Section 4: Ananias: His Visit to Paul at Damascus
We now come to the visit, which, we are to understand, was, in reality, paid to Paul by Ananias, in consequence of this vision, in obedience to the command imagined to be given in it.
Note that, though, in the original—in the including vision, as it may be called—the command is given to inquire in the house in question for the person (Saul) in question,—this is all the command which, in that least visionary of the two visions, is delivered. In the first instance to make the inquiry, and in conclusion to go his way—this is all to which the commands given to him in the direct way extend themselves. To accomplish the object of this intercourse—to do anything towards it beyond the making of this inquiry—he has to take hints and to draw inferences:—inferences from the Lord's speech, which is thus continued:
On the occasion of this important visit—this visit of Ananias to Paul,—the double light—the light cast by the first of the two oratorical accounts—to wit, the supposed unpremeditated one, upon the historical one—recommences.
Follows now—and from both sources—the account of the interview, and of the cure performed in the course of it.
Acts' Account as per Acts 9:17-22
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
Paul's Account as per Acts 22:12-16
Topic 1.—On visiting Paul, Ananias's Introductory Speech—Preliminary Recital.
In the historical account, the speech has in it several distinguishable parts. "
First comes the address, in which Saul, the future Paul, is addressed by disciple Ananias by the name of brother. If, as between Jew and Jew, this was a common form of salutation,—so far everything is in order. But, if it was only in consideration of his having been denominated a disciple, to wit, of Jesus,—the salutation is rather premature: the conversion, supposing it effected, is, at any rate, not yet declared. Not only in the historical account is this appellation employed, but likewise in the oratorical one.
The attention of Paul being thus bespoken by his visitor, mention is thereupon made of the purpose of the visit.
In the second place comes a recital.
This, however, is but a collateral averment:—a recital, an episode, matter of inducement, as an English lawyer would phrase it.
Topic 2.—Declared Purposes or Objects of the Visit.
Purpose the first. Ananias says,
Purpose the second. That thou mightest
So serious always, according to this historian, was the difference, that it was after he had been already baptized, and baptized gratis in a crowd, that for the power of conferring this benefit, whatever it was that it was composed of, Sorcerer Simon made to the two Apostles, those offers—those pecuniary offers—which are said to have been no sooner made than rejected. Acts 8:13-24.
Topic 3.—Actual Effects of the Visit, and the Application in consequence made in the course of it. Effect 1. Scales fall from Eyes, and Sight is received in consequence.
In the historical narrative, the effect is as complete as it is remarkable. Fall from his eyes a portion of matter of the nature or resemblance of scales: whereupon he receives sight forthwith.
In the supposed oratorical account, whatsoever had been meant by scales, nothing is said of them. Neither is the declaration made of the completeness of the case quite so explicit. One look he gave—gave to his wonder-working surgeon—and instead of its being given forthwith—to give this one look required, it should seem, if not a whole hour, at any rate so little less, that any time less than an hour could not—such, in this supposed unpremeditated speech, was the anxiety felt for correctness—could not be ventured to be particularized.
The more closely these scales, or things resembling scales, are looked at, the more difficult will it be to find them amount to anything. In no cure, performed upon eyes in any natural way, in these our days—upon eyes that have lost their sight—do any scales fall off, or anything in any degree resembling scales;—in no disorder of the eyes, known to have place in these our days, do scales, or anything like scales, come over the eyes. By the taking of matter from the eyes, sight, it is true, is every now and then restored: but this matter is not matter, foreign in relation to the eye and exterior to it; but one of the component parts called humours of the eye, which, by losing its transparency having suspended the faculty of vision, is let out by a lancet; whereupon not only is the faculty of sight restored, but the part which had been extirpated restored likewise; and without any expense in the article of miracles.
