Acts 23:1
Those first words of Paul's defense, which so greatly excited and angered the high priest, are capable of being taken in more senses than one. We may regard them in -

I. THE SENSE IN WHICH THEY MUST BE FALSE. It is certain that Paul did not intend to say that he had never been conscious of defect and guilt in his relation to God. The time had been when he might have said so. As a scrupulous Pharisee, who was, "touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless," he would consider himself without any reason for remorse. But "what things were gain to him," those he "counted loss for Christ" (Philippians 3:7). He had come to the conclusion that the "way of peace" was not by faultlessness, but by forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ; he had sought and found" the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9). And there is no living man who can look back upon all that he has said and done, and look in on all that he has been, and declare that he is conscious of no defect and no guiltiness before God, - except, indeed, he is one whom sin has blinded, and who does not know how "poor, and blind, and naked" he is, in the sight of absolute purity. Comparing our conduct and examining our hearts in the light of God's" exceeding broad commandment," we are all included under sin. We have all to acknowledge much in the matter of positive transgression, and far more in that of unfulfilled obligation.

II. THE SENSE IN WHICH THIS MAY BE TRUE OF US ALL. It was true of Paul in this respect, that from the beginning of his Jewish course up to the time when he became a Christian, he had acted in accordance with his convictions; that his change of view was purely conscientious; and that from the beginning of his Christian career till that day he had steadfastly pursued the path in which God had directed him to walk. Every Christian man ought to be able to affirm this of himself, having regard to his entire Christian course. This conscious spiritual integrity:

1. Includes a sense of continued reconciliation and fellowship with God.

2. Includes unbroken uprightness of conduct, freedom from presumptuous and scandalous sin, and general conformity to the will of God in all the relations of life.

3. Admits of many failures and infirmities, which are acknowledged and resisted.

4. Results from that gracious influence from heaven which attends the waiting upon God (Isaiah 1:2, 3; Isaiah 40:31).

III. THE FULLEST SENSE IN WHICH THEY CAN BE TRUE OF ANY ONE. Paul may have been able to use these words of every period of his life; but they can only be applied to the earlier part with a reservation. He could only feel that he had been honestly and earnestly pursuing a mistaken course during those years. Happy are they who, when the end arrives, are able to look back on a whole life devoted to truth, to heavenly wisdom, to holy usefulness; who, from childhood to old age, have spent their powers in the service of Christ. These have not to set off one part of their career against another part, but can rejoice to feel that, from the beginning "until this day," they have, in the fullest sense, "lived in all good conscience before God." Here is an argument

(1) for beginning at the earliest point;

(2) for continuing through the special temptations of mid-life;

(3) for persisting through the infirmities of later years, in the beauty of a holy Christian life, in the excellency of earnest work. - C.







And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren.
1. The history of apostolic missions is finished; but before the parchment is rolled up, the line of one life is carried a few stages farther that we may see the promise fulfilled, "Lo, I am with you alway," etc. We learn here how the Lord reigneth; how He makes effectual the command, "Touch not Mine anointed." When we see the waves rising, we cry like Peter as if all was lost. Here the Lord, in mingled reproof and encouragement, would seem to say, "Oh, thou of little faith," etc.

2. The Sanhedrin had assembled, and Paul, led in, eyed the assembly. If there be courage in the heart it finds an expressive outlet by the eye. Cowards cannot stand a brave man's look, nor lions. In Paul's case a good conscience and a strong faith added power to his look.

3. Paul did not wait till a charge was preferred, for he was not on his trial. He is sent by the Roman authorities in order that his case may be investigated by experts for the guidance of the governor. So Paul was the first to speak.

4. The apostle had an intelligent object in view when he said, "Brother men." He saw those who had been his fellow students, and even juniors, and had done nothing to forfeit his position as their colleague.

I. THE HIGH PRIEST INSULTING PAUL.

1. As soon as Paul had begun to speak Ananias abruptly ordered the officers to smite him on the mouth, which reveals the extreme corruption and degradation of Jewish society. The chief magistrate perpetuates an act of ruffianism from his bench. In rejecting the Messiah the hierarchy were given over to a reprobate mind.

2. We have here a general law. When a sinner accepts Christ there is an immediate elevation of the moral sense. He becomes a new creature. But the converse holds good. When Christ comes near to any mind and is rejected the last state of the rejecter is worse than the first. Those who waste privileges and quench convictions sink lower than those who never enjoyed them.

II. PAUL ANSWERING THE HIGH PRIEST. The pungency of the apostle's reproof needs no other justification than the one he gave. Luther was wont to launch such thunderbolts, and great and earnest men in all ages have brought their unjust judges suddenly to the bar. Ananias seems to have been struck dumb, and some courtiers or aspirants for favour endeavoured to shield their astonished patron by flinging his official dignity over the ermined culprit whose conduct they dare not excuse. For Paul there is no need for apology. He had cause to be angry, and in his apology made clear an important distinction between the office and the man. He respects the priesthood while he denounces the criminal.

(W. Arnot, D. D.)

1. The scene is shifted from a torture chamber to a court of justice, from heathens to Hebrews, from soldiers to ecclesiastics, from Roman tyrants to the missionary's schoolmates and countrymen; but the change only subjects him to ruder insults and more deadly perils.

2. Bad men's impatience of real goodness is not uncommon. The prisoner looked straight into the faces of these councillors. If they had expected a criminal's frightened, wandering eye, they were disappointed. With the swiftness of memory, and possibly for a moment with its tenderness too, some of them thought, "Why, this is the same Saul we used to know." Then the man "before the council," as they might have anticipated, without exordium and with easy self-possession, assured them that since he had met them he had "lived in all good conscience before God." Instantly, the gentle offices of memory ceased. The present arose. "Smite him on the mouth," was the high priest's command. To this mad bull Paul's "good conscience" was the red rag. Just so was it that David's innocence wrought upon King Saul, the quietness of the Prince of Orange upon Alva, and Jesus upon this very Sanhedrin.

3. Yet in such antagonism goodness proves its power. Meekness is quite consistent with self-respect. The exposure of a sham is benevolent and just. To resent and defeat a wrong often becomes the plainest duty. Paul did his duty here. The judge is silenced by the prisoner, and during the approaching "Jewish war" he is murdered by assassins — God smites the "whited wall."

4. But Paul will not have it supposed that in mere anger he had been betrayed into disrespect toward "God's high priest." "I wist not that he was high priest," said he composedly, Further effort in behalf of the high priest nobody attempts. In the swift hours which make history such rubbish as Ananias is soon put out of the way.

5. Then one learns how a man with a "good conscience" may be served by his wits. Paul's had not been wasted by disuse, dulled by self-indulgence, nor worn out by his sufferings. The irony which he had just used so effectively against Ananias becomes almost mirthful in its shrewdness, as he now disposes of the other councillors. Well Paul knew how cordial were the contentions of two chief parties in Jerusalem. "Of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question," cried Paul. Then followed the conflagration. How comical it must have seemed as these high councillors flew at one another! For more than half the court what a meritorious person had the accused suddenly become! Especially would Paul appreciate "the scribes which were of the Pharisees' part." To one so familiar with the rapacity and heartlessness of their partisanship, whose own strategy had accomplished this marvellous change of front, the lofty air, the love of truth, the conscientiousness, the fear of fighting "against God," must have been ludicrous. Nor is the solemnity of the scene enhanced by the sudden reappearance of Lysias and his soldiers. Shall the rulers of the people of God be set to rights by the worshippers of Mars?

6. As, however, the earnest missionary goes back to the castle, his smiles would quickly fade at the sad contrast between this fanaticism and religion. Zealots are not always saints. The high priest and Pharisees and Sadducees were capable of dying for their shibboleth. And, though our bigotry be of a milder sort, we need Hot despise a warning. The best time to kill thistles is when they are sprouting. We furnish a climate for them as well as Jews, but it is but poor soil in which Calvinism or Episcopacy or Arminianism thrives more than godliness. How does charity thrive? There is the question for all sects and for all ages.

7. But there are times when moralising must wait. Life's problems and contests are too vast; our weakness yields under them. What we require is not authority, but tenderness. Such an hour had arrived for this weary missionary. Yesterday and today bad been even full of perils and excitements. The man is too weary to sleep. Who is there to comfort him? Not unaccustomed was Paul to have the fairest visions on the darkest roads. The dungeon at Philippi had become to him a throne of glory. Expelled from the Corinthian synagogue the Lord draws near to him there. And the same vision that was to strengthen him on his way to Rome comforts him now: "The Lord stood by him and said, Be of good cheer, Paul." And we may suppose that he who had been too weary to sleep was now too happy to sleep.Conclusion:

1. We think of the preciousness of a good man. We have bad here the usual variety of men — a pretentious hypocrite, his furious associates, an average heathen captain, his stupid soldiery, and besides these one man who "lived in all good conscience before God." It is easy to see who is Master, and He rules our hearts today.

2. Yet the good man is among enemies. He did not imagine that to be on the right side is to be on the easy side.

3. But the good man among enemies has God's care and love.

(H. A. Edson, D. D.)

It was a scene of strange contrasts and apparently unequal conflict — one man, face to face with the representative body of a whole people, hot for merciless judgment. And yet he does not seem to be disconcerted. He rises to the occasion, and, "looking steadfastly on the council," begins his defence.

I. PAUL SPOKE OUT OF AN HONEST CONVICTION.

1. "I have lived before God in all good conscience." The apostle refers not so much to character as to purpose. The "chief of sinners," as he calls himself, would hardly make boast of his faultlessness; he simply asserts that he is actuated by a supreme desire to do right in the sight of God. It is true he has broken with the religion of his fathers, but he is not a fanatical extremist and destructive. His only anxiety is to honour God.

2. Hearty conviction is ever a prerequisite of power. It is not the truth which we touch with our fingertips, but the truth which we grasp firmly, that is made "mighty through God." Mere speculation or half faith are worth little. The men of mark in history have been men of strong convictions. Napoleon devoutly believed in what he called his "star," and his faith in it made him the great soldier of Europe. More especially is it true that, in advancing the gospel, its defenders need definite convictions

II. PAUL FRANKLY ADMITTED HIS ERRORS OF JUDGMENT.

1. The apostle had spoken without knowing whom he addressed, and he was in haste to state that his fault was one of ignorance, and not of intent. He stood for truth, and had no wish for anything but legitimate methods of defence.

2. It is never judicious for the advocates of truth to assume that they are infallible, and their opponents always wrong. In the conflict between science and revelation, and between Church and Church, assumption on the one side and the other is altogether too prominent. The true spirit of teachableness is always ready to admit its fallibility.

III. PAUL MADE USE OF THE THINGS IN WHICH HE AND HIS HEARERS WERE AGREED, TO LEAD THEM TO CONSIDER THE THINGS IN WHICH THEY DISAGREED.

1. It was a shrewd stroke, but it was not the trick of a demagogue. It was in the line of Paul's uniform policy. To the Jew he became as a Jew. His business was to win men to Christ, and any expedient that helped to that end was legitimate. Especially was it fitting that he should enlist the sympathy of some of his hearers by assuring them that, in common with them, he had faith in immortality, and that the doctrine he taught was vitally related to that grandest of truths.

2. There is instruction here for those who endeavour to induce men to accept the gospel. How can we best get a leverage upon men? Certainly not by assault, but by advancing from the admitted to the unknown. Christian believers and the irreligious world hold some truths in common — the existence of God, the fact of sin, the need of pardon, the endless hereafter; and the efficient Christian worker puts himself on a level with the mass, owns a common frailty, emphasises common needs, and shows the way to a common salvation. To lead men, not to drive them into the kingdom — is the ideal of Christian work.

(E. S. Attwood, D. D.)

S. S. Times.
1. Paul could look steadfastly at the council, for he was no criminal whose own knowledge of guilt should cause him to hang his head in shame.

2. Paul realised that he was living before God. A man is not likely to go far wrong so long as he remembers that God's eye is constantly upon him.

3. Paul had that best of all possessions, an approving conscience. Therefore Paul was confident and independent.

4. Paul's words enraged Ananias. Nothing arouses a bad man's anger sooner than a reminder of a good man's goodness.

5. Paul could feel and express a righteous indignation. Christianity never takes the backbone out of a man.

6. Paul could righteously regret his indignant response after it was uttered. The best Christian makes mistakes of ignorance.

(S. S. Times.)

The narrative —

I. TEACHES THE COMFORT AND NECESSITY, UNDER SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES, OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE. Paul, standing before the council, could look his enemies in the eye. He had done nothing he was ashamed of. What misery has he whose former sins must be concealed from his fellow men! Only he who is conscious of rectitude can maintain his peace and self-possession in the face of foes. There was no assumption of self-conceit in Paul's quiet assertion. His statement was simply the truth. Self-respect is very different from self-conceit.

II. THROWS SOME LIGHT ON THE DUTY AND MANNER OF REBUKE.

1. An innocent man, whom malignity is seeking to crush, cannot but be indignant. Shall he express his mind to his enemies? The Bible tells us, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him"; but immediately adds, "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit." This apparent contradiction means that we must be governed by circumstances. Ananias had been guilty of a brutal outrage. Christ's example on a similar occasion is, to be sure, somewhat in contrast to that of the apostle (John 18:22, 23). And yet, on occasion. He called the Pharisees "serpents," "generation of vipers," and, as Paul evidently remembered in his appellation of Ananias, "whited sepulchres." Rebuke, then, is proper at certain times. But it is equally clear that such a weapon should be used cautiously. It is easy to be hasty, unkind, presumptuous in rebuke.

2. The narrative certainly makes one important limitation to rebuke, as it shows that one's office may command respectful treatment, when personal character does not. "I wist not, brethren," etc. Do we, in this irreverent age, remember this? The president of the United States deserves a certain consideration as president which he might not receive as a private citizen. We must honour his office, if not him. We grievously wrong ourselves and our country when we indiscriminately denounce those high in authority. We weaken government in bringing our lawgivers, judges, and executives into public contempt. Let it be apparent that a public office exposes one to slander and disrespect, presently the office will go a begging for good men; only those whose unworthiness makes them callous to dishonour will consent to take it. So with the ministry.

III. SHOWS THE VALUE TO THE CHRISTIAN IN TROUBLE OF A FAMILIARITY WITH THE SCRIPTURES. How readily and happily Paul handled God's Word! The Christian in trouble has no such defence as the Scripture. Here is an armoury whence may be drawn weapons for every need. But, to be available, it must be always at hand. As soldiers, in time of war, sleep on their arms, ready at a moment's warning to spring to their feet, rifle in hand, so must we have the texts of Scripture so familiar that we can without delay bring them to bear as needed.

IV. REVEALS THE METHOD TO BE USED IN PRESENTING TRUTH. First find a common standing place in some truth on which both agree, and then work up from this. Paul addressed the council as "brother men." This was one point of union. He claimed to have lived in all good conscience; and all acknowledged the authority of conscience. He declared himself a Pharisee: a third point of union. He then advanced to doctrines which a part of them held in common — immortality and the resurrection. Paul pursued the same method in his famous speech at Athens. This was sanctified wisdom. Before we ascend the pyramid together, we must rendezvous at the base. In confuting the arguments of unbelievers, the first thing is to find out what we hold in common. In winning souls to Christ the first step is to establish an identity of interests and views on such fundamental truths as our sense of sin, our longing for heaven, our need of salvation, our dependence on Christ.

V. ILLUSTRATES THE PLACE OF EXPEDIENCY IN THE CHRISTIAN'S CONDUCT. Paul's words started a dissension which instantly divided their forces. Paul's course was shrewd. How far is such shrewdness allowable? Notice that Paul first attempted to meet his accusers on high ground, which is met with a blow on the mouth, he can hope nothing, then, from such a course. He has tried the first horn of his dilemma; he must now take the other, and answer a fool according to his folly. It is possible to be keen, quick witted, swift to seize advantages, turning disaster into victory, and yet be honest, truthful, and perfectly fair. Our Saviour blames His followers because "the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light"; and elsewhere commands them to be "wise as serpents." Still we feel strongly that there is a limit here. It is hard to draw the line. The question must rather be decided by each man in the individual emergency. On the one hand, however, it is plain that the Christian may use all his quickness of intellect to escape from difficulties; while, on the other, he must in no way do aught that is unfair to his fellow men, belittling to himself, or dishonourable to God.

VI. TEACHES US GOD'S CARE. What a contrast between the confusion and tumult of that day was the quiet night succeeding, when the apostle saw Jesus standing beside him, and heard Him lovingly say, "Be of good cheer," etc. This is the best part of life, when, after the troublous scenes of our daily battle, Christ comes to us to cheer and strengthen us.

(A. P. Foster.)

1. We sometimes pay compliments unconsciously, and tributes to power in the very act of appearing to despise it. Paul never appeared socially greater than when sent to Caesarea with "two hundred soldiers," etc. — so small a man. We have entered into a new region of apostolic history; we shall sometimes be almost amused by certain aspects of it — such great courts and such a small prisoner.

2. And yet Paul is like his Master — the only quiet man in all the tumult. Paul had himself once been a member of the council which he now addressed as a prisoner! He looks as well in the dock as he looked on the bench; but the remembrance of his once having been on the bench gives him his first sentence — "Men and brethren." Think of the criminal addressing the judge as a brother! The quality of men comes out at unexpected places. In no company was there a greater man than Paul.

3. How proud his beginning with a humble pride! (ver. 1). Earnest speakers reveal themselves in their first sentence.

4. But goodness always awakens wickedness. Hearing a man claim a good conscience, the high priest was reminded of his own evil career, and "commanded them that stood by Paul to smite him on the mouth." That is the only thing the bad man can do. He has no other shot in his locker.

5. Now we see quite a near aspect of Paul. He has borne so much that we thought he would bear everything to the last; but there was a priestism which Paul could not bear, so he exclaimed, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall" — a mass of clay chalked over, a white robe covering a black character. Nor was this mere anger. It was inspired by moral emotion and conviction. The reason of this anger is given. We are bound to defend eternal rectitude. It is a sin to appear to be satisfied when the heart is filled with a conviction that things are wrong. Paul speaks here not for himself only, but for every man who suffers wrongfully. The prophecy was fulfilled: the beast was dragged out not long afterward and killed by vengeful hands.

6. It is curious to notice, and most instructive, how religious some people suddenly become. "They that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest?" Hypocrites, everyone I

7. In what follows Paul has been condemned, and commentators have endeavoured to screen him from the sight of those who would be only too anxious to discover a flaw in such fine porcelain. But Paul needs no defence. We may read, "I did not sufficiently reflect that he was the high priest"; or, better still, ironically, "The high priest breaking the law! This cannot be the high priest!" Again Paul advances a moral reason — for that was the great battering ram with which he delivered his most terrific blows. "For it is written," etc. Mark the composure, the ability, the gentlemanliness. Up to this point Paul has the best of it. Surely someone must be standing at his right hand whom we cannot see. In this history note —

I. THAT IT IS LAWFUL TO BREAK UP UNHOLY TRUCES. The Pharisees and the Sadducees have combined in a common cause, whereas they are themselves divided by the greatest differences. Paul says, "I will break this up." His suggestion was effectual. The Pharisees and the Sadducees fell upon one another, and the Pharisees took his part. It was a master stroke, and we should not forget it in modern controversies.

II. THAT IT IS LAWFUL TO DEFEAT UNHOLY CONSPIRACIES. Forty men had bound themselves together neither to eat nor drink until they had slain Paul. Never believe in the oath of bad men; and if you have overheard their plots, publish them. There are confidences we gladly hide away in the heart, but they have no relation to courses which would unhinge society. Put every possible obstacle in the way of bad men. Imagine the forty Jews baffled in their design, and not knowing how they had been baffled! Said they, "Who knew about this? The oath has been broken by some traitor," and nine-and-thirty voices reply to the fortieth, "No." "Then how is this?" There is the mysterious element in life, the anonymous force, the mischief that upsets our mischief. This is always God's purpose. We do not know how things happen. But something always does happen.

III. THAT IN THE MOST SAINTLY LIVES THERE ARE MOMENTS OF APPARENT DESERTION BY GOD. Throughout these exciting events, where is the living Lord? The apostle is smitten on the mouth and sent away as a criminal. How is this? Is this the poor return for all the labour we have traced? Yet we ourselves have been in exactly those spiritual circumstances. God does stand afar off sometimes. Why does He not always stand close to the heart that has never struck but in His praise? What is this desertion? It may only be the sleep of the soul, the winter time in which God is giving the life deep rest, and a time of recruital and renewal. Sleep is not death; the conscious absence of God is not atheism. We must learn to bear these vacancies; we cannot always be upon the mountain top. It is part of our larger education.

IV. THAT THE DESERTION IS APPARENT, NOT REAL; OR TEMPORARY, NOT FINAL. Ver. 11 shines over all the rest of this dark chapter. Tomorrow night is coming; this night is not the final darkness. This verse brings us face to face with the fact that Christian consciousness is the beginning of Christian argument. Elisha had the inner vision which saw the nearer army. Jesus Christ combined both the statements upon which we are now dwelling in one sublime utterance; said He, "I am alone, yet not alone; for the Father is with Me." We must destroy the character before we can destroy the testimony.

