Obrazy na stronie

to be shown, and who were worthy of the severest tortures.

He is first introduced in the scriptures on the death of Stephen. When this holy man was martyred, (A. D.33 or 34,) Saul, who had probably been present at his sermon, (Acts vi. 9,)“ was consenting, or as the original word (ouvre d'oxwv) rather signifies, was highly pleased with his death. (viji. 1.) ACcording to the law for the punishment of blasphemers, (under which accusation Stephen died,) the witnesses were to cast the first stones, (Deut. xvii. 7.) While they did this, they put their clothes at the feet of Saul, who thus proved himself an accomplice with them.

On the general persecution which followed the death of this proto-martyr, Saul distinguished himself by his fury, and became one of its most active ministers. • He made havock of the church, entering into every house, and dragging away men and women, committed them to prison.” (viii. 3.) Unaffected by the delicacy of the female sex, whom the most barbarous soldiers respect, he made the most frightful ravages. He himself afterwards penitently laments that after the saints had been imprisoned by him, he gave his voice against them when they were put to death, and punished them in every synagogu and compelled them to blaspheme. (xx. 10,11.) When he saw that, notwithstanding his violence and fury, Christianity was extended; that the blood of the martyrs then proved, as it always has done, the seed of the church; and that the disciples who were scattered abroad, planted the gospel in the places whither they were driven, he became still more exasperated. In the strong language of Luke, “ He breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” (ix. 1.) Like a ferocious beast, who has devoured many innocent animals, he longs still for new prey. Hearing that many of the persecuted Christians had fled to Damascus, an ancient and celebrated city of Syria, and formerly its capital, (Isaiah vii. 8,) where they hoped to find pro-. tection from the pagan prince Aretas,* he goes in pursuit of them, and representing them probably as apostates and disturbers of the public peace, resolves to bring them back to Jerusalem to punishment and death. The Romans had left to the sanhedrim the power of judging in all matters relating to religion, and the distant synagogues acknowledged its

authority. Saul instead of waiting till a commission V is given him, implores it as a favour from the high

priest and sanhedrim, (xxii. 5, xxvi. 12.) The highpriest, who was either Caiaphas or Jonathan his successor, but probably the former,f with joy complied with his request, and gave him letters to the numerous Jews at Damascus, that they might concur with him, and interest the civil powers in his behalf. Behold him then departing. Hatred, anger, a bitter zeal possess his soul. Yet he applauds himself; he thinks he is doing God service; he rejoices in this work of blood; he combats religion under the standard of religion itself. Even tyrants have wept at signing the sentences of criminals; but Saul feels no kindly relentings, and displays more the disposition of a fiend than of a man.

* This I think, is certain ; but Scott says, it does not appear under whose authority Damascus now was.

† The conversion of Paul is supposed to have taken place A. D. 35. Caiaphas was deposed by Vitellius in this year, and succeeded by Jonathan, son of Ananus. Beausobre and L'Enfant say it was probably Matthias, but he was established by Agrippa in this office, in A. D. 41, and the conversion of Paul was long before.


Ah! who would have supposed that this most furious of persecutors would have become the most eminent of the apostles; that this ferocious lion would have been changed into a lamb; that, instead of going to distant cities to destroy the followers of Jesus, he should fly from country to country, holding up his cross as the ensign of salvation to the nations, and combat the obstinacy of the Jews, the blindness of the Gentiles, the false systems of the schools, and the pride of the great; that instead of shedding the blood of others, he should cheerfully pour out his own in defence of that faith which he now execrates? Such a change surely could be produced only by the omnipotence of grace.

Before we proceed further, let us here pause, and make some reflections on the character of Saul at this time. The manner in which he esteemed it, when he looked back upon it after his conversion, you well know. He termed himself “ the chief of sinners, not meet to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the church of God; a persecutor, a blasphemer, and injurious.” Nevertheless, in other respects, his morals were irreproachable; he was strict in the discharge of religious duties; “ touching the righteousness that is of the law, he was blameless;" he acted in conformity to what he supposed was his duty, for he “ verily thought he ought to do many things against the name of Jesus.”

From his example, let us be led to deplore, to execrate, and to avoid a cruel and blind zeal. Though those who are animated by it suppose it a heavenly flame, it resembles the fire of hell; it is even more dangerous; for this burns only the criminal, while a blind zeal consumes all, innocent and guilty; and still persuades itself that it is offering to God accep



table sacrifices. Zeal is necessary for the Christian; but it should be founded on a sincere love to God and man, attended by knowledge, be softened by tenderness and humanity, be regulated by prudence, abhorrent of cruelty. Without this, it is the source of a thousand crimes.

Let us learn, too, that the persuasion of the justice of an action is not sufficient of itself to justify it in the sight of God. Paul really supposed that he was complying with his duty, in persecuting those whom he falsely esteemed the enemies of God. Had his ignorance been involuntary, he had been excusable; but since he had not examined as he should the proofs of the divinity of Christianity, and since its rejection was founded on a corrupt temper of mind, he was not justified. Ah, my brethren! how different is the theology of Paul on this point from that of many in the present day! How many now maintain that it is indifferent what are our sentiments, and what our conduct, provided we are sincere! To follow a misguided conscience may lead us to destruction, as well as to resist an enlightened one.

Let us return to his history. Saul, fortified by letters from the high priest and sanhedrim, had now arrived near to Damascus. He was probably anticipating his triumphs, and plotting with his companions in what manner most successfully to execute his commission, and in anticipation feasting himself with the hope of exterminating these hated Christians; when, suddenly, a light far brighter than the sun, though it was then mid-day, shone around him. This light was a symbol of the divine presence, purity, and favour. Overpowered, Saul fell prostrate on the earth, filled with awe and surprise. These emotions are increased when this heavenly Being

cries to him, “ Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" These are the accents of charity; they are the earnest and campassionate expostulation of Jesus with one who, though on the brink of destruction, perceives not his danger, and in the commission of guilt feels not his crime. • Wherein have I injured thee? I died for thee, and now intercede in thy behalf. Is this the requital that is due to me? Wilt thou be so ungrateful as to reproach and blampheme the tenderest of friends? Wilt thou be so foolish as to contend with one possessed of unlimited power? Hast thou not already shed blood enough? In persecuting my disciples thou persecutest me, for they are united to me as members to their head. I feel what they suffer.' “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" O precious and consolatory truth for believers ! that “ in all their afflictions their Saviour is afflicted ;" that he observes and tenderly sympathizes with them! Though the Lord spoke in mercy, he spoke also effectually; and Saul, convinced that the glory which had surrounded him, and the voice which addressed him, proceeded from heaven, exclaimed, “ Who art thou, Lord,” • whom I have thus wickedly and ignorantly persecuted?' The Lord replied, “ I am Jesus whom thou persecutest;" that same Jesus who was delivered by wicked hands and crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, received into heaven, and crowned with the glory in which thou now beholdest me. Who can conceive the fear and terror of Saul, overcome by the sense of guilt, and the glory of the Redeemer? All that he has done and said against this Jesus rises to his remembrance. He beholds his present power, and his conscience acknowledges that it is indeed " hard to kick against the pricks." This is a proverbial mode of speaking,

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