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But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded
the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very
T is an undoubted truth, however paradoxical it may seem
CHRIST Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” And therefore it is very remarkable, that our blessed LORD, in his glorious sermon on the mount, after he had been pronouncing those blessed, who were poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart,
heart, and such like, immediately adds (and spends no less than three verses in this beatitude « Blessed are they who are perfecuted for righteousness fake.” No one ever was, or ever will be endowed with the forementioned graces in any degree, but he will be persecuted for it in a measure. There is an irreconcileable enmity between the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent. And if we are not of the world, but Thew by our fruits that we are of the number of those whom Jesus Christ has chofen out of the world, for that very reason the world will hate us. As this is true of every particular christian, so it is true of every christian church in general. For some years past we have heard but little of a public persecution : Why? Because but little of the power of godliness has prevailed amongst all denominations. The strong man armed has had full possession of most professors hearts, and therefore he has let them rest in a false peace. But we may allure ourselves, when Jesus Christ begins to gather in his eled in any remarkable manner, and opens an effectual door for preaching the everlasting gospel, persecution will Aame out, and Satan and his emissaries will do their utmost (though all in vain) to ftop the work of God. Thus it was in the first ages, thus it is in our days, and thus it will be, till time shall be no more.
Christians and christian churches must then expect enemies. Our chief concern should be, to learn how to behave towards them in a christian manner : For, unless we take good heed to ourselves, we shall imbitter our spirits, and act unbecoming the followers of that Lord,“ who, when he was reviled, reviled' not again ; when he suffered, threatned not; and, as a lamb before his fhearers is dumb, fo opened he not his mouth." But what motive thall we make use of to bring ourselves to this blessed lamb-like temper? Next to the immea diate operation of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts, I know of no consideration more conducive to teach us long-suffering towards our moft bitter perfecutors, than this, " That, for all we know to the contrary, some of those very persons, who arë now perfecuting, may be chosen from all eternity by God, and hereafter called in time, to edify and build up the church of CHRIST."
The perfecutor Saul, mentioned in the words of the text, (and whose conversion, God willing, I propose to treat oa in the following discourse) is a noble instance of this kind.
I say, a persecutor, and that a bloody one : For lee how he is introduced in the beginning of this chapter ; “ And Saul iget breathing out threatnings and Naughter againit the disciples of our Lord, went unto the high priest, and defired of him letters to Damafeus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerufalem."
6 And Saul yet breathing out." This implies that he had been a perfecutor before. To prove wkich, we need only look back to the 7th chapter, where we fhall find him so very remarkably active at Stephen's death, that “the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.” He seems, though young, to be in fome authority. Perhaps, for his zeal against the chriftians, he was preferred in the church, and was allowed to fit in the great council or
Sanhedrim: For we are told, chap. yiij. ver. I, " That Saul was consenting unto his death;? and again, at ver. 3. he is brought in as 'exceeding all in his opposition ; for thus speaks the evangelift, “ As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entring into every house, and baling men and women, committed them to prison." One would have imagined, thac this should have satisfied, at leastabated the fury of this young zealot. No: being exceedingly mad against them, as he himself informs Agrippa,, and having made havock of all.in Jerusalem, he now is resolved to persecute the disciples of the Lord, even to strange cities; and therefore yet breathing out -threatnings. Breathing out." The words are very empha-tical, and expressive of his bitter enmity. It was as natural to him now to threaten the christians, as it was for him to breathe: he could scarce speak, but it was some threatnings against them. Nay, he not only breathed out threatnings, but: slaughters also (and those who threaten, would also flaughter, if it were in their power) against the disciples of the LORD. Insatiable therefore as hell, finding he could not confuté or stop the christians by force of argument, he is resolved to do it by force of arms; and therefore went to the high priest (for there never was a perfecution yet without a high priest at the head of it) and desired of him letters, issued out of his spiritual court, to the synagogues or ecclesiastical courts åt Damascus, giving him authority, “ that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem,”. I suppose, there to be arraigned and condemned in the high priest's court. Observe how he fpeaks of the christians. Luke, who wrote the Aets, calls them " disciples of the LORD,” and Saul ftiles them “Men and women of this way.” I doubt not but he represented them as a company of upstart enthusiasts, that had lately gotten into a new method or way of living; that would not be content with the temple-service, but they must be righteous over-much, and have their private meetings or conventicles, and break bread, as they called it, from house to house, to the great disturbance of the established clergy, and to the utter subversion of all order and decency. I do not hear that the high priest makes any objection : no, he was as willing to grant letters, as Saul was to at them; and wonVOL. VI. K
derfully pleased within himself, to find he had such an active zealot to employ againft the christians.
Well then, a judicial process is 'immediately issued out, with the high priest's seal affixed' to it. And now methinks I see the young persecutor finely equipped, and pleasing himself with thoughts, how triumphantly he should ride back with the men and women of this way,” dragging them after him to Jerusalem.
What a condition may we imagine the poor disciples ac Damascus were in at this time ! No doubt they had heard of Saul's imprisoning and making havock of the saints at ferufalem, and we may well suppose they were apprised of his design against them. I am persuaded this was a growing, becaufe a trying time with these dear people. O how did they wrestle with God in prayer, beseeching him either to deliver them from, or give them grace sufficient to enable them to bear up under, the fury of their persecutors ? The high priest doubtless with the rest of his reverend brethren, flattered themselves, that they should now put an effectuat stop to this growing herefy, and waited with impacience for Saul's return.
But “ He that fitteth in heaven laughs them to scorn, the LORD has them in derision." And therefore, ver. 3. Saul' journeyed, and came even near unto Damascus,” perhaps to the very gates, (our LORD permitting this, to try the faith of his disciples, and more conspicuously to baffle the designs of his enenties) ** fuddenly (at 'mid-day, as he acquaints Agrippa) tére thiřed round about him a light from heaven," a light brighter than the fun; to and he fell to the earth (why not into hell ?) and heard a voice faying unto him, Saul, Saul, why perfecuteft thou me?" The word is doubled, “ Saul, Saul?" Like that of our LORD to Martha; “Martha, Martha ;' or 'the prophet, wo earth, earth, earth!” Perhaps thefe words came like thunder to his fout.' That they were spoken audibly, we are assured from verse 7. “ His companions heard the voice."
!!! Our LORD'now arrests the perfecuting zealot, calling him by name ; for the word never does us good, till we find it Ypoken to us in particular. “ Saul, Saul, Why persecutest thou Me?” Put the emphasis upon the word why, what evil have I donc ? Put it upon the word per3
facutest, why persecutest? I suppose Saul thought he was not persecuting; no, he was only putting the laws of the ecclefiaftical court into execution ; but Jesus, whose eyes are as a fame of fire, saw through the hypocrisy of his heart, that, notwithstanding his specious pretences, all this proceeded from a persecuting spirit, and secret enmity of heart against GoD; and therefore says, “Why persecutest thou me?” Put the emphasis upon the word me, why persecutest thou me? alas! Saul was not persecuting CHRIST, was he? he was only taking care to prevent innovations in the church; and bring. ing a carapany, of enthusiasts to justice, who otherwise would overturn the established constitution. But Jesus says, “Why perfecutest thou me?" For what is done to CHRIST's discia ples, he takes as done to himself, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. He that touches CHRIST's disciples, touches the apple of his eye,, and they, who persecute the followers of our LORD, would persecute our Lord himself, was he again to come and tabernacle amongst used to be sto fogos csepels
I do not find that Saul gives any reason why he did perseniz cute ; nos he was ftruck dumb; as every persecutor will be when Jesus CHRIST puts this fame question to them at the terrible day of judgment. But being pricked at the heart, no doubt with a fense not only of this, but of all his other offen-! ces against the great God, he said, ver. 5. Who art thou, LORD!". See how foon God can change the heart and voice, of his most bitter enemies. Not many days ago, Saul was nog only blaspheming CHRIST himself; but, as much as in him lay compelling others to blaspheme also: but, now, bez who before was an impostor, is called Lord; “Who art thoux, LORD!” This admirably points out the way, in which God's Spirit works upon the heart; it first powerfully convinces of fin, and of our damnable state ; and then puts us upon enquiring after, Jesus CHRIST. Saul being struck to the ground, or pricked to the heart, cries out after Jesus, " Who art thoy, LORD?". As many of you, that were never fo far made sensible of your damnable, face, as to be made feelingly to seek after Jesus CHRIST, were never yet truly convicted by, much less converted to, God. May the LORD, who ftruck Saul, effe&tually, now strike all my chriftless hearers, and set them upon enquir