Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE WEAPONS OF MALICE.
1. Persistent hatred. It was a long journey to Caesarea, and it was a most humiliating thing, to which they were utterly averse, for the high priest and the elders to appear before the Roman judge to get their countrymen into their own power; nevertheless the undying hatred, the animosity which did not diminish by time carried them through their distasteful work.
2. Disgusting flattery (vers. 2, 3).
3. Gross misrepresentation (ver. 5). Paul had caused no little dissension and conflict among his fellow-countrymen, but it was simple perversion of the truth to call him a "pestilent fellow," etc.
4. Offensive characterization (ver. 5). Paul was "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes;" but malice put his position into the most offensive form it could command.
5. Downright falsehood (ver. 6). He had not "gone about to profane the temple." These various falsities came from the lips of Tertullus, but they were owned and adopted by the Jews (ver. 9). To such baseness malice will stoop to compass its ends; to such iniquity professed piety will condescend when inflamed by the unholy heats of bigotry.
II. THE DEFENSE OF INNOCENCE.
2. Straightforward statement (vers. 11, 14-17). There is no better way by which to prove our integrity than telling the whole truth from beginning to end, with perfect frankness.
3. Fearless denial (vers. 12, 13, 18). We should solemnly deny, in calm and dignified language, that which is falsely alleged against us; in quietness and composure rather than in vehemence and loud protestation, is our strength.
4. Righteous challenge (vers. 19, 20). We may do well to face our accusers with bold and righteous challenge (John 8:46).
III. THE PITIFULNESS OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS IN POWER. Felix
(1) gave an unrighteous decision, for the case had broken down, and Paul should have been released,
(2) hankered after a bribe (ver. 26); was willing to sell justice for money;
(3) left his position with an act of selfish injustice (ver. 27). He presents a pitiful picture both as a public administrator and as a private individual. How little to be envied are those who climb to high stations! How contemptible is power when it is perverted to mean and selfish ends! How admirable, how enviable in comparison, is innocence in insignificance or even in bonds! - C.
The Roman ruler; his character one of the blackest: "In the practice of all kinds of lust and cruelty, he exercised the power of a king with the temper of a slave" (Tacitus). The calm, heroic, lofty-minded apostle; rejoicing that an opportunity would be given him of proclaiming the gospel in such a place, and upheld by the Divine assurance that he was safe. The representatives of the Sanhedrim; Ananias, the elders, and the paid orator Tertullus, evidently feeling the weakness of their cause, half ashamed of their position in attacking a defenseless man, ready for hypocritical plotting, and yet knowing that no dependence could be placed on Felix.
I. A SAD PICTURE OF THE WORLD as it was at that time. The corruption of judges, the despotism of rulers, the furious hatreds and evil passions at work, the blindness of fanaticism, the decay of religious life in the nation which had received most religious teaching and privileges.
II. AN EXAMPLE OF CALUMNY AND MISREPRESENTATION. The charges made were of political rebellion, of heresy, of sacrilege, of disorder. The first was insincere; for the priests among the Jews cared nothing about preserving Roman rule. The others were instigated by fear of Paul's teaching, partly due to ignorance, but mainly to bigotry and jealousy. They knew that if the gospel was accepted, their own priestly power was gone. Truth is always stronger than falsehood. - R.
Sicarii (Assassins) and brigands by whom Palestine was infested. Within two years of this very time Felix was recalled from his province, and accused by the Jews at Rome. He only escaped punishment by the intervention of his brother Pallas, then as high in favor with Nero as he had been with Claudius. But Tertullus describes the proper influence of good rulers, and so suggests a subject on which we may profitably dwell.
I. THE GROWTH OF NATIONAL EVILS, ESPECIALLY IN A CONQUERED NATION. Certain forms of lawlessness are only kept in check by the strong hand of an active, vigorous government. In every land there are criminal classes and revolutionary classes, and these make headway as soon as, from any cause, the pressure of authority and national police is relieved. In a conquered nation there is always a dangerous sympathy with the revolutionary classes, which increases burglary, brigandage, and murder. Effective illustration may be taken from the recent history of Ireland.
II. THE MODES IN WHICH SUCH NATIONAL EVILS MAY BE CORRECTED.
1. There is the simple, but harsh method of conquest by armies, and the crushing down of all expressions of life by brute force. This, however, never really succeeds.
2. There is the slow method of forming aright public opinion, which makes the nation become its own police. This often fails, because the demagogue creates an opposing and unworthy public opinion.
3. There is the influence gained by the good ruler who can be prompt and strong, wise and far seeing, who loves the people, and masters the evils for the people's sakes. Such a ruler secures peace from external quarrels and internal dissensions, and, in securing peace, bears directly on the people's well being. He effects all reasonable reforms, so as to remove everything that hinders the national prosperity. Show that it becomes us to pray for good rulers; to seek grace and help for them that they may rule well; and to aid them in carrying out all good schemes. - R.T.
complaisance, as though he were himself a Jew, he began by a fulsome compliment to Felix, which served as the usual captatio benevolentiae. Alluding to the early exertions of Felix against the banditti, and the recent suppression of the Egyptian false Messiah, he began to assure his excellency, with truly legal rotundity of verbiage, of the quite universal and uninterrupted gratitude of the Jews for the peace which he had secured to them, and for the many reforms which had been initiated by his prudential wisdom." The subject suggested for our consideration is this - What are the limits of praise? How far may we go in conciliating others by words of approval and congratulation? At once it may be answered that no praise may go beyond the truth or be out of harmony with the truth. But in practical life we have to remember that different persons have different estimates of personal character.
1. Some are incompetent to form sound judgment, and such persons give praise that is simply unsuitable, but is not spoken with any purpose of flattering.
2. Others are prejudiced, and can only see the evil sides of a man's character and actions. Their estimates are wholly unworthy.
3. Others are just as blind to the evil and as prejudiced to the good, and their estimates, though seemingly flattering, are really only exaggerated and untrustworthy; they lack criticism, but are not insincere.
4. Yet others praise with some object which does not appear; they have an end to gain, and the praise is regarded simply as a means towards obtaining the end. These are the flatterers, and their characteristic is insincerity. The following points may be illustrated concerning the power of the flatterer:-
I. HIS MOTIVES. Always some personal end is in view. Usually the flatterer seeks to get something that is not in itself right. It is an agency to use when a man's case is bad. If a man lacks arguments, he will flatter the judge. He means to throw him off his guard, and to get him into a favorable mind by praises.
II. HIS AIDS IN THE PERSON FLATTERED. There is in us all, even in the best of men, a self-love that makes praise pleasant. If the flattery is kept well in hand and skillfully disguised, even noble natures, even humble natures, may be swayed by it. If the flattery is too open and intense, good men are put on their guard and resent the insult.
III. THE MORAL MISCHIEF OF HIS WORK. Show the injury that is done to the flatterer himself, who is confirmed in his insincerity when he finds flattery succeed. A man may get into such a habit of flattering that he will lose the power to recognize the truth, and come to believe in his own exaggerations. Show the injury that is done to the person flattered, who may be led to form an undue estimate of himself, and so be placed in positions of extreme moral peril when the hour of temptation comes. If it is wrong for us to think of ourselves above that which we ought to think, it must be wholly wrong for any one to flatter us so that our self-opinion is unduly raised. Felix was really pushed a little nearer to his fall by. this flattery of Tertullus. For Scripture teachings concerning flattery, see Psalm 36:2; Psalm 78:36; Proverbs 2:16; Proverbs 20:19; Proverbs 26:28; Proverbs 29:5, etc. Press the apostolic counsel, "Speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another" (Ephesians 4:25). - R.T.
Acts 23:11), most concerned in the matter, must the legal phalanx have appeared, when Ananias the high priest, and the elders, and their practiced professional helper Tertullus, and others of the Jews, made their appearance. The speech containing the accusation against Paul, which began with flattery for a Felix, not unnaturally culminates in falsehood hurled at Paul, and mockery flung at the Nazarene. The portraiture of perverseness such as this is no novelty; yet some peculiarity in the featuring may be found here, A new touch or two fails not to give some new expression to the countenance. What a mournful commentary on human nature, that it is necessary to contemplate its worst expression of countenance, and to study, not the model to copy, but the type false and debased to avoid! Consider, therefore -
I. WHAT IT IS THAT IS UNDERLYING THE FACT THAT THE FAITHFUL TEACHER OF CHRIST IS DESCRIBED AS "PESTILENT." These are the two things that underlie the ugly fact.
1. That it is the depths of a muddy nature that are reached.
2. That it is something that has the undisputed power to reach those depths that is present and working. The "pestilence" was all subjective to Tertullus and friends. The strong force was the force of Christ.
II. WHAT IT IS THAT UNDERLIES THE FACT THAT THE DEVELOPING MANIFESTATIONS OF GOD'S MIND TO THE WORLD HAVE SO UNIFORMLY FROM THE FIRST PROVOKED NOT A FEW TO VOTE THEM NOTHING BETTER THAN THE SIGNS OF SEDITION. These are at least some of the things that underlie the fact.
1. That the unfolding of God's mind and purpose to the world always means war with its inertness. The keen appetites of the world are not to true knowledge, not to godly activity, not to wisdom's perfect work.
2. That the growing manifestation of God to mankind always means a summons to simpler, purer, more determined holiness and height of life. The stir and report that swell round the echoes of the voice summoning men in this sort are indeed sedition to their stifled order of life and of habit and of affection. It is not in them to "seek for honor, glory, and immortality." God's greater, better, clearer gifts necessarily postulate a truer human return of them, and a correcter reflection.
III. WHAT IT IS THAT UNDERLIES THE FACT THAT THE PUREST FOLLOWING OF THE PUREST TRUTH AND OF THE HIGHEST IDEAL WHICH GOD HAS GIVEN TO MEN HAS SO OFTEN GATHERED OVER ITS INNOCENT HEAD THE WORST ACCUMULATIONS OF MISCONSTRUCTION, MISREPRESENTATION, AND FALSEHOOD. A notable instance is here before us. The polished orator, the trained and keen lawyer, heaps the epithets, every one ill or of ill omen, "pestilence," "sedition," "ringleader," "sect," "the Nazarenes." These were the fruit of a tongue rather than merely a pen "dipped in gall." And false is the word stamped, as a monogram is stamped, on every one of them. These are some at least of the causes at work under the fact.
1. That reason, opportunities of knowledge, convictions, conscience injured, ignored, insulted, know terrible ways of revenge, and a terrible force of revenge. Obscurity becomes thick darkness; mistake becomes willful preference for the wrong; one sin becomes a multitude.
2. That a certain sort of heart, once deeply conscious, without the slightest readiness to acknowledge it, that it is losing, loses also itself, loses its self-control, and finds itself drifted, hurried, hounded on to senseless lengths. Heaven's sweetest beneficence - for this it has nothing but the vocabulary of traducing slander.
CONCLUSION. These things are not the necessities and inevitable things of human nature. They are results of permitted unfaithfulness, condoned infidelities, encouraged willfulness, and deliberate defiance of truth, in place of devoted affiance to it. Deep need the roots of them to be sought, that without mercy they may be uprooted and exterminated. And they need the prayer earnestly offered, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." - B.
negative; positive. The accusations met by a clear and bold denial. Over against the false representation a simple and candid statement of his position as a private and public man. Notice -
I. The apostle stood firmly on the ground of LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE. They accused him of heresy; he maintained that his conscience was void of offence towards God and man.
II. The foundation of confidence is THE WORD OF GOD - the Law, the prophets, the true tradition of the fathers. All these things the apostle believed.
III. THE RESURRECTION was the great stumbling-block to the Jews, but the great support of the apostolic faith. The position taken in the Sanhedrim is maintained before Felix. The resurrection is the vital point of the new faith.
IV. The zeal of the Christian was quite consistent with PATRIOTISM. There was nothing revolutionary in the method of Christian teaching. The disturbance was simply due to the presence of a new element of life among old corruption. So always, the world is turned upside down by earnestness, because it is already the wrong side upwards. - R.
I. ITS ADDRESS TO THE JUDGE, UNGARNISHED BY A HOLLOW COMPLIMENT. The contrast which is presented in this respect to the introduction of Tertullus speaks for itself. There is here nothing, but simple truth.
II. THE HONEST BUSINESSLIKE POINTEDNESS WITH WHICH IT PROCEEDS TO ITS ONE TASK. "I do the more cheerfully answer for myself," says Paul. He could never answer for himself with hope of any ordinary justice before a council of his own people. But now, while this is his one task to answer for himself, and he takes to it immediately, he does not refrain from saying that there are aspects of the case which enable him to throw himself with spirit into his work.
III. ITS ENTIRE ABSTINENCE FROM ANYTHING BEARING THE REMOTEST RESEMBLANCE TO ABUSE OF HIS ACCUSERS. Paul denies the allegations laid to his charge, shows to an experienced judge that there was very little time in which the things alleged could possibly have occurred, and challenges, by a direct contradiction, the ability of his highly respectable accusers to prove their assertions and make out their charges. But through all there is not a word that sounds like "pestilent fellow," or "sedition," or "ringleader."
IV. ITS DIRECT PENETRATING TO WHAT LAY AT THE HEART OF THE MATTER. This was a difference "in the way of worshipping God." The keen Roman judge (and Paul knew it and correctly took advantage of his knowledge) was not likely to be so very anxious to lend the force of Roman law and a Roman executive to the mere bidding of Jewish bigotry and ecclesiasticism.
V. ITS HONORING BEFORE ONE WHO KNEW LITTLE AND THOUGHT LESS OF IT, CONSCIENCE TILE FOUNDATION PRINCIPLE OF ALL RELIGION. Paul does not blow contempt upon the truths or methods of religion, even in that shape of religion least understood or honored by Felix, revealed religion. He declares:
1. His conscience.
2. His living constant care of it.
3. His acknowledgment of the necessity of training it to correctness and to vigor.
4. His recognition of its twofold duty,
(1) toward God and
(2) toward man. In all this, there can be no doubt that Paul honored his God, his religion, and his individual conscience, with no hope of any deep sympathy, on the part of Felix indeed, but also without any tear of the high priest Ananias again daring to order them to "smite him on the mouth."
VI. ITS VERY EVIDENT BUT NONE TITLE LESS CONSUMMATE STROKE OF POLICY, IN POINTING TO THE FACT OF THE STRANGE ABSENCE OF SOME WITNESSES, AND TILE STRANGER SILENCE OF OTHERS ALTHOUGH THEY WERE PRESENT. Paul calls attention to the fact that these two things speak for themselves. And finally challenges once more contradiction of this position, that he had not been the originator of any disturbance whatever, much less seditious disturbance in Jerusalem, unless his famous interpolation, "Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day," could be interpreted as such. But Paul knew this challenge could not be taken up, both because the Pharisees sided with him in the matter on the very occasion, and because the disturbance was one as between the rival theologies of the Jews, and not as between mere civilians. The correctness, cogency, calmness, of this defense made up its masterly convincingness. There could be no doubt which party had the moral victory of the day. There can be no doubt of the fallen countenances of Ananias and elders and Tertullus. And there can be no doubt that, in this very defense, the accused Christian may hear to the end of the world words not altogether unlike these: "After this manner, therefore, defend ye yourselves." - B.
I. WORSHIP. And Paul is able to say these three things all distinctly germane to the confession.
1. That he worships.
2. That he worships God.
3. That he worships the God of his fathers, i.e. the very same God whom his accusers profess to worship.
II. A DEFINITE FAITH. An intelligible faith makes an informed instead of a superstitious worship. There are ways and ways, of worship. And these follow very consistently the faith that is held. Notice:
1. That Paul very decidedly pronounces tot himself that his faith embraces "all things written in the Law and the prophets."
2. He implies that the faith of his enemies failed of this. It felt short, perhaps, partly in its very character, but probably much more seriously in its compass. The typical Jew of the days of Jesus prided himself in reading the Law literally and fully, though with many a corrupt addition. His "way" of interpreting the prophets was of a far more eclectic character. He couldn't see, because he wouldn't believe, the humble and the humbling prophecies of the Messiah. Paul's "heresy" was, in fact, that he believed "all. The Jews' ruining sin was that they would not believe all." This quietly spoken sentence of Paul gave the key to all. And it is another comment upon the Jews in harmony with that uttered by Jesus himself, "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me," etc. (John 5:46). - B.
sect than that with which we are familiar, it may be noticed that it was used of Jewish sects by Josephus, of schools of philosophy by Greek writers generally, and of schools of medicine by Galen. There are four sides from which heresy, as a misrepresentation or perversion of accepted truth, may be viewed.
