The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 20:17-27

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 1, 2016

Act 20:17 And sending from Miletus to Ephesus, he called the ancients of the church.

Miletus was not far from Ephesus, about a day’s journey, forty miles or so.

“Ancients of the Church.” It is a subject of discussion among commentators whether this term refers to the clergy of the First order only, whom the Apostle calls, v. 28. Episcopi or bishops. Some Commentators say the Apostle summoned the several bishops from the surrounding districts of the Province of Ephesus, each having its own bishop; or, whether it refers to priests of the Second order only, as is maintained by some, who, however, admit the superiority of bishops over priests, defined as a point of faith (C. of Trent, ss. xxiii., c. 4, can. 7), some hold that it includes priests as well of the first as of the second order. The opinion which understands the term as common to bishops and priests, seems to be the one more generally adopted by Commentators and Ecclesiastical writers as more probable.

The term, Presbyter, according to Etymology, means, one advanced in age. Episcopus or Bishop, an overseer, or superintendent. But, according Ecclesiastical and Scriptual usage, Presbyter designates, a sacred minister or priest; Episcopus or Bishop, one who holds the first place in a church, oversees things and exercises jurisdiction over others. The term, Episcopus, while strictly denoting bishops, priests of the first order, to whom it is confined, and the high office they exercise, may also, to a certain extent, designate priests of the second order, who participate in the sacred office which the bishops exercise in its plenitude, in virtue of which they delegate a portion of their power, as also care and duty of superintendence to the clergy of the second order (see Ep. ad Philip 1; Titus 1:5; 1 Tim. 3:8, Commentary on).

Act 20:18 And when they were come to him and were together, he said to them: You know from the first day that I came into Asia, in what manner I have been with you, for all the time.

This valedictory address contains much in praise of the Apostle. It proceeded, however, not from vain glory, but from a sincere desire to point out to the pastors the line of conduct they should pursue, and the great zeal they should display, after his example.

He speaks only of what they knew already regarding his life, labours, and sufferings.

Act 20:19 Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and temptations which befell me by the conspiracies of the Jews:

“Serving the Lord” by the faithful discharge of the duties of his high Apostolic office.

“With all humility,” not puffed up; humbly referring all his success to God.

“With tears” caused by the perverse conduct of his persecutors. “And temptations,” trials, arising from the snares and murderous designs of the Jews, and their plots against his life (v. 3).

Act 20:20 How I have kept back nothing that was profitable to you, but have preached it to you, and taught you publicly, and from house to house,

“Nothing profitable.” Whether palatable or otherwise, provided he saw it would ultimately prove of service to them.

Act 20:21 Testifying both to Jews and Gentiles penance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Testifying,” inculcating and urging, by all means, on all, “Jews and Gentiles,” the necessity of doing penance for their sins against God, and of “faith in our Lord,” &c., by whose blood they were redeemed.

Act 20:22 And now, behold, being bound in the spirit, I go to Jerusalem: not knowing the things which shall befall me there:

“Bound in the spirit.” Some understand “spirit” of the Holy Ghost, impelling, constraining him by his influences, to go forward, heedless of personal risks. In the next verse, however, he speaks of the “Holy Ghost.” Hence, others understand it of his own will, which, under a sense strong of duty, not, however, without the superintending guidance of God’s spirit, urges him forward.

“Not knowing,” having no clear or distinct knowledge in detail, as to their issue, or what particular kinds of persecutions await me, or if the issue of them be death.

Act 20:23 Save that the Holy Ghost in every city witnesseth to me, saying: That bands and afflictions wait for me at Jerusalem.

“Save that.” Excepting that “in every city” through which I passed, “the Holy Ghost,” either by direct revelation or through the Prophets, whom he inspired in each of these places—of this we have an example (21:4–11) “witnesseth,” testifies, “that at Jerusalem, bands,” &c. “Jerusalem,” is wanting in almost all Greek copies.

Act 20:24 But I fear none of these things, neither do I count my life more precious than myself, so that I may consummate my course and the ministry of the word which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

“More precious,” &c. I don’t value life more than my eternal salvation; so that no risks or perils can turn me aside from “consummating my course” as a faithful Apostle, and from discharging the duties of the ministry confided to me by no other than “the Lord Jesus” himself (Acts 9:15–17).

“To testify the Gospel,” &c. To bear witness to the joyous message of the grace which God, as a merciful Father, is prepared to confer on mankind. This is the direct design of the ministry confided on me—

The reading in the Greek is somewhat different, but substantially the same, “neither do I count my life dear unto myself, that I may consummate my course,” &c. I look upon it, as a fixed idea, that my life is to be accounted by me for nothing, and all dangers regarded as nought, in attaining the object of my ministry, &c.

Act 20:25 And now behold, I know that all you, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

“I know,” I have the firmest conviction, &c. This he adds to fix their attention on the admonitions he was about giving them, for the last time.

“All of you,” &c. None of you shall see me again. “Among whom,” &c. Very likely, there came together the priests and bishops from the districts round Ephesus. Possibly, on hearing of Paul’s transit, they may have come of their own accord.

Act 20:26 Wherefore I take you to witness this day that I am clear from the blood of all men.

He appeals to themselves as witnesses of his fidelity, so that if any of them die the second death in mortal sin, “their-blood,” be they Jew or Gentile, their eternal loss will be chargeable to themselves and not to him. Hence, it is inferred, that the pastor, who neglects his duty is guilty of the “blood,” the eternal loss of his people.

Act 20:27 For I have not spread to declare unto you all, the counsel of God.

“For”—a reason why he is not answerable—“not spared,” shrunk from any motives or influences, whether of fear or selfishness, from fully “declaring” and making known to them “all the counsel of God,” the entire will of God in regard to the salvation of men. He fearlessly threw open to them, the full economy of God, in the work of redemption, the Faith to be believed and professed, the morals and deeds of virtue to be practised to gain eternal life; and the vices and crimes to be shuned, to escape eternal torments.


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