« PreviousContinue »
I. The subjects of St. Paul's preaching, recited in the text, are these three righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come; or, more agreeably to the Greek, righteousness, self-government, and the judgment which shall be hereafter.
Righteousness, although used often to denote moral rectitude, generally signifies, in its original and proper sense, justice; the great duty especially of rulers in the execution of their office, and the prime duty of men in their dealings with each other. Nothing could have been more properly addressed to Felix. This man, originally a slave, had been freed by the Emperor Nero; and, by the influence of his brother Pallas, and a man named Narcissus, both favourites of the Emperor, been placed as governor over the province of Judea. There he was guilty of the most enormous and barbarous exactions; hired Dorus to kill Jonathan, the High Priest; practised a great variety of other cruelties; and became in the end so odious to the Jews, that they accused him publicly to the Emperor. So gross were his crimes, that he would have been put to death, had not the influence of his brother Pallas been powerfully exerted to save his life. I need not inform my audience how greatly such a man needed to have the duty of righteousness explained to his understanding, and enforced on his conscience.
Temperance, (or, more literally rendered, self-government), was with equal propriety addressed to Felix, and also to Drusilla. They were both, at this time, living in open adultery. On the duty of continence,-for this appears to be the real subject of the Apostle's preaching here, on the great duty of continence, the virtue directly opposed to this enormous sin, St. Paul addressed these powerful and wicked hearers.
The approaching judgment was the last subject on which St Paul insisted. This was the natural and proper close of such a discourse. To these great, dissolute, abandoned personages, a preacher of the Gospel still had access through the final judgment. Before that judgment they, together with all others, must appear; must give their account; must be judged in righteousness according to the deeds done in the body; and must be rewarded according to the nature of their
conduct. They "neither feared God, nor regarded man;" but the certainty and nature of future judgment were capable of being so explained and brought home to their hearts, as to rouse their slumbering consciences, and to alarm their fears concerning their approaching destiny.
II. We have here mentioned, not only the subjects, but also the manner of Paul's preaching.
As he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled. The meaning is, that the preacher explained and proved righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, and thus solemnly enforced them on the consciences of his hearers.
III. The effect of these subjects, handled in this manner, is also recited.
Felix trembled; and answered, "Go thy way for this time; "when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee."
If we consider the wickedness of Felix; the power, which he had over Paul, of life and death; his peculiar hardness of heart; the splendour of his circumstances, and the superstition. in which he had been educated, we shall easily conclude, that the preaching which produced so great an effect on such a man must certainly be of the most excellent kind, and most happily formed to operate successfully on the heart of man.
From these considerations, plain and indisputable in themselves, and therefore needing no extended discussion for the present purpose, I derive the following
I. The preacher who would preach as Paul preached, will directly disclose the sins, danger, duty, and safety of his hearers.
Paul directly addressed to Felix and Drusilla the great duties of righteousness and continence, the sins of injustice and pollution, and the danger to which, by these sins, they were
exposed at the coming judgment. These were their peculiar duties, their peculiar sins, and their peculiar dangers. If a preacher would be like Paul in integrity, in wisdom, or in success, he will take effectual care to preach in the same manner.
Were all preachers to be asked, one by one, whether they would wish to resemble Paul, there can scarcely be a doubt that each would answer in the affirmative, and be not a little offended to find the sincerity of the answer called in question. But in the language of the great English poet Cowper, to whom I shall take the liberty of appealing on the present occasion, without reserve, I ask,—
"Are all such teachers? Would to Heaven all were!"
