It should seem the ship Paul and his companions were embarked in for Jerusalem attended him on purpose, and staid or moved as he pleased; for when he came to Miletus, he went ashore, and tarried thee so long as to send for the elders of Ephesus to come to him thither; for if he had gone up to Ephesus, he could never have got away from them. These elders, or presbyters, some think, were those twelve who received the Holy Ghost by Paul’s hands, Acts 19:6. But, besides these, it is probable that Timothy had ordained other elders there for the service of that church, and the country about; these Paul sent for, that he might instruct and encourage them to go on in the work to which they had laid their hands. And what instructions he gave to them they would give to the people under their charge.
It is a very pathetic and practical discourse with Paul here takes leave of these elders, and has in it much of the excellent spirit of this good man.
I. He appeals to them concerning both his life and doctrine, all the time he had been in and about Ephesus (Acts 20:18): “You know after what manner I have been with you, and how I have done the work of an apostle among you.” He mentions this as a confirmation of his commission and consequently of the doctrine he had preached among them. They all knew him to be a man of serious, gracious, heavenly spirit, that he was no designing self-seeking man, as seducers are; he could not have been carried on with so much evenness and constancy in his services and sufferings, but by the power of divine grace. The temper of his mind, and the tenour both of his preaching and conversation, were such as plainly proved that God was with him of a truth, and that he was actuated and animated by a better spirit than his own.—He likewise makes this reference to his own conduct as an instruction to them, in whose hands the work was now left, to follow his example: “You know after what manner I have been with you, how I have conducted myself as a minister; in like manner be you with those that are committed to your charge when I am gone (Phil. 4:9), what you have seen in me that is good do.”
1. His spirit and conversation were excellent and exemplary; they knew after what manner he had been among them, and how he had had his conversation towards them, in simplicity and godly sincerity (2 Cor. 1:12), how holily, justly, and unblamably he behaved himself, and how gentle he was towards them, 1 Thess. 2:7, 10. (1.) He had conducted himself well all along, from the very first day that he came into Asia—at all seasons; the manner of his entering in among them was such as nobody could find fault with. He appeared from the first day they knew him to be a man that aimed not only to do well, but to do good, wherever he came. He was a man that was consistent with himself, and all of a piece; take him where you would he was the same at all seasons, he did not turn with the wind nor change with the weather, but was uniform like a die, which, throw it which way you will, lights on a square side. (2.) He had made it his business to serve the Lord, to promote the honour of God and the interest of Christ and his kingdom among them. He never served himself, nor made himself a servant of men, of their lusts and humours, nor was he a time-server; but he made it his business to serve the Lord. In his ministry, in his whole conversation, he proved himself what he wrote himself, Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, Rom. 1:1. (3.) He had done his work with all humility of mind—meta pases tapeinophrosynes, that is, in all works of condescension, modesty, and self-abasement. Though he was one that God had put a great deal of honour upon, and done a great deal of good by, yet he never took state upon him, nor kept people at a distance, but conversed as freely and familiarly with the meanest, for their good, as if he had stood upon a level with them. He was willing to stoop to any service, and to make himself and his labours as cheap as they could desire. Note, Those that would in any office serve the Lord acceptably to him, and profitably to others, must do it with all humility of mind, Matt. 20:26, 27. (4.) He had always been very tender, affectionate, and compassionate, among them; he had served the Lord with many tears. Paul was herein like his Master; often in tears; in his praying, he wept and made supplication, Hos. 12:5. In his preaching, what he had told them before he told them again, even weeping, Phil. 3:18. In his concern for them, though his acquaintance with them was but of a late standing, yet so near did they lie to his heart that he wept with those that wept, and mingled his tears with theirs upon every occasion, which was very endearing. (5.) He had struggled with many difficulties among them. He went on in his work in the face of much opposition, many temptations, trials of his patience and courage, such discouragements as perhaps were sometimes temptations to him, as to Jeremiah in a like case to say, I will not speak any more in the name of the Lord, Jer. 20:8, 9. These befel him by the lying in wait of the Jews, who still were plotting some mischief or other against him. Note, Those are the faithful servants of the Lord that continue to serve him in the midst of troubles and perils, that care not what enemies they make, so that they can but approve themselves to their Master, and make him their friend. Paul’s tears were owing to his temptations; his afflictions helped to excite his good affections.
