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What a contrast to the conduct of Paul! He was earnestly anxious for the safety of these very persons he had interceded with God for those, who were themselves ready either to leave him to perish or to put him to death. When the angel led him to know that God had given him the lives of all that sailed with him, doubtless it was an answer to prayer; it was acquainting him that God had listened to his intercession, and granted what he desired. He could not be concerned with these persons, not even as a prisoner whom they had in charge, without feeling an interest in their safety. This is the characteristic of the man who is renewed by grace, in whom the Spirit of God dwells. All his fellow-creatures become the objects of his interest or care. Because he understands the value of the soul; and feels the importance of every hour which may afford fresh means or opportunity for its salvation. Because, too, he knows the awfulness of death; the terrors of that judgment, when "as many as have sinned without law, shall perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law :" and all shall be rewarded according to their deeds.
The character of Paul had not been so lost upon the centurion, that he could suffer him thus to perish through the cruelty of the soldiers whom he commanded. Willing to save Paul, he kept them from their purpose. In the end, the faithfulness of God's promise was manifest. That took place which could only have happened through his pro
2 Rom. ii. 12, &c.
vidential care. From a shipwreck of this nature, on a rocky shore, the waves running violently, two hundred and threescore and sixteen persons, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship, escaped all safe to land.
May we not use it as an example of the way which a far greater promise shall be made good, and all the people of God, "of all nations, and kindred, and tongues, "3 shall be brought together on the heavenly shore? Some "out of great tribulation;" some after extraordinary trials; some, perhaps, having well nigh "made shipwreck of their faith;" but given to the earnest prayers of their parents, or their ministers, and restored by divine grace.
Whatever may have been the allotted course, whatever the means of escape from the storms of this present world and the malice of Satan, all will unite in ascribing it to the same mercy: all will join in the same song of praise and thanksgiving "to him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb."
3 Rev. vii. 2.
PAUL AND HIS SHIPWRECKED COMPANIONS ARE HOSPITABLY RECEIVED AT MELITA.—A. D. 62.
1. And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.
2. And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.
The conduct of this barbarous people, (so the Greeks and Romans called all who did not speak their language,) might put many a civilized land to shame. Instead of endeavouring to prey upon the shipwrecked crew, and to profit by their misfortune, they showed them no little kindness. There was amongst them a sense of hospitality and feeling of compassion, which had survived the ruin of our nature, and which was never better exerted or more amply rewarded. We are reminded, in the sequel, of Paul's own rule. "Be not forgetful to
1 Now so well known under the name of Malta. Such, at
least, appears the most probable supposition.
2 These were originally a colony of Phoenicians.
entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." 3
For a while they knew not whom they were entertaining. Paul was engaged, like the rest, in making provision for the general comfort; till an incident occurred which showed him to be no ordinary prisoner.
3. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.
4. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.
Such was the notion spontaneously rising in their minds. No doubt this man is a murderer. Such misfortunes would not follow him ;-first, a storm, and a wreck, and a hair-breadth escape from the sea; and now a viper's fang;-this would not be, unless he was one whom divine vengeance follows, and suffereth not to live. There was a like impression among the mariners in the case of Jonah. As he was under sail for Tarshish, "there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken." The sailors believed, like the islanders at Melita, that vengeance was pursuing some one on board. And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is come upon us."
This must be regarded as a part of that "law written in the heart," by which those are judged to whom the revealed law of God has never been made known. It was not all truth; and it was not all error. They were right in believing that God notices and avenges crime. They were wrong in supposing that present calamities are to be taken as proofs of his anger. There will be a time for "the revelation of the righteous judgment of God," when he "will render to every man according to his deeds." But that time is not yet: and meanwhile we walk by faith, and not by sight."
Here, however, was in one sense an exception. God did in this case interpose; not, indeed, for vengeance, but for Paul's safety.
5. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no
6. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.
What happened to the apostle at Lystra, was here reversed. There the populace first worshipped Paul and Barnabas, and were afterwards excited to stone them. Here the course was different. First they regarded him as a murderer; and then changed their minds, and said that he was a god. Certainly God was with him; and here fulfilled the prophecy concerning "the signs which should follow them that believe." They shall take up ser
5 Rom. ii. 15.
6 Rom. ii. 6.