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1 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:
Ver. 1. And answered for himself ] This the apostle doth most artificially and effectually. Raptare eum iudices credas, as one saith concerning Cicero, involvere, praecipitem agere, nec incendere auditorem, sed ipsum putes ardere: animorum denique quendam credas Deum.
2 I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:
Ver. 2. I think myself happy ] Est quaedam putativa felicitas, saith an interpreter here, si concedatur nobis causam nostram aperte agere. Beatitudo autem vera in peccatorum remissione, &c.,Psalms 32:1-2; Psalms 32:1-2 . It is a kind of happiness to have fair hearing before men; but the true happiness is to find favour with God.
3 Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
Ver. 3. To be expert in all customs and questions ] As being a Jew, and conversant among the Jews (for he was Herod’s son), and therefore a more competent judge.
4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
Ver. 4. My manner of life from my youth ] And although with some, Principium fervet, medium leper, exitus alget, their best is at first, as Nero (who now reigned at Rome) for his first five years was very hopeful; yet that is not ordinary. A good beginning hath for the most part a good ending, and a young saint proves an old angel.
5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
Ver. 5. After the most straitest sect ] There were three several sects among the Jews, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes; which last lived a monastic kind of life, and besides the Bible, studied medicine: whence also they had their name of Asa, to heal. The Pharisees were most in request, professing extraordinary strictness, as those districtissimi Monachi, those puritan monks among the Papists (as one calleth them) that carried wooden crosses at their backs continually, and pretended for it Matthew 10:38 .
6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:
Ver. 6. For the hope of the promise ] The goodness of his cause made much for his comfort. It is one thing to suffer as a martyr, and another thing to suffer as a malefactor. Ibi erat Christus, ubi latrones: similis poena, dissimilis causa. Christ and the thieves were in the like condemnation, but their cause was not alike. (Angustin.) Samson died with the Philistines by the fail of the same house; simili quidem poena, sed dissimili culpa, et diverso fine ac fato, but for another end, and by a different destiny. (Bucholcer.) Together with the Lord Cromwell was beheaded the Lord Hungerford; neither so Christianly suffering, nor so courageously dying for his offence committed against nature. (Speed.) Blessed are they that suffer "for righteousness’ sake," Matthew 5:10 ; and, "for thy sake are we slain all the day long,"Psalms 44:22; Psalms 44:22 . And, O beata Apocalypsis, quam bene mecum, agitur qui comburar tecum? said a certain martyr when he saw the Revelation cast into the fire with him. (Fox.) So might St Paul say by that hope of the promise made of God unto the fathers, for the which he now stood and was judged.
7 Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.
Ver. 7. Instantly serving God ] And yet finding enough to do, when they have done their utmost, to get to heaven. The time is short, the task long; Castigemus ergo mores st moras,
Praecipita tempus, mors atra impendet agenti.
8 Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
Ver. 8. Why should it be thought a thing incredible? ] Philosophy indeed is against it. A privatione ad habitum, &c. Et redit in nihilum, quod fuit ante nihil, as the epicure in Ecclesiastes concludeth. But first, many heathens believed a resurrection; as Zoroaster, Theopolupus, and Plato. And the Stoic’s opinion was, that the world should be dissolved by fire or water; and all things brought to a better state, or to the first golden age again. a Secondly, no article of the faith was more generally believed among the Jews than this, John 12:24 ; Acts 23:8 . Hence they called their burying places Domus viventium, the houses of the living, בית חיום the Greeks called them dormitories, or sleeping houses, κοιμητηρια , as holding that their dead should once awake again, and be filled with God’s image, Psalms 17:15 . The Germans call the churchyard God’s Acre; because the bodies are sown there to be raised again. What if those profane popes (sons of perdition), Leo X and Julius II, jeer at the resurrection, as if anything were impossible with God? cannot he that made man at first of nothing make him up again of that substance of the body that is preserved after death, though never so dispersed? God knows where every part and parcal of it is, and can easily bring it together again. In the transfiguration, that body of Moses which was hidden in the valley of Moab, appeared glorious in the hill of Tabor; that we may know that these bodies of ours are not lost, but laid up, and shall as sure be raised in glory as they are laid down in corruption. Do we not see a resurrection of the creatures every spring? and the grain we sow, doth it not first rot and then revive? See we not men of ashes to make glass? and cannot a skilful gardener discern his different seeds when mixed together, and gather every one of them to their own kind? Have we not observed how those little balls of quicksilver dispersed, will not mix with any of another kind; but if any man gather them, they run together of their own accord into one mass? why then should it be thought a thing incredible with any, that God should raise the dead? Consentaneum est Phoenicem, saith Nyssen. It is probable enough, that that Phoenix that was found in the reign of Nero (and perhaps at this very time when St Paul was thus pleading for the resurrection) might signify the resurrection of Christ, and of all believers by him; according to that of the prophet, "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead," Isaiah 26:19 .
