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the sincerity of his faith, and for this, was left on record to future ages. Hence then you may learn, whether you are blessed with, and are sons and daughters of faithful Abraham. You say you believe; you talk of free grace, and free justification : you do well; the devils also believe and tremble. But has the faith which you pretend to, influenced your hearts, renewed your souls, and, like Abraham's, worked by love ? Are your affections, like his, set on things above? Are you heavenlyminded, and like him, do you confess yourselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth. In short, has your faith enabled you to overcome the world, and strengthened you to give up your Isaacs, your laughter, your most beloved lusts, friends, pleasures, and profits for God? If so, take the comfort of it; for justly may you say, “ We know assuredly, that we do fear and love God, or rather are loved of him." But if you are only talking believers, have only a faith of the head, and never felt the power of it in your hearts, however you may bolster up, and
say, “ we have Abraham for our father, or Christ is our Savior ;" unless you get a faith of the heart, a faith working by love, you shall never sit with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Jesus Christ in the kingdom of heaven.
But I must draw one more inference, and with that I shall conclude.
Learn, O saints ! from what has been said, to sit loose to all your worldly comforts ; and stand ready prepared to part with every thing, when God shall require it at your hand. Some of you perhaps may have friends, who are to you as your own souls, and others may have children, in whose lives your own lives are bound up: all I believe have their Isaacs, their particular delights of some kind or other. Labor, for Christ's sake, labor, ye sons and daughters of Abraham, to resign them, daily in affection to God, that, when he shall require you really to sacrifice them, you may not confer with flesh and blood, any more than the blessed patriarch now before us. And as for you that have been in any measure tried like unto him, let his example encourage and comfort you. Remember, Abraham your father was tried so before you : think, O think, of the happiness he now enjoys, and how he is incessantly thanking God for tempting and trying him when here below. Look up often by the eye of faith, and see him sitting with his dearly beloved Isaac in the world of spirits. Remember, it will be but a little while, and you shall sit with them also, and tell one another what God has done for your souls. There I hope to sit with you, and hear this story of his offering up his son from his own mouth, and to praise the Lamb that sitteth upon the throne, for what he hath done for all our souls, for ever and ever.
Acts ix. 22.
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews
which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. It is an undoubted truth, however it may seem a paradox to natural men, that “whosoever will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” And therefore it is very remarkable, that our blessed Lord, in his glorious sermon on the Mount, after he had been pronouncing those blessed, who were poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, and such like, immediately adds, (and spends no less than three verses in this beatitude,) “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake." No one ever was or ever will be endowed with the forementioned graces in any degree, but he will be persecuted for it in a mea
There is an irreconcilable enmity between the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent. And if we are not of the world, but show by our fruits that we are of the number of those whom Jesus Christ has chosen out of the world, for that very reason the world will hate us. As this is true of every particular christian, so it is true of every christian church in general. For some years past we have heard but little of a public persecution : why! Because but little of the power of godliness has prevailed amongst all denominations. The strong man armed has had full possession of most professors' hearts, and therefore he has let them rest in a false
peace. But we may assure ourselves, when Jesus Christ begins to gather in his elect in any remarkable manner, and opens an effectual door for preaching the everlasting gospel, persecution will flame out, and Satan and his emissaries will do their utmost (though all in vain) to stop the work of God. Thus it was in the first ages, thus it is in our days, and thus it will be till time shall be no more.
Christians, and christian churches must then expect enemies. Our chief concern should be, to learn how to behave towards them in a christian manner; for unless we take good heed to ourselves, we shall embitter our spirits, and act in a manner unbecoming the followers of that Lord, “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again ; when he suffered, threatened not; and, as a lamb before his shearers is dumb, so opened he not
his mouth.” But what motive shall we make use of to bring ourselves to this blessed lamb-like temper? Next to the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts, I know of no consideration more conducive to teach us long suffering towards our most bitter persecutors, than this, “ That, for all that we know to the contrary, some of those very persons, who are now persecuting, may be chosen from all eternity by God, and hereafter called in time, to edify and build up the church of Christ.”
The persecutor Saul, mentioned in the words of the text, (and whose conversion, God willing, I propose to treat of in the following discourse) is a noble instance of this kind.
