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SAUL OF TARSUS; OR, THE CONTRAST BETWEEN
: NATURE AND GRACE. There is not a more delightful employment to be engaged in, than that of tracing the goodness of the Lord in bringing home his own banished ones unto himself; and in order to rightly understand this great work, we must be found under the teachings of the Holy Ghost, one of those thus brought home. Seeing the whole is of grace, and being spiritual, cannot be discovered or received by the natural man, who it is said, “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him ; neither can he know them ;” and how forcible the reason assigned," because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. ii. 14); and there is not one of that grace-taught family, who does not daily feel himself a debtor to that good Spirit who “ searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. ii. 10).
In addition to our own personal experience of “the contrast between nature and grace," as effected for us " by the working of regeneration” (Titus, iii. 5), and our translation “from the power of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. i. 13), we have the word of holy writ, which is replete with instances of this kind, some of which appear as stars of the first magnitude in the horizon of grace; yet the same eternal power put forth in the creation of the one, is no less displayed in the other; “but to us there is but one God the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him ; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Cor. viii. 6). Among the vast group which in the sacred volume present themselves before us, while admiring with wonder the soul-animating picture, we seem to have our attention more forcibly drawn towards the very prominent one of Benjamin's tribe, “Saul of Tarsus ;” and the Holy Ghost has deigned to throw in the different shades so as to render it complete. May he also be with us, while we are endeavouring to trace the great contrast effected by the power of him who worketh all things after the council of his own will.
Saul after the flesh was of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin, and in the biography given by himself, states his education to have been received at the feet of Gamaliel ; "and after the strictest sect of the Hebrew nation, was brought up a Pharisee” (Phil. iii. 5); and being alienated in his mind from God, was vain enough to think he was doing him service, when doing things contrary to the name of “ Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts, xxvi. 9).
The wonderful effects wrought by the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, which sealed the truth of all that Jesus had said and done, rekindled the malice and rage of the Jews, and they renewed their persecutions against his followers-being by no means satisfied, although they had put him to death. With the exception of " John and Peter being imprisoned” (Acts, iv. 3), no immediate attack had been made upon the apostles, but Stephen, one of the seven, “a man full of faith and
the Holy Ghost” (Acts, vi. 5); one that “did great wonders and miracles among the people" (v. 8); whose wisdom they were not able to resist, nor the spirit by which he spoke, is, by the means of suborned men, charged with blasphemy, and brought before their mock tribunal, where, notwithstanding the noble defence he made (Acts, vii. 147) he is cast out of the city and stoned—this being the ancient law of Israel, relating to blasphemy (Lev. xxiv. 13-16.)
Upon this occasion we have first introduced to our notice the ravining wolf of Benjamin's tribe “Saul of Tarsus,” and beyond all doubt, this act of stoning would call forth the most powerful among them, whose muscular strength was a guarantee to the performance of the deed; this was not with Saul, yet where this was deficient it was made up by the natural “ enmity of the heart,” which showed itself forth upon this occasion in a very conspicuous manner, the Holy Ghost informing us that “the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul” (Acts, vii. 58); which is followed up by stating that “ Saul was consenting unto his death” (Acts, viii. 1), making havoc of the church, entering into houses, and, haling or laying hold of them, committed to prison both men and women. This had the effect of driving the persecuted disciples from Jerusalem, “but they went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts, viii. 4). And while Samaria heard the word with joy, it appears that at Damascus also there were disciples ; this coming to the ears of their determined foe, he is found seeking for those means by which he shall accomplish his design upon them.
The ninth chapter opens with one of the most appaling records of the enmity of the carnal mind, one in whom reigned the full power of the prince of darkness, whose delight was to do his deeds, and whose willing slave and subject he was. “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogue, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem ” (Acts, xi, 1–2). Can it be possible to read this language, without at once discovering the awful state under which the man is found “ breathing,” every breath he drew put in hostile array against the Lord, from whom he derived it; and utterly regardless of the consequences, he rushes upon the thick bosses of his buckler, to perpetrate the act, which was no other than to touch the eye of Jehovah; to what lengths will not our unrestrained nature go when left to itself, and by what a scale of gradation does the mercury of our unhallowed hearts arise, when under the influence of him who is " the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. ii. 2). It is no matter in what way it might show itself, the fountain is in its nature corrupt, and all the streams that issue therefrom contaminated ; the lip of unerring truth declaring “there is none that doeth good, no not one” (Ps. liii. 3). And however humiliating the thought, it is a fact, that Saul was only the counterpart of us all, proving to a demonstration “ that the world by wisdom knew not God ;” thus he has drawn a true portait, Rom. i. 21-52, and again, 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. Nor can human attainments reach this knowledge, for if so, none more likely to have gained it than Saul ; but he says it was not by works of righteousness which he had done. This divine science is only to be learnt in the school of Christ, and under the tuition of the Holy Ghost ; for in the eye of God's holy law, every individual stands a Saul, his every action consenting unto the death, and his whole life “breathing out threatenings and slaughter" --being a persecutor, a blasphemer, and injurious ; living in envy, hateful, and hating one another. Nor is this all, for he is dead in trespasses and sins, by birth an alien, without God and without hope ; yet such as these are washed, are sanctified, “and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. vi. 11).
Reader, what saith your own heart to these things ? and how far have you felt the sentence of condemnation in yourself, that you should not trust in yourself, but in the living God? Are you-while we are speaking of Saul—as unconscious as he was of the state he was in, conceiving no other but he was on the high road to heaven, when upon the very precipice of destruction ? Pause one moment, and take a retrospective view of the gradual unfoldings of his inherent enmity, which when it had reached the extreme point of defiance and rebellion, was checked not by the execution of vengeance upon the mad transgressor, but by the display of rich, free, and sovereign grace, in breaking the chain of his rebellion, placing him among the children, “and making him meet to be partaker of the inheritance with the saints in light” (Col. i. 12). Not that it might be seized by the obdurate and hardened sinner as a warrant for his still rebelling, but for this cause only he obtained mercy, that in him “first Christ Jesus might show forth all long suffering for a pattern to them which believe on him to life everlasting” (1 Tim. i. 16).
The change wrought in and upon the man in so wonderful a manner, and which forms the contrast, now claims our attention. “As he journeyed,” still determinate, and panting like the beast after its prey; no moment allowed for reflection, nor the least indication of relenting in his mind ; fully equipped with the authority of the high priest, possessing all that his most sanguine wishes could desire, he hastens forward with the greatest pleasure, and seems to have already within his grasp the objects of his malice, and might be in imagination feasting his insatiable appetite upon the victims of his rage. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out” (Rom. xi. 33). “As he journeyed and came near unto Damascus (with the city probably in full view), suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven, and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me" (v. 3, 4). Who shall fully describe the blessings connected with this memorable moment ? True it was, as afterwards described by him, “the heavenly vision.” In this moment the strong man was dispossesed, and the stronger than he took possession ; the allegiance of a revolting servant is now shown to his rightful sove. reign, and he who a moment before “breathed out threatenings and
slaughter," stands astonished and trembling before his persecuted Lord, inquiring what he would have him to do. The change now wrought upon Saul stands a miracle of the power and efficacy of divine grace, to show how the Lord can and will do all his pleasure in fulfilling the purposes of his own eternal mind.
It was not needful to remind Saul what was his intention at his first setting out; and although fully equipped for the accomplishment of his purpose, he had now lost all desire, and the letters of the high priest were to him useless. Jesus, whom he had in his members persecuted, had now arrested him, and had told him how futile all his attempts were ; and in answer to his anxious inquiry, bids him “ arise and go into the city," where it shall be told him what he must do. There are many devices in a man's heart, but the council of the Lord shall alone stand. Saul's intention was to enter the city for the purpose of destruction; the Lord's purpose was that of instruction, and he must receive it from those whom he had, in his first setting out, determined to cast into prison. Under what feelings of distress must the disciples have been (while ignorant of wbat God had wrought) when informed of his arrival, knowing what evil he had done to the saints at Jerusalem ; and was furnished with authority to do the same at Damascus. Even Ananias, though favoured with a vision from the Lord, could not refrain from expressing his fears, and is only silenced by the gracious reply made by him, “Go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel ; for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (v. 15, 16).
A STRIPLING. (To be continued.)
THE SABBATH MORNING. How kind and gracious are thy appointments, O our God! This is the Sabbath morning; another of thine own days has dawned upon thy church in the wilderness; and, Lord, thou knowest that there are many of thy poor tried, tempted, weary, fainting family, that are looking up to thee this morning for a blessing. Wilt thou disappoint them, Lord ? Hast thou given the appetite-- the craving desire for the spiritual manna, and wilt thou not spread a table in the wilderness, and cause them to eat and be satisfied, and their sin and misery to remember no more? Oh, give them to feed upon a precious Christ to-day! Let them see his suitability and adaptation to their every case and circumstance. Exalt him, Othou blessed and eternal Spirit, to-day; let him shine forth in his loveliness, his excellency, and glory, behind the lattices of ordinances, to-day ; let him be exalted in the galleries of his grace. And do thou, as thy people sit down at the Gospel-table to-day, say to them, by thine almighty grace and power, “ Eat, О friends ; drink, yea drink abundantly, 0 beloved.” Oh, do thou assure them that they are beloved, even thy beloved ! Lord, there are many of thine own familythy poor, thy tried, thy needy, thy really hungry and thirsty ones, that are afraid to come and sit down at the table of thy love—at the feast of thine own providing : they feel themselves to be so sinful, polluted, tried, buffetted, tempted, and harassed ; in their own estimation they are so unworthy-so unlike the Lord—so fearful to call him theirs—so apprehensive lest by and by they should fall into some open sin, and so bring disgrace upon thy glorious name and cause ; and then they think that, if ever left to an open fall, the discredit which would be brought upon thy dear name, would be so much the greater; that the world, both the merely professing and the profane, would say, “ Ah, ah ! so would we have it ! this is what we expected! this is a specimen of what they and their cause will come to !” And these thoughts so distress and intimidate thy poor family, Lord, that when the table is spread, they look with a longing eye, and reluctantly turn away from a feast of which they would gladly otherwise partake. Thou knowest, too, that the adversary takes advantage, in order to worry and annoy them, by the painful suggestion that their zeal is cold—their love lukewarm--that they have not the fortitude nor courage of a child of God—and that by and by, in time of temptation and trial, their religion, having no root, will wither away. O Lord, baffle the tempter; disappoint the fears of thy timid ones ; and do thou give them to see that the cause is thine own ; that their safety and standing are in thee, and thee alone ; that it is by thy power they are kept, and that thou wilt not fail them nor forsake them. And, O Lord, if the hearts of any of thine own children are warmed to-day with a sense of thy love, and with a hope amounting almost to an humble confidence that all, both temporally and spiritually, shall yet be well, do thou encourage them to sit down at thy table, to partake of the bounties which thine own hand hath supplied. And while, precious Lord, thou art pleased to show unto them that it was for the hungry and the thirsty-the spiritually famishing—that the Gospel-table was spread with the symbols of thy dying love, do thou enable them to partake by precious faith ; and do thou open up to them thy boundless love and condescension ; oh, commune with their hearts from off the mercy-seat! Come down into thy garden, and eat of thy pleasant fruits, 0 thou most lovely Lord. Refresh us with thy sweet presence. Let us have a little sip of the brook to cheer our spirits by the way, to-day ; let us taste of the refreshing streams which flow from the rich fountain of thy love ; let us revisit Gethsemane, and Calvary, and Bethany, to-day; let us, O let us see our precious Lord today. We would see Jesus—we want to behold the Master's lovely countenance in glorious anticipation of seeing him, and singing to him, and with him, and of him, through a blessed eternity! O Lord, how many are there already! how they sing ! how rich is their enjoyment ! how rapturous their notes of praise ! Oh, let not them have all the bliss to-day ; but, if it be thy will, give us a little taste of it here below, to refresh our spirits as we traverse this waste howling wilderness. Give us the sweet, the blessed assurance that we shall one day join their number-that we are one with them and one with thee; that soon our turn will come to cross “ the narrow, narrow sea," and mingle with the happy throng. Lord, we cannot but long for it-pardon it if it be wrong.