He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?"
Acts 19:9, 23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14, 22. A fuller expression is employed in 2 Peter 2:2, "By reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of," Our Lord had used the term in a very significant manner, saying, "I am the way (John 14:6); and the previous prophetic figure of the Messianic times - "An highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness '- would be in the memory of the disciples, and therefore they would be likely to accept the term if it was first started by their persecutors. Compare the name "Christian," which began as a taunt, and became accepted as an honorable title. In introducing this subject, reference may be made to the interesting fact that, from this point, Luke's record becomes almost entirely an account of St. Paul's labors, probably because round him centered the missionary work of the early Church, and he was its greatest representative. The kind of religious authority over all Jews exercised by the Sanhedrim, and the limitations of its power to imprisonment and beating and excommunication, require consideration. Saul probably went to Damascus for two reasons -
(1) because in the scattering the disciples were likely to have found shelter there; and
(2) because many Jews dwelt there, and especially those Greek Jews, who were most likely to become converts to the broad principles as taught by Stephen's party. It was against this particular party that Saul was so greatly incensed. Their teaching most effectually plucked the ground from beneath mere formal Judaism. Reverting to the term, "the Way, as descriptive of the Christian religion, and filling it with the larger meaning of our later knowledge, we may notice that it is -
I. A WAY OF THINKING. It is characteristic of Christianity that it has its own peculiar way of thinking about
Its "way of thinking" is placed under the guidance of special Divine revelation. And the starting-point of its thinking is that God has, "in these last days, spoken unto us by his Son." Probably the exact reference in this verse is to that "way of thinking" which Stephen introduced and taught, because that appeared to present special points of antagonism to the doctrine and authority of the Sanhedrim. There is still a "way of thinking" characteristic of Christ's disciples. With a large liberty there are well-defined lines beyond which the thinking, being unloyal to Christ, is unworthy of the Christian name.
II. A WAY OF FEELING. Every true disciple is distinguished by his admiration for, his trust in, and his love to, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the early Church the loyalty and the love were so strong that the disciples could endure shame and death for his sake. And still our "way of feeling" about Christ should mark us off from all the world; men should "take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus," that he has won our very hearts, and that to us henceforth "to live is Christ." Impress the important bearing of sustained high feeling on the power and joy of the Christian life.
III. A WAY OF WORKING. Besides the general modes of working characteristic of Christians, for the glory of God and the good of men, attention should be given to Stephen's way of working against mere formalism and ritualism, and in favor of spiritual religion; and the need for similar "ways of working" in each recurring over-civilized period should be impressed.
IV. A WAY OF LIVING. By their fruits of godliness and charity the early Christians were known. The Christian "way" is a "way of holiness," not of mere separateness, but of consecration; a way of laying all possessions or attainments on God's altar, and a way of using all powers and opportunities for God's service. - R.T.
He fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?I. CONSOLATION. This word is a two-edged sword; it carries comfort to those who are within, and reproof to those who are without. It is spoken to an adversary; but it is spoken for a friend. The first comfort given to fallen man was in a word spoken to his destroyer (Genesis 3:15). In the same way Israel was comforted, "Touch not Mine anointed," etc. Here, too, the Head will sustain the members by a reproof addressed to the Master. I scarcely know a more comforting word than this. Nowhere is the oneness of Christ and His disciples more clearly expressed. The Speaker is not now the Man of Sorrows: all power has been given into His hands. As you experience pain when any member of your body is hurt, so Christ cries out when an enemy's hand strikes some poor saint in Damascus. For this is the privilege of all Christians. Safety is secured, and therefore measured, by the power, not of the saved, but of the Saviour. The Queen's flag is the aegis of the temper woman as well as the stalwart warrior, and woe to the man who strikes either. Let Saul venture to say, Lord, when did we persecute Thee? The King shall answer, "Inasmuch as ye did it," etc. Here is my safety — I am His, part of Himself. We shall be able by and by to number up God's mercies, and nothing will be sweeter than the discovery of those signal rescues which Christ has achieved for us while we, like an infant sleeping in a burning house, were aware neither of the flame that was already singeing our garments nor of the strong arm of that brother who bore us beyond its reach.
II. REPROOF. While the word carries consolation to the disciples, it bears terrible reproof to adversaries. Mark here —
1. That although Saul is an enemy to Jesus, Jesus is no enemy to Saul, and the word is spoken not to cast him out, but to melt him down, and so win him near. In His glory, as in His humiliation, Jesus being reviled reviles not again. He draws a clear distinction between the converted and the unconverted, but it does not lie in that the first are received and the second rejected, but in this, that those who are already near are cherished as dear children, and the distant prodigals are invited to turn and live. Nor can we be surprised at this generosity. If, when we were His enemies, He won us, we cannot wonder that the door is still open for those who are without.
2. The form of the address betrays the tenderness of Jesus. The repetition of the name expresses sharp condemnation and tender pity. When you intend simple approval or disapproval you call the name only once; when you intend to condemn and win back you duplicate the call. "John" may be the prelude to either praise or blame, but "John, John," always means that he is doing evil, and that you mean him good (see John 20:16; cf. Luke 10:41, 42). It is the double call that Christ is addressing to the world today; at the great day it will be single — Depart ye cursed, or Come ye blessed.
3. In Saul's case the redoubled stroke was effectual. He grieved for the sin that was rebuked, and accepted the mercy that was offered.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)I. IT IS THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF UNCONVERTED MEN TO BE OF A PERSECUTING SPIRIT. "Cain," says Luther, "will kill Abel to the end of the world." Speaking of Ishmael and Isaac, the apostle observes, "As then he that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so it is now." The more zealous and holy believers are, so much the more will the malice of wicked men be levelled against them (Galatians 4:29; James 5:6: 1 John 3:12, 13). There are, however, different kinds and degrees of persecution. Though we are not in danger of bonds and imprisonments, yet the enmity of the wicked will show itself, either by injuries, unneighbourly treatment, vulgar abuse, or by one means or another. The Church of Christ has always been as a lily among thorns, or like a bush on fire, but not consumed (Psalm 55:21; Acts 22:4; Hebrews 11:35-39).
II. CHRIST HAS HIS EYE UPON PERSECUTORS AND IS ACQUAINTED WITH ALL THEIR WAYS. He also views things in their proper light, and calls them by their proper names. What Saul called doing God's service, He calls persecution. There is not a step which His enemies take but He marks it well, nor a pain His servants feel but He beholds it with an eye of pity. Saul is on his way to Damascus, unobserved by the disciples, who were now accounted as sheep for the slaughter: but the Shepherd of the flock sees the enemy coming to devour, and stops him in his wild career.
III. THE KINDNESS OR INJURIES DONE TO HIS PEOPLE, CHRIST CONSIDERS AS DONE TO HIMSELF. Let persecutors think of this and tremble. The union between Christ and His people is intimate and endearing; it is like that between the vine and its branches, between the head and the members. If the branch be cut off, the vine will bleed; and when one member suffers, the members suffer with it, and also the head! The same love that induced the Redeemer to suffer for His people, constrains Him to suffer with them. Christ is more tender of His body mystical than He was of His body natural, and is more sensible of His members' sufferings than He was of His own. Amidst all the cruel treatment He Himself met with, he never said, "Why scourge ye Me? why crucify ye Me?" But when Saul threatened destruction to His disciples, He calls to him from heaven, "Why persecutest thou Me?"
IV. CHRIST'S CALL TO THE PERSECUTOR WAS TO CONVINCE HIM OF SIN AND THIS IS THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS CONVERSION. This lays the foundation of repentance and faith; for we cannot repent of sin while insensible of its evil nature, nor do the whole need a physician, but they that are sick. Saul trembled at the voice which spake to him, and being astonished at the number and magnitude of his sins, as well as at the forbearance and compassion of the Saviour, cried out, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" He is now willing to be directed, and to obey Christ as his Lord.
V. THE CALLS OF CHRIST ARE EARNEST AND PARTICULAR. From among the rest of mankind He singles out the man towards whom He has designs of mercy. Thus He chose Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, and Zaccheus, whom curiosity had led up into a sycamore tree. And of the company that were going to Damascus, one is distinguished from the rest, and addressed by name. Hence his companions heard a voice, but knew not what was said. Ministers speak to all their hearers, and not to one more than another: but Christ speaks to the individual, and does not speak in vain. They draw the bow at a venture; but He aims at a certain mark, and never misses. Farther: Christ's call was earnest and pressing. There is something vehement and affectionate in the address: Saul, Saul! The Lord saw the danger he was in: He therefore warns him with a loud voice from heaven, and both pities and pardons his delusion. We see that all intercourse begins on Christ's part. His is preventing mercy, and previous to any inclination or endeavours on our part to seek after Him.
VI. PERSECUTION IS A GREAT SIN AND WHEN BROUGHT HOME TO THE CONSCIENCE OF AN AWAKENED SINNER, IT IS FOUND TO BE SO. It is so unreasonable as to admit of no defence, and none is made.
1. Is there any reason on My part? What injury have I done thee? For which of My good works dost thou persecute Me?
2. Is there any reason on the part of My people? Because they are My disciples, are they therefore worse parents or children, subjects or servants, friends or neighbours? Nay, are they not the salt of the earth, and the light of the world?
3. Is there any reason on thy part? Dost thou claim a right to judge for thyself: and have not they the same right? Who made thee thy brother's judge? Thou thinkest that truth is on thy side, and it is natural for thy neighbour to think the same. Dost thou allege the commission from the chief priests? Who authorised them to grant such a commission? Dost thou plead the Divine glory? Can God be glorified by a conduct contrary to all the feelings of humanity?
4. Will such conduct answer the end proposed? Force and violence may make men hypocrites, but cannot produce conviction. Will reproaches and injuries be more effectual than kind treatment and persuasion?Conclusion:
1. Christ's question to Saul should not only convince us of the evil of a persecuting spirit, but lead us to avoid and abhor it, as utterly contrary to the very genius of Christianity (Acts 26:10; 1 Corinthians 15:9).
2. From this example let not the most atrocious sinner, nor the bitterest persecutor despair, if brought to a sense of their evil conduct (1 Timothy 1:16).
(B. Beddome, M. A.)
I. SAUL AS A PERSECUTOR AND THE GUILT HE CONTRACTED IN BEING SUCH. However sincere he had been in doing it, however fully persuaded in his own mind that he was serving God in it; yet he never reflected upon it afterwards but with shame and regret, with a penitential sorrow and remorse for it (Acts 26:9; Acts 22:20; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:9). Saul, considered as a persecutor of the Church of God, cannot be acquitted of prejudice, partiality, and precipitate judgment, in a cause which demanded cool deliberation and the most scrupulous care.
II. WHAT MAY BE PLEADED TO ALLEVIATE HIS GUILT IN IT, ON ACCOUNT OF WHICH HE FOUND MERCY. He himself has intimated that, though he had been some time a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious, yet he obtained mercy because he did it ignorantly, in unbelief. He did not know that the Christian religion was from God, and that the Jewish was to cease and give way to it. He meant and intended well while he was doing amiss: this is his excuse. It may be said in answer, that he might have known better, if he had been pleased to examine. Very true, he might, and therefore he is blameable; but still his heart was honest and good, and therefore his mistake was pitiable and pardonable. His ignorance was not altogether affected and wilful, but had a great mixture of natural temper and human frailty to alleviate and qualify it. Our Lord, knowing the integrity of his heart, was pleased to overlook his failings, and to receive him into His own more immediate service. He approved his upright zeal, which wanted nothing but clearer light and a better direction. He indulges him the favour of a heavenly vision, condescends to speak to him from above, and finds him as willing and ready upon correction to embrace and propagate the Christian religion as he had before been to persecute and destroy it.
III. THE EXCEEDING GREAT GOODNESS OF OUR LORD, BOTH TO ST. PAUL AND TO THE CHURCH, IN THIS AFFAIR. How gracious were the words which our Lord spake: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? Next, He gave the good man a seasonable and a very affecting caution. I am Jesus, the Saviour of the world; it is hard for thee to contend with. One so much mightier than thou art: step thy career, and retreat in time. These were moving arguments, and pierced to the very soul. But, what is still more considerable, was the exceeding goodness therein shown to the Church in general. It was not only taking off a very furious and dangerous enemy; but it was making of him one of the kindest and best of friends. There was no man better qualified to serve the Church, both by preaching and writing, than St. Paul. He had great natural abilities, improved by a liberal and polite education; to which also were superadded many extraordinary supernatural gifts.
IV. THE PROPER USE AND APPLICATION.
1. Let us learn from the instance of St. Paul how much it concerns every man to take care that he judges right in all matters of high consequence especially, and that his conscience be duly informed. Infinite mischiefs may arise from an erroneous conscience and a misguided zeal.
2. From the same instance of St. Paul learn we a ready submission and obedience to truth and godliness when sufficiently propounded to us. Lay we aside all inveterate prejudices and stubborn reluctances, as soon as ever we have light enough to see that we have been in an error, and that we ought to retract.
3. Learn we from the whole transaction, the truth and certainty of our Lord's resurrection and ascension into heaven, His power and majesty there as Lord of all, and His exceeding goodness in looking down from thence to take care of His Church here below; and how dangerous a thing it will be, and how fatal to the undertakers, to persist in any attempts against Him.
(D. Waterland, D. D.)
LinksActs 9:4 NIV
Acts 9:4 NLT
Acts 9:4 ESV
Acts 9:4 NASB
Acts 9:4 KJV
Acts 9:4 Bible Apps
Acts 9:4 Parallel
Acts 9:4 Biblia Paralela
Acts 9:4 Chinese Bible
Acts 9:4 French Bible
Acts 9:4 German Bible
Acts 9:4 Commentaries