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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 wouldest 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
10. Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast 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 man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city :
13. Neither can they prove the things whereof they now
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 :
Felix, as a governor, had no general claim to praise; much
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.
Thus Paul clears himself from the various accusations of Tertullus. Only seven days had passed after his arrival at Jerusalem, when they assailed him in the temple; having found him there, stirring up no tumult, not even disputing with any man, but engaged in the ceremonies of their own law. Still he confessed his heresy: if heresy it was, to worship the God of his fathers, the God whom they boasted in, through him whom the law and the prophets had foretold. Further, they allowed the resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. He proclaimed this, through him who had actually risen, "and become the first fruits of them that slept." They could not, then, accuse his doctrines. And would they condemn his manner of life? He describes it :
16. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence, toward God and toward man.
We are not all summoned, as Paul was, in this world, to give account of our lives. But we shall be summoned to this hereafter. We have the same hope toward God which he had, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead. Inquire, then, what influence this hope had upon him; what course of conduct it led him to pursue?
He laboured to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward man.
A conscience void of offence! Is this possible? If the law demands, that we love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength; and that we love our neighbour as ourselves ;-is there any one thus perfect? Certainly there is no man. By this strict law shall no man living be justified. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
But Paul had laid the foundation of his hope not in the law, but in the gospel. He "desired to be found not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith." That was "all his salvation, and all his desire." The manner of life which he professes, was the conduct arising out of his faith: the object at which he aimed; and to attain which, he exercised himself.
And not in vain. Not without success. design of the gospel is to produce such a course of life. There is provision for it; provision, that wilful sin, wilful offence toward God or man, should not be committed by the Christian, who is enabled to "resist the devil," to "overcome the world," to mortify the deeds of the body.' And there is also provision that sins of infirmity and frailty should be restrained and gradually subdued, by "the inward renewing of the spirit day by day."
No doubt, there is still natural corruption and habitual weakness: constant danger, lest the remainder of corrupt nature should prevail, and the heart fall back into the sins to which it is of itself inclined, instead of growing in grace and holiness.
If the besetting frailty become the reigning habit, the conscience is no longer void of offence, the spiritual state is dangerous. There may be weeds in a field of corn, and yet the crop may be precious; but if the weeds predominate and overspread the corn, the field is worthless, and abandoned by the husbandman. In nature, this is prevented by careful cultivation; by watchfulness and labour. So it must be in the field of grace. The apostle watched and laboured. Herein, he says, do I exercise myself. I do not expect to keep a conscience void of offence without the proper means. And we know something of the nature of his exercise. He tells us, that he "kept under his body, and brought it into subjection." He tells us that he "would not be brought under the power" of even lawful things; would not suffer them to become necessary to him, lest indulgence should lead to licentiousness. He tells us, that like one engaged in a race, he constantly looked onward, and "pressed toward the mark, not as though he had already attained, either were already perfect."5 Such was his idea, and such was his example, of a life led in the faith of the Son of God."
Here, then, in what dropped from St. Paul under the accusation of his enemies, we see the duty and aim of every Christian. He must exercise himself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man. And this he will do, by watchfulness, by self-inquiry. What remains of 1 Cor. ix. 27.. 4 See 1 Cor. vi. 12. 5 Phil. iii. 12.
corruption linger in his heart? What love of things forbidden? What evil temper and disposition lurks ready to break forth whenever opportunity and temptation arise? To the end, there will be need of the same endeavours, the same praying, watching, meditating, and every other means, to keep the heart clean from its iniquity, as there was at first to make it so. The duty will be easier, the success more manifest, more complete; but the means must never be remitted whilst we continue in the flesh, and possess a nature which the Spirit."
Is the caution urgent? So is the risk. Is the labour great? So also is the prize. There is no other evidence to which we can appeal of an interest in Christ's atonement, than that we answer the purpose for which that atonement was made. "He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works; " keeping a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward
6 Tit. ii. 12-14.