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their own guilty fears, and, if there be any such thing, have prejudged themselves beforehand to everlasting damnation. Others, lastly, have run riot upon the miracles of our blessed Lord, and have thrown out more blasphemies in a few months' time, than hath ever been known in any Christian country in a course of ages. Can any serious person be deceived by these things, which are frightful and hideous enough, almost to chill his blood, or to make it run backward in his veins?
It would be affronting a Christian audience, to exhort them not to be carried about with any such wind of doctrines as have been taught by these blasphemers. The cunning serpent, in these instances, seems to have gone beyond himself, and to have forgot his wonted subtilty. The imposition is too gross, and the language too coarse to fetch in converts. All it can do is, to make those worse who were always bad, to render them perhaps ten times more the children of hell, than they were before.
As to men of any good sense or sobriety, I presume, such attempts will only fill them with horror and astonishment, and stir up
their pious zeal for God and religion. May all attacks upon our most holy faith, or against any branch of it, have no other effect: and may our blessed Lord God, who alone can bring good out of evil, direct and overrule all things for the good of his Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Case of St. Paul, in persecuting the Church.
Acts ix. 4, 5,
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul,
Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord ? And the Lord said, I am Jesus
whom thou persecutest : it is hard for thee to kick against the
pricks. THE HE festival of St. Paul's conversion is of great note, and of
long standing in the Church, not much short of a thousand years. The memorial of that happy, miraculous conversion, may suggest to us many pious and useful reflections; for which reason I choose, conformably to our Church Offices, to entertain you, this day, upon that subject. Saul was once a grievous persecutor of the Church of God: but, by the Divine blessing, he at length changed his principles, changing also his Jewish name Saul into the Roman Paul, and became a chief Apostle. None of the Apostles had so considerable a hand in converting men to the Christian faith, as this St. Paul had. He “ laboured more
abundantly than they all.” He had for his province the whole Gentile world, being therefore called the Apostle of the Gentiles. And as his sermons, while living, drew many thousands, or even thousands of thousands, after him, to profess the faith of Christ; so the writings which he left behind him, making up a great part of the Canon of the New Testament, have been of admirable use to feed and support the Christian Church ever since. Of this great man and blessed saint I am now going to treat.
The history of his conversion is particularly related in this chapter by St. Luke, and by St. Paul himself once and again in chapters the twenty-second and twenty-sixth of this book of the Acts. Such particular care has been taken by Divine Providence that an event so memorable should be transmitted down to posterity with marks of honour and advantage.
It was above two years after our Lord was gone to heaven, that this so famed conversion was wrought. Saul, for a year or two before, had behaved as blind zealots are used to do, with great warmth and fury. He was then in the heat of his youth, about thirty years old, very honest and sincere in his way, and exceedingly zealous for the law of his God. As he had been bred up a Jew, and of the strictest sect among them, “ a Hebrew of the “ Hebrews” by descent, and by party a Pharisee ; he thought it became him to maintain the religion of his country, and the faith of his ancestors, with all imaginable vigour against all opposers. The prejudices of education were so strong, and his natural temper withal so eager and impetuous, that he stayed not to examine into the merits of the Christian cause, into the truth or credibility of the then new and just commencing religion : but as he very well knew that his own religion was from God, he too hastily concluded that this other, now pretending to rival it, could not be Divine also. Under this false persuasion he laboured to destroy it, believing it his duty so to do, and that the honour of God required it at his hands. Fired with the thought, he entered a kind of volunteer into the service, went of his own accord to the magistrates to take out his warrants for persecuting the poor Christians. He had commission given him to break open their houses, to seize and apprehend Christian men or women, and to hale them by force to prison, in order to have still greater severities exercised upon them. While he was thus driving on with unbridled zeal, he distressed the Christians all about Jerusalem, and pursued them even to strange cities. One of those strange cities, about 160 miles from Jerusalem, was Damascus ; and thither was he marching with all haste to search for Christians, that he might bring them away bound in chains, to be tried and executed at Jerusalem : but while he was yet upon the road near to Damascus, it pleased the blessed Jesus to look mercifully down from heaven, and to take pity both upon the Church and him. He calls to him through a gleam of light, brighter than the
sun at mid-day; "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" To which Saul, trembling and pale, replied, “ Who art thou, Lord?” The voice again answered, " I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: “ it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Hard for thee to contend with me thy Maker and Governor, who can crush thee at pleasure. All thy attempts against me are like kicking against the spikes : they will not hurt me, but they will prove fatal to thee, if persisted in. Saul, after this so friendly and heavenly warning, instantly submitted ; and from that time forwards put off the persecutor, to become a convert and an apostlo of Christ. This is a short account of the fact which the text relates to : and now I proceed to make the proper reflections and observations upon it.
I. Consider we Saul as a persecutor, and the guilt he contracted in being such.
II. Consider we the alleviation of his guilt, on the account whereof he found mercy.
III. Observe we the exceeding great goodness of our blessed Lord, both to him and to the Church in this affair.
IV. Consider we the proper use or application to be made of the whole.
I. Consider we Saul as a persecutor, and the guilt he contracted in being such.
However honest and sincere he had been in doing it, however fully persuaded in his own mind that he was serving God in it, yet he never reflected upon it afterwards but with shame and regret, with a penitential sorrow and remorse for it. “I verily " thought with myself,” says he in one place, “ that I ought to “ do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazaretha.” He did it, it seems, in a full persuasion, with an upright conscience, and in the integrity of his heart : notwithstanding which, he elsewhere ranks himself
account. By our translation it should seem he was chief of sinners; because it is there said, “ of whom I am chiefb:” but I conceive 6V Tpôtós eiul éyè should rather be rendered, of whom I am first, meaning not that he was either the chief or the first of sinners, absolutely, but the first or chief of those sinners whom Christ, in a remarkable manner, had shewn mercy to; as it follows in the next
a Acts xxvi. 9.
1 Tim. i. 15.
verse : “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy,” (va èv čuoi πρώτω, , “ that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering,” &c.
But to proceed. In another place, humbling himself for his sin in this particular, he says, “ I am the least of the apostles, “ that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted " the Church of God c.” He takes shame to himself, and confesses his guiltiness, in that he had “persecuted the Church of “ God.” For though he had commission from the magistrates, and might perhaps have been justified in prosecuting those who should disturb the peace for the sake of an imposture, or for any false religion ; yet no commission could justify or wholly excuse any man in persecuting the truth, in persecuting the Church of God. No concerns of temporal peace are of any moment in such a case: but both they who commission, and they who act under it, are alike guilty, in opposing the will of Heaven, in fighting against God. No persuasion of mind, no sincerity of heart, can altogether justify in such cases; because God never does send out any religion, but he gives also sufficient credentials with it; which, if calmly considered and carefully attended to, in such a manner as all men ought to do in a matter of that high concernment, will be found to be abundantly full and satisfactory. Saul was too eager and hasty to consider well the case. Prepossession had blinded him, and he suffered his passions to run before his reason. He took it too easily for granted, that truth was on his side, without so much as allowing the other side a fair hearing. This was wrong judgment, and a very great fault in a person of his good sense and great abilities of mind. It was the greater, because it was a cause of blood, and the lives of many thousands might be concerned in it. It is exceeding sinful and dangerous to mistake in such a case : for if the supposed offence of those whom he so persecutes be not proved, and the crime clear, it is murdering men, instead of doing justice. St. Paul, afterwards, did not forget to make mention of this high aggravation of his fault : for thus he speaks : “ When the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I “ also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept “the raiment of them that slew himd.” It is very true, that, by the Jewish law, blasphemers and false prophets, and such as attempted to seduce the people from the true religion, were to be put
1 Cor. xv. 9.
d Acts xxii. 20.