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"Kxert thy mighty influence, Lord;
"And melt the stonv breast;
"Thy mercy stand coufesg'd. •
"Tlie scorner then shall mourn in dust,.
"And put bis sins away; .
"But lift bis owtrto pray." .
'"■'?'. ;.'(' Dwtdrtftge.
It is one distinguishing excellence of the sacred volume,: that it does not merely contain abstract principles; but while it treats of mysteries the most refined, and discusses subjects the.most profound, they are■ exhibited in a manner so simple, that "he who runneth may read." While many, proud of their knowledge, and anxious to excite aste-"nishmentand admiration of their powers and learning, will only condescend to instruct others in a manner so abstruse, that it frequently fendsTather to darken than explain the subject; the object of the sacred writers was "in simplicity and godly sincerity," tomake the truths of God manifest to every man's conscience. Revelation seldom dwells much on descriptions of the incomprehensible Jehovah, but it shews him acting in his works of creatian, providence and redemption. It unfolds to us the most important truths relating to our Maker, and the nature of his government; and in reference to ourselves, our lost condition, and the way of salvation by a Mediator. And because our minds have been obscured by sin, and we are prone to the indulgence of error, the blessed God has embodied, as it were, the truths of his word in living characters. He has hrought persons before us, who demonstrate in their
lives the evil nature of sin, and the awful extent of human depravity; he has selected others, who shew us the excellencies of true religipn, with all the supports and the. pleasures .it yields; while in the person of Jesus,, when he tabernacled on earth,; we sec "what manner of persons we ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness." ; No doctrines are more opposed to the natural pride of the human heart, and consequently more frequently denied, or attempted to.be so explained as to lose • their force, than those of Iwman depravity, and thesovereignty of divine grace. It is really surprising to observe, that while these doctrines are written as it werewith a sunbeam- itvthe. Oracles of truth, men ^attempt to-load them with difficulties; to represent them as opposed to reason, and- to banish the belief of then*], if.it- were, .possible, from the world/. But no! even if we could deny thein,or explain them away when placed before us in propositions, what shall we do with them when -taught in facts? How will the scorning infidel account for the imperfections of even the best of men, if he denies the doctrine of human depravity? What led Job to murmur against God, and to curse the day of his birth; Abraham to prevaricate, and David to commit the awful crimes of murder and adultery? What, but the natural depravity of the heart? Why did the Supreme Being select Israel as his peculiar people? why did he pardon the sins of a bloody Manasseh, and forgive the transgressions of a dying thief, while he leaves millions far more moral
iii their deportment to perish in their sins? Is it not that he may illustrate his sovereignty, anil shew that in the bestowment of his spiritual favours '"it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy?" Infidels have denied too the power of the Gospel to mend the heart, or to improve the conduct. They have attributed the change produced in the deportment of those who have received it to a thousand causes, rather than to the true one; but from facts, clear and (indisputable facts, that speak too loudly and clearly for contradiction, we can prove the doctrines of universal moral defilement, the sovereignly of God in the conversion of sinners, and the power of the Gospel to mend the heart, and to produce a mighty revolution in the life. In all these views, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is highly interesting and instructive. Here is a young man born of Jewish parents, instructed in the knowledge of the law of God, ardent in his zeal to obey its requirements, and yet so depraved as to reject one who preferred claims to the Messiahship, and •who performed miracles in proof of the divinity of his Mission, which gave ample evidence of his being from God; despises a religion, the merits of which he has never impartially examined, and delights in the scenes of i cruelty and blood. Was not this man depraved? Here is one well instructed in learning sacred and profane, inveterate in his opposition to Christianity, and resolved to destroy, if it be possible, all who love it. But this very man is humbled by its power, submits to the exercise of faith in Christ, and preaches the very religion he.had with all his might attempted to destroy. What was there in this man to recommend him to the favour of Jesus? Must not the grace that pardoned his sins and changed his heart be sovereign and free? Long had he hated with the greatest inveteracy the Gospel of Crfrist, but when he believed it, he found it to be the power of God to the salvation of his soul; he experienced its efficacy in teaching him to rise above the world, and in supporting him amidst the various-trials he had to endure in spreading it through a large portion of the globe. .
There is another view in which the sovereignty of the blessed God eminent]y appears in the conversion of Saul, and which calls for our greatest admira
tion. Saul was educated a Jew; he belonged by profession to the strictest sect of that people; he was a rigid Pharisee, and was employed at his own request to persecute the followers of Christ. How must it mortify and disappoint the enemies of the Cross, when they saw this man subdued by its victorious power! They had formed calculations on the most reasonable grounds, that his mighty energies would accomplish important effects; they reckoned much on the assistance he would afford them in the accomplishment of their design to banish this new sect from the world. But "he who sitteth in the heavens laughed at them, the Most High held them in derision." He bail other purposes in view, and he resolved to shew that all the purposes of man are as nothing before him, and that he can make his greatest e"nemies his most useful servants; that the man whose heart rejected the light of his Gospel, overcome by his power and melted by his love, shall know most of his glory; and he who conspired with others to keep the world in ignorance of Christianity, shall be sent into various nations, carrying with him the sun of Revelation, penetrating the most secret abodes ot darkness and of misery, and shewing them "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
Nor must we, when speaking of the sovereignty of Jehovah, and the power of his grace on the heart of Saul, omit to remark, that before the Saviour had ascended on high, he had commissioned his apostles to "go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. Several years had elapsed, and not one of them had ever declared the truths ot Redemption to the Gentiles. Probably they thought that persons so abandoned to idolatry, so immersed in ignorance, were hopeless subjects; but God, at once to display his power, to furnish an earnest ol the wonders' he designed to effect, and to shame the apostles out of tlieir indolenceand prejudices, converted the greatest persecutor they had, and endowed him with the honourable office of " Apostle to the Gentiles." Thai shewing "that the excellency of the power," displayed in the economy of grace, is " of God, and not of man."
The design of this paper, however, was rather to expatiate on sume of the circumstances attending the conversion
of Saul of Tarsus, than to dwell on the doctrines it so clearly establishes. Perhaps the reader will think the moral stands before the tale: be it so. The mind of the writer has been struck with the exhibition the narrative affords of the power and sovereignty of Divine grace; he fears the subject is not made sufficiently prominent, noroften enough brought forward by some, who, however firmly they believe the doctrine, seem to fear that its exhibition would produce unhappy consequences; and he was unwilling to reserve for his last lines a subject, that cannot be dwelt on with too much delight; and which, while it glorifies the God we serve, is so eminently calculated to foster humility and every Christian grace.
Persecution, as we have seen in the case of Stephen, was the lot of the primitive church. Saul of Tarsus, a man little in stature and in bodily strength, was yet filled with fury towards the believers of the new doctrine. He is first introduced to our notice as being present at Stephen's death, and guarding the clothes of those who stoned that holy man. Ah! thou persecutor, little dost thou think that this conduct will cost thee many a pang of heart, and many a hitter tear. Saul was a young man of an interesting character; his family was respectable, his talents were of the first order, and his attainments considerable. He had acquired much knowledge in his native town, and was now completing his studies under the eminent Doctor Gamaliel, at Jerusalem. His prospect of the acquirement of fame, and of rising high in the scale of society was unclouded; and beinga Jew of the strictest class, he was highly esteemed by the Sanhedrim, who still in religious matters possessed power over all the Jews both in and out of Palestine, who chose to submit to their government, which was very generally, if not universally done.
Many of the disciples of Jesus, actuated by the love of life, and anxious to extend the triumphs of truth, as well as to obey the commands of their Lord, having been persecuted in the city of Jerusalem, fled to Damascus: Aretas the Governorof which, had shewn many signs of being favourable to them. But Said, whose heart was filled with rage towards these unoffending persons, and who seemed to maintain iiis very life by persecution, who "breathed out
threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.Jesus," could not bear the idea of their escaping the rod of persecution. Like a ravenous wolf he panted for their blood, and wished that like their great Master, they might he deprived of life. He had heard Stephen with his dying breath address Christ as God, and he probably longed to shew that Jesus had not the power to deliver his followers from the hands of their persecutor. Influenced by these feelings he went to the high priests, and entreated letters from them to Damascus, giving him authority to go there with a chosen band of men, furious against the Christians as himself, and bring the offenders, both men and women, to Jerusalem. He would persecute the helpless, the delicate female, as well as the more robust and hardy man; he would drag both before the tribunal of blood, in the city near which their Lord had suffered,and where only they could he sentenced to death. One thing alone to all human appearance could lead them to hope for deliverance from his rageto blaspheme the holy name by which they were called—to curse that Jesus, by whose death they had been blest with life. Who could have thought that such a man as this could have become a humble follower ef the Lord Jesus? But "my thoughts," saith Jehovah, "are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." "The first," says the Saviour, "shall be last, and the last first."
Nor were the means employed by the God of heaven to change the heart of Saul, less remarkable than the choice of the person on whom they were exerted. He sets out from Jerusalem all intent on the object to which he has devoted himself, "verily thinking that he is doing God service," to whom, perhaps, he has even bowed the knee ingratitude for the task in which he is employed, lie passes along the road, encouraging his attendants to activity and perseverance in the work; the news has travelled before them, and Damascus is filled with anxious expectation of his approach; the Jews impatiently waiting for authority to commence their persecutions against the followers of Jesus, while the Christians with spirits much perturbed are settling their temporal concerns, commending their souls to God, and preparing for death. He has almost reached the city, when suddenly his attention is arrested by a great and miraculous light, far more glorious and resplendent than thatof the sun. Struck with astonishment he falls to the ground. Never before was he seized with such a trembling; never before did his heart thus beat, or was his whole system thus unnerved, His feelings, he knows not how or why, undergo a complete revolution. Astonished at the sublime and imposing scenery by which he is surrounded, he waits in anxious suspense for some voice that might explain the mysterious phenomena around him. At length he is addressed, " Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me.'" Jesus knew him, and was not indifferent to 'the business in which he had engaged. This sublime language is that of expostulation; he does not with the terrific voice of thunder reproach him for his conduct, and sentence him, as he deserved', to eternal wrath; but he condescends to reason with the sinner, and asks the grounds of his conduct. O if every persecutor was obliged to answer this question, what emotions would it excite in many a bosom! Light beams on the mind of Saul, yet he needs farther information, and he tremblingly asks, "Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." What a communication was this to Saul! How does Jesus here shew his union to his people: he, the Head of his church, was in heaven, but he was persecuted in his members on earth; and inasmuch as it was done unto them, he viewed it as done to himself. How plain the revelation he makes, " I am Jesus!" The same Jesus who was crucified on Calvary; Jesus whose name thou hast hated—whose cause thou hast opposed. What concern does he shew for Saul! "Why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." The allusion is to the goads with which cattle were driven; the goad Was thrust into their sides, like a spur into the side of a horse, and to resist the goad was only to increase their own sufferings. It is as though the Saviour had said, "I have given thee a thousand proofs of the Divinity of my Mission, and the truth of my religion; to resist is only.to make thyself miserable, it cannot really
injure my cause; why then listen to the voice of depravity, or the language of prejudice? Why hasten headlong to ruin?" O what power does Jesus possess over the heart of man! No sooner does he propose this question, than the strongest conviction seizes the mind of the persecutor: "And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" How is his pride humbled, his heart softened; how submissive to the will he has so long opposed! How anxious to obey the Nazarene he had hitherto persecuted, and whose cause he had resolved, if possible, to destroy 1 What a change does the grace of God make in the heart if a man! He becomes "a new creature in Christ Jesus; old things pass away, and behold all things become new." Satisfied that the voice he hears is that of Christ, in what a child-like spirit does Paul, receive his word. He sees at once the littleness of the world, the folly of persecution, and the blessedness of those who believe in Jesus.
When Saul makes the interesting enquiry, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do!" the heart of the Saviour melts with pity, and he gives him the instruction he so much needs. He does not, as one might expect, leave him long in anxious doubt and suspense, but he sends him into the city of Damascus, where he should find one who would tell him the way of salvation. He continues his journey, but O how changed the state of his mind! he intended to have entered the city as the persecutor of the Christians, but he comes ardently praying to be one of their number. Three days is he in a state of blindness caused by the glory of the vision he had seen; thus effectually was his pride subdued, and thus by reflection, fasting, and prayer, was his mind prepared for the communication of knowledge which the Saviour had promised to make; and during this period some have thought he saw the vision of which he speaks to the Corinthians, (2Cor.xii.) Nor was it possible for Saul or his companions otherwise to account for the change he felt, and the light they all saw, and the sound indistinctly heard, even by his companions, than of its being miraculous. , It is a circumstance well worthy of our remark, that the blessed God frequently employs instruments to accomplish his most important purposes that