Acts 24Observe here, How Ananias the high-priest, with the elders or heads of the Jewish council at Jerusalem, travel from thence to Cesarea, a great many miles, to inform the governor against St. Paul; After five days Ananias descended, &c.
The devil's drudges stick at no pains, spare for no cost, in doing his drudgery. A persecuting spirit claps wings to a person, it makes him swift in his motion, and zealous in his application and endeavours.
Observe, 2. How the high-priest carrieth with him one of their most eminent and eloquent advocates, to implead the innocent apostle.
Satan never miscarries in any of his enterprises and wicked designs for want of fit tools to carry them on. He hath his Tertullus, an eloquent orator, ready, who could tune his tongue any way for a large fee. Ananias descended, with a certain orator named Tertullus, &c.
Observe here, St. Paul the prisoner being called forth, Tertullus, the orator, began to show his art by a flattering insinuation, which mightily prevails with men of mean and corrupt minds. There is no cause so foul and bad, but some will be found to plead it; yea, to justify and defend it. And if so, judges had need be wise, as the angels of God, discerning between truth and falsehood.
Observe farther, how Tertullus seeks to gain the judges favour by flattery and falsehood: to win judges by flattery hath ever by false accusers been taken for the surest way of sucess; but after all, flattery is a very provoking and wrath-procuring sin; and it is hard to say, which is most dangerous, to receive flattery or to give it. When men give much glory to man, 'tis hard for man to give that glory back again to God. 'Tis hell and death to flatter sinners, or suffer ourselves to be flattered by them.
Observe, lastly, That bad government is better than no government; tyranny itself is better than anarchy. The Jews were not now their own masters, but tributaries to the Romans. Yet Tertullus acknowledges, many worthy deeds were done unto their nation by the prudence of the Roman governor: "Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, we accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix."
Tertullus having prepared the judge, presently falls upon the matter, and charges St. Paul with being a pestilent fellow, a seditious person, a disturber of the nation, a profaner of the temple, a ring-leader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
And adds, that out of mere zeal to the Jewish religion, they had themselves before now dispatched him out of the way, but that he was violently rescued out of their hands by Lysias, the chief captain, and brought thither to be tried.
Concluding, that these things which he had spoken were the sense of all those that came down with him as witnesses, The Jews also assented, and said that these things were so. Acts 24:9
Here note, 1. What an heavy load of reproaches and false accusations our innocent apostle laboured under; he is accounted, and called, a walking pestilence. Thus the holy and faithful servants of God are esteemed by the world, the plague and bane of the place and nation where they live: although it is really for their sakes that God staves off plagues and judgments from falling upon the world; We have found this man a pestilant fellow.
It is not the greatest holiness towards God, nor righteousness towards men, that can sufficiently shield and defend a saint from censure and slander, from calumny and false accusation.
Note, 2. Besides the general charge that the apostle was the very pest and plague of mankind; we have a threefold accusation brought against him, That he was a mover of sedition, a profaner of the temple, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
Lord, how should thy faithful ministers and ambassadors prepare themselves for, and comfort themselves under, the most hellish reproaches, when we find the great apostle, (whom St. Chrysostom honours with this character, "That the earth never bare a better man since it bare our Redeemer,") yet thus miscalled and accounted a pest, a plague, the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things!
O why should such worthless worms as we murmur, when we meet with much less reproaches! Lord! help us in imitation of thy example, for the joy that is set before us, to despise the shame, as well as to endure the cross. The best men that ever the world had, have fallen under the lashes of envenomed tongues. What foul aspersions hath malice cast upon innocency itself! Our blessed Saviour, in the clearest act of innocency, his casting out of devils, suffered the most horrid imputation, even of casting out devils through Beelzebub, the prince of devils, Matt 9:34.
Now the servant must not expect to be above his master: if Christ thus suffered, needs must Christianity, needs must Christians, needs must ministers and ambassadors.
Our apostle, being accused of three notorious crimes, namely, sedition, heresy, and profanation of the temple, answers distinctly to every one of them.
Where observe, 1. How undaunted innocency is in a good person, and in a good cause; St. Paul was so far from being daunted by the greatness of his enemies, or by the vehemency of their accusation, that he tells the governor, he did with all cheerfulness undertake his defence.
Observe, 2. How the apostle answers distinctly to the particulars of his accusation. And first, As to the crime of sedition, charged upon his person. Secondly, as to the crime of heresy, charged upon his religion.
As to the former, the crime of sedition, this is a very infamous charge; what schism is in matters ecclesiastical, that is sedition in matters temporal and civil. As the one violates the peace of the church, so doth the other the peace of the commonwealth.
Sedition is committed three ways; by the head, by the tongue, and by the hand. A seditious head plots and contrives mischief, a seditious tongue vents it, and a seditious hand executes it.
None of these ways was the apostle guilty of sedition, he never employed his head to contrive, nor his tongue to utter, nor his hand to practise, any thing that tended that way; yet he is charged with it, We have found this fellow a mover of sedition.
Learn thence, It is no new stratagem to represent the faithful servants of God as enemies to states and kingdoms, as disturbers of the peace, as troublers of Israel, as trumpets of rebellion, as movers of sedition, on purpose to bring them into hatred with princes, that they may fall under the sword of the magistrate as malefactors, and be looked upon as persons unworthy to live.
But how does St. Paul free himself from the charge and imputation of sedition?
Thus, 1. By demonstrating the improbability of it; how unlikely it was, that he who came up to the temple to worship God, and to bring alms to the poor, and was in Jerusalem but a very few days, and did not so much as dispute either in the temple or in the synagogues, should yet stir up the people to sedition.
2. He puts his adversaries upon proof of their articles, Acts 24:13 Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.
From the apostle's practise in clearing his own innocency, we learn, That it is a piece of justice which every man owes to himself, to vindicate and clear his reputation from all guilt falsely imputed to him, and especially from that of sedition.
Here the apostle answers the second part of the charge brought against him; namely, the charge of heresy, and being the ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
Where note, That although the apostle would not, out of his great modesty, take upon himself to be one of the heads or chiefs among them, a ringleader, as they styled him; yet as to the owning of that way, notwithstanding all the imputations they had cast upon it, he doth it with the greatest freedom and courage, in the presence of his judge and accusers; This I confess, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I, &c.
Here observe, 1. The false imputation which Christianity suffered under in its first appearance; After the way which they call heresy. It is no new thing to nickname the worshippers of the true God, to call them heretics, and their way to worship heresy.
Observe, 2. The way taken by St. Paul to remove this false imputation; namely, by an appeal to scripture and antiquity: So worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things that are written in the law and the prophets.
Where note, How he appeals to scripture as the ground and rule of his faith, the law and the prophets; and then he appeals to the best and purest antiquity for the object of his worship; So worship I the God of my Fathers.
Observe, 3. The freedom and courage of the apostle in owning his religion, notwithstanding these false imputations, even in the presence of his greatest enemies, and when they were in hopes to destroy him for it; This I confess unto thee. The apostle abhorred that mean and base-spirited principle, which makes it lawful for men to deny their religion when it brings them into danger: no, he valued his above, and preferred it before, his personal safety.
God Almighty inspire us with the same courage and holy resolution, that when our adversaries of the church at Rome pronounce us heretics, and call our religion heresy, we may answer them as our apostle answered their forefathers, the subtle Pharisee, After the way which you call heresy, so worship we the God of our fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets.
Our apostle had made a free and open profession of his religion in the foregoing verse, After the way called heresy do I worship the God of my fathers.
Here at the 15th verse he asserts the doctrine of the resurrection, which was a principal article both of the Jewish and the Christian religion; I have hope toward God, that there shall be a resurrection both of the just and unjust.
And having made a declaration of his faith, ver. 14,15. he next gives an account of his life, at verse 16. Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men.
Observe here, 1. What is the principle and guide of a good man's actions; and that is, conscience. The word and law of God is the rule of our actions, but conscience is the immediate guide and director of them.
Observe, 2. The extent of a good man's pious practice: To keep a conscience void of offence toward God and man. To exercise a faithful care in performing the duties of both tables, is both an argument of our sincerity, and an ornament to our profession.
Observe, 3. The apostle's constancy and perseverance in this course; to have always a conscience void of offence. We must not make conscience of our duty by fits and starts; but in the whole course and tenor of our lives and actions. Religion should be a constant frame and temper of mind.
Observe, 4. The apostle's earnest care and endeavour to this purpose, Herein do I exercise myself. The original word is of an intense signification, and denotes the apostle's applying his mind, in good earnest, to be thoroughly instructed in all the parts and points of his duty, and his being very careful and conscientious in the discharge and performance of it.
Observe, 5. What was the apostle's great motive and encouragement to do all this; namely, the belief of the resurrection, and the future state of rewards and punishments consequent upon it. Because I hope for a resurrection both of the just and unjust; therefore, do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence. If we believe the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment to come, we shall be very careful to discharge a good conscience now, in order to the rendering a good account of ourselves then.
Happy man, who, when he goes into another world, carries with him thither a conscience clear of all guilt, either by innocency or repentance! For verily at the hour of death, to be free from stings and upbraidings, from the terrors and tortures, from the confusion and amazement, of a guilty conscience, is a happiness so desirable, that it is well worth the care and best endeavours of our whole life.
May the apostle's exercise be our daily practice, namely, To keep a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward all men!
The apostle had vindicated himself from the charge and imputation of sedition and heresy before: he comes now to clear himself of the third charge, namely, the profanation of the temple; in order whereunto he declares, that he had not been a long time at Jerusalem before this journey: and that he now came to bring alms to the poor Jews that were converted to Christianity: he acknowledges that at this time he went into the temple, yet not to profane it, but to perform those rites in it which the law of the Jews required of such as had the vow of Nazarites upon them. Thus the apostle cleared himself of all that was objected against him, and made it evidently appear to the face of his enemies, that all the accusations brought against him were false and clamorous.
Learn thence, That generally the accusations laid by the malicious to the charge of the innocent, are nothing but empty noise and clamour.
Having thus vindicated himself to their faces, he next makes an appeal to the consciences of his accusers; whether there was any thing of moment charged upon him more than this, That he professed and believed the resurrection of the dead.
Thus bravely did the apostle plead his own cause here, or rather the Spirit of God that spake in him, though Satan had got the high priest Ananias, and his eloquent orator Tertullus, to implead and impeach St. Paul; yet behold with what a flood of truth and eloquence doth the apostle vindicate his own innocence. Magna est Veritas & praevalebit: "Great is the truth, and will finally prevail."
The sense of this is, "When Felix understood and discerned how things went, he would not pass any sentence in the case at present; but put them off, saying, When I have got a more perfect knowledge of this way of Christianity, and when I have spoken with Lysias, and understand the truth concerning the tumult, I will then determine the difference between you: in the mean time the captain of the guard shall have the prisoner in custody, to gratify the Jews."
Where observe, both the equity and clemency of Felix the judge: his equity, in that he would not pronounce sentence before he had thoroughly and fully understood the matter of fact; his clemency, in suffering the apostle to be a prisoner at large, and allowing his friends and acquaintance liberty to come and visit him.
Behold the former rigour towards the apostle mercifully relaxed; he is no more confined to a close dungeon, but goes abroad with a chain and a keeper, and none of his friends are forbidden either to visit him or relieve him.
Thus God, in an unexpected hour, casts such outward comforts to his suffering saints and servants, as he sees will do them most good; yea, and can cause his and their enemies to become contributors thereunto.
This chapter now concludes with the apostle's famous sermon before Felix his judge, in which we have considerable, the preacher, the hearers, the text or subject preached upon, and the successful effect of the sermon.
Observe, 1. The preacher, St. Paul; As Paul reasoned. The apostle now was in bonds, yet had liberty to preach, and he preached with liberty, with great boldness and freedom of speech, though under great disadvantages; his person imprisoned, his reputation blotted and defamed, loaded with calumnies and odious imputations: yet under all these disadvantages the apostle preaches.
Observe, 2. His hearers, Felix and his wife Drusilla; Felix, a bad man, guilty of bribery, & c. Drusilla, a vile woman, forsook her own husband, and lived in adultery with Felix, as Josephus says.
Here were a pair of hopeful hearers! yet St. Paul boggles not to preach to them, as bad as they were, hoping to make them better.
Learn thence, That the gospel must be preached by us, when we are lawfully called thereunto, whatever the persons be that make up the auditory; we know not what persons, or in what hour, God may call.
Observe, 3. The text or subject-matter preached upon: righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. Where the wisdom of the preacher appears by the suitableness of the subject; the apostle chose a very proper subject for them both.
Felix was guilty of bribery, or at least was ready to commit it; for the next verse tells us, That he hoped to have money given him by Paul to release him: therefore to him he preaches of righteousness.
Drusilla was guilty of incontinence and adultery; to her he preaches of temperance, and to both of a judgment to come.
Happy were it, if great offenders had such wise admonishers near them; but too often they meet with flattering parasites, instead of faithful preachers.
Observe, 4. The success or effect of the sermon: Felix trembled. He trembled, but not believed; he trembled at the guilt of sin, and at the apprehensions of the wrath of God due unto sin; but his trembling did not arise from a holy dread and reverence of the majesty of God speaking to him in and by his word: the word of God can make the proudest and stoutest sinner in the world to quake and tremble.
Observe, lastly, How Felix's trembling fit, or sick qualm of conscience, soon went over; he dismisses the preacher for that time, and tells him he will call for him at a more convenient season. But we never read of any such opportunity taken afterwards for that purpose: so dangerous is it to stop our ear at the present call and command of God; if to-day we will not, tomorrow God may say, ye shall not, hear my voice.
Observe here, What small success the apostle's preaching had, it found and left Felix a bad man; covetousness and bribery were his sins before, and they are so still; He hoped that money should be given him of Paul.
That is, he expected a bribe for setting the apostle at liberty, contrary to the law both of God and man.
To this covetousness he added cruelty; for though he had nothing to charge Paul with, yet to gratify the Jews he left Paul bound; minding the pleasing of men more than the displeasing of God.
An hypocrite can become all things to all men, that he may gain by all: but behold the hand of God upon Felix! he that had so unjustly kept Paul for two years, and cruelly left him bound at last, to please and gratify the Jews, is sent a prisoner in bonds himself to Rome, to answer before Nero for his misdemeanors in the managing of his government.
A just reward for him who regards the pleasing of men more than the displeasure of God.
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