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PAUL BEFORE KING AGRIPPA II.—THIRD APOLOGY
1. Paul’s Appeal to his Past Life; or, a Vindication of his Jewish Orthodoxy (Acts 26:1-44.26.8).
2. Paul’s Rehearsal of an Old Story; or, the Secret of his Conversion Explained (Acts 26:9-44.26.18).
3. Paul’s Subsequent Career as a Christian; or, How He Turned to the Gentile Mission (Acts 26:19-44.26.23).
4. Paul’s two Distinguished Listeners, Festus and Agrippa; or, Two Souls Struggling Against the Truth (Acts 26:24-44.26.32).
Acts 26:1. Agrippa said unto Paul.—On this occasion Agrippa, not Festus, presided over the tribunal. The “stretching forth” of the hand was the gesture of an orator preparing himself to speak, and differed from the act of “beckoning” or shaking “with the hand” (Acts 12:17, Acts 13:16, Acts 21:40), which was a signal demanding silence. The act is thus described: “Porrigit dextram et ad instar oratorum conformat articulum, dubousque infimis conclusis digitis ceteros eminentes porrigit” (Apuleius, Met., 2:54, quoted by Meyer). The hand which Paul raised was chained (Acts 26:29). Answered for himself. Made his defence, or apology. This was the third occasion on which Paul had vindicated himself—the first having been when he addressed the Jews (Acts 22:1), and the second when he stood before Felix (Acts 24:10). The present speech (Acts 26:2-44.26.23) divides itself into three parts. In the first (Acts 26:2-44.26.8), the apostle sets forth the solidarity of his own faith with that of his countrymen, in so far as each is a religion of hope; in the second (Acts 26:9-44.26.18) he explains the origin of his call to the apostolate; in the third (Acts 26:19-44.26.23) he shows how he was led to direct his apostolic activity towards the Gentiles.
Acts 26:2. The best MSS. omit “the” before Jews, as in Acts 26:7; Acts 26:21; Acts 25:10. Paul would represent the accusation as purely Jewish in its character, and indeed as proceeding from some only, not from all, of the Jews.
Acts 26:3. Especially gives the reason why Paul counted himself fortunate, not the quality or quantity of Agrippa’s knowledge, though “Rabbinic writers speak of Agrippa as having excelled in a knowledge of the law” (Hackett). Thee to be expert.—The words in Greek are anakolouthic. Instead of an accusative, a genitive might rather have been expected. Patiently.—Paul obviously proposed a somewhat extended oration.
Acts 26:4. My manner of life from my youth up.—This appears to imply that Paul had been brought to Jerusalem at an early age (compare Acts 23:3), though he was seemingly absent from the Metropolis during the three years of our Lord’s ministry (2 Corinthians 5:16).
Acts 26:5. From the beginning.—The same idea as that contained in “from my youth up.” I lived a Pharisee.—Observe the succession of the clauses, which state
(1) how long the Jews had known Paul—from his youth up, or from the beginning;
(2) where they had known him—in Jerusalem; and
(3) what they had known about him—that he had lived a Pharisee (compare Acts 22:3, Acts 23:6).
Acts 26:6. I stand here and am judged.—Better, I stand here, being judged. Paul’s complaint was that he was being tried, not for heterodoxy, but for “orthodoxy”—for the hope, etc.
Acts 26:7. Our twelve tribes.—Paul, like James (Acts 1:1), considered the then existing Jewish people to be the legitimate representatives of the Twelve Tribes. Like James, he ignored “the legend, so often repeated and revived, that the ten tribes of the northern kingdoms of Israel, after they had been carried away by Shalmaneser, had wandered far away, and were to be found, in disguise, in far-off regions of the world. The earliest appearance of the fable is in the apocryphal 2Es. 13:40-46, where they are said to have gone to ‘a country where never mankind dwelt, that they might there keep the statutes which they never kept in their own land.’ The apostle, on the contrary, represents the whole body of the Twelve Tribes as alike serving God” (Plumptre). While it is certainly true that the main body of the home-returning exiles consisted of members of the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, it is equally indubitable that amongst them were members of other tribes, as, e.g., of Ephraim and Manasseh (1 Chronicles 9:3).
Acts 26:8. Why should it so thought a thing incredible with you?—Another interpretation gives “What! is it judged incredible with you?” (Griesbach, Kuinoel, De Wette, Conybeare and Howson). That God should raise the dead!—Lit., if God raises; εἰ presenting the question as one a sceptic might controvert, and ἐγείρει being present, because the resurrection of Jesus was regarded by the apostle as illustrating “a permanent attribute or power on the part of God” (Hackett). The precise force of the question has been differently explained. Connected with the preceding verses, it has been understood as giving the inner kernel of the promise made unto the Jewish fathers, and as replying to a look of incredulity perhaps at the moment visible on the faces of his hearers (Holtzmann); regarded as introductory to the ensuing paragraph, it has been interpreted as signifying either that, since no Jew could hesitate to believe in the resurrection of the dead, what the apostle was about to rehearse should likewise be accepted as credible (Overbeck), or that the apostle’s faith in the Messiah, of which he was about to speak, had exactly that for its presupposition which no Jew would think of controverting—viz., that God was able to raise the dead (Wendt). Perhaps the first connection is the better.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 26:1-44.26.8
Paul’s Appeal to His Past Life; or, a Vindication of his Jewish Orthodoxy
I. Paul’s happiness in entering on his defence.—One might naturally have supposed that Paul by this time would have felt it irksome to be called up to speak for himself, having already twice attempted to vindicate his innocence, before the Sanhedrim (Acts 22:1) and before Felix (Acts 24:10), but with no good result—only with this, that for two long years he had been detained in bonds. Spirits of less noble mould than Paul’s would have been crushed—would have renounced both faith in God and hope for themselves; but he, “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10), as “perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken, cast down but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-47.4.9), continued bright and cheerful, never losing heart or hope, constantly confident that all things were working together for his good (Romans 8:28), as well as for God’s purpose (Ephesians 1:11), and therefore always ready to enter any door of service that might be opened, not so much for the vindication of himself as for the furtherance of the gospel and the cause of his Master. In particular, he welcomed the present opportunity of appearing before Agrippa and answering the charges that had been brought against him.
1. Because Agrippa was a king, and a king, it was written, should ever love judgment (Psalms 99:4) and practise righteousness (Isaiah 32:1), yea, righteous lips should be his delight (Proverbs 16:13), while to search out a matter was his honour (Proverbs 25:2), and to do wickedness should be to him an abomination (Proverbs 16:12).
2. Because Agrippa was an expert in all Jewish customs and questions, and would be able to comprehend the point or points at issue between him, Paul, and his countrymen—points which had somewhat disconcerted the Governor (Acts 25:20). “That Paul here praises the king’s eminent knowledge of Jewish religion and morals is no empty flattery, but appears to rest on this, that Agrippa, more than any other member of his family, occupied himself with the people’s ecclesiastical affairs, although nothing definite concerning this has been handed down by tradition” (Zöckler). Rabbinic writers speak of Agrippa II. as having excelled in a knowledge of the law; and “as the traditions which these Rabbinic writers follow could not have flowed from this passage, they confirm the representation here given by an unexpected agreement” (Hackett). Possibly Agrippa II. had been carefully instructed in them by his father, Agrippa I., who was “famous for his rigid observance of all Jewish customs and rites” (Spence).
3. Because Agrippa was acquainted with the Scriptures, which formed the ultimate standard of judgment for all controverted points in religion. Though Paul made no mention of this in his courteous exordium, it lay clearly in the background of his consciousness (see Acts 26:27). Notice, that in all this Paul introduces no word in flattery of the young sovereign. Paul doubtless understood that—
“They do abuse the king that flatter him,
Whereas reproof, obedient and in order,
Fits kings as they are men, for they may err.”—Shakespeare.
II. Paul’s request for a patient hearing of his case.—
1. Because heretofore he had in every instance been interrupted and prevented from making a full statement of his defence. By the Jews, when he spoke from the castle stairs in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22); by the high priest, when he appeared before the Sanhedrim (Acts 23:2); by Felix, when he stood before that governor (Acts 24:22)—though not stated, this seems to have been the exact state of matters; by Festus, who succeeded Felix (Acts 25:9). And now, before beginning, he bespeaks a different treatment from the Jewish sovereign.
2. Because he desired to make a complete presentation of his cause, without which justice could not be done either to himself, the accused party, or by Agrippa, whose opinion on his case was sought. If, through his imperfect exposition of the exact situation, Agrippa failed to apprehend the matter requiring judgment, then neither would Agrippa be able to return nor himself be likely to receive a righteous verdict. To a fair hearing and an honest sentence even the worst of criminals is entitled.
III. Paul’s appeal to the knowledge of his contemporaries.—“All the Jews” referred to were obviously all the Jews of Jerusalem and Judæa; and these, the apostle urged, had intimate acquaintance with him.
1. Where they had known him. In Jerusalem, and therefore at first hand; not simply by report, as one living at a distance, say in Tarsus, outside the limits of the Holy Land. In the very Metropolis of Judaism, and therefore in the place where those lived who were most capable of observing and judging of his character (see on Acts 22:3).
2. How long they had known him. From his youth up. Not merely at one or two brief particular times. This statement implies that Paul had in early life, for some reason unknown, removed from Tarsus and settled at Jerusalem, where he was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel (see “Critical Remarks” on Acts 22:3).
3. As what they had known him. Not as a heretic, or unbeliever, but as one who lived after the straitest sect of their religion, as a Pharisee, as a member of that community of which Josephus writes: “The Pharisees are a Jewish sect who appear to be more religious than others, and who appear to interpret the law more strictly” (Wars, I. Act. 5:2), and again: “they are supposed to excel others in the accurate knowledge of their country” (Life, 38). All this the Jews knew, and, were they willing—of which Paul was manifestly not sure—could testify concerning him. That any of the “grave and dignified members of the Sanhedrim” were “present in that great assembly that morning” (Spence) cannot be gathered from the narrative, but had they been, they could, had they chosen, have bowed their heads in acquiescence to what Paul was stating to Agrippa.
IV. Paul’s exposition of the charge preferred against himself.—
1. An explanation. The offence for which he, a chained prisoner, was being presently examined and judged consisted, not in his having committed any civil crime, political misdemeanour, or religious aberration, but in his having cherished the hope of the promise which had been
(1) made unto the fathers, and which in Paul’s judgment was contained in the sacred Scriptures as well as embraced more than the prediction of a Divine Messiah, even the announcement of a resurrection, and of a future glorified life (see “Hints” on Acts 26:6); and
(2) was cherished at that moment by all the Twelve Tribes, who earnestly served God day and night with a splendid ritual worship, the ultimate end and aim of which was to secure for them that eternal life, through the advent and work of Messiah, to whom their sacrificial ceremonialism and symbolism looked forward. He was therefore in complete harmony with the faith of his countrymen, and differed from them solely in this, that he held that promise to have been fulfilled in the historical appearing of Jesus of Nazareth, and that hope to be realised through His resurrection from the dead.
2. A defence. Did they question what he now asserted? Did they deem what he now preached a delusion? If he took for granted that God could raise the dead, why should that be pronounced by them incredible? Had their sacred books never spoken of a resurrection? Was so marvellous a phenomenon as the resuscitation of a dead body altogether unknown to them? It ought not to be, if they had read that sacred volume with sufficient care (see 1 Kings 17:17-11.17.23; 2 Kings 4:18-12.4.37; 2 Kings 13:21). His allegation, then, that he had seen the risen Christ ought not to be lightly waived aside, or the doctrine of a resurrection contemptuously rejected (see “Hints” on Acts 26:8).
1. The cheerfulness in trial which Divine grace can inspire.
2. The value of a wide and accurate knowledge in religion.
3. The advantage to be derived in after years from a well-spent youth.
4. The fundamental basis of all acceptable worship—the promise of God.
5. The reasonableness of faith in the resurrection, and of hope of eternal life.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 26:1. Permitted to Speak for Himself.
I. A dangerous temptation.—Before which all ministers require to be on their guard, lest, like false teachers, they should speak merely for themselves, for their own glory, or their own profit.
II. A painful duty.—Which ministers sometimes need to perform, as when their ministerial usefulness is threatened by some prevailing calumny, or they are charged with offences they have not committed, and which, if not disproved, would bring their office into disrepute (2 Corinthians 6:3).
III. A blessed privilege.—Which all ministers have, and true ministers delight to avail themselves of, when it means to speak for their Master, Christ—for His glory, for the advancement of His cause, for the diffusion of His truth, for the extension of His kingdom.
A Chained Prisoner on His Defence.—A series of marvels.
I. Speaks before the great ones of the earth without trepidation.—An example of holy courage (Psalms 27:1; Isaiah 51:12).
II. Descants upon a lofty theme without faltering.—A proof of high endowment (Psalms 37:30; Proverbs 8:6).
III. Seeks the glory of God without a thought of self.—A sign of great grace (John 8:50).
IV. Enters on his task in sublime cheerfulness, without a symptom of despondent dulness.—An instance of exalted faith.
V. Rises into glowing eloquence, without a taint of sordid speech.—A mark of complete self-control.
Acts 26:2. The Secret of Paul’s Joy in Addressing Agrippa.
I. What it was not.—Neither
(1) gratification at being honoured to speak before a king, since Paul would as cheerfully have spoken before a common man; nor
(2) satisfaction at being able to clear his character from the charges brought against him, though Paul of course was by no means indifferent to this; nor
(3) delight at the opportunity of exposing the malice of his foes, which richly merited both exposure and rebuke, not to say punishment; nor
(4) expectation of thereby obtaining his release, since Paul knew that he must go to Rome.
II. What it was.—
1. The prospect of being able to testify concerning and for Christ before one “to whom the circumstances of the Jewish nation, the promises made to the fathers, and the history of Christ, were not unknown”; and
2. The hope of gaining at least one convert, perhaps more than one, to the faith of his exalted Lord. “Paul, stretching forth his hand, approached the king, and aimed at his heart” (Besser).
The Character of Paul’s Defence.
I. Humble without servility.
II. Fearless without pride.
III. Powerful without passion and rancour.
IV. Mild without laxity.
V. Prudent without art.
VI. Simple, yet not without skill.
Acts 26:3. A Patient Hearing.
I. Due to preachers of the gospel—always supposing them to be faithful and earnest. Because of—
1. The Master they serve—Christ.
2. The message they bring—the good news of reconciliation.
3. The end at which they aim—the salvation of their hearers.
II. Frequently denied to preachers.—Because of—
1. Dislike of both the preacher and his Master.
2. Disinclination towards both the subject and the aim of his message.
3. Dissatisfaction with the manner or the method of the preacher.
4. Pre-occupation with other thoughts or things.
Acts 26:4. My Manner of Life from My Youth Up; or, an Aged Christian’s Retrospect of his Past Career.
I. Sometimes necessary.—This was the case with Paul when before Agrippa. It was needful for the vindication of himself to appeal to his previous history, from his youth upwards, to show that he had never really been out of harmony with the faith or practice of his people, as his enemies alleged. So Christians have sometimes to establish their own consistency by calling up their manner of life in former years.
II. Always difficult.—Even Christians, like other people, are not above the temptation of dealing gently with themselves. It requires great grace to enable even a good man to be faithful in appreciating his own character, not to over-estimate his virtues or under-estimate his defects. Paul was eminently successful in this work of self-examination. What he claimed before Agrippa was not that his past life had been sinless in the sight of God, but merely that it had been externally faultless in the eyes of men.
III. Often profitable.—When it leads to self-humiliation and repentance before God on account of shortcomings; when it shows that the past has been at least constantly conscientious, if not completely correct; when it enables one to see the guiding hand of a gracious Providence leading on from step to step towards the goal of conversion and salvation.
IV. Not always satisfactory.—It was not so with Paul. He recognised that his past career had been outwardly correct and inwardly conscientious; but he found that notwithstanding he had been a persecutor and a blasphemer—in short, the chief of sinners.
Acts 26:6. The Promise Made to the Fathers.
I. Divine in its origin.—Made by God. Had the author been man, the promise would have been worthless.
II. Ancient in its date.—Going back to the fathers of the faithful, yea, even to the first father of the human family.
III. Gracious in its character.—Prompted by the spontaneous love and kindness of God.
IV. Great in its contents.—A promise of salvation.
V. Varied in its form.—
1. To Adam, the promise of a woman’s seed who should bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).
2. To Abraham, the promise of a land (Genesis 12:1), of a seed (Genesis 13:15), of a son (Genesis 15:4).
3. To Israel under Moses, the promise of a law-giver like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18).
4. To David, the promise of a son who should sit and reign upon his throne for ever (2 Samuel 7:12).
5. To Israel in the time of Isaiah, the promise
(1) of a virgin’s child, whose name should be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14), Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6):
(2) of a suffering servant of Jehovah, who should bear the sins of many and make intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:11-23.53.12).
6. To Israel, in the days of Jeremiah, the promise of one who should be called the Lord our Righteousness (Jeremiah 33:15-24.33.16).
7. To Israel, in the era of Ezekiel, the promise of a shepherd king like David to rule over his people (Ezekiel 37:24).
8. To Israel, after the return from captivity, the promise of one called “the Branch” (Zechariah 3:8).
VI. Sure in its fulfilment.—This involved in the fact of its being the promise of a God who cannot lie.
VII. Realised in the person and work of Christ.—This the burden of the gospel message, as it was the theme of Paul’s preaching.
Acts 26:8. Raising the Dead—credible or incredible?
I. Incredible only on one or other, or all, of the following suppositions:
1. That the dead have entirely ceased to be. In this case they could not be raised, though other beings might be created in their stead.
2. That there is no power adequate to effect their resurrection. This will require to be admitted if there is no God, since a power less than Divine will not suffice.
3. That it is impossible for a Divine power, should there be such, to interfere with the ordinary laws of nature. This the position occupied by those who hold that the supernatural must never transcend the limits, but always restrict itself to the channels, of the natural.
4. That the Divine power, assuming such exists, has distinctly declined to interfere with natural law. This, however, God has nowhere done—certainly not in Scripture.
5. That the Divine Being has expressly asserted no such event as a resurrection will ever take place. This also He has nowhere affirmed.
1. If the dead are still living, though they have passed beyond this mortal scene (Matthew 22:32).
2. If there be a God, as all nature cries aloud through all her works, as Scripture throughout asserts, and as man’s own nature attests there is.
3. If God has distinctly promised that He will raise the dead. This He has most certainly done. Both Old and New Testaments supply texts in confirmation.
4. If Christ has already risen from the dead. That He has is what Paul asserted. For the sake of the truth of this his fellow-apostles as well as himself were willing to stake, and actually did stake, their lives.
5. If in the idea of a resurrection nothing contrary to reason exists. Whatever objections may be taken to its credibility, it cannot be asserted that the notion of a resurrection is either inconceivable or irrational.
6. If a resurrection would raise man to a higher stage of being than before. Were it certain that man’s future rising would be a backward step, it might be difficult to credit the occurrence of any such event in the future.
7. If a resurrection would furnish to the universe an additional proof of the Divine glory. This assuredly it would. It would exhibit at once the glory of His grace and power.
Acts 26:9. Commences the second part of Paul’s apology. Paul would not despair of converting his countrymen from doubt to belief, since he himself had undergone a similar mental revolution, and had become a believer in, and a preacher of, the resurrection of Jesus. I ought.—Paul acted from what he deemed a sense of duty when he “persecuted the Church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9), which may be taken as his interpretation of the clause, doing many things “contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Acts 26:10. The saints.—This designation, intelligible only to Christians (see Acts 9:13), Paul did not use when addressing the Jews, but now employs before Agrippa, perhaps because he deemed caution no longer necessary, and wished both to put honour on the followers of the Nazarene and to aggravate his own guilt (compare Birk’s Horæ Apostolicæ vii. viii.). The disciples of the Crucified were “the ‘holy ones of God’s people, Israel—what the Chasidim, or ‘devout ones’ (the ‘Assideans’ of 1Ma. 7:13; 2Ma. 14:6), had been in an earlier generation” (Plumptre). I gave my voice—lit., I cast my voting stone, calculum adjeci, against them.—Whether this should be taken literally, as signifying that Paul actually voted against the Christians (Conybeare and Howson, Alford, Holtzmann, Hausrath, Plumptre), or figuratively (Bengel, Kuinoel, De Wette, Meyer, Lechler, Zockler, Hackett, Stier), that he assented to their condemnation, is debated. If the former interpretation be the right one, then the probability is that Paul had been a member of the Sanhedrim, and over thirty years of age, as well as married and the father of a family. As, however, Paul’s age at the time of Stephen’s murder is uncertain, and as Scripture does not mention either wife or child of the apostle (but see Hints on Acts 26:10), it is held by others that the latter interpretation should be preferred.
Acts 26:11. I … compelled them.—Lit., I was compelling them—i.e., I strove to make them—blaspheme.—It does not follow that he succeeded, though “that among the many who suffered this violence, every one preserved his fidelity, it would be unreasonable to affirm” (Hackett). Pliny (Ep., x. 97) speaks of ordering the Bithynian Christians—maledicere Christo—but adds that it could not be done—quorum nihil cogi posse dicuntur qui sunt revera Christiani. Strange cities were foreign cities, outside of Palestine, like Damascus.
Acts 26:12. Whereupon.—Lit., in which (persecutions) being engaged. Compare Acts 24:18.
Acts 26:13. At midday.—A note, omitted in Luke’s narration (Acts 9:3) but corresponding to Paul’s previous statement “about noon” (Acts 22:6). A light from heaven.—As in Acts 9:3; spoken of as great in Acts 22:6, to which corresponds the next clause, above the brightness of the sun.—This light is now said to have encompassed, not Paul alone (Acts 9:3; Acts 22:6), but his companions as well
Acts 26:14. Remarks that these companions, as well as the apostle, were all struck to the ground in terror, though they appear to have recovered from their fright earlier than he (Acts 9:7). The voice which Paul heard, Luke says they also heard (Acts 9:7), though Paul affirms they heard it not (Acts 22:9), as conversely Luke reports they saw no man (Acts 9:7), while Paul asserts they beheld the light (Acts 20:9). On these supposed contradictions see Acts 9:7, and Acts 22:6, and compare Daniel 10:7; 3Ma. 6:18, and John 12:29, which all seem to imply that heavenly voices and visions are understood and seen only by those for whom they are intended. Paul mentioned that the voice spoke to him in the Hebrew tongue, because he was then himself speaking in Greek, not in Hebrew, as in 22 (see Hints on Acts 26:14). It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.—Or, goads. The meaning was that his resistance to the cause and will of Christ would be foolish and unavailing, as well as painful to himself. The ox-goad, six or eight feet long, and pointed with iron, was held by the Oriental ploughman in one hand, while the other grasped the one-handled plough. The refractory animal, when pierced or pricked with the iron-pointed goad, would, of course, kick against it. Examples of this proverb have been produced from Greek and Latin writers (see Æschylus, Agam., 1624: πρὸς κέντρα μὴ λάκτιζε; and Terence, Phormio, I. ii. 27: “Nam quæ inscitia est advorsum stimulum oalces”).
Acts 26:16. Which thou halt seen.—According to the best authorities this should be wherein thou hast seen Me.
Acts 26:18. To turn them should be that they may turn from darkness to light, the verb being intransitive (see Acts 26:20; Acts 14:15).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 26:9-44.26.18
Paul’s Rehearsal of An Old Story; or, the Secret of his Conversion Explained
I. The character of his pre-Christian life.—Briefly, one of opposition to the name of Jesus, and to all who bore it.
1. Conscientious. Paul distinctly claimed that at that time he was as truly conscientious as he had been since his conversion. He imagined, ignorantly of course (1 Timothy 1:13), that in so opposing, hindering, persecuting, and destroying Christians, he was actually doing God service. He did not avow that, though acting, as he believed, from conscientious motives, he was thereby free from guilt; otherwise he could not have written, “Howbeit I obtained mercy.” Paul had by this time arrived at the perception of this fundamental principle in morals, that while man is responsible for acting in accordance with conscience, he is no less accountable for the education and enlightenment of his conscience. It is only conscience enlightened by the word of God which is an absolutely safe guide for the Christian.
2. Active. His hostility towards the name of Jesus and its bearers was not confined to the region of sentiment and feeling, but was no sooner formed than translated into word and deed. Having concluded in the court of conscience that he ought to harry out the Christians from Jerusalem and Judæa, and hunt them, if that were possible, from off the face of the earth, he adopted every method in his power to give effect to his ferocious purpose. Armed with authority from the chief priests, he became a furious inquisitor, persecutor, and oppressor—
(1) shutting up the saints in prison wherever and whenever they fell into his clutches;
(2) voting against them when they were put to death, either actually, as a member of the Sanhedrim, or metaphorically, by mentally assenting to their condemnation, thus constituting himself participem criminis, or (to use a Scottish law phrase) “art and part,” a sharer in the wickedness of shedding their innocent blood;
(3) punishing them in every synagogue in which they were found, in order to make them blaspheme that holy name wherewith they were called (James 2:7); and even
(4) following them to strange cities, such as Damascus, in order to arrest them and fetch them, bound, to Jerusalem.
3. Passionate. Nor was it merely as an unpleasant task that this ferocious and bloody occupation was undertaken and carried through by him, but as a business into which he had enlisted all the energy and enthusiasm of his soul, and from which he derived the most intoxicating and fiendish delight. He was mad exceedingly, and, as Luke reports, breathed out threatenings and slaughter against them.
4. Extensive. His efforts were not restricted to Jerusalem or Judæa, but passed beyond the limits of the Holy Land, even to foreign cities. From Paul’s description of his early career we can see that Luke’s account (Acts 9:1-44.9.18) is in no degree exaggerated, while Agrippa might have inferred, had he wished, that something extraordinary must have happened to produce the change in Paul which he and all men beheld—a something hardly less supernatural than that which Paul next proceeded to relate—viz., the appearance to him of the risen Christ.
II. The story of his miraculous conversion—
1. The place where it occurred. In the vicinity of that very Damascus to which he had been journeying on the unhallowed errand just described. Paul was not likely to forget a spot so sacred as that on which he passed so suddenly, completely, and for ever from the darkness of sin and Satan into God’s own marvellous light. It can hardly be supposed that the Eunuch would ever cease to remember the desert road to Gaza, where he met with Philip the evangelist and found the key to the Bible in the person of the Saviour (Acts 8:26); or that Lydia would ever become unmindful of the place of prayer by the river side in Philippi, where the Lord opened her heart to attend unto the things that were spoken by Paul (Acts 16:13). 2 The time when it happened. “At mid-day, O king.” This also was engraven ineffaceably on the tablets of his memory, as was the tenth hour on the memory of Andrew (John 1:39). Many who have undergone the same spiritual change as Paul, the change of conversion, find it difficult to state precisely the moment when the blinding scales of ignorance and unbelief fell from their eyes, and the light of saving truth flashed in upon their understandings. But no such uncertainty could exist with Paul, any more than with the just named Lydia (Acts 16:14), or with the Philippian gaoler (Acts 16:34).
3. The instrumentality that effected it. “A light from heaven.”
(1) That this was no mere flash of lightning or other natural phenomenon, but a supernatural illumination, is proved by four things: its splendour, which was above the brightness of the sun; its time, which was mid-day, when the sun is at its brightest, and lightning, should it occur then, is scarcely visible; its locality, which was not the broad expanse of the firmament, but the vicinity of the apostle and his companions—the light shone round about them; its effect—it hurled the apostle and his companions to the ground, probably threw them from the beasts on which they rode, filling the apostle’s companions with terror, and striking the apostle himself with blindness (Acts 9:7-44.9.8), though the apostle does not now deem it necessary to introduce these details into his speech.
(2) That the light was the glory nimbus of the exalted Saviour is apparent from the circumstances next narrated by Paul—that he heard a voice issuing from it which he afterwards recognised to be that of Jesus, whom he had been persecuting, and that he carried on a conversation with that same Jesus, whose glorified form he discerned in the midst of the light.
4. The power that wrought it. This was not the light, which was simply the radiant symbol of Jesus presence, or the alarm into which he, no less than his companions, had been thrown, since, though fear may awaken conviction, it cannot convert; but the grace of Him who had, in this mysterious fashion, appeared to him on the way. “It is the Spirit (of Christ) that quickeneth” (John 6:63). Souls are born again, “not of flesh or of blood, or by the will of man, but by the power of God” (John 1:13).
