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chief priests ?” But Saul increased the more in strength, and con- 22 founded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel 23 to kill him : but their laying await was known of Saul. And they 24 watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took 25 him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
GAL. I. 15 to 17. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, 15 and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach 16 him among the heathen ; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood : neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles 17 before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
2 Cor. XI. 32, 33. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the 32 Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me : and through a 33 window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.
In tracing the history of the conversion of Saul, we have the advantage, not only of his own account of the circumstances given on two different occasions (see last portion) but also of those incidental remarks which occur in his epistles. In writing to the churches of Galatia (i. 15-17), he tells that, when the revelation of Christ Jesus was made to his heart, he did not take counsel with men, (however wise the brethren of Damascus might have been) but“ immediately” withdrew from the exciting intercourse which would have taken place there, and went into the neighbouring country of Arabia. And doubtless in this retirement he received that direct instruction in the truths and doctrines of the gospel from the Lord Jesus himself, of which he speaks in the same epistle, declaring that he “neither received it of man, 'neither was taught it of man, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Gal. i. 11, 12.)
Saul remained in this retirement in Arabia probably for a few months, and then returned to Damascus, where he took up his residence amongst the Jewish converts to christianity. He lost no time in beginning the work of his ministry, but immediately frequented the Jewish synagogues, where he preached the gospel, shewing the divinity of the Messiah, and proving that Jesus was that divine One. (Acts xvii. 3.) This preaching greatly astonished his hearers. Could this possibly be the man who had done so much to put down this doctrine, by punishing in every way its professors in Jerusalem ? and who had come to exterminate the followers of Jesus in Damascus, by taking them for trial before the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem? Their astonishment however did not daunt Saul, who strengthened in his great mission more and more; and in every argument completely overcame his opponents, by his convincing proofs that Jesus is in very deed 'the divine Messiah.
This went on for a long time; until, when he had been for three years successfully preaching the gospel at Damascus, the unconverted Jews laid a plot to take away his life. These Jews had engaged the Ethnarch, or Governor of the city, in their scheme : this person was probably a Jew, temporarily appointed to govern the city, by Aretas, a king of Arabia, who had not long before seized upon Damascus, during the time that the Roman President of Syria (Vitellius) had left the country, in consequence of the death of the Emperor at Rome (see 11th portion, page 81). The Ethnarch had placed soldiers to watch the gates of the city day and night, in order to seize Saul as he was leaving it. This was however discovered, and Saul was warned of his danger. It happened that some of the christians had access to a house which stood upon the walls of the city, over which the windows looked. From one of the windows of this house, they let Saul down in a basket by a rope after dark, so that he got safely to the ground outside the walls, and made his escape without passing through the gates.
1. The great change which had taken place in the mind and heart of Saul, was not of a nature to make him wish for the excitement of intercourse with the new society into which it admitted him. He was rather engrossed with the new thoughts which rushed upon him, and desired above all things to contemplate the Saviour in the new point of view which was now open to him. He did not remain at all at Damascus to make acquaintance with the christians, but went into retirement; where he continued about six months, before he ventured to appear in public. This retirement however was passed in communion with Jesus, who then“ opened his understanding, that he might understand the Scriptures,” and revealed to him the gospel in all its power and beauty, as he afterwards exhibited it to others. We may gather from this (what experience has abundantly proved) that deep influences of Christ's love, when he converts the soul, will lead us to seek the unspeakable blessing of communion with Him by his Spirit in the calmness of retirement, rather than to give vent to our feelings in the excitement of communicating them to others. Newly received views of divine truth are more likely to be settled and confirmed by secret prayer
and meditation, than by much conversation ; till they have been cleared and corrected by the teaching of the Holy Spirit through the scriptures.
When I have made an evident progress in christian knowledge or in spiritual life, have I talked about it with others; or have I cultivated a secret communion with God by prayer in retirement, in order to be confirmed and established ?
2. The stablishing, strengthening, and settling of Saul in christian life, which took place during his wise retirement, was no doubt one of the means employed to fit him for that confident boldness with which on his return to Damascus he preached the doctrine of that divine Saviour, with whom he had become thus experimentally acquainted. Saul did not hesitate boldly to acknowledge the change in his views and feelings, although the contrast with his former opinions was not only most striking, but also involved dangerous consequences to himself. This is however the course, which must follow a true conversion from worldliness to Christ. In proportion as the belief is powerful, and the conviction clear, the spirit will be strengthened to walk in a new course; and in proportion as our previous opposition to spiritual religion had been distinct and
persecuting, the conviction of that sin will produce more marked decision in glorifying Christ. This kind of conduct however cannot be truly estimated, unless it happens to involve inconveniences, and to call for self-deniał : when the change does not draw any trouble upon us, bold expression of opinion may arise merely from a remnant of pride, or an absence of charity. It is when our courage in manifesting Christ before those, with whom we once neglected or despised Him, puts us to pain, and makes our former companions jealously watchful to ensnare and injure us, then we may test more closely the real source of our courage, and know whether it be indeed of God.
QUESTION. Do I shrink from acknowledging to my former companions the great change which I find in me through an increased knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ ? Do I speak of it frankly and boldly ? and is my boldness as great when it is likely to bring me into trouble, as when it is not ?
3. How impossible it is to frustrate the purposes of God, or to hurt the servants of the Lord Jesus, except He sees fit to permit it! "We shall be sure to destroy Saul,” said his enemies,
for we will set a man to watch for him at every gate of the city; and we will get the governor to give orders to the guards posted there, to apprehend him.” But while the wisdom of man was making this secure, their victim was providentially directed to an outlet they had not thought of, but which God opened for his safety. Surely he is safe who is under the protection of the Most High?
QUESTION. Do I place my confidence for safety from any danger. in the guardianship of God, or in the wise arrangements of man?
Gracious God, who alone canst guide thy people into all truth, and impart to them the grace of thy Holy Spirit, give me wisdom, that I may take the right means of strengthening and establishing that knowledge of thy dear Son, which thou hast mercifully vouchsafed to me. Let me not confer with flesh and blood, but quietly commune with my own heart; and be still seeking to behold thy glory more perfectly, that I may be more and more changed into thy likeness. Give me courage to confess thy name and thy truth before men, however I may thereby condemn myself, or my former ways and feelings. Yea, do thou rather enable me to make those former errors and ignorances the measure which I must exceed in my present manifestation of thy glory; and let no consequences deter me from declaring thy praise and thy power, as well before those who may injure me, as before those who cannot. Make me to abide under the shadow of thy wing, and to feel there the blessed confidence that thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety. Be thou my guardian, O God, I will not fear what man can do unto me. I ask all this in the prevailing name and mediation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. AMEN.
SIXTEENTH PORTION. Saul first as a disciple at Jerusalem :-his trance there. PLACE.-Jerusalem. TIME.- About April, A.D. 41.
May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, give me the Holy Spirit, that I may
understand this portion of His Holy Word, and profit by it. Amen.
THE SCRIPTURE. Acts, ch. IX. ver. 26 to 30; with Acts XXII. 17 to 21
2 Cor. XII. 1 to 6; and GAL. I. 18 to 24. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to 26 the disciples : but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apos- 27 tles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out 28 at Jerusalem. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and 29 disputed against the Grecians : but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Cæsarea, 30 and sent him forth to Tarsus.
Acts XXII. 17 to 21. And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even 17 'while' I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; and saw him saying