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was a governor who] permitted the interference of the Sanhedrim with the synagogues, and greatly favoured those that persecuted the disciples of Christ. *]
We cannot conceive a state of mind more unfavourable to christianity, or less likely to issue in a cordial subjection to Christ, than that of which Saul was possessed at that moment. During a long journey, no misgivings of mind, no emotions of pity towards the innocent objects of his resentment, nor the smallest hesitation respecting the propriety and rectitude of his proceedings, appear to have been felt.
Notwithstanding this, he was suddenly stopped in his career, and effectually diverted from his purposes. The means by which this was accomplished, the inspired historian distinctly relates. He was a “chosen vessel,” of and he was "separated, from his mother's womb." The moment was arrived in which the gracious designs of God were to unfold themselves. But with what awful majesty is God pleased to attemper the dispensations of his grace towards guilty men! When he is pleased to shew mercy, it is in a manner worthy of himself, in a manner most adapted to stain the pride of man, and to cause “ that no flesh should glory in his presence.” If the God, with whom we have to do, appears great and awful in the revelation of his mercy, what will he be in the execution of his justice in the finally impenitent? Hitherto we have witnessed the dominance of pride, bigotry, and passion, suffered to operate without control; we are now to contemplate the interposition of divine grace in abasing that pride, dispelling that prejudice, allaying the tumult of that passion. We shall see, in the instance before us, what methods the Lord Jesus adopted, more fully to apprehend the fugitive and the rebel; to soften his heart, and make him become a willing captive at his feet : “ And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus : and suddenly there shone round about him a light from heaven; and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord ? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”*
* See 2 Cor. xi. 32 ; and Joseph. de Bell. Jud. lib. ii. cap. 25. The Romans, says Grotius, allowed the Jews the privilege of “ apprehending and beating," not only with regard to the Jews of Palestine, but also out of Palestine, wherever there were synagogues that acknowledged the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrim in matters of religion.-ED. † Acts ix. 15.
I Gal, i. 15.
In his speech before Agrippa, St. Paul relates the circumstance of the light shining round him, in the following manner : “At mid-day, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me, and them that journeyed with me.” This light was not indebted to a surrounding obscurity for any part of its lustre: on the contrary, it shone forth at mid-day with a splendour that eclipsed the beams of a meridian sun. It was the light of [divine) glory which Saul beheld on this occasion ; that light unapproachable, in which Jesus Christ continually dwells. It was of the same nature as that which St. John describes in his vision, when he says, “ His countenance was as the sun shining in his strength.” It was that light in which he will appear when he comes to judge the world, “ and every eye shall see him.”
* Acts ix. 3–5.
Much as the prophets and apostles have said of the glory of Christ, it is impossible for us to form an adequate conception of it: the full revelation of it is reserved for a future state, when, if we are true christians, “ we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”*
How short is the transition between this and the unseen world! How soon, when God pleases, can he transport his creatures into higher scenes of existence! It is but for him to draw aside the veil, and objects are presented to the view, compared to which, whatever is most admired on earth is mean and contemptible. Every moment we stand upon the confines of an eternal state, and, without dissolving the connexion betwixt soul and body, God can open a passage into the “heaven of heavens.” Why should we doubt of good men's being admitted into the more immediate presence of Christ at death, when we consider what Saul was permitted to see and hear before he was
* 1 John iii. 2.
finally removed from this world ? St. Stephen beheld the heavens open, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God; and Saul, in the transaction before us, was permitted to see that Just One, and to hear the words of his mouth. Along with the light a voice was heard, saying, “ Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord ? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”
This solemn question is replete with instruction. He does not condescend to reason with Saul; he enters into no vindication of his cause: with the dignity suited to his character, he expostulates and warns.
It deserves our attention, that he identifies himself with his disciples; he makes their cause entirely his own, and considers what is done against them as against himself : “ Why persecutest thou me ?” Christ and believers, notwithstanding the immense disparity of their circumstances, are one. He is touched with a feeling of their sufferings; and, whatever insults or reproaches are offered to them for his name's sake, he feels and resents as done to himself. Let those who are tempted to insult and despise the followers of Christ, on account of their conscientious adherence to him, remember that their scoffs and insults reach higher than they may apprehend; they will be considered as falling on their Sovereign and their Judge.
Personal injuries it is impossible now to offer to the Saviour; but the state of our hearts towards
him will be judged by our treatment of his followers : and he has warned us, that it were better a “millstone were hanged round our neck, and we buried in the depths of the sea, than that we should injure one of these little ones who believe on him."*
In answer to the inquiry, “Who art thou, Lord?” he replies, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” You will observe, he does not style himself here, the Christ, or the Son of God—“I am Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus was the proper name of our Lord, a common appellation among the Jews; and the addition of Nazareth had usually been made as expressive of contempt. In contempt, He was usually styled “ the Nazarene.” Our Lord was determined to confound Paul by the meanest of his appellations; and resolved to efface the ignominy attached to this appellation, and to cause himself to be adored by Saul under the very names by which he had been most vilified and contemned. “ It is hard,” he adds, “ for thee to kick against the pricks." He compares Paul to the bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, who, in order to free himself, wounds himself by kicking against the goads. Thus fruitless is all opposition to the cause of Christ. It will be injurious, it will be destructive to ourselves, if not desisted from; but can never eventually injure the cause against which it is directed. The heathen may rage, and yet “the Lord hath set his King upon his holy hill
* Matt. xviii. 6.