A Martyrdom of Action

From “The Conversion of St. Paul,” Characteristics of the Gospel Miracles, 105-108 (1859)

St. Paul saw the Lord, and when next he looked up, it was to confess himself a Christian. With the other apostles the transition from earth to heaven was the final climax of their lives; but with St. Paul this was already realized in his conversion. That which was gradual and progressive in their case was abrupt and momentary with him.

They were prepared by the teaching and works of the ‘Son of Man’ to become witnesses of his resurrection, but he was at once confronted with the blinding majesty of ‘the Son of God.’…The death of the other saints, whether in persecution or in quiet was, in the language of the old writers, their ‘birthday;’ but the ‘birthday’ of St. Paul was the time when “he died that Christ might henceforth live in him forever” (Gal. 2:20).

For if we regard the testimony of his language and the tenor of the life that followed it, his conversion was a true death, a real martyrdom of action. He died to his former feeling; he died to his former wisdom; he died to his former religion. From the moment of the change his life was one long witness to the Savior in sufferings and labors above measure. The lessons of the saints’ days of the Christmas week are thus completed in this lesson of Epiphanytide. The martyrdoms of death in will and deed are fulfilled in the nobler martyrdom of life…

The conversion of St. Paul is not only the common miracle, but also the common martyrdom of humanity. An apostle is clothed on earth with the emblems of the martyr’s triumph. An ideal death is the passage to nobler action. As death itself to the Christian is the prelude of the resurrection, so his spiritual death was to St. Paul. He died to his former zeal. He died, and as the persecutor was changed into the apostle, his zeal was transfigured to the image of Christian love. The same spirit which bore him to Damascus to vindicate even there the purity of his national faith, carried him to countries where Christ was not named, that all might hear the tidings of the new gospel (Acts 9:2, Rom. 15:20). The same spirit which held him as a willing witness to the death of Stephen made him ready to be devoted for his countrymen if by that means they might be saved (Acts 8:1, Rom. 9:3).

Brooke Foss Wescott (1825-1901) was a British biblical scholar and theologian, and served as Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and, from 1890, as Bishop of Durham. He was the author of several influential commentaries and, with F. J. A. Hort, a pioneering critical edition of the New Testament. His teaching had a mystical character, but he was also a committed Christian socialist. Characteristics of Gospel Miracles was one of his first books, a collection of early sermons published while he was a master of Harrow School.


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