No, Lord,' I said, 'for nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'
I. GOD STILL OPENS HIS TRUTH TO INDIVIDUAL SOULS. We do not, indeed, expect new revelations. There is a sense in which the book-revelation in the Scriptures is complete: no man may add thereto or take therefrom; and no man's testimony can be of any value save as it can be tested by the revealed Word. And yet, though this may be fully admitted, we may recognize the fact that, through spiritual insight or through intellectual skill, men do bring to light missed and hidden things, or they do set received truths in forms that are new, and by their newness arrest thought and even arouse opposition. In this way every truth of the Divine revelation is brought prominently before men's thoughts every few years. God sends among us great thought-leaders; stirs, by their preachings or writings, the stagnancy of religious thought, and makes fresh and living to us truths which had become mere dead formalities. St. Peter had but a fresh hold of an ancient truth, one long revealed by psalmist and prophet: still, he had such a new grip as made him a power; even the agent that fulfilled Christ's will, and "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
II. THE INDIVIDUAL WITH A FRESH TRUTH MUST EXPECT OPPOSITION. It will surely come from:
1. His fellow-workers, who will feel a secret jealousy of his being made the medium of Divine communications, and who will keenly feel how the new truth interferes with their teachings.
2. Those of conservative tendency, who think the absolute and final truth is in their charge.
3. The earnest but timid people who fear that everything fresh must put God's truth in peril.
4. The friends of theological or ecclesiastical systems, who consider their systems complete and needing no changes, nor having any open places in which new truth may fit. St. Peter found that an imperfect report of his doings at Caesarea had gone before him to Jerusalem, and when he himself reached the holy city, he was assailed from the very narrowest platform, and accused of the very small sin from our point of view, but very large sin from the Jewish point of view, of eating with the uncircumcised." He very wisely refused a discussion on this mere feature of the matter, and explained fully what had happened. Those who contend often take a mere point of detail, and are best met and answered by putting the question in dispute on the broadest, deepest grounds.
III. PROOF OF DIVINE LEADINGS OUGHT TO SILENCE ALL OPPOSITION. This is the great lesson of St. Peter's conduct and narrative. All through he pleads that he only recognized and followed the Divine will as revealed both to him and to others. God spoke to him in trance, and vision, and providence, and inward impulse. God spoke to Cornelius by angel-form and angel-voice. God sealed the work of St. Peter with the gift of his Spirit, and, as a faithful and true man, he could only go where God led him, and speak as God bade him. To his audience it was the best of all answers, the one that would disarm all opposition. A sincere Jew must be loyal to God's will, however it might be revealed, and however strange to his feeling it might seem. And this is essentially the answer which every thought-leader and every advanced teacher now must be prepared to make and to prove. If he only speaks, as a man, some religious fancies and feelings of his own, we are rightly skeptical; but if it is plain to us that a man has been "taught of God," and if we can see signs of acceptance and Divine benediction on his work, then we too must hear his testimony with open and unprejudiced minds, seeking grace to enable us to express our old faith in the new form, or to add the new thought to our received doctrines. God may, indeed, not speak to us now by dream, or trance, or vision, or voice; but we need not therefore think that direct communication with our soul is impossible. Still we may say, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth;" and still we have with us that Holy Ghost, whose work it is" to lead us into all truth, and to show us things to come." And it should be our abiding conviction and inspiration that "the Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word." - R.T.
But I said, Not so, Lord.
I. PRESUMPTUOUS RESISTANCE OF DIVINE WISDOM AND GRACE. The most perilous endowment of a mortal is free will. All possibilities of evil and good are contained in this great endowment. How near the true use of will stands to its abuse! Will changes into wilfulness. "I will" becomes self-assertion, denies the rights of others, sets man in array against the rights and claims of God. This was Peter's moral weakness, the source of errors and sins. Strong-willed, he had firmness. It had grown into self-assertion and presumption. There was a clear openness about him in his sinning; he was not a sneaking, backdoor sinner, and not a polished, sniveling hypocrite. It is better so. There is more hope for such a man than he who sins secretly; but it does not lessen his guilt. On several occasions Peter thought he knew better than the Lord. He said, "The Son of Man shall be rejected," etc. Peter answered Him, "Be it far from Thee, Lord. This shall not be." Jesus said, "I have prayed for thee." Peter's reply was, "I am ready to go with Thee, even to prison and death." Jesus said, "Whither I go thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt afterwards." Peter says, "Lord, why? I am ready." And then the Lord warned him: "Verily the cock shall not crow," etc. The Master bade His disciples tarry in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father. Peter, instead of waiting, set about electing an apostle. Here the Lord was disciplining him, that he might open the door of the kingdom to the Gentiles. "Arise, Peter; kill and eat." He refuses point blank, and begins to justify refusal. There is a good deal of Peter in most men. They generally act as though they knew better than God what ought to happen and what they ought to do. This spirit gets into men —
1. When they object to the provisions of Divine wisdom and grace. Some sinners want to show God the conditions on which sin ought to be pardoned and heaven secured. Some are not content with unbelief and rebellion; they find fault with the scheme of mercy. Why should not God let the guilty go free?
2. The same spirit is manifested in all murmurings against Providence. How strange are the vagaries of the restless will! Men say God is all-wise in the ordinations of life, and sing, "Thy will be done!" But let a sickness come, a project miscarry, one dearer than life be smitten, and what rebellion there is! Often what we call resignation is only the exhaustion of nature after a useless fight with the inevitable.
3. All refusal to follow the leadings of Providence grows out of this resistance to the all-wise will. God is a guide. He has a way of life for each. Men miss the providential way; they will not simply trust and follow. They want certainty. "The bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," and when God says, "Forward," they say, "Let us alone," or "Let us choose a new leader and go back to Egypt," or they shut all up with a "Not so, Lord." Christ says to a young Christian, "Come out and be separate." The reply is. "Not so, Lord. I can use the world without abusing it." The Lord says, "Honest poverty is better than dishonest riches." "Not so Lord; I mean to be generous to the poor, to help Thy cause."
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THIS PRESUMPTUOUS REBELLION. "Not so, Lord," takes a man out of the circle of Divine and helpful benedictions and cooperations. He who will not have God for a friend when he may shall not find Him when he would. Men resent presumptuous opposition and folly. They think it a wonder God does not. But here are all the irregularities created by sin, and they work out a punitive discipline. Under the Divine government presumptuous and rebellious men come into contact with the negative action of the Divine laws, and cannot avoid their chastisement. But God's harsh ways are kindnesses. Thorns in the hedge, which tear us as we attempt to get out of the right way, are admonitions to us to go back. Things go awry; troubles, worry. What is it all but the reaping what we have sown? Sensitive nerves suffer pain to warn us against what causes pain. If God be resisted, pain must follow, for we are out of the way of peace. Our wisdom is to submit to God, accept His plan of mercy, look unto Jesus, walk in His way. "Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on."
(W. H. Davison.)
I. POOR, WEAK, IGNORANT MAN IS FOUND CONTRADICTING AND CORRECTING THE ALMIGHTY AND ALL-WISE GOD. If God had a human heart, the thing would not happen twice from the same person. The Divine fire would consume the presumptuous soul. But God is not a man. He patiently endures all man's presumptuous folly. Many, arguing from impunity, go on to increase their rebellion against God. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily," etc. But this daring resistance to God is not confined to unbelievers. Our text shows that a Peter can say, "Not so, Lord." There may be politeness in the form, but in the matter it is rebellion and nothing else. It is a declaration that "I know better than God." What is complaint of our lot (which God has arranged) but a saying, "Not so"? What is refusal to follow the clear leadings of Providence but saying, "Not so, Lord"? And then we wonder we are not prospered. As if children in open rebellion could prosper!
II. ALL THE FORLORN EXPERIENCES OF CHRISTIANS COME FROM THEM SAYING, "NOT SO, LORD." An Abraham going unhesitatingly to offer up his son at the Divine command is given us as a marked example of spiritual attainment. If ever man could have said, "Not so, Lord," it was Abraham. He might have said, "Lord, I cannot commit murder; and I cannot commit sin against my natural affections. Furthermore, what will people say of it? Not so, Lord; I cannot do this thing." But that which made Abraham's name the synonym of faith, and which exalted him to the very highest rank in sainthood, was a humble, unquestioning, immediate obedience. Compare him with Jacob, who was fond of saying, "Not so, Lord," and see the difference. A young Christian starts out in life. The Lord says to him, "Come out and be separate from the world"; and the young Christian replies, "Not so, Lord, for if I can marry into that influential family it will be of great benefit to me, and I can persuade my wife to become a Christian"; and so, repenting his "Not so," he marries and is soon led into the entanglements of a thoroughly worldly society. To another young man the word of the Lord comes, "They that desire to be rich fall into a temptation," and the young man responds, "Not so, Lord — there must be exceptions. I want to be rich in order to do more good." And so this young man starts on a career for gold, and whether he grows rich or ends his life in poverty, his life is a wretched failure on the side of God.
III. THE SOUL THAT SAYS, "NOT SO, LORD," MUST NECESSARILY MEET WITH EVIL. The unfortunate experiences are not accidents, but belong to the Divine system of government. Every departure from God's way has a sting in it, that we may be stung into going back into the right way. Conscience does a godly service to every Christian wanderer. It is harsh in its kindness. But the work of conscience is supplemented by events around us. Are you finding things going awry? Are troubles multiplying? Look and see if you have not been saying, "Not so, Lord." David suffered greatly from his children, and two "Not so's" stand out conspicuously as the cause of it all. What a man soweth that must lie also reap. If we resist God's commands, we shall certainly meet a reversal, because we are out of the only way where He insures our peace. It is of God's mercy that those reactions occur, just as it is of God's mercy that if I run a nail in my foot I am pained.
IV. THE VERY OPPOSITE SPIRIT TO THAT WHICH WE HAVE BEEN CONTEMPLATING IS THE SPIRIT OF HUMBLE INQUIRY FOR GOD'S WILL. It becomes us to be distrustful of our own knowledge and wisdom. James describes God as giving wisdom liberally to all who ask Him. We surely need not be discouraged. Now, the only method for every child of God to pursue is to go to God for everything, to seek constantly the Divine guidance. "But," someone says, "how can you tell when it is God's will?" Let me answer,If you stand a quarter of a mile off from your father, you will be sore puzzled to know what he says; but if you go within five feet of him, everything will be plain. So, if you stand away from your Heavenly Father, you will undoubtedly be much at a loss to know what is His will; but if you live near to Him, you will have no difficulty of this sort. Now, it is true (and Peter is an example of it) that a Christian may live near to God and understand His will and yet say, Not so, Lord." A paroxysm of self-confidence may seize him even in the very presence of God. It is a sad commentary on our feeble faith. The reaction in such a case is overwhelming. Peter's "Not so," when Jesus told him of a coming Calvary, was the direct antecedent of the threefold denial and the deep scar which it made on his whole life. Such a catastrophe arises from breaking what should be the invariable rule of going to God for everything. "Pray without ceasing" is the Divine injunction and its fulfilment is this life which is habituated to rest upon the Divine support and guidance. The thought of opposing God's will would cause a shudder in such a soul. As in the case of a little child, it feels that independence would be only misery.
(Howard Crosby, D. D.)
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