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CHAPTER II.

THE CONVERSION OF THE PERSECUTOR.

"But Saul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison."—Acts viii. 3.

"But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do."—Acts ix. 1-6.

We have in the last chapter traced the course of St. Paul's life as we know it from his own reminiscences, from hints in Holy Scripture, and from Jewish history and customs. The Jewish nation is exactly like all the nations of the East, in one respect at least. They are all intensely conservative, and though time has necessarily introduced some modifications, yet the course of education, and the force of prejudice, and the power of custom have in the main remained unchanged down to the present time. We now proceed to view St. Paul, not as we imagine his course of life and education to have been, but as we follow him in the exhibition of his active powers, in the full play and23 swing of that intellectual energy, of those religious aims and objects for which he had been so long training.

St. Paul at his first appearance upon the stage of Christian history, upon the occasion of St. Stephen's martyrdom, had arrived at the full stature of manhood both in body and in mind. He was then the young man Saul; an expression which enables us to fix with some approach to accuracy the time of his birth. St. Paul's contemporary Philo in one of his works divides man's life into seven periods, the fourth of which is young manhood, which he assigns to the years between twenty-one and twenty-eight. Roughly speaking, and without attempting any fine-drawn distinctions for which we have not sufficient material, we may say that at the martyrdom of St. Stephen St. Paul was about thirty years of age, or some ten years or thereabouts junior to our Lord as His years would have been numbered according to those of the sons of men. One circumstance, indeed, would seem to indicate that St. Paul must have been then over and above the exact line of thirty. It is urged, and that upon the ground of St. Paul's own language, that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. In the twenty-sixth chapter, defending himself before King Agrippa, St. Paul described his own course of action prior to his conversion as one of bitterest hostility to the Christian cause: "I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death, I gave my vote against them"; an expression which clearly indicates that he was a member of a body and possessed a vote in an assembly which determined questions of life and death, and that could have been nothing else than the Sanhedrin, into which no one was admitted before he had completed thirty years. St. Paul, then, when he is first introduced24 to our notice, comes before us as a full-grown man and a well-trained, carefully educated, thoroughly disciplined rabbinical scholar, whose prejudices were naturally excited against the new Galilean sect, and who had given public expression to his feelings by taking decided steps in opposition to its progress. The sacred narrative now sets before us (i) the Conduct of St. Paul in his unconverted state, (ii) his Mission, (iii) his Journey, and (iv) his Conversion. Let us take the many details and circumstances connected with this passage under these four divisions.

I. The Conduct of Saul. Here we have a picture of St. Paul in his unconverted state: "Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord." This description is amply borne out by St. Paul himself, in which he even enlarges and gives us additional touches of the intensity of his antichristian hate. His ignorant zeal at this period seems to have printed itself deep upon memory's record. There are no less than at least seven different notices in the Acts or scattered through the Epistles, due to his own tongue or pen, and dealing directly with his conduct as a persecutor. No matter how he rejoiced in the fulness and blessedness of Christ's pardon, no matter how he experienced the power and working of God's Holy Spirit, St. Paul never could forget the intense hatred with which he had originally followed the disciples of the Master. Let us note them, for they all bear out, expand, and explain the statement of the passage we are now considering.

In his address to the Jews of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts xxii. he appeals to his former conduct as an evidence of his sincerity. In verses 4 and 5 he says, "I persecuted this Way unto the death, binding and delivering25 into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren,1818   What an interesting anticipation of Christian times do we find in this passage. "The estate of the elders" is the Presbytery in the original Greek, and the words "the brethren" by which St. Paul refers to his unconverted fellow-countrymen are an anticipation of the expression he always uses for the Christian believers. Even in these little details Christianity is but an expansion of Judaism, as, in another direction, the Catacombs of Rome and the ornamentation used therein were all derived from the customs of the Jewish colony in Rome long before the time of Christ. See a treatise by Schurer, called Die Gemeindeverfassung der Juden in Rom in der Kaiserzeit, p. 13 (Leipzig, 1879), where that learned writer points out the continuity between Judaism in Rome and early Christianity. and journeyed to Damascus, to bring them also which were there unto Jerusalem in bonds, for to be punished." In the same discourse he recurs a second time to this topic; for, telling his audience of the vision granted to him in the temple, he says, verse 19, "And I said, Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on Thee: and when the blood of Stephen Thy witness was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting, and keeping the garments of them that slew him." St. Paul dwells upon the same topic in the twenty-sixth chapter, when addressing King Agrippa in verses 9-11, a passage already quoted in part: "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this I also did in Jerusalem: and I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death, I gave my vote against them. And punishing them oftentimes in all the synagogues, I strove to make them blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted26 them even unto foreign cities." It is the same in his Epistles. In four different places does he refer to his conduct as a persecutor—in 1 Cor. xv. 9; Gal. i. 13; Phil. iii. 6; and 1 Tim. i. 13; while again in the chapter now under consideration, the ninth of Acts, we find that the Jews of the synagogue in Damascus, who were listening to St. Paul's earliest outburst of Christian zeal, asked, "Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havock of them which called on this name? and he had come hither for this intent, that he might bring them bound before the chief priests"; using the very same word "making havock" as St. Paul himself uses in the first of Galatians, which in Greek is very strong, expressing a course of action accompanied with fire and blood and murder such as occurs when a city is taken by storm.

Now these passages have been thus set forth at length because they add many details to the bare statement of Acts ix., giving us a glimpse into those four or five dark and bloody years, the thought of which henceforth weighed so heavily upon the Apostle's mind and memory. Just let us notice these additional touches. He shut up in prison many of the saints, both men and women, and that in Jerusalem before he went to Damascus at all. He scourged the disciples in every synagogue, meaning doubtless that he superintended the punishment, as it was the duty of the Chazan, the minister or attendant of the synagogue, to scourge the condemned, and thus strove to make them blaspheme Christ. He voted for the execution of the disciples when he acted as a member of the Sanhedrin. And lastly he followed the disciples and persecuted them in foreign cities. We gain in this way a much fuller idea of the young enthusiast's persecuting zeal27 than usually is formed from the words "Saul yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord," which seem to set forth Saul as roused to wild and savage excitement by St. Stephen's death, and then continuing that course in the city of Jerusalem for a very brief period. Whereas, on the contrary, St. Paul's fuller statements, when combined, represent him as pursuing a course of steady, systematic, and cruel repression, which St. Paul largely helped to inaugurate, but which continued to exist as long as the Jews had the power to inflict corporal punishments and death on the members of their own nation. He visited all the synagogues in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine, scourging and imprisoning. He strove—and this is, again, another lifelike touch,—to compel the disciples to blaspheme the name of Christ in the same manner as the Romans were subsequently wont to test Christians by calling upon them to cry anathema to the name of their Master.1919   St. Paul, indeed, in his persecuting days may have been the inventor of the test, which seems to have consisted in a declaration that Jesus was not the Christ, but an impostor. We find a reference to the Jewish custom of blaspheming the name of Jesus in the Epistle of James (ii. 6, 7): "Do not the rich oppress you, and themselves drag you before the judgment-seats? Do not they blaspheme the honourable name by the which ye are called?" with which may be compared St. Paul's words in 1 Cor. xii. 3: "No man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema." The same custom continued in the second century, as we learn from frequent notices in Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, as in the following quotations: ch. xvi., "cursing in your synagogues those that believe on Christ"; in ch. xlvii. he enumerates amongst those who shall not be saved "those who have anathematised and do anathematise this very Christ in the synagogues"; and in ch. cxxxvii. he exhorts the Jews, "Assent, therefore, and pour no ridicule on the Son of God; obey not the Pharisaic teachers, and scoff not at the King of Israel, as the rulers of your synagogues teach you to do after your prayers." The Romans, as I have said, early borrowed the custom from the Jews. They strove to compel the Christians to blaspheme, as we see from Pliny's well-known epistle to Trajan in his Epistles, book x., 97, where he describes certain persons brought before him as "invoking the gods, worshipping the emperor's statue, and reviling the name of Christ, whereas there is no forcing those who are really Christians into any of these compliances." He even extended his activity beyond the bounds of the Holy Land, and that in various directions. The visit to Damascus may not by any means have been his first journey to a foreign town with thoughts bent on the work of persecution. He expressly says to Agrippa,28 "I persecuted them even unto foreign cities." He may have visited Tarsus, or Lystra, or the cities of Cyprus or Alexandria itself, urged on by the consuming fire of his blind, restless zeal, before he entered upon the journey to Damascus, destined to be the last undertaken in opposition to Jesus Christ. When we thus strive to realise the facts of the case, we shall see that the scenes of blood and torture and death, the ruined homes, the tears, the heartbreaking separations which the young man Saul had caused in his blind zeal for the law, and which are briefly summed up in the words "he made havock of the Church," were quite sufficient to account for that profound impression of his own unworthiness and of God's great mercy towards him which he ever cherished to his dying day.2020   St. Paul, in 1 Tim. i. 15, says, "Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." This verse is of ancient and of very modern interest too. It shows that to the last St. Paul retained the keenest sense of his early wickedness. It is of present interest because it helps to correct a modern error. There are people who object to use the Litany and the Lord's Prayer because of the prayers for forgiveness of sins and the occurrence of such expressions as "Have mercy upon us, miserable sinners." Their argument is, that believers have been washed from all their sins, and therefore should not describe themselves as miserable sinners. St. Paul, however, saw no inconsistency between God's free forgiving love and his own humility in designating himself the chief of sinners. God may have cast all our sins behind His back; but, viewing the matter from the human side, it is well, nay, it is absolutely necessary, if spiritual pride is to be hindered in its rapid growth, for us to cherish a remembrance of the sins and backslidings of other days. The greatest saints, the richest spiritual teachers have ever felt the necessity of it. St. Augustine in his Confessions mingles perpetual reminiscences of his own wickedness with his assured sense of God's mercy. Hooker deals in his own profound style with such objection to the Litany in the Fifth Book of his Ecclesiastical Polity, ch. xlvii., where he writes, replying to the objection that the expressions of the Litany implying fear of God do not become God's saints: "The knowledge of our own unworthiness is not without belief in the merits of Christ. With that true fear which the one causeth there is coupled true boldness, and encouragement drawn from the other. The very silence which our own unworthiness putteth us unto doth itself make request for us, and that in the consequence of His grace. Looking inward we are stricken dumb, looking upward we speak and prevail. O happy mixture, wherein things contrary do so qualify and correct the danger of the other's excess, that neither boldness can make us presume as long as we are kept under with the sense of our own wretchedness; nor while we trust in the mercy of God through Jesus Christ, fear be able to tyrannise over us! As therefore our fear excludeth not that boldness which becometh saints; so if their familiarity with God (referring to his opponents) do not savour of this fear, it draweth too near that irreverent confidence wherewith true humility can never stand." Bishop Jeremy Taylor understood the bearing of St. Paul's view on personal religion. In his Holy Living, in the chapter on Humility, he teaches those who seek that grace thus: "Every day call to mind some one of thy foulest sins, or the most shameful of thy disgraces, or the indiscreetest of thy actions, or anything that did then most trouble thee, and apply it to the present swelling of thy spirit and opinion, and it may help to allay it."

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II. The Mission of Saul. Again, we notice in this passage that Saul, having shown his activity in other directions, now turned his attention to Damascus. There were political circumstances which may have hitherto hindered him from exercising the same supervision over the synagogue of Damascus which he had already extended to other foreign cities. The political30 history and circumstances of Damascus at this period are indeed rather obscure. The city seems to have been somewhat of a bone of contention between Herod Antipas, Aretas the king of Petra, and the Romans. About the time of St. Paul's conversion, which may be fixed at A.D. 37 or 38, there was a period of great disturbance in Palestine and Southern Syria. Pontius Pilate was deposed from his office and sent to Rome for judgment. Vitellius, the president of the whole Province of Syria, came into Palestine, changing the high priests, conciliating the Jews, and intervening in the war which raged between Herod Antipas and Aretas, his father-in-law. In the course of this last struggle Damascus seems to have changed its masters, and, while a Roman city till the year 37, it henceforth became an Arabian city, the property of King Aretas, till the reign of Nero, when it again returned beneath the Roman sway. Some one or other, or perhaps all these political circumstances combined may have hitherto prevented the Sanhedrin from taking active measures against the disciples at Damascus. But now things became settled. Caiaphas was deposed from the office of high priest upon the departure of Pontius Pilate. He had been a great friend and ally of Pilate; Vitellius therefore deprived Caiaphas of his sacred office, appointing in his stead Jonathan, son of Annas, the high priest. This Jonathan did not, however, long continue to occupy the position, as he was deposed by the same Roman magistrate, Vitellius, at the feast of Pentecost in the very same year, his brother Theophilus being appointed high priest in his room; so completely was the whole Levitical hierarchy, the entire Jewish establishment, ruled by the political officers of the Roman state. This Theophilus continued to hold the office for five or31 six years, and it must have been to Theophilus that Saul applied for letters unto Damascus authorising him to arrest the adherents of the new religion.2121   The references for all these changes are given in Lewin's Fasti, and in his Life of St. Paul, with which Josephus, Antiqq., XVIII., iv., should be compared.

And now a question here arises, How is it that the high priest could exercise such powers and arrest his co-religionists in a foreign town? The answer to this sheds a flood of light upon the state of the Jews of the Dispersion, as they were called. I have already said a little on this point, but it demands fuller discussion.2222   See vol. i., pp. 174-6, 271. The high priest at Jerusalem was regarded as a kind of head of the whole nation. He was viewed by the Romans as the Prince of the Jews,2323   The decree of Julius Cæsar, upon which the Jewish privileges were built, expressly calls the high priest the ethnarch (ἐθνάρχης), or ruler, of the Jews. See Josephus, Antiqq., XIV., x., 3. with whom they could formally treat, and by whom they could manage a nation which, differing from all others in its manners and customs, was scattered all over the world, and often gave much trouble. Julius Cæsar laid down the lines on which Jewish privileges and Roman policy were based, and that half a century before the Christian era. Julius Cæsar had been greatly assisted in his Alexandrian war by the Jewish high priest Hyrcanus, so he issued an edict in the year 47 B.C., which, after reciting the services of Hyrcanus, proceeds thus, "I command that Hyrcanus and his children do retain all the rights of the high priest, whether established by law or accorded by courtesy; and if hereafter any question arise touching the Jewish polity, I desire that the determination thereof be referred to him"; an edict which, confirmed as it was again and32 again, not only by Julius Cæsar, but by several subsequent emperors, gave the high priest the fullest jurisdiction over the Jews, wherever they dwelt, in things pertaining to their own religion.2424   This point is worked out at great length and with a multitude of references in Lewin's Life of St. Paul, ch. iv., vol. i., pp. 44-7. Josephus, in his Antiquities, book xiv., ch. x., gives the words of Cæsar's decree. In ch. viii. of the same book he describes the warlike assistance lent by the Jews to Julius Cæsar in his Egyptian campaign. It was therefore in strictest accord with Roman law and custom that, when Saul wished to arrest members of the synagogue at Damascus, he should make application to the high priest Theophilus for a warrant enabling him to effect his purpose.

The description, too, given of the disciples in this passage is very noteworthy and a striking evidence of the truthfulness of the narrative. The disciples were the men of "the Way." Saul desired to bring any of "the Way" found at Damascus to be judged at Jerusalem, because the Sanhedrin alone possessed the right to pass capital sentences in matters of religion. The synagogues at Damascus or anywhere else could flog culprits, and a Jew could get no redress for any such ill-treatment even if he sought it, which would have not been at all likely; but if the final sentence of death were to be passed, the Jerusalem Sanhedrin was the only tribunal competent to entertain such questions.2525   I know it is a common opinion that the Jews had no power of capital punishment and that the Romans permitted the infliction merely of scourgings and such minor penalties. Lightfoot, in his Horæ Hebraicæ on Matt. xxvi. 3; John xviii. 31; Acts ix. 2, controverts this view in long and learned notes. The Jews certainly stated to Pilate, according to John xviii. 31, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." But then, on the other hand, the Sanhedrin put St. Stephen to death, and St. Paul tells us that when the saints were put to death he voted against them; showing that the Sanhedrin did put many of the disciples to death. Lightfoot thinks that the Jews merely wished to throw the odium of our Lord's execution upon the Romans, and therefore pleaded their own inability to condemn Him for a capital offence, because of the particular chamber where the Sanhedrin then sat, where it was unlawful to judge a capital crime. The Pharisees, too, joined in the attempt to bring about our Lord's death, and their traditions made them averse to the shedding of Jewish blood by the Sanhedrin. The Sadducees were, however, the dominant party in the year 37, and they had no such scruples. They were always of a cruel and bloodthirsty disposition and stern in their punishments, as Josephus tells us in his Antiqq., XX., ix., 1. This was of course the natural result of their material philosophy which regarded man as devoid of any immortal principle. Lightfoot gives instances too (Matt. xxvi. 3) of a priest's daughter burned to death and of a man stoned at Lydda even after the destruction of the city, showing that the Sanhedrin still contrived to exercise capital jurisdiction. The time when Saul set out for Damascus was very favourable from political reasons for any new or unusual assumptions of authority on the part of the Sanhedrin. Vitellius the Prefect was very anxious to be deferential in every way to the Jewish authorities. He had just restored the custody of the high priest's robes to the Sanhedrin and the priests. This may have encouraged them to adopt the fiercest and sternest measures against the new sectaries. As for the minor punishment of flogging, the synagogues in Holland have been known to exercise it so lately as the seventeenth century. And the persons he desired to hale before33 this awful tribunal were the men of the Way. This was the name by which, in its earliest and purest day, the Church called itself. In the nineteenth chapter and ninth verse we read of St. Paul's labours at Ephesus and the opposition he endured: "But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude"; while again, in his defence before Felix (xxiv. 14), we read, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the Way which they call a sect, so serve I the God of our fathers." The Revised translation of the New Testament has well brought out the force of the original in a manner that was utterly missed in the Authorised Version, and has34 emphasized for us a great truth concerning the early Christians. There was a certain holy intolerance even about the very name they imposed upon the earliest Church. It was the Way, the only Way, the Way of Life. The earliest Christians had a lively recollection of what the Apostles had heard from the mouth of the Master Himself, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one cometh unto the Father but by Me"; and so, realising the identity of Christ and His people, realising the continued presence of Christ in His Church, they designated that Church by a term which expressed their belief that in it alone was the road to peace, the sole path of access to God. This name "the Way" expressed their sense of the importance of the truth. Their's was no easy-going religion which thought that it made not the slightest matter what form of belief a man professed. They were awfully in earnest, because they knew of only one way to God, and that was the religion and Church of Jesus Christ. Therefore it was that they were willing to suffer all things rather than that they should lose this Way, or that others should miss it through their default. The marvellous, the intense missionary efforts of the primitive Church find their explanation in this expression, the Way. God had revealed the Way and had called themselves into it, and their great duty in life was to make others know the greatness of this salvation; or, as St. Paul puts it, "Necessity is laid upon me; woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel."2626   The Acts of the Apostles in this respect throws an interesting light upon the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, published a few years ago by Bishop Bryennius, and helps us to fix its early date. That important relic of early Christianity never speaks of the followers of the new religion as Christians. It opens by describing the two ways, the way of Life, which is Christianity, and the way of Death. It must therefore have been composed when the memory of the Church's earliest designation, "the Way," was still fresh. By the time of Aristides (A.D. 125) and of Pliny the title "Christians" was the common one both inside and outside the Church.

The exclusive claims of Christianity are thus early35 set forth; and it was these same exclusive claims which caused Christianity to be so hated and persecuted by the pagans.2727   This sense of the awful importance of Christianity as the Way made the Christians enthusiastic and determined in their efforts to spread their religion. In the earliest apology or defence of Christianity, that of Aristides, which I have fully described in the previous volume of this Commentary, we find this fact openly avowed and gloried in as in the following passage: "As for their servants or handmaids, or their children, if they have any, they persuade them to become Christians for the love they have towards them; and when they have become so, they call them without distinction brethren." A system so broad as to view all religions as equally important would never have innate force enough to lead a man to become a missionary, and most certainly never would have produced a martyr. Christianity really understood is a very broad religion; its essential dogmas are very few; but there is a kind of breadth in religion now fashionable which the early Christians never understood or they would not have acted as they did. Who would have throw away his life amid the cruellest tortures if it was all the same whether men worshipped Jupiter or Jesus Christ? The Roman Empire would not have so bitterly resented the preaching of Christ, if His followers would have accepted the position with which other religions were contented. The Roman Empire was not intolerant of new ideas in matters of religion. Previous to the coming of our Lord the pagans had welcomed the strange, mystic rites and teaching of Egypt. They accepted from Persia the curious system and worship of Mithras within the first century after Christ's crucifixion. And tradition tells that at least two of the emperors were willing to admit the image of Christ into the Pantheon, which they had consecrated36 to the memory of the great and good.2828   Tertullian, about the year 200, tells us (Apologet., ch. v. and xxi.) that the Emperor Tiberius, under whom our Lord suffered, was so moved by Pilate's report of the miracles and resurrection of Christ as to propose a bill to the Senate that Christ should be received among the gods of Rome; while, as for Emperor Alexander Severus, A.D. 222 to 235, he went even further. In Christ he recognised a Divine Being equal with the other gods; and in his domestic chapel he placed the bust of Christ along with the images of those men whom he regarded as beings of a superior order—of Apollonius of Tyana, and Orpheus, and such like. Heliogabalus, A.D. 219, is credited with a desire to have blended Christianity with the worship of the Sun: see Neander, Church History, vol. i., pp. 128, 173, Bohn's edition. But the Christians would have nothing to say or do with such partial honours for their Master. Religion for them was Christ alone or else it was nothing, and that because He alone was the Way. As there was but one God for them, so there was but one Mediator, Christ Jesus.

III. Saul's Journey. "As he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus." This is the simple record left us in Holy Writ of this momentous event. A comparison of the sacred record with any of the numerous lives of St. Paul which have been published will show us how very different their points of view. The mere human narratives dwell upon the external features of the scene, enlarge upon the light which modern discoveries have thrown upon the lines of road which connected Jerusalem with Southern Syria, become enthusiastic over the beauty of Damascus as seen by the traveller from Jerusalem, over the eternal green of the groves and gardens which are still, as of old, made glad by the waters of Abana and of Pharpar; while the sacred narrative passes over all external details and marches straight to the great central fact of the persecutor's conversion. And we find no fault with this. It is well that the human narratives should enlarge as37 they do upon the outward features and circumstances of the journey, because they thus help us to realise the Acts as a veritable history that was lived and acted. We are too apt to idealise the Bible, to think of it as dealing with an unreal world, and to regard the men and women thereof as beings of another type from ourselves. Books like Farrar's and Lewin's and Conybeare and Howson's Lives of St. Paul correct this tendency, and make the Acts of the Apostles infinitely more interesting by rendering St. Paul's career human and lifelike and clothing it with the charm of local detail. It is thus that we can guess at the very road by which the enthusiastic Saul travelled. The caravans from Egypt to Damascus are intensely conservative in their routes. In fact, even in our own revolutionary West trade and commerce preserve in large measure the same routes to-day as they used two thousand years ago. The great railways of England, and much more the great main roads, preserve in a large degree the same directions which the ancient Roman roads observed. In Ireland, with which I am still better acquainted, I know that the great roads starting from Dublin preserve in the main the same lines as in the days of St. Patrick.2929   See Petrie's "Tara" in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, t. xviii., and Ireland and the Celtic Church, by G. T. Stokes, pp. 80, 81, for illustrations of this point. And so it is, but only to a much greater degree, in Palestine and throughout the East. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho preserved in St. Jerome's time, four centuries later, the same direction and the same character as in our Lord's day, so that it was then called the Bloody Road, from the frequent robberies; and thus it is still, for the pilgrims who now go to visit the Jordan are furnished with a guard of Turkish soldiers to protect38 them from the Arab bandits. And to-day, as in the first century, the caravans from Egypt and Jerusalem to Damascus follow either of two roads: one which proceeds through Gaza and Ramleh, along the coast, and then, turning eastward about the borders of Samaria and Galilee, crosses the Jordan and proceeds through the desert to Damascus—that is the Egyptian road;3030   See Geikie's The Holy Land and the Bible, p. 38. while the other, which serves for travellers from Jerusalem, runs due north from that city and joins the other road at the entrance to Galilee. This latter was probably the road which St. Paul took. The distance which he had to traverse is not very great. One hundred and thirty-six miles separate Jerusalem from Damascus, a journey which is performed in five or six days by such a company as Saul had with him. We get a hint, too, of the manner in which he travelled. He rode probably on a horse or a mule, like modern travellers on the same road, as we gather from Acts ix. 4 compared with xxii. 7, passages which represent Saul and his companions as falling to the earth when the supernatural light flashed upon their astonished vision.

The exact spot where Saul was arrested in his mad career is a matter of some debate; some fix it close to the city of Damascus, half a mile or so from the south gate on the high road to Jerusalem. Dr. Porter, whose long residence at Damascus made him an authority on the locality, places the scene of the conversion at the village of Caucabe, ten miles away, where the traveller from Jerusalem gets his first glimpse of the towers and groves of Damascus. We are not anxious to determine this point. The great spiritual39 truth which is the centre and core of the whole matter remains, and that central truth is this, that it was when he drew near to Damascus and the crowning act of violence seemed at hand, then the Lord put forth His power—as He so often still does just when men are about to commit some dire offence—arrested the persecutor, and then, amid the darkness of that abounding light, there rose upon the vision of the astonished Saul at Caucabe, "the place of the star," that true Star of Bethlehem which never ceased its clear shining for him till he came unto the perfect day.3131   The question of the site of the conversion is discussed at length in Lewin's St. Paul, vol. i., ch. v., p. 49.

IV. Lastly we have the actual conversion of the Apostle and the circumstances of it. We have mention made in this connexion of the light, the voice, and the conversation. These leading circumstances are described in exactly the same way in the three great accounts in the ninth, in the twenty-second, and in the twenty-sixth chapters. There are minute differences between them, but only such differences as are natural between the verbal descriptions given at different times by a truthful and vigorous speaker, who, conscious of honest purpose, did not stop to weigh his every word. All three accounts tell of the light; they all agree on that. St. Paul in his speeches at Jerusalem unhesitatingly declares that the light which he beheld was a supernatural one, above the brightness, the fierce, intolerable brightness of a Syrian sun at midday; and boldly asserts that the attendants and escort who were with him saw the light. Those who disbelieve in the supernatural reject, of course, this assertion, and resolve the light into a fainting fit brought upon Saul by the burning40 heat, or into a passing sirocco blast from the Arabian desert. But the sincere and humble believer may fairly ask, Could a fainting fit or a breath of hot wind change a man who had stood out against Stephen's eloquence and Stephen's death and the witnessed sufferings and patience displayed by the multitudes of men and women whom he had pursued unto the death? But it is not our purpose to discuss these questions in any controversial spirit. Time and space would fail to treat of them aright, specially as they have been fully discussed already in works like Lord Lyttelton on the conversion of St. Paul, wholly devoted to such aspects of these events.3232   Lord Lyttelton's Observations on the Conversion of St. Paul is a work now almost unknown to ordinary students of the Bible. It was written in the reign of George II. by the Lord Lyttelton of that day famous as a historian and a poet. Dr. Johnson said of it that it is "a treatise to which infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer." It will be found reprinted in a cheap and handy shape by the Religious Tract Society, with a valuable preface by the well-known Henry Rogers. Lord Lyttelton touches upon the subject of the light seen by St. Paul on p. 164, and then adds, "That God should work miracles for the establishment of a most holy religion which, from the insuperable difficulties that stood in the way of it, could not have established itself without such an assistance, is no way repugnant to human reason; but that without any miracles such things (as the light above the brightness of the sun and St. Paul's blindness) should have happened as no adequate natural causes can be assigned for is what human reason cannot believe." But, looking at them from a believer's point of view, we can see good reasons why the supernatural light should have been granted. Next to the life and death and resurrection of our Lord, the conversion of St. Paul was the most important event the world ever saw. Our Lord made to the fiery persecutor a special revelation of Himself in the mode of His existence in the unseen world,41 in the reality, truth, and fulness of His humanity, such as He never made to any other human being. The special character of the revelation shows the importance that Christ attached to the person and the personal character of him who was the object of that revelation. Just, then, as we maintain that there was a fitness when there was an Incarnation of God that miracles should attend it; so, too, when the greatest instrument and agent in propagating a knowledge of that Incarnation was to be converted, it was natural that a supernatural agency should have been employed. And then when the devout mind surveys the records of Scripture how similar we see St. Paul's conversion to have been to other great conversions. Moses is converted from mere worldly thoughts and pastoral labours on which his soul is bent, and sent back to tasks which he had abandoned for forty years, to the great work of freeing the people of God and leading them to the Land of Promise; and then a vision is granted, where light, a supernatural light, the light of the burning bush, is manifested. Isaiah and Daniel had visions granted to them when a great work was to be done and a great witness had to be borne, and supernatural light and glory played a great part in their cases.3333   See Exod. iii., Isa. vi., and Dan. x. When the Lord was born in Bethlehem, and the revelation of the Incarnate God had to be made to humble faith and lowly piety, then the glory of the Lord, a light from out God's secret temple, shone forth to lead the worshippers to Bethlehem. And so, too, in St. Paul's case; a world's spiritual welfare was at stake, a crisis in the world's spiritual history, a great turning-point in the Divine plan of salvation had arrived, and it was most fitting that the42 veil which shrouds the unseen from mortal gaze should be drawn back for a moment, and that not Saul alone but his attendants should stand astonished at the glory of the light above the brightness of the sun which accompanied Christ's manifestation.3434   Here it may be well to point out that people should not fancy that their own spiritual experience must necessarily be like St. Paul's. Some persons have troubled themselves because they could not say that they had passed exactly through the same religious feelings and struggles as St. Paul's. But as no two leaves are alike and as no two careers are exactly parallel, so no two spiritual experiences are exactly the same. The true course for any individual to adopt is not to strive and see whether God's dealings with himself and the response which his own spirit has made to the Divine Voice have been exactly like those of others. His true course is rather to strive and ascertain whether he is now really following, obeying, and loving God. He may leave all inquiry as to the methods by which God has guided his soul into the paths of peace to be hereafter resolved in the clear light of eternity. Some God awakens, as He did St. Paul, by an awful catastrophe; others grow up before Him from infancy like Samuel and Timothy; others God gradually changes from sin and worldliness to peace and righteousness, like Jacob of old time.

Then, again, we have the voice that was heard. Difficulties have been also raised in this direction. In the ninth chapter St. Luke states that the attendant escort "heard a voice"; in the twenty-second chapter St. Paul states "they that were with me beheld indeed the light, but they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me." This inconsistency is, however, a mere surface one. Just as it was in the case of our Lord Himself reported in John xii. 28, 29, where the multitude heard a voice but understood not its meaning, some saying that it thundered, others that an angel had spoken, while Christ alone understood and interpreted it; so it was in St. Paul's case; the escort heard a noise, but the Apostle alone understood the sounds, and for him alone they formed articulate words, by him alone was heard43 the voice of Him that spake. And the cause of this is explained by St. Paul himself in chapter xxvi., verse 14, where he tells King Agrippa that the voice spake to him in the Hebrew tongue, the ancient Hebrew that is, which St. Paul as a learned rabbinical scholar could understand, but which conveyed no meaning to the members of the temple-police, the servants, and constables of the Sanhedrin who accompanied him.3535   The Rev. Dr. Abbott, Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, in a learned work, Biblical Essays, lately published, pp. 142 and 146, points out that the lower classes of the Jewish population did not understand the ancient Hebrew, a knowledge of which was in his opinion confined to a few scholars. Cf. also p. 168, where he writes, "It deserves to be noticed that for the vast majority of the Palestinians the Greek Bible was the only one accessible. The knowledge of the ancient Hebrew was confined to a few scholars, in addition to which the Hebrew books were extremely expensive." Many other questions have here been raised and difficulties without end propounded, because we are dealing with a region of man's nature and of God's domain, wherewith we have but little acquaintance and to which the laws of ordinary philosophy do not apply. Was the voice which Paul heard, was the vision of Christ granted to him, subjective or objective? is, for instance, one of such idle queries. We know, indeed, that these terms subjective and objective have a meaning for ordinary life. Subjective in such a connexion means that which has its origin, its rise, its existence wholly within man's soul; objective that which comes from without and has its origin outside man's nature. Objective, doubtless, St. Paul's revelation was in this sense. His revelation must have come from outside, or else how do we account for the conversion of the persecuting Sanhedrist, and that in a moment? He had withstood every other influence, and now he yields himself in a moment the44 lifelong willing captive of Christ when no human voice or argument or presence is near. But then, if asked how did he see Christ when he was blinded with the heavenly glory? how did he speak to Christ when even the escort stood speechless? we confess then that we are landed in a region of which we are totally ignorant and are merely striving to intrude into the things unseen. But who is there that will now assert that the human eye is the only organ by which man can see? that the human tongue is the only organ by which the spirit can converse? The investigations of modern psychology have taught men to be somewhat more modest than they were a generation or two ago, when man in his conceit thought that he had gained the very utmost limits of science and of knowledge. These investigations have led men to realise that there are vast tracts of an unknown country, man's spiritual and mental nature, yet to be explored, and even then there must always remain regions where no human student can ever venture and whence no traveller can ever return to tell the tale. But all these regions are subject to God's absolute sway, and vain will be our efforts to determine the methods of his actions in a sphere of which we are well-nigh completely ignorant. For the Christian it will be sufficient to accept on the testimony of St. Paul, confirmed by Ananias, his earliest Christian teacher, that Jesus Christ was seen by him,3636   There is nothing about St. Paul's seeing the Lord in the narrative of the conversion in Acts ix. 4-7; but St. Paul asserts that he saw Christ, in his speech before Agrippa, when he represents our Lord as saying (xxvi. 16): "For to this end have I appeared unto thee to appoint thee a minister," etc. And again in 1 Cor. xv. 8, "And last of all, as unto one born out of due time, He appeared to me also"; with which should be compared the words of Ananias (ix. 17): "The Lord who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest"; and those of Barnabas (ix. 27): "But Barnabas declared unto them how Saul had seen the Lord in the way." The reader would do well to consult Lewin's St. Paul, vol. i., ch. iv., p. 50, for a learned note concerning the apparent inconsistencies in the various narratives of the conversion. and that a voice was heard for the first time in the silence of45 his soul which never ceased to speak until the things of time and sense were exchanged for the full fruition of Christ's glorious presence.

And then, lastly, we have the conversation held with the trembling penitent. St. Luke's account of it in the ninth chapter is much briefer than St. Paul's own fuller statement in the twenty-sixth chapter, and much of it will most naturally come under our notice at a subsequent period. Here, however, we note the expressive fact that the very name by which the future apostle was addressed by the Lord was Hebrew: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me." It is a point that our English translation cannot bring out, no matter how accurate. In the narrative hitherto the name used has been the Greek form, and he has been regularly called Σαῦλος. But now the Lord appeals to the very foundations of his religious life, and throws him back upon the thought and manifestation of God as revealed of old time to His greatest leader and champion under the old covenant, to Moses in the bush; and so Christ uses not his Greek name but the Hebrew, Σαούλ, Σαούλ. Then we have St. Paul's query, "Who art Thou, Lord?" coupled with our Lord's reply, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest," or, as St. Paul himself puts it in Acts xxii. 8, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest." Ancient expositors have well noted the import of this language. Saul asks who is speaking to46 him, and the answer is not, The Eternal Word who is from everlasting, the Son of the Infinite One who ruleth in the heavens. Saul would have acknowledged at once that his efforts were not aimed at Him. But the speaker cuts right across the line of Saul's prejudices and feelings, for He says, "I am Jesus of Nazareth," whom you hate so intensely and against whom all your efforts are aimed, emphasizing those points against which his Pharisaic prejudices must have most of all revolted. As an ancient English commentator who lived more than a thousand years ago, treating of this passage, remarks with profound spiritual insight, Saul is called in these words to view the depths of Christ's humiliation that he may lay aside the scales of his own spiritual pride.3737   See Cornelius à Lapide on Acts ix. 5, quoting from Bede; and St. Chrysostom in Cramer's Catena, p. 152, as quoted in Conybeare and Howson's St. Paul, vol. i., ch. iii., p. 111 (London, 1877). And then finally we have Christ identifying Himself with His people, and echoing for us from heaven the language and teaching He had used upon earth. "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest" are words embodying exactly the same teaching as the solemn language in the parable of the Judgment scene contained in Matthew xxv. 31-46: "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me." Christ and His people are evermore one; their trials are His trials, their sorrows are His sorrows, their strength is His strength. What marvellous power to sustain the soul, to confirm the weakness, to support and quicken the fainting courage of Christ's people, we find in this expression, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest"! They enable us to understand the undaunted spirit which henceforth47 animated the new convert, and declare the secret spring of those triumphant expressions, "In all these things we are more than conquerors," "Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." If Christ in the supra-sensuous world and we in the world of time are eternally one, what matter the changes and chances of earth, the persecutions and trials of time? They may inflict upon us a little temporary inconvenience, but they are all shared by One whose love makes them His own and whose grace amply sustains us beneath their burden. Christ's people faint not therefore, for they are looking not at the things seen, which are temporal, but at the things unseen, which are eternal.


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