Sermon 871. To Those Who Are "Almost Persuaded"
Delivered on Lord's-day Morning, MAY 16, 1869, by
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Then Agrippa said unto Paul, You almost persuade me to be a Christian."- Acts 26:28.
NOTWITHSTANDING his bonds, Paul is to be envied that he had an opportunity of addressing himself to kings and rulers and thatonce, at least, in his life he stood before the great master of the Roman world, the Emperor himself. To reach the ignorantwho sit on thrones is no mean feat for benevolence. Alas, the Gospel seldom climbs the high places of rank and dignity. Itis a great act of mercy towards nobles and princes, when they have the opportunity of hearing a faithful Gospel discourse.Highly favored was Edward VI to have such a preacher as Hugh Latimer, to tell him to his face the Truth of God as it is inJesus!
And much favored was Agrippa, though he scarcely appreciated the privilege, to listen to so earnest an advocate of the Gospelof Jesus as Paul the Apostle. We ought to pray much more than we do for men in high places, because they have many bewitchingtemptations and less gracious opportunities than even the humblest paupers. There is less likelihood of the Gospel ever affectingtheir hearts than of its converting the poor and needy. We should make them, therefore, especially the subjects of supplicationand then we might hope to see consecrated coronets far more frequently. Should a preacher be called to address himself tokings, he could not follow a better model than the Apostle Paul whom we may fitly call the king of preachers and the preacherto kings.
His speech is extremely forcible and yet exceedingly courteous. It is powerful in matter, but graceful in manner. It is bold,but remarkably unobtrusive-never cringing, but never impertinent. The Apostle speaks much of himself, for so his argumentrequired, but still, nothing for himself, nor by way of self-commendation. The whole address is so adroitly shaped with sucha sacred art and yet with such a holy naturalness, that if any human persuasion could have converted Agrippa to the faith,the address of the Lord's prisoner was most likely to have done so. The line of argument was so suited to the prejudices andtastes of Agrippa as to be another instance of Paul's power to become "all things to all men."
Now, it may be, this morning, while we are speaking upon the Apostle's teaching and the results of it, that a great blessingmay rest upon us so that many of you may be persuaded to be Christians by the very arguments which failed with the Herodianking. Not many great men after the flesh, not many mighty are called-but this assembly is of another order and, O may theLord extend His Sovereign Grace along our ranks, through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I. This morning I shall ask you to spend a little time in considering THE GREAT OBJECT OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER'S PERSUASIONS.Agrippa said, "You almost persuade me to be a Christian.''" I do not recollect a single sermon from this text that is fairlyupon the words as they stand. They are all discourses upon being almost Christians, which, begging the pardon of the venerabledivines, has nothing to do with the text, for the Apostle never persuaded Agrippa to be an "almost-Christian"-but he almostpersuaded him to be a Christian!
Agrippa certainly never was an almost-Christian! His life and character displayed a spirit very far removed from that condition.He was not like the young man in the Gospel to whom the name "almost-Christian" is far more applicable, although I gravelyquestion its propriety in any case. There is a great difference between being almost a Christian and being almost persuadedto be a Christian. A man may be almost a Calvinist and so may hold most of the Doctrines of Grace, but another who has beenon a certain occasion almost persuaded to be a Calvinist, may be, as a matter of fact, a complete Arminian. A man who is almostan artist knows something of painting, but a man almost persuaded to be an artist may not even know the names of the colors.
Now the great drift of Paul's preaching, according to Agrippa's confession, was to persuade him to be a Christian. And theApostle himself acknowledges the same design in his concluding sentence, "I would to God, that not only you, but also allthat hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am." In that parting word of goodwill he
unveiled the desire of his heart-he sought not release from his chains, but the deliverance of the souls of his hearers fromthe bondage of sin.
My Brethren, the preaching of the Gospel minister should always have soul-winning for its object. Never should we seek thatthe audience should admire our excellency of speech. I have in my soul a thousand times cursed oratory and wished that thearts of elocution had never been devised, or at least had never profaned the sanctuary of God. Often, as I have listened withwonder to speech right well conceived and sentences aptly arranged, I have yet felt as though I could weep tears of bloodthat the time of the congregation on the Sabbath should be wasted by listening to wordy rhetoric, when what was needed wasa plain, urgent pleading with men's hearts and consciences. It is never worth a minister's while to go up his pulpit stairsto show his audience that he is adept in elocution.
High-sounding words and flowery periods, are a mockery of man's spiritual needs. If a man desires to display his oratory,let him study for the bar, or enter Parliament, but let him not degrade the Cross of Christ into a peg to hang his tawdryrags of speech. The Cross is only lifted up aright when we can say, "Not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstrationof the Spirit and of power." Every minister should be able to say with Paul, "Seeing, then, that we have such hope, we usegreat plainness of speech." No, my dear Hearers, may it never be in any measure or degree an object of ours to flash and dazzleand astonish-but may we keep this one aim in view-to persuade you to be Christians!
Neither would the Apostle have been content if he could have persuaded Agrippa to take the name of a Christian, or to be baptizedas a Christian. His object was that he might in very deed be a Christian. To seem is nothing, but to be is everything. I grantyou that the Apostle would have been glad enough to see Agrippa avowedly a Christian. Why should he not take the name if hehad received the essential Grace? He would have rejoiced to have baptized him! Why should he not, if he believed in Jesus?But the Apostle was not anxious to confer misleading names. Nominal Christians he had no desire to create. To be or not tobe was his great question-names and rites were secondary matters.
It would not be worth the snap of a finger to Christianize a nation after the manner in which the zealous Francis Xavier madeconverts by sprinkling their heathen foreheads with a brush of holy water! It were scarcely worth rising from one's bed topersuade an avowed son of Belial to put on the cloak of a religious profession and practice his vices in decorous secrecy.No, the persuasion of the Apostle aims at Agrippa being a Christian, indeed, and of a truth! Thus should we labor in seekingconverts-the adoption of a certain dress or mode of speech is little. Union with our denomination is almost as unimportant-thetrue embracing of Jesus as the Savior of men is the vital matter. To bring men to be Christians, "this is the work, this thelabor."
The Apostle does not appear to have aimed at merely making the man a convert as to his judgment, or a trembler as to his feelings,or an enthusiast as to his passions. Is it not sometimes evidently the drift of Christian ministers to make men weep for weeping'ssake? Funeral rites are paraded and sepulchers unveiled-mournful memories are awakened and half-healed wounds ruthlessly tornopen-and this laceration of the natural feelings is supposed to be a process peculiarly conducive to conversion! I have nofaith in such appeals! I want men's tears for other sorrows than those connected with the dead! I beg their heart's regardto a far more important occupation than garlanding the memories of the departed.
Is it not very possible to work up a congregation to the highest possible state of excitement upon their bereavements, andyet, after all, have gained no step in advance in the direction of their eternal salvation? The deaths of the Herod familymight have been worked into a touching appeal to Agrippa, but Paul was too manly to attempt the sentimentalist's effeminatediscoursing. Neither did the Apostle excite Agrippa's patriotic sensibilities by rehearsing the glorious deeds of ancientJewish valor with which the world had rung! No glowing stanzas of heroic verse or thrilling legend of chivalry were embossedupon his address-but in all simplicity the Apostle aimed at this one thing-to convince the monarch's judgment as to changehis heart. He wished to affect Agrippa's passions as by the power of the Holy Spirit to make a new man of him! This, thisonly, would content the Apostolic orator-that his hearer might be a Christian! That he might be such a one as Paul also was,the Lord's servant, relying upon Christ's righteousness and living for Christ's Glory.
Now, it is well for the preacher to know what he is at and it is well for the hearers to know what the preacher desires tohave them do or be. Why, Brothers and Sisters, I trust my heart's desire is precisely that which ruled the Apostle. I
long that every one of you may be a Christian! Ah, my Lord, I pray You bear me witness that the one thing I strive after isthat this people may know Your Truth and trust Your Son and be saved by Your Holy Spirit-saved in their outward lives andeternally saved in the day of Your appearing!
Brothers and Sisters, whatever else shall come out of my preaching, though your liberality should be superabundant, thoughyour morality should be untarnished, though your assembling together should never decrease in numbers, though your enthusiasmshould never abate in intensity, yet if you are not altogether Christians, made so by the new birth and by the power of theHoly Spirit, I shall regard my ministry as a miserable failure-a failure full of grief to me and of confusion to you! O mayGod grant that many here may be altogether and at once persuaded to be Christians, for nothing but this will content me!
If you desire a definition of a Christian, the Apostle has given it to you in the 18th verse of the chapter from which thetext is selected. He there gives a fivefold description of the true Christian. He is one whose eyes are opened, who has beenturned from darkness to light-that is to say, he knows the Truth of God and perceives it in quite a different manner fromany knowledge of it which he possessed in the past. He sees his sins and feels their heinousness. He knows the plan of salvationand rejoices in its all-sufficiency. His knowledge is not superficial and a thing of the head, but internal and a matter ofthe heart. He knows now truly what he only knew theoretically before.
Knowledge is essential to a Christian. Romanism, that owl of night, may delight in ignorance, but true Christianity praysevermore for light. "The Lord is my light and my salvation"-light, first, and salvation afterwards. May you all have the openedeye, which is the Spirit's early gift. But the next point of the Christian is conversion, "To turn them from darkness to lightand from the power of Satan unto God." The Christian is emancipated from the tyranny of evil and is free to follow after holinessand to delight in the commands of God. He is a citizen of a new world, alienated from his former loves and desires, made afellow citizen of a city with which he had no acquaintance before. He owes no more service to the flesh and the lusts thereof,but the Lord is his Lawgiver and his King.
Thirdly, he has received forgiveness of sin. He is pardoned through the precious blood of Christ and rejoices in the fullremission of his sins. Faith has brought him to the foot of the Cross. Faith has led him to the fountain filled with blood.The Holy Spirit has applied the Atonement, his conscience is clear-he has received redemption, to wit, the forgiveness ofsins. The next and, indeed, the essential point in a Christian is faith-"By faith that is in Me," says the Lord. Faith inthe crucified and risen Savior. From this root will spring all the other characteristics of the genuine Christian.
Once again, the Christian is a man who is sanctified-that is, set apart, a separated man, a holy man, a sin-hating man-onewho loves the commandments of God and counts it his pleasure to be obedient to them. Such a man has salvation. He has alreadya part of the inheritance of saints and he is on his way to that blessed place where he shall receive its full fruition. Itis after this that the Christian minister is always striving, that his hearers may be Christians- be enlightened, be converted,have real and true faith-be sanctified by the Spirit, be forgiven all their sins and made heirs of immortality.
Has the ministry which you have attended effected, under God, this for you? If not, is this great failure the fault of theministry or your own? O dear Hearers, if the blame lies in the ministry, if it is not such preaching as God will really bless,forsake it and attend some other! But if you are conscious that it is a Gospel ministry to which you have listened, becauseit has been blessed to others by the Holy Spirit, then I ask you, how will you answer for it at the bar of God, that so greata blessing of Heaven has been slighted and how will you excuse yourself for resisting cogent, earnest, affectionate persuasions,all intended to lead you to be a Christian?
O confess your sin, that you still halt between two opinions and remain in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquitydespite the pleadings of the Word and the rebukes of your conscience! God grant that such enquiries may have the practicalresult of humbling and arousing you.
II. Secondly, let us spend two or three minutes in considering THE APOSTOLIC MANNER OF PERSUADING. Read carefully the notesof Paul's sermon as given in the chapter before us. In what way did he endeavor to persuade the king? I reply it is noteworthythat Paul made constant appeals to Scripture. We say not that he quoted one or more passages, but he insisted from first tolast that he spoke no other things than Moses and the Prophets wrote and nothing but what the 12 tribes were looking for.
My dear Hearers, this ought always to be a powerful argument with you. You are as yet unconverted, you are not yet persuadedto be Christians, but yet you believe the Bible to be true. From your childhood you have accepted with reverence the Bookof God as being inspired. Now, if this Book is of God, it is your highest wisdom to be a follower of Christ! And as you darenot reject the Book-you have not yet come to that-I ask you how you make it consistent with reason, how you reconcile it withconscience and with sound sense that you remain disobedient to its high behests? That Book declares that no foundation canbe laid for our eternal hopes but in Christ Jesus and yet you have not built on that foundation!
This Book testifies that those who reject the Lord Jesus and His Atonement must perish without mercy! Are you prepared toso perish? It also invites you to build on the foundation of Christ's sacrificial work and it promises you infinite securityin so doing. Are you willing to reject so great a blessing? If you did not believe the Bible, no argument drawn from it couldhave any force with you, and therefore the Apostle did not quote Scripture to the philosophers on Mars' Hill. But grantedthat you accept the Scriptures as God's Word, as Agrippa did, the Apostolic form of reasoning from that Word ought not merelyto convince your judgments, but to persuade your hearts! And it would do so, if there were not something radically wrong inyour hearts-something to be repented of, something to be removed by the power of God's Holy Spirit!
Observe next, the Apostle's persuasion of Agrippa lay mainly in his personal testimony to the power of Divine Grace in hisown soul. We need not repeat the story of Paul on the road to Damascus and the bright light and the sacred voice and the sinnerrising up converted to go forth to bear witness to others of Jesus and of His Grace. Personal testimony ought always to weighwith men. Convince me that a man is honest and then, if he bears witness to facts which are matters of his own personal consciousness,not merely the gleanings of hearsay, but things which he has tasted and handled, I am bound to believe him. And especiallyif his testimony is backed up by others, I dare not deny it-I could not be so unjust.
A great part of the preaching of every Christian minister should lie in his bearing his personal testimony to what Christhas done for him. It was my privilege only last Thursday night to tell you over again for perhaps the thousandth time, howthe Grace of God has converted, consoled, supported and benefited me. I did not hesitate to tell how the Holy Spirit led meto the foot of the Cross and by one look at the crucified Redeemer, banished all my guilty fears. I know I speak the truth!My conscience witnesses that I lie not when I declare that trust in Jesus Christ has changed me so totally that I scarcelyknow my former self! It has unbound my sackcloth and girded me with gladness! It has taken the ashes of sorrow from my headand anointed me with the oil of joy!
Moreover, my testimony does not stand alone, but there are hundreds and thousands who consistently and without hesitationdeclare that faith in Christ has blessed and saved them. Such testimony ought to weigh with you and it would convince you,were you not desperately set against the Lord's Truth and so fond of sin. Our testimony to the joy, peace, comfort and strength,which faith in Jesus brings, ought to be accepted, being corroborated by the witness of thousands of men of undoubted truthand unblemished character. O that men were wise and would not resist the counsel of God against themselves!
The Apostle added to this twofold reasoning, a clear statement of the facts of the Gospel. Notice how he piles precious Truthsof God together and compresses them as with an hydraulic press, in the 23rd verse-"That Christ should suffer and that He shouldbe the first to rise from the dead and should show light unto the people and to the Gentiles." He was about to complete thissummary of Christian divinity when Festus interrupted him. In that verse you have most of the grand Truths of the Gospel.It is a ready way to convince men, so far as instrumentality can do it, to tell them clearly that God became Incarnate inChrist Jesus-that the Incarnate God bore the sin of Believers and suffered in man's place that justice might be vindicated.That Jesus rose again and ascended into Heaven to plead the cause of Believers before the Throne of God and that pardon, freeand full, is proclaimed to every sinner who will simply come and trust in the sufferings of Jesus.
Where the Gospel statement is clearly given, even if no reasoning is used, it will, under God, frequently convince, for itis so marvelously self-evident, indeed, it would convince men universally were not the human heart harder than the nethermillstone and carnal reason deaf as the adder that will not hear the wisest charmer! The Apostle did not close his sermonuntil he had made a home appeal to Agrippa. "King Agrippa," said he (in something like the style of Nathan when he said, "Youare the man!") "King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you believe." He looked him
through and through, and read his heart-and to escape that glance the king suddenly complimented him-and to avoid such closeapplications of unpalatable Truth withdrew from the place of hearing.
Oh, but this is the way to preach! We must not only argue from the Scriptures, relate our experience, and give clear statementsof Gospel Truth, but we must also carry the war into the heart! The minister of Christ must know how to take the scaling ladderand fix it against the wall of the conscience and climb it, sword in hand, to meet the man face to face in sacred duel-forthe capture of his heart he must not flinch to tell the faults he knows, or deal with the errors he perceives. There mustbe a consecrated self-denial about the preacher, so that it matters not to him, even though he should draw down the wrathof his hearer upon his head. One thing he must aim at, that he may persuade him to be a Christian and for this he must strikehome, coming to close quarters, if perhaps by God's Grace, he may prick the man in his heart, slay his enmity and bring himinto captivity to Jesus!
Thus have I shown you the modes of persuasion which the Apostle used, and the object for which he used them. O that such pleadingswould persuade you!
III. Thirdly, consider THE DIFFERING DEGREES OF SUCCESS ATTENDING SUCH PERSUASIONS. How
did Paul succeed? We can hardly expect to persuade more successfully than he, for we have neither his ability nor his Apostolicauthority. Note, then, that he failed with Festus, a rough soldier, an officer of decent character-one of the most respectableof the Roman governors who ruled Judea (as a whole a wretched band). He was an administrator of stern, ready justice-veryapt, according to Josephus-in the art of hunting down robbers and generally a shrewd, vigorous, independent, but severe rulerof the province entrusted to him.
He was the type of those commonsense, business people who are very practical, very just, very fond of facts, but who considernothing to be worth their thoughts that has anything like sentiment in it or that deals with abstract truth. "You are besideyourself," is the way in which Festus puts Paul down. And as if he noticed in Agrippa's face some little sympathy with thecaptive Jew, for the monarch's sake he tones down the roughness of his remark, by adding, "Much learning has made you mad."
The rough legionary neither knew nor cared much about learning himself, but he felt it a nuisance to be worried with Jewishtrivia concerning rites and dogmas, and questions about one Jesus that was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. He put suchspeculations all aside, saying to himself, "People who attach importance to such romantic speculations must assuredly be crazedor imbecile." Wherever the Gospel is preached there are people of that kind. "By all means," say they, "toleration-by allmeans, and if people like to believe this, or that, or the other, well-let them believe it. Of course, you know, we men ofthe world do not care a button about such matters! We know too much to commit ourselves to any set of dogmas-we have morepractical and rational business to attend to."
As to investigating the claims of the Truth of God-as to asking what is Divinely revealed, as to giving themselves the troubleto study-no, no, no! Everlasting matters are by them, (so wise are they), thought to be trifles. Time is everything! Eternityis nothing! This transient life is all-the life everlasting is a thing to be sniffed at! Well, if such men bring grief tothe preacher nowadays, he must not marvel, for such was Paul's burden in his day.
Now let us turn our gaze upon the young scion of the house of Herod, a man of very different mold. He listened attentively.He had always taken an interest in religious questions. He was sprung of a family that, with all their frightful vices, hadtrembled before the voice of prophecy and Scripture and like the Herod who heard John gladly, he listened with great attentionand interest to Paul. As he weighed the arguments in his mind, he felt that there was a great deal to be said for Paul's viewof the question. He did not half-know but what Paul might be right. Still he had an "if." He would rather not think that theprisoner before him was better informed than he, or that such stern teaching demanded obedience from him and, therefore, heclosed the discourse with a remark intended to be pleasing to the orator and he went his way.
Oh, but these Agrippas! These Agrippas! I would almost sooner deal with Festus, for I know what Festus means and I am notdisappointed! And one of these days it may be the Lord will direct an arrow between the joints of Festus's harness. But thisAgrippa utterly deceives me! He is a fair blossom that never knits and so turns not to fruit! He is almost persuaded. Yes,and therefore he takes a sitting at our chapel and he attends the ministry and look, he even drops a tear-but then he woulddo the same if he sat in a smoke-filled room! He will remember what is said, too, and when he
hears a pungent remark he will repeat it at the dinner table and commend the speaker-but then he would have done the sameif he had been gratified by an actor at the theater.
We are told that he is a good fellow and well inclined! It may be so, but alas, he is almost persuaded and not quite and sohe is no Christian. He is not in any measure a Christian, although he listens to Christian preaching. He is almost persuaded,yet nothing more. I wonder whether in Paul's congregation there was a third sort of hearer! I hope there was-for there werepresent not only Festus and Bernice and Agrippa, but doubtless many of the attendants and certainly, according to the 23rdverse of the 25th chapter, the chief captains and principal men of the city were there. Perhaps-though we are not so informed-whilePaul was failing with Festus and disappointed with Agrippa, there sat somewhere in the back seats a centurion, or a privatesoldier, or a Jewish ruler upon whom the Truth of God was falling like soft dew, and into whose heart it was being receivedas the ocean absorbs the falling shower!
Surely he was not left without witness! The seed he was casting on the waters was found again-and though he came up from hisdungeon to preach on that occasion bearing precious seed with many tears, doubtless in Heaven he rejoices over sheaves whichsprang up from that morning's preaching! Blessed be God, our labor is not in vain in the Lord!
IV. We will now enquire WHY THE HALF-CONVINCED HEARER WAS ONLY "ALMOST PERSUADED"! Look at Agrippa again. Fix your attentionfully upon him, for with some of you he is a photograph of yourselves. The arguments which Paul drew from Scripture and hisown personal experience were very appealing to the intellect. His way of putting these arguments was exceedingly forcibleand therefore, if Agrippa were not altogether persuaded, it was not the fault of the preacher's matter or manner. Nothingcould have been more powerful in either case.
Where, then, did the fault lie? I stand now in the court and I look around and I ask myself, "What is the reason why Agrippais not persuaded?" The argument seemed feasible to me, why not to him? As I look around I notice on the right hand of Agrippaa very excellent reason why he is not convinced, for there sat Bernice, of whom there were very unsavory stories afloat inJosephus's day. She was Agrippa's sister and is accused of having lived in incestuous communion with him. If so, with sucha woman at his right hand, I marvel not that Paul's arguments did not fully persuade. The reason why sinners are not persuadedis, in 99 cases out of a 100, their sin-their love of sin!
They see, but they will not see-for if they did see, they would have to tear out that right eye sin or cut off that rightarm lust-and they cannot consent to that. Most of the arguments against the Gospel are bred in the filth of a corrupt life.He makes the best reasoner as an infidel who is most unholy, because the devil and his soul together will never keep him shortof the fiery arrows of Hell. If it were true that Agrippa lived in such degrading sin, it is no wonder that when Paul reasonedso soberly and so truthfully, Agrippa was almost, but not altogether, persuaded! If the charge brought against Bernice asto her brother was not altogether true, yet she was beyond all question a shameless woman. She had been originally marriedto her own uncle, Herod, and was therefore both his niece and his wife. And her second marriage was soon broken by her unfaithfulness.
Now Agrippa's public and ostentatious associating with her, proved at least that he was in evil company. This is quite sufficientto account for his never being altogether persuaded to be a Christian. Evil company is one of Satan's great nets in whichhe holds his birds until the time shall come for their destruction. How many would gladly escape, but they are afraid of thosearound them whom they count to be good fellows, and whose society has become necessary to their mirth! Oh, you know it, someof you! You know it! You have often trembled while I have told you of your sins and of the wrath to come-but you have metyour bad companion at the door, or you have gone home and attended parties of gaiety-and every godly thought has been quenchedand you have gone back like a dog to his vomit and like a sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. Ah, you Agrippas,your Bernices will lead you down to Hell!
But if Agrippa has his Bernice, Bernice has her Agrippa! And so men and women become mutual destroyers. The daughters of Eveand the sons of Adam assist each other in choosing their own delusions. Now that I am in the court, I look around again andthink I notice that Agrippa is easily influenced by Festus. Festus is a commonsense rough-and-ready governor and such menalways have power and influence over gentlemen of taste like Agrippa, for somehow the greater the diversity of character themore influence a man will have upon another.
The rough Festus appears to the gentle Agrippa to be his superior and if he sneers and calls Paul mad-well, Agrippa must notgo the length of being persuaded, although he may demonstrate his expertness in Jewish questions by giving a favorable opinionon the case, which may, a little, put Festus down-yet how could he go and dine with the
governor if he became quite convinced? What would Festus say? "Ah, two madmen! Is Agrippa, also, beside himself?" The kingcan hardly put up with the sarcasms which he foresees. Some people's sneers he could bear, but Festus is a man of shrewdnessand common sense and is so prominent a ruler that a sneer from him would cut him to the quick.
Alas, how many are influenced by fear of men! Oh, you Cowards, will you be damned out of fear? Will you sooner let your soulsperish than show your manhood by telling a poor mortal that you defy his scorn? Dare you not follow the right though all menin the world should call you to do the wrong? Oh, you cowards! You cowards! How you deserve to perish who have not soul enoughto call your souls your own, but cower down before the sneers of fools! Play the man, I pray you, and ask God's Grace to helpyou to do the right as soon as you are convinced, let Festus scoff as he will.
Do you not think, too, that Paul himself had something to do with Agrippa's not being convinced? I do not mean that Paul hadone grain of blame in the case, but he wore decorations during his preaching which probably were not of a pleasing and convincingcharacter to a man of Agrippa's taste for pomp and ease. Though better than golden ornaments were his chains, Paul seems tohave perceived that Agrippa was shocked at Christianity in that peculiar garb, for Paul said, "Except these bonds." It oftenhappens that looking abroad upon the sorrows of God's people, ungodly men refuse to take their portion with them. They findthat righteous men are frequently sneered at and called names. Their self-love can hardly run the risk of such inconvenience.
Be a Methodist? No! Presbyterian? No! Truth is all very well, but gold, they say, can be bought too dearly. Men are so movedby the fear of contempt and poverty that they turn aside from the narrow path and no reasoning can convince them to followit, for they are unwilling to encounter the dangers of the heavenly pilgrimage. O that men were wise enough to see that sufferingfor Christ is honor! That loss for the Truth of God is gain! That the truest dignity rests in wearing the chain upon the armrather than endure the chain upon the soul!
The great reason why Agrippa was not convinced lay in his own heart-partly in the love of pomp, partly in the dread of hismaster Nero at Rome, partly in his superficial and artificial character-but mainly in his love of sin and in the strugglingof his passions against the Divine restraints of the Gospel. The main reason why men are not persuaded to be Christians liesin their own hearts. It is not a flaw in the preacher's logic. It is a flaw in the hearer's nature. It is no mistake in thelogic-it is an error in the hearer's will. It is not that the reasonings are not powerful-it is that the man does not wishto feel their power and so endeavors to elude them. I ask your consciences, you who are not convinced, whether I have notfairly stated some of the causes which create and prolong your halting between two opinions and, if I have, may God's Gracehelp you to confess them, and then may it deliver you from their power.
V. Lastly, I have to show THE EVIL THAT WILL FOLLOW UPON BEING ONLY ALMOST PERSUADED. The first evil is that if a man is onlyalmost convinced, he misses altogether the blessing which being fully persuaded to be a Christian would have brought him.A leaky ship went out to sea and a passenger was almost persuaded not to trust his life in it, but he did so and he perished.A bubble speculation was started in the city and a merchant was almost persuaded not to have shares in it, but he bought thescrip and his estate went down in the general shipwreck. A person exceedingly ill heard of a remedy reputed to be most effectualand he was almost persuaded to take it, but he did not and therefore the disease grew worse and worse. A man who proposedto go into a subterranean vault in the dark was almost persuaded to take a candle, but he did not and therefore he stumbledand fell.
