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PAUL BEFORE FELIX.
WE have seen what courage and prudence Paul displayed in the presence of the high-priest and the rulers of the Jews, and by what expedient he defeated the purpose, for which the counsel was assembled. A few words seasonably spoken, revived the hostility of two rival sects, which were united for a moment in the prosecution; and so violent was the contest, that the Roman commander was obliged to interfere, and to carry back the prisoner to the castle.
By this disappointment, the malice of his enemies was exasperated. Paul had been marked out as a victim to their zeal; his death was deemed necessary to vindicate the honour of their religion; and if it could not be accomplished under the forms of law, which have often given the colour of justice to the most iniquitous deeds, it was determined, that he should perish by the hands of assassins. We are informed in the preceding chapter, “that when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying, that they would neither eat nor drink, till they had killed Paul.” Such a conspiracy must excite our detestation, whether we reflect upon the purpose for which it was formed, or upon the solemn bond, by which the members pledged themselves to execute their plan. Having resolved upon the death of the Apostle, they guarded against the influence of their cooler thoughts, and the feelings of compunction or pity which these might have awakened, by engaging under a dreadful imprecation speedily to perpetrate the murder. Their own lives were staked upon the success of the enterprise; and the God of mercy and justice was invoked, to witness and to ratify a combination of blood. From this transaction we learn how much conscience may be debauched 364the principles of a false religion. Superstition will sanctify the foulest actions in the eyes of its deluded votaries. There is no atrocity, however revolting to the natural feelings, and the unsophisticated moral sentiments of mankind, to which the mind may not be reconciled, if it have been previously persuaded that the deed will be acceptable to God. The horrors of the inquisition, and the barbarous cruelties exercised upon the friends of truth by the Antichristian Church, are examples of crimes committed in the name of God, and mistaken for acts of holy zeal. Men have imagined, that they never stood higher in the favour of Heaven, than at the moment when they were displaying the malignity of demons, and the ferocity of savages.
There is a particular account, in the preceding chapter, of the manner in which this conspiracy was discovered by the chief captain, and of the plan which he immediately adopted for the security of Paul. He sent him under a strong guard to Felix the governor of Judea, who resided in Cesarea, and gave orders to his accusers to follow him. The chapter now before us relates the proceedings at this new tribunal.
Let us attend, in the first place, to the speech of Tertullus, an orator, whom Ananias and the elders had chosen, on account of his eloquence and address, to conduct the prosecution. Felix, before whom he was appointed to plead, was a freedman of the emperor Claudius, by whom he had been entrusted with the government of Judea. The accounts of his conduct in this high station, which have been transmitted to us by both Jews and Romans, are exceedingly unfavourable. He had, indeed, dispersed and destroyed some bands of robbers who infested the country, and to this very proper exercise of his authority Tertullus seems to allude, when he says, “By thee we enjoy great quietness;” but from the general history of his administration, he appears to have been a man void of all regard to justice and humanity. Under his government the people were subjected to innumerable vexations and injuries, and their property and lives were wantonly sacrificed, to gratify his avarice, or his revenge. Impatient of control, he procured the assassination of Jonathan the high-priest, whose only crime it was, that he had freely remonstrated against his tyrannical proceedings. In a word, relying upon the influence of his brother Pallas, who was in high favour with the emperor, “he exercised royal authority,” to adopt 365the words of Tacitus, “with the spirit of a slave, and indulged himself in every species of cruelty and lust.”4646Tacit. Hist. v. 9.
After this description of the character of Felix, with what surprise must we read the speech of Tertullus! “Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, we accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.” What! was this man a stranger in Judea? Had he never heard the complaints and curses of the people against their unrighteous governor? Tertullus was one of those orators whose talents are exposed to sale, and are purchased by the highest bidder; a venal pleader, prepared to espouse either side of a question, and to employ, without moral discrimination, the means which seemed best adapted to ensure success. In order to obtain the condemnation of Paul, he endeavoured to gain the favour of the judge by flattery, than which nothing more readily steals upon the heart, and renders it more pliant and accommodating. The flattery was certainly gross, and had scarcely the semblance of truth; but Tertullus had, perhaps, studied human nature so well as to know, that none are more eager to grasp at the praise of virtue, than those who least deserve it. To them, indeed, it is most necessary, because, in the want of the reality, they may derive some advantage from the name. Eloquence, exerting its powers in giving a luminous and impressive statement of truth; in portraying the charms of virtue, and exhibiting the deformity of vice; in defending the innocent against oppression and calumny, and dragging forth the wicked to execration and punishment; eloquence employed in these important offices, and uniting with the clear deductions of reason and experience, all the energies of language, and all the ornaments of an ardent and cultivated imagination, is undoubtedly one of the noblest and most enviable talents, which a mortal can possess. It may uphold the religion and morals of a nation, and may save a sinking state from ruin. But; when it aims at exciting the passions, without enlightening the understanding; when, with its false colouring, it makes the worse appear the better cause; when it corrupts the imagination, and undermines the principles of morality; when like a base prostitute, it offers its services to every person who solicits its assistance; when it substitutes flattery for honest reproof, and condemns what it ought to applaud and 366defend; it is more noxious than the pestilence which taints the air that we breathe, or the lightning which blinds us with its overpowering splendour, and overwhelms us with its irresistible force.
Tertullus proceeds to exhibit the grounds of accusation against the prisoner at the bar, which were three, sedition, heresy, and profanation of the temple. The charge of sedition is contained in these words. “We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world.” From our knowledge of the history of Paul, we may boldly pronounce this charge to have been unfounded. But, as it was more likely than any other to prejudice a judge so jealous and suspicious, the unprincipled orator did not hesitate to advance it with all the confidence of truth. He is accused of heresy, when he is called “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes;” an appellation given from contempt to the followers of Jesus, who lived in Nazareth, out of which no good thing was expected to come. The new religion was deemed a heresy, to which the Jews affixed the ideas of faction, error, and apostacy. Lastly, he is represented as “having gone about to profane the temple,” because it was supposed that he had brought Trophimus, an uncircumcised Gentile, into its sacred inclosure. These were serious charges, which, had his enemies been able to substantiate them, would have subjected him to punishment, according to both the Jewish and the Roman law. Tertullus includes with an insinuation against Lysias, the chief captain as having obstructed the course of justice, by violently carrying off Paul, when the Sanhedrim was met to judge him. He says nothing respecting the intention of the Jews to put him to death, when he was found in the temple, or the conspiracy which some of them afterwards formed to assassinate him, and by the discovery of which, Lysias was induced to send him to Cesarea. With the art of an orator, he sets the conduct of his clients in the fairest light, and suppresses every circumstance unfavourable to their cause.
With this tissue of flattery and falsehood, let us contrast the simple and honest defence of the Apostle. “Forasmuch as I know, that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself.” This is not, like the introductory address of Tertullus, an insincere and undeserved compliment to Felix. Paul does not call him a righteous governor, and praise the mildness and equity of his administration; but merely expresses his happiness in having an opportunity to plead for himself 367before a judge, who having lived several years in Judea, was acquainted with its laws and usages, and with the temper and manners of the people. To him, the vehemence with which Paul was accused would not appear a proof or even a presumption of his guilt, as he was aware of the bitterness of Jewish zeal, and the intolerance which they displayed in their religious disputes. By his residence in the country, he had also acquired some knowledge of Christianity; and being a disciple neither of Moses nor of Christ, he was able to decide with coolness and impartiality, whether Paul was worthy of blame for having espoused and propagated the new faith.
The Apostle proceeds to reply to the several accusations in their order. The charge of sedition he expressly denies, and challenges his adversaries to prove, that he had been found in the temple, in the synagogues, or in any part of the city, engaged in disputation, or attempting to sow the seeds of disaffection to government. “Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.” Paul, indeed, declined no proper opportunity of preaching the gospel, and defending it against its adversaries; but he always conducted himself with meekness and prudence. His behaviour as well as that of the other Apostles, was strictly conformable to the duty of good citizens. He exemplified the precept which he inculcated upon others, to be subject to the higher powers. In the primitive ages, Christianity was not propagated by exciting insurrections among the people, by inflaming their minds against the government, and by the overthrow of civil institutions; but by a simple manifestation of the truth, and by leaving it silently to work a change in the sentiments of mankind. The Christians cheerfully obeyed the laws, as far as was consistent with obedience to God; and when conscience forbade them to comply, they patiently submitted to sufferings. No bitterness of spirit was mingled with the disputes in which they were compelled to engage; no intolerant zeal was displayed against the most unreasonable and malignant opponents of truth. Like their blessed M/Taster, “they did not cry, nor lift up, nor cause their voice to be heard in the streets.”
To the charge of heresy he pleads guilty. “But this I confess 368unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and the Prophets.” Christianity was stigmatized as a heresy. But, with whatever odious name it might be branded by the Jews, it was not an apostacy from the ancient religion of the country, for Paul continued to worship the God of his ancestors and the doctrines which he had embraced, although they were represented by his accusers as novel and blasphemous, were contained in their own sacred writings. The law prefigured, and the Prophets foretold, Jesus Christ and redemption through his blood. He adds, “And have hope towards God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of th8 dead, both of the just and unjust.” The reason for specifying this article of his faith, seems to have been his former avowal of it in the presence of the Sanhedrim, which, having caused much contention among the members of the court, had probably been misrepresented to Felix. “If I have declared my hope of the resurrection of the dead, they cannot consistently blame me, since the same hope is entertained and professed by themselves.” The resurrection of the body is not a doctrine peculiar to Christianity, but has always been an article in the creed of the Jews. It was rejected, indeed, by the Sadducees; but while in point of number they were an inconsiderable sect, their naked and comfortless system was at variance with the faith of the nation, founded upon the promises of God, and was regarded with detestation by the devout and sober minded part of the community. With the greater part even of the orthodox Jews, this hope was nothing more than a speculative opinion; but the life of Paul was an illustration of its practical effects. “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” In the view of the retribution which will take place at the resurrection of the just and the unjust, it was the constant study of the Apostle, to act such a part, that his conscience should bear testimony in his favour, and anticipate the approbation of his judge. Whatever opinion, therefore, Felix might entertain of the grounds of his hope, he could not condemn him for adopting a principle, which exerted so salutary an influence upon his conduct. A heathen might deem it a delusion; but it was a pardonable one, since it was favourable to the practice of virtue.
To the last charge of profaning the temple he answers in the following words. “Now after many years, I came to bring alms 369to my nation, and offerings. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult: who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me.” He did not return to Jerusalem, after a long absence, for the purposes of sedition or impiety, but on an errand of charity, to bring alms to his countrymen, or those contributions which he had collected for the relief of the poor. So far was he from showing any disrespect to the temple, that having joined with some others in a religious vow, and purified himself according to the law, he went into it to offer the customary sacrifices. During the time which he spent in it, he was guilty of no disorder, and did nothing inconsistent with the sacred nature of the place. Those who saw him there, could not justly charge him with any offence; Paul complains that they were not present to be confronted with him, that he might have an opportunity to establish his innocence. At the same time, he boldly challenges those who were present, the high-priest and the elders, to point out any fault in his conduct, when he appeared before the council, “except this one voice, that he cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead, I am called in question by you this day.” To this declaration of his faith, they could not reasonably object. The Pharisees believed the resurrection of the body: and the Sadducees must have allowed, that Paul had the same liberty to assert, which they had to deny, it.
Such is the defence which the Apostle made for himself, simple, distinct, dignified, and in every part of it, strictly conformable to truth. We may remark the courage which he displayed, when standing alone before his accusers and his judge; his calmness in replying to misrepresentation and falsehood; and the confidence with which he maintained his innocence. Instead of shrinking from an investigation of his conduct, he claimed it as his right.
Felix resolved to delay giving judgment, till Lysias, the chief captain should arrive, from whom he expected a full and impartial account of the matter. It is remarked by Luke, “that he had more perfect knowledge of that way;” or that in consequence of having lived several years in Judea, he was acquainted with the history and doctrines of the Christian religion. He probably considered it as a harmless superstition, and suspecting, perhaps, that this prosecution had originated in bigotry, he was not disposed to give implicit credit to the accusations of the Jews. He could not, however, 370dismiss Paul from his tribunal, because he had yet heard only strong assertions of his guilt, on the one hand, and of his innocence, on the other; but lie ordered him to be treated with kindness, and allowed him as much liberty as a prisoner could enjoy.
The knowledge of the new religion which the governor, who seems to have been no careless spectator of what was passing around him, had already acquired, excited his curiosity to hear an accurate detail of its principles from Paul, who was one of its most eminent teachers. “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.” Drusilla was the daughter of the Herod whose tragical end is related in the twelfth chapter of this book. She was first married to Azizus king of Emesenes, who had consented for her sake to embrace the Jewish religion; but not long after she deserted him, and was married a second time to Felix, who had seduced her affections. IH-er conduct gave great and just offence to the Jews, who detested her as an adulteress, and a traitress to her religion, which condemned her for entering into this relation with a Gentile.4747Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 5. Such were the persons before whom Paul was summoned to give an account of the Christian doctrine; and when we recollect what has been already said with respect to the unjust and oppressive administration of Felix, we shall perceive his reason for selecting the topics, upon which he discoursed in their presence.
Paul having been requested by Felix to explain “the faith in Christ,” willingly embraced this opportunity to give a summary account of the doctrines and institutions of his religion. To preach Christ “as the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek,” was his favourite employment. He was not ashamed of this subject, however strange and foolish it might seem to men whose minds were preoccupied by the maxims of a vain philosophy, and the tenets of a corrupt theology. His heart warmed with love and gratitude to the Saviour. rendered his tongue eloquent in commending him to the world. But, Paul was too wise and too faithful a preacher, to suppress any part of the truth, when circumstances required him to publish it. He adapted his discourses not to the taste, but to the character and 371situation of his hearers. Reflecting that he now stood before two persons of profligate manners, to whom the doctrine of salvation would be uninteresting, unless their consciences were alarmed, he entered upon an illustration of those duties, in which they were chiefly deficient, and announced the awful sanction, by which Christianity confirms them.
A courtly preacher, when addressing such auditors, would have contented himself with representing the gospel as a new theory of religious opinions, and with a vague declamation upon virtue and vice, more calculated to amuse than to reform. Paul, dismissing the arts of accommodation, as, in the present case, inconsistent with the fidelity which he owed to God and to the souls of men, selected a subject, which, although not grateful to the feelings, through the divine blessing, would be profitable. He reasoned on justice and temperance in the presence of Felix, who openly lived in the neglect of those virtues. He held up a faithful mirror before him, which exhibited his features in all their deformity. A lecture on justice and temperance was a direct reproof of the man, who had often abused his power to oppress those whom he ought to have protected, and who in order to gratify his sensual appetites, had invaded the most sacred domestic rights, and broken the dearest bonds of society.
It is possible to declaim against vice in terms so soft and gentle, that our words, like pointless arrows, shall not penetrate the conscience. It may be represented as a failing or impropriety, which a regard to decorum requires us to correct, and as productive of such consequences to our reputation, our health, our worldly interest, and our domestic comfort, as it will be prudent to avoid. Paul thundered against it with the honest indignation of a virtuous mind, and with the authority of a messenger from God, commissioned to denounce the punishment which awaits the guilty and impenitent. To Felix and Drusilla, to whom also a part of his discourse was directed, he gave warning of the judgment to come, at which the great and the small, without distinction of persons, shall appear before God, and be recompensed according to their deeds. The principles of morality are exposed, without defence, to the inroads of our impetuous passions, if they are not exhibited in connexion with a future retribution. A perception of the beauty of virtue and the deformity of vice, which has been represented as sufficient to excite us to our duty, and to guard our hearts against temptation, 372is a romantic theory, founded in ignorance of human nature, and inattention to experience. The moral sense, of which philosophers talk, can mean nothing but conscience; and, without a reference to a higher tribunal, conscience has no authority. It is only by powerful appeals to our hopes and fears, that the heart will be interested, and the sinner, fascinated by the syren song of pleasure, and hastening to seize forbidden joys, will be rescued from the illusions of sense, and induced to abandon his purpose. The doctrine of a judgment to come gives a force to the commands of religion, which the boldest sinners have found themselves unable to resist.
The power of the word of God appeared in the impression which it made upon Felix. “As Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, he trembled.” Conscience reminded him of his crimes against the laws of God and man, and summoned him to a more awful tribunal than that of the Roman emperor. What a surprising spectacle is now presented to us! The Apostle, whose liberty and life depended upon the will of Felix, dares to address him in the language of truth, without being deterred by the thought, that so wicked a man was more likely to be offended than reformed. Felix sitting as his judge, surrounded with his guards, and invested with supreme power in the province of Judea, trembles at the words of a poor unfriended prisoner. They have exchanged situations. Felix is the criminal, arraigned and convicted; and Paul is the judge, or rather the accredited deputy of the Sovereign Judge of heaven and earth.
But, although Felix felt a momentary conviction of guilt, his heart was not changed. Truth was an unexpected and unwelcome visitant, whose presence troubled him, and interrupted those pleasures to which he was still attached; and he made haste, therefore, to dismiss it. “Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” What! was any other business more urgent than the reformation of his conduct, or more important than the salvation of his soul! The governor would have found leisure to listen to Paul, if he had relished his doctrine, and been as deeply affected as the jailor of Philippi, who exclaimed, “What must I do to be saved?” but an hour, or a minute, appears too long, when we are compelled to hear those practices exposed and condemned, which we cannot justify, and are resolved not to forsake.373
We do not find that a convenient season ever occurred to Felix, for hearing Paul on the same subject. The governor, indeed, sent often for him; but he confined him, we may presume, to general topics, and cautiously avoided the repetition of those truths, which had given him so much uneasiness. He was a base, unprincipled man. Convinced of the innocence of Paul, he retained him in custody, expecting that his friends would purchase his liberty with money. Felix would not do justice without a bribe. As a bribe was never offered, Paul remained in prison,/till Felix was recalled, when he left him in bonds, to please the Jews; trusting, that by this instance of attention to their wishes, they should be so much gratified, as to forgive the crimes of his administration. In this hope, however, he was disappointed, for soon after his return, the chief men of the nation followed him to Rome with their complaints, and he narrowly escaped the just punishment of the wrongs with which he had afflicted Judea, by the intercession of his brother, who was, at that time, in favour with the emperor.
From the history of what passed between Felix and Paul, when the latter reasoned before him concerning righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, we may draw the following instructions.
First, We conceive what power the word of God can exert upon the conscience. There is, indeed, no greater virtue in the terms in which his will is expressed, than in those of ordinary language, nor can the sound of them, like the pretended incantations of magic, produce any mysterious effect upon the hearers. The letter is dead; it is the Spirit who gives life. When the secret influence of its Author accompanies the simple words in which it is delivered, the impression made upon the mind is more wonderful than human eloquence was ever able to effect. Felix might have been quite composed, and might have even been entertained, by the elegant declamation of a philosopher against vice; but when a plain Apostle preaches, without a nice selection of terms, and without rhetorical ornaments, the governor trembles. He sees, or seems to see, the God of justice and purity seated on his throne of judgment; he hears a voice accusing him of his crimes, and demanding his punishment. “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” It is the word of Him, who can impress upon the soul such a sense of his majesty 374and holiness, as shall disturb and terrify it amidst the most profound security. Its efficacy, however, does not arise solely from the momentous and awful nature of its doctrines, but from the divine power which accompanies it, and operates, not blindly and necessarily, but under the direction of sovereign wisdom.
I remark, therefore, in the second place, that those to whom it is addressed, are not all affected by it, in the same manner. Felix trembled, when Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come; but we do not read that Drusilla experienced a similar agitation. She seems to have retained the utmost composure, during a discourse which should have alarmed her as well as her husband. Perhaps, she supported her courage by the thought, that although an adulteress, she was guilty of none of those acts of injustice with which Felix was chargeable, for in the estimate of some persons, a less degree of wickedness is positive virtue; perhaps, she was a more hardened and determined sinner than he; perhaps, being a Jewess, she contrived to persuade herself, that as one of the chosen people, she should find favour with her Maker, notwithstanding the disorders of her life. It is impossible to enumerate or to conceive the various methods, by which sinners fortify themselves against the influence of the word of God. Their success in the art of deceiving themselves is manifest, from their indifference to the most solemn and momentous truths. While one man startles at his danger, and makes haste to escape from it, another hears the doctrines by which he is awakened, with consummate listlessness. Salvation is equally necessary to all, but few seek it with earnestness. “Many say, Peace and safety, although sudden destruction is coming upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
In the third place, impressions and emotions, which seemed to prognosticate conversion, frequently pass away, without producing any lasting effect. Who would not have augured good from the fears of Felix? But the fit of terror was transient; he exerted himself to put a stop to it, by dismissing the preacher; and he immediately returned to his former course of injustice and profligacy. Often have men exclaimed, in a moment of alarm, What must we do to be saved? who never honestly and resolutely engaged in the work of salvation. Sinners contrive a variety of expedients to recall the hopes which had fled from them, and again please themselves with their own delusions. Starting up, like a man who is roused from 375sleep by a loud noise, they continue awake for a short time, and are restless; but they gradually sink into their usual state of insensibility. They quiet their consciences, perhaps, with the opiate of pleasure. Plunging into folly and dissipation, they forget the cause of their uneasiness; and turning away their eyes from the danger which alarmed them, they persuade themselves that it is removed. Let us not be deceived by occasional appearances of religion in others, or in ourselves. Although the spring should open with a fair promise of fruit, yet a fatal blast may, in a single night, disappoint our expectations.
Lastly, Let us beware of trifling with the word of God, by dismissing it, when it solicits our attention, and deferring the duty which it immediately demands, to a future opportunity. “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” In this disrespectful manner, it is often treated, when it is pressing upon the attention of men the concerns of their souls, and has begun to exert its power upon their consciences. But, they promise to themselves, that the business which is neglected to-day, shall be attended to to-morrow. It is a promise which they have no serious intention to perform; for if they were sincerely resolved to engage in the work of salvation, they would presently enter upon it. It would be of such magnitude in their eyes, that the delay even of an hour would seem too long. They would dread impediments, which the progress of time might create; and would be urged on by the uncertainty of life, the unexpected termination of which might send them down into the grave with their resolutions unexecuted. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest.”
Procrastinating sinners, why is the present not a convenient season? Do you expect, that as you advance in life, your hearts will grow softer, and the influence of the world upon them will decline? Ah! how much are you deceived? The result will be totally different; for your hearts will become callous, and earthly cares will twist themselves more closely about them. Is any business more interesting than the well-being of your souls, which are far more precious than ten thousand worlds, and through your neglect, may be lost for ever? Are you at this moment in no danger of eternal perdition? Is there no sentence against you in the word of God, the execution of which is deferred only by his patience, upon the 376continued exercise of which you cannot reckon? Are your lives more certain now, although you enjoy all the vigour of youth, than they will be at any subsequent stage of your existence? Alas! that men, whose eternal fate may depend upon the determination of the present day, and to whom salvation is offered, perhaps, for the last time, should permit themselves to be imposed upon by arguments, which would not dissuade them from immediate attention to their secular interests, and which are so evidently fallacious, that they condemn all but themselves, who allow their conduct to be influenced by them. The present is a convenient season; other opportunities may be less favourable, but will not be more advantageous. Should you not consider, that the same motives from which you delay till to-morrow, will prevail upon you to-morrow to delay till the next day; and that you may go on in this course of guilt and folly till life is exhausted, and death has set its inviolable seal upon your doom? Disregard not therefore, the voice of God, nor say to him,” We will afterwards hear thee,” lest provoked by this insult, which would excite the indignation of a human superior, he should refuse to listen to your prayers, when you shall call upon him in the day of distress. Remember his awful words, which are full of terror to every careless sinner. “Because I have called, and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then they shall call upon me, but I will not answer; they seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would none of my counsel; they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.”377
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