Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision:
These words are part of Paul's own description of his conversion. He has been telling the fact, and explaining the manner and circumstances of it. In fewest words he has spoken of the blinding light from heaven at midday, but far above the brightness of a midday sun; of the voice which he heard when prostrate on the earth; of its summons to him to rise, and to be ready promptly to begin a career of activity and of danger perhaps, alike unparalleled. Then calling it altogether a "vision," and a "heavenly vision," he says, "I was not disobedient to it." For three days he remained blind; for three days, so complete was the mastery of mind over body, he did neither eat nor drink. They led him by the hand to Damascus; there the Divine will and purpose concerning him were further unfolded to him by Ananias; and there he found a grateful shelter awhile with Christ's disciples - those very persons whom he had set out to discomfit and persecute. Twenty-seven years, or thereabout, have now passed away, and looking back on that time, Paul says - and the trial of those twenty-seven years amply bear him out - "Whereupon... I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." It will be instructive to notice -
I. WHAT IT IS WHICH PAUL HERE TERMS A "HEAVENLY VISION." The charm of words often beguiles, sometimes misleads, and, like distance, lends enchantment to the view. A heavenly vision - must not every one covet it? Certainly every one would not covet this of Paul's. A "heavenly vision," if given, must it not be irresistible? Will it not be made of fairy forms, of rainbow colors, of angel movements, of seraphs music? Poetry and dream, imagination and the refinedness of inspiration, - these will be the material and make of it. But, no, it is not so; it was not so now. A heavenly vision may be as practical, of matter as hard, of manner as unceremonious and unwelcome, as the most ordinary reality of our everyday vexed and harassed life. In this, every one of us finds occasionally the hard knocks of hard facts, and so we may in a heavenly vision. And this was the kind of which Paul here speaks. The light was bright, but not with fancy's brightness, but with blinding effect. For the rest, judge in one moment the characteristics of the heavenly vision that, beginning with blinding, goes on by giving the strong rider a heavy fall to the earth. No dreamy whisperings succeed, nor strains seraphic, but summons short and sharp, with his name twice repeated. The remonstrant and upbraiding questions succeed, and fear and trembling and unknown astonishment are the result. This sort of vision, whatever it may he called, is, according to our general thought, not so much of heavenly as of earthly things. Yet these were the facts of Paul's vision, and equally fact is it that he terms it heavenly. And here is our lesson, that the warnings from heaven, and the persuasions that come from heaven, and the instructions that date from heaven, may, while we stay here, savor and have to savor much of the material and the methods of earth, so far as regards the instruments of them. The heavenly vision shall best justify its name often for you, when it apprizes you experimentally, not of the delicious sensations of angels, but of the fear and trembling and anguished amazement that pertain to sinful hearts and injured consciences. Paul was right; for his vision did come from heaven, and it pointed up to heaven, and it led him back with it to heaven, and an innumerable host of others also. Hard fare brought the prodigal back to himself and home to his father; and it was so with Paul, severe and unceremonious handling brought Paul to himself and his Savior and his life-work; and it may be so with us, that hard blows and smarting wounds and crowding cares may be the appointed means of calling us to ourselves, our God, and our home. So also when these come to me, even me, me myself, is it not the equivalent of the name named, and sharply named twice, "Saul, Saul"? We often individually doubt our mercies, and fail to give God praise for them; seldom do we fail to cry out individually because of our pains, or to murmur at God because of them.
II. How PAUL SAYS HE TREATED IT. The treatment which Paul returned for his most merciful, but so to call it rough, usage in this heavenly vision, was prompt attention, practical obedience. The kindest, gentlest providences you may so abuse that they turn into bitter, hard experiences, and memories of pain and shame. The hardest, sternest providences may be so accepted, so treated, that they become transmuted into the brightest spots of memory, the happiest realities of a painful life, and the undoubted points of departure for a new and holier life. Of what seem the unlikeliest materials, it is possible to secure heavenly advantage - by obedience to the convictions, the thoughts, the suggestions that come of the pain and darkness and fearful care that were enrapt in them. For what reason, however, does Paul say, "I was 'not disobedient,'" instead of "I was obedient"?
1. Perhaps he chooses his expression of real, deep modesty before God. "Disobedient," he thought to himself, "I will no longer be," and that thought lingered still with him, though, as to being fully and adequately obedient," who is sufficient for it?" The twenty-seven years that have now sped away have just done this for him, made him feel that to be perfectly obedient will need an energy and an unfalteringness never seen below the sun, except in the one Lord and Master himself.
2. Or was the mode of Paul's language rather due to the thought, perhaps all but unconsciously felt, that disobedience was the broad road and wide gate, whereat the many go in, the million to one and he had been long of the number? But Paul would say, "Being 'by the grace of God what I am,' I would no longer be disobedient, nor 'walk in their counsel.' Use we then our providences, though dark and stern, and let us not be unfaithful to their suggestions. It will be a great step towards baulking the fruitfulness of evil, and towards producing an abundant fruitfulness of good. To be not disobedient may soon usher in the ambition and the joys of a real and hearty obedience. The word may tremble on human lip, to say, "I have been obedient," but with a good conscience before man and God, Paul prefers to say, "I was not disobedient." - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: