In these verses we have,
I. Paul and Silas removing to Berea, and employed in preaching the gospel there, Acts 17:10. They had proceeded so far at Thessalonica that the foundations of a church were laid, and others were raised up to carry on the work that was begun, against whom the rulers and people were not so much prejudiced as they were against Paul and Silas; and therefore when the storm rose they withdrew, taking this as an indication to them that they must quit that place for the present. That command of Christ to his disciples, When they persecute you in one city flee to another, intends their flight to be not so much for their own safety (“flee to another, to hide there”) as for the carrying on of their work (“flee to another, to preach there”), as appears by the reason given—You shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man come, Matt. 10:23. Thus out of the eater came forth meat, and the devil was outshot in his own bow; he thought by persecuting the apostles to stop the progress of the gospel, but it was so overruled as to be made to further it. See here, 1. The care that the brethren took of Paul and Silas, when they perceived how the plot was laid against them: They immediately sent them away by night, incognito, to Berea. This could be no surprise to the young converts; For when we were with you (saith Paul to them, 1 Thess. 3:4), when we came first among you, we told you that we should suffer tribulation, even as it came to pass, and you know. It should seem that Paul and Silas would willingly have staid, and faced the storm, if the brethren would have let them; but they would rather be deprived of the apostles’ help than expose their lives, which, it should seem, were dearer to their friends than to themselves. They sent them away by night, under the covert of that, as if they had been evil doers. 2. The constancy of Paul and Silas in their work. Though they fled from Thessalonica, they did not flee from the service of Christ. When they came to Berea, they went into the synagogue of the Jews, and made their public appearance there. Though the Jews at Thessalonica had been their spiteful enemies, and, for aught they knew, the Jews at Berea would be so too, yet they did not therefore decline paying their respect to the Jews, either in revenge for the injuries they had received or for fear of what they might receive. If others will not do their duty to us, yet we ought to do ours to them.
II. The good character of the Jews in Berea (Acts 17:11): These were more noble than those in Thessalonica. The Jews in the synagogue at Berea were better disposed to receive the gospel than the Jews in the synagogue at Thessalonica; they were not so bigoted and prejudiced against it, not so peevish and ill-natured; they were more noble, eugenesteroi—better bred.
1. They had a freer thought, and lay more open to conviction, were willing to hear reason, and admit the force of it, and to subscribe to that which appeared to them to be truth, though it was contrary to their former sentiments. This was more noble.
2. They had a better temper, were not so sour, and morose, and ill-conditioned towards all that were not of their mind, As they were ready to come into a unity with those that by the power of truth they were brought to concur with, so they continued in charity with those that they saw cause to differ from. This was more noble. They neither prejudged the cause, nor were moved with envy at the managers of it, as the Jews at Thessalonica were, but very generously gave both it and them a fair hearing, without passion or partiality; for, (1.) They received the word with all readiness of mind; they were very willing to hear it, presently apprehended the meaning of it, and did not shut their eyes against the light. They attended to the things that were spoken by Paul, as Lydia did, and were very well pleased to hear them. They did not pick quarrels with the word, nor find fault, nor seek occasion against the preachers of it; but bade it welcome, and put a candid construction upon every thing that was said. Herein they were more noble than the Jews in Thessalonica, but walked in the same spirit, and in the same steps, with the Gentiles there, of whom it is said that they received the word with joy of the Holy Ghost, and turned to God from idols, 1 Thess. 1:6-9. This was true nobility. The Jews gloried much in their being Abraham’s seed, thought themselves well-born and that they could not be better born. But they are here told who among them were the most noble and the best-bred men—those that were most disposed to receive the gospel, and had the high and conceited thoughts in them subdued, and brought into obedience to Christ. They were the most noble, and, if I may so say, the most gentleman-like men. Nobilitas sola est atque unica virtus—Virtue and piety are true nobility, true honour; and, without these, Stemmata quid prosunt?--What are pedigrees and pompous titles worth? (2.) They searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so. Their readiness of mind to receive the word was not such as that they took things upon trust, swallowed them upon an implicit faith: no; but since Paul reasoned out of the scriptures, and referred them to the Old Testament for the proof of what he said, they had recourse to their Bibles, turned to the places to which he referred them, read the context, considered the scope and drift of them, compared them with other places of scripture, examined whether Paul’s inferences from them were natural and genuine and his arguments upon them cogent, and determined accordingly. Observe, [1.] The doctrine of Christ does not fear a scrutiny. We that are advocates for his cause desire no more than that people will not say, These things are not so, till they have first, without prejudice and partiality, examined whether they be so or no. [2.] The New Testament is to be examined by the Old. The Jews received the Old Testament, and those that did so, if they considered things aright, could not but see cause sufficient to receive the New, because in it they see all the prophecies and promises of the Old fully and exactly accomplished. [3.] Those that read and receive the scriptures must search them (John 5:39), must study them, and take pains in considering them, both that they may find out the truth contained in them, and may not mistake the sense of them and so run into error, or remain in it; and that they may find out the whole truth contained in them, and may not rest in a superficial knowledge, in the outward court of the scriptures, but may have an intimate acquaintance with the mind of God revealed in them. [4.] Searching the scriptures must be our daily work. Those that heard the word in the synagogue on the sabbath day did not think this enough, but were searching it every day in the week, that they might improve what they ha heard the sabbath before, and prepare for what they were to hear the sabbath after. [5.] Those are truly noble, and are in a fair way to be more and more so, that make the scriptures their oracle and touchstone, and consult them accordingly. Those that rightly study the scriptures, and meditate therein day and night, have their minds filled with noble thoughts, fixed to noble principles, and formed for noble aims and designs. These are more noble.
III. The good effect of the preaching of the gospel at Berea: it had the desired success; the people’s hearts being prepared, a great deal of work was done suddenly, Acts 17:12. 1. Of the Jews there were many that believed. At Thessalonica there were only some of them that believed (Acts 17:4), but at Berea, where they heard with unprejudiced minds, many believed, many more Jews than at Thessalonica. Note, God gives grace to those whom he first inclines to make a diligent use of the means of grace, and particularly to search the scriptures. 2. Of the Greeks likewise, the Gentiles, many believed, both of the honourable women, the ladies of quality, and of men not a few, men of the first rank, as should seem by their being mentioned with the honourable women. The wives first embraced the gospel, and then they persuaded their husbands to embrace it. For what knowest thou, O wife, but thou shalt save thy husband? 1 Cor. 7:16.
IV. The persecution that was raised against Paul and Silas at Berea, which forced Paul thence. 1. The Jews at Thessalonica were the mischief-makers at Berea. They had notice that the word of God was preached at Berea (for envy and jealousy bring quick intelligence), and likewise that the Jews there were not so inveterately set against it as they were. They came thither also, to turn the world upside down there, and they stirred up the people, and incensed them against the preachers of the gospel; as if they had such a commission from the prince of darkness to go from place to place to oppose the gospel as the apostles had to go from place to place to preach it. Thus we read before that the Jews of Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra on purpose to incense the people against the apostles, Acts 14:19. See how restless Satan’s agents are in their opposition to the gospel of Christ and the salvation of the souls of men. This is an instance of the enmity that is in the serpent’s seed against the seed of the woman; and we must not think it strange if persecutors at home extend their rage to stir up persecution abroad. 2. This occasioned Paul’s removal to Athens. By seeking to extinguish this divine fire which Christ had already kindled, they did but spread it the further and the faster; so long Paul staid at Berea, and such success he had there, that there were brethren there, and sensible active men too, which appeared by the care they took of Paul, Acts 17:14. They were aware of the coming of the persecuting Jews from Thessalonica, and that they were busy in irritating the people against Paul; and, fearing what it would come to, they lost no time, but immediately sent Paul away, against whom they were most prejudiced and enraged, hoping that this would pacify them, while they retained Silas and Timothy there still, who, now that Paul had broken the ice, might be sufficient to carry on the work without exposing him. They sent Paul to go even to the sea, so some; to go as it were to the sea, so we read it; hos epi ten thalassan. He went out from Berea, in that road which went to the sea, that the Jews, if they enquired after him, might think he had gone to a great distance; but he went by land to Athens, in which there was no culpable dissimulation at all. Those that conducted Paul (as his guides and guards, he being both a stranger in the country and one that had many enemies) brought him to Athens. The Spirit of God, influencing his spirit, directed him to that famous city,—famous of old for its power and dominion, when the Athenian commonwealth coped with the Spartan,—famous afterwards for learning; it was the rendezvous of scholars. Those who wanted learning went thither to show it. It was a great university, much resorted to from all parts, and therefore, for the better diffusing of gospel light, Paul is sent thither, and is not ashamed nor afraid to show his face among the philosophers there, and there to preach Christ crucified, though he knew it would be as much foolishness to the Greeks as it was to the Jews a stumbling-block. 3. He ordered Silas and Timothy to come to him to Athens, when he found there was a prospect of doing good there; or because, there being none there that he knew, he was solitary and melancholy without them. Yet it should seem that, great as was the haste he was in for them, he ordered Timothy to go about Thessalonica, to bring him an account of the affairs of that church; for he says (1 Thess. 3:1, 2), We thought it good to be left at Athens alone, and sent Timotheus to establish you.