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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 106
THE PERSECUTOR CONVERTED.
tre should judge the most unlikely. When Israel was to be delivered from Egypt, he employed—not a prince or a warrior, but called Moses from the land ofMidian. When he would give his penpleaking after his own heart, he refuses the men whom the prophet judged most eligible, and called a little David from the sheepfold. When the Saviour would appoint heralds of his Gospel through the world, he selects not the great or the learned, but fishermen and tentmakers; and now when Saul prays, and Jesus appoints a messenger of mercy to him, he sends not an apostle, but Ananias, of whose ministry we have never heard, and who certainly had not risen in the Christian church to any eminent station. This arrangement of the blessed God tends to encourage our humility, while itstrikingly illustrates his own wisdom and"power.
Nor is it less worthy of observation, that when the servants of God are clearly called to the discharge of important duties, they are too apt to frame excuses why they should decline performing them. Thus did Moses and Jeremiah, and thus did Ananias. Perhaps in each of these cases, a sense of their umvorthiness operated strongly on their minds; but do we not also see in them a portion of pride? Had they forgotten that what they had to do was merely as instruments, and that all power came from their great Master, who was glorified by the very circumstance that caused their reluctance? Let us never he deterred from the path of duty, because we feel that we are sinners. Humility itself, all lovely and amiable as it is, sins when it leads us to disobedience.
But when the fears of Ananias, generated by unbelief, are removed, with what pleasure does he visit the man who is now divested of his persecuting disposition, and who possesses his right mind. With what affection and delight does he address him as a brother; how does his heart glow with pleasure as he tells him, that the same Jesus who had appeared to him in the way, had now sent him that "he might receive his sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost:" what unspeakable joy would fill the heart of each as the thick film (caused hy the glorious vision he had seen, so operating on the organs of sight as to produce blindness,) fell from his eyes; and when Saul wishes, as a proof of his
submission to the government of Jesus, and of attachment to his cause, to be baptized, and thus solemnly dedicated to the service of him whom he'had so much hated. Such is the power of the grace of God, that it thus effectually changes the heart.
And what is the effect of this change of views and of feelings ?" Paul," says the excellent Hannah More, " is a wonderful instance of the power of faith. That he should be so entirely carried out of his natural character; that he, who by his persecuting spirit, courted the favour of the intolerant Sanhedrim, should be brought to act in direct opposition to their prejudices, supported by no human protection, sustained alone by the grace of him, whom he had so stoutly opposed; that his confidence in God should rise in proportion to his opposition from man; that the whole bent of his soul should be set directly contrary to his natural propensities, the whole force of his mind and actions be turned in full opposition to his temper, education, society, and habits; that not only his affections should be diverted into a new channel, but that his judgment and understanding should sail in the newly directed current; that his bigotry should be transformed into candour, his fierceness into gentleness, his untameable pride into charity, his intolerance into meekness—can all this be accounted on any principle inherent in human nature, on any principle uninspired by the Spirit of God?
"After this instance, and blessed be God, the instance though superior, is not solitary; the change, though miraculous in this case, is not less certain in others—shall the doctrine so exemplified continue to be the butt of ridicule? While the scoffing infidel virtually puts the renovation of the human heart nearly on a footing with the metamorphosis of Ovid, or the transmigrations of Pythagoras, let not the timid Christian be discouraged; let not his faith be shaken, though he may find that the principle to which he has been taught to trust his eternal happiness, is considered as false by him who has not examined into its truth; that thechange, of which the real believer exhibits so convincing an evidence, is decided as absurd by the philosophical sceptic— treated as chimerical by the superficial reasoner, or silently suspected as incredible by the decent moralist."
Strengthened for the work in which he had to engage, the new convert repairs to the disciples of Jesus, who had been accustomed to tremble at his name, and tells them of the mighty revolution that had taken place in his mind. He hegins boldly to preach the exalted character of Jesus in the synagogues of the Jews, excitingamong them the most astonished feelings, and leading them to enquire what could have produced so astonishing a change. How devoted are his energies—how strong his arguments—hbw warm his affections in the holy cause; we wonder not at the opposition which his zeal created, or to his being compelled to flee for his life. He shrinks not, however, from difficulty, but goes to Arabia on the same errand, and in three years returns to Jerusalem, where at length he is numbered with the apostles.
It does not comport with the design of this paper to dwell on the subsequent labours, the sufferings, and the success of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. "Having ha'd much forgiven him, he loved much." Called of God to the arduous, but honourable task of "preaching Christ among the heathen, he conferred not with flesh and blood," but cheerfully embarked in the work. He was not ignorant of the innumerable sufferings and reproaches to which he would be exposed; he saw the prisons he must visit, the opposition he must encounter, and the death to which he must submit; but " none of these things moved him" from his purpose. He laboured and was crowned with success; he bore with patience the rage of his enemies, and the unkindness of his friends; and at last laid down his life in the cause, to the promotion of which the larger portion of it had been devoted.
To bring our remarks to a close, it is only needful to observe, that the subject suggests—that persons may have a confused knowledge of religion, who never heartily receive it. The companions of Saul saw the light, and heard something of the voice, but they produced no salutary effects on their minds. They bore evidence to Paul's sincerity in his profession of a change, but no change tooji place in their own hearts. —That divine grace in the conversion of sinners is sovereign and free: triumphing over every difficulty, and given without qualifications; and that therefore the vilest of sinners have a complete
warrant to apply to Christ. This is the doctrine that Paul himself raised from the premises 1 Tim. i. 16. "Howbcit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting."—That in our addresses to sinners we should imitate the Lord Jesus, and kindly expostulate with them on the evil consequences which sin brings on themselves. This often melts the heart, and produces repentance.—That when we are called to the discharge of duty, we ought not like Ananias, to refuse to perform it, either on account of the sinfulness of others, or our own weakness, but to " go forth in the strength of the Lord God."—That we ought not, when evidence is offered of a change of heart on the part of our fellow-men, to refuse to credit it. Elijah acted wrong, when he indulged a suspicion that all Israel were gone after idols; and the disciples of Jesus acted wrong, when they were afraid to receive Saul on a profession of his faith in Christ.—And, finally, we are by this account encouraged to pray and labour for the conversion of the worst of sinners, seeing that God has sometimes selected from them the brightest of saints. J, B.
To the Editor of the New Evan. Magazine,
The reply of your correspondent D. p. 106 in your last Magazine, to the Query of "A Baptist," p. 95, in your publication for the preceding month, will, I hope, be seriously considered by all your readers, who, as members if Christian churches, are called upon to give their vote when persons are proposed for admission to their communion, as it points out the rule by which the first Christians acted relative to the subject of enquiry, and proves that the same law of Christ by which they were governed, is also binding upon us.
I perfectly agree with your correspondent in the sentiments he has expressed; and entertain the hope that what lie has written will do something toward correcting that unscriptural deky in the reception of persons seeking admission to the churches, which is, no doubt, rather prevalent in some of them. Yet,
for truth's sake, it must be admitted, that there are churches who receive applicants fur fellowship immediately ! upon their asking it, if there be no objection arising cither from manifest ignorance or known immorality; anil that-in the greater number of churches, in the absence of these causes of delay, applicants are received within a month Irani the time of their first application: as the plan that most generally prevails (arising from the monthly observance ol the Lord's supper) is, to propose candidates at one church meeting, and to receive them at that of the following month. It is not, I conceive, every instance of delay that is opposed to the rule of the New Testament. In the time of the apostles, converts to the toll of Christ came forward to be baptized, and to unite themselves with a church immediately upon their receiving the Gospel; and we have ground to believe that those to whom they applied for these purposes, complied with their wishes without hesitation. But, at the Present time, in this country, converts We not so ready to make an open profession of their faith in Christ by attend"tgto Christian ordinances. Some of [hem, from various causes, put it off '"rjears, and most of them for several months: and the consequence of this is, that when they do apply for baptism and admission to a church, it is known from 'heir own statement, that months or years have elapsed since they first believed. Now, under such circumstances, would not a literal observance of the fide observed by the first Christians <"xler different circumstances, lead to the admissiou of persons who must be excluded as soon as their character shall become known to the church?
Several instances have come under ■By own observation, of persons applying for admission, whose conduct was found upon enquiry, to be such as amounted ,0 a denial of the reality of their professed faith in Christ. I conceive, therefore, that churches do not depart from the rule observed by the first Christians, when they take as much time as is necessary in order to make enquiry respecting the character of applicants, who represent themselves as having believed in Christ for a considerable length of time previous to their application. If the first churches received professed converts without any "'lay, it was because there was no delay
on the part of the converts after their believing the Gospel; and, consequently, no room for enquiry as to the effects of their faith in a change of character.
I fear there is an evil relative to the reception of persons to Christian fellowship, that is much more prevalent in the churches, than the delay complained of by your correspondent, and much more fruitful of distressing and pernicious consequences, as it not only admits to fellowship many persons who very soon fall into the gross neglect of public worship, and are indisposed tosubmission to that discipline which is of divine appointment, but is also the principal source of those numerous exclusions from communion, which take place in almost every church that, in this respect, has a good degree of regard to the authority of Christ, and the purity of Christian communion. The evil to which I refer is, that of receiving persons to fellowship, without a due examination of them as to their knowledge of the Gospel, or of Christ and the way of salvation by him. As far as it respects their knowledge, they are, in too many instances, received upon the ground of some general declarations of their faith in Jesus as the Saviour, and their hope of salvation through him; but they are not questioned respecting their views of the person, atonement, &c. of the Redeemer. The consequence of this is, that many are admitted in a state of gross ignorance concerning the salvation revealed in the Gospel. Your correspondent D. observes, "Nothing more was requisite in that age of purity, than a simple confession of faith in the Redeemer, to entitle an individual to that sacred ordinance." This is, substantially, true; and yet upon this true statement, churches may found a practice leading to the admission of many persons destitute of scriptural and saving knowledge. Had your correspondent stated particularly, what he deemed to be "a simple confession of faith in the Redeemer," and have represented it as affording evidence of the knowledge of his person, atonement, &c. it would have superseded the necessity of these remarks. But he has left his statement too naked and vague to correct, in any degree, the evil to which I am referring. Should it be maintained that such general confessions of faith as,'»I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and the only Saviour, and that he died for the