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feelings on religious subjects : because that very expectation, which in fact arises from fears of conscience, takes the case out of all comparison with Saul's, who “verily thought with himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts xxvi. 9), and whose opposition to the truth arose from a strong and sincere impulse of his mind. Such a character can never look forward with any expectation to a conversion : if therefore any such expectation of a more religious state does exist, with a hope that a sudden exercise of God's power may produce it, the case of the conversion of Saul rather tends to take away all reasonable hope of such an event, than in any way to sanction it.
Do I turn away from the thought that a sudden conversion can be a true one ? or am I ready to believe the evidence of religious conduct in those who profess to have been suddenly converted, as in those who have been religiously brought up? Am I hoping for some extraordinary circumstance to quicken my conscience ? or am I acting up to the teaching of my conscience, as far as it directs me already ?
2. The readiness of Saul to humble himself, and to receive the commands of the Lord Jesus, shews the powerful influence that had been exercised over his heart. One so bent on the work of persecution was not likely to have given up all his views, convictions, and prejudices in a moment; but the power of the Holy Ghost had made the great change, not only in the mind, but in the will and affections of Saul. “ What wouldst thou have me to do ?” was the earnest enquiry he immediately made of the Lord Jesus; such was also the result of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost (Acts ii. 37), and of the conversion of the jailor at Philippi. (Acts xvi. 30.) The answer to this inquiry referred Saul to the ministry of a fellow-sinner, through whom the Lord was pleased to instruct the convert wl.at he was to do and suffer for His name's sake ; and at Pentecost, and at Philippi, the appointed instruments led the inquirers to repentance towards. God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. The same Holy Spirit directs the heart of every true convert to the same inquiry, and leads it to the same result; whatever may be the means used to awaken the attention, or to satisfy the desire for the knowledge of salvation.
QUESTION. Am I earnestly inquiring what the Lord would have me to do? and diligently endeavouring to fulfil His commands in a spirit of repentance and faith?
3. That believers in Christ are said to be related to him, as the limbs of a body are to the head, is well known by all who are acquainted with the Scriptures; but it is most affecting to find that the Lord Jesus so realizes this relationship, as to consider the persecutors of his people as offending against himself. How soothing is this thought, under any of those privations and distresses which every true christian may be called upon to suffer for his Master's sake: how comforting an assurance ! how sure a refuge ! A conviction of this truth must work patience, in proportion as it is held firmly; so that no suffering will be able to overcome those who know assuredly that “ in all their affliction He is afflicted ;" who, “upholdeth all things by the word of his
ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Heb. i. 3; vii. 25.) On the other hand, the Lord declared to Saul that they who oppose Him, by opposing and distressing his people, are only injuring themselves ; and the more violent the opposition, the greater the injury they receive. An ox kicking against the goad that wounds him is the illustration employed by the Lord. Not only is the anger of God laid up in store for the punishment of such opposers, if they die impenitent; but they go the way to harden their hearts, so as to produce impenitence, and render their condemnation more terrible. * (Rom. ii. 4, 5.) And this hardening process is more likely to lead to final destruction, when it is gradually carried on in smaller points not likely to alarm the conscience, than when daring thoughts are entertained, the very excess of which may perhaps shock the mind before they are executed. It is more likely that the foot should grow benumbed without causing us any alarm when pressing upon a stone, than that we should neglect the wound it receives by kicking against spikes. Such an
power," and "
offence is committed by those who continually oppose the christian course of any with whom they happen to live, and persecute them in detail by the habitual worry they occasion.
QUESTION. Do I confidently apply the assurance that, as a spiritual member of Christ, my feelings are considered and my sufferings cared for by Jesus himself? Do I leave my cause in all cases in his hands, as knowing he will make it his own ? or do I shew unkindness to any persons on account of their spiritual superiority to me, and greater consistency of religious conduct ?
4. It required the express assurance of the Lord himself, to convince Ananias that the persecuting Saul was really become a christian. Many had spoken of the violent character of this opposer-he was come amongst them for the purpose of persecuting them at that very time--could this be the man of whom it could be said that he prayed ? Yet as soon as the Lord had declared him to be a chosen vessel for his service, Ananias made no further difficulty shewed no doubtful apprehension of insincerity ; but went to him freely, and accosted Saul at once as his “brother.” When a real alteration has taken place in the heart of one who formerly opposed the gospel
, it cannot be expected that the impression produced by persecuting conduct should at once be effaced from the minds of those who have known his former character : and as the Lord does not now declare in words, the reality of a conversion (as in Saul's case), there must be some manifestation of His Spirit in the changed character of the person, in order to recognize a conformity “to the image of Christ.” But together with this, we must also feel the prompt readiness of Ananias to receive such a one as a brother, without waiting for that undoubted evidence which an unwilling mind is disposed to require.
QUESTION. With what degree of readiness do I offer the right hand of fellowship to those who have recently altered their outward conduct ? Am I ready to hope all things ? or am I reluctant to believe the change?
5. “ Behold he prayeth !"—this was the descriptive information which Jesus gave to Ananias, in pointing out Saul as a christian. Separation from God" without God in the world”-is the characteristic of those who are unconverted. Communicating with God spiritually, is the evidence of the turn of the heart godward, which is real conversion. It was not that Saul then began for the first time to repeat the offices of the Hebrew Liturgy, for he had been brought up in the constant use of them in the Temple ;-nor that he then began to speak words addressed to God, for he belonged to a sect amongst the Jews who “ loved to pray standing in the corners of the streets.” (Matt. vi. 5.) But Saul's heart was then first put into communion with God, by the Spirit of Christ (John iv. 24); and it exercised its new spiritual powers, as a new-born child cries at its birth. And as a mother might say, “My child is born alive, for hark ! it cries," so Jesus informed Ananias of the spiritual birth of Saul by saying, “behold he prayeth.” This holding communion with God by prayer, is the very breath of christian life ; without it, there can be no evidence sufficient to justify a hope that we are born again of the Spirit.
QUESTION. Do I pray? What is the character of my prayer? Is it satisfied with words? Is it entirely confined to stated periods? Is it necessarily connected with certain places ? What reason have I for believing that it is the breath of a living soul born again of the Holy Spirit ?
THE PRAYER.' Almighty God, with thee all things are possible ; thou turnest the hearts of thine enemies, and canst give the heart of flesh in place of the heart of stone to any,
however hard. Give me grace to acknowledge this thy great power, however extraordinary may have been thy dealings with those in whom that work is manifested. Let me ever magnify thy name, for the progress of thy knowledge in my own mind; and teach me how to profit by what I know, without waiting for any special manifestations of thy power, more than those I have already received. Teach me, O God, what thou wouldest have me to do. Give me a readiness of heart in desiring to know thy will, and a diligence of purpose in endeavouring to fulfil it. Fill my heart with deep feeling of repentance towards thee, O Father, and with the full assurance of faith, that looking up to Jesus as my Head, I may feel the exceeding comfort of oneness with Him, and so may trust in His never failing care. Blessed be thy name, O Saviour, that in all my afflictions thou art afflicted. Into thy hands would I commend my cause whensoever any strive against me. Let me not ever occasion any of thy people to offend ; nor hinder thy work and grace in any soul; yea, rather enable me to forward that good work for thy glory. Take from me all reluctance to receive those whom thou hast changed from being thine enemies ; make me truly to rejoice in the conversion of the greatest opposer, that I may receive him as a brother. Lord, teach me to pray, as Saul prayed, when he had been humbled and blessed by the sight of thy glory; that under the teaching of the Holy Spirit I may exercise the privileges of thy children, in constantly approaching thee in the spirit of grace and supplication, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. AMEN.
FIFTEENTH PORTION. Saul's first preaching :-his escape from Damascus. PLACE.-Arabia.-Damascus. TIME.- From Autumn
of A.D. 37, to Spring of A.D. 41.
May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, give me the Holy Spirit, that I may
understand this portion of His Holy Word, and profit by it.
THE SCRIPTURE. Acts, chap. IX. verses 19 to 25; with Gal. I. 15 to 17;
and 2 Cor. XI. 32, 33. 19 Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. 20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the 21 Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said ; " Is not
this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the