2. His preaching was likewise such as it should be, Acts 20:20, 21. He came to Ephesus to preach the gospel of Christ among them, and he had been faithful both to them and to him that appointed him. (1.) He was a plain preacher, and one that delivered his message so as to be understood. This is intimated in two words, I have shown you, and have taught you. He did not amuse them with nice speculations, nor lead them into, and then lose them in, the clouds of lofty notions and expressions; but he showed them the plain truths of the gospel, which were of the greatest consequence and importance, and taught them as children are taught. “I have shown you the right way to happiness, and taught you to go in it.” (2.) He was a powerful preacher, which is intimated in his testifying to them; he preached as one upon oath, that was himself fully assured of the truth of what he preached and was desirous to convince them of it and to influence and govern them by it. He preached the gospel, not as a hawker proclaims news in the street (it is all one to him whether it be true or false), but as a conscientious witness gives in his evidence at the bar, with the utmost seriousness and concern. Paul preached the gospel as a testimony to them if they received it, but as a testimony against them if they rejected it. (3.) He was a profitable preacher, one that in all his preaching aimed at doing good to those he preached to; he studied that which was profitable unto them, which had a tendency to make them wise and good, wiser and better, to inform their judgments and reform their hearts and lives. He preached ta sympheronta, such things as brought with them divine light, and heat, and power to their souls. It is not enough not to preach that which is hurtful, which leads into error or hardens in sin, but we must preach that which is profitable. We do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. Paul aimed to preach not that which was pleasing, but that which was profitable, and to please only in order to profit. God is said to teach his people to profit, Isa. 48:17. Those teach for God that teach people to profit. (4.) He was a painstaking preacher, very industrious and indefatigable in his work; he preached publicly, and from house to house. He did not confine himself to a corner when he had opportunity of preaching in the great congregation; nor did he confine himself to the congregation when there was occasion for private and personal instruction. He was neither afraid nor ashamed to preach the gospel publicly, nor did he grudge to bestow his pains privately, among a few, when there was occasion for it. He preached publicly to the flock that came together into the green pastures, and went from house to house to seek those that were weak and had wandered, and did not think that the one would excuse him from the other. Ministers should in their private visits, and as they go from house to house, discourse of those things which they have taught publicly, repeat them, inculcate them, and explain them, if it be needful, asking, Have you understood all these things? And, especially, they should help persons to apply the truth to themselves and their own case. (5.) He was a faithful preacher. He not only preached that which was profitable, but he preached every thing that he thought might be profitable, and kept back nothing, though the preaching of it might either cost him more pains or be disobliging to some and expose him to their ill-will. He declined not preaching whatever he thought might be profitable, though it was not fashionable, nor to some acceptable. He did not keep back reproofs, when they were necessary and would be profitable, for fear of offending; nor did he keep back the preaching of the cross, though he knew it was to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness, as the Roman missionaries in China lately did. (6.) He was a catholic preacher. He testified both to the Jews and also to the Greeks. Though he was born and bred a Jew, and had an entire affection for that nation, and was trained up in their prejudices against the Gentiles, yet he did not therefore confine himself to the Jews and avoid the Gentiles; but preached as readily to them as to the Jews, and conversed as freely with them. And, on the other hand, though he was called to be the apostle of the Gentiles, and the Jews had an implacable enmity against him upon that score, had done him many an ill turn, and here at Ephesus were continually plotting against him, yet he did not therefore abandon them as reprobates, but continued to deal with them for their good. Ministers must preach the gospel with impartiality; for they are ministers of Christ for the universal church. (7.) He was a truly Christian evangelical preacher. He did not preach philosophical notions, or matters of doubtful disputation, nor did he preach politics, or intermeddle at all with affairs of state or the civil government; but he preached faith and repentance, the two great gospel graces, the nature and necessity of them; these he urged upon all occasions. [1.] Repentance towards God; that those who by sin had gone away from God, and were going further and further from him into a state of endless separation from him, should by true repentance look towards God, turn towards him, move towards him, and hasten to him. He preached repentance as God’s great command (Acts 17:30), which we must obey—that men should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance (so he explains it, Acts 26:20); and he preached it as Christ’s gift, in order to the remission of sins (Acts 5:31), and directed people to look up to him for it. [2.] Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. We must be repentance look towards God as our end; and by faith towards Christ as our way to God. Sin must by repentance be abandoned and forsaken, and then Christ must by faith be relied on for the pardon of sin. Our repentance towards God is not sufficient, we must have a true faith in Christ as our Redeemer and Saviour, consenting to him as our Lord and our God. For there is no coming to God, as penitent prodigals to a Father, but in the strength and righteousness of Jesus Christ as Mediator.
Such a preacher as this they all knew Paul had been; and, if they will carry on the same work, they must walk in the same spirit, in the same steps.
II. He declares his expectation of sufferings and afflictions in his present journey to Jerusalem, Acts 20:22-24. Let them not think that he quitted Asia now for fear of persecution; nor, he was so far from running away like a coward from the post of danger that he was now like a hero hastening to the high places of the field, where the battle was likely to be hottest: Now, behold, I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, which may be understood either, (1.) Of the certain foresight he had of trouble before him. Though he was not yet bound in body, he was bound in spirit; he was in full expectation of trouble, and made it his daily business to prepare for it. He was bound in spirit, as all good Christians are poor in spirit, endeavouring to accommodate themselves to the will of God if they should be reduced to poverty. Or, (2.) Of the strong impulse he was under from the Spirit of God working upon his spirit to go this journey: “I go bound in the spirit, that is, firmly resolved to proceed, and well assured that it is by a divine direction and influence that I am so, and not from any humour or design of my own. I go led by the Spirit, and bound to follow him wherever he leads me.”
1. He does not know particularly the things that shall befal him at Jerusalem. Whence the trouble shall spring, what shall be the occasion of it, what the circumstances and to what degree it shall arise, God had not thought fit to reveal to him. It is good for us to be kept in the dark concerning future events, that we may be always waiting on God and waiting for him. When we go abroad, it should be with this thought, we know not the things that shall befal us, nor what a day, or a night, or an hour, may bring forth; and therefore must refer ourselves to God, let him do with us as seemeth good in his eyes, and study to stand complete in his whole will.
2. Yet he does know in general that thee is a storm before him; for the prophets in every city he passed through told him, by the Holy Ghost, that bonds and afflictions awaited him. Besides the common notice given to all Christians and ministers to expect and prepare for sufferings, Paul had particular intimations of an extraordinary trouble, greater and longer than any he had yet met with, that was now before him.
3. He fixes a brave and heroic resolution to go on with his work, notwithstanding. It was a melancholy peal that was rung in his ears in every city, that bonds and afflictions did abide him; it was a hard case for a poor man to labour continually to do good, and to be so ill treated for his pains. Now it is worth while to enquire how he bore it. He was flesh and blood as well as other men; he was so, and yet by the grace of God he was enabled to go on with his work, and to look with a gracious and generous contempt upon all the difficulties and discouragements he met with in it. Let us take it from his own mouth here (Acts 20:24), where he speaks not with obstinacy nor ostentation, but with a holy humble resolution: “None of these things move me; all my care is to proceed and to persevere in the way of my duty, and to finish well.” Paul is here an example,
(1.) Of holy courage and resolution in our work, notwithstanding the difficulties and oppositions we meet with in it; he saw them before him, but he made nothing of them: None of these things move me; oudenos logon poioumai—I make no account of them. He did not lay these things to heart, Christ and heaven lay there. None of these things moved him. [1.] They did not drive him off from his work; he did not tack about, and go back again, when he saw the storm rise, but went on resolutely, preaching there, where he knew how dearly it would cost him. [2.] They did not deprive him of his comfort, nor make him drive on heavily in his work. In the midst of troubles he was as one unconcerned. In his patience he possessed his soul, and, when he was as sorrowful, yet he was always rejoicing, and in all things more than a conqueror. Those that have their conversation in heaven can look down, not only upon the common troubles of this earth but upon the threatening rage and malice of hell itself, and say that none of these things moved them, as knowing that none of these things can hurt them.
(2.) Of a holy contempt of life, and the continuance and comforts of it: Neither count I my life dear to myself. Life is sweet, and is naturally dear to us. All that a man has will he give for his life; but all that a man has, and life too, will he give who understands himself aright and his own interest, rather than lose the favour of God and hazard eternal life. Paul was of this mind. Though to an eye of nature life is superlatively valuable, yet to an eye of faith it is comparatively despicable; it is not so dear but it can be cheerfully parted with for Christ. This explains Luke 14:26; where we are required to hate our own lives, not in a hasty passion, as Job and Jeremiah, but in a holy submission to the will of God, and a resolution to die for Christ rather than to deny him.
