After the death and burial of Stephen the persecution still raged in Jerusalem. That temporary protection which had been extended to the rising sect by such men as Gamaliel was now at an end. Pharisees and Sadducees - priests and people - alike indulged the most violent and ungovernable fury. It does not seem that any check was laid upon them by the Roman authorities. Either the procurator was absent from the city, or he was willing to connive at what seemed to him an ordinary religious quarrel.
The eminent and active agent in this persecution was Saul. There are strong grounds for believing that, if he was not a member of the Sanhedrin at the time of Stephen’s death, he was elected into that powerful senate soon after; possibly as a reward for the zeal he had shown against the heretic. He himself says that in Jerusalem he not only exercised the power of imprisonment by commission from the High Priests, but also, when the Christians were put to death, gave his vote against them. From this expression it is natural to infer that he was a member of that supreme court of judicature. However this might be, his zeal in conducting the persecution was unbounded. We cannot help observing how frequently strong expressions concerning his share in the injustice and cruelty now perpetrated are multiplied in the Scriptures. In Luke’s narrative, in Apostle Paul's own speeches, in his earlier and later epistles, the subject recurs again and again. He "made havoc of the Church," invading the sanctuaries of domestic life, "entering into every house:" (Acts 8:3. See Acts 9:2) and those whom he thus tore from their homes he "committed to prison;" or, in his own words at a later period, when he had recognized as God’s people those whom he now imagined to be His enemies,
"For this very reason, I truly thought in myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus the Nazarean, Which I also did in Jerusalem; and many of the saints I shut up in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my full consent against them." (Acts 26:9-10, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV) where noted)
And not only did men thus suffer at his hands, but women also, - a fact three times repeated as a great aggravation of his cruelty. (Acts 8:3, 9:2, 22:4) These persecuted people were scourged - "often" scourged - "in many synagogues." (Acts 26:10) Nor was Stephen the only one who suffered death, as we may infer from the Apostle’s own confession. And, what was worse than scourging or than death itself, he used every effort to make them "blaspheme" that Holy Name whereby they were called. His fame as an inquisitor was notorious far and wide. Even at Damascus Ananias had heard (Acts 9:13) "how much evil he had done to Christ’s saints at Jerusalem." He was known there (Acts 9:21) as "he that destroyed them which call on this Name in Jerusalem." It was not without reason that, in the deep repentance of his later years, he remembered how he had "persecuted the Church of God and wasted it," (Galatians 1:13; See also Philippians 3:6) - how he had been "a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious;" (1Timothy 1:13) - and that he felt he was "not meet to be called an Apostle," because he had "persecuted the Church of God." From such cruelty, and such efforts to make them deny that Name which they honored above all names, the disciples naturally fled. In consequence of "the persecution against the Church at Jerusalem, they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria." The Apostles only remained. (Acts 8:1) But this dispersion led to great results. The moment of lowest depression was the very time of the Church’s first missionary triumph. "They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word." (Acts 8:4. See Acts 11:19- 21) First the Samaritans, and then the Gentiles, received that Gospel, which the Jews attempted to destroy. Thus did the providence of God begin to accomplish, by unconscious instruments, the prophecy and command which had been given:—
"But you yourselves shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8, HBFV)
The Jew looked upon the Samaritan as he looked upon the Gentile. His hostility to the Samaritan was probably the greater, in proportion as he was nearer. In conformity with the economy which was observed before the resurrection, Jesus Christ had said to His disciples, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 10:5, 6) Yet did the Savior give anticipative hints of His favor to Gentiles and Samaritans, in His mercy to the Syrophoenician woman, and His interview with the woman at the well of Sychar. And now the time was come for both the "middle walls of partition" to be destroyed. The dispersion brought Philip, the companion of Stephen, the second of the seven, to a city of Samaria. He came with the power of miracles and with the message of salvation. The Samaritans were convinced by what they saw; they listened to what he said; "and there was great joy in that city." When the news came to Jerusalem, Peter and John were sent by the Apostles, and the same miraculous testimony attended their presence, which had been given on the day of Pentecost. The Divine Power in Peter rebuked the powers of evil, which were working among the Samaritans in the person of Simon Magus, as Paul afterwards, on his first preaching to the Gentiles, rebuked in Cyprus Elymas the Sorcerer. The two Apostles returned to Jerusalem, preaching as they went "in many villages of the Samaritans" the Gospel which had been welcomed in the city.
Our attention is now called to that other traveler. We turn from the "desert road" on the south of Palestine to the desert road on the north; from the border of Arabia near Gaza, to its border near Damascus "From Dan to Beersheba" the Gospel is rapidly spreading. The dispersion of the Christians had not been confined to Judea and Samaria. "On the persecution that arose about Stephen"they had "traveled as far as Phoenicia and Syria." (Acts 11:19) "Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord," (Acts 9:1) determined to follow them. "Being exceedingly mad against them, he persecuted them even to strange cities." (Acts 26:11) He went of his own accord to the high priest, and desired of him letters to the synagogues in Damascus, where he had reason to believe that Christians were to be found. And armed with this "authority and commission," (Acts 26:12) intending "if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women," (Acts 9:2) to "bring them bound unto Jerusalem to be punished," (Acts 22:5) he journeyed to Damascus.
The great Sanhedrin claimed over the Jews in foreign cities the same power, in religious questions, which they exercised at Jerusalem. The Jews in Damascus were very numerous; and there were peculiar circumstances in the political condition of Damascus at this time, which may have given facilities to conspiracies or deeds of violence conducted by the Jews. There was war between Aretas, who reigned at Petra, the desert-metropolis of Stony Arabia, and Herod Antipas, his son-in-law, the Tetrarch of Galilee. A misunderstanding concerning the boundaries of the two principalities had been aggravated into an inveterate quarrel by Herod’s unfaithfulness to the daughter of the Arabian king, and his shameful attachment to "his brother Philip’s wife." The Jews generally sympathized with the cause of Aretas, rejoiced when Herod’s army was cut off, and declared that this disaster was a judgment for the murder of John the Baptist. Herod wrote to Rome and obtained an order for assistance from Vitellius, the Governor of Syria. But when Vitellius was on his march through Judea, from Antioch towards Petra, he suddenly heard of the death of Tiberius (A. D. 37); and the Roman army was withdrawn, before the war was brought to a conclusion. It is evident that the relations of the neighboring powers must have been for some years in a very unsettled condition along the frontiers of Arabia, Judea, and Syria; and the falling of a rich border-town like Damascus from the hands of the Romans into those of Aretas would be a natural occurrence of the war. If it could be proved that the city was placed in the power of the Arabian Ethnarch under these particular circumstances, and at the time of Apostle Paul's journey, good reason would be assigned for believing it probable that the ends for which he went were assisted by the political relations of Damascus. And it would indeed be a singular coincidence, if his zeal in persecuting the Christians were promoted by the sympathy of the Jews for the fate of John the Baptist.
But there are grave objections to this view of the occupation of Damascus by Aretas. Such a liberty taken by a petty chieftain with the Roman power would have been an act of great audacity; and it is difficult to believe that Vitellius would have closed the campaign, if such a city were in the hands of an enemy. It is more likely that Caligula, - who in many ways contradicted the policy of his predecessor, - who banished Herod Antipas and patronized Herod Agrippa, - assigned the city of Damascus as a free gift to Aretas. This supposition, as well as the former, will perfectly explain the remarkable passage in Apostle Paul's letter, where he distinctly says that it was garrisoned by the Ethnarch of Aretas, at the time of his escape. Many such changes of territorial occupation took place under the Emperors, which would have been lost to history, were it not for the information derived from a coin, an inscription, or the incidental remark of a writer who had different ends in view. Any attempt to make this escape from Damascus a fixed point of absolute chronology will be unsuccessful; but, from what has been said, it may fairly be collected, that Saul’s journey from Jerusalem to Damascus took place not far from that year which saw the death of Tiberius and the accession of Caligula.
No journey was ever taken, on which so much interest is concentrated, as this of Apostle Paul from Jerusalem to Damascus. It is so critical a passage in the history of God’s dealings with man, and we feel it to be so closely bound up with all our best knowledge and best happiness in this life, and with all our hopes for the world to come, that the mind is delighted to dwell upon it, and we are eager to learn or imagine all its details. The conversion of Saul was like the call of a second Abraham. But we know almost more of the Patriarch’s journey through this same district, from the north to the south, than we do of the Apostle’s in an opposite direction. It is easy to conceive of Abraham traveling with his flocks and herds and camels. The primitive features of the East continue still unaltered in the desert; and the Arabian Sheik still remains to us a living picture of the Patriarch of Genesis. But before the first century of the Christian era, the patriarchal life in Palestine had been modified, not only by the invasions and settlements of Babylonia and Persia, but by large influxes of Greek and Roman civilization. It is difficult to guess what was the appearance of Saul’s company on that memorable occasion. We neither know how he traveled, nor who his associates were, nor where he rested on his way, nor what road he followed from the Judean to the Syrian capital.
His journey must have brought him somewhere into the vicinity of the Sea of Tiberias. But where he approached the nearest to the shores of this sacred lake, - whether he crossed the Jordan where, in its lower course, it flows southwards to the Dead Sea, or where its upper windings enrich the valley at the base of Mount Hermon, - we do not know. And there is one thought which makes us glad that it should be so. It is remarkable that Galilee, where Jesus worked so many of His miracles, is the scene of none of those transactions which are related in the Acts. The blue waters of Tiberias, with their fishing-boats and towns on the brink of the shore, are consecrated to the Gospels. A greater than Paul was here. "When we come to the travels of the Apostles, the scenery is no longer limited and Jewish, but Catholic and widely-extended, like the Gospel which they preached: and the Sea, which will be so often spread before us in the life of Apostle Paul, is not the little Lake of Genesareth, but the great Mediterranean, which washed the shores and carried the ships of the historical nations of antiquity.
Whatever road was followed in Saul’s journey to Damascus, it is almost certain that the earlier portion of it brought him to Neapolis, the Shechem of the Old Testament, and the Nablous of the modern Samaritans. This city was one of the stages in the Itineraries. Dr. Robinson followed a Roman pavement for some considerable distance in the neighborhood of Bethel. This northern road went over the elevated ridges which intervene between the valley of the Jordan and the plain on the Mediterranean coast. As the travelers gained the high ground, the young Pharisee may have looked back, - and, when he saw the city in the midst of its hills, with the mountains of Moab in the distance, - confident in the righteousness of his cause, - he may have thought proudly of the 125th Psalm:"The hills stand about Jerusalem: even so standeth the Lord round about his people, from this time forth forevermore." His present enterprise was undertaken for the honor of Zion. He was blindly fulfilling the words of One who said:"Whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth God service." (John 16:2) Passing through the hills of Samaria, from which he might occasionally obtain a glimpse of the Mediterranean on the left, he would come to Jacob’s Well, at the opening of that beautiful valley which lies between Ebal and Gerizim. This, too, is the scene of a Gospel history. The same woman, with whom JESUS spoke, might be again at the well as the Inquisitor passed. But as yet he knew nothing of the breaking-down of the "middle wall of partition." (Ephesians 2:14) He could, indeed, have said to the Samaritans:"You do not know what you worship. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews." (John 4:22, HBFV). But he could not have understood the meaning of those other words:
"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is indeed seeking those who worship Him in this manner." (John 4:23, HBFV)
His was not yet the Spirit of CHRIST. The zeal which burnt in him was that of James and John, before their illumination, when they wished (in this same district) to call down fire from heaven, even as Elias did, on the inhospitable Samaritan village. (Luke 9:51- 56) Philip had already been preaching to the poor Samaritans, and John had revisited them, in company with Peter, with feelings wonderfully changed. But Saul knew nothing of the little Church of Samaritan Christians; or, if he heard of them and delayed among them, he delayed only to injure and oppress. The Syrian city was still the great object before him. And now, when he had passed through Samaria and was entering Galilee, the snowy peak of Mount Hermon, the highest point of Antilibanus, almost as far to the north as Damascus, would come into view. This is that tower of" Lebanon which looketh towards Damascus." (Son. 7:4) It is already the great landmark of his journey, as he passes through Galilee towards the sea of Tiberias, and the valley of the Jordan.
Leaving now the "Sea of Galilee," deep among its hills, as a sanctuary of the holiest thoughts, and imagining the Jordan to he passed, we follow the company of travelers over the barren uplands, which stretch in dreary succession along the base of Antilibanus. All around are stony hills and thirsty plains, through which the withered stems of the scanty vegetation hardly penetrate. Over this desert, under the burning sky, the impetuous Saul holds his course, full of the fiery zeal with which Elijah traveled of yore, on his mysterious errand, through the same "wilderness of Damascus." (1Kings 19:15) "The earth in its length and its breadth, and all the deep universe of sky, is steeped in light and heat." When some eminence is gained, the vast horizon is seen stretching on all sides, like the ocean, without a boundary; except where the steep sides of Lebanon interrupt it, as the promontories of a mountainous coast stretch out into a motionless sea. The fiery sun is overhead; and that refreshing view is anxiously looked for, - Damascus seen from afar, within the desert circumference, resting, like an island of Paradise, in the green enclosure of its beautiful gardens.
This view is so celebrated, and the history of the place is so illustrious, that we may well be excused if we linger a moment, that we may describe them both. Damascus is the oldest city in the world. Its fame begins with the earliest patriarchs, and continues to modern times. While other cities of the East have risen and decayed, Damascus is still what it was. It was founded before Baalbec and Palmyra, and it has outlived them both. While Babylon is a heap in the desert, and Tyre a ruin on the shore, it remains what it is called in the prophecies of Isaiah, "the head of Syria." (Isaiah 7:8) Abraham’s steward was "Eliezer of Damascus," (Genesis 15:2) and the limit of his warlike expedition in the rescue of Lot was "Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus." (Genesis 14:15) How important a place it was in the flourishing period of the Jewish monarchy, we know from the garrisons which David placed there, (2Sa. 8:6; 1Chronicles 18:6) and from the opposition it presented to Solomon. (1Kings 11:24) The history of Naaman and the Hebrew captive, Elisha and Gehazi, and of the proud preference of its fresh rivers to the thirsty waters of Israel, are familiar to every one. And how close its relations continued to be with the Jews, we know from the chronicles of Jeroboam and Ahaz, and the prophecies of Isaiah and Amos. (See 2Kings 14:28, 16:9, 10; 2Chronicles 24:23, 28:5, 23; Isaiah 7:8; Amos 1:3, 5) Its mercantile greatness is indicated by Ezekiel in the remarkable words addressed to Tyre: - "Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of the wares of thy making: they occupied in thy fairs with emeralds, purple, and broidered work, and fine linen, and coral, and agate. Damascus was thy merchant in the multitude of the wares of thy making, for the multitude of all riches; in the wine of Helbon, and white wool." (Ezekiel 27:16, 18) Leaving the Jewish annals, we might follow its history through continuous centuries, from the time when Alexander sent Parmenio to take it, while the conqueror himself was marching from Tarsus to Tyre - to its occupation by Pompey, - to the letters of Julian the Apostate, who describes it as "the eye of the East," - and onward through its golden days, when it was the residence of the Ommiad Caliphs, and the metropolis of the Mohammedan world, - and through the period when its fame was mingled with that of Saladin and Tamerlane, - to our own days, when the praise of its beauty is celebrated by every traveler. from Europe. It is evident, to use the words of Lamartine, that, like Constantinople, it was a "predestinated capital." Nor is it difficult to explain why its freshness has never faded through all this series of vicissitudes and wars.
It is not to be wondered at that the view of Damascus, when the dim outline of the gardens has become distinct, and the city is seen gleaming white in the midst of them, should be universally famous. All travelers in all ages have paused to feast their eyes with the prospect: and the prospect has been always the same. It is true that in the Apostle’s day there were no cupolas and no minarets. But the white buildings of the city gleamed then, as they do now, in the center of a verdant inexhaustible paradise. The Syrian gardens, with their low walls and waterwheels, and careless mixture of fruits and flowers, were the same then as they are now. The same figures would be seen in the green approaches to the town, camels and mules, horses and asses, with Syrian peasants, and Arabs from beyond Palmyra. We know the very time of the day when Saul was entering these shady avenues. It was at midday. The birds were silent in the trees. The hush of noon was in the city. The sun was burning fiercely in the sky. The persecutor’s companions were enjoying the cool refreshment of the shade after their journey: and his eyes rested with satisfaction on those walls which were the end of his mission, and contained the victims of his righteous zeal.
In the twenty-second and twenty-sixth chapters of the Acts we are told that it was "about noon" - "at mid-day" - when the "great light" shone "suddenly" from heaven (Acts 22:6, 26:13). And those who have had experience of the glare of a mid-day sun in the East, will best understand the description of that light, which is said to have been "a light above the brightness of the sun, shining round about Paul and them that journeyed with him." All fell to the ground in terror (Acts 26:14), or stood dumb with amazement (Acts 9:7). Suddenly surrounded by a light so terrible and incomprehensible, "they were afraid." "They heard not the voice of Him that spake to Paul" (Acts 22:9), or, if they heard a voice, "they saw no man" (Acts 9:7). The whole scene was evidently one of the utmost confusion: and the accounts are such as to express, in the most striking manner, the bewilderment and alarm of the travelers
But while the others were stunned, stupefied and confused, a clear light broke in terribly on the soul of one of those who were prostrated on the ground. A voice spoke articulately to him, which to the rest was a sound mysterious and indistinct. He heard what they did not hear. He saw what they did not see. To them the awful sound was without a meaning: he heard the voice of the Son of God. To them it was a bright light which suddenly surrounded them: he saw JESUS, whom he was persecuting. The awful dialogue can only be given in the language of Scripture. Yet we may reverentially observe that the words which Jesus spoke were "in the Hebrew tongue." The same language, in which, during His earthly life, He spoke to Peter and to John, to the blind man by the walls of Jericho, to the woman who washed His feet with her tears - the same sacred language was used when He spoke from heaven to His persecutor on earth. And as on earth He had always spoken in parables, so it was now. That voice which had drawn lessons from the lilies that grew in Galilee, and from the birds that flew over the mountain slopes near the Sea of Tiberias, was now pleased to call His last Apostle with a figure of the like significance:"Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the goad." As the ox rebels in vain against the goad of its master, and as all its struggles do nought but increase its distress - so is thy rebellion vain against the power of my grace. I have admonished thee by the word of my truth, by the death of my saints, by the voice of thy conscience. Struggle no more against conviction, "lest a worse thing come unto thee."
It is evident that this revelation was not merely an inward impression made on the mind of Saul during a trance or ecstasy. It was the direct perception of the visible presence of Jesus Christ. This is asserted in various passages, both positively and incidentally. In Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, when he contends for the validity of his own apostleship, his argument is, "Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ, the Lord?" (1Corinthians 9:1) And when he adduces the evidence for the truth of the Resurrection, his argument is again, "He was seen… by Cephas… by James… by all the Apostles… last of all by me… as one born out of due time" (1Corinthians 15:8). By Cephas and by James at Jerusalem the reality of Saul’s conversion was doubted (Acts 9:27); but "Barnabas brought him to the Apostles, and related to them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and had spoken with Him." And similarly Ananias had said to him at their first meeting in Damascus:"The Lord hath sent me, even Jesus who appeared to thee in the way as thou camest" (Acts 9:17). "The God of our fathers hath chosen thee that thou shouldest see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of His mouth" (Acts 22:14). The very words which were spoken by the Savior, imply the same important truth. He does not say, "I am the Son of God - the Eternal Word - the Lord of men and of angels:" - but, "I am Jesus" (Acts 9:5, 26:15), "Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 22:8). "I am that man, whom not having seen thou hatest, the despised prophet of Nazareth, who was mocked and crucified at Jerusalem, who died and was buried. But now I appear to thee, that thou mayest know the truth of my Resurrection, that I may convince thee of thy sin, and call thee to be my Apostle."
The direct and immediate character of this call, without the intervention of any human agency, is another point on which Apostle Paul himself, in the course of his apostolic life, laid the utmost stress; and one, therefore, which it is incumbent on us to notice here. "A called Apostle," "an Apostle by the will of God," Apostle sent not from men, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead;" (Galatians 1:1) these are the phrases under which he describes himself, in the cases where his authority was in danger of being questioned. No human instrumentality intervened, to throw the slightest doubt upon the reality of the communication between Christ Himself and the Apostle of the Heathen. And, as he was directly and miraculously called, so was the work immediately indicated, to which he was set apart, and in which in after years he always gloried, - the work of "preaching among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Ephesians 3:8. See Romans 11:13, 15:16; Galatians 2:8; 1Timothy 2:7; 2Timothy 1:11, &c) Unless indeed we are to consider the words which he used before Agrippa as a condensed statement of all that was revealed to him, both in his vision on the way, and afterwards by Ananias in the city:
"And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said, 'I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting. Now arise, and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose: to appoint you as a minister and a witness both of what you have seen and what I shall reveal to you. I am personally selecting you from among the people and the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, To open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the authority of Satan to God, so that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified through faith in Me.'" (Acts 26:15-18, HBFV)
But the full intimation of all the labors and sufferings that were before him was still reserved. He was told to arise and go into the city, and there it should be told him what it had been ordained that he should do. He arose humbled and subdued, and ready to obey whatever might be the will of Him who had spoken to him from heaven. But when he opened his eyes, all was dark around him. The brilliancy of the vision had made him blind. Those who were with him saw, as before, the trees and the sky, and the road leading into Damascus. But he was in darkness, and they led him by the hand into the city. Thus came Saul into Damascus; - not as he had expected, to triumph in an enterprise on which his soul was set, to brave all difficulties and dangers, to enter into houses and carry off prisoners to Jerusalem; - but he passed himself like a prisoner beneath the gateway; and through the colonnades of the street called "Straight," where he saw not the crowd of those who gazed on him, he was led by the hands of others, trembling and helpless, to the house of Judas, (Acts 9:11) his dark and solitary lodging.
Three days the blindness continued. Only one other space of three days’ duration can be mentioned of equal importance in the history of the world. The conflict of Saul’s feelings was so great, and his remorse so piercing and so deep, that during this time he neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:9) He could have no communion with the Christians, for they had been terrified by the news of his approach. And the unconverted Jews could have no true sympathy with his present state of mind. He fasted and prayed in silence. The recollections of his early years, - the passages of the ancient Scriptures which he had never understood, - the thoughts of his own cruelty and violence, - the memory of the last looks of Stephen, - all these crowded into his mind, and made the three days equal to long years of repentance. And if we may imagine one feeling above all others to have kept possession of his heart, it would be the feeling suggested by Christ’s expostulation:"Why persecutest thou ME?" (See Matthew 25:40, 45) This feeling would be attended with thoughts of peace, with hope, and with faith. He waited on God: and in his blindness a vision was granted to him. He seemed to behold one who came in to him, - and he knew by revelation that his name was Ananias, - and it appeared to him that the stranger laid his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. (Acts 9:12)
We know nothing concerning Ananias, except what we learn from Luke or from Apostle Paul. He was a Jew who had become a "disciple" of Christ (Acts 9:10), and he was well reputed and held to be "devout according to the Law," among "all the Jews who dwelt at Damascus" (Acts 22:12). He is never mentioned by Apostle Paul in his Epistles; and the later stories respecting his history are unsupported by proof. Though he was not ignorant of the new convert’s previous character, it seems evident that he had no personal acquaintance with him; or he would hardly have been described as "one called Saul, of Tarsus," lodging in the house of Judas. He was not an Apostle, nor one of the conspicuous members of the Church. And it was not without a deep significance, that he, who was called to be an Apostle, should be baptized by one of whom the Church knows nothing, except that he was a Christian "disciple," and had been a "devout" Jew.
Ananias came into the house where Saul, faint and exhausted (See Acts 9:19) with three days’ abstinence, still remained in darkness. When he laid his hands on his head, as the vision had foretold, immediately he would be recognized as the messenger of God, even before the words were spoken, "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 Spirit." These words were followed, as were the words of Jesus Himself when He spoke to the blind, with an instantaneous dissipation of darkness:"There fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith (Acts 9:18):" or, in his own more vivid expression, "the same hour he looked up on the face of Ananias (Acts 22:13)." It was a face he had never seen before. But the expression of Christian love assured him of reconciliation with God. He learnt that "the God of his fathers" had chosen him "to know His will," - "to see that Just One," - "to hear the voice of His mouth," - to be "His witness unto all men." (Acts 22:14, 15) He was baptized, and "the rivers of Damascus" became more to him than "all the waters of Judah" (See 2Kings 5:12) had been. His body was strengthened with food; and his soul was made strong to "suffer great things" for the name of Jesus, and to bear that Name "before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." (See Acts 9:15, 16)
He began by proclaiming the honor of that name to the children of Israel in Damascus. He was "not disobedient to the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19), but "straightway preached in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God," - and "showed unto them that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." His Rabbinical and Pharisaic learning was now used to uphold the cause which he came to destroy. The Jews were astounded. They knew what he had been at Jerusalem. They knew why he had come to Damascus. And now they saw him contradicting the whole previous course of his life, and utterly discarding that "commission of the high priests," which had been the authority of his journey. Yet it was evident that his conduct was not the result of a wayward and irregular impulse. His convictions never hesitated; his energy grew continually stronger, as he strove in the synagogues, maintaining the truth against the Jews, and "arguing and proving that Jesus was indeed the Messiah." (Acts 9:22)
The period of his first teaching at Damascus does not seem to have lasted long. Indeed it is evident that his life could not have been safe, had he remained. The fury of the Jews when they had recovered from their first surprise must have been excited to the utmost pitch; and they would soon have received a new commissioner from Jerusalem armed with full powers to supersede and punish one whom they must have regarded as the most faithless of apostates. Saul left the city, but not to return to Jerusalem. Conscious of his Divine mission, he never felt that it was necessary to consult "those who were Apostles before him, but he went into Arabia, and returned again into Damascus." (Galatians 1:17)
And if he went into Petrsean Arabia, there still remains the question of his motive for the journey, and his employment when there. Either retiring before the opposition at Damascus, he went to preach the Gospel, and then, in the synagogues of that singular capital, which was built amidst the rocks of Edom, whence "Arabians" came to the festivals at Jerusalem, (Acts 2:11) he testified of Jesus:— or he went for the purpose of contemplation and solitary communion with God, to deepen his repentance and fortify his soul with prayer; and then perhaps his steps were turned to those mountain heights by the Red Sea, which Moses and Elijah had trodden before him. We cannot attempt to decide the question. The views which different inquirers take of it will probably depend on their own tendency to the practical or the ascetic life. On the one hand it may be argued that such zeal could not be restrained, that Saul could not be silent, but that he would rejoice in carrying into the metropolis of King Aretas the Gospel which his Ethnarch could afterwards hinder at Damascus. (See 2Corinthians 11:32) On the other hand, it may be said that, with such convictions recently worked in his mind, he would yearn for solitude, - that a time of austere meditation before the beginning of a great work is in conformity with the economy of God, - that we find it quite natural, if Paul followed the example of the Great Lawgiver and the Great Prophet, and of one greater than Moses and Elijah, who, after His baptism and before His ministry, "returned from Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness." (Luke 4:1)
While Saul is in Arabia, preaching the Gospel in obscurity, or preparing for his varied work by the intuition of Sacred Truth, - it seems the natural place for some reflections on the reality and the momentous significance of his conversion. It has already been remarked, in what we nave drawn from the statements of Scripture, that he was called directly by Christ without the intervention of any other Apostle, and that the purpose of his call was clearly indicated, when Ananias baptized him. He was an Apostle "not of men, neither by man," and the Divine will was "to work among the Gentiles by his ministry." (Acts 21:9) But the unbeliever may still say that there are other questions of primary importance. He may suggest that this apparent change in the current of Saul’s thoughts, and this actual revolution in the manner of his life, was either the contrivance of deep and deliberate imposture, or the result of wild and extravagant fanaticism. Both in ancient and modern times, some have been found who have resolved this great occurrence into the promptings of self-interest, or have ventured to call it the offspring of delusion. There is an old story mentioned by Epiphanius, from which it appears that the Ebionites were content to find a motive for the change, in an idle story that he first became a Jew that he might marry the High Priest’s daughter, and then became the antagonist of Judaism because the High Priest deceived him. And there are modern Jews, who are satisfied with saying that he changed rapidly from one passion to another, like those impetuous souls who cannot hate or love by halves.
Can we then say that Apostle Paul was simply a fanatic or an impostor? The question has been so well answered in a celebrated English book, that we are content to refer to it. It will never be possible for any one to believe Apostle Paul to have been a mere fanatic, who duly considers his calmness, his wisdom, his prudence, and, above all, his humility, a virtue which is not less inconsistent with fanaticism than with imposture. And how can we suppose that he was an impostor who changed his religion for selfish purposes? Was he influenced by the ostentation of learning? He suddenly cast aside all that he had been taught by Gamaliel, or acquired through long years of study, and took up the opinions of fishermen of Galilee, whom he had scarcely ever seen, and who had never been educated in the schools. Was it the love of power which prompted the change? He abdicated in a moment the authority which he possessed, for power "over a flock of sheep driven to the slaughter, whose Shepherd himself had been murdered a little before;" and "all he could hope from that power was to be marked out in a particular manner for the same knife, which he had seen so bloodily drawn against them." Was it the love of wealth? Whatever might be his own worldly possessions at the time, he joined himself to those who were certainly poor, and the prospect before him was that which was actually realized, of ministering to his necessities with the labor of his hands. (Acts 20:33, 34; 1Corinthians 4:12; 1Thessalonians 2:9, &c) Was it the love of fame? His prophetic power must have been miraculous, if he could look beyond the shame and scorn which then rested on the servants of a crucified Master, to that glory with which Christendom now surrounds the memory of Apostle Paul.
We return to the narrative. Saul’s time of retirement in Arabia was not of long continuance. He was not destined to be the Evangelist of the East. In the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 1:18), the time, from his conversion to his final departure from Damascus, is said to have been "three years," which, according to the Jewish way of reckoning, may have been three entire years, or only one year with parts of two others. Meantime Saul had "returned to Damascus, preaching boldly in the name of Jesus." (Acts 9:27) The Jews, being no longer able to meet him in controversy, resorted to that which is the last argument of a desperate cause: they resolved to assassinate him. Saul became acquainted with the conspiracy: and all due precautions were taken to evade the danger. But the political circumstances of Damascus at the time made escape very difficult. Either in the course of the hostilities which prevailed along the Syrian frontiers between Herod Antipas and the Romans, on one side, and Aretas, King of Petra, on the other, - and possibly in consequence of that absence of Vitellius, which was caused by the Emperor’s death, - the Arabian monarch had made himself master of Damascus, and the Jews, who sympathized with Aretas, were high in the favor of his officer, the Ethnarch. Or Tiberius had ceased to reign, and his successor had assigned Damascus to the King of Petra, and the Jews had gained over his officer and his soldiers, as Pilate’s soldiers had once been gained over at Jerusalem. Apostle Paul at least expressly informs us, (2Corinthians 11:32) that "the Ethnarch kept watch over the city, with a garrison, purposing to apprehend him." Luke says, (Acts 9:24) that the Jews "watched the city- gates day and night, with the intention of killing him." The Jews furnished the motive, the Ethnarch the military force. The anxiety of the "disciples" was doubt less great, as when Peter was imprisoned by Herod, "and prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him." (Acts 12:5) Their anxiety became the instrument of his safety. From an unguarded part of the wall, in the darkness of the night, probably where some overhanging houses, as is usual in Eastern cities, opened upon the outer country, they let him down from a window in a basket. There was something of humiliation in this mode of escape; and this, perhaps, is the reason why, in a letter written "fourteen years" afterwards, he specifies the details, "glorying in his infirmities," when he is about to speak of "his visions and revelations of the Lord."
Thus already the Apostle had experience of "perils by his own countrymen, and perils in the city." Already "in journeyings often, in weariness and painfulness," (2Corinthians 11:26, 27) he began to learn "how great things he was to suffer" for the name of Christ. (Acts 9:16) Preserved from destruction at Damascus, he turned his steps towards Jerusalem. His motive for the journey, as he tells us in the Epistle to the Galatians, was a desire to become acquainted with Peter. (Galatians 1:18) Not that he was ignorant of the true principles of the Gospel. He expressly tells us that he neither needed nor received any instruction in Christianity from those who were "Apostles before him." But he must have heard much from the Christians at Damascus of the Galilean fisherman. Can we wonder that he should desire to see the Chief of the Twelve, - the brother with whom now he was consciously united in the bonds of a common apostleship, - and who had long on earth been the constant companion of his LORD?
How changed was every thing since he had last traveled this road between Damascus and Jerusalem! If, when the day broke, he looked back upon that city from which he had escaped under the shelter of night, as his eye ranged over the fresh gardens and the wide desert, how the remembrance of that first terrible vision would call forth a deep thanksgiving to Him, who had called him to be a "partaker of His sufferings!" (1Peter 4:13) And what feelings must have attended his approach to Jerusalem! "He was returning to it from a spiritual, as Ezra had from a bodily, captivity, and to his renewed mind all things appeared new. What an emotion smote his heart at the first distant view of the Temple, that house of sacrifice, that edifice of prophecy! Its sacrifices had been realized, the Lamb of God had been offered: its prophecies had been fulfilled, the Lord had come unto it. As he approached the gates, he might have trodden the very spot where he had so exultingly assisted in the death of Stephen, and he entered them perfectly content, were it God’s will, to be dragged out through them to the same fate. He would feel a peculiar tie of brotherhood to that martyr, for he could not be now ignorant that the same Jesus who in such glory had called him, had but a little while before appeared in the same glory to assure the expiring Stephen. The ecstatic look and words of the dying saint now came fresh upon his memory with their real meaning. When he entered into the city, what deep thoughts were suggested by the haunts of his youth, and by the sight of the spots where he had so eagerly sought that knowledge which he had now so eagerly abandoned! What an intolerable burden had he cast off! He felt as a glorified spirit may be supposed to feel on revisiting the scenes of its fleshly sojourn."
Thus, with fervent zeal, and sanguine expectations, "he attempted to join himself to the disciples" of Christ. (Acts 9:26) But, as the Jews hated him, so the Christians suspected him. His escape had been too hurried to allow of his bringing "letters of commendation." Whatever distant rumor might have reached them of an apparition on his journey, of his conduct at Damascus, of his retirement in Arabia, they could not believe that he was really a disciple. And then it was that Barnabas, already known to us as a generous contributor of his wealth to the poor, (Acts 4:36) came forward again as the "Son of Consolation," - "took him by the hand," and brought him to the Apostles. (Acts 9:27) It is probable that Barnabas and Saul were acquainted with each other before. Cyprus is within a few hours’ sail from Cilicia. The schools of Tarsus may naturally have attracted one who, though a Levite, was an Hellenist: and there the friendship may have begun, which lasted through many vicissitudes, till it was rudely interrupted in the dispute at Antioch. (Acts 15:39) When Barnabas related how "the Lord" Jesus Christ had personally appeared to Saul, and had even spoken to him, and how he had boldly maintained the Christian cause in the synagogues of Damascus, then the Apostles laid aside their hesitation. Peter’s argument must have been what it was on another occasion:"Forasmuch as God hath given unto him the like gift as He did unto me, who am I that I should withstand God?" (Acts 11:17) He and James, the Lord’s brother, the only other Apostle who was in Jerusalem at the time, gave to him "the right hands of fellowship." And he was with them, "coming in and going out," more than forgiven for Christ’s sake, welcomed and beloved as a friend and a brother.
The first meeting of the fisherman of Bethsaida and the tent-maker of Tarsus, the chosen companion of Jesus on earth, and the chosen Pharisee who saw Jesus in the heavens, the Apostle of the circumcision and the Apostles of the Gentiles, is passed over in Scripture in a few words. The Divine record does not linger in dramatic description on those passages which a mere human writing would labor to embellish. What took place in the intercourse of these two Saints, - what was said of Jesus of Nazareth who suffered, died, and was buried, - and of Jesus, the glorified Lord, who had risen and ascended, and become "head over all things to the Church," - what was felt of Christian love and devotion, - what was learnt, under the Spirit’s teaching, of Christian truth, has not been revealed, and cannot be known. The intercourse was full of present comfort, and full of great consequences. But it did not last long. Fifteen days passed away, and the Apostles were compelled to part. The same zeal which had caused his voice to be heard in the Hellenistic Synagogues in the persecution against Stephen, now led Saul in the same Synagogues to declare fearlessly his adherence to Stephen’s cause. The same fury which had caused the murder of Stephen, now brought the murderer of Stephen to the verge of assassination. Once more, as at Damascus, the Jews made a conspiracy to put Saul to death: and once more he was rescued by the anxiety of the brethren. (Acts 9:29, 30)
Reluctantly, and not without a direct intimation from on high, he retired from the work of preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem. As he was praying one day in the Temple, it came to pass that he fell into a trance, and in his ecstasy he saw Jesus, who spoke to him, and said, "Make haste and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me." He hesitated to obey the command, his desire to do God’s will leading him to struggle against the hindrances of God’s providence - and the memory of Stephen, which haunted him even in his trance, furnishing him with an argument. But the command was more peremptory than before:"Depart; for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles." The scene of his apostolic victories was not to be Jerusalem. For the third time it was declared to him that the field of his labors was among the Gentiles. This secret revelation to his soul conspired with the outward difficulties of his situation. The care of God gave the highest sanction to the anxiety of the brethren. And he suffered himself to be withdrawn from the Holy City.
They brought him down to Caesarea by the sea, and from Caesarea they sent him to Tarsus. (Acts 9:30) His own expression in the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 1:21) is that he went "into the regions of Syria and Cilicia." From this it has been inferred that he went first from Caesarea to Antioch, and then from Antioch to Tarsus. And such a course would have been perfectly natural; for the communication of the city of Caesar and the Herods with the metropolis of Syria, either by sea and the harbor of Seleucia, or by the great coast-road through Tyre and Sidon, was easy and frequent. But the supposition is unnecessary. In consequence of the range of Mount Taurus, Cilicia has a greater geographical affinity with Syria than with Asia Minor. Hence it has existed in frequent political combination with it from the time of the old Persian satrapies to the modern pachalics of the Sultan: and "Syria and Cilicia" appears in history almost as a generic geographical term, the more important district being mentioned first. Within the limits of this region Saul’s activities were now exercised in studying and in teaching at Tarsus, - or in founding those Churches which were afterwards greeted in the Apostolic letter from Jerusalem, as the brethren "in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia," and which Paul himself confirmed after his separation from Barnabas, traveling through "Syria and Cilicia."
Whatever might be the extent of his journeys within these limits, we know at least that he was at Tarsus. Once more we find him in the home of his childhood. It is the last time we are distinctly told that he was there. Now at least, if not before, we may be sure that he would come into active intercourse with the Heathen philosophers of the place. In his last residence at Tarsus, a few years before, he was a Jew, and not only a Jew but a Pharisee, and he looked on the Gentiles around him as outcasts from the favor of God. Now he was a Christian, and not only a Christian, but conscious of his mission as the Apostle of the Gentiles. Therefore he would surely meet the philosophers, and prepare to argue with them on their own ground, as afterwards in the "market" at Athens with "the Epicureans and the Stoics." (Acts 17:17, 18) Many Stoics of Tarsus were men of celebrity in the Roman Empire. Athenodorus, the tutor of Augustus, has already been mentioned. He was probably by this time deceased, and receiving those divine honors, which, as Lucian informs us, were paid to him after his death. The tutor of Tiberius also was a Tarsian and a Stoic. His name was Nestor. He was probably at this time alive: for he lingered to the age of ninety-two, and, in all likelihood, survived his wicked pupil, whose death we have recently noticed. Now among these eminent sages and instructors of Heathen Emperors was one whose teaching was destined to survive, when the Stoic philosophy should have perished, and whose words still instruct the rulers of every civilized nation. How far Saul’s arguments had any success in this quarter we cannot even guess; and we must not anticipate the conversion of Cornelius. At least, he was preparing for the future. In the Synagogue we cannot believe that he was silent or unsuccessful. In his own family, we may well imagine that some of those Christian "kinsmen," (Romans 16) whose names are handed down to us, - possibly his sister, the playmate of his childhood, and his sister’s son, who afterwards saved his life, - were at this time by his exertions gathered into the fold of Christ. Here this chapter must close, while Saul is in exile from the earthly Jerusalem, but diligently occupied in building up the walls of the "Jerusalem which is above."
Spreading the Gospel to the world
Hitherto the history of the Christian Church has been confined within Jewish limits. We have followed its progress beyond the walls of Jerusalem, but hardly yet beyond the boundaries of Palestine. If any traveler from a distant country has been admitted into the community of believers, the place of his baptism has not been more remote than the "desert" of Gaza. If any "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" have been admitted to the citizenship of the spiritual Israelites, they have been "strangers" who dwell among the hills of Samaria. But the time is rapidly approaching when the knowledge of Christ must spread more rapidly, - when those who possess not that Book, which caused perplexity on the road to Ethiopia, will hear and adore His name, - and greater strangers than those who drew water from the well of Sychar will come nigh to the Fountain of Life. The same dispersion which gathered in the Samaritans, will gather in the Gentiles also. The "middle wall of partition" being utterly broken down, all will be called by the new and glorious name of "Christian."
And as we follow the progress of events, and find that all movements in the Church begin to have more and more reference to the Heathen, we observe that these movements begin to circulate more and more round a new center of activity. Not Jerusalem, but Antioch, - not the Holy City of God’s ancient people, but the profane city of the Greeks and Romans, - is the place to which the student of sacred history is now directed. During the remainder of the Acts of the Apostles our attention is at least divided between Jerusalem and Antioch, until at last, after following Apostle Paul's many journeys, we come with him to Rome. For some time Constantinople must remain a city of the future; but we are more than once reminded of the greatness of Alexandria:(See Acts 6:9 (with Acts 2:10), Acts 27:6, 28:11; and compare Acts 18:24, 19:1, with 1Corinthians 1:12, 3:4-6, and Titus 3:13) and thus even in the life of the Apostle we find prophetic intimations of four of the five great centers of the early Catholic Church.
At present we are occupied with Antioch, and the point before us is that particular moment in the Church’s history, when it was first called "Christian." Both the place and the event are remarkable: and the time, if we are able to determine it, is worthy of our attention. Though we are following the course of an individual biography, it is necessary to pause, on critical occasions, to look around on what is passing in the Empire at large. And, happily, we are now arrived at a point where we are able distinctly to see the path of the Apostle’s life intersecting the general history of the period. This, therefore, is the right place for a few chronological remarks. A few such remarks, made once for all, may justify what has gone before, and prepare the way for subsequent chapters.
With the accession of Claudius the Holy Land had a king once more. Judea was added to the tetrarchies of Philip and Antipas, and Herod Agrippa I. ruled over the wide territory which had been governed by his grandfather. With the alleviation of the distress of the Jews, proportionate suffering came upon the Christians. The "rest" which, in the distractions of Caligula’s reign, the Churches had enjoyed "throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria," was now at an end. "About this time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church." He slew one Apostle, and "because he saw it pleased the Jews," he proceeded to imprison another. But he was not long spared to seek popularity among the Jews, or to murder and oppress the Christians. It is evident that we have only to ascertain the successive intervals of his life, in order to see him at every point, in his connection with the transactions of the Empire. "We shall observe this often as we proceed. At present it is more important to remark that the same date throws some light on that earlier part of the Apostle’s path which is confessedly obscure. Reckoning backwards, we remember that "three years" intervened between his conversion and return to Jerusalem. (Galatians 1:18)
The date thus important for all students of Bible chronology is worthy of special regard by the Christians of Britain. For in that year the Emperor Claudius returned from the shores of this island to the metropolis of his empire. He came here in command of a military expedition, to complete the work which the landing of Caesar, a century before, had begun, or at least predicted. When Claudius was in Britain, its inhabitants were not Christian. They could hardly in any sense be said to have been civilized. He came, as he thought, to add a barbarous province to his already gigantic empire; but he really came to prepare the way for the silent progress of the Christian Church. His troops were the instruments of bringing among our barbarous ancestors those charities which were just then beginning to display themselves (See Acts 11:22- 24, and 27-30) in Antioch and Jerusalem. A "new name" was faintly rising on the Syrian shore, which was destined to spread like the cloud seen by the Prophet’s servant from the brow of Mount Carmel. A better civilization, a better citizenship, than that of the Roman Empire, was preparing for us and for many. One Apostle at Tarsus was waiting for his call to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles. Another Apostle at Joppa was receiving a divine intimation that "God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him." (Acts 10:34, 35)
But to return to our proper narrative. When intelligence came to Jerusalem that Peter had broken through the restraints of the Jewish Law, and had even "eaten" at the table of the Gentiles, there was general surprise and displeasure among "those of the circumcision." But when he explained to them all the transaction, they approved his conduct, and praised God for His mercy to the Heathen. (Acts 11:18) And soon news came from a greater distance, which showed that the same unexpected change was operating more widely. "We have seen that the persecution, in which Stephen was killed, resulted in a general dispersion of the Christians. Wherever they went, they spoke to their Jewish brethren of their faith that the promises had been fulfilled in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This dispersion and preaching of the Gospel extended even to the island of Cyprus, and along the Phoenician coast as far as Antioch. For some time the glad tidings were made known only to the scattered children of Israel. But at length some of the Hellenistic Jews, natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, spoke to the Greeks themselves at Antioch, and the Divine Spirit gave such power to the Word, that a vast number "believed and turned to the Lord." The news was not long in traveling to Jerusalem. Perhaps some message was sent in haste to the Apostles of the Church. The Jewish Christians in Antioch might be perplexed how to deal with their new Gentile converts: and it is not unnatural to suppose that the presence of Barnabas might be anxiously desired by the fellow-missionaries of his native island.
We ought to observe the honorable place which the island of Cyprus was permitted to occupy in the first work of Christianity. We shall soon trace the footsteps of the Apostle of the Heathen in the beginning of his travels over the length of this island; and see here the first earthly potentate converted, and linking his name forever with that of Apostle Paul. (Acts 13:6-9) Now, while Saul is yet at Tarsus, men of Cyprus are made the instruments of awakening the Gentiles; one of them might be that "Mnason of Cyprus," who afterwards (then "a disciple of old standing ") was his host at Jerusalem; (Acts 21:16) and Joses the Levite of Cyprus, whom the Apostles had long ago called "the Son of Consolation," and who had removed all the prejudice which looked suspiciously on Saul’s conversion, (Acts 9:27) is the first teacher sent by the Mother-Church to the new disciples at Antioch. "He was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." He rejoiced when he saw what God’s grace was doing; he exhorted all to cling fast to the Savior whom they had found; and he labored himself with abundant success. But feeling the greatness of the work, and remembering the zeal and strong character of his friend, whose vocation to this particular task of instructing the Heathen was doubtless well known to him, "he departed to Tarsus to seek Saul."
Whatever length of time had elapsed since Saul came from Jerusalem to Tarsus, and however that time had been employed by him, - whether he had already founded any of those churches in his native Cilicia, which we read of soon after (Acts 15:41), - whether (as is highly probable) he had there undergone any of those manifold labors and sufferings recorded by himself (2 Corinthians 11) but omitted by Luke, - whether by active intercourse with the Gentiles, by study of their literature, by traveling, by discoursing with the philosophers, he had been making himself acquainted with their opinions and their prejudices, and so preparing his mind for the work that was before him, - or whether he had been waiting in silence for the call of God’s providence, praying for guidance from above, reflecting on the condition of the Gentiles, and gazing more and more closely on the plan of the world’s redemption, - however this may be, it must have been an eventful day when Barnabas, having come across the sea from Seleucia, or round by the defiles of Mount Amanus, suddenly appeared in the streets of Tarsus. The last time the two friends had met was in Jerusalem. All that they then hoped, and probably more than they then thought possible, had occurred. "God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life" (2Corinthians 11:18). Barnabas had "seen the grace of God" (2Corinthians 11:23) with his own eyes at Antioch; and under his own teaching "a great multitude" (2Corinthians 11:24) had been "added to the Lord." But he needed assistance. He needed the presence of one whose wisdom was higher than his own, whose zeal was an example to all, and whose peculiar mission had been miraculously declared. Saul recognized the voice of God in the words of Barnabas: and the two friends traveled in all haste to the Syrian metropolis.
There they continued "a whole year," actively prosecuting the sacred work, teaching and confirming those who joined themselves to the assemblies (See Acts 11:26) of the ever-increasing Church. As new converts, in vast numbers, came in from the ranks of the Gentiles, the Church began to lose its ancient appearance of a Jewish sect, and to stand out in relief, as a great self-existent community, in the face both of Jews and Gentiles. Hitherto it had been possible, and even natural, that the Christians should be considered, by the Jews themselves, and by the Heathen whose notice they attracted, as only one among the many theological parties, which prevailed in Jerusalem and in the Dispersion. But when Gentiles began to listen to what was preached concerning Christ, - when they were united as brethren on equal terms, and admitted to baptism without the necessity of previous circumcision, - when the Mosaic features of this society were lost in the wider character of the New Covenant, - then it became evident that these men were something more than the Pharisees or Sadducees, the Essenes or Herodians, or any sect or party among the Jews. Thus a new term in the vocabulary of the human race came into existence at Antioch about the year 44. Thus Jews and Gentiles, who, under the teaching of Apostle Paul, believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Savior of the world, "were first called Christians."
It is not likely that they received this name from the Jews. The "Children of Abraham" (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; John 8:39) employed a term much more expressive of hatred and contempt. They called them "the sect of the Nazarenes." (Acts 24:5) These disciples of Jesus traced their origin to Nazareth in Galilee: and it was a proverb, that nothing good could come from Nazareth. (John 1:46. See John 7:41, 52; Luke 13:2, &c) Besides this, there was a further reason why the Jews would not have called the disciples of Jesus by the name of "Christians." The word "Christ" has the same meaning with "Messiah;" and the Jews, however blinded and prejudiced on this subject, would never have used so sacred a word to point an expression of mockery and derision; and they could not have used it in grave and serious earnest to designate those whom they held to be the followers of a false Messiah, a fictitious Christ. Nor is it likely that the "Christians" gave this name to themselves. In the Acts of the Apostles, and in their own letters, we find them designating themselves as "brethren," "disciples," "believers," "saints." (Acts 15:23, 9:26, 5:14, 9:32; Romans 15:25; Colossians 1:2, &c) Only in two places (Acts 26:28, and 1Peter 4:16) do we find the term "Christians;" and in both instances it is implied to be a term used by those who are without. There is little doubt that the name originated with the Gentiles, who began now to see that this new sect was so far distinct from the Jews, that they might naturally receive a new designation. And the form of the word implies that it came from the Romans, not from the Greeks.
The word "Christ" was often in the conversation of the believers, as we know it to have been constantly in their letters. "Christ" was the title of Him, whom they avowed as their leader and their chief. They confessed that this Christ had been crucified; but they asserted that He was risen from the dead, and that He guided them by His invisible power. Thus "Christian" was the name which naturally found its place in the reproachful language of their enemies. In the first instance, we have every reason to believe that it was a term of ridicule and derision. And it is remarkable that the people of Antioch were notorious for inventing names of derision, and for turning their wit into the channels of ridicule. In every way there is something very significant in the place where we first received the name we bear. Not in Jerusalem, the city of the Old Covenant, the city of the people who were chosen to the exclusion of all others, but in a Heathen city, the Eastern center of Greek fashion and Roman luxury; and not till it was shown that the New Covenant was inclusive of all others; then and there we were first called Christians, and the Church received from the world its true and honorable name.
In narrating the journeys of Apostle Paul, it will now be our duty to speak of Antioch, not Jerusalem, as his point of departure and return. Let as look, more closely than has hitherto been necessary, at its character, its history, and its appearance. The position which it occupied near the abrupt angle formed by the coasts of Syria and Asia Minor, and in the opening where the Orontes passes between the ranges of Lebanon and Taurus, has already been noticed. And we have mentioned the numerous colony of Jews which Seleucus introduced into his capital, and raised to an equality of civil rights with the Greeks. There was every thing in the situation and circumstances of this city, to make it a place of concourse for all classes and kinds of people. By its harbor of Seleucia it was in communication with all the trade of the Mediterranean; and, through the open country behind the Lebanon, it was conveniently approached by the caravans from Mesopotamia and Arabia. It united the inland advantages of Aleppo with the maritime opportunities of Smyrna. It was almost an oriental Rome, in which all the forms of the civilized life of the Empire found some representative. Through the first two centuries of the Christian era, it was what Constantinople became afterwards, "the Gate of the East." And, indeed, the glory of the city of Ignatius was only gradually eclipsed by that of the city of Chrysostom. That great preacher and commentator himself, who knew them both by familiar residence, always speaks of Antioch with peculiar reverence, as the patriarchal city of the Christian name.
We must allude to its edifices and ornaments only so far as they are due to the Greek kings of Syria and the first five Caesars of Rome. If we were to allow our description to wander to the times of Justinian or the Crusaders, though these are the times of Antioch’s greatest glory, we should be trespassing on a period of history which does not belong to us. Strabo, in the time of Augustus, describes the city as a Tetrapolis, or union of four cities. The two first were erected by Seleucus Nicator himself, in the situation already described, between Mount Silpius and the river, on that wide space of level ground where a few poor habitations still remain by the banks of the Orontes. The river has gradually changed its course and appearance, as the city has decayed. Once it flowed round an island which, like the island in the Seine, by its thoroughfares and bridges, and its own noble buildings, became part of a magnificent whole. But, in Paris, the Old City is on the island; in Antioch, it was the New City, built by the second Seleucus and the third Antiochus. Its chief features were a palace, and an arch like that of Napoleon. The fourth and last part of the Tetrapolis was built by Antiochus Epiphanes, where Mount Silpius rises abruptly on the south. On one of its craggy summits he placed, in the fervor of his Romanizing mania, a temple dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus; and on another, a strong citadel, which dwindled to the Saracen Castle of the first Crusade. At the rugged bases of the mountain, the ground was leveled for a glorious street, which extended for four miles across the length of the city, and where sheltered crowds could walk through continuous colonnades from the eastern to the western suburb. The whole was surrounded by a wall, which, ascending to the heights and returning to the river, does not deviate very widely in its course from the wall of the Middle Ages, which can still be traced by the fragments of ruined towers. This wall is assigned by a Byzantine writer to Tiberius, but it seems more probable that the Emperor only repaired what Antiochus Epiphanes had built. Turning now to the period of the Empire, we find that Antioch had memorials of all the great Romans whose names have been mentioned as yet in this biography. When Pompey was defeated by Caesar, the conqueror’s name was perpetuated in this Eastern city by an aqueduct and by baths, and by a basilica called Caesarium. In the reign of Augustus, Agrippa built in all cities of the Empire, and Herod of Judea followed the example to the utmost of his power. Both found employment for their munificence at Antioch. A gay suburb rose under the patronage of the one, and the other contributed a road and a portico. The reign of Tiberius was less remarkable for great architectural works; but the Syrians by the Orontes had to thank him for many improvements and restorations in their city. Even the four years of his successor left behind them the aqueduct and the baths of Caligula.
Thus, if any city, in the first century, was worthy to be called the Heathen Queen and Metropolis of the East, that city was Antioch. She was represented, in a famous allegorical statue, as a female figure, sented on a rock and crowned, with the river Orontes at her feet. With this image, which art has made perpetual, we conclude our description. There is no excuse for continuing it to the age of Vespasian and Titus, when Judea was taken, and the Western Gate, decorated with the spoils, was called the "Gate of the Cherubim," - or to the Saracen age, when, after many years of Christian history and Christian mythology, we find the "Gate of Apostle Paul" placed opposite the "Gate of George," and when Duke Godfrey pitched his camp between the river and the city-wall. And there is reason to believe that earthquakes, the constant enemy of the people of Antioch, have so altered the very appearance of its site, that such description would be of little use. As the Vesuvius of Virgil or Pliny would hardly be recognized in the angry neighbor of modern Naples, so it is more than probable that the dislocated crags, which still rise above the Orontes, are greatly altered in form from the fort-crowned heights of Seleucus or Tiberius, Justinian or Tancred.
Earthquakes occurred in each of the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. And it is likely that, when Saul and Barnabas were engaged in their apostolic work, parts of the city had something of that appearance which still makes Lisbon dreary, new and handsome buildings being raised in close proximity to the ruins left by the late calamity. It is remarkable how often great physical calamities are permitted by God to follow in close succession to each other. That age, which, as we have seen, had been visited by earthquakes, was presently visited by famine. The reign of Claudius, from bad harvests or other causes, was a period of general distress and scarcity "over the whole world." In the fourth year of his reign, we are told by Josephus that the famine was so severe, that the price of food became enormous, and great numbers perished. At this time it happened that Helena, the mother of Izates, king of Adiabene, and a recent convert to Judaism, came to worship at Jerusalem. Moved with compassion for the misery she saw around her, she sent to purchase corn from Alexandria and figs from Cyprus, for distribution among the poor. Izates himself (who had also been converted by one who bore the same name with him who baptized Apostle Paul) shared the charitable feelings of his mother, and sent large sums of money to Jerusalem.
While this relief came from Assyria, from Cyprus, and from Africa to the Jewish sufferers in Judea, God did not suffer His own Christian people, probably the poorest and certainly the most disregarded in that country, to perish in the general distress. And their relief also came from nearly the same quarters. While Barnabas and Saul were evangelizing the Syrian capital, and gathering in the harvest, the first seeds of which had been sown by "men of Cyprus and Cyrene," certain prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch, and one of them named Agabus announced that a time of famine was at hand. (Acts 11:28) The Gentile disciples felt that they were bound by the closest link to those Jewish brethren whom though they had never seen they loved. "For if the Gentiles had been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty was also to minister unto them in carnal things." (Romans 15:27) No time was lost in preparing for the coming distress. All the members of the Christian community, according to their means, "determined to send relief," Saul and Barnabas being chosen to take the contribution to the elders at Jerusalem. (Acts 11:29, 30)
About the time when these messengers came to the Holy City on their errand of love, a worse calamity than that of famine had fallen upon the Church. One Apostle had been murdered, and another was in prison. There is something touching in the contrast between the two brothers, James and John. One died before the middle of the first Christian century; the other lived on to its close. One was removed just when his Master’s kingdom, concerning which he had so eagerly inquired, (See Mark 10:35-45; Acts 1:6) was beginning to show its real character; he probably never heard the word "Christian" pronounced. Zebedee’s other son remained till the anti-Christian (1John 2:18, 4:3; 2Jo. 1:7) enemies of the faith were "already come," and was laboring against them when his brother had been fifty years at rest in the Lord. He who had foretold the long service of John revealed to Peter that he should die by a violent death. (John 21:18-22. See 2Peter 1:14) But the time was not yet come. Herod had bound him with two chains. Besides the soldiers who watched his sleep, guards were placed before the door of the prison. And "after the passover" the king intended to bring him out and gratify the people with his death. But Herod’s death was nearer than Peter’s. For a moment we see the Apostle in captivity and the king in the plenitude of his power. But before the autumn a dreadful change had taken place. On the 1st of August (we follow a probable calculation, and borrow some circumstances from the Jewish historian) there was a great commemoration in Caesarea. Some say it was in honor of the Emperor’s safe return from the island of Britain. However this might be, the city was crowded, and Herod was there. On the second day of the festival he came into the theater. That theater had been erected by his grandfather, who had murdered the Innocents; and now the grandson was there, who had murdered an Apostle. The stone seats, rising in a great semicircle, tier above tier, were covered with an excited multitude. The king came in, clothed in magnificent robes, of which silver was the costly and brilliant material. It was early in the day, and the sun’s rays fell upon the king, so that the eyes of the beholders were dazzled with the brightness which surrounded him. Voices from the crowd, here and there, exclaimed that it was the apparition of something divine. And when he spoke and made an oration to the people, they gave a shout, saying, "It is the voice of a God and not of a man." But in the midst of this idolatrous ostentation the angel of God suddenly smote him. He was carried out of the theater a dying man, and on the 6th of August he was dead.
The country was placed again under Roman governors, and hard times were at hand for the Jews. Herod Agrippa had courted their favor. That part of the city, which this boundary was intended to enclose, was a suburb when Apostle Paul was converted. The work was not completed till the Jews were preparing for their final struggle with the Romans: and the Apostle, when he came from Antioch to Jerusalem, must have noticed the unfinished wall to the north and west of the old Damascus gate. It is not probable that he was in Jerusalem at the passover, when Peter was in prison, or that he was praying with those anxious disciples at the "house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark." (Acts 12:12) But there is this link of interesting connection between that house and Apostle Paul, that it was the familiar home of one who was afterwards (not always (See Acts 13:13, 15:37-39) without cause for anxiety or reproof) a companion of his journeys. When Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, they were attended by "John, whose surname was Mark." With the affection of Abraham towards Lot, his kinsman Barnabas withdrew him from the scene of persecution. We need not doubt that higher motives were added, - that at the first, as at the last, (2Timothy 4:11. See below) Apostle Paul regarded him as "profitable to him for the ministry."
Thus attended, the Apostle willingly retraced his steps towards Antioch. A field of noble enterprise was before him. He could not doubt that God, who had so prepared him, would work by his means great conversions among the Heathen. At this point of his life, we cannot avoid noticing those circumstances of inward and outward preparation, which fitted him for his peculiar position of standing between the Jews and Gentiles. He was not a Sadducee, he had never Hellenized, - he had been educated at Jerusalem, - every thing conspired to give him authority, when he addressed his countrymen as a "Hebrew of the Hebrews." At the same time, in his apostolical relation to Christ, he was quite disconnected with the other Apostles; he had come in silence to a conviction of the truth at a distance from the Judaizing Christians, and had early overcome those prejudices which impeded so many in their approaches to the Heathen. He had just been long enough at Jerusalem to be recognized and welcomed by the apostolic college, (Acts 9:27) but not long enough even to be known by face "unto the churches in Judea." (Galatians 1:22) He had been withdrawn into Cilicia till the baptism of Gentiles was a notorious and familiar fact to those very churches. He could hardly be blamed for continuing what Peter had already begun.
And if the Spirit of God had prepared him for building up the United Church of Jews and Gentiles, and the Providence of God had directed all the steps of his life to this one result, we are called on to notice the singular fitness of this last employment, on which we have seen him engaged, for assuaging the suspicious feeling which separated the two great branches of the Church. In quitting for a time his Gentile converts at Antioch, and carrying a contribution of money to the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, he was by no means leaving the higher work for the lower. He was building for aftertimes. The interchange of mutual benevolence was a safe foundation for future confidence. Temporal comfort was given in gratitude for spiritual good received. The Church’s first days were christened with charity. No sooner was its new name received, in token of the union of Jews and Gentiles, than the sympathy of its members was asserted by the work of practical benevolence. We need not hesitate to apply to that work the words which Apostle Paul used, after many years, of another collection for the poor Christians in Judea:—
"For the administration of this service is not only filling to overflowing the deficiencies of the saints, but is also abounding by the giving of many thanks to God. Through the performance of this service, they are glorifying God for your professed subjection to the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of the distribution toward them and toward all the saints; And in their supplications for you, there is a longing on your behalf, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you." (2Corinthians 9:12-14, HBFV)
Paul becomes central character of New Testament
The second part of the Acts of the Apostles is generally reckoned to begin with the thirteenth chapter. At this point Apostle Paul begins to appear as the principal character; and the narrative, gradually widening and expanding with his travels, seems intended to describe to us, in minute detail, the communication of the Gospel to the Gentiles. The thirteenth and fourteenth chapters embrace a definite and separate subject: and this subject is the first journey of the first Christian missionaries to the Heathen. These two chapters of the inspired record are the authorities for the present and the succeeding chapters of this work, in which we intend to follow the steps of Paul and Barnabas, in their circuit through Cyprus and the southern part of Lesser Asia.
The history opens suddenly and abruptly. We are told that there were, in the Church at Antioch, (Acts 13:1) "prophets and teachers," and among the rest "Barnabas," with whom we are already familiar. The others were "Simeon, who was surnamed Niger," and "Lucius of Cyrene" and "Manaen, the foster-brother of Herod the Tetrarch," - and "Saul’ who still appears under his Hebrew name. We observe, moreover, not only that he is mentioned after Barnabas, but that he occupies the lowest place in this enumeration of "prophets and teachers." The distinction between these two offices in the Apostolic Church will be discussed hereafter. At present it is sufficient to remark that the "prophecy" of the New Testament does not necessarily imply a knowledge of things to come, but rather a gift of exhorting with a peculiar force of inspiration. In the Church’s early miraculous days the "prophet" appears to have been ranked higher than the "teacher." (Compare Acts 13:1 with 1Corinthians 12:28, 29; Ephesians 4:11) And we may perhaps infer that, up to this point of the history, Barnabas had belonged to the rank of "prophets," and Saul to that of "teachers:" which would be in strict conformity with the inferiority of the latter to the former, which, as we have seen, has been hitherto observed.
Of the other three, who are grouped with these two chosen missionaries, we do not know enough to justify any long disquisition. But we may remark in passing that there is a certain interest attaching to each one of them. Simeon is one of those Jews who bore a Latin surname in addition to their Hebrew name, like "John whose surname was Mark," mentioned in the last verse of the preceding chapter, and like Saul himself, whose change of appellation will presently be brought under notice. (See Acts 13:9. Compare Colossians 4:11) Lucius, probably the same who is referred to in the Epistle to the Romans, is a native of Cyrene, that African city which has already been noticed as abounding in Jews, and which sent to Jerusalem our Savior’s cross-bearer. Manaen is spoken of as the foster-brother of Herod the Tetrarch: this was Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee; and since we learn from Josephus that this Herod and his brother Archelaus were children of the same mother, and afterwards educated together at Rome, it is probable that this Christian prophet or teacher had spent his early childhood with those two princes, who were now both banished from Palestine to the banks of the Rhone.
These were the most conspicuous persons in the Church of Antioch, when a revelation was received of the utmost importance. The occasion on which the revelation was made seems to have been a fit preparation for it. The Christians were engaged in religious services of peculiar solemnity. The Holy Spirit spoke to them "as they ministered unto the Lord and fasted." The word here translated "ministered," has been taken by opposite controversialists to denote the celebration of the "sacrifice of the mass" on the one hand, or the exercise of the office of "preaching" on the other. It will be safer if we say simply that the Christian community at Antioch was engaged in one united act of prayer and humiliation. These religious services might have had a special reference to the means which were to be adopted for the spread of the Gospel now evidently intended for all; and the words "separate me now Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them," may have been an answer to specific prayers. How this revelation was made, whether by the mouth of some of the prophets who were present, or by the impulse of a simultaneous and general inspiration, - whether the route to be taken by Barnabas and Saul was at this time precisely indicated, - and whether they had previously received a conscious personal call, of which this was the public ratification, - it is useless to inquire. A definite work was pointed out, as now about to be begun under the counsel of God; two definite agents in this work were publicly singled out: and we soon see them sent forth to their arduous undertaking, with the sanction of the Church at Antioch.
Their final consecration and departure was the occasion of another religious solemnity. A fast was appointed, and prayers were offered up; and, with that simple ceremony of ordination which we trace through the earlier periods of Jewish history, and which we here see adopted under the highest authority in the Christian Church, "they laid their hands on them, and sent them away." The words are wonderfully simple; but those who devoutly reflect on this great occasion, and on the position of the first Christians at Antioch, will not find it difficult to imagine the thoughts which occupied the hearts of the Disciples during these first "Ember Days of the Church - their deep sense of the importance of the work which was now beginning, - their faith in God, on whom they could rely in the midst of such difficulties, - their suspense during the absence of those by whom their own faith had been fortified, - their anxiety for the intelligence they might bring on their return.
Their first point of destination was the island of Cyprus. It is not necessary, though quite allowable, to suppose that this particular course was divinely indicated in the original revelation at Antioch. Four reasons at least can be stated, which may have induced the Apostles, in the exercise of a wise discretion, to turn in the first instance to this island. It is separated by no great distance from the mainland of Syria; its high mountain-summits are easily seen in clear weather from the coast near the mouth of the Orontes; and in the summer season many vessels must often have been passing and repassing between Salamis and Seleucia. Besides this, it was the native-place of Barnabas. (Acts 4:36) Since the time when "Andrew found his brother Simon,and brought him to Jesus," (John 1:41, 42) and the Savior was beloved in the house of "Martha and her sister and Lazarus," (John 11:5) the ties of family relationship had not been without effect on the progress of the Gospel. It could not be unnatural to suppose that the truth would be welcomed in Cyprus, when it was brought by Barnabas and his kinsman Mark to their own connections or friends. Moreover, the Jews were numerous in Salamis. By sailing to that city they were following the track of the synagogues. Their mission, it is true, was chiefly to the Gentiles; but their surest course for reaching them was through the medium of the Proselytes and the Hellenistic Jews. To these considerations we must add, in the fourth place, that some of the Cypriotes were already Christians. No one place out of Palestine, with the exception of Antioch, had been so honorably associated with the work of successful evangelization. (See Acts 4:36, 11:19, 20, 21:16)
Seleucia united the two characters of a fortress and a seaport. In consequence of its bold resistance to Tigranes, when he was in possession of all the neighboring country, Pompey gave it the privileges of a "Free City;" and a contemporary of Apostle Paul speaks of it as having those privileges still. Here, in the midst of unsympathizing sailors, the two missionary Apostles, with their younger companion, stepped on board the vessel which was to convey them to Salamis. As they cleared the port, the whole sweep of the bay of Antioch opened on their left, - the low ground by the mouth of the Orontes, - the wild and woody country beyond it, - and then the peak of Mount Casius, rising symmetrically from the very edge of the sea to a height of five thousand feet. On the right, in the south-west horizon, if the day was clear, they saw the island of Cyprus from the first. The current sets north-east and northerly between the island and the Syrian coast. But with a fair wind, a few hours would enable them to run down from Seleucia to Salamis; and the land would rapidly rise in forms well known and familiar to Barnabas and Mark.
The Jews, as we should have been prepared to expect, were numerous in Salamis. This fact is indicated to us in the sacred narrative; for we learn that this city had several synagogues, while other cities had often only one. (Acts 13:5. Compare Acts 6:9, 9:20, and Contrast Acts 17:1, 18:4) The Jews had doubtless been established here in considerable numbers in the active period which succeeded the death of Alexander. The unparalleled productiveness of Cyprus, and its trade in fruit, wine, flax, and honey, would naturally attract them to the mercantile port. The farming of the copper mines by Augustus to Herod may probably have swelled their numbers. One of the most conspicuous passages in the history of Salamis was the insurrection of the Jews in the reign of Trajan, when great part of the city was destroyed. Its demolition was completed by an earthquake. It was rebuilt by a Christian emperor, from whom it received its mediaeval name of Constantia.
It appears that the proclamation of the Gospel was confined by Barnabas and Saul to the Jews and the synagogues. We have no information of the length of their stay, or the success of their labors. Some stress seems to be laid on the fact that John (i.e. Mark) "was their minister." Perhaps we are to infer from this, that his hands baptized the Jews and Proselytes, who were convinced by the preaching of the Apostles.
From Salamis they traveled to Paphos, at the other extremity of the island. The two towns were probably connected together by a traveled and frequented road. It is indeed likely that, even under the Empire, the islands of the Greek part of the Mediterranean, as Crete and Cyprus, were not so completely provided with lines of internal communication as those which were nearer the metropolis, and had been longer under Roman occupation, such as Corsica and Sardinia. But we cannot help believing that Roman roads were laid down in Cyprus and Crete, after the manner of the modern English roads in Corfu and the other Ionian islands, which islands, in their social and political condition, present many points of resemblance to those which were under the Roman sway in the time of Apostle Paul. On the whole, there is little doubt that his journey from Salamis to Paphos, a distance from east to west of not more than a hundred miles, was accomplished in a short time and without difficulty.
Paphos was the residence of the Roman governor. The appearance of the place (if due allowance is made for the differences of the nineteenth century and the first) may be compared with that of the town of Corfu in the present day, with its strong garrison of imperial soldiers in the midst of a Greek population, with its mixture of two languages, with its symbols of a strong and steady power side by side with frivolous amusements, and with something of the style of a court about the residence of its governor. All the occurrences, which are mentioned at Paphos as taking place on the arrival of Barnabas and Saul, are grouped so entirely round the governor’s person, that our attention must be turned for a time to the condition of Cyprus as a Roman province, and the position and character of Sergius Paulus.
From the time when Augustus united the world under his own power, the provinces were divided into two different classes. The business of the first Emperor’s life was to consolidate the imperial system under the show of administering a republic. He retained the names and semblances of those liberties and rights which Rome had once enjoyed. He found two names in existence, the one of which was henceforth inseparably blended with the Imperial dignity and Military command, the other with the authority of the Senate and its Civil administration. The first of these names was "Praetor," the second was "Consul." Both of them were retained in Italy; and both were reproduced in the Provinces as "Propraetor" and "Proconsul." He told the senate and people that he would relieve them of all the anxiety of military proceedings, and that he would resign to them those provinces where soldiers were unnecessary to secure the fruits of a peaceful administration. He would take upon himself all the care and risk of governing the other provinces, where rebellion might be apprehended, and where the proximity of warlike tribes made the presence of the legions perpetually needful. These were his professions to the Senate: but the real purpose of this ingenious arrangement was the disarming of the Republic, and the securing to himself the absolute control of the whole standing army of the Empire. The scheme was sufficiently transparent; but there was no sturdy national life in Italy to resist his despotic innovations, and no foreign civilized powers to arrest the advance of imperial aggrandizement; and thus it came to pass that Augustus, though totally destitute of the military genius either of Cromwell or Napoleon, transmitted to his successors a throne guarded by an invincible army, and a system of government destined to endure through several centuries.
Hence we find in the reign, not only of Augustus, but of each of his successors, from Tiberius to Nero, the provinces divided into these two classes. On the one side we have those which are supposed to be under the Senate and people. The governor is appointed by lot, as in the times of the old republic. He carries with him the lictors and fasces, the insignia of a Consul; but he is destitute of military power. His office must be resigned at the expiration of a year. He is styled "Proconsul," and the Greeks, translating the term, call him [greek word] On the other side are the provinces of Caesar. The Governor may be styled "Propraetor," or [greek word] ; but he is more properly "Legatus," or [greek word] - the representative or "Commissioner" of the Emperor. He goes out from Italy with all the pomp of a military commander, and he does not return till the Emperor recalls him. And to complete the symmetry and consistency of the system, the subordinate districts of these imperial provinces are regulated by the Emperor’s "Procurator" [greek word], or "High Steward." The New Testament, in the strictest conformity with the other historical authorities of the period, gives us examples of both kinds of provincial administration. We are told by Strabo, and by Dio Cassius, that "Asia" and "Achaia" were assigned to the Senate; and the title, which in each case is given to the Governor in the Acts of the Apostles, is "Proconsul." The same authorities inform us that Syria was an imperial province, and no such title as "Proconsul" is assigned by the sacred writers to "Cyrenius Governor of Syria," (Luke 2:2) or to Pilate, Festus, and Felix, the Procurators of Judea, which, as we have seen, was a dependency of that great and unsettled province.
Dio Cassius informs us, in the same passage where he tells us that Asia and Achaia were provinces of the Senate, that Cyprus was retained by the Emperor for himself. If we stop here, we naturally ask the question, - and some have asked the question rather hastily, - how it comes to pass that Luke speaks of Sergius Paulus by the style of "Proconsul"? But any hesitation concerning the strict accuracy of the sacred historian’s language is immediately set at rest by the very next sentence of the secular historian, - in which he informs us that Augustus restored Cyprus to the Senate in exchange for another district of the Empire, - a statement which he again repeats in a later passage of his work. It is evident, then, that the governor’s style and title from this time forward would be "Proconsul." But this evidence, however satisfactory, is not all that we possess. The coin, which is engraved at the end of the chapter, distinctly presents to us a Cyprian Proconsul of the reign of Claudius. And inscriptions, which could easily be adduced, supply us with the names of additional governors, who were among the predecessors or successors of Sergius Paulus.
It is remarkable that two men called Sergius Paulus are described in very similar terms by two physicians who wrote in Greek, the one a Heathen, the other a Christian. The Heathen writer is Galen. He speaks of his contemporary as a man interested and well versed in philosophy. The Christian writer is Luke, who tells us here that the governor of Cyprus was a "prudent" man, who "desired to hear the Word of God." This governor seems to have been of a candid and inquiring mind; nor will this philosophical disposition be thought inconsistent with his connection with the Jewish impostor, whom Saul and Barnabas found at the Paphian court, by those who are acquainted with the intellectual and religious tendencies of the age.
For many years before this time, and many years after, impostors from the East, pretending to magical powers, had great influence over the Roman mind. All the Greek and Latin literature of the empire, from Horace to Lucian, abounds in proof of the prevalent credulity of this sceptical period. Unbelief, when it has become conscious of its weakness, is often glad to give its hand to superstition. The faith of educated Romans was utterly gone. We can hardly wonder, when the East was thrown open, - the land of mystery, - the fountain of the earliest migrations, - the cradle of the earliest religions, - that the imagination both of the populace and the aristocracy of Rome became fanatically excited, and that they greedily welcomed the most absurd and degrading superstitions. Not only was the metropolis of the empire crowded with "hungry Greeks," but "Syrian fortune-tellers" flocked into all the haunts of public amusement. Athens and Corinth did not now contribute the greatest or the worst part of the "dregs" of Rome; but (to adopt Juvenal’s use of that river of Antioch we have lately been describing) "the Orontes itself flowed into the Tiber." Every part of the East contributed its share to the general superstition.
What we know, from the literature of the period, to have been the case in Rome and in the Empire at large, we see exemplified in a province in the case of Sergius Paulus. He had attached himself to "a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus, and who had given himself the Arabic name of "Elymas," or "The Wise." But the Proconsul was not so deluded by the false prophet, as to be unable, or unwilling, to listen to the true. "He sent for Barnabas and Saul," of whose arrival he was informed, and whose free and public declaration of the "Word of God" attracted his inquiring mind. Elymas used every exertion to resist them, and to hinder the Proconsul’s mind from falling under the influence of their Divine doctrine. Truth and falsehood were brought into visible conflict with each other. It is evident, from the graphic character of the narrative, - the description of Paul "setting his eyes" on the sorcerer, - "the mist and the darkness" which fell on Barjesus, - the "groping about for some one to lead him," - that the opposing wonder-workers stood face to face in the presence of the Proconsul, - as Moses and Aaron withstood the magicians at the Egyptian court - Sergius Paulus being in this respect different from Pharaoh, that he did not "harden his heart."
The miracles of the New Testament are generally distinguished from those of the Old by being for the most part works of mercy and restoration, not of punishment and destruction. Two only of our Lord’s miracles were inflictions of severity, and these were attended with no harm to the bodies of men. The same law of mercy pervades most of those interruptions of the course of nature which He gave His servants, the Apostles, power to effect. One miracle of wrath is mentioned as worked in His name by each of the great Apostles, Peter and Paul; and we can see sufficient reasons why liars and hypocrites, like Ananias and Sapphira, and powerful impostors, like Elymas Barjesus, should be publicly punished in the face of the Jewish and Gentile worlds, and made the examples and warnings of every subsequent age of the Church. A different passage in the life of Peter presents a parallel which is closer in some respects with this interview of Apostle Paul with the sorcerer in Cyprus. As Simon Magus, - who had "long time bewitched the people of Samaria with his sorceries," - was denounced by Peter "as still in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity," and solemnly told that "his heart was not right in the sight of God;" (Acts 8:21-23) - so Apostle Paul, conscious of his apostolic power, and under the impulse of immediate inspiration, rebuked Barjesus, as a child of that Devil who is the father of lies, (John 8:44) as a worker of deceit and mischief, and as one who sought to pervert and distort that which God saw and approved as right. (With Acts 13:10 compare Acts 8:21) He proceeded to denounce an instantaneous judgment; and, according to his prophetic word, the "hand of the Lord" struck the sorcerer, as it had once struck the Apostle himself on the way to Damascus; - the sight of Elymas began to waver, and presently a darkness settled on it so thick, that he ceased to behold the sun’s light. This blinding of the false prophet opened the eyes of Sergius Paulus. That which had been intended as an opposition to the Gospel, proved the means of its extension. We are ignorant of the degree of this extension in the island of Cyprus. But we cannot doubt that when the Proconsul was converted, his influence would make Christianity reputable; and that from this moment the Gentiles of the island, as well as the Jews, had the news of salvation brought home to them.
And now, from this point of the Apostolical history, PAUL appears as the great figure in every picture. Barnabas, henceforward, is always in the background. The great Apostle now enters on his work as the preacher to the Gentiles; and simultaneously with his active occupation of the field in which he was called to labor, his name is suddenly changed. As "Abram" was changed into "Abraham," when God promised that he should be the "father of many nations;" - as "Simon" was changed into "Peter," when it was said, "On this rock I will build my church;" - so "Saul" is changed into "Paul," at the moment of his first great victory among the Heathen. What "the plains of Mamre by Hebron" were to the patriarch, - what "Caesarea Philippi," by the fountains of the Jordan, was to the fisherman of Galilee, - that was the city of "Paphos," on the coast of Cyprus, to the tent-maker of Tarsus. Are we to suppose that the name was now really given him for the first time, - that he adopted it himself as significant of his own feelings, - or that Sergius Paulus conferred it on him in grateful commemoration of the benefits he had received, - or that "Paul," having been a Gentile form of the Apostle’s name in early life conjointly with the Hebrew "Saul," was now used to the exclusion of the other, to indicate that he had receded from his position as a Jewish Christian, to become the friend and teacher of the Gentiles? All these opinions have found their supporters both in ancient and modern times. The question has been alluded to before in this work. It will be well to devote some further space to it now, once for all.
It cannot be denied that the words in Acts 13:9 - "Saul who is also Paul" - are the line of separation between two very distinct portions of Luke’s biography of the Apostle, in the former of which he is uniformly called "Saul," while in the latter he receives, with equal consistency, the name of "Paul." It must also be observed that the Apostle always speaks of himself under the latter designation in every one of his Epistles, without any exception; and not only so, but the Apostle Peter, in the only passage where he has occasion to allude to him, (2Peter 3:15) speaks of him as "our beloved brother Paul." We are, however, inclined to adopt the opinion that the Cilician Apostle had this Roman name, as well as his other Hebrew name, in his earlier days, and even before he was a Christian. This adoption of a Gentile name is so far from being alien to the spirit of a Jewish family, that a similar practice may be traced through all the periods of Hebrew History. Beginning with the Persian epoch (B.C. 550-350) we find such names as "Nehemiah," "Schammai," "Belteshazzar," which betray an Oriental origin, and show that Jewish appellatives followed the growth of the living language. In the Greek period we encounter the names of "Philip," and his son "Alexander," and of Alexander’s successors, "Antiochus," "Lysimachus," "Ptolemy," "Antipater;" the names of Greek philosophers, such as "Zeno," and "Epicurus;" even Greek mythological names, as "Jason" and "Menelaus." Some of these words will have been recognized as occurring in the New Testament itself. When we mention Roman names adopted by the Jews, the coincidence is still more striking. "Crispus," (Acts 18:8) "Justus," (Acts 1:23) "Niger," (Acts 13:1) are found in Josephus as well as in the Acts. "Drusilla" and "Priscilla" might have been Roman matrons.
And though we imagine, as we have said above, that Saul had the name of Paul at an earlier period of his life, - and should be inclined to conjecture that the appellation came from some connection of his ancestors (perhaps as manumitted slaves) with some member of the Roman family of the Aemilian Pauli; - yet we cannot believe it accidental that the words, (Acts 13:9) which have led to this discussion, occur at this particular point of the inspired narrative. The Heathen name rises to the surface at the moment when Apostle Paul visibly enters on his office as the Apostle of the Heathen. The Roman name is stereotyped at the moment when he converts the Roman governor. And the place where this occurs is Paphos, the favorite sanctuary of a shameful idolatry. At the very spot which was notorious throughout the world for that which the Gospel forbids and destroys, - there, before he sailed for Perga, having achieved his victory, the Apostle erected his trophy, - as Moses, when Amalek was discomfited, "built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-Nissi, - the Lord my Banner." (Exodus 17:15)