Acts 26

CHAPTER XXVI.

Paul answers for himself before Agrippa, to whom he pays a true

compliment, in order to secure a favourable hearing, 1-3;

gives an account of his education from his youth up, 4, 5;

shows that the Jews persecuted him for his maintaining the

hope of the resurrection, 6-8;

states his persecution of the Christians, 9-11;

gives an account of his miraculous conversion, 12-16;

and of his call to the ministry, 16-18.

His obedience to that call, and his success in preaching the

doctrine of Christ crucified, 19-23.

While he is thus speaking, Festus interrupts him, and declares

him to be mad through his abundant learning, 24;

which charge he modestly refutes with inimitable address, and

appeals to King Agrippa for the truth and correctness of his

speech, 25-27.

On which, Agrippa confesses himself almost converted to

Christianity, 28.

Paul's affectionate and elegant address to him on this

declaration, 29.

The council breaks up, and they all pronounce him innocent,

30-32.

NOTES ON CHAP. XXVI.

Verse 1. Then Paul stretched forth the hand] This act, as we

have already seen on Ac 21:40, was merely to gain attention; it

was no rhetorical flourish, nor designed for one. From knowing,

partly by descriptions, and partly by ancient statues, how orators

and others who address a concourse of people stood, we can easily

conceive the attitude of St. Paul. When the right hand was

stretched out, the left remained under the cloak, which being

thrown off the right shoulder, to give the arm the fuller liberty,

it then rested on the left: under these circumstances, the hand

could be stretched out gracefully, but was confined to no one

attitude, though the third and fourth fingers were generally

clenched.

Verse 2. I think myself happy] As if he had said, This is a

peculiarly fortunate circumstance in my favour, that I am called

to make my defense before a judge so intelligent, and so well

acquainted with the laws and customs of our country. It may be

necessary just to observe that this Agrippa was king of

Trachonitis, a region which lay on the north of Palestine, on the

east side of Jordan, and south of Damascus. For his possessions,

See Clarke on Ac 25:13.

Verse 4. My manner of life, &c.] The apostle means to state

that, though born in Tarsus, he had a regular Jewish education,

having been sent up to Jerusalem for that purpose; but at what age

does not appear; probably about twelve, for at this age the male

children were probably brought to the annual solemnities.

See Clarke on Lu 2:41.

Verse 5. After the most straitest sect] That is, the Pharisees;

who were reputed the strictest in their doctrines, and in their

moral practices, of all the sects then among the Jews. The sects

were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.

Verse 6. For the hope of the promise] This does not appear to

mean, the hope of the Messiah, as some have imagined, but the hope

of the resurrection of the dead, to which the apostle referred in

Ac 23:6, where he says to the Jewish council, (from which the

Roman governor took him,) of the hope and resurrection of the dead

I am called in question: see the notes there. And here he says, I

stand and am judged for the hope of the promise, &c., and to

which, he says, Ac 26:7, the

twelve tribes hope to come. The Messiah had come, and was gone

again, as Paul well knew; and what is here meant is something

which the Jews hoped to come to, or attain; not what was to come

to them; and this singular observation excludes the Messiah from

being meant. It was the resurrection of all men from the dead

which Paul's words signified; and this the Jews had been taught to

hope for, by many passages in the Old Testament. I shall only add,

that when, in the next verse, this hope of the promise is

mentioned as what the Jews did then hope, καταντηοαι, to come to,

it is the very same word which Paul, in Php 3:11, uses to express

the same thing: If by any means, (says he) καταντησω, I might

attain to, the resurrection of the dead. Bp. Pearce.

Verse 8. That God should raise the dead?] As Agrippa believed in

the true God, and knew that one of his attributes was omnipotence,

he could not believe that the resurrection of the dead was an

impossible thing; and to this belief of his the apostle appeals;

and the more especially, because the Sadducees denied the doctrine

of the resurrection, though they professed to believe in the same

God. Two attributes of God stood pledged to produce this

resurrection: his truth, on which his promise was founded; and his

power, by which the thing could be easily affected, as that power

is unlimited.

Some of the best critics think this verse should be read thus:

What! should it be thought a thing incredible with you, if God

should raise the dead?

Verse 10. Many of the saints] From what is said in this verse,

it seems that Paul, before his conversion, was invested with much

power: he imprisoned the Christians; punished many in various

synagogues; compelled them to blaspheme-to renounce, and, perhaps,

to execrate Christ, in order to save their lives; and gave his

voice, exerted all his influence and authority, against them, in

order that they might be put to death; and from this it would seem

that there were other persons put to death besides St. Stephen,

though their names are not mentioned.

Verse 11. Being exceedingly mad against them] Only a madman will

persecute another because of his differing from him in religious

opinion; and the fiercest persecutor is he who should be deemed

the most furious madman.

Unto strange cities.] Places out of the jurisdiction of the

Jews, such as Damascus, which he immediately mentions.

Verse 12. Whereupon as I went to Damascus] See the whole account

of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus explained at large, in

Clarke's notes on "Ac 9:2", &c.

Verse 16. But rise, &c.] The particulars mentioned here, and in

the two following verses, are not given in Ac 9:1-9, nor in

Ac 22:6-11, where he gives an account of his conversion. He has

detailed the different circumstances of that important event, as

he saw it necessary; and perhaps there were several others which

then took place, that he had no opportunity of mentioning, because

there was nothing in succeeding occurrences which rendered it

necessary to produce them.

To make thee a minister] υπηρετην, An under-rower; that is,

one who is under the guidance and authority of another; an

assistant, or servant. So Paul was to act solely under the

authority of Jesus Christ; and tug hard at the oar, in order to

bring the vessel, through the tempestuous ocean, to the safe

harbour. See the concluding observations on John 6,

See Clarke on Joh 6:71.

And a witness] μαρτυρα, A martyr. Though this word literally

means a witness, yet we apply it only to such persons as have

borne testimony to the truth of God at the hazard and expense of

their lives. In this sense, also, ancient history states St. Paul

to have been a witness; for it is said he was beheaded at Rome, by

the command of Nero.

In the which I will appear] Here Christ gives him to understand

that he should have farther communications from himself; and this

may refer either to those interpositions of Divine Providence by

which he was so often rescued from destruction, or to those

encouragements which he received in dreams, visions, trances, &c.,

or to that general inspiration under which he was enabled to

apprehend and reveal the secret things of God, for the edification

of the Church. To all of which may be added that astonishing power

by which he was so often enabled to work miracles for the

confirmation of the truth.

Verse 17. Delivering thee from the people] From the Jews-and

from the Gentiles, put here in opposition to the Jews; and both

meaning mankind at large, wheresoever the providence of God might

send him. But he was to be delivered from the malice of the Jews,

that he might be sent with salvation to the Gentiles.

Verse 18. To open their eyes] To be the instrument of informing

their understanding in the things of God.

To turn them from darkness to light] From heathenism and

superstition to the knowledge and worship of the true God.

From the power of Satan unto God] τηςεξουσιαςτουσατανα, From

the authority and domination of Satan; for as the kingdom of

darkness is his kingdom, so those who live in this darkness are

under his dominion; and he has authority and right over them. The

blessed Gospel of Christ is the means of bringing the soul from

this state of spiritual darkness and wretchedness to the light and

liberty of the children of God; and thus they are brought from

under the power and authority of Satan, to be under the power and

authority of GOD.

That they may receive forgiveness of sins] That all their sins

may be pardoned, and their souls sanctified; for nothing less is

implied in the phrase, αφεσιςαμαρτιων, which signifies the taking

away or removal of sins.

And inheritance] By remission of sins, i.e. the removal of the

guilt and pollution of sin, they become children of God; and, if

children, then heirs; for the children of the heavenly family

shall alone possess the heavenly estate. And as the inheritance is

said to be among them that are SANCTIFIED, this is a farther proof

that αφεσιςαμαρτιων signifies, not only the forgiveness of sins,

but also the purification of the heart.

By faith that is in me.] By believing on Christ Jesus, as dying

for their offenses, and rising again for their justification. Thus

we see that not only this salvation comes through Christ, but that

it is to be received by faith; and, consequently, neither by the

merit of works, nor by that of suffering.

Verse 19. I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision] This,

O Agrippa, was the cause of my conversion from my prejudices and

mal-practices against the doctrine of Christ. The vision was from

heaven; I received it as such, and began to preach the faith which

I had before persecuted.

Verse 20. But showed first unto them of Damascus] He appears to

have preached at Damascus, and in the neighbouring parts of Arabia

Deserta, for about three years; and afterwards he went up to

Jerusalem. See Ga 1:17, 18; and See Clarke on Ac 9:23.

That they should repent] Be deeply humbled for their past

iniquities, and turn to God as their Judge and Saviour, avoiding

all idolatry and all sin; and thus do works meet for repentance;

that is, show by their conduct that they had contrite hearts, and

that they sincerely sought salvation from God alone. For the

meaning of the word repentance, See Clarke on Mt 3:2.

Verse 21. For these causes the Jews-went about to kill me.]

These causes may be reduced to four heads:-1. He had maintained

the resurrection of the dead. 2. The resurrection of Christ, whom

they had crucified and slain. 3. That this Jesus was the promised

Messiah. 4. He had offered salvation to the Gentiles as well as

to the Jews. He does not mention the accusation of having defiled

the temple, nor of disloyalty to the Roman government; probably,

because his adversaries had abandoned these charges at his

preceding trial before Festus: see Ac 25:8; and see

Calmet.

Verse 22. Having-obtained help of God] According to the gracious

promise made to him: see Ac 26:17.

Witnessing both to small and great] Preaching before kings,

rulers, priests, and peasants; fearing no evil, though ever

surrounded with evils; nor slackening in my duty, notwithstanding

the opposition I have met with both from Jews and Gentiles. And

these continual interpositions of God show me that I have not

mistaken my call, and encourage me to go forward in my work.

Verse 23. That Christ should suffer] That the Christ, or

Messiah, should suffer. This, though fully revealed in the

prophets, the prejudices of the Jews would not permit them to

receive: they expected their Messiah to be a glorious secular

prince; and, to reconcile the fifty-third of Isaiah with their

system, they formed the childish notion of two Messiahs-Messiah

ben David, who should reign, conquer, and triumph; and Messiah ben

Ephraim, who should suffer and be put to death. A distinction

which has not the smallest foundation in the whole Bible.

As the apostle says he preached none other things than those

which Moses and the prophets said should come, therefore he

understood that both Moses and the prophets spoke of the

resurrection of the dead, as well as of the passion and

resurrection of Christ. If this be so, the favourite system of a

learned bishop cannot be true; viz. that the doctrine of the

immortality of the soul was unknown to the ancient Jews.

That he should be the first that should rise from the dead] That

is, that he should be the first who should rise from the dead so

as to die no more; and to give, in his own person, the proof of

the resurrection of the human body, no more to return under the

empire of death. In no other sense can Jesus Christ be said to be

the first that rose again from the dead; for Elisha raised the son

of the Shunammite. A dead man, put into the sepulchre of the

Prophet Elisha, was restored to life as soon as he touched the

prophet's bones. Christ himself had raised the widow's son at

Nain; and he had also raised Lazarus, and several others. All

these died again; but the human nature of our Lord was raised from

the dead, and can die no more. Thus he was the first who rose

again from the dead to return no more into the empire of death.

And should show light unto the people] Should give the true

knowledge of the law and the prophets to the Jews; for these are

meant by the term people, as in Ac 26:17.

And to the Gentiles, who had no revelation, and who sat in the

valley of the shadow of death: these also, through Christ, should

be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and be made a glorious

Church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. That the

Messiah should be the light both of the Jews and Gentiles, the

prophets had clearly foretold: see Isa 60:1:

Arise and shine, or be illuminated, for thy LIGHT is come, and

the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. And again, Isa 49:6:

I will give thee for a LIGHT to the GENTILES, that thou mayest

be my salvation unto the ends of the earth. With such sayings as

these Agrippa was well acquainted, from his education as a Jew.

Verse 24. Paul, thou art beside thyself] "Thou art mad, Paul!"

"Thy great learning hath turned thee into a madman." As we

sometimes say, thou art cracked, and thy brain is turned. By the

ταπολλαγραμματα it is likely that Festus meant no more than

this, that Paul had got such a vast variety of knowledge, that his

brain was overcharged with it: for, in this speech, Paul makes no

particular show of what we call learning; for he quotes none of

their celebrated authors, as he did on other occasions; see

Ac 17:28. But he here spoke of spiritual things, of which

Festus, as a Roman heathen, could have no conception; and this

would lead him to conclude that Paul was actually deranged. This

is not an uncommon case with many professing Christianity; who,

when a man speaks on experimental religion, on the life of God in

the soul of man-of the knowledge of salvation, by the remission of

sins-of the witness of the Spirit, &c., &c., things essential to

that Christianity by which the soul is saved, are ready to cry

out, Thou art mad: he is an enthusiast: that is, a religious

madman; one who is not worthy to be regarded; and yet, strange to

tell, these very persons who thus cry out are surprised that

Festus should have supposed that Paul was beside himself!

Verse 25. I am not mad, most noble Festus] This most sensible,

appropriate, and modest answer, was the fullest proof he could

give of his sound sense and discretion. The title, κρατιστε,

most noble, or most excellent, which he gives to Festus, shows

at once that he was far above indulging any sentiment of anger or

displeasure at Festus, though he had called him a madman; and it

shows farther that, with the strictest conscientiousness, even an

apostle may give titles of respect to men in power, which taken

literally, imply much more than the persons deserve to whom they

are applied. κρατιστος, which implies most excellent, was merely a

title which belonged to the office of Festus. St. Paul hereby

acknowledges him as the governor; while, perhaps, moral excellence

of any kind could with no propriety be attributed to him.

Speak forth the words of truth and soberness.] αληθειαςκαι

σωφροσυνης, Words of truth and of mental soundness. The very terms

used by the apostle would at once convince Festus that he was

mistaken. The σωφροσυνη of the apostle was elegantly opposed to

the μανια of the governor: the one signifying mental derangement,

the other mental sanity. Never was an answer, on the spur of the

moment, more happily conceived.

Verse 26. Before whom also I speak freely] This is a farther

judicious apology for himself and his discourse. As if he had

said: Conscious that the king understands all these subjects well,

being fully versed in the law and the prophets, I have used the

utmost freedom of speech, and have mentioned the tenets of my

religion in their own appropriate terms.

This thing was not done in a corner.] The preaching, miracles,

passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, were most public

and notorious; and of them Agrippa could not be ignorant; and

indeed it appears, from his own answer, that he was not, but was

now more fully persuaded of the truth than ever, and almost led to

embrace Christianity.

Verse 27. Believest thou the prophets?] Having made his elegant

compliment and vindication to Festus, he turns to Agrippa; and,

with this strong appeal to his religious feeling, says, Believest

thou the prophets? and immediately anticipates his reply, and,

with great address, speaks for him, I know that thou believest.

The inference from this belief necessarily was: "As thou believest

the prophets, and I have proved that the prophets have spoken

about Christ, as suffering and, triumphing over death, and that

all they say of the Messiah has been fulfilled in Jesus of

Nazareth, then thou must acknowledge that my doctrine is true."

Verse 28. Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.] ενολιγω

μεπειθειςχριστιανονγενεσθαι. This declaration was almost the

necessary consequence of the apostle's reasoning, and Agrippa's

faith. If he believed the prophets, see Ac 26:22, 23, and

believed that Paul's application of their words to Christ Jesus

was correct, he must acknowledge the truth of the Christian

religion; but he might choose whether he would embrace and confess

this truth, or not. However, the sudden appeal to his religious

faith extorts from him the declaration, Thou hast nearly persuaded

me to embrace Christianity. How it could have entered into the

mind of any man, who carefully considered the circumstances of the

case, to suppose that these words of Agrippa are spoken

ironically, is to me unaccountable. Every circumstance in the

case proves them to have been the genuine effusion of a heart

persuaded of the truth; and only prevented from fully

acknowledging it by secular considerations.

Verse 29. I would to God, &c.] ευξαιμηναντωθεωκαιενολιγω

καιενπολλω-So fully am I persuaded of the infinite excellence of

Christianity, and so truly happy am I in possession of it, that I

most ardently wish that not only thou, but this whole council,

were not only almost, but altogether, such as I am, these CHAINS

excepted. Thus, while his heart glows with affection for their

best interests, he wishes that they might enjoy all his blessings,

if possible, without being obliged to bear any cross on the

account. His holding up his chain, which was probably now detached

from the soldier's arm, and wrapped about his own, must have made

a powerful impression on the minds of his audience. Indeed, it

appears they could bear the scene no longer; the king was

overwhelmed, and rose up instantly, and so did the rest of the

council, and went immediately aside; and, after a very short

conference among themselves, they unanimously pronounced him

innocent; and his last word, τωνδεσμων, BONDS! and the action

with which it was accompanied, had made such a deep impression

upon their hearts that they conclude their judgment with that very

identical word δεσμων. Would to God, says the apostle, that all

who hear me this day were altogether such as as I am, except these

BONDS! The whole council say-This man hath done nothing worthy of

death nor of BONDS! δεσμων, BONDS, is echoed by them from the last

words of the apostle; as we may plainly perceive that, seeing such

an innocent and eminent man suffering such indignity had made a

deep impression upon their hearts. Alas! why should such a man be

in B-O-N-D-S!

Verse 32. Then said Agrippa, &c.] The king himself, who had

participated in the strongest emotions on the occasion, feels

himself prompted to wish the apostle's immediate liberation; but

this was now rendered impracticable, because he had appealed to

Caesar; the appeal was no doubt registered, and the business must

now proceed to a full hearing. Bp. Pearce conjectures, with great

probability, that Agrippa, on his return to Rome, represented

Paul's case so favourably to the emperor, or his ministers of

state, that he was soon set at liberty there, as may be concluded

from Ac 28:30, that he dwelt two whole years in his own hired

place; and to the same cause it seems to have been owing that

Julius, who had the care of Paul as a prisoner in the ship,

treated him courteously; see Ac 27:3, 43. And the same may be

gathered from Ac 28:14, 16. So that this defence of the apostle

before Agrippa, Bernice, Festus, &c., was ultimately serviceable

to his important cause.

1. THE conversion of Saul was a wonderful work of the Spirit of

God; and, as we have already seen, a strong proof of the truth of

Christianity; and the apostle himself frequently appeals to it as

such.

2. His mission to the Gentiles was as extraordinary as the

calling of the Gentiles itself. Every thing is supernatural in a

work of grace; for, because nature cannot produce the effects, the

grace of God, which implies the co-operation of his omniscience,

omnipotence, and endless mercy, undertakes to perform the

otherwise impossible task.

3. From the commission of St. Paul, we see the state in which

the Gentile world was, previously to the preaching of the Gospel.

1. Their eyes are represented as closed; their understanding was

darkened; and they had no right apprehension of spiritual or

eternal things.

2. They were in a state of darkness; living without the

knowledge of the true God, in a region where nothing but ignorance

prevailed.

3. They were under the dominion and authority of Satan; they

were his vassals, and he claimed them as his right.

4. They were in a state of guiltiness; living, in almost every

respect, in opposition to the dictates even of nature itself.

5. They were polluted; not only irregular and abominable in

their lives, but also impure and unholy in their hearts. Thus far

their state.

Behold what the grace of the Gospel is to do for these Gentiles,

in order to redeem them from this state:-

1. It opens their eyes; gives them an understanding, whereby

they may discern the truth; and, without this illumination from

above, the truth of God can never be properly apprehended.

2. It turns them from the darkness to the light; a fine

metaphor, taken from the act of a blind man, who is continually

turning his eyes towards the light, and rolling his eyes upwards

towards the sun, and in all directions, that he may collect as

many of the scattered rays as he can, in order to form distinct

vision. In this way the Gentiles appeared to be, in vain,

searching after the light, till the Gospel came, and turned their

eyes to the Sun of righteousness.

3. They are brought from under the bondage and slavery of sin

and Satan, to be put under the obedience of Jesus Christ. So that

Christ and his grace as truly and as fully rule and govern them as

sin and Satan did formerly. This is a proof that the change is not

by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.

4. He pardons their sin, so that they are no longer liable to

endless perdition.

5. He sanctifies their nature, so that they are capable of

loving and serving him fervently with pure hearts; and are thus

rendered fit for the enjoyment of the inheritance among the saints

in light.

Such a salvation, from such a bondage, does the Gospel of Christ

offer to the Gentiles-to a lost world. It is with extreme

difficulty that any person can be persuaded that he needs a

similar work of grace on his heart to that which was necessary for

the conversion of the Gentiles. We may rest assured that no man is

a Christian merely by birth or education. If Christianity implies

the life of God in the soul of man -the remission of sins-the

thorough purification of the heart, producing that holiness

without which none can see the Lord, then it is evident that God

alone can do this work, and that neither birth nor education can

bestow it. By birth, every man is sinful; by practice, every man

is a transgressor; for all have sinned. God alone, by faith in

Christ Jesus, can save the sinner from his sins. Reader, has God

saved thee from this state of wretchedness, and brought thee "into

the glorious liberty of his children?" Let thy conscience answer

for itself.

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