"To open their eyes, to turn from darkness to light, and 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 26:18)
Such my hearers, was the solemn command from God himself to the apostle Paul; to the man (oh! what a wonderful thing is distinguishing grace!) who thus gives an account of himself, in his epistle to Timothy, "Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy (free gift) because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, with faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. 1:13-15) That is the man picked out by God himself to be a minister, and it is God alone who now chooses his own faithful servants, for the purpose that is set before you in the passage that I am about to attempt to preach a sermon on--for the avowed purpose of "opening their eyes," and "turning" (as the instrument--only the instrument God works by us, he employs us, but we are only instruments in his hand)--Saul of Tarsus was thus employed, for the purpose of "opening their eyes, turning from darkness to light, and 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."
My hearers, I have not time to go into the history of this most remarkable man! I want to glean from the words before me something by which I may feed the people of God here. They form a part of that wonderful confession made by Paul, when he stood as a persecuted prisoner before Agrippa and Festus. I feel that I ought to read this whole chapter before you, only pulpit time is generally so short, and I would ask you, therefore, to read this chapter by yourselves at home; and may God the Spirit, who made Paul a minister, vouchsafe to use me here as a means, and make me (feeble, indeed, though I am in myself,) "mighty through God" (if he work by me now,) "to the pulling down of strongholds," and to set before you the practicality of the Gospel, in these solemn and heart-stirring words!
Now, my hearers, it is a passage specially applicable to a Gentile church, though equally applicable to all the elect of God! "To open their eyes." That is the first point. The eye must be opened. Man is born dead in sin, and blind, so that he cannot see. There is a striking passage in Isaiah--a command of God--a command accomplished whenever God gives enabling power--"Bring forth the blind people that have eyes." (Isa. 43:8) Now, every man in a state of nature is unable to grasp the meaning of the gospel. A man in a state of nature has no idea of his own state! This same apostle says, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14) The natural man has no conception of these things. "They are foolishness unto him; neither can he know, because they are spiritually discerned."
We must never forget, my hearers, that nothing can happen contrary to God's will; and it is not God's will that all men should see these things, or all would see them. Their eyes are blinded. Man--professing man--does not like this; but the truth must be declared. "He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them." (John 12:40) But he opens the eyes of his "own elect;" he opens the eyes of every elect sinner at the set time of favor, and not one instant before. He opens the eyes of all for whom he sent his Son. "Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for" (these are not my words, but God's words)--"Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for"--(that is, professing Israel)--"but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded." (Rom. 11:7) That is true doctrine--but what is the practicality that arises out of this doctrine? What is the experience which it teaches? God does open the eyes of some, and the experience of all such is this--that when grace has opened the eyes of any sinner, then that sinner sees what he never saw before--he sees, he feels himself a guilty, a lost sinner. My hearers, it is one thing to have a mere moral sense of sin; it is another to know what sin is in its spirituality! You heard just now, from the desk (I caught the words,) "By the law is the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20) "The law made nothing perfect; but the bringing in of a better hope." That is what the law does. "The law is our schoolmaster unto Christ." (Gal. 3:24) "For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope; by which we draw nigh unto God." (Heb. 7:19)
But now "To open their eyes"--that is the point, and here is the effect of the sovereignty of God--working by any faithful minister whom he sends to his own people. Oh! tonight may it please him to make me the instrument here "to open" some of your eyes that may be blind as midnight! It may be that there are here several so. My hearers, wherever the Gospel, and wherever the truth--(whether it is in St. Barnabas Church, King-square, or at Winchelsea)--wherever God commissions a man to preach, there (I know well what the apostle means by these words) "a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and many adversaries." (1 Cor. 16:9) This is, this must be always so. "For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and many adveraries." It may be so here tonight. There may be here many adversaries, but my Master "receiveth sinners." And he may now, in mercy, vouchsafe, as I am preaching, to command a blessing, and make some, who now are decided enemies--some who may now in silence rage and rebel at what I preach--converts to the truth. It may now be his purpose and his mercy to open blind eyes--to subdue carnal enmity against God. Breakage of heart may now begin--and you, some of you, who came to scoff and revile, may be made to receive the truth in the power of it, and to leave this church with a blessing on your souls. This is the way God works at times. But when the eye has been opened (and I trust that in this congregation there are many of God's poor in spirit ones, and broken in heart ones, and it is to you that I speak specially)--opened to see two things--to see our own guilt, depravity, and corruption--and, turned away from all false hopes and all false dependencies, to have the eye fixed alone and only on him "mighty to save." What a mercy this is? Paul says to the Hebrew Church, "But we see Jesus. What a sight! and how blessed it is to have the eye taken off from everything else, and fixed upon a once dying, now risen, now ascended, interceding Saviour in God's heavenly kingdom! "To open their eyes" to see this! And, my hearers, we never have any real desire to fix the eye upon the Saviour till we have had the eye turned inward upon ourselves, to see our own depravity, corruption, and sin. Is not this the case with several that I speak to? But there may be others here who are only brought to hope, who can as yet rise no higher up in the scale of evidence than that of hope--the hope that their eye is opened, and that they are amongst the saved ones. You know that "if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." (2 Cor. 5:17) A new hope, a new faith, a new everything, a new way of coming to hear God's word, a new way of sitting in the congregation--all new.
"I once was blind, but now I see." Is that your case? Now this is what the preaching of God's faithful pastor--as an instrument, as a means--is for: "to open their eyes." Do you see your own guilt? Are you convinced of your own depravity? Do you see that vast reality preached by our Lord himself? Listen to me:--"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, 'Ye must be born again.' (John 3:6,7) The flesh remains the flesh; the spirit remains the spirit." Do you see this? are you clear upon this grand point? or do you mingle the two together? Observe! Grace never touches the flesh--grace never improves the old man. Mark that! Nature remains nature, and grace is grace; flesh is flesh, and spirit is spirit; and so the apostle says, "By the grace of God, I am what I am." (1 Cor. 15:10)
Now, contemplate for an instant the state of the world around us--the world which is "dead in trespasses and sins." And yet, amongst the mass of people, look at London--look at your own teeming Cheapside, and your crowded Holborn; and up and down these crowded thoroughfares men and women walk blind and dead in sin. But many of them, perhaps (for there is a set time of favor) who today are blind and dead in trespasses and sins, are to have accomplished in them this great word which I am attempting to preach a sermon on--God may in mercy mean "to open their eyes." You dare not say of us who preach the gospel fully, that we are men cramped in our energies, because we preach election. Amidst this crowd assembled here, who can tell what God's purposes may be? The command is--"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," tell it out to every human soul--but do not invite one; but "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:16) Jehovah opens their eyes. This is God's work. Do you remember the case of Elisha's servant--(I think recorded in the book of Kings)--frightened out of his senses, did not see what Elisha saw; but Elisha prayed--"Lord, open his eyes, that he may see," and the astonished servant then saw the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. But he did not see that till his eyes were opened. You and I could not see in our unregeneracy; we were blind then. Long after I occupied a pulpit in the Church of England, I never saw these things. I was blinded; but when God anointed my heart, and opened my eyes, then I knew the meaning of those experimental words--"one thing I know, whereas I was blind, now I see;" and because I see, I preach this great fact and truth to you.
That is the first point. "To open their eyes." Ah! and not only that--not only to open their eyes to see the two things that I have attempted to set before you, namely, our own guilt and sin, and Christ as the one only Saviour, but to see a thousand other things, which a man in a mere profession knows nothing about. Why, your carnal professors are the greatest enemies, after all, of the gospel. We see not only what I have attempted to set before you, but also the utter vanity of all worldly things. We see also--and we do not see this at first--how utterly unsatisfactory everything is here. We see, too, that we must suffer here for Christ's sake. There may be many professors here! My hearers, Christianity must cost, and does cost, the honest sinner something. You must be tried--you must be harrassed--you must know what temptation is--you must understand the practicality of the word that I was speaking upon to my own home flock on Sunday morning. "He shall deliver the needy when he crieth: the poor also, and him that hath no helper." (Ps. 72:12) "No helper!" no human help! we all first run there to that in difficulty; but I am now made to go to no human friend to help me. "Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against a mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house." (Micah 7:5,6) Now, mark what comes out of that (to nature it is a trying state)--"Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me!" (Micah 7:7) This is what the open eyed sinner sees--"For vain is the help of man." (Ps. 108:12) It is God, and God alone, who can help us in those many and vast depths of trial, temptation, sorrow, perplexity, and suffering, which is the portion here of so many of God's "own elect." We make great mistakes often in this, and I endeavor to press it continually on my hearers at home--that we look too much for peace and comfort here, and on things here. We shall never have it here! we may have it in a certain sense; but if I read the Bible rightly, I learn that the Church is thus spoken of in the epistle to the Hebrews, "Being destitute, afflicted, tormented," I know well that real comfort is to be found only in the Saviour; that there is peace in the blood of Jesus, and while the experience of the poor afflicted people of Jehovah is, that they are in themselves "destitute, afflicted, tormented;" yet in Christ they have all and everything! God does not mean that the Church should have perfect peace of earth, that can only be realized in that blessed spot where "the wicked cease troubling, and there the weary be at rest; the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor." (Job 3:17,18) Nothing, nothing can enable you or me to see this, but that grace which brought to the feet of the Saviour, Saul of Tarsus--that grace which alone and only opens eyes.
I pause, before I pass on, to ask whether your eyes are open? To ask each of you, one by one, whether your eye is anointed with the eye-salve by which you see yourself a depraved, corrupt sinner? And under a sense of personal depravity, guilt, and sin, is your eye directed to the one only spot where safety can be seen--the blood and love of the Son of God? When "we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another;" (fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit) "and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin." (1 John 1:7) "When we walk in the light"--mind that! it is only when heaven's light shines upon us that we have the experimentality of feeling the cleansing power of the blood of the Lamb.
"To open their eyes; to turn from darkness to light." Ah! what a picture this is of every carnal man in London! Shut up in nature's darkness, he cannot see. But there is a power that will turn every elect man from this state of natural darkness into the light! This is the power of the Spirit of God. Nothing else can effect it. Free will cannot do it. "No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him." (John 6:44) But mark! "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37) "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." (Jer. 31:3) Such is the will of God; and mark! nothing can happen contrary to his will. Luther declared and held this truth. God's will is absolute, for nothing can happen contrary to his will. It is according to the good pleasure of his will that any sinner is turned from darkness to light, to preach his word, or to hear and receive his word! What a humbling, and yet what an exalting, reality is this! And if we can only grasp it for ourselves--if you, poor sinner, you that are sitting here groaning under the burden of sin, can only realize the fact that even that groan is the effect of an open eye, and a turning to God--if in your own soul you can and do realize the full meaning of the text in your own experience, you will not be sorry that you have been here this evening, to hear this vast text, to say nothing of the sermon I am preaching. "Turned from darkness to light." What a miracle! And this the effect of the grace of God! Well might Paul, indeed, feelingly say, "But, by the grace of God, I am what I am."
Every natural man is in darkness. He may be a great scholar; he may be a popular preacher; he may be a high professor; but he is in darkness--cannot see. He is like a man at midnight--he gropes on in darkness. Of the ungodly it is said. "They walk on still in darkness." But what is said of the Church? "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? (that is darkness in another sense) let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God." (Isa. 50:10) "Who is among you that feareth the Lord?" There is the fear of God. "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." (Jer. 32:40) Solomon says, "The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them." (Prov. 20:12) You cannot turn yourselves. "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned." And it is the confession of a saved sinner in the Old Testament, "After that I was turned, I repented, and after that I was instructed I smote upon my thigh; I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth." (Jer. 31:18,19) The reproach of former sins, vanities, excesses. "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11)
"As ye are chosen from the rest,
To grace the praise is due."
