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the people you despise may be dear to God. If their religion be wrong, it is none of your business to punish them for it. Leave that to God. You are not their judge. But if their religion be right,-what then are you doing? You are fighting against God,' and in so doing you are hurting yourself. For so our Lord adds, respecting Saul, It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks, or goads,' alluding to oxen urged on to labour by pricking them with goads; if, instead of quickening their pace, they kick against the instrument that wounded them, they only hurt themselves the more. Just so it is with wicked persecutors; their rage is as impotent as it is foolish; they cannot hinder the designs of God, but they may and will hurt their own souls.
The Saviour asks him WHY?-Why persecutest thou me? Could Saul give any good answer to this question? Can any persecutor give a good answer to it? And what answer wilt thou give, O wretched man, to this question, when the glorious Jesus shall put it to thee at the judgment day? Sinner, why didst thou disturb, abuse, and injure my serious followers upon earth? Alas! thou wilt be speechless. Ask thyself the question now, and thou wilt persecute no more.
How astonished must Saul be to find that it was JESUS who now spake to him from the heavenly glory! I am Jesus, the Nazarene '—he who was despised and rejected of men; he who was treated as a vile impostor, and put to a cruel shameful death. How must he be surprised to find that Jesus was still alive! that the account of his resurrection was actually true; consequently that he was really the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and the Saviour of the world! And observe, that Christ owns the name of scorn by which he was distinguished the Nazarene. It was a name of contempt and reproach, and on that account affixed to his cross, But Jesus, in all his celestial glory, owns the name, 'I am Jesus, the Nazarene.' Let this teach us to take up the cross, and cheerfully bear a nick-name for his sake; yea, let us rejoice and be exceeding glad that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for his name."
What could Saul now expect? Convinced of his
enormous guilt, what could he expect but sudden 'destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power?' But the Lord had designs of mercy towards him, and towards thousands by him. The power of the Spirit of God accompained this vision and these words, or he would have only been affrighted, not converted. We do not find that the soldiers who were with him were changed, though, no doubt, they were alarmed. If God were to speak to men in thunder and lightning and earthquake, by voices from heaven, or visions from the dead, this would not change the heart. No; nothing but grace will do this. But the heart of Saul was now subdued, and he discovers this by the first word he utters-Trembling and astonished, he said, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' Thus resigning himself into the hands of Jesus, he obtained forgiveness. He is then directed to go unto Damascus, when he should receive further instruction.. Then he arose from the earth, and was led by the hand, for he had lost his sight, into the city; where he continued blind for three days, and did neither eat nor drink; spending, probably, the whole time in serious meditation and fervent prayer.
At the end of three days, the Lord pitying the sorrows of this afflicted man, appeared to a disciple in the city, named Ananias, and directed him to go into Straight Street,' and enquire at the house of a person named Judas,' for one called Saul of Tarsus,' adding the words of our text- Behold, he prayeth!' Ananias was still afraid to go; and therefore said, Lord, I have
heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem, and here he hath authority from the chief priests, to bind all that call upon thy name.' But the objection was over-ruled.
nias went. By his means, Saul was instantly delivered from his blindness, filled with the Holy Ghost, was baptized, and having received meat, was strengthened. Afterwards, as we all know, he preached the faith which he once destroyed,' and was, for many year, a most eminent and useful apostle of Christ, in spreading the knowledge of the gospel among many nations.
The conversion of Saul, afterwards called Paul, bas
been justly considered as affording a very strong argument for the truth of the Christian religion; and it is worth our while briefly to consider it in that view. If we believe what St. Paul tells us of his own conversion, we must of course believe all that the Bible says; for his doctrines perfectly agree with the rest of the scriptures; and declare that he received his doctrines, not from men, but from God: and we certainly have reason to believe what St. Paul says of his conversion, unless it could be proved, either that he was an impostor, and meant to deceive; or that he was a weak man, and so was deceived by others.
Now there is no reason to think that St. Paul was an impostor, and meant to deceive mankind. Impostors always seek themselves. They deceive to get money, or power, or fame, or pleasure. But Paul sought none of these; not money; he forsook the rich party of the Jews, to join the poor party of the Christians; for the first Christians were so poor in general, that they were supported by the contributions of the few rich that were among them. St. Paul, himself, frequently worked with his own hands. No one ever suspected Paul of being rich.
He sought not power. Who could give it him? All the powers of the earth, whether Jewish or Heathen, were against the Christians, and were employed to crush them. Great numbers were persecuted and put to death, and St. Paul himself at last.
He sought not fame: he became infamous in the esteem of the world; being defamed,' said he, we entreat; we are accounted the filth and offscouring of all things.' The name of a Nazarene, and afterwards that of a Christian, was contemptible and odious to the last degree.
Nor was it sensual pleasure he sought. No. He took up the cross when he took up Christianity. He knew nothing of carnal ease, or the delights of sense. His life was all activity and suffering. He was stoned, he was beaten with rods; twice he suffered shipwreck; he was in journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often,
in cold and nakedness.' All these things prove that St. Paul was no impostor; he certainly believed what he taught, and he had no bad design in teaching what he believed.
It is equally certain that St. Paul was not deceived by others. Who should deceive him? Not his former companions they wonld have murdered him for the change. Not the poor timid Christians: they were afraid to receive him when changed. Who could form such a light in the heavens? Who could form such a sound in the air? Who could strike him and his numerous companions to the ground? Who could make Paul blind for three days? And when blind, who could restore him to sight? Indeed, there is nothing in Paul's character that can lead us to suspect that he was deceived. He was not a weak man, nor an enthusiast. And his whole conduct for twenty years after his conversion, the temper he discovered, the doctrines he delivered, the apologies that he made, and the letters that he wrote, as fully prove that he was not a weak enthusiast, and so deceived, as they prove that he was no deceiver. And if Paul was neither deceived in what he believed, nor a deceiver in what he professed, it must follow undeniably, that the Christian system is not a delusion; but that it is the truth of God, the wisdom of God, and the power of God unto salvation. And let this be an answer to those who may try to cheat you of your faith and of your salvation, by pretending contradictions and blunders in the holy scriptures: they may tell you that this and that book was not written by the author whose name it bears, and tha tthere is such and such a mistake in names and dates. Instead of regarding their little quibbles and cavilling objections, ask them to account for the conversion of St. Paul, upon any other principle than that of the truth of the Christian religion, and they will be confounded.
But to return to the design first proposed. We intended to show, that a praying person is a gracious person,' for Jesus Christ, in order to prove that Saul was converted, said, Behold, he prayeth !'
This observation made respecting him is very remarkable, if you consider that he had been a Pharisee.
Now the Pharisees were so called because they separated themselves from others, professing to be more strict in all religious duties and ceremonies than their neighbours. They fasted twice a-week,' and they made long prayers; they prayed standing in the synagogues,' and even in the corners of the streets :' they prayed over and over again, thinking to be heard for their much speaking. Is it not strange then, that our Lord should say of Paul, Behold he prayeth! Was it a new thing for a Pharisee to pray!
There was certainly now something very different in his prayers, from what he had been used to. All his former prayers are here reckoned for nothing; for now he prayeth, that is, he now begins to pray. It may be observed that the Pharisees were fond of making public their prayers; we nowhere read of their praying in private, and it is likely that they seldom did; for our Lord directs his disciples not to make their prayers in the streets, but to enter into their closets and pray. Probably, therefore, this was the first time in all his life that he ever prayed in secret. And there are now many people who would not be thought to neglect their prayers at church, who make no conscience of praying at home. But we cannot well suppose that person to be a real Christian who does not pray alone.
The prayer that Paul now offered was sincere. He had prayed often with his lips, now his heart prays. There is a great deal of sin committed by some people in their prayers. Like the hypocrites of old, they draw nigh to God with their mouths, and honour him with their lips; but their heart is far from him.' Christ charged the Pharisees with doing so. Matt. xv. 7, 8. Paul was one of this sort before his conversion; but now he drew near to God with his heart. Nothing deserves the name of Prayer unless it comes from the heart. It is not words that make prayer, it is desires ; the felt desires of the heart, made sensible of its state and its wants. There are more lies told in our churches and meetings than at our markets. What sad hypocrisy is it, for a set of gay, proud, wanton people to cry• Lord, have mercy upon us! Christ have mercy upon Incline our hearts to keep these laws,' &c., while