5. The process by which it was completed. The conversation carried on by Christ with his soul.
(1) The double form of address—“Saul! Saul!”—indicative of earnestness; the pathetic interrogation—“Why persecutest thou Me?”; and the solemn declaration, “It is hard for thee to kick against the goads”;—made it evident that he was standing before One who not only knew his name and the details of his past career, but was acquainted with the interior history of his soul, and understood the moods of mind through which he had been passing on the road to Damascus, and probably ever since he had witnessed the trial and execution of Stephen. If Paul on that day remembered the words of Scripture at all, it is far from unlikely that these were the words which instinctively leapt into his thoughts: “O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me.…” (Psalms 139:1-19.139.12).
(2) The answer returned by Christ to his question, “Who art Thou, Lord?”—“I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest”—must have discovered to his mind three things of which he had been previously unaware, and up to that moment had presumably not imagined could be true: that Jesus of Nazareth was no longer dead, but risen, as the Christians affirmed, and was the Messiah; that his conception of himself and his past career as highly pleasing to God was fundamentally and totally wrong; and that in persecuting the followers of the Way he was practically fighting against God. All which must have humbled him in the dust of penitence and self-abasement.
(3) The command of Jesus that he should rise, stand upon his feet, and proceed upon a different mission—not against, but for, the cause he had been seeking to destroy—could not fail to inspire within him hopes of pardon and acceptance, notwithstanding his heinous wickedness and sin. When Paul found that Jesus did not strike him into death, confound him with terrors, or declare against him bitter and relentless enmity, what could he conclude but that Jesus was willing to forgive the past? If doubt lingered in his soul, it must have been for ever banished when Christ proceeded to talk about employing him as a preacher of the faith?
III. The tenor of his apostolical commission.—This was—
1. Based upon the fact that Christ had now appeared to him, as to all the other apostolic persons. Paul afterwards relied on this as a sufficient guarantee of his apostolical authority (1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8).
2. Defined as a witness-bearing about the things in which Christ both had appeared and would appear to him. In conformity with this Paul constantly claimed that his gospel had not been derived indirectly from man, but had been communicated to him directly by Christ (Galatians 1:12).
3. Directed to the Gentiles—not exclusively, but ultimately and chiefly. It is not in accordance with fact that Paul originally did not contemplate a Gentile mission (Baur, Hausrath), but was only reluctantly compelled by circumstances to adopt this, because of the refusal of his countrymen, the Jews, to hear the gospel (Acts 13:47). That Paul did not start at once with a Gentile mission constituted no proof that that formed not his intention from the first, or that he was not aware of his Divine designation for such an enterprise, but only attested his wisdom in
(1) waiting for heavenly leading to open up his path, and
(2) seeking a point of connection for himself and his gospel with the heathen, through the synagogues, in which these mingled as proselytes with the Jews. Besides, had Paul not commenced with the Jews he would have both given to his hearers an erroneous impression of his gospel, which was no entirely new religion, but the necessary, because Divinely arranged, development of the old faith of the Hebrews, and would have lacked a congenial soil for it to fix its first roots in.
4. Designed for the salvation of the heathen: by
(1) opening their eyes—i.e., imparting to them spiritual illumination (Luke 1:79; Ephesians 1:18);
(2) turning them, as the result of such enlightenment, from darkness unto light (Ephesians 5:11; Colossians 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9), and from the power of Satan unto God (Ephesians 2:2; Romans 16:20);
(3) bestowing on them forgiveness—i.e., remission of sins (Romans 3:25); and
(4) securing for them an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in Christ (Acts 20:22; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 1:18; Colossians 1:12; 1 Peter 1:4). “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” (Trapp).
5. Accompanied by a promise of protection against the machinations of both Jews and Gentiles, a promise which his past history and present position showed had been marvellously fulfilled.
1. That to follow conscience (unless it is enlightened) is no guarantee that one will not commit sin and incur guilt.
2. That men have justified the greatest wickedness by appealing to the dictates of conscience.
3. That men’s judgments on their characters and lives differ greatly according to the standpoints from which they are pronounced.
4. That Divine grace can change the worst of sinners.
5. That nothing transpiring on earth is or can be hid from the eyes of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:13; Revelation 1:14).
6. That when Christ appoints a messenger He gives him a message.
7. That the grand end of the ministry is the salvation of them that hear (1 Corinthians 1:21; 1 Timothy 4:16).
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 26:9. Paul’s Mistaken Thoughts.
I. That Jesus of Nazareth was an imposter.—Not a few regard Christ in this light still. Many consider Him to have been a mere man, and Divine in no sense, in which others may not also be Divine.
II. That the followers of Jesus should be persecuted and put to death.—This opinion is not yet extinct. Many who would tolerate Christianity hold that other religions should be put down and their professors suppressed by force. To punish men for their religious views, besides being a blunder, is a sin.
III. That the favour of Heaven could be secured only by them who obeyed the law, and observed the ritual, of Moses.—Thousands still hold that none can be saved outside of their sect, and thousands more that salvation is possible only to them who seek it through the works of the law—both of which opinions are delusions.
IV. That the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was a fiction.—So numerous unbelievers still hold. But as Paul was undeceived on this point, so will they eventually be.
Acts 26:10. Was Paul a Member of the Sanhedrim?—The answer to this question largely turns on the other, Was Paul married? That he was, Luther and the Reformers generally inferred from 1 Corinthians 7:8 : “But I say to the unmarried and to widows, It is good for them, if they abide even as I.” “That the unmarried are widowers is clear from this, that Paul has already spoken to the unmarried (Acts 26:1), and married (Acts 26:7), and now comes to the widowed (Acts 26:8). Accordingly, the apostle appears to reckon himself in the category of widowers, and already Luther’s sound judgment has discerned that directions concerning the married life, such as are given immediately before Acts 26:8, are suitable only in the mouth of a man who is, or was, married, and who knows from his own experience that of which he speaks. An impartial reading of 1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 7:10, cannot but confirm this judgment of Luther’s; and many other passages in the Pauline letters, as, e.g., 1 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 7:14, manifest so deep a feeling for the family life, and so rich experiences out of the same, that this impression is only confirmed” (Hausrath, Der Apostel Paulus, p. 47).
Acts 26:13. Memorable Moments.—Paul never forgot the hour when the glorified Redeemer first appeared to him, shattered with a glance and a word the entire superstructure of his past life, and transformed him into a new man.
I. Such moments occur in the lives of men.—Such are those, e.g., in which Christ, through His word and by His Spirit, for the first time looks in upon a soul, awakening within it a sense of sin, shining into it with His gracious countenance, translating it out of darkness into light, and turning it from Satan to serve the living and true God.
II. Such moments should not be forgotten.—Should be remembered by men rather—
1. For the eternal praise of the Lord whose grace has been so signally displayed in them.
2. For the continual instruction of themselves, reminding them of the grace they have received and the gratitude they should feel.
3. For a permanent memorial to the world, to rebuke them in their sins and call them to the way of salvation.
Acts 26:14-44.26.15. Did Christ speak Hebrew?—Compare Christ’s words to Paul in Acts 9:4-44.9.5. That on this occasion He did, Paul distinctly states. Whether this was Christ’s language on earth is debated. The probability is that He could use both Greek and Hebrew. Brought up, as He had been, in a Jewish household, it is hardly supposable that He could not think, read, write, and speak, in Hebrew. It is even likely that when He taught in the synagogues, the language used by Him was Hebrew. Occasionally when working miracles, as the Gospel records show, He used Aramaic terms, such as “Talitha cumi,” “Ephatha”; while on the cross He cried: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani.” At the same time, as Greek was at this period commonly spoken in all those countries which were washed by the Mediterranean waters, it is just as reasonable to conjecture that Christ could speak Greek. Whether He employed this tongue in ordinary intercourse with His countrymen will most likely never be determined. Nor is it of much consequence. The instance here given of Christ speaking from heaven to a mortal is a solitary one, and not much can be founded on it in the way of argument for one conclusion or another. Some think that John’s revelations were given to him in Hebrew. But this is, of course, conjectural.
Acts 26:16-44.26.18. True Ministerial Ordination.—Illustrated in the case of Paul.
I. Proceeds from Christ.—Prayer and the imposition of hands, whether by bishop or presbytery, does not make an unconverted man a minister of Jesus Christ.
II. Appoints to personal service.—Not to temporal or ecclesiastical dignities, or even to wealth and comfort, but to lowly labour in witness-bearing for Jesus Christ.
III. Guarantees spiritual illumination.—When Christ ordains a man to be His witness He reveals Himself to that man’s soul, not only at the beginning, and as a necessary condition of being ordained as a minister, but from time to time, as his work of witness-bearing requires.
IV. Promises adequate protection.—As Christ shielded Paul from his adversaries, so can and will He guard His faithful minister and witness so long as his service is required.
V. Contemplates lofty aims.—
1. The enlightenment of souls—“to open their eyes.”
2. The conversion of sinners—“that they may turn from darkness to light.”
3. The bestowment of pardon—“that they may receive remission of sins.”
4. The preparation of those who are enlightened, converted, pardoned for glory—“that they may receive an inheritance among them that are sanctified.”
5. The implantation of faith—“through faith that is in Me.”
Acts 26:18. The Way to The Inheritance.
I. No inheritance without sanctification.—(See Acts 20:32, and compare Hebrews 12:14). “Follow holiness,” or, the sanctification without which “no man shall see the Lord.”
II. No sanctification without faith.—Since justification must precede, and justification is impossible without faith (Galatians 2:16), while Christ can be made of God sanctification only to them who believe (1 Corinthians 1:30).
III. No faith without Christ.—I.e., without the crucified, risen, and glorified Christ, who alone is the proper, personal object of faith (Acts 20:21; Colossians 2:7; 1 John 3:23).
Faith in Christ.
I. The object of faith.—Christ: Christianity not merely a system of truths about God, nor a code of morality deducible from these, but the affiance of the whole spirit fixed upon the redeeming, revealing Christ.
