But they had heard.
True glory takes root and spreads! All false pretences, like perishing flowers, fall to the ground: nor can any counterfeit last long.
The immediate influence of the labours of a missionary will, in all probability, be less than he anticipates: he will perhaps go down to the grave as one disappointed of his hope. But, like Abraham, he must against hope believe in hope. He has planted a seed, which will push itself forth on all sides. He has excited a spark, which will raise a flame through a kingdom. The flame once excited shall spread from breast to breast, from family to family, from village to village; in time from kingdoms to empires, and at length from empires to continents. But the flame must first be lighted from the fire that burns on the altar of God. How will the faithful missionary rejoice when by and by he shall meet not a straggling individual or two whom he has turned to God, but perhaps a nation of converts to whom he had been the original means of bringing salvation.
Paul had the spirit of his ancestor, who sought to slay the Gibeonites in his zeal for the children of Israel; and when he was converted, he retained not only the recollection of Stephen's death, but of the multiplied murders which he had ordered or encouraged, when, during the wild anarchy of Caligula's reign, he obtained authority from the chief priests to bind and slay. His resolution and strength of purpose were the traits of his youth, his manhood, and his age. Thus when the real work of Paul was understood the old fear of him vanished, and those who knew of him only by that work glorified God in him. Thus early in his career was the blessing of Jacob fulfilled in the greatest of the descendents of his youngest son — "Benjamin shall devour in the morning as a ravenous wolf, and in the evening give nurture."
There was a man, while Messrs. Moody and Sankey were in London, who got out a little paper called "The Moody and Sankey Humbug." He used to have it to sell to the people coming into the meeting. After he had sold a great many thousand copies of that number, he wanted to get out another number; so he went into the meeting to get something to put into the paper; but the power of the Lord was present, and the arrow of conviction went down deep into his heart. He went out, not to write a paper, but to destroy his paper that he had written, and to tell what the Holy Ghost had done for him.
One evening a young man who had been educated for a barrister was seated with some gay com
panions in a London tavern, when his companions, knowing he was a clever mimic, requested him to go and hear Mr. Wesley preach, and then come and mimic the whole affair for their amusement. He went. The text, "Prepare to meet thy God," frightened him like a bursting shell, and conviction deepened during the sermon. On his return to his friends they inquired, "Well, have you taken him off?" He replied, "No, gentlemen; but he has taken me off." He left his companions, gave his heart to God, and became one of Mr. Wesley's most useful preachers.
The Evangelist., J. Lyth.
There are some sins which, even if forgiven by others, cannot easily be pardoned by the penitent mind. Dr. Bates tells us that the excellent Richard Baxter cherished such self-condemnation on account of his own sinfulness, that he was in the habit of saying, "I can more easily believe that God will forgive me, than that I can forgive myself." Sin promises much in the outset, but dreadfully disappoints in the issue. "What fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?" On the other hand, it becomes an irrefragable argument in favour of an early de. votedness to the religious life, that whilst it bestows infinite blessings hereafter, it saves from incalculable misery here; and is at once favourable to a grateful retrospect of the past, and a happy anticipation of the future.
I.A man's character goes before him.
II.Greatly influences the reception he meets with.
III.Should be diligently taken care of.
()I. The persecutor — full of pride — false zeal — bitterness — destroying the faith.
