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sceking for mercy, but that he should not be in the way of seeking for it; that he should neither be hearing, nor reading, nor praying, nor attending in the sanctuary: in fact, he could not have been at any time more unprepared to
manifestation of the divine grace. He was engaged, you know, in a journey of iniquity, in open defiance of the Son of God, crucifying him afresh, and putting him to an open shame. He had received letters from the High Priest, the highest authority of the Jewish people, to the synagogue at Damascus, which was at some distance from Jerusalem, that if he found any of the disciples of Christ, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And he went forth,“ breathing out threatenings and slaughter" against the disciples of the Lord. Othere is much malignity folded up in the words “ breathing out." I can conceive no representation more strikingly graphic of a mind abandoned to a storm of persecuting rage. “ Breathing out threatenings and slaughter;" as the panting of the beast of prey. And there is something peculiarly strong in the word, “ still.” Saul is said to be “ still breathing out threatenings and slaughter.” The lavoc he had already made ; the injury he had already done; the families he had already been the means of butchering, had been by no means sufficient to satisfy his vengeful spirit. His cruelty to the disciples of the Loril seems to be heightened as he proceeds. What, perhaps, was at first only a warm attempt on the part of the youthful Jew to protect the religion of his forefathers from being overthrowu by the Christian, seems to have been increased into an unmitigated thirst for spilling Christian blood. His very existence seems to have depended on the gratification of his rage. His sword was always unsheathed; and he had, it appears, a satisfaction in making the Christians taste the last dregs of the cup of bitterness he placed before them.
But it is not needful that I dwell on the dark story of the wrongs and wretchedness which the Churches of Christ for a time endured at the hands of Saul of Tarsus. I cannot go into the detail of what we may conceive to have been his merciless, and indiscriminate, and unpitying barbarity. Let it suffice to remind you, that multitudes (we know not how many) of pious and peaceful believers, both men and women, were driven from their homes and their families, hunted like wild beasts, persecuted even unto strange cities, driven beyond the limits of their own country, punished oft in every synagogue, compelled to blaspheme the name by which they were called, and then sent down with violence and butchery to the grave.
But this career was cut short; and about noon on one memorable day, the day of his miraculous conversion (I say miraculous, because so it was in point of circumstance and outward manifestation, though by no means miraculous in point of inward principle; because all conversions in point of principle are precisely the same, although in circumstances there may be something miraculous and memorable)about noon on one memorable day, as he made his journey, fully bent on the imprisonment and persecution of the disciples of Jesus Christ, just as he was coming to Damascus, on the point of setting his foot in that city, which he designed as the next scene of his barbarity, he saw in the way a light froin heaven (above the brightness of the sun, or he could not have seen it at noon-day) which shined round about him, and them that journeyed with him. Ile dropped to the ground, trembling with astonishment; knowing not what had happened to him. He heard a voice speaking, and saying unto him in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." The very first question which the suddenness of this arrest prompted his agonized spirit to ask was, “ Who art thou, Lord ? And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.” It was that very Jesus whose humble disciples had been so outrageously assailed, who now stopped short the persecutor in his career of vengeance. O with what an air of majesty did the Redeemer make his appearance ! Did the lightnings flash, or the thunders roll, to speak the presence of the incarnate God? No; although the all-gracious Saviour left the throne of his glory for a while, and descended low enough to be visible, yet no terror clothed his brow; he approaches near enough to be heard, but his words are not spears and arrows, neither be they very swords. His language is not, O thou child of the devil! O thou enemy of all righteousness! I have found thee." No; nothing but the most tender and most affectionate expostulation : “ Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? O give me a reason for this conduct of thine ; what have I done to deserve it at thine hand? For three and thirty years did I live amongst thy nation; I constantly went about doing good; I opened the eyes of the blind; I unstopped the ears of the deaf; I gave feet to the lame, health to the diseased, life to the dead : 0 why persecutest thou me? I am Jesus whom thou persecutest; the Saviour of others, the Saviour of thee." In one moment all the wrath of Saul of 'Tarsus was gone; all the fabric of selfrighteousness which the Pharisee had been building up for a whole life-time, was struck to the ground for ever. One word, uttered by Jesus, came home to his heart; and did that which no circumstance in all his previous life had been able to do ; and he had witnessed many things that we should have said had a tendency to soften him: we have already seen he witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen, when he was a young man, for “they laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul.” A tenderness of spirit peculiarly befits the young; but he was a hard-hearted young man. He had heard without emotion, that dying prayer of the faithful martyr—“ Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” He had seen portrayed on Stephen's countenance, that serene tranquillity, which swallowed up the agony of a cruel death. But he remained unmoved until the splendour of the heavenly vision, to which he could not be disobedient, changed the whole complexion of his life, and consecrated him at once to the service of the Son of God.
