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To all, who by the mercy of God have attained such a living and saving faith as this, I conclude with the encouraging words of St. Peter, “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in Heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heavinuss through manifold temptations, that the trial of your Faith being much more precious than the gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice, with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter, i. 3, &c.
A CONSCIENCE VOID OF OFFENCE.
ACTS xxiv. 16.
And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men.
These words form a part of St. Paul's memorable defence of himself against the accusation of his enemies before Felix, the Roman governor. As I wish to confine myself to the considerations suggested by the text itself, I shall not enter into any of the particulars either of the accusation or of the defence; but I will not miss the opportunity, which this passage of the sacred history presents, of exhibiting to you, by a striking example, the great superiority of a good conscience over an evil one. It will be a suitable introduction to the rest of my discourse, and will perhaps, by God's blessing, prepare your minds to admit the truth of the observations which I shall afterwards make.
You will remark in this admirable address of the apostle, that he uses great boldness and freedom of speech; he expresses himself like a man perfectly devoid of fear; he denies the justice of the charges laid against him; he challenges his enemies to come forward and prove any crime against him, if they can; he does not scruple to profess again the very same faith, the avowal of which had before excited the uproar, which was the only ground of accusation against him; in fact, he admits the only offence that could be truly imputed to him, and justifies his conduct in that respect. Now who was this bold speaker, and what was his condition? You would suppose he was some great man of influence and authority, likely to impress with respect the assembly which he was addressing. No: he was brought before the court in chains as a prisoner to be tried; he had been apprehended as “a ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes," as he was contemptuously called ; i. e. as a principal preacher of the despised religion of Him, who had lately been crucified as a malefactor, Jesus of Nazareth; a religion ridiculed and persecuted by the great body both of the Jews and Romans. There was probably hardly one friendly eye turned towards him among the whole multitude collected to witness his trial, and to triumph in his condemnation; yet he dis
played no symptoms of fear, but spoke with the air of a man who did not seek favour, but demanded justice. What gave
him this confidence? His innocence; that happy and satisfied conscience, which was " void of offence toward God and toward men." He had committed nothing to make him ashamed or uneasy; he had been labouring for the good of his fellow creatures, and had been serving God to the utmost of his fore he did not fear what man could do unto him; he felt no anxiety about his present situation; as his own heart did not reproach him, he disregarded the malicious accusations of his enemies, though numerous and powerful; and convinced of his own integrity, he felt no alarm at being persecuted, like his holy master, for righteousness' sake, and was ready to suffer for well-doing, should the will of God be so. Such is the courage of a good conscience in the midst of dangers, sustained by the divine aid of Him, who imparts strength and comfort to the sincere Christian.
Now attend to an opposite case, which forms a most striking contrast to the one just set before you. In a few days this despised and helpless prisoner is brought again before his judge, the Roman governor, the chief ruler of the country, one vested with the power and authority of a king over a subject nation. Had he any thing to fear from so humble and insignificant an individual ? he seemed the most likely of the two to create alarm; he might now naturally expect to see a miserable man appear before him, and fall at his feet imploring mercy, and release from confinement, while he himself sat.proudly on the seat of judgment, and at his own arbitrary pleasure decided on the prisoner's fate.
But what do we behold? The two parties seem to have exchanged conditions, and each to have taken the other's place and character; the prisoner becomes the judge, assumes the tone of authority, and uses the language of reproof; the judge regards him with awe, and trembles at his words. What could be the meaning of this strange alteration ?
What spell did the apostle use, that could produce so powerful an effect? He“ reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,” and in so doing he touched a guilty conscience, which shrunk at the recollection of sin, and at the prospect of deserved punishment. What an instructive lesson are we taught when we see Felix trembling before Paul! How falsely does the world often judge of the character and happiness of individuals from external appearances ! Hear how the orator Tertullus, (who probably spoke the sentiments of the nation at large,) describes the two persons now