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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Acts 24

 

 

Verses 1-27

Acts 24:1. After five days, Ananias descended with the elders; to intimidate the governor, and ensure the destruction of Paul, as they had done with Pilate in regard of the Saviour. They lost no time, being determined on his death. It was but twelve days, as in Acts 24:11, from his coming to Jerusalem to his trial in Cæsarea, a port not forty miles north-west of Jerusalem. They took with them Tertullus, a Roman orator, to impeach Paul. Such lawyers were found in most courts, to acquaint them with Roman laws, and assist in correspondence with the senate. He understood his profession; he flattered Felix, he impeached Paul as exciting the jews to sedition, and profaning the temple by bringing an uncircumcised Greek into the inner courts, and as being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Acts 24:10. Then Paul — answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself. This is a concession of truth, destitute of flattery; it is a word of confidence, a great thing when a man is tried for his life, and that he should have the judge on his side. Paul, by a bold stroke of eloquence, not only denies all the charges, but he fully proves the contrary. Of the twelve days he had been in the country, since his arrival from Greece, he had spent about five in the temple, paying his vows; and not disputing with any man, nor exciting any tumult. — What a conclusive argument: and no witness to prove the contrary. And by the bye, it proves that the church in Jerusalem, foreseeing the storm, had given him good advice to purify himself after so long a residence in gentile lands.

Acts 24:14. But this I confess to thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers; and to a Roman, the sects of judaism might not appear, as one more faulty than another. The word αιρεσις, properly called sect, Acts 24:5, designates an opinion, which a man irreclaimably follows, be it good or bad, right or wrong. In some places however it designates opinions repugnant to revelation. 1 Corinthians 11:19. Galatians 5:20. 2 Peter 2:1. It is also used for sectarians. Acts 5:17; Acts 15:5; Acts 28:22.

Believing all things — in the law and the prophets. Paul did not allow himself to be a heretic in doctrine. He names both the law and the prophets, as Christ had often done before, to show that he made the canonical scriptures the guide of his faith, and spake as the oracles of God; and as yet, the christians had made no schism with the Hebrew altar.

Acts 24:17. Now after [an absence of] many years, I came to bring alms to my nation; and like all other sincere worshippers, offerings for the altar. All this demonstrates a fair and religious character. Felix well knew the great poverty of the lower orders of people in Jerusalem. Tertullus, by overcharging Paul, had enhanced the excellence of his character, and drawn it forth in self-defence.

Acts 24:20-21. Let these same say, if they have found any evil doing in me — except it be for this one voice that I cried, and no doubt he had cried with great emphasis, touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day. St. Paul said this to anticipate an objection which the sadducees might have made against that vociferation. To anticipate is often equivalent to the disarming of an adversary.

Acts 24:22. When Felix heard these things, he prudently deferred the matter. He wished to enquire whether the existence of the sect of the Nazarenes was a violation of the jewish law, and by consequence, whether it infringed on any grant of the Romans to allow them the full enjoyment of their religious rites; but especially whether the allegations were true, that Paul had excited tumult. The Romans mostly treated state prisoners with fairness and honour.

Acts 24:24. After certain days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a jewess. Felix, a Roman, was viceroy, or king of the jews. He had formerly been a slave, but was freed, and advanced to the regal dignity by Claudius the emperor. Tacitus, lib. Acts 1:5, calls him eques Romanus, a Roman knight, or one of the three orders in Rome, betwixt the senators and the common people, to whom Claudius had entrusted the province; and adds, that, per omnem sævitiam, et libidinem jus regium servili ingenio exercuit. “He exercised the imperial functions with a mercenary soul, and practised all manner of injustice and cruelty.” St. Luke confirms this account by adding, “he hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him:” Acts 24:26. Josephus records an instance of his voluptuousness in his marriage with Drusilla, a princess of great personal beauty. She was the third daughter of Herod Agrippa, and sister of the younger Agrippa, who afterwards sat on Paul’s case for a third hearing, the fame of his character, learning, and eloquence having spread through the Roman courts of Asia. Drusilla had been betrothed in early life to Epiphanes, son of Antiochus, king of Comagena; but the marriage never took place, in consequence of Epiphanes having refused to fulfil the stipulated condition of embracing the jewish religion. She was afterwards married to Azizus, king of Emesenes, who to obtain her hand, submitted to circumcision. Felix having seen her, became so enamoured of her beauty, that he employed Simon, a magician of Cyprus, to seduce her from her husband, and afterwards married her. Josephus, Antiq. lib. 20. cap. 7. Suetonius informs us that Felix was three times married; and it would appear that two of his wives were named Drusilla. Drusilla Antonii et Cleopatræ nepte in matrimonium accepta. “He took in marriage Drusilla, the niece, or granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra.” Tacit. lib. 5. cap. 9.

Acts 24:25. As he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled. See the eloquent reflections below, translated from Saurin.

Acts 24:27. But after two years — Felix, willing to show the jews a pleasure, left Paul bound. So in all, Paul suffered four years’ imprisonment, besides the long time occupied in a very disastrous voyage. The ship was wrecked, the cargo lost.

REFLECTIONS.

SAURIN exceeds all the preachers I have found on the subject of Paul’s discourse before Felix: I have therefore translated the following remarks from his sermon.

“Paul preached before Felix and Drusilla, of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. Felix was covetous, luxurious, and governor of Judea. Paul selected three subjects, correspondent to these characteristics. Addressing an avaricious man, he treated of righteousness. Addressing the governor of Judea, one of those persons who think themselves independent and responsible to none but themselves for their conduct, he treated of a judgment to come.

“My brethren, when a man preaches for popularity, instead of seeking the glory of Christ, he seeks his own; he selects subjects calculated to display his talents, and flatter his audience. Does he preach before a professed infidel, he will expatiate on morality, and be ashamed to pronounce the venerable words, covenant — satisfaction. Does he address an antinomian audience, who would be offended were he to enforce the practical duties of religion; he makes every thing proceed from election, reprobation, and the irresistibility of grace. Does he preach in the presence of a profligate court, he will enlarge on the liberty of the gospel, and the clemency of God. He has the art, (a most detestable art, but too well understood in all ages of the church) he has the art of uniting his interests and his ministry. A political preacher endeavours to accommodate his preaching to his passions. Minister of Christ, and minister of his own interests, to express myself with this apostle, he makes a gain of godliness. On this principle, had Felix expressed a desire to understand the gospel, St. Paul had a favourable opportunity of paying his court in a delicate manner. The christian religion has a gracious aspect towards every class of men. He might have discussed some of those subjects which would have flattered the governor. He might have discoursed on the dignity of princes, and on the relation they have to the supreme Being. He might have said, that the magistrate beareth not the sword in vain. Romans 13:4. That the Deity himself has said, ye are gods, and ye are all the children of the Most High. Psalms 82:6. But all this adulation, all this finesse, were unknown to our apostle. He sought the passions of Felix in their source; he forced the sinner in his last retreat. He boldly attacked the governor with the sword of the Spirit, and with the hammer of the word. Before the object of his passion, and the subject of his crime, before Drusilla, he treated of temperance. When Felix sent for him to satiate his avarice, he talked of righteousness. While the governor was in his highest period of splendour, he discoursed of a judgment to come.” — Saurin next makes a find apostrophe to the court preachers of Louis 14. who had solicited the persecution of the Protestants, and banished all the ministers.

“Preachers of the court, confessors to princes, pests of the public, who are the chief promoters of the present persecution, and the cause of our calamities! Oh that I could animate you by the example of St. Paul, and make you blush for your degeneracy and turpitude. My brethren, you know a prince: — and would to God we knew him less. But let us respect the lustre of the diadem; let us venerate the Lord’s anointed in the person of our enemy. Examine the discourses delivered in his presence, read the sermons pompously entitled, “Sermons preached before the king,” and see those other publications dedicated to — the perpetual conqueror, whose battles were so many victories, terrible in war, adorable in peace. You will there find nothing but flattery and applause. Whoever struck, in his presence, at ambition and luxury? Whoever ventured there to maintain the rights of the widow and the orphan? Who, on the contrary, has not magnified the greatest crimes into virtues; and by a species of idolatry before unknown, made Jesus Christ himself subservient to the vanity of a mortal man?

“Oh, but St. Paul would have preached in a different manner! Before Felix, before Drusilla, he would have said, that fornicators shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” — Then speaking of the wicked in our own age he adds,

“It behoves the ministers of Christ to maintain the dignity of their character. Never had orators a finer field for commanding attention. Never were subjects susceptible of a more grave and manly eloquence, than those which we discuss. They have motives the most powerful to press, and passions the most predominant to move. They have an eternity of glory to promise, and an eternity of misery to announce. They are ambassadors of a potentate, in whose presence all the kings of the earth are but as the small dust of the balance. Behold St. Paul, fully impressed with the grandeur of his mission. He forgot the majesty of Felix. He did more, he made him forget himself. He made him receive admonition with reverence. He reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come.

“Ministers of Jesus Christ, here is our tutor, who prepares us for the sanctuary. And you christians, here is our apology. You complain when we interfere with the shameful secrets of your vice: consider St. Paul. He is the model God has set before us. He requires us to speak with freedom and force; to exhort in season, and out of season; to thunder in our pulpits, to go even to your houses, and disturb that fatal security which the sinner enjoys in the commission of his crimes. He requires us to say to the revenue officers, exact no more than what is appointed; to the soldiers, do violence to no man, and be content with your wages; to Herod, it is not lawful for thee to have thy brother Philip’s wife. Luke 3:12-14. You are not higher than Felix, neither are we in chains like St. Paul. But though we were yet more deeply abased; and though the character we sustain seemed to you more vile; and though to the rank of jewish governor you shall superadd that of Roman emperor, and sovereign of the world; despising all this vain parade, we would maintain the majesty of our Master. So St. Paul conducted himself before Felix and Drusilla. He reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come.

“But who can here supply the brevity of the historian, and report the whole of what the apostle said to Felix on these important points? It seems to me in the reverie of thought, that I hear him enforcing these important truths he has left us in his works, and placing in the fullest lustre those divine maims interspersed in our scriptures.

“He reasoned of righteousness. There he maintained the rights of the widow, and the orphan. He made it evident that kings and magistrates are established to maintain the rights of the people, and not to indulge their own caprice.

“He reasoned of temperance. There he would paint the licentious effects of voluptuousness. There he would demonstrate how opposite this propensity is to the spirit of the gospel, which everywhere enjoins retirement, mortification, and self-denial. He would show how it degrades the finest characters, who have suffered it to predominate. Intemperance renders the mind incapable of reflection. It debases the heart. It debilitates the understanding. It unnerves the soul. He would demonstrate the meanness of a man called to preside over a great people, who should expose his foibles to public view; not having resolution to conceal, much less to vanquish them. With Drusilla, he would make human motives supply the defects of divine; with Felix, he would make divine motives supply the defects of human. He would make this imprudent woman feel that nothing on earth is more odious than a woman destitute of honour; that modesty is an appendage of the sex; that an attachment, uncemented by virtue, cannot long subsist; that those who receive illicit favours are the first, according to the fine remark of a sacred historian, to detest the indulgence. The hatred wherewith Amnon, son of David, hated his sister after the gratification of his brutal passion, was greater than the love wherewith he loved her. 2 Samuel 13:15. He would make Felix perceive, that however the depravity of the age might seem to tolerate a criminal intercourse with the sex; with God, who has called us all to equal purity, the crime was not less heinous.

“He reasoned, in short, of a judgment to come: and here he would magnify his ministry. The idea of a future state, the solemnities of a general judgment supply our weakness. St. Paul enforced this motive; he proved its reality, he delineated its lustre, he displayed its pomp. He resounded in the ears of Felix the noise, the voices, and the trumpets. He showed him the small and the great, the rich man and Lazarus, Felix the favourite of Cæsar, and Paul the captive of Felix, awoke by that awful voice: Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment.

“But let us not be precipitate in commending the apostle’s preaching. Its encomiums will best appear by attending to its effects on the mind of Felix. Jerome wished, concerning a preacher of his time, that the tears of his audience might compose the eulogy of his sermons. We shall find in the fears of Felix occasion to applaud the eloquence of our apostle. We shall find that his discourses were thunder and lightning in the congregations, as the Greeks used to say concerning one of their orators. While St. Paul preached, Felix felt indescribable emotions in his mind. The recollection of his past life, the sight of his present sins; Drusilla, the object of his passion, and subject of his crime; the courage of St. Paul — all terrified him. His heart burned within him, while that disciple of Jesus Christ expounded the scriptures. The word of God was quick and powerful. The apostle, armed with the two-edged sword, dividing the soul, the joints, and the marrow, carried conviction to the heart. Felix trembled, adds our historian: Felix trembled.

“What a surprising scene, my brethren, is here presented to your view. The governor trembled, and the captive spoke without dismay: the captive made the governor tremble. The governor shivered in the presence of the captive. It would not be surprising, brethren, if we should make an impression on your hearts; and we shall do so indeed, if our ministry is not as usual a sound of empty words. This sanctuary, these solemnities, these groans, this silence, these arguments, these efforts — all aid our ministry, and unite to convince and persuade you. But here is an orator destitute of these extraneous aids: behold him without any ornament, but the truth he preached. What do I say, that he was destitute of extraneous aids? See him in a situation quite the reverse; — a captive loaded, with irons, standing before his judge. Yet he made Felix tremble.” —

See my translation of vol. 7. of this great man’s sermons.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 24:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/acts-24.html. 1835.

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