Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 28, 1952
NUMBER 42, PAGE 2-3a

The Heavenly Vision

Cecil B. Douthitt, Brownwood, Texas

Beginning at the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, a great persecution arose against the church of Christ in Jerusalem. (Acts 8:1)

Saul of Tarsus, a young man educated in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the greatest teachers among the Jews, was a ringleader in this persecution. "Saul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women committed them to prison." (Acts 8:3) So bitter was this persecution that all the Christians were "scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." (Acts 8:1) But they "that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word." (Acts 8:4)

Even after the Christians were driven out of Jerusalem Saul continued his persecution against them. "Yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, he went unto the high priest, and asked of them letters to Damascus unto the synagogues that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shown round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord?' And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." (Acts 9:1-6)

The men who were with Saul led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. "And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink." (Acts 9:9)

The Lord spoke unto a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias, and told him to go to Saul, "for behold, he prayeth." So Ananias came to Saul and said, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name." (Acts 22:16)

Many years after this remarkable event, Saul, a preacher of the faith he once persecuted, stood in chains before King Agrippa and made his defense concerning some things whereof he had been accused by the Jews. With reference to the light he had seen and the voice he had heard while on that memorable journey to Damascus, he said, among other things, "Wherefore, 0 King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision." (Acts 26:19)

All the impressions made upon the soul of Saul by this heavenly vision will never be known. But certain facts regarding himself and his duty which he had never known before, now dawned like the morning light upon him—facts that were not pleasant, but facts that he frankly and humbly confessed in later life. What are those facts? I shall present them here:

1. He Saw That He Was Ignorant

Though brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, a teacher of no mean reputation among the Jews; and though advanced in the Jews' religion beyond many of his own age among his countrymen, yet Saul was an ignorant man. He was not ignorant in many things, but ignorant of the will of God, and so confessed it. He said, "Though I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Tim. 1:13) Blasphemy, persecution and injury to the people of God were some of the flagrant sins that the ignorance of this educated man caused him to commit.

Therefore, ignorance of the true religion of Jesus Christ was not confined to the illiterate in Saul's day; it is not confined to the unlearned today. In many institutions of higher learning there is but very little "wisdom that is from above," but a great deal of ignorance of unbelief. Many college professors manifest this fact by their practice. Do not many of them actually deny the divinity of Jesus as Saul once denied it? Do not others become affiliated with religious institutions not mentioned in the Bible more readily than they become members of the church described in the New Testament? How many of them have learned the plan of salvation as given by Jesus in the great commission, preached by the apostles, and demonstrated in the examples of conversion recorded in the book of Acts? How many of them worship in strict harmony with divine authority? Unto what can these gross errors of some scholarly men be attributed, except ignorance of unbelief?

2. He Saw That He Was A Sinner

Though Saul had been circumcised the eighth day, was of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin; though a Pharisee zealous of the law, and as touching the righteousness which is in the law he was found blameless (Phil. 3:5-6); though he had always lived before God in all good conscience and verily thought within himself that he was doing God's will while walking contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 23:1; 26:9); yet he was made to realize that he was a sinner, even a chief among them (1 Tim. 1:15), and that in Damascus he would be told something that he "must" do for the remission of his sins.

If Saul had ever entertained the opinion that a zeal for what one thinks is right, a satisfied conscience and sincere intentions should always be taken as reliable evidence of God's favor and approval, surely this heavenly vision disabused his mind of that false impression. At any rate, he no longer trusted in his past feelings and former experiences, but he entered Damascus as the Lord had told him to do, and when he was told to "be baptized" and wash away his sins, he did just that, for he was "not disobedient to the heavenly vision."

Fortunately for this man Saul, who thought he was already a child of God, found out that he was a lost sinner in time to do something about it, and he did it. It is sad to know that some will not find that out till it is too late to do anything about. For Jesus said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt. 7:21-28)

3. He Saw That His Great Teacher Gamaliel Was Wrong

"Gamaliel, a doctor of the law," esteemed in honor among all the people (Acts 5:34), had taught the Old Testament to Saul. (Acts 22:3) But Gamaliel was wrong in his teaching; else he would have known that all things spoken in the law, the prophets, and the psalms concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. How shocking it must have been for Saul to learn that this great Professor Gamaliel was as ignorant as a heathen of the true and right way of the Lord! But when he learned that his teacher was wrong, Saul did not argue with the Lord regarding the greatness of Gamaliel as a teacher. He did not even suggest that he would talk the matter over with Gamaliel and let the Lord know about it later. He conferred not with flesh and blood. (Gal. 1:18) He obeyed the heavenly vision regardless of his teacher's religious views. And in view of the errors of Gamaliel and many other famous religious teachers, don't you think it is rather foolish for a person to say, "My teachers were educated in the seminaries and they are doctors of divinity; they just could not be wrong"?

It is much safer now to obey our heavenly vision, the Bible, than to obey some teacher's interpretation of it.

4. HE SAW THAT HE MUST BREAK AWAY FROM THE RELIGION OF HIS FATHERS Saul understood the religion of his ancestors much better than many of his own age among his countrymen, and was exceedingly zealous for their religion (Gal. 1:14); and how shocking it must have been to learn so suddenly that he and his own people were wrong and that he must now abandon and oppose that venerable system around whose altars clustered the most precious and sacred memories of his kindred. Nevertheless, obedience to the heavenly vision demanded that he do it. The cost was great, the way dangerous, and the opposition strong; but Saul of Tarsus marched steadily on, letting nothing come between him and duty's demand, until at last he could look back over a life of which he was not ashamed, and say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day." (2 Tim. 4:7-8)

But what would you today think of Saul if he had said, "I would be condemning my parents, if I turn away from their religion," and had concluded to remain with them in their error? Of course Saul knew that he would be contributing to the condemnation of his kindred, unless he came out of their error and did everything he could to lead them out of it. Their blood would have been on his head, if he had done nothing to lead them away from their false religion and into what he now knew to be the truth of God.

The word of God is our "heavenly vision" today. A careful study of it would doubtless reveal unto many that they, their teachers, and their kindred are ignorant of the will of God and the one true church; and though they think their sins are all forgiven they might learn that they have left undone the things that all "must" do to be saved.

Let us not be disobedient to the Bible, our heavenly vision today.