And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard…
I. WHAT A WORLD OF THOUGHT IS OPENED WHEN WE THINK OF ST. PAUL AND ROME TOGETHER! The first is among the most prominent characters in God's history of the world; the second is a representative of the might and majesty of earthly dominion. There is moral beauty on one side, material grandeur on the other. The spiritual teacher shows us what goodness could do, witnessing for God in the midst of an evil world; the conquering nation, aiming at universal empire, shows us what could be accomplished by strong wills and daring enterprise, combined with favouring opportunities and political sagacity of the highest kind. We hear of Rome, and think at once of crushing power, well symbolised by the beast which Daniel saw, "exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, which devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet." We hear of St. Paul, and think at once of a suffering man, beset by enemies and persecutors, yet in his feebleness, with no weapons but truth and charity, casting down many a stronghold, and winning blessed triumphs over the powers of this world and the powers of darkness. He entered Rome a prisoner. Its streets were busy with life; citizens were abroad on business or pleasure. In that vast assemblage of untold multitudes human society would be presented in all its various aspects, from the patrician who had a hundred slaves drudging in his halls, to the captive soldier who had walked in procession behind some general's car of triumph, and might soon be called to make sport for the populace, while he fought for his life against fearful odds. Along those peopled highways St. Paul would travel, and look around him at all that was new and wonderful, not like one who came to feed an eager curiosity, but with the inward feeling that God hath sent him thither; and that there, among those teeming multitudes, were some whom God's word might reach. There was nothing of fear, we are sure, and nothing, probably, of sadness, in his countenance as he paced those endless streets. He came charged with a message from the King of kings.
II. LITTLE DOES MAN'S JUDGMENT, AS THE TIDE OF EVENTS ROLLS ON, ACCORD WITH GOD'S. The first have become last, and the last first, since then. Nero has gone down to his grave with shame. And what is proud Rome itself? A city of ruins. And if we ask where her successor is to be found, we can name no other than London; and if the stranger who catches a first glimpse of its distant outline, asks what is the dome that towers over every meaner edifice, the answer itself marks the strange revolution of which I have been speaking — the lifting up of some, the casting down of others. Never let us think that contrasts of this kind are things of the past only. How little, often, are our great men, and how great our little men! What base, earthly, mammon-loving selfishness is seen in high places, and what heroic virtues are found often among those who drudge for a bare living.
III. MARK THE DILIGENCE AND PROMPTITUDE OF THE APOSTLE IN HIS NEW SPHERE OF ACTION (vers. 17-24).
1. For two whole years, which had elapsed when the history was finished, St. Paul's preaching work was continued. He was bound, but not silenced; and so little jealous, at this period, were Nero or his officers of any rival creed that the man who said that other religions were lies, and that only by the name of Christ could men be saved, spake "with all confidence, no man forbidding him," and with much success. So "the kingdom of God," often, "cometh not with observation." Thus the wheat groweth while men sleep. It was not strange that St. Paul should be brought to Rome; but, assuredly, we should not have expected that he would be brought thither in chains, and then have liberty to preach to all comers. Had he been at large, his zeal might have prompted him to preach in the Forum, as it prompted him to preach on Mars' hill. In that case, short work might have been made with this troubler of the peace of Rome; but, as God ordered it, His servant was guarded without being positively secluded. His hired house was his castle, and it was kept by one of Caesar's soldiers, and numbers resorted thither from day to day; and soon, in the very household of the emperor, some were found who became obedient to the faith. Never let us think that nothing can be done for Christ but in some way that shall fix upon us the gaze of our fellow men. Godly zeal need not stand upon the public highways, nor lift its voice among the throng; it may love the shady nook, and work effectually in some secluded sphere. Only let us not plead modesty when our real feeling is deadness of heart towards spiritual things, and the reason why nothing is ever attempted for God is just this — that we are sinfully pleased and contented with the world as it is.
2. But Paul's spoken words in Rome are for the most part lost. Other words, however, are recorded, which shall never perish. Read the Epistles to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, and think what a treasure that was for the Church of his day, and ours to gain from his captivity. How would the distant brethren be stirred up to holy zeal and diligence when the words of so brave a captain charged them to be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might!" How would some learn to bear their crosses when, after years of captivity, while he longed to be astir, yet was willing, if God so willed it, to be "an ambassador in bonds," they received the welcome letter, and met with those comforting words, "I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content;" "I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me!"
(J. Hampton Gurney, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.