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48

CHAPTER III.

THE NEW CONVERT AND HIS HUMAN TEACHER.

"Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said unto him in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth."—Acts ix. 10, 11.

Saul of Tarsus was converted outside the city, but the work was only begun there. Christ would put honour upon the work of human ministry, and therefore He directs the stricken sinner to continue his journey and enter into Damascus, where he should be instructed in his future course of action, though Christ Himself might have told him all that was needful. It was much the same on the occasion of the so-called conversion of Cornelius, the pious centurion.3838   Conversion is scarcely a fit word to apply to the Lord's dealings with Cornelius. He had evidently been converted long before the angelic message and Peter's preaching, else whence his prayers and devotion? The Lord simply made by St. Peter a fuller revelation of His will to a soul longing to know more of God. The Lord made a revelation to the centurion, but it was only a revelation directing him to send for Peter who should instruct him in the way of salvation. God instituted a human ministry that man might gain light and knowledge by the means and assistance of his brother-man, and therefore in both cases the Lord49 points the anxious inquirer to men like themselves, who could speak to them in Christ's stead and guide them into fuller knowledge. Why could not Christ have revealed the whole story of His life, the full meaning of His doctrine, without human aid or intervention, save that He wished, even in the very case of the messenger whose call and apostleship were neither by man nor through man, to honour the human agency which He had ordained for the dissemination and establishment of the gospel. If immediate revelation and the conscious presence of God and the direct work of the Spirit could ever have absolved penitent sinners from using a human ministry and seeking direction and help from mortals like themselves, surely it was in the cases of Saul of Tarsus and Cornelius of Cæsarea; and yet in both cases a very important portion of the revelation made consisted in a simple intimation where human assistance could be found.3939   We should carefully observe, however, that there is a marked difference between the cases of Cornelius and Saul. An angel appeared to Cornelius, Christ Himself to Saul. St. Peter is sent to Cornelius to instruct him in the revelation made by Christ. That revelation was made by Christ Himself to Saul in the vision by the way, during the three days of his blindness, and probably during his stay in Arabia. Ananias was sent to Saul merely to baptize him, and predict his future. "Enter into the city and there it shall be told thee what thou shalt do," is our Lord's direction to Saul. St. Paul's knowledge of Christ was neither by man nor through man. His knowledge even about the institution of the sacraments was by immediate revelation: see 1 Cor. xi. 23.

Saul after the vision rose up from the earth and was led by the hand into Damascus. He was there three days without sight, wherein he neither did eat nor drink. This period of his life and this terrible experience is regarded by many as the time to which may be traced the weakness of eyesight and the delicate vision under which he ever afterwards suffered. The50 question has often been raised, What was St. Paul's thorn, or rather stake, in the flesh? Various opinions have been hazarded, but that which seems to me most likely to be true identifies the thorn or stake with severe ophthalmia. Six substantial reasons are brought forward by Archdeacon Farrar in defence of this view. (1) When writing to the Galatians St. Paul implies that his infirmity might well have made him an object of loathing to them; and this is specially the case with ophthalmia in the East (see Gal. iv. 14). (2) This supposition again gives a deeper meaning to the Apostle's words to these same Galatians that they would at the beginning of their Christian career have plucked out their eyes to place them at his service (Gal. iv. 15). (3) The term "a stake in the flesh" is quite appropriate to the disease, which imparts to the eyes the appearance of having been wounded by a sharp splinter. (4) Ophthalmia of that kind might have caused epilepsy. (5) It would explain the words "See with how large letters I have written unto you with mine own hand," as a natural reference to the difficulties the Apostle experienced in writing, and would account for his constant use of amanuenses or secretaries in writing his Epistles, as noted, for instance, in Romans xvi. 22 and implied in 1 Corinthians xvi. 21. (6) Ophthalmia would account for St. Paul's ignorance of the person of the high priest (Acts xxiii. 5).4040   See Tertullian's De Pudicitia, § 13, and compare Bishop Lightfoot's Galatians, p. 183 note. This question has, however, been a moot point since the days of the second century, when Irenæus of Lyons discussed it in his great work against Heresies, book v., ch. iii., and Tertullian suggested that St.51 Paul's stake in the flesh was simply an exaggerated head-ache or ear-ache.4141   See Dr. Farrar's long Excursus X., vol. i., p. 652, in his Life of St. Paul, for a discussion of this question. There is a portrait of St. Paul in Lewin's St. Paul, ii., 210, which shows him as blear-eyed. It is engraved from a Roman diptych of the fourth century. Lightfoot takes quite another view of the thorn in his Galatians, pp. 183-8.

Let us now, however, turn to the more certain facts brought before us in the words of the sacred narrative. St. Paul was led by the hand into Damascus just as afterwards, on account, doubtless, of the same bodily infirmity dating from this crisis, he "was sent forth to go as far as to the sea," and then "was conducted as far as Athens" (cf. Acts xvii. 10, 14, 15). From this time forth the kindly assistance of friends and companions became absolutely necessary to the Apostle if his footsteps were to be guided aright, and hence it is that he felt solitude such as he endured at Athens a very trying time because he had no sense of security whenever he ventured to walk abroad. He became, in fact, a blind man striving to thread his way through the crowded footpaths of life. The high priest's commissary must then have drawn near to Damascus under very different circumstances from those which fancy pictured for him a few days before. We know not by what gate he entered the city. We only know that he made his way to the house of Judas, where he remained for three days and three nights, with his whole soul so wrapt up in the wonders revealed to him that he had no thoughts for bodily wants and no sense of their demands.

The sacred narrative has been amply vindicated so far as its topographical accuracy is concerned. Saul, as he was led by the hand, instructed his escort to go52 to the house of Judas, a leading man we may be sure among the Jews of Damascus. He dwelt in Straight Street, and that street remains to-day, as in St. Paul's time, a thoroughfare running in a direct line from the eastern to the western gate of the city. Like all Oriental cities which have fallen under Turkish dominion, Damascus no longer presents the stately, well-preserved, and flourishing aspect which it had in Roman times; and, in keeping with the rest of the city, Straight Street has lost a great deal of the magnificent proportions which it once possessed. Straight Street in St. Paul's day extended from the eastern to the western gate, completely intersecting the city. It then was a noble thoroughfare one hundred feet broad, divided by Corinthian colonnades into three avenues, the central one for foot passengers, the side passages for chariots and horses going in opposite directions. It was to a house in this principal street in the city, the habitation of an opulent and distinguished Jew, that the escort brought the blind emissary of the Sanhedrin, and here they left him to await the development of God's purposes.4242   "In the Roman age, and up to the period of the (Mahometan) Conquest, a noble street extended in a straight line from Bab-el-Jabyah (the West gate) to Bab Shurky (the East gate), thus completely intersecting the city. It was divided by Corinthian colonnades into three avenues, of which the central was for foot passengers, and of the others one was used for chariots and horsemen proceeding eastward, and the second for those going in the opposite direction. I have been enabled to trace the remains of the colonnades at various places over nearly one-third of the length of this street. Wherever excavations are made in the line fragments of columns are found in situ, at the depth, in some places, of ten feet and more below the present surface, so great has been the accumulation of rubbish during the course of ages. There can scarcely be a doubt that this is 'the street called Straight' referred to in the history of the Apostle Paul. Its extreme length is about an English mile, and its breadth must have exceeded 100 feet."—Porter's Damascus, p. 47.

I. Let us now consider the persons which cluster round the new convert, and specially the agent whom Christ used in the reception of Saul into the Church,53 and see what Scripture or tradition tells about them. One man stands prominent; his name was Ananias, a common one enough among the Jews, as the Acts of the Apostles has already shown us, for when we have surveyed the first beginnings of sin and moral failure in the Jerusalem Church we have found that an Ananias with Sapphira his wife was connected therewith.4343   Josephus, in his Antiquities, xx., 23, tells us of an Ananias, a Jewish merchant, who was instrumental in the conversion of Helena, Queen of Adiabene. The name Ananias signifies "Pleasing to God." Ananias was also the name of the messenger who is said to have conveyed the pretended letter of Abgar, King of Edessa, to Christ. See The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, by R. A. Lipsius (Leipsic, 1891), p. 274. This Ananias of Damascus deserves special attention, for his case reveals to us a good deal of primitive Church history and is connected with many ancient traditions. Let us first strive to gain all the information we can about him from the direct statements of Scripture and the necessary or legitimate deductions from the same. Ananias was a Christian Jew of Damascus. He must have held a leading position in the local Christian Assembly in that city, within five years of the Ascension, for not only did our Lord select him as His agent or medium of communication when dealing with the new convert, but Ananias was well acquainted, by information derived from many persons, with the course of conduct pursued at Jerusalem by Saul, and knew of the commission lately intrusted to him by the high priest. Ananias was probably the head or chief teacher of the local Christian or Nazarene54 synagogue. At the same time he was also in all probability one of the original company of Jerusalem Christians who had been scattered abroad by the first great persecution. We are told in Acts xi. 19 that "they that were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phœnicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to Jews." Ananias was probably one of these fugitives from Jerusalem who came to Damascus, and there sought refuge from the rage of the destroyer. St. Paul himself tells us of the character which Ananias sustained at Damascus: "He was a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews that dwell there" (ch. xxii. 12). It is the character given of Zacharias, and Elisabeth, and of Simeon. Ananias was, like all the earliest disciples, a rigid observer of the minutest particulars of Jewish ordinances, though he and they alike rested upon Christ alone as their hope of salvation. Further than this, the Scriptures tell us nothing save that we can easily see from the words of the various narratives of the conversion that Ananias was a man of that clear faith, that deep spiritual life which enjoyed perpetual converse with the Unseen. He was not perturbed nor dismayed when Christ revealed Himself. He conversed calmly with the heavenly Visitor, raised his objections, received their solution, and then departed in humble obedience to fulfil the mission committed to him. There is a marvellous strength and power for the man of any age who lives, as Ananias did, with a clear vision of the eternal world constantly visible to the spiritual eye. Life or death, things present or things to come, the world temporal or the world spiritual, all are one to him who lives in the light of God's countenance55 and walks beneath the shadow of His wing; for he feels and knows that underneath are the everlasting Arms, and he therefore discharges his tasks with an assured calmness, a quiet dignity, a heavenly strength of which the tempest-tossed and feverish children of time know nothing. Beyond these facts and these traits of character, which we can read between the lines of Holy Scripture, we are told nothing of Ananias.4444   St. Chrysostom, in his Homilies on the Acts, notes the spiritual eminence of this hidden and unknown disciple. In his nineteenth Homily he observes that when St. Philip, one of the seven, was sent to baptize the eunuch, Christ did not appear but merely sent an angel to the evangelist; but Christ Himself appeared to Ananias, and opened out His whole will to him about the future of St. Paul. His conversation with our Lord was, too, that of one accustomed to Divine visitations and communion with Heaven. See Massutius on the Life of St. Paul, p. 107. Massutius was a Jesuit commentator, whose writings are often rich in spiritual suggestiveness. He published his Vita S. Pauli Apostoli in 1633. In the first and ninth chapters of the second book he has many acute and learned remarks upon Ananias and his history. The calming effect upon life's fever of spiritual religion and close converse with God is a point often dwelt upon in Scripture. The Old Testament prophets knew this secret of a peaceful life right well. Isaiah often sings of it, as in ch. xii. 2, "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid"; in ch. xxvi. 3, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee"; in ch. xxviii. 16, "He that believeth shall not make haste"; in ch. xl. 31, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." Habakkuk proclaims it in ch. iii. 17: "For though the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." A strain which St. Paul takes up in his Epistle to the Philippians when he bids them (ch. iv. 6), "In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God"; to which he adds the promise, not that their requests shall be answered, for that would often be very unfortunate, but the much more consoling one, "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus." How much calmer and sweeter life would be did Christ's people thus realise their privileges as God's ancient servants did! Ninety per cent. of life's worries and anxieties would thus pass away for ever. Alas! how pagan nominal Christians are in this respect! But tradition has not been so reticent. The ancient Church delighted to gather up every notice and every story concerning the early soldiers of the Cross, and Ananias of Damascus was not forgotten. The Martyrologies both of the Greek and Latin Churches give us long accounts of him. They tell that he was born in Damascus, and make him one of the seventy disciples, which is not at all improbable. Then they describe him at one time as bishop, at another time56 as a simple presbyter, of the Church at Damascus. They relate his abundant labours at Damascus and in the neighbouring cities, terminating with his martyrdom under a Roman prefect called Lucian.4545   See, for both the Greek and Latin stories about Ananias, Acta Sanctorum, Ed. Bolland., 25 Jan., ii., 613. But these details, though they may lend colour to the picture, add nothing of spiritual significance to the information vouchsafed in Scripture.

Judas, into whose house Saul was received, is another person brought before us, upon whom a certain eternity of fame has been bestowed by his temporary connexion with the Apostle. He must have been a man of position and wealth among the Jews of Damascus to receive the official representative and deputy of the high priest. It is possible that he may have been numbered among those early trophies of St. Paul's zeal which he won in the earliest days of his first love, when he "confounded the Jews, proving57 that Jesus is Christ." Judas has been by some identified with that Judas who was sent with St. Paul, Silas, and Barnabas as deputies to console the Church at Antioch and restore it to peace when distracted with debates about circumcision (ch. xv. 22).4646   Judas of Acts xv. 22 is surnamed Barsabbas, as is also Joseph Justus of Acts i. 23. Lightfoot, Hor. Heb., on Acts i., conjectures that Judas of Acts xv. may have been the apostle of that name and that Joseph Justus was his brother.

And now, to conclude this portion of our subject, we may add that the traditional houses, or at least the sites of the houses, of Ananias and Judas, together with the fountain where St. Paul was baptized, were shown in Damascus till the seventeenth century, as Quaresmius, a traveller of that time, tells us that he visited the Straight Street, which is the bazaar, and saw the house of Judas, a large and commodious building, with traces of having been once a church and then a mosque; that he visited the place of baptism, which is not far off, adding withal a ground plan of the house of Ananias. Dean Stanley, however, declares that the traditional house of Judas is not in the street called Straight at all. Let us turn aside from these details, the mere fringes of the story, to the spiritual heart and core thereof.4747   The seventeenth-century travellers in Palestine, Syria, and the East often give us much valuable information. See, on the subject of Damascus, Quaresmius, Elucidatio Terræ Sanctæ, t. ii., lib. 7, Peregrinatio 6, cap. 3, with which may be compared Radzivilus, Peregrinatio, p. 33, A.D. 1614. See also Conybeare and Howson's St. Paul, ch. iii.

II. The conversation between Christ and Ananias next claims our attention. Here we may note that it was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who appeared to Ananias, and when appearing makes the most tremendous claims for Himself and allows them when made by Ananias. We are so accustomed to the words of58 the narrative that we do not recognise their bold assumptions and what they imply. The Lord calls Ananias, as He called Samuel of old, and then receives the same answer as Samuel gave, "Behold I am here, Lord." Ananias speaks to Jesus Christ of the disciples, and describes them as "Thy saints, who call upon Thy name." He knew that prayer to Jesus Christ was practised by them and constituted their special note or mark. Our Lord describes St. Paul "as a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel, for I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake." While again, when Ananias came into the house of Judas, he is so completely dominated by the idea of Jesus Christ, His presence, His power, His mission, that his words are, "The Lord Jesus hath sent me that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." In these passages we have a view of primitive Christianity and its doctrine as taught by Christ Himself, by His earliest disciples, and as viewed and recorded by the second generation of Christians, and it is all the same from whatever point it is looked at. The earliest form of Christianity was Christ and nothing else. The personality of Christ dominated every other idea. There was no explaining away the historical facts of His life, there was no watering down His supernatural actions and claims; the Lord Jesus—and His ordinary human name was used—the Lord Jesus, whom the Jews had known as the carpenter's son, and had rejected as the prophet of Nazareth, and had crucified as the pretended king of Israel, He was for Ananias of Damascus the supernatural Being who now ruled the universe, and struck down the persecutor of His people, and sent His messengers and apostles59 that they might with Divine power heal the wounded and comfort the broken-hearted. Ananias felt no difficulty in identifying Jesus the despised, the crucified, with the Lord of glory who had appeared to him, upon whose name he called and with whom he communed. Jesus Christ was not for him a dream or a ghost, or a passing appearance, or a distinguished teacher, or a mighty prophet, whose spirit lived with the souls of the good and blessed of every age at rest in paradise. The Jesus of Ananias was no inhabitant or child of earth, no matter how pure and exalted. The Jesus of Nazareth was the Being of beings, who had a just right to call God's people "His saints," and to describe the great work of His messengers and ministers to be that of "bearing His name before the Gentiles," because the Christianity of Ananias and of the earliest Church was no poor, weak, diluted system of mere natural religion regarding Jesus Christ as a Divine prophet, but as nothing more. It theorised not, indeed, about the Incarnation and the modes of the Divine existence. It was too much wrapped up in adoring the Divine manifestations to trouble itself about such questions, which came to the front when love waxed cold and men had time to analyse and debate. For Ananias and for men like him it was sufficient to know that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh. For them and for the earliest Church that one fact embodied the whole of Christianity. Jesus Christ, the same when living in Galilee, suffering in Jerusalem, ascending from Olivet, reigning on the right hand of the Majesty on high, or manifesting Himself to His people, was the beginning and end of all religion.

