Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 29: The Final Arrest
Though Paul's labors were chiefly among the churches, he could not escape the observation of his enemies. Since Nero's persecution, Christians were everywhere the objects of hatred and suspicion. Any evil-disposed person could easily secure the arrest and imprisonment of one of the [p. 305] proscribed sect. And now the Jews conceived the idea of seeking to fasten upon Paul the crime of instigating the burning of Rome. Not one of them for a moment believed him guilty; but they knew that such a charge, made with the faintest show of plausibility, would seal his doom. An opportunity soon offered to execute their plans. At the house of a disciple in the city of Troas, Paul was again seized, and from this place he was hurried away to his final imprisonment.
The arrest was affected by the efforts of Alexander the coppersmith, who had so unsuccessfully opposed the apostle's work at Ephesus, and who now seized the opportunity to be revenged on one whom he could not defeat. Paul in his second Epistle to Timothy afterward referred to the machinations of this enemy of the faith: "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil. The Lord reward him according to his works." In his first epistle he spoke in a similar manner of Hymeneus and Alexander as among those who "concerning faith have made shipwreck;" "whom," he says, "I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." These men had departed from the faith of the gospel, and furthermore had done despite to the Spirit of grace by attributing to the power of Satan the wonderful revelations made to Paul. Having rejected the truth, they were filled with hatred against it, and sought to destroy its faithful advocate.
Reformatory action is always attended with loss, sacrifice, and peril. It always rebukes love of ease, selfish interests, and lustful ambition. Hence, whoever initiates or prosecutes such action must encounter opposition, calumny, and [p. 306] hatred from those who are unwilling to submit to the conditions of reform. It is no easy matter to overcome sinful habits and practices. The work can be accomplished only with the help of divine grace; but many neglect to seek such help, and endeavor to bring down the standard to meet their deficiencies, instead of bringing themselves up to meet the standard of God. Such was the effort of these men who were so severely dealt with for their sins. They were endangering the purity of the believers, and it was necessary that a firm, decided course be pursued to meet the wrong and hurl it from the church. Paul had faithfully reproved their sin, —the vice of licentiousness so prevalent in that age,—but they had refused to be corrected. He had proceeded according to the instructions of Christ regarding such cases, but the offenders had given no token of repentance, and he had therefore excommunicated them. They had then openly apostatized from the faith, and united with its most bitter opponents. When they rejected the words of Paul, and set themselves to hinder his labors, they were warring against Christ; and it was by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, and not as an expression of personal feeling, that Paul pronounced against them that solemn denunciation.
On his second voyage to Rome, Paul was accompanied by several of his former companions; others earnestly desired to share his lot, but he refused to permit them thus to imperil their lives. The prospect before him was far less favorable than at the time of his former imprisonment. The persecution under Nero had greatly lessened the number of Christians in Rome. [p. 307] Thousands had been martyred for their faith, many had left the city, and those who remained were greatly depressed and intimidated. At Paul's first arrival, the Jews of Rome had been willing to listen to his arguments; but through the influence of emissaries from Jerusalem, and also because of the received charges against the Christians, they had become his bitter enemies.
No warm-hearted disciples now met Paul and his companions at Appii Forum and Three Taverns as before, when he was constrained to thank God and take courage. There was now no one like the courteous and kindly Julius, to say a word in his favor, no statement from Festus or Agrippa to attest his innocence. The change which had taken place in the city and its inhabitants—the city still scarred and blackened from the terrible conflagration, and the people, by tens of thousands, reduced to the most squalid poverty—seemed to harmonize with the change in his own condition and prospects. Through the surging crowds that still thronged the streets of Rome, and that looked upon him and his fellow-Christians as the authors of all their misery, Paul passed, not now to his own hired house, but to a gloomy dungeon, there to remain, chained night and day, until he should finish his course.
To visit Paul now was not, as during his first imprisonment, to visit a man against whom no charge had been sustained, and who had won favorable opinions from princes and rulers. It was to visit one who was the object of universal hatred, who was accused of instigating the basest and most terrible crime against the city and the nation. Whoever ventured to show him [p. 308] the slightest attention, thereby made himself the object of suspicion, and endangered his own life. Rome was now filled with spies, who stood ready to bring an accusation against any one on the slightest occasion. None but a Christian would visit a Christian; for no other would incur the odium of a faith which even intelligent men regarded as not merely contemptible, but treasonable.
One by one, Paul saw his friends leaving him. The first to depart were Phygellus and Hermogenes. Then Demas, dismayed at the thickening clouds of difficulty and danger, forsook the persecuted apostle to seek for ease and security in a worldly life. Crescens was sent on a mission to the churches of Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia, Tychicus to Ephesus. Luke, the beloved physician and faithful friend, was still with him. This was a great comfort to Paul, who had never needed the companionship and ministration of his brethren more than now, enfeebled as he was by age, toil, and infirmities, and confined in the damp, dark vaults of a Roman prison. And, as he was dependent upon the aid of an amanuensis, the services of Luke were of great value, enabling him still to communicate with his brethren and the world without.
An unexpected encouragement was granted the apostle at this time, by the visit of Onesiphorus, an Ephesian Christian who came to Rome not long after Paul's arrival. He knew that Paul was somewhere in that city as a prisoner, and he determined to find him. This was no easy matter in a city crowded with prisoners, where suspicion was everywhere, and had only to fasten upon an unfortunate victim to consign [p. 309] him to prison and perhaps to death. But notwithstanding the difficulties, Onesiphorus searched for Paul until he found him. Not satisfied with one visit, he went again and again to his dungeon, and did all in his power to lighten the burden of his imprisonment. The fear of scorn, reproach, or persecution, was powerless to terrify this true-hearted Ephesian, when he knew that his beloved teacher was in bonds for the truth's sake, while he himself, in every respect far less worthy, walked free.
The visit of Onesiphorus, testifying to his loving fidelity at a time of loneliness and desertion, was a bright spot in Paul's prison experience. In the last letter ever written by him, he thus speaks of this faithful disciple: "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain. But when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day."
The desire for love and sympathy was implanted in the heart by God himself. Christ in his hour of agony in Gethsemane, while bearing the guilt of sinful men, longed for the sympathy of his disciples. And Paul, though almost indifferent to hardship and suffering, yearned for sympathy and companionship. God would have his people cherish love and sympathy for one another. Humanity, elevated, ennobled, and rendered Godlike, is worthy of respect and esteem. The sons and daughters of God will be tender-hearted, pitiful, courteous, to all men, "especially unto them who are of the household of faith." But Paul was bound to his fellow-disciples by a [p. 310] stronger tie than even that of Christian brotherhood. The Lord had revealed himself to Paul in a special manner, and had made him instrumental in the salvation of many souls. Many churches might in truth regard him as their father in the gospel. Such a man, who had sacrificed every earthly consideration in the service of God, had a special claim upon the love and sympathy of his converts and fellow-laborers.Click here to read the next chapter: "Paul Before Nero"