Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT GOD HAS HIS SERVANTS IN UNEXPECTED PLACES. We look for piety in certain quarters where it may be supposed to flourish; in others we do not look to see it; yet in these latter it may be found. Who would have expected that a centurion in a Roman regiment would prove to be a worshipper of God - one that "feared God with all his house"? He and his family must have been living in a way that contrasted strangely with the great majority of those in a similar position. We must never conclude that men are irreligious because of the class to which they belong or of the occupation in which they are engaged. Sometimes, in spite of the most uncongenial surroundings, and sometimes taking part in avocations which few godly men could possibly embrace, there are found simple-hearted and sincere Christian men. Christ has his servants, not only on the exposed hillside and the open plain, but in the most secluded glen, hidden where no eye can see them, living in the very last place where we should go to find them.
II. THAT PIETY SHOULD BE INSEPARABLY ASSOCIATED WITH CHARITY, Cornelius was "a devout man .... who gave much alms to the people" (ver. 2). In certain lands and at certain times, as in the country and at the period to which our text belongs, devotion and almsgiving were very closely conjoined in the public mind. It is quite possible, as was then too painfully evident, that these may be found existing together in outward form, with no acceptableness to God. But it is not the less true that God demands of us that reverent thought directed toward him should be found in close connection with generous thought directed toward our brother (see 1 John 4:20). Christian charity should be both deep and broad.
1. It should spring from a deep sense of the worth of human souls whom Christ pities and seeks to save.
2. It should extend beyond occasional gifts to those who are in extremity of want. It should include an intelligent endeavor to do that which is really best for the lasting well-being of the people.
III. THAT A SPIRIT OF DEVOUT INQUIRY IS ONE SURE SIGN OF GENUINENESS IN RELIGION. Taking the expression, "Thy prayers... are come up for a memorial" (ver. 4) with "he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do" (ver. 6), we conclude that Cornelius was deeply conscious that he needed to know more of God than he knew, and that he was prayerfully endeavoring to find his way into the path of truth and heavenly wisdom. This is a mark of reality. Those who complacently conclude that they know all that is to be known, that wisdom dwells with them as in its chief home, that they have no need for spiritual solicitude as to themselves, - these are they whose piety we may distrust. But the humble and earnest seeker after more light and truth is the man about whose moral integrity there cannot be two opinions. He bears the stamp of sincerity on his brow.
IV. THAT GOD WILL FULFIL THE DESIRE OF HIM WHO IS THUS SEEKING AND STRIVING. God gave to this devout inquirer that which he sought. He granted him a vision, and instructed him how to obtain the further truth he needed that he might find rest unto his soul (vers. 3-6). Thus he will treat us also. Only we must fulfill his Divine and constant conditions, viz.:
1. Earnest, repeated, patient inquiry (Matthew 7:7, 8).
2. Living up to the light we have (John 7:17). Half-hearted or impatient prayer will wait in vain for the door to be opened into the kingdom. Inconsistent piety will never know the doctrine which is of God. But let a man seek with his whole soul and let him live according to the known will of God, and then let him "rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him," and God will give him his heart's desires (Psalm 37:4, 7). - C.
I. THE SCENE OF THE STORY. It was at Caesarea. Hitherto we have heard of Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee. Here the fiery baptism had descended, and here the martyrs had sealed their testimony in blood. Now the second part of the early Church history begins, and the great thought of the gospel, the conversion of the Gentiles to Christ, begins to be an accomplished fact.
II. THE GENTILE SUBJECT OF CONVERSION.
1. A centurion; a captain; a soldier. An old proverb says that "There is no faith and piety with men who follow the camp." Not always so, and Cornelius is an early type of those who have united the calling of the soldier with simple faith and loyalty to a Divine Master. Whatever view be taken of the military profession, such an example makes it clear that God has his chosen in places, as it may seem to us, the most unlikely, in callings the most unfavorable, as we may think, to the growth of piety. But in reality, religion shows its power in transmuting the raw material of external circumstance. Were piety dependent on happy external circumstances, it would be merely a matter of grace of manners. We cannot expect elegance of the boor, refinement of savages and roughs, but the sparks of Divine love may be struck from the roughest flint of human nature. Those characters which present naturally the greatest resistance to the gospel become often its brightest illustrations when subdued by the power of the truth.
2. Moral preparation for the gospel. He was pious, recognizing the reality of religion, reverencing God in the life of the household, and practicing known duties with diligence and zeal. Almsgiving, it is well known, was commended and enjoined by the rabbis as the chief duty in religion. And this was connected with the habit of constant devotion. Not to self-neglected hearts does God come; not on eyes unused to watch does the vision of heavenly forms beam. The oratory is the reception-room for God, and the heart is the true oratory.
3. Fulfillment of secret yearnings. He sees and hears that which satisfies deep desires of his heart. He beholds an angel of the Lord coming in to him, and hears his name pronounced, "Cornelius! Let us not distract ourselves by considering whether this was a dream. The point is not how the centurion saw and heard, but what he saw and heard; not the mode but the matter of the revelation. Evidently here was a Divine visit - a personal and particular visit - a visit of Divine recognition, sympathy, and blessing. We may notice:
(1) The invariable fear excited in the soul by Divine revelations. The brave soldier feels it, no less than Moses the stern leader of men, or Isaiah the leal-hearted prophet, or Peter the rock-like and bold. Woe is me; for I am a man of unclean lips;" "Hide thy face, or I die" - such is the language of those to whom God appears and speaks.
(2) This is followed by inquiry, "What may God's will with one so selected and singled out be? What is it, Lord?" So Isaiah, after the vision in the temple, expresses his readiness for service, "Here am I; send me." 4. Clear directions of providences. "Send men to Joppa, and cause Simon Peter to be fetched." Here, again, is the ministry of man to man. That Cornelius is bidden to send for Peter, and that Peter is bound to follow him, shows, not that Cornelius is turning to Judaism, but that the kingdom of God is turning to the Gentiles. Cornelius, with prompt and soldier-like despatch, sends two servants under the escort of a soldier to Joppa. We should be ready to meet our mercies half-way, as unhappily we are too ready to meet our troubles. - J.
Acts 8:40). Herod's influence. Possible contact of Cornelius with gospel truth. Necessity that the entrance of the Church on its new territory should be solemn, authorized, undoubtedly firm, because of the subsequent controversies which would be largely settled by reverting to the facts.
I. CORNELIUS, A TYPE of the religious heathen under the influence of the Spirit.
1. Devotion may be sincere, while unenlightened; yet needing the higher teaching.
2. Almsgiving, when accompanied by prayer, a sign of real religion.
3. Household piety. The true man lives his faith, however imperfect. As best he could he feared God in the regulation of his life.
II. SUPERNATURAL HELP leads on the seeking minds. The resources which were open to the heathen world insufficient. Philosophy dumb on the greatest questions. Heathen priests mostly deceivers. Cornelius was not satisfied. Sense of sin awakened. The heathen must be evangelized, even though we admit that their religious position is not absolutely hopeless. The gospel is not a mere individual message; it proclaims a remedy for universal ills. The centurion was a man of great influence. His conversion would open the way of the truth to many others.
III. LESSONS FOR GOD'S PEOPLE to be learnt from those without.
1. Responsibility for light.
2. Position to be faithfully employed for God.
3. Family religion - even soldiers in the house had learnt devoutness from their master.
4. Follow the leadings of God's voice. - R.
I. IN WHOM THIS GREAT TRANSITION IS ILLUSTRATED. Confessedly indications of it had not been wanting, while Jesus lived on earth, in the eulogy he pronounced upon the faith of such as the centurion whose servant was ill, and the Syro-phoenician woman. And within the actual ministry of Peter as an apostle, the Ethiopian eunuch, his conversion and baptism, had given similar indications. But more than indications are now arrived. The time is ripe for manifestation. And the illustration, nay, the full and. distinct announcing, of the universal privileges and universal blessings of the gospel of Christ are made in the personal history of Cornelius.
1. He is a Roman. No larger, better type of the world could be chosen.
2. He is a Roman of the profession of arms. No profession could be chosen fitter to yield in fullest surrender to the message of the Prince of peace.
3. He is a man of large and liberal heart, of large and open eye. One detail after another of this history betrays it.
4. He is already of a religious and devout disposition. He is held in her our for his practical goodness among the people. His character as a religious man is regarded by them as a consistent character. But past these, he has been a genuine seeker after God in prayer. Though a Gentile, he had a soul like that of the true Israelite. His gaze was to the East; he would not bow down to the West. Some of the gospel's grandest triumphs are, and are set forth in Scripture as, over the worst lives. But signally the grandest revelations of truth and of things to come have been vouchsafed to the pure and the watchful, those devout in heart and devoted in life - ay, from Enoch to the shepherds of Bethlehem, and on by the Ethiopian and Cornelius to John of Patmos.
II. IN WHAT MANNER THIS GREAT TRANSITION IS FORMULATED. The one great effect is that we are impressed with the Divine initiative and the Divine conduct in even the details of what took place. The Divine purpose shall be carried out with Divine attention.
1. A vision, and an angel in the vision, appear to Cornelius. Instruction lies, no doubt, both in what is said to Cornelius in this vision, and what is left even to him to fill up.
(1) He is graciously and approvingly advised that his "prayers," though he was not of the favored nation, and his "alms" have been noticed of Heaven, and have been accepted. They have availed - even as though they had been "incense" and the "evening sacrifice."
(2) He is told to send to a certain place for "Peter," whose name, possibly enough, he had heard by this time; whom, however, it is evident he did not personally know, both from the mode in which the angel described him, and from what we read of the way in which Cornelius received him (vers. 5, 6, 25).
(3) He is left to gather that Heaven's own clock has signified that the time is ripe for some event on earth worthy of its marking, and, with exemplary promptitude, he does to the letter what he is commanded - and waits the issue. Let alone what was left to Cornelius to surmise, it is left to us also to imagine how this interval was passed by him - how devoutly he mused, how surely he expected what was divinely worth the having from the manner in which communication had been made to him, how he talked about it with any like-minded, and invited such together, that with himself they might share the privilege and responsibility of receiving the illustrious visitor, and hearing his mission.
2. A trance, and a vision in the trance, a voice distinctly repeated, and the direction of the Spirit (ver. 19), are given to Peter. These were to act as
(1) strong impulse to him;
(2) deeper instruction in the understanding of the one universal God and Savior, and one large family of mankind "of one blood," though spread among many a nation of the earth;
(3) literal guidance in the path of duty, and especially when the close of the trance and vision was timed to the hour of the arrival of the embassy from Cornelius. A wondering and awed and asking mind in Peter is in some measure satisfied as well as relieved by the errand and practical work to which he is immediately challenged by the three messengers. We may note that all this is mere myth and idle tale on the page of Scripture, or that it strongly begs our study of providence and a very grateful faith in such providence. Though the age of vision and trance be passed, the age of providence and of the Spirit has not passed and never will pass.
3. A designed and manifestly adapted meeting of instructor and instructed carries on what may be designated without irreverence the divinely planned program of the occasion. Companions and witnesses go with Peter, who has already entertained for one night in the same "lodging" with himself the strange messengers of Cornelius, and arrived at the abode of Cornelius the next day but one after the "trance." Peter finds a little congregation of Gentiles to see him and receive, not so much him, as God's Word by him. All these things must be viewed as the arrangements and preparation for that which was to follow, and to prove itself the great object in the Divine purpose. Forces long estranged are led toward one another in happiest and most impressive omens, and very soon they find themselves one in one "Lord of all." Often have there been larger congregations to hear Peter and brother apostles and the true successors of these to the present; rarely have there been more expectant or more rightly and devoutly prepared.
4. God's own great sermon to the world is now spoken by lips prepared to speak to hearts prepared to receive. The text is that God accepts every man who is ready "to walk humbly with him, to do justice and to love mercy" (Micah 6:8). And the real sermon consists of this, that Jesus Christ is the only way hereto. His Name, his anointing, his unwearied goodness, his oneness with God, his crucifying, his rising from the grave, his charge to the apostles in that mystic forty days that they now should preach him "to all the world," as, in fine, Judge of living and dead, - these are the touching, thrilling, inspiring heads of Peter's discourse, a summary of the way of life. And the practical exhortation in the conclusion amounts to this, that to Jesus all men are to have recourse - he, the one object of faith for the forgiveness of sins: "Every one that believeth on him shall through his Name receive remission of sins." With these words the errand of Peter was very nearly finished. The visions and the trance, the intimations of the Spirit, and the journeyings to and fro of messengers, the expectant Cornelius and friends, have all found their meaning face to face with one another. Men might little think today what lay in that brief address of Peter, or that matter of such precious import could lie in so simple a rehearsal. Yet it was so. Those few words of Peter were even burdened with the material of hope, comfort, joy. They were like the charter of liberty, of right, of wealth, to a household and a nation. They were really such a charter to the world.
III. THE SANCTION BY WHICH THIS GREAT TRANSITION IS CONFIRMED AND CROWNED. This consisted in the descent of the Holy Ghost, with his wondrous powers. It was another scene of Pentecost; nay, it was the other scene of Pentecost, its counterpart. Pentecost in its divinest significance, let us say, in the Divine eye itself, awaited this perfecting. The world, it is true, does not yet lie at the feet of Jesus, but "this day is salvation" proclaimed to the world, and "the Son of man" is announced as "come to seek and to save that which was lost," of whatsoever nation, tribe, tongue. Again, "there was great joy in that city" and in that house. Notice:
1. The stress that is laid on "those of the circumcision" being witnesses of the effects of the descent of the Holy Spirit "upon the Gentiles."
2. The respect shown to the administration of the initiatory rite of baptism.
3. The little stress that is laid upon the matter of who should be the administerers of that rite. It is only said that Peter uttered forth the deciding word that this congregation of Gentiles, upon whom the gift of the Holy Ghost had fallen, and who were showing manifestly forth his "gifts," "should be baptized in the Name of the Lord." We are reminded of the words of Paul, "I thank God I baptized none of you, save," etc. (1 Corinthians 1:14). The apparent abstinence on the part of Peter now, and the language of Paul subsequently, whatever else may possibly underlie them both, may certainly be justly understood to "magnify the office" and the work of preaching. In how little honor do we sometimes hold that which was now honored so highly alike by the anxious longing and attention of Cornelius and his friends; by the conduct of Peter; and by the Divine preparation of vision, trance, the Spirit, and some coincident providences! The "words" of Jesus are "spirit and are life." Near the fount itself they were sometimes honored as such. They spread light and life. They have lost nothing of their own force as time has gone on, nor ever will to time's end, though men may neglect or reject. - B.
I. The first sign is BELIEF IN GOD, as distinguished from the gods. The conception of one supreme Being is more common among the heathen than we are wont to admit. It is often lost sight of by the prominence that is given to subordinate divinities, and the elaborate worship rendered to them. It is often sadly limited and deteriorated by the notion of a second being, who is regarded as a rival of the supreme Being, and energetically destroying his work. Polytheism and dualism represent the two evil tendencies of man's religious nature; but we may reasonably hope that not a few of the heathen have, like Cornelius, risen above the prevailing sentiments, and held firmly their faith in one supreme God. And we must, in all charity, assume that there may be a personal trust of heart on the living God, when the intellectual conceptions of him, and of his relations with men, are very imperfect and unworthy. To be acceptable, a man's religion must include faith in one God; and we must remember that this was the first great fact and truth revealed to men, and, however men may have blotted it over in their souls, they have not blotted it out.
II. The second sign is SUCH APPREHENSION OF GOD AS BRINGS FEAR. The Bible use of the word "fear" should be carefully explained. It is the word which most suitably expresses the proper attitude of men towards God. It includes awe, reverence, worship, and obedience, and may be best illustrated by the feelings entertained by a good child towards a good and noble parent. The sense of Divine authority should make us fear to do wrong, and the sense of Divine holiness should make us fear to approach unpreparedly his presence or to take his Name in vain. "Fear," as an equivalent for "worship," needs explanation, and, rightly explained, it will be seen that it is the very essence of religion, so far as religion affects man's feeling. Wrong senses of the term fear may be considered. Fear which crushes hope and keeps us from God must be wrong; as is also fear that makes us unwilling to accept the grace he offers.
III. The third sign is SUCH APPREHENSION OF GOD AS LEADS TO PRAYER. Not merely to prayer as a sudden act, forced on by calamity or distress, but to prayer as the daily expression of the cherished spirit of dependence on God - a daily leaning on God and waiting for him, which is indicated by the description of Cornelius as a" devout man." Miss Cobbe strikingly says, "Our belief in the personality of God is in a peculiar manner allied to the moral side of religion. In proportion as that moral side is developed in us, so, we may almost say, is the clearness of our conviction that it is indeed a living God who rules the world, and no mere creative intelligence. Now, this moral side comes out only in its full luminousness in prayer. Prayer is in its essence the approach of the finite and fallible moral agent to its infinite moral Lord, to whom it is conscious of erring allegiance, and to whom it comes for forgiveness and strength. In such prayer all the moral life bursts into vivid consciousness. In prayer there comes to us the true revelation of the personality of God." Illustrate by the characteristic feature of the converted Saul of Tarsus, "Behold, he prayeth!"
IV. The fourth sign we may speak of as the RESULTS OF TRUE RELIGION IN PRACTICAL CHARITIES. These are signs, because they are the natural and necessary fruitage and expression of true piety. Right ideas of God tone our relations with our fellow-men, so that we can be "kind even to the unthankful and the unholy" Cornelius is marked as one who "gave much alms to the people." The more internal features of true piety are, of necessity, beyond our reading; but our Lord taught us that by men's fruits in conduct we might know them, and that, if there is ever the Divine life in souls, it will force its way out into practical charities and goodness of conduct. When, therefore, we find those we call "heathen" exhibiting Christian virtues, we may reasonably hope that there is a right-heartedness towards God of which these are the expressions. By the story of Cornelius we are taught that God may make more or less open responses to such devout and prayerful souls by visions, revelations, or inward communications, witnessing thus their acceptance, and guiding the open soul to righteousness and truth. It is true for all the world that "if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." While this subject needs to be treated with great prudence, and strongly dogmatic statements should be avoided, we may gain from it some relief from the pressure of our questioning as to the salvability of the heathen, and we may conceive how the heathen state may become a moral preparation for Christianity. It is an important feature of modern missionary enterprise that those who preach Christ's gospel seek to find points of contact in the heathen mind and religious sentiments, and expect to discover that God has been beforehand with them, preparing men's hearts to receive the wonderful message of Divine salvation by a Divine sacrifice. -R.T.
I. GOD KNOWS OUR NAMES. Our surname, by which we are commonly known to the world, and even our Christian name, by which we are known to our intimate friends. He knew Peter the fisherman, but he knew him as Simon. This includes God's knowledge of all that our fellow men, with whom we have to do in daily business, know of us; and his further knowledge of all that our most intimate relatives could tell of our character and disposition. There may be some things of private thought or conduct which we would gladly keep from God; even these are "naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do."
II. OUR EMPLOYMENT. God knew that this other Simon was a tanner by trade. We somehow dissociate the common occupations of life from the thought of God, but he watches us in daily work. And we may surely feel that he judges day by day the spirit in which our daily work is done. "Whereunto a man is called, therein let him abide with God."
III. THE SITUATION OF OUR HOUSE. God knew that this tanner's house was "by the seaside," placed there, probably, for the conveniences of his trade. So God knows our precise circumstances and surrounding, and the exact influence which these things bear upon us. And if he knows all this, we may confidently rest assured that he is ready and willing to be the power that helps us to overcome our disabilities, and master our difficulties, and live for him "even where Satan's seat is," if our lot should be cast in such scenes.
IV. OUR RELATION TO THE FAMILY. Brining his inspections to bear on the family circle, he knows the place of each one. He knew that Peter was only a lodger. Then he can give each one the needed grace for worthily occupying his place, and faithfully maintaining his relations and doing the consequent duties. Apart from the revelation of the humanity and sympathetic brotherhood of Christ, as "God manifest in the flesh," so minute a Divine knowledge would only appall us, crushing down energy, effort, and hope. Now we glory in the thought of the perfect knowledge, for he who besets us behind and before is our Father, whom we know well through his Son and our Brother, the "Man Christ Jesus." - R.T.
I. THE PART OF THE PHYSICAL IN THE APPREHENSION OF THE SPIRITUAL. Peter went up to pray (ver. 9); but he was very hungry and desired bodily refreshment (ver. 10). This state of body was probably favorable to his "falling into a trance" (ver. 11); however that may be, it evidently had something to do with the character of the vision which he beheld. The contents of the great sheet, the invitation to "kill and eat," answered very closely to his physical cravings. In truth, our spiritual apprehensions depend in no small degree on our bodily condition. We may safely conclude that:
1. Fasting, as such, has a very small place, if it have any at all, in the Christian dispensation. (It had only the very smallest in the Law, though Pharisaic accretions had made it a prominent feature of Jewish piety in our Lord's time.)
2. Abstinence rather than indulgence is favorable to spiritual apprehension.
3. Bodily health is the best condition for religious service.
II. THE ABSOLUTE NOTHINGNESS OF OUR PHYSICAL DISTINCTIONS IN THE SIGHT OF THE SUPREME. Peter did not at first perceive the full significance of the vision, in which he was bidden to partake of anything before him: he "doubted what this vision should mean" (ver. 17). But the coincidence of the vision with the coming of the messengers of Cornelius, and the statement of the centurion himself, removed all difficulty and doubt, and he used the noble words recorded (vers. 34, 35). Not that he meant to say that God was indifferent to the consideration whether men believed what was true or what was false; that is a gross perversion of his language, which the apostle would have resented with the greatest indignation. He meant that God regarded with equal acceptance all who held and loved the truth, whether they were sons of Abraham or whether they stood quite outside the sacred circle. The lesson for us is that most valuable one, viz. that no physical distinctions of any kind affect our position in the sight of God. "The accident of birth" has no bearing on our place in his kingdom. Neither age, nor sex, nor class, nor race has anything whatever to do with the estimate he forms of us or with the sphere he will assign us. This absolute indifference on God's part to distinctions of which we make so much, applies:
1. To the remission of sins now; that depends wholly on our spiritual relation to Jesus Christ (ver. 43).
2. To his judgment of us after death; that also will be decided by our attitude towards him (ver. 42).
3. To his communication of special gifts (vers. 44, 45). This impartiality should be copied by us and, particularly, made applicable to the standing we give to men in the visible Church (vers. 47, 48).
III. OUR COMMON RELATION TO GOD THE SOURCE OF HUMAN SACREDNESS, "What God hath cleansed, call not thou common" (ver. 15). Probably or possibly it may have been intended by this vision to confirm and illustrate the words of our Lord when he "made all things pure" (new rendering). But, however this may be, the words certainly denote that we are not to consider common or profane those whom God has redeemed from profanity. And who are these? Not only
(1) those of our race who have been actually redeemed and renewed - those who are "washed and cleansed and sanctified by the renewing of the Holy Ghost;" but also - and this is the main thought -
(2) all the children of men in virtue of their common relation to the Divine Father and Savior. As those who are "all his offspring," and who are all free to become his sons and daughters by spiritual resemblance; as those for whom the Son of God shed his blood and to whom he sends his message of love and life, - all are worthy of our "honor" (1 Peter 2:17); none are to be "lightly esteemed." - C.
I. THE ATTITUDE OF PRAYER, HOW constantly is the act and the habit of prayer mentioned in the course of this history - on the part of the community and on the part of individuals! Peter and Cornelius, the Jew and the Gentile, are in communion with God at the same moment; and it is thus shown that true fellowship between man and man on earth is conditioned by fellowship with God. Souls far apart in space are near and at one by means of this mystic tie. It was the calm noonday hour, when, as the ancients were wont to say, "Pan sleeps." All the mighty heart of nature is at rest, and the very houses of Joppa at his feet might seem to be asleep. But the living God slumbers not; watching over his faithful ones and listening to their prayers. Fixed hours of prayer may be useful and blessed. The thought of uniting with others at the same hour may strengthen devotion. But it is an abuse if the fixed hour only is employed in prayer, so as to make devotion outside it superfluous.
II. THE VISION.
1. Its character is determined both by the physical and the natural state of the apostle. The rapture of his spirit in devotion causes a drain on the forces of the body, and, like the Lord in the desert, he is hungry. The noonday meal is preparing. At this moment the ecstasy comes upon him, and the earthly need is stilled by the heavenly revelation. The food of the spiritual man is to know and do God's will, and he can learn, with St. Paul, how to be full and to be hungry, how to abound and to suffer need.
2. Its particular features. The vast vessel, like a sheet let down by its four corners from heaven, contains a miscellaneous collection of quadrupeds, reptiles, and birds. Thus the first impression is shocking to a strict believer in and observer of the Mosaic ritual. The confusion of the clean with the unclean, the profane with the holy, is that which he abhors with all his soul. It is, in fact, the visible presentment of the feelings of repugnance with which Peter must secretly have viewed the drawing of the Gentiles with the Jews into the kingdom of God.
3. The Divine voice. "Slay and eat." Here the Divine resistance to natural and acquired prejudice reaches its height. If we would be followers of the Truth, and make progress in the knowledge of God, we must be prepared to meet with such rebuffs. Prejudices we have thought to be a clear and integral part of our faith must be overcome when the call comes to us to emerge into larger views and clearer light. The most mysterious elements in such struggles is that we seem to be placed in strife with the holiest traditions and best associations of our earlier life. But it is when the fight begins within the man that he becomes worth nothing. And never do ideas become clear, never is the higher generalization grasped, except as the result of such struggles. As Saul, in the zeal of the old faith, kicked against the goads of his new convictions, so was Peter now repugnant to that new truth which was breaking in with so much power upon his mind. In both cases it was a wider view of the kingdom of God, a more loving interpretation of his purposes to mankind, which was struggling for admission to the intellect and heart. Never let us fear the generalization of our ideas and feelings of the truth. The change, in uprooting the old, gives us something far better to put in its place. The resistance of Peter on this occasion is so like him - sharp, stubborn, peremptory. "Never, Lord!" When Peter spoke thus it was a sign that he was about to give way, either on the side of good or evil. So had he said on former occasions: "I will never forsake thee." "Thou shalt never wash my feet!" And we know what followed. So in this instance. In each case there was a right feeling combined with a wrong or ignorant thought. Ignorance of self precipitates into rash resolves; ignorance of the grace of Christ and of the power of truth leads to mistaken obstinacy and resistance.
4. The repeated voice. This time in explanation of the command. What God has cleansed, men are not to deem common. This is a deep and pregnant word. The distinction of clean and unclean animals was
(1) a sanitary distinction;
(2) a ceremonial distinction founded upon that;
(3) therefore a relative and temporary distinction.
Apart from the special purposes for which the distinction holds good, the general truth of universal and eternal application obtains - that all creatures of God are good and to be received with thanksgiving. So deeply important is this truth, it is repeated over and over again, that it may not possibly be forgotten, that it cannot henceforth be ignored.
(1) Ceremonial, local, national distinctions are for a time; truth and love are universal.
(2) The local must give way gradually before the universal; the truth which reveals differences before the truth which reconciles.
(3) The truth for which a sect contends, once clearly established, cannot be lost. But the universal truth of the gospel absorbs both it and all partial definitions of truth with itself. - J.
Acts 10:9-16 (or ver. 15)
I. THE TWO WORLDS FACE TO FACE - the heathen and the Jewish, both the scene of spiritual manifestations. The two streams of grace flowing, ready to commingle in one broad river of new life.
1. Take the two men as types or the two different forms of thought and faith - Peter and Cornelius.
2. Both worlds need supernatural communications. Jews had abused privilege. Gentiles had trampled underfoot the remnants of Divine tradition.
3. The new world, that is, the new humanity to be called forth, a union of the Jewish and the Gentile. Christ making peace (Ephesians 2:11-22).
II. THE LIGHT DESCENDING FROM HEAVEN at the open gate.
1. Such a vision requisite to dispel the darkness of Peter's mind and to assure his faith. He was practically weak (see his controversy with Paul, Galatians 2.).
2. A reversion to the original position of man in creation. All distinctions of clean and unclean subsequent to creation (see Genesis 1.).
3. Authority removes what authority had prescribed. "God hath cleansed."
4. While the vision must have loosened prejudice, it was not itself commandment. It prepares the way, shows the open door, but is not itself a substitute for God's Spirit. Learn from this that all such help should be used. in dependence on the still higher help, the direct teaching of God's Spirit, both by facts and words. - R.
1. That his favor was granted only to certain defined classes and individuals of mankind. He "so loved the world.
2. That his service was found in the obedience of merely external regulations, that once had their usefulness and their meaning, but were not necessarily expressions of heart-love and devotion. The first mistake was corrected, in the vision, by the outstretched sheet, which was a figure of the wide world, and the four corners as the directions into which the gospel was now to be borne forth into all the world. The second mistake was corrected by the obliteration of all formal distinctions in the announcement that what God has cleansed man may not call common, for God will receive the love and trust and worship of whosoever will." Dean Plumptre says, "In the interpretation of the vision, all that belongs to humanity had been taken up into heaven,
(1) when man's nature was assumed by the eternal Word in the Incarnation (John 1:14), and
(2) when that nature had been raised in the Ascension to the heaven of heavens." We may consider -
I. THE UNIVERSAL TRUTH AS HERE STATED AND ILLUSTRATED. "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." God affirms that the whole earth is free to receive the message of the gospel, all disabilities and barriers are for ever removed, and he recognizes no longer the distinctions of elect and non-elect; "To the Gentiles also is granted repentance unto life." It may be shown
(1) that God, as Creator and Preserver, cares for his whole world;
(2) that, as the fatherly Ruler, he is concerned for the moral well-being of the whole world;
(3) that, as dealing with willful and rebellious children, we must conceive that he seeks to accomplish the salvation of all. This truth is the very life of our missionary labor. We are bidden to preach the gospel "to every creature," with a perfect assurance that God would have "all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." This truth is often embraced with difficulty, after strong conflict with limiting prejudices; it is often held as mere sentiment; and perhaps on few men is it the inspiration to noble labors and sacrifices that it was designed to be. How it would urge us to missionary work, if we really believed that Christ wants every man to come to him, and would have us bring them!
II. THE LIMITATIONS OF THIS TRUTH FOUND IN JUDAISM. Special favor to one particular race - or, as we may better express it, the special call of one race to a particular work or witness - does not assume or involve the Divine indifference to the rest; we might more wisely say that all special calls of the few were made for the sake of the whole, and God's love to the world made him commit a special revelation to the trust of the Jew. The distinction between "clean and unclean" in the food represented a distinction of clean and unclean between Jew and Gentile. But "unclean" things were still God's, and used by him for other purposes, though not just for food. They were not despised or rejected things, but each had its mission. And so Gentiles were not out of God's care and favor because Jews were in. They too occupied the places he assigned and did the work he willed. It may further be shown that the Jewish limitations were designedly
(2) educational -
preparatory to the advent of Christ, in whom and by whom the Divine thought for the whole race could be fully revealed.
III. THE REMOVAL OF THE LIMITATIONS UNDER THE CHRISTIAN SYSTEM. Which deals with man as man, apart from any local and temporary distinctions of
(4) location, or
(5) ceremonial cleanness.
The gospel is for the "sons of men." Jew and Gentile, Greek and Roman, bend and free, meet as sinners at the feet of Christ, to receive the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting. Now there is nothing common in God's sight. Every soul is a priceless soul, for it has been bought with precious blood, the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God. - R.T.
I. THE CALL TO ACTION FOLLOWING THE REVELATION OF FAITH. Peter was in perplexity at this astounding vision of the sheet let down from heaven. Every Jewish prejudice was confuted by it, and a new view of the purpose of God in the gospel, quite dazzling to his unaccustomed sight, was opened. Well might he hesitate. But when God gives us a new view of truth and duty, it is not long before he calls us to act upon it. So in this case. Often do feelings in the mind thus coincide with outward occurrences. They join hands and irresistibly indicate the will of God. While Peter is inquiring the meaning of what he had seen, he is being inquired for by the strangers at the door. Then comes the inward intimation of the Spirit: "Lo, three men are seeking for thee."
II. THE CLEARNESS AND EXPLICITNESS OF THE DIVINE CALL. "Arise, go down, go with them, doubt nothing; I have sent them." Happy for us when the path of duty is made equally clear. Let us remember that the light is given to those who are sincere, and serve God in simplicity of heart. And when the clear call is heard, unhesitatingly must be the obedience. "Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood." The habit of conferring with flesh and blood, i.e. with inclination and disinclination, obscures the conscience, and, perhaps, destroys our hope of future inspirations. "I never rise so high," said Cromwell, "as when I know not whither I am going," that is, in obedience to the Divine call. So Peter went forth to meet the men.
III. THE MEANING OF THE CALL EXPLAINED. Cornelius, a Roman centurion, has sent for him. A just and pious man is he, the servant says. Here, then, the vision begins to explain itself. What has the Roman to do with the Jew? Everything, if God brings them together. And that this was here the case was too evident to be ignored. For while God was revealing his will in one way to Peter in a vision, drawing the thought of the apostle toward the Gentile, in another way he was speaking to the Roman, impelling him to send to the apostle, that he might listen to his teaching. What secret attractions of Providence bring lives together! Do we sufficiently consider this? The great lesson reflected both from the conduct of Peter and that of Cornelius is that we should be prompt to obey Divine calls, whether to do good or to seek good. Willingness to receive and to give is the great condition of being rightly led. To speak good words to others may be, for some, the noblest function; to listen to them, for others, the greatest means of blessing. It is the Divine will to bring the speaker and the hearer together, the teacher and the disciple. Let each, then, be true to the voice within. - J.
I. GOD'S METHOD ILLUSTRATED.
1. The subjective and the objective united. The spirit within is experience. The work of grace in the outward world.
2. Providential guidance is vouchsafed. The facts that will help us are at the gate.
3. There is a background of the supernatural to which we are able to refer for authority - the Spirit in the Word, in the living Churches, in the world.
II. BELIEVING OBEDIENCE. EXEMPLIFIED.
1. Natural feeling overcome in the presence of undoubted Divine commandment.
2. A new enterprise faced, in dependence on Divine support.
3. Wisdom humbly seeking light that it may be followed.
4. The Spirit's seal recognized by the spiritual man. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine," etc. Doubt too often a moral defect. - R.
doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mesa." He was puzzled and set anxiously thinking by it. He realized Divine teaching in it, but was not sure about the scope of it. He saw clearly enough that it obliterated, for him at least, the old distinction of meats; but he was set questioning whether there was not some deeper, some underlying meaning, for the sake of which it had been granted. Was it not like a parable, simple enough, at first sight, for a child to understand, but so rich in meaning and suggestion that a man might meditate therein day and night, and find rich reward? St. Peter might well be puzzled, for there seemed to be nothing that could give him the key to the further and more spiritual meanings. That key came in the events of the day - came by the orderings of Divine providence. Following along the line God marked out for him, St. Peter came naturally upon the unfolding of the mystery, and understood the vision and revelation. This we may show more fully.
I. ST. PETER IMPRESSED WITH A DIVINE REVELATION. To a Jew, familiar with the varied visions and direct communications of God granted to his fathers, this vision of the descending sheet would suggest no such doubts as would trouble our minds. He would not be likely to wonder over whether it was a delusion, or the dream of a disordered frame. St. Peter would accept it at once as a gracious revelation of the Divine will to him. His only anxiety concerned its true and proper interpretation. Two things need careful illustration.
1. The various modes of Divine revelation to individuals, for the general good, in all ages. It should be pointed out that
(1) the mode adopted, whether voice, personal appearance, angelic ministry, dream, or vision, was exactly suited to the individual communicated with, and the time and circumstances of the communication;
(2) that the message, though sent to individuals, was never sent for the sake of the individual alone; it was always designed for others, to whom he must become the minister. Just as (it has often been pointed out) our Lord never wrought his miracles for himself, only for the immediate physical, or ultimate moral and spiritual good, of others.
2. The receptivity of St. Peter, who, by a season of loneliness, meditation, and prayerful communion with God, was in a state of mind and feeling that fitted him to receive such a vision. Still it is true that the inward communications of God's love and truth demand an openness of soul such as St. Peter cherished. If we do not know them, in forms and ways suited to our thoughts and our times, it must be because in us there are no fitnesses and preparations.
II. ST. PETER DOUBTING THE MEANING OF THE REVELATION. This may not have been a prolonged state of mind, nor was it a distressing state. Explain how many moods of mind are expressed by the single term doubting. There is the doubting:
1. Of simple uncertainty; the proofs are not reasonably sufficient to lead us to a conclusion, and the matter must be held in suspense.
2. Of criticism, which must get to the root of a matter, and test and try the reasoning by which any fact or truth is declared.
3. Of skepticism, which has a bias or prejudice, and by it is led to require unreasonable tests and proofs; such a spirit persists in doubting when a matter is fairly and adequately explained.
4. Of infidelity, which makes a foregone conclusion a basis for doubt and denial. This spirit is usually most credulous in some matters, and stubbornly unwilling to believe in other matters. St. Peter's was the simple but earnest questioning of a man who really wanted to get at the truth and the meaning of his surprising vision.
III. ST. PETER CALLED TO ACT, AND SO PUT ASIDE HIS DOUBTINGS. Often the best cure for doubting is a call to present action. It is good advice that bids troubled souls do Christian work. Light on the most puzzling questions often comes to us when engaged in works of love; and, if the light does not come, the burden of the questions ceases to press heavily on us. St. Peter, in his doubtings, was called to meet the messengers from Cornelius, and to arrange as soon as possible to return with them on their journey. Activity stopped the brooding and doubting, and God made it the very way to the mastery of the doubts.
IV. ST. PETER FINDING THAT IN THE WAY OF OBEDIENCE COMES LIGHT. He followed God's providential leadings, responded to the inward voice, obeyed in all simplicity, went, not knowing quite for what purpose, and, in the line of God's providence, found the unfolding of his vision, and learned the deep truth about which he had been so anxiously questioning. Led to the house of the devout heathen, who was a man accepted of God, he was delivered from the Jewish bondage of the "clean and the unclean;" he saw that the gospel of life in Christ Jesus was for Gentile as well as Jew; and he delivered this testimony: "Now I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." In ways quite as clear, in fact, though it may be not so sensibly plain to us, God's providences still unfold God's Word and will; and he who will obediently follow as God leads shall surely find the heart-rest of spiritual apprehensions of the Divine truth. - R.T.
I. THE RECEPTION OF THE CHRISTIAN APOSTLE BY THE GENTILE CONVERT. Here were Jew, Gentile, and Christian visibly brought into juncture and unity in the persons of these two men.
1. The Roman officer gives a noble reception to Peter, at once a true Jew and a true Christian, by calling together his kindred and friends. He desires that others may partake of spiritual gifts and blessings - a true mark of love. We become poor by giving earthly goods away; rich by imparting of those that are spiritual. Perhaps there is commonly too much reserve in such relations. We assume reluctance where we might meet with a ready response on the part of friends to such invitations.
2. Cornelius feels deep reverence for the person of the apostle; fell at his feet on his entrance, to do him homage. The Romans were an intensely religious people in their way. They recognized the numen, or Divine power, in all the great objects of the creation. It was a profound mystical instinct, needing only proper direction.
II. THE CHRISTIAN APOSTLE'S DEMEANOUR TOWARDS THE GENTILE CONVERT. "Rise! I also am a man." "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" had been his confession to Jesus; and on this he had been appointed fisher of men. Perhaps he remembers that incident now, and, in view of the respect and preparations of Cornelius, repeats, "I am also a man." "Cornelius does too much in his reverence towards a living and genuine saint; then how can prayer to the images of saints be justified?" No true successor of Peter is he, nor has he Peter's humble mind, who suffers his feet to be kissed. The worship of the instrument obscures the honor of the Divine Agent. The word of Peter rebukes, not only the worship of saints, but all excessive hero-reverence and worship paid to great men in the Church.
III. THE CONNECTION OF EVENTS EXPLAINED.
1. There was a great prejudice to be overcome. (Ver. 28.) The prejudice of the Jew against intercourse with the stranger. No barrier in nature, no mountain to be crossed or traveled, river to be forded, waste to be reclaimed, is comparable to the obstinacy and difficulty of prejudice, most of all of religious prejudice. And where in all the pages of history do we find a prejudice equal in strength to that of the Jew against the Gentile?
2. The Divine victory over prejudice. God had shown that "no man is to be called common or unclean. Immense word! Not yet has its meaning been exhausted; not yet, perhaps, begun to be truly unfolded. How profound the strength and the comfort which flows from such a clear word of God? For the preacher, teacher, missionary, every kind of worker for anthropic good, it is a clear light, a clue to hand and heart alike. The ideal human nature is pure and beautiful, for God made it - whatever actual human nature in the individual may be. 'Tis this thought gives inspiration. Peter will not hesitate to come to the Gentile's house when he is filled with it; and we may face the facts of the life of the nations, as they are now being so abundantly unfolded to us by scientific inquiry, with intelligent interest and cheerful hope, with the light of the gospel resting broadly over the whole field of inquiry. Such is the impulse which has brought Peter hither. But why have they sent for him? The answer will disclose:
3. Further coincidences. Cornelius now relates his vision. He, too, had been praying and seeking. To him, too, an apocalypse had been given; and the Divine finger had pointed Jew-wards, as to Peter it had pointed Gentile-wards. Equally Divine is the call; with equal promptness obeyed. Cornelius has sent, Peter has done well to come. Happy meeting, divinely brought about, and pregnant with Divine consequences! Such a series of events indicates God's hand, prepares the mind to listen to God's voice. The inarticulate voice of events is his voice, and it prepares us to listen to that which is clear and definite. - J.
I. A REPRESENTATIVE ASSEMBLY.
1. Cornelius, his kinsmen, his near friends, probably some of them devout soldiers.
2. Peter, his brethren from Joppa. The different states of mind. Inquiry after truth, perplexity as to duty. The helplessness of the heathen world well set forth in Cornelius's salutation. The sense of darkness and spiritual want a temptation to worship men instead of God. The false Church accepts such worship. The true says, "Stand Up! I myself also am a man."
II. THE LIGHT OF GOD the only true light in which differences are removed and blessings are recognized. Peter brings into that light his Jewish prejudice, and it vanishes. Cornelius brings into it his desire for knowledge and equality with all God's children, and it is abundantly satisfied. So in the controversies of men, let them meet together "in the sight of God," and to hear his voice, and all will be well.
III. THE TRUMPET-SOUNDS awaking the Gentile world.
1. The personal Redeemer.
2. The witnessing Church.
3. The universal invitation. The true evangel - the true liberty, equality, and fraternity. The Holy Spirit spake by Peter's mouth. - R.
I. THE DUE SENSE OF GOD'S PRESENCE. "We are all here present before God." Though that presence now finds no outward or symbolic expression m cloud or flame, it is inwardly realized, and has now on men's hearts its due solemnizing effect. The true worshipper can say, "Surely God is in this place."
II. FULL RESOLVE AND INTENT. The company had not gathered according to custom or merely to please each other; all were purposed to come, and had set their minds upon hearing what St. Peter might have to say. Cornelius had awakened this earnestness by telling of his vision.
III. DUE OPENNESS OF HEART. They were prepared to put all prejudice aside, "and hear all things commanded of God." The open-hearted listen to all, receiving what God sends, not merely what may please them or accord with their doctrinal views or prejudices.
IV. CONSCIOUSNESS THAT WHAT GOD COMMANDS WILL HAVE TO BE DONE. The only good listener is the obedient listener, who goes forth to life prepared to carry out God's will as it may be revealed to him, and determined to tone all life by the principles which God may announce. Illustrate by the parable of the Sower and the seed. - R.T.
I. THE EQUAL JUSTICE AND LOVE OF GOD. He is no respecter of persons. The conditions of acceptance in his sight are everywhere and for all men the same, viz. reverence and rightness of moral conduct. Does this imply, it matters not what a man believes, so long as he fears God and does what is right? Certainly, belief is not immediately under the control of the will. But indirectly it so far is that we are bound to keep our minds open to the light, and to seek some belief that may guide conduct. The truth is that the reverence and the moral rectitude spoken of cannot exist apart from the root of faith in a supersensual order and Divine Law. Indifferentism is not recommended nor excused. But the truth that it is only the genuine qualities of the heart, the real disposition of the will, not external associations nor advantages of birth, which constitute true worth in God's sight. And any other principle of Divine dealing than this would shock the conscience as unjust.
II. RECAPULATION OF THE GOSPEL.
1. It was a good message of peace sent to the sons of Israel. He says nothing about natural religion and the universal conscience, on which St. Paul dwells in the Romans. The gospel is pre-eminently a message by man to man; by a selected people as ministered to the race. It was diffused through the Holy Land, and its substance was well known.
2. Its substance - Jesus: his person, his sanctified character, and his mighty deeds. His life of perpetual beneficence, his healing of those under the bondage of disease and of ignorance. It was manifest to men that God was with him, setting the seal of power upon his character and deeds.
3. The existence of living witnesses to those truths. The apostles were witnesses of the facts in the physical world on which Christianity was founded. Christian teachers and Christian men now are witnesses of the facts in the moral world which are eternal, and which interpret the physical facts.
4. The death and resurrection of Jesus. The suffering and the triumph of love; here lies the very kernel of the gospel. This triumphant Christ has been made manifest to chosen witnesses - to his close companions and intimate associates during his earthly life. And they have a commission to make proclamation of these truths to the people, and to testify that he is appointed Judge of the living and the dead. Finally, the gospel has the confirmation of prophecy; and all who believe on him may receive the remission of their sins. Here, then, is a useful summary of the gospel.
(1) Peace through Jesus Christ, who has lived, suffered, and risen for men.
(2) This is a message to all men, and a call to salvation.
(3) Its aim is universal human blessedness. - J.
I. A CONDEMNATION OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. Not person, but his own Divine righteousness does he respect. The acceptance of the sinner is not a personal favor, but a manifestation of that which is perfect - the righteousness of Christ. Ritualism supposes God capable of being turned aside from his perfect justice. The intolerance of bigotry. Class distinctions in the Church. Priestcraft.
II. A CONDEMNATION OF UNBELIEF, in the form of distrust and despondency. Nothing acceptable in self-reproaches except as they are sincere and accompanied with active efforts to do his will.
III. THE MOTTO OF THE CHRISTIAN AMBASSADOR, whether in carrying the message to the degraded classes of our own population or to the heathen. One gospel for rich and poor, cultivated and uncultivated.
IV. THE NOTE OF THE TRUE CHURCH. That which will not recognize the universal brotherhood of men will not be the Church of the future. Coincidence of providential teaching with the teaching of the Bible. The world will acknowledge no form of Christianity which respects persons. The history of the last century showed that a false Christianity produces atheism. - R.
I. MELCHIZEDEK IN THE PATRIARCHAL PERIOD. We know very little about the religious condition of Palestine in the days of Abraham. Hastily we say that doubtless the Canaanite idolatries absolutely prevailed, for "the Canaanite was then in the land." But the figure of Melchizedek is, as it were, thrust into the Scripture narrative as if on purpose to correct such hastily formed notions. Abraham is clearly the elect of God, separated from his Chaldean surroundings in order to witness to the great truths of the Divine unity and spirituality. And yet, coming into the lard that was promised to his descendants, he finds believers in the Most High God, presided over by a king-priest, to whom Abraham feels that he must pay homage and give tithes. It has been well said that "when Abraham received the blessing of Melchizedek, and tendered to him his reverent homage, it is a likeness of the recognition which true historical faith will always humbly receive and gratefully render when it comes in contact with the older and everlasting instincts of that religion which the 'Most High God, Possessor of heaven and earth,' has implanted in nature and in the heart of man, in 'the power of an endless life.'" So, in the very starting of Judaism, in the very lifetime of its founder and father, we find God directing our attention to real and acceptable religious life outside the Abrahamic election.
II. BALAAM IN THE PERIOD OF THE JEWISH WANDERINGS. Without attempting to form a full judgment of Balaam's religious standing, we must admit that he was a prophet of God, to whom God made communications; and whatever may have been his religion, it was certainly distinct from Judaism. "In his career is seen that recognition of Divine inspiration outside the Jewish people, which the narrowness of modern times has been so eager to deny, but which the Scriptures are always ready to acknowledge, and, by acknowledging, admit within the pale of the universal Church the higher spirits of every age and of every nation."
III. JOB AT THE TIME OF THE NATIONAL CLIMAX. There is little room for doubting that, whenever Job himself may have lived, the book bearing his name was written in the Solomonic age, and represents the religious sentiments of that time, And the book represents the man Job as good, perfect, upright, fearing God, and eschewing evil; but he is not a Jew, he is an Arab chief or the wealthy prince of some city in distant Uz; the very selection of such a hero for the story plainly showing belief in vital godliness outside the Jewish limits. Not a trace of Mosaic religion has been found in the book, and therefore it is evident that the writer accepts the fact that true and acceptable piety may exist apart from the Mosaic covenant.
IV. NAAMAN AND NINEVEH IN THE TIME OF THE NATIONAL DECLINE. We place these two together, but they may be treated separately. Naaman is a Syrian, but God's prophet makes no difficulty about recognizing the sincerity of his religion, and he requires of him no conformity to Jewish regulations. The Ninevites are penitent before the one living God, and their repentance is even set on record as an example to the willful Jews. So again and again did God, in the olden times, correct the exclusiveness of his people's feeling, and force them to think of him as the God of the whole earth. And when our Lord Jesus came among men as the Divine teacher, we find him also correcting the same exclusive spirit by blessing Roman centurions, Samaritan villagers, and Syro-phoenician women; commanding that his gospel should be preached to the whole world; sending Paul "far hence unto the Gentiles;" calling Cornelius into the fellowship of the redeemed; saving the eunuch of an African queen; and moving Paul to witness for the universal redeeming love of God, in Athenian agora and before Roman tribunals. That the heathen had some religion God did not make a reason for withholding from them his fuller revelation; neither should we so argue. Our very sympathy with heathen souls groping for the light should increase our longing to give them what we have in our trust, the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." - R.T.
I. THE MESSAGE - PEACE.
1. Peace between man and God in atonement.
2. Peace rising up as a wellspring of new life in the heart.
3. Peace ordering the life.
II. THE PREACHER - JESUS CHRIST.
1. Not destroying the Law, but fulfilling it. The gospel preached from the first.
2. The power of the message is in the messenger. Personal power. Power of love. Power of Divine supremacy inviting confidence.
3. Jesus Christ preached in his people, by his Church, in the embodiment of the Word. Test of all doctrines claiming to uplift humanity - Will they bear to be made the oasis of fellowship? Rationalism has never been able to form a Church. Jesus preached and preaches still a peaceful revolution which shall totally change the world.
III. THE AUDIENCE.
1. None excluded. No other condition would harmonize with both the message and the preacher.
2. Christianity preaches peace in states and among the contending nations, not by substituting spiritual principles for laws, because it is not the preacher's province to legislate, but by proclaiming the Word of Jesus Christ.
3. The mission of the Church to the homes of men, not the peace of blind submission, intellectual and moral death, but the peace of Jesus Christ, the life of God in the soul of man, flowing out into the surrounding world. Is it peace - within, without? - R.
(1) what is the essence of the gospel message, and
(2) what are the points of it specially suitable for presentation to the heathen mind, by a careful study of St. Peter's speech on this occasion. As the points are very simple, and the illustration of them very abundant and familiar, we need only briefly state the several headings. The gospel is the declaration to men of the personal Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the demand of instant acceptance of him and yielding the will and heart and life to him. It must deal fully and efficiently with -
I. THE CHRIST WHO LIVED. "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about doing good."
II. THE CHRIST WHO DIED. "Whom they slew and hanged on a tree."
III. THE CHRIST WHO LAWS. "Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly."
IV. THE CHRIST WHO CAN SAVE FROM SIN NOW. "Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." Upon this gospel, believingly declared to men, even to the heathen, we may still be assured that the power of the Holy Ghost shall rest, and it shall prove, as to the company in the house of Cornelius, a word of "eternal life." - R.T.
I. THAT IN CHRIST WHICH IS INIMITABLE BY US.
1. God sent him on a mission altogether higher than our own. He "anointed him" to be the Redeemer of a world, to be its Savior by suffering and dying in its stead, by revealing truth which it could not possibly have discovered.
2. God dwelt in him as he dues not and could not do in us. He was anointed "with the Holy Ghost," and God "gave not the Spirit by measure unto him."
