PREACHED AT ST. PAUL'S, THE SUNDAY AFTER THE
CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL, 1624.
Acts ix. 4.
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice, saying, Saul, Saul, why
persecutest thou me ?
Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us1, (says the wise man) that is, that assisted our second generation, our spiritual regeneration; let us praise them, commemorate them. The Lord hath wrougltt great glory by them, through his power from the beginning, says he there, that is, it hath always been the Lord's way to glorify himself in the conversion of men, by the ministry of men. For he adds, They were leaders of the people by their counsel, and by their knowledge and learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent men in their instrtictions; and that is, that God who gives these gifts for this purpose, looks for the employment of these gifts, to the edification of others, to his glory. There be of them, that have left a name behind them, (as it is also added in that place) that is, that though God can amply reward his servants in the next world, yet he does it sometimes in this world; and, though not with temporal happinesses, in their life, yet with honour, and commemorations, and celebrations of them, after they are gone out of this life, they leave a name behind them. And amongst them, in a high place, shines our blessed and glorious apostle St. Paul, whose conversion the church celebrates now, and for the celebration thereof, hath appointed this part of Scripture from whence this text arises, to be the epistle of the day, And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice, saying, Saul, Saul, why persecutest than me ?
There are words in the text, that will reach to all the story of St. Paul's conversion, embrace all, involve and enwrap all; we must contract them ; into less than three parts, we cannot well: those will be these; first, the person, Saul, he, he fell to the earth ; and then, his humiliation, his exinanition of himself, his divesting, putting off of himself, he fell to the earth; and lastly,
1 Ecclus. xliv. 1.
his investing of Christ, his putting on of Christ, his rising again by the power of a new inanimation, a new soul breathed into him from Christ, He heard a voice, saying, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thoume? Now, a re-distribution, a subdivision of these parts, into their branches, we shall present to you anon, more opportunely, as we shall come in due order to the handling of the parts themselves. In the first, the branches will be but these; Saul's indisposition when Christ took him in hand, and Christ's work upon him ; what he found him, what he left him, will determine our first part, the person.
First then, what he was at that time, the Holy Ghost gives evidence enough against him, and he gives enough against himself. Of that which the Holy Ghost gives, you may see a great many heavy pieces, a great many appliable circumstances, if at any time, at home, you do but paraphrase, and spread to yourselves the former part of this chapter, to this text. Take a little preparation from me: Adhuc spirans, says the first verse, Saul yet breathing threateningt and slaughter, then when he was in the height of his fury, Christ laid hold upon him. It was, for the most part, Christ's method of curing. Then when the sea was in a tempestuous rage*, when the waters covered the ship, and the storm shaked even that which could remove mountains, the faith of the disciples, then Christ rebukes the wind, and commands a calm. Then when the sun was gone out to run his race as a giant, (as David speaks) then God by the mouth of another, of Joshua, bids the sun stand still. Then when that unclean spirit foamed, and fumed, and tore, and rent the possessed persons, then Christ commanded them to go out. Let the fever alone, say our physicians, till some fits be passed, and then we shall see further, and discern better. The note is St. Chrysostom's and he applies it to Christ's proceeding with Saul; Non expectamt ut fatigatus debacchando mansuesceret, says he, Christ stayed not till Saul being made drunk with blood, were cast into a slumber, as satisfied with the blood of Christians; Sed in media insania superavit, but in the midst of his fit, he gave him physic, in the midst of his madness, he reclaims him. So is it also part of the evidence that the Holy Ghost gives against him, Quod
* Matt. viii. 24.
petiit epistolas, that he sued to the state for a commission to persecute Christians. When the state will put men to some kind of necessity of concurring to the endamaging or endangering of the cause of Christ, and will be displeased with them, if they do not, men make to themselves, and to their consciences some faint colour of excuse: but when they themselves set actions on foot, which are not required at their hands, where is their evasion? Then when Saul sued out this commission, That if he found any of that way, (that is, Christians) (for he had so scattered them before, that he was not sure to find any, they did not appear in any whole body, dangerous, or suspicious to the state) but, if he found any, Any man or woman, that he might have the power of the state, so as that he need not fear men, that he might have the impartiality, and the inflexibility of the state, so as that he need not pity women, then when his glory was to bring them bound to Jerusalem, that he might magnify his triumph and greatness in the eye of the world, then, says Christ, to this tempest, Be calm, to this unclean spirit, Come out, to this sun, in his own estimation, Go no further.
Thus much evidence the Holy Ghost gives against him; and thus much more himself, I persecuted this way unto the death; I bound and delivered into prison, both men and women*; and after, more than this, / punished them, and that oft, and, in every synagogue, and, compelled them to blaspheme, and, was exceedingly mad against them, and persecuted them even unto strange cities4. What could he say more against himself? And then, says Christ, to this tempest, Quiesce, Be still, to this glaring sun, Siste, Stand still, to this unclean spirit, Veni foras, Come forth. In this sense especially doth St. Paul call himself Abortivum, a person born out of season5, that whereas Christ's other disciples and apostles, had a breeding under him, and came first ad di,eipulatum, and then ad apostolatum, first to be disciples, and after to be apostles ; St. Paul was born a man, an apostle, not carved out, as the rest, in time; but a fusil apostle, an apostle poured out, and cast in a mould; as Adam was a perfect man in an instant, so was St. Paul an apostle, as soon as Christ took him in hand.
Now, beloved, wilt thou make this perverse use of this pro
3 Acts xxii. 4. * Acts xxvi. 11. s 1 Cor. xv. 2.
' ceeding, God is rich in mercy, therefore I cannot miss mercy ? Wouldest thou say, and not be thought mad for saying so, God hath created a West Indies, therefore I cannot want gold? Wilt thou be so ill a logician to thyself, and to thine own damnation, as to conclude so, God is always the same in himself, therefore he must be always the same to me ? So ill a musician as to say, God is all concord, therefore he and I can never disagree ? So ill a historian as to say, God hath called Saul, a persecutor, then when he breathed threatenings and slaughter, then when he sued to the state for a commission to persecute Christ, God hath called a thief, then when he was at the last gasp ; and therefore if he have a mind to me, he will deal so with me too, and, if he have no such mind, no man can imprint, or infuse a new mind in God? God forbid. It is not safe concluding out of single instances. It is true, that if a sour, and heavy, and severe man, will add to the discomforts of a disconsolate soul, and in that soul's sadness, and dejection of spirit, will heap up examples, that God hath still suffered high-minded sinners to proceed and to perish in their irreligious ways, and tell that poor soul, (as Job's company did him) It is true, you take God aright, God never pardons such as you, in these cases, these singular, these individual examples, that God hath done otherwise once, have their use. One instance to the contrary destroys any peremptory rule, no man must say, God never doth it; he did it to Saul here, he did it to the thief upon the cross. But to that presumptuous sinner, who sins on, because God showed mercy to one at last, we must say, a miserable comforter is that rule, that affords but one example. Nay, is there but one example ? The conversion of Saul a persecutor, and of the thief upon the cross is become proverbium peccatorum*, the sinner's proverb, and serves him, and satisfies him in all cases. But is there any such thing ? Such a story there is, and it is as true as gospel, it is the truth of gospel itself; but was this a late repentance ? Answer St. Cyril, Rogo tefrater, Tell me, beloved, thou that deferrest thy repentance, doest thou do it upon confidence of these examples? Non in fine, sed in principio conversus latro; thou deludest thine own soul; the thief was not converted at last, but at first; as soon as God afforded him any call, he
came; and at how many lights hast thou winked ? And to how many calls hast thou stopped thine ears, that deferrest thy repentance ? Christ said to him, Hodie mecum eris, This day thou shalt be with me in paradise; when thou canst find such another day, look for such another mercy; a day that cleft the grave-stones of dead men; a day that cleft the temple itself; a day that the sun durst not see; a day that saw the soul of God (may we not say so, since that man was God too) depart from man; there shall be no more such days; and therefore presume not of that voice, hodie, this day thou shalt be with me, if thou make thy last minute that day, though Christ, to magnify his mercy, and his glory, and to take away all occasion of absolute desperation, did here, under so many disadvantages, call, and draw St. Paul to him.
