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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 8–14
Verses 8–14

We have here Paul and his company arrived at length at Caesarea, where he designed to make some stay, it being the place where the gospel was first preached to the Gentiles, and the Holy Ghost fell upon them, Acts 10:1, 44. Now here we are told,

I. Who it was that entertained Paul and his company at Caesarea. He seldom had occasion to go to a public house, but, wherever he came, some friend or other took him in, and bade him welcome. Observe, those that had sailed together parted when the voyage was accomplished, according as their business was. “Those that were concerned in the cargo staid where the ship was to unlade her burden (Acts 21:3); others, when they came to Ptolemais, went as their occasions led them; but we that were of Paul’s company went where he went, and came to Caesarea.” Those that travel together through this world will separate at death, and then it will appear who are of Paul’s company and who are not. Now at Caesarea.

1. They were entertained by Philip the evangelist, whom we left at Caesarea many years ago, after he had baptized the eunuch (Acts 8:40), and there we now find him again. (1.) He was originally a deacon, one of the seven that were chosen to serve tables, Acts 6:5. (2.) He was now and had long been an evangelist, one that went about to plant and water churches, as the apostles did, and gave himself, as they did, to the word and prayer; thus, having used the office of a deacon well, he purchased to himself a good degree; and, having been faithful in a few things, was made ruler over many things. (3.) He had a house at Caesarea, fit to entertain Paul and all his company, and he bade him and them very welcome to it; We entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, and we abode with him. Thus does it become Christians and ministers, according as their ability is, to use hospitality one to another, without grudging, 1 Pet. 4:9.

2. This Philip had four maiden daughters, who did prophesy, Acts 21:9. It intimates that they prophesied of Paul’s troubles at Jerusalem, as others had done, and dissuaded him from going; or perhaps they prophesied for his comfort and encouragement, in reference to the difficulties that were before him. Here was a further accomplishment of that prophecy, Joel 2:28; of such a plentiful pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh that their sons and their daughters should prophesy, that is, foretel things to come.

II. A plain and full prediction of the sufferings of Paul, by a noted prophet, Acts 21:10, 11. 1. Paul and his company tarried many days at Caesarea, perhaps Cornelius was yet living there, and (though Philip lodged them) yet might be many ways kind to them, and induce them to stay there. What cause Paul saw to tarry so long there, and to make so little haste at the latter end of his journey to Jerusalem, when he seemed so much in haste at the beginning of it, we cannot tell; but we are sure he did not stay either there or any where else to be idle; he measured his time by days, and numbered them. 2. Agabus the prophet came to Caesarea from Judea; this was he of whom we read before, who came from Jerusalem to Antioch, to foretel a general famine, Acts 11:27, 28. See how God dispenseth his gifts variously. To Paul was given the word of wisdom and knowledge, as an apostle, by the Spirit, and the gifts of healing; to Agabus, and to Philip’s daughters, was given prophecy, by the same Spirit—the foretelling of things to come, which came to pass according to the prediction. See 1 Cor. 12:8, 10. So that that which was the most eminent gift of the Spirit under the Old Testament, the foretelling of things to come, was under the New Testament quite outshone by other gifts, and was bestowed upon those that were of less note in the church. It should seem as if Agabus came on purpose to Caesarea, to meet Paul with this prophetic intelligence. 3. He foretold Paul’s bonds at Jerusalem, (1.) By a sign, as the prophets of old did, Isaiah (Isa. 20:3), Jeremiah (Jer. 13:1; 27:2), Ezekiel (Ezek. 4:1; 12:3), and many others. Agabus took Paul’s girdle, when he laid it by, or perhaps took it from about him, and with it bound first his own hands, and then his own feet, or perhaps bound his hands and feet together; this was designed both to confirm the prophecy (it was as sure to be done as if it were done already) and to affect those about him with it, because that which we see usually makes a greater impression upon us than that which we only hear of. (2.) By an explication of the sign: Thus saith the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of prophecy, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and, as they dealt with his Master (Matt. 20:18, 19), shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles, as the Jews in other places had all along endeavoured to do, by accusing him to the Roman governors. Paul had this express warning given him of his troubles, that he might prepare for them, and that when they came they might be no surprise nor terror to him; the general notice given us that through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God should be of the same use to us.

III. The great importunity which his friends used with him to dissuade him from going forward to Jerusalem, Acts 21:12. “Not only those of that place, but we that were of Paul’s company, and among the rest Luke himself, who had heard this often before, and seen Paul’s resolution notwithstanding, besought him with tears that he would not go up to Jerusalem, but steer his course some other way.” Now, 1. Here appeared a commendable affection to Paul, and a value for him, upon account of his great usefulness in the church. Good men that are very active sometimes need to be dissuaded from overworking themselves, and good men that are very bold need to be dissuaded from exposing themselves too far. The Lord is for the body, and so we must be. 2. Yet there was a mixture of infirmity, especially in those of Paul’s company, who knew he undertook this journey by divine direction, and had seen with what resolution he had before broken through the like opposition. But we see in them the infirmity incident to us all; when we see trouble at a distance, and have only a general notice of it, we can make light of it; but when it comes near we begin to shrink, and draw back. Now that it toucheth thee thou art troubled, Job 4:5.

IV. The holy bravery and intrepidity with which Paul persisted in his resolution, Acts 21:13.

1. He reproves them for dissuading him. Here is a quarrel of love on both sides, and very sincere and strong affections clashing with each other. They love him dearly, and therefore oppose his resolution; he loves them dearly, and therefore chides them for opposing it: What mean you to weep and to break my heart? They were an offence to him, as Peter was to Christ, when, in a like case, he said, Master, spare thyself. Their weeping about him broke his heart. (1.) It was a temptation to him, it shocked him, it began to weaken and slacken his resolution, and caused him to entertain thoughts of tacking about: “I know I am appointed to suffering, and you ought to animate and encourage me, and to say that which will strengthen my heart; but you, with your tears, break my heart, and discourage me. What do you mean by doing thus? Has not our Master told us to take up our cross? And would you have me to avoid mine?” (2.) It was a trouble to him that they should so earnestly press him to that in which he could not gratify them without wronging his conscience. Paul was of a very tender spirit. As he was much in tears himself, so he had a compassionate regard to the tears of his friends; they made a great impression upon him, and would bring him almost to yield to any thing. But now it breaks his heart, when he is under a necessity of denying the request of his weeping friends. It was an unkind kindness, a cruel pity, thus to torment him with their dissuasions, and to add affliction to his grief. When our friends are called out to sufferings, we shall show our love rather by comforting them than by sorrowing for them. But observe, These Christians at Caesarea, if they could have foreseen the particulars of that event, the general notice of which they received with so much heaviness, would have been better reconciled to it for their own sakes; for, when Paul was made a prisoner at Jerusalem, he was presently sent to Caesarea, the very place where he now was (Acts 23:33), and there he continued at least two years (Acts 24:27), and he was a prisoner at large, as appears (Acts 24:23), orders being given that he should have liberty to go among his friends, and his friends to come to him; so that the church at Caesarea had much more of Paul’s company and help when he was imprisoned than they could have had if he had been at liberty. That which we oppose, as thinking it to operate much against us, may be overruled by the providence of God to work for us, which is a reason why we should follow providence, and not fear it.

2. He repeats his resolution to go forward, notwithstanding: “What mean you to weep thus? I am ready to suffer whatever is appointed for me. I am fully determined to go, whatever comes of it, and therefore it is to no purpose for you to oppose it. I am willing to suffer, and therefore why are you unwilling that I should suffer? Amos not I nearest myself, and fittest to judge for myself? If the trouble found me unready, it would be a trouble indeed, and you might well weep at the thoughts of it. But, blessed be God, it does not. It is very welcome to me, and therefore should not be such a terror to you. For my part, I am ready,” etoimos echoI have myself in a readiness, as soldiers for an engagement. “I expect trouble, I count upon it, it will be no surprise to me. I was told at first what great things I must suffer,” Acts 9:16. “I am prepared for it, by a clear conscience, a firm confidence in God, a holy contempt of the world and the body, a lively faith in Christ, and a joyful hope of eternal life. I can bid it welcome, as we do a friend that we look for, and have made preparation for. I can, through grace, not only bear it, but rejoice in it.” Now, (1.) See how far his resolution extends: You are told that I must be bound at Jerusalem, and you would have me keep away for fear of this. I tell you, “I am ready not only to be bound, but, if the will of God be so, to die at Jerusalem; not only to lose my liberty, but to lose my life.” It is our wisdom to think of the worst that may befal us, and to prepare accordingly, that we may stand complete in all the will of God. (2.) See what it is that carries him out thus, that makes him willing to suffer and die: it is for the name of the Lord Jesus. All that a man has will he give for his life; but life itself will Paul give for the service and honour of the name of Christ.

V. The patient acquiescence of his friends in his resolution, Acts 21:14. 1. They submitted to the wisdom of a good man. They had carried the matter as far as they could with decency; but, “when he would not be persuaded, we ceased our importunity. Paul knows best his own mind, and what he has to do, and it becomes us to leave it to himself, and not to censure him for what he does, nor to say he is rash, and wilful, and humoursome, and has a spirit of contradiction, as some people are apt to judge of those that will not do just as they would have them do. No doubt, Paul has a good reason for his resolution, though he sees cause to keep it to himself, and God has gracious ends to serve in confirming him in it.” It is good manners not to over-press those in their own affairs that will not be persuaded. 2. They submitted to the will of a good God: We ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done. They did not resolve his resolution into his stubbornness, but into his willingness to suffer, and God’s will that he should. Father in heaven, thy will be done, as it is a rule to our prayers and to our practice, so it is to our patience. This may refer, (1.) To Paul’s present firmness; he is inflexible, and unpersuadable, and in this they see the will of the Lord done. “It is he that has wrought this fixed resolution in him, and therefore we acquiesce in it.” Note, In the turning of the hearts of our friends or ministers, this way or that way (and it may be quite another way than we could wish), we should eye the hand of God, and submit to that. (2.) To his approaching sufferings: “If there be no remedy, but Paul will run himself into bonds, the will of the Lord Jesus be done. We have done all that we could do on our parts to prevent it, and now we leave it to God, we leave it to Christ, to whom the Father has committed all judgment, and therefore we do, not as we will, but as he will.” Note, When we see trouble coming, and particularly that of our ministers’ being silenced or removed from us, it becomes us to say, The will of the Lord be done. God is wise, and knows how to make all work for good, and therefore “welcome his holy will.” Not only, “The will of the Lord must be done, and there is no remedy;” but, “Let the will of the Lord be done, for his will is his wisdom, and he doeth all according to the counsel of it; let him therefore do with us and ours as seemeth good in his eyes.” When a trouble is come, this must allay our griefs, that the will of the Lord is done; when we see it coming, this must silence our fears, that the will of the Lord shall be done, to which we must say, Amen, let it be done.