You cannot have the blessing by being almost persuaded to have it! Your hunger cannot be appeased by almost eating, nor yourthirst quenched by almost drinking. A culprit was almost saved from being hanged, for a reprieve came five minutes after hewas hung, but alas, he was altogether dead despite the almost escape. A man who has been almost persuaded to be saved, willat the last be altogether damned! His being almost convinced will be of no conceivable service to him. This seems so grievous,that the life of God and the light of God and the Heaven of God should glide by some of you and you should be almost persuadedand yet should miss them through not being Christians.
Worse still, in addition to the loss of the blessing, there certainly comes an additional guilt to the man who, being almostpersuaded, yet continues in his sin. A person has rebelled against the government-in hot haste he has taken side with therioters. But he is afterwards very sorry for it and he asks that he may be forgiven-let mercy have free course. But anotheroffender has been reasoned with. He has been shown the impolicy of treason. He has seen clearly the evil of taking up armsagainst the commonwealth and he has been almost persuaded to be loyal.
I say when he becomes a rebel, he is a traitor with a vengeance to whom no mercy can be shown! The man who is almost persuadedto be honest and yet deliberately becomes a thief, is a rogue ingrain. The murderer who almost saves his victim's life inthe moment of passion, pausing because almost persuaded to forego revenge and, after all, deliberately kills his enemy, deservesdeath beyond all others. The man who is deliberately an enemy to Christ. Who presumptuously rejects the offer of peace. Whoin calm moments puts from him the precious blood. Who is almost persuaded, but yet by desperate effort overcomes his conscience-sucha man shall go down to the Pit with a millstone about his neck that shall sink him to the lowest Hell! You almost persuadedones, I pray you look at this and tremble!
Once more. To have been almost persuaded and yet not to be a Christian will lead to endless regrets for will not this thoughtbubble up in the seething soul amidst its torments forever-"I was almost persuaded to repent. Why did I go on in my sin? Iwas almost persuaded to put my trust in Jesus. Why did I cling, still, to my self-righteousness and vain ceremonies? I wasalmost persuaded to forsake my evil companions and to become a servant of God-but I am now cast away forever-where no morepersuasions can melt my heart. Oh, my cursed sin! Alas, that I should have been fascinated by its temporary sweetness andfor the sake of it should have incurred this never-ending bitterness! Oh, my madness! Oh, my insanity, that I should havechosen the lies which did but mock me and suffered my Savior and His salvation to pass
I dare not attempt to picture the remorse of spirits shut up in the cells of despair. Suffice it to say the dread truth isclear-a man cannot come so near to the verge of persuasion and yet with desperate obstinacy start back from the great salvationwithout incurring the hot displeasure of the God of Mercy-without bringing upon himself, also, the doom of a suicide in havingdestroyed his own soul and put from him the mercy of Jesus Christ! How I wish I knew how to plead with you this morning! Howearnestly I would persuade those of you who are halting between two opinions! Some of you have but a little time to be halting-yourwavering will soon be over-for your death warrants are signed and the Angel of Death has spread his wings to the blast, tobring the fatal summons down!
The grave is appointed for some of you within a few weeks or months. You shall not trifle with God long. O, I pray you, Ibeseech you! If you have any concern for yourselves and have any sound reason left, seek that your peace may be made withGod through the precious blood of Christ! Seek that you may be ready to stand before your Maker's bar, for stand there youmust and will, before many days are past. If you should live another 30 or 40 years, how short that time is and how soon willit pass!
Consider your ways now. Today is the accepted time, today is the day of salvation! The Lord persuade you. I have done my best.He can do it. The Lord the Holy Spirit create you anew and make you Christians and His shall be the Glory forever. Amen andAmen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Acts 26.