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RECTOR OF ST. JAMES' CHURCH, WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA.
Acts xxiv. 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 more convenient season, I will call for thee.”
The subject, though one of every-day consideration, is replete with profit to the inquiring mind. It equally exhibits those truths which it most behoves us to contemplate the effect which it is their object to accomplish, as awakening to the consciousness of sin—and the manner in which they are received often by those to whom they are declared.
The characteristics of the human heart are always the same. Circumstances alone occasion the differences which are every day observable. And individuals are ever the representatives only of the species to which they belong, exhibiting in their own condition and habitudes the leading traits by which the whole are distinguished ; and standing forth as examples of what man is in his generic character, and the course he will follow under the combined influence of certain prevailing motives, and, unrestrained by the operations of sanctifying grace, to the rejection even of those duties which conscience designates as right.
As attending to this, we are possessed of no ordinary advantage in our estimate of human condition ; and we have the inestimable benefit also of applying it as a test of personal character in the sight of God. Indeed, the only profitable way either to read the Scriptures, or to hear them preached, is with a view to this their particular and most undoubted application,
We must feel that we have an interest in them; that they are addressed directly to the conscience — that they have an immediate claim upon the heart — and that their examples have been set forth as illustrations chiefly of what human nature is in the different situations which it is called to occupy, and the different relations which it is left to sustain in this present life. The great mirror of truth is thus held up in such a diversity of lights before us, as that we cannot fail to discern ourselves in it. And such a knowledge is thereby imparted to us also of the heart, in the midst of its corruptions, as utterly to preclude a misjudgment concerning it, where an inquiry as to its character is dispassionately begun; and so as to conduct us likewise to its ultimate and complete renewal, where the work of its rectitification is persevered in, with an humble reliance upon the assisting grace of God.
These things are abundantly “profitable therefore for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” This is their design; improved, this will will be their end. They show forth the nature, the power, the efficacy, of Gospel truth. They exhibit it in its application to ourselves. They call us to make a sanctified use of it; and accordingly, as we shall be enabled to discern the leading features of our minds, and to trace out the prevailing affections of our own hearts, so as to be instructed and warned by their examples, shall we be in the end benefited by them. For, as saying to us, in the emphatic language of the Prophet to David, “Thou art the man;" and, as opening to us such views of our own condition before God, as we find exhibited in his holy word, they fit us for that use and improvement of them which will set their examples as beacons before us, to warn us from the paths of error, and guide us into the way of truth. Therefore, this defence of St. Paul before the Roman Governor was put upon record; and, in the course of it, whilst those things are declared which may be felt to be of the deepest and most lasting importance to each of us, with their legitimate effect in awakening to the consciousness of individual guilt, we shall find exhibited
also, in the utter aversion of the heart from the contemplation of spiritual truth, one of the prime instruments of self-deception, and one of the most powerful weapons with which “the adversary” accomplishes the destruction of immortal souls. “Go thy way for this time,” is the plausible evasion offered; "when I have a more convenient season I will call for thee,” the excuse with which conscience is satisfied; and though awakened to the most sensible conviction “of sin, of righteousness, and of a judgment to come;" yea, though so awakened as even to tremble under the apprehensions which are excited by them, the voice of admonition is silenced — the stirrings of the Holy Spirit are resisted — the fear of God is successfully banished from the heart; and the dupe of a self-practised deception perseveringly encourages himself in the indulgence of a false security when every thing is conspiring to assure him that only sudden and irremediable destruction is awaiting bim.
1. In the text, we have exhibited, in the first place, the substance of Gospel truth. Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.” He “reasoned” — he addressed himself to the understanding and the heart. It formed no part of his endeavor to excite the passions, to create an undue effervescence of feeling which would subside with the preacher's voice. His subject was an important one. It was of the most weighty import to those especially wbo were then before him. He addressed himself therefore particularly to them; and, though their prisoner, under restraint before them, with matchless intrepidity, he declared to them the truth — he set before them the character of their past lives — he addressed himself to their consciences on the ground of their transgressions—he accused them of their violations of the moral law and forewarned them of the fearful consequences of their sins, when they should be called into judgment finally on account of them.
And these are things which it behoves us, my hearers, to make the subjects of particular and patient consideration “Righteousness,” “Temperance,” “ Judgment.” In the first '
"" is included those rules by which we must be governed in our
intercourse with men and in our relations to God: in the second, those maxims of prudence and laws of life which make up the directory of our daily conduct : and in the third, those weighty considerations and most influential motives which arise out of the knowledge of man's real character, and the bearing which it will of necessity have upon his future and eternal destiny.
In no respect, as he stood connected with these most important, most solemn truths, could the Roman Governor acquit himself, in his own estimation; and the unaffected simplicity with which the force of conviction upon him is herein related, whilst it commends to us the narrative, exhibits him as a most persuasive example to warn us against the abuse of similar convictions-“He that hath ears to hear, therefore, let him hear.”
No man, my hearers, can stand fully acquitted on the ground to which the Apostle here brings the licentious Felix. He may not indeed be as devoid of principle — he may not be as loose in practice - he may even be confessedly upright in his ordinary dealings with his fellow-men — he may be pure also from the stain of any great outward defilement - but, “if God should be strict to mark his transgressions against him, he could not answer him for one of a thousand.” In a state of impenitence, in particular, he is open to the charge of unrighteousness : for, whatever the character of his external morality may be, and however high he may rise in the estimation of those who can judge only after the outward appearance, he is still unjust to God, in robbing him of the legitimate affections of his heart, in withholding from him the indebted service of his life ; and is, in consequence, fully amenable to the execution of those righteous penalties, which, in the judgment, will be inflicted as the just reward of unrepented and unpardoned sin. But, the law is strict in its exactions upon all these points, both of religious and of moral duty; and in the view of it, and as judged by the standard which it exhibits, “ there is no man living that sinneth not.” It is the grand object of the Gospel to produce in us a conviction of this by bringing it to bear particularly upon the conscience and the heart; and it is impossible to consider it,
in any of its appeals or in any of its relations to the future, without feeling and being most fully persuaded that “by it, no man can be justified before God.” It is the rule of a perfect righteousness, and can be satisfied only by a life of unfaultering obedience. “ The soul that sinneth,” is its sanction, “it shall die ;” and," he that offendeth in one point,” it declares, “is guilty of the whole law ;" "all, therefore, have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” “ There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” “Ye have robbed me, even this whole nation," says God; "and my soul,” he declares, “shall be avenged upon such a people as this.”
Indeed, my hearers, it is but requisite that we should form just apprehensions of the spirituality of the divine law, and then bring it to bear immediately upon us, with the full measure of its infinite and unfailing requisitions, to come at right views of our own condition, and arouse ourselves to a true consideration of our actual character and state. things, all will be found to offend ; and, upon the ground of personal merit, it will be seen that none can stand before God. We are all turned out of the way; we have together become unprofitable.
2. We have here exhibited therefore, as in this instance of the text, in the second place, the effect which it is the object of revealed truths to accomplish, as awakening to the consciousness of sin.
“ As Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled.” The fatal consequences of his transgressions were brought vividly before him the picture of his guilt was painted in unvarnished colors — the cloak with which he had concealed from himself his deformity, was torn away from him — the scales were for a moment removed from his hitherto obscured vision light was shed in upon him — he saw himself as the judgment would reveal bim -- he saw and trembled ; and well, you will say, he might. Yes, verily, my hearers, well he might. It was indeed no flattering exhibition which was made to him “unrighteous, intemperate.” The apostle reasoned with him upon the ground of his acknowledged character; and, what he