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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
had been unable to perceive before, so pictured to him the influence which these were to have upon his future destiny, as to awaken apprehension and stir up within him fearful expectations of the end to which they were bringing him « Felix trembled."
But is it the unrighteous, the intemperate only, who have cause to be thus alarmed? Would that even these might be excited to a true perception of the ruin which is impended over them, that they might be awakened to hear the voice of God whilst it is speaking to them; for "neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God;" but they will not. Like the deaf adder they have shut their ears against “the voice of the charmer, charming never so wisely.” They will neither listen to the reproofs of conscience, nor the admonitions of the word of God. The thunders of the divine law are muttering their denunciations over them; but, besotted in their transgressions, no fearfulness is awakened within them. The fierce lightnings of divine wrath are ever glaring upon them ; but, shut up in the haunts of iniquity, and blinded by the intoxicating influence of temporal pleasure, they perceive them not. “They are sowing to the flesh, and they shall reap corruption." They are sowing to the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Alas! for them, my hearers, that they should thus labor for “ the wages of unrighteousness !"
In how many instances, however, have their iniquities been baptized into the common allowance of Christian men! - And, as to be judged by this rule, how many, who are now at ease in Zion, have reason to be alarmed at their state, in view of the prospect which is thus opened before them, and upon whom fearfulness and trembling should take hold, as if the terrors of death had come over them! They are willing indeed - most willing to admit, that “the adulterers, the thieves, and drunkards” shall not inherit the kingdom of God; but flatter themselves that none of these baser vices can attach to them. Alas! that they would not think the same of “the covetous, the revilers, and extortioners," -- that they would not, at least, judge themselves after the same rule by which they are governed in their judgment of others. It would break up the delusions of many - it would awaken them from the deep slumbers of spiritual death - it would save them
- it would save them in that day, when the secrets of all bearts shall be disclosed, and God shall judge them according to their works. And what shall serve to produce this effect with them ? - Ah! what “refuges of lies” do they discover! -- with what thoughtless indifference do they “cry peace to themselves, when there is no peace!" And, how do they banish from their apprehensions the most salutary convictions of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment !” A Paul may be heard reasoning with them. They trembled perhaps for awhile ; but then, in that language of Felix, they say to him, “Go thy way for this time, when I have a more convenient season I will call for thee;" and thus they lie to conscience and the Holy Ghost, and cheat themselves to their own everlasting undoing.
Indeed, my hearers, there is not an individual amongst us who has not reason to tremble, if he has not already “fled for refuge” under a conviction of his condemnation and guilt ; “to lay hold on the hope” which in the Gospel is “set before" him, in view of his final condition; and could you, - which God in mercy grant you soon may, - could you but see yourselves, your deep depravity, your utter alienation from God, and the ruin which has thus been involved on you, as the Gospel has revealed them, you would not go up into your beds to rest until your transgressions were pardoned, and you had concluded your peace with God. "Felix trembled :" it may be that, in so doing, he did more than you ; yet, we have no knowledge that Felix repented." The devils also believe and tremble.” It may be therefore, that they likewise do more than you, yet their sorrow can never save them. How then, my unbelieving and impenitent friends, how shall you who do less — who do not even fear the judgments of God, nor tremble at his word – how shall you hope to be saved ?
3. But, it is every one that trembles in the view of his sinfulness, as being convinced of the perfect righteousness which was required of him, and under a fearful apprehension of the issues to which the judgment will bring him, as illustrated in this instance of the text, and which we are now to consider in the third place, to whom these awakenings are of any avail. There is no one who is not at some period more than ordinarily excited in the view of his condition with whom the Holy Spirit does not particularly strive — to whom the fearful results of the final judgment do not bring some misgivings of conscience - and in whom repentings are not kindled, and some resolutions of a new and a better life. But, their goodness, alas! is too often, like "the early cloud, and as the morning dew, which soon passeth away." Whilst apprehension continues, they are sincerely penitent. Whilst Paul reasons, they tremble. But the world soon hushes their alarms. They have no fears beyond the preacher's denunciations. They say to him, therefore, “Go thy way," and, if admitting the justice of his claims, they add — " for this time;" hoping, it may be in truth, that there will be some more convenient season, when they will call for him.” It is surprising that they are not able to see the fallacy of this, and that one moment's reflection does not suffice to convince them, that the very same principle, whatever it may be, which induces a rejection of those claims upon them now, and calls for a postponement of their present duty, will act with tenfold power to-morrow, and with a far greater show of reason conduce to the same result.
The reasoning of the Apostle to Felix, and the reasoning of the ministers of God, under like circumstances, at all times, is based upon the most weighty considerations, and backed by the most powerful inducements which can ever be exhibited to the rational mind; and, though the force of this reasoning is verily increased by every additional transgression, and every day's delay in submitting to its influence, yet, such is the constitution of the human mind, that its susceptibilities of being acted on by it, are proportionably diminished as a successful resistance is opposed to its present claims. Here then, in that habit of procrastination which every day's indulgence increases, - in the utter uncertainty which, of necessity, attends the fulfil