But not only is the opening of the eyes, and the turning from darkness to light, the effect of God's power, but there is also the turning "from the power of Satan unto God." O! to be turned from that power of Satan! I will turn to a striking passage in the Epistle to the Ephesians of this subject:--"And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." (Eph. 2:1,3)
I know a godly peasant in Sussex, one of my own hearers, whose trial it is to have a worthless and profligate son--and this is a sore burden to him; but as he says: "This is all because he is himself brought under the power of the gospel, for if it was not so, his son's depravity would not be (comparatively speaking) so heavy a trial to him." O! it is the reality of having been turned away "from the power of Satan unto God" that makes the Christian feel these things so deeply. "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past." It is grace that shows us these things--we all "were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." As you go home tonight, and see all kinds of characters pass you in the streets, think of John Bradford--"There goes John Bradford but for the grace of God!" May that sink into your hearts, and when you see others not "turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God," as you hope you have been, whisper to yourselves, "Who maketh thee to differ?" And like Ruth in the corn-field of Boaz, say, "Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldst take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?" It is the reality of this, when felt in all the power of it, that makes and keeps a man humble! "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us; even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:4-6)
But mark the contrast! once in nature's darkness, once under the power of Satan! but now, by grace, turned from "that darkness to light--and the power of Satan unto God!" why did not Joseph fall at once into temptation when the coaxing adulteress tried to lead him into sin? There was a power defending him--he was kept--he was guarded--the power of Satan was subdued.
O! my brother! to be turned from the power of Satan unto God. We are all full of sin! we are all prone to evil--sin lives in the Church! but the Church does not, and would not, live in sin. Mark the great distinction! We heard from the desk just now--"As we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say, let us do evil, that good may come." The tongue of slander will attack the faithful preachers of the gospel. Wherever the truth is declared, this will be so--and the charge against us is, that we preach doctrines, dangerous doctrines, that lead to licentiousness in life and practice. But, my hearers, it has ever and always been so. What was the charge against the Apostle Paul? And the same thing is said of every faithful minister. They say it of me--they declare it of every one who boldly proclaims the truth. But mark God's own word--"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Rom. 6:1,2)
There may be several enemies to the gospel who have come to hear me--many who would make me an offender for a word. How many are there here, that are now under the power of Satan, sitting in nature's midnight darkness? To spy out the nakedness of the land are you come? Oh! that to you I may be made tonight, that which the text declares, even as an instrument in God's hand, and by His sovereign power, "To open your eyes, and to turn you from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that you may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
"I saw one hanging on a tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood."
Now, then, (for time flies on) the point that I wish especially to bring before you is this--the eye is to be opened and sinners turned from darkness to light, and the power of Satan unto God, for this one great, grand, and climax object--"that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." This is the ultimatum--this is the end--my brother and sister; this is the object God has in turning a chosen sinner from darkness to light, and the power of Satan unto God, "that he may receive forgiveness of sins." The reception of the forgiveness of sin--do you know anything about that? Christ has finished the work. God "hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob; neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel." (Numbers 23:21) But there must be a reception of pardon in our own hearts before we can derive the comfort from it; and we must undergo the schooling first. We must have the eye opened; we must be made to feel our guilt, depravity, and sin; we must be turned from natural darkness to spiritual light, and "the power of Satan unto God, that we may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Jesus." "To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins." A knowledge of salvation is only to be appreciated by the individual who is made to hope that his sins are pardoned.
Now, the solemn point is, Have you and I received this forgiveness of sins? Are our own sins all blotted out? all forgiven? all covered in the blood of the Lamb? "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father." (Gal. 4:6) And the test is this--"For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the spirit, the things of the spirit." (Rom. 8:5) Oh! what a pillow for an aching heart is the fact that, however we may be tried upon earth, however we may be harassed here, however tried and exercised, if we can only lean upon the bosom of the Forgiver of sin, and trace in him an inheritance by faith, we shall want nothing else--we shall want no other friend! Oh! look at the monstrous fact, the forgiveness of sins! Look at the sinners that have received pardon--look at Mary Magdalene; look at the woman of Samaria; look at the publican in the sycamore-tree; look at David; and at the perjured and swearing Peter. And then magnify the grace of God, and may we realize for ourselves the fact that there is one "mighty to save."
