ACTS xxiv. 25. As he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled. As the ministers of Christ, in fulfilling the duties of their holy profession, must wish to regard St. Paul as a model, copying after his manner of preaching, his judgment in accommodating his discourses to the circumstances and characters of his hearers, and his earnestness and zeal in speaking to their hearts and consciences ; the words now read may lead us to contemplate him in each of these respects. Of his method of preaching we are informed by the assertion, that he reasoned. The great pre-eminence of human beings above the other species of creatures belonging to this lower creation, results from their powers of reason. By this faculty they are enabled to reflect upon * This discourse was delivered at an ordination. The portion of it more immediately adapted to the occasion, being alone omitted.

PREACHI G OF PAUL. 327 their own perceptions — on the treasures of knowledge already accumulated in their minds ; to discern the distinction between opposite moral qualities, good and evil, truth and falsehood ; to compare ideas or different propositions, to mark their agreement or repugnance, and to educe one truth from another, in a continued series, by bringing into

view their reciprocal relations. Reasoning consists in such a use of our powers of thought and intellect. In this way human knowledge in general is both acquired and communicated, and the understandings of men improved and cultivated. As all other knowledge, so that of religion, of its principles and duties, must be obtained by thus reasoning upon them. The religion of Christ being a reasonable service, it invites us to examine both its doctrines, and its credentials, and requires to be received upon no other ground, but that of a rational conviction of its truth. As it is contained in certain writings which claim the authority of divine inspiration, it is the office of reason to examine and judge of the evidence upon which this claim is founded. Besides the christian scriptures, there are in the world divers other writings most opposite to them in their doctrines and precepts, which yet pretend to the same authority. Reason in its most improved state and most vigorous exercise, is necessary to enable us to judge correctly of the respective claims of those various systems, each of

328 ^REACHI G OF PAUL. which offers itself to us as a revelation from God. Through the weakness of their reason, or through their neglect to exercise it upon the things of religion, the great mass of mankind from age to age have become the dupes of numberless impostors ; have fallen under strong and dangerous delusions, or given themselves up to the most absurd superstitions. To think and examine, each one for himself, being an exertion too great for their indolence, they have preferred the taking of their religion on trust, by an implicit faith. But they are, in every instance, false religions, the inventions

of men, the dreams of enthusiasts, or the fabrications of statesmen for political purposes, which require to be so received. It was the design of the great Author of our being in conferring upon us the gift of reason, that we should improve it in searching after the knowledge of him, of our duty to him, and to one another. To assist our reason in this search, revelation has been added. But this revelation was at first accompanied and is still attended with such proofs of its being derived from God, that, when impartially examined, unbiassed reason cannot fail of admitting its truth. With these proofs, each believer in revealed religion ought to be so acquainted, as to be able, whenever challenged, to render a reason for his faith, or for the hope which is in him.

PREACHI G OF PAUL. 329 or is it only in judging of the evidence upon which we receive the Christian Scriptures as the word of God, that the exercise of reason is necessary. In the right understanding of these Scriptures, in searching out their true meaning, the doctrines which they teach and the duties which they enjoin, the closest study, the most diligent and earnest labours of reason are requisite. As the original Scriptures are contained in languages long since dead and out of use, whose style was that of the oriental nations, highly figurative, comprising many images scarcely intelligible in the western world, especially in modern times, and abounding with allusions to manners, circumstances, and events which took place many ages ago, it is hardly possible rightly and accurately to understand them without the closest attention and the greatest care in comparing scripture with scripture, aided by deep research into antiquity and a competent knowledge of ancient

history. If it cannot be expected of private christians that they should apply to the study of them, aided by all these advantages, yet it would be inexcusable in any professed expounder of them, not to avail himself of every mean within his reach for ascertaining their true sense ; nor would it be honorary to any christian society to set up such a character for their public teacher. We see the christian world divided into numberless sects and parties, holding tenets opposite to 42

