And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:…
To consider, then, the circumstances of St. Paul's conversion as an outline of our own. "He fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying to him." It is, accordingly, mostly amid terror and amazement that men are restored to God. God has impressed a law on the natural world also, that healthful cure can, for the most part, only take place through bitterness and suffering. The cures of our bodies picture to us the cures of our souls. The progress may be more or less painful; but bitterness is mixed in all. Those who have felt it say that the restoration of suspended life is far more suffering than apparent death. Restored circulation has pain; every touch of our body, whereby health is given back, has pain; well-nigh every healing medicine is bitter or revolting to our taste. By this universal law God would reconcile us to those merciful bitternesses, whereby He corrects our vitiated love for the destructive sweetnesses of this world, and cures our sickly tastes and appetites, teaching us to find no sweetness but in Him. So He prepares us beforehand to look to them as healthful, and find therein our health. Yes! sorrow, sickness, suffering, loss, bereavement, bring with them precious hours. God blinds us, like Saul, to the world, that, like Saul's, He may open our eyes to Him. He strikes us down, that He may raise us up. We should not be eager to escape sorrow, but only, through sorrow, to escape death. But pain of body, and sorrow of heart, have their end; if not sooner, yet in the grave: terror of soul has of necessity no end.
Time, if it does no more, reconciles to sorrow, but not to fear. Man can endure the past, because it is past; the present, because it must end: but fear for the future, when the future is eternity, has no end. Yet it was through fear that God brought St. Paul to Himself; "and he trembling and astonished said." Nay, so wrapt up in this fear and awe did the heavenly voice leave him, that for three days and three nights he neither ate nor drank, but prayed. In fear He struck him to the ground; in fear and blindness, though with hope, He raised him. Fear, exceeding fear of hell, is one of the most usual ways in which God brings us back to Himself. It needs not that others have warned us of it, Children may hear of it, as it should seem, when man intends it not to reach them. But God brings it home to their tender consciences. To "cease to do evil," and "learn to do well," is the whole of repentance, but such repentance is not learned without sorrow, sorrow, heart-searching in proportion to the sin. "God," it has been said, "willeth to save sinners, but He willeth to save them as sinners. If He saved them by a simple change of heart, without any repentance for their past life, He would save them as innocent. He wills that they should feel 'that it is an evil thing and bitter to have forsaken the Lord thy God.'" God Himself, in His miraculous conversion of His chosen vessel, St. Paul, kept him three days and three nights without relief. During that long space of fixed sorrow and humiliation, intenser than we have ever felt, He allowed not his mind to be ministered to by man.