1. A PRELIMINARY DISCOURSE
Saint Paul, was falsely accused of sedition by Tertullus: “We have found this man a troublesome fellow, and a worker of sedition” (Act 24.5). And so Paul makes an apology for himself before Festus and King Agrippa in Chapter 26 of the Book of Act.
Paul proves himself as an orator. He courts the king (1) by his gesture: he stretched forth his hands, as was the custom of orators; (2) by his manner of speech: “I think of myself as happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself before you, touching upon all the things of which I am accused” (Act 26.2).
Paul then addresses three things, and in so deep a strain of rhetoric as almost to have converted King Agrippa:
(1) He speaks of the manner of his life before his conversion: “I lived as a Pharisee after the strictest sect of our religion” (v.5). During the time of his unregeneracy, he was zealous for traditions; his false fire of zeal was so hot that it scorched all who stood in his way; “I shut up many of the saints in prison” (v.10).
(2) He speaks of the manner of his conversion: “I saw in the road a light from heaven, beyond the brightness of the sun” (v.13). This light was none other than what shone from Christ’s glorified body. “And I heard a voice speaking to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” The body being hurt, the head in heaven cried out. Paul was amazed at this light and voice, and fell to the earth: “I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus whom you persecute’” (v. 14-15). Paul was now departed from himself. All opinion of self-righteousness vanished and he grafted his hope of heaven upon the stock of Christ’s righteousness.
(3) He speaks of the manner of his life after his conversion. He who had been a persecutor before now became a preacher: “Arise, for I have appeared to you for this purpose: to make you a minister and a witness of those things which you have seen” (v. 16). When Paul, this “vessel of election,” was savingly worked upon, he labored to do as much good as previously he had done hurt. He had persecuted saints to death before; now he preached sinners to life. God first sent him to the Jews at Damascus and afterwards enlarged his commission to preach to the Gentiles. And the subject he preached was this, “That they should repent and turn to God, and do works fit for repentance” (v. 20). A weighty and excellent subject!
I shall not dispute the priority, whether faith or repentance goes first. Doubtless repentance shows itself first in a Christian’s life. Yet I am apt to think that the seeds of faith are first worked in the heart. When a burning taper is brought into a room, the light shows itself first, but the taper preceded the light. In the same way, we see the fruits of repentance first, but the beginnings of faith were there before.