The Hero of the Long Trail
(Dates, b. A.D. 6, d. A.D. 67)
The Three Comrades.
The purple shadows of three men moved ahead of them on the tawny stones of the Roman road on the high plateau of Asia Minor one bright, fresh morning. They had just come out under the arched gateway through the thick walls of the Roman city of Antioch-in-Pisidia. The great aqueduct of stone that brought the water to the city from the mountains on their right looked like a string of giant camels turned to stone.
Of the three men, one was little more than a boy. He had the oval face of his Greek father and the glossy dark hair of his Jewish mother. The older men, whose long tunics were caught up under their girdles to give their legs free play in walking, were brown, grizzled, sturdy travellers. They had walked a hundred leagues together from the hot plains of Syria, through the snow-swept passes of the Taurus mountains, and over the sun-scorched levels of the high plateau. Their muscles were as tireless as whipcord. Their courage had not quailed before robber or blizzard, the night yells of the hyena or the stones of angry mobs.
For the youth this was his first adventure out into the glorious, unknown world. He was on the open road with the glow of the sun on his cheek and the sting of the breeze in his face; a strong staff in his hand; with his wallet stuffed with food—cheese, olives, and some flat slabs of bread; and by his side his own great hero, Paul. Their sandals rang on the stone pavement of the road which ran straight as a strung bowline from the city, Antioch-in-Pisidia, away to the west. The boy carried over his shoulder the cloak of Paul, and carried that cloak as though it had been the royal purple garment of the Roman Emperor himself instead of the worn, faded, travel-stained cloak of a wandering tent-maker.
The two older men, whose names were Paul the Tarsian and Silas, had trudged six hundred miles. Their younger companion, whose name was "Fear God," or Timothy as we say, with his Greek fondness for perfect athletic fitness of the body, proudly felt the taut, wiry muscles working under his skin.
On they walked for day after day, from dawn when the sun rose behind them to the hour when the sun glowed over the hills in their faces. They turned northwest and at last dropped down from the highlands of this plateau of Asia Minor, through a long broad valley, until they looked down across the Plain of Troy to the bluest sea in the world.
Timothy's eyes opened with astonishment as he looked down on such a city as he had never seen—the great Roman seaport of Troy. The marble Stadium, where the chariots raced and the gladiators fought, gleamed in the afternoon light.
The three companions could not stop long to gaze. They swung easily down the hill-sides and across the plain into Troy, where they took lodgings.
They had not been in Troy long when they met a doctor named Luke. We do not know whether one of them was ill and the doctor helped him; we do not know whether Doctor Luke (who was a Greek) worshipped, when he met them, Æsculapius, the god of healing of the Greek people. The doctor did not live in Troy, but was himself a visitor.
"I live across the sea," Luke told his three friends—Paul, Silas and Timothy—stretching his hand out towards the north. "I live," he would say proudly, "in the greatest city of all Macedonia—Philippi. It is called after the great ruler Philip of Macedonia."
Then Paul in his turn would be sure to tell Doctor Luke what it was that had brought him across a thousand miles of plain and mountain pass, hill and valley, to Troy. This is how he would tell the story in such words as he used again and again:
"I used to think," he said, "that I ought to do many things to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. I had many of His disciples put into prison and even voted for their being put to death. I became so exceedingly mad against them that I even pursued them to foreign cities.
"Then as I was journeying to Damascus, with the authority of the chief priests themselves, at mid-day I saw on the way a light from the sky, brighter than the blaze of the sun, shining round about me and my companions. And, as we were all fallen on to the road, I heard a voice saying to me:
"'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.'
"And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?'
"The answer came: 'I am Jesus, whom you persecute.'"
Then Paul went on:
"I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision; but I told those in Damascus and in Jerusalem and in all Judæa, aye! and the foreign nations also, that they should repent and turn to God.
"Later on," said Paul, "I fell into a trance, and Jesus came again to me and said, 'Go, I will send you afar to the Nations.' That (Paul would say to Luke) is why I walk among perils in the city; in perils in the wilderness; in perils in the sea; in labour and work; in hunger and thirst and cold, to tell people everywhere of the love of God shown in Jesus Christ."
The Call to Cross the Sea.
One night, after one of these talks, as Paul was asleep in Troy, he seemed to see a figure standing by him. Surely it was the dream-figure of Luke, the doctor from Macedonia, holding out his hands and pleading with Paul, saying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us."
Now neither Paul nor Silas nor Timothy had ever been across the sea into the land that we now call Europe. But in the morning, when Paul told his companions about the dream that he had had, they all agreed that God had called them to go and deliver the good news of the Kingdom to the people in Luke's city of Philippi and in the other cities of Macedonia.
So they went down into the busy harbour of Troy, where the singing sailor-men were bumping bales of goods from the backs of camels into the holds of the ships, and they took a passage in a little coasting ship. She hove anchor and was rowed out through the entrance between the ends of the granite piers of the harbour. The seamen hoisting the sails, the little ship went gaily out into the Ægean Sea.
All day they ran before the breeze and at night anchored under the lee of an island. At dawn they sailed northward again with a good wind, till they saw land. Behind the coast on high ground the columns of a temple glowed in the sunlight. They ran into a spacious bay and anchored in the harbour of a new city—Neapolis as it was called—the port of Philippi.
Landing from the little ship, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke climbed from the harbour by a glen to the crest of the hill, and then on, for three or four hours of hard walking, till their sandals rang on the pavement under the marble arch of the gate through the wall of Philippi.
Flogging and Prison.
As Paul and his friends walked about in the city they talked with people; for instance, with a woman called Lydia, who also had come across the sea from Asia Minor where she was born. She and her children and slaves all became Christians. So the men and women of Philippi soon began to talk about these strange teachers from the East. One day Paul and Silas met a slave girl dressed in a flowing, coloured tunic. She was a fortune-teller, who earned money for her masters by looking at people and trying to see at a glance what they were like so that she might tell their fortunes. The fortune-telling girl saw Paul and Silas going along, and she stopped and called out loud so that everyone who went by might hear: "These men are the slaves of the Most High God. They tell you the way of Salvation."
The people stood and gaped with astonishment, and still the girl called out the same thing, until a crowd began to come round. Then Paul turned round and with sternness in his voice spoke to the evil spirit in the girl and said: "In the Name of Jesus Christ, I order you out of her."
From that day the girl lost her power to tell people's fortunes, so that the money that used to come to her masters stopped flowing. They were very angry and stirred up everybody to attack Paul and Silas. A mob collected and searched through the streets until they found them. Then they clutched hold of their arms and robes, shouting: "To the prætors! To the prætors!" The prætors were great officials who sat in marble chairs in the Forum, the central square of the city.
The masters of the slave girl dragged Paul and Silas along. At their heels came the shouting mob and when they came in front of the prætors, the men cried out:
"See these fellows! Jews as they are, they are upsetting everything in the city. They tell people to take up customs that are against the Law for us as Romans to accept."
"Yes! Yes!" yelled the crowd. "Flog them! Flog them!"
The prætors, without asking Paul or Silas a single question as to whether this was true, or allowing them to make any defence, were fussily eager to show their Roman patriotism. Standing up they gave their orders:
"Strip them, flog them."
The slaves of the prætors seized Paul and Silas and took their robes from their backs. They were tied by their hands to the whipping-post. The crowd gathered round to see the foreigners thrashed.
The lictors—that is the soldier-servants of the prætors—untied their bundles of rods. Then each lictor brought down his rod with cruel strokes on Paul and Silas. The rods cut into the flesh and the blood flowed down.
Then their robes were thrown over their shoulders, and the two men, with their tortured backs bleeding, were led into the black darkness of the cell of the city prison; shackles were snapped on to their arms, and their feet were clapped into stocks. Their bodies ached; the other prisoners groaned and cursed; the filthy place stank; sleep was impossible.
But Paul and Silas did not groan. They sang the songs of their own people, such as the verses that Paul had learned—as all Jewish children did—when he was a boy at school. For instance—
As they sang there came a noise as though the mountains really were shaking. The ground rocked; the walls shook; the chains were loosened from the stones; the stocks were wrenched apart; their hands and feet were free; the heavy doors crashed open. It was an earthquake.
The jailor leapt to the entrance of the prison. The moonlight shone on his sword as he was about to kill himself, thinking his prisoners had escaped.
"Do not harm yourself," shouted Paul. "We are all here."
"Torches! Torches!" yelled the jailor.
The jailor, like all the people of his land, believed that earthquakes were sent by God. He thought he was lost. He turned to Paul and Silas who, he knew, were teachers about God.
"Sirs," he said, falling in fear on the ground, "what must I do to be saved?"
"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ," they replied, "and you and your household will all be saved."
The jailor's wife then brought some oil and water, and the jailor washed the poor wounded backs of Paul and Silas and rubbed healing oil into them.
The night was now passing and the sun began to rise. There was a tramp of feet. The lictors who had thrashed Paul and Silas marched to the door of the prison with an order to free them. The jailor was delighted.
"The prætors have sent to set you free," he said. "Come out then and go in peace."
He had the greatest surprise in his life when, instead of going, Paul turned and said:
"No, indeed! The prætors flogged us in public in the Forum and without a trial—flogged Roman citizens! They threw us publicly into prison, and now they are going to get rid of us secretly. Let the prætors come here themselves and take us out!"
Surely it was the boldest message ever sent to the powerful prætors. But Paul knew what he was doing, and when the Roman prætors heard the message they knew that he was right. They would be ruined if it were reported at Rome that they had publicly flogged Roman citizens without trial.
Their prisoner, Paul, was now their judge. They climbed down from their marble seats and walked on foot to the prison to plead with Paul and Silas to leave the prison and not to tell against them what had happened.
"Will you go away from the city?" they asked. "We are afraid of other riots."
So Paul and Silas consented. But they went to the house where Lydia lived—the home in which they had been staying in Philippi.
Paul cheered up the other Christian folk—Lydia and Luke and Timothy—and told them how the jailor and his wife and family had all become Christians.
"Keep the work of spreading the message here in Philippi going strongly," said Paul to Luke and Timothy. "Be cheerfully prepared for trouble." And then he and Silas, instead of going back to their own land, went out together in the morning light of the early winter of A.D. 50, away along the Western road over the hills to face perils in other cities in order to carry the Good News to the people of the West.
The Trail Of The Hero-Scout.
So Paul the dauntless pioneer set his brave face westwards, following the long trail across the Roman Empire—the hero-scout of Christ. Nothing could stop him—not scourgings nor stonings, prison nor robbers, blizzards nor sand-storms. He went on and on till at last, as a prisoner in Rome, he laid his head on the block of the executioner and was slain. These are the brave words that we hear from him as he came near to the end:
Long years afterward, men who were Christians in Rome carried the story of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ across Europe to some savages in the North Sea Islands—called Britons. Paul handed the torch from the Near East to the people in Rome. They passed the torch on to the people of Britain—and from Britain many years later men sailed to build up the new great nation in America. So the torch has run from East to West, from that day to this, and from those people of long ago to us. But we owe this most of all to Paul, the first missionary, who gave his life to bring the Good News from the lands of Syria and Judæa, where our Lord Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again.