HOW I CAME TO ROME TO SEE THE BLESSED APOSTLE

About six months after the death of Philemon, which took place in the same week as the Great Fire in Rome, word came to us that our brethren in the city were being called in question for their faith, having been falsely accused of many monstrous crimes and especially of having set the city on fire. Soon afterwards, in the month of January, we received most grievous tidings concerning them, how some had been cast into prison, and others slain with all manner of insults and tortures. The infection of this suspicion soon spread to Asia, first indeed to Ephesus, where it was soon allayed, but afterwards even to Colossæ, so that tumults were raised against us; the more because of the earthquake which, in the summer of that same year, utterly destroyed Laodicea; and in Hierapolis also and Colossæ many houses were cast down and many slain; which calamities the common people imputed to us, the Christians, as if the gods had sent this plague on them because sacrifices had been withheld by our impiety. All that year I remained at Colossæ striving to confirm the brethren in the faith and to encourage the weak; for though the magistrates were not against us but rather for227 us (knowing that we obeyed the laws) yet could they not altogether resist the vehemence of the common people, especially now that the fury of the multitude had some pretext in the example of the Emperor. Wherefore even against the will of the governors of the city, ten or twelve of the brethren, having violent hands laid on them by the rabble, bore witness to the Lord with their blood. But, towards the end of the year, the cooler weather setting in, and the memory of the earthquake a little abating, the multitude began to cease from the first heat of their fury; when, behold, we received of the brethren of Rome a truly piteous report, how the Emperor was more incensed against us than ever, causing such as were citizens to be beheaded; but as to the rest, crucifying some, burying others alive, casting others to the wild beasts, or burning them, besmeared with pitch, like torches. While we were all mourning for their tribulation, there fell on us two blows of heavy tidings, first that the blessed Apostle Petrus had been taken and crucified, and then that Paulus also had been put in bonds and was under accusation, and like to be put to death. Then I could no longer restrain myself; so finding that all things in Colossæ now tended towards peace, I left Apphia with Archippus (who had come to lodge with us for a season, his house in Hierapolis being quite cast down by the earthquake while ours was standing and not greatly damaged), and I made all haste to Rome, hoping to find Paulus still alive, and at least to have some speech with him before he died.
When I came to Rome, I went first to the house where the Apostle had been wont to lodge in times past, to make228 inquiry concerning him; but it was not to be found, nor any of the houses near it, having been burned down in the Great Fire. Then I turned my steps to that part of the palace wherein I had first had speech of him; but that also was burned down. For the whole of the former palace had been consumed by the fire; and the Emperor was even then building for himself his new Golden Palace (as it is now called) on the Cœlian and Esquiline hills. Then I made endeavor to find the house of Tryphœna and Tryphosa where the church had been wont to meet; but that also was not to be found. For indeed the fire had been far greater than I had conceived, and greater also (as I should judge) than any other fire within the memory of man, having wholly consumed four of the city wards, and partly destroyed seven more, leaving only three of the fourteen altogether untouched. So, what with the fire and the informers, the brethren had been driven out of the city; and among these, Clemens and Linus. But, meeting at last with Asyncritus, I understood from him that the holy Apostle was in close keeping, in one of the dungeons of the New Palace. But whether his cause had been heard or not, and (if tried) what the issue had been, of this he was altogether ignorant. To the palace therefore I straightway betook myself, and finding there my old friend the actor Aliturius I frankly avowed to him that I was a Christian and that I was ready to die if I could but have speech with one of their number, named Paulus; who then lay in one of the dungeons of the New Palace. He chid me for my rashness saying that, if he himself had been such as he was when we were last together, I had229 been a dead man; for what prevented him from informing against me and gaining a great reward? “But now,” said he, “I also have known something of this Paulus and (albeit I am myself no Christian) I would fain do what may be done to aid him and do you a pleasure.” Then he took me to the chief jailer, and by fair words, and large gifts, and promises of close secrecy, I won him to consent that if I would come thither on the morrow in the dress of an actor as in old times, I should have speech with Paulus.
§ 2. HOW I SAW PAULUS IN PRISON.
On the morrow, having gone to the palace, I was straightway led down to the dungeon, and thence from the outer prison into the innermost of all—rather a barathrum, or pit, than fit to be called prison. As we went down the steps, I questioned the jailer, touching the other Christians, whether any had been of late condemned to the beasts, and whether the Apostle stood in this peril. He replied that the prisoner was a Roman citizen so that he was free from that death; “and besides,” said he, “the Roman people will not have any presented before them to do battle with beasts, except they be proper men and able to fight for their lives, but this man was from the first lean and sorry-looking, and now belike he is so worn with imprisonment in the inner dungeon, and scant food to boot, that I doubt we shall not find him alive.” By this time the man had descended the lowest step and stood on the floor of the pit, turning his lamp on every side, but making visible naught save pools of water, and filth, and230 mire, and darkness without end. But presently, stumbling against something, I called to the jailer, “Paulus is here;” and he, bringing the lamp, turned it so as to see more clearly, and said, “There is no life in him.”
Then I cried unto the Lord in my soul for mercy; for indeed, when the light of the lamp shone upon his face, he neither spoke nor moved hand nor foot, and his eyes were fast closed. But when I raised up his head, and called him by his name, he opened his eyes and looked on me, and I perceived he knew me. Then I persuaded the jailer to take him out of this horrible pit into the outer dungeon; and we brought him out into the court-yard, and the jailer departed, leaving us alone, saying only to Paulus as he went forth, that it was the last watch of the night and that the tenth day was at hand; which words I could not then understand. When we were together, I took out bread and wine mixed with water, which I had brought with me, and besought him to eat and drink. He seemed loth at first, but afterwards tasted a little, and his spirit was revived, and strength came back to him, and he praised God that he had vouchsafed to refresh him with the sight of me once again. And turning to me with a smile he said—playing on my name Onesimus, which being interpreted means “profitable231”—“Truly thou hast been a profitable child unto me, and by this thy kindness thou hast repaid him who begot thee in Christ; and yet I know not whether I should thank thee or blame thee; for I was in the spirit when thou camest, and the Lord had sent unto me a vision full of delight in which methinks my soul would have passed away but for thy coming, so that by this time I would have been with Christ. Yet doubtless it is the will of the Lord that I should be with thee a little longer.”
Then he ate again of the bread which I had brought and drank also; and being now somewhat stronger, he sat upright, and laying his right hand lovingly on my head, he said with a smile, “Hast thou a grudge, my child, against the headsman, that thou wilt give him the trouble of taking off my head? for he and the jailer methinks had planned together that the prison should have spared them their pains; but now thou hast marred their counsel.” “Surely,” said I, “thou art not yet condemned by the Emperor.” “Not by the Emperor himself,” replied Paulus, “for he, as they told me, is on a journey to Greece; but by his freedman Helius, from whose lips ‘Guilty’ is a word of no less weight than from the Emperor’s. In fine, it is now the ninth day since sentence was given that I should be beheaded; but the custom is, that the prisoner shall not suffer death till the tenth day, which, as the jailer but now said in thy hearing, is nigh at hand, or perchance already begun.”
Hereat my eyes filled with tears, for pity of myself rather than of the Apostle, because I had come this long journey from Colossæ and would gladly have come ten times that distance to have speech with him, and to seek comfort and help and guidance from his lips, as from an oracle, yea, rather as from the Lord himself; and now, behold, all my labor was for naught, and he, my guide and deliverer, and father in Christ, was to pass away from me at the season when my need of him was sorest. But232 Paulus comforted me, saying that he was glad, since the Lord so willed it, that he should die in the sight of men and not in yonder pit, and that he accepted me as an angel from the Lord bringing a message that he should bear public witness with his blood to the name of the Lord Jesus. Then he bade me tell him such tidings as I had to tell of the brethren at Colossæ and at Ephesus; and when I told him that both there, and in all Asia, the Lord was day by day adding to the number of the elect, he broke out into thanksgiving and praising of God, declaring that now he was well pleased to be offered up, for the work of his life was accomplished.
§ 3. HOW PAULUS RELATED TO ME THE STORY OF HIS LIFE.
After this he sat silent, but as it seemed to me praising God in his heart, and there was a wondrous light upon his countenance; and so he continued for some space musing and saying nothing. But I was in a great strait between two wishes, being on the one hand fearful to trouble or disturb him, and this too on the eve of his departure; and yet having a fervent desire to receive from him some last precepts for the guidance of the church. Presently however the Apostle broke silence thus: “Onesimus, my child, the hour approacheth when I shall bid thee farewell. If therefore thou wouldst ask aught of me, ask now; for the time is short.” Then I betwixt the suddenness of the granting of my desire, and the multitude of the questions in my mind, could not find what to ask; but I exclaimed for233 sorrow, “Alas, my father, Petrus being now slain and thou also on the point to leave us, we shall be as sheep——” At this he interrupted my words, putting his hand upon my mouth; “Nay, say not so, my child, that ye will be as sheep without a shepherd; for there is one Shepherd that hath promised that he will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” I was silent, being abashed because of my want of faith; and he also sat for a while, musing and saying nothing. But at last he said, “The story of my life, and how the Lord guided me, yea, and constrained me against my will to follow him, this, having never yet related unto thee, I will now relate, or as much of it as the time may permit, that thou also mayst take courage, believing that even so will the Lord be a shepherd unto thee, guiding thee safe unto the end. Perchance also what thou shalt hear may enable thee the better to understand the mystery of mysteries, namely, how the kingdom of heaven is to be opened to all men, and how the Jews are for a time cast away that the Gentiles may be brought in, and so all mankind may be saved, even as the Lord ordained before the foundation of the world.”
