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A Commentary On Acts Of The Apostles by J. W. McGarvey


XXVI: 1-3. Festus having stated the case, and the assembly being in waiting, the king assumed the presidency of the assembly. (1) |Then Agrippa said to Paul, You are permitted to speak for yourself. Then Paul stretched forth his hand, and offered his defense: (2) I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall defend myself this day before you, touching all the things of which I am accused by the Jews; (3) especially as you are acquainted with all the customs and questions among the Jews. Wherefore, I beseech you to hear me patiently.| It must have been his left hand which he stretched forth as he began this exordium, for his right was chained to the soldier who guarded him. The compliment to Agrippa for his acquaintance with Jewish customs and controversies was not undeserved. It afforded Paul unfeigned gratification to know, that, after so many efforts to make himself understood by such men as Lysias, Felix, and Festus, he was at length in the presence of one who could fully understand and appreciate his cause.

4-8. After the exordium, he proceeds to state, first, his original position among the Jews, and to show that he was still true to the chief doctrine which he then taught. (4) |My manner of life from my youth, which was from the beginning among my own nation in Jerusalem, all the Jews know, (5) who knew me from the beginning, if they were willing to testify, that, according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee. (6) Even now, it is for the hope of the promise made by God to the fathers, that I stand here to be judged; (7) to which promise our twelve tribes, by earnest worshiping night and day, hope to attain. Concerning this hope, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. (8) What! Is it judged a thing incredible among you, that God should raise the dead?| The Pharisees were the least likely of all the Jewish sects to be unfaithful to Jewish institutions. It was, therefore, much in Paul's favor that he was able to call even his enemies to witness that from his youth he had lived in the strict discipline of that sect. It was yet more so, to say that he was still a firm believer in the leading doctrine of the party, and to reiterate the assertion made on two former occasions, that it was on account of the hope of a resurrection that he was accused. This was not the avowed cause, but it was the real cause of their accusations; for the assumptions that Christ had risen from the dead was the ground-work of all Jewish opposition and persecution. He interprets the promise made by God to the fathers, by which he doubtless means the promise, |In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed,| as referring to the resurrection, because that is the consummation of all the blessings of the gospel. He exposes the inconsistency of his enemies by observing, that it was even Jews who were accusing him of crime in demonstrating this great hope so cherished by the twelve tribes. Then, turning from Agrippa to the whole multitude. he asks, with an air of astonishment, if they really deem it an incredible thing that God should raise the dead. If not, why should he be accused of crime for declaring that it had been done?

9-11. To still further illustrate his former standing among the Pharisees, he describes his original relation toward the cause of Christ. (9) |I thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus, the Nazarene, (10) which I also did in Jerusalem. Many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the high priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my vote against them. (11) And in all the synagogues I punished them often, compelling them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.| With such a record as this, there was no room to suspect him of any such bias as would render him an easy or a willing convert to Christ. On the contrary, it must have appeared to Agrippa, and the whole audience, most astonishing that such a change could take place. Their curiosity to know what produced the change must have been intense, and he proceeds to gratify it.

12-18. (12) |Whereupon, as I was going to Damascus, with authority and commission from the high priests, (13) at midday, O King, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining around me and those who were journeying with me. (14) And when we had all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking to me, and saying, in the Hebrew dialect, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. (15) And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus, whom you persecute. (16) But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to choose you for a minister and a witness of the things which you have seen, and of those in which I will appear to you; (17) delivering you from the people and the Gentiles, to whom I now send you (18) to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins, and inheritance among the sanctified by faith in me.| On the supposition that Paul here spoke the truth, Agrippa saw that no prophet of old, not even Moses himself, had a more authoritative or unquestionable commission than he. Moreover, the same facts, it true, demonstrated, irresistible, the resurrection and glorification of Jesus. As to the truth of the narrative, its essential features consisted in facts about which Paul could not be mistaken, and his unparalleled suffering, for more than twenty years, together with the chain even now upon his arm, bore incontestable evidence of his sincerity. But being an honest witness, and the facts such that he could not be mistaken, the facts themselves must be real. It is difficult to conceive what stronger evidence the audience could have had in favor of Jesus, or what more triumphant vindication of the change which had taken place in Paul.

19-21. By these facts the speaker proceeds to justify his change of position, and his subsequent career. (19) |Whereupon, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision; (20) but announced, first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem, and in all the country of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works suitable to repentance. (21) On account of these things the Jews seized me in the temple, and attempted to kill me.| This is a more detailed statement of the cause of Jewish enmity, which had been more briefly expressed by the statement that it was concerning the hope of the resurrection that he was accused.

22, 23. That the Jews had not succeeded, with all their mobs, and conspiracies, and corruption of rulers, in destroying his life, was a matter of astonishment, and Agrippa might well admit that it was owing to the protecting providence of God. (22) |Having, however, obtained help from God, I have stood until this day, testifying both to small and great, saying nothing else than those things which Moses and the prophets did say should be, (23) that the Christ should suffer, and that he first, by his resurrection from the dead, should show light to the people and to the Gentiles.| Here he assumes that, instead of dishonoring Moses, he and his brethren alone were teaching the things which both Moses and the prophets had foretold; that it was required, by their writings, that the Messiah should suffer and rise from the dead.

By the statement that Christ first showed light to the people and the Gentiles by his resurrection, he must mean that he was the first to bring the subject into clear light, by an actual resurrection to glory; for there had already been some light upon it, as is proved by Paul's previous statement in reference to the hope to which the twelve tribes had been, in all their worship, seeking to attain.

24. At this point in his speech, Paul was interrupted by Festus. It was a very strange speech in the ears of that dissolute heathen. It presented to him a man who from his youth had lived in strict devotion to a religion whose chief characteristic was the hope of a resurrection from the dead; who had once persecuted to death his present friends, but had been induced to change his course by a vision from heaven; and who, from that moment, had been enduring stripes, imprisonment, and constant exposure to death, in his efforts to inspire men with his own hope of a resurrection. Such a career he could not reconcile with those maxims of ease or of ambition which he regarded as the highest rule of life. Moreover, he saw this strange man, when called to answer to accusations of crime, appear to forget himself, and attempt to convert his judges rather than to defend himself. There was a magnanimity of soul displayed in both the past and the present of his career, which was above the comprehension of the sensuous politician, and which he could not reconcile with sound reason. He seems to have forgotten where he was, and the decorum of the occasion, so deeply was he absorbed in listening to and thinking of Paul. (24) |And as he offered these things in his defense, Festus cried, with a loud voice, Paul, you are beside yourself. Much learning has made you mad.|

25. Paul saw at once, from the tone and manner of Festus, as well as from the admission of his great learning, that the charge of insanity was not intended as an insult; but that it was the sudden outburst of a conviction which had just seized the mind of the perplexed and astonished governor. His answer, therefore, was most respectful. (25) |But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth words of truth and soberness.| He saw, however, that Festus was beyond the reach of conviction; for a man who could see in the foregoing portion of this speech only the ravings of a madman, could not easily be reached by the argument, or touched by the pathos of the gospel.

26, 27. In Agrippa Paul had a very different hearer. His Jewish education enabled him to appreciate Paul's arguments, and to see repeated, in that noble self-sacrifice which was an enigma to Festus, the heroism of the old prophets. As Paul turned away from Festus and fixed his eye upon the king, he saw the advantage which he had over his feelings, and determined to press it to the utmost. He continues: (26) |For the king understands concerning these things, to whom also I speak with freedom: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. (27) King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.|

28. With matchless skill the apostle had brought his proofs to bear upon his principal hearer, and with the boldness which only those can feel who are determined upon success, he pressed this direct appeal so unexpectedly, that the king, like Festus, was surprised into a full expression of his feelings. (28) |Then Agrippa said to Paul, You almost persuade me to be a Christian.| Under ordinary circumstances, such a confession would have struck the auditory with astonishment. But under the force of Paul's speech, there could not have been a generous soul present that did not sympathize with Agrippa's sentiment.

29. Paul's reply, for propriety of wording and magnanimity of sentiment, is not excelled in all the records of extemporaneous response: (29) |And Paul said, I could pray to God, that not only you, but all who hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.| It was not till he came to express a good wish for his hearers and his jailers, a wish for that blessedness which he himself enjoyed, that he seemed to think again of himself, and remember that he was in chains.

30-32. The course of remark and the feeling of the audience had now reached that painful crisis in which it was necessary either to yield at once to the power of persuasion, or to break up the interview. Unfortunately for the audience, and especially for Agrippa, the latter alternative was chosen. The heart that beats beneath a royal robe is too deeply encased in worldly cares to often or seriously entertain the claims of such a religion as that of Jesus. A spurious religion, which shifts its demands to suit the rank of its devotees, has been acceptable to the great men of the nations, because it helps to soothe an aching conscience, and is often useful in controlling the ignorant masses; but men of rank and power are seldom willing to become altogether such as the Apostle Paul. They turn away from too close a pressure of the truth, as did Paul's royal auditory. (30) |When he had said these things, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and those seated with them; (31) and when they had gone aside, they conversed with one another, saying, This man had done nothing worthy of death or of bonds. (32) And Agrippa said to Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Cæsar.| The decision that he had done nothing worthy of death or of bonds was the judgment of the whole company, while Agrippa went further, and said that he ought, by right, to be set at liberty. If Festus had decided thus honestly before Paul had made his appeal, he would have been released; but as the appeal had now been made, to Cæsar he must go. Whether Festus now knew any better than before what to write to Cæsar, Luke leaves to the imagination of the reader.

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