And Paul said, I would to God, that not only you, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am…
It is not always easy, by the mere sense of hearing, to decide whether the report of artillery indicates a shotted gun or a complimentary salute. Even so, you are often at a loss to decide whether certain men speak in earnest or jest. The words of Agrippa have suffered from a like uncertainty. Was he in earnest or ironical? The common view is that, so far as a Herod could be earnest, Herod Agrippa was on that day. But whatever was the depth or shallowness of his utterance, it did not satisfy St. Paul. He knew that it was not enough for the foundering ship to have almost reached her port; that it did not save the man slayer to have almost gained the gate of the city of refuge before the avenging kinsman overtook him. Observe —
I. HOW PERFECTLY CERTAIN PAUL WAS THAT HE WAS A CHRISTIAN. Agrippa had professed to be "almost persuaded." The apostle says, "I would to God that thou wert both almost and altogether" — what? "Such as I am." Could anything show more clearly that St. Paul had not the shadow of a doubt that he was a Christian? This is not so with many Christians. Even when others behold the evidence in their daily walk, they themselves can only say that they "hope." They are following on in the path to peace as nearly as they can find it, but whether it ends in assured glory, they can only know when the gates of the celestial city have closed behind them. It was not so when Christianity was young. This doubt and uncertainty is like our gorgeous churches, where the poor have no place; like our fashionable preachers, who glorify human nature instead of Christ; like our fashionable congregations, where dress and display attract the eye: it belongs to modern, not to ancient Christianity. Then men knew whom they had believed. Look at this confidence as displayed by St. Paul. He did not wish that they were what he "hoped" he might be, not what he "desired" to be, not what he "thought" he was. He wants them to be what he then and there is sure that he himself is — a Christian. Is such a certainty something which God only permitted the primitive believers to realise? Or, is it a privilege which all may know in personal experience? The whole question hangs on the character of Christ. You may be perfectly confident if Jesus is one who does not break His word. Such a confidence is exceedingly desirable. I do not see how St. Paul could have been so eager, unless he had the clearest convictions that he was himself saved. Moses could not have said to his brother-in-law, "Come thou with us and we will do thee good," if he had possessed no certain confidence that he and the people were on their way to Canaan. So does assurance of faith make working Christians.
II. WHAT A GRAND THING PAUL EVIDENTLY ESTEEMED IT TO BE A CHRISTIAN! There are some men who undervalue their blessings. St. Paul was not one of that class. It was a cause of thanksgiving that by the grace of God he was what he was. Who were they that heard him?
1. In that assembly were men of wealth. And yet this poor prisoner cries out, "I would to God that all that hear me, were both almost and altogether what I am." To him Christianity was worth more than the riches of a Roman procurator.
2. There were men among those who heard him that day who had a home. And he who stood at that tribunal like his Master, "had not where to lay his head." He wrote, "We have no certain dwelling place." Yet it was this homeless man who cried out, "I would to God," etc. His Christianity was to him worth more than even a home.
3. Above all these were men of high rank and social position. And here was a man whose rank was to be counted as "the offscouring of all things," who yet cried out in such an august assembly, "I would to God," etc. Such was St. Paul's estimate of the worth of his Christianity. He could do without a home; he could dispense with the wealth of Festus; he could live without the crown of Agrippa, but he could not do without Christ, to him "the hope of glory." Today does he regret his estimate of his heritage? Today the wealth of God's glory is his. Today the home of God's saints is his portion. Today he reigns as king, a crown of glory on his brow.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.