Acts 9:1
We have here an instance and a picture of conversion - of a human soul pursuing the wrong course, being arrested by the Divine hand, and submitting itself willingly to the rule of Christ.

I. A HUMAN SOUL PURSUING ITS OWN WRONG COURSE. Paul was moving with the whole force of his strong and ardent nature in the direction of active persecution of the friends of Christ (vers. 1, 2, 5). Sin sometimes takes this special form now. More often it takes the shape of

(1) guilty indulgence, or

(2) utter worldliness, or

(3) confirmed unbelief and rejection of the truth, or

(4) indecision and procrastination.

But whatever particular form it takes, its essential nature is this - that the soul which was created to love, honor, and please God is pursuing another and an opposite path; it is found in highways or byways of evil. It is not with God, with Christ, but against him (Matthew 12:30). It itself is not in active sympathy with him, rejoicing in him, delighting in his truth and happy in his service; and all the influences, both those which (as in the case of Saul at this time) are the direct result of conscious effort, and those which flow spontaneously and unconsciously from the life, are hostile to his truth and to his kingdom.

II. THE DIVINE ARREST. (Vers. 3-5.) Paul tells us (Philippians 3:12) that he was "apprehended of Christ Jesus." Christ laid hold upon him as he was going on his guilty way, arrested him in his own name, and charged him to turn round and pursue another and a better course. The Savior's interposition in his case was unusually sudden, and it was exceedingly striking in its form (see vers. 3-5). It is seldom that the hand of the heavenly Lord is laid so manifestly, so powerfully, on the human heart. Yet it is being continually laid upon us, and we now are being arrested by him, with effectual power in redeeming love.

1. Christ's arrest of us is sometimes sudden, but more often gradual. Sometimes a man who has been proceeding far in some way of folly and of sin is instantly convinced that he is guilty and foolish; in an hour, in a moment, the truth of God flashes into his soul and lights up the dark depths within, and it shines upon and illumines the dreary and fatal path before him, and he stops and turns. More frequently the Lord of love and power works gradually in the heart; by degrees he insinuates his heavenly truth, and gradually makes the soul to see and to feel that the way of selfishness and of sin is a path which must no longer be pursued, from which it must escape for its life.

2. The Divine arrest is sometimes by extraordinary but usually by ordinary means. Occasionally God comes in power to the human soul, by some vision of the night or of the day, or by some very remarkable ordering of his providence, by some experience which is shared by no other or by a very few; but commonly the hand of his renewing power is laid upon us by ordinary means, by the gracious influences of a Christian home, by the appeals of the Christian minister or teacher, by the sickness which brings death and judgment into full view, or by the loss which compels us to feel that we do need and must secure a Divine Friend who can succor and console in the drear and lonely hour of life.

III. THE SOUL'S SUBMISSION TO THE DIVINE WILL. The first result of feeling the pressure of the Divine hand may be, perhaps generally is, spiritual agitations. We may be "trembling and astonished" (ver. 6), or, if not moved so powerfully, we shall be agitated, earnestly concerned, exceedingly solicitous; we shall be as those thoroughly awakened who have been partially asleep, our spiritual faculty of inquiry will be called into fullest exercise. But the main and all-important result is spiritual submission - readiness and eagerness to accept the rule of Christ. The question of Saul will be the question of our heart, now reduced to loyalty and self-surrender, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Christ will tell us that he wants us to trust him, to follow him, to work for him. And these three things we shall gladly do. But the victory is gained, the one supreme step is taken, death is left behind, and the gates of life are before us, when, responding to his merciful and mighty touch, we submit ourselves to his sovereign will, when we turn round in spirit and say, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" - C.







And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples.
Saul was an educated young man, and that he should engage in the work of persecution strikes us as anomalous and unnatural. In young men we naturally expect a frank concession of freedom to think and generous and chivalrous impulses. We are not much surprised when we find intolerance as men advance in life, for age is conservative, and may be narrow and bigoted. Young men are often sceptical and unsettled in their notions; they question the correctness of opinions long held to be true, and employ themselves in adjusting new discoveries to received truths. But the very nature of this process tends to make them liberal, for they cannot deny to others the liberty they claim for themselves. Old men, however, are confirmed believers or unbelievers; and hate to be opposed or unsettled. Hence we are not surprised that the Sanhedrin should be composed in a great part of "elders," nor that the principal functionaries of the "holy office," should be men of advanced years. Yet few men, young or old, have been so furious in persecution as was Saul (Acts 8:3; Acts 22:4; Acts 26:9-11; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:9).

