Romans and Greeks termed all nations but their own. But surely the generosity shown by these uncultivated inhabitants of Malta, was far more valuable than all the varnish which the politest education could give, where it taught not humanity and compassion.
Verse 4. And when the barbarians saw - they said - Seeing also his chains, Doubtless this man is a murderer - Such rarely go unpunished even in this life; whom vengeance hath not suffered to live - They look upon him as a dead man already. It is with pleasure that we trace among these barbarians the force of conscience, and the belief of a particular providence: which some people of more learning have stupidly thought it philosophy to despise. But they erred in imagining, that calamities must always be interpreted as judgments. Let us guard against this, lest, like them, we condemn not only the innocent, but the excellent of the earth.
Verse 5. Having shaken off the venomous animal, he suffered no harm -The words of an eminent modern historian are, "No venomous kind of serpent now breeds in Malta, neither hurts if it be brought thither from another place. Children are seen there handling and playing even with scorpions; I have seen one eating them." If this be so, it seems to be fixed by the wisdom of God, as an eternal memorial of what he once wrought there.
Verse 6. They changed their minds, and said he was a god - Such is the stability of human reason! A little before he was a murderer; and presently he is a god: (just as the people of Lystra; one hour sacrificing, and the next stoning:) nay, but there is a medium. He is neither a murderer nor a god, but a man of God. But natural men never run into greater mistakes, than in judging of the children of God.
Verse 7. The chief man of the island - In wealth if not in power also. Three days - The first three days of our stay on the island.
Verse 11. Whose sign was - It was the custom of the ancients to have images on the head of their ships, from which they took their names. Castor and Pollux - Two heathen gods who were thought favourable to mariners.
Verse 15. The brethren - That is, the Christians, came out thence to meet us - It is remarkable that there is no certain account by whom Christianity was planted at Rome. Probably some inhabitants of that city were at Jerusalem on the day of pentecost, Acts 2:10; and being then converted themselves, carried the Gospel thither at their return. Appii-Forum was a town fifty-one miles from Rome; the Three Taverns about thirty. He took courage -He saw Christ was at Rome also, and now forgot all the troubles of his journey.
Verse 16. With the soldier - To whom he was chained, as the Roman custom was.
Verse 17. And after three days - Given to rest and prayer, Paul called the chief of the Jews together - He always sought the Jews first; but being now bound, he could not so conveniently go round to them. Though I have done nothing - Seeing him chained, they might have suspected he had. Therefore he first obviates this suspicion.
Verse 19. When the Jews opposed it - He speaks tenderly of them, not mentioning their repeated attempts to murder him. Not that I had any thing to accuse my nation of - Not that I had any design to accuse others, but merely to defend myself.
Verse 20. The hope of Israel - What Israel hopes for, namely, the Messiah and the resurrection.
Verse 21. We have neither received letters concerning thee - There must have been a peculiar providence in this, nor has any of the brethren - The Jews, related - Professedly, in a set discourse, or spoke - Occasionally, in conversation, any evil of thee - How must the bridle then have been in their mouth!
Verse 22. This sect we know is every where spoken against - This is no proof at all of a bad cause, but a very probable mark of a good one.
Verse 23. To whom he expounded, testifying the kingdom of God, and persuading them concerning Jesus - These were his two grand topics, 1. That the kingdom of the Messiah was of a spiritual, not temporal nature: 2. That Jesus of Nazareth was the very person foretold, as the Lord of that kingdom. On this head he had as much need to persuade as to convince, their will making as strong a resistance as their understanding.
Verse 24. And some believed the things that were spoken - With the heart, as well as understanding.
Verse 25. Well spake the Holy Ghost to your fathers - Which is equally applicable to you.
Verse 26. Hearing ye shall hear - That is, ye shall most surely hear, and shall not understand - The words manifestly denote a judicial blindness, consequent upon a wilful and obstinate resistance of the truth. First they would not, afterward they could not, believe. Isaiah 6:9, &c; Matthew 13:14; John 12:40.
Verse 28. The salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles - Namely, from this time. Before this no apostle had been at Rome. St. Paul was the first.
Verse 30. And Paul continued two whole years - After which this book was written, long before St. Paul's death, and was undoubtedly published with his approbation by St. Luke, who continued with him to the last, 2 Timothy 4:11. And received all that came to him - Whether they were Jews or Gentiles. These two years completed twenty-five years after our Saviour's passion. Such progress had the Gospel made by that time, in the parts of the world which lay west of Jerusalem, by the ministry of St. Paul among the Gentiles. How far eastward the other apostles had carried it in the same time, history does not inform us.
Verse 31. No man forbidding him - Such was the victory of the word of God. While Paul was preaching at Rome, the Gospel shone with its highest lustre. Here therefore the Acts of the Apostles end; and end with great advantage. Otherwise St. Luke could easily have continued his narrative to the apostle's death.