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sect. 11.] Conversion of Saul of Tarsus.
31 thought, the holy errand of extirpating heretics. About noon, Saul and his companions arrived in the vicinity of the city of Damascus, when suddenly there appeared to him the Schekinah or glory of the Lord, far more bright and dazzling than the sun in his meridian splendour, and this great light from heaven shone around them. Saul was sufficiently versed in Jewish learning to recognize this as the excelient glory, and he instantly fell to the earth as one dead. But how inconceivably great must have been his astonishment to hear himself addressed by name,“ Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” And yet, if alarmed at the question, his surprise could not be diminished on asking“ Who art thou Lord ?” to be told in' reply, “ I am Jesus whom thou persecutest,-it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Trembling and astonished, Saul inquired, “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Jesus said unto him, “ Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” And Saul arose from the earth, but the splendour of the vision had overpowered his bodily eyes, so that he was led by the hand into Damascus, where he remained three days without sight or food.
The Lord afterwards appeared in vision to a certain disciple, in Damascus, named Ananias, and directed him where he should find Saul, and what instrụctions he should give him as to his future conduct, telling him that he was a chosen vessel unto him, to bear his name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel, “ for I will shew him," said the Saviour,“ how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.”* Ananias obeyed the divine command, and laid his hands on Saul, when a thick film like scales fell from his eyes; his sight returned, his mind became tranquilized, and he was baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
* Acts ix. 1-16,
Thus the late persecuting Saul was numbered with the disciples; and in a few days “ he straightway preached Christ in the synagogue, that he is the Son of God;” an event, no less wonderful to the disciples which dwelt at Damascus than to their cnemies; but “ Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt there, proving that Jesus is the true Messiah."*
THE SUBJECT CONTINUED.
From the first preaching of the Gospel among the Gentiles,
to the return of Paul and Barnabus from their first journey
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus to the faith of Christ is a memorable event in the annals of the Christian church. Whether we consider the nature of the change which then passed upon his mind; the extraordinary signs which accompanied it—such as the miraculous shutting and opening of his eyes; or the astonishing effects which these things produced; we shall find something to excite our admiration, and lead us to admire the riches and sovereignty of divine grace. Such a revolution was now produced in all his sentiments and in all the springs of his life, as resembled the course of a mighty river changed from east to west by the shock of an earthquake. The supernatural signs which affected his bodily frame, shewed what befel his mind, and at the same time served to exemplify the effects which his ministry should pro
• Acts ix. 22.
SECT. 111.) Saul visits the Apostles.
S3 duce among the Gentiles, unto whom Christ now sent him “ to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”*
“When it pleased God,” says he, “who called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.”+ In that country he appears to have spent nearly the term of three years, I but the inspired historian has given us no account of the fruit of his ministry there. Our own reflections, however, may teach us to contemplate the wisdom of God, in directing the steps of Saul into Arabia, at this particular juncture of his life. His conversion to the christian faith must, in the eyes of his unbelieving countrymen, and especially of his former associates, have been in the highesť degree provoking. Engaged as he had formerly been in the most active measures for destroying the subjects of the kingdom of Christ, they must now necessarily have regarded him as a grand apostate, whose conversion tended greatly to weaken the cause in which they were so zealously engaged, while it strengthened the hands of the Christians.
But, notwithstanding the interval that had elapsed, and which, humanly speaking, might have given time for the fiercest rage to cool, Saul had no sooner returned to Damascus, than “ the Jews took counsel to kill him.”S The Lord, however, opened a way for his escape. For although his adversaries had prevailed upon the governor of the city to aid them with a military force; and though centinels were placed at the gates of the city night and day to prevent his escape; his friends let him down by night through a window in a basket, by the wall of the city, and thus frustrated their malicious designsell
+ Gal, i. 15–17.
• Acts xxvi. 18. with ch. ix. 17, 18. Acts ix. 23. O 2 Cor. xi, 32. VOL. I.
Saul, upon this, went up to Jerusalem to have an interview with some of the other apostles, where he met with Peter and James, and abode with them fifteen days. It is perfectly natural to suppose that such of the disciples of Christ; in that city, as had a personal knowledge of him, and had witnessed his former persecuting zeal against them, would, if unacquainted with his conversion, take the alarm on his again appearing among them. Such, in fact, was the case ; for when he attempted to join himself to them, “ they were all afraid of him, not believing him to be a disciple."* Their fears, however, were instantly dispersed by the intelligence which Barnabas gave them of his conversion, and of his subsequent preaching at Damascus. He was, therefore, received of the church, and gave them the most convincing proof of the sincerity of his profession, by the boldness with which, during the short time he was among them, he spake in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the members of the synagogue
with whom he had been formerly connected. The consequence was, that another effort was made to destroy him, which coming to the ears of his brethren, he was safely conveyed down to Cæsarea, and from thence sent to Tarsus, the place of his nativity.
The persecution which had arisen in consequence of the death of Stephen, and which occasioned the dispersion of the greater part of the church, had now raged during a period of four years. But it pleased God at this time to grant his people a season of repose and tranquillity.
Tiberius, who had swayed the imperial seeptre at Rome for three and twenty years, was now dead, and had been succeeded, as emperor, by his grandson Caius Caligula. So infamous had been the conduct of the former, and so odious had he rendered his character in the eyes of his subjects, that, if we may credit historians, he was
• Acts ix. 26.
Character of Caligula.
suspected of choosing the latter for his successor, foreseeing that Caius alone would outstrip him in what was vile and abominable.” * Certain it is that his excessive wickedness, and intolerably shocking behaviour, tended in no small degree to obliterate the recollection of the horror and infamy that had attached itself to the name of Tiberius.
The commencement of the reign of Caius was rather auspicious than otherwise. He signalized himself by several wise and beneficent acțions, and gained upon the love and popularity of his subjects. They retained an affectionate remembrance of his father Germanicus, and hoped the son would tread in his steps. But the atrocious character of the new emperor speedily began to develope itself, One of his first vile actions was the murder of the younger Tiberius, who had been appointed by the late emperor Tiberius, his colleague in the government of the empire. Another was the murder of Macro, a person to whom Caius himself owed the greatest obligations. When Caius did any thing unbecoming his dignity, it had been the custom of Macro to admonish him boldly of the impropriety of his conduct, a freedom which the despot soon grew weary of, and therefore ordered him to be put to death. To such a pitch of extravagance and impiety did he at length arrive, that he set himself ир a deity, and insisted upon being worshipped as such; a thing to which the Jews, of all nations, would never consent, and hence they incurred his resentment. Altars and temples were erected to Caius throughout the various countries then subject to the Roman arms, and the image of this detestable tyrant was set up as an object of adoration. An attempt was even made by some heathens who dwelt at Jamnia, a eity of Judea, and who had an aversion
+ Suetonius' Life of Calig. c. xi. Josephus Antiq. b. 18, c. 6.8 10. Eutrop. Brev. Hist. Rom, b, 7. $ 1%.
* Dion. Cassius, b. 58.