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PAUL BEFORE FELIX—THE FIRST TRIAL AT CÆSAREA
1. The Indictment of Tertullus; or, the Vapid Eloquence of a Heathen Lawyer (Acts 24:1-44.24.9).
2. The Answer of Paul; or, the Lofty Oration of a Christian Apostle (Acts 24:10-44.24.23).
3. The Interview with Felix and Drusilla; or, a Notable Discourse and its Effects (Acts 24:24-44.24.27).
Acts 24:1. After five days.—Reckoned from Paul’s departure from Jerusalem (Kuinoel, Meyer, De Wette, Hackett, Alford, Plumptre), though some (Holtzmann, Lechler, Zöckler, Olshausen, and others) prefer to count from Paul’s arrival at Cæsarea. The former agrees better with the statement that twelve days had elapsed since his arrival in Jerusalem (Acts 24:11). The elders.—I.e., the Sanhedrists, who were probably represented by certain of their number. The oldest authorities read “some of the elders “which, however, has the appearance of being a correction (Hackett, Alford, Lechler). A certain orator, rhetorician, or advocate, acquainted with the forms of Roman law, which were not understood by the people of the provinces, who therefore had to employ such barristers or rhetoricians (=oratores forenses or causidici publici) to plead for them before Roman tribunals. Tertullus.—A. diminutive from Tertius. Probably a Roman. Had the trial been conducted in Latin, which cannot be proved, Luke would most likely have noted it (compare Acts 22:2). Who.—I.e., not Tertullus, but Ananias and the elders through him. Informed the governor against Paul.—I.e., lodged their complaint against him.
Acts 24:2. Called forth.—Or, simply called. After the charges against him had been lodged, and before the evidence was produced. Roman law secured that no prisoner should be condemned without hearing and having an opportunity to answer the indictment preferred against him (see Acts 25:16). Tertullus’s indictment, which consisted of three charges—sedition, heresy, and sacrilege, or profanation of the temple (see Acts 24:5-44.24.6)—was prefaced by the most undisguised flattery, in the hope of inducing Felix to condemn Paul. Great quietness, or much peace.—“The administration of Felix did not present much opening for panegyric, but he had at least taken strong measures to put down the gangs of Sicarii and brigands by whom Palestine was infested (Jos., Ant., XX. viii. 5; Wars, II. xiii. 2), and Tertullus shows his skill in the emphasis which he lays on “quietness.” By a somewhat interesting coincidence, Tacitus (Ann., xii. 54), after narrating the circumstances caused by a quarrel between Felix, backed by the Samaritans, and Ventidius Cumanus, who had been appointed as governor of Galilee, ends his statement by relating that Felix was supported by Quadratus, the president of Syria “et quies provinciæ reddita” (Plumptre). For very worthy deeds, κατορθωμάτων—i.e., things successfully achieved, the best MSS. read διορθωμάτων, improvements, emendations, betterments—i.e., corrections of evil (R.V.). How much truth there was in this the statement of Josephus (Ant., XX. viii. 9) shows, that after his removal from office “the principal of the Jewish inhabitants of Cæsarea went up to Rome to accuse Felix,” and that “he had certainly been brought to punishment unless Nero had yielded to the importunate solicitation of his brother Pallas, who was at that time had in the greatest honour by him.” By thy providence.—“Tuâ providentiâ, providentia Cæsaris, is a common inscription on the coins of the emperors” (Spence).
Acts 24:3. Always and in all places are better connected with “accept” (Hackett, Zöckler) than with “done” (Holtzmann, Wendt, Besser). Most noble Felix, κράτιστε Φῆλιξ: compare κράτιστε Θεόφιλε (Luke 1:3).
Acts 24:4. A few words refer not to the flattering preamble (Meyer), but to the subsequent plea.
Acts 24:5. A pestilent fellow.—Better, a pest, or plague; used as in English. The world meant the Roman empire. The sect of the Nazarenes.—A contemptuous expression, for the first time transferred from the Master to the disciples (compare Acts 2:22, Acts 6:14; John 1:46). The name is still applied to Christians by Jews and Mohammedans. During the Indian Mutiny of 1855 the Mohammedan rebels, it is said (Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible: art. Nazarene), relied on a supposed ancient prophecy that the Nazarenes would be expelled from the country after ruling for a hundred years.
Acts 24:6. Who also hath gone about or assayed to profane the temple.—Shows that the original charge had been modified (see Acts 21:28). Whom we took or laid hold of.—Through the change of construction at “whom” the preceding participial clause (Acts 24:5) becomes an anakolouthon. The remaining words of this verse, with Acts 24:7 and first part of Acts 24:8, are omitted in the most approved texts. It is difficult to perceive why they should either have been inserted or left out. If genuine they show that Tertullus, instructed by the Sanhedrim, who were exceeding bitter against Lysias, wished to turn the tables against him by suggesting that had it not been for his interference the whole matter would have been disposed of without troubling the governor. Would have judged according to our law.—Does not square well with the facts as related in Acts 21:31, Acts 26:21.
Acts 24:7. Represents Lysias as having rescued Paul with great violence, which also scarcely comports with truth (Acts 21:32).
Acts 24:8. Whom.—Has for antecedent Paul, if the intermediate clauses be rejected; but either the accusers (as the A.V. suggests), or more probably Lysias (as the Greek text indicates), if the clauses be retained.
Acts 24:9. A better reading than assented, συνέθεντο, is assailed him at the same time, or joined in assailing him, συνεπέθεντο, by asserting that the charges were true.
Acts 24:1-44.24.9. The Indictment of Tertullus: or, the Vapid Eloquence of a Heathen Lawyer
I. The judge upon the bench.—
1. His name. Felix. “One of the worst of Roman officials” (Ramsay). See on Acts 23:24.
2. His dignity. Governor of the province of Judæa. Representative of Roman law and justice. Who should therefore have treated Paul with strictest equity—which he did not.
3. His character. Immoral, tyrannical, covetous, unjust. The opposite to that ascribed to him by Tertullus (see “Homiletical Analysis” on Acts 23:23-44.23.35).
II. The prisoner at the bar.—Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, who had just been rescued from the violent hands of his countrymen, and who was now to be impeached in their name on three serious charges, of every one of which he was innocent. Had his countrymen only known they might have said, with perfect truthfulness, “This is the noblest Roman of them all.” Looking back upon his great career, impartial posterity can testify—
“His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world—This was a man!”
—SHAKESPEARE, Julius Cæsar, Act v., Sc. 5.
III. The prosecutors and their indictment.—
1. The prosecutors were Ananias the high priest (see Acts 23:2), and the elders who had come down from Jerusalem to Cæsarea for the purpose of accusing Paul before the governor. Their state of mind may be imagined from the circumstance that they had, five days before, conspired with forty ruffians to assassinate the apostle, who only escaped their toils by a specially providential deliverance.
2. The indictment they were prepared to move against him consisted of three counts.
(1) Sedition. They alleged that the prisoner at the bar was a pestilent fellow, and a mover of seditions among all the Jews throughout the world—an old charge, which had been preferred against the apostle at Thessalonica (Acts 17:6-44.17.7), which had never been established, and which was absolutely false.
(2) Heresy. They accused the prisoner at the bar of being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, by which phrase they sought to pour contempt upon the followers of Christ, because of His supposed birth at Nazareth, which, in their judgment, stamped Him as a false Messiah. This charge the apostle did not seek to deny (Acts 24:14).
(3) Sacrilege. They accused him of having profaned the temple. They asserted, not as they had done before (Acts 21:28), that Paul had desecrated the holy place, but that he had attempted to do so, by introducing within its precincts Trophimus, the Ephesian—which the narrative shows he had not done.
IV. The advocate and his oration.—
1. The advocate. Tertullus by name, a diminutive from Tertius, was a Roman lawyer or rhetorician, whose trade it was to plead in courts of law throughout the empire. He was probably
(1) a person of considerable talent, else his services would not have been sought by the Sanhedrim, though if he was, his genius and eloquence might easily have been employed in a better cause than seeking the conviction of an innocent man. He was certainly
(2) a man of untruthful character, since he not only openly and unblushingly flattered the judge, in the hope of carrying his suit, but most likely also knowingly misrepresented the facts of the case he had in hand (if the clause about Lysias be retained). And in any case
(3) his employment by the Sanhedrim was a melancholy proof of the unspirituality of that high court, that it called in a heathen orator to help their bad cause by his crafty speech (Besser). This, remarks Bengel, is the only place in the whole of sacred Scripture in which the name of the orator is to be found. “The preachers of God,” adds Besser, “are not reciters of learned words, but witnesses of revealed things. The orator Tertullus steps forward to help the Godless Jews in place of the absent Holy Spirit.”
2. The oration which Tertullus pronounced consisted of three parts—flattery, falsehood, and misrepresentation.
(1) The flattery was offered as fragrant incense to the judge, to intoxicate his senses, becloud his understanding, pervert his judgment, and captivate his will. Felix was actually invited to believe that in the estimation of his admiring and devoted subjects he had been a veritable pacator provinciæ—yea, a kind of little god, through whose benign providence the welfare of his dependents had been highly advanced, and whose gracious clemency the speaker humbly entreated while intruding on his awful majesty with a few more words. It showed Tertullus to be far from a bungler at his trade that he contrived so smoothly to slide over “the difficult narration of the procurator’s misdeeds,” and to convert what was abominable cruelty into gracious clemency; and considering how dearly most men love to be flattered, when “the candied tongue” is not too apparent, one wonders that Tertullus did not meet with more success. Either there was in Felix, after all, some fragment of a noble manhood which taught him to despise the compliments he knew to be as insincere as they were undeserved, or there was a loftiness of thought and speech in Paul’s defence which completely neutralised the effect of the heathen lawyer’s rhetoric.
(2) The falsehood consisted in the repetition of the threefold charge of sedition, heresy, and sacrilege, which had been put into his mouth by the high priest and his unprincipled confederates. That Paul, who preached the gospel of peace and showed to men the way of salvation, promoted civil tumults and social revolutions, though an old charge (Acts 17:7), was as ridiculous as it was untrue (compare Romans 13:1). That he was chargeable with heresy or schism could only be maintained by those who knew themselves to be in innermost accord with the truth, which Ananias and Tertullus were not—else, alas! for the truth. If to be a ringleader among the Nazarenes, as the Christians were then beginning to be styled (see Critical Remarks) was to be a heretic—which, however, Paul denied (Acts 24:14)—then undoubtedly their allegation was true, and no lie. That he had attempted to desecrate the holy place by bringing Trophimus within its precincts strayed as widely from the truth as the assertion that he had actually committed this unholy deed. Well might Paul have exclaimed as he listened to the glowing periods of the orator—
“O hateful error …
Why dost thou show to the apt thoughts of men
The things that are not!”
—SHAKESPEARE, Julius Cæsar, Act v., Sc. 3.
(3) The misrepresentation lay in this, that Tertullus, instructed presumably by his employers, endeavoured to lay the blame of this intrusion on the noble Felix’s leisure on Lysias, the commandant of the Castle of Antonia, who, said the orator, stating incorrectly what had taken place, had pounced down upon the Sanhedrim and violently torn Paul from their hands when they were peacefully attempting to judge him according to their law. Whether Tertullus believed his own story may be doubted; that Felix did not, especially after hearing Paul’s defence, is almost certain—even though it was backed up by the strong asseverations of the high priest and the elders that the charges preferred against Paul, and the statements relative to Lysias, were correct.
1. The badness of the cause that cannot establish itself without the help of worldly Wisdom
2. The weakness of the indictment that needs to be prefaced by flattering the Judges 3:0. The exaggeration which characterises the most of the world’s charges against Christians.
4. The violence which accusers commonly exhibit when they feel that they have no case.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 24:1. One Tertullus.
I. An obscure man providentially lifted into doubtful fame. Better for his reputation and character it would have been had he never emerged from the oblivion into which he had been born.
II. A lawyer, not without ability, employed in a bad cause.—His legal knowledge and forensic eloquence might easily have been consecrated to a nobler task than prosecuting Paul.
III. An undisguised flatterer, whose honeyed words were seen through.—Most men who use this contemptible weapon expect to succeed by it. So, doubtless, did Tertullus; but he did not.
IV. A paid advocate, who lost his cause.—From whatever motive, Felix, if he swallowed the flattery, did not condemn the apostle.
Acts 24:5. The Sect of the Nazarenes; or the value of nicknames.—This appellation, like those applied to Christ—“The Nazarene,” “Friend of Publicans and Sinners,” etc., defeated its own end, which was to overwhelm the early Christians with shame and contempt. On the contrary, it was—
I. The confirmation of a valuable historical truth.—Viz., that Christ was brought up at Nazareth.
II. The recognition of what to them who uttered it must have been an unpleasant fact—Viz., that the cause which Jesus of Nazareth represented had not been extinguished by the crucifixion, but had, since that appalling tragedy, increased its hold upon the minds of the community.
III. The publication of what those against whom it was directed counted their highest honour.—Viz., that they were followers of the Nazarene. To this day the name of the Nazarene stands highest among the sons of men, and no commendation can be more acceptable to a sincere Christian than the suggestion that he is worthy of the name he bears.
Acts 24:2-44.24.5. Mistaken Judgments.
I. Bad men are often credited with good deeds they never do.—Witness Felix, whom Tertullus lauded as a peace-maker and social reformer.
II. Good men are as often blamed for evil deeds of which they are entirely innocent.—For instance, Paul, who was charged by Tertullus with being “a mover of insurrections,” “a heretic” and “a profaner of the temple.”
III. These mistaken judgments, though considered just at man’s tribunals, are all wrong at God’s, and will eventually be reversed.
Acts 24:10. Many years meant about six or seven, since Felix became procurator about A.D. 52 or 53 (Jos., Ant., XX. Acts 7:1). Before his elevation to the procuratorship of Judæa he had governed Samaria under his predecessor Cumanus.
