On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 9:23-27.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 340 - September 1884


Chapter 9:23-27

So sudden, surprising, and profound, a conversion. as that of Saul (by nature, character, attainments, and position the most zealous of Jewish adversaries), could not but make the deepest impression on all observers, especially of the circumcision. How confirmatory to the disciples at Damascus! How impressive in the synagogues to hear him proclaim Jesus as the Son of God! How suited to confound those who denied Jesus to be the Christ! God's grace displayed in it was such as to amaze all that heard. The very opposition of the restless enemy was for the moment paralysed.

"And when many days were fulfilled, the Jews consulted together to kill him; but their plot became known to Saul. And they were watching the gates also1 day and night that they might kill him; but the2 disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket.

And when he arrived at Jerusalem, he essayed to join himself to the disciples; and all were afraid of m, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took and brought him unto the apostles, and declared to them how he saw the Lord in the way and that He spoke to him, and how in Damascus he preached boldly in the name of Jesus" (ver. 23-27).

The Spirit of God appears to comprehend in the first verses the space of three years which the apostle .spent in Arabia, a fact of great significance as following on his conversion and used powerfully in the Epistle to the Galatians (i. 17) to prove how little man, even the twelve, had to do with it. His call was in no way from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father that raised Him from among the dead; even as the gospel he preached was not according to man, nor yet did he receive it from man, nor was he taught it but by revelation of Jesus Christ. It was expressly meant of God to be independent of Jerusalem and the twelve, but derived (call, apostolate, and gospel he preached) immediately from the prime source of grace, truth, and authority, the risen Head, and God Himself. Thus was secured what was all-important, not only for the Gentile saints then, and indeed thenceforward for the due intelligence of the body of Christ, but 'for our special profit now, so menaced at the end of the age with the revival of the early Judaizing which opposed the full gospel at the beginning, the heavenly as well as independent character of Paul's office and testimony.

Otherwise it seemed even more extraordinary for Saul than for Moses to go to Arabia. But as there -was of old divine wisdom in the long shelter there given to the future leader of Israel, so the break with -the flesh was complete in the briefer sojourn of the apostle of the Gentiles, where none on earth could imagine he was winning for himself a good degree either in the humanities or in divinity. Such was God's ordering manifestly and wholly distinct from man's ways. He. took no counsel with flesh and blood. He went not up to Jerusalem to those that were apostles before him, as all would else have thought most proper if not absolutely requisite. It was designedly on God's part death to the Jewish system in its best shape, and to all successional order, that Saul should go to Arabia, and again return to Damascus; and then after three years should go up to Jerusalem, not to receive office at apostolic hands, but to make acquaintance with Peter, there remaining but fifteen days, and seeing none other of the apostles save James the brother of the Lord. For his ministry was to be the true and fullest pattern of that which according to the will of God was to follow when the temporary Jerusalem order should pass away, and the Holy Spirit would bring out all the blessed and governing principles of a heavenly Christ for the church His one body on earth, as well as for His servants individually: a ministry of holy liberty, the expression of God's grace in the first communication of His truth, centering in the divine and glorified person of Christ, to the utter denial of man's will and the world's pride.

But the world, as the Lord had previously warned His disciples, hates those identified with Christ as it had hated Himself, and according to His word would persecute them as Him. And so Saul now proves at the hand of his old co-religionists, ever the most bitter. The Jews were plotting to make away with him. "Υea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God-service. And these things they do because they have not known the Father nor Me." How evidently and deeply true! Nor did any more strikingly and continually verify their truth than Saul of Tarsus. The sword of the Spirit was too incisive in his hands, no matter how great his love and lowliness, not to rouse the unquenchable resentment and deadly enmity of Satan. And when the Jews went so far as even to watch the gates of Damascus both night and day that they might despatch him, the disciples, much as they appreciated his ardent love of Christ and zeal for man's blessing, took him by night and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket. Miracle there was none, but an escape ordinary enough, if not ignominious for those who would surround the great apostle with a perpetual halo. How little they know of the cross, of God, and His ways!

This escape from murderous hands at Damascus he relates in the wonderful sketch of his devoted labours and sufferings which he recounts to the ease-loving Corinthians when set against the blessed apostle by the deceitful workers there fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. How admirably suited only to shame those who took care to work and suffer the least possible, but to kindle into burning love the feeblest spark in the true servants of Christ from that day to this! At the close of that list of trials which he gives as in foolishness in his confidence of glorying, if others gloried after the flesh, before he says a word of the man in Christ he knows—himself of course, but purposely so put— caught up even to the third heaven, he winds all up with this very incident, in a singularly isolated way, so as to bring into juxtaposition his being let down through a window in a basket by the wall with his being caught up into Paradise for exceedingly great revelations. Strange conjunction, but how instructive withal, the same one lowered from a window in a city wall, and caught uρ to heaven to hear unspeakable words! Who but Paul had even thought of thus glorying in the things that concerned his weakness; and, if he did mention his most singular honour as a living man, of taking care to tell us how, to counteract all self-exaltation, there was given him thenceforth a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him?

It may be well to note that in 2 Cor. xi. there is the additional information that the hostility he en countered was not confined to the synagogue but shared by the ethnarch of the then king, no doubt to do the Jews a favour, as others in somewhat the like position did afterwards. "In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king was guarding the city of Damascus, wishing to take me; and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands." This I cite, not to confirm the truth of Luke's account as if the divinely inspired word could be inaccurate or needed support for a believer, but to give a fresh instance of the moral purpose which reigns in all scripture, the true key to that peculiar method of God, which is as perfect for His own glory and the growth of His children, as it furnishes occasion to the unbelief of man who judges all in the self-confidence of his own intellectual powers, at the utmost very limited, great as they may be. Information, important as it is in its place, is one of the least objects in the word of God which lets the faithful into the communion of His mind and love.

But a new and very different lesson now opens in the city of solemnities, where not long since great grace was upon all, and the word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied exceedingly and a great crowd of even the priests were obedient to the faith. For Saul, having arrived at Jerusalem, essayed to join himself to the disciples, and all were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. How painful on the one hand for that vessel full of divine affections, that channel even then overflowing with a testimony of Christ beyond these doubting brethren whose grace was really so small as to question the largest measure that had ever crossed their eyes! But how helpful on the other hand for us and all saints, who have to learn that no one is to be received on his own responsibility, but on adequate testimony from others! A man unknown, or only known by circumstances calculated to alarm, must ordinarily have a wonderful opinion of himself or be surprisingly blind to the duties of others, if he expect to be welcomed within the holy bounds of Christ on the good account he gives of himself. And God's children must be exceedingly rash or indifferent to His glory who hold the door open without a commendatory letter, or (if this through circumstances failed) its equivalent in some satisfactory degree. He who can not present something of the kind ought rather to praise the care for the Lord's glory in His own, even if it call for a little patience or delay on his part; and never was there a time when such vigilance was more due in the interests of Christ and the church than in its present state. Let the saints only bear in mind that here too as everywhere it is a question not of letter but of spirit. Proof of reality Christward is and ought to be all that is wanted; while indifference to Him, and yielding all to the mere profession of His name, when nothing is so cheap, is the most offensive and guilty looseness. Legality is not well, where all should be grace; but it is at least far less indecent than laxity. And "letter" too could be most readily forged, as we should not forget, by an unscrupulous person.

Even if saints be ignorant or prejudiced, the Lord never fails and soon raises up an instrument to remove the difficulty. For Barnabas "took him and brought him to the apostles," (no more we have seen than Peter and James,) "and declared to them how he saw the Lord in the way, and that He spoke to him, and how at Damascus he preached boldly in the name of Jesus" (ver. 27).

That this course en the part of Barnabas was owing to previous acquaintance with Saul! that they two had studied together at Tarsus! where both knew nothing of the Lord Jesus, and that either,. even if true, could be a ground to satisfy the disciples, is just a sample of human guesswork—not to say of false principle—which disgraces those who cultivate such a style in the interpretation of scripture. But Christendom's hunger after all that tends to exalt the first Adam, as it demands such pabulum, is sure to find the supply where truth is neither trusted nor valued as displayed in Christ to God's glory. Is not the real key furnished by the sacred historian in a subsequent glimpse at Barnabas in ch. xi. 23, 24? When he saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted accordingly; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith. Nor was it in Antioch only or first that grace wrought mightily in him; for in far earlier days than either he had been singled out for what God had produced in him, in contrast with Ananias and Sapphira who had agreed together to• tempt the Spirit of the Lord (Acts iv. v). How much one gracious heart can effect, and how little it matters what the circumstances may be through which it seeks to please the Lord and help those that are tried! Yet how often, when such a character is formed and proved, a crisis arises too strong for all but the present guidance of the Lord above all that is of man; and grace in all its fulness must control, graciousness quite breaking down ! And so Barnabas proved at a later day. How little any then could have anticipated that Saul would be the one to reprove Peter as well as Barnabas for the allowance of flesh or law to the jeopardy of the truth of the gospel! Yet so we know it was; and scripture has set it out in glowing and imperishable words to preserve us in our weakness from like error. How thankful should we be, for the condescending mercy of our God who would thus turn to our account the mistakes even of the most honoured, instead of hiding or palliating all in the genuine spirit of party to the dishonour of the Lord and the irreparable injury of our own souls.

It may be well to note that this visit to Jerusalem (ver. 26, et segq.) is not to be regarded as immediately consequent, being named here in order to complete the history of Saul thus far by the account of his first introduction to the saints there.



1) The Text Rec. has παρετήρουν τι, but the best witnesses give παρετηροῦντο δὲ καί, and so the chief modern editor.

2) The oldest copies, with ancient Latin copies, have the strange reading "his" disciples, which appears to be as easy a slip as out of keeping with the account.