(3.) Of a holy concern to go through with the work of life, which should be much more our care than to secure either the outward comforts of it or the countenance of it. Blessed Paul counts not his life dear in comparison with this, and resolves in the strength of Christ, non propter vitam vivendi perdere causas—that he never will, to save his life, lose the ends of living. He is willing to spend his life in labour, to hazard his life in dangerous services, to waste it in toilsome services; nay, to lay down his life in martyrdom, so that he may but answer the great intentions of his birth, of his baptism, and of his ordination to the apostleship. Two things this great and good man is in care about, and if he gain them it is no matter to him what becomes of life:—[1.] That he may be found faithful to the trust reposed in him, that he may finish the ministry which he has received of the Lord Jesus, may do the work which he was sent into the world about, or, rather, which he was sent into the church about,—that he may complete the service of his generation, may make full proof of his ministry,—that he may go through the business of it, and others may reap the advantage of it, to the utmost of what was designed,—that he may, as is said of the two witnesses, finish his testimony (Rev. 11:7), and may not do his work by halves. Observe, First, The apostleship was a ministry both to Christ and to the souls of men; and those that were called to it considered more the ministry of it than the dignity or dominion of it; and, if the apostles did so, much more ought the pastors and teachers to do so, and to be in the church as those who serve. Secondly, This ministry was received from the Lord Jesus. He entrusted them with it, and from him they received their charge; for him they do their work, in his name, in his strength; and to him they must give up their account. It was Christ that put them into the ministry (1 Tim. 1:12); it is he that carries them on in their ministry, and from him they have strength to do their service and bear up under the hardships of it. Thirdly, The work of this ministry was to testify the gospel of the grace of God, to publish it to the world, to prove it, and to recommend it; and, being the gospel of the grace of God, it has enough in it to recommend itself. It is a proof of God’s good-will to us, and a means of his good work in us; it shows him gracious towards us, and tends to make us gracious, and so is the gospel of the grace of God. Paul made it the business of his life to testify this, and desired not to live a day longer than he might be instrumental to spread the knowledge and savour and power of this gospel. [2.] That he may finish well. He cares not when the period of his life comes, nor how, be it ever so soon, ever so sudden, ever so sad, as to outward circumstances, so that he may but finish his course with joy. First, He looks upon his life as a course, a race, so the word is. Our life is a race set before us, Heb. 12:1. This intimates that we have our labours appointed us, for we were not sent into the world to be idle; and our limits appointed us, for we were not sent into the world to be here always, but to pass through the world, nay, to run through it, and it is soon run through; I may add, to run the gauntlet through it. Secondly, He counts upon the finishing of his course, and speaks of it as sure and near, and that which he had his thoughts continually upon. Dying is the end of our race, when we come off either with honour or shame. Thirdly, He is full of care to finish it well, which implies a holy desire of obtaining and a holy fear of coming short. “Oh! that I may but finish my course with joy; and then all will be well, perfectly and eternally well.” Fourthly, He thinks nothing too much to do, nor too hard to suffer, so that he may but finish well, finish with joy. We must look upon it as the business of our life to provide for a joyful death, that we may not only die safely, but die comfortably.
III. Counting upon it that this was the last time they should see him, he appeals to their consciences concerning his integrity, and demands of them a testimony to it.
1. He tells them that he was now taking his last leave of them (Acts 20:25): I know that you all, among whom I have been conversant preaching the kingdom of God, though you may have letters from me, shall never see my face again. When any of us part with our friends, we may say, and should say, “We know not that ever we shall see one another again: our friends may be removed, or we ourselves may.” But Paul here speaks it with assurance, by the Spirit of prophecy, that these Ephesians should see his face no more; and we cannot think that he who spoke so doubtfully of that which he was not sure of (not knowing the things that shall befal me there, Acts 20:22) would speak this with so much confidence, especially when he foresaw what a trouble it would be to his friends here, unless he had had a special warrant from the Spirit to say it, to whom I think those do wrong who suppose that, notwithstanding this, Paul did afterwards come to Ephesus, and see them again. He would never have said thus solemnly, Now, behold, I know it, if he had not known it for certain. Not but that he foresaw that he had a great deal of time and work yet before him, but he foresaw that his work would be cut out for him in other places, and in these parts he had no more to do. Here he had for a great while gone about preaching the kingdom of God, preaching down the kingdom of sin and Satan, and preaching up the authority and dominion of God in Christ, preaching the kingdom of glory as the end and the kingdom of grace as the way. Many a time they had been glad to see his face in the pulpit, and saw it as it had been the face of an angel. If the feet of these messengers of peace were beautiful upon the mountains, what were their faces? But now they shall see his face no more. Note, We ought often to think of it, that those who now are preaching to us the kingdom of God will shortly be removed and we shall see their faces no more: the prophets, do they live for ever? Yet a little while is their light with us; it concerns us therefore to improve it while we have it, that when we shall see their faces no more on earth, yet we may hope to look them in the face with comfort in the great day.
2. He appeals to them concerning the faithful discharge of his ministry among them (Acts 20:26): “Wherefore, seeing my ministry is at an end with you, it concerns both you and me to reflect, and look back;” and, (1.) He challenges them to prove him unfaithful, or to have said or done any thing by which he had made himself accessory to the ruin of any precious soul: I am pure from the blood of all men, the blood of souls. This plainly refers to that of the prophet (Ezek. 33:6), where the blood of him that perishes by the sword of the enemy is said to be required at the hand of the unfaithful watchman that did not give warning: “You cannot say but I have given warning, and therefore no man’s blood can be laid at my door.” If a minister has approved himself faithful, he may have this rejoicing in himself, I am pure from the blood of all men, and ought to have this testimony from others. (2.) He therefore leaves the blood of those that perish upon their own heads, because they had fair warning given them, but they would not take it. (3.) He charges these ministers to look to it that they took care and pains, as he had done: “I am pure from the blood of all men, see that you keep yourselves so too. I take you to record this day”—en te semeron hemera, “I call this day to witness to you:” so Streso. As sometimes the heaven and earth are appealed to, so here this day shall be a witness, this parting day.
