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The Conversion of Saul
THE mind of Saul was greatly stirred by the triumphant death of Stephen. He was shaken in
his prejudice; but the opinions and arguments of the priests and rulers finally convinced
him that Stephen was a blasphemer; that Jesus Christ whom he preached was an imposter, and
that those ministering in holy offices must be right. Being a man of decided mind and
strong purpose, he became very bitter in his opposition to Christianity, after having once
entirely settled in his mind that the views of the priests and scribes were right. His
zeal led him to voluntarily engage in persecuting the believers. He caused holy men to be
dragged before the councils, and to be imprisoned or condemned to death without evidence
of any offense, save their faith in Jesus. Of a similar character, though in a different
direction, was the zeal of James and John when they would have called down fire from
heaven to consume those who slighted and scorned their Master.
Saul was about to journey to Damascus on his own business; but he was determined to
accomplish a double purpose, by searching out, as he went, all the believers in Christ.
For this purpose he obtained letters from the high priest to read in the synagogues, which
authorized him to seize all those who were suspected of being believers in Jesus, and to
send them by messengers to Jerusalem, there to be tried and punished. He set out on his
way, full of the strength and vigor of manhood and the fire of a mistaken zeal.
As the weary travelers neared Damascus, the eyes of Saul rested with pleasure upon the
fertile land, the beautiful gardens, the fruitful orchards, and the cool streams that ran
murmuring amid the fresh green shrubbery. It was very refreshing to look upon such a scene
after a long, wearisome journey over a desolate waste. While Saul, with his companions,
was gazing and admiring, suddenly a light above the brightness of the sun shone round
about him, "and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul,
why persecutest thou Me? And he said, Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus
whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
The Vision of Christ
The scene was one of the greatest confusion. The companions of Saul were stricken with
terror, and almost blinded by the intensity of the light. They heard the voice, but saw no
one, and to them all was unintelligible and mysterious. But Saul, lying prostrate upon the
ground, understood the words that were spoken, and saw clearly before him the Son of God.
One look upon that glorious Being imprinted his image forever upon the soul of the
stricken Jew. The words struck home to his heart with appalling force. A flood of light
poured in upon the darkened chambers of his mind, revealing his ignorance and error. He
saw that, while imagining himself to be zealously serving God in persecuting the followers
of Christ, he had in reality been doing the work of Satan.
He saw his folly in resting his faith upon the assurances of the priests and rulers, whose
sacred office had given them great influence over his mind and caused him to believe that
the story of the resurrection was an artful fabrication of the disciples of Jesus. Now
that Christ was revealed to Saul, the sermon of Stephen was brought forcibly to his mind.
Those words which the priests had pronounced blasphemy, now appeared to him as truth and
verity. In that time of wonderful illumination his mind acted with remarkable rapidity. He
traced down through prophetic history and saw that the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, His
crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension had been foretold by the prophets, and proved Him
to be the promised Messiah. He remembered the words of Stephen: "I see the heavens
opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56), and he
knew that the dying saint had looked upon the kingdom of glory.
What a revelation was all this to the persecutor of the believers. Clear but terrible
light had broken in upon his soul. Christ was revealed to him as having come to earth in
fulfillment of His mission, being rejected, abused, condemned, and crucified by those whom
He came to save, and as having risen from the dead and ascended into the heavens. In that
terrible moment he remembered that the holy Stephen had been sacrificed by his consent,
and that through his instrumentality many worthy saints had met their death by cruel
"And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? And the
Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must
do." No doubt entered the mind of Saul that this was the veritable Jesus of Nazareth
who spoke to him, and that He was indeed the long-looked-for Messiah, the Consolation and
Redeemer of Israel.
When the effulgent glory was withdrawn, and Saul arose from the earth, he found himself
totally deprived of sight. The brightness of Christ's glory had been too intense for his
mortal sight, and when it was removed, the blackness of night settled upon his vision. He
believed that his blindness was the punishment of God for his cruel persecution of the
followers of Jesus. He groped about in terrible darkness, and his companions, in fear and
amazement, led him by the hand into Damascus.
Directed to the Church
The answer to Saul's question is, "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told
thee what thou must do." Jesus sends the inquiring Jew to His church, to obtain from
them a knowledge of his duty. Christ performed the work of revelation and conviction; and
now the penitent was in a condition to learn of those whom God had ordained to teach His
truth. Thus Jesus gave sanction to the authority of His organized church, and placed Saul
in connection with His representatives on earth. The light of heavenly illumination
deprived Saul of sight, but Jesus, the great Healer, did not at once restore it. All
blessings flow from Christ, but He had now established a church as His representative on
earth, and to it belonged the work of directing the repentant sinner in the way of life.
The very men whom Saul had purposed to destroy were to be his instructors in the religion
he had despised and persecuted.
The faith of Saul was severely tested during the three days of fasting and prayer at the
house of Judas, in Damascus. He was totally blind, and in utter darkness of mind as to
what was required of him. He had been directed to go to Damascus, where it would be told
him what he was to do. In his uncertainty and distress he cried earnestly to God.
"And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the
Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto
him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of
one Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen a vision
of a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his
Ananias could hardly credit the words of the angel messenger, for Saul's bitter
persecution of the saints at Jerusalem had spread far and near. He presumed to
expostulate; said he, "Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath
done to Thy saints at Jerusalem. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind
all that call on Thy name." But the command to Ananias was imperative: "Go thy
way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings,
and the children of Israel."
The disciple, obedient to the direction of the angel, sought out the man who had but
recently breathed out threatenings against all who believed on the name of Jesus. He
addressed him: "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the
way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with
the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he
received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized."
Christ here gives an example of His manner of working for the salvation of men. He might
have done all this work directly for Saul; but this was not in accordance with His plan.
His blessings were to come through the agencies which He had ordained. Saul had something
to do in the line of confession to those whose destruction he had meditated; and God had a
responsible work for the men to do whom He had authorized to act in His stead.
Saul becomes a learner of the disciples. In the light of the law he sees himself a sinner.
He sees that Jesus, whom in his ignorance he had considered an impostor, is the author and
foundation of the religion of God's people from the days of Adam, and the finisher of the
faith now so clear to his enlightened vision; the vindicator of the truth, and the
fulfiller of the prophecies. He had regarded Jesus as making of none effect the law of
God; but when his spiritual vision was touched by the finger of God, he learned that
Christ was the originator of the entire Jewish system of sacrifices; that He came into the
world for the express purpose of vindicating His Father's law; and that in His death the
typical law had met its antitype. By the light of the moral law, which he had believed
himself to be zealously keeping, Saul saw himself a sinner of sinners.
From Persecutor to Apostle
Paul was baptized by Ananias in the river of Damascus. He was then strengthened by food,
and immediately began to preach Jesus to the believers in the city, the very ones whom he
had set out from Jerusalem with the purpose of destroying. He also taught in the
synagogues that Jesus who had been put to death was indeed the Son of God. His arguments
from prophecy were so conclusive, and his efforts were so attended by the power of God,
that the opposing Jews were confounded and unable to answer him. Paul's rabbinical and
Pharisaic education was now to be used to good account in preaching the gospel and in
sustaining the cause he had once used every effort to destroy.
The Jews were thoroughly surprised and confounded by the conversion of Paul. They were
aware of his position at Jerusalem, and knew what was his principal errand to Damascus,
and that he was armed with a commission from the high priest that authorized him to take
the believers in Jesus and to send them as prisoners to Jerusalem; yet now they beheld him
preaching the gospel of Jesus, strengthening those who were already its disciples and
continually making new converts to the faith he had once so zealously opposed. Paul
demonstrated to all who heard him that his change of faith was not from impulse nor
fanaticism, but was brought about by overwhelming evidence.
As he labored in the synagogues his faith grew stronger; his zeal in maintaining that
Jesus was the Son of God increased in the face of the fierce opposition of the Jews. He
could not remain long in Damascus, for after the Jews had recovered from their surprise at
his wonderful conversion and subsequent labors, they turned resolutely from the
overwhelming evidence thus brought to bear in favor of the doctrine of Christ. Their
astonishment at the conversion of Paul was changed into an intense hatred of him like unto
that which they had manifested against Jesus.
Preparation for Service
Paul's life was in peril, and he received a commission from God to leave Damascus for a
time. He went into Arabia; and there, in comparative solitude, he had ample opportunity
for communion with God and for contemplation. He wished to be alone with God, to search
his own heart, to deepen his repentance, and to prepare himself by prayer and study to
engage in a work which appeared to him too great and too important for him to undertake.
He was an apostle, not chosen of men, but chosen of God, and his work was plainly stated
to be among the Gentiles.
While in Arabia he did not communicate with the apostles; he sought God earnestly with all
his heart, determining not to rest till he knew for a certainty that his repentance was
accepted and his great sin pardoned. He would not give up the conflict until he had the
assurance that Jesus would be with him in his coming ministry. He was ever to carry about
with him in the body the marks of Christ's glory, in his eyes, which had been blinded by
the heavenly light, and he desired also to bear with him constantly the assurance of
Christ's sustaining grace. Paul came into close connection with Heaven, and Jesus communed
with him, and established him in his faith, bestowing upon him His wisdom and grace.
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