II. The nature and the essence of the act of faith.—Faith is not merely the assent of the understanding to certain truths, or the persuasion of the reality of unseen things; it is not even merely the confident expectation of future good; it is the personal relation of him that believes to the living person its object; in other words, faith is trust.
III. The power of faith.—
1. We are saved—i.e., justified and sanctified—by faith. But
2. The power that saves comes, not from the faith, but from the Christ in whom faith trusts. It is Christ’s blood, Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s life, Christ’s intercession, that saves. Faith is the channel through which the Divine fulness flows over into the soul’s emptiness.
IV. The guilt and criminality of unbelief.—
1. Because, assuming that God is to be the author of salvation, no other way can be conceived in which the Divine fulness should pass over into the soul than that of receiving what God has provided.
2. Because the difficulties in the way of exercising faith are not intellectual, but moral, and lie, not in the region of the understanding, but in that of the heart.
3. Because the fact that a man will not believe proves his nature to be turned or turning away from, and setting itself in rebellion against, God’s love.—Alexander Maclaren, D.D.
A Sermon on Conversion.
I. How it is effected.—
1. By the grace of God.
2. Through the instrumentality of the Word.
3. With the active concurrence of the human will.
II. What it implies.—A turning.
1. From darkness to light.
2. From the power of Satan unto God.
III. What it secures.—
1. Remission of sins.
2. Inheritance among the sanctified.
“Faith that is in Me.” Saving Faith is Faith in Christ.—
1. It is faith in Christ as a Person. There is assent to a proposition, an acknowledgment of its truth. There is reliance on a Person as able and willing to do what He has undertaken. Saving faith is such a belief of the inspired testimony concerning the Person as leads to sincere trust in Him for salvation.
2. It is faith in Christ as a Person who has accomplished a work. Christ has not only delivered a system of theological and ethical doctrines. He has done something. It is what He has done—His sufferings and death—that constitutes Him the proper object of saving faith. It contemplates Him, not as a Teacher, but as a Saviour.
3. It is faith in Christ as a Person who has accomplished a work which has a Godward aspect. True it is that His work has a manward aspect—exercises a moral influence on men, as drawing them to God. But it has also a Godward aspect—has a legal value, as satisfying the claims of the Divine government. Take away the latter, and you remove the basis of the former.
4. It is faith in Christ as a Person who, after having accomplished by His death a work which has a Godward aspect, is now alive. There may be a dead faith in a dead Saviour. There may be a dead faith in a living Saviour. There ought to be a living faith in a living Saviour.—G. Brooks.
Acts 26:19.—Begins the third part of Paul’s defence, and furnishes the reason for his Gentile mission. Whereupon.—Lit., whence, wherefore, accordingly—i.e., having been so instructed.
Acts 26:20. Showed first unto them of Damascus.—(Compare Acts 9:20.) No contradiction to Galatians 1:17, which does not assert that Paul’s evangelistic work did not commence till after his return from Arabia (Holtzmann).
Acts 26:21. Works meet for repentance.—I.e., such works as proved repentance to be sincere. It is simply ridiculous to find in this an evidence of non-historicity, since Paul’s doctrine was that of justification by faith alone (Zeller).
Acts 26:22. Witnessing.—If μαρτυρούμενος (Received Text) be correct, then the rendering should be “borne witness to” (see Acts 6:3, Acts 10:22, Acts 22:12); but, as Paul was not witnessed to, but accused by small and great, the reading μαρτυρούμενος (Revised Text) is to be preferred, in which case “witnessing,” “testifying,” is an accurate translation.
Acts 26:23. That Christ should suffer.—Better, how that, or if, or whether—εἰ presenting the points—ζητήματα questions (Acts 25:19)—as Paul was wont to discuss them.
1. Whether the Messiah, not must suffer, but is capable of suffering—παθητός, passibilis (Vulgate); i.e., not whether He should have a nature capable of suffering, but whether the idea of suffering was possible to be harmonised with the conception of Messiah laid down in the Old Testament. And
2. Whether by rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:22; Colossians 1:18) He should be the first to show (or proclaim) light unto the people and to the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:17). As the revelation contained in the law and the prophets had been called (Isaiah 2:5), so was the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4) now styled, “Light.”
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 26:19-44.26.23
Paul’s Subsequent Career as a Christian; or, how he turned to the Gentile Mission
I. The hidden impulse of his ministry.—The heavenly vision of the glorified Saviour who had appeared to him, pardoned, called, and appointed him to his special life-work. Captivated by that “vision” he felt himself to be no longer a freeman, but the bond-slave of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:1). It remained in and with him, a memory unfading, which cheered him in solitude and depression, strengthened him in weakness and weariness, and generally rendered it an absolute necessity to preach the gospel and keep ever moving on towards regions beyond (1 Corinthians 9:16; 2 Corinthians 10:16). It accompanied him wherever he wandered, supplying him at every stage and in every time of need with fresh inspiration, zeal, and courage. Whatever he had been and done since that memorable day, he told the king, had been due to that “heavenly vision” to which he had not been disobedient. Did Christ’s people evince the like joyful submission to, and cheerful following of, the “heavenly visions” which shine in upon their souls, they might emulate, if they could not rival, the apostle in lofty characters and noble deeds.
II. The wide extent of his ministry.—
1. It commenced in Damascus. There he preached in the synagogues and confounded the Jews, proving that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:20; Acts 9:22).
2. It advanced to Jerusalem. There he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Grecians (Acts 9:29).
3. It extended throughout Judæa. Not before or immediately after his first visit to Jerusalem, when he retired to Syria and Cilicia (see Galatians 1:22). Perhaps when he repaired to the Metropolis on the occasion of the famine (Acts 11:30), or when he visited the capital between his first and second missionary journeys (Acts 18:22).
4. It passed to the Gentiles. First in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:46), and ever afterwards, as opportunity presented, in Iconium (Acts 14:1), in Lystra (Acts 14:15), in Philippi (Acts 16:17), etc. Note the ever-widening circles of the apostle’s usefulness. First in Damascus, where he had been converted; next in Jerusalem, where he had been known from his youth up (Acts 26:4); then in Judæa, among the homes and haunts of his countrymen, for whose salvation he ardently longed (Romans 9:3; Romans 10:1); and lastly in the heathen world, beyond the confines of Palestine.
III. The unvarying burden of his ministry.—
1. That the Messiah predicted by Moses and the prophets had come, as was testified by the correspondence between their writings and Christ’s sufferings, death, and resurrection. If Paul attempted to establish Christ’s Messiahship by finding in the Old Testament allusions to His death and resurrection, this cannot, with reasonable fairness, be ascribed to the apostle’s Pharisaic Bible studies and vivid imagination, but must be set down to the fact that such allusions are really in the Old Testament, although prior to the illumination shed upon these by the events in Christ’s history, they were not perceived by him any more than by the other apostles (John 2:22).
2. That Christ by His resurrection had brought light to both Jews and Gentiles,—light they did not possess and could not have possessed until after that event, as, e.g.,
(1) upon the personality of Christ Himself, showing Him to be both the Messiah and the Son of God (Romans 1:4);
(2) upon the purpose and plan of salvation, which had ever been through grace and by faith (Romans 3:24-45.3.26);
(3) upon the character and value of Christ’s death, which was thereby declared to have been an atonement for sin (Romans 4:25); and
(4) upon the reality of a resurrection to eternal life and glory (Romans 8:11; 2 Timothy 1:10).
3. That Jews and Gentiles both should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. This had been a never-failing theme in Ephesus (Acts 20:21), in Athens (Acts 17:20), in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:9), and elsewhere—as, indeed, it could not have been otherwise, if his mission were to be executed in accordance with instructions received (Acts 26:18).
IV. The enormous difficulty of his ministry.—This arose from—
1. The severe labours it entailed in travelling from place to place, on long and arduous journeys, amidst severe bodily weakness and much infirmity.
2. The manifold dangers it involved, of which the apostle furnishes an affecting enumeration in 2 Corinthians 11:23-47.11.27. But chiefly from
3. The ferocious enemies it aroused, who were principally found amongst his own countrymen, the Jews, the Gentiles having seldom opposed him except when stirred up by these. Note.—“There are three chief points in the writings of the prophets. Christ’s sufferings, Christ’s resurrection, and the publication of them among all nations. And it was precisely these three points that the Jews were most against; they were offended at the first, denied the second, and grudged the third” (Starke). And
4. The deadly persecutions it raised against him, from the period of his first evangelistic labours in Damascus (Acts 9:23) till the day when the Jews apprehended him in the temple at Jerusalem, and sought to kill him (Acts 26:21). Only a man of heroic spirit could have undergone the fatigues, hardships, oppositions, and persecutions, that fell to the lot of Paul; and not even he, any more than Paul, could have done it in his own strength.
V. The secret support of his ministry.—The help of God. As he claimed to be what he was solely by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10), so he arrogated to himself no credit or glory for what he had done in the ministry of the gospel, but ascribed all to God’s power, which had been graciously vouchsafed to him (Philippians 4:13). Never before had the nothingness of human strength in the domain of religion been realised as it was by Paul, and certainly no one has surpassed, or even rivalled, him since in the feeling of dependence upon God. Paul, in all that he became, all the soul-grandeur which he exhibited, was like plastic clay in the hands of the potter; in all that he achieved he served as a passive instrument in God’s hand. “Not I, but the grace of God which was with me,” constituted his explanation of both phenomena. “That which impels him is never caprice; egoistic, subjective interests are wholly wanting in him. What impels him is to him always something higher than himself. The objective rules over him. His personality is only the ‘vessel’ for the heavenly contents” (Hausrath, Der Apostel Paulus, p. 51). At every stage in his life’s journey Paul could have sung:—
“Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.”
1. That the first act of a converted heart is faith.
2. That the first sphere of labour for a convert should be amongst his own.
3. That the first word in the gospel message should be “repent and turn to God.”
4. That the first sign of repentance should be forsaking old sins and performing new works.
5. That the first trial which a convert will encounter will be the opposition of the unbelieving world.
6. That the first qualification requisite to constitute Christ a Saviour was His resurrection from the dead.
7. That the first thing demanded by a Christian for the successful performance of his duty is the help of God.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 26:19. The Heavenly Vision.
I. The highest privilege that can possibly be conferred upon a soul.—To see Christ by the eye of faith is to see God revealed as a Saviour, and is therefore the beginning of new life to the soul.
II. The most powerful force that can operate upon soul.—The soul that beholds that vision is immediately changed in its whole inner nature, lifted out of its old grooves of thought, feeling, and action, and started upon a new career, which will terminate in eternal life and glory.
III. The sublimest message that can be uttered by a soul.—Nothing greater can be told by human lips than what such a vision of the Divine love, grace, and pity, means for fallen man.
Was Paul’s Vision of Christ an Objective Reality?—“It is incontrovertible that Paul felt convinced that Jesus had there (i.e., before Damascus) stepped forth to meet him objectively, visibly, and audibly. He does not at all compare this appearance with the visions which, according to his own and others’ faith, continued even at a later time to be possible, and which he himself, along with others, actually shared—or with the wonderful subjective experiences in which, when in a condition of ecstasy, he saw and heard the Lord, or in which, without knowing whether he was in the body or out of the body, he found himself rapt up into the heavenly paradise (2 Corinthians 12:2 ff)—but exactly with those appearances of which the Evangelists have reported to us the details, and concerning which Paul clearly supposes and presupposes as generally recognised, that they are now closed, since he says that to him as the last of all (1 Corinthians 15:8) had Christ become visible. And just this appearance of the Risen One with the word addressed to him by that Risen One was the power which brought him, the persecutor of the Christian Church, to faith in Christ.”—Köstlin: Der Glaube und seine Bedeutung, etc., p. 40.
Visions of Heavenly Things.—“Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). “For, see, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was shewed thee in the mount” (Hebrews 8:5). These words bring before our minds the work of two of the very greatest men in the world’s history, and they suggest an important analogy of experience, as fitting them for their work. The work of Moses, it is true, might easily be under-estimated. We might think of him as the lawgiver of but one nation; that nation, moreover, being very restricted in its domains, and of comparatively small numbers. We have rather to think of the unique mission of Israel as a people that should ultimately pervade the world with their influence, and of the work of their lawgiver as fitting them to fulfil this mission well. It is impossible, however, to do justice to the work of Moses without taking into consideration, along with it, the work of his great successor, Paul. For it was in the mission of the apostle that the mission of Moses was continued and fulfilled. The Jews were already scattered abroad in many lands; “for Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him” (Acts 15:21). Thus was his law more or less penetrating the nations with its influence. And in that day, when “the fulness of the Gentiles” shall have “come in, and all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:25-45.11.26), it shall be more than ever manifest how great is the world’s debt to these two men of God. In either case, the work was extremely difficult. Think of the condition of Israel at the time when Moses was entrusted with his great responsibility. Think, again, of the condition of the Roman world at the time when Paul received his commission. In such work, moreover, there is one element of inspiration, one secret of strength, without which no mere enthusiasm of feeling, or power of devotion, can be effectual—viz., the inspiration and strength of a Divine Ideal.
I. Great ideals are the glory of man.—No other creatures here can have them; only men may receive an inspiration that shall raise them above themselves. This being so, whence comes the ideal? It is not of man himself, obviously, but of God. So Moses could have no inspiring ideal of what Israel might be, and should be one day, an ideal that should possess his imagination and fill his soul with a holy glow of hope, abiding with him day and night, and making him strong to endure and to do, unless the pattern had been shown him in the mount. But there God unveiled to him all the possibilities of that people of Israel, and thenceforth Moses set himself, by God’s help, to make the vision real. In like manner, Paul could not have portrayed for himself the glowing picture of a regenerate Roman world, all bowing in adoration to the Crucified, had not the glory, beyond the brightness of the sun, shone from the heavens, blinding, for a while, the natural vision, but photographing itself indelibly on the soul; so that thenceforth only “one thing” could he do—traverse city and country, land and sea, toil tired but untiringly, and endure infamy and death, if only he might reduce vision to fact, and make his high imaginations actual realities. So all man’s true ideals, of personal life and of service for man’s sake, are of God. They may come to us mediately, indeed; for they shine before us in the lives of noble men, they burn with quenchless fire in the poems of the ages, they lift their fair beauty before our view in the manifold Scriptures of God, and they show themselves as at once ideal and real in the glory of the Only-Begotten, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). But, mediately as these ideals may thus be presented to us, they must take immediate hold of our imagination, and kindle the fervours of our own soul—even as though we ourselves were in the mount, alone with God, or were struck by the sudden glory from the skies. Otherwise their Divine purpose will be unfulfilled, and our life largely unblessed.
II. It has been already partly assumed, but must now be more strongly emphasised, that the great ideals which are intended to ennoble find transfigure human life are not ideals of mere happiness, as though we were to be only dreamers dreaming of our own joy, although there shall be a supreme happiness as the inevitable result of making our life according to the pattern shown us in the mount, and of obeying the heavenly vision. But such happiness comes only when it is not sought for its own sake, its delicate bloom being spoiled, and its very essence perishing, if we snatch at it greedily. The ideal, so far as it pertains to ourselves, is an ideal of character, a revelation to ourselves of what, by the grace of God, it is possible we may become. And just in so far as it is a revelation of possibilities of character, it is a command to us that we do our utmost to make the possible an accomplished fact, saying to us ever, with a more august and sacred behest than that of more words, “Thou shalt!” Thus the true ideal of man’s life is the law of life. But human character, at its best, is possible only through service, loving and loyal service rendered to man, for man’s own sake and for God’s. For even character may be made too exclusively an end in itself, as an achievement of our own, and as meaning the ennoblement merely of our personal manhood; in which case its nobleness is tarnished, being vitiated by the selfishness of our motive and aim. Our own character cannot have true worth save in so far as it is in true relation to the characters of others, and to the one perfect character of God. And such relation implies service—the service of loyal love.
III. The ideals of life are necessarily progressive, partly on account of the material which has to be fashioned by them, and partly through their own nature.—The material will not always allow of the ideal being at first so perfect as it shall be afterwards. The pattern of what Israel was to become, as a people, did not show all the possibilities of ultimate good; nor did the heavenly vision, perhaps, reveal immediately to the apostle all that was in God’s heart for the world. Enough, if, for the present, the ideal can accomplish its present work. King Alfred’s ideal of what England might be made, as a nation, was perhaps not such as may be cherished by the successors of his spirit, discerning the needs and the possibilities of our country in the light of later history. In like manner, the ideal of our personal life will not be so full, perhaps not so imperious, in the immaturer days of life; it will rather be according to our needs and our capabilities. The ideal grows in significance as the material which is to be fashioned by it becomes more susceptible more responsive. But in its own nature the ideal is necessarily growing and progressive. It grows with all our growth; but it grows likewise because it is intrinsically infinite, and must always make larger demands on our faith and loyalty the more fully we yield to the demands already made. Let us learn, however, the solemn truth that, just as surely as our ideals will grow and live, if we believe in them and live by them, so surely will they dwindle and die, if we are untrue to their Divine claims and promises. Yes; the pattern may lose its beauty, the vision may fade; the inspirations of life may die away.—T. F. Lockyer, B. A.
Acts 26:20. Works Worthy of Repentance.—Are works—
I. Springing from a spirit of repentance.
II. Attesting the sincerity of repentance.
III. Accomplishing the purpose of repentance.
IV. Disclosing the beauty of repentance.
Acts 26:21. Men Whom the World Sometimes Seeks to Murder.
I. Those who would lead it into higher truths.—Too often verified in other spheres than that of religion. Prophets and preachers with new ideas have commonly had a poor reception from the world.
II. Those who decline to be partners in its wickedness.—When a man enters upon the path of holiness, all who walk in sinful ways interpret his behaviour as a silent protest against, and rebuke of, their ungodliness and dislike, if they do not hate and persecute him accordingly (1 Peter 4:4).
III. Those who have conferred upon it most good.—The world has never been kind to its philanthropists and social benefactors, but for the most part has killed them, if not by open assassination by cold and cruel neglect (see Ecclesiastes 9:15).
Acts 26:22. Paul a Model Witness of Gospel Truth.
I. Through whom does he witness?—Through the Lord, whose strength is perfected in his weakness.
II. Before whom does he witness?—Small and great, the people and the Gentiles—i.e., all who have ears to hear.
III. Of whom does he witness?—Of Christ, promised, manifested, crucified, raised, preached.—Gerok.
Acts 26:22-44.26.23. The Glory of the Gospel of the Grace of God.—This consists in the following facts, that the Gospel is—
I. Designed for all.—
1. All ranks and conditions of men. Small and great—i.e., high and low, rich and poor, young and old.
2. All times and climes on earth. For pre-Christian ages, since it was substantially contained in the Hebrew prophets and in Moses; for the Christian centuries, since it was meant to be published among the Gentiles.
II. Adapted to all.—Proclaiming as it does—
1. An atonement for sin, which all need. This involved in the idea of a suffering Messiah (Isaiah 53:5-23.53.6; Isaiah 53:10).
2. A resurrection from the grave, which all desire. This guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20).
III. Offered to all.—This a necessary consequence of the public proclamation of the gospel, both to the people (the Jews) and the Gentiles, since it is inconceivable that men should be called upon to accept, and punished for refusing, what was not really offered to them. Compare Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16; Romans 3:22.
IV. Bestowed on all.—All who believe without distinction become partakers of its light and life.
Acts 26:24. As he thus spake for himself.—Lit., he speaking these things in his defence—ταῦτα, these things, being the words just uttered about the resurrection, rather than the entire speech. The notion of a resurrection appeared as absurd to Festus as it had done to the Athenians (Acts 17:32), and caused him to think Paul beside himself, raving, or mad, and to say so, not in jest (Olshausen), but in earnest, at the same time ascribing his insanity to his much learning—πολλὰ γράμματα, which, among the Jews, meant much theology (John 7:15; 2 Timothy 3:15).
Acts 26:25. Most noble.—Powerful, or excellent (κράτιστε), as in Acts 23:26, Acts 24:3; Luke 1:3.
Acts 26:26. Before.—Better, unto whom. Paul, with fearless confidence, appealed to Agrippa, who knew perfectly that the doctrines just referred to, of a crucified and risen Christ, on which his, Paul’s, gospel was founded, were not fancies, illusions, the ravings of a madman, but words of truth and soberness, because relating to facts which had been done and events which had taken place, not in a corner, but in the metropolis of Palestine, and therefore publicly.
Acts 26:28. Almost (ἐν ὀλίγῳ = propemodum, a meaning of which no other example can be given) thou persuadest me to be or become (γενέσθαι) a Christian (Chrysostom, Luther, Grotius, Bengel, Stier, Spence); or, with but little persuasion thou persuadest me to become, or, according to a different reading, thou believest (thyself able) to make of me a Christian; i.e., thou wouldest fain make me a Christion (R.V., Tischendorf, Meyer, Alford, Plumptre, Holtzmann, and others); or, in a little time (i.e., if you go on speaking thus) you will persuade me to become a Christian (Calvin, Olshausen, Neander, De Wette, Robinson, Hackett, and others). The third is admissible, but does not so well suit the apostle’s answer (see below). The second fits best if the alternative reading, ποιῆσαι for γενέσθαι be adopted. The first, though perhaps grammatically doubtful, harmonises best with the seriousness which Paul’s oration was calculated to inspire. The second and third are more or less ironical.
Acts 26:29. Both almost and altogether.—Ἐν ὀλίγῳ καὶ ἐν πολλῷ (the best texts have ἐν μεγάλῳ), in little and in much. It must be admitted that this reply does not fit in well with the first of the above renderings, while it suits admirably the second and third, as thus: either, I would to God that whether with little or with much, or whether in a little time or in a great time, not thou only, etc. In spite, therefore, of the seemingly ironical character of the second and third, one or other of these should be preferred. These bonds.—(See Acts 24:23; Acts 24:27.)
Acts 26:30.—Unwilling to hear more, the auditors rose up in order, according to their rank.
Acts 26:31.—After conferring with one another Festus and Agrippa came to the same conclusion as had already three times been reached concerning Paul—first by the Pharisees (Acts 23:9), next by Lysias (Acts 23:29), and lastly by Festus (Acts 25:25).
Acts 26:32.—Agrippa adds that but for his appeal to Cæsar the apostle might have been set at liberty.
Note.—The authenticity of this and the two preceding chapters relating to Paul’s imprisonment at Cæsarea has been questioned on the following grounds:
1. That the two trials—before Felix and before Festus—have been artificially constructed by the author, and manifestly on the same plan, according to which in each the same incidents recur—the same motives for the accusation, the same murder-proposal of the Jews, the same appearing of Paul’s enemies before the Roman tribunal with their complaints, the same hearing before a regularly constituted court, the same failure in the evidence offered, the same protection and recognition of his innocence at the hands of the Roman procurator, and the same style of defence—viz., that Paul was an orthodox Jew, and indeed a Pharisee, who had been constrained by a irresistible Divine impulse to enter on his Gentile mission (Baur, Zeller, Holtzmann).
2. That the position adopted by Paul was more in accordance with that taken by the second-century apologists (Holtzmann).
3. That everything appears directed to show how Paul, who was persecuted by the fanaticism of the Jews, was protected through the righteousness of the Romans (Pfleiderer); and
4. That so completely is his innocence established, over against both Roman policy and Jewish hate, that his continued imprisonment (Weizsäcker) and deportation to Rome (Holtzmann) are simply inconceivable. But to all this it suffices to reply—
1. That similarity between two judicial processes does not necessarily establish the unreality of both or of either—and all the more if the processes were conducted by the same parties, against the same individual, about the same charge, and with the same evidence.
2. That second-century apologists may well have learnt how to defend themselves, by a careful studying of Paul’s defences.
3. That the favour shown by the Roman Governors to Paul accords with what is known of the Roman policy towards Christianity in the first century, and not with what is known of her policy in the second century (Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, p. 194); and
4. That Paul’s continued imprisonment requires no explanation different from that given in the text—viz., the unwillingness of the Roman governors either to please the Jews by punishing Paul or to displease them by setting him free; while after his appeal to Cæsar had been allowed, it would probably not have been safe for either Festus or Agrippa to have disregarded it. But, even if they did, that would only show they had failed in their duty, not that the narrative in the Acts was unhistorical.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 26:24-44.26.32
Paul’s Two Distinguished Listeners, Festus and Agrippa; or, Two Souls Struggling against the Truth
I. Paul and Festus; or, the apostle and the governor.—
1. The exclamation of the governor. “Paul, thou art beside thyself,” or, thou art mad!—“much learning doth make thee mad,” or, doth turn thee to madness. So far as Festus was concerned, Paul, by his lofty oration, had effected this only, that Festus esteemed him a lunatic. Strange perversity of the world! When Paul of Tarsus raved against God, blasphemed Christ, and breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the Christians, his contemporaries counted him both wise and prudent; now that, as Paul the aged, he talks in sublime strains of a crucified and risen Saviour, the world, as represented by the Judæan procurator, sets him down for a madman, or, at least, for one whose brain had been touched by overmuch study. Paul! much learning doth turn thee to madness. To the governor it seemed incomprehensible that one should not only rave about such transcendental delusions, but should actually risk his life in preaching them. Doubtless at the present day many hold with the governor that earnest and enthusiastic Christians, who base their prospects of present happiness and future felicity on such (as the world thinks) imaginary facts as the incarnation, propitiation, and resurrection, of Jesus Christ, are idle dreamers, foolish visionaries, crack-brained enthusiasts, half-mad fanatics who simply mistake the vague and shadowy creations of a disordered or diseased fancy for solid and substantial truths, and who accordingly sacrifice themselves for whims and crotchets. But for all that numbers of those who affect to regard Christians in this light have their secret misgivings that the Christians are right. That Festus felt uncomfortable beneath the glowing utterances of Paul is a plausible deduction from the fact that he rather shouted at than calmly expostulated with the apostle. Had he really believed the apostle to be beside himself, he would not have flamed forth into a rage against him, but would have pitied him, and perhaps spoken gently to him, or at least would have not troubled himself about his utterances. And so the circumstance that men of the world habitually become vehement and angry when denouncing the faith of Christians is a proof they are not inwardly convinced of its error.
2. The reply of the apostle. “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” In repudiating the charge of the governor, Paul fell back upon two defences.
(1) The testimony of his own consciousness, which enabled him to assure Festus that he was neither “beside” nor beneath nor outside of himself, as insinuated, but in full possession of his faculties—not at all the victim of an ill-balanced judgment, an exuberant fancy, or an unbridled imagination, but the master of a calm, clear intellect and a sober, regulated reason, which understood well the thoughts it was thinking and the words it was uttering.
(2) The unchallengeable truthfulness of his assertions, in support of which he confidently appealed to the wide publicity which had been gained by the main facts of gospel history, the death and resurrection of Christ, which had not taken place in some remote corner of the country, but had occurred in its very centre and heart, the Metropolis itself, Jerusalem, and which therefore could not be unknown to the king, to whom accordingly he next directed his address. The apostle meant that if the story of Christ’s death and resurrection had not been true, it could easily have been demonstrated false, as the people of Jerusalem were well aware of all that had transpired. But so far from being exposed as an idle fiction, the report of the resurrection—of the crucifixion denial was impossible—had kept on spreading and gaining adherents during the last quarter of a century, which it could hardly have done had it been false.
II. Paul and Agrippa; or, the apostle and the king.—
1. The fervent appeal of the apostle. “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.” Whether the apostle, “who had studied psychology in the school of the Holy Ghost” (Leonhard and Spiegel) discerned in the king’s heart a secret inclination to yield to the truth as set forth in the apostle’s oration, must be left undecided.
(1) The ground on which Paul’s appeal rested appears to have been the assumption that Agrippa II., as a Jew, must have been perfectly cognisant of the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures predicted the coming of a suffering, dying, and rising Messiah. That they did so has been frequently pointed out.
(2) The force of Paul’s appeal lay in this, that Agrippa, having been possessed of such knowledge, ought to have had no difficulty in recognising the reasonableness of Paul’s words, which simply declared that such predictions as were contained in the prophets had been fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s interpretation of the connection between these events and the Scripture prophecies might be at fault—nay, Paul’s assertion about the resurrection might be incorrect; but in the statements themselves no impartial judge could find evidence of unreason or folly.
2. The ambiguous answer of the king. “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”; or, “with but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian” (R.V.); or, in a little time (at this rate) you will persuade me to become (or, you believe you can make of me) a Christian (see “Critical Remarks”). According to the first of these renderings, Agrippa was supposed to admit that Paul had almost carried the citadel of his judgment, and that only a little more was wanting to gain him altogether for the Christian cause. According to the second, his meaning ran that Paul must not imagine he could convert a Jewish sovereign like him with so little show of argument, or so inconsiderable effort. According to the third, that if Paul went on as he was doing he would soon make of him, Agrippa II., a Christian. The first had its source in incipient seriousness, the second in supercilious contempt, the third in superficial levity. Those who wish to think the best of Agrippa naturally prefer the first interpretation of his words, notwithstanding the grammatical difficulty attaching to them; those who adhere to the best text select the second or third interpretation of Agrippa’s words, though these charge him with feelings—either of irony or of jest—which certainly look incompatible with a situation so grave and solemn as that in which they were spoken.
3. The sublime ejaculation of the apostle. “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”; or, “I would to God that whether with little or with much …” (R.V.); or, “whether in a little time or in much time”; or, adopting another reading, “whether with a little effort or with a great effort, not only thou, but also all that hear me this day,” etc. (see “Critical Remarks”). Taken either way, the sense of the apostle’s utterance practically amounted to this:
(1) that he wished, not only Agrippa, but all who listened to him that day, to be, like himself, Christians;
(2) that, could he only hope to see that wish fulfilled, he would willingly spend a long time or a short, and put forth a great effort or a small, as the case might be; and
(3) that the sole point in which he did not ask God that they might resemble him was “these bonds,” which he held up before them. The magnanimity of this reply has evoked never-failing admiration from all hearts capable of understanding and appreciating true heroism.
4. The response of the king. Obviously Agrippa’s was not a heart of the order just depicted. No sooner had the apostle’s words died away in the hushed atmosphere of the marble hall than Agrippa II. rose from his seat, followed by the governor, Bernice, and all that sat with them. Having withdrawn from the audience-chamber and talked amongst themselves, they came to the conclusion that Paul had committed no offence worthy of death. Most likely all concurred in pronouncing him a harmless fanatic. What they said to one another about his last words is not recorded. Possibly all were silent, each afraid to reveal to his neighbour the thoughts that had been stirred within his bosom. Only one more item of the conversation has been preserved. Agrippa II. expressed his mind to the governor, that, had Paul not appealed to Cæsar, he might forthwith have been set at liberty. The result of this “may have been that Festus modified his report and commended the apostle to the clemency of the court at Rome” (Hackett).
1. The outrageous slanders that are sometimes propagated against Christians.
2. The certainty that truth and soberness lie rather with the Christian than with the worldling.
3. The fearlessness with which Christianity can make appeal to the court of enlightened reason.
4. The unwisdom of those who decline to allow themselves to be persuaded to become Christians.
5. The fervent desire true Christians possess that others should share the salvation of which they are conscious.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 26:24-44.26.29. Paul and His Princely Hearers; or, the different attitudes of men toward the gospel.
I. Festus, who turns entirely aside from it—“Paul, thou ravest!”
II. Agrippa, who is half turned towards it—“Almost thou persuadest me!”
III. Paul, who entirely lives in it—“I would to God that all who hear me were such as I am.”—Gerok, in Lange.
Acts 26:24. Which is the Madman?—Paul or Festus? the Christian or the non-Christian?
I. The Christian who believes in a personal God—a God of power, who has made the universe, and a God of love, who has devised a way of salvation for man? Or the non-Christian who, if he acknowledges a God at all, conceives of Him as either hostile to, or indifferent about, man?
II. The Christian who believes that God has made known His mind and will to man for his salvation in the sacred Scriptures? Or the non-Christian who holds that God has never placed Himself in communication with the human race at all?
III. The Christian who believes that man, even in his sin, is a child of God, and a possible heir of immortality? Or the non-Christian whose creed is that man is nothing more than an animated clod which will in course of years mingle with the other (unanimated) clods of the valley, and be never more heard of, in this or any other world?
IV. The Christian who believes that Jesus of Nazareth was God’s Son incarnate, who died and rose again, bringing life and immortality to light? Or, the non-Christian whose faith is that Jesus was a common and therefore a sinful man, who never rose from the dead, and that the grave will never open to restore a single form that goes down into its gloomy chambers!
V. The Christian who believes in a hereafter and lives for it? Or, the non-Christian who knows of no world but this, and lives and dies as if there were none?
Acts 26:25. Words of Truth and Soberness.
I. Such were Paul’s words to all who heard his gospel.—
1. Proved from the past history of the Church. For the words of Paul remain to this day, whereas the wit of Festus has long since died away.
2. Confirmed by Christian experience. Since honest hearts in all ages have found in Paul’s words (written) their clearest light, best strength, and sweetest comfort.
3. They will likewise be placed in the light at the great day of eternity. Inasmuch as heaven and earth will pass away, but the word of God endureth for ever.
II. Such should be the words of preachers still to all who listen to their teaching.—And such they will be—
1. If they discourse upon Pauls theme,—a crucified and risen Saviour.
2. If they speak with Paul’s earnestness—which all can imitate, though all cannot equal. What is wanted in preaching is not “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” but deep-toned and full-hearted fervour.
3. If they seek Paul’s aims,—the glory of Christ and the salvation of souls. None but words of truth and soberness will accomplish these.
Acts 26:27. “Believest thou the prophets?”
I. A great question.—For modern readers of the Bible no less than for Agrippa.
1. Believest thou the Hebrew prophets were inspired? This question lies at the foundation of Christianity. If the Hebrew prophets were only statesmen, somewhat more far-seeing than their contemporaries, but in no sense channels of Divine communication for their age and generation, then it is vain to attempt to derive from their utterances any evidence in support of the Messiahship of Jesus. It was clearly in the faith that Old-Testament Scripture prophesied beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow that Paul appealed to them so confidently in support of his gospel; and those who think the foundations of the Christian system will remain undisturbed if the credibility of Old-Testament literature is impaired, have not reflected deeply enough on this momentous problem. As the New-Testament Scriptures are the flower and fruit, the crown and apex, of the Old, so are the Old-Testament Scriptures the root and support of the New.
2. Believest thou what the Hebrew prophets teach? Men might, and many do, believe the Hebrew prophets to have been inspired, who nevertheless disregard the testimony they furnish concerning the person and work of Christ. But the Christological argument derived from the Messianic prophecies was, in Paul’s judgment, and is in the estimation of many Bible scholars of to-day, one of the most powerful factors in demonstrating the truth of the New-Testament declarations with reference to Christ’s divinity, atoning work, and resurrection.
3. Believest thou that what the Hebrew prophets taught concerning Christ has been fulfilled? This practically means, Believest thou that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world? Believest thou that He was God’s Son incarnate, that He died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again according to the Scriptures? (1 Corinthians 15:1-46.15.4).
4. Believest thou for thyself, individually, in the Christ of whom the prophets spoke? All believing that stops short of this is worthless for saving.
II. A powerful argument.—Of which the following are the several steps:
1. He who believes in the prophets of the Old Testament should also believe in the apostles of the New. The authors of the New-Testament writings can produce as good claims to be inspired as could the prophets of the Old.
2. He who believes in the Messiah, foreshadowed by the prophets, should likewise believe in the Christ preached by the apostles. The first was the type of the second; the second is the antitype of the first. If the prophets spoke the truth when they said Christ should suffer and rise again, so did the apostles teach no falsehood when they affirmed that Jesus was the Christ, since they alleged that He both suffered and rose.
3. He who believes that Jesus is the Christ should likewise for himself believe in Him for salvation. This, after all, is the great question: Dost thou believe on the Son of God? (John 9:35). The man who accepts the testimony of both prophets and apostles should feel himself shut up to the acceptance of Christ as his personal Saviour.
Acts 26:28. Almost Persuaded.—A condition of soul—
I. Frequently attained.—The heart touched, the mind enlightened, the will moved, the spirit trembling on the verge of a decision for Christ; nothing wanting but—the decision. Many reach this position as well as Agrippa.
II. Highly responsible.—Seeing that only a little is lacking to carry the spirit over into faith, the obligation to supply that little is the greater. What guilt will they incur who refuse or omit to take the final step that is necessary for salvation.
III. Extremely perilous.—Besides being in itself an unsafe condition, it is also an unstable one. No soul can remain permanently in the position these words describe. Either it will move on and become fully persuaded, or it will drift back and become less persuaded.
Almost a Christian.—A position—
I. Of gracious privilege.—Implying that one has been brought near the kingdom, and enabled to understand somewhat of its nature, of its terms of membership, of its duties, and of its blessings.
II. Of hopeful promise.—That the “almost” shall, before long, be converted into an “altogether.” That the one step wanting to make one a Christian shall be taken.
III. Of solemn responsibility.—That the one “almost” shall become “altogether” a Christian. That he shall not remain on the borders of the kingdom, but cross the boundary and enter in.
IV. Of great danger.—Lest one should be satisfied with being “almost” without becoming “altogether” a Christian.
Acts 26:28-44.26.29. The Shortcomings of Agrippa.
I. What they were.—
1. He only says “almost,” not yet “altogether,” and thus at once recalls what he appears to allow. He remains standing without the doors of salvation, and will not enter in.
2. He only says, “Thou persuadest me”; but a persuasion is much less than faith or conviction, and may, as in this case, come to an end with the words which called it forth.
3. He only says, “to be a Christian,” meaning, to join thy party, in an external way, instead of saying, “I believingly accept thy testimony about Jesus.”
II. How they were answered.—
1. By suggesting that much more than he thought was still deficient in him. Every “almost,” like Agrippa’s, implies that much is still wanting.
2. By expressing a desire that, whether much or little was lacking, all might be fully persuaded. At whatever stage of nearness or distance they stood from the kingdom, he longed for the salvation of all.
3. By reminding him, and all who listened, that becoming a Christian meant more than joining the party of the Nazarenes, meant becoming like him, Paul, in everything except his bonds, meant becoming a lowly and devoted follower of Christ.—Compiled from Stier.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 26". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent