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418

CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE APOSTLE FORSAKEN BY MEN BUT STRENGTHENED BY THE LORD.—THE MISSION TO THE GENTILES COMPLETED.—THE SURE HOPE, AND THE FINAL HYMN OF PRAISE.

“At my first defence no man took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their account. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me; that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord will deliver me from evil work, and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”—2 Tim. iv. 16–18.

There is a general agreement at the present time that Eusebius is in error, when, in a well-known passage in his Ecclesiastical History (II. xxii. 2–7), he refers this “first defence” and the “deliverance out of the lion’s mouth” to the first Roman imprisonment and the release which put an end to it, probably A.D. 63. The deliverance does not mean release from prison following upon acquittal, but temporary rescue from imminent danger. Eusebius makes a second mistake in this chapter which is the result of the first error; but an avoidance of the second would have preserved him from the first. He says that the Apostle shows in the Second Epistle to Timothy that only Luke was with him when he wrote, but at his former defence not even he. Now during the first Roman imprisonment St. Paul was not alone, and one of the persons 419 who was with him was Timothy himself, as we see from the opening of the letter to the Philippians. It is, therefore, highly improbable that the Apostle would think it worth while to tell Timothy what took place at the trial which ended the first imprisonment, seeing that Timothy was then in Rome. And even if Timothy had left Rome before the trial came on, which is not very likely, he would long since have heard what took place, both from others and from the Apostle himself. It is obvious that in the present passage St. Paul is giving his disciple information respecting something which has recently taken place, of which Timothy is not likely to have heard.

The value of the witness of Eusebius is not, however, seriously diminished by this twofold mistake. It is clear that he was fully convinced that there were two Roman imprisonments; one early in Nero’s reign, when the Emperor was more disposed to be merciful, and one later; and that he was convinced of this on independent grounds, and not because he considered that the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles would be untenable without the hypothesis of a second imprisonment.

Another confirmation of the view of Eusebius is found in the statement respecting Trophimus, that Paul had left him sick at Miletus. It is impossible to place the Apostle at Miletus with Trophimus prior to the first imprisonment. Consequently some who deny the second imprisonment, and yet maintain the genuineness of this letter, resort to the desperate method of making the verb to be third person plural instead of first person singular (απέλειπον or απέλιπον), and translating “Trophimus they left at Miletus sick.”

“At my first defence no man took my part, but all 420 forsook me.” He had no patronus, no advocatus, no clientela. Among all the Christians in Rome there was not one who would stand at his side in court either to speak on his behalf, or to advise him in the conduct of his case, or to support him by a demonstration of sympathy. The expression for “no one took my part” (οὐδείς μοι παρεγένετο) literally means “no one came to my side,” or “became present on my behalf.” The verb is specially frequent in the writings of St. Luke. And the word which is rendered “forsook” (εγκατέλιπον) is still more graphic. It signifies “leaving a person in a position,” and especially in a bad position; leaving him in straits. It is almost the exact counterpart of our colloquial phrase “to leave in the lurch.” St. Paul uses it elsewhere of those who with him are “pursued, but not forsaken” (2 Cor. iv. 9). And both St. Mark and St. Luke, following the LXX., use it in translating Christ’s cry upon the cross: “Why hast thou forsaken Me?” Hence it signifies not merely desertion (καταλείπειν), but desertion at a time when help and support are needed.

What is the meaning of the “all”? “All forsook me.” Does it include Luke, whom he has just mentioned as being the only person with him? And, if so, is it meant as an indirect reproach? Some would have it that we have here an indication of the spurious character of the letter. The forger is unable consistently to maintain the part which he has assumed. In writing “all forsook me” he has already forgotten what he has just written about Luke: and he forgets both statements when a few lines further on he represents Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and others as sending greetings.

But, like so many of these objections, this criticism 421 turns out, when reasonably examined, to be an argument for the genuineness of the letter. These apparent inconsistencies are just the things which a forger could and would have avoided. Even a very blundering forger would have avoided three glaring contradictions in about thirty lines: and they are glaring contradictions, if they are interpreted as they must be interpreted for the purposes of this criticism. “Only Luke is with me.” “Every one has forsaken me.” “All the brethren salute thee.” Any one of these statements, if forced to apply to the same set of circumstances, contradicts the other two. But then this meaning is forced upon them, and is not their natural meaning: and these are just the apparent inconsistencies which the writer of a real letter takes no pains to avoid, because there is not the smallest danger of his being misunderstood.

“All forsook me” is exactly a parallel to “all that are in Asia turned away from me” (see pp. 321, 322.) The “all” in both cases means “all who might have been expected to help.” It refers to those who could have been of service, who in many cases had been asked to render service, by being witnesses in Paul’s favour and the like, and who abstained from doing anything for him. The Apostle’s “first defence” probably took place some weeks, or even months, before the writing of this letter. From our knowledge of the delays which often took place in Roman legal proceedings, there would be nothing surprising if a whole year had elapsed since the first opening of the case. It is quite possible, therefore, that at the time when it began St. Luke was not yet in Rome, and consequently had no opportunity of aiding his friend. And it is also possible that he was not in a position to 422 render any assistance, however anxious he may have been to do so. There is no reason whatever for supposing that the Apostle includes him among those for whom he prays that God will forgive them their desertion of him, even as he himself forgives it.

Nor is there any contradiction between “Only Luke is with me,” and the salutations sent by Eubulus and others. There were various members of the Church in Rome who occasionally visited St. Paul in his imprisonment, or at least kept up a certain amount of communication with him. But Luke was the only outsider who was with him, the only one who had come to him from a distance and been both able and willing to remain with him. Others both in Rome and from other Churches had paid visits to the prisoner; but they had been unable or unwilling to stay with him. Luke was the only person who had done that. Therefore the fact that various Roman Christians were ready to send greetings to Timothy is in no way inconsistent with the special commendation bestowed upon St. Luke for being his friend’s sole companion in prison.

For the cowardly or unkind abstention of the rest the Apostle has no stronger word of condemnation than “may it not be laid to their account.” No one knew better than himself how weak-hearted many of these disciples were, and how great were the dangers of his own position and of all those who ventured to associate themselves with him. It was otherwise in his first imprisonment. Then Nero was not quite the monster that he had since become. At that time the burning of Rome had not yet taken place, nor had the cruel outcry against the Christians, of which the conflagration was made the occasion, as yet been raised. It was quite otherwise now. To be known as a Christian 423 might be dangerous; and to avow oneself as the associate of so notorious a leader as Paul could not fail to be so. Therefore, “May it not be laid to their account” (μὴ αὐτοῖς λογισθείη). This is the very spirit which the Apostle himself years before had declared to be a characteristic of Christian charity; “it taketh not account of evil” (οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν): and of God Himself, Who in dealing with mankind, “lays not to their account their trespasses” (μὴ λογιζόμενος αὐτοῖς τὰ παραπτώματα αὐτῶν).9999   1 Cor. xiii. 5; 2 Cor. v. 19.

“But,” in contrast to these timid friends, “the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.” Christ did not desert His faithful servant in the hour of need, but gave him courage and strength to speak out bravely before the court all that it was right that he should say. The contrast which the Apostle here makes between the many who forsook him and the One who stood by him reminds us of a similar contrast made by the Lord Himself. “Behold, the hour cometh, yea is come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John xvi. 32). In this respect also the saying remains true “A servant is not greater than his lord” (John xv. 20); and Apostles must expect no better treatment than their Master received. If they are deserted by their disciples and friends in the hour of danger, so also was He. But in each case those who are deserted are not alone, because, although human help fails, Divine support is always present.

“The Lord” in this passage, both here and a few lines further on, means Christ rather than the Father. This is in accordance with St. Paul’s usage. “Lord” 424 here has the article (ὁ κύριος): and when that is the case it commonly means Jesus Christ (comp. ii. 7, 14, 22; iii. 11; iv. 14, 22; 1 Tim. i. 2, 12, 14; vi. 3, 14; 1 Cor. iv. 5; vi. 13; vii. 10, 12, 34; etc., etc. In Titus the word does not occur). Where “Lord” has no article in the Greek (κύριος) St. Paul usually means God and not Christ. Some would assert that, excepting where he quotes from the Old Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. x. 26), this usage is invariable; but that is probably too sweeping an assertion. Nevertheless, there is no reason for doubting that in this passage “the Lord” means Jesus Christ. We may compare our own usage, according to which “our Lord” almost invariably means Christ, whereas “the Lord” more commonly means God the Father.

The word for “strengthen” (ἐνδυναμοῦν) means literally “to infuse power into” a person. It is one of which the Apostle is rather fond; and outside his writings it occurs in the New Testament only in the Acts and in Hebrews, once in each (Rom. iv. 20; Eph. vi. 10; Phil. iv. 13; 1 Tim. i. 12; 2 Tim. ii. 1). It is worth while to compare the passage in which he speaks to Timothy of Christ having given him power to turn to Him and become His servant; and still more the passage in which, during his first Roman imprisonment, he tells the Philippians “I can do all things in Him that strengthened me.” The same thing was true in the second imprisonment.

The special purpose for which Christ stood by His Apostle and put strength and power into him is stated. “That through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” Those who follow Eusebius in the mistake of supposing that the “first defence” refers to the trial which ended in 425 St. Paul’s release after the first imprisonment, understand this proclamation of the message to the Gentiles as referring to the missionary work which St. Paul was enabled to do during the few years of interval (c. A.D. 63–66) before he was again arrested. But if the proclamation of the message took place in consequence of the Apostle’s release, then it would have been placed after, and not before, the mention of deliverance out of the mouth of the lion. It is not said that he was delivered in order that through him the message might be proclaimed, but that he was strengthened in order that it might be proclaimed. And the special strengthening by Christ took place in reference to the first hearing of the case in court, when all human friends forsook him, while Christ stood by him. It was in court, therefore, that the proclamation of the message was made, and that through the instrumentality of the Apostle the preaching of the Gospel reached its culmination (τὸ κήρυγμα πληροφορηθῇ). This was the climax;—that in the metropolis of the world, in open court, before the imperial tribunal, the Gospel proclamation should be made with all solemnity and power. It is quite possible that this event, which the Apostle of the Gentiles regards as the completing act of his own mission and ministry, took place in the forum itself. Here Tiberius had caused a tribunal to be erected for causes which he had to hear as Emperor. But Claudius sometimes heard such cases elsewhere; and his successors probably followed his example. So that in the reign of Nero we cannot be certain that such a case as St. Paul’s would be heard in the forum. But at any rate it would be held in a court to which the public had access; and the Roman public at this time was the most representative in the world. The Apostle is fully 426 justified, therefore, in the language which he uses. This opportunity and power were granted “in order that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” In that representative city and before that representative audience he preached Christ; and through those who were present and heard him the fact would be made known throughout the civilized world that in the imperial city and before the imperial bench the Apostle of Christ had proclaimed the coming of His Kingdom.

And the result of it was that he was “delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” This was a second consequence of the Lord’s standing by him and strengthening him. He was enabled to speak with such effect, that the sentence of condemnation, which had been feared, was for the present averted. He was neither acquitted nor convicted; but the court, being unable to arrive at a satisfactory decision, granted an extension of time (ampliatio); that is an adjournment. In technical phraseology the actio prima ended in a verdict of non liquet, and an actio secunda became necessary; and as this second trial might have a similar result, the amount of delay that was possible was almost boundless.

To ask who is meant by the lion is a futile question. Whom did the Psalmist mean by the lion, when he prayed “Save me from the lion’s mouth”? (Ps. xxii. 21.) He meant no one by the lion; but by the lion’s mouth he meant some great and imminent danger. And that is what we must understand here. All kinds of gratuitous conjectures have been made by those who have insisted on identifying the lion;—the lion of the amphitheatre, to whom the Apostle might have been thrown, had he been condemned; the Emperor Nero, or, as he was possibly in Greece at this time, his 427 prefect and representative Helius; or, the chief accuser; or again, Satan, whom St. Peter describes as “a roaring lion.” All these are answers to a question which does not arise out of the text. The question is not, “Who is the lion?” but, “What is the meaning of the lion’s mouth?” And the answer to that is, “a terrible danger,” and especially “peril of death.”

The goodness of the Lord does not end with this welcome, but temporary deliverance. “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom.” Paul’s enemies are not likely to be idle during the extension of time granted by the court. They will do their utmost to secure a sentence of condemnation at the second hearing of the case, and thus get the man whom they detest removed from the earth. Whether they will succeed in this or not, the Apostle does not know. But one thing he knows;—that whatever is really evil in their works against him will be powerless to harm him. The Lord will turn their evil into good. They may succeed in compassing his death. But, even if they do so, the Lord will make their work of death a work of salvation; and by the severing of the thread which still binds Paul to this life “will save him unto,” that is, will translate him safe into, “His heavenly kingdom.”

It is utterly improbable that by “every evil work,” St. Paul means any weakness or sin into which he himself might be betrayed through want of courage and steadfastness. Even if the lion’s mouth could mean Satan, this would not be probable; for it would be Satan’s attacks from without, by means of opposition and persecution, and not his attempts from within by means of grievous temptations, that would be meant. What is said above about Alexander the coppersmith 428 shows what kind of “evil” and what kind of “works” is intended in “every evil work.” The expression evidently refers to the machinations of Paul’s enemies.

It is also highly improbable that “will save me unto His heavenly kingdom” means “will keep me alive until He returns in glory.” There was a time when the Apostle expected, like most other Christians of that day, to live to behold the second coming of Christ. But what we have already seen in this Epistle shows that in St. Paul’s mind that expectation is extinct. He no longer thinks that he will be one of those “that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord” (1 Thess. iv. 15, 17); that he will be among the living, who “shall be changed,” rather than among the dead, who “shall be raised” at the sounding of the last trump (1 Cor. xv. 53). He does not repeat, what seems almost to have been a familiar watchword among the Christians of that day,—“Maran atha”; “the Lord is at hand” (1 Cor. xvi. 22; Phil. iv. 5). On the contrary, it is his own hour that is at hand: “I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is come.” He is fully persuaded now that he will not live to see Christ’s return in glory; and he does not expect that return to come speedily; for, as we have seen, one of his chief anxieties is that there should be a permanently organized ministry in the Churches, and that provision should be made for handing on the faith intact from generation to generation (Tit. i, 5; 2 Tim. ii. 2). There can be little doubt, therefore, that when the Apostle expresses a conviction that the Lord will save him unto His heavenly kingdom, he is not expecting to reach that kingdom without first passing through the gate of death. What he is sure of is this,—that the evil works of his adversaries will never be allowed 429 to prevent him from reaching that blessed resting place. Christ’s kingdom is twofold; He has a kingdom on earth and a kingdom in heaven. The saints who are in the kingdom on earth are still exposed to many kinds of evil works; and the Apostle is persuaded that in his case such works will be overruled by the Lord to further his progress from the earthly to the heavenly kingdom.

“To whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

If what was said above about “the Lord” is correct, then here we have a doxology which manifestly is addressed to Christ. It is possible that in Rom. ix. 5 and xvi. 27 we have other examples, as also in Heb. xiii. 21; but in all these three cases the construction is open to question. Here, however, there can be no doubt that “the glory for ever and ever” is ascribed to the Lord Who stood by Paul at his trial and will deliver him from all evil works hereafter; and the Lord is Jesus Christ. As Chrysostom pointedly remarks without further comment: “Lo, here is a doxology to the Son.” And it is word for word the same as that which in Gal. i. 5 is addressed to the Father.

With these words of praise on his lips we take our leave of the Apostle. He is a wearied worker, a forlorn and all but deserted teacher, a despised and all but condemned prisoner; but he knows that he has made no mistake. The Master, Who seems to have requited His servant so ill, is a royal Master, Who has royal gifts in store. He has never failed His servant in this life, in which His presence, though but dimly reflected, has always brightened suffering; and He will not fail in His promises respecting the life which is to come. The Apostle has had to sustain him, not merely Divine truth wherewith to enlighten his soul, and Divine 430 rules, wherewith to direct his conduct; he has had also a Divine Person, wherewith to share his life. He has kept the faith in the Divine truth; he has finished his course according to the Divine rules; yet these things he has done, not in his own strength, but in Christ Who lives in him. It is this gracious indwelling which made the victory that has been won possible; and it is this which gives it its value. The faith which has been kept is faith in Him Who is the Truth. The course which has been finished is according to Him Who is the Way. And the life which has been shared has been united with Him Who is the Life. That union will never end. It began here; and it will be continued throughout eternity in “the life which is life indeed.” And therefore, with a heart full of thankfulness to the Master Who has shared his sufferings and will share his bliss, he leaves us as his last address to Christ, “To Him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”


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