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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Acts 9

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-6

elete_me Acts 9:1-6

Chapter 2

THE CONVERSION OF THE PERSECUTOR.

Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1-6

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

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

(1) the Conduct of St. Paul in his unconverted state,

(2) his Mission,

(3) his Journey, and

(4) his Conversion.

Let us take the many details and circumstances connected with this passage under these four divisions.

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

In his address to the Jews of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 22:1-30. he appeals to his former conduct as an evidence of his sincerity. In verses 4 and 5 [Acts 22:4-5] he says, "I persecuted this Way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and journeyed to Damascus, to bring them also which were there unto Jerusalem in bonds, for to be punished." In the same discourse he recurs a second time to this topic; for, telling his audience of the vision granted to him in the temple, he says, verse 19 [Acts 22:19], "And I said, Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on Thee: and when the blood of Stephen Thy witness was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting, and keeping the garments of them that slew him." St. Paul dwells upon the same topic in the twenty-sixth chapter, when addressing King Agrippa in verses 9-11 [Acts 26:9-11], a passage already quoted in part: "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this I also did in Jerusalem: and I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death, I gave my vote against them. And punishing them oftentimes in all the synagogues, I strove to make them blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities." It is the same in his Epistles. In four different places does he refer to his conduct as a persecutor-in 1 Corinthians 15:9, Galatians 1:13, Philippians 3:6, 1 Timothy 1:13; while again in the chapter now under consideration, the ninth of Acts, we find that the Jews of the synagogue in Damascus, who were listening to St. Paul’s earliest outburst of Christian zeal, asked, "Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havock of them which called on this name? and he had come hither for this intent, that he might bring them bound before the chief priests"; using the very same word "making havoc" as Paul himself uses in the first of Galatians, which in Greek is very strong, expressing a course of action accompanied with fire and blood and murder, such as occurs when a city is taken by storm.

Now these passages have been thus set forth at length because they add many details to the bare statement of Acts 9:1-43, giving us a glimpse into those four or five dark and bloody years, the thought of which henceforth weighed so heavily upon the Apostle’s mind and memory. Just let us notice these additional touches. He shut up in prison many of the saints, both men and women, and that in Jerusalem before he went to Damascus at all. He scourged the disciples in every synagogue, meaning doubtless that he superintended the punishment, as it was the duty of the Chazan, the minister or attendant of the synagogue, to scourge the condemned, and thus strove to make them blaspheme Christ. He voted for the execution of the disciples when he acted as a member of the Sanhedrin. And lastly he followed the disciples and persecuted them in foreign cities. We gain in this way & much fuller idea of the young enthusiast’s persecuting zeal than usually is formed from the words, "Saul yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord," which seem to set forth Saul as roused to wild and savage excitement by St. Stephen’s death, and then continuing that course in the city of Jerusalem, for a very brief period. Whereas, on the contrary, St. Paul’s fuller statements, when combined, represent him as pursuing a course of steady, systematic, and cruel repression, which St. Paul largely helped to inaugurate, but which continued to exist as long as the Jews had the power to inflict corporal punishments and death on the members of their own nation. He visited all the synagogues in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine, scourging and imprisoning. He strove-and this is, again, another lifelike touch, -to compel the disciples to blaspheme the name of Christ in the same manner as the Romans were subsequently wont to test Christians by calling upon them to cry anathema to the name of their Master. He even extended his activity beyond the bounds of the Holy Land, and that in various directions. The visit to Damascus may not by any means. have been his first journey to a foreign town with thoughts bent on the work of persecution. He expressly says to Agrippa, "I persecuted them even unto foreign cities." He may have: visited Tarsus, or Lystra, or the cities of Cyprus or Alexandria itself, urged on by the consuming fire of his blind, restless zeal, before he entered upon the journey to Damascus, destined to be the last undertaken in opposition to Jesus Christ. When we thus strive to realise the facts of the case, we shall see that the scenes of blood and torture and death, the ruined homes, the tears, the heartbreaking separations which the young man Saul had caused in his blind zeal for the law, and which are briefly summed up in the words "he made havoc of the Church," were quite sufficient to account for that profound impression of his own unworthiness and of God’s great mercy towards him which he ever cherished to his dying day.

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

And now a question here arises, How is it that the high priest could exercise such powers and arrest his co-religionists in a foreign town? The answer to this sheds a flood of light upon the state of the Jews of the Dispersion, as they were called. I have already said a little on this point, but it demands fuller discussion. The high priest at Jerusalem was regarded as a kind of head of the whole nation. He was viewed by the Romans as the Prince of the Jews, with whom they could formally treat, and by whom they could manage a nation which, differing from all-others in its manners and customs, was scattered all over the world, and often gave much trouble. Julius Caesar laid down the lines on which Jewish privileges and Roman policy were based, and that half a century before the Christian era. Julius Caesar had been greatly assisted in his Alexandrian war by the Jewish high priest Hyrcanus, so he issued an edict in the year 47 B.C., which, after reciting the services of Hyrcanus, proceeds thus, "I command that Hyrcanus and his children do retain all the rights of the high priest, whether established by law or accorded by courtesy; and if hereafter any question arise touching the Jewish polity, I desire that the determination thereof be referred to him"; an edict which, confirmed as it was again and again, not only by Julius Caesar, but by several subsequent emperors, gave the high priest the fullest jurisdiction over the Jews, wherever they dwelt, in things pertaining to their own religion. It was therefore in strictest accord with Roman law and custom that, when Saul wished to arrest members of the synagogue at Damascus, he should make application to the high priest Theophilus for a warrant enabling him to effect his purpose.

The description, too, given of the disciples in this passage is very noteworthy and a striking evidence of the truthfulness of the narrative. The disciples were the men of "the Way." Saul desired to bring any of "the Way" found at Damascus to be judged at Jerusalem, because the Sanhedrin alone possessed the right to pass capital sentences in matters of religion. The synagogues at Damascus or anywhere else could flog culprits, and a Jew could get no redress for any such ill-treatment even if he sought it, which would have not been at all likely; but if the final sentence of death were to be passed, the Jerusalem Sanhedrin was the only tribunal competent to entertain such questions. And the persons he desired to hale before this awful tribunal were the men of the Way. This was the name by which, in its earliest and purest day, the Church called itself. In the nineteenth chapter and ninth verse we read of St. Paul’s labours at Ephesus and the opposition he endured: "But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude"; while again, in his defence before Felix, [Acts 24:14] we read, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the Way which they call a sect, so serve I the God of our fathers." The Revised translation of the New Testament has well brought out the force of the original in a manner that was utterly missed in the Authorised Version, and has emphasised for us a great truth concerning the early Christians. There was a certain holy intolerance even about the very name they imposed upon the earliest Church. It was the Way, the only Way, the Way of Life. The earliest Christians had a lively recollection of what the Apostles had heard from the mouth of the Master Himself, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one cometh unto the Father but by Me"; and so, realising the identity of Christ and His people, realising the continued presence of Christ in His Church, they designated that Church by a term which expressed their belief that in it alone was the road to peace, the sole path of access to God. This name, "the Way," expressed their sense of the importance of the truth. Theirs was no easy-going religion which thought that it made not the slightest matter what form of belief a man professed. They were awfully in earnest, because they knew of only one way to God, and that was the religion and Church of Jesus Christ. Therefore it was that they were willing to suffer all things rather than that they should lose this Way, or that others should miss it through their default. The marvellous, the intense missionary efforts of the primitive Church find their explanation in this expression, the Way. God had revealed the Way and had called themselves into it, and their great duty in life was to make others know the greatness of this salvation; or, as St. Paul puts it, "Necessity is laid upon me; woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel."

The exclusive claims of Christianity are thus early set forth; and it was these same exclusive claims which caused Christianity to be so hated and persecuted by the pagans. The Roman Empire would not have so bitterly resented the preaching of Christ, if His followers would have accepted the position with which other religions were contented. The Roman Empire was not intolerant of new ideas in matters of religion. Previous to the coming of our Lord the pagans had welcomed the strange, mystic rites and teaching of Egypt. They accepted from Persia the curious system and worship of Mithras within the first century after Christ’s crucifixion. And tradition tells that at least two of the emperors were willing to admit the image of Christ into the Pantheon, which they had consecrated to the memory of the great and good. But the Christians would have nothing to say or do with such partial honours for their Master. Religion for them was Christ alone or else it was nothing, and that because He alone was the Way. As there was but one God for them, so there was but one Mediator, Christ Jesus.

III. Saul’s Journey. "As he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus." This is the simple record left us in Holy Writ of this momentous event. A comparison of the sacred record with any of the numerous lives of St. Paul which have been published will show us how very different their points of view. The mere human narratives dwell upon the external features of the scene, enlarge upon the light which modern discoveries have thrown upon the lines of road which connected Jerusalem with Southern Syria, become enthusiastic over the beauty of Damascus as seen by the traveller from Jerusalem, over the eternal green of the groves and gardens which are still, as of old, made glad by the waters of Abana and of Pharpar; while the sacred narrative passes over all external details and marches straight to the great central fact of the persecutor’s conversion. And we find no fault with this. It is well that the human narratives should enlarge as they do upon the outward features and circumstances of the journey, because they thus help us to realise the Acts as a veritable history that was lived and acted. We are too apt to idealise the Bible, to think of it as dealing with an unreal world, and to regard the men and women thereof as beings of another type from ourselves. Books like Farrar’s and Lewin’s and Conybeare and Howson’s "Lives of St. Paul" correct this tendency, and make the Acts of the Apostles infinitely more interesting by rendering St. Paul’s career human and lifelike and clothing it with the charm of local detail. It is thus that we can guess at the very road by which the enthusiastic Saul travelled. The caravans from Egypt to Damascus are intensely conservative in their routes. In fact, even m our own revolutionary West trade and commerce preserve in large measure the same routes to-day as they used two thousand years ago. The great railways of England, and much more the great main roads, preserve in a large degree the same directions which the ancient Roman roads observed. In Ireland, with which I am still better acquainted, I know that the great roads starting from Dublin preserve in the main the same lines as in the days of St. Patrick. And so it is, but only to a much greater degree, in Palestine and throughout the East. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho preserved in St. Jerome’s time, four centuries later, the same direction and the same character an in our Lord’s day, so that it was then called the Bloody Road, from the frequent robberies; and thus it is still, for the pilgrims who now go to visit the Jordan are furnished with a guard of Turkish soldiers to protect them from the Arab bandits. And to-day, as in the first century, the caravans from Egypt and Jerusalem, to Damascus follow either of two roads: one which proceeds through Gaza and Ramleh, along the coast, and then, turning eastward about the borders of Samaria and Galilee, crosses the Jordan and proceeds through the desert to Damascus-that is the Egyptian road; while the other, which serves for travellers from Jerusalem, runs due north from that city and joins the other road at the entrance to Galilee. This latter was probably the road which St. Paul took. The distance which he had to traverse is not very great. One hundred and thirty-six miles separate Jerusalem from Damascus, a journey which is performed in five or six days by such a company as Saul had with him. We get a hint, too, of the manner in which he travelled. He rode probably on a horse or a mule, like modern travellers on the same road, as we gather from Acts 9:4 compared with Acts 22:7, passages which represent Saul and his companions as falling to the earth when the supernatural light flashed upon their astonished vision.

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

IV. Lastly we have the actual conversion of the Apostle and the circumstances of it. We have mention made in this connection of the light, the voice, and the conversation. These leading circumstances are described in exactly the same way in the three great accounts in the ninth, in the twenty-second, and in the twenty-sixth chapters. There are minute differences between them, but only such differences as are natural between the verbal descriptions given at different times by a truthful and vigorous speaker, who, conscious of honest purpose, did not stop to weigh his every word. All three accounts tell of the light; they all agree on that. St. Paul in his speeches at Jerusalem unhesitatingly declares that the light which he beheld was a supernatural one, above the brightness, the fierce, intolerable brightness of a Syrian sun at midday; and boldly asserts that the attendants and escort who were with him saw the light. Those who disbelieve in the supernatural reject, of course, this assertion, and resolve the light into a fainting fit brought upon Saul by the burning heat, or into a passing sirocco blast from the Arabian desert. But the sincere and humble believer may fairly ask, Could a fainting fit or a breath of hot wind change a man who had stood out against Stephen’s eloquence and Stephen’s death and the witnessed sufferings and patience displayed by the multitudes of men and women whom he had pursued unto the death? But it is not our purpose to discuss these questions in any controversial spirit. Time and space would fail to treat of them aright, specially as they have been fully discussed already in works like Lord Lyttelton on the conversion of St. Paul, wholly devoted to such aspects of these events. But, looking at them from a believer’s point of view, we can see good reasons why the supernatural light should have been granted. Next to the life and death and resurrection of our Lord, the conversion of St. Paul was the most important event the world, ever saw. Our Lord made to the fiery persecutor a special revelation of Himself in the mode of His existence in the unseen world, in the reality, truth, and fulness of His humanity, such as He never made to any other human being. The special character of the revelation shows the importance that Christ attached to the person and the personal character of him who was the object of that revelation. Just, then, as we maintain that there was a fitness when there was an Incarnation of God that miracles should attend it; so, too, when the greatest instrument and agent in propagating a knowledge of that Incarnation was to be converted, it was natural that a supernatural agency should have been employed. And then, when the devout mind surveys the records of Scripture, how similar we see St. Paul’s conversion to have been to other great conversions. Moses is converted from mere worldly thoughts and pastoral labours on which his soul is bent, and sent back to tasks which he had abandoned for forty years, to the great work of freeing the people of God and leading them to the Land of Promise; and then a vision is granted, where light, a supernatural light, the light of the burning bush, is manifested. Isaiah and Daniel had visions granted to them when a great work was to be done and a great witness had to be borne, and supernatural light and glory played a great part in their cases. {See Exodus 3:1-22, Isaiah 6:1-13, and Daniel 10:1-21}

When the Lord was born in Bethlehem, and the revelation of the Incarnate God had to be made to humble faith and lowly piety, then the glory of the Lord, a light from out God’s secret temple, shone forth to lead the worshippers to Bethlehem. And so, too, in St. Paul’s case; a world’s spiritual welfare was at stake, a crisis in the world’s spiritual history, a great turning-point in the Divine plan of salvation had arrived, and it was most fitting that the veil which shrouds the unseen from mortal gaze should be drawn back for a moment, and that not Saul alone but his attendants should stand astonished at the glory of the light above the brightness of the sun which accompanied Christ’s manifestation.

Then, again, we have the voice that was heard. Difficulties have been also raised in this direction. In the ninth chapter St. Luke states that the attendant escort "heard a voice"; in the twenty-second chapter St. Paul states "they that were with me beheld indeed the light, but they beard not the voice of Him that spake to me." This inconsistency is, however, a mere surface one. Just as it was in the case of our Lord Himself reported in John 12:28-29, where the multitude heard a voice but understood not its meaning, some saying that it thundered, others that an angel had spoken, while Christ alone understood and interpreted it; so it was in St. Paul’s case; the escort heard a noise, but the Apostle alone understood the sounds, and for him alone they formed articulate words, by him alone was heard the voice of Him that spake, And the cause of this is explained by St. Paul himself in Acts 26:14, where he tells King Agrippa that the voice spake to him in the Hebrew tongue, the ancient Hebrew that is, which St. Paul as a learned rabbinical scholar could understand, but which conveyed no meaning to the members of the temple-police, the servants, and constables of the Sanhedrin who accompanied him. Many other questions have here been raised and difficulties without end propounded, because we are dealing with a region of man’s nature and of God’s domain, wherewith we have but little acquaintance and to which the laws of ordinary philosophy do not apply. Was the voice which Paul heard, was the vision of Christ granted to him, subjective or objective? is, for instance, one of such idle queries. We know, indeed, that these terms, subjective and objective, have a meaning for ordinary life. Subjective in such a connection means that which has its origin, its rise, its existence wholly within man’s soul; objective that which comes from without and has its origin outside man’s nature. Objective, doubtless, St. Paul’s revelation was in this sense. His revelation must have come from outside, or else how do we account for the conversion of the persecuting Sanhedrist, and that in a moment? He had withstood every other influence, and now he yields himself in a moment the lifelong willing captive of Christ when no human voice or argument or presence is near. But then, if asked, how did he gee Christ when he was blinded with the heavenly glory? how did he speak to Christ when even the escort stood speechless? we confess then that we are landed in a region of which we are totally ignorant and are merely striving to intrude into the things unseen. But who is there that will now assert that the human eye is the only organ by which man can see? that the human tongue is the only organ by which the spirit can converse? The investigations of modern psychology have taught men to be somewhat more modest than they were a generation or two ago, when man in his conceit thought that he had gained the very utmost limits of science and of knowledge. These investigations have led men to realise that there are vast tracts of an unknown country, man’s spiritual and mental nature, yet to be explored, and even then there must always remain regions where no human student can ever venture and whence no traveller can ever return to tell the tale. But all these regions are subject to God’s absolute sway, and vain will be our efforts to determine the methods of His actions in a sphere of which we are well-nigh completely ignorant. For the Christian it will be sufficient to accept on the testimony of St. Paul, confirmed by Ananias, his earliest Christian teacher, that Jesus Christ was seen by him, and that a voice was heard for the first time in the silence Of his soul which never ceased to speak until the things of time and sense were exchanged for the full fruition of Christ’s glorious presence.

And then, lastly, we have the conversation held with the trembling penitent. St. Luke’s account of it in the ninth chapter is much briefer than St. Paul’s own fuller statement in the twenty-sixth chapter, and much of it will most naturally come under our notice at a subsequent period. Here, however, we note the expressive fact that the very name by which the future apostle was addressed by the Lord was Hebrew: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me." It is a point that our English translation cannot bring out, no matter how accurate. In the narrative, hitherto the name used has been the Greek form, and he has been regularly called σαῦλος. But now the Lord appeals to the very foundations of his religious life, and throws him back upon the thought and manifestation of God as revealed of old time to His greatest leader and champion under the old covenant, to Moses in the bush; and so Christ uses not his Greek name but the Hebrew, σαούλ, σαούλ. Then we have St. Paul’s query, "Who art Thou, Lord?" coupled with our Lord’s reply, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest," or, as St. Paul himself puts it in Acts 22:8, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest." Ancient expositors have Well noted the import of this language. Saul asks who is speaking to him, and the answer is not, The Eternal Word who is from everlasting, the Son of the Infinite One who ruleth in the heavens. Saul would have acknowledged at once that his efforts were not aimed at Him. But the speaker cuts right across the line of Saul’s prejudices and feelings, for He says, "I am Jesus of Nazareth," whom you hate so intensely and against whom all your efforts are aimed, emphasising those points against which his Pharisaic prejudices must have most of all revolted. As an ancient English commentator who lived more than a thousand years ago, treating of this passage, remarks with profound spiritual insight, Saul is called in these words to view the depths of Christ’s humiliation that he may lay aside the scales of his own spiritual pride. And then finally we have Christ identifying Himself with His people, and echoing for us from heaven the language and teaching He had used upon earth. "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest are words embodying exactly the same teaching as the solemn language in the parable of the Judgment scene contained in Matthew 25:31-46 : "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me." Christ and His people are evermore one; their trials are His trials, their sorrows are His sorrows, their strength is His strength. What marvellous power to sustain the soul, to confirm the weakness, to support and quicken the fainting courage of Christ’s people, we find in this expression, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest"! They enable us to understand the undaunted spirit which henceforth animated the new convert, and declare the secret spring of those triumphant expressions, "In all these things we are more than conquerors," "Thanks be to God which giveth, us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. If Christ in the supra-sensuous world and we in the world of time are eternally one, what matter the changes arid chances of earth, the persecutions and trials of time? They may inflict upon us a little temporary inconvenience, but they are all shared by One whose love makes them His own and whose grace amply sustains us beneath their burden. Christ’s people faint not therefore, for they are looking not at the things seen, which are temporal, but at the things unseen, which are eternal.


Verse 10-11

Chapter 3

THE NEW CONVERT AND HIS HUMAN TEACHER.

Acts 9:10-11

SAUL of Tarsus was converted outside the city, but the work was only begun there. Christ would put honour upon the work of human ministry, and therefore He directs the stricken sinner to continue his journey and enter into Damascus, where he should be instructed in his future course of action, though Christ Himself might have told him all that was needful. It was much the same on the occasion of the so-called conversion of Cornelius, the pious centurion. The Lord made a revelation to the centurion, but it was only a revelation directing him to send for Peter, who should instruct him in the way of salvation. God instituted a human ministry that man might gain light and knowledge by the means and assistance of his brother-man, and therefore in both cases the Lord points the anxious inquirer to men like themselves, who could speak to them in Christ’s stead and guide them into fuller knowledge. Why could not Christ have revealed the whole story of His life, the full meaning of His doctrine, without human aid or intervention, save that He wished, even in the very case of the messenger whose call and apostleship were neither by man nor through man, to honour the human agency which He had ordained for the dissemination and establishment of the gospel? If immediate revelation and the conscious presence of God and the direct work of the Spirit could ever have absolved penitent sinners from using a human ministry and seeking direction and help from mortals like themselves, surely it was in the cases of Saul of Tarsus and Cornelius of Caesarea; and yet in both cases a very important portion of the revelation made consisted in a simple intimation where human assistance could be found.

Saul after the vision rose up from the earth and was led by the hand into Damascus. He was there three days without sight, wherein he neither did eat nor drink. This period of his life and this terrible experience is regarded by many as the time to which may be traced the weakness of eyesight and the delicate vision under which he ever afterwards suffered. The question has often been raised, What was St. Paul’s thorn, or rather stake, in the flesh? Various opinions have been hazarded, but that which seems to me most likely to be true identifies the thorn or stake with severe ophthalmia.

Six substantial reasons are brought forward by Archdeacon Farrar in defence of this view.

(1) When writing to the Galatians St. Paul implies that his infirmity might well have made him an object of loathing to them; and this is specially the case with ophthalmia in the East. {see Galatians 4:14}

(2) This supposition again gives a deeper meaning to the Apostle’s words to these same Galatians that they would at the beginning of their Christian career have plucked out their eyes to place them at his service. [Galatians 4:15]

(3) The term "a stake in the flesh" is quite appropriate to the disease, which imparts to the eyes the appearance of having been wounded by a sharp splinter.

(4) Ophthalmia of that kind might have caused epilepsy.

(5) It would explain the words "See with how large letters I have written unto you with mine own hand," as a natural reference to the difficulties the Apostle experienced in writing, and would account for his constant use of amanuenses or secretaries in writing his Epistles, as noted, for instance, in Romans 16:22 and implied in 1 Corinthians 16:21.

(6) Ophthalmia would account for St. Paul’s ignorance of the person of the high priest. [Acts 23:5] This question has, however, been a moot point since the days of the second century, when Irenaeus of Lyons discussed it in his great work against Heresies, book 5. chap. 3., and Tertullian suggested that St. Paul’s stake in the flesh was simply an exaggerated head-ache or ear-ache.

Let us now, however, turn to the more certain facts brought before us in the words of the sacred narrative. St. Paul was led by the hand into Damascus just as afterwards, on account, doubtless, of the same bodily infirmity dating from this crisis, he "was sent forth to go as far as to the sea," and then "was conducted as far as Athens." {cf. Acts 17:10; Acts 17:14-15} From this time forth the kindly assistance of friends and companions became absolutely necessary to the Apostle if his footsteps were to be guided aright, and hence it is that he felt solitude such as he endured at Athens a very trying time because he had no sense of security whenever he ventured to walk abroad. He became, in fact, a blind man striving to thread his way through the crowded footpaths of life. The high priest’s commissary must then have drawn near to Damascus under very different circumstances from those which fancy pictured for him a few days before. We know not by what gate he entered the city. We only know that he made his way to the house of Judas, where he remained for three days and three nights, with his whole soul so wrapped up in the wonders revealed to him that he had no thoughts for bodily wants and no sense of their demands.

The sacred narrative has been amply vindicated so far as its topographical accuracy is concerned. Saul, as he was led by the hand, instructed his escort to go to the house of Judas, a leading man we may be sure among the Jews of Damascus. He dwelt in Straight Street, and that street remains to-day, as in St. Paul’s time, a thoroughfare running in a direct line from the eastern to the western gate of the city. Like all Oriental cities which have fallen under Turkish dominion, Damascus no longer presents the stately, well-preserved, and flourishing aspect which it had in Roman times; and, in keeping with the rest of the city, Straight Street has lost a great deal of the magnificent proportions which it once possessed. Straight Street in St. Paul’s day extended from the eastern to the western gate, completely intersecting the city. It then was a noble thoroughfare one hundred feet broad, divided by Corinthian colonnades into three avenues, the central one for foot passengers, the side passages for chariots and horses going in opposite directions. It was to a house in this principal street in the city, the habitation of an opulent and distinguished Jew, that the escort brought the blind emissary of the Sanhedrin, and here they left him to await the development of God’s purposes.

I. Let us now consider the persons who cluster round the new convert, and specially the agent whom Christ used in the reception of Saul into the Church, and see what Scripture or tradition tells about them. One man stands prominent; his name was Ananias, a common one enough among the Jews, as the Acts of the Apostles has already shown us, for when we have surveyed the first beginnings of sin and moral failure in the Jerusalem Church we have found that an Ananias with Sapphira his wife was connected therewith. This Ananias of Damascus deserves special attention, for his case reveals to us a good deal of primitive Church history and is connected with many ancient traditions, Let us first strive to gain all the information we can about him from the direct statements of Scripture and the necessary or legitimate deductions from the same. Ananias was a Christian Jew of Damascus. He must have held a leading position in the local Christian Assembly in that city, within five years of the Ascension, for not only did our Lord select him as His agent or medium of communication when dealing with the new convert, but Ananias was well acquainted, by information derived from many persons, with the course of conduct pursued at Jerusalem by Saul, and knew of the commission lately intrusted to him by the high priest. Ananias was probably the head or chief teacher of the local Christian or Nazarene synagogue. At the same time he was also in all probability one of the original company of Jerusalem Christians who had been scattered abroad by the first great persecution. We are told in Acts 11:19 that "they that were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to Jews." Ananias was probably one of these fugitives from Jerusalem who came to Damascus, and there sought refuge from the rage of the destroyer. St. Paul himself tells us of the character which Ananias sustained at Damascus: "He was a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews that dwell there." [Acts 22:12] It is the character given of Zacharias, and Elisabeth, and of Simeon. Ananias was, like all the earliest disciples, a rigid observer of the minutest particulars of Jewish ordinances, though he and they alike rested upon Christ alone as their hope of salvation. Further than this, the Scriptures tell us nothing save that we can easily see from the words of the various narratives of the conversion that Ananias was a man of that clear faith, that deep spiritual life which enjoyed perpetual converse with the Unseen. He was not perturbed nor dismayed when Christ revealed Himself. He conversed calmly with the heavenly Visitor, raised his objections, received their solution, and then departed in humble obedience to fulfil the mission committed to him. There is a marvellous strength and power for the man of any age who lives, as Ananias did, with a clear vision of the eternal world constantly visible to the spiritual eye. Life or death, things present or things to come, the world temporal or the world spiritual, all are one to him who lives in the light of God’s countenance and walks beneath the shadow of His wing; for he feels and knows that underneath are the everlasting Arms, and he therefore discharges his tasks with an assured calmness, a quiet dignity, a heavenly strength of which the tempest-tossed and feverish children of time know nothing. Beyond these facts and these traits of character, which we can read between the lines of Holy Scripture, we are told nothing of Ananias. But tradition has not been so reticent. The ancient Church delighted to gather up every notice and every story concerning the early soldiers of the Cross, and Ananias of Damascus was not forgotten. The Martyrologies both of the Greek and Latin Churches give us long accounts of him. They tell that he was born in Damascus, and make him one of the seventy disciples, which is not at all improbable. Then they describe him at one time as bishop, at another time as a simple presbyter, of the Church at Damascus. They relate his abundant labours at Damascus and in the neighbouring cities, terminating with his martyrdom under a Roman prefect called Lucian. But these details, though they may lend colour to the picture, add nothing of spiritual significance to the information vouchsafed in Scripture.