But we say no more of that, of the danger of sinning by precedent, and presuming of mercy by example; we pass from our first consideration, from what, to the other, to what, Christ brought this persecutor, this Saul. He brought him to that remarkable height, as that the- church celebrates the conversion of no man but this. Many bloody executioners were converted to Christ, even in the act of that bloody execution; then when they took a delight in tearing the bowels of Christians, they were received into the bowels of Christ Jesus, and became Christians. Men that rode to market, and saw an execution upon the way; men that opened a window to take air, and saw an execution in the street; the ecclesiastical story abounds with examples of occasional convertites, and upon strange occasions; but yet the church celebrates no conversion but this. The church doth not consider the martyrs as born till they die; till the world see how they persevered to the end, she takes no knowledge of them ; therefore she calls the days of their deaths, natal-ilia, their birth-days ; ' then she makes account they are born, when they die. But of St. Paul the church makes herself assured the first minute; and therefore celebrates his conversion, and none but his. Here was a true trausubstantiation, and a new sacrament. These few words, Saul, 8aul, why persecutest thou me, are words of consecration ; after these words, Saul was no longer Saul, but he was Christ: Vivit in me Christus, says he, It is not I that live, not I
that do anything, but Christ in me. It is but a little way that St. Chrysostom goes, when he speaks of an inferior transubstantiation, of a change of affections, and says Agnus ex litpo, That here is another manner of lycanthropy, than when a man is made a wolf; for here a wolf is made a lamb, Ex lupo agnus. Ex vepribus racemus, says that father, A bramble is made a vine; Ex zizaniis frumentum, Cockle and tares become wheat; Ex pirata gubernator, A pirate becomes a safe pilot; Ex novissimo primus, The Ices are come to swim on the top, and the last is grown first; and Ex abort ivo perfecting, He that was born out of time, hath not only the perfection, but the excellency of all his lineaments. St. Chrysostom goes further than this, Ex blaspheme, ot Christi, et lyra spiritus, He that was the mouth of blasphemy, is become the mouth of Christ, he that was the instrument of Satan, is now the organ of the Holy Ghost. He goes very far, when he says, In ccelis homo, in terris angelus, Being yet but upon earth, he is an angel, and being yet but a man, he is already in heaven. Yet St. Paul was another manner of sacrament, and had another manner of transubstantiation, than all this; as he was made idem spiritu s cum Domino, the same spirit with the Lord, so in his very body, he had stigmata, the very marks of the Lord Jesus7. From such a lowness, raised to such a height, as that Origen says, Many did believe, that St. Paul had been that Holy Ghost, which Christ had promised to the world, after his departing from it.
It is but a little way that St. Jerome hath carried his commendation neither, when he calls him Rugiturn leonis, The roaring of a lion, if we consider how little a forest the roaring of a lion is determined; but that he call him Rugitum leonis nostri, The roaring of our lion, of the lion of the tribe of Juda, that as far as Christ is heard, St. Paul is heard too: Quem quoties lego, non verba mihi videor audlre, sed tonitrua, Wheresoever I open St. Paul's Epistles, I meet not words, but thunder, and universal thunder, thunder that passes through all the world. For, Ejus exccecatio totius orbis illuminatio*, That that was done upon him, wrought upon all the world; he was struck blind, and all the world saw the better for that. So universal a priest (says St.
7 Gal. vL 17. * Theodoret.
Chrysostom, who loves to be speaking of St. Paul) as that he sacrificed, not sheep and goats, sed seipsum, but himself; and not only that, sed totum mundum, he prepared the whole world, as a sacrifice to God. He built an ark, that is, established a church ; and to this day, receives, not eight, but all into that ark; and whereas in Noah's ark, Qutm corvum recepit, corvum emisit, If he came in a raven, he went out a raven; St. Paul, in his ark, Ex milvisfacit columbas, as himself was, so he transubstantiates all them, and makes them doves of ravens. Nay, so over-absolutely did he sacrifice himself, and his state in this world, for thisworld, as that he sacrificed his reversion, his future state, the glory and joy of heaven, for his brethren, and chose rather to be anathema, separated from Christ, than they should. I love thee, says St. Chrysostom to Rome, for many excellencies, many greatnesses; but I love thee so well, says he, therefore because St. Paul loved thee so well. Qualem rosam Roma Chrieto, (as he pursues this contemplation) What a fragrant rose shall Rome present Christ with, when he comes to judgment, in re-delivering to him the body of St. Paul? And though he join them both together, Jugati boves ecclesice, That St. Peter and St. Paul were that yoke of oxen that ploughed the whole church, though he say of both, Quot careeres sanctlficatis ? How many prisons have you two consecrated, and made prisons churches? Qu,ot catenas illustratisl How many fetters and chains of iron have you two changed into chains of gold? Yet we may observe a difference in St. Chrysostom's expressing of persons to equal to one another, Quid Petro majus ? says he, but, Quid Paulo par fuit f What can exceed Peter, or what can equal Paul ? Still be all this far from occasioning any man to presume upon God, because he afforded so abundant mercy to a persecutor : but still from this, let every faint soul establish itself in a confidence in God; God that would find nothing to except, nothing to quarrel at, in St. Paul, will not lie heavy upon thy soul, though thou must say, as he did, Quorum ego maa-imus, That thou art a greater sinner than thou knowest any other man to be.
We are, in our order proposed at first, devolved now to our second part; from the person, and in that, what he was found, a vehement persecutor, and then, what he was made, a laborious apostle, to the manner, to his humiliation, Cecidit super terram, He fell, and he fell to the ground, and he fell blind, as by the history, and context appears. We used to call every declination, of any kind, and in any subject, a falling; for, for our bodies, we say a man is fallen sick, and for his state, fallen poor; and for his mind, fallen mad, and for his conscience, fallen desperate; we are born low, and yet we fall every .way lower, so universal is our fallen sickness. Sin itself is but a falling; the irremediable sin of the angels, the undeterminable sin of Adam, is called but so, The fall of Adam, the fall of angels. And therefore the effectual visitation of the Holy Ghost to man, is called a falling too; we are fallen so low, as that when the Holy Ghost is pleased to fetch us again, and to infuse his grace, he is still said to fall upon us. But the fall which we consider in the text, is not a figurative falling, not into a decay of estate, nor decay of health, nor a spiritual falling into sin, a decay of grace; but it is a medicinal falling, a falling under God's hand, but such a falling under his hand, as that he takes not off his hand from him that is fallen, but throws him down therefore that he may raise him. To this posture he brings Paul, now, when he was to reanimate him with his spirit; rather, to pre-inanimate him; for, indeed, no man hath a soul till he have grace.
Christ, who in his human nature hath received from the Father all judgment, and power, and dominion over this world, hath received all this, upon that condition that he shall govern in this manner, Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance*, says the Father; how is he to use them, when he hath them ? Thus, thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Now, God meant well to the nation, in this bruising and breaking of them; God intended not an annihilation of the nations, but a reformation ; for Christ asks the nations for an inheritance, not for a triumph; therefore it is intended of his way of governing them; and his way is to bruise and beat them ; that is, first to cast them down, before he can raise them up, first to break them before he can make them in his fashion. Novit Dominis vulnerare ad amorem10; The Lord, and only the Lord knows how to wound us,
* Psahn ii. 8. la Augustine.
out of love; more than that, how to wound us into love; more than all that, to wound us into love, not only with him that wounds us, but into love with the wound itself, with the very affliction that he inflicts upon us ; the Lord knows how to strike us so, as that we shall lay hold upon that hand that strikes us, and kiss that hand that wounds us. Ad mtam interficit, ad exaltationem prosternit, says the same father; No man kills his enemy therefore, that his enemy might have a better life in heaven; that is not his end in killing him : it is God's end; therefore he brings us to death, that by that gate he might lead us into life everlasting; and he hath not discovered, but made that northern passage, to pass by the frozen sea of calamity, and tribulation, to paradise, to the heavenly Jerusalem. There are fruits that ripen not, but by frost; there are natures, (there are scarce any other) that dispose not themselves to God, but by affliction. And as nature looks for the season for ripening, and does not all before, so grace looks for the assent of the soul, and does not perfect the whole work, till that come. It is nature that brings the season, and it is grace that brings the assent; but till the season for the fruit, till the assent of the soul come, all is not done.
Therefore God began in this way with Saul, and in this way he led him all his life, Tot pertulit mortes, quot vixit dies", He died as many deaths, as he lived days; for so himself says, Quotidie morior, I die daily; God gave him suck in blood, and his own blood was his daily drink ; he catechised him with calamities at first, and calamities Avere his daily sermons, and meditations after; and to authorize the hands of others upon him, and to accustom him to submit himself to the hands of others without murmuring, Christ himself strikes the first blow, and with that, cecidit, he fell, (which was our first consideration, in his humiliation) and then, cecidit in terram, he fell to the (/round, which is our next.
I take no further occasion from this circumstance, but to arm you with consolation, how low soever God be pleased to cast you, though it be to the earth, yet he does not so much cast you down, in doing that, as bring you home. Death is not a banishing of you out of this world ; but it is a visitation of your kindred that lie in the earth; neither are any nearer of kin to you, than the earth itself, and the worms of the earth. You heap earth upon your souls, and encumber them with more and more flesh, by a superfluous and luxuriant diet; you add earth to earth in new purchases, and measure not by acres, but by manors, nor by manors, but by shires ; and there is a little quillet, a little close, worth all these, a quiet grave. And therefore, when thou readest, That God makes thy bed in thy sickness, rejoice m this, not only that he makes that bed, where thou dost lie, but that bed where thou shalt lie; that that God, that made the whole earth, is now making thy bed in the earth, a quiet grave, where thou shalt sleep in peace, till the angel's trumpet wake thee at the resurrection, to that judgment where thy peace shall be made before thou comest, and writ, and sealed, in the blood of the Lamb.
VOL. II. X
Saul falls to the earth; so far; but he falls no lower. God brings his servants to a great lowness here; but he brings upon no man a perverse sense, or a distrustful suspicion of falling lower hereafter; His hand strikes us to the earth, by way of humiliation ; but it is not his hand, that strikes us into hell, by way of desperation. Will you tell me, that you have observed and studied God's way upon you all your life, and out of that can conclude what God means to do with you after this life ? That God took away your parents in your infancy, and left you orphans then, that he hath crossed you in all your labours in your calling, ever since, that he hath opened you to dishonours, and calumnies, and misinterpretations, in things well intended by you, that he hath multiplied sicknesses upon you, and given you thereby an assurance of a miserable, and a short life, of few, and evil days; nay, that he hath suffered you to fall into sins, that you yourselves have hated, to continue in sins, that you yourselves have been weary of, to relapse into sins, that you yourselves have repented; and will you conclude out of this, that God had no good purpose upon you, that if ever he had meant to do you good, he would never have gone thus far, in heaping of evils upon you ? Upon what dost thou ground this? Upon thyself? Because thou shouldest not deal thus with any man, whom thou meanest well to ? How poor, how narrow, how impious a measure of God, is this, that he must do, as thou wouldet do, if thou wert God ! God hath not made a week, without a Sabbath; no tentation, without an issue; God inflicts no calamity, no cloud, no eclipse, without light, to see ease in it, if the patient will look upon that which God hath done to him, in other cases, or to that which God hath done to others, at other times. Saul fell to the ground, but he fell no lower; God brings us to humiliation, but not to desperation.
He fell; he fell to the ground, and he fell blind; for so it is evident in the story. Christ had said to the Pharisees, / came into the world, that they which see, might be made blindTM; and the Pharisees ask him, Have you been able to do so upon us? Are we blind ? Here Christ gives them an example; a real, a literal, an actual example; Saul, a Pharisee, is made blind. He that will fill a vessel with wine, must take out the water; he that will fill a covetous man's hand with gold, must take out the silver that was there before, says St. Chrysostom. Christ, who is about to infuse new light into Saul, withdraws that light that was in him before; that light, by which Saul thought he saw all before, and thought himself a competent judge, which was the only true religion, and that all others were to be persecuted, even to death, that were not of his way. Stultus factus est omnis homo a ,cientia, says God in the prophet", Every man that trusts in his own wit, is a fool. But let him become a fool, that he may be wise, says the Apostle14; let him be so, in his own eyes, and God will give him better' eyes, better light, better understanding. Saul was struck blind, but it was a blindness contracted from light; it was a light that struck him blind, as you see in his story. This blindness which we speak of, which is a sober and temperate abstinence from the immoderate study, and curious knowledges of this world, this holy simplicity of the soul, is not a darkness, a dimness, a stupidity in the understanding, contracted by living in a corner, it is not an idle retiring into a monastery, or into a village, or a country solitude, it is not a lazy affectation of ignorance; not darkness, but a greater light, must make us blind.
1* John ix. 39. 1* Jer. Ji. 7. "1 Cor. iii. 18.
The sight, and the contemplation of God, and our present benefits by him, and our future interest in him, must make us blind to the world so, as that we look upon no face, no pleasure, no knowledge, with such an affection, such an ambition, such a devotion, as upon God, and the ways to him. Saul had such a blindness, as came from light; we must affect no other simplicity, than arises from the knowledge of God, and his religion. And then, Saul had a blindness, as that he fell with it. There are birds, that when their eyes are sealed, still soar up, and up, till they have spent all their strength. Men blinded with the lights of this world, soar still into higher places, or higher knowledges, or higher opinions; but the light of heaven humbles us, and lays flat that soul, which the leaven of this world had puffed and swelled up. That powerful light felled Saul; but after he was fallen, his own sight was restored to him again; Ananias says to him, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. To those men, who employ their natural faculties to the glory of God, and their own, and others' edification, God shall afford an exaltation of those natural faculties; in those, who use their learning, or their wealth, or their power, well, God shall increase that power, and that wealth, and that learning, even in this world.
You have seen Saul's sickness, and the exaltation of the disease, then when he breathed threatenings, and slaughter, then when he went in his triumph; and you have seen his death, the death of the righteous, his humiliation, he fell to the earth; and there remains yet his resurrection; the angel of the great counsel, Christ Jesus, with the trumpet of his own mouth, raises him, with that, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me ?
First, he affords him a call, a voice. Saul could not see; therefore he deals not upon him by visions. He gives a voice; and a voice that he might hear; God speaks often, when we do not hear; he heard it, and heard it saying; not a voice only, but a distinct, and intelligible voice; and saying unto him, that is, applicable to himself; and then, that that the voice said to him, was, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me ? We are unequal enemies, thou seest I am too hard for thee, Cur tu me? Why wilt thou, thou in this weakness oppose me ? And then, we might be good friends, thou seest I offer parley, I offer treaty, Cur tu me ? Why wilt thou oppose me, me that declare such a disposition to be reconciled unto thee ? In this so great a disadvantage on thy part, why wilt thou stir at all ? In this so great a peaceableness on my part, why wilt thou stir against me ? Cur tu me ? Why persecutes t thou me ?
First then, God speaks: for, beloved, we are to consider God, not as he is in himself, but as he works upon us: the first thing that we can consider in our way to God, is his word. Our regeneration is by his word; that is, by faith, which comes by hearing; The seed is the word of God, says Christ himself"; even the seed of faith. Carry it higher, the creation was by the word of God: Dixit, et facto, sunt, God spoke, and all things were made. Carry it to the highest of all, to eternity, the eternal generation, the eternal production, the eternal procession of the second Person in the Trinity, was so much by the word, as that he is the word ; Verbum caro, It was that word, that was made fesh. So that God, who cannot enter into bands to us, hath given us security enough; he hath given us his word; his written word, his Scriptures; his essential word, his Son. Our principal, and radical, and fundamental security, is his essential word, his Son Jesus Christ. But how many millions of generations was this word in heaven, and never spoke ? The word, Christ himself, hath been as long as God hath been: but the uttering of this word, speaking hath been but since the creation. Peter says to Christ, To whom shall we go ? Thou hast the words of eternal lifeTM. It is not only, thou art the word of eternal life; (Christ is so) but thou hast it; thou hast it, where we may come to thee for it; in thy treasury, in thine ordinance, in thy Church; thou hast it, to derive it, to convey it upon us. Here then is the first step to Saul's cure, and of ours, that there was not only a word, the word, Christ himself, a Son of God in heaven, but a voice, the word uttered, and preached; Christ manifested in his ordinance: he heard a voice.
He heard it. How often does God speak, and nobody hears the voice'. He speaks in his cannon, in thunder, and he speaks in our cannon, in the rumour of wars. He speaks in his music, in the harmonious promises of the Gospel, and in our music, in
15 Luke viii. 11, " John vi. 08,
the temporal blessings of peace, and plenty; and we hear a noise in his judgments, and we hear a sound in his mercies; but we hear no voice, we do not discern that this noise, or this sound comes from any certain person; we do not feel them to be mercies, nor to be judgments uttered from God, but natural accidents, casual occurrences, emergent contingencies, which as an atheist might think, would fall out though there were no God, or no commerce, no dealing, no speaking between God and man. Though Saul came not instantly to a perfect discerning who spoke, yet he saw instantly, it was a Person above nature, and therefore speaks to him in that phrase of submission, Quis es Domine ? Lord, who art thou ? And after, with trembling and astonishment, (as the text says) Domine quid me vis facere ? Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ? Then we are trulicst said to hear, when we know from whence the voice comes. Princes are God's trumpet, and the Church is God's organ, but Christ Jesus is his voice. When he speaks in the prince, when he speaks in the Church, there we are bound to hear, and happy if we do hear. Man hath a natural way to come to God, by the eye, by the creature; so visible things show the invisible God": but then, God hath superinduced a supernatural way, by the ear. For, though hearing be natural, yet that faith in God should come by hearing a man preach, is supernatural. God shut up the natural way, in Saul, seeing; he struck him blind; but he opened the supernatural way, he enabled him to hear, and to hear him. God would have us beholden to grace, and not to nature, and to come for our salvation, to his ordinances, to the preaching of his word, and not to any other means. Though he were blind, even that blindness, as it was a humiliation, and a diverting of his former glaring lights, was a degree of mercy, of preparative mercy; yet there was a voice, which was another degree; and a voice that he heard, which was a degree above that; and so Tar we are gone; and he heard it, saying, that is distinctly, and intelligibly, which is our next circumstance.
He hears him saying, that is, he hears him so, as that he knows what he says, so, as that he understands him ; for he that hears the word, and understands it not, is subject to that which
17 Rom. i.
Christ says, That the wicked one comes, and catches away that that was sown1*. St. Augustine puts himself earnestly upon the contemplation of the creation, as Moses hath delivered it; he finds it hard to conceive, and he says", Si esset ante me Moses, If Moses who writ this were here, Tenerem eum, et per te obsecrarem, I would hold him fast, and bog of him, for thy sake, O my God, that he would declare this work of the creation more plainly unto me. But then, says that blessed father, Si Hebrcea voce loqueretur, If Moses should speak Hebrew to me, mine ears might hear the sound, but my mind would not hear the voice; I might hear him, but I should not hear what he said. This was that that distinguished between St. Paul, and those who were in his company at this time; St. Luke says in this chapter*0, That they heard the voice, and St. Paul relating the story again*1, after says, They heard not the voice of him that spoke to me; they heard a confused sound, but they distinguished it not to be the voice of God, nor discerned God's purpose in it. In the twelfth of John", There came a voice from Heaven, from God himself, and the people said, It thundered. So apt is natural man to ascribe even God's immediate and miraculous actions to natural causes; apt to rest and determine in nature, and leave out God. The poet chides that wickedness, (as he calls it) to be afraid of God's judgments, or to call natural accidents judgments; Quo morbo mentem concusse ? timore Deorum, says he; he says The conscience may be over tender, and that such timorous men, are sick of the fear of God, but it is a blessed disease, the fear of God, and the true way to true health. And though there be a moral constancy that becomes a Christian well, not to be easily shaken with the variations and revolutions of this world, yet it becomes him to establish his constancy in this, that God hath a good purpose in that action, not that God hath no hand in that action; that God will produce good out of it, not that God hath nothing to do in it. The magicians themselves were forced to confess Digitum Dei, The finger of GodM, in a small matter. Never think it a weakness, to call that a judgment of God, which others determine in nature; do so, so far as works
10 Matt. xiii. 19. " Confes. 1. i. c. 3. *0 Arer. 7.
*1 Acts »ii. 9. *8 Ver. 28. *9 Exod. vi. 16.
to thy edification, who seest that judgment, though not so far, as to argue, and conclude the final condemnation of that man upon whom that judgment is fallen. Certainly, we were better call twenty natural accidents judgments of God, than frustrate God's purpose in any of his powerful deliverances, by calling it a natural accident, and suffer the thing to vanish so, and God be left unglorified in it, or his Church unedified by it. Then we hear God, when we understand what he says; and therefore, as we are bound to bless God, that he speaks to us, and hears us speak to him, in a language which we understand, and not in such a strange language, as that a stranger, who should come in and hear it, would think the congregation mad"; so also let us bless him for that holy tenderness, to be apt to feel his hand in every accident, and to discern his presence in everything that befalls us. Saul heard the voice, saying; He understood what it said, and by that, found that it was directed to him, which is also another step in this last part.
This is an impropriation without sacrilege, and an enclosure of a common without damage, to make God mine own, to find that all that God says is spoken to me, and all that Christ suffered was suffered for me. And as Saul found this voice at first, to be directed to him, so ever after he bends his eye the same way, and observes the working of God especially upon himself; as at the beginning, so in the way too: particularly there, By the grace of God I am, that I amTM; and then, His grace was bestowed on me, and not in vain; and again, / have laboured more abundantly than all; and after all, still he considers himself, and finds himself to be the greatest sinner, Quorum ego maximus. It is called a greatness of spirit, or constancy, but it is indeed an incorrigible height of pride, when a man will not believe that he is meant in a libel, if he be not named in that libel. It is a fearful obduration, to be sermon-proof, or not to take knowledge, that a judgment is denounced against him, because he is not named in the denouncing of that judgment. Is not thy name Simon Magus, if thou buy and sell spiritual things thyself? And is not thy servant's name Gehazi, if he exact after? Is not thy name Cain, if thou rise up against thy brother ? And is not thy name Zaccheus, if thou
" 1 Cor. xiv. 23. *' 1 Cor, xv. 10,
multiply thy wealth by oppression ? Is not thy name Dinah, if thou gad abroad, to see who will solicit thee I And is not the name of Potiphar's wife upon thee, if thou stay at home and solicit thy servants ? Postdate the whole Bible, and whatsoever thou hearest spoken of such, as thou art, before, believe all that to be spoken but now, and spoken to thee. This was one happiness here, that Saul found this voice to be directed to him ; and another (which is our last consideration) is what this voice said; it said, Saul, Saul, why persecutes t thou me?
Here, to make sure of him, God calls him by his name, that he should not be able to transfer the summons upon any other, or say it was not he. They say that our noctambulones, men that walk in their sleep, will wake if they be called by their names. To wake Saul out of this dream, (for, to think to oppose Christ and his cause, is, in the highest person of the world, of what power or of what counsel soever, but a vertiginous dream, and a giddy vapour) to wake him, he calls him by his name, to let him know he means him ; and to wake him thoroughly, he calls him twice, Saul, and Saul again. The great desolation which was to fall upon that land, God intimates, God interminates, God intonates with such a vehemency, Terra, terra, terra. Earth, earth, earth hear the word of the Lord". God should be heard at first, believed at first; but such is his abundant goodness, as that he ingeminates, multiplies his warnings ; and to this whole land he hath said, Terra, terra, terra, Earth, earth, earth hear the word of the Lord; once in an invasion, once in a powder-treason; and again, and again in pestilential contagions; and to every one of us, he hath said oftener than so, Dust, dust, dust why doest thou lift up thyself against thy Maker? Maul, Saul why persecutest thou me ?
Here Christ calls the afflictions of those that are his, in his purpose, his afflictions. Christ will not absolutely verify his own words, to his own ease; he had said before this, upon the cross, Consummatum est, All is finished; but though all were finished in his person, he hath a daily passion in his saints still. This language which the apostle learnt of Christ here, himself practised,
" Jer. xxii. 29.
and spake after, Who is weak, and I am not weak ? Who is offended, and I burn not*1? Since Christ does suffer in our sufferings, be this our consolation, till he be weary, we should not be weary, nor faint, nor murmur under our burdens; and this too, that when he is weary, he will deliver us even for his own sake; for he, though he cannot suffer pain, may suffer dishonour in our sufferings ; therefore attend his leisure.
We end all in this, Cur tu me? Why doest thou persecute me? Why Saul Christ ? Put it upon a nation, (what is any Saul, any one man to a nation ?) Put it upon all the nations of the world, and you shall hear God ask with an indignation, Quarefremuerunt gentes ? Why do the heathen rage, why do the people imagine a vain thingTMt Why will they do it ? what can they get? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. Christ came into the Temple and disputed with the doctors; but he did not despise them, he did not laugh at them. When all the Midianites, and all the Amalekites, and all the children of the East, were in a body against Israel, God did not laugh at them. Gideon his general, mustered two and thirty thousand against them". God would not employ so many in the day of battle, yet he did not laugh at them, he did not whip them out of the field, he made the face of an army, though it were but three hundred. But when God can choose his way, he can call in nation against nation, he can cast a damp upon any nation, and make them afraid of one another, he can do an execution upon them by themselves, (I presume you remember those stories in the Bible, where God did proceed by such ways) or he can sit still in a scorn, and let them melt away of themselves; when he can cast down Saul to the earth, and never appear in the cause, benight his noon, frustrate his purposes, evacuate his hopes, annihilate him in the height of his glory, Cur tu me ? Why will any Saul, any nation, any world of Saul's persecute Christ, any sinner tempt him, who is so much too hard for him ?
Cur me? Why doest thou offer this to me, who being thus much too hard for thee, would yet fain be friends with thee? and therefore came to a parley, to a treaty ? for, Verba hcec, non
* 2 Cor. xi. 29. ** Psalm ii. 1. to Judges vi. 33.
tam araitfntis, qnam d^fendmitit, says St. Chrysostom : These are not so much offensive as defensive words; he would not confound Saul, but he would not betray his own honour. To many nations God hath never spoken; to the Jews he spoke, hut suffered them to mistake him ; to some whole Christian churches he speaks, but he lets them speak too; he lets them make their word equal to his; to many of us he hath spoken, and chidden, but given over before we are cured; as he says of Israel, in a manner, that she is not worth his anger, not worth his punishing, A people laden with sins, why should they any more be smitten*0? Why should I go about to recover them ? But if God speak to thee still, and speak in a mixed voice, of correction, and consolation too, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Him that receives so little benefit by thee, and yet is so loath to lose thee, him that can so easily spare thee, and yet makes thy soul more precious than his own life, him that can resolve thee, scatter thee, annihilate thee with a word, and yet afford so many words, so many hours' conferences, so many sermons to reclaim thee, why persecutest thou him ? Answer this question, with Saul's answer to this question, by another question, Domine quid me visfacere? Lord what wilt thou have me do? Deliver thyself over to the will of God, and God shall deliver thee over, as he did Saul to Ananias; provide thee by his ministry in his ordinance, means to rectify thee, in all dejection of spirit, light to clear thee in all perplexities of conscience, in the ways of thy pilgrimage, and more and more effectual seals thereof, at the hour of thy transmigration into his joy, and thine eternal rest.
*0 Isaiah i. 4.