In this chapter, the apostle Paul, in making his defense before Agrippa, related his remarkable conversion to the christian faith, and in the course of that relation, mentions the words which were spoken to him by our Lord Jesus Christ, whose voice, pealing from the high throne of his supreme glory, came with almighty power and irresistible force to his heart, at once removing his violent prejudice against the truth, and making him to feel most sensibly his lost and helpless state and condition as a sinner against, and persecutor of Jesus Christ.
Elder Harding desires our views on a portion of the words which were spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ to Saul on that occasion, and by him narrated in his address before Agrippa, namely “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.”
In the context we are told that our Lord designed to make Saul a minister and a witness, both of the things which he had seen and of those things in which he would afterward appear unto him; and that he would send as a minister and a witness unto the Gentiles, open their eyes, &c. Not by any means implying that Paul, even as an inspired Apostle had the power to quicken dead sinners among the Gentiles or the Jews to see the things of the Spirit which are foolishness unto the natural man, and which no unregenerate man can either see or know because they are spiritually discerned, but ministerially and as a witness of Jesus, he was to open their eyes. God has a people amoung the Gentiles whom he was about to call, quicken and bring to his fold. They were now afar off, and in darkness, error, idolatry, and under the power of Satan, but they were soon to be called by grace, and instructed. To qualify this witness and minister, he must like the husband-man, first be a partaker of the fruits, and as we see in his own experience, when quickened by the life-giving voice of Jesus, he found himself in darkness, in bondage and ignorance, and instead of being led to fancy that he would be able to give eyes to the blind, by any power which he possessed, he found himself unable to open his own eyes, but remained in darkness until one of the Lord's ministers and witnesses was sent to him, as he was now about to be sent to the Gentiles, saying to him, by divine authority, and in the name of Jesus, “Brother Saul, receive thy sight.”
The work for which Paul was qualified, and to which he was called, was to open the eyes of God's quickened children among the Gentiles, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Certainly his ministry had this effect. God's people, to whom he was sent, had been brought up in Pagan darkness, and although quickened and prepared by a divine power for the salutary benefits of Paul's labors, had never had their sight directed to the adorable way of salvation by grace. To open their eyes, implies that they had eyes to open; not their natural eyes, for with them no man can see the kingdom of God, as it is written, “Eye hath not seen.” “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” But when God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, has shined in their hearts, to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face ministerial labors of the servants of Christ to remove from them their “grave clothes,” as Christ commanded in the case of a quickened Lazarus' and to take the napkin from his eyes, as Ananias had done to Saul, and as Paul was to do to the quickened Gentiles, by preaching to them the glorious gospel of God our Savior, administering to them the ordinances of Christ, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded them,” and warning them to be aware of false teachers and false doctrine. Should Paul, or any other person, open the eyes of a dead man, it would not enable the dead to see, for if dead they can see no more with their eyes than with their hands or feet, but opening the eyes of the living, removes that covering from the eyes, which prevents their seeing. Hence to open the eyes of God's quickened children ministerially, is to turn them from darkness to light. Living persons, if their eyes be shut, are in darkness, and when in darkness, as Peter said, they are blind, and cannot see afar off, and have forgotten that they have been purged from their old sins. Much may be written on the subject of that darkness to which God's living children are subject, sometimes by reason of doubts, fears, unbelief, &c., and sometimes by following their own carnal reasoning, instead of living by faith upon the Son of God. But the darkness from which the Gentile converts were to be turned, seems to have been from pagan idolatry and superstition, to the divine radiance of the glorious gospel of the blessed God. The darkness of this world is connected with the power of Satan, who is the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience, and Satan and his emissaries are spoken of as rulers of the darkness of this world. But God has delivered his children from the power of darkness, and translated them into the kingdom of his dear Son - hence they are admonished to walk as children of the light. Perhaps there never was a time when the power of darkness was more strikingly demonstrated than at the present day, in which men put darkness for light, and light for darkness. And the power of their darkness is so great that they who are under it “Wonder and perish, while God is working a work in their day which they shall in no wise believe though a man declare it unto them.” Even God's people in all there natural powers are inclined to darkness rather than light, and the constant tendencies of their natural mind is to run into it, but God has provided for the effectual turning of them from from it, and from its Satanic power, unto God. And the gospel ministry, and especially the apostolic gifts And labors are eminently calculated to secure this object. “That they may receive the forgiveness of sins.” The forgiveness of sins, and the reception of that forgiveness by the sinner are very different things, “Christ is exalted to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and the forgiveness of sins.” There are many witnesses on earth who can testify that Christ has power on earth to forgive sins. But the forgiveness of our sins cannot afford to us consolation until such evidence or assurance of their forgiveness is afforded us to enable us to receive that forgiveness by faith, then we realize a full and free discharge from the guilt and condemnation of them. Isaiah had neither power nor commission to forgive Jerusalem, but God commanded him to speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare was ended, and her iniquities were pardoned. They were already pardoned, but they were to be apprised of the fact, that they might receive the forgiveness, and rejoice in it. A quickened sinner, until thus enlightened, will seek for justification by the deeds of the law, and will labor and mourn in darkness where he is annoyed by the tempting power and cruel suggestions of Satan, until he is enabled by grace to see how God can be just and the justifier of a poor, guilt-burdened sinner, but when the assurance is brought home to his understanding that “he has received at the Lord's hand double for all his sins,” then he receives the forgiveness of his sins. This is to them a great and glorious deliverance, and in it they rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, Now they receive not only the evidence of the remission of sins, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, but they are placed experimentally among the heirs of God and joint-heirs of Jesus Christ, and as heirs,they receive inheritance among them which are sanctified. Not a purchased possession or a reward for their efforts at reformation, their use of means, or payment for services rendered to the Lord, but an inheritance, the gracious patrimony of their heavenly Father. And this inheritance being a joint inheritance, is among them which are “Sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Christ Jesus and called.” “Saved and called with an heavenly calling, not according to their works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given them in Christ Jesus before the world began.” The King who sits upon the throne of his glory, who has separated them from the goats, and put them on his right hand, says to them, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And that faith which is in him, of which he is both the author and finisher, is given them, and by it they receive their forgiveness and inheritance among them which are set apart, separated or sanctified.
But let it not be forgotten that a part of the legacy is, that in this world the heirs of glory shall have tribulation. “If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution.” God has chosen his people in a furnace of affliction, and the saints are destined to encounter many trials, temptations, doubts, fears, reproaches and afflictions, but they have the blessed assurance that these comparatively light afflictions, which are but for a moment, do work for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while they look not on the things which are seen, but on the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. Hence, “We know that all things do work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
April 15, 1858
Elder Gilbert Beebe