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that part in the memoirs of the apostle, which hath reference to his relating, before Agrippa, the history of his conversion. And in order that we may the better enter into a scriptural apprehension of the same, we shall do well to connect with it, some of the leading points in the history; which will not only serve to illustrate the subject itself; but open to an infinitely higher concern, in discovering some of the outlines, at least, of the Lord's over-ruling the several events herein contained to his own glory, and the welfare of his people. Not however, to run over too large a tract, which the limits of this work cannot admit; it will be sufficient in this opening of the subject to remark, that this account of Paul's conversion, from Judaism to Christianity, is the third record we have of it, in this book of the Acts of the apostles. The Holy Ghost hath given a most circumstantial account of the history itself in the ninth chapter. The same is again related at large in the twenty-second chapter. And here again, before Agrippa, and a numerous court, assembled upon this occasion, in this twenty-sixth chapter. The marvellous event made such an impression on the apostle's own mind, that he seems to have had it always uppermost in his heart. Hence, in his Epistle to the church at Galatia, he speaks of it in this point of view. (See Gal. i. 11. 16.) And in his first Epistle to his beloved Timothy, he relates the distinguishing grace manifested to him, in that he "was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious. But, (said Paul,) I obtained mercy; because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceed ing abundant, with faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus." And then follows, what in some measure serves to explain the cause for which the Holy Ghost hath thrice recorded the history of this event, in his Scriptures; and by a process so wonderful, as no
thing but his over-ruling power could have brought to pass; that the apostle should relate the history of his conversion, in the audience both of Jews and Gentiles, "This is a faithful saying, (saith Paul) and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” And let the reader particularly mark what follows: "Howbeit, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." (1 Tim. i. 12. 16.)
We behold somewhat of the Lord's design, in thus making the history of Paul's conversion to form so distinguishing, and so frequent a part in his holy word. But we must not stop here. In that conversion the Lord Jesus Christ had told Ananias, that he had made "Paul a chosen vessel unto him, to bear his name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." (Acts ix. 15.) But speaking after the manner of men; how was it possible that on the subject of religion; and especially the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ; Paul, should ever gain an audience, either from Jew or Gentile? Worthy indeed, as the glorious gospel of the ever-blessed God is of all acceptation, what human probability was there that the apostle would be permitted to stand up before either, to preach Christ crucified, which as we are told, and as we cannot but know was, and is, and ever must be, until the same sovereign grace, as converted Paul, converts them-" unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." (1 Cor. i, 23.)
But, reader, so the Lord over-ruled events, that thus it should be. And I pray observe the method, which in the stores of his providence and grace, the Lord appointed for the accomplishment of his pur
pose. The Lord was pleased that Paul shall first relate the history of his conversion to the Jews; and that in full assembly. Yea, that they shall not only hear the whole of the wonderful subject, without clamour; but give a silent, and a most attentive hearing to it. In bringing about this event, the Lord so arranged things that his faithful servant shall be seized upon by the Jews; apparently, be brought into danger of his life; that this, should not only call forth the men of Israel, but all the city of Jerusalem together into one place. And while these things were transacting, and the Jews upon the point of killing Paul; the Roman captain, with soldiers and centurious, should come upon them, rescue Paul, bind him in chains, and command him to be put in the castle. And now, the end is done, for which this insurrection was made to bring about the purpose, which the Lord appointed to be accomplished; namely, for Paul to relate to this vast multitude, both of Jews and Romans, the story of his conversion; and here the matter is brought to an issue. "For as the multitude of the people followed after Paul, crying, Away with him, Paul said unto the chief Captain; suffer me I beseech thee to speak unto the people." And the chief captain, contrary to all human expectation, but overruled by Divine Power, gave him licence. him licence. And Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with his hand unto the people. And mark what followed. The Lord, who wrought on the chief captain's mind, to give Paul, leave to speak, overruled the people's mind to hear; nay, not only to hear; but we are told, "there was made a great silence." And Paul spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue. Thus the Lord accomplished his gracious purpose, in that the nation of the Jews shall hear, and from the mouth of the apostle himself, the minute account of his wonderful conversion. The whole relation is given to the church at large;
(Acts xxii.) throughout. I stay not here to remark what was the result of Paul's preaching. I reserve this for a subsequent part of our subject. I only beg of the reader to note down in the mean time, how wonderfully the Lord overruled such seemingly alarming events, as the prospect of Paul's death, to Paul's freedom of telling of his conversion to his countrymen the Jews; and to the Lord's glory.
The instance of Paul preaching the same animating subject unto the Gentiles also, as the history of the apostle standing up before Agrippa upon the occasion illustrates, was equally produced in a mysterious way, by the overruling power and ordination of the Lord. In two or three preceding chapters to this one which gives us this relation, we find Paul carried down from Jerusalem to Cesarea, a prisoner, in order to rescue him out of the hands of the Jews. And after various attempts to criminate the apostle, which all his enemies found ineffectual; and two whole years having elapsed, during which Paul was kept in confinement; the time was now arrived when the Lord would have his servant rehearse the wonderful history of his conversion before the Roman Governor Festus, and the people of Cesarea: as he had before done before the Jews at Jerusalem. But the Lord was so pleased to order matters, for the greater publicity of this distinguishing grace shewn Paul, that not content with the Governor of Cesarea, and his court, hearing it; by his providence, he so overruled events, that Agrippa who was one of the deputy governors also, like Festus under the Roman Emperor, with his wife Bernice ; and no doubt, a train of his courtiers also, should be present. So, that though in chains, and a prisoner, Paul shall twice deliver, in the most public manner possible, and before an immense assembly, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The reader will be now, in some measure, the better prepared for entering with more apprehension of the subject upon this memorable transaction in the court of Festus. Let him figure to himself this great assembly. Let him observe what the Scripture hath stated concerning it, in the close of the preceding chapter. Agrippa and his wife had come down to salute Festus and to congratulate him on his accession to the government of Cesarea. And Festus, having as a matter of mere conversation, mentioned the case of this poor, cruelly treated prisoner, Paul, to the king; Agrippa, proposed to hear the man's statement of himself.-And on the day appointed, when Agrippa and Bernice were come, and with great pomp, had entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city; at Festus's commandment, Paul was brought forth. Festus first opened the business of the court, with telling Agrippa, and all those assembled, how the Jews, both at Jerusalem, and also at Cesarea, had demanded his life; saying, that he ought not to live any longer. But Festus declared, that having examined him, he found nothing worthy of death in him ; but that he was now glad of the opportunity of bringing him before Agrippa. Then the king called upon the apostle, as is here set forth, to set up his defence. "Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself." Let the reader look at the prisoner in his chains, before the crowded assembly; and as was usual in those days, in public speakers, let him fancy he beholds him waving his hand, as if to thank his hearers for their courtesy in hearing, and bespeaking their candour, to what he had to deliver; and thus entering on the justification of his having professed faith in Christ, in direct opposition to all his former prejudices. Independent of divine truths, the whole