In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."
his hands clasped in prayer, countenance bathed in tears, voice uttering petitions. Look into that house of Judas; it might have been filled with mourning; it is the scene of a spiritual victory. We can look back and look forward; what he was, what he will be. Great mercy in the blinding stroke, shutting him up in his own thoughts. His cry was, "What wilt thou have me to do?" Gracious answer to the prayer. Contrast between the prayers which Saul of Tarsus had previously offered, and that worthy prayer of penitence and faith. Every event the summing up of the past and prophecy of the future, like a seed which represents former and following harvests. Epochs in spiritual history which face both ways. A representative fact; "Behold it!" "he prayeth."
I. A GREAT SPIRITUAL CHANGE.
1. In the mind. Thoughts of Jesus. Acceptance of Messiahship. Overthrow of legalism. Satisfaction of understanding in the Divine authority manifested. Exaltation of Israel. We must be changed in our thoughts. "What think ye of Christ?"
2. In the heart. The persecutor penetrated with the feeling of Divine love. The perverse will, kicking against conscience, against the reproach which like a goad was left by the remembrance of Stephen's death. Personal sense of sin the root of a true conversion. "I am the man."
3. In the conduct. Obedience to the heavenly vision. Tractable as a child; led by the Spirit. The prayer recounts that his face was turned towards the new way. Christianity not a mere change of views or sentiments, but a proclaimed rule of life. Walk in the way. Obedience.
II. AN EPOCH IN SPIRITUAL HISTORY. Little could Saul foresee his own future, yet that Peniel was the introduction of a prince of God to his kingdom. What a step from the chamber in Judas's house at Damascus to Rome's imperial palace!
1. Prayer the preparation for activity. Jesus in the mountain solitude. All great spiritual heroes before they have gone down into the battle-field.
2. Prayer the lifting up of the fallen. Peace with God. Reopened eyes. A blotted-out past. The goads of conscience exchanged for the light of a new life, the message of a reconciled Father, the commission of the heavenly King to his chosen ambassadors.
3. Prayer the pledge of fellowship. He prayeth; go and pray with him. Private prayer and public prayer closely connected together. Religion is not a secret thing. "Behold!" We should take knowledge of the state of souls around us. Those that feel prompted to secret prayer should welcome the visit of the Christian brother, and the appeal to take the Name of Christ upon them, and the place which is appointed us both in the fellowship and work of the Church. - R.
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight.
I. AS THE TEMPORARY ABODE OF A REMARKABLE STRANGER. "One Saul of Tarsus."
1. Remarkable for intellectual ability.
2. For prodigious force of character.
3. For undivided concentration of purpose.
4. For conscientious religious conviction.
5. For tragic success in persecution.
6. For startling change of career.
II. AS A LOCALITY VISITED BY A DIVINE MESSENGER. "And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go," etc. That Heaven —
1. Is intimately acquainted with the homes of the good.
2. Sometimes utilises the homes of the good for its own purpose.
3. Invariably immortalises such occasions by the Divine presence.
III. AS THE SCENE OF THE GREATEST CONVERSION. "Behold, he prayeth." The conversion was —
1. Unexpected in its occurrence.
2. Miraculous in its agency.
3. Bitter in its experience.
4. Prolonged in its process.
5. Unique in its purpose.
6. Worldwide in its results. This one conversion was a universal revival.
(B. D. Johns.)
1. The people who live in it are honest, and would not do a dishonourable thing for all that you could give them. Thus there are many people who do not think it worth their while to live in that street; still less do they think that anyone can succeed in business there, as they will have to compete with people who live in other streets, and who will do very unworthy things for the sake of gain. Thus they think they are bound to do some crooked things or they will be driven out of house and home by competition. And so there are many people who refuse to live in "the street called Straight," because it has no "Lying Corner" or "Cheating Alley." But we must remember that the only sense in which we can be rich is not having a lot of money to our credit in the bank. The richest man after all is the man who has got a good name, which cannot be bought for money; so that if a man loses occasionally in pounds, shillings, and pence by living in "the street called Straight," he gains in having a nobler spirit, a finer character, and a more beautiful life.
2. The people who live in "the street called Straight" are truthful. They will not tell a lie on any account, even if it gets them out of a difficulty. Now, I wonder how many of you children live in this street?
3. Those who live in "the street called Straight" are self-denying. They will gladly do a kindness, if by so doing they can help their neighbour. Ah, there is wonderful neighbourliness in this street.
4. Those who live in this street keep everything very clean. They sometimes may be mistaken, but they are very pure in their motives.
Enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth
I. IT IMPLIES THAT HE HAD NEVER PRAYED BEFORE. This is very striking, for Saul was a Pharisee, and therefore a man who habitually repeated prayers; but He who searcheth the hearts, and knew what prayer is, here declares that now at length he begins to pray. What his friends would have put down as a great mass of prayer, the Lord makes nothing of. I want to push this fact home upon those who in a formal manner have always prayed and yet have never spiritually prayed.
1. Real prayer must be spiritual; and Saul's prayers had not been such before. Words are but the body of devotion: the confession of sin, the longing for mercy, these are the spirit of prayer. A man may have repeated the choicest words, and yet not have prayed at all. A man may utter no word whatever, and he may be praying most effectually, as Moses and Hannah. Anyhow, that prayer which is not spiritual is not prayer; for "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." If the spirit does not commune with God, there may have been music and oratory, but there has been no prayer.
2. Saul had never offered prayer of the kind which the Lord can accept. He knew the letter of the truth according to the ceremonial law; but he did not know the spirit of it as it is embodied in Jesus. He had been going about to establish his own righteousness, but he had not submitted himself to the righteousness of Christ; and therefore in his prayer he had not been traversing the road which led to the heart of God. If you employ a servant to do a work, and he persists in doing another thing, however industriously he works, he will receive nothing at your hands. So if you pray in a way which God has never ordained, you will not receive anything of the Lord.
3. Saul had never made mention of the name of Jesus. There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved; there is none other name by which we can hopefully approach the mercy seat. Saul had rejected that name, and had come in his own.
4. Real prayer cannot come from men whose characters are contrary to the mind of God. Their lives have effectually pleaded against their lips. Saul of Tarsus was opposed to the Son of God; how could he be in favour with God Himself? If we set ourselves in opposition to His gospel, while we pretend to be knocking at heaven's gate we are turning the key against ourselves. Saul had been a persecutor, and how can a persecutor pray? If you have the spirit of hate in you, it nullifies your devotions; for prayer ought to be the flower and crown of love. Friend, if you are living an ungodly life, I do not care how regularly you bend your knee in seeming devotion, there is nothing in it.
5. Saul with all his prayers had never truly prayed, because humility was absent from his devotions. His prayer was the expression of thankfulness that Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law blameless. In the courts above, where outward appearances are nothing, and God looketh at the heart, his pious harangues were not reckoned to be prayers at all.
II. IT IS IMPLIED THAT IT WAS A REMARKABLE THING FOR SUCH A PERSON NOW TO PRAY. "Behold, he prayeth!" It is a very difficult and marvellous thing for a man truly to pray who has been all his lifetime praying in a false way. It is a miracle of grace to bring a proud Pharisee to plead for mercy like a penitent publican. It is not half so wonderful that an irreligious man should begin to pray as that a vainglorious professor should begin to pray; because —
1. He has been a formalist for so long, and so rooted in the habit of formal devotion, and so contented with it. It is easier to attend a thousand masses, or to go to church every day in the week, than to offer one true prayer.
2. Of self-righteousness. In Christ's day, the publicans and harlots entered the kingdom before the Pharisees. It is a great thing to conquer sinful self, but it is a greater thing to overcome righteous self. The man who is downright bad and feels it, asks for mercy; but these people are bad at heart, and do not feel it: therefore they will not seek the Lord.
3. Of prejudice. He has made up his mind that he will not see the light of God, because he believes in his own light.
4. Even religious fervour may become a hindrance when that ardour is for a false faith. The earnest formalist is cased in steel, and the arrows of the gospel glance from him.
III. IT IS DIVINELY DECLARED THAT HE DID PRAY. One would have liked to have heard him. See him now! This fine, good man! How humble he is!
1. His prayers began with a full and grievous confession of sin. He offered neither excuse nor extenuation, except "I did it ignorantly, in unbelief."
2. Now you will find him acknowledging his great need — a new heart and a right spirit.
3. I think I can see mingled with that prayer the lowliest adoration. How he would worship Jesus of Nazareth as his God now that he was conquered by Him!
4. Consider what pleas he had. Pleading is the truest and strongest part of prayer. Assuredly he urged the promises, "Let the wicked forsake his way," etc., "Come, now, and let us reason together," etc. "Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God." How the fifty-third of Isaiah must have flashed in on his mind!
