And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
The Conversion of St. Paul.
That blessed war of aggression which Jesus Christ wages upon the evil one is a war which is made to maintain itself. Christ's soldiers are His captured enemies. Every soul won from resistance to the Cross is marked at once with the Cross-badge and sent into the field to win others. Perhaps the most notable instance of this in history is the conversion of Saul. Jesus Christ never encountered a bitterer or an abler foe; Jesus Christ never won a mightier captain for His army.
I. The important fact that such a man suddenly abandoned the Pharasaic theology and became the Church's foremost preacher amply justifies the detail with which the story is here related. The immediate occasion of Saul's change of life was quite as exceptional as the change itself was eventful. Christ directly called this misguided persecutor to Himself; He called him personally. And this personal manifestation of Him whom the heavens had received is, I suppose, solitary in Christian history.
II. The general nature of the change which passed over Saul is, I think, to be pretty well made out from what we know of the man before and after. If the punctilious and legal obedience he had been striving after was proved to have been consistent it was a gross breach of the law in its spirit, and he saw how unholy and unrighteous a life his had been. Saul's dialectic was quick enough to see that it must be the spirit and not the letter that God cares for. Yet there was little need for dialectic. The spiritual sense of the man, purged now from pride, which always blinds us, and illuminated by the Holy Spirit of God whom before he kicked against, saw what false education and self-righteousness had kept him from seeing, that the law by which alone we may please God is a spiritual thing. The moment this spiritual law of love to God and man, a law of heart motives, was made plain to him, sin revived, and he died. His mind reverted for help, turned round about in his loneliness to the names of those very disciples down in his note-book that he had come to arrest, and now, in a sweet vision, he seemed to see one of these friends of Jesus come into the home where he lay helpless and in darkness, and give him light. See how Jesus Christ must smite down that He may lift up. He first came in person by the way, and brought judgment, darkness, horror, and almost death. He came now, the second time, by the gentle words of His humble servant, came by the blessed sacrament of His Church, and so coming He brought light, peace, and the hope and desire of a better life.
J. Oswald Dykes, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 469.
Acts 9:1-23Early History and Conversion of Paul.
Viewed as a public event in the history of the Christian Church, the conversion of Paul furnishes new and independent testimony to the Divine origin of the gospel. The story is perfectly authenticated. Twice did the Apostle repeat it in detail before public assemblies; and the book in which we find it recorded was written less than thirty years after the events were said to have occurred. We learn from the incident:—
I. The wisdom of God's providence. Saul, as he himself tells us, was separated from his birth for the work of Apostleship; but though he was advancing towards middle age before he was actually converted, yet all his intervening history was in reality a preparation for the true labour of his life. His birth and boyhood in a Greek city gave him familiarity with that language which he was to use in all his journeyings. His intimate acquaintance with the system of the Pharisees, acquired in the school of Gamaliel, enabled him to cope with those Judaizing adversaries with whom he had everywhere to contend. A "Hebrew of the Hebrews, yet at the same time a native Hellenist and a Roman citizen," he combined in himself, as Dr. Schaff has said, "the three great nationalities of the ancient world, and was endowed with all the natural qualifications for a universal apostleship."
II. We see here all the riches of the Redeemer's grace. Had the Christians then in Jerusalem been asked to name the man who was least likely to become a convert to the faith, they might possibly have specified Saul of Tarsus. Yet observe how thoroughly he is changed, and how the transformation was effected by the might of gentleness. Nothing is more remarkable in the whole narrative than the tenderness of the remonstrance which our Lord addressed to the persecutor. He came in love, He spoke in gentleness, and the heart which might have been hardened by condemnation was melted by mercy.
W. M. Taylor, Paul the Missionary, p. 27.
References: Acts 9:2.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. viii., p. 340; Ibid., vol. xix., p. 117. Acts 9:3, Acts 9:4.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 46. Acts 9:3-9.—B. F. Westcott, The Revelation of the Risen Lord, p. 191. Acts 9:4.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 309; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 169.
