And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:…
These closing verses of a chapter thrilling with interest suggest the subject of the various acquittals that men both good and bad obtain. The range of value belonging to acquittals received by men from men is vast indeed. They stand in strange contrast to the one acquittal or one condemnation which awaits each and every man in his turn, on the threshold of the hereafter. The present passage, however, will confine attention to one class of acquittals rather than invite thought to range at large. And we may think -
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: