George Whitefield Sermon 41

Saul's Conversion

Acts 9:22, "But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the

Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ."

It is an undoubted truth, however paradoxical it may seem to natural

men, that "whosoever will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer

persecution." And therefore it is very remarkable, that our blessed Lord,

in his glorious sermon on the mount, after he had been pronouncing those

blessed, who were poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, and such like,

immediately adds (and spends no less than three verses in this beatitude

"Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake." No one ever

was, or ever will be endowed with the forementioned graces in any degree,

but he will be persuaded for it in a measure. There is an irreconcilable

enmity between the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent. And if

we are not of the world, but show by our fruits that we are of the number

of those whom Jesus Christ has chosen out of this world, for that very

reason the world will hate us. As this is true of every particular

Christian, so it is true of every Christian church in general. For some

years past we have heard but little of a public persecution: Why? Because

but little of the power of godliness has prevailed amongst all

denominations. The strong man armed has had full possession of most

professors hearts, and therefore he has let them rest in a false peace. But

we may assure ourselves, when Jesus Christ begins to gather in his elect in

any remarkable manner, and opens an effectual door for preaching the

everlasting gospel, persecution will flame out, and Satan and his

emissaries will do their utmost (though all in vain) to stop the work of

God. Thus it was in the first ages, thus it is in our days, and thus it

will be, till time shall be no more.

Christians and Christian churches must then expect enemies. Our chief

concern should be, to learn how to behave towards them in a Christian

manner: For, unless we make good heed to ourselves, we shall embitter our

spirits, and act unbecoming the followers of that Lord, "who, when he was

reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; and, as a

lamb before his shearers is dumb, so opened he not his mouth." But what

motive shall we make use of to bring ourselves to this blessed lamb-like

temper? Next to the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts,

I know of no consideration more conducive to teach us long-suffering

towards our most bitter persecutors, than this, "That, for all we know to

the contrary, some of those very persons, who are now persecuting, may be

chosen from all eternity by God, and hereafter called in time, to edify and

build up the church of Christ."

The persecutor Saul, mentioned in the words of the text, (and whose

conversion, God willing, I propose to treat on in the following discourse)

is a noble instance of this kind.

I say, a persecutor, and that a bloody one. For see how he is

introduced in the beginning of this chapter; "And Saul yet breathing out

threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of our Lord, went unto the

high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus tot he synagogues, that

if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring

them bound to Jerusalem."

"And Saul yet breathing out." This implies that he had been a

persecutor before. To prove which, we need only look back to the 7th

chapter, where we shall find him so very remarkably active at Stephen's

death, that "the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet,

whose name was Saul." He seems, though young, to be in some authority.

Perhaps, for his seal against the Christians, he was preferred in the

church, and was allowed to sit in the great council or Sanhedrin: For we

are told, chap. 8, ver. 1, "That Saul was consenting unto his death;" and

again, at ver. 3, he is brought in as exceeding all in his opposition; for

thus speaks the evangelist, "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church,

entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to

prison." One would have imagined, that this should have satisfied, at least

abated the fury of this young zealot. No: being exceedingly mad against

them, as he himself informs Agrippa, and having made havoc of all in

Jerusalem, he now is resolved to persecute the disciples of the Lord, even

to strange cities; and therefore yet breathing out threatenings. "Breathing

out." The words are very emphatical, and expressive of his bitter enmity.

It was as natural to him now to threaten the Christians, as it was for him

to breathe: he could scarce speak, but it was some threatenings against

them. Nay, he not only breathed out threatenings, but slaughters also (and

those who threaten, would also slaughter, if it were in their power)

against the disciples of the Lord. Insatiable therefore as hell, finding he

could not confute or stop the Christians by force of argument, he is

resolved to do it by force of arms; and therefore went to the high priest

(for there never was a persecution yet without a high priest at the head of

it) and desired of him letters, issued out of his spiritual court, to the

synagogues or ecclesiastical courts at Damascus, giving him authority,

"that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might

bring them bound unto Jerusalem," I suppose, there to be arraigned and

condemned in the high priest's court. Observe how he speaks of the

Christians. Luke, who wrote the Acts, calls them "disciples of the Lord,"

and Saul stiles them "Men and women of this way." I doubt not but he

represented them as a company of upstart enthusiasts, that had lately

gotten into a new method or way of living; that would not be content with

the temple-service, but they must be righteous over-much, and have their

private meetings or conventicles, and break bread, as they called it, from

house to house, to the great disturbance of the established clergy, and to

the utter subversion of all order and decency. I do not hear that the high

priest makes any objection: no, he was as willing to grant letters, as Saul

was to ask them; and wonderfully pleased within himself, to find he had

such an active zealot to employ against the Christians.

Well then, a judicial process is immediately issued out, with the high

priest's seal affixed to it. And now methinks I see the young persecutor

finely equipped, and pleasing himself with thoughts, how triumphantly he

should ride back with the "men and women of this way," dragging them after

him to Jerusalem.

What a condition may we imagine the poor disciples at Damascus were in

at this time! No doubt they had heard of Saul's imprisoning and making

havoc of the saints at Jerusalem, and we may well suppose they were

apprised of his design against them. I am persuaded this was a growing,

because a trying time with these dear people. O how did they wrestle with

God in prayer, beseeching him either to deliver them from, or give them

grace sufficient to enable them to bear up under, the fury of their

persecutors? The high priest doubtless with the rest of his reverend

brethren, flattered themselves, that they should now put an effectual stop

to this growing heresy, and waited with impatience for Saul's return.

But "He that sitteth in heaven laughs them to scorn, the Lord has them

in derision." And therefore, ver. 3, "As Saul journeyed, and came even near

unto Damascus," perhaps to the very gates, (our Lord permitting this, to

try the faith of his disciples, and more conspicuously to baffle the

designs of his enemies) "suddenly (at mid-day, as he acquaints Agrippa)

there shined round about him a light from heaven," a light brighter than

the sun; "and he fell to the earth (why not into hell?) and heard a voice

saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me/" The word is doubled,

"Saul, Saul:" Like that of our Lord to Martha: "Martha, Martha;" or the

prophet, O earth, earth, earth!" Perhaps these words came like thunder to

his soul. That they were spoken audibly, we are assured from verse 7, "His

companions heard the voice." Our Lord now arrests the persecuting zealot,

calling him by name; for the word never does us good, till we find it

spoken to us in particular. "Saul, Saul, Why persecutest thou Me?" Put the

emphasis upon the word WHY, what evil have I done? Put it upon the word

PERSECUTEST, why persecutest? I suppose Saul thought he was not

persecuting; no, he was only putting the laws of the ecclesiastical court

into execution; but Jesus, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, saw through

the hypocrisy of his heart, that, notwithstanding his specious pretenses,

all this proceeded from a persecuting spirit, and secret enmity of heart

against God; and therefore says, "Why persecutest thou me?" Put the

emphasis upon the word ME, why persecutest thou me? alas! Saul was not

persecuting Christ, was he? He was only taking care to prevent innovations

in the church, and bringing a company of enthusiasts to justice, who

otherwise would overturn the established constitution. But Jesus says, "Why

persecutest thou me?" For what is done to Christ's disciples, he takes as

done to himself, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. He that touches

Christ's disciples, touches the apple of his eye; and they who persecute

the followers of our Lord, would persecute our Lord himself, was he again

to come and tabernacle amongst us.

