Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 21: Trial at Caesarea
Five days after Paul's arrival at Caesarea, his accusers also came down from Jerusalem, accompanied by one Tertullus, an orator whom they had engaged as their counsel. The case was granted a speedy hearing. Paul was brought before the assembly, and Tertullus proceeded to specify the charges against him. This wily orator judged that flattery would have more influence upon the Roman governor than the simple statements of truth and justice. He therefore began his speech with praise of Felix: "Seeing [p. 235] that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, we accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness."
Tertullus here descended to bare-faced falsehood. The character of Felix was base and contemptible. It was said that he "practiced all kinds of lust and cruelty with the power of a king and the temper of a slave." It is true that he had rendered some service to the nation by his vigilance in ridding the country of robbers, and he pursued and drove away the Egyptian rebel for whom Claudius Lysias had hastily mistaken Paul; but his acts of cruelty and oppression caused him to be universally hated. The treacherous cruelty of his character is shown by his brutal murder of the high priest Jonathan, to whom he was largely indebted for his own position. Jonathan, though really little better than Felix himself, had ventured to expostulate with him for some of his acts of violence, and for this, the procurator had caused him to be assassinated while employed in his official duties in the temple.
An example of the unbridled licentiousness that stained his character is seen in his alliance with Drusilla, which was consummated about this time. Through the deceptive arts of Simon Magus, a Cyprian sorcerer, Felix had induced this princess to leave her husband and to become his wife. Drusilla was young and beautiful, and, moreover, a Jewess. She was devotedly attached to her husband, who had made a great sacrifice to obtain her hand. There was little indeed to induce her to forego her strongest prejudices and to bring upon herself the abhorrence [p. 236] of her nation for the sake of forming an adulterous connection with a cruel and elderly profligate. Yet the Satanic devices of the conjurer and the betrayer succeeded, and Felix accomplished his purpose.
The Jews present at Paul's examination shared in the general feeling toward Felix; yet so great was their desire to gain his favor in order to secure the condemnation of Paul, that they assented to the flattering words of Tertullus. These men in holy office, robed in the sacerdotal garments, were very exact in the observance of customs and ceremonies, very scrupulous to avoid outward pollution, while the soul-temple was defiled with all manner of iniquity. The outward contact with anything deemed unclean was a great offense in their eyes, while the murder of Paul was considered a justifiable act. What an illustration of the blindness that can come upon the human mind! Here were the representatives of those who claimed to be God's covenant people. Like the barren fig-tree, they were clothed with pretentious leaves, but destitute of the fruits of holiness; "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." Filled with malice toward a pure and good man, seeking by every means to take his life, and extolling a vindictive profligate!
There are many to-day who estimate character in the same manner. Prompted by the adversary of all righteousness, they call evil good, and truth falsehood. It is as the prophet has described,— "Truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter." It is because such is the condition and spirit of the world that God calls upon his people to come out and be separate. Those who mingle with the world will come to view matters from [p. 237] the worldling's stand-point, instead of seeing as God sees. "What communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? God's people will see as he sees. The pure and good will be honored and loved by those who are good.
In his speech against Paul, Tertullus charged that he was a pestilent fellow, who created sedition among the Jews throughout the world, and who was consequently guilty of treason against the emperor; that he was a leader of the sect of Nazarenes, and chargeable with heresy against the laws of Moses; and that he had profaned the temple, virtually an offense not only against the Jewish but the Roman law, which protected the Jews in their religious worship. He then falsely stated that Lysias, the commandant of the garrison, had violently taken Paul from the Jews as they were about to judge him by their ecclesiastical law, and had thus improperly forced them to bring the matter before Felix. These lying statements were skillfully designed to induce the procurator to deliver Paul over to the Jewish court. All the charges were vehemently supported by the Jews present, who made no effort to conceal their hatred against the prisoner.
Felix had sufficient penetration to read the disposition and character of Paul's accusers. He perceived the motives of their flattery, and saw also that they had failed to substantiate their charges. Turning to the accused, he beckoned to him to answer for himself. Paul wasted no words in fulsome compliments, but simply stated that he could the more cheerfully defend himself before Felix, since the latter had been [p. 238] so long a procurator, and therefore had so good an understanding of the laws and customs of the Jews. Step by step he then refuted the charges brought against him. He declared that he had caused no disturbance in any part of Jerusalem, nor had he profaned the sanctuary: "They neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city; neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me."
While confessing that "after the way which they call heresy" he had worshiped the God of his fathers, he asserted that he had never swerved from his belief in the law and the prophets, and that in conformity with the Scriptures he held the faith of the resurrection of the dead; and he further declared that it was the ruling purpose of his life to "have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man."
In a candid, straightforward manner he then stated the object of his visit to Jerusalem, and the circumstances of his arrest and trial: "Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude nor with tumult. Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had aught against me. Or else let these same here say, if they have found any evil doing in me, while I stood before the council, except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead, I am called in question by you this day."
The apostle spoke with earnestness and evident sincerity, and his words carried with them a [p. 239] conviction of their truthfulness. Moreover, his statements were in harmony with the letter of Claudius Lysias. Felix himself had so long resided at Caesarea—where the Christian religion had been known for many years— that he had a better knowledge of that religion than the Jews supposed, and he was not deceived by their representations. The words of Paul made a deep impression upon his mind, and enabled him to understand still more clearly the motives of the Jews. He would not gratify them by unjustly condemning a Roman citizen, neither would he give him up to them to be put to death without a fair trial. Yet Felix knew no higher motive than self-interest, and his love of praise and desire for promotion controlled him. Fear of offending the Jews held him back from doing justice in the case, and releasing a man whom he knew to be innocent. He deferred all further action in the case until Lysias should be present, saying, "When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter."
Paul was again placed in charge of a centurion, but with orders that he should enjoy greater freedom than before his examination. While it was necessary for him to be strictly guarded, as a protection from the plots of the Jews, and also because he was still a prisoner, his friends were to be allowed to visit him and minister to his comfort.
It was not long after this that Felix and his wife Drusilla summoned Paul to a private interview. Drusilla felt considerable interest in the apostle, having heard an account of him from her husband, and she was desirous of hearing the [p. 240] reasons for his belief in Christ. Thus Paul, as a prisoner of the Lord, had an opportunity to present the truths of the gospel to some souls whom he could not otherwise have approached. A cruel and licentious Roman governor and a profligate Jewish princess were to be his sole audience. They were now waiting to listen to truths which they had never listened to before, which they might never hear again, and which, if rejected, would prove a swift witness against them in the day of God.
Paul considered this God-given opportunity, and he improved it faithfully. He knew that the man and woman before him had the power to put him to death, or to preserve his life; yet he did not address them with praise or flattery. He knew that his words would be to them a savor of life or of death, and, forgetting all selfish considerations, he sought to arouse them to the peril of their souls.
The gospel message admits of no neutrality. It counts all men as decidedly for the truth or against it; if they do not receive and obey its teachings, they are its enemies. Yet it knows no respect of person, class, or condition. It is addressed to all mankind who feel their need of its gracious invitations. Said Christ: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
The apostle felt that whoever might listen to his words, the gospel had a claim upon them; they would either stand among the pure and holy around the great white throne, or with those to whom Christ should say: "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity." He knew that he must meet every hearer before the tribunal of Heaven, and must there render an account, not only for [p. 241] all that he had said and done, but for the motive and spirit of his words and deeds.
So violent and cruel had been the course of Felix, that few had ever before dared even to intimate to him that his character and conduct were not faultless. But Paul had no such fears. With perfect respect for the position of his hearers, he plainly declared his faith in Christ, and the reasons for that faith, and was thus led to speak particularly of those virtues essential to Christian character, but of which the haughty pair before him were so strikingly destitute.
He presented before his hearers the character of God—his righteousness, justice, and equity —and the nature and obligation of his law. He clearly showed man's duty to live a life of sobriety and temperance, keeping the passions under the control of reason, in conformity to God's law, and preserving the physical and mental powers in a healthful condition. A day of judgment would surely come, when all would be rewarded according to the deeds done in the body. Wealth, position, or honorary titles would be powerless to elevate man in the favor of God, or to ransom him from the slavery of sin. This life was his period of probation, in which he was to form a character for the future, immortal life. Should he neglect his present privileges and opportunities, it would prove an eternal loss; no new probation would be vouchsafed to him. All who should be found unholy in heart or defective in any respect when judged by the law of God, would suffer the punishment of their guilt.
Paul dwelt especially upon the far-reaching claims of God's law. He showed how it extends to the deep secrets of man's moral nature, and [p. 242] throws a flood of light upon that which has been concealed from the sight and knowledge of men. What the hands may do or the tongue may utter, —what the outer life can exhibit,—but imperfectly reveals man's moral character. The law extends to the thoughts, motives, and purposes of the heart. The dark passions that lie hidden from the sight of men, the jealousy, revenge, hatred, lust, and wild ambition, the evil deeds meditated upon in the dark recesses of the soul, yet never executed for want of opportunity,—of all these God's law makes a record. Men may imagine that they can safely cherish these secret sins; but it is these that sap the very foundation of character; for out of the heart "are the issues of life."
Paul then endeavored to direct the minds of his hearers to the one great Sacrifice for sin. He pointed back to those sacrifices that were shadows of good things to come, and then presented Christ as the antitype of all those ceremonies, —the object to which they pointed as the one only source of life and hope for fallen man. Holy men of old were saved by faith in the blood of Christ. As they saw the dying agonies of the sacrificial victims, they looked across the gulf of ages to the Lamb of God that was to take away the sin of the world.
God justly claimed the love and obedience of all his creatures. He had given them in his law a perfect standard of right. But they forgot their Maker, and chose to follow their own way in opposition to his will. They had returned enmity for a love that was as high as Heaven and as broad as the universe. God could not bring down his law to meet the standard of wicked [p. 243] men, neither could man, fallen by sin, meet the demands of the law by a blameless character and life. But by faith in Christ the sinner could be cleansed from his guilt, and he enabled to render obedience to the law of his Maker. God did not bestow his grace to lessen the binding claims of the law, but to establish it. "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other."
Thus Paul the prisoner urged upon Jew and Gentile the claims of the divine law, and presented Jesus, the despised Nazarene, as the Son of God, the world's Redeemer. The Jewish princess well understood the sacred character of that law which she had so shamelessly transgressed; but her prejudice against the Man of Calvary steeled her heart against the word of life. But Felix, who had never before listened to the truth, was deeply agitated as the Spirit of God sent conviction to his soul. Conscience, now aroused, made her voice heard. He felt that Paul's words were true. Memory went back over the guilty past. With terrible distinctness came up before him the secrets of his early life of lust and bloodshed, and the black record of his later years,—licentious, cruel, rapacious, unjust, steeped with the blood of private murders and public massacres. Never before had the truth been thus brought home to his heart. Never before had his soul been thus filled with terror. The thought that all the secrets of his career of crime were open before the eye of God, and that he must be judged according to his deeds, caused him to tremble with guilty dread.
But instead of permitting his convictions to [p. 244] lead him to repentance, he eagerly sought to dismiss these disagreeable reflections. The interview with Paul was cut short. "Go thy way for this time," he said, "when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee."
How wide the contrast between the course of Felix and that of the jailer of Philippi! The servants of the Lord were brought in bonds to the jailer, as was Paul to Felix. The evidence they gave of being sustained by a divine power, their rejoicing under suffering and disgrace, their fearless calmness when the earth was reeling with the earthquake's shock, and their spirit of Christlike forgiveness, sent conviction to the jailer's heart. He did not, like Felix, banish these convictions, but with trembling and in deep humility inquired the way of salvation; and having learned the way, he walked in it, with all his house. Felix trembled, but did not repent; the jailer with trembling confessed his sins and found pardon. Felix bade the Spirit of God depart; the jailer joyfully welcomed it to his heart and to his house. The one cast his lot with the workers of iniquity; the other chose to become a child of God and an heir of Heaven.
For two years no further action was taken against Paul, yet he remained a prisoner. Felix several times visited him, and listened attentively to his words. But the real motive for this apparent friendliness was a desire for gain, and he intimated to Paul that by the payment of a large sum of money he might secure his release. The apostle, however, was of too noble a nature to free himself by a bribe. He was innocent of all crime, and he would not stoop to evade the law. Furthermore, he was himself too poor to pay [p. 245] such a ransom, had he been disposed to do so, and he would not, in his own behalf, appeal to the sympathy and generosity of his converts. He also felt that he was in the hands of God, and he would not interfere with the divine purposes respecting himself.
Toward the close of this time there arose a fearful strife among the population of Caesarea. There had been frequent disputes, which had become a settled feud, between the Jews and the Greeks, concerning their respective rights and privileges in the city. All the splendor of Caesarea, its temples, its palaces, and its amphitheater, were due to the ambition of the first Herod. Even the harbor, to which Caesarea owed all its prosperity and importance, had been constructed by him at an immense outlay of money and labor. The Jewish inhabitants were numerous and wealthy, and they claimed the city as theirs, because their king had done so much for it. The Greeks, with equal persistency, maintained their right to the precedence.
Near the close of the two years, these dissensions led to a fierce combat in the market-place, resulting in the defeat of the Greeks. Felix, who sided with the Gentile faction, came with his troops and ordered the Jews to disperse. The command was not instantly obeyed by the victorious party, and he ordered his soldiers to fall upon them. Glad of an opportunity to indulge their hatred of the Jews, they executed the order in the most merciless manner, and many were put to death. As if this were not enough, Felix, whose animosity toward the Jews had increased every year, now gave his soldiers liberty to rob the houses of the wealthy. [p. 246]
These daring acts of injustice and cruelty could not pass unnoticed. The Jews made a formal complaint against Felix, and he was summoned to Rome to answer their charges. He well knew that his course of extortion and oppression had given them abundant ground for complaint, but he still hoped to conciliate them. Hence, though he had a sincere respect for Paul, he decided to gratify their malice by leaving him a prisoner. But all his efforts were in vain; though he escaped banishment or death, he was removed from office, and deprived of the greater part of his ill-gotten wealth. Drusilla, the partner of his guilt, afterward perished, with their only son, in the eruption of Vesuvius. His own days were ended in disgrace and obscurity.
A ray of light from Heaven had been permitted to shine upon this wicked man, when Paul reasoned with him concerning righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come. That was his Heaven-sent opportunity to see and to forsake his sins. But he said to the Spirit of God, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." He had slighted his last offer of mercy. He was never to receive another call from God.Click here to read the next chapter: "Paul Appeals to Caesar"