« AnteriorContinuar »
ACTS xxvi. 28.
THEN AGRIPPA SAID UNTO PAUL, ALMOST THOU PERSUADEST ME TO BE A CHRISTIAN.
In this chapter we have St. Paul, in his fetters, pleading before that Honourable Sessions of Festus and Agrippa. His plea we have largely set down, from the 1st to the 24th verse; in which he opens his commission, that he had received in an extraordinary manner from heaven, for preaching that doctrine which was every where spoken against, and for worshipping God iu that way which was called heresy.
I shall not at all enter into the consideration of the apology: but let us look only at the different effects, that it wrought upon the hearers. Festus and Agrippa were both of them unbelievers-: the one, an unbelieving heathen; the other, an unbelieving Jew: and thus they both continue.
Yet St. Paul's speech works very differently upon them. In the 24th verse you have Festus raving. He said with a loud 'voice, " Paul, thou art beside thyself, much learning hath made thee mad: thy thoughts of a vision and an apparition, of a man dead and buried, lying safe under ground, that he should rise again and appear from heaven to thee, being the Saviour of the World, is a meer fancy, proceeding from a strong frenzy:" thus he scoffs and raves. But this very sermon, which seemed madness and an idle tale to unbelieving Festus, carries a strong conviction in it to Agrippa, who was an unbeliever too: Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
Hence observe, That the word of God hath a far different effect, even upon those, upon whom it hath no saving effect. One raves and rages against it, and is seared and stupified by it:
VOL. III. c c
another is convinced and terrified by it. Festus scoffs and mocks, and goes away laughing at the doctrine and reviling the preacher: but Agrippa is convinced, and half persuaded to believe and practise that very doctrine, and highly to esteem the preacher of it.
And is it not so even among us? are there not many, who may come to the ordinances in a natural and sinful estate and condition? the same word of God is cast among them all: yea, but what is the success? When the sword of the Spirit is brandished amongst a great crowd of consciences, it is not likely, that it should miss all, and strike none of them: one, perhaps, goes away slighting and contemning; another goes away scoffing and railing against it; and another half-persuaded by it to become a Christian, to be almost a Christian. If every man's breast had a casement in it, by which we might see the inward estuations and boilings of their hearts, how they work after a powerful and terrifying sermon; should we not behold and see some, shifting and shuffling their sins out of the way? some, holding up the bucklers of prejudicate opinions, to ward and fence oft' the stroke of the Spirit? some, fretting and storming at the lancing of their consciences? some, scorning and scoffing, with Festus, that it is no better than folly and madness? some, trembling, with Felix? some, convinced and wrought upon, as Agrippa, to faint resolutions and half-purposes? and, yet, all these remain under the power of unbelief and unregeneracy. It is, indeed, a wonder, that, among such diversity of operations which the word hath upon the souls and consciences of men, it could be possible that such a multitude should go away without any saving operation by it; some, blinded and hardened; some, terrified; some, stupified; some, exasperated and enraged; some, convinced and half-persuaded, and such are those that we now speak of: such as are, as it were, half of one complexion and half of another, that stick in the new birth, whose hearts have been warmed with good motions, who have entertained approving and admiring thoughts concerning the ways of holiness, who have taken up some resolutions of doing better and of being better; and, yet, do not come off roundly and speedily from their sins, nor close fully with Christ. These are the Half-Christians which the text speaks of.
The words are plain in themselves; and, therefore, do not require much explication. Only the word translated Almost thou persuadest me He. if accurately rendered, according to the original, is A Little thou persuadest me Kc. So, in the reply, which St. Paul makes, with a holy kind of gallantry, in the ensuing verse, you find it is opposed to much, which we render altogether,- but the grammatical construction is, Would to God they were both All, And In Much, such as I am, except these bonds! So, then, In A Little, thou persuadest me; that is, "I could, methinks, be contented to be a Christian in a little, in some few things: some part of the way I could willingly go," saith Agrippa: but St. Paul concludes, it must not be only in a little, but in much, in all.
If we follow this sense and interpretation of the words; then observe,
Doct. 1. THERE GOES MUCH TO THE MAKING OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN; A LITTLE WILL NOT SERVE.
It is not a little will serve: for many precious ingredients go to the making of a true Christian; and much of each ingredient goes to the making of a strong Christian. There must be profession, faith, obedience, self-denial, patience, humility, outward preparation and inward graces, outward embellishments and inward ornaments; and a little of it is but little worth. There are many, that are persuaded to be Christians in name and profession, to be Christians in outward participation of ordinances and communion with saints, and the like: yea, but this is to be a Christian but only in a little. Are you persuaded to obey Christ.in all, to take up his cross and deny yourselves, to oppose and mortify your lusts, and to perform the harshest and severest part of religion? this is indeed to be a Christian, not only in a little, but in much; yea, in all, to be such as St. Paul himself was.
But, then, if you take the words according to our translation, which the original also will very well bear; so it is, Within a little or Almost thou persuadest me: for King Agrippa was fully convinced of the truth of those things, which Paul related; as you may see, v. 26. He knew these things, and was ignorant of none of them: they were not hidden from him; for these things were not done in a corner. He could not be ignorant of the miraculous conversion of him, who had been so furious and notorious a persecutor of Christians. He, who was expert in all the customs that were among the Jews, v. 3. could not be ignorant of what the Apostle affirms, vv. 22, 23. This, that Moses and the Prophets foretold, that Christ should suffer and be raised from the dead, and should give life to the Gentiles, of all this King Agrippa was fully convinced: and, yet, when Paul so insinuatingly presseth upon him, Believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest, the result of all is this, that he was but almost persuaded, not fully persuaded of the truth of what St. Paul speaks concerning Christ, concerning himself, and concerning Christians; yet, for all that, he was but almost persuaded to be a Christian.
Hence, likewise, observe,
DoCt. 2. THAT PERSONS, WHO ARE FULLY AND TRULY CONVINCED, ARE MANY TIMES BUT ALMOST AND HALF-PERSUADED.
There may be a powerful persuasion in the judgment and the conscience concerning Christ and his ways, when there is but half a persuasion in the will and affections to close with them.
These observations I gather up, as they lie strewed in my passage. I shall not insist upon them, but only as they are subservient to the fuller prosecution of the General Doctrine, which you may take thus:
Doct. 3. THAT THOSE, WHO NEVER WERE IN CHRIST, YET MAY BE ALMOST CHRISTIANS.
I need not here stand to tell you, that Christianity may be taken either,
First. For an outward profession of Christ, as it is opposed to all other religions in the world, whether Heathenish idolatry, Mahometan stupidity, or Jewish ceremony: or,
Secondly. For an inward and cordial embracing of Jesus Christ, thus professed, as it stands opposed, either to the profaneness or hypocrisy of carnal gospellers.
Evident it is, that the Christianity, that Agrippa was almost persuaded into, was of the first sort; not excluding the second.
Nay, it was seldom seen, that, in those primitive times, wherein no carnal respect or outward advantage could commend the Gospel to the interests of men, when the reward of professing Christ was persecution and martyrdom; then, I say, it