By J.R. Miller
The first glimpse we have of Saul is in the martyrdom of Stephen. The record is that he was consenting unto Stephen's death. He was present, not merely as a spectator--but as one who approved of what was done and was instrumental in it. Yet this is the man who afterwards became a glorious apostle, the most influential of all, who wrought in the founding and extension of Christianity. We know it was Paul's conscience that made him a participator in this martyrdom. In another place he tells us that he truly thought within himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus. We learn that one may be very conscientious--and yet very wrong. Conscience needs a guide--the Word of God.
Evidently Saul's zeal as a persecutor was terrific. It is probable that Stephen's speech made him more bitter for the time. He was driven by it to the fiercest frenzy in his determination to crush out Christianity by destroying every follower of Christ. He spread desolation everywhere. His activity as a persecutor is indicated in the words, "Saul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women committed them to prison." His name became a terror to Christians everywhere it was heard. This terrible bitterness magnifies the grace of God, which saved such an enemy and made him afterwards such an apostle of Christianity. Paul during his ministry continually referred to his own salvation, as assurance that no one can be so far away from Christ, that upon repentance and faith he would not be saved.
"Those who were scattered abroad went about preaching the Word." We would say that men driven away from their homes by persecution would be so frightened that they would not think of preaching--but would try only to hide from those who sought to kill them. But these men did not try to hide. They had the peace of God in their hearts, even amid all the dangers. Their earnestness in behalf of Christ grew the more intense--the more they suffered for Him. We are reminded of that wonderful verse in the Twenty-third Psalm, which tells us of God spreading a table for His people in the presence of their enemies. They were not afraid to speak of the gospel, which had cost them so much. They were compelled to leave Jerusalem--but their voices were not silenced. They had suffered for Christ's sake--but they would not give up Christ. The life of Christ in a true Christian, cannot be quenched or suppressed. It is like a bubbling fountain, which flows everywhere. We should be so full of love for our Savior that in school, at work, at play, in the quiet of our own home, and wherever we may go--our faces shall shine with the brightness of the indwelling peace, and the love of Christ shall find expression in our words.
We come now to an important point in the history of the development of Christianity. Until persecution began, there had been no effort made to carry the gospel out into the world. But the dispersion of the disciples became a great missionary movement. Philip was one of the seven men chosen to assist the apostles. He became a great preacher and had an important place in carrying the gospel to the world.
"And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed Christ unto them." Philip was one of the coals of the holy fire, which the winds of persecution scattered. The fire was not quenched, however, by the winds--but was only fanned into intenser flames and greater brightness. The enemies of Christ thought to put out the fire of Pentecost, but they only scattered it far more widely. Philip considered the misfortune, as men would have called it a providence. Perhaps he had heard the word of Jesus, which said to the disciples, "When they persecute you in this city, flee into the next." They were to flee--but not to cease their work. When Philip could not preach longer in Jerusalem, he went and preached in Samaria. He had a religion that could travel and not lose its energy and force. We ought to get the lesson, that wherever circumstances send us--we must continue our work for Christ. The captive maid in Syria still witnessed among the heathen for the God of her land, and the captive boys in Babylon did not forget their religion.