Paul's defence before Agrippa. (1-11) His conversion and preaching to the Gentiles. (12-23) Festus and Agrippa convinced of Paul's innocence. (24-32)
Verses 1-11 Christianity teaches us to give a reason of the hope that is in us, and also to give honour to whom honour is due, without flattery or fear of man. Agrippa was well versed in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, therefore could the better judge as to the controversy about Jesus being the Messiah. Surely ministers may expect, when they preach the faith of Christ, to be heard patiently. Paul professes that he still kept to all the good in which he was first educated and trained up. See here what his religion was. He was a moralist, a man of virtue, and had not learned the arts of the crafty, covetous Pharisees; he was not chargeable with any open vice and profaneness. He was sound in the faith. He always had a holy regard for the ancient promise made of God unto the fathers, and built his hope upon it. The apostle knew very well that all this would not justify him before God, yet he knew it was for his reputation among the Jews, and an argument that he was not such a man as they represented him to be. Though he counted this but loss, that he might win Christ, yet he mentioned it when it might serve to honour Christ. See here what Paul's religion is; he has not such zeal for the ceremonial law as he had in his youth; the sacrifices and offerings appointed by that, are done away by the great Sacrifice which they typified. Of the ceremonial cleansings he makes no conscience, and thinks the Levitical priesthood is done away in the priesthood of Christ; but, as to the main principles of his religion, he is as zealous as ever. Christ and heaven, are the two great doctrines of the gospel; that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. These are the matter of the promise made unto the fathers. The temple service, or continual course of religious duties, day and night, was kept up as the profession of faith in the promise of eternal life, and in expectation of it. The prospect of eternal life should engage us to be diligent and stedfast in all religious exercises. Yet the Sadducees hated Paul for preaching the resurrection; and the other Jews joined them, because he testified that Jesus was risen, and was the promised Redeemer of Israel. Many things are thought to be beyond belief, only because the infinite nature and perfections of Him that has revealed, performed, or promised them, are overlooked. Paul acknowledged, that while he continued a Pharisee, he was a bitter enemy to Christianity. This was his character and manner of life in the beginning of his time; and there was every thing to hinder his being a Christian. Those who have been most strict in their conduct before conversion, will afterwards see abundant reason for humbling themselves, even on account of things which they then thought ought to have been done.
Verses 12-23 Paul was made a Christian by Divine power; by a revelation of Christ both to him and in him; when in the full career of his sin. He was made a minister by Divine authority: the same Jesus who appeared to him in that glorious light, ordered him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. A world that sits in darkness must be enlightened; those must be brought to know the things that belong to their everlasting peace, who are yet ignorant of them. A world that lies in wickedness must be sanctified and reformed; it is not enough for them to have their eyes opened, they must have their hearts renewed; not enough to be turned from darkness to light, but they must be turned from the power of Satan unto God. All who are turned from sin to God, are not only pardoned, but have a grant of a rich inheritance. The forgiveness of sins makes way for this. None can be happy who are not holy; and to be saints in heaven we must be first saints on earth. We are made holy, and saved by faith in Christ; by which we rely upon Christ as the Lord our Righteousness, and give up ourselves to him as the Lord our Ruler; by this we receive the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and eternal life. The cross of Christ was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and they were in a rage at Paul's preaching the fulfilling of the Old Testament predictions. Christ should be the first that should rise from the dead; the Head or principal One. Also, it was foretold by the prophets, that the Gentiles should be brought to the knowledge of God by the Messiah; and what in this could the Jews justly be displeased at? Thus the true convert can give a reason of his hope, and a good account of the change manifest in him. Yet for going about and calling on men thus to repent and to be converted, vast numbers have been blamed and persecuted.
