It may be said, without fear of contradiction, that there are no mere repetitions in Scripture. There are three accounts, for example, of the conversion of Saul, but it is patent to the most superficial reader that the object of each is entirely different. That in Acts 9 is the actual narrative of what occurred, written with the pen of inspiration, and thus giving facts as history; that in 22 is Paul's own description of the change which had been wrought in his soul, when addressing the Jews in Jerusalem; and in giving it, the apostle, it is easy to perceive, sought to win his adversaries by viewing his conversion from a Jewish rather than from a Christian standpoint. (See vv. 12, 14.) The one we have in this chapter is also given by Paul himself - when standing before Agrippa. In this there are fewer details concerning his conversion, but a very full and precise account of his mission. Ananias therefore does not appear in this, for Saul's mission was from the Lord Himself, even as he says, in writing to the Galatians, "Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead." (Chap. 1:1.)
In the first place he was to be made "a minister and a witness." For this purpose the Lord had appeared to him. The word here translated "minister" is not that often so rendered in other passages (see 1 Cor. 3:5), and which signifies one who acts or waits in service (Rom. 12:7, etc.), but means really, according to its usage in the New Testament, an appointed official servant. The apostle uses it in 1 Cor. 4:1, although it is rendered "ministers." The Lord, who appeared to him, did give Paul an official place as His servant, inasmuch as the mission on which He was about to send him was personal to the apostle, and one therefore that could not be accomplished by any other. He was also to be a witness. Every believer is a witness, if not in the special sense of Paul. It belongs to what we are, and is bound up with our very profession of Christianity, so that in no place or circumstances can we divest ourselves of this character. Paul was to be a witness in a pre-eminent way, and hence the special appearances of the Lord and the revelations made to him on different occasions.
His service and testimony were to be in connection with "these things which thou hast seen," and with "those things in the which I will appear unto thee." Just as Moses in his mission to build the tabernacle was confined to the pattern shown him in the mount, so Paul was limited in his preaching to what he had seen and heard - to the things which he had received from the Lord. Even the Lord, as a witness in this world, placed Himself under the same conditions: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen." (John 3:11.) So with every servant and witness (see Acts 4:20; 1 John 1:3); and thus Paul was never, on any occasion whatever, to be cast in his service on his own resources, on his own thoughts or wisdom. Everywhere, and at all times, he was to be faithful to his commission and its contents, never permitting himself for one single instant to travel beyond. If he had no revelation from the Lord on any subject brought before him, he would have to be silent; for a divine messenger must be able to guarantee the truth of his message with the assurance "Thus saith the Lord."* The principle abides; for if any man speak, he should speak as "oracles of God." The least admixture of human thought or imagination will only corrupt the divine Word.
*The passages in 1 Cor. 7 (v. 25 for example) do not contradict this statement; for Paul wrote his epistles, as inspired, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Cor. 2:12, 13.)
Another important qualification for the apostle's mission is found in verse 17. It is, as we read it, "Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee." A preferable translation is, Taking them out from among the people and the Gentiles; that is, while the apostle had been a Jew, he was now, for the purpose of his service, set apart from, taken outside of, both Jews and Gentiles, because he was about to be sent equally to both. His mission was from heaven, and in its performance he was to remember this, owning no distinction between people and people, or nation and nation. That Paul, on more than one occasion, forgot the full import of these words, is only too apparent; and it was his failure in this respect towards the close of his free activity (though graciously over-ruled by the Lord for the accomplishment of His purposes) which surrounded him with entanglements, and led him to be taken to Rome as a prisoner, instead of visiting the imperial city as an apostle. But, alas! we all know, in our smaller measure, the difficulty of remembering that we have lost our nationality through association with Christ in His death, and also of living in spirit in that sphere "where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all."
The object of his mission as here given is fully stated in verse 18. Remark, first, that he is distinctly sent. This is a principle of the first and abiding importance. How many run without being sent, and would be entirely unable to show the credentials of their mission! Every servant, whatever may be the character of his service, must be both called and sent, and in this Paul is pre-eminently a pattern. The prime object then of his mission was to open the eyes both of Jews and Gentiles. What a revelation of the state of men is thus made! For if their eyes had to be opened, they must hitherto have been fast closed in darkness; and how well Paul knew, from his own experience, that such was the sad condition of all! But how, it may be asked, was Paul to open blind eyes? His part was to proclaim the gospel of the glory of Christ, to be thus, in fact, a witness of what he had seen; and he received power to carry on this blessed work. (Compare Col. 1:28, 29; 1 Thess. 1:5.) God's part was to cause the light that streamed from the message of His servant to shine into the benighted souls of those that heard the gospel. The apostle could thus write of himself, "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." (2 Cor. 4:6.) Man's part, for which however he was entirely dependent on God, was to receive, bow to, accept the message proclaimed; and hence all blessing was to come, as in the last clause of the verse, "by faith that is in" Christ.
To have the eyes opened may be taken as the foundation of all the other blessings named. Some indeed render the passage thus: "To open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins," etc. When the eyes are opened to discern their real condition in the presence of God, when a real divine work has thus commenced, souls must turn, as Saul himself did, from darkness to light, to Him from whom the light has come, and consequently from the power of Satan (for his kingdom is limited to, yea, is darkness) unto God. That all this needs divine power at every step every one who has trodden the path knows full well. And in every conversion, as has been pointed out in Saul's own case, the object God has in view is to break down all self-confidence, and to teach the soul that, guilty and lost as it is, it has absolutely no claim upon Him - except indeed for judgment on account of manifold sins. In no other way could grace be apprehended; and it is only through pure and sovereign grace that any sinner can be saved. But He who sends His servants to proclaim the gospel makes adequate provision for all the sinner needs, and that according to the estimate and requirements of His own glory. Paul could consequently write, after telling us what he had been, "And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 1:14.)
It will enhance our conceptions of grace if we observe the character of the blessings which are bestowed on those who are turned from the power of Satan unto God. The first mentioned is the forgiveness of sins, and this is because the sense of God's forgiving love in clearing from guilt is the first need of the awakened soul. Nothing will relieve the conscience but the knowledge of forgiveness - forgiveness ministered to the soul on the ground of the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ. (Compare chaps. 10:42, 43; 13:38, 39.) Let it be remarked, moreover, that souls are turned to God that they may receive forgiveness of sins. This is pure grace, showing as it does that forgiveness is waiting for those who come with repentance towards God, and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, there is "inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me." They that are sanctified are those who are separated from the world, and set apart for God through the reception of His testimony concerning His beloved Son; and the inheritance among them is an expression to indicate all the blessings in which every believer will share with Christ and with His redeemed. It is an inheritance indeed; for, as Paul afterwards taught, "if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." The words "by faith that is in Me" may be taken to qualify the whole verse; that is, it is through faith in Christ that blind eyes are opened, that deliverance from darkness and the power of Satan is experienced, as well as that forgiveness of sins and inheritance among the sanctified are received.
Such then was Saul's blessed mission in this dark world. He who had been the chief of sinners was to go forth with light from the face of a glorified Christ in his soul, himself forgiven and delivered, commissioned by the Lord Himself to proclaim to all alike, whether Jews or Gentiles, the gospel of the glory of Christ; and He who sent His servant qualified him for His work, gave him his message, sustained him in his service, and glorified Himself in His servant's devotedness and activity.