A Devotion for 18 December 2020 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
27 King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. 28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. 29 And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. Acts 26:26-29 (KJV)
At least to King Agrippa II, the saddest and most tragic words of his entire life was ‘THOU ALMOST PERSUADEST ME!’ King Agrippa had all the intellectual preparation needed to understand and accept the words of Paul. Paul had once been a leading scholar among the Pharisees but met with a ‘significant emotional event’ on a certain road to Damascus. Paul says of Agrippa: “Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.” Acts 26:3 (KJV) There was a certain exception in the lives of the two men – one had been awakened by the glorious Light of the Lord Jesus Christ; the other experienced no such appeal of the Holy Ghost to his soul as Christ spoke to Paul out of a blinding Light. The Light was blinding to Paul in the sense that he was BLINDED to the things of the world and his vision was OPENED to the truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Many are called, but few are chosen. Both callings serve a purpose to either convict, or else to condemn. Prior to the efficacious calling of the Holy Ghost, the sinner stands already condemned for his sin and deserving of the wrath of God. He is incapable of saving himself and neither was Agrippa capable of any such virtue. God has seen the hearts of men from before the foundation of the world and adjudged the guilty and worthy of deat – the same for Agrippa whose life was one of wicked abandon. He lived in an incestuous relationship with his sister, Bernice, who had, unbelievably, been the wife of Agrippa’s father, King Agrippa I, who murdered the babies of Bethlehem, beheaded John the Baptist, and killed James. Agrippa I later accepted the worship of the people in the stead of God, was struck dead and eaten by worms. Acts 12:23
There is little glory or acclaim paid to the ‘almost’ winner in target practice, politics, finances or faith. ‘ALMOST’ never suffices for success in any endeavor. There are no ALMOST Christians in the same sense that there are no ALMOST sinners. When the Assyrian Commander, Naaman, dipped in the River Jordan, he was not ALMOST healed on the sixth dip, He was, however, fully healed on the seventh. Had he stopped on the sixth iteration, he would have remained fully a leper.
With Christ, there is no middle ground of faith. Either one believes unto salvation, or own remains lost. There is no Roman Road to Heaven.
A greater portion of the world population is comprised of rattlesnakes appearing as men. Agrippa was one such rattlesnake. The rattlesnake is cunning and swift in its striking out. It was created with a nature that makes it deadly and a threat to men of Godly disposition. Its poison enters the blood stream, as that of Adam, of every one who approaches near it. Its grandfather, the Serpent of Eden, likewise poisoned the bloodstream of mankind with a deadly poison – SIN!
It is against the nature of the rattlesnake and its kin, the followers of the Garden Serpent, to be transformed into a kindly creature of the field. So it was with Agrippa II. He was a son of perdition and his soul was incapable of saving faith when Paul ministered. Our Lord knows those whom He calls and chooses, and Agrippa was a genuine rattlesnake whose fangs remained unpulled. He, like many reprobate sinners, may have been momentarily warmed by the Gospel, had no root in him to sustain growth of faith. He was like the seed of the Word that was sown on stony ground: “Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” Matthew 13:5-6
The stony ground represents the stony heart. It cannot alter its nature any more than sinful man can will to do good. So what power alters the course of a sinner an almost persuaded sinner to a fully called and chosen Christian? It is all the work of the Holy Ghost working in the silent soil of the heart to germinate that seed of the Word sown, with seeming indiscriminate care, across the fields of the world.
I would like to offer a personal illustration of the almost Christian. Some thirty years ago, I acquired a pocket New Testament I had discovered in a Christian Mission Store. Since it was a New Testament, the Store offered it free to whoever desired it. It was of a khaki color and published in 1941 – a military issue text offered 5deploying to the European Theater of Operations. It was dated by the son on 12 July 1943. I will not publish the names involved in view of privacy concerns of the parties. There was also a fine testimony apparently entered by the soldier-father of his dependency upon the great protection of God from the dangers of battle.
I was sorry to find the New Testament had been separated from its owner. Such a keepsake would obviously be treasured by its owner as a reminder of the gift of a son and of the Providence that brought him home safely from the battlefields of World War Two. The address in the inscription provides Chicago, Illinois, as the residence of that day. I thought there might be an outside chance that the veteran to whom the book had belonged might yet be alive in 1990. I did some meticulous research (this was before people-search programs now available on the internet) and found the phone number of a man of the same name living in a suburban community of Chicago. I was very excited at the prospect of reuniting this New Testament with a member of the “Last Great Generation.”
I dialed the number and a very coarse voice answered. He identified himself as the veteran for whom I was searching. I told him my name and explained to the man about finding the Bible. He very roughly asked, “Why are you calling me about it?” I explained that perhaps he might like to have the book back which I would be happy to mail to him. He then seemed outraged at the thought, cursed at me, and in the most impolite terms I can imagine, ordered me to never call again concerning such frivolous matters as an old book.
Well, I was shocked at the response which was not remotely anticipated. What influences could have changed the man from the grateful appellant that he had expressed himself to be in his Bible into such a man who would curse the one who had sought to return it after 45+ years? I pray that God has since given the man a rebirth of faith.
Apparently the heat of battle compelled him to look to God for an instant of time, but the later grind of daily life wilted the flower of faith once nurtured by his son’s gift to him prior to his embarkation to war. He may have been, like, Agrippa, an ALMOST Christian. It is likely the Holy Spirit registered His call in the heart of the man, but the man could not respond to that call because he was not finally chosen due to his innate nature as a rattlesnake. God knows, from before the foundation of the world, which of those He calls and chooses and knows which to be rattlesnakes and which are not. Here is an old fable, a variation of which was told by President Trump when elected President:
THE FARMER AND THE RATTLESNAKE
One winter day, a farmer found a snake by the roadside, stiff and motionless with cold.
“If you put me inside your shirt,” the snake said, “your body will make me warm and I won’t freeze to death.”
“Oh, I know your kind,” replied the farmer. “If I pick you up, you will bite me.”
“Oh no,” the snake objected. “Why would I do such a thing, if you are good enough to help me?”
So the farmer had compassion on the snake, and taking it up, he put it inside his shirt. The warmth quickly revived the snake, and resuming its natural instincts, it bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. “Oh,” cried the farmer with his last breath, “why did you bite me? You promised you wouldn’t.”
“Ah,” said the snake. “So I did. But you knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”
Only the one who created the rattlesnake can alter its nature, and so the sinner to be made a saint.