Judas, into whose house Saul was received, is another person brought before us, upon whom a certain eternity of fame has been bestowed by his temporary connection with the Apostle. He must have been a man of position and wealth among the Jews of Damascus to receive the official representative and deputy of the high priest. It is possible that he may have been numbered among those early trophies of St. Paul’s zeal which he won in the earliest days of his first love, when he "confounded the Jews, proving that Jesus is Christ." Judas has been by some identified with that Judas who was sent with St. Paul, Silas, and Barnabas as deputies to console the Church at Antioch and restore it to peace when distracted with debates about circumcision. [Acts 15:22]

And now, to conclude this portion of our subject, we may add that the traditional houses, or at least the sites of the houses, of Ananias and Judas, together with the fountain where St. Paul was baptised, were shown in Damascus till the seventeenth century, as Quaresmius, a traveller of that time, tells us that he visited the Straight Street, which is the bazaar, and saw the house of Judas, a large and commodious building, with traces of having been once a church and then a mosque; that he visited the place of baptism, which is not far off, adding withal a ground plan of the house of Ananias. Dean Stanley, however, declares that the traditional house of Judas is not in the street called Straight at all. Let us turn aside from these details, the mere fringes of the story, to the spiritual heart and core thereof.

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

This is a very important point to insist upon in the present age, when men have endeavoured to represent the religion of the primitive Church in quite a different light, and to teach that St. Paul was the inventor of that dogmatic system which insists upon the supreme importance and the essential deity of the Person of Jesus Christ. St. Luke’s narrative in this passage seems to me quite decisive against such a theory, and shows us how Christianity struck an independent mind like that of Ananias, and how it was taught at a distant Christian Church like Damascus within five or at most seven years after the Ascension of Jesus Christ.

Then, again, we have in the vision granted to Ananias and the revelation made to him a description of Christ’s disciples. The description is a twofold one, coming on the one hand from Christ, and on the other from Ananias, and yet they both agree. Ananias describes the religion of Christ when he says, "Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem"; and then he proceeds to identify His "saints" with those that called on Christ’s name at Damascus. We have already noted prayer to Christ as a distinguishing feature of His people; but here we find, for the first time in the New Testament, the term "saints" applied to the ordinary followers of Christ, though in a short time it seems to have become the usual designation for the adherents of the crucified Redeemer, as we shall see by a reference to Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 1:1, and to numerous other passages scattered throughout the Epistles. Our Lord Himself sanctions the use of this title, and applies it Himself in a different shape in the fuller account of the divine words given us by St. Paul in his speech before King Agrippa. [Acts 26:18] Christ tells St. Paul of his destined work "to turn the Gentiles from darkness to light, that they may receive an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me." The followers of Christ were recognised as saints in the true. sense of the word saint-that is, as separated, dedicated, consecrated persons, who had been made to drink into one Divine Spirit, had been made partakers of a new life, had been admitted to a kingdom of light and a fellowship of love, and who, by virtue of these blessings, had been cut off from the power of Satan and the kingdom of darkness. And all this had been and ever is to be effected "by faith that is in Christ." Christ’s saints or separated people are sanctified by faith in Christ. Not that the bare exercise of a faculty or feeling called faith will exercise a sanctifying influence upon human nature, -this would be simply to make man his own sanctifier, and to usurp for his own poor weak wretched self the Work and power which belong to the Holy Ghost alone, -but when Christ is realised as including all the parts of God’s final revelation, when no partial or limited view is taken of Christ’s work as if it were limited to the Incarnation alone, or the Atonement alone, or the Resurrection alone, but when the diverse and various parts and laws of His revelation are recognised as divinely taught, and therefore as tremendously important for the soul’s health. When the Holy Ghost and His mission, and good works and their absolute necessity, and Christ’s sacraments and His other appointed means of grace are duly honoured and reverently received, then indeed, and then alone, faith is truly exercised in Christ, and men are not merely separated by an external consecration, such as the Jews received at circumcision, and which qualified even that hard-hearted and stubborn people to be called a nation of saints; but when Christ is thus truly and fully received by faith into the hearts and affections of His people, they walk worthy of the high vocation called upon them. Many a mistaken exposition has been offered of St. Paul’s Epistles, and many an effort has been made to explain away the plainest statements, because men will apply a false meaning to the word saints which Ananias here uses. If we first determine that the word saint could only have been applied to a truly converted man, clothed in the robe of Christ’s imputed righteousness, elected from eternity to everlasting salvation, and who could never finally fall away, and then find the term so defined applied, for instance, to the Corinthian Church as a whole, we shall come to some strange results. If truly converted men, true saints of Christ, could be guilty of sins such as were not named amongst the heathen, or could be drunk at the Lord’s Table, or could cherish all that long and dreary catalogue of spiritual! crimes enumerated in the Corinthian Epistles, then indeed the words true conversion have completely changed their meaning, and Christianity, instead of being the principle and fountain of a regenerate life, becomes a cloak under which all kinds of maliciousness and evil-doing may have free course and be glorified.

Our Lord protests beforehand unto St. Paul against such a perversion of the gospel of free grace with which His great Apostle had all his life to struggle. Antinomianism is as old as St. Paul’s doctrine-so very much misunderstand-of justification. Our Lord raises His voice against it in His earliest commission to St. Paul when He sends him to the Gentiles "to turn them from darkness to moral and spiritual light," and "from the power of Satan unto God." And the New Testament often enough tells us what is meant by "the power of Satan." It was not any mere system of false beliefs alone, but it was a wicked and impure practice; and St. Paul’s work was to turn the Gentiles from a wicked faith, combined with a still more wicked practice, to a life sanctified and purified and renewed after the image of a living Christ.

III. Finally, we notice in this conversation, and that only very briefly, the title given by our Lord to St. Paul, which became the favourite designation of the Apostle of the Gentiles, especially among the Western doctors of the ancient Church. "Go thy way," says Christ to Ananias, "for he is a chosen vessel unto Me," or, as the Revisers put it in the margin, translating still more literally from the original. "for he is a vessel of election." "Vas Electionis" is the usual title for St. Paul in St. Jerome’s letter’s, as also in St. Chrysostom’s homilies, and it expresses a side of his character which is prominent throughout his writings. Saul’s early life was so alienated from Christ, his career had been so completely hostile to the gospel, his conversion had been so entirely God’s work and God’s work alone, that he ever felt and ever insisted more than the other New Testament writers on God’s electing love. If we compare the writings of St. John with those of St. Paul, we shall see how naturally and completely they reflect in their tone the history of their lives. St. John’s life was one long continuous steady growth in Divine knowledge. There were no great gaps or breaks in that life, and so we find that his writings do not ignore God’s electing love and preventing grace as the source of everything good in man. "We love Him because He first loved us" are words which show that St. John’s gospel was at bottom the same as St. Paul’s. But St. John’s favourite topic is the Incarnation and its importance, and its results in purity of heart and in a sweet consciousness of the Divine Spirit. St. Paul’s life, on the other hand, was no continuous upgrowth from youth’s earliest day to life’s latest eventide. There was a great gap, a tremendous yawning chasm separating the one portion from the other, and Paul never could forget that it was God’s choice alone which turned the persecuting Rabbi into the Christian Apostle. His Epistles to the Romans, Ephesians, and Galatians amply testify to the effects of this doctrine upon his whole soul, and show that the expositors of the early Church displayed a true instinct and gauged his character aright when they designated him by this title, "Vas Electionis." And yet the Apostle proved his Divine inspiration, for he held and taught this truth in no one-sided manner. He combined the doctrine of electing love with that of intense human free will and awful personal responsibility. He made no effort intellectually to reconcile the two opposite sides of truth, but, wiser than many who followed him, he accepted both, and found in them both matter for practical guidance. God’s eternal and electing love made him humble; man’s free will and responsibility made him awfully in earnest. Two passages, drawn from different Epistles, sufficiently explain St. Paul’s view. Galatians 1:15-16 -"When it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me"-are words which show how entirely St. Paul viewed himself as a "Vas Electionis." 1 Corinthians 9:27 -"I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage, lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected"-are words showing how real and profound was his fear of final defeat and ruin, how convinced he was that no display of Divine grace or love assured him of his own final perseverance. It is well that people should notice this difference between the tone and spiritual experience of a Paul and of a John. At times sincere Christians have been troubled because their spiritual experience and feelings have been very different from St. Paul’s. They have limited to a large extent their own reading of Scripture to his writings, and have not noticed the clear distinction which Scripture makes between the tone and ideas of St. Paul and St. Peter, St. James and St. John; and why? Just to meet this very tendency, and to show us that spiritual experiences, feelings, temptations, must vary with the varying circumstances of each individual. No saintly life can be taken as a universal model or standard; and, above all, the conversion of a persecutor and blasphemer like St. Paul is not to be taken as the normal type of God’s dealings with men, who grow up, like St. John or like Timothy, in the paths of Divine love from their earliest childhood.

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


Verse 29-30

Chapter 4

SAUL AND SINAI

Acts 9:29-30

WE have bestowed a great deal of attention upon the incidents at Damascus, because the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is more closely connected with the truth and authenticity of Christianity than any other event save those immediately connected with the life and ministry of our Lord Himself. We shall, however, in this chapter, endeavour to discuss the remaining circumstances of it which the Acts of the Apostles brings under our notice.

I. We are told in verse 17 {Acts 9:17), of the visit of Ananias to Saul. "Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." This conversation with Ananias is largely expanded by St. Paul himself in the account which he gives us in Acts 22:1-30, while in his speech to Agrippa in the twenty-sixth chapter he entirely omits all mention of Ananias, and seems to introduce our Lord as the only person who spoke to him, and yet there is no real inconsistency. St. Paul, in fact, in the latter address is intent on setting vividly before Agrippa the sum total of the revelations made by Christ. He ignores, therefore, every secondary agent. Ananias was Christ’s messenger. His words were merely those which Christ put into his mouth. St. Paul goes, therefore, to the root of the matter, and attributes everything, whether uttered by our Lord or by Ananias, to the former alone, who was, indeed, the great Inspirer of every expression, the true Director of every minutest portion of this important transaction.

The ninth chapter, on the other hand, breaks the story up into its component parts, and shows us the various actors in the scene. We see the Lord Jesus consciously presiding over all, revealing Himself now to this person and again to that person. We get a glimpse for a moment behind the veil which Divine Providence throws around His doings and the doings of the children of men. We see Christ revealing Himself now to Saul and then to Ananias, informing the latter of the revelations made to the former; just as He subsequently revealed Himself almost simultaneously to Cornelius at Caesarea and to Simon Peter at Joppa, preparing the one for the other. The Lord thus hints at an explanation of those simultaneous cravings, aspirations, and spiritual desires which we often find unaccountably arising amid far distant lands and in widely separated hearts. The feelings may seem but vague aspirations and their coincidence a mere chance one, but the typical cases of Saul and Ananias, or of Cornelius and St. Peter, teach the believer to see in them the direct action and government of the Lord Jesus Christ, turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. Surely we have an instance of such simultaneous operations of the Divine Spirit, and that on the largest scale, in the cravings of the world after a Saviour at the age and time when our Lord came! Virgil was. then preaching in tones so Christian concerning the coming Saviour whom the world was expecting that the great Italian poet Dante exempts him from hell on account of his dim but real faith. The Wise Men were then seeking Christ from a far country; Caiaphas was prophesying concerning a man who was to die for God’s people. Mankind, all the world over, was unconsciously longing with a divinely inspired desire for that very salvation which God was then revealing; just as, upon the narrower stage of Damascus or Caesarea, Jesus Christ inspired Saul and Cornelius with a Divine want and prepared Ananias and Peter to satisfy it. John Keble in his poem for Easter Monday has well seized and illustrated this point, so full of comfort and edification, turning it into a practical direction for the life of the human spirit:-

"Even so the course of prayer who knows?

It springs in silence where it will;

Springs out of sight, and flows

At first a lonely rill."

Unheard by all but angel ears,

The good Cornelius knelt alone,

Nor dreamed his prayers and tears

Could help a world undone.

"The while upon his terraced roof,

The loved apostle to the Lord,

In silent thought aloof,

For heavenly vision soared."

"The saint beside the ocean prayed,

The soldier in his chosen bower,

Where all his eye surveyed

Seemed sacred in that hour."

"To each unknown his brother’s prayer,

Yet brethren true in dearest love

Were they - and now they share

Fraternal joys above."

Ananias, guided by Divine Providence, enters into Saul’s presence, states his mission, lays his hands upon him, and restores him to sight. Ananias is careful, however, to disclaim all merit, as far as he is himself concerned, in the matter of this miracle. His language is exactly the same in tone as that of the apostles Peter and John when they had healed the impotent man: "Why marvel ye at this man? or why fasten ye your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him to walk? By faith in His name hath His name made this man strong," were their words to the people. "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk," was their command to the man himself. And so in the case of Ananias, he attributes the healing power to Jesus Christ alone. "The Lord Jesus, who appeared unto thee" "hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight." The theology and faith of the Church at Damascus were exactly the same as those of the Apostles and Church at Jerusalem. And what a confirmation of Saul’s own faith must this miracle have been! It was then no passing vision, no fancy of a heated imagination which he had experienced; but he had the actual proof in his own person of their objective reality, a demonstration that the power of Jesus of Nazareth ordered all things, both in heaven and earth, healing the bodily as it could illuminate the spiritual eye.

II. Ananias restored Saul’s sight. According to the ninth of Acts his mission was limited to this one point; but, according to St. Paul’s own account in the twenty-second chapter, he made a much longer communication to the future Apostle: "The God of our fathers hath appointed thee to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from His mouth. For thou shalt be a witness for Him unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins, calling on His name." Ananias predicted to Saul his future mission, his apostleship to all nations, and the fact that the Apostle of the Gentiles would find the root and sustenance of his work in the force of personal conviction with which his miraculous conversion had endowed him. Personal knowledge, individual acquaintance with the things of the eternal world, was then, as it is still, the first condition of successful work for Jesus Christ. There may be intellectual power, intense energy, transcendent eloquence, consummate ability; but in the spiritual order these things avail nothing till there be joined thereto that sense of heavenly force and reality which a personal knowledge of the things unseen imparts. Then heart answers to heart, and the great depths of man’s nature respond and open themselves to the voice and teaching of one who speaks as St. Paul did of what "he had seen and heard."

There are two points in this address of Ananias as reported by St. Paul himself to which we would direct special attention. Ananias baptised Saul, and used very decided language on the subject, language from which some would now shrink. These two points embody important teaching. Ananias baptised Saul though Christ had personally called him. This shows the importance which the Holy Scriptures attach to baptism, and shows us something too of the nature of Holy Scripture itself. St. Luke wrote the Acts as a kind of continuation of his Gospel, to give an account to Theophilus of the rise and progress of Christianity down to his own time. St. Luke in doing so tells us of the institution of the Eucharist, but he does not say one word in his Gospel about the appointment of baptism. He does not record the baptismal commission, for which we must turn to Matthew 28:19, or to Mark 16:16. Yet St. Luke is careful to report the baptism of the three thousand on the Day of Pentecost, of the Samaritans, of the eunuch, and now of St. Paul, as afterwards of Cornelius, of Lydia, of the Philippian jailor, and of the Ephesian followers of John the Baptist. He records the universality of Christian baptism, and thus proves its obligation; but he does not give us a hint of the origin of this sacrament, nor does he trace it back to any word or command of the Lord Jesus Christ. He evidently took all these things as quite well known and understood, and merely describes the observance of a sacrament which needed no explanation on his part. The writings of St. Luke were intended to instruct Theophilus in the facts concerning our Lord’s life and the labours of certain leading individuals among His earliest followers; but they make no pretence, nor do the other Gospels make any pretence, of being an exhaustive history of our Lord’s ministry or of the practice of the earliest Church; and their silence does not necessarily prove that much was not known and practised in the early Church about which they have no occasion to speak. The words of Ananias and the obedience of Saul show us the importance which the Holy Spirit attached to this sacrament of baptism. Here was a man to whom Christ Himself had personally appeared, whom Christ had personally called, and to whom He had made long-continued revelations of His will. Yet He instructed him by the mouth of Ananias to receive the sacrament of baptism. Surely if any man was ever exempted from submission to what some would esteem the outward ordinance, it was this penitent and privileged convert! But no: to him the words of God’s messenger are the same as to the humblest sinner, "Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins." I have known of truly good men who showed their want of spiritual humility, or perhaps I should rather say of spiritual thought and reflection, in this direction. I have known of persons aroused from religious torpor and death by powerful though one-sided teaching. God has blessed such teaching to the awakening in them of the first elements of spiritual life, and then they have stopped short. They were called, as Saul was, in an unbaptised state. They had never previously received the sacrament of regeneration according to Christ’s appointment, and when Christ aroused them they thought this primal blessing quite sufficient, and judged it unnecessary to obey the full commands of Christ and be united by baptism to His Body the Church. They judged, in fact, that the blessing of conversion absorbed them from the sacrament of responsibility; but such was not the view of the primitive Church. The blessing of conversion as in St. Paul’s case, the visible and audible descent of the Holy Ghost as in the case of Cornelius, hindered not the importance nor dispensed with the necessity of the sacrament of baptism, which was the door of admission to the Divine society and to a higher level in the Divine life than any hitherto attained. Persons who act as those misguided individuals of whom we have spoken stop short at the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and they attain to none of its heights, they sound none of its depths, because they bend not their wills, and learn not the sweetness and the power involved in spiritual humiliation and in lowly self-denying obedience taught by the Master Himself when He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The language, again, of Ananias about baptism sounds strange in some ears, and yet the experience of missionaries is a sufficient explanation of it. What is that language? "Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins." These words sound startling to one accustomed to identify the washing away of sin with the exercise of faith, and yet there they stand, and no method of exegesis will avail to make them say anything else than this, that baptism was for Saul the washing away of sin, so that if he did not accept baptism his sins would not have been washed away. The experience, however, of those who labour in the mission field explains the whole difficulty. Baptism is the act of open confession and acknowledgment of Christ. St. Paul himself teaches the absolute importance of this confession: "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." [Romans 10:10] Pagan converts are even still abundantly found who are willing to accept the pure morality and the sublime teaching of Christianity, who are willing to believe and see in Jesus Christ the supreme revelation of God made to the human race, but who are not willing to incur loss and persecution and trial, for His sake by the reception of Christian baptism add a public confession of their faith. They may believe with the heart in the revelation of righteousness and may lead moral lives in consequence, but they are not willing to make public confession leading them into a state of salvation. They are, in fact, in the position of Saul of Tarsus as he prayed in the house of Judas, but they will go no farther. They will not act as he did, they will not take the decisive step, they will not arise and be baptised and wash away their sins, calling on the name of Jesus Christ. And if Saul of Tarsus had been like them. and had acted as they do, he might have received the vision and have been convinced of the truth of Jesus Christ and of His mission, but yet his moral cowardice would have spoilt the whole, and Saul would have remained in his sins, unpardoned, unaccepted, reprobate from Christ, because he remained unbaptised. Christianity, in fact, is a covenant, and forgiveness of sins is one of the blessings attached to this covenant. Until men perform its conditions and actually enter into the covenant the blessings of the covenant are not granted. Baptism is the door of entry into the covenant of grace, and till men humbly enter within the door they do not exercise true faith. They may believe intellectually in the truth and reality of Christianity, but, till they take the decisive step and obey Christ’s law, they do not possess that true faith of the heart which alone enables them, like Saul of Tarsus, to obey Christ and therefore enter into peace.

III. The next step taken by the Apostle is equally plainly stated: "Straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that He is the Son of God." But, though the words of the Acts are plain enough, it is not so easy to reconcile them with St. Paul’s own account, as given in the Epistle to the Galatians, [Galatians 1:15-17] where he states, "When it was the good pleasure of God to reveal His Son in me, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood, but I went away into Arabia, and again I returned to Damascus." In the ninth chapter of the Acts we find the statement made that immediately after his baptism he preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus, while in his own biographical narrative he tells us that immediately after his baptism he went away into Arabia. Is there any way in which we can reconcile them? We think so, and that a very simple one. Let us first reflect upon the story as told in the Acts. St. Luke is giving a rapid history, a survey of St. Paul’s life of public activity. He is not telling the story of his inner spiritual experiences, his conflicts, temptations, trials, revelations, as St. Paul himself set them forth. He knew not of them, in fact. St. Luke knew merely the exterior public life of which man has cognisance. He knew nothing, or but little, of the interior life of the Apostle, known only to himself and to God. St. Luke therefore tells us of his early work at Damascus. St. Paul himself tells us of that early work, but also shows us how he was prepared for that work by his retirement into Arabia. Both agree in the main point, however, and place the scene of his earliest Christian efforts in the very spot, Damascus, which he had in his human prevision destined for himself as the field of his bitterest antagonism to the faith of the Crucified. This is an important point. St. Luke wrote his historical narrative twenty-five years or thereabouts after St. Paul’s conversion. He may have often visited Damascus. Tradition makes Antioch, a town of the same district, his birthplace. St. Luke must have had abundant opportunities of consulting witnesses who could tell the story of those eventful days, and could describe St. Paul’s earliest testimony to his new convictions. But these men only knew St. Paul as he appeared in public. They may have known very little of the inner history of his life as he reveals it in his Epistle to the Galatians when vindicating his apostolic authority and mission.

Let us now see whether we cannot harmonise St. Paul’s autobiographical narrative in the Epistle with the Evangelist’s narrative in the Acts; always remembering, however, that an imperfect knowledge is never more completely felt than in such cases. When we try to harmonise an account written from the subjective side by one individual with an objective and exterior narrative written by some one else, we are like a man looking at a globe and trying to take it all in at one glance. One side must be hidden from him; and so in this case, many circumstances are necessarily concealed from us which would solve difficulties that now completely puzzle us. But let us to our task, in which we have derived much assistance from the commentary of Bishop Lightfoot upon Galatians. St. Paul, we are told in Acts 9:19, received meat after the visit of Ananias and was strengthened. St. Paul was never one of those high-wrought fanatics who despise food and the care of the body. There was nothing of the Gnostic or the Manichean about him, leading him to despise and neglect the body which the Lord has given to be the soul’s instrument. He recognised under all circumstances that if the human spirit is to do its work, and if God’s glory is to be promoted, the human body must be sustained in force and vigour. When he was on board ship and in imminent peril of shipwreck and death, and men thought they should be at their prayers, thinking of the next world alone, he took bread and blessed and set the crew and passengers alike the healthy example of eating a hearty meal, and thus keeping his body in due preparation for whatever deliverances the Lord might work for them; and so, too, at Damascus, his spiritual joy and hallowed peace and deep gratitude for his restoration to sight did not prevent him paying due attention to the wants of his body. "He took food, and was strengthened." And now comes the first note of time. "Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway ( ϵὐθέϛ) he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God." The very same expression is used by St. Paul in Galatians, where, after speaking of his conversion, he says, "Immediately ( ϵὐθέωϛ) I conferred not with flesh and blood, but went away into Arabia, and again returned unto Damascus." Now my explanation, and not mine alone, but that of Bishop Lightfoot, is this. After the new convert had rested for a short time at Damascus, he retired into the Sinaitic desert, where he remained for several months, perhaps for a whole year.

During this period he disappeared from the sight and knowledge of men as if the earth had opened its mouth and swallowed him. Then he returned to Damascus and preached with such power that the Jews formed a plot against his life, enlisting the help of the governor on their side, so that even the gates were watched that he might be arrested. He escaped their hands, however, through the assistance of his converts, and went up to Jerusalem.

But here another difficulty arises, The Acts tells us that "when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple," whereupon Barnabas, fulfilling his office of mediation, explanation, and consolation, took him and introduced him to the Apostles; while on the other hand in the first chapter of Galatians St. Paul himself speaks of his first visit to the Jerusalem Church thus: "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days. But other of the Apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother." Now the difficulty consists in this. First, how could the disciples at Jerusalem have been suspicious of St. Paul, if at least a year and a half had elapsed since his conversion? for the Jewish method of counting time would not require three whole years to have elapsed since that event. Secondly, how could Barnabas have brought him to the Apostles as the Acts states, if St. Paul himself says he saw none of them save Peter and James? As to the first difficulty, we acknowledge at once that it seems at first sight a very considerable one, and yet a little reflection will show that there are many explanations of it. If St. Paul kept quiet, as we believe he did, after his conversion and baptism, and departed into the solitudes of Arabia, and then upon his return to Damascus, perhaps after a year’s retirement, began his aggressive work, there may not have been time for the Church at large to get knowledge of the facts. Communication, again, may have been interrupted because of the contest between Herod and Aretas, in which Damascus played no small part. Communication may not have been possible between the two Churches. Then, again, the persecution raised by Saul himself seems to have practically extirpated the Jerusalem Church for a time. "They were all scattered abroad except the Apostles," is the account given of the Christian community at Jerusalem. The terror of that persecution may have lasted many a long month. Numbers of the original members may never have ventured back again to the Holy City. The Jerusalem Church may have been a new formation largely composed of new converts who never had heard of a wondrous circumstance which had happened a year or two before to the high priest’s delegate, which the Sanhedrin would doubtless desire to keep secret.

These and many other considerations offer themselves when we strive to throw ourselves back into the circumstances of the time and help to a solution of the first difficulty which we have indicated: Human life is such a complex thing that the strangest combinations may easily find place therein. In this particular case we are so ignorant of the facts, so many hypotheses offer themselves to account for the seeming inconsistencies, that we hesitate not to identify the visit to Jerusalem mentioned in the Acts with that recorded by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians. The second difficulty to which we have alluded is this, How could Barnabas have brought him to the Apostles, if St. Paul himself states that he saw none of the Apostles save Peter and James the Lord’s brother? We must remember, however, that St. Luke and St. Paul wrote with two distinct objects. St. Paul, in the Galatians, wished to show the independence of his revelations as regards the Apostles of the circumcision, the Twelve technically so called. Of these Apostles he saw not one, save St. Peter. St. Luke is giving a broad external account of the new convert’s earliest religious history, and he tells us that on his first visit to the Holy City his conversion was acknowledged and guaranteed by the apostles, -not the Twelve merely, but the apostles, that is, the senior members of the Christian community, embracing not merely the original company chosen by Christ, but all the senior members of the Church, like Barnabas, James, and others who may have formed a supreme council to guide the affairs of the infant society. The word apostle, in fact, is used very variously in the New Testament; sometimes in a limited sense as confined to the Twelve, sometimes in a wider and more general sense, embracing men like Barnabas, as in Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14; St. James, the Lord’s brother, as in 1 Corinthians 15:7; Andronicus and Junias, as in Romans 16:7, and many others. It is quite possible, then, that Barnabas may have brought Saul to the Apostolic council, and told there the tale of his conversion, though not one of the original Twelve was present save St. Peter.

We have now endeavoured to explain some of the difficulties which a comparison of St. Paul’s own auto-biographical narrative with the Acts discloses. Let us look again at the retirement into Arabia. This retirement seems to us full of instruction and pregnant with meaning for the hidden as well as the practical life of the soul. St. Paul, as soon as he was baptised, retired into Arabia; and why, it may be asked, did he retire thither? Some of the ancient expositors, as St. Chrysostom and St. Jerome, both of whom wrote about the same period, A.D. 400, thought that St. Paul retired into Arabia in order that he might preach to the Arabians. St. Chrysostom, for instance, comments thus: "See how fervent was his soul, he was eager to occupy lands yet untilled. He forthwith attacked a barbarous and savage people, choosing a life of conflict and of much toil." And the explanations of Hilary, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, and OEcumenius, all of them ancient and acute expositors, are of exactly the same character. Now this would have been a reversal of the Divine order in one important aspect. The power of the keys, the office of opening the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles, had been committed to St. Peter by Jesus Christ. He had not as yet baptised Cornelius, and thus formally opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. If St. Paul had preached to the Arabians, he would have usurped St. Peter’s place and function. We believe, on the other hand, that God led the converted persecutor into the deserts of Arabia for very different purposes. Let us note a few of them.

The Lord led Saul there for the purpose of quiet and retirement. The great commentators and expositors of the early Church, as we have already noted, used to call St. Paul by the special title of "Vas Electionis," the chosen vessel par excellence, chosen because surpassing in his gifts and graces and achievements all the other Apostles. Now it was with the "Vas Electionis" in the New Testament as with many of his types in the Old Testament. When God would prepare Moses for his life’s work in shepherding, ruling, and guiding His people through the deserts of Arabia, He first called him for many a long day into retirement to the Mount of Horeb and the solitudes of the Sinaitic desert. When God would strengthen and console the spirit depressed, wounded, and severely smitten, of his servant Elijah, He brought him to the same mysterious spot, and there restored his moral and spiritual tone, and equipped him with new strength for his warfare by the visions of the Almighty lovingly vouchsafed to him. The Founder or Former of the Jewish Dispensation and the Reformer of the same Dispensation were prepared and sustained for their work amid the Solitudes of the Arabian deserts; and what more fitting place in which the "Vas Electionis," the chosen vessel of the New Dispensation, should be trained? What more suitable locality where the Lord Jesus should make those fuller and completer revelations of Christian doctrine and mystery which his soul needed, than there where lightning-blasted cliff and towering mountains all alike spoke of God and of His dealings with mankind in the mysterious ages of a long-departed past? The Lord thus taught St. Paul, and through him teaches the Church of every age, the need of seasons of retirement and communion with God preparatory to and in close connection with any great work or scene of external activity, such as St. Paul was now entering upon. It is a lesson much needed by this age of ours when men are tempted to think so much of practical work which appears at once in evidence, making its presence felt in tangible results, and so very little of devotional work and spiritual retirement which cannot be estimated by any earthly standard or tabulated according to our modern methods. Men are now inclined to think laborare est orare, and that active external work faithfully and vigorously rendered can take the place and supply the want of prayer and thought, of quiet study and devout meditation. Against such a tendency the Lord’s dealings with St. Paul, yea more, the Divine dealings with and leadings of the eternal Son Himself, form a loud and speaking protest. The world was perishing and men were going down to the grave in darkness and Satan and sin were triumphing, and yet Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, and Saul was brought out into the deserts of Arabia from amid the teeming crowds of Damascus that he might learn those secrets of the Divine life which are best communicated to those who wait upon God in patient prayer and holy retirement. This is a lesson very necessary for this hot and fitful and feverish age of ours, when men are in such a hurry to have everything set right and every abuse destroyed all at once. Their haste is not after the Divine model, and their work cannot expect the stability and solidity we find in God’s. The nineteenth-century extreme is reproved by St. Paul’s retirement into Arabia. Man is, however, such a creature that if he avoids one extreme he generally tumbles into another. And so it is in this matter. Men have been ready to push this matter of retirement into an extreme, and have considered that they were following St. Paul’s example in retiring into Arabian and similar deserts and remaining there. But they have made a great mistake. St. Paul retired into Arabia for a while, and then "returned again unto Damascus." They have retired into the deserts and have remained there engaged in the one selfish task of saving their own souls, as they thought, by the exercises of prayer and meditation, apart from that life of active good works for the sake of others which constitutes another department of Christianity equally vital to the health of the soul.

The history of Eastern monasticism is marked from its earliest days by an eager desire to follow St. Paul in his retirement into Arabia, and an equal disinclination to return with him unto Damascus. And this characteristic, this intense devotion to a life of solitude, strangely enough passed over to our own Western islands and is a dominant feature of the monasticism which prevailed in Great Britain and Ireland in the days of Celtic Christianity. The Syrian and Egyptian monks passed over to Lerins and Southern Gaul, whence their disciples came to England and Ireland, where they established themselves, bringing with them all their Eastern love of solitary deserts. This taste they perpetuated, as may be seen especially, on the western coast of Ireland, where the ruins of extensive monastic settlements still exist, testifying to this craving. The last islands, for instance, which a traveller sees as he steams away from Cork to America, are called the Skelligs. They are ten miles west of the Kerry coast, and yet there on these rocks where a boat cannot land sometimes for months together the early monks of the fifth and sixth centuries established themselves as in a desert in the ocean. The topography of Ireland is full of evidences and witnesses of this desire to imitate the Apostle of the Gentiles in his Arabian retirement. There are dozens of town lands-subdivisions of the. parishes-which are called deserts or diserts, because they constituted solitudes set apart for hermit life after the example of St. Paul in Arabia and John the Baptist in the deserts of Judaea. While, again, when we turn northwards along the western seaboard of Ireland, we shall find numerous islands like the Skelligs, Ardoilen or the High Island, off the coast of Connemara, and Innismurry off the Sligo coast, where hermit cells in the regular Egyptian and Syrian fashion were built, and still exist as they did a thousand years ago, testifying to the longing of the human mind for such complete solitude and close communion with God as Saul enjoyed when he departed from Damascus. The monks of ancient times may have run into one extreme: well would it be for us if we could avoid the other, and learn to cultivate self-communion, meditation, self-examination, and that realisation of the eternal world which God grants to those who wait upon Him apart from the bustle and din and dust of earth, which clog the spiritual senses and dim the heavenly vision.

We can see many other reasons why Paul was led into Arabia. He was led there, for instance, that he might make a thorough scrutiny of his motives. Silence, separation, solitude, have a wondrous tendency to make a man honest with himself and humbly honest before his God. Saul might have been a hypocrite or a formalist elsewhere, where human eyes and jealous glances were bent upon him, but scarcely when there alone with Jehovah in the desert. Again, Saul was led there that his soul might be ennobled and enlarged by the power of magnificent scenery, of high and hallowed associations. Mountain and cliff and flood, specially those which have been magnified and made honourable by grand memories such as must have crowded upon Saul’s mind, have a marvellous effect, enlarging, widening, developing, upon a soul like Saul’s, long cribbed, cabined, and confined within the rigorous bonds of Pharisaic religionism. Saul, too, was led up into those mysterious regions away from the busy life and work, the pressing calls of Damascus, that he might speak a word in season to all, and especially to those young in the Christian life, who think in the first burst of their zeal and faith as if they had nothing to do but go in and possess the whole land. Saul did not set out at once to evangelise the masses of Damascus, or to waste the first weak beginnings of his spiritual life in striving to benefit or awaken others. He was first led away into the deserts of Arabia, in order that there he might learn of the deep things of God and of the weak things of his own nature, and then, when God had developed his spiritual strength, He led him back to Damascus that he might testify out of the fulness of a heart which knew the secrets of the Most High. The teaching of Saul’s example speaks loudly to us all. It was the same with Saul as with a greater than he. The Eternal Son Himself was trained amid years and years of darkness and secrecy, and even after His baptism the day of His manifestation unto Israel was delayed yet a little. Jesus Christ was no novice when He came preaching. And Saul of Tarsus was no novice in the Christian life when he appeared as the Christian advocate in the synagogue of Damascus. Well would it have been for many a soul had this Divine example been more closely copied. Again and again have the young and ignorant and inexperienced been encouraged to stand up as public teachers immediately after they have been seriously impressed. They have yielded to the unwise solicitation. The vanity of the human heart has seconded the foolish advice given to them, and they have tried to declare the deep things of God when as yet they have need of learning the very first principles of the doctrine of Christ. Is it any wonder that such persons oftentimes make shipwreck of faith and a sound conscience? Truth is very large and wide and spacious, and requires much time and thought if it is to be assimilated; and even when truth is grasped in all its mighty fulness, then there are spiritual enemies within and without and spiritual pitfalls to be avoided which can be known only by experience. Woe is then to that man who is not assisted by grace and guided by Divine experience, and who knows not God and the powers of the world to come, and the devious paths of his own heart, as these things can only be known and learned as Saul of Tarsus knew and learned them in the deserts of Arabia. There was marvellous wisdom contained in the brief apostolic law enacted for candidates for holy orders in words gathered from St. Paul’s own personal history, "Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil."

Chapter 5

THE FIRST GENTILE CONVERT.

Acts 10:1-6

WE have now arrived at another crisis in the history of the early Church of Christ. The Day of Pentecost, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the call of Cornelius, and the foundation of the Gentile Church of Antioch are, if we are to pick and choose amid the events related by St. Luke, the turning-points of the earliest ecclesiastical history. The conversion of St. Paul is placed by St. Luke before the conversion of Cornelius, and is closely connected with it. Let us then inquire by what events St. Luke unites the two. German commentators of the modern school, who are nothing unless they are original, have not been willing to allow that St. Luke’s narrative is continuous. They have assigned various dates to the conversion of Cornelius. Some have made it precede the conversion of St. Paul, others have fixed it to the time of Paul’s sojourn in Arabia, and so on, without any other solid reasons than what their own fancies suggest. I prefer, however, to think that St. Luke’s narrative follows the great broad outlines of the Christian story, and sets forth the events of the time in a divinely ordered sequence. At any rate, I prefer to follow the course of events as the narrative suggests them, till l see some good reason to think otherwise. I do not think that the mere fact that the sacred writer states events in a certain order is a sufficient reason to think that the true order must have been quite a different one. Taking them in this light, they yield themselves very naturally to the work of an expositor. Let us reflect then upon that sequence as here set forth for us.

Saul of Tarsus went up to Jerusalem to confer with St. Peter, who had been hitherto the leading spirit of the apostolic conclave. He laboured in Jerusalem among the Hellenistic synagogues for some fifteen days. A conspiracy was then formed against his life. The Lord, ever watchful over His chosen servant, warned him to depart from Jerusalem, indicating to him as he prayed in the Temple the scope and sphere of his future work, saying, "Depart: for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles." {see Acts 22:21} The Christians of Jerusalem, having learned the designs of his enemies, conveyed Saul to Caesarea, the chief Roman port of Palestine, whence they despatched him to Cilicia, his native province, where he laboured in obscurity and quietness for some time. St. Peter may have been of the rescue party who saved Saul from the hands of his enemies, escorting him to Caesarea, and this circumstance may have led him to the western district of the country. At any rate we find him soon after labouring in Western Palestine at some distance from Jerusalem. Philip the Evangelist had been over the same ground a short time previously, and St. Peter may have been sent forth by the mother Church to supervise his work and confer that formal imposition of hands which from the beginning has formed the completion of baptism, and seems to have been reserved to the Apostles or their immediate delegates. Peter’s visit to Western Palestine, to Lydda and Sharon and Joppa, may have been just like the visit he had paid some time previously, in company with St. John, to the city of Samaria, when he came for the first time in contact with Simon Magus. St. Luke gives us here a note of time, helping us to fix approximately the date of the formal admission of Cornelius and the Gentiles into the Church. He mentions that the Churches then enjoyed peace and quietness all through Palestine, enabling St. Peter to go upon his work of preaching and supervision. It may perhaps strike some persons that this temporary peace must have been obtained through the conversion of Saul, the most active persecutor. But that event had happened more than two years before, in the spring of 37 A.D., and, far from diminishing, would probably have rather intensified the hostility of the Jewish hierarchy. It was now the autumn of the year 39, and a bitter spirit still lingered at Jerusalem, as Saul himself and the whole Church had just proved. External authorities, Jewish and Roman history, here step in to illustrate and confirm the sacred narrative.

The Emperor Caius Caligula, who ascended the throne of the empire about the time of Stephen’s martyrdom, was a strange character. He was wholly self-willed, madly impious, utterly careless of human life, as indeed unregenerate mankind ever is. Christianity alone has taught the precious value of the individual human soul the awful importance of human life as the probation time for eternity, and has thereby ameliorated the harshness of human laws, the sternness of human rulers, ready to inflict capital punishment on any pretence whatsoever. Caligula determined to establish the worship of himself throughout the world. He had no opposition to dread from the pagans, who were ready to adopt any creed or any cult, no matter how degrading, which their rulers prescribed. Caligula knew, however, that the Jews were more obstinate, because they alone were conscious that they possessed a Divine revelation. He issued orders, therefore, to Petronius, the Roman governor of Syria, Palestine, and the East, to erect his statue in Jerusalem and to compel the Jews to offer sacrifice thereto. Josephus tells us of the opposition which the Jews offered to Caligula; how they abandoned their agricultural operations and assembled in thousands at different points, desiring Petronius to slay them at once, as they could never live if the Divine laws were so violated. The whole energies of the nation were for months concentrated on this one object, the repeal of the impious decree of Caligula, which they at last attained through their own determination and by the intervention of Herod Agrippa, who was then at Rome. It was during this awful period of uncertainty and opposition that the infant Church enjoyed a brief period of repose and quiet growth, because the whole nation, from the high priest to the lowest beggar, had something else to think of than how to persecute a new sect that was as yet rigorously scrupulous in observing the law of Moses. During this period of repose from persecution St. Peter made his tour of inspection "throughout all parts," Samaria, Galilee, Judaea, terminating with Lydda, where he healed, or at least prayed for the healing of Æneas, and with Joppa, where his prayer was followed by the restoration of Tabitha or Dorcas, who has given a designation now widely applied to the assistance which devout women can give to their poorer sisters in Christ.

We thus see how God by the secret guidance of His Spirit, shaping his course by ways and roads known only to Himself, led St. Peter to the house of Simon the tanner, where he abode many days, waiting in patience to know God’s mind and will which were soon to be opened out to him. We have now traced the line of events which connect the conversion of Saul of Tarsus with that of Cornelius the centurion of Caesarea. Let us apply ourselves to the circumstances surrounding the latter event, which is of such vital importance to us Gentile Christians as having been the formal Divine proclamation to the Church and to the world that the mystery which had been hid for ages was now made manifest, and that the Gentiles were spiritually on an equality with the Jews. The Church was now about to burst the bonds which had restrained it for five years at least. We stand by the birth of European Christendom and of modern civilisation. It is well, then, that we should learn and inwardly digest every, even the slightest, detail concerning such a transcendent and notable crisis. Let us take them briefly one by one as the sacred narrative reports them.

I. I note, then, in the first place that the time of this conversion was wisely and providentially chosen. The time was just about eight years after the Ascension and the foundation of the Church. Time enough therefore had elapsed for Christianity to take root among the Jews. This was most important. The gospel was first planted among the Jews, took form and life and shape, gained its initial impulse and direction among God’s ancient people in order that the constitution, the discipline, and the worship of the Church might be framed on the ancient Jewish model and might be built up by men whose minds were cast in a conservative mould. Not that we have the old law with its wearisome and burdensome ritual perpetuated in the Christian Church. That law was a yoke too heavy for man to bear. But, then, the highest and best elements of the old Jewish system have been perpetuated in the Church. There was in Judaism by God’s own appointment a public ministry, a threefold public ministry too, exercised by the high priests, the priests, and the Levites. There is in Christianity a threefold ministry exercised by bishops, presbyters or elders, and deacons. There were in Judaism public and consecrated sanctuaries, fixed liturgies, public reading of God’s Word, a service of choral worship, hymns of joy and thanksgiving, the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism in a rudimentary shape; all these were transferred from the old system that was passing away into the new system that was taking its place. Had the Gentiles been admitted much earlier all this might not have so easily happened. Men do not easily change their habits. Habits, indeed, are chains which rivet themselves year by year with ever-increasing power round our natures; and the Jewish converts brought their habits of thought and worship into the Church of Christ, establishing there those institutions of prayer and worship, of sacramental communion and preaching which we still enjoy. But we must observe, on the other hand, that, had the Gentiles been admitted a little later, the Church might have assumed too Jewish and Levitical an aspect. This pause of eight years, during which Jews alone formed the Church, is another instance of those delay’s of the Lord which, whether they happen in public or in private life, are always found in the long run to be wise, blessed, and providential things, though for a time they may seem dark and mysterious, according to that ancient strain of the Psalmist, "Wait on the Lord and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, upon the Lord."

II. Again, the place where the Church burst its Jewish shell and emerged into full gospel freedom is noteworthy. It was at Caesarea. It is a great pity that people do not make more use of maps in their study of Holy Scripture. Sunday evenings are often a dull time in Christian households, and the bare mechanical reading of Scripture and of good books often only makes them duller. How much more lively, interesting, and instructive they would be were an attempt made to trace the journeys of the Apostles with a map, or to study the scenes where they laboured-Jerusalem, Caesarea, Damascus, Ephesus, Athens, and Rome-with some of the helps which modern scholarship and commercial enterprise now place within easy reach. I can speak thus with the force of personal experience, for my own keen interest in this book which I am expounding dates from the Sunday evenings of boyhood thus spent, though without many of the aids which now lie within the reach of all. This is essentially the modern method of study, especially in matters historical. A modern investigator and explorer of Bible sites and lands has well expressed this truth when he said, "Topography is the foundation of history. If we are ever to understand history, we must understand the places where that history was transacted." The celebrated historians, the late Mr. Freeman and Mr. Green, worked a revolution in English historical methods by teaching people that an indefatigable use of maps and a careful study of the physical features of any country are absolutely needful for a true conception of its history. In this respect at least secular history and sacred history are alike. Without a careful study of the map we cannot understand God’s dealings with the Church of Christ, as is manifest from the case of Caesarea at which we have arrived. The narratives of the Gospels and of the Acts will be confused, unintelligible, unless we understand that there were two Caesareas in Palestine, one never mentioned in the Gospels, the other never mentioned in the Acts. Caesarea Philippi was a celebrated city of Northeastern Palestine. It was-when our Lord was within its borders that St. Peter made his celebrated confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," told of in Matthew 16:13-16. This is the only Caesarea of which we hear in the Gospels. It was an-inland town, built by the Herods in joint honour of themselves and of their patrons the Emperors of Rome, and bore all the traces of its origin.

It was decorated with a splendid pagan temple, was a thoroughly pagan town, and was therefore abhorred by every true Jew. There was another Caesarea, the great Roman port of Palestine and the capital, where the Roman governors resided. It was situated in the borders of Phoenicia, in a northwesterly direction from Jerusalem, with which it was connected by a fine military road. This Caesarea had been originally built by Herod the Great. He spent twelve years at this undertaking, and succeeded in making it a splendid monument of the magnificence of his conceptions. The seaboard of Palestine is totally devoid to this day of safe harbours. Herod constructed a harbour at vase expense. Let us hear the story of its foundation in the very words of the Jewish historian. Josephus tells us that Herod, observing that Joppa and Dora are not fit for havens on account of the impetuous south winds which beat upon them, which, rolling the sands which come from the sea against the shores, do not admit of ships lying in their station; but the merchants are generally there forced to ride at their anchors in the sea itself. So Herod endeavoured to rectify this inconvenience, and laid out such a compass toward the land as might be sufficient for a haven, wherein the great ships might lie in safety; and this he effected by letting down vast stones of above fifty feet in length, not less than eighteen in breadth and nine in depth, "into twenty fathoms deep." The Romans, when they took possession of Palestine, adopted and developed Herod’s plans, and established Caesarea on the coast as the permanent residence of the procurator of Palestine. And it was a wise policy. The Romans, like the English, had a genius for government. They fixed their provincial capitals upon or near the sea-coast that their communications might be ever kept open. Thus in our own case Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Capetown, Quebec, and Dublin are all seaport towns. And so in ancient times Antioch, Alexandria, Tarsus, Ephesus, Marseilles, Corinth, London, were all seaports and provincial Roman capitals as Caesarea was in Palestine. And it was a very wise policy. The Jews were a fierce, bold, determined people when they revolted. If the seat of Roman rule had been fixed at Jerusalem, a rebellion might completely cut off all effective relief from the besieged garrison, which would never happen at Caesarea so long as the command of the sea was vested in the vast navies which the Roman State possessed. Caesarea was to a large extent a Gentile city, though within some seventy miles of Jerusalem. It had a considerable Jewish population with their attendant synagogues, but the most prominent features were pagan temples, one of them serving for a lighthouse and beacon for the ships which crowded its harbour, together with a theatre and an amphitheatre, where scenes were daily enacted from which every sincere Jew must have shrunk with horror. Such was the place a most fitting place, Gentile, pagan, idolatrous to the very core and centre-where God chose to reveal Himself as Father of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews, and showed Christ’s gospel as a light to lighten the Gentiles as well as the glory of His people Israel.

III. Then, again, the person chosen as the channel of this revelation is a striking character. He was "Cornelius by name, a centurion of the band called the Italian band." Here, then, we note first of all that Cornelius was a Roman soldier. Let us pause and reflect upon this. In no respect does the New Testament display more clearly its Divine origin than in the manner in which it rises superior to mere provincialism. There are no narrow national prejudices about it like those which nowadays lead Englishmen to despise other nations, or those which in ancient times led a thoroughgoing Jew to look down with sovereign contempt on the Gentile world as mere dogs and outcasts. The New Testament taught that all men were equal and were brothers in blood, and thus laid the foundations of those modern conceptions which have well-nigh swept slavery from the face of civilised Christendom. The New Testament and its teaching is the parent of that modern liberalism which now rules every circle, no matter what its political designation. In no respect does this universal catholic feeling of the New Testament display itself more clearly than in the pictures it presents to us of Roman military men. They are uniformly most favourable. Without one single exception the pictures drawn for us of every centurion and soldier mentioned in the books of the New Testament are bright with some element of good shining out conspicuously by way of favourable contrast, when brought side by side with the Jewish people, upon whom more abundant and more blessed privileges had been in vain lavished. Let us just note a few instances which will illustrate our view. The soldiers sought John’s baptism and humbly received John’s penitential advice and direction when priests and scribes rejected the Lord’s messenger. [Luke 3:14] A soldier and a centurion received Christ’s commendation for the exercise of a faith surpassing in its range and spiritual perception any faith which the Master had found within the bounds and limits of Israel according to the flesh. "Verily I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel," were Christ’s almost wondering words as He heard the confession of His Godlike nature, His Divine power involved in the centurion’s prayer of humility, "I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed." {cf. Matthew 8:5-13} So was it again with the centurion to whom the details of our Lord’s execution were committed. He too is painted in a favourable light. He had an open mind, willing to receive evidence. He received that evidence under the most unfavourable conditions. His mind was convinced of our Lord’s mission and character, not by His triumphs, but by His apparent defeat. As the victim of Jewish malice and prejudice yielded up the ghost and committed His pure, unspotted soul to the hands of His Heavenly Father, then it was that, struck by the supernatural spirit of love and gentleness and forgiveness-those great forces of Christianity which never at any other time or in any other age have had their full and fair play-the centurion yielded the assent of his affections and of his intellect to the Divine mission of the suffering Saviour, and cried, "Truly this man was the Son of God." [Matthew 27:54] So it was again with Julius the centurion, who courteously entreated St. Paul on his voyage as a prisoner to Rome; [Acts 27:3] and so again it was with Cornelius the centurion, of the band called the Italian band.

Now how comes this to pass? What a striking evidence of the workings and presence of the Divine Spirit in the writers of our sacred books we may find in this fact! The Roman soldiers were of course the symbols to a patriotic Jew of a hated foreign sway, of an idolatrous jurisdiction and rule. A Jew uninfluenced by supernatural grace, and unguided by Divine inspiration, would never have drawn such pictures of Roman centurions as the New Testament has handed down to us. The picture, indeed, drawn by the opposition press of any country is not generally a favourable one when dealing with the persons and officials of the dominant party. But the Apostles-Jews though they were of narrow, provincial, prejudiced Galilee-had drunk deep of the spirit of the new religion. They recognised that Jesus Christ, the King of the kingdom of heaven, cared nothing about what form of government men lived under. They knew that Christ ignored all differences of climate, age, sex, nationality, or employment. They felt that the only distinctions recognised in Christ’s kingdom were spiritual distinctions, and therefore they recognised the soul of goodness wherever found. They welcomed the honest and true heart, no matter beneath what skin it beat, and found therefore in many of these Roman soldiers some of the ablest, the most devoted, and the most effective servants and teachers of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Verily the universal and catholic principles of the new religion which found their first formal proclamation in the age of Cornelius, met with an ample vindication and a full reward in the trophies won and the converts gained from such an unpromising source as the ranks, of the Roman army. This seems to me one reason for the favourable notices of the Roman soldiers in the New Testament. The Divine Spirit wished to impress upon mankind that birth, position, or employment has no influence upon a man’s state in God’s sight, and to prove by a number of typical examples that spiritual conditions and excellence alone avail to find favour with the Almighty.

Another reason, however, may be found for this fact. The Scriptures never make light of discipline or training. "Train up a child in the way he should go," is a Divine precept. St. Paul, in his Pastoral Epistles, lays down one great qualification for a bishop, that he should have this power of exercising discipline and rule at home as well as abroad: "For if he knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?" [1 Timothy 3:5] By discipline, the discipline of Egypt and the wilderness, did God prepare His people for Canaan. By the discipline of captivity and dispersion, by the discipline of Greek philosophy spreading novel intellectual ideas, by the discipline of Roman dominion executing mighty public works, carrying roads and intercommunication to the remotest and most barbarous nations, did God prepare the world for the revelation of His Son. By the discipline of life, by joy and sorrow, by strife and suffering, by parting and by loss, does God still prepare His faithful ones for the beatific vision of eternal beauty, for the rest and joy of everlasting peace. And discipline worked out its usual results on these military men, even though it was only an imperfect and pagan discipline which these Roman soldiers received. Let us note carefully how this was. The world of unregenerate man at the time of our Lord’s appearance had become utterly selfish. Discipline of every kind had been flung off. Self-restraint was practically unknown, and the devil and his works flourished in every circle, bringing forth the fruits of wickedness, uncleanness, and impurity in every direction. The army was the only place or region where in those times any kind of discipline or self-restraint was practised. For no army can permit-even if it be an army of atheists-profligacy and drunkenness to rage, flaunting themselves beneath the very eye of the sun. And as the spiritual result we find that this small measure of pagan discipline acted as a preparation for Christianity, and became, under the Divine guidance, the means of fitting men like Cornelius of Caesarea for the reception of the gospel message of purity and peace.

But we observe that Cornelius the centurion had one special feature which made him peculiarly fitted to be God’s instrument for opening the Christian faith to the Gentile world. The choice of Cornelius is marked by all that skill and prudence, that careful adaptation of means to ends which the Divine workmanship, whether in nature or in grace, ever displays. There were many Roman centurions stationed at Caesarea, yet none was chosen save Cornelius, and that because he was "a devout man who feared God with all his house, praying to God always, and giving much alms to the people." He feared Jehovah, he fasted, prayed, observed Jewish hours of devotion. His habits were much more those of a devout Jew than of a pagan soldier. He was popular with the Jewish people therefore, like another centurion of whom it was said by the Jewish officials themselves "he loveth our nation and hath built us a synagogue." The selection of Cornelius as the leader and firstfruits of the Gentiles unto God was eminently prudent and wise: God when He is working out His plans chooses His instruments carefully and skilfully. He leaves nothing to chance. He does nothing imperfectly. Work done by God will repay the keenest scrutiny, the closest study, for it is the model of what every man’s work in life ought as far as possible to be-earnest, wise, complete, perfect.