I. HERESY AS IMPERILLING THE TRUTH. The apostle speaks distinctly of false doctrine, which puts the Christian truth in peril. There are great first principles, great foundation truths, and for these we do well to be jealous. But we must clearly see that while heresy on these points is dangerous to the Christian faith and life, heresy on points which men have been pleased to elaborate - on mere details and accepted formulae - have never shaken the rock-built house of truth, and never will. God has given us two all-sufficient tests of moral and religious truth. No heresy ever vet has stood the application of these two tests.
1. Is the statement in harmony with God's revealed Word?
2. Does it practically work out into that which is good - morally pure and good? We need never fear any presentation of so-called truth that is in accord with God's Word, and is manifestly "unto holiness." It is God's truth, whatever some may call it, if it helps to make men holy.
II. HERESY AS A SYNONYM FOR INDIVIDUALITY. This it very often is. A man expresses a well-established truth in some new form or new phraseology, and, without waiting to examine it, and see if it was only new clothing on the old body of truth, his fellow-men raise the heresy shout, and create prejudice against him. St. Paul's heresy was only individuality, and God gave him that individuality in order that it might make him a holy power. Jews called it heresy, but we have learned to glory in the gospel with the Pauline stamp upon it. The lesson taught by the Christian records of nearly two thousand years, but which we are strangely unwilling to learn to-day, is that we must never crush individuality by the shout of heresy, but thank God for sending men who can clothe his old truth in adaptation to the thought and life of each succeeding age.
III. HERESY AS REQUIRING JUDICIAL INTERFERENCE. This men think it does. This it never does. God's truth never wants the bolstering of any human courts or judges. God's truth asks only one thing from the world's powers and potentates - to be let alone. Truth wants the open air and the sunshine, that is all. It can win its own way. It can carry its own conviction. It can take care of its own purity. It can cast off all unworthy additions. We greatly need an absolute and unquestioning confidence that God's truth is in no danger. It smiles at unbelief and over self-reliant science, much as the granite rocks seem to do at the wild careering waves.
IV. HERESY AS THE HEALTHY ASSERTION OF NEGLECTED SIDES OF TRUTH. Truth - revealed truth - is a great whole, but no one age seems able to take in the whole; some parts are always prominent and some are always in the background; and there is this constant peril, that the truths in the foreground are treated as if they were the whole, and any one who brings up to view the neglected aspects is liable to the charge of heresy. Many a so-called heresy is only a missed truth or a half-truth; and then, after men have done "calling names," they are glad to accept the teaching. One rule is set before us, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good," whatever may be the name by which men call it." - R.T.
I. A NOBLE HUMAN LIFE. There are those who, in the ordering of their life, never rise above
(1) a consideration of their own enjoyment or acquisition. There are others who never rise higher than
(2) the consideration of others which is born of natural affection; that which springs from the tics of kindred and, perhaps, common interest or companionship. Others again there are who get as far as
(3) political or national enthusiasm. But they only are worthy of the One "with whom they have to do" and reach the full stature of their manhood, who are constrained by
(4) the sense of obligation to God and to man. Paul "exercised himself to have always a conscience," etc. Here was:
1. A lofty aim. "To have a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." This means something more than the avoidance of the darker sins and the greater crimes, of those misdeeds which stamp a man as a sinner and a criminal in the eyes of the world. It means
(1) righteousness in the sight of the Supreme; the being counted righteous by God, and the attainment of positive righteousness like his own; so that a man is living in a state of abiding acceptance with God, and is also walking before him in uprightness and integrity of heart and life. It means also
(2) recognition of the claims of men on our regard, and the consequent shaping of our life in purity, honesty, truthfulness, helpfulness; so that a man has not to reproach himself either with acts of injury or with negligence and inconsiderateness; he has a "conscience void of offence" toward men as well as toward God.
2. A comprehensive view. Paul aimed to be conscientious at all times, m all things (διὰ παντός). And we know that this was more than a figure of speech; it could hardly be said to be in any way hyperbolical. He did strive to act with a good conscience always. With whomsoever he had to do, in whatsoever he was engaged, he sought to act faithfully. And the truly noble life is one in which the humbler as well as the higher activities and endurances are regulated by holy and heavenly principles.
3. An earnest endeavor; "I exercise myself," i.e. "I strenuously endeavor," "I put forth my whole energy," "I labor." Paul's action amounted to something vastly more than an occasional sentiment or a feeble futile effort; it was an earnest aspiration spending itself in vigorous exertion. He cultivated his spiritual powers; he trained himself in holy habits; he wrestled with the adversaries of his soul; he did stern battle with the lower propensities; he strove to exhibit the graces which are dear to God, the virtues which are valuable to men.
II. A POWERFUL INCENTIVE TO LIVE IT. (Ver. 15.) We may draw many powerful and all-sufficient incentives to rectitude from considerations which are at hand.
1. Our supreme obligation to God, the Divine Author of our being and Source of all our joy.
2. Our influence upon our fellow-men, and the effect our life has on theirs.
3. The elevated joy we have in the consciousness of rectitude, both of integrity of heart and innocency of life. But we shall do well to add this other also:
4. The hope of future blessedness; including
(1) the approval of the Divine Master; his "Well done" (Matthew 25:21); and
(2) the extended sphere he wilt appoint the faithful (Matthew 25:21). - C.
I. IT IS THE INSTINCTIVE HOPE TOWARD GOD OF OUR NATURE GIVEN BY HIM. The deep-seated instincts of nature are necessarily among the strongest moral arguments of which we can take cognizance.
II. IT IS THE HOPE TOWARD GOD THAT COMES OF THE CONCLUSIONS OF OUR TRAINED REASON, A REASON GIVEN ALSO BY HIM. Reason's arguments upon certain highest subjects, by themselves, may easily be uncertain and fallacious. But as guides on the way to other arguments, and as supports of other arguments, they are often very significant, very suggestive, very helpful. And it is so to a high degree in this instance.
III. IT IS THE HOPE OF THE CHRISTIAN HEART TOWARD GOD. It is the end of the gospel to him who believeth. If this hope fall through, all falls through. The Christian's deception becomes an absolutely typical and leading instance of deception for the whole world's whole length of history; and the Christian's disappointment the keenest of all disappointments - his collapse making him the most miserable of all men.
IV. The hope that this resurrection shall include all - the "unjust as the just" IS A HOPE TOWARD GOD NESTING EMPHATICALLY ON THE TESTIMONY OF HIS OWN REVELATION, AND CONTRIBUTED TO LARGELY BY CERTAIN ASPECTS OF HIS JUSTICE WITH. WHICH THAT REVELATION MAKES US FAMILIAR. In this theme the mystery of unfathomable depths of unsearchable wisdom is before us. It enwraps the height of highest hope, the deepest things of fear. - B.
And herein do I exercise myself, etc. Circumstances of the case justify the self-assertion. We must not be afraid to give our own example as a testimony to the truth.
I. Practical religion is founded on THE HEARTFELT ACCEPTANCE OF THE WORD OF GOD. "Herein," i.e. in the faith just described, distinguished from:
1. The irreligion of Felix; indifference and direct opposition to God.
2. The blind bigotry of Pharisaism; mere worship of the letter of Scripture and tradition; an excuse for conscientious life.
3. The speculative unbelief of Sadducees. Rationalism. Intellectual pride. Faith made living in Christ. The facts of the gospel opened the secrets of the Scriptures to Paul. Jesus became to him the Word of Life.
II. Practical religion demands CONSTANT EFFORT. "I exercise myself."
1. Not asceticism, but zealous endeavor to do good. in proclamation of the gospel.
2. Faithful and heroic patience under the trials of life.
3. The showing forth of Christian character before the world for a testimony, both by the blameless conduct, and by the calm and bold defense of the truth when necessary. The secret of strength and courage is a conscience void of offence. Those who do not exercise themselves both give offence and find offence. "If God be for us, who can be against us? " - R.
Acts 23:1.) This subject may be fitly introduced by discussing - What is conscience? What is its sphere? and What are its limitations? The expressions in the text remind us that the testimonies of our conscience depend upon our cherished standards. There ought to be a due recognition of both Divine and human rules, and our conduct has to be regulated in view of both. St. Paul presents us the example of the man who is loyal to the revealed will of God, and loyal also to the rules which men make for the regulation of their social relations. These may indeed sometimes clash, and then the true-hearted man must follow out the Law of God, whatever may be the consequences. But usually there is found a practical harmony between the two, so that the moral life is acceptable both to God and man. In estimating the value of others' opinion of us, let us remember that the great thing to cherish is our will to that which is right, and our inward consciousness of being right. That conviction was the strength of St. Paul. When Plato was told that he had many enemies who spoke ill of him, "It is no matter," he said, "I would so live that none should believe them." It may be impressed, in conclusion, that the merely natural conscience is practically insufficient and untrustworthy as a guide of life; and it absolutely needs spiritual illumination, a quickening by the power of the Holy Ghost. - R.T.
Acts 24:22-27 (or ver. 25)
I. THE CORRUPT JUDGE. Selling justice for bribes, delaying sentence in hope of gain, either from the Jews or from Paul. The influence of Christianity in purifying courts of law. Judge Hale. Room for improvement still as Christian equality banishes all distinctions between rich and poor. Justice is still too dear.
II. THE MAN WITH SEARED CONSCIENCE. In contrast with him who exercises himself to have a conscience void of offence. The light of education, of contact with Judaism through Drusilla, of knowledge of facts at Caesarea, all darkened by sensuality, avarice, worldly power, constant trifling with conscience. He could tremble at truth, but even while trembling was ready to sell it for his own vicious pleasures. He felt its force, but steadfastly resisted it, and even sent again and again for Paul, in hope to make gain out of him.
III. THE TRIFLER WITH OPPORTUNITY. Preaching may move the feelings without changing the heart. Behind the procrastination there is generally a moral corruption hidden. The opportunities which are trifled with harden the heart and hasten the judgment. Felix knew not the time of his visitation. Judgment fell on him, and the Jews, to whose wickedness he pandered, became his accusers before Caesar. No season is more convenient than the present, when the voice of God says, "Repent!" - R.
a free man, and, as a judge, free of all other considerations than the doing of justice, he would have liberated St. Paul at once, declaring publicly his innocence. But Felix was not free. No man is really free who does not dare to do the right. And we can recognize a gracious overruling providence in St. Paul's being kept for a while longer under Roman protection. So great was the enmity against him of the Jewish party, that his life would have been in extreme peril if he had been liberated. Knowing that he was dealing unfairly by the prisoner, and impressed by his dignity of bearing, Felix compromised matters with himself, persuaded himself that he could secure Paul from the schemes of the Sanhedrim by keeping him prisoner; put off Paul's enemies by an excuse that he would confer with Lysias; and privately arranged for Paul to have a real, though not an apparent, liberty. Through all the ages some of the worst wrongs have been done in the name of compromise, which is too often the weak device of those who cannot "stand firm to the right."
I. FELIX BOUND.
1. By the weakness of his moral character.
2. By the desire to please an important section of those whom he had to govern.
3. By the consequences of his own wrong-doings, which it cost him all his effort to keep off as long as possible.
4. By the circumstances in which he found himself placed, and which he had no strength of will or purpose to master. The man of vice and self-indulgence enervates his will, and becomes the slave of his sin as truly as does the drunkard.
II. PAUL APPARENTLY BOUND. He had been tied by a chain to a Roman soldier day and night, according to the usual Roman custom, and if Felix relaxed this, still Paul was a prisoner in the barracks, and probably a soldier-guard waited on him constantly. If his friends were free to come to him, he was not free to go out to them. If we estimate his character aright, we shall feel that even the slightest form of bondage must have been most painful to him. His was a soul so noble than even the limitations of a frail body were to him an agony.
III. FELIX GETTING AS FREE AS POSSIBLE FROM HIS BONDS. Not free enough to say, honestly and. honorably, "This man is innocent of all crime against the state, and must be set at liberty at once." Only able to shake the fetters off enough to say, "Forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him," and only able to give this order in a private way to the centurion.
IV. PAUL REALLY FREE. However he might seem to be still set under outward limitations, nothing can imprison a man save his own wilful sin. Nobody can put any real fetters on any fellow-man. Each man who wears fetters puts them on himself; each man who dwells in a prison goes in himself, and himself bolts the door.
"Stone walls do not a prison make, (1) to commune with God, (2) study the truth, (3) to serve the Churches, maybe shown; and it may be pointed out how often the very limitations of a man's circumstances, through sickness or persecution, has found him the freedom for some great and noble service, as may be illustrated from Luther's work while in the Wartburg, and from John Bunyan's work while in Bedford jail. - R.T.
(1) to commune with God,
(2) study the truth,
(3) to serve the Churches, maybe shown; and it may be pointed out how often the very limitations of a man's circumstances, through sickness or persecution, has found him the freedom for some great and noble service, as may be illustrated from Luther's work while in the Wartburg, and from John Bunyan's work while in Bedford jail. - R.T.
I. AN ACT OF MORAL HEROISM PARTICULARLY RARE. Paul "reasoned of righteous- ness, continence, and judgment to come." It requires some courage for a man to address a company of his fellows, even when he feels sure that they will be sympathetic; it demands other and far higher courage to address a number of men, when it is certain they will be unsympathetic; but it requires higher devotedness still, it demands heroism of a rare order for one man to use the language of remonstrance and rebuke when speaking to another man, particularly when that other is the stronger and higher of the two. For the poor man, the captive, the accused, the one who stood absolutely in the other's power, to "reason of righteousness, continence, and judgment to come," to the unrighteous and dissolute judge, who had so much ground for dreading the future, - for Paul thus to expostulate with Felix was heroism itself. Let us thank God that he gave us such a man, to do such a work, at such a time in the history of our race. Let us emulate his spiritual nobility. High courage is, in part, a gift to be thankfully accepted; but it is also, in part, a grace to be studiously acquired. Paul was the faithful man he proved himself at Caesarea, not only because his Creator endowed him with a fearless spirit, but because
(1) he placed himself on the right side - on the side of truth, of righteousness, of God; and because
(2) he cultivated carefully the conviction that infinite power and love surrounded him with its constant care. He could always say, "The Lord stood by me." This is the secret of spiritual nobility, of moral heroism.
II. AN ACT OF SPIRITUAL FOLLY PAINFULLY COMMON. "Felix trembled." His agitation should have passed at once into resolution; he should have said at once, "I will return on my way; I will turn my back on my old sins; I will be a new man, living a new life." But he did not; he made terms with his old self; he temporized; he played with his opportunity; he resorted to evasion, to self-deception; he excused himself; he said, "Go thy way; when I have," etc. O well-worn, much-trodden path of self-excuse, along whose pleasant way such thousands of travelers have gone on to their ruin! This is how we commit spiritual suicide, how we go to our death! We do not say presumptuously, "I will not;' we say feebly, falsely, fatally, "I will soon," "I will when." There are three strong reasons against delay under religious conviction.
1. It is a guilty thing. We blame our children when they hesitate or linger instead of rendering prompt and unquestioning obedience; but we are more bound than they to implicit and unhesitating obedience to the Supreme. "I will when - "means "I will not now. It is rebelliousness of spirit put in the least flagrant form; but it is still rebellion; it is a state of sin.
2. It is a delusive thing. We defer, imagining that we shall find ourselves able and willing to do the right thing further on. But we have no right to reckon on this; for:
(1) Outward hindrances tend to become stronger rather than weaker. Life becomes more and more complicated, companions grow more numerous and urgent, difficulties and entanglements thicken, as our days go by; the hedge before us becomes thicker and higher continually.
(2) And inward and spiritual obstacles become more difficult to surmount; the habit of the soul today is the finest silken thread which the child's finger may snap, but it will shortly become the strong cable which the giant's strength will be unable to divide. Well does Scripture speak of the deceitfulness of sin."
3. It is a fatal thing. If vice has slain its thousands, and pride its thousands, surely procrastination has slain its tens of thousands. The man who is consciously and determinately refusing to serve God knows where he stands and what he is; he knows that he is a rebel against God, standing on perilous ground. But he who thinks he is about to enter the kingdom, or even dreams of so doing, shelters himself under the cover of his imaginary submission, and goes on and on, until sinful habit has him in its iron chain, or until "pale-faced Death" knocks at his door, and he is found unready.
"Oh, 'tis a mournful story,
I. LOVING THE SOUND OF THE GOSPEL, BUT NOT THE GOSPEL ITSELF. There is silver music in the message of reconciliation to man's distracted heart; but the call to repentance as the necessary condition of peace, this is discordant with passion and self-will. And there are grave errors here. Some suppose that the gospel renders the moral law superfluous; others, that the freedom of the conscience under the gospel means license; others take faithful reproof as personal affront; many are under the dominion of sense, and the will is captive to the lusts of the flesh.
II. WHY MANY NEVER BECOME SERIOUS CHRISTIANS.
1. They have not the resolution for thorough repentance, to break utterly with the evil past.
2. They neglect the acceptable time and the day of salvation. "The golden grace of the day" flees, and never comes back to them.
3. They thrust aside the thought of judgment to come. Though they know the vanity of the world, they are too indolent to tear themselves from its deceptive pleasures. Disgusted with the hateful bondage of sin, they are too weak to break off their fetters. Superficial impressions are felt, but frivolity admits no deep impressions.
III. THE EXCUSES OF THE SINNER.
1. Certain subjects are not in good taste. Speak to me of everything but that! Generalize on virtue and goodness, but let my favorite weaknesses or vices alone!
2. Procrastination. "Tomorrow!"
"To-morrow and to-morrow "Procrastination is the thief of time. IV. AN EXAMPLE OF GENUINE PREACHING. 1. He speaks of repentance and its fruits; justice towards our neighbor; personal purity; sober recollection of the Divine judgment. 2. Its powers. The preacher is a slight and insignificant man, yet he makes the powerful magistrate tremble. He is bound in one sense, yet in another free, and the lord is the real slave. He is the accused; yet quickly he changes parts with Felix. Paul is the hero in the light of truth and of eternity, Felix the coward and the abject. If we are on the side of truth, the Word of God becomes a sword in our hand. If we are opposed to it, we must be fatally pierced by it. - J.
"Procrastination is the thief of time. IV. AN EXAMPLE OF GENUINE PREACHING. 1. He speaks of repentance and its fruits; justice towards our neighbor; personal purity; sober recollection of the Divine judgment. 2. Its powers. The preacher is a slight and insignificant man, yet he makes the powerful magistrate tremble. He is bound in one sense, yet in another free, and the lord is the real slave. He is the accused; yet quickly he changes parts with Felix. Paul is the hero in the light of truth and of eternity, Felix the coward and the abject. If we are on the side of truth, the Word of God becomes a sword in our hand. If we are opposed to it, we must be fatally pierced by it. - J.
IV. AN EXAMPLE OF GENUINE PREACHING.
1. He speaks of repentance and its fruits; justice towards our neighbor; personal purity; sober recollection of the Divine judgment.
2. Its powers. The preacher is a slight and insignificant man, yet he makes the powerful magistrate tremble. He is bound in one sense, yet in another free, and the lord is the real slave. He is the accused; yet quickly he changes parts with Felix. Paul is the hero in the light of truth and of eternity, Felix the coward and the abject. If we are on the side of truth, the Word of God becomes a sword in our hand. If we are opposed to it, we must be fatally pierced by it. - J.
weaknesses, in suggestions and inducements of almost every various kind. How many things conspired now to give Felix the opportunity of hearing and knowing the truth! His position, his popularity, his knowledge "of that Way," the fact of his having married a Jewess, and even the itching of his hand for a bribe (ver. 26) - things so strangely at variance with one another and some of them with goodness - did nevertheless all combine to make him a hearer of the things greatest and best to be heard. He heard, felt, resisted, and lost. And Felix is a great and long-enduring illustration of -
I. THE POWER THAT LIES IN THE APPEALS OF RELIGIOUS, AND SPECIALLY OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH. There are deep valid reasons for this.
1. Right lies with them, by the verdict of
(1) even reason;
(3) experience of practical life.
In every one of these directions, even to all their ramifications, there is nothing like a mere beating of the air, nothing like mere sound and fury, nothing like vox et praeterea nihil, in the appeals of religious truth. Each appeal is a home-thrust, that purports to reach and is fitted to reach what is deepest and most enduring in a man. And each appeal is a manifesto in the name of one or more of these grand authorities and arbiters of human life.
2. The imaginings, as just as they are instructive (if not flint stifled) of the mysterious looming future, lend a large contribution to the power of religious appeal Sometimes they are roused as by the mutterings of distant thunder, sometimes as by strains and snatches of celestial music. The echoes are for some so rich with sound, so mellow; or for others they wander as though haunting the empty chambers of hollow hearts. The apprehension of the infinite and the infinite future "hangs in doubt" before many eyes. But it is not always the apprehension of fear, and whether one or the other it does its work.
3. Love, and of an unusual kind, dwells in them. The interference with the sacredness and the retiredness of individual thought and feeling which is offered by religious appeal, and offered also with a certain appearance of arbitrary authority, is remarkably counterbalanced by its undisputed disinterestedness, men would never bear to be addressed on any other subject whatsoever in the way and in the tone and with the persistency to which they readily yield themselves in the matter of the appeals of religion. And that they sufficiently know nothing but their own deepest advantage is aimed at, is the sufficient account of it.
4. No doubt the commanding power of religious appeal - in the sense of convincing power - is due to the operation of the Holy Spirit.
II. THE POWER OF RESISTANCE TO THE APPEALS OF RELIGION, WHICH EMPHASIZES SO TERRIBLY HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY. The deep reality of such power of resistance is testified with certainty from the too well-known fact of it. Notice such causes of it as are traceable amid the deeper and inscrutable mysteries that cloud the subject.
1. A mind really turned from the light and truth.
2. A heart that is strong in its own pride. How many a heart knows the love that is intended for it, yet of pride refuses it!
3. An aversion to effort, specially moral effort; and to the demand of change which it involves in habit and action, specially that form of change called reform.
4. The grievous facilities for yielding to temptation. Legion is the name of subterfuge in things moral. The wide sweep of opportunity for resisting, courts the very spirit of him who is open at all to the approach of temptation. The shifts to which such will condescend to have recourse are innumerable, unaccountable, and find their strict description only as of those "devices of Satan, of which we are not ignorant," indeed - "not ignorant" in a double sense - but against which so many are unarmed and irresolute in their presence. The versatility also of subterfuge in order to gain the cud of resistance is amazing. It can blind the eyes of reason and of self-interest. It can stifle the conscience and hush to silence the deepest, justest sources of fear. It can defy the lessons of practical life. It will induce a man to use the responsible advantages of his own highest position to stay, in feeling's most favored and critical moment, the pressure and all the persuasion of moral importunity itself. And to all else, to elude the one precious moment of grace, temporizing, procrastinating, playing with time, it condescends to the mournfully vain expedient of attempting to throw dust with one hand into the eyes of others, and into its own with the other. The moment when Felix trembled as he heard the great verities of life announced and urged, was the fairest moment of his life. But it vanished. And the darkest moment succeeded it all swiftly, when Felix not only resisted the pleadings of knowledge, of truth and grace, and of the Spirit, but resisted them by the aid of the subterfuges of procrastinating, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." - B
succinctly and forcibly when he says, "Paul, as usual, wished to press certain consequences; and it is always against these that people resist, even when they are far better than Felix and Drusilla. 'He heard him concerning the faith in Christ; and as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come' - of righteousness, to a cruel and unjust despot; of temperance, to a debauchee whose very marriage had been but one scandal the more; and of judgment to come, to a man who had doubtless sought in Epicurean negations a refuge from the gods - 'then Felix trembled. St. Paul's theme finds expression in three words: righteousness, full and honorable discharge of all the duties which man owes to God, and man owes to man; temperance, or the due control of all the appetites and passions of the body; judgment to come, or the certainty that all life-conduct must, sooner or later, be perfectly appraised, and due punishment be inflicted. "St. Paul does not confine himself, as a merely ethical teacher might have done, to abstract arguments on the beauty or the utility of 'justice' and 'temperance.' Here, also, his own experience was his guide, and he sought to make the guilty pair before whom he stood feel that the warnings of conscience were but the presage of a Divine judgment which should render to every man according to his deeds. It will be noted that there is here no mention of the forgiveness of sins, nor of the life of fellowship with Christ. Those truths would have come, in due course, afterwards. As yet they would have been altogether premature. The method of St. Paul's preaching was like that of the Baptist and of all true teachers" (Plumptre). The three topics may be treated in a more general way if presented thus:
1. Righteousness, or the Divine ideal of a human life.
2. Temperance, or a man's personal responsibility in the use of his body, and the shapings of his human relationships.
3. Judgment to come, or the appalling fact for all who follow their own willful ways, that results must be divinely recognized. Compare the convincing of the Spirit, which is of sin, righteousness, and judgment; and press that only upon the conviction of sin can the message of a Savior from sin come with power to any one of us. - R.T.
I. CONVENIENT SEASONS MAY EXCUSE DELAY. Better opportunities always seem to be away in the future. The pressure of daily business or daily pleasure will surely be lightened some day. We all have our eye upon some distant time when we mean to be in earnest about religion, and our sincere intent excuses our present delay.
II. CONVENIENT SEASONS MAY EASE THE CONSCIENCE. This is what we have in the case of Felix. He was smitten, but was purposed not to yield, so quieted conscience with a vague promise.
III. CONVENIENT SEASONS MAY NEVER COME. They seldom do. Press that the only convenient seasons for us are just those in which God brings home to our souls his truth, and urges us to its acceptance. Could Felix only have seen it, the most convenient season for him was the hour when Paul urged upon him the "faith in Christ." - R.T.
(1) a time-server, and
(2) as a corrupt judge. Felix, well knowing how the Christians aided one another in distress, and possibly having some information of the funds with which St. Paul had been recently entrusted, and ignorant of those principles which make it impossible for a true Christian to tamper by bribes with the course of the law, might naturally suppose that he had here a good prospect of enriching himself. Nothing so quickly and so utterly debases a man as the cherished spirit of covetousness. This, however, is a somewhat unusual form and expression of the many-sided evil. Olshausen says, "The sword of God's Word pierced deep into the heart of Felix, but for this very reason he suddenly broke off the conference. But his moral baseness betrayed itself strikingly in this, that he could still hold fast his prisoner for the mere purpose of obtaining money for his release, yea, that at his departure from the province, he left him in prison, out of complaisance to the Jews." Illustrate
(1) that Felix knew the right;
(2) but that, nevertheless, he did the wrong; and
(3) that the love of money in part explains his choosing the wrong.
The following incident may be helpful in the illustration of this third point: - "A case was tried before a young cadi at Smyrna, the merits of which were these. A poor man claimed a house which a rich man usurped. The former held his deeds and documents to prove his right; but the latter had provided a number of witnesses to invalidate his title. In order to support their evidence effectually, he presented the cadi with a bag containing five hundred ducats. When the day arrived for hearing the cause, the poor man told his story, and produced his writings, but could not support his case by witnesses; the other rested the whole case on his witnesses, and on his adversary's defect in law, who could produce none; he urged the cadi, therefore, to give sentence in his favor. After the most pressing solicitations, the judge calmly drew out from under his sofa the bag of ducats which the rich man had given him as a bribe, saying to him very gravely, 'You have been much mistaken in the suit, for if the poor man could produce no witnesses in confirmation of his right, I myself can produce at least five hundred.' He then threw away the bag with reproach and indignation, and decreed the house to the poor plaintiff." - R.T.