I do not find that Saul gives any reason why he did persecute; no, he

was struck dumb; as every persecutor will be, when Jesus Christ puts this

same question to them at the terrible day of judgment. But being pricked at

the heart, no doubt with a sense not only of this, but of all his other

offenses against the great God, he said, ver. 5, "Who art thou, Lord?" See

how soon God can change the heart and voice of his most bitter enemies. Not

many days ago, Saul was not only blaspheming Christ himself, but, as much

as in him lay, compelling others to blaspheme also: but not, he, who before

was an impostor; is called Lord; "Who art thou; Lord?" This admirably

points out the way in which God's Spirit works upon the heart: it first

powerfully convinces of sin, and of our damnable state; and then puts us

upon inquiring after Jesus Christ. Saul being struck to the ground, or

pricked to the heart, cries out after Jesus, "Who art thou, Lord?" As many

of you that were never so far made sensible of your damnable state, as to

be made feelingly to seek after Jesus Christ, were never yet truly

convicted by, much less converted to, God. May the Lord, who struck Saul,

effectually now strike all my Christless hearers, and set them upon

inquiring after Jesus, as their all in all! Saul said, "Who art thou, Lord?

And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest." Never did any one

inquire truly after Jesus Christ, but Christ made a saving discovery of

himself, to his soul. It should seem, our Lord appeared to him in person;

for Ananias, afterwards, says, "The Lord who appeared to thee in the way

which thou camest;" though this may only imply Christ's meeting him in the

way; it is not much matter: it is plain Christ here speaks to him, and

says, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest." It is remarkable, how our Lord

takes to himself the name of Jesus; for it is a name in which he delights:

I am Jesus, a Savior of my people, both from the guilt and power of their

sins; "a Jesus, whom thou persecutest." This seems to be spoken to convince

Saul more and more of his sin; and I doubt not, but every word was sharper

than a two-edged sword, and came like so many daggers to his heart; O how

did these words affect him! a Jesus! A Savior! And yet I am persecuting

him! this strikes him with horror; but then the word Jesus, though he was a

persecutor, might give him some hope. However, our dear Lord, to convince

Saul that he was to be saved by grace, and that he was not afraid of his

power and enmity, tells him, "It is hard for thee to kick against the

pricks." As much as to say, though he was persecuting, yet he could not

overthrow the church of Christ: for he would sit as King upon his holy hill

of Zion; the malice of men or devils should never be able to prevail

against him.

Ver. 6, "And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou

have me to do?" Those, who think Saul had a discovery of Jesus made to his

heart before, think that this question is the result of his faith, and that

he now desires to know what he shall do, out of gratitude, for what the

Lord had done for his soul; in this sense it may be understood; "and I have

made use of it as an instance to prove, that faith will work by love; but

perhaps it may be more agreeable to the context, if we suppose, that Saul

had only some distant discovery of Christ made to him, and not o full

assurance of faith: for we are told, "he trembling and astonished,"

trembling at the thoughts of his persecuting a Jesus, and astonished at his

own vileness, and the infinite condescension of this Jesus, cries out,

"Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Persons under soul-trouble, and sore

conviction, would be glad to do any thing, or comply on any terms, to get

peace with God. "Arise, (says our Lord) and go into the city, and it shall

be told thee what thou shalt do."

And here we will leave Saul a while, and see what is become of his

companions. But what shall we say? God is a sovereign agent; his sacred

Spirit bloweth when and where it listeth; "he will have mercy on whom he

will have mercy." Saul is taken, but, as far as we know to the contrary,

his fellow-travelers are left to perish in their sins: for we are told,

ver. 7, "That the men who journeyed with him stood, indeed, speechless, and

hearing a confused voice;" I say, a confused voice, for so the word

signifies, and must be so interpreted, in order to reconcile it with chap.

22, ver. 9, where Saul, giving an account of these men, tells Agrippa,

"They heard not the voice f hi that spake to me." They heard a voice, a

confused noise, but not the articulate voice of him that spake to Saul, and

therefore remained unconverted. For what are all ordinances, all, even the

;most extraordinary dispensations of providence, without Christ speaks to

the soul in them? Thus it is now under the word preached: many, like Saul's

companions, are sometimes so struck with the outgoings of God appearing in

the sanctuary, that they even stand speechless; they hear the preacher's

voice, but not the voice of the Son of God, who, perhaps, at the same time

is speaking effectually to many other hearts; this I have known often; and

what shall we say to these things? O the depth of the sovereignty of God!

It is past finding out. Lord, I desire to adore what I cannot comprehend.

"Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight!"

But to return to Saul: the Lord bids him, "arise and go into the

city;" and we are told, ver. 8, that "Saul arose from the earth; and when

his eyes were opened, (he was so overpowered with the greatness of the

light that shone upon them, that) he saw no man; but they led him by the

hand, and brought him into Damascus," that very city which was to be the

place of his executing or imprisoning the disciples of the Lord. "And he

was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink." But who can

tell what horrors of conscience, what convulsions of soul, what deep and

pungent convictions of sin he underwent during these three long days? It

was this took away his appetite (for who can eat or drink when under a

sense of the wrath of God for sin?) and, being to be greatly employed

hereafter, he must be greatly humbled now; therefore, the Lord leaves him

three days groaning under the spirit of bondage, and buffeted, no doubt,

with the fiery darts of the devil, that, being tempted like unto his

brethren, he might be able hereafter to succor those that were tempted. Had

Saul applied to any of the blind guides of the Jewish church, under these

circumstances, they would have said, he was mad, or going besides himself;

as many carnal teachers and blind Pharisees now deal with, and so more and

more distress, poor souls laboring under awakening convictions of their

damnable state. But God often at our first awakenings, visits us with sore

trials, especially those who are, like Saul, to shine in the church, and to

be used as instruments in bringing many sons to glory: those who are to be

highly exalted, must first be deeply humbled; and this I speak for the

comfort of such, who may be now groaning under the spirit of bondage, and

perhaps, like Saul, can neither eat nor drink; for I have generally

observed, that those who have had the deepest convictions, have afterwards

been favored with the most precious communications, and enjoyed most of the

divine presence in their souls. This was after wards remarkably exemplified

in Saul, who was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

But will the Lord leave his poor servant in this distress? No; his

Jesus (though Saul persecuted him) promised (and he will perform) that "it

should be told him what he must do. And there was a certain disciple at

Damascus, named Ananias; and unto him, said the Lord, in a vision, Ananias;

and he said, Behold, I am here, Lord." What a holy familiarity is there

between Jesus Christ and regenerate souls! Ananias had been used to such

love-visits, and therefore knew the voice of his beloved. The Lord says,

"Ananias;" Ananias says, "Behold, I am here, Lord." Thus it is that Christ

now, as well as formerly, often talks with his children at sundry times and

after divers manners, as a man talketh with his friend. But what has the

Lord to say to Ananias?

Ver. 11, "And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street,

which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas, for one called

Saul of Tarsus;" (See here for your comfort, O children of the most high

God, what notice Jesus Christ takes of the street and the hose where his

own dear servants lodge) "for behold, he prayeth;" but why is this ushered

in with the word behold? What, was it such a wonder, to hear that Saul was

praying? Why, Saul was a Pharisee, and therefore, no doubt, tasted and made

long prayers: and, since we are told that he profited above many of his

equals, I doubt not but he was taken notice of for his gift in prayer; and

yet it seems, that before these three days, Saul never prayed in his life;

and why? Because, before these three days, he never felt himself a

condemned creature: he was alive in his own opinion, because without a

knowledge of the spiritual meaning of the law; he felt not a want of, and

therefore, before now, cried not after a Jesus; and consequently, though he

might have said or made a prayer (as many Pharisees do now a-days) he never

prayed a prayer; but now, "behold! He prayed indeed;" and this was urged as

one reason why he was converted. None of God's children, as one observes,

comes into the world still-born; prayer is the very breath of the new

creature: and therefore, if we are prayerless, we are Christless; if we

never had the spirit of supplication, it is a sad sign that we never had

the spirit of grace in our souls: and you may be assured you never did

pray, unless you have felt yourselves sinners, and seen the want of Jesus

to be your Savior. May the Lord, whom I serve in the gospel of his dear

Son, prick you all to the heart, and may it be said of you all, as it was

of Saul, behold, they pray!

