Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem:…
The conversion of Saul was one of the most remarkable facts in Christian history. It was important as a testimony to the power and truth of the gospel; as securing for the Church its ablest advocate, as giving a mighty impetus to Christian missions, and as securing for Christianity the master mind who formulated its theology and shaped its mode of thought and action. The Pauline mark will never be erased from the page of Church history. That, however, is not my business at present. I would rather remind you of the conversion of Paul as teaching the fact of the Divine interposition in the Church. God has been pleased by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe; and it is by the communication of one earnest heart to another that men are usually converted. Such, however, was not the way by which Paul was converted. The Church has reason to believe that while she uses all the power committed to her, there will be interpositions of a power far higher than her own, which will work for her great successes. While Barak fights below, the stars in heaven shall also fight against Sisera.
I. THERE ARE OTHER PRODUCTIVE FORCES AT WORK FOR THE CHURCH BESIDES HER TEACHING.
1. The work of the Spirit. All the success of the Church comes through Him, but have we not reason to expect that the Holy Ghost will occasionally display His power, by working apart from the ordinary agencies of the Church? We have heard of persons who have not been accustomed to attend the house of God, who have not been reading religious books, and yet in the middle of their work they have been filled with penitent and devout thoughts, and have known cases of persons intending to perpetrate vice, who have, nevertheless, been struck with certain reflections which they had never recognised before, and have been led to become men of holy lives. Why should not the Holy Spirit do so still?
2. The intercession of our Lord. Our Lord prays for those we never thought of praying for: and shall there not come to them grace in due season?
3. The incessant intercession of the faithful. Of course, this brings success to instrumentality, but there are prayers which are offered in connection with no particular agency. They are like the clouds which ascend from the sea, as the sun shines on the waves; they fall on the fields which have been sown by man, but they also drop upon the pastures of the wilderness, and the little hills rejoice on every side. Who shall say that Saul's conversion was not traceable to the prayer of Stephen? Yet there was no distinct connection such as could be defined. Who shall say that the gatherings in Jerusalem for prayer, may not have had about them power with God for the conversion of the persecutors? Yet we do not see the same connecting link as between the prayer meeting in the house of John Mark's mother, and the escape of Peter from prison. Pray on, for though there should seem to be no connection between your prayers and the salvation of the sons of men, yet this shall be one of the forces in operation which shall not spend itself in vain.
4. The aroma of the truth in the world. The truth is mainly spread by plain earnest statements of it, but there is also a savour in truth, whereby even in our silence it spreads itself. Where the gospel of Jesus Christ comes, it impregnates the social atmosphere, it permeates society, it has an effect far beyond its local habitation. Many men who have not yet bowed before the deity of Christ, have unconsciously learnt much from Him, and what they think to be their own is but a blessed plagiarism from Jesus. Even the philosophies of men have been all the soberer, and the laws of men all the gentler, because of the existence of the gospel. Men cannot live in the midst of Christians, and yet altogether shut out the influence of Christianity.
5. The influence of Christian life and of Christian death. Wherever the Christian acts up to his profession, those who observe him take knowledge of him that he has been with Jesus; and as example speaks more loudly than precept, we may look for very marked results. The eloquence of Christian holiness is more potent for conversion than all the speaking of Christian orators. So, too, when the ungodly sees a Christian die, that happy death will be a potent agency to arouse, to win the heart for Christ.
6. All the work of God in providence. I might truly say of the Church that the stones of the field are in league with her, and the beasts of the field are at peace with her, for all things work her good. Sickness, when it stalketh through the land, is a powerful preacher to the unthinking masses. When death has come into the house, it has frequently happened that hearts were impressed that were hard as iron before. As God sent the hornet before His conquering Israel to overthrow the Canaanites, so doth He send providences to work together, for our help, that the truth may prevail.
