Page images

essential and distinctive spirit. A man must love God, and have passed from death unto life, before he can love the brethren, as such ; for “ hereby we know that we love the children of God," that is, love them as God's children, “when we love God, and keep His commandments.” He may, it is true, be brought by circumstances into daily connexion with Christians, in the social or even the domestic scene, and yet this antipathy be but partially developed, because the intercourse may be merely superficial; the contrast may be, not at the religious, but at the secular points of character,—or more properly, on the common ground of secular engagements. But even if more intimate, all grating collision may have been prevented by that amiable softness, that self-denying humility, that gentle charity which leads the Christian to “ follow peace with all men,” and to “please all men for their good unto edification.” But whenever the carnal mind comes into contact with that which is the peculiar and distinctive character of the Christian, that contact must be to it the harsh encounter, the rude shock of antagonist principles which repel, depress, and irritate. And how could it be otherwise? “Two cannot walk together except they be agreed :” and what ground of agreement, what sympathy, could exist with those, whose whole spirit and conversation reprove their sins, and disturb their false peace, and whose life and example will, at the great day, as their own consciences testify, rise up with them in the judgment and condemn them, and leave them altogether without excuse ? And hence, not only does the Apostle testify that “the carnal mind is enmity against God," but our Lord himself testifies still further, that the world even hates those whom He has cho. sen out of the world, to be unto Him a peculiar people, zealous of good works—that such should be hated of all men for His name's sake. And His apostle, speaking by the Holy Ghost, is not afraid to pronounce brotherly love to be an unequivocal mark of regenerating grace, and of the salvation of a soul ; "we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”

In the moral and spiritual, as at the material, creation, the first fiat of Omnipotence is, “ Let there be light!” To this analogy between the first and second creation, and to his own striking and literal experience of it, St. Paul seems to allude, when he says to the Corinthians, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Preparatory, and antecedent to Saul's conversion, a light from heaven, above the brightness of the noon-day sun, shined round about him. At mid-day, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me, and them which journeyed with me. This aptly typifies the spiritual experience of every soul in the process of conversion. Conversion is a turning from darkness unto light, no less than from the power of Satan unto God. The grand object of our spiritual enemies, the rulers of the darkness of this world, is to cloud, delude, and darken the spiritual perceptions and faculties. The very first vi. sitation of the Divine Spirit pierces the clouds of error and delusion, and lets in the saving light of truth upon the soul. The sinner awakes as from a dream, and sees that, surrounded with tremendous realities, he has been living in a region of delusion, and conversant but with vain shadows. He sees the shortness and uncertainty of life, the instability of every human dependance, the transitoriness of all human


joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. He sees himself a sinner, guilty and impure. He sees God holy, and just, and true, sin hating and sin denouncing; and who will by no means clear the guilty. He sees that this God is no vague nonentity, no epicurean abstraction, but a real Being, incessantly present with, and watchfully observant of him : about his bed, and about his path, and spying out all his ways: and consequently, that every sin has been committed under the piercing glance and scrutinizing inspection of that holy Eye, that all-recording and unforgetting Mind. He sees that this mortal life is not, as hitherto he practically viewed it, the all of man's existence. He startles into the waking certainty that it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment: he anticipates in his own conscience the decision of that dread tribunal; and, with a realising faith, deep conviction, believes that there is a God and an eternity, a heaven and a hell.

The light which preceded Saul's conversion exceeded the brightness of the noon-day sun—that is, outshone every created light with which man is conversant, and dimmed its faded lustre. And such is the light of converting, saving grace. It eclipses the brightest lights which the pride and self-confidence of man have substituted for the Gospel of Christ. These all can but shew the length and breadth, the depth and height, the boundless extent, the infinitude of the thick darkness in which man by nature is involved ; but cannot let in one glimmering ray, as a clue to guide him from this region of darkness and desolation to the mount of the beatitudes, illumined by the rays of truth and love from the risen Sun of Righteousness. Philosophy could calmly speculate upon the beauty of virtue and order, and the eternal fitness of things : but philosophy could not supply an adequate motive, much less could it impart a sympathetic spirit, a congenialized nature : and therefore philosophy, while it amused the world with any speculations, never dreamed of fettering its votaries by the obligations of even its own scant and imperfect code. Philosophy shed but a pale, cold moonlight-a partial reflection, and bereft of all their native fire, of the rays of moral truth which emanated, at sundry times, and in divers manners, from the Uncreated Sun, and which were caught in occasional glimpses, dim, and few, and far between, through the foul and distorting atmosphere of the world. It was a light abundantly sufficient to puff up its possessors with a pride of knowledge, but wholly insufficient for those things which pertained to life and godliness; and, from its very nature, it contained within it no dawning promise of a coming day. Philosophy worshipped an “unknown God.” The object of its adoration was a mere metaphysical and speculative abstraction, without aught that could win to it the affections of its votary. Philosophy, to gain man's heart, wanted, on Plato's testimony, that virtue should become embodied and incarnate! It wanted, on St. Augustine's testimony, “the saving name” which he had early loved, even while he yet hung upon a mother's breasts. “The only thing," he says, “which damped my zeal, was that the name of Christ, that precious name which from my mother's milk I had learned to reverence, was not there. And whatever was without this name, however just, and learned, and polite, could not wholly carry away my heart." And again, speaking of the pagan philosophers, he says, “I dared not trust these with the healing of my soul, because they were without

the saving name of Christ.” In fact philosophy wanted that name which alone, when Godhead is contemplated by a realizing faith, can, at once, calm the conscience, sanctify the soul, and win the heart-it wanted the name, it wanted the person of Jesus !

Nor was even that dawning of the true light which illumined the Patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, and which the accommodating condescension of God had veiled and clouded with types, and mysteries, and prophecies, lest its full blaze should shock the unprepared vision, sufficient of itself to guide into the Messiah's kingdom. Saul must see a brighter light than that which shone upon him when he sat “at the feet of Gamaliel, and was taught by him according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers.” Even under the Mosaic dispensation, established as it was, and owned of God,“ the Holy Ghost," the Divine Agent in enlightening the soul," was not yet given " with evangelical light and power, “ because that Jesus was not yet glorified :” and without that light, kings and prophets in vain desired to see those things which “ God hath revealed to us by His Spirit,” and which are seen by the least in the kingdom of heaven.

The light which preceded Saul's conversion, was a light from heaven -and such is ever the light of converting, saving grace-a light from heaven, the fountain, from God “the Father of lights.” It shone suddenly-indicating its supernatural origin, and its distinctness from every other light which shone around him. And so, in every instance, whether conversion be instantaneous or gradual, it is not an advance in some previous course, an improvement of some previous condition of the soul, but a radical and entire change--a change which Scripture describes and illustrates everywhere by such passages as a new birth, a new creation, a conversion or turning round, so that old things have passed away, and all things become new-a passing from death unto life, from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.

The light which preceded Saul's conversion was not partial. It shone round about him ; and such is even the light of converting, saving grace. It presents in a new aspect every object with which man is conversant—himself and God, things present and things to come, time and eternity. It does not merely pour the light of knowledge into the understanding, but also the purer light of love into the heart. Converting grace does not bring new objects before the mental eye, but sheds a bright light, which compels observation, upon objects with which before it was dimly conversant; and, then, their own prominence, and importance, and beauty, rivet practical attention to them. Conversion creates, not new objects, but a new heart. Saving faith is not a new creed, but a new faculty. It is not a new system of truths, once unknown or rejected, and now embraced; but it is attention to the careless, understanding to the ignorant, sight to the blind, life to the dead.

On beholding this light Saul immediately fell to the earth ; and such is ever the effect of that light which converting grace lets in upon the soul. It does not puff up with a conceit of superior knowledge, superior privileges, superior holiness; but prostrates in a profound sense, a cutting conviction of ignorance, and guilt, and pollution. The first office of the Spirit is to convince of sin, and consequently to humble the soul. Such throughout the sacred record has been the uniform effect of every manifestation of God. “ I have heard of Thee," says Job, “ by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” “Woe is me,” says Isaiah, “ for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” “I was alive,” says St. Paul himself, “ without the law, once; but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” But why multiply examples ? How could aught but self-abasement be the effect of a light which shewed to a guilty sinner, in contrasted view, himself and God?

But these humbling manifestations are always preparatory to spiritual exaltation, unless the process be marred by spiritual sloth, or by the false peace which the world and its comforters minister. A sense of ignorance wakes attention to the saving knowledge of Christ, and the glad tidings of the gospel of peace. Conviction of sin prepares the mind to hear with joy the inward witness of the Spirit, while He testifies to the troubled conscience of the penitent who pleads guilty to every charge, and without evasion or extenuation confesses, “I have sinned!" “ The Lord also hath put away thy sin: thou shalt not die.” A loathing sense of his own corruption and impotence, prepares him to appreciate and cherish the sanctifying and strengthening influences of the Holy Spirit. Every self-abasing and self-denying process is designed to empty the soul of self, that it may, in that same degree, be filled with the fulness of God.

But the Holy Spirit, whose peculiar office in the work of redemption is to convince and convert, does not merely play in light before the intellect, or even impart some glow of warmth to the affections. He speaks with awakening and alarming voice to the secure and slumbering conscience. " I heard," says St. Paul, “ 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." The Spirit assumes the office of the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, and is the voice of one crying in the wilderness of a desolated heartdesolated by the terrors of the Lord - Flee from the wrath to come, and lay hold on eternal life. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Prepare ye the way of the Lord ; make His paths straight.

Nor does the Holy Spirit deal merely in vague generalities, which sound upon the outer ear, but come not home with power to the individual conscience. He sheds, for each, His illuminating light upon those portions of the Divine law which he has violated. These illuminated passages, as if reflected traits of a naked soul, depict and describe an individual sinner with all the accuracy and keeping of truth and life, and denounce his particular doom. The light reflected from the word of God, or book of providence, shines inward into the darkest and most secret recesses of the soul, and shews the sinner to himself; while a voice, which, by its felt power of searching the heart and trying the reins, he knows to be the voice of God, at each description and denouncement addresses him as by name, and proclaims in the ears of his excited conscience, “ Thou art the man!"

Without this distinct and personal appeal to the individual conscience, all other means were ineffectual. The understanding might be flooded with light-such as the understanding is capable of receiving; the terrors of the Lord, like the loud but inarticulate thunder-clap, might sound daily from the Divine word in the sinner's ear; but without this distinct and personal application, by the inward voice of the Spirit, no saving effects will follow. Saul's companions in this mission of persecuting zeal, as he himself tells us, “ saw indeed the light, and were afraid ; but they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me,"—that is, heard it not as an articulate voice ; for thus only can we reconcile this account given by St. Paul himself, with that of St. Luke in the 9th chapter, “The men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. In fact it appears from a comparison of the two accounts, that they neither saw the person, nor heard the voice, of Christ. Christ was not revealed to them : and therefore we hear from them no expressions of ignorance, no acknowledgments of guilt and humiliation and penitence, no anxious inquiry, “Who art thou, Lord?” no submissive resignation to the dictates of His will and word, “ What shall I do, Lord ?"

Nor is it without a cause that so great importance is attached to the accomplishment in Saul of that double experience for which Ananias tells him he had been chosen of God, " That thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.” These two experiences are essential to that conviction of sin which leads to evangelical repentance and saving faith. Sin, in its various ruinous consequences, may open many windows in the soul through which conscience may look abroad, affrighted, upon a scene of present desolation and coming wrath ; but none of these vistas of horror can enlarge the imprisoned and tortured spirit, or guide-save by repelling it to the door of evangelical repentance, through which alone it can flee, at once, from present tortures, and from the wrath to come. These views, all, can but shew its guilt and danger, and shut it up unto the faith, and thus become its schoolmaster to bring it unto Christ that it may be justified by faith. It is when the sinner isolates himself from all consequences of his sin, whether to himself or others, whether temporal or eternal ; and views his sin in its naked, essential character, as the transgression of God's holy law—as an outrage against his Omnipotent Creator and Preserver, his infinitely gracious Benefactor and Redeemer, who loved him and gave himself for him : it is when he hears the voice of that Benefactor tenderly appealing to his heart, “Why persecutest thou me ?" and feels that his sins have crucified afresh the Son of God, and put him to an open shame; and with the Psalmist, as he personates the Christian, exclaims, “ Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight;" it is when he sees his sin in all the aggravation which the mercies and favours of Providence, the privileges and means of grace, bestowed upon him, have conferred upon it;-it is when he hears the Saviour's appeal addressed with a peculiar emphasis to him, Why persecutest thou me?"—thou who hast been favoured with so many opportunities of instruction, with so many temporal blessings to win your heart, and so many religious privileges to guide it into the ways of truth and holiness—thou, who, when thou dost contrast thyself in these respects with others, canst not but acknowledge, that from thee much may be required, because to thee much has been given ;-it is when sin is thus viewed, that a solid foundation of repentance is laid, on which may be raised, through that faith which worketh by love, a permanent superstructure of holiness. This is to prepare the way of the Lord, and to make his

« PreviousContinue »