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Acts xxvi. 9.
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do
many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Many have supposed that St. Paul is here offering a vindication of himself, and that, in saying, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” he declares that he was quite satisfied with regard to the violent part that he had acted against the christians; because he had herein followed his conscience, had done only what, at the time, he thought to be right.
They have been the more confirmed in this supposition, from the consideration of what he speaks of himself in another place, when pleading his cause before the Jewish sanhedrim ; where we are told (Acts xxiii. 1.) that “Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men
and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” And it appears in the remaining part of his speech before king Agrippa and the Roman governor, which follows the words of the text, that he is so far from justifying himself, with regard to the sufferings that he had brought upon the followers of Christ for adhering to their religion before his conversion, that, on the contrary, he aggravates his crime in a high degree, setting it off in its worst colours, yet not worse than it deserved: for, by his own confession, besides being guilty of the death of innocent men, whom he had caused to be unjustly condemned, he had, by threatenings and cruelties, caused some among them to renounce their belief in Christ, and to calumniate him contrary to their better knowledge, and thus, by tempting them aside from the paths of vir tue and integrity, endangered their happiness for ever in another world.
And though he might not, at the time, think that such might be the consequence, yet he ought to have thought of it, and the blame was his.
But it is to be observed, that, with respect to this declaration concerning himself, our apö
stle has been greatly misunderstood, by its being imagined that he speaks of the whole course of his rational life from its beginning. For, though he was warm and impetuous, and often constrained in his own defence to mention things to his praise, and frank and open to speak his whole mind, he appears to have been void of vanity; and therefore it is not likely that he should, of himself, and still more as a christian, be capable of such proud boasting, and of arrogating to himself such perfection as could hardly be true of any man whatsoever.
And further : it was quite beside his purpose to have gone so far back in vindication of himself, as to take in the whole of his former life as a Jew, with which the accusations of his enemies had nothing to do, nor had they any thing to say against him in that respect :
All that they accused him of, and all that could be of any service to him to produce, was what related to his quitting their religion and embracing christianity. And it is in this action, in this most important step of his life, and in his forward zeal from that time in
propagating the gospel, which had given them so much offence,-he avows that he had acted
with a clear approving mind, and lived in all good conscience to that day, without any retrospect beyond it; and he seems to have been going on with an account of his conversion, when he was stopped by the passionate illegal behaviour of his judge.
That his assertion of having lived in all good conscience extended no further, is evident from the remorse and compunction with which he always speaks in other parts of his writings of his having persecuted the christians; for which he calls himself, and justly, “the chief of sinners,” (1 Tim. i. 15.) and never fails to acknowledge it, as owing to the pure mercy of God, that he was checked in the midst of his wild course of hatred and barbarity towards conscientious men and the true servants of God, in which he might have otherwise gone on to his ruin ; till he had become quite blinded with passion, and hardened in his savage dispositions.
St. Paul's saying, then, that he had lived in all good conscience to that day, refers only to his conduct at the time and since he changed his sentiments and became a christian.
What I propose at present, is, to consider some few of those useful disquisitions and re