This is a very important point to insist upon in the present age, when men have endeavoured to represent60 the religion of the primitive Church in quite a different light, and to teach that St. Paul was the inventor of that dogmatic system which insists upon the supreme importance and the essential deity of the Person of Jesus Christ. St. Luke's narrative in this passage seems to me quite decisive against such a theory, and shows us how Christianity struck an independent mind like that of Ananias, and how it was taught at a distant Christian Church like Damascus within five or at most seven years after the Ascension of Jesus Christ.4848   Massutius, loc. cit., has a long chapter (book ii., ch. i.) on the date of St. Paul's conversion. See Findlay's Epistles of St. Paul, pp. 5, 6, for a concise statement of the arguments concerning it. Lewin's Fasti Sacri, pp. lxvi. and 253, contains long dissertations upon this point, a simple reference to which must suffice.

Then, again, we have in the vision granted to Ananias and the revelation made to him a description of Christ's disciples. The description is a twofold one, coming on the one hand from Christ, and on the other from Ananias, and yet they both agree. Ananias describes the religion of Christ when he says, "Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem"; and then he proceeds to identify His "saints" with those that called on Christ's name at Damascus. We have already noted prayer to Christ as a distinguishing feature of His people4949   See vol. i., pp. 338-41.; but here we find, for the first time in the New Testament, the term "saints" applied to the ordinary followers of Christ, though in a short time it seems to have become the usual designation for the adherents of the crucified Redeemer, as we shall see by a reference to Rom. i. 7; 1 Cor. i. 2; Eph. i. 1, and to numerous other passages scattered throughout the Epistles. Our Lord Himself61 sanctions the use of this title, and applies it Himself in a different shape in the fuller account of the divine words given us by St. Paul in his speech before King Agrippa (ch. xxvi. 18). Christ tells St. Paul of his destined work "to turn the Gentiles from darkness to light, that they may receive an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me." The followers of Christ were recognised as saints in the true sense of the word saint—that is, as separated, dedicated, consecrated persons, who had been made to drink into one Divine Spirit, had been made partakers of a new life, had been admitted to a kingdom of light and a fellowship of love, and who, by virtue of these blessings, had been cut off from the power of Satan and the kingdom of darkness. And all this had been and ever is to be effected "by faith that is in Christ." Christ's saints or separated people are sanctified by faith in Christ. Not that the bare exercise of a faculty or feeling called faith will exercise a sanctifying influence upon human nature,—this would be simply to make man his own sanctifier, and to usurp for his own poor weak wretched self the work and power which belong to the Holy Ghost alone,—but when Christ is realised as including all the parts of God's final revelation, when no partial or limited view is taken of Christ's work as if it were limited to the Incarnation alone, or the Atonement alone, or the Resurrection alone, but when the diverse and various parts and laws of His revelation are recognised as divinely taught, and therefore as tremendously important for the soul's health. When the Holy Ghost and His mission, and good works and their absolute necessity, and Christ's sacraments and His other appointed means of grace are duly honoured and reverently received, then indeed, and62 then alone, faith is truly exercised in Christ, and men are not merely separated by an external consecration, such as the Jews received at circumcision, and which qualified even that hard-hearted and stubborn people to be called a nation of saints; but when Christ is thus truly and fully received by faith into the hearts and affections of His people, they walk worthy of the high vocation called upon them. Many a mistaken exposition has been offered of St. Paul's Epistles, and many an effort has been made to explain away the plainest statements, because men will apply a false meaning to the word saints which Ananias here uses. If we first determine that the word saint could only have been applied to a truly converted man, clothed in the robe of Christ's imputed righteousness, elected from eternity to everlasting salvation, and who could never finally fall away, and then find the term so defined applied, for instance, to the Corinthian Church as a whole, we shall come to some strange results. If truly converted men, true saints of Christ, could be guilty of sins such as were not named amongst the heathen, or could be drunk at the Lord's Table, or could cherish all that long and dreary catalogue of spiritual crimes enumerated in the Corinthian Epistles, then indeed the words true conversion have completely changed their meaning, and Christianity, instead of being the principle and fountain of a regenerate life, becomes a cloak under which all kinds of maliciousness and evil-doing may have free course and be glorified.

