by Ellen G. White
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Chapter 32: Martyrdom of Paul and Peter
The apostles Paul and Peter were for manyyears widely separated in their labors, it beingthe work of Paul to carry the gospel to theGentiles, while Peter labored especially for theJews. But in the providence of God, both wereto bear witness for Christ in the world's metropolis,and upon its soil both were to shed theirblood as the seedof a vast harvest of saints andmartyrs.
About the time of Paul's second arrest, Peteralso was apprehended and thrust into prison.He had made himself especially obnoxious tothe authorities by his zeal and success in exposingthe deceptions and defeating the plots ofSimon Magus the sorcerer, who had followedhim to Rome to oppose and hinder the workof the gospel. Nero was a believer in magic,and had patronized Simon. He was thereforegreatly incensed against the apostle, and wasthus prompted to order his arrest.
The emperor's malice against Paul was heightenedby the fact that members of the imperialhousehold, and also other persons of distinction,had been converted to Christianity during hisfirst imprisonment. For this reason he made [p. 329] the second imprisonment much more severe thanthe first, granting him little opportunity to preachthe gospel; and he determined to cut short hislife as soon as a plausible pretext could be foundfor so doing. Nero's mind was so impressedwith the force of the apostle's words at his lasttrial that he deferred the decision of the case,neither acquitting nor condemning him. Butthe sentence was only deferred. It was not longbefore the decision was pronounced whichconsigned Paul to a martyr's grave. Being a Romancitizen, he could not be subjected to torture, andwas therefore sentenced to be beheaded.
Peter, as a Jew and a foreigner, wascondemned to be scourged and crucified. Inprospect of this fearful death, the apostleremembered his great sin in denying Jesus in the hourof trial, and his only thought was, that he wasunworthy of so great an honor as to die in thesame manner as did his Master. Peter hadsincerely repented of that sin, and had beenforgiven by Christ, as is shown by the highcommission given him to feed the sheep and lambsof the flock. But he could never forgivehimself. Not even the thought of the agonies ofthe last terrible scene could lessen the bitternessof his sorrow and repentance. As a last favorhe entreated his executioners that he might benailed to the cross with his head downward.The request was granted, and in this mannerdied the great apostle Peter.
Paul was led in a private manner to the placeof execution. His persecutors, alarmed at theextent of his influence, feared that convertsmight be won to Christianity, even by the scenesof his death. Hence few spectators were [p. 330] allowed to be present. But the hardened soldiersappointed to attend him, listened to his words,and with amazement saw him cheerful and evenjoyous in prospect of such a death. His spiritof forgiveness toward his murderers, and hisunwavering confidence in Christ to the very last,proved a savor of life unto life to some whowitnessed his martyrdom. More than one erelongaccepted the Saviour whom Paul preached, andfearlessly sealed their faith with their blood.
The life of Paul, to its very latest hour, testifiedto the truth of his words in the second Epistleto the Corinthians: "For God, who commandedthe light to shine out of darkness, hath shined inour hearts, to give the light of the knowledge ofthe glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, thatthe excellency of the power may be of God, andnot of us. We are troubled on every side, yetnot distressed; we are perplexed, but not indespair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down,but not destroyed; always bearing about in thebody the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the lifealso of Jesus might be made manifest in ourbody." His sufficiency was not in himself, butin the presence and agency of the divine Spiritthat filled his soul, and brought every thoughtinto subjection to the will of Christ. The fact thathis own life exemplified the truth he proclaimed,gave convincing power to both his preaching andhis deportment. Says the prophet, "Thou wiltkeep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayedon Thee; because he trusteth in Thee." It wasthis Heaven-born peace, expressed upon thecountenance, that won many a soul to the gospel.
The apostle was looking into the great beyond, [p. 331] not with uncertainty or in dread, but with joyfulhope and longing expectation. As he stood atthe place of martyrdom, he saw not the gleamingsword of the executioner, or the green earthso soon to receive his blood; he looked up throughthe calm blue heaven of that summer's day to thethrone of the Eternal. His language was, OLord, thou art my comfort and my portion.When shall I embrace thee? when shall I beholdthee for myself, without a dimming vail between?
Paul carried with him through his life on earththe very atmosphere of Heaven. All whoassociated with him felt the influence of his connectionwith Christ and companionship with angels.Here lies the power of the truth. The unstudied,unconscious influence of a holy life is the mostconvincing sermon that can be given in favor ofChristianity. Argument, even when unanswerable,may provoke only opposition; but a godlyexample has a power which it is impossible whollyto resist.
While the apostle lost sight of his own nearsufferings, he felt a deep solicitude for thedisciples whom he was about to leave to cope withprejudice, hatred, and persecution. He endeavoredto strengthen and encourage the few Christianswho accompanied him to the place ofexecution, by repeating the exceeding preciouspromises given for those who are persecuted forrighteousness' sake. He assures them that nothingshall fail of all that the Lord hath spokenconcerning his tried and faithful ones. They shallarise and shine; for the light of the Lord shallarise upon them. They shall put on theirbeautiful garments when the glory of the Lord shallbe revealed. For a little season they may be in [p. 332] heaviness through manifold temptations, theymay be destitute of earthly comfort; but theymust encourage their hearts by saying, I knowin whom I have believed. He is able to keepthat which I have committed to his trust. Hisrebuke will come to an end, and the glad morningof peace and perfect day will come.
Paul declared to his brethren, It did notappear to our fathers what great and good thingsshould be given to those who believe in Jesus.They desired to see the things which we see,and to hear the things which we hear, but theydied without the sight or the knowledge. Thegreater light which we have received is shed uponus by the gospel of Christ. Holy men of oldwere acknowledged and honored of God becausethey were faithful over a few things; and it isonly those that improve with the same fidelitytheir greater trust, who will with them be countedprofitable servants, and be crowned with glory,honor, and immortality.
This man of faith beholds the ladder presentedin Jacob's vision,—the ladder which rested uponthe earth and reached to the highest heavens, andupon which angels of God were ascending anddescending. He knows that this ladder representsChrist, who has connected earth withHeaven, and finite man with the infinite God.He hears angels and archangels magnifying thatglorious name. His faith is strengthened as hecalls to mind that patriarchs and prophets reliedupon the same Saviour who is his support andconsolation, and for whom he is giving his life.Those holy men who from century to century sentdown their testimony for the truth, and the apostles,who to preach the gospel of Christ went out to [p. 333] meet religious bigotry and heathen superstition,who counted not their lives dear unto themselves ifthey might bear aloft the light of the cross amidthe dark mazes of infidelity,—all these he hearswitnessing to Jesus as the Son of the Most High,the Saviour of the world. The martyr's shout oftriumph, the fearless testimony for the faith, fallsupon his ear from the rack, the stake, thedungeon, from the dens and caves of the earth, fromsteadfast souls who are destitute, afflicted,tormented, yet of whom the world is not worthy.With a continually strengthening assurance theydeclare, "I know whom I have believed." Andas they yield up their lives as witnesses for thefaith, they bear a solemn, condemning testimonyto the world, declaring that He in whom theytrusted has proved himself able to save to theuttermost.
The Captain of our salvation has preparedhis servant for the last great conflict. Ransomedby the sacrifice of Christ, washed from sin in hisblood, and clothed in his righteousness, Paul hasthe witness in himself that his soul is precious inthe sight of his Redeemer. His life is hid withChrist in God, and he is persuaded that He whohas conquered death is able to keep that whichis committed to his trust. His mind grasps theSaviour's promise, "I will raise him up at thelast day." His thoughts and hopes are centeredin the second advent of his Lord. And as thesword of the executioner descends, and theshadows of death gather about the martyr's soul,his latest thought springs forward, as will hisearliest thought in the great awakening, to meetthe Lifegiver who shall welcome him to the joyof the blest. [p. 334]
Well-nigh a score of centuries have passedsince Paul the aged poured out his blood as awitness for the word of God and for thetestimony of Christ. No faithful hand recorded forthe generations to come, the last scenes in the lifeof this holy man; but inspiration has preservedfor us his dying testimony. Like a trumpet pealhas his voice rung out through all the ages, nervingwith his own courage thousands of witnessesfor Christ, and wakening in thousands ofsorrow-stricken hearts the echo of his own triumphantjoy: "I am now ready to be offered, and thetime of my departure is at hand. I have foughta good fight, I have finished my course, I havekept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up forme a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, therighteous Judge, shall give me at that day; andnot to me only, but unto all them also that lovehis appearing."
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