The Wish of Paul in Chains: Part 2

Acts 26  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Acts 26
Paul had been conscientious and very zealous for the religion of his fathers; but, with all his conscience and his religion, an enemy of God. He was the most wicked, and, as he says himself, the “chief” of sinners. And nevertheless, there he is; he becomes in three days the most remarkable apostle of grace. And how did that happen? It is a very simple thing. He had become acquainted with Jesus. He could not at once manifest what he would be; for he had been terrified at seeing the state of death wherein he was, but he had heard in his heart the voice of Jesus. Jew or Gentile, it is all the same, while the soul is unstripped, the conscience unconvinced of sin, and the man has not understood, that all his religion is but enmity against God. This conviction of sin does not come to all in the same way; there are different circumstances; but it must always be that the soul be naked, and that Christ reveal to the soul His relations with His own. There are poor Christians, dishonored by those who are in consideration, designated by injurious terms. Well, to these persons, despised and pointed at because of their faith, the Lord reveals His relations with them in a manner most positive and clear. The revelation that Jesus made to Paul is, that they are entirely identified with Himself. He says, I am all those men whom thou persecutest. Paul sees the glory, and he is arrested; no doubt that it is the Lord. But this Lord is Jesus,
Who shows him that he persecutes Him in persecuting the Christians. “It is Myself,” says Jesus, “whom thou persecutest.”
There were in those days differences in faith, patience, and piety, amongst the Christians; but Jesus bears them all on His heart. He says, “It is Myself.” And there is a complete revolution in Paul, learned, religious, and a persecutor. The more there is of religion of the flesh, the greater enemies we are to Jesus. The finer the outside, the more honest and brave I give myself out for, exactly so much the more I am God's enemy, and so much the more opposed to the grace of Jesus. He who wallows in sin will not pretend to be the friend of God, to be reconciled with Him.
But as for those who have believed, Christ identifies Himself with them. In this room there are those who believe, and others who do not believe. Amongst those who believe there are (without doubt) many degrees of spirituality; but I can say of all these believing ones, “They are one with the Lord Jesus.” It is evident that this simple truth changes all in the state of the soul—the being one with Him Who is in glory.
Paul had been later caught up to the third heaven, and had precious revelations. When he was arrested on the road to Damascus, he had yet much progress to make, for he was shocked at himself, till Ananias had explained and made him understand what Jesus wanted of him (see Acts 22:1414And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. (Acts 22:14)). Then Ananias said to Paul, “The God of thy fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know His will and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of His mouth. For thou shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.” But from the moment that he truly knew the Lord Jesus, he was one with Him, and he knew it.
Whatever then might be the circumstances of Paul, whether at Jerusalem, at Caesarea, before Festus, or before Caesar, he could say, “I would that you were such as I am, except these bonds;” for he knew what he possessed in Christ. It was a question of this truth—the being one with Christ. Of course, Paul had yet a great deal to learn of the Lord, but in spite of that, he was one with Him. He had understood, that in persecuting the Christians, the beloved of Jesus, he was persecuting Jesus. “Why persecutest thou me?” The nearer we are to the Lord Jesus, the better we understand that he who touches His brethren “toucheth the apple of His eye.”
I will add a few words more on what we are in Christ. All in us has been enmity against God, our religion, our works, our whole conduct, so that in this state it is impossible to please Him. It is sad, but, after all, it is true. Paul admits it; he no longer esteems what he thought was “gain “; on the contrary he looks upon it “as dung.” But he understands that by faith all are one in Christ. Faith makes him take his place with them. He does not ask if he has faith, he does not begin a metaphysical discussion to know what faith is; but he becomes a Christian, because he believes that Jesus is the Lord of glory and that Christians are one with Him. And this is the life and joy of our souls, to comprehend that Christ has not asked us if we have faith, but that He has said, I am One with thee. We are one spirit with the Lord.
All was sin in this world. There was no longer any means of entering into relation with God. It was necessary, in order that these relationships should be re-established, that Jesus should come into the world to accomplish the will of God, and to manifest to sinful men the deep interest that God took in them. But in this case I have nothing to do but to weigh what Christ is for me, and that is faith's business. I find in Him that which takes away all my mistrust, because He knows me altogether. He knows my sin better than I know it myself; in going to Him, my heart is free, because He knows all, and that He is come expressly for that. I find all goodness, all grace, and all liberty, in Him.
Moreover, knowing that He is God, I know Him as the Savior God. And what a revolution takes place in the soul which knows that it has to do with the God Who never denies Himself, and Who is love I Not only is He come to relieve me, but more—to save me. And what is exceedingly precious is, that when I have met Jesus Christ a man, I have met God; I am one with Him, not upon the cross (there He had taken my place), but in His risen privileges. He has taken up the cause for me as a sinner, and has given Himself as propitiatory victim for sin. God cannot sue again for my salvation, because I am one with Him there in heaven; and if I torment myself, it is only with myself, for I cannot have the least uneasiness before God.
Satan has done all he could, but it is only to show that his power is destroyed forever. There is nothing remaining which can disquiet me before God: He has everything to be the source of life and joy. I find all in Jesus, in Whom “dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” I find in Him all grace for my need, my righteousness, and my strength.
Another righteousness has succeeded that of man; it is the righteousness of God. Christ is become head of all things; and all the glory is manifested at the right hand of God, as a consequence of the expiation which has been made for my sin. Thus all the fullness is manifested, and Jesus has said, being glorified, that He is One with us, and that He has sent His Holy Spirit to make us understand it. Christ has said of us, “It is I.” Thus I have only to examine what Christ is, and to rejoice too in seeking to manifest what He is, since He has said of His own, “It is I.”
The Holy Spirit is given to be in the heart of these poor worthless, ones, the “seal,” and the “earnest of the inheritance.” When one has the Holy Spirit, is one to despair, if one should sin? Quite the contrary, for then we are one with Christ, Who considers us as “His flesh,” and Who looks after us. Sometimes, perhaps, He must wound it a little, but He does so because He cannot neglect it, since it is “His flesh.” The Holy Spirit makes us sensitive to all that with which Jesus is not satisfied in us as being one with Him, His body; and the nearer we are to Him, the more alive we are to these things. Besides the fact of being one with Christ, in order fully to enjoy this privilege, and that the heart might overflow with joy in the consciousness of possessing it, the Holy Spirit must not be grieved. If the heart of Paul had not been set at liberty, although the truth of his oneness with Christ remained, he could not have said, I would that all ye should be such as I am. His understanding would have recognized the truth of it, apart from sin; his heart could only have said it by the Holy Spirit: for the Holy Spirit is repressed neither by prison nor by every kind of tribulation. Nothing hinders Paul from enjoying the grace of Jesus. He was able to call himself happy in every circumstance, and to say to those who heard him, “I would that all were such as I am,” &c.
When Agrippa says to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” if that had been addressed to us, what had been our answer? Perhaps we should have said, “Would to God that thou wert!” but could we have said: “I would that thou wert such as I am,” &c. That shows the inward happiness he possessed. Oh! happy is the man that can say so, and all can say it in Christ, for Christ has said of all, “It is I!” But, if we are not close to Christ, in Paul's state, we are not at liberty.
Alas! there may be many things in the life of the poor Christian which oblige Christ to chastise him; and there is a diversity in the manifestation of His love; but that changes not this truth—He is one with me. The Christian sees in God all goodness towards him, and, as a sinner, nothing but grace. There is in Christ the righteousness of God, the life of God, the glory of God, and that in Christ which declares him one with Him, and which says of him, “It is I.” He has the Holy Spirit, that he may understand Him, and enjoy Him, and that he may know by this “earnest,” that the fellowship and happiness of God are his forever, and according to the sweetness of the peace which assures him of it. Is it then astonishing that, filled with love, he cries out, “Would to God that those who hear me were such as I?”
Being in the presence of God destroys whatever we have put to hinder the conscience from being alive. With all your religion, would you be naked before God, before whom every veil is rent? All that we put before us to hinder us from seeing God, all the cares, all the pleasures, our very religion as it was, all disgust us, when the conscience is awakened.
Are you content that your conscience should be naked before God? If it be so, Christ can say to you, “You are one with Me, and God is occupied about you, because you are one with Me,” like those of whom He said, “It is I Whom thou persecutest.”
May God give us grace, dear friends, to comprehend this truth so powerful, and so blessed to our souls. J. N. D.