Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned to him to speak, answered…
In this straightforward narrative two characters are disclosed in sharp contrast. The outlines of each are made distinct by the presence of the other. Paul is the embodiment of moral strength. He shows the manly vigour of an ideal Christian. Each spectacle is valuable. The example of Paul attracts to an earnest and courageous Christian life; the example of Felix repels from a career of sin.
I. PAUL, THE STRONG SERVANT OF GOD. Paul stood before the highest tribunal in Judaea. His accusers were his own countrymen, his judge was an unprincipled Roman. According to Tacitus, Felix "exercised the power of a king with the temper of a slave." Drusilla was another man's wife whom he bad enticed from her husband. Jonathan, the high priest, had ventured to remonstrate with this immoral ruler, and forthwith assassins sought out the reprover and struck him down in the sanctuary. It required fortitude for an accused Jew to be calm before Felix the unrighteous. Of justice for Paul there was no hope; a low self-interest would shape this judge's decision. Paul had no Tertullus to speak for him; he made no plea for clemency, but boldly maintained his innocence. Here was genuine courage. Before this example of heroism all shivering cowardice in the Lord's service should loathe itself. Something braver than running to a hiding place when threatened is expected of true Christians. Christ is not satisfied merely with our repentance and submission. He would arouse us to lofty and Divine courage. "Be not afraid of them that kill the body." The example of Paul in the circumstances before us ought to impel us to the active virtues, courage, self-reliance, zeal. We cannot but admire it, and we ought to be moved to imitate what we admire.
1. There is pressing need of such virtues. Sin is about us in force: it must be resisted and put down. Are we to wait motionless for a deliverer? We do ourselves and others a deep wrong when we represent the power of sin, strong as it is, as so great that the soul is helpless before it. Besides this personal struggle against evil, there is an arduous positive work to be done for righteousness on earth. The conflict between good and evil is continually at full heat. Here is the gospel: it must be lived and preached. Multitudes around us wait to be won to God. Earnestness and self-sacrifice must be had for their salvation. What labour, demanding zeal and persistency, is called for to evangelise the world!
2. Such courage and self-reliance are not opposed to reliance on God. Precisely with the men who have self-reliance God elects to work, men who count it but reasonable that they should put their utmost exertion into effort on which they crave the blessing of Heaven. God will bless our efforts if there are any worthy efforts to be blessed. Why the perpetual complaint by Christians of deficiency and weakness? Are God's people the feeblest folk on earth? Who is not weary of this plaintive cry of feebleness from the lips of God's saints? Moral strength does not come up in a night even in the heart of a saint. The shout of courage should be oftener heard in our camp. A different ideal of true humility must grow luminous before our imagination. The apostle supplies this. He deemed a certain reliance on self justifiable and obligatory, because into that self God had put so much of His own power. Is the sacred fire burned in vain? Is there not a new hero's devotion kindled, a new conqueror fitted for achievement? Manly reliance on self is, for the Christian, only reliance on what God has already done to equip him for service.
II. FELIX, BOLD ONLY IN DELAY. The preacher had not left it uncertain that what God demands is repentance. Felix trembled, but he did not repent. Sin never before seemed to him so perilous, and he decided that sometime he must leave it. There is not one hint in Scripture that Felix ever became a Christian. Here is warning against putting off repentance.
1. Repentance may never come.
2. With Felix before us, we will consider this weighty truth, too seldom urged, that impenitence every day it lasts produces irreparable loss. Delayed conversion means continued sin, and sin damages the sinner himself and others. We drag along into the Christian life the enfeebled will, the grown-up selfishness, the impaired capacity which we acquired in the years of impenitence. Forgiveness releases us from Divine condemnation; it does not at once, if ever, repair the damage of a sinful course.
3. Again, the ill influence of the old bad life on others is not arrested. Delaying repentance, we throw the weight of our example against our friends' conversion and encourage others in sin, and our pardon does not undo what we have thus done.
4. Delayed conversion means lost opportunities. Along our path from childhood to age there are many occasions for heavenly deeds. The hours require a soul loyal to God, instantly ready to speak and act with firm courage, able to look sin into shame. How often, when called, have we been unprepared for such holy achievements? We could not be heroic, for we still wore captive's chains, and the opportunities were lost. The precious season of preparation for future power may be wasted by daily disobedience to God's call. It is clear that in secular life neglect of preparation in youth stands at many a parting of ways in later years and forbids a man's choice, saying, "You cannot take the path up the heights. You must go the lower road." Many a man in such case has bowed to the inevitable, sorrowing in vain over his loss. But men dream that in the spiritual life, under redemption, they may escape in later years the weakness resulting from youthful impenitence.
(T. E. Bartlett.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: