PAUL BEFORE FELIX.
Christianity in contact with a corrupt heart.
Value of historic characters.—Representative men.—Special value of Scripture characters.—History of Felix.—His characteristics.—Paul brought before him more than once.—First, on trial.—Paul's defence.—Second interview.— Paul's discourse.—The truths enforced.—Righteousness.— Temperance. — Future judgment.—Suitability of such subjects in all preaching.—Teachings of Christianity as to the judgment-day.—Natural effect of such truths.—Signs of conscious guilt.—They prove God's moral government.—They disclose sin when committed.—They may restrain from its commission.—They tend to the reformation of the wicked.— Manner in which the impression of truth is often warded off.—The jailor and Felix contrasted.—Men are prone to delay.—Such delay always dangerous, and possibly fatal.
"And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee."
Acts xxiv. 24, 25.
HISTORICAL persons have an importance not only as persons in history, and by reason of the interest attached to their lives, their opinions, their adventures, their exploits, their valour, or their ambition, but as representing certain classes of minds. In dramatic writings, this historical value and this representative value are sometimes combined; but the latter is that which is principally aimed at, when the character is the mere creation of genius, or when, if historical, the facts of the narrative are made quite subservient to the representative purpose—the purpose of furnishing some illustration of human character and conduct. Thus, as almost entire fiction, we have the character of Macbeth, Lear, Othello, Hamlet; as historical, with no studied exactness as to the facts of history, the character of Julius Caesar, Henry V., Richard III., Cardinal Richelieu; in real secular history, the character of Nero, Cyrus, Augustus; in sacred history, Abraham, David, Absalom, Ahithophel, Joab, Judas. In like manner there are historical characters introduced into the sacred narrative, not as characters developed under the influence of religion, nor as a part of the history of the Church, but which have a value as representations of the way in which the Gospel, in various forms, comes in contact with the human heart . It is thus that we have notices of Pontius Pilate; Gamaliel; Gallio; Festus; Agrippa; Felix; Drusilla.
The Scripture narratives, as inspired, have this advantage over all other narratives, whether historical or fictitious, that we know the real motives which influenced the conduct . We are not left to a conjectural statement, as is often the case in Hume and Gibbon, and even in Tacitus, in explaining the motives of men long after events had occurred, and when there was no personal acquaintance with the actors; nor are we left to study imaginary motives of conduct, as in dramatic characters. We deal not only with a real character, but (if we believe in the inspiration of the sacred writers) we understand the exact character. We feel assured that it is accurately drawn. We know that no false motives are ascribed. We understand what influenced David, Joab, Abraham, Ahithophel, Judas, Peter, Paul, Pilate; we know what it was that made them what they appeared to be.
Felix, whose case now comes before us, was a remarkable, but not a very uncommon instance, of one raised to a distinguished station, who had been born and reared in the lowest condition of life. He was by birth a slave, but he rose to little less than regal power. For some unknown cause, he was manumitted,—probably by Claudius Caesar (Suet. Claudius, 28, Tacit. Hist. v. 9); and on this account he is said to have assumed the name of Claudius. His brother Pallas, also a slave, was set free by Antonia, the emperor's mother.
Felix was loaded by the emperor with military honours; and, among other marks of favour and distinction, was made governor of Judaea. In that capacity, as well as of his character in general, Tacitus (Hist. v. 9), says that " in the practice of all kinds of lust and cruelty he exercised the power of a king, with the temper of a slave." In another place (Annals, xii. 56) Tacitus represents Felix as considering himself licensed to commit any crime with impunity, owing to the influence which he possessed at court. Josephus says that under his administration the affairs of the Jewish people became worse and worse.1
Felix was three times married. His first wife was a niece of Cleopatra. Of one of these wives nothing is known. Drusilla, mentioned in the narrative in the
1 An instance which occurred in relation to the Jewish high priest, will illustrate his general character. Wishing to compass the death of Jonathan the high priest, who had remonstrated with him on account of his misrule, he persuaded Doras, an intimate friend of Jonathan, to get him assassinated by a gang of robbers, who, with weapons concealed under their garments, joined the crowds that were going up to the temple,—a crime which (Josephus says) led subsequently to countless evils, by the encouragement which it gave to the Siearii or leagued assassins of the day.—Ant. xx. 8, 5. Acts, was a daughter of King Herod Agrippa, and was married to Azizus, king of Emesa. Felix employed a magician named Simon, to induce her to forsake her husband; and Drusilla, partly to avoid the envy of her sister Berenice, consented to the union with Felix. The fact of this adulterous connexion will illustrate the manner in which Paul spoke when brought before Felix in the presence of Drusilla.
The character of this governor, as drawn by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus, as well as by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles (for they all coincide in the description) was this:—He was a man of great energy, ambition, and power. He was admirable in some respects as a civil ruler, for he did much to put down disorder and anarchy in Judaea, and to maintain authority and law. But he was a man unprincipled in the manner in which he accomplished his objects; ready alike for his personal ambition, and in his civil rule, to employ any agents, and to make use of any means to secure his end,— bribery, corruption, falsehood, assassination, or any form of cruelty. He was a sensualist, a profligate, a libertine. He was venal and mean;—a man willing to be bribed, and coveting a bribe. He was timid and fearful, knowing that he was living in guilt, and that he had reason to apprehend the Divine vengeance. He was not insensible to the rebukes of conscience. He trembled at the preaching of Paul; yet was unwilling to repent . He was regardless of justice, for though evidently satisfied of the innocence of Paul, he unjustly retained him in prison. He had no love for religion, no respect for Christianity, no purpose to abandon his sins; yet, though he despised Christianity, and though he was alarmed at the prospect of the judgment to come, so superior to all these considerations was his love of gold, that he was willing to hear Paul, and to send for him often, with the hope that ultimately a bribe would be offered by him to secure his release. He succeeded in driving away his convictions. He so disciplined himself, probably, as to hear what the apostle said without trembling; and he continued to live in sin, even when subject to the rebukes of conscience, and with the apprehension of judgment before him. He loved gold more than he feared the compunctions of guilt and the wrath of God. He was a man who sought to postpone present attention to religion, not with an intention of attending to it afterwards, but to make a professed interest in it an occasion for serving**his own covetousness.
Paul was brought before Felix on two different public occasions, besides the frequent interviews which he had with him in a more private and less formal manner.
(a.) We have seen that, in order to secure his safety, and to ensure a fair hearing, he had been sent to Caesarea. The trial came on. The case was managed on the part of the Jews by Tertullus; and Paul defended his own cause in a speech every way worthy of the occasion and himself, against the charges brought by his accusers (Acts xxiv. I—21). Felix, having heard the matter argued, professed not to be fully informed on the subject, and deferred his decision until Lysias, who had had better opportunities of understanding the affair, should come to Caesarea (ver. 22). Meanwhile, he placed Paul under the custody of the centurion who had brought him thither, and gave him every reasonable indulgence in regard to free intercourse with his friends.
(b.) It was in this interval, while Felix was professedly waiting for the arrival of Lysias, that Paul was brought the second time before him. Drusilla, it would seem, had been informed by Felix of the case, and being a Jewess, she, as Agrippa did afterwards (Acts xxv. 22), expressed a desire to hear more of what Paul alleged in relation to a subject of common interest to all the Jewish people. Felix "sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith of Christ;"—the faith in Christ; or, the faith in the Messiah. A Jewish princess, though corrupt, could hardly be supposed to be indifferent to anything which claimed to be a fulfilment of the prophecies respecting the Messiah. On this occasion all the circumstances were changed. Paul was not on his public trial now; he was not pleading with the hope of acquittal; he was not there to advance legal argument in defence of himself. He had an opportunity, therefore, of preaching the Gospel in circumstances which might never occur again. "His audience consisted of a Roman libertine and a profligate Jewish princess." It was mere curiosity on the part of one of his hearers, at least; but it was not to Paul a case to be approached with the mere desire of gratifying curiosity. He had before him two guilty wretches, living in violation of the laws of God, and travelling unpardoned to the judgment-seat. He was, indeed, a prisoner; but he felt now that he was a man; a preacher; an apostle. He had a solemn responsibility; a most difficult duty to discharge,—to reach the consciences of his guilty auditors, and to make their professed desire to hear him "concerning the faith in Christ" an occasion of showing them their guilt, their danger, and their need of a Saviour.
