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the prisoner. But he yielded to the same temptation as had mastered
Pilate, and shrank from provoking influential classes by doing the
right thing. He was the less excusable, because his long tenure of
office had taught him something, at all events, of 'the Way.' He had
too many crimes to venture on raising enemies in his government; he had
too much lingering sense of justice to give up an innocent man. So like
all weak men in difficult positions he temporised, and trusted to
accident to make the right thing easier for him.

His plea for delay was conveniently indefinite. When was Lysias coming?
His letter said nothing about such an intention, and took for granted
that all the materials for a decision would be before Felix. Lysias
could tell no more. The excuse was transparent, but it served to stave
off a decision, and to-morrow would bring some other excuse. Prompt
carrying out of all plain duty is the only safety. The indulgence given
to Paul, in his light confinement, only showed how clearly Felix knew
himself to be doing wrong, but small alleviations do not patch up a
great injustice.

III. One reading inserts in verse 24 the statement that Drusilla wished
to see Paul, and that Felix summoned him in order to gratify her. Very
probably she, as a Jewess, knew something of 'the Way,' and with a love
of anything odd and new, which such women cannot do without, she wanted
to see this curious man and hear him talk. It might amuse her, and pass
an hour, and be something to gossip about.

She and Felix got more than they bargained for. Paul was not now the
prisoner, but the preacher; and his topics were not wanting in
directness and plainness. He 'reasoned of righteousness' to one of the
worst of unrighteous governors; of 'temperance' to the guilty couple
who, in calling themselves husband and wife, were showing themselves
given over to sinful passions; and of 'judgment to come' to a man who,
to quote the Roman historian, 'thought that he could commit all evil
with impunity.'

Paul's strong hand shook even that obdurate soul, and roused one of the
two sleeping consciences. Drusilla may have been too frivolous to be
impressed, but Felix had so much good left that he could be conscious
of evil. Alas! he had so much evil that he suppressed the good. His
'convenient season' was then; it never came again. For though he
communed with Paul often, he trembled only once. So he passed into the
darkness.



FELIX BEFORE PAUL

_A Sermon to the Young_

'And as Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to
come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I
have a convenient season, I will call for thee.' - ACTS xxiv. 25.

Felix and his brother had been favourite slaves of the Emperor, and so
had won great power at court. At the date of this incident he had been
for some five or six years the procurator of the Roman province of
Judaea; and how he used his power the historian Tacitus tells us in one
of his bitter sentences, in which he says, 'He wielded his kingly
authority with the spirit of a slave, in all cruelty and lust.'

He had tempted from her husband, Drusilla, the daughter of that Herod
whose dreadful death is familiar to us all; and his court reeked with
blood and debauchery. He is here face to face with Paul for the second
time. On a former interview he had seen good reason to conclude that
the Roman Empire was not in much danger from this one Jew whom his
countrymen, with suspicious loyalty, were charging with sedition; and
so he had allowed him a very large margin of liberty.

On this second occasion he had sent for him evidently not as a judge,
but partly with a view to try to get a bribe out of him, and partly
because he had some kind of languid interest, as most Romans then had,
in Oriental thought - some languid interest perhaps too in this strange
man. Or he and Drusilla were possibly longing for a new sensation, and
not indisposed to give a moment's glance at Paul with his singular
ideas.

So they called for the Apostle, and the guilty couple found a judge in
their prisoner. Paul does not speak to them as a Greek philosopher,
anxious to please high personages, might have done, but he goes
straight at their sins: he reasons 'of righteousness' with the unjust
judge, 'of temperance' with the self-indulgent, sinful pair, 'of the
judgment to come' with these two who thought that they could do
anything they liked with impunity. Christianity has sometimes to be
exceedingly rude in reference to the sins of the upper classes.

As Paul went on, a strange fear began to creep about the heart of
Felix. It is the watershed of his life that he has come to, the crisis
of his fate. Everything depends on the next five minutes. Will he
yield? Will he resist? The tongue of the balance trembles and hesitates
for a moment, and then, but slowly, the wrong scale goes down; 'Go thy
way for this time.' Ah! if he had said, 'Come and help me to get rid of
this strange fear,' how different all might have been! The metal was at
the very point of melting. What shape would it take? It ran into the
wrong mould, and, as far as we know, it was hardened there. 'It might
have been once, and he missed it, lost it for ever. No sign marked out
that moment from the common uneventful moments, though it saw the death
of a soul.'

Now, my dear young friends, I do not intend to say anything more to you
of this man and his character, but I wish to take this incident and its
lessons and urge them on your hearts and consciences.

I. Let me say a word or two about the fact, of which this incident is
an example, and of which I am afraid the lives of many of you would
furnish other examples, that men lull awakened consciences to sleep and
excuse delay in deciding for Christ by half-honest promises to attend
to religion at some future time.

'Go thy way for this time' is what Felix is really anxious about. His
one thought is to get rid of Paul and his disturbing message for the
present. But he does not wish to shut the door altogether. He gives a
sop to his conscience to stop its barking, and he probably deceives
himself as to the gravity of his present decision by the lightly given
promise and its well-guarded indefiniteness, 'When I have a convenient
season I will send for thee.' The thing he really means is - Not now, at
all events; the thing he hoodwinks himself with is - By and by. Now that
is what I know that some of you are doing; and my purpose and earnest
prayer are to bring you now to the decision which, by one vigorous act
of your wills, will settle the question for the future as to which God
you are going to follow.

So then I have just one or two things to say about this first part of
my subject. Let me remind you that however beautiful, however gracious,
however tender and full of love and mercy and good tidings the message
of God's love in Jesus Christ is, there is another side to it, a side
which is meant to rouse men's consciences and to awaken men's fears.

If you bring a man like the man in the story, Felix, or a very much
better man than he - any of you who hear me now - into contact with these
three thoughts, 'Righteousness, temperance, judgment to come,' the
effect of such a direct appeal to moral convictions will always be more
or less to awaken a sense of failure, insufficiency, defect, sin, and
to create a certain creeping dread that if I set myself against the
great law of God, that law of God will have a way of crushing me. The
fear is well founded, and not only does the contemplation of God's
_law_ excite it. God's gospel comes to us, and just because it is a
gospel, and is intended to lead you and me to love and trust Jesus
Christ, and give our whole hearts and souls to Him - just because it is
the best 'good news' that ever came into the world, it begins often
(not always, perhaps) by making a man feel what a sinful man he is, and
how he has gone against God's law, and how there hang over him, by the
very necessities of the case and the constitution of the universe,
consequences bitter and painful. Now I believe that there are very few
people who, like you, come occasionally into contact with the preaching
of the truth, who have not had their moments when they felt - 'Yes, it
is all true - it is all true. I _am_ bad, and I _have_ broken God's law,
and there _is_ a dark lookout before me!' I believe that most of us
know what that feeling is.

And now my next step is - that the awakened conscience is just like the
sense of pain in the physical world, it has a work to do and a mission
to perform. It is meant to warn you off dangerous ground. Thank God for
pain! It keeps off death many a time. And in like manner thank God for
a swift conscience that speaks! It is meant to ring an alarm-bell to
us, to make us, as the Bible has it, 'flee for refuge to the hope that
is set before us.' My imploring question to my young friends now is:
'Have you used that sense of evil and wrongdoing, when it has been
aroused in your consciences, to lead you to Jesus Christ, or what have
you done with it?'

There are two persons in this Book of the Acts of the Apostles who pass
through the same stages of feeling up to a certain point, and then they
diverge. And the two men's outline history is the best sermon that I
can preach upon this point. Felix becoming afraid, recoils, shuts
himself up, puts away the message that disturbs him, and settles
himself back into his evil. The Philippian jailer becoming afraid (the
phrases in the original being almost identical), like a sensible man
tries to find out the reason of his fear and how to get rid of it; and
falls down at the Apostles' feet and says, 'Sirs, what must I do to be
saved?'

The fear is not meant to last; it is of no use in itself. It is only an
impelling motive that leads us to look to the Saviour, and the man that
uses it so has used it rightly. Yet there rises in many a heart that
transparent self-deception of delay. 'They all with one consent began
to make excuse'; that is as true to-day as it was true then. My
experience tells me that it will be true in regard to a sad number of
you who will go away feeling that my poor word has gone a little way
into their hardened hide, but settling themselves back into their
carelessness, and forgetting all impressions that have been made. O
dear young friend, do not do that, I beseech you! Do not stifle the
wholesome alarm and cheat yourself with the notion of a little delay!

II. And now I wish next to pass very swiftly in review before you some
of the reasons why we fall into this habit of self-deceiving,
indecision, and delay - 'Go thy way' would be too sharp and unmistakable
if it were left alone, so it is fined off. 'I will not commit myself
beyond to-day,' 'for this time go thy way, and when I have a convenient
season I will call for thee.'

What are the reasons for such an attitude as that? Let me enumerate one
or two of them as they strike me. First, there is the instinctive,
natural wish to get rid of a disagreeable subject - much as a man,
without knowing what he is doing, twitches his hand away from the
surgeon's lancet. So a great many of us do not like - and no wonder that
we do not like - these thoughts of the old Book about 'righteousness and
temperance and judgment to come,' and make a natural effort to turn our
minds away from the contemplation of the subject, because it is painful
and unpleasant. Do you think it would be a wise thing for a man, if he
began to suspect that he was insolvent, to refuse to look into his
books or to take stock, and let things drift, till there was not a
halfpenny in the pound for anybody? What do you suppose his creditors
would call him? They would not compliment him on either his honesty or
his prudence, would they? And is it not the part of a wise man, if he
begins to see that something is wrong, to get to the bottom of it and,
as quickly as possible, to set it right? And what do you call people
who, suspecting that there may be a great hole in the bottom of the
ship, never man the pumps or do any caulking, but say, 'Oh, she will
very likely keep afloat until we get into harbour'?

Do you not think that it would be a wiser thing for you if, _because_
the subject is disagreeable, you would force yourself to think about it
until it became agreeable to you? You can change it if you will, and
make it not at all a shadow or a cloud or a darkness over you. And you
can scarcely expect to claim the designation of wise and prudent
orderers of your lives until you do. Certainly it is not wise to
shuffle a thing out of sight because it is not pleasing to think about.

Then there is another reason. A number of our young people say, 'Go thy
way for this time,' because you have a notion that it is time enough
for you to begin to think about serious things and be religious when
you grow a bit older. And some of you even, I dare say, have an idea
that religion is all very well for people that are turned sixty and are
going down the hill, but that it is quite unnecessary for you.
Shakespeare puts a grim word into the mouth of one of his characters,
which sets the theory of many of us in its true light, when, describing
a dying man calling on God, he makes the narrator say: 'I, to comfort
him, bid him he should not think of God. I hoped there was no need to
trouble himself with any such thoughts yet.'

Some of my hearers practically live on that principle, and are tempted
to regard thoughts of God as in place only among medicine bottles, or
when the shadows of the grave begin to fall cold and damp on our path.
'Young men will be young men,' 'We must sow our wild oats,' 'You can't
put old heads on young shoulders' - and such like sayings, often
practically mean that vice and godlessness belong to youth, and virtue
and religion to old age, just as flowers do to spring and fruit to
autumn. Let me beseech you not to be deceived by such a notion; and to
search your own thoughts and see whether it be one of the reasons which
leads you to say, 'Go thy way for this time.'

Then again some of us fall into this habit of putting off the decision
for Christ, not consciously, not by any distinct act of saying, 'No, I
will not,' but simply by letting the impressions made on our hearts and
consciences be crowded out of them by cares and enjoyments and
pleasures and duties of this world. If you had not so much to study at
College, you would have time to think about religion. If you had not so
many parties and balls to go to, you would have time to nourish and
foster these impressions. If you had not your place to make in the
warehouse, if you had not this, that, and the other thing to do; if you
had not love and pleasure and ambition and advancement and mental
culture to attend to, you would have time for religion; but as soon as
the seed is sown and the sower's back is turned, hovering flocks of
light-winged thoughts and vanities pounce down upon it and carry it
away, seed by seed. And if some stray seed here and there remains and
begins to sprout, the ill weeds which grow apace spring up with ranker
stems and choke it. 'The cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of
riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and
efface the impression made upon your hearts.

Here as I speak some serious thought is roused; by to-morrow at midday
it has all gone. You did not intend it to go, you did not set yourself
to banish it, you simply opened the door to the flocking in of the
whole crowd of the world's cares and occupations, and away went the
shy, solitary thought that, if it had been cared for and tended, might
have led you at last to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Do not allow
yourselves to be drifted, by the rushing current of earthly cares, from
the impressions that are made upon your consciences and from the duty
that you know you ought to do!

And then some of you fall into this attitude of delay, and say to the
messenger of God's love, 'Go thy way for this time,' because you do not
like to give up something that you know is inconsistent with His love
and service. Felix would not part with Drusilla nor disgorge the
ill-gotten gains of his province. Felix therefore was obliged to put
away from him the thoughts that looked in that direction. I wonder if
there is any young man listening to me now who feels that if he lets my
words carry him where they seek to carry him, he will have to give up
'fleshly lusts which war against the soul'? I wonder if there is any
young woman listening to me now who feels that if she lets my words
carry her where they would carry her, she will have to live a different
life from that which she has been living, to have more of a high and a
noble aim in it, to live for something else than pleasure? I wonder if
there are any of you who are saying, 'I cannot give up that'? My dear
young friend, 'If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from
thee. It is better for thee to enter into life blind than with both
eyes to be cast into hell-fire.'

Reasons for delay, then, are these: first, getting rid of an unpleasant
subject; second, thinking that there is time enough; third, letting the
world obliterate the impressions that have been made; and fourth,
shrinking from the surrender of something that you know you will have
to give up.

III. And now let me very briefly, as my last point, put before you one
or two of the reasons which I would fain might be conclusive with you
for present decision to take Christ for your Saviour and your Master.

And I say, Do not delay, but _now_ choose Him for your Redeemer, your
Friend, your Helper, your Commander, your All; because delay is really
decision in the wrong way. Do not delay, but take Jesus Christ as the
Saviour of your sinful souls, and rest your hearts upon Him to-night
before you sleep; because there is no real reason for delay. No season
will be more convenient than the present season. Every time is the
right time to do the right thing, every time is the right time to begin
following Him. There is nothing to wait for. There is no reason at all,
except their own disinclination, why every man and woman listening to
me should not now grasp the Cross of Christ as their only hope for
forgiveness and acceptance, and yield themselves to that Lord, to live
in His service for ever. Let not this day pass without your giving
yourselves to Jesus Christ, because every time that you have this
message brought to you, and you refuse to accept it, or delay to accept
it, you make yourselves less capable of receiving it another time.

If you take a bit of phosphorus and put it upon a slip of wood and
ignite the phosphorus, bright as the blaze is, there drops from it a
white ash that coats the wood and makes it almost incombustible. And so
when the flaming conviction laid upon your hearts has burnt itself out,
it has coated the heart, and it will be very difficult to kindle the
light there again. Felix said, 'Go thy way, when I have a more
convenient season I will send for thee.' Yes, and he did send for Paul,
and he talked with him often - he repeated the conversation, but we do
not know that he repeated the trembling. He often communed with Paul,
but it was only once that he was alarmed. You are less likely to be
touched by the Gospel message for every time that you have heard it and
put it away. That is what makes my place here so terribly responsible,
and makes me feel that my words are so very feeble in comparison with
what they ought to be. I know that I may be doing harm to men just
because they listen and are not persuaded, and so go away less and less
likely to be touched.

Ah, dear friends! you will perhaps never again have as deep impressions
as you have now; or at least they are not to be reckoned upon as
probable, for the tendency of all truth is to lose its power by
repetition, and the tendency of all emotion which is not acted upon is
to become fainter and fainter. And so I beseech you that now you would
cherish any faint impression that is being made upon your hearts and
consciences. Let it lead you to Christ; and take Him for your Lord and
Saviour now.

I say to you: Do that now because delay robs you of large blessing. You
will never want Jesus Christ more than you do to-day. You need Him in
your early hours. Why should it be that a portion of your lives should
be left unfilled by that rich mercy? Why should you postpone possessing
the purest joy, the highest blessing, the divinest strength? Why should
you put off welcoming your best Friend into your heart? Why should you?

I say to you again, Take Christ for your Lord, because delay inevitably
lays up for you bitter memories and involves dreadful losses. There are
good Christian men and women, I have no doubt, in this world now, who
would give all they have, if they could blot out of the tablets of
their memories some past hours of their lives, before they gave their
hearts to Jesus Christ. I would have you ignorant of such
transgression. O young men and women! if you grow up into middle life
not Christians, then should you ever become so, you will have habits to
fight with, and remembrances that will smart and sting; and some of
you, perhaps, remembrances that will pollute, even though you are
conscious that you are forgiven. It is a better thing not to know the
depths of evil than to know them and to have been raised from them. You
will escape infinite sorrows by an early cleaving to Christ your Lord.

And last of all I say to you, give yourselves now to Jesus Christ,
because no to-morrow may be yours. Delay is gambling, very
irrationally, with a very uncertain thing - your life and your future
opportunities. 'You know not what shall be on the morrow.'

For a generation I have preached in Manchester these annual sermons to
the young. Ah, how many of those that heard the early ones are laid in
their graves; and how many of them were laid in _early_ graves; and how
many of them said, as some of you are saying, 'When I get older I will
turn religious'! And they never got older. It is a commonplace word
that, but I leave it on your hearts. You have no time to lose.

Do not delay, because delay is decision in the wrong way; do not delay,
because there is no reason for delay; do not delay, because delay robs
you of a large blessing; do not delay, because delay lays up for you,
if ever you come back, bitter memories; do not delay, because delay may
end in death. And for all these reasons, come as a sinful soul to
Christ the Saviour; and ask Him to forgive you, and follow in His
footsteps, and do it now! 'To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden
not your hearts.'



CHRIST'S REMONSTRANCES

'And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking
unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why perseoutest
thou Me! it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.' - ACTS xxvi.
14.

'Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?' No. But
God can change the skin, because He can change the nature. In this
story of the conversion of the Apostle Paul - the most important thing
that happened that day - we have an instance how brambles may become
vines; tares may become wheat; and a hater of Jesus Christ may be
changed in a moment into His lover and servant, and, if need be, His
martyr.

Now the very same motives and powers which were brought to bear upon
the Apostle Paul by miracle are being brought to bear upon every one of
us; and my object now is just to trace the stages of the process set
forth here, and to ask some of you, if you, like Paul, have been
'obedient to the heavenly vision.' Stages, I call them, though they
were all crowded into a moment, for even the lightning has to pass
through the intervening space when it flashes from one side of the
heavens to another, and we may divide its path into periods. Time is
very elastic, as any of us whose lives have held great sorrows or great
joys or great resolutions well know.

I. The first of these all but simultaneous and yet separable stages was
the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Of course to the Apostle it was mediated by miracle; but real as he
believed that appearance of the risen Lord in the heavens to be, and
valid as he maintained that it was as the ground of his Apostleship, he
himself, in one of his letters, speaks of the whole incident as being
the revelation of God's Son in him. The revelation in heart and mind
was the main thing, of which the revelation to eye and ear were but
means. The means, in his case, are different from those in ours; the
end is the same. To Paul it came like the rush of a cataract that the



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 50 of 57)