Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 28: Paul at Liberty
While Paul's labors were blessed to the conversion of many souls and the strengthening and encouragement of the believers, clouds were gathering that threatened his own safety as well as the prosperity of the church. When, on his arrival at Rome, he was placed in charge of the captain of the imperial guards, the office was filled by a man of justice and integrity, by whose clemency he was left comparatively free to pursue the work of the gospel. But before the close of the two years' imprisonment, this man was replaced by an official whose vice and tyranny rendered his name infamous. The apostle could expect no favor from this slave of lust and cruelty.
The Jews were now more active than ever before in their efforts against Paul. They had found an able helper in the profligate woman whom Nero had made his second wife, and who, being a Jewish proselyte, would lend all her influence to second their murderous designs against the Christian champion.
Paul had little reason to hope for justice from the Caesar to whom he had appealed. Nero was more debased in morals, more frivolous in character, and at the same time capable of more atrocious cruelty, than any ruler who had preceded him. The reins of government could not have been intrusted to a more inhuman despot. The first year of his reign had been marked by the poisoning of his young step-brother, who was the rightful heir to the throne. He had steadily [p. 302] descended from one depth of vice and crime to another, until he had murdered his own mother, and then his wife. There was no atrocity which he would not perpetrate, no vile act to which he would not stoop. In every noble mind he inspired abhorrence and contempt.
The details of iniquity practiced in the court of this prodigy of vice are too degrading, too horrible, for description. His abandoned wickedness created disgust and loathing, even in many who were forced to share his crimes. They were in constant fear as to what enormities he would suggest next. Yet even such crimes as Nero's did not shake the allegiance of his subjects. He was acknowledged as the absolute ruler of the whole civilized world. And more than this, he was made the recipient of divine honors, and worshiped as a god.
From the stand-point of human judgment, Paul's condemnation before such a judge was certain. But the apostle felt that he had nothing to fear, so long as he preserved his loyalty and his love to God. His life was not in the hands of Nero, and if his work was not yet done, the Roman emperor would be powerless to destroy him. He who had hitherto been his protector could shield him still from the malice of the Jews, and from the power of Caesar.
And God did shield his servant. At Paul's examination the charges against him were not sustained, and, contrary to the general expectation,— with a regard for justice wholly at variance with his character,—Nero declared the prisoner guiltless. Paul's fetters were struck off, and he was again a free man.
Had his trial been longer deferred, or had he [p. 303] from any cause been detained in Rome during the following year, he would have perished in the dreadful persecution which then took place. The converts to Christianity had become so numerous during Paul's imprisonment as to attract the attention and arouse the enmity of the authorities. The ire of the emperor was especially excited by the conversion of members of his own household; he still thirsted for blood, and soon found a pretext to make the Christians the objects of his merciless cruelty. A terrible fire about this time occurred in Rome, by which nearly one-half the city was consumed. Nero himself caused the flames to be kindled, and then, to avert suspicion, he made a pretense of great generosity in assisting the homeless and destitute. He was, however, accused of the crime. The people were excited and enraged, and Nero determined to clear himself, and also to rid the city of a class whom he feared and hated, by charging the act upon the Christians.
The Satanic device succeeded. Thousands of the followers of Christ—men, women, and children—were put to death in the most cruel manner. Some were crucified, some covered with the skins of wild beasts, and torn in pieces by dogs, others were clothed in garments of inflammable material, and set on fire at night to illuminate the circus of the Vatican and the pleasure gardens of Nero. Thus this monster in human form amused the public by exhibiting his victims in their dying agonies, while he himself stood by, taking the keenest delight in their misery. Degraded and hardened as were the Romans, and bitter as was their prejudice against the Christians, the constant repetition of these horrible, [p. 304] heart-sickening scenes excited even their compassion.
From this terrible ordeal, Paul was spared, having left Rome soon after his release. This last precious interval of freedom was earnestly improved in laboring among the churches. He sought to establish a firmer union between the Greek and Eastern churches which he had raised up, and to guard them against the subtle heresies that were creeping in to corrupt the faith. The trials and anxieties which he had endured, had preyed upon his physical and mental energies. The infirmities of age were upon him. He felt that his work was nearly accomplished.
At Jerusalem and at Antioch he had defended Christianity against the narrow restrictions of Judaism. He had preached the gospel to the pagans of Lycaonia, to the fanatics of Galatia, to the colonists of Macedonia, to the frivolous art-worshipers of Athens, to the pleasure-loving merchants of Corinth, to the half-barbarous nations of Dalmatia, to the islanders of Crete, and to slaves, soldiers, and men of rank and station, in the multitudes at Rome. Now he was doing his last work.Click here to read the next chapter: "The Final Arrest"