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name. On them, upon their election, are bestowed, as on a body, the
gifts of justification, holiness, and final salvation. The perfections of
Christ are shed around them ; His image is reflected from them ; so
that they receive His Name, as being in Him, and beloved of God in
the Beloved. Thus in their election are sealed up, to be unrolled and
enjoyed in due season, the successive privileges of the heirs of light.
In God's purpose — according to His grace — in the tendency and ulti-

' Luke i. 32, 33. Ezek. .x.xxiv. 23. 25, 26.

260 THE EPIPHANY. [Skrm.

mate effects of His dispensation — to be called and chosen is to be
saved. " Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate ; whom
He did predestinate, them he also called ; whom He called, them He
also justified ; whom He justified, them He also glorified."* Observe,
the whole scheme is spoken of as of a thing past ; for in His deep
counsel He contemplated from everlasting the one entire work, and
having decreed it, it is but a matter of time, of sooner or later, when
it will be realized. As the Lamb was slain from the foundation
of the world, so also were His redeemed gathered in from the first
according to His foreknowledge ; and it is not more inconsistent with
the solemn announcement of the text just cited, that some once elected
should fall away, (as we know they do,) than that an event should be
spoken of in it as past and perfect, which is incomplete and future.
All accidents are excluded, when He speaks ; the present and the to
come, delays and failures, vanish before the thought of His perfect
work. And hence it happens that the word " elect " in Scripture has
two senses, standing both for those who are called in order to salva-
tion, and for those, who at the last day, shall be the actually resulting
fruit of that holy call. For God's Providence moves by great and
comprehensive laws ; and His word is the mirror of His designs, not of
man's partial success in thwarting His gracious will.

The Church then, considered as one army militant, proceeding for-
ward from the house of bondage to Canaan, gains the victory, and
accomplishes what is predicted of her, though many soldiers fall in the
battle. While, however, they remain within her lines, they are in-
cluded in her blessedness so far as to be partakers of the gifts flowing
from election. And hence it is that so much stress is to be laid upon
.the duty of united worship ; for thus the multitude of believers coming
together, claim as one man the grace which is poured out upon the
one undivided body of Christ mystical. " Where two or three are
gathered together in His name, He is in the midst of them ;" nay
rather, blessed be His name ! He is so one with them, that they are
not their own, lose for the time their earth-stains, are radiant in His
infinite holiness, and have the promise of His eternal favour. Viewed
as one, the Church is still His image as at the first, pure and spotless,
His spouse all-glorious within, the Mother of Saints ; according to the
Scripture, " My dove, My undefiled is but one ; she is the only one of
her mother, she is the elect one of her that bare her ... . Thou art all
fair, My love ; there is no spot in thec."-|-

And what is true of the Church as a whole, is represented in Scrip-

* Rom. viii. 29, 30. t Cant. vi. 9 ; iv. 7.


ture as belonging also in some sense to each individual in it. ' I mean,
that as the Christian body was set up in the image of Christ, which is
gradually and in due season to be realized within it, so in like manner,
each of us, when made a Christian, is entrusted with gifts which centre
in eternal salvation. St. Peter says, we are " saved " through baptism ;
St. Paul, that we are " saved according to God's mercy by the washing
of regeneration ;" our Lord joins together water and the Spirit ; St.
Paul connects baptism with putting on Christ ; and in another place
with being " sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus,
and by the Spirit of our God."* To the same purport are our Lord's
words : " He that heareth my word, and belie veth on Him that sent
Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is
passed from death unto life."f

These remarks have been made with a view of showing the true
sense in which we must receive, on the one hand, the prophetic descrip-
tions of the Christian Church ; on the other, the grant of its privileges,
and of those of its separate members. Nothing is more counter to the
spirit of the Gospel than to hunger after signs and wonders ; and the
rule of Scripture interpretation now given, is especially adapted to wean
us from such wandering of heart. It is our duty, rather it is our bless-
edness, to walk by faith; therefore, we will take the promises (with
God's help) in faith ? we will believe they are fulfilled, and enjoy the
fruit of them before we see it. We will fully acknowledge, as being
firmly persuaded, that His word cannot return unto Him void ; that it
has its mission, and must prosper so far as substantially to accomplish
it. We will adore the Blessed Spirit, as coming and going as He list-
eth, and doing wonders daily which the world knows not of. We will
consider Baptism and the other Christian Ordinances, effectual signs
of grace, not forms and shadows, though men abuse and profane them ;
and particularly, as regards our immediate subject, we will unlearn, as
sober and serious men, the expectation of any public displays of God's
glory in the edification of His Church, seeing she is all-glorious within,
in that inward shrine, made up of faithful hearts, and inhabited by the
Spirit of grace. We will put off; so be it, all secular, all political views
of the victories of His kingdom. While labouring to unite its frag-
ments, which the malice of Satan has scattered to and fro, to recover
what is cast away, to purify what is corrupted, to strengthen what is
weak, to make it in all its parts what Christ would have it, a Church

* 1 Peter iii. 21. Tit. iii. 5. John iii. 5. Gal. iii. 27. 1 Cor. vi. H.
t John V. 24.


Militant, still (please God) we will not reckon on any visible fruit of
our labour. We will be content to believe our cause triumphant, when
we see it apparently defeated. We will silently bear the insults of the
enemies of Christ, and resign ourselves meekly to the shame and suffer-
ing which the errors of His followers bring upon us. We will endure
offences which the early Saints would have marvelled at, and Martyrs
would have died to redress. We will work with zeal, but as to the
Lord and not to men ; recollecting that even Apostles saw the sins of
the Churches they planted ; that St. Paul predicted that " evil men
and seducers would wax worse and worse ;" and that St. John seems
even to consider extraordinary unbelief as the very sign of the times of
the Gospel, as if the light increased the darkness of those who hated it.
" Little children, it is the last time ; and as ye have heard that Anti-
christ shall come, even now are there many Antichrists, whereby we
know that it is the last time."*

Therefore we will seek within for the Epiphany of Christ. We will
look towards his Holy Altar, and approach it for the fire of love and
purity which there burns. We will find comfort in the illumination
which Baptism gives. We will rest and be satisfied in His ordinances
and in His word. We will bless and praise His name, whenever he
vouchsafes to display His glory to us in the chance-meeting of any of
His Saints, and we will ever pray Him to manifest it in our own souls.




1 Cor. XV. 9, 10.

I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I
persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am : and
His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain ; but I laboured more
abundantly than they all : yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

To DAY we commemorate, not the whole History of St. Paul, nor his
Martyrdom, but his wonderful Conversion. Every season of his life is

* 2 Tim. ill. 1.3. 1 John ii. 18.


full of wonders, and admits of a separate commemoration ; which in-
deed we do make, whenever we read the Acts of the Apostles, or his
Epistles. On this his day, however, that event is selected for remem-
brance, which was the beginning of his wonderful course ; and we
may profitably pursue (please God) the train of thought thus opened
for us.

We cannot well forget the manner of his conversion. He was jour-
neying to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to §eize the
Christians, and bring them to Jerusalem. He had sided with the per-
secuting party from their first act of violence, the martyrdom of St.
Stephen ; and he continued foremost in a bad cause, with blind rage
endeavouring to defeat what really was the work of Divine power and
wisdom. In the midst of his fury, he was struck down by miracle, and
converted to the faith he persecuted. Observe the circumstances of
the case. When the blood of Stephen was shed, Saul, then a young
man, was standing by, "consenting unto his death," and "kept the
raiment of them that slew him."* Two speeches are recorded of the
Martyr in his last moments ; one, in w hich he prayed that God would
pardon his murderers, — the other his witness, that he saw the heavens
opened, and Jesus on God's right hand. His prayer was wonderfully
answered. Stephen saw his Saviour ; the next vision of that Saviour
to mortal man was vouchsafed to the very young man, even Saul, who
shared in his murder and his intercession.

Strange, indeed, it was ; and what would have been St. Stephen's
thoughts could he have known it ! The prayers of righteous men
avail much. The first Martyr had power with God to raise up the
greatest Apostle. Such was the honour put upon the first fruits of
those sufferings, upon which the Church was entering. Thus from the
beginning the blood of the Martyrs was the seed of the Church. Ste-
phen, one man, was put to death for saying that the Jewish people
were to have exclusive privileges no longer ; but from his very grave
rose the favoured instrument by whom the thousands and ten thousands
of the Gentiles were brought to the knov.ledge of the Truth !

1. Herein then, first, is St. Paul's conversion memorable ; that it
was a triumph over the enemy. When Almighty God would convert
the world, opening the door of faith to the Gentiles, who Avas the cho-
sen preacher of His mercy ? Not one of Christ's first followers. To
show His power. He put forth his hand into the very midst of the per-
secutors of His Son, and seized upon the most strenuous among them.
The prayer of a dying man is the token and occasion of his triumph

+ Acts xxii. 20.


which He had reserved for Himself. His strength is made perfect in
weakness. As of old, He broke the yoke of His people's burden, the
staff of their shoulder, the rod of their oppressor.* Saul made fu-
riously for Damascus, but the Lord Almighty " knew his abode, and his
going out and coming in, and his rage against Him ;" and " because
his rage against Him, and his tumult came up before Him," therefore
as in Sennacherib's case, though in a far different way, He " put His
hook in his nose, and His bridle in his lips, and turned him back by the
way by which he came."f " He spoiled principalities and powers, and
powers, and made a show of them openly,"! triumphing over the ser-
pent's head while his heel was wounded. Saul, the persecutor was
converted, and preached Christ in the synagogues.

2. In the next place, St. Paul's conversion may be considered as a
suitable introduction to the office he was called to execute in God's
providence. I have said it was a triumph over the enemies of Christ ;
but it was also an expressive emblem of the nature of God's general
dealings with the race of man. What are we all but rebels against
God, and enemies of the Truth ? what were the Gentiles in particular
at that time, but " alienated" from Him, " and enemies in their mind
by wicked works ?"§ Who then could so appropriately fulfil the pur-
pose of Him who came to call sinners to repentance, as one who es-
teemed himself the least of the Apostles, that was not meet to be
called an Apostle, because he had persecuted the Church of God ?
When Almighty God in His infinite mercy purposed to form a people to
Himself out of the heathen, as ves.sels for glory, first He chose the in-
strument of this His purpose, as a brand from the burning to be a type
of the rest. There is a parallel to this order of Providence in the Old
Testament. The Jews were bid to look unto the rock whence they
were hewn.|| Who was the especial patriarch of their nation ? — Jacob.
Abraham himself, indeed, had been called and blessed by God's mere
grace. Yet Abraham had remarkable faith. Jacob, however, the im-
mediate and peculiar Patriarch of the Jewish race, is represented in
the character of a .sinner, pardoned and reclaimed by Divine mercy, a
wanderer exalted to be the father of a great nation. Now I am not
venturing to describe him as he really was, but as he is represented to
us ; not personally, but in that particular point of view in which the
sacred history has placed him ; not as an individual, but as he is tj'pi-
cally, or in the way of doctrine. There is no mistaking the marks of
his character and fortunes in the history, designedly (as it would seem),.

* Isa. ix. 4. t Isa. xxxvii.28, 29. X Col. ii. 15. § Col. i. 21. |I Isa. li. 1.


recorded to humble Jewish pride. He makes his own confession, as St.
Paul afterwards ; " I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies."*
Every year too the Israelites Avere bid bring their offering, and avow
before God, that " a Syrian ready to perish was their father. "f Such
as was the father, such (it was reasonable to suppose) would be the
descendants. None would be " greater than their father Jacob,":}: for
whose sake the nation was blest.

In like manner St. Paul is, in one way of viewing the Dispensation,
the spiritual father of the Gentiles ; and in the history of his sin and its
most gracious forgiveness, he exemplifies far more than his brother
Apostles his own Gospel ; that we are all guilty before God, and can
be saved only by His free bounty. In his own words, " for this cause
obtained he mercy, that in him first Jesus Christ might show forth all
long-suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on
Him to life everlasting. "§

3. And, in the next place, St. Paul's previous course of life rendered
him, perhaps, after his conversion, more fit an instrument of God's pur-
poses towards the Gentiles, as well as a more striking specimen of
it. Here it is necessary to speak with caution. We know that, what-
ever were St. Paul's successes in the propagation of the Gospel, they
were in their source and nature not his, but through "the grace of God
which was with him." Still, God makes use of human means, and it is
allowable to inquire reverently what these were, and why St. Paul was
employed to convert the Heathen world rather than St. James the Less,
or St. John. Doubtless his intellectual endowments and acquirements
were among the circumstances which fitted him for his office. Yet,
may it not be supposed that there was something in his previous re-
ligious history, which especially disciplined him to be " all things to all
men 1" Nothing is so difficult as to enter into the characters and feel-
ings of men who have been brought up under a system of religion dif-
ferent from our own ; and to discern how they may be most forcibly
and profitably addressed, in order to win them over to the reception of
Divine truths, of which they are at present ignorant. Now St. Paul had
had experience in his own case, of a state of mind very different from
that which belonged to him as an Apostle. Though he had never been
polluted with Heathen immorality and profaneness, he had entertained
views and sentiments very far from Christian ; and had experienced a
conversion to which the other Apostles (as far as we know) were stran-
gers. I am far indeed from meaning that there is aught favourable to^
a man's after religion in an actual unsettling of principle, in lapsing into

* Gen. xxxii. 10. t Dcut. xxvi. 5, t John iv. 12. ^ 1 Tim. i. 16.


infidelity, and then returning again to religious belief. This was not
St. Paul's case ; he underwent no radical change of religious principle.
Much less would I give countenance to the notion, that a previous im-
moral life is other than a grievous permanent hindrance and a curse to
a man, after he has turned to God. Such considerations, however, are
out of place, in speaking of St. Paul. What I mean is, that his awful
rashness and blindness, his self-confident, headstrong, cruel rage, against
the worshippers of the true Messiah, then his strange conversion, then
the length of time that elapsed before his solemn ordination, during
which he was left to meditate in private on all that had happened, and
to anticipate the future ; all this constituted a peculiar preparation for
the office of preaching to a lost world, dead in sin. It gave him an ex-
tended insight, on the one hand, into the ways and designs of Provi-
dence, and, on the other hand, into the workings of sin in the human
heart, and the various modes of thinking to which the mind may be
trained. It taught him not to despair of the worst sinners, to be sharp-
sighted in detecting the sparks of faith, amid corrupt habits of life, and
to enter into the various temptations to which human nature is exposed.
It wrought in him a profound humility, which disposed him (if we may
say so) to bear meekly the abundance of the revelations given him ;
and it imparted to him a practical wisdom how to apply them to the con-
version of others, so as to be weak with the weak, and strong with the
strong, to bear their burdens, to instruct and encourage them, to
"strengthen his brethren," to rejoice and weep with them, in a word, to
be an earthly Paraclete, the comforter, help, and guide of his brethren.
It gave him to know in some good measure the hearts of men ; an at-
tribute (in its fulness) belonging to God alone, and possessed by Him
in union with perfect purity from all sin ; but which in us can scarcely
exist without our own melancholy experience, in some degree, of moral
evil in ourselves, since the innocent (it is their privilege) have not eaten
of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

4. Lastly, to guard against misconception of these last remarks, I
must speak distinctly on a part of the subject only touched upon hith-
erto, viz. on St. Paul's spiritual state before his conversion. For, in
sgite of what has been said by way of caution, perhaps I may still be
supposed to warrant the maxim sometimes maintained, that the greater
sinner makes the greater saint.

Now, observe, I do not allege that St. Paul's previous sins made him
a more spiritual Christian afterwards, but rendered him more fitted for a
particular purpose in God's providence, — more fitted, when converted,
to reclaim others ; just as a knowledge of languages (whether divinely
or humanly acquired) fits a man for the office of missionary, without


tending in any degree to make him a better man. I merely say, that if
we take two men equally advanced in faith and holiness, that one of
the two would preach to a variety of men with the greater success, who
had the greater experience in his own religious history of temptation,
the war of flesh and spirit, sin, and victory over sin ; though, at the
same time, at first sight it is of course unlikely that he who had experi-
enced all these changes of mind should be equal in faith and obedience
to the other who had served God from a child.

But, in the next place, let us observe, how very far St. Paul's conver-
sion is, in matter of fact, from holding out any encouragement to those
who live in sin, or any self-satisfaction, to those who have lived in it ;
as if their present or former disobedience could be a gain to them.

Why was mercy shown to Saul the persecutor ? he himself gives us
the reason, which we may safely make use of. " I obtained mercy, be-
cause I did it ignorantly in unbelief."* And why was he " enabled" to
preach the Gospel ? " Becaue Christ counted him faithful." We have
here the reason more clearly stated even than in Abraham's case, who
was honoured with special Divine revelations, and promised a name on
the earth, because God " knew him that he would command his chil-
dren and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, to do
justice and judgment, 'f Saul was ever faithful, according to his no-
tion of " the way of the Lord." Doubtless he sinned deeply and griev-
ously in persecuting the followers of Christ. Had he known the Holy
Scriptures, he never would have done so ; he would have recognized
Jesus to be the promised Saviour, as Simeon and Anna had, from the
first. But he was bred up in a human school, and paid more attention
to the writings of men than to the word of God. Still, observe, he dif-
fered from other enemies of Christ in this, that he kept a clear con-
science, and habitually obeyed God according to his knowledge. God
speaks to us in two ways, in our hearts and in his word. The latter and
clearer of these informants St. Paul knew little of; the former he could
not but know in his measure, (for it was within him,) and he obeyed it.
That inward voice was but feeble, mixed up and obscured with human
feelings and human traditions ; so that what his conscience told him to
do, was but partially true, and in part was wrong. Yet still, believing it
to speak God's will, he deferred to it, acting as he did afterwards when
he " was not disobedient to the heavenly vision," which informed him
Jesus was the Christ.;}: Hear his own account of himself: — "I have
lived in all good conscience before God until this day." " After the
most straitest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee." " Touching the

* 1 Tim. i. 12, 13. t Gen. xviii. 19. X Acts xxvi. 19.


righteousness which is in the Law, blameless,"* Here is no ease, no
self-indulgent habits, no wilful sin against the light, — nay, I will say na
pride. That is, though he was doubtless influenced by much sinful
self-confidence, in his violent and bigoted hatred of the Christians, and
though (as well as even the best of us) he was doubtless liable to the
occasional temptations and defilements of pride, yet, taking pride to
mean open rebellion against God, warring against God's authority, set-
ting up reason against God, this he had not. He " verily thought withia
himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus
of Nazareth." Turn to the case of Jews and Gentiles who remained
unconverted, and you will see the difference between them and him.
Think of the hypocritical Pharisees, who professed to be saints, and
were sinners ; "full of extortion, excess, and uncleanness ;""|" believing
Jesus to be the Christ, but not confessing Him, as " loving the praise of
men more than the praise of God.":}: St. Paul himself gives us an ac-
count of them in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. Can
it be made to apply to his own previous state ? Was the name of God
blasphemed among the Gentiles through him ? On the other hand, the
Gentile reasoners sought a vain wisdom. II These were they who de-
spised religion and practical morality as common matters, unworthy the
occupation of a refined and cultivated intellect. *' Some mocked, others
said. We will hear thee again of this matter. "§ They prided them-
selves on being above vulgar prejudices, — in being indiflferent to the
traditions afloat in the world about another life, — in regarding all re-
ligions as equally true and equally false. Such a hard, vain-glorious
temper our Lord solemnly condemns, when he says to the Church at
Laodicea, " I would thou wert cold or hot."

The Pharisees, then, were breakers of the Law ; the Gentile reason-
ers and statesmen were infidels. Both were proud, both despised the
voice of conscience. We see, then, from this review, the kind of sin
which God pities and pardons. All sin, indeed, when repented of, He
will put away ; but pride hardens the heart against repentance, and sen-

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 30 of 76)