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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Acts 24



Verse 14


‘But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets.’

Acts 24:14

St. Paul, face to face with his opponents before the judgment-seat of Felix, on the one hand makes an admission, on the other puts forward a claim. He admits that his beliefs are not those of the Jews who are prosecuting him. The way of Christ which he follows is not the way of their religion. They call his way by a hard name, but at the same time he claims that he and they worship the same God, the God of his fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he goes on to assert that he believes all things which are written in the law and in the prophets. How far was he justified in making this claim? Ceremonial law for him had ceased to be of any practical efficacy, but yet he still fully recognised its Divine origin and the Divine purpose which it had served. He felt that Christ had come not to destroy but to fulfil the law. He felt that the God of Moses and the God of Jesus Christ were in the fullest sense of the words the same. St. Paul’s view that the Gospel of Christ supplanted and at the same time carried on the Law of Moses finds numerous illustrations in the subsequent history of the Christian Church.

I. All great religious movements within the Church stand in a twofold attitude towards the past.

(a) On the one hand there is a break with the past. New ideas take possession of men’s minds. Some old belief, some old form of worship is seen to be in some respects false and unworthy.

(b) On the other hand, there is also continuity with the past. The new development still has its roots in the past. It is adjusted to the old beliefs which are still retained. The fundamental principles of Christianity remain as true as they were before, but they are viewed in a new light, they are presented in a fresh way.

And this twofold aspect of religious movements is strikingly marked in the English Reformation. The Reformed Anglican Church broke away from many past errors and abuses, but it did not become a new Church. It still stood firmly rooted in the past. The Church of Rome has condemned our Reformed Church as heretical and schismatic. May we not say, on the other hand, ‘In a way that they call heresy, so worship we the God of our fathers’?

II. Every generation has its own religious ministry, its own way of presenting to the world the Gospel of salvation. It has not merely to adjust itself to the preceding generation, to take up and carry on the work and ideas which have been handed on to it, but it has at the same time its own special problems to consider. It has to take into account the newer ideas on scientific and social questions which are continually growing up. Each generation of Christians gives its own interpretation to the difficulties of Christianity. Each generation accommodates its needs to the eternal truths of the teaching of Jesus Christ. No one generation can ever fully understand another. That is, of course, especially the case where religion is confronted with scientific problems, and over and over again the leaders of religious thought have betrayed religion by putting forward its accidental characteristics as if they were essential. It is essential evidence of the truth of Christianity that it has this wonderful power of assimilating all that is good and true in modern thought. If it had not possessed this receptivity, this flexibility, it would run the risk of becoming fossilised. It could not continue to be a living force if it ceased to be in touch with the highest forms of modern progress.

III. Our own generation has its own religious problems, and it may be that it will hereafter be regarded as a great turning-point in the history of Christianity. At present we are too near to it, too much under its influence to be able to judge about that. There are those who would have us believe that Christianity has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, that our faith is crumbling away underneath us. I do not believe that those who hold this view appreciate the latent resources, the reserve force of Christianity, but the fact that such things are said throws an immense responsibility upon individual believers. We need all the adaptability and all the resoluteness of St. Paul. It rests with us to show that a man may be a sincere Christian without in the least cutting himself off from the social and intellectual movement of his time. It rests with us to let our light shine before men, to prove by our life that religion is a living force within us, something that we have made a reality to ourselves by striving after truth to the best of our power. Do not lightly cut yourselves adrift from that great Christian past which you have inherited from those who have gone before you. Even though you have doubts and difficulties, do not give up the practice of prayer. The God of our fathers is still very near us. He is still ready to hear us in our struggles and temptations as He heard His people in the days gone by. We cannot, of course, as Christians all hold exactly the same opinions. Our forms of worship may not be in all cases exactly the same. But we have one common object of worship, the God of our fathers. That is the link which binds all Christians together. Christ is in us and God is in Christ. ‘I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one.’

—Rev. Dr. H. G. Woods.


‘Suppose a Christian of to-day could be transported into the Christianity of the third, or the tenth, or even the sixteenth century, it would often be difficult for him to understand or sympathise with the ideas, the aspirations, the conduct of these Christians of the past. The principles would be the same, there would be a common ground of faith, but the atmosphere would be different. The ideals would not be the same. The character of the religious life would not be altogether the same. There were, no doubt, in those times many examples of beautiful and saintly lives, still in some respects there would certainly be a sense of discord between the past and the present. That is because the Christianity of each age necessarily reflects to some extent the spirit of its age, and so it is true that, within certain limits, what were regarded as heresies in one age have become the commonplaces of later generations.’

Verse 15


‘There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.’

Acts 24:15

These words spoken by St. Paul in presence of Felix, who probably noted reference to ‘unjust.’ He was a bad man, and possibility of retribution made him tremble.

Men nowadays do not tremble when they hear of resurrection of unjust; but there are some who, when on Holy Days like Easter the truth is brought home to them, are conscious of questions rising up in soul.

The Lord leaves us in no doubt; the resurrection of the just will be to life, of unjust not to damnation but to judgment, to a first examination upon which the final decision irreversibly turns.

I. The resurrection of life.—What is it? The unjust make a resurrection of life in a special sense—a resurrection of judgment. How will it be with the righteous? Our Lord’s words are plain: ‘He that heareth My Word … cometh not into judgment:’ and ‘He that beliveth … is not judged.’ Some, therefore, will be so blest that for them, when the Lord comes to judge, there will be no judgment. Is this in accord with tenor of Holy Scripture? Yes, there is undoubtedly proof of a first resurrection, and that they who are worthy of it will reign with Christ during the mystic thousand years. These are they who come not into judgment.

II. What is the spiritual character of those chosen ones? Here Christ has revealed it in passages above quoted—‘He that believeth.’ But if such be the power of faith, what of the lower powers of belief? We must leave it with Him, knowing that even weak faith in Him will never be counted as though it were not.

III. On faith in Jesus Christ—Incarnate, Crucified, Risen—depends all our future, here and hereafter.

—Bishop Ellicott.


‘The Resurrection of Christ is no isolated fact. It is not only an answer to the craving the human heart; it is the key to all history, the interpretation of the growing purpose of life.’

Verse 25


‘Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.’

Acts 24:25

Felix made two great mistakes. He did not know what constituted ‘a convenient season’; and he presumed he might repent and turn to God whenever he pleased.

I. The folly of trusting to external circumstances.—We are all apt to give too much weight—whether to help or hindrance—to external circumstances. It is a testimony to true religion that almost every one will say, that he hopes and means some day or other, to be, if not very religious, yet certainly more religious than he is now. But, then, all fancy that by and by they will be in a position which will be more favourable to make a beginning They will be holier; or, their anxieties will be fewer; or, their temptations will be less; or, their religious advantages will be greater; or, their associations in life will be more fitting. So their state of mind will be better prepared. They picture a certain future, which wears a sober, and almost a religious, aspect; and then they call that ‘a convenient season.’

II. It is the Holy Spirit Who calls.—It is the felt willingness of God to receive us; it is the ‘still small voice’ consciously heard within—it is the drawings of the secret, constraining power, which is the operation of the Spirit of God upon the conscience and the affections—these make the ‘convenient season.’ Where these are, everything is sure to be ‘convenient’—God will make it ‘convenient’—how unlikely soever it be. Where these are not, there will be an ‘inconvenience’—an utter impossibility. Remember, if the Spirit is now striving, the ‘convenient,’ the most ‘convenient,’ the one ‘convenient,’ perhaps the only ‘convenient season’ of life is come.

III. The danger of procrastination.—It needs no other proof that ‘now’—that emphatic ‘now’ that God has written before your eyes, so awfully and so solemnly—your ‘now’ is here! No man can say that the Spirit will work in him at any given time. Felix might think, ‘I will send for Paul another time.’ But he would not have the wish to send for St. Paul unless the Spirit put it in his heart; and, if even he did send for St. Paul, could he command that the Spirit would come too? And yet, if St. Paul came, and the Spirit did not come, what use is it? We are, most of us, so accustomed to have the good Spirit always acting on our hearts, that it is very difficult for us to imagine a time when He shall not act. No man can say that a year hence, or a day hence, or an hour hence, the Holy Spirit will lead him to God and enable him to repent. All religious procrastination is an insult to the Holy Ghost.

—Rev. James Vaughan.


‘The Hindoos believe that the waters of the Ganges possess such attributes, that he who drinks of that stream must enjoy eternal life. Two pilgrims who had come from afar reached the river together, and one ran down at once to lap the waters; but the other stood on the bank and said, “I am in no hurry; you go back home to-morrow, hut I am about to build my but here, and shall spend all my life here, and drink whenever I please.” He built his hut, and every day would say to himself, “I shall be here to-morrow, and shall drink then.” He lived there for years, and died without tasting the Ganges, as he always put off till the morrow his opportunity.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Acts 24:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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