The Persecutor Surprised: Acts 9

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CT 9{I WOULD desire particularly to ask the question, why was it that God said to Moses, who was a good man, as we would popularly term it, "Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet"? (Ex. 3:55And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. (Exodus 3:5).) But that to a wretched rebel like Saul of Tarsus, in the hour when his malignity against Christ was at its height, God, as it were, draws nigh to him, addresses him by name, and then and there takes him up to make him a pattern of the grace that is in His own heart. There surely must be some weighty reason to account for the different way in which God acts in both these cases;-let us look a little at each. Moses, as I have said, was a man in his day remarkable for the very opposite of that which distinguished Saul of Tarsus, raised up as well as fitted of God to lead forth Jehovah's people out of Egypt; and yet when he ventured to draw nigh and look at the burning bush, he is not permitted. God Himself insists on distance between Moses and Himself; now it is not that the blessed God is in any sense indifferent to the sorrows or afflictions of enslaved Israel: what a blessed word that is, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people, which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;" and yet, to the man who is to carry out all that is expressed in such words, God says, "Draw not nigh," and Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.
The very contrary, and contrast of all this, is supplied in what is commonly called the conversion of Saul. Why is it that God keeps up distance with Moses, and Himself draws nigh to a persecutor like Saul? The answer is at once simple and plain, because His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, had died upon the cross, and in death had not only made atonement, but so glorified God, that what God was not free to do, in consistency with His own character, in the day of Moses, He is perfectly free to do in the day of Saul of Tarsus. In the day of Ex. 3, and up to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, man, as a child of Adam, was tested by God, and because under law, had demands made upon him by God in righteousness; in other words, God was demanding from man what man was both unable and unwilling to give. Man was still on his trial, and because so, to him, as such, God says you cannot come near me, "draw not nigh hither;" the blessed God may, and does bear with man, test him, and proves him in every way, but nearness to God is that which cannot be known, while as yet the first man is on his trial before God; but it may be said, Why could not God have granted that nearness to Himself, or Himself drawn nigh to a sinner, as in the case of Saul of Tarsus, on the ground of the sacrifice of Christ TO BE offered?
The answer is as simple as it is plain; so long as the history of the first man (or man as connected with Adam) is not closed or ended, on the contrary, is allowed a place, though on trial, God must, while demanding from him, keep him at a distance, else we should have a willful rebellious creature allowed on that ground, and brought into that relationship, which is true only of the one who is in Christ a new creation; -and beside all this, as long as the first man is a recognized existence before God, God must, in consistency with Himself, demand from man; but this very demanding from him is in itself keeping man at a distance, as he cannot answer to the claims of a holy God. When I speak of the first man, I mean man as he is by nature connected with Adam, who brought ruin upon the race; and when I speak of a recognized existence, and God making demands upon it, I mean that judgment had not been executed upon it; God looked at it as still to be tested and tried, and consequently looked for what became Him from it.
But to turn to the history of Saul of Tarsus; how different it is there! God comes to give righteousness, not to look for it, or demand it. His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, had been to earth, had died on the cross, and by His precious death had made propitiation, and as well as ending in God's sight the first man He supplied an answer to every righteous claim of a holy God. God can now come out and express His love for the sinner, yea for the very chief of sinners; and here it may be well to look at what made Saul of Tarsus the chief of sinners. It surely was not that he was an immoral man, or an outcast from society, as they say: were he so he would never have been selected for, and charged with, the mission on which he was running, when God stopped him; on the contrary, Phil. 3 tells us that Saul was one unequaled among his fellows for morality. "If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin; an Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church, touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless." What made him chief of sinners was, not immorality, but the dreadful will and purpose with which he set himself against the purpose and mind of God. Listen to his own account of it;-"I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth; which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up 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 oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities." (Acts 26:9-119I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. 11And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. (Acts 26:9‑11)) Who could conceive wilfulness or wickedness more desperate than this, to force from city to city the scattered saints of God, and not this only, but to compel them to blaspheme the one who was to them above every one; on whose account they are suffering at the hands of this relentless hater of Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, what contrasts rise up before the soul as we think of it! With the natural thought of God and His ways, how would you predicate the course He would adopt with a wretch like Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the object of his terrible hate? Why, of course, you say, Almighty power would sweep from the earth a plague like Saul; the sword of divine vengeance and justice would be unsheathed to overtake such a one in his wild wickedness. But oh, how different from all this natural thought of God, His blessed way with poor Saul! Stop him God will, but with what? With the pit? No, but with glory! A light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shone round about him; at mid-day, when the sun is brightest, Saul is arrested by what is brighter still! What a sight! A scorner, despiser, hater of Christ in heaven, awakened, arrested, spoken to by that very blessed One Himself: " Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me"? That very One Himself who had been on the cross, under the judgment, because of man's sin; that very One Himself, who, in that wonderful moment, knew what it was to be forsaken of God, that such as Saul might never be forgotten of Him; now risen up from among the dead, received up into glory, causes the rays of that glory to fall upon the persecutor's path, draws nigh to him, speaks to him, comes not to hurl him into the bottomless pit, but to take him up; to give him forgiveness, righteousness, glory; to make a pattern man of him, a chosen vessel unto Himself; to bear his name before the Gentiles, kings and children of Israel. Such is the way of His grace now, even to the vilest sinner. Christ has died, and by His death righteousness has been established, the love of God which was not liberated to travel out to sinners until righteousness is established now goes out world wide. There is not only salvation for the vilest sinner, but glory; it is the joy of the heart of God to minister everything now from Himself to sinners. May there be, by the Holy Ghost, in the hearts of all who read these pages, a desire to accept and receive what the blessed God delights to bestow. W. T. T.