3. He was armed with a power which was irresistible: the "winds and the waves obeyed" him; sickness fled at his touch; death itself was obedient to his voice; the spirit-world owned his presence and yielded to his authority; he "healed all that were possessed of the devil." Our function in the world, our possession by God, our power over the forces around us, - this is in striking contrast with the work and present power of Jesus Christ.
II. THAT IN CHRIST WHICH IS IMITABLE BY US.
1. We are charged with a holy and benign mission; we are "anointed" to do a good if not a great work in the world (see John 20:21). We are "sent" by our Lord to "bear witness unto the truth," both in word and deed; "to work and speak and think for him;" to "serve our generation by the will of God."
4. We are to be the sources and channels of blessing; we are to "go about doing good" (Hebrews 13:16). We may "do good" everywhere and always - the smile of encouragement, the look of love, the sigh of sympathy, the touch of kindness, the word of truth, the act of integrity, every manifestation of the Spirit of Christ is "doing good." And all is to be done under the same condition. For:
5. We are to have the continual presence and sanction of our heavenly Father: "God was with him." - C.
I. THE WORLD'S GREAT WANT.
1. Deeds, not words. Failure of all mere human schemes of philanthropy.
2. A benevolence working from a spiritual basis. External reform insufficient.
3. Universality. "All the ends of the earth shall see this salvation."
4. A permanent motive to philanthropy. National, legislative, personal efforts apt to die out.
II. THE WORLD'S GREAT RESOURCE.
1. Philanthropy springing out of religion. The deepest springs of humanity touched. The lowest and highest united together. Reverence for the weak a truly Christian sentiment; absent from all heathenism. Destroyed by science unless guarded by higher motive.
2. A Divine hope at the root of all effort. The kingdom of heaven was what Jesus proclaimed. Not relief merely, but restoration.
3. A perfect Example. The character of Christ acknowledged even by opponents to be unique. Its influence on his disciples inexhaustible. The method of Jesus a great guiding fact - "he went about doing good," not waiting for organization, or merely presiding over others, or sitting on an inaccessible throne of dignity, but doing the work by personal, individual ministration.
III. THE TOUCHSTONE OF TRUTH.
1. Apply it to the claims of rival religions. "Doing good."
2. Apply it to the prevalent tendencies of modern society. Philosophical scepticism. Socialistic experiments. Rationalistic criticism. Lowering Christianity to a mere republication of morality.
3. Apply it to individuals. Are we treading in the footsteps of Jesus as he went about doing good? Is there an impelling motive, a generous self-sacrifice, a single-minded simplicity in us, like his? - R.
I. THE DIVINEST WORK OF GOD'S PEOPLE - TO PREACH.
1. The greatness of the work rests upon the greatness of the necessity. Teaching can never be dispensed with. The root of a true faith is knowledge. Popular ignorance immeasurable.
2. No ritualistic display can supersede preaching. Nor is devotion the whole of worship. As a moral force, Christianity must be preached to men, both conscience and heart.
3. Preaching is the most simple and pure channel of connection from soul to soul. The Spirit flows through the Word.
II. THE CHIEF AIM OF GOD'S MINISTERS MUST BE TO REACH THE PEOPLE.
1. No sophistry should blind us to the fact that the proclamation of gospel truth is the first duty of Christians.
2. The Word preached must be the Word which is adapted to the people, life power like that of evangelical truth.
3. Churches must guard against being "at ease in Zion." Edification is best aimed at through aggressive efforts on the surrounding population. Intellectual preaching must be subordinated to popular wants. An educated ministry is the want of the times, but the education, like all other means employed, must be full of the Holy Ghost.
III. THE MASTER'S COMMISSION THE SUPPORT OF THE CHURCH'S HOPES.
1. Direct charge must silence all questioning and all speculation.
2. Jesus Christ reads the future. Let the commander give the orders. Then his predictions of victory will be fulfilled.
3. The reflex action of zealous fulfillment of the charge on the Church's own faith and experience. These who do much for the people the happiest Christians, the most assured believers. The triumphs of practical Christianity will be its best evidence. What are we doing, both as individuals and as Churches, to preach to the people? - R.
I. THE TWO TESTIMONIES here set forth - the witness of the written Word, the witness of the unwritten work of the Spirit in the heart.
1. The union of these the ground of a sinner's confidence. Faith lays hold of the object.
2. The world is invited to examine these two witnesses for Christ. The Bible, as the Book of the prophets, stands not alone. God writes a Bible in his Church, in great examples of his Spirit's work; in the consciences of men. We must appeal to both. Review the course of revelation side by side with the facts of spiritual history. Great revivals accompanied by great openings of the Word.
II. THE WORLD-WIDE BLESSEDNESS.
1. Remission of sins the foundation on which all spiritual, moral, and physical change must be built up. No compromise with a lower doctrine. The promise of the Spirit is to faith. The kingdom proclaimed is not man's kingdom, but God's.
2. The Name of Jesus is the center of all religious reformation. Apostolic successes were due to the unflinching steadfastness of the ambassadors.
3. Connect the conclusion of Peter's sermon with the preceding testimony. Faith is acceptance, not of any Christ, but of the Christ to whom all the prophets witnessed. Practical religion is based upon intelligent understanding of the object of faith. It is obedience to the truth. - R.
I. EVER THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES UPON MEN IN CONNECTION WITH THE RECEPTION OF THE TRUTH. So at Pentecost; so here. The falling of the rain from heaven is concurrent with the germination of the seed. It can hardly be said that either is first or second. Each is the necessary condition of the other. If we desire to secure the heavenly words, we must preach the Word - " be instant in season and out of season."
II. EVER A NEW REVELATION BRINGS WITH IT ASTONISHMENT AND PERPLEXITY. The believing Jew could not understand this outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the heathen; nor how they could be found speaking with tongues and glorifying God. To us it seems natural enough that the great purpose of God, the generous germ-thoughts of eternal truth and love, should break forth into larger meaning and wider development. But there is a lesson for us here. We are all slow to see the large consequences of the truth we hold and teach. It surprises us, and alas! not always with a joyous surprise, when we find people accepting the consequences of our own doctrines, and proving that they have taken seriously what perhaps we preached with only half a heart.
III. LOVE AND TRUTH PREVAIL ALONG WITH EVERY MANIFESTATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. It is Peter, the very personification of the Jewish and exclusive spirit, who now pleads for the reception of the new converts. We never understand a truth till we have striven against it. Then we become enthusiasts for it when it has conquered our own heart and intelligence. The representative of the circumcision, that is, of the exclusive or Jewish view of the gospel, is now the very champion, not merely of toleration, but of a free and loving reception of the heathen converts to the fellowship of Christ. The case of Peter, like that of Paul, shows how the best advocates of a holy cause are often, it may be always, to be found amongst those who have been its sincere opponents. Thus do extremes meet; thus out of weakness comes strength, from bitterness sweetness; thus does the gracious and gentle will of God select foes to turn them into friends. But we shall see in the next section the further victory of Divine love over the narrowness and hate of the human heart. - J.
1. Importance of the event as removing all doubt and opening the new future. The Holy Ghost his own witness. To resist such evidence would be blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
2. The immediate consecration and public sealing of the work by baptism a striking example of obedience to the Spirit, and shows us that we should bear in mind always how much profession and consecration bear on the interests of Christ's kingdom.
3. Apostolic authority is great, but is itself subject to the Spirit. Inspiration in the people of God blends with inspiration in his specially anointed messengers. Wherever he shows us that his Spirit has already been poured out, let us hasten to bear witness to it. So shall we strengthen our own faith and enlarge the Church. The whole history, thus concluded, a lesson on the blessing attending a simple following the guidance of the Spirit. Peter an example of a heart enlarged by simplicity. - R.