"Short time or long," Paul replied, "I wish to God that not only you but all who hear me this day may become what I am, except for these chains."
I. WHO AMONG US MAY WE THINK OF AS ONLY ALMOST CHRISTIANS?
1. The child of pious parents, surrounded by gracious influences, led to the house of God, the child of many prayers, growing up to manhood or womanhood, yet not wholly Christ's today.
2. The regular attendant at Christian services; often moved to tears, and, it may be, to some passing resolves; but emotions pass, decision is delayed, and they are only almost Christians yet.
3. There may even be aged people trembling down to life's close, who, having put off religious decision again and again, seem now unable to make the effort, and are in peril of dying only almost Christians.
4. There are parents who have converted children, but are themselves the old side of the border-laud, yet in "trespasses and sins."
5. There are those who have been aroused to religious anxiety, but whose experience, varying for years, has never yet risen to full surrender. Each of these classes may be described with precise adaptation to the congregation addressed.
II. WHAT REASONS CAN BE FOUND FOR SO MANY REMAINING ONLY ALMOST CHRISTIANS? In the case of Agrippa the message seemed novel and strange, and there seemed excuse for requiring time to think it over. In our case the message may seem old and familiar, and it may have lost its awakening and persuading power. Sometimes the hindrance is:
1. intellectual. It may be sonic perplexity or difficulty in relation to Christian doctrine. Or it may be the influence of the intellectual tone of the society in which a man mingles.
2. Or the hindrance may be lack of sufficient motive: especially an inadequate impression of the evil and peril of sin. To use a figure, the boat lies rocking just outside the harbor bar, and there is not wave enough to lift it over. Therefore must the true preacher find motive and persuasion, urging, in Christ's stead, "Be ye reconciled unto God."
3. But the chief hindrances are moral. It was Agrippa's self-indulgent and immoral life which really turned the shafts aside. The pride of self stands in our way. Decision for Christ involves surrender - a giving up of that "self-reliance" which is so dear to flesh and blood. Illustrate from the story of the young rich ruler; and recall our Lord's teachings about the "strait gate and the narrow way." This may be the reason why we are not "altogether" Christians. There is a cable holding under the water somewhere, and the ship cannot float out free into the ocean of God. Illustrate some cables. The last to yield is usually feeling; we wait for feeling, and, waiting, let the golden hours of opportunity slip by.
III. WHAT REALLY IS IT TO BE ONLY ALMOST PERSUADED? See it in the estimate we form of Agrippa's character. He is utterly weak and ignoble. We admire the confessor and the martyr; we scorn the hesitating and indecisive - such as Reuben, "unstable as water." The people at Athens very properly ordained that every one should be fined who would take neither side in politics. It is a condition which dishonors God more than open rebellion, because it assumes that there really are some considerations to be set against his claims, some reasons why we should not love and serve him. And such indecision effectually shuts us out from the benefits of the gospel provision. The "almost Christian" has
(1) no sense of pardoned sin;
(2) no joy of peace with God;
(3) no strength from the consciously present Savior;
(4) no title to the everlasting heritage.
Impress that in religious matters there really is no borderland. Illustrate by the story of the wreck of the Royal Charter. The fore part ledged on a rock, the back part, flapped by the waves, broke away and sank in deep water with all that were in it. Just at the moment of parting a young man stood on the hinder part, and made a leap for dear life. He was saved, for he could decide and act. Then plead, as St. Paul pleaded, that, whether by little persuasion or by much, men would end their state of indecision, and become altogether Christ's. - R.T.
And Paul said, I would to God that not only thou...were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.I. HIS DECISION intimated in the words — "such as I am." What, then, was Paul? A Christian.
1. What is included in this? Not knowledge merely, nor a plausible profession, but living faith, holy love, and spiritual operative life.
2. It avails not what you are, unless you be Christians — were you ever so rich, highly respected in society, or beloved by your friends, an affectionate obedience of Jesus Christ.
3. It is not in the power of man to bring you to this, for it was not in the power of Paul effectually to persuade Agrippa.
II. HIS ENJOYMENT. This is evident.
1. He was satisfied with the choice he had made. He had no misgiving that in embracing Christianity he had done foolishly.
2. He was happy — much more happy in his fetters than all the splendid audience which he addressed. A man is happy not according to his rank, but the state of his heart. Joseph, calumniated and imprisoned, was not anxious in the least; for "the Lord was with him, and showed him mercy." Daniel and his three friends were perfectly composed; for their confidence was in God, and their salvation was from Him.
III. HIS BENEVOLENCE.
1. The goodwill of this apostle first regarded Agrippa, but it did not rest with him: it was diffusive, it spread through the whole company. In one respect, it is true, he desired no resemblance: "except these bonds." It is well to judge of the religion of Jesus Christ by its effects.
2. Observe how the benevolence of Paul was expressed; not by mere words, the impulse of momentary feeling: the text is a prayer. From this learn, that no place is unsuitable for prayer, no time is unseasonable for the exercise. Benevolent wishes should be matured into prayers, and ought to be expressed by pleading with God. But prayer was not all. The apostle spent his life in active kindness, and he, who thus prayed for Agrippa and the court of Festus, was ready in every way to prove the benevolence which he expressed. And with our prayers let us unite exertion, or what evidence have we of their sincerity?Conclusion:
1. How wide the difference between the spirit of Christianity and the spirit of the world!
2. How striking the contrast between the reality of the gospel and the pretensions of infidelity!
3. How highly desirable is proficiency in religion, in opposition to a languid and wavering profession of it!
(T. Kidd.)I. PAUL'S CHARACTER. In his reply we have the words, "Such as I am." What, then, was he when he stood face to face with Agrippa? Paul was a Christian — a Christian in the highest, deepest, broadest meaning of the term — a loyal, loving disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such was his character when he stood face to face with Agrippa.
II. PAUL'S CIRCUMSTANCES. In his reply we have the words, "except these bonds."
III. PAUL'S WISH. "I would to God," etc. This was not the false wish of a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, but the true wish of a real Christian philanthropist. He wished that Agrippa resembled him in character, but not in circumstances. From this wish we infer —
1. That Paul never regretted becoming a Christian. When he stood before Agrippa he was an old man; he had been a disciple of Christ for very many years; a death of martyrdom was before him; and yet, withal, he would not have exchanged positions with Agrippa.
2. That what Paul was it was possible for Agrippa to become.
(J. F. Smythe.)
I. HOW PERFECTLY CERTAIN PAUL WAS THAT HE WAS A CHRISTIAN. Agrippa had professed to be "almost persuaded." The apostle says, "I would to God that thou wert both almost and altogether" — what? "Such as I am." Could anything show more clearly that St. Paul had not the shadow of a doubt that he was a Christian? This is not so with many Christians. Even when others behold the evidence in their daily walk, they themselves can only say that they "hope." They are following on in the path to peace as nearly as they can find it, but whether it ends in assured glory, they can only know when the gates of the celestial city have closed behind them. It was not so when Christianity was young. This doubt and uncertainty is like our gorgeous churches, where the poor have no place; like our fashionable preachers, who glorify human nature instead of Christ; like our fashionable congregations, where dress and display attract the eye: it belongs to modern, not to ancient Christianity. Then men knew whom they had believed. Look at this confidence as displayed by St. Paul. He did not wish that they were what he "hoped" he might be, not what he "desired" to be, not what he "thought" he was. He wants them to be what he then and there is sure that he himself is — a Christian. Is such a certainty something which God only permitted the primitive believers to realise? Or, is it a privilege which all may know in personal experience? The whole question hangs on the character of Christ. You may be perfectly confident if Jesus is one who does not break His word. Such a confidence is exceedingly desirable. I do not see how St. Paul could have been so eager, unless he had the clearest convictions that he was himself saved. Moses could not have said to his brother-in-law, "Come thou with us and we will do thee good," if he had possessed no certain confidence that he and the people were on their way to Canaan. So does assurance of faith make working Christians.
II. WHAT A GRAND THING PAUL EVIDENTLY ESTEEMED IT TO BE A CHRISTIAN! There are some men who undervalue their blessings. St. Paul was not one of that class. It was a cause of thanksgiving that by the grace of God he was what he was. Who were they that heard him?
1. In that assembly were men of wealth. And yet this poor prisoner cries out, "I would to God that all that hear me, were both almost and altogether what I am." To him Christianity was worth more than the riches of a Roman procurator.
2. There were men among those who heard him that day who had a home. And he who stood at that tribunal like his Master, "had not where to lay his head." He wrote, "We have no certain dwelling place." Yet it was this homeless man who cried out, "I would to God," etc. His Christianity was to him worth more than even a home.
3. Above all these were men of high rank and social position. And here was a man whose rank was to be counted as "the offscouring of all things," who yet cried out in such an august assembly, "I would to God," etc. Such was St. Paul's estimate of the worth of his Christianity. He could do without a home; he could dispense with the wealth of Festus; he could live without the crown of Agrippa, but he could not do without Christ, to him "the hope of glory." Today does he regret his estimate of his heritage? Today the wealth of God's glory is his. Today the home of God's saints is his portion. Today he reigns as king, a crown of glory on his brow.
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