Acts 24:11. The charges against him might be the more easily and accurately investigated since they were not of long standing, but of recent date. The twelve days were thus accounted for:
1. The day of arrival in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17).
2. The interview with James (Acts 21:18).
3. The assumption of the vow (Acts 21:26).
4, 5, 6, 7. The keeping of the vow, which was interrupted before its completion.
8. The appearance of Paul before the Sanhedrim.
9. The plot of the Jews and the journey to Antipatris (Acts 23:12; Acts 23:31).
10, 11, 12, 13. The days at Cæsarea, on the last of which the trial was proceeding. The day of the trial would not be counted among the twelve (Hackett, Meyer, and others).
Acts 24:12. Raising up the people.—Lit., making or causing a concourse of the people, ἐπισύστασις ὄχλου; though the more approved text reads ἐπιστασίς ὅχλου, a stopping of the people, of course so as to form a crowd.
Acts 24:13. Some texts insert to thee after prove.
Acts 24:14. For heresy translate sect as in Acts 24:5, and for worship, serve. In, according to (R.V.), but better “throughout” (Hackett, Holtzmann), the law—i.e., of Moses.
Acts 24:15. Which they themselves.—I.e., his accusers, who appear to have been mostly Pharisees, so that the breach between them and the Sadducees (Acts 23:7) must have been made up. Allow, rather, look for, expect, or entertain.
Acts 24:16. Herein.—In this, as in John 16:30. Meaning either in anticipation of such a day” (Hackett), or “since such is my religious position” (Holtzmann), or “in this belief” (Plumptre).
Acts 24:17. After many years.—Viz., of absence from Jerusalem. It was now A.D. 58 or 59. My nation really signified the believers in its midst. Alms.—Not Paul’s usual way of referring to the collections he had taken for the poor saints at Jerusalem (see Romans 15:25; 1 Corinthians 16:1-46.16.4; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 8:9); but the auditors to whom he spoke were widely different from the readers for whom he wrote. To bring alms and offerings.—The first mention in the Acts by Paul that he had been taking up contributions from the Gentile Churches for the relief of the poor Christians in Jerusalem.
Acts 24:18. Whereupon.—Lit., “in which”—i.e., while presenting which offerings, some MSS. giving ἐν αῖς (to agree with “offerings”) instead of ἐν οῖς. The translation in the R.V. is more accurate. “They”—i.e., the Jews of course, “found me …; but there were certain Jews from Asia.” The abrupt manner in which this sentence breaks off was unquestionably designed to suggest that these Jews from Asia, and not he had been the true authors of the tumult.
Acts 24:19. “These also should have been present in court to object or (better) to make accusation, as they, the instigators of the riot, were the persons to testify how it arose” (Hackett).
Acts 24:20. In default of them these same here, or, these men themselves—i.e., the high priest and the elders should say, not if they have found any evil doing, since εἰ “if” is unauthorised, but what wrong-doing they found in me.
Acts 24:21. Except it be for this one voice.—The sentence is framed as if τί ἄλλο had preceded (Meyer, De Wette, Holtzmann).
Acts 24:22. Having more perfect, or exact knowledge of that, rather “the” way.—This Felix could easily have got during the six or seven years of his procuratorship. Such knowledge as he had of Christianity enabled him to perceive that the Sanhedrists’ account of Paul was not to be accepted without more minute investigation. Consequently he deferred them—i.e., put off both parties till Lysias should come down to Cæsarea.
Acts 24:23. A, better the, centurion was the officer who had charge of Paul—not necessarily the same who had conducted him to Cæsarea. Liberty meant indulgence, such as the next clause indicates. Imprisonment among the Romans was of three kinds:
1. Custodia publica, or confinement in the common cells, which Paul and Silas suffered at Philippi (Acts 26:23).
2. Custodia militaris, in which the prisoner was bound or chained to the soldier who kept him, as Paul was in Rome (Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 4:3). And
3. Custodia libera, or free custody, such as was frequently practised with persons of high rank. Paul’s Cæsarean imprisonment was obviously of the second sort.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 24:10-44.24.23
The Answer of Paul; or, the Lofty Oration of a Christian Apostle
I. The unvarnished exordium.—
1. A frank recognition. Paul declines to imitate the heathen orator in burning incense before his judge. Neither does he rush to the opposite extreme, and denounce Felix as one utterly unworthy to sit upon the bench or pronounce a verdict upon him. Remembering his own doctrine that “the powers which be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), and following his own precept “to speak evil of no man” (Titus 3:2), though doubtless aware of the personal and public character of the governor, he passes over it in silence and contents himself with frankly acknowledging that for many—at least six—years Felix had been a judge unto the nation and could neither be ignorant of the forms of judicial process nor unqualified to sift the merits of causes when these were brought before him. In this sounded neither flattery nor depreciation, but respectful acceptance of his fellow-man at his best.
2. A cheerful assent. Paul might easily have had, and probably could have wished, a better man than Felix to try his cause; but such as Felix was, Paul willingly laid before him a plain and unadorned statement of his proceedings since he arrived in Jerusalem till that moment when he stood on his defence. Out of these proceedings his alleged offences were said to have arisen, and Felix could understand them as well as anybody else. Paul had nothing to conceal, and required no arts beyond those of an honest mind and a truth-loving tongue.
II. The simple refutation.—
1. To the charge of sedition he had merely to state that, so far as his accusers were concerned, they could not have much personal or direct knowledge of his revolutionary procedure, since not more than twelve days had elapsed since he went up to Jerusalem to worship, which worship he performed with so much quietness and order that neither they nor others found him either in the temple, or in the synagogues, or in the city, creating a disturbance—either disputing or stirring up a crowd. As for the allegation that he was a pestilent fellow and a mover of insurrections among the Jews throughout the world, that lay beyond their ability to prove, for the reason that it accorded not with fact. That his preaching had aroused excitement among the Jews he could not and would not deny, but that he had never breathed a syllable which could be construed into hostility to Cæsar he would with equal readiness maintain.
2. To the charge of heresy his answer was that he certainly adhered to the despised sect of the Nazarenes, but that in doing so he had not departed from the ancestral law which his countrymen observed. These might scornfully denounce him as a heretic, but precisely like themselves he believed “all things” which were “according to the law” and which were written in the prophets, “and like them had hope toward God, that there should be and would be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust.” The gospel preached by him deviated not from that true Judaism which his persecutors (the most of whom must have been Pharisees) professed, but fulfilled its innermost spirit, while the resurrection which formed its culminating theme constituted the very hope for which they themselves were looking. And so far from repudiating this hope, or deviating from it, he made it his constant endeavour with regard to it to have a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward men.
3. To the charge of sacrilege he replied that the thought of violating the sanctity of the temple had never entered his mind. His presence in the sacred edifice could easily be explained. He had brought with him to Jerusalem money contributions from the friends amongst whom he had laboured for many years, to be expended in relieving his poor brethren in the city and in the presentation of offerings in the temple. These offerings he was busily engaged in presenting in the temple, with no tumult or noise, with not even a crowd around him, when certain Jews from Asia, having entered, seized him and gave occasion to the tumult. Why were these Asiatic Jews not present? These could have told better than he the cause of the uproar, for they had made it; and in any case they should have been in court to accuse him if they had aught to lay to his charge. Nothing could have been more noble, manly, straightforward, or convincing, than this candid and ingenuous statement. Conduct like Paul’s needed no apology.
III. The noble confession.—
1. The implied assumption. That no one had been able to establish any charge of wrong-doing against him.
(1) The orator had not been successful. He had only repeated, parrot-like, what had been put into his mouth by his employers, the high priest and the elders.
(2) The high priest and the elders had not, because they knew nothing about Paul’s doings throughout the world, and had not come upon the scene in Jerusalem till after he had been rescued by Lysias.
(3) The Jews from Asia had manifestly nothing they could prove against him, else they would not have been conveniently left behind in Jerusalem, but would have been fetched down to Cæsarea along with Tertullus.
2. The courageous challenge. If the high priest and elders had anything to urge against him with reference to that part of his conduct which came under their inspection, he was willing they should not keep it back, but openly advance it. Let them say what wrong-doing they found in him when he stood before the council. He was not afraid to hear the worst that could be alleged against him; if he could not honestly and honourably reply to it, he would promptly and humbly acknowledge his offence.
3. The manly avowal. So far from putting obstacles in their way, he would cheerfully assist them. There was one part in his behaviour on that memorable occasion to which they might wish to take exception. He referred to the voice which he cried among them, “Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question before you this day.” That voice had set his judges at variance with one another, and had practically resulted in his release for the moment from their grasp. He did not admit that it was only and wholly wrong for him to have so acted. But possibly on reflection it may have seemed so to them. To them perhaps it was not so clear as it was to him that the real gravamen of his offence was his preaching the doctrine of the resurrection. Then he was ready to concede that it may have seemed to them that his voice about the resurrection had been dictated not so much by a desire to enlighten them as by a perception (which suddenly flashed upon him) that the mention of this word would divide their counsels. If it was so (and he was not careful to deny this impeachment), it was wrong. A man who was solicitous about keeping a conscience void of offence towards both God and man would not have acted so. Beyond this, however, he was conscious of no fault on that trial-day before the council.
IV. The disappointing-result.—Felix deferred giving judgment, on the pretext that he wished to wait for the coming down of Lysias, the chief captain, and recommitted Paul to confinement in Herod’s palace, at the same time issuing orders to the centurion who kept him to grant him indulgence and not forbid any of his friends to minister unto him. This result must have been disappointing to all concerned.
1. To Tertullus the hired advocate, who had lost his case, whose eloquence, though sweetened with flattery, had not carried conviction to the judge’s judgment, and whose plausible invectives had all been swept aside by the plain, unvarnished tale of the prisoner at the Baruch
2. To the high priest and the elders, whose designs against the apostle had been thwarted, in, to them, a most unexpected manner, first by Claudius Lysias and then by Felix, both of whom, though the high priest and the elders knew it not, were in the hands of a higher than themselves, even of Him who holdeth men’s hearts in the hollow of His hand and turneth them whithersoever He will.
3. To Paul, who probably expected to be set at liberty, though he was only granted a mitigation of his imprisonment—which was something, no doubt, to be thankful for, though vastly less than what he was entitled to. To be sure, Paul had learnt in whatsoever state he was to be content (Philippians 4:11), yet must he have been more than human if he felt no pang of regret that his trial had not resulted more favourably for himself.
4. To Felix. Had Paul himself, or his friends, proposed to purchase his freedom by means of a bribe, there can be little doubt that Paul would have won the day and obtained a verdict in his favour. As much as this may almost be inferred from Felix’s well-known covetous disposition (Acts 24:26). That no such proposition was made by the apostle may well be imagined was a grief of heart to the money-loving procurator.
1. That truth is always the Christian’s best defence. Paul’s simple story proved more successful than Tertullus’s polished rhetoric.
2. That charges which cannot be established are often advanced against Christians. Accusations are not the same things as convictions.
3. That doctrines which are developments of recognised truths are not heresies. A proposition is only, then, heretical when it contradicts accepted truth.
4. That good men may habitually act according to conscience, and yet go astray. Conscience sometimes requires to be enlightened, and its voice may occasionally fail to be heard.
5. That Christians have often to put up with and be thankful for less than they deserve. Paul ought to have been set at liberty, but only got indulgence in his captivity.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 24:11-44.24.17. Some Thoughts about Divine Worship.
I. The place.—This should always be that which God Himself has pointed out. Under the Hebrew economy, Jerusalem and the temple were the chosen spots in which Jehovah elected to be honoured (Psalms 132:13-19.132.14); under the Christian economy God may be worshipped anywhere, provided the subjective conditions of worship are present in the individual heart (John 4:23-43.4.24).
II. The manner.—Neither noisily nor tumultuously, but ever orderly, quiet, and reverent. “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
III. The form.—
1. In accordance with the appointments of Scripture. For Hebrew worship the law and the prophets constituted the sources of authority; for Christian worship these give place to the gospels and epistles. Whatever lies outside of these is will worship (Colossians 2:23).
2. In harmony with the continuity of the Church. Unless where the Church has for a time gone wrong. The probability, however, is that the individual, rather than the Church, will err. Hence any form of worship that essentially deviates from that observed by past ages of God’s people is, ipso facto, open to suspicion.
IV. The spirit.—
1. Faith. Believing in the Scriptures—i.e., in the facts and doctrines revealed therein. As the Hebrew worshipper believed all things which were according to the law and written in the prophets, so must the Christian worshipper credit all things that accord with the gospel of Jesus Christ and that are contained in the writings of His apostles.
2. Hope. With the Christian as with the Hebrew all true worship had an outlook towards the future life, and in particular towards a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust. Blot out this hope or fear from the minds of men and it will be difficult to impel either good men or bad to worship.
3. Charity. A spirit of love and good-will towards all, but especially towards the household of faith, an indispensable characteristic of acceptable worship.
Acts 24:14. Paul’s God and Paul’s Religion.
I. Paul’s God.—
1. Not a new, but an old God. The god of his fathers, the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Moses, Joshua, and Samuel, of David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, etc. Christianity not a new religion, but the full development of that which was first revealed in Eden.
2. Not a false, but the true God. Not always an advantage to have an old god: not always wrong to have a new god. Depends on whether the old be the true and the new the false god. If men’s old gods are false, they should be abandoned. So said Elijah. If men’s new god is true he should be embraced. So teach Christian missionaries. Paul’s God was old and true.
3. Not a manufactured, but an inherited God. Paul’s God was received by him from his fathers. What a tremendous advantage for a child to receive a knowledge of the true God from his parents! What a responsibility for parents to see that they hand on the knowledge of God to their children! What a powerful argument for God when parents so live as to recommend Him to their children! What a grip God gets upon children to whom He is recommended in this way!
4. Not a blindly accepted, but a deliberately chosen God. Paul had made his father’s God his own by personal choice. This was indispensable. Many have no higher reason for believing in God than just that their parents did so before them. Every one is responsible for making an intelligent and free choice of his own God.
II. Paul’s religion.—Contained three things.
1. Faith. “Believing all things,” etc. Paul accepted all that was asserted in the law and the prophets about the ancient history of Israel. So must the Christian accept all that is written in the gospels and epistles about Jesus Christ and His salvation. Religion rests on faith; faith on revealed truth.
2. Hope. “Having hope towards God,” etc. Paul believed in a future resurrection of just and unjust. Believed it to be taught in Scripture, and looked forward to it as the goal of history. A terrible thought for sinners (Hebrews 10:27), but not for believers (1 John 3:3).
3. Charity. Paul’s religion impelled him to works of faith and labours of love (Acts 24:17).
4. Holiness. Paul studied to keep a conscience void of offence (Acts 24:16).
Acts 24:15. The Doctrine of a Resurrection.
I. Involved in the Mosaic legislation.—If not expressly stated therein, that was because of the peculiar character of the Hebrew economy, which regarded the nation as a whole rather than its component parts as individuals. But the ideas of sin and forgiveness which lay at the foundation of that economy must have been entirely meaningless if the individual had no other existence than this terrestrial and temporal one. This, however, it may be urged, only proves a doctrine of continued existence after death, a doctrine of immortality without involving the notion of a bodily resurrection. But as it is certain that this latter notion was not unknown to the Egyptians, it is at least highly probable that though unexpressed in the Pentateuchal Legislation, it was tacitly assumed to lie at its foundation.
II. Proclaimed in the writings of the prophets.—As, for instance, by David (Psalms 17:15); by Isaiah (Isaiah 26:19); by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1-26.37.14); by Daniel (Daniel 12:2); and by the writer of the Book of Job (Job 19:26). It was far, indeed, from being either clearly or widely apprehended in pre-Christian times; but that the finer and more religious spirits of the nation apprehended it, at least dimly, can hardly be questioned.
III. Taught by Christ and His apostles.—By Christ in such statements as these (Matthew 22:31; Luke 14:14; John 5:28; John 11:23); by Peter (Acts 4:2; 2 Peter 1:11); by Paul (Acts 17:18; Acts 16:8; Romans 6:5; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:20-46.15.21; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:23); by John (1 John 3:2); and by the writer to the Hebrews (Hebrews 6:2).
IV. Confirmed by the resurrection of Christ.—Which not only demonstrated the possibility of a resurrection, but guaranteed at least the rising of all His people (1 Corinthians 15:20-46.15.21; 1 Thessalonians 4:14).
Acts 24:18. Certain Jews from Asia; or, Men who Make Reckless Charges.
I. Such men never stop to think whether their charges are true before making them.—The Asiatic Jews in question, having seen Paul in the city along with Trophimus (Acts 21:28-44.21.29), jumped to the conclusion that Paul had taken his Greek friend into the holy place, or women’s court, and so desecrated Jehovah’s sanctuary. Had they inquired—and this they probably would have done had they not been actuated by malice against Paul—they would have ascertained that their conclusions were incorrect. Yet thousands of persons, not excluding Christians, unwarned by their example, have done the same thing, hurled baseless charges at the heads of their fellow-men, with regardless indifference as to their truth.
II. Such men never reflect beforehand upon the consequences that may result from their reckless procedure.—Had these Asiatic Jews foreseen the complications that arose from their baseless outcry, they would probably have paused. No doubt they were hostilely disposed towards Paul, and intended to do him hurt; but they probably never imagined it would involve such troubles as had been set in motion. Perhaps they designed no more than that Paul should get a good beating; but no sooner had they unleashed the hounds of persecution than Paul came near to losing his life, and probably would have lost it in reality, either by open or secret assassination, had not a watchful Providence protected him. Even so, persons who allow their tongues to run faster than their judgments seldom consider how great a fire a small spark may kindle (James 3:5).
III. Such men are seldom at hand when wanted to undo the mischief they have raised.—The Asiatic Jews, had they been present at Caesarea, could easily have confirmed Paul’s story, and shown that they, and not he, had been the real authors of the uproar in the temple. But, like most of their kidney who scatter abroad firebrands and cry, “Am not I in sport?” they took good care to save their own skins by keeping out of the way and leaving the innocent man to suffer. What cared they, the cowards? Unfortunately, mean cowards of their type have not disappeared from among men.
Acts 24:22-44.24.23. Good Points in Bad Men.—Few persons are utterly bad. Not even Felix, who surpassed both Tertullus and his employers, Ananias and the elders, in—
I. Knowledge.—He knew more exactly than they did the truth about the Way. He had probably taken more pains than they to ascertain the doctrines and practices of the Nazarenes.
II. Honesty—They wished to push the trial to a verdict against Paul without troubling either Felix or themselves about evidence; he declined to proceed to an issue until the case was more investigated. This showed that Felix had still some rag of conscience within his bosom.
III. Kindness.—They would have hurried off the apostle to the stake without compunction, or at least would have loaded him with more and heavier chains. Felix commanded the centurion who kept Paul to grant him as much indulgenœ—lighter chains, and visits from friends—as was consistent with safety. “The attribute of ‘clemency’ on which the orator had complimented Felix was not altogether dead, but it was shown to the accused and not to the accusers” (Plumptre).
Acts 24:23. Paul’s Imprisonment at Cœsarea.
I. Its occasion.—The accusation preferred against him by the Jews.
II. Its reason.—Ostensibly that Felix might be able, on the arrival of Lysias, to determine more accurately the truth of the charges preferred against the apostle; really, that Felix might induce either Paul or his friends to purchase his liberty.
III. Its continuance.—Two years, which meant two years’ endurance of unjust oppression, and two years’ arrest of his missionary labours—the second a greater trial to the apostle than the first.
IV. Its mitigations—
1. A relaxation of the customary severities inflicted on prisoners—such a relaxation of his chain at meal times, for instance, as Josephus (Ant., XVIII. vi. 10) says was granted to Agrippa at Rome; and
2. The permission of friends to visit him.
V. Its utilisation.—That Paul allowed this period of enforced retirement from his active missionary propagandism to pass unimproved cannot be supposed. How he employed it may even be conjectured with some degree of probability.
1. In meditation and prayer. Communing with his own heart (Psalms 77:6), searching the Scriptures (Acts 17:11; John 5:39), and pouring out his heart before the Lord (Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17); thus advancing his own personal sanctification (Philippians 3:12-50.3.14), and preparing for whatever service he might afterwards be summoned to (compareRomans 1:15; Romans 1:15).
2. In holding intercourse with his friends. Who these friends were are not named. But probably his companions who had been with him at the time of his arrest should be reckoned to their number—Silas, Trophimus, Luke, Mnason, and others, with not a few of the Christian disciples at Cæsarea. Sympathy from, and converse with, these would alleviate the apostle’s bonds.
