Then Agrippa said to Paul, You are permitted to speak for yourself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:…
His address may be divided as follows: -
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them off from living connection with the religion of their fathers, and from the blessings of the better covenant which superseded the old.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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: