« ZurückWeiter »
THE CONVERSION OF SAUL OF TARSUS.
REV. C. H. SPURGEON,
" And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
Acts xxvi, 14. How marvellous the condescension which induced the Saviour to take notice of such a wretch as Saul! Enthroned in the highest heavens, amidst the eternal melodies of the redeemed, and the seraphic sonnets of the cherubim and all the angelic hosts, it was strange that the Saviour should stoop himself from his dignity to speak to a persecutor. Engaged as he is both day and night in plcading the cause of his own church before his Father's throne, it is condescension indeed which could induce him, as it were, to suspend his intercessions, in order that he might speak personally to one who had sworn himself his enemy, And what grace was it that could lead the Saviour's heart to speak to such a man as Saul, who had breathed out threatenings against his church? Had he not haled men and women to prison; had he not compelled them in every synagogue to blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ? and now Jesus himself must interpose to bring him to his senses! Ah, had it been a thunderbolt which quivered in its haste to reach the heart of man, we should not have marvelled, or had the lips of the Saviour been heaving with a curse we should not have been astonished. Had he not himself in his own lifetime cursed the persecutor? Did he not say, whosoever shall offend one of the least of these my little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast in the sea? But now the man that is cursed by that language, is yet to be blessed by him whom he bad persecuted; who though he had stained his hand in blood, and had now the commission in his hands to drag others to prison, though he had kept the clothes of those who had stoned Stephen, yet the Master, the King of heaven, must himself speak from the upper skies to bring him to feel the need of a Saviour, and to make him partaker of precious faith. I say this is marvellous condescension and matchless grace. But, beloved, when we come to recollect the Saviour's character, it is but little wonderful that he should do this for he has done far more than this. Did he not in person leave the starry thrones of heaven, and come down to earth to suffer, and bleed, and die? But when I think of Bethlehem's manger, of the cruel garden of Gethsemane, and the yet more shameful Calvary, I do not wonder that the Saviour should do any act of grace or condescension. That being done, what can be greater ? If he hath stooped from heaven into hades, what greater stoop can he accomplish? If his own throne must be left empty, if his own crown must be relinquished, if his Godhead must be veiled in flesh, and the splendours of his deity clothed in the rags of manhood, what wonder, I say, that he should stoop to speak even to Saul of Tarsus, to bring his heart to himself? Beloved, some of us do not wonder either, for although we have not had greater grace than the apostle himself we have had no less. The Saviour did not speak out of heaven to us with a voice that others might hear, but he spoke with a voice that our conscience heard. We were not blood-thirsty, it may be, against his children, but we had sins both black and heinous; yet he stopped us. Not content with wooing us or with threatening us, not content with sending his ministers to us and giving us his word to warn us of duty, he would come himself. And you and I, beloved, who have tasted of this grace, cau say it was matchless lore that saved Paul, but not love unexampled; for he hath saved us also, and made us partakers of the same grace.
I intend, this morning, to address myself more particularly to those who fear not the Lord Jesus Christ, but on the contrary, oppose him. I think I may be quite certain that I have none here who go the length of desiring to see the old persecution of the church revived. I do not think there is an Englishman, however much he may hate religion, who would wish to see the stake again in Smithfield, and the burning pile consuming the saints. There may be some who hate them as much, but still not in that fashion; the common sense of the age reviles against the gibbet, the sword, and the dungeon. The children of God, in this country at least, are quite safe from any political persecution of that kind; but it is highly probable that I have here this morning -ome who go to the full length of their tether, and who endeavour as much as lieth in them to provoke the Lord to anger by opposing his cause. You will perhaps recognise yourselves if I try to paint a picture. It is seldom that you ever go into the house of God, in fact you have a contempt for all the gatherings of the righteous; you have a notion that all saints are hypocrites, that all professors are cants, and you do not at times blush to say so. However, you have a wife, and that wife of yours has been impressed under the sound of the ministry; she loves to go to the house of God, and heaven and her heart alone know what grief and agony of mind you have caused her. How often have you taunted and jeered her on account of her profession! You cannot deny but that she is a better woman for it; you are obliged to confess that although she cannot go with you in all your sports and merriments, yet as far as she can go she is a loving and affectionate wife to you. If any one should find fault with her, you would right manfully defend her character; but it is her religion that you hate; and it is but lately that you threatened to lock her up on Sunday. You say it is impossible for you to live in the house with her if she will go up to the house of God. Moreover there is a little child of yours; you had no objection to that child going to the Sunday-school, because she was out of your way on the Sunday when you were smoking your pipe in your shirt sleeves; you did not want to be bothered with your children, you said, and therefore you were glad to pack them off to the Sunday-school; but that child has had her heart touched; and you cannot help seeing that the religion of Christ is in her heart, therefore you do not like it; you love the child, but you would give anything if she were not what she is; you would give anything if you could crush the last spark of religion out of her. But perhaps I can put your case yet. You are a master; you occupy a respectable position, you have many men under you, you cannot bear a man to make a profession of religion. Other masters you know have said to their men, “ Do as you like, so long as you are a good servant, I do not care about your religious views." But mayhap you are a little the reverse; although you would not turn a man away because of his religion, you give him a jeer every now and then, and if you trip him up in a little fault, you say, “ Ah! that is your religion, I suppose you learned that at chapel;” grieving the poor man's soul, while he endeavours as far as he can to discharge his duty to you. Or, you are a young man, employed in a warehouse or a shop, and there is one of your shopmates who has lately taken to religion; he is to be found on his knees in prayer—what fine fun you have made of him lately, haven't you? You and others have joined in like a pack of hounds after a poor hare, and he being of rather a timid turn of mind, perhaps is silent before you, or if he speaks, the tear is in his eye, because you have wounded his spirit. Now this is the selfsame spirit that kindled the firebrand of old; that stretched the saint upon the rack; that cut his body in pieces, and sent him to wander about in sheep skins and in goat skins. If I have not exactly hit your character yet, I may do it before I have done. I wish to address myself especially to those of you, who in word or deed or in any other manner, persecute the children of God; or if you do not like so hard a word as “persecute,” laugh at them, opposing them, and endeavour to put an end to the good work in their hearts.
I shall in the name of Christ, first put the question to you, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” In the second place, I shall in Christ's name expostulate with
" It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks ;” and then if God shall bless what is said to the teaching of your heart, it may be that the Master shall give you a few words of comfort, as he did the apostle Paul, when he said, “ Rise and stand upon thy teet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee & minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee.”
I. In the first place, then, we will consider THE QUESTION, WHICH JESUS CHRIST PUT OUT OF HEAVEN TO Paul, has been put to you this morning.
First, notice what a personal question it was, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” When I preach to you, I am obliged to address you all as an assembly; it is not possible for me, except on rare occasions, to single out an individual, and describe his character, although under the hand of the Spirit it is sometimes done; but in the main I am obliged to describe the character as a whole, and deal with it in the mass. But not so our Master; he did not say out of heaven, "Saul, why does the synagogue persecute me? Why do the Jews hate my religion?" No; it was put more pertinently than that—“Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” If it had been put in general terms, it would have glanced off from the heart of the apostle; it would have been like an arrow which had missed the mark, and barely grazed the skin of the man in whose heart it was intended to find a home; but when it came personally—“Why persecutest thou me?”—there was no getting off it. I pray the Lord to make the question personal to some of you. There be many of us here present who have had personal preaching to our souls. Do you not remember, dear brother in Christ, when you were first pricked in the heart, how personal the preacher was? I remember it well. It seemed to me that I was the only person in the whole place, as if a black wall were round about me, and I were shut in with the preacher, something like the prisoners at the Penitentiary, who each sit in their box and can see no one but the chaplain. I thought all he said was meant for me; I felt persuaded that some one knew my character, and had written to him and told him all, and that he had personally picked me out. Why, I thought he fixed his eyes on me; and I have reason to believe he did, but still he said he knew nothing about my case. Oh, that men would hear the word preached, and that God would so bless them in their hearing, that they might feel it to have a personal application to their own hearts.
But note again-the Apostle received some information as to the persecuted one. If you had asked Saul who it was he persecuted, he would have said, “Some poor fishermen, that had been setting up an impostor ; I am determined to put them down. Why, who are they? They are the poorest of the world; the very scum and draff of society; if they were princes and kings we perhaps might let them have their opinion; but these poor miserable ignorant fellows, I do not see why they are to be allowed to carry out their infatuation, and I shall persecute them. Moreover, most of them are women I have been persecuting-poor ignorant creatures. What right have they to set their judgment up above the priests? They have no right to have an opinion of their own, and therefore it is quite right for me to make them turn away from their foolish errors.” But see in what a different light Jesus Christ puts it. He does not say, "Saul, Saul, why didst thou persecute Stephen?” or “Why art thou about to drag the people of Damascus to prison ?" No—" Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Did you ever think of it in that light? You have got a poor man who works for you, who wears a fustian jacket. He is nobody. You may laugh at him. He will not tell anybody, or even if he does, you will not be called to book about it, because he is nobody. You dare not laugh so at a duke or an earl. You would mind your behaviour if you were in such company as that; but because this is a poor man, you think you have a license given you to laugh at his religion. But remember, that beneath the fustian jacket there is Jesus Christ himself. Inasmuch as you have done this unto one of the least of his brethren, you have done it unto him. Has the thought ever struck you, that when you laughed you were laughing, not at him, but at his Master? Whether it struck you or not, it is a great truth, that Jesus Christ takes all the injuries which are done to his people as if they had been done to him. You locked your wife out the other night, did you, because she would frequent the house of God? When she stood there shivering in the midnight air, or entreating you to let her in, if your eyes had been wide open, you would have seen the Lord of life and glory shivering there, and he might have said to you, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” And then you would have seen it to have been a very much greater sin than you imagine it now to be. You laughed at a little child the other day, because the child sang its simple hymn, and evidently sang it from its heart. Did you know,-or if you did not know it then, know it now,—did you know that you were laughing at Christ; that when you mocked her you were mocking her Master, and that Jesus Christ has set down that laugh in his great book, as an indignation done to his own real person. “Why persecutest thou me?”. If ye could see Christ enthroned in heaven, reigning there in the splendours of his majesty, would ye laugh at him? If ye could see himn sitting on his great throne coming to judge the world, would ye laugh at him? Oh! as all the rivers run into the sea, so all the streams of the churches suffering run into Christ. If the clouds be full of rain they empty themselves upon the earth; and if the Christian's heart be full of woes it empties itself into the breast of Jesus. Jesus is the great reservoir of all his people's woes, and by laughing at his people you help to fill that reservoir to its brim; and one day will it burst in the fury of its might and the floods shall sweep you away, and the sand foundation upon which your house is builded shall give way, and then what shall ye do when ye shall stand before the face of him whose person ye have mocked and whose name ye have despised?
We will put the question in another way; it is a very reasonable one, and seems to demand an answer. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” “Saul,” the Master might have said, “what have I done to hurt thee? When I was on earth did I say a word against thy character-did I damage thy reputation—did I injure thy person-did I ever grieve thee—did I ever say a hard word against thee? What hurt have I ever done thee? Why art thou so provoked against me? If I had been thy bitterest enemy, and had spit in thy face, thou couldest not have been more wroth with me than now. But why, man, wilt thou be angry against one who has never hurt thee—who has never done thee a displeasure? Oh! why persecutest thou me? Is there anything in my character that deserves it? Was I not pure, and holy, and separate from sinners? Did I not go about doing good? I raised the dead; I healed the lepers; I fed the hungry; I clothed the naked; for which of these works dost thou hate me? Why persecutest thou me?". The question comes home to you in the same manner this morning. Ah! man, why dost thou persecute Christ? He puts it to thee. What hurt has he ever done thee? Has Christ ever despoiled you, robbed you, injured you in any way whatever? Has his gospel in any way whatever taken away the comforts of life from you, or done you any damage? You dare not say that. If it were the Mormonism of Joe Smith, I wonder not that you should persecute it, though, even then, you would have no right to do so, for that might take the wife of your bosom from you. If it were a filthy and lustful system that would undermine the foundations of society, you might think yourself right in persecuting it. But has Christ ever taught his disciples to rob yon, to cheat you, to curse you? Does not his doctrine teach the very reverse, and are not his followers, when they are true to their Master and themselves, the very reverse of this? Why hate a man who has done you no injury? Why hate a religion that does not interfere with you? If you will not follow Christ yourself, how does it injure you to let ot!ers do so? You say it injures your family; prove it, sir. Has it injured your wife? Does she love you less than before? Is she less obedient? You dare not say that. Has it hurt your child? Is your child less reverent to his father because he fears God? Is he less fond of you because he loves his Redeemer best of all? In what respect has Christ ever hurt any of you? He has fed you with the bounties of his providence. The clothes you wear to-day are the gifts of his bounty. The breath in your nostrils he has preserved to you, and will you curse him for this? It was but the other day that an avenging angel seized the axe, and the Master said, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” And Jesus came and put his hand upon the angel's arm, and said, “Stay, stay yet another year until I have digged about it and dunged it.” Your life was spared by him, and you curse him for this; you blaspheme him because he has spared your life, and spend the breath which his own grace has given you, in cursing the God that allows you to breathe. You little know from how many dangers Christ in his providence protects you. You can little guess how numerous the mercies which, unseen by you, are poured into your lap every hour. And yet, for mercies innumerable, for grace that cannot be stopped by your iniquity, for love that cannot be overpowered by your injuries, do you curse the Saviour for all this? Base ingratitude! Truly, ye have hated him without a cause; ye have persecuted him, though he has loved you, and has done nought to injurv you.
But let me picture the Mast to you once more, and nethinks you will never, never persecute him again, if you do but see him.' Oh, if you could but see the Lord Jesus, you must love him; if you did but know his worth you could not hate him! He was more beautiful than all the suns of men. Persuasion sat upon his lips, as if all the bees of eloquence had brought their honey there, and made his mouth the live. He spake-and so did he speak, that if a lion had heard him, it would have crouched and licked his feet. Oh, how loving was he in his tenderness! Remember that prayer of his when the iron was piercing his hand—“Father, forgive them.” You never heard him, all his life long, once saying an angry word to those who persecuted him. He was reviled, but he reviled not again. Even when he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, he was dumb before his shearers, and he opened not his mouth. But though fairer than the sons of men, both in person and in character, yet he was the Man of Sorrows. Grief had ploughed his brow with her deepest furrows. His cheeks were sunken and hollow with agony. He had fasted many a day, and often had he thirsted. He toiled from morning to night; then spent all night in prayer; then rose again to labour-and all this without reward-with no hope of getting anything from any man. He had no house, no home, no gold, no silver. Foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but he, the Son of Man, had not where to lay his head. He was the persecuted man, hunted by his enemies from place to place, with scarce a friend to help him. Oh, had ye seen him; had ye seen his loveliness and his misery united, had ye seen his kindness, and yet the cruelty of his enemies, your hearts must have melted-you would have said, “ No, Jesus, I cannot persecute thee! No, I will stand between thee and the burning sunshine. If I cannot be thy disciple, yet at any rate I will not be thy opposer. If this cloak can shelter thee in thy midnight wrestlings, there it is; and if this waterpot can draw thee water from the well, I will let it down, and thou shalt have enough; for if I love thee not, since thou art so poor, so sad, and so good, I cannot hate thee. No, I will not persecute thee!" But though I feel certain, if you could see Christ, you must say this, yet have you really persecuted him in his disciples, in the members of his spiritual body, and I therefore put to you the question,“ Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" God help you to answer that question, and the answer must be shame and confusion of face.
II. This shall bring me to the second point-EXPOSTULATION. “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." There is a figure here; there is an allusion to the ox goad. When the ox was yoked for ploughing, if he did not move on in as sprightly a manner as was desired, the husbandman pricked him with a long rod that ended with an iron point. Very likely, as soon as the ox felt the goad, instead of going on, he struck out as hard as he could behind him. He kicked against the goad, sending the iron deep into his own flesh. Of course the husbandman who was guiding him kept his goad there still, and the more frequently the ox kicked, the more he was hurt. But go he must. He was in the hand of man, who must and will rule the beast. It was just his own option to kick as long as he pleased, for he did no harm to his driver, but only to himself. You will see that there is a beauty in this figure, if I pull it to pieces, and ask you a question or two.
It is hard for you to kick against the goad; for, in the first place, you do not really accomplish your purpose. When the ox kicks against the goad, it is to spite the husbandman for having goaded him onward; but instead of hurting the husbandman it hurts itself. And when you have persecuted Christ in order to stop the progress of his gospel, let me ask you, have you ever stopped it at all? No; and ten thousand like you would not be able to stop the mighty onward rush of the host of God's elect. If thou thinkest, О man, that thou canst stop the progress of Christ's church, go thou and first bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades, and bid the universe stand still instead of circling round those fair stars! Go, stand by the winds, and bid them cease their wailing, or take thy station upon a hoary cliff
, and bid the roaring sea roll back when its tide is marching on the beach; and when thou hast stopped the universe, when sun, moon, and stars have been obedient to thy mandate, when the sea hath heard thee and obeyed thee, then come forth and stop the omnipotent progress of the church of Christ. But thou canst not do it. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." But what said the Almighty? He did not even get up to combat with them. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” The church cares not for all the noise of the world." Ĝod is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the