5. And all this must have been steeped in a wonderful fervour. Before, you might have said to yourself, "He is saying his prayers," but this time it was as when a man wrestleth for his life.
IV. IT IS EVIDENT THAT THE LORD ACCEPTED MY PRAYER. I know it from the text, because —
1. God bore witness that he did pray.
2. He was about to answer the prayer. He had Ananias in readiness to go and comfort the poor blinded penitent. God is about to answer your prayer if you have cried to Him. Perhaps the man is present who will speak to you.
3. He called attention to it by a "Behold." We have heard of many marvels concerning which men cry, "Behold"; but that which strikes God most is a sinner praying. God does not say, "Behold Herod on his throne," or "Behold Caesar in his palace." Conclusion: I am afraid there are many of whom it would have to be said, "Behold, he never prays!" What a sight — a man created by his Maker, and daily fed by His bounty, who never worships Him! And yet when he does pray, God makes a wonder of it. It is his first prayer this morning. He has reached home and is kneeling by the side of that bed on which he has slept so often without prayer, and he cries, "O God, I do not know what to say, but be merciful to me a stoner, and forgive my sins." I hear the rustling wings of angels as they gather around the sacred spot. Anon they fly upward, crying, "Behold he prayeth." Years pass on, young man, and you come to middle life and are exposed to sharp temptation. Good spirits watch you. You remember that day when you first prayed; and you go upstairs, and say, "Lord, many days have passed since, and I have not ceased to cry; but now I am in special trouble. I beseech Thee, deliver me!" And angels sing and the devils mutter, "Behold, he prayeth." The young man has grown old, and has gone up to the same room for the last time. "Behold, he prayeth." Prayer, which has long been his vital breath and native air, is now "His watchword at the gates of death," etc. The shining ones gladly meet the soul that is on Jordan's bank when they hear the voice, "Behold, he prayeth."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE PERSON WHO SPEAKS — "The Lord."
1. He whom Peter preached.
2. He whom Stephen saw.
3. He whom Saul heard.
4. He whom Ananias served.
II. THE PERSON SPOKEN OF — "Saul."
1. A native of Tarsus.
2. A persecutor of the Church.
3. A sinner arrested.
4. A penitent converted.
III. THE ACT DESCRIBED — "Prayeth."
1. It was becoming.
2. It was necessary.
3. It was beneficial.
4. It was exemplary.
IV. THE ATTENTION DEMANDED — "Behold."
1. What grace has done.
2. What grace can do.
3. What grace must do.
4. What grace leads to.
(A. Macfarlane.)I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH LED PAUL TO PRAY. His understanding was convinced, his will was subdued, his heart was converted, and his soul was saved.
II. THE CHARACTER OF PAUL'S PRAYERS. What was there in them which rendered them acceptable?
1. The prayers of a sinner thus humbled, we may feel assured, were offered up in humility. From the proud and self-sufficient Pharisee he is transformed into the humble and self-denying penitent, "striking on his breast and saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."
2. And not only were his prayers offered up in humility, but we cannot doubt of their earnestness also. Convinced of sin, and deeply anxious for the salvation of his soul, he "utters strong cries" in the hope that they may enter into the ears of the Lord of Hosts, and meet with an answer of pardon and peace.
3. We may naturally conclude that Paul also prayed in faith, after the recent wonderful revelation made to him. Our Lord Himself, indeed, acknowledged and accepted his prayer, when He said, "Behold, he prayeth!" Then did that new light break in upon his soul, which "shone more and more unto the perfect day," and which so wonderfully displayed itself in his arduous work of the ministry.
III. THE LIGHT IN WHICH GOD REGARDED THE PRAYERS OF PAUL, and in which He regards the prayers of all who offer them up in the same spirit that he did. God regarded them as a mark of his real conversion, and as such approved of and accepted them.
(J. L. F. Russell, M. A.)
I. THAT THE LORD KNOWS WHERE WE ARE AND HOW WE ARE ENGAGED. What was this house of Judas? An inn? If so, it was a sad situation for a man in spiritual distress; and never did an inn before or since accommodate such a passenger. Perhaps it was a private dwelling belonging to one of his acquaintances. If so, what would be the emotions of the family as he entered! But however this may be, the Lord knew — the street — the very house in which he was; and what he was doing there. It would be easy to multiply similar instances, e.g., that of Cornelius and Peter, Nathanael, Zacchaeus. He knew how to guide Cornelius in sending to Joppa for Peter. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." Let sinners think of it; and never dream of secresy in their guilt. Let hearers think of it; and remember that God is privy to all the workings of their minds while in His worship. Let the righteous believe this; and remember that though they are poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon them. And, oh! thou dejected penitent, think of this and be comforted. "To this man will I look," etc.
II. HOWEVER THE LORD MAY TRY THEM, HE WILL NOT SUFFER PRAYING SOULS TO CALL UPON HIM IN VAIN. Saul was deprived of sight; and thus all his gloomy thoughts were turned inward upon himself, and the anguish of his mind was such, that he probably could eat nothing. All that he had heard was this, "It shall be told thee what thou must do": but this was general, and capable of various explanations. But says the Church, "Come, and let us return to the Lord...in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight." And here this was literally accomplished. "I never said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me, in vain." Joseph was a type of the Redeemer. His behaviour to his brethren was for a time apparently very unkind. But the trial was necessary: and at length giving way to the compassion which his prudence had restrained before, he said, "I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt — but be not grieved." Thus Christ leaves Saul three days without comfort; but it was in order to lay deep the foundation of a superstructure that was to rise so high. And all the time Saul was praying, He was hearing; and longing to succour and relieve Him. What is the use you ought to make of this? To persevere. God's delays are not denials. He has reasons for what we deem severity, founded in a regard to our welfare. You cannot be in a worse condition than David was: but hear him. "I waited patiently for the Lord," etc. Say not, therefore, "My hope is perished from the Lord — why should I wait for Him any longer?" If you draw back, you are sure of destruction; but if you go forward, you are certain of success. Ask, and it shall be given you, etc. Perhaps some messenger of mercy is now on his way.
III. THOUGH THE LORD CAN ACCOMPLISH HIS WORK WITHOUT HUMAN INSTRUMENTALITY, HE IS PLEASED TO MAKE USE OF IT. The voice from heaven could have told Saul at once what he must do — but a messenger shall be employed. He could have sent an angel — but he shall learn it from the lips of a man of like passions with himself. His terror would not make him afraid. With him he could hold free intercourse and familiar conversation. He could speak to him from his own experience; and therefore sympathise with him. It would be also useful to Ananias as well as to Saul. By doing good to others we benefit ourselves. It certainly was designed to prevent our undervaluing means, under a notion of depending on Divine agency. Here let us however beware of two extremes. Let us not, on the one hand, overlook instruments in relying on God; nor, on the other, overlook God in using instruments. It is not the sun that warms us, but He by the sun: it is not food that sustains us, but He by food. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos," etc.
IV. THINGS DONE IN OUR OWN APPREHENSION, AND IN THE OPINION OF OTHERS, ARE FREQUENTLY NOTHING IN THE JUDGMENT OF GOD. "Behold, he prayeth!" And what was there strange or new in this? Was he not of the straitest sect of the Pharisees? And were they not more distinguished by their prayers than by anything else? Yes. Yet Saul had never prayed till now. See the difference drawn by an unerring Judge in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican.
V. PRAYER IS A GOOD EVIDENCE OF CONVERSION. "Go, Ananias; he is ready to receive you. Go, and be not afraid of him — the man is changed — he is become a new creature — 'for, behold, he prayeth.'" "The spirit of grace" is always a spirit "of supplications." Be it remembered, however, that this mark is better applied exclusively than inclusively. A man may pray, and not be in a state of salvation; but he that does not pray, cannot be in a state of salvation. No man can be a partaker of Divine grace that lives without prayer. What then is the condition of many!
I. AN ANNOUNCEMENT. "Behold, he prayeth." It was the announcement of a fact which was —
1. Noticed in heaven. Saul had been led to cry for mercy, and the moment he began to pray God began to hear. See what attention God paid to Saul. He knew the street where he lived, the house where he resided; his name; the place where he came from, and that he had prayed. God may not regard battles, nor care for the pomp and pageantry of kings; but wherever there is a heart big with sorrow, the ear of Jehovah is wide open. Poor sinner, thy prayers are heard. Where was it — in a barn? At thy bedside, or in this hall? There is one thing which outstrips the telegraph. "Before they call I will answer, and while they are speaking I will hear."
2. Joyous to heaven.(1) Our Saviour regarded it with joy. The Shepherd rejoices more over that lost sheep than over ninety and nine that went not astray.(2) Angels rejoiced too. Why, when one of God's elect runs into sin, angels gaze with sorrow. Presently the man is brought under the sound of the gospel. The angels say, "Behold, he begins to hear." At last he cries from his inmost soul, "God have mercy upon me!" The angels say, "Behold, he prayeth." Then they set heaven's bells ringing; "there is joy among the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."(3) There are others that rejoice, besides the angels, our friends who have gone before us, and our ministers most of all.
3. Most astonishing to men. Ananias lifted up both his hands in amazement. Sometimes I look upon such-and-such individuals and say, "Well, they are very hopeful; I trust there is a work going on." Soon, perhaps, I miss them altogether; but instead thereof my good Master sends me one of whom I had no hope — an outcast. Then I am astonished, "I should have thought of anybody rather than you." There was an old sailor, one of the worst men in the village. He came into the chapel, however, when one was preaching from Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. And the poor man thought, "What! did Christ ever weep over such a wretch as I am?" He came to the minister, and said, "Sir, sixty years have I been sailing under the colours of the devil; it is time I should have a new owner; I want to scuttle the old ship; then I shall have a new one, and I shall sail under the colours of Immanuel." Ever since that moment that man has been a praying character. Yet he was the very last man you would have thought of. Somehow God does choose the last men. God is more wise than the chemist; He not only refines gold, but He transmutes base metals into precious jewels. The conversion of Saul was a strange thing; but was it not stranger that you and I should have been Christians?
4. A novelty to Saul himself. All he had ever done before went for nothing. I have heard of an old gentleman who was taught, when a child, to pray, "Pray God bless my father and mother," and he kept on praying the same thing for seventy years, when his parents were both dead. After that it pleased God to touch his heart, and he was led to see that, notwithstanding that he had often said his prayers, he had never prayed. So it was with Saul. Now comes a true petition, and it is said, "Behold, he prayeth." There is a man trying to obtain a hearing from His Maker. He speaks Latin; but God pays no attention. Then the man tries a different style; procures a book, and prays the best old prayer that could ever be put together; but the Most High disregards his empty formalities. At last the poor creature throws the book away, and says, "O Lord, hear, for Christ's sake." One hearty prayer is better than ten thousand forms.
II. AN ARGUMENT. "For, behold, he prayeth."
1. For Ananias' safety. Ananias was afraid to go to Saul; he thought it was very much like stepping into a lion's den. God says, "Behold, he prayeth." "Well," says Ananias, "that is enough." You may always trust a praying man. A master likes to have a praying servant, if he does not regard religion himself. He who communes with God in secret, may be trusted in public. Two gentlemen were travelling together in Switzerland. Presently they came into the forests; and you know the gloomy tales the people tell about the inns there. One of them, an infidel, said to the other, a Christian, "I don't like stopping here, it is dangerous." But they went into the house, and presently the landlord said, "Gentlemen, I always read and pray with my family before going to bed; will you allow me to do so tonight?" "Yes," they said, "with the greatest pleasure." When they went upstairs, the infidel said, "I am not at all afraid now." "Why?" said the Christian. "Because our host has prayed." "Oh!" said the other, "then it seems, after all, that you think something of religion; because a man prays you can go to sleep in his house."
2. For Paul's sincerity. Secret prayer is one of the best tests of sincere religion. If Jesus had said, "Behold, he preacheth," Ananias would have said, "that he may do, and yet be a deceiver." If He had said, "he has gone to a meeting of the church," Ananias would have said, "He may enter there as a wolf in sheep's clothing." But when He said, "Behold, he prayeth," that was argument enough. A young person comes and tells me about what he has felt and what he has been doing. At last I say, "kneel down and pray." Then I am a little more satisfied, and I say, "I did not mind all your talk, I wanted your prayers." But if I could see him pray alone then I should feel sure.
3. Of Saul's election, for you read directly afterwards, "Behold, he is a chosen vessel." Some say, "How can I discover whether I am God's elect?" Do you pray? If so, never be afraid of non-election.
III. AN APPLICATION.
1. To the children of God. The best mark of our being sons of God is to be found in our devotion, and as a natural consequence the more we are found in prayer the brighter will our evidences be. Perhaps you have lost your evidence, and I will tell you where, in your closet. Prayer is the ship which bringeth home the richest freight — the soil which yields the most abundant harvest.
2. To the ungodly. A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. I beseech you, as you love yourselves, contemplate what will become of you if you should at last die without prayer.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
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