This, then, is the summary of this interesting story. His heart is changed; “ behold he prayeth." The man is no longer dead in trespasses and sins.
He breathes ; breath is the sign of life: he prays; prayer is the sign of conversion : and he has consecrated in that prayer the remainder of that life to the service of that Redeemer whose disciples he had been so cruelly persecuting. Faith now takes that place in his heart which was formerly filled by unbelief; and love succeeds to rage and malice. The lion is turned into the lamb, and the little child may lead him. The persecutor becomes the Apostle; he is straitway in the synagogue; and he who not more than three days before, he who within the short period of less than a week, was a remorseless destroyer of the faith, appears now the most unwearied and intrepid advocate of it.
Observe, in the third place, THE RICH POUNTAIN OF CONSOLATION WHICH
consciousness that it rests with others as well as himself, to determine bis shara in the glorious things which God has provided for the faithful. Yea, wel might he, after resolving in the strength of the Lord to be more instant than ever “in season and out of season,” and to give himself with a multiplied devotedness to the labours of his office. well might he come down into the midst of his people, as a suppliant for their aid, and beseech them with all the earnestness of one who has at stake what thought cannot measure, and shape his admonition and entreaty into the very form employed by St. John, “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward."
I could not leave you, as I do this night, for that period of relaxation which mind and body annually demand, without setting before you the intimacy of that connexion which binds a minister and his people. I have acknowledged the dependence of the minister on his people ; but not in such manner as to exonerate the minister from an unwearied fidelity, or to throw upon his people the blame of his deficiencies. I can only remind you that you have a great duty to perform towards your ministers, just as your ministers have to perform towards you; and that the failure on the one side, as well as on the other, will diminish mutually our recompense in eternity. 0 I do implore you to observe, that you cannot diminish his, and leave your own unimpaired. It is no mere selfish entreaty, “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought.” In wishing a full reward for ourselves, we wish it for you: in exhorting you to diligence in securing it for us, we exhort you to diligence in securing it for yourselves. We are closely bound together; our interests are one: and O that on both sides we may be more and more animated with the hope of that inheritance which fadeth not away! O that a noble ambition—the ambition of being first in the kingdom of heaven, may glow more rigorously and vehemently within us, and move us to greater steadfastness in the good fight of faith!
We are to part for a season; and when we meet again, I trust that we may aid one the other more than ever in running the race that is set before us. And if it be for the last time that we see each other in the flesh-for how many funerals may be gathered into a few weeks!—God grant that those who go to judgment, and those who remain behind, may be privileged to meet in another site, with no misgivings, that, by their neglecting to pray one for another while separate), they may have prevented the fulness of reward.
THE CHARACTER OF GOD AS A FATHER.
But it seemeth to my mind somewhat out of place, by rebuke to plead for a father's sacred rights, or with strong language to win back the affections of 'an erring child. Therefore, as upon earth the voice of forgotten duty is not re-awakened in the breast of a froward child by bitter upbraidings or sentences of judgment; but by the melting memory of parental acts, and the knowledge of a parent's longing, loving, and desiring soul: so on this, the first Sabbathmorning of a new year, when we should have on our minds the memory of his goodness, without addressing myself to any fears, I shall endeavour, by the recital of your Father's goodness and love, by the high obligations of your birth, of your bountiful upbringing in the house of his providence, and hereafter by the largesses of his grace and stored treasures of his glory—by these I shall endeavour to move within your minds, that love of God and that affectionate use of his name, “ Our Father,” which slumbereth in all, and in many of us is well nigh dead. And while I do so endeavour, may the Spirit bear witness with our spirits that we are the children of God; and may we receive the spirit of adoption whereby we may ery, · Abba, Father.'
“ Then, men and brethren, I pray you, look to the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged. Take up a handful of dust and ashes, and there behold the materials out of which the Lord God Almighty fashioned man—this living form of man, so quick and pregnant with all sensual and spiritual feeling. And if you would know the kindness which your Father hath put forth in the work of his hands, look to the tribes, from the worm to the lion, all made of as good materials, and many of them of better materials; in size, strength, fleetness, and durability, surpassing man. But where is their counsel ? where is their government ? where is their knowledge! where is their religion? Which of them has any fellowship with God, o. reasonable intercourse with one another? The other creatures are but the putward endowments of man's senses, to clothe, to feed, to lay the lusly spoulder to his burden, to carry him about, to watch over him in sleep, and to minister in other ways to his entertainment.
“ And what is the earth whereon you tread, and which spreads its flowery carpet beneath your feet? And what are its various fruits with their varieties to sustain, to refresh, and to cherish human life--the corn, the wine, and the oil? And what the recurring seasons of divided time—the budding spring, the flowery summer, the joyful vintage, and the lusty harvest, and now the homely, well-provided winter? And what the cheerful outgoings of morn, and dewy eve, and balmy sleep, and blessed action? What are they all, I ask, but the sweet cradle, and the blessed condition, into which our Father hath brought us his children? Is there nothing fatherly in all this, in the costly preparation and gladsome welcoming of our coming, and in the motherly bosom of plentiful affection and food stored for us; and in the fruitful dwelling-places to the inheritance of which we are born? Is it nothing that the range of our mansion is to the starry heaven, and not cooped within the encumbrance of a
the very stones might cry out, and sound it in your hearing : I mean the case or those who murdered the Prince of Life, and the Lord of Glory. If any sin were unpardonable, we may surely think theirs was : if any transgressor deserved to be consigned to inexorable wrath and severest torments, these deserved it. They had not the shadow of an excuse for their crime-hardly a single circumstance to extenuate it. They had been well acquainted with the exemplary conversation of Jesus of Nazareth: they had often heard his heavenly doctrines : they were almost daily witnesses of his miracles: they had, therefore, all possible reason to honour him as the most exalted of beings, and to receive his gospel as the most inestimable blessing. And yet they seized his person, dragged him before a heathen tribunal, and extorted a sentence of death against him. Never was the vilest slave so cruelly treated, nor the most criminal malefactor so barbarously executed. The sun was confounded, the earth trembled, at the horrid sin; and we wonder much how the avenging lightning could have withheld its flashes. But behold the triumphant goodness of God: many even of these murderers obtained mercy; for at the subsequent descent of the Holy Ghost, they were convinced of their sin, wounded with penitential remorse, fled to the sanctuary of the cross, and received full, free, and eternal pardon ; and now are shining in the kingdom of heaven as so many ererlasting monuments of mercy, and are receiving of blessedness past utterance from that very Redeemer whom once, with wicked hands, they crucified and slew. Well, then, might the prophet cry out in rapturous amazement_“Who is a God like unto thee, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin!” Truly it may be said that He “ keepeth mercy for thousands ;" that his mercy is “ from everlasting to everlasting;" that it is “higher than the heavens”-yea, more extensive than the dimension of the skies.
Now, let me request you to consider, for a moment, your own condition, lest you be overwhelmed with much despair on account of your sin.
Lift up your eyes to the azure canopy hanging over your heads, embroidered with sparkling stars, spacious enough to form a covering for unnumbered worlds. Where does it begin? Where does it end? What is its extent ? “0,” say you, we cannot answer these questions.” Then carry the questions to angels; they are perpetually traversing its immense circuit; and yet even angels cannot measure the bounds of space, because space is boundless and unknown. What then shall we say of the mercy of God, which is greater than the heavens, which pardons crimes the most atrocious with perfect freeness, because of the Redeemer's mediation; yea, pardons them more completely, if possible, than the wide-spread Arch of heaven covers within its circle the ridge of mountains, or even a single grain of sand. Let all flesh know assuredly, and rejoice, that with the Lord there is such mercy, and with Christ such plentiful redemption. O for the voice of an archangel to circulate the glad tidings throughout the world, that, through the infinite mediation of the adorable Redeemer, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.
If these things be so, brethren, let me, in conclusion, address to you a few words, that seem to spring out of the whole subject.
The first remark will apply to those who have experienced the long-suffering of the Lord, and can, in some humble degree, take the language of the text as