a Sen. Nat. Quaest. iii. 26, 27.
9 I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Ver. 9. Contrary to the name, &c. ] Tertullian testifieth, that in the primitive Christians, nomen damnabatur, non crimen aut scelus: solum nomen innocuum, hominibus innocuis esse pro crimine, &c. And Tacitus to the same purpose, that when Nero had set the city on fire for his pleasure, and then fathered it upon the Christians, a great company of them were presently slaughtered, haud perinde in crimine incendii, quam odio humani generis, convicti: Not for any fault whereof they could be convicted, but out of a general hatred of their persons and religion.
10 Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them .
Ver. 10. I gave my voice ] So did Gerson to the condemnation of John Huss and Jerome of Prague at the Council of Constance, against his conscience doubtless. (Joh. Manl.) So did the Lord Cromwell to the condemnation of Lambert the martyr; for the which he afterwards cried him mercy. And so did Sir John Cheek, in Queen Mary’s days, out of a base fear of the bishops; he was, saith Mr Fox, through the crafty handling of the Catholics, allured first to dine and company with them; at length drawn unawares to sit in the place where the poor martyrs were brought before Bonner and other bishops, to be condemned; and so to give his voice, or seem to do so by his presence there. The remorse whereof so mightily wrought in his heart, that not long after he left this mortal life; whose fall though it was full of infirmity, yet his rising again by repentance was great, and his end comfortable.
11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
Ver. 11. Compelled them to blaspheme ] So the ancient persecutors compelled many not only to renounce their religion, but to curse Christ. (Plin. Epist. ad Trajan.) When the Emperor Heraclius sent ambassadors to Chosroes, king of Persia, to desire peace of him, he received this threatening answer: I will not spare you, till I have made you curse your crucified God, and adore the sun. He was afterwards (like another Sennacherib) deposed and murdered by his son Siroes.
And being exceedingly mad, I persecuted ] He was not then so mad in persecuting, but when God turned the stream, he was judged by some as mad in preaching, 2 Corinthians 5:13 , and pressing toward tbe high prize which he persecuted (that is, his word, διωκω , Php 3:14 ) with as much eagerness as ever he had done God’s poor saints and servants.
12 Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
Ver. 12. See Trapp on " Act 9:2 "
13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
Ver. 13. See Trapp on " Act 9:2 "
14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Ver. 14. I heard a voice ] I not only saw a sign. So in the transfiguration, a voice came forth to them from the excellent glory. Signo verbum est coniungendum. God in the sacraments, for the furtherance of our faith, affects both our learned senses, as Aristotle calleth our sight and hearing; giving us his word both audible and visible.
15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
Ver. 15. See Acts 9:5 .
16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
Ver. 16. But rise and stand upon thy feet ] Thus,
" Deiecit ut relevet; premit ut solatia praestet;
Enecat, ut possit vivificare, Deus. "
17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
Ver. 17. Delivering thee from ] For though thou art sent to them for their greatest good, viz. "To open their eyes," &c.,Acts 26:18; Acts 26:18 , yet they shall fly at thine eyes, as frantic people fly in the faces of their physicians; they shall fly against the light that thou shalt set up among them, as bats do, because their works are evil; they shall kick and wince, as horse and mule at those that come to cure them, Psalms 32:9 . But I will deliver thee, fear not.
18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
Ver. 18. To open their eyes, &c. ] An excellent description of St Paul’s commission to preach, by the five ends or effects of it, viz. conversion, faith, remission of sins, sanctification, salvation.
