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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

King Agrippa

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KING AGRIPPA was the grandson of Herod the Great, and he had succeeded to the shattered throne of his fathers; or rather, he had succeeded to such splinters of that throne as Cæsar had permitted him to set up. Agrippa was a king, but he was a king only in name. The Jews, as they themselves once said, had no king but Cæsar. At the same time, Cæsar sometimes, for reasons of state, set up sham kings over certain portions of his great empire. And Agrippa was one of those simulacrum sovereigns. Bernice, who here sits beside Agrippa, was his sadly-spotted sister. If you wade deep enough into the sixth satire of Juvenal, you will find Bernice more fully set forth in that pungent piece. As for ourselves, we will look in silence at Bernice, as Holy Scripture does, and will then pass her by. But take a good look at her brother Agrippa. Look well at King Agrippa, for he is the last king of the Jews you will ever see. There has been a long line of Jewish kings since Saul and David and Solomon, but this is the last of them now. The Jews are not to have even a shadow of a king any more. They are to have Cæsar only, till they cease to be. What a scene! Festus, Agrippa, Bernice, and the whole place full of Roman soldiers and civilians, with Paul standing in his chains, as a sort of holiday show and sport to them all. What a company! What a providence! What an irony of providence! Thou art permitted to speak for thyself, said the king to the prisoner. And the prisoner, after having spoken for himself, was led back to his cell, there to await the issue of his appeal to Cæsar. Great pomp and all, the ancient throne of David and Solomon is seen crumbling to its very last dust before our very eyes. While, bonds and all, Paul stands before Agrippa holding out, not his own hand only, but the very Hand of the God of Israel Himself, both to King Agrippa, to his sister Bernice, and to the whole decayed, dispersed, and enslaved house of Israel. So much so, that when Paul was led back to his prison that day Israel's doom was for ever sealed. We are now looking on one of the most solemnising scenes that is to be seen in the whole of human history.

It was the wonderful story of Paul's conversion, and that story as told by himself, that so deeply impressed King Agrippa and his sister Bernice in Cæsarea that day. Again, and again, and again, we have Paul's wonderful story fresh from his own heart. The story was new, and it was full of new wonderfulness to Paul himself, every time he told it. And it never failed to make an immense impression on all manner of people; as, indeed, it does down to this day. And no wonder. For, just look at him, and listen to him. "My manner of life," said Paul, stretching forth his hand with the chain on it, "know all the Jews. For I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." And then, how he did those things, and how he was still doing them, when a voice from heaven struck him down, and said, Saul, Saul, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. And so on, with his wonderful story, till Festus could only shake off the spell of it by shouting out that Paul was mad. And till Agrippa, who knew all these matters far better than Festus knew them, confessed openly that, for his part, he believed every word of Paul's conversion; and, indeed, felt almost at that moment as if he were about to be converted himself. "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian like thyself!" confessed King Agrippa. And to this day nothing is so persuasive to our hearts as just the story of a personal experience in religion. So much so, that without this so persuasive element, somehow or somewhere in his preaching, all any preacher says will fall short of its surest power. Even if his testimony is not always conveyed in that autobiographic and dramatic form in which Paul always tells his story; yet, unless there is something both of the conviction and the passion of a personal experience, both the pulpit and the pen will come far short of their fullest and their most persuasive power. Unless in every sermon and in every prayer the preacher as good as says with the Psalmist, "Come, and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul;" unless there is some such heartbeat heard as that, both our sermons and our prayers will be but lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot. "I preached sin with great sense," says John Bunyan. Which is just his fine old English for great experience, great feeling, and, indeed, great passion. And down to this very day we feel the still unspent surges of Bunyan's pulpit passion beating like thunder on the rocky coasts of his Grace Abounding and his Holy War. And, just as this narration of Paul's personal experience was almost Agrippa's conversion; and just as this and other like narrations of Paul's experience were not only almost but altogether Luther's conversion; and then just as Luther's experience was Bunyan's conversion and Bunyan's experience; and his incomparable narration of it your conversion and mine; so will it always be. "The judicious are fond of originals," says an anonymous author. So they are. And we are all among the judicious in that respect. And thus it is that original autobiographies, and diaries, and dramatic narrations: David's Psalms, Augustine's Confessions, Luther's Sermons, Andrewes's Private Devotions, Bunyan's Grace Abounding, Fraser, Halyburton, Boston, Spurgeon, and such like, are always so interesting, so perennially popular, and so fruitful both in conversion at the time, and in edification and in sanctification for long after. Let all our preachers then stretch forth their own hands, and not another man's; and let them answer for themselves in their own pulpits, and to their own people; and, whether their hands are bound or free,-"I often went to the pulpit in chains," says John Bunyan,-Felix, and Festus, and Agrippa, and Bernice among their hearers will be compelled, each in their own way, to confess both the truth, and the authority, and the power, of all such preachers of an original, and a passionately undergone, experience.

"The ears of our audiences must first be propitiated," says Quintilian, that great teacher of ancient oratory. And Dante but borrows from that old master when he warns all public speakers that they must always begin by endeavouring to carry captive the goodwill of their hearers. Now, we can never enter a Jewish synagogue, nor stand beside him in a judgment-hall, nor pass by him as he preaches at a street corner, without both seeing and hearing Paul practising the captatio benevolentiœ of the ancient oratorical schools. And that, not because he had ever gone to those schools to learn their great art, but simply because of his own oratorical instinct, inborn courtesy, and exquisite refinement of feeling. No such urbanity, and no such good breeding, is to be met with anywhere in all the eloquence of Greece and Rome. It was his perfect Christian courtesy to all men, taken along with his massiveness of mind, his overmastering message, and his incomparable experiences,-it was all that taken together, that lifted up Paul to the shining top of universal eloquence. Festus, fresh from the most polished circles of the metropolis of the world, behaved like a boor beside his prisoner. The only perfect gentleman in all that house that day stood in chains, and all the bad manners, and all the insolence, sat in Cæsar's seat. Let us all, and ministers especially, aim to be gentlemen like Paul. In the pulpit, in the Presbytery, and in the General Assembly; ay, and even if we are at the bar of the General Assembly, as Paul so often was; let us behave there also like Paul, as far as our natural temperament, and supernatural refinement of temperament, will support us in doing so. Let us learn to say in effect, I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee. Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions among the Jews. And when Festus assails us with his coarse-minded abuse, let us learn to say with all self-command, No, Most noble Festus. Or, far better still, let us hold our peace. Let us turn in silence from Festus and his brutality to Agrippa and Bernice, and say to them,-I would to God, that not you only, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. Holding out his hands, "except these bonds." Beautiful and noble, beyond all Greek and Latin art. Is there a touch like that again in all the world? What a heart! What tenderness! What fineness of feeling! What gold would we not give for one single link of those iron bonds that day!

But Paul, with all his fascination, must not be permitted to draw our attention away from Agrippa. And that, because Agrippa has lessons to teach us tonight that Paul himself, with all his eloquence, and even with his wonderful conversion itself, is not able to teach us. For Agrippa, you must know, to begin with, was half a Jew. By blood he was half a Jew; whilst by education, and by interest, and by sympathy, he was wholly a Jew; if it had only been possible for Agrippa to be outwardly, and openly, and honestly, what, all the time, he really was in his heart. And thus it was that Paul so fastened upon Agrippa and would not let him go. Thus it was that Paul so addressed himself to Agrippa: so passed by Festus and all the rest of his audience, and spoke home to Agrippa, and that with such directness and such power. And Agrippa felt Paul's full power, till he openly confessed that he felt it. So much so, that when Festus forgot himself, and broke out upon Paul in such an indecent manner, Agrippa interposed, and said, 'Not only is Paul speaking the words of truth and soberness, but he has all but persuaded me and my sister to take his side, and to be baptized.' But, before I come to that, what do you think about this scene yourselves? Applying your own common sense, and your own imagination, to this whole scene, what do you say about it yourselves? About Agrippa's speech, that is. Was Agrippa speaking ironically and mockingly when he said that Paul had almost persuaded him to be a Christian? Or did he honestly and sincerely mean what he said? There is a division of opinion about that. Did he mean that, King Agrippa as he was, and Festus's guest as he was, and Bernice's brother as he was, he was within a hairsbreadth of casting in his lot with Paul, and with Paul's Lord and Saviour? I, for one, believe that Agrippa was entirely honest and true and without any guile in what he said. And that Paul and Agrippa were so near shaking hands before Festus and all the court at that moment; so near, that their not altogether doing so on the spot makes that one of the most tragical moments in all the world. A tragical moment only second to that you will perpetrate tonight, if you feel what Agrippa felt, and say what Agrippa said, and then go away and do what Agrippa did. "Almost," is surely the most tragic word that is ever heard uttered on earth or in hell. And yet, both earth and hell are full of it. Almost! Almost! Almost! An athlete runs for the prize, and he almost touches the winning-post. A marksman shoots at the target, and he almost hits it. A runner leaps for his life over a roaring flood, and he almost clears the chasm. A ship is almost within the harbour, when the fatal storm suddenly strikes her till she goes down. The five foolish virgins were almost in time. And Agrippa and Bernice were almost baptized, and thus their names almost entered into the Church of Christ. And so it is tonight with some of yourselves. Some of yourselves who were not, were almost, at the Lord's table today. You intended to be at it at one time. You were almost persuaded at the last Communion season. Now, just go down and ask Agrippa and Bernice what they would do if they were back in your place tonight. They have had experience of what you are now passing through, and of how it ends. But if you find that between you and them there is a great gulf fixed; so that they which would pass to inquire of them cannot, neither can they come back with their experience to you. In that case, I myself have had an experience not much short of theirs, and I will tell you with all plainness, and earnestness, and anxiousness, and love, what I think you ought to do tonight. Do not sleep; nay, do not so much as go home, till your name has been taken down altogether for the next Lord's table.


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'King Agrippa'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/k/king-agrippa.html. 1901.

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