The Lord goes on to encourage Ananias to go to Saul: says he, ver. 12,

"For he hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias, coming in, and putting

his hand on him, that he might receive his sight." So that though Christ

converted Saul immediately by himself, yet he will carry on the work, thus

begun, by a minister. Happy they, who under soul-troubles have such

experienced guides, and as well acquainted with Jesus Christ as Ananias

was; you that have such, make much of and be thankful for them; and you who

have them not, trust in God; he will carry on his own work without them.

Doubtless, Ananias was a good man; but shall I commend him for his

answer to our Lord? I commend him not: for says he, ver 13, "Lord, I have

heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to they saints at

Jerusalem: And here, he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all

that call upon thy name." I fear this answer proceeded from some relics of

self-righteousness, as well as infidelity, that lay undiscovered in the

heart of Ananias. "Arise, (said our Lord) and go into the street, which is

called Straight, and inquire in the hose of Judas, for one called Saul of

Tarsus; for behold, he prayeth!" One would think this was sufficient to

satisfy him; but says Ananias, "Lord, I have heart by many of this man (he

seems to speak of him with much contempt; for even good men are apt to

think too contemptuously of those who are yet in their sins) how much evil

he hath done to thy saints in Jerusalem: And here, he hath authority from

the chief priests to bind all that call upon Christ's name, should bind him

also, if he went unto him; but the Lord silences all objections, with a "Go

thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the

Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how

great things he must suffer for my name's sake." Here God stops his mouth

immediately, by asserting his sovereignty, and preaching to him the

doctrine of election. And the frequent conversion of notorious sinners to

God, to me is one great proof, amongst a thousand others, of that precious,

but too much exploded and sadly misrepresented, doctrine of God's electing

love; for whence is it that such are taken, whilst thousands, not near so

vile, die senseless and stupid? All the answer that can be given, is, they

are chosen vessels; "Go thy way, (says God) for he is a chosen vessel unto

me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of

Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's

sake." Observe what a close connection there is between doing and suffering

for Christ. If any of my brethren in the ministry are present, let them

bear what preferment we must expect, if we are called out to work

remarkably for God: not great prebendaries or bishopricks, but great

sufferings for our Lord's name sake; these are the fruits of our labor: and

he that will not contentedly suffer great things for preaching Christ, is

not worthy of him. Suffering will be found to be the best preferment, when

w are called to give an account of our ministry at the great day.

I do not hear, that Ananias quarreled with God concerning the doctrine

of election; no, (O that all good men would, in this, learn of him!) "He

went his way, and entered into the house; and put his hands on him, and

said, Brother Saul;" just now, it was THIS MAN; now it is BROTHER SAUL: it

is not matter what a man has been, if he be now a Christian; the same

should be our brother, our sister and mother; God blots our every convert's

transgressions as with a thick cloud, and so should we; the more vile a man

has been, the more should we love him when believing in Christ, because

Christ will be more glorified on his behalf. I doubt not, but Ananias was

wonderfully delighted to hear that so remarkable a persecutor was brought

home to God: I am persuaded he felt his soul immediately united to him by

love, and therefore addresses him not with, thou persecutor, thou murderer,

that camest to butcher me and my friends; but, "brother Saul." It is

remarkable that the primitive Christians much used the word brother and

brethren; I know it is a term now much in reproach; but those who despise

it, I believe, would be glad to be of our brotherhood, when they see us

sitting at the right-hand of the Majesty on high. "Brother Saul, the Lord

(even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest) hath sent

me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy

Ghost." At this time, we may suppose, he laid his hands upon him. See the


Ver. 18, "Immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales,

and he received sight forthwith;" not only bodily, but spiritual sight; he

emerged as it were into a new world; he saw, and felt too, things

unutterable: he felt a union of soul with God; he received the spirit of

adoption; he could now, with a full assurance of faith, cry, "Abba,

Father." Now was he filled with the Holy Ghost; and had the love of God

shed abroad in his heart; now were the days of his mourning ended; now was

Christ formed in his soul; now he could give men and devils the challenge,

,knowing that Christ had justified him; now he saw the excellencies of

Christ, and esteemed him the fairest among ten thousand. You only know how

to sympathize with the apostle in his joy, who, after a long night of

bondage, have been set free by the Spirit, and have received joy in the

Holy Ghost. May all that are now mourning, as Saul was, be comforted in

like manner!

The scales are now removed from the eyes of Saul's mind; Ananias has

done that for him, under God: he must now do another office, baptize him,

and so receive him into the visible church of Christ; a good proof to me of

the necessity of baptism where it may he had: for I find here, as well as

elsewhere, that baptism is administered even to those who had received the

Holy Ghost; Saul was convinced of this, and therefore arose and was

baptized; and now it is time for him to recruit the outward man, which, by

three days abstinence and spiritual conflicts, had been much impaired; we

are therefore told, (ver. 19), "when he had received meat, he was


But O, with what comfort did the apostle now eat his food? I am sure

it was with singleness, I am persuaded also with gladness of heart; and

why? He knew that he was reconciled to God; and, for my own part, did I not

know how blind and flinty our hearts are by nature, I should wonder how any

one could eat even his common food with any satisfaction, who has not some

well-grounded hope of his being reconciled to God. Our Lord intimates thus

much to us: for in his glorious prayer, after he has taught us to pray for

our daily bread, immediately adds that petition, "Forgive us our

trespasses;" as though our daily bread would do us no service, unless we

were sensible of having the forgiveness of our sins.

To proceed; Saul hath received meat, an is strengthened; and whither

will he go now? To see the brethren; "then was Saul certain days with the

disciples that were at Damascus." If we know and love Christ, we shall also

love and desire to be acquainted with the brethren of Christ: we may

generally know a man by his company. And though all are not saints that

associate with saints, (for tares will be always springing up amongst the

wheat till the time of harvest) yet, if we never keep company, but are shy

and ashamed of the despised children of God, it is a certain sign we have

not yet experimentally learned Jesus, or received him into our hearts. My

dear friends, be not deceived; if we are friends to the Bridegroom, we

shall be friends to the children of the Bridegroom. Saul, as soon as he was

filled with the Holy Ghost, "was certain days with the disciples that were

at Damascus."

But who can tell what joy these disciples felt when Saul came amongst

them! I suppose holy Ananias introduced him. Methinks I see the once

persecuting zealot, when they came to salute him with a holy kiss, throwing

himself upon each of their necks, weeping over them with floods of tears,

and saying, "" my brother, O my sister, Can you forgive me? Can you give

such a wretch as I the right-hand of fellowship, who intended to drag you

behind me bound unto Jerusalem!" Thus, I say, we may suppose Saul addressed

himself to his fellow-disciples; and I doubt not but they were as ready to

forgive and forget as Ananias was, and saluted him with the endearing title

of "brother Saul." Lovely was this meeting; so lovely, that it seemed Saul

continued certain days with them, to communicate experiences, and to learn

the way of God more perfectly; to pray for a blessing on his future

ministry, and to praise Christ Jesus for what he had done for their souls.

Saul, perhaps, had sat certain years at the feet of Gamaliel, but

undoubtedly learned more these certain days, than he had learned before in

all his life. It pleases me to think how this great scholar is transformed

by the renewing of his mind. What a mighty change was here! That so great a

man as Saul was, both as to his station in life, and internal

qualifications, and such a bitter enemy to the Christians; for him, I say,

to go and be certain days with the people of THIS mad way, and to sit

quietly, and be taught of illiterate men, as many of these disciples we may

be sure were; what a substantial proof was this of the reality of his


What a hurry and confusion may we suppose the chief priests were now

in! I warrant they were ready to cry out, What! Is he also deceived? As for

the common people, who knew not the law, and are accursed, for them to be

carried away, is no such wonder; but for a man bred up at the feet of

Gamaliel, for such a scholar, such an enemy to the cause as Saul; for him

to be led away with a company of silly, deceived men and women, surely it

is impossible: we cannot believe it. But Saul soon convinces them of the

reality of his becoming a fool for Christ's sake: for straightway, instead

of going to deliver the letters from the high priests, as they expected, in

order to bring the disciples that were at Damascus bound to Jerusalem, "he

preached Christ n the synagogues, that he is the Son of God." This is

another proof of his being converted. He not only conversed with Christians

in private, but he preached Christ publicly in the synagogues; especially,

he insisted on the divinity of our Lord, proving, notwithstanding his state

of humiliation, that he was really the Son of God.

But why did Saul preach Christ thus? Because he had felt the power of

Christ upon his own soul. And here is the reason why Christ is so seldom

preached, and his divinity so slightly insisted on in our synagogues:

because the generality of those that pretend to preach him, never felt a

saving work of conversion upon their own souls. How can they preach, unless

they are first taught of, and then sent by God? Saul did not preach Christ

before he knew him; no more should any one else. An unconverted minister,

though he could speak with the tongues of men and angels, will be but as a

sounding brass and tinkling cymbal to those whose senses are exercised to

discern spiritual things. Ministers that are unconverted, may talk and

declaim of Christ, and prove from books that he is the Son of God; but they

cannot preach with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power, unless

they preach from experience, and have had a proof of his divinity, by a

work of grace wrought upon their own souls. God forgive those, who lay

hands on an unconverted man, knowing that he is such: I would not do it for

a thousand worlds, Lord Jesus, keep thy own faithful servants pure, and let

them not be partakers of other men's sins!

Such an instance as was Saul's conversion, we may be assured, must

make a great deal of noise; and, therefore, no wonder we are told, ver. 21,

"But all that heard him were amazed, and said, Is not this he that

destroyed them who called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for

that intent, that he might bring them bound to the chief priests."

Thus it will be with all that appear publicly for Jesus Christ; and it

is as impossible for a true Christian to be hid, as a city built upon a

hill. Brethren, if you are faithful to, you must be reproached and have

remarks made on you for Christ; especially of you have been remarkably

wicked before your conversion. Your friends will say, is not this he, or

she, who a little while ago would run to as great an excess of riot and

vanity as the worst of us all? What has turned your brain? -- Or if you

have been close, false, formal hypocrites, as Saul was, they will wonder

that you should be so deceived, as to think you were not in a safe state

before. No doubt, numbers were surprised to hear Saul, who was touching the

law blameless, affirm that he was in a damnable condition (as in all

probability he did) a few days before.

Brethren, you must expect to meet with many such difficulties as

these. The scourge of the tongue, is generally the first cross we are

called to bear for the sake of Christ. Let not, therefore, this move you:

It did not intimidate, no, it rather encouraged Saul: says the text, "But

Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt at

Damascus, proving that this is very Christ." Opposition never yet did, or

ever will hurt a sincere convert: Nothing like opposition to make the man

of God perfect. None but a hireling, who careth not for the sheep, will be

affrighted at the approach or barking of wolves. Christ's ministers are as

bold as lions: it is not for such men as they to flee.

And therefore (that I may draw towards a conclusion() let the

ministers and disciples of Christ learn from Saul, not to fear men or their

revilings; but, like him, increase in strength, the more wicked men

endeavor to weaken their hands. We cannot be Christians without being

opposed: no; disciples in general must suffer; ministers in particular must

suffer great things. But let not this move any of us from our steadfastness

in the gospel: He that stood by and strengthened Saul, will also stand by

and strengthen us: He is a God mighty to save all that put their trust in

him. If we look up with an eye of faith, we, as well as the first martyr

Stephen, may see Jesus standing at the right hand of God, ready to assist

and protect us. Though the Lord' seat is in heaven, yet he has respect to

his saints in an especial manner, when suffering here on earth: then the

Spirit of Christ and of glory rests upon their souls. And, if I may speak

my own experience, I never enjoy more rich communications from God than

when despised and rejected of men for the sake of Jesus Christ." However

little they may design it, my enemies are my greatest friends. What I most

fear, is a calm; but the enmity which is in the hearts of natural men

against Christ, will not suffer them to be quiet long; No; as I hope the

work of God will increase, so the rags of men and devils will increase

also. Let us put on, therefore, the whole armor of God: let us not fear the

face of men: "Let us fear him only, who can destroy both body and soul in

hell." I say unto you let us fear him alone. You see how soon God can stop

the fury of his enemies.

You have just now heard of a proud, powerful zealot stopped in his

full career, struck down to the earth with a light from heaven, converted

by the almighty power of efficacious grace, and thereupon zealously

promoting, nay, resolutely suffering for, the faith, which once with

threatenings and slaughters he endeavored to destroy. Let his teach us to

pity and pray for our Lord's most inveterate enemies. Who knows, but in

answer thereunto, our Lord may give them repentance unto life? Most think,

that Christ had respect to Stephen's prayer, when he converted Saul.

Perhaps for this reason God suffers his adversaries to go on, that his

goodness and power may shine more bright in their conversion.,

But let not the persecutors of Christ take encouragement from this to

continue in their opposition. Remember, though Saul was converted, yet the

high-priest, and Saul's companions, were left dead in trespasses and sins.

And, if this should be your case, you will of all men be most miserable:

for persecutors have the lowest place in hell. And, if Saul was struck to

the earth by a light from heaven, how will you be able to stand before

Jesus Christ, when he comes in terrible majesty to take vengeance on all

those who have persecuted his gospel? Then the question, "Why persecutest

thou me?" will cut you through and through. The secret enmity of your

hearts shall be then detected before men and angels, and you shall be

doomed to dwell in the blackness of darkness for evermore. Kiss the Son,

therefore, lest he be angry: for even you may yet find mercy, if you

believe on the Son of God: though you persecute him, yet he will be your

Jesus. I cannot despair of any of you, when I find a Saul among the

disciples at ?Damascus. What though your sins are as scarlet, the blood of

Christ shall wash them as white as snow. Having much to be forgiven,

despair not; only believe, and like Saul, of whom I have now been speaking,

love much. He counted himself the chiefest sinner of all, and therefore

labored more abundantly than all.

Who is there among you fearing the Lord? Whose hearts hath the Lord

now opened to hearken to the voice of his poor unworthy servant? Surely,

the Lord will not let me preach in vain. Who is the happy soul that is this

day to be washed in the blood of the Lamb? Will no poor sinner take

encouragement from Saul to come to Jesus Christ? You are all thronging

round, but which of you will touch the Lord Jesus? What a comfort will it

be to Saul, and to your own souls, when you meet him in heaven, to tell

him, that hearing of his, was a means, under God, of your conversion!

Doubtless it was written for the encouragement of all poor, returning

sinners; he himself tells us so: for "in me God showed all long-suffering,

that I might be an example to them that should hereafter believe." Was Saul

here himself, he would tell you so, indeed he would; but being dead, by

this account of his conversion he yet speaketh. O that God may speak by it

to your hearts! O that the arrows of God might this day stick fast in your

souls, and you made to cry out, "Who art thou, Lord?" Are there any such

amongst you? Methinks I feel something of what this Saul felt, when he

said, "I travail in birth again for you, till Christ be formed again in

your hearts." O come, come away to Jesus, in whom Saul believed; and then I

care not if the high-priests issue out never so many writs, or injuriously

drag me to a prison. The thoughts of being instrumental in saving you, will

make me sing praises even at midnight. And I know you will be my joy and

crown of rejoicing, when I am delivered from this earthly prison, and meet

you in the kingdom of God hereafter.

Now to God, &c.