After the parting sermon that Paul preached to the elders of Ephesus, which was very affecting, we have here the parting prayer and tears, which were yet more affecting; we can scarcely read the account here given of them, and meditate upon them with dry eyes.
I. They parted with prayer (Acts 20:36): And, when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And, no doubt, it was a prayer every way suited to the present mournful occasion. He committed them to God in this prayer, prayed that he would not leave them, but continue his presence with them. 1. It was a joint prayer. He not only prayed for them, but prayed with them, prayed with them all; that they might put up the same petitions for themselves and one another that he put up to God for them all, and that they might learn what to ask of God for themselves when he was gone. Public prayers are so far from being intended to supersede our own secret prayers, and make them needless, that they are designed to quicken and encourage them, and to direct us in them. When we are alone we should pray over the prayers that our ministers have put up with us. 2. It was a humble reverent prayer. This was expressed by the posture they used: He kneeled down, and prayed with them, which is the most proper gesture in prayer, and significant both of adoration and of petition, especially petition for the forgiveness of sin. Paul used it much: I bow my knees, Eph. 3:14. 3. It was a prayer after sermon; and, we may suppose, he prayed over what he had preached. He had committed the care of the church at Ephesus to those elders, and now he prays that God would enable them faithfully to discharge this great trust reposed in them, and would give them those measures of wisdom and grace which it required; he prayed for the flock, and all that belonged to it, that the great Shepherd of the sheep would take care of them all, and keep them from being a prey to the grievous wolves. Thus he taught these ministers to pray for those they preached to, that they might not labour in vain. 4. It was a parting prayer, which might be likely to leave lasting impressions, as the farewell sermon did. It is good for friends, when they part, to part with prayer, that by praying together just at parting they may be enabled to pray the more feelingly one for another when they are separated, which is one part of our Christian duty, and an improvement of the communion of saints. The Lord watch between us, and watch over us both, when we are absent one from the other, is a good parting prayer (Gen. 31:49), as also that our next meeting may be either nearer heaven or in heaven. Paul here followed the example of Christ, who, when he took leave of his disciples, after he had preached to them, prayed with them all, John 17:1.
II. They parted with tears, abundance of tears, and most affectionate embraces, Acts 20:37, 38. 1. They all wept sorely. We have reason to think the Paul himself began; though he was determined to go, and saw his call clear to other work, yet he was sorry in his heart to leave them, and many a tear it cost him. He that was so often in tears while he was with them (Acts 20:19, 31), no doubt shed many at parting, so watering what he had sown among them. But the notice is taken of their tears: They all wept sorely; there was not a dry eye among them, and it is probable the affectionate expressions Paul used in prayer set them a-weeping. These were tears of love and mutual endearment, like those of Jonathan and David, when they were forced to part, and wept one with another, until (as if they wept for strife) David exceeded, 1 Sam. 20:41. 2. They fell upon Paul’s neck, and kissed him, all, one after another, each bewailing his own loss: “How can I part with this invaluable man, this blessed Paul,” says one, “in whom my life is a manner bound up?”—“Farewell, my dear friend,” says another, “a thousand thanks to thee, and ten thousand to God for thee, and for all the pains thou hast taken with me for my good.” “And must we part?” says another: “must I lose my spiritual father, nurse, and guide?”—“What will become of us now?” says another, “when we shall no more have him to apply to, and receive direction from? What shall I do, if the Lord take away my master from my head? My father, my father, the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” Note, Those that are most loving are commonly best beloved. Paul, who was a most affectionate friend himself, had friends that were very affectionate to him. These tears at parting with Paul were a grateful return for all the tears he had shed in preaching to them and praying with them. He that watereth shall be watered also himself. 3. That which cut them to the heart thus, and made this place such a Bochim, such a place of weepers, was, that word which Paul spoke, that he was certain they should see his face no more. If he had given them directions to follow him, as he did to those that were his usual companions, or any intimation that he would come hereafter and make them a visit, they could have borne this parting pretty well; but when they are told that they shall see his face no more in this world, that it is a final farewell they are now giving and taking, this makes it a great mourning; it makes farewell just like a funeral, and puts them into this passion of weeping. There were other things for which they sorrowed—that they should lose the benefit of his public performances, and see him no longer presiding in their assemblies, should have none of his personal counsels and comforts; and, we hope, they sorrowed for their own sin, in not profiting more by his labours while they had him among them, and which had provoked God to order his remove. But that which gave the most sensible accent to their grief was that they should see his face no more. When our friends are separated from us by death, this is the consideration with which we raise up our mourning, that we shall see their faces no more; but we complain of this as those that have no hope, for if our friends died in Christ, and we live to him, they are gone to see God’s face, to behold his glory, with the reflection of which their faces shine, and we hope to be with them shortly. Though we shall see their faces no more in this world, we hope to see them again in a better world, and to be there together for ever and with the Lord.
III. They accompanied him unto the ship, partly to show their respect for him (they would bring him on his way as far as they could), and partly that they might have a little more of his company and conversation; if it must be the last interview, they will have as much of him as they can, and see the last of him. And we have reason to think that when they came to the water-side, and he was about to go on board, their tears and embraces were repeated; for loth to part bids oft farewell. But this was a comfort to both sides, and soon turned this tide of passion, that the presence of Christ both went with him and staid with them.