I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called,
I. Let us think first OF THE PLACE AND MANNER OF ST. PAUL'S IMPRISONMENT. The place was Rome, the capital of the world. A city full of glorious memories of the past, and famous in the present for art, and eloquence, and learning. Its soldiers could boast that they had conquered the world, and could point out the tombs of Pompey and of many another hero along the Appian Way. Its streets had been trodden by some of the greatest of poets, and its Senate-House had echoed with the burning words of the first orators of the world. Rome was full of contrasts, wealth and beggary, beauty and squalor, the palace of Caesar, and the haunt of vice and shame, were close together. The city was ruled over by a cruel tyrant, at once a hypocrite and a monster of iniquity. It was in such a place, so glorious and so shameful, that St. Paul was a prisoner. He was not, however, confined in a dungeon. By the favour of the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, whose duty it was to take charge of all prisoners awaiting trial before the Emperor, the apostle was allowed to live in a hired house of his own, to have free access to such friends as he had, and to preach the gospel freely to those who would hear him. But still St. Paul was a prisoner. After the Roman fashion, he was chained to a soldier, and at night probably two soldiers were linked to him. Yet, although an exile, a prisoner, waiting for a trial where he would have little chance of justice, knowing that the sword hung above his head ready to fall at any moment, St. Paul utters no complaint, no murmur of discontent. On the contrary, he bids his hearers rejoice in the Lord alway; he himself thanked God, and took courage; he tells his disciples that he has learnt in whatsoever state he is, to be content. He is poor, yet making many rich. The heathen tyrant can make him a prisoner, but his chains cannot keep him from the glorious freedom of the sons of God. And now what lesson can we learn from the prison house at Rome? We can learn this, that this world in which we live is in one sense a prison house to all.
1. It is a prison house of hard work. In our great cities the roar of traffic, the rattle of machinery, the shriek of the steam whistle, the eager crowds flocking to office and bank and exchange all mean one thing — work. Every man's talk is of business; he is in the prison house, and he is chained to his work.
2. Next, this world is a prison house of sorrow and trial. Everyone who has lived any time in the world can show you the marks of his chain. Everyone whom we meet is wearing a crown of thorns. It is hidden under the scanty white locks of the old, and the sunny tresses of youth. Specially is this world a prison house to those who strive to do their duty, and help their fellow men. For them in all ages there have been prison bars, and chains of persecution. If we would look on some of the greatest teachers, philosophers, and benefactors of mankind, we must look for them in a prison house. Socrates, when seventy-two years old, was a prisoner, and condemned to drink poison, because he taught higher lessons than the mob could understand. Bruno was burnt at Rome, because he exposed the false philosophy of the day. When Galileo, an old man of seventy, taught the truth about the earth's motion, they cast him into the dungeons of the Inquisition, and after death the Pope refused a tomb for his body. And so for many others who dared to do their duty and to speak the truth. But the stonewalls could not confine the mind; the iron chain could not bind the truth. Some of the most glorious works in literature were composed in prison. The prison house at Rome has given us some of those Epistles of St. Paul which have gone far to convert the world; and the finest allegory in the English language was written in Bedford gaol. "If we suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are we." There are prisoners who are not the Lord's. There are some fast bound in the misery and iron of bad habits, and habitual sin. These are lying in the condemned cell, bound hand and foot with the devil's chain. And I tell you that you will often find this life a prison house, where you must give up your own will, deny yourselves, learn to endure hardness, and to bear the chain which suffering, or neglect, or ignorance put upon you. If you are indeed the prisoners of the Lord, the iron of your chain will make you brave to suffer and be strong.
(H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,