Dear Brother A: My mind is exercised in regard to your case. I have written you some things which have been shown me in regard to your past, present, and future course. I feel anxious for you because I have seen your dangers. Your former experience in spiritualism exposes you to temptations and severe conflicts. When once the mind has been yielded to the direct control of the enemy through evil angels, that person should be very distrustful of impressions and feelings which would lead him on an independent track, away from the church of Christ. The first step that such a one would take independently of the church should be regarded as a device of the enemy to deceive and destroy. God has made His church a channel of light, and through it He communicates His purposes and His will. He does not give one an experience independent of the church. He does not give one man a knowledge of His will for the entire church, while the church, Christ's body, is left in darkness.
Brother A, you need to watch with the greatest care how you build. There is a storm coming which will test your hope to the utmost. You should dig deep and lay your foundation sure. "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock." Steadily the builder places one stone upon another until the structure rises stone upon stone. The gospel builder frequently carries on his work in tears and amid trials, storms of persecution, bitter opposition, and unjust reproach; but he feels deeply in earnest, for he is building for eternity. Be careful, Brother A, that your foundation is solid rock, that you are riveted to it, Christ being that Rock.
You have a strong, set will, a very independent spirit, which you feel that you must preserve at all hazards. And you have carried this same spirit into your religious experience and life. You have not always been in harmony with the
work of God as carried on by your American brethren. You have not seen as they see nor been in union with their manner of proceeding. You have had very little acquaintance with the work in its different departments. You have not felt very anxious to become acquainted with the various branches of the work. You have looked with suspicion and distrust upon the work, and upon God's chosen leaders to carry it forward. You have been more ready to question and surmise and be jealous of those upon whom God has laid the heavier responsibilities of His work, than to investigate and to so connect yourself with the cause of God as to become acquainted with its workings and advancement.
God saw that you were not fitted to be a shepherd, a minister of righteousness to proclaim the truth to others, until you should be a thoroughly transformed man. He permitted you to pass through real trials and feel privation and want, that you might know how to exercise pity and sympathy, and tender love for the unfortunate and oppressed, and for those borne down with want and passing through trial and affliction.
While you prayed in your affliction for peace in Christ, a cloud of darkness seemed to blacken across your mind. The rest and peace did not come as you expected. At times your faith seemed to be tested to the utmost. As you looked back to your past life, you saw sorrow and disappointment; as you viewed the future, all was uncertainty. The divine Hand led you wondrously to bring you to the cross and to teach you that God was indeed a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Those who ask aright will receive. He that seeketh in faith shall find. The experience gained in the furnace of trial and affliction is worth more than all the inconvenience and painful experience it costs.
The prayers that you offered in your loneliness, in your weariness and trial, God answered, not always according to your expectations, but for your good. You did not have clear and correct views of your brethren, neither did you see yourself in a correct light. But, in the providence of God, He has
been at work to answer the prayers you have offered in your distress, in a way to save you and glorify His own name. In your ignorance of yourself you asked for things which were not best for you. God heard your prayers of sincerity, but the blessing granted was something very different from your expectations. God designed, in His providence, to place you more directly in connection with His church, that your confidence might be less in yourself and greater in others whom He is leading out to advance His work.
God hears every sincere prayer. He would place you in connection with His work that He might bring you more directly to the light. And unless you should seal your vision against evidence and light you would be persuaded that if you were more distrustful of yourself and less distrustful of your brethren you would be more prosperous in God. It is God who has led you through strait places. He had a purpose in this, that tribulation might work in you patience, and patience experience, and experience hope. He permitted trials to come upon you, that, through them, you might experience the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
Peter denied the Man of Sorrows in His acquaintance with grief in the hour of His humiliation. But he afterward repented and was reconverted. He had true contrition of soul and gave himself afresh to his Saviour. With blinding tears he makes his way to the solitudes of the Garden of Gethsemane and there prostrates himself where he saw his Saviour's prostrate form when the bloody sweat was forced from His pores by His great agony. Peter remembers with remorse that he was asleep when Jesus prayed during those fearful hours. His proud heart breaks, and penitential tears moisten the sods so recently stained with the bloody sweat drops of God's dear Son. He left that garden a converted man. He was ready then to pity the tempted. He was humbled and could sympathize with the weak and erring. He could caution and warn the presumptuous, and was fully fitted to strengthen his brethren.
