"Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
goads," but that, as it is a vain, useless, and hurtful thing for the yoked ox to struggle against that which is inciting it to its work, so was it a useless and hurtful thing for Saul to be rebelling against those scruples, heart-searchings, convictions, which were urging him to enter a new and better path? This may seem inconsistent with the language which has just been used (ver. 1); but we must remember that vehemence is never quite so violent as when it begins to suspect itself to be in the wrong; that persecution is never so passionate, fanaticism never so fierce, as when it is most impressed with the goodness and innocency of its victim. Your Levee never strikes so murderous a blow as when he finds himself face to face with a Christian hero and feels himself to be thoroughly condemned. So Saul never breathed out such threatening and slaughter as when the sight of Stephen's blood-stained body was still before his eyes, and the sound of his generous intercession still lingered in his ear. But he was beginning to think that, after all, perhaps those Christians were in the right and that he was in the wrong, and that he must either shut his eyes hard against the light or change his course. By violent suppression of these new thoughts, by stifling all scruples with strong hand, by kicking against the goads of God, he found himself on the way to Damascus to worry and harry the servants of Christ. There the Lord whom he was to serve so faithfully met him and told him he was doing a hard thing in thus struggling against the Heaven-sent promptings which urged him to take the true and right path.
I. THE PREVALENCE OF INWARD STRUGGLE. Few things more pathetic have come down to us from ancient times than that lament of the Roman poet, "I see the better things and approve; I follow the worse." How many have to make the same sorrowful confession now! Around us are souls struggling
(1) with passion,
(2) with earthly ambition,
(3) with pride,
(4) with disposition to wait for some favorable future.
These find themselves urged by the goads of God - conscience, the sacred Scriptures, human ministry, the Divine Spirit - to take the better course, but their lower instincts and evil habits cause them to strive against these higher impulses.
II. ITS PROFOUND MISTAKE.
1. It is a miserable thing in a man's own experience to be living a life of vice, or worldliness, or selfishness, or indecision, when the soul is conscious of a Divine voice calling it to higher things - to pursue a path which is known and felt to be the wrong one. This is a wretched life to live; there is no peace, no spiritual rest, no lasting joy; there is distraction, discontent, rebellion. It is hard for a human soul to kick against the goads of God.
2. It is a regrettable thing, judged from outside. Those who look on - " the cloud of witnesses " - see with unspeakable sorrow a human heart spending its powers and wasting its life in battling with its purer and nobler aspirations. There is no more saddening sight to a Christ-like spirit than that of a human heart thus striving with the influences which come from heaven to raise and to redeem it.
3. It is a guilty thing, life man can continue to do that without storing up for himself "wrath against the day of wrath."
III. THE ONE WISE COURSE TO TAKE. There is only one thing for such a man to do - he must yield himself at once to God's gracious forces. He must be the "prisoner of the Lord," that he may become "the freedman of Christ." He must go on whither his Redeemer is urging him - on to full self-surrender; on to sacred and harry service; and so on to the heavenly kingdom. - C.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will Thou have me to do?
I. ARE ILLUSTRATIVE OF A SINGULAR TRANSFORMATION OF MIND. We would not forget the attendant miracles. There is the light, the voice; but we now would speak of the secret place of the spirit. There shines a more marvellous light; there resounds a voice, which "shakes not the earth only, but also heaven." This is not the effect of surprise. Astonishment is mingled with it; but it was not the ordinary emotion; it was amazement, admiration — lofty, tender, profound, awestricken. It is not the working of self-righteousness. Belief but seeks its proof; submission but asks its test. It is the loosing of the rebel's weapon from the rebel's hand. It is not "going about to establish a righteousness of its own," it is the incense of that sacrifice which God approves. This language is distinguished by —
1. Deep compunction. He feels that his sin is of no common aggravation. It is as though all the strokes he had ever dealt now rebounded on his spirit. It is not mortified pride, abortive ambition, lacerating remorse. It is a gentler and a more amiable humiliation of spirit. Still it is bitter. Here is self-reproach. Conscience has started from its sleep. It is a "godly sorrow working repentance, which needeth not to be repented of." And until we are thus lowered we are strangers to that repentance which the apostle embodies as he describes.
2. Strange illumination. The "beam" is plucked out from his eye; the "veil" is torn away from his heart. What a world of new interests, realities, relationships, burst upon him! His right is wrong; his faith is unbelief; his earnestness is treason; his truth is error. All those "old things" must pass away. For the first time patriarchs and prophets are seen as frowning upon him; for the first time, "the hope of Israel" and its "consolation" condemns him; for the first time, the "lively oracles" ring alarms of danger in his ear. And then Jesus stands up to him, no longer a butt for ridicule, a stumbling stone for reproach, but "altogether lovely." How could he have wronged that beauty that fills heaven with praise?
3. Earnest devotedness. It is not impulse — the relief of a mind bewildered and perplexed. There is an intentness upon all that is benevolent. The malignity is turned to love to Him whom he has till then hated, and to that people whom he has hitherto oppressed. And mark how this tendency of his soul, sudden as it was, was sustained. Enters he the polished city? Is he wrecked upon the savage isle? Is he dragged into the amphitheatre, where execution awaits him? Still as serenely he cries with unshrinking spirit, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
4. Entire revolution. Here is a new creature. He falls a sinner; he rises a saint. He falls an unbeliever; he rises a champion. He falls a hater of the gospel; he rises an apostle of it. He falls a blasphemer; he rises a martyr. He falls a hater of the Saviour; he rises, so that "for him to live" henceforth "is Christ."
II. SUPPOSE ADEQUATE CAUSES FOR THE PRODUCTION OF SUCH A CHANGE. The conversion of the apostle, though attended by prodigies, was no miracle itself, i.e., that which is opposed to the particular laws of the subject on which it is wrought. The change wrought upon the apostle's mind is not contrary to the nature of that mind; it is contrary to its misdirection, enmity, darkness, but it is agreeable to its understanding, affections, and modes of volition. Yet at the same time it is all that is wonderful and there must be causes adequate for its production. It took place —
1. By the impress of power. This power is creative; it therefore acts immediately upon the mind. We have not access to each other's mind, nor have angels; but at the same time there is a full access which God may claim. He knows the heart, and touches all its springs, and unlocks all its wards, and pursues all its avenues, and intricacies, "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." Think, therefore, of this energy as direct; coming from the Father of light and from the fountain of power, reaching at once the heart which, however rebel it may be, is under His control and sway. Nor is it different as to ourselves. We may not know the hour, but if we have ever the heart opened, the Lord hath opened it; if we have ever a will at one with God, He worked within us first "to will and to do."
2. By the revelation of truth, It is not improbable that there was some natural process at work. Saul would know the types and predictions, so that when the beam fell upon them he had but to read them at once, and to construe them concerning Him whom he had hitherto opposed and withstood. But it was far more than a natural process. There came a light from God, not only in the sense of power, but in the sense of "quick understanding in the fear of the Lord." And what truth was disclosed? "The truth as it is in Jesus." He seized it. It was not by an intuition — because that implies some power of his own; but it had all the rapidity of such an intuition. He saw it in its dimensions, in its proportions, in its harmony; the system arose before him in its symmetry, in its breadth, in its perfection. Everything connected with the Saviour. The same as to ourselves. Others may teach us; but unless we have the teaching of the Spirit, taking of the things of Christ, there may be light in us, but the light is darkness — and "how great is that darkness!"
3. By the sensibility of love. We may think of that soul as replete with all the most dire passions of enmity and of revenge. But now comes the strongest of all attractions, the most potent of all influences — love to God and love to man. Jesus to him is precious. What would he not do, what not endure to show how he loves that Saviour, and all who exhibit His image and promote His cause? It is this that causes us to relent and makes us yield. When this love is "shed abroad in our heart," every thought is "brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."
III. FURNISH US WITH IMPORTANT LESSONS AND RULES FOR ITS INVESTIGATION. Conversion may be considered a part of the gospel, as it is a doctrine always inculcated by it — and as it is a blessing accomplished wherever it is preached, and the effect of its being applied. And therefore we may take a view of Christianity beyond a mere theory of speculative truth; we may consider it as God's constant doing in the earth. Now, as conversion amongst ourselves may be counterfeited, let us take this conversion and see how it will be to us a key to all.
1. Conversion is sovereign. For we cannot assign any reason why one man is converted and another is not. It is not of "him willing," or "him running," but of "God showing mercy." You say, "that there is a predisposition." But how came that predisposition? We do not mean to say that there are not reasons moving the Divine mind; but the reasons do not exist in the sinner himself. Think now of this man. You would have been surprised if Pilate had been the convert, or Caiaphas; why more surprised, then, that the convert is Saul of Tarsus? Have you any explanations to assign for it? There is one — one alone; "He quickeneth whom He will."
2. Conversion is wrought by a power fully sufficient. It would have been easy to have dashed that "vessel of wrath" into pieces; but was it not difficult to make "a chosen vessel" of it, and "to prepare it to glory"? And yet there was no difficulty to that power which did it. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" When we think of His power in conversion as equal to any power in the creation of a world or in the resurrection of the dead, then have we the right notion of that power; but not until then. It is power — but not mechanical, not physical — power expanding the powers, wielding the movements, brooding over the rudiments of the mind — the mind becoming supple, passive to that power; eager with all its energies still, with all its accountability and determinateness still — as the clay in the potter's hand.
3. Conversion in itself must always be sudden; there can be no interval between an unconverted and a converted slate; we pass "from death unto life." But then the consciousness of a change may not rest upon instantaneous evidence. But let us not argue against the suddenness of conversion.
4. Conversion may be accompanied with circumstances very uncommon and extreme. One heart shall open like the Philippian prison, battered by the earthquake and all its avenues and doors thrown open by the shock; another heart may open like the full-blown rose tremulous in the breeze, bathed with the dew, blushing to the sunbeam. If God takes the one method, or if He adopts the other, what is that to thee? Leave Him to work in His own way — according to His own pleasure.
5. We need not despair of the conversion of any. Have we any friends of whom we have said, There is no hope for them in God? Why? Because we have shaped our thoughts according to ourselves. But "His thoughts are not our thoughts," etc. What if He have "thoughts of peace" after all? What if His ways are "mercy and truth" after all? "The prey" may still be "taken from the mighty." Malefactor as he is, that day he may "be with Jesus in paradise."
6. There must be a practical exhibition of our conversion. No matter what our reverie by day, or our vision by night, our conversion must be reduced to one standard; it speaks only one language — "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
(R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
I. HOW DESIRABLE IT IS THAT WE SHOULD ALL HAVE FROM THE BEGINNING THE PLAN OF OUR LIFE CLEARLY BEFORE US. No work of any kind can be effectively done without a plan. The mind necessarily proceeds to action after processes of thought, prevision, anticipation of results and foreseen obstacles. Instinct acts from immediate impulse. The man who dispenses with purpose in action, and lives for the occasion, has no certainty, or consistency, is the slave of every passing impulse, and accomplishes little in the battle of life. If all nature were not bound together by a plan, it would be a chaos, in which kingdom would war against kingdom, and all would end in disaster. If the history of a country do not proceed upon a plan in which successive generations cooperate, there is no cumulative progress in its life. The Hebrew race followed a plan. Why was Carlyle able to accomplish so much and so well as a historian? Because in early days he selected his precise vocation as a historian, and settling down in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he, year after year, with growing power and speciality, dealt with the events of those times in his lives of Cromwell and of Frederick, and his history of the French Revolution. Why was Darwin able to effect so much for science? Because he recognised early in life as his special destiny the study of living forms, and the conditions of their existence, and gave all his life to that branch of science. Such a habit saves us from the weakening effect of distracting aims. It raises us above the power of opposing circumstances. It stimulates activity. It produces dependence upon God. It develops energy.
II. THE PLAN OF OUR LIFE IS IN THE MIND OF CHRIST. He alone has the knowledge, power, all-embracing sympathy, patience, and perfection to make the plan blessed for us and for all.
III. JESUS CHRIST PROGRESSIVELY UNFOLDS TO HIS DISCIPLES HIS LIFE PLAN FOR THEM. He did so to Paul. But it was revealed through Ananias, a general outline — the details after. Christ's plan is adapted to our capacity — as strength grows we grasp it more clearly.
IV. THE WILL OF CHRIST MAYBE CERTAINLY KNOWN BY US. Paul in this case did. In most of his subsequent experiences he knew the mind of Christ in truth and conduct. May we know the will of Christ certainly in these days? Yes! We have the words of Christ. We have the Spirit of truth. We know certain facts in nature and laws in science. We may also have spiritual certainty.
V. TIMES WHEN WE SHOULD SPECIALLY BREATHE THIS PRAYER.
1. When burdened by sin.
2. When seeking the blessedness of a higher life.
3. When our way is uncertain. Such prayer will be answered. God's will be made plain by obedience.
(J. Matthews.)I. THIS LANGUAGE IS EXPRESSIVE OF DEEP CONCERN. We sometimes wonder that men are not more concerned about what they must do to be saved. By nature they are blind and dark (Isaiah 59:10). Saul felt his danger, etc. Concern as to the manner of salvation. "What wilt Thou have me to do?" How shall I escape the damnation of hell? What means must I employ? A man lost in the Australian bush is not only concerned about the fact of being lost, but as to the way out of the trackless wilderness.
II. IT IS THE LANGUAGE OF ASTONISHMENT AND TERROR. "He trembling and astonished said," etc. We have seen men tremble under conviction.
III. THIS IS THE LANGUAGE OF DECISION. Saul meant to do whatever God should tell him. Many persons profess to be seeking the Lord for years. Why is He not found of them? because it is painfully manifest that they are not decided.
IV. THE GOSPEL ALONE SUPPLIES A SATISFACTORY ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION. Conclusion:
1. Have we asked this question?
2. This is a matter of paramount importance.
(G. T. Hall.)I. In men like Paul no sooner is there a vision of truth than there is a new resolution for duty. Saul had seen a new sight. One look at that majestic and tender countenance changed his anger to repentance. But he did not spend much time in gazing at the radiant spectacle. It purposely vanished from him. He did not call his fellow travellers to admire it as a wonder; he looked instantly for some new work. Such tremendous exercises and convictions are not meant to end in mere emotion. So the convicted jailer, "Sirs, what shall I do to be saved?" So the young man, "What good thing shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And so the people, the publicans, the soldiers to John the Baptist, "What shall we do then?" It is the sincere cry of every earnest nature with a new and Christian view of life.
2. There is a supernatural element and there is a natural one in St. Paul's conversion; the one for our faith, the other for our imitation. After the first glow of religious interest there comes a period of suspended energy; sometimes of reaction; sometimes of miserable complacency — a looking back to see how far we have come; or sideways, to see who is coming with us. "Suffer me to go first and bury my father": "What shall this man do?" The strained sinews are relaxed. Here is the test of a true renewing. Can you survive that point of peril? If not, it is not a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. Your will was not converted, only your feelings; and as they are the transient, variable part of us, they are easily converted back again to falsehood and selfishness. Hence, the very question that belongs just there is this, "What wilt Thou have me to do?" How shall the better feeling pass into a better character? In the history, notice —
I. A PERSONAL CONCERN. "What wilt Thou have me to do?" — not "this man"; not people in general; not older or better people, but myself. To Saul it was no time for anything but personal feeling and acting. Conscience told him what the vision meant, and the voice confirmed the findings of conscience. No wonder that he cried out "trembling and astonished," as if there were no moment to be lost, and as if there were no other soul in the universe but himself before the Judge. To those, then, who have begun to inquire what they shall do, the first counsel is, Keep it before you as a personal concern. Do not try to throw your uneasiness off by saying you are no worse than your neighbours. Make no cowardly attempt to shift your responsibility upon others — whether society, your education, employers, tempters, or unfaithful religionists. Remember how many souls have missed their salvation by halting between a general interest and a particular consecration.
II. DOING THE FIRST SIMPLE DUTY; and for Christ's sake, because He has required it. Human judgments would, very likely, have expected something "comporting better with the dignity of the occasion." After such a supernal manifestation, surely life will not have to settle down into its tame uniformity again? Curiosity would expect some remarkable mission at once. Pride would suggest a sudden elevation into grand undertakings. But no; the first step must be plain and practical. The vision over, St. Paul must march on as before — outwardly as before — only with a changed errand and another heart. Above all, there must be no pause of indolence. "Arise, and go into the city," etc. After any spiritual excitement, or start forward, there is apt to come a contempt for familiar tasks. But see how the Scriptures rebuke this dangerous vanity; and how profoundly they interpret human nature. After that rapturous night when Jacob saw the splendour of heaven, and the angels of God, the next morning he arose, put together stones for a memorial, and went straight on his journey. Naaman expected some magnificent demonstration of miracle. But no; it was simply, "Go, bathe seven times in Jordan." "Too simple, too common," he said. Yet that was the way to health. At their first call, the fishermen that were to convert the world were not sent out with banners and trumpets. Drop your fishing nets and come after Me, in a quiet, obscure, daily doing of My hard work, and in due time you shall be kings and priests unto God! The healed leper was only to go home and tell what great things God had done for him. The "young man" was looking for some unprecedented sacrifice; but to go and increase his charity to those poor people he had seen so often was more than he could bear. No, the true self-sacrifice is not on high or in strange places. Back to the old scenes, the dull shop, the unsocial, unexciting day's work, the tedious routine of the office; but if you take with you the new Spirit, which has beamed upon you in your blessed hour, then all the dull task work will be transfigured in that light. Go straight to the nearest, plainest duty, and "it shall be told thee" there, in the opening path of Providence, what thou shalt dc next.
III. SILENT SECLUSION AND MEDITATION. Observe how effectually the apostle was shut up to himself. First, a blindness, then three days of absolute privacy, fasting, thinking, afterwards three years in Arabia. He needed this cooling air of stillness and loneliness. His passions had been fiery, terribly tempestuous. Not long before he had taken a ferocious delight in Stephen's martyrdom; and now, sitting at the feet of that Jesus, he had that scene to remember. Food enough for meditation! Like the outward form of the Master, that old life must die, and lie "three days" hid in a sepulchre, before the new created man could be "risen with Christ." There is a lesson for us of this bustling age in that strong, penitent man, fasting, repenting, shut in his dark room, thinking, praying. When the deepest springs of life are moved by any grand experience we cannot speak: we ought to be still. Even nature, whenever she discloses to us her grander scenery, shuts our lips. After that call from heaven the apostle longed for silence, and it came. Such seclusion is sometimes our salvation. Every real renewal is a winepress that must be trodden alone.
IV. SUBMISSION TO A VISIBLE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY. Ananias, a representative of the Church, was sent to encourage him, and to introduce him to the Church. If Paul's strong nature needed guidance and help, our weak ones need it no less. What Ananias and the miracle and the heavenly voice were to him, one Book and the ministry and the ordinances are to us. This sounds very commonplace, I know. Visions are more exciting, ecstasies more transporting, sentimentalists will say it is uninteresting; pseudo-spiritualists will say it is formal; novelty seekers will say it is old fashioned. But remember, the supposition now is that you are in earnest about making yourself a Christian man, and are willing to take the practical, sensible means. One of these, a chief one, is a study of the Bible — the textbook of the Christian knowledge. Whenever it is displaced, Christian character loses richness and depth. One reason why our modern religion is superficial, weak, irreverent, is that the intimacy with that nourishing inspiration declines. Nor can you separate the Bible from the Church. Our busy society has so little in its influence that is really spiritual — it offers so few helps to a weak soul struggling to maintain a Christian conversation — that we do all need to replenish our inner light and love and strength from supernatural and sacramental fountains.