3. In writing letters to the Churches. If the epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were not, as some suppose (Meyer, Reuss, Hausrath, Hilgenfeld and Weiss), composed during this period of incarceration, it is not a violent hypothesis that he who had the care of all the Churches on his heart (2 Corinthians 11:28) was frequently consulted by his spiritual children, the infant communities he had founded, or in which he had laboured, and that he wrote to them letters full of counsel and admonition, which, though they have not been preserved till our day, were then received by those to whom they were sent as messages of love from their spiritual father and instructor.
4. In instructing Luke about the details of gospel and apostolic history. Which have been set down—perhaps under Paul’s immediate superintendence—in the gospel of Luke and in the Acts. “The ideas that the narrative of St. Paul’s journeys, or at least parts of it, had an independent existence before it was utilised or incorporated in the Acts,” and that this, “Travel-Document,” as it is styled, was composed under the immediate influence of Paul himself (Ramsay, The Church in Asia Minor, pp. 6, 7), shed light on a part, at least, of Paul’s occupation during the two years of imprisonment at Cæsarea.
Acts 24:24. When Felix came, or Felix having come, not to Cæsarea, after a temporary absence, but into the place of audience (Hackett), rather than into the prison (Holtzmann). Drusilla.—Sea “Homiletical Hints.” As a daughter of the first and sister of second Herod Agrippa she could hardly have been unacquainted with the main facts of the history of the new society of Christians. “She must have known of the death of James and of the imprisonment of Peter
(12), and may have connected her father’s tragic end at Cæsarea with the part he had taken in persecuting the preachers of the faith of which one of the chief preachers was now brought before her” (Plumptre).
Acts 24:25. Righteousness.—Including the duties man owes to man, as well as those man owes to God—i.e., the obligations of both tables of the law. Temperance.—In its widest sense of self-control.
Acts 24:26. That money should have been given him.—Possibly he had an eye to some of the gold referred to by Paul in Acts 24:17. Greed of gain in the very act of administering justice was the root of evil in his weak and wicked character.
Acts 24:27. After two years.—Lit., when two years were fulfilled, Felix received as successor Porcius Festus (A.D. 60 or 61), who suppressed the outrages of the bandits or robbers, and restored tranquillity to the province, but died in the second year of his office (Jos., Wars, II. xiv. 1). To him Felix, with characteristic baseness, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, or desiring to gain favour—lit., to deposit a favour with the Jews, which should not be without return; “an investment in iniquity” (Plumptre) which did not turn out well (see on Acts 24:2)—handed over Paul as a prisoner. How these two years in Cæsarea were spent by the apostle can only be conjectured (see “Hints” on Acts 24:27).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 24:24-44.24.27
Paul’s Interview with Felix and Drusilla; or, a Great Discourse and What Came of It
I. The magnificent auditorium.—Herod’s palace at Cæsarea, which the great Idumean had constructed for himself as a residence when at the height of his glory, but which was now occupied by the Roman procurator as a mansion for himself and a barracks for his troops. “A wonderful building, with bloody recollections. ‘Many phantoms glided through the empty rooms.’ Here had Herod uttered the death-sentence upon his sons. Here was their betrayer, the ruthless Antipater, imprisoned. Before these gates, for five days and five nights, had the complaining Jews lain and besought Pilate not to desecrate their temple. Here had Herod Agrippa breathed out his hypocritical soul, and before his windows had the crowd, howling and weeping and kneeling, lain in the dust and prayed for the soul of the pious (!) king. So adhered numerous historical images to this place, and from the days of Herod downward blood stuck to every stone.” (Hausrath, Der Apostel Paulus, p. 458). In a marble hall attached to this palace was a sermon about to be preached such as seldom is poured into the ears of men, and least of all into those of powerful state dignitaries. No doubt the eloquence of the preacher was stimulated by the aforesaid terrible reminiscences, of which he was not entirely ignorant—rather of which he was fully cognisant.
II. The distinguished hearers.—
1. Felix. The Roman governor, whose character on its worst side was also perfectly understood by Paul (see on Acts 23:24). Its hideous cruelty and rapacity, which caused him to be pronounced by Josephus the worst ruler that ever swayed the destinies of Judæa, and even after his deposition to be followed by his quondam subjects to Rome with bitter complaints against his administration, were so notorious that Tertullus was obliged to hide their loathsomeness by fulsome flattery (Acts 24:2). Its shamefaced profligacy had intruded into the palace hall, and stared on the apostle with unblushing countenance.
2. Drusilla. Felix’s wife, whose evil reputation was hardly less than his own. The daughter of the first Herod and the sister of the second, Drusilla—diminutive of Drusus—had been married at an early age to Azizus, King of Emesa, who, in order to obtain her hand, had become a Jewish proselyte and accepted circumcision; but her fascinating beauty having inflamed the libidinous desires of the Roman procurator, he employed the services of a Jewish magician named Simon, to proceed to Emesa and seduce her from her husband. In this unholy errand the magician, whom some have endeavoured to identify with the sorcerer of Samaria (Acts 8:9), proved lamentably successful; and “the daughter of Herod Agrippa, who had much to endure at the hands of her sister Bernice on account of her beauty” (Hausrath, Der Apostel Paulus, p. 459), having deserted her lawful husband, became the third wife of Felix, who had formerly been a slave, but was then the governor of Palestine.
III. The fearless preacher.—Paul, who at the request of Drusilla had been fetched up from his place of confinement into the judgment hall. As a Jewess she could not have been entirely ignorant of the new sect of Christians that had arisen in the land. As a daughter of Agrippa I. she may have been desirous of hearing one of the chief preachers of those Christians whom her father had persecuted, and with whom, in some way, she may have connected her father’s death. But from whatever motive summoned, Paul, when he appeared, evinced no timidity. Having the Lord upon his right hand (Psalms 16:8), he presented as valiant a front as David did to his enemies, or as Daniel did before Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:19-27.4.27) and Belshazzar (Daniel 5:22-27.5.28), or as afterwards John Knox of Edinburgh did in the presence of Queen Mary of Scotland. The man who had fought with wild beasts at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32), who had confronted the mob from the castle stairs in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1), who had bearded the Sanhedrists in their Star-Chamber (Acts 23:1), and who had already appeared before the representative of Roman law and majesty (Acts 24:10), was not likely to quake at the sight of a beautiful adulteress.
IV. The alarming sermon.—
1. The theme of it was generally “the faith in Christ Jesus,” which would doubtless lead Paul to dilate upon the main facts and doctrines of the gospel, and in particular upon the death and resurrection of Christ, pointing out how in both the truth of His Messiahship was confirmed. In this the apostle furnished a noble example to all preachers who, whatever the rank or character of their hearers, should resolutely determine to know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). The faith in Jesus Christ is the highest need of the human soul, in whatever sort of body that soul may be enshrined.
