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Sketches From The Life of Paul

by Ellen G. White

Chapter 20: Paul a Prisoner.

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"I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day." None could deny the apostle's statements, and there were many present who could testify to their truthfulness. He then acknowledged his former zeal in persecuting "this way unto the death," and narrated the circumstances of his wonderful conversion, telling his hearers how his own proud heart had been brought to bow to the crucified Nazarene. Had he attempted to enter into argument with his opponents, they would have stubbornly refused to listen to his words; but this relation of his experience was attended with a convincing power that for the time seemed to soften and subdue their hearts.

He then endeavored to show that his work among the Gentiles had not been from choice. He had desired to labor for his own nation; but in that very temple the voice of God had spoken to him in holy vision, directing his course "far hence, unto the Gentiles." Hitherto the people had given close attention, but when he reached the point in his history where he was appointed Christ's ambassador to the Gentiles, their fury broke forth anew. Accustomed to look upon themselves as the only people favored of God, they could not endure the thought that the despised Gentiles should share the privilege which had hitherto belonged exclusively to themselves. National pride bore down every argument which [p. 220] could influence their reason or command their reverence. An outburst of rage interrupted his speech, as all with one voice cried out, "Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live!" In their excitement they flung off their garments, as they had done years before at the martyrdom of Stephen, and threw dust into the air with frantic violence.

This fresh outbreak threw the Roman captain into great perplexity. He had not understood Paul's Hebrew address, and concluded from the general excitement that his prisoner must be guilty of some great crime. The loud demands of the people that Paul be delivered into their hands made the commander tremble. He ordered him to be immediately taken unto the barracks and examined by scourging, that he might be forced to confess his guilt.

The body of the apostle was stretched out, like that of a common malefactor, to receive the lashes. There was no friend to stand by him. He was in a Roman barrack, surrounded only by brutal soldiers. But, as on a former occasion at Philippi, he now rescued himself from this degradation, and gained advantage for the gospel, by appealing to his rights as a Roman citizen.

He quietly said to the centurion who had been appointed to superintend this examination, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?" The centurion immediately went and told the chief captain, saying, "Take heed what thou doest; for this man is a Roman."

On hearing this, Lysias was alarmed for himself. A Roman might not be punished before he had been legally condemned, nor punished in [p. 221] this manner at all. The chief captain well knew how stringent were the laws protecting the rights of citizenship, and that if the statement were true he had, in his proceedings against Paul, violated these laws.

He immediately went in person to the prisoner, and questioned him concerning the truth of the centurion's report. Paul assured him that he was indeed a Roman citizen; and when the officer exclaimed, "With a great sum obtained I this freedom," Paul declared, "But I was free born." The preparation for torture went no farther, and those commissioned to conduct his examination left him. Paul was, however, still held in custody, as the nature of his offense had not yet been inquired into.

On the next day the chief captain summoned a meeting of the Jewish Sanhedrim, with the high priest, and brought Paul down from the castle, under the protection of a sufficient force to guard against any attempt upon his life. The apostle now stood in the presence of that council of which he himself had been a member,—that council by which Stephen had been condemned. The memory of that scene, and of his own efforts to secure the condemnation of the servant of Christ, came vividly before his mind. As he looked upon those who were to be his judges, he recognized many who had been his associates in the school of Gamaliel, and who had also united with him in persecuting the disciples of Jesus. They were now as eager to put Paul to death as they had been to destroy Stephen.

The apostle's bearing was calm and firm. The peace of Christ, ruling in his heart, was expressed upon his countenance. But his look of conscious [p. 222] innocence offended his accusers, and when he fearlessly addressed them, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day," their hatred was kindled afresh, and the high priest ordered him to be smitten upon the mouth. At this inhuman command, Paul exclaimed, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall, for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" These words were not an outburst of passion. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Paul uttered a prophetic denunciation similar to that which Christ had uttered in rebuking the hypocrisy of the Jews. The judgment pronounced by the apostle was terribly fulfilled when the iniquitous and hypocritical high priest was murdered by assassins in the Jewish war. But the bystanders regarded the words of Paul as profane, and exclaimed with horror, "Revilest thou God's high priest?" Paul answered, with his usual courtesy, "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."

Paul was convinced that he could not hope for a fair trial and just decision at this tribunal. And his natural penetration and shrewdness enabled him to take advantage of the circumstances. The Sanhedrim council was made up of Pharisees and Sadducees, who had long been at variance upon the doctrine of the resurrection. Knowing this, the apostle cried out, in clear, decided tones, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question."

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