Who can fail to admire the tact—the wisdom—the skill with which this was done? Paul did not offend Felix by rude and severe invective. He made use of no disrespectful or uncourteous language. He did not even address Felix personally; sinner, corrupt, profligate as he was. He selected subjects which seemed to be abstract—"righteousness, temperance, retribution,"— subjects momentous at all times, and which ought to be interesting to all men, and yet of such obvious fitness and applicability to the occasion and to the character of Felix, as might afford the hope that Felix would apply them to his own conduct and life.
The result was what Paul hoped ; what he anticipated. Not by denunciation; not by invective; not by the threatening of wrath, but as "he reasoned "—SiaXtyonhov avrov, as he calmly discoursed, on these subjects—the attention of Felix was arrested; the truth found its way to his conscience, and he "trembled" in view of his guilt, and of coming wrath.
The subject before us, therefore, is The CONTACT OF Chr1st1an1ty W1th A Heart Of Corrupt1on, And A LIFE OF GUILT. Three inquiries have to be made— I. What are the truths which Christianity has to
address to such a man as Felix? II. What would be the natural and proper effect of such truths on the mind? III. What is the manner in which those truths are commonly met?
I. The truths which Christianity has to address to such a man. As presented by Paul, they are the following:—
(1.) Righteousness;—a topic eminently proper to be dwelt upon by Paul, as bearing on the object which he had in view, and on the character of the man before whom he stood. Nothing could be more appropriate in respectfully addressing one appointed to administer justice; nothing would be more likely to arrest the attention of one so venal as Felix. The subject was in itself so abstract as to be proper to be dwelt on at any time without any necessary suspicion of a personal reference; it was so related to God and His government, and would so naturally suggest the subject of retribution, and the method of justification before God, that it was among the most suitable of all subjects in speaking on the truths of religion. It would embrace the nature and the requirements of justice in the relations which man sustains to his fellow-men; and it would, at the same time, lead the mind up to justice or righteousness in the higher sense,—in that which pertains to God and to His administration. It would be (even without making a direct personal application), eminently appropriate to one whose life was steeped in crime; and yet it could not be regarded as discourteous to call on any one, no matter what his character, or what his rank, to inquire how man can be "just with God," for that subject occupied the attention of philosophers cverywnere, and was the foundation of the whole religion of the heathen world.
(2.) Temperance;—IjKpart1a;—" continence, temperance, self-control" (Rob. Lex.) The power of selfrestraint, self-government. The word properly refers to the control of the powers and propensities of the soul; keeping them in their due place; securing their healthful and harmonious action; restraining every unholy propensity, and giving to those powers ol our nature which ought to rule the actual dominion. We now use the word in a very restricted and narrow sense as referring to moderation in eating and drinking— particularly the latter. The true idea of "temperance" as the word would be employed in the Greek language would be larger, for it would refer to dominion over every sensual passion or propensity,—pride, selfishness, lust, avarice, ambition, envy, covetousness, irritability, anger, wrath, revenge,—as well as to proper restraint in eating and drinking.
This topic, too, was eminently appropriate in addressing Felix. Not characterized indeed as an intemperate man in the sense in which that word is now commonly used, it was appropriate to him in the sense that he disregarded, in his own case, the restraints imposed by the rules of a rigid morality; that he had not the corrupt propensities of his nature under control; that he gave free indulgence to carnal appetites; that he was a licentious and an unprincipled man. This topic, moreover, could not give any reasonable offence; for "temperance," or the proper control of the passions, was a subject which was freely discussed in all the schools of philosophy, and the duty was urged everywhere as essential to length of days and happiness. However the subject might in fact bear on Felix himself, or might have been designed to bear on him by Paul, yet no just objection could be taken to his introducing it in connexion with the "faith in Christ" (on which he had been requested to speak), as illustrating the claims and the nature of the Christian religion; and Felix does not seem to have taken offence at the introduction of the topic.
(3.) Judgment to come. The account which all men must render to God; the subject of human responsibility; the connexion of the conduct of men with the future world ; the fact that human actions strike into the future, and must affect the future; the fact that all men are answerable to God for their deeds, and that there will be a day of final reckoning.
This subject, also, was one that was peculiarly appropriate in discoursing before a man whose life had been like that of Felix. Addressing a corrupt, a licentious, a wicked man,—a man then living in open sin,—a guilty man who must, like other men, soon appear before the bar of his Maker, it was eminently proper that this should be a prominent topic. Fidelity to his trust, fidelity to God, fidelity to his own soul, fidelity to the soul of the distinguished man to whom he spoke, demanded of Paul that he should not shrink from this subject, and that he should not fail to warn a corrupt and profligate man of what must be the consequences of his course of life. At the same time, the introduction of such a topic could not properly be regarded as an adequate ground of offence. This pertained to the whole question relating to the Messiah, and the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to that office. A prominent subject, in fact, in the teachings of Jesus was the doctrine of the future judgment. To no other topic did the Saviour more frequently advert; on none were his addresses and appeals more plain, direct, peculiar, and solemn. So important did Paul regard it, that to the philosophers of Athens, as we have already seen, he 'declared the Christian doctrine on this point; and told them that God "hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead" (Acts xvii. 31).
These are proper topics for preaching anywhere, and everywhere. These must enter essentially into all preaching and explanation of religion, and of man's condition. These are the topics which God employs in arousing the human mind, awakening it from a state of lethargy, securing a sense of guilt, and leading men to feel their need of a Saviour; these are topics which lie at the foundation of all the success which attends the preaching of the Gospel.
Righteousness. The great inquiry as to what constitutes right; the obligations of justice; the character of God as righteous; the character of man with reference to the question whether he is or is not righteous; the problem how a sinner may become righteous; the modes of maintaining right conduct in the relations and duties of life; the ways in which the obligations of right are violated; the injustice, the fraud, the dishonesty, which prevail in the world,—these and similar topics are always proper in addressing men. All right views of religion begin here; for no man can hope to be saved unless he has just views of the righteousness of God, and of the way in which the guilty may become righteous in His sight.
Temperance. The proper restraint and government of the passions; the modes in which they break over all control; the consequences of indulgence in sensual and profligate habits; the destruction which such indulgence brings upon body and soul; the customs which encourage such violation; the methods in which multitudes pander to the guilty appetites of others;—the distress of families, the poverty, the disease, the "babbling," the "woe," the hearts broken, the fortunes ruined, the hopes blasted, the bodies consigned to an early grave, and the souls lost for ever by intemperance,—all these are proper topics in preaching; all are fitted to stir the conscience to a sense of guilt, all are essential for the good of man here or hereafter.
Judgment to come. The fact that there will be a judgment; the nature of that judgment; the results of it; the solemnity of the transaction; the interests at stake; the things to be judged; the Judge Himself,— His rank, His dignity, and His qualifications to judge mankind; the fact that the judgment will be final and irreversible,—all these are proper subjects on which to address man as he travels on to the retribution of that great day.
What has Christianity made known in respect to the judgment? What would one appointed to speak of the "faith in Christ" have to say on this subject?
(a.) Christianity has confirmed the natural apprehension of mankind in regard to the judgment. It admits the reality; it deepens the impression of that reality. It has affirmed that all which man ever apprehended in the judgment was well-founded; it has added many things to make it more fearful and solemn.
(b.) It has stated that there will be a judgment of all men; of all that have lived; of all that now live; of all who will ever live (Rev. xx. 12—14).
(c.) It has revealed the Judge who is to pronounce the final sentence on mankind—Jesus Christ, the Son of God; the Incarnate Deity; the brightness of the Father's glory; the Crucified One, who rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father Almighty (John v. 22, 23).
(d.) It has stated the consequences or results of the final judgment; the fearful sentence which shall be passed on mankind (Matt. xxv. 31—46).
Assuredly, if there are any truths, if there is any ground of appeal, that would be likely to arouse a thoughtless race to reflection; if there is anything that is adapted to fill the mind with alarm, it would be found in considerations such as these, and we are not surprised, therefore, that in view of these topics, as presented by Paul, "Felix trembled."
II. What, then, is the natural and proper effect of such truths on the mind? This is, in other words, an inquiry whether the effect produced on the mind of Felix was natural and proper.
The consideration of this will bring before us an important law of our nature, or an important Divine arrangement, in regard to guilt. I shall refer to it, not merely as a proof of conscious criminality, but as a proof that there is a moral government over men; that God is a friend of virtue, and an enemy of vice.
(1.) All men are aware that, when nature" acts freely, and when there is no restraint imposed by purpose or acquired by discipline, there are certain marks of conscious guilt which convey to those around us, without the use of words, and by signs which even contradict the words which may be used, the knowledge of that which is passing within, or that of which we are conscious. The blush, the paleness of the cheek, the averted eye; atremblingand agitated frame; a restless,suspicious, fearful look, are marks of what is within. These belong, too, to a certain class of emotions or feelings, or to a certain kind of conduct, and are confined to these. They cannot be transferred to another kind of conduct, —to the consciousness of a noble deed; to purity of purpose; to a feeling of gratitude; to self-approbation. They are not the result of education, or indicative of a certain stage of civilization, or confined to any position or rank in life. They are not local, for they are found in every land; they are not the effect of climate, for they exist among all nations. They are so universal as to demonstrate that they belong to man as man.
(2.) The design of this arrangement, as a part of our constitution, it is not difficult to understand. It is at once a proof that there is a moral government over mankind, and a benevolent arrangement adapted to secure the good of mankind in great and important respects.
(a.) No one can explain it except on the supposition that there is a God, and that He rules over mankind. It is one of the original principles of our nature; and as it is always connected with a certain course of conduct, and cannot be transferred to the opposite course, its existence proves that God designed it to be an indication of His sense of human actions. The arrangement must have had its origin in the purposes of our Maker, and it is of such a nature as to show that He intends to control mankind.
(b.) It is an arrangement designed, when it operates freely, to reveal or disclose the knowledge of our sin to others. It is not susceptible of misinterpretation. The trembling of Felix under the preaching of "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," could not be misunderstood. He would not have trembled, he could not have been alarmed under such preaching, if he had not been conscious that he had lived, and was living, in violation of " righteousness" and "ternperance," and had reason to look with apprehension to a "judgment to come." The natural, and the only interpretation which could be put on his trembling, either by Paul, by Drusilla, or by himself, must have been that he was a guilty man.
(c.) The arrangement is designed, not only to put others on their guard, but also to restrain us from the commission of sin. This is done by the very fact of the admonition of guilt in the feeling itself; by the fact that the guilty purpose must thus be known to others; and by the conscious shame and confusion which is thus produced in the soul. By all that is painful in such a consciousness of guilt and in the fear of wrath; by all that there is to expose us to shame and disgrace before the world, it is designed to act as a check on criminal purposes and conduct, and to hold men back from cherishing the purposes of crime.
(d.) This arrangement is designed to be among the means of securing the reformation of the guilty; an arrangement of Divine wisdom to lead men to see in this dreadful anticipation—this trembling—what must be the consequences of the course which they are pursuing, and to lead them to "flee from the wrath to come." Thus the jailor at Philippi trembled; thus Felix trembled; and thus the sinner now—under the consciousness of guilt—trembles, turns pale, and is alarmed at the prospect of impending judgment. Among the most effective means of recovering and reforming the wicked, is this power which God has of alarming the consciences of men, and overwhelming them with the remembrance of past guilt, and the apprehension of future wrath. He is the most successful preacher who is most able, under the Divine blessing, to produce this consciousness of guilt in the soul, and the work of such a preacher is nearest to its accomplishment, when his hearers turn pale,—when the wicked, and the gay, and the thoughtless, and the corrupt, and the sensual, and the profane, are made to tremble in view of a coming judgment.
III. The remaining inquiry is, In ivhat manner are these impressions often met and warded off?
The conduct of Felix will be our guide in illustrating this point. He " trembled;" but he did not yield. The jailor at Philippi "trembled," and yielded; fell down before Paul and Silas, his prisoners, and brought them out, and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts xvi. 29, 30). He acted as God meant that men should act; and he was true, in this respect, to the nature with which God had endowed him. But Felix "trembled," and then said, " Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." He resisted his nature; he violated a great law of his being, and perilled his everlasting welfare. The jailor, in humbler life,—perhaps not living in any known form of sin,—and having nothing as derived from rank, position, and associations, to prevent his acting out the inward promptings of his nature, yielded to his convictions, and was saved; Felix, living in known sin, bound and fettered by a guilty tie,—in a position in which a confession of guilt might have exposed him to the ridicule of those in elevated life, or to a loss of place and position,—refused to yield to the suggestions of conscience, and sought relief from present alarm by deferring all to a future time. He banished his serious impressions; he calmed down the apprehensions of guilt; he put himself on his guard against any danger of being overcome in the future by such sudden and unexpected emotions; and, as far as we know, gained the victory over the finer feelings of his nature,—and lost his soul.
The great difficulty always is to induce men to attend personally and practically to religion now. In many cases we have their understandings already with us on the side of religion; they are convinced of the truth of Christianity; we either meet them when they are already conscious of guilt, or by a course of reasoning on "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," we can, by the help of God, produce such a consciousness of guilt; we find them already cherishing a general purpose to attend to religion at some future time, or we can easily persuade them to adopt such a resolution. The difficulty is to prevail on them to attend to the subject sow; to do it at once; to make it the first thing. Could we do this, our work would be accomplished; for then religion would become easy, and the difficulties in regard to it would vanish.
There are, it need scarcely be said, many reasons why men, even trembling under the conviction of guilt, plead for delay. The original Greek, in which the words of Felix are given us, is "Taking time, I will call for thee;" that is, I have it not now; I will secure it; at some future period I will "take" the time needful to pursue the subject further. So men, engaged in the world,—in a bank, in a custom-house, in a countingroom, on a farm, in the workshop,—plead that they have not time to attend to the matter now. So the young delay the subject to a future period, when it will be more suitable than at present . So the gay and thoughtless ask that they may be allowed to engage for the present in the festive scenes of life, with a promise or a hope that the time will come when religion will be more appropriate, and when—the pleasures of life past—they may find leisure to prepare to die. So Jhe wicked of all classes ask for present indulgence, with A purpose to repent at a future time.
Thus, as we pass along the journey of life, a thousand things—business, pleasure, ambition, sin, the love of ease, the desire of indulgence—plead for delay, on that which must be to all men the most momentous of all subjects; and the soul is lost. The mind is calmed down, the subject of religion is banished from the thoughts, and the troubled heart is set free from alarm.
I do not say that time is never found to attend to religion, or that the purpose to attend to it is never carried out. Felix found time to consider the subject, for he "sent for Paul often,"—the oftencr because he hoped that a bribe would be offered,—" and communed with him." It is not for us to say that a man who has neglected a present opportunity of salvation, and postponed it when his mind had been awakened to the subject, will never have another serious thought, and that he certainly seals his own condemnation for ever. I do not say that a man, thus disregarding the present, never is, or can be saved. Not thus do I understand the arrangements of God in regard to the salvation of men. But that it may be the last opportunity, no one can doubt; for death may be near. That a man will be less likely to be aroused and awakened at another time, as the result of having refused to yield, no one can doubt; for this is in accordance with a great law of our nature. That it does not, in all respects, depend on our own will when the mind shall be serious, —when it shall be disposed to attend to the subject,— when it shall find leisure,—is equally clear. That it may not be as easy to attend to the subject on a bed of sickness, or on the approach of death, as in health, and when the mind is calm, is no less plain. That when a man who has been convinced of his sin, has secured such a triumph as to say to the heavenly Messenger, "Go thy way for this time," the heavenly Messenger may not take a final departure, and that such a man may not by that act determine the destiny of his soul for ever, no man can deny. This hour—this very moment—you may so resolve to reject the invitation of mercy, as to settle the question of your salvation for cscr and ever. To-morrow—nay, the next moment of your life—you may be Beyond Hope 1