PREPARATIONS FOR A GENTILE MISSION—THE CALLING OF A NEW APOSTLE
A. The Conversion of Saul.
1. The Miracle near Damascus; or, the Arrest of the Persecutor (Act ).
2. The Mission of Ananias; or, the Baptism of Saul (Act ).
3. Saul at Damascus; or, the Persecutor turned Preacher (Act ).
4. Saul's First Visit to Jerusalem; or, his Discipleship confirmed (Act ).
B. The Wanderings of Peter.
5. With the Saints at Lydda; or, the Healing of Eneas (Act ).
6. Among the Disciples at Joppa; or, the Raising of Dorcas (Act ).
Act . And should be but directing attention once more to Saul. Breathing out.—Breathing in better renders the verb ἐμπνέων, threatening and slaughter describing the atmosphere inhaled. That Saul, a Pharisee of the straitest sect (Act 26:5), went unto the high-priest, a Sadducee, revealed the intensity of his rage. Whether the high-priest in question was Annas or Caiaphas, deposed in A.D. 35 (Meyer) or 36 (Olshausen), Jonathan A.D. 36-37, Ananus's son, his successor, or Theophilus, who followed his brother in A.D. 37-38, depends on the year of Saul's conversion, which is uncertain.
Act . The letters asked were not commendatory epistles merely, but legal warrants for search and apprehension. Damascus.—In Hebrew, Dammesek; in Assyrian, Dimaski and Dimaska; in Arabic, Dimeschk-esch-Schâm, or shortly, esch-Schâm. The oldest existing city in the world, the ancient capital of Syria, 145 miles north-east of Jerusalem, then contained a large number of Jews, many of whom were fugitives from persecution (Act 8:1-4). Paul's route uncertain (see "Homiletical Analysis"). To or unto the synagogues meant, of course, their presiding officers (Luk 8:49), and perhaps the elders or presbyters associated with them (Luk 7:3). Of this, rather the way.—I.e., of the Christian profession, faith, manner of life, etc. Compare Act 16:17, Act 18:25, Act 19:9-23, Act 22:4, Act 24:14-22. This name given by the early Christians to themselves, in remembrance, doubtless, of Christ's words, "I am the Way."
Act . He came near should be it came to pass, about noon (Act 22:6), that he drew nigh, a Hebraistic form of expression. A light from ( ἀπό) should be a light out of ( ἐκ) heaven.—This was the "glory" of Jesus (Act 22:6).
Act . He fell.—Probably from the animal on which he rode. Compare Act 22:7; Act 26:14 represents his companions as having all fallen at the same time.
Act . Lord.—Could not as yet have had in Paul's lips its full significance. Some MSS. write, "of Nazareth," or "the Nazarene," after Jesus. The clause, it is hard for thee, etc., has been inserted here from Act 26:14.
Act . All codices begin this verse with But rise, as in Act 26:16. The preceding words, "and he trembling and astonished," etc., have also found their way into the text from the later accounts.
Act . Stood speechless, dumb through terror, contradicts not the statement (Act 26:14) that Saul's companions all fell to the ground, nor is the phrase hearing a, or the voice or sound, inconsistent with the declaration (Act 22:9) that they heard (in the sense of understood) not the voice of Him that spake unto him.
Act . And when his eyes were opened, by the lifting up of his eyelids which had shut themselves before the dazzling light, he saw no man, not "from whom the voice came" (Bengel), but none of his companions, or nothing (R.V.), he was blind. This blindness, while not like that of Elymas (24:31), a punishment, and not intended to symbolise his antecedent spiritual blindness (Calvin, Grotius, Bengel), nevertheless reminds one of the dumbness inflicted on Zacharias (Luk 1:20; Luk 1:22).
The Miracle near Damascus; or, the Conversion of Saul
I. Saul's journey to Damascus.—
1. The object of it. To persecute the followers of Christ, to harry the disciples of the Crucified not out of Palestine merely, but out of the world as well, and with this end in view to bring any of "the way," i.e., of the New Religion (see "Critical Remarks"), he might find, whether men or women, bound to Jerusalem.
2. The spirit of it. More than breathing out, Saul was breathing in threatenings and slaughter, inhaling persecution and murder as his soul's and body's atmosphere, feeding upon blood and carnage, stuffing himself full of rage and violence, which might be ready for disgorging upon the unhappy victims of his diabolical crusade, which was meant to be thoroughgoing, sparing neither sex nor age, and sticking at nothing short of imprisonment and death.
3. The authorisation of it. Saul carried with him letters from the Jewish high-priest (Annas, or Caiaphas, Jonathan, or Theophilus; see "Critical Remarks"), commending him to the rulers of the various synagogues in Damascus, and empowering him (with their help) to search out and seize any Nazarenes who might have attached themselves to these places of worship, and to fetch them bound to Jerusalem. The historic credibility of this statement has been vindicated by recalling the circumstance that on the death of Tiberius, in A.D. 37, Damascus passed from the hands of the Romans into those of Hareth, of Petra, who, in order to keep the Jews quiet, made concessions to their autonomy, and every concession was simply a permission to commit further religious violences (Renan, The Apostles, p. 155).
4. The prospect of it. No emissary of the Inquisition—no Thomas de Torquemada of Spain—ever had a better chance of success. If brilliant reputation, ardent zeal, absolute power, best wishes of friends and contemporaries who were all seized with a passion of hatred against the Christians, could have furthered Saul's expedition, these without exception stood upon his side.
5. The prosecution of it. Imagination can easily picture the setting forth from Jerusalem of the Hebrew Claverhouse and his companions, all of them mounted, as the old masters have represented, upon high-mettled and richly caparisoned steeds. The route pursued may have led either by Bethel to Neapolis, then across the Jordan near Scythopolis, thence to Gadara, and on through the Hauran to Damascus; or along the base of Tabor, through the Jordan a few miles above Tiberias, then up by Csarea Philippi, and on to Damascus (Conybeare and Howson, vol. i., 81).
II. Saul's experience near Damascus.—
1. His inward cogitations. Though not recorded by Luke, nor afterwards mentioned by Saul himself, these, it has been supposed, were of such sort as unconsciously to prepare for the sudden and unexpected transformation that took place within the persecutor's soul. Stephen's earnest discourse, to which he most likely listened, setting forth the transitory character of the temple workship and its true fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, must, it is said, have secretly poured a flood of light upon his understanding, from which he could never again escape, and upon which he probably often, and almost unconsciously to himself, pondered; while Stephen's death which he witnessed, and Stephen's prayers which he heard, more than probably helped to drive his half-formed intellectual convictions inward upon his heart and conscience. Indeed, proceed those who hold this view, it is hardly too much to say, that already in the interior of Saul's soul the spiritual revolution had begun, in the shape of acute intellectual and heart impulses which almost unconsciously urged him to recognise that truth and right were on the side of the followers of Jesus, and which he could not resist without a painful sense of doing violence to conscience. A certain countenance is given to this representation by the words addressed to Saul by Christ: "It is hard for thee to kick against the goads"; and there seems no good reason for refusing to recognise in it a measure of truth, provided it is not pressed so far as to deny the objective reality of Christ's appearance to the persecutor; but after all it is doubtful if this was the view taken by Saul himself of the mode of his conversion (compare Weizscker, i. 90).
2. His outward arrestment.
(1) The locality where this occurred was the vicinity of the city. The view of Damascus as seen by one approaching it from the south is described by travellers as of surpassing beauty. "It is true that in the apostle's day there were no cupolas and no minarets. Justinian had not built St. Sophia, and the caliphs had erected no mosques; but the white buildings of the city gleamed then, as they do now, in the centre of a verdant inexhaustible paradise. The Syrian gardens, with their low walls and waterwheels, and careless mixture of fruits and flowers, were the same then as they are now. The same figures would be seen in the green approaches to the town, camels and mules, horses and asses, with Syrian peasants, and Arabs from beyond Palmyra" (The Life and Epistles of Paul, by Conybeare and Howson, i., 85, 86).
(2) The time of this arrestment was midday (Act , Act 24:13). "The birds were silent in the trees, the hush of noon was in the city, the sun was burning fiercely in the sky, the persecutor's companions were enjoying the cool refreshment of the shade after their journey; and his eyes rested with satisfaction on those walls which were the end of his mission, and contained the victims of his righteous zeal" (Conybeare and Howson, i., 86).
(3) The manner of his arrestment was sudden as a flash of lightning. So shall the coming of the Son of man be (Luk ).
(4) The instrument was "a light out of heaven" (Act ), "from heaven a great light" (Act 22:6), "a light from heaven above the brightness of the sun" (Act 26:13)—no mere flash of lightning, but a shining forth of the Divine glory which encompassed the exalted Saviour (Act 9:17).
(5) The agent was Christ. Saul himself believed this.
3. His interview with Christ.
(1) That Saul actually beheld the glorified Redeemer may be inferred from Luke's statement that Saul's companions saw no man (Act ), and is expressly declared by Ananias (Act 9:17; Act 22:14), Barnabas (Act 9:27), and Saul himself (1Co 9:1; 1Co 15:8). It is quite conceivable also that while the dazzling radiance of supernal glory struck Saul's companions at once to the earth, Saul himself may have looked into the light and seen the form of the Redeemer before he fell prostrate on the ground (compare Rev 1:17). A certain measure of support is obtained for this view from the circumstance that Saul appears in after life to have suffered from weakness or dimness of eyesight (see Act 13:9, Act 23:1; Gal 4:13-31; Gal 6:11).
(2) That Saul heard Christ's voice addressing him in articulate speech is with equal emphasis contained in Luke's narrative, and in Paul's after recitals, and is not inconsistent with the fact that Saul's companions only heard a sound but could not distinguish words (compare Joh ).
(3) That Saul carried on a conversation with the Risen Redeemer all the accounts affirm. Addressed with a twice repeated "Saul! Saul!" expressive of earnestness, and a penetrating question, indicative of solicitude, "Why persecutest thou Me?" he responded with an inquiry, "Who art Thou, Lord?" which half revealed his suspicion that his interlocutor was Stephen's Lord (Act ); and was in turn assured that his suspicion was correct, that the speaker who interrogated him was Jesus of Nazareth, whom he persecuted; after which he was directed to rise and go into the city, where it would be told him what he should do.
4. His actual conversion. Indicated in the narrative by his rising from the earth and entering into the city in obedience to Christ's command (Act ), it is more distinctly set forth by the question, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" (borrowed from chap. Act 22:10), which signalised his surrender—instantaneous, swift, clear, decided, complete, final—to Jesus as his Lord. It meant the shattering of all his former views as a Pharisee, concerning not worldly ambition alone, but the grounds of acceptance and justification before God. It lifted self out of the seat and centre of authority in all his after life, and substituted Christ instead. In this experience lies the essence of conversion.
III. Saul's entrance into Damascus.—
1. Helpless. Different from the fashion in which he had expected to pass beneath the gateway of the city, he was led by the hands of his companions, who must have been astonished at, and perplexed by the change which had come upon their leader.
2. Blind. Whereas he had purposed to ferret out with searching glance the hated followers of Jesus he had been so dazzled by the glory that his eyesight was gone, he saw neither man nor thing.
3. Humbled. He had intended to root out the Christians from the city, now he must obtain a lodging with one of these (Act ). No thoughts now of letters for the high-priest.
4. Saddened. The three days of sightless existence in which he neither ate nor drank were emblematic of his spiritual condition. "Only one other space of three days' duration can be mentioned of equal importance in the history of the world." … (Conybeare and Howson, i., 90).
1. That no soul is beyond the reach of converting grace.
2. That Christ is often found of them who seek Him not.
3. That Christ observes everything that transpires on the earth.
4. That Christ regards persecution of His followers as equivalent to persecution of Himself.
5. That no conversion is complete which does not place the soul entirely at Christ's command.
6. That the things of the Spirit are not discernible by natural men.
7. That Divine grace is sovereign in the selection of its objects.
Note.—On the Credibility of the Story of Paul's Conversion.
I. It is not denied by any school of critics that such a man as Paul lived in the opening years of the Christian era, or that he was converted, meaning by this that from being a furious and fanatical Pharisee he suddenly became a follower of Christ and a preacher of the Gospel he had previously opposed.
II. There is nothing à priori impossible, except on the assumption that the supernatural is impossible, in the account given by Luke in the present narrative, that what converted Paul was a manifestation to him on the Damascus road of the risen and glorified Christ—a manifestation not internal but external, not to his mind's eye but to his bodily sight.
III. The account given by Luke is confirmed, first, by two statements that are represented as having fallen from Paul's own lips in public addresses given by him to his countrymen in Jerusalem (Act ), and to Festus and Agrippa in Csarea (Act 26:12-18); and secondly, by three shorter but substantially equivalent statements that occur in two of his acknowledged epistles (1Co 9:1; 1Co 15:8; Gal 1:16). Even if the speeches in the Acts should be ascribed to Luke, no one can doubt that the allusions in the letters are to the Damascus miracle.
IV. The alleged contradictions in the various accounts are not sufficient to invalidate their united testimony.—Accepting these contradictions in their strongest form, allowing them to be wholly irreconcilable—which, however, they are not—what do they amount to? These—
1. That Act represents Saul as the only one that fell to the earth, with which Act 22:7 agrees, whereas Act 26:14 says that all fell—i.e., Saul's companions as well as himself.
2. That according to Act the men who journeyed with Saul heard a voice, which according to Act 22:9 they heard not.
3. That in Act ; Act 9:17, Saul's call to be an apostle is made known first by Christ to Ananias, and then by Ananias to Saul, while in Act 26:16-18 it is communicated directly to Saul by Christ Himself. For the solution of these tremendous (!) difficulties the Critical Remarks and Homiletical Analysis may be consulted. But, conceding for a moment that they could not be satisfactorily removed, is it not simply ridiculous to assert that unimportant variations such as these, which do not in the smallest degree affect the central fact which is affirmed in every one of the narratives, are sufficient to relegate the whole story to the category of legend? On similar principles every history book on earth might be reduced to a collection of fables.
V. The explanations of the Damascus occurrence which have been offered are so palpably inadequate that it may be seriously questioned if those who put them forth believe them.
1. The natural explanations of the older rationalists and of their present-day followers need only to be mentioned to be set aside. That Christ never died at all but only swooned away on the cross and revived in the sepulchre (Paulus), or if He died continued twenty-seven years on the earth after His resurrection (Bahrdt), and afterwards appeared to Saul, is an interesting speculation of no value whatever as a contribution to theology or Biblical exposition. Scarcely more worthy of consideration is the modern hallucination (Renan), that Saul, when "in a state of great excitement," partly "through the fatigue of his journey," partly through "dangerous fever accompanied by delirium," partly through "remorse as he approached the city where he was to commit the most signal of his misdeeds," was suddenly overtaken by a thunderstorm which frightened and converted him.
2. The vision theory of modern critics, more especially of the Tübingen School (Baur, Zeller, Overbeck, Pfleiderer, Hausrath, Weizsäcker, and others), that Saul's mental conflict with himself concerning the truth of Christianity, his growing conviction that his pharisaic views of religion were wrong, and that the doctrines of the Christians he was persecuting were right, combined perhaps with the remembrance of Stephen's dying utterances and the impressions made upon him by the martyr's apology—that all these things so wrought upon Saul's mind as to raise it into an ecstatic condition which caused it to project its own subjective conceptions outside of itself, so as to make them appear objective realities, when in point of fact they were only images of the mind—this theory is open to serious objection.
(1) It is difficult to perceive how a mental vision should have struck the Apostle with bodily blindness.
(2) It is more difficult to understand how a vision projected from within could have effected the complete revolution of Paul's character and life implied in his conversion, or how this vision could be said to have caused his conversion, and not rather his conversion to have caused the vision.
(3) It is most difficult to realise how a clear-headed man like Paul should have continued, after the excitement had passed, to represent as an outward objective reality what he must have known, on reflection, to be only an inward imagination, or how he could have placed this experience on a level with the "seeings" of the other apostles, and of the five hundred brethren, unless indeed he was sure that they also had seen Christ only in vision.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Act . Damascus.
I. The oldest city in the world.—Its origin lost in remote antiquity. Known to have been in existence in the days of Abraham. "In the midst of an oasis of verdure rise the shining crenellated walls of a city that was old in the time of Abraham, the steward of whose house was one of its citizens; old when the pyramids were young, old in the dawn of history, and whose beginning no man knoweth with certainty."—Wanderings in the Holy Land, by Adelia Gates, chap. xvi.
II. A city of surpassing beauty.—"It is one of the few towns of antiquity that have never lost their own splendour and renown. By Oriental writers it is named "The pearl of the Orient, the beautiful as Eden, the fragrant Paradise, the plumage of the Paradise cock, the coloured neck of the ring dove, the neck band of beauty, the gate of the Caaba, the eye of the East, the Eden of the Moslem" (Dr. Wolff in Riehm's Handwörterbuch des Biblischen Altertums, art. Damascus). "It bursts upon the view of a traveller like a vision of Paradise." "The Damascenes believe that the Garden of Eden was located there, and that the clay of which Adam was formed was taken from the banks of the Abana." When Mohammed saw the city and gardens below in all their enchanting beauty, he turnel away saying, "Man can have but one Paradise, my Paradise is fixed above." Buckle, the historian, who "beheld the city from the same place only a fortnight before his death in 1862, exclaimed, "This is indeed worth all the toil and danger it has cost me to come here" (Picturesque Palestine, ii., 143, 144). "There may be other views in the world more beautiful; there can hardly be another at once so beautiful and instructive" (Stanley's Sinai and Palestine, p. 414i). "Damascus occupies one of those sites which nature seems to have intended for a perennial city; its beauty stands unrivalled, its richness has passed into a proverb, and its supply of water is unlimited, making fountains sparkle in every dwelling."—Dr. J. L. Porter.
