The Final Choice
A sermon by Gipsy Smith (AD 1860-1947).
“And as he reasoned of righteousness and temperance (or, as the Revised Version has it, ‘self-control’) and judgment to come, Felix trembled (or, was terrified), and answered, Go thy way for this time: when I have a convenient season (and please note the little word ‘more’ which you so often put in when you quote this verse is not in the verse at all: it is often quoted, ‘When I have a more convenient season’; the word ‘more’ is not there) - when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. -Acts 24:25
This is a wonderful picture. I wish I could paint it. Three people - one God’s prophet, God’s messenger, the other two a man and a woman who were living a very sinful life. Paul is in prison, awaiting his trial, and these two want some new excitement, something to amuse and something to entertain. Time, though they live in sin, hangs heavily. They are spending their money on that which is not bread, and their labour for that which satisfieth not, and like the man of whom we read that longed for some new pleasure and offered a reward to anybody who would invent one, these two want something to pass away the time, and so they send for God’s prophet that he may entertain them. Says the verse that precedes this one, “He sent for Paul and heard him concerning faith in Christ.”
And it needs courage to preach to one man, or to two people. There are those who can preach to the crowd. It takes a man with the vision of the Cross to preach to two people; to see that a little child may be a nation; and when we have the right spirit we shall see in one person something worth preaching to. If you are sent to preach the truth, you must be unsparing and faithful, you must declare the whole counsel of God. It takes courage to preach to the man who sits in a high position, when he is close to you, when he is in his own house and you are sitting at his table, or in his own room face to face.
That was the picture. There sat Drusilla, there sat Felix, and here stood Paul, and he may have had the chains on him, the chains that told of suffering for Christ’s sake. Paul never had a better chance than then of making a friend of one who would help him when the trial came on. His enemies were outside, his accusers were away. Those who were thirsting for his blood were not in this little, quiet meeting amongst the three. If he will only flatter, if he will only congratulate instead of expostulate, if he will fawn upon Felix and toady to him, if he will compromise he may capture this man at any rate, and he will have a friend at court when the day of trial comes.
But listen, Paul was not made of that material. He could suffer, he could die, but he could not sin, he could not trim. His message was burning in his very soul, his message had come down to him as “Thus saith the Lord.” And he seemed to take in the whole situation, and to realize that this was his only chance of dealing personally, pointedly, piercingly with this sinner in front of him and the other sinner beside him.
And so he reasoned - of the Cross? Not to begin with. Of the shed blood? Not to begin with. Did he preach from this text, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son”? Not to begin with. Did he say, “He that believeth on the Son shall be saved”? No. He reasoned of righteousness, he talked about God’s hatred for sin, and he made sin appear sin.
He did not excuse sin; he meant Felix to see and feel the awfulness of his own sin. He reasoned of rightness, wholeness, Godlikeness, purity. He brought him up to face the blazing light and the scorching presence of God’s purity. He talked of righteousness. I do not think that that side of the truth in these days is enforced as it ought to be. We have preached the love of God till some are lovesick. You know God’s love; what you need to be told, and what I mean to tell you before I get through, is that God hates sin as much today as when Christ hung on the nails to put it away, and that he does not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.
He reasoned of righteousness to a man who was unrighteous. He talked about self-control - temperance - to the man who was intemperate, and whose passion was running wild. The man within was riot. His whole being was in a state of anarchy, a rebel.
He talked of righteousness, judgment; and as I have tried to enforce before, religion that honours God is right-doing, walking straight, holding a constant witness to the cleansing power of the precious blood. It is not hunting up meetings and preachers and going to conventions, taking your pencils and writing down in little notebooks pretty little sayings, beautiful little extracts, pretty thoughts. It is letting them blaze in your life when the convention is over, when the meeting is past, when the Sunday is gone, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, three hundred and sixty-five days in the year all aglow, warm with holiness unto the Lord.
Righteousness - “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but rightness - rightness.” It is turning from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God. It is the wicked man forsaking his wickedness in conformity to the will of God. Righteousness - not going to church, nor being christened, or confirmed, or baptized, or taking communion. All that will fall into the proper place, but first of all righteousness, rightness, right-relationship with heaven, readjustment with God, putting me in my right place with God, and God in His right place in me and in all my concerns.
What we want is sin dethroned, Christ honoured and Christ glorified not only among the angels, not only among the saints who march around the steps of the throne, not only among those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, and are singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, but down here in the city, in your home, in your workshop, in your business - rightness, righteousness in your yard measure, righteousness in your weights and scales, righteousness in your ledger; to handle your ledger with as much religious feeling and fervour as you take your seat in the pew on Sundays and handle the communion cup - this is what the gospel means.
I tell you this is a mighty, sweeping gospel. It is an unsparing gospel where sin is concerned. “He reasoned of righteousness, of temperance, and of judgment” - judgment, don’t forget it, judgment here and judgment yonder. Do not forget that “God hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world.” Do not forget that there is a great white throne, and that we will have to stand before it. Do not forget that we shall stand as we are and not as we seem to be, and that we will have to give an account of the deeds done in the body. And do not forget that it will not be a mock judgment, it will be a righteous judgment, that God will be the judge, and that He will render to every many according as his work shall be.
Oh, to have listened to this preacher, to have heard Paul as he waxed fiery, flaming as he talked of righteousness and of judgment! Oh, to have seen the flash in his eye, and the pointed finger and the erect figure as he shook and the chains rattled, while he lifted as high as he could that hand, pointing to the great white throne! Oh, to have seen him as he pealed out the truth upon that man like a mighty thunder-clap into his conscience and into his brain until he shook, until the seat shook on which he sat, until he clutched it and said,
“Hold! That will do, Paul. I know it is true, I have heard as much as I can carry, I have got as much as I can bear; that will do. Go back to the dungeon. It is not convenient. I know it all, I feel it all; I know what I ought to do. My soul, my conscience, my better self, my illuminated judgment, everything - God the Spirit, your word and your presence, and these clanking chains - tells me what I ought to be and what I ought to do, but it is not convenient. When it is convenient I will send for thee.”
Cannot you hear him marching down that corridor? Cannot you hear the rattle of those chains? And don’t you hear the slamming of the door that shuts the old saint up - glorious old Paul - in that dungeon for Christ’s sake?
Listen. The slamming of that door is but the echo of another door which closed itself forever against these two when Paul was ordered off. When he went their chance went with him. Oh, how different the story might have read! How blessedly it might have ended! How triumphantly it ought to have ended! But the man hugged his sins and would not yield.
Now why did not Felix become a Christian? He might have been an apostle, he might have been an evangelist, he might have written an epistle. It takes a saint to do that. He might have left a message which would have blessed the world, he might have left a decision that would have been an inspiration for all time. But he went the other way. He decided against Paul and Paul’s Christ.
And surely if any man in the world ever had a fair chance of salvation Felix had. With the world shut out and with that great soul-winner in front of him, with nobody to interrupt, nobody to come between, nobody but Paul and His Master facing him and the plan of salvation in front of him, and the heavens opening above him, and the light streaming down upon him and God speaking through His saint, surely no man ever had a better chance of life eternal than this man.
Surely, my brother, my sister, you cannot look in the face of God one day and say, “I should have been a Christian if I had an opportunity.” You cannot say that because you have this blessed hour in which to yield to God. If you never had a chance before you have one now, and if you never had anybody to talk to you about these things you have some one now. You cannot plead at the great white throne that you never had a chance. Felix cannot.
Surely no man ever had a better preacher than Paul, the prince of preachers. There was no trimming about Paul. There was no stooping to suit his people. He was not afraid of the man in the chariot and he did not despise the man in the gutter. Why, Paul, glorious old Paul, he said himself, “I determined to know nothing among you save Christ and Him crucified.” There was no mongrel gospel with Paul. There was no water and milk gospel with Paul. It was the pure, unadulterated, unchanging, living message.
Surely you cannot say when you get to the white throne, if you have not a wedding garment on, you cannot say, “Well, if I had only heard the pure gospel I should have been saved”? You cannot say that; you have had it from the pulpit, you have had it from the lips of your own ministers, you have heard it till you can go to sleep under it. You are hardened by the process of listening to it. For this mighty gospel, what it does not soften and weld, it hardens. It is the savour of life or of death. You know it, and you are familiar with it. You have had the gospel as faithfully as ever Paul preached it.
Surely this man might have been saved, for he was convicted. He felt more than he wanted to feel. He trembled, but, mark this - he trembled but the woman did not. That is striking.
I have often seen two people sit together under the same sermon, and I have seen one shake and tremble and weep beneath the power of God, and I have seen the other rebellious and hard and hindering; I have seen one want to come, and I have seen the other pull him back. When a woman does set herself against Christ, she does. I have not been an evangelist for a quarter of a century, without finding out that when a woman does come to Christ, she comes all the way.
I believe this man would have been saved, yea, I know he would, but for that woman. Felix trembled; she did not. He felt, he was convicted, he was awake, he knew, he was concerned, he was wrought upon.
Haven’t you been there? Is not your conscience, my sister, my brother, with me at this moment? Don’t you feel your sin; don’t you see something of its wickedness; don’t you realize something of its damning power; don’t you see how it is spoiling you, how it is robbing you of your manhood; don’t you see how your life is embittered; don’t you see how it is leading you away from God and rightness? Don’t you see it? I know you do. That is the Spirit at work within you. Your conscience and your judgment are bearing me witness.
Don’t you see that you can get as far as trembling conviction, and yet stop and refuse to take the decisive step? Why do you not yield? I want to push that question till I get an answer.
Why didn’t Felix surrender? If he heard the gospel from the lips of that faithful man and felt its awful import, if that stupendous opportunity was his in which he might have built a throne, why did he take the dungeon? If the hour was his in which he might have set an anthem ringing around the throne, why did he forge the chain? If the hour was his in which he might have decked the brow of Emmanuel, why, in the name of everything that is good, did he grovel in the dust and allow hell to drive over him its chariots and to grind him to powder? Why? Don’t you see the damning effects, the deluding effects, the destroying effects of sin?
The reason is given in one word - sin, his own sin. Beside him sat another man’s wife with whom he was living. Are you surprised that Paul talked of righteousness? How could he talk of anything else? Could God smile on that? He talked of righteousness. I should think so. And Felix knew if he became a Christian that woman must go home to her husband; at any rate, she must go from him. He knew that, and he looked at her, and in that look he lost his soul. He said, “No, it is not convenient. When it is I will call for thee.” But he never did, he never had another chance.
Samson lost his strength through a woman. The daughter of Herodias danced Herod into the pit. Drusilla was the chain that bound this man for time and for eternity. What is binding you? What is fettering you? What is getting you by the heart and life? What has gripped you in its clutch? What is it? You know. You know. Who is it? You know, and God knows. The truth will out some day.
The truth will out, for every man has some special sin. It may not be lust for a woman, but it may be lust for gold, it may be lust for drink, it may be appetite in another form, it may be ambition, which is just as damning. What is it?
Every woman has her own sin. It may not be lust for a man, but it is lust of some sort, and there are some women who will sell their souls and the souls of their children for dress and trinkets. May God save you.
Listen - it is a choice between sin and holiness. It is a tremendous choice, but there can be no two opinions about it, if you look at it wisely and well. It is a choice between the low and the high, the earthly and the heavenly, time and eternity, the perishable and the imperishable, the tinsel and the real gold, the passing moment and the heaven that awaits those who will only obey.
Men and women, sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, rise to the occasion. Don’t mingle for yourselves the bitter drink, don’t fly in the face of your eternal interests. Don’t fight against God. Don’t hug your sin. Don’t play the fool - don’t. God wants to save you, and He will save you. He would have saved that man if he had come, but he did not, and because he did not God could not. “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.” “How often would I have gathered you under My wing,…and ye would not.”
It is not God’s fault. If a man goes to hell - whatever hell may mean, I pray you may never find out, but whatever hell is - I do not know - but whatever it is, if a man goes there, it is because he will not accept God’s remedy. You cannot charge God with your destruction; you must charge it home to your own will in the choice of evil in your own wicked, rebellious God-dishonouring, God-hating, Christ-rejecting life; you must charge yourself.
I cannot hear my Lord libelled without protest. Some of you say, “Do you think God is a God of love, to send a man to hell?” God does not send him there; he sends himself. You don’t go to hell because you are a sinner, but because you refuse to walk over the bridge that God has built and made it possible for you to go the other way. You refuse God’s grace; you refuse the way of salvation.
God wants to save you from your sin, and he will save you now if you will submit. Will you give up your sin? You don’t want me to name your sin. If I did know it I would hold it before you till you loathed it; I would make you face it; I would hold it in front of you till you ran away from it; I would make you see your own sin, in spite of yourself, were it in my power till you yielded and gave yourself wholly to Jesus Christ.
My brother, my sister, let this be a time of real surrender, when you turn from the wicked thing, the thing that God hates in your life, the thing that has made you all you are, the thing that is destroying you day by day. Turn from that, and turn from it now, and you will hear Him say to you as you come, though your coming is faltering, though it is weak, if it is coming, if it is turning from sin, if it is yielding to God your heart, your life, all there is, with no reservation, the whole being, absolute, entire, if it is a real surrender, you will hear Him say, “Thy sins are forgiven thee”; and if your ears were a little keener, then you would hear the angels singing, “The dead is alive, and the lost is found.”
-Evangelist Gipsy Smith (sometimes spelled Gypsy Smith)
From the book - As Jesus Passed By and Other Addresses by Gipsy Smith, Seventeenth Edition, Fleming H. Revell Company, Chicago; 1905. (The only editing I’ve done is to break it up into more paragraphs for easier reading. -DRB)
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