Verses 24-32 It becomes us, on all occasions, to speak the words of truth and soberness, and then we need not be troubled at the unjust censures of men. Active and laborious followers of the gospel often have been despised as dreamers or madmen, for believing such doctrines and such wonderful facts; and for attesting that the same faith and diligence, and an experience like their own, are necessary to all men, whatever their rank, in order to their salvation. But apostles and prophets, and the Son of God himself, were exposed to this charge; and none need be moved thereby, when Divine grace has made them wise unto salvation. Agrippa saw a great deal of reason for Christianity. His understanding and judgment were for the time convinced, but his heart was not changed. And his conduct and temper were widely different from the humility and spirituality of the gospel. Many are almost persuaded to be religious, who are not quite persuaded; they are under strong convictions of their duty, and of the excellence of the ways of God, yet do not pursue their convictions. Paul urged that it was the concern of every one to become a true Christian; that there is grace enough in Christ for all. He expressed his full conviction of the truth of the gospel, the absolute necessity of faith in Christ in order to salvation. Such salvation from such bondage, the gospel of Christ offers to the Gentiles; to a lost world. Yet it is with much difficulty that any person can be persuaded he needs a work of grace on his heart, like that which was needful for the conversion of the Gentiles. Let us beware of fatal hesitation in our own conduct; and recollect how far the being almost persuaded to be a Christian, is from being altogether such a one as every true believer is.
Acts 26:1-32 . PAUL'S DEFENSE OF HIMSELF BEFORE KING AGRIPPA, WHO PRONOUNCES HIM INNOCENT, BUT CONCLUDES THAT THE APPEAL TO CÆSAR MUST BE CARRIED OUT.
This speech, though in substance the same as that from the fortress stairs of Jerusalem ( Acts 22:1-29 ), differs from it in being less directed to meet the charge of apostasy from the Jewish faith, and giving more enlarged views of his remarkable change and apostolic commission, and the divine support under which he was enabled to brave the hostility of his countrymen.
1-3. Agrippa said--Being a king he appears to have presided.
Paul stretched forth the hand--chained to a soldier ( Acts 26:29 ,
3. I know thee to be expert, &c.--His father was zealous for the law, and he himself had the office of president of the temple and its treasures, and the appointment of the high priest [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 20.1.3].
hear me patiently--The idea of "indulgently" is also conveyed.
4, 5. from my youth, which was at the first . . . at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning--plainly showing that he received his education, even from early youth, at Jerusalem.
5. if they would--"were willing to"
testify--but this, of course, they were not, it being a strong point in his favor.
after the most straitest--"the strictest."
sect--as the Pharisees confessedly were. This was said to meet the charge, that as a Hellenistic Jew he had contracted among the heathen lax ideas of Jewish peculiarities.
6, 7. I . . . am judged for the hope of the promise made . . . to our fathers--"for believing that the promise of Messiah, the Hope of the Church ( Acts 13:32 , 28:20 ) has been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth risen from the dead."
7. Unto which promise--the fulfilment of it.
our twelve tribes--( James 1:1 ; and
serving God--in the sense of religious worship; on "ministered,"
day and night, hope to come--The apostle rises into language as catholic as the thought--representing his despised nation, all scattered thought it now was, as twelve great branches of one ancient stem, in all places of their dispersion offering to the God of their fathers one unbroken worship, reposing on one great "promise" made of old unto their fathers, and sustained by one "hope" of "coming" to its fulfilment; the single point of difference between him and his countrymen, and the one cause of all their virulence against him, being, that his hope had found rest in One already come, while theirs still pointed to the future.
For which hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews--"I am accused of Jews, O king" (so the true reading appears to be); of all quarters the most surprising for such a charge to come from. The charge of sedition is not so much as alluded to throughout this speech. It was indeed a mere pretext.
8. Why should it be thought a thing incredible . . . that God should raise the dead?--rather, "Why is it judged a thing incredible if God raises the dead?" the case being viewed as an accomplished fact. No one dared to call in question the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, which proclaimed Him to be the Christ, the Son of God; the only way of getting rid of it, therefore, was to pronounce it incredible. But why, asks the apostle, is it so judged? Leaving this pregnant question to find its answer in the breasts of his audience, he now passes to his personal history. Acts 22:4
16-18. But rise, &c.--Here the apostle appears to condense into one statement various sayings of his Lord to him in visions at different times, in order to present at one view the grandeur of the commission with which his Master had clothed him [ALFORD].
a minister . . . both of these things which thou hast seen--putting him on a footing with those "eye-witnesses and ministers of the word" mentioned in Luke 1:2 .
and of those in which I will appear to thee--referring to visions he was thereafter to be favored with; such as Acts 18:9 Acts 18:10 , 22:17-21 , 23:11 , 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 , &c. ( Galatians 1:12 ).
