A CONTINUING WITNESS
“Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” Acts 26.22,23.
The divinely-inspired account of the Apostle Paul’s defence before king Agrippa must surely rank among the most interesting and moving narratives found in the pages of Holy Scripture. Few Christians can read through Luke’s record, in this chapter, without being stirred to the depths as they behold the faithful minister of Christ, standing before such an august assembly, hear his honest declarations, and realize that Christ was indeed making good to His despised servant His own promise in Luke 12.11,12, “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.”
The passage contains more than a story of general interest to the people of God. Besides recording Paul’s account of his own conversion and call to the apostolate, it also tells of the ministry he went on to exercise, and it is this section of the narrative which is capable of yielding much instruction and encouragement to all who are seeking to witness to Christ in these dark and difficult days. We shall endeavour to strengthen the hands of all such believers, by looking at what Paul tells Agrippa in verses 22 and 23 about his continuing witness to the Gospel.
1. Paul’s continuing witness to the Gospel
It is important to note that, while Paul tells King Agrippa clearly and concisely the great truths about Christ to which he continued to witness, he also claims to have been witnessing to those truths throughout his Christian life. As there is obviously instruction for us in this fact, we must consider three general points about Paul’s continuing witness itself, before we go on to look at the three great truths to which he witnessed:-
(a) A witness maintained ever since conversion.
It is worth pausing to notice Paul’s assertion at the beginning of verse 22, “… I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great.. .”, as it reminds us that he had remained a faithful witness to Christ and His Gospel since the time of his remarkable conversion. Now that was not an exaggerated claim, made by a self-styled ‘apostle’, in order to impress a gathering of very influential people, but a perfectly honest statement from one of Christ’s chosen servants to rulers who, humanly speaking, held his life in their hands. So in spite of all that Paul had had to face throughout his Christian life and public ministry, he had maintained a faithful testimony to His Lord and Saviour. He had never denied the truth by teaching error, nor by suppressing it through what Isaac Watts aptly called ‘guilty silence’, but had openly confessed Christ whenever the opportunity arose. And is not this honest claim a comfort to many an evangelical Christian today? Surely, the very fact that Paul had been able to continue such a witness for so long, often in the face of much apathy, misrepresentation and hostility, should encourage believers to see that they, too, can maintain a faithful testimony, even in such difficult and depressing days as our own?
(b)A witness maintained by God’s help .
Although Paul claims to have maintained a true witness to Christ ever since the day of his conversion, he makes it abundantly clear, at the same time, that he had been able to do so only because of God’s help. “Having therefore obtained help of God . .” (v.22). In these words, the Apostle is letting us into the secret of how he was able to sustain such a faithful testimony for so many years. He is saying, in effect: Throughout my long and arduous ministry I have never yet turned to the Lord for help in time of need, and been disappointed. And that will be equally true of those who look simply and directly to the Lord for strength today, especially at those times when they are deeply conscious of their own weakness and that of their fellow-believers. Sometimes that help will be given by the Holy Spirit making the truth of the Gospel so precious to their own souls that, in spite of all their fears and temptations, they have to go on witnessing. “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning Fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” (Jeremiah 20.9). At other times, help will come through the arrival of another kindred soul, as Paul records in 2 Corinthians 7.6, “Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” On other occasions, the timely, practical giving of other believers will prove a
very real lifting-up for the downcast, as it did when the Christians in the young church at Philippi sent financial help to the Apostle. ‘Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.” (Phil. .15,16). We shall never find our Lord lacking in either ways or
resources to send assistance to His faithful witnesses in their times of personal need.
(c) A strictly Biblical witness
The next phrase is particularly encouraging to evangelical Christians today. Having told king Agrippa that God had enabled him to continue witnessing to the present time, Paul then assures him that his witness to Christ has been strictly in accordance with the O1d Testament prophecies,”.. saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come . .” (v.22). Oh, how those words, “saying none other things than those” ought to weigh with all those who are endeavouring to be faithful confessors of Christ today! In days like these, when many who use the name Christian’ are making either tradition, human reason, visions or prophetic revelations’ their authority, thereby negating the sole authority of Holy Scripture, and sailing far beyond the boundaries marked-out by the inspired Word, how comforting and reassuring for true evangelicals to be reminded in this way of their real spiritual ancestry! Here we see that it is only the man whose witness is strictly in accordance with Holy Scripture who is in the real apostolic succession, and who stands in the same great evangelical tradition flowing from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “And beginning at closes and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24.27). Happy the pastor, happy the missionary, happy every believer, who, through divine help, is continuing to maintain a biblical witness to Christ and
His gospel today!
2. The Gospel to which Paul continued to witness
So far, we have looked at some general points Paul made to Agrippa about his continuing witness to Christ. Now let us consider what the Apostle went on to tell the king about the Gospel truths he was still proclaiming :-
(a) A continuing witness to the sufferings of Christ
Here is the first great fundamental Gospel truth Paul had been testifying to ever since his conversion. “. . that Christ should suffer . .” (v.23). Throughout his long ministry, Paul had consistently
proclaimed that Jesus had fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ’s sufferings. It is worthwhile pausing at this point to remind ourselves of what Paul actually taught about the most acute of all Christ’s sufferings, i.e. His death upon Calvary’s cross. Firstly, he declared that Christ’s death had taken place because of God’s gracious plan of salvation. The Old Testament had clearly foretold that Christ would experience such agony of body and soul on the cross because “it pleased the Lord to bruise him.” (Is. 53.10). That death on the cross was not an afterthought by the Almighty, hastily planned after being surprised by the fall of mankind in Adam, but the great manifestation of God’s glorious plan of a full and free salvation, planned before the foundation of the world. Secondly, Paul testified that Christ’s sufferings were of a substitutionary and sin-atoning nature. How clearly the Old Testament, in both type and prophecy, had foretold that when Christ went to the cross He would go, not to make atonement for His own sins – for He would never have any sins for which atonement would be needed -but would suffer on behalf of all those whose guilt He had taken to His own account. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53.4,5). That death upon the cross, was God’s great and perfect way of reconciling sinners to Himself in a way which at one and the same time vindicated His own divine character and revealed His superabounding grace! Thirdly, the Apostle preached that Christ’s sufferings had been completely successful. Here again, the Old Testament scriptures had made it clear that Christ would “see of the travail of his soul.. . and be satisfied.” (Is. 53.11). The divine justice would be satisfied, the divine holiness would be vindicated, the ransom price would be fully paid, and, as a result, all those for whom Christ suffered would most certainly be saved for time and eternity Oh, what an encouragement to evangelical Christians today, whether they occupy the pulpit or the pew, to behold the Apostle Paul still witnessing to the sufferings of Christ, still glorying in the cross, even at this late stage in his earthly course. May the day never come when any of His faithful witnesses grow tired of proclaiming “Jesus Christ and him crucified”.
(b) A continuing witness to the resurrection of Christ
The second great fundamental truth to which Paul witnessed is revealed in his words,”.. and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead . .” (v.23). The Apostle Paul’s preaching always gave prominence to Christ’s glorious resurrection. He knew
perfectly well that the Old Testament had foretold Christ’s resurrection just as surely as it had His sufferings, and boldly proclaimed, throughout his long ministry, before “small and great”, Jews and Gentiles, that Jesus had fulfilled the latter prophecies as well as the former. For example, Paul proclaimed that Jesus had risen literally and physically from the dead, just as the sixteenth Psalm had foretold Christ would do: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Ps. 16.10). We find another Apostle (Peter) asserting this from the same passage in his great sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.24-32). But in preaching Christ’s resurrection, Paul declared more than just its literal, physical character. As we see from his statement before King Agrippa, the Apostle also declared that Christ’s resurrection was the first of many more to come. Oh, how easy it is, when reading through Paul’s great defence, to overlook the significance of those words, “. . and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead.” Is not the Apostle telling Agrippa, by implication, what is taught throughout Scripture, that Christ’s resurrection was an essential part of God’s great plan of salvation already mentioned? For by His glorious resurrection, Jesus not only proved that He was the Christ, the incarnate Son of God, but that His death on the cross had been sufficient, and that His own resurrection from the dead was the guarantee of the coming and glorious resurrection of all those whom He represented. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15.20-22). Oh, shame upon us evangelicals, if, after knowing and confessing these fundamental truths for years, we are no longer moved by them as we once were, but regard them as something rather ordinary and commonplace, harrdly worth a mention, while we hunt and chase after theories which have little or no basis in Holy Writ. When has there been a :time like the present, when the great mass of the people in our land, sunk in ignorance and atheism, confronted by the Christ-denying teaching of leading churchmen and imported cultists, needed evangelical Christians to proclaim, loudly and clearly, the fundamental truth of Christ’s resurrection?
(c) A continuing witness to Christ as the Light of the World
There is a third, great, fundamental truth to which Paul continued to testify throughout his ministry. He tells Agrippa what it was in the words, “. . . . and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” (v.23). The Old Testament not only foretold the sufferings and the resurrection of Christ; it also prophesied that
Christ would bring light to both Jews and Gentiles. “And he said. It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” (Is. 49.6). “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” (Is. 60.1-3). And what have we in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts but a glorious record of Jesus beginning to fulfil those Old Testament prophecies among the peoples of the ancient world. This, was an essential part of the Apostle Paul’s testimony – that Christ, and Christ alone, was the Light of the World, and that apart from Him and His unique Gospel people everywhere would remain in a state of profound spiritual darkness. Surely Paul’s revealing statement to Agrippa about his continuing testimony to Christ as the only Bringer of Light has something to say to evangelical Christians today? Is it not a cause for self-examination?- Are we really witnessing to the uniqueness of Christ as Paul did, and actually opening-up these fundamental truths to the benighted people of our day? What about our tracts: do they really convey to ignorant people the leading truths of the Gospel and show “that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26.20); or are they too short and superficial to give any real instruction to those who need instruction most? What about our sermons: do they faithfully expound and apply these great, basic truths of the Gospel, or are they but further evidence of a decline in evangelistic preaching that threatens to make the evangelistic discourse as extinct as the Dodo? And what about our special public meetings: are the subjects we are lecturing about really relevant to the needs of people today, or simply an indication of our concern to promote party distinctives and special interests? But Paul’s assertion is also a source of encouragement. When one is the only Reformed pastor in a town, or belongs to the only truly evangelical church in a district, it is easy to become discouraged, especially when one seems to be making so little impact on the surrounding darkness, and so many other neighbouring ministers and churches seem determined to witness to anything and everything but the Gospel of Christ. When one looks further afield, and sees the advances being made on all sides by the Ecumenical Movement, which seems ready to embrace in its arms all who use the name ‘Christian’, and to be heading towards an even wider union with all who do not, one can begin to wonder whether one is right after all in proclaiming the uniqueness of Christ’s person and
saving work. Oh, how thankful we ought to be, particularly amidst the confusion that characterizes much of the professing Church at the present time, that God has left us such a clear, infallible, written record of the witness of the early Church! May He give each one of us the honesty to examine our own testimony in the light of Paul’s great statement before Agrippa, the humility to acknowledge where we have been going wrong, and the strength to be more faithful witnesses to His dear Son, who still says to our generation, as He did to His own: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8.12).
P. D. Johnson