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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Acts 9

Verses 1-43

Acts 9:0

Dr. Marcus Dods wrote at the age of sixteen to his sister Marcia: 'Do you ever get any Greek read now? I can tell you what I think a most beautiful passage Saul's conversion in the Acts; you should read it, and also "Your old men shall dream dreams, etc."'

Early Letters, p. 30.

Reference. IX. 1, 2. F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 120.

The Making of an Apostle (The Conversion of St. Paul)

Acts 9:1-9

This is the story of one of those profoundly significant events in history, on which the whole complexion of future thought and the course of future progress turn. St. Paul is one of those Titanic figures of the past about whom everything was on the large scale, both for himself and for the world. Intellectually, his views of truth have become a fundamental statement of the creed of nineteen centuries; practically, he is the master empire-builder of the kingdom of God in the world. He laid hold upon the largest conceptions of his time the Hebrew religion and the Roman Empire and he transformed them into the Christian Church.

But it was not by the natural development of his genius that he did this. Up to a certain moment in his career his powers were running to waste, spending themselves in the most futile ways. At that moment something occurred which revolutionised his whole life, an upheaval of the very foundations of the man. The word 'conversion' is sometimes so lightly used that many earnest people are inclined to avoid it. It often means simply the memory of an emotion, which has left the man without a master, and without a task. But the greatness of this man's nature ensured the thoroughness of the change in him. Such a man's conversion is a tremendous affair.

I. It is to the questions that Paul asked that day that we turn with even deeper interest. The first of them was, 'Who art Thou, Lord?' He bad felt before that all this persecution, this harrying of people at once so blameless and so inflexible, was far too cheap and easy a solution. Behind the new faith lay some mysterious power, that was good and not evil, associated with the name of Jesus. But though he had often before asked the question who Jesus was, yet it had been prejudice which asked it, while now it was conscience. He had been aggravated by the power of the dead Nazarene who thwarted him at every turn. Who was he, this haunting ghost, this troubler of his times? But now irritation has given place to shame, and conscience asks, Who art Thou, Lord? That change from prejudice to conscience was one point in which his question sets the type for such questions for ever.

II. Another is, that he asked it of Jesus himself. He had formerly asked it of the Rabbis of his day, and now he might have inquired of the Apostles. But he was done with the Rabbis now, and he expressly tells us that it was three years before he met the Apostles. It is this that explains his power. His truth was not a doctrine learned up by study; it was his direct experience, his first-hand knowledge of Jesus Christ.

III. Paul's second question is practical, 'What wouldst Thou have me to do?' As the former sets us beside the springs of his thought, so this reveals the sources of his activity. For such a man as Paul, conversion without commission would have been a sham and therefore an impossibility. But the great point to notice is that it was as a commission that he received his lifework, and in that light that he always regarded it.

John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 27.

Acts 9:3

What intensity of light, what brilliancy of vision, would be sufficient to change the belief and character of a modern man of the world or a professional politician? Paul had that in him which could be altered by the pathetic words of the Crucified One, 'I am He whom thou persecutest'. The man of the world or the politician would evade an appeal from the heaven of heavens, backed by the glory of seraphim and archangel.

M. Rutherford, Miriam's Schooling, p. 118.

The Conversion of Saul

Acts 9:3-6

I. All who are brought into Christ's kingdom are not brought by the same agency, but in the case of Saul of Tarsus there was need of very special agency. There was need for some such vision as this, for the essential qualification of an Apostle was that he should be an eye and an ear witness of Jesus as risen from the dead.

II. Now, secondly, there can be no question that this visit was supernatural. God draws and man consents; God teaches and man learns; God gives and man accepts.

III. Then the third point of interest is this, that the conversion was sudden.

IV. Further, we have in this case an illustration of the necessity of conversion.

V. We have here an illustration of the uneasiness of the sinful lot.

VI. Here we have an illustration how the best and the most can be made of a man.

G. Gladstone, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 22.

Conversion of St. Paul

Acts 9:4-6

Of all the followers of Christ, surely none had a life so full of interest and none had so great influence for the cause of Christ as St. Paul.

I. The Apostle's Early Days. We are told that he was born of God-fearing parents. He early learned to keep righteousness and to walk according to the Law. In his early days he showed great promise and he was sent to Gamaliel to be trained and educated. The education of those days was different to that of our days. There was a prejudice against the use of any books except the sacred writings. At a meeting of learned men some passage of the Scriptures was taken as a text and made the subject of their conversation. Various interpretations were given, allegories were told and suggested, and the ancient writings on the subject quoted. At this discussion young students were present to listen and to ask questions, and it is probable that from this system of education St. Paul acquired his power of argument and his fluency of speech. We do not know of the social position of St. Paul's parents. It is not possible to say whether they lived in affluent circumstances or whether they were people of humble origin. St. Paul speaks of his trade as being that of a tent-maker, but this does not necessarily imply that he had to labour with his hands for his living, for it was the custom amongst the Jews that every boy should be taught a trade.

II. His Conversion. The stoning of St. Stephen no doubt was a turning-point in the life of St. Paul. Augustine says that the Church owes St. Paul to the prayer of St. Stephen at that time. The spectacle of so much constancy, so much faith, so much love, could not possibly be lost. St. Paul went his way, but conscience began to work within him. To drown his conscience he took up the cause of persecution, and sought for letters patent to enable him to go to Damascus to arrest those he found of this Way, whether they were men or women, and commit them to prison. But he could not go on like this for ever. He could not for ever stifle his conscience. In the very midst of his work, as he was journeying to Damascus, the Lord met him, and his conversion changed the whole course of his life. Instead of persecuting Christians, he was to teach the faith which once he denied.

III. His Ministry. Immediately after we find St. Paul going forth and speaking to the people of Damascus, proving that this was the very Christ. But he could not remain in Damascus. As soon as the Jews got over their first astonishment at seeing this man, on whom they had relied to exterminate the Christians, as soon as they found that he himself was a Christian, they began to persecute him. He went into Arabia, the mountainous country where God spoke to Moses and Aaron and Elijah. He dwelt in solitude, conversing with his Lord and being instructed upon his future teaching. He went back to Jerusalem, however, and taught. His mission was to the Gentiles, and he began a life of suffering; but he was always full of zeal, full of energy, preaching the Gospel of Christ, teaching others that Christ had died for them, and bidding them turn from their evil ways, showing them that a life of surrender and devotion to Christ's service is the life to be desired on earth.

IV. A Pattern to Us. This true and noble service for Christ should inspire us to be more like St. Paul, and to be more earnest, more fervent, more zealous in our daily life in upholding the cause of Christ, in striving to live such a life that we may turn others to Christ and let others take knowledge that we have been with Christ May we grow daily more like St. Paul, devoting and surrendering our lives to the service of Christ.

References. IX. 4-8. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 356. IX. 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 709. J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 260. IX. 5, 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1520. IX. 6. Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 184. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. iii. p. 68. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 58.. R. S. Storrs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 302. H. Wilmot-Buxton, Notes of Sermons for the Year, pt. i. p. 101. IX. 7. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 192.

Acts 9:10

Me. Robert Hichens in The Holy Land (1910, p. 82) says: 'The so-called house of Ananias, which is one of the few "sights," is now a subterranean chapel, small and remarkably ugly. It has two altars, and belongs to the Latins, who celebrate mass in it every Thursday. The floor is of stone, the diseased-looking roof is stained with patches of blue and white. A few wooden benches stand before the altars. A chapel on this site is said to have been the first chapel used for Christian worship.'

References. IX. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1838. IX. 11. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-tide Teaching, p. 55. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1. No. 16, and vol. xxxi. No. 1860. IX. 13-16. Ibid. vol. xvi. No. 944. IX. 15. Bishop Talbot, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 196. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, (3rd Series), p. 1.

Acts 9:15-16

It is laid in the unalterable constitution of things: none can aspire to act greatly, but those who are of force greatly to suffer.


Acts 9:16

Luther wrote on 10th July, 1518, to Wenceslaus Link of Nürnberg: '... But I hope I am a debtor to Jesus Christ, who perhaps says to me also: "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake". For if He does not say that, why has He placed me in the invincible office of this word? or why did He not teach me something else that I should say? This was His holy will. The more they threaten, the more I trust; my wife and my children are provided for; my fields, my house, my whole substance are all disposed of; my glory and fame already vanished. One thing only remains this weak and broken little body. If they destroy that, they will perhaps rob me of an hour or two of life, but they will not take away the soul. I sing with John Reuchlin, "He who is poor has naught to fear, for nothing can he lose, but he is joyful in hope, because he expects to gain".'

Enders, Luther's Briefwechsel, vol. 1. p. 211.

References. IX. 16. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 48. Bishop Westcott, Preacher's Magazine, vol. iv. p. 36. Archbishop Alexander, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 10. IX. 18. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 252; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 188. IX. 19-22. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 231. IX. 19-25. Ibid. vol. i. p. 78. IX. 20-22. Ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 204. IX. 23-25. Ibid. vol. x. p. 351. IX. 26-28. F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 137.

The Man of Generosity

Acts 9:26-27

Barnabas is one of those minor characters of Scripture who at once gain and lose by their proximity to a greater figure. He gains doubtless much from his relation to the gigantic figure of Paul, for it was in company with him that his best work was done. And yet, perhaps, he suffers more; for the friend with whom he walks is so colossal that we forget all when we see him.

Barnabas suffers more than this. He is known as the man who quarrelled with the great Apostle. The two men differed about Mark and parted, so far as we know, not to meet on earth. The Bible says nothing of the right and wrong of that quarrel. It states the matter impartially, and leaves us to draw our own conclusions. But our sympathies naturally go with the man we like best, and Barnabas has had less than justice from the lovers of Paul. It has been said that he was weak and Paul strong, and that he was justly punished by his after obscurity. Or at best, it is said, both were wrong and both suffered.

For my part I take a different view. I think Barnabas was in the right in this quarrel. A study of the passages where he is mentioned in the New Testament will, I believe, show that, and show that his motives there as elsewhere were of a noble kind. These passages are mainly three. There is, first, his selling his land for the poor; there is, secondly, his taking the suspected Saul by the hand and introducing him to the Apostles; and there is, thirdly, his quarrel over Mark, where he insists on giving that unfortunate young man another chance.

These passages are all of a piece. They set Barnabas before us as emphatically ' the man of generosity'. The first is generosity of the hand; the second is generosity of the mind; the third is generosity of the heart. Let us look at these three generosities to-night. They bring before us one of the finest types of manhood we can imitate the truly generous man.

I. Consider, first, his generous hand. He sold his property, and gave it all for Christ.

The generosity of that deed is measured not by what he gave, but by what he left. That is always so. Generosity is not a sum in addition. It is a sum in subtraction. A poor man's penny is more than a rich man's shilling. Christ sits over the treasury still, and to Him the two mites may be more than two sovereigns. Some of the most generous givers I have known were servant girls.

Barnabas is the man of generosity, not only because he gave much, but because that much was his all. Can you do that?

II. I pass now to the second phase of the generosity of Barnabas generosity of the mind.

It does not always happen that the man who is generous with his wealth is generous in his judgments of men. On the contrary, the wealthy giver is apt to be the narrow giver. He tends to become self-important, and is therefore apt to be got at by men who flatter him or further his cherished nostrums. Anything, therefore, that is out of the line of his accustomed thoughts is suspected and frowned upon. Hence, not always, but often, a generous pocket does not mean a generous mind.

It is a beautiful addition to the character of Barnabas that his mind was as open as his hand. A strange convert has come to the disciples the strangest ever seen.

Barnabas came forward. He took the young disciple by the hand, and gave him the weight of his influence the influence of wealth and character. He told of his wonderful conversion, of his retirement into Arabia, where for two years he had been wrestling with the problem of redemption by grace. 'It is not sudden at all,' he said. 'Accept him, I beseech you,' he added to the leaders of the Church. 'Believe me, he is a gift from God. Let not prejudice mar "a chosen vessel" of the Holy Spirit.'

That saved Paul, and when at Antioch a little later a new move was started, it was the same Barnabas who sought him out again, and put him to the work. He was the introducer of the Apostle of the Gentiles to his life's work.

III. Once more we see in Barnabas, not merely a generous hand and a generous mind, but also a generous heart. He made allowance for the weaknesses of men.

This brings us to the most painful thing in his life his difference with Paul. In his first mission tour he had taken so prominent a place that the Lystrians had called him 'the King of the Gods,' while Paul was only his 'chief speaker'. But now Mark has come between them. He had played the coward in that first journey, and gone home 'to his mother'; but he was very sorry, and wanted to make amends for the past. 'But no,' says Paul

He that will not when he may,

When he will, he shall have nay.

'Ah, but you must not be too hard,' says Barnabas. 'Though he failed once, he need not fail a second time' 'I can't help it,' said the great Apostle. 'This is a difficult service. I must have reliable men.' 'I will answer for him this time,' said Barnabas. 'No,' was the reply. 'It must not be. He won't come with me!'

And the quarrel was so sharp that they parted, never in Scripture story to meet again. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. Paul took Silas and sailed into the world. Never again do we hear of him visiting the isle, where, tradition says, Barnabas laboured faithfully till he died.

Be generous in hand, in mind, in heart that is the threefold message of Barnabas.

W. Mackintosh Mackay, Bible Types of Modern Men, p. 89.

Reference. IX. 29. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 232.

Acts 9:31

The history of the nineteenth century cannot be concluded in the words, 'Then had the Churches rest'. Unquestionably there are numbers within them who have found rest... Undoubtedly there are numbers of men whose reflections are naturally directed into healthy and spiritual channels, and are undisturbed by the seethe and turmoil of the age. We are, however, engaged not in considering our age as a whole, but one feature of it that of unrest. And no one with any just appreciation of his day will deny that there are hundreds of men, and especially of young men, who might be giants in the cause of righteousness and purity, but who are inefficient because they find no solid ground beneath their feet.

T. J. Hardy, The Gospel of Pain, pp. 24, 25.

References. IX. 31. Archbishop Benson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 182. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 89; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 92. IX. 32-35. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1315. IX. 34. Brooke Herford, Courage and Cheer, p. 178. IX. 36. A. H. Bradford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 28.

Acts 9:36 ; Acts 10:4

Compare Charlotte Bronte's criticism of Miss Kavanagh's Women of Christianity: 'She forgets, or does not know, that Protestantism is a quieter creed than Romanism; as it does not clothe its priesthood in scarlet, so neither does it set up its good women for saints, canonise their names, and proclaim their good works. In the records of man, their almsgiving will not perhaps be registered, but heaven has its account as well as earth.'

References. X. 1. A. 6. Mortimer, The Church's Lesson for the Christian Year, pt. iii. p. 80. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 194. X. 2. Christianity in Daily Conduct, p. 31. X. 2-4. Expositor ( 5th Series), vol. ix. p. 219. X. 3. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 448.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Acts 9". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.