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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

- 2 Timothy

by Joseph Sutcliffe


WE now come to the last moments of Paul’s illustrious life, and find him in close confinement, bound with a chain, and preparing for the martyr’s crown: 2 Timothy 4:6. He suffered, according to Eusebius’s Chronicum, in the thirty seventh year after the ascension, and in the fourteenth year of Nero.

Eusebius quotes and abbreviates the words of Tertullian on those tragic events: lib. 2. c. 24. 3. c. 1. “Consult your records, and there you will find that Nero was the first who unsheathed the imperial sword ferociously against this sect, then flourishing in Rome. But we glory indeed in such a commencer of our persecution; for he who knows must know, that nothing but what was good was condemned by Nero.”

Eusebius also quotes the words of Cajus, an ecclesiastic, who, when writing against Proclus, a defender of the Cataphrygians, says, “If you would go to the Vatican, [where Peter was buried] or to the via ostia, [where Paul was interred] you would find the trophies of those who founded this church, and who both suffered martyrdom at the same time,” that is, during the same persecution. Origen confirms this statement in his third volume of commentaries on the book of Genesis.

St. Paul, in the first epistle, having given Timothy hopes of coming soon to Ephesus, now writes as one who knew by the spirit of prophecy, that the time of his departure was near. He cautions Timothy of the evil times, when men would place religion in words, and subvert its foundation, and guards him against their instability.

Dr. Macknight thinks that the case of Paul and others was involved in the popular fury of the Romans against the Christians, who were most wickedly and cruelly charged by Nero with having set fire to the city.

Father Coeffeteau has collected in his Roman history the substance of what is said of that unexampled case of atrocious wickedness; and according to this writer, Nero was often heard to say, that Priam was the happiest prince in the world, because he had lived to see his city in flames after his kingdom was lost. In order therefore, as is believed, to gratify his cruel rage, Nero sent his servants secretly, feigning themselves to be drunk, to set fire to all parts of the city; and this was done so notoriously that persons of quality found in their chambers Nero’s servants with wisps of straw to set fire to their mansions. This was the greatest conflagration that had ever happened to Rome.

The burning commenced in shops where oil and linens were sold, and the flames, impelled by a strong wind, raged with incredible fury, and devastated all things in its progress. The fire having commenced in the lower houses, presently reached those that were lofty. The flames were so impetuous, and the smoke so dense and voluminous, that no man could approach. The city continued to burn with great fury for six days, and on the ninth day the fire was not wholly extinguished.

The case of the people, in a state of complete destitution, was still more deplorable; to see them, while endeavouring to save their wives and their children, perishing themselves in the fire. While cautious on the one hand, they were surprised on the other; and even those who could have saved themselves, seemed deprived of all power to escape, except to the tombs. In fact they were so astounded, that they knew neither what they ought to advise, nor what they ought to do. They fell down in the streets, and in the fields; some having lost their all, and had no means to support the remains of life. Others died of grief, to see what had happened to their relatives, who had perished in the fire. Some, when they saw people extinguishing the fire, hindered them, using menaces, and saying that they well knew who had commanded the city to be burned.

We are told that Nero, on seeing the fire from the tower of Mecænas, was ravished with delight; that he took the robe he usually wore at the theatre, and sung the destruction of Troy; or rather, as others turned the song, to see the ruin of Rome.

After the conflagration, which had nearly consumed ten wards of the city out of fourteen, Nero affected to be the most humane of princes. He opened the camp of Mars, and his own gardens for the destitute. But all those good graces were unavailing, as all the world believed him to be the author of the conflagration, that he might acquire the vain glory of being called the builder of the city. They quoted against him the verses of the Sibylline oracles, that the Roman empire should be desolated, when the last prince of the house of Æneas should reign. To this they added another line: “This was he who had killed his mother.” Suetonius admits that Nero was the last prince of the Trojan race.

But to complete the tragedy, and wipe away the stain, Nero charged on those, the innocent christians, who were at that time numerous in the city, the very crime which he had himself committed. They were in consequence dragged by popular fury to Nero’s gardens, and put to various tortures. The executioners exhausted their ingenuity to extort confessions. Some they clothed in the skins of wild beasts, and set the hungry dogs to worry them. Others they nailed to crosses, and surrounded them with faggots, that the flames during the night might illuminate the city. But the heroic manner in which they died softened the fury of the populace, who declared them innocent, and said that the christians were massacred to gratify the malice of individuals.

The end of this impious tyrant was truly awful. Several conspiracies were formed against him by his own subjects, who were no longer able to endure his unparalleled vice and profligacy, till at length the Roman senate condemned him to be dragged naked through the streets of the city, to be whipped to death, and afterwards thrown down from the top of a rock like the meanest malefactor. Nero escaped the execution of the sentence by committing suicide in the thirty second year of his age, after a horrid reign of thirteen years and eight months, and in the year of our Lord sixty eight. Pliny calls him the common enemy and the fury of mankind, and in this he has been followed by all writers, who exhibit Nero as a pattern of the most execrable profligacy and barbarity.

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