I say, a persecutor, and that a bloody one: for see how he is introduced in the beginning of this chapter ; "and Saul yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of our Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of THIS WAY, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
“And Saul yet breathing out." This implies that he had been a persecutor before. To prove which, we need only look back to the seventh chapter, where we shall find him so very remarkably active at Stephen's death, that the “ witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.” He seems, though young, to be in some authority. Perhaps, for his zeal against the christians, he was preferred in the church, and was allowed to sit in the great council or sanhedrim: for we are told, chap. viii. ver. 1. “That Saul was consenting unto his death ;" and again, at ver. 3, he is brought in as exceeding all in his opposition; for thus speaks the evangelist, “ as for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and hailing men and women, committed them to prison." One would have imagined, that this should have satisfied, at least abated the fury of this young zealot. No: being exceedingly mad against them, as he himself informs Agrippa, and having made havoc of all in Jerusalem, he now is resolved to persecute the disciples of the Lord, even to strange cities; and therefore yet breathing out threatening. “Breathing out.” The words are very emphatical, and expressive of his bitter enmity. It was as natural to him now to threaten the christians, as it was for him to breathe ; he could scarcely speak, but it was some threatenings against them. Nay, he not only breathed out threatenings, but slaughter also, (and those who threaten, would also slaughter, if it were in their power) against the disciples of the Lord. Insatiable therefore as hell, finding he could not refute or stop the christians by
force of argument, he is resolved to do it by force of arms ; and therefore went to the high priest (for there never was a persecution yet without a high priest at the head of it) and desired of him letters, issued out of his spiritual court, to the synagogues or ecclesiastical courts at Damascus, giving him authority, “ that, if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem," I suppose to be arraigned and condemned in the high priest's court. Observe how he speaks of the christians. Luke, who wrote the Acts, calls them disciples of the Lord, and Saul styles them men and women of this way. I doubt not but he represented them as a company of upstart enthusiasts, that had lately gotten into a new method or way of living ; that would not be content with the temple service, but they must be righteous over much, and ve their private meetings or conventicles; and break bread, as they called it, from house to house, to the great disturbance of the established clergy, and to the utter subversion of all order and decency. I do not hear that the high priest makes any objection : no, he was as willing to grant letters, as Saul was to ask them; and wonderfully pleased within himself, to find he had such an active zealot to employ against the christians.
Well then, a judicial process is immediately issued out, with the high priest's seal affixed to it. And now methinks I see the young persecutor finely equipped, and pleasing himself with thoughts how triumphantly he should ride back
with men and women of this way, dragging after him to Jerusalem.
What a condition may we imagine the poor disciples at Damascus were in at this time! No doubt they had heard of Saul's imprisoning and making havoc of the saints at Jerusalem, and we may well suppose were apprised of his design against them. I am persuaded this was a growing, because a trying time with these dear people. O how did they wrestle with God in prayer, beseeching him either to deliver them from, or give them grace sufficient to enable them to bear up under the fury of their persecutors ? The high priest doubtless with the rest of his reverend brethren, flattered themselves, that they should now put an effectual stop to this growing heresy, and waited with impatience for Saul's return.
But, “He that sitteth in heaven laughs them to scorn, the Lord has them in derision.” And therefore, verse 3. “ As Saul journeyed, and came even near unto Damascus,” perhaps to the very gates, (our Lord permitting this, to try the faith of his disciples, and more conspicuously to baffle the designs of his enemies) “ suddenly (at mid-day, as he acquaints Agrippa) there shined round about him a light from heaven," a light
brighter than the sun: “and he fell to the earth, (why not into hell ?) and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" The word is doubled, Saul, Saul: like that of our Lord to Martha; Martha, Martha; or the prophet, O earth, earth, earth! Perhaps these words came like thunder to his soul. That they were spoken audibly, we are assured from verse 7. His companions heard the voice.
Our Lord now arrests the persecuting zealot, calling him by name; for the word never does us good, till we find it spoken to us in particular. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me ?" Put the emphasis upon the word why, what evil have I done? Put it upon the word persecutest, why persecutest! I suppose Saul thought he was not persecuting; no, he was only putting the laws of the ecclesiastical court into execution ; but Jesus, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, saw through the hypocrisy of his heart, that, notwithstanding his specious pretenses, all this proceeded from a persecuting spirit, and secret enmity of heart against God; and therefore says, “Why persecutest thou ME?" Put the emphasis upon the word Me, Why persecutest thou me? Alas! Saul was not persecuting Christ, was he? He was only taking care to prevent innovations in the church, and bringing a company of enthusiasts to justice, who otherwise would overturn the established constitution. But Jesus says, “Why persecutest thou me?" For what is done to Christ's disciples, he takes as done to himself, whether it be good or whether it be evil. He that touches Christ's disciples, touches the apple of his eye; and they that persecute the followers of our Lord would persecute our Lord himself, were he again to come and tabernacle amongst us.
I do not find that Saul gives any reason why he did persecute; no, he was struck dumb; as every persecutor will be, when Jesus Christ puts the same question to them at the terrible day of judgment. But being pricked at the heart, no doubt with a sense not only of this, but of all his other offenses against the great God, he said, ver. 5. "Who art thou, Lord ?" See how soon God can change the heart and voice of his most bitter enemies. Not many days ago, Saul was not only blaspheming Christ himself, but, as much as in him lay, compelling others to blaspheme also: but now, he who before was an impostor, is called Lord; “ who art thou, Lord ?” This admirably points out the way in which God's spirit works upon the heart: It first powerfully convinces of sin, and of our damnable state ; and then puts us upon inquiring after Jesus Christ. Saul being struck to the ground, or pricked to the heart, cries out after Jesus, “Who art thou, Lord ?” As many of you that were never so far made sensible of your damnable state, as to