My hearers, I have sometimes said in this pulpit, and I believe you have, some of you, felt what I have said, that there is no subject more profitable for a minister to speak on in every sermon, than the subject of death. You have also, some of you, expressed this to me in private; but I believe this--that while reference from the pulpit to this tremendous subject of death is often made an awakener to those in darkness, and to those dead in sin, that the exercised believer--the soul harassed with doubts and fears--the poor tremblers in Zion--are, by these very exercises, harassings, and tremblings, made continually, and with a cry for mercy, to contemplate the subject of death, and so to search themselves and examine whether they are safe in Christ for a blessed immortality.
"Conscience accuses from within,
And others from without;
I feel my soul the sink of sin,
And this produces doubt."
And under an exercise such as this, we tremble, we doubt, we fear!
"Oh! could I say the Lord is mine;
'Tis all my soul desires."
My hearers! I care not for man's opinion--I believe that the trembling and fearing soul is in a safe spot. It may be, and it is, a trying position; but the proud professor never trembles--the proud and mighty assurance man never fears. He cannot say with Newton--
"'Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought:
Do I love the Lord or no,
Am I His or am I not?"
To all such poor trembling, doubting souls, how sweet, how precious is the command--that command which was made with power to Thomas--"Be not faithless, but believing." Then the point is settled--"And Thomas answered and said unto him, my Lord and my God." (John 20:28) And as Thomas said under the power of God's command, so you and I can say the same! "My Lord and my God." And now, my hearers, besides the opening of the eyes, the turning from darkness to light, and the power of Satan unto God, and the receiving forgiveness of sins--beside all these, the text speaks of this vast subject--"Inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." I cannot pass over that great word "sanctified." Mind, there is no such thing as progressive sanctification. It may be, and I feel it is, a popular doctrine--the pulpits of this land teem with it! but it is a heresy! the sanctification of God's elect people is a finished work! the sanctification of the Church is finished. "I pray for them? I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them." (John 17:9,10) And so also the Apostle Jude has these striking words--"To them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called: mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied." (Jude 1)
May the Holy Spirit apply this solemn text to our own hearts! As you go home, and as you pass all kinds of characters in the streets, sunk, many of them, in dissipation, and pleasures, and sin, and everything that is vile and bad, remember what I said to you about John Bradford. Some of you may be going home to worldly friends, who may even abuse you for the truth you hold. Bless God that you can see what they cannot see. If you have an ungodly parent, or an ungodly brother or sister, or an ungodly husband, or an ungodly wife--and these are trials that the Church in many a mystic member does undergo--bless God for distinguishing grace. "I will take you one of a city and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion; and I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding." (Jer. 3:14,15) And thus may the gospel keep you humble who have been made to differ. Remember, my hearers, my Lord and Master, quite contrary to all worldly systems, "made himself of no reputation; and took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:7)
"To open their eyes." Oh, what a mercy to know the text for ourselves, and to feel our own hearts (as I preach to you) overwhelmed with gratitude to God that we can honestly bear our own testimony to these things in our own souls. The opened eye--the turning from darkness to light--and the power of Satan unto God--and then that great point in the text, which I feel I have not the time even now to preach on--"that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me."
But, my hearers, mark this, and mark it deeply--faith is God's gift. We cannot command faith. We cannot believe at all times. It is Jehovah's special gift. Oh! to be enabled to realize the text in all its experimental fullness! "To open their eyes, to turn from darkness to light, and 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." What a change! The eye opened; turned from darkness to light; and the power of Satan unto God; the reception of pardon; and the hope of an everlasting inheritance among them which are sanctified in Christ Jesus. What a vast change--from being dead in sin--a slave to the devil, to the world and to lust--to vice, and profligacy, and sin--turned from all these--even from the power of Satan unto God! Oh! how many of your own families, how many of your own kindred, may now be under the power of Satan, while sovereign grace has turned you to God! What a mercy! Mark the text--"To open their eyes, to turn from darkness to light, and 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." May God bless the word, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.