the First Week of Advent
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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
OUR original authorities for the life of Felix are Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, Josephus in the Antiquities and in the Wars of the Jews, and Tacitus in the Annals of the Romans. Luke gives us one of his most graphic chapters about Felix; but he abstains, as the Bible manner is, from judging even Felix before the time. Josephus is graphic enough about Felix, but we are sure neither of Josephus's facts nor of his judgments. We cannot go very far either for or against any man on the word of such a witness as Josephus. But Tacitus scars Felix's forehead as only Tacitus's pen can scar. Tacitus, as his manner is, anticipates the very day of judgment itself in the way he writes about Felix. Felix began his life as a slave, and he ended his life as a king. But, as Tacitus says, there was a slave's heart all the time under Felix's royal robes. All what evil secrets lay hidden in Felix's conscience we do not know; but we have only too abundant testimony as to how savage, how treacherous, and how steeped in blood, Felix's whole life had been. Luke calls Drusilla the wife of Felix. Drusilla was a wife, but she was not the wife of Felix. Drusilla was still a young woman, but she had already come through wickedness enough to stamp her as one of the worst women in the whole of human history. Paul was lying in prison waiting for his trial at Felix's judgment-seat, when, most probably to satisfy Drusilla's guilty curiosity about Paul and about Paul's Master, Felix sent for Paul to hear what he had to say for himself and for his Master. How the interview opened, and how Paul conducted his discourse, we are not told. But this we are told, that as Paul continued to reason 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."
"The ears of our audiences must first be propitiated," says Quintilian in his Institutes of Oratory. And Dante but borrows from that fine book when he tells all public speakers in his Banquet that they must always begin by taking captive the goodwill of their hearers. Now, just how Paul managed to propitiate Felix's unfriendly ears that day, and to take captive his hardened heart, we are not told. But that the great preacher did succeed in getting a hearing from Felix is certain. And it was neither a short hearing nor a hostile that Felix gave to Paul that day. Felix sat in transfixed silence while Paul stood up before him, and plunged the two-edged sword of God's holy law into his guilty conscience, till the hardened reprobate could not command himself. A greater seal was never set to the power of Paul's preaching than when Felix shook and could not sit still under the Apostle's words. And a greater encouragement could not possibly be given to all true preachers than that scene in the palace of Cæsarea gives to them. What an ally, unseen but omnipotent, all true preachers have in the consciences of their hearers! "The conscience," says the prince of Puritan expository preachers, "is what the snout is in a bear, a tender part to tame him by. Conscience is acutely sensible to God's wrath. And hell-fire itself could not take hold of the soul but at this corner."
O conscience! who can stand against thy power!
Endure thy gripes and agonies one hour!
Stone, gout, strappado, racks, whatever is
Dreadful to sense are only toys to this.
No pleasures, riches, honours, friends can tell
How to give ease to thee, thou'rt like to hell.
If Felix had but sat still a little longer, Paul was just going on to tell him how to get ease to the hell that was beginning to burn in his bosom. But I suspect Drusilla at that moment. I cannot get over my suspicion that it was Drusilla who so suddenly cut short Paul's discourse, and sent him back to his prison. I do not read that Drusilla trembled. My belief about that royal pair is, that had Drusilla not sat beside Felix that day, Felix would have been baptized, and Paul would have been set free, before the sun had gone down. But Drusilla and her sisters have east into their graves many wounded. Many strong men have been slain to death by them. Their house is the way to hell, and their steps go down to the chambers of death.
"Go thy way for this time," said Felix to Paul, "when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." Felix never sat at a Communion Table. But many of us here tonight who sat at that table today have in effect said Felix's very words today to God and to our own consciences. Many of us trembled at the table today, but we recovered ourselves with this resolution-that we would repent and amend our ways at another time. More actionsermons and more table-addresses have been silenced and forgotten because of a postponed repentance than because of anything else. Felix did not really intend to shut Paul's mouth for ever. He did not intend to go before God's judgment-seat just as he was that day. And no more do we. We honestly intend to live righteously and temperately-after a time. When we are in other circumstances. When we have other companionships. When we have formed other and better relationships. After that happy alteration in our life to which we are looking forward, you will find us very different men. When I am old, says one. Not too old. But when I am somewhat older and much less occupied. I will then have time to give to secret prayer. I will then have on my table, and near my bedside, some of those books my minister has so often besought me to buy and to read at a Communion season. I will then attend to God and to my own soul. Poor self-deceived creature that you are! Cruelty and uncleanness have slain their thousands; but a life like yours, a life simply of putting off repentance and reformation, has slain its tens of thousands.
But Felix, after all, was as good as his word, so far. Felix did actually call for Paul again, and that not once nor twice, but often, and communed with him in the palace. Only, it had almost been better he had not done so, for he always did it with a bad motive in his mind. It was not to hear out Paul's interrupted discourse that Felix sent for Paul. The sacred writer is able to tell us what exactly Felix's secret motive was in so often giving the Apostle an audience. "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. But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix's room; and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound." And it is because our motives in coming to church are so mixed that the years allowed us for our salvation pass on till some one else occupies our pew, and the preaching of salvation has for ever come to an end as far as we are concerned.
Pulpits and Sundays; sorrow dogging sin;
Afflictions sorted; anguish of all sizes;
Without our shame; within our consciences;
Yet all these fences, and their whole array,
One cunning bosom sin blows quite away.
I have known a man come to a church for a slip of a girl; another as a stepping-stone to some great man's favour; another for the advantage of his shop; and another for the chance of a tippet and a chain and a hoped-for handle to his name, and so on. Felix sat under Paul's preaching because his household expenses in Cæsarea were so great, and his resources so low, and his debts so heavy. And because he had been told that Paul had such rich friends, that they could and would pay any price for his release. And who can tell how Felix's calculations might have turned out, had it not been that Cæsar so suddenly sent for Felix to come to Rome to give an account of his stewardship; and all that, most unfortunately, before Paul's rich friends had time to come forward. Many that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt for the foundout reasons why they went to this church or to that.
It is like the fresh air of heaven itself to turn from Felix's church attendances in this matter of motive, and to turn to Paul. For, when the royal message summoning Paul to the palace was delivered to him in his prison, what was Paul's first thought, do you think? Paul was a great man. Paul was a noble-minded man. Paul was a true and a pure-hearted man. Paul never thought of himself at all. He never once said to himself how all this might tell upon his release and his liberty. Dear and sweet as release and liberty were to Paul, these things never once came into his mind that day. Felix and Drusilla alone came into his mind that day; Drusilla especially. For Drusilla was a Jewess; she was a daughter of Abraham; and Paul's heart's desire and prayer to God for long had been that Drusilla might be saved. And here, in this opportunity to him, was the answer to his prayer! And thus it was that all the way up from his prison to her palace Paul was thinking only of that wicked and miserable pair, with their fearful looking for of judgment. Till, with Ids heart full of all that, as Paul was led into the presencechamber, Felix turned to Drusilla, and pointing to Paul, he as good as said to her-
Lo! this man's brow like to a title-leaf,
Foretells the nature of a tragic volume!
He trembles, and the whiteness in his cheek
Is apter than his tongue to tell his errand!
Even such a man
Drew Priam's curtain in the dead of night.
It was the snow-white purity of Paul's motives that gave to his words, and to his whole look and manner, such last-day power as he stood and spoke before Felix. Paul's eye was so single at that moment that the whole palace was filled to Felix as with the light of the great white throne itself. No other man knows with a full certainty any or all of his neighbour's motives. At the same time, I have come to think that the purity of a preacher's motives has very much to do with his success. Not always, perhaps; but sufficiently often to make it a good rule for all of us who are, or are to be, preachers. For instance, to speak of two very successful preachers who have lately gone to give in their account and to reap their reward-Moody and Spurgeon. I have always attributed their immense and their lasting success to the singleness of their eye and the transparency of their motives. And therefore it is that I am always directing young probationers who are going to preach in a vacancy to read before they go Dr. Newman's sermon entitled, "The Salvation of the Hearer the Motive of the Preacher." I constantly tell them that this desired call, if it is to be a call to them from Christ, will largely lie in their motive that day. If the preacher makes the vacant congregation tremble like Felix till they forget themselves, that is the preacher for them, and that is the people for him. Let all probationers of the pulpit study that same great writer's noble lecture, entitled "University Preaching," and they will thank me for this instruction all their days.
And now to conclude. I can imagine no other night in all the year so convenient as just the night after a Communion day. I can imagine no night in all the year so acceptable to Christ, and so welcome to His Father. No day and no night in which our Redeemer so desires to see of the travail of His soul. No night in which He has so much joy in seeing either a sinner repenting, or a saint returning. It is a special night for new beginners, and it is famous for the restoring of backsliders' souls. This is the night, then, for us all to date from. It was that day, it was that night, when we had Felix, you will say all your days on earth. My Lord met me, you will say, in that house of His, and on that night of His. Come away then, and make a new start on the spot. Come away, and there will be a joy in heaven tonight that there will not be but for you. Oh! do come, and let this house have this honour in heaven henceforth, because this man and that man were born here. And, in saying that, it is not I that say it. Jesus Christ Himself singles you out of all the congregation and says to you, as if you were alone in this house, Come! Come, He says, and let us reason together. And if you are a very Felix and a very Drusilla; if your unrighteousness, and your intemperance, and your fearful looking for of judgment, are all as dreadful as were theirs; even were your sins as scarlet as were theirs, they shall be as white as snow. And though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Who, then, this Communion evening, will come forward like the brave man in Bunyan, and will say to him who has the book and the pen and the ink-horn in his hand, Set down my name, sir! At which there was a most pleasant voice heard from those within, even of those who walked upon the top of the king's palace, saying-
Come in, come in,
Eternal glory thou shalt win.
So he went in, and was clothed with the same garments as they were clothed with. Then Christian smiled, and said, I think verily that I know the true meaning to me of this great sight, and the true intention to me of this great Scripture.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Felix'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​f/felix.html. 1901.