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gogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
We heard of Saul in the last chapter, as " consenting unto the death" of Stephen. He speaks of this afterwards himself, when describing his former state of mind. "I verily (xxvi. 9) thought within myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which things I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them." For he had been " brought up at the feet of Gamaliel:" "taught according to the most perfect manner of the law of the fathers," and, "according to the most straitest sect of their religion, had lived a Pharisee."2 Therefore being "zealous towards God," he "punished in every synagogue" those who confessed their faith in Christ, and "compelled them to blaspheme."3
In all this, as our Lord had foretold, he supposed that he was doing God service:* was doing what his religion required of him. Without much inquiry, he judged that whatever opposed the opinion and practice of his forefathers, must be wrong: and being of an ardent, zealous mind, he hotly persecuted those whom he looked upon as enemies of what he himself was following.
That he did this in ignorance and unbelief,5 he
> Ch. xxii. 3; xxvi. 5. 3 Ch. xxii. 11.
4 See John xvi. 2. * 1 Tim. i. 13.
afterwards acquaints us. But did he excuse himself, because he was zealous, though ignorant, and sincere, though unbelieving? Far from it. He frequently abases himself as "the chief of sinners," because he '' persecuted the church of God." He felt that his ignorance and his unbelief, were his sins: the sins of which he had need to repent, and did repent: because he was ignorant for want of inquiry, and unbelieving through prejudice and obstinacy.
He has left us an instructive example, to examine before we condemn: to be jealous of our own hearts: not to take for granted that nothing can be wrong which we imagine to be right, nothing right which we imagine to be wrong. Many have been fatally deceived, while pursuing what they held to be the good old way.
Doubtless, the heart, the conscience, the understanding, must determine our conduct. They are given us for that purpose. But the heart must be guided, for it is "deceitful above all things:" the conscience must be instructed according to God's law: the understanding directed by his grace: lest "ignorantly and in unbelief," but still to our eternal ruin, we "put darkness for light, and light for darkness."
Saul did this, whilst breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, he set out for Damascus, a city where great numbers of Jews were resident,6 and many had been con. verted to the faith. These were now threatened with a heavy storm; when it pleased God in a most unexpected manner to disperse the cloud, and give them joy for heaviness.
6 Damascus, in the reign of Nero, contained so many Jews, that ten thousand were slain at once in a quarrel with the other inhabitants.
3. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4. And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5. And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.1
6. And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
7. And the men which journeyed with him, stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
Saul had been as an animal unsubdued to the yoke, and contending against his master: kicking against the pricks, or goad, which urged him. This was a conflict in which he must fail at last. Yet the voice which warned him to desist, was rather a gentle than an angry voice; not so much of just indignation, as of kind remonstrance. Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Why persecutest thou Him, who came to bless thee: came that thou mightest have life, and have it more abundantly? Instead of contending against that which thou canst
7 A proverbial expression. (See Eurip. Bacch. v. 794; and Pind. Ode 2.) The unbroken bullock kicks against the driver's goad.
never overcome, "take my yoke upon thee, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly of heart; and thou shalt find rest unto thy soul."
8. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
9. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
Such was the effect of what had taken place, both upon his body and his mind. His outward sight was closed. But his inward sight had received new strength and vigour. We are told, afterwards, how he was employed. "Behold, he prayeth." He was engaged, then, these three days, in turning the eye of his mind towards himself, with "mourning, and fasting, and prayer." The Spirit was "reproving him of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:" and laying the foundation of a life to be hereafter spent in faith, and not in unbelief; in the true service of God, and in zeal "according to knowledge."
The event shows that what had happened to him was nothing in the common course of nature. A storm, or a stroke of lightning, might take away the senses for a time: might benumb the vital powers. But when the man recovered, he would be the same man: think, and judge, and act, as he had acted and judged before. Saul, when his bodily strength was restored, was no longer the same man. A change was effected in his heart, which can be effected by God alone. He was still zealous; but his zeal was not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. He was still sincere and active, but not presumptuous or rash: he humbly asks, Lord, what wouldest thou have me to do? What is thy will, in the employment of my talents, means, and opportunities?
Thus it is, according to the parable: (Luke xi. 21 :) "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace." Satan, unknown to Saul, was in fact the master whom he was serving; was, as a strong man, forcing him to use his powers to destroy the christian faith. And his goods were in peace. Saul then had no compunctious feelings: never perceived that he was the slave of Satan, and the adversary of God. But now it had happened, according to the conclusion of the parable. "When a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all the armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils." Saul had been wrested out of the power of Satan: and the conqueror would turn to his own use "the spoils:" would employ in his service the faculties which Saul so eminently possessed; the vigorous understanding, the acquired knowledge, the active zeal, and the unwearied energy. He would habitually and constantly ask the question, which here he asks in reference to the occasion, Lord, what wouldest thou have me to do? How can I best serve thee, with the faculties, the influence, the opportunities which thou hast given?