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" Go thy way for this time ; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." Acts xxiv. 25. These words were uttered by Felix, in presence of Paul, when he had reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. In the character of Felix, as unfolded in this hook, we find the general features of many men. Their hearts are not altogether steeled against religious impressions. They have some convictions with regard to the necessity of righteousness and temperance, and can be impressed with fear on the prospect of a future judgment ; but having felt the power of the truth, and experienced the movements and stirrings of the Spirit, they will yet say, " Go thy way for this time ; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." Felix was farther advanced than many who are regular, now-a-days, in their attendance upon ordinances. He trembled at Paul's preaching. There was a power in the preacher's language that pierced him to the quick. His heart was smitten, but it was not broken. He was touched, but not made contrite. The world had the mastery over the Roman governor still — retained hold on his affections still ; and immediately after the eloquent and faithful admonitions of Paul, immediately after his own trembling in the prospect of judgment, he purposes in his heart to do an unjust act. He would have taken a bribe. He would have pocketed the fruits of venality and corruption — " Wherefore, he sent for Paul the oftener and communed with him." The Bible tells of those who, being made to tremble, did believe, and were saved, as examples for us to follow. We are told, also, of those who resisted the admonitions of conscience, and the authoritative claims of a holy God, as beacons to warn us. ow, we nowhere else in the Word meet with Felix; we nowhere read of his conversion. There is no evidence furnished us of Felix dying in the faith ; and, for aught we know, the convenient season never arrived. There is too much reason to fear, that this was the turning point in his history ; or rather, the de-
REV. WALTER SMITH. 211 cisive step in the direction of hell. Oh ! then, if there is truth in the word of God, if there is a reality in the joys of heaven, if hell is a place full of misery and woe — as the search after happiness is the one great business of your lives, as you value your souls, — shut not your
ears against the truth, nor your hearts against its influence, while we endeavour to point out the way to happiness, and while we urge you to avoid the paths which lead to destruction. We shall endeavour, in this discourse, to show you, I. The path which men, feeling the movements of the Spirit, like Felix, ought to pursue. II. The danger, presumption, and sinfulness of such a course as that which Felix pursued. III. The necessity of your giving heed to the things of your peace now. I. We shall consider, in a sentence or two, the course which the convicted sinner should pursue. There were three paths before Felix. He might have chosen the way of the infidel — to reject the gospel altogether, or the course he did pursue — namely, to neglect it, to postpone the full consideration of those things of eternal moment, which were pressed upon his attention, — or the full and instant closing with the overtures of salvation. He had the offer of a free pardon, a full acquittal, and a glorious inheritance ; but, like Demas, he loved the present world. There is, said conscience, responding to the fervid eloquence of Paul, a reality in the truth ; and although he put off its consideration, he desired, like Balaam, "to die the death of the righteous." The cares of office, and the distractions of business, and the service of the state, occupy and absorb his thoughts. It is not convenient for him now to serve the Lord. If any of you desire to die the death of the righteous, you must live the lives of the righteous too. If death, and judgment, and eternity press heavily upon your minds, you must turn away from all your sins, and give yourselves entirely and unreservedly to the Lord. o other path of salvation can we point out — no other way will lead us to heaven than Christ. And, now, we make a full tender of salvation to your souls — we offer, on the authority of Christ, and as the ambassadors of the Lord, a free pardon. If you desire salvation, come to Christ now, that all your defilement may be washed away. Run not voluntarily the risk of being engulphed in an abyss of misery, and say not with Felix, " Go thy way for this time." This is the path which the sinner, convinced of sin, which all the trembling Felixes out of hell, should pursue — to repent and break off from all their sins, and close with Christ. And not on the convicted sinner merely do we make this demand, but on all men. On
212 FREE CHURCH PULPIT.
the authority of heaven's King, we command the most hardened and debased to give themselves to the Lord. " Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains ; and while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness." II. We proceed now, in the second place, to consider the danger, presumption, and sinfulness of the course which Felix pursued. (1.) Such a course is dangerous. Do you feel that your hearts are not riorht with God — that all accounts are not settled — that all scores, so to speak, are not cleared? Close with the Saviour now, that all your sins may be blotted out. ature has certain feelings, certain wants and desires, which require to be satisfied. When you feel hunger, pain makes you seek for food — when you are thirsty, you desire drink. The man would be reckoned a fool and a fanatic, who did not follow up, with suitable exertions, the suggestions of nature, for the permanence and well-being of his corporeal frame. But in spiritual things, this is the path which many pursue. They do not attend to the plain intimations of Scripture, nor the motions of the Spirit, nor the suggestions of conscience, nor the calls of duty, nor the felt longings and wants of the immortal Spirit. There is something else to occupy them in the meantime. The hand finds some other thing to do. The attention is not directed to those things from which the will is estranged. What is the tendency of this shutting out of the truth from the heart ? Manifestly to grieve the Spirit of God — to hurry the soul onwards to that state when the Spirit ceases to strive. There is a gradation in the language of Scripture on this subject. There is a resistance mentioned in many passages, and may be regarded as the lowest order of sinful opposition to the voice of a holy God. When resistance reaches a certain point — when the repeated unsuccessful efforts of supernatural agency have reached a certain limit, the Spirit is grieved. He threatens to depart, and to influence the will and touch the conscience no longer. Man loves his sins more than the truth of God — deliberately prefers what is evil, and the spirit is quenched: and then of him it is said, " Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone." Such is the tendency, the dangerous tendency, of putting off till a more convenient season the closing with Christ. "Acquaint yourselves now with God, and be at peace." " Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near ; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts ; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.'' (2.) In such a course there is manifestly presumption. What can
REV WALTER SMITH. 213 entitle you or me to postpone tbe full consideration of the Gospel, and the work of closing with Christ ? One of two things is pleaded by man as a reason for turning a deaf ear to the voice of instruction. He neglects the gospel entirely, because he values it not ; or he neglects it merely in tbe meantime, he puts off its consideration till some future and more convenient season. In the first case, in rejecting it altogether, he openly despises the authority of God, and practically says, I will not have the Lord to rule over me. But it is with the putting it off in the meantime that we have principally to do. If he postpone it now, with the purpose of giving heed to its message at some future time, it must be on the supposition of his own power to summon again into existence the religious impressions he formerly had, and to turn his attention to the matters of eternal concernment whensoever he may now choose. The presumption of such a course lies in the idea of salvation's being a work, which, by the exercise of his own strength, ho shall be able to effect, and which may be done at any time, by the application of his own skill. There is manifest presumption also in this conduct, implying, as it does, that we reckon God will be the better for our services, and that he will be glad of us, at what time soever we shall choose to return. The conduct and the language of some men, and the entertainment they give to the truths of the Gospel, impress forcibly upon the mind the conviction that they do not so much deem themselves the party to be damaged, or to be benefited, as they deem God the party who shall sustain loss by their withholding obedience, or be benefited by their giving it. We know not what sounds of gladness and what expressions of delight, shall be uttered over the sighs and tears of a broken-hearted sinner ; but notwithstanding all the affectionate earnestness with which God pleads for men to have mercy upon their souls, we know that being infinitely perfect and glorious, He is incapable of any diminution or increase of his essential glory. And be assured if his mercy, and love, and justice, are not glorified in your salvation. His holiness, his justice, and truth, shall be glorified in your condemnation. It is presumption, therefore, for man either to imagine that he will be able to call into existence those feelings and convictions which already he has done his utmost to crush and destroy, or to suppose that God lies under any need of his services, so that He will be glad of them at any time, although he has told us, that if we neglect and despise his entreaties, he will laugh at our calamity, he will mock when our fear cometh. You will never obtain salvation because of your own strength to lay hold thereon, but you will, by feeling your weakness, your insufficiency, your inability to do that which is good, find the sure and beaten track of the
214 FREE CHURCH PULPIT. saints of God to a place of peace, of enlargement, and security ; for thus you bring your weakness to the strength of Christ, and your emptiness to his fulness, and your guilt to his grace. Will you then say, " Lord save me, I perish !" " God be merciful to me a sinner !" or will you say, " Go thy way this time, and when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee ?" (3.) In the third place, such a postponement is sinful. It is sinful for any man not to serve God. The offence is manifestly aggravated when, as in the case of Felix, the suggestions of the Spirit are disregarded, and the clear intimations of Scripture, brought home to the conscience, are neglected. The Lord calls upon all men, every where, to repent. The command is given to all men, without exception, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ ; and it is at man's peril if he refuse. ow, you hear this command ; you acknowledge its paramount obligation ; but you put off. To-morrow, or at some future period, you purpose to turn to it your attention. Grant that, in your resolution, you are perfectly sincere ; grant, moreover, that you shall be able to give earnest heed, at some future time, to the things which belong to your peace ; a very little attention will convince you that such a resolution, or such a future purpose, is not without an element of sinfulness, the effect of which may be to harden your own hearts, and to make God give you up to a reprobate mind. What is the nature of the demands of God's holy law ? Can we be right in regarding merely as a worldly transaction the obedience he requires — that the master will be satisfied if, within a limited time, the servant perform his work, no matter when it be begun. Ah ! brethren, there could be no more dangerous delusion than this. There is not one passage in Scripture to sanction one hour's delay. God uniformly urges man to repent noiu — to believe now. " ow is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." God cannot sanction the delay that man would claim ; for he cannot so issue his commands as to give or grant a season for the commission of sin, whatever purposes of new obedience, and whatever resolutions of amendment may lie beyond it. We would then have you bear in mind, that the very purpose to become religious, at some future time, is intrinsically and necessarily sinful ; for there is, manifestly, a time virtually appropriated to the service of the devil — a time reserved to man in which he may live at a distance from duty and at a distance from God. The purpose of Felix carries, in its face, an unblushing affront to the majesty of God. The obedience which God de-
mands is uniform, perfect, uninterrupted; and not for one moment will he relax the high behests of his law.
REV. WALTER SMITH. 215 If the conduct of Felix involves sin at all, it is sin against light. f he path of duty hath been made plain. But the position has not been ittained which ought to be striven after, viz., a turning away from all in, in the actings of a lively repentance, and a cleaving to Jesus Christ in the exercise of a lively faith, and a walking along the narrow way which leadeth unto life ; because worldly pursuits, and sinful desires, have been allowed to maintain their perverting influence upon the will, and to becloud the intellect. It is a sin against clearer light than the man unconvinced of sin hath yet attained. It is a sin against love, — against a God of love who hath expressed his willingness to be reconciled, who hath plied the conscience with every motive of fear and of love ; who hath used every method of argument, persuasion, and entreaty ; who hath sent his Spirit to open the eyes, that the path of duty may be discerned ; and hath backed these appliances with his own faithful promise, that if the sinner will return unto him, he will return to the sinner. And double woe shall be to that man, who shuts his eye against the light, and closes the avenues of his soul against conviction, and wilfully obliterates the handwriting of the Spirit upon the tablet of his hear:;. III. We come now to speak of the necessity of giving heed to the things of your peace now. The arguments that we have already employed to show the danger, the presumption, and sinfulness of delay, enforce the necessity of embarking on the service of God noiv — of giving your souls to Christ now. Men, after all, imagine, that when death begins to lay his cold clammy hand upon them, they will be compelled, under the pressure of a dire necessity, to believe, and that all will at last be well. But it is folly and madness to rely on the possibility of a death-bed repentance. It may be ?aid, was not the thief on the cross saved, as it were, at the eleventh lour ? And is not this a ground of encouragement and hope ? It is a ground of great encouragement to see such a manifestation of the fulness ind freeness of God's grace. But God could never intend this to affect , r our relation to sin, so as to allow you to cherish it, and encourage you to persist in it. As if Scripture would guard us against such an inference, fitted to second the devil's efforts, in enslaving the souls of men, no similar instance is recorded. We many state some additional reasons for the purpose of bringing
this home more forcibly to your minds. (1.) While the great end of the church is the salvation of souls and the glory of God throughout eternity, it serves a subordinate end in the government of this lower world. God has an end in view in all his ar-
216 FREE CHURCH PULPIT. rangements. He has a purpose in preserving the fabric of society. It is his ordinary method to call men out of darkness aud ignorance to the knowledge of Christ's marvellous light, while they are moving in society, and while their example may tell upon and influence the conduct of their fellow men. Some know the Scriptures from their youth as Timothy did — some are called in the midst of their years — and some there are, although we believe the cases are few, who are called in old age. ow the purpose which the Lord's people serve to the world, is to act as salt, to preserve the mass from putrefaction. The salt may be little in comparison with the lump salted, yet it preserves it from rottenness and decay. It harmonizes, evidently, with the purpose of God, to make his people live for a time on the earth as the lights of the earth, letting their light shine before men, and lightening all around. This is the general rule. There may be exceptions. The Bible tells us of one exception — of one sinner accepted on the point of death. The rule must be followed and not the exception. (2.) Sanctification is a gradual and progressive work. We must be made holy. We must have a meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light, in order to enjoy that inheritance. Our members, which are upon the earth, must be mortified. Our sins must be crucified. God could make us completely holy at once. But he works by gradual processes. In every department of his work we see progress and advancement. Perfection is attained by slow steps. There is first the bud, then the blossom, then the fruit, and it requires time to mature it and bring it to perfection. And so there are degrees of holiness, and there is growth in grace, till the believer attains the measure of the stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus. (3.) If convictions are first to be felt on a death- bed, we shall have reason to suspect them ourselves. We may be goaded on to the performance of some duties by slavish fear. The truth may not be received in the love of it, but in the fear of hell, and God may be served, not because he is an object of love, but an object of terror. If only the terrors of the Lord move the soul, and only the frowns of his countenance make the sinner cry out ; if he has no confidence, no trust, no filial affection, what shall be his portion, but the realization of his worst fears, and
the fulfilment of his bitterest anticipations ? Yet we call upon all men, in whatever circumstances they may be placed, to repent. Let the young man full of strength, and the man stretched on a bed of sickness, drawing near the gates of death, repent and give themselves to the Lord. What is imperative at all times, cannot be wrong at any time. " To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
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