Almighty God, because of thy good hand upon us we find ourselves in the house of prayer, and in the place of Christian home. Thou hast brought our wandering feet into the secure place; we are no longer out upon the cold rocks seeking rest and finding none: we are in our Father"s house, bright with his mercy, warm with his love, strong with his almightiness. So will we sing a new song unto thee, and a loud Psalm, and will not spare our voices in the cry which expresses the praise of our hearts. Thou hast done great things for us, whereof we are glad. Thou hast planted flowers in places in which we thought no beauty could grow; thou hast supplied us with water in the land of thirst; thou hast made our bed in our affliction; thou hast turned our loss into gain; and when we have said, in want of faith which was well-nigh despair, "All these things are against me," thou hast turned them round and made them friends of ourselves, so that the things which had happened unto us of a perverse and trying kind have turned out rather to the furtherance of the Gospel in our hearts. The year which we hailed with joy is now passing silently and gloomily away. It lingers like a friend loath to go—still its last few hours are round about us waiting for some good inscription, for some holy vow, for some new confession, for some bolder prayer. Is there not yet time for victory? Shall the battle of the year close in our defeat? or shall we not, by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, stand up at the last and be more than conquerors through him who loved us? Wilt thou work this miracle in our life? Wilt thou, ere the hours quite go, show us the way of salvation and lead us into the temple of thy peace? That we can pray is truly not the least of thy miracles. That we have any desire rising upwards to the light of heaven is truly the gift and the doing of God. So will we hope in thee evermore. Our dying breath may be a prayer; our last look may be towards the places of the stars, and far away beyond their dim shining into the infinite light. This is our hope in Christ; this is the victory of faith. Lord, give us. through the Cross, the mystery and the jewel of thine own peace. Great peace have they that love thy law: they have peace that passeth understanding. Lord, grant us thy peace. May the Son of peace dwell in us; may we know the meaning of reconciliation through the blood of the Cross and so know it as to be unable to explain it in words which would but mock the mystery. Help us to lean upon thee, to cling to thee, to rest in thee, to have no will of pur own, but to wish to be what thou wouldst have us be, amid all the temptings of time and all the strain and trial of changing life. Thou hast been with us in the wilderness and on the tea. and in the garden of flowers and on the hills of frankincense. Thou wilt not disappoint us now; thou wilt never leave us or forsake us, for thou lovest us as we cannot love thee. The love is all on thy side; therefore are we safe. The love is not the flicker of our affection, but the eternal sacrifice of thine own. We love thee because thou didst first love us—wondrous love! the love unto death, having in it the mystery of blood, the gift of the heart. We cannot follow it: it is like thyself. And now let the mystery of thy grace appear unto us more clearly than ever. In its inspiration we shall encounter the year that is just coming. No terror shall that year bring with it if our hearts are fortified with thy grace; it shall be our year—the year of jubilee and victory upon victory; of such exaltation of the soul in Christ as shall turn the old earth into new heavens. The Lord withhold not from us the blessing without which the year is a great void. Comfort thy people with heavenly solaces; and when the banner dips in the mire and is bedraggled there, and they are ashamed of it because they have let it fall, give them lifting up of heart and renewal of courage, and may they shake out the banner in the wind and dry it in the sun of thy grace. The Lord rebuild our house for us every year; the Lord light the fire in the house every morning; the Lord see to it that we have bread enough; the Lord clothe us with garments sufficient for us; the Lord be our Servant because he is our Sovereign, and the Lord be unto us all we need because he is the Infinite. We gather at the Cross; we touch the holy tree; we look, but speak not, for our hearts are too full for speech. We know the meaning of thy languid eye, thou dying One; we know the meaning of the flowing blood, thou Priest, thou Victim. We will not speak—we will look and touch and wait. Amen.
1. And after five days Ananias the high-priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul.
2. And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence,
3. We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.
4. Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldst hear us of thy clemency a few words.
5. For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:
6. Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law.
7. But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands,
8. Commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him.
9. And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.
We seem to know something about the Apostle Paul ourselves, having spent many weeks, as it were, in his living society. We have learned to love him; we have felt ourselves in the presence of a strong and gracious nature. Today we may hear what another man has to say about him. Once before we were struck almost to the point of amusement when Paul was mistaken for "that Egyptian, which before these days made an uproar, and led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers." Today a hired orator describes Paul—the very Paul with whom we have companied all this time—as "a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." Does this tally with what you know about him? As we have read the exciting story from page to page, has it ever occurred to you to say, respecting the living hero, "pestilent fellow"? When he preached upon Mars" Hill, when he comforted the sick and the desolate, when he prayed his great prayers, when he charged the elders of the Church at Ephesus, did it ever occur to you to characterise him as "a mover of sedition"? Here is a man who was paid to abuse Paul. There is no cause too bad not to hire an advocate to represent it. Abuse is the easiest of all human tasks. It falls in, too, with a natural rhythm, with the disposition and tendency of some natures. They would not speak their mother tongue if they did not speak vituperatively: they would stammer like men unused to the language if they began to approve and to praise and to characterise any human service in grateful terms. This Tertullus was the genius of abuse; the worse the cause the glibber his tongue. He lives today, and takes the same silver for his flippant eloquence.
How possible it is utterly to misconceive a great character! Paul was utterly misconceived even by some persons who were not viciously dishonest. There is a key to every character, and if you do not get the key of the character, you never can understand the character itself. We must not condemn all men as hypocrites whom we cannot comprehend. Let us own that very much of what they do looks suspicious, self-seeking, ambitious, ignoble. It may not be so. The difficulty of the man of one idea is to understand any other man who has two: the man of one idea has a short and chopping way of speaking about other people, not knowing that, when he pronounces them dishonest, he is proclaiming himself a most virtuous person. Let us understand that there are some men in history, alike in the Church and in the State, whom we are unable to comprehend; but let us not, therefore, imagine that they are bad men. Illustrious names, which cannot be mentioned in church without being misunderstood, will at once occur to every man. Some of us are so easy to understand, simply because there is so little to be comprehended. Then it is so easy to wash our hands in innocency by condemning the ambiguousness or ambitiousness of other people. Paul could not be understood by any man who for one single moment ever considered his own happiness; that consideration would disentitle the critic to a place on the judgment-seat. If any man—let me say it again, until we become familiar with the distressing truth—can for one single instant consider his own advantage, good, place, or security, he cannot read the life of the Apostle Paul with the smallest comprehension of its meaning. Cowardice cannot understand heroism; selfishness cannot comprehend self-sacrifice; self-idolatry cannot understand the Cross. We should try to find the key of every character—in other words, the starting-point, or the basis-principle, and, having secured that, all the rest will be easy of interpretation. Start with the idea that Christ"s kingdom was of this world, and the New Testament is a maze of contradiction, a labyrinth of perplexity. No character was so much misunderstood as Jesus Christ"s: he knew it, he said it; he made that fact into a source of comfort to all who should follow him in its representation; said Hebrews, "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household!" When blasphemy culminates in some daring Acts, all the actions which lie under that deed become quite easy tricks. Blasphemy culminated in calling the master of the house "Beelzebub"—after that all other abuse was an easy performance, a small and pitiable miracle. Conscience itself may start from a wrong point in the estimation of character, and "if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" To have a conscience that does not rest on reason, to have a court in which there is no daylight—how immediate and tremendous the moral consequences! Even conscience may be twisted, perverted, poisoned. When that is the case it is impossible to understand childhood, simplicity, purity, unselfishness, and sacrifice.
