Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 27: Caesar's Household
The gospel has ever achieved its greatest success among the humbler classes. "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called." It could not be expected that Paul, a poor and friendless prisoner, would be able to gain the attention of the wealthy and titled classes of Roman citizens. Their whole life [p. 290] —physical, mental, and moral—was on a different plane from his. To them vice presented all its glittering allurements, and held them willing captives. But from the toil-worn, want-stricken victims of their oppression, even from the poor slaves, ignorant and degraded as they were, many gladly listened to the words of Paul, and found in the faith of Christ a hope and peace which cheered them under the hardships of their lot.
Yet while the apostle's work began with the humble and lowly, its influence extended, until it reached the very palace of the emperor. Rome was at this time the metropolis of the world. The haughty Caesars were giving laws to nearly every nation upon the earth. King and courtier were either wholly ignorant of the humble Nazarene, or they regarded him with hatred and derision. And yet in less than two years the gospel found its way from the prisoner's lowly home into the imperial halls. Paul is in bonds as an evil-doer; but "the word of God is not bound."
Among the saints who send greetings to the Philippian church, the apostle mentions chiefly them that are of Caesar's household. Nowhere could there exist an atmosphere more uncongenial to Christianity than in the Roman court under such a monster of wickedness as then stood at its head. Nero seemed to have obliterated from his soul the last trace of the Divine, and even of the human, and to bear only the impress of the Satanic. His attendants and courtiers were in general of the same character as himself, fierce, debased, and corrupt. To all appearance it would be impossible for Christianity to gain a foot-hold in the court and palace of Nero.
Yet in this case, as in so many others, was [p. 291] proved the truth of Paul's assertion, that the weapons of his warfare were "mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds." Trophies of the cross were won, even in Nero's household. From the vile attendants of a viler king were gained converts who became sons of God. These were not Christians secretly, but openly. They were not ashamed of their faith. They felt the warmest affection for those who were older in Christian faith and experience, and they were not afraid or ashamed to acknowledge them as brethren.
And by what means was an entrance achieved and a firm footing gained for Christianity where even its admission seemed impossible? In former years the apostle had publicly proclaimed the faith of Christ with winning power; and by signs and miracles he had given unmistakable evidence of its divine character. With noble firmness he rose up before the sages of Greece, and by his knowledge and eloquence put to silence the arguments of proud philosophy. With undaunted courage he had stood before kings and governors, and reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, until the haughty rulers trembled as though already beholding the terrors of the day of God.
But no such opportunities were now granted the apostle, confined as he was to his own dwelling, and able to proclaim the truth only to those who sought him there. He had not, like Moses and Aaron, a divine command to go before the profligate king with the rod of God, and demand his attention, and in the name of the great I AM rebuke his cruelty and oppression. Yet it was at this very time, when its chief advocate was [p. 292] apparently cut off from public labor, that this great victory was won for the truth, and members were gained to the church from the very household of the king.
In his Epistle to the Philippians, Paul ascribes to his own imprisonment his success in bringing converts to the faith from Nero's household. He expresses himself as fearful lest the Philippians have thought that his afflictions have impeded the progress of the gospel. He assures them that the contrary effect has been produced: "I would ye should understand, brethren, 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, and in all other places."
It was not by the sermons of Paul, but by his bonds, that the attention of the court had been attracted to Christianity. It was as a captive that he had conquered rulers. It was with his chain that he had broken from so many souls the bonds that held them in the slavery of sin. Nor was this all. He declares: "And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."
The patience and meekness with which he submitted to a long and unjust imprisonment drew the attention of the public, and forced the conviction upon many minds that where there was such a willingness to suffer, there must be an unwavering faith in the doctrines advocated. His cheerfulness under affliction and imprisonment was so unlike the spirit of the unfortunate and afflicted of the world, that they could but see that a power higher than any earthly influence [p. 293] was ever abiding with him. His courage and faith were a continual sermon. And by his example, other Christians were nerved to greater energy. They felt that they would not be losers in becoming the advocates of truth and pushing forward the work from which Paul was temporarily withdrawn. In these ways were the apostle's bonds influential, so that when to all appearance he could do the least, when his power and usefulness seemed cut off, then it was that he was gathering sheaves for Christ, in fields from which he seemed wholly excluded.
When a servant of God is withdrawn from active duty, when his voice is no longer heard in encouragement and reproof, we, in our short-sighted judgment, often conclude that his usefulness is at an end. But the Lord does not so regard it. The mysterious providences over which we so often lament, are designed of God to accomplish a work which otherwise might never have been done.
The Christian who manifests patience and cheerfulness under bereavement and suffering, who meets death with the peace and calmness of an unwavering faith, may accomplish far more toward overcoming the opposition of the enemies of the gospel than he could have effected had he labored with his utmost energy day and night to bring them to repentance.
When the servants of Christ move actively through the land to contend against prevailing errors and superstitions, they are doing the work which the Lord has given them, standing in defense of the gospel. But when through Satan's malice, they are persecuted, their active labor hindered, and they cast into prison, as was Paul, [p. 294] and finally dragged to the scaffold or the stake, it is then that truth gains a greater triumph. Those who before doubted, are convinced of their sincerity, as they thus seal their faith with their blood. From the martyr's ashes springs an abundant harvest for the garner of God.
Let no one feel that because he is no longer able to labor openly and actively for God and his truth, he has no service to render, no reward to secure. A true Christian is never laid aside. God will use him effectually in health and in sickness, in life and in death. It is in the darkness of affliction, bereavement, trial, and persecution, that the light of Christian faith shines brightest, and the Lord's promises are found most precious. And when the grave receives the child of God, he being dead yet speaketh. His works do follow him. The memory of his words of admonition and encouragement, of his steadfast adherence to the truth under all circumstances, speaks more powerfully than even his living example.
Patience as well as courage has its victories. Converts may be made by meekness in trial, no less than by boldness in enterprise. If Christians would be reconciled to the apparent suspension of their usefulness, and would cheerfully rest from the strife, and lay off the burden of labor, they would learn sweet lessons at the feet of Jesus, and would see that their Master is using them as effectively when they seem to be withdrawn from employment, as when in more active labor.
When the Christian churches first learned that Paul contemplated a visit to Rome, they looked forward to a signal triumph of the gospel. Paul [p. 295] had borne the truth to many lands; he had proclaimed it in great cities. Might not this champion of the faith succeed in winning souls to Christ, even in the court of Nero? But their anticipations were crushed by the tidings that Paul had gone to Rome as a prisoner. They had confidently hoped to see the gospel, once established at this great center, extend rapidly to all nations, until it should become a prevailing power in the earth. How great their disappointment! Human calculations had failed, but not the purpose of God. Paul could not labor as he had hoped, yet before the close of that two years' imprisonment he was able to say, "My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;" and among those who send greetings to the Philippians, he mentions chiefly them that are of Caesar's household.
The zeal and fidelity of Paul and his fellow-workers, no less than the faith and obedience of those converts to Christianity, under circumstances so forbidding, should be a rebuke to slothfulness and unbelief in the followers of Christ. Never let us, by our human, short-sighted judgment, limit the plans and work of God. Never let us excuse ourselves from efforts to win souls to Christ, even in the most unpromising fields. The apostle and his subordinate ministers might have argued that the servants of Nero were subjected to the fiercest temptations, surrounded by the most formidable hindrances, exposed to the most bitter opposition, and that under such circumstances it would be in vain to call them to repentance and to faith in Christ. Should they be convinced of the truth, how could they render obedience? But the gospel was presented to [p. 296] those souls, and there were some among them who decided to obey it at any cost. Notwithstanding the obstacles and dangers, they would walk in the light, trusting in God for opportunity to let their light shine forth to others.
Who is placed in circumstances more unfavorable to a religious life, or required to make greater sacrifices, to encounter greater dangers, or to bring upon himself fiercer opposition, than would follow the exchange of heathenism for Christianity by those who were in office in the court of Caesar? No man can be so situated that he cannot obey God. There is too little faith with Christians of to-day. They are willing to work for Christ and his cause only when they themselves can see a prospect of favorable results. Divine grace will aid the efforts of every true believer. That grace is sufficient for us under all circumstances. The Spirit of Christ will exert its renewing, perfecting power upon the character of all who will be obedient and faithful.
God is the great I AM, the source of being, the center of authority and power. Whatever the condition or situation of his creatures, they can have no sufficient excuse for refusing to answer the claims of God. The Lord holds us responsible for the light shining upon our pathway. We may be surrounded by difficulties that appear formidable to us, and because of these we may excuse ourselves for not obeying the truth as it is in Jesus; but there can be no excuse that will bear investigation. Could there be an excuse for disobedience, it would prove our heavenly Father unjust, in that he had given us conditions of salvation with which we could not comply. [p. 297]
Servants employed in an irreligious family are placed in circumstances somewhat similar to those of the members of Caesar's household. Such are deserving of sympathy; for if they seek to live a religious life, their situation is often one of great trial. A bad example is constantly before them,—an example of Sabbath-breaking and of neglect of religion. Few religious privileges are granted them; and should they manifest an interest in religion, they might lose the favor of their employer, and bring upon themselves the ridicule of their companions. He who is thus situated has more than a common battle to fight, if he stands forth as a witness for Christ, a candidate for Heaven. But there can be nothing in his surroundings to excuse him for neglecting the claims of God. Whatever the difficulties in his path, they will be powerless to hinder him if he is determined to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
The Christian should not array before his imagination all the trials which may occur before the end of the race. He has but to begin to serve God, and each day live and labor for the glory of God that day, and obstacles which appeared insurmountable will gradually grow less and less; or, should he encounter all that he has feared, the grace of Christ will be imparted to him according to his need. Strength increases with the difficulties met and overcome.
Daniel, the Hebrew captive, the prime minister of a royal realm, encountered great obstacles to a life of fidelity to God. But at the very beginning of his career, he determined that whatever might oppose, he would make the law of God his rule of action. As he maintained his [p. 298] steadfastness amid the lesser trials which he daily met in the court of a heathen king, his faith, courage, and firmness grew stronger; and when the royal decree went forth forbidding him to offer supplication to his God, he was able, with the den of lions open before him, to stand true to principle and to God.
He whose heart is fixed to serve God, will find opportunity to serve him. He will pray, he will read the word of God, he will seek virtue and forsake vice. He can brave contempt and derision while looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who endured the contradiction of sinners against himself. Help and grace are promised by Him whose words are truth. God will not fail to fulfill his promise to all who trust in him.
Are any tempted to make their circumstances an excuse for neglecting the religion of Christ? Let them remember that Satan can frame one difficulty after another to bar the way of those who will permit themselves to be thus hindered. Let them consider the situation of the disciples in Caesar's household, the fierce depravity of the emperor, the profligacy of the court. It was like rushing into the fire to accept of Christ under such circumstances. If those Christian converts could maintain their fidelity amid all the difficulties and dangers of such surroundings, no one can offer a sufficient reason for neglecting the claims of duty. There is no such thing as an impossibility to obey God.
There is another fact concerning those disciples which is worthy of our attention. Not only were converts won to the truth in Caesar's household, but they remained in that household after [p. 299] their conversion. They did not feel at liberty to abandon their post of duty. The truth had found them where they were, and there they would remain, and by their life and character testify of its transforming power. The example of those Christians has great weight, from the fact that they had direct intercourse with Paul, and therefore enjoyed the benefit of his instruction and counsel. It teaches that believers are not always to withdraw from positions of difficulty and trial, and place themselves where there would be less temptation or opposition.
Let us ever bear in mind that our Saviour left the heavenly courts, and came to a world polluted by sin. By his own life he has shown his followers how they can be in the world, and yet not be of the world. He came not to partake of its delusive pleasures, to be swayed by its customs, or to follow its practices, but to seek and to save the lost. With this object, and this only, can the Christian consent to remain in the company of the ungodly.
No one who is seeking to save his soul should without good reason place himself in an uncongenial atmosphere, or where he will be surrounded by hindrances to a religious life; but if in such a position he has received the truth, he should diligently inquire if God has not there a work for him to do for the saving of other souls. That one Christian in the midst of unbelievers, may, in the providence of God, be like the piece of leaven "hid in three measures of meal," that is to do its work until the whole mass is leavened. A consistent Christian life will accomplish more good than could be accomplished by many sermons. Whatever the Christian's station, be it [p. 300] exalted or humble, he will manifest the power of true religion by the faithful performance of the duties of that station.
It is not the absence of temptation or trial that is most favorable for the development of Christian character. Where there are fewest difficulties to meet, the Christian is in the greatest danger of spiritual slothfulness. The God of all grace has promised that his people shall not be tempted above that which they are able to bear, but that with the temptation he will make a way of escape. Constant exposure to rebuffs and opposition, will lead the Christian to greater watchfulness and more earnest prayer to the mighty Helper. Extraordinary trials, endured through the grace of God, will give him a deeper experience and greater spiritual strength, as vigilance, patience, and fortitude are called into exercise.
The followers of Christ should expect to be regarded by the world with no more favor than was their Master. But he who has God for his friend and helper can afford to spend a long winter of chilling neglect, abuse, and persecution. By the grace which Christ imparts, he can maintain his faith and trust in God under the sorest trials. He recalls the Saviour's example, and he feels that he can endure affliction and persecution if he may thus gain simplicity of character, lowliness of heart, and an abiding trust in Jesus. The triumph of Christian faith is to suffer, and be strong; to submit, and thus conquer; to be killed all the day long, and yet to live; to bear the cross, and thus win the crown of immortal glory.Click here to read the next chapter: "Paul at Liberty"