"A Light From Heaven Above the Brightness of the Sun"

Acts 9

I would desire particularly to ask the question, Why was it that Jehovah said to Moses - who was a good man, as we should popularly term it - "Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet" (Ex. 3:5); but to a wretched rebel like Saul of Tarsus, in the hour when his malignity against Christ was at its height, God, as it were, draws nigh to him, addresses him by name, and then and there takes him up to make him a pattern of the grace that is in His own heart? There surely must be some weighty reason to account for the different way in which the blessed God acted in both these cases. Let us look a little at both. Moses, as I have said, was a man remarkable in his day for the very opposite of that which distinguished Saul of Tarsus, raised up as well as fitted of God to lead forth Jehovah's people out of Egypt; and yet, when he ventured to draw nigh and look at the burning bush, he is not permitted, Jehovah Himself insisting on distance between Moses and Himself. Surely it is not that the blessed God is in any sense indifferent to the sorrows or afflictions of enslaved Israel. What a beautiful word that is - "I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows!" And yet, to the man who is to carry out all that is expressed in such words, Jehovah says, "Draw not, nigh;" and Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.

The very contrary and contrast of all this is supplied in what is commonly called the conversion of Saul. Why is it that God keeps up distance with Moses, and Himself draws nigh to a persecutor like Saul? The answer is at once simple and plain, His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, had died upon the cross, and in death had so completely glorified God respecting all that was contrary to Him, that what God was not free to do in consistency with His own character in the day of Moses, He is perfectly free to do in the day of Saul of Tarsus. In the day of Exodus 3, and up to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, man, as a child of Adam, was recognized by God, and although fallen and ruined, had demands made upon him by God in righteousness; in other words, God was requiring from man what man was both unable and unwilling to give. Man was still on his trial, and because so, to him as such God says, You cannot come near me; "draw not nigh hither." The blessed God may, and does, bear with man, test him and prove him in every way; but nearness to God is that which cannot be known, while as yet the first man is allowed a standing before God. But it may be said, Why could not God have granted nearness to Himself, or Himself drawn nigh to a sinner, as in the case of Saul of Tarsus, on the ground of the sacrifice of Christ TO BE offered? The answer is as simple as it is plain: so long as the history of the first man {or man as connected with Adam) is not closed or ended, as long as man is allowed a place, though on trial, God must, while demanding from him, keep him at a distance, else we should have a wilful, rebellious creature allowed on that ground, and brought into that relationship which is true only of the one who is in Christ a new creation; and beside all this, as long as the first man is a recognized existence before God, God must, in consistency with Himself, demand from him; but this very demanding from him is in itself keeping man at a distance, as he cannot meet the claims of a Holy God. When I speak of the first man, I mean man as he is by nature connected with Adam, who brought ruin upon the race; and when I speak of a recognized existence, and God making demands upon it, I mean that judgment had not been executed upon it: God looked at man as still to be tested and tried, and consequently looked for what became Him from man.

But to turn to the history of Saul of Tarsus; how different it is there. God comes to give righteousness, not to look for it or demand it. His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, had been to earth, had died on the cross, and by His precious death had both completely and fully glorified God, as well as judged and condemned sin in the flesh, and in doing so He most blessedly and righteously supplied an answer to every righteous claim of a holy God. God can now come out and express His love for the sinner, yea, for the very chief of sinners; and here it may be well to look at what made Saul of Tarsus the chief of sinners. It surely was not that he was an immoral man, or an outcast from society, as we say were he of this character he would never have been selected for, and charged with, the mission on which he was running when God stopped him; on the contrary, Phil. 3 tells us that Saul was one unequalled among his fellows for morality.

If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." What then constituted him chief of sinners? not immorality, not the gross wickedness at which refined society blushes, but the dreadful will and malignant opposition with which he set himself against the purpose and mind of God. Hear his own account of it: "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities." (Acts 26:9-11.) Who could conceive wilfulness or hatred of Christ and God more desperate than this? To force from city to city the scattered saints of God, and not this only, but to compel them to blaspheme the One who was to them above everyone; on whose account they are suffering at the hands of this relentless hater of Jesus of Nazareth.

Oh, what contrasts rise up before the soul as we think of it! With our natural thought of God and His ways, what should you predicate would be the course He must adopt with a wretch like Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the object of his terrible hate? Why, of course you say, Almighty power would sweep from the earth such a plague; the sword of Divine vengeance and justice must be unsheathed to overtake such an one in his wild wickedness. But oh, how different from all this natural thought of God was His blessed way with poor Saul. Stop him God will; but with what? with the pit? No; but with glory. A light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shone round about him. At midday, when the sun is brightest, Saul is arrested by that which is brighter still. What a sight! A scorner, despiser, hater of Christ in heaven, awakened, arrested, addressed by that very blessed One Himself - "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" That very One Himself; too, who had been on the cross, under the judgment, because of man's sin - that very One Himself who, in that wonderful moment, knew what it was to be forsaken of God, that such as Saul might never be forgotten of Him; now risen up from among the dead, and received up into glory. He it is who commands the rays of that glory to fall upon the persecutor's path, draws nigh to him, speaks to him, comes not to hurl him into the bottomless pit, but to take him up, in the riches of grace and mercy, to give him forgiveness, righteousness, glory, to make a pattern man of him, a chosen vessel unto Himself, to bear His name before the Gentiles, kings and children of Israel Such is the way of His grace now, even to: the vilest sinner. Christ has died, and by His death righteousness has been established; the love of God, which was not set free to travel out to sinners until righteousness is established, now goes out world-wide. There is not only salvation for the vilest sinner, but glory. It is the very joy of the heart of God to minister now everything from Himself to sinners, even the vilest of the vile, and to make them not only vessels of mercy in themselves, platforms as it were upon which the blessed God makes declarations of His grace and goodness; but He delights to make them living witnesses of what His own Son the Lord Jesus can be to them, as well as what great things He has done far them.

W. T. T.