Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 308 - January 1882
Thus was brought to pass a conversion of the highest character and the deepest interest, pregnant with widespread results never to pass away. The miracle found its justification, not only in the moral principles of the case or in the dispensational display at that point in God's ways, but especially in the all importance of such a heavenly revelation of His Son. Nevertheless Saul, when converted, though designated to a ministry which transcends that of every other man, enters the sphere of Christian confession by the same lowly portal as any other.
"Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias;' and the Lord said to him in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold I [am here], Lord. .And the Lord [said] unto him, Rise up, and go to the lane that is called Straight, and seek in Judas' house one of Tarsus named Saul" for behold he prayeth and hath seen in a vision1 a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands2 on him, so that he might receive his sight. And Ananias answered, Lord, I heard3 from many of this man, how much evil he did to the saints at Jerusalem; and here he hath authority from the high priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go, for he is a vessel of election to me, to bear my name before both4 Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel" for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake. And Ananias went and entered into the house; and laying his hands upon him he said, Brother Saul, the Lord, Jesus that appeared to thee in the way which thou earnest, bath sent me, so that thou mightest receive sight and be filled with [the] Holy Spirit. And immediately there fell from his eyes as itwere scales, and he received sight5; and rising up he was baptized" and he took food and was strengthened" (ver. 10-19).
There is much to learn from the connexion of Ananias with the new convert, total strangers to each other as they had been, save that the former well knew by public rumour of the latter's fierce enmity to all who called on the name of the Lord. He was himself a devout man according to the law, of unimpeachably good report among the Israelites of Damascus (Acts xxii. 12). Such was the man who had a vision of the Lord about Saul, as Saul had about Ananias: both corroborative, in the most simple and important way, of the miracle put forth on the occasion of Saul's conversion. If we see sometimes sill economy of divine power, here the dullest cannot bit, own a striking affluence; as indeed the end in view was most worthy. For in the testimony of the fresh witness were laid the great foundations of grace stud. truth, of the gospel and of the church, of individual christianity and of corporate blessedness, of the deepest truth for man's soul, of the fullest vindication of divine righteousness, of past wisdom in God's ways displayed, of future counsels of glory for heaven and earth and eternity to the praise of God and His Son; —the foundations of all this and mere were laid, as they had never been before and never need to be again. Who, acquainted with God's ways in His word, can wonder at the special pains taken to furnish outward vouchers of unusual fulness and of unquestionable force, so as to preclude all reasonable imputation of delusion on the one hand or of collusion on the other? The Lord has here seen to this remarkably: let us not overlook it.
Ananias had communications from the Lord (ver. 10-12), which even in Vision drew out the expression of his extreme surprise. Nor can there be conceived a more exquisite unfolding of the free intercourse which grace has now opened between the heart of the Master in heaven and that of the servant on earth. Ananias on one side ventures respectfully even to the verge of remonstrance (ver. 13, 14), after being told to seek Saul at Judas' house and recover his sight; as the Lord on the other over-rules all reluctance by the assurance not only of His own abounding grace, but of Saul's genuine repentance to fit him for the wonderful work to which he was henceforth called (ver. 15, 16). How entirely then may we not pour out our exercises of heart into His bosom, how implicitly count on His loving interest, who has all things at His disposal, and interests Himself in our history from first to last! For His eye of love is on the praying at such a house in such a street, no less than on the vast sweep of christian life and service from Arabia to Damascus, from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum, yea to Rome if not Spain, where His own name would be borne before both nations and kings and sons of Israel, and the many doings of Saul over the world of that day would be less than his many sufferings for Christ's name.' Truly he was a vessel of election to the Lord, in labours of love most abundant, in sufferings for Christ yet more unparalleled.
Ananias promptly obeys, goes to the house where Saul lodged, and, laying his hands on him, told out the errand on which he was sent, not only to restore Saul's sight but that he should be filled with the Spirit. The force of the message lay in this that the Lord, Jesus, who appeared to Saul in the way, now sent Ananias supernaturally to convey His blessing. How evident that God was at work, and that the Lord Jesus was the revealer of His mind and the medium of 13 is mercy, as He is the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His subsistence; not more surely man than God, and now the man glorified at His right hand who searches the reins and hearts, and controlled Ananias no less than Saul. If the vanity of man in his best estate was manifest to Saul's conscience (and no man had such reason as he to know this experimentally), the grace of God in the the Lord Jesus was equally evident. "And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and be received sight, and rising up he was baptized, and he took food and was strengthened." Saul submitted to baptism like any other. He was baptized by a simple disciple; and he himself subsequently taught others to lay no stress on his own baptizing anyone. "I thank God I baptized none of you but Crispus and Gains" (he wrote to the vain Corinthians), "lest any should say that I had baptized in my own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas; besides I know not whether Ι baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel." The proclamation of the truth is far beyond the administration of its sign. So we shall see that Peter preached at Caesarea, but consigned to others the baptizing of Cornelius with his kinsmen and his near friends. Indeed the same thing appears here" for nothing would have been easier than to have employed an official, at least a "deacon," if this had been desirable in God's sight, who surely has no pleasure in. breaking down His own order. A "disciple" baptizes the great apostle of the Gentiles.
But the most striking fact in all the transaction is the gift of the Spirit through Ananias: so decidedly did the wisdom of God in Saul's case break through the ordinary method of conferring the Spirit through the bands of an apostle, if, for special reasons, hands were employed at all. Here the utmost care was taken to π ark God laying all human pretensions in the dust. The employment of a disciple like Ananias lays the axe to the root of official pride; and this where the Lord was calling out the most honoured servant He ever deigned to use.
There is another remark to note of still more general importance, which the history of Saul's conversion brings into evidence. We must not confound, as popular preachers do, the reception of life and salvation. Life is always given immediately; not so salvation. Saul was quickened the moment he believed in the Lord Jesus. But this is quite distinct from what scripture calls "salvation"" and hence we see, in the state of Saul, during the intermediate three days, a plain testimony to this important difference. What searchings of heart!6 What deep questions were discussed in his soul during those days and nights, when he neither eat nor drank! Yet divine life was there all the while as truly as afterwards, faith too in the word of God, and in His glory who had smitten him down and revealed Himself to him and in him. But was this peace with God? Was it rest? Was he delivered consciously from all condemnation? Salvation is found in believing the gospel which presents the work of Christ in all its fulness, as God's answer to every difficulty of the conscience and heart. It is not, therefore, a mere confiding in the Lord for ultimate safety, but present deliverance enjoyed by the soul. Into this Saul was now brought. It is a great mistake therefore to talk of "salvation in a moment," "deliverance on the spot," or any other of the stock phrases of superficial revivalism, which ignore the word of God and spring from the confusion of life with salvation. After truly looking to the person of Christ with its soul-subduing power, a deep process habitually goes on in renewed souls, who are not satisfied with "life for a look," but face the overwhelming discovery of not only all they have done, but all they are in its evil and enmity against God and His Son. Self is thus judged in the light and humiliation is produced, without which there can be no solid and settled peace. In the style of preaching referred to, this is slurred over to the danger and injury of souls, quite as much as to the slighting of the full truth so due to Christ's glory.
And therein also is seen the practical importance of distinguishing the new birth of the Spirit from the gift of the Spirit, as we have repeatedly pointed out in expounding this book. The one goes with believing on the Lord, when first arrested by God's word in the midst of opeu sins or proud self-righteousness" the other is, when the soul (ploughed up by the word and learning its hopeless evil before God, humbled as well as troubled, yet not without hope, for Christ is believed in) finds in His all-efficacious work who for him died and rose, that his evil is all gone, root and branch and fruit, and that he is in Christ, a child of God and joint-heir with Christ, yea, dead and risen with Him, and so freed from all that can be against him, that he might live unto God. Of this, burial with Christ is the instituted symbol to which every christian submits; salvation is the expression of its standing privilege. Hence in his First Epistle (iii. 21) Peter brings in the comparison with Noah's Ark, and passing through the waters of death as the way of salvation" so Christ did personally and efficaciously for our sins, as we in spirit when baptized. The apostle carefully distinguishes between the mere outward effect of the water, and points to the true power in Christ's death and resurrection, of which baptism is the figure. Expressly however it is a figure, not of life, but of salvation, present salvation of souls; as we await the coming of the Lord for the salvation of our bodies when we shall be like Him even outwardly, seeing Him as He is.
Calvin will have it that Ananias laid hands on Paul, partly to consecrate him to God [from the context one gathers, ministerially], partly to obtain for him the gifts of the Spirit. It would not be worth noticing in general, for both are absolutely wrong; but the errors of great and good men are proportionately dangerous. The blessed man says of himself, "Paul, apostle not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him up from among the dead." Nor can we too vigilantly reject the error that confounds the gift (δωρεά) of the Spirit, or, we may add, the being filled with the Holy Spirit, with "the gifts" (χαρίσματα). Nor does it appear afterwards by the narrative that Ananias was also commanded to teach him, any more than this was implied in his subsequently baptizing him. How readily even the excellent of the earth let slip, or add to, and so spoil the holy deposit of the truth! It would rather appear that Ananias laid hands on Saul to cure his blindness, before he was baptized; after which he was filled with the Holy Spirit, without a hint of any such act subsequent to baptism.
1) 2) ἐν ὁρ. "in a vision," though given by most MSS. and Vv. finds no support in א A 61. Vulg. Sah. Memph. Aeth. There are also several changes of order in the words in these verses; and the oldest MSS. incline to the plural form of "hands," where the Text. Rec. after most has the singular.
3) The perfect has most MSS., but the more ancient give the aorist.
4) τε "both" א A B C E, eight cursives, &c. but τῶν is wrongly added by B Cpm.
5) "Forthwith" is here added in Text. Rec., but very high authority excludes the word, which is needless.
6) Calvin apparently sees only terror and makes the abstinence part of the miracle. Can one conceive a stranger absence of spiritual perception?