God led you through affliction and trials that you might
have more perfect trust and confidence in Him, and that you might think less of your own judgment. You can bear adversity better than prosperity. The all-seeing eye of Jehovah detected in you much dross that you considered gold and too valuable to throw away. The enemy's power over you had at times been direct and very strong. The delusions of spiritualism had entangled your faith, perverted your judgment, and confused your experience. God in His providence would try you, to purify you, as the sons of Levi, that you might offer to Him an offering in righteousness.
Self is mingled too much with all your labors. Your will must be molded by God's will, or you will fall into grievous temptations. I saw that when you labor in God, putting self out of sight, you will realize a strength from Him which will give you access to hearts. Angels of God will work with your efforts when you are humble and little in your own eyes. But when you think you know more than those whom God has been leading for years, and whom He has been instructing in the truth and fitting for the extension of His work, you are self-exalted and will fall into temptations.
You need to cultivate kindness and tenderness. You need to be pitiful and courteous. Your labors savor too much of severity and an exacting, dictatorial, overbearing spirit. You are not always kindly considerate of the feelings of others, and you create trials and dissatisfaction needlessly. More love in your labors, and more kindly sympathy, would give you access to hearts and would win souls to Christ and the truth.
You are constantly inclined to individual independence. You do not realize that independence is a poor thing when it leads you to have too much confidence in yourself and to trust to your own judgment rather than to respect the counsel and highly estimate the judgment of your brethren, especially of those in the offices which God has appointed for the saving of His people. God has invested His church with special authority and power which no one can be justified in disregarding and despising, for in so doing he despises the voice of God.
It is not safe for you to trust to impressions and feelings. It has been your misfortune to come under the power of that satanic delusion, spiritualism. This pall of death has covered you, and your imagination and nerves have been under the control of demons; and when you become self-confident and do not cling with unwavering confidence to God you are in positive danger. You may, and frequently do, let down the bars and invite the enemy in, and he controls your thoughts and actions, while you are really deceived and flatter yourself that you are in favor with God.
Satan has tried to prevent you from having confidence in your American brethren. You have regarded them and their moves and experience with suspicion, when they are the very ones who could help you and would be a blessing to you. It will be Satan's studied effort to separate you from those who are as channels of light, through whom God has communicated His will and through whom He has wrought in building up and extending His work. Your views and your feelings and experience are altogether too narrow, and your labors are of the same character.
In order to be a blessing to your people, you need to improve in many things. You should cultivate courtesy and cherish a tender sympathy for all. You should have the crowning grace of God, which is love. You criticize too much and are not so forbearing as you must be if you would win souls. You could have much more influence if you were less formal and rigid, and were actuated more by the Holy Spirit. Your fear of being led by men is too great. God uses men as His instruments and will use them as long as the world shall stand.
The angels who fell were anxious to become independent of God. They were very beautiful, very glorious, but dependent on God for their happiness and for the light and intelligence they enjoyed. They fell from their high estate through insubordination. Christ and His church are inseparable. To neglect or despise those whom God has appointed to lead out and to bear the responsibilities connected with His work and with the advancement and spread of the truth is to reject the
means which God has ordained for the help, encouragement, and strength of His people. To pass these by and think your light must come through no other channel than directly from God places you in a position where you are liable to deception and to be overthrown.
God has placed you in connection with His appointed helps in His church that you may be aided by them. Your former connection with spiritualism makes your danger greater than it otherwise would be, because your judgment, wisdom, and discrimination have been perverted. You cannot of yourself always tell or discern the spirits; for Satan is very wily. God has placed you in connection with His church that they may help you.
You are sometimes too formal, cold, and unsympathizing. You must meet the people where they are, and not place yourself too far above them and require too much of them. You need to be all softened and subdued by the Spirit of God while you preach to the people. You should educate yourself as to the best manner of laboring to secure the desired end. Your labor must be characterized by the love of Jesus abounding in your heart, softening your words, molding your temperament, and elevating your soul.
You frequently talk too long when you do not have the vitalizing influence of the Spirit of heaven. You weary those who hear you. Many make a mistake in their preaching in not stopping while the interest is up. They go on speechifying until the interest that had risen in the minds of the hearers dies out and the people are really wearied with words of no special weight or interest. Stop before you get there. Stop when you have nothing of special importance to say. Do not go on with dry words that only excite prejudice and do not soften the heart. You want to be so united to Christ that your words will melt and burn their way to the soul. Mere prosy talk is insufficient for this time. Arguments are good, but there may be too much of the argumentative and too little of the spirit and life of God.
Without the special power of God to work with your
efforts, your spirit subdued and humbled in God, your heart softened, your words flowing from a heart of love, your labors will be wearing to yourself and not productive of blessed results. There is a point which the minister of Christ reaches, beyond which human knowledge and skill are powerless. We are struggling with giant errors, and evils which we are impotent to remedy or to arouse the people to see and understand, for we cannot change the heart. We cannot quicken the soul to discern the sinfulness of sin and to feel the need of a Saviour. But if our labors bear the impress of the Spirit of God, if a higher, a divine power attends our efforts to sow the gospel seed, we shall see fruits of our labor to the glory of God. He alone can water the seed sown.
Thus with you, Brother A. You must not get in too great a hurry and expect too much of darkened minds. You must cherish humble hope that God will graciously impart the mysterious, quickening influence of His Spirit, by which alone your labors will not be in vain in the Lord. You need to cling to God by living faith, every moment realizing your dangers and your weakness, and constantly seeking that strength and power which God alone can give. Try the best you may, of yourself you can do nothing.
You need to educate yourself, that you may have wisdom to deal with minds. You should with some have compassion, making a difference, while others you may save with fear, pulling them out of the fire. Our heavenly Father frequently leaves us in uncertainty in regard to our efforts. We are to sow beside all waters, not knowing which shall prosper, this or that. We may stimulate our faith and energy from the Source of our strength, and lean with full and entire dependence upon Him.
Brother A, you need to work with the utmost diligence to control self and develop a character in harmony with the principles of the word of God. You need to educate and train yourself in order to become a successful shepherd. You need to cultivate a good temper--kindly, cheerful, buoyant,
generous, pitiful, courteous, compassionate traits of character. You should overcome a morose, bigoted, narrow, faultfinding, overbearing spirit. If you are connected with the work of God you need to battle with yourself vigorously and form your character after the divine Model.
Without constant effort on your part some development, under the influence of a corrupt mind, will appear and block up your way, which hindrance you will be inclined to charge to some other than the true cause. You need self-discipline. Our piety should not appear sour, cold, and morose; but lovable and teachable. A censorious spirit will hedge up your way and close hearts against you. If not humbly dependent on God, you will frequently close your own path with obstacles and charge the same to the course of others.
You need to stand guard over yourself, that you do not teach the truth or perform duties in a bigoted spirit that will excite prejudice. You need to study how you may show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. Inquire of yourself what your natural disposition is, what character you have developed. It should be your study, as well as that of every minister of Christ, to exercise the greatest watchfulness that you do not cherish habits of action, or mental and moral tendencies, which you would not wish to see appear among those whom you bring out upon the truth.
