Paul’s Sermon Before Felix
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Some people say that ministers should not follow Paul’s example; that they should not be so personal; but the truth is that they will not be true to God until they are. I admire Billy Graham for many things, but did you know that President Bush admits to being led to the Lord by Mr. Graham. I admire the courage that it took to say, “Sir, you need the Savior.” I don’t know what the conversation was that brought Mr. Bush to admit his sin, but I know that his life changed from that point; he gave up drinking and he began to publicly testify to his faith. I wish that I could say that there is not a man on earth that I don’t dare to speak to about Christ.
Now here is our second point, “FELIX TREMBLED.” Look at Paul with your mind’s eye; he is a poor prisoner, in chains, in prison clothing, with nothing to help him in speaking the truth; but he spoke the truth, and it divided asunder the joints and marrow of the governor. He looked him in the eyes and drove home each point; he pushed the word home and drove away all the excuses, and it made him tremble. The preaching of the gospel has awesome power. There is something present here that is more than human; which would make the prisoner the judge and the prince on the throne a criminal.
“Felix trembled.” Has anyone here ever experienced the same feelings as Felix? I have, at those times when I was under conviction for my sins. It came at the hand of plain talking preachers, who labeled some things in my life sin. His words were like thunderbolts, and I began to tremble. I was like the woman at the well, for I could say, “Here is a man that told me everything that I have ever done. Surely, he must have been sent by Christ.” I have trembled, and my eyes have filled with tears as I felt the power of the preached gospel, and you may have had the same experience.
But what is it about the gospel that causes men to tremble? Some say it is their conscience; and, in some sense that’s true. The poet said, “Conscience makes cowards of us all,” and that is certainly the case when the minister’s words can be applied to us personally. Although conscience is brought into focus by the work of the Holy Spirit, in the mind of the godly, it is not so sharp in the worldly man. There it is too corrupt, and would never make a man tremble. So there must be something else at work on the conscience, besides leaving it to its own natural force. I believe that what some people call coming under conviction, is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is a doctrine that is no longer preached in many churches today, which explains why so many are unaffected by the preaching of the gospel; that’s the doctrine of the total depravity of man.
You see if men are totally depraved by nature, they are not capable of trembling, without the influence of the Holy Spirit. The fact is, the Holy Spirit works in two ways. He works in the heart of some men to restrain them; to keep them from breaking out into acts of open immorality. Now there was some of this restraining grace within Felix, and when the apostle gave him the gospel, this restraining grace worked on his conscience and made him tremble. This grace can be resisted, and men do resist it. We know that the Holy Spirit is God; He could force men to submit, but He allows men to quench and resist His influences. I believe then that Felix trembled because of the restraining grace of the Spirit; not because the Holy Spirit was working to bring him to salvation.
But what can be said for those who never tremble? When they come to the house of God, they are always indifferent and unashamed. It wouldn’t be any different if the apostle Peter was the preacher; his words would never reach your heart. Those who never tremble show that they are still dead in their sins; they are without hope, without faith and without a place of safety. Could God, the Holy Spirit, give up and cease to strive with him forever?
And now we have come to the third point, which is that there was LAMENTABLE DISAPPOINTMENT which Paul experienced when he saw Felix rise in haste, and dismiss him from his presence. A man once told his pastor, “It’s wonderful to see a whole congregation moved to tears by the preaching of the word.” “Yes”, his pastor replied, “it’s wonderful, but I know something that is even a greater wonder: it is that those people, who wipe away those tears, can so quickly forget what they heard.”
It’s wonderful that Felix trembled before Paul, but it’s a wonder that he said, “Go thy way.” It is more than strange, that when the word touches the conscience, that sin still has such power over men, that the truth can be stopped and driven out of the heart. So why did this unhappy man leave the judgment-seat? Was it because he had some business to transact; government business or a personal matter. Whatever it was, could it have been more important than his soul? Could he have been called to attend a function held by Caesar?
Ah! Felix, you have a greater monarch than Caesar; there is one who is Emperor of heaven and Lord of the earth; can’t you spare the time to see to his commands? Compared to Him, Caesar is just a worm. Do you dare to leave, with those last words ringing in your ears, “Judgment to come?” How many of us on Monday mornings, following Sunday’s searching of out hearts, have said, “I must attend to business, I must see to the things of the world?” One day we will see that, for the foolishness that it is.
Would any man on his deathbed say, “I wish I had spent more time at work?” It seems that we spend so much time fretting over our house and our body while neglecting that which is within. So much time is spent in the pursuit of pleasure; and we always think, we must have just a little more pleasure. Listen. Will you have any delight in your pleasures when you stand at last, before your Maker? It is a strange fantasy that causes us to believe a lie. There is no pleasure in those things which brings God’s wrath to bear on our soul.
There is an excuse that is frequently used, “There is plenty of time.” The young man says, “Let me alone until I am old.” The young man can look forward in time, and think that there is a time in the future that will be more convenient. But what about the old man; how much time does he have? He may be just a few days from the grave. Young men die, old men must! The worst fool of all is a fool with gray hair. How can he be depicted, except to say that he has one foot in the grave and the other on sandy ground; he is like the rich man to whom God said, “Thou fool! A few more nights and thy soul shall be required of thee.”
Today, many think that there is enough time. But, time enough for what? Surely, you have spent time enough in sin. But do you have time enough to serve a God that laid down His life for you? Eternity will not be too long to utter His praise, so it cannot be too long to love Him here and to serve him for the few more days you have here on earth. Now, I ask you, if you could, how would you reason with Felix? I would say, “Felix, don’t leave until I have thrown my arms around you, and poured out my whole soul to you and brought you to face the one who wants you to live. You say, ‘another time.’
How do you know that you will ever feel the way you do now? This morning, a voice is saying to your heart, ‘Receive the Son of God.’ Tomorrow, that voice may be gone.” Listen. You have had warnings in the past, but this may be your last warning. You have been told today, that unless you repent, you will perish, unless you put your faith in Christ, you will be lost forever. Perhaps, no one will ever warn you again; perhaps no tearful eye will ever look at you affectionately again. The Holy Spirit may be pulling at your heart for the last time. He may say “Let him alone,” and you will be past repentance, past warning, past faith, past hope.
How do you know that you will live long enough to be warned again? If you are waiting for a more convenient time, how do you know that you will live until that more convenient time comes?
How can you dare to procrastinate, and say, “There is enough time?” You may make up your mind to receive Christ in the future, but that resolve will not save you. How I wish you would say, “Today, my God, I am confessing my sin; today, I am asking for forgiveness; today, I know He died for my sins; today, I believe He rose again; today, I receive Jesus as my Savior; today I cry, “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling!”
I am very inadequate in preaching God’s word, but I do it because He has brought me here and I believe that it is His will for my life at this time. That could change, but not by my doing, only by God’s will. This is the best time of my life; it’s never been better for me. I love preaching and teaching the word of God. There’s no way that I can convey to you the joy I get from this, and that’s how I know I am doing His will. The purpose of preaching is to present the gospel, and I have done that. I can’t do anything beyond that. The rest is what I have been talking about today.
The Holy Spirit is here, as He is always; and He is calling someone to repentance. You can resist, but you can also submit and receive the love of God. That would be wonderful, and I would probably shed some tears, and I would rejoice with the angels in heaven. If you are feeling the pull of the Holy Spirit, it’s because you are one of His and it is time for Him to claim you. Accept Him today! Pray this prayer, “Dear Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died for my sins, that you rose again. Please forgive my sins and come into my heart. I receive you as my Savior and Lord.” If you prayed that prayer, honestly and with faith, you believed what you said, then you are saved, and you are a child of God.