Learning Deliverance.

Acts 9:8-19.

Although Saul had been subdued at the feet of Jesus glorified, the Jesus of Nazareth whom he had so relentlessly persecuted, he had yet much to learn before he could understand his new relationships. The rebel had been conquered by grace, and he was now a willing captive, having surrendered himself to the will of his Lord. A revolution indeed had been wrought in his soul by the mighty power of God, but it was a revolution which filled him with amazement, if not with terror. (v. 7.) In response to his enquiry as to what the Lord would have him to do, he received the command, "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." He must wait for further instruction and for more deepened exercises before he could be brought into the enjoyment of peace and deliverance. The one who was to be a chosen vessel for the ministration of the truth of God, must learn from his own experiences the difficulties of souls in their passage out of darkness into light.

The condition of Saul at this moment is described with the utmost minuteness. In obedience to the command he had received, he "arose from the earth," but "when his eyes were opened, he saw no man." As he explained in after days, he "could not see for the glory of that light," which had shone round about him, and into his soul, from heaven. It was, without doubt, literal blindness, but a blindness which expressed at that moment the state of his soul. Until he had been encountered by his glorified Lord he thought he saw clearly, for he had thrown himself into the path of persecution with all the energy of his resolute will, and was convinced that he was doing God service in hunting out the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Now everything was changed; the light which he deemed he possessed had proved itself to be utter darkness, and hence he could see nothing. Moreover, he was helpless, and dependent upon his own servants for assistance: "they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus." The man whose name struck fear into the hearts of timid disciples arrived at his destination as helpless as a babe!

One more particular is given, and that the most significant of all, and one therefore which will demand especial consideration. "He was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink." Not only did darkness still reign in his soul, but he found no sustenance nor refreshment. As will be perceived, we take the outward circumstances of Saul as representing his inward condition; and it may be said at once, to afford the reader the clue to this part of the subject, that, in our view of the case, Saul was learning deliverance during those three eventful days. It is to our loss to conclude that deliverance cannot be known till after conversion. That this is the order generally is freely conceded; but where there is deep and heart-searching exercise in connection with the entrance of light into the soul, where there is real and profound repentance towards God, and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ, there is often the discovery of the nature of the flesh as well as the detection of guilt. When this is the case, peace with God and deliverance may be reached at the same time.

Assuming then that it was so with Saul, we are justified in putting the experimental process of Romans 7 into this period of three days; and we may accordingly enquire briefly, What were the lessons he then learned? Trusting that the reader will carefully ponder Romans 7, we will confine ourselves to the main points of the chapter. The case supposed is that of one under law, having a new nature (for he delights in the law of God after the inward man), but not knowing redemption. First sin is brought to light, and into activity, by the application of the law; and accordingly he says, "The commandment, which [was ordained] to life, I found to be unto death." (vv. 7-10.) Next, after affirming that the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good, the question is put, "Was then that which is good made death unto me?" The answer is, "God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." In other words, the true nature of the flesh was thereby discovered and detected.

This discovery brought out the absolute contrariety between the flesh and the one who delighted in the law of God after the inward man. Spite of all his desires, efforts, and struggles he was compelled to admit that, if the law was spiritual, he was "carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." (vv. 14, 15.) Passing through this painful experience, and worsted at every turn, he now acquires the knowledge of the two natures. "If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." From this point he treats the flesh as an enemy; it is not himself; and for him the "I" is the inward man of verse 22. Together with this, he learns that the flesh is utterly evil; in it there "dwelleth no good thing." (v. 18.) Next he is made to confess his entire powerlessness - "how to perform that which is good I find not," etc. (vv. 18, 20.) Then, after once more distinguishing between himself and sin that dwelleth in him (v. 20), and stating the abiding antagonism between the desires of the inner man and those of the flesh, he proceeds to say, "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." (v. 23.) All his struggles have seemingly ended in hopeless defeat.

But the moment of defeat, if not of despair, is the turning point of his deliverance, for he has now learned his last lesson. In the anguish of his soul he cries, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" This point would never have been reached if the previous lessons had not been experimentally acquired; but, having now discovered its own helpless condition, the soul, ceasing from all self-occupation and effort, looks outside of itself for succour. It is not now, How can I do the good that I would? but, Who shall deliver me? And hence no sooner has the cry escaped its lips than the answer is found, "I thank God [I am delivered] through Jesus Christ our Lord." (v. 25.) The eyes have been opened to discover that deliverance is not in self, nor in self-efforts, but in Christ; that in Christ the believer has passed out of the region of sin, death, and judgment into a place where there is no condemnation; "for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death," etc. (Chap. 8:2-4)*

*Those of our readers who desire to pursue the subject may consult God's Way of Rest, Power, and Consecration.

If correct in our interpretation it was while Saul was going through these profound exercises that the Lord appeared in a vision to Ananias, and commissioned him to be the bearer of light and blessing to Saul's soul. The Lord's eyes had followed him as he was led into Damascus; He had watched over him as he entered "into the street which is called Straight;" He had seen him take up his abode in the house of Judas; He had observed the agonizing character of his spiritual conflict; and He had heard his prayers. (v. 11.) What encouragement is here given to troubled souls as they perceive the tender interest the Lord took in all the experiences through which Saul was passing! And what instruction is afforded to all who seek to help and guide the anxious, and what warning also against prematurely attempting to minister consolation and peace! One of the perils indeed of the present moment is the effort, so frequently made, to shorten, instead of deepening, the exercises of the newly-awakened. The Lord's method in this instance may therefore claim our special consideration.

Nothing could be more beautiful than the holy intimacy in which Ananias appears in this scene before the Lord. As if the Lord did not know all the past actings of Saul, Ananias ventures to describe his hostility and heretical zeal. "But," having permitted His servant thus to speak, "the Lord said unto him, 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: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." (vv. 15, 16.) Ananias was a true servant. "Go thy way," said the Lord; and this word of command sufficed to still every doubt, and to settle every question, which had arisen in his soul, and he "went his way, and entered into the house," honoured in being sent on such a mission to one who had been chosen of the Lord for the new testimony which was about to be proclaimed.

If Ananias had at first hesitated, his action and address to Saul plainly show that he had been brought into full communion with the mind and heart of his Lord. He put his hands upon him and said, "Brother Saul"; and he then declared the object for which he had been sent. Saul must first know that the Lord who had sent Ananias was Jesus who had appeared to him in the way, as he came to Damascus; and that He had sent Ananias "that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." He had been three days without sight, but now the period of darkness was ended, and the fact that he was to be filled with the Holy Ghost shows incontestably that, together with the falling from his eyes as it had been scales, and his receiving sight, he had now reached deliverance. None but a delivered soul could he filled with the Holy Spirit. At once Saul arose and was baptized - baptized unto the death of Christ. (Rom. 6:3.) He could now moreover receive food and be strengthened. At liberty from self and self-occupation, he could now in the power of the Spirit, whom he had received, begin to feed upon heavenly food, and thus be strengthened for the new path on which he was entering.