Notes of a Gospel Address on Acts 26 and 28
By nature all men are in darkness. Things do not appear to their minds as they really are. I do not refer to men without education, but to men who may have all the education which the schools can give them. The schools cannot give men light as to God, nor let them know bow they stand in relation to Him, and this is what people need more than anything else. In their darkness and ignorance men may feel uneasy, and be convinced that things are not as they ought to be, but without light they are not able to see things as they really are. In the present day, in what is called gospel lands, if men are in darkness they are without excuse, for the true light now shines.
By light, I mean the knowledge of God, for the measure in which the heart of any man is in the light is the measure in which he has learned God. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” This can be said now that He has been declared, for in Christ He has come out of the thick darkness into the light of revelation. Jesus could say, “I am come a light into the world that whosoever believes on Me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). When Christ, the true Light, is received into the soul the darkness has passed away forever, and it is then that one begins to get right thoughts about every moral and spiritual question.
Saul of Tarsus was a man whose natural endowments, conscientiousness, and education placed him above most men, indeed he far surpassed all others. He was as well born, and as well educated, and as moral as any, and as to zeal for what he believed to be of God, he excelled everyone else. Yet what was the fact? He was altogether wrong about every question that was of real importance to him. He was wrong about God, about man, about the law, about the Jews, about the Christians, and about himself. The fact is, he had no true light about anything. He speaks of this part of his life as his day of ignorance and unbelief. Like Laodicea, he was, in his own estimation, “rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing,” and knew not that he was “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” What was the remedy for this terrible blindness? The Christ he was persecuting. In order that his blindness might depart from him he needed to have his eyes anointed with this eye-salve which he was rejecting.
He says, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” What ignorance, madness, and folly! What could he do against that all-powerful Name? People talk about a good conscience, he had that; about being moral, he was that; about being zealous, he was that; and all the time he was all these things, he was serving the devil.
What was the thing he needed? Light. What was the first thing he got? Light; a light above the brightness of the sun. A light which with its glory withered up the eyes of flesh, but which illuminated the eyes of his soul, so that for the first time in his history he sees things according to God. And what does he see? Everything upon earth in moral disorder; the persecuted Jesus of Nazareth at the right hand of God; the nation, to which it was his proud boast to belong, guilty of the rejection and murder of the Son of God; and himself, with all his zeal, morality, and religion, God’s enemy, the willing instrument of hell, and the tool of the devil.
“Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” Detected, exposed, called to give account of his ways, and found almost speechless. Poor Saul! Had this been the day of judgment, what an eternity of woe had been thine! “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” had rung upon thy burning brain in the blackness of darkness forever. But it is the accepted time, the day of salvation, and that voice, full of infinite compassion, once more falls upon his ear, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” “Hard for thee!” O, boundless mercy! Who of Adam’s race would have cared how hard had been the path of his persecutor? How different this spirit from that of this insolent, overbearing, proud Pharisee! In his self-will and rebellion against the decree of God he had been kicking to his own hurt. No one was injured but himself. The Lord does not say, “It is hard for Me to have patience with thee,” or, “It is hard for those poor afflicted followers of Mine to bear up under thy relentless persecutions.” No, no, “It is hard for thee. Thou art the one to be pitied.”
But it is all over now. It was in accents rich in mercy and full of forgiveness that Jesus had spoken to him. Grace had abounded to the chief of sinners. An end had come to that terrible career of rebellion against God. The end was come, not by the judgment of the evildoer, but by the grace and tender mercy of the Saviour. His sin was forgiven. It was never more to be remembered by the One against whom it was committed.
“Rise and stand upon thy feet.” Marvellous grace! Not an upbraiding word. No insinuation as to what might have been his fate had it not been for the grace of God. Nothing but compassion for this poor self-willed slave of Satan. Poor Saul had been at hard work, but he is now delivered from the lash of the task-master. His night of ignorance and obstinacy is at an end, and day begins to dawn upon his broken spirit. He has seen that Just One. He has heard His voice, and he is now fully awake to his own folly and insane behaviour. Light has entered his soul. The Son of God has crossed his path, touched his blind eyes, and forced Himself upon his vision, and he sees every man clearly. For the first time in his earthly career he has got right thoughts about God, about Christians, about the Jews, and about himself; and while he seeks some one to lead him by the hand, being blinded in his natural eyes by the glory of that light, his inner man is in the light of God.
Now he gets his mission. He is sent to the Gentiles to open their eyes. Having had his own eyes opened he is now to be instrumental in opening the eyes of others. But how is he to open the eyes of those poor Gentiles to whom he is sent? By no other way than by preaching to them the same Jesus who had opened his own; the Son of God in whom the thoughts of God are presented to men.
You see how he does it in Acts 13. It might be said that this was to the Jews in the synagogue. This is true, but the Gentiles had the same words preached to them the next Sabbath. God had raised up a Saviour on man’s behalf. This Saviour was the Son of God, according to the prophecy in Psalm 2, “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” God had intervened, entirely outside the course of nature, on behalf of sinful man. Come in flesh and blood He was rejected, but this only opened the way for the fulfilment of the purposes of God, and in putting Christ to death they were only “fulfilling all that was written of Him,” for Moses and the prophets had said that Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light to the people (the Jews) and to the Gentiles.
And this light in not what man is, or is to be for God, but what God is in kindness and love to man. He has intervened in behalf of man. He has taken up man’s cause. He will have all men to be saved. All, alas, will not have His salvation, but He leaves none out in His thought of love. His Son has died for all. He has broken death’s power. He is risen and glorified. On man’s behalf He has fought the light and won the victory. O, that men might believe it! I would like to open every eye present to the reality of the grace of God. You speak of forgiveness, as though it were some wonderful attainment, seldom if ever arrived at in this present life. My dear friends, I would like to ask you how you think the heart of God was disposed toward you when He raised up such a Saviour, and gave Him to die on your behalf? Do you think He had the slightest intention of holding you to the fulfilment of your obligations? Do you think He had the thought in His mind of charging your sins upon you when He gave His Son up to the death of the cross to have them put away from His sight forever? You cannot, dare not think so. I defy you to think that the blessed God had unkind thoughts about you, or that one of your sins remained unforgiven and rankling in His mind when you look at that God-forsaken Christ dying for the ungodly. I say, I defy you to think of anything but mercy and forgiveness on the part of God in the presence of such unfathomable grace. Must not the thought of imputing trespasses have completely left His mind when He sent forth His Son to bear your judgment? You cannot believe in Jesus and remain ignorant of the goodness of God.
I want to show you the mind in which God has come near to you in Christ, the terms in which He addresses you, so that you may be able to repent and turn to Him. How could you repent unless you got an impression of His goodness? You need not think He does not know you. He knows every thought of your heart, and He knows there is no good there, neither is there any ability, in you to do good, but knowing all this He has come to you in Christ to save you The judgment of your sins Christ has borne, and He has broken the power of death, and now He is at the right hand of God, and through Him is preached to you the forgiveness of sins. The mind of God toward you is set forth in that blessed Person. Who ever thought Jesus was against him? Do you tell me you do not think that Jesus is against you, but you fear God is against you? If this be so, you must think that God is of one mind and Jesus of another. Jesus is gracious, you think, and God hard and exacting. But it is all a huge mistake. It is in Jesus that God presents Himself to you. It is in Jesus that you learn the mind of God toward you. Jesus is to be light to you. He is light to the Gentiles, that He may be God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. Think not, I beseech you, that you may find behind Jesus a God who is austere, exacting, and unforgiving. God is what Jesus is, for Jesus is the One in whom God makes Himself known. All that can be known of God is presented in Jesus. Believe in that light, and thank God for it, and in the presence of it, repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance.
Let it be a real thing with you, my hearer. Reject not such kindness and love. Do not, like the unbelieving Jews, judge yourself unworthy of everlasting life. You will do this if you reject this pure, clear light of God. Anoint your eyes with that sight-giving eye-salve, and turn to God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and you will find every need of your conscience, and every need of your heart, met by Him who is God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.