"The Ministry of Paul. Its relation to dispensational truth.
No. 2. His Commission"
by Charles H. Welch
The Berean Expositor circa 1912.
"A chosen vessel .... to bear My name" (Acts ix.15).
In our last article we sought to examine the record of Saul of Tarsus. We now seek to understand his commission as an apostle.
We have already called attention to Acts ix. No record is given us there of what the Lord told Paul other than that he was to go into the city of Damascus and there receive instruction. No word is recorded of the feelings of this stricken man during the three days' blindness in the house of Judas. It is not at all improbable that we get a reminiscence of his feelings in Rom. vii. At the end of Rom. vii. we hear the agonizing prayer, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" In Acts ix. 11 it is written, "Behold, he prayeth"!
In answer to this prayer the Lord sent a certain disciple named Ananias. Ananias was at first loath to go to the man who had persecuted and ravaged the church, but the Lord said unto him, "Go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel; for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake." The one emphatic note in the commission is the *name* of the Lord. This name Paul was to bear, and for this name he was to suffer. Nothing is said here about apostleship, preaching or teaching, but just bearing and suffering in relation to that very name he had so intensely hated. From henceforth the name of, "The Hung" (the name of reproach heaped upon Christ by the Rabbis) was his glory. The "Crucified" was henceforth Master and Lord.
We are allowed a glimpse of Saul in Damascus and we can see that the same zealous, consuming temperament is there, but sanctified and mellowed by saving grace and overwhelming mercy. We see in Paul the apostle, not only the impetuous eagerness and vehemence of Saul the pharisee, but we discern something to which Saul was a stranger -- humility. That distrust of self and of his gifts and powers, that consciousness of some humiliating appearance, the shrinking and tender spirit that pervades his sternest messages, all tell of the marvelous change. "And straightway he preached in the synagogues *Jesus* (R.V.), that He is the Son of God." *The name* of Jesus was the object of his unconverted hatred, the spring of his converted effort, and the cause of the sufferings which he bore.
The Jews at Damascus tolerated such men as Ananias, but they sought to kill such as Paul. One able writer has said:-
"It was, throughout life, Paul's unhappy fate to kindle the most virulent animosities, because, though conciliatory and courteous by temperament, he yet carried into his arguments that intensity and downrightness that awakens dormant opposition. A languid controversialist will always meet with a languid tolerance, but any controversialist whose honest belief in his own doctrines makes him terribly in earnest, may count on a life embittered by the anger of those on whom he has forced the disagreeable task of re-considering their own assumptions ....Out of their own Scriptures, by their own methods of exegesis, in their own style of dialectics by the interpretation of prophecies of which they did not dispute the validity, he simply confounded them. He could now apply the same principles which in the mouth of Stephen he had found it impossible to resist."
Take the word "name" in Acts ix. above, and notice the witness of the word:-
Verse 14. Saul has authority to bind all who call on *the name*.
15. He is chosen to bear *the name*.
16. He is to suffer for *the name*.
21. He destroys those who call on *this name*.
27. At Damascus he preaches boldly in *the name* of Jesus.
29. At Jerusalem he speaks boldly in *the name* of the Lord Jesus.
When besought not to go up to Jerusalem Paul said, "What mean ye to weep and break mine heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the *name* of the Lord Jesus" (Acts xxi. 13). When recounting before King Agrippa the days of his unregeneracy, he prefaced the account of his violence by the words, "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to *the name* of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts xxvi. 9). The very memory of the persecutions which he had directed against the believers was rendered odious to him ever after by the recollection of the words from heaven, "I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest."
In Romans i. 5 he tells of his apostleship with a loving touch, "for *His name*." The carnal believers at Corinth were loved, for they called upon "*the name* of Jesus Christ our Lord"; and when the apostle would beseech them to be "perfectly joined together," he knows no term more powerful than, "by *the name* of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. i. 10). How he must have rejoiced as he wrote the words of Eph. i. 21, that Christ was raised above "every *name* that is named." How he must have looked forward to that day when, "in *the name* of Jesus every knee should bow" (Phil. ii. 10). Or, turning to the practical side, he could enter with all his heart into the exhortation of Col. iii. 17, "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in *the name* of the Lord Jesus."
His last recorded use of the word emphasizes the fact that that name has lost none of its power or its sweetness. "Let every one that nameth *the name* of Christ, depart from iniquity." The use of the word "name" in the epistles of the mystery which have reference to Christ is instructive.
A | Eph i.21. Every *name* that is named. Resurrection (noun | and verb).
B | Eph. v.20. Giving thanks ... in the *name*. Thanksgiving.
C | Phil. ii.9. The *name* above every name. Exaltation.
C | Phil. ii.10. In the *name* of Jesus ... bow ... | confess. Exaltation.
B | Col. iii.17. Do all in the *name* ... giving thanks. | Thanksgiving.
A | 2 Tim. ii.19. Nameth the *name*. Resurrection (noun and verb).
In this last reference Paul seems to look back to Acts ix. 15, and the connection between the "vessel" and the "name" (2 Tim. ii. 19-21) is suggestive.
Ananias was told that Saul was to bear the name of the Lord Jesus before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. The word "Gentile" is used in a bad sense in the two occurrences in Acts prior to chapter ix. "Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles" (Acts iv. 27). "The Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers" (Acts vii. 45). The Jew is prominent in the early chapters of the Acts, and it is not until the stoning of Stephen that the first step Gentileward is definitely taken.
The persecution in Jerusalem sent the believers into Judea and Samaria, where they preached the Word, but this did not in any sense indicate that the scattered believers preached to the Gentiles, such a thing was undreamed of by them. Should any reader object to this statement of fact, he has only to read Acts xi. 19:-
"Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen, traveled as far as Phenice and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the Word to none but unto *the Jews only*" (The "Grecians" of vi. 1, ix. 29 and xi. 20 refer to Greek-speaking Jews, Hellenists. They used the Septuagint instead of the original Hebrew).
Peter and his associates were "astonished" to find that the holy spirit was poured out upon Cornelius and his household; the ministry of Peter was strictly to the circumcision (Gal. ii. 7,8), the case of Cornelius being exceptional and for a special purpose. Cornelius, however, was not a Gentile in the sense of the word as applied to Paul's apostleship, Cornelius was a "Proselyte of the Gate," he gave alms and prayed, and was held in good report "among all the *nation of the Jews*" (Acts x. 1,2,22).
It was reserved for Saul of Tarsus, a man who was an Hebrew of the Hebrews, who would sooner have died than associate with a dog of a Gentile, to be the chosen vessel of grace to the barbarian and Scythian, the bond and the free, the Greek as well as the Jew. That which would have been looked upon as his lowest degradation is looked upon as his highest glory.
"I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office" (Rom. xi. 13).
"That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles" (Rom. xv. 16).
"He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles" (Gal. ii. 8).
"Unto me ... is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. iii. 8).
"I am ordained a preacher and an apostle (I speak the truth in Christ and lie not), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1 Tim. ii. 7)
The last reference to the Gentiles in the Acts is in that solemn passage, where, quoting the sixth of Isaiah to the elders of Israel at Rome, Paul closed the door of the kingdom, and opened the door of the mystery. "The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it" (Acts xxviii. 28). Henceforth he was the "prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles." In view of his approaching death, he wrote to Timothy his last message, thanking the Lord Who had stood with him and strengthened him to finish his course, that *by him* the preaching might be fully known, and that all the *Gentiles* might hear (2 Tim. iv. 17). Have we thanked the Lord for His gift to men? He gave some apostles, and in Paul we have the chiefest sinner made to be the chiefest of the apostles, and the champion of grace.
Not only does the passage in Acts ix. tell us of Paul's commission to the Gentiles, but it also adds, "and kings." Paul, as we well know, was brought before king Agrippa, and nobly testified to the saving grace of the name of Christ. His appeal unto Caesar gave him audience with the emperor at Rome, and although we have no record of his witness, we feel sure that he delivered himself of his testimony in the power of the name of his Lord. That his witness was faithful is evidenced by that marvelous expression in Phil. iv. 22, "The saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household." Saints in *Caesar's* household! Saints in the employ of that monster! How this rebukes us! If there could be saints there, saints can be found *anywhere*. Dear troubled brother or sister, your business, your home, your surroundings surely are not quite so bad as was the case of those slaves of Caesar. Let us take courage from their example.
The last clause of the commission which we will consider here is "and the children of Israel." One has but to read the record of the Acts, or the Epistles written during that period, to see how large a place Israel had in the heart of the apostle to the Gentiles. Such passages as Acts xiii. 14; xiv. 1; xvii. 2; xviii. 4,19; xix. 8; xxvi. 20, and xxviii. 17 will demonstrate how faithful the apostle was to the terms of Rom. i. 16, "to the Jew first." The prominence given to the Jew by Paul in his early Epistles may be demonstrated as follows:-
Before Acts xxviii. | (six epistles) After Acts xxviii. (six epistles) |
Jew occurs 25 times Jew occurs once (neither Greek nor Jew)
Israel 14 times Israel " twice (Eph. ii.12; Phil. iii.5)
Israelite 3 times Israelite occurs not once
Abraham 19 times Abraham occurs not once
Occurrences 61 Occurrences 3
Paul's peculiar dispensation of the grace of God to the Gentiles depended, humanly speaking, upon the foreseen defection of Israel, and had a gospel whose terms did not commend it to Jewish exclusiveness. This laid him open to many bitter attacks. His sensitiveness is everywhere apparent. They said his gospel was of his own invention, hence the moment he mentions it in Rom. i. 1,2 he adds, "which He had before promised by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures;" so also in Rom. iii. 21. This accounts for the solemn introduction to Rom. ix.:-
"I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh (for I used to wish myself to be a cursed thing from Christ)."
His own experiences taught him to pity rather than to chide. His own experiences, typical of Israel in each case, figure also in Rom. x. 1-4 and xi. 1,2. The next few verses of Rom. ix. bear witness to the pre-eminent position of Israel.
Israel's dispensational privileges (Rom. ix. 3-5).
A | According to the flesh (kata sarka). Brethren.
B | Who are Israelites (descendants of Jacob).
C | To whom the sonship.
D | Glory.
E | Covenants.
E | Legislation.
D | Service.
C | Promises.
B | Whose are the fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob).
A | According to the flesh (kata sarka). The Messiah.
The time for the cutting down of the olive tree of Israel's favour was seen by the apostle to be approaching nearer and nearer. He tells us, however, that God's purposes are by no means thwarted. Israel shall yet be righteous, even though but a remnant believed during the transitional period:-
"For the gifts and calling of God are not subject to a change of mind; for as indeed ye were formerly not believing in God, but now have been objects of mercy, by reason of the unbelief of others (Jews), so they too have now become unbelieving, that they may also obtain mercy, by reason of the mercy shown to you" (Rom. xi. 29-31).
Here the apostle witnesses to a mystery of grace and magnificent mercy beyond our wildest dreams. Truly, our God *delighteth* in mercy. The Jews gave occasion for greater mercy by their unbelief, the Gentiles by their faith. The promises are yet to be fulfilled. God hath not cast away His foreknown people. All Israel shall yet be saved, ungodliness shall be turned away from Jacob. "As regards the gospel, they are enemies on your (Gentiles) account, but as regards the election, *beloved because of the fathers*" (xi. 28). Here are God's own words. Here are the words of the One Who is working out His mighty purpose. "Blinded," "hardened," "broken off," "scattered," wanderers for centuries, yet "*beloved* because of the fathers." They were not forgotten, "for God hath shut up *all* in unbelief;" Why? Orthodoxy would say, "In order to pour out upon them His wrath," but God says, "That He might show mercy upon *all*" -- and the "all" is the same in each case. No wonder, in such a sea of grace, the apostle should feel out of his depth. It was beyond him, he could not trace it out, but he rejoiced in it, and added his hearty, Amen:-
A | "Oh the depth of the riches (riches),
B | both of the wisdom (wisdom),
C | and knowledge of God (knowledge),
D | how unsearchable are His judgments (unsearchable),
D | and His ways past finding out (untraceable).
C | For who hath known the mind of the Lord? (knowledge)
B | or who hath been His counseller? (wisdom)
A | or who first gave to Him and it shall be recompensed unto him again? (riches)
for *of* Him, and *to* Him, are all things, *to* Him be glory for ever and ever, Amen" (Rom. 11:33-36).
We must leave the final clause of the commission for consideration next time. Meanwhile, may many be stirred up to follow Paul in so far as he followed his Lord.