17. Delivering thee from the people--the Jews.
and from the Gentiles--He was all along the object of Jewish malignity, and was at that moment in the hands of the Gentiles; yet he calmly reposes on his Master's assurances of deliverance from both, at the same time taking all precautions for safety and vindicating all his legal rights.
unto whom now I send thee--The emphatic "I" here denotes the authority of the Sender [BENGEL].
18. To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light--rather, "that they may turn" (as in Acts 26:20 ), that is, as the effect of their eyes being opened. The whole passage leans upon Isaiah 61:1 ( Luke 4:18 ).
and from the power of Satan--Note the connection here between being "turned from darkness" and "from the power of Satan," whose whole power over men lies in keeping them in the dark: hence he is called "the ruler of the darkness of this world."
that they may receive forgiveness . . . and inheritance among the sanctified by faith that is in me--Note: Faith is here made the instrument of salvation at once in its first stage, forgiveness, and its last, admission to the home of the sanctified; and the faith which introduces the soul to all this is emphatically declared by the glorified Redeemer to rest upon Himself--"FAITH, even THAT WHICH IS IN ME." And who that believes this can refrain from casting his crown before Him or resist offering Him supreme worship?
19-21. Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision--This musical and elevated strain, which carries the reader along with it, and doubtless did the hearers, bespeaks the lofty region of thought and feeling to which the apostle had risen while rehearsing his Master's communications to him from heaven.
20. showed . . . to them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem--omitting Arabia; because, beginning with the Jews, his object was to mention first the places where his former hatred of the name of Christ was best known: the mention of the Gentiles, so unpalatable to his audience, is reserved to the last.
repent and return to God, and do works meet for repentance--a brief description of conversion and its proper fruits, suggested, probably, by the Baptist's teaching ( Luke 3:7 Luke 3:8 ).
22, 23. having obtained help--"succor."
from God--"that [which cometh] from God."
I continue--"stand," "hold my ground."
unto this day, witnessing, &c.--that is, This life of mine, so marvellously preserved, in spite of all the plots against it, is upheld for the Gospel's sake; therefore I "witnessed," &c.
23. That Christ should suffer, &c.--The construction of this sentence implies that in regard to the question "whether the Messiah is a suffering one, and whether, rising first from the dead, he should show light to the (Jewish) people and to the Gentiles," he had only said what the prophets and Moses said should come.
24. Festus said with a loud voice--surprised and bewildered.
Paul, thou art beside thyself, much learning doth make thee mad--"is turning thy head." The union of flowing Greek, deep acquaintance with the sacred writings of his nation, reference to a resurrection and other doctrines to a Roman utterly unintelligible, and, above all, lofty religious earnestness, so strange to the cultivated, cold-hearted skeptics of that day--may account for this sudden exclamation.
25, 26. I am not mad, most noble Festus, but, &c.--Can anything surpass this reply, for readiness, self-possession, calm dignity? Every word of it refuted the rude charge, though Festus, probably, did not intend to hurt the prisoner's feelings.
26. the king knoweth,
27-29. believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest--The courage and confidence here shown proceeded from a vivid persuasion of Agrippa's knowledge of the facts and faith in the predictions which they verified; and the king's reply is the highest testimony to the correctness of these presumptions and the immense power of such bold yet courteous appeals to conscience.
28. Almost--or, "in a little time."
thou persuadest me to be a Christian--Most modern interpreters think the ordinary translation inadmissible, and take the meaning to be, "Thou thinkest to make me with little persuasion (or small trouble) a Christian"--but I am not to be so easily turned. But the apostle's reply can scarcely suit any but the sense given in our authorized version, which is that adopted by CHRYSOSTOM and some of the best scholars since. The objection on which so much stress is laid, that the word "Christian" was at that time only a term of contempt, has no force except on the other side; for taking it in that view, the sense is, "Thou wilt soon have me one of that despised sect."
29. I would to God, &c.--What unequalled magnanimity does this speech breathe! Only his Master ever towered above this.
not only . . . almost . . . but altogether--or, "whether soon or late," or "with little or much difficulty."
except these bonds--doubtless holding up his two chained hands have had an electrical effect.
30-32. when he had thus spoken, the king rose--not over-easy, we may be sure.
32. This man might have been set at liberty if he had not appealed to Cæsar--It would seem from this that such appeals, once made, behooved to be carried out.