On the supposition of falsity,—quere the use of this circumstance? Answer. To afford support to the conception, that memory and not imagination was the source from which the story was derived. True it is, that, instead of support, a circumstance exposed to contradiction would be an instrument of weakness: if, for example, on the supposition that Paul had no companions on the road, names indicative of really existing and well-known persons had been added, to the intimation given in the Acts, of the existence of such companions. But to no such hazard was the story of the scales exposed: not to any great danger, on the supposition of the existence of Paul's Ananias: not to any danger at all, upon the supposition of his non-existence.
But, upon this occasion, now again once more present themselves—present themselves to the mind's eye—Paul's companions. That they were blinded at all can scarcely, it has been seen, be believed, if on this matter the historian himself is believed. For,
Topic 4.—Baptism—was it performed? when, where, by whom?
The baptism thus spoken of—was it performed? Yes: if you will believe the historian, speaking in his own person, speaking in his own historical account:
This, according to the historian, speaking in his own person: but, when the time comes for giving an account of the matter in the person of Paul himself,—to wit in the supposed unpremeditated oratorical speech,—then, for whatever it was that stopped him, (whether the supposed urgency of the occasion on which the supposed speech was supposed to be made, or any thing and what else,) so it is, that he gives not any such information: he leaves the matter to hang in doubt:—a doubt, which, down to the present day remains unsolved.
A command to this effect is spoken of as having been given: thus much is said. But, what is not said is—whether to this same command any or what obedience was paid.
Thus it is that, instead of an effect which it seems desired that we should consider as being produced, what we see directly stated as being produced, is nothing more than a command—a command, by which, as by its cause, we are to suppose the effect to have been produced. What is more, in the same blind way, is intimation given us, of another and very different effect—the washing away of sins—as if produced by the first-mentioned physical operation;—namely, by that of a man's being dipped in, or sprinkled with, water: and thus it is, that from a mere physical operation of the most trivial nature, we are called upon to infer a spiritual and supernatural effect of the most awful importance; the spiritual effect stated as if it were produced by the physical operation, to which it has no perceptible real relation—nothing but the mere verbal one thus given to it; produced by it, and following it, as of course—just as if sins were a species of dirt, which, by washing, could as surely be got off as any other dirt.9
And was he then really baptized? If so he was, then also if, speaking in the person of his hero, the historian is to be believed,—then also, by this ceremony, the name of the Lord being at the same time called upon,—then also were his sins washed away; his sins washed away; the sinner, therefore and thereby, put into the same case as if the sins had not any of them been ever committed. How can it be understood otherwise? for if, in and by this passage, intimation—sufficiently perfect information—is given, that the ceremony was performed—then also is sufficiently perfect information given, that such was the effect actually produced by it. Ananias said,
This is no light matter: if so it really were, that according to the religion of Jesus, by such a cause, such an effect was on that occasion produced;—that such effect could, in a word, on any occasion, in any case be produced,—that murders, or (not to embarrass the question with conceits of local jurisprudence) killings of men—killings of men by persecution carried on, on a religious account—slaughters of Christians by non-Christians—could thus, as in Paul's case, be divested of all guilt, at any rate of all punishment, at the hands of Almighty Justice;—if impunity could indeed be thus conferred by the sprinkling a man with water or dipping him in it, then would it be matter of serious consideration—not only what is the verity of that religion, but what the usefulness of it, what the usefulness—with reference to the present life at any rate, not to speak of a life to come: what the usefulness of it; and on what ground stands its claim to support by all the powers of factitious punishment and factitious reward, at the hands of the temporal magistrate.10
Topic 5.—Performance of the Promise, supposed to have been made by the Lord, in favour of Paul, to Ananias.
If the supposed promise is inadequate to the occasion, the supposed performance is still more inadequate with reference to the promise.
In the supposed promise are two distinguishable parts, and in neither of them is the one thing needful to be found. Of these two parts, the only one in which in any direct stage the matter of a promise is contained, is the one last mentioned: it is the promise to show him, (Paul) what sufferings he will have to undergo in the course of the career, whatever it is, in which he is about to engage: to wit, in name and profession, the preaching the religion of Jesus: "for I will show him," says the Lord, according to the historian,—"I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." If so it was, that upon this promise, such as it is, performance never followed, the regret for the failure need not be very great. Whatsoever were the sufferings that he was predestined to undergo, that which was not in the nature of this foreshowing, was—the lessening their aggregate amount; that which was in the nature of it was—the making an addition to that same afflicting aggregate; to wit, by constant and unavoidable anticipation of the approach of such sufferings.
Of this talk, vague as it is, about sufferings, the obvious enough object was—the giving exaltation to the idea meant to be conveyed of the merits of the hero:—an object, which, by this and other means, has accordingly, down to the present day, in no small degree been accomplished. So much as to sufferings: as to enjoyments, by any idea entertained of the enjoyments derived by him from the same source, this design would have been—not promoted, but counteracted. But, when the time arrives, whether the mass of suffering was not, to no small amount, overbalanced by that of his enjoyments—meaning always worldly sufferings and worldly enjoyments—the reader will be left to judge.
Here then we have the only promise, which in any direct way is expressed:—a promise which, in the first place would have been useless, in the next place worse than useless.
Topic 6.—Indirect Promise, that Paul shall spread the Name of Jesus.
In the whole substance of this promise, if there be anything, which, with reference to the professed end—to wit the giving extension to the religion of Jesus—would have been of use, it is in the foregoing part that it must be looked for. In this part then, if there be any such matter to be found, it will be this: to wit, a promise that he (Paul) shall bear, and therefore that he shall be enabled to bear, the name of the Lord, to wit, the name of Jesus, before the classes of persons specified, to wit, the Gentiles, and kings, and children of Israel: Acts 9:15. But, only in an indirect way is this solely material part of the promise expressed:
Bear the name of Jesus? so far, so good. But for this function no such special and supernatural commission was necessary: without any such commission, the name of Jesus had been borne to the people at large, if in this particular the Gospel history is to be believed.
In the course of Paul's dialogue with the voice on the road—that voice which we are given to understand was the Lord's, i.e. Jesus's—the promise supposed to be made to Paul, it must be remembered, was—the promise to tell him, when in the city, what he was to do.
Among all these things,—one thing, which it is manifestly the design of the historian, as it was that of his hero, to make men believe, was accomplished: to wit, the satisfying them what was the religious doctrine, for the dissemination of which the expense of this miracle was incurred. This, moreover, is the promise; which, in the reading of the story everybody looks for: this too is the promise which in the reading of this same story, the believers in the religion of Jesus have very generally been in the habit of considering as performed. Not in and by this history, however, will they have any such satisfaction, when the matter comes to be looked into. For, in respect of this information, desirable as it is,—Paul is, in this strangely supposed intercourse, put off—put off to another time and place: put off, for no reason given, nor for any substantial reason that can be imagined. Further on, when a show of performing the promise comes to be made, then, instead of accomplishment, we have more evasion. Instead of furnishing the information to Paul himself—to Paul directly—for, when the time and place for performance comes, performance—what the Lord is not supposed so much as to profess to do, what he professes to do is—to make the communication to this man, who, his existence being supposed, was an utter stranger to Paul—namely to this Ananias. Well, and for the conveying the information, in this indirect and inadequate way—for conveying it to and through this same Ananias—what is done?—as we have seen, what amounts to nothing.
When, for affording the information—had any information been intended to be afforded—the time and place are come; when Ananias and Paul have been brought together; what is it that, from the information afforded us by the historian, we are to understand, passed? Answer, that, after the scales had fallen from his eyes, Paul was baptized; that he ate meat, and that after he had eaten meat he was strengthened: strengthened, we are warranted to suppose, by the meat which he had so eaten. Moreover, that somehow or other, in this large city he was certain days—number not specified,—with certain disciples—neither names nor number specified,—and preached Christ in the synagogues, saying that he was the son of God.
Thus far then we are got; and, of the supposed revelation, in all this time nothing revealed. Promises, put-offs, evasions—and, after all, no performance.
Among the purposes of this work, is the satisfying the reader—not only that Paul received not any revelation from the Almighty; but that, even upon his own showing, never did he receive any such revelation: that, on pretence of his having received it from the Almighty by a special revelation, he preached indeed a certain doctrine; but that this doctrine was partly one of his own, contrary to that of Jesus's apostles, and therefore contrary to that of Jesus: and that, in the way of revelation, he never did receive anything; neither that doctrine of his own which he preached, nor anything else.
Topic 7.—Doctrine, supposed to be preached by Paul at Damascus in the synagogues.
Straightway, if the historian is to be believed;—straightway after being strengthened by the meat;—and straightway after he had passed the certain days with the disciples;—then did Paul preach Christ in the synagogues—preach that he is the son of God.
Here, had he really preached in any such places—here would have been the time, and the best time, for telling us what, in pursuance of the supposed revelation, he preached. For, whatever it was, if anything, that he ever learnt from his supposed revelation, it was not till he had learnt it, till he made this necessary acquisition, that the time for beginning to preach in the synagogues in question or anywhere else was come. And, no sooner had he received it, than then, when it was fresh in his memory—then was the time for preaching it. But, never having received any such thing as that which he pretended, and which the historian has made so many people believe, he received,—no such thing had he to preach at any time or place.
Whatever of that nature he had had, if he had had at any time, Damascus was not the place, at any rate at that time, for him to preach it, or anything else, in synagogues—in any receptacle so extensively open to the public eye.
Preach, in the name of Jesus—in the name of that Jesus, whose disciples, and with them whose religion, he now went thither with a commission to exterminate,—preach in that name he could not, without proclaiming his own religion—his own perfidy;—his own rebellion, against the authorities, from which, at his own solicitation, the commission so granted to him had been obtained:—his own perfidious contempt—not only of those Jerusalem rulers, but of those Damascus authorities, from whom, for that important and cruel purpose, he was sent to receive instruction and assistance. At some seven-and-twenty years distance in the field of time, and at we know not what distance in the field of space, probably that between Rome and Damascus, it was as easy for the historian to affirm the supposed preaching, as to deny it: but, as to the preaching itself, whether it was within the bounds of moral possibility, let the reader judge.
Topic 8.—Supposed Amazement of the People of Damascus at this Paul's supposed preaching of Christ in the Synagogues there.
Had there really been any such preaching, well might have amazement followed it. But there was no such preaching, therefore no such amazement. Had there been real preaching, and real amazement produced by it—what would have been the subject of the amazement! Not so much the audacity of the preacher—for madmen acting singly are to be seen in but too great frequency: not so much the audacity of the speaker, as the supineness of the constituted authorities; for, madmen acting in bodies in the character of public functionaries have never yet been visible. And if any such assemblage was ever seen, many such would be seen, before any one could be seen, whose madness took the course of sitting still, while an offender against their authority, coming to them single and without support,—neither bringing with him support, nor finding it there,—continued, at a public meeting, preaching against them, and setting their authority at defiance.
Topic 9.—Matter of the Revelation, which, in and by the supposed unpremeditated Oratorical Account, is supposed to have been made.
Forgetting what, as we have seen, he had so lately been saying in his own person—in the person of Paul,—he on this occasion, returns to the subject: and more evasive is the result.
On this occasion—this proper occasion—what is it that he, Paul, takes upon him to give an account of.—That which the Lord had revealed to him?—revealed, communicated in the supernatural way of revelation, to him—Paul? No; but that which, according to him,—if he, and through him the historian, is to be believed,—the Lord communicated to Ananias concerning him—Paul. The Almighty having minded to communicate something to a man, and yet not communicating to that man any part of it, but communicating the whole of it to another! What a proceeding this to attribute to the Almighty, and upon such evidence!
Still we shall see, supposing it communicated, and from such a source communicated—still we shall see it amounted to nothing: to nothing—always excepted the contradiction to what, in relation to this subject, had, by this same historian, been a little before asserted.
Observe what were the purposes, for which, by this Ananias, Paul is supposed to be made to understand, that God—the God, says he, of our fathers—had chosen him.
1. Purpose the first—
That thou shouldest know his will.Acts 22:14
His will, respecting what? If respecting anything to the great purpose here in question, respecting the new doctrine which, to this Paul, to the exclusion of the Apostles of Jesus, is all along supposed to have been revealed. Of no such doctrine is any indication anywhere in these accounts to be found.
2. Purpose the second—
And see that Just One.Acts 22:14
Meaning, we are to understand, the person all along spoken of under the name of the Lord; to wit, Jesus. But, in the vision in question, if the historian is to be believed, no Jesus did Paul see. All that he saw was a light,—an extraordinary strong light at midday; so strong, that after it, till the scales fell from his eyes, he saw not any person in any place: and this light, whatever it was, was seen by all that were with him, as well as by him.
3. Purpose the third—
And shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.Acts 22:14
Oh! yes; if what the historian says in that other place is to be believed—hear a voice he did; and if the historian is to be again believed, that voice was the Lord's. But, by hearing this voice, how was he distinguished? those that were with him, according to the historian's own account, heard it as well as he. And what was he the wiser? This also, it is hoped, has been rendered sufficiently visible—just nothing.
4. Purpose the fourth and last—
For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.Acts 22:15
Unhappily, even this is not all: for, before the subject is concluded, we must go back and take up once more the supposed premeditated and studied speech, which, on the second occasion, the self-constituted Apostle is supposed to have made to the Sub-king of the Jews, Agrippa, sitting by the side of his superior—the Roman Proconsul, Festus.
In the course of this long-studied speech,—to whom, is the communication, such as it is,—to whom, in an immediate way, and without the intervention of any other person, is it supposed to be made? Not to Ananias;—not to any such superfluous and unknown personage;—not to Ananias, but to Paul himself: viz. to the very person by whom this same communication, supposed to have been made to him, is supposed to be reported (Acts 26:16-18): to this principal, or rather, only person concerned:—to this one person, the communication, such as it is, and to him the whole of it at once, is supposed to be made.
Here then is this Ananias discarded:—discarded with this vision of his, and that other vision which we have seen within it: the communication, which, speaking in the first place in his own person,—and then, on one occasion, in the person of this same hero of his—the historian had just been declaring, was made—not to Paul, but to Ananias;—this all-important communication, speaking again in this same third person, but on another occasion—the discourse being supposed to be a long-studied one—he makes this same Paul declare, was given—not to any Ananias, not to any other person—but directly to him, Paul, himself.
Let us now see what it amounts to. In the most logical manner, it begins with declaring the purposes it is made for; and, when the purposes are declared, all that it does is done.
1. Part 1.
To make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee.Acts 26:16
But, as to the things which he had seen, by this same account they amounted to nothing but a glare of light. Here then was the light to bear witness of, if it was worth while: but, as to the ministering, here was nothing at all to minister to: for the light was past, and it required no ministering to, when it was present. Had it been the light of a lamp—yes; but there was no lamp in the case.
Thus much, as to these things which he had seen. Thereupon comes the mention of those things "in the which, the Lord is supposed to say, I will appear unto thee!" Here, as before, we have another put-off. If, in the way in question, and of the sort in question, there had been anything said, here was the time, the only time, for saying it. For immediately upon the mention of this communication, such as it is, follows the mention of what was due in consequence of it, in obedience to the commands supposed to be embodied in it, and by the light of the information supposed to be conveyed by it.
Part 2. The purpose continued.—
Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee.Acts 26:17
This, we see, is but a continuation of the same put-off: no revelation, no doctrine, no Gospel here. As to the doctrine—the Gospel—that Gospel which he preached, and which he said was his own, no such Gospel is on this occasion given to him; and, not being so much as reported to have been given to him on any other occasion, was it not therefore of his own making, and without any such supernatural assistance, as Christians have been hitherto made to believe was given to him?
As to the deliverance from the people and from the Gentiles, this is a clause, put in with reference to the dangers, into which the intemperance of his ambition had plunged him, and from whence in part it had been his lot to escape. Here then the sub-king and his Roman superior were desired to behold the accomplishment of a prophecy: but the prophecy was of that sort which came after the fact.—
Part 3. The purpose continued.—
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God...Acts 26:18
Still the same nothingness: to his life's end a man might be hearing stories such as these, and still at the end of it be none the wiser:—no additional doctrine—no additional gospel—no declaration at all—no gospel at all—here.
Part 4. The purpose continued and concluded...
that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.Acts 26:18
Good. But this is not doctrine; this is not gospel; this is not itself the promised doctrine: but it is a description of the effect, of which the promised doctrine was to be the cause.
Now it is, as we have just seen, that Paul is represented as commencing his preaching, or sallying forth upon his mission; preaching, from instructions received in a supernatural way—received by revelation. Yet, after all, no such instructions has he received. Thrice has the historian—once in his own person, twice in that of his hero—undertaken to produce those instructions. But by no one, from first to last, have they anywhere been produced.
Truly, then, of his own making was this Gospel which Paul went preaching; of his own making, as well as of his own using; that Gospel, which he himself declares to his Galatians was not of man, was not, therefore, of those Apostles, to whom the opposition made by him is thus proclaimed.
When, after having given in his own person an account of a supposed occurrence,—an historian, on another occasion, takes up the same occurrence; and, in the person of another individual, gives of that same occurrence another account different from, and so different from, as to be irreconcileable with it; can this historian, with any propriety, be said to be himself a believer in this second account which he thus gives? Instead of giving it as a true account, does he not, at any rate, in respect of all the several distinguishable circumstances in which it differs from the account given in his own person—give it in the character of a fable? a fable invented on the occasion on which the other person is supposed to speak—invented in the intent that it shall promote the purpose for which this speech is supposed to be made? Yet this account, which in the eyes of the very man by whom it is delivered to us, is but a fable, even those to whom in this same character of a fable it is delivered—this account it is that Christians have thus long persisted in regarding, supporting, and acting upon, as if it were from beginning to end, a truth—a great body of truth!—O Locke! O Newton! where was your discernment!
On such evidence would any Judge fine a man a shilling? Would he give effect to a claim to that amount? Yet such is the evidence, on the belief of which the difference between happiness and misery, both in intensity as well as duration, infinite, we are told, depends!
9 It is well known that this dogma of Original sin—a disease that the human family enjoys by sad inheritance, Christ treated with negligible indifference. He dealt with the problems of man in a social state, as socially conditioned only. A human being conditioned as isolated from neighbors, friends and society, he did not as he scientifically could not deal with, He discoursed upon social duties, however sublimely, N.B.
Now without quibbling about the translation this scheme of social arbitration contains the ultimate of justice, It contains the only working hypothesis within any social condition of mankind. There is no such thing as justice in the abstract or concrete, It is like heat and electricity, a mere mode of motion, a form of action. And when a controversy between Citizens is fairly submitted to the judgment of normal men the voice of their consciousness, being the ultimate organ of nature's Creator, must be "binding" so far as man is concerned socially.
And as there does not appear to the natural man any appeal to heaven, the arbitrament of man in the special case carries the seal of the eternities and forecloses all further controversy. The speech of the honorable Consciousness of Man is the voice of the Creator of his personality.—Ed.
10Since what is in the text was written, maturer thoughts have suggested an interpretation, by which, if received, the sad inferences presented by the doctrine, that misdeeds, and consequent suffering that have had place, could by a dip into a piece of water be caused never to have happened, may be repelled. According to this interpretation, the act of being baptized—the bodily act—is one thing; an act of washing away the sins—the spiritual act—another. The effect produced is—not the causing the misdeeds and sufferings never to have had place, but the causing them to be compensated for, by acts productive of enjoyment, or of saving in the article of sufferings, to an equal or greater amount.