III. A historically interesting city.—
1. The probable birthplace of Abraham's servant (Gen ).
2. The limit of Abraham's pursuit of the Eastern Kings (Gen ).
3. A city visited by Elisha (2Ki ).
4. Paul's journey to Damascus and the incidents connected therewith
5. Paul's subsequent visit to the city (Gal ).
Act . The Way.—This designation of the Christian religion appropriate, because the Christian religion—
I. Originated with Him who called Himself "the Way" (Joh ).
II. Describes the way of truth, duty, life, and salvation for all who embrace it.
III. Is the only religion whose claim to do so infallibly can be established.
Act . Christ's Question to Paul.
I. Revealed to Saul Christ's intimate knowledge of Himself.—Of His name, and doings, and intentions. The doctrine of Christ's Omniscience.
II. Intimated to Saul Christ's personal existence in heaven.—The doctrine of Christ's resurrection.
III. Announced to Saul Christ's sympathy with His persecuted followers.—The doctrine of Christ's union with His people.
Act . The Soul's Questions and Christ's Answers.
I. The soul's questions.—
1. Who art Thou, Lord?
(1) Necessary. Impossible to be evaded by any to whom Christ presents Himself.
(2) Important. More momentous inquiry cannot be imagined than whether Christ is what He claims to be.
(3) Urgent. Cannot be settled too soon. Danger in delay; advantage in an early decision, provided that be right.
(4) Vital. Carrying with it eternal issues of good or evil, life or death.
2. Lord! what wilt thou have me to do? The question of one who has decided
(1) That Christ is in His person divine, and in His office the Saviour of the world. Both implied in addressing Christ as "Lord."
(2) That religion is for him a personal matter of highest interest and immediate concern. This thought conveyed by the pronoun me.
(3) That salvation can only be found by placing the soul under Christ's direction. Suggested by Saul's asking Christ what he should do to obtain forgiveness for the past and hope for the future.
(1) His name, office, and work—all expressed in the designation Jesus, or Saviour.
(2) His evil treatment at the hands of unbelieving and sinful men, who in opposing His cause and harassing His people are guilty of persecuting Himself.
(3) His secret ally in every honest heart that will consider His claims, the existence of which inward advocate makes it difficult and dangerous for earnest souls to stand aloof and refuse to yield submission to His grace.
2. Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. Which signifies—
(1) That no truly awakened soul will be left without Divine direction as to the way of peace.
(2) That such direction has in every instance been beforehand provided. The office performed by Ananias is now discharged by ministers or the word.
(3) That the direction of the word—which is, repent, believe, and be baptised (Act )—if humbly followed will infallibly conduct to peace.
Act . Conversion as illustrated by that of Paul.
I. Its nature.—
1. There is deep contrition. Knows that he has sinned, and that his sin is aggravated. His conscience is awakened.
2. There is spiritual illumination. With regard to himself and to the Saviour.
3. There is earnest self-surrender. Would go anywhere, would do anything.
4. There is a singular transformation. A new creature.
II. Its causes.—
1. The agent is God. An act of His omnipotence.
2. The instrument is truth. The truth in the Bible somehow becomes the truth in the heart.
3. The influence of love. Faith working by love.
III. Its rules.—
1. As to its subjects it is sovereign. There must be reasons for the selection, but we do not know them.
2. As to its mode it is invincible. The power of the Spirit may be resisted, but cannot be overcome.
3. As to its time it may be sudden. In one sense it is always sudden; in some cases it is remarkably sudden.
4. As to its circumstances it is variable. Sometimes violent, sometimes gentle.
5. There is no need for despair of the conversion of any.—G. Brooks.
Act . And Saul arose from the Earth.—"Saul rose another man: he had fallen in death, he rose in life; he had fallen in the midst of things temporal, he rose in the awful consciousness of things eternal; he had fallen a proud, intolerant, persecuting Jew, he rose a humble, broken-hearted, penitent Christian."—Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul, p. 199.
The Conversion of Paul.
I. Remarkable as the conversion—
1. Of a young man (Act ).
2. Of a self-righteous Pharisee (Act , Act 26:5.
3. Of a brilliant scholar (Gal ).
4. Of a blood-thirsty persecutor (1Ti ).
II. More remarkable, as the bringing over to Christianity of one who proved himself—
1. An incomparable type of Christian character. "Christianity got the opportunity in him of showing the world the whole force that was in it" (Stalker).
2. A great thinker which Christianity "specially needed at the moment" (Ibid.).
3. The most illus trious missionary the Church has ever produced or the world has ever seen.