330 PREACHI G OF PAUL. each other, and practising rites and ceremonies, in some instances, resembling those of ancient paganism. Among those who are called Christians, damnable heresies have crept in, doctrines of demons have been professed, and superstitions practised, which are a reproach to reason, and a disgrace to humanity. From the Scriptures, however, all these sects and parties profess to derive their respective creeds and modes of worship. Could there have been these divisions among Christians, had the Scriptures been rightly understood, or had reason been properly employed in the study of them ? Are they not the result of inattention, of a criminal want of heed to that light which is come into the world ? While the greatest proportion of the men called learned have been too indolent, or too much engaged in other studies, to exercise their reason about their spiritual concerns ; the holy Scriptures, the depositories of all religious truth, have been left, not unfrequently, to the management of ignorance, prejudice, passion, and interest. By these wild expounders they have been perverted to all manner of purposes. o doctrine is so absurd, and

scarcely any practice so abominable as not to have been ostensibly supported by the wresting of some texts or passages in the Bible. ot by men of corrupt minds only, has this sacred book been thus abused. Multitudes have undesignedly mistaken its meaning. The best are liable to err. Of all

PREACHI G OF PAUL. 331 its translators and expositors from the apostolic age down to the present, there have been none whose weaknesses or prejudices have not betrayed them into some mistakes. Should not these observations convince us how important it is that we endeavour to see with our own eyes, to search and study the sacred writings each one for himself ? The unlearned indeed must, of course, depend on the fidelity of translations ; but would it not be disgraceful to the professed teacher thus to take upon trust what he delivers to others for inspired truth ? Should his deficiency be unknown and unsuspected abroad, yet could he feel satisfied with himself as a " workman who needeth not to be ashamed ?V The gift of tongues was among the qualifications with which the first teachers of Christianity were furnished. What they obtained by miracle, their successors are expected to obtain by diligence and application. " Though my knowledge of the Hebrew tongue be small; " says the celebrated Luther, " I would not exchange it for the treasures of the world." As a reason, he adds, " They who read only versions of the Hebrew scriptures, see with the eyes of others ; they stand with the people in the courts, and view the sacred rites at a distance ; but whoever is acquainted with the sacred text itself, is admitted with the priests into the sanctuary, and is himself a witness

and a judge of all that is transacted in the recesses of the temple."

332 PREACHI G OF PAUL. If the christian teacher ought not implicitly to confide in translations, should he not be stiil more cautious with respect to commentaries and expositions ? Certain it is that all these are more or less tinged with the peculiarities of their respective authors.* Prepossessions, in some measure, take hold on every mind. o uninspired men, however pious, or however learned, are to be regarded as infallible. " By the law and the testimony," our own reason must try their interpretations, admitting or rejecting them through that criterion. In this way only should they be used ; and in this way indeed the more rational and judicious of them may assist our inquiries. After reason has been thus exercised in accumulating the treasures of religious knowledge, it may be expected to preside and direct in the dispensing of those treasures. The habit of correct reasoning having been formed by the learner, on his becoming a teacher, it will naturally lead him so to methodize and arrange his instructions, that one important truth after another in a continued, * " What are these huge volumes which fill up one side of the room," said a visitor to the keeper of a public library. " These are the interpreters of the scriptures," was the answer, " There is a prodigious number of them ; the Scriptures must have been very dark formerly and be very clear at present. Are there any remaining doubts, any points still contested ?'' " Are there ? do you ask ? almost as many as there are lines." " You as-

tonish me ! what then have all these authors been doing?" "Searching the Scriptures to find, not what ought to be believed, but what themselves already believed." If this be high colouring, it is not wholly unfounded.

PREACHI G OF PAUL. 333 connected series will pertinently be brought forward, unfolded and set in a clear light before the understanding of the hearer, strengthening his judgment and assisting his memory, while it convinces his conscience and operates on his will and affections. Such was the manner of St. Paul's preaching. When it is said of him that he reasoned, we think of the good sense displayed in the order and connexion of his sentiments, as well as in their importance and in the proofs advanced for their support. His discourses were not loose harangues, made up of rambling, disjointed observations. They consisted not of bold assertions abruptly thrown out, unsustained by any show of argument, though incessantly repeated in tones of vociferation, attended with wild airs and gestures. These methods of dispensing pretended instruction are indeed but too common. They are in constant use with those impostors and enthusiasts who impiously affect to be thought apostles, as having partaken in gifts supernatural. Are they not such characters, of whom we read, that " they creep into houses, leading away silly women laden with iniquities ?" It may seem strange that, in this enlightened age, such pretended teachers should attract notice. It is astonishing that they should draw crowds after them. Good sense, as well as true religion, cannot but disclaim them. Revelation is indeed the light given to direct us, but reason is the intellectual eye



by which alone this light can be either seen or used to any valuable purpose. Is it not wonderful that, after they have received the gift of reason and by every day's experience reaped its advantages in all their common affairs, men should lay it aside in their most difficult and weighty concerns, where their eternal interests are involved? Of what avail can any religious faith or practice be, any farther than it is reasonable ? In what can its piety or morality consist ? If we would be rationally religious, must we not desire and seek such instruction only as is adapted to improve and edify rational beings ? It was by such instruction that the first propagators of Christianity succeeded in spreading the knowledge of this religion in the world. Their preaching was always rational. That of St. Paul seems to have been generally in the argumentative strain. In discoursing to the Gentiles, he began with reasoning on the principles of natural religion, in connexion with which he proceeded to introduce and establish some or other of the doctrines of revelation. When addressing the Jews, he drew his arguments in favour of the Gospel, from those scriptures which were by the Jews already received and acknowledged. Thus in a synagogue at Thessalonica, for three successive sabbaths, " he reasoned with the Jews out of the Scriptures ; opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suf-

PREACHI G OF PAUL. 335 fered, and risen again from the dead ; and that this Jesus whom he preached, was Christ." At Corinth too, we read, that he " reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and Greeks." Also at Ephesus, he " entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews." And in the text, when preaching before Felix and Drusilla, " he reasoned." On this last occasion he laboured under the signal disadvantage of being a prisoner, speaking before those who had his liberty and even his life in their power, and whose characters could promise little honour to any religion. Felix, as a magistrate, was notorious for the abuse of his power in acts of injustice and oppression. His wife Drusilla was not less notorious for lewdness. Enslaved however as these great personages were to avarice and lust, that curiosity or thirst after knowledge which is natural to the human mind, prompted them to give Paul a hearing on the subject of the christian faith, the new religion then spreading in the world. Glad of every opportunity for preaching Christ, after evidencing Jesus to be the Christ, the Apostle dwelt upon such parts of his religion as were the best adapted to the known character of his hearers, as tending to awaken in them a sense of their guilt and danger, and "thus to bring them to repentance, and to faith in the Saviour. Righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, are among

336 PREACHI G OF PAUL. the fundamental articles of the christian faith, hav-

ing been abundantly taught by Christ himself during his ministry on earth. In their full extent, they comprehend the substance of his religion. The great call of the Gospel to us is — that we consider our ways — break off our sins by repentance — for the future, do justly, in rendering to God the things which are his, to our fellow- men the things which are theirs — and become temperate in all things by self-government. To do these things from evangelical motives, in hope of pardon for the past through the mediation of Christ, and with a view to that recompense of reward which he has promised at the last day, comprises the whole duty of a Christian. It was therefore the "faith of Christ," which Paul preached, while " he reasoned on righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come." After elucidating these subjects he undoubtedly enforced them by the dictates of reason, as well as by the precepts of revelation. Under the head of justice, we may suppose him to have enlarged upon whatever is implied in " doing as we would be done by ;" sanctioning that maxim by arguments derived from the mutual relation in which men stand to one another, and their equal relation to one common Father or Creator; of whose family they all are, and among whom he requires order, equity, truth, and charity. If a good human parent enjoin these things

PREACHI G OF PAUL. 337 upon his children, we must believe them to be the will of our common Father in heaven, and that he will be displeased with all those actions which proceed from opposite dispositions in us — with all injustice, oppression, and cruelty. When these crimes have been committed under the forms of law, when

a ruler has so abused his power as to render it the source of misery to those for whose happiness only it ought to be exerted, his conscience must be loaded with the deepest guilt, his own heart must reproach him. Felix felt its reproaches while he heard Paul " reasoning" on the various branches of righteousness. ext to these virtues the Apostle brought into view those pertaining to self-government, as they are implied in " temperance." This has respect both to the body and the mind, and requires all the propensities of our nature to be under the con* trol of virtue. " To be temperate in all things," supposes due restrictions to be imposed on the passions as well as on the appetites. In discoursing on this topic, we may suppose that the Apostle, with great clearness and energy, set forth the deformity and criminality of the vices opposite to temperance. Having by these strictures laid matter of conviction before the consciences of his hearers, in the conclusion, he drew their attention to the scenes of a future "judgment," when all men shall give an 43



account to God of the deeds done in the body. Reason leads us to expect that, under a righteous government, every man shall sooner or latex receive

according to his works. It being manifest that this does not take place in the present world, all our ideas of the moral perfections of God lead us to infer that there must be a future state. But in discoursing on a judgment to come, St. Paul, as an apostle of Christ and a publisher of his religion, taught its certainty and the awful circumstances of its proofs as set forth in the gospel revelation. He assured his auditors that, as God had sent his Son by his death to make propitiation for the sins of the world, so he had constituted him its future judge ; whereof he had given ample evidence by raising him from the dead and exalting him at his own right hand in the heavens. If in times past he had seemed to wink at the ignorance, the follies, and vices of mankind ; yet now, by the Gospel, he called all men every where to repent and reform, in hope, on the one part, of his forgiveness through the atoning blood of his Son ; and on the other, through fear of that dreadful condemnation which would await every one who should persist in neglecting so great salvation. These things were depicted in such glowing colours, and with such force of argument, that they took hold on the conscience of Felix. He " trembled,"

PREACHI G OF PAUL. 339 This effect, considering upon whom it was produced, is a clear proof of the energy, the strength of reason, which animated the whole tenor of St. Paul's well methodized discourse. A man of so high a rank as Felix, after such an education as he must have received, and after having been accustomed to the eloquence of those finished orators who, in that age, flourished at Rome — would have been wholly unimpressed by mere declamation, however vehement, and though on a subject ever

so interesting. But the Apostle's reasoning on " righteousness and temperance," had suggested to the conscience of Felix the manifold instances in which he had heinously violated those moral obligations ; and with these convictions rising in his mind, the discourse carried him before the awful tribunal of that Judge, with whom there is no respect of persons, and who will by no means clear the guilty. The certainty of such an arraignment was evinced by a train of arguments which Felix knew not how to confute or evade. In the mean while, his awakened conscience gathered strength ; his fears were alarmed, and rose to such an height that he was no longer master of himself. The joints of his loins were loosed, and his whole frame trembled. Such an impression seems to be all that can be expected from preaching. To render the impression lasting and effectual to repentance, surpasses

340 PREACHI G OF PAUL. the power of human eloquence, even when it flows from inspired lips, from a Paul or Apollos. o planting, sowing, or watering, is of itself effectual. It is however in the use of these appointed means, that it pleases God to give the increase ; and the more ably and faithfully they are used, the more rationally may we hope for the divine blessing. If men be said to be saved " through the foolishness of preaching," the thing meant, certainly is not foolish preaching. When faith is said to come by hearing, we are to understand such hearing as is impressive. To make the impression therefore, should be the aim of every sermon — the object of the preacher in all his studies and preparations for the pulpit. This will be his aim, provided his

heart be in his work, and he prosecute it from motives such as influenced St. Paul. He was moved and quickened by a sense of his own eternal interest. He believed his own salvation to depend on the fidelity of his exertions to save others ; and that any negligence towards them, would prove dangerous to himself. " ecessity is laid upon me," he exclaims, " yea, wo is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel." At the same time, he regarded the salvation of his fellow-men as an object of equal value with his own. And knowing them to have been ransomed at the same price, by the same stupendous love of the Saviour, — he partook, in a degree, of this love,

PREACHI G OF PAUL. 341 having in himself the same mind which was in Christ ; and from this motive was urged on to all his unwearied exertions for the common salvation. He attributes his extraordinary labours in the Gospel to the " love of Christ constraining him." For, says he, " We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead ;" and thence he infers that their recovery was possible in no other way than by the death of him who has brought life and immortality to light. The christian teacher who enters into these views, entertained by the Apostle, of the nature of the gospel salvation, of the price at which it was purchased, and of its infinite importance to the souls of men ; can be in no want of motives sufficiently powerful to excite his utmost diligence and fidelity. All his talents will of course be exercised and occupied in persuading men to accept the gospel terms. .

In these attempts, it will be his first care to gain and secure their attention. Much will depend upon his skill in the arts of persuasion, on his taste and judgment in adapting his mode of reasoning and his manner of address, to. the circumstances and character of his audience, with reference to their peculiar habits of thought, their preconceived opinions and biasses of mind. In accommodating himself to these their known peculiarities, he cannot have a better guide than the example of St. Paul.

342 PREACHI G OF PAUL. In points not essential, the Apostle becomes all things to all men, that, by all means, he may save some. With those under the law who believe themselves still bound by its ceremonial institutions, he observes those institutions after he knows them to have been abolished ; while with those who have attained to the same knowledge with himself, he uses his christian liberty. To. the weak, he becomes as weak, and will eat no meat while the world standeth, rather than occasion the weakest brother to offend. To every class of converts through each grade of religious improvement, he adapts his instructions as well as his behaviour, furnishing milk for babes and strong meat to those of mature growth ; comforting the feebleminded, while he warns the unruly ; being " gentle among them, even as a nurse cherisheth her children." With respect to the unconverted world, he acknowledges himself a debtor to all descriptions of men, " both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and the unwise, ?? by every possible method to bring them to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. In addressing these greatly diversified characters, with admirable discernment

he varies his manner and the topics of his discourse in ways best suited to their respective capacities, weaknesses, prejudices, errors, and vices. To the heathen, worshipping dumb idols, he sets forth the absurdity of idolatry. To the Jews, look-

PREACHI G OF PAUL. 843 ing through Moses and the prophets for their promised Messiah, he solemnly testifies that Jesus is the Messiah whom they are expecting. To the awakened jailor inquiring, " What shall I do to be saved?" he immediately answers, " Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ ;" while with the hardened, unprincipled Felix, in order to excite in him the concern already felt by the jailor, he reasons of righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come. Thus plainly does he deal with the man under whose power he is fallen. Amidst bonds and imprisonment, while loaded with fetters of iron, unawed, and fearless of those who can kill the body only, he boldly preaches justice to an unjust judge, continence to his lewd and adulterous wife, and a future judgment to them both. The event of Paul's reasoning with Felix, though the impression at the time was equal to any thing to be expected from preaching, shows that sinful men may efface the deepest impressions, stifle and resist the strongest convictions, and, in this way, disappoint the most promising appearances, rendering abortive all human means and endeavours for their salvation. " Felix trembled !?? How strong must have been his emotions ! How exquisite his feelings ! A degree of faith had entered his mind, and given rise to those feelings and emotions. He was at the moment persuaded, or

strongly apprehensive, that the things taught by

344 PREACHI G OF PAUL. the Apostle were true. They so far gained the assent of his understanding and conscience, as to overwhelm him with terror. But still his heart was so enslaved to his lusts, so shackled with the bands of wickedness, that he could not resolve to shake them off. He chose rather to shake off his fears, by turning his attention from the cause of them. He dismissed the preacher, though with an intimation, perhaps at the time sincere, that at some future season which, he supposes, will be more convenient, he would hear further. That season seems never to have occurred. With the present delay, all the hopes and prospects of the Gospel which had begun to unfold, were at once and finally closed. Thus the accepted time and the day of salvation were lost. This melancholy result is recorded on purpose that it might serve, through all succeeding ages, as a solemn warning against a double-minded conduct in religion, against all wavering and trifling in our eternal concerns, against disregarding the better thoughts and sentiments of our hearts, or shutting our eyes against the light that has begun to dawn on our understandings ; against delaying to any future season, that sincere and thorough reformation which, whenever effected, must commence in an awakened sense of our guilt and danger. May divine grace render the warning effectual to all and every one in this assembly !



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