Page images
PDF
EPUB

to go and persecute the disciples of Christ. As he looked round he would be struck with the great changes that had been effected in that body. Many a familiar face was missing, had gone the way of all the earth, others very young had become infirm with years and grey with time. His earnest look about that Sanhedrim must have filled him with melting memories. Certainly there could have been nothing in the look to have provoked the indignity which the high priest commanded to be dealt to him. Was there anything in what he said ? What did he say ! 6 Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God unto this day.” It has been remarked that the word fathers, which he employed in addressing the people chapter 21, verse 21, is omitted in this address before the Sanhedrim. He only says here “Men and brethren." This omission might only be in the summary report, or, if it were omitted from his actual address, it might have been a matter of accident, not intention. In any case, there is no ground for entertaining the neologie idea that Paul intended a rudeness. His declaration that he “ had lived in all good conscience before God until that day” was far more adapted to conciliate than to offend. An opportunity will occur in the sequel of the exposition of this book to offer remarks on a "good conscience." All that Paul means by the expression here is conscientiousness, a consciousness of rectitude. Conscientiousness, however, as will appear again, does not always imply a good conscience. Saul even as a persecutor was conscientious. Saul making havoc of the Church ; Dominic founding the Inquisition ; Calvin instituting the death of Servetus ; the Puritans imprisoning and banishing Baptists and Quakers, were all conscientious. We can find nothing therefore either in the attitudes, looks, or words of the Apostle in any way to justify the grossly insolent conduct of the high priest. The narrative of this outrage of justice by Ananias, shows

Secondly: It was nobly met. (1) It was met with manly courage. Did the spirit of Paul cower and cringe before this insult? No. It rose into noble defiance :

Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee thou whited wall : for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law ?

Whited wall is a proverbial expression for hypocrite. The Heavenly Teacher himself denounced the Pharisees as whited sepulchres. The words of the Apostle may be either an imprecation or prediction. If the former, it was an outburst, not, we think, unjustified, of that warm temper of his which formed the foundation of his noble nature. Indignation in itself is not wrong.

On the contrary, it is a virtuous passion when roused as in this case by the vision of a moral enormity. If the latter, a prediction, the Apostle spoke under the inspiration of truth. Paul knew that the man who so outraged justice and law as Ananias did now would inevitably meet with the retribution of Heaven. History shows that soon after he did become the victim of eternal justice. Josephus informs us that he, with his brother Hezekiah, were slain during the terrible excitement that occurred in Jerusalem when the insurgent ruffians under their leader, Manahem had got possession of the holy city. At first he attempted to conceal himself in an aqueduct, but afterwards was drawn forth and killed. But whether the Apostle's language was that of imprecation or prediction, his courage in either case was strikingly manifest. It was not in the power of a mortal to crush into servility that Christ-inspired soul of his. This insult was also met (2) by commendable candour:

Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people."

It appears that there were some in the Sanhedrim on this occasion who regarded Paul's words as profane and rebellious. “Revilest thou God's high priest?” The reply of the Apostle is variously interpreted. “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest.” Some suppose that the Apostle speaks ironically, that he meant to say, I never could suppose that such an unjust man was a high priest, that a man who so outraged justice should sit in her seat and administer her affairs. Others suppose that he really meant what he said, that he really did not know that the man who commanded him to be smitten on the mouth was a high priest. Those who take the latter view, the view I incline to, must regard the Apostle as in some measure apologising for the hastiness of his utterance, as virtually saying, I acknowledge my error and my haste, I have spoken unadvisably with my lips, the insult and cruelty I have received have betrayed me into an undue warmth of temper; I know that the office of high priest is divine, however corrupt the man is who fills it, and respect for the office should have made me more cautious, for it is written, “ Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." (Exodus xxii. 28.) The best men on earth are liable to be overtaken by temper, and the candour which like Paul's hastens to acknowledge the defect is a rare attribute of excellence.

The other remarkable thing which you have in this trial is

II. THE EMPLOYMENT OF POLICY BY AN APOSTLE. The Apostle having seen enough to convince him that there was no prospect whatever of obtaining a fair trial before the Şanhedrim had recourse to a clever measure of policy. The narrative leads us to consider the nature and effects of this policy.

First: The nature of the policy which that Apostle employed. What was the expedient he employed ? Seeing that there was no chance of having justice done him by that judicial assembly, he endeavours at once to divert their attention from himself by raising a question that would set them into a furious disputation amongst themselves. The members of the Sanhedrim were composed of Sadducees and Pharisees. One of the grand and chief questions that divided these parties was the doctrine of the resurrection and the existence of a spirit world. This question Paul raises in their midst:

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope anul resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

Some indeed have censured Paul for having had recourse to such an expedient. Those persons should remember that Paul stated nothing but the truth. It was true that he was a Pharisee, held all the theological tenets of that sect, and had been brought up from a child in that school. It was also true that the grand doctrine of the body's resurrection, was one of the leading themes of his discourses everywhere. (Acts xiii. 31, xvii. 31, 32; xxvi. 23–25; 1 Cor. xv.) And was, moreover, true that the proclamation of this doctrine was the cause of much of his persecution. All, therefore, that he did was with a master-stroke of policy to declare a truth which would put him in sympathy with the Pharisees, who formed perhaps the most influential part of that judicial assembly, before which he now stood as a criminal.

Secondly: The effect of the policy which that Apostle now employed. It answered the end he sought. It divided the Sanhedrim and got the Pharisees on his side :

"And when he had so said, there arose a great dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We finil no evil in this man, but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God. And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle."

Three results come out of the policy of the Apostlo on this occasion. (1) A manifestation of the irritating power of a sectionising dogma. The resurrection of the dead, which was a grand truth to the Apostle, was a mere dogma both to the Sadducees and Pharisees, accepted by one and rejected by the other. But it was just that dogma that divided them into

VOL. XX.

T

258

HOMILETIC GLANCE AT THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.

two sects, that marshalled them into opposing forces. As a rule, whatever idea divides one religious sect from another, is the idea to raise in order to awaken sectarian bitterness and battle. Immersion, Episcopacy, Presbyterianism, Independency,--these things which make sects, raise them into discussion, and you will awaken irritation in the parties they divide. Paul knew human nature, and he raised the question that divided the Sanhedrim, and thus diverted attention from himself by awakening a conflict between themselves.

Another result is, (2) A demonstration of the Apostle's innocence. So little impressed was the Sanhedrim with the idea of the Apostle's criminality, that they forgot all about it in the disputation amongst themselves, and, more than this, the Pharisees actually said, “We find no evil in this man," and gave the advice which Gamaliel gave the same council some years before. “But if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” Another result that comes up from the policy employed by the Apostle is, (3) His deliverance from Jewish persecution. " And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and bring him into the castle.

In conclusion, do not get a wrong impression of Paul's policy. Though we have already seen him on various occasions displaying great prudence, for example, taking part in a Nazarite's vow in order to disarm the unreasoning hostility of his countrymen; then putting forward all the considerations which truth would authorise, in order to conciliate the mind of his Jewish audiences ; then availing himself of his Roman citizenship in order to avoid the infliction of a cruel and unjust torture ; and then, as in the case before us, taking advantage of the doctrine that divided his judges in order to avoid their verdict of condemnation : albeit in all those strokes of policy there is not the slightest approach to the disingenuous, the evasive, the shifting. In all there is an unbending honesty and an invincible courage.

« PreviousContinue »