Acts 9:4-5The Lord's dealing with St. Paul has been precisely the way of His dealing with thousands and tens of thousands whom He has sought to make in like manner partakers of the light of the everlasting life. Them, too,—
I. He meets in the way. He hedges up that way with thorns so that they cannot find their path. He stands before them, as He stood before Balaam, with a drawn sword in His hand, willing them to go back to the path of duty and to choose the way of life. He shows them, too, His glory. The earthly in them stands abashed before the glory of the heavenly which is revealed to them, even as the stars of night fade and fail before the rising sun, and have no glory by reason of the glory which excelleth.
II. Notice another aspect in which St. Paul's conversion was but the pattern and exemplar of what every other man's conversion must be. We sometimes assume that there was no resistance of the old man in him, and that there could have been none—so mighty were the spiritual forces brought to bear, to cast down the strongholds of sin and Satan in him, that in this respect at least his conversion was unlike any other. But everything indicates the contrary. We are not permitted to see what passed within him during those three mysterious days when, having been brought to Damascus, trembling and astonished, he saw no man, and did neither eat nor drink. But of one thing we may be sure—that they were days of a mighty internal conflict; and in that "Behold, he prayeth," uttered by him who seeth in secret, in that, and only in that, at length there was a token that he had at last yielded himself the captive of Christ—vanquished by Almighty love. And here, too, in these outlines of his conversion, we must read what must be the main features of our own.
III. The whole after life of St. Paul was a continuation of the work which on that day was auspicated and begun in him. And such must be our lives, such must be our conversion. Not something which we remember once to have been, not something which every day is receding into greater and dimmer distance, but something in the ever new power of which we are to live from day to day.
F. Trench, Penny Pulpit, No. 3656.
Reference: Acts 9:4, Acts 9:5.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 160.
Acts 9:5This declaration points:—
I. To past impressions. Many persons regard this startling event as the first and only period that the Saviour sought the services of an ardent man; that without any previous internal preparation he was changed in the whole current and purposes of his life. But this cannot be altogether true. That this was the decisive moment in his history there cannot be a question. The grand transformation then took place, but the Divine Spirit had been at work within him before. There had been influences and arguments at work on St. Paul's mind, and these had been the goads against which he had rebelled. And what were these past expressions, and whence did they arise? I think they must have arisen from his education and experience. It was impossible that he, with his candid nature, should have witnessed the pure, loving, self-sacrificing lives of these men and women whom he had haled to prison, and not make some inquiry as to the faith which had accomplished so much in them. And then the very teacher at whose feet he sat as a revering scholar had spoken about this new religion in a manner that seemed to imply that he had in his own mind a half-conviction of its truth. These things formed the goads which stung Saul, against which he struggled.
II. These words not only point to past impressions, but they describe present struggles. Many a man has been conscious of this battle going on within him for years; this struggle of what he knows to be right for the sin he loves so well.
III. These words proclaim certain misery and future defeat. There could be nothing but unhappiness and failure as the result of the course which Saul took, the opposition he offered to the progress of Christ's kingdom. It was useless for him to kick against the goads; they only stung him the more severely; resistance was of no avail; he could not fight successfully against a superior power. This is a lesson which seems true enough, but it is difficult to learn. There is only one out of two courses—to bow and acknowledge the grace and power of Christ, or resolutely set yourselves against Christ, and at last be broken as a rod of iron. For the enemies of Christ shall be made his footstool.
W. Braden, Penny Pulpit, No. 516.
References: Acts 9:5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 709. Acts 9:5, Acts 9:6.—Ibid., vol. xxvi., No. 1520.
Acts 9:6The Apostle's experience may never again be exactly reproduced as regards its external circumstances; but in every manifestation of God to the soul which has hitherto been ignorant of His true being, close upon the question "Who art thou, Lord?" will follow the further inquiry, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
I. Action is the necessary result of Divine illumination. When God lifts the veil to reveal Himself to His creature, it is not merely to satisfy the curiosity with which man seeks to penetrate into the mysteries of the invisible; it is not only to call into play the warm emotions of man's heart, and set them all aglow with the tingling of the touch of an unseen world. It is indeed to increase man's knowledge of the infinite, but to the end that that knowledge may lead him on to new roads of duty thereby thrown open to him; it is to kindle man's affections with the coal from off the altar of the invisible, but on this account that he may so be empowered to act not in the power of the natural man, but in the strength of the supernatural gift of the Spirit.
II. But the means—the way by which, and in which, the blessed end is to be carried out—how difficult to select, how dangerous to be mistaken; to have the bright future forfeited by a wrong choice! Trembling and astonished at the dignity of his privilege, man fears by wilful or ignorant choice of means to frustrate the purpose which has so graciously been provided for him. Dedicating himself and all his powers to the God who has chosen him, he cries with the earnestness of hearty devotion, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" In other words, he realises and prepares to follow out his vocation.
III. In following out our vocation, we have to remind ourselves of two great principles that characterise the works of God as performed by Himself, and must therefore govern that work which, in union with Him, we hope to accomplish in the world. With God nothing is too minute to be taken count of. With God there is no undue haste. These must then be the laws of our conduct. "He that contemneth small things shall fall by little and little." "Though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come; it will not tarry."
H. Hollingworth, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, Oct. 18th, 1877.
References: Acts 9:6.—Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. iii., p. 310; W. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 74; Bishop Barry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 65; W. Pulsford, Trinity Church Sermons, p. 250; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 38; Sermons for Boys and Girls, p. 349; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 35; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 18; vol. iv., p. 89. Acts 9:8.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p. 333; vol. xvi., p. 354; vol. xix., p. 119. Acts 9:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1838. Acts 9:11.—Ibid., vol. i., No. 16; vol. xxxi., No. 1860; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 308; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 131. Acts 9:13-16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 944.
Acts 9:15I. Saul is here a vessel. The word here rendered "vessel" may also be translated "instrument," but either reading gives a good sense. God is an infinite spring giving inexhaustibly forth; men are empty vessels receiving everlastingly of His fulness.
II. He is a vessel unto Me. The vessel had been wrested that day from the power of the enemy; henceforth he will be a vessel separated unto and honoured in the service of Jesus Christ.
III. "He is a chosen vessel unto Me." (1) This must mean that he was a choice vessel. (2) He was chosen or ordained of God unto the work of the Apostleship.
IV. He is a vessel of election unto Me to bear My name. Paul bore the name of Jesus Christ (1) in his intellect, (2) in his heart, (3) in his ministry.
V. He was to bear God's name before Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. (1) The wide scope of his ministry required certain social qualifications which the other apostles did not possess. (2) The work allotted to him demanded great intellectual culture in order to its successful performance. (3) The work demanded much moral courage.
J. Cynddylan Jones, Studies in the Acts, p. 196.
References: Acts 9:15.—Bishop Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 49. Acts 9:16.—J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 9th series, p. 48.
We see from this chapter:—
I. The minute care which God has over His people. He gives to Ananias the street and the house in the great city of Damascus where Paul is sitting in his blindness, and sends him thither to his help. But though the commission came to Ananias supernaturally, we are not to imagine that similar things—similar, I mean, in kind, though lower in degree—are not occurring now. So let the people of God take comfort, whereever they are and whatever be their circumstances. God knows everything about them, and in some way or other He will manifest His care for them. His letters are all accurately addressed, and none of them go astray.
II. God gives special training for special work. This was furnished to Paul, not only by his conversion, but by his communings with the Lord in Arabia. He who would preach the gospel with power must be himself a believer in the Lord. The secret of true, heart-stirring eloquence in the pulpit is, next after the power of the Holy Ghost, that which the French Abbé has very happily called the "accent of conviction" in the speaker. He who would preach to others must be much alone with his Bible and his Lord, else when he appears before his people, he will send them to sleep with his pointless platitudes, or starve them with his empty conceits.
III. We learn, lastly, to give a cordial welcome to new converts and new-comers in the Church. Ananias went as soon as he was sent, and said, "Brother Saul!" How these words must have thrilled the heart of the blinded one! So again, in dealing with young converts, how slow some are to believe in the genuineness and thoroughness of God's own work! It was not so with Barnabas, and it ought not to be so with us.
W. M. Taylor, Paul the Missionary, p. 47.
Acts 9:20I. Promptitude is a pre-requisite and essential element of success. A beginning is only a beginning, and yet much depends on how it is made. Some beginnings are like the spring on the mountain side, gushing into life and flowing clearly. Some are like waters from a mossy soil, trickling, oozing, so little visible and so uncertain that you cannot tell where they begin. But here is a vigorous clear beginning; here is the saliency of a new life. That promptitude of Paul's saved him from many difficulties which else would have beset his course. It raised his conversion above suspicion. It opened his way. It conformed his faith. It made retreat more difficult. It made him a fit example for all who are beginning the Christian course to the end of time.
II. If the principle is true, it is applicable all down the scale; not to great men only, but to every man. "Straightway" do what thy hand findeth to do. (1) Straightway. And your new consciousness will become bright and clear, as it never will do by abstinence and repression. Doubts gather round the inactive mind, over the slumbering, reluctant will, as mists and exhalations over the stagnant pool. Work in spite of them; work through them on to duty,—they are gone or only linger, thin and luminous, like vapours that are vanishing away. (2) Straightway. And the outer difficulties, which gather like the inner doubts, will, like them, be dispersed, and you will see them no more; or better still, seeing them, you will not fear or regard them, but go on your unswerving way. (3) You will give to your soul one of the first and most indispensable conditions of growth. (4) You will lay the first stones in the great edifice of habit. This is the true tower with the heaven-reaching top, the tower of a man's life; and on the very first stones of that tower you will see written the word "Straightway." (5) You will end no small part of what may be called the lesser miseries of life. (6) The enemies of our true life and of the gospel of Christ are taken at advantage, and timorous friends—the discouraged, the weak, the halting—receive as it were a new inspiration. Spiritual strength goes from one to another like electricity, and a soul in prompt action necessarily gives it out, charging other souls with the celestial fire till they too glow and burn with love to Christ.
A. Raleigh, From Dawn to the Perfect Day, p. 87.
Acts 9:31Our Lord tells us that the Comforter's work as Comforter is to abide, to teach, to remind, to testify, to reprove. These are the ways in which He comforts. The text carries on the same idea. "The Churches... were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." What then is the conclusion at which we arrive? That the Holy Ghost does not perform the office of Comforter by comfort only or by direct comfort, but through the exercise of other of His prerogatives, such as teaching, testifying, and reproving.
I. We must not divide the sevenfold operation of the Holy Ghost. We must not seek comfort without holiness, nor holiness without comfort; and often the path to any one of His influences lies direct and straight from the other. If you endeavour to obtain any one of His actings without the rest, probably you will thwart Him. The best way is to acknowledge the Holy Ghost as that great Being who acts upon the human mind, and to place yourself entirely in His hands, to do with you just as he sees best.
II. I believe that the Holy Ghost generally begins His consoling processes by increasing our distress. He convinces of sin first, i.e., Christ justifying; and righteousness, i.e., pardon; then of judgment, i.e., the judgment, the termination of all evil; and so He brings out "judgment unto victory," and "tribulation has worked patience," and patience experience, and experience hope; and that hope maketh not ashamed; the sorrow is turned into joy, the Sanctifier is the Comforter, and the comfort is true, deep, holy, and for ever. Thus, then, even in His comfortings, the Holy Ghost, in His incalculable processes, vindicates the truth of the emblem, and is as the wind, acting in His sovereignty, but no man knoweth whence He cometh nor whither He goeth. But deep and utterly out of reach as His methods are, it is a wonderful provision that the Third Person in the blessed Trinity should be revealed to us characteristically as a Comforter. It is this which makes Him over to us in a relationship that matches the necessity of our daily being. The Holy Ghost is many things. He is a quickener, He is a gladdener, He is a glorifier, but above all He is a Comforter. "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you."
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 181.
References: Acts 9:31.—C. J. Vaughan, Church of the First Days, vol. ii., p. 41; W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 266. Acts 9:32-35.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1315. Acts 9:34.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 329. Acts 9:36-42.—N. Axtell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 211. Acts 9—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i., p. 278. Acts 10:1, Acts 10:2.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 29; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons to English Congregations in India, p. 240; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 255. Acts 10:4.—E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 112. Acts 10:5.—A. W. Hare, The Alton Sermons, p. 801. Acts 10:14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1823.
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
And 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.
But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.
Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.
And there he found a certain man named AEneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.
And Peter said unto him, AEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.
Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.
And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.
And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.
Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.
But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.
And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.