2. The application of it brought the noble Christian orator to closer quarters with the consciences of his hearers.
(1) He spoke to them of righteousness—that awful demand for upright and holy living, both toward God and toward man, which the Divine law, familiar at all events to Drusilla, demanded, which the consciences of both proclaimed to be just, and which the faith of Jesus Christ declared to be indispensable to all who would partake of the Messianic salvation Christ had come to introduce among men; perhaps pointing them to the gracious provision in the gospel, by and through Jesus Christ, for first bestowing upon men and then reproducing within men that righteousness of the law which no man could furnish of himself (Romans 3:24-45.3.25; Romans 8:1-45.8.4).
(2) Next he reminded them of temperance or self-control, that sacred chastity or mastery of the lower appetites and passions which religion in general, but especially the faith that is in Christ, requires of its devotees (Titus 2:11), but of which the illustrious pair before him were sadly wanting. That the apostle had a powerful ally in the bosoms of his bearers need not be questioned.
(3) And finally, he lifted up his hearers and himself to the judgment to come, that overwhelmingly awful tribunal before which all men—kings and princes no less than common men, judges and prisoners alike—must one day stand (Revelation 20:12-66.20.13)—a tribunal over which that Jesus of whom he spoke should preside (Matthew 25:32; Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10), at which the secrets of all hearts should be laid bare (Romans 2:16), and from which impartial awards should be made to every man according as his works should have been (Romans 2:6).
3. The effect of it. What impression this weird sermon from a weirder preacher had on those who heard it, and for whom specially it was intended, is only recorded in part. What Drusilla thought of it the pen of inspiration has not revealed. Did the remembrance of her first husband recur to her? or the revolting character of her present wickedness disturb her? Did the gleaming fires of the impending judgment-day startle her half-dead conscience within her, fast-bound in the cords of lustful sleep? Or, did she hear as though she heard not? Did she steel her bosom against the soul-piercing words of the Lord’s servant? Did she drown the still small voice that whispered within her bosom and wooed her to better things? These are questions to which no reply can be given. So far as Drusilla is concerned an unbroken silence will encompass her until the trumpet of the great day shall sound. But for Felix no such doom has been reserved. How he felt, as the weary, weather-beaten missionary of the Cross, becoming animated as he warmed to his theme, and fixing on his listener that intense look which was so characteristic of the apostle (Acts 23:1); how Felix felt, as the unearthly words echoed through his spirit, and raised up before his imagination ideas that were awe-inspiring in their ghostly grandeur;—how he felt, and what he said, has been set down in burning letters that he who runs may read. Felix trembled at the picture which this strange man—with a solemn eloquence which held him spellbound—had painted on the canvas of his soul. He could see the great white throne, with the Judge whose eyes were like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:14); he could see the assembled multitudes, and himself among them, undistinguished by any earthly greatness, in all the hideous nakedness of his guilty soul; he could hear the booming of the thunders and the glancing of the lightnings which proclaimed the commencement of the business of that awful assize; and as he realised the wickedness of his past and present life—its utter lack of righteousness, and horrible defilement through lust—he grew terrified with that terror which ever seizes on the guilty when their wickedness is on the eve of detection, and said “Go thy way, for this time; and when I have a convenient season I will call thee unto me.”
V. The pitiful conclusion.—It ended in three sad things.
1. Delay. Felix had some shadow of excuse for procrastination in the preceding instance, when Paul defended himself before his, bar—this, namely that he had been unexpectedly summoned in Providence to decide between Paul and his accusers, and might naturally plead that he wished to be better informed before delivering judgment. In this case no such ground for putting off existed. Felix was called to decide in a matter which affected himself alone, and for which the materials lay at hand. For him the clear duty of the moment was to repent and humble himself before God, to separate himself from the beautiful but wicked woman at his side, to break off his flagitious courses in life, and turn to God in righteousness and holy obedience. But, alas! he deferred again, as he had deferred before—he put off giving judgment between himself and God, as he had previously delayed pronouncing a verdict between Paul and his prosecutors. He would settle his own case, as he had promised to settle Paul’s—at a more convenient season. In Paul’s that more convenient season would arrive when Lysias should come down; in his own, when he should have more inclination or leisure to turn from dalliance with the fair creature by his side and think of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. Let it be noted that, as in Paul’s case no reason remains for believing that Lysias ever came down to Cæsarea, so is there good ground for holding that for Felix’s own case the convenient moment never arrived.
2. Resistance. Felix, it appears, had frequent interviews with his prisoner, but never again allowed his peace of mind to be disturbed, or his better nature to be aroused. Rather, he strenuously fought his convictions down. He fell back upon the evil demon of cupidity within his breast, called up into the field the spirit of avarice to do battle against the spirit of repentance and righteousness that had been temporarily awakened in him. “He hoped withal that money would be given him of Paul.” He never proposed to Paul the question of the Philippian gaoler—“What must I do to be saved?”
3. Rejection. Whatever promise of good may have been in Felix’s soul, when he trembled under Paul’s preaching, it ultimately died away. Felix decided neither Paul’s case nor his own, but left the brave apostle, whom he knew to be innocent, to languish in prison for two whole years; and when at length, his own reign of iniquity coming to an end, he was recalled by his imperial master, he still delayed doing justice to the servant of Jesus. Thinking to ingratiate himself with his much-abused subjects, and hoping to shut their mouths against him at the bar of Cæsar—in which, however, he was deceived—he left Paul in bonds.
1. The possibility of hearing the gospel without being saved.
2. The danger of trifling with one’s convictions of sin.
3. The wisdom of deciding for God and Christ at the earliest moment.
4. The probability that opportunities for being saved, once neglected, will not return.
5. The almost certainty that he who deliberately turns from the light will stumble on and down into deeper darkness.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 24:24. The Character of Felix.
I. An unjust ruler.
II. A licentious voluptuary.
III. An inveterate procrastinator.
IV. An avaricious money-hunter.
V. A crafty promoter of his own interests.
VI. An unprincipled trampler on the rights of others.
Drusilla, the Wife of Felix.—A woman—
I. Of highly exalted birth.—The daughter of kings. Noble parentage, when good, is an incalculable blessing, and entails great responsibilities. Noblesse oblige.
II. Of ripe personal beauty.—Her loveliness the ruin of both herself and Felix. Physical grace and elegance—a precious gift of Heaven—not always prized as such, but often bought and sold, like meat upon the shambles.
III. Of deeply depraved character.—At the moment when she heard Paul living in open sin, being the runaway wife of one man and the adulterous paramour of another.
IV. Of manifestly trifling disposition.—No reason to think she was in earnest, either in sending for or listening to Paul; probably actuated by no higher motive than to see the distinguished preacher (compare Luke 23:8), or to gratify her curiosity about the new faith, or to while away a few leisure moments in her frivolous and wicked life.
V. Of palpably seared conscience.—Sitting beside her husband, whose innermost soul quaked beneath the searching words that spake of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, she heard unmoved. At least, she evinced no sign that the arrow of conviction had reached her womanly breast. Fast asleep in the depths of sin, her soul heard not the awakening voice of truth.
Paul before Felix.—The scene introduces us to four things:—
I. A celebrated preacher.—Paul. After Jesus Christ, who “spake as never man spake” (John 7:47), no nobler representative of the Christian ministry has ever appeared in the world or the Church. When he stood before Felix, three virtues shone forth conspicuously in him.
1. Unwearied zeal in embracing every opportunity to advance the cause of his Master. Seldom have circumstances been less favourable for the exercise of the preacher’s gift than were his that day in Cæsarea—hardly even when confounding the Jews who dwelt at Damascus (Acts 9:22), fighting with wild beasts at Ephesus (Acts 19:31; 1 Corinthians 15:32), or addressing his countrymen from the castle stairs in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1); and yet, no sooner was he invited than he began to pour forth the wondrous story of his crucified and risen Lord.
2. Unflinching courage in shaping his discourse to suit his hearers. Not to please, but to profit; not to flatter, but to rebuke; not to lull into drowsy stupor, but to awaken from the trance of spiritual death. And yet he flinched not an instant in his task. Not a quaver of fear, though possibly more than one of affection, was heard in his oration. Like Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:27), he told out his message without trepidation.
3. Irrepressible hopefulness in despairing of no man. Paul not ignorant of the characters of Felix and Drusilla, yet, when invited to discourse to them about the faith of Christ he declined not, on the plea that such sinners were beyond the reach of mercy or inaccessible to the power of grace.
II. A pattern discourse.—
1. A sermon on the right theme—the faith that is in Christ Jesus. This held the place of honour in all Paul’s preaching, whose unvarying subject was Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
2. Intensely practical in its contents. With such topics did it deal as “righteousness, temperance, judgment to come”—topics too often absent from modern ministrations.
3. Directly personal. Shaped so as to meet the characters, rebuke the sins, and arouse the torpid spirits, of his hearers.
4. Eminently rational. Paul reasoned, declaimed not, but pressed home upon his listeners arguments which flooded their intellects with light, touched their hearts with emotion, and stirred within their conscience the voice of truth and right.
III. Illustrious hearers.—
1. Persons of high rank. No better or more valuable in God’s sight than people of obscure position. Equally with these in need of salvation. Often more so.
2. Notorious sinners. Less heinous offenders are still transgressors in the sight of Heaven and such as require to be called to repentance and faith.
3. Deplorably indifferent. So are multitudes of those to whom preachers are called to present the gospel. The number of those who truly long for salvation, and thirst after righteousness, is few.
IV. Disappointing results.—
1. Only one of Paul’s hearers impressed. Only Felix—not Drusilla; and yet she, having been a Jewess, ought to have possessed a better understanding of Paul’s message than her husband had, while, having been as wicked as her husband, she had as much cause for trembling as he. So it often happens under the ministry of the gospel. One is taken, the other left; one touched, the other unmoved.
2. That one only impressed, not improved. Felix convicted, not converted; merely trembled, did not turn. This also a not unusual phenomenon under a faithful ministry. Souls are alarmed who do not eventually prove to be saved.
3. The impressed one trifled with, but did not embrace, the gracious opportunity which came before him. Felix, had he fostered the convictions awakened in his soul, might have been recovered from his sinful condition; but he procrastinated, allowed his better impulses to subside, and was lost. So thousands permit their day of merciful visitation to pass, to their everlasting hurt. “The Holy Ghost saith, To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart” (Hebrews 4:7).
The Faith in Christ Jesus.—Is—
I. Heavenly in its object.—Directing its look, not to the historical, but to the crucified and risen Christ—the Christ whom Paul preached.
II. Reasonable in its character.—Capable of being set forth in such terms as to command the assent of the understanding and judgment. So Paul presented it to Felix.
III. Holy in its demands.—Though not requiring righteousness and temperance as grounds of justification, insisting upon these as indispensable to salvation.
IV. Alarming in its operation.—Awaking in the souls of them to whom it is presented conviction of sin and fear of judgment.
V. Saving in its results.—When accepted in humility and penitence, trustfulness and obedience, it issues in the blessing of complete redemption from the curse and power of sin.
Acts 24:24-44.24.25. A Preacher such as Paul (before Felix) should be—
I. Ready for every call to preach that presents itself in providence.—Paul interposed no objection when Felix sent for him, declined not the invitation preferred him to expound the principles of the gospel, but heartily embraced the opportunity to advance his Master’s cause. Semper paratus should be the minister’s motto.
II. Courageous in facing every audience on whom he looks.—This he will be if he preserves a lowly estimate of himself, conjoined with an exalted idea of the Master he serves and of the message he bears, as well as a lively sense of that Master’s presence.
III. Evangelical in the truths he proclaims.—The proper business of the pulpit is neither to teach science or philosophy, nor to disseminate the elements of ordinary knowledge, but to publish the everlasting gospel.
IV. Direct in the manner of his teaching.—A good sermon, besides having a good text and good matter, should be appropriate and personal—not in an offensive and impertinent, but in a heart-searching and conscience-touching, sense. Preaching that lacks point in front, and has no push from behind, is not likely to result in conversions.
Paul, Felix, and Drusilla; or, Three Phases of Conscience.
I. The courage of a good conscience.—Exemplified in Paul, who reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, before the adulterous pair. Compare John the Baptist before Herod (Matthew 14:4).
II. The alarm of a guilty conscience.—Illustrated in Felix, who trembled as the vision of a judgment-day arose upon his mind’s horizon. Compare Herod, the Baptist’s murderer (Matthew 16:2).
III. The insensibility of a hardened conscience.—Exhibited in Drusilla, who heard, unmoved, the heart-searching words of Paul. Compare the behaviour of her sister Bernice (Acts 26:30). Both instances of that most awful psychological phenomenon—a conscience past feeling (Ephesians 4:19).
Acts 24:25. Convenient Seasons—
I. Are always present to those in earnest about religion.—To such as are
(1) convinced of their own guilt and sin;
(2) alive to the necessity and importance of salvation;
(3) aware of the uncertainty and shortness of life.
II. Never come to those indifferent about religion.—To those who are
(1) in love with sin and its pleasures (Titus 3:3);
(2) blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4);
(3) unconscious of their perilous condition.
Acts 24:26. The Love of Money, as Exemplified in Felix.
I. Rooted, presumably, in his corrupt and unprincipled heart.—Mammon, the god of this world (Matthew 6:24).
II. Fostered by his wicked life.—For his personal extravagance and licentious indulgence he needed money, and this need kept the demon of avarice awake.
III. Obstructive of higher impulses.—It stifled his conscience, hardened his heart, destroyed his soul. It prevented the entrance into his soul of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
IV. Productive of other sins.—In Felix’s case it led to procrastination or trifling with his own highest interests; to the infliction of injustice on Paul, by continued imprisonment; to the practice of hypocrisy, in pretending to commune often with Paul about the faith, when secretly “he hoped that money would be given him of Paul.” “The love of money is the root of every kind of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 24". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent