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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Paul before Festus and Agrippa
By Frederic William Farrar (1831–1903)
From ‘The Life and Work of St. Paul’

IT was not, as is commonly represented, a new trial. That would have been on all grounds impossible. Agrippa was without judicial functions, and the authority of the procurator had been cut short by the appeal. It was more of the nature of a private or drawing-room audience,—a sort of show occasion designed for the amusement of these princely guests and the idle aristocracy of Cæsarea, both Jewish and Gentile. Festus ordered the auditorium to be prepared for the occasion, and invited all the chief officers of the army and the principal inhabitants of the town. The Herods were fond of show, and Festus gratified their humor by a grand processional display. He would doubtless appear in his scarlet paludament, with his full attendance of lictors and body-guard, who would stand at arms behind the gilded chairs which were placed for himself and his distinguished visitors. We are expressly told that Agrippa and Berenice went in state to the Prætorium, she doubtless blazing with all her jewels and he in his purple robes, and both with the golden circlets of royalty around their foreheads, and attended by a suite of followers in the most gorgeous apparel of Eastern pomp. It was a compliment to the new governor to visit him with as much splendor as possible, and both he and his guests were not sorry to furnish a spectacle which would at once illustrate their importance and their mutual cordiality. Did Agrippa think of his great-grandfather Herod, and the massacre of the innocents? of his great-uncle Antipas, and the murder of John the Baptist? Of his father Agrippa I., and the execution of James the Elder? Did he recall the fact that they had each died or been disgraced, soon after or in direct consequence of those inflictions of martyrdom? Did he realize how closely but unwittingly the faith in that “one Jesus” had been linked with the destinies of his house? Did the pomp of to-day remind him of the pomp sixteen years earlier, when his much more powerful father had stood in the theatre, with the sunlight blazing on the tissued silver of his robe, and the people shouting that he was a god? Did none of the dark memories of the place overshadow him as he entered that former palace of his race? It is very unlikely. Extreme vanity, gratified self-importance, far more probably absorbed the mind of this titular king, as in all the pomp of phantom sovereignty he swept along the large open hall, seated himself with his beautiful sister by the procurator’s side, and glanced with cold curiosity on the poor worn, shackled prisoner—pale with sickness and long imprisonment—who was led in at his command.  1
  Festus opened the proceedings in a short complimentary speech, in which he found an excuse for the gathering by saying that on the one hand the Jews were extremely infuriated against this man, and that on the other he was entirely innocent, so far as he could see, of any capital crime. Since however he was a Roman citizen, and had appealed to Cæsar, it was necessary to send to “the Lord” some minute of the case by way of elogium, and he was completely perplexed as to what he ought to say. He was therefore glad of the opportunity to bring the prisoner before this distinguished assembly; that they, and especially King Agrippa, might hear what he had to say for himself, and so, by forming some sort of preliminary judgment, relieve Festus from the ridiculous position of sending a prisoner without being able to state any definite crime with which he had been charged.  2
  As no accusers were present, and this was not in any respect a judicial assembly, Agrippa, as the person for whom the whole scene was got up, told Paid that he was allowed to speak about himself. Had the Apostle been of a morose disposition he might have despised the hollowness of these mock proceedings. Had he been actuated by any motives lower than the highest, he might have seized the opportunity to flatter himself into favor in the absence of his enemies. But the predominant feature in his, as in the very greatest characters, was a continual seriousness and earnestness; and his only desire was to plead not his own cause, but that of his Master. Festus, with the Roman adulation, which in that age outran even the appetite of absolutism, had used that title of “the Lord,” which the later emperors seized with avidity, but which the earliest and ablest of them had contemptuously refused. But Paul was neither imposed upon by these colossal titles of reverence, nor daunted by these pompous inanities of reflected power.  3
  There is not a word of his address which does not prove how completely he was at his ease. The scarlet sagum of the procurator, the fasces of the lictors, the swords of the legionaries, the gleaming armor of the chiliarchs, did not for one moment daunt him,—they were a terror, not to good works but to the evil; and he felt that his was a service which was above all sway.  4
  Stretching out his hand in the manner familiar to the orators whom he had often heard in Tarsus or in Antioch, he began by the sincere remark that he was particularly happy to make his defense before King Agrippa, not—which would have been false—for any special worth of his, but because the prince had received from his father—whose anxiety to conform to the Law, both written and oral, was well known—an elaborate training in all matters of Jewish religion and casuistry, which could not fail to interest him in a question of which he was so competent to judge. He begged therefore for a patient audience; and narrated once more the familiar story of his conversion from the standpoint of a rigid and bigoted Pharisee to a belief that the Messianic hopes of his nation had now been actually fulfilled, in that Jesus of Nazareth whose followers he had at first furiously persecuted, but who had won him by a personal revelation of his glory to the knowledge that he had risen from the dead. Why should that belief appear incredible to his hearers? It once had been so to himself; but how could he resist the eye-witness of a noonday vision? and how could he disobey the heavenly voice which sent him forth to open the eyes both of Jews and Gentiles, that they might turn from darkness to light and the power of Satan unto God; that by faith in Jesus they might receive remission of sins and a lot among the sanctified? He had not been disobedient to it. In Damascus, in Jerusalem, throughout all Judea, and subsequently among the Gentiles, he had been a preacher of repentance and conversion towards God, and a life consistent therewith. This was why the Jews had seized him in the Temple and tried to tear him to pieces; but in this and every danger God had helped him, and the testimony which he bore to small and great was no blasphemy, no apostasy, but simply a truth in direct accordance with the teachings of Moses and the Prophets: that the Messiah should be liable to suffering, and that from his resurrection from the dead a light should dawn to lighten both the Gentiles and his people.  5
  Paul was now launched on the full tide of that sacred and impassioned oratory which was so powerful an agent in his mission work. He was delivering to kings and governors and chief captains that testimony which was the very object of his life. Whether on other topics his speech was as contemptible as his enemies chose to represent, we cannot say; but on this topic, at any rate, he spoke with the force of long familiarity and the fire of intense conviction. He would probably have proceeded to develop the great thesis which he had just sketched in outline; but at this point he was stopped short. These facts and revelations were new to Festus. Though sufficiently familiar with true culture to recognize it even through these Oriental surroundings, he could only listen open-mouthed to this impassioned tale of visions, and revelations, and ancient prophecies, and of a Jewish Prophet who had been crucified and yet had risen from the dead and was Divine, and who could forgive sins and lighten the darkness of Jews as well as of Gentiles. He had been getting more and more astonished, and the last remark was too much for him. He suddenly burst out with the loud and excited interruption, “You are mad, Paul; those many writings are turning your brain.” His startling ejaculation checked the majestic stream of the Apostle’s eloquence, but did not otherwise ruffle his exquisite courtesy. “I am not mad,” he exclaimed with calm modesty, giving to Festus his recognized title of “your Excellency,” “but I am uttering words of reality and soberness.”  6
  But Festus was not the person whom he was mainly addressing, nor were these the reasonings which he would be likely to understand. It was different with Agrippa. He had read Moses and the Prophets, and had heard from multitudes of witnesses some at least of the facts to which Paul referred. To him, therefore, the Apostle appealed in proof of his perfect sanity. “The king,” he said, “knows about these things, to whom it is even with confidence that I am addressing my remarks. I am sure that he is by no means unaware of any of these circumstances, for all that I say has not been done in a corner.” And then, wishing to resume the thread of his argument at the point where it had been broken, and where it would be most striking to a Jew, he asked:—  7
  “King Agrippa, dost thou believe the Prophets? I know that thou believest.”  8
  But Agrippa did not choose to be entrapped into a discussion, still less into an assent. Not old in years, but accustomed from his boyhood to an atmosphere of cynicism and unbelief, he could only smile with the good-natured contempt of a man of the world at the enthusiastic earnestness which could even for a moment fancy that he would be converted to the heresy of the Nazarenes with their crucified Messiah! Yet he did not wish to be uncourteous. It was impossible not to admire the burning zeal which neither stripes nor prisons could quench, the clear-sighted faith which not even such a surrounding could for a moment dim.  9
  “You are trying to persuade me off-hand to be ‘a Christian’!” he said with a half-suppressed smile; and this finished specimen of courtly eutrapelia was his bantering answer to St. Paul’s appeal. Doubtless his polished remark on this compendious style of making converts sounded very witty to that distinguished company; and they would with difficulty suppress their laughter at the notion that Agrippa, favorite of Claudius, friend of Nero, King of Chalcis, Ituræa, Trachonitis, nominator of the High Priest, and supreme guardian of the Temple treasures, should succumb to the potency of this “short method with a Jew.” That a Paul should make the king a Christian (!) would sound too ludicrous. But the laugh would be instantly suppressed in pity and admiration of the poor but noble prisoner, as with perfect dignity he took advantage of Agrippa’s ambiguous expression, and said with all the fervent sincerity of a loving heart, “I could pray to God that whether ‘in little’ or ‘in much,’ not thou only, but even all who are listening to me to-day might become even such as I am—except,” he added, as he raised his fettered hand—“except these bonds.” They saw that this was indeed no common prisoner. One who could argue as he had argued, and speak as he had spoken; one who was so filled with the exaltation of an inspiring idea, so enriched with the happiness of a firm faith and a peaceful conscience, that he could tell them how he prayed that they all—all these princely and distinguished people—could be even such as he; and who yet in the spirit of entire forgiveness desired that the sharing in his faith might involve no share in his sorrows or misfortunes—must be such a one as they never yet had seen or known, either in the worlds of Jewry or of heathendom. But it was useless to prolong the scene. Curiosity was now sufficiently gratified, and it had become clearer than ever that though they might regard Paul the prisoner as an amiable enthusiast or an inspired fanatic, he was in no sense a legal criminal. The king, by rising from his seat, gave the signal for breaking up the meeting; Berenice and Festus and their respective retinues rose up at the same time, and as the distinguished assembly dispersed, they were heard remarking on all sides that Paul was undeserving of death, or even of imprisonment. He had made, in fact, a deeply favorable impression. Agrippa’s decision was given entirely for his acquittal. “This person,” he said to Festus, “might have been permanently set at liberty if he had not appealed to Cæsar.” Agrippa was far too little of a Pharisee and far too much of a man of the world not to see that mere freedom of thought could not be, and ought not to be, suppressed by external violence. The proceedings of that day probably saved St. Paul’s life full two years afterwards. Festus, since his own opinion on grounds of Roman justice was so entirely confirmed from the Jewish point of view by the Protector of the Temple, could hardly fail to send to Nero an elogium which freely exonerated the prisoner from every legal charge; and even if Jewish intrigues were put in play against him, Nero could not condemn to death a man whom Felix, and Lysias, and Festus, and Agrippa, and even the Jewish Sanhedrim, in the only trial of the case which they had held, had united in pronouncing innocent of any capital crime.  10

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