God's Mercy Revealing and Meeting Man's Misery

Acts 26:15‑18  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 9
"And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me."-Acts 26:15-1815And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. 16But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; 17Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, 18To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:15‑18).
Many an estimate may be formed of the ruin which sin has brought upon man; but the only real gauge of his misery is presented in the mercy by which, on the part of God, that misery is remedied. In this picture of man's condition, presented in the words of Christ's commission to Paul, there are no hard words of condemnation, nor threats of hell and judgment, nor exaggerated descriptions of present corruption or of future sorrow, but only the calm, heaven-pronounced declaration of a sinner's moral distance from God. But in this how does feature after feature of his moral ruin start into view, as the words in succession fall from the lips of his deliverer, while He tells of the varied application of His blood-bought cure! " I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest," was the gracious answer to His fallen persecutor, as, trembling and confounded, he asked the question, "Who art thou, Lord?" And the commission follows, by which Saul of Tarsus is empowered to tell, as wide as the world, of the mercy which grace has provided to meet a sinner's need. " But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes; to turn them from darkness to light; from-the power of Satan unto God; that they may receive the forgiveness of sins; and inheritance among them which are sanctified." Blindness—darkness -Satan's power-distance from God—sins unforgiven—portionless as to eternity—no meetness for heaven—no fitness to dwell in the holiness of God's eternal presence; these are the sad features of man's condition, as a sinner, discovered to us, not in the way of denunciation, but in the declaration of the mercy which it cost Christ His life, and sufferings, and blood in order to display.
Now, if our minds, familiarized as they are to a condition of sin in ourselves and others, have thought little of the state to which it has actually reduced us, let us seek the correction of these thoughts by looking at the picture now presented to us. For dark as it is, there is mercy in it, because it is the estimate of our condition by Him whose mercy presents the full and adequate and only remedy.
But it may be thought, perhaps, that this description hardly now applies, since civilization, and education, and christian institutions have so altered things. Consider, then, for a moment, whether it is so or not.
Civilization, and education, and what are called christian institutions, may change the outward condition of society, but can they reach the blindness of men's hearts, or rescue from the darkness of this world, or deliver from Satan's power, or give to the conscience the sense of the forgiveness of sins, or open the door of heaven to sinners in such a way as that their presence shall not tarnish the holiness of God's presence? If not, the whole condition of your moral being before God remains unchanged, and will remain unchanged, until you learn the force of that simple expression, "By faith that is in me."
Sin, then, as viewed by Christ, who is the " faithful witness," has the effect of blinding men's hearts to all true apprehensions of God's character, and to all sense of their own condition, and to all just perception of the eternal distinction between pollution and holiness. Hence the first thing named by Christ to be effected by Paul's testimony, is " To open their eyes; " because " the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not; " and Christ well knew that their eyes could not be opened to Satan's blinding power except, as He says, " By faith that is in me."
But do we seek for proofs of men's blindness of heart? What greater proof can be presented than their ignorance of the excellency of Christ, and their indifference to the proclaimed grace of God, without which they never can be saved? What greater proof of blindness than their fearlessness in traversing their pathway through this world, where every step is beset with danger, and every moment may plunge them in eternal ruin? What else but blindness can account for their intentness in pursuing the things of time, and their neglect of the things of eternity; and their fondly-cherished hopes of being right at the end, though wrong in every step of the way? What else but blindness can account for their vague hopes of reaching heaven at last, though refusing the work of Christ which alone can bring them there?
Natural blindness discovers itself by insensibility to all the objects of nature which make their appeal to our senses through the medium of sight. There may be present the beauty of spring or the glow of autumn-the birds of the air or the lilies of the field-the mountain ranges or the forest shade-the majestic sea or, the placid lake-the frightful precipice or the level plain-the lowering tempest or the bright sunshine; but he who is blind sees nothing of them all. He is alike unmoved by the danger and unattracted by the beauty of all in the midst of which he stands.
And are men attracted by the beauty of holiness-or do they tremble at the thought of dying in their sins? Are they won by the attractions of the cross -or do they live in dread of a judgment to come? Does not the apostle give this as a proof of men's blindness, that God's glory shines in the face of Jesus Christ, and men do not see it? He says, " If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." In other words, so clearly is God's glory presented in the person of Christ, and in the salvation accomplished by the cross, that if a man does not see it, it is as palpable a proof of his spiritual blindness as in natural things for a man not to see a single ray of light when the sun is shining direct before him. But Christ says, " I send thee to open their eyes!" Do not, beloved friends, say as the Pharisees did, when Christ had opened the eyes of the man who was born blind, " Are we blind also?" Rather may you exclaim, " One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see!"
But we must be " turned from darkness to light," as well as have our eyes opened; otherwise it would be but to make the darkness visible. It would avail but little for a man to open his eyes on a scene enveloped in pitchy darkness. For every practical purpose he might as well be blind, or have his eyes closed, as to be destitute of light to guide his steps, or to enable him to distinguish objects one from another. Hence it is said, (1 Peter 2:99But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: (1 Peter 2:9),) " God has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light." If Christ sends the power of His grace through the gospel "to open our eyes," in the same grace He causes the light of God, which shines in our hearts, to shine also on everything around us. " I," says Christ, " am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." But mark, Christ is the light that must be followed. Where He is not, light is not. Where His example and His grace are not discerned, all is darkness. Alas t it is too little considered that Christ's presence in this world proved it to be a definite sphere of darkness; as it is said, " The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not."
Hence the power of Satan, who is Balled " the ruler of the darkness of this world;" and hence the tricks and traverses which he plays with men, and they have no light to detect his wiles. " If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not; because he hath the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth; because there is no light in him." But, then, this testimony of Jesus in the glory brings in the light of God upon everything. It " turns them from darkness" where people can see nothing clearly; " to light" where everything is discerned in its true character. For all things are made manifest by the light.
From the power of Satan unto God." It is said of Paul's preaching at Thessalonica that the people were turned by it to God from idols, to serve the living and the true God. Because these idols which were worshipped as gods, were, as the Scripture shows, but the representatives of Satan. " I say," says the apostle, " the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils, and not to God." In truth, the world is the place of Satan's power. It is his public house, where he presents his entertainment according to the tastes of the guests whom he receives. He has wine for the drunkard and oaths for the profane; wit for the witty and pleasures for the gay. He has gold for the miser, business for the thrifty, honors for the ambitious, admirers for the vain, science for the learned, religion for the serious-everything but a crucified and risen Jesus, one look at whom would spoil it all. For He said to Paul, " to whom I now send thee, to turn them from Satan UNTO GOD."
Sin has separated from God; and under its power men can do nothing else but wander farther and farther from God. But " Jesus suffered for sins once, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." The sense of guilt drives away from the presence of God; as we see in Adam, who, before any sentence of condemnation was pronounced upon him, hid himself amongst the trees of the garden, from the presence of God. But grace restores, not to paradise, but to God. It brings back into His presence in all the acceptance which Christ, the Second Adam, the Lord from heaven, has there. Men in their sins can only be happy with such happiness as the world affords, at a distance from God. It only lasts as long as the thought of God's presence is shut out. Let that be introduced into the gavest company that ever met together, and at once their gaiety is spoiled, as by the handwriting on the wall at Belshazzar's feast.
But how, it may be asked, if it be so, is a man to be delivered from Satan's power? I answer, who was it that said, " When a strong man armed keepeth his palace his goods are in peace; but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils?" Who was it that met the man amongst the tombs, who was so fierce that no man durst pass by that way, and, in a word, commanded the legion of devils, by whom he was possessed, to come out of him? So that His very enemies said of Him, " with authority he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they obey him." Satan can hold his own against any power but a, dead and risen Christ; who, through death, destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil."
" That they may receive the forgiveness of sins." Nothing gives the certain indication of faith in the soul and the working of God's Spirit but this. As Christ said to the Jews, " If ye believe not that I am he ye shall die in your sins." There are many workings of the human mind, many attempts to satisfy the conscience, many efforts to meet the claims of the law, many hopes of heaven and fears of hell; but there is only one thing that can bring into the soul the knowledge of " the forgiveness of sins." But until this is known, there is no sure token that God is at work there, or that Christ has been received by faith. " Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." "Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things." Now, have none of you ever repeated, " I believe in the forgiveness of sins?" But, in doing so, whose sins did you believe in the forgiveness of? Peter's, Paul's, Mary Magdalene's, the thief's on the cross—and not your own? ' Then, they will be in heaven, and you will not if your belief goes no further than this. It is right to believe in the forgiveness of sins; but then it is necessary individually to receive the forgiveness of sins. Do you think God's Son suffered all He did to put away sin that you might go on in sin, and still reach heaven at last? Or do you think there is any means besides of getting rid of your sins? No; it is only " the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, that cleanseth us from all sin."
" That they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance amongst them that are sanctified."
Whatever the world and time may give to their votaries, it must be allowed on all hands that they leave a man portionless for eternity. " When he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory' shall not descend after him." But, most certainly, God is gathering to Himself out of this world those who are to be with Him through a long and blessed eternity, to be His heirs in glory. The apostle Peter speaks of this, when he says, " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
This living hope of this heavenly inheritance springs from faith in the resurrection of Christ. It is by this that God begets it in the soul. As Christ says, " by faith that is in me;" and He was then speaking from the heavenly glory. Now, God is sanctifying or setting apart the heirs of this inheritance. It is by the blood of Christ that this is accomplished; as the blood of the pass-over was the means of the redemption of Israel as the heirs of Canaan. " Jesus, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate." It is this blood that sets apart from the world's judgment, because it meets the judgment due to sin. And if God saves sinners by the blood of Christ it is because that blood so puts away their sins that not a single stain remains to be brought into heaven, either to trouble their own consciences or to pollute the holiness of God's eternal presence.
But how am I to be assured of this inheritance? Christ says, "By faith that is in me." For however the apostle might amplify this ground of confidence, by showing the divine power and glory of Him who wrought this redemption, or the efficacy of the sacrifice by which it was accomplished, or the present position in glory of Him who humbled Himself to death for us; still, the title to eternal inheritance, as well as the reversal of all that marked our moral distance from God, is found in the single sentence, " By FAITH that is in me." For we must not fail here to mark that all this picture of man's misery comes to light through the remedy that was to be applied. It is not the detail (however we may have dwelt upon it) Of blindness and darkness and Satan's power, and sin's bondage and final hopelessness, that is prominent in this wondrous commission given by Christ to the apostle of the Gentiles; but it is the simple, energetic means by which this condition of ruin could alone be reversed. It is the sending a testimony through one who had gone as far as ever man's enmity could go in opposition to Christ, that all had been accomplished in order to put away sin-the certain efficacy of which the messenger in his own person was to be an example. Christ says in effect to Paul, I am going to send you to the Gentiles, who are blind, and in the dark, under the power of Satan, and dead in trespasses and sins, having no hope, and without God in the world, that they may know that I have labored and, suffered, and agonized and sweat blood, and met Satan's power and God's judgment in death, and I have conquered I And now bid them look to me for the fruit and power of that victory I have so hardly won!
Christ as the True Physician saw man's desperate condition, and provided the only remedy; though the victim Himself might be an utter stranger to His need.
Christ says, I send you to do this. But by what instruments or application was He to open their eyes? By what light was He to chase away their darkness?, By what power was He to deliver souls from Satan's grasp? How could they receive forgiveness of sins when God had declared that the wages of sin was death? How could they get their title and meetness for a place amongst those who were sanctified? How "read their title clear to mansions in the skies," when they were "by nature children of wrath?" The whole is summed up in this, "by faith that is in me."
Paul was to tell of the grace of that heart, to others, that had met, and melted, and, in sovereign mercy, had delivered his own. He was to tell of the love and power of One who had taken the sinner's place under death and judgment, that the- sinner through faith in Him might find a place before God in righteousness and heavenly glory. There was power enough in a risen Christ " to open their eyes," who so often, when here on earth, opened the eyes of the blind. There was power in Christ to bring in light amidst the darkest scenes of human depravity, for He is " the light of the world," and will soon appear as " the Sun of righteousness," to chase away all the darkness that broods over this world. But, now, the gospel is " God's power to salvation." When it is received by faith, it is God's instrument of deliverance. " God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
There was, and is, power enough in Christ to deliver from Satan's power, whom he conquered in death, "that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death." For even when on earth, the wondering multitudes exclaimed, "with authority he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out." He could forgive sins on earth, because He came to bear sin; and now that " He has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself," the testimony, far and wide, is borne, " through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins." He can bring into heaven " who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising" the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." And let none of us forget that the objects of this redemption are viewed as " the fruit of the travail of His soul," who in death and sorrow, and in the infinitude of love, wrought this redemption.