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Effect of the gospel on Saul.
up all thoughts of farther persecution. He was bowed down with grief to think of the part he had been acting. And no sooner had he arrived at Damascus than he cast in his lot with the people whom he had persecuted, stood forth a defender of Christianity, and was ready to lay down his life in its behalf!
The fact of his sudden conversion is undeniable. Starting on a mission to Damascus to search out and bring to punishment every one that called on the name of the Lord Jesus, no sooner has he arrived there than we see him on his knees, full of contrition and penitence, and receiving baptism in the name of that same Jesus whom he had persecuted. And in a few days we hear him publishing salvation to the lost, through the name of that same, and heretofore despised, Jesus.
What has produced this revolution in this man's sentiments ? Let infidelity, if it can, answer this question. This change can be accounted for on no worldly principles. It is an anomaly for which no ordinary motives of human action can be assigned.
Will it be suggested that Saul of Tarsus was desirous of making money and acquiring wealth, and therefore he resorted to this imposture? If this had been his object, he would have remained a Jew, and pursuing the course in which he set out, he would have been sure to have attained it. But the disciples of Christ were poor, and had no prospect of worldly possessions. And then, too, Paul's whole course gives the lie to this supposition. He would receive nothing for his services. 6. Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place, and labour, working with our own hands.” See 2 Cor. xii. 14. 1 Thess. ii. 4-9. 2 Thess. iii. 8. Acts xx. 33, 34. Was it credit or reputation ?
There was no way in which he could have so perfectly defeated his object. The Christians were “ everywhere spoken against.” The founder of Christianity had been publicly executed as a malefactor. His immediate followers were illiterate fishermen. They had no accomplishments to give them popularity. Their miracles were ascribed to magic; and them. selves were universally despised. To join such a community was not the road to reputation. Distinction and
No other motive for Saul's conversion.
eminence he might have attained, had he remained with the Jews. But in becoming a Christian, he became one among a set of men who were regarded " as the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things.”
Could the love of power have led him to take this step ? Power over whom? Over a body of men already marked out for slaughter ; a body of men, poor, persecuted, and despised, and with whom no man could join his fortune without expecting to meet with stripes, imprisonment, and death. Had Saul remained a Jew, he might have obtained unbounded influence and power; but in abandoning the Jews and espousing the Christian cause, he most effectually and for ever defeated this object. His conduct, however, through the whole period of his life, shows that he was never influenced by such a motive. He declares himself « less than the least of all saints."
He never attempted to lord it over any one. His language is, “ we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants, for Jesus' sake.”
Now we say that nothing that infidelity can suggest can account for the sudden conversion of this individual. It is a perfect enigma and riddle, and utterly at variance with all the known laws and operations of the human mind, unless we receive the solution which the sacred
page furnishes ; and then all appears clear, luminous, and manifest as open day.
The plain, simple story which this individual himself relates in his speech before king Agrippa, satisfactorily accounts for this change.
“ As I went to Damascus, with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, 0 king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me, and them who journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me and saying, in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks; and I said, who art thou Lord ? and he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise and stand upon thy feet, for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee: delivering thee from the people and, from the Gentiles, unto whom I now send
Saul's conversion a testimony for Christianity.
thee, to open
and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but showed first unto them of Damascus and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.'
Here is an argument in favour of Christianity, drawn from the fact of Saul's conversion, which no cavilling can weaken, nor sophistry overthrow. But it is not a solitary instance. Hundreds of a similar character may be found in every community where the gospel is faithfully preached. It is no uncommon occurrence for men who have been notorious scoffers, altogether skeptical as to the truth of Christianity, and cherishing avowed and determined opposition to experimental religion, depraved in their character, profligate in their habits, abandoned in their lives, setting the Bible, and ministers, and religion itself at defiance; it is no uncommon occurrence for such men, under the power of God's all-subduing grace, to become totally changed. This change is often effected in a few days, and continues through life. What the man a few days before hated, he now affectionately loves. What was then his glory and delight, he now detests and abhors. He has abandoned sin and his sinful comrades. His heart, which was once so obdurate, is now subdued and full of tenderness. His temper, which was once so irritable and quick to resent every injury, is now gentle, pacific, and forgiving. The company and intercourse of Christians, which was once exceedingly disagreeable, is now the highest source of pleasure to him. Prayer is his delight, and holiness is the desire of his heart. His language is, “ I delight to do thy will, O God.”
This is a drawing from life. 6. That such cases have frequently occurred, and been followed by all the permanent blessings of a holy life, in thousands of places, and before witnesses of all descriptions,” says Bishop McIlvaine, in one of his lectures upon the Evidences of Christianity, “ it were a mockery of human testimony and of the faith of history, to question." He then goes on to
Account of a converted sailor.
specify certain instances; among others is the following :
“ Since I commenced the preparation of this lecture, a case in point has come to my view. Called from my study to see a man who had come on business, I found in the parlour a well dressed person, of respectable appearance, good manners, and sensible conversation—a stranger. After a little while he looked at me earnestly, and said,
66. I think, sir, I have seen your face before.' "Probably,' said I, supposing he had seen me in the pulpit.
“. Did you not once preach in the receiving ship at the navy yard, on the prodigal son, sir ?'
66 • Did you not afterwards go to a sailor sitting on the chest, and take his hand and say—“Friend, do you love to read
your Bible ?", 66. Yes.'
"+1, sir, was that sailor ; but then I knew nothing about the Bible or about God: I was a poor, ignorant, degraded sinner.'
“ I learned his history in substance as follows :-He had been twenty-five years a sailor, and nearly all that time in the service of the British navy, indulging in all the extremes of a sailor's vices. Drunkenness, debauchery, profanity, made up his character. The fear of death, or hell, or God, had not entered his mind. Such was he-a sink of depravity-when an humble preacher, of the Methodist denomination, one day assembled a little congregation of sailors in the ship to which he was attached, and spoke on the text— Behold now is the accepted time : behold now is the day of salvation.' He listened, merely because the preacher was once a sailor. Soon it appeared to him that the latter saw and knew him, though he was sitting where he supposed himself concealed. Every word seemed to be meant for a description of him. To avoid being seen and marked, he several times changed his place, carefully getting behind the others. But wherever he went the preacher seemed to follow him, and to describe his course of life, as if he knew it all. At length the discourse was ended; and the poor sailor, assured that he had been the single object of the speaker's labours, went up and seized his hand, and said,
Instances of conversion frequent. ". Sir, I am the very man. That's just the life I have led. I am a poor miserable man; but I feel a desire to be good, and will thank you for some of your advice on the subject.'
- The preacher bade him pray.
“ He answered, • I have never prayed in my life, but that I might be damned, as when I was swearing; and I don't know how to pray.'
“He was instructed.
" It was a day or two after this, while his mind was anxious but unenlightened, that Providence led me to him sitting on his chest. He said I showed him a verse in the Bible, as one that would guide him. I asked him if he remembered which it was?
Yes, it was- -Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.'
“Soon after this his mind was comforted with a hope of salvation through Jesus Christ. His vices were all abandoned. He became from that time a new creature in all his dispositions and habits ; took special care to be scrupulously attentive to every duty in his station, gained the confidence of his officers, and having left the service, has continued ever since (more than three years) an exemplary member of society, and of the church of Christ.
He is so entirely renewed that no one could imagine, from his appearance or manners, that he had been for twenty-five years a drunken, abandoned sailor.”
I presume that almost every Christian minister can recollect several instances that have come within his knowledge, as pertinent and striking as the case just stated; and the persons who have been the subjects of this moral transformation, in all instances, ascribe " the total change in their hearts and lives to the direct influence of the word and Spirit of God, as set forth in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
I might refer to many cases that are now before me. There are many living witnesses in this congregation, who, in the transformation they have undergone in their views, feelings, dispositions, hopes, and affections, within one year, furnish indubitable proof that Christianity is divine that there is such a thing as experimental religion