And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,…
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,