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PREACHED IN THE ENCAMPMENT, ON THE ANTI-LEBANON, ON THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER, APRIL 27, THE DAY BEFORE REACHING DAMASCUS. And as He journeyed, he came near Damascus. ù Acts ix. 3. OF liow many travellers has this been said, as of us ! 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 there halted on his way to the land wliich was to be his own and his children's for ages to come ; and, as it would seem, conquered the great city, already the glory of the East, already the prize of the powei'ful ones of the earth. Elisha, as he journeyed from Samaria, drew near to Damascus, and met on the road the lono- train of forty camels, with presents of every good thing of Damascus, to propitiate his favor to the King of Syria, who felt the awe which the coming of the man of God spread before him. Ahaz " went up to Damascus " to meet the great King of Assyria, and there saw the altar so curiously wrought by Syrian art as to become the model of the high altar of Jerusalem. Mahomet, the Prophet of the Mussulman rehgion, according to
80 SERMONS IN SYRIA. [Skrm. VIII. the traditions of his own countiynien, as he journeyed fi'om Arabia, drew near to Damascus, and, as he looked down upon the splendid view which we, I ti-ust, shall see to-morrow, said, A^th a nobleness of sentiment which we cannot but admire, though in another creed than our own, " Man can have but one Paradise in life, ù my Paradise is fixed above ; " and turned away without entering that gloi'ious city, lest it should tempt him fi'om his prophetic 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 Aj)Ostle of whom the Second Lesson to-day has spoken to us, and whose path, for the first time in our travels, we thus encounter. 1. Very briefly to-day let us consider his conversion and his preaching. He was on his way from Jerusalem. He "came near Damascus," ù we know not how near, we know not by which approach. It was noon ; the Syrian sun was bright in the heavens ; he was charged with a mission, which admitted of no delay in his eyes, ù that of destroying the Christians
m Damascus, with a savage zeal like to that which in our own days has laid waste the same city. In one moment, his career was arrested by the heavenly vision which ended in the great act which we call his " conversion." It is an instance, such as we find still occurring but rarely, of a sudden conversion. Yet " a conversion," that is, " a turning round " from bad to good, fi'om good to better, is necessary for us all. AVe are sometimes inclined to think that oiu' characters, once formed, can never be changed. This is not time ; at least it is only half ti'ue. Our natural dispositions, our natural faculties, these do very rarely change ; but the
Serm. vni.] PAUL JOURNEYING TO DAMASCUS. 81 direction that they take can be changed ; and the difference between their upward and then' downward direction is the difference effected by anything which deserves the name of conversion, whether sudden, as in the case of S. Paul, or gradual, as with most of us. He, in great measure, remained the same as he was before, ù he retained his zeal, his power, his energy; but the turn which was given to these natural qualities, by his conversion on the road to Damascus, gave a turn to his whole life, and, through him, a tm^l 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 will be changed, never need be changed, never can be changed ; but much about us can be changed, ought to be changed, and, with God's good help, will be changed. We are all on the road, not to Damascus only, but to some end or object of our pursuits. To every one of us, as to S. Paul, that end or object will at last appear in a light totally different fi'om what we now expect ; and on that changed hght may depend our exceeding happiness or our exceeding misery, our gi-eat usefulness or our utter uselessness in life. 2. This was the conversion of the Apostle ; let us see how it was brought about. It was brought about, first, by the vision of Christ. How this entered into his soul we know not ; but that it did enter there, is sure fi-om all that he afterAvards did and said. And it is this same commtmion with Christ, with the goodness, the wisdom, the love of Christ, which still is the most powerful instrument of making every human soul better and wiser and nobler than it was before. It 6
82 SERMONS IN SYRIA. [Serm. Vni.
was, secondly, by calling to his mind the true knowledge of what he was doino;. He thouo;ht that he was doing God service by tramjiling down a noxious and heretical sect. That voice from heaven told him that in those poor Christians he was trampling down and persecuting the Great Friend and Deliverer of the world. 'ª'ªSaul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 1 am Jesus whom thou persecutesi.'^ Yes, so it is still; often and often we think that we are all right ; that no one can find fault Avith us ; that those whom we neglect or despise, or set aside, are not worth considering for a moment. And yet all the Avhile, as God sees us, as others see us, we are injuring the veiy cause we wnsh to promote ; those of whom we think so httle may be the very likenesses and representatives to us of God and Christ Himself. In injuring them, in despising them, we may be doing the most wide-spread mischief, we may be defying God, Ave may be even destroying our own souls. In helping them, in considering them, Ave are serving Christ Himself. " Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye haA'e done it unto jNIe." His couA-ersion Avas, thirdly, by the appeal to the best part of his OAvn heart. " It is hard for thee to kick against the 2^ricks,^^ against the goad, against the stings, of conscience. He had doubtless already had better feelings stirring Avithin liim from what he had seen of the death of Stephen and of the good deeds of the early Christians. In this AA-ay his conversion, sudden as it seemed at last, had been long prepared. His conscience had been ill at ease Avith itself; and in this perplexity and doubt, it needed only that one blessed interposition of his merciful Lord, to recall him to a sense of his better self AVide as are
Serm. VIII.] PAUL JOURNEYmG TO DAMASCUS. 83 the differences between us and the Apostle, yet here is a point which we all have in common with him. We each of us have a conscience ; each of us has that within him which can be reached, if only we knew hoAv ; each of us has a barrier against sin set up within him, against which we may kick and struggle, but which will, thanks to the mercy of God who has placed it there, long i-esist our efforts. We have but to think of what in our best moments we condemn ; that is what we have to avoid ; we have but to think of what in our best moments we approve in others ; that is what we have to strive for. The recollection of Stephen's martyrdom was probably the first seed of S. Paul's conversion ; the recollection of any good act, which has called forth our admiration in past times, may be the beginning of our doing the like in times to come, far beyond anything that we now think or dream of. 3. There is one more thought suggested by S.
Paul's conversion on his road to Damascus, and that is what resulted from it. This is too great a subject ò to be spoken of here in all its parts. But one single point is put before us by the lesson ^ of this morning's Service. What he taught in his Epistles concerns the Church at large ; but what he preached to Felix, though it may have concerned especially that unjust and licentious Roman governor, does also in its measure concern each of us as individuals. He " reasoned " with Felix, he argued, he urged, not preaching, not teaching, but talking with him, as one friend eagerly and seriously talks to convince another, on tliree subjects, on three Avords, each of which is a 1 Acts xxiy. 25.
84 SERMOXS IX SYRIA. [Sersi. VIII. sermon in itself, Bic/Meoiisjiess, Temperance, and Judgment to come. HigJtteousness, that is, justice, fairness, impartiality, the duty of dealing calmly and candidly and uprightly with those who are under us, or above us, or equal to us. Temperance, that is, self-control, self-restraint, the duty of gaining the mastery OA^er our passions, over our tempers, over our tongues, over our indolence, over our impatience, over our prejudices. Judgment to come, that is, the certainty that for everything which we do in this hfe we shall, sooner or later, have to give an account, and that we shall be judged accordingly by One who knows all our actions, whether public or private, secret or open. When the Apostle spoke of those three things, " Felix trembled ; " had we heard him speak, we should have trembled also. Felix trembled for the moment, but he put him off to " a more convenient season." If we wish to make our belief in S. Paul's conversion and the importance of S. Paul's 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, the duty of selfrestraint, and the certamty of a. judgment to come.
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