Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,…
My object is to trace the stages of the process set forth here, and to ask you if you, like Paul, have been "obedient to the heavenly vision."
I. THE FIRST OF THESE ALL BUT SIMULTANEOUS AND YET SEPARABLE STAGES WAS THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST. The revelation in heart and mind was the main thing of which the revelation to eye and ear were but means. The means, in his case, are different from those in ours; the end is the same. "Saul! Saul! why persecutest thou Me?" They used to think that they could wake sleep walkers by addressing them by name. Jesus Christ, by speaking his name to the apostle, wakes him out of his diseased slumber. What does such an address teach you and me? That Jesus Christ, the living, reigning Lord of the universe, has perfect knowledge of each of us. And more than that, He directly addresses Himself to each man and woman in this congregation. We are far too apt to hide ourselves in the crowd, and let all the messages of God's love, the warnings of His providences, as well as the teachings and invitations and pleadings of His gospel, fly over our heads as if they were meant vaguely for anybody. And I would fain plead with each of my friends before me to believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is meant for thee, and that Christ speaks to thee.
II. Secondly, notice, as another stage in this process, THE DISCOVERY OF THE TRUE CHARACTER OF THE PAST. "Why persecutest thou Me?" Saul was brought to look at all his past life as standing in immediate connection with Jesus Christ. Of course he knew before the vision that he had no love to Him whom he thought to be a Galilean impostor. But he did not know that Jesus Christ counted every blow struck at one of His servants as being struck at Him. Above all, he did not know that the Christ whom he was persecuting was reigning in the heavens. If I could only get you, for one quiet ten minutes, to lay all your past, as far as memory brought it to your minds, right against that bright and loving face, I should have done much. One infallible way of judging of the rottenness or goodness of our actions is that we should bring them where they will all be brought one day, into the brightness of Christ's countenance. If you want to find out the flaws in some thin, badly-woven piece of cloth, you hold it up against the light, do you not? and then you see all the specks and holes; and the irregular threads. Hold up your lives in like fashion. Again, this revelation of the past life disclosed its utter unreasonableness. That one question, "Why persecutest thou Me?" pulverised the whole thing. If you take into account what you are, and where you stand, you can find no reason, except utterly unreasonable ones, for the lives that I fear some of us are living — lives of Godlessness and Christlessness. There is nothing in all the world a tithe so stupid as sin. Wake up, my brother, to apply calm reason to your lives while yet there is time, and face the question, Why dost thou stand as thou dost to Jesus Christ? You can carry on the questions very gaily for a step or two, but then you come to a dead pause. "What do I do so-and-so for?" "Because I like it." "Why do I like it?" "Because it meets my needs, or my desires, or my tastes, or my intellect." "Why do you make the meeting of your needs, or your desires, or your tastes, or your intellect, your sole object?" Is there any answer to that? Further, this disclosure of the true character of his life revealed to Saul, as in a lightning flash, the ingratitude of it. "Why persecutest thou Me?" That was as much as to say, "What have I done to merit thy hate? What have I not done to merit, rather, thy love?" But the same appeal comes to each of us. What has Jesus Christ done for thee, my friend, for me, for every soul of man?
III. LASTLY, WE HAVE HERE A WARNING OF SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS. The metaphor is a very plain one. The ox goad was a formidable weapon, some seven or eight feet in length, shod with an iron point, and capable of being used as a spear, and of inflicting deadly wounds at a pinch. Held in the firm hand of the ploughman, it presented a sharp point to the rebellious animal in the yoke. If the ox had readily yielded to the gentle prick given, not in anger, but for guidance, it had been well. But if it lashes out with its hoofs against the point, what does it get but bleeding flanks? Paul had been striking out instead of obeying, and he had won by it only bloody hocks. There are two possible applications of that saying, which may have been a proverb in common use. One is the utter futility of lives that are spent in opposing Divine will. There is a great current running, and if you try to go against it you will only be swept away by it. Think of a man lifting himself up and saying to God, "I will not!" when God says, "Do thou this!" or "Be thou this!" What will be the end of that? It is hard to indulge in sensual sin. You cannot altogether dodge what people call the "natural consequences." It is hard to set yourselves against Christianity. But there is another side to the proverb of my text, and that is the self-inflicted harm that comes from resisting the pricks of God's rebukes and remonstrances, whether these be in conscience or by any other means; including, I make bold to say, even such poor words as mine tonight. For if the first little prick of conscience, a warning and a guide, be neglected, the next will go a great deal deeper. And so all wrong-doing, and neglect of right-doing of every sort, carries with it a subsequent pain.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,