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But for and, A.V.; breathing for breathing out, A.V.; threatening for threatenings, A.V. Threatening and slaughter. The phrase ἐμπνέων ἀπειλῆς κ.τ.λ., is rather a difficult one, and is variously explained. Schleusner takes the genitives in "threatening and slaughter" as genitives of the thing desired, "punting after threatening and slaughter" (comp. Amos 2:7). Meyer explains it "out of the threatenings and murder [in his heart] breathing hard at the disciples"—an expression indicating passion. Alford, taking nearly the sense of the A.V., makes "threatenings and slaughter" to be as it were the very material of his breath, whether breathed out or breathed in. Considering that ἐμπνέω means "to breathe in," as distinguished from ἐκπνέω, "to breathe out," and that these two are opposed to each other in Hippocrates (see Schleusner), the A.V. breathing out cannot be justified; nor is it likely that "Luke the physician" would forget the distinction. The difficulty is to explain the genitive case of "threatenings" and "slaughter." The high priest; probably the same person who is so described in Acts 7:1 (where see note). If the year with which we are now dealing was the year A.D. 35, Caiaphas was high priest. But Alford, Lewin, Farrar, and others place Saul's conversion in A.D. 37, when Theophilus, son of Annas or Ananus, was high priest (Chronicles Table in Alford's 'Proleg. to Acts').
Asked for desired, A.V.; unto for to, A.V.; any that were of the Way for any of this way, A.V.; whether men, etc., for whether they were men, etc., A.V.; to for unto, A.V. To Damascus. No special reason is given why Damascus is singled out. But it is clear from Acts 9:10 and Acts 9:13 that there was already a considerable number of Christian Jews at Damascus. And this, with the fact of there being a great multitude of Jews settled there, was a sufficient reason why Saul should ask for letters to each of the synagogues at Damascus, directing them to send any Christians who might be found amongst them bound to Jerusalem to be tried there before the Sanhedrim. There may have been thirty or forty synagogues at Damascus, and not less than forty thousand resident Jews. Of the Way; i.e. holding the doctrine of Christ. Thus in Acts 18:25, Acts 18:26, the Christian faith is spoken of as "the way of the Lord" and "the way of God." In Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14, was the term by which the faith of Christ was spoken of chiefly, perhaps, among the Jews. The term means a peculiar doctrine or sect. Its application to Christians apparently lasted only so long as Christianity was considered to be a modification or peculiar form of Judaism, and its frequent use in the Acts is therefore an evidence of the early composition of the book.
It came to pass that he drew nigh unto for he came near, A.V.; shone for shined, A.V.; out of for from, A.V. and T.R.
Fell upon, for fell to, A.V. Some, as Lord Lytlelton and Lewin, from the expressions, "fell to the ground," "fell to the earth," infer that Saul was "himself mounted, and his followers some mounted and some on foot." And Farrar also, far other reasons, supposes that Saul and his companions rode horses or mules. The journey, he says, was nearly a hundred and fifty miles, and the roads rough, bad, and steep; and Saul was traveling as the legate or the high priest. Still it is strange that no one expression should point distinctly to the party being on horseback, which "falling to the earth," or "ground," certainly do not. While, on the other hand, the phrases, "Arise," "stood speechless," "led him by the hand," seem rather to point to his being on foot. Lunge well compares the double invocation, Saul, Saul! with those similar ones, "Abraham, Abraham!" "Samuel, Samuel!" "Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" "Simon, Simon!" (Genesis 22:11; 1 Samuel 3:10; Matthew 23:1-40.23.39. Matthew 23:27; Luke 22:31).
He for the Lord, A.V. and T.R. The rest of Acts 9:5 in the A.V., "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" and the first part of Acts 9:6, "And he trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him," are omitted in the R.T. They have, in fact, no manuscript authority (Meyer; Alford); and not much patristic authority, or from versions, and are omitted by all modern editors. They seem to be taken from the parallel narratives in Acts 22:8-44.22.10; Acts 26:14. The proverb, "It is hard," etc., is only found in Acts 26:14 (where see note).
Rise, and enter into the city for Arise, and go, etc., A.V.
That journeyed for which journeyed, A.V.; the voice for a voice, A.V.; beholding for seeing, A.V. Speechless; ἐννεοί (or rather ἐνεοί) is found nowhere else in the New Testament, but is not uncommon in the LXX. (e.g. Isaiah 56:10) and in classical Greek. Here it means speechless from terror, struck dumb. The description here given by St. Luke seems to be contradictory in two particulars to St. Paul's own account in Acts 22:9 and Acts 26:14. For St. Paul's companions are said here to have "stood speechless;" but in Acts 26:14 they were "all fallen to the earth." Here they "hear the voice," but in Acts 22:9 they "heard not the voice of him that spake." It is obvious, however, that in such descriptions all depends upon the particular moment of the transaction described which happens to be uppermost in the mind of the speaker or writer at the time, and the particular purpose in relation to which he is giving the description. Thus at one moment the spectators might be standing dumfounded, and at the next they might be prostrate on the ground, or vice versa. Either description of their attitude would be a true one, though not true with regard to the same moment. Again, if the purpose of the speaker was to affirm that the whole company were conscious of both the vision and the sound of a voice speaking, but that only Saul saw the Divine Speaker, the description "hearing the voice, but beholding no man" would be tile natural one. Whereas, if the purpose was to express that Saul alone heard the words spoken to him by the Lord, the description of his companions," They saw indeed the light … but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me," would be equally natural.
Nothing for no man, A.V. and T.R.; and for but, A.V. Nothing (οὐδὲν for οὐδένα). So the best manuscripts and editions The idea is, not like that in Matthew 17:8 that when he opened his eyes the person seen in vision had disappeared, but simply that his eyesight was gone, "for the glory of that light," and he could see nothing, but had to be led like a blind man (see Acts 22:11).
Did neither for neither did, A.V. The same reason, we may venture to think, which caused the interposition of three days' blindness between Saul's conversion and his baptism, led Saul himself to pass those days in a voluntary self-abasement. His sin in persecuting the Church of God and its Divine Head, his guilt in assisting at the death of God's saints, and in rejecting the testimony to Christ's resurrection, had been very great. These three days of blindness and of fasting were therefore a fitting preparation for the grace of forgiveness about to be so freely and fully given to him (1 Timothy 1:12-54.1.16). What thoughts must have passed through Saul's mind during those three days! Before passing on, it may be well to observe that it is to this appearance to him of Jesus Christ that St. Paul undoubtedly refers when he says (1 Corinthians 9:1), "Have not I seen Jesus Christ?" and again (1 Corinthians 15:8), "Last of all, he was seen of me also," where he puts this appearance of Jesus to himself on a par with those to Peter and James and the other apostles, which made them competent witnesses of the resurrection of Christ. And so in verse 17 of this chapter Ananias says, "The Lord Jesus which was seen by thee" (ὁ ὀφθείς σοι); and Barnabas (verse 27), when he brought Saul to the apostles, related "how he had seen the Lord in the way." And in Acts 22:14 Ananias says, "God hath appointed thee to see the Righteous One." Moreover the description in Acts 22:7 of Saul's fellow-travelers, that they "saw no man," implies, by contrast, that Saul did. The reticence of both St. Paul and St. Luke as to what he saw, and what was the appearance of the Lord Jesus, seems to arise from profound reverence and awe, such as St. Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 12:4. It may be also worth remarking how this appearance of Christ was deferred till he was quite close to Damascus, according to one tradition only a quarter of a mile from the gates, but according to Porter, whom Farrar and Lewin follow, at a distance of about ten miles, at a village called Caueab. So the intervention of the angel by which Isaac's life was spared was not till Abraham had the knife in his hand to slay his son; and Peter's prison doors were opened not till the very night before he was to have been brought forth to death. Faith and patience are thus strengthened, and God's intervention is more marked. There is not the slightest trace in the narrative of what the fancy of many has suggested, that Saul's uneasy conscience was wrought up into a paroxysm as he approached Damascus, and so prepared the way for the vision of Christ. Even Canon Farrar's eloquent description of what he supposes to have been the thoughts which agitated Saul's mind on his eventful journey seems hardly to rest on any solid base (see 'Life of St. Paul,'vol. 1.Acts 10:1-44.10.48.).
Now for and, A.V.; and the Lord said unto him for and to him said the Lord, A.V. Behold, I am here. The regular Hebrew answer (Genesis 22:1; 1Sa 3:4, 1 Samuel 3:6, 1 Samuel 3:8, etc.).
To for into, A.V., named for called, A.V.; a man of Tarsus for of Tarsus, A.V. The street; ῥύμη, usually the narrower lanes in a town as distinguished from the πλατεῖαι, or wide streets. So Luke 14:21, "The streets and lanes of the city," and the LXX. in Isaiah 15:3, couple πλατεῖαι and ρύμαι. Here, however, the term applies to the principal street of the city, which runs quite straight from the east to the west gate, and is a mile long. It still exists, and is called the Sultany Street; but instead of being the wide and splendid street it was in the apostolic age, a hundred feet wide, with colonnades separating the two footways on the side from the central read, and adorned with a triumphal arch, it is contracted into a narrow mean passage.
He hath seen for hath seen in a vision, A.V. and T.R.; laying his hands for putting his hand, A.V. and T.R.
But for then, A.V.; from many for by many, A.V.; did for hath done, A.V. Ananias's answer shows his profound astonishment, mixed with doubt and misgiving, at the commission given to him. It shows, too, how the news of Saul's commission had preceded him, and caused terror among the disciples at Damascus. Little did Ananias suspect that this dreaded enemy would be the channel of God's richest blessings to his Church throughout all ages until the coming of Christ. How empty our fears often are l how ignorant are we where our chief good lies hid! But God knows. Let us trust him.
Upon for on, A.V. That call upon thy name. So also Acts 9:21; Romans 10:12, Romans 10:13; 1 Corinthians 1:2; and above, Acts 7:59, this same phrase describes the believer who makes his prayer to the Lord Jesus and trusts in his Name for salvation.
A chosen vessel (comp. Galatians 2:15; Romans 9:21, Romans 9:22). To bear my name before the Gentiles (see Acts 22:21; Acts 26:17, Acts 26:18; Romans 15:16; Galatians 2:7-48.2.9, etc.) and kings (Acts 25:1-44.25.27.; Acts 26:0.; 2Ti 4:16, 2 Timothy 4:17, with reference to Nero), and the children of Israel. The Gentiles are named before the children of Israel, because St. Paul's special call was to be the apostle of the Gentiles. But we know that even St. Paul's practice was to preach Christ to the Jews first, in every city where there were Jews.
Many for great, A.V. St. Paul's whole life was the fulfillment of this word of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-47.11.27; 2 Corinthians 6:4-47.6.10).
Departed for went his way, A.V.; laying for putting, A.V.; who appeared for that appeared, A.V.; which thou earnest for as, etc., A.V.; mayest for mightest, A.V. The laying on of hands is the medium of conveying any special grace. Here it precedes the baptism, and was the channel of restoring sight to his eyes. Doubtless he did not receive the Holy Ghost till after his baptism (see Acts 2:38.)
Straightway for immediately, A.V.; as it were for as it had been, A.V.; received his sight for received sight forthwith, A.V. and T.R.; he arose for arose, A.V. As it were scales (λεπίδες); scales, or flakes; any thin substance which peals off; a frequent term in Greek medical writers. And was baptized. It is a curious difference between St. Paul and the other apostles that, if they were baptized at all, which is doubtful, they must have been baptized by Christ himself; whereas St. Paul received his baptism at the hands of Ananias. This is one mark of his being "born out of due time." And yet he was not behind the very chiefest apostles.
He took food and for when he had received meat he, A.V.; and he was for then was Saul, A.V. and T.R. Some commentators would interpose the journey to Arabia (mentioned Galatians 1:17) between Acts 9:19 and Acts 9:20; and this seems to be the intention of the A.V., where the clause commencing with Then (Acts 9:19) seems to wind up and close the preceding narrative. This too is the view strongly supported by Canon Farrar, vol. 1. ch. 11., and by Lewin. Alford places the journey to Arabia in the time comprised in Acts 9:22; others before Acts 9:22; Neander, Meyer, and others, in the time comprised in the "many days" of Acts 9:23. And this last is undoubtedly the easiest, were it not for the considerations urged by Farrar with great force as to the probability of St. Paul seeking a period of retirement after his conversion before commencing any public preaching, and the further countenance given to this view by Galatians 1:17, where St. Paul certainly says of himself that εὐθέως, immediately, after his conversion he "went away to Arabia." Taking all things into consideration, and supposing that either Luke was not aware of the sojourn in Arabia, or that he omitted from his notes some brief notice of it immediately preceding the description of Saul's preaching in Damascus, which explained the following εὐθέως, it seems best to understand the latter part of verse 19 and all that follows as subsequent to his return from Arabia; and to conclude that he only stayed at Damascus ἡμέρας τίνας, a few days, after his conversion, and then retired to Arabia. It may be observed, too, that this interpretation gives a significance to the mention of the "certain days" which otherwise it has not. There is a further difference of opinion as to what is meant by Arabia. The most common view is that Auranitis, bordering upon Arabia Deserts, and reckoned as part of Arabia, not above two days' journey from Damascus, is the country meant. But others understand it in its more strictly Hebrew sense of the Peninsula of Sinai. This view is decidedly strengthened by the fact that, in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul clearly means by Arabia the Peninsula of Arabia, where Sinai was (Galatians 4:25). On the assumption that the Sinaitic Peninsula is meant, Bishop Lightfoot says, "He was attracted thither by a spirit akin to that which formerly had driven Elijah to the same region. Standing on the threshold of the new covenant, he was anxious to look upon the birthplace of the old; that, dwelling for a while in seclusion in the presence of the mount that burned with fire, he might ponder over the transient glories of the ministration of death, and apprehend its real purpose in relation to the more glorious covenant which was now to supplant it." His journey to Arabia need not necessarily have occupied more than two or three mouths. It seems certain that he did not preach there, because he says (Acts 26:20), "I declared to them at Damascus first," etc. (see another coincidence between the Acts and the Epistle to the Galatians in Acts 13:2, note).
In the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus for he preached Christ in the synagogues, A.V. and T.R. The preponderance of manuscript authority, and the ὄνομα of Acts 9:21, and the ὅτι οὖτός ἐστιν ὁ Χριστός of Acts 9:22, seem conclusive in favor of Jesus rather than Christ. As regards the expression straightway, we must understand it as descriptive of Saul's action upon his return from Arabia. Is it possible that St. Luke uses it with the same meaning as he may have heard St. Paul use it in when speaking of his Damascus preaching, in the same sense as St. Paul actually does speak in Galatians 1:17, viz. as expressing that he did not wait for authority from the apostles, but at once, fresh from the Divine call, and having a direct commission from Christ himself, entered upon his apostolic ministry? If the Epistle to the Galatians was written A.D. 58, it would be just about the time that St. Luke joined St. Paul, and might be commencing to collect materials for his history. So that the phrase in the Galatians and the phrase in this twentieth verse might really be the expression of one thought committed to paper by St. Paul on the one hand, and uttered in the ear of Luke on the other. It is a confirmation of this view that in 2 Corinthians, written about the same time, there is also an account of Saul's escape from Damascus. In the synagogues; the very synagogues (verse 2) to which the letters of the high priest were addressed, empowering him to arrest either man or woman who called upon the Name of Jesus, and bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem to be tried before the Sanhedrim. No wonder they were amazed.
And for but, A.V.; that in Jerusalem made havoc of for that destroyed them (which called on this Name) in Jerusalem, A.V.; and he had come hither for this intent for and came hither for that intent, A.V., differently stopped; before for unto, A.V. The chief priests. The plural seems to mark how the high priesthood at this period was passed from one to another. Caiaphas, Annas, Jonathan, and Theophilus would all be included under the term.
The Christ for very Christ, A.V. The repetition of the phrase ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν (Acts 9:20 and Acts 9:22) is remarkable. As already observed, it presupposes the mention of Jesus, of whom it is thus predicated that he is both "the Son of God" and "the Christ" (comp. Acts 2:32, Acts 2:36; Acts 4:11, etc.). Observe the incidental proof of the general expectation of the Jews that Christ should come in this description of the apostolic preaching as directed to the one point that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ.
When for after that, A.V.; took counsel together for took counsel, A.V. The phrase many days is quite elastic enough to comprehend whatever time remained to make up the three years (Galatians 1:18) which St. Paul tells us intervened between his conversion and his visit to Jerusalem (see Acts 9:43; Acts 18:18; 37:7; Acts 14:3). Luke frequently uses ἱκανός for "many" (Luke 7:11; Luke 8:27; Luke 23:8). So in Hebrew, מיבַּרַ מימִיָ, many days, is applied to considerable portions of time. In I Kings Luke 2:38, Luke 2:39, it is applied to three years.
Their plot (ἐπιβουλή) became known for their laying await was known, A.V.; to Saul for of Saul, A.V.; the gates also for the gates, A.V. and T.R.; that they might for to, A.V.; a colon instead of full point at end of verse.
But for then, A.V.; his disciples for the disciples, A.V. and T.R.; through for by, A.V; lowering him in for in, A.V. Lowering him, etc. The A.V. gives the sense freely; and combining the verb καθῆκαν with the participle χαλάσαντες, translates both by the one word "let him down." The by of the A.V. seems preferable to the through of the R.V., as through suggests the idea, which cannot be intended, of making a hole in the wall. The escape of the spies from Jericho, as described in Joshua 2:15, was exactly in the same way, except that they had only a rope to descend by, whereas St. Paul had a rope-basket. In the description of his escape given by St. Paul to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:33), he uses the same word for "let down" (ἐχαλάσθην), tells us he was let down "by the wall," R.V. διὰ τοῦ τείχους, with the additional particular that he got out through the window, διὰ θυρίδος, and that it was a σαργάνη, a basket made of ropes (which describes the kind of basket somewhat more accurately than the σπυρίς here used) in which he was let down (see note on Joshua 2:20). The passage in 2 Corinthians gives us a further interesting account of how the Jews went about to accomplish their purpose of killing Paul. It seems that at this time, either in revolt against the Romans or by permission of Caligula (it is not known certainly which), a certain Aretas, or Hareth, King of Arabia Petrea, included Damascus in his dominions for a time, i.e. through the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. He appointed an ethnarch, who was doubtless a Jew, to rule the large Jewish population according to their Law, and who was the ready tool of the unbelieving Jews, using his power as governor to have the gates kept day and night so as to prevent Saul's escape. But he that keepeth Israel neither slumbered nor slept, and by his watchful providence Saul escaped from their hands. As regards the R.Y., his disciples for the disciples, Alford adopts the reading λαβόντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτόν, and holds αὐτοῦ of the R.T. to be simply a mistake for αὐτόν, caused by the situation of αὐτόν after λαβόντες. The R.T. cannot be right. "The disciples" is St. Luke's regular expression for "Christians" (Acts 6:1, Acts 6:2, Acts 6:7; Acts 9:10, Acts 9:19, Acts 9:26; Acts 14:22; Acts 21:16), and is our Lord's name for his followers, but is never used by an apostle of his own followers (see 1Co 1:12, 1 Corinthians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 3:4-46.3.7).
He for Saul, A.V. and T.R.; and they were for but, etc., A.V.; not believing for and believed not, A.V. The narrative thus far exactly agrees with Galatians 1:17, Galatians 1:18, which, however, supplies the motive of the journey to Jerusalem, which is not here mentioned, viz. to see Peter. It seems strange to some commentators that the news of Saul having become a zealous Christian should not have reached Jerusalem after an interval of three years. But first, we do not know. how much of those three years was spent in Arabia, nor how much the unsettled state of Damascus may have interrupted the usual communication between Jerusalem and Damascus, nor how suspicious of evil the poor persecuted disciples at Jerusalem may have been. They knew of the fierceness of Saul's zeal as a persecutor by their own experience; they knew of him as a disciple only by report. It may have been only an instance of the truth of Horace's maxim, "Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures quam quae sunt occults subjecta fidelibus."
How at Damascus he had preached boldly for how he had preached boldly at Damascus, A.V. As regards the statement that Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, which some have thought inconsistent with Galatians 1:18 Galatians 1:19, it is obvious to remark that St. Luke's account is fully justified by the fact that St. Paul did, on Barnabas's introduction, make the acquaintance of Peter, and, as it seems, pass fifteen days as his guest (Galatians 1:18); and while there, did also see James the Lord's brother. The other apostles were probably absent from Jerusalem during that fortnight; but Barnabas did, it seems, at a Church assembly, in the presence of James and, no doubt, the elders of the Church, give the astonishing narrative of Saul's conversion. This removed their suspicious and their fears, and he was freely, during the rest of his brief stay, admitted as a brother to their assemblies, and took part in preaching the gospel in the synagogues.
Going in for coming in, A.V.
Preaching boldly, etc, the and of the T.R. is omitted, and this clause connected with the preceding one; the Lord for the Lord Jesus, A.V. and T.R.; he spake for he spake boldly, A.V. (The παῤῥησιαζόμενος (translated preaching boldly) ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Κυρίου, is in the R.T. separated from ἐλάλει); the Grecian Jews for the Grecians, A.V., as in Acts 6:1; to kill for to slay, A.V. The Grecian Jews; or, Hellenists (margin). St. Stephen was a Hellenist, and it was among the Hellenists that his evangelical labors elderly lay and from whose enmity he met his death. Saul showed his dauntless spirit, and perhaps his deep compunction at the part he had taken in Stephen's death, by thus encountering their bitter and unrelenting enmity.
And when the brethren knew it for which when the brethren knew, A.V. St. Paul gives another reason for his hasty departure from Jerusalem in his speech from the castle stairs (Acts 22:17-44.22.21). Caesarea, when standing alone, means Caesarea Stratonis, or Παράλιος, or Sebaste, the seaport and Roman garrison of that name, as distinguished from Caesarea Philippi (see Alford's note on Acts 8:30), and is always so used by St. Luke (Luke 8:40; Luke 10:1, Luke 10:24; Luke 18:22; Luke 21:8, Luke 21:16; Luke 23:23, Luke 23:33; 25:1, 4, 6; 27:1, 2, showing it was a seaport). There is no reasonable doubt that it means the same place here. A seaport, near to Jerusalem, and with Roman protection, affording access to Tarsus either by sea or land as should seem best, was the natural place for Paul's friends to take him to. If further proof were wanting, it could be found in the phrase, "brought him down," as compared with the converse, "gone up" (Acts 18:22), "ascended "(Acts 25:1), when the journey was from Caesarea to Jerusalem. To Tarsus. A glance at the map will show that, starting from Caesarea, a person might either go by land along the sea-coast of Phoenicia, through Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Beyrout, Tripolis, Antioch, Issus, to Tarsus; or by sea to any of the intermediate ports between Caesarea and Tarsus; or rather the artificial harbor at the mouth of the Cydnus which formed the seaport of Tarsus. It is not improbable that Paul landed at Selcucia, since he says (Galatians 1:21) that he came at this time "into the regions of Syria and Cilicia," which is exactly what he would have done if he had landed at Seleucia, the seaport of Antioch.
So the Church … had peace, being edified for then had the Churches rest,… and were edified, A.V. and T.R.; was multiplied for were multiplied, A.V. and T.R. It is thought that the attention of the Jews to the progress of the faith of Jesus Christ was diverted at this time, and their active hostility stayed, by the still greater danger to the Jews' religion which arose from Caligula's intention of placing a statue to himself as a god in the holy of holies. Thus did God's gracious providence intervene to give rest to his harassed saints, and to build up his Church in numbers, in holiness, and in heavenly comfort. Especially Paul had another breathing-time, which may have been the more required if, as is thought, one at least of the five scourgings mentioned in 2Co 12:1-21 :24 had been inflicted at Damascus, and one of the three shipwrecks alluded to in the same passage and been undergone in the dangerous coasting voyage from Caesarca to Scleucia.
Went for passed, A.V.; all parts (διὰ πάντων) for all quarters, A.V. All parts. Afford, following Meyer, understands "through all the saints," which is scarcely so well. The current of St. Luke's narrative is here temporarily diverted from St. Paul, in order to trace that portion of St. Peter's apostolic work, which led immediately to that opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles in which Peter was to have the priority in point of time (Matthew 16:18, Matthew 16:19), but Paul the chief burden of labour and danger (Galatians 2:7-48.2.9; Romans 11:13), and which was also the main subject of St. Luke's history. He came down; Lydda (afterwards called Diospolis, now Ludd), being more than half-way between Jerusalem and the sea-coast at Joppa.
For he was palsied for and was sick of the palsy, A.V.
Healeth thee for maketh thee whole, A.V.; straightway he arose for he arose immediately, A.V. Jesus Christ healeth thee. The juxtaposition, ἰᾶταί δε Ἰησοῦς, looks almost like an intentional play upon the sound. Some of the Fathers who did not know Hebrew derived the name Ἰησοῦς from ἰάομαι, and the Anglo-Saxon name for the Savior Haelend, the Healer, seems to have the same origin. Arise and make thy bed. Not (says Meyer), "Henceforth make thine own bed," but, as the force of the imperative script requires, make thy bed now, both as a token of his miraculous cure, and that he might carry it away (Mark 2:9-41.2.12). AEneas is a Greek name, not identical with AEneas (Αἰνείας), but occurring in Thucydides and elsewhere. If it was a Hebrew name, it might be derived from מחָ ניִעַ, "(whom) the eye spareth." It is uncertain whether AEneas was a disciple or not.
In Sharon for at Saron, A.V.; they turned for turned, A.V. In Sharon. The Greek represents the Hebrew נוֹרשָׁ, Sharon, which is the name of the rich plain which stretches from Joppa to Caesarea (see Isaiah 33:9). The name still lingers in the village of Saron. They turned; manifestly an improvement on the A.V., as giving the sense of οἵτινες, viz. that all who saw the paralytic walking, turned, as a consequence, to the Lord, in whose Name the wonderful miracle had been wrought. A very extensive conversion of the people of Lydda and of Sharon is signified.
Joppa; now Jaffa, the ancient seaport of Jerusalem (Jonah 1:3; 2 Chronicles 2:16). It was in the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:46). A certain disciple; a female disciple, as the word means; μαθήτρια only occurs here in the New Testament and rarely elsewhere. Tabitha; the Aramean form of the Hebrew יבִץְ, a gazelle, or in Greek Dorcas. The beauty and grace of the gazelle made it an appropriate name for a woman. Some have thought, with probability, that she was a deaconess of the Church. The thirty-eighth verse shows that there was already a Church at Joppa About half the population of seven thousand are said to be still Christians. Compare the qualifications of a widow as set forth by St Paul (1 Timothy 5:10). The phrase, good works, is quite Pauline (Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:10; Titus 2:7; 1 Timothy 2:10). Almsdeeds. The word alms (from ἐλεημοσυνή) is one of those Greek words which has been domiciled in the English language through the Church. So bishop, priest, deacon, Κύριε ἐλέητον, trisagion, stole, Paschal, Litany, Liturgy, and many others.
Fell sick for was sick, A.V.; and when they had washed her for whom when they had washed, A.V. For the phrase in those days, comp. Acts 6:1. The days here meant are those while Peter was in those parts. An upper chamber (ὑπερώον), as in Acts 1:13. The upper chamber was much more private and quiet than a room on the ground floor (see 2 Kings 4:10, 2 Kings 4:11).
As for forasmuch as, A.V.; unto for to, A.V.; the disciples, hearing … sent for and the disciples had heard … they sent, A.V.; two men unto him for unto him two men, A.V.; entreating for desiring, A.V.; delay not to come on unto us for that he would not delay to come to them, A.V. and T.R. It is impossible to say whether any vague hope that Dorcas might be restored to life by Peter's prayers animated those who sent for Peter, and who had either seen or heard of the miracles wrought by him at Jerusalem before the persecution (Acts 5:15), or whether it only was that they felt the need of comfort and support in so great a sorrow. Two men; so Acts 10:7. Cornelius sends two of his household servants (comp. Acts 13:2; Acts 15:22). In unsafe times and by dangerous roads, it was customary to send two messengers, both for mutual protection and that, if anything happened to one, the other might still deliver the message. It was also a security against fraud.
And for then, A.V.; and when for when, A.V. All the widows. The article may denote all the widows for whom Dorcas had made garments, which the middle voice (ἐπιδεικνύμεναι), found only here, indicates perhaps that they had on them at the time. But it is quite as probable that αἱ χῆραι means the Church widows, as in Acts 6:1 and 1 Timothy 5:9, and that we have here an indication that the model of the Jerusalem Church was followed in all the daughter Churches. Dorcas's almsdeeds would naturally have for their first object the widows of her own communion. As naturally would they all come to meet the apostle at her house.
Turning for turning him, A.V.; he said for said, A.V. Peter's action in putting them all forth seems to have been framed on the model of that scene at which he had been present when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus. Privacy for the more earnest concentrated prayer was doubtless what he sought. Kneeled down; θεὶς τὰ γόνατα. The same expression as in Acts 7:60; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5; Luke 22:41. It occurs also in Mark 15:19. Tabitha, arise. Exactly the same address as our Lord's "Talitha cumi" (Mark 5:40), but, as Lange observes, with this difference, that in the case of Peter it was preceded by prayer; comp. also Luke 7:14 (where the Aramean address was probably in the same form); John 11:43.
Raised for lifted, A.V.; calling for when he had called, A.V.; he presented for presented, A.V. The saints and widows; by which we learn that others of the Christians of Joppa besides the widows had come to meet Peter, as was to be expected.
It became known for it was known, A.V.; on for in, A.V. As in Acts 9:35, the result of the healing of the palsied man at Lydda was that very many "turned to the Lord," so here the like effect was produced at Joppa by the restoration of Dorcas to life. Many believed on the Lord. And St. John tells us (John 20:31) that the very purpose of the record which he wrote of the miracles of Christ is "that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we may have life in his Name."
Abode for tarried, A.V. Many days (ἡμέρας ἱκανάς); the same phrase as Acts 9:23; spoken of a time of indeterminate length. Here probably it means some months, luring which Peter would be evangelizing the whole neighborhood. The Jews are said to have considered the trade of a tanner unclean; but if this were so, it would not be safe to infer that Peter was already indifferent to ceremonial uncleanness. We know he was not so (Acts 10:14), but probably in his line of life he could not act up to all the nicer distinctions of the strictest Pharisees.
The Ethiopian changes his skin.
Of all the remarkable events in the history of human psychology, probably the most remarkable is the conversion of St. Paul, the memory of which is continually celebrated in the Church on the 25th of January. It may be viewed—
I. AS AN EVIDENCE OF THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY. St. Paul lived. He preached the gospel with astonishing vigor and success. Numerous Churches were founded by him in Asia and Europe. These are facts as certain as facts can be. He wrote Epistles also to different communities of Christians, and these writings are extant at the present day. By these writings we can form an accurate judgment of St. Paul's intellectual faculties, of the force of his character, of the extent of his knowledge. By these writings we can form an estimate of his moral qualities. We can judge for ourselves whether, on the one hand, he was a fanatic, an impostor, or a knave; and, on the other, whether he was one of the noblest, sincerest, and most high-minded men with whom we have ever come in contact. These writings, besides exhibiting an unquenchable zeal for the Christian faith, lasting through years of toil and suffering, tell us also distinctly, though incidentally, of a time when the writer was as vehemently opposed to the Christian faith as he afterwards became attached to it. They contain, too, clear evidences of that education in the Jews' religion, and that impregnation with Jewish doctrine and tradition, which were likely to have had the same influence upon his mind which the same causes had upon the minds of so many of his ablest and most learned fellow-countrymen. They also display those qualities of disinterestedness, courage, and decision, which make it to the highest degree improbable that he should have changed his mind lightly or without conviction or due cause for doing so. But he did change from a vehement and fierce persecutor to a preacher of unrivalled zeal and power, and a daily martyr of unsurpassed patience and constancy. But these same Epistles also tell us, still incidentally but also still distinctly, the cause of this change. It was nothing less than the visible appearing and the audible voice of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, of him whom he knew to have been crucified, but whom he now saw and heard in his effulgent glory, living and potent in ineffable majesty. It was that sight, too bright for mortal eyes, and that voice of exquisite tenderness in its complaint, which had in an instant overborne his unbelief and melted his obdurate heart, even as his body was swayed in terror to the ground. Did St. Paul know, or did he not know, the cause of his conversion? Did he invent a lie, or did he speak the truth, when he wove this history, or allusions to it, into his Epistles to the Galatians, the Corinthians, the Philippians, and Timothy? But even if it were possible to doubt the man whom we know as we know St. Paul, we have his account corroborated and developed by a contemporary writer of unimpeached and unimpeachable accuracy and truth. He gives us in this chapter his own account of this wonderful conversion, and he reports to us two several accounts of it given by St. Paul himself—when on his defense before the people at Jerusalem, and again when on his trial before King Agrippa at Caesarea. Did St. Luke write a lie when he reported these utterances of his noble and saintly friend? or did he speak the truth which he had such abundant opportunities of accurately knowing? There is no fact in history more certain than St. Paul's conversion, and there is no more unanswerable evidence of the truth of Christ's gospel than this same conversion grounded upon the revelation in the way to Damascus.
II. WE MAY SEE IN ST. PAUL'S CONVERSION VIVIDLY PORTRAYED THE LEADING DOCTRINES OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. What was it which arrested the persecutor in his furious course, which turned back the whole current of his thoughts, which wrought in him that noble inconsistency, that holy apostasy from his previous convictions, which have placed him at the head of Christian teachers and confessors? It was the clear knowledge conveyed to him by his own senses of sight and hearing that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was risen, was alive, was glorified. He knew that he had been tried at the bar of Pilate, condemned, crucified, buried. He had thought that sentence a just one. He had thought that that life, closed in ignominy and shame, was closed for ever, and that his own Jews' religion had thereby triumphed and been confirmed. Now he knew that God had reversed that sentence, and had raised Jesus from the dead, and declared him in so doing to be his own eternal Son, both Lord and Christ. His previous convictions were thus refuted by the fact of the life and glory and Godhead of the Lord Jesus. The truth of the mission of Jesus Christ was thus in an instant established by irrefragable proof. Henceforth Jesus Christ was his Lord, his Guide, his Teacher, his Master, his almighty Savior. Henceforth his own body and soul, his life, and all his powers, his whole capacity of doing and suffering, were Christ's, wholly and only Christ's. Here then we see, as in a glass, what our own religion must be. It must consist in a full assurance of faith that Jesus Christ is risen and lives for ever in the power of his Godhead, and in the consecration of ourselves to his service in the power of a personal love, devotion, and attachment—those of a person to a Person—to last while life lasts, and to be perfected in the life
III. CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL GIVES US ALSO A VIVID PORTRAITURE OF THE MIND AND CHARACTER OF GOD, AS THEY SHINE IN THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST. This is St. Paul's own view of it: "For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting" (1 Timothy 1:16). We have here a pattern of the infinite, eternal mercy of God. The threatening and slaughter of the persecutor are met and overcome by love. The ignorance and unbelief which caused the blasphemies and injuries are taken note of, and these are weighed in the scales of mercy and are forgiven. The electing grace, the predestinating love, brushes aside these obstacles, and the blaspheming tongue is made eloquent with adoration and praise, and the breath which was once all threatening and slaughter now breathes nothing but the word of peace and salvation. Such is the mercy and wondrous grace of God our Savior.
IV. WE HAVE HERE A STUDY IN PSYCHOLOGY. Ignorance may be real. Prejudices, blinding prejudices, may be real, and unbelief may have some excuse, or at least some palliation. It is not, indeed, blameless—it never can be, because the single eye of a pure heart ought always to discern the true light from Heaven wheresoever it shines. Still, it may be that, with real conscientiousness, and under a mistaken view of duty, and with a blinding devotion to certain tenets of philosophy or religion which have been received without due care, and concurrently with a zeal for God and for supposed truth, a man may reject and even hate the truth. He may mistake his own opinions for Divine truth, and so be bitterly opposed to whatever opposes them. And he may misconceive of the truth and ignorantly believe that it sanctions this or that error inconsistent with the fundamental principles of righteousness and godliness. Had St. Paul from the first really known Jesus Christ, and had he known the worthlessness of Levitical or Pharisaic righteousness, he would never have been found in the ranks of the enemies of Christ. But he acted in ignorance and in unbelief. When the scales fell off the eyes of his understanding, the rebound of his spirit toward his Lord was instantaneous. From this we learn a lesson of caution in judging even the unbeliever. There may be some cause of his unbelief which we know not of, but which God knows, and will perhaps some day remove. Then the skeptic will come with a bruised and humble spirit to Christ, and the Ethiopian will change his skin.
The fisher of men.
"The Church had rest," we read in Acts 9:31, "throughout all Judaea and Galilee." Not so the primate of the Church. The Church's rest from persecution was his season of work. A brief glimpse of his work may be edifying to us. We saw something of his ministry at Jerusalem in the earlier chapters of this book—preaching, praying, praising, healing, protesting, resisting, suffering, perplexing his enemies, exhorting and comforting the saints. We saw him carefully building up the Church—baptizing, breaking the bread of life, appointing fresh ministries, repairing the walls of the new Jerusalem with his weapons of war in his hand. We saw him the faithful administrator of the Church's discipline, her courageous confessor, breasting the storm of persecution at his post, and maintaining the center of Christian unity with his brother apostles at Jerusalem. Then we saw him preaching the gospel in the villages of Samaria, confirming the baptized, rebuking the hypocrite, and returning to the post of danger at Jerusalem. And now again we see him actively at work. We see his care for all the Churches, his tender anxiety for all the disciples who had been folded in Christ's fold in those days of danger and alarm, test the hour of rest and prosperity should bring greater dangers to them than the day of persecution had done. He goes forth into all quarters where any disciples were, and, not content with former conquests, he so wrought by word and deed that many more were added to the Lord. Now he speaks to AEneas the word of healing at Lydda; now he passes on to the chamber of death at Joppa. Always ready with outstretched hand, or speaking mouth, or words of prayer, to fulfill his ministry and be a fisher of men for Christ. Blessed Peter! glorious apostle! great primate of the Church! opener of the door to Jews and Gentiles! we praise God for thy mighty works wrought in the Name of Jesus Christ. We pray him to give more such pastors to his feeble flock, to bind up that which is broken, to bring again that which is driven away, to seek out that which is lost, that there may be once again "one fold under one Shepherd," and that all they who do confess the Name of Jesus Christ may be united in one communion and fellowship to the glory of his great Name.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
We have here an instance and a picture of conversion—of a human soul pursuing the wrong course, being arrested by the Divine hand, and submitting itself willingly to the rule of Christ.
I. A HUMAN SOUL PURSUING ITS OWN WRONG COURSE. Paul was moving with the whole force of his strong and ardent nature in the direction of active persecution of the friends of Christ (Acts 9:1, Acts 9:2, Acts 9:5). Sin sometimes takes this special form now. More often it takes the shape of
(1) guilty indulgence, or
(2) utter worldliness, or
(3) confirmed unbelief and rejection of the truth, or
(4) indecision and procrastination.
But whatever particular form it takes, its essential nature is this—that the soul which was created to love, honor, and please God is pursuing another and an opposite path; it is found in highways or byways of evil. It is not with God, with Christ, but against him (Matthew 12:30). It itself is not in active sympathy with him, rejoicing in him, delighting in his truth and happy in his service; and all the influences, both those which (as in the case of Saul at this time) are the direct result of conscious effort, and those which flow spontaneously and unconsciously from the life, are hostile to his truth and to his kingdom.
II. THE DIVINE ARREST. (Acts 9:3-44.9.5.) Paul tells us (Philippians 3:12) that he was "apprehended of Christ Jesus." Christ laid hold upon him as he was going on his guilty way, arrested him in his own name, and charged him to turn round and pursue another and a better course. The Savior's interposition in his case was unusually sudden, and it was exceedingly striking in its form (see Acts 9:3-44.9.5). It is seldom that the hand of the heavenly Lord is laid so manifestly, so powerfully, on the human heart. Yet it is being continually laid upon us, and we now are being arrested by him, with effectual power in redeeming love.
1. Christ's arrest of us is sometimes sudden, but more often gradual. Sometimes a man who has been proceeding far in some way of folly and of sin is instantly convinced that he is guilty and foolish; in an hour, in a moment, the truth of God flashes into his soul and lights up the dark depths within, and it shines upon and illumines the dreary and fatal path before him, and he stops and turns. More frequently the Lord of love and power works gradually in the heart; by degrees he insinuates his heavenly truth, and gradually makes the soul to see and to feel that the way of selfishness and of sin is a path which must no longer be pursued, from which it must escape for its life.
2. The Divine arrest is sometimes by extraordinary but usually by ordinary means. Occasionally God comes in power to the human soul, by some vision of the night or of the day, or by some very remarkable ordering of his providence, by some experience which is shared by no other or by a very few; but commonly the hand of his renewing power is laid upon us by ordinary means, by the gracious influences of a Christian home, by the appeals of the Christian minister or teacher, by the sickness which brings death and judgment into full view, or by the loss which compels us to feel that we do need and must secure a Divine Friend who can succor and console in the drear and lonely hour of life.
III. THE SOUL'S SUBMISSION TO THE DIVINE WILL. The first result of feeling the pressure of the Divine hand may be, perhaps generally is, spiritual agitations. We may be "trembling and astonished" (Acts 9:6), or, if not moved so powerfully, we shall be agitated, earnestly concerned, exceedingly solicitous; we shall be as those thoroughly awakened who have been partially asleep, our spiritual faculty of inquiry will be called into fullest exercise. But the main and all-important result is spiritual submission—readiness and eagerness to accept the rule of Christ. The question of Saul will be the question of our heart, now reduced to loyalty and self-surrender, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Christ will tell us that he wants us to trust him, to follow him, to work for him. And these three things we shall gladly do. But the victory is gained, the one supreme step is taken, death is left behind, and the gates of life are before us, when, responding to his merciful and mighty touch, we submit ourselves to his sovereign will, when we turn round in spirit and say, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"—C.
The goads of God.
There is probably some truth in the familiar saying "If Stephen had not prayed, Paul had not preached." The influence of the sight of that martyrdom, and especially of that magnanimous prayer, may have had much to do with converting Saul the persecuting Pharisee into Paul the faithful apostle. For what could our Lord have meant by saying, "It is hard for thee to kick against the goads," but that, as it is a vain, useless, and hurtful thing for the yoked ox to struggle against that which is inciting it to its work, so was it a useless and hurtful thing for Saul to be rebelling against those scruples, heart-searchings, convictions, which were urging him to enter a new and better path? This may seem inconsistent with the language which has just been used (Acts 9:1); but we must remember that vehemence is never quite so violent as when it begins to suspect itself to be in the wrong; that persecution is never so passionate, fanaticism never so fierce, as when it is most impressed with the goodness and innocency of its victim. Your Levee never strikes so murderous a blow as when he finds himself face to face with a Christian hero and feels himself to be thoroughly condemned. So Saul never breathed out such threatening and slaughter as when the sight of Stephen's blood-stained body was still before his eyes, and the sound of his generous intercession still lingered in his ear. But he was beginning to think that, after all, perhaps those Christians were in the right and that he was in the wrong, and that he must either shut his eyes hard against the light or change his course. By violent suppression of these new thoughts, by stifling all scruples with strong hand, by kicking against the goads of God, he found himself on the way to Damascus to worry and harry the servants of Christ. There the Lord whom he was to serve so faithfully met him and told him he was doing a hard thing in thus struggling against the Heaven-sent promptings which urged him to take the true and right path.
I. THE PREVALENCE OF INWARD STRUGGLE. Few things more pathetic have come down to us from ancient times than that lament of the Roman poet, "I see the better things and approve; I follow the worse." How many have to make the same sorrowful confession now! Around us are souls struggling
(1) with passion,
(2) with earthly ambition,
(3) with pride,
(4) with disposition to wait for some favorable future.
These find themselves urged by the goads of God—conscience, the sacred Scriptures, human ministry, the Divine Spirit—to take the better course, but their lower instincts and evil habits cause them to strive against these higher impulses.
II. ITS PROFOUND MISTAKE.
1. It is a miserable thing in a man's own experience to be living a life of vice, or worldliness, or selfishness, or indecision, when the soul is conscious of a Divine voice calling it to higher things—to pursue a path which is known and felt to be the wrong one. This is a wretched life to live; there is no peace, no spiritual rest, no lasting joy; there is distraction, discontent, rebellion. It is hard for a human soul to kick against the goads of God.
2. It is a regrettable thing, judged from outside. Those who look on—" the cloud of witnesses "—see with unspeakable sorrow a human heart spending its powers and wasting its life in battling with its purer and nobler aspirations. There is no more saddening sight to a Christ-like spirit than that of a human heart thus striving with the influences which come from heaven to raise and to redeem it.
3. It is a guilty thing, life man can continue to do that without storing up for himself "wrath against the day of wrath."
III. THE ONE WISE COURSE TO TAKE. There is only one thing for such a man to do—he must yield himself at once to God's gracious forces. He must be the "prisoner of the Lord," that he may become "the freedman of Christ." He must go on whither his Redeemer is urging him—on to full self-surrender; on to sacred and harry service; and so on to the heavenly kingdom.—C.
Christ's treatment of us and our obedience to him.
I. THAT CHRIST MAY CALL US TO WORK WHICH WILL BE AT FIRST PERPLEXING. (Acts 9:10-44.9.14.) Nothing which Christ could have given Ananias to do would have surprised him more than the duty with which he was entrusted. It filled him with astonishment and perplexity. Instead of immediately acquiescing, he raised a strong objection (Acts 9:13, Acts 9:14). It seemed impossible to him that this should be his mission; nevertheless it was so, and the obedient disciple of Damascus never did a better morning's work than when he conveyed sight to the eyes and gladness to the heart of the last and greatest of the apostles. We may be summoned by our Lord, either through the promptings of his own Spirit or through the instrumentality of his Church, to do work which at first seems surprising, undesirable, useless. We may be invited to appeal to those we deem unlikely to welcome us, to address ourselves to apparently unremunerative toil, to cultivate ground which looks sterile to our eye; but it may be that we are really called of Christ to do a most needed and useful work.
II. THAT CHRIST ONLY KNOWS WHAT IS THE RANGE OF OUR SPIRITUAL CAPACITY. (Acts 9:15.) There may be very much more of spiritual power resident in us or in our neighbors than we have any conception of. How many have lived and died with vast possibilities of good in their nature never realized! Their talent has been buried. Has not our Master some good or even some great work for us to achieve? May we not, like Ananias, be instrumental in leading forward some servant of Christ who has great capacities of usefulness in him? We must make the most and best of ourselves and of others; only our Lord and theirs knows how much it is in us and in them to accomplish.
III. THAT CHRIST MAY CALL US TO THE HIGHEST POST IT IS EVER GIVEN TO HIS SERVANTS TO FILL. (Acts 9:16.) He may summon us to "suffer for his Name's sake." We never reach so lofty an altitude, never come so near to the Master himself, never so nobly serve our kind, as when we willingly and cheerfully suffer for the kingdom of heaven's sake; then we may "rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is our reward in heaven."
IV. THAT THE SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE IS NEVER MORE TRULY MANIFEST THAN WHEN WE DO WORK FROM WHICH WE SHRINK. (Acts 9:17.) When it is in our human nature to shrink from any duty, but when, from regard to our Master's will, we address ourselves to it, then we do that which is acceptable to him. It is at variance with our material interests, against our inclinations, opposed to our tastes and views; "nevertheless at Christ's word we will" do what is desired (see Luke 5:5). Ananias shrinks from approaching the arch-persecutor; nevertheless at Christ's bidding he goes, takes a friendly tone and does a brotherly deed.
V. THAT WE SHOULD AT ONCE ACKNOWLEDGE OUR DIVINE REDEEMER. (Acts 9:18.) As soon as the scales had fallen from his eyes and he received sight, as soon as he had been favored with this further confirmation that he was under the teaching and leading of the Son of God himself, Paul "arose and was baptized." No interval elapsed between the time when he was free to act as one redeemed and healed of Christ, and his action of open acknowledgment of conversion to the faith. We do well to wait till we are thoroughly assured of our whole-hearted reception of Jesus Christ before we confess him before men; but as soon as we clearly see that he is our Lord and that we are his disciples, it is
(1) our simple duty, as it is
(2) our valuable privilege, to honor our Redeemer by an open declaration of attachment to him, and to join ourselves to his disciples (Acts 9:19).—C.
The texture of human life.
Of how many threads is this human life woven! Through what changeful experiences do we pass, even in a short period of our course! In the brief period—possibly three years—covered by our text, we find Paul undergoing various fluctuations of good and evil. It is suggestive of the nature and character of our common human life. We may gather them up thus—
I. THE PLEASANT. Paul had the pleasure of:
1. Congenial fellowship. He was "with the disciples … at Damascus" (Acts 9:19); "he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem" (Acts 9:27, Acts 9:28). Few things shed more sunshine on our earthly path than the genial society of those with whom we are one in thought and aim.
2. Conscious growth in moral and spiritual power in dealing with men. He increased in strength (Acts 9:22).
3. Fearless action on behalf of the true and right (Acts 9:29). These are joys, deep and full, to a human spirit—to be growing in influence, and to be playing a brave and noble part in the strife of life.
II. THE PAINFUL.
1. The distrust of those with whom we are in sympathy. Paul "assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were afraid," etc. (Acts 9:26). It is a very painful wound to the spirit to be distrusted by those to whom we really belong. To have our sincerity doubted, to have our purity questioned, to be looked at askance rather than with kindly and gracious eye,—this is one of the keen, cutting miseries of life.
2. Persecution for conscience' sake (Acts 9:23, Acts 9:24, Acts 9:29). This may go far short of "seeking our life to take it away;" it may not pass beyond the sneering word or the curling lip, and yet it may introduce great bitterness into the cup of life.
3. Humiliation. Paul never seems to have forgotten the incident of his being let down in a basket (Acts 9:25). He felt the humiliation of it. Anything which wounds our self-respect makes a lasting, often a lifelong, scar on the soul.
III. THE NEEDFUL.
1. Solitude. It is not stated in the text, but we know from his letters that at this juncture (probably between Acts 9:19 and Acts 9:20) Paul went into Arabia (Galatians 1:17); there he spent much time alone with God; there he communed with his own spirit, "looking before and after;" there he re-read and read anew the Scriptures which he imagined he understood before, but now found to be other and more than he had supposed. We urgently need this element of solitude. We are not enough alone; more of quiet meditation, of communion with the Father of spirits, of reverent contemplation, would calm, steady, purify, ennoble us.
2. Social activity. (Acts 9:20, Acts 9:22, Acts 9:29.) Whether or not we "preach Christ," "confounding" and "disputing," we must come into contact, and sometimes into collision with men. We need to know how to do this wisely and rightly, at times showing the fearless spirit, at times the spirit of discretion, at times the spirit of conciliation, always the spirit of Christ.
IV. THE ELEVATED. (Acts 9:30.) This chapter simply tells us that the brethren brought Paul to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus. But Paul himself elsewhere informs us (Acts 22:17, Acts 22:18) that the Lord Jesus Christ manifested himself to him and desired him to leave Jerusalem. We do not look for such trances and visions now, but we do look, or should do so, for manifestations, indwellings, influences of the Divine Spirit of God, so that we ourselves and our whole human life may be guided and sanctified of God. Of such elements arc all our lives woven. We must gratefully accept and so sanctify the pleasant, meekly and cheerfully endure the painful, wisely employ the necessary, and reverently avail ourselves of the elevated; thus will our lives be blessed of God, thus will they speak his praise and spread his truth, thus will they lead to his presence and glory.—C.
The opportunity and obligation of the Church.
I. THAT A TIME OF TRANQUILLITY MAY BE AND SHOULD BE A PERIOD OF PROGRESS. "The Churches had rest …. and were edified, were multiplied." The time of rest is too often one of inglorious repose, of unworthy indulgence, or even fatal luxury and corruption. But when the molesting hand of persecution is taken away, it is possible for the Church to put forth all its strength—to enter on a path of unflagging activity, of holy enterprise, and of gratifying enlargement.
II. THAT THE CHURCH SHOULD NEVER BE WITHOUT A SENTIMENT OF SACRED AWE. It should always be walking "in the fear of the Lord." Love, trust, joy in Christ, should be the element in which it lives; but it must never take leave of its deepest reverence and awe. It must walk "in fear,"
(1) realizing the near presence of its observant Lord, the Lord of righteousness and purity (Revelation 2:1);
(2) remembering that it is held by him responsible for the extension of his kingdom, for the conversion of the world (2 Corinthians 5:19); recollecting that, if it should lose its sanctity, there is no human power by which it can hope to be restored (Matthew 5:13).
III. THAT THE CHURCH REQUIRES TO BE CONTINUALLY SUSTAINED BY INFLUENCES WHICH ARE DISTINCTIVELY DIVINE. "Multiplied by the exhortation [comfort, ministry] of the Holy Spirit." No perfectness of machinery, no eloquence of human oratory, no promptings of emulation, no pressure of authority, no earth-born influences of any kind or number, will suffice to sustain a Church in living power. It must be multiplied by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It must secure the teaching which is animated by the Spirit of God; it must be listening to the doctrine which is communicated By the Spirit; it must have the indwelling of the Spirit in the minds and hearts of its members; it must be looking to the ever-living power of the Spirit to make all its agencies and operations effectual.
IV. THAT THE CHURCH OF CHRIST SHOULD BE ADVANCING AS A DIVINELY ERECTED STRUCTURE. The Church "was edified." built up; it rose as a structure rises—gradually and in due proportions. The Church of Christ should, in the increase which it makes, possess the characteristics of the best building—it should
(1) attain to a stately, should "multiply," grow in numbers and in the extent of ground it covers;
(2) become more beautiful in aspect;
(3) acquire increasing strength.—C.
The miraculous and the supernatural.
In these verses we have two instances of the miraculous; and we may consider what was the worth of that element then, and why it has passed away; we may also consider the truth that the supernatural—the directly though not visibly Divine—still abides and will continually endure.
I. THE RATIONALE OF THE CHRISTIAN MIRACLE, wrought in the apostolic age. Then it was (or seems to us to have been) necessary.
1. It was regarded as of the very essence of a new Divine system. Any doctrine which was to supersede the Law, and which did not carry with it the credentials of "wonderful works," would have had no prospect or possibility of success.
2. It was a power of great potency in the age in which it was granted. Witness the text, among many others: "All that dwelt at Lydda and Saron … turned to the Lord" (Acts 9:35); "It was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord" (Acts 9:42).
3. The early Church had to struggle against fearful odds, and might well be strengthened with a special and exceptional force. It had to contend with inveterate and all but impregnable prejudices, with powerful material interests, with worldly wisdom, with crushing political powers arrayed against it with drawn sword; it was a handful of weak men and women, destitute of resources, "unlearned and ignorant," against a world in arms, against many millions inflamed with passionate hatred or filled with supercilious contempt. At such a stage it might well be reinforced with such help as the miraculous would yield it.
II. THE EXPLANATION OF ITS DISCONTINUANCE. It was a power, very valuable when wisely used, but liable to great abuse. The time might soon come when its presence would be harmful rather than helpful, when Christian men would be disposed to rely on the marvelous rather than the spiritual. That time did come, and it came earlier than we might have thought (see 1 Corinthians). Therefore it was mercifully withdrawn. Its continuance would only have been to leave in the Church's hand a weapon by which it would have wounded itself.
III. ITS NEEDLESSNESS NOW. Now we should be able to dispense with such adventitious aid.
1. The wealth, the culture, the political power, the resources which give strength to human societies, are now on the side of Christian truth.
2. We are equipped with one weapon in particular which serves us instead of the miraculous—scientific knowledge and skill. The principal wonders which the apostles wrought were works of healing or restoring, like that of healing AEneas (Acts 9:34) and that of restoring Dorcas (Acts 9:40, Acts 9:41). Now we are able to go to the heathen, with the Bible in one hand and the pharmacopoeia in the other, and thus we can impress, heal, and win them. The medical missionary of the nineteenth century is as well furnished for his beneficent work as the Corinthian Christian of the first.
IV. THE ABIDING PRESENCE OF THE DIVINE.
1. A power, distinctively Divine, still brings the dead to life. A more wonderful and far more blessed work is wrought when, to a soul "dead in trespasses and sins," Christ now says, "Arise," and it "opens its eyes" (Acts 9:40) to see light in God's light, to behold the truth in its excellency and power. More wonderful, because it is a greater work to revive a dead spirit than to resuscitate a dead body—the one act is in the kingdom of the moral, the other of the mechanical; more blessed, for eternal life is an inestimably greater boon to impart than the prolongation for a few years of earthly existence. Dorcas had to die again and be again bewailed.
2. A power, directly and positively Divine, still confers spiritual health on those who have been spiritually paralyzed. By his renewing power, by the touch of his own reviving hand, "Jesus Christ makes whole" (Acts 9:34) those who have been lethargic, indifferent, worldly, idle; and they arise.—C.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Saul on his way to Damascus.
I. THE PICTURE OF THE PERSECUTOR. It is almost the picture of a monster. It resembles the idea of the fearful dragon-monster, which breathes forth smoke and flame, and threatens to devour the sun and moon and stars. Saul is inspired by a murderous feeling against the disciples of Christ. He himself afterwards recognized that to persecute them was to persecute him (1 Timothy 1:13). Zeal for God without knowledge is another of his own descriptions of his state of mind (Romans 10:2). It leads directly to the devilish love of destruction (John 8:44). We can distinguish pure from carnal zeal only by the effects: the one impels us to build up, the other to destroy; the one to save men's lives, the other to slay, and making a solitude to call it peace. But there are deep problems in the life of mind. Never is a man madly irritated against an opinion, violent against a cause or a person, but it is a symptom of a struggle within. The man is really at war with himself. A conviction is reluctantly forcing its way upon him; he feels the goads of conscience, and vents his resentment upon objects outside of himself.
II. THE PERSECUTOR CHECKED IN HIS CAREER. Notice the accompaniments of the revelation. They are:
1. Outward. A light out of heaven like lightning plays around the persecutor. He falls to the earth like a thunder-struck man. In this position the impressions of the ear come in to enhance those of the eye. A voice is heard calling him by name: "Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?"
2. Inward. Saul has no difficulty in putting these things together and drawing the true inference from them. "Who art thou, Lord?" betrays his suspicion, perhaps his certainty, that the voice is that of the crucified One, against whose might he has been striving. And the voice returns, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." Then follows the direction to go into Damascus and to await further orders. When the outward phenomena and the inward revelation are so closely interwoven, it is difficult to separate the one from the other, and unnecessary to do so. But the point to fix attention upon is this—that revelation is always in the soul. How the new truth comes to us is not of so much importance as what permanent deposit it leaves behind it. "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me," said the quondam persecutor. The true mystery and wonder lie in the soul; all else is superficial and subsidiary compared with that. By what passes within we may interpret what passes without, but not vice versa. This scene is far more impressive and sheds a clear light on the conflicts of our own being, if we see in it a man cast down by the sudden splendor and terror of a conviction against which he had long been struggling. It is said that we never understand a truth until we have striven against it. He whom we have battled against as a deadly foe becomes our lifelong master when we are once fairly defeated at his hands.
III. OTHER MEANINGS IN THE EVENT.
1. Here was a personal appearance of Jesus. Jesus lives! This is the thought which comforts his friends, and strikes terror into his foes. "I am he that is, and was, and is to come." "I am the living one!" (Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:18). Never was this revelation of the living Christ forgotten by Saul. It afterwards became a main subject of his preaching, as it was the core of his creed. The living Christ is, indeed, the expression to us of the living and loving personality of God, of the will to save and to redeem evermore.
2. It was an appearance of Jesus in glory. The splendor and terror which surround him bespeak his sovereign might. "Why dost thou persecute me?" It is vain as well as wrong to contend against One to whose holiness and majesty the conscience bears its unerring witness. Saul seemed to think that he was wrestling against flesh and blood when he hurried those defenseless Christians; and that by weapons of flesh and blood Christianity might be overcome. But behold the majestic figure of One who comes with clouds. To offer him the show of violence is the extreme of irreverence and of folly. Never was this lesson forgotten. Our sins against our fellow-Christians are sins against Christ. We insult the love that suffered for us, and the majesty that rules and judges us.
3. Yet it was a revelation of the glorified humanity of Jesus. Saul saw him and heard him speak (Acts 9:17; Acts 27:15). The Redeemer glorifies the human form and nature which he wore on earth. Here lay a seed of St. Paul's teaching on the spiritual body which glorified saints are to wear. Earth and heaven, the seen and the unseen world, are for ever joined and reconciled in the body in which he lived, suffered, rose, and reigns.
4. It was a revelation of exquisite Divine love and grace.
(1) Towards the persecuted. Their sorrows are the sorrows of Jesus. He makes their sufferings his own (Matthew 25:45). His exaltation and glory do not lift him out of their reach. He reigns to throw the aegis of his providence and protection over the defenseless flock of his little ones. He is the Head, and all the members are in vital union with him, and receive from the fullness of his life.
(2) Towards the persecutor. Sin in its extreme of violence and rebellion is here overthrown, and the weapons struck from the hands of the rebel—not by the tyrant's force, but by the gentleness of Divine love. "Where sin had abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). 'Tis hard to kick against such goads. Condemnation hardens the rebel in his opposition; gentleness melts his heart and converts him into an ally and a friend. "O Galilean, thou hast conquered!" The conversion of Saul is a type of the whole spirit and method of the gospel. Unlike the kingdoms of this world, which rest on force and must repel violence by violence, it rests on the negation of force, the eternal affirmation of love. It is strong in its weakness, and converts foes into friends by gaining the victory over the intelligence and the conscience.—J.
Saul and Anaemias.
I. THE MINISTRY OF MAN TO MAN. After the direct revelation through the terror of the lightning and the thunderbolt, comes the mediate revelation through the familiar voice and manner of one's fellow-man. Ananias is not an apostle; he is a disciple, a member of the Church simply, entrusted with no particular office or position. Possibly the reason for this was that Paul might not be dependent on any of the other apostles, tie was, he said, "an apostle, not from men nor by men, but by Jesus Christ." But the general lesson is on the unofficial service of Christians to others. Officialism often brings Christianity into suspicion. The genuine service of private Christians is always of value and always an evidence of the Spirit of Christ.
II. THE HOPEFULNESS OF THE ACT OF PRAYER. The good disciple is directed to go to Saul, "for behold, he prayeth!" A pregnant word by which to describe the condition of a converted sinner. He prays; therefore he is no longer a persecutor of Jesus, but a captive of his grace, subject of his love. He prays; therefore his heart is emptied of its former hate towards the brethren, and is filled with meekness and charity. The expression also betokens the gracious mind of the speaker. The Lord looks down with pity on the broken heart prostrate before him in prayer. And the Church are in like manner to turn to him, as one though lost yet found, no longer a foe but a friend. "Behold, he prays!"
III. THE IMPRESSIONS ATTENDING CONVERSION. Saul has seen the messenger of Christ coming in and laying his hands on him that he may receive his sight. It is by its associations that any great event in the outward world or in the mind fixes itself on the memory. Paul was to look back upon those days as an inexhaustible fund of deepest spiritual impressions. He shall be able to say, "I received my office as apostle not from man but from Jesus Christ." He shall be forever cured of his Pharisaic wisdom and pride of the flesh. He was not reasoned into Christianity, but the living Christ was revealed in him, in ways too manifold and various to be mistaken.
IV. THE STARTLING CHANGE OFTEN INVOLVED IN CONVERSION. Ananias hesitates. The acts of men are standing evidence of their disposition. What safer guide can we have? Yet the Divine voice quells the hesitation of Ananias. Saul is a chosen vessel, instrument, or tool, fashioned by the Divine hand and for the Divine purposes. In the mysterious world of the human heart all things are possible to God—even as elsewhere. The volcanic fire which is working beneath the convulsions of the earthquake is a formative as well as a destructive agent. The passionate outbreaks of a man against a principle or a party are often a sign of internal change going on. Saul was to be fashioned as an instrument for the greatest work, perhaps, ever committed to man—the bearing of the Name, i.e. the message and doctrine of Christ to the Gentiles, to confront and shake the powers of the world with the power of the crucified One. Such a missionary must need no common training. He must have known the depths of the evil of his own heart, the heights of redeeming grace. That Christ could conquer the proud and stubborn Pharisee, and turn Saul into Paul, was a prophecy of the nature of his progressive conquests over mankind.
V. CHRIST'S CHOSEN ONE CHOSEN FOR SUFFERING. (Acts 9:16.) Christ will show the newly caned, not what things he is to enjoy, what honors he is to reap, but what things he must suffer. Never was prophet called of God without some adumbration of future suffering, of struggle painful to flesh and blood. With us all there is something awful and repellent in the forms of duty. It is the "stern daughter of the voice of God." Yet in obedience alone can we enjoy true freedom and the presence of God in the soul. And the greater the strength given, the greater will be the struggles imposed, the pain to be endured, the inner sense of joy and triumph to be experienced. To follow Christ truly is no soft and sentimental thing—it is an enterprise which taxes manhood to its utmost. To him may be applied the words of the poet—
"Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face."
VI. DELIVERANCE AND STRENGTH IMPARTED BY CHRIST. Ananias comes with his cheering message and his inspired acts to emancipate the body and soul of Saul.
1. He is to see again. The first view of new truth "blinds with excess of light." Presently the scales fall, and the eyes are found to have new powers of perception. We may find a parable here. The exchange of fleshly wisdom and narrow views for spiritual insight and wide command of the field of vision scorns at first a loss. We can see nothing for a time; the old horizon has vanished. Presently the darkness lifts, the dawn appears; we are in a new scene, and "behold, all things are become new."
2. He is to be filled with the Holy Ghost. The moment of the break-down of all our old system of thought and life is that of extreme weakness. It is that self-emptiness which is utterly painful, but prepares for the incoming and indwelling of Divine power—the Holy Spirit.
3. Baptism as an epoch of life. It closes one era, it opens another. The putting on of Christ—the essential thing in baptism—involves renunciation on the one hand, fresh choice on the other. God sets us free that we may serve him.
"I myself commend
Unto thy guidance from rids hour.
Oh, let my weakness have an end I"
To live out in our own experience the call, and conversion, and initiation of Saul is to get to the heart of human nature and of the relation of Christ to that nature.—J.
Saul at Damascus.
I. HIS PREACHING. In those very synagogues where he had determined to make victims of the followers of Jesus, he was found owning and proclaiming his Name. And his proclamation was that Jesus was the Son of God. This was, perhaps, a new truth to the Christian Church—or at least in the clear recognition and definite expression it has now—and must have come with extraordinary power from lips that were learned and eloquent and charged with the profound conviction of one whose thoughts had undergone an entire revulsion. "I believe, therefore have I spoken." The Divine Son; his life and love, his work for mankind;—this is the heart of all Christian preaching.
II. THE EFFECTS OF HIS PREACHING. Astonishment at the change of feeling and of conduct in Saul. Astonishment breeds curiosity and gives rise to inquiry and information. Wonder at the extraordinary phenomena of nature is the parent of science. Wonder at the extraordinary phenomena in the kingdom of God gives birth to conviction and to reverence and piety. A change of heart and life is the standing moral miracle. When he whom we have known as passionate, proud, and fierce is seen to be meekly giving up all worldly advantages for the sake of a despised cause, counting things that had been good loss for the excellency of a new knowledge, it is an evidence not to be resisted. "Fool!" must have been the verdict of his friends of the Sanhedrim on his conduct. "For Christ's sake" was the secret in the breast of Saul.
III. THE GROWTH OF SAUL IN POWER. Mighty is the energy of truth newly found and grasped, with power to nerve the will and impart influence over others. The man of convictions, and with the courage of them, is the true conqueror. Second-hand opinions and inherited prejudices cannot stand against original force in the moral sphere. This is the Christ: one man believed it with all his soul, and triumphed over the world in its hatred and ignorance. But the growth of moral power in an individual calls up the dark shapes of envy and jealousy. Secret and cowardly opposition is the compliment which passion offers, the testimony it bears to the forms of clear, calm truth. Malice lurks and lies in wait to destroy what it fears to encounter in the open field. Energy in diffusing light and truth will be certain to evoke a corresponding energy oat of the kingdom of darkness to obscure and to destroy. So did the storm gather about Saul's devoted head. But the servants of God bear a charmed life until their work is done. Already the promise of the Savior, that Saul must suffer many things, is being fulfilled. In trouble and the deliverance out of it God is made known to our spirits as our God and our Savior.—J.
Saul's visit to Jerusalem.
I. SUSPICION AND COLDNESS ENCOUNTERED. Saul finds no welcome at Jerusalem, no confidence, but distrust. It is hard to live down the records of past life. And never was the proud quondam Pharisee permitted to forget his lesson of humility. Well might this be the meaning of the "thorn in the flesh." Our impression of the man is that of a fierce and impetuous temper, the force of which, having been used for the devil, was now to be used in the service of Christ. The genuineness of his conversion, Calvin remarks, is shown by the fact that, having been himself a persecutor, he can now endure persecution with calmness.
II. COMFORT IN A FRIEND. Yet Saul had a most sensitive and loving heart, yearning for sympathy, grateful for kindness and love. How full of meaning on another occasion his words, "God, who comforteth those that are east down, comforted us by the coming of Titus"! Then the affectionate Barnabas takes him by the hand, and performs the offices of friendship on his behalf. The scene carries its teaching on the nature and offices of friendship.
1. The friend takes us by the hand in the hour of need. His loyalty and courage compensate us for the coldness of the world. Who so self-reliant as not to need a sponsor on occasions? One draught of true human love will refresh us in the desert of others' coldness. And doubtless, if we have been true to love, love will be found for us at the hour of need.
2. He will say for us what we cannot say for ourselves. Barnabas tells Saul's story when Saul himself is not believed. The ideas of the Paraclete, or Advocate, of the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother, of the Witness on our behalf, are found again in the highest Christian relations. Christ fulfils to the soul the highest ideal of friendship. Let the recollection of our dependence on ministry ever incline the heart to humility and correct the excess of self-reliance. Through Barnabas, Saul is received as a brother, and the old enmity and distrust is forgotten. To be obstinately set against old sinners, to refuse a kindly oblivion to the past, is to ignore the grace which delights to heal and to forgive.
III. FRESH DANGERS. Following in the steps of Stephen, Saul disputed with the Hellenists. There was a resurrection of the martyr's spirit in the martyr's murderer. Enmity is again aroused; again Saul's life is in danger; and again, through friendly providence, the way of escape is opened. Thus through early combats, the Christian soldier's courage is tried and experience is gained for future struggles.—J.
Works of peace.
It is a bright picture of happy and prosperous Church life that here opens. Peace "lay like a shaft of light athwart the land" of Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria. The work of edification, ever silent and sure like the growth of the tall palm, went on. There was the spirit of reverence and the sense of comfort and of joy in the presence of the Holy Spirit. That nation is happy whose life contributes few incidents that startle, changes that dismay, revolutions and wars that attract attention. Who can calculate the value of a day's sunshine to the earth? Who can tabulate the results of a year's peaceful intercourse? Quiet Church life is not resultless; and to obtain it demands and implies more of prayer and effort than that which is spasmodic and sensational.
I. THE VISIT OF PETER TO LYDDA. He finds there the paralytic AEneas. The bedridden sufferer may be viewed as a type of all prostration, physical and moral, which Christ comes to heal. "Jesus Christ is healing thee!" such is the abiding word of the Christian apostle and minister, further reaching in its application to the inward than to the outward life. And if it be a fact that healing energy is ever flowing from Christ, a moral hope and a moral energy is derivable from the fact. "Rise and act for thyself" is the command which the Christian minister may give, founded on the fact that the energy is imparted to the will in trust on Divine power. "And straightway he arose." The rise of any soul out of weakness into strength, out of self-despair into confidence and freedom, implies two things—
(1) the Divine agency to heal;
(2) the human will co-operating with the Divine. In the absence of either of these factors there is no transition from one state to another. Whenever such a conversion takes place and is observed, the minds of the spectators are turned towards that higher source of power. They "turn to the Lord" in reverent recognition, in devout thankfulness, in earnest expectation.
II. THE RAISING OF DORCAS.
1. The sketch of a useful life. Dorcas is full of good works and aims. The "eye for pity, and the hand open as day for melting charity," was hers. Pity, compassion, the feeling for those who are less happy than ourselves, is the habit which above all the gospel teaches and cultivates in the soul. The loving simple heart has a place not less important to fill in ministry to others than the clear intellect and the powerful will. The tears and gratitude of the widows were a noble testimony to Dorcas and her character. She was a center of the true "sweetness and light" in the community, a fountain of pure Christian love. "In the possession of one such example a Church has a great spiritual capital. When such a one dies, God will raise up followers, for love never dies."
2. The office of raising from the dead. Was not this entrusted to Peter, that it might be a parable to all times of this truth—that God gives to chosen men in the Church the power to raise others out of death into life, that is, instrumentally? The Resurrection is spiritually repeated whenever the word of power reaches the conscience. Peter puts all the mourners out of the room, kneels down and prays. This was after the example of the Master. Solitude, silence, and prayer prepare for all exertion of spiritual activity. However great the power entrusted to the minister of God, he must still use it in dependence upon him. However urgent the call from men, the Divine will must first be consulted before it is obeyed. From dependence on God comes all independence of other conditions. To use the imperative mood with others, we must have learned the submissive mood before him. The word, "Tabitha, arise!" and the stretching out of the hand to the prostrate one,—these acts had their antecedents in the spiritual sphere. We cannot comprehend a miracle; but we may be well assured that it follows a Divine though hidden law. God has reason in all his acts. In the giving of the lost but restored one again to her friends we have a prophecy of future restoration of those whom we have loved and lost. There arc moments when the power of God is put forth to realize our most loving wishes and to satisfy the unquenchable aspirations of the heart. Our friends "live in God" as Dorcas and Lazarus lived in him, and death is but a semblance for pious souls. Would that we had that profound knowledge of the power and love of God which should enable us to see the wondrous in the common! Faith will be produced and will be increased wherever our passage through the world, our visits and our words, are followed by a joy like that reflected on the Church at Joplin by the visit and ministry of Peter.—J.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
The sign from heaven.
The state of the Church and the world calling for such a sign. The want of a greater spirit among the apostles, to undertake the new leadership as the gospel went forth to challenge the whole world. The awakening mind of the disciples—Samaria, Philip and the eunuch, Caesarea (Acts 8:40), all pointed to a new epoch. The hour was there; but where was the man? Peculiar qualifications necessary—intellect; culture; burning zeal; personal experience of the power of Christ. Notice—
I. THE CHALLENGE MET.
1. Saul represented persecution. A successful raid at Damascus would be a decisive blow at the new sect. Preparation made. If prisoners could be brought bound to Jerusalem, an appeal could be made to crush the heresy.
2. The challenge was made to the utmost. He was suffered to draw nigh to Damascus, and was surrounded by his fellow-persecutors.
3. The blow which struck him down was distinctly supernatural, a sign from heaven. Jesus did not fight with carnal weapons. He smote with "light out of heaven," and a voice addressing the heart and conscience.
II. THE MAN CHOSEN AND CALLED.
1. His previous history showed the work of God's Spirit. His question, "Who art thou, Lord?" His remembrance of Stephen and his words. His immediate submission.
2. The manner of Saul's conversion a preparation of his soul for the part he was to take in the Church's work. It was greatly independent of human agency. It was a miracle which to him became the moral basis of all other miracles. It enabled him to say, I have seen the Lord Christ;" and gave him at once an apostolic position.
3. The overwhelming nature of the evidence and the deep spiritual work of those few days prepared such a mind as Paul's for grappling with the mysteries of faith. The eyes were shut that they might be opened the more clearly to spiritual realities. It was especially necessary that Saul should beau his new life feeling that Jesus was able to do all things, that he was revealing his Divine kingdom in the earth.
III. THE GRACE MANIFESTED.
1. The gentleness and compassion. The same stroke might have slain. The enemy was loved, not hated; the shame of his defeat partly hidden from onlookers.
2. The wonderful change wrought by the Spirit: the persecutor turned into the foremost apostle.
3. The gift of such a man to the Church and to the world. Think of what Paul has been to those who came after him. The treasures of knowledge, the marvels of personal history. Especially the fact of his conversion itself as an evidence of the truth of Christianity. Lord Lyttelton and many others convinced by it. Standing miracle which no one can resist except by subterfuge. The effect on the Church at the time and on the Jewish world. A great conversion is always a great converting power.
1. There is a gate of grace close by the gate of sin. Paul was going to Damascus to do evil. Jesus met him to turn him on the path of life.
2. The new world may be entered blindfold, yet if we do what the Lord tells us to do our eyes will be opened at last.—R.
Baptism of St. Paul.
While the conversion was independently of human agency, the new life awakened was immediately called up by Divine appointment into fellowship with the life of the Church. The baptism is here plainly a Divine seal upon the individual, an invitation to the privileges of the Church, a consecration to higher life and service.
I. THE CHOSEN VESSEL MARKED OUT BY THE LORD. By the supernatural signs—
1. The vision; the communication of Ananias and its results; the opened eyes of the new convert.
2. The introduction of Saul among the circle of believers at Damascus. They would receive him as not only a converted man, but one of whom the Lord predicted such things.
II. THE TWO BRETHREN UNITED IN PRAISE.
1. The joy of Ananias over Saul; the joy of Saul in the salutation of brotherly love.
2. An answer to prayer. Darkness turned to light.
3. A release from the captivity of an anxious solitude. Such a mind needed quickly to be delivered from the danger of too great a reaction. The sympathy of an experienced Christian with a young convert is unspeakably precious. The introduction to Ananias was an introduction to the Church at Damascus, which, while no doubt wholly Jewish, was yet prepared by its training in that city for the reception of such a man. They would be less startled then at the announcement that he would go to the Gentiles. Thus God works all things according to the good pleasure of his will. The converted Saul opens his eyes in Damascus.
III. SPECIAL CONSECRATION of the newly won soul to higher service by the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
1. The baptism was an acceptance on Saul's part of the Lord's commission. He knew that he would have much to do for Christ. He remembered the past and desired to make up for it by entire devotedness to him whom he had persecuted.
2. Extraordinary conversion is a preparation for extraordinary service.
The days of darkness are days of wrestling prayer. The foundations of the new life were laid deep. Augustine; Luther; Bunyan; Chalmers. Grace abounding to one who has felt himself the chief of sinners becomes abounding strength to do the Lord's work. Preachers who have no deep experience to fall back upon cannot speak to the hearts of others. 3. The special gifts of the Holy Ghost bestowed through the ministration of Ananias. A miraculous power at once descended on Saul, and he felt himself lifted out of the ordinary current of his life and set in a higher level of experience and faculty.—R.
A spiritual wonder.
"Behold, he prayeth!" "Behold!" The Church, the world, invited to look on the sight. The enemy, the Pharisee, the warrior, behold his hands clasped in prayer, countenance bathed in tears, voice uttering petitions. Look into that house of Judas; it might have been filled with mourning; it is the scene of a spiritual victory. We can look back and look forward; what he was, what he will be. Great mercy in the blinding stroke, shutting him up in his own thoughts. His cry was, "What wilt thou have me to do?" Gracious answer to the prayer. Contrast between the prayers which Saul of Tarsus had previously offered, and that worthy prayer of penitence and faith. Every event the summing up of the past and prophecy of the future, like a seed which represents former and following harvests. Epochs in spiritual history which face both ways. A representative fact; "Behold it!" "he prayeth."
I. A GREAT SPIRITUAL CHANGE.
1. In the mind. Thoughts of Jesus. Acceptance of Messiahship. Overthrow of legalism. Satisfaction of understanding in the Divine authority manifested. Exaltation of Israel. We must be changed in our thoughts. "What think ye of Christ?"
2. In the heart. The persecutor penetrated with the feeling of Divine love. The perverse will, kicking against conscience, against the reproach which like a goad was left by the remembrance of Stephen's death. Personal sense of sin the root of a true conversion. "I am the man."
3. In the conduct. Obedience to the heavenly vision. Tractable as a child; led by the Spirit. The prayer recounts that his face was turned towards the new way. Christianity not a mere change of views or sentiments, but a proclaimed rule of life. Walk in the way. Obedience.
II. AN EPOCH IN SPIRITUAL HISTORY. Little could Saul foresee his own future, yet that Peniel was the introduction of a prince of God to his kingdom. What a step from the chamber in Judas's house at Damascus to Rome's imperial palace!
1. Prayer the preparation for activity. Jesus in the mountain solitude. All great spiritual heroes before they have gone down into the battle-field.
2. Prayer the lifting up of the fallen. Peace with God. Reopened eyes. A blotted-out past. The goads of conscience exchanged for the light of a new life, the message of a reconciled Father, the commission of the heavenly King to his chosen ambassadors.
3. Prayer the pledge of fellowship. He prayeth; go and pray with him. Private prayer and public prayer closely connected together. Religion is not a secret thing. "Behold!" We should take knowledge of the state of souls around us. Those that feel prompted to secret prayer should welcome the visit of the Christian brother, and the appeal to take the Name of Christ upon them, and the place which is appointed us both in the fellowship and work of the Church.—R.
The new convert proving his sincerity.
I. THE GRACE OF GOD ELEVATING THE NATURAL MAN. Characteristics of Saul appearing in the new phase of his life.
1. Intelligence. He is ready to grapple with subtle antagonists, lie seizes the great central truth of the gospel—the Messiahship of Jesus. He employs his vast knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures.
2. Boldness and energy. Not even waiting for opportunity, but making it; entering the synagogues, producing amazement by his vehemence.
3. Self-surrender to Christ, as before consuming zeal for the Law. Where he was expected as the persecutor, there he appears as the convert. All sense of shame swallowed up in devotion to Christ.
II. THE TRUE METHOD OF SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT. tie "increased the more in strength."
1. Conviction deepens by speaking. Many lose strength by remaining silent. Work for Christ lifts up the heart. The idle ones doubt; the active ones are cheerful.
2. The sense of victory a great help, both to individuals and the Church. A bold aggressive policy specially demanded. In proving the doctrine, we must advance into the midst of the opponents. Especially should those that can speak of great grace not be ashamed of Jesus. Personal testimonies have remarkable power. Let the world be amazed.
3. The gifts of the Spirit should not be restrained. Something for each one to do. If we cannot speak, we can proclaim Christ by the active life of benevolence. The disciples at Damascus gained great strength from the example of Saul. An earnest Church creates an earnest minister, and an earnest minister an earnest Church.—R.
Acts 9:23, Acts 9:24
The new faith exposed to trial.
All manifestations of God's Spirit stir up the opposition of the evil one. The bold faith drives back the enemy into ambush. Conspiracy against truth always means confession of weakness. The false Church takes counsel to kill. But God knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations.
I. CONSIDER THE EFFECT UPON SAUL HIMSELF—On his faith, on his future, on his spirit, as preparing him for suffering and humiliation for Christ. We never know what our religion is to us till we suffer for it and feel what it is in suffering.
II. CONSIDER THE EFFECT ON THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD. The persecutor persecuted. The faith of the new convert shown to be strong enough to stand such a trial. The seal of the Lord put upon his servant. He was dealt with as many of the prophets. We must remember that we "fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ for his Body's sake, which is the Church." Be patient.—R.
The Church's seal upon the new acquisition.
Jerusalem. Its influence on all the Church. Natural doubt of the change. Difference between the character of Saul and that of the leading apostles. Barnabas fitted to be a mediator, both by his loving disposition and large-mindedness as a Cypriot.
I. A simple, candid DECLARATION OF PACTS the true foundation of confidence. Spiritual men cannot resist the evidence of the Spirit.
II. BROTHERLY SYMPATHY may accomplish much in times of perplexity, both in helping us to overcome natural feeling and in facilitating personal intercourse.
III. THE TRUE CHRISTIAN LABOURER will prove his own work. Let the facts speak for themselves. Preach boldly, and all must acknowledge the Lord's presence.
IV. AFFLICTIONS HELP FELLOWSHIP AND MUTUAL CONFIDENCE.—R.
"Then had the Churches rest," etc. (of. Revised Version). The events of the past had been exciting, stimulating activity, spreading the Word. But excitement cheeks growth in character. Wonderful appointment of Providence—the leader of the persecution becoming the chief example of Christian activity.
I. THE RIGHT USE OF A TIME OF PEACE AND REST.
1. The cultivation of brotherly intercourse. The Churches (or the Church) throughout Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee, in a time of peace, could communicate with the apostles and with each other.
2. The exercise of spiritual gifts, knowledge, prophecy, tongues, etc., the study of Scriptures, especially with a view to future claims on the Church's activity.
3. The manifestation of steadfast Christian character: "Walking in the fear of the Lord." The times of external danger less suited for the observation of individual graces.
II. THE CHURCH OF CHRIST A SPIRITUAL EDIFICE. The foundation is Christ. The superstructure is:
1. Eminently simple; not a hierarchy, not a complicated system of ecclesiastical office; not an imitation of civil society, but the amplification of the germ seen in the upper room at Jerusalem.
2. Spiritual. Full of the Holy Ghost; not built up with worldly materials; maintaining discipline, purity, fellowship.
3. Multiplied from within, not from without; by its own graces coming forth on the world; not by mere accession of material resources or combination with worldly elements. Take care that our multiplication is genuine.—R.
Wonderful ministry of the Apostle Peter.
Introduction to what is about to be described—the extension of the apostolic ministry to the Gentiles. "Peter went through all quarters," i.e. where there were already Churches of believers. The general superintendence of the apostles was not in the way of despotic rule, but brotherly guidance. Situation of Lydda on the way to Joppa and so to Caesarea. But Peter's intention went no further than Joppa, i.e. not beyond the limits of present fellowship. The Holy Ghost leads him further. The healing of the palsied AEneas a sign to the neighborhood.
I. JESUS CHRIST THE SUBSTANCE OF THE APOSTLE'S MINISTRY. The servant behind the Master.
II. THE TESTIMONY OF MAN ACCOMPANIED BY THE POWER OF GOD. Miracles were accessory as proclaiming the kingdom of Christ in distinction from a mere message of preachers. AEneas the healed man would preach the Word with power.
III. THE RAPID SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD A WITNESS TO THE APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY OF PETER. They "turned to the Lord," but were doubtless introduced to the Church through the apostle. The record is preserved that Peter's position may be understood. There is no necessity to accept the Roman Catholic view of Peter's supremacy; but it is necessary to maintain the apostolic guidance and leadership of the early Church, otherwise the New Testament itself loses its authority.—R.
The raising of Dorcas.
The contrast between the ancient and modern world, changing somewhat the relation of almsdeeds to the rest of Christian life; but the poor always with us. The special province of woman in the Church. The individuality of the charity, not a society, but Dorcas the woman.
I. FAITH WORKING BY LOVE.
1. Show that Dorcas was not a mere philanthropic worker, but a true believer.
2. The disciples at once sent for Peter, believing that he represented a Divine power at work, hoping that something might be accomplished, at all events believing that the Spirit of the Lord would cast out the gloom of their sorrow.
3. It was an atmosphere of true faith in which such a miracle could be wrought.
4. The character and work of Dorcas typical of the influence of Christianity in the world; distinguishing it from all other religions; caring for the weak, lifting up women, sanctifying sorrow.
II. THE THRESHOLD OF THE GENTILE WORLD. Peter many days-at Joppa. A place where a vast and mingled population. The raising of the dead a great sign both to the world and to Peter himself. The loving character of the new doctrine set forth; a special appeal to the heathen. The rapid spread of the gospel an immense encouragement and elevation of the apostle's mind. All preparing him for the revelation about to be made. Peter and Dorcas hand-in-hand at the gate of the Gentiles, full of significance. We shall lay hold of the outlying masses of the population by Dorcas-like activity. Women will wonderfully help in the spread of Christianity. The true power of Christ is that which ministers.—R.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
The one question of conversion.
With this paragraph the landmark of the history changes. The conspicuous figure of Paul is seen, and is not again lost to sight till a certain Lord's day morning dawns on the Isle Patmos. The differences that exist in the life and lot of various men often awaken thought in those who think enough, oftener envy or murmur in those who fail to think enough. It is a 'notable token of the character of such envy that, when excited, it is almost invariably in those instances which show differences of worldly lot or providential circumstance. But amid all the differences that might legitimately surprise, none can for a moment compare in intrinsic significance with that which gave, still gives, ever will give, undying renown to Saul—that he is, and is set forth as the type of conversion. He stands before us as remarkable in many ways—as an apostle; as a writer of many Epistles, ever studied, never wearied of; as a first missionary to the Gentiles, and most bold preacher of the gospel; as the planter and settler of so many primitive Churches far and wide; and as a man of such endurance and of so many hairbreadth escapes, that men would say for the one he had an iron constitution, for the other he wore a charmed life. But he is most known, he is apparently most intended to be known, by just what belongs to his conversion. The tale of Saul without his conversion (which he repeats within our knowledge twice for himself, how many times more we cannot say) would be an instance, and in the intensest form too, of the play of 'Hamlet' without Hamlet. Would that there were those, and many of them, who, coveting "the best gifts," coveted this unworldly distinction—the thoroughness, the conspicuousness, the ever-enduring practical results of such a conversion! But how unusual is this ambition! The prominence given to the conversion of Saul cannot mean less than this, that it is a sample. Yet is it not put where it is to stand there in solitary unique grandeur, inapproachable, but that it may be approached, studied, reproduced. Let us look into it at the moment of its crisis, the moment when such unwonted words started to the lips of Saul, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
I. IN THIS QUESTION IS FOUND THE OUTSPOKEN CONFESSION OF PAST DARKNESS, IGNORANCE, MISTAKE. Conversion reveals to a man, not only many other very important things, as time goes on, of which he had never dreamt, but it surprisingly persuades him of this to begin with—that he does not know something which he thought he did know perhaps thought he knew particularly well. What an astonishing thing to hear Saul asking, of all other questions, such a one as this, "Who art thou, Lord? 'This is a great point to gain. Saul had thought he did know this, and knew that Jesus was not one to be called his "Lord" or "Lord" at all.
1. He had put his own idea and his own impression on Christ; but not the right ones, and of the right he was ignorant and destitute. How many do this! No name, perhaps, better known to them than the Name of Jesus, no nature less known or more mistaken. It is the darkness which belongs
(1) to nature;
(2) to willful neglect and habit.
2. The very wrongness of those ideas and impressions were the measure of the persistency with which they were held and the intemperateness with which they were expressed. Paul afterwards tells us this "I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth," and he developed his "thought" into the acts of violent persecution. But when Saul utters the cry of the text it is because he is just beginning the escape—the escape of his life, the escape for his life—from that long dark mistake, that native delusion and ignorance. And afterwards he does not excuse his wrong "thought," but condemns himself with deepest contrition as "the chief of sinners." Saul was utterly in the wrong before his conversion; and is not every one else utterly in the wrong until his conversion? What a solemn responsibility this one thing is in life, to make up the mind how to think, to speak, to act towards Christ!
II. IN THIS QUESTION IS FOUND THE EVIDENCE OF THE AWAKENING OF A NEW AND KEEN DESIRE.
1. Past darkness and mistake (specially in proportion to its moral blamableness), not only may incur the deep-settled habit, but they generally do so. They strangle, till they kill, anything like a natural healthy desire for real light, real knowledge. They seem to be able to go to the length of destroying the power for its further use on earth. Then what a power it must be that is needed to speak life, strength, use again into that palsy!
2. The one unvarying testimony of Scripture witnesses to one great silent Power, alone able "to create a clean heart, and to renew a right spirit" within man. It is that great Power which wakens again in the deep disused of human nature the keen desire to know, the relish of true knowledge, the thirst for light and love and the liberty of Christ. As on that day so eventful Saul journeyed in hot haste over the hot sands to Damascus, but with raging heart hottest of all, a new future is opening for him, for a new future is opening in him, ere yet the echoes of his brief question die on the air. When in the intolerable blaze of that bright light that passed the brilliance of the noonday sun he fell to the earth, and when the heavenly voice of the risen One twice summoned him, "calling him by his name," it may well be that, if there were anything to waken after too long sleep confessed, it now should "hear and live." And it was so. Some power has reached and touched the vital germ within, yet unextinct, and it owns to the sudden impulse. There is no more genuine evidence of God's mighty Spirit being savingly at work than when every hindrance, every excuse, every delay, falls back, and you press on simply to ask for Christ. Then human nature's want, sin, misery, are arrived at the door of Heaven's infinite wealth, happiness, willingness. Keen is the force of human appetite and keener the edge of passion; keen are our worldly desires and keener our mad wrath; but keenest of all and ever conquering is the force of the desire to know Christ, when it is the Spirit of God who puts it into the heart and kindles its flame. And does not this sample-conversion history guide us most closely to see what are the Spirit's real ways with our natures, which need first obstructions removed, and thereupon force and life restored? The treatment shall be such as reveals to him who experiences it at one glance the world of darkness and error and sin that has been so long within, but close upon that tells him of new, strange, and blessed life astir within also.
III. IN THIS QUESTION IS DISCERNIBLE THE HUMBLED AND ALARMED SELF TURNING ]ROUND AND BECOMING REALLY READY TO EXERCISE A SIMPLE, DEEP TRUST. HOW many 'hope" they are ready "think" they are ready, have some sort and some amount of "wish" to be ready, but of whom all the truth is, they are not really ready to trust Christ! They are not really ready to cast themselves on mercy, nor to acknowledge that "this is the work they have to do," namely, "to believe on him whom God hath sent." They are not yet really ready to believe that salvation is to be had by trust and not by any other way; by trust in Christ, and trust illimitable. Yet is there no surer, no safer article of all our faith. And healthy life and fruit are only where faith is rooted in Christ, and root to finest tendril and branch to finest twig do all derive their nourishment and their sap from him. So Saul's question and the sharp, direct method of it signify then, evidently enough, both the hopeful and the trustful state into which he had come, or was ready immediately "by the grace of God" to come. Men sometimes ask a question indifferent to its answer; they sometimes ask a question for the sake of the merest information; they sometimes ask a question for some critical purpose or to block a question waiting on themselves; but this question was none of these. This is like a question indeed. Angels listen to it, and listen to its answer too, to ring out Heaven's wild "Amen." Jesus listened, and a soul was saved. Travel, then, the circle of "the earth and the world" and "the heavens," and there is not a question we could address to any or all of them which could equal the momentousness of thin, when, at last turning to Christ, a man asks, "Who art thou, Lord?" To Jesus Saul had borne himself ever so proudly, as many, many do now—their will ungiven to him, their trust flitting everywhere else but not settled on him, their love and allegiance unyielded to him; and when he, even he, asked, "Who art thou, Lord?" it meant the coming down for ever of pride. So the confession which we have seen to hide here, and the keen desire we have seen to bud forth here, led to the utter renunciation of self-trust, and to the simplest and most entire trust in Christ. None can ask this question for you; you must ask it yourself. None can answer it but Jesus, and he will answer it.—B.
The considerateness era love already infinite.
"It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." [Note.—There is ample evidence that Paul himself narrates these details of his conversion (Acts 26:14), and that their proper place is not here. They will, however, be considered here, and reference made to this place from Acts 22:1-44.22.30. Acts 22:10; Acts 26:14.] Saul, when now he was called Paul, and after he had been some while in the service of Christ, himself tells us what passed in those wonderful moments when Christ and the Spirit wrestled with him thrown prostrate to the earth. They are never forgotten by him, nor will he for a moment try to hide those details describing Heaven's remonstrances with him where they might most infer humiliation to himself. The humiliation of Saul at this time has its counterpart in some sort in the condescending-ness of Christ. The risen Lord will still use human language and human figure, even to employing a proverb. The proverb needs no explanation, and the interpretation of it needs only illustration and enforcement. And it may be led up to profitably by inferior applications of it which none will gainsay. How, then, will they be able to gainsay that illustration of it and that application of it which Jesus himself thinks it worth while to utter from an open window of heaven?
I. IT IS HARD TO KICK AGAINST THE EARTHLY LOT ASSIGNED TO US. That lot is a very complex thing, but it is made up of some very manifest elements. It is a combination of the date in time's long calendar at which our life is placed, of the bodily and the mental endowments which we own, of the circumstances and surroundings which we inherit, and of the very dispositions which belonged to those who went before us—our parents' and theirs. None can give any account of these elements, but every man has to use them and to seek to use them to the best advantage. Some of them no man ever finds fault with or murmurs because of them, or most rarely. Very, very few ever complain that they live now, for instance, and did not live long ago—that they live now and not rather a century or two hence. They see, they feel that to do this were insanity itself: and they do not kick against their lot in this respect. Yet they often do in other respects. Well, this is hard—hard as for the bird of plumage to beat against the wires of its cage; nay, harder far than that. It is hard for loss of time, for loss of temper, for loss of strength, for loss of trusting loving obedience, and because no good can come of it, no success can be gained in the vain, Utopian, and worse than foolish struggle. Let every man struggle in his lot to improve himself, and he will not fail to improve it also. But let him never "kick" against it; for so, if hurt at all, he hurts himself the more. He "kicks against the pricks."
II. IT IS HARD TO KICK AGAINST DUTY. The discipline of duty may often be painful at present. There is none, however, more strengthening and health-giving. Many a heavy burden becomes lighter if borne manfully. It always becomes more irritating in proportion as it is not willingly taken up and borne. And duty knows how to take keen revenge. When its obligations are only partially and grudgingly discharged, the penalty it assigns is the misery of utter dissatisfaction; and when they are altogether neglected, the penalty is a forfeiture of unknown amount and kind.
III. IT IS HARD TO KICK AGAINST CONSCIENCE. If the conscience is alive and in full life, to sin against it in both disobeying it and also taking the offensive, makes its reproach tenfold. If it be already half dead, it hastens its destruction for the present life; and if it be "on the point of death," the death-stroke now falls.
IV. IT IS HARD TO KICK AGAINST ANY FORCE THAT IS PLAINLY GREATER IN DEGREE OR THAT IS SUPERIOR IN KIND. If it be only greater in degree, the peril lies in the inevitable mercilessness of the opponent. He holds the vain struggler in his grip. And if it be a greater force because it is superior in kind, then he who struggles, struggles "against his own soul," and drives the deadly disease within.
V. But all these are faint warnings of what hardness may mean, WHEN A MAN'S SOUL AND ETERNAL LIFE, CHRIST AND THE SPIRIT, are on the one side; and the man himself, driven in darkness, error, and recklessness, is on the other.
1. It is hard, intrinsically so, hard on every account and in every bearing of it, to go against the interest of your own soul. The soul is so inestimably valuable, the injury so inestimably cruel. Eternal life is so unboundedly to be desired, the loss of it so unboundedly to be dreaded and wailed over. Saul was doing this very thing, beneath all other guise and disguise, when his career was stopped. If he could have had his way, his way shut him right out from "life, life eternal," and led him straightest path to death. And all the while he had been resisting light and evidence, miracles and signs and mighty wonders of apostles and of Stephen, which had availed with others; he was kicking against the highest welfare and interests of himself. Convictions are some of our strongest friends, and to kick against them is to inflict some of the keenest of pain and most cruel of injury upon self.
2. It is hard, essentially so, to resist the hand as kind as it is strong, as strong as it is kind, of Jesus. "Strong to save" is, indeed, his truest name and his best-loved name. But if he is to the last refused in this force, it must be, alas! he is swift to destroy. It is especially hard to resist Jesus:
(1) Because he means nothing but kindness.
(2) Because his meaning makes no mistake, incurs no slip nor charge of good intention only, and he does nothing but kindness.
(3) Because he first did so much and suffered so much for one only purpose—that he might be qualified to show that kindness to the full.
(4) Because his is the initiative always, in proffering that kindness to those whose initiative always is the front of hostility to himself.
(5) Because all his kind meaning and his kind doing are in the train of perfect knowledge. He knows all that we shall want to bear us through and to bear us up on high, all that we shall want to save us from falling through and falling into "the lowest hell." What folly we often observe it to be to stand up against or to neglect knowledge superior to our own! But oh! but what extent and what kind of superior knowledge is this?
"No eye but his might ever bear
To gaze all down that drear abyss,
Because none ever saw so clear
The shore beyond of endless bliss!"
"The giddy waves so restless hurled,
The vexed pulse of this feverish world,
He views and counts with steady sight,
Used to behold the Infinite!"
(6) Because him refused, him lost, there is no other can plead our cause in our last extremity, there is no other Savior! When such a one speaks, touches, urges, then the sinner who resists him is one who has no mercy, no mercy at all on himself, "body or soul."
3. It is hard, most ruinously so, to resent the persuading address of the Spirit. Hardening as it is to neglect the lessons of reason, the persuasions of the affection of others, the call of duty, the dictates of conscience, and the Word and work and impassioned invitation of Jesus, this is the worst of all—to resist and reject the Spirit. For he is the life itself. Light and Life are his twofold name. All round creation light will be attended ere long with symptoms of life; and nowhere round the whole sweep of creation does consent to dwell with perfect darkness. They seem almost synonymous, perhaps, but as they are not the same in nature, so neither can they be counted the same in grace. And still, therefore, this twofold name speaks something of the quality and prerogative of the Spirit. He brings Christ himself and his truth and his cross to the sinner's heart, and if he is refused, then finally all is refused. Hence the awful trembling emphasis which Scripture lays on the pleading exhortation that we slight not, grieve not, quench not, the Spirit. And hard indeed it must be counted to" kick against him."
(1) He is so silent a Friend.
(2) He is so gentle a Friend,
(3) He is so close a Friend.
(4) He is so sensitive a Friend.
(5) He is so condescending a Friend—in him it is that God dwells in the humble and contrite sinner's heart.
(6) He is so cheerful and gladdening and sanctifying a Friend.
(7) He more than halves our griefs—he dries them up. He more than doubles our joy—he multiplies it a millionfold, till it is already "full of glory." His sympathy is perfect.
(8) He is our indispensable Friend, if we are to be loosed from sin, to be created anew, to take hold of Jesus, and to find salvation. Against the united, loving, determined, and predetermined force of Jesus and the Spirit, 'twas hard indeed for Saul to strive. Love and. power amazing grace!—have hold upon him nor mean to relax their gracious grasp If he struggles, he but prolongs his own fierce inner conflict, multiples his own subsequent pangs of memory and conscience. So Saul and every converted man are in a hand from which no power shall ever pluck them.—B.
The act of capitulation.
The moment had come for Saul. His conversion is a fact accomplished. He speaks to it by speaking its reliable evidences. Short, undoubtedly sharp, and as it now appears decisive, had the conflict within been, but it is now over. And the fight over finds out the two results—the soldier unwounded and the victory won. The moment had come also for Jesus. What preparations his had been! What work he had accomplished! What "sufferings" he had endured! What shame he had borne! And his mighty power and mightier love have now triumphed. He too has his victory, has taken, and without blood, his captive, and has bound that captive to him, a willing captive for ever and ever. That moment of double victory—of Jesus over the human heart, and of a man's better over his worse self by the grace of the Spirit—two victories, yet but one, is described by one of the best of our sacred hymn-writers, and could scarcely be better set forth—
"'Tis done! the great transaction's done!
I am my Lord's and he is mine!
He called me and I followed on,
Glad to confess the voice Divine."
The question on Saul's lip (in the text) speaks, we say, the sure moment of his conversion. Much may prepare the way for that moment—thought and feeling, honest doubt and dishonest, fear and shame and strife, convictions stifled, purposes dishonored, resolutions broken, and perversest kicking against the pricks. But these are but the always mournful, often shameful, last show of sword-play of the wicked one, who knows no pity for the subject he is so soon to lose, and when he must leave his old abode would then most discredit it. And therefore in this question, may we not find in simplest, clearest outline, the suggestions of what are the real facts involved in conversion? They are—
I. THE DISTINCT RESIGNING OF TRUST IN SELF. That surrender will mean the surrender of:
2. Much more of self-will, the determination that self shall rule and shape all.
3. The works of self.
4. The loved ends that have only self or self supremely in view.
5. Must of all, the last remnant of an idea that self can procure its own salvation. For here is a man who possibly less leaned on fellow-creature than any other man who ever lived. But let him come to know Jesus, and his first question thereupon is the childlike, leaning, humble question, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
II. THE TAKING UP AND PLAIN PROFESSION OF UNDIVIDED ALLEGIANCE TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. The converted is not all at sea. That is what he once was, but not what he is now. He has not to seek and calculate between different and competing matters. That was once large part of his deep-seated unease and dissatisfaction, when "other lords many had dominion over him." But now he knows to whom his undivided allegiance belongs. That undivided allegiance takes him to Jesus Christ as:
1. Unrivaled and undisputed Teacher. He sees, knows, feels, that Jesus has won this place all his own—the one grand Revealer of the deepest things of the Spirit in man and of the state of man and of the future for man. And all other knowledge he feels to be necessarily subordinate to this.
2. Perfect Example. No sculptured model so perfect for example as the delineated character, the written life of Jesus, the impress that is made on the attentive observer of his work and word and manner. Here is the sculptor seen, indeed, and his sculpture worth the studying. And Christ's true convert will be this kind of true student of him also. He will well know the place at his feet, and his own right attitude as he sits there watching.
3. Master and Lord. He will feel that his strength and devotion belong to him. "What has he done for me and what for him shall I not do?"
4. One alone Savior. Whatever his trust or hope for his own future life and for his soul may once have been, he finds all now in "Jesus only." And if he were conscious of, careful for none at all before, now how earnestly he clings to Jesus, because of this—"Savior" his dearest name, "mighty to save" his dearest attraction! Oh, with what passionate adoration of gratitude and of love did Paul sing, and since him unnumbered millions of others have sung it, "My dear Redeemer and my Lord"! Thus Saul, in his first allegiance to Jesus, calls him "Lord," and asks him nothing else but as to what are his instructions: "What wilt thou have me to do?"
III. THE ALTERED PRACTICAL LIFE. Conversion means a changed heart, changed thoughts, changed feeling, a changed air and light. But it means nothing if it do not mean also a genuinely, practically changed career. No sublime enjoyment, no rich experience, no flight of sanctified imagination, no foretaste in saintly, heavenly communings with unseen realities, of "the joys" that are to come, shall satisfy Jesus, nor can satisfy Scriptures conception and representation of the convert of Christ. His life must be "Christ;" and he must await death to know his full "gain." His life must be a witness to Christ, albeit it be first strong witness against his old past self, and ever a quiet rebuke of those who live not after the same rule. The amazement and the solemn dread of those minutes of blindness and strongest excitement, when Saul lay on the earth, and was already summoned as it were to the bar of his Maker, did not prevent him, as a true convert and as type of a true convert, asking for his practical work. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" In our ignorance, perhaps we should, a priori, have thought a more reasonable question, a more modest question, a more reverent question, might have been, "Lord, where wilt thou have me to go"—go hide myself? "Where wilt thou have me go," that I may shed bitter tears and do penance for the past. "Where wilt thou have me go," that I may pass through the fires of some purgatory, and be proved by some solemn ordeal? But no, the question cannot be mistaken, misreported, or altered. It is, "What wilt thou have me to do? And Jesus tells him, and does not say new, "This is the work of God, that you believe on me." He tells him, and it proves very shortly, how really he had "to do," to "spend and be spent," "to labor more abundantly than they all," and to prove his conversion by his changed life and its fruits. For vain, unspeakably vain, the profession of a changed heart and the hopes of Christ and of heaven, without the proof that lies in the changed life.—B.
The sequestrated soul.
In the wonders of the conversion of Saul we are greatly impressed with the close regard paid to the needs of human nature. It is not all miracle, nor must it be so viewed. Amazing is the grace of what cannot be construed as anything less than superhuman intervention. An adoring surprise is certainly not diminished when we notice how that intervention condescends so soon, so readily, to make itself at home with the harmonies of human nature. It does not affect to disdain them, nor doe, it dispense with them, because of the majesty of its own omnipotence, but rather emphatically "condescends to the low estate of men." For the experience of intense excitement through which Saul had just passed is sure, upon the reckonings of human nature by itself, to be decisive of his future. If it do not make him, it will most surely undo him for ever. He may "be exalted above measure" or he may be depressed "above measure." Either of these two extremes is a constant result in human life of whatever might come nearest to such excitement and impression as those here described. In the presence of a position so critical, it does not follow that nature is entirely helpless nor that miracles must be implored. In succeeding degrees repose, silence, even darkness will be prescribed, and we shall be told unerringly that life or death is the alternative issue of attending upon such prescription or neglecting it. And this is a principle observed in the marvels of the conversion of Saul. That which may be viewed as proof of intervention superhuman does its short, sharp work, to be followed by the immediate resumption of methods which human wisdom and human experience would dictate. The experience of Saul here narrated may be regarded as it was—
I. THE CONSEQUENCE OF DEEP MENTAL, SPIRITUAL IMPRESSION. No doubt the exceeding brightness of the "light that shined about him from heaven" may be credited with a natural power to infer the blinding of his eyes. But the same light "fell round about them that journeyed with" Saul, and they saw that light (see the accounts in Acts 22:1-44.22.30., Acts 22:26.), and yet it had no blinding effect upon them—at all events no effect of the kind lasting three days. In fact, for Saul it was but the signal of the light that flashed upon the inner eye that belonged to him. But it is of God, and At is not below the Spirit of God to assert and to prove the completest mastery over man—body, soul, and spirit. And the continued loss of sight and the continuous fast are justly regarded as the result of the deep mental, spiritual impression now made on Saul. That impression was of the nature of:
1. The shock of inordinate surprise. Not an idea, not a fear, not the vaguest surmise had come near the strong horseman of such an arresting check.
2. The shock of overmatched force. The weak and tender and gentle will yield and bend. It is a matter of breaking to others, and if the heart break not, who can imagine the strain? That heart will be rocked to its foundation.
3. The shock of a flood of mental conviction, and so far forth illumination, breaking in upon an estranged nature and terrifying by the dark shadows it casts proportioned to its own luster.
4. The shock of the rapid rising of the tides of penitential grief, and grief that energetically stirs up repentance.
5. The shock of compunction for ingratitude and all the past hostility of a hating heart when mercy began to dawn and love began to be born.
6. The shock of one mere glimpse through the merest chink of the sepulchral soul into the outer and upper and most inspiring light.
7. The shock of a real change. What busy but amazed, aching, anguished tumult within that soul! And who shall stay bodily sense and bodily appetite from resigning and retreating from that scene and confessing themselves merely the subordinate and temporary?
II. THE GRACIOUS PROVISION OF DIVINE THOUGHT FOR YET DEEPER IMPRESSION AND FOR LASTING RESULT. Very strong impressions, if made very rapidly, may very rapidly pass away. Explain it as we may or leave it unexplained, the fact is too well ascertained. How very vivid sometimes the dream that visits us! how exceedingly difficult to throw it off for the first minutes of waking! but after those few first minutes are past, no mist climbed the mountain-side, nor morning cloud the heaven, quicker to vanish than that dream and its impression vanish. And so it is evident that everything is not necessarily gained or surely gained when vivid effects, ay, effects howsoever vivid, are gained.
1. Vivid impression needs the staying effect of reflection.
2. Vivid impressions which are also of the most startling personal character need the conciliating influences of some calm familiarity with them. They must be faced, must be looked at so that they may be recognized again, must be granted the opportunity of revealing their lovely aspects as well as their bright or powerful aspects.
3. The vivid impressions that belong to a heart touched by the Spirit of God particularly demand to dwell a while with that Spirit, and dwell as though quite alone with him,
(1) that he may be honored;
(2) that he may work his work amid the absorbed and the undivided, undistracted attention of that human heart. In what ineffable communion with the Father supreme, with the Savior and Mediator Jesus, and with eternal realities, will the Spirit then engage the yielding heart! It is not that the Spirit cannot work apace, but, as in everything else, it is that man cannot—he is slow, slow indeed, as compared with that Spirit's swift power.
4. Strong convictions do none the less need the confirming effect of deliberate resolution, of some contributing and very conscious effort on our own side.
5. The most right resolutions need that we summon our whole self, after carefully "counting the cost," to prove moral courage and spiritual vigor by taking some practical step. It is Jesus himself who lays the stress on "counting the cost," for those who would be his followers, do his work, "enter the kingdom of God." And to changed objects of life, methods of life, and society in life, such as those to which Saul—ay, to which any true convert—is called, needs it not the entrance by unmistakable, confessed self-renunciation? Of the honesty and thoroughness of such self-renunciation it is at all events no feeble symbol when sense and appetite resign their grip, generally so tyrannical. And now in no parable, but in most literal truth, Saul is befriended by Divine forethought and care. The strong man is taken out of his own keeping. When he was his old self, he had indeed "girded himself and walked whither he would;" but now he is too glad to "stretch forth his hand, and that another should gird him" and lead him whither he had never, never thought of going. It was the completing so far of God's great love to him, and Jesus' great compassion toward him. He is delivered, fairly delivered from himself for three days. He sees not, eats not, drinks not. Neither does he go out to this present world by the beautiful gate of the eye, nor does the support of the outer world come so much as to his body. He is sequestered with the Spirit, who reveals to him the errors of the past and something of the destiny of the future; who makes him to know Jesus and himself—the fullness and grace of the one, the poverty and insufficiency of the other. The plain facts for Saul again and again speak with lessons most needed for us and for all time. They suggest to us what meditation we need, what devotion, what divorce from sight and from appetite which may so seduce the soul, what grateful and close communion with God, obedience to the Spirit, and trust in the Savior, and how the safest augury for the future is that we do break with the past. Wonderful and fascinating to imagination Saul's "retreat" of three days. To the things that then transpired, however, we need not be and ought not to be entire strangers. We may learn what Saul learned if we will go where he learned them, and may ere long say for ourselves—
"There if thy Spirit touch the soul
And grace her mean abode,
Oh, with what peace and joy and love
She communes with her God!"
The sight that Jesus notes.
These words, spoken by Jesus himself from heaven to one disciple of his and about another, the very youngest of all, single out a fact, and point to it as a sight worthy to be observed. The fact is in itself a very simple one, in the judgment of many a very ordinary one, in the unheeding judgment of most men an exceedingly uninteresting and unimportant one. Nor would it be easy to find a more clearly outlined illustration of the different estimate of earth and heaven, of Jesus and of erring man, than that found here. Jesus points to the sight of a man on his knees as one worthy to be beheld—to the fact of a man praying as one to engage attention, deep regard, and practically altered conduct on the part of his fellow-men. This is the simplest statement of the history that is before us. And it may be objected that, though it be a true statement so far, it is true only in this instance, or, if not only, yet that it is to such a degree exceptionally true here, that it may not be drawn into a precedent. But the burden of proof of such a position will fall upon those who shall hesitate to admit that one and the same essential element of noteworthiness attaches to the same situation, the same spectacle, wherever it presents itself. This, then, which was a spectacle to the Lord Jesus, and of which he speaks to his disciples in that very light, may well interest the gaze and devout thought of all generations—"Behold, he prayeth!"
I. Let us consider, first, what different descriptions may be given in answer to the question, "WHAT IS IT TO PRAY?" since Jesus gives such prominence to the act.
1. It is the first sign of some great change. It betrays something novel that has been at work, unseen but not unfelt. It portends much to come.
2. it is itself the first movement of spiritual life, the new-born infant's trial of the spiritual lungs, and first lifting of them up and first breathing of spiritual air, the first voice of the "babe in Christ."
3. Its form may be a single word, a simplest sentence; one gentlest sigh may bear it up all the way to heaven, one passionate cry may speed it up; one upward glance of the eye may reveal it to that benignant eye which is ever bended down in compassion on us; one big solitary tear, that drops into the earth and can no more be gathered up, will be "counted" for it by him who doth "count all our tears."
4. The time it takes may be a moment, the twinkling of an eye, or it may be the exercise of agonized hours.
II. We may ask, "WHO IS THE PRAYING MAN? AND WHAT HIS STATE?" The man who prays is the man who has come into a certain new state towards God—a slate that makes him desire also to come in a very new attitude into his presence.
1. It is the state of one who has discovered a need of a kind, a depth, an amount, and an urgency he had never dreamt of before.
2. It is the state of one who has become ready and anxious to make a thorough confession. Pride has gone. Self-satisfaction has gone. Trust in the world's short resources has gone. Blindness and delusion are dissipated.
3. It is the state of one who has been shaken by conviction of sin. The first prayer is not for mercies temporal, but for mercy—the mercy that a creature wants who has been growing up a long time, but not growing up in either perfect or even conscious relations with his Creator-Father. Conviction is the grandest interpreting exposition of the prophet's dictum, "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23).
4. It is the state of one who, let him be what he may, let him have been, have done, what he may, toward God, or toward man, or toward his own heart and conscience, has been visited by some glimmering ray of light, and has felt the warmth of some feeble flame of hope. Real prayer and absolute despair, real prayer and utter darkness, never go together. So prayer is the pulse of vitality. Its feeblest expression is the radiation of the spark of God's light, life, love, not extinct.
5. It is the case of one long sore sick, for whom the crisis of fatal danger is past, the disease stayed, and on whom, with more than the loudest solicitude of the tenderest parent, the Lord Jesus looks down and vouchsafes to point out the blessed symptoms, saying, "Behold, he prayeth!"
III. Let us consider WHO IT IS THAT IS HERE SPOKEN OF AS PRAYING. He is a Jew, well taught, of pious forefathers, of strict Pharisee school, full of earnestness, free from immorality, given to striving for superiority and profiting above his equals, and given to saying prayers. So that, whatever a certain kind of light and moral character and virtue might avail, he had the benefit of them. On the other hand, "the light that was in him was darkness;" his zeal was bigotry; his high character was to the scale of human measurement only; he had never touched deep ground; he was a sinner and didn't know it; he persecuted "saints" and didn't know it; he kept the raiment, and consented to the stoning, of them that stoned Stephen, and didn't know what he was doing or what they were doing,—till now, in the full career of a very successful "breathing out of threatenings and slaughters," he is flung to the ground, and becomes as one stunned. Yet spoken to, he knows the Lord, and in a moment owns his rightful Master by word. The prayers of the crucified Jesus, and of the first martyr Stephen "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge;" "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do"—are answered; and he who was just now breathing out those threatenings and slaughters, now breathes the deep, earnest, pleading accents of prayer. And there is no mistake, deception, nor unconscious delusion; for he who knew all says, and hushes every doubt and objection while he says it, "Behold, he prayeth!"
IV. Let us notice, lastly, way JESUS SAYS, "BEHOLD!"
1. To the risen Jesus, at all events, no real surprise could be possible. Only a God's wonders—whatever that may be—might be understood here, if the charmed words had been words of soliloquy. But they are not words of soliloquy. They are condescendingly spoken in order to disarm the very faithlessness of human distrust, which, nevertheless, insisted on expressing itself. Jesus calls attention to what may teach us a large lesson of liberality, of charity, but above all of trust in the force victorious and "more than conquering" of his gospel and his Name.
2. Jesus calls attention to what we may think little of, and think amiss therein. Many are the things we think little of little sins, to wit-of which he thinks much, to hate them. Many are the things we think little of—little kindnesses, little cups of cold water, to wit—of which he thinks much, to love them. And much—oh, how much!—will waken our astonished attention one day, soon to come, that moves us with not a ripple of either surprise or interest now. Still, he that hath ears to hear may hear now that heavenly "Behold!" It speaks in most striking contrast to the "Lo! here," and "Lo! there," of earth and men.
3. Jesus says, "Behold!" because he would call attention to a change that was a pattern miracle of his power and grace. He calls attention to it, not as unique, but as a model instance. Such a character revolutionized! Such a life and force of life, and combined elements of life, and characteristics not all unmingled bad, changed! What, then, shall not Christ and the Spirit be able to do? Eighteen centuries have justified that "Behold!" in both these aspects—as pointing out a model conversion in Saul's conversion, and as vindicating it as but the first of an amazing and glorious series.
4. Jesus, in saying "Behold!" teaches us where to look, and so also where not to look, in ourselves for evidence of real change. All objection, all inquisition, all human dogma, all ecclesiastical domination and forging of creed and formula and fetters,—perish they all before the decisive "Behold!" of Jesus—" Behold, he prayeth!" Before this sight human presumption may well be silenced, as before it "Satan trembles." In conclusion, still, alas! for once that the gracious finger points while the gracious lip says, "Behold, he prayeth!" how often must it be said, "Behold, he prayeth not"! Though there be every reason to pray, every encouragement to pray, how many pray not!, Yet no monarch on the most powerful and majestic throne, and wielding the mightiest sway, is in very deed to compare for one moment with the man whose attitude is on his knees before God. Who can describe the new alacrity with which in due time that man regains his feet? Though Saul had labored abundantly under the wrong master, after that praying he "labored more abundantly, yet not he, but—the grace of God that was in him," and in him through that praying.—B.
The choice of perfect forgivingness.
Ananias demurs to the errand assigned. It was not altogether unnatural that he should do so. His hesitation, however, does not resemble that of Moses. And, in expressing the grounds of it, he was only occupying by anticipation the position which it would become necessary to occupy when any and all actual interposition of the great Head of the Church should be withdrawn. Then, as it is to this day, it became among the most critical cares and the most solemn responsibilities of the Church and of its leaders, its "pastors and elders," to consider what prudence may permit, and act as much with the wisdom of the serpent as with the innocuousness of the dove. The hesitation of Ananias does not appear to be reproved, but is plainly overruled; and we are therein reminded still how—
I. AN ILL REPUTATION AMONG MEN WILL NOT DETER THE CHOICE OF JESUS. The "things that are highly esteemed among men" are not only sometimes "held in abomination in the sight of God," but the things that are with justice lightly "esteemed among men" are taken up sometimes by God, that he may in them magnify his transforming power.
1. Reputation is an uncertain guide. It is even particularly so, perhaps it may be said, when it is a good reputation; for how "many that are first, shall be last"!
2. The tyranny of reputation is not for a moment recognized by Jesus. As peremptorily as he would bid the worst sinner depart from the error of his way, as lovingly as he would persuade the most disreputable to "sin no more," so graciously does he receive such also; and let the censorious world say what it will, he discountenances the censoriousness by word, and here emphatically discountenances by deed, what might contain the germ of the principle. It is a thing to be much thought upon by the true disciples of Christ. The world and a worldly Church aggravate the difficulty of the returning sinner. This is the opposite of the way of Jesus. Jesus helps a man to recover his character; he helps his struggles while he does so; he shows him sympathy, and," though he fall many a time in the struggle, graciously watches him and upholds him again and again that he be not "utterly cast down." It is a proverb that the world keeps the man down who is down. And when the Church approaches anything of the like kind, it means to say that it is only in name the Church, and is drained miserably dry of the Spirit.
II. THE UNLIKELIEST ANTECEDENTS DO NOT FRIGHTEN JESUS FROM HIS CHOICE. Ananias did not misstate anything, did not exaggerate the case against Saul, was not overridden by strange tales untrue. But he did fear; he had a nervous apprehension; he had not up to that moment learned, what probably he did at that moment learn, and from that moment never forgot, the proud reach of the power of Christ. How long it is before any of us attain to the right conception of Jesus and his heart and his hand! We still think him such as ourself, only something greater, greatly greater; something better, and very much better. We need to see that he is divinely greater, divinely better, and all that divine means.
1. The antecedents of a man's life may largely betoken its real bent.
2. They will largely have made his habits.
3. They will almost inevitably color all his future way of viewing things. But to these three things the answer for Jesus is that he, ay, he alone, can reverse bent, can undo habit, and can give to see light in God's light (Psalms 36:9).
III. NONE OF THAT RESENTMENT THAT BORROWS SO MUCH VITALITY FROM LIVELY MEMORY OF PAST INJURY BELONGS TO JESUS. Genuinely to forgive is acknowledged to be one of the highest moral achievements of human nature. Nevertheless, there are ascending degrees even to this virtue; and when some men are satisfied that they have done their most and their best, all that nature admits of or that God demands, it must be allowed that these men are but beginning their higher flight. To forgive the bitterest opponent in these senses—that you love him again or for the first time, as the case may be; that you sympathize with him and accept his sympathy; work with him and accept his work and devotion—nay, select him as your chief man, and set him forth and forward as your champion;—is a type of forgiveness rarely reproduced. With sublimity of ease Jesus does all this now. Not Peter, not John, not James, but this wild enemy, Saul, is the man he called and honored "to bear his Name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." His sins shall not be remembered against him forever. They are, then, really blotted out. He is not forgiven, but put rather low down; forgiven, but kept rather down, lest he should not be fit to be quite trusted; forgiven, but in deepest truth left still a marked man. No; if he is marked it is for honor, for renown, for grace, and for the unfading crown of glory. In sight of this proof of the perfection of forgiveness that is with Jesus, we may well sing-
"Mighty Lord, so high above us,
Loving Brother, all our own,
Who will help us, who will love us,
Like to thee, who all hast known?
Who so gentle to the sinners
As the soul that never fell?
Who so strong to make us winners
Of the height he won so well?"
IV. IN THE CHOICE OF JESUS WE STAND IN THE PRESENCE OF ONE OF THE ULTIMATE MYSTERIES OF HUMAN EXISTENCE AND HUMAN RELATION TO GOD. When we ponder this subject, if we side with the infidel, we ridicule and at the same time we are putting ourselves nowhere. If we side with the reverent, we are in the depths too deep for this. The choosing of Jesus is mystery, unfathomable mystery for us.
1. It is mystery because he gives no account of it nor will be arraigned nor questioned concerning it.
2. It is mystery, because not all our reason, nor all our reverent study of the oracles, nor all our diligent search of history, nor all our scrutiny of human will and character, can trace the law of that choosing. It baffles us in reason and in fact. Its startling anomalies presented to our view in closest juxtaposition, its sudden appearance in the most unexpected place, and its equally conspicuous and impressive absence, speak the mystery of sovereignty.
3. It is mystery in the wonders which it reveals of surpassing condescension, grace, and clinging love. While reason still stands afar off in cold repulsion and haughty distance, hearts draw near. And for its last achievement it works out this harmony for all those, without one exception, who have become the objects of it; they adore the free grace that has drawn and brought them; they condemn in the same breath the perverseness and folly and guilt in themselves, which left them so long outside.—B.
Jesus' far-seeing compassion appearing in an unexpected way.
That Saul, when now called Paul, did indeed suffer many and great things for Jesus' "Name's sake," is most true. He knew it when he suffered them; he knew it also by anticipation (Acts 20:23; Acts 11:11)—a kind of knowledge that to many would be of the most harassing and distressing consequence; and he knew it as he looked back (2 Corinthians 11:23-47.11.31; 2 Corinthians 12:10), not indeed to murmur, nor to repent of having exposed himself to it, but, while glorying in the suffering, to testify how real it was. That, therefore, of which Jesus tells Ananias that he will forewarn Saul, did by all the witness of history come to pass. But it is another question why he is forewarned of it, and why Jesus assures Ananias that he shall be so forewarned. Nor can it escape our notice that much significance is intended to lie in the statement as here introduced. Let us consider this announcement of Jesus—
I. IN ITS APPLICATION TO ANANIAS. It is intended to remove the objection of Ananias, by suggesting to him:
1. That Christ did not overlook, had not overlooked, the specialty of the case.
2. That Christ would be himself answerable for the education of Saul for his work, failing the antecedents that Ananias supposed would have been of more auspicious promise.
3. That that education would not fail to be what, in its character and the severity of its discipline, would both
(1) attest the reality of the change passed upon Saul and
(2) confirm and deepen that change.
4. Possibly Christ may, in the mode of his reply, desire also very condescendingly to still any smallest germ of
(1) personal envy or
(2) forwardness to suspicion lurking in. the character of Ananias. It is very certain that the mischief of these two very things, unacknowledged and covered over with finer words, has amounted to a total result of very great disaster during the career of the Church, ever since the personal intervention of Jesus has been absent. How often did Jesus in the days of his flesh stand by the sorry sinner round whom surged the murmur of the envious multitude! But the half-stifled and cautious envy and suspicion of the wary individual has often proved itself a more cruel enemy to souls, and must be a more offensive obstacle, in the eyes of Jesus, to his work making way in some poor guilty but struggling soul. Certain it is that—
"Since our dear Lord in bliss reposed,
High above mortal ken,"
his Church has, times without number, made to pass through severest quarantine heartbroken volunteers for his service. The effects have been all deteriorating and disastrous. They would have been ruinous save for the still steady, if invisible, rule and headship of Jesus Christ. The Church (whether only so named or so in deed and in truth), mistaking duty and right, has failed in such cases to note sufficiently the Divine treatment as here illustrated in the three days' blindness and fasting of Saul, succeeded by the confidence and trust of the great Master, given immediately in the kindliest and most unreserved manner.
II. IN ITS APPLICATION TO SAUL HIMSELF. Jesus bids Ananias lose no time, but "go" at once to bear to Saul the message, so far as the way could be prepared for it by human lips; and herein suggests to us to notice certain relations of this language to Saul.
1. Christ, having chosen his servant, apprises him both faithfully and early of what awaits him. No false, nor tempting, nor too favorable gloss is put by him on his own "most worthy" service.
2. He apprises him also of what is expected of him. If Jesus show to any one, whether in the ways of apostolic time or in the ways of time present, "how great things he shall suffer for his Name's sake," "how great things" life and circumstance and earthly lot are likely to make him "suffer," "how great things" his divinest directest call shall impose upon him to "suffer,"—it must be that he is addressing a call to him that shall invoke all his heroism. It is very much as though the condescending Jesus did here introduce the Christian hero into the possible ranks of his own blessed Church. All must come of him, all does surely come of him; but if it be possible, something shall be credited to the range of human virtue. Manifestly Saul was a good instance by which to set forth this. He had been conspicuous; he had been a hero of some sort; he had shown lavish energy, which shall no longer be sacrificed to lavish waste. Thus from the first Jesus gives a tone to certain of his servants—those, to wit, who are of the sort to answer to it readily and really. Life and labor and the success of real usefulness do often largely own to original impulse and early impression. The high-pitched thought and purpose and feeling of youth and of first effort are rarely lost, when they are genuine to begin with. They tell and count and swell to the echo as year and period pass by. Nor can it be denied that many a true Christian life falls under the condemnation of being a feeble and an unfruitful life, because it was not at the first appealed to with power. It never got the idea of trenchancy. And indecision—its watchword—was snare and delusion to it.
3. He apprises him of what may be calculated upon, as acting like a certain and safe check to both pride or vanity and self-confidence. How many have fallen upon the very threshold of what would have been a great spiritual career through one or both of these things I And the pride ecclesiastical and the self-confidence that "lords it over the faith" of others are just two of the most pronounced pestilences of human nature. From the fright and the fire and the faintness of the "three days" which Saul had now known, it were well that he should not be brought out at once to the light and "the cheerful sun" and the splendid hopes and prospects of a great career. It is better that an annealing interval find place. It is safer that his thought and heart find tonic in a Savior's call and in a Master's demand—that he familiarize himself with the outlook of suffering, and great suffering.
4. Though lastly, yet most of all, Jesus will connect everything in Saul's thought now with himself. How great, how true, how kind was this philosophy! Saul has sinned no end against Christ, and he shall suffer no end for "his Name's sake." What healing for Saul's soul that foretelling announcement! Saul has persecuted fiercely those who were dear to Christ unspeakably, and he shall bear the brunt of fiercest persecution for the sake of Christ and in the service of his loved ones. It is the only compensation for his self-respect, it is some anodyne for his inward smart, and, though an undiscerning world would never have thought it, it is the supreme mark of Christ's sweet forgivingness, of his delicate considerateness, of his tenderest sympathy. "I will show him how great things he must," etc.—B.
A parable in things spiritual.
We entertain no doubt that we have here a simplest history of what actually occurred. We doubt no less that the chiefest interest and significance of the record lie in the spiritual history that underlies it. Nay, more, though we read facts of outer life, they do nothing mere than outline those of an inner life, which Jesus notices, loves, helps, and even makes. Notice—
I. THE CHANGE THAT PASSES ON SAUL. He receives his sight. For three days he had been blind in a bodily sense, but for probably three and thirty years he had been blind in the other sense. And this is just what he had been. He had not been vicious, immoral, sottish, nor an infidel, nor irreverent toward all religious truth and feeling. But he had been blind—blind to the very type of human nature. And his blindness is but the type of that of every one of us, till he "receives his sight from the Lord Jesus."
II. THE HUMAN HAND AND VOICE BY AID OF WHICH THE BLESSING IS CONVEYED. If Jesus had been in a literal sense upon the earth, he would have spoken to Saul, he would have laid his own hands upon him. The actual ministry, the visible ministry, is passed, however, now into human agency. This was a plain-spoken statement of it. How great the honor laid on men! and how great their responsibility by this devolution of the highest and holiest functions! How full of solemn and inspiring suggestion, too little traced out in devout thought by us—that the actual work which for a space of time Jesus' own voice and hand had attended to, are now to be attended to by man, fellow-man.
1. That work, that ministry of service to the soul of a fellow-creature, finds out very soon and very surely all that is of the nature of sympathy. It tries sympathy it wakes it, it increases it. The fearful Anamas and distrustful of one hour ago finds, and no doubt honestly, the word "brother" now on his lip—" Brother Saul."
2. Jesus himself became genuinely a Brother to those he came to save, not by virtue of his Divine power and practical pity only. That his might be the very type of brotherliness, he took our nature on him, and made himself Brother (Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 2:17). And when he ascended, his representatives are to be found in those who were men alone. That what might seem the unnecessary thing is here done, in a man being sent with the mere message of regiven sight, and the mere formality of "laying on hands" where no virtue could pass, must mean all the more to set honor on the spiritual work which one man should do for others.
III. THE ONE DIVINE SOURCE FROM WHICH, NEVERTHELESS, ALL SAVING HELP CAME.
1. Jesus sends Ananias. He has directed him, and where necessary corrected him also. He has fixed the time, and hastens the lingering step of Ananias.
2. Jesus, who "began the good work," perfects it. The Jesus who met Saul in the way and peremptorily reined up his career is the Jesus who gives him now light and liberty and his commission. The miracle is the miracle of Jesus; his the power, the will, the love, the sovereign grace. Nor can this be too well remembered by the servants of Christ, in all they do now toward the salvation of a fellow man. Those who will most readily admit that the touch of their hand can do nothing to work sight for the blind, are not always quite so clear that their voice, their wisdom, their persuasion, their mental influence on a fellow-being's mental state, are correspondingly impotent in and of themselves. Yet it is so. The love of Jesus and the command of the Spirit, and these alone, "make dead sinners live." Of one thing we may be convinced, that, had Ananias only spoken a hollow word of respect to Jesus, and flattered himself that the healing and sight-giving were going to be his own, the miracle would have broken down in the middle, if it had got so far, as Peter sank in the middle of his walking upon the sea. Does the preacher, does the teacher, does the pastor, remember this principle constantly enough? Do they possess an unfeigned humility of faith in it?
IV. THE ASSERTION OF THE INDWELLING OF THE HOLY GHOST.
1. The work of the Holy Ghost is announced.
2. The presence of the Holy Ghost is announced as the result of the sending of Jesus Christ (John 16:7).
3. The commanding need of the Holy Ghost for a renewed man and an enlightened man, that he may remain surely so, is strongly enough implied: "That thou mightest be filled with the Holy Ghost." Nothing so hinders the spread of Christianity, the force of Christian life, the conversion of souls, as the neglect or the indifference shown to the work of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is in the fullest sense "the dispensation of the Spirit," and yet prayer for that Spirit, dependence upon him, understanding of him, arc often all of the vaguest. The power and persuasion and grandeur of Christ and the cross of Christ only move into vitality as the Spirit takes of them and brings them to men's hearts. We do all and always need the Holy Spirit for both conversion and for sanctification, and for knowing and doing acceptably any service for God, for Christ, in man's heart and life.
V. THE SIGNS FOLLOWING THE WORD AND THE LAYING ON OF THE HANDS OF ANANIAS. They followed just as though it were by his own "power and holiness" that this miracle was wrought. So in our spiritual work, we should look for results. We should feel their cheering effect. We should delight in them. We should be grateful and honored exceedingly that we are permitted to be instruments in the "mighty hand" for doing them. But, meantime, we are bound never to forget how fearful the robbery and the guilt if we give not all the glory to God, to Jesus, to the Spirit.—B.
The amazement of the disciples of Jesus, and- of others also who heard Saul preaching at Damascus, may be pronounced natural enough under any circumstances and in any view of it. Yet distinct and emphatic mention of it asks for a somewhat more careful observation and scrutiny of its nature and peculiar features. Notice—
I. THE CAUSE OF THIS AMAZEMENT.
1. That Saul, a bitter opponent heretofore of Christ and his truth, now preaches Christ, the whole Christ, and nothing but Christ. He preaches "the whole Christ" in this sense, that, as we are told, he uplifts the central and so to speak crucial fact about Christ, "that he is the Son of God." This once granted "with the heart," all else follows. He has not yielded upon some side aspects of the matter, and for some politic reasons joined a remarkable movement. But he has yielded the stronghold of his own unbelief, and has acknowledged the impregnable character of the stronghold that he had been striving to batter down, to under- mine, to "utterly" destroy.
2. That Saul, a notorious opponent of Christ, comes now to preach in the places where his change of front would also become most notorious confessed, and where it in turn would be the mark and butt of keen opposition. He preached Christ "in the synagogues."
3. That, with the most unreserved and apparently even unconscious self-forgetfulness, Saul mingles in this work side by side with men, for the apprehension of whom, and for the conveying of whom "bound to Jerusalem," he had in his pocket official authorizations.
4. That Saul does this "straightway," without finding delay a possible thing, without waiting for anything of the nature of diplomatic introduction. There is something or ether fresh in his heart, and it comes with all promptness and naturalness and force, full of its freshness, into his life.
II. THE SUBJECTS OF THIS AMAZEMENT.
1. They were in part disciples. It is impossible to say that all those who were amazed were of the number of either disciples or non-disciples. It is said "all" that "heard him" were amazed. These must have consisted of both disciples and non-disciples. The one had not left off entirely to frequent the synagogue, and the others would, as a matter of course, be found in some sort of number there. So far as they were strictly disciples, their amazement marks no doubt, on the one hand, grateful and adoring impression; but, on the other, it is not altogether free from the imputation of betraying that the glories of the Spirit's power in conversion, and the force of the truth and call of Jesus, were at present only dawning upon their minds. We still speak of remarkable conversions, chiefly because they are so rare. We have had enough instances of them to satisfy us as to what the force of conversion is on every kind of sinner, in every kind of nature, and in every "nation." We are ever to magnify Christ and the Spirit, and gratefully to acknowledge their triumphs in conversion, but the expression of amazement may sometimes derogate from their honor. Perhaps the conversion of Saul was not only the most remarkable conversion that had yet taken place, but was the only one that, all things together, had stood out uniquely enough to compel attention individually.
2. They were in part unconvinced Jews, who, dead in formality, still frequented the synagogues in Damascus. The lingering and somewhat feeble faith and knowledge of the disciples finds something to counterbalance it, perhaps to some little degree, in the quickly aroused criticism and spirit of observation on the part of others less enlightened than they. The indirect influences of Christ and of his truth are many and effective. His enemies, and the force and the violence and the cruelty of their opposition, he often makes tributary to the advancement of his cause. Many who had hitherto willingly spread opposition, and opposition only, now become the means of spreading tidings of how the chief of the opposition had thrown up the contest and joined heart and hand to help. And they spread this ominous fact in the most contagious manner. It is by the manner of wondering, excited question, and question that wraps up in a sentence or two the salient and really telling aspects of the whole matter. The astonishment of the godly is often deep down in their own souls or sacred in the converse of one another; the astonishment of the ungodly is sure to be loud on their lip. But when this latter largely reinforces the former, both advantages are secured, and the march of victory advances to the step of both friends and foes. It was so now, and throughout the whole people far and wide notoriety was as the consequence given to the conversion of Saul—a notoriety which had its share in bringing on the "Churches' rest" spoken of in Acts 9:31.
III. THE RESULTS OF THE AMAZEMENT.
1. A very wide hearing was gained irresistibly, not for the truths of Christianity alone, but for its triumphs as well. One triumph is itself a sermon better than a thousand merely spoken sermons. And now this triumph-sermon, this sermon of sermons, is proclaimed and repeated by thousands of lips.
2. Even when first impressions had died away, substantial increase of faith and hope was left in the character of all "disciples." They had without doubt known already striking instances of changed opinion and feeling and life among those to whom Christ had been preached, and for whom his mighty works had been done. But this was not what is generally meant by a remarkable conversion. The grand feature here was not the reform from an unholy life, but the reform from an uncompromising antagonist into a devoted and very powerful champion. This would be a comparatively new and a most refreshing testimony to disciples of the nature and the force of the new treasure they had in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Slumbering enmity and indifference to Christ in those who were not disciples were brought into the shape in which they would be best dealt with—malignant enmity and active resistance. Now "the sinners" and "those who were at ease" wake themselves. Here is found a foeman worthy indeed of their "steel," if they had weapon of the make. But they had not. They, therefore, conspire and "watch day and night," to learn how vain the attempt to take those whom Christ holds so safe in his hand and love. The fruit of confessed amazement and undoubted amazement at the mighty deeds of Christ must ever be either hearty obedience to him, or an understanding more blinded and life aggravated to perverseness itself.—B.
The beginning of perils for Paul.
To this beginning of "perils" Paul will often in later days of life have looked back. He did not live to any prolonged period, but if he had, there is not a length of life so long nor charged with changes so violent as to be able to cut off from us the effects of the touching comparisons and the telling contrasts of beginning and ending. Many a broken portion of life offers us such effects; but how much more moving those of life itself! Long was the list of perils and sufferings, varied and sharp the discipline of them; but when the rehearsal of them comes (2 Corinthians 11:16-47.11.33), it speaks a perseverance unbroken, a courage unquenched, a heart, fidelity, love, stronger and more determined than ever. That rehearsal somewhat remarkably closes with the mention of the first peril of Paul, as here given us, as though his memory, deliberately traveling backward, reached last that which life brought to him first. The opportunity may be seized for considering at least one side of the great service of suffering. It must be a ministry full of expression, full of meaning, full of deep feeling, and, if not made full of use also, it must be of all loss "most miserable." In the present connection let us observe that—
I. IT TESTS A CAUSE, OF WHAT SORT IT IS. With rare exceptions, it may be said that the cause which bears the test of suffering, and of much suffering, will be a cause alike great and good. Human hearts, strong though they be, are not strong enough to bear gratuitously a vast amount of suffering. The vast amount of the worst sort of suffering that sin entails, that comes inevitably in its wake, is of course not in the place for a test, and cannot operate as such. The abundant presence of it, therefore, where it is, does not invalidate the position. The cause that asks suffering to espouse it, to sustain it, to carry it to completion, is self-hedged around as with some sovereign safeguard. The frivolous will not come near it, and the great multitude will pay no court to it. But:
1. If it arrest the attention, kindle the enthusiasm, win the practical confidence of a few, and those, perhaps, the thoughtful, the useful, the unselfish, it is a considerable augury of something substantial and substantial good in it.
2. Enthusiasm can do very great things for an hour. It will encounter and even court any amount of suffering. We cannot, therefore, consider taking service in a cause that imposes suffering any decisive test. The test, however, becomes much more decisive when that service is persevered in, still entailing suffering, year after year, and on to the maturity of life.
3. The highest kind of human test is reached when the cause is one persevered in to the very end of life, through suffering all the way and almost every step. The enterprise that can secure this allegiance says as much for itself as any enterprise on earth can, and the best. And this is abundantly the case with Christianity. When Saul embraced it, it meant peril, and labor, and privation, and much direct suffering. But, "being persuaded of it, he embraced it," and was faithful to it through the succeeding periods and phases of his own earthly career, and up to the very last. Then in old age, beaten and weather-beaten, in prison and in chains and bonds, he does not dream of repenting or of recanting, but says, "I am not ashamed," and bids others follow in his steps (2 Timothy 1:12). If it had been a flowery path and an easy career, Paul's perseverance would have been no argument for it. But because it was a suffering career, his perseverance spoke, not his praise alone, but that of his Master's cause yet more. How many a cause will waken enthusiasm! how few will sustain it! How many will beg it! how few reward it! There is the difference of a world, ay, of two worlds, between the two.
II. SUFFERING TESTS A MAN, OF WHAT SORT HE IS. If any one persevere in fighting a suffering battle, it is certainly so far forth an argument for the object of the battle. But if he do not fight the battle, or beginning do not carry out to the end the struggle, it by no means condemns the cause. The question will have to be settled whether blame lie with the cause or whether it do not rather lie with the person.
1. Suffering for the individual tries high moral quality and improves it.
2. Suffering tries many individual virtues and graces—those of faith, of hope, of perseverance, of love that fires cannot burn away nor death destroy. And it unfailingly improves them.
3. Suffering certainly tends to fix and give clear "evidence" to an unearthly type of character.
4. Suffering lends distinctness to conviction, to purpose, to achievement. It is a disinfectant, an alterative, and a tonic all in one. Pleasure and indulgence enfeeble, that is, they tend to enfeeble and to enervate, once past a very moderate amount. Suffering, short of an excessive amount of it, makes keen the faculty, the sight, the soul itself! Wonderful is its bracing effect on body and mind, on heart and life.
III. SUFFERING BECOMES SOMETIMES THE OCCASION OF A GREAT MORAL DISPLAY IN THE WORLD. Beside the uses of suffering in the good fruits it produces on individual character; and beside its use as a test, whether of worth in an enterprise or of strength in a person, it cannot be denied that it lends itself to special moral service, often on a large scale and in a wide theatre. Against it all nature rebels. For that very reason, when it is voluntarily encountered, patiently borne, and embraced even to the cross, to stoning, to torture, and the stake, the world has no help for it but to notice what is transpiring. An unwilling world is put into the dilemma that it is either convinced or convicted. The confession is wrested from all beholders that there is something present which begs and deserves close scrutiny and respectful attention, or that they are in any given instance deserting precedents that in all others they have observed. When the testimony of suffering is shown forth in one, the force of it will partly depend on the notoriety that his conduct may win, and it may undoubtedly be weakened by the suspicion of individual eccentricity until this again be rebutted. But when the testimony is borne by many and for a length of time, it is equivalent to the presence of a new and very real moral force among mankind, many of the grandest and most impressive triumphs of Christianity have been owing to this, and many of its most significant impulses have been due to it. Men and suffering have calmly faced one another, have measured the force of one another; neither have shrunk from the wager—men have not fled and suffering has not yielded up its sting. And yet they have made common cause, and have made also most wonderfully effective fight. Something in man, given him from without and from above, has made him fearless of what all nature made him to fear. It is an exhibition in the arena of the world; it never fails of having witnesses; it always leaves its traces. And the Paul of perils and sufferings ever stands one of the clearest and noblest illustrations of a great and effectual moral display.—B.
An ill odor and its remedy.
The odor of character and "ill report" are two very different things. The character of most fragrance may be in worst "report." Was it not true of Jesus? The noblest personages that have graced the world have often been temporarily of ill report, but not, correctly speaking, of ill odor. Of all ill odor none is a hundredth part so bad as the ill odor of character. Notice—
I. ITS CHIEF POINTS OF STRONG CONDEMNATION.
1. It is an intrinsic shame to the person of whom it is true. It is the result of what he is and what he says and what he does, and not of the mistakes others may possibly make respecting him in any of these particulars.
2. It is a virulent disintegrant of human society and love. It turns the place and opportunity of attraction into those of repulsion, and substitutes for the union of trust the disunion of suspicion.
3. It is cruelty to all those who are of the same kind by nature. Some kind of sin, beside all the black front it shows as such to God, adds the aggravation of widespread and keenly felt domestic misery.
4. It is a very fountain of fear to an indefinite number of others. The character that is correctly answerable to the description of one of ill odor is an offence to those who hare to come in contact with it, and to those who fear lest they should come in contact with it.
5. It is constantly diffusing its noxious and malarious influences, and not least when perhaps for a brief while least observed.
II. THE REMEDY. There is one remedy, one only, that goes to the root of the matter. That character must be changed. Come what may, let what may seem risked, through whatsoever experience of suffering and anguish of a new birth, nothing short of a real and penetrating change will avail. Nothing partial, no outside improvement, no mere mitigation of his style of word or deed, could have reconciled "disciples at Jerusalem" or anywhere else to Saul, had there not been proof patent of radical change. The source of the old ill must be cut off, and in such wise that it comes to be the natural thing to men to feel convinced that it is really and undoubtedly cut off.
III. THE ROOM THAT THERE IS FOR THE EXERCISE OF BROTHERLY CHARITY WITHAL. Men who go by the name of Christian do often suspect when they should not, and distrust too long. The example of Jesus is clear against such conduct and such a disposition. To the worst sinner he was prompt to give the hand of hope and the hand of help, and to shield them from the glance and the pointed finger of tauntings drawn from the past. We may admit that the eye of Jesus recognized genuineness, and his lip could pronounce upon it with a certainty shut out from ourselves. None the less must we recognize his principle, and honor it by using it. Barnabas now took Saul by the hand, and showed him the brotherly kindness the spirit of which the great Master first gave to the Church. And it is agreeable to observe how "apostles" and "brethren" thereupon believed in Saul, and acted as though they believed in him. Grateful is it at one and the same time to see how the trust reposed in Barnabas quite sufficed to counteract the distrust that had been so naturally felt towards Saul. Broad as is the line, therefore, that separates the repentant man from the sinner; uncompromising as our conduct must be in having no fellowship with darkness; and trenchant as our fidelity to doctrine as it were;—yet for all this amount of reason, the more promptly, gladly, and trustfully must we give heart and hand to the repentant, whatsoever they have been heretofore. From the moment Jesus pardons, receives, and sets to work one who has long and deeply insulted him, we must pardon, "receive as a brother beloved," and welcome as a fellow-laborer that man. Nor ever forget that to suspect and distrust a moment too long, or to wonder past believing, is to put ourselves into the last position that we would wish or mean to occupy. For our immovable and gladdest creed is that Christ can do all things in human heart and human life.—B.
History a sermon.
The simplest matters of fact are sometimes weighted with impression and charged with instruction. And in like manner, the simplest-told history sometimes preaches the most suggestive of sermons. Notice three things in this briefly described episode of history.
I. THE REST WHICH THE CHURCH HAD.
1. It was a rest from the actual sufferings of persecution.
2. It was a rest from the constant and tearing anxieties involved in the fear of persecution. Foreboding kills many whom no actual suffering would kill.
3. It was a rest from the literal moving about from place to place, either with the chance of eluding persecution or as the consequence of it. In all of these respects the mercy of Christ is not forgetful of the need of the Church:
(1) As repose is one of the first necessities of each individual that composes it. Storm, trouble, conflict, operate as useful tests of character and fidelity, and they may be said to add some sort of strength. But for growth and nourishment and sound health rest is one of the first conditions.
(2) As repose is one of the first necessities for giving scope to the character and action of the Church as a whole. One of the divinest tests of the Church is its spontaneous love and its spirit of co-operation. Those who are in similar want, similar sorrow, similar danger, similar fear, do not find any difficulty in harmonizing, drawing near together, co-operating. But the scene is often changed when it is all fair weather. Therefore fair weather itself is necessary
(a) for trying character and hardening character, and
(b) for giving the time and the opportunity for combining in works of holy activity. Note well what a various thing Christian character and life make. They are of many elements; they need not a hard, stiff, monotonous, unbending treatment. But they need the revolution of the seasons, and can bear it too. They need blast and tempest, and are responsive to summer evening's softest sigh also. They need many a caution, many an anxious watching, many an anguished heart-searching, but also they need to luxuriate awhile in the rest of calm, of happiness, of love.
II. THE PEACE WHICH PREVAILED DURING REST. The enemy which might have taken opportunity to enter, one whom the most experienced would have feared the most, did not enter. The true motto, "Peace, as in all Churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33), was their welcome watchword now. Rest from without is often the very signal for confusion and discord within. The concord that comes of a common enemy known to be no distance off is something far inferior to the concord that comes from real intrinsic causes. This only can give us any slightest foretaste of the deep calm of heaven.
1. How pleasant this calm peace within must have been, as a mere contrast to what had been!
2. How welcome it must have been, as introducing the followers and disciples of Jesus to their first acquaintance with a thoroughly new set of ideas, new range of affections, new work of this life, and new scope of life itself!
3. How delightful this peace, for the sake of the actual converse of disciples with disciples, and of Church with Church! They had met, perhaps, in the relations of business, and of pleasure, and of a dead formalism of religion, and in the discussion of the humiliation of the political bondage under which they were now living; but what unwonted peace this was to have "their conversation in heaven," to find it "building"—time in the best sense, to "walk in the fear of the Lord," and to know the "comfort of the Holy Ghost"! The "fellowship of kindred minds" is indeed not necessarily "like to that above;" but the fellowship of such kindred minds is undoubtedly and blessedly "like to that above."
III. THE INCREASE OF THE CHURCH. Intervals of rest give the opportunity of growth, and intervals of peace within are deep, solid, firm, growing itself. But neither the Church nor the individual Christian can be right in considering exclusively, or enjoying exclusively without consideration, its own possibilities of inward growth. The Church was now not only "edified" in itself, and "settled," "stablished," "strengthened," but "it was multiplied." No doubt, even in times of severest tribulation, it was added to, and persecution by no means closed its roll and cut off its recruits. But now the Church—the destined depository of Divine power in part, and the honored fellow-laborer with Divine unseen actors—was beginning to know its work and to feel its high force and to be conscious of its most responsible privileges. The very simple and beautiful description before us warrants us to say that the consistent "walk" of the Church, and the deep heart-felt experience on the part of the Church of what is most; characteristic above all things else whatsoever of her existence and nature, namely, "the comfort of the Holy Ghost," are the best adapted human means for the increase of the Church, for the impression of the world, for the conversion of the sinners. "The power is of God" under any and all circumstances. The "foolishness of preaching" is the positive and declared method of making known what the gospel of Christ is and what it proffers. But for impression on others, so far as human action goes, the Christian man who "walks in the fear of the Lord" availeth much. And for pressure upon the unbelieving world, pressure upon its eye, ear, judgment, and conscience, pressure constant, close, and unavoidable, there is nothing like the advance of a host that "walks in the fear of the Lord," and that enjoys "the comfort of the Holy Ghost."
1. Consistent Christian life speaks itself. This has always been a potent presence and an irresistible argument. The absence of it is damnatory, on all sides and in all senses—to the person who makes hollow profession, damnatory of that hollowness; to the world damnatory of any inclination to be found in the camp of such hollowness. For, wonderful though it be that the world will condone and will have fellowship with other hollowness, most blessed and advantageous it is that it kicks at, scorns, and exposes the hollowness of mere profession of Christ.
2. "The comfort of the Holy Ghost" is an experience, and it is of what is deepest down in human hearts. Yet is it not for that reason invisible. It betrays itself in the eye; it betokens itself in the language and the very tone of that language; it beams forth in all the deed of the man whom the Spirit who gives it vouchsafes to inhabit. When the Holy Ghost becomes the Master, the gracious, condescending, comforting Master of any man, or of the Church, or any part of the Church, then these become the persuasive masters of others, and the choicest, chiefest attraction of the world. The "Church is multiplied" then, and the "excellency of the power is of God" still. This little episode of history, then, is a sermon, and teaches us what a practical sermon the life of every Church and every Christian may preach.—B.
One specimen of Christian activity.
The history has for some little while veiled the Apostle Peter from view. He now appears again in an episode that catches our attention the more because of the things it leaves unsaid. Let us notice—
I. THE MORE REMARKABLE FEATURES OF THE BRIEF NARRATIVE.
1. The picture is put before our eye, by the mere touch of the sacred pen, of the full measure of activity that characterizes Peter. He is not at home. He is "not slothful" and self-indulgent. He is at work, and for work's sake traveling "through all parts."
2. The fond inclining of Peter's heart is seen. He "comes down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda" He comes down to refresh brethren and to be refreshed by them. He comes to see the little nucleus of believers, to give them "some token for good," to give them another hostage of their work, to give them an example, and to take from them that which they had to give and yet be no losers—Christian sympathy and joy.
3. The silence observed respecting Aeneas, who he was. Is there not justification for supposing that he was already one of "the saints"? For:
(1) Peter seems to have found him among such.
(2) Peter asks him no question to elicit knowledge or faith, hope or love; nor does he seem to ask anything of Peter either for body or mind.
(3) Peter appears to use the Name of Jesus Christ as a name known already to Aeneas, and addresses him apparently with the ease of brotherly familiarity and of Christian homeliness.
4. The immediate blessing "given" though unasked, unsought yet "found" (Luke 11:9, Luke 11:10). Much as Jesus loves and teaches that we should ask, seek, and knock for his blessings, it must be a sight acceptable to him to see the patience of bodily suffering that asks nothing.
5. The great attention called hereby to the Lord. The little villages were "born" again in a day (Isaiah 66:8). Lydda and Saron "saw the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God," and they "blossomed as the rose" (Isaiah 35:1, Isaiah 35:2).
II. THE MORE REMARKABLE LESSONS OF THIS BRIEF NARRATIVE.
1. The refreshing suggestion given to us of the force that lies in the genuine activity of one Christian.
2. The wisdom, amid all our visitings, of visiting Christians and little communities of Christians, who may dwell apart, in the village and the hamlet, afar from the stir of the large masses of the people. When with such, there will be sure to be much to be given and much to be gotten by the genuine.
3. The grand opportunities that seem to come, where our faithlessness least anticipates it, when only we arc very simply walking in duty's path. Those are really the opportunities Heaven sent, and the likeliest of all to be fruitful of immortal good. Our grander preparations do not at all infallibly correspond with Heaven's grander opportunities. Explain it as we may, though the explanation is in no sense far to seek, the labored preparations of even Christian men ill harmonize with the sublime ease of the Spirit's achievements. But to humble prayer, humble work, untiring activity, opportunities seem to come which are really Heaven's earliest, freshest sending.
4. The pity that sees and forgets not, sees and visits, and visits that it may see, the patient sufferer. One type of this we know, one only we adore. But how it ought to rivet our gaze and our admiration, and constrain our reverent, loving imitation! The impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, who had "had his infirmity thirty and eight years," gains the notice of Jesus' eye above all the rest. The AEneas who "for eight years had kept his bed because he was palsied," has the eye of the risen Jesus and Lord upon him, and Peter is sent to him. At one and the same time it is true that Jesus does all and that Peter is learning in his work to be like Jesus.
5. The widespread advantages of one real stroke of work done in the Name of "Jesus Christ." There is no doubt a self-spreading force in Christian truth and in Christian good. For they are both what are wanted by men. And nothing so much wanted, so deeply wanted. Let men unsophisticated, let men whose real nature has not yet been utterly lost to the devil, only get a "taste" of the good that Christ has to give, that Christ is, and that Christ can work in mind and heart, and they will "hunger and thirst" for him. But we have to remember that, in order to this, we must take care that it is the Name of Jesus we preach, the pure truth of Jesus we teach, the life of Jesus we exhibit, and the deep, unquenchable love of Jesus that is in our own heart.—B.
The emphatic mark of Divine approbation which Christianity puts upon womanly kindness, in what may seem an humble sphere, and upon genuinely felt gratitude for it.
The narrative is the more interesting as being the first subsequent to the Ascension, and among the Acts of the Apostles, which brings the deeds, the character, and the fame of a Christian woman into prominence. The share that Christianity has contributed in honoring women, and in raising them to occupy their own proper place, has been often acknowledged. Omitting what Christ's own word and deed helped to this end, the narrative now before us may be said to be the beginning of a long stream of illustration of it. Let us notice—
I. THE DECISIVE MARK OF RESPECT HERE PUT ON HUMBLE BUT PRACTICAL FEMININE GOODNESS. The mark, in few words, consisted in a miracle wrought to restore to life a woman "full of good works and almsdeeds," who was cut off in the midst of her usefulness. But what are the things that may be remarked in more detail of this miracle?
1. It was wrought, not for a ease of long suffering, or for some agonized form of suffering that might necessarily touch any heart with a deep compassion.
2. It was not wrought to restore to the service of this world one who had already largely figured in its high places. It is not position, wealth, great natural power and endowment, distinguished character, philanthropy of renown, nor even great learning, that is the object of honour. We do not at all take the idea that the heaven will fall if this gap which death has made be not somehow or other rapidly filled up.
3. It was not touching youth, fashion, beauty, accomplishment, nor oven the mourned mother of a family—that dethroned queen of the domestic heaven, whose vacant throne dashes dismay into so many true hearts, and fills all the house with darkness and a sense of desertion. It was no such pensive, pathetic, importunate, natural sadness that begged the mercy of miracle.
4. The object of the miracle was a woman, "full of good works and almsdeeds." We are kept a brief while in suspense as to the nature of her "good works," but are at once apprised that her "alms" are not almsgivings, but "almsdeeds." So it is not an instance of a wealthy woman lamented from a very superficial sorrow of survivors. And then it proves that her "good works" (though we are not by any means constrained to suppose that they were literally all comprehended under this description) were such as to be sufficiently typified by the humble handiwork of scissors and needle and thimble, "coats and garments," and these, not for the "rising generation" and "the hope of the nation," but forsooth for "widows." Yet it is such a person and such a woman who is restored to life, and no doubt to the humble but beneficent round of such a life again. And to this woman alone of women is given the space in all Scripture to tell the record in full of miraculous restoring of life. These are some of her ever-memorable characteristics.
(1) She worked, and was known for working, rather than for anything else.
(2) She worked "abundantly," perhaps "more than they all." She worked so abundantly that she is described as "full of good works."
(3) Her works aimed at one thing—being useful works, and they succeeded in attaining that at which they aimed. They succeeded because they were practical and not merely theoretical, practicable and not Utopian.
(4) She worked humbly and for the humble, and remembered the spirit of the proverb that bids not be so wasteful of what we have or what we are as to "cast our pearls before swine." What waste there is in a world already poor, because that with labor and with material the right thing is not wrought nor offered to the right person! Yet Jesus taught his disciples against even this sort of error, when he told them to go and preach in other places when the people would not hear them where they were. He would not have any of us waste our time and his precious Word-seed, nor eat our heart in one place, when we might be enlarging it in another.
(5) She did what came first to do—first to her own ability, first to her own means, first to the want that was nearest to her in place and nearest to her in feminine alliance, first to the suggestion of Providence, instead of first to the idle swellings of an ambitious heart within. And how often did God smile on that woman's work, and Jesus own it, whose Spirit had first quickened the heart from which all came! But now, even now already, had come a day ripe for manifestation. There is to be a glorious "demonstration of the Spirit and of power." She who had loved so well and been beloved so well, snatched a day from sight and life, is restored to sight and life, still awhile longer to bless and be "blessed."
II. THE DECISIVE MARKS OF RESPECT HERE PUT ON SIMPLE GRATITUDE, THOUGH IT WERE BUT GRATITUDE TO A FELLOW-BEING. The miracle, humanly speaking, owed its working to the deep feeling, so genuine and so earnest, which pervaded all who had known Dorcas. The feeling was the right kind of feeling, not wastefully overwhelming, but quickening to thought and action. Perhaps the illness was sharp and short. She is dead before they know how dangerously ill she is. But "the disciples" have their memory about them. They remember that they have heard of Peter at Lydda and of what he has been doing there for AEneas. It is eight miles off, but some of them soon clear the ground. And Peter does not feel affronted at being begged "not to delay." And he comes and sees how grieved all were. Evidently it little entered into the mind of the many that it was a case for a miracle of restoring to life. But love and gratitude and grief, without "anticipation of favors to come," made the widows come with their impromptu exhibition of garments, and with their grateful reminiscences uttered forth. Well, that Peter was on the. spot was the result of a real feeling and gratitude; and come, he does not find himself come to a dead or a dead-alive Church and congregation. Far otherwise; and it was the very crisis and point of the occasion. Peter couldn't help but recall the dear Master's words and action, so far as they were apropos to the occasion—and it was only in a degree that they were apropos to this occasion—"Why make ye this ado and weep? the woman—" (Mark 5:39). But no, he says no more at present, but he does just the same thing as Jesus did; he puts them all out, and goes and prays, and pleads and wins his instructions and his force alone. If dying should be a quiet scene, nor harsh sound of earthly life disturb its solemn experiences, who knows what the coming to life may be, and what it may require, and what may best suit it? Ah! perhaps in reality, not in merely the recovered life of this present, but in the real, perhaps there the waking life may open its eye to see "Jesus only" (as it was once on the Transfiguration Mount), and its ear to hear in newborn exquisite sense the whispering of Jesus. And that will ask peace and silence and the banishment of early life, its crowd of sight and of sound. But as the Lord appeared to Zacharias in the holy place, while the expectant people were shut without, so did the mighty Lord appear to Peter in that holy chamber, and from the upper chamber of death didn't it become the antechamber of heavenly life indeed? And all this was condescending honor put upon human gratitude. It entered into "the ears of the Lord God of sabaoth," and he descended with power to reward it.
III. THE DECISIVE MARKS OF HEAVEN'S MOST KINDLY SYMPATHY WITH HUMAN LIFE-WANTS. The scene would seem almost unmatched in Scripture, in just this one respect. Here is no question of love direct to God, to Christ, to their work on earth as such. But it is an occasion of innocent feeling, yet earth's sort of feeling; innocent excitement, yet caused, not by the loss of a great spiritual benefactor like the Master or like Stephen, but by the loss of a kindly, good-hearted, and most homely and neighborly benefactor. Yet the power of the Divine Spirit owns it. And as Jesus in the days of his flesh condescended to the genial atmosphere of the marriage feast, and made them yet more wine there, so does he in his perhaps yet mightier power, but certainly mightier majesty and glory, condescend to the sympathies and regrets of this widow group and disciples' gathering. He reminds us surely of his constant, gentle, faithful care for us. "What we shall eat, and what we shall drink, and wherewithal we shall be clothed,"—he shows us that he has not forgotten his early words hereupon, nor those other words, in which he has taught us that he will accept our works for his "little ones," and for his poor and needy ones, as works done personally to himself.—B.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
This seems to have been the earliest name for what we now call Christianity. That it was used as a distinctive appellation of the Christian religion may be seen by comparing Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14, Acts 24:22. A fuller expression is employed in 2 Peter 2:2, "By reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of," Our Lord had used the term in a very significant manner, saying, "I am the way (John 14:6); and the previous prophetic figure of the Messianic times—"An highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness '—would be in the memory of the disciples, and therefore they would be likely to accept the term if it was first started by their persecutors. Compare the name "Christian," which began as a taunt, and became accepted as an honorable title. In introducing this subject, reference may be made to the interesting fact that, from this point, Luke s record becomes almost entirely an account of St. Paul's labors, probably because round him centered the missionary work of the early Church, and he was its greatest representative. The kind of religious authority over all Jews exercised by the Sanhedrim, and the limitations of its power to imprisonment and beating and excommunication, require consideration. Saul probably went to Damascus for two reasons—
(1) because in the scattering the disciples were likely to have found shelter there; and
(2) because many Jews dwelt there, and especially those Greek Jews, who were most likely to become converts to the broad principles as taught by Stephen's party. It was against this particular party that Saul was so greatly incensed. Their teaching most effectually plucked the ground from beneath mere formal Judaism. Reverting to the term, "the Way, as descriptive of the Christian religion, and filling it with the larger meaning of our later knowledge, we may notice that it is—
I. A WAY OF THINKING. It is characteristic of Christianity that it has its own peculiar way of thinking about
Its "way of thinking" is placed under the guidance of special Divine revelation. And the starting-point of its thinking is that God has, "in these last days, spoken unto us by his Son." Probably the exact reference in this verse is to that "way of thinking" which Stephen introduced and taught, because that appeared to present special points of antagonism to the doctrine and authority of the Sanhedrim. There is still a "way of thinking" characteristic of Christ's disciples. With a large liberty there are well-defined lines beyond which the thinking, being unloyal to Christ, is unworthy of the Christian name.
II. A WAY OF FEELING. Every true disciple is distinguished by his admiration for, his trust in, and his love to, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the early Church the loyalty and the love were so strong that the disciples could endure shame and death for his sake. And still our "way of feeling" about Christ should mark us off from all the world; men should "take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus," that he has won our very hearts, and that to us henceforth "to live is Christ." Impress the important bearing of sustained high feeling on the power and joy of the Christian life.
III. A WAY OF WORKING. Besides the general modes of working characteristic of Christians, for the glory of God and the good of men, attention should be given to Stephen's way of working against mere formalism and ritualism, and in favor of spiritual religion; and the need for similar "ways of working" in each recurring over-civilized period should be impressed.
IV. A WAY OF LIVING. By their fruits of godliness and charity the early Christians were known. The Christian "way" is a "way of holiness," not of mere separateness, but of consecration; a way of laying all possessions or attainments on God's altar, and a way of using all powers and opportunities for God's service.—R.T.
The power of a revelation.
There are solemn seasons in the life of every man, e.g. birthdays, times of sickness, first leaving home. Of all such days, perhaps the most solemn, the one with the wider consequences, is the time of our conversion. It is not usual for the Scriptures to give us—what we find in modern biographies—detailed accounts of the precise experiences of such times; e.g. of Lydia we only know that "the Lord opened her heart," and of the jailor at Philippi that, in sudden alarm, he cried out, "What must I do to be saved?" We may, therefore, ask why so full an account is given us of the experience of Saul of Tarsus? The answer is found in his subsequent prominence as a Christian missionary, and in the necessity for assuring the fact that so bitter a persecutor and so zealous a Pharisee was really changed into a disciple. Some have further suggested that he was intended, in the Divine providence, to take the place from which Judas by transgression fell, and that it must be publicly known how he had received his direct commission from the risen Lord, if he was to be recognized as one of the apostolic band. The conversion of men is, in mode, as varied as are their minds, characters, and circumstances. Yet there are some essential things which may be well studied in connection with this narrative of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.
I. SAUL'S PREPARATION FOR RECEIVING A DIVINE REVELATION. Every true conversion is effected by a revelation of God to the soul. It need not be a visible revelation, such as was suitable to other times. It must be an awakening of the soul to the apprehension of Divine things, and a direct dealing of God with the awakened soul. This cardinal truth must never be lost sight of in our active use of Christian means and agencies. The unregenerate man does not know God; he cannot apprehend the holiness, the claim, or the love of God. These must be unfolded to him by revelation. As illustrations of what is meant by" conversion by revelation," see the vision of God to Jacob at Bethel, and the voice of God to Samuel in the night hours, when he was but a youth. But the capacity to receive a Divine revelation depends on previous preparations, and we have to inquire—How was Saul of Tarsus prepared? In answer the following things must be carefully treated:—
1. His education and early associations as a Jew and as a Pharisee. This involved considerable knowledge of Scripture, and a theory of the possibility of Divine communications with the individual.
2. His naturally impulsive and impetuous disposition, which led him to undertake things in an intense way, but left him exposed to the peril of sudden change of opinion and conduct, and to the danger of giving up an enterprise as suddenly as he had begun it. This disposition prepared him to be influenced by the sudden surprise on the Damascus road.
3. The ideas about Jesus Christ which he gained from the party at Jerusalem to which he belonged. Those ideas rested altogether on thin proposition: "The impostor Jesus is not risen from the dead." If it could be proved or shown that he was, then the whole doctrine concerning him held by Pharisee and Sadducee fell down about them, as a house built on the sand in a day of storms. And so God overrules men's lives now to prepare them for his revelations. Illustrate by the ways in which
(1) the satiety of pleasure,
(2) the pollutions of vice,
(3) prolonged skepticism,
(4) failure of efforts,
(5) serious illness,
(6) the naturally inquiring mind, or
(7) sudden bereavements, are overruled to become Divine preparations for our" days of grace."
II. THE EFFECT OF THE REVELATION ON THE MIND OF SAUL. To his Jewish notions the light from heaven would seem to be manifestly Divine, and his first thought would be that God was honoring him with a commission to exterminate the Nazarenes. It must have come to him with startling and painful surprise that the voice speaking from heaven to him should be the voice of Jesus of Nazareth. His prejudices were crushed down in a moment. Jesus was not an impostor; he was accepted of God. Jesus was not dead; he spoke out of heaven. In Saul's response there is: 1. Conviction. If Jesus is after all the Messiah, then what have I been doing? Nothing less than fighting against the God I thought I was serving. There was no need for him to search his life and try to find every particular sin; for he felt the sin of unbelief. And unbelief is sin against every attribute of God, against his
Observe that this conviction of sin was felt by one who was outwardly moral. And the true conviction is not the finding of some dark, polluting deeds in our life; it is the feeling of the pollution, the godlessness, the self-seeking of our evil hearts. In his response is:
2. Penitence. Men may be convicted, and go no further. Penitence involves
(1) the sense of sin as committed against God,—illustrate by sentences of David, Peter to Ananias, and Prodigal Son;
(2) sorrow for sin and earnest purpose to forsake it;
(3) submission, as in this incident the proud Pharisee becomes as simple as a child;
(4) surrender, a special act of yielding will and heart and life to Christ.
What, then, is essential to a true conversion to God?
(1) Not any particular form of experience,
(2) not any precise time, but
(3) the sense of sin and
(4) a full surrender to Christ.
The difference between common faith and saving faith is mainly this—saving faith is faith with a sense of need and personal application.
III. THE EVIDENCES THAT SAUL HAD RECEIVED A DIVINE REVELATION.
1. Changed inward life: "Behold, he prayeth!"
2. Changed outward conduct. Contrast him keeping the clothes of them that slew Stephen, and preaching at Damascus the very faith he had sought to destroy.
Appeal to those whom God has been preparing by his providential orderings to receive his revelation. Maybe that revelation comes through this message. If so, what will your response to it he?—R.T.
Acts 9:8, Acts 9:9
Blind eyes, but open soul.
Attention is invited to what is suggested by the interesting fact that, after seeing the vision, Saul remained blind, and so absorbed in thought as to be wholly indifferent to food, for three days. That there are miraculous features in the circumstances attending Saul's conversion can hardly be denied, but some incline to exaggerate the miraculous features, while others put them under too severe limitations. We need not assume a miraculous blindness, or so serious a matter as a lightning stroke. The phenomena rather suggest a sunstroke of a severe but temporary character. In the Divine order this was arranged to give the surprised and humbled man an opportunity for quietness and loneliness, that he might carry on, and carry out to a conclusion, the conflict which had been begun by hearing the voice of him whom he had called the Nazarene impostor speaking from heaven, and speaking words of power and command to him. And it was also designed as a continuing physical effect which would assure Saul of the reality of his heavenly vision. In endeavoring to estimate the thoughts of Saul's time of blindness, consider that—
I. SAUL HAD KNOWLEDGE. General knowledge, as an educated man, belonging to the well-to-do classes. Special knowledge, as trained in the best Jewish schools; especially as having a kind of collegiate culture, as a Pharisee, in the highly esteemed school of Gamaliel. And a precise and wide knowledge of both Holy Scripture and rabbinical tradition, which must have included the grounds for expecting the coming Messiah the Prince. Saul would not need even his Bible in those lonely hours, for memory brought abundant subjects of thought. Illustrate the advantage of early teaching of God's Word. Thus we become prepared to make the best of the sudden occasions of life.
II. SAUL HAD NOW GAINED THE KEY TO HIS KNOWLEDGE. The key was this—the Messiah has come. He was Jesus of Nazareth. He is risen, living, exalted. Show how this cleared the mystery from the fact that Jesus had been a sufferer, and brought light on the spiritual character of the Messiahship. Illustrate by the preaching of Philip to the eunuch. But—
III. SAUL NEEDED A TIME OF QUIETNESS FOR THE DUE APPLICATION OF THIS KEY. It had to explain the prophecy that Messiah should be born at Bethlehem, and be of the lineage of David. It must explain the figures of the King and Conqueror under which Messiah had been presented. Saul must think over the grounds on which his prejudiced opposition had rested, and over all that was involved in the proved fact that Jesus was risen from the dead and had won God's acceptance. For with his eyes blinded, and the ordinary cravings of his body dead, Saul saw with his soul—spiritual things were gaining clearness. Set out what Saul began to see with his soul, concerning Jesus, concerning his own past and future, and show what revulsions of feeling in such an impulsive man the new soul-visions occasioned. In practical application, dwell on the desire for loneliness and quietness; and for meditation, which those feel who are, by any gracious agency, smitten with conviction; and the relations of such quiet times to full decision and consecration. So much good work begun in souls is lost, proving but as" morning cloud and early dew," for want of quiet meditative times following upon convictions and impressions. Seasons of loneliness, meditation, and prayer are as truly needed for newly awakened souls, as shady, covered times for slips, or plants, newly potted, in order that they may get safe-rooted. Those who are wise to win souls will learn of God's providing this blind season for the awakened and humbled Saul.—R.T.
God's chosen vessels.
Take the single sentence, "He is a chosen vessel unto me;" literally, "a vessel of election." Illustrate by the apostle's own figure of the "potter having power over the clay," and refer to prophetic illustrations taken from the potter's wheel and art. Here, however, the meaning of "vessel" may rather be "instrument," or "tool." In every age God has called forth special workers, fitted for the occasions; "with the hour always comes the man." In the ordering of God's providence, the time had come for the extension of Christianity to the Gentiles, and now we are directed to Saul as God's chosen vessel, or instrument, for this work. From his case may be illustrated the following points concerning "God's chosen vessels:"—
I. THEY ARE PREPARED FOR THEIR WORK BY HIS PROVIDENCE, After showing how Saul was being fitted by his earlier experiences, find further illustration in the earlier careers of Joseph, Moses, David, etc. And show how our Lord's secluded life at Nazareth may be regarded as his preparation-time. Careful observance of men and life and work now brings again and again to view the wonderful ways in which they have been prepared for the stern work of their full manhood. The fact is so fully recognized as to have passed into a proverb, and we say, "The child is father to the man." Then it follows that the wise training of our children should include the careful culture of any special gift or endowment of which we may see indications.
II. THEY ARE FOUND IN GOD'S OWN TIME. It is not enough that a man should find out what he can do; he must wait on God to teach him the time for the doing, and the sphere in which his work is to be done. Saul had yet to wait some time before his life-sphere was pointed out to him. But we need have no fear. Willing servants are never left idle, and when God's work is ready he will call to it the workmen he has prepared. A North-country proverb is, "The tools come to the hands of him who can use them;" and God's people can tell strange stories of the gracious orderings of providence that brought their great life-work to their hands.
III. MIGHTY TO DO THE LORD'S WORK. Because the appointment to a particular service carries with it the assurance that sufficient grace for the work will be given. Fitness is not enough, if it stand alone; it must be followed up by daily grace for efficient working. Compare Moses willing to go on to further journeyings only if the Lord would go with him; and the Apostle Paul "able to do all things through him who strengthened him." We can always do what God calls us to do. We are wrong, as Moses, Jeremiah, and Jonah were wrong, if we shrink back or flee from the Lord's work.
IV. ACKNOWLEDGED BY GOD'S OWN PEOPLE. Sooner or later, God's chosen vessels are found out by the Divine signs which accompany their labor. There may be temporary prejudice on account of their former life, as in the case of Saul, or on account of the particular form and feature of their work; but if God acknowledges a man's service with his benedictions, God's people arc usually ready to acknowledge it too. If in a very strict sense some only can be called "God's chosen vessels," in a large and comforting sense the term may be applied to all God's people, for each of whom he surely finds work and the grace needed for doing it well.—R.T.
Saul's first sermons.
Revised Version, "And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God." "The point to which all the effort of the apostle was first directed was naturally the Messiahship of Jesus, and that in the higher view in which Christianity exhibits the Messiah, namely, as the Son of God" (Olshausen). Very different ideas are entertained as to the advisability of encouraging young converts to begin preaching at once. The difficulty arose in the China mission field, and the new convert earnestly pleaded to be allowed to tell the little he did know, and so grow to know more. This principle Saul followed, beginning at once to "preach the faith which once he destroyed," and he made the opportunities just where he was, going into the synagogues, and using his privilege as a rabbi to read and expound the Scriptures. The text briefly indicates what truth Saul had gripped, and, taken with Acts 9:22, it shows how large his grip was, and that it concerned the very basis-truth of Christianity. He saw that—
I. THE CHRIST HAD COME. Explain that "Christ" is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word "Messiah," and would often be wisely changed for the Hebrew term. Deal with
(1) the foregoing prophecies of Messiah, showing how they had given tone to the national and religious sentiment;
(2) the actual expectation of the coming of Messiah about that time, which seems to have possessed both the Jews and the Gentiles. The practical question dividing public opinion at the time was the question which divides the Jew anti the Gentile up to this present hour; it was this—Had Messiah come, or had he not come? Saul was now able to deal with this question, and he proclaimed openly that Messiah had come. Show the importance of this step, and how it narrowed the field of inquiry for all those pious souls who "looked for redemption in Israel."
II. THE CHRIST CAME IN THE PERSON OF JESUS OF NAZARETH. The better manuscripts give the reading, "preached Jesus." If Messiah had conic, had he been recognized, and acknowledged? Saul firmly answered," Yes; Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth, the Prophet, Teacher, Healer, holy Man, who was crucified, had risen from the dead, and was exalted to heaven." Surely this was a great theme for his preaching, one demanding explanation, argument, evidence, and the "accent of his own conviction." But Saul had seen more than even this, and so further proclaimed that—
III. JESUS THE CHRIST WAS THE SON OF GOD. Explain that term as
(1) compared with "Son of man;" and
(2) as gaining to the apostles its deeper and fuller meaning.
To Saul had evidently come an insight into the glorious mystery of the Incarnation. He realized
(1) that Jesus was the Christ in a high spiritual sense;
(2) that Jesus was entrusted with a present power to save and to sanctify;
(3) that Jesus had Divine rights, and made Divine claims to the immediate surrender to him of the heart and will and lives of men. So it is evident that Saul grasped at once the very essence of the gospel, and the very center of that doctrinal system which, urged by the necessities of the Churches, his genius developed. There is still no more searching test of our religious condition than can be found in the question, "What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is he?" If we feel that we must say, "He is the Son of God," then we are bound to bow our souls before him, seek his grace, accept his salvation, acknowledge his authority, and bind on our whole lives the livery of his service.—R.T.
The relation between edifying and multiplying.
For the precise meaning and the New Testament use of the term "edified," consult the Exposition. The "rest" secured for the Church at this time followed partly on the removal of Saul from the party of the persecutors, in which he had been the most active member; none seemed ready to take up the work which had so completely dropped from his hands, and by his secession the whole party was depressed and disorganized. But it followed chiefly on the fact that the attention of the Jewish rulers was turned away from the disciples to resist an attempt made by Caligula to have his statue erected in the temple at Jerusalem. The importance of resting-times for nations, Churches, and individuals should be shown, and the ways in which they usually come may be pointed out. Their value is illustrated in connection with our text, from which it appears that when, in a resting-time, the Church was edified, it was found to be also multiplied; or, to express it in other forms, internal culture is the best guarantee of external success. We dwell on two things.
I. SOUL-CULTURE. AND ITS INTERNAL SIGNS. Piety, from the Christian point of view, is a new and spiritual life, With which our souls are quickened by the Holy Ghost. But in its beginnings it is young, feeble, untested life, like that of the young seedling or plant. Culture is demanded. The young life must be nourished into strength; and while the expressions of the life, in leaf and branch and flower, need to be watched and guided aright, the gardener's supreme anxiety is to maintain and to increase the vitality. And so, while apostles give good counsel for the ordering of Christian conduct, their supreme anxiety concerns the culture of the soul's life. They would have their disciples "grow in grace and in the knowledge [experimental] of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." It is to such forms of" edification" that Churches are directed in their quiet resting-times. Two signs were given as indicating that this "edifying" work was healthily progressing.
1. There was holy walking. "Walking in the fear of the Lord." Christian conduct and conversation was "as becometh the gospel of Christ." The relations of the members to each other were kindly and brotherly, and the character of the disciples was increasingly satisfactory.
2. There were signs of heart-joy. The disciples were evidently enjoying the "comfort of the Holy Ghost "—the inward sealing of the Spirit; the power of his impulses to righteousness, and that happy sense of adoption which he gives. When the soul is efficiently cultured, its signs are apparent in these two things—joy in God, and holy living. Joy in God includes joy in his worship and his work. Holy living includes the nourishing of all graces and virtues into fullness and beauty and power. Illustrate by the commendations of the living Christ to such Churches as Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia.
II. SOUL-CULTURE AND ITS EXTERNAL POWER. For evidently the two things, edification and multiplication, are intentionally connected, and the one is, in some important respects, the cause of the other. We may say that multiplying a Church is one of the certain consequences of its edifying, for the well-nourished and truly spiritual Church has power:
1. By its witness. Such life must find expression.
(1) There is the silent yet mighty force of its unconscious influence.
(2) There are the active labors to which it is inspired.
2. By its attraction. For wherever there is holy walking and evident heart-joy in God men are inclined to join the company. Such heart-joy all would find. Such holy walking seems to say, "Come with us, and we will do you good; for verily the Lord is with us." Distinguish carefully between the spasmodic and impulsive successes of revival times, and the steady witness and work of edged Churches and edified Christians in all ages. And conclude by impressing the moral value of the forces that strictly tend to edification, such as the example and character of our saintly ones, and the labors of those who instruct in Christian truth and duty. Such forces are sometimes most imperfectly estimated and are even undervalued, because their results are not easily counted; yet God's Word teaches us that in the way of edifying comes the truest power for multiplying.—R.T.
A bodily absent Christ may be a spiritually present power.
Attention is directed to the remarkable fact that St. Peter spoke to AEneas as if the Lord Jesus were actually present in the room; and that he was present is proved by the healing which followed upon the invoking of his power: "Jesus Christ maketh thee whole!" The words must have sounded very strangely to those who first heard them. They sound strangely to us. Jesus Christ was not there. No one saw him. No calming look from Jesus quieted the sufferer. No hand of Jesus touched and quickened into life the sickly man. No voice of Jesus spoke the words of healing power, The Jesus of Bethesda, and Nain, and Capernaum, and Bethany was not there. Some might have said, "Jesus is dead," and might tell how they saw him die. And if others urged that nevertheless he lived, they might say, "Ah! yes; lives far away in heaven, among the angels." They had seen him go up, and a white cloud sailed across and hid him from view; and since that day no human eye had looked into his face or seen the print of his feet. To many of us one of the gravest difficulties is to reconcile the apparent contradiction—Jesus is in the glory; Jesus is here. Jesus sits on the throne; Jesus dwells in the open, trusting heart. And our difficulty is not met by urging that Jesus himself is in the glory, but his influence is here, his power is here, his Spirit is here; for we do not want to know about his influence, but about his personal presence, which carries and assures his influence. What we find it so hard to realize is that the only true being is spiritual being. Christ is a spiritual being; we are spiritual beings; so we can be really together, though the material thing space may seem to be a woeful divider. Two spirits can come together; and if one spirit be weak, dependent, suffering, and the other strong, loving, and glorious, there may be wondrous and gracious intercommunions, and Jesus may make palsied AEneas whole. The striking thing in our text is the declaration that Jesus was actually there, and there to heal. Then we inquire—
I. WHAT ARE THE EYES THAT CAN SEE SUCH A PRESENT CHRIST? For it is quite proper to say that both St. Peter and AEneas saw Jesus there. We so highly value the use of our bodily eyes that we fail to realize our soul-eyes. There are some striking instances in Scripture of the weakness of our bodily vision, and of our power to see what the eye never looks on; e.g. Sodomites wearying themselves to find the door; the prophet's servant seeing the guardian angels all round the mountains; so Saul saw nothing, and yet everything, when smitten down at Damascus. See also the holden eyes of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. This eye of the spirit, that brings Jesus near, we call faith. It is to the soul what the eye is to the body. It strains through the spiritual atmosphere, and makes real and clear spiritual objects. And the present Christ, so beheld, becomes to us a comfort and a joy unspeakable; telling as a gracious elevator on our whole daily life, sanctifying everything with the conviction, Christ is with me here.
II. WHAT IS THE CONDITION WHICH CAN FEEL CHRIST'S PRESENCE? Need and suffering, especially spiritual need and spiritual suffering, are the great quickeners of sensibility. The soul that needeth Christ soon makes the joyous discovery that Christ needeth the soul, and has already come seeking it. Sin-sick souls want the Physician nigh, and it is still the great gospel to men that we may stand before them and open and quicken their spiritual vision as we say, "Look! Jesus Christ maketh thee whole!"—R.T.
Apostolic and other resurrections.
There are only eight cases of resurrection from the dead recorded in the Bible. Elijah raised the widow's son at Zarephath. Elisha raised the Shunammite's son. By contact with Elisha's body in his grave, a dead man was quickened. Our Lord raised the daughter of Jairus; the son of the widow of Nain; and Lazarus of Bethany. St. Peter raised the charitable Dorcas. St. Paul restored the fallen Eutychus. Keeping these cases in mind, we may compare them with the resurrection of our Lord, and learn much from the distinct peculiarities of his resurrection.
I. IN ALL OTHER CASES DEATH TOOK PLACE UNDER THE QUIET CONDITIONS OF ORDINARY DISEASE, BUT OUR LORD DIED BY A DEATH OF VIOLENCE. The little lad at Shunem was smitten by a sunstroke. The maiden at Jairus's house was struck down by fever. Over the fading hours of Lazarus's sickness loving sisters watched. Dorcas was for some days at least ill. Eutychus alone seems to have died by sudden accident. But our Lord's was death in the prime of life, in the fullness of health and strength; death borne when all the human faculties were in full vigor and exercise; death by the band of violence; death judicially arranged; death voluntarily submitted to. Show that the difference is explained by our Lord's relation to human sin.
II. OTHER RESURRECTIONS WERE EFFECTED THROUGH SOME HUMAN AGENCY, THE DIVINE POWER WORKED BY SOME HUMAN MEDIUM; IN THE CASE OF OUR LORD THERE WAS NO HUMAN AGENCY WHATEVER. At Zarephath and at Shunem there were prophets, prayers, and painful efforts, to which alone returning life responded. St. Peter went into the death-chamber of Dorcas, prayed, and spoke words of faith and power. Paul fell on and embraced the dead Eutychus. But our Lord "had life in himself," and so he rose. In the gray of the dawning of that glorious Easter morn, he rose. No hand of power, no wizard's wand, no prophet's outstretched body, touched the sleeping King. He rose; that is all. Show what of his Divine nature is declared to us in this unique and sublime fact. He was "God manifest in the flesh."
III. ALL OTHER RESURRECTIONS WERE MERELY TEMPORARY RENEWALS OF EARTHLY LIFE UNDER THE SAME OLD EARTHLY CONDITIONS. Lazarus was restored for just a few more years to his home and brotherhood, by-and-by to die again even as he died at first. Dorcas came back but to make a few more garments for the widows and the poor, and then to die again, and be hopelessly laid out for burial a second time in that upper chamber. Nobody was ever raised from the dead to live afresh sort of life under new conditions. They simply took up the thread of their old lives, as if there had been no strange break in them. The little lad ran out to his father among the reapers, just as he had done before that sad sunstroke. The maiden grew on into her womanhood as if she had never closed her eyes to the light in that time of burning fever. And the lad went to work again at Nain, to keep a home for his poor widowed mother. But in the case of our Lord there was no mere continuation of the old earthly life. The Resurrection links on to the Ascension, and Jesus risen is Jesus glorified.
IV. ALL OTHER PERSONS WERE BROUGHT BACK FROM THE GRAVE ONLY TO FALL INTO ITS POWER AGAIN. We think of them with feelings in which much sadness mingles; for they were twice dead. But "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him." He liveth again; and now he liveth for ever. Man's power to bless his fellow man is sorely limited; for he must die. Christ's power to bless is unlimited; for he will never die. His resurrection was to a deathless and eternal life; there are no limitations that can ever check, on Christ's side, the beneficent operations of his grace. "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Acts 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent