Then, in the next place, this was an event most astonishing to men. Ananias lifted up both his hands in amazement. “O my Lord, I should have thought anybody would pray but that man! Is it possible?” I do not know how it is with other ministers, but sometimes I look upon such-and-such individuals in the congregation, and I say, “Well, they are very hopeful; I think I shall have them. I trust there is a work going on, and hope soon to hear them tell what the Lord has done for their souls.” Soon, perhaps, I see nothing of them, and miss them altogether; but instead thereof, my good Master sends me one of whom I had no hope—an outcast, a drunkard, a reprobate, to the praise of the glory of his grace. Then I lift up my hands in astonishment, thinking “I should have thought of anybody rather than you.” I remember a circumstance which occurred a little while ago. There was a poor man about sixty years old; he had been a rough sailor, one of the worst men in the village; it was his custom to drink, and he seemed to be delighted when he was cursing and swearing. He came into the chapel, however, one Sabbath day, when one nearly related to me was preaching from the text concerning Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. And the poor man thought, “What! did Jesus Christ ever weep over such a wretch as I am?” He thought he was too bad for Christ to care for him. At last he came to the minister, and said, “Sir, sixty years have I been sailing under the standard of the devil; it is time I should have a new owner; I want to scuttle the old ship and sink her altogether! then I shall have a new one, and I shall sail under the colors of Prince Immanuel.” Ever since that moment that man has been a praying character, walking before God in all sincerity. Yet, he was the very last man you would have thought of. Somehow God does choose the last men; he does not care for the diamond, but he picks up the pebble-stones, for he is able, out of “stones, to raise up children unto Abraham.” God is more wise than the chemist: he not only refines gold, but he transmutes base metal into precious jewels; he takes the filthiest and the vilest, and fashions them into glorious beings, makes them saints, whereas they have been sinners, and sanctifies them, whereas they have been unholy.
The conversion of Saul was a strange thing; but, beloved, was it stranger than that you and I should have been Christians? Let me ask you if anybody had told you, a few years ago, that you would belong to a church and be numbered with the children of God what would you have said? “Stuff and nonsense! I am not one of your canting Methodists; I am not going to have any religion; I love to think and do as I like.” Did not you and I say so? And how on earth did we get here? When we look at the change that has passed over us, it appears like a dream. God has left many in our families who were better than we were, and why has he chosen us? Oh! Is it not strange? Might we not lift up our hands in astonishment, as Ananias did, and say, “Behold, behold, behold: it is a miracle on earth, a wonder in heaven?”
The last thing I have to say here, is this—this fact was a novelty to Saul himself. “Behold he prayeth.” What is there novel in that? Saul used to go up to the temple twice a day, at the hour of prayer. If you could have accompanied him, you would have heard him speak beautifully, in words like these: “Lord, I thank thee I am not as other men are; I am not an extortioner, nor a publican; I fast twice in the week, and give tithes of all I possess;” and so on. Oh! You might have found him pouring out a fine oration before the throne of God. And yet it saith, “Behold, he prayeth.” What! Had he never prayed before? No, never. All he had ever done before went for nothing; it was not prayer. I have heard of an old gentleman, who was taught when a child to pray, “Pray God bless my father and mother,” and he kept on praying the same thing for seventy years, when his parents were both dead. After that it pleased God, in his infinite mercy, to touch his heart, and he was led to see that notwithstanding his constancy to his forms, he had not been praying at all; he often said his prayers, but never prayed. So it was with Saul. He had pronounced his magniloquent orations, but they were all good-for-nothing. He had prayed his long prayers for a pretense; it had all been a failure. Now comes a true petition, and it is said, “Behold, he prayeth.” Do you see that man trying to obtain a hearing from his Maker? How he stands! He speaks Latin and blank verse before the Almighty’s throne; but God sits in calm indifference, paying no attention. Then the man tries a different style; procures a book, and bending his knee again, prays in a delightful form the best old prayer that could ever be put together; but the Most High disregards his empty formalities. At last the poor creature throws the book away, forgets his blank verse, and says, “O Lord, hear, for Christ’s sake.” “Hear him,” says God, “I have heard him.” There is the mercy thou hast sought. One hearty prayer is better than ten thousand forms. One prayer coming from the soul is better than a myriad cold readings. As for prayers that spring from the mouth and head only, God abhors them; he loves those that come deep from the heart. Perhaps I should be impudent if I were to say that there are hundreds here this morning who never prayed once in their lives. There are some of you who never did. There is one young man over there, who told his parents when he left them, that he should always go through his form of prayer every morning and night. But he is ashamed, and he has left it off. Well, young man, what will you do when you come to die? Will you have “the watchword at the gates of death?” Will you “enter heaven by prayer?” No, you will not; you will be driven from his presence, and be cast away.
II. Secondly, we have here AN ARGUMENT. “For, behold he prayeth.” It was an argument, first of all, for Ananias’ safety. Poor Ananias was afraid to go to Saul; he thought it was very much like stepping into a lion’s den. “If I go to his house,” he thought, “the moment he sees me, he will take me to Jerusalem at once, for I am one of Christ’s disciples; I dare not go.” God says, “Behold, he prayeth.” “Well,” says Ananias, “that is enough for me. If he is a praying man, he will not hurt me; if he is a man of real devotion, I am safe.” Be sure you may always trust a praying man. I do not know how it is, but even ungodly men always pay a reverence to a sincere Christian. A master likes to have a praying servant after all; if he does not regard religion himself, he likes to have a pious servant, and he will trust him rather than any other. True, there are some of your professedly praying people that have not a bit of prayer in them. But whenever you find a really praying man, trust him with untold gold; for if he really prays, you need not be afraid of him. He who communes with God in secret, may be trusted in public. I always feel safe with a man who is a visitor at the mercy-seat. I nave heard an anecdote of two gentlemen traveling together, somewhere in Switzerland. Presently they came into the midst of the forests; and you know the gloomy tales the people tell about the inns there, how dangerous it is to lodge in them. One of them, an infidel, said to the other, who was a Christian, “I don’t like stopping here at all; it is very dangerous indeed.” “Well,” said the other, “let us try.” So they went into a house; but it looked so suspicious that neither of them liked it; and they thought they would prefer being at home in England. Presently the landlord said, “Gentlemen, I always read and pray with my family before going to bed; will you allow me to do so to-night?” “Yes,” they said, “with the greatest pleasure.” When they went up-stairs, the infidel said, “I am not at all afraid now.” “Why?” said the Christian. “Because our host has prayed.” “Oh!” said the other, “then it seems, after all, you think something of religion; because a man prays, you can go to sleep in his house.” And it was marvelous how both of them did sleep. Sweet dreams they had, for they felt that where the house had been roofed by prayer, and walled with devotion, there could not be found a man living that would commit an injury to them. This, then, was an argument to Ananias, that he might go with safety to Saul’s house.