But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace,…
Although Paul was suddenly converted, yet God had had thoughts of mercy towards him from his very birth. God did not begin to work with him when he was on the road to Damascus. That was not the first occasion on which eyes of love had darted upon this chief of sinners.
I. THE PURPOSE OF GOD PRECEDING SAVING GRACE, AS IT MAY CLEARLY BE SEEN DEVELOPING ITSELF IN HUMAN HISTORY. The life of men before conversion is really a working of them in the clay. You may perceive God's purpose in St. Paul, when you think of
(1) the singular gifts with which he was endowed;
(2) his education;
(3) the spiritual struggles through which he passed;
(4) the singular formation of his mind.Even as a sinner, Paul was great. A man full of energy and determination. His conversion only lifted him into a higher life, but left him unchanged as to temperament, nature, and force of character. He seems to have been constituted naturally a thorough-going, thorough-hearted man, in order that when grace did come to him he might be just as earnest, dauntless, fearless, in defence of the right. Such a man was wanted to lead the vanguard in the great crusade against the god of this world, and from his very birth God was fitting him for this position; before he was converted, prevenient grace was thus engaged, fashioning, moulding, and preparing the man, in order that by-and-by there might be put into his nostrils the breath of life.
II. GRACE PRECEDING CALLING IN ANOTHER SENSE. It is impossible to say, concerning the elect, when the grace of God begins to deal with them. You can tell when the quickening grace comes, but not when the grace itself comes.
1. Formative grace. This is to be born of Christian parents, in a Christian country, and nurtured in piety.
2. Preventive grace. Saved from sins that others fall into.
3. Restraining grace. Debarred by circumstances from sins to which we are inclined.
4. Preparatory work of grace. Before casting in the seed, God is pleased to give to some
(a) an attentive ear. Willingness to listen to the Word when it is brought to him;
(b) an ingenuousness of heart;
(c) a tender conscience;
(d) dissatisfaction with their present state.Apples of Sodom, at one time fair and sweet to their taste, God turns to ashes and bitterness in their mouth.Thus it was with , wandering wearily hither and thither with a death-thirst in his soul, that no fount of philosophy, or scholastic argument, or heretical teaching could ever assuage. He was aware of his unhappy estate, and turned his eye round the circle of the universe looking for peace, not fully conscious of what he wanted, though feeling an aching void the world could never fill. He had not found the centre, fixed and steadfast, around which all else revolved in ceaseless change. All this appetite, this hunger and thirst, is not of the devil, or of the human heart alone, but of God.
III. PAUL'S ACTUAL CALLING BY DIVINE GRACE. All preparatory work of which we have spoken, was not the source or origin of the vital godliness which afterwards distinguished him; that came to him on a sudden. In a moment he saw everything in a different light; and from a foe he was changed into a staunch and loyal friend of Jesus. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace,