Verse 28. "And there they abode long time" - How long the apostles tarried here we cannot tell; but we hear no more of them till the council of Jerusalem, mentioned in the following chapter, which is generally supposed to have been held in the year 51 of our Lord; and, if the transactions of this chapter took place in A.D. 46, as chronologers think, then there are five whole years of St. Paul's ministry, and that of other apostles, which St. Luke passes by in perfect silence. It is very likely that all this time Paul and Barnabas were employed in extending the work of God through the different provinces contiguous to Antioch; for St. Paul himself tells us that he preached the Gospel so far as Illyria, Romans xv. 19, on the side of the Adriatic Gulf: see its situation on the map. Many of the tribulations and perils through which the Apostle Paul passed are not mentioned by St, Luke, particularly those of which he himself speaks, 2 Cor. xi. 23-27. He had been five times scourged by the Jews; thrice beaten by the Romans; thrice shipwrecked; a whole night and day in the deep, probably saving his life upon a plank; besides frequent journeyings, and perils from his countrymen, from the heathen, from robbers, in the city, in the wilderness, in the sea, among false brethren, &c., &c. Of none of these have we any circumstantial account. Probably most of these happened in the five years which elapsed between the apostles' return to Antioch, and the council of Jerusalem.
IN reading the Acts of the Apostles we may have often occasion to remark that in preaching the Gospel they carefully considered the different circumstances of the Jews and the Gentiles, and suited their address accordingly. When speaking to the former, of the necessity of crediting the Gospel, because without it they could not be saved, they took care to support all their assertions by passages drawn from the LAW and the PROPHETS, as every Jew considered those books to be of Divine authority, and from their decision there was no appeal. But, in addressing the Gentiles, who had no revelation, they drew the proof of their doctrine from the visible creation; and demonstrated, by plain reasoning, the absurdity of their idolatrous worship, and called them off from those vanities to the worship of the living and true God, who made and governs all things, and who gave them such proofs of his being, wisdom, and goodness, in the provision made for their comfort and support, that they had only to reflect on the subject in order to be convinced of its truth. And while, in consequence, they saw the absurdity of their own system, they would at once discover the reasonableness of that religion which was now offered to them, in the name and on the authority of that God who had fed and preserved them all their life long, and girded them when they knew him not. The Gentiles felt the force of these reasonings, yielded to the truth, and became steady followers of Christ crucified; while the Jews, with all their light and advantages, hardened their hearts against it, though they had no other arguments than what contradiction and blasphemy could provide! Publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of heaven before them. Do not many, even in the present day, copy their example, revile the truth, take up with the shadow instead of the substance, and rest just as much in the letter of Christianity, as ever the Jews did in the letter of the law? This is a deplorable fact which cannot be successfully controverted.
2. We have already had occasion to note five years of a chasm in the apostolic history. God himself does not choose to have all the labours and sufferings of his servants recorded. Their recompense is in heaven; and it is enough that God knows their work, who alone can reward it. And yet every faithful servant of God will feel that the reward is all of grace, and not of debt; for the amount of their good is just the sum of what God has condescended to do by them. How studious are men to record the smallest transactions of their lives, while much of the life and labours of Jesus Christ and his apostles are written in the sand, and no longer legible to man; or written before the throne, where they are seen only by God and his angels.
In many cases, the silence of Scripture is not less instructive than its most pointed communications.
3. We cannot consider the effect produced on the minds of the people of Lystra, without being surprised that a single miracle, wrought instrumentally by men, should excite so much attention and reverence, and that we should be unmoved by the myriads wrought by the immediate hand of GOD.
4. How difficult it is to get men brought to worship God, though they have the highest reasons and most powerful motives for it; and yet how ready are they to offer an incense to man that is due only to God himself! We applaud the apostles for rejecting with horror the sacrifices offered to them: common sense must have taught them this lesson, even independently of their piety. Let us beware that we take not that praise to ourselves which belongs to our Maker. Gross flattery is generally rejected, because a man cannot receive it without being rendered ridiculous; but who rejects even inordinate praise, if it be delicately and artfully prepared!