Paul in Rome



Paul a prisoner in Rome.—Fulfilment of his own desire.—That desire long cherished.—Reason of it.—Centres of influence.—"Beginning at Jerusalem."—Tendency towards Rome.—Church founded there.—Epistle to the Romans.—Manner in which Paul's desire was met. —His employments at Rome.—Welcome by the Church.—Interview with the Jews.— Influence in Rome.—Care of distant churches.—The spirit he manifested under the delay.—Forbearance toward enemies.—Unselfish joy in the furtherance 01 the Gospel.—Acknowledgment of God's over-ruling providence.

"And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him."

Acts xxviii. 30, 31.


THE apostle Paul was a prisoner at Rome;— kept and treated as a prisoner, though in his own " hired house;"—a prisoner under military custody, chained by the right arm both day and night to the left arm of one of the imperial body-guard, and not at liberty to go at large except in company with the soldier (Acts xxviii. 16).1 As an act of indulgence, however, he was permitted to occupy a dwelling by himself. He had all the liberty which the Roman laws ever conceded to any one who was held for trial. The practice of "bailing" one accused of crime is the offspring of a later humanity.

1 Comp. Phil. i. 13, and Col. iv. 18. Also, Eph. vi. 20; irpiojitvut iv aX1'iTM, "I am an ambassador in bonds." Possibly raw soldiers guarded him by night, according to the Roman law; "nox custodiam geminat." On the "Cuslodia Militaris," see Conybeare and Hawson, vol. iu p. 308.

The practical instructions to be derived from the apostle's residence at Rome during the two years in which he was awaiting trial, may be gathered, I. From the fact that a long-cherished desire was now fulfilled;

II. From the nature of his employments at Rome; and

III. From the spirit he manifested under the delay.

I. The first point to be illustrated is, that, in the fact of his being at Rome, a desire and purpose long cherished had been accomplished. That desire was to reach Rome, and to preach the Gospel there.

(I.) This had been with Paul a cherished desire for many years. Thus, in his Epistle to the Romans,, written at least four years before, he says, "Without ceasing, I make mention of you always in my prayers; making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you; for I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift," &c. (Rom. i. 9—12). It was in accordance with this wish that, as we have already seen, he was twice assured, by express vision, that he would be permitted to bear witness for the Lord "in Rome also."

(2.) It is not difficult to determine what was the reason of this desire. It was not mere curiosity that made him wish to see the capital of the world. It was not the love of fame, or the prospect of increasing his reputation by having the opportunity to preach there, and adding his name to the long list of men, whose renown for eloquence had gone forth from Rome to the remotest parts of the empire. We know enough of Paul to be convinced that, whatever were his motives, these were not the considerations which influenced him.

His desire to reach Rome was in accordance with a general plan or purpose of the apostles. In His parting charge to them, the Saviour commanded "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke xxiv. 46,47), because that was the place in which was concentrated more of learning, wealth, and power than in any other city of Palestine, and from which, as a centre, most important influences extended to all parts of the world. The apostles acted on this idea. They sought to preach the Gospel in places from which it might radiate into surrounding regions. Then, as now, great cities were centres of influence. From them emanated habits, opinions, laws, which regulated, to a great degree, the views and the customs of the world; and, as those cities, if not purified, would be centres of evil influence, so it was important that they should be made centres of light, and not " plague-spots" in the earth.

There was a tendency, therefore, always towards Rome. Before Paul went there—how long before, we cannot now ascertain—the Gospel had been carried there, and a church had been founded. The closing chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, contains numerous salutations to members of the church there;—and it is remarkable that so large a number consisted of those who had been in some way connected with Paul; those whom he had elsewhere known in his travels; those who had served with him in the gospel; or those who had been converted under his ministry (Rom. xvi. 3—15). Paul had sent to that church one of the most laboured and most important of all his epistles. What other writings of the New Testament they had, we know not; but it cannot be doubted that they would lay this epistle, specifically addressed to them, at the foundation of all their religious doctrines. That letter stands foremost in all the doctrinal instructions of the Bible, and has done more to form the theology of the world than any treatise in any language. It is to this day the great theological treatise in the Bible: the most complete and profound exposition of the doctrinal system of the Christian religion, the most elaborate defence of the great doctrine of justification by faith, and the most thorough guide in the application of Christian doctrine to Christian duties, that the world is in possession of. This position, toe, it will sustain to the end of time.1 (3.) The accomplishment of this desire, in the case

1 In a far distant age, long, long after Paul himself ceased to be among the living; after all the members of the church in Rome whom he so affectionately saluted in the Epistle had passed away; after the corruptions and errors of the Papacy had been superinduced on that once pure church,—a few words in that epistle, called to remembrance in that very city, were made the means of reforming the church, and of restoring Christianity to its primitive purity and simplicity^ faith. Luther, reared under the sternest rules of the Papacy, as an Augustinian monk, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. In common with others, he sought salvation in the rights and the faith of that corrupt church. Climbing slowly on his knees up "Pilate's staircase," the declaration of Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, came into his mind, reached his conscience, touched his heart,— "The just shall live BY Fa1th" (Rom. i. 17); and that single sentence, impressed on that single mind, has changed the religion of the world.

of the apostle Paul, was brought about in a manner which he did not anticipate, and which was contrary to what would have been his own arrangement. He had hoped and purposed to take Rome on his way in the carrying out of another purpose,—a journey into Spain (Rom. xv. 24); and he hoped, doubtless, to go there in the same way as to other places, as an ambassador of the Lord Jesus. But he, in fact, went in a very different manner. He went as an accused man—as a prisoner—to be tried for his life; he had no prospect now of prosecuting his journey into Spain; but still he was in Rome, and he had the opportunity which he had desired,—that of preaching the Gospel in what was then the capital of the world. In like manner, often, very often, our wishes and desires are accomplished, and our prayers heard, in a manner altogether different from what we should have chosen, and in a way which leads us through many perils, disappointments, and trials; but still the prayer is heard, and the desire is granted.

II. The second point which I proposed to consider was tl1e nature of PauFs employments in Rome.

Many men, even good men, in such circumstances would have felt that there was nothing for them to do but patiently to await their trial, and to prepare themselves for it. What could Paul now do in regard to the great purpose of his life? how could his work as an apostle be carried on? We are not left in ignorance as to these questions. The field of usefulness which he saw open to him pertained (a.) to the church there; (6.) to his own countrymen; (c.) to the people of Rome, especially to those who were connected with the government; and (d.) to the churches abroad.

(1.) The church in Rome. What would be his reception by that church? What would be his influence on it? What could he do for it?

With not a few members of that church, as above remarked, he had been elsewhere acquainted. Priscilla and Aquilla; Epenetus; Mary; Andronicus andjunia; Amplias; Urbane; Stachys; Apelles; Herodion; Tryphena and Tryphosa; Persis and Rufus—honoured names—are mentioned as those whom he had loved, who had been fellow-workers with him; who had been brought to Christ by his labours, or who were his own kinsmen. Beyond all question, these were leading and influential members of the church; and they would regard him, though a prisoner, with an interest which they would feel for no other man. It could not, then, have been an unnatural desire on their part to see Paul; it was the natural prompting of affection which led them, when they heard of his coming, to go out to meet him on the Appian Way (Acts xxviii. 15), and to conduct him to the city. He was approaching Rome as a prisoner; as a companion of felons, and was regarded by many as worthy of death;—but they were ready to show him the highest honour; and, however others might regard him, they were willing to be identified with him, and to accompany him as on a triumphal march, to the capital of the world. Paul found himself at home in their midst; and could cooperate with them in diffusing the Gospel. "Many of the brethren in the Lord," said he, "waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (Phil. i. 14).

(2.) His own countrymen. As soon as possible, he sought to lay before them the whole matter pertaining to the accusations against him. After the short space of three days from his arrival at Rome, he invited a meeting of the principal Jews to his own residence, as he was not suffered to go among them (Acts xxviii. 16, 17). There were many Jews dwelling in that city. They occupied then, as the Jews do now, a particular quarter; and, as is usual, it was the most wretched and squalid portion.1 We have no means of ascertaining the number of Jews then in Rome, but we have reason to believe that it was not small.

To them, as being his own countrymen, Paul brought his case. He referred to his former course of life. He declared that he had been guilty of no wrong against the nation, and of no violation of the customs of their fathers; but that, having been examined by the Roman authorities before whom he was accused, he would have been discharged if it had not been for the opposition of his own countrymen in Jerusalem, which had constrained him to appeal to the Roman emperor. He reiterated

1 The place which they occupied at that time lay on the low ground between the river and the base of the Mount Janiculum; that which the Jews now inhabit—the Ghetto—is not far from this, though on the other side of the Tiber, being between the river and the Capitoline Hill. —See, on the Condition of thejews inRome, Conybearc and Howson,vo\. ii.,p. 38S-390. the statement he had made before the Sanhedrim, that it was solely on account of his preaching the doctrine held by the Pharisees, and which was in fact, "the hope" of the nation—the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead—that he had been called in question, and was bound with that chain (Acts xxviii. 17—20).

The Jews at Rome had heard no unfavourable reports of him; they entertained no personal prejudice against him; they wished to hear what he would say in respect to the new form of religion which was held, but which was everywhere spoken against; they were desirous to learn the opinion of one who was recently from Judaea, who had been trained up in their own faith, and who had been most active in propagating the new belief. It was certain that he could give them better information in regard to it than perhaps any other man. It was possible that he might state reasons for it, which would remove their difficulties and be satisfactory to their own minds. Their request seems to have been made in an eminent spirit of candour.

There is much to admire in all this. The conduct of Paul in seeking the earliest opportunity to lay the case before them, and his frank statement that he had nothing to accuse his own nation of (ver. 19);—their honest avowal that they had not been prejudiced against him by any communication from Judaea, and their willingness to learn his views, though regarded by his countrymen at home as an apostate,—evince a high degree of sincerity on both sides, and might have promised the most happy results from the interview. But the result was as elsewhere in preaching to the Jews;— a part believed; a part blasphemed. A few were converted; the mass turned away. To them, therefore, Paul uttered language such as he had elsewhere used;— having discharged his duty to them as the people of God, he said, " Be it known unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it" (ver. 28); just as at Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas had before addressed their- countrymen, "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles " (Acts xiii. 46).

(3.) His influence on the Roman people as such;—the two or three millions of human beings congregated in the city at that time. His advantages for acting on such a population were indeed few; and we cannot suppose that his influence on that great multitude would be directly felt. He was not suffered to go at large; he could not address assembled philosophers in the Forum, as he had done on Mars' Hill; he had no direct access to the palace of the Csesars; he had not yet been brought before the emperor, as he had been before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. He could only preach to those who came to his own hired house (Acts xxviii. 30, 31). We are not, therefore, to look for any direct or wide-spread influence on the masses of the population; on philosophers and sages; or on those connected with the government.

Yet there are one or two very interesting incidental statements, illustrating and confirming what we should suppose would have occurred, and showing that his influence was felt more or less in the very place where he would most desire that it should be felt. As a prisoner; as under the charge of the government; as guarded by those in the employ of the government, and located, in all probability, not far from the seat of authority—the "palace" of the emperor,—we should most naturally look for the result of his labours, if there was any, in that direction. Accordingly, in the Epistle to the Philippians, written during his residence in Rome, we find proof of an influence perhaps more largely connected with the ultimate prevalence of Christianity in Rome than we can now trace. The one is this: "My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace (marg, Cessans court), and in all other places" (Phil. i. 12, 13). The Greek word here, pratorium, means, properly, a general's tent in a camp; then it is applied to the palace of Herod at Jerusalem,—the place which became the head-quarters of the Roman procurators or governors; then, to the palace of Herod at Caesarea; then, to the praetorian camp at Rome,—the quarters of the praetorian cohorts or guards. These were privileged troops appointed by Augustus to guard his own person, and to have charge of the city, and they soon became the most powerful body in the state. (Robinson's Lexicon). They were, therefore, very closely connected with the government.

Another passage, bearing on the subject, is found in the salutations at the close of the same epistle: "All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household" (iv. 22); that is, they who are of the house or family of Caesar. How nearly they were related to the emperor, if they were at all, is, of course, to us unknown. One thing is clear, however, that the Gospel, apparently in connexion with Paul's labours, had penetrated the Royal palace, securing converts there, and that those converts had free communication with the apostle, and he with them. They are associated with the "brethren" who were with him (ver. 21); they joined with those brethren in kind greetings toward saints in a distant land whom they had not personally known.

(4) Another point relates to his general labours toward the Churches which he had established, and which looked to him for counsel and advice. It was not unnatural that "the care of all the churches" (2 Cor. xi. 28) should come upon one who had founded so many of them, and who was so prominent among the apostles; and this toil, anxiety, and care would not wholly cease when he was a prisoner in Rome. It is probable that their questions of difficulty might be referred to him; it is certain that he would feel an undiminished interest in their welfare, and would be deeply affected by the intelligence of their prosperity or their adversity; their unity or their divisions; their progress or their decline. We have ample evidence of this. Four of his letters, that to Philemon, that to the Colossians, that to the Ephcsians, and that to the Philippians,—were written at Rome, while he was there awaiting his trial. It may not seem, indeed, to be a great matter to compose four such epistles in two years; and I do not now refer to it as if it were a great matter in respect of the labour involved, but only as showing the spirit of the man,—his desire to do good; his wish to look beyond himself, and beyond his own circumstances; his interest in the general condition of the Church and of the world.

III. This leads to a remark or two in reference to the illustration furnished of his own character by his residence in Rome, and the spirit which he manifested; the illustration of religion as found in these circumstances; or the practical lessons conveyed by the facts which have been adverted to.

(1.) The first point that would attract our attention would be his forbearance towards those who had wronged him. He had been falsely accused by his countrymen in Judaea; he had been subjected by them to an unjust trial; his life had been endangered by their conspiracies; he had been detained in prison at Caesarea, and had been called to encounter all the perils and hardships of the voyage to Rome, and was awaiting all the uncertain issues which might attend a trial before the emperor, through their continued opposition to him. Yet when he met his countrymen in Rome, and stated to them the reasons why he was there, he spoke as if all this had been forgotten,—" Not that I had aught to accuse my nation of,"—that is, "I did not come here for that purpose; I have nothing to allege against them before the emperor; I shall refer to none of the wrongs which I have received from them; and I have summoned you, not to complain of our Jewish brethren, but to speak to you of that which they, and you, and I, hold in common,—' the hope of Israel!"

We may adyert here, also, to his kind feelings towards those who had perverted his doctrines, and had sought to propagate their own views, taking advantage of the fact that, being a prisoner, he could not openly counteract their statements. While his imprisonment had been the means of stimulating many to more earnest efforts in the cause of religion, being "much more bold to speak the word without fear," some also took the opportunity to disseminate error; they did it, he says, for the purpose of adding to his trials: "supposing to add affliction to my bonds" (Phil. i. 16). Yet even in this, he found occasion to rejoice. His own feeling—his own happiness—was a small matter. The great object of his life was promoted. Christ was made known, though it was imperfectly, and with much error intermingled, and with much that was designed to pain his heart. "What then?" he says; "notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (Phil. i. 18).

(2.) We may notice that Paul turned all that had occurred to good account; he saw the hand of God in it all; he felt assured that events, apparently most disastrous, had been overruled to the promotion of the Christian religion. "I would ye should understand, brethren," wrote he to the Philippians, "that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel" (Phil. i. 12). All had been made use of to serve the good cause which he had at heart;—and this was enough; this was an ample compensation for all that he had suffered.

We may here refer to what the Church and the world owe to that imprisonment of Paul in Rome. We cannot say, indeed, that the four epistles then written would not have been written if he had been permitted to pursue his labours without hindrance or obstruction; but we know that they were penned during his detention as a prisoner in Rome. Those epistles are invaluable. The Church could not do without them. They are to the Church, and to the cause of religion, more than an equivalent for all the sufferings of the apostle. The world could not afford to lose what it has gained by the oppressions, the wrongs, the trials experienced by the friends of liberty and truth. Bunyan spent twelve years in Bedford gaol: the result, among other things, was the "Pilgrim's Progress." A large part of Baxter's works, and many of the writings of other nonconformists in the seventeenth century, originated from their not being allowed to preach. From gloomy dungeons,—from dark, chilly, repulsive cells where the friends of God have been confined,—light has streamed forth which now illuminates the Christian world, and has guided millions in the path to glory. God reigns. God directs the affairs of men; and to His name be the praise!