On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 9:19-22.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 339 - August 1884


Chapter 9:19-22

Thus simply is brought before us the call and conversion of the great apostle, containing within the account itself the germ of that which was to be unfolded in his Epistles and called out by the demands of the work which mostly gave occasion to the Epistles.

It may be noticed that to bear Christ's name before Gentiles has the first place, the sons of Israel being put last, with "kings" placed between them. He was to be "apostle of Gentiles" (Hem. xi). For this, the call of the Lord from heaven was most appropriate. On earth He had sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When He sends from heaven, Israel ceases to have any such place. All mankind, before this, had joined and been lost in one common guilt. The Jews had even led the Gentiles to crucify Him. Israel's superiority after the flesh was therefore clean gone. Sovereign grace alone governs henceforth; and therefore, if any are to be prominently named, it is rather those who are most needy. Of such Saul was characteristically apostle.

"And he1 was certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And immediately in the synagogues he preached Jesus2, that He is the Son of God. And all that heard him were amazed and said, Is not this he, that in Jerusalem made havoc of those that called on this name, and had3 come hither for this thing, that he might bring them bound before the chief priest's? But Saul increased the more in power and confounded the4 Jews that dwelt in Damascus, proving that this is the Christ" (ver. 19-22).

Here we have a new departure of at least equal importance. From the very first Soul proclaimed Jeans to be the Son of God. This gave a new and higher character to the preaching.

The other apostles knew it but are not said to have preached it. Peter had long ago confessed the great truth with singular strength; and the Lord had pronounced him thereon blessed; for flesh and blood had not revealed it to him but His Father, that is in heaven. Yet do we never find Peter preaching or proclaiming the Lord thus at Pentecost and afterwards. He sets forth the crucified Jesus, as having been made both Lord and Christ. He dwells on His death, resurrection, and ascension. He represents Him as from heaven pouring forth the Holy Ghost, having received of the Father that promised gift. The greatest prominence is given to Jesus as the now glorified Servant of the God of Israel, exalted by God's right hand as Leader and Saviour to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins. Peter preached Him thus fully, but only as the Messiah, whom His people had rejected, whom God had raised from the dead and would send from heaven in, due time, to bring down all promised blessing. Beyond this he does not preach Christ, so far as the book of Acts teaches.

Stephen went beyond this at any rate in his last discourse. "Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." Any one familiar with the Psalms and the Prophets ought to have discovered, at least by the light of the New Testament, the import of this new title. " It opens out assuredly a far larger glory for the Lord than the realm of Israel. The Son of man is set over, not all mankind only, but all creation, He only being excepted (which shows its immense range) who set all things under Him. In Psalm viii. it is intimated that His humiliation unto death was the ground and way whereby the Lord passed into this glorious supremacy; and that we Christians see Him already crowned with glory and honour in consequence, though not yet do we see all things subjected to Him. Daniel vii. shews Him coming with the clouds of heaven in this same glory to the Ancient of days, and receiving dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages, should serve Him —an everlasting dominion withal, which shall not pass away neither shall His kingdom be destroyed, as that of all others had been. In this glory, however. before He comes to judge the quick and the dead, Stephen beholds Him through the opened heavens at the right hand of God. No doubt this was a sight miraculously vouchsafed to the proto-martyr; but what he then witnessed on high is revealed for us to know and profit by, even now in the Spirit.

Saul of Tarsus brings us an immense step beyond, for he proclaims Jesus in His proper and, divine glory as the Son of God; whilst it was reserved for John, the apostle, to give His most admirable record of the Lord in this self-same way and to show how the intrinsic glory of His person superseded every object hitherto precious in the eyes of Israel; a divine glory, which could not be hid though veiled in flesh, and which manifested itself on departing by sending down from heaven the other Paraclete, though (not less than Himself) a divine person, the Spirit of truth, not only to glorify Him, but that we might have fellowship with those who most of all enjoyed His presence here below; "and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."

It is well to notice that Saul thus preached Jesus "immediately" and "in the synagogues." Hence we may see how powerfully, and the more so because indirectly, the account of Luke confirms his own explicit statement to the Galatians, that he did not receive the gospel he preached from man, nor was he taught it but by revelation of Jesus Christ. Row strikingly too all this, so different from what learned and pious men say or think about it, falls in with the character of his preaching so distinct from all before him: the same Jesus, but His glory viewed, neither as connected with Israel, nor conferred because of His sufferings, but higher up and divinely personal. That he was formed in his peculiar line by Ananias is more worthy of a Corinthian than of a Reformer, though natural inn those who lay exaggerated and unscriptural stress on human elements for the training of Christ's servants. God is sovereign in this as elsewhere. The Lord had His own aims in calling Saul and Luke, as in the differing cases of Peter and James. He can call from learning and science, whether to pour contempt on human pride in such fields or to use them as He pleases; He can call from the land or sea these who have never known the schools to prove Himself superior to that which the vain world inordinately values. But Saul preached "immediately," and "in the synagogues." What a testimony to conscience that he should preach Jesus, and preach Him as the Son of God!

The reader will observe that for "Christ" in the Authorised Version after the Text. Rec. of ver. 20 is here substituted "Jesus," as it stands in the best authorities, followed by the Revised Version and others founded on carefully drawn up editions. It is not improbable that the later copies which introduced the error may have been swayed by ignorant considerations of a quasi-christian sort, unless it were a mere slip of memory which crept in and got perpetuated among those who understood not the difficulties and wants of such Jews as were addressed. To preach to them "the Christ " or Messiah, as the Son of God, would have served no adequate purpose and met with little if any opposition. They would have all allowed it in terms, even if none really entered into its full import. But the momentous truth Saul affirmed as as to Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth; and that He is the Son of God. What could be graver to a Jew? To accept it as of God was to condemn the people, and especially the religious, and find himself in the dust before the Crucified (now risen and on high) for whom this divine title was claimed in the highest and most exclusive sense. It became the turning-point not for time only but for eternity.

The signal change in the preacher also told powerfully. "All that heard were astonished and said, Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havoc of those that called on this name and had come hither for this thing, that he might bring them bound before the chief priests?" Such a conversion, coupled with his actual zeal for the truth, could not but be most impressive, as grace which had wrought intended it to be. "But Saul kept growing more in power and confounding the Jews that dwelt in Damascus, proving that this is the Christ." Here "Jesus" would lie quite out of place, and the Messiah is the truth meant; for advance in truth received and learnt from God does not cast a slight on a lower level which is equally of  God. And breadth of mind in taking into consideration an immense sweep of varied truth and harmonizing all in the Lord Jesus to God's glory is one of the marked traits of His most remarkable servant. The Messiahship of Jesus must ever be a capital matter in dealing with Jews. Higher glories there are, as we have seen, of surpassing interest and importance; and none ever rose higher, in principle at least, than Saul did from his first testimony as we were told. But the lowest point of view had for its urgent and indefatigable advocate the same devoted man who was the earliest to proclaim the highest. None of Christ's servants has ever shown equal largeness of heart. We may perhaps say of him, in a deeper as well as more heavenly sphere, what God says of king Solomon to whom He gave wisdom and understanding exceeding much, that God distinguished him by "largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore." (1 Kings iv. 29). The question of a christian woman's wearing her hair long, or her head duly covered, was to him connected with and answered by the vast scope of creation, the theatre of God's purpose in Christ, which put the man and woman in their true relative place, and bi˘ought: in the very angels as spectators meant to act on the spirit of such as walk by faith, not by sight. But who, save Saul of Tarsus, to settle a detail in conduct apparently so small, would ever have thought of such a scope in application of God's order and ways to maintain His moral glory? His waxing powerful does not mean that he overcame his adversaries in disputation, but that the Spirit so strengthened him by the deepening of his soul in the divine word, which no doubt did bear down more and more the puny urine of such as opposed themselves. Whatever might have been his vast natural ability, whatever his providential training under Gamaliel, it was in practical dealing with souls in the synagogues or individually that the new nature in the Spirit's power found its true field of unremitting exercise.