II. The preacher — full of humility — devotedness — love — glorying in the crucified Jesus.
()As Gentiles by birth, we have peculiar interest in all that relates to St. Paul, not only in his conversion, as on this day commemorated by the Church, but generally, as sinners, we may often recur to this conversion, and derive from it instruction and encouragement. If there were such longsuffering on the part of the Redeemer, that He bore with a man who thirsted for the blood of the saints, and in place of visiting him with vengeance, constrained him by His grace to accept salvation through His death; who can ever have right to think his own case hopeless, and suppose himself beyond the reach of forgiveness? Now, we know of St. Paul that he sinned in ignorance, and that whilst persecuting the Church of .God, and endeavouring to exterminate Christianity, he evidently thought that he was doing God service. He had been educated in the strictest forms of the Jewish religion; and felt a zeal for the law of Moses, whose authority he thought attacked by the followers of Jesus; and he regarded it as a most solemn duty to strive by every means to eradicate the rising superstition. Hence, it becomes a grave question how far this ignorance was an excuse for his crime — how far, that is, it can be taken as a palliation of doing wrong that a man suppose himself doing right. We certainly cannot admit that St. Paul was not to blame, because he all along obeyed the dictates of his conscience. It is clear that the apostle did not regard himself as, on this account, innocent, for he speaks of himself in the days of his unbelief, in terms which strongly mark a sense of the guiltiness of his conduct. St. Paul was answerable for cherishing such a blind and bigoted attachment to the law as prevented his admitting the pretensions of the gospel. He was answerable for that misguided and uncalculating zeal which allowed him not to see that the law was but fulfilled, in place of being destroyed, by the gospel. He was answerable for the rejection of all the evidence from miracle and prophecy, which we know to have been sufficient, and by which, therefore, he ought to have been convinced. We think it of great importance that men should rightly understand that they are to the full as answerable for their principles as for their practices — for the rule of conduct adopted as well as for their adherence to it when once it has been adopted. For we often hear of men acting up to their belief, and the assertion is made as conveying the opinion that a man is responsible for his conduct, but not for his creed. And what is done in ignorance is represented as necessarily done excusably; and thus the simple principle is overlooked, that there may be a sin of the understanding as well as a sin of the flesh, and that it may be just as easy to offend by closing the mind against truth, as by putting forth the hand to do wrong. All that can be said is just this — If a man sin in ignorance, obeying the dictates of a misinformed conscience, and if he die in his ignorance, and therefore without repentance, we have no right to think he will be pardoned at the judgment, unless his ignorance were unavoidable, so that it could not have been removed by any carefulness of his own. St. Paul indeed obtained mercy, but the form which mercy took was not immediately that of full forgiveness, but that of greater instruction, so that the persecutor might retract his error and turn his zeal to the right channel. Let us now consider the conversion of St. Paul as furnishing evidence to the truth of Christianity. You will all admit that the change which had been made in Saul was of the most extraordinary kind, and not to be accounted for by any of those sudden transitions which one sometimes sees in unstable and vacillating characters. He was a man whose whole prejudices, feelings, and interests were enlisted against Christianity. He could become a Christian only by the sacrifice of position, of property, and perhaps even of life. He must have thought Christianity attested by supernatural evidence, whether that evidence were real, or whether it was the product of his own excited feelings. And, accordingly, the scriptural account assigns a miraculous manifestation as the cause of Saul's conversion. The only man who would be likely to imagine a miracle on the side of Christianity would be a man pre-disposed to that side — anxious to embrace the religion if he can but prove it true. Such a man might possibly take that for miraculous which was only natural, and he persuaded by certain sounds that he was holding a dialogue, though he himself were the only speaker. But that a man in Saul's circumstances should have done this — indeed, it seems to us that it would have been a greater miracle than that which is said to have overcome the apostle. Besides, how could St. Paul have been altogether deceived? Perhaps he only fancied the great light; perhaps he only fancied the voice; but could he fancy his own blindness? He must have been sure that he could not see. This was not a point upon which he could deceive himself. And whence came the blindness? If you say from the great light, then it is almost saying that the light was supernatural; and, therefore, there was miracle. Or, if you think the apostle might have been struck blind by a common flash of lightning, what shall be said of the recovery of sight? Is this, also, natural? You may think it was. Observe what pains are taken to prove the recovery miraculous. St. Paul sees, in a vision, a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hands on him that he might receive his sight. A corresponding vision is granted to this Ananias. He is sent to visit Paul, and lay his hands on him that his blindness may be removed. And how came the two visions to tally with such precision? Ananias, left to himself, would never have thought of visiting Paul. The disciple would not have put himself in the hands of the persecutor; and so indisposed was he to go, that, even when directed by God, he remonstrated on the danger. We are sure, therefore, that Ananias really thought he saw a vision; and we may be equally sure that St. Paul really thought he saw a vision. But then men may easily fancy visions, and little dependence is to be placed on dreams. Admitted. But how will you account for the precise coincidence between the visions? for the thorough accuracy with which they fitted into each other? Will you call this accident? You may account for anything by such reasoning; but candid men will not go along with you in such theories as these. Paul's vision by itself might have proved nothing. Ananias' vision by itself might have proved nothing. But when the two are precisely coincident, the correspondence demands authority for each. It is too surprising to be referred to accident, and if not to accident, it must be referred to Divine ordering; so that we unhesitatingly maintain the circumstances of the whole transaction to have been such, that Saul, who certainly could have had no interest in deceiving himself, could not himself have been deceived. And, this being established, we can point to the conversion of this apostle as irrefragable evidence of the truth of Christianity. The brightness which struck down Saul of Tarsus lights up the moral firmament of every after generation. The voice by which he was arrested sends its echoes to the remotest lands and the remotest times. Yea, even those "unto whom the ends of the world are come," have derived their religion through the preaching of Paul, and may prove its divinity by his conversion. These, my brethren, are the chief points of view under which it is most interesting and instructive, to survey that great event which the Church this day commemorates. It may indeed moreover be, that the whole history we have been reviewing is typical, for it has been assumed by many learned men that St. Paul was throughout a type of the Jewish nation — a type in his opposition — a type in his conversion — a type in his preaching Christianity. You may easily trace the types if you remember that the Jews, after centuries of fierce and unrelenting hostility to Christianity, had been banished from the land of their fathers, and that after their conversion to the faith of Jesus, they became preachers to the heathen, and carried Christianity to the earth's remotest families. We rather wish to guard you against an opinion, which has been often entertained and supported by such instances as that of St. Paul. The opinion is that if conversion be genuine, its period must be strongly marked, so that a man shall be able to fix the precise time of its occurrence, and the exact process by which it was wrought. Now we are sure that a rule such as this would decide against the genuineness of the religion of a great body of professing Christians. The operations of God's Spirit are various. To profess to reduce them under a single description were to betray ignorance of their nature and effect. If the renovating process be in some cases rapid and vehement, in others it is gradual and silent, and is not to be discovered except by its results. One man may be converted by a sudden flash from heaven, and another through successive applications of the common means of grace. We know of no proof of conversion except the fruits by which it will be followed.
()How often, too, when some one who has been prominently connected with a denomination that is not generally considered evangelical comes out and declares himself for that which is counted orthodox, he is met with freezing suspicion, and kept at a distance by the picket-guard that is always peering out for spies; or if some, like Barnabas, should put themselves beside him, they will be suspected along with him, and draw down upon themselves abundant expostulation. "Wait," say these cautious ones, "until he has been duly quarantined; let him prove his steadfastness, and then we will receive him;" not seeing that their cold reserve is just the thing most calculated to send him back. So, again, in dealing with young converts, how slow some are to believe in the thoroughness and genuineness of God's own work. It was not so with Barnabas, and it ought not to be so with us. We knew a good Christian lady who went to her pastor for the addresses of those who were received from time to time into the Church, that she might personally call upon them, and congratulate them on the stand which they had made. There was a deaconess without the name! — a true daughter of consolation! and after her visits the friends to whom she had spoken began to discover that there was more in Church fellowship than the mere sitting down together at the communion-table. If there were more like her in all our Churches, these spiritual societies would become more like "households of the faith," and the coming in of each new member would create a joy like that which hails the advent of a new-born babe into every rightly-constituted home. Where are ye, oh ye Barnabases? Look around, and see if there be not field enough to-night for beginning operations.
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