Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense:
I. THE REMARKABLE STORY OF HIS LIFE. (Vers. 1-18.)
1. His life in Judaism. He had been brought up, as all knew, in the strictest sect of his religion, a Pharisee. Paul's example, it has been remarked, lends no countenance to the fallacy that dissolute students make the best preachers. He had been conscientious from the first, a friend of virtue, and a servant of the Law. He had not sacrificed his youth to vice, nor wooed with unabashed front the means of weakness and debility, physical or moral. "One cannot believe that men of this kind are so quickly converted. Ordination does not change the heart, nor is the surplice or gown a means of grace."
2. The charge against him. Notwithstanding that an evil leaven of passion or zeal had worked in him in those unconverted days (and he does not conceal it), he had retained the Pharisaic hope of the resurrection of the dead. The zeal of the Jews, on the other hand, against the gospel, tended to cut them off from living connection with the religion of their fathers, and from the blessings of the better covenant which superseded the old. And this zeal of unbelief was blind. What was there incredible in the idea of the resurrection of the dead? The question may be generalized to the unbeliever - What is there at bottom so incredible in any of the great objects of Christian faith? The form of the belief may change, the substance remains from age to age.
3. His own resistance to conviction. He can speak feelingly to these skeptics, for he has known the most stubborn doubt and resistance himself. He had been under an illusion. He had thought it a duty to oppose Jesus. There is a deep and pure joy in confession, and in the knowledge that one's own sincere experience will be profitable as guide and warning to others. He is ever ready to speak on this matter; it is one of his noblest traits (Acts 22.; 1 Timothy 1:16). The blessed change he can never forget; he is a living wonder to himself and to many. Let preachers derive their best material from the experience of their heart and life.
4. His conversion. (Vers. 13-18.) The splendor of that light from heaven shining on his path of blind fury can never be forgotten. And the first beam which breaks through the night of our sin and stubbornness is worthy of eternal recollection and meditation (2 Corinthians 4:6). The glory of the once humiliated but now enthroned Savior surpasses all. With the light comes the voice, which humiliates and raises, rebukes and cheers. The voice echoes the secret voice of his conscience, hitherto, in the intoxication of his passion, half heard or not heard at all. But it is also a voice which is loftier than that of the self-condemning conscience - Divine, pardoning, and cheering. "Stand up!" God slays and makes alive. The like voice was heard upon the holy mount (Matthew 17:7). From that moment Saul rose up a new creature in Christ Jesus. And it is the revelation of the love of God, a thought mightier than all our own doubt, a force in the soul irresistible against our passion and hate, which must conquer us and in our lowliness make us for the first time truly great.
5. His ordination. It may be viewed as an example of true ordination to the sacred calling.
(1) It is a Divine act. The prayers and the laying on of hands will not suffice to turn the worldling into the spiritual man. There must be the inner sanctification and anointing. "Power from on high" must be received, by which a man may stand and witness and serve.
(2) It appoints to service, and only to honor through service. Neither dignified titles nor riches are promised to Paul, but toil and suffering even unto death. The best orders a man can have are to be found in his ability to teach and in the evidence of fruit from his teaching.
(3) Paul was to be a witness, not only of that which he had already seen, but of that which was yet to be shown to him. And so with every genuine preacher. The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from the consciousness of the Christian thinker and student, from the practical experience of life as well as from his Word. Along with the command there goes the blessing; with the commission the promise of protection in its discharge. And the faithful servant of Christ may be assured in like manner that when he is to be employed he will be defended; "the good hand of God" will be upon him (as with Nehemiah) until his work is done.
(4) Sketch of his life-work. Its aim is instruction - "to open eyes;" conversion - "to turn men from darkness to light," etc.; induction into the new covenant, or kingdom of grace - "that they may receive forgiveness of sins;" glorification - "a lot among them that are sanctified." Faith in Christ the means to all. He had been following out this Divine program. He had obeyed without hesitation the heavenly vision, and in various places had been calling men to repentance and to the new life. In the faithful pursuit of his calling and because of it, he had encountered opposition; yet had been supported by God's help to the present day. His teaching was but a continuation and fulfillment of the ancient teaching of the prophets. The three great points of his preaching were - the humiliation of Christ, his resurrection, and the gospel for all nations. So clear, straightforward, manly, and consistent was the tenor of his address.
II. EFFECT UPON THE LISTENERS.
1. On Festus. He represents the cynic or indifferentist in matters of religion, or the worldly view of the unspiritual man. Character is spiritually discerned only by inward and outward sympathy. The best in Paul was misunderstood, as his worst had been. Says Luther, "The world esteems others as prudent so long as they are mad, and as mad when they cease to be mad and become wise." Saul passed for a wise and able man in the days of his persecuting fury. When he "came to himself," and was clothed in a right mind, he was reckoned mad. One day the tables will be turned, and the children of this world will say," We fools held his life to be senseless, and now he is numbered among the children of God" (Wisd. 5:5). The deep truth is that the exaltation of the poet, the prophet, the mystic, and the believer are hardly distinguishable to the superficial glance from madness or from sensual intoxication. So was it on the day of Pentecost. And of the Christ himself they said, "He is mad, and hath a devil" (John 10:20). But Paul replies to Festus that the substance of his words is true, and the temper in which he has spoken is rational. The history of Christianity has proved the truth of this. The world in the long run is not governed by unreason, but by reason struggling against unreason. In every popular revival of Christianity there may be seen a manifestation of what looks like folly and unreason; but to a deeper view there is a "method in this madness."
2. On Agrippa. Here is an awakened conscience. Paul recognizes in him the stirrings of faith, and boldly aims a blow at his conscience. "Those are the true court preachers who will not be deterred by the star on the breast from asking whether the Morning Star shines in the heart." But Agrippa fences. What he feels he will not avow. He would lead a double life - representing one thing to the world, thinking another himself. He is the type of a numerous class, who would gladly be blessed, were it not for the strait door and the narrow path, which they will not tread (Luke 13:24). How near we may be to bliss, yet how far from it! The heart may be touched, the intellect illuminated, the will aroused, the hour acceptable, and yet - some deep stream of passion runs at our feet, which we will not ford; some "cunning bosom sin" keeps out tile good angels of repentance and faith that would enter. The reply of Paul to Agrippa's light words again brings out a sharp contrast. Better be the "prisoner of Jesus Christ" than the prisoner of passion! Better the regal freedom of the redeemed man's soul, in poverty and chains, than the splendor of the potentate enslaved by lust and by the fear of men! In the audience-chamber we have thus the most diverse attitudes of mind towards Christianity represented. Paul, in the full inspiration of faith and life in the Son of God; Agrippa, convinced but not converted; Bernice, probably recalcitrant; Festus, hardened in indifferent cynicism. Some wanting little, others much, to make them Christians. But what is the practical difference between almost saved and quite damned? And so, the sermon ended, the audience disperses with commendations on the eloquence of the preacher and the manliness of his bearing. There is a certain tragedy in every such break-up of a congregation. Every man goes to his own place; and a savor of life unto life or of death unto death has been tasted by many. - J.
The Jews laid many and grievous complaints against Paul.
I. FROM THE EFFRONTERY OF THE HYPOCRITE; for the Christian only makes use of a defence founded on fact (ver. 8).
II. FROM THE DEFIANCE OF THE WICKED; for the Christian refuses no judicial examination (vers. 9, 10).
III. FROM THE OBSTINACY OF THE LITIGIOUS; for the Christian submits to every just decision.
(Robe.)I. THE WORLD HAS MANY GRIEVOUS COMPLAINTS AGAINST THE CHRISTIAN. The Jews, who were the spirit of the world incarnate, had many indeed against Paul which were perfectly true. He was a constant source of irritation because he was a standing menace to their moral corruptions, their superstitious traditions, the policy and ambition of their priests, and their wholesale apostasy from God. So is the Christian an uncompromising enemy to the world's darling sins, its base pleasures, its unworthy methods, and its low aims. Hence there can be no peace between the two.
II. THESE ARE NOT THE COMPLAINTS THAT ARE PREFERRED. The Jews knew better than to air their real grievances, so they accused Paul of offences against their best institutions — the law and the temple, and of treason against the state. So the world masks its real grievances, and charges the Christian with enmity against man's best interests.
1. Happiness. How often has Christianity been charged with moroseness? Not only does it deprive men of the means of enjoyment, but inculcates practices calculated to produce positive pain.
2. Progress. How its precepts would impede the course of commerce, arms, personal and national aggrandisement, thought, etc.
3. Political order. How can a man who lives for another world take an absorbing and influential interest in this?
III. FOR THE OVERT COMPLAINTS OF THE WORLD THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD HAVE A PROMPT ANSWER. Paul's answer was a model of promptness: and it was true. He had put the law in its proper place and had everywhere vindicated its true functions. As for the temple, he had honoured it, and by that very act had imperilled his life. As for Caesar, the emperor had no more loyal subject, and none more solicitous of promoting loyalty throughout the empire. And against the world's accusation the Christian can say —
1. That Christianity alone can and does promote the true happiness of man.
2. That Christianity has been and is the truest friend of the world's progress.
3. That the Christian by the doctrine of a future life is bound to maintain the best interests of this.
IV. THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD REFUSE TO BE ARRAIGNED BEFORE THIS WORLD'S TRIBUNALS AND SHOULD MAKE HIS APPEAL TO THE HIGHEST. Paul knew that justice at the hands of his accusers was out of the question, and therefore appealed to the only bar at which it was likely to be obtained. So the Christian, if he be wise, will decline the world's arbitrament. By it he is condemned already. What use therefore of appealing to it? But there is One who judges with righteous and infallible judgment, and he may appeal with confidence to Him. Let men frown as they may, clamour as they may — the Christian need not be frightened and should not give way for an instant. His court of appeal is the judgment seat of Christ.
(J. W. Burn.)
But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure.I. THE MOTIVE BY WHICH IT IS ACTUATED. Festus was willing to do the Jews a pleasure that he might stand the higher in their esteem. This was necessary to his personal comfort, for he knew the race that he had to govern. This was desirable for the ultimate ends he had in view — successful administration; royal favour. It is remarkable that with the examples of Pilate and Festus before him he should hope to succeed.
1. This motive is a base one. Ambition to please the good and to improve the bad is laudable; but ambition to please the basest is self-degradation.
2. This motive seldom succeeds. Witness Pilate and Festus.
II. THE SACRIFICES IT ENTAILS. Festus proposed to undertake the toilsome journey to Jerusalem. But to what inconveniences is a popularity hunter obliged to subject himself. He must go where those whom he desires please, and do what they would have him do. Hence the toilsome days and sleepless nights of the popular preacher or politician. He who would really serve his race is not exempt from sacrifice; but he has compensations which the mere popularity seeker wets not of.
III. THE DEGRADATION TO WHICH IT STOOPS. Here is a Roman judge armed with all the authority that Caesar could confer, willing to surrender that authority and to bow to that which was already discredited. And the man who would be popular has often to descend from the highest ground to the lowest, from a sense of justice, honour, and the fitness of things to pander to the base inclinations or passions of the mob.
IV. THE ACCIDENTS TO WHICH IT IS LIABLE. Suppose Paul had been tried at Jerusalem. Had the case gone against him he would certainly have appealed, and Festus would have had to endorse the appeal. In that event his popularity would have indeed been brief. And what a little thing has often sufficed to dash a popular idol to the ground! Both preachers and statesmen know this.
V. THE FRUSTRATION TO WHICH IT IS DOOMED. Suppose Festus had succeeded, how long would he have enjoyed his popularity? In two short years he was where the objects of the idolatry and the execration of the mob alike lie together. Sic transit gloria mundi. Conclusion: The best course is to do the right and thus seek God's pleasure, whether man is pleased or not.
(J. W. Burn.)
I appeal unto Caesar
1. Of conscience void of offence before God and man.
2. Of a humble submission to Divinely ordained authority.
3. Of an evangelical and sober avoidance of an unnecessary martyrdom.
4. Of an unwearied zeal for the extension of the kingdom of God.
1. From the sentence of the wicked to the judgment of the righteous.
2. From the passions of the moment to the justice of the future.
3. From the opinions of the world to the testimony of his own conscience.
4. From the tribunal of man to the judgment seat of God.
Unto Caesar thou shalt go. —
I. WHENCE THIS DECISIVE SENTENCE PROCEEDED.
1. From Festus as the speaker.
2. From Paul as the wisher of it.
3. From the Lord as the designer and confirmer of it.
II. TO WHOM IT RELATED.
1. To Paul as its subject.
2. To the Romans, who should soon be affected by it — many were converted by Paul.
3. To the world in general.
III. THE RESULTS WHICH FOLLOWED IT.
1. The plan of the Jews for Paul's murder was frustrated.
2. Paul's wish to go to Rome was fulfilled.
(J. H. Tasson.)
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