I. THE PREVALENCE OF PERSECUTION. The manner in which new views have been received is one of the most remarkable things in history. The public tears of Pericles were necessary to save Aspasia, suspected of philosophy; but all his eloquence could not save Anaxagoras for having taught that there was an intelligent cause of all things. Socrates was put to death for teaching the same thing. Aristotle only saved his life by flight in order, as he said, to save the Athenians a new crime against philosophy. Plato was twice thrown into prison, and once sold as a slave. Galileo was imprisoned for maintaining that the sun is the centre of the universe. The Saviour was crucified, and in almost every country His religion has encountered opposition and secured a triumph only as the result of a baptism of blood and fire.

II. ITS CAUSES.

1. The war of opinion. A man's opinions are a part of himself, and become as dear as life or liberty. They are the measure of his reputation and influence, and are the result of all his experience and studies. To attack them is, therefore, to attack him; to overthrow them is to take away all that constitutes his claim to notice while living, or to remembrance when dead. This remark has additional force, if the matter is connected with religion. To attack this is to assail that which must be dearest of all to the heart of man, inasmuch as it may leave man in a world indisputably wretched with no hope of a better. Religious opinions, therefore, have been among the slowest to make progress; the strife in regard to them has been the most bitter; and freedom of religious speech has been among the last of the victories secured by the conflicts of past ages.

2. Vested interests. There are institutions, endowments, orders of men, customs and usages, that grow out of forms of doctrine. All the religions of ancient and most of modern times were sustained by law. Rome indeed recognised those of other nations, but then it was a principle that while each country recognised the rest, it allowed no attack on its own. When, therefore, Christianity attacked all forms of idolatry, it arrayed against itself all the malice of a mighty priesthood, and all the power of the State; and the result is well known.

3. The sanction given by religion to the corruptions of the human heart. The plan of the Prince of darkness has been to secure this for the indulgence of passion. Hence to attack vice, as true Christianity always does, and to carry a pure morality over the world, was to array against itself the power of all the religions of the earth.

4. The fixed aversion of the heart by nature to the holiness which God requires of man; to the scheme of salvation by the Cross, which is an "offence" to one class, and a "stumbling block" to another; to the doctrines of human depravity and of a just and changeless retribution, which grate hard on the natural feelings and are repulsive to human pride.

III. ITS EFFECTS.

1. It has become, as the result of these trials, a settled principle that nothing which is good and true can be destroyed by persecution, but is established more firmly and spread more widely. It has led men to look with favour on what is persecuted; created a conviction that a right has been violated; awakened sympathy, stimulated inquiry in regard to the persecuted sentiments; and made the persecuted more firmly attached to their principles, and more eloquent in their defence. It has long since passed into a proverb that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Imperial power and every device of human ingenuity has been resorted to in order to extinguish it; and it may be assumed now that if Christianity is to become extinct in the world, it must be by some other means than by persecution.

2. In like manner, persecution becomes a test of the reality of religion. It is not, indeed, a direct demonstration of its truth. The advocates of other systems have borne persecution patiently, but although this does not prove that they were suffering for the truth, yet it may be still true that the mass of men will somehow see in the endurance of Christian martyrs an argument for the Divine origin of their religion. The number has been so great — they have borne their sufferings so patiently — they have met death so calmly — so many of them have been distinguished for intelligence — and so many of them were witnesses of what they affirmed to be true, that the general impression on mankind is that sufferings so varied, so protracted, so meekly borne, could be only in the cause of truth.

3. The results of persecution are worth all which they cost. The results of the imprisonment of Galileo, of the sufferings of Columbus, etc., are more than compensated for. And the happiness which has been conferred on the world by Christianity since the fires of persecution were first kindled, and that which the world will yet enjoy when it shall be diffused over all the earth have been and will be more than a compensation for all the sufferings of all the martyrs.

(A. Barnes, D. D.)

As it is in the exquisite mystery of printing, the great difficulty lies in the composing and working of the first sheet, for by that one many thousands are easily printed; so the work of the ministry is to convert great men.

In one great man are many inferiors contained. When the great wheel of the clock is set a-moving, all the inferior wheels will move of their own accord. How zealous was St. Paul about the conversion of Sergius Paulus, the deputy of the country! He knew well enough that to take such a great fish was more than to catch many little ones, though the least is not to be despised.

(Calamy.)

Christian Age.
This incident occurred many years ago in the heart of the Black Forest in Germany. It was at the dead of night. The place was lighted by torches, which cast a ghastly glare through the surrounding gloom. Savage looking men, fully armed, were sitting round in a circle. One of their number was holding up something in his hand. These men were robbers. That evening they had robbed a stagecoach. According to their custom, they were now engaged in selling by auction among themselves the articles that had been stolen. Travelling bags, different articles of clothing, and various other things had been disposed of in this way. Last of all a New Testament was held up. The man who acted as auctioneer introduced this "article" with some wicked remark, which threw the company into a roar of laughter. One of the company suggested, as a joke, that the auctioneer should open the book and read a chapter, as he said, "for their edification." This motion was seconded, and carried unanimously. Opening the book at random, he began to read with an air of mock solemnity. As he went on reading, laughs and jokes were heard all round. While this was going on one man in the company, the oldest member of the gang, and who had been their ringleader in all that was evil, became silent. He sat with his hands clasped on his knees, lost in deep thought. It happened that the passage the auctioneer had just read was the very one he had heard read thirty years before, at family prayer in his father's house, on the morning of the day when he left that home for the last time. In a moment all that scene came back to his memory. He thought of his father and mother, and brothers and sisters, and all that had made that home so sweet and happy to him then. Since leaving home he had never opened a Bibles never offered a prayer, and never had a thought of God or of eternity. But now, in a moment, his soul seemed to wake from that long sleep of thirty years. He thought of God; he thought of his wicked life, and was filled with sorrow and shame and fear. He was so occupied with these thoughts and feelings, that he took no notice of what was going on around him, till one of his comrades clapped him rudely on the shoulder, and said, "Now, old dreamer, what will you give for that book? you need it most of all, for you have been the biggest sinner among us." "That's true," said the startled robber. "Give me that book, I'll pay you the full price for it." The next day the robbers scattered, and went into the neighbouring towns and villages to sell what they had got by robbing. The man with the Testament also went away. But he did not wish to sell anything. He sought a quiet, lonely place. There he remained for several days, reading that wonderful Book of God, shedding bitter tears over his sins, and earnestly praying for God's pardoning grace. God heard his prayer. He found pardon and peace in believing, and became a new man. After awhile he went into one of the nearest towns to see a minister of the gospel. There he heard that the gang of robbers to which he had belonged had all been taken prisoners. He told the minister, whom he went to see, all about his previous life, and the change he had experienced. Then he gave himself up to the officers of justice. The rest of the gang were all put to death. But his free confession and evident repentance saved his life. He was put in prison, indeed; but, as he continued to behave like a truly penitent man, he was soon pardoned and released, and taken into the employment of one of the princes of that neighbourhood, and he proved a blessing to those about him all his days.

(Christian Age.)

In one sense, if not in the common understanding of that phrase. If hatred is in a man's heart, hatred will show itself in a man's words and acts; for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." And if hatred does show itself in a man's words and acts, it is because hatred is in his heart. It is of no use for a man to say that his harsh and bitter words don't mean anything; that they are only on the surface. They do mean a great deal; they mean that under the surface he is fully as bad as he shows himself above the surface. And as it is with men so it is with children. When a child stamps and screams with anger, and "just wishes nurse or teacher was dead," that little one is breathing out the threatenings and slaughter which are in that little one's heart. Parents and guardians ought to have this truth in mind in dealing with the children of their charge.

