35. And when it was day, the magistrates sent the apparitors, [officers,] saying, Let those men go. 36. And the keeper of the prison told these words to Paul, The magistrates have sent to loose you: now therefore going out, depart in peace. 37. And Paul said to them, After that they have beaten us openly, before our cause was known, seeing that we be Romans, they have cast us into prison; and now they cast us out privily? No, surely; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. 38. And the apparitors [officers] told these words to the magistrates; who feared, after that they heard that they were Romans. 39. And they came and besought them; and when they had brought them out, they requested that they would depart out of the city. 40. And coming out of the prison, they entered in unto Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.
35. When it was day. The question is, how it came to pass that the judges did so suddenly change their purpose? The day before they had commanded that Paul and Silas should be bound with fetters, as if they meant to punish them cruelly, now they let them go free. At least, if they had heard them, it might have been that the knowledge of the cause had brought them to be more gentle and better minded. 1 But it appeareth that, forasmuch as the matter stood as yet still in one state, they were brought into repentance of their own accord. I answer, that there is no other thing here set down but that which falleth out most commonly when sedition is once raised. For not only the minds of the common people begin to rage, but also the tempest carrieth away the governors also, no doubt perversely. For we know that of Virgil, --
"And as amidst a mighty rout, when discord oft is bred, And baser froward-minded men with furious rage are led; Forthwith flies fire, and stones are flung, madness doth tools supply, Then if on the sudden they do any one espy Whom love to commonwealth and just deserts have reverent made, They hush, and eke attentive stand, to hear what will be said: He governs both their will and rage, With words their wrath he doth assuage."
Therefore, there can be nothing more unseemly than what in a hot tumult the judges should be set on fire [along] with the people; but it falleth out so for the most part. Therefore, when those officers saw the people up, they thought there was cause enough why they should beat the apostles with rods. But now they are caused with shame and infamy to suffer punishment for their lightness, [levity.] Peradventure also, when they inquire of the beginning of the tumult, they find those who had deceived the people 2 in the fault. Therefore, when they had found out that Paul and Silas were innocent, they let them go, though too late. By which example, those which bear rule are taught to beware of too much haste. Again, we see how carelessly magistrates flatter 3 themselves in their own offenses, which they know full well they have committed, especially when they have to do with unknown and base persons. When these men grant free liberty to Paul and Silas to depart, they are not ignorant that they had before done them injury; yet they think it will be sufficient if they do not continue to do them injury still, and to be more cruel upon them. 4 The apparitors [officers] are called [rabdoucoi], of the staves which they did bear; whereas the ensigns of the sergeants [lictors] were hatches bound with rods.
After that they have beaten us openly. Their defense consisteth upon [of] two points, that they raged against, and cruelly intreated, the body of a man that was a Roman; secondly, that they did that contrary to the order of law. We shall see afterwards that Paul was a citizen of Rome. But it was straitly provided by Portius' law, by the laws of Sempronius, and also by many more, that no man should have power of life or death over any citizen of Rome but the people. Notwithstanding, it may seem to be a strange thing that Paul did not maintain [assert] his right before he was beaten with rods; for the judges might honestly excuse themselves by his silence; but it is to be thought that he was not heard in the midst of the tumult. If any man object that he doth now seek remedy too late, and out of season, yea, that he doth catch at a vain and foolish comfort, 5 when he requireth that the magistrates come themselves, we may readily answer, Paul was like to fare never a whit the better therefore; but we must mark that he meant nothing less than to provide for his own private commodity; but that he might ease the brethren somewhat afterward, 6 that the magistrates might not be so bold as to rage so freely against the good and innocent brethren. Because he had gotten their heads under his girdle, 7 he translated his right to help the brethren, that they might be borne with. This was the cause for which he did chide them. And so Paul did wisely use the opportunity offered him; as we must neglect nothing which may take for the bridling of the enemies, that they take not to themselves so much liberty to oppress or vex the innocent, forasmuch as the Lord bringeth to our hands such helps not in vain. Notwithstanding, let us remember that if we have been injured in anything, we must not repay injuries, but we must only endeavor to stay their lust, lest they hurt others in like sort.
38. They were afraid, because they were Romans. They are not once moved with the other point, because they had handled innocents cruelly without discretion; 8 and yet that was the greater reproach. But because they did not fear that any man would punish them, they were not moved with God's judgment. This is the cause that they do carelessly pass over that which was objected concerning injury done by them, only they are afraid of the officers 9 of the Romans, and lest they should be beheaded for violating the liberty in the body of a citizen. They knew that this was death if any of the chief governors [prefects] should commit it, then what should become of the officers of one free city? 10 Such is the fear of the wicked, because they have an amazed 11 conscience before God, they do long time flatter themselves in all sins, until the punishment 12 of men hang over their heads.
40. When they saw, etc. They were desired to part presently; yet it became them to regard the brethren, lest the tender seed of the gospel should perish, and undoubtedly they would have tarried longer if they had been suffered, but the prayers and requests of the magistrates were imperious and armed, which they are enforced to obey. Nevertheless, they foreslow [neglect] not their necessary duty, but they exhort the brethren to be constant. And whereas they went straight to Lydia, it is a token, that though the Church were increased, yet that woman was the chief even of a greater number, as touching diligence in duties of godliness; 13 and that appeareth more plainly thereby, because all the godly were assembled in her house.