Here, too, is the possibility of excluding from the mind every thought characterised by breadth and charity. It does not occur to the paid pleader to say, "This man is insane; this man is afflicted with the disease of romance; this prisoner has a craze about a theory too lofty or too immaterial for the present state of things." Sometimes a charitable spirit will take some such view. No such estimate is formed by Tertullus respecting Paul. Paul is to the orator "a pestilent fellow" and "a mover of sedition" and "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes," for he knew that he was talking to a man who could only understand coarse epithets, for he himself, though a judge in those times, was the basest of his tribe. There was no meaner soul in all the Roman service than Felix. Hebrews, with his brother Pallas, had been a slave; by a cunning equal to Iscariot"s own, he had worked himself up to a rulership, to high influence in the court, and his one object, as we shall find presently, was to be paid for his acquittals. Had not Paul dropped a word about some collection, or offering, which he had been making for the poor saints? Had the chink of money been heard at all? If Song of Solomon, the explanation is at hand which will characterise the whole policy of Felix. Meanwhile, we know nothing about that; but we do know, from history, that Felix was the most venal and detestable of his kind. To have spoken to Felix, therefore, about romance, extravagance, mental hallucination, would have been to throw straw to a tiger. Tertullus had head enough to know that only such words as "pest," "insurrectionist," and "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" could touch the base mind of the judge.
Yet, without viciousness, there may be great narrowness of mind, which excludes all great ideas and sublime possibilities. You will contract that narrowness if you do not sometimes come out of your little village into great London. You will doze so long over your own parochial placidity and security, until you for get that there is a solar system. Meet men who will contradict you; speak in companies that dare oppose you. Never assume finality of judgment. The Bible itself is a book of beginnings without endings. We may so live in a little, narrow, murky sphere as to mistake the very truth which it is our wish to serve. That is an instance of the light within being darkness. I know not of any more distressing spectacle than for a man to be using great words with little meanings. There is nothing so pitiful, so heart-breaking, to the apostolic mind, the heroic soul, as to hear infinite words without infinite meanings. So the words "God," "Christ," "Cross," "forgiveness," "immortality," "heaven"—we have all heard these immeasurable terms employed with measurable meanings. I venture this line of remark to show that I am not wishful to make every man into a Tertullus who opposes apostolic life and thought. It is possible honestly to oppose even the Apostle Paul, but the honesty itself is an expression of mental contractedness. What is perfectly right to the eye within given points may be astronomically wrong when the whole occasion is taken in. You would not find fault with a child who said, "The earth is stable, immovable." Within given points the child is talking sense; yet the earth never stands still; if she paused one moment, she would drop out of her sphere and be lost. So men may be parochially right and imperially wrong; men may be perfectly orthodox within the limits of a creed and unpardonably heterodox within the compass of a faith.
How wonderful it is that even Tertullus is obliged to compliment the man whom he was paid to abuse! Let us hear what Paul was on the showing of Tertullus. First, he was "a pestilent fellow." We have seen there was nothing negative about Paul, and Tertullus confirms that view. Paul was not a quiet character; wherever he was he was astir; the spirit of seven men was in him. His was an active faith; it was not like the faith of some of us—a quietly rotting thing, sending up—or rather allowing to escape from it—odours of an unhealthy and poisonous kind. Paul was always alive. If he slept, we know nothing about it: we have no diary of his sleep; the pages are alive with his activity. If he was a bad Prayer of Manasseh, there was nothing like him in the whole market place of badness.
According to Tertullus, Paul was also "a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world"—a sentence intended to touch the ear of the Roman judge. As to being "a pestilent fellow," the phrase was vague, but now Felix might well listen with double attention, when the man before him was accused of being an insurrectionist, stirring up the Jews against the Roman rule. We have found that Paul was a moving man. Tertullus again confirms our impression. That he was "a mover of sedition" in the sense implied by Tertullus when using the word we have not found, but that he was the prince of revolutionists we do know. Every Christian is a revolutionist. Christianity does not plaster walls that are falling; it pulls them down; it tears up the foundations, uproots them; and, after this disestablishment, it begins to build up, and it builds for eternity.
There was a third qualification which Tertullus could not omit: Paul was "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." So the prisoner is not made into a little man even by the paid accuser. We felt that he never could be held in contempt. There is no contempt in the impeachment of Tertullus; the man is a great man—"pestilent," "seditious," "a ringleader" of whatever sect he enters. Put him where you will, he becomes the principal man in that company ere the sun go down. A rich banker said, when some one asked him questions regarding the wondrous fortune which he had amassed, "I cannot help it; if I were tonight stripped and turned into the streets of Copenhagen, I would be as rich in ten years as I am now—I cannot help it." Paul could not help being the first man of every company. He was not a whit behind the very chief of the apostles; without asserting a claim, he entered into a sovereignty. So even Tertullus is obliged to eulogise the man he was hired to calumniate.
What is the inevitable issue of all narrow-mindedness? That issue is stated in the text—that issue, indeed, is falsehood. The proof you find in the sixth verse: "who also hath gone about to profane the temple." That was a lie; but that is the inevitable outcome of narrow-mindedness. The narrow-minded man must either end his days in falsehood or in insanity. If you have a narrow mind, you may be kept tolerably right so long as you are kept in activity—your fussiness will save you—but if anything should occur to lay you on one side, you will become melancholy and insane. Entertain liberal ideas; live under the whole sky; go out in rainy weather as well as in sunshine and say, "All this is under the same blue, kind, warm heaven." Do not fix yourselves in relation to some particular point as if that were the universe. The garden is all God"s, and you may eat of every tree that is in it, and the proof of that liberality is in the fact that there is one tree you may not touch. That is the security of liberty; that is the centre that binds all the points of the circumference into one solid and radiant cohesion.
Imagine Tertullus being excited regarding the purity of the temple! Look at him as he refers with tears in his musical voice to the possibility of the temple being profaned! How suddenly some men become pious! How wonderfully they are excited about the temple under some circumstances! What a genius is hypocrisy! What a splendid gift of concealment it possesses! You cannot misrepresent the people in the temple and yet be concerned honestly for the temple itself; if you can tell what is not true about any brother who is in the house along with you, you cannot feel honestly about the house itself. The truth is one; we cannot be true in one point out of ten; herein is the philosophy of that marvellous saying, "He that offends in one point offends in all," because truth is an infinite solid: it cannot be disintegrated into particles, in some of which we claim a right of proprietorship.
The incident would hardly be worth dwelling upon were it confined to its own four corners, but it is a typical instance repeated continually in our day. Whenever the enemy represents the Christian cause he cannot get away from the lines of this dazzling impeachment. This is the model speech—the accidents vary, the fervour of the speaker goes up or down according to individual temperament; but the speech is the same. Should there arise a burning evangelist in our days, accounting all things loss that he may win Christ, having one object, and that to bless men,—Tertullus is instantly developed by his presence. The good develops the bad: the explanation of the devil is in God. Let a George Fox arise—the founder of the sect of the Quakers or Friends—and how will he be characterised, except as "a pestilent fellow," "a mover of sedition," and "a ringleader of a sect"? There are no other words; this is the brief vocabulary. The devil is as poverty-stricken in language as he was in original invention; he has only one lie to tell, and what genius he has is to be found in the art with which he varies the telling of it. Let a John Wesley arise, or a George Whitefield, a John Bunyan or a John Nelson; read the early annals of English Christianity and evangelism; read the history of the early Methodist preachers, and you will find that every age that has brought a Paul has brought along with him a Tertullus. Thank God! nothing but epithets can be hurled against Christianity and its teachers; epithets are bruised by the very violence which throws them—hard words enough, biting sarcasms enough, great swelling words of impeachment enough; but epithets only. Christianity stands up today queenly, royal, pure, stainless—every stone thrown at her lying at her feet: herself untouched, unharmed; still putting out her arms, welcoming men to redemption, forgiveness, and heaven.
Almighty God, we would hide ourselves in thy love. Thy love is an infinite pavilion in which there is defence for every trustful soul. We say this in the triumph given unto us by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. We need no other refuge; we are at rest in thy love. Receive us, every one, and give every heart to feel the joy of Divine and infinite security. We love thy name. We look up unto the hills whence cometh our help, and, behold, they are higher than our imagining, stronger than all we can think—the hills of God, the mountains of light, the everlasting fortresses which give protection to the souls loving the Saviour and living in him. Come to us this new year and make it the brightest of all our time. Thou hast yet more wondrous things to do in us and by us and for us. Thy miracles are not ended; thy revelations are not spent; thou still hast the light that can enlarge our outlook and make us glad with higher joy. We will not believe that the fountain of thy grace can be dried up; we will look for the living water, and looking, we shall surely find it—there is a look of the heart which thou canst not deny. We, therefore, come in quest of the living stream, the holy river—the blessed gift of God to the thirst of the immortal soul. We come in the name that is above every name, and, therefore, we shall not be sent empty away. We have victory assured in the name which we breathe. The name of Jesus cannot fail if we pronounce it with our faith and love; it is an answer to our prayer, a fulfilment of our desire, an inspiration of our truest hope. Show us that the name of Jesus Christ is full of riches, full of grace, full of meaning. May we dwell upon it; may we appeal to it continually that it may answer us with great replies and satisfy us with infinite satisfactions. We would be led farther into the heavenly fields than yet we have travelled; we would see brighter visions than yet we have gazed upon; we would hear the innermost voice and music of thy truth that steals upon the listening soul and gives delight in secret, causing the life to be filled with new courage that it may fight God"s battles in the open day. Wherein we have done evil, let the Lord be pitiful unto us, and astonish us by renewals of grace; may the hill of our sin be overshadowed by the infinite mountains of God"s grace. Where sin abounds, may grace much more abound, so as to cast into forgetfulness the mistakes, the infirmities, the errors, and the crimes of our life. This is our one hope: that Christ is stronger than our enemy, Christ is richer in resources than the foe plighted to be against us evermore. We will trust in Christ, we will rest in Christ, we will hide ourselves behind Christ; we have no other hope; we ask no other defence. Thou knowest our desires, our necessities; thou knowest our innermost thought and wish. Thou wilt give us answers according to thy reading of our hearts, lather than to our utterance of desire. Thou wilt say, "No," where it is good for us that our prayer should be rejected. Thou wilt correctly read all the circumstances which make up our life, and to them, in all their wondrous combination and inexpressible meaning, thou wilt give the answer of thy love. Hold thou us up, and we shall be safe. Wherein we have done wrong, pity us; wherein we have done aright, the praise be thine, for we did it against ourselves and against an infinite pressure. This is thy miracle, and we will praise it as the wonder of heaven. Wherein thou hast said in thy counsel, "This year thou shalt die," make the way easy, make the downward slope a gentle one, and send such mitigations of fear as shall turn apprehension into triumph. Wherein thou hast called any of us to new trial or suffering or endurance, may we bear it heroically as men sustained by grace Divine, and encouraged by exceeding great and precious promises. Let thy blessing go forth to our houses, to our sick-chamber, to all the little ones, whose prayers are best because they are wordless, and are but upward looks with meaning in them thou alone canst understand. Go with those who have gone far away, who have joined themselves unto citizens in countries where there is no cross, no Christ, no knowledge of God. Bring back the wanderer whilst we hold the door open to receive him. The Lord make us glad this year because lost children are born again unto us, and wanderers are come home. Upon the whole Church, redeemed with blood, let the mercy and the grace and the peace of God the Father, God the Song of Solomon, and God the Holy Ghost rest in multiplied abundance. Bring all believing hearts nearer to God. Establish in love and confidence and union all who name the name of Jesus Christ. And thus, as the years come and go—yea, go in their coming-may we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and find, at last, that we have been all the while undergoing preparation, not for death, but for higher life, for wider service, for profounder worship. Amen.
10. Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou has been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself:
11. Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship.
12. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any Prayer of Manasseh, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city:
13. Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.
14. But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
15. And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
16. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men.
17. Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.
18. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult,
19. Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me.
20. Or else let these same here say if they have found any evil-doing in me while I stood before the council,
21. Except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead, I am called in question by you this day.
22. And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.
23. And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.
24. And 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.
25. And as he 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.
Paul"s Inspired Method
This whole chapter may enable us to see some new and illustrative views of the spirit and character of the Apostle Paul. We begin to see somewhat of the gigantic stature of his mind; but the loftiness of the mountain must not lead us to overlook the fine mosses and delicate flowers with which its base is so exquisitely enamelled. It is difficult for many people to see more than one feature in a character; they become prejudiced in favour of one view of the mind, and that prejudice excludes features quite as great as any which have been perceived. The character of Paul, for example, is as fine in texture as it is vast in bulk. When men speak of Jeremiah, they think of him as the weeping prophet, forgetting that in the prophecies of Jeremiah are some of the finest poems ever dreamed by human imagination. But you will never persuade the world that Jeremiah did anything but cry. So with the Apostle Paul: a prejudice has been formed respecting him as a reasoner, a theologian, a man mighty in debate. The truth Isaiah, no man in all the New Testament but One had a heart so great, so tender, so womanly; but you will never persuade the Church that Paul was anything but a theological fighter. This is distressing: it hinders the progress of Christian education. It represents our own nature, nevertheless, and shows us to ourselves, revealing the impossibility of our taking in more than one view of any many-sided character. Look at the incident before us as contributing somewhat to the elucidation of the finer and more fibrous lines that made up the life, the soul, the inspiration, and the service of the great Apostle.
Look at the contrast between Paul"s introduction and the preface of Tertullus. Christianity makes gentlemen; Christianity is the religion of delicateness, refinement, subtlety of spiritual excellence. It put a fire into Paul"s weak eyes that nothing else could have put there. Christianity changes the visage, the voice, the touch; it makes new creatures. Wherein we are vulgar, common, ill-looking, we are not Christians; we do but show the space which Christianity has yet to cover and to conquer, and, blessed be God, it will do so. It will change our vile body and make it like unto the typical Body, full of glory; on the road it performs intermediate miracles and sets up symbolic signs, full of earnest and pledge. Tertullus began cringingly, fulsomely, falsely. He told Felix things which Felix knew were not true, but they were men standing on the same level, and they were not critical when the vanity of the one was excited and the falsehood of the other was prepared to minister to it.
The governor having haughtily inclined his head towards the prisoner in sign that he might speak now—a haughty Roman nod—Paul said, "Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself." Felix had not been judge a great many years, but he had been judge more than about twice the usual time, and Paul recognised that fact, forasmuch as it was the only compliment he was able to pay the corrupt governor. It was a circumstance over which Felix had next to no control. A man cannot help being the senior member of a company. Beautiful the genius, subtle and not false the flattery, which recognises his seniority as if it were an excellence! Christianity is courteous—never rough; recognising whatever can be recognised in the way of excellence, or continuance of service, but never stooping to drag its own crown in the mire.
In this introduction you have one of the lines in Paul"s character. Look at the temper which Paul displayed under what we may call this hurricane of abuse. He has just been called "a pestilent fellow," "a mover of sedition," and "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes," a profaner of the temple, and then he is asked to speak for himself. There is no excitement in his reply, there is no resentment; he contents himself with denial and with challenging proof. Some charges you can only deny. There is nothing so easy as to bring a charge against a Prayer of Manasseh, and all that is left to him, in proportion to his innocence, is the poor opportunity of saying, "This is not true." But the world is slow to learn that lesson. The world has read the Bible, and has been struck with the instances in which innocent men have been basely charged with infamous crimes, and, whilst the world is quite willing to believe that four thousand years ago innocent men may have been charged falsely, the world will not believe that about its own contemporaries. It is a wicked world! What has Paul to say in reply to these accusatory statements? Nothing, except, to say they are not true, any one of them, and, therefore, the men who speak them are liars. That is a poor defence; yet that is the only defence possible. Any man is placed at an infinite disadvantage who has to answer charges in which there is no truth. Were there the slightest particle of truth, he could out of that particle make a great defence; but when the charges of pestilence, sedition, ringleadership, profanity, are only pure and simple lies from end to end, part of his defence is in his quietness, no small part of his defence is in the absence of vindictive-ness. Fury would have created suspicion, and resentment would have been an argument on the other side; but the quietness of the consciousness of innocence and utter absence of anything like undignified feeling—these must be taken as contributing to the establishment of an irrefragable proof that an innocent man was in the presence of Felix.
Look at the manner in which the personal defence is made to create room for the doctrinal exposition. Paul does not spend much time upon himself: he hastens away to speak of larger things and larger interests. We have seen this to be the habit of Paul; he will not tarry over little things; he is in haste to accomplish a sublime purpose and issue. This is his spirit now. The larger consideration always ruled Paul; in his view, the whole world was only made for the one purpose of receiving the kingdom of Christ. Why do we not take our rule from his magnanimous method? Do not defend yourself, but preach and live, expound and exemplify the truth. There is a view in which it is a very small thing as to what any man is or does; when the man is innocent, there is nothing more trifling than that he should begin to defend himself. Rest in your innocence. Many stones may be thrown at you, but every one of them will miss the mark; the cruel part of it all is that some persons imagine that if stones are thrown at you, you deserve to be stoned. Do not let that trouble you; such men are not to be convinced; they are amongst the people who are elected by a sovereignty we cannot control to be the victims of their own prejudices. They have only one idea in their heads, and it is impossible to get another into them; you may silence them, but never convince them. Do not waste your time over them, but exemplify the Gospel, expound the larger truth, live in the larger element, and in due time all will be brought to a peaceful and happy issue. Paul never failed to proceed from the little personal to the infinite impersonal. A moment"s wave of the hand that perhaps he might remove a particle of the mud, and away he went—broad-souled, mind on fire—to tell what he knew about the kingdom of his blessed Lord and Master. To each of us the Spirit says, "Go thou and do likewise."
Observe, in the fourth place, how Paul keeps hold of his audience, by preaching Christianity without so much as naming Christ. This is the mystery which modern times cannot handle. Read Paul"s defence and tell me where Christianity can be found in it in any doctrinal and positive form. Is there not genius here? Is there not inspiration in knowing where to stop, how to draw your lines, how to adapt resources to necessities? Paul might have been the orator on the other side; Paul might have been simply a Roman addressing a Roman, so far as the name, the priesthood, and the deity of Jesus Christ are concerned. As we now understand—or misunderstand—the matter, there is not one evangelical sentence in the whole speech. That would not suit a modern audience, because a modern audience is foolish. Inspiration guides a man quite as much in teaching him whatnot to say as in teaching him what to say; inspiration has to do with method as well as with matter. I know not whether there can be found any instance of Divine inspiration more patent and satisfactory than the one which we find in this speech of Paul. Is he then not preaching Christ? He is preaching him all the time. He is creating a wonder; he is developing a certain state of mind; he says mentally, "This is not the whole affair. I shall have more chances; it is enough now to touch curiosity, to excite surprise, to create interest in me and in my message; by-and-by I shall speak to that procurator in a way he never heard mortal tongue deliver itself; but now I have to answer this mean hireling, who would plead my cause if I only paid him enough to do so. I have to do a little preliminary work; the Holy Ghost bids me say this and say no more." We might do a great deal of preaching in that way if the Church would allow us; but the Church always brings its own thermometer and barometer along with it, for the purpose of measuring heats and temperatures and weights and atmospheric conditions. The merchant can be preaching Christianity in his business without ever letting it be known that he ever spent one moment on his knees. It is not necessary to be a theologian to be a great preacher. Men can preach Christianity and defend the Cross in temper, actions, family and commercial relations, and beget a state of mental wonder on the part of the observers as to how such things happen to be as they are. By-and-by such men may be sent for, that they may speak concerning the mystery; that they may tell how it is that they did not take all that they might have clutched; how it was that honesty triumphed over perfidy, and how it could possibly be that a man could say, "No," when by saying "Yes" he might have secured a competence. In the after-talks, when the babbling Tertullus has gone, the great mystery of personal consciousness, personal honour, and personal sacrifice may be revealed and declared.
In making his defence, Paul keeps to the Scriptures: "believing," said Hebrews, in the fourteenth verse, "all things which are written in the law and in the prophets." This was so much gained; but it was a generality that wanted accent, so he proceeds, in the sixteenth verse, to supply the accent which was required: "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men." There you have the complete character—the student plunged in the mysteries of the Scriptures—the man drilling himself, under Divine inspiration and encouragement, in moral integrity and sanctity; recognising the supremacy of conscience and training the ethical faculty to the highest sensitiveness and the most penetrating discernment.
This was moral preaching? I would God we had more moral preaching, then! The man who is severe with his own conscience will know how to treat the consciences of other men; the man who lives in conscience will be a tremendous preacher when the occasion arises for him to address conscience. Paul, at this stage in the speech, gives us a hint of the power which he will exercise by-and-by when he confronts Felix alone. No man can preach to the conscience, with any truly gracious and happy effect, who does not attend to his own conscience. Herein have we confidence in the great Apostle. His genius we might have learned to neglect, his great intellectual sagacity might have fallen into the familiarity which brings with it indifference, if not contempt; but so long as he stands up a conscientious Prayer of Manasseh, a righteous Prayer of Manasseh, we cannot but respect and venerate him. Nothing will stand in the world"s estimation for ever but downright in-and-out goodness. No preacher can live on mere foam of words; no lecturer on the platform can have an everlasting reputation who neglects the moral nature of his audiences; no book can be a perpetual monitor that has in it only flippancy and humour and laughter. He will have supreme influence whose character is like a pillar on the top of which there is lily-work. The lily-work does nothing for the pillar: the pillar does its own bearing work: it has the weight upon it; and yet the lily-work is praised by the children, praised by infantile minds; the little, frail, pretty lily-work will attract more attention than the upright, solid, all-bearing pillar. Never mind, pillar; we rest on thee, we trust to thee. There are temporary reputations which will pass away; but at the last the pillar may be spoken of, because it so nobly, strongly, and quietly carried the whole burden. So it is with conscience. It is the righteousness of the world that saves it, not ten geniuses, ten poets, ten dreamers, ten defenders, but ten righteous men. Whilst they pray, the fire-shower, the fire-storm, will not descend.
Almighty God, we are thine in Jesus Christ, thy Son; we are born again unto thee by the power of the Spirit; we are no more wanderers: we are little children at home. We remember our wandering that we may mourn it; we set before our eyes our sonship that we may magnify thy grace. We are the miracles of God; we are the proofs of Divine Providence; we show how tenderly thou dost care for the sons of men, and how plentifully thou dost supply the necessities of the soul. We do not go abroad for witness: when witness is required we stand up ourselves and say, "The Lord is good, and his tender mercies are over all his works." May we abide in this testimony, for in it is our strength. May we remind ourselves of it in the dark and cloudy day, lest the tempter be too strong for us, and by many a well-plied seduction draw us from the steadfastness of our love. We would hear in our souls all the vows and promises we have ever been enabled to utter, and we would cause these to repeat themselves, that in their hearing the soul may take courage again, even when the storm is dark and loud. Thy goodness towards us is a daily revelation; it is not an occasional, it is an everlasting presence. Thy mercy endureth for ever. There is no point in all the space of our life that is not made golden by the touch of thy gracious love. It well becometh us, therefore, to stand up together, a unanimous host, to bless the Lord in loud psalm and cheerful anthem for his great love, his tearful pity, his redeeming grace, his Cross of sacrifice and atonement. We would become accustomed to the thought and service of the better world. As the years run away here and make us old, so eternity comes nearer to endow us with everlasting youth. So would we look onward and upward and find in anticipation the joy which cannot be found in retrospect. We look up unto the hills whence cometh our help—the eternal hills, the pillars of creation, the bases of thine own throne, the hills of sapphire, the mountains of light, the highlands of glory; and as we look may our help come, and as we gaze may our strength be increased manifold, that we may praise thee, and with new confidence do thy work in the world, hoping ever in God, and making ourselves young at the throne of the heavenly grace. Show us how large is thy pity, thy love, thy tenderness; give us to feel that thou hast made us men, with many natures, many passions, enthusiasms, powers, and faculties—a wondrous mystery, a creation of omnipotence everything perfect in its place and order and purpose; a wondrous instrument on which thou canst discourse music pleasing to thine own ear. May we be men, baptized in every faculty and power, exercising every one to thine honour and to thy glory—whole men, complete in their cultivation and entire in their consecration. To this end thou wilt not spare the inspiring Spirit. Thou wilt not keep back the light that makes all beauteous things grow and flourish; neither wilt thou withhold the gracious rains which satisfy the thirsting souls, and make them rejoice in newness of strength. Thou dost lead us through the world and show us its great kingdoms and glories; thou dost lift them up to set them down again; thou dost reveal them—not to show their greatness, but their littleness. Their wealth is a lie if it be not made good and precious by sanctification. All the world can give is given for a moment, and taken back again, or dies in the eager grasp; but thy peace abideth for ever, quieting the soul, giving the spirit enjoyment, far beyond all rack and noise and tumult. Thy peace is a peace that passeth understanding, and in its enjoyment we forget all harass and care and fret and toil, and feel that we are already enclosed within the gate which is one pearl. We bless thee for all thy love; it is so tender, so continual, so full of all-gracious ministry; it is as a nurse, as a shepherd, as a physician, as a mother; it takes upon itself all beautiful names and symbolisms, and comes to us through the medium of everything in life that most we prize. We pray for one another. Hear the prayers we cannot speak, because there are no words fit for the expression of such necessities. Hear the soul"s sighing, and interpret it into deep and intense and complete confession and supplication. Listen to us when we cannot hear the whisper of our own moaning, and render unto us great answers of joy. Open our way when the gate is high, and it is locked, and we have no key, and we stand there in our helplessness looking beyond and looking above; let the looking be regarded as a prayer, and come thou to throw back the gate and permit us to go forward. Help us to keep the vow we have spoken. Thou knowest how liable it is to breach and flaw and compromise. Enable us to hold it in its integrity, to work it out in all its uttermost meaning of goodness; so that, having withstood, we may stand; having fought, we may come home at eventide as conquerors. The Lord have us where his jewels are kept; the Lord write our name above the flames that shall consume all meaner things; the Lord give us rest in the upper sanctuary—calm as the Divine peace, secure as the Divine strength. Amen.
24. And 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.
25. And as he 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.
Paul"s Private Speech
We have often seen Paul in public; we have now to study somewhat his private ministry. It is easier to speak upon Mars" Hill to a great crowd than to speak in a gilded chamber to two eminent personages. Will Paul be the same man in both places? The persons who are listening to him are Felix and Drusilla. There the matter might be supposed to end. If we add to it the intense effect which the discourse produced, as represented in the words "Felix trembled," the case seems to be a small one. Yet as we study it the lines expand and multiply until it becomes symbolical and presses closely upon our own lives and habits. Look at the case in detail: the auditors are great people, yet the Gospel does not spare them. We have already learned somewhat concerning Felix; let us recall our information that it may give colour and accent to this particular event. Felix was a Roman procurator; he was originally a slave; he became a freed Prayer of Manasseh, and he rose to power almost unlimited. He was, therefore, in some way, unquestionably, a man of genius and invincible will—bent, but never broken. He and his brother Pallas were in high favour with Claudius Cæsar, the emperor, and in equally high favour with Antonia, the emperor"s mother. They were the richest men, probably, in that part of the empire. When the emperor himself complained of being poor, he was told, with much suggestion in the tone, that if he would enter into partnership with Felix and Pallas, he would soon be a wealthy man. The historian tells us also, with much reading between the wide lines, that Felix was at the same time the husband of three queens. A more contemptible personage, history concurs in testifying, never combined the power of a king with the meanness of a slave. That was the one hearer. Drusilla was one of the beauties of her day"; she was the. daughter of one king and the wife of another. Felix employed Simon, a magician, to cajole her from her constancy. She allied herself with Felix—another incidental tribute to the marvellous fascination of the man. In this unholy marriage a son was born, whose name was Agrippa. The mother and son both perished in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius which took place in the days of Titus Cæsar. That was the other hearer; and Paul was in their power. Was ever such goodness in the power of such wickedness? This will try Paul; the auditors are only two in number; he himself is a prisoner—well-nigh a slave—a word, and he is thrown to the lions; a nod, and the fire will consume him, bone and muscle. He will trip, he will falter, he will say something that will lead him into the pity and confidence of his illustrious auditors. Here is the true Apostle face to face with evil; he smites it with both hands alone, yet he feels the breath upon him of more than twelve legions of angels. He will have harvesting here if he can get it; he will take away from this field two sheaves, if possible, and garner them in heaven. This is a terrible Gospel—the power of God unto salvation or unto destruction, a savour of life unto life or of death unto death. These are the instances that commend the Gospel to our confidence. This is the man who said, not long ago in our studies, "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy." How he looks through the villainy of the occasion! how he dares its feebleness! how he shows his penetration of the natural cowardice of wrong! Who was procurator then? Who was emperor? It is moral dignity that elevates a man up above his fellows to a height which never can be attained by merely intellectual genius. See not Paul the man only, but Paul the Christian—nay, see the incarnate Gospel itself shut up with these two violators of all holy law, and how it torments them, bites them, and will not spare them one moment. The sword of the Lord! the sword of the Lord, my brethren, and the battle is won; your old sword of paste-board, and the fight is lost; the blade of Jerusalem, and none other; the battle is not yours, but God"s. We cannot dwell too long, too gratefully, upon the moral dignity of this Gospel. It will not spare great people—no people can be great before its majesty. There is a light that puts out the sun. The sun is a great light in itself—a marvellous, dazzling eye; but there is a light that shames it away, that makes it retire in conscious feebleness. There is no greatness before the Gospel. The Christian is the king. The only monarchy that is not tinsel is the monarchy of holiness. All kings and queens, Cæsars and thrones—all of them are baubles and lies and vanities if they represent not a monarchy greater than themselves. Because the Gospel speaks in this tone it lives for ever. Righteousness is the eternal quantity.
The auditors were but two in number, yet the Gospel sought to save them. The Gospel is the one-man religion. When Christianity takes the census it counts every man one, and says to despairing preachers, teachers, and evangelists, "Let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death." Christianity despises no one; Christianity is the shepherd that will not rest until the hundredth sheep be found. "Ninety-and-nine"—there is no music in these chiming syllables, because one of the flock has gone astray. This is another aspect of the Gospel, equal in pathos to the aspect which has just passed before us as clothed with moral grandeur. "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." Other religions go by Numbers, by empires; they count multitudinously: they count a nation one. The individual life is a fleck, a drop of a bucket, a very little thing, not to be named. But the religion of Jesus Christ, having found that one of the ten pieces is lost, instantly lights a candle and sweeps the house diligently until it be found. Christianity, having found that one of the lambs has gone astray, will neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor hold the customary feast until the wanderer is back again. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." Song of Solomon, every man is a congregation. Our ministers must be rebuked if they count more than one man in the house. There is only one man in all the populations of the earth, and he is lost and must be found. Oh, preacher! every man is a congregation; the meanest, poorest creature that crouches within hearing distance is a nation—the world; know thy duty, and in Christ"s great strength win the fight. Earnestness can always speak to the individual. There is no afront that can be offered to the spirit of the Gospel more deadly than to withhold because the numbers are not overwhelming. If one soul is within ear-shot, he constitutes the supreme occasion of any ministry. The Gospel has thunder for the crowd and whispers for the one listener. That is the truth. Jesus Christ often spoke to the one hearer; Jesus made revelations to individual hearers greater than any he ever made to the crowd. If we might compare the discourses of the perfect Speaker, we might say, by the accommodation of human language, that the most splendid discourses of the Messiah were delivered to solitary listeners. What said he to the woman all sin from the strange city? When she spoke of Messiah, he said, "I that speak unto thee am he." When did he say that to a crowd? What said he to the woman all grief, because she had buried all her heart? "I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." And so trace his history, and you will find that to individual hearers he communicated his greatest messages. What said he in the hush of night to Nicodemus? "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Song of Solomon, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Produce the match of these discourses from all the public deliverances of the Divine Speaker. When he spoke in public he spoke in another tone: "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." Even there the same sublime doctrine is conveyed: Mark, the invitation is to the one thirsting man. But, whilst the preacher may find some difficulty here, the listener himself may imagine that he is too small to be addressed in his individuality. Whilst he is in the congregation, he may imagine himself lost in the crowd—he is only part of the urgent occasion. We must have individuality of hearing as well as individuality of preaching. The true hearer is the man who supposes himself to be the only listener in all the sanctuary—who is so absorbed in spiritual earnestness and attention that he hears every word as if spoken to himself alone—a message just delivered from the great Father to the one wandering child. Such preaching, equalled by such hearing, and the next step is a converted world. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
In the third place, the auditors asked for entertainment; yet the Gospel gave them judgment. The Gospel has no entertainments. Felix sent for Paul to hear him concerning the faith in Christ. Felix cared nothing for this himself, for he was a Roman; but Drusilla was a Jewess, and she was the occasion of this interest in Christian matters. She had heard of her famous countryman, called Jesus of Nazareth; he had been murdered and done away with, but still his religion was exciting a good deal of curiosity in the country, and she, being a Jewess, would hear somewhat of her eccentric compatriot. So we become interested in certain sides and aspects of questions. Drusilla could have no interest in the spiritual Christ. He would burn her; but she had intellectual interest, or the interest of curiosity in the historical magician, the prince of the wonder-workers. It is not enough to be interested in Christ: we must first know what Christ it is in whom we are interested. Felix and Drusilla would hear the animated story, about the wondrous sorcerer; Paul was an expert, a devotee—he would know about the whole case and would be able to explain it, and now he was at liberty to tell the tale. "And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment." Is that the faith that is in Christ? Yes. You thought Christianity was theology—Christianity is morality. Let us call the prisoner Paul, and hear him concerning the famous Jew—who was he? what was he? what did he do? what was he like? Tell us in graphic words all he did. "And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come." Was that Christian preaching? Verily; and the preaching we want every day. Many are delighted with high theological cobweb speculation, and call it marvellous. It is not Christian preaching. The true preaching makes the robber empty his pockets, makes the bad man white with inward accusation, makes the oppressor turn uneasily on his seat as if he were sitting on thorns and fire, turns the bad man mad, and makes him say foamingly at the church door that he will never come back again. That is preaching concerning the faith that is in Christ. The audience should always suggest the subject. This was Paul"s method, and, as we have seen in our studies in the Gospel according to Matthew, it was the invariable method of Jesus Christ himself. The audience is the text; this is where our speakers fail so much. The audience is but a company of listeners, or a company of men who may listen or not listen, as they please, and all the great speakers, from Christ downward, including the great Apostle Paul himself, made the audience the text, expounded the text to itself, held a mirror up to nature. This must always be the case. What do our hearers want with speculations they cannot follow, with dreams they never heard of? He who would preach to the times must preach to the broken-heartedness of the day, to the criminality of the hour, to the inconstancy of the times, to the disloyalty of the army. Away—farther and farther still—the impious thought that only he preaches to the times who preaches about thoughts that people never heard of, and answers arguments which they can neither comprehend nor remember. He preaches to the times who says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I, the Son of God, will give you rest." These are the eternal times, the other Song of Solomon -called times are flickering moments, changing their colour, changing their throb and pulse by an incalculable process; but the eternal need is forgiveness, the everlasting want is rest for the soul. This advice will never make popular preachers: it will make Pauline preachers, terrible preachers—preachers whose sentences are thorns and goads, whose looks are judgments, and whose tones are accusations. May the good Lord of the harvest thrust into his harvest-field many such preachers! Vice is none the less vice because it is gilded and can pay its way. Felix was a rich Prayer of Manasseh, his wife was partner of his property; their roof was gilded, their walls were velveted, their carpets were flowers, soft and fragrant, their wine was plentiful, and they drank it out of nothing less than gold; but the vice was the worm at the core. Nothing is settled until it is rectified; the wall must totter if it is out of plumb. Judge the Gospel theology by Gospel morality. We are not sent to make theologians, but Christians; we are not sent to build up a system, but to build up a character. How does it come that the Gospel holds its own amongst all the competing religions of the world? Because of its morality. The morality of the Gospel is not a scheme or theory of manners; it is the expression of a profound and sublime theology. The true God is above it, the true Cross is at its centre, and therefore its balances are equal, its measures are just, its actions are transparent, its character is without a spot. Men can understand our morality when they cannot understand our theology. It is possible that many may be calling for entertainment who ought to be asking for a judgment. We do not come to the throne of God to be hugged and comforted and confectioned, to be sprinkled with scented water, and to be assured that we are ripe for anything Heaven may have to disclose. Some may be far enough on the road to claim such high privileges and sacred enjoyments, but the most of us are still where we need to be reasoned with concerning righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. I know not what may be the case of special individuals, but taking the world in its totality, as representing one humanity this day, it needs only the theology which ends in morality, and it cries for the morality which is magnified, sanctified, inspired, and assured by the theology of Christ. This is our standing ground. Come, Felix, Drusilla, Zaccheus, Lazarus, beggar at the gate, blind man on the roadside, we have but one speech—the forgiveness of sin through its confession at the Cross and through the blood of Christ.
Almighty God, power belongeth unto thee, and also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy. We have nothing to say to thy power; we turn away from it and look with all eagerness and expectancy to thy tender mercy and thy lovingkindness. Yet we are glad of thy power; one day we will run into it and hold it for our uses, but not until we have seen thee in Christ, and received from thee the word of pitiful compassion, the assurance of entire forgiveness. Make us glad in thy mercy, give us joy at the Cross; thou alone canst make the human heart glad with true joy. We come to thee this day to lay our burden and to receive thy blessing, that we may henceforth walk in the light of thy love, being at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Then will come the joy of sonship; following adoption into thy family shall come rapture and triumph, and sense of eternal security. Surely then we shall lift up our heads as children of the day, and in our life there shall be no night; in all our prayer there shall be no halting, but the outgoing of our heart towards the heavens shall be an outgoing of perfect love. We bless thee for all the sunshine of life. Surely thou dost not spare the light; thou dost pour it out of the horn of infinite fulness, and there is more at the end than at the beginning; there are more suns in the night than in the day. We bless thee for all hope which gives us the full possession of our strength; we thank thee for the inspirations breathed into us by the Holy Ghost, whereby we are lifted up above the fear of death, and already enter into possession of heavenly rest and comfort. We will bless thee with many a Psalm, and make a joyful noise unto thee in thy house, and our whole heart shall lift itself up to thee in all the spirit of tender love and ineffable thankfulness. We cannot tell thee the tale of our daily need; it has no name because it has no measure. We have nothing that we have not received. Every good gift we have, and every perfect gift we recognise as coming from the Father of light. We ourselves are not our own, for we are bought with a price; we are not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the Son of God; therefore do we reckon ourselves not by ourselves, but by God"s ransom. Surely thou didst buy thine own image and likeness with thine own blood. This is our value; this is our immortality. Sometimes, when we look at thy heavens—the sun and the moon and the stars—we think ourselves not worth redeeming; then, behold, there is an uprising of the heart in its conscious strength and dignity, and we pour contempt upon all the universe, for it burns but for a day. We are the people of thine hand, the sheep of thy pasture, redeemed with blood, bought with an infinite preciousness of price, and therefore do we stand up among the angels and among the princes of heaven. Whilst we are upon the earth, help us to do its daily work diligently, faithfully, and successfully. We do not want to do it, and therefore the doing of it is good for us; it curbs the will, it cools the passion, it rebukes a strength that might be turned to vanity. Help us, therefore, to bear the yoke without complaining, to do our duty, and to find in it a religious delight, because of its disciplinary influence. Then, when this poor little elementary work is done, take us up, with purified spirit and enlarged power, to the ampler service, to the day not rounded with a night. The Lord be pitiful to us and dry our tears when we cannot lift our own hands to touch them; the Lord be with us all the night time, and give us rest in sleep. The Lord be praised for restoration from affliction; some of thy servants have seen long imprisonment because of pain and feebleness, and today they rejoin the holy hymn and sacred prayer. Receive their thanksgiving, confirm thy mercy in them, and carry on their healing to perfectness. The Lord heal us all; the Lord make our afflictions the beginnings of our true strength; the Lord comfort us according to the wound of the heart! Now let light fill the house in every corner—a great, broad light above the brightness of the sun—in the shining of which we shall forget the days of earth and time. Speak to every heart; let thy whisper come into the secret places of every spirit, and a great, broad blessing fall upon the whole people; and hear the people when they say, in the name of Christ, Amen.
26. He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.
27. But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix"s room; and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.
I think it can be shown that Felix is yet alive. It is a wonderful characteristic of the Bible that all its characters are still with us. If the character is the Prayer of Manasseh, then the man is still alive. His father and his mother and his sisters and himself—are they not all with us? Adam is still living, and Eve is yet at his side; Cain, the murderer, is still abroad, still shedding blood, still inspiring society with fear; and all the rest of the Biblical characters are in full force in our own country. Let me repeat, how wonderful a feature this is in Biblical portraiture. The men of the Bible were not mere individuals: they were types, they were symbols. Felix was sated with flattery; no man dare say one critical word to Felix; his capacity, in the matter of approbation, was simply immeasurable. Wherever he came men stood up, nor dare they sit down until they received his haughty permission. Whoever spoke to him accosted him as a kind of god. Is that Felix not still amongst us—the man who always lives amongst his idolaters, the man who will not hear the critical word, or who would resent it almost with death if he could? Are there not men whose minds are narrowed and perverted by always living in the sickly and sickening atmosphere of adulation? They would be better men if they came out into the fresh wind; for a time they might have to suffer something, but from even pungent, not to say intelligent, criticism they might learn something; it is lawful to learn from the enemy. Surely if the Felix sated with adulation is not living, the Felix who would like to be so sated is a million strong. I am distinguishing in my own mind, in making these observations, between just appreciation and foolish idolatry—between the praise which is due to character and the hypocrisy which is offered to mere position.
Felix was interested in religious discussions: "he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ." That Felix is still alive—the bad man who likes to go to church once a day; the worldly grasping, avaricious man who likes to spice his life with religious metaphysics and religious controversies. It is curious, it is almost comical, yet it is most pitifully true. Who can explain it, or account for it, that a Prayer of Manasseh, whose life is wholly given to the earth, should, now and again, desire to hear a prayer, or listen to a discourse; or take part even in a religious controversy, and have his "views"? What a contradiction is man! See him sometimes, and you would say that his life was given up to prayer, to religious reading, and to religious listening: he likes a sermon, he would not miss going to church—he would sell you tomorrow at any price he can get for you; still he has his "views." Alas! who made him? An anomaly he is; if he was ever made, surely he has unmade himself. Have you not often met that same Felix?
Felix lived in sin: he did not dabble in it, he was no retail criminal; he lived, he wallowed in sin. Is it possible that a man can live in sin and yet send for an apostle to speak "concerning the faith in Christ"? It is not only possible, it is the daily use of men, it is the common practice of society. Herein we are to some extent—not an equal extent—all in the same condemnation. This is the mystery of life: that only yesterday we shattered every commandment of Heaven and today we are—outwardly at least—standing at heaven"s gate! There is hope in this; there is something in this we would not willingly let die. Surely there is a mystery of hope and love in this contradiction. Do not let us take wholly the black view of it. We can look at the sin until we see Felix turning into a living child of the devil; or we can look at him, sending for the Apostle Paul, until we think we see spots of whiteness even on the black disc of his character. "Surely," we say, "this time the meaning is good, and Paul will leave Felix a better man." That is what we think of every one who leaves the husks that the swine do eat, in order that he may present himself at the table of the sanctuary and eat the bread which cometh down from heaven—the true bread. Better dwell on the bright side; better say concerning your brother Felix, "He means to be right, and the right will come uppermost."
We may the more confidently say this when we find that Felix was morally impressible. This is proved by words which you find in the twenty-fifth verse—"Felix trembled." Then there is hope of him. He was not wholly beyond the line of impression; prayer could still find him, appeal could still excite him, a masterly presentation of facts could still confound him; his conscience was not dead, but sleeping. Are there not such men amongst us in hundreds and thousands—men who never hear a sermon without weeping, men who even like a sermon the more when it wrings their conscience and turns them white with fear? There is a possibility of becoming too familiar with that kind of emotion; there is a possibility of expecting it, of measuring discourses and services by its presence, of boasting of the excellence of the appeal because it made both ears tingle, caused the conscience to start bolt upright, and accused the whole life of sin—so strangely are we compounded. We have rejoiced in the analytic power of the preacher who takes us all to pieces and show: us to ourselves, fibre by fibre; but we have taken the analysis as a proof of his ability, and not as an evidence of our own corruption. Marvellous that we like to be vivisected! We call the preacher faithful, and, having paid him the compliment, we go out to repeat the sin he has rebuked; we recommend the book as heart-searching, mind-penetrating, and, having brought a hundred customers to it, we renew the iniquity that it depicted with such startling vividness. This is the mystery of man. This is the kind of manhood every theory must cover if it would touch the tremendous reality of the facts.
Felix was open to bribery amidst all this conflict of emotion. See the proof in the twenty-sixth verse—"He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him." Felix did not stand alone in this hope. Felix, perhaps, did not know that it was criminal, as we interpret and understand that term. Men become accustomed to crime until they do not know it, and repeat it as a kind of virtue. It is the custom of the trade; it is the usage of the profession; it is always expected that it should be so. If Felix stood right out alone as a receiver of bribes, he would burn with blushing shame; but his hand had been accustomed to be stretched out for the bribe as the hands of Englishmen are stretched out this day. Do not blacken Felix as if he were raised up to be the monster of iniquity in this department. We do not always take the bribe in the form of money; we have lived long enough and sufficiently under Christian education to know that the gift of money is the vulgarest form of bribe under some circumstances; but there is a wonderful mystery of giving and taking still. If the act were isolated, we could detest it, but being part of a system, the custom or usage, then we do not like to make ourselves singular and condemn the practice. Wondrous is this action of hope unexpressed! Wondrous is the power or genius of suggestion! Paul was often sent for, but Paul never suspected the design. Evil be to him who evil thinks. Paul might receive the invitations as expressive of a real desire to know more about these religious mysteries. We operate from such different motives; we do not always fully understand the motive which impels us in this or that direction. Sometimes we dare not say in words exactly and definitely what we mean and what we want: we suggest, we hint, we remotely indicate, we represent other people and other circumstances, meaning to make parables of them to reveal what we dare not express. This is Prayer of Manasseh, this is ourselves—mystery of mysteries. Here let me repeat with ever-increasing urgency and even vehemence, that this is the kind of man who must be treated by any theory which professes to lift the human race to a new level and to a new hope. We are not dealing with superficial creatures; in a sense we ourselves are infinite—not infinite in a lineal sense, signifying that no tape-line is long enough to lay upon our life, but infinite in the variety of our evil-mindedness, in our cunning and subtlety, in our selfishness and vanity, never repeating ourselves, but always cunningly rearranging the appeal so as to secure the identical issue. No man must come to treat a creature of this kind as if the disease were cutaneous, as if it were intermittent and might be mitigated by sundry casual and incidental means. The whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint; it is a vital case.
Felix was kind to preachers; the proof is found in the twenty-third verse—"And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him." He was a kind of free prisoner—a kind of prisoner at large. That Felix is still living. Some of the most generous friends I have ever had have been men who made no profession of religion and who yet liked to come to church—great-hearted men, liberal souls, to whose table and garden you might go week after week—men who loved the preacher with even a fond affectionateness. That, too, is a mystery, but a mystery with an answer. Who can tell the range or explain the ministry of sympathy? The men have not been bad men, though non-professing men. A man is not necessarily a bad man because he does not belong to this or that form of Christian life. The man to whom I refer (speaking of him typically and not personally) is a man who yearns after something better, longs for it, and believes that after all—as I believe—he will not be a castaway. In his heart he says, "I think Christ will even yet find me; I am roughly made, very rude in mind, just a piece of living self-contradiction—I want to pray and to blaspheme in the same breath—but I feel that when all comes to all, even I may be found on the uttermost fringe and be recognised as one whose better feelings were stronger than the feelings that were worse." That may be so; I do not know the number of the elect, I cannot tell whether there be few that be saved; God is Sovereign, Redeemer, Lord; and this I have heard of him from the house of Aaron, and from every house descended from that illustrious line, "his mercy endureth forever." Herein the preacher has an infinite advantage over other men. No man has such an opportunity for revealing himself as the preacher has; it is the preacher"s highest duty to reveal his soul in its truest qualities. What wonder if strangers and people unrecognised hearing the voice should say, "This is the shepherd"s voice, the voice of love; I will answer it as the scribe answered the great Preacher—Well, Master, thou hast said the truth"!
Felix was procrastinating; the proof of this is found in the twenty-fifth verse—"he answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." It was not a rude dismissal; it was not an appeal followed by a penalty; there was a longing for the very whip that scourged him. Sometimes we do think that laceration is equal to repentance; we are prone to think that when we are well scourged we have really answered the Divine will—that is a profound, but common mistake. Is the procrastinating man still with us? Dare I descend to particulars and ask that man to stand up? He is here: he is in every church; he is in every city. He does not mean to give it up; he says, "I will return in the evening." He cannot renounce the spiritual ministry and kingdom; a ghost follows him and says, "Return!" and he answers, "I will." He may come for entertainment, he may come to be instructed, he may come to be merely electrified; still he will certainly, as to his purpose, return. But, why return? You urge men in business to complete the transaction; why complain of the preacher if the preacher should say, "Carry out your own exhortation, be faithful to your own argument and complete the transaction now"?
In these seven particulars I think we have found a Felix who is still living, namely, (1) the man who is sated by flattery, (2) interested in religious discussions, (3) living in sin, (4) morally impressible, (5) open to bribery, (6) kind to preachers, (7) procrastinating in spirit. In Felix I see that double action which is so characteristic of every Prayer of Manasseh, which excites the observer, and, indeed, excites the subject himself. Sometimes the good is uppermost, and then the bad, and then again the good; and we say, looking on, "Which will win?" Today he prays—in the evening he has returned to his vomit; today the tears are standing in his eyes, and he wrings his friend"s hand suggestively, meaning to say by that wringing, "I will conquer yet"—in a few hours he turns away from his friend as if he would rather not confront his searching face. It is a marvellous action. We say—the wife says, "He will come right after all"; the child says, "Father will soon be a good man; I saw him, though his back was turned to me, the other day reading a portion of the Bible." Then we meet those witnesses, and they are dumb: they have no evidence to bear this day. Tomorrow we meet them, and their faces are gleaming and their hands are put out in salutation, and they whisper, "There is still hope; he will conquer yet!" We, also, are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses—the loved ones who have left the race, the sainted ones who have completed the battle—and they are looking down and watching us; and surely—if we may regard them as yet possessing human emotions—they may be saying, concerning the husband, the wife, the loved Song of Solomon, "Still there is hope, he prays." She lifts up her voice to the blue morning—"He is groping, groping for something better! there is still hope." Then the watchers are silent; and in that silence we read our own ill behaviour—we are on the wrong road, we are speaking the wrong tone, we are bowing at forbidden altars. Then again the voice is heard—"There is still hope; the devil will lose after all; my loved one will yet come in—saved by fire—still will be saved."
Let us this day, in God"s strength, so act as to give joy in the presence of the angels of God over many a sinner that repenteth. Left to ourselves, the struggle can only go one way; aided by Christ, it is still a struggle, but a struggle that must end in victory. "I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me." Practical Christianity is the only guarantee even of judicial integrity. How far-spreading is the influence of Christianity! How it assails the fountain and works mightily and healingly at the heart of things! How it deals with root and core rather than with branch and shell! It is the world"s hope; it makes the bad man tremble; it breaks the rod of the oppressor; it melts ill-gotten gold, and makes it run through the crevices of the casket hidden in dark places; it makes night hideous with avenging dreams. But as for those who know it, they shall be called God"s angels—they shall be numbered with God"s jewels.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 24". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter