We have here the preparation that was made for another hearing of Paul before King Agrippa, not in order to his giving judgment upon him, but in order to his giving advice concerning him, or rather only to gratify his curiosity. Christ had said, concerning his followers, that they should be brought before governors and kings. In the former part of this chapter Paul was brought before Festus the governor, here before Agrippa the king, for a testimony to both. Here is,
I. The kind and friendly visit which king Agrippa made to Festus, now upon his coming into the government in that province (Acts 25:13): After certain days, king Agrippa came to Caesarea. Here is royal visit. Kings usually think it enough to send their ambassadors to congratulate their friends, but here was a king that came himself, that made the majesty of a prince yield to the satisfaction of a friend; for personal converse is the most pleasant among friends. Observe,
1. Who the visitants were. (1.) King Agrippa, the son of that Herod (surnamed Agrippa) who killed James the apostle, and was himself eaten of worms, and great grandson of Herod the Great, under whom Christ was born. Josephus calls this Agrippa the younger; Claudius the emperor made him king of Chalcis, and tetrarch of Trachonitis and Abylene, mentioned Luke 3:1. The Jewish writers speak of him, and (as Dr. Lightfoot tells us) among other things relate this story of him, “That reading the law publicly, in the latter end of the year of release, as was enjoined, the king, when he came to those words (Deut. 17:15), Thou shalt not set a stranger king over thee, who is not of thy brethren, the tears ran down his cheeks, for he was not of the seed of Israel, which the congregation observing, cried out, Be of good comfort, king Agrippa, thou art our brother; for he was of their religion, though not of their blood.” (2.) Bernice came with him. She was his own sister, now a widow, the widow of his uncle Herod, king of Chalcis, after whose death she lived with this brother of hers, who was suspected to be too familiar with her, and, after she was a second time married to Polemon king of Cilicia, she got to be divorced from him, and returned to her brother king Agrippa. Juvenal (Sat. 6) speaks of a diamond ring which Agrippa gave to Bernice, his incestuous sister:—
------Berenices In digito factus pretiosior; hunc dedit olim Barbarus incestae, dedit hunc Agrippa sorori. That far-famed gem which on the finger glow’d Of Bernice (dearer thence), bestowed By an incestuous brother.—GIFFORD.And both Tacitus and Suetonius speak of a criminal intimacy afterwards between her and Titus Vespasian. Drusilla, the wife of Felix, was another sister. Such lewd people were the great people generally in those times! Say not that the former days were better.
2. What the design of this visit was: they came to salute Festus, to give him joy of his new promotion, and to wish him joy in it; they came to compliment him upon his accession to the government, and to keep up a good correspondence with him, that Agrippa, who had the government of Galilee, might act in concert with Festus, who had the government of Judea; but it is probable they came as much to divert themselves as to show respect to him, and to share in the entertainments of his court, and to show their fine clothes, which would do vain people no good if they did not go abroad.
II. The account which Festus gave to king Agrippa of Paul and his case, which he gave.
1. To entertain him, and give him some diversion. It was a very remarkable story, and worth any man’s hearing, not only as it was surprising and entertaining, but, if it were truly and fully told, very instructive and edifying; and it would be particularly acceptable to Agrippa, not only because he was a judge, and there were some points of law and practice in it well worth his notice, but much more as he was a Jew, and there were some points of religion in it much more deserving his cognizance.
2. To have his advice. Festus was but newly come to be a judge, at least to be a judge in these parts, and therefore was diffident of himself and of his own ability, and willing to have the counsel of those that were older and more experienced, especially in a matter that had so much difficulty in it as Paul’s case seemed to have, and therefore he declared it to the king. Let us now see the particular account he gives to king Agrippa concerning Paul, Acts 25:14-21.
(1.) He found him a prisoner when he came into the government of this province; and therefore could not of his own knowledge give an account of his cause from the beginning: There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix; and therefore, if there were any thing amiss in the first taking of him into custody, Festus is not to answer for that, for he found him in bonds. When Felix, to do the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound, though he knew him to be innocent, he knew not what he did, knew not but he might fall into worse hands than he did fall into, though they were none of the best.
(2.) That the Jewish sanhedrim were extremely set against him: “The chief priests and the elders informed me against him as a dangerous man, and not fit to live, and desired he might therefore be condemned to die.” These being great pretenders to religion, and therefore to be supposed men of honour and honesty, Festus thinks he ought to give credit to them; but Agrippa knows them better than he does, and therefore Festus desires his advice in this matter.
(3.) That he had insisted upon the Roman law in favour of the prisoner, and would not condemn him unheard (Acts 25:16): “It is not the manner of the Romans, who herein govern themselves by the law of nature and the fundamental rules of justice, to deliver any man to die, to grant him to destruction” (so the word is), “to gratify his enemies with his destruction, before the accused has the accusers face to face, to confront their testimony, and have both licence and time given him to answer for himself.” He seems to upbraid them as if they reflected upon the Romans and their government in asking such a thing, or expecting that they would condemn a man without trying him: “No,” says he, “I would have you to know, whatever you may allow of among yourselves, the Romans allow not of such a piece of injustice among them.” Audi et alteram partem—Hear the other side, had become a proverb among them. This rule we ought to be governed by in our private censures in common conversation; we must not give men bad characters, nor condemn their words and actions, till we have heard what is to be said in their vindication. See John 7:51.
(4.) That he had brought him upon his trial, according to the duty of his place, Acts 25:17. That he had been expeditious in it, and the prosecutors had not reason to complain of his being dilatory, for as soon as ever they had come (and we are sure they lost no time) without any delay, on the morrow, he had brought on the cause. He had likewise tried him in the most solemn manner: He sat on the judgment-seat, as they used to do in weightier causes, while those that were of small moment they judged de plano—upon even ground. He called a great court on purpose for the trial of Paul, that the sentence might be definitive, and the cause ended.
(5.) That he was extremely disappointed in the charge they brought against him (Acts 25:18, 19): When the accusers stood up against him, and opened their indictment, they brought no accusations of such things as I supposed.
[1.] He supposed by the eagerness of their prosecution, and their urging it thus upon the Roman governors one after another, First, That they had something to accuse him of that was dangerous either to private property or the public peace,—that they would undertake to prove him a robber, or a murderer, or a rebel against the Roman power,—that he had been in arms to head a sedition,—that if he were not that Egyptian who lately made an uproar, and commanded a party of cut-throats, as the chief captain supposed him to be, yet he was one of the same kidney. Such were the outcries against the primitive Christians, so loud, so fierce, that the standers-by, who judged of them by those outcries, could not but conclude them the worst of men; and to represent them so was the design of that clamour, as it was against our Saviour. Secondly, That they had something to accuse him of that was cognizable in the Roman courts, and which the governor was properly the judge of, as Gallio expected (Acts 18:14); otherwise it was absurd and ridiculous to trouble him with it, and really an affront to him.
[2.] But to his great surprise he finds the matter is neither so nor so; they had certain questions against him, instead of proofs and evidences against him. The worst they had to say against him was disputable whether it was a crime or no-moot-points, that would bear an endless debate, but had no tendency to fasten any guilt upon him, questions fitter for the schools than for the judgment-seat. And they were questions of their own superstition, so he calls their religion; or, rather, so he calls that part of their religion which Paul was charged with doing damage to. The Romans protected their religion according to their law, but not their superstition, nor the tradition of their elders. But the great question, it seems, was concerning one Jesus that was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. Some think the superstition he speaks of was the Christian religion, which Paul preached, and that he had the same notion of it that the Athenians had, that it was the introducing of a new demon, even Jesus. See how slightly this Roman speaks of Christ, and of his death and resurrection, and of the great controversy between the Jews and the Christians whether he were the Messiah promised or no, and the great proof of his being the Messiah, his resurrection from the dead, as if it were no more than this, There was one Jesus that was dead, and Paul affirmed he was alive. In many causes issue is joined upon this question, whether such a person that has been long absent be living or dead, and proofs are brought on both sides; and Festus will have it thought that this is a matter of no more moment. Whereas this Jesus, whom he prides himself in being thus ignorant of, as if he were below his notice, is he that was dead, and is alive, and lives for evermore, and has the keys of hell and of death, Rev. 1:18. What Paul affirmed concerning Jesus, that he is alive, is a matter of such vast importance that if it be not true we are all undone.
(6.) That therefore he had proposed to Paul that the cause might be adjourned to the Jewish courts, as best able to take cognizance of an affair of this nature (Acts 25:20): “Because I doubted of such manner of questions, and thought myself unfit to judge of things I did not understand, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, appear before the great sanhedrim, and there be judged of these matters.” He would not force him to it, but would be glad if Paul would consent to it, that he might not have his conscience burdened with a cause of this nature.
(7.) That Paul had chosen rather to remove his cause to Rome than to Jerusalem, as expecting fairer play from the emperor than from the priests: “He appealed to be reserved to the hearing of Augustus (Acts 25:21), having no other way to stop proceedings here in this inferior court; and therefore I commanded him to be kept a close prisoner till I might send him to Caesar, for I did not see cause to refuse his appeal, but rather was pleased with it.”
III. The bringing of him before Agrippa, that he might have the hearing of his cause.
1. The king desired it (Acts 25:22): “I thank you for your account of him, but I would also hear the man myself.” Agrippa knows more of this matter, of the cause and of the person, than Festus does; he has heard of Paul, and knows of what vast concern this question is, which Festus makes such a jest of, whether Jesus be alive or no. And nothing would oblige him more than to hear Paul. Many great men think it below them to take cognizance of the matters of religion, except they can hear them like themselves in the judgment-seat. Agrippa would not for all the world have gone to a meeting to hear Paul preach, any more than Herod to hear Jesus; and yet they are both glad to have them brought before them, only to satisfy their curiosity. Perhaps Agrippa desired to hear him himself, that he might be in a capacity to do him a kindness, and yet did him none, only put some credit upon him.
2. Festus granted it: To-morrow thou shalt hear him. There was a good providence in this, for the encouragement of Paul, who seemed buried alive in his imprisonment, and deprived of all opportunities of doing good. We know not of any of his epistles that bore date from his prison at Caesarea. What opportunity he had of doing good to his friends that visited him, and perhaps to a little congregation of them that visited him every Lord’s-day, was but a low and narrow sphere of usefulness, so that he seemed to be thrown by as a despised broken vessel, in which there was no pleasure; but this gives him an opportunity of preaching Christ to a great congregation, and (which is more) to a congregation of great ones. Felix heard him in private concerning the faith of Christ. But Agrippa and Festus agree he shall be heard in public. And we have reason to think that his sermon in the next chapter, though it might not be so instrumental as some other of his sermons for the conversion of souls, redounded as much to the honour of Christ and Christianity as any sermon he ever preached in his life.
3. Great preparation was made for it (Acts 25:23): The next day there was a great appearance in the place of hearing, Paul and his cause being much talked of, and the more for their being much talked against.
(1.) Agrippa and Bernice took this opportunity to show themselves in state, and to make a figure, and perhaps for that end desired the occasion, that they might see and be seen; for they came with great pomp, richly dressed, with gold and pearls, and costly array; with a great retinue of footmen in rich liveries, which made a splendid show, and dazzled the eyes of the gazing crowd. They came meta polles phantasias—with great fancy, so the word is. Note, Great pomp is but great fancy. It neither adds any read excellency, nor gains any real respect, but feeds a vain humour, which wise men would rather mortify than gratify. It is but a show, a dream, a fantastical thing (so the word signifies), superficial, and it passeth away. And the pomp of this appearance would put one for ever out of conceit with pomp, when the pomp which Agrippa and Bernice appeared in was, [1.] Stained by their lewd characters, and all the beauty of it sullied, and all virtuous people that knew them could not but contemn them in the midst of all this pomp as vile persons, Ps. 15:4. [2.] Outshone by the real glory of the poor prisoner at the bar. What was the honour of their fine clothes, compared with that of his wisdom, and grace, and holiness, his courage and constancy in suffering for Christ! His bonds in so good a cause were more glorious than their chains of gold, and his guards than their equipage. Who would be fond of worldly pomp that here sees so bad a woman loaded with it and so good a man loaded with the reverse of it?
(2.) The chief captains and principal men of the city took this opportunity to pay their respects to Festus and to his guests. It answered the end of a ball at court, it brought the fine folks together in their fine clothes, and served for an entertainment. It is probable that Festus sent Paul notice of it overnight, to be ready for a hearing the next morning before Agrippa. And such confidence had Paul in the promise of Christ, that it should be given him in that same hour what he should speak, that he complained not of the short warning, nor was put into confusion by it. I am apt to think that those who were to appear in pomp perplexed themselves more with care about their clothes than Paul, who was to appear as a prisoner, did with care about his cause; for he knew whom he had believed, and who stood by him.
IV. The speech with which Festus introduced the cause, when the court, or rather the audience, was set, which is much to the same purport with the account he had just now given to Agrippa. 1. He addressed himself respectfully to the company: “King Agrippa, and all men who are here present with us.” He speaks to all the men—pantes andres, as if he intended a tacit reflection upon Bernice, a woman, for appearing in a meeting of this nature; he does not refer any thing to her judgment nor desire her counsel; but, “All you that are present that are men (so the words are placed), I desire you to take cognizance of this matter.” The word used is that which signifies men in distinction from women; what had Bernice to do here? 2. He represents the prisoner as one that the Jews had a very great spite against; not only the rulers, but the multitude of them, both at Jerusalem and here at Caesarea, cry out that he ought not to live any longer, for they think he has lived too long already, and if he live any longer it will be to do more mischief. They could not charge him with any capital crime, but they wanted to have him out of the way. 3. He confesses the prisoner’s innocency; and it was much for the honour of Paul and his bonds that he had such a public acknowledgement as this from the mouth of his judge (Acts 25:25): I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death. Upon a full hearing of the case, it appeared there was no evidence at all to support the indictment: and therefore, though he was inclinable enough to favour the prosecutors, yet his own conscience brought in Paul not guilty. And why did he not discharge him then, for he stood upon his deliverance? Why, truly, because he was so much clamoured against, and he feared the clamour would turn upon himself if he should release him. It is a pity but every man that has a conscience should have courage to act according to it. Or perhaps because there was so much smoke that he concluded there could not but be some fire, which would appear at last, and he would detain him a prisoner in expectation of it. 4. He acquaints them with the present state of the case, that the prisoner had appealed to the emperor himself (where by he put ann honour upon his own cause, as knowing it not unworthy the cognizance of the greatest of men), and that he had admitted his appeal: I have determined to send him. And thus the cause now stood. 5. He desires their assistance in examining the matter calmly and impartially, now that there was no danger of their being interrupted, as he had been with the noisiness and outrage of the prosecutors-that he might have at least such an insight into the cause as was necessary to his stating it to the emperor, Acts 25:26, 27. (1.) He thought it unreasonable to send a prisoner, especially so far as Rome, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him, that the matter might be prepared as much as possible, and put in a readiness for the emperor’s determination; for he is supposed to be a man of great business, and therefore every affair must be laid before him in as little compass as possible. (2.) He could not as yet write any thing certain concerning Paul; so confused were the informations that were given in against him, and so inconsistent, that Festus could make nothing at all of them. He therefore desired Paul might thus be publicly examined, that he might be advised by them what to write. See what a great deal of trouble and vexation those were put to, and to what delay, nay, and to what hazard, in the administration of public justice, who live at such a distance from Rome, and yet were subject to the emperor of Rome. The same was this nation of ours put to (which is about as far distant from Rome the other way) when it was in ecclesiastical affairs subject to the pope of Rome, and appeals were upon all occasions made to his court; and the same mischiefs, and a thousand worse, would those bring upon us who would again entangle us in that yoke of bondage.
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