We have here Paul’s defence of himself, in answer to Tertullus’s charge, and there appears in it a great deal of the spirit of wisdom and holiness, and an accomplishment of Christ’s promise to his followers that when they were before governors and kings, for his sake, it should be given them in that same hour what they should speak. Though Tertullus had said a great many provoking things, yet Paul did not interrupt him, but let him go on to the end of his speech, according to the rules of decency and the method in courts of justice, that the plaintiff be allowed to finish his evidence before the defendant begins his plea. And when he had done, he did not presently fly out into passionate exclamations against the iniquity of the times and the men (O tempora! O mores!--Oh the degeneracy of the times!) but he waited for a permission from the judge to speak in his turn, and had it. The governor beckoned to him to speak, Acts 24:10. And now he also may have leave to speak out, under the protection of the governor, which was more than he could hitherto obtain. And, when he did speak, he made no reflections at all upon Tertullus, who he knew spoke for his fee, and therefore despised what he said, and levelled his defence against those that employed him. And here,
I. He addressed himself very respectfully to the governor, and with a confidence that he would do him justice. Here are not such flattering compliments as Tertullus soothed him up with, but, which was more truly respectful, a profession that he answered for himself cheerfully, and with good assurance before him, looking upon him, though not as one that was his friend, yet as one that would be fair and impartial. He thus expresses his expectation that he would be so, to engage him to be so. It was likewise the language of one that was conscious to himself of his own integrity, and whose heart did not reproach him, whoever did. He did not stand trembling at the bar; on the contrary, he was very cheerful when he had one to be his judge that was not a party, but an indifferent person. Nay, when he considers who his judge is, he answers the more cheerfully; and why so? He does not say, “Because I know thee to be a judge of inflexible justice and integrity, that hatest bribes, and in giving judgment fearest God, and regardest not man;” for he could not justly say this of him, and therefore would not say it, though it were to gain his favour ever so much; but, I the more cheerfully answer from myself, because I know thou hast been many years a judge to this nation, and this was very true, and being so, 1. He could say of his own knowledge that there had not formerly been any complaints against Paul. Such clamours as they raised are generally against old offenders; but, though he had long say judge there, he never had Paul brought before him till now; and therefore he was not so dangerous a criminal as he was represented to be. 2. He was well acquainted with the Jewish nation, and with their temper and spirit. He knew how bigoted they were to their own way, what furious zealots they were against all that did not comply with them, how peevish and perverse they generally were, and therefore would make allowances for that in their accusation of him, and not regard that which he had reason to think came so much from part-malice. Though he did not know him, he knew his prosecutors, and by this might guess what manner of man he was.
II. He denies the facts that he was charged with, upon which their character of him was grounded. Moving sedition, and profaning the temple, were the crimes for which he stood indicted, crimes which they knew the Roman governors were not accustomed to enquire into, and therefore they hoped that the governor would return him back to them to be judged by their law, and this was all they wished for. But Paul desires that though he would not enquire into the crimes he would protect one that was unjustly charged with them from those whom he knew to be spiteful and ill-natured enough. Now he would have him to understand (and what he said he was ready, if required, to make out by witnesses),
1. That he came up to Jerusalem on purpose to worship God in peace and holiness, so far was he from any design to move sedition among the people or to profane the temple. He came to keep up his communion with the Jews, not to put any affront upon them.
2. That it was but twelve days since he came up to Jerusalem, and he came up to Jerusalem, and he had been six days a prisoner; he was alone, and it could not be supposed that in so short a time he could do the mischief they charged upon him. And, as for what he had done in other countries, they knew nothing of it but by uncertain report, by which the matter was very unfairly represented.
3. That he had demeaned himself at Jerusalem very quietly and peaceably, and had made no manner of stir. If it had been true (as they alleged) that he was a mover of sedition among all the Jews, surely he would have been industrious to make a party at Jerusalem: but he did not do so. He was in the temple, attending the public service there. He was in the synagogues where the law was read and opened. He went about in the city among his relations and friends, and conversed freely in the places of concourse; and he was a man of a great genius and an active spirit, and yet they could not charge him with offering any thing either against the faith or against the peace of the Jewish church. (1.) He had nothing in him of a contradicting spirit, as the movers of sedition have; he had no disposition to quarrel or oppose. They never found him disputing with any man, either affronting the learned with captious cavils or perplexing the weak and simple with curious subtleties. He was ready, if asked, to give a reason of his own hope, and to give instruction to others; but he never picked a quarrel with any man about his religion, nor made that the subject of debate, and controversy, and perverse dispute, which ought always to be treated of with humility and reverence, with meekness and love. (2.) He had nothing in him of a turbulent spirit: “They never found me raising up the people, by incensing them against their governors in church or state or suggesting to them fears and jealousies concerning public affairs, nor by setting them at variance one with another or sowing discord among them.” He behaved as became a Christian and minister, with love and quietness, and due subjection to lawful authority. The weapons of his warfare were not carnal, not did he ever mention or think of such a thing as taking up arms for the propagating of the gospel or the defence of the preachers of it; though he could have made, perhaps, as strong a party among the common people as his adversaries, yet he never attempted it.
4. That as to what they had charged him with, of moving sedition in other countries, he was wholly innocent, and they could not make good the charge (Acts 24:13): Neither can the prove the things whereof the now accuse me. Hereby, (1.) He maintains his own innocency; for when he says, They cannot prove it, he means, The matter is not so. He was no enemy to the public peace; he had done no real prejudice, but a great deal of real service, and would gladly have done more, to the nation of the Jews. He was so far from having any antipathy to them that he had the strongest affection imaginable for them, and a most passionate desire for their welfare, Rom. 9:1-3. (2.) He bemoans his own calamity, that he was accused of those things which could not be proved against him. And it has often been the lot of very worthy good men to be thus injured, to have things laid to their charge which they are the greatest distance from and abhor the though of. But, while they are lamenting this calamity, this may be their rejoicing, even the testimony of their consciences concerning their integrity. (3.) He shows the iniquity of his prosecutors, who said that which they knew they could not prove, and thereby did him wrong in his name, liberty, and life, and did the judge wrong too, in imposing upon him, and doing what in them lay to pervert his judgment. (4.) He appeals to the equity of his judge, and awakens him to look about him, that he might not be drawn into a snare by the violence of the prosecution. The judge must give sentence secundum allegata et probata—according to that which is not only alleged but proved, and therefore must enquire, and search, and ask diligently, whether the thing be true and certain (Deut. 13:14); he cannot otherwise give a right judgment.
III. He gives a fair and just account of himself, which does at once both clear him from crime and likewise intimate what was the true reason of their violence in prosecuting him.
1. He acknowledges himself to be one whom they looked upon as a heretic, and that was the reason of their spleen against him. The chief captain had observed, and the governor now cannot but observe, an uncommon violence and fury in his prosecutors, which they know not what to make of, but, guessing at the crime by the cry, conclude he must needs have been a very bad man only for that reason. Now Paul here unriddles the matter: I confess that in the way which they call heresy—or a sect, so worship I the God of my fathers. The controversy is in a matter of religion, and such controversies are commonly managed with most fury and violence. Note, It is no new thing for the right way of worshipping God to be called heresy; and for the best of God’s servants to be stigmatized and run down as sectaries. The reformed churches are called heretical ones by those who themselves hate to be reformed, and are themselves heretics. Let us therefore never be driven off from any good way by its being put in to an ill name; for true and pure Christianity is never the worse, nor to be the worse thought of, for its being called heresy; no, not though it be called so by the high priest and the elders.
2. He vindicates himself from this imputation. They call Paul a heretic, but he is not so; for,
(1.) He worships the God of his fathers, and therefore is right in the object of his worship. He does not say, Let us go after other gods, which we have not known, and let us serve them, as the false prophet is supposed to do, Deut. 13:2. If so, they might justly call his way heresy, a drawing of them aside into a by-path, and a dangerous one; but he worships the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not only the God whom they worshipped, but the God who took them into covenant with himself, and was and would be called their God. Paul adheres to that covenant, and sets up no other in opposition to it. The promise made unto the fathers Paul preached as fulfilled to the children (Acts 13:32, 33), and so directed both his own devotions and those of others to God, as the God of their fathers. He also refers to the practice of all his pious ancestors: I worship the same God that all my fathers worshipped. His religion was so far from being chargeable with novelty that it gloried in its antiquity, and in an uninterrupted succession of its professors. Note, It is very comfortable in our worshipping God to have an eye to him as the God of our fathers. Our fathers trusted in him, and were owned by him, and he engaged to be their God, and the God of their seed. He approved himself theirs, and therefore, if we serve him as they did, he will be ours; what an emphasis is laid upon this, He is my father’s God, and I will exalt him! Exod. 15:2.
(2.) He believes all things which are written in the law and the prophets, and therefore is right in the rule of his worship. His religion is grounded upon, and governed by, the holy scriptures; they are his oracle and touchstone, and he speaks and acts according to them. He receives the scriptures entire, and believes all things that are there written; and he receives them pure, for he says no other things than what are contained in them, as he explains himself, Acts 26:22. He sets not up any other rule of faith, or practice but the scriptures-not tradition, nor the authority of the church, nor the infallibility of any man or company of men on earth, nor the light within, nor human reason; but divine revelation, as it is in the scripture, is that which he resolves to live and die by, and therefore he is not a heretic.
(3.) He has his eye upon a future state, and is a believing expectant of that, and therefore is right in the end of his worship. Those that turn aside to heresy have a regard to this world, and some secular interest, but Paul aims to make heaven of his religion, and neither more nor less (Acts 24:15): “I have hope towards God, all my expectation is from him, and therefore all my desire is towards him and all my dependence upon him; my hope is towards God and not towards the world, towards another world and not towards this. I depend upon God and upon his power, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead at the end of time, of all, both the just and unjust; and the great thing I aim at in my religion is to obtain a joyful and happy resurrection, a share in the resurrection of the just.” Observe here, [1.] That there shall be a resurrection of the dead, the dead bodies of men, of all men from the beginning to the end of time. It is certain, not only that the soul does not die with the body, but that the body itself shall live again; we have not only another life to live when our present life is at an end, but there is to be another world, which shall commence when this world is at an end, into which all the children of men must enter at once by a resurrection from the dead, as they entered into this, one after another, by their birth. [2.] It shall be a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust, the sanctified and the unsanctified, of those that did well, and to them our Saviour has told us that it will be a resurrection of life; and of those that did evil, and to them that it will be a resurrection of condemnation, John 5:29. See Dan. 12:2. This implies that it will be a resurrection to a final judgment, by which all the children of men will be determined to everlasting happiness or misery in a world of retribution, according to what they were and what they did in this state of probation and preparation. The just shall rise by virtue of their union with Christ as their head; the unjust shall rise by virtue of Christ’s dominion over them as their Judge. [3.] God is to be depended upon for the resurrection of the dead: I have hope towards God, and in God, that there shall be a resurrection; it shall be effected by the almighty power of God, in performance of the word which God hath spoken; so that those who doubt of it betray their ignorance both of the scriptures and of the power of God, Matt. 22:29. [4.] The resurrection of the dead is a fundamental article of our creed, as it was also of that of the Jewish church. It is what they themselves also allow; nay, it was the expectation of the ancient patriarchs, witness Job’s confession of his faith; but it is more clearly revealed and more fully confirmed by the gospel, and therefore those who believed it should have been thankful to the preachers of the gospel for their explications and proofs of it, instead of opposing them. [5.] In all our religion we ought to have an eye to the other world, and to serve God in all instances with a confidence in him that there will be a resurrection of the dead, doing all in preparation for that, and expecting our recompence in that.
(4.) His conversation is of a piece with his devotion (Acts 24:16): And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence towards God and towards men. Prophets and their doctrine were to be tried by their fruits. Paul was far from having made shipwreck of a good conscience, and therefore it is not likely he has made shipwreck of the faith, the mystery of which is best held in a pure conscience. This protestation of Paul’s is to the same purport with that which he made before the high priest (Acts 23:1): I have lived in all good conscience; and this was his rejoicing. Observe, [1.] What was Paul’s aim and desire: To have a conscience void of offence. Either, First, “A conscience not offending; not informing me wrong, nor flattering me, nor dealing deceitfully with me, nor in any thing misleading me.” Or, Secondly, A conscience not offended; it is like Job’s resolution, “My heart shall not reproach me, that is, I will never give it any occasion to do so. This is what I am ambitious of, to keep upon good terms with my own conscience, that it may have no cause either to question the goodness of my spiritual state or to quarrel with me for any particular action. I am as careful not to offend my conscience as I am not to offend a friend with whom I daily converse; nay, as I am not to offend a magistrate whose authority I am under, and to whom I am accountable; for conscience is God’s deputy in my soul.” [2.] What was his care and endeavour, in pursuance of this: “I exercise myself—asko. I make it my constant business, and govern myself by this intention; I discipline myself, and live by rule” (those that did so were called ascetics, from the word here used), “abstain from many a thing which my inclination leads me to, and abound in all the exercises of religion that are most spiritual, with this in my eye, that I may keep peace with my own conscience.” [3.] The extent of this care: First, To all times: To have always a conscience void of offence, always void of gross offence; for though Paul was conscious to himself that he had not yet attained perfection, and the evil that he would not do yet he did, yet he was innocent from the great transgression. Sins of infirmity are uneasy to conscience, but they do not wound it, and waste it, as presumptuous sins do; and, though offence may be given to conscience, yet care must be taken that it be not an abiding offence, but that by the renewed acts of faith and repentance the matter may be taken up again quickly. This however we must always exercise ourselves in, and, though we come short, we must follow after. Secondly, To all things: Both towards God, and towards man. His conscientious care extended itself to the whole of his duty, and he was afraid of breaking the law of love either to God or his neighbour. Conscience, like the magistrate, is custos utriusque tabulae—the guardian of each table. We must be very cautious that we do not think, or speak, or do any thing amiss, either against God or man, 2 Cor. 8:21. [4.] The inducement to it: Herein, en touto, for this cause; so it may be read. “Because I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, therefore I thus exercise myself.” The consideration of the future state should engage us to be universally conscientious in our present state.
IV. Having made confession of his faith, he gives a plain and faithful account of his case, and of the wrong done him by his persecutors. Twice he had been rescued by the chief captain out of the hands of the Jews, when they were ready to pull him to pieces, and he challenges them to prove him guilty of any crime either time.
1. In the temple. Here they fell furiously upon him as an enemy to their nation and the temple, Acts 21:28. But was there any colour for the charge? No, but evidence sufficient against it, (1.) It was very hard to accuse him as an enemy to their nation, when after long absence from Jerusalem he came to bring alms to his nation, money which (though he had need enough himself of it) he had collected among his friends, for the relief of the poor at Jerusalem. He not only had no malice to that people, but he had a very charitable concern for them, and was ready to do them all good offices; and were they his adversaries for his love? Ps. 109:4. (2.) It was very hard to accuse him of having profaned the temple when he brought offerings to the temple, and was himself at charges therein (Acts 21:24), and was found purifying himself in the temple, according to the law (Acts 24:18), and that in a very quiet decent manner, neither with multitude nor with tumult. Though he was a man so much talked of, he was far from coveting to show himself when he came to Jerusalem, or to be crowded after, but went to the temple, as much as was possible, incognito. They were Jews from Asia, his enemies, that caused him to be taken notice of; they had not pretence to make a tumult and raise a multitude against him, for he had neither multitude nor tumult for him. And as to what was perhaps suggested to Felix that he had brought Greeks into the temple, contrary to their law, and the governor ought to reckon with him for that, the Romans having stipulated with the nations that submitted to them to preserve them in their religion, he challenges them to prove it (Acts 24:19): “Those Jews of Asia ought to have been here before thee, that they might have been examined, whether they had aught against me, that they would stand by and swear to;” for some that will not scruple to tell a lie have such heavings of conscience that they scruple confirming it with an oath.
2. In the council: “Since the Jews of Asia are not here to prove any thing upon me done amiss in the temple, let these same that are here, the high priest and the elders, say whether they have found any evil doing in me, or whether I was guilty of any misdemeanor when I stood before the council, when also they were ready to pull me in pieces, Acts 24:20. When I was there, they could not take offence at any thing I said; for all I said was, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day (Acts 24:21), which gave no offence to any one but the Sadducees. This I hope was no crime, that I stuck to that which is the faith of the whole Jewish church, excepting those whom they themselves call heretics.”