PAUL ANSWERING THE HIGH PRIEST. BY REV.

WILLIAM ARNOT

" Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited ^vall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law ? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God s high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is -written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people," etc. ACTS XXIII. 3-11. " GOD shall smite thee, thou whited wall." This bold rejoinder of Paul presents an interesting study. In it self, and apart from circumstances, the pungency of the apostle s reproof needs no other justification than that which he gave on the spot: "for siltest thou to

394 The Church in the House. judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law ? " Luther was wont to launch such thunderbolts against his princely and priestly oppressors. Great and earnest men in all ages have been wont to rise above their circumstances and bring unjust judges suddenly to the bar. Ananias seems to have been struck dumb. He loses his breath, and sits silent. They that stood by some officials of his court or aspirants for his favor took speech in hand to shield their astonished patron. These apologists were fain to fling his official dignity over the ermined culprit whom they could not in any other way defend. Not a word did they dare to utter in excuse or extenuation of his conduct. His act- is tacitly abandoned, and they take refuge in the office

which he holds. A high-minded and honorable government is a boon above all price to a nation. Judges that are impartial and just are a good gift of God in his providence. We in this country may well thank God for the Reformation, for with it comes and with it goes the liberty of the people. It is with the apostle s reply to the defence offered by the high priest s satellites that the real difficulty for us begins. When they reproached him with re viling the high priest, he excused himself by saying, " I wist not that he was the high priest." If he had not excused himself we should not have thought he needed an excuse; but the excuse he gives suggests a real though not a very serious difficulty. It requires explanation, but it is clearly susceptible of explanation. It is not easy to determine conclusively which of many possible explanations is the best, but any one of several is sufficient. For example: I. Ananias, in those violent times, may have been an intruder and usurper. 2. Some other member may have presided at that diet, and Ananias may not have been distinguishable by position or dress from the rest. 3. It is conceivable that Paul meant to say that this brutal act could not have been perpetrated by " God s high priest," and to assume before the council that such a miscreant could not be the chief of the sacred college. Or, 4. As has been lately suggested, Paul may have been short-

Paul answering the HigJi Priest. 395 sighted not able, especially if the light was unfavor able, to distinguish faces across a spacious hall. This is countenanced by the attitude which the apostle as sumed when he first entered the court, "earnestly

beholding the council " fixing his gaze scrutinizingly and with straining upon the assembly. Thus he may positively not have known that the rude, illegal order proceeded from the president of the council. I mention these as possible solutions, and could mention others; but these are enough to show that Paul s words can easily be accounted for, although we do not possess the means of certainly determining which of several explanations actually constituted at the time the ground of his remark. On the whole, I don t think that there is urgent need for apologies here. If Paul was angry, he had cause. He resented with spirit a brutal assault, and made the mitred miscreant feel that his robes and phylacteries could not protect him from the withering stroke of a just man s rebuke. On the whole, the mis sionary contrived, in this perplexing incident, to make clear for us a great and important distinction between the office and the man who disgraced it. He respects the priestly office, but the criminal priest he denounces sharply. By this time Paul had seen enough to convince him that no good could result from this inquiry, and his acute intellect readily perceived the means of cutting it short. He saw that the two parties of which the council was composed, although united against him, were, on vital matters, at daggers drawn against each other as Pharisees and Sadducees. Accordingly he seized the opportunity of professing, in a loud voice, his adherence to the distinguishing doctrines of the Pharisees. This was really and notoriously true. In becoming a Christian he had not abandoned or even modified those doctrines of the Pharisees which dis tinguished them from the Sadducees. The doctrine of the resurrection, dear to him before, had become ten fold dearer since he knew that the Lord had risen. This profession of his faith produced immediately the

expected effect. It set the two parties together by the ears. Through the avenue made by the division

396 The Church in the House. Paul escaped from their hands. In the tumult the Ro man tribune, fearing mischief, came with a guard, and carried Paul into the castle. "The night following the Lord stood by him." The wearied missionary, saved from the rage of his countrymen only by the walls of a Roman fortress and the swords of a Roman garrison, lies down to sleep. The Everlasting Arms are underneath him, and he has no fear. No plague can come nigh his dwelling. The shields of the earth belong unto God, and the strongest of them the imperial Roman power is now interposed between him and those who sought his life. Think what must have been his prayer that night ! His heart longed after Israel, although they thirsted for his blood. I think the soldier on guard that night at the door of Paul s apartment must have reported in the morn ing that there were two persons in the room, as the listeners reported regarding John Welsh in the old church of Ayr. The sentry would probably hear through the key-hole an earnest reasoning and en treaty going on " I will not let thee go except thou bless me " as when two are engaged in close debate. Paul cried to God that night certainly; for God came at his servant s call. The answer comes as an echo of the prayer. The Lord stood by him and said, " Be of good cheer." The answer given reveals the request that had been secretly made. Be of good cheer, Paul: the answer proves that Paul s cheer had been poor when he lay down. What may have been the weight that lay so heavy on his heart ? His life was not in

immediate danger. He was under the protection of Roman law, in this case administered by a fair and thoughtful man. It was not fear for his own life that marred his cheerfulness. Still following our rule of discovering the ailment from the cure applied, we find the consolation offered was a specific promise that he should be permitted to bear witness for Christ at Rome. Here then we discover the cause of the apos tle s sadness: he had begun to fear that he would yet be disappointed in the great aim of his life to preach the gospel in Rome. His desire in that direction had now grown into a passion. Jerusalem, to which he

Compassed ivit/i his Favor as witJi a Shield. 397 hastened through all obstacles in his last journey, has now finally rejected him and his message. The Jews in persecuting the missionary rejected Christ. Paul was led to accept this decision, and henceforth he bends all his energy towards Rome. He is the apos tle of the Gentiles, and the chief desire of his heart now is to make known Christ in the metropolis of the world. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000

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