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PAUL’S THIRD MISSIONARY
JOURNEY A.D. 54
Having “spent some time” in Antioch, Paul leaves that Gentile centre, and commences another missionary journey. Nothing is said of his companions on this occasion. He “went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples;” and also giving directions for the collection on behalf of the poor saints at Jerusalem. (1 Cor. 16:1, 2) In a short time he readied the centre of the work in Asia.
EPHESUS —At this time it was the greatest city in Asia Minor, and the capital of the province. Owing to its central position, it was the common meeting place of various characters and classes of men. By this time Apollos had departed to Corinth, but the remaining twelve of John’s disciples were still in Ephesus. Paul speaks to them about their state or position. We must give a passing notice of what occurred.
John’s baptism required repentance, but not separation from the Jewish synagogue. The gospel teaches that Christianity is founded on death and resurrection. Christian baptism is the significant and expressive symbol of these truths. “Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.” (Col. 2:12, 13) As these men were entirely unacquainted with the foundation truths of Christianity, we suppose they had never mingled with Christians. The apostle, no doubt, explained to them the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ, and the descent of the Holy Ghost. They believed the truth and received Christian baptism. Then Paul, in his apostolic capacity, laid his hands on them; and they were sealed with the Holy Ghost, and “spoke with tongues and prophesied.”
Immediately after the mention of this important occurrence, our attention is directed to the apostle’s labours in the synagogue. During three months he preached Christ boldly there, reasoning and endeavouring to convince his hearers of all “the things concerning the kingdom of God.” The hearts of some “were hardened,” while others repented and believed; but as many of the Jews took the place of adversaries, and “spoke evil of that way before the multitude,” Paul acts in the most definite way. He “separated the disciples” from the Jewish synagogue, and formed them into a distinct assembly, and met with them “daily in the school of one Tyrannus.” This is a deeply interesting and instructive action of the apostle, but he acts in the consciousness of the power and truth of God. The church in Ephesus is now perfectly distinct from both Jews and Gentiles. Here we see what the apostle elsewhere refers to in his exhortation, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.” (1 Cor. 10:32) Where this important distinction is not seen, there must be great confusion of thought as to both the word and ways of God.
The apostle now appears before us as the instrument of the power of God in a remarkable and striking way. He communicates the Holy Ghost to the twelve disciples of John, and he separates the disciples of Jesus and formally founds the church in Ephesus. His testimony to the Lord Jesus is heard in all Asia, both by Jews and Greeks; special miracles are wrought by his hands, diseases departing from many, if they but touch the border of his garment. The power of the enemy disappears before the power that is in Paul, and the name of Jesus is glorified. The evil spirits acknowledge Paul’s power, and put his enemies to shame and loss; the consciences of the heathen are reached, and the enemy’s dominion over them is gone. Fear falls on many who “used curious arts,” and they burn their books of magic, the cost of which amounts to nearly two thousand pounds in English money. “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.” (See Acts 19:1 - 20) Thus the power of the Lord was displayed in the person and mission of Paul, and his apostolate established beyond a question.
The apostle had now spent about three years of incessant labour in Ephesus. And he says himself when addressing the elders at Miletus, “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” It is also supposed by some, that during this time he paid a short visit and wrote his: FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.
THE TUMULT AT EPHESUS
A great and blessed work had now been accomplished by the mighty energy of God’s Spirit, through the instrumentality of His chosen servant Paul. The gospel had been planted in the capital of Asia, and it had spread throughout the whole province. The apostle now felt as if his work had been done there, and he longs to go to Rome, the capital of the West, and the metropolis of the world. Greece and Macedonia had already received the gospel, but there was yet Rome.
“After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” (Acts 19:21)
But while Paul was thus making arrangements for another journey, the enemy was planning a fresh attack. His resources were not yet exhausted. Demetrius excites the thoughtless multitude against the Christians. A great tumult is raised, the passions of men being stirred up against the instruments of the testimony of God. The workmen of Demetrius raise the cry, not only that their craft is in danger, but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana is in danger of being despised. When the multitude heard these things, they were filled with wrath, and cried, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” The whole city was now filled with confusion; but Paul was mercifully preserved —by his brethren, and by some of the chief rulers in Asia, who were his friends —from showing himself in the theatre.
The Jews evidently began to fear that the persecution might be turned against them; for the majority of the people knew not for what purpose they had come together. They therefore put forth a certain Alexander, probably with the intention of shifting the blame from themselves upon the Christians; but the moment the heathen discovered that he was a Jew, their fury was increased: the rallying cry was again raised, and for two whole hours the people shouted “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” Fortunately for all parties, the town clerk was a man of great tact and admirable policy. He flattered, calmed, soothed, and dismissed the assembly. But to faith it was God using the persuasive eloquence of a heathen official to protect His servant and His many children there.
The far-famed temple of Diana was reckoned by the ancients as one of the wonders of the world, the sun, it was said, saw nothing in his course more magnificent than Diana’s temple. It was constructed of the purest marble, and was two hundred and twenty years in building. But with the spread of Christianity it sank into decay, and scarcely anything of it now remains to show us even where it stood. The trade of Demetrius was to make small models in silver of the shrine of the goddess. These were set up in houses, kept as memorials, and carried about on journeys. But as the introduction of Christianity necessarily affected the sale of these models, the heathen artisans were instigated by Demetrius to raise a popular cry in favour of Diana and against the Christians.
PAUL’S DEPARTURE FROM
EPHESUS FOR MACEDONIA
Acts: 20. After the cessation of the tumult, the danger being over and the rioters dispersed, Paul sends for the disciples, embraces them, and departs for Macedonia. Two of the Ephesian brethren, Tychicus and Trophimus, seem to have accompanied him, and to have remained faithful to him through all his afflictions. They are frequently mentioned, and have a place in the last chapter of his last epistle, 2 Tim. 4.
The sacred historian is exceedingly brief in his record of Paul’s proceedings at this time. All the information which he gives us is compressed into these following words: —“He departed to go into Macedonia: and when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece, and there abode three months.” It is generally supposed that these few words embrace a period of nine or ten months —from the early summer of A.D. 57 to the spring of A.D. 58. But the apostle’s letters happily accommodates for this lack of information. Those that were written on this journey supply us with many historical details, and, what is more and better, they give us (from his own pen) a living picture of the deep and painful exercises of mind and heart, through which he was then passing.
It appears that Paul had arranged to meet Titus at Troas, who was to bring him tidings direct from Corinth, telling of the state of things there. But week after week passed, and Titus came not. We know something of the workings of that great mind and heart at this time, from what he says himself: “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.” (2 Cor. 2:12, 13) His personal anxiety, however, did not hinder him from going on with the great work of the gospel. This is evident from verses 14 - 17.
At length the long-expected Titus arrived in Macedonia —probably at Philippi. And now Paul’s mind is relieved and his heart is comforted. Titus brings him better tidings from Corinth than he had expected to hear. The reaction is manifest: he is filled with praise. “Great is my boldness of speech toward you,” he says; “great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fighting’s, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforts those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” (2 Corinthians 7:4 - 6)
Soon after this, Paul writes his SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS; which we find addressed not to them only, but to all the churches in all Achaia. They may have all been more or less affected by the condition of things at Corinth. Titus is again the apostle’s willing servant, not only as the bearer of his second letter to the church at Corinth, but as taking a special interest in the collections then making for the poor. Paul not only gives Titus strict charges about the collections, but also writes two chapters on the subject (chapters 8 and 9), though it was more deacons’ than apostles’ work. But, as he had said in answer to the suggestion of James, Cephas, and John, that he should remember the poor —“The same,” he replied, “which I was also forward to do.”
The space, which the apostle devotes to subjects connected with collections for the poor, is remarkable, and deserves our careful consideration. It may be that some of us have overlooked this fact and suffered loss in our own souls thereby. Notice, for example, what he says of one church. We have good reason to believe that the Philippians from the very beginning cared for the apostle —they pressed him to accept their contributions for his support, from his first visit to Thessalonica, down to his imprisonment in Rome, besides their liberality to others. (Phil. 4; 2 Cor. 8:1 - 4) But some may imagine from this, that they were a wealthy church. Just the opposite! Paul tells us “How that, in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” It was out of their deep poverty that they gave so liberally.
What the Philippians are in the Epistles, the poor widow is in the Gospels —two mites were her all. She could have given one and kept one; but she had an undivided heart, and she gave both. She, too, gave out of her poverty; and, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world, these things shall be told as a memorial of their liberality.
After Paul had sent off Titus and his associates with the Epistle, he remained himself in “those parts” of Greece, doing the work of an evangelist. His mind, however, was set on paying the Corinthians a personal visit; but he allowed time for his letter to produce its own effects under the blessing of God. One of the objects of the apostle was to prepare the way for his personal ministry among them. It is generally thought that it was during this period of delay that he fully preached the gospel of Christ round about unto Illyricum. (Rom. 15:19) It is probable that he reached Corinth in winter, according to his expressed intention. “It may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you.” (1 Cor. 16:6) There he abode three months.
All are agreed, we may say, that it was during these winter months, that he wrote his great EPISTLE TO THE R0MANS. Some say, that he also wrote his EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS at the same time. But there is great diversity of opinion amongst the chronologists on this point. From the absence of names and salutations, such as we have in the Epistle to the Romans, it is difficult to ascertain its date. But if it was not written at this particular time, we must place it earlier, not later. The apostle was surprised at their early departure from the truth. “I marvel,” he says, “that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” His great disappointment is manifest in the warmth of spirit in which he writes this Epistle.
But we must return to the history of our apostle: the niceties of chronology we cannot enter upon in our “short papers.” But after comparing the latest authorities, we give what seem to us the most reliable dates.
PAUL LEAVES CORINTH
The apostle’s work was now done at Corinth, and he prepares to leave it. His mind was bent upon going to Rome; but there was this mission of charity on his heart, to which he must attend first. We are favoured with his own words on these different points. “But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come unto you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company. “But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” (Rom. 15) The array of names in Acts 20:4; Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, and Trophimus, are supposed to be brethren with the collections, which had been made at the different places named. Instead of sailing straight to Syria, he goes round by Macedonia, because of the Jews who were lying in wait for him. His companions tarried for him at Troas. There he spent a Lord’s Day, and even a whole week, in order to see the brethren.
We must notice briefly what took place at this stage of his journey. Two things, all-important to the Christian, are connected with it —the Lord’s Day, and the Lord’s Supper. The historian, who was with Paul at this time, enters with unusual minuteness on the details of that day.
It is evident from this incidental notice, that it was the established custom of the early Christians to come together on “the first day of the week” for the understood purpose of “breaking bread.” We have here the main object and the ordinary time of their coming together. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.” (See also 1 Cor. 16:2; John 20:19; Rev. 1:10) Even the apostle’s discoursing, precious as it was, is spoken of as a secondary thing. The remembrance of the Lord’s love in dying for us, and all that into which He has brought us as risen again, was, and is, the first thing. If there be an opportunity for so ministering the word, as to gather up the thoughts and affections of the worshippers to Christ, it is well to embrace it; but the breaking of bread ought to be the first consideration, and the main object of the assembly. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper on this occasion was after sunset. In early times, it was observed in some places before daylight, in others, after sunset. But here the disciples were not obliged to meet in secret. “There were many lights in the upper chamber where they were gathered together, and Paul continued his speech until midnight, ready to depart on the morrow.” It was an extraordinary occasion, and Paul avails himself of the opportunity to speak to them all night. The time had not come, as some one has said, when the warm earnest utterances of the heart were measured by the minute —when the burning agony of the preacher over lost souls was timed by the icy coldness of the mere professor, or the careless indifference of the worldly Christian. Eutychus, a young man, overcome with sleep, “fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.” This has been viewed by some as a penalty for inattention: but a miracle was wrought; the young man was raised from a state of death by the power and goodness of God through His servant Paul, and the friends were not a little comforted.
PAUL AT MILETUS
The most important stage of this journey is Miletus, though the sacred historian carefully notes the different places they pass or call at. Paul, being filled with the Spirit, gives directions for the journey. His companions willingly obey him, not as a master, but as one who directs in the humility of love and in the wisdom of God. He arranges not to go to Ephesus, though that was a central place, for he had purposed in his heart to be at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. But as the vessel was to be detained some time at Miletus, he sends for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him. The distance between the two places is said to be about thirty miles, so that two or three days would be required to go and come, but they had sufficient time for their meeting before the ship sailed. Thus the Lord thinks of His servants and makes everything work together for their good and His own glory.
Paul’s farewell address to the elders of Ephesus is characteristic and representative. It demands our most careful study. It sets before us the deep and touching affection of the apostle, the position of the church at that time, and the work of the gospel among the nations. He exhorts them with unusual earnestness and tenderness; he felt he was addressing them for the last time; he reminds them of his labours among them in “serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears.” He warns them against false teachers and heresies —the grievous wolves who would enter in among them, and the men of themselves that would arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. “And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.”
As this testimony of Paul’s is of the highest importance, and marks a distinct epoch in the history of the church, besides shedding divine light on all ecclesiastical systems, we give the thoughts of another on its wide and comprehensive bearing.
“The church was consolidated over a pretty large extent of country, and the church, in divers places at least, had taken the form of a regular institution. Elders were established and recognised. The apostle could send for them to come to him. His authority also was acknowledged on their part. He speaks of his ministry as a past thing —solemn thought! …Thus, what the Holy Ghost here sets before us is, that now, when the detail of his work among the Gentiles to plant the gospel is related as one entire scene among Jews and Gentiles, he bids adieu to the work; in order to leave those whom he had gathered together, in a new position, and, in a certain sense, to themselves. It is a discourse which marks the cessation of one phase of the church —that of apostolic labours —and the entrance into another; its responsibility to stand fast now that these labours had ceased; the service of the elders, whom “the Holy Ghost had made overseers,” and, at the same time, the dangers and difficulties that would attend the cessation of apostolic labour, and complicate the work of the elders, on whom the responsibility would now more especially devolve.”
The first remark that flows from the consideration of this discourse is that apostolic succession is entirely denied by it. Owing to the absence of the apostle, various difficulties would arise, and there would be no one in his place to meet or to prevent these difficulties. Successor, therefore, he had none. In the second place, the fact appears that this energy, which bridled the spirit of evil, once away, devouring wolves from without, and teachers of perverse things from within, would lift up their heads and attack the simplicity and the happiness of the church; which would be harassed by the efforts of Satan, without possessing apostolic energy to withstand them. In the third place, that which was principally to be done for the hindrance of evil was to feed the flock; and to watch, whether over themselves or over the flock, for that purpose. He then commends them —neither to Timothy, nor to a bishop, but in a way that sets aside all official resources —to God and to the word of His grace. This is where he left the church. The free labours of the apostle of the Gentiles were ended. Solemn and affecting thought! He had been the instrument chosen of God to communicate to the world His counsels respecting the church and to establish in the mind of the world this precious object of His affections, united to Christ at His right hand. What would become of it down here?2424The Present Testimony, volume 8. pp. 405 – 407.
Acts: 21. With a fair wind, Paul and his companions sailed out from Miletus, while the sorrowing elders of Ephesus prepared for their journey homewards. With a straight course they sailed to Coos, Rhodes, and thence to Patara and Tyre. From what took place there —so similar to the scene at Miletus —it is evident that Paul soon found his way to the hearts of the disciples. Though he had been only one week at Tyre, and previously unacquainted with the Christians there, he had gained their affections. “And they all brought us on our way,” says Luke, “with wives and children, till we were out of the city; and we kneeled down on the shore and prayed.” It seems too, as if a spirit of prophecy had been poured out on these affectionate Tyrians, for they warned the apostle against going up to Jerusalem. After waiting there seven days, they came to Ptolemais, where they abode one day. At Cæsarea, they lodged in the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven. He is already well known to us, but it is not a little interesting to meet him again, after an interval of more than twenty years. Now he has four daughters, virgins, who prophesy. Here Agabus the prophet predicted Paul’s imprisonment, and said, “He should not go up to Jerusalem.” All the disciples said the same thing, and entreated him with tears not to go. But however much the tears and the entreaties of his friends and of his own children in the faith must have moved Paul’s tender and sensitive heart, he suffered nothing to alter his resolution or move him from his purpose. He felt bound in spirit to go, and ready to leave all consequences with the will of the Lord. We now come to:
PAUL’S FIFTH VISIT TO
JERUSALEM A.D. 58
The apostle and his companions were gladly welcomed on their arrival at Jerusalem. “When we were come to Jerusalem,” Luke observes, “the brethren received us gladly.” The day following, Paul and his company visited James, at whose house the elders were present. Paul, as chief speaker, declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. But though they were greatly interested, and praised the Lord for the good news, they evidently felt uneasy. They at once called Paul’s attention to the fact, that a great number of Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah were zealous observers of the law of Moses, and were strongly prejudiced against himself.
How to satisfy the prejudices of these Jewish Christians was now the important question between Paul and the elders. Multitudes of Jews, both converted and unconverted, they knew would come together when they heard of Paul’s arrival. They had long believed the most serious and weighty charges against him —“that he taught all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” What was now to be done? The elders proposed that Paul should publicly show himself obedient to the law. This was the painful and perplexing position of the apostle of the Gentiles. What can he now do? Will the messenger of the gospel of the glory —the minister of the heavenly calling —stoop to the rules of Nazarite vows? This is the solemn and serious question. If he refuses compliance with their wish, the lurking suspicion of the Jews will be confirmed; if he acts according to their desires, he must humble himself —forget for the moment his high calling and yield to the ignorance, prejudice, and pride of the Judaizers. But what else can he do? He is in the very centre of a bigoted Judaism; and if mistaken, he honestly desires to win over the church at Jerusalem to a purer and loftier Christianity.
Many have been very free in their criticisms on the apostle’s course at this time. But though it is our privilege humbly to examine all that the sacred historian has written, some, we fear, have ventured too far in saying hard things of the apostle. We may reverently inquire, how far the will and the affections of Paul influenced him on this occasion, apart from the warnings of the Spirit through his brethren; but surely it becomes us to keep within the limits of what the Holy Spirit Himself has said. Let us now carefully view the outward facts, which led the apostle to this eventful epoch in his life.
ROME had been long on his mind. He had a great desire to preach the gospel there. This was right —this was according to God —this was not of self: he was the apostle of the Gentiles. God had been working there most blessedly without Paul or Peter, for as yet, no apostle had visited Rome. Paul had been privileged to write an epistle to the Romans, and in that letter he expresses the most earnest desire to see them, and to labour among them. “For I long to see you,” he says, “that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established.” This was his state of mind and the object, which he had before him, which we also must keep in view when studying this part of his history. Compare Romans 1: vs. 7 – 15 and chapter 15: vs. 15 – 33.
THE END OF PAUL’S FREE LABOURS
We have now come to the important question, and to the point on which Paul’s future history turns. Will he go straight west to Rome, or will he go round by way of Jerusalem? All depends on this. Jerusalem was also on his heart. But if Christ had sent him far hence to the Gentiles, could the Spirit, on Christ’s part, lead him to Jerusalem? It was just here, we believe, that the great apostle was permitted to follow the desires of his own heart; which desires were right and beautiful in themselves, but not according to the mind of God at the time. He loved his nation dearly, and especially the poor saints at Jerusalem; and, having been greatly misrepresented there, he wished to prove his love for the poor of his people by bringing to them in person the offerings of the Gentiles. “When therefore,” he says, “I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.” Surely, some will say, this was loving and praiseworthy! Yes, but on one side only, and that side alas! was the side of nature, —not of the Spirit. “And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days; who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” This seems plain enough; but Paul inclined for the moment to the side of his affections “for the poor of the flock” in Jerusalem. Could there have been, we ask, a more pardonable mistake? Impossible! It was his love to the poor, and the pleasure of carrying to them the offerings of the Gentiles, that led him to go round by Jerusalem on his way to Rome. Nevertheless, it was a mistake, and a mistake, which cost Paul his liberty. His free labours end here. He allowed the flesh its liberty, and God allowed the Gentiles to bind it with a chain. This was the Master’s expression of truest love to His servant. Paul was too precious in His sight to be allowed to pass without His righteous dealings at such a time; and he was also made to prove, that neither Jerusalem nor Rome could be the metropolis of Christianity, Christ the Head of the church was in heaven, and there only could the metropolis of Christianity be, Jerusalem persecuted the apostle; Rome imprisoned and martyred him. Nevertheless, the Lord was with His servant for his own good, the advancement of the truth, the blessing of the church, and the glory of His own great name.
Here may we be permitted to offer one reflection. On how many histories, since Paul’s fifth visit to Jerusalem, has this solemn scene been engraved! How many saints have been bound with chains of different kinds, but who can say for what, or why? All of us would have said —unless enlightened by the Spirit —that the apostle could not have been actuated by a more worthy motive in going round by Jerusalem on his way to Rome. But the Lord had not told him to do so. All hinges on this. How needful then to see, at every stage of our journey, that we have the word of God for our faith, the service of Christ for our motive, and the Holy Spirit for our guide. We will now return to the history of events.
We left Paul sitting with the elders in the house of James. They had suggested to him a mode of conciliating the Jewish believers, and of refuting the accusations of his enemies. Disloyalty to his nation and to the religion of his fathers was the chief charge brought against him. But under the surface of outward events, and especially having the light of the epistles shed upon them, we discover the root of the whole matter in the enmity of the human heart against the grace of God. In order to understand this, we must notice that Paul’s ministry was twofold.
1) His mission was to preach the gospel “to every creature which is under heaven” —it not only went far beyond the limits of Judaism, but it was in perfect contrast with that system.
2) He was also the minister of the church of God, and preached its exalted position, and its blessed privileges, as united with Christ the glorified Man in heaven. These blessed truths, it will be seen, lift the soul of the believer far above the religion of the flesh, be it ever so painstaking —ever so abounding in rites and ceremonies. Vows, fasts, feasts, offerings, purifications, traditions, and philosophy, are all shut out as nothing of worth before God, and opposed to the very nature of Christianity. This exasperated the religious Jew with his traditions, and the uncircumcised Greek with his philosophy; and the two united to persecute the true witness-bearer of this twofold testimony. And so it has been ever since. The religious man with his ordinances, and the merely natural man with his philosophy of natural process, readily unites in opposing the witness of a heavenly Christianity. See Colossians chapter’s 1 & 2.
If Paul had preached circumcision, the offence of the cross would have ceased; for this would have given them a place, and the opportunity of being something and doing something, and even of taking part with God in His religion. This was Judaism, and this gave the Jew his pre-eminence. But the gospel of the grace of God addresses man as already lost —as “dead in trespasses and sins” —and has no more respect to the Jew than to the Gentile. Like the sun in the firmament, it shines for all. No nation, kindred, tongue, or people, is excluded from its heavenly rays. “Preach the gospel to every creature which is under heaven” is the divine commission and the wide sphere of the evangelist; to teach those who believe this gospel their completeness in Christ is the privilege and duty of every minister of the New Testament.
Having thus cleared the ground as to the motives, objects, and position of the great apostle, we will now briefly trace the remainder of his eventful life. The time has come when he is to be brought before kings and rulers, and even before Cæsar himself, for the name of the Lord Jesus.
PAUL IN THE TEMPLE
In accordance with the proposal of James and the elders, Paul now proceeds to the temple with “the four men, which had a vow.” Thus we read: “Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself with them, entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.” On the completion of the Nazarite’s vow, the law required that certain offerings should be presented in the temple. These offerings involved considerable expense, as we may see from Numbers 6; and it was considered an act of great merit and piety for a rich brother to provide these offerings for a poor brother, and thereby enable him to complete his vow. Paul was not rich, but he had a large and tender heart, and he generously undertook to pay the charges of the four poor Nazarites. Such readiness on Paul’s part to please some and help others, ought to have pacified and conciliated the Jews, and probably it would, had there only been present such as were associated with James; but it had the opposite effect with the inveterate zealots: they were only more incensed against him. The celebration of the feast had attracted multitudes to the holy city, so that the temple was thronged with worshippers from every land.
Among these foreign Jews were some from Asia, probably some of Paul’s old antagonists from Ephesus, who were glad of an opportunity to be revenged on him who had formerly defeated them. Towards the end of the seven days wherein the sacrifices were to be offered, these Asiatic Jews saw Paul in the temple, and immediately fell upon him, “crying out, Men of Israel, help! This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place; and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. And all the city was moved, and the people ran together; and they took Paul and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.” The whole city being now in an uproar, the crowd rushed furiously to the point of attack; the multitude were excited to madness, and but for their sacred care not to shed blood in the holy place, Paul would have been instantly torn to pieces. Their object now was to hurry him out of the temple, have the doors shut, and dispatch him outside the sacred enclosure. But before their murderous plans were executed, help from the Lord arrived, and they were unexpectedly interrupted.
The sentries at the gates no doubt communicated at once to the Roman garrison, situated over against the temple, that there was a tumult in the court. The chief captain, Claudius Lysias, immediately ran to the spot in person, taking soldiers and centurions with him. When the Jews saw the chief captain and the Roman soldiers approaching, they left off beating Paul. The governor, perceiving that Paul was the occasion of all this excitement, promptly secured him, and bound him with two chains, or chained him by each hand to a soldier. See Acts 12: 6.
This being done, Lysias proceeded to make inquiry as to the real cause of the disturbance, but, as no certain information could be obtained from the ignorant and excited crowd, he ordered Paul to be carried into the castle. The disappointed mob now made a tremendous rush after their victim. They saw him taken out of their hands, and so violently did they press upon the soldiers, that Paul was borne in their arms up the stairs of the castle; meanwhile deafening shouts arose from the enraged multitude below, as they had done nearly thirty years before, “Away with him, away with him.”
At this moment of overwhelming interest, the apostle preserved great presence of mind, and perfectly controlled the agitation of his feelings. He acts prudently without any compromise of truth. Just as they had reached the entrance to the castle, Paul most courteously addressed himself to the chief captain, and said, “May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers? But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.” Marvellous to say, this request was granted. Paul had already gained the respect of the Roman governor, if not great influence over his mind. But the hand of the Lord was in it; He was watching over His servant. Paul had thrown himself into the hands of his enemies, by seeking to please the believing Jews; but God was with him, and knew how to deliver him out of their power, and to use him for the glory of His own great name. Acts 21:26 - 40.
PAUL’S SPEECH ON THE
STAIRS OF THE CASTLE
To the chief captain he had spoken in Greek; to the Jews he speaks in Hebrew. These little attentions and considerations are the beautiful blending of love and wisdom, and ought to serve as a lesson for us. He was always ready to win, by “becoming all things to all men, that he might gain the more.” We see the marvellous effects of his influence over the infuriated mob, as well as over the commanding officer. The moment he spoke to them, the whole scene was changed. He calmed the tumultuous sea of human passion by the sound of their sacred language. It fell like oil on the troubled waters; and there was immediately “a great silence.” We have his noble defence, addressed to his brethren and fathers, given at length in Acts 22:1 - 21.
It will be observed in reading the address, that his countrymen listened with great attention, while he spoke to them of his early life, his persecution of the church, his mission to Damascus, his miraculous conversion, his vision in the temple, and his interview with Ananias; but the moment he mentioned his mission to the Gentiles, an outburst of unbounded indignation arose from the crowded area below, and silenced the speaker. They could not endure the thought of God’s grace to the Gentiles. That hated name stung them to fury. Their national pride rebelled against the thought of uncircumcised heathen being made equal to the children of Abraham. They cried down with scornful contempt every argument, human or divine, that could have influenced their minds. In vain, did the apostle lay great stress on what had taken place between himself and the devout Ananias. Every appeal was in vain, so long as the Gentiles were to be thus owned. A scene of the wildest confusion now followed. They cast off their outer garments, threw dust into the air, and “lifted up their voices, and said; Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live.”
The chief captain, seeing the frantic violence of the people, and not understanding what it meant, was thrown into new perplexity. He saw the results of a speech in the Hebrew tongue —which he probably did not understand —and, naturally concluding that his prisoner must be guilty of some enormous crime, he ordered him to be bound and scourged to make him confess his guilt. But Paul making known the fact that he was a Roman citizen instantly arrested this proceeding.
The soldiers who were engaged in binding him withdrew in alarm, and warned the governor as to what he was doing. Lysias came at once, “and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born,” Lysias was now in a difficulty; he had violated a Roman law. To expose a citizen to such indignity was treason against the majesty of the Roman people. But the only way of saving Paul’s life was by keeping him in custody, and he happily thought of another and a milder way of ascertaining the nature of his prisoner’s offence.
PAUL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIM
On the following day he “commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.” The policy of Lysias here is interesting. He is active in suppressing the tumult; he protects a Roman citizen; he shows deference to the religion and customs of the Jews. This blending of policy and courtesy in the haughty Roman, under such circumstances, is worthy of a moment’s reflection; but we press on.
Paul addresses the council with dignity and gravity; but with an evident expression of conscious integrity. “And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” This unflinching sense of uprightness so enraged Ananias, the high priest that he commanded those who stood near to strike him on the mouth. This arbitrary violation of the law on the part of the chief of the council so roused the apostle’s feelings, that he fearlessly 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?” It is evident that the high priest was not so clothed as to be recognised; therefore Paul excuses himself by his ignorance of the fact, and quotes the formal prohibition of the law: “Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.”
The apostle soon perceived, we are told, that the council was divided into two parties, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and therefore he cried out, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” This declaration, whether so intended or not, had the effect of dividing the assembly, and setting the one party against the other. And so fierce did their dissensions become, that some of the Pharisees actually took Paul’s side, saying, “We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” The judgment hall immediately became the scene of the most violent contention, and the presence of Claudius Lysias was absolutely necessary. Paul is once more lodged in the castle.
So passed this eventful morning in the history of our apostle. In the evening, when alone, can we wonder if his heart was prone to sink within him? From what had taken place, and from the gloomy appearance of everything around him, the apostle never stood in greater need of the consolation and strength, which the Master’s presence always gives. But who knew this so well, or could feel so deeply for the lonely prisoner as the Master Himself? And so He appears in richest grace to comfort and cheer the heart of His servant. It was divinely timed comfort. The Lord stood by him, as He had done at Corinth, and as He afterwards did on his voyage to Rome; and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” (Acts 18:9, 10; 23:11; 27:23, 24.) A conspiracy of more than forty men to assassinate Paul having been discovered, and all their wicked schemes confounded, Claudius Lysias immediately summoned his centurions and soldiers, and gave strict orders to have Paul conveyed safely to Cæsarea. Luke relates the details of this matter with singular fullness. (Acts 23:12 – 25)
PAUL APPEARS BEFORE FELIX
As some of our readers may have observed, the character of God’s dealings with His servant partially changes here. It may be well to pause for a moment, and reverently inquire into the apparent causes of this change. And, as many have freely given their opinions on this difficult point, we will here quote a few lines from one who seems to give the mind of the Spirit.
“I believe, then, that the hand of God was in Paul’s journey to Jerusalem; that, in His sovereign wisdom, He willed that His servant should undertake it, and also have blessing in it: but that the means employed to lead him into it, according to that sovereign wisdom was the apostle’s human affection for the people who were his kindred after the flesh; and that he was not led into it by the Holy Ghost acting on the part of Christ in the Church. This attachment to his people, this human affection, met with that among the people, which put it in its place. Humanly speaking, it was an amiable feeling; but it was not the power of the Holy Ghost founded on the death and resurrection of Christ. There was no longer Jew or Gentile… Paul’s affection was good in itself; but as a spring of action it did not come up to the height of the work of the Spirit, who, on Christ’s part, had sent him afar from Jerusalem to the Gentiles in order to reveal the church as His body united to Him in heaven.
He was the messenger of the heavenly glory, which brought out the doctrine of the church composed of Jews and Gentiles, united without distinction in the one body of Christ, thus blotting out Judaism; but his love for his nation carried him, I repeat, into the very centre of hostile Judaism, a Judaism enraged against the spiritual equality. Nevertheless, the hand of God was undoubtedly in it: Paul, individually, found his level.
That which Paul said before the council raises a tumult, and the chief captain takes him from among them. God has all things at His disposal: a nephew of Paul’s, never mentioned elsewhere, hears of an ambush laid for him and warns him of it. Paul sends him to the chief captain, who expedites the departure of Paul under a guard to Cæsarea. God watched over him, but all is on the level of human and providential ways. There is not the angel as in Peter’s case, or the earthquake as at Philippi. We are sensibly on different ground.”2525Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, vol. 4: pp. 84 – 95.
The accusers of Paul were not long in finding their way to Cæsarea. “And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul.” (Acts 24:1) In a short speech, full of flattery and insinuating art, Tertullus accuses Paul of sedition, heresy, and the profanation of the temple.
Felix then signified to Paul that he had an opportunity of answering for himself. And now, we may say, the apostle of the Gentiles is once more in his right place. However humiliating his circumstances, he is still God’s messenger to the Gentiles, and God is with His beloved servant. The Jews were silent and Paul, in his usual straightforward manner, met the charges.
Felix, it appears, knew a good deal about these things, and it is evident that a strong impression was made on his mind. Many years before this, Christianity had found its way into the Roman army at Cæsarea, (Acts 10) so that he probably knew something about it, and was convinced of the truth of Paul’s statements; but he trifled with his convictions, and with his prisoner. He “deferred” further inquiry for the present, making some excuse about the coming of Lysias. Meanwhile however, he gave orders, that Paul should be treated with kindness and consideration, and that his friends should be allowed free access to him.
Not many days after this, Felix entered the audience chamber with his wife Drusilla, and sent for Paul. They were evidently curious to hear him discourse “concerning the faith of Christ.” But Paul was not the one to gratify the curiosity of a Roman libertine, and a profligate Jewish princess. The faithful apostle, in preaching Christ, spoke plainly and boldly to the conscience of his hearers. He had now an opportunity in his bonds, which he could otherwise scarcely have obtained. “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled.” And little wonder. If we are to believe the historians of his own day, Josephus and Tacitus, a more unprincipled or dissolute couple never sat before a preacher. But, though conscience stricken, Felix remained impenitent. Fearful condition! “Go thy way,” said he, “for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” But that convenient season never came, though he frequently saw the apostle afterwards, and, we doubt not, gave him to understand that a bribe would procure his release. Little did the Roman governor think that his venal justice was to be recorded in the book of God, and handed down to all succeeding generations. His character is represented as mean, cruel, and dissolute; that in the indulgence of all kinds of wickedness he exercised the power of a king with the temper of a slave. “But after two years, Porcius Festus came into Felix’s room, and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.”
PAUL APPEARS BEFORE
FESTUS AND AGRIPPA
Immediately after Festus arrived in the province, he visited Jerusalem. There the leading Jews seized the opportunity to demand Paul’s return. Their plea, doubtless, was that he should be tried again before the Sanhedrim, but their real purpose was to kill him on the way. Festus refused their petition. He invited them, however, to go down with him to Cæsarea and accuse him there. The trial took place and resembles that before Felix. It is quite evident that Festus saw clearly enough, that Paul’s real offence was connected with the religious opinions of the Jews, and that he had committed no offence against the law; but at the same time, being desirous to ingratiate himself with the Jews, he asks Paul whether he would go to Jerusalem to be tried there. This was little better than a proposal to sacrifice him to Jewish hatred. Paul, being well aware of this, at once appealed to the Emperor —“I appeal unto Cæsar.”
Festus was no doubt surprised at the dignity and independence of his prisoner. But it was his privilege as a Roman citizen, to have his cause transferred to the supreme tribunal of the Emperor at Rome. “Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Cæsar? unto Cæsar shalt thou go.”
So far as the eye of man can see, this was Paul’s only resource under the circumstances. But the hand and purpose of the Lord were in it. Paul must bear witness for Christ and the truth in Rome also. Jerusalem had rejected the testimony to the Gentiles; Rome too must have its share in rejecting the same testimony, and in becoming the prison of the witness. But in all this Paul is highly favoured of the Lord. His position resembles that of his blessed Master, when He was given up to the Gentiles by the hatred of the Jews, only the Lord was perfect in it all, and He was in His true place before God. He came to the Jews —this was His mission: Paul was delivered from the Jews —such was the difference. Christ gave Himself up, as we read, “Who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God.” Part of Paul’s commission runs thus: —“Delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee.” But Paul returned to “the people” in the energy of his human affections, after he had been placed outside of them in the energy of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 26:17) Jesus had taken him out from both Jew and Gentile, to exercise a ministry that united the two in one body in Christ. As Paul himself says, “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh.” In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek. We now resume the history of the great apostle.
PAUL APPEARS BEFORE
AGRIPPA AND BERNICE
It happened about this time that Agrippa, king of the Jews, and his sister Bernice, came to pay a complimentary visit to Festus. And as Festus knew not how to state Paul’s case to the Emperor, he took the opportunity of consulting Agrippa, who was better in-formed than him on the points, in question. The Jewish prince, who must have known something of Christianity, and had no doubt heard of Paul himself, expressed a desire to hear him speak. Festus readily acceded to the request. “Tomorrow,” said he, “thou shalt hear him.”
The apostle is now to have the privilege of bearing the name of Jesus before the most dignified assembly he has ever addressed. Jewish kings, Roman governors, military officers, and the chief men of Cæsarea assembled “with great pomp” to hear the prisoner give an account of himself to Agrippa. It was no mean audience, and it is perfectly clear that they regarded the prisoner as no mean person. Festus, having acknowledged the difficulty in which he found himself, referred the matter to the better knowledge of the Jewish king. Agrippa courteously signified to Paul that he was permitted to speak for himself. We have now come to one of the most interesting moments in the whole history of our apostle.
The dignity of his manner before his judges, though he stretched out a hand that was chained to a soldier, must have deeply impressed his audience. The depth of his humiliation only manifested more strikingly the moral elevation of his soul. He thought neither of his chain nor of his person. Perfectly happy in Christ, and burning with love to those around him, self and circumstances were completely forgotten. With a dignified deference to the position of those who surrounded him, he rose, in the honest declarations of a good conscience, infinitely above them all. He addresses himself to the conscience of his audience, with the boldness and uprightness of a man accustomed to walking with God, and to act for Him. The character and conduct of the governors are thrown into painful contrast with the character and conduct of the apostle, and show us what the world is when unmasked by the Holy Ghost.
“I pass over in silence,” says one, “the worldly egotism which betrays itself in Lysias and Festus, by the assumption of all sorts of good qualities and good conduct —the mixture of awakened conscience and the absence of principle in the governors —the desire to please the Jews for their own, importance, or to facilitate their government of a rebellious people. The position of Agrippa and all the details of the history have a remarkable stamp of truth, and present the various characters in so living a style that we seem to be in the scene described; we see the persons moving in it. This, moreover, strikingly characterises the writings of Luke.”
Chapter 26. Paul addresses king Agrippa as one well versed in the customs and questions prevailing amongst the Jews; and he so relates his miraculous conversion and his subsequent career as to act on the conscience of the king. By the clear and straightforward narrative of the apostle, he was not far from, being convinced; his conscience was awakened; but the world and his own passions stood in the way. Festus ridiculed. To him it was nothing more than wild enthusiasm —a rhapsody. He interrupted the apostle abruptly, and “said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much leaning doth make thee mad.” The apostle’s reply was dignified and self-possessed, but intensely earnest; and, with great wisdom and discernment, he appeals at last to Agrippa. “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 the Jewish king, who sat beside Festus, he made this direct and solemn appeal to him —“King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.”
“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”
For the moment, the king was carried away by the power of Paul’s address, and by the sharpened sting of his appeals. Then Paul made his reply —a reply, which stands alone. It is characterised by godly zeal, Christian courtesy, burning love for souls, and great personal joy in the Lord.
“And Paul said, 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, except these bonds.”
With the expression of this noble wish, the conference closed. The meeting was dissolved. Agrippa had no desire to hear more. The appeals had been too pointed, too personal, yet so mingled with dignity, affection, and solicitude, that he was overcome. Then “the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them.” After a brief consultation, Festus, Agrippa, and their companions came to the conclusion that Paul was guilty of nothing worthy of death or even imprisonment. “This man;” said Agrippa, “might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Cæsar.”
This was the Lord’s care of His beloved servant. He would have his innocence proved and acknowledged by his judges, and fully established before the world. This being accomplished, the king and his companions resume their places in the world and its gaieties, and Paul returns to his prison. But never was his heart happier or more filled with the spirit of his Master than at that moment.
PAUL’S VOYAGE TO ROME A.D. 60
Acts 27. The time was now come for Paul’s journey to Rome. No formal trial of the apostle had yet taken place. And, no doubt, wearied with the unrelenting opposition of the Jews —with two years’ imprisonment at Cæsarea and repeated examinations before the governors and Agrippa, he had claimed a trial before the imperial court. Luke, the historian of the Acts, and Aristarchus of Thessalonica, were favoured to accompany him. Paul was committed to the charge of a centurion named Julius, of the imperial band, an officer, who, upon all occasions, treated the apostle with the greatest kindness and consideration.
It was then “determined” that Paul should be sent along with “certain other prisoners,” by sea to Italy “And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched,” says Luke, “meaning to sail by the coast of Asia. And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.” Loosing from Sidon they were forced to sail under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary, and come to Myra, a city of Lycia. Here the centurion had his prisoners transferred to a ship of Alexandria on her voyage to Italy. In this vessel, after leaving Myra, “they sailed slowly many days” the weather being unfavourable from the first. But running to the leeward of Crete, they safely reached “the Fair Havens.”
Winter was now near, and it became a serious question what course should be taken —whether they should remain at Fair Havens for the winter, or seek some better harbour.
Here we must pause for a moment and notice the wonderful position of our apostle in this serious consultation. As before Festus and Agrippa, he appears before the captain, the owner, the centurion, and the whole crew, as having the mind of God. He counsels, directs, and acts, as if he were really the master of the vessel, in place of being a prisoner in the custody of soldiers. He advised that they should remain where they were. He warned them that they would meet with violent weather if they ventured out to the open sea —that much injury would be done to the ship and cargo, and much risk to the lives of those on board. But the master and the owner of the ship, who had the greatest interest in her, were guided by circumstances and not by faith; they were willing to run the risk of seeking a more commodious harbour to winter in, and the centurion naturally deferred to their judgment. All were against the judgment of the man of faith —the man of God —the man who was speaking and acting for God. Even the circumstances in the scene around them seemed to favour the opinion of the sailors rather than that of the apostle. But nothing can falsify the judgment of faith. It must be true in spite of every circumstance.
It was therefore resolved by the majority that they should leave Fair Havens, and sail to Port Phenice as a more secure winter harbour. The wind changed just at this moment. Everything seemed to favour the sailors. “The south wind blew softly;” so sanguine were they, Luke tells us, that they supposed their purpose was already accomplished. (Verse. 13) They accordingly weighed anchor and, with a soft breeze from the south, the vessel, with her “two hundred threescore and sixteen souls” on board, left the port of Fair Havens. But scarcely had she rounded Cape Matala, a distance of only four or five miles, when a violent wind from the shore caught the vessel, and tossed her in such a manner that it was no longer possible for the helmsman to make her keep her course. And as Luke observes, “We let her drive;” that is, they were compelled to let her run before the wind.
But our chief concern here is with Paul as the man of faith. What must have been the thoughts and feelings now of his fellow-passengers? They had trusted to the wind, and they must now reap the whirlwind. The solemn counsels and warnings of faith had been rejected. Many, alas! heedless of the warning here recorded, and under the flattering wind of favourable circumstances, have launched on the great voyage of life, utterly regardless of the voice of faith. But like the fawning wind that betrayed the vessel from the harbour, all soon changed into a furious tempest on the troubled sea of life.
THE STORM IN THE SEA OF ADRIA
The term “Euroclydon” given to this tempestuous wind indicates, we are told, a storm of the utmost violence. It was accompanied by the agitation and whirling motion of the clouds, and by great commotion in the sea, raising it in columns of spray. The sacred historian now proceeds to give an accurate account of what was done with the vessel in these perilous circumstances. Having run to the leeward of Clauda, they may have escaped for a little the violence of the tempest. This would give them an opportunity to make every preparation for weathering the storm.
The day after they left Clauda —the violence of the storm continuing —they began to lighten the ship by throwing overboard whatever could be spared. All hands seem to have been at work. “And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; and the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship. And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.”
“His race performed, the sacred lamp of day
Now dipped in western clouds his parting ray;
His languid fires, half lost in ambient haze,
Refract along the dusk a crimson blaze:
Till deep emerged the sinking orb descends,
And cheerless night o’er heaven her reign extends;
Sad evening’s hour, how different from the past!
No flaming pomp, no blushing glories cast,
No ray of friendly light is seen around;
The moon and stars in hopeless shade are drown’d.”
Nothing could be more dreadful to ancient mariners than the continued over-clouded sky, as they were accustomed to be guided by their observation of the heavenly bodies. It was at this moment of perplexity and despair that the apostle “stood forth” and raised his voice amidst the storm. And from his word of sympathy we learn, that all their other sufferings were aggravated by the difficulty of preparing food. “But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Cæsar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God; that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.” (Acts Chapter 27:21 - 26)
The shipwreck was not far distant. “When the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country; and sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.” Fourteen days and nights this heavy gale continued without abatement; during which time their sufferings must have been great beyond description.
At the close of the fourteenth day, “about midnight,” the sailors heard a sound, which indicated that they were nearing land. The sound, no doubt, was the roar of the breakers on the unknown shore. No time was to be lost; so they immediately cast four anchors out of the stern, and anxiously wished for day. Here a natural but ungenerous attempt was made by the sailors to save their own lives. They lowered the boat with the professed purpose of laying out anchors from the bow, but intending to desert the sinking ship. Paul, seeing this, and knowing their real design, immediately “said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Then the soldiers cut the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.” Thus the divine counsel of the apostle was the means of saving all on board. “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.” It is no longer the ship’s captain or the ship’s crew that are looked to for wisdom and safety. Every eye is turned to Paul the prisoner —the man of faith —the man who believes and acts according to the revelation of God. Circumstances often mislead when looked to for direction; the word of God is our only sure guide, whether in fair or in foul weather.
During the anxious interval, which remained till the dawn of day, Paul had an opportunity of lifting up his voice to God, and for the encouragement of the whole company. What a scene of intensified interest it must have been! The night dark and stormy —the shattered vessel in danger of going down at her anchors, or of being dashed to pieces on the rocky shore. But there was one on board who was perfectly happy amidst it all. The state of the ship —the shallow water —the alarming sound of the breakers, had no terror for him. He was happy in the Lord, and in full communion with His very thoughts and purposes. Such is the Christian’s place in the midst of every storm, though comparatively few rise to it, faith only can reach it. This was Paul’s last exhortation to the ship’s company.
“And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying; this day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not a hair fall from the head of any of you. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all; and when he had broken it, he began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.” (Acts Chapter 27:33 - 36)
Their only hope now was to run the ship on shore and so escape to land. Though ignorant of the coast, “they discovered a certain creek with a shore,” or, a smooth beach, and determined to run the ship aground there. So they cast away the anchors, unloosed the rudder bands, hoisted the mainsail to the wind, and made for the shore. The ship thus driven, her bow stuck fast in the beach and remained unmoved, but the stern was broken to pieces by the violence of the waves.
Paul’s ship has now reached the shore; and once more the man of faith is the means of saving the lives of all the prisoners. The centurion, greatly influenced by the words of Paul, and anxious at least for his safety, prevents the soldiers from killing the prisoners, and gave orders that those who could swim should cast themselves first into the sea and get to land; and that the rest should follow on such boards or broken pieces of the ship as were available. “And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.” Their deliverance was as complete as Paul had predicted it would be.
PAUL AT MELITA — NOW MALTA
Acts 28. The inhabitants of the island received the shipwrecked strangers with no small kindness, and immediately lighted a fire to warm them. The sacred historian gives us a living picture of the whole scene. We see the persons described moving in it: the apostle gathering sticks for the fire —the viper fastening on his hand —the barbarians thinking him first a murderer, and then a god from the sting being harmless. Publius, the chief man of the island, lodged them courteously three days; and his father, who lay sick of a fever, was healed by Paul laying his hands on him and praying for him. The apostle was enabled to work many miracles during his stay on the island; and the whole company, for his sake, was loaded with many honours. We see God is with His beloved servant, and he exercises his accustomed power among the inhabitants. As the concluding part of Paul’s journey to Rome is so prosperous, that scarcely any incident in it is recorded, we will only notice it briefly.
After a three months’ stay in Malta, the soldiers and their prisoners left in a ship of Alexandria for Italy. They touched at Syracuse, where they tarried three days; and at Rhegium, from which place they had a fair wind to Puteoli. Here they “found brethren,” and while they were spending a few days with them, enjoying the ministry of brotherly love, the news of the apostle’s arrival reached Rome. The Christians at once sent forth some of their number, who met Paul and his friends at Appii Forum and the Three Taverns. A beautiful instance and illustration of the fellowship of saints followed. What must have been the feelings of our apostle on this first introduction to the Christians from the church at Rome! His long cherished desire was at last accomplished; his heart was filled with praise; “He thanked God,” as Luke says, “and took courage.”
PAUL’S ARRIVAL AT ROME
Along the Appian Road most probably, Paul and his company travelled to Rome. On their arrival, “the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard:2626The wise and humane Burrhus was prefect of the pretorian guard when Julius arrived with his prisoners. He was a virtuous Roman, and ever treated Paul with the greatest consideration and kindness. —Dr. Smith’s Dictionary of Biography. but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.” Though he was not released from the constant annoyance of being chained to a soldier, every indulgence compatible with his position was allowed him.
Paul was now privileged “to preach the gospel to them that were at Rome also;” and proceeded without delay to act upon his divine rule —“to the Jew first.” He sends for the chief of the Jews and explains to them his true position. He assures them that he had committed no offence against his nation, or the customs of the fathers; but that he was brought to Rome to answer certain charges made against him by the Jews in Palestine: and so unfounded were the charges, that even the Roman Governor was ready to set him free, but the Jews opposed his liberty. In fact it was, as he said, “for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” His only crime has been his firm faith in the promises of God to Israel through the Messiah.
The Roman Jews, in reply, assured Paul that no report to his prejudice had reached Rome, and that they desired to hear from himself a statement of his faith; adding, that the Christians were everywhere spoken against. A day was therefore fixed for a meeting at his own private lodgings. At the appointed time many came, “to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.” But the Jews at Rome, as at Antioch and Jerusalem, were slow of heart to believe. “And some believed the things which were spoken and some believed not.” But how earnestly and unweariedly he laboured to win their hearts for Christ! From morning till evening he not only preached Christ, but also sought to persuade them concerning Him. He sought, we may be sure, to persuade them concerning His Godhead and manhood —His perfect sacrifice —His resurrection, ascension, and glory. What a lesson and what a subject for the preacher in all ages! Persuading men concerning Jesus from morning till evening.
The condition of the Jews is now set before us for the last time. The judgment pronounced by Esaias was about to fall on them in all its withering power —a judgment under which they lie to this day —a judgment which shall continue until God interpose to give them repentance, and to deliver them by His grace to the glory of His own name. But, in the meantime, “the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it;” and, as we know, blessed be His name, they have heard it, we ourselves being witnesses of it.2727See Introductory Lectures to the Acts by W. Kelly.
“And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came unto him; preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30, 31)
These are the last words of the Acts. The scene on which the curtain falls is most suggestive —the opposition of Jewish unbelief to the things, which concerned their souls’ salvation, suggestive alas! of what soon befell them. And here too, ends the history of this precious servant of God, so far as it has been directly revealed. The voice of the Spirit of truth on this subject becomes silent. Our further knowledge of Paul’s subsequent history must be gathered almost exclusively from his later Epistles; and from these we learn more than mere history: they give us a blessed insight into the feelings, conflicts, affections, and sympathies of the great apostle, and of the condition of the church of God generally, down to the period of his martyrdom.
THE BOOK OF THE ACTS TRANSITIONAL
But here we must pause and contemplate for a moment our apostle as a prisoner in the imperial city. The gospel had now been preached from Jerusalem to Rome. Great changes had taken place in the dispensational ways of God. The book of the Acts is transitional in its character. The Jews, we see, are now set aside, or rather they have set themselves aside by their rejection of that which God was setting up. The counsels of His grace towards them, no doubt, abide forever sure, but in the meantime they are cast off, and others come in and take the place of blessed relationship with God. Paul was a witness of God’s grace to Israel; he was himself an Israelite, but also chosen of God to introduce something entirely new —the Church, the body of Christ, “Whereof I was made a minister… that I should preach among the Gentiles the un-searchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 3:7 - 9) This new thing set aside all distinction between Jew and Gentile, as sinners and in the oneness of this body. The hostility of the Jews to these truths never abated, as we have fully seen; and the results of this enmity we have also seen. The Jews disappear from the scene entirely; and the church becomes the vessel of God’s testimony on the earth, and His habitation by the Spirit. (Eph. 2: 22) Individual Jews, of course, who believe in Jesus, are blessed in connection with a heavenly Christ and the “one body;” but Israel for a time is left without God, and without present communication with Him. The Epistles to the Romans and to the Ephesians fully set forth this doctrine. (Especially Romans, chapters 9, 10, & 11.) We now return to:
DURING HIS IMPRISONMENT
Though a prisoner, he was allowed the freest communication with his friends, and he was then surrounded by many of his oldest and most faithful companions. From the Epistles we learn that Luke, Timothy, Tychicus, Epaphras, Aristarchus, and others, were with the apostle at this time. Still, we must remember that he was, as a prisoner, chained to a soldier and exposed to the rude control of such. Owing to the long delay of his trial, he was in this condition for two years; during which time he preached the gospel and opened up the scriptures to the congregations which came to hear him; and wrote several epistles to churches in distant places.
Having fully and faithfully discharged the duty, which he owed to the Jews, the favoured people of God, he addressed himself to the Gentiles, though not, of course, to the exclusion of the Jews. His door was open from morning till night to all who would come and hear the great truths of Christianity. And in some respects he never had a better opportunity; for, as he was under the protection of the Romans, the Jews were not allowed to molest him.
The effects of Paul’s preaching, through the Lord’s blessing, were soon made manifest. The Roman guards, the household of Cæsar, and “all other places” were blessed through his means. “I would ye should understand, brethren,” he writes to the Philippians, “that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace (or, Cæsar’s court), and in all other places.” And again, the apostle says, “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Cæsar’s household.” (Phil. 1:12, 13; 4:22) The blessing appears to have been first manifested in the praetorium, or amongst the praetorian guards. “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places.” The gospel of the glory, which Paul preached was heard by the whole camp. Even the kind prefect Burrhus, with his intimate friend Seneca, Nero’s tutor, may have heard the gospel of the grace of God. Paul’s courteous manners, and great abilities, both natural and acquired, were well fitted to attract both the statesman and the philosopher. His being there two whole years gave them many opportunities.
With nearly the whole of the guards, we may say, he must have been personally acquainted. With every change of guard the door for the gospel opened wider and wider. Being constantly chained to one of the soldiers as his keeper, and having the guard duly relieved, he thus became acquainted with many; and with what love and earnestness and burning eloquence, he must have spoken to them of Jesus and of their need of Him! But we must wait till the morning of the first resurrection to see the results of Paul’s preaching there: the day will declare it, and God shall have all the glory.
The apostle gives us also to know that the gospel had penetrated into the palace itself. There were saints in Cæsar’s household. Christianity was planted within the imperial walls, “and in all other places.” Yes, in “all other places,” says the sacred historian. Not only was Paul thus labouring within the imperial precincts, but his companions, whom he styles his “fellow labourers,” were no doubt preaching the gospel in “all other places,” in and around the imperial city; so that the success of the gospel must be ascribed to the efforts of others, as well as to the unwearied exertions of the great apostle in his captivity.
THE RUNAWAY SLAVE, ONESIMUS
But of all the converts whom the Lord gave to the apostle in his bonds, none of them seems to have so entirely won his heart as the poor runaway slave, Onesimus. Beautiful picture of the strength, the humility, and the tenderness of divine love in the heart, which works by the Spirit, and sweetly shines in all the details of individual life! The apostle’s success in the imperial palace weakens not his interest in a young disciple from the lowest condition of society. No portions of the community were more depraved than the slaves; but what must have been the associates of a fugitive slave in that profligate city? Yet from those lowest depths Onesimus is drawn forth by the unseen hand of eternal love. He crosses the path of the apostle, hears him preach the gospel, is converted, devotes himself at once to the Lord and to His service, and finds in Paul a friend and brother, as well as a leader and teacher. And now shine forth the virtues and the value of Christianity; and the sweetest applications of the grace of God to a poor, friendless, destitute, fugitive slave.
“What is Christianity?” we may inquire; and whence its origin, in the view of such a new thing in Rome —in the world? Was it at the feet of Gamaliel that Paul so learnt to love? No my reader, but at the feet of Jesus. Would to God that the eloquent historian of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” had entered into this scene, and learnt to value, in place of scornfully ridiculing, divine Christianity! If we think for a moment of the apostle’s labours at this time —of his age —of his infirmities —of his circumstances (to say nothing of the lofty subjects, and the immense foundation truths, that were then occupying his mind); we may well admire the grace that could enter into every detail of the relationships of master and slave, and that with such delicate consideration of every claim. The letter he sent with Onesimus to his injured master Philemon is surely the most touching ever written. Looking at it simply as such, we are at a loss whether most to admire the warmth and earnestness of his affections, the delicacy and justness of his thoughts, or the sublime dignity which pervades the whole epistle. We now refer for a moment to the:
DURING PAUL’S IMPRISONMENT
There can be no reasonable doubt, that THE EPISTLES TO PHILEMON, TO THE EPHESIANS, TO THE COLOSSIANS, and to the PHILIPPIANS were written towards the latter part of Paul’s imprisonment at Rome. He refers to his “bonds” in them all, and repeatedly to the expectation of his “release.” (Read Philemon 22; Col. 4:18; Ephesians. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Phil. 1:7, 25; 2:24; & 4:22) Besides he must have been at Rome long enough for the news of his imprisonment to reach his affectionate Philippians, and for them to send him relief.
The first three are supposed to have been written some time before that to the Philippians. An immediate issue of his cause is more distinctly spoken of in his Epistle to them. “Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.” (Phil. 2:23, 24) The first three may have been written about the spring of A.D. 62, and sent by Tychicus and Onesimus; the last, in the autumn and sent by Epaphroditus.
The Epistle to the HEBREWS is also supposed by some to have been written about the same time, and every just consideration leads to the conclusion that Paul was the writer. The expression at the close of the epistle, “they of Italy salute you,” seems decisive as to where the writer was when he wrote it. And the following passages seem decisive as to the time; “Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty: with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.” Compare this with what Paul wrote to the Philippians —“I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you… so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.” We can scarcely doubt that the same pen wrote these passages about the same time, and that they refer to the same intended movements. But we do not press this point. One thing, however, is evident —that the epistle was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, as the temple was standing, and the temple worship going on undisturbed. (Compare Hebrews chapter 8:4; 9:25; 10:11; and 13:10 – 13)
PAUL’S ACQUITTAL AND RELEASE
After fully four years’ imprisonment, partly in Judea and partly at Rome, the apostle is once more at liberty. But we have no particulars as to the character of his trial, or the ground of his acquittal. The sacred historian tells us that he dwelt two whole years in his own hired house; but he does not say what followed at the close of that period. Was it followed by the apostle’s condemnation and death, or by his acquittal and liberation? This is the question, and the only certain answer to this question must be gathered chiefly from the Pastoral Epistles. The First to Timothy and that to Titus appear to have been written about the same time, and the Second to Timothy somewhat later.
It is now admitted, we believe, by nearly all who are competent to decide on such a question, that Paul was acquitted, and that he spent some years in travelling, at perfect liberty, before he was again imprisoned and condemned. And though it is difficult to trace the footsteps of the apostle during that period, still we may draw certain conclusions from his letters without encroaching on the domain of conjecture. Most likely he travelled rapidly and visited many places. During the lengthened period of his imprisonment, Paul’s enemies had done much mischief in churches, which he had been the means of planting. They required his presence, his counsel, and his encouragement. And from what we know of his energy and zeal, we are well assured that no labour would be spared in visiting them.
PAUL’S DEPARTURE FROM ITALY
1) When Paul wrote to the Romans, (before being imprisoned by them), he expressed intention’s of passing through Rome into Spain. “Whensoever I take my journey into Spain,” he says, “I will come to you.” Again, “When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.” (Rom. 15:24, 28) Some have thought that he did go to Spain immediately after his release. The principal evidence adduced in favour of this hypothesis is supplied by Clement, a fellow labourer, mentioned in Philippians 4:3, said to be afterwards Bishop of Rome. The writer speaks of Paul as having preached the gospel in the east and in the west: —that he instructed the whole world (meaning, no doubt, the Roman Empire); and that he had gone to the extremity of the west, meaning Spain. As Clement was Paul’s own disciple and fellow labourer, his testimony is worthy of our respect; still it is not scripture, and therefore not in itself conclusive.
2) From Paul’s more recent letters, he seems to have altered his plans, and to have given up the idea of going to Spain, at least for a time. This we gather chiefly from the Epistles to Philemon and to the Philippians. To the former he writes, “But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.” (Verse. 22) He here gives Philemon to expect that he may soon be with him in person. To the Philippians he writes, and speaking of Timothy he adds, “Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.” Again, “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort when I know your state.” (Chap. 2:19, 23, 24) The intended movements of the apostle and his beloved Timothy seem quite clear from these passages. It was evidently the purpose of the apostle to dispatch Timothy to Philippi as soon as the trial was over, and to remain in Italy himself until Timothy returned with the report of their state.
3) It may reasonably be expected that Paul fulfilled the intention, which he so lately expressed; and that he visited the churches in Asia Minor, some of which as yet had not seen his face in the flesh. Having accomplished the objects of his mission to Asia Minor, some have thought that then he may have undertaken his long meditated journey into Spain; but of this we have no reliable information, and mere conjecture is of no value.
4) Another theory is, that he went straight from Italy to Judea, and thence to Antioch, Asia Minor, and Greece. This scheme is founded chiefly on Hebrews 13:23, 24. “Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you . . . They of Italy salute you.” It is also supposed that, while he was waiting at Puteoli for embarkation, immediately on the return of Timothy, tidings reached the apostle that a great persecution had broken out against the Christians in Jerusalem. This sad intelligence so filled the heart of Paul with such sorrow, that he wrote at once his famous letter to them —THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. Shortly after this Timothy arrived, and Paul and his companions sailed from Judea.2828For particulars of the persecution referred to, see Josephus, Ant. 20:9, 1.
PLACES VISITED BY PAUL
DURING HIS LIBERTY
Having stated these different theories for the reader’s examination, we will now notice the places mentioned in the Epistles as visited by Paul.
1) At some time after leaving Rome, Paul and his companions must have visited Asia Minor and Greece. “As I besought thee still to abide at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” (1 Tim. 1:3) Feeling, it may be, somewhat anxious about his son Timothy, and the weight of the responsibilities of his position at Ephesus, he sends him a letter of encouragement, comfort, and authority from Macedonia —THE FIRST EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY.
2) Some time after this, Paul visited the island of Crete in company with Titus, and left him there. He also very soon after sent him a letter of instruction and authority, THE EPISTLE TO TITUS. Timothy and Titus may be considered as delegates or representatives of the apostle. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.” (Titus 1:5)
3) Paul was intending to spend the winter at a place called Nicopolis. “When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis, for I have determined there to winter.” (Titus 3: 12)
4) He visited Troas, Corinth, and Miletum. “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments… Erastus abode at Corinth; but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.” (2 Tim. 4:13, 20)
PAUL’S SECOND IMPRISONMENT
It is supposed by some that the apostle was arrested at Nicopolis (where he intended to spend the winter) and thence carried a prisoner to Rome. Others suppose that, after wintering at Nicopolis, and visiting the places above mentioned, he returned to Rome in a state of personal liberty, but was arrested during the Neronian persecution and thrown into prison.
The precise charge now made against the apostle, and for which he was arrested, we have no means of ascertaining. It may have been simply on the charge of being a Christian. The general persecution against the Christians was now raging with the utmost severity. It was no longer about certain questions of the law, and under the mild and humane prefect Burrhus; but he was now treated as an evil-doer —as a common criminal: “wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil-doer even unto bonds” —and very different from the bonds of his first imprisonment, when he dwelt in his own hired house.
Alexander —of Ephesus, we believe —evidently had something to do with his arrest. He was either one of his accusers, or, at least, a witness against him. “Alexander the coppersmith,” he writes to Timothy, “did me much evil” —“exhibited much evil-mindedness towards me.” Ten years before this, he had stood forward as the open antagonist of the apostle in Ephesus. (Acts 19) He may now have sought his revenge by laying information against the apostle before the prefect. That it was the same Alexander of Ephesus seems clear from the charge to Timothy; “of whom be thou ware also.” (2 Timothy 4:14, 15)
During the apostle’s first and lengthened imprisonment, he was surrounded by many of his oldest and most valued companions, whom he styles “fellow-laborers and fellow-prisoners.” By means of these, his messengers, though chained to a single spot himself, he kept up a constant communication with his friends throughout the empire, and with Gentile churches which had not seen his face in the flesh. But his second imprisonment was a perfect contrast to all this. He had parted from all his ordinary companions. Erastus abode at Corinth; Trophimus had been left sick at Miletum; Titus had gone to Dalmatia; Crescens to Galatia; Tychicus had been dispatched to Ephesus; and the lukewarm Demas had forsaken him, “having loved this present world.”
The apostle was now almost entirely alone. “Only Luke is with me,” he says. But the Lord thought of His deserted and solitary servant. A bright beam, as from the fountain of love, shines amidst the darkness and dreariness of his prison. There was one faithful amidst the general defection, and one who was not ashamed of the apostle’s chain. How peculiarly sweet and refreshing to the heart of the apostle must the ministry of Onesimus have been at this time! It can never be forgotten. Onesimus and his house —which Paul links with himself —shall be held in everlasting remembrance; and shall reap the fruit of his courage and devotedness to the apostle for ever and ever. “I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matthew 25:31- 46)
Concerning the circumstances of Paul’s trial we have no certain information. Most probably in the spring of A.D. 66 or 67, Nero took his seat on the tribunal, surrounded by his jurors, and the imperial guard; and Paul was brought into the court. We have reason to believe that the large space was filled with a promiscuous multitude of Jews and Gentiles. The apostle stood once more before the world. He had again the opportunity of proclaiming to all nations that for which he had been made a prisoner —“That all the Gentiles might hear.” Emperors and senators, princes and nobles, and all the great ones of the earth, must hear the glorious gospel of the grace of God. All that the enemy had done becomes a testimony to the name of Jesus. Those who were otherwise inaccessible hear the gospel preached with power from on high.
Fain would we dwell on this wonderful scene for a few moments. Never before had there been such a witness, and such a testimony, in Nero’s judgment hall. The wisdom of God in turning all the efforts of the enemy into such a testimony is most profound; while His love and grace in the gospel shine ineffable and alike to all classes. The apostle himself commands our devout admiration. Though at this moment his heart was broken by the unfaithfulness of the church, he stood forth strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Though men had forsaken him, the Lord stood by him and strengthened him. He boldly confronted his enemies, pleading in his own cause and the cause of the gospel. He had an opportunity to speak of Jesus, of His death and resurrection, so that the heathen multitude might hear the gospel. His age, his infirmities, his venerable form, his fettered arm, would all tend to deepen the impression of his manly and straightforward eloquence. But, happily, we have an account from his own pen of the first hearing of his defence. He writes thus to Timotheus immediately after: “At my first answer [when I was heard in my defence] no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (2 Timothy 4:16, 17)
“Look, now, and see Christ’s chosen saint
In triumph wear his Christ-like chain;
No fear lest he should swerve or faint:
His life is Christ, his death is gain.”
THE MARTYRDOM OF PAUL
Although we have no record of the second stage of his trial, we have reason to believe that it soon followed the first, and that it ended in his condemnation and death. But THE SECOND EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY is the divine record of what was passing in his deeply exercised mind at this solemn moment. His deep concern for the truth and church of God; his pathetic tenderness for the saints, and especially for his beloved son Timothy; his triumphant hope in the immediate prospect of martyrdom, can only be told in his own words. “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (Chapter 4:6 – 8)
The tribunal of Nero here fades from his sight. Death in its most violent form has no terror for him. Christ in glory is the object of his eye and of his heart —the source of his joy and of his strength. His work was finished; and the toils of his love were ended. Though a prisoner and poor —though aged and rejected —he was rich in God; he possessed Christ, and in Him all things. The Jesus whom he had seen in glory at the commencement of his course, and who had brought him into all the trials and labours of the gospel, was now his possession and his crown. The unrighteous tribunal of Nero, and the bloodstained sword of the executioner, was to Paul but as the messengers of peace, who had come to close his long and weary path, and to introduce him into the presence of Jesus in glory. The time was now come for the Jesus that loved him to take him to Himself. He had fought the good fight of the gospel to the end; he had finished his course; it only remained for him to be crowned, when the Lord, the righteous Judge, appears in glory.
“In all things more than conquerors
Through Him that loved us—
We know that neither death nor life,
Nor angels, rulers, powers,
Nor present things, nor things to come,
Nor even height, nor depth,
Nor any other creature thing
Above, below, around,
Can part us from the love of God,
In Jesus Christ our Lord.”
We have the concurrent testimony of antiquity that Paul suffered martyrdom during the Neronian persecution, and most probably in A.D. 67. As a Roman citizen, he was beheaded in place of being scourged and crucified or exposed to the frightful tortures then invented for the Christians. Like his Master he suffered “without the gate.” There is a spot on the Ostian Road; about two miles beyond the city walls, where it is supposed his martyrdom took place. There the last act of human cruelty was executed, and the great apostle was “absent from the body, and present with the Lord.” His fervent and happy spirit was released from his feeble and suffering body; and the long cherished desire of his heart was fulfilled —“to depart and to be WITH CHRIST; which is FAR BETTER.”
CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE OF
(Years are approximate estimates)
Conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9)
A.D. 36 – 39
At Damascus—preaches in the synagogue—goes into Arabia—returns to Damascus—flight from Damascus. His FIRST visit to Jerusalem; three years after his conversion. Thence to Tarsus (Acts 9:23 – 26; Galatians 1:18)
A.D. 39 – 40
Rest of the Jewish churches (Acts 9: 31)
A.D. 40 – 43
Paul preaches the gospel in Syria and Cilicia. (Galatians. 1:21) A period of uncertain length During this time he probably undergoes the chief part of the perils and sufferings, which he recounts to the Corinthians. (2 Corinthians 11)
He is brought from Tarsus to Antioch by Barnabas; and stays there a year before the famine. (Acts 11)
Paul’s SECOND visit to Jerusalem with the collection (Acts 11:30)
Paul returns to Antioch in Syria (Acts 12:2 – 5)
A.D. 46 – 49
Paul’s FIRST missionary journey with Barnabas —goes to Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and back through the same places to Antioch. They remain a long time in Antioch. Dissension and disputation about circumcision (Acts 13, 14, 15:1, 2)
Paul’s THIRD visit to Jerusalem with Barnabas, fourteen years after his conversion (Gal. 2:1)
Paul’s SECOND missionary journey with Silas and Timothy He goes from Antioch to Syria, Cilicia, Derbe, Lystra, Phrygia, Galatia & Troas Luke joins the apostolic band (Acts 16:10)
Enter the gospel into Europe: Acts 16:11 - 13
Paul visits Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Athena Corinth. Spends a year and six months at Corinth (Acts 18:11) First Epistle to the Thessalonians written.
Second Epistle to the Thessalonians written
Paul leaves Corinth and sails to Ephesus.
Paul’s FOURTH visit to Jerusalem at the feast Returns to Antioch
A.D. 54 – 56
Paul’s THIRD missionary journey—He departs from Antioch—visits Galatia, Phrygia, and reaches Ephesus, where he stays two years and three months. Here Paul separates the disciples from the Jewish synagogue. (Acts 19:8, 10)
Epistle to the Galatians written
(Spring) First Epistle to the Corinthians written
The tumult at Ephesus—Paul leaves for Macedonia (Acts 19:23 – 20: 1)
(Autumn) Second Epistle to the Corinth written
(Spring) The Epistle to the Romans written (Romans 15:25 – 28; 16:21 – 23; Acts 20:4) Paul leaves Corinth, passes through Macedonia, sails from Philippi, preaches at Troas, addresses the elders at Miletus, visits Tyre and Cæsarea. (Acts 20, 21:1 – 14)
A.D. 58 - 60
Paul’s fifth visit to Jerusalem before Pentecost
He is arrested in the temple, brought before Ananias and the Sanhedrim, sent by Lysias to Cæsarea, where he is kept in bonds two years.
Paul heard by Felix and Festus. He appeals unto Cæsar, preaches before Agrippa, Bernice and the men of Cæsarea.
(Autumn.) Paul sails for Italy.
(Winter.) Shipwrecked at Malta. (Acts 27)
(Spring) Arrives at Rome, dwells two years in his own hired house.
(Spring) Epistles to Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians written
(Autumn) Epistle to the Philippians written
Visits Crete and leaves Titus there—exhorts Timothy to abide at Ephesus, First Epistle to Timothy written, Epistle to Titus written
A.D. 64 – 67
Paul arrested and sent to Rome, Deserted and solitary, having only Luke, of his old associates, with him. Second Epistle to Timothy written, probably not long before his death. These journeys and events are generally supposed to cover a period of about three years.
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