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a complete change in bitter Saul. And a change, now great! In his self righteousness he had thought himself one of the best of men, but now, he saw that he was the chief of sinners. The law of God was brought home to his conscience, and he died. All hope of salvation from his own merit, was entirely at an end; and he fled to Christ, seeking pardon through his blood, and consecrating himself wholly to his service.
By his terrified companions he was led into Damascus, for he was struck with blindness. In that city dwelt Ananias, a devout Christian, and probably one of the seventy, whom the Lord directed, that the ministry might be honored, to go and instruct Saul in the great business to which he was called. Amazement filled his breast as the commission sounded in his ears. He well knew the character of the man. He dreaded the wolf in sheep's clothing. Could the Lord be deceived? Momentary expostulation, he would venture. 56 Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem, and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call upon thy name.” But one word from the Savior silenced his fears, and commanded his confidence, and he went straightway to the anxious inquirer, with the friendly salutation, Brother Saul! assuring him that the Lord had sent him, that, by him, he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost. At the touch of Ananias, scales fell from his eyes; his mind was calm and joyful; he professed his confidence in his Savior; was baptized, and immediately preached Christ in the synagogues.
What emotions must have been excited by this man's preaching! Here were the saints, who, but a week before, were trembling at his approach, as lambs before the hungry wolf. There were the Jews, who had anticipated the hour of his coming, as the hour of triumph over men whom of all others, they most hated. What an assembly! Were a company of Infidels collected to hear Christianity reviled, by some Hume, or Voltaire, or Paine, and a number of the followers of Christ doomed to sit and hear their ribaldry and abuse, when suddenly the oracle of infidelity should become the advocate of truth, and address himself with awful solemnity to the hearts and consciences of his former companions, and warn them to flee from the wrath to come; what shame! what confusion! what gnashing of teeth would there be among them! And what holy triumph would sit on the countenances of the wondering saints! It would give but a faint idea of this assembly. Here was slaughter and death expected by some, and a gratification of the most malignant passions by others;—all suddenly checked and turned away. The result was such as might be expected. The triumph of the saints could not be borne. Such a man could not be suffered to live. Enraged at Saul, for so suddenly quitting their ranks and becoming the advocate of Christianity; confounded by the weight of his arguments; and dreading the effects of his conversion; the Jews determined to kill him, and closed against him the gates of the city. But his friends let him down in a basket from the window of a house built on the wall, and he escaped into Arabia. How long he continued in that region is unknown, but from thence he returned to Damascus; and it was three years before he went up to Jerusalem to visit the disciples. When he did go there, they were afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple, (an evidence either of very little intercourse among the early Christians, or of great seclusion on the part of Saul.) But Barnabas related unto them the circumstances of his conversion, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus, so that they gave him the hand of fellowship. At Jerusalem he became an active and bold minister of the Lord Jesus. Here, while praying in the temple, he went into a trance, was caught up into the third heaven, and heard things which might not be uttered. Here again the Jews attempted to kill him. But he was preserved through the vigilance of his friends, who sent him to Tarsus.
The conversion of Saul took place in the second year after the death of Christ. It was a very instructive event. It showed to the world that a man may be greatly engaged in the concerns of religion; be the strictest formalist; think that he does God service, and have an undoubting assurance of his own salvation, and be a total stranger to vital piety. It was an illustrious exhibition of the sovereignty of God, who has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and who employs, if he please, those who have been his greatest adversaries, in the most honorable post in his kingdom. And it was an incontestible evidence of the truth of Christianity.* Let the unawakened sinner and the formal Pharisee, contemplate the state of Saul before his conversion, and remember it is their own.
* See Lyttleton's Conversion of Paul.
The Gospel preached to the Gentiles. Cornelius and his family baptized. Martyrdom of
James. Revival at Antioch. Saul and Barnabas ordained Missionaries to the Heathen. Ministry of Paul. Constitution of the Christian Church. Its early moral and religious state. Character of the Apostles' preaching. Writers of the New Testament. Firm establishment of the kingdom of Christ. Opposition of the Jews. God's judgment upon them. Destruction of Jerusalem. Dispersion of the Jews. Opposition of the Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian. Martyrdom of Paul and Peter. Early heresies.
The conversion and early labors of Saul, formed another era in the Christian Church. The enemies of Christianity, forsaken by their leader, and convinced or silenced by his powerful preaching, retired from the field of persecution; great numbers were added to the Lord; the churches every where had rest, and were edified; “ walking in the fear of the Lord, and the comforts of the Holy Ghost.”
For a period of about six years after the ascension of Christ, the Apostles continued to preach the gospel to the Jews only, wherever they could find them throughout the Roman empire. But in general they rejected it, and bitterly opposed and persecuted all who proclaimed it. The Lord therefore directed the Apostles to turn their attention to the Gentiles,
The Gentiles were abhorred by the Jews. They were viewed by them as hated of God and devoted to destruction. The Apostles were possessed of this common prejudice. They would never, therefore, of themselves, have offered so great a blessing as salvation to the heathen, and if some, from any motive should have done it, they would at once have been viewed guilty of sacrilege. But the great Shepherd, who had other sheep besides the Jews to gather in, knew how to prepare the minds of his ministers for so rich a work.
In Cesarea, the residence of the Roman governor, lived Cornelius, a centurion, a devout man who had been reclaimed from idolatry, and who, according to the light which had been afforded him, worshipped God; was just, exemplary, and eminently charitable. This man was warned of God, to send for Peter, and hear from him the words of eternal life. At the same time, Peter was instructed by a vision from heaven, not to call any man common or unclean. When, therefore, the messengers of Cornelius came to him at Joppa, he went with them without delay, and declared
to the centurion and his household, the glorious Gospel of the Grace of God. While he was preaching, the Holy Ghost fell on all his hearers, and they were converted to the Lord, and by the ordinance of baptism, admitted to the Christian Church. Such were the first fruits of the Spirit among the Gentiles. Thus was the wall of partition, which had stood for ages between Jews and heathen, broken down. How valuable was the Gospel to one of the best men the heathen world could boast! Before he heard it, he was highly esteemed among men, but he had no peace in his own breast. He had been daily an anxious inquirer at the throne of grace for peace and life. He now found in them the doctrine of forgiveness, through the blood of Christ. The best men in heathen lands deserve our compassion, for they know nothing of pardoning mercy, or the consolations of the Holy Ghost. Let the pride of narrowminded, selfish men, who have long considered themselves the sole favorites of heaven, be rebuked. · Among those whom such hate and view as outcasts, may be some of the brightest jewels in the Redeemer's crown.
The Christian temper was happily exhibited by the brethren at Jerusalem, when they heard of this unexpected enlargement of the Church. They viewed it at first indeed as irregular, and were disposed to censure Peter; but no sooner had he declared his divine commission and related to them the operation of the Spirit, than they glorified God for his mercy. Some measures may often be accounted inconsistent with long established principles and customs; and men may be brought into the kingdom of Christ, who, for various reasons, we might have supposed would never have a place there; but when satisfactory evidence is given that such, even through these means, are truly converted to the Lord, all prejudices are by the correct mind, sacri. ficed; the hand of fellowship is extended, and God is glorified.
Herod sat at this time on the throne of Judah. He was a vile prince; and was surrounded by no less vile Sadducees and Herodians, whom he found it for his interest continually to gratify. They hated the Christians, and he therefore commenced against them a violent persecution. He first seized James, the son of Zebedee, and condemned him to death. Eusebius relates that his accuser, beholding his faith, was struck with remorse, and by the Power of the Spirit, was suddenly brought to repentance and confessed Christ, and
that both were carried to execution and beheaded together. The tyrant next seized Peter, and confined him in chains. But God had further need of him in the Church below; and while the brethren were engaged in prayer for him, the angel of the Lord delivered him from his chains, set open the prison doors, and restored him to the disciples. The miserable monarch was soon after brought for his pride and cruelty to a most horrid death. His intended victim lived to old age, and preached the Gospel throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.
For five years, Saul of Tarsus remained in his native city and province, preaching the Gospel; with what success is not known. But he was not forgotten by the brethren. Some of the disciples had fled from Jerusalem in the persecution, to Antioch, the metropolis of Syria, where they preached the Lord Jesus. Their labors were crowned with great success. Tidings of this were received with joy by the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas, “a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith," to assist them. No sooner had he reached the city, than he saw the need of .more laborers, and he went to Tarsus for this powerful advocate of the cause of Christ, and brought him to Antioch; where they labored together with much success for a whole year. The Church was enlarged and prosperous; and as many of its members were wealthy and actuated by holy love, they made liberal contributions for the poor saints at Jerusalem-distressed by a famine. Here, as an epithet of opprobrium, the followers of Jesus were first called CHRISTIANS;—an epithet which is, in truth, the most honorable and blessed a man can sustain.
To remain there, where many teachers of reputation had assembled, and where seasons of refreshment were afforded, would have been pleasant. But the head of the Church had a great work for these disciples to perform; and the prophets and teachers at Antioch were directed by the Holy Ghost to set apart Saul and Barnabas to the great work of evangelizing the heathen. Accordingly, they were ordained as missionaries of the cross and ministers of salvation to the Gentiles, by fasting and prayer and imposition of hands, and sent forth to their field, which was the world.
Here properly commences the mighty Apostolic work of him who was the most distinguished instrument ever em