Our Lord protests beforehand unto St. Paul against such a perversion of the gospel of free grace with which His great Apostle had all his life to struggle. Antinomianism is as old as St. Paul's doctrine—so very much misunderstood—of justification. Our Lord63 raises His voice against it in His earliest commission to St. Paul when He sends him to the Gentiles "to turn them from darkness to light," that is, from moral and spiritual darkness to moral and spiritual light, and "from the power of Satan unto God." And the New Testament often enough tells us what is meant by "the power of Satan." It was not any mere system of false beliefs alone, but it was a wicked, impure belief joined and leading to a wicked and impure practice; and St. Paul's work was to turn the Gentiles from a wicked faith, combined with a still more wicked practice, to a life sanctified and purified and renewed after the image of a living Christ.5050   I am referring in this passage to what we may designate the Antinomian method of expounding First Corinthians still current in many circles. They first determine that the word saint is always used by St. Paul to express a truly converted man, one, therefore, in their idea who has no need to ask pardon for sin and who never can finally fall away. They then find this term "saints" applied to the Corinthian Church, which must therefore have been composed of truly converted men alone, else, they think, St. Paul would not have called them saints. But then a difficulty arises, How about the gross sins prevalent in that Church? Their peculiar system of theology, however, rapidly solves this perplexing point. All the sins of believers, past, present or to come, have been forgiven long before they were born, therefore these gross immoralities at Corinth were mere believer's slips, as I have heard them called. A believer guilty of them should be sorry for them as causing scanda to the world, but as far as final salvation is concerned he has nothing to do with them save to assure himself of their pardon wrought out by our Lord on the cross. Abundant instances of this method of exposition will be found in the works of Dr. Williams, the Nonconformist of the time of William III., founder of the well-known library in Grafton Street, London. He had a great controversy with the Antinomians of the day, who represented themselves as the true champions of the doctrines of grace. They were simply teaching the ancient Gnostic heresy that the soul can be in communion with God while the body is all the time wallowing in the depths of sin. Precisely the same views are now commonly taught and called as in Williams's day, two hundred years ago, "the Gospel." If, however, we recognise the New Testament use of the word saints as meaning "dedicated to God, consecrated to His service," the meaning of the First Corinthians and of the words of Ananias is quite clear and plain, and no such immoral results follow as the Antinomian exegesis implies, but rather the saintly character of baptized Christians becomes the foundation of the most practical exhortations to holiness of life.

III. Finally, we notice in this conversation, and that only very briefly, the title given by our Lord to St. Paul, which became the favourite designation of the Apostle of the Gentiles, especially among the Western doctors of the ancient Church. "Go thy way," says Christ to Ananias, "for he is a chosen vessel unto Me," or, as the Revisers put it in the margin, translating still more literally from the original, "for he is a vessel of election." "Vas64 Electionis" is the usual title for St. Paul in St. Jerome's letters, as also in St. Chrysostom's homilies, and it expresses a side of his character which is prominent throughout his writings. Saul's early life was so alienated from Christ, his career had been so completely hostile to the gospel, his conversion had been so entirely God's work and God's work alone, that he ever felt and ever insisted more than the other New Testament writers on God's electing love. If we compare the writings of St. John with those of St. Paul, we shall see how naturally and completely they reflect in their tone the history of their lives. St. John's life was one long continuous steady growth in Divine knowledge. There were no great gaps or breaks in that life, and so we find that his writings do not ignore God's electing love and preventing grace as the source of everything good in man. "We love Him because He first loved us" are words which show that St. John's gospel was at bottom the same as St. Paul's. But St. John's favourite topic is the Incarnation and its importance, and its results in purity of heart and in a sweet consciousness65 of the Divine Spirit. St. Paul's life, on the other hand, was no continuous upgrowth from youth's earliest day to life's latest eventide. There was a great gap, a tremendous yawning chasm separating the one portion from the other, and Paul never could forget that it was God's choice alone which turned the persecuting Rabbi into the Christian Apostle. His Epistles to the Romans, Ephesians, and Galatians amply testify to the effects of this doctrine upon his whole soul, and show that the expositors of the early Church displayed a true instinct and gauged his character aright when they designated him by this title, "Vas Electionis." And yet the Apostle proved his Divine inspiration, for he held and taught this truth in no one-sided manner. He combined the doctrine of electing love with that of intense human free will and awful personal responsibility. He made no effort intellectually to reconcile the two opposite sides of truth, but, wiser than many who followed him, he accepted both and found in them both, matter for practical guidance. God's eternal and electing love made him humble; man's free will and responsibility made him awfully in earnest. Two passages, drawn from different Epistles, sufficiently explain St. Paul's view. Gal. i. 15, 16—"When it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me"—are words which show how entirely St. Paul viewed himself as a "Vas Electionis." 1 Cor. ix. 27—"I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage, lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected"—are words showing how real and profound was his fear of final defeat and ruin, how convinced he was that no display of Divine grace or love assured him of his own final perseverance. It is66 well that people should notice this difference between the tone and spiritual experience of a Paul and of a John. At times sincere Christians have been troubled because their spiritual experience and feelings have been very different from St. Paul's. They have limited to a large extent their own reading of Scripture to his writings, and have not noticed the clear distinction which Scripture makes between the tone and ideas of St. Paul and St. Peter, St. James and St. John; and why? Just to meet this very tendency, and to show us that spiritual experiences, feelings, temptations, must vary with the varying circumstances of each individual. No saintly life can be taken as a universal model or standard; and, above all, the conversion of a persecutor and blasphemer like St. Paul is not to be taken as the normal type of God's dealings with men, who grow up, like St. John or like Timothy, in the paths of Divine love from their earliest childhood.5151   It should be carefully noted that the great end of St. Paul's election is set forth by our Lord when speaking to Ananias as "to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel." From the very outset of Paul's Christian career his work as the Apostle of the Gentiles is thus clearly revealed through Ananias. I say through Ananias, and not to him; for I suppose that Ananias could not himself have realised the real force and meaning of the Divine words.

There is one common feature, however, which can be traced in all religious lives, whether sternly and even violently ordered like Saul's, or gently guided like St. John's. They all agree in presenting one feature when the fresh breath of the Spirit blows upon them and the deeper sense of life's importance first dawns upon the vision, and that is, they are all marked by prayer. Of every sincere seeker the Divine watcher, ever on the outlook for the signs of spiritual life, repeats67 "Behold, he prayeth." Saul, we may be sure, had never forgotten his duty in the matter of the prescribed round of Jewish devotions; but now for the first time he rose above the level of mere mechanical saying of prayer to spiritual communion with God in Christ; now for the first time he prayed a Christian prayer, through Christ and to Christ; now for the first time perhaps he learned one secret of the spiritual life, which is this, that prayer is something wider and nobler than mere asking. Prayer is communion of the spirit with God reconciled in Christ Jesus. That communion is often deepest and most comforting when enjoyed in simple silence. Saul, the converted persecutor, could know but little yet of what to ask from Christ. But in the revelations made in those hours of darkness and penitence and silence, there were vouchsafed to him renewed proofs of the truths already gained, and of the awful trials which those truths, realised and acted out, would demand from him, "I will show him what things he must suffer for My sake."


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