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
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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