The Roads to Gaza and Damascus.

The roads southward and northward from Jerusalem were the scenes of the remarkable incidents recorded in Acts 8:26-9:8. These were the blessing of Candace's treasurer through Philip's preaching to him Jesus, and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Both these were exalted men in their own circles, and most interesting it is to trace the activity of God's grace toward them, bringing them into a sense of their own nothingness and of the glory of Christ, so that nothing remained to them as an object but that blessed One, and no path upon earth but His own. Let us trace this a little in detail.

We begin with the man of Ethiopia, who was of great authority in the land from whence he came, and had charge of all the treasure of his sovereign lady. Yet, whatever his greatness, his heart was not satisfied within that circle, and he had come as a worshipper to Jerusalem. The glory of Jehovah's temple there, toward whose name he had desires, had attracted him from this great distance. Yet it was the very house of which the Lord had solemnly testified, "Ye have made it a den of thieves." God's thought concerning it certainly was, that it should be a house of prayer for all nations, where even the Ethiopian might stretch out his hands to God; but in the hands of His people it had become a place of robbery and spoil. How then could the heart that truly sought Jehovah be satisfied there?

The Lord met him not amid the splendour of the house at Jerusalem, doomed to judgment. He was returning, and in his chariot, as an unsatisfied seeker, he read the prophet Isaiah, yet understood not what he read, for there was none to guide him. There on the desert road that led to Gaza he read, in the glowing language of the prophet, of One in whom had shone unparalleled moral beauty in the very midst of treachery and wickedness. Those who had filled God's house with corruption had arisen with violence against the One who was perfectly meek, and yet He resisted them not. "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened He not His mouth."

This moral beauty of surpassing greatness had been displayed upon earth. Where was it now? It was gone; for, as he read further, "His life is taken from the earth." As a vision of perfect sweetness it had appeared, the very darkness enhancing the brilliancy of the light; but the violence was triumphant, and He was gone.

So read this Ethiopian as he returned from Jerusalem, and doubtless was affected by what lie read; yet he understood it not. But the eye of the Lord was upon him, and He sent with haste after him the evangelist Philip, who, when seated in his chariot, began at the same scripture, and preached to him Jesus. He began at the point which had riveted the attention of the lonely reader, that moral beauty had shone in Jesus in the midst of the greatest corruption and violence upon earth, but He was gone. There he began, but doubtless went on to unfold something of what was involved in His death and consequent glory at God's right hand.

It is sweet to see what was the effect upon the listener to that wondrous tale. The point at which it started seems to have been that most deeply impressed upon his soul, "His life is taken from the earth." "See, here is water," he exclaimed; "what doth hinder me to be baptized?" If the One who had gained his heart was gone from the earth, he would henceforth abide under the shadow of His death in this world. He was baptized, the instrument used to his blessing was caught away, and he was left alone in the joy of his newly-found object, and in the path of following Him as the rejected one from the earth.

The circle of Saul was a very different one from that of the Ethiopian. Natural to him was all that which had attracted the other from his own country and all its treasures. He himself tells us that he profited beyond his contemporaries in the Jews' religion. (Gal. 1.) We find him here (Acts 9) in the most eminent instance of his zeal for that religion. Not content with the havoc wrought among believers in the Lord Jesus in the land of Judea, he persecuted them "even unto strange cities." His authority and commission proceeded from the high priest, the chief priests, and the whole estate of the elders. His zeal was so unbounded that he permitted himself no noontide repose. 'While the sun was in its greatest strength he pushed on his way, and had come very near to his desired end. We see him in the pride of his greatness, when suddenly he is struck to the ground by a light surpassing the brilliant orb of day. A blinded man by the glory of that light, he is led by the hand into the city, which he had designed to enter as a vehement persecutor. Here was a complete collapse! For three days and nights he neither ate nor drank; and at the close of that time was spoken of by the Lord as a praying man - one in the confession of perfect weakness waiting in dependence upon God. How was this marvellous change wrought?

He had himself been the most emphatic expression of the violence of which the Ethiopian read. All the vehemence of his soul was against the name of Jesus. What was his surprise and consternation when addressed personally by Him from that excellent glory! It sufficed for the Ethiopian to read of His moral glory, and to know of whom the prophet spake; but for a heart hardened by traditional religion there was needed this overwhelming testimony to what the lowly sufferer of Calvary was in God's account. But if such was needed (blessed be the God of all grace!) it was given. "I am Jesus" was spoken by the glorified One in the ears of that stricken man.

It was effective. He was brought, as one perfectly humbled, to dependence upon God. Then, by the hand of the pious disciple Ananias, he received sight and the Holy Ghost, thus being linked with the One whom he had seen in glory. From that moment He was the sole object of his heart, and "the fellowship of His sufferings" was his only path on earth.

Thus we see the death of the Lord as the prominent feature in the former of these instances, and His glory as that of the latter. Yet there is perfect consonance. If all that moral glory which was the delight of God found no response with man, and only awakened his hatred and rejection, it was fitting that He in whom it was displayed should find His place at God's right hand. And the one who believes on Him confesses the fitness, and is formed by all that is seen in Him. If HE has died, who by His lowly grace attracts the heart to Himself, there can be no longer here any place which it can regard as home. All is over in respect to man and the world. And as He is enthroned in glory, so does He become the commanding object of the soul that loves Him, and all its resources are found in Him where He is. It could not be content to find a single thing outside His fulness.

May God in His rich grace form our souls in the distinct sense of what is involved in the death and glory of Christ. J. R.