Observe the tenderness of the rebuke. It is not, ‘O Saul, it is wicked, ungenerous, and mischievous of thee to resist me.’ There is no rebuke of that kind; unless it be implied in the expression, ‘Why persecutest thou me?’ But the Saviour leaves Saul’s conscience to say that, and does not utter it himself. Nor did Jesus say, ‘Saul, Saul, it is very hard for my people to bear thy cruelties;’ nor does he add, ‘It is very provoking to me, and I shall ere long smite thee in my wrath.’ No, it is not, ‘It is hard for me,’ but ‘It is hard for thee;’ as if the thoughts of the Saviour were so set upon his poor, erring, but ignorant child that he felt, ‘As to what thou doest to my cause, I will say nothing; but see what thou art doing to thyself; thou art losing joy and comfort; thou art injuring thine own soul; thou art sowing for thyself the seeds of future sorrow. It is hard for thee.’ Who but the Saviour could have spoken after this fashion? I do not believe that the most tender-hearted of the Saviour’s ministers have been accustomed to look upon persecutors in that light. If we hear of tyrants breathing out threatening and slaughter against God’s people, we may readily say, ‘What a wicked thing! What a cruel and unrighteous thing!’ but how seldom do we exclaim, ‘What a sad thing it is for the persecutor!’ We add, perhaps, with a little sober vindictiveness, ‘What a terrible fate will be that man’s!’ but we feel but little deep pity for one whose terrible case it is to be an enemy to the sinner’s friend. What a bitter portion the poor, ignorant, offending persecutor has chosen; may we be Christlike enough to have pity upon him! The Saviour looks at sin through the glass of compassion; we often look upon it through the lens of Pharisaic pride.
For meditation: Christ’s apostles also had problems with their attitude towards those who would not receive him (Luke 9:52–55); but, in the presence of Saul of Tarsus, Stephen displayed a Christlike attitude to his own persecutors (Acts 7:60; 8:1). Without doubt that left an impression upon Saul (Acts 22:20) and probably contributed to his conversion.