Acts 25St. Luke here informs us, that Festus being come to the government, and going up to Jerusalem, the high-priest and rulers of the Jews quickly began to inform him against Paul, and besought him that he would send for him to Jerusalem, resolving to lay some villains by the way to kill him as he came; but the Divine Providence so overruled the matter, that Festus would not consent to it, but ordered his accusers to come to Cesarea, and implead him there.
Here note, 1. How restless is the rage, and unwearied the malice and enmity, which the persecutors of the truth have against the professors and preachers of it. The high-priest, and chief of the Sanhedrin or ecclesiastical court, continue their murderous designs against the innocent apostle; and are sorry they could not get an heathen governor as cruel as themselves to join with them. Heathens have sometimes blushed at the mention of those crimes, which the professors of religion have committed without either shame or remorse.
Note, 2. How deplorably corrupt and degenerate the Jewish church at this time was! Lord, what priests and church-governors were here, who call it a favour to have an opportunity granted them to murder an innocent man in cold blood, contrary to the law of nature and of nations!
But behold the justice of God upon them; they were now given up to a reprobate sense, and are hurried headlong by a diabolical spirit, a little before their final destruction. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who killedst the prophets, and stonedst them that were sent unto thee!
Note, 3. What an overruling Providence was here seen, in that Festus, by no flatteries nor persuasions, would be prevailed with to remove the apostle from Cesarea to Jerusalem. This broke the high-priest's measures, who designed to have killed him by the way. "No, saith Festus, the prisoner shall not come to you, but you shall go to him."
This was a marvellous providence for the apostle's preservation. O how easy is it for the most wise God to baffle and blast the most cunning contrivances of the devil; to befool the enemies of his church and people, by making the counsels of the wicked to be of no effect! God looks and laughs at all the plots of wicked men against the righteous: frustration and disappointment attend all their designs, and perdition and destruction doth awe their persons, He that sitteth in heaven laughs them to scorn, the Lord has them in derision. Ps 2:5
Observe here, 1. The equity and justice of Festus, an heathen judge, in his proceedings at St. Paul's trial: he will have the high-priest and elders that accused him, speak to his face; he will have the matter examined by and before himself. When the malicious bring the innocent upon their trial, God will provide a judge for their turn.
Observe, 2. The indictment or charge which the Jews brought in against the apostle, That he had offended against the law, profaned the temple, and raised sedition against the Roman government.
Here we find the devil at his own trade; namely, stirring up the rage and malice of the world against the saints of God, under a pretence of their being enemies to the state, and subverters of civil government.
Observe, 3. That to be loaded with calumnies and reproaches has been the common lot and constant portion of the friends and servants of Christ, from the beginning of Christianity; The Jews laid many and grievous things against Paul, which they could not prove.
Reproach has been the reward of religion and righteousness: but St. Paul easily wipes off the several reproaches cast upon him, affirming himself to have been always a religious observer of the law, that he went into the temple upon a religious account, and that he had never taught nor practised any rebellion against Cesar. The servants of Christ are happy in their own innocency, and their adversaries render themselves odious by belying them, and laying that to their charge which every one can disprove.
Observe here, How Festus,being willing to gratify the Jews, asks Paul if he would go to Jerusalem, and be tried there, in the Jewish court, about those matters?
The apostle replied, that he was his proper judge, under the Roman emperor, and not the Jews; and that being a Roman, he might clain the privilege of a Roman, which accordingly he did by appealing unto Cesar.
Festus, hearing that, not only admitted his appeal, but was glad of it to get rid of him without peril on the one hand, or ill will on the other.
Here we may remark, 1. That carnal politicians do not so much consider what is just and righteous in its own nature, as what is of use and advantage to themselves, be it right or wrong. The apostle had cleared himself from all slanderous accusations; and yet Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, will not set him at liberty. It is too often the practice of corrupt judges, that they may please the people, to deliver up truth to be injuriously crucified; considering more their own interest, than the prisoner's innocency.
Note, 2. How the apostle appeals from Jerusalem to Rome, from his own countrymen to heathens; from the high-priest to the emperor Nero; expecting to find more justice at the hands of infidels, than from the Jewish Sanhedrin. And to this the apostle was in some sort divinely admonished by Christ himself, to make his appeal. Be of good cheer, Paul, thou shalt bear witness to me at Rome. Acts 23:11
Doubtless, this was a mighty support and strong consolation to him, to know that he appealed and desired to go to Rome, where God had appointed to have him go.
Observe here, 1. How God will not be wanting to his servants in their greatest straits and sufferings, but will providentially dispose of all matters in order to their deliverance, when it may most conduce to his own glory and their good.
Thus here, King Agrippa comes to congratulate Festus; Festus declares the cause of God's oppressed servant to the king, and God makes use both of Festus and Agrippa to screen the apostle from the violence of his enemies: In the mount will the Lord be seen; the people's extremities are the seasons of his succour.
Observe, 2. How the very light of nature in and among the heathens condemns it as an act of manifest and notorious injustice in a judge to pass sentence upon a person unheard, and unallowed to make his defence.
This baseness was below the Roman gallantry whilst Pagans; Festus demands the accursers and the accused to appear face to face; and yet such a diabolical spirit of malice had so blinded the Jews, that, contrary to the law of nature, and the law of all nations, they would have had St. Paul here condemned, without knowing the cause, and hearing his defence.
Observe, 3. What base and vile, what low and undervaluing thoughts, and apprehension, have carnal men of the high and holy things of God.
Festus here calls the religion and worship, which was of God's own institution, most profanely and contemptuously by the name of superstition: They had certain questions against him of their own superstition. And how slightingly doth he also speak of our glorified Redeemer, styling him one Jesus; but no wonder that the dunghill cocks of the world know not the worth of the pearl of great price.
Observe here, 1. King Agrippa's curosity to see and hear St. Paul: he was born and bred up amongst the Jews, and probably understood something of the Christian religion; and possibly had heard much of Paul, and therefore desired to see him, as Herod desired to see Christ, and to hear John the Baptist, only to gratify his curiosity, not to be advantaged by his ministry.
Observe, 2. How contemptuously the Holy Ghost speaks of all the pomp, retinue, and state, which Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice, appeared in, at the time and place of hearing: he calls it fancy, so the original word signifies, intimating, that all the pomp, gaiety, and glory of the world, is nothing but fancy, a dream, and a shadow, having no real existence, but a being in imagination only.
Observe, 3. That truth and innocency shine forth the more splendidly by the greater opposition that is raised against them. The more malicious the Jews were in accusing Paul, the more did his innocency appear; and the more was he acquitted and discharged by his judges.
Thus we see the providence of God wrought all matters for St. Paul's justification, and for the Jews' reprehension; Festus had nothing to write to Cesar, no crime to inform him of against the apostle.
Thence learn, That although God sometimes permits his servants to be loaden with slanders and reproaches, yet he will find a time to clear their innocency, and cause their very judges, if not their accusers, to proclaim them guiltless. I find, saith Festus, that he hath committed nothing worthy of death.
It is no small mercy to have our innocency vindicated; for God to clear up our righteousness as the light, and our just dealing as the noonday; and to free our reputation from those blemishes which the uncharitable suspicions, or rash censures of men, have cast upon us.
There is no spot so unbeautiful as that upon our credit, saving only a spot upon our consciences. God made the apostle's enemies here do him right, and his name was clothed with honour in the estimation of his very adversaries.
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