WITH the opening of navigation, the centurion and his prisoners set out
on their journey to Rome. An Alexandrian ship, the "Castor and Pollux,"
had wintered at Melita on her way westward, and in this the travelers
embarked. Though somewhat delayed by contrary winds, the voyage was safely
accomplished, and the ship cast anchor in the beautiful harbor of Puteoli,
on the coast of Italy.
In this place there were a few Christians, and they entreated the
apostle to remain with them for seven days, a privilege kindly granted by
the centurion. Since receiving Paul's epistle to the Romans, the
Christians of Italy had eagerly looked forward to a visit from the
apostle. They had not thought to see him come as a prisoner, but his
sufferings only endeared him to them the more. The distance from Puteoli
to Rome being but a hundred and forty miles, and the seaport being in
constant communication with the metropolis, the Roman Christians were
informed of Paul's
approach, and some of them started to meet and welcome him.
On the eighth day after landing, the centurion and his prisoners set
out for Rome. Julius willingly granted the apostle every favor which it
was in his power to bestow; but he could not change his condition as a
prisoner, or release him from the chain that bound him to his soldier
guard. It was with a heavy heart that Paul went forward to his
long-expected visit to the world's metropolis. How different the
circumstances from those he had anticipated! How was he, fettered and
stigmatized, to proclaim the gospel? His hopes of winning many souls to
the truth in Rome, seemed destined to disappointment.
At last the travelers reach Appii Forum, forty miles from Rome. As they
make their way through the crowds that throng the great thoroughfare, the
gray-haired old man, chained with a group of hardened-looking criminals,
receives many a glance of scorn and is made the subject of many a rude,
Suddenly a cry of joy is heard, and a man springs from the passing
throng and falls upon the prisoner's neck, embracing him with tears and
rejoicing, as a son would welcome a long-absent father. Again and again is
the scene repeated as, with eyes made keen by loving expectation, many
discern in the chained captive the one who at Corinth, at Philippi, at
Ephesus, had spoken to them the words of life.
As the warmhearted disciples eagerly flock around their father in the
gospel, the whole company is brought to a
standstill. The soldiers are impatient of delay, yet they have not the
heart to interrupt this happy meeting; for they, too, have learned to
respect and esteem their prisoner. In that worn, pain-stricken face, the
disciples see reflected the image of Christ. They assure Paul that they
have not forgotten him nor ceased to love him; that they are indebted to
him for the joyful hope which animates their lives and gives them peace
toward God. In the ardor of their love they would bear him upon their
shoulders the whole way to the city, could they but have the privilege.
Few realize the significance of those words of Luke, that when Paul saw
his brethren, "he thanked God, and took courage." In the midst
of the weeping, sympathizing company of believers, who were not ashamed of
his bonds, the apostle praised God aloud. The cloud of sadness that had
rested upon his spirit was swept away. His Christian life had been a
succession of trials, sufferings, and disappointments, but in that hour he
felt abundantly repaid. With firmer step and joyful heart he continued on
his way. He would not complain of the past, nor fear for the future. Bonds
and afflictions awaited him, he knew; but he knew also that it had been
his to deliver souls from a bondage infinitely more terrible, and he
rejoiced in his sufferings for Christ's sake.
At Rome the centurion Julius delivered up his prisoners to the captain
of the emperor's guard. The good account which he gave of Paul, together
with the letter from Festus, caused the apostle to be favorably regarded
by the chief
captain, and, instead of being thrown into prison, he was permitted to
live in his own hired house. Although still constantly chained to a
soldier, he was at liberty to receive his friends and to labor for the
advancement of the cause of Christ.
Many of the Jews who had been banished from Rome some years previously,
had been allowed to return, so that large numbers were now to be found
there. To these, first of all, Paul determined to present the facts
concerning himself and his work, before his enemies should have
opportunity to embitter them against him. Three days after his arrival in
Rome, therefore, he called together their leading men and in a simple,
direct manner stated why he had come to Rome as a prisoner.
"Men and brethren," he said, "though I have committed
nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered
prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. Who, when they had
examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in
me. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto
Caesar; not that I had aught to accuse my nation of. For this cause
therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you:
because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain."
He said nothing of the abuse which he had suffered at the hands of the
Jews, or of their repeated plots to assassinate him. His words were marked
with caution and kindness. He was not seeking to win personal attention or
sympathy, but to defend the truth and to maintain the honor of the gospel.
In reply, his hearers stated that they had received no charges against
him by letters public or private, and that none of the Jews who had come
to Rome had accused him of any crime. They also expressed a strong desire
to hear for themselves the reasons of his faith in Christ. "As
concerning this sect," they said, "we know that everywhere it is
Since they themselves desired it, Paul bade them set a day when he
could present to them the truths of the gospel. At the time appointed,
many came together, "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." He related his
own experience, and presented arguments from the Old Testament Scriptures
with simplicity, sincerity, and power.
The apostle showed that religion does not consist in rites and
ceremonies, creeds and theories. If it did, the natural man could
understand it by investigation, as he understands worldly things. Paul
taught that religion is a practical, saving energy, a principle wholly
from God, a personal experience of God's renewing power upon the soul.
He showed how Moses had pointed Israel forward to Christ as that
Prophet whom they were to hear; how all the prophets had testified of Him
as God's great remedy for sin, the guiltless One who was to bear the sins
of the guilty. He did not find fault with their observance of forms and
ceremonies, but showed that while they
maintained the ritual service with great exactness, they were rejecting
Him who was the antitype of all that system.
Paul declared that in his unconverted state he had known Christ, not by
personal acquaintance, but merely by the conception which he, in common
with others, cherished concerning the character and work of the Messiah to
come. He had rejected Jesus of Nazareth as an impostor because He did not
fulfill this conception. But now Paul's views of Christ and His mission
were far more spiritual and exalted, for he had been converted. The
apostle asserted that he did not present to them Christ after the flesh.
Herod had seen Christ in the days of His humanity; Annas had seen Him;
Pilate and the priests and rulers had seen Him; the Roman soldiers had
seen Him. But they had not seen Him with the eye of faith; they had not
seen Him as the glorified Redeemer. To apprehend Christ by faith, to have
a spiritual knowledge of Him, was more to be desired than a personal
acquaintance with Him as He appeared on the earth. The communion with
Christ which Paul now enjoyed was more intimate, more enduring, than a
mere earthly and human companionship.
As Paul spoke of what he knew, and testified of what he had seen,
concerning Jesus of Nazareth as the hope of Israel, those who were
honestly seeking for truth were convinced. Upon some minds, at least, his
words made an impression that was never effaced. But others stubbornly
refused to accept the plain testimony of the Scriptures, even when
presented to them by one who had the special illumination of the Holy
Spirit. They could not refute
his arguments, but they refused to accept his conclusions.
Many months passed by after Paul's arrival in Rome, before the Jews of
Jerusalem appeared in person to present their accusations against the
prisoner. They had been repeatedly thwarted in their designs; and now that
Paul was to be tried before the highest tribunal of the Roman Empire, they
had no desire to risk another defeat. Lysias, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa
had all declared their belief in his innocence. His enemies could hope for
success only in seeking by intrigue to influence the emperor in their
favor. Delay would further their object, as it would afford them time to
perfect and execute their plans, and so they waited for a while before
preferring their charges in person against the apostle.
In the providence of God this delay resulted in the furtherance of the
gospel. Through the favor of those who had Paul in charge, he was
permitted to dwell in a commodious house, where he could meet freely with
his friends and also present the truth daily to those who came to hear.
Thus for two years he continued his labors, "preaching the kingdom of
God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, will
all confidence, no man forbidding him."
During this time the churches that he had established in many lands
were not forgotten. Realizing the dangers that threatened the converts to
the new faith, the apostle sought so far as possible to meet their needs
by letters of warning and practical instruction. And from Rome he
sent out consecrated workers to labor not only for these churches, but
in fields that he himself had not visited. These workers, as wise
shepherds, strengthened the work so well begun by Paul; and the apostle,
kept informed of the condition and dangers of the churches by constant
communication with them, was enabled to exercise a wise supervision over
Thus, while apparently cut off from active labor, Paul exerted a wider
and more lasting influence than if he had been free to travel among the
churches as in former years. As a prisoner of the Lord, he had a firmer
hold upon the affections of his brethren; and his words, written by one
under bonds for the sake of Christ, commanded greater attention and
respect than they did when he was personally with them. Not until Paul was
removed from them, did the believers realize how heavy were the burdens he
had borne in their behalf. Heretofore they had largely excused themselves
from responsibility and burden bearing because they lacked his wisdom,
tact, and indomitable energy; but now, left in their inexperience to learn
the lessons they had shunned, they prized his warnings, counsels, and
instructions as they had not prized his personal work. And as they learned
of his courage and faith during his long imprisonment they were stimulated
to greater fidelity and zeal in the cause of Christ.
Among Paul's assistants at Rome were many of his former companions and
fellow workers. Luke, "the beloved physician," who had attended
him on the journey to Jerusalem, through the two years' imprisonment at
Caesarea, and upon his perilous voyage to Rome, was with him still.
Timothy also ministered to his comfort. Tychicus, "a beloved
brother, and a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord,"
stood nobly by the apostle. Demas and Mark were also with him. Aristarchus
and Epaphras were his "fellow prisoners." Colossians 4:7-14.
Since the earlier years of his profession of faith, Mark's Christian
experience had deepened. As he had studied more closely the life and death
of Christ he had obtained clearer views of the Saviour's mission, its
toils and conflicts. Reading in the scars in Christ's hands and feet the
marks of His service for humanity, and the length to which self-abnegation
leads to save the lost and perishing, Mark had become willing to follow
the Master in the path of self-sacrifice. Now, sharing the lot of Paul the
prisoner, he understood better than ever before that it is infinite gain
to win Christ, infinite loss to win the world and lose the soul for whose
redemption the blood of Christ was shed. In the face of severe trial and
adversity, Mark continued steadfast, a wise and beloved helper of the
Demas, steadfast for a time, afterward forsook the cause of Christ. In
referring to this, Paul wrote, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved
this present world." 2 Timothy 4:10. For worldly gain, Demas bartered
every high and noble consideration. How shortsighted the exchange!
Possessing only worldly wealth or honor, Demas was poor indeed, however
much he might proudly call his own; while Mark, choosing to suffer for
Christ's sake, possessed eternal riches, being accounted in heaven an heir
of God and a joint heir with His Son.
Among those who gave their hearts to God through the labors of Paul in
Rome was Onesimus, a pagan slave who had wronged his master, Philemon, a
Christian believer in Colosse, and had escaped to Rome. In the kindness of
his heart, Paul sought to relieve the poverty and distress of the wretched
fugitive and then endeavored to shed the light of truth into his darkened
mind. Onesimus listened to the words of life, confessed his sins, and was
converted to the faith of Christ.
Onesimus endeared himself to Paul by his piety and sincerity, no less
than by his tender care for the apostle's comfort, and his zeal in
promoting the work of the gospel. Paul saw in him traits of character that
would render him a useful helper in missionary labor, and he counseled him
to return without delay to Philemon, beg his forgiveness, and plan for the
future. The apostle promised to hold himself responsible for the sum of
which Philemon had been robbed. Being about to dispatch Tychicus with
letters to various churches in Asia Minor, he sent Onesimus with him. It
was a severe test for this servant thus to deliver himself up to the
master he had wronged; but he had been truly converted, and he did not
turn aside from his duty.
Paul made Onesimus the bearer of a letter to Philemon, in which, with
his usual tact and kindness, the apostle pleaded the cause of the
repentant slave and expressed a desire to retain his services in the
future. The letter began with an affectionate greeting to Philemon as a
friend and fellow laborer:
"Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus
Christ. I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,
hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and
toward all saints; that the communication of thy faith may become
effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in
Christ Jesus." The apostle reminded Philemon that every good purpose
and trait of character which he possessed was due to the grace of Christ;
this alone made him different from the perverse and the sinful. The same
grace could make the debased criminal a child of God and a useful laborer
in the gospel.
Paul might have urged upon Philemon his duty as a Christian; but he
chose rather the language of entreaty: "As Paul the aged, and now
also a prisoner of Jesus Christ, I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom
I have begotten in my bonds; which in time past was to thee unprofitable,
but now profitable to thee and to me."
The apostle asked Philemon, in view of the conversion of Onesimus, to
receive the repentant slave as his own child, showing him such affection
that he would choose to dwell with his former master, "not now as a
servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved." He expressed his
desire to retain Onesimus as one who could minister to him in his bonds as
Philemon himself would have done, though he did not desire his services
unless Philemon should of his own accord set the slave free.
The apostle well knew the severity which masters exercised toward their
slaves, and he knew also that Philemon
was greatly incensed because of the conduct of his servant. He tried to
write to him in a way that would arouse his deepest and tenderest feelings
as a Christian. The conversion of Onesimus had made him a brother in the
faith, and any punishment inflicted on this new convert would be regarded
by Paul as inflicted on himself.
Paul voluntarily proposed to assume the debt of Onesimus in order that
the guilty one might be spared the disgrace of punishment, and might again
enjoy the privileges he had forfeited. "If thou count me therefore a
partner," he wrote to Philemon, "receive him as myself. If he
hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account; I Paul
have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it."
How fitting an illustration of the love of Christ for the repentant
sinner! The servant who had defrauded his master had nothing with which to
make restitution. The sinner who has robbed God of years of service has no
means of canceling the debt. Jesus interposes between the sinner and God,
saying, I will pay the debt. Let the sinner be spared; I will suffer in
After offering to assume the debt of Onesimus, Paul reminded Philemon
how greatly he himself was indebted to the apostle. He owed him his own
self, since God had made Paul the instrument of his conversion. Then, in a
tender, earnest appeal, he besought Philemon that as he had by his
liberalities refreshed the saints, so he would refresh the spirit of the
apostle by granting him this cause of rejoicing. "Having confidence
in thy obedience," he
added, "I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more
than I say."
Paul's letter to Philemon shows the influence of the gospel upon the
relation between master and servant. Slave-holding was an established
institution throughout the Roman Empire, and both masters and slaves were
found in most of the churches for which Paul labored. In the cities, where
slaves often greatly outnumbered the free population, laws of terrible
severity were regarded as necessary to keep them in subjection. A wealthy
Roman often owned hundreds of slaves, of every rank, of every nation, and
of every accomplishment. With full control over the souls and bodies of
these helpless beings, he could inflict upon them any suffering he chose.
If one of them in retaliation or self-defense ventured to raise a hand
against his owner, the whole family of the offender might be inhumanly
sacrificed. The slightest mistake, accident, or carelessness was often
punished without mercy.
Some masters, more humane than others, were more indulgent toward their
servants; but the vast majority of the wealthy and noble, given up without
restraint to the indulgence of lust, passion, and appetite, made their
slaves the wretched victims of caprice and tyranny. The tendency of the
whole system was hopelessly degrading.
It was not the apostle's work to overturn arbitrarily or suddenly the
established order of society. To attempt this would be to prevent the
success of the gospel. But he taught principles which struck at the very
foundation of slavery and which, if carried into effect, would surely
the whole system. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
liberty," he declared. 2 Corinthians 3:17. When converted, the slave
became a member of the body of Christ, and as such was to be loved and
treated as a brother, a fellow heir with his master to the blessings of
God and the privileges of the gospel. On the other hand, servants were to
perform their duties, "not with eyeservice, as men pleasers; but as
the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart."
Christianity makes a strong bond of union between master and slave,
king and subject, the gospel minister and the degraded sinner who has
found in Christ cleansing from sin. They have been washed in the same
blood, quickened by the same Spirit; and they are made one in Christ
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