His First Appearance as A Preacher.
Acts 9:19-25; Gal. 1:17; 2 Cor. 11:32, 33
A profound and permanent change had suddenly passed over Saul in the immediate vicinity of Damascus. The Saviour had shown Himself in glory, and spoken a few words of gracious power to him. The brightness of the vision had dazzled him into blindness, and with a smitten heart and faltering step he was led by his companions through the gate into the city. He had hoped to make the old Syrian capital the field of new triumphs, as he beat down the rising faith, and punished with merciless rigour the adherents of Jesus of Nazareth. But "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." The sunny landscapes through which he was passing suddenly lost their charm for the sightless traveller, and his mind's eye was turned inward on his own heart and history; the noise of so many rills—"streams from Lebanon"—dancing and singing through the gardens that surround Damascus, must have fallen faintly upon his ear, for there still rung in it a louder voice—"Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me;" and that was the knell of his previous life. As he moved along with all that awkwardness which one so suddenly bereft of vision must have exhibited, even though "the men which journeyed with him" guided his steps, his rapt spirit could be but little disturbed by the hum of the streets and the clamour of the bazaars. The scene of his fancied victories had in a moment become the scene of deepest anguish and self-prostration. Christ had waylaid him, and a brief challenge from His lips had at once arrested the present enterprise. For, it is only when Christ speaks that conversion really takes place; it is only when the soul apprehends His glory that it bows to His will, and feels the checks and impulses of His grace. Ananias was induced to overcome his natural scruples and visit Saul at his lodgings, in the street called "Straight;" and the first Christian face which Saul looked upon with complacency, was that of the "disciple" at whose bidding his blindness departed, and by baptism at whose hands he was formally admitted into the church. He had seen the serenity of Stephen's countenance when it beamed like that of an angel, but his rage had been whetted by his victim's composure. Now his eyes suddenly opened on a visitor, who had styled him "Brother Saul," and it must have been a troubled and mysterious gaze which he cast upon him as he heard him repeat the words—"Jesus who appeared unto thee by the way."
Saul had not been "forsaken," though he had been "cast down;" the three days of his soul's agony were to issue in peace. His spiritual life, like that of plant and flower, had germinated in darkness, and had been watered by tears and prayers; but it was soon to welcome the light, and be trained to a healthful activity and expansion.
"Light is sweet," and ere the scales had fallen from his eyes, his inner vision had been blessed with a glimpse of the truth—"the light of the glorious gospel of Christ" had shined in his heart. He had undergone in an instant the mightiest of all changes the soul of man can pass through, and which, in general experience, is often as sudden as with him whom Christ had thus surprised. There may be meditations and resolves and deep searchings of spirit—a succession of those terrible pangs which make the heart stand still, or of those perilous balancings of probable destiny, when the soul sends itself forward to the judgment, and strives to realize it; there may be these anxious flutterings about the boundary, but still on this side of it—till in a moment the line is crossed, and "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." As there is a first throb of the heart in the implantation of physical life, so is there a first pulsation of the soul through the energy of spiritual existence. This phenomenon is no mental novelty. There is an instant in which one is frequently conscious of renouncing one opinion and entertaining another, preceded, it may be, by scepticism, struggle, and oscillation, the results of conflicting proofs. Conviction may work its way slowly, and up to a certain point, though in the end the conclusion is suddenly gained; the words may linger long on the tongue, till, by an impulse quick as thought, they are at length pronounced. Amidst the mysteries of the will, this palpable fact is often disclosed—that while one may take long to make up his mind, his mind is finally made up by one effort and in that second of time when preference loses its passive character, and inducement ceasing to be a potential becomes an efficient motive. The instant in which Saul heard Jesus name him was that of a total and immediate revolution, for the truth rushed at once upon him that Jesus was true and divine, dwelling in glory, and possessed of sovereign power. The miracle lay not in the change itself, but in the way in which it was effected; the ordinary agencies of argument and remonstrance being superseded by the vision, which, from its very nature, created instantaneous impression and belief.
Still unrelieved of all his astonishment, and, perhaps, scarcely able at times to believe or realize the change which had come over him, Saul "was certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus." What mingled sensations must have been felt on both sides—a wolf among the flock; he, scarcely able to identify himself in the midst of the new associates whom he had travelled all the way from Jerusalem to devour; and they with difficulty regarding him as a brother, at whose threatened approach they had been so terrified. What Charles IX. would have been to a trembling company of Huguenots after the blood and panic of St. Bartholomew, had he avowed himself a protestant, and, lowering his sceptre, besought their forgiveness and fellowship; what Laud would have been to a secret assembly of Puritans, had he owned himself a convert, and flinging his mitre to the ground, asked with tears to be admitted to their communion; what Claverhouse would have been to a nocturnal meeting of Covenanters, had he suddenly burst in among them, protesting that now he was one of them, and claiming, as he tossed his sword from him, their commiseration and prayers—that must Paul have been to the disciples at Antioch. The whole scene was so strange, that they must have been somewhat bewildered, while "they rejoiced for the deliverance." Where were now the letters and the commission from the inquisitors in Jerusalem? Where now the terror produced by the well-known project "to bind all that call on Thy name?" The thunder-cloud had dissolved as it approached.
On the other hand, there must have been in Jerusalem no little anxiety for intelligence of Saul's doings at Damascus, with high anticipations of his success. It must have been felt by his employers, that whatever ardour and an unflinching sense of duty could do, would be done by him. The business was felt to be safe in the experienced hands of him of Tarsus. But no tidings came—no roll of persons arraigned, imprisoned, or tortured. What then? Probably flying rumours preceded—strange whispers, the origin of which could not be traced; and yet each member of the Sanhedrim might, in his perplexity, be asking his neighbour if he had heard them. Something unusual must have occurred—something that could not well be explained. At last there burst upon them the news that Saul had turned renegade; that their trusted and favourite agent had betrayed them; nay, that he had actually gone over to the enemy, and was openly preaching the hated faith. The council would scarcely credit such a rumour, but it was soon and amply confirmed. No doubt they were stunned; and some might mutter in their rage and wonder—"The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved, we bear up the pillars of it." Who could have dreamed that one so deeply committed as Saul; one so high in confidence, and who had lived but to suppress the infant religion; one who had volunteered to go on such an errand, so fully equipped with credentials, ay, and so sharply goaded on by his own zeal and fury—who could ever have dreamed that he, of all men, should waver, far less apostatize? The riddle could not be solved, though many explanatory hypotheses would soon be in circulation, and every solution but the true one received. The frantic commotion at Jerusalem is the counterpart of the joyous amazement at Damascus. Judaism had lost, Christianity had won; the loss was deplored or cursed, but the gain to that age and all ages after it could not be calculated.
For it was not simply the sudden stoppage of a bloody and malignant career, nor the mere peace of the saints in Damascus. There lay in that change not only the germ of a mighty power and many a successful sermon, but there also sprang from it toil and travel beyond the narrow limits of Judea, the conception of a gospel offered to men without distinction of blood or nation, and the composition of those letters of solace and warning, instruction and precept, which form so large a portion of the New Testament. Saul became the living repository of Christ's chosen purpose, as a "light to lighten the Gentiles," and he wrought out that ideal of a church which the Lord had sketched to him, and which, rising above what was local and temporary, gladdened Antioch and penetrated Rome, despaired not of Athens and shrank not from Corinth; which, in short, has hallowed Europe, and shall stretch itself over the world.
"Lord! thou wilt surely greet
Souls for Thy service meet;
No bars of brass can keep Thine own from Thee.
O! vainly Earth and Hell
Guard their grand captives well
Against the glimpses of Thy radiancy.
Thou streamest on their startled eyes,
And makest them Thine own by some Divine surprise.
"Forth from the leaguer fell
Wherein Thy foemen dwell,
The glorious captains of Thy host Thou takest;
The mighty souls that came
To quench the sacred flame,
The bearers of the Heavenly Fire Thou makest;
And hands that vexed Thy people most
Do wave the greenest palms of all the Martyr Host.
"The light not vainly glowed
On that Damascus road:
O not for nought that Voice Divine was heard,
The foeman was o'erthrown,
The champion made Thine own
When right against Thee in hot haste he spurred:
Then streamed forth the world to win
The mighty burning flame of Love which hate had been."
But Saul's mental temperament was neither blighted nor changed, A brief and single declaration of the Historian reveals his nature, and portrays the first appearance of Paul the Preacher—"Straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues—that he is the Son of God." So soon as his own opinions were formed, he began to urge them. He could as yet have no full or adjusted knowledge of the gospel; for he neither received it nor was taught it "of man, "but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" in a series of disclosures, made to him in all probability during his subsequent long stay in the deserts of Arabia, where alone and without disturbance he was brought face to face with the Lord, and had laid bare to his inspection the truth and relations, the connections and evidences of that great scheme, in the "defence and confirmation" of which he spent his life and met his death. But in the meantime he acted up to his light—what views he had he dared to express. He longed to disentangle others from the errors which had so long enslaved himself, for his was one of those practical natures in which conviction is identical with action. "Straightway he preached:" no wasting of strength by oscillation of purpose—no pang of shame that he must teach the religion which he had laboured, with stripes, and chains, and blood, to exterminate—no compromise with his feelings, as if he should only hint his doubts, and try to bring the question to a quiet discussion. He would not wear any disguise—"Straightway he preached." He had come to the truth, and he instantly was in an agony to inform others; for he knew their wants and also their prejudices. The Master's commission pressed upon him, and he must at once make amends for the havoc which he had wrought in the churches. Therefore he entered on the work; heedless of what might be thought of him, of what opprobrious epithets might be heaped upon him, or what ferocious enmity might be excited against him. Name and fame, with all objects of youthful aspiration, he threw aside, nor once cast a longing glance at them. "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." And he preached with constitutional intrepidity. He did not quietly ask a few of the more pious and peaceful Jews to his apartments "in the house of Judas" to talk over, without danger, the topics of dispute. He did not suggest such a timorous course, as if alarmed at his change, or doubtful of his tenacity. No. "Straightway he preached in the synagogues." Fearlessly he entered into their religious assemblies, and preached in the places where he had expected to scourge and torture the Christians, making them, as he had uniformly done in Judea, scenes of violence and outrage, of tears and blasphemy. It was a novel spectacle, and his audience could scarcely believe in its reality. It was passing strange, even to disciples. He whose rumoured coming had so terrified them, was now their ablest and boldest advocate. Such a moral miracle can the grace of Christ achieve. The assemblies of the Jews must have been convulsed with agitation—wonder on one countenance, incredulity on another—the eye of one suffused with tears, and the teeth of another gnashing in frenzy; while some tortuous spirits might cherish a forlorn hope that possibly the whole was a deep intrigue—a piece of daring hypocrisy to detect the Christians, and sweep them off in one resistless shock. And yet that earnestness could scarcely be assumed—those calm and commanding tones came from the heart: life and spirit were in those weighty and well-chosen words.
And the speaker did not fence about the subject, suggest some compromise, or deal in vapid generalities; but he openly and distinctly preached "Jesus, that He is the Son of God." This was the pith and marrow of the controversy; not simply that Messiah was divine, or that the great Deliverer should be superhuman, but that Jesus the babe of Bethlehem—"despised and rejected" of the nation, seized and "hanged upon a tree"—was the Son of God. Son of God was, in fact, a name of the Messiah. Nathaniel uses it—"Rabbi, thou art the Son of God." Peter employed it—"Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
"Art thou the Son of the Blessed?" asked Caiphas, "and Jesus said, I am." "Whosoever," adds the beloved disciple, "shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." The Angel of the Covenant, so often referred to in Hebrew narrative and oracle, and who is identifiable with the promised Saviour, was divine—no created Angel, but the Son of God often appearing in man's form, as if delighting to anticipate his future assumption of humanity. "I am Jesus," said the voice which arrested Saul, "the voice from the excellent glory;" and, therefore, he argued that this Jesus who had spoken to his inmost soul, and filled it with a new life and power, was the Son of God. His first sermon only told in other words that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The Son of Mary was the Son of God, the divine and divinely-promised Saviour. Now the proofs that Messiah should be the Son of God must have been taken principally from the Old Testament. The references in "the Law and the Prophets" must have been the leading steps of the demonstration. Nor are they few nor unimpressive. The names of Messiah are significant and full of mystery, and He who wears them must be divine. Thus, in Genesis, He is the woman's 'Seed,' and He alone of all men was born of a virgin—the 'Seed' of Abraham, too, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed—and 'the Shiloh' springing out of Judah, to whom 'the gathering of the people shall be:' in Exodus, the occupant of the burning bush—Jehovah's 'Angel' and yet Jehovah himself—'I am that I am,' the name of uncaused and unchanging Essence: in Leviticus, the God of that tabernacle, the splendour of whose golden furniture was dimmed by the resident glory of its divine Architect: in Numbers, the King and Lawgiver, with the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, the symbols of His awful and protecting presence: in Deuteronomy, the 'Prophet like unto Moses,' raised up from among his brethren, Jehovah speaking to him face to face—for so it was with the son of Amram: in Joshua, the 'Captain of the Lord's Host' with the drawn sword, before whom Jericho fell without the stroke of a battering ram, or the digging of a trench: in Judges, the 'Angel who did wondrously,' and went up in the smoke and flame of Manoah's accepted sacrifice: in the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, the Head and Guardian of the Theocracy, for under it to fear God and to honour the king were one and the same thing: in Job, the 'Daysman who can lay His hand upon both,' and the 'Redeemer who shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:' in Psalms, 'David's Son and David's Lord,' the Priest-king 'for ever, after the order of Melchisedec,' whose body was prepared for him by God, and which, though it went down to the grave, did not "see corruption:" in Proverbs, the incarnate 'Wisdom, by Him, brought up with Him, rejoicing always before Him:' in the Song of Songs, the august Bridegroom, whose royal splendour is equalled by his conjugal affection: in Isaiah, the 'Servant of Jehovah,' despised and scorned, 'wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities;' slain, but yet crowned and compensated for His sufferings, having divided to Him 'a portion with the great,' Himself 'dividing the spoil with the strong:' in Jeremiah, the 'Lord our Righteousness:' in Ezekiel, 'the likeness of a Man' on the sapphire-throne, served by the cherubim, and guiding the mystic mechanism of 'the wheel within the wheel:' in Daniel, 'Messiah cut off, but not for Himself—the 'son of man coming in the clouds of heaven:' in Hosea, the plague of death and destroyer of the grave: in Joel, the Lord and dispenser of the Spirit: in Amos, the 'Repairer of the breaches' in David's tabernacle: in Micah, the 'Ruler' whose birth is to be at Bethlehem, and whose 'goings forth have been of old, from everlasting:' in Zephaniah, 'He who rests in his love, and joys over his people with singing:' in Haggai, the 'Desire of all nations:' in Zechariah, the 'Man whose name is the Branch;' and, the 'Sun of Righteousness,' in the book of Malachi. And then came the argument that these descriptive epithets met in Jesus, and that His whole life embodied them. The preacher must have heard often of Jesus, and may have, at a prior period, learned the leading facts of His career in a distorted shape. But a few days in Damascus must have given him detailed and accurate information, and his trained mind was soon able to arrange it, and use it to advantage.
A Christian teacher must not be a "novice" or recent convert, lest he be lifted up with pride by his speedy elevation. So the apostle ruled, and so he exemplified it. He had shown the Jews of Damascus the change which had come over him, and he had laboured to make them partakers of his own vivid and imperious convictions. What success attended his labours we know not; perhaps the suddenness of his conversion may have made him an object of suspicion and distrust; some might be disposed to wait for further explanations of it, as if some chain of subordinate and personal motives might have led to it; others might compassionate him as partially bereft of his intellect by the startling radiance that had enveloped him near the bridge where he and his companions had fallen; as in short labouring under some hallucination which might gradually pass off, so that, as soon as he should come to himself, he should return more fondly and fixedly to his original creed. From whatever reason, the apostle left Damascus, and retired into the neighbouring deserts, where, perhaps, he might maintain himself by his handicraft as a tent-maker; tent-cloth, or a coarse cashmere, being woven of the hair of the shaggy goats in that region, as in his native province of Cilicia. In those solitudes the apostle spent a lengthened period. There his soul must have communed much with itself and God, and there he enjoyed successive revelations of the scheme of mercy. Great disclosures have resulted from solitary study, and from musing in scenes—
"Where woven shades shut out the light of day, While, towering near, the rugged mountains make Dark back-ground 'gainst the sky,"
discoveries in science, inventions in art, and forms of ideal beauty have flashed upon the self-rapt spirit as it held secret fellowship with nature. Dreams have fallen on it which indicate the dawn of a "better philosophy, and it has given incidental utterance to hints which have proved themselves the seeds of a bounteous harvest. "An horror of great darkness" may have occasionally enveloped him, for the mighty change did not mechanically fortify him against all memories, or shut out from him all anticipations. His susceptible nature must have undergone a process involving every variety of emotion and soliloquy; casting up the motives of the past, and forecasting the possibilities of the future; taking the measure of itself in searching and repeated self-questionings; sounding the depths of its convictions and resolves; a lifetime in awfulness and intensity of feeling, and in depth, vastness, and pressure of thought, crowded into the space of a few short months. Such agonies of preparation are the prelude to valiant deeds: the Slough of Despond precedes the firm path, and the Valley of Humiliation lies in front of the Delectable Mountains.
Saul studied theology in no earthly school, and under no human teacher. He called no man master, and after he left the feet of Gamaliel he never occupied a similar relation towards any other human being. Nor yet did he think out the various truths of the gospel for himself, or with the assistance of kindred minds. The doctrines which he subsequently proclaimed were not evolved by such a secret and prolonged mental process as a daring and speculative spirit loves to indulge in; for they were in no sense "after man"—neither in man's style of creation nor expression. The revelations which the recluse enjoyed, suspended his natural powers only so far as inventive genius was concerned. He had not to excogitate a system, but he had still to connect and comprehend the disclosures made to him. What the Divine Teacher time after time communicated to him, that he would revolve and meditate on, viewing it in all lights and upon all sides; till being mastered in sum and in detail, it was inwoven with his spiritual constitution, and became a portion of himself. The great reformer of philosophy could truly say—Thus Bacon thought; but the apostle of the Gentiles could only affirm—Thus was I taught. On such revelations he casts himself when his authority is open to question, as when, in writing on the Lord's Supper to the Corinthians, and referring to his account of the first scene, himself not having been present, he affirms—"I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you." So, when about to describe the free and full admission of Gentiles into the church—an idea that excited no little prejudice, and met with no common antagonism—he solemnly avers "how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery;" or as when he portrays the solemn mysteries of the last day—the rising of "the dead in Christ" before the change of the living—he announces, "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord." After the musings and revelations in Arabia, the "chosen vessel" was so filled with divine communication, that his chiefest pleasure afterwards lay in giving it out. By a resistless law of his spiritual nature, he could not but speak what his soul was surcharged with; and whether he thought of its truth or of its grace, its origin from God or its adaptation to man, it became a "necessity" for him to proclaim it. Saturated with evangelical truth, and urged on by the constraining power of the love of Christ, Saul returned to Damascus. And now, as he was more powerful in argument, his appeals must have been armed with a keener barb than on his first visit.
So that, after narrating the natural wonder and talk of spectators, the historian adds—"But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ"—proving—forging link after link in a chain of argument. Opposition did not daunt him. No appeal to the tenor of his past life could shame him—no satirical remarks about consistency could put him out. He rose in intellectual and spiritual power. He was well aware, from his own experience, what were the strongholds of Pharisaic pride and fanaticism. He could anticipate every objection, remove every scruple, and so enter into the spirit of his opponents as to meet and refute every doubt. He had but to remember how himself had felt and reasoned, and he was armed for his task, and then, with his new and additional information, he confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus. As he heaped proof upon proof in intense accumulation, as he laid bare their sophisms and gave them a vivid anatomy of their inner nature, transferred his own experience to them, exposed every prejudice, and overturned every refuge of lies—no wonder he "confounded" them; that is, he so perplexed them with his reasonings, that ingenuity failed them—they were struck dumb, and could not reply. They "could not resist the wisdom and power" by which he spake, as he was "proving that this is very Christ;" that this man who passed among men by the name of Jesus, is verily the long-promised and long-expected Christ or Messiah—that is, the anointed One—having in the unction of the Holy Ghost the seal and signal of His commission, and the great element of His qualification; for God gave "Him not the Spirit by measure"—"the Spirit of counsel and might"—the Spirit which descended "like a dove, and it abode upon Him"—since He was "justified in the Spirit;" "by the Spirit of God" He wrought miracles; "through the eternal Spirit"
He offered Himself; put to death in the flesh, He was "quickened by the Spirit;" nay, He was "declared to be the Son of God, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."
The evidence must have rested on a comparison of Christ's life with the "prophecies that went before concerning" Him. That evidence is varied and convincing. He was born at Bethlehem, as Micah had predicted, and before the four hundred and ninety years had expired, as Daniel had foretold; born of a virgin, and of the family of David, as the seers had announced; walking and worshipping in the second temple, as the last of the prophets had pre-intimated; baptized with the Holy Ghost, and assuming a public ministry, for thus had He been heralded; speaking, and that by parable, as the Psalmist had avouched; working, and that by miracle, as Isaiah had chanted; living a holy and gentle life, as long ago pencilled by the Spirit; betrayed by His "own familiar friend which did eat of His bread;" apprehended and put to death, according to "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God;"
His hands and feet pierced, and yet "not a bone of Him broken," for so had it been fore-pictured; offered vinegar in His thirst, as His suffering prototype had drunk before Him; "numbered among transgressors," for such had been the strange and awful utterance; a grave prepared Him with the two thieves, and yet laid in the tomb of "a rich man," who begged His body; the execrated of the world, and yet the Saviour of the world.
Such a demonstration was Saul's special work in the meantime. He upheld the claims of Jesus, as he was for the second time confronted with his countrymen, and there were fifty thousand of them in Damascus. He did not beat about the question, but brought it at once into earnest conflict. It was a question of life and death—it was the question of the age—the question for all ages—the identification of Jesus with that divine Emancipator whom the Hebrew bards had sung of in rapturous anticipation—with Him who, in taking humanity, was to redeem it, and in descending to the world was to lift it out of degradation and ruin, and elevate it to renewed fellowship with its Creator. It needed faith, indeed, to comprehend the mystery, for there had been no external manifestation. He was not born in a palace, nor swaddled "in soft raiment." The Babe did not sleep on a lordly couch, nor was there a glory round the head of the Youth. The Man was not surrounded with oriental luxuries, but He handled hammer and hatchet, when He earned His bread by the sweat of His brow and felt the primal curse. He wore no divine livery, as He wrought His miracles; and when He died, no choir of angels were heard singing hymns of comfort in His ear. What about Him, then, signalized Him? It needed a keen eye to watch Him, so as to detect His higher nature. But then, as you compare Him with the olden oracles, who can doubt their fulfilment in Him? Moses throws a halo over his successor "like unto" him. Aaron, clothed with the ephod and breast-plate, and carrying "the blood of goats and calves," represents Him dying and pleading. David, with his diadem on his brow, claims Him as his Son, and last and great successor. Yes, this is He, seen in the light of type and prophecy. O surely it is a sin of sins to reject Him. If men are "confounded," and yet are not convinced; if they cannot refute the proof, and yet in defiance of it will not admit the conclusion; if, though vanquished in argument, they withhold their faith, and fall back on prejudice, or wrap themselves in indifference—then surely theirs is the terrible condemnation of those who "love the darkness rather than the light," and, wilfully shrouding themselves in the gloom, gather it in thickening folds around them for ever. If this be the very Christ, let us hail His advent with rapture, contemplate His life in admiration, open our hearts to His words, strive to imbibe His spirit of untiring beneficence, prostrate ourselves in awful wonder round His cross, survey His empty tomb with sabbatic gladness, and follow Him with loud hosannahs as He ascends to His throne of Glory. Thou, the only-begotten Son of God and first-born Child of Mary—the living embodiment of Abraham's far-off visions and David's gladsome paeans; Thou, the Angel of the Covenant and the Man of sorrows; Thou, the Lord of the temple and the Infant of the manger—Blessed Jesus, Thou art the very Christ!
Saul's preaching during his second sojourn of "many days" at Damascus, so provoked his enemies that they resolved on his assassination—a miserable weapon of defence, and the token, too, of conscious defeat The same spirit was rising against Saul as had risen in his own mind against Stephen. He saw his former self alive again in those adversaries, and by himself could measure their truculent ferocity. The tormentor became in turn the tormented—the knife he had whetted was pointed against himself. "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake," said the Lord to Ananias; and the neophyte soon began to learn the lesson, and he who was "in perils oft" never ceased to learn it. The Jews in many cities had a species of separate internal government, with a local magistrate of their own race, somewhat in the same way as British residents in a foreign port are under the protection of a British consul. When, therefore, "they took counsel to kill him," they obtained the assistance of the garrison, so as to seize him and prevent his flight. But his friends interfered: the ethnarch under Aretas missed his prey; and the sentinels at the gates found their vigilance ineffective. That life was too richly laden to be so prematurely cut off: "Through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped." He who had entered Damascus a blind and stricken traveller, left it a fugitive in haste and by night, as if he Lad committed a crime, and sought in cowardice to avoid the penalty. His sincerity was tried, but he wavered not; the strength of his convictions was put to a hard and sudden test, but he stood it. Henceforth he might be used for any service the Master required—to do or to suffer; for the one or the other he was alike prepared, for into both he had been thus early initiated. Men may, by shifting sides, get greater popularity and a higher reputation for honesty. They may become leaders in the new warfare, or from a lower pinnacle they may be lifted to the summit, and the feeling that they are first may compensate them for any odium or satire which their change may have provoked. But Saul had no cheering prospect of this nature; for he was scorned by the Jews, then assaulted by the Judaizing Christians, and perhaps never fully trusted by the original apostles. His life was but a battle and a march, and a march and a battle, doing and suffering, suffering and doing. He was weak in every man's weakness, and burning with every man's offence; "in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness;" his heart oppressed and broken by "the care of all the churches." We who know the worth, wisdom, and devotedness of his life, are apt so to idealize him, that we cannot see these privations in their literal existence. We associate dignity and authority with the great preacher, and cannot picture the poor pinched stranger—insignificant, in "bodily presence," weary and footsore, ragged, hungry and shivering—coming into a city like a shiftless vagabond who had spent all, and was in want—the livid ring on his limbs so scantily clad, revealing his acquaintance with the stocks, and the scar of the whip on his back espied through his tattered mantle as he is seeking out a lodging in the meanest streets, where dwelt some pious Jews or proselytes amongst "the offscourings of all things." There he lived and fared, and thence he issued to preach "the unsearchable riches of Christ." And this was usual with him. Luther in knight's armour, Calvin in the garb of a vinedresser, Tyndale in a blouse, or Bunyan in a smock—these were but disguises assumed for a brief period to escape peril, but the apostle's normal state was one of privation and suffering. Never, except in the instance of his Master, had appearance and reality been in such contrast. That mind had insight little less in clearness or in reach than that of "the living creatures full of eyes." That heart had more than man's firmness, and more than woman's softness; and that life was devoted to his species with an aim that never wavered, and a self-feeding ardour which was never damped, and which could not be extinguished save in the blood of him who felt and cherished it.