PAUL'S HUMILIATING CONFESSION.
THE OPPOSITION HE MET WITH FROM THE JEWS.
HIS RECEPTION AT JERUSALEM BY THE APOSTLES.
THE NATURAL ENERGY OF HIS CHARACTER.
PRIDE is the great opposer of regenerating grace, and would, if unsubdued,
forever close the heart against the entrance of the Spirit. By an act of
sovereign love, the proud sinner is made sensible of his guilt and
helplessness. The Spirit, through his convincing light, empties him of all
haughty thoughts of his own righteousness and strength; while the Law, in
which he trusted, affords him no shelter from the arm of Justice. By its
spirituality and extent, reaching to the inmost motions of the will, the Law
pronounces his condemnation; and extorting from him the anxious cry- What
trust I do to be saved?- becomes a schoolmaster to bring him unto Christ,
that he may be justified by faith. Thus, through grace he renounces all
dependence on his own works, and is resolved to be saved in God's way, or to
perish at his feet.
Such were the feelings of Paul, now that be was baptized with the Holy
Spirit, and made a servant and an Apostle of Jesus Christ -SELF was
crucified. With heart-felt sorrow he confessed his guilt, bore the most open
testimony to the former enmity of his heart, and magnified that grace which
brought him out of darkness into marvelous light. O happy change! the fruit
of everlasting love.
Many striking instances are recorded of his self-abasing acknowledgments.
When standing on the stairs of a castle at Jerusalem, he said to the
infuriated multitude, who were ready to tear him in pieces for his boldness
in preaching Christ, as the King and Redeemer of Israel; "I persecuted this
way unto death, binding and delivering into prison both men and women, as
the high-priest bears me witness, and all the estate of the elders, from
whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus to
bring those who were there, bound to Jerusalem to be punished." With this
usual sincerity, when pleading his cause before King Agrippa, he
unhesitatingly declared, "I thought with myself, that I ought to do many
things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, which things I did in
Jerusalem; and many of the saints I put 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 often in every synagogue, and compelled
them to blaspheme, and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted
them, even unto strange cities." To the Galatian converts, he told the same
humiliating history; "You have heard of my life in time past in the Jews'
religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God, and
devastated it." In his Epistles to the Christians at Corinth, he thus abases
himself; "I am the least of the Apostles, and am not fit to be called an
Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God."
Enumerating to the believers at Philippi his Pharisaical merits, of which he
was once so proud, he ranks as one of their number, "his zeal in persecuting
the Church." To the Ephesians, in a strain of sweet humility, he thus extols
his grace which was so richly manifested in his conversion; "I was made a
minister, according to the gift of the grace of God, given unto me by the
effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all
saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the
unsearchable riches of Christ."
How beautiful is true humility; it is the very image of Jesus. This heavenly
grace gives such a sweetness to him who possesses it, that even the world
attempts to imitate so lovely an attainment. The essential difference
between Christian and counterfeit humility is soon discovered, by the
patient endurance of the one, and the petulant nature of the other. The
haughty Saul, when he became a Christian, was humbled by every view of
himself; but his humility was blended with gratitude, as is beautifully
instanced in his Epistle to Timothy; "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has
enabled me, for he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, who
was once a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained
mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord
was exceedingly abundant in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is
a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came
into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief. Howbeit, for this
cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might show forth all
long-suffering, for a pattern to those who should hereafter believe on him
to life everlasting."
After this exhibition of free unmerited mercy, no poor sinner need despair.
To the heavy laden soul crying out for help, the converted Saul gives the
cheering intelligence, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be
saved." How blessed is the assurance, that with the Lord there is mercy,
that with him there is plenteous redemption. Delightful truth! He is good
and ready to forgive, full of compassion and gracious, long-suffering, and
plenteous in mercy and truth. Happy then is the man who has the God of Jacob
for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God; for the Lord takes pleasure
in those who fear him, in those that hope in his mercy. What can exceed the
richness of this divine promise, made to every humble believer in Jesus;
"Because he has set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him, I will
set him on high, because he has known my name. He shall call upon me, and I
will answer him. I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver and honor
him; with long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation."
As Paul, like a ravenous wolf, devoured the sheep of Christ, so he himself,
when made one of the Savior's flock, became the object of bitter
persecution. How true it is, that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus
shall suffer persecution. Even natural affection cannot restrain the
violence of this deep-seated enmity against Christ and his people; for, "the
brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child; and
the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put
to death." With what faithfulness did Jesus forewarn his disciples, that
through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom. But, did he leave them
comfortless? Oh! how gracious are his parting words- "These things have I
spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall
have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
"After that many days were fulfilled," the sacred historian informs us, "the
Jews at Damascus took counsel to kill Saul." They watched the gates of the
city day and night, so intent were they on their purpose. But their laying
wait was made known to Saul, and the disciples took him by night, and let
him down by the wall in a basket, by which means he escaped out of their
How secure is the believer in Jesus. "As the mountains are round about
Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people. Behold, he that keeps
Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." Jesus guarded the life of his
servant, to whom he had appointed a great and glorious work. He could
therefore say to King Agrippa; "Having obtained help of God, I continue to
this day." Blessed are they, who are actively engaged in the Lord's service;
they may have many trials by the way, but He, who for their sakes endured
the cross, despising the shame, will uphold them by his grace, and at length
give them a crown of glory that fades not away.
We might naturally expect, that a powerful opposition would be excited
against a man, whose conversion to the faith of Christ afforded such an
overpowering evidence to the truth of Christianity, and whose holy life in
Christ condemned the worldliness of the Priests and Pharisees. The more
Paul, by his life and doctrine, demonstrated the power and excellency of the
Gospel, the more inveterate was the enmity manifested against him. The minds
of the Jews, as a nation, were judicially blinded. They knew not the day of
their visitation. The Lord would have gathered them, as a hen gathers her
chickens under her wings, and they would not. Their language towards Jesus
was; "We will not have this man to reign over us."- and to his faithful
servant; "Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he
should live." No arguments could convince them, no reasoning could persuade
them, no miracles, wrought before their eyes, could remove the stubbornness
of their unbelief. Nothing, no nothing but the Almighty Power of the Spirit
of God could bring them, as humble penitents, to the foot of the cross, make
them to rejoice in the atonement of Jesus, and cause them to glorify God, by
an entire submission to his will.
"Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart,
nevertheless, when they shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken
away." When that reviving period shall arrive, a new impulse will be given
to the Christian Church; and the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the
earth, as the waters cover the sea.
In reading the history of the infant Church, we might naturally expect that
the disciples, on hearing of the conversion of Saul, would instantly hail it
as a glorious triumph of Christianity. But, how faithfully does the sacred
historian describe the feelings of the primitive Christians, who, knowing
that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, the more
effectually to deceive and to destroy, dreaded lest they should be betrayed
under the mask of friendship. "When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to
join himself to the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, and believed
not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the
Apostles, and declared unto them, how he had seen the Lord in the way, and
that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the
name of Jesus."
What could be more natural, than that Saul, having tasted the grace of
Jesus, should be anxious to join himself to his beloved people. The Apostle
mentions this visit to Jerusalem, in his Epistle to the Galatians; "You know
what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently
persecuted the Christians. I did my best to get rid of them. I was one of
the most religious Jews of my own age, and I tried as hard as possible to
follow all the old traditions of my religion. But then something happened!
For it pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me, even before I
was born! What undeserved mercy! Then he revealed his Son to me so that I
could proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When all this
happened to me, I did not rush out to consult with anyone else; nor did I go
up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. No, I
went away into Arabia and later returned to the city of Damascus. It was not
until three years later that I finally went to Jerusalem for a visit with
Peter and stayed there with him for fifteen days. And the only other apostle
I met at that time was James, our Lord's brother. You must believe what I am
saying, for I declare before God that I am not lying. Then after this visit,
I went north into the provinces of Syria and Cilicia. And still the
Christians in the churches in Judea didn't know me personally. All they knew
was that people were saying, "The one who used to persecute us now preaches
the very faith he tried to destroy!" And they gave glory to God because of
When Saul first introduced himself to the church of Jerusalem, in the new
character of an Apostle, we cannot be surprised at the tardy reception he
met with, as the disciples would well remember the caution given to them by
their Divine Master- "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's
clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." How exactly does this
accord with our own experience. Any sudden change of character generally
excites a degree of suspicion in our minds, and makes us cautious, lest, by
coming too hastily to a favorable decision, we should become the dupes of
artful deception; and more especially, if an avowed enemy, suddenly
professes himself to be our friend.
But, if there be joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner
that repents, is there no feeling of delight in the hearts of believers,
when sinners, and especially persecutors, are converted to the faith of
Christ? Assuredly there is- and such holy joy was experienced by the saints
at Jerusalem, when Barnabas had dissipated their fears, by bearing witness
to the grace of Jesus manifested towards this bloody persecutor. The
Apostles admitted Paul to the fellowship of the saints; they rejoiced over
him; he was with them coming in, and going out of Jerusalem; and in their
Epistle to the Gentile converts on the subject of circumcision, they styled
him and Barnabas; "Beloved- chosen men, who had hazarded their lives for the
name of the Lord Jesus." Thus they bore testimony to the truth of his
conversion; and they glorified God in him.
During his stay at Jerusalem, the zealous Paul was actively engaged in the
work to which Jesus had appointed him. He spoke boldly in the name of the
Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians; but so violent was their
enmity to the Truth, that they went about to slay him; which, when the
brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to
Tarsus. "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and
Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the
comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied."
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. This ancient aphorism,
founded upon experience, proves the truth of David's declaration; "God is in
the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right
early." The disciples, who were scattered abroad upon the persecution that
arose about Stephen, went everywhere preaching the word. Philip went down to
the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them, and there was great joy
in that city. Many traveled as far as Venice, and Cyprus, and Antioch,
preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. Some of them were men of
Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke unto the
Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus; and the hand of the Lord was with them;
and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
When tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in
Jerusalem, the hearts of the disciples overflowed with joy. Being anxious to
ascertain the reality of these conversions, they sent forth Barnabas, that
he should go as far as Antioch. This good man, who was full of the Holy
Spirit, and of faith, gladly undertook the journey. When he came to Antioch,
and saw the grace of God, as displayed in the spirit and conduct of these
converts to the Truth, who were first honored by the name of Christian, he
was glad, and exhorted them all that with purpose of heart, they would
cleave unto the Lord. His visit and labors were greatly blessed; for much
people was added unto the Lord. O that we could now behold a renewal of
these gracious manifestations of the Spirit; that this ancient promise might
now be experienced in all its fullness- "I will cause the shower to come
down in his season, there shall be a shower of blessings." May we never
cease to pray, until God shall make our Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
Christian love is of a peculiarly cementing nature; it binds those together
by the sweetest ties whose hearts are filled with the Spirit of Jesus. This
uniting love was felt in all its delightful influence by the early
Christians, whose trials and consolations were derived from the same
sources. From the world, they experienced contempt and persecution; from
Christ their Divine Savior, they received strength and peace. This union of
heart was enjoyed by Barnabas and Paul, whose lives were now devoted to the
glory of the Redeemer.
Having introduced Paul to the church at Jerusalem, and feeling his heart
knit to this monument of the Savior's grace, Barnabas was desirous to have
him as a fellow-laborer. He, therefore, departed to Tarsus, where Paul had
been sent by the brethren to escape the fury of the Jews; and when he had
found him, he brought him unto Antioch. For a whole year, these honored
servants of Christ, assembled themselves with the Church, and taught many
people. Paul, being called by special grace to the apostolic office, was not
permitted to remain in obscurity. He was a chosen vessel, and had a great
work to do. Jesus, therefore brought him into his vineyard, which the
Apostle cultivated with unwearied labor, and watered with many prayers and
When the Lord bestows his gifts, he designs them for use, and not for idle
display. The faith which he gives, is a working faith, and must be tried.
The patience which he imparts, must have its perfect work. Thus wrote James
to the twelve tribes who were scattered abroad; "Brethren, count it all joy,
when you fall into diverse temptations, knowing this, that the trying of
your faith works patience; but let patience have her perfect work, that you
may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
O what an honor does God put upon poor mortals, when be employs them in his
service. The highest archangel derives his honor and happiness, from
fulfilling, without any mixture of sin, the commands of the Almighty. Jesus,
who is in the bosom of the Father, has taught us to pray, "Your will be done
on earth, as it is in heaven." Were our views of Jehovah's greatness and
glory, such as they will be when we see him as he is, how lowly would every
human distinction appear, compared with that honor which rests upon the
saints of the Most High.
Shall a worm of the earth, a rebel sinner, a hell deserving creature, be
made a child of God; yes, an heir of God through Christ? Nothing but
infinite Wisdom could have devised- nothing but infinite Power could have
effected- nothing but infinite Love could have revealed, and applied, in all
its fullness, so vast a blessing. Darkness, despair, and destruction would
have overwhelmed our apostate race, had not infinite Mercy rejoiced against
judgment, through the atoning blood of the Lamb of God.
With never-ceasing delight Paul and Barnabas declared these glad tidings of
great joy to the listening crowds at Antioch. They spoke from the heart, to
the heart, having themselves tasted that the Lord is gracious, and living in
the daily enjoyment of his presence, through the influence of the Holy
Spirit. O that our hearts felt this glow of holy love, which rendered the
primitive believers so abundantly useful, and caused them to shine as lights
in the world.
In tracing the life and character of Paul, there is one feature of peculiar
prominence, which cannot fail to strike every attentive observer- THE
NATURAL ENERGY OF HIS MIND. He pursued no half measures, he entered into no
cold calculations; what he did, he did with all his heart. This he
intimated, when pleading before King Agrippa; "I verily thought with myself,
that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth;"
-and he fully acted upon that conviction. Being dark in his views of
prophetic truth respecting the Messiah, he stumbled at that Stone which God
had laid in Zion. Jesus was to him a rock of offence. Hence all his energies
were called into action to suppress the growing Church of Christ, and to
silence those who proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God, and the Savior of the
world. But, when enlightened by the Holy Spirit to see the glory of
Emmanuel, and, to behold in the virgin's Son, the Mighty God, the
Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace; a total change took place within
him. His native energies were then directed into anew channel. Being brought
under the influence of holy love; his ardor, though unquenchable, was
tempered by mildness.
With incessant toil he labored to promote the cause of his beloved Savior,
esteeming no sacrifice too great to advance his kingdom. Forbearance and
charity shed their sweetness over his character, while decision and courage
proved the firmness of his faith. He was truly a burning and a shining
light– a city set on a hill, which could not be hiden. The sacred historian
records several instances of his boldness in declaring the truth of the
At JERUSALEM, as we have already seen, he spoke boldly in the name of the
Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians. At ANTIOCH, Paul and Barnabas
waxed bold, and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should first
have been spoken to you, but seeing you put it from you, and, judge
yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." At
Iconium they abode long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who gave
testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be
done by their hands. At EPHESUS, Paul went into the synagogue, and spoke
boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things
concerning the kingdom of God.
Lukewarmness and faint-heartedness are traitors in the camp of Israel, and
do more to weaken the cause of truth than the fiercest opposition from its
determined enemies. Faith and love, patience and prayer, are mighty weapons
in the hand of the Spirit. The weakest saint, when exercising these graces,
shall come off more than conqueror over the powers of darkness.
The reason why so many shrink from suffering for Christ's sake, arises from
the coldness of their love. Their faith, being weak, cannot bear them up
against that stream of persecution which so powerfully sets in against them.
Through fear, they yield to the attacks of the enemy, and thus bring
distress into their consciences, as well as discredit on the Gospel. The
realities of Eternity seem to be forgotten; or, at least, but faintly
impressed upon their minds. Looking more at present inconveniences connected
with a bold attachment to Christ, than at the glories to be revealed, they
flag in their Christian course, and would forever perish, if not restored
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The undaunted Apostle was a stranger to that fear of man, which brings a
snare and causes multitudes to shrink from the cross. Paul being convinced
of the truth of Christianity, through the immediate teaching of his divine
Savior, and the inward witness of the Spirit, feared not the face of man,
nor the fury of the oppressor. Whether in Jerusalem, amid the bigoted Jews,
or at Athens, among the philosophers of the age, he gloried in the cross of
Christ; and drew all his peace and joy from a believing reliance on the
power and grace of Jesus.
The poison of popularity, the prospect of some temporal advantage, a false
shame, the love of ease, a dread of suffering; in a word, the love of the
world, concentrating all these evils within itself, causes many a minister
of the Gospel to betray his trust, and many a promising professor to droop
Faith in the atonement of Christ, is the victory that overcomes the world.
This divine principle made the faithful Apostle always to triumph in Christ.
Through the power of the cross, the world had lost its charms, and death its
terrors. A heavenly light filled his mind, and an all-constraining love his
heart. He saw in Jesus, all that was precious, and he found in him all that
he needed; hence he disregarded the frowns of men, and was willing to bear
shame and reproach for Jesus' sake. Being filled with the Spirit, he
preached the word of life with the fullest confidence of success; well
knowing, that through the combined power of Truth and Love, the stoutest
hearts would be humbled, the hardest softened, and the most polluted
When Jesus was seated at the right-hand of the Father, in fulfillment of his
promise, he graciously poured out the Holy Spirit on his Apostles. With this
Divine unction, they went forth to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation;
and nothing could exceed the fortitude which they displayed. Their courage
astonished the Jewish rulers; of whom it is recorded, that, "when they saw
the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and
ignorant men, they marveled, and took knowledge of them- that they had been
To encourage his disciples before his departure, Jesus said, "Hitherto you
have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may
be full." Being now as sheep in the midst of wolves, they needed strength
and protection. With a believing reliance on this promise, "Then all the
believers were united as they lifted their voices in prayer: "O Sovereign
Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them... Herod
Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel
were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. In
fact, everything they did occurred according to your eternal will and plan.
And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness
in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and
wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus." After this
prayer, the building where they were meeting shook, and they were all filled
with the Holy Spirit. And they preached God's message with boldness."
It may well be said, that the prayer of faith moves the hand that moves the
world. Happy, thrice happy would it be for the Christian Church, if all her
ministers were men of a kindred spirit, who, in the fullness of their faith
and love, could sacrifice reputation, ease, wealth, yes, even life itself,
for the Gospel's sake. But alas! the spirit of the world has made sad
inroads into the visible Church of Christ; for many are slumbering on the
lap of ease, who should be watchmen on the walls, and champions in the camp
of Zion. Still, there are many blessed witnesses, who are valiant for the
Truth, whose light shines in the midst of darkness, and whose labors are
rendered effectual in spreading the knowledge of Christ. May their numbers
be abundantly increased, until Zion shall become a praise in the earth.
To every such faithful laborer, Paul gives this most important charge, "Be
an example to all believers in what you teach, in the way you live, in your
love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the
Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. Give
your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so
that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on
your teaching. Stay true to what is right, and God will save you and those
who hear you."
How rousing was the Divine commission given by Jehovah to his servant
Jeremiah; "Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command
you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I
have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand
against the whole land--against the kings of Judah, its officials, its
priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not
overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you."
With equal force is the command to Ezekiel, "Son of man, do not fear them.
Don't be afraid even though their threats are sharp as thorns and barbed
like briers, and they sting like scorpions. Do not be dismayed by their dark
scowls. For remember, they are rebels! You must give them my messages
whether they listen or not. But they won't listen, for they are completely
The great Apostle of the Gentiles entered fully into the spirit of these
Divine charges. He was no timid, no time-serving shepherd of the flock. His
character is beautifully described by Malachi, under the general description
of faithful pastors; "They passed on to the people all the truth they
received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living
good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. The
priests' lips should guard knowledge, and people should go to them for
instruction, for the priests are the messengers of the Lord Almighty."
May all the friends of Christ be stirred up to fervent prayer at this
eventful period, that a spirit of revival may be poured out on all our
Churches, lest the Lord, in righteous judgment, should fulfill on us, his
threatening to the church at Ephesus; "Remember from where you are fallen;
and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly,
and will remove your candlestick out of his place, except you repent."
In pity to a dying world,
Almighty Father, send your grace;
And let your banner be unfurled,
And faith's slow triumph speed its pace.
What millions of immortal souls,
Still live unmindful of your way
And as death's fearful torrent rolls,
Hundreds are daily swept away.
O Lord, must creatures be undone,
Who from your hand receive their breath?
Shall they be lost, for whom your Son,
Came down to suffer shame and death?
Let sovereign mercy interpose,
To rescue sinners from their doom;
And send your Word to heal their woes,
And light their passage to the tomb.
O spread your Truth through every clime,
Teach stubborn souls to weep and pray;
Let this be the accepted time,
And this salvation's glorious day.