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Few individuals have occupied a more distinguished place in this world's history, than the apostle Paul. His conduct as a persecutor, his conversion, and the persecutions which, in his turn, he endured, are so well known, as to render it unnecessary to advert to them particularly. The reader's attention is requested to the account given by the evangelist Luke, in Acts xxiv. 24, of one of those appearances which he made before Felix the Roman governor: that account is in the following terms: “ After certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.” It is not, indeed, expressly said, that Drusilla was present on that occasion, although it is so obviously implied, that it is in general assumed, and in the remainder of this narrative shall be taken for granted. Before them (on this supposition) Paul “ reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," so that " Felix trembled, and said, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” Acts xxiv. 25. As the nature of the apostle's discourse was no doubt suggested by the character of his hearers, it is natural to inquire, what character did Felix and Drusilla sustain.
Felix is universally admitted to have been tyrannical as a governor; and as a man, subject to the most violent and criminal passions, having indulged in every species of cruelty and lust, and, in addition to his other crimes, was then living in adultery with Drusilla. She was a daughter of Herod, who beheaded the apostle James, the brother of John, was eaten of worms,” and died. Drusilla had been married to one Azirus, king of the Emesenes, whom she had now left to cohabit with Felix.
He sent for Paul that he might hear him “ concerning the faith in Christ.” This subject Felix regarded, seemingly, as a matter of curiosity, and probably pleased himself, as many others have done, with the thought, that the wickedness of his life might be partly excused, by inquiring into, or disputing about religious subjects. This reminds me of an anecdote of a gentleman, who, on visiting a jail, found two of the prisoners arguing keenly about " original sin ;" he very naturally told them, that by that time, their thoughts might have been occupied with their “ actual transgressions."
We are not told what the apostle said concerning the “ faith in Christ,” but from the specimens of his preaching
recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, we can be at no loss to know that he would testify “ repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ ;" he would declare to them, as to others, that through him (the Lord Jesus Christ) was preached unto men the forgiveness of sins, and that by him all that believe are justified from all things, but he had also pointed out at considerable length, that conduct, which at once becomes the Gospel, and which the Law of God invariably enjoins; and had adduced the awful sanction by which the commandments of God are enforced, viz. the judgment to come.
He did not content himself with merely declaring the truth concerning Jesus, as if the urging of men
to repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance,” were either dangerous or unnecessary-as if the effects of faith were not as legitimate a subject of address to the ungodly, as faith itself; or, as if the conscience of the sinner ought not to be appealed to, on account of the guilt of any sin but that of unbelief: no, when preaching the faith of Christ, he reasoned of righteousness before an unjust judge, of temperance before an adulterer and an adulteress, and against all their vices, he waked the thunders of a coming judgment. He scorned to court the great, and, by soft and measured terms, to palliate their crimes, and please their imagination ; he knew better than to dwell on barren generalities, equally suitable on all occasions, and equally applicable to all hearers; or even to confine himself to the annunciation, however fervent, of doctrinal truths, however important; he adapted his discourse to the character and circumstances of his hearers, He singled out their vices, and denounced the terrors of the Lord, calling upon them to flee from the wrath to come. As Paul thus reasoned, Felix trembled--the power of conscience revived, he was alarmed, he felt himself no longer a judge, but a criminal, arraigned at the bar of his prisoner, or rather, sifted by his prisoner at the bar of God; not ouly arraigned, but convicted ; not only convicted, but condemned; and the day of punishment solemnly announced.
The fate of Paul seemed entirely in the hands of Felix, yet Felix, surrounded by his guards, and seated on the bench, as the deputy of the Roman emperor, trembled before his poor, unbefriended prisoner, because, poor and unbefriended as he was, he spoke in the name and by the authority of the Judge of heaven and earth.
Amidst these effects on the conscience of Felix, Drusilla seems to have been unmoved. Infamous in guilt, she was hardened in iniquity; and although a Jewess by birth, she was a heathen in practice; she had been indeed kept in countenance by the vices of her relations, and probably regretted only, that she could not rid herself of this officious intermeddler, and impudent reprover, as her friend Herodias had done with John the Baptist. Felix said,
“ Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I shall send for thee.” He relished not the faithful warnings of Paul. He had sent for him, that he might hear him concerning the faith in Christ; but his discourse had taken an unexpected and unpleasant turn; he had very unseasonably and unwarrantably dragged in family matters, to his declamation on which Felix was not inclined to listen ; and having it in his power to put a stop to it, he did so, saying, “ Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.” It has been said that this convenient time never came; we do not indeed read of any other time, when the apostle discoursed before Felix, of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come; but we do read, Acts xxiv. 26, that Felix sent for him frequently, and that he expected to have been bribed to release him. This the apostle and the Christian scorned to do, and the consequence was, that during the remainder of the time that Felix was governor, which was two years, Paul remained in custody; nor was he even then set at liberty.
This interesting narrative illustrates the manner in which the apostle Paul sometimes preached, and in which men ought ever to regard the “ faith in Christ," namely, as a “ doctrine according to godliness.” The truths which constitute the gospel of the grace of God, are of the very
first importance; with the knowledge and belief of them justification is inseparably connected, a blessing which is introductory to peace and happiness here, and to life and glory hereafter. But one half of the importance of these truths is not perceived, if they be considered in connexion with justification merely ; they suggest the most powerful, yea, the only efficacious motives to genuine holiness. In the language of the poet,
“ The cross once seen, is death to every vice;" or, in that of the apostle, “The grace of God which bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness, and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” The object of the death of Christ, was not merely to deliver from the guilt of sin, but from its power, to redeem his saints from all iniquity, and “ purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." No more of the salvation, therefore, that is in Christ Jesus is enjoyed, than the degree of deliverance from the love and power of sin; hence it follows, that the proper measure of any man's Christianity, is neither his knowledge nor his zeal, neither his services nor his sacrifices; but his freedom from sin, and his conformity to the will and law of God. That religion is not worth the name, which does not, in some measure, regulate the temper, desires, appetites, passions, principles, and conduct of a man; and that man is not prospering in religion, who is not making progress in the regulation of these. Men may amuse themselves as they will, with subjects of speculation, of an intellectual, moral, or religious nature; they may even discourse most learnedly, and most accurately, as to the gospel, and be, after all, but as sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal, being destitute of the holiness of the truth. On this subject there are two errors to be guarded against, namely, that of those who lay aside the law of God, as the rule of life; and on the other hand, the error of those who regard as the criterion of character, the external conduct merely, independently of all reference to principles. The former are Antinomians; the latter are perpetually quoting the hackneyed lines,
“ For modes of faith let graceless bigots figbt;
His can't be wrong whose life is in the right,”– or at least, if not quoting these lines, they pertinaciously adhere to the sentiment expressed in them.
To the reader, if tinged with the former sentiment, we would recommend our Lord's sermon on the mount; and if with the latter, the words of the apostle Paul, Rom. viii. 7,8: “ The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” While we rejoice, then, in knowing that he that believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved, let us also remember, that “ without holiness no man shall see the Lord ;” for “ must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive according to the deeds done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
This was one of the leading topics insisted on by the apostle, when he stood before Felix; this is the awful sanction, by which all the commandments of God are enforced. The rule of procedure in that awful day is very plainly and frequently stated in the word of God. That rule is the conduct. Matt. xxv. John v. 29. 2 Cor. v. 10.
In the ordinary course of their affairs, and the bustle of business, men are apt to forget this important subject altogether, and even when the thought of it does occur, they are apt to forget the rule of judgment. Many deceive themselves with the thought, that if they are not worse than their neighbours now, it cannot fare ill with them then. Ah! what would this plea have availed the contemporaries of Noah? would it have served them, when the Lord brought in the flood upon the world of the ungodly? Equally unavailing must it be, in that day, when judgment shall be laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, when every man must bear his own burden.
Others deceive themselves with the thought, that having acted honestly between man and man, and discharged in some measure the relative duties incumbent upon them, or having perhaps been distinguished for humanity, kindness, and charity, they have little to fear; whilst all the time, the duties of the first table of the law have been woefully neglected. Man has been served, and God despised ; his authority has been disregarded, and in discharge of the relative duties of life, the motive required by him has been altogether absent. Let the man who rests his hopes for eternity on this ground, ask himself now, dare he urge such a plea in extenuation of his guilt, in the presence of his Maker and his Judge ?
Again, there are some who, by perverting the doctrine of scripture, as to human depravity, actually make God the author of sin. The vain reasonings by which they stifle the dictates of conscience, and encourage each other in fatal security and delusive hopes, may pass current with such as would wish to have it so; but the thought of such an impious, blasphemous plea being adduced in the judgment, is indescribably shocking. The purity of the Divine character, which shall then be seen in all its dazzling lustre, and the glory of the Divine Majesty, before which the heavens and the earth shall flee away, shall, with the power of conscience, so overwhelm the sinner, that every mouth shall be stopped, and the awful sentence, “ Depart from me, ye cursed," shall be felt to be the Due REWARD OF THEIR DEEDS.
Finally, on this part of the subject, many deceive themselves with false views of the gospel, as if the object of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ had been to lower the terms of man's acceptance. He came not to destroy the law, or the prophets, but to fulfil them. The law of God as a rule of life has not been repealed : it is unrepealed and unrepealable. Did God ever ask more than his due, or can