Saul, the Pharisee.

By R. . SLEDD,
" I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee." — Acts xxiii, 6.
Saul first appears in gospel history in connection
with the martyrdom of Stephen. He was a willing
and approving spectator of his death. He was then
a young man, probably between twenty-five and
thirty years of age. But his character was well ma-
tured; his opinions were formed; and his convictions
were deeply rooted in his intellectual and moral being.
He was a fully developed Pharisee, both in theory
and in life. He says of himself : " After the most
straitest sect I lived a Pharisee." According to the
Pharisees' interpretation of the law, and of tradition,
which with them had all the authority of law, he
was blameless. He had all the scrupulousness of his
sect with respect to religious observances, all their
self-righteousness and intolerance, together with the
fiery zeal of an ardent, impulsive nature.
But his religious character was not a spontaneous
growth; nor was it entirely or even chiefly the result
of his own studies. He had freedom of will, it is true,
and might have been a Sadducee, an Essene or an
idolatrous apostate. But all the influences that op-
erated on him from the cradle to maturity tended
to make him just what he was; and scarcely anything
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less than such a miracle as occurred while he was on
his way to Damascus could have made him anything
else.
He was a native of Tarsus, the capital city of Cili-
cia, a fertile and densely populated province of the
Roman Empire in Asia Minor. The population of
Tarsus was composed of Cilicians and other Asiatics,
Romans, Greeks and Jews. The commerce of the
city was very extensive. It was wealthy, luxurious,
licentious, and like Athens, with the exception of its
Hebrew population, was wholly given to idolatry.
It was renowned also for its literary culture. Its
schools rivaled those of Athens and Alexandria.
Augustus made it a free city. Either by virtue of this
act of grace on the part of the Emperor, or as a
reward for some special service, Saul's father enjoyed
the immunity of a Roman citizen. Hence said he,
" I was free born."
How far these surroundings of his childhood af-
fected his subsequent life it is impossible for us to
determine. It is plain that he saw nothing in the
corruption and excesses of the Gentiles to attract
him; they tended rather to awaken in him a disgust
for the pagan civilization and to intensify his love for
the religion of his fathers. The seductions that
attract and destroy some men are profoundly re-
pugnant to others. They recoil from them, and by
their recoil become more firmly established in vir-
tuous principles. Thus the very wickedness of Tar-
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73
sus, so flagrant and unblushing, may have contri-
buted to the quickening of virtuous emotions and the
unfolding of religious sentiment and character in
the young Hebrew.
It is very probable that much of his classic culture
is due to his residence in Tarsus. He shows in his
epistles an acquaintance with several of the Greek
poets of minor fame, and with the philosophy, my-
thology, and social habits of the Gentiles.
It was there also that he learned the trade of a
tent-maker. There was the good custom among the
Jews of requiring all boys, whatever the position and
circumstances of their parents, to learn some useful
trade. All useful trades are honorable. That of
tent-maker was both honorable and profitable. The
material for the cloth was supplied by the goats of
Cilicia, and a ready market was found both at home
and abroad. This trade served him a good turn in
his after life on more occasions than one. It enabled
him to say to the churches, " I was chargeable to none
of you, but labored with mine own hands."
If we look into his immediate family and home
life, we shall find that, from his infancy, there were
powerful Judaic influences operating upon him, and
all helping to make him what he became in his man-
hood.
The Jews at this time were divided into Arameans
and Hellenists, so-called from the languages which
they spoke. The former comprised the Jews of
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Palestine and the countries east and north. These
spoke the Chaldaic and Syriac languages, which were
dialects of the Aramaic. The latter comprised the
Jews of the west and south, who spoke the Greek or
some one of its dialects. The former used the Scrip-
tures of their fathers; the latter the Septuagint, a
Greek translation, which was made and published at
Alexandria, in Egypt, in the third century before
Christ. The former were true to Jerusalem, its tem-
ple and worship, and scrupulously observed the
sacred festivals. The latter built a temple and for a
short time offered their ceremonial worship at Alex-
andria. The former held to the law and to the tra-
ditions of the elders as its only admissible but au-
thoritative commentary. So jealous were they of the
introduction of foreign ideas that they pronounced
a curse on any one who taught his sons the learning
of the Greeks. The latter were more liberal in spirit;
with the Greek language they imbibed much of the
Grecian spirit, yielded to the charm of its culture,
adopted many of its habits of thought, and to a large
extent incorporated its philosophy with their religion.
The Judaism of the Hellenists was a combination of
Mosaism and Platonism.
Saul's father, though living in what might be called
a Greek city, was an Aramean. His language was
the Hebrew. All his religious thinking and pre-
judices were deeply averse to the free thought of the
Hellenists. The ancestral faith and worship and the
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75
peculiar and exclusive privileges of his people were
the foundation and capstone of his moral life. Like
his son he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
But his own section of the people — the Aramean —
was divided into different parties of different tenets
and shades of belief. There were the Zealots, who
were political and religious fanatics, whose religion
consisted chiefly in hatred of the Roman power and
zeal for the liberation of Israel; and the Herodians,
who saw in the power of the family of Herod the
pledge of the preservation of their national existence
and the fulfillment of their Messianic hopes; and the
Essenes, who retired from the great centers of reli-
gious, political and commercial life and occupied
themselves with the dreams of mysticism and the
austerities of asceticism; and the Sadducees, who re-
jected the doctrines of the resurrection and the ex-
istence of angels and spirits — who adhered to the
moral precepts of the law, but opposed tradition and
formalism. They were the rationalists of the age.
But the most numerous and powerful of all their
sects were the Pharisees. Though excluded by Herod
from high official positions, their influence with the
masses of the people was almost unlimited. They
were the inheritors of that exalted type of Judaism
by which religion was reformed and restored on the
return from captivity. But had the reformers, Ezra
and ehemiah, returned at the time of which we
speak, they would not have recognized the inheri-
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tance. Dry and scenic observances, vestments and
attitudes had supplanted the life and power of godli-
ness. There were no doubt upright, though mis-
taken, souls among them; but as a party they were
given up to forms and ceremonies — not only such as
their law enjoined, but all that tradition imposed or
the ingenuity of their elders could invent. The spirit
and principle of these observances was essentially in-
terested and mercenary. By this means they thought
to create merit for themselves before God. There
was merit in tithing mint, and anise, and cummin.
Merit in alms, in repentance, fasting, faith and prayer.
The greater their exactness with respect to the tradi-
tional minutiae of religion, the more frequent their
fasts and the longer their prayers, the greater their
merit and the surer their title to heaven. It is not
surprising that an arrogant self-righteousness should
have been the result of this belief. The Pharisee was
nothing more than consistent when he said to others :
" Stand thou by thyself : come not near me, for I am
holier than thou." We may learn something of their
idea of their worth in God's estimation from these
words of one of their sages : " Each Hebrew is worth
more before God than all the people who have been
or shall be." Surely spiritual pride and self-suffi-
ciency could not go beyond this !
Saul's father was of this sect. His Aramaic preju-
dices led him to reject everything that savored of the
liberalism of the Hellenists, while his Phariseeism
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77
constrained him to observe both what was written
in the law and what had been handed down from one
generation of their elders to another, with the ever
accumulating exactions of a hard and lifeless for-
malism.
In this atmosphere Saul was born, and from the
moment his mind and heart began to unfold and re-
ceive impressions from his mother's songs or his
father's eye and mien, or the surroundings and con-
duct of their home life, he began to be a Pharisee.
His father's broad phylacteries, long prayers, fre-
quent fastings, and multiform observances, could not
fail to exert a profund influence upon him. More-
over, as physical defects or excellencies are often
hereditary, so may be a religious bias and intellectual
peculiarities. It was said of a certain man that " he
was born a Covenanter." When we think of the long
line of Saul's ancestry, all characterized by the same
modes of thought and the same prepossessions, and
the same exalted conceptions of their exclusive privi-
leges and dignity, it is not too much to say that he
was born a Pharisee. When to his inbred proclivities
we add the example and counsel of the father, we
scarcely see how the current of his life could have
taken any other direction.
It was a saying of the Talmud that " At five years
of age the sacred studies should be commenced; at
ten the youth should devote himself to tradition; at
thirteen he should know and fulfill the command-
78 True Heroism and Other Sermons.
ments of the Lord; at fifteen he should perfect his
studies." Beginning such a rigorous course of in-
struction and discipline at such a tender age one of
two results must follow — either aversion and disgust
or interest and proficiency. The latter was the result
with Saul. He not only entered with zeal on these
studies but became eminently proficient and so thor-
oughly indoctrinated as to win, while yet a young
man. the admiration and confidence of so grave a
body as the Sanhedrim.
While yet a boy he was sent to Jerusalem to com-
plete his education. He was placed in the school of
Gamaliel, the most celebrated Rabbi of his age. A
famous precept of the Rabbins was.. " Set a hedge
about the law and make many disciples; ?? that is.
preserve the national institutions by a rigorous tra- 4
dition and teach the traditions in numerous schools.
These schools succeeded the ancient schools of the
prophets. There were several of them in Jerusalem.
That of Gamaliel was the most thoroughly orthodox
and the most popular. He appears to have been the
most skillful of all the doctors of the law. There are
indications that he was less in bondage to the spirit
of a narrow literalism than many others; yet he did
not go beyond the standpoint of a pure legalism. He
was not a man to delude the conscience, but was
honest and sincere in his beliefs and outspoken in
their expression and defence. But his evident candor
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only increased his power and gave to his Phariseeism
a deeper and stronger hold on his pupils.
Saul embraced his teaching with all the moral
earnestness and ardor and infused into it all the pas-
sionate vehemence of his nature. Gifted with a
strong and keen intellect, in a few years he acquired
all the learning of his master.
His education is now complete. The process be-
gun in his father's house and finished under Gamaliel
could scarcely have had a different issue. He comes
forth from the feet of his teacher with his mind
filled with the most exalted and exaggerated views
of the prerogatives of his people, their ancient dignity
and coming glory, and his spirit thoroughly imbued
with love for his religion and zeal for its advancement.
In the completeness of his devotion he could see no
excellence in, and had no toleration for, anything else.
He is a full-grown Pharisee.
We now lose sight of him for a season. But great
religious events were taking place in Jerusalem.
Jesus has died, arisen from the dead, and ascended
to heaven. Pentecost has come. The inspiration of
the Galilean fishermen, and their works and preach-
ing, is shaking the ancient hierarchy to its foundation.
The holy city and the surrounding country are in
commotion. A mighty revolution is taking place.
Every day it gathers strength and momentum. The
scribes and doctors, the priests and elders of the
people see themselves about to be set at nought,
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their power broken and their sanctity and wisdom de-
spised. A man with Saul's intense religious feeling
and strong convictions could not be quiet at such
a time. or could he see the people becoming obe-
dient to the faith and following such guides as Peter,
James, John and Stephen, without having his soul
as deeply stirred within him as when he afterwards
looked on the idolatry of Athens. His pride, his
self-righteousness, his devotion to the law, his love
of ritualism, every element of his Phariseeism was
shocked and insulted by the new faith. He seemed
at length to regard the preaching, praying and
miracle working of the disciples, and the believing
of the people as an affront personal to himself. His
deepest hatred was awakened. From a spectator on
the occasion of Stephen's death we find him next en-
tering private houses and arresting men and women
and committing them to prison, and by every means
in his power distressing and making havoc of the
church.
This was his Phariseeism in full fruitage. It was
the natural product of the education he had received
and the beliefs he had adopted. Like exclusiveness
and self-righteousness will always produce like re-
sults. Intolerance is its natural off-spring and when-
ever occasion may arise, it will not scruple at open
violence. This has often been illustrated in the his-
tory of the people of God. Romish intolerance and
persecution of dissenting believers, and Christian
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intolerance and persecution of the Jews, are but the
outgrowth of the Pharisaic spirit. The Christianity
of such bigotry is but a dead formalism, as destitute
of the spirit of piety and as offensive to God as the
dead carcass is destitute of life and offensive to us.
With respect to Saul's Phariseeism as thus de-
veloped into open hostility to the cause of Christ it
must be admitted that it was honest. The Saviour
repeatedly characterized the Pharisees as hypocrites,
mere pretenders to piety. But while this was true
of them as a class, it cannot be doubted that there were
sincere and devout individuals among them. Such was
icodemus, who came to Jesus by night, and who
afterwards became his disciple. Such, too, we believe,
was Gamaliel, Saul's instructor. His disinterested in-
tervention in behalf of the church in Jerusalem and
his wise counsels mark him as a man of just, upright
and elevated spirit. The same was no doubt true of
others. With respect to Saul there is not the slightest
shadow of an imputation of insincerety or dishonesty
resting upon him. The creed of Phariseeism was not
with him a merely speculative theory. It was to him
the truth of God. His intellect accepted it and en-
dorsed it, his yearning heart received and loved it;
his life consistently illustrated it. I-n the practice of
its precepts and the observance of its ritualism, and
in pushing it to the extreme of persecuting the fol-
lowers of Jesus, he verily believed that he was doing
God service and would thereby win a place in heaven
82 True Heroism and Other Sermons.
It is not surprising that it was such a vital force
within him. Strongly " rooted and grounded " in
his intellect, it touched, quickened and energized his
moral sensibilities and moved and controlled his will.
It leavened the entire man. He was its incarnation.
His life was an accurate and comprehensive exposi-
tion of its spirit and principles. He tells us that as
touching the righteousness of the law he was blame-
less. There had been no wilful neglect of any duty
or demand of the law so far as outward observance
was concerned. Every injunction and every prohi-
bition, moral and ceremonial, as he understood it,
had been faithfully observed. How potential must
have been his faith, and how comprehensive and com-
plete his obedience. Phariseeism had done its ut-
most; Saul is the highest expression and the best
product of its moral and spiritual power.
But the very best that Phariseeism could do falls
far short of the soul's deliverance from sin and ulti-
mate safety. " I say unto you, That except your
righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the
Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into
the kingdom of heaven." The most perfect Pharisee
is outside the kingdom, and if he never gets beyond
Phariseeism he is lost forever.
I. Sincerity is not salvation. Saul followed the
convictions of both judgment and conscience. Yet
he afterwards learned that he was terribly wrong.
A man may be perfectly sincere in believing a lie.
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It is truth, not falsehood, that saves. The God of
truth could never put such honor on falsehood.
2. Faith is not salvation. Saul believed a great
deal of truth, revealed truth. He believed it heartily
and practiced it conscientiously. But it was not
saving truth. He had a mighty faith, as his devotion
proved. But he refused to believe, and hated and
persecuted those who did believe, the only truth that
can save the sinner.
3. Morality it not salvation. " All these (com-
mandments) have I kept from my youth up," said the
young man. " One thing thou lackest," replied the
Master. " Touching the righteousness which is in
the law, blameless," is Saul's record. o external
obedience could be more complete, no life from a
legal standpoint could be more irreproachable. Yet
as he looks back upon that life in after years, he calls
himself the chief of sinners and is filled with wonder
at the grace that could forgive and save him. All
his morality he counted but loss.
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