St. Paul, Apostle | Biography | 1


Story of the Life of St. Paul, the Apostle


A year had scarcely passed after the death of Christ, when a young man of honourable birth and great learning; visited the city of Jerusalem at the time of the religious festivals, and there discovered that people of every rank were being attracted to a new faith

the faith which Jesus had taught from His own lips while He dwelt on earth, and which His Apostles were now preaching in the midst of danger, difficulty, and unbelief.

Saul was filled with the fiercest indignation.

His father was a Pharisee who had carefully trained his son in their strict and austere rules:

From his earliest years he had been instructed in the laws and traditions of the Jews by Gamaliel, the most noted teacher of that day,

and he had far excelled his companions in the acquirement of that knowledge which was so highly valued by the sect to which he belonged;

and now, in his first anger and hot zeal, the young man believed it his duty and his glory to root out the Christian truth which he deemed heresy, and to destroy all who avowed themselves followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

Tarsus, in Cilicia, was Saul’s native city, and he must have been dwelling there during the period of our Lord’s public ministry, for no record exists of his having witnessed any of the wondrous scenes connected with the life and death of Christ;

and it is supposed that, after completing his studies at Jerusalem, he returned to his home, remaining there until the year 35, when his career of persecuting cruelty began by the martyrdom of St. Stephen, about the time of the Feast of Pentecost.

The Scripture narrative does not mention Saul’s name as one of those who took Stephen captive, but probably he was among the number who listened to that speech before the council, when we are told that the martyr’s face was “as the face of an angel.”

It is at the scene of the stoning that we hear of Saul - the young man at whose feet the witnesses laid down their garments, thus choosing him for their commander and chief;

and when the dying Saint cried, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” Saul was there, consenting to his death.

Little did the fierce and angry multitude think of the marvels which St. Stephen’s dying prayer would work, pleading effectually with God, and securing the conversion of the young man Saul, who was then one of the most hitter enemies of the Christian Church.

Perhaps, in those last moments, it was permitted the martyred Saint to understand in some measure some of the purposes of the Almighty in his sufferings and death –

to know, maybe, that very near him, in the ranks of the cruel and persecuting throng, stood the man who had been chosen as the agent to carry out the gracious designs of Providence towards the Gentile world.

However, the stoning of the Proto-martyr was followed for some considerable time by a course of merciless severity:

Saul scourged, imprisoned, and put to death, men and women to whom the name of Christ was dearer than aught else, even than life; driving them by thousands from Jerusalem, and even pursuing them into their hiding- places, that he might force them back to die.

Thus it came about that Saul was journeying to Damascus.

It was well known that many of the persecuted Christians had sought refuge in that city,

and Saul, “breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,” went to the high priest to obtain from him authority to seize all who were known to be believers in the new faith, and to bring them back to Jerusalem.

His journey was almost accomplished:

Already the walls of the then beautiful city were within his sight; his heart beat high with triumph,

when suddenly he was stayed, and, swifter than gleam of lightning, an unnatural brilliancy encompassed Saul and his attendants, who, confused and dazzled, fell prostrate on the ground.

A voice from heaven was heard - not in tones of anger or reproach, to terrify the bold persecutor of Christians, but sweetly, softly, sorrowfully it sounded in his ear, speaking words which none but he could understand -

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?

Oh, wondrous power of the gentleness of Jesus! The haughty Pharisee became in that brief moment humble and yielding as a little child, and answered,

Who art thou, Lord?”

I am Jesus whom you persecute,” said the heavenly voice.

Those who were with Saul heard not these words, nor was it permitted them to see Christ:

They were only conscious of the overwhelming brilliancy of the flood of light, and knew too that a strange voice seemed speaking - the privilege of beholding in vision the Saviour of the world was reserved for the man who had so deeply grieved Him.

Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do?

inquired the now humbled Pharisee, and the answer came at once -

Go into the city, and there it shall be told you what you should do.

It was a hard and humiliating command to one like Saul!

He - so well versed in classical learning, honoured for his superior attainments, followed by numbers who trusted implicitly in his wise counsels - must he indeed in submissive obedience learn from the lips of man what the Will of God was?

Was it not also harder still to hear that he should be required to teach the very faith he had openly despised to the Gentiles, for whom, as a Pharisee, he had the deepest contempt and scorn?

It was hard to human nature, but Divine grace was strong, and Saul did not hesitate, but suffered his attendants to lead him to Damascus, still blind from the effect of the wondrous light which had shone upon and around him, there to do whatever God should direct.

In the grand old city, in a street called “Straight,” which is said still to exist, there dwelt near the eastern gate a man named Judas, who received Saul into his house.

While staying there, a vision was granted to the sufferer, promising him relief, and naming a Christian man of that city who should speedily come and visit him.

This man was Ananias, who also was directed from heaven to seek out Saul of Tarsus, the well-known persecutor of Christians.

That name had a terror for the servants of God in Damascus, and Ananias was alarmed:

Behold, he prays,” the voice had said,

and yet the Christian hesitated, for he knew full well that Saul had received from the high priest authority to bind all who were followers of Jesus.

But the command, “Go thy way,” cleared his many doubts, and, confiding in God’s care, Ananias set out for the house of Judas.

Arriving there, he laid his hand on Saul, saying that God had sent him that he might receive once more his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost;

and at once, by the power of the Almighty, he was blind no longer, and, by the direction of Ananias, he received baptism, and avowed himself from henceforth to be among the followers of Christ.

Having recovered his strength, Saul entered the Jewish synagogue in Damascus to proclaim the message of the Son of God whom he had before rejected and despised, and the people there asked each other in amazement if this could be he who had come to the city as the enemy of Christians.

Their surprise served only to animate Saul with still greater zeal in preaching that the promised Messiah, so long expected, had really dwelt upon the earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified God.

Shortly after his conversion, Saul travelled into the desert regions of Arabia, to fit himself by prayer and solitude for his future work:

to learn those lessons of self-knowledge and self-distrust, without which no active work can be done for God’s sole glory; and - separated from the business of this world - to hold communion with his Creator.

3 years of silence and retirement - years in which the once well- known Pharisee was almost forgotten by the crowd who had followed him in his old days of influence and power

-  and then Saul came forth to do his Master’s work imbued with those deep principles of spiritual life which should sustain and guide him in the arduous labours which he was about to undertake on his return to Damascus, and the Jewish people there.

But just as fiercely, just as deeply as Saul had once hated the holy Stephen, so did the Jews in the city hate and resolve to destroy him.

A plot was laid for his apprehension, and 3 men were stationed at the different gates of Damascus in order to slay him if he should try to escape;

but his friends placed him in one of the large, strong baskets common in the East, and let him down by ropes from the window of a house close to the city wall; and thus freed he made his way to Jerusalem.

Arrived there, Saul asked eagerly for the disciples of Jesus, but they were afraid that he only sought to betray them;

for, although 3 years had passed since his conversion, it had not become known in Jerusalem, and neither St. Peter nor St. James, who were there, believed that Saul was a Christian.

It was a fresh humiliation for that proud, lofty nature to be thus mistrusted and rejected by Christ’s own Apostles, but it served to deepen his contrition for his former bitter persecution of the Church.

One friend was raised up for him in St. Barnabas, who, remembering the honour and distinction which had attended Saul’s departure from Jerusalem, pitied him in this humiliating return, and undertook to make known the wonderful story of his change of heart to the other Apostles.

Hearing this, they were no longer fearful, but welcomed Saul as one of their brethren, and gladly permitted him to share in their work, so that he at once began to labour for the conversion of the Grecian Jews in the city.

But they remembered him as one of their own party, one whom they had honoured as a Pharisee, and who had been their leader in the work of persecution; and these facts made them so much the more bitter in their hatred, and they began to conspire against his life.

One day, while Saul prayed in the temple, he fell into that strange supernatural state of ecstasy in which the prophets of old, and the Apostles and Saints of later times, have received messages and revelations from Heaven.

It was the Lord Jesus Christ Who thus in vision appeared to His servant, bidding him leave Jerusalem because the Jews there would not receive his words, and declaring it to be the Divine purpose that he should journey afar off - to the Gentiles.

Doubtless, in the freshness and fervour of his newly-felt love, Saul would have chosen rather to remain in the city and give up his life for God,

but with that great faith and ready submission of will which grace had implanted in his heart, he yielded without hesitation; and, going down to Caesarea, entered a ship bound for Syria, and made his way to Tarsus, where he remained for many years.

During that time Saul’s life was secluded, and very few positive records of it remain;

but it was then he took short voyages to the different towns on the coast, and suffered the shipwrecks which are mentioned in his Epistles to the Corinthians.

There, too, he endured some of that hunger and thirst, scourging and imprisonment, which he suffered for the sake of Christ,

and received, as it is believed, many of those wonderful revelations which God granted as a help and consolation in his trials, as well as in preparation for the still greater difficulties which were hidden in the future.

All this time the Jews, who were still unbelievers, pursued Saul with the deepest hatred and longing for revenge.

He had forfeited his patrimony on becoming one of the sect of Christians, and he had then no Gentile friends to help and to pity him, yet he was content;

for, as he tells us in his Epistle to the Philippians, he esteemed “all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord.

Meanwhile, St. Peter had visited the different towns and villages, and at length, reaching Joppa, took up his abode in the house of a man named Simon, by trade a tanner.

There, one day at noontide, as he reclined in Eastern fashion upon the housetop, he turned his heart to God, and, forgetting all earthly things, became absorbed in contemplation.

A feeling of intense, supernatural hunger came upon him then, and as his friends prepared food, he fell into rapture, and saw the heavens open, and a sheet descend which contained animals of every description.

St. Peter had the strong Jewish regard for the distinctions of the law concerning the clean and the unclean, therefore when a voice directed him to kill and eat of these animals, he answered, “Far be it from me, for I never did eat anything that is common or unclean.

A second time the voice spoke to him. “That which God hath cleansed do not thou call common,” it said; and when this mysterious vision had been three times repeated, the sheet was drawn up to heaven again.

In the same manner that the Jews avoided eating such food as the old ceremonial law of Moses deemed unclean, so they shunned all intercourse with the Gentiles as an unclean nation.

This remarkable vision was God’s way of teaching St. Peter that the prejudices of his life must be laid aside and as fully as grace was poured out upon the Gentile world, so he must also admit them to all the blessings of the Christian Church.

While St. Peter pondered over this wondrous revelation of God’s Will, two servants and a soldier came to the tanner’s house, and asked if one Simon, surnamed Peter, was lodging there.

They came from Cornelius, an officer in the Roman army, who dwelt in Caesarea, a fine city and seaport some 35 miles from Joppa.

We read in Scripture that Cornelius was a devout man, and that he gave alms to the people, and spent much time in prayer:

He must, therefore, have been conscientiously following the light he had, and praying to know God’s Will; and such humble constant prayer can never be disregarded by Heaven.

So it happened that one evening as Cornelius prayed, a heavenly visitor appeared to him, speaking in gentle tones of love, and yet he was alarmed, and exclaimed, “What is it, Lord?

Then he heard that his prayers and his alms had gone up as a memorial before the throne of God, and he was bidden to send men to Joppa, who should bring to him Peter, then lodging with a tanner in his humble dwelling upon the sea-shore.

We have already seen these messengers reaching the dwelling of the Apostle; and while they asked for him, the Holy Spirit made their arrival known to St. Peter, and inspired him to go with them, for it was God Who sent them.

Immediately leaving the housetop, the Apostle went to the door, and heard how the messengers had come from Cornelius, and also that he had been directed by an angel to send to Joppa.

Strong though his Jewish prejudices had been, love of his Master’s will and his Master’s work were still stronger, and St. Peter made the Gentile visitors welcome for the night, and departed with them next day for Caesarea, taking with him some of his Christian brethren.

When they reached the house of Cornelius, they found him with his friends, assembled to receive the much desired visitor;

and meeting St. Peter at the portico of his house, he prostrated himself with the greatest reverence and humility, recognising the Apostle as the visible head of the Christian Church, and the representative of Jesus Christ.

St. Peter raised him from the ground, and entering the house, began speaking of the old Jewish law which had prohibited intercourse with other nations,

telling his hearers that God now commanded all those restrictions to end, and therefore he came among them as readily as if they were his own Jewish brethren.

Cornelius then related the favour which had been granted him, and said that they were all there assembled to hear the words of life from the lips of the Apostle.

St. Peter now tells the good news of Christ’s coming amongst men:

He tells them that the once despised and outcast Gentiles are not only invited to receive God’s grace, but are to be in all things equal partakers with the Jewish people –

that Christ, of Whose resurrection and ascension they had already heard, had given an express commission to His Apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations.

Suddenly his address is interrupted:

It is a scene second only to that of Pentecost, for the Holy Ghost comes down upon these Gentile converts, and they begin to speak with tongues, to the surprise of St. Peter and his companions.

If any lingering feeling of Jewish superiority had been left in their hearts, this unmistakable proof of God’s gracious purposes towards the Gentiles destroyed it forever.

If special grace and special gifts were thus bestowed from Heaven, St. Peter, as head of the Church on earth, must not fear to admit them to every privilege it was his to bestow, and he therefore desired that they should be baptized.

Thus began that mission to the Gentiles which opened a new era in the world’s history.

The Apostles had thought much of the blessings and honours intended for their own people, but they had not fully comprehended how broad, how extended Christ’s kingdom was to become.

So God wonderfully interposed, and called into His service one who was better fitted to be the Apostle of the Gentiles than St. Peter with his zeal, or St. John with his ardent love, - Paul the persecutor, but afterwards the great and glorious servant of the Christian Church.