THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTIANITY

(Acts 26.) 

IN this sermon we are studying the spirit of Chris- 
tianity as portrayed in the life of the apostle Paul. 
As a setting for the discourse, let us allow our minds 
to revert back through the centuries to the wonderful 
scene in the royal palace of Caesarea, where Paul is 
defending himself before Agrippa. Note his wonderful 
display of courage, and consecration to the cause of 
Christ. This defense has been pronounced one of the 
most masterful pleas in the annals of oratory and law. 
As a masterpiece of homiletic literature, it is unex- 
celled. It divides itself into three distinct parts: the 
introduction, the argument and the appeal. 

1. The introduction (vs. 1-8 inclusive). 

a. Verses 2 and 5. The opening tribute to 
Agrippa. He opens up his defense in a pleasant, 
scholarly way, calculated to win for him respectful 
attention and earnest consideration of what he has 
to say. He appeals directly to Agrippa 's knowledge 
of Judaism, to support his defense. This appeal 
opened up the way for a clinching argument, by 
putting the king on his side in the very beginning. 

b. Verses 4 and 5. He proves his previous ortho- 
doxy by showing that he has been brought up a 
"Pharisee of the strictest sect." He calls up his man- 
ner of living from early youth. The entire Jewish 
nation having been familiar with his early life, he 
shows that he can prove by any good Jew that he 
was brought up in accordance with the strict princi- 
ples of Judaism: which fact should lend weight to 
his argument. 

c. Verses 6 to 8. He is really called in question 
because he believes in the hope of all orthodox Jews, 
the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection. The 
coming of the Messiah promised to Abraham (Gen. 
22:18; Gal. 3:8). The law contained many wonder- 
ful types of the gospel (Heb. 10:1). Moses and the 
prophets pointed forward to the Messiah in all of 
their writings. All orthodox Jews were looking for 
the fulfillment of the promise. Paul, having been a 
strict Pharisee (Phil. 3:5), like all other Pharisees 
had believed in the hope of all orthodox Jews, the 
coming of the Messiah and the resurrection. Yet for 
this common hope he had been called in question by 
the Jews themselves. In this manner he leads up to 
the argument. 

2. The argument (vs. 9-21 inclusive). The argu- 
ment is twofold: for his own defense and for the 
divinity of Christ. 

a. Verses 9 to 11. His persecution of the church 
in the days of his ignorance. He had consented to 
the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58). He had per- 
secuted the Christians even unto foreign cities. He 
had wrought havoc with the church at Jerusalem 
(Acts 8:1-4). As a member of the Sanhedrin, he 
had given his voice against them. Yet he had been 
perfectly sincere in doing these things. In all sin- 
cerity he had tried to crush the new religion. He 
was following his conscience all the time; yet he 
says himself that, while doing so, he was the ' ' chief" 
of sinners (1 Tim. 1:12-15). A man can follow his 
conscience and be entirely in the wrong. The only 
infallible guide is the conscience of God as revealed 
in the Word. 

Paul's argument was this: "I once found the same 
difficulty in believing that God does raise the dead; 
therefore I bitterly persecuted those who proclaimed 
the resurrection, even as you are now persecuting me 
for proclaiming it. But events which I shall now 
relate proved to me that I was entirely wrong." 

b. Verses 12 to 18. The story of his commission 
and conversion. 

Verse 12. He had heard that the new religion had 
been established in Damascus. So he had obtained 
letters from the chief priests at Jerusalem authorizing 
him to seize the Christians at Damascus and bring 
them back to Jerusalem for punishment. 

Verse 13. But, as he and his company had neared 
Damascus, about midday, a dazzling light had shone 
around them. They fell to the earth, blinded by 
its radiance. 

Verse 14. Then Saul heard a voice saying: ' 6 Saul, 
Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee 
to kick against the goad." Indeed, Saul had wit- 
nessed the death of Stephen, and the marvelous cour- 
age of the early Christians, with the growing conviction 
that there must have been some truth in this new 
religion for which so many had died without a mur- 
mur. In spite of his Judaism, the conviction was grow- 
ing stronger that Jesus had risen from the dead. 

Verse 15. He recognized the divine Personality 
at once and inquired who was talking to him. On 
being informed that it was really Jesus of Nazareth, 
he no longer doubted the resurrection. He at once, 
in a humble, contrite manner, inquired: ''Lord, 
what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). This is 
the true spirit of Christianity. 

Verses 16 to 18. His divine commission to preach 
to the Gentiles, and subsequent conversion. Why did 
Jesus appear to him in person? To make him a min- 
ister and a witness to the Gentiles. In other words, 
to make him an apostle. To be an apostle, a man had 
to see the risen Christ personally (Luke 1: 2; 2 Pet. 1: 
16; Acts 1:21, 22). Our Saviour did not appear to 
Saul to convert him; neither did He tell him what to 
do to be saved. He sent him to Ananias to find out 
what to do, because God has ordained that men shall 
find out what to do to be saved from the preaching of 
the gospel (Acts 9:6-9; Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:21). 
Jesus Christ appeared to him to make him an apostle 
to the Gentiles; but he was converted by obedience to 
the gospel (Acts 22:16; 9:18). He came into the 
kingdom in the same way as all who came under the 
apostles ' preaching. 

c. Verse 19. His subsequent conduct the result 
of a divine command. The spirit of Christianity. 
Paul was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. No 
matter what his past life had been, now that he had 
seen Christ, he was ready to forsake everything for 
Him. He did not consult his preacher, his teachers of 
the law, his relatives nor any one else, about the 
matter. He began at once to preach Christ and Him 
crucified. He was ready to do anything the Lord com- 
manded. When duty pointed out the way, he was 
ready to follow in it. 

The spirit of Christianity is obedience — subjection 
to the will of Christ — putting Him above all earthly 
things. We hear people quibble about being baptized. 
It is a positive command of our Lord and should be 
obeyed without question. Our attitude should be in 
all things: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" 

d. Verse 20. His labors among Jews and Gen- 
tiles. He had preached at Damascus, at Jerusalem, 
and throughout all Judea, to the Jews. He had even 
crossed the Hellespont, and established Gentile 
churches in Macedonia and Greece. 

e. Verse 21. The hostility of the Jews. Christianity 
taught the complete abrogation of the Jewish law. 
Stephen was stoned to death for preaching that 
Judaism was brought to an end in Christ. Hence the 
Jews hated Paul because the new religion spread over 
all the Mediterranean world as a result of his untiring 
ministry. 

3. The appeal (vs. 22-28 inclusive). As the argu- 
ment is twofold, so is the appeal. 

a. Verses 22 and 23. The first part is a plea for 
acquittal. His conclusion emphasizes the fact that 
Christianity is but the fulfillment of orthodox Juda- 
ism. Moses and the prophets taught: (1) That the 
Messiah should come; (2) that He should suffer; (3) 
that He would rise again from the dead, the firstfruits 
of them that slept; and (4) that salvation would be 
proclaimed to the Gentiles as well as Jews. These 
facts were precisely what Paul was preaching. There- 
fore he demands acquittal from Agrippa and all ortho- 
dox Jews. 

b. Verses 24 to 29. The second part is the appeal 
for Christ. It is made directly to Agrippa. With 
what boldness Paul puts the question directly to him: 
1 ' King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know 
that thou believest/' The old king trembles as he 
replies: "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Chris- 
tian." Then Paul makes an appeal for all to become 
Christians who have listened to his argument. He 
never let an opportunity slip by of speaking a word 
for his Christ. 

Paul's conversion was genuine. He changed from 
a Pharisee of the strictest sect to the boldest champion 
of Christianity. Oftentimes the worst sinners become 
the most consecrated Christians (Luke 15:7). The 
greatest power over men is the transforming power 
of the gospel. 

The spirit of Christianity is that of obedience, con- 
secration and courage, as manifested in the life of 
Paul after his conversion.