fain make me a Christian" (Acts 26:28).
"I heard a
voice saying unto me... Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou
me?" (Acts 26:14).
The above words, spoken
to the same man - Saul of Tarsus, later Paul the Apostle
- in the first case by a ruler under the Roman Empire, in
the second case by Jesus of Nazareth, contain the
essentials of a true Christian experience. This Paul was
a truly typical Christian, both in the way in which he
became one, and in his life as one. While there may not
be many who become Christians with the same form or
accompaniments of their conversion: we may not
have been smitten to the ground by a blinding light as we
went on some journey, and heard an audible voice from
heaven calling us by name: yet the principles are
always the same. Let us look into these words for the
Something Absolutely Personal
"I heard a voice
saying unto me... Saul, Saul..." There were others travelling with Saul on that
day; how many, we do not know. Paul speaks of them as
"all" - "when we were all fallen to the
ground." It would seem that there were quite a
number. But Saul was singled out, and what happened was
so directly personal that it was as though he were the
only man on the earth. He ever afterward spoke of his
experience as something extremely personal. The amazing
thing to him was that Christ knew him by name, and knew
all that was going on inside him.
It is a fact, and a
fact which we must realise, that God has a personal and
direct interest in us, and a very personal concern for
us. The writer had a friend who visited military
hospitals. He always carried in his pocket some texts to
leave with men who might be in need of a little bit of
God's Word. Before starting out he used to pray that he
might be guided to give the right text to the right man.
On one of these visits,
when entering a ward, he looked around, and up in the
corner was a bed with a form bandaged so completely that
only nose, mouth and ears were uncovered. He was about to
approach the bed when the nurse said that it was useless
- the man was too far gone to be spoken to. He paused a
minute, and then decided to leave a text on the bandaged
hands. This he did, without looking to see what the text
was. As he was moving away from the bed, a muffled voice
'Oh,' said my friend,
'it is only a little bit of God's Word.'
'What does it say?'
asked the dying man.
'Let me see - yes, here
it is, Proverbs 23: 26. It says: "My son, give me
'Who said that?' asked
'That is from God's
Word - the Bible!'
'Read it again,' said
the wounded man.
"My son, give
me thy heart".'
Silence for a moment,
and then -
'Did you say that is in
'Yes, and God says it
The soldier heaved a
sigh, but there was a question in the sigh. My friend
waited a moment and then asked what was perplexing or
'Look at the card over
my bed,' said the soldier.
My friend did so, and
was amazed to read, on the card giving his Army
particulars, the name
Do you say 'Accident!'
'Coincidence!'? That man was about to pass into eternity,
and God spoke to him by name. Again, it may not always be
in just the same way; but the fact remains that God has a
personal concern for each one of us, and a true Christian
is one who has come to have such a personal relationship
with God as to make it possible for him - or her - to
say, as did Paul:
"He loved me, and
gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
"I heard a voice
saying unto me, Saul, Saul..."
Then Saul came to
realise that his inner history was all known to Christ.
The other people could see what was going on outwardly.
He was going in hot haste to Damascus. He had certain
documents authorising him to arrest Christians and take
them bound to Jerusalem. He was doing his business with a
will, and those other people would put it down to his
religious zeal. But there was One above who knew
something else. He disclosed that knowledge when He said
"It is hard for thee to kick against the goad."
So, really, he was like
an ox harnessed to a plough, which, unwilling to go in a
certain direction, and being goaded against its wishes,
was letting out in rebellion, and kicking against the
goad. What a different picture this was from what others
would have had of him, and how different from what he was
trying to make himself believe! But that One above knows
things that we are not prepared to admit or accept. He
sees through us, through all our pretensions and
self-deceptions and resistance.
Saul was striving
desperately to establish the falsehood of Christ and
Christianity, but the truth was that he was not so sure
of himself as he had hoped. Something had touched him,
and it would have been fatal to his position if he had
given that something a chance. So he had to gird himself
up and resist with all his might. Inwardly he was
kicking, in effect saying, 'I don't want Christ! I won't
have Christ! I am not going to be a Christian!'
Well, Christ is a
reality, and sooner or later we shall have to have
Him. There are different times and ways in which that may
We can have Him now,
as our Lord and our Saviour, and, like Paul, enjoy a
life of wonderful fellowship with Him and useful service
Or we might have Him at
the end of our life, whether that be sooner or later. But
that will mean the unspeakable regret and grief that we
have no life of service to lay at His feet - an eternally
forfeited life of fellowship with Him in the great
purpose with which He is now occupied.
Or, alas, when this
life is past, we shall have to have Him - not as our
Advocate and Friend, but as our Judge.
God has determined that
eventually "every knee shall bow" to His Son,
but His desire is that it shall be as it was with Saul:
"Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" This is
what it means to be a Christian. But there is yet more in
the words that we have quoted at the head of this
Christianity - Not a Religion, but a Person
thou me?" asked the glorified Christ. What an idea!
Here was a man just going 'all out' in religious
devotion. So far as his reason was concerned (even if his
heart had some lurking and bothering question), he was
convinced that he ought to do this thing in the interests
of religion. He was really a divided man inside, but in
his zeal for traditional religion, and, as he would have
argued, for God's sake, he was suppressing every question
and relentlessly forcing himself on. And yet, all the
time, he was working against God, against God's Son, and
against Heaven! What a state of confusion!
Much could be said
about this: as to the difference between being religious
and being a genuine Christian; as to how it is possible
for people to be passionately devout and devoted to what
they believe to be of God - or for God - and yet to be
rather obstructing His real interests by that very
devotion. But we must resolve it all into one inclusive
A Christian is not a
person who is religious, either more or less. A
Christian is not a person who has taken on a lot of 'dos'
and 'do nots'. God is not going to deal with us on these
grounds. Neither is He going to judge men on the basis of
the number or nature of their sins. He has one basis of
judgment, than which any other basis would be unfair,
because everyone, by his or her birth, upbringing,
advantages, temperament, and so on, would be either
favoured or otherwise. That one basis of judgment is, and
will be: What are we doing with God's Son, Jesus
God sent His Son, and
by Him we are all brought to a common position. He
is presented as God's appointed Lord and Saviour for all
men. God will never say in the judgment, 'How many
sins did you commit?' 'What kind of sins did you commit?'
- but, 'What did you do with My Son?' It is not necessary
to be violent in our rejection, or actively and
vehemently to fight against Christ, as did Saul. We can -
with exactly the same eternal loss - just reject Him; say
'No' and close ourselves to Him; or simply ignore Him. We
are lost just the same. There is no need to dash to the
ground the saving medicine in order to perish. It is only
necessary to leave it where it is and not take it. But it
is a terrible responsibility to have known that it was
there, and to have just failed to take it.
We see, then, that all
questions of life and death, sin and righteousness,
Heaven and Hell, time and eternity, are bound up - not
with 'religion', 'church', 'creed' - but with a living
relationship to the Son of God; and a Christian is one
who has himself come into such a living relationship, and
has found all these questions answered in the Person and
work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand own Him,
Joyful choose the better part.
once they won thee, charmed thee
Lovely things of time and sense.
Gilded thus does sin disarm thee,
Honeyed, lest thou turn thee thence.
What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless worth.
Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void and smart;
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.
Who extinguishes their taper
Till they hail the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer has begun?
'Tis that look that melted Peter,
'Tis that face that Stephen saw,
'Tis that heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw
Draw and win and fill completely,
Till the cup o'erflow the brim:
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?