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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, July 13, 2008
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

I cannot leave this verse without going back to it one more time. R. C. H. Lenski translated the verse as, “On every soul fear kept coming” (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961 edition, p. 117). As people came to hear the Gospel, fear kept coming on them. The Greek verb “egineto” is in the imperfect tense. This shows that “fear kept coming.” It did not stop or end. The idea is that this was not just a passing fear. It was a fear that continued to grip them, and it was a fear that moved them to salvation in Christ, as we see at the end of verse forty-seven,

“And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).

The fear that came upon them at Pentecost moved them to Christ. They were converted and added to the local church.

Later in the Book of Acts we find a man who only experienced passing fear. Please turn there, to Acts 24:24-26.

“And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him” (Acts 24:24-26).

I hope that you remember that the Greek word translated “fear” in Acts 2:43 is “phobos.” We get our English word “phobia” from this Greek word. It means “excessive fear.” And that is exactly what the word “phobos” means in the Greek New Testament.

Now, in Acts 24:25, we see that “Felix trembled.” If you have a Scofield Study Bible you will see a little “t” right before the word “trembled.” Then in the center column you will see that it says, “becoming afraid; Gr. (Greek) emphobos, afraid.” So, Felix experienced “emphobos,” which is a form of “phobos.” It was perfectly all right for the word “emphobos” to be translated here as “trembled.” Today we think of trembling merely as shaking. But the older English usage of “tremble” is “to feel great fear or anxiety.” We still understand that “trembled” meant that he trembled out of fear, so this sense of the English word is not entirely lost today. “Emphobos” simply means he experienced fear. I believe that the Spirit of God produced this fear in him. I believe that for two reasons for this:

(1)  First, because it was the preaching of Paul that was the means of producing this fear. I believe it was real fear because it came as a result of hearing Paul preach on righteousness, temperance, and especially on “judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). The preaching of Paul dealt with his conscience. He had not been righteous, and Paul told him so. He had not been temperant (self-controlled; Strong #1466). And Paul told him so. He was not prepared for “the judgment to come” (the Last Judgment and Hell). And Paul told him so. Paul preached the law to Felix, and the preaching was used to convict his heart – for a while.

(2)  Second, I believe that the Spirit of God acted on his heart through Paul’s preaching of the law. The “emphobos” (fear) that he felt was a God-given fear of his sin, and the judgment of Hell. I believe this because the Bible tells us that a man who has not been awakened to his guilt and “the judgment to come” never feels any fear at all. Unless a man has some awakening and conviction by hearing the terrors of God’s law, “there is no fear of God before [his] eyes” (Romans 3:18).

But there was a difference between the fear that Felix felt and the fear that came upon those who heard Peter preach at Pentecost, for then, at Pentecost,

“Fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

The difference between the two lies in the verb “egineto” in Acts 2:43. That verb is in the imperfect tense, which means that the fear at Pentecost was continuous. It means that “on every soul fear kept coming” (Lenski, ibid.). But the fear Felix experienced is described with an adjective, “genominos,” in the aorist tense. The aorist tense means that it was over and done. Fear came and went with Felix; whereas fear came continuously on those who heard Peter and the Apostles at Pentecost. This distinction should not be hard to understand. Those at Pentecost had a settled, continuous fear. But Felix only experienced a passing fear when he was convicted through the preaching of Paul. As a result, the continuous fear they felt at Pentecost moved them to come to Christ, to believe on Christ and be saved. But the passing fear Felix experienced was only transitory. It was soon over and done. And it did not move Felix to come to Christ and be saved.

We often see this happen when people come to the inquiry room in our church, after they hear a hard-hitting evangelistic sermon. Most of them only have a passing fear. They feel somewhat fearful for a few minutes, but they lose what conviction they had when they leave the inquiry room. Their minds are immediately concerned with other things, and they lose whatever conviction they had within a short time. When this happens, we realize that they are like those “by the way side,” whom Jesus described in the Parable of the Sower,

“Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).

Instead of the preaching of God’s law bringing them into a settled, continuously fearful state, leading them to come to Christ, they only experience a passing fear, which is soon over, and they don’t feel such conviction again – perhaps never again!

That’s the way it was with Felix. After he felt fear and conviction, Felix said, in Acts 24:25,

“Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24:25).

Sometimes we hear preachers say that he never again had “a convenient season” to call on Paul again. But that is not quite right. The fact is that Felix had many “convenient seasons” to hear Paul preach again. Notice the end of verse twenty-six, which says,

“Wherefore he sent for him [Paul] the oftener, and communed with him” (Acts 24:26).

Felix used to send for Paul quite often and converse with him after that first time.

Yet there was something Felix never experienced again. We never again read that he had fear, as he did the first time. It wasn’t that he never spoke with Paul about his salvation again. Oh, no! He spoke with Paul and Paul counselled him and preached to him again, many more times. But after that first time, when he trembled with fear, Felix never again came under conviction of sin. God gave up on Felix and never again did the Spirit of God bring fear to his heart and conviction to his conscience.

We ought to remember a fearful verse that speaks of this very thing:

“The Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3).

When God gives up on you, as He did with Felix, you will never feel the fear of God which convicts of sin, righteousness, and “judgment to come” (Acts 24:25).

May I ask you, Have you ever felt the fear of God in connection with your sin, and the coming judgment? If you did feel such fear, did you brush it aside, thinking that it would certainly come again, the next time you heard a sermon and went to the inquiry room to be counselled? Were you disappointed when that didn’t happen? Did you go out of the inquiry room as cold-hearted as if fear would never come upon your soul?

If that has ever happened to you, you are in a very dangerous condition. You should pray to God right now, as you are sitting here in the service, that God will not pass by you again tonight, and leave you unawakened, and unalarmed, and unfearful, about your sin. You should earnestly pray for God to pierce your heart with fear and conviction tonight! Do so right now! We will wait a moment for unconverted sinners to pray for God to come and bring fear and conviction to their souls (a moment of silence and prayer observed).

Without such fear and conviction of sin, you will not be converted! Only when you feel deeply that you are in a fearful condition, about to be given up by God – only then will you be moved by God’s Spirit to come to Jesus, and only then will you feel the need to be cleansed from all sin by Jesus’ precious and all-powerful Blood!

Mr. Griffith will come and sing that song again. Bow your heads and think of the words. We will sing the first stanza together at the end.

Pass me not, O Jesus, Saviour, Hear my fearful cry;
While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by.
Jesus, Saviour, Hear my fearful cry;
While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by.

Let me by Thy blood and mercy Find a sure relief,
Coming now in deep conviction; Help my unbelief.
Jesus, Saviour, Hear my fearful cry;
While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by.

Trusting only in Thy merit, Would I seek Thy face;
Wash my sins from off Thy record, Save me by Thy grace.
Jesus, Saviour, Hear my fearful cry;
While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by.
   (“Pass Me Not” by Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915;
      altered by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.)

Now stand and sing the first stanza together.

Pass me not, O Jesus, Saviour, Hear my fearful cry;
While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by.
Jesus, Saviour, Hear my fearful cry;
While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by.

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 24:24-27.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Pass Me Not” (by Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915;
altered by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.)