Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 23: Address Before Agrippa
As Paul had appealed to Caesar, it was the duty of Festus to see that he was sent to Rome. Some time passed, however, before a suitable ship could [p. 253] be provided, and as other prisoners were to be sent with Paul, the consideration of their cases also occasioned some delay. This delay gave Paul an opportunity to present the reasons of his faith before the principal men of Caesarea, both Jews and Gentiles, and also before the last of the Herods who bore the title of Jewish kings.
"After certain days King Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea, to salute Festus." Knowing that Agrippa was well versed in the laws and customs of the Jews, Festus during this visit called his attention to the case of Paul, as a prisoner left in bonds by Felix. Agrippa's interest was aroused by the account which Festus gave of the case, and he expressed a desire to see and hear Paul for himself. Accordingly the next day was fixed upon as the time for such an interview. Paul was not now to defend himself before a new tribunal, but merely to gratify the curiosity of a private audience; to furnish an hour's entertainment for the procurator's distinguished guests, and for an invited company representing the wealth and nobility of Caesarea. The chief officers of the army were to be present, and also the leading citizens of the town, and Festus determined to make it an occasion of the most imposing display, in honor of his visitors.
In all the pomp and splendor of royalty, Agrippa and Bernice went to the audience-room, attended by a train of followers in the costly apparel of Eastern display. Proudly the haughty ruler with his beautiful sister swept through the assembly, and seated himself by the procurator's side. At his command, Paul, still manacled as a prisoner, was led in, and the king gazed with cold curiosity upon him, now bowed and pale from [p. 254] sickness, long imprisonment, and continual anxiety.
What a contrast was there presented! Agrippa and Bernice were destitute of the traits of character which God esteems. They were transgressors of his law, corrupt in heart and in life. God and angels abhorred their course of sin. But because they possessed, in a limited degree, power and position, they were the favorites of the world. That aged prisoner, standing chained to his soldier guard, presented nothing imposing or attractive in his dress or appearance, that the world should pay him homage. Yet this man, apparently without friends or wealth or position, had an escort that worldlings could not see. Angels of Heaven were his attendants. Had the glory of one of those shining messengers flashed forth, the pomp and pride of royalty would have paled before it; king and courtiers would have been stricken to the earth, as were the Roman guards at the sepulcher of Christ. All Heaven was interested in this one man, now held a prisoner for his faith in the Son of God. Says the beloved John: "The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not." The world knows not Christ, neither will it know those who exemplify Christ. They are sons of God, children of the royal family; yet their princely claims are not perceived by the world. They may excite their curiosity, but they are not appreciated or understood. They are to them uninteresting and unenvied.
Festus himself presented Paul to the assembly, in these words: "King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem and also here, [p. 255] crying that he ought not to live any longer. But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him. Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O King Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write. For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him."
King Agrippa now gave Paul liberty to speak for himself. The apostle knew of how little worth are the outward circumstances of worldly wealth and position, and he was not disconcerted by the brilliant display or the high rank of that titled audience. The imposing dress of the procurator and his guests, the swords of the soldiers, and the gleaming armor of their commanders, could not for a moment daunt his courage or disturb his self-control. Stretching forth his manacled right hand, he said: "I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews. 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."
Did the mind of Agrippa at these words revert to the past history of his family, and their fruitless efforts against Him whom Paul was preaching? Did he think of his great-grandfather Herod, and the massacre of the innocent children of Bethlehem? of his great-uncle Antipas, and the murder of John the Baptist? of his [p. 256] own father, Agrippa I., and the martyrdom of the apostle James? Did he see in the disasters which speedily befell these kings an evidence of the displeasure of God in consequence of their crimes against his servants? Did the pomp and display of that day remind Agrippa of the time when his own father, a monarch more powerful than he, stood in that same city, attired in glittering robes, while the people shouted that he was a god? Had he forgotten how, even before the admiring shouts had died away, vengeance, swift and terrible, had befallen the vainglorious king? Something of all this flitted across Agrippa's memory; but his vanity was flattered by the brilliant scene before him, and pride and self-importance banished all nobler thoughts.
Paul again related the familiar story of his conversion from the stubborn unbelief of a rigid and bigoted Pharisee to faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the world's Redeemer. He described the heavenly vision that filled him with unspeakable terror, though afterward it proved to be a source of the greatest consolation,—a revelation of divine glory, in the midst of which sat enthroned Him whom he had despised and hated, whose followers he was even then seeking to destroy. Transforming mercy had made Paul a new man from that hour, a sincere penitent and a fervent believer in Jesus. It was then that he was called to be an apostle of Christ, "by the will of God."
Paul had never seen Christ while he dwelt upon the earth. He had indeed heard of him and his works, but he could not believe that the promised Messiah, the Creator of all worlds, the Giver of all blessings, would appear upon earth [p. 257] as a mere man. He had looked for him to come in robes of majesty, attended with royal pomp, and proclaimed by the angelic host as king of the Jews. But he found that he had not read the Scriptures aright; Christ came as prophecy foretold, a humble man, preaching the word of life in meekness and humility. He came to awaken the noblest impulses of the soul, to satisfy its longings, and to crown the work and warfare of life with infinite reward.
Paul had vainly looked for a Messiah to deliver the nation from the bondage of foreign kings, but he had found in Christ a Saviour from the bondage of sin. Life had been to him a blind and baffling conflict, an unequal battle, a fever of unsatisfied desires, until he had seen Christ. Then his longings were satisfied, his fears banished, his burdens lightened. He had found Him of whom Moses and the prophets had written, —Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour of the world.
Why, he asked, should it appear incredible that Christ should rise from the dead? It had once been so to himself; but how could he disbelieve what he had himself seen and heard in that noonday vision? He could bear witness to the resurrection of the dead; for he had looked upon the crucified and risen Christ,—the same who walked the streets of Jerusalem, who died on Calvary, who broke the bands of death, and ascended to Heaven from Olivet. He had seen him and had talked with him as verily as had Cephas, James, John, or any other of the disciples. And how could he be disobedient when the Voice from Heaven sent him forth to open the eyes of Jews and Gentiles, that they might turn from darkness to light, and from the power [p. 258] of Satan unto God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified? In Damascus, in Jerusalem, and throughout all Judea, and to the Gentiles, he had preached repentance toward God, faith in Christ, and a life consistent therewith.
This, and this only, was what led the Jews to seize him in the temple, and seek to put him to death; but the Lord had delivered him from this and every other danger. The testimony which he bore concerning Jesus of Nazareth was no blasphemy, no heresy, no apostasy, but a truth in perfect harmony with all the teachings of Moses and the prophets.
The apostle was dwelling upon his favorite theme, in that solemn, earnest, impassioned manner which had been so powerful an agent in his mission. In the all-absorbing interest of his subject, he lost sight of kings and governors and chief captains, of wealth, rank, and titles. He was bearing the testimony which was the object of his life, and he could speak with the assurance of long familiarity and the fire of intense conviction. None who heard him could doubt his sincerity. But in the full tide of his eloquence he was suddenly stopped short. The facts related were new to Festus, as to nearly all present. The whole audience had listened spell-bound to Paul's account of wonderful experiences and visions, of revelations and ancient prophecies, and of a Jewish prophet who had been rejected and crucified, yet who had risen from the dead and ascended to Heaven; and who only could forgive sins and lighten the darkness of Jews and Gentiles. The last remark was too much for Festus to credit. [p. 259] He suddenly cried out in an excited manner: "Paul, thou art beside thyself! much learning doth make thee mad."
The apostle replied calmly and courteously: "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him, for this thing was not done in a corner." Then, turning to Agrippa, he addressed him directly: "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest."
The Jewish king had been instructed in the law and the prophets, and he had learned from credible witnesses some of the facts of which Paul had spoken. Hence, the arguments which were so new and strange to Festus, were clear and convincing to Agrippa. And he could but be affected by that burning zeal which neither stripes nor imprisonment could quench. For a time he forgot the dignity of his position, lost sight of his surroundings, and, conscious only of the truths which he had heard, seeing only the humble prisoner standing as God's ambassador, he answered involuntarily, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
With solemn earnestness, the apostle made answer: "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," adding, as he raised his fettered hands, "except these bonds." All who heard him were convinced that Paul was no common prisoner. One who could speak as he had spoken, and present the arguments that he had presented, who was so filled with the [p. 260] exaltation of an inspiring faith, so enriched by the grace of Christ, so calm in the consciousness of peace with God and man; one who could wish that all those princely and distinguished people might have the same hope and confidence and faith that sustained him, but who, without the least desire for revenge, could pray that they might be spared the conflicts, sorrows, and afflictions which he had experienced,—such a man could not be an impostor.
Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice were the criminals who should in justice have worn the fetters placed upon the apostle. All were guilty of grievous crimes. These offenders had that day heard the offer of salvation through the name of Christ. One, at least, had been almost persuaded to accept of grace and pardon. But to be almost persuaded, means to put aside the proffered mercy, to be convinced of the right way, but to refuse to accept the cross of a crucified Redeemer.
King Agrippa's curiosity was satisfied, and rising from his seat, he signified that the interview was at an end. As the assembly dispersed, the case of Paul was freely discussed, and all agreed that, while he might be an enthusiast or a fanatic, he could not in any sense be regarded as a legal criminal; he had done nothing worthy of death or imprisonment.
Though Agrippa was a Jew, he did not share the bigoted zeal and blind prejudice of the Pharisees. He had no desire to see freedom of thought suppressed by violence. "This man," he said, "might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar." But now that the case had been referred to that higher [p. 261] tribunal, it was beyond the jurisdiction of Festus or Agrippa. Yet, two years afterward, the result of that day's proceedings saved the life so precious to the cause of God. Festus, finding that his own judgment of the case, on grounds of Roman justice, was sustained from a Jewish stand-point by the protector of the temple, sent a letter to the emperor, stating that no legal charge could be found against the prisoner. And Nero, cruel and unscrupulous as he was, dared not put to death a man whom Lysias, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa pronounced guiltless, and whom even the Sanhedrim could not condemn.Click here to read the next chapter: "The Voyage and Shipwreck"