The Review and Herald

1729/1902

1912

January 4, 1912

Paul Before Nero

EGW

When Paul was summoned to appear before the emperor Nero for trial, it was with the near prospect of certain death. The serious nature of the crime charged against him, and the prevailing animosity toward Christians, left little ground for hope of a favorable issue. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 1

Among the Greeks and Romans it was customary to allow an accused person the privilege of employing an advocate to plead in his behalf before courts of justice. By force of argument, by impassioned eloquence, or by entreaties, prayers, and tears, such an advocate often secured a decision in favor of the prisoner; or failing in this, succeeded in mitigating the severity of the sentence. But when Paul was summoned before Nero, no man ventured to act as his counsel or advocate; no friend was at hand even to preserve a record of the charges brought against him, or of the arguments that he urged in his own defense. Among the Christians at Rome, there was not one who came forward to stand by him in that trying hour. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 2

The only reliable record of the occasion is given by Paul himself, in his second letter to Timothy. “At my first answer,” the apostle wrote, “no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 3

Paul before Nero—how striking the contrast! The haughty monarch before whom the man of God was to answer for his faith, had reached the height of earthly power, authority, and wealth as well as the lowest depths of crime and iniquity. In power and greatness he stood unrivaled. There were none to question his authority, none to resist his will. Kings laid their crowns at his feet. Powerful armies marched at his command, and the ensigns of his navies betokened victory. His statue was set up in the halls of justice, and the decrees of senators and the decisions of judges were but the echo of his will. Millions bowed in obedience to his mandates. The name of Nero made the world tremble. To incur his displeasure was to lose property, liberty, life; and his frown was more to be dreaded than a pestilence. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 4

Without money, without friends, without counsel, the aged prisoner stood before Nero, the countenance of the emperor bearing the shameful record of the passions that raged within; the face of the accused telling of a heart at peace with God. Paul's experience had been one of poverty, self-denial, and suffering. Notwithstanding constant misrepresentation, reproach, and abuse, by which his enemies had endeavored to intimidate him, he had fearlessly held aloft the standard of the cross. Like his Master, he had been a homeless wanderer, and like him, he had lived to bless humanity. How could Nero, a capricious, passionate, licentious tyrant, understand or appreciate the character and motives of this son of God? RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 5

The vast hall was thronged by an eager, restless crowd, that surged and pressed to the front to see and hear all that should take place. The high and the low were there, the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, the proud and the humble, all alike destitute of a true knowledge of the way of life and salvation. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 6

The Jews brought against Paul the old charges of sedition and heresy, and both Jews and Romans accused him of instigating the burning of the city. While these accusations were urged against him, Paul preserved an unbroken serenity. The people and the judges looked at him in surprise. They had been present at many trials, and had looked upon many a criminal; but never had they seen a man wear a look of such holy calmness as did the prisoner before them. The keen eyes of the judges, accustomed to read the countenances of prisoners, searched Paul's face in vain for some evidence of guilt. When he was permitted to speak in his own behalf, all listened with eager interest. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 7

Once more Paul has an opportunity to uplift before a wondering multitude the banner of the cross. As he gazes upon the throng before him,—Jews, Greeks, Romans, with strangers from many lands,—his soul is stirred with an intense desire for their salvation. He loses sight of the occasion, of the perils surrounding him, of the terrible fate that seems so near. He sees only Jesus, the intercessor, pleading before God in behalf of sinful men. With more than human eloquence and power, Paul presents the truths of the gospel. He points his hearers to the sacrifice made for the fallen race. He declares that an infinite price has been paid for man's redemption. Provision has been made for him to share the throne of God. By angel messengers, earth is connected with heaven, and all the deeds of men, whether good or evil, are open to the eye of Infinite Justice. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 8

Thus pleads the advocate of truth. Faithful among the faithless, loyal among the disloyal, he stands as God's representative, and his voice is as a voice from heaven. There is no fear, no sadness, no discouragement in word or look. Strong in a consciousness of innocence, clothed in the panoply of truth, he rejoices that he is a son of God. His words are as a shout of victory above the roar of battle. He declares the cause to which he has devoted his life, to be the only cause that can never fail. Though he may perish, the gospel will not perish. God lives, and his truth will triumph. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 9

Many who that day looked upon him, “saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 10

Never before had that company listened to words like these. They struck a chord that vibrated in the hearts of even the most hardened. Truth, clear and convincing, overthrew error. Light shone into the minds of many who afterward gladly followed its rays. The truths spoken on this occasion were destined to shake nations, and to live through all time, influencing the hearts of men when the lips that had uttered them should be silent in a martyr's grave. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 11

Never before had Nero heard the truth as he heard it on this occasion. Never before had the enormous guilt of his own life been so revealed to him. The light of heaven pierced the sin-polluted chambers of his soul, and he trembled with terror at the thought of a tribunal before which he, the ruler of the world, would finally be arraigned, and his deeds receive their just award. He feared the apostle's God, and he dared not pass sentence upon Paul, against whom no accusation had been sustained. A sense of awe restrained for a time his bloodthirsty spirit. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 12

For a moment, heaven was opened to the guilty and hardened Nero, and its peace and purity seemed desirable. That moment the invitation of mercy was extended even to him. But only for a moment was the thought of pardon welcomed. Then the command was issued that Paul be taken back to his dungeon; and as the door closed upon the messenger of God, the door of repentance closed forever against the emperor of Rome. No ray of light from heaven was ever again to penetrate the darkness that enveloped him. Soon he was to suffer the retributive judgments of God. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 13

Not long after this Nero sailed on his infamous expedition to Greece, where he disgraced himself and his kingdom by contemptible and debasing frivolity. Returning to Rome with great pomp, he surrounded himself with his courtiers, and engaged in scenes of revolting debauchery. In the midst of this revelry, a voice of tumult in the streets was heard. A messenger, despatched to learn the cause, returned with the appalling news that Galba, at the head of an army, was marching rapidly upon Rome, that insurrection had already broken out in the city, and that the streets were filled with an enraged mob, which, threatening death to the emperor and all his supporters, was rapidly approaching the palace. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 14

In this time of peril, Nero had not, like the faithful Paul, a powerful and compassionate God on whom to rely. Fearful of the suffering and possible torture he might be compelled to endure at the hands of the mob, the wretched tyrant thought to end his life by his own hand; but at the critical moment his courage failed. Completely unmanned, he fled ignominiously from the city, and sought shelter at a country-seat a few miles distant; but to no avail. His hiding-place was soon discovered, and as the pursuing horsemen drew near, he summoned a slave to his aid, and inflicted on himself a mortal wound. Thus perished the tyrant Nero, at the early age of thirty-two. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 15

The Martyrdom of Paul

During Paul's final trial before Nero, the emperor had been so strongly impressed with the force of the apostle's words, that he deferred the decision of the case, neither acquitting nor condemning the accused servant of God. But the emperor's malice against Paul soon returned. Exasperated by his inability to check the spread of the Christian religion, even in the imperial household, he determined that as soon as a plausible pretext could be found, the apostle should be put to death. Not long afterward Nero pronounced the decision that condemned Paul to a martyr's death. Inasmuch as a Roman citizen could not be subjected to torture, the apostle was sentenced to be beheaded. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 16

Paul was taken in a private manner to the place of execution. His persecutors, alarmed at the extent of his influence, feared that converts might be won to Christianity by the scenes of his death; therefore few spectators were allowed to be present. But even the hardened soldiers who attended him, listened to his words, and with amazement saw him cheerful and even joyous in the prospect of death. To some who witnessed his martyrdom, his spirit of forgiveness toward his murderers and his unwavering confidence in Christ till the last, proved a savor of life unto life. More than one accepted the Saviour whom Paul preached, and erelong fearlessly sealed their faith with their blood. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 17

Until his latest hour the life of Paul testified to the truth of his words to the Corinthians: “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” His sufficiency was not in himself, but in the presence and agency of the divine Spirit that filled his soul, and brought every thought into subjection to the will of Christ. The prophet declares, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” The heaven-born peace expressed on Paul's countenance won many a soul to the gospel. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 18

Paul carried with him throughout his life the atmosphere of heaven. All who associated with him felt the influence of his union with Christ. The fact that his own life exemplified the truth he proclaimed, gave convincing power to his preaching. Here lies the power of the truth. The unstudied, unconscious influence of a holy life is the most convincing sermon that can be given in favor of Christianity. Argument, even when unanswerable, may provoke only opposition; but a godly example has a power that it is impossible wholly to resist. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 19

The apostle lost sight of his own approaching sufferings in his solicitude for those whom he was about to leave to cope with prejudice, hatred, and persecution. The few Christians who accompanied him to the place of execution, he endeavored to strengthen and encourage by repeating the promises given for those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. He assured them that nothing would fail of all that the Lord had spoken concerning his tried and faithful children. For a little season they might be in heaviness through manifold temptation; they might be destitute of earthly comfort; but they could encourage their hearts with the assurance of God's faithfulness, saying, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him.” Soon the night of trial and suffering would come to an end, and then would dawn the glad morning of peace and perfect day. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 20

The apostle was looking into the great beyond, not with uncertainty or dread, but with joyous hope and longing expectation. As he stands at the place of martyrdom, he sees not the sword of the executioner or the earth so soon to receive his blood; he looks up through the calm blue heaven of that summer day to the throne of the Eternal. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 21

This man of faith beholds the ladder presented in Jacob's vision, representing Christ, who has connected earth with heaven, and finite man with the infinite God. His faith is strengthened as he calls to mind how patriarchs and prophets have relied upon the One who is his support and consolation, and for whom he is giving his life. From these holy men who from century to century have borne testimony for their faith, he hears the assurance that God is true. His fellow apostles who, to preach the gospel of Christ, went forth to meet religious bigotry and heathen superstition, persecution, and contempt; who counted not their lives dear unto themselves that they might bear aloft the light of the cross amid the dark mazes of infidelity,—these he hears witnessing to Jesus as the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. From the rack, the stake, the dungeon, from dens and caves of the earth, there falls upon his ear the martyrs’ shout of triumph. He hears the witness of steadfast souls, who, though destitute, afflicted, tormented, yet bear fearless, solemn testimony for the faith, declaring, “I know whom I have believed.” These, yielding up their lives for the faith, declare to the world that he in whom they have trusted is able to save to the uttermost. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 22

Ransomed by the sacrifice of Christ, washed from sin in his blood, and clothed in his righteousness, Paul has the witness in himself that his soul is precious in the sight of his Redeemer. His life is hid with Christ in God, and he is persuaded that he who has conquered death is able to keep that which is committed to his trust. His mind grasps the Saviour's promise, “I will raise him up at the last day.” His thoughts and hopes are centered in the second coming of his Lord, and as the sword of the executioner descends, and the shadows of death gather about the martyr, his latest thought springs forward, as will his earliest in the great awakening, to meet the Lifegiver, who shall welcome him to the joy of the blest. RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 23

Well-nigh a score of centuries have passed since Paul the aged poured out his blood as a witness for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. No faithful hand recorded for the generations to come the last scenes in the life of this holy man; but Inspiration has preserved for us his dying testimony. Like a trumpet peal his voice has rung out through all the ages since, nerving with his own courage thousands of witnesses for Christ, and wakening in thousands of sorrow-stricken hearts the echo of his own triumphant joy: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” RH January 4, 1912, Art. A, par. 24