Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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them off from living connection with the religion of their fathers, and from the blessings of the better covenant which superseded the old.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.
I. THE BEARING OF THE MAN. Dignity, gentleness, courtesy - a true Christian gentleman.
II. THE APPEAL TO FACTS. The incontrovertible evidence. "Once I was a persecutor; now I am a disciple."
III. THE PROCLAMATION OF A DIVINE MISSION. Showing that there was reason in his firmness and confidence; he was divinely sent and would be divinely cared for.
IV. THE CHALLENGE TO TRY HIS DOCTRINE AND WORK BY THE STANDARD OF MOSES AND THE PROPHETS. Those who oppose him are the offenders. He is simply a witness. This is the true strength of all God's people. They build on the Word which is already given. They show the harmony between Scripture and fact.
V. THE PERSONAL APPEAL included in the address, both to the Jews and to the heathen. "Would to God you were such as I."
VI. THE DIFFERENT EFFECTS OF THE ADDRESS on the two different men. To the Gentile it was simply foolishness; to the apostate Jew it was a voice of God speaking to the slumbering conscience. Agrippa's irony meant resistance to the Holy Ghost. Although neither were converted, they were both impressed with the simplicity and sincerity and harmlessness of the man. But again the hand of God was over him. Had he been set at liberty, his life would soon have been sacrificed. So Luther's imprisonment in the Wartburg was his protection from enemies. - R.
was gained which may be supposed obtainable by the faithful use of the best human means. And for the rest, the work was stayed where, in the very truest sense, we are warranted to say, "Permitte cetera Deo," or the results belong to God. The occasion, perhaps unintentionally enough, reveals the great standing conditions of effective preaching and profiting hearing. There must be -
I. ONE COMPETENT TO SPEAK.
1. He must know his subject.
2. He must feel deeply his subject.
3. He must handle a subject which concerns his hearers, and is neither above them nor beside their needs.
4. He must know the graces of speech, but specially that of respectfulness and courtesy towards those whose ear he wishes to gain. Who might command may sometimes better "beseech" (Philemon 1:8, 9), and so much the more if one thing that he asks for is the thing so rare, so difficult, patience.
II. THOSE PREPARED TO HEAR. Different considerations will determine the question in what such preparedness may most truly consist. We have here to do with only a certain human range of preparedness.
1. The hearer must be open, ready, willing to hear and capable of understanding. Paul does not speak hollow words. He knows he can make much greater progress With Agrippa than with Festus, because Agrippa was really not unversed in matters of revealed truth.
2. The hearer must be prepared to give his mind patiently to the great subjects that may be exhibited to him. They are what may well require patience.
3. He must be honest to make decision and to take action on what he has heard. So far Agrippa went a long way towards being "a good hearer" of the Word.
4. If the case be such, he must-be ready to give full public profession of his decision. In this Agrippa failed. He and Festus only "talked between themselves." - B.
Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:5, 6. We dwell on the fact of St. Paul's Pharisaic birth, education, and sympathies, in order to show -
I. HOW THESE AFFECTED HIS RELATIONS WITH THE JEWS. He ought to have been peculiarly acceptable to the Jews. The bias of his life was wholly in favor of ceremonial Judaism. He might have been looked to as one of the noblest champions of Mosaism. He did come out as a leader of the party which persecuted the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. He had never separated himself from the Jewish rites and ordinances. To the close of life he maintained his Pharisaism. He pleaded, indeed, for liberty from ritual bonds on behalf of the Gentile converts, but he did not take the liberty for himself; so that, if the Jews had not yielded to blinding prejudice, they might have found in this Christian Pharisee the conservator of all the essentials of Mosaism. It should be clearly seen that St. Paul at once admitted the new light that came from God, and jealously conserved the old, which had also come from him. No doubt the apostle saw that the Jewish system would fade away, and give place to a spiritual religion for which simpler forms would suffice; but it was no part of his mission to hurry on the time of the passing away. His point was this - Jewish bonds must not be laid on Gentile converts. Judaism cannot be aggressive; it must keep well within its own lines and limits.
II. How ST. PAUL'S PHARISAISM BORE UPON THE CHARGES MADE AGAINST HIM. It made those charges seem ridiculous. One brought up as a zealous Pharisee insultingly defiling the sacred temple was simply absurd. Such a man could not have done such a thing. And the assumption further was that the public teachings of such a man could not be out of harmony with true Judaism. Men are true to themselves: they do not make themselves ridiculous by such open inconsistencies. St. Paul may plead in answer to all their charges, "I was, I am, a Pharisee."
III. How ST. PAUL'S PHARISAIC EDUCATION BECAME A PREPARATION FOR HIS CHRISTIAN FAITH AND LIFE. Such an education established a strong conviction concerning three things.
1. The direct ruling and intervention of Jehovah, so that, at any time, any of his servants might have direct and personal communications from him. The fathers and the prophets had received such revelations, and revelations and visions may come to men still.
2. The importance of Holy Scripture, as given by inspiration of God.
3. And the expectation of Messiah, as fulfilling Scripture prophecy and promise. It may easily be shown how those Pharisaic sentiments prepared fur
(1) the vision at Damascus;
(2) the key which that vision gave to Scripture, and especially to the figure of Messiah presented in the Scripture. Compare the difference of result if St. Paul had been by birth and education a doubting, skeptical Sadducee. True Christianity is the natural and proper outcome of true Pharisaism. Those who were loyal to the idea of the theocracy, and to the Scripture as the human expression of the Divine will and purpose, ought to have been led to a full acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God. Illustrate and impress that in a man's early years is displayed the character that is to distinguish his whole life; and that we are all greatly dependent on the tone of the influences that surround our infancy and childhood. Manhood should not, indeed, witness the mere continuance of childhood's prejudices, it should be the true and worthy development, adaptation, and application of childhood's principles. - R.T.
and resurrection of Jesus, the hope of future and eternal life, the vista of an abiding city, a heavenly Canaan, and for their behoove "an house not made with hands," We learn here that, under whatever various aspects and with whatever needful accompaniments -
I. THE OLD ORIGINAL REVELATION WAS A REVELATION OF WHAT SHOULD BE THE CONTRADICTION OF SIN'S PRONOUNCED WORK, DEATH. The hope of the promise was the hope of eternal life and of heaven.
II. THAT THIS FIRST REAL REVELATION SHAPED ITSELF IN THE FORM OF A "PROMISE," "MADE OF GOD," TO A CERTAIN FEW, WHO WOULD HALLOW IT ABOVE ALL ELSE THEY HAD.
III. THAT IT WAS ONE LONG REMEMBERED, CLUNG TO TENACIOUSLY, AND IN THESE RESPECTS WELL JUSTIFYING ITS DIVINE ADAPTATION.
IV. THAT, MISUNDERSTOOD THOUGH IT MIGHT BE, IT TURNED ON THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, IN ONE TREMENDOUS INSTANCE OF IT, NAMELY, THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS.
V. THAT, THE FATAL WEAKNESS AND SIN OF THOSE TO WHOM THIS PROMISE, AN HEIRLOOM SO PRECIOUS, WAS GIVEN, REVEALED THEMSELVES, WHEN THE VERY HOUR OF UNSPEAKABLE GLORY CAME, AND WITH IT THE TEST CAME, AND NATURE REGARDED REVELATION AS INCREDIBLE, AND THE EYES OF NATURE DISCREDITED THEIR OWN TESTIMONY, THOUGH THE DIVINE FACT WAS THERE, THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. One of the correctest commentaries on the letter and the spirit of this striking and beautiful passage and the similar parallel passages, is found in the exquisite little poem of J. H. Newman, entitled "Moses seeing the Land."
"My father's hope! my childhood's dream! "My death is come, but not decay; "Blest scene! thrice welcome after toil - "Its glorious heights, its wealthy plains, "Ah! now they melt... they are but shades...
"My death is come, but not decay; "Blest scene! thrice welcome after toil - "Its glorious heights, its wealthy plains, "Ah! now they melt... they are but shades...
"Blest scene! thrice welcome after toil - "Its glorious heights, its wealthy plains, "Ah! now they melt... they are but shades...
I. THAT IT WAS EARLY GIVES. In the world's very morning. In the first hem's of the world's sin and woe. Almost before the shadow of man's sin could fall upon his life, God sent forth this great ray of hope.
II. THAT IT WAS OFTEN RENEWED. For every generation; for every new set of circumstances. In ever-varied forms. With a gracious advancing clearness and fullness. The actual instances provide the illustrations. For lists of them, see appendices to modern Bibles.
III. THAT IT WAS STRANGELY MISCONCEIVED. Because men would not take the Messianic figure as a whole, but chose the parts of it which they preferred. And because men did not take the revelation in its simplicity, but read it in the light of their circumstances, and especially of their temporal necessities. So a nation whose liberty had been taken from them only saw in Messianic promise a liberator, a Judas Maccabeus, a triumphing prince, after the pattern indicated by Daniel. Messiah is for men, not for Jews only, for sinners, and not for an enslaved nation only. - R.T.
I. IT IS NOT PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE.
1. The continuance of the spirit in existence after death is certainly not impossible; indeed, it is the discontinuance which has seemed so impossible that to many thinkers its permanency appears to be a necessity. The difficulty, to many minds, is to understand how a spirit can be dissolved and destroyed.
2. Its reassociation with a human body of some kind is also possible, and to almighty power and wisdom easy of execution. The same Divine strength and skill which created and fashioned man as he is can surely continue his existence and his powers under similar conditions to the present ones. He who has made us what we are can make us again, more or less closely associated with the bodily frame which is our present home and organ.
II. To RAISE HIS OWN SON FROM THE DEAD IN ORDER TO ASSURE THE WORLD OF HIS DIVINITY, and of the heavenly origin of the faith he taught, is credible enough. Granted that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and Savior of the world, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so far from being incredible or even improbable, is positively demanded.
III. To RAISE FROM THE DEAD THE FOLLOWERS OF A RISEN AND ASCENDED SAVIOR is perfectly credible. Granted what we have assumed, and that, therefore, Jesus Christ is Savior, Lord, and Friend of believing, loving, and faithful disciples, it follows that he would exert his Divine power and raise them to his heavenly kingdom, that they might share his honor and his blessedness. The real difficulty is not in the resurrection of Jesus Christ or in that of his disciples; it is in the assumption which lies behind - the assumption that Jesus Christ was one who came down from heaven to redeem a fallen race. That granted, everything else follows necessarily. We maintain that -
IV. A DIVINE REDEMPTION IS A CREDIBLE AND NOT AN INCREDIBLE IDEA. There is much within us and around us that points to the presence of a holy and living Father of spirits. If we make our appeal to our own hearts - and there is nothing higher than a living human heart from which to argue to the Divine - we shall conclude that to restore his fallen children by the sacrifice of himself was just that very thing which the infinite Father would do. There is nothing more probable, more credible than that.
1. Redeeming love is a well-attested fact.
2. The resurrection of Christ is involved in that fact.
3. The resurrection of man is an inference from that.
(1) Regard it as a certainty.
(2) Prepare for it as an event in which we have all the deepest personal interest. - C.
I. THE APPEAL TO FAITH. You believe so much; why not this? The Jewish Scriptures contained the doctrine of resurrection. Enoch. Abraham's anticipation of Isaac's resurrection. Moses. Elijah. The teaching of the Psalms and prophets. The growth of the doctrine through the post-Exilian times. Even the heathen not without much that prepared the way for the truth. Doctrine of the dead and of the future life. Longing for the perfection of humanity. Moral helplessness.
II. THE CHALLENGE OF CHRISTIANITY TO PERSONAL ACCEPTANCE.
1. The credible ought to be accepted, if it comes with the evidence of fact.
2. The real root of unbelief is personal and moral. Paul refers to himself, "I was once as you are; but the facts were too much for me."
3. The resurrection is not a mere speculative doctrine or unpractical mystery, but it is the root of the whole system of Christianity; it stands at the entrance of the new way, into which we are all invited, both as sealing the testimony of Christ, and as opening the new world to our faith and setting our affection on things above. - R.
2. Because the Sadducee party was the one which was most active against the apostle, and they were chiefly offended by his preaching the doctrine of the resurrection, based upon the resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. Possibly St. Paul may have known that the doctrine of resurrection was a stumbling-block and hindrance to Agrippa. Men in all ages have stumbled at the difficulty of resurrection. It appears to be so contrary to the order of nature; and, so far as human power and skill are concerned, death is so manifestly an irremediable woe. But is resurrection incredible? Three answers may be given.
I. THAT DEPENDS UPON THE EVIDENCES OF THE FACT. It is credible enough if it can be adequately proved. And the test case must be the resurrection of our Lord. It is not enough to dismiss this case as miraculous; we must fairly consider the proofs of the fact. Review them as given by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15., and set them alongside the historical details given in the Gospels, showing the credibility of the witnesses, etc. The position taken by Hume is a very presumptuous one, that it is more likely the evidence is false than that the miraculous event is true. No fact of history can be received unless its testimony is accepted without prejudice.
II. THE RESURRECTION IS NOT THE GREATEST OF MIRACLES. If we can accept greater, it cannot be unreasonable to accept it. St. Augustine well expresses this point. He says, "It is a greater miracle to make that which is not than to repair that which is. Why cannot God raise us after we are turned into dust, who, if we ever were reduced to nothing, could give us a being?" To create man is a greater miracle than to re-create him; and we are not unreasonable in asserting that he who can accomplish the one can certainly accomplish the other.
III. THE WORLD IS FULL OF ANALOGIES WHICH HELP TO MAKE REASONABLE THE BELIEF IN RESURRECTION. These are fully given in works on the resurrection, and are familiarly used in sermons on this topic. Especially may analogies be found in springtime resurrections and insect changes. Science, too, finds analogies, for it discovers that nothing really is destroyed, but all things reappear in other and varied forms. It is but a beginning of argument on behalf of the sure and sublime truth of the resurrection, but it is an important beginning to be able to say - It is not a thing incredible that God should raise the dead. - R.T.
I. THAT DELIBERATE AND DIRECT ANTAGONISM TO CHRIST IS THE GUILTIEST OF ALL POSITIONS. "Doing things contrary to... Jesus Christ," when these things are done by an agent who knows what he does, reaches the very summit of iniquity. "This is the condemnation, that light is come," etc. When men oppose themselves to Christian truth because" their deeds are evil," because "their craft is in danger," Because they hate the light which exposes their sin and robs them of their gains or their enjoyments, then they stand in the very front rank of criminality; they deliberately take up arms against their Maker; "They take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder," etc.; they say, "This is the Son; come, let us kill him," etc. Surely God will trouble these "with his sore displeasure" (Psalm 2:5).
II. THAT DELIBERATE NEUTRALITY IS A MOST SERIOUS SIN, When men refrain from taking an active part against the cause of Christ and his truth, doing "nothing contrary," etc., they shun the very worst possible thing. But when they attempt to take neutral ground, and either
(2) refuse to render the help they can bring to his cause (Matthew 21:30; Matthew 25:18, etc.), then they fall into great condemnation, and must "bear their iniquity" (see Matthew 7:26, 27; Luke 13:25-28; Judges 5:23).
III. THAT IGNORANCE CHANGES THE CHARACTER AND MATERIALLY AFFECTS THE DEGREE OF GUILT. Clearly Paul was not so guilty in his acts of persecution as he would have been, had he not "thought that he ought to do many things contrary," etc. He himself tells us that this ignorance of his was a great mitigation of the sinfulness of his act (see 1 Timothy 1:13). Our Lord also gave his own Divine sanction to this truth when suffering the pangs of crucifixion (Luke 23:34).
1. Ignorance changes the character of the sin. What Paul was guilty of in those days was not the deliberate attempt to crush the work of a Divine Redeemer; he would have recoiled from so doing, had the act presented itself thus to his mind. His mistake, his condemnation, was that he had not fairly and impartially considered the claims of Jesus of Nazareth; that he had blindly assumed that his teachers were right, guiltily neglecting all the proofs which the Savior had given that he was the Messiah "that should come into the world."
2. It also greatly reduces its turpitude, not to have inquired as we should have done - this is wrong and blameworthy. But it is not so serious an offence, in the sight of God or of man, as willfully and wantonly to conspire against the Lord, and to seek to positively hinder the coming of his kingdom. It may rightly comfort those who, like Paul, have to look hack on offences which they have committed, when they can say, with him, "I verily thought," etc.; when it can be said to them, "Brethren, I vet that through ignorance ye did it" (Acts 3:17).
IV. THAT ONLY ABSOLUTE IGNORANCE EXONERATES FROM BLAME. It is conceivable that men may be so circumstanced that their ignorance is absolute, and therefore wholly faultless. In this case there is no guilt. But how seldom is it of this kind! Usually when we do "things contrary" to truth, righteousness, God, we might have known better if we had inquired more promptly or more purely. We may not excuse ourselves if we have kept out of our mind any light we might have admitted. We may apply this to
(1) the doctrines we are accepting;
(2) the leaders we are encouraging;
(3) the business we are conducting;
(4) the family we are training. - C.
I. RUN THE GREAT RISK OF INFLUENCING OTHERS TO SIN AGAINST THEIR OWN CONSCIENCE.
II. PRESUME TO SUPPOSE THEIR OWN CONSCIENCE TO BE THE ABSOLUTELY SAFE STANDARD.
III. EXPOSE THEMSELVES, ON NO GREATER WARRANT, TO STAYING A GOOD WORK THAT OTHERWISE WAS GROWING IN THE HEART OF ANOTHER.
IV. VERY POSSIBLY AVAIL TO MAKE PRONOUNCED BLASPHEMERS, BACKSLIDERS, APOSTATES.
V. BECOME AT LEAST STUMBLING-BLOCKS TO OTHERS, AND CAUSES OF LOSS AND PERHAPS OF INFINITE MENTAL PAIN AND DISASTROUS CONFLICT TO THEM. Against every one of these courted responsibilities Christ's own clearest warnings are offered, and his calmest, most solemn judgments pronounced upon those who taught them. - B.
I. THE TWOFOLD RELATION IN WHICH HE WAS TO STAND. "To make thee a minister and a witness." Paul was to be
(1) related to Christ as his servant, and to be
(2) related to his fellow-men as their teacher. We are to engage in every Christian work as those who carry with them everywhere a sense of obedience to a Divine Master. We are to do and say nothing which we feel that he does not desire us to do or to say. We are also to feel flint, in regard to our fellows, we are as those who have a Divine message to deliver. If we are content to expound our own views, to establish our own position, or to secure a large following for ourselves, we fall miserably short of our true vocation; we are called to convey Christ's message to mankind.
II. THE TWOFOLD SOURCE WHENCE HE WAS TO DRAW HIS MESSAGE. He was to bear witness "both of these things which he had seen, and of those things in the which Christ would appear unto him" (ver. 16). Not only was he to narrate what he already knew, but he was to convey and enforce the truths which were soon to be revealed to him. We are to draw continually on this double source. We are
(1) to repeat the facts and truths with which past experience and study have made us familiar; and also
(2) to unfold those later and maturer views which our Lord will be revealing to our open and inquiring minds.
III. THE TWOFOLD PROTECTION OF WHICH HE WAS ASSURED. "Delivering thee from the (Jewish) people, and from the Gentiles" (ver. 17). He was to encounter serious perils and difficulties, but he would escape the one and surmount the other. He would find himself opposed and thwarted by the Jews and the Gentiles, by those who were "nigh" and by those who were "afar off," by the children of privilege from whom he might have hoped to receive help, and by the sons of ignorance from whom he might have expected to endure hostility. By whomsoever assailed, the Divine Savior would be his defense. We, too, may expect to be opposed by two parties - by those within and by "them that are without," by the heirs of privilege and by the aliens and strangers. If we are faithful and trustful, we may safely cast ourselves on the care of our Divine Friend, who, if he does not save us from, will assuredly save us in, the disappointments and the sufferings which will threaten us as champions of his cause.
IV. THE TWOFOLD ISSUE OF HIS WORK.
1. Spiritual illumination. Those to whom he was to go would turn "from darkness to light," their "eyes having been opened." Having been blind to the existence, or to the nature and character, or to the claims of God; or blind to the worth of the human soul, or to the true end and aim of human life, or to the solemnity of death and judgment; or blind to the excellency of holy service, to the beauty of holiness, to the blessedness of consecration and self-denial; they were to perceive, to understand, to rejoice in the truth, to walk in the light. Their experience in the spiritual realm would answer to his in the material world who should awake from blackest night to brightest day.
2. Deliverance. "From the power of Satan irate God" (ver. 18). In ignorance and sin men are the bondmen of the evil one, held in his cords, subject to his sway. Delivered from the power of sin, they become the freedmen of Christ; they walk in "the glorious liberty of the children of God." From a degrading bondage they are rescued, that they may rejoice in a holy, elevating freedom.
V. THE TWOFOLD BLESSING HE WAS TO PROMISE.
1. Forgiveness of sins.
2. Sanctification - "that they may receive," etc. (ver. 18). Immediately on the exercise of faith they were to receive the abounding mercy of God, that "forgiveness which means not only the not holding them under condemnation, but also the positive reception of them into Divine favor, the admission of them to the Father's table, the reinstatement of them into all the privileges of sonship. And gradually they were to rise into a state of sanctification, leaving old and evil things behind, and reaching forth to that which is before; attaining to the stature of Christian manhood, becoming holy even as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16).
VI. THE ONE CONDITION ON WHICH HE MUST INSIST. By faith that is in me." Every blessing promised was and is to be attained by faith in Jesus Christ himself. Not the acceptance of a creed, nor admission to a Church, nor submission to a ceremony, but a living faith in a living Savior; the cordial acceptance of Jesus Christ himself as the Divine Savior, the rightful Lord, the all-sufficient Friend of the human heart. - C.
I. THE STATE OF THE WORLD WITHOUT CHRIST.
1. Darkness. Intellectual. Moral. No exceptions. The light of the Greek and Roman worlds turned by sin into grosser darkness. Superstition.
2. The rule of evil spirits. The power possessed by false teachers. The dominion of the senses. The reign of fear.
3. The condemnation of Divine righteousness. Impossibility that such ignorance should remain. The visitations of judgment. Awful calamities of the ancient world, the working out of sin.
II. THE DISPENSATION OF MERCY.
1. The preparation of light through the ages revealing the Divine purpose.
2. The advent of Jesus Christ and the lifting up of the light into the heavens.
3. The mission of the gospel through its preachers, so different from anything seen in the heathen world. "How shall they hear without a preacher?"
4. The fulfillment of the mission from age to age, add its prospects of speedy accomplishment. They are turning to the light, and all the world shall see the salvation. - R.
I. TO RESTORE A FACULTY. Whatever things men see, who see not Christ, Divine truth, the deep needs and grand opportunities of their own souls, they see the unimportant instead of the all-important. This is not to have the eye open, but shut.
II. TO TURN RESTORED VISION FROM THE DREAD VANITY OF DARKNESS TO ALL THE WEALTH OF LIGHT AND OF WHAT LIGHT CAN SHOW. The power Jesus gives he satisfies. The craving he implants he provides for. The hope he awakens he will not deceive. The eye he opens shall not wander and grope and bemoan darkness, dimness, vague mist, but field after field of higher light and Diviner prospect shall feed its rejoicing sense.
III. To RESCUE MEN FROM A FIERCE, LONG, CONFESSED THRALDOM AND STARTLE THEM WITH RENEWED TITLE OF SONS OF GOD, INSTEAD OF SLAVES OF SATAN.
IV. To GIVE THEM THE HEALING, COMFORTING, ASSURING PRESENT GIFT OF PARDON OF THE FAST. Of what a fearful load will this at once relieve them! How dreadful the outlook still is made, whatever it might be, if it is haunted by the visions of the past, nay, far more, overtaken by the dead hand of the past, and stricken down in every attempt of its own hand, because of the overwhelming arrears due! That which might be the brightest future is dashed by memories only sometimes, but much more by memories that come barbed with sternest actual pains and with demands that cannot be satisfied.
V. TO FIND THEM A PLACE AMONG A PEOPLE TRAINED BY A NEW, A SPECIAL, A HIGHEST KIND OF TRAINING. The place is found beyond a doubt here, as truly as there can be, as there is a "heaven on earth." In its perfection it is to be found, when years upon years have rolled; ever till then, holding out the thought of home, the haven of rest, the heart of perfect peace, the Church of ravishing worship, the unimaginable bliss of heaven, whatever that may be, and of God himself. How vast that contrast! What a change and growth from the first to this fifth stage! Now first our eye needs to be opened, then what will it be when each blessed one may say, "As for me, I behold thy face in righteousness; I am satisfied, awake, with thy likeness?" - B.
Acts 26:18Acts 26:18 (end).
Christ's own stress laid on faith in a personal object. And an inheritance among them that are sanctified, etc. The utterances of the ascended Savior to the man who was to be in a double sense the great first apostle of his religion to all the world cannot but be regarded by us as invested with the very fullest interest. The philosophy of religion is simple with Jesus; and he throws into clear prominence certain things, which may surely mark for us the prominence we should give them. Notice -
I. THE MANIFEST STRESS LAID ON FAITH IN THE PERSON CHRIST. "Faith, that which centers in me." So we may justly expound the words of Christ. Jesus speaks thus emphatically to protect against mysticism, defeat, deviation.
1. Faith in a living person can mean nothing short of general trust in him (unless particular qualification be expressed, e.g. faith in a person as a financier, etc.) and great trust in him, unless some qualification of measure be expressly stated, as is never done to Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ will include, therefore,
(1) trust in his teaching;
(2) trust in his example;
(3) trust in his loving, sympathetic guidance;
(4) trust in all that he says, in all that in his providence he does;
(5) trust in the worthiness of his service; as well as
(6) trust on the part of the soul's deepest demands for him, in his last "power to save."
2. The service or office of faith is here suggested. It is not remarked on here in its elevating influence on the individual character, and in its present points of superiority over sight for such a nature as ours. But it is instanced in its function as the link of connection, real, vital connection, between Christ and any man. It has, in itself, elevating as are the conception and the gradual training inherent in it, no sufficient, no sovereign, certainly no saving, efficacy. It is nothing that is to be depended upon, of and in itself. But it leads to One, unites to One, keeps an open communication with One, and clings mightily to the end unto One, who is to be depended on, with all the heart, and mind, and strength, and soul.
3. The great calm, peace, divinest content and foretaste of heaven's own happiness that are commanded by real trust should always be credited to faith in Christ. If these fail and when they fail, it is not that faith fails of its office, or that Christ fails of his goodness, but that men sever this golden link awhile, or let this golden conduit pitifully leak awhile.
II. THE PLACE GIVEN TO FAITH IN THE PERSONAL CHRIST IN RELATION TO SANCTIFICATION. It appears from this pronouncement of Jesus that "faith that is in him" is responsible for our sanctification. There is no limitation to the statement that sanctification depends on faith in Jesus.
1. It rises out of that faith or trust already spoken of. Without the real and living connection with Christ, there would be no entrance possible to the knowledge and the privileges which come with him.
2. It is fed the whole way along by the truth, the example, the guidance, the sympathizing love, of Jesus.
3. It avails to take away that surest foe of all to sanctification, trust in self, at one stroke, but a stroke that must be felt life's length.
4. Up to the very last, it is that simplest, purest, most depending trust of the soul on Jesus when it faces "the valley," and "the river," and "the shadow," and "the unknown," which completes, so far as we can trace it at all, the sanctification of man. If at that last moment the bond of faith should break, alas! all would break. But in that last moment, what reason we have to think that there is One who makes its strength equal to all the strain which by any possibility could be put upon it!
III. THE PLACE BELONGING TO FAITH IN THE PERSONAL CHRIST AS THE WAY TO "THE INHERITANCE." "The inheritance," it distinctly appears, is that of a prepared place for a prepared people. The preparation is one; it is that of sanctification attained by faith only. The way to "the inheritance," therefore, cannot be found, except by the paths of faith, the "faith that is in Christ." And the review of the whole would teach us that it were well-nigh impossible to summarize more forcibly and briefly in one the offices of "faith that is in Christ." His own is the emphasis here given to it. And he shows that it runs like a golden cord through the whole work of redemption. - B.
I. THAT TO THE YOUNG THERE COMMONLY OCCURS SOME VISION FROM HEAVEN. We do not expect the miraculous now. God may, and probably does, make known his will in ways that are outside and above the ordinary and the natural; but we have no right to reckon on these. He does come to us by the illuminating influences of his Holy Spirit, and he thus elevates the mind, awakens the soul, subdues the will, renews the nature, transforms the life. God visits us through various means, acts upon us by many instruments, wins us in different ways. The heavenly vision is sure to come during the days of youth, when the mind is more open and the heart more tender; "for of such is the kingdom of God."
1. It may take the form of a vision of Jesus Christ - his excellency and claims. The young heart may see him, as it had never before, as One who is infinitely worthy of trust, of love, of service, of submission.
2. Or it may take the form of a vision of human life - its seriousness and responsibility. The mind may awake to this great fact: having regarded human life as nothing better than a thing to be enjoyed, or as an opportunity for making money, or gaining a brief reputation, or attaining to some social position, it comes to see, in the light of God's revealing truth, that it may be something immeasurably more and higher - that it may be made a sacred opportunity of spiritual culture, of holy usefulness, and of Divine service.
3. Or it may take the form of a vision of the human soul - its greatness and value. It may suddenly become conscious of the fact that God has created us for himself, that we may possess his likeness, live his life, and share his immortality; that within the humblest human frame resides a spirit whose worth the wealth of a planet will not weigh.
II. THAT THEN COMES THE TIME FOR THE GREAT DECISION. There are other occasions in the course of human life when a decisive choice is made; when it is resolved what vocation shall be pursued, what life-companion taken, what country adopted for a home, etc.; but there is no occasion which compares with this in sacred interest, in lasting issues. It may be even said that "on this winged hour eternity is hung." Obedience or disobedience to the heavenly vision makes all the difference between success and failure, between peace and unrest of soul, between life and death. Obedience means
(1) becoming right with God;
(2) spending a life in accordance with his will and in harmony with our true and deeper cravings;
(3) a title to everlasting joy in the future. Disobedience means the sad and dark opposites of these:
(1) remaining under God's displeasure;
(2) living a life at variance with his purpose and the true end of man;
(3) rejecting the offer of eternal life. - C.
I. WHAT IT IS WHICH PAUL HERE TERMS A "HEAVENLY VISION." The charm of words often beguiles, sometimes misleads, and, like distance, lends enchantment to the view. A heavenly vision - must not every one covet it? Certainly every one would not covet this of Paul's. A "heavenly vision," if given, must it not be irresistible? Will it not be made of fairy forms, of rainbow colors, of angel movements, of seraphs music? Poetry and dream, imagination and the refinedness of inspiration, - these will be the material and make of it. But, no, it is not so; it was not so now. A heavenly vision may be as practical, of matter as hard, of manner as unceremonious and unwelcome, as the most ordinary reality of our everyday vexed and harassed life. In this, every one of us finds occasionally the hard knocks of hard facts, and so we may in a heavenly vision. And this was the kind of which Paul here speaks. The light was bright, but not with fancy's brightness, but with blinding effect. For the rest, judge in one moment the characteristics of the heavenly vision that, beginning with blinding, goes on by giving the strong rider a heavy fall to the earth. No dreamy whisperings succeed, nor strains seraphic, but summons short and sharp, with his name twice repeated. The remonstrant and upbraiding questions succeed, and fear and trembling and unknown astonishment are the result. This sort of vision, whatever it may he called, is, according to our general thought, not so much of heavenly as of earthly things. Yet these were the facts of Paul's vision, and equally fact is it that he terms it heavenly. And here is our lesson, that the warnings from heaven, and the persuasions that come from heaven, and the instructions that date from heaven, may, while we stay here, savor and have to savor much of the material and the methods of earth, so far as regards the instruments of them. The heavenly vision shall best justify its name often for you, when it apprizes you experimentally, not of the delicious sensations of angels, but of the fear and trembling and anguished amazement that pertain to sinful hearts and injured consciences. Paul was right; for his vision did come from heaven, and it pointed up to heaven, and it led him back with it to heaven, and an innumerable host of others also. Hard fare brought the prodigal back to himself and home to his father; and it was so with Paul, severe and unceremonious handling brought Paul to himself and his Savior and his life-work; and it may be so with us, that hard blows and smarting wounds and crowding cares may be the appointed means of calling us to ourselves, our God, and our home. So also when these come to me, even me, me myself, is it not the equivalent of the name named, and sharply named twice, "Saul, Saul"? We often individually doubt our mercies, and fail to give God praise for them; seldom do we fail to cry out individually because of our pains, or to murmur at God because of them.
II. How PAUL SAYS HE TREATED IT. The treatment which Paul returned for his most merciful, but so to call it rough, usage in this heavenly vision, was prompt attention, practical obedience. The kindest, gentlest providences you may so abuse that they turn into bitter, hard experiences, and memories of pain and shame. The hardest, sternest providences may be so accepted, so treated, that they become transmuted into the brightest spots of memory, the happiest realities of a painful life, and the undoubted points of departure for a new and holier life. Of what seem the unlikeliest materials, it is possible to secure heavenly advantage - by obedience to the convictions, the thoughts, the suggestions that come of the pain and darkness and fearful care that were enrapt in them. For what reason, however, does Paul say, "I was 'not disobedient,'" instead of "I was obedient"?
1. Perhaps he chooses his expression of real, deep modesty before God. "Disobedient," he thought to himself, "I will no longer be," and that thought lingered still with him, though, as to being fully and adequately obedient," who is sufficient for it?" The twenty-seven years that have now sped away have just done this for him, made him feel that to be perfectly obedient will need an energy and an unfalteringness never seen below the sun, except in the one Lord and Master himself.
2. Or was the mode of Paul's language rather due to the thought, perhaps all but unconsciously felt, that disobedience was the broad road and wide gate, whereat the many go in, the million to one and he had been long of the number? But Paul would say, "Being 'by the grace of God what I am,' I would no longer be disobedient, nor 'walk in their counsel.' Use we then our providences, though dark and stern, and let us not be unfaithful to their suggestions. It will be a great step towards baulking the fruitfulness of evil, and towards producing an abundant fruitfulness of good. To be not disobedient may soon usher in the ambition and the joys of a real and hearty obedience. The word may tremble on human lip, to say, "I have been obedient," but with a good conscience before man and God, Paul prefers to say, "I was not disobedient." - B.
I. A DEVOTED LIFE.
1. He began at the earliest possible time to carry out the Master's will - "showed first unto them of Damascus" (ver. 20).
2. He labored in the most difficult and dangerous sphere - "and at Jerusalem."
3. He went wherever the guiding finger pointed - "throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles."
4. He was not afraid of those who were high not disregardful of those who were low "witnessing both to small and great" (ver. 22).
5. He preached everywhere unpalatable but indispensable truth - " that they should repent... and do works meet for repentance" (ver. 20).
6. He was undeterred by any obstacles from continuing in his career - "I continue unto this day" (ver. 22). We are not all charged by our Master to do the kind of work for which Paul was his "chosen vessel;" but we are all called upon to devote our powers to his holy service, our lives to his praise and glory; and it behooves us, as it became him, to begin early, to accept whatever duty the Lord may lay upon us, to shrink from no service because it seems uninviting or perilous to be thorough in all we do for him, and to persist through good and evil report even to the end, until he shall take the weapon from out' hand.
II. THE PENALTY OF DEVOTEDNESS. "For these causes the Jews caught me," etc. (ver. 21). Paul's faithful and fearless devotedness to the wilt and the carnie of Jesus Christ led him into the utmost danger, and caused him the severest losses and trials. The less of consecration the less of persecution; the more of the one the more of the other. So, in some degree, now. "Yea, and all that wilt live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). All are not expected to face the same trials. The apostle had his own difficulties to surmount and dangers to front. The missionary has his; the minister has his; the reformer has his. The Christian man in everyday life has his own penalties of devotedness to pay. Enthusiastic zeal, perfect purity, unswerving truthfulness, incorruptible fidelity, - these qualities, and such as these, cannot be continually manifested without calling out and calling down the hostility, condemnation, and opposition of the world. If we take not up the cross thus and follow Christ, we are "not worthy of him."
III. Two SOURCES OF STRENGTH.
1. The help to be had of God: "having obtained help of God" (ver. 22). Christ appeared to him at Jerusalem, at Troas, at Corinth, and sustained him by special visitations. All along his path he had the upholding hand of the Almighty about him.
2. Consciousness of integrity. There was no ground for this hatred of him, this relentless persecution. He was not really the renegade his enemies took him for. His conduct could be fully justified by their own authorities; he had been saying "none other things than these," etc. (vers. 22, 23). He had a conscience void of offence toward man as well as toward God; he was as guiltless before his own countrymen as he was before Caesar. Here we have two sources of strength under those persecutions which are the inevitable outcome of our fidelity. Divine sustenance - the guidance of the heavenly Father, the watchful care of the Divine Savior, the comfort of the Holy Ghost. Consciousness of rectitude - the feeling that we are saying and doing "none other things" than the Word of God will justify, and than those who abuse and injure us would themselves approve if they would only judge us with open and impartial mind. - C.
must preach -
1. Conviction of sin.
2. Deep sorrow for sin.
3. Confession of sin.
II. THE CONDITION - THAT MAN "TURN TO GOD." There is, no doubt, a crisis in the inner life, in the very man himself, called fitly the turning to God. Let it be produced as it may; let it be concealed or manifest as it may; let it be short and sharp and very defined to day and hour, or the reverse; yet this is a fact in the moral spiritual history of one called by Christ and obeying that call. So much so that the call itself shall in part be worded thus: "Turn;" "Turn to God;" "Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die?" The reversal of the old life, old character, old principle of action, cannot be more plainly asserted as a necessity.
III. THE NECESSITY - OF PRACTICAL HOLINESS OF LIFE. Christ will not allow profession, will not accept mysticism, does not acknowledge vague dreaming, nor admit the idler. Change from the old, honest departure from the past, reality of a new future, are his watchwords. - B.
I. THE HIGHER VIEW OF LIFE.
1. A mission, a testimony.
2. A co-operation with the Divine work, running parallel with the line of infinite wisdom and righteousness.
3. A gracious fruit of heavenly bestowment. "Help from God."
4. A life lived by prayer, linked on to the throne of grace.
II. AN ENCOURAGING AND STIMULATING EXAMPLE. The profitable use which should be made of biography. The lessons of Paul's life. Divine strength made perfect in human weakness, Teaching us:
1. To follow the Spirit.
2. To depend upon the Divine control of circumstances and of the oppositions of men.
3. To maintain confidence and courage by laying hold of a great future.
4. To be bold in speaking for Christ, especially when we can say, as Paul could, that he "said nothing but what the prophets and Moses said." The sure ground is the written Word. To preach ourselves is to obtain no help from God; to magnify his Word is to ensure his blessing and be sustained to the end. - R.
Leader and Commander" and Protector. But he makes a good confession indeed, one, if true - and none deny its truth - most worthy of imitation, of all and every one who would in any measure be a follower in his work. He claims justly, and not boastfully, but for manifestly other reason, that he has maintained -
I. A PERSEVERING WITNESS.
II. AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS.
III. AN UNCHANGING CONSISTENT SCRIPTURAL WITNESS. Paul wishes to lay stress on this, that he had been to "the Law and the testimony and the prophets;" and had been true to them; had not gone beside nor beyond them, and had not fallen short of them, as his people and opponents were, in fact, guilty of doing.
IV. A STRONG WITNESS TO FOUR THINGS IN ESPECIAL. These were the four grand truths imbedded in the Law, enshrined in the testimony, and many a time bursting out like hope's own light from the prophets. These were
(1) the death,
(2) the resurrection, of Christ;
(3) the "great Light" he would be to "his people,"
(4) to all the world.
V. A WITNESS MARVELLOUSLY OWNED BY THE "HELP OF GOD." In a lower sense, no doubt, but in a very true sense, Paul had done and suffered the things that none other could, "save God were with him." - B.
Acts 13:16-41), and from his Epistles. Further illustration of the method, as peculiar to the apostles and Christian teachers, may be found in St. Peter's speech at Pentecost, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. In our text Moses is mentioned with the prophets, because there were some who placed the Pentateuch in a higher rank than the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures. St. Paul gives the leading points of his preaching, and affirms, what he would be prepared quite fully to illustrate and to prove, that these points are not really new, but have been all foreshadowed and declared by Jehovah's prophets. He takes three topics.
1. Messiah was to suffer.
2. Messiah was to rise from the dead.
3. Messiah was to be the Light of life to both Jew and Gentile.
I. MESSIAH WAS TO SUFFER, or should be capable of suffering. "The great body of the Jews had fixed their thoughts only on the prophetic visions of the glories of the Messiah's kingdom. Even the disciples of Jesus were slow to receive any other thought than that of conquest and triumph. It was not until they were led, after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, into our Lord's own school of prophetic interpretation, and l aught to recognize the under-current of types and prophecies that pointed to a righteous Sufferer as well as to a righteous King, that they were able to receive the truth." Show
(1) the prophetic figure of a suffering Messiah from Psalm 22. and Isaiah lilt., with references to passages in Jeremiah and Lamentations; and
(2) point out how precisely the historical facts of our Lord's sufferings fit into the preparatory prophecy.
II. MESSIAH WAS TO RISE FROM THE DEAD. Illustrate the prophecies on this point from Psalm 16:10; Psalm 30:3; Psalm 41:10; Psalm 118:7; Hosea 6:2, etc. Show how the fact of his resurrection answers to the prophecy. Aid may be found in St. Peter's speeches recorded in Acts 2. and 3.
III. MESSIAH WAS TO BE THE LIGHT OF LIFE TO BOTH JEW AND GENTILE. This had been one of St. Paul's strongest points, and he had abundant Old Testament references to show that Messiah's mission was not limited to Jews. Refer in illustration to Psalm 45.; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 42:1, etc. Show that the apostle could direct attention to the fact that God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles by the vision given to St. Peter at Joppa, and the admission of Cornelius to the Church. He could also plead that in the Gentile cities God had attended the preaching of his gospel with the power of the Holy Ghost, and Churches among the Gentiles had been founded on the faith of Christ. So prophecy had been fulfilled; it was satisfied in Jesus of Nazareth, who suffered for our sins, rose again for our justification, and is preached in all the world as the all-sufficient Savior. - R.T.
I. THE BLINDNESS OF SIN. (Ver. 24.) It makes mistakes of the greatest magnitude; it looks at the wisdom of God and mistakes it for madness. So it judged incarnate wisdom (John 10:30). So we are to expect it will judge us; for "the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man" (1 Corinthians 2:14), whether he be Greek (1 Corinthians 1:23) or Roman (text). That the whole Gentile world should be redeemed from sin and led by repentance into the kingdom of God by means of a suffering Savior - this, which is the wisdom of God, deep and Divine, seemed to the proud man of the world nothing better than insanity itself. Enlightened by his Spirit, we detect in this the very essence of Divine wisdom. If the eternal Father, looking down upon us, sees his own wise procedure mistaken for and spoken of as madness, may we not be content that our human schemes and plans should sometimes receive the faint approval, or even the direct condemnation, of our fellows?
II. THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE UNDER ATTACK. Paul was not abashed by the sudden outbreak of Festus, nor did he give way to unsuitable and injudicious resentment. He replied with calmness and dignity to the insulting charge of his Roman judge (ver. 25). When assailed in this way - when charged with folly, error, fanaticism, or even madness - the best thing we can do is to bear ourselves calmly, retaining mental and moral equability. This is the best way to disprove the allegations that are made.
(1) First let us be well assured of our position, not taking our ground until we have made all necessary inquiries and have every possible guarantee that we are on the side of "truth and soberness;" and then
(2) let us refuse to be disconcerted by abuse, oppose quiet dignity to angry crimination, and show a conscious rectitude which is far superior to violence, whether of word or deed.
III. THE CHRISTIAN'S DESIRE FOR ALL WHOM HE CAN REACH. Paul turned appealingly from Festus to Agrippa. Some points in common there must be, he felt, between himself and his royal countryman (vers. 26, 27). The king put off the prisoner with a courtly sarcasm (ver. 28); but the apostle was not thus to be silenced. In noble language and with touching allusion to the fetters he wore, he expressed the earnest wish that, whether with ease or with difficulty, not only the king himself, but all who heard him, might be "such as he was." A pure and passionate desire filled his soul that all whom he could anywise affect might be elevated and blessed by that ennobling truth which the risen Savior had revealed to him. This holy earnestness of his may remind us:
1. That the truth of the gospel is that which can be indefinitely extended without making any man the poorer. If a man divides his gold among the poor, be loses it himself, but he who imparts heavenly wisdom, Christian influence, gains as he gives.
2. That it is the tendency of Christian truth to make its possessor desire to extend it. The contemplation of a God of love, the study of the life and spirit of the self-sacrificing Savior, the purity of the joy which it inspires in the human heart, - these are fitted to produce in the soul a holy yearning to extend to others the blessedness we enjoy.
3. That it becomes us to put forth all our talents to diffuse the knowledge and to spread the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The thought of millions of souls starving that might feed on the bread of life should animate us with keen desire and scud us with elastic step in the path of deliverance and of life. - C.
grouping of its contents. And the three members that make the group are worthy each of individual consideration as well. But here we notice only certain great though general facts.
I. THE ENERGY OF TRUTH. It will not let Festus remain silent in the court. Immediately afterwards it shows that Agrippa cannot persuade himself to hold his peace before the pilsner and the court. And lastly, it finds them something to say "between themselves," in private, and that something was certainly a witness to the right.
II. THE SUCCESS OF THE ENERGY OF TRUTH IN VERY VARIOUS CHARACTERS. Festus and Agrippa were as different in race, religion, character, as perhaps could be. But while the force of truth makes them both find an utterance when it had been wiser for them bad they kept silence, yet how amazingly different those utterances were! Festus taxes Paul with madness. Agrippa, whether utterly serious or not, bears testimony to the influence he feels from what Paul says, in its persuasiveness. Neither of them refuse, even though the case is involved in all possible publicity, to leave the last word with Paul. He does, as it were, hold the field, and in a very real sense finds himself left, not only in his own heart, but in the "pomp" of that open court, master of the field.
III. THE REVENGE THAT THE ENERGY OF TRUTH TAKES. When open honor is not done spontaneously to it, its victory not proclaimed, and its rights smothered, how superficially soever, it secures its own in a yet more emphatic way. It secures a place indelible for itself, and on a page that shall endure to all time; and it owes nothing to human favor, no thanks to human patronage, no atom of indebtedness to any lifting hand of the great, the wise, the mighty, the proud. Never mind all the suppression of these, it transpires, and it gets all it needs from the very rehearsal of how they suppressed (vers. 30-32). - B.
phenomena presented by Festus when, in struggling to insult the truth, he strengthens the body of testimony to it, are to be noticed. They are simply as follows: -
I. FESTUS CANNOT DENY THE SIGNS OF LEARNING IN ITS ADVOCATE. HOW many a time gospel truth has been decried because of the signs of ignorance in its advocates! The enemies of the gospel of almost all kinds love learning, would appraise it highly, and times without number have professed that this is their desideratum. But now it is all the contrary.
II. FESTUS NOTES OBSERVANTLY THE SIGNS OF A FULL, DEEP ENTHUSIASM IN THE ADVOCATE OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL.
III. FESTUS FINDS HIMSELF UTTERLY OUT OF SYMPATHY WITH SUCH SIGNS,
IV. FESTUS MUST FIND SOMETHING TO SAY AND FIT TO BE SAID FROM THE SEAT OF AUTHORITY.
V. IN HIS DIFFICULTY FESTUS IS BETRAYED INTO THE HUGEST ERROR.
VI. THE "LOUD VOICE" OF FESTUS DIES OUT, AND GIVES PLACE TO FIRM THOUGH RESPECTFUL CONTRADICTION OF THE PRISONER. The theory of the "madness" of Paul - not a whisper is heard of it again. - B.
I. DECIDED CHRISTIANITY is the only true position. "To be a Christian" is to be fully persuaded.
1. Decided faith. Not belief about truth, but persuasion that Jesus is our Savior.
2. Essential change. "To be" that which we were not before. Not a mere change of external position towards Christianity, but the surrender of the whole self to the Law of Christ.
3. Public profession. The name" Christian" distinguished the man from others. It was assumed as a pledge of fellowship and united action. The Church is the voice of Christ, his living representative and witness. We must identify ourselves with his body, by being grafted as members into it.
II. CHRISTIANITY APPEALS TO THOSE WHO ARE OPEN TO PERSUASION.
1. It is possible to be unpersuaded, because inwardly resisting truth, because self-deceived, because demanding that which is not reasonable, as the hardened skeptic, the trifler with opportunity, the proud intellect, the light-minded and pleasure-loving.
2. The commonest and yet most responsible of all positions is that which, like Agrippa's, is near persuasion, yet distinctly waiving off the appeal. It is an awful spiritual danger to turn away from an open door.
3. It is better to be persuaded by the gracious appeal than compelled to acknowledge the truth by the overwhelming evidence of judgment. Paul's position before Agrippa a prediction of the future trial of all men, when they shall be manifestly brought into the presence of those who have been persuaded, and the unreasonableness and guilt of their unbelief will be shown forth in contrast with the simple faith and loving obedience of those who shall be honored with Christ's name and glory upon them. The obstacle to full persuasion should be sought within. There is little more required. Neither the truth itself, nor its method of presentation, nor the circumstances of our life, nor the difficulties of our profession, are any excuse for our remaining unpersuaded. The reality behind the veil of external appearance in the court at Caesarea. Paul's good conscience, strength, hope, comfort, final victory, all should persuade us to be altogether such as he was then and is now. - R.
I. THE AMAZING ENERGY OF GOSPEL TRUTH AGAINST WONDERFULLY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES. Many of these obstacles are most easily imagined. But take this one, as typical of the rest, that from Agrippa, being who he was, where he was, and closely surrounded by the company in which he was, should be wrung, and yet without any appearance of its being wrung, such a confession! Supposing that the language of Agrippa does not mean to own to the experience of any deep emotion or of any powerful impression produced upon him, still that Agrippa can put these words, spiced with taunting, as they then were, upon his lips, was indicative of something very different from scouting and scorning (as Festus would have done) the most distant approach to the thought.
II. THE AMAZING ENERGY OF AN OPPOSING HUMAN NATURE. For the practical issue of all was that Agrippa remained himself. He did not come over to Paul or to Paul's Master. He did remain with Festus, himself and his sins both "secret" and "presumptuous."
III. THE POINT WHERE THIS HUMAN NATURE WON. Human and sinful nature won, either at the point of "almost " - that so well-known "almost" of conviction, inborn, but for all that still-born! - or at the point of a very trifling easy gibe made to do duty for the hour, nay, it was only the moment. Paul has just, undenied, claimed Agrippa, as versed both in Law and in fact. Agrippa cannot, does not, deny it. But that his knowledge may seem to make him look a little less small in the eyes of Festus and the court around, at what he cannot deny, he can indulge in a fling - the fling that of a man who says, "You'll find it no so easy matter to make me real, true, sincere, and ready to give in to what nevertheless I cannot deny." Paul must have thought now of the heart that is in man, "We are not ignorant of its devices."
IV. THE POSITION WHICH THE SINCERE ADVOCATE OF GOSPEL TRUTH HOLDS EVES WHEN MOST OPPRESSED. For the closing language of Paul - so pitying, so meek, so Savior-like, so yearning - was indeed a triumph of God's grace and of goodness in man. At the unlikeliest moment the lips of Paul breathe out what sounds like nothing else so much as a parting benediction, a forgiving prayer, an irresistible argument of most pathetic affection. He would pour oil on the troubled waters, he would reduce the storm to a Divine calm, he would cover up all a sinful, shameful, humiliating past with the love and forgivingness and hope that must in a moment overspread all the scene, if only Agrippa were such in the salvation of Jesus as he was, less his chains. Why, there was no comparison for one moment then between the real glory of Paul and the varnished brilliance of Agrippa. So God secures his own. So Jesus is mindful of his true servants. So the Spirit puts wisdom into the heart and words into the lips of those faithful to his inspiration. And the insulted prisoner dispenses reward and punishment to his judges. - B.
I. WHO AMONG US MAY WE THINK OF AS ONLY ALMOST CHRISTIANS?
1. The child of pious parents, surrounded by gracious influences, led to the house of God, the child of many prayers, growing up to manhood or womanhood, yet not wholly Christ's today.
2. The regular attendant at Christian services; often moved to tears, and, it may be, to some passing resolves; but emotions pass, decision is delayed, and they are only almost Christians yet.
3. There may even be aged people trembling down to life's close, who, having put off religious decision again and again, seem now unable to make the effort, and are in peril of dying only almost Christians.
4. There are parents who have converted children, but are themselves the old side of the border-laud, yet in "trespasses and sins."
5. There are those who have been aroused to religious anxiety, but whose experience, varying for years, has never yet risen to full surrender. Each of these classes may be described with precise adaptation to the congregation addressed.
II. WHAT REASONS CAN BE FOUND FOR SO MANY REMAINING ONLY ALMOST CHRISTIANS? In the case of Agrippa the message seemed novel and strange, and there seemed excuse for requiring time to think it over. In our case the message may seem old and familiar, and it may have lost its awakening and persuading power. Sometimes the hindrance is:
1. intellectual. It may be sonic perplexity or difficulty in relation to Christian doctrine. Or it may be the influence of the intellectual tone of the society in which a man mingles.
2. Or the hindrance may be lack of sufficient motive: especially an inadequate impression of the evil and peril of sin. To use a figure, the boat lies rocking just outside the harbor bar, and there is not wave enough to lift it over. Therefore must the true preacher find motive and persuasion, urging, in Christ's stead, "Be ye reconciled unto God."
3. But the chief hindrances are moral. It was Agrippa's self-indulgent and immoral life which really turned the shafts aside. The pride of self stands in our way. Decision for Christ involves surrender - a giving up of that "self-reliance" which is so dear to flesh and blood. Illustrate from the story of the young rich ruler; and recall our Lord's teachings about the "strait gate and the narrow way." This may be the reason why we are not "altogether" Christians. There is a cable holding under the water somewhere, and the ship cannot float out free into the ocean of God. Illustrate some cables. The last to yield is usually feeling; we wait for feeling, and, waiting, let the golden hours of opportunity slip by.
III. WHAT REALLY IS IT TO BE ONLY ALMOST PERSUADED? See it in the estimate we form of Agrippa's character. He is utterly weak and ignoble. We admire the confessor and the martyr; we scorn the hesitating and indecisive - such as Reuben, "unstable as water." The people at Athens very properly ordained that every one should be fined who would take neither side in politics. It is a condition which dishonors God more than open rebellion, because it assumes that there really are some considerations to be set against his claims, some reasons why we should not love and serve him. And such indecision effectually shuts us out from the benefits of the gospel provision. The "almost Christian" has
(1) no sense of pardoned sin;
(2) no joy of peace with God;
(3) no strength from the consciously present Savior;
(4) no title to the everlasting heritage.
Impress that in religious matters there really is no borderland. Illustrate by the story of the wreck of the Royal Charter. The fore part ledged on a rock, the back part, flapped by the waves, broke away and sank in deep water with all that were in it. Just at the moment of parting a young man stood on the hinder part, and made a leap for dear life. He was saved, for he could decide and act. Then plead, as St. Paul pleaded, that, whether by little persuasion or by much, men would end their state of indecision, and become altogether Christ's. - R.T.
I. OF THE SECRET ACQUITTAL OF MAN BY MEN.
1. The man is innocent: his judges know it; their inner judgment acquits him; their very lips acquit him, but only "between themselves." They say it not to the innocent accused, not to the accusers, not to the world. Their real verdict transpires - God takes care of that - but it is no thanks to them, and it is not the good it should be to him, the victim of their injustice, who was given to them that they might do justice. This is one sort of secret acquittal.
2. The man is guilty: his judges know it; their deepest judgment finds him guilty; their lips pronounce it "between themselves." And circumstances are such that they pronounce their verdict of guilty before man also. Yet for all that, the secret thought of their heart is that they will acquit, and their covered deed is acquittal. They mete not out equal justice. Their weights and balances are not fair and just. They condone and countenance - the criminal. And this is another sort of secret acquittal, as mischievous and disastrous as any can be. For such as these nothing can be said except the words of rebuke, of unsparing condemnation, of well-visited scorn.
II. OF THE SECRET ACQUITTAL OF A TRUE MAN'S OWN CONSCIENCE. The brightest pages of history are written with instances of this kind of secret acquittal. From Joseph - and, were all the truth known, from a much earlier than Joseph - to the perfect, the sublime, the spotless innocence of Jesus, and again with fresh impulse onward by Stephen, and Paul, and Peter, and John, and the martyrs, and an unnumbered host, of whom the world was not worthy! - the record Of such acquittal is safely written. What a wonderful resource an innocent conscience! What a store of peace it means! What a defense against misery, anguish, remorse, and hell on earth! It is already the bud of Heaven's unspeakable bliss.
III. OF THE SECRET ACQUITTAL OF GOD'S OWN VERDICT, At present, God's verdict is often veiled from view, silent for the ear as the star that shines the most distant and the coldest - and all the scene seems filled up with sight and sound of human judgment. Yet two things are to be said.
1. That the man who thinks knows that this is only the surface appearance; that a time far otherwise conditioned hastens to meet this present scene, and prepares a strange reversal.
2. That to the heart of the humble, God-fearing man, there is given the individual and most precious earnest of Divine approval and complacency and love many a time. That peace which the world cannot give God's secret acquittal does give, and it is the sort of peace that both "sheds itself abroad" with all the swiftness and persuasiveness of fragrance itself, and preserves the sacred secret of its sweetness. Whatever else Paul had or had not, he had three acquittals, and they were all for the present secret - the acquittal of the unjust judges, and this was no usual honor; of his own conscience; and of the holy Master and God. - B.