After a pause he began as follows: “Thou hast often heard those who wish not well to me, jest at my carriage and presence as being contemptible; and they say right, for so it is, and so it hath been with me from my childhood even to this day. For it pleased the Lord to chasten me in tender years, making me weak of vision, and well nigh blind. But it was turned to good for me. For because of the infirmity of my eyes, not being able to see such things as others saw, nor to take pleasure in the pride of the eye,234 and in the glory of this world, and because also, whenever I went abroad, I was despised and mocked at, for this cause I began very early to bend my mind to take pleasure in knowledge and learning, and to think on the beauties of things unseen, and on the strength of things that are esteemed weak; and I said often to myself ‘Truth is stronger than all things visible and shall prevail over all.’ When I grew older, this mind remained in me. The love of women moved me not, nor gold, nor any desire of pleasure; but I had a fervent zeal for the truth and for the Lord whose name is Truth, that his name should be hallowed on earth, and that the people of the Lord (for so I then deemed my nation, even Israel after the flesh) should reign over the inhabited world.
“The troubles and humiliations of Israel discouraged me not; yea, rather they confirmed me; for methought the Scriptures shewed clearly that ever, in times past, greatness sprang out of small beginnings, and triumph out of humbleness. I perceived also that the Lord wrought all his deliverances by means and ways unexpected and strange to men; not by force of arms, nor by wisdom or cunning, nor by wealth, but for the most part by faith contending against all these things, even as David was caused to prevail by faith against Goliath, and by faith Abraham was made to be the father of the Lord’s people. Therefore it disquieted me not that Rome should be great and should rule for a season over the Lord’s inheritance; for even thus Egypt and Assyria and Babylon and Persia and Syria had ruled over us, each in turn; yet all these great empires had passed away, but the people of the235 Lord and the Law of the Lord still remained, and, said I, if we still have faith, we shall still remain and shall in the end be saved. Likewise I perceived that in every great deliverance there cometh first a transitory shadow of the deliverer, which is not the truth itself, but is of this present world; and afterwards there cometh the true deliverer, which is of God; and the will of this world is ever set against the will of God. For after this manner the world would have had Ishmael to be heir, but the Lord appointed Isaac; and again, the world would have had Esau, but the Lord, Jacob; and the world chose Eliab, but the Lord, David; and even so, said I to myself, the world would have had in times past Egypt, Nineveh or Babylon, and, in these present times, Rome; but the will of the Lord standeth fast, that he will have none other but Jerusalem to be his chosen City. With these thoughts did I comfort myself during my youth, saying, ‘Though we be now under the yoke, we shall not always be thus.’ Howbeit I perceived not that I should have gone yet further in my reasonings and I should have said, ‘Israel after the flesh cometh first, but there is an Israel according to the spirit that shall come after; and the world chooseth Jerusalem as it now is, but the Lord chooseth a new Jerusalem, even a city in heaven.’ But this was not yet revealed unto me.
“As I grew up, when I looked around me to discern what it should be that should deliver Israel, I could perceive nothing except the Law. Men, as it seemed to me, might pass away, yea, prophets could not be always with us; but the Law remained, and would remain, a safe guide for ever. Therefore I gave all my mind and my labor and236 leisure both by night and by day to the study of the Law and the Traditions; wherein if aught seemed to me unfit for the times, or imperfect, I would stifle all such whisperings and murmurings of my soul with such words as these, ‘Doubtless the Law is perfect; for if it be imperfect and in error, we must needs be without a guide; and without a guide the people goeth astray, and Israel is lost, and the promises of the Lord are made of none effect; but this cannot be.’ Therefore it seemed to be the mark of a wise man and one that loved Israel to see no blemish in the Law, yea, to see perfection, though my understanding discerned imperfection. So by degrees the Law took such a hold upon me that it seemed all one with truth itself, and instead of saying, ‘Truth is great and shall prevail,’ I began to say, ‘The Law is great and shall prevail.’ Then my parents, perceiving that I was wholly given to the study of the Law, determined to send me from Tarsus to Jerusalem, there to be brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most learned of the Scribes. And there in Jerusalem I remained many years, perfecting myself in the knowledge of the Law, and endeavoring thereby to gain righteousness.
“As I grew more learned in the Law, so did I grow in contempt for them that were unlearned. I perceived that there were many, both men and women, that had not leisure nor opportunity for the observance of the more minute Traditions of the Law; and some of these were troubled in their souls, full of doubts and questionings, desiring forgiveness and deliverance from sin, but not attaining to it; others were even cast out of the synagogue for light237 offences; and this unlearned and ignorant multitude was despised by the teachers of the people, as if they were brute beasts to be restrained by bit and bridle; and I also despised them likewise. Yet sometimes when I saw a rich man that had leisure, highly honored in the synagogue, and a poor man shut out for neglect of some lighter matter of the Traditions, which perchance he had no leisure to observe, my heart would say, ‘Surely these ways are not God’s ways. Surely to trust thus in the Law is not faith.’ But then I would still quench all these questionings, as before in Tarsus, saying, ‘If these ways be uneven, which is the even way? And if we are not to obey and trust the Law, what shall we obey, and in what shall we put our trust?’ By such answers as these I hardened my heart; and as an ox struggles against the goad of his master, even so did I resist the Lord, who would have goaded me into the path of truth.
238
“When I came to have to do with the followers of the Lord Jesus, or Nazarenes as I then termed them, I hardened my heart still more, and esteemed them accursed because of the cross. For I said ‘Whosoever is crucified is under a curse. Wherefore this Jesus, whom the Nazarenes call Messiah, is accursed, and his followers also. Moreover if this sect prevail, the Teachers of the people will be despised, and the unlearned will have the upper hand, and the Law (which is the Truth) will be trampled under foot; wherefore the Truth itself as it were proclaimeth that these Nazarenes are liars and deceivers.’ So I hardened myself like a flint against them. Yet by degrees as I learned more and more of the life and manners of the saints, their zeal in well doing, their long-suffering and patience, their purity and justice, and above all, the steadfastness of their faith in God through the Lord Jesus Christ, then, even in the midst of my course of persecuting them, I could not forbear sometimes from reproaching myself in such words as these: ‘This man whom thou art dragging away to prison hath attained to a righteousness beyond thy compass; this woman, whom thou threatenest with death, hath a faith in God surpassing thine.’ With such self-chidings did the Lord still goad me toward the right road; but I still kicked against the goads and hardened my heart against him.”
§ 4. HOW PAULUS CONSENTED TO THE DEATH OF THE BLESSED MARTYR STEPHANUS.
Here the Apostle ceased for a space, as if he were unwilling to make mention of somewhat that came next to speak of; but anon, as though all thought of bitterness was swallowed up in the remembrance of the marvellous mercies of the Lord, he continued with a kindling countenance and speaking more quickly than before. Now, although I treasured up each word that fell from his lips, yet because of his manner of speech being as much Hebrew as Greek, and very brief, abrupt, and vehement at all times, and now more than ever, I was not able to set down his words exactly, though indeed I wrote them on my tablets a few hours afterwards. Wherefore it must be understood that the exact words, both before and in that which follows, are not his. But the substance I will set down with all faithfulness, and it was to this effect:
239
“The more closely I joined myself to the Pharisees against the Nazarenes, and the more I saw of the cunning, and baseness, and hardness of heart of those inferior instruments by whose aid our chief priests and elders were wont to execute their designs, the more was I troubled with doubts. Sometimes when I lay down to rest at night, after a day spent in persecutions in the company of these base companions, the words of the Prophet Isaiah would rise up against me in the darkness, ‘Wash you, make you clean; cease to do evil, learn to do good; your hands are full of blood;’ and once, when I was sitting down to meat, methought I saw blood upon my hands. All the more did I frequent the temple and offer up many sacrifices and purify myself with daily purifications that I might wash away all sinfulness if perchance there were any stain of guilt upon me. But still I was not at ease, neither had my soul rest. By degrees, the Temple itself, and the sacrifices in the Temple, instead of taking away my burden, began to add thereto. For of the multitude who came together thither, very few appeared to come worthily; some being strangers come from afar to see strange sights; others desiring to expiate evil deeds or to pay vows, but not with any sincere love of righteousness; and many more because it was the custom, and not because they loved the worship of the Lord; not a few also with purpose to make gain, trafficking in beasts for victims or serving as money-changers. All this I noted daily, and it troubled me more and more, because I perceived that many were hardened in ill-doing by their worship and by their sacrifices, and their feet stood in the Temple of the240 Most High, but their hearts drew nigh unto Satan; and again the words of the Prophet rose up to my mind, ‘Sacrifice is an abomination to me; bring no more vain oblations.’
“But when I said to one of the elders that it were well if the money-changers and sellers of victims could be put away from the holy place, and if the stir and tumult of the Courts of the Temple could be diminished, he said that I was of too tender a conscience, and that it would not be possible to obtain such a temple as I desired, clean, and pure, and spotless in all points, unless I wished to join myself to the Nazarenes who dreamed of some magic temple not made with hands, wherein some invisible sacrifice of the imagination was to be offered up, and not the blood of bulls and goats. These words (although I knew it not at that time) sank deep into my heart. For though I abhorred all thought of imitating the Nazarenes in any matter, yet could I not refrain from pondering in mind the thought of some new Temple, not made with hands, nor liable to be polluted nor destroyed by the hand of an enemy, but imperishable, incorruptible, undefiled. Being in this perplexity, I thirsted for some new revelation from the Lord, and besought him that he would send some prophet or deliverer who should make all things clear. But then the word of the Lord brought back to me that which had been revealed to me even in my childhood, namely, how each deliverer of Israel was wont at first to be despised and rejected; and fear fell upon me lest, even if the Messiah himself should come before our generation had passed away, the Pharisees should not241 acknowledge nor receive him. But, all this while, it never so much as entered into my heart that the Messiah was already sent, and already despised, and already rejected by the rulers of the people; but I had my eyes fixed on some deliverance yet to come.
“None the less, yea, rather the more, did I persecute the Church of Christ, giving my voice ever in favor of violent courses and advising that the common sort among them should be less regarded, but the leaders sought out with all diligence and slain. So it came to pass that by my advice the servants of the chief priests laid hands on the blessed Stephanus (concerning whom I have often spoken unto thee in times past) and set him before the Council, and accusation of blasphemy was brought against him; and I sat with the Council when he made his defence. The words of his speech were as a two-edged sword cleaving my heart asunder and strengthening all my former doubts against me. For he declared unto us how, even as Israel had rejected other deliverers, so had they rejected Jesus the Messiah, and that this was fore-ordained by God; as also that the Temple of the Lord was not to stand for ever, but that there was to be a new Temple not made with hands. So he showed how Joseph and Moses had saved the people, albeit they had been at first rejected; and how Israel had made a calf and turned to idolatry; and how Moses, being permitted to make the earthly tabernacle for the hardness of their hearts, had, none the less, made it after the pattern of a better tabernacle not made with hands; and how the Temple itself had not been made by David, but only by Solomon (who242 in his old age went after other gods); and with that he cried aloud that no earthly Temple was fit for the Most High, using the words of the prophet,243 ‘Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool; what house will ye build me, saith the Lord?’
“Hereat the men of my faction, and especially those from Cilicia and Asia, cried out that Stephanus blasphemed, and they rent their garments and would have stopped his mouth with their uproar; but he rebuked us, saying that as we had persecuted the prophets, so had we murdered the Holy One. Hereat the uproar waxed still louder; but I sitting speechless all this time, and not able to take my eyes off his countenance, perceived that, of a sudden, as if one had plucked him by the sleeve, he turned round and ceased from rebuking the multitude, and stood still, looking upward very intently as if he saw somewhat. Then a great splendor shone upon his face, and he stretched out his hand towards heaven saying, ‘Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God!’ At this I could not forbear turning round also, and gazing upward to the heaven above me, if perchance I also should see somewhat there. But I saw naught (for my eyes were not yet opened) and anon arose another general shout that the prisoner was worthy of death, and all cast dust in the air and rent their garments again. So the whole multitude arose, and I with them, not knowing whither I went, nor do I remember what further happened, till I saw Stephanus on the ground, covered with blood, in a loud voice beseeching the Lord that this sin might not be laid to the charge of us his murderers; and, behold, the clothes of them that stoned him were lying at my feet, in token that I was the chief doer of this deed.”
§ 5. HOW THE LORD APPEARED TO PAULUS.
“On the night after the blessed Stephanus died, I had no rest, nor for many nights after. Dreams and visions visited me in my sleep. Sacrifices and ablutions I made without ceasing, but they brought me no peace; neither did my prayers find answer from the Lord. They that were rich praised me, and I was held in honor by the rulers of the people, but I said in my own heart, ‘Doth not the Lord, the God of Israel, cast down the wisdom and power and riches of this world and raise up the lowly and meek?’ By night methought I saw the face of Stephanus covered with blood and praying for me; and the hand of the Lord was heavy on my soul filling me with fears and thoughts of evil. Yet still, like the stubborn ox, kicking against the goads of the Lord, I resolved that I would not think on idle dreams, as I called them, but that I would give myself with a single heart to the persecution of the Nazarenes. So I gladly obeyed the High Priest who besought me at this time to go to Damascus, bearing letters to the chief men of that place, that I might have power to imprison such of the Nazarenes as I could find there.
“We journeyed slowly; for the burden of the Lord was grievous upon me, and my eyes (which were infirm by nature) were now, more than ever, dimmed and dazzled,244 so that I could scarcely endure the light of day. Likewise by night evil dreams departed not from me. Now also, methought (which had not been so before), I began to hear a strange voice (yet as it were in my heart and not in my ears) as if some one reasoned with me, accusing me that I had slain Stephanus without cause; insomuch that sometimes I could endure no longer to listen in silence, but made answer to the voice aloud; but presently, it was as if no voice had spoken, and one of my companions overhearing me, reproached me in jest, because, said he, I discoursed aloud with myself, preferring my own speech to theirs. Therefore that I might not hear these voices, I ceased not speaking with my companions, reasoning with them (though none reasoned against me) and proving to them from the Scriptures again and again (though none denied it) that the Law must not be set aside and that the Temple must abide for ever, and that this Jesus was a deceiver of the people. But ever and anon there would come into my ears (yea, even in the midst of my speaking) such words as these: ‘What if the Law were indeed fore-ordained to prepare the way for Faith? What if there should be indeed a new Temple, prepared of God, not made with hands?’ Then would I weary my companions with the superfluity of my reasonings and disputings, waxing fiercer and louder than before in defence of the Law and against the Nazarenes. They that went with me, falling in with my humor, ceased not to revile the deceivers of the people as they termed them; and one among them speaking of Stephanus (of whom all this time I had made no mention) said that245 he had been a hypocrite and a deceiver even in his death, gazing up to heaven as if to persuade us that he saw a vision, and framing his face to assume a divine appearance of gentleness and peace, and all to delude the people.
“Hereat my heart was stirred within me and I was moved to say that I did not feel assured that Stephanus (however deceived) was acting deceitfully at that moment when he was on the point of death; but as I feared lest this might cause my companions to suspect that I favored the Nazarenes, I restrained myself and assented (against my conscience) to the man that had spoken thus. So I answered, ‘Thou sayest well; this Stephanus was a deceiver.’ Then, because I felt that I had lied, straightway there swelled up within me a violent desire to cry aloud ‘Stephanus was no deceiver;’ but still I rejected it as a voice from Satan, and strove to turn the discourse to other matters. But in vain; for now, even as if they were desirous of set purpose to thwart me, my companions would speak of naught else but Stephanus, and how he bore himself, and what he said, and of the manner of his death, and his vision.
“By this time we were come unawares within sight of Damascus; and I looking afar off upon the pleasant gardens that encompassed the city, rejoiced greatly because here, I said, I shall have rest from my weariness, and here these voices of Satan will cease from troubling me. But even as I spake thus within my soul, the Voice came to me much louder than before, and not once but many times:246 ‘Wilt thou yet continue this course of blood? Wilt thou again shed innocent blood? Wilt thou yet kick against the goad of the truth?’ Then I made answer ‘Yes I will continue;’ and these words I repeated again and again. Then suddenly the hand of the Lord fell on me, my body seeming on fire as well as my soul, and my eyes not knowing whither to turn for pain, and at last I could no longer contain myself for the sore agony of my doubting, but said aloud (yet not so that my companions could hear), ‘If now that deceiver Stephanus were no deceiver, if’—and behold, I looked up to heaven as Stephanus had looked, and lo, a brightness indeed, as of the glory of God; and a voice no longer in my soul but in my ears also, penetrating to my soul, and saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ Then I fell upon my face, knowing who it was that spoke, yet constrained to ask as though I knew not, and I said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And he said ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.’ Then said I ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ And he made answer saying,247 ‘Arise, go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.’
“So I arose: but behold, I was wholly blind. Being led into the city by my companions I lay some days still under the heavy hand of the Lord, pondering many thoughts and doubting whether it would please the Lord to restore to me my sight; and during all this time I spoke many things not according to my own knowledge, for I was no longer master of myself. Among other matters the Lord caused me to make mention of one Ananias, one of the chief among the saints in Damascus (whom I had purposed to have slain) saying that it was the Lord’s will that he should come to me and make me whole. Whereof when the rumor came to the ears of Ananias, he, being also moved by a vision of the Lord which he himself received, came to me and laid his hands upon me, and straightway my senses returned to me, and presently I began to see a little, and in no very long space I was made whole and received my sight as before.”
§ 6. HOW PAULUS WAS PREPARED FOR THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL.
“When I was recovered of my blindness, some of the brethren in Damascus would have had me go up to Jerusalem that I might be instructed in the faith by those that had been disciples before me. But the Lord suffered it not, but bade me go into Arabia; where, for the space of two years, I remained, giving myself wholly to prayer, and to the reading of the Scriptures, and pondering the purposes of God. And here it pleased the Lord to reveal many mysteries unto me and more especially the mystery of the New Temple and the heavenly Jerusalem. And the grace of the Lord was poured out upon me very abundantly, working for me good out of evil, enabling me to discern the truth the more clearly perchance because I had once fought against it. For as I had ever been wont to say, ‘If the Nazarenes be right, then are the Jews wrong, and if Jesus be the Messiah, then are the Law and the Temple destined to pass away,’ so now, believing that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, I had the less difficulty in believing that the Law must needs pass away, and all things must be changed.
248
“At the same time it was revealed to me in the spirit that the outward fashion of all things must change but the will of God abideth for ever; for in spite of death, and sin, and all the devices of Satan, the purposes of the Highest are unchangeable; which have been, and shall be, fulfilled, in many diverse shapes, yet ever remain the same; and how the redemption of the world through Christ and the casting away (in part and for a time) of Israel, together with the bringing in of the Gentiles, were not by chance—as if the purposes of the Unchangeable were changed—but fore-ordained before the foundation of the world; even as it was also fore-ordained that Adam should fall, and Abel should be slain, and that Ishmael and Esau should be rejected to the intent that Isaac and Jacob might be chosen; in all these things I now discerned the unchanging purpose of the Lord triumphing over Satan from the first, and out of sin and death drawing forth life and righteousness. Also, as regards the death of the Lord Jesus upon the cross, I no longer felt shame at it, nor passed lightly over it in my doctrine (as some do still, my Onesimus); for I perceived that it was a sacrifice fore-ordained, yea, the only true sacrifice and oblation for the sins of men, whereof all former sacrifices had been but shadows.
“Likewise it was revealed to me that mankind must rise from the death of the flesh and be born to the life of the spirit. For as man was first made and sinned in Adam, so man was afterwards made again and born to righteousness in the Lord Jesus; the first Adam was the shadow, the second, the truth; the first Adam was of the earth and249 of this world, the second Adam was of the spirit and of heaven. And as all men are bound to Adam by the bonds of flesh, so must they be bound to the true Adam by the bonds of the spirit, that is by trust or faith and by love, whereby men must be so knit to the Lord Jesus that whatsoever hath befallen him must also befall them. For all flesh, being redeemed in Christ, is made one with Christ. As therefore the Lord Jesus suffered and died and rose again and reigneth in heaven, so must the children of men, even all the nations of the earth, suffer and die according to the flesh, but rise again according to the spirit, and reign in spiritual places, perfected with him. And this hath been the eternal purpose of God from the foundation of the world.
“Moreover, lest I should despise the past, and reject the Scriptures, or lightly esteem the Gentiles, or stumble because of the many generations of darkness which have been since the world was created, all of which knew not the Lord Jesus, for this cause the Lord revealed unto me that he for the most part worketh by slow means, and teacheth by slow degrees; first the elements, or teaching for babes, then for youths, then for full-grown men; and this is true for every soul of mankind, yea, and for every nation also. Wherefore I no longer despised the Gentiles, albeit the Lord had suffered them for many generations to go astray after idols; nor did I begin to despise the Law of Israel, although I no longer esteemed it as before. For it was revealed to me that, though the law had been ordained only for a time, and because of the hardness of our hearts, and could make nothing perfect, yet did it250 prepare the way for perfection in Christ. For by the grace of the Lord it was given to me to understand that all things in heaven and earth, whether past or present, whether among the Jews or the Gentiles, yea, even the beasts of the field and the very dust of the earth beneath our feet, were all created for the glory of God, to testify that he, the Highest, is the Father of men, and that men must be conformed to his divine image.
“Wherefore, since the will of the Lord standeth fast, take comfort, dear Onesimus, child of my bonds and heir of my labors, and overcome evil with good. Shut not thine eyes against evil, but fight against it with a stout heart. Whensoever thou lookest upon it triumphing in high places; or setting itself up as having dominion over the earth; or creeping into the Church, causing therein errors, and schisms, and deceits; yea, and when also thou lookest upon it in thine own heart, prompting thee to despair because of thine own ill courses in old days—then do thou contend against it in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in his name thou shalt surely overcome it. Say not in thine heart, ‘Rome is against us,’ but say rather, ‘Rome that now is, shall be like unto Babylon and Nineveh, which once were, but now are passed away.’ Look not upon the outward things which are but for a moment, but upon the things which are not seen, which are eternal; even as I also look not upon these my manacles and fetters, and upon this poor wasted flesh nigh unto destruction, nor upon the filth and foulness of yonder pit; but instead of this earthly flesh, I see the heavenly body wherewith my Lord shall shortly clothe me, and instead of this visible251 darkness, mine eyes behold the invisible glory of the Eternal Majesty on High, wherein enfolded, amid the blessed company of the saints above, I shall for ever magnify the unsearchable riches of the mercies of God.
“And now, since thou knowest whither I go, why wouldst thou, dearest Onesimus, that I should longer delay my departure? For I have been these many years like unto a servant making all things ready for a journey, that, when the master shall knock, he may be prepared to go forth to a pleasant land. And behold, the Master knocketh, and the door is now open, and shall I not gladly go?”
§ 7. THE LAST WORDS OF PAULUS.
When the Holy Apostle had made an end of speaking, I was ashamed of all the questionings which had disturbed me at Colossæ; and in his presence I felt myself lifted up above all doubts. Yet again, looking to the future when I should be alone, I said, “One other question I would gladly ask of thee,” and he bade me “Ask on,” and I proceeded thus:252 “Thou saidst, but now, that all men and all nations, yea, and all created things, are made subject to ignorance, and error, and death, and sin, to the intent that they may be raised from the lower to the higher; even as children are led up from the restraint of nurses and guardians to the freedom and knowledge of manhood, and as Israel also was led from the law to Christ. Now therefore I would that thou shouldst resolve me this doubt. As it is the nature of every child of man to pass through error to the truth, and as Israel also hath erred, may not we also err, even we the Saints of God? And certain of the saints who say that they have seen the Lord Jesus in dreams and visions or other ways, may not they also sometimes err? Yea and in the Traditions of the Acts and Words of the Lord, amid much that is true, may there not also be somewhat that is false?”
Hereat he smiled and said, “Thou hast well questioned me. Assuredly we, even the Saints, may be, nay, must needs be, in some error. For whereas hereafter we shall discern all things as they are, seeing God face to face in heaven, on earth we can but see them darkly, as it were through a mirror. Yet be thou ever prompt, my dear Onesimus, to make distinction between those cases where to err is to lie, and hurtful to the soul, and those where to err is not to lie, and therefore not in the same way hurtful. For I also, not many months ago, was in error concerning the time of the coming of the Lord. For as a peevish child is impatient till the day shall dawn, though the sun be not risen nor like to rise, even so I desired that my Lord should come before his time, while I still lived, and that I should be snatched up into the clouds to him, before this generation had passed away. But now I perceive that the day of the Lord is not yet, nor will be perchance during this generation nor the next, nor perhaps for many generations yet to come. Herein therefore I erred, but inasmuch as this error was not against my soul, to err in such a matter was not to sin.
“But now let me tell thee what kind of error corrupteth the soul, and warreth against righteousness. Whoso sup253poseth that to abstain from swine’s flesh maketh expiation for impure thoughts, or that a man may be envious and a slanderer if he do but observe Sabbaths, I say unto thee that such a one walketh in the darkness of error that wholly cloudeth the soul and shutteth out the light of God. For these opinions or beliefs are against the perfect Law of Love; against which whatsoever opposeth itself is not of God but of Satan. From such errors as these flee thou, and fight thou, with all thy power; but the other errors none can altogether avoid, nor be thou overmuch troubled concerning them. As I myself was in error touching the day of the Lord, so doubtless art thou touching some other matters, and so are and so will be, many others of the saints, liable severally perchance to several errors. Yea, all earthly knowledge of heavenly things must needs be, in some sort, error, because they are seen as it were by reflection through an imperfect glass; for the perfect God none hath seen nor can see in the flesh. Wherefore doubt not but thou art assuredly in error; yet be not on that account disquieted, provided that thou strive to attain more and more of the truth. Neither forget thou that the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ shall be with thee to guide thee into all truth, and to turn darkness into Light before the feet of the Saints, from generation to generation, that all men may grow in the knowledge of the Lord, and in the understanding of his unsearchable ways.
254
“Be not thou therefore, O my son, shaken in thy faith, if in the Traditions of the Acts and Words of the Lord some things be diversely or inexactly reported; only strive thou earnestly to keep pure and undefiled that truth which is the source and foundation of the rest; I mean, that Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God hath manifested to us the love of the Father through himself, and that he, having verily risen from the dead, reigneth in heaven and helpeth his saints on earth, purposing to conform all nations of men to the Father and to destroy death and sin through his cross. Believe this, my son, and cause others to believe this; and then thou needest to concern thyself little with genealogies and minute disputings of words and diversities of traditions, nor even about sundry visions and dreams, whether they be of the Lord or no; for the foundation of the faith consisteth not in knowing how, or to whom, or when, or in what places, the Lord hath manifested himself or shall manifest himself, but in believing that he is verily not dead, but liveth. All this I say, not as if thou shouldst be careless or slothful about the attainment of the exactness of the truth, so far as lieth in thee; but place not letters before words, nor words before things, nor any kind of knowledge of things, no nor even prophecies nor visions themselves, before Love. For verily I say unto thee, the time shall come when prophecies shall fail, tongues cease, and knowledge vanish away, but Faith, Hope, and Love shall never pass away but shall abide for ever, and the greatest of these is Love.”
The sound of the unloosing of the prison-bars now fell upon my ears, and presently the jailer entered saying, “The night is spent, and the guard ready.” I besought him that I might accompany Paulus to his death, but the255 jailer would not allow it, saying that I must remain with him in the prison, for he should lose his place were it known that I had been with the prisoner. When I would have urged him further, the Apostle suffered it not, saying to me with a cheerful countenance, “Nay, my son, tarry thou with our friend here; for thinkest thou that thy father cannot walk alone, or fearest thou lest he stumble in the darkness? Nay, but if the night be spent, the day must needs be at hand; therefore fear not.” The man marvelled, not understanding that the Apostle spoke of the day beyond the grave; but he said, “Thou goest to death bravely; however, there is no need of haste if thou wouldst have meat and drink to be thy viaticum.” “I thank thee,” replied Paulus, “but I have other viaticum, whereof, since there is no need of haste, I would gladly partake with my son; suffer us, therefore, if it may be, to be alone yet a brief space longer.” Then when the man had retired, Paulus said to me, “Now, my son, because the time is short, let us make haste to be with Christ a while, and with all the company of saints, both the blessed ones that have gone to rest before us and those that have remained below.” Then he took of the bread and wine which I had brought; and when he had broken and blessed, we ate and drank, and the Apostle called on the Lord in prayer. What words he uttered I know not; for I was as one in a vision, and the walls of the dungeon seemed to have fled away, and as he continued speaking of the Lord in heaven, who is above all thrones and powers, and of the glory that is to come to us with him above, I seemed to pass beyond earth, and upwards from256 the lower heaven, even till the highest of all, even to the region of everlasting joy, where thou, O Eternal, dost feed Israel for ever.
When I had come to myself, I was still kneeling, but the holy Apostle standing before me, with his hands upon my head, blessing me; and he touched me on the shoulder saying, “I go, Onesimus.” “Nay, my father,” replied I, “let us abide here evermore in heaven.” But he made answer, and these were his last words—“Thou hast a work yet to do, Onesimus, and a battle yet to fight for the Lord; yet be assured of this, my child, that wheresoever thou mayst be on earth, thou shalt verily abide with me in heaven, for I am Christ’s and Christ is thine.”