We should lose much of the advantage the narrative of Saul’s conversion was doubtless intended to convey, if we neglected to notice the conclusive testimony to the truth and power of the Gospel, which it affords. He was himself so deeply conscious of this, so sensible of the impression it ought to produce, that he uses it as a favorite argument in his preaching, and it forms the main subject of two (Acts 22, 26) out of the five discourses of his which the Acts of the Apostles has preserved, without mentioning the repeated allusions to it in his epistles. He demands of the Jews, he demands of Agrippa, he demands of the churches, he demands of all, the sentiments that ought to be awakened in any truthful heart, by so glorious an interposition on the part of God in favor of the doctrine of Jesus Christ. And he has reason to make this demand, for, as an eloquent writer observes, Note: St. Paul: Five Discourses. By the Rev. Adolphe Monod. Translated by the Rev. W. G. Barrett. London, 1853. “Next to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the descent of the Holy Ghost, the Gospel history has no testimony which equals the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. It has been felt in all ages; and many a reflective mind, hitherto unmoved, has yielded to the power of this page of the Gospel.” The author here certainly alludes to Lord Lyttleton, with whose writings he evinces an acquaintance. That nobleman became himself a sincere convert from skeptical or uncertain views, under the influence of the considerations presented to his mind in the attentive study of that page; and in his Essay on the Conversion of St. Paul, he has left to the world a memorable and ingenuous work in which the proofs for Christianity furnished by this event are most convincingly produced. The substance of this argument, with some additional considerations interspersed, may be fitly presented to the readers of this work.
It must of necessity be that a person attesting these things of himself was either an impostor or an enthusiast—one who deceived himself, or was deceived by the fraud of others, or that what he declared did really happen, and therefore that Christianity is a Divine revelation.
That he was not an impostor can be shown by proving that he had no rational motives, nor any means, to carry on such an imposture. If he expected to gratify his temporal interest or ambition, he would be mistaken; for the death of Christ had made no impression upon the chief priests and rulers, and these were his masters, from whom alone he must have looked for promotion. Nay, they had begun a severe persecution against the followers of Christ, in which he had himself taken an active part.
It was at this instant of time, and under these circumstances, that he became a convert.
What could be his motives? Was it the hope of increasing his wealth? The certain consequence of taking the part he did, was not only the loss of all he had, but of all hope of acquiring more. Those whom he left were the dispensers of wealth, of dignity, of power, in Judea: those to whom he went were indigent men, oppressed, and kept down from all means of improving their fortunes. Therefore, however such expectations may have been connected with his first conduct, they could not have been grounded on his second. Reputation, honor also—all this lay on the side that he forsook. The sect that he embraced lay under the greatest and most universal contempt of any then in the world. Was it, then, the love of power that prompted his behavior? Power over whom? Over a flock of sheep driven to the slaughter, and whose shepherd had been murdered but a short time before. Besides, he assumed no peculiar pre-eminence in the church. On the contrary, he declared himself the least of them, and less than the least of all saints. Neither did he attempt to make any innovations in government or in civil affairs; he meddled not with legislation, he formed no commonwealths, he raised no seditions, he affected no temporal power. Obedience to their rulers was the doctrine he preached to the churches he planted, and what he taught to others he practised himself. The reason why he interested himself so deeply for his converts was, as he tells them, that they might be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life, that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain. Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all.” Are these the words of an impostor, desiring nothing but temporal power? No, they are evidently written by one who looked beyond the bounds of this life; one “who preached not him self, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” And all this was done in true humbleness of mind; for although he had the advantage of higher education and superior learning, he made no improper use of these attainments, either by claiming a superiority over the other apostles, or by setting at nought those less learned than himself. “I came not,” he says, “with excellency of speech or of wisdom, but determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
It is clear, therefore, that by the change he made, Saul had nothing to gain, but had everything to give up. He gave up an advancing fortune, and a high reputation. He gave up his friends, his relatives, and his family. He gave up his religion. And in return for these relinquishments for Christ, he had from man everything to fear. Whoever would profess the gospel under such circumstances, without the clearest conviction of its being a Divine revelation, must have been mad; and if he made others profess it by fraud and deceit, he must have been worse than mad; for no man with the least spark of humanity in his bosom could subject his fellow-creatures to so many miseries as he knew must inevitably ensue, nor could any man in whose mind the smallest ray of reason gleamed, expose himself to share them with those he deceived, in order to advance a religion which he knew to be false.
As Saul had no rational motives, so he had no rational means of making an imposture successful. He had no associates. Not even the apostles were in any confederacy with him. It is, therefore, not probable, nay, it is impossible, that he should solely contend with the power of the magistrates, the influence of the priests, the prejudices of the people, or the wisdom and pride of the philosophers.
By the same kind of reasoning, it can be shown that Saul was no enthusiast. He had upon him none of the usual marks of such a character. He possessed, indeed, a manifest warmth of temper; but it was at all times under the control of his judgment. Neither melancholy, ignorance, credulity, vanity, nor self-conceit, could be imputed to him. Besides, a mere enthusiast could never perform real miracles, as this man in many instances did.
Still it may be, and it has been, urged, that a man so ardent as Saul, might be very well able, without any very mature deliberation, to pass from one sphere of religious fanaticism to another. But, as M. Monod remarks, this hypothesis cannot be maintained after five minutes’ reflection by any one who calls to mind what the apostle Saul was. Saul had quite enough wherewith to satisfy his religious enthusiasm in his Judaic and Pharisaic faith, while in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, he lays all that down, and instead of entering into a new fanaticism, he quarrels with the old one. Strange fanaticism in truth is this, of a man who, on occasions the most exciting, uses language stamped with “truth and soberness;” of a man who undertakes everything with the most consummate prudence, jealous of all his rights, both social and civil, either when they serve the cause of the Gospel, or when they may save him from needless sorrow; of a man who, when the interests of his ministry require it, goes to the utmost verge of concession that wisdom counsels, or that conscience authorizes; “weak with the weak, a Jew with the Jews, without law to those who were without law;” of a man, in short, who pursues his ministry for thirty years in the same spirit, who is not awakened from his dream even by the prospect of martyrdom, which, like his Master before him, he has taken care to postpone, although willing to undergo it when the hour of God was come, 1Co_9:20-22.
If, then, Saul did not deceive himself, it is still less likely that he should be deceived by others. It was impossible for the disciples of Christ to conceive such a thought as that of turning his persecutor into an apostle, and to do this by fraud in the very instant of his greatest fury against them and their Lord. If they had even thought of such a conversion, they could not have effected it in this way. They could not have produced a light in the air greater than that of mid-day sun; they could not first have made him blind, and then restored him to sight; above all, no fraud of others could have enabled him to produce the miracles he performed after his conversion.
It appears, then, as the result of all these arguments, that Saul neither deceived himself, nor was deceived by the fraud of others; that he was no impostor nor enthusiast; and then it follows that what he related to be the cause of his conversion, and to have happened in consequence of it, did really happen, and therefore that the Christian religion is, what it claims to be—a Divine revelation.
Let us add, that the great moral fact—the change, complete and sudden, which made Saul stand up to do the work of an apostle in the same city to which he had so lately come to do the work of a destroyer, can only be accounted for, becomes unintelligible without the supernatural circumstances with which both Luke and Saul himself have invested it. The fact of the change is certain; and there is no other way, of accounting for it but that in which it is accounted for. “If the Gospel is true, if Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and if God has interposed, all is explained. God is not prodigal of miracles; but we can easily understand that He will have recourse to them, in order to furnish such a demonstration of the truth of the Gospel, and to accredit such a minister. But if God did not interpose, if Jesus Christ is not his son, how is this transformation of character to be explained?” Note: Monod.