IV. Again, looking at the whole passage, we perceive therein illustrations of two important laws of the Divine life. We recognise in the case of Cornelius the working of that great principle of the kingdom of God often enunciated by the great Master: "To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly." "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine"; or, to put it in other language, that God always bestows more grace upon the man who diligently uses and improves the grace which he already possesses; a principle which indeed we see constantly exemplified in things pertaining to this world as well as in matters belonging to the spiritual life. Thus it was with Cornelius. He was what was called among the Jews a proselyte of the gate. These proselytes were very numerous. They were a kind of fringe hanging upon the outskirts of the Jewish people. They were admirers of Jewish ideas, doctrines, and practices, but they were not incorporated with the Jewish nation nor bound by all their laws and ceremonial restraints. The Levitical Law was not imposed upon them, because they were not circumcised. They were merely bound to worship the true God and observe certain moral precepts said to have been delivered to Noah. Such was Cornelius, whom the providence of God had led from Italy to Caesarea for this very purpose, to fulfil His purposes of mercy towards the Gentile world. His residence there had taught him the truth and beauty of the pure worship of Jehovah rendered by the Jews. He had learned, too, not only that God is, but that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Cornelius had set himself, therefore, to the diligent discharge of all the duties of religion so far as he knew them. He was earnest and diligent in prayer, for he recognised himself as dependent upon an invisible God: He was liberal in alms, for he desired to show forth his gratitude for mercies daily received. And acting thus he met with the divinely appointed reward. Cornelius is favoured with a fuller revelation and a clearer guidance by the angel’s mouth, who tells him to send and summon Peter from Joppa for this very purpose. What an eminently practical lesson we may learn from God’s dealings with this earliest Gentile convert! We learn from the Divine dealings with Cornelius that whosoever diligently improves the lower spiritual advantages which he possesses shall soon be admitted to higher and fuller blessings. It may well have been that God led him through successive stages and rewarded him under each. In distant Italy, when residing amid the abounding superstitions of that country, conscience was the only preacher, but there the sermons of that monitor were heard with reverence and obeyed with diligence. Then God ordered the course of his life so that public duty summoned him to a distant land. Cornelius may have at the time counted his lot a hard one when despatched to Palestine as a centurion, for it was a province where, from the nature of the warfare there prevalent, there were abundant opportunities of death by assassination at the hands of the Zealots, and but few opportunities of distinction such as might be gained in border warfare with foreign enemies. But the Lord was shaping his career as He shapes all our careers, with reference to our highest spiritual purposes. He led Cornelius, therefore, to a land and to a town where the pure worship of Jehovah was practised and the elevated morality of Judaism prevailed. Here, then, were new opportunities placed within the centurion’s reach. And again the same spiritual diligence is displayed, and again the same law of spiritual development and enlarging blessing finds a place. Cornelius is devout and liberal and Godfearing, and therefore a heavenly visitor directs his way to still fuller light and grander revelations, and Cornelius the centurion of the Italian band leads the Gentile hosts into the fulness of blessing, the true land flowing with milk and honey, found only in the dispensation of Jesus Christ and within the borders of the Church of God. This was God’s course of dealing with the Roman centurion, and it is the course which the same loving dealing still pursues with human souls truly desirous of Divine guidance. The Lord imparts one degree of light and knowledge and grace, but withholds higher degrees till full use has been made of the lower. He speaks to us at first in a whisper; but if we reverently hearken, there is a gradual deepening of the voice, till it is as audible in the crowd as it is in the solitude, and we are continually visited with the messages of the Eternal King. Now cannot these ideas be easily applied to our own individual cases? A young man, for instance, may be troubled with doubts and questions concerning certain portions of the Christian faith. Some persons make such doubts an excuse for plunging into scenes of riot and dissipation, quenching the light which God has given them and making certain their own spiritual destruction. The case of Cornelius points out the true course which should in such a case be adopted. Men may be troubled with doubts concerning certain doctrines of revelation. But they have no doubt as to the dictates of conscience and the light which natural religion sheds upon the paths of morals and of life. Let them then use the light they have. Let them diligently practise the will of God as it has been revealed. Let them be earnest in prayer, pure and reverent in life, honest and upright in business, and then in God’s own time the doubts will vanish, the darkness will clear away, and the ancient promises will be fulfilled, "Light is sown for the righteous," "The path of the just shineth more and more unto the perfect day," "In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death."

But the example of Cornelius is of still wider application. The position of Cornelius was not a favourable one for the development of the religious life, and yet he rose superior to all its difficulties, and became thus an eminent example to all believers. Men may complain that they have but few spiritual advantages, and that their station in life is thickly strewn with difficulties, hindering the practices and duties of religion. To such persons we would say, compare yourselves with Cornelius and the difficulties, external and internal, he had to overcome. Servants, for instance, may labour under great apparent disadvantages. Perhaps, if living in an irreligious family, they have few opportunities for prayer, public or private. Men of business are compelled to spend days and nights in the management of their affairs. Persons of commanding intellect or of high station have their own disadvantages, their own peculiar temptations, growing out of their very prosperity. The case of Cornelius shows that each class can rise superior to their peculiar difficulties and grow in, the hidden life of the soul, if they but imitate his example as he grew from grace to grace, improving his scanty store till it grew into a fuller and ampler one, till it expanded into all the glory of Christian privilege, when Cornelius, like Peter, was enabled to rejoice in the knowledge and love of a risen and glorified Redeemer.


Verse 32

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Chapter 20

EVANGELISTIC WORK IN THE PHILISTINES’ LAND.

Acts 8:26-28; Acts 9:32

I HAVE united these two incidents, the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch and the mission of St. Peter to the people of Lydda, Sharon, and Joppa, because they relate to the same district of country and they happened at the same period, the pause which ensued between the martyrdom of St. Stephen and the conversion of St. Paul. The writer of the Acts does not seem to have exactly followed chronological order in this part of his story. He had access to different authorities or to different diaries. He selected as best he could the details which he heard or read, and strove to weave them into a connected narrative. St. Luke, when gathering up the story of these earliest days of the Church’s warfare, must have laboured under great difficulties which we now can scarcely realise. It was doubtless from St. Philip himself that our author learned the details of the eunuch’s conversion and of St. Peter’s labours. St. Luke and St. Paul tarried many days with St. Philip at Caesarea. Most probably St. Luke had then formed no intention of writing either his Gospel or his apostolic history at that period. He was urged on simply by that unconscious force which shapes our lives and leads us in a vague way to act in some special direction. A man born to be a poet will unconsciously display his tendency. A man born to be a historian will be found, even when he has formed no definite project, note-book in hand, jotting down the impressions of the passing hour or of his current studies. So probably was it with St. Luke. He could not help taking notes of conversations he heard, or making extracts from the documents he chanced to meet; and then when he came to write he had a mass of materials which it was at times hard to weave into one continuous story within the limits he had prescribed to himself. One great idea, indeed, to which we have often referred, seems to have guided the composition of the first portion of the apostolic history. St. Luke selected, under Divine guidance, certain representative facts and incidents embodying great principles, typical of future developments. This is the golden thread which runs through the whole of this book, and specially through the chapters concerning which we speak in this volume, binding together and uniting in one organic whole a series of independent narratives.

I. The two incidents which we now consider have several representative aspects. They may be taken as typical of evangelistic efforts and the qualifications for success in them. Philip the deacon is aggressive, manysided, flexible, and capable of adapting himself to diverse temperaments, whether those of the Grecian Jews at Jerusalem, the Samaritans in central Palestine, or the Jewish proselytes from distant Africa. Peter is older, narrower, cannot so easily accommodate himself to new circumstances. He confines himself, therefore, to quiet work amongst the Jews of Palestine who have been converted to Christ as the result of the four years’ growth of the Church. "As Peter went throughout all parts, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda." This incident represents to us the power and strength gained for the cause of Christ by intellectual training and by wider culture. It is a lesson needed much in the great mission field. It has hitherto been too much the fashion to think that while the highest culture and training are required for the ministry at home, any half-educated teacher, provided he be in earnest, will suffice for the work of preaching to the heathen. This is a terrible mistake, and one which has seriously injured the progress of religion. It is at all times a dangerous thing to despise one’s adversary, and we have fallen into the snare when we have despised systems like Buddhism and Hindooism, endeavouring to meet them with inferior weapons. The ancient religions of the East are founded on a subtle philosophy, and should be met by men whose minds have received a wide and generous culture, which can distinguish between the chaff and the wheat, rejecting what is bad in them while sympathising with and accepting what is good. The notices of Philip and Stephen and their work, as contrasted with that of St. Peter, proclaimed the value of education, travel, and thought in this the earlier section of the Acts, as the labours of St. Paul declare it in the days of Gentile conversion. The work of the Lord, whether among Jews or Gentiles, is done most effectually by those whose natural abilities and intellectual sympathies have been quickened and developed. A keen race like the Greeks of old or the Hindoos of the present, are only alienated from the very consideration of the faith when it is presented in a hard, narrow, intolerant, unsympathetic spirit. The angel chose wisely when he selected the Grecian Philip to bear the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, and left Peter to minister to Aeneas, to Tabitha, and to Simon the tanner of Joppa; simple souls, for whom life glided smoothly along, troubled by no intellectual problems and haunted by no fearful doubts.

II. Again, we may remark that these incidents and the whole course of Church history at this precise moment show the importance of clear conceptions as to character, teaching, and objects. The Church at this time was vaguely conscious of a great mission, but it had not made up its mind as to the nature of that mission, because it had not realised its own true character, as glad tidings of great joy unto all nations. And the result was very natural: it formed no plans for the future, and was as yet hesitating and undecided in action. It was with the Church then as in our everyday experience of individuals. A man who does not know himself, who has no conception of his own talents or powers, and has formed no idea as to his object or work in life, that man cannot be decided in action, he cannot bring all his powers into play, because he neither knows of their existence, nor where and how to use them. This is my explanation of the great difference manifest on the face of our history as between the Church and its life before and after the conversion of Cornelius. It is plain that there was a great difference in Church life and activity between these two periods. Whence did it arise? The admission of the Gentiles satisfied the unconscious cravings of the Church. She felt that at last her true mission and her real object were found, and, like a man of vigorous mind who at last discovers the work for which nature has destined him, she flung herself into it, and we read no longer of mere desultory efforts, but of unceasing, indefatigable, skilfully-directed labour; because the Church had at last been taught by God that her great task was to make all men know the riches hidden in Christ Jesus. We have in this fact a representative lesson very necessary for our time. Men are now very apt to mistake mistiness for profundity, and clearness of conception for shallowness of thought. This feeling intrudes itself into religion, and men do not take the trouble to form clear conceptions on any subject, and they lapse therefore into the very weakness which afflicted the Church prior to St. Peter’s vision. The root of practical, vigorous action is directly assailed if men have no clear conceptions as to the nature, the value, and the supreme importance of the truth. If, for instance, a man cherishes the notion, now prevalent in some circles, that Mahometanism is the religion suited for the natives of Africa, how will he make sacrifices either of time, of money, or of thought, to make the Gospel known to that great continent? I do not say that we should seek to have sharp and clear conceptions on all points. There is no man harder, more unsympathetic with the weak, more intolerant of the slightest difference, more truly foolish and short-sighted, than the man who has formed the clearest and sharpest conceptions upon the profoundest questions, and is ready to decide offhand where the subtlest and deepest thinkers have spoken hesitatingly. That man does not, in the language of John Locke, recognise the length of his own tether. He wishes to make himself the standard for every one else, and infallibly brings discredit on the possession of clear views on any topics. There are vast tracts of thought upon which we must be content with doubt, hesitancy, and mistiness; but the man who wishes to be a vigorous, self-sacrificing servant of Jesus Christ must seek diligently for clear, broad, strong conceptions on such great questions as the value of the soul, the nature of God, the person of Jesus Christ, the work of the Spirit, and all the other truths which the Apostles’ Creed sets forth as essentially bound up with these doctrines. Distinct and strong convictions alone on such points form for the soul the basis of a decided and fruitful-Christian activity; as such decided convictions energised the whole life and character of the blessed apostle of love when writing. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one."

III. Now turning from such general considerations, we may compare the two incidents, St. Philip’s activities and St. Peter’s labours, in several aspects. We notice a distinction in their guidance. Greater honour is placed on Philip than upon Peter. An angel speaks to Philip, while St. Peter seems to have been left to that ordinary guidance of the Spirit which is just as real as any external direction, such as that given by an angel, but yet does not impress the human mind or supersede its own action, as the external direction does. Dr. Goulburn, in an interesting work from which I have derived many important hints, suggests that the external message of the angel directing Philip where to go may have been God’s answer to the thoughts and doubts which were springing up in His servant’s mind. The incident of Simon Magus may have disturbed St. Philip. He may have been led to doubt the propriety of his action in thus preaching to the Samaritans and admitting to baptism a race hitherto held accursed. He had dared to run counter to the common opinion of devout men, and one result had been that such a bad character as Simon Magus had crept into the sacred fold. The Lord who watches over His people and sees all their difficulties, comes therefore to his rescue, and by one of His ministering spirits conveys a message which assures His fainting servant of His approval and of His guidance. Such is Dr. Goulburn’s explanation, and surely it is a most consoling one, of which every true servant of God has had his own experience. The Lord even still deals thus with His people. They make experiments for Him, as Philip did; engage in new enterprises and in fields of labour hitherto untried; they work for His honour and glory alone; and perhaps they see nothing for a time but disaster and failure. Then, when their hearts are cast down and their spirits are fainting because of the way, the Lord mercifully sends them a message by some angelic hand or voice, which encourages and braces them for renewed exertion.

An external voice of an angel may, in the peculiar circumstances of the case, have directed St. Philip. But the text does not give us a hint as to the appearance or character of the messenger whom God used on this occasion. The Old and New Testament alike take broader views of Divine messengers, and of angelic appearances generally, than we do. A vision, a dream, a human agent, some natural circumstance or instrument, all these are in Holy Scripture or in contemporary literature styled God’s angels or messengers. Men saw then more deeply than we do, recognised the hand of a superintending Providence where we behold only secondary agents, and in their filial confidence spoke of angels where we should only recognise some natural power. Let me quote an interesting illustration of this. Archbishop Trench, speaking, in his "Notes on the Miracles," of the healing of the Impotent Man at Bethesda, and commenting on John 5:4, a verse which runs thus, "For an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole, with whatsoever disease he was holden," thus enunciates the principle which guided the ancient Christians, as well as the Jews, in this matter. He explains the origin of this verse, and the manner in which it crept into the text of the New Testament. "At first, probably, a marginal note, expressing the popular notion of the Jewish Christians concerning the origin of the healing power which from time to time the waters of Bethesda possessed, by degrees it assumed the shape in which we now have it." The Archbishop then proceeds to speak of the Hebrew view of the world as justifying such expressions. "For the statement itself, there is nothing in it which need perplex or offend, or which might not find place in St. John. It rests upon that religious view of the world which in all nature sees something beyond and behind nature, which does not believe that it has discovered causes when, in fact, it has only traced the sequence of phenomena, and which everywhere recognises a going forth of the immediate power of God, invisible agencies of His, whether personal or otherwise, accomplishing. His will." The whole topic of angelic agencies is one that has been much confused for us by the popular notions about angels, notions which affect every one, no matter how they imagine themselves raised above the vulgar herd. When men speak or think of angelic appearances, they think of angels as they are depicted in sacred pictures. The conception of young men clad in long white and shining raiment, with beautiful wings dependent from their shoulders and folded by their sides, is an idea of the angels and angelic life derived from mediaeval painters and sculptors, not from Holy Writ. The important point, however, for us to remember is that Philip here moved under external direction to the conversion of the eunuch. The same Spirit which sent His messenger to direct Philip, led Peter to move towards exactly the same southwestern quarter of Palestine, where he was to remain working, meditating, praying till the hour had come when the next great step should be taken and the Gentiles admitted as recognised members of the Church.

IV. This leads us to the next point. Philip and Peter were both guided, the one externally, the other internally; but whither? They were led by God into precisely the same southwestern district of Palestine. Peter was guided, by one circumstance after another, first to Lydda and Sharon, and then to Joppa, where the Lord found him when he was required at the neighbouring Caesarea to use the power of the keys and to open the door of faith to Cornelius and the Gentile world. Our narrative says nothing, in St. Peter’s case, about providential guidance or heavenly direction, but cannot every devout faithful soul see here the plain proofs of it? The book of the Acts makes no attempt to improve the occasion, but surely a soul seeking for light and help will see, and that with comfort, the hand of God leading St. Peter all unconscious, and keeping him in readiness for the moment when he should be wanted. We are not told of any extraordinary intervention, and yet none the less the Lord guided him as really as He guided Philip, that his life might teach its own lessons, by which we should order our own. And has not every one who has devoutly and faithfully striven to follow Christ experienced many a dispensation exactly like St. Peter’s? We have been led to places, or brought into company with individuals, whereby our future lives have been ever afterwards affected. The devout mind in looking back over the past will see how work and professions have been determined for us, how marriages have been arranged, how afflictions and losses have been made to work for good.; so that at last, surveying, like Moses, life’s journey from some Pisgah summit, when its course is well-nigh run, God’s faithful servant is enabled to rejoice in Him because even in direct afflictions He has done all things well. A view of life like that is strictly warranted by this passage, and such a view was, and still is, the sure and secret source of that peace of God which passeth all understanding. Nothing can happen amiss to him who has Almighty Love as his Lord and Master. St. Peter was led, by one circumstance after another, first to Lydda, which is still an existing village, then, farther, into the vale of Sharon, celebrated from earliest time for its fertility, and commemorated for its roses in the Song of Solomon, [Song of Solomon 2:1, Isaiah 33:9] till finally he settles down at Joppa, to wait for the further indications of God’s will.

But how about Philip, to whom the Divine messenger had given a heavenly direction? What was the message so imparted? An angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, "Arise, and go toward the south, unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza: the same is desert." Now we should here carefully remark the minute exactness of the Acts of the Apostles in this place, because it is only a specimen of the marvellous geographical and historical accuracy which distinguishes it all through, and is every year receiving fresh illustrations. Gaza has always been the gateway, of Palestine. Invader after invader, when passing from Egypt to Palestine, has taken Gaza in his way. It is still the trade route to Egypt, along which the telegraph line runs. It was m the days of St. Philip the direct road for travellers like the Ethiopian eunuch, from Jerusalem to the Nile and the Red Sea. This man was seeking his home in Central Africa, which he could reach either by the Nile or by the sea, and was travelling therefore along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. The Acts, again, distinguishes one particular road. There were then, and there are still, two great roads leading from Jerusalem to Gaza, one a more northern road, which ran through villages and cultivated land, as it does to this day. The other was a desert road, through districts inhabited then as now by the wandering Arabs of the desert alone. Travellers have often, remarked on the local accuracy of the angel’s words when directing Philip to a road which would naturally be taken only by a man attended by a considerable body of servants able to ward off attack, and which was specially suitable, by its lonely character, for those prolonged conversations which must have passed between the eunuch and his teacher. Cannot we see, however, a still more suggestive and prophetic reason for the heavenly direction? In these early efforts of the Apostles and their subordinates we read nothing of missions towards the east. All their evangelistic operations lay, in later times, towards the north and northwest, Damascus, Antioch, Syria, and Asia Minor, while in these earlier days they evangelised Samaria, which was largely pagan, and then worked down towards Gaza and Caesarea and the Philistine country, which were the strongholds of Gentile and European influence, -the Church indicated in St. Luke’s selection of typical events; the Western, the European destiny working strong within. It already foretold, vaguely but still surely, that, in the grandest and profoundest sense,

"Westward the course of Empire takes its way"

that the Gentile world, not the Jewish, was to furnish the most splendid triumphs to the soldiers of the Cross. Our Lord steadily restrained Himself within the strict bounds of the chosen people, because His teaching was for them alone. His Apostles already indicate their wider mission by pressing close upon towns and cities, like Gaza and Caesarea, which our Lord never visited, because they were the strongholds and chosen seats of paganism. The providential government of God, ordering the future of His Church and developing its destinies, can thus be traced in the unconscious movements of the earliest Christian teachers. Their first missionary efforts in Palestine are typical of the great work of the Church in the conversion of Europe.

V. St. Philip was brought from Samaria, in the centre, to the Gaza road leading from Jerusalem to the coast; and why? Simply in order that he might preach the Gospel to one solitary man, the eunuch who was treasurer to Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. Here again we have another of those representative facts which are set before us in the earlier portion of this book. On the day of Pentecost, Jews from all parts of the Roman Empire, and from the countries bordering upon the east of that Empire, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and Arabians, came in contact with Christianity. Philip had ministered in Samaria to another branch of the circumcision, but Africa, outside the Empire at least, had as yet no representative among the firstfruits of the Cross. But now the prophecy of the sixty-eighth Psalm was to be fulfilled, and "Ethiopia was to stretch out her hands unto God." We have the assurance of St. Paul himself that the sixty-eighth Psalm was a prophecy of the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. In Ephesians 4:8 he writes, quoting from the eighteenth verse, "Wherefore He saith, when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men." And then he proceeds to enumerate the various offices of the apostolic ministry, with their blessed tidings of peace and salvation, as the gifts of the Spirit which God had bestowed through the ascension of Jesus Christ. And now, in order that no part of the known world might want its Jewish representative, we have the conversion of this eunuch, who, as coming from Ethiopia, was regarded in those times as intimately associated with India.

Let us see, moreover, what we are told concerning this typical African convert. He was an Ethiopian by birth, though he may have been of Jewish descent, or perhaps more probably a proselyte, and thus an evidence of Jewish zeal for Jehovah. He was a eunuch, and treasurer of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. He was like Daniel and the three Hebrew children in the court of the Chaldaean monarch. He had utilised his Jewish genius and power of adaptation so well that he had risen to high position. The African queen may have learned, too, as Darius did, to trust his Jewish faith and depend upon a man whose conduct was regulated by Divine law and principle. This power of the Jewish race, leading them to high place amid foreign nations and in alien courts, has been manifested in their history from the earliest times. Moses, Mordecai, and Esther, the Jews in Babylon, were types and prophecies of the greatness which has awaited their descendants scattered among the Gentiles in our own time. This eunuch was treasurer of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. Here again we find another illustration of the historical and geographical accuracy of the Acts of the Apostles. We learn from several contemporary geographers that the kingdom of Meroe in Central Africa was ruled for centuries by a line of female sovereigns whose common title was Candace, as Pharaoh was that of the Egyptian monarchs. There were, as we have already pointed out, large Jewish colonies in the neighbourhood of Southern Arabia and all along the coast of the Red Sea. It was very natural, then, that Candace should have obtained the assistance of a clever Jew from one of these settlements. A question has been raised, indeed, whether the eunuch was a Jew at all, and some have regarded him as the first Gentile convert. The Acts of the Apostles, however, seems clear enough, on this point. Cornelius is plainly put forward as the typical case which decided the question of the admission of the Gentiles to the benefits of the covenant of grace. Our history gives not the faintest hint that any such question was even distantly involved in the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian. Nay, rather, by telling us that he had come to Jerusalem for the purpose of worshipping God, it indicates that he felt himself bound, as far as he could, to discharge the duty of visiting the Holy City and offering personal worship there once at least in his lifetime. Then, too, we are told of his employment when Philip found him. "He was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet." His attention may have been called to this portion of Holy Scripture during his visit to the temple, where he may have come in contact with the Apostles or with some other adherents of the early Church. At any rate he was employing his time in devout pursuits, he was making a diligent use of the means of grace so far as he knew them; and then God in the course of His providence opened out fresh channels of light and blessing, according to that pregnant saying of the Lord, "If any man will do God’s will, he shall know of the doctrine." The soul that is in spiritual perplexity or darkness need not and ought not to content itself with apathy, despair, or idleness. Difficulties will assault us on every side so long as we remain here below.

We cannot escape from them because our minds are finite and limited. And some are ready to make these difficulties an excuse for postponing or neglecting all thoughts concerning religion. But quite apart from the difficulties of religion, there are abundant subjects on which God gives us the fullest and plainest light. Let it be ours, like the Ethiopian eunuch, to practise God’s will so far as He reveals it, and then, in His own good time, fuller revelations will be granted, and we too shall experience, as this Ethiopian did, the faithfulness of His own promise, "Unto the righteous there ariseth up light in the darkness." The eunuch read the prophet Esaias as he travelled, according to the maxim of the rabbis that "one who is on a journey and without a companion should employ his thoughts on the study of the law." He was reading the Scriptures aloud, too, after the manner of Orientals; and thus seeking diligently to know the Divine will, God vouchsafed to him by the ministry of St. Philip that fuller light which he still grants, in some way or other, to every one who diligently follows Him.

And then we have set forth the results of the eunuch’s communion with the heaven-sent messenger. There was no miracle wrought to work conviction. St. Philip simply displayed that spiritual power which every faithful servant of Christ may gain in some degree. He opened the Scriptures and taught the saving doctrine of Christ so effectually that the soul of the eunuch, naturally devout and craving for the deeper life of God, recognised the truth of the revelation. Christianity was for the Ethiopian its own best evidence, because he felt that it answered to the wants and yearnings of his spirit. We are not told what the character of St. Philip’s discourse was. But we are informed what the great central subject of his disclosure was. It was Jesus. This topic was no narrow one. We can gather from other passages in the Acts what was the substance of the teaching bestowed by the missionaries of the Cross upon those converted by them. He must have set forth the historic facts which are included in the Apostles’ Creed, the incarnation, the-miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the institution of the sacrament of baptism, as the means of entering into the Church. This we conclude from the eunuch’s question to Philip, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptised?" Assuredly Philip must have taught him the appointment of baptism by Christ; else what would have led the eunuch to propound such a request? Baptism having been granted in response to this request, the eunuch proceeded on his homeward journey, rejoicing in that felt sense of peace and joy. and spiritual satisfaction which true religion imparts; while Philip is removed to another field of labour, where God has other work for him to do. He evangelised all through the Philistine country, preaching in all the cities till he came to Caesarea, where in later years he was to do a work of permanent benefit for the whole Church, by affording St. Luke the information needful for the composition of the Acts of the Apostles.

VI. Let us in conclusion note one other point. Our readers will have noticed that we have said nothing concerning the reply of Philip to the eunuch’s question, "What doth hinder me to be baptised?" The Authorised Version then inserts ver. 37 [Acts 8:37], which runs thus: "And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." While if we take up the Revised Version we shall find that the revisers have quite omitted this verse in the text, placing it in the margin, with a note stating that some ancient authorities insert it wholly or in part. This verse is now given up by all critics as an integral part of the original text, and yet it is a very ancient interpolation, being found in quotations from the Acts as far back as the second century. Probably its insertion came about somehow thus, much the same as in the case of John 5:4, to which we have already referred in this chapter. It was originally written upon the margin of a manuscript by some diligent student of this primitive history. Manuscripts were not copied in the manner we usually think. A scribe did not place a manuscript before him and then slowly transcribe it, but a single reader recited the original in a scriptorium or copying-room, while a number of writers rapidly followed his words. Hence a marginal note on a single manuscript might easily be incorporated in a number of copies, finding a permanent place in a text upon which it was originally a mere pious reflection. Regarding this thirty-seventh verse, however, not as a portion of the text written by St. Luke, but as the second-century comment or note on the text, it shows us what the practice of the next age after the Apostles was. A profession of faith in Christ was made by the persons brought to baptism, and probably these words, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," was the local form of the baptismal creed, wherever this note was written. Justin Martyr in his first "Apology," chap. 61, intimates that such a profession of belief was an essential part of baptism, and this form, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," may have been the baptismal formula used in the ritual appointed for these occasions. Some persons indeed have thought that this short statement represented the creed of the Church of the second century. This raises a question which would require a much longer treatment than we can now bestow upon it. Caspari, an eminent Swedish theologian, has discussed this point at great length in a work which the English student will find reviewed arid analysed in an article by Dr. Salmon published in the Contemporary Review for August, 1878, where that learned writer comes to the conclusion that the substance of the Apostles’ Creed dates back practically to the time of the Apostles. And now, as I am concluding this book, an interesting confirmation of this view comes to us from an unexpected quarter. The " Apology" of Aristides was a defence of Christianity composed earlier even than those of Justin Martyr. Eusebius fixes the date of it to the year 124 or 125 A.D. It was at any rate one of the earliest Christian writings outside the Canon. It had been long lost to the Christian world. We knew nothing of its contents, and were only aware of its former existence from the pages of the Church history of Eusebius. Two years ago it was found by Professor J. Rendel Harris, in Syriac, in the Convent of St. Catharine on Mount Sinai, and has just been published this month of May, 1891, by the Cambridge University Press. It is a most interesting document of early Christian times, showing us how the first Apologists defended the faith and assailed the superstitions of paganism. Professor Harris has added notes to it which are of very great value. He points out the weak points in paganism which the first Christians used specially to assail. Aristides’ "Apology" is of peculiar value in this aspect. It shows us how the first generation after the last Apostle was wont to deal with the false gods of Greece, Rome, and Egypt. It is, however, of special importance as setting forth from a new and unexpected source how the early Christians regarded their own faith, how they viewed their own Christianity, and in what formularies they embodied their belief. Professor Harris confirms Dr. Salmon’s contention set forth in the article to which we have referred. In the time of Aristides the Christians of Athens, for Aristides was an Athenian philosopher who had accepted Christianity, were at one with those of Rome and with the followers of Catholic Christianity ever since. Aristides wrote, according to Eusebius, in 124 A.D.; but still we can extract from his "Apology" all the statements of the Apostles’ Creed in a formal shape. Thus Professor Harris restores the Creed as professed in the time of Aristides, that is, the generation after St. John, and sets it forth as follows:-

"We believe in one God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth: And in Jesus Christ His Son, Born of the Virgin Mary. He was pierced by the Jews, He died and was buried; The third day He rose again; He ascended into Heaven. He is about to come to judge."

This "Apology" of Aristides is a most valuable contribution to Christian evidence, and raises high hopes as to what we may yet recover when the treasures of the East are explored. The "Diatessaron" of Tatian was a wondrous find, but the recovery of the long-lost " Apology" of Aristides endows us with a still more ancient document, bringing us back close upon the very days of the Apostles. As this discovery has only been published when these pages are finally passing through the press, I must reserve a farther notice of it for the preface to this volume.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Acts 9:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/acts-9.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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