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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 salvation of sinners;" and such general declarations as, "I hope to be saved through Christ," &.c. are sufficient to warrant a Christian church to receive those who make them; it must be objected, that such expressions do not afford the necessary evidence in the confession of the mouth, uf the " knowledge of God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent."
My own experience has afforded me abundant proof, that this objection is well founded. In the course of the last twenty-five years, I have been applied to for church fellowship by some scores of persons, who, though they freely declare their faith and hope in such general expressions as the above, yet, upon being particularly questioned, proved . their utter ignorance of the divinity of the Redeemer, and the great design of his death in making atonement'for sin. i was, some years past, applied to by a person who had been ten years a member of a Baptist church near to London, but who wished, on account, of a change in the place of her residence, to remove to the church of which I was then a Pastor; and though she could declare her faith in Christ in general terms, yet she was. altogether ignorant of the manifestation of divine justice in the pardon of sin through the death of Christ. It has ever appeared to me, since my connection with a Christian church, that in every instance of saving faith, from its very commencement, there must be some knowledge of Christ as ." God manifest in the flesh," and some scriptural knowledge of the death of Christ, as an atonement for sin, as a satisfaction to divine justice, and a manifestation of the divine righteousness in the forgiveness of sin; as, without this, it does not appear as possible, that there can be any hope in the divine mercy on a scriptural ground. Upon this principle I have ever acted, in conversing with persons with a view to admission into the church: and the consequence has been, a refusal to propose for communion a considerable number that have made application. It docs not appear to me, that, upon this subject, the predominant error in the churches is that of being too cautious in the reception of applicants for communion; for they are, generally, too intent upon ■having great additions to their number, to fall into any considerable error in that direction; but I fear it is a general
and prevailing error among them to receive persons without a due trial of their .knowledge of Christ. It is admitted, that if this error were generally corrected, the number added to the churches would be much reduced; liut it would be attended with the great advantages of increased purity of communion; advanced conformity to the divine will; and fewer instances of exclusion from Christian communion.
In p. 75 of the number of your Magazine for March, a Query, subscribed "A Constant Reader," is proposed by one of your correspondents, which deserves some attention; as it appears that the Querist has not been led to put it for the mere sake of provoking a discussion upon a very perplexing subject, but rather in the hope that the result of the discussion, will tend to clear up his doubts in regard to the safety of his own state: a circumstance, certainly, of very considerable moment.
It would have been very agreeable to me, in attempting to answer your correspondent's query, to have found myself at liberty to quiet at once his feaTs, by assuring him, that no one can be the subject of such desires as he has pointed out, hut those who shall ultimately be made partakers of the salvation that is through Christ Jesus with eternal glory; and of course to have drawn the namral conclusion. That as he has been the subject of these desires, his state is safe, and his relationship to God clearly ascertained. This, I say, Sir, would Jiave been very agreeable; but I am afraid, that if the task he has imposed, be faithfully discharged, the result will be far otherwise than what he appears to me to be anticipating.
I think it would have been better had he sought for peace to his own mind in another way, than by instituting an enquiry into such a mysterious subject. But as he proposed it, it is not likely that he would be satisfied with any answer to his query, which did not embrace the subject he has pointed out.
But even in closing with the subject, I intend to touch but slightly upon that branch of it which.the question more immediately requires as an answer; arid to avoid entirely, as a matter that is too high for me, that most inexplicable OX THE GROUNDS pF C
branch of it which involves the question, "How the will of man can counteract the agency of that Being, the operations of whose Spirit are found to be so efficacious."
The question, you will observe, is, "Whether it be possible for the unrenewed mind, under any circumstances (such as illumination, conviction of sin, &c. &c.) to be the subject of real desire after spiritual blessings, or to desire holiness or conformity to the law of God, from an apprehension of its moral beauty or excellency?" Now, Sir, it appears to me from the whole complexion of this case, that the only answer which would serve your correspondent, while he looks for relief to bis mind from the solution of this perplexing subject, is an answer that would be in the negative. But if we answer in the negative; if we say, That it is not possible for any hu,t a real believer, a true child of God", to be the subject of real desire after spiritual blessings, or to desire holiness qr conformity to the law of God, from an apprehension of its moral beauty or excellency, what are we to make of those parts of the word of God that seem to admit it? In that word, cautions against apostatizing from the faith are numerous. And it will not avail your correspondent to allege, that the probability is, that those who apostatized from the faith were never really renewed; for what better evidence can your correspondent have of his own mind having been renewed, than those gave, whom the Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, supposes may fall away. They are said to have been enlightened, and to have tasted of the heavenly gift, made partakers of the Uoly Spirit, and tasted of the good word ofGod^and of the powers of the world to come. For your correspondent then, or any other professed Christian, to trust to their mind having beenreneWed as an evidence of the safety of their state, wrben they have fallen into sin, or when the truth, from whatever cause, has lost its influence over their hearts and affections, is a most dangerous course, and calculated to lull the ni'wA iflto the most fata} security.
Did apostacy from the faith contest in laying aside a profession that is merely assumed, and kpown to be so by those who had assumed it, then your correspondent might be safe in trusting to his farmer impressions, in the absence of
present evidence, as he may have cause to be satisfied that he was sincere, lint the profession made by those who afterwards fall away, was real as far as it went, and left no room for suspicion cither to observers, or perhaps to the individuals themselves, that there was any real difference in the nature of their faith from that of others, who gave proof of its genuineness, by their continuing to endure to the end. To suppose otherwise, would be to admit, that the apostle had conjured up a case, which had, in fast, no reality, merely for the sake of terrifying others-; a kind of conduct that none should impute to the apostle.
Your correspondent then may see, not only the impossibility of his attaining to solid peace, if he seek it in this way, but that there is a danger of it involving him in greater perplexity. For if, as has been shown, otliers besides those who shall ultimately inherit eternal life, may be the subjects of the gracious influences of the Spirit of God: how can he, or any professing Christian in his situation, arrive at a comfortable assurance of the safety of his state, merely from the circumstance that he once enjoyed the supernatural influences of the Spirit of God r His faith may not have been of that kind, to which the promise of salvation is annexed—his enjoyments may not have been the enjoyments of the real people of God; but of the nature of those, of whom it is said, that they believed only for a while, for when temptation or persecution because of the word arose, they fell away.
But, further, if I understand the doctrine of the word of God aright, there is no state of attainment in the'Christian life, on arriving at which the Christian may/say, "Now my state is beyond the possibility of being changed, for I have arrived at that state of Christian perfection, which renders it impossible that any circumstance can subvert my mind, shake my faith, or undermine my hope." Such language, according to my view of the doctrine of the Scriptures, wonld be at once presumptuous and opposite to fact. The many alarming admonitions given in the word of God against departing from the faith, proceed upon, the same supposition, namely, that there is no state at which a Christian can arrive, that places him beyond the influence of temptations; and if still exposed to temptations while in the body, his safety lies, not in congratulating himself that