1. This is a good answer to all attacks upon the altar of prayer. "Has your prayer been answered?" When the suppliant can say "Yes," that settles the question. The appeal is not to your little scholarship or criticism. Here the man — the well-known man, the man with the solid character, and the sensible, penetrating mind — says, "My prayers have been answered." We have been now so long with Paul that we have come to know somewhat about him. He is a strong man, a man of great mental capacity, of distinct logical faculty and unexampled common sense, and now he steps into the witness box and says, "The Lord stood by me." What is our answer?

2. Here also we find illustrations of the supreme argument for immortality. This is not a question to be determined by logical fencing and historical research; we must go by the instinctive nature. As for our immortality, we know it; it is graven upon the very substratum of our life.

V. THAT THE ENEMY IS MADE TO SERVE THE CAUSE HE WOULD DESTROY. "Thou must bear witness also at Rome," and the enemy shall pay the expenses. The enemy is always forced into servitude. God maketh the wrath of man to praise Him. Everything is working for Christ, if we could only see it so; all secular progress is simply making a wider road for the chariot of Immanuel. There is a shorter way from Jerusalem to Rome now than there was in the days of Paul. The invention of steam was an incident in the development of Christian progress. Christians ought to keep their eyes open. The moment there is a new way of travelling invented, the first traveller should be a missionary. The instant you can find a shorter way of communicating with the distant parts of the earth, you should send a Christian message through the new medium. The ships are Christ's, and you have let other people use them first for merchandise, and the missionary has been stowed away somewhere as a thing not wholly welcome. "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." I would have the Church buy up all bad houses and make good places of them; I would have the Church advertise gospel services in every newspaper; I would have the Church — alive! The Church is not the heroic force of this day, saying, "I must see Rome also." When the Church goes to see Rome, the Church goes in a tweed suit, in holiday attire, incog. What is our calling in Christ? Is it to fall asleep, or to be the first force in society? Let me call younger men to heroic temper in this matter. Never mind the charge of madness; in His own day they said that Jesus had a devil, and that He was mad; and later on they said that Paul was beside himself. If Christianity is not a passion supreme in the soul, it is the greatest mistake ever perpetrated by intellectual men.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
proceeds from —

1. True faith in Christ, which obtains forgiveness of sins.

2. The assurance of Divine grace and eternal life.

3. The renewal of the Holy Ghost to a new life.

4. The faithful performance of our calling.

(Starke.)

I. ON WHAT BASIS IT RESTS.

1. Justification by faith.

2. Diligence in sanctification.

II. TO WHAT PURPOSE IT SERVES.

1. Courageous working.

2. Joyful suffering.

(K. Gerok.)

Remark how the apostle describes his early life in Philippians 3:4-6. Those who attribute to Christianity a gloomy condemnation of, and a certain injustice towards, the natural man, and that which is good in him; or even those real devotees who, going beyond the truth, think badly of and inveigh against themselves and their former life, may learn here from Paul's example that a regenerate man may rejoice before God and man, even in his former relatively good conscience, when in a position of error and sin, if his present conscience in Christ bears him witness that he has not been a hypocrite. When a warrior, honourable in his vocation, is taunted after his conversion as a devotee and a hypocrite, he may boldly say, "Sirs, I have always been an honest and good comrade to you; trust me that I shall be so now."

(R. Stier, D. D.)

There are many men who are very conscientious; but conscience is not the crown of Christian character. Love is the master, and conscience must be its servant. Conscience is a hewer of wood and stone, and a bringer of water. Conscience is necessary; it is indispensable. But suppose a man were to build a house. No doubt it would be indispensable that he should have good square sills and strong corner posts. It would be essential that all the timbers should be of ample strength, and well knitted together and braced. But suppose, after all the timbers were in place and properly jointed, he should ask me to come to his house and see him. A house with nothing but timbers would be like a character which was made up of conscience and nothing else. Before a man asks you into his house, he covers the timbers up outside and inside, so that the walls are smooth and pleasant to come in contact with and to look upon; and if a man's character is to be complete, conscience in that character should be covered up by other qualities and made sweet and smooth. Oftentimes, where a man invites his friends to see him, the ceiling of his house is frescoed, and the floor is richly carpeted, and the rooms are light and cheerful, and on every hand are tokens of hospitality. Hospitality does not ask you to sit on a log because a log is necessary to the building of a house. But many men are square-built, conscience-framed men. I would as lief sit on the square end of a log all my life as to live with men who, though they have consciences, are harsh and unlovely and unfruitful, because there is nothing in them to cover up that conscience. Conscience is desirable and necessary; but in order to make it tolerable, love should be thrown around it. Conscience is the frame of character, and love is the covering for it.

(H. W. Beecher.)

And the high priest Ananias commanded...to smite him on the mouth
Scientific Illustrations.
Neither animals nor men look well in incongruous situations. On the ground the sloths are about the most awkward and pitiable creatures that can well be imagined, for their forelegs are much longer than the hind ones; all the toes are terminated by very long curved claws; and the general structure of the animals is such as entirely to preclude the possibility of their walking on all fours in the manner of an ordinary quadruped. In this, which is an unnatural situation, they certainly appear the most helpless of animals, and their only means of progression consists in hooking their claws to some inequality in the ground, and thus dragging their bodies painfully along. But in their natural home, amongst the branches of trees, all these seeming disadvantages vanish. It is obvious, therefore, that when the sloth is not in the trees he is in an incongruous situation. And what a lesson his absurd position there should be to us not to make ourselves ridiculous by appearing on scenes where we can only exhibit our incapacity, and evoke either the pity or laughter of mankind! A mart with an inapt, unjudicial mind, presiding on the bench of justice, and performing his functions under the inspiration of a bad heart and an uneven temper, is a spectacle whose incongruity equals that presented by the most clumsy sloth that ever ambled out of its element. Monstrously incongruous, too, is that other spectacle, of a man who has a jockey's tastes and a bulldog's nature, stalking down to the gilded chamber occupied by the highest wisdom in England, for the purpose of displaying himself as a hereditary legislator ruling a free people. Poor awkward sloth! dragging yourself in unhandy fashion over the ground along which you were never intended to travel, you may be a sad illustration of a creature in an incongruous position, but you are not the most laughable one. These men dispute with you the prize for being the most ridiculous.

(Scientific Illustrations.)

I. IT WAS MOST UNPROVOKED. Was there anything to justify such gross insolence and injustice?

1. Was there anything in that look of Paul's? He seems to have given them a wonderful look. It was one of conscious innocence and of searching observation. We may rest assured there was nothing insolent or hard in it, and it must have filled him with melting memories. Certainly there could have been nothing in the look to have provoked the high priest.

2. Was there anything in his address? His declaration that he "had lived in all good conscience before God until that day" was far more adapted to conciliate than to offend.

II. IT WAS NOBLY MET.

1. With manly courage. The spirit of Paul, instead of cowering before this insult, rose into noble defiance. The heavenly Teacher Himself denounced the Pharisees as "whited sepulchres." The words may be either an imprecation or prediction. If the former, it was an outburst, not unjustified, of a warm temper which formed the foundation of a noble nature. Indignation in itself is not wrong, but a virtuous passion when roused, as in this case, by the vision of a moral enormity. If the latter, the apostle spoke under the inspiration of truth. Josephus informs us that Ananias, with his brother Hezekiah, were slain, when the insurgent ruffians, under their leader Manahem, had got possession of the holy city.

2. By commendable candour. "Then said Paul, I wist not," etc. Some suppose that the apostle speaks ironically; that he meant to say, "I never could suppose that a man who so outraged justice should sit in her seat and administer her affairs." Others suppose that he really meant what he said; that he really did not know that he was a high priest. Those who take the latter view must regard the apostle as in some measure apologising for his hastiness. The best men are liable to be overtaken by temper, and a candour like Paul's is a rare excellence.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall
S. S. Times.
Paul's characterisation recalls at once our Lord's denunciation of the Pharisees. This proverbial expression is common over all the East, and the custom which gave rise to it goes back to the times of the ancient Egyptians. Old Egyptian tombs consisted of a deep shaft sunk in the rock, with a subterranean chamber, and sarcophagus containing the body. At the top of the shaft was built a sacrificial chamber, or chambers, which it was the custom to decorate richly with coloured sculptures. Thus, the chamber above ground was decorated with scenes of life and gladness, strangely at variance with the gloomy chamber below. In Palestine most of the mukams, or little sacred buildings built in honour of the local saints, are cenotaphs or tomb buildings. These mukams may be seen on almost every hilltop; they are kept with scrupulous care; offerings are placed in them frequently; and they are whitewashed before every great religious festival. The ordinary Mohammedan graves are often heaped with rubble, which is then covered with stucco. A somewhat similar comparison to that in the text appears in the early Christian writers; as, for instance, in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians. Speaking of certain offenders, Ignatius says, "These to me are monuments and tombs which bear only the names of men." Here there may be another allusion besides that which is apparent to the Western reader. In rabbinic the word nephesh means the "vital principle," a "person" himself, and a "tomb." Of nephesh in this last sense, it might punningly be said to be nephesh — or a living person — only in name.

(S. S. Times.)

Holy offices, spiritual titles, priestly dignities, are but as white lime if they cover an impure heart.

(G. V. Lechler, D. D.)

All denunciations of what will happen to the doer of evil are merciful calls to repentance; and had Ananias turned from those sins which Paul denounced when he spoke of him as a whited wall, he might have been saved from the punishment which befell him, and would have Shared the blessedness given to penitents in the life to come.

(Bp. Wordsworth.)

And they...said, Revilest thou God's high priest?
S. S. Times.
There could hardly be a greater crime, according to Jewish rabbinical notions, than to fail in proper respect to the religious authorities. "There is for thee no greater honour than the honour of the rabbis, nor fear than the fear of the rabbis. The Sages have said, 'The fear of the rabbi is as the fear of God.'" The rabbins also provide that proper respect should be paid to them in greetings. The man who meets a rabbi must "not give the shalom [the greeting, Peace be upon thee] to his rabbi, or return it to him, as he gives it to his neighbours or returns it to them. But he must bow before his face, and say to him with reverence and honour, Peace be upon thee, my master (rabbi)." And the penalties for contempt of rabbinical authority extend also to the next life. "No man who despises the Sages," it is said, "will have part in the world to come."

(S. S. Times.)

Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest.
Considering the disrepute and insignificance into which the high priesthood had fallen during the dominance of men who would only, as a rule, take it for a short time, in order to "pass the chair"; considering that one of these worldly intruders took it wearing silk gloves, that he might not soil his hands with the sacrifices; considering, too, that the Romans and the Herods were constantly setting up one and putting down another at their own caprice, and that he people often regarded someone as the real high priest who was no longer invested with the actual office; considering, too, that in such ways the pontificate of these truckling Sadducees had sunk into a mere simulacrum of what once it was, and that the real allegiance of the people had been completely transferred to the more illustrious rabbis — it is perfectly conceivable that Paul, after his long absence from Jerusalem, had not, during the few and much occupied days which had elapsed since his return, given himself the trouble to inquire whether a Kamhit or a Boethusian, or a Canthera, was at that particular moment adorned with the empty title which he probably disgraced. He must, of course, have been aware that the high priest was the Nasi of the Sanhedrin; but in a crowded assembly he had not noticed who the speaker was. Owing to his weakened sight, all he saw before him was a blurred white figure issuing a brutal order, and to this person, who, in his external whiteness and inward worthlessness, thus reminded him of the plastered wall of a sepulchre, he had addressed his indignant denunciation. That he should retract it on learning the hallowed position of the delinquent was in accordance with that high breeding of the perfect gentleman which in all his demeanour he habitually displayed.

(Archdeacon Farrar.)

Paul would never have guessed the priestly character of Ananias from his conduct. Outside testimony was necessary to show that the religious ruler was there. It is a great pity when a man has to furnish some other evidence than his speech and conduct that he is worthy of respect and confidence. It is not to a man's credit when those who have seen him and heard him speak can say, "I had no idea from his style of speech that he was a clergyman"; "I did not suppose that he was a church member"; "I am surprised that he holds a position of trust." Even a child ought to be known by his doings. It is to his shame if those who watch him say, "He does not act as though he had a good mother"; "He certainly fails to show that he has been well brought up"; "I cannot understand how that boy has been in a good Sunday school for five years." How is it with you? Would everybody who meets you wist that you are as worthy of a good name and of an honourable station as you claim to be?

(H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)

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