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it. This therefore is particularly mentioned in our collect, and made the subject of thanksgiving. The collect contains two parts-A recital of the blessings which God conferred on the world by the instrumentality of our Apostle --And a prayer founded on that recital.
The employment of ministers in the dispeursation of the gospel, and all its resulting benefits, are exclusively the work of God; and to Him the whole glory is due. If “Paul plant and “ Apollos water,” it is “God who giveth the “ increase.” For He raises up and qualifies the instruments for the purposes of His will, and it is His agency, accompanying the word preached, that gives it success.
Our church in her collect therefore ascribes all the blessed effects of St. Paul's ministry to God as their sole author, and hereby instructs her ministers in the necessity of humility and supplication, and her people in the duty of neither despising the instruments of their spiritual profit on the one hand, nor of idolizing their persons on the other.
The extent of St. Paul's labours and usefulness was immense. By the blessing of God on his exertions the whole Roman empire, then commonly called the world, was evangelized. Churches were planted throughout all its borders, and the banner of the cross e. ected whereever the wing of the Roman Eagle extended its shadow. Our prescribed limits will not permit us to expatiate in this wide field of inquiry; nor indeed is it necessary, as a whole book in the sacred volume is almost intirely occupied by the subject. “ The Acts of the Apostles” are chiefly memoirs of St. Paul.
The introductory part of our collect will lead us to consider--The history and character of St.
Paul before his conversionHis conversion itself-And its consequences.
Our Apostle, whose Jewish name was Saul, was born in Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, a city famous for its opulence and learning, the inhabitants of which enjoyed the privileges of Roman citizens. Here he received the first rudiments of his literary education ; but he was afterwards sent to Jerusalem to be educated at the feet of Gamaliel in the study of the Divine law. He was by trade a tent-maker; for it is to be observed that all the Jews, of whatever rank, were brought up to some branch of business.
The religious character of St. Paul was very exemplary. He was well acquainted, as might be expected from his education, with the Divine law, and a strict observer of all its rites and ceremonies. His own pen has informed us, (Gal. i. 14,) that he “ profited in the Jews' religion “ above many his equals in his own nation,
being more exceedingly zealous of the tra“ ditions of his fathers :” and in another place, (Phil. iii. 4, 5, 6,) that “if any other man
thought that he had whereof he might glory " in the flesh, he 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 righ« teousness which is in the law, blameless.” But with all these outward advantages and endowmients he was an utter stranger to the spirit of the law, and to that internal holiness which it enjoins. Perfectly satisfied with his own attainments, he “trusted in himself that he was “ righteous, and despised others.”
He " was
alive without the law;" utterly ignorant of its spiritual requisitions, he was in his own estimation safe from its penalties, and entitled to the Divine approbation, the favourite of heaven and! the heir of eternal life. Though he was a man of fine natural talents and of extensive erudition, and had both read and studied his Bible, yet he was unacquainted with “ the one thing needful,” which cannot be known without Divine teaching. For our Apostle tells us, in the account which he gives of his conversion, (Gal. i. 15, 16) that “ it pleased God, who called him by His grace, to “ reveal His Son in him." Previously to this revelation he was a bitter persecutor of the church of God. At the death of St. Stephen, he gave his consent to that atrocious act, and guarded the clothes of them that slew him while they were engaged in their murtherous work. And afterwards, in consequence of his furious zealand implacable enmity to Christianity, he obtained a commission from the Sanhedrim to persecute with imprisonment and death all the disciples of Jesus whom he could find. It was while he was engaged in the execution of this bloody commission, that he was arrested by Divine Grace, and from the bitter persecutor of Christianity transformed into its warm and zealous advocate. Of his past conduct, previous to conversion, our Apostle speaks in the most humiliating terms in his epistles to different churches.
am” (says he to the Corinthians, 1 Ep. ch. xv. 9, 10) “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 1 am - what I'am.” “I was before a blasphemer, and “ a persecutor, and injurious.” (1 Tim. i. 13.) VOL. III.
Let us endeavour to apply these memoirs to our own benefit, by observing that it is possible to have some knowledge of the law in its literal sense, without discerning its spirituality, or feeling its condemning power in the conscience. It is possible to rest in a system of self-righteousness under the gospel-dispensation as well as under that of the law. And if the disciple of Gamaliel, furnished as he was with all the outward means of information, and filled with zeal for God and godliness, was for a long while deceived in his views of the most important truths, and with the greatest sincerity of mind opposed the Gospel of Christ, let no man who has not sought Divine instruction and correction at the feet of Jesus, conclude that he is right in his faith or his practice. The greatest talents and learning, even when directed by a natural honesty of intention and inflamed with fervent zeal for religion, will not insure to us a rectified judgment, and much less a sound experience, so as to make us “ wise “ unto salvation,” without that Divine inspiration for which we are taught to pray so frequently in the various services of our church. And it frequently happens in our own day, that those persons who are most zealous for the form of Godliness and are destitute of its power, prove the fiercest enemies of those who, while they duly estimate the shell, value it only as the envelope of the kernel.
The particulars of St. Paul's conversion, as described by himself, (Acts ix. 2, &c.) are so well known, that a rehearsal of them is, needless. Omitting therefore a recapitulation of the facts, we shall consider two points connected with the narrative.
It may be asked whether there was any predis. posing cause in the Apostle's bosom which induced Divine mercy to make him its object? In answer to this inquiry no hesitation needs to be adopted in the use of a direct negative. This will be apparent from-The state of the case His own account of his selection to grace and to the apostleship-And from his general view of the doctrines of Christianity.
The bosom of our Apostle, till the very moment when he was arrested in his mad career, was filled with enmity to Christ, His doctrine, and His people. He was engaged in a flagrant act of hostility to the cause of Christ, when inercy was manifested to him. His previous religion was the hideous offspring of pride and ignorance, and these principles were less excuseable in him than in others because of his superior advantages. If it should be said, that he himself apologizes for his conduct by imputing it to ignorance; (1. Tim. i. 19.) His meaning is plain,--that his ignorance exempted him from the charge of having “done
despite to the Spirit of grace” by the unpardonable sin; but that it by no means could afford any recommendation to the Divine favour, since he never examined with candour and humility of mind the credentials of Christianity, which would have proved its basis to be Divine. And, moreover, the doctrines of the Old Testament Scriptures which he professed to receive, are equally subversive of pharisaism as those of Christ; both having the same objects in view, the humiliation of man, and the exaltation of Divine grace . We are justified in saying, that the pride and in. solence of self-righteousness are more provoking to God than the vicious practices of thoughtless indifference, and place men at a greater distance