St. Paul, the Servant of Christ
T HREE years had passed since Saul—who was now known as Paul—had come proudly riding along the road that led from Jerusalem to Damascus, full of power and importance, backed by his guard of soldiers. Now he was stealing back that same way alone and friendless, fleeing for his life. Then he had been the hunter, now he was himself the hunted.
Others might think it a sad change, but St. Paul knew it was a glorious one. There was no fear in his heart, only a great joy; he did not feel in the least lonely, for he had found the best Friend of all, and he rejoiced to have the honour of suffering for his King.
There, at Jerusalem, he knew he would find many friends. St. Peter, the disciple of Jesus, might be there, and the old fisherman saint would tell him all he longed to hear about the wonderful life of the King, and would even repeat the very words which Jesus had spoken. These words now seemed to St. Paul more precious than any gold or silver.
No great welcome, however, awaited him at Jerusalem. His name was still held in terror by those poor, persecuted Christians. It seemed but yesterday that they had seen him watch with triumphant eyes the sufferings of St. Stephen, and it was difficult to believe that he was now their friend. The learned men and the rulers, too, looked upon him with suspicion. Here was a man who had been the keenest of all in persecuting the Christians, and now he came preaching their religion. The simplest and safest plan would be to have nothing to do with him at all.
And so St. Paul found no welcome at Jerusalem, and he made up his mind to return to Tarsus, his native town, and carry the good news to more distant lands. The Master had said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Strangers and foreigners were to have a share in Christ's kingdom as well as the Jews. It was a dark world, full of evil and the power of Satan. St. Paul held in his hand the lighted torch which was to carry light into distant countries whose names even he did not know. At that very time Roman soldiers were landing on a far-away little gray island of the north, and holding it with a firm, conquering grip. It was a far cry from Tarsus to Britain, but gleams from the lighted torch were to reach even there in time.
Meanwhile St. Paul began his missionary work in places round about Palestine. There was little glory and much suffering in that work which he was doing for his Master. Many a time he was cruelly beaten, and with bruised, torn back, was thrown out of the city where he had been trying to tell the people about their King. Sometimes his wonderful words and the charm of his speaking held men spellbound, and the light spread in a marvellous way; and then again would come a check, and the very people who had listened to him and applauded him were ready to stone him to death.
It was necessary all this time for St. Paul to work with his hands as well as his head, that he might earn enough money for his daily bread, and he was a splendid worker as well as a preacher. His trade was tent-making, and as he sat and wove the strong haircloth, his thoughts would go wandering to those distant lands to which he longed to carry the light. How splendid it would be to go the whole length and breadth of the great Roman Empire—even to Rome itself, that queen city of the world.
Then one night as he lay asleep he dreamed a dream, and saw by his bedside a man from Macedonia, that country across the sea, who came with a message of invitation.
"Come over and help us," said the dream figure. The words rang in St. Paul's ears as he awoke, and the dream decided him. He would travel still farther afield; he would leave Asia, and cross over to Europe.
The Jews were not greatly loved in Roman cities, and St. Paul found many difficulties and dangers awaiting him. Once at the great town of Philippi he and his companion, Silas, were set upon by the crowd, and very roughly handled. There was every sign of a riot, and the Roman magistrates gave orders to the soldiers to beat the two Jews with rods, and to quiet the people. So St. Paul and St. Silas were dragged off to the market-place, stripped to the waist, and tied to the common whipping-post. In vain they declared they were Roman citizens, and not slaves. No one listened to them, and they were flogged in a terrible way, and afterwards thrown into the common jail, a place more fit for beasts than men. Here in the dark dungeon hole they lay, their feet fastened into the wooden stocks fixed in the wall, that there might be no chance of their escape.
Tortured and half-dead, in that noisome prison St. Paul and his companion never let go their courage for one moment. It was for their King they suffered, and that made all suffering easy. In the darkness they sang the old Jewish psalms they knew so well, and the sound of their singing went floating away to the other prison cells. It was a strange, almost awesome thing to hear music in that dreadful place, and the other prisoners listened in terrified wonder.
Night came on. The crowds that had gathered in the market-place around the whipping-post were scattered, and the rioters had gone home. All was quiet; not even a breath of wind stirred the still air, when suddenly a strange shiver seemed to pass over the city, a curious trembling in earth and air. Then came a low, rumbling sound, and a great rocking, as walls swayed and fell, doors burst open, and the very foundations of the great prison shook.
It was an earthquake. The head jailer, leaping to his feet, rushed to his prison wards. The doors were open, as he feared; the stocks were loosened from the walls. All the prisoners must have escaped, and that would mean death for him. In despair, he drew his sword to put an end to himself at once.
But St. Paul had seen the glittering sword and the jailer's despairing face, and guessed what he meant to do.
"Do thyself no harm," he cried, "for we are all here."
Hurriedly the jailer called for a light, and sprang into the prison. It was quite true—not one of the prisoners had attempted to escape; and in his relief and thankfulness he threw himself down at St. Paul's feet, and cried out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" It had suddenly flashed upon him that what these men had preached was true, and that they were indeed the servants of the true King.
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," came the swift answer.
Then, later, in the jailer's house, when the two prisoners had had their wounds washed and dressed, and had been carefully fed, the whole family listened while St. Paul spoke to them, and told them how they too might serve the King. So the light of Christ shone into another dark place.
After many perilous journeys to and fro, St. Paul at last returned to Jerusalem, where, among his own people, he might have looked for safety and peace. But the Jews were more furious with him and his preaching than ever, and were determined to kill him, and would have torn him in pieces had it not been for the Roman soldiers, who rescued him out of their hands, and sent him away secretly to another place.
Then, after a weary time of waiting, he was at last brought to trial, and Festus, the governor, asked him if he would rather be sent back to Jerusalem to be judged by his own people.
But St. Paul answered boldly and decidedly: "To the Jews I have done no wrong: I appeal unto Cæsar."
It was a bold appeal, and meant that the prisoner demanded to be taken to Rome; but it was an appeal that every Roman citizen had a right to make.
"Hast thou appealed unto Cæsar?" asked the governor. "Then to Cæsar shalt thou go."
Autumn was coming on, a time when wintry storms swept the seas, and St. Paul's voyage to Italy was a rough one indeed. He had spent much of his time among ships and sailormen, and this was not the first time he had battled through a storm; so he knew, as they tore in front of the shrieking wind, and were carried mountains high upon the green waves, that shipwreck was surely ahead. In vain the sailors threw all they could overboard to lighten the ship, and cast out anchors as a drag: they were drifting on the rocks, and nothing could save them.
The men began to lose heart, and to think it was no use struggling any longer, and then St. Paul took command. He told them God's angel had showed him in a vision that they would all be saved, and he bade them steer the ship into a little bay off the island of Malta, which lay ahead of them. The sailors listened to his encouraging words, and did as he said; and though in the end the ship was lost, every man on board was saved.
So at last, after many adventures, St. Paul arrived in Rome, the city of his dreams. But here again there was nothing but delay and weary waiting, while he lived the life of a prisoner, chained to his guard. Many were the letters he wrote in that weary time of waiting to the friends he had left behind; and he was also allowed to preach to the Christians who gathered around him, and that cheered him most of all.
Nothing certain is known about his death; but that he gave up his life in his Master's service is sure, and his triumphant words ring out to-day as clearly as when he uttered them: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."