On Acts 26:24-32

Acts 26:24‑32  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The truth was fairly before the king. The prophets and Moses had told out what was now accomplished in the Christ that Paul preached. If their testimony was divine, He who had suffered and risen from the dead is their sure fulfillment, however much may remain. The question whether the Christ should suffer, and whether He first by rising front death should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles, can admit of no answer but the most distinct affirmation. The Messiah to suffer, die, rise, and so shed light on man universally is the surest force of the law and the prophets. This alone gives meaning to sacrifices, this explains the cleansing of the defiled. No doubt there is the kingdom to come, and the judgment of the world, as well as of the dead; but the basis even of all the rest lay in the dead and risen Messiah, the object of faith for salvation to every believer, Jew or Gentile. Here, however, the apostle does not go beyond present facts.
“And as he thus defended himself, Festus saith with a loud voice, Paul, thou art mad: much learning doth turn thee to madness. But Paul saith, I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but speak forth words of truth and soberness. For the king is cognizant of these things, unto whom also I speak with openness; for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him, for this hath not been done in a corner. Believest thou, king Agrippa, the prophets? I know that thou believest. And Agrippa [said] unto Paul, With little [pains] thou art persuading to make me a Christian.1 And Paul [said], I would to God that both with little and with great [pains]2 not thou only but also all that hear me this day should become as I too am, except these bonds. And3 the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them; and when they had retired, they spoke one to another, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or bonds. And Agrippa said to Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar” (Acts 26:24-3224And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. 25But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. 26For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. 27King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. 28Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. 29And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. 30And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: 31And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. 32Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar. (Acts 26:24‑32)).
Festus, ignorant of God and His word and bewildered to the highest degree by the assertion of Messiah’s resurrection, forgot the gravity of the occasion and of his own office, and branded the apostle as a madman, though softening the term by imputing it to his much reading. Calm in the sense of God’s presence and of the truth which alone gives true freedom, Paul shows the only moral elevation discernible in that splendid throng, and so with real courtesy rebuts the senseless charge with words bearing the stamp of the “truth” he testified and of the “sobriety” in which he laid all before others.
Love gives a single eye. With that keen discernment which characterized him, he turns from the benighted heathen who saw nothing beyond the present life and therefore saw it only as a question of power and pleasure and fame, an utter degradation for the undying soul, consistent only in shutting out the light of the true and even the warning of conscience not wholly ignorant of sin — from the heathen he turns to the Jewish king, who, immoral though he was, knew what altogether condemned himself, as well as the glorious visions of which Messiah is the center in Holy Writ. “For the king,” said he, “is cognizant of these things, unto whom also I speak with openness; for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him; for this hath not been done in a corner.” It was notorious that no man living was more interested in or familiar with all that affected the Jews than the younger Herod Agrippa. But how little such acquaintance with facts avails, unless the Holy Spirit bring the word of God home to an exercised conscience! unless a soul bow to God in the overwhelming sense of its own sin and ruin, yet clinging to the hope of mercy in Him! Still to one that owned scripture as divine the apostle could speak as he could not with the same degree of freedom to another who denied and scorned it.
Therefore he turns in the most unexpected way with an appeal to the king’s conscience. “King Agrippa, believest thou the prοphets? I know that thou believest.” Surprised out of his imperturbable self-complacency, and endeavoring to cover his confusion by a jest, the king replies, for it is no answer, “With little pains thou art persuading to make me a Christian.” This appears to be the sense if we take into account the critical reading μεγάλῳ in what follows. Were the Received Text justified which gives πόλλῳ, “much,” this rendering could hardly stand; for the more natural force would then be “in a little while,” distinguished from “much time.”
It is plain that Agrippa had no answer to what had been shown from scripture and the gospel facts. It is equally plain that the conclusion was irresistible, which he strove to parry. The truth is no question of reasoning but of faith in the testimony of God: only there is no root save in the conscience that owns sin and looks to God’s grace in spite of it. And Christ and His work on the cross give the troubled soul confidence; because God sent His Son into the world for the twofold blessing, blessings equally needed by the sinner and flowing from God Himself, that we should live through Christ, and that He should die a propitiation for us. Faith in God’s testimony of His love who therefore gave His Son receives these infinite blessings in Christ. But it is not mere mind that makes the discovery; and if it were, it could avail nothing. It is only to the babe, to the broken in heart, to the consciously ruined sinner, that the truth comes from God. For He is calling souls to the knowledge of Himself, not training theologians It is salvation made known in Christ, not religious science which the world builds up for itself out of it.
So the apostle takes up the king’s word to escape further parley, and takes it up with a love and dignity suited to the Holy Spirit that dwelt in him. It is the simple but deep utterance of a heart supremely happy in the Savior, and in the assurance of grace in Him that could embrace not Agrippa only but all that composed his audience that day. What mercy to man! What goodness of God! What inexhaustible power and fullness in the name of Jesus! Even in the most general form such an ardent wish of blessing had been much. But the more clearly we regard his words the wonder grows. “I would to God that both with little and with great pains not thou only but also all that hear me this day should become as I too am, except these bonds.” The largeness of heart suits admirably him who made known God’s righteousness unto all, and upon all those that believe. The readiness to take all pains is in keeping with the debtor both to Greeks and barbarians, both in wise and to foolish, who working night and day not to burden any, preached the gospel to all. But the perfect happiness of his soul flows over when he wishes to God for them that they might be as he too was. What! the man who had been beaten for dead, and in prison for years, known to be innocent by successive governors, yet chained to a soldier night and day to please a people whom these governors despised and hated. Yes, this is the man who wishes for them all, by little pains and by great as the case might be, that they might not be forgiven or saved only, good a wish as this is, but far, far more, that they might become even as he, filled with the conscious joy of being blessed with Christ and enjoying the present cloudless favor of God. Indeed nothing less is normal Christianity. Yet he adds, except these bonds: “this he could not, did not, wish for one of them. Truly it was a soul that kept itself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Was there one heart that responded, one conscience pierced? We know not, but only that forthwith the court retired, yet owned that the prisoner’s course deserved neither death nor bonds. Agrippa especially, and he was the most competent to speak, declared that he might have been set at liberty but for his appeal to Caesar. How little the king knew God’s purpose or ways! Paul, as he suffered with Christ, was called in due time to suffer for Him. In due time he was to have his wish, to become conformed to His death (Phil 3:9-11).