Paul was going on with this account of himself, had shown them his commission to preach among the Gentiles without any peevish reflections upon the Jews, and we may suppose designed next to show how he was afterwards, by a special direction of the Holy Ghost at Antioch, separated to this service, how tender he was of the Jews, how respectful to them, and how careful to give them the precedency in all places whither he came, and to unite Jews and Gentiles in one body; and then to show how wonderfully God had owned him, and what good service had been done to the interest of God’s kingdom among men in general, without damage to any of the true interests of the Jewish church in particular. But, whatever he designs to say, they resolve he shall say no more to them: They gave him audience to this word. Hitherto they had heard him with patience and some attention. But when he speaks of being sent to the Gentiles, though it was what Christ himself said to him, they cannot bear it, not so much as to hear the Gentiles named, such an enmity had they to them, and such a jealousy of them. Upon the mention of this, they have no manner of patience, but forget all rules of decency and equity; thus were they provoked to jealousy by those that were no people, Rom. 10:19.
Now here we are told how furious and outrageous the people were against Paul, for mentioning the Gentiles as taken into the cognizance of divine grace, and so justifying his preaching among them.
I. They interrupted him, by lifting up their voice, to put him into confusion, and that nobody might hear a word he said. Galled consciences kick at the least touch; and those who are resolved not to be rules by reason commonly resolve not to hear it if they can help it. And the spirit of enmity against the gospel of Christ commonly shows itself in silencing the ministers of Christ and his gospel, and stopping their mouths, as the Jews did Paul’s here. Their fathers had said to the best of seers, See not, Isa. 30:10. And so they to the best of speakers, Speak not. Forbear, wherefore shouldst thou be smitten? 2 Chron. 25:16.
II. They clamoured against him as one that was unworthy of life, much more of liberty. Without weighing the arguments he had urged in his own defence, or offering to make any answer to them, they cried out with a confused noise, “Away with such a fellow as this from the earth, who pretends to have a commission to preach to the Gentiles; why, it is not fit that he should live.” Thus the men that have been the greatest blessings of their age have been represented not only as the burdens of the earth, but the plague of their generation. He that was worthy of the greatest honours of life is condemned as not worthy of life itself. See what different sentiments God and men have of good men, and yet they both agree in this that they are not likely to live long in this world. Paul says of the godly Jews that they were men of whom the world was not worthy, Heb. 11:38. And therefore they must be removed, that the world may be justly punished with the loss of them. The ungodly Jews here say of Paul that it was not fit he should live; and therefore he must be removed, that the world may be eased of the burden of him, as of the two witnesses, Rev. 11:10.
III. They went stark mad against Paul, and against the chief captain for not killing him immediately at their request, or throwing him as a pry into their teeth, that they might devour him (Acts 22:23); as men whose reason was quite lost in passion, they cried out like roaring lions or raging bears, and howled like the evening wolves; they cast off their clothes with fury and violence, as much as to say that thus they would tear him if they could but come at him. Or, rather, they thus showed how ready they were to stone him; those that stoned Stephen threw off their clothes, Acts 22:20. Or, they rent their clothes, as if he had spoken blasphemy; and threw dust into the air, in detestation of it; or signifying how ready they were to throw stones at Paul, if the chief captain would have permitted them. But why should we go about to give a reason for these experiences of fury, which they themselves could not account for? All they intended was to make the chief captain sensible how much they were enraged and exasperated at Paul, so that he could not do any thing to gratify them more than to let them have their will against him.
IV. The chief captain took care for his safety, by ordering him to be brought into the castle, Acts 22:24. A prison sometimes has been a protection to good men from popular rage. Paul’s hour was not yet come, he had not finished his testimony, and therefore God raised up one that took care of him, when none of his friends durst appear on his behalf. Grant not, O Lord, the desire of the wicked.
V. He ordered him the torture, to force from him a confession of some flagrant crimes which had provoked the people to such an uncommon violence against him. He ordered that he should be examined by scourging (as now in some countries by the rack), that he might know wherefore they cried so against him. Herein he did not proceed fairly; he should have singled out some of the clamorous tumultuous complainants, and taken them into the castle as breakers of the peace, and should have examined them, and by scourging too, what they had to lay to the charge of a man that could give so good an account of himself, and did not appear to have done any thing worthy of death or of bonds. It was proper to ask them, but not at all proper to ask Paul, wherefore they cried so against him. He could tell that he had given them no just cause to do it; if there were any cause, let them produce it. No man is bound to accuse himself, though he be guilty, much less ought he to be compelled to accuse himself when he is innocent. Surely the chief captain did not know the Jewish nation when he concluded that he must needs have done something very bad whom they cried out against. Had they not just thus cried out against our Lord Jesus, Crucify him, crucify him, when they had not one word to say in answer to the judge’s question, Why, what evil has he done? Isa. this a fair or just occasion to scourge Paul, that a rude tumultuous mob cry out against him, but cannot tell why or wherefore, and therefore he must be forced to tell?
VI. Paul pleaded his privilege as a Roman citizen, by which he was exempted from all trials and punishments of this nature (Acts 22:25): As they bound him with thongs, or leathern bands, to the whipping post, as they used to bind the vilest of malefactors in bridewell from whom they would extort a confession, he made no outcry against the injustice of their proceedings against an innocent man, but very mildly let them understand the illegality of their proceedings against him as a citizen of Rome, which he had done once before at Philippi after he had been scourged (Acts 16:37), but here he makes use of it for prevention. He said to the centurion that stood by, “You know the law; pray is it lawful for you who are yourselves Romans to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” The manner of his speaking plainly intimates what a holy security and serenity of mind this good man enjoyed, not disturbed either with anger or fear in the midst of all those indignities that were done him, and the danger he was in. The Romans had a law (it was called lex Sempronia), that if any magistrate did chastise or condemn a freeman of Rome, indicta causa—without hearing him speak for himself, and deliberating upon the whole of his case, he should be liable to the sentence of the people, who were very jealous of their liberties. It is indeed the privilege of every man not to have wrong done him, except it be proved he has done wrong; as it is of every Englishman by Magna Charta not to be dis-seized of his life or freehold, but by a verdict of twelve men of his peers.
VII. The chief captain was surprised at this, and put into a fright. He had taken Paul to be a vagabond Egyptian, and wondered he could speak Greek (Acts 21:37), but is much more surprised now he finds that he is as good a gentleman as himself. How many men of great worth and merit are despised because they are not known, are looked upon and treated as the offscouring of all things, when those that count them so, if they knew their true character, would own them to be of the excellent ones of the earth! The chief captain had centurions, under-officers, attending him, Acts 21:32. One of these reports this matter to the chief captain (Acts 22:26): Take heed what thou doest, for this man is a Roman, and what indignity is done to him will be construed an offence against the majesty of the Roman people, as they loved to speak. They all knew what a value was put upon this privilege of the Roman citizens. Tully extols it in one of his orations against Verres, O nomen dulce libertatis, O jus eximium nostrae civitatis! O lex Porcia! O leges Semproniae; facinus est vincere Romanum civem, scelus verberare—O Liberty! I love thy charming name; and these our Porcian and Sempronian laws, how admirable! It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen, but an unpardonable one to beat him. “Therefore” (says the centurion) “let us look to ourselves; if this man be a Roman, and we do him any indignity, we shall be in danger to lose our commissions at least.” Now, 1. The chief captain would be satisfied of the truth of this from his own mouth (Acts 22:27): “Tell me, art thou a Roman? Art thou entitled to the privileges of a Roman citizen?” “Yes,” says Paul, “I am;” and perhaps produced some ticket or instrument which proved it; for otherwise they would scarcely have taken his word. 2. The chief captain very freely compares notes with him upon this matter, and it appears that the privilege Paul had as a Roman citizen was of the two more honourable than the colonel’s; for the colonel owns that his was purchased: “I am a freeman of Rome; but with a great sum obtained I this freedom, it cost me dear, how came you by it?” “Why truly,” says Paul, “I was free-born.” Some think he became entitled to this freedom by the place of his birth, as a native of Tarsus, a city privileged by the emperor with the same privileges that Rome itself enjoyed; others rather think it was by his father or grandfather having served in the war between Caesar and Antony, or some other of the civil wars of Rome, and being for some signal piece of service rewarded with a freedom of the city, and so Paul came to be free-born; and here he pleads it for his own preservation, for which end not only we may but we ought to use all lawful means. 3. This put an immediate stop to Paul’s trouble. Those that were appointed to examine him by scourging quitted the spot; they departed from him (Acts 22:29), lest they should run themselves into a snare. Nay, and the colonel himself, though we may suppose him to have a considerable interest, was afraid when he heard he was a Roman, because, though he had not beaten him, yet he had bound him in order to his being beaten. Thus many are restrained from evil practices by the fear of man who would not be restrained from them by the fear of God. See here the benefit of human laws and magistracy, and what reason we have to be thankful to God for them; for even when they have given no countenance nor special protection to God’s people and ministers, yet, by the general support of equity and fair dealing between man and man, they have served to check the rage of wicked and unreasonable illegal men, who otherwise would know no bounds, and to say, Hitherto it shall come, but no further; here shall its proud waves by stayed. And therefore this service we owe to all in authority, to pray for them, because this benefit we have reason to expect from them, whether we have it or no, as long as we are quiet and peaceable—to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty, 1 Tim. 2:1, 2. 4. The governor, the next day, brought Paul before the sanhedrim, Acts 22:30. He first loosed him from his bands, that those might not prejudge his cause, and that he might not be charged with having pinioned a Roman citizen, and then summoned the chief priests and all their council to come together to take cognizance of Paul’s case, for he found it to be a matter of religion, and therefore looked upon them to be the most proper judges of it. Gallio in this case discharged Paul; finding it to be a matter of their law, he drove the prosecutors from the judgement-seat (Acts 18:16), and would not concern himself at all in it; but this Roman, who was a military man, kept Paul in custody, and appealed from the rabble to the general assembly. Now, (1.) We may hope that hereby he intended Paul’s safety, as thinking, if he were an innocent and inoffensive man, though the multitude might be incensed against him, yet the chief priests and elders would do him justice, and clear him; for they were, or should be, men of learning and consideration, and their court governed by rules of equity. When the prophet could find no good among the poorer sort of people, he concluded that it was because they knew not the way of the Lord, nor the judgments of their God, and promised himself that he should speed better among the great men, as the chief captain here did, but soon found himself disappointed there: these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds, Jer. 5:4, 5. But, (2.) That which he is here said to aim at is the gratifying of his own curiosity: He would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews. Had he sent for Paul to his own chamber, and talked freely with him, he might soon have learned from him that which would have done more than satisfy his enquiry, and which might have persuaded him to be a Christian. But it is too common for great men to affect to set that at a distance from them which might awaken their consciences, and to desire to have no more of the knowledge of God’s ways than may serve them to talk of.