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Paul is permitted to speak for Himself. He makes his Defence: declares his Conversion, and the Manner of it. He is interrupted by Festus. He again reassumes his Discourse, and speaks to Agrippa. The whole Court breakup, astonished at what they had heard, and separate.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: (2) I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:
We shall enter at once into an apprehension of Paul's design in this defense, if we consider the frivolous and false charges, which indirectly the Jews had brought against him. A pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition, the Orator Tertullus would have insinuated Paul was, by way of bringing him under the Governor's displeasure, as an enemy to Caesar; but the conduct of the Apostle was too peaceable, and orderly, to suffer by such accusations. Paul, therefore, very wisely, entered not into the smallest defense of his conduct, in this department, but confined himself, to what referred to his attachment to the cause of Christ. That he had honored the temple, instead of prophaning it; was fulfilling the law, instead of breaking it; and giving the highest glory to God, instead of blaspheming God; the Apostle would fully prove, by shewing, that in preaching Christ all these things were included. Paul, therefore, enters with delight upon his defense, waves his hand, as was the custom of public speakers in those days to do, by way of calling attention, professeth himself happy in the opportunity afforded him, and begs in particular the patient indulgence of Agrippa, that he might go through the short, but interesting subject, which would explain the whole of his conduct, and fully prove his innocency.
Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. (4) My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; (5) Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. (6) And now I stand and am judge d for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: (7) Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. (8) Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? (9) I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. (10) Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. (11) And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. (12) Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, (13) At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. (14) And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (15) And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. (16) But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; (17) Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, (18) To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (19) Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: (20) But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. (21) For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. (22) Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: (23) That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
The Reader will observe, (and therefrom I hope be led to observe yet more, how much the mind of the Apostle must have been under the blessed influence of the Holy Ghost,) that the one great drift of all Paul's defense, was not his own defense, but in the defense of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his full, and finished salvation. This was the great point Paul had in view. And, to establish this, he begins in a most masterly manner to shew, first, his original bitter hatred to and his Gospel; and then, to set forth the wonderful change wrought upon him, by his conversion, immediately from heaven, by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. No plan could have been so happily chosen, as this which Paul adopted. For if, as the Apostle proved, and in proof appealed to all the Jews who knew him from a youth, to confirm, he had been born, and lived, a very strict and rigid Pharisee; the question instantly arose, from whence this wonderful change? Paul answers it by declaring it was a call from Heaven. And how then could the Apostle be disobedient, to the heavenly vision?
But, while the Reader will remark with me these things, which both carry with them the highest, and most decided testimonies, in proof of divine truths; and no less hold forth, in a very blessed point of view, for the comfort of the Church, , the glorious account of Paul's conversion: there is one thing more, which I hope the Reader will not fail I to notice, which is highly important; I mean, the overruling power of God, in affording this renewed occasion, and in so public a manner, for the Apostle to go through the account once more, of his wonderful conversion, Surely this was the Lord's great design all along, in the imprisonment of Paul. Hence, he shall be apprehended at Jerusalem. A multitude shall assemble, both of Jews and Gentiles, upon the Occasion. And, while the one party would have killed him; and the other party would have had him examined by scourging, neither of them shall touch him to his hurt; but he shall boldly stand upon the stairs of the Castle, and rehearse before them all, the miraculous account of his Conversion. See Acts 21:30 to the end, and Acts 22:0 ; 1-22.
In like manner, upon the occasion, as here related, at Caesarea, what a wonderful coincidence of circumstances are brought together to produce such an audience, as the present? Not only a large concourse of people of Caesarea, but this Agrippa, who was king of a large territory, as the history of those times shew, under the Roman emperor, and Bernice, and, no doubt, the usual attendants of Princes; all shall have rehearsed before them, Paul's history, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear; they shall be told of God's sovereignty and grace to this man. And wherefore all this? The Lord Jesus answered this question, when silencing the fears of Ananias, at Paul's conversion. Go thy way, said the Lord unto him, for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel, Acts 9:15 . And, here it is explained. Even though in chains, Paul shall twice deliver, in the most public manner possible, and before an immense congregation, (which, but for an overruling providence of the Lord, leading to it, never could have taken place;) the account of his conversion. The people of Jerusalem, and the people of Caesarea, yea, and strangers from afar, shall be all brought together for this purpose, and shall hear it. Both Jews, and Gentiles, shall be assembled on this occasion, who never would have mingled in any religious worship; and shall receive this testimony to the truth' as it is in Jesus, whether under grace, for their everlasting joy, or in despising the means of grace, to their everlasting shame and confusion, Daniel 12:10 .
And, Reader, before you pass away from the consideration of these things, as relating to the different audiences before whom Paul delivered in his testimony; I would beg of you to pause, and contemplate, if you can, to what extent this design of God the Holy Ghost then reached to others, not present at those meetings, to whom the wonderful story must have been related, after those assemblies broke up, and the multitudes were scattered abroad, both far and near? Who shall say, what blessed effects followed, in the conversion of numbers, who heard these things; and where that hearing was accompanied with the gifts of the Holy Ghost? Who shall calculate the blessedness, which, from that hour to the present, hath arisen, from God the Holy Ghost, having caused the record of this miraculous conversion of Paul to be in his holy Scriptures, and commissioning the hearing; or the reading of it, in Churches, and families; and among the people? Yea, to ages yet unborn, the precious record of Paul's conversion must, and will have a blessed tendency, of the highest good; for we know, and from God the Holy Ghost' s own assurance concerning this man, that it was for this cause he obtained mercy, that in him, first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting, 1 Timothy 1:16 : Hence, among other causes, of which, in the present short-sighted state of our faculties, we have no discernment, we here discover enough to admire, and in that admiration to adore, the wonderful design of God the Holy Ghost, in the government of his Church, in opening such repeated opportunities for his servant proclaiming the circumstances of his conversion; and for causing double records to be made, and handed down, to all ages of his people, of an event, so full of grace to the Church, and of glory to God. Reader! will you not feel constrained, in the view of such rich, free, and unmerited mercy, (the relation of which hath been blessed to thousands,) to look up, and bless God the Holy Ghost, for this instance, among numberless others, in giving to his Church, the repeated record of Paul's conversion?
I shall not think it necessary to go over the several parts of the Apostle's sermon; having already noticed some of the more striking passages, in the review of the account: Acts 9:0 and Acts 22:0 . I therefore would refer the Reader to the Commentary on both those Chapters. I shall rather desire, in addition to what is there offered, that the Reader will make the whole review of the subject, somewhat more personal, that the gracious mercy of God the Holy Ghost, in the record, as it concerns himself, may be blessed. Of all the arguments upon earth, as far as written testimonies can go, in proof of any one truth; none can produce greater, and few equal, to this of Paul's conversion. When we contemplate what he here said, of the manner of his life from his youth: his zeal in the Jewish religion: his earnestness to promote it: his extravagant anger at the first, against Christ and his people: the astonishing change wrought by his conversion: and the whole of his eventful life, which followed: such an history, attested as it is, by every evidence that can be desired; cannot but carry conviction wherever it comes, as far as outward testimony can reach, of the truth it is intended to establish. But, my Reader will bear with me while I say, that if it goes no further than this, in obtaining the cold, uninterested consent of the understanding, without influencing by grace the heart; it is of little consequence, whether believed, or not. But, when by divine teaching, Paul's history carries some resemblance, however faint, to our own; and while we read his conversion, we know of a work of grace having passed in our own hearts every tittle of the abundant grace Paul speaks of, which was shewn him, we can fully subscribe to, and say as he did: This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief, 1 Timothy 1:15 .
And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. (25) But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but I speak forth the words of truth and soberness. (26) For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. (27) King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
It is well worth the Reader's notice, that the interruption Festus made to Paul's discourse, and the idea he had conceived that the Apostle was mad, is the very same conduct still pursued by all carnal men in their opposition to the Gospel, and the preachers of free grace in Christ. To the Lord Jesus himself the same was said, Mark 3:21 . Yea, some went further, John 10:21 . And his Apostles fell under similar reproach, 2 Corinthians 5:13 . But, alas! the insanity is all on the other side. And the Holy Ghost hath given the cause, 1 Corinthians 2:14-46.2.15 .
Let the Reader notice also the boldness of Paul, when he said, that Agrippa could not be ignorant of what the whole Roman empire had sounded with; namely, the Person, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus! Agrippa himself had professed his belief in the Jews religion, as history records of him. And, consequently, he could not be ignorant what the Prophets had said of the Messiah. And, as the coming of Christ, his miracles, and ministry, his death on the cross, and the prodigies which attended that death, and his resurrection which followed, were not done in a corner, but as fully known and attested, as the light of the sun at noonday, in confirmation that He was the Messiah; Paul assumed it for a fact, that Agrippa must acknowledge their truth. And, under these impressions, he boldly put the question to the King, and as instantly answered it himself: Believest thou the Prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. (29) And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
Agrippa's answer leads to a very solemn train of thoughts. How many of the almost Christians, but never in reality so, are now in the world, have been in all ages of the Church, and will be found in the last day? Doth the Reader know of such? Are their characters clearly definable? Yes! They cannot be mistaken. And, although they have different shades under the same title, yet, the whole may be, and are indeed, classed under the one general name of unregenerate professors. These are the almost, but never-to-be Christians. They were born under the meridian of Christianity, but never newborn in Christ, John 3:3 .
Without running over a large field of observation by way of drawing the line, according to scriptural decision, between the almost and the real Christian; it will be sufficient to remark, that the almost Christian may have great light and understanding in head, when there is no grace in the heart. Such an one may profess great delight in hearing sermons, seem much affected under the word, apparently alive to the promotion of all charities, and the promotion of the Lord's glory in the earth, and yet not a single act of true saving grace all the while hath passed upon his heart. Yea, he may go further. Some views of his own sinful state by nature he may have; some apprehensions of the Person and glory of Christ, in an historical knowledge of him, by reading or hearing sermons; some sorrow for sin, with an apprehension of the consequences of unrepented sin, and the conviction that none but Christ can save from the wrath to come: these, and similar lessons may be learnt in nature's school, where the word of God is read, or heard, or preached; but without a better teaching, and the regenerating work of God the Holy Ghost upon the soul, all, and much more, will leave the persons so taught, among the almost Christians, and never make them real followers of Christ in the regeneration. The Holy Ghost by Paul, hath drawn the portrait of those men with a strong pencil, in his holy word, when he describes them as once enlightened with head knowledge; tasting, but not enjoying, the heavenly gift of his holy word; made partakers of the Holy Ghost in his outward ministry and ordinances; tasting, so as to distinguish the good word of God from the word of man; but not as new-born babes desiring the sincere milk of the word, that they might grow thereby, and tasting the powers of the world to come, in miracles wrought in Christ's name, and to confirm his word, which in the early days they saw, yea, many of them, (as Judas,) wrought; but in all these, there is not a single word to shew, that God the Holy Ghost had regenerated their persons; and, consequently, there is not a single act of the graces of the Spirit, which flow from regeneration, such as faith, love, and obedience, to manifest their regenerated nature; and, therefore, the whole of what is here said, may, and not unfrequently will, be found in the character of the almost, but never real Christian. See Hebrews 6:4-58.6.6 and the Commentary upon the passage.
Let the Reader look at Paul for a contrast to this almost Christian, when in his very modest and unassuming answer, he said to Agrippa, 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. What tenderness and affection, arising from grace in the heart, were expressed in these words? Excepting the chains, in which he stood before them as a prisoner, which he wished not to his greatest natural enemy; neither the humble poverty of his circumstances in outward things in which he lived, and earned his bread by tent making; excepting these, it was the most cordial wish of his soul, if the Lord willed it, that all then present were, as he himself was, in Spiritual things, and living in the enjoyment of them.
Reader! if you wish to behold the portrait of a real Christian, in the character of Paul, the Holy Ghost hath fully drawn it. He hath shewn, that in the days of his unregeneracy, he was as all men by nature are, sometime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But, (saith Paul,) after that, the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but, according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly though Jesus Christ our Savior, Titus 3:3-56.3.6 . Here we see in the first part, the original features of nature, in the universal tints of character by which all Adam's children are known, and in which they are all born, and in which they all live and die, unless regenerated by grace. And here we see in the second part of this picture, the source of that vast change, which God the Holy Ghost makes by his own Almighty power on the heart, when, by forming the nature anew, he makes them new creatures in Christ Jesus. So that they are now made partakers of the divine nature, having, through that grace imparted to them in their new-birth, escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust, 2 Peter 1:1-61.1.4 . And thus being regenerated by the Holy Ghost, given by the Father to the Son, and redeemed from the Adam-nature of a fallen state by Christ, called with an holy calling, pardoned and justified by the blood and righteousness of Christ, sanctified in their grace union with Christ, and daily renewed by the Holy Spirit; they are not almost, but real Christians, being members of Christ's body, his flesh, and his bones! Ephesians 5:30 .
And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: (31) And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. (32) Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
The great end the Lord the Spirit had appointed by this meeting, being now accomplished, (I pray the Reader not to lose sight of this,) the business is over. The several hearers have now heard for their life, or death. Paul's sermon will at the last day be again brought forward, as the ministration of mercy or condemnation. The one class of mercy for the blessed opportunity, Hebrews 10:39 . The other of condemnation, Psalms 1:6 .
And now the assembly is broken up, the congregation separate, and the prisoner is sent back to his prison. He might have been set at liberty, said Agrippa, if he had not appealed unto Caesar. No, Agrippa! that must not be, for the Lord had shewed his servant, that he must bear witness also at Rome, Acts 23:11 . How little and contemptible would this whole assembly have appeared, even in their own eyes, amidst all their pomp and splendor, could they but have seen the parts they were then made to act for the divine glory. They were to hear for their own condemnation, if not made the savor of life unto life; and they were to prepare for the sending the Lord's messenger and witness to Rome. Howbeit, (said the Lord of a similar character of old,) he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so, Isaiah 10:5-23.10.7 . It is truly blessed to a child of God, to trace the Lord's hand in all the Lord's appointments. My counsel shall stand, saith the Lord, and I will do all my pleasure, Isaiah 46:10 .
IT will be a blessed improvement of this chapter, under the Holy Ghost's teachings, if by contemplating the different characters at this assembly; our souls are led to see how dignified was the poor prisoner in his chains, compared to the nobles in their mistaken splendor. Could any eye, have been opened to discern objects spiritually, while looking upon the meeting, as the Prophet's servant was in the Mount, he would have beheld the prisoner in the robes of Jesus's righteousness, and Festus and his royal host wearing the chains of sin, and prisoners to Satan. Oh! what mistaken views do we make of all the objects of time and sense, while the vail of nature's darkness is upon our hearts!
Reader! let you and I once more, (we never shall too often,) bless God the Holy Ghost for the thrice record of Paul's conversion in his blessed word. Add a blessing to it, O Lord, and cause it to be a sweet savor in the souls of thy people, to numbers now on earth, as it hath been in times past, to numbers now in heaven. Yea, bless it to numbers yet unborn, even to endless generations! Amen.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 26". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent