Acts 28:16-24, 30, 31
Let us analyze our lesson this morning, of which the basis, historically stated, is the visit of Paul to Rome. Paul had looked forward to visiting Rome in the interest of his new-found faith, but I presume he didn't anticipate just the character of that visit. He didn't think that he would be taken to Rome as a prisoner; but under that limitation he did accomplish what he set out to accomplish.
As we study the history of Paul, and also compare that journey and his zeal and enthusiasm with the truth that is coursing through our minds, we shall get a lesson. Not only the historical background will be presented to us, but we shall see how the same incidents and the same relations that occurred in the life of Paul occur in our lives if we follow the same law. But If we desire to improve upon the action of that law, we can do so. We don't look upon Paul as being a perfect expression of the law, as Jesus was. He was closer to us in his religious activity; more of the human in him.
Ancient Rome had a population of, history says at this time, about one million and a half. Accurately stated, it was 1,600,000 persons, and it was easily the capital of the world. It had fabulous wealth. It had the greatest might of any city in the Roman Empire, and it was self-complacent and arrogant, of course. The people of Rome knew that they represented the capital of the world, and they were filled with that assurance that they had everything and didn't need any instruction from any outside source. So Paul was not of any great Importance as a Roman citizen.
I say Rome was the greatest city in the world, and yet religious people would contend that Jerusalem was. Jerusalem was the spiritual, center of the western world, but, to the ruling class, Rome was the spiritual center. They had their deities. They were, from our standpoint, pagans, but from their own standpoint they were religious; they had many temples and they had a spiritual government. Their spiritual leaders were at that time considered the greatest in the world, and yet here was one little man, in chains, a criminal in the sight of the law. He set out to capture this great city for Christ and, unbelievable as it may seem, he succeeded. He succeeded, for the preaching of Paul set into action certain seed ideas that grew into the great tree called Christianity.
This came about in almost a miraculous way. Paul was converted to Christianity through a marvelous demonstration in the heavens. The Lord Jesus appeared to him in the heavens and talked to him when he was warring against Christianity; when he was its greatest enemy, putting its followers in prison, even killing them. He was a witness to the death of Stephen. The conversion of Constantlne, Emperor of Rome, came about in a way almost identical with that of Paul. Constantlne leaned toward Christianity, but he was not a convert. He had a vision. He saw one time a blazing cross in the heavens, and, in Latin across the face of this cross, appeared the words, "By this conquer." This made such an impression upon Constantlne that he espoused Christianity, and Christianity became the state religion of Rome.
Constantlne, as you will remember, called that great conclave at Nice in which the present Bible was formulated. There had been many books that were not considered authority, and some were, but there was no Bible up to the time of Constantlne such as we have now; but this pagan emperor was converted to Christianity, not altogether through the preaching of Paul, but Paul opened the way. His mind was quickened, as were millions of Romans, and out of the work of this little insignificant Jew who, as he admits, was of mean presence physically, poor of speech — I hardly think that is true, however, from the amount of writing and talking that he did; but he was of no importance in the sight of the religious world, nor the political world, nor any world at that time. As I say, he was not only not representing the Jews or the Christians; he had no authority. He was a criminal, he was chained. His left hand was chained day and night to the right hand of a Roman soldier. And yet this man had the courage to, in the back of his head, think about conquering the world for Christ; and he went to Rome under all these adverse circumstances, and he preached and he worked and he taught.
Finally — of course it took time — as the years went on, he became the champion saint of the religious world, and we have put him on a pedestal,and in heaven. But we know that he was a man, with the limitations of man, but illumined with this Christ Spirit. And as we look at his experience and compare it with ours, we see how many advantages we have; how thankful we should be that we are not in bondage to Rome. And yet we may be in bondage to that same human limitation which Rome represents.
Paul went to Rome in bondage to the Roman emperor because he had not really lived up to the fullness of his privileges, spiritually expressed. He had appealed to Caesar when the forty Jews had taken an oath to neither eat nor drink until they had killed him. In that extremity he appealed to Caesar; but that appeal put him in bondage to something else. And what was that bondage? Looking at it metaphysically, we come under the material law. He put himself in that bondage; and comparing his experience with ours in the development of the spiritual man, we say that we do exactly the same thing every time that we take advantage of the material side of our lives and think, "Well, if it don't work spiritually, I will try out the material." And this is done in many ways.
I know people who believe in divine healing, but they think, "Well, if the word of God doesn't work, I know of a remedy that I used to take before I knew about this Truth, and I will just fall back on that." Here is the mind divided, and the divided mind always works out a divided result. We come in bondage to the law which is not truly spiritual. At the same time, there is a constant ongoing.
Now, Paul, when he came to Rome, claimed that he had done nothing against the religion of the Jews, yet was delivered prisoner into the hands of the Romans. He made that defense, and he said, "Now, why is it? I have not done anything against the divine law, and yet here I am a prisoner." Don't we sometimes make that same appeal? We say, "I have been true to the Truth; I have just kept the law; I pray day and night, and yet here I am in bondage to some material condition. I am not demonstrating like I should, and why shouldn't I demonstrate when I have been so faithful to the law?" Well, you have not been faithful to the law. As I say, you will find that in your subconscious, it may be, you have appealed to Caesar. You have resorted, in a subtle way, to some side issue. You have not been right true to Spirit.
I am satisfied that although the forty Jews had conspired to kill Paul, if he had trusted wholly in the Lord and come boldly right out and said, "I am going to trust God to save me," he would have been saved in some way. But, you see, he worked it out in this material way: he fell back on his Roman citizenship. In other words, he came under this outer expression of the divine law. He did work it out finally, notwithstanding these limitations. The word of Truth did find an outlet, because of his enthusiasm, because of that zeal for the Truth which was really the background of his life.
This brings us to the practical issues involved in this. What shall we do in delivering ourselves out of the bondages of materiality which seem to beset us on every side? Shall we continue to be subject to this handicap of materiality? or can we rise out of it and come into the clear light of the Spirit? This will depend entirely upon our loyalty to the Truth. If you believe wholly in Spirit and have gone deeply into the causes underlying the conditions in your life, we will guarantee that you will demonstrate successfully, and that you will overcome. It may be that this overcoming and this result will be in a roundabout way. It may not be as perfect as you have idealized; but if you are faithful to the Truth, the Truth will be faithful to you. This is a law — the law of mind activity.
The Christian world today is not living up to the law of the Spirit. The Christian leaders are not claiming the fullness of the law, but, like Paul, they are resorting to the law, the Roman law, the material, reigning powers. Today, we are advised that this is health week, and this Sunday is the beginning of a week devoted to, we would say, prayer for the healing of those diseases that beset the human family which materia medica has not yet conquered; and especially for this week we are to give, not only, I suppose, our prayers, but our money to the helping of those persons who are under the claim of consumption — tuberculosis. In the appeals that I have seen in the daily press, I have not noticed any that asked for prayers, but the sale of seals for the support of tubercular hospitals, and remedies that the medical school have discovered. And, so far as I can learn, none of these remedies are really healing tuberculosis. The only remedies that really heal, so far as I have discerned, are sunshine and air. Those are the remedies that do the best work. These serums that they are searching out, and these drug systems have signally failed; but as we spiritually analyze air and sunshine, we discern that they are spiritual. Sunshine is life.' Air has that life quality,that ozone, that gives the body more action, more energy; and, as I say, we go back into the source of things, and we find that the only healing remedies are spiritual.
We would add to sunshine an air, exercise and food, that some of the healing systems of materia medica are stuffing; stuffing the patient with food, keeping him quiet. That is one of our remedies also. I don't advise stuffing especially, but quiet, because tuberculosis is caused by mental energy and zeal and enthusiasm, that eat up, consume the cells of the body.
We are told that Paul lived here in Rome two years, and no one knows just what became of him. History gives us no clue, neither do the Scriptures. There is a legend to the effect that under Nero, when the Christians were persecuted, Paul was beheaded. But there is nothing authentic in that matter, and we sometimes wonder why Paul didn't overcome that thorn in the flesh, and also what was that thorn in the flesh. These questions came to me one day, and I would give you a little confidential reason as to the answer. I asked the Lord to show me what became of Paul, and what was the thorn in the flesh. The Spirit told me that the thorn in the flesh was really a racking cough; he was the victim of consumption. When he went to Rome he had tuberculosis. Under the Roman law, if a prisoner was kept in prison for eighteen months without trial, he was released. Paul was in Rome two years when he disappeared, but the Spirit showed me that he was released, and that he went to a little town in the hills near Rome. His friends took him there, in the last stages of consumption, and there he died. So he was not beheaded, and I am sure that this was good history. I am sure that when the Spirit shows me a thing like that, it is the truth.
Then I asked again, if Paul understood this truth, why he didn't overcome this disability. There is a lesson for us, that through our zeal for even spiritual things, we are apt to overdo, and in that way consume the vital forces in the organism itself. As it is written in the Psalms, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up." You can be so zealous for the Spirit, for the development of spiritual truth, for the carrying of even Christianity to the people, that you overcome your own quietness, your, own peace, that harmony within you which the physical man requires, and you would consume, or have consumption, as a result.
So, we find that we must have peace of mind; we must have harmony; we must have conservation of our forces. And the Spirit within will give these to us if we will only "be still, and know that I am God."
UNITY SCHOOL OF CHRISTIANITY