« السابقةمتابعة »
Is there in this congregation any individual, who, having been made truly sensible of the contrast between heavenly and earthly things, is inquiring, “ How shall I escape this loss of the soul?" It is the office of the Christian ministry, to point him at once and immediately to that Redeemer, who came to seek and to save the lost; and to declare to him that here is
and mercy now for the chief of sinners ; that every one who comes to Jesus Christ, repenting of his sins, and believing in his name, shall be accepted of him. Are you prepared to deny yourselves ; to take up your cross, and to follow him; to renounce the pomps and vanities of the world; and, at whatever cost of wealth, or ease, or reputation, to secure this blessing? These are the dispositions that he requires in his people; and of those that thus follow him, he will banish none from his presence. Wherefore, then, should any man suffer hinself to be enslaved by the hopes, or apprehensions, or enjoyments of this world? Why should he prepare for himself occasion for bitter repentance, when it is not repentance unto life? If Christ had not died for the ungodly, then would it be vain to disturb ourselves about a doom that could not be averted. But averted it may be; and it will be doubtless among the most harassing reflections of the lost spirit in the place of torment, that he preferred darkness to light, and the world to heaven. “I had much pleasure," such may be his painful reflections ; “I had many enjoyments: nothing was withheld from my pursuit which I wished to obtain : but what do they avail me now? I was warned of the folly of rejecting Christ and his salvation for things that perished in the using; but I neglected or despised the warning. I was told of the misery and sin of making the world my portion, but I made it mine; and of the happiness of those that seek a better world, I heard repeatedly; but that portion I sought not. O what would I give if the door of mercy was once again opened, even though but for a day, or a moment! If earth with all its attractions could again arise before ine, and the roice of forgiveness could invite me to Jesus Christ, how despicable in my sight would the whole world appear! My soul might have been saved, but I preferred the world; the gift of God was held forth, but I preferred the wages of sin, the misery of that state which never can terininate, and that wrath which cannot be exhausted."
But let me, in the last place, address a few words to those who have reason to hope, according to the expression of our Lord, that they are not of the world; but who having seen the value of the soul, have applied to Christ for salvation. To such we may say, How trilling is the loss, if you should, in the largest sense lose the whole world, and yet save the soul! You part only with that which can neither be retained, nor bring any lasting advantage; you secure that which 18 independent of the world, and which cannot be taken from you. But do vou indeed leave the desire of things, even in this life? Hath not godliness in, an important sense, given you a promise which respects the present world, as well as the world to come? What if you have but little on the earth, is not that little blessed? Is it not sanctified by Him who gave it? And cannot the poorest man in the world, if he possess the spirit of the Christian, have a satis faction even in the works of God, which the amplest possessions never can bestow? Is it not the saying of our blessed Lord, “ Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth ?" We might ask the most destitute of the follower of Jesus Christ, if he possess the spirit of Christ, Do you not cheerfully acquiesce
in the will of your heavenly Father, as it respects your lot, and find a comfort in that state of mind which nothing else could impart? Let us appeal to the apostles, and ask these men, Did you not find in his service an abundant compensation, even here, for all your sufferings ? Was it ever a source of regret to you that you renounced the world, and that like your Divine Master, you were by the world rejected? Was it a inatter of regret that you were called to suffer for Christ's sake? Did you envy the rich man his possessions, when you knew you were rich towards God? Did you envy the mighty man his power, when you were assured that you were under His protection, who hath all power in heaven and in earth ; and even that you yourselves could do all things through Christ who strengtheneth you ? Did you look with earnest desire on the pleasures of this world, when there was in your view the prospect of the world beyond it? Nay, when, in this suffering state were you not thankful for all things to God the Father by our Lord Jesus Christ? Did you not, even here, consider godliness with contentment to be great gain? And how will that feeling be increased, and how will the profit of godliness be appreciated, when you reach the world of immortality! Never till that period shall we know it in its full extent; never till then shall we perceive the vast importance of securing the salvation of the soul, the wonderful contrast between them who live only for this world, and them who live for eternity. The one has lost everything that he had; his good things, they are gone: the other is an heir of God, a joint-heir with Christ; the possessor of a happiness which all the grandeur and all the glory of the world are utterly unable to shadow forth. Is it a house? It is “ a house not made with hands." A crown? But it is “ · incorruptible." A kingdom? But it “cannot be removed.”
May that portion, my brethren, be ours ! May we have the wisdom that cometh from above; and look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen : and whatever are the trials and temptations of the world, count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord
THE CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL.
REV. R. C. DILLON, A.M.
ST JAMES'S CHURCH, CLERKENWELL, JANUARY 25, 1835.
"Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting."-1 TIMOTHY, i. 16.
A GREATER man never lived than the Apostle Paul. His labours and travels in preaching the Gospel are without parallel. His zeal had carried him to some of the most renowned cities in the most distant regions of the then known world. He had toiled his way over no small portion of Syria, Arabia, Asia-Minor, and Europe. He had sailed the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and had thrice suffered shipwreck. He had carried his tract amongst the innumerable islands that so beautifully stud the Grecian Archipelago; and on the site of ancient Troy, on the classic shores of Greece, at Antioch, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Corinth, and at Athens, he had planted the standard of the cross, and proclaimed the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. How marvellous is it, then, to find him, even to the end of his unwearied ministry, frequently recurring to the day of his conversion, and embracing every opportunity of speaking of himself in his unregeneracy, and of testifying, even to those who might not have known it before, his former hostility to Christ, in order to exalt to the uttermost the honour of that God by whom he had been elected, redeemed, and sanctified.
You have observed, both in the morning ana evening services, that this is the day to which our Church more especially directs our notice to the conversion of St. Paul. As the Church, therefore, has brought it under our consideration, we may find it profitable, by the blessing of the Holy Spirit, to consider three points which that conversion brings before us. The first is, the necessity that existed for the conversion of St. Paul; the second is, the circumstances attending it; and, thirdly, the fountain of consolation springing from it to every contrite, penitent heart.
Let us first examine (for it requires examination) into THE NECESSITY THAT THERE WAS FOR THE CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL.
The Apostle says of himself, in the verse preceding the text, that he was the chief of sinners. Then, of course, there was a necessity for his conversion. But what made St. Paul the chief of sinners? What had been his peculiar guilt before his conversion to the faith of the Gospel? Had he been an idolater, or an adulterer, or a drunkard? Had he been, in any marked degree, a slave to
his licentious appetites? Is it to be said that he was so low in the scale of guilt as to have committed gross crimes ? Had he been unjust ? Had he been Jishonest? Had he given any signs of covetousness ? Was he ever chargeable, as Saul of Tarsus, with the guilt of oppressing the poor, the fatherless, or the widow? Do we ever hear of him in the days of his unregeneracy notoriously violating the command to keep holy the Sabbath-day? Do we ever hear of his openly expressing his disregard and contempt of religious duties? Was it in all, was it in any of these particulars, that he had been guilty ? Strange as it may appear, he had not been guilty in any one of them : so far from it, that I apprehend no man ever carried a code of morals--that is, of external righteousness-further than it was carried by Saul of Tarsus. (I say Saul of Tarsus: and you will understand me to mean before his conversion ; after his conversion he was called Paul.) He declares in his epistle to the Philippians, that “touching the righteousness which is in the law,” he was “blameless :" no man could point, in the course of his life, to any open infraction of the ten commandinents.
Then does it not strike you—it is very likely to strike some in church to-night, as strange beyond expression, that an individual who had not been an idolater, nor a profane man, nor an immoral man, nor a covetous man, nor a dishonest man, nor a Sabbath-breaking man, nor a man who poured contempt upon religious duties—that such a man should be truly called “the chief of sinners ?" Ah! brethren, we come now to enter into the essence of sin—to shew wherein lies its desperate and deep malignity. We are too much in danger of judging of sin merely by the outward act, and often when called to visit the dying bed, are we struck with astonishment to hear the individual say, he has done no man any wrong; he has been an affectionate father, a faithful master, a kind and accommodating neighbour, and as we all have our infirmities, God is merciful, and will take him to his reward: all this springing from the belief, that if we do no wrong in our lives, there can be no wrong in our hearts. Now, brethren, you are not to measure your guilt so much by the injury which it does to society, as by the contempt which it pours on the holy law of God. The sinfulness of sin consists in its being committed against Him; in the opposition and the enmity of the heart to the divine character and will.
Taking this, then, as the standard by which to form our judgment, we shall find that St. Paul's malignity was, in the sight of God, of no coinmon order. It is certainly true he was outwardly moral, and even zealous, in his religious profession; but he was inwardly a bitter enemy of God and holiness. He hated the Gospel, because it opposed his prejudices, and bade him lay aside his selfrighteous hopes of justifying himself by his own works. And because he hated the Gospel, he refused to attend to the proofs which might have convinced him of its truth : he obstinately shut his eyes that he might not see, and his ears that he might not hear; while he conceived and cherished the most rancorous enmity against the holy Jesus, and his faithful followers.
I apprehend, then, that even if our examination into the necessity for the conversion of Saul of Tarsus were to terminate at the point to which I have just brought it, we must admit it to have been guilt of no common order. But the description does not end here ; much remains to be added. The virulence
of the Apostle's heart broke out into open hostility against God. It is a finc proof of hostility, that, in the closing scene of his life, writing to his beloved son in the Gospel (Timothy), he tells him in his very first letter, that he had been “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious." How many blasphemous speeches had he uttered against the blessed Jesus, and the Gospel of his grace! How many false, malicious, and blood-thirsty words had he spoken against the unoffending Christians! But his rage against them had not been confived to words: he was a persecutor” as well as a blasphemer;" he was jurious." The first time his name is mentioned in the Sacred History is in connexion with the martyrdom of Stephen : when, it is said, " the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.” I cannot help thinking that there is some very strong proof of virulence against Stephen, marked even in this apparently unimportant circumstance. The young men who were witnesses against Stephen, and whose duty in consequence it was, by the existing laws of the land, to be the first to stone him, stripped themselves to a certain extent of their clothes, in order to be unfettered in throwing the stones; and they laid down their clothes at the young man's feet. I can imagine him probably to have been reproaching them for their slackness, saying, “ Strip, and stone him; I will take charge of your clothes.” He himself indeed testifies very nearly to the same effect; and how feelingly does he mention it: “ When the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by and consenting to his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.”
After this, he made havoc in the Church, entering into every house, and, without regard to sex or age, throwing them into prison. His own confession is, “ Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities." You cannot but see, then, how great was the necessity for the conversion of this extraordinary blasphemer and persecutor.
Let us consider, in the second place, THB CIRCUMSTANCBB ATTENDING HIS CONVERSION.
Where was Saul when he was converted ? Was he attending the sanctuary? Was he smiting upon his breast with agonizing contrition, like the poor publican who went up to pray in the temple? Was he found in the use of any of the means of grace? It pleases the Most High God oftentimes to reveal himself to the sons of men when they are attending the ininistry of his word: they have been brought to repentance under the sermon of the minister, whose doctrines they came rather to ridicule than to respect : the Word has reached the heart, and turned the stone to flesh: they have thrown down the weapons of their rebellion, and, weeping as they have looked on those weapons, they have acknowledged the force of all-conquering grace. But it was not so with the Apostle Paul. God is a sovereign, and can have mercy on whom he will have mercy, in the very way in which he himself chooses. We sometimes say he works by means ; but he always works by his own means—the means of his own choosing, and at the time of his own choosing. It so pleased him, in his infinite wisdom, that the Apostle Paul, at the time of his conversion, should not only not be