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rage any poor despairing finner among them to iepent, “ Unto me," he could now say, “who was once a persecutor and injurious-Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Chrift." % For this is a faithful laying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save finners, of whom I am chief."
But there is also a bad use which may possibly be made of this story of Paul's conversion. Weak men, I believe, have sometimes taken occasion from it to confirm themselves in their errors, and wicked men in their fins. Some enthusiasts, for instance, have been disposed to fancy that they also may
be converted like Paul by a voice from heaven, or at least by some impresion that would nearly amount to the same thing. To such perfons I reply, what then, do you imagine the case of Paul to be quite a common one ? Paul himself did not so consider it. He often stood astonished at the strangeness of it. one,” said he,“ born out of due time," He thus compares himself to a person, whose birth had been quite out of the common course, and undoubtedly, both in the lateness and in the manner of his conversion, his case is a direct exception to that of most Christians, who were , either to come after him or had gone before him. In fact, the conversion of Paul was neither more nor less than a miracle, and we might as well expect all the other kind of miracles which
66 I am as
were wrought on the bodies of men in the time of Christ to be repeated in our days, as expect to see miracles again wrought in order to the conversion of mens? fouls.
But wicked men, I also remarked, may perhaps take occasion from this story, to encourage themselves in their fins. “True, fay they, we cannot convert ourselves, it belongs to God alone to convert us; and we will therefore fit Nill and wait, or in other words, we will continue in fin (for waiting is finning in the case of these people) until God shall stop us in our mad career, as he did Paul in his way to Damascus. Where, say they, is the use of diligence and labor, or of reading the scriptures, or of any of the means of grace ? God can save us without these. We live in hopes, that he will convert us some day or other, as he did Pual, while we are not thinking of it; and though to be sure we remain in the mean time in our fins, and in the gross neglect of the proper means of our salvation, yet we plead the great apostle Paul for our example." You plead the apostle Paul's example, do you? or rather you plead the example of Paul before he was an apostle, and when he was yet unconverted. Well then, if you plead his example at all, you may as well plead it to the full extent to which this plea can be carried. Now Paul not only finned in the common way, and neglected the proper means of his salvation as you do, but he did what was ftill worse; he was even a blafphemer of Chrift,
and a perfecutor and injurious." Go then, I say, since you plead the example of Paul, and follow the example throughout. Go then, and blafpheme Christ as he did. Go, perfecute the present followers of Jesus. Go and hunt them out as he did in every city, and bind them, both men and women, and then put them to death, Oh, no; you are afraid of venturing any such length in wickedness as this.-But Remember, my deluded reader, that your plea, if it will warrant you in any one trespass against God, will warrant you even in this. Remember, that who. soever at any time encourages himself, even in the smallest sin, either of omission or commission, by unconverted Paul's example, may, on the very same principle, encourage himself even in the greatest. Be afraid, therefore, to tread on this dangerous ground. Let not such kind of arguments, as I have supposed you to use, be endured even for a moment, but consider them as the most complete perversions of the gospel, and as some of the worst temptations of the devil.
This leads me to address to you another observation on the fame subject. God was pleased to convert Paul, as I apprehend, not as your argument has supposed, because he was a finner, but although he was a sinner, Paul's fin did not invite God's grace, it only did not hinder it: nay, if his fin, which was great, already, had risen to be somewhat greater, we are not without reason for supposing that the fame mercy would not have been extended to him,
I obtained mercy," says Paul, “ because I did it ignorantly and in unbelief." This observation of Paul seems to imply that if the crimes he coinmitted had also been committed knowingly and wilfully, such would then have been the
ag. gravation of them, that possibly they would not have been pardoned.
And now, reader, you may trace in this respect, perhaps, an important distinction between his case and yours. Paul finned ignorantly, but you are for finning wilfully, for so your very argument supposes. Paul“ obtained mercy because he did it in mere ignorance and unbelief;" you, perhaps, may not obtain mercy, because as to the evil you do, you do it not ignorantly but with your eyes open; nay let me add, that the very plea which you use of being encouraged in your Noth or fin, by the free grace and mercy of ihe gospel, is itself the greatest aggravation of your guilt : the very excuse you use renders your case dreadful, and who knows, whether if the fame excuse is persisted in, your case may not thereby be rendered desperate !
To sum up all in a few words, the fair account of the whole matter seems to be this. Paul : was a great opposer of the gospel, and there. fore a great sinner. His ignorance and unbelief, which led him into this opposition, were undoubtedly criminal, for he might have known better if he would, nevertheless, they afforded some small palliation of his guilt. God, on the whole, for the fake of his own purposes, and not
on account of any merit in Paul, for there is nes yer any merit in man, was pleased to convert this persecutor by the power of his grace, and to convert him even by a miracle, for God, as it evidently appears by the succeeding part of Paul's history, had great ends to fulfil by means of this extraordinary convert. One of these ends was, that a itriking proof might thus be given of the truth of that new religion which the world in general, and which the Jews especially, were so ill prepared to believe : and another end was, in order that a clear manifestation might be made of the sovereignty and power of God, and of the exceeding riches of his grace, which nothing, perhaps, would shew forth more effectually than the conversion of this unworthy Jew into an apostle. These, as has been already observed, seem to be some of the great points which the story of Paul's Conversion is calculated to prove. It is calculated to prove (let it be carefully remembered) that God sometimes may, and that he always can, convert even the most notorious finners, and even in the very midst of their wickedness, but not that he always, no, nor even that he often will; still less does it prove, that God will convert any one again by a miracle. God works ordinarily by means, and he himfelf has expressly appointed, in the case of Christianity, what shall be his means. These are the preaching of the gospel, (for which end this very Paul was sent forth) the reading of the scriptures, and the various other helps to falva