Kick Against The Pricks

Samuel Davies is considered to have been one of the best American preachers of the 18th century. He was a Presbyterian evangelist who raised money in Europe for "The College of New Jersey." The name was later changed to Princeton University. He became president of the college in 1759, dying not even two years later at the age of 38. So what? Well, Davies is one of the guys I read. He preaches to me in ways preachers do not in the 21st century. This morning I was reading his sermon, The Ways of Sin Hard and Difficult. His text was from Acts 9:5 (26:14), "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." I know, modern translations use the word "goad." But let's hang with Davies and his translation this time. Saul of Tarsus hears these words from the risen Jesus while on his way to Damascus to persecute the Church. Jesus tells him that what he is doing is a "kicking against the pricks." A prick was a nail anchored in the end of a stick used to goad reluctant oxen along as they plowed. Deviation to the left or right would result in some pain. Sometimes the animal would kick at his master, and wound up kicking the prick and injuring itself. Jesus seems to be saying that fighting against him and his Gospel results in self-injury.

Davies makes the point that choosing self over Christ is in reality harder than choosing Christ over self, since rejecting Jesus and his way (kicking against the pricks) can only result in personal, spiritual injury. (He spoke of the fullness of Christianity when he used the word "religion.") He said,

You love yourselves, and you love happiness, and therefore one would reasonably expect you would choose that which will afford you the most solid, refined, and lasting happiness, and abandon whatever is inconsistent with it. Now religion is a source of happiness. Yes; that dull, melancholy thing, religion, which you think perhaps, would put an end to all your pleasures, and which, for that reason, you have kept at a distance from... Religion, I say, will afford you a happiness more pure, more noble, and more durable than all the world can give. Religion not only proposes future happiness beyond the comprehension of thought, but will afford you present happiness beyond whatever you have known while strangers to it. The pleasures of a peaceful, approving conscience, of communion with God, the supreme good, of the most noble dispositions and most delightful contemplations; these are the pleasures of religion. And ask those who have enjoyed them, those whom experience has qualified to be judges, and they will tell you with one voice, "There are no pleasures comparable to these." ...And is it not a painful piece of self-denial to you, to give up all this happiness, when nothing is required to purchase it but only your choice of it! Is not this doing violence to the innate principle of self-love and desire of happiness?

This of course goes beyond an invitation to those outside of the Kingdom of God, but to us as believers as well.

It is too easy for us to begin settling again. We settle for the lesser pleasures of life, even after beginning with all the riches of Christ. Like we are afraid that if we really follow Jesus, love our enemies, give to the poor, extend compassion to those who do not deserve it and cast off the values of suburbia in exchange for the values of Christ's Kingdom, it will hurt us. But the truth is, when we do that we are kicking against the pricks and will only wind up hurting ourselves even more.

For more along this line of thought check out John Piper's Desiring God, or even better (though a few hundred years older) Matthew Henry's The Pleasantness of a Religious Life.