Ministers of Christ are enjoined to be examples to the flock of God. The influence of a minister can do much toward molding the character of his people. If the minister is indolent, if he is not pure in heart and life, and if he is sharp, critical, and faultfinding, selfish, independent, and lacking self-control, he will have these same unpleasant elements in a large degree to meet and deal with among his people, and it is hard work to set things in order where wrong influences have made confusion. What is seen in their minister will make a great difference in regard to the development of Christian virtue in the people. If his life is a combination of excellences, those whom he brings to the knowledge of the truth through
his labors will, to a great degree, if they truly love God, reflect his example and influence, for he is a representative of Christ. Thus the minister should feel his responsibility to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.
The highest efforts of the gospel minister should be to devote all his talents to the work of saving souls; then he will be successful. Wise and watchful discipline is necessary for everyone who names the name of Christ; but in a much higher sense is it essential for a gospel minister, who is a representative of Christ. Our Saviour awed men by His purity and elevated morality, while His love and gentle benignity inspired them with enthusiasm. The poorest and humblest were not afraid to approach Him; even little children were attracted to Him. They loved to climb upon His lap and to kiss that pensive face, benignant with love. This loving tenderness you need. You should cultivate love. Expressions of sympathy and acts of courtesy and respect for others would not detract from your dignity one particle, but would open to you many hearts that are now closed against you.
Christ was just what every minister should strive to be. We should learn to imitate His character and combine strict justice, purity, integrity, love, and noble generosity. A pleasant face in which love is reflected, with kind and courteous manners, will do more, aside from pulpit efforts, than labor in the desk can do without these. It becomes us to cultivate a deference to other people's judgment, when, to a greater or less extent, we are absolutely dependent upon them. We should cultivate true Christian courtesy and tender sympathy, even for the roughest, hardest cases of humanity. Jesus came from the pure courts of heaven to save just such. You close your heart too readily to many who have apparently no interest in the message you bear, but who are still subjects of grace and precious in the sight of the Lord. "He that winneth souls is wise." Paul became all things to all men if by any means he might save some. You must be in a similar position. You must bend from your independence. You lack humbleness of mind. You need the softening influence of the grace of
God upon your heart, that you may not irritate, but melt your way to the hearts of men, although these hearts may be affected by prejudice.
The cause of God is in great need of earnest men, men who abound in zeal, hope, faith, and courage. It is not self-willed men who can meet the demands for this time, but men who are in earnest. We have too many sensitive ministers who are feeble in experience, deficient in the Christian graces, lacking in consecration, and are easily discouraged; who are earnest to gratify their own wills and are persevering in their efforts to accomplish their own selfish purposes. Such men will not fill the demands for this time. We need men in these last days who are ever awake. Minutemen are wanted who are sincere in their love for the truth and willing to labor at a sacrifice if they can advance the cause of God and save precious souls. Men are wanted in this work who will not murmur or complain at hardships or trials, knowing that this is a part of the legacy that Jesus has left them. They should be willing to go without the camp and suffer reproach and bear burdens as good soldiers of Christ. They will bear the cross of Christ without complaint, without murmuring or fretfulness, and will be patient in tribulation.
The solemn, testing truth for these last days is committed to us, and we should make it a reality. Brother A, you should avoid making yourself a criterion. Avoid, I entreat you, appealing to your own sympathies. All that we can suffer, and all that we may ever be called to suffer, for the truth's sake will seem too small to be compared with what our Saviour endured for us sinners. You need not expect always to be correctly judged or correctly represented. Christ says that in the world we shall have tribulation, but in Him we shall have peace.
You have cultivated a combative spirit. When your track is crossed, you immediately throw yourself into a defensive position; and, although you may be among your brethren who love the truth and have given their lives to the cause of God, you will justify yourself, while you criticize them and
become jealous of their words and suspicious of their motives, and thus lose great blessings that it is your privilege to gain through the experience of your brethren.
Discussions to be Avoided
You have loved to debate the truth and loved discussions; but these contests have been unfavorable to your forming a harmonious Christian character, for in this is a favorable opportunity for the exhibition of the very traits of character that you must overcome if you ever enter heaven. Discussions cannot always be avoided. In some cases the circumstances are such that of the two evils the choice must be made of the least, which is discussion. But whenever they can be avoided, they should be, for the result is seldom honoring to God.
People who love to see opponents combat, may clamor for discussion. Others, who have a desire to hear the evidences on both sides, may urge discussion in all honesty of motive; but whenever discussions can be avoided, they should be. They generally strengthen combativeness and weaken that pure love and sacred sympathy which should ever exist in the hearts of Christians although they may differ in opinions.
Discussions in this age of the world are not real evidences of earnest desire on the part of the people to investigate the truth, but come through the love of novelty and the excitement which generally attends discussions. God is seldom glorified or the truth advanced in these combats. Truth is too solemn, too momentous in its results, to make it a small matter whether it is received or rejected. To discuss truth for the sake of showing opponents the skill of the combatants is ever poor policy, for it does but very little to advance the truth.
Opponents to the truth will show skill in misstating their opponent. They will make the most solemn, sacred truths the subject of ridicule. They will generally sport and deride precious, sacred truth, and place it in so false a light before the people that minds that are darkened by error and polluted by
sin do not discern the motives and objects of these designing men in thus covering up and falsifying precious and important truth. Because of the men who engage in them, there are but few discussions that it is possible to conduct upon right principles. Sharp thrusts are too frequently given by both parties, personalities are indulged in, and frequently both parties descend to sarcasm and witticism. The love of souls is lost in the greater desire for the mastery. Prejudice, deep and bitter, is often the result of discussions.
I have beheld angels grieved as the most precious jewels of truth have been brought before men utterly incapable of appreciating the evidences in favor of the truth. Their entire being was at war with the principles of truth; their natures were at enmity with it. Their object in discussing was not that they might get hold of the evidences of the truth themselves or that the people might have a fair understanding of our true position, but that they might confuse the understanding by placing the truth in a perverted light before the people. There are men who have educated themselves as combatants. It is their policy to misstate an opponent and to cover up clear arguments with dishonest quibbles. They have devoted their God-given powers to this dishonest work, for there is nothing in their hearts in harmony with the pure principles of truth. They seize any argument they can get with which to tear down the advocates of truth, when they themselves do not believe the things they urge against them. They bolster themselves up in their chosen position, irrespective of justice and truth. They do not consider that before them is the judgment, and that then their ill-gotten triumph, with all its disastrous results, will appear in its true character. Error, with all its deceptive policies, its windings and twistings and turnings to change the truth into a lie, will then appear in all its deformity. No victory will stand in the day of God, except that which truth, pure, elevated, sacred truth, shall win to the glory of God.
Angels weep to see the precious truth of heavenly origin cast before swine, to be seized by them and trampled with
the mire and dirt. Cast not "your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." These are the words of the world's Redeemer.
God's ministers should not count the opportunity of engaging in discussion a great privilege. All points of our faith are not to be borne to the front and presented before the prejudiced crowds. Jesus spoke before the Pharisees and Sadducees in parables, hiding the clearness of truth under symbols and figures because they would make a wrong use of the truths He presented before them; but to His disciples He spoke plainly. We should learn from Christ's method of teaching and be careful not to cut off the ears of the people by presenting truths which, not being fully explained, they are in no way prepared to receive.
The truths that we hold in common should be dwelt upon first and the confidence of the hearers obtained; then, as the people can be brought along, we can advance slowly with the matter presented. Great wisdom is needed to present unpopular truth before a prejudiced people in the most cautious manner, that access may be gained to their hearts. Discussions place before the people, who are unenlightened in regard to our position and who are ignorant of Bible truth, a set of arguments skillfully gotten up and carefully arranged to cover over the clear points of truth. Some men have made it their business to cover up plain statements of facts in the word of God by their deceptive theories, which they make plausible to those who have not investigated for themselves.
These agents of Satan are hard to meet, and it is difficult to have patience with them. But calmness, patience, and self-control are elements which every minister of Christ should cultivate. The combatants of the truth have educated themselves for intellectual battle. They are prepared to present on the surface sophistry and assertions as the word of God. They confuse unsuspecting minds and place the truth in obscurity, while pleasing fables are presented to the people in the place of pure Bible truth.
Many choose darkness rather than light because their
deeds are evil. But there are those who, if the truth could have been presented in a different manner, under different circumstances, giving them a fair chance to weigh the arguments for themselves and to compare scripture with scripture, would have been charmed by its clearness and would have taken hold upon it.
It has been very indiscreet for our ministers to publish to the world the wily sophistry of error, furnished by designing men to cover up and make of none effect the solemn, sacred truth of Jehovah. These crafty men who lie in wait to deceive the unwary give their strength of intellect to perverting the word of God. The inexperienced and unsuspecting are deceived to their ruin. It has been a great error to publish to all the arguments wherewith opponents battle the truth of God, for in so doing minds of every class are furnished with arguments which many of them had never thought of. Someone must render an account for this unwise generalship.
Arguments against the sacred truth, subtle in their influence, affect minds that are not well informed in regard to the strength of the truth. The moral sensibilities of the community at large are blunted by familiarity with sin. Selfishness, dishonesty, and the varied sins which prevail in this degenerate age have blunted the senses to eternal things so that God's truth is not discerned. In giving publicity to the erroneous arguments of our opponents, truth and error are placed upon a level in their minds, when, if they could have the truth before them in its clearness long enough to see and realize its sacredness and importance, they would be convinced of the strong arguments in its favor and would then be prepared to meet the arguments urged by opposers.
Those who are seeking to know the truth and to understand the will of God, who are faithful to the light and zealous in the performance of their daily duties, will surely know of the doctrine, for they will be guided into all truth. God does not promise, by the masterly acts of His providence, to
irresistibly bring men to the knowledge of His truth, when they do not seek for truth and have no desire to know the truth. Men have the power to quench the Spirit of God; the power of choosing is left with them. They are allowed freedom of action. They may be obedient through the name and grace of our Redeemer, or they may be disobedient, and realize the consequences. Man is responsible for receiving or rejecting sacred and eternal truth. The Spirit of God is continually convicting, and souls are deciding for or against the truth. The deportment, the words, the actions, of the minister of Christ may balance a soul for or against the truth. How important that every act of the life be such that it need not be repented of. Especially is this important among the ambassadors of Christ, who are acting in the place of Christ.
The Authority of the Church
The world's Redeemer has invested great power with His church. He states the rules to be applied in cases of trial with its members. After He has given explicit directions as to the course to be pursued, He says: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever [in church discipline] ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Thus even the heavenly authority ratifies the discipline of the church in regard to its members when the Bible rule has been followed.
The word of God does not give license for one man to set up his judgment in opposition to the judgment of the church, neither is he allowed to urge his opinions against the opinions of the church. If there were no church discipline and government, the church would go to fragments; it could not hold together as a body. There have ever been individuals of independent minds who have claimed that they were right, that God had especially taught, impressed, and led them. Each has a theory of his own, views peculiar to himself, and each claims that his views are in accordance with the word of God. Each one has a different theory and faith, yet each claims special light from God. These draw away from the
body, and each one is a separate church of himself. All these cannot be right, yet they all claim to be led of the Lord. The word of Inspiration is not Yea and Nay, but Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus.
Our Saviour follows His lessons of instruction with a promise that if two or three should be united in asking anything of God it should be given them. Christ here shows that there must be union with others, even in our desires for a given object. Great importance is attached to the united prayer, the union of purpose. God hears the prayers of individuals, but on this occasion Jesus was giving especial and important lessons that were to have a special bearing upon His newly organized church on the earth. There must be an agreement in the things which they desire and for which they pray. It was not merely the thoughts and exercises of one mind, liable to deception; but the petition was to be the earnest desire of several minds centered on the same point.
In the wonderful conversion of Paul we see the miraculous power of God. A brightness above the glory of the midday sun shone round about him. Jesus, whose name of all others he most hated and despised, revealed Himself to Paul for the purpose of arresting his mad yet honest career, that He might make this most unpromising instrument a chosen vessel to bear the gospel to the Gentiles. He had conscientiously done many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. In his zeal he was a persevering, earnest persecutor of the church of Christ. His convictions of his duty to exterminate this alarming doctrine, which was prevailing everywhere, that Jesus was the Prince of life were deep and strong.
Paul verily believed that faith in Jesus made of none effect the law of God, the religious service of sacrificial offerings, and the rite of circumcision, which had in all past ages received the full sanction of God. But the miraculous revelation of Christ brings light into the darkened chambers of his mind. The Jesus of Nazareth whom he is arrayed against is indeed the Redeemer of the world.
Paul sees his mistaken zeal and cries out: "Lord, what
wilt Thou have me to do?" Jesus did not then and there tell him, as He might have done, the work that He had assigned him. Paul must receive instruction in the Christian faith and move understandingly. Christ sends him to the very disciples whom he had been so bitterly persecuting, to learn of them. The light of heavenly illumination had taken away Paul's eyesight; but Jesus, the Great Healer of the blind, does not restore it. He answers the question of Paul in these words: Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." Jesus could not only have healed Paul of his blindness, but He could have forgiven his sins and told him his duty by marking out his future course. From Christ all power and mercies were to flow; but He did not give Paul an experience, in his conversion to truth, independent of His church recently organized upon the earth.
The marvelous light given Paul upon that occasion astonished and confounded him. He was wholly subdued. This part of the work man could not do for Paul, but there was a work still to be accomplished which the servants of Christ could do. Jesus directs him to His agents in the church for a further knowledge of duty. Thus He gives authority and sanction to His organized church. Christ had done the work of revelation and conviction, and now Paul was in a condition to learn of those whom God had ordained to teach the truth. Christ directs Paul to His chosen servants, thus placing him in connection with His church.
The very men whom Paul was purposing to destroy were to be his instructors in the very religion that he had despised and persecuted. He passed three days without food or sight, making his way to the men whom, in his blind zeal, he was purposing to destroy. Here Jesus places Paul in connection with his representatives upon the earth. The Lord gave Ananias a vision to go up to a certain house in Damascus and call for Saul of Tarsus; "for, behold, he prayeth."
After Saul was directed to go to Damascus, he was led by
the men who accompanied him to help him bring the disciples bound to Jerusalem to be tried and put to death. Saul tarried with Judas at Damascus, devoting the time to fasting and prayer. Here the faith of Saul was tested. Three days he was in darkness of mind in regard to what was required of him, and three days he was without sight. He had been directed to go to Damascus, for it should there be told him what he should do. He is in uncertainty, and he cries earnestly to God. An angel is sent to Ananias, directing him to go to a certain house where Saul is praying to be instructed in what he is to do next. Saul's pride is gone. A little before he was self-confident, thinking he was engaged in a good work for which he should receive a reward; but all is now changed. He is bowed down and humbled to the dust in penitence and shame, and his supplications are fervent for pardon. Said the Lord, through His angel, to Ananias: "Behold, he prayeth." The angel informed the servant of God that he had revealed to Saul in vision a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him that he might receive his sight. Ananias can scarcely credit the words of the angel, and repeats what he has heard of Saul's bitter persecution of the saints at Jerusalem. But the command to Ananias is imperative: "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."
Ananias was obedient to the direction of the angel. He laid his hands upon the man who so recently was exercised with a spirit of the deepest hatred, breathing out threatenings against all who believed on the name of Christ. Ananias said to Saul: "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. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized."
Jesus might have done all this work for Paul directly, but
this was not His plan. Paul had something to do in the line of confession to the men whose destruction he had premeditated, and God had a responsible work for the men to do whom He had ordained to act in His stead. Paul was to take those steps necessary in conversion. He was required to unite himself to the very people whom he had persecuted for their religion. Christ here gives all His people an example of the manner of His working for the salvation of men. The Son of God identified Himself with the office and authority of His organized church. His blessings were to come through the agencies that He has ordained, thus connecting man with the channel through which His blessings come. Paul's being strictly conscientious in his work of persecuting the saints does not make him guiltless when the knowledge of his cruel work is impressed upon him by the Spirit of God. He is to become a learner of the disciples.
He learns that Jesus, whom in his blindness he considered an impostor, is indeed the author and foundation of all the religion of God's chosen people from Adam's day, and the finisher of the faith, now so clear to his enlightened vision. He saw Christ as the vindicator of truth, the fulfiller of all prophecies. Christ had been regarded as making of none effect the law of God; but when his spiritual vision was touched by the finger of God, he learned of the disciples that Christ was the originator and the foundation of the entire Jewish system of sacrifices, that in the death of Christ type met antitype, and that Christ came into the world for the express purpose of vindicating His Father's law.
In the light of the law, Paul sees himself a sinner. That very law which he thought he had been keeping so zealously he finds he has been transgressing. He repents and dies to sin, becomes obedient to the claims of God's law, and has faith in Christ as his Saviour, is baptized, and preaches Jesus as earnestly and zealously as he once condemned Him. In the conversion of Paul are given us important principles which we should ever bear in mind. The Redeemer of the world does not sanction experience and exercise in religious matters
independent of His organized and acknowledged church, where He has a church.
Many have the idea that they are responsible to Christ alone for their light and experience, independent of His acknowledged followers in the world. But this is condemned by Jesus in His teachings and in the examples, the facts, which He has given for our instruction. Here was Paul, one whom Christ was to fit for a most important work, one who was to be a chosen vessel unto Him, brought directly into the presence of Christ; yet He does not teach him the lessons of truth. He arrests his course and convicts him; and when he asks, "What wilt Thou have me to do?" the Saviour does not tell him directly, but places him in connection with His church. They will tell thee what thou must do. Jesus is the sinner's friend, His heart is ever open, ever touched with human woe; He has all power, both in heaven and upon earth; but He respects the means which He has ordained for the enlightenment and salvation of men. He directs Saul to the church, thus acknowledging the power that He has invested in it as a channel of light to the world. It is Christ's organized body upon the earth, and respect is required to be paid to His ordinances. In the case of Saul, Ananias represents Christ, and he also represents Christ's ministers upon the earth who are appointed to act in Christ's stead.
Saul was a learned teacher in Israel; but while he is under the influence of blind error and prejudice, Christ reveals Himself to him, and then places him in communication with His church, who are the light of the world. They are to instruct this educated, popular orator, in the Christian religion. In Christ's stead Ananias touches his eyes that they may receive sight; in Christ's stead he lays his hands upon him, prays in Christ's name, and Saul receives the Holy Ghost. All is done in the name and authority of Christ. Christ is the fountain. The church is the channel of communication. Those who boast of personal independence need to be brought into closer relation to Christ by connection with His church upon the earth.
Brother A, God loves you and desires to save you and bring you into working order. If you will be humble and teachable, and will be molded by His Spirit, He will be your strength, your righteousness, and your exceeding great reward. You may accomplish much for your brethren if you will hide in God and let His Spirit soften your spirit. You have a hard class to meet. They are filled with bitter prejudice, but no more so than was Saul. God can work mightily for your brethren if you do not allow yourself to get in the way and hedge up your own path. Let melting love, pity, and tenderness dwell in your heart while you labor. You may break down the iron walls of prejudice if you only cling to Christ and are ready to be counseled by your more experienced brethren.
You must not, as God's servant, be too easily discouraged by difficulties or by the fiercest opposition. Go forth, not in your own name, but in the might and power of Israel's God. Endure hardness as a good soldier of the cross of Christ. Jesus endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself. Consider the life of Christ and take courage, and press on in faith, courage, and hope.