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devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil ; a prophetici character which Tertullian and others will have to be accomplished in this apostle : for in his youth, or the morning of his days, he persecuted the churches, destroying the flock of the Almighty ; devouring the prey : in his declining age, or evening of his days, he became a physician of the nations, feeding and distributing with the greatest care and assiduity, · the sheep of Christ, the great Shepherd of Israel.
The place of this apostle's nativity, was Tarsus, the metropolis of Cilica, situated about three hundred miles distant from Jerusalem ; it was exceedingly rich and populous, and a Roman minicipium, or free corporation, invested with the privileges of Rome by the two first emperors, as a reward for the citizens' firm adherence to the Cæsars, in the rebellion of Crassus. St. Paul was therefore born a Roman citizen, and he often pleads this privilege on his trials.
The inhabitants of Tarsus usually sent their children into other cities for learning and improvement, especially to Jerusalem, where they were so numerous that they had a synagogue of their own, called the synagogue of the Cilicians. To this capital our apostle was also sent, and brought up at the feet of that eminent rabbi Gamaliel, in the most exact knowledge of the law of Moses : nor did he fail to profit by the instructions of that great master; for he so diligently conformed himself to his precepts, that, without boasting, he asserts of himself, that touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless, and defied even his enemies to alledge any thing to the contrary, even in his youth. He joined himself to the sect of the Pharisees, the most strict order of the Jewish religion ; but, at the same time, the proudest, and the greatest enemies to CHRIST and his holy religion, as evidently appears by the character given of them by the evangelists, and our Lord's description of that self-righteous sect.
Respecting his double capacity, of Jewish extraction and Roman freedom, he had two names, Saul and Paul, the former Hebrew, and the latter Latin. It was common for the descendants of Benjamin to give the name of Saul to their children ever since the time of the first king of Israel, who was chosen out of that tribe; and Paul was a name as common amongst the Romans. We must also consider his trade of tent-making as part of his education, it being the constant practice of the Jews, to bring up their children to some honest calling, that, in case of necessity, they might provide for them. selves by the labour of their own hands, without being burthensome to the public.
Having obtained a thoroughknowledge of the sciences cultivated by the Jews, and being naturally of a very hot and fiery temper, Saul became a great champion for the law of Moses, and the tradition of the elders, which he considered as a zeal for God. This rendered him impatient of all opposition to the doctrine and tenets he had imbibed, and a vehement blasphemer and persecutor of Christians, who were commonly reputed the enemies and destroyers of the Jewish economy. We must not however consider our apostle as guilty of the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees; for he declares, that he had ever been careful to act in conformity to the dictates of his conscience, by which he thought himself bound to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. It was therefore the prejudice of his education, and the natural warmth of his temper, that excited him to those violent persecutions of the Christians, for which he became so famous in the infancy of the church.
We find that the first action he engaged in, was the disputation he and his countrymen had with the martyr Stephen, concerning the Messiah. The Christian was too hard for them in the dispute; but they were too powerful for him in their civil interests; for being enraged at his convincing arguments, they car
vied him before the high-priest, who by false accusations condemned him to death. How far Saul was concerned in this cruel action; is impossible to say; all we know is, that he kept the raiment of them that slew him, and, consequently, was accessary to his death.
The enemies of the church having thus raised a storm of persecution against it, it increased prodigiously, and the poor Christians of Jerusalem were miserably harrassed and dispersed. In this persecution, our apostle was principal agent, searching all the adjacent parts for the afflicted saints, beating some in the synagogue, compelling some to blaspheme, confining some in prison, and procuring others to be put to death for their profession: nor could Jerusalem and the adjacent parts confine his fiery zeal ; he applied to the Sanhedrim, and procured a commission from that court, to extend his persecution to Damascus. How eternally insatiable is the fury of a misguided zeal! how restless and unwearied in its designs of cruelty ? It had already sufficiently harrassed the poor Christians at Jerusalem, but not content with that, it persecuted them to strange cities, even to Damascus itself, whither many of them had fled for shelter, resolving to bring them back to Jerusalem, in order to their punishment and execution there.
We think it necessary to observe here, that the Jew: ish Sanhedrim had not only the power of seizing and scourging offenders against their law within the bounds of their own country, but, by the connivance and favour of the Romans, might send into other coun: tries, where there were any synagogues that acknowledged a dependence in religious affairs upon the coun. cil of Jerusalem, to apprehend them : and accordingly Saul was sent to Damascus, to apprehend what Christians he could find in that city, and bring them bound to Jerusalem, to be tried and punished.
It was however Saul's peculiar happiness, that the
Almighty designed to employ him in a work of a very different nature, and accordingly stopped him in his journey : for as he was travelling between Jerusalem and Damascus, to execute the commission of the Jewish Sanhedrim, a refulgent light, far exceeding the brightness of the sun, darted upon him ; at which both he and his companions were terribly amazed and confounded, falling together with their horses, prostrate on the ground. Amidst this confusion, a voice was heard in the Hebrew language, saying, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? To which Saul replied, Who art thou, Lord ? And was immediately answered, I am Jesus, of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest : it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. As if the blessed JESUS had said, “ All thy attempts to extirpate the faith in me, will prove abortive, and, like kicking against the spikes wound and torment thyself the more.”
Being now sufficiently convinced of his folly in acting against Jesus, whom he was now assured to be the true Messiah, Saul asked, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? On which the blessed Jesus informed him of the true intention of his appearance, ' Arise, said he, and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness, both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance amongst them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Acts xxvi. 16, 17, 18. And for further instruction the immaculate Jesus referred him to one of his followers, named Ananias, commanding him to repair immediately to the city, and receive further instruction from that disciple.
The men who were with him heard the voice, but did not see the person who spake from heaven : in all
probability they were ignorant of the Hebrew language, and therefore only heard a confused sound; for the apostle himself tells us, that they heard not the voice of him that spake, that is, they did not hear it with a proper degree of understanding.
Saul now arose from the earth, but found himself deprived of sight, the resplendent brightness of the vision being too intense for mortal eyes to behold. His companions therefore led him by the hand to the city of Damascus, where he entered the house of Judas, and remained there three days without sight, neither did he eat or drink but spent his time in prayer to the Almighty, beseeching him to pardon the sins of his past life, and be gracious to him.
Our blessed Saviour, in the mean time appeared in a vision to Ananias, a very devout and religious man, highly esteemed by all the inhabitants of Damascus, though he professed the religion of the crucified Jesus, commanding him to go into such a street of the city, and enquire in the house of Judas, for one Saul of Tarsus, then offering up the most fervent prayers to the throne of grace.
grace. Ananias, who, was ever ready to obey the commands of the Most High, startled at the name, having heard of his bloody practices at Jerusalem, and what commission he was now come to execute in Damascus: he therefore suspected that his pretended conversion was nothing more than a snare artfully laid for the Christians. But our blessed Saviour soon removed his apprehensions, by telling him that his suspicions were entirely destitute of foundation ; and that he had now taken him as a chosen vessel to preach the gospel both to the Jews and Gentiles, and even before the greatest monarchs of the earth ; acquainting him at the same time, with the great things he should do and suffer for the sake of the gospel, what chains and imprisonments, what racks and scourges, what hunger and thirst, what shipwrecks, and that, at last, he should even suffer death itsclf.