19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
Ver. 19. I was not disobedient ] As I should have been if I had taken flesh and blood into counsel, Galatians 1:16 ; See Trapp on " Gal 1:16 " but silencing my reason, I exalted my faith, and putting myself into God’s hands, said,
‘ Te duce, vera sequor: te duce, falsa nego. "
20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
Ver. 20. Works meet for repentance ] Gr. "worthy of repentance," that weigh just as much as repentance doth. The Syriac hath it, works equal and even with repentance. See Trapp on " Mat 3:8 "
21 For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me .
Ver. 21. Went about to kill me ] Gr. διαχειρισασθαι , to tear me in pieces, or pull me limb from limb with their own hands, as the Senators did Romulus, and afterward Caesar. The Italians that served the French king, having taken the town of Barre, did out of hatred of religion rip up a living child, and taking out his liver, being as yet red hot, they did eat it as meat. Many children there at the same time had their hearts pulled out, which in rage those cannibal Papists gnawed with their teeth. (Acts and Mon.)
22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
Ver. 22. Saying none other thing ] Truth is one and the same in all ages; it is also ancient, and ever at agreement with itself. As on the other side, error is new, manifold, dissonant, and contradictory to itself, and much more to the truth. Paul delivered no new truths, but stood in the good old way of Moses and the prophets, and followed them, κατα ποδα . Those that stumble from the ancient ways, to walk in "new paths, in a way not cast up," they are people that "forget God," Jeremiah 18:15 , to sacrifice to new gods, that came newly up,Deuteronomy 32:17; Deuteronomy 32:17 ; they are none of God’s ancient people,Isaiah 44:7; Isaiah 44:7 , but an upstart generation that knew not Joseph.
23 That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
Ver. 23. That Christ should suffer ] This verse may be fitly called a little Bible, a short gospel, a model of the mystery of godliness. The Greek runs thus, "Whether Christ should be a sufferer; ει παθητος ο χριστος , &c.," "whether he should be the first that should rise from the dead." As if St Paul should hold forth these questions, and offer to prove them out of the prophets and Moses: and hence (haply) that way of expounding the Scriptures, by propounding doubts and questions. Abulensis hath his eight-score questions (and more than a good many sometimes) upon the shortest chapter in the Bible. The schoolmen were great questionists; and they had it from the Artemonites, a sort of heretics, A. D. 220, that, out of Aristotle and Theophrastus, corrupted the Scripture, by turning all into questions. In detestation of whose vain jangling and doting about questions (Jac. Revius, 1Ti 6:4 ), Luther saith, Propre est ut iurem: I dared to swear, almost, that there was not one school divine that rightly understood one chapter of the Gospel. So that we may say of their expositions as one did once, when being asked whether he should read such a comment upon Aristotle? he answered, Yes, when Aristotle is understood, then read the comment.
24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.
Ver. 24. Much learning hath made thee mad ] Core diminuit harem, the seed is lessened, let it grow, as Ennius hath it. Paul was indeed a man of much learning; for besides the Bible, and the Jewish records, he had read the poets (whom also he citeth), and Plato, from whom he borrowed that excellent word αναζωπυρειν , 2 Timothy 1:6 ; "Stir up thy gift," &c. But if Paul were so great a scholar, why did not Festus show him more favour, or at least do him better justice? Aeneas Sylvius was wont to say of learning, that popular men should esteem it as silver, noblemen as gold, princes prize it as pearls. Festus might possibly have heard or read of Antony the Triumvir, that when Varro (his very enemy, and of a contrary faction) was proscribed for death, he thus gallantly superscribed his name, Vivat Varro vir doctissimus: Let Varro have his life for his learning’ sake. And if Antipater (saith Sir Walter Raleigh, Hist. of the World) upon his conquest had carried all other actions never so mildly, yet for killing Demosthenes, all that read his eloquent orations do condemn him for a bloody tyrant to this day.
25 But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
Ver. 25. I am not mad ] Paul rather pitieth his ignorance than blameth his blasphemy, and allegeth his own words for a proof of his non-madness; like as Sophocles produced a tragedy he had recently made, that was full of art and wit, when his sons would have begged him for a dotard. These real apologies are most powerful; when thus managed, especially, with "meekness of wisdom."
26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
Ver. 26. For this thing was not done in a corner ] Neither Christ’s passion, nor Paul’s conversion. Rome rang of the former, and it was seriously debated in the senate-house, whether Christ should not be received into the number of the gods? Tiberius would have had it so; but it was carried against him, because of the poverty of Christ’s life and the infamy of his death. And as for Paul’s conversion, it was far and near talked of. For as a bell cannot be turned from one side to another, but it will make a sound and report its own motion; so will the turning of a sinner from evil to good; such a sinner especially: his conversion was toto notissima caelo: like the trumpet of God in Mount Sinai, it filled the whole country.
27 King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Ver. 27. I know thou believest ] sc. The truth of what the prophets spoke concerning Christ, and that are accordingly fulfilled in him. Faith hath for its general object the whole Holy Scripture; but for its special object the promises, or rather Christ revealed in the promises. All the Israelites beheld the wilderness and the whole hemisphere; but such only as were stung, looked up to the brazen serpent, and were healed. Devils and reprobates may believe the truth of the Scriptures, and see far into the mystery of Christ by a common illumination, but true believers only can close up themselves in the wounds of Christ, and by a particular faith receive healing by his stripes.
28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
Ver. 28. Almost thou persuadest me ] Here he was nigh God’s kingdom, who yet (for aught we find) never came there. Almost he could be content to be, but altogether may chance bring a chain with it. Jehu will not part with his calves, lest he venture his kingdom. Policy is ever entering caveats against piety. It is thought of Cardinal Pole, that toward his latter end, a little before his coming from Rome to England, he began somewhat to favour the doctrine of Luther, and was no less suspected at Rome, and therefore put by the popedom; notwithstanding the pomp and glory of the world did afterwards carry him away to play the Papist. Such as these Philo calleth semper factae virtutis homines, cakes half-baked, Hosea 7:8 . See Trapp on " Hos 7:8 "
To be a Christian ] The profane philosophers called the Christians credentes, that is, believers, by way of reproach, because they did not argue by reason, but take things upon trust. "We believe and know" (not, we know and believe) "that thou art the Son of the living God," John 6:69 . Illi garriant, nos credamus, saith Austin. Let them jeer us for our faith, let us believe nevertheless; and our faith shall be one day found "to praise, honour, and glory," 1 Peter 1:7 . If Agrippa had been right, he would have esteemed it the highest honour to he able to say, Christian is my name, and Catholic my surname. Those that might well have been his masters and makers, viz. Constantinus, Vatentinianus, and Theodosius (three emperors), called themselves Vasallos Christi, not Christians only, but the vassals of Christ, as Socrates reporteth: and Justinian the emperor styled himself, Ultimum servorum Christi, the meanest of Christ’s servants.
29 And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
Ver. 29. I would that all ] Charity is no churl; there is no envy in spiritual things, because they may be divided in solidum: one may have as much as another, and all alike. Self-love writes, as that emperor did, τα εις εμαυτον , For mine own use only. It makes men like those envious Athenians, who sacrificed for none but themselves and their neighbours of Chios. But true Christian love wisheth well to the community. "I would to God" (said Mr Dad) "I were the worst minister in England" (and England had but a few better), not wishing himself worse than he was, but other men better.
30 And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:
Ver. 30. The king rose up and the governor ] A little of such sad discourse served their turn: they were soon sated, and ready to say as Antipater king of Macedonia did, when one presented him a book treating of happiness, he answered, ου σχολαζω , I have somewhat else to do than to learn or listen to such businesses; when perhaps they might never have the like opportunity of hearing such a persuasive preacher while they breathed again, as Paul was.
31 And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
Ver. 31. This man doth nothing worthy ] Here Festus, consenting with the rest, condemneth himself. See Acts 25:25 .
32 Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
Ver. 32. If he had not appealed ] Which if he had not, this freeman of Rome had been "free among the dead," Psalms 88:5 , free of that company ere this time of day. There was a necessity of his appeal, for the saving of his life. And he is the better contented with his present condition, because he had been told in a vision that he must go to Rome also, Acts 23:11 ; while it was in store, and not yet come to that- tota est iam Roma lupanar, Rome is no better than a great brothel house. That once "faithful city is now become a harlot; it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers,"Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 1:21 .
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Acts 26". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29