Jesus's Words

Chapter 1: Paul's Conversion — Improbability and Discordancy of the Accounts of It.

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Section 5: Vision III. Paul's Anterior Vision, As Reported by the Lord to Ananias. Acts 9.

By the nature of the acts which are the objects of it, the command, we see, is necessarily pregnant with information: but now comes the information given as such—the piece of information with which the command is followed. This information—in and by which another, an antecedent vision, is brought upon the carpet, and communicated—has been reserved for a separate consideration.

This information is in its complexion truly curious: to present a clear view of it, is not an altogether easy task. The information thus given by the Lord—given to this Ananias—this information, of which Paul is the subject, is—what? that, on some former occasion, neither time nor place mentioned, he, Ananias, to whom the Lord is giving the information, had been seen by this same Paul performing, with a certain intention, a certain action; the intention being—that, in relation to this same Paul, a certain effect should be produced—to wit, that of his receiving his sight. The Lord declares, to Ananias, that Paul hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.Acts 9:12

Well then—this action which the Lord thus informs Ananias that he, Ananias, had performed,—did he, at any time and place, ever perform it? Oh, no; that is not necessary: the question is not a fair one; for it was only in a vision that it was performed. Well then—if it was only in a vision that it was performed, then, in reality, it was never performed. The Lord said that it had been performed; but in so saying the Lord had said that which was not true. The Lord had caused him to believe this—the Lord knowing all the while that it was not true. Such is the deed, which, according to our historian, the Lord relates himself to have achieved.

But the intention, was that true? Oh, no; nor was there any need of its being so: for the intention, with which the act was supposed to be performed, was part and parcel of the divinely-taught untruth.

The effect, the production of which had been the object of the intention, was it then—had it then been—produced? Wait a little; no, not at that time. But the time was not then as yet come; and now it is coming apace.

But this effect—what is it? a man's receiving his sight; this same Paul's receiving his sight; this same Paul, of whom Ananias knew nothing, nor had ever heard anything, except what he had just been hearing—to wit, that, by a man of that name, he, Ananias, had once been seen—seen to do so and so—he, all the while—he, the doer, knowing nothing of what he was doing—knowing nothing at all about the matter. However, only in a vision did all this pass; which being the case, no proper subject of wonder was afforded to him by such otherwise somewhat extraordinary ignorance.

But this sight—which, at the hands of this seer of visions, to whom this information is thus addressed, this stranger, whose name was still Saul, was to receive—how happened it that it was to him, Ananias, that he came to receive it? This faculty—at his birth, was he not, like any other man, in possession of it? If he was, what was become of it? In this particular, the information thus supposed to have been given by Omniscience, was rather of the scantiest.

Supposing the story to have any foundation in truth,—such, to Ananias, it could not but have appeared; and, supposing him bold enough to ask questions, or even to open his mouth, a question, in the view of finding a supply for the deficiency, is what the assertion would naturally have for its first result. No such curiosity, however, has Ananias: instead of seeking at the hands of Omniscience an information, the demand for which was so natural, the first use he makes of his speech, or rather would have made of it, if, instead of being imagined in a vision, the state of things in question had been true, is—the furnishing to Omniscience a quantity of information of a sort in no small degree extraordinary. For, hereupon begins a speech, in and by which Ananias undertakes to give Omniscience to understand, what reports, in relation to this same Paul, had reached his (Ananias's) ears. What he is willing thus to speak is more, however, than Omniscience is willing to hear: the story is cut short, and the story-teller bid to "go his way." "Then Ananias," says the text, Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for...Acts 9:13-15a

But, though thus cut short, he is far from being in disgrace. So far from it, that he is taken into confidence. Then comes—still in a vision, and the same vision—information of the till then secret acts and intentions of Omnipotence in relation to this same Paul: he had actually been chosen as a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.Acts 9:15 and the determination had been taken, says the Lord in this vision, For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.Acts 9:16 And, with the announcement thus made of this determination, the historical account, thus by the historian in his own person given, of this same vision, closes.

Thus highly distinguished, and favoured with a confidence, equalling, if not surpassing, any which, according to any of the Gospel accounts, appears ever to have been imparted to any one of the Apostles, how comes it that Ananias has never been put in the number of the Saints? meaning always the Calendar Saints—those persons, to wit, who, as a mark of distinction and title of honour, behold their ordinary names preceded by this extraordinary one? Still the answer is: Aye, but this was but in vision: and of a vision one use is—that of the matter of which all that there is not a use for, is left to be taken for false; all that there is a use for, is taken, and is to pass, for true. When, by the name of Ananias, who, humanly speaking, never existed but in name, the service for which it was invented has been performed—to wit, the giving a support to Paul and his vision,—it has done all that was wanted of it: there is no, further use for it.

Supposing that thirdly mentioned vision really seen, at what point of time shall we place the seeing of it? In this too there seems to be no small difficulty.

Between the moment at which Paul is said to have had his vision, if a vision that can be called in which, the time being midday, he saw nothing but a glare of light,—between the moment of this vision, of which a loss of sight was the instantaneous consequence—between the moment of this loss of sight and the moment of the recovery of it, the interval is mentioned: three days it was exactly. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.Acts 9:9

The time during which, in verse 9, he has just been declared to have been the whole time without sight,—this is the time, within which he is declared—declared, if the historian is to be believed, declared by the Lord himself—to have seen this introductory vision—this preparatory vision, for which it is so difficult to find a use. And thus it is, that in a vision, though vision means seeing, it is not necessary a man should have sight.

Meantime, of all these matters, on which his own existence, not to speak of the salvation of mankind, so absolutely depends, not a syllable is he to know, but through the medium of this so perfectly obscure and questionable personage—this personage so completely unknown to him—this same Ananias.

Three whole days he is kept from doing anything: during these three whole days the business of the miracle stands still. For what purpose is it thus kept at a stand? Is it that there might be time sufficient left for his learning to see, when his sight is returned, this preparatory vision, by which so little is done, and for which there is so little use?

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