on Acts 16 :37
They have beaten us openly - being Romans - St. Paul well knew the Roman laws; and on their violation by the magistrates he pleads. The Valerian law forbade any Roman citizen to be bound. The Porcian law forbade any to be beaten with rods. "Poreia lex virgas ab omnium civium Romanorum corpore amovit." And by the same law the liberty of a Roman citizen was never put in the power of the lictor. "Porcia lex libertatem civium lictori eripuit." See Cicero, Orat. pro Rabirio. Hence, as the same author observes, In Verrem, Orat. 5: "Facinus est vinciri civem Romanum, scelus verberari." It is a transgression of the law to bind a Roman citizen: it is wickedness to scourge him. And the illegality of the proceedings of these magistrates was farther evident in their condemning and punishing them unheard. This was a gross violation of a common maxim in the Roman law. Causa cognita, possunt multi absolvi; incognita, nemo condemnari potest. Cicero. "Many who are accused of evil may be absolved, when the cause is heard; but unheard, no man can be condemned." Every principle of the law of nature and the law of nations was violated in the treatment these holy men met with from the unprincipled magistrates of this city.
Let them come themselves and fetch us out - The apostles were determined that the magistrates should be humbled for their illegal proceedings; and that the people at large might see that they had been unjustly condemned, and that the majesty of the Roman people was insulted by the treatment they had received.
on Acts 16 :37
They have beaten us openly uncondemned - There are three aggravating circumstances mentioned, of which Paul complains:
(1) That they had been beaten contrary to the Roman laws.
(2) that it had been public; the disgrace had been in the presence of the people, and the reparation ought to be as public.
(3) that it had been done without a trial, and while they were uncondemned, and therefore the magistrates ought themselves to come and release them, and thus publicly acknowledge their error. Paul knew the privileges of a Roman citizen, and at proper times, when the interests of justice and religion required it, he did not hesitate to assert them. In all this, he understood and accorded with the Roman laws. The Valerian law declared that if a citizen appealed from the magistrate to the people, it should not be lawful for magistrate to beat him with rods, or to behead him (Plutarch, Life of P. Valerius Publicola; Livy, ii. 8). By the Porcian law it was expressly forbidden that a citizen should be beaten (Livy, iv. 9). Cicero says that the body of every Roman citizen was inviolable. "The Porcian law," he adds, "has removed the rod from the body of every Roman citizen." And in his celebrated oration against Verres, he says, A Roman citizen was beaten with rods in the forum, O judges; where, in the meantime, no groan, no other voice of this unhappy man, was heard except the cry, 'I am a Roman citizen'! Take away this hope," he says, "take away this defense from the Roman citizens, let there be no protection in the cry I am a Roman citizen, and the praetor can with impunity inflict any punishment on him who declares himself a citizen of Rome, etc."
Being Romans - Being Romans, or having the privilege of Roman citizens. They were born Jews, but they claimed that they were Roman citizens, and had a right to the privileges of citizenship. On the ground of this claim, and the reason why Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen, see the notes on Acts 22:28.
Privily - Privately. The release should be as public as the unjust act of imprisonment. As they have publicly attempted to disgrace us, so they should as publicly acquit us. This was a matter of mere justice; and as it was of great importance to their character and success, they insisted on it.
Nay, verily; but let them come ... - It was proper that they should be required to do this:
(1) Because they had been illegally imprisoned, and the injustice of the magistrates should be acknowledged.
(2) because the Roman laws had been violated, and the majesty of the Roman people insulted, and honor should be done to the laws.
(3) because injustice had been done to Paul and Silas, and they had a right to demand just treatment and protection.
(4) because such a public act on the part of the magistrates would strengthen the young converts, and show them that the apostles were not guilty of a violation of the laws.
(5) because it would tend to the honor and to the furtherance of religion. It would be a public acknowledgement of their innocence, and would go far toward lending to them the sanction of the laws as religious teachers. We may learn from this also:
(1) That though Christianity requires meekness in the reception of injuries, yet that there are occasions on which Christians may insist on their rights according to the laws. Compare John 18:23.
(2) that this is to be done particularly where the honor of religion is concerned, and where by it the gospel will be promoted. A Christian may bear much as a man in a private capacity, and may submit, without any effort to seek reparation; but where the honor of the gospel is concerned; where submission, without any effort to obtain justice, might be followed by disgrace to the cause of religion, a higher obligation may require him to seek a vindication of his character, and to claim the protection of the laws. His name, and character, and influence belong to the church. The laws are designed as a protection to an injured name, or of violated property and rights, and of an endangered life. And when that protection can be had only by an appeal to the laws, such an appeal, as in the case of Paul and Silas, is neither vindictive nor improper. My private interests I may sacrifice, if I choose; my public name, and character, and principles belong to the church and the world, and the laws, if necessary, may be called in for their protection.
on Acts 16 :37
16:37 They have beaten us publicly, being Romans - St. Paul does not always plead this privilege. But in a country where they were entire strangers, such treatment might have brought upon them a suspicion of having been guilty of some uncommon crime, and so have hindered the course of the Gospel.