Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 24: The Voyage and Shipwreck.
"And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band. And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us."
Adramyttium was situated upon the west coast of the province of Asia; therefore the travelers could perform but a part of their journey in a ship bound for that city. But in some of the larger ports at which the vessel touched, they would be likely to find a ship in which they could embark for Rome.
In the first century of the Christian era, traveling by sea as well as by land was attended with far greater difficulty than at the present [p. 262] time. The arts of ship-building and navigation were not then matured as now. Mariners directed their course by the sun and stars; and when these did not appear, and there were indications of storm, they were fearful of trusting their vessels to the open sea.
The season of safe navigation was already far advanced, before the apostle's ship left Caesarea, and the time was fast approaching when travel by sea would be closed for the year. Every day's delay increased the peril of the voyage. But the journey which would be difficult and dangerous to the ordinary traveler, would be doubly trying to the apostle as a prisoner. Roman soldiers were held responsible with their own lives for the security of their prisoners, and this had led to the custom of chaining prisoners by the right wrist to the left wrist of soldiers, who relieved each other in turn. Thus not only could the apostle have no movement free, but he was placed in close and constant connection with men of the most uncongenial and absolutely repulsive character; men who were not only uneducated and unrefined, but who, from the demoralizing influence of their surroundings, had become brutal and degraded. This custom, however, was less rigidly observed on shipboard than when prisoners were ashore. One circumstance greatly lightened the hardships of his lot. He was permitted to enjoy the companionship of his brethren, Luke and Aristarchus. In his letter to the Colossians, he speaks of the latter as his "fellow-prisoner." But it was as an act of choice, because of his affection for Paul, that Aristarchus shared his bondage, and ministered to him in his afflictions. [p. 263]
The voyage began prosperously, and the day after they started, they cast anchor in the harbor of Sidon. Here Julius, the centurion who had listened to the apostle's address before Agrippa, and had thus been favorably disposed toward him, "courteously entreated Paul," and being informed that there were Christians in the place, he "gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself." The favor was highly appreciated by the apostle, who was in feeble health, and but scantily provided with comforts for the long journey. His brief stay in Sidon was like an oasis in his barren and dreary path, and proved a comfort and encouragement to him during the anxious, storm-tossed weeks upon the sea.
Upon leaving Sidon, the ship encountered contrary winds; and being driven from a direct course, its progress was very slow. At Myra, in the province of Lycia, the centurion found a large Alexandrian ship, bound for the coast of Italy, and to this he immediately transferred his prisoners. But the winds were still contrary, and the ship's progress slow and difficult. Says Luke, "When we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone; and, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called the Fair Havens."
At Fair Havens they were compelled to remain for some time, waiting for favoring winds. During this time the Jewish season of navigation ended. Gentiles considered it safe to travel until a later date; but there was no hope of completing the voyage. The only question now to be decided was, whether to stay where they were [p. 264] or attempt to reach a more favorable place to spend the winter.
The matter was earnestly discussed, and was finally referred by the centurion to Paul, who had won the respect of both sailors and soldiers. The apostle unhesitatingly advised that they remain where they were. Said he, "Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives." But the owner of the ship, who was on board, and the majority of passengers and crew, were unwilling to accept this counsel. They urged that the harbor of Fair Havens was but imperfectly protected from the wintry winds, and that the neighboring town, being so small, would afford little occupation for three hundred sailors and passengers during a stay of several months. Port Phenice, but thirty-four miles distant, had a well-sheltered harbor, and was in all other respects a far more desirable place in which to winter.
The centurion decided to follow the judgment of the majority. Accordingly, "when the south wind blew softly," they set sail from Fair Havens, with the flattering prospect that a few hours would bring them to the desired harbor. All were now rejoicing that they had not followed the advice of Paul: but their hopes were destined to be speedily disappointed. They had not proceeded far, when a tempestuous wind, such as in that latitude often succeeds the blowing of the south wind, burst upon them with merciless fury. From the first moment that the wind struck the vessel, its condition was hopeless. So sudden was the blow, that the sailors had not a moment in which to prepare, and they could only leave the ship to the mercy of the tempest. [p. 265]