3. He proves his own fidelity with this (Acts 20:27): For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. (1.) He had preached to them nothing but the counsel of God, and had not added any inventions of his own; “it was pure gospel, and nothing else, the will of God concerning your salvation.” The gospel is the counsel of God; it is admirably contrived by his wisdom, it is unalterably determined by his will, and it is kindly designed by his grace for our glory, 1 Cor. 2:7. This counsel of God it is the business of ministers to declare as it is revealed, and not otherwise nor any further. (2.) He had preached to them the whole counsel of God. As he had preached to them the whole counsel of God. As he had preached to them the gospel pure, so he had preached it to them entire; he had gone over a body of divinity among them, that, having the truths of the gospel opened to them methodically from first to last in order, they might the better understand them, by seeing them in their several connections with, and dependences upon, one another. (3.) He had not shunned to do it; had not wilfully nor designedly avoided the declaring of any part of the counsel of God. He had not, to save his own pains, declined preaching upon the most difficult parts of the gospel, nor, to save his own credit, declined preaching upon the most plain and easy parts of it; he had not shunned preaching those doctrines which he knew would be provoking to the watchful enemies of Christianity, or displeasing to the careless professors of it, but faithfully took his work before him, whether they would hear or forbear. And thus it was that he kept himself pure from the blood of all men.
IV. He charges them as ministers to be diligent and faithful in their work.
1. He commits the care of the church at Ephesus, that is, the saints, the Christians that were there and thereabouts (Eph. 1:1), to them, who, though doubtless they were so numerous that they could not all meet in one place, but worshipped God in several congregations, under the conduct of several ministers, are yet called here one flock, because they not only agreed in one faith, as they did with all Christian churches, but in many instances they kept up communion one with another. To these elders or presbyters the apostle here, upon the actual foresight of his own final leaving them, commits the government of this church, and tells them that not he, but the Holy Ghost, had made them overseers, episkopous—bishops of the flock. “You that are presbyters are bishops of the Holy Ghost’s making, that are to take the oversight of this part of the church of God,” 1 Pet. 5:1, 2; Titus 1:5, 7. While Paul was present at Ephesus, he presided in all the affairs of that church, which made the elders loth to part with him; but now this eagle stirs up the nest, flutters over her young; now that they begin to be fledged they must learn to fly themselves, and to act without him, for the Holy Ghost had made them overseers. They took not this honour to themselves, nor was it conferred upon them by any prince or potentate, but the Holy Ghost in them qualified them for, and enriched them to, this great undertaking, the Holy Ghost fell upon them, Acts 19:6. The Holy Ghost also directed those that chose, and called, and ordained, them to this work in answer to prayer.
2. He commanded them to mind the work to which they were called. Dignity calls for duty; if the Holy Ghost has made them overseers of the flock, that is, shepherds, they must be true to their trust. (1.) They must take heed to themselves in the first place, must have a very jealous eye upon all the motions of their own souls, and upon all they said and did, must walk circumspectly, and know how to behave themselves aright in the house of God, in which they were now advanced to the office of stewards: “You have many eyes upon you, some to take example by you, others to pick quarrels with you, and therefore you ought to take heed to yourselves.” Those are not likely to be skilful or faithful keepers of the vineyards of others that do not keep their own. (2.) “Take heed to the flock, to all the flock, some to one part of it, others to another, according as your call and opportunity are, but see that no part of it be neglected among you.” Ministers must not only take heed to their own souls, but must have a constant regard to the souls of those who are under their charge, as shepherds have to their sheep, that they may receive no damage: “Take heed to all the flock, that none of them either of themselves wander from the fold or be seized by the beasts of prey; that none of them be missing, or miscarry, through your neglect.” (3.) They must feed the church of God, must do all the parts of the shepherd’s office, must lead the sheep of Christ into the green pastures, must lay meat before them, must do what they can to heal those that are distempered and have no appetite to their meat, must feed them with wholesome doctrine, with a tender evangelical discipline, and must see that nothing is wanting that is necessary in order to their being nourished up to eternal life. There is need of pastors, not only to gather the church of God by bringing in of those that are without, but to feed it by building up those that are within. (4.) They must watch (Acts 20:31), as shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night, must be awake and watchful, must not give way to spiritual sloth and slumber, but must stir up themselves to their business and closely attend it. Watch thou in all things (2 Tim. 4:5), watch against every thing that will be hurtful to the flock, and watch to every thing that will be advantageous to it; improve every opportunity of doing it a kindness.
3. He gives them several good reasons why they should mind the business of their ministry.
(1.) Let them consider the interest of their Master, and his concern for the flock that was committed to their charge, Acts 20:28. It is the church which he has purchased with his own blood. [1.] “It is his own; you are but his servants to take care of it for him. It is your honour that you are employed for God, who will own you in his service; but then your carelessness and treachery are so much the worse if you neglect your work, for you wrong God and are false to him. From him you received the trust, and to him you must give up your account, and therefore take heed to yourselves. And, if it be the church of God, he expects you should show your love to him by feeding his sheep and lambs.” [2.] He has purchased it. The world is God’s by right of creation, but the church is his by right of redemption, and therefore it ought to be dear to us, for it was dear to him, because it cost him dear, and we cannot better show it than by feeding his sheep and his lambs. [3.] This church of God is what he has purchased; not as Israel of old, when he gave men for them, and people for their life (Isa. 43:3), but with his own blood. This proves that Christ is God, for he is called so here, where yet he is said to purchase the church with his own blood; the blood was his as man, yet so close is the union between the divine and human nature that it is here called the blood of God, for it was the blood of him who is God, and his being so put such dignity and worth into it as made it both a valuable ransom of us from evil, and a valuable purchase for us of all good, nay, a purchase of us to Christ, to be to him a peculiar people: Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me. In consideration of this, therefore, feed the church of God, because it is purchased at so dear a rate. Did Christ lay down his life to purchase it, and shall his ministers be wanting in any care and pains to feed it? Their neglect of its true interest is a contempt of his blood that purchased it.
(2.) Let them consider the danger that the flock was in of being made a prey to its adversaries, Acts 20:29, 30. “If the flock be thus precious upon the account of its relation to God, and its redemption by Christ, then you are concerned to take heed both to yourselves and to it.” Here are reasons for both. [1.] Take heed to the flock, for wolves are abroad, that seek to devour (Acts 20:29): I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you. First, Some understand it of persecutors, that will inform against the Christians, and incense the magistrates against them, and will have no compassion on the flock. They thought, because, while Paul was with them, the rage of the Jews was most against him, that, when he had gone out of the country, they would be quiet: “No,” says he, “after my departure you will find the persecuting spirit still working, therefore take heed to the flock, confirm them in the faith, comfort and encourage them, that they may not either leave Christ for fear of suffering or lose their peace and comfort in their sufferings.” Ministers must take a more ordinary care of the flock in times of persecution. Secondly, It is rather to be understood of seducers and false teachers. Probably Paul has an eye to those of the circumcision, who preached up the ceremonial law; these he calls grievous wolves, for though they came in sheep’s clothing, nay, in shepherds’ clothing, they made mischief in the congregations of Christians, sowed discord among them, drew away many from the pure gospel of Christ, and did all they could to blemish and defame those that adhered to it; not sparing the most valuable members of the flock, stirring up those whom they could influence to bite and devour them (Gal. 5:15); therefore they are called dogs (Phil. 3:2), as here wolves. While Paul was at Ephesus, they kept away, for they durst not face him; but, when he was gone, then they entered in among them, and sowed their tares where he had sown the good seed. “Therefore take heed to the flock, and do all you can to establish them in the truth, and to arm them against the insinuations of the false teachers.” [2.] Take heed to yourselves, for some shepherds will apostatise (Acts 20:30): “Also of your ownselves, among the members, nay, perhaps, among the ministers of your own church, among you that I am now speaking to (though I am willing to hope it does not go so far as that), shall men arise speaking perverse things, things contrary to the right rule of the gospel, and destructive of the great intentions of it. Nay, they will pervert some sayings of the gospel, and wrest them to make them patronize their errors, 2 Pet. 3:16. Even those that were well thought of among you, and that you had confidence in, will grow proud, and conceited, and opinionative, and will refine upon the gospel, and will pretend with more nice and curious speculations to advance you to a higher form; but it is to draw away disciples after them, to make a party for themselves, that shall admire them, and be led by them, and pin their faith upon their sleeve.” Some read it, to draw away disciples after them—those that are already disciples of Christ, draw them from him to follow them. “Therefore, take heed to yourselves; when you are told that some of you shall betray the gospel, you are each of you concerned to ask, Isa. it I? and to look well to yourselves.” This was there fulfilled in Phygellus and Hermogenes, who turned away from Paul and the doctrine he had preached (2 Tim. 1:15), and in Hymeneus and Philetus, who concerning the truth erred, and overthrew the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:18), which explains the expression here. But, though there were some such seducers in the church of Ephesus, yet it should seem by Paul’s Epistle to that church (wherein we do not find such complaints and reprehensions as we meet with in some other of his epistles) that that church was not so much infested with false teachers, at least not so much infected with their false doctrine, as some other churches were; but its peace and purity were preserved by the blessing of God on the pains and vigilance of these presbyters, to whom the apostle, in the actual foresight and consideration of the rise of heresies and schisms, as well as of his own death, committed the government of this church.
(3.) Let them consider the great pains that Paul had taken in planting this church (Acts 20:31): “Remember that for the space of three years” (for so long he had been preaching in Ephesus, and the parts adjacent) “I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears; and be not you negligent in building upon that foundation which I was so diligent to lay.” [1.] Paul, like a faithful watchman, had warned them, and, by the warnings he gave men of the danger of their continuing in their Judaism and heathenism, he prevailed with them to embrace Christianity. [2.] He warned every one; besides the public warnings he gave in his preaching, he applied himself to particular persons according as he saw their case called for it, which he had something to say peculiar to. [3.] He was constant in giving warning; he warned night and day; his time was filled up with his work. In the night, when he should have been reposing himself, he was dealing with those he could not get to speak with in the day about their souls. [4.] He was indefatigable in it; he ceased not to warn. Though they were ever so obstinate against his warnings, yet he did not cease to warn, not knowing but that at length they might, by the grace of God, be overcome; though they were ever so pliable to his warnings, yet he did not think this would be a sufficient excuse for him to desist, but still he warned those that were righteous as not to turn from their righteousness, as he had warned them when they were wicked to turn from their wickedness, Ezek. 3:18-21. [5.] He spoke to them about their souls with a great deal of affection and concern: he warned them with tears. As he had served the Lord, so he had served them, with many tears, Acts 20:19. He warned them with tears of compassion, thereby showing how much he was himself affected with their misery and danger in a sinful state and way, that he might affect them with it. Thus Paul had begun the good work at Ephesus, thus free had he been of his pains; and why then should they be sparing of their pains in carrying it on?
V. He recommends them to divine direction and influence (Acts 20:32): “And now, brethren, having given you this solemn charge and caution, I commend you to God. Now that I have said what I have to say, The Lord be with you; I must leave you, but I leave you in good hands.” They were in care what would become of them, how they should go on in their work, break through their difficulties, and what provision would be made for them and their families. In answer to all these perplexities, Paul directs them to look up to God with an eye of faith, and beseeches God to look down on them with an eye of favour.
1. See here to whom he commends them. He calls them brethren, not only as Christians, but as ministers, and thereby encourages them to hope in God, as he had done; for they and he were brethren. (1.) He commends them to God, begs of God to provide for them, to take care of them, and to supply all their needs, and encourages them to cast all their care upon him, with an assurance that he cared for them: “Whatever you want, go to God, let your eye be ever towards him, and your dependence upon him, in all your straits and difficulties; and let this be your comfort, that you have a God to go to, a God all sufficient.” I commend you to God, that is, to his providence, and to the protection and care of that. It is enough that, from whomsoever we are separated, still we have God nigh unto us, 1 Pet. 4:19. (2.) He commends them to the word of his grace, by which some understand Christ: he is the word (John 1:1), the word of life, because life is treasured up for us in him (1 John 1:1), and in the same sense he is here called the word of God’s grace, because from his fulness we receive grace for grace. He commends them to Christ, puts them into his hand, as being his servants, whom he would in a particular manner take care of. Paul commends them not only to God and to his providence, but to Christ and his grace as Christ himself did his disciples when he was leaving them: You believe in God, believe also in me. It comes to much the same thing, if by the word of his grace we understand the gospel of Christ, for it is Christ in the word that is nigh unto us for our support and encouragement, and his word is spirit and life: “You will find much relief by acting faith on the providence of God, but much more by acting faith on the promises of the gospel.” He commends them to the word of Christ’s grace, which he spoke to his disciples when he sent them forth, the commission he gave them, with assurance that he would be with them always to the end of the world: “Take hold of that word, and God give you the benefit and comfort of it, and you need no more.” He commends them to the word of God’s grace, not only as the foundation of their hope and the fountain of their joy, but as the rule of their walking: “I commend you to God, as your Master, whom you are to serve, and I have found him a good Master, and to the word of his grace, as cutting you out your work, and by which you are to govern yourselves; observe the precepts of this word, and then live upon the promises of it.”
2. See here what he commends them to the word of God’s grace for, not so much for a protection from their enemies, or a provision for their families, as for the spiritual blessings which they most needed and ought most to value. They had received the gospel of the grace of God, and were entrusted to preach it. Now he recommends them to that, (1.) For their edification: “It is able (the Spirit of grace working with it and by it) to build you up, and you may depend upon this, while you keep close to it, and are deriving daily from it. Though you are already furnished with good gifts, yet this is able to build you up; there is that in it with which you need to be better acquainted and more affected.” Note, Ministers, in preaching the word of grace, must aim at their own edification as well as at the edification of others. The most advanced Christians, while they are in this world, are capable of growing, and they will find the word of grace to have still more and more in it to contribute to their growth. It is still able to build them up. (2.) For their glorification: It is able to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. The word of God’s grace gives it, not only as it gives the knowledge of it (for life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel), but as it gives the promise of it, the promise of a God that cannot lie, and which is yea and amen in Christ; and by the word, as the ordinary vehicle, the Spirit of grace is given (Acts 10:44), to be the seal of the promise, and the earnest of the eternal life promised; and thus it is the word of God’s grace that gives us the inheritance. Note, [1.] Heaven is an inheritance which gives an indefeasible right to all the heirs; it is an inheritance like that of the Israelites in Canaan, which was by promise and yet by lot, but was sure to all the seed. [2.] This inheritance is entailed upon and secured to all those, and those only, that are sanctified; for as those cannot be welcome guests to the holy God, or the holy society above, that are unsanctified, so really heaven would be no heaven to them; but to all that are sanctified, that are born again, and on whom the image of God is renewed, it is as sure as almighty power and eternal truth can make it. Those therefore that would make out a title to that inheritance must make it sure that they are among the sanctified, are joined to them and incorporated with them, and partake of the same image and nature; for we cannot expect to be among the glorified hereafter unless we be among the sanctified here.
VI. He recommends himself to them as an example of indifference to this world, and to every thing in it, which, if they would walk in the same spirit and in the same steps, they would find to contribute greatly to their easy and comfortable passage through it. He had recommended them to God, and to the word of his grace, for spiritual blessings, which, without doubt, are the best blessings; but what shall they do for food for their families, an agreeable subsistence for themselves, and portions for their children? “As to these,” Paul says, “do as I did;” and how was that? He here tells them,
1. That he never aimed at worldly wealth (Acts 20:33): “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel; nor do you, and then you will be easy.” There were many in Ephesus, and many of those that had embraced the Christian faith, who were rich, had a great deal of money, and plate, and rich furniture, and wore very good clothes, and made a very good appearance. Now, (1.) Paul was not ambitious to live like them. We may take it in this sense: “I never coveted to have so much silver and gold at command as I see others have, nor to wear such rich clothes as I see others wear. I neither condemn them nor envy them. I can live comfortably and usefully without living great.” The false apostles desired to make a fair show in the flesh (Gal. 6:12), to make a figure in the world; but Paul did not do so. He knew how to want and how to be abased. (2.) He was not greedy to receive from them, silver, or gold, or apparel; so far from being always craving that he was not so much as coveting, nor desired them to allow him so and so for his pains among them, but was content with such things as he had; he never made a gain of them, 2 Cor. 12:17. He could not only say with Moses (Num. 16:15), and with Samuel (1 Sam. 12:3, 5), Whose ox have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? But, “Whose kindness have I coveted, or asked? Or to whom have I been burdensome?” He protests against desiring a gift, Phil. 4:17.
2. That he had worked for his living, and taken a great deal of pains to get bread (Acts 20:34) “Yea, you yourselves know, and have been eye-witnesses of it, that these hands of mine have ministered to my necessities, and to those that were with me; you have seen me busy early and late, cutting out tents and making them up;” and, they being commonly made of leather, it was very hard work. Observe, (1.) Paul was sometimes reduced to necessities, and the want of the common supports of life, though he was so great a favourite of Heaven and so great a blessing to this earth. What an unthinking, unkind, and ungrateful world is this, that could let such a man as Paul be poor in it! (2.) He desired no more than to have his necessities supplied; he did not work at his calling to enrich himself, but to maintain himself with food and raiment. (3.) When he was to earn his bread, he did it by a manual occupation. Paul had a head and a tongue that he might have got money by, but they were these hands, saith he, that ministered to my necessities. What a pity was it that those hands by the laying on of which the Holy Ghost had been so often conferred, those hands by which God had wrought special miracles, and both these at Ephesus too (Acts 19:6, 11), should there be obliged to lay themselves to the needle and shears, the awl and tacking-end, in tent-making, purely to get bread! Paul puts these presbyters (and others in them) in mind of this, that they may not think it strange if they be thus neglected, and yet to go on in their work, and make the best shift they can to live; the less encouragement they have from men, the more they shall have from God. (4.) He worked not only for himself, but for the support of those also that were with him. This was hard indeed. It had better become them to have worked for him (to maintain him as their tutor) than he for them. But so it is; those that are willing to take the labouring oar will find those about them willing they should have it. If Paul will work for the maintenance of his companions, he is welcome to do it.