G. B. F. (Gerard Benjamin Fleet) Hallock.

The English pulpit : collection of sermons online

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his own line of things. Howard chose one path, and Wilberforce an-
other ; Harlan Page chose one, and Brainerd Taylor another. Mrs.
Fletcher did one work, Lady Glenorchy another, and Mary Jane Gra-
ham a third. Every one did the work for which God had best fitted
them, but each made that work their business. They gave themselves
to it ; they not only did it, by the bye, but they selected it and set
themselves in earnest to it, not parenthetically, but on very purpose —
the problem of their Hves — for Christ's sake and in Christ's service,
and held themselves as bound to do it as if they had been by himself
expressly engaged for it. And, brethren, you must do the same.
Those of you who do not need to toil for your daily bread, your very


leisure is a hint what the Lord would have you to do. As you have
no business of your own, he would have you devote yourselves to his
business. He would have you carry on, in some of its manifold depart-
ments, that work which he came to earth to do. He would have you
go about his Father's business as he was wont to be about it. And if
you still persist in living to yourselves, you cannot be happy. You
cannot spend all your days in making pin-cushions or reading newspa-
pers, or loitering in club-rooms and coffee houses, and yet be happy.
If you profess to follow Christ, this is not a Christian life. It is not a
conscientious, and so it cannot be a comfortable Hfe. And if the pin-
cushion or the newspaper fail to make you happy, remember the rea-
son — very good as relaxations, ever so great an amount of these things
can never be a business, and " wist ye not that you should be about
your Father's business ?"

2. Having made a wise and deliberate selection of a business, go on
with it, go through with it. Persevering mediocrity is much more re-
spectable and unspeakably more useful than talented inconstancy. In
the heathery turf you will often find a plant chiefly remarkable for its
peculiar roots ; from the main stem down to the minutest fibre, you will
find them all abruptly terminate, as if shorn or bitten off, and the silly
superstition of the country people alleges, that once on a time it was a
plant of singular potency for healing all sorts of maladies, and therefore
the great enemy of man in his malignity bit off the roots in which its
virtues resided. This plant, with this quaint history, is a very good
emblem of many well-meaning but httle-effecting people. They mii^ht
be defined as radicibus proeviarsis, or rather inceptis suceisis. The
efficacy of every good work has in its completion, and all their good works
terminate abruptly and are left off unfinished. The devil frustrates
their efficacy by cutting off their ends ; their unprofitable history is
made up of plans and projects, schemes of usefulness that were never
gone about, and magnificent undertakings that were never carried for-
ward ; societies that were set agoing, then left to shift for themselves,
and forlorn beings, who for a time were taken up and instructed, and
just when they were beginning to show symptoms of improvement, were
cast on the world again.

But others there are, who before beginning to build count the cost,
and having collected their materials and laid their foundations deep and
broad, go on to rear their structure, indifferent to more tempting
schemes and sublimer enterprises subsequently suggested. The man
who provides a home for a poor neighbor, is a greater benefactor of the
poor than he who lays the foundation of a stately almshouse and never
finishes a single apartment. The persevering teacher who guides one


child into the saving knowledge of Christ and leads him on to establish-
ed habits of piety, is a more useful man than his friend who gathers *in
a room-full of ragged children, and after a few weeks of waning zeal^^
turns them all adrift on the streets again. The patriot who set his
heart on abolishing the slave-trade, and after twenty years of rebuffs
and revilings, of tantalized hope and disappointed effort, at last succeed-
ed, achieved a greater work than if he had set afloat all possible schemes
of philanthropy, and then left them, one after the other, to sink or
swim. So short is hfe, that we can afford to lose none of it in abortive
undertakings ; and once we are assured that a given work is one which
it is worth our while to do, it is true wisdom to set about it instantly ;
and once we have begun it, it is true economy to finish it.



" And as he reasoned of righteousnesB, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and an-
Bwered, Go thy way for this time : when I have a convenient season, I will send for thee,"

Acts xxit. 25,

The Jews at Thessalonica spoke with much more tinith than they
were aware of, when, in describing the first introduction of Christianity
into Europe, they exclaimed, " These that have turned the world up-
side down have come hither also." Christianity did turn the world
upside down ; and that not before it needed turning. Everywhere
around were seen the tokens of spiritual disorder : men were judged of
by false standards, actions were weighed in deceitful balances, laws were
framed on erroneous principles, and every thing denoted that the moral
world had flown off from its centre, or, under the action of some strange
disturbances, had travelled far out of its appointed orbit. The time
was come, therefore, when it was needful that a change should pass
over the spirits of men ; that there should be, not a revolution of thought
alone, but a recasting of language. Moral quahties were losing all
their distinctness, by being called out of their proper names ; men de-
lighted " to call evil good, and good evil ; to put darkness for light,
and light for darkness ; to put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter."


But Christianity gave mankind a new vocabulary, taught them the
right use of language, and made words to become (what they could
scarcely be said to have been before) the true representatives of
thoughts and things. No purpose, either in politics or morals, seems
to be answered by such conventions, as that a great general should or-
dinarily mean a great curse ; that the most terrific scourge which can
afflict humanity should be described as the glory of a nation's arms ;
that we should call a man high-spirited, when we mean to say he is re-
sentful ; or proclaim him destitute of spirit, because he aims to resem-
ble the meek and lowly Jesus. Delusions like these, however, never
■want either for advocates among teachers, or partisans among the
taught. In every age there are to be found those who would " say to
the seers, see not, and to the prophets, prophesy not unto us rio-ht
things ; speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits ; " and, on the
other hand, there have rarely been wanting prophets, who, in compli-
ance with such infatuated request, have been willing to prophesy their
people into a smooth destruction, and have been careful only that they
should die an easy death.

Not so, however, the great apostle of the Gentiles ; he would be a
prophet in chains, and, before those " in high places," was bold to de-
nounce " spiritual wickedness." He would neither prophesy deceits
to obtain his own deliverance, nor smooth things to conciliate his judge.
He was one of those who was to " turn the world upside down," and,
therefore, was only pursuing his vocation when he turned a judgment-
hall into a sanctuary, and made a pulpit of the prisoner's bar ; show-
ing how the accused might arraign his judge, and the judge be made
so to tremble on his own tribunal, that he was glad to wave the man of
chains away, saying, " Go thy way for this time ; when I have a con-
venient season I will send for thee."

The text presents to us two points for consideration : first, the topics
of discourse selected by the apostle ; and, then, the peactical effect
of the discourse on the mind of his principal hearer.

I. In considering the topics of discourse selected by the apostle,
you will bear in mind the peculiar circumstances of his two principal
hearers, Felix and Drusilla. The former, as you remember, was orig-
inally a slave of the emperor Nero ; but, being raised to the dignity
of procurator of Judaea, he exercised the imperial functions with such
a mercenary soul, and by such open unfairness disgraced his judicial
administration, that he compelled the Jews at last to petition for his re-
moval. The other principal hearer, Drusilla, was the wife of an insig-
nificant heathen king, who was then hving, and who, after the most


painful sacrifices to obtain her band, found himself basely supplanted
by his more powerful neighbor, the procurator of Judaea.* Such were
the apostle's auditors : a ruler hated for his injustice, a woman enthron-
ed in unblushing sin ; and yet both evincing a strange and cuiious anx-
iety to hear this " ambassador in bonds " discourse " concerning the
faith in Christ."

And now, observe with what holy skill this " workman that needed
not to be ashamed" proceeded to " divide the word of truth." The
first thing that cannot fail to be observed is, that he does not direct his
reproofs against what he knew to be the vices of his noble hearers, but
that he is wholly taken up in expatiating on the blessedness of the con-
trary virtues. It was from no want of faithfulness to the terms of his
high commission, " boldly to rebuke vice," that the apostle did not
arouse the moral indignation of the assembled courtiers, by one of those
graphic delineations of character which sometimes gave to his pictures
the attributes and vividness of things of life. Easily could his vast
mental resources have evoked a spectre of tyranny, of which the living
counterpart sat before him, — of an oppressor, seated on a purchased
throne, ruling with a rod of iron, and pampering his mean soul, from
day to day, with " the wages of unrighteousness." We should then
have seen the pale wrath gathering on the monster's brow, and revenge
choking all his powers of utterance, as he sunk under the withering de-
tails of the hireling crying out for his defrauded wages, and the widow
suing for her alienated portion, and the orphan, with no advocate but
his miseries, and no weapon but his tears, pouring forth his disregard-
ed suit to a Father that dwelt in heaven. But this holy preacher act-
ed upon the spirit of his Master, and therefore resolved to prove, that,
though he hated the sin much, yet he loved the sinner more ; that, if
he kindled coals of fire, it was not to consume, but to melt, to soften,
to fuse into a mould of penitential humbleness the iron soul of the trans-
gressor ; and, for this end, he knew how worse than useless would be
any irritating exhibitions of those judicial frauds, the cry of which had
so long and so loudly entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth . He
adopted, therefore, the wiser, and, as the event proved, the more ef-
fectual course of reasoning on topics, which, while they disarmed his
hearers of all hostility against himself, would yet pierce, even to the di-
viding asunder of soul and spirit, the guilty pair before whom he had
been desired to preach.

Accordingly he opened his discourse by reasoning in favor of rigJite-
ousness ; taking that term first, perhaps, in its most comprehensive
meaning, as denoting moral rectitude, or whatsoever is due either to

* Josephus, lib. xx. c. 1.


God or man. All irreligion is essentially unjust, as vrithholding from
God his rightful due in the affections of our hearts, and in the obedi-
ence of our lives. It involves, also, a want of rectitude to our fellow-
men, in the violation of the claims of justice and benevolence. But,
more particularly, and pointedly, he would reason of righteousness in a
public magistrate ; of the benefits to a nation, of the acceptableness to
God, of the calm satisfaction to a judge's own mind, when, unawed by
threats, and inaccessible to a bribe, he weighed all causes in an even
balance, and ruled his people in the fear of God : and thus he would
show this imperial favorite how he might have that which would be far
more ornamental than his purple, and raise him much higher than his
throne ; that the noblest kingdom was the empire over the hearts of
his subjects, and a people's love the brightest jewel in his crown !

Ey the same spirit was the apostle influenced in the selection of his
second topic of discourse. He reasoned of temperance ; of the habit of
self control, of the blessedness of keeping all our appetites under a holy
and self-denying restraint, and of the moral benefits to a nation, when
those who sat in high places threw a fresh lustre over their dignities, by
their unblemished purity of life. The occasion had not been unfit for the
preacher to have discoursed of the griefs of an injured husband, basely
supplanted in his affections, his house left unto him desolate, and his wife
polluting God's holy altar, that she might bind round her dishonored
brow the diadem of borrowed royalty. But the apostle knew, that, though
this might be the best way to arouse the passions, it was the worst way
to win the heart. He chose, therefore, to enlarge on that wise and beau-
tiful subordination of the natural affections, described in Scripture as
temperance, which makes up the spiritual harmony- of the soul, which is
the essence of all gospel liberty, which lays the foundation for a holy
life, and thus educates the soul for future companionship with God.
" Lord, who is he that shall ascend unto thy holy hill ? and who shall
rise up in thy holy place ? even he that hath clean hands and a pure
heart, and that hath not lift up his eyes unto vanity, nor sworn to de-
ceive his neighbor." Without holiness, therefore, no man, either
here or hereafter, shall see the Lord. Not here ; for it is not more
true that God is of too pure eyes to look upon iniquity, than that mi-
quity is of too weak eyes to look upon God. " I heard thy voice in
the garden," said Adam, " and I hid myself, for I was afraid : " the
wicked cannot hide their sins amidst the trees of the garden, but they
will try to hide themselves. Not hereafter ; for, to be able to see
God, to pierce through the dim opaque of nature and of sense, to pen-
etrate, with eagle vision, the regions of light unapproachable, is a priv-
ilege which God hath reserved exclusively for those who are " washed


from their filtlimess." " Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall
see God."

But the apostle proceeds to a third topic, the consideration of the
time when our observance or neglect of these duties of righteousness
and temperance should be brought under the immediate cognisance of
heaven ; -when Felix shall be as Paul, and the judge shall stand bj his
prisoner, and both must put in their pleas in answer to what the God
of heaven shall lay to their charge. He reasoned of ^^ judgment to
comey Here was a new theme to Felix : of some judgments he knew
enough, and of the practice of some judges too ; how bribes might buy
them, and artifice deceive them, and a cunning rhetoric blind them,
and the fear of man turn them aside. But this was a judgment where
each man would be his own accuser ; where advocates would be placed
on their own trial ; where all bribes will have been left on this side of
the grave, and where all subterfuges will be unmasked before the full
light of heaven.

In some respects, this would be a new theme to Drusilla also : she
was a Jewess, and was curious to hear what the apostle would say about
Christ ; and, in substance, the apostle's answer to her would be, "He
whom your nation have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and
slain, is now exalted at the light hand of power, wielding over the
spirits of men the sceptre of universal empire, putting forth the ener-
gies of his deity to save contrite and believing souls, but whetting his
two-edc^ed sword for the destruction of the impenitent and the simier.
Judge not by what your eyes have seen or your ears have heard ; he
who departed in weakness shall return in power ; he who died in dis-
honor shall appear in glory ; he who was led as a lamb to the slaugh-
ter shall return like a lion /or the slaughter. He came the first time
to seek and to save ; he will come the second time to find and to de-
stroy. Once, it was enough that he should be seen by the traveller
who rested at the inn, or by the wise men who came from far with gifts ;
but then he shall be seen by ' every eye,' by men from their emptied
graves, and by angels from their forsaken thrones. Then shall all kin-
dreds wail, as they witness the commencing pomp of judgment ; as the
trump's shrill blast announces the sealed-up book of time ; as, above
the world's ashes, there rises a great white throne, and as before it are
arrayed, in ranks small and great, the throngs of congregated dead.
And then the angels, those ministers that do the judge's pleasure, shall
bring forth the books of heaven. First, they shall unclasp the volume
of the Book of Life, unloose all its seven seals, and read out aloud the
names of the redeemed of God. And then another book shall be open-
ed ; the Book of the Divine Remembrance, the diary of conscience


vrhile it was allowed to speak, but kept up bj angels when its seared
tongue could speak no more. Strange, passing strange, will be the
soul's meeting with its old associates; sins, of which there may remain
no more trace within us than of a foot-print washed by the returning
tide, will then rise up before us in overwhelming and terrific aggre-
gate : our own tongue must confess them, our own hands must subscribe
the registry ; thus setting the seal to the unerring faithfulness of those
things which were written in the books."

Brethren, how little do we realize this thought of the future judg-
ment as perpetuating, in all their breadth and vividness, the characters
of once-committed sin. Offences which we write on sand are trans-
cribed by angels on to a tablet of everlasting marble : tyrants may
write in faint characters their morning wrongs, and leave them to be
washed away by the dark tide of their evening guilt ; but there are
no such obliterating tides in heaven ; all that we think, say, intend, or
do, is there " graven with an iron pen, and with lead in the rock for
ever." In God's book not only are " all our members written," but
the sins of those members too ; the eye in its wantonness, the tongue
in its deceit, the hand with its bribes, the heart with its impure and
unholy thoughts, the ear turning deaf to the poor man's call, and the
feet in their swiftness to shed innocent blood. Yea, even the blank
leaves in this book shall contribute to our everlasting undoing : duties
not done, warnings not regarded, opportunities not cultivated, and
holy convictions not followed up, and improved, and deepened, will
appear as witnesses against us, and supply lashes for that final scourge
which shall drive the impenitent soul from the everlasting presence of

II. But we must proceed to the other division of our subject :
The PRACTICAL EFFECT of the discourse on the mind of its principal
hearer ; and the important lessons to he gathered from the conduct and
language of Felix. At the end of the discourse, Felix trembled, and
answered, " Go thy way for this time ; when I have a convenient sea-
son, I will call for thee." Felix trembled! What a striking testimo-
ny have we here to the power of conscience ; to the yet undethroned
authority of heaven's viceroy in the human soul ; to the diflBculty of
effacing the characters of that inward decalogue, in whose broken ta-
bles nature still reads her law, and the heathen finds himself " without
excuse : " and, until it is seared over by the hot iron of hardening
and unrepented sin, or until its fine edge is blunted by a course of
oft-resisted and despised convictions, will conscience continue to pros-
per in that whereunto God hath sent it. In the soul's deep solitude


it will hold its court : itself the giver of the law ; itself the witness
to its transgression ; itself the judge to sentence ; itself the execu-
tioner to avenge ; all as if in mute rehearsal of that deeper tragedy,
■where, on the high platform of heaven's judicature, both quick and
dead must stand.

Thus was it in the bosom of Felix. Torpid and trance-like had
Heaven's messenger been lying in the lap of sin ; but, at the sound
of Paul's voice, she proved she was " not dead, but sleeping; " telling
him, in her stifled utterances, to hear the anticipative verdict of a
judgment yet to come ; and, instantly the governor forgot his dignity,
as much as the prisoner forgot his chains. The two parties appeared,
for the moment, to have changed places ; conscience having made a
coward of the judge, and truth having invested the captive with more
majesty than the purple. And why, we may ask, did not the genuine
conversion of the governor ensue upon this ? The reasoning of the
apostle had convinced his understanding, and had both awakened and
alarmed his conscience ; wherefore did it not penetrate further, into
the inner chamber of the heart ? Without controversy, this is the
natural tendency of deep spiritual convictions ; left to itself, truth
would as assuredly issue in the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, as
water, unobstructed, would run down the mountain's side. But we
may oppose a force to this spiritual gravitation ; the Spirit of God
will work powerfully with us, but it will not always work irresistibly
against us ; and, therefore, if, after a man has had the eyes of his
understanding opened, and the powers of his moral sense awakened,
he should still resolve, like Felix, to say to every message addressed
to his soul, " Go thy way for this time," with sorrowful steps and
slow will the insulted Spirit retire from his heart, leaving conscience to
return to its stupor, and the understanding to close its eyes again.

And, here, let us not lose ourselves in any metaphysical subtleties,
as to Avhere the constraining energy of the Spirit terminates, and the
permitted exercise of the human will begins. Philosophy cannot tell
us any thing more than our own consciousness ; and, if it could tell
us any thing contrary to it, we should pause before we received it :
and this consciousness tells us, that we have it in our power almost at
any time to dismiss an unwelcome subject from our thoughts. " The
most obvious of the powers which the mind possesses over the train of
its thoughts," says an eminent authority, " is its power of singhng out
any one of them at pleasure ; of detaining it ; of making it a partic-
ular object of attention ; " * and, for the calling into exercise of this
power, there is no readier or more effective way than that resorted to

* Stewart's Philosophy of the Human Mind, p. 298.


by the guilty Felix : namely, by the forced dismissal of every exter-
nal association, by which the succession of disagreeable thoughts
could be kept up ; or by surrounding ourselves with other outward ob-
jects, which should divert these thoughts into a diflferent channel. The
conduct of Felix, therefore, is intelligible enough : with the sermon in
his ears, and with the preacher before his eyes, and having seated at
his side the shameless partner of his crimes, he could think of nothing
but " righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come." Conscience
seemed to owe all its power to the presence of the apostle ; and, so
long as Paul was allowed to lash him with " whips," would conscience
have the power to scourge his soul with " scorpions." * To break the
chain, therefore, to stop the succession of painful thoughts, he resolves
on an immediate dismissal of the preacher, saying, " Go thy way for
this time ; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee."

But the most important of the practical lessons to be gathered from
this history remains to be considered : namely, the strange infatuation
of uficouverted men, in supposing that, though they trifle with con-
viction for the present, a time will yet come, when they shall be bet-
ter prepared to yield to them. " When I have a convenient season,
I will call for thee." The great fallacy of life seems to be a persua-
sion, that, having for a given part of our days i*un in the way of the
ungodly, we shall afterwards be able to retrace our steps, and, with
the speed of thought, find ourselves in the ways of God. AH consid-

Online LibraryG. B. F. (Gerard Benjamin Fleet) HallockThe English pulpit : collection of sermons → online text (page 10 of 45)