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to admit the light, which was offered. Hence he became "a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious *;" presumptuously uttering profane speeches against the Lord Chrift, setting himself in opposition to all, who called upon his name, and treating them with every species of violence, He concluded, that he was doing God service; but that fentiment betrayed an extreme blindness and depravity t.
The facred history first introduces his name A. D. 34. upon the death of St. Stephen.
When that holy martyr was stoned, Saul, who had probably been present at Stephen's solema sermon, gave his approbation and assistance to the perpetration of the horrid murder I. He proceeded much farther. With a furious and voracious disposition, like a beast of prey, he pursued the disciples of Christ, that he might tear and devour them. He went great lengths indeed, before it pleased God to stop bis mad career. “ He made havock of the Church, entering into every house, and haling men and women,” paying no deference to fex or age,
committed them to prison g.". He confeffes, that he “imprisoned and beat in every fynagogue them that believed | ;” that he 6 punished them oft in every fynagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme, and, being exceedingly mad against them, persecuted them unto strange cities t." obvious that he fought nothing less than their total extirpation. “ He breathed out threatenings and flaughter **;" as if, with every breath he drew, he denounced vengeance and destruction to the poor faints. He applied for the influence and authority of the high priest, who probably was not backward to countenance and promote his plans, that he might carry his persecution even to the distant city of Damascus. On this expeuition he had set out, with
i Tim. i. 13
John xvi. 2, 3. | Acts vii. 58. viii. 1. xxii. 20.
** ix. I, 2.
urious rage, and almost reached the end of his journey
After such an account, can any doubt be entere tained of the real ftate of his mind at that time? Whatever may be said of his integrity or good intentions, is it not evident from this description, that he was then “ in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity?" Shall we not allow his own confession: that he was “ the chief of finners,” «. not meet to be called an Apostle, because he perfecuted the Church of God *?". The principles, by which he was actuated, and the conduct he pursued, were highly offenfive to God; so that we cannot but consider him, in that period of his life, as obnoxious to the divine indignation. We grant that he preserved a strict regularity of manners, that his deportment was moral, in the common acceptation of morality, and even blame.. less before men.. He was, also, constant and exact in all the offices of external devotion : but his religion was the offspring of pride and ignorance. He“ went about to establish his own righteousness," and maintained a confident assurance of his safety. Alas! he
was alive without the lawt:" he understood not the extensive and spiritual demands of God's precepts, or the tremendous consequence of the least deviation from duty. He was therefore elated with a conceit: of his goodness; though, at the very time, his obedience was not only partial, but wrong throughout. With all his fair appearances and high pretensions, he 4 was in the flesh, and the motions of fins, which were by the law, did work in his members to bring forth fruit unto death I.”
Some have supposed, that, on account of his fincerity, he possessed a previous disposition to receive the Gospel. But men of such a Pharifaical spirit, as he thewed, are the most unwilling to «fubmit.
.Tim..... 150 i Cos. xv.9. ti Rom. vii. 3. Rom. vii. s. 06.
unto the righteousness of God.” Others have repre. fented his itate and character in so favourable a light, that no considerable change could be necessary; nay, that he deserved the grace, which was afterwards beftowed, as a reward for his integrity. How contrasy to this were his own sentiments! In all his writings, he describes his guilt as extremely heinous and aggravated, and speaks with astonishment of the mercy of God, from which he seemed to be farther removed than any other finner : and therefore he is always ready to produce his cafe as the most extraordinary.
Yet we allow, that his ignorance, though it forms not an excuse, is in fome sense a palliation*. Had he proceeded the same lengths in oppofing Chrift, against clear information and strong convictions of his own mind, we apprehend, that he would have been given up to a judicial hardness, and forgiveness have been impossible. Let none flatter themfelves, that the want of instruction will be a fufficient fecurity. The most awful denunciations are levelled against those, who know not God and his truth t. Poflibly, you may be confident of your own rectitude, and yet be grievoufly deceived. Even a misguided conscience may prove destructive. Though you abstain from gross immoralities, and be admired for your punctual attention to religious duties, your prevailing tempers may be such, as render you odious to God. Come, and learn from the example before us the necessity of a total renovation. There is an universal depravity of nature, which requires to be subdued. You must, therefore, "put off the old man, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind I :" and till this be effected, your pretended obedience is detestable, as proceeding from corrupt motives.
Such a change took place in Saul, when he A. D.
was about ihe age of t enty-four years, as is 35
generally supposed, and within two or three
Eph. iv. 22, 23.
* Tim. i. 13. t 1 Cor. xv. 34. 2 Theff. i. 8.
years after the death of Christ. Young as he was, he had given full proof of a decided and bitter oppofition to the Gospel. He had, indeed, been “ leparated from his mother's womb*" in the counsels of God: but the call of grace was long deferred, that the riches of this grace might be inore gloriously ex, hibited. We are now to behold the Lord Jesus, who had shewn all long-suffering, taking to himself his great power, in an instant subduing the fierce enmity of the rebel, and attaching him by the strongei ties of affection to his own person and service.
Saul had come into the neighbourhood of Darnalcus, with murderous raye against all the disciples of Jesus, and probably was anticipating the pleasure he should receive in binding and torturing them t. He was within view of the city, when suddenly the appearance of an uncommon brightness and glory thining from heaven, which far exceeded the splendour of the fun, checked his progress. This occurred at mid-day, which rendered the phenomenon the more fingular. Both Saul and his companions were instantly struck to the ground, dazzled and confounded. The voice of insulted majesty reproved him with peculiar folemnity, and this called him to account for his injurious conduct; “ Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?"
It should seem, that not only was this remarkable address distinctly heard, but some august personage was exhibited to his view. Saul enquired, “ Who art thou, Lord?” Probably, Christ manifested himself in human form, with a measure of that luftre, which be possesses in his present exaltation, while the an(wer was returned, " I am Jesus, whom thou perfecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." As if he had faid, “ I, who appear before thee with such marks of elevated dignity, am no other than the
. Gal. i. 15.
+ Ads ix, 3-22. xxii. 6-16. xxvi, 12-20.
deipised despised Nazarene, against whom thy rage is ultimately
, directed. I consider the infults and oppression, which my faithful people suffer, as offered to myself
. But thy furious attempts, in the final event, cannot hurt me or my cause: thou art only wounding thyself. Cease, then, from thy foolish and wicked oppofition.'
Wonderful indeed was the condescension of the Lord, in arguing with one so full of enmity ! It was amazing forbearance and compassion, that he did not o make bare his holy arm,” to destroy the perfecutor, and leave him a monument of righteous vengeance. But he spoke in mercy, and yet spoke effectually. Saul instantly submitted with unfeigned contrition, and presumed not to allege any thing in his own defence. A sudden conviction of his enormous guilt, and a sight of the glory of the Redeemer, whom he had so daringly provoked, almost overwhelmedi him with fear and astonishment. Perhaps doubting whether there could be any hope for him, yet refolved to try the effect of an humble application, he
Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"** Thus resigning himself into the hands of Jesus, he obtained forgiveness. He was directed to go into the city for further instruction, and encouraged by an aflurance, that he should be appointed a minister of the Gospel with a divine commission, under the immediate protection of Heaven. It was declared, that he should be the favoured instrument of carrying the glad tidings of salvation to Heathen lands, and ex-tending to many souls the various blesings of the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus.
The vision being ended, Saul arose ;. but the stu: pendous lustre, which had shone upon him, deprived him of light. His eyes were closed in darkness ;; an emblem of the former blindness of his foul. Unable, therefore, to guide himself, he was conducted to Damascus, where he continued, probably in extreme confusion and distress, for three days without