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For the Christian Ol server. “Who art thou, Lord ? ” Such was the affrighted cry of Saul, when Omnipotent Power prostrated him to the earth, and sovereign grace converted this furious rebel against Christ into a meek and humble suppliant. “ What shall I do, Lord ? ” Such was the docile inquiry of Saul, when God, who
“Moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform,' was about to call him, who, as he himself tells us, “was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious,” to be a minister to the church of which he but lately made havoc; and to“ preach the faith which once he destroyed."
The conversion of Saul is supposed, by some, to have occurred within the year after the ascension of our Blessed Lord ; by others, not for six or seven years after. But however this may be, it is assuredly the most interesting and important event that the Gospel history records, of which mere man is the subject; and is three times minutely detailed in the Acts of the Apostles. By St. Luke it is narrated historically in the ninth chapter ; by St. Paul himself, in his apology to the Jews, in the twenty-second chapter ; and again to Festus and Agrippa, in the twenty-sixth chapter. How important this event was to the church in general, we may easily perceive, if we consider that of the inspired epistles, which constitute so large a portion of the New Testament “scriptures of truth," more than five-sixths are from the pen of this great Apostle. How important to us in particular will also readily appear, if we reflect that St. Paul was in a peculiar manner the Apostle of the Gentiles ; and that if we could trace those subtile and hidden links which connect moral cause and effect, we should distinctly perceive that our profession, this day, of the Gospel of Christ, and consequently all our religious privileges for time, and all our hopes and prospects for eternity, have been the result of the conversion and apostleship, of the preaching and writing, of this great Apostle.
Christ. OBSERV. No. 13.
But however interesting and important this event, as a fact in the Gospel history, it is not in this aspect that I now propose to contemplate it. I would view it in a light by which it may be seen to more practical effect. Saul may be considered as a colossal specimen of man in the three great æras of his spiritual history, as he himself has defined them: “alive without the law "-awakened, self-condemned, and imprisoned under the law-pardoned, and emancipated by grace. We might trace the various steps of his conversion, and inquire whether it does not present a lively and accurate description of man as he is by nature-of man under the process of that grand climacteric of his spiritual life, when he is in transition from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God-and of man after this great change has passed upon him, and when renewed in the spirit of his mind he is made a partaker of holiness and happiness even here below, and is enabled to look forward to the last great change, at which unrenewed nature shudders and recoils, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
But, without entering systematically into the details of this interesting relation, some important preliminary observations suggest themselves. To two of these I would invite attention in this paper.
In the first place, then, I would say, that Saul's conversion furnishes the most cheering encouragement to the humble and sincere penitent, which the Gospel history affords.
When that Spirit, whose first office it is to convince of sin, has commenced his operations in the soul, a thousand actions which formerly appeared innocent and harmless, perhaps even laudable and meritorious, assume an entirely new aspect, and are stamped with the brand of reprobation. We now, for the first time, see what sin really is, and consequently that we are sinners. We see that sin is the transgression of the law-not of man's law, but of God's law; and that much which is highly esteemed among men, is an abomination in the sight of God. We see that even our obedience to those moral and religious obligations which are common to the laws of God and man, has resulted from the fear of man, and not from the fear, much less the love, of God; that when God alone commanded and threatened, the sanctions were inefficient, the precepts powerless; and that when the obligations of the two laws clashed, so that we could not serve God and Mammon, we have ever obeyed man rather than God. Thus we see, that, in the midst of our vaunted morality and self-righteousness, we have wholly forgotten the first and great commandment: we have despised the first of all moral obligations, that which binds the crea. ture to the Creator, and lived without God in the world. Nor do we merely see ourselves as venial sinners, who can plead much to justify, or at least to extenuate, their sins; we see, and feel, that our sins have been various, aggravated, long-continued ; that they have been, many of them at least, committed against light and knowledge, against repeated warnings of Providence, against convictions of conscience, and strivings of the Spirit of God. We begin, too, to see what God is, and to feel that our sins have been, all of them, outrages against Almighty Power, which could in a moment have crushed us; against uncompromising holiness, which hates sin ; against unbending justice and unfailing truth, which, however vengeance may be delayed, are pledged by no means to clear the guilty; and we feel as if sins so heinous and so aggravated must transcend the limits of the forbearance and longsuffering of God; we fear lest there should be no place for repentance, though we sought it carefully with tears.
At this stage of its spiritual course, this crisis of its eternal destiny -four different paths, according to its different character and light, open to the awakened soul. Innate levity—the material that constitutes the vast majority of characters, and which cannot long grapple with gloomy and depressing thoughts, soon turns back again to the world, that it may heal slightly the wounds of conscience with the balm of the world's consolations, poor and momentary though they be— quickly relapses into its former callous indifference, and then carefully guards its false peace by stifling every conviction of conscience, and closing its ears against every appeal of religion, every thought of God, because—awful consideration —it has now learned to view God as a cruel enemy of its peace. The proud and stubborn spirit rises in stern defiance against convictions which point to no avenue of escape and safety; and because it has not learned to say with the Psalmist, “There is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared," " blasphemes the God of heaven because of the plagues, and repents not of its deeds," but stands out in obdurate, hardened impenitence. While gentler spirits sink under the reiterated lashes of that severest tormentor, a guilty conscience; they lie down in the lethargy of de. sponding gloom, or perhaps plunge into the deep abysses of hopeless, maddening despair.
Such, according to its peculiar character, is the history of a soul left to struggle with the convictions of an awakened conscience, unaided by Divine grace. But, if taught of God, light arises out of the darkness; and the phenix, Hope, rises from the ashes of penitence and self-annihilation. We look at Saul the persecutor, and learn from him that Christ is able and willing to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him. We trace Saul's history through its various stages. We remember, that our first introduction to him was, as he himself reminds us, when, presiding at the murder of the first martyr Stephen, he kept the raiment of them that slew him. We are led to contrast the one gently sinking into his everlasting rest, or rather casting himself with meek yet assured confidence into the outstretched arms of the Saviour—that Divine Being, whom, in this hour of trial, he beheld standing at the right hand of God, as if he had just risen to protect, or to receive his martyred saint-pouring out his soul in a prayer for his murderers, after the example of his Divine Master, and that soul illuminated by ecstatic visions of the glories about to be revealed to him ;—we contrast the one, calmly falling asleep in Jesus, with the other breathing out threatenings and slaughter, and gnashing upon him with his teeth. We follow that other up to the point at which our subject presents him, and we find him, throughout the whole period, not only a persecutor and murderer of the people of God, not only himself a blasphemer, but compelling others to blaspheme; murdering not only the bodies but the souls of men; the author of numberless martyrdoms, and, what is far worse, of numberless apostacies. We trace him beyond this point-but how has the scene suddenly and entirely shifted ! In amazement we exclaim, “ Is Saul also among the prophets? We see this furious persecutor an honoured minister of the church of Christ, labouring more abundantly than all the Apostles ; spreading throughout the habitable globe the once hated name of Christ, and the blessings of his once despised and persecuted gospel; blessings infinite in value, blessings not bounded by time, but commensurate, coeval with eternity. We follow him until he stands upon the brink of the grave, and there we hear him breathing out his soul in an earnest desire to depart and to be with Christ. We see him, not at the foot of the Saviour's cross onlythough surely that, to Saul the persecutor and blasphemer, were an incalculable mercy,--but at the foot of his own cross, and as he lifts his eyes to contemplate the martyr's crown, the prize of his high calling of God in Christ Jesus, we hear him exclaiming in calm triumph, and in the full assurance of faith, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand; I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith : henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."
Thus we compare Saul, the youthful persecutor, ravaging and making havoc of the church ; with Paul the aged, the servant of Christ, meek and patient, and forgiving, yea, the servant of all men for Jesus' sake; and as we behold, and wonder, and exclaim, What hath God wrought! we feel assured that the blood of Christ can cleanse from all sin ; that no sin, however heinous or aggravated, can transcend the limits of the tender mercies of our God; but that “if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
St. Paul himself refers to his conversion in this view, as an encouragement to the sincere and trembling penitent. In the 1st Chapter of his Ist Epistle to Timothy, he magnifies the grace which had put him into the ministry, who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious. He then generalizes the application of this grace, and pronounces that “faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief :” and thus proceeds, “ Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first-or, as it might be translated, the chief-"Jesus Christ might shew forth all long suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." And then he bursts forth, as well he might in such a contemplation; and what heart is there that should not, for the same cause, re-echo the sound ?-into that noble ascription to this redeeming God, “ Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen." .
I may be thought inconsistent-but if so, it is an inconsistency of which I am guilty in common with this great Apostle—when I say, that while Saul's conversion furnishes, as we have seen, the most cheering encouragement to the sincere and trembling penitent, it at the same time furnishes a solemn and awful warning to the self-justifying and self-righteous moralist, who would rest his hopes for eternity upon the broken reed of his own righteousness ; but St. Paul himself views his own history in this double light, and applies it to this double purpose. He turns to the trembling and despairing penitent, and in substance says, 'Fear not! See before you the chief of sinners, pardoned and exalted.' He says this, not as we are but too apt to use such self-humiliating expressions, in the cold formality of a creed ; but in the warm sincerity of feeling, in the depth of humiliation and self-abasement. No;' he says, in a burst of adoration, let none doubt the extent and efficacy of my Saviour's atonement, of my Master's grace, the abysses of His love to sinners. I have fathomed them; I have proved them to be beyond the finite line of man's iniquity. Your sin indeed may abound, but grace does much more abound. The chief of sinnersyet, marvellous grace! not a whit behind the very chiefest of the Apostles-tells you this, on the testimony of his own experience.' But he hears beside him some proud Pharisee thanking God that he is not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this self-convicted chief of sinners; and when Paul, in loyalty of heart to his adored Master, and pity to this self-deceived and perishing soul, would lead him to the foot of the Saviour's cross, he hears him cry, “Stand by thyself, come not nigh unto me, for I am holier than thou; and touched by this insult to his adored Master, this proud rejection of his gospel of free grace, he indignantly exclaims, “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church ; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."
The frigid philosopher may deny the consistency, and even the common sense, of these two appeals. The systematic theologian may endeavour to neutralize one by the other, and thus to screw them both, deprived of their proper force and energy, into an harmonious system. But he who has been divinely taught to explore those deep mines of moral truth and character, whose various strata could be discovered by no faculties or recourses proper to the natural man; contemplates them in a very different light. He sees-nay, not sees, but feels—the consistency of this various experience in the regenerated soul. He sees that it presents but one of those paradoxes of which Christianity is—and, from its nature and object, must be full; and of which the comprehensive mind of this great Apostle, this chosen vessel from which the gospel was to be 'poured upon so many and so various nations and characters, was in a · peculiar degree the subject : who was unknown, yet well-known; sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; poor yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing all things!
Religion, in some mode or perversion of it, is bound up with the elements of man's original nature, and can never be completely extirpated. When, therefore, natural conscience has been awakened, and the man thoroughly aroused, I will not say by religion, but by that to which the Fall has perverted religion, superstition, he begins to feel a painful sense of guilt, and a dread of some vague and unseen future evil. And this I conceive to be the first development of the essential difference between man and the rest of the animal creation. The natural heart there seeks to justify, at least to extenuate, its faults, and to cast, in full weight, into the opposing scale, its scant and valueless performances. Ignorant of God's righteousness - of