St. Paul, Apostle | Biography | 2



The city of Antioch, in Syria, was full of fugitives from other countries.

Many had come from Jerusalem, many also from the adjacent island of Cyprus, others again from Cyrene; and when the truth was preached to them, a great multitude turned to God.

Tidings of this went to Jerusalem, and St. Barnabas was appointed to go to Antioch to instruct the converts more fully in the doctrines they had received, and shortly afterwards, Saul went to assist his labours.

The people of Antioch gave the name of “Christians” to these followers of Christ.

Before this the disciples had called themselves “brethren,” or “saints,” while the Jews in scorn termed them “Nazarenes.”

St. Barnabas, with the help of Saul, had been teaching about a year, when some prophets came down from Jerusalem, one of whom, named Agabus, proclaimed a famine throughout Judea.

When the Christians at Antioch heard of the great price of food, and the consequent distress among their brethren in Jerusalem, they collected together a sum of money, and St. Barnabas and Saul conveyed this gift to the sufferers.

But a greater evil than famine troubled the Christian Church - the persecuting cruelty of Herod Agrippa, who had killed James, the brother of John, and now would have taken also the life of St. Peter, had not God interposed, delivering him by the help of an angel.

When St. Barnabas with Saul returned to Antioch, they were accompanied by a young man named John Mark, and probably they would have continued long in their united work, had not the Holy Ghost inspired them to begin that mission to heathen lands to which they were more directly called.

It was about this time that Saul exchanged his name for Paul - a name more pleasing to the ears of Greeks and Romans.

Somewhat near the Feast of Pentecost, in the year 44, the Apostles started from Seleucia, the nearest seaport to Antioch, arriving, after a few hours’ sail, at Salamis, a large city on the coast of Cyprus, the birthplace of St. Barnabas.

They began at once to preach in the synagogues, but with no very marked success; however, neither Jews nor idolaters attacked them, or made any opposition to their teaching, until they came to Paphos.

The governor of the island at that time was Sergius Paulus, who, though a Roman and a pagan, was not content with the false deities he had been taught to worship.

At his court there was a false prophet and sorcerer named Bar-Jesus, who had called himself “Elymas,” which signifies “the Wise One.”

When Sergius Paulus heard of the arrival of the Apostles he sent for them to come to him. Perhaps some hope was roused in his heart of hearing from these strangers some truth which would satisfy him.

When St. Barnabas taught of Christ, Elymas the sorcerer began to deny and contradict his words, until the governor said he knew not whom to believe.

St. Paul, appealing to Heaven, called down the punishment of blindness upon this impious man, which so strongly impressed Sergius Paulus with belief in the power of God, that he at once avowed himself a Christian.

Oh, full of all guile” - thus had the Apostle addressed the sorcerer –

Oh, full of all guile and of all deceit, child of the devil, enemy of all justice, thou ceasest not to pervert the right ways of the Lord. And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.

Even as the servant of God spoke, a mist came before the eyes of Elymas, then light faded into a deep, terrible darkness, and blind and helpless he was led to his own home.

Their mission to Cyprus concluded, the Apostles journeyed to Pamphylia, landing at Perga, where there was a celebrated temple dedicated to Diana.

On arriving here, the young companion of Barnabas, “John Mark,” determined to return to Jerusalem - probably he shrank from the difficulties and perils which threatened their missionary life.

Together then did Paul and Barnabas proceed on their way, through mountain passes, and across bleak plains, until they reached Antioch in Pisidia - not the city of Antioch in which they had already laboured.

Upon the Jewish Sabbath they directed their steps to the synagogue, where they were invited by the “elders” to address the people.

St. Paul stood up, and in forcible, eloquent words gave a rapid sketch of the history of the Jewish nation, showing that the promises to the line of David were fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

He next proved to them that from this Saviour, this God-man, who had lived and died in their own day, all might receive pardon of sin, and, lastly, he warned his hearers not to incur the dreadful punishment which awaited those who rejected the word of the Almighty.

Some who heard these things were deeply impressed, and followed the Apostles to receive instruction;

some had listened with delight to an appeal which showed the preacher’s familiar acquaintance with the traditions of their forefathers, but their hearts were not gained for God.

When the next Sabbath came, an immense throng made its way to the synagogue, and this public demonstration of interest roused the anger of the unbelieving Jews, who uttered terrible blasphemies against the name of Jesus, and tried to silence His Apostles.

But neither St. Paul nor Barnabas was afraid:

They told these angry Jews that to them had God’s grace first been offered, they had been His own chosen and beloved people, but now, as they would not hear, the Divine message was sent to the Gentiles.

Enmity against the Apostles now ran so high that they were forced to leave the city, and on passing out they shook from their feet the dust of Antioch, as Christ had commanded them to do in such a case.

The Jews perfectly comprehended the meaning of this ceremony:

They, when they reached the borders of their own land, were in the habit of carefully wiping from their sandals the smallest particle of dust, so that not so much as a grain of the sacred soil might fall on ground which was unblessed.

When, therefore, they saw Paul and Barnabas pause and shake from their feet the dust of Antioch, they knew that they were regarded as heathen and idolaters - no longer the people beloved of God.

Some hundred miles eastward stood Iconium, and there the Apostles made their way, preaching with such power in the synagogue that great numbers both of Jews and Gentiles believed.

But again the hard-hearted multitude made efforts to raise a persecution against these messengers of Christ, although they were not so violent as the Jews of Antioch,

so that, in spite of opposition, the Apostles remained some time in Iconium, performing by God’s power many miracles there.

These wonderful proofs of Divine greatness caused much excitement, and the enemies of the Christian party became so infuriated that they would have stoned the Apostles to death, unless they had escaped and fled to Lystra.

In that city was a poor cripple who had been lame from his birth. He was known by everyone, yet none pitied, none cared for him; and as he heard St. Paul tell of the love and compassion of Jesus, he longed to know more of One Who was so good and kind.

The eye of the Apostle had noted this man who heard him with such rapt attention, and he was inspired by God to heal his infirmity:

Stand upright on thy feet,” commanded St. Paul,

and immediately the cripple leaped up from the spot where he had been crouching - not standing only, but walking as perfectly as though he had possessed the power from his infancy.

We can partly imagine the excitement such a marvellous event would cause amongst the people, and in their surprise they shouted,

The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.

Old pagan stories told that the gods sometimes assumed a human form for the purpose of visiting and helping the people of earth,

and therefore these idolaters believed St. Barnabas must be their own god Jupiter, while St. Paul, by reason of his wonderful eloquence, could be none other than Mercury.

The report spread rapidly throughout the town, and when it reached the ears of the priest of Jupiter, he hastened to show his reverence to these visitors who were supposed to have descended from heaven.

Meantime the Apostles had gone quietly to the dwelling of some Christians, who entertained them during their stay in the city.

Presently they were disturbed by the news that two bulls, decorated with garlands, had been brought to the gates as an offering, and that a vast crowd of people had met there for the purpose of worshipping them.

The Apostles were very much troubled, and, rending their garments, as was the custom of the Jews in any moment of great grief,

they hastened to prevent the people offering the proposed sacrifice, telling them that their only desire in visiting the city was to persuade them to turn from such idolatry, and worship the one true and living God.

But the enemies of the Apostle Paul had pursued him even to Lystra, and these, now exercised so strong and so evil an influence over the fickle people, that they were persuaded to stone him whom they had sought to worship.

Thinking him to be dead, they dragged St. Paul’s body outside the city gates, exulting over his destruction.

But God was protecting His servant, and, with that power which can do all things, He now interposed; for, while the little group of Christians stood mourning and weeping by the side of their teacher, he rose up in their midst, and reviving, went home with them.

Next day both St. Paul and Barnabas left Lystra, and went to Derbe, a city in which dwelt a man named Gaius, who was rich and highly esteemed.

In the Epistle to the Romans he is mentioned as one who rendered many services to the Church, and it is believed that by his influence the malicious Jews were not allowed to interfere with the teaching of the Apostles, and therefore multitudes were converted.

After remaining there some time, St. Paul and Barnabas returned to visit those whom they had already converted at Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, who received them with great joy.

Among the new disciples at Iconium was a young maiden named Thecla, who, during the absence of the Apostles, had been chosen to risk her life for God’s truth - the first female martyr.

When she was dragged before the pagan judges, she firmly resisted all their attempts to force her to renounce the Christian faith; they threatened, they tortured her, yet she was not afraid.

At last Thecla was exposed to the cruelty of the wild beasts in the amphitheatre, but they came crouching to the feet of the virgin Saint, so beloved of God.

The crowd who looked on were so moved by this spectacle that they demanded the maiden’s release, and the judges dared not resist them;

so Thecla ended her days peacefully serving and praising God.

Nevertheless, she has received the title of “martyr,” and her name placed next to that of St. Stephen, because, in the early ages of the Church, they who had suffered torments for God’s sake, which they could not have survived excepting by miraculous help from Heaven, were thus called.

While St. Paul and Barnabas made this second visit to the cities where already their preaching had brought forth fruit, they formed rules for the orderly government of the Churches.

Then, passing again into Pamphylia, through Perga, to Attalia, and thence to Antioch in Syria, they closed their first mission.