(H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)

Went unto the high priest and desired of him letters to Damascus
We learn from 2 Corinthians 11:32, 33, that Damascus was at this time under the government of Aretas, the king of Arabia Petraea. How it came to be so, having been previously under Vitellius, the Roman president of Syria (Jos. 'Ant." 14:04, § 5), is not clear. It is probable, however, that in the war which Aretas had declared against Herod Antipas, in consequence of the Tetrarch's divorcing his daughter in order that he might marry Herodias (see Matthew 14:3; Luke 3:14), he had been led, after defeating the Tetrarch (Jos. "Ant." 17:06, § 1), to push his victories further; and, taking advantage of the absence of Vitellius, who hastened to Rome on hearing of the death of Tiberius ( A.D. 37), had seized on Damascus. In this abeyance of the control of the Roman power, Aretas may have desired to conciliate the priestly party at Jerusalem by giving facilities to their action against the sect which they would naturally represent as identified with the Galileans against whom he had been waging war. The Jewish population at Damascus was, at this time, very numerous. Josephus relates that not less than ten thousand were slain in a tumult under Nero ("Wars," 2:25), and the narrative of the Acts (ver. 14) implies that there were many "disciples of the Lord" among them. Many of these were probably refugees from Jerusalem, and the local synagogues were called upon to enforce the decrees of the Sanhedrin of the Holy City against them.

(Dean Plumptre.)

If he found any of this way
We have here the first occurrence of a term which seems to have been used familiarly as a synonym for the disciples of Christ (Acts 19:9, 23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14, 22). It may have originated in the words in which Christ had claimed to be Himself the "Way," as well as the "Truth" and the "Life" (John 14:6); or in His language as to the "strait way" that led to eternal life (Matthew 7:13); or, perhaps, again, in the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3) cited by the Baptist (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3) as to preparing "the way of the Lord." Prior to the general acceptance of the term "Christian" (Acts 11:26) it served as a convenient, neutral designation by which might be used by others wished to speak respectfully, or, at least, neutrally, instead of the opprobrious epithet of the "Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5). The history of the term "Methodists," those that follow a distinct "method" or "way" of life, offers a partial but interesting analogue.

(Dean Plumptre.)

I. The way is FOR LOST WANDERERS. The very expression suggests man's need of a way, i.e., of salvation. This need arises out of —

1. Men's ignorance, errors, sin, danger. Men are lost, and no created power or wisdom can recover them and make them safe.

2. Men's practical progressive nature put them in the right way, and then they need leading and keeping in it. A religion adapted to mankind must not only restore the wanderers, but further them on the right road.

II. This Way is CHRIST. "I am the Way," "the new and living Way."

1. Every way leads from some place. Christ leads from the land of bondage darkness, death. He both makes and shows a way out of a state of sin and condemnation.

2. What is the Way? The Lord, who delivers and conducts His emancipated ones in the way of obedience and righteousness by His Spirit. The new way of life adopted by the first Christians impressed beholders, who hence gave them the title of the people of "the Way."

3. To what end?

(1)To God.

(2)To heaven. There is fulness of satisfaction in this provision and prospect.

III. THE WAY IS WISELY PLANNED AND MADE. It is —

1. Clear and plain, not to be mistaken by those who are resolved to find it.

2. Straight and narrow. It is the one only way from which the traveller must not deviate.

3. Safe. Narrow, but not too narrow for him who will keep it.

IV. The way is for ALL MEN. Then —

1. Discover it. It is not hard to find it: Be not misled. Take no other.

2. Walk in it. It is one of two. It leads to life, the other to destruction. It is in vain to praise it unless you make it yours.

3. Perseverance in it. Only such as continue in it can reach the goal.

4. Point it out to others. All true Christians live for this.

(J. R. Thompson, M. A.)

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus.
The city has the interest of being one of the oldest in the world. It appears in the history of Abraham (Genesis 14:15; Genesis 15:2), and was, traditionally, the scene of the murder of Abel. David placed his garrisons there (2 Samuel 8:6; 1 Chronicles 18:6), and, under Rezon, it resisted the power of Solomon (1 Kings 11:24). Its fair streams, Abana and Pharpar, were, in the eyes of the Syrian leper, better than all the waters of Israel (2 Kings 5:12). It was the centre of the Syrian kingdom in its alliances and wars with those of Israel and Judah (2 Kings 14:28; 2 Kings 16:9, 10; Amos 1:3, 5). Its trade with Tyre in wares, and wine of Helbon, and white wool is noted by Ezekiel (chap 27:16, 18). It had been taken by Parmenion for Alexander the Great, and again by Pompeius. It was the birth place of Nicolaos of Damascus, the historian and rhetorician who is conspicuous as the counsellor of Herod the Great (Jos. "Ant." 12:03, § 2; 16:02, § 2). At a later period it was the residence of the Ommiyad caliphs, and the centre of the world of Islam. The beauty of its site, the river which the Greeks knew as Chrysorrhoas, the "Golden Stream," its abounding fertility, the gardens of roses, made it, as Lamartine has said, a "predestined capital." Such was the scene which met the bodily eye of the fanatic persecutor. The historian does not care to dwell on its description, and hastens to that which met his inward gaze. Assuming the journey to have been continuous, the approach to Damascus would come on the seventh or eighth day after leaving Jerusalem.

(Dean Plumptre.)

How many thoughts have been awakened by the approach to the most ancient of existing cities! Abraham, as he journeyed from the far East, drew near to Damascus, and Elisha, as he journeyed from Samaria (2 Kings 8:7), and Ahaz when he went to meet the king of Assyria (2 Kings 16:9), and Mahomet who, as he approached it, exclaimed, "Man can have but one Paradise in life — my Paradise is fixed above"; and turned away lest that glorious city should tempt him from his mission. But of all the travellers who, "as they journeyed came near to Damascus," there is none who has such an interest for us as the great apostle. Let us consider —

I. PAUL'S CONVERSION. Conversion — i.e., "a turning round" from bad to good, from good to better, is necessary for us all. We are sometimes inclined to think that bur characters, once formed, can never be changed. This is not true. Our natural dispositions and faculties rarely change; but their direction can be changed; and the difference between their upward and their downward direction deserves the name of conversion. Paul, in great measure, remained the same as before — he retained his zeal, his power, his energy; but the turn which was given to these qualities gave a turn to his whole life, and, through him, a turn to the life of the whole world. He approached Damascus a furious persecutor; he entered it a humble penitent; he left it a great apostle. So is it with us. Much about us never can be changed; but much about us can and ought and, with God's help, will be changed. We are all on the road, not to Damascus, but to some end or object. To every one of us, as to St. Paul, that end or object will at last appear in a light totally different from what we now expect; and on that changed light may depend our happiness or misery, our usefulness or uselessness.

II. HOW IT WAS BROUGHT ABOUT.

1. By the vision of Christ. How this entered into his soul we know not; but that it did enter there is sure from all that he afterwards did and said. And it is this same communion with Christ which still is the most powerful instrument of making every human soul better, and wiser, and nobler than it was before.

2. By calling to his mind the true knowledge of what he was doing. He thought that he was doing God service by trampling down an heretical sect. That voice from heaven told him that in those poor Christians he was persecuting the Great Friend and Deliverer of the world. So it is still; often we think that we are all right; that no one can find fault with us. And yet all the while, as God sees us, we are injuring the very cause we wish to promote; those of whom we think so little may be the very likenesses and representatives to us of Christ. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."

3. By the appeal to the best part of his own heart. "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" — against the goad, against the stings, of conscience. He had doubtless already had better feelings stirring within him from what he had seen of the death of Stephen and of the good deeds of the early Christians. In this way his conversion, sudden as it seemed at last, had been long prepared. His conscience had been ill at case; and in this perplexity it needed only that one blessed interposition of his merciful Lord to recall him to a sense of his better self. And each of us has a barrier against sin set up within him against which we may kick, but which will, thanks to the mercy of God, long resist our efforts.

III. WHAT RESULTED FROM IT. This is too great a subject to be spoken of here in all its parts. But one single point is put before us by this morning's lesson (Acts 24:25). If we wish to make St. Paul's conversion and doctrine anything more than a mere name, we shall try to bear away from the road on which it took place the thought of at least these three things — the duty of justice, and self-restraint, and the certainty of a judgment to come.

(Dean Stanley.)

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