V. THE APPEAL TO CHRIST BY PRAYER. St. Paul spoke first, not to himself, not to Ananias, not to any friend on earth; it was, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" There is no such thing as growth in a holy life without communion between the heart and Him. For every perplexity and despondency, a fresh supplication: "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" and He will show us. He has promised that He will. "Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find."
I. AN EARNEST APPEAL FOR DIVINE MERCY. Saul was conscious of his great wickedness in persecuting Christ, and doubtless thought that he would have to "do" much to secure forgiveness. The reply, "Arise," etc., must have given him hope. The period of three days was one of great anguish, but relief came through Ananias, and Saul received his sight and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Nothing is said about forgiveness, but this is surely included in the gift of the Spirit, for the one is of no use without the other. So Peter said to the penitents at Pentecost, "Repent and be baptized...and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Does anyone here inquire, "What shall I do?" The answer "is nigh thee even in thy heart," etc.
II. A HEARTY DESIRE FOR CONSECRATION TO GOD'S SERVICE. The question means not only, "What must I do to be saved?" but, "What must I do to serve Thee?" God wills —
1. That we should hold communion with Him. This Saul did during the three days at Damascus. "Behold he prayeth." He had prayed before, but only as a Pharisee — outwardly; now he came into actual contact with God, and poured out his soul before Him.
2. That we should exemplify the power of the gospel in our daily life. "As ye have received Christ as Lord, so walk in Him" in your personal capacity, in your domestic relations, in your secular employments, in your religious and Church duties.
3. That we should help to diminish human misery. Our Master went about doing good, not only to the souls, but to the bodies of men. His religion is not only one of faith and hope, but of charity. "Pure religion and undefiled," etc. "Whoso hath this world's good," etc.
4. That we should seek to bring men to Christ. It was revealed to Paul that he should be a preacher, and right well did he fulfil his task. Although all Christians are not called upon to be preachers, yet all are expected to do something to save souls. In the family, Sunday school, workshop, by the sick bed, etc. We may all work for the Master.In conclusion:
1. This life is the only opportunity we have for working in reference to the world to come.
2. Our position in heaven will be determined by our activity on earth.
3. Our work and therefore our reward will be proportioned by the degree to which we yield to the constraint of Christ's love.
(J. Morris, D. D.)
I. THAT EVERY TRUE CONVERT SUBMITS HIMSELF TO THE WILL OF CHRIST. It is not, What will my minister, parents, friends, etc.; but what wilt Thou have me to do?
1. This submission to another's will is the most difficult of things. It is easier to bend iron than a stubborn will. Does not every parent find it so? Happy are the children that have learned to say to a wise, good, Christian father, what Jesus said to His, "Not My will, but Thine be done." This submission to the will of another, the first, best lesson, the battle of the nursery, trains us for the battle of the world, and also the Church. And thus are we to yield our wills to Christ, not saying what would I wish, or what will this or that one say? but Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth. In the church, in the place of business, in the family, in the world, What wilt Thou have me to do? There is a passage in the history of St. Francis that may throw light on this subject. The rule of the order which he founded was implicit submission to the superior. One day a monk proved refractory. He must be subdued. By order of St. Francis, a grave was dug, and the monk was put into it. The brothers began to shovel in the earth. When the mould had reached the wretch's knees, St. Francis bent down, and, fixing his eye on him, said, Are you dead yet — do you yield? There was no answer; down in that grave there seemed to stand a man with a will as iron as his own. The burial went on. When at length he was buried up to the neck, to the lips, St. Francis bent down once more, Are you dead yet? The monk lifted his eye to his superior to see in his cold, grey eyes no spark of feeling. Dead to all the weaknesses of humanity, St. Francis stood ready to give the signal that should finish the burial. It was not needed; the iron bent; the funeral was slopped; his will yielding to a stronger, the poor brother said, "I am dead." Popery is not so much a contradiction as a caricature of the truth. I would not be dead as these monks to any man. The reason which I have got from God Almighty is to bend blindly before no human authority. But the submission I refuse to man, Jesus, I give to Thee — not wrung from me by terror, but won by love. I wish to be dead, not as that monk, but as he who said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live." Saul, the persecutor, was dead; but Paul, the great apostle, lived. "Yet not I," he adds, "but Christ liveth in me," etc.
2. Were it so with us, what happy, good, brave, devoted Christians we should be! I have seen a servant come in the morning to his master for orders, and leave to spend the day in executing them; and would that every one of us would go morning by morning to Christ, saying, with Saul, Lord what wilt Thou have me to do this day? There would be no difficulty in getting money for Christ's cause, or people to do His work. I have read how a troop of cavalry, dashing at the roaring cannon, would rush on to death; and how the forlorn hope would throw themselves, with a bound and a cheer, into the fiery breach, knowing that they should leave their bodies there — it was the will of their commander. And shall Christians do less for Christ? Are you your own? We have one Master in heaven; and if it be true that He bought us with His blood, what right has a Christian to himself?
II. THAT EVERY TRUE CONVERT FEELS HIS INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. It is not only, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? but What wilt Thou have me to do?
1. In looking over some vast assembly one reflection naturally suggests itself — What power is here! You may smile at him who, standing by the cataract of Niagara, instead of being filled with admiration, began to calculate how much machinery that water power would turn. But it is a serious, stirring thought to think how much moral machinery all this power now before me could turn for good, were every scheming brain and busy hand, and willing heart, engaged in the service of God. What honour would accrue to God! what a revenue of glory to Jesus Christ, and what invaluable service to religion! It is impossible to estimate the power that lies latent in our Churches. We talk of the power latent in steam till Watts evoked its spirit from the waters, and set the giant to turn the iron arms of machinery. We talk of the power latent in the skies till science, seizing the spirit of the thunder, chained it to our service — abolishing distance, and flashing our thoughts across rolling seas to distant Continents. Yet what are these to the moral power that lies asleep in our congregations?
2. And why latent? Because men and women neither appreciate their individual influence, nor estimate their individual responsibilities. They cannot do everything; therefore they do nothing. They cannot blaze like a star; and, therefore, they won't shine like a glow worm; and so they are content that the few work, and that the many look on. Not thus are the woods clothed in green, but by every little leaf expanding its own form. Nor thus are fields covered with golden corn, but by every stalk of grain ripening its own head. You say, What can I do? oh, I have no power, nor influence, nor name, nor talents, nor money! Look at the coral reef yonder, which stretches its unbroken wall for a thousand leagues along the sea. How contemptible the architects; yet the aggregate of their labours, mocking our greatest breakwaters, how colossal! I know that all cannot be bright and burning lights; but see how that candle in a cottage window sends out its rays streaming far through the depths of night. Why should not we shine, though it should be to illumine only the narrow walls of our country's humblest home?
3. Consider how the greatest things done on earth have ever been done by little and little — little agents, and little things. How was the wall restored around Jerusalem? By each man, whether his house was an old palace or the rudest cabin, building the breach before his own door. How was the soil of the New World redeemed from gloomy forests? By each sturdy emigrant cultivating the patch round his own log cabin? How have the greatest battles been won? By the rank and file — every man holding his own post, and ready to die on the battlefield. And if the world is ever to be conquered for our Lord, it is not by ministers, nor by office bearers, nor by the great, and noble, and mighty; but by every member of Christ's body being a working member, and saying to Jesus, Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?
III. THAT THE LIFE OF THE TRUE CONVERT WILL BE ONE OF DEEDS. What wilt Thou have me not to believe or to profess, but to do.
1. I do not set deeds against doctrines, nor have I any sympathy with the fashion of setting small value on creeds; saying, It matters little what a man believes, if he does right. A man cannot do right unless he believes right, since every effect must have a cause. I know that doctrines are not deeds; that the foundation is not the superstructure. Yet that night when the rains descend, and the floods rise, and the winds blow, happy is the man whose storm-beaten house stands founded on a rock, and happier still the man, when the hour comes which shall sweep away all confidence in human merits, whose hopes of salvation stand on the Rock of Ages. Call creeds, as some do, but the bones, and not the living, lovely, breathing form of true religion; still, what were the body without the bones? Not less important the place that doctrines hold; and therefore I say, hold fast the profession of your faith.
2. Still, faith without works is dead. Useless the creeds that do not influence our conduct; the preaching that leads to no practice. Prayer meetings, sermons, are good; but they are not, as some make them, banquets where you are to enjoy yourselves. Would you see their proper use? Look at yon hardy and sun-burned man, sitting down in his cottage to a simple meal; and rising from the table to spend the strength it gives him at the labours of the field. So Sabbaths and religious services are to strengthen us for work — otherwise our religion is no less selfish than the lives of epicures. Our object should be to get strength to do God's work in this world, and to follow Him who, as our pattern as well as propitiation, went about continually doing good. Christ is the propitiation of none of whom he is not also the pattern; and on the last day you will never be asked what was your denomination or creed. No! It is fruit, not leaves nor even flowers, that is the test of the tree. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and east into the fire. Alive to this, what good we should do! how busy we should be! There would be no time for sin; little even for rest. Rest? What have we to do with that? From His cradle to the grave, did Christ ever rest? "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." Earth for work, heaven for wages. "There remaineth a rest for the people of God."
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)Romans 14:11; Exodus 10:17): — The passage from Romans, taken from Isaiah 45:23, predicts the universal subjugation of mankind to the Divine will. This does not mean universal salvation, for the subjugation is two fold, the one represented by Pharaoh, the other by Paul.
I. THE ONE IS BY A CONVICTION OF GOD'S TERRIBLE POWER, THE OTHER BY A CONVICTION OF HIS LOVE. Pharaoh felt that further rebellion would be ruin, and for a moment "bowed the knee." Paul felt that further rebellion would be a crime against that tenderness that could plead, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." So it is ever. Wicked men and devils are made to bow by a sense of God's power. Good men and angels bow from a sense of His love.
II. THE ONE INVOLVES ANGUISH, THE OTHER HAPPINESS. In what a state of agony was Pharaoh when he said, "Intreat the Lord for me." But what joy came to Paul as the voice of Mercy said, "Rise, stand upon thy feet," etc. The one therefore involves heaven, the other hell.
1. In the one there is a sense of absolute slavery, in the other of perfect freedom.
2. In the one there is a sense of despair, in the other of hopefulness.
3. In the one there is a sense of Divine antagonism, in the other of Divine favour.
III. THE ONE BECOMES A MINISTRY OF DESTRUCTION, THE OTHER OF SALVATION. Pharaoh, the moment the panic abated, rushes on and brings destruction to himself and his hosts; Paul begins a ministry which issues in the salvation of myriads. Conclusion: It is not for us to determine whether we shall bow the knee or not — we must — but how: by a sense of God's power or of His love, by coercion or choice?
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. EVERY MAN HAS HIS MISSION.
1. Life is awfully significant.
2. Duty renders it sublime.
II. OUR MISSION MAY BE ASCERTAINED —
1. By observing our position and circumstances.
2. By listening to the voice of God.
III. OUR MISSION MAY BE ACCOMPLISHED.
1. Impossibilities are not required.
2. God is pledged to give the needful strength.
(W. W. Wythe.)
I. SPIRITUAL. He must be "converted" on the conditions of repentance and faith.
II. He must be INTELLIGENT. Must know the Scriptures.
III. He must be TOLERANT IN SPIRIT. The age of intolerance is past.
IV. He must be PROGRESSIVE in his methods.
V. He must be AGGRESSIVE in spirit. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." To go is to be aggressive.
VI. He must be LIBERAL with his possessions. VII. He must possess STABILITY OF CHARACTER.
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