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It was the momentary triumph of faith over stubborn infidelity; of a Jew converted from his errors, over a Jew still pertinaciously adhering to those errors ; of one who had “ taken up the cross” and followed Christ, over one who, although he could not gainsay the evidence of his own scriptures to that same Christ,“ despised the cross," and
sought the praise of men, rather than the praise of God
The discourse by which St. Paul wrought this extraordinary effect upon his royal hearer, contains many topics specially adapted to awaken the attention of one who was conversant with the Jewish Scriptures. It adverts to “ the promise made to the Fathers, (the Patriarchs and the Prophets,) of a future Redeemer. This promise the Apostle represents to have been, to every Jewish believer, long a subject of anxious expectation; and he affirms that in what he had himself preached concerning Jesus, he had said“ none “ other things than those which the Prophets and Moses did
should come.” But since it was obvious that if these evidences were so powerful and convincing, St. Paul himself lay open to the charge of inexcusable perverseness in the vehement op
position he had at first made to the Christian faith ; the greater part of this address to Agrippa relates to the extraordinary circumstances which wrought his own conversion. He conceals not, neither does he attempt to palliate, his former conduct; when, under a persuasion that he “ ought to do
many things contrary to the name of Jesus “ of Nazareth,” he was foremost in every measure of persecution and bloodshed, against those who professed their belief in Christ. But this very persuasion, this strong prepossession which he had entertained against the cause he now defended, was in itself a strong presumptive argument of the sincerity of his present conviction ; and it was a virtual proof, that nothing less than a miraculous interposition could have brought it to pass. Yet, however sudden or miraculous the conversion might be, the Apostle shews that his continuance in the faith was not the result of superstitious terror, or of blind and implicit credulity, but was daily confirmed and strengthened by a deeper consideration of the Jewish Scriptures; in which he had from his youth been more than ordinarily instructed, though hitherto he had viewed them only through the veil of Jewish prejudice. Upon these proofs of the truth
and sincerity of what he advanced, he grounds his expostulation with the king himself, as one who could not fail to be deeply impressed by such cogent evidence.
Dismissing, however, any further consideration of the effect of this discourse upon Agrippa, it will be a more pertinent inquiry, with reference to our own conviction, to examine the peculiar nature and force of that testimony which is borne to the truth of Christianity by the conversion and apostleship of St. Paul.
The character of this distinguished Apostle, both before and after his conversion, becomes here the first object of inquiry.
Of himself he states, (and he appeals to the whole Jewish nation for the notoriety of the fact,) that he was “brought up at the feet of
Gamaliel,” a learned Jewish doctor, and had lived according to the strictest of the Jewish sects, a pharisee ; that he was “ zeal“ ous towards God,” in the same way that the most rigid Jews manifested their zeal, being intolerant of any thing which might appear to derogate from the sanctity of the Mosaic Law; that, with great impetuosity, he acted upon this principle; not content with testifying his own disbelief of the Gospel, but
imprisoning and beating in every synagogue “ them that believed on Christ ;" “ standing
by, when the blood of the martyr Stephen “ was shed, and consenting unto his death ;" “ compelling” some also“ to blaspheme;" and“ being exceedingly mad” against all who professed the Christian faith. These are his own expressions; and St. Luke, his companion and fellow-labourer in the Gospel, confirms the account, by saying that he “ made havoc “ of the church, entering into every house, “ and haling men and women, committed “ them to prison;" and that “breathing out
threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,” he “went unto the high-priest, and desired of him letters to “ Damascus to the synagogues, that if he “ found any of this way, whether men or
women, he might bring them bound unto “ Jerusalem 6.” So truly did he elsewhere describe his own conduct towards the Christian church to have been that of a “blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious."
It appears, however, that St. Paul had never seen Jesus until that extraordinary manifestation of his presence which wrought his conversion. Consequently he had not personally witnessed our Lord's miracles, nor heard his doctrines. These advantages he b Acts ix. 1, 2.
1 Tim. i. 13.
had not enjoyed; and as far as the want of them, and his excessive zeal for early prepossessions deeply rooted in his mind, could palliate his misconduct, more might be said in his excuse, than for the multitude of hardened unbelievers who resisted the very evidence of their senses, in their opposition to the truth.
The zeal, moreover, which this Apostle testified for the Gospel after his conversion, was no less fervent than that which before had actuated him in the cause of Judaism. It was no reluctant homage which he paid to it; neither was it a transitory effervescence, which glowed for a while, and then expired. But it was a firm, enduring conviction ; moderated only by that benevolent spirit which the Gospel itself inculcated. He became as patient now in suffering persecution, as he had before been vehement in inflicting it. In this he outstripped even the rest of the Apostles. He was “in labours more abun“ dant, in stripes above measure, in prisons “ more frequent, in deaths oft: in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of
robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, “ in perils by the heathen, in perils in the “ city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in “ the sea, in perils among false brethren ; in