There are undoubtedly those in the sacred desk who never dwell on the sins or the dangers, the duty or the safety of their hearers, but studiously avoid those solemn subjects, lest they should give pain or become unpopular. There are those who spend the sacred and heavenly season allotted especially to the dispensation of the word of life, in uttering mere addresses to passion, and holding up pictures to the imagination, brilliant perhaps and beautiful, eloquent and interesting, fitted to amuse the fancy and agitate the feelings, but not fitted to enlighten the conscience or amend the heart. There are those who preach the icy morality of Plato, Seneca, and Aurelius, and plainly declare by their practice that they think Cicero and Socrates better preachers than the Saviour and his Apostles. There are those who waste the Sabbath in useless metaphysical disquisitions, in making distinctions, which, like the lines of the spider, are invisible, except to an eye fixed in a peculiar position, and possessing peculiar acuteness, and which, when seen, are, like the same lines, of no possible use to man. All these,
many others, do not preach like Paul. He always seized the subjects which were most likely to be useful to his hearers, the subjects, therefore, which they could understand, and the subjects which they could not fail to feel. Sinners, he knew, were guilty and hateful in the sight of God, were condemned by his most holy law to everlasting punishment, and were ex
posed, of course, to final ruin. These amazing truths he addressed to them directly. They were plain truths which sinners could not but discern, and solemn truths which they could not but feel. They were truths which demanded and admitted no wire-drawn disquisition, and rejected with scorn all wanderings, sports, and prettinesses of fancy. That they would give pain to his hearers he perfectly knew beforehand, and for that very reason chose them in preference to all other subjects. No sinner, he clearly perceived, was ever brought to repentance but under the alarm and distress occasioned by a convincing sense of his sins. The distress, therefore, was indispensable to the sinner's well-being. With this knowledge also, and the solemn emotions which it produced, his heart would have been frozen, if he could have repeated the see-saw morals of heathen philosophy. But he could not have repeated them. His soul was too intensely warm with love to his hearers. Knowing the terrors of the Lord," as revealed against sinners, he "persuaded men to flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life.”
With these awful things in view, he asked not the question, Whether his hearers would be pleased or displeased? but inquired merely how he might promote their salvation. Never was a preacher presented with stronger temptations to indulge the fear of man. Felix was the supreme ruler of the country, held the power of life and death in his hands, and now sat in judgment on Paul himself. He was also an enormous sinner, an oppressor, an adulterer, a murderer. By his side sat Drusilla, a woman false, lewd, and hardened beyond example, an apostate from the religion of her nation, dictated by God himself, and openly defying conscience, shame, and retribution. Paul, in the meantime, was a prisoner, on trial for his life, accused by the great council of his country, forsaken, friendless, and vehemently hated by the body of his nation. Yet in this very situation of depression and danger, the Apostle, with an integrity and benevolence transcending all praise, addressed, without disguise or apology, to these splendid and formidable sinners the very truths which they needed most to know, re
proved them solemnly for the sins of which they were especially guilty, and warned them of the infinite danger to which they were peculiarly exposed. In this manner he laboured as far as was possible to recal them to the duties which they had forgotten, and to lead them to the safety which they could in no other way obtain. This example, sanctioned by inspiration, and thus invested with divine authority, proclaims to every minister of the Gospel, "Go thou, and do likewise."
II. Every such minister will fill his discourses with truth and
Paul reasoned of these great subjects, explaining, proving, and discussing them thoroughly, so that they were understood, believed, and felt by his audience. He did not, like a heathen sophist, or like Tertullus in the context, or like many a man who has stood in the place of a preacher, dress up an ingenious, entertaining, courtly harangue, suited to the nice and fastidious palate of his guest, used, as he may be presumed to have been, to dainties of this nature. Paul's business was not to flatter, but to convince and awaken, not to please, but to reform and save.
He did not attempt to display his own superior talents in an eloquent declamation, adorned with fine images of fancy or pathetic effusions of passion. On the contrary, he entered at once upon his proper business, declared those solemn truths which respected the sin and danger, the recovery and salvation of his hearers, and enforced them by arguments which could neither be refuted nor resisted.
The truth of God, not the pictures of fancy, nor the effusions of passion, will, if any thing will," make mankind free "from the bondage of sin and death." The proof of this is complete. The heathen philosophers and poets, and the host of modern infidels have exhibited such images and effusions, through several thousand years, in very many delightful forms, and, in many instances, with as much genius and strength as can be hoped for by man, and far more than can be displayed by most men, yet they never reformed nor saved a single child