7. Conscience, which though sadly impaired leans to the right side.
II. FROM THESE SOURCES WE MAY EXPECT REMARKABLE CONVERSIONS.
1. Those who were formerly violently opposed to the truth through prejudice. Paul was opposed to Christ not because he was opposed to truth, but because he thought that Jesus was not the Messiah. Once convinced that he was wrong, he followed the right at once; and we may hope that interpositions will occur in which the Holy Spirit will enlighten the darkness of men who are honest in their darkness, and that they, seeing the light, will embrace the gospel.
2. Those who have been doing much mischief to the good cause, and who are resolved to do still more (vers. 13, 14). Do not despair of a man because he is industriously opposed. Anything is better than indifference.
3. Those who are beyond the reach of ordinary ministries. We sometimes regret that the voice of a thoroughly faithful ministry is seldom heard in the courts of kings; but for all that the Lord can reach those whom we cannot reach; He can, in life or in the dying hour, come to the hearts of men whose ears were never reached by any testifier to the truth. Paul would not have heard a preacher of Christ; but the Lord hath a way where we have none.
4. Those who will be most earnest. A man who feels that God has had singular mercy upon him, feels that being much loved, and having had much forgiven, he must render much service.
5. Those who will become profoundly evangelical. I trace Paul's evangelism to the fact that he was so remarkably converted. He saw in himself the boundless power, the infinite mercy, the absolute sovereignty, of God; and therefore he bare witness more clearly than any other to these Divine attributes. Courage, then, the noblest minds will yet he engaged in the service of our Master. The leaders on the enemy's side shall yet be champions in our Master's army.
III. THIS OCCASIONAL SINKING OF INSTRUMENTALITY ANSWERS ADMIRABLE ENDS. This might be thought to be a dangerous thing for the industry of the Church, for some are always ready enough to clutch at excuses for leaving God's work alone. But there are admirable reasons for the Lord's sole working; for these interpositions —
1. Disclose the presence of the living Christ. We too often forget this, and yet the power of the Church lies in Christ. In the Romish church its power over devout minds lies in no small degree in the fact that the person of Christ is much loved and reverenced; but you seldom see Christ in any but two attitudes — as a babe in His mother's arms, or else dead; scarcely ever is He set forth as the living Lord. That Church which, not forgetting His birth, nor His sacrifice, yet most clearly recognises that He still liveth, is the Church that shall win the day.
2. Remind us of the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit. The tendency nowadays is to expunge the supernatural; but for all that there is a Holy Spirit. In proportion as that truth is made clear to the Church by her personal experience, the Church will be girt with power from on high.
3. Unveils many of the Divine attributes. Men so remarkably converted are sure to display the sovereignty, power, grace, and long-suffering of God.
4. Aids very much the faith of the Church. When she is beginning to droop and to sink, then it is that these remarkable conversions come in and inspirit the whole band.
5. Startles and impresses the world. What knows the world of the conversion of those who have sat in these pews ever since they were children? But let some gross blasphemer or persecutor preach the faith which once he sought to destroy, and the whole land is astonished.
IV. ALL THIS BY NO MEANS LOWERS THE VALUE OF INSTRUMENTALITY. For —
1. Such cases are rare. One Saul is struck to the earth; but Peter preaches at Pentecost, and three thousand are pricked in their hearts. One Colonel Gardner, on the night he was about to commit a great sin, saw, or fancied he saw, the appearance of our Lord, and heard the words, "I have done all this for thee, what hast thou done for Me?" but there were fifty thousand perhaps in Scotland and in England at that time who were brought to a knowledge of the truth by the ordinary methods of mercy.
2. These cases involve human agency somewhere. Saul struck down, but how does he get comfort? Does that come by another voice from heaven? It might have done; but the Lord takes care that the very instrumentality which is put aside in one place shall be honoured in another, and so Ananias must be sent forth to bless the penitent. Conviction may be wrought by the Holy Spirit without means, but in the full decision somewhere or other Go& will use you.
3. These conversions are a provision of a most remarkable instrumentality. "I have called him" — not to be a singular article for exhibition — but "to be a chosen vessel unto Me to bear My name among the Gentiles." Remarkable converts become themselves the most indefatigable servants of God.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: