And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,…
How many thoughts have been awakened by the approach to the most ancient of existing cities! Abraham, as he journeyed from the far East, drew near to Damascus, and Elisha, as he journeyed from Samaria (2 Kings 8:7), and Ahaz when he went to meet the king of Assyria (2 Kings 16:9), and Mahomet who, as he approached it, exclaimed, "Man can have but one Paradise in life — my Paradise is fixed above"; and turned away lest that glorious city should tempt him from his mission. But of all the travellers who, "as they journeyed came near to Damascus," there is none who has such an interest for us as the great apostle. Let us consider —
I. PAUL'S CONVERSION. Conversion — i.e., "a turning round" from bad to good, from good to better, is necessary for us all. We are sometimes inclined to think that bur characters, once formed, can never be changed. This is not true. Our natural dispositions and faculties rarely change; but their direction can be changed; and the difference between their upward and their downward direction deserves the name of conversion. Paul, in great measure, remained the same as before — he retained his zeal, his power, his energy; but the turn which was given to these qualities gave a turn to his whole life, and, through him, a turn to the life of the whole world. He approached Damascus a furious persecutor; he entered it a humble penitent; he left it a great apostle. So is it with us. Much about us never can be changed; but much about us can and ought and, with God's help, will be changed. We are all on the road, not to Damascus, but to some end or object. To every one of us, as to St. Paul, that end or object will at last appear in a light totally different from what we now expect; and on that changed light may depend our happiness or misery, our usefulness or uselessness.
II. HOW IT WAS BROUGHT ABOUT.
1. By the vision of Christ. How this entered into his soul we know not; but that it did enter there is sure from all that he afterwards did and said. And it is this same communion with Christ which still is the most powerful instrument of making every human soul better, and wiser, and nobler than it was before.
2. By calling to his mind the true knowledge of what he was doing. He thought that he was doing God service by trampling down an heretical sect. That voice from heaven told him that in those poor Christians he was persecuting the Great Friend and Deliverer of the world. So it is still; often we think that we are all right; that no one can find fault with us. And yet all the while, as God sees us, we are injuring the very cause we wish to promote; those of whom we think so little may be the very likenesses and representatives to us of Christ. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."
3. By the appeal to the best part of his own heart. "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" — against the goad, against the stings, of conscience. He had doubtless already had better feelings stirring within him from what he had seen of the death of Stephen and of the good deeds of the early Christians. In this way his conversion, sudden as it seemed at last, had been long prepared. His conscience had been ill at case; and in this perplexity it needed only that one blessed interposition of his merciful Lord to recall him to a sense of his better self. And each of us has a barrier against sin set up within him against which we may kick, but which will, thanks to the mercy of God, long resist our efforts.
III. WHAT RESULTED FROM IT. This is too great a subject to be spoken of here in all its parts. But one single point is put before us by this morning's lesson (Acts 24:25). If we wish to make St. Paul's conversion and doctrine anything more than a mere name, we shall try to bear away from the road on which it took place the thought of at least these three things — the duty of justice, and self-restraint, and the certainty of a judgment to come.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,