02 September, 2016

Acts 28:2—“And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness…”

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 (Acts 28:2).


Q. 1. “How do we explain the ‘kindness’ which these unregenerate natives displayed to the apostle Paul and his comrades? How could this act of theirs be ‘sinful’? Surely what they did must be ‘good’ or ‘of grace’? Is this not proof that the natural man can actually perform ‘good’?”

Homer C. Hoeksema (1923-1989):

As far as the fundamental issue is concerned, we must always bear in mind some guidelines when we confront the question what is a good work and what is not a good work. For one thing, we are always on safe ground when we bear in mind our Reformed confession of total depravity: man is by nature “incapable of any good and inclined to all evil” [Heidelberg Catechism, LD 3, Q&A 8]. The theory of the second and third points of 1924 simply turns total depravity into fiction, for it means that due to common grace there is no such thing as a totally depraved man anywhere. Secondly, we must always bear in mind our Reformed definition of what constitutes a good work. Good works are those which are performed according to the law of God, which are done unto the glory of God, and which proceed out of a true faith. [Heidelberg Catechism, LD 33, Q&A 91].

Viewed in the light of the above, it certainly needs no argument that this deed of these heathen natives of Melita was not a good work.

But that leaves the question how it is to be explained. And this is an interesting question from the point of view of the fact that this sort of thing takes place frequently also today, as for example, when there are shipwrecks or when there are natural disasters such as a tornado or an earthquake. From this point of view the language employed by the text is rather enlightening, I think. What is rendered in the KJV as “no little kindness” is actually “no common philanthropy.” Philanthropy is literally love, or affection, of mankind. And the term for “love” here is not the term which refers to love in the spiritual sense, the love of God, but the term which frequently is used to refer to mere natural love, or affection. It is, of course, rooted in the created affinity of the human race. Its motives may be various. Sometimes the motive may be self-glorification, the desire to receive praise of men. Sometimes, too, the motive may be simply the self-preservation of the human race, of mankind. This, of course, requires no grace. It is “natural.” And do not forget that the power of sin is so great in natural man that even this “natural affection” can at times disappear. Moreover, this motivation can frequently even have very selfish motives behind it. Mankind sees that it is salutary for itself that men help one another in terms of disaster and tragedy. Just think what would happen if “men who go down to the sea in ships” did not help one another and try to rescue one another in times of storm and shipwreck! Everyone would be in danger; no one could depend on any help. And if there is no love of God in all this, then it is after all displeasing in the sight of the Holy One.

No, if there is any grace displayed in this incidentand there isthen it is displayed in the gracious care of the Lord toward the apostle and his companions. The Lord our God used these natives of Melita to provide for His people when they were shipwrecked. For it was the Lord’s purpose that Paul would go to Rome and preach the gospel there also.

(Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 51, no. 17 [June, 1975].)

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