King Agrippa, believe you the prophets? I know that you believe.…
1. The scene before us is a meeting between the old world and Christ's new kingdom. Here, on the one side, were the solemn insignia of the mighty Roman empire, by which it had subdued the world; and with these all the pomp of royal magnificence: and on the other, the apostle, with nothing which the unenlightened eye could trace, beyond that ardent zeal which might spring from the holding fast some master truth, or which might be the fanatical delusion of a brain-sick enthusiast.
2. Such was the outside aspect of that day. But for the unsealed eye how much lay beneath it! how much was there for the eager gaze of those unfallen ministers of God's will who watch the unfolding of His purposes of love in their continual strife with moral evil! What issues hung upon that hour! Once, at least, the message of the gospel reached this Roman governor. Festus and Agrippa must accept it or declare against it; they cannot be neutrals; they are singled out for this high trial. And by one of these, at least, that struggle was acknowledged. To enter into it we must have clearly before us what was the state of Agrippa's mind.
3. His half-Jewish descent, and his knowledge of the Jewish Scripture, had undoubtedly prepared him for the apostle's teaching. Then, again, he was still young, and the whirlpools of indulged passion had not yet utterly polluted the currents of his life. There was within him still the tenderness of a youthful heart; the volcano's fires had not yet blazed fiercely forth, to leave upon his soul, after their tumultuous outbreak, the hard crust of sensuality or the bitter ashes of a low ambition. And young as he was, life had looked in upon his soul in some of its sterner and more appalling characters. The career of the great founder of his line showed to those within the circle the signs of unrelieved suspicious misery, and had notoriously ended in a death of agony. The wretched life and violent end of Aristobulus must have been familiar to him: and, but just before, in the full splendour of its midday brightness, his father's reign had abruptly ended, with the startling accidents of sudden and exceeding suffering. And he could not but note the uncertainty of such dependent sovereignty as his, which, at a moment, the people's violence, or the emperor's caprice, might turn into the dungeon, exile, or the scaffold.
4. Thus prepared by outward circumstance, he listened to the words of Paul; he was brought beneath the influence of the Holy Spirit. To a certain degree his in most soul answered to the call. New, strange wishes were rising in his heart. The Mighty One was brooding over its currents, was stirring up its tides, was fain to overrule their troubled flow. And he himself was evidently conscious of the struggle; he was almost won; he well-nigh yielded.
5. What the issue was, we know. The world was too strong within him. We meet him again no more in Holy Writ. Like ships which, when night is spread over the sea, emerge for a moment from the darkness as they cross the pathway of the moonbeams, and then are lost in the utter gloom, so was it with him. He stands before us here in the brightness of that light of truth which fell upon him for a season, and then he passes out of sight into the thick shadows of a merely worldly life. We know, therefore, little farther of him; but miserable is that little both for him and for Bernice. Such was the issue of great opportunities neglected; of God's merciful intentions wilfully resisted; of self-chosen darkness in the midst of light; of the world's conquest in his heart. For it was this which made his ear deaf to the heavenly message. It is clear that, to a certain extent, he did count the cost; so much his words distinctly intimate. He did see the freedom and the blessedness which was within his reach; he was almost persuaded to lay hold of them: that which stood between him and them was manifestly the necessary sacrifice which he must make to be a Christian. His Jewish prejudices, his Idumaean throne, his youthful passions, his mounting ambition, the ties of family, the frown of society — all stood between him and this bright and blessed life which now rose before him. He felt that he must make a choice, and he made the wrong choice. Perhaps, like Felix, he waited for fuller convictions and a more convenient season: perhaps he meant, when he was older and had enjoyed somewhat fuller draughts of pleasure, when he had secured some farther step upon the ladder of his hopes, then to listen to this voice of wisdom. Perhaps he thought that his peculiar situation would excuse his putting by the message; that he was not to be judged by ordinary rules, or tried by the common measure of all men. By some such decent falsehood he no doubt stilled the unquietness of an awakened conscience. But, in doing this, he put salvation from him. He chose for time — he chose for eternity. He was almost a member of His kingdom, amongst whose first laws these are written plain: "He that is not with Me is against Me"; "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon." Agrippa was but a type of a common class. Many agree with him —
I. IS HIS CHOICE. Every one of us, at some time or other, has to come to this conclusion: "I will, or I will not, be altogether Christ's." Sometimes it gathers itself up into one signal choice between the world and Christ. Oftener, perhaps, no such great necessity of direct and immediate decision awakens all our vigilance; but we go on choosing throughout a multitude of small occasions. In little concessions to passion, or to self-indulgence, or to seeming expediency, we are casting in our lot with the world: and though no one instance may rise above the ordinary level, yet we are, upon the whole, aware that the course of our life is in one direction; and therefore we are truly conscious that we are making the choice of being "almost" His who will accept no "almost" servants. This "almost" choice tends to quiet conscience; that which is our shame and our danger is made, by the heart's deceitfulness, our comfort and excuse. We do feel; we all but resolve; we think we shall resolve another day: we are so near the kingdom of heaven that we are contented without pressing into it; so close to the door, that we bear, almost without misgiving, to see it shut against us.
II. IN ITS CAUSE. We cannot bring ourselves to make all the needful sacrifice. The world we have to give up may not be so great as his was, but it is our world. The details will vary infinitely, but its master spring is one. This man cannot bring himself to give up some evil habit; another cannot face the jeer of his fellows; another feels inwardly that he is called to a higher and more self-denying life than he can bring himself to lead: and so all these men, for Agrippa's old reason, make his choice. They respect religion in others; they will not join with Festus in reproaching Christ's witnesses with madness; they even wish that they could rise themselves to the same nobleness of aim, and act, and character; but with broken wing, they do but gaze where they ought to soar; they do but faintly feel when they should determinately act.
III. IN ITS END. It is a downward course; a course of increasing evil, of growing dulness, of strengthening chains, of fainter aspirations; of evil choices multiplied; of God's grace slighted, grieved, and quenched; of a heart less striven with, almost deserted, and then, at last, abandoned, and so — reprobate. Conclusion" Note —
1. The exceeding danger of shrinking back from any call of God.
2. Our need of seeking most constantly the aid and guidance of God's Holy Spirit.
(Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
Parallel VersesKJV: King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.