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Sketches From The Life of Paul

by Ellen G. White

Chapter 30: Paul Before Nero.

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Part:  A  B

When Paul was summoned to appear before the emperor for his trial, it was with the near prospect of certain death. The aggravated nature of the crime charged against him, and the prevailing animosity toward the Christians, left little ground for hope of a favorable issue.

It was the practice among the Greeks and Romans to allow an accused person an advocate to present his case in a court of justice, and to plead in his behalf. By force of argument, by his impassioned eloquence, or by entreaties, prayers, and tears, such an advocate would often secure a decision in favor of the prisoner, or failing in this, would mitigate the severity of his sentence. But no man ventured to act as Paul's counsel or advocate; no friend was at hand, even to preserve a record of the charges brought against him by his accusers, or of the arguments which 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. [p. 311]

The only record of the occasion is given in the words of Paul himself, in the second letter to Timothy: "At my first answer 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."

Paul before Nero—how striking the contrast! The very height of earthly power, authority, and wealth, as well as the lowest depths of crime and iniquity, had been reached by the haughty monarch before whom the man of God answered for his faith. In his power and greatness, Nero stood unrivaled, unapproached. There were none to question his authority, none to resist his will. The kings of the earth laid their crowns at his feet. The most powerful armies marched at his command. The ensigns of his navies upon the seas 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 of subjects bowed in obedience to his mandates. The name of Nero made the world tremble. To incur his displeasure was to lose property, liberty, and life. His frown was more to be dreaded than the pestilence. Yet while surrounded by all the outward semblance of earthly pomp and greatness, adored and reverenced as a god in human form, he possessed the heart of a demon.

Paul the aged prisoner, without money, without friends, without counsel, had been brought forth from a loathsome dungeon to be tried for [p. 312] his life. He had lived a life of poverty, self-denial, and suffering. With a sensitive nature that thirsted for love and sympathy, he had braved misrepresentation, reproach, hatred, and abuse; shrinking with nervous dread from pain and peril, he had fearlessly endured both. He had been, like his Master, a homeless wanderer upon the earth; he had lived and suffered for the truth's sake, seeking to relieve the burdens of humanity, and to exemplify in his life the life of Christ. How could the capricious, passionate, licentious tyrant, who had no conception of the value of a self-denying, virtuous, noble life, be expected to understand or appreciate the character and motives of this son of God?

Paul and Nero face to face!—the youthful monarch bearing upon his sin-stamped countenance the shameful record of the passions that reigned within; the aged prisoner's calm and benignant face telling of a heart at peace with God and man. The results of opposite systems of training and education stood that day contrasted,—the life of unbounded self-indulgence and the life of utter self-sacrifice. Here were the representatives of two religions,—Christianity and paganism; the representatives of two theories of life,—the simplicity of self-denying endurance, ready to give up life itself, if need be, for the good of others, and the luxury of all-absorbing selfishness, that counts nothing too valuable to sacrifice for a momentary gratification; the representatives of two spiritual powers,—the ambassador of Christ and the slave of Satan. Their relative position showed to what extent the course of this world was under the rule of the prince of darkness. The wretch [p. 313] whose soul was stained with incest and matricide, was robed in purple, and seated upon the throne, while the purest and noblest of men stood before the judgment-seat, despised, hated, and fettered.

The vast hall which was the place of trial was thronged by an eager, restless crowd that surged and pressed to the front to see and hear all that should take place. Among those gathered there were the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, the proud and the humble. Yet all alike were destitute of the true knowledge of the way of life and salvation.

Again the Jews urge against the prisoner the old charges of sedition and heresy, while both Jews and Romans accuse him of instigating the burning of the city. While his enemies were vehemently urging their accusations, Paul preserved a quiet dignity; no shade of fear or anger disturbed the peaceful serenity that rested upon his countenance. The people and even the judges beheld him with surprise. They had been present at many trials, and had looked upon many a criminal; but never had they seen a man wear such a look of holy calmness as did the prisoner before them. The keen eyes of the judges, accustomed as they were to read the countenances of their prisoners, searched the face of Paul for some hidden trace of crime, but in vain. When he was permitted to speak in his own behalf, all listened with eager interest to his words.

Once more Paul had an opportunity to raise aloft before a wondering multitude the banner of the cross of Christ. With more than human eloquence and power, he that day urged home upon their hearts the truths of the gospel. The wisdom of God was revealed through his servant. [p. 314] As Paul stands before the emperor of the world, his words strike a chord which vibrates in the hearts of even the most hardened, and which thrills in unison with the mission of angels. Truth, clear and convincing, overthrows error and refutes falsehood. Never before had that company listened to words like these. Light was shining into darkened minds that would gladly follow the guidance of its precious rays. The truths spoken on that occasion would never die. Though the utterance of a feeble and aged prisoner, they were destined to shake the nations. They were endowed with a power that would live through all time, influencing the hearts of men when the lips that uttered them should be silent in a martyr's grave.

Part:  A  B

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