There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,…
I. THERE ARE THREE DRAMATIC CHAPTERS IN THE BIBLE THAT STAND OUT WITH SPECIAL PROMINENCE AND SIGNIFICANCE. Take —
1. How worlds are made, and light is parted, and arrangements are completed as if some stupendous event were about to transpire! Something is going to happen! The secret is revealed in these words, and God said, "Let us make man."
2. Matthew 1. The first of Genesis turned into human history. There again you have that movement, urgency, and great rapidity. The reading of the genealogical record means something. The secret is revealed in the statement that Jesus was born to save His people from their sins.
3. Acts 10. What movement, what dreaming and visioning and singular combination of events! Having read the first of Genesis and the first of Matthew, I feel that all these visions and trances must lead to something. What is it? The secret is revealed in these words, "God is no respecter of persons," etc. In all the three chapters, therefore, I find a result which explains the process and satisfies the imagination.
II. WHAT UNCONSCIOUS PREPARATIONS ARE PROCEEDING IN LIFE!
1. We cannot tell what we do. No occasion ends in itself. We know not what a day may bring forth, but tomorrow will certainly bring forth the seed of today. Always know that you are being prepared for some Divine issue. Your coming to church today may be the making of you! The introduction to a friend this morning may change every aspect of your coming history! The grave you dug but yesterday may be the altar at which your first heart prayer was uttered!
2. How wondrously Peter was prepared for this marvellous outcoming of Divine purpose. We read in the preceding chapter, last verse, that he "tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner." He has got so far on the road to the Gentiles. A Jew of Peter's temper who could lodge with a tanner may tomorrow go to convert a Gentile. God fixes lodgings. An ancient Rabbi said, "It is impossible that the world can do without tanners, but woe unto that man who is a tanner." The address is given — "whose house is by the seaside." The reason being that the Jews would not have tanneries in the towns. If a man married without telling his bride that he was a tanner, she could instantly demand release. The law which provided that the childless widow was to marry the brother of a deceased husband was set aside in the event of that brother being a tanner. You see, then, how stubborn were the prejudices against tanning, and yet we read as if it involved no extraordinary principle that Peter "tarried many days with one Simon a tanner." It means everything, there is a revolution in these words. This makes a breach in the wall, buttressed with the traditions of generations — a breach that will widen until the whole falls, and man everywhere hail man as brother!
3. The point to be observed is, how unconsciously men are being prepared for higher communications and wider services. God leads us on step by step. We do not jump to conclusions in Divine Providence. We go forward a step at a time, and we never know how far we have advanced until we come to the last step, and find that it is but a step. This is God's way. This is how He trains you, dear children, for the last step which we now call death. Now in this early morning of your life you do not want to die. But little by little, day by day, suffering by suffering, trial by trial, loss by loss, a time will come when even you will say, "I have a desire to depart." God deals thus gradually and gently with us. Sometimes His providences seem to be abrupt and even violent, but in reality they move along a gradation settled and adjusted by the tenderest love. Things that are impossible to you today will be the commonplaces of tomorrow. You do not speak to the farthest-off man at once; but you speak to the man who is next to you, and then to the one following, and so, a man at a time, you move on until the distance is traversed and he who was once far off has been brought nigh! Upon this daily and inevitable process rests your confidence that prejudice of the most stubborn kind shall be broken down, and one day we shall know that every land is home and every man is brother!
III. WHAT MYSTERIOUS COMBINATIONS OF EXPERIENCES AND EVENTS ARE CONTINUALLY TAKING PLACE.
1. Cornelius saw in a vision an angel. Peter fell into a trance and heard a voice. That is our daily life. We cannot be shut up within the four corners of a vulgar materialism. God has still over us the mysterious reign of dreams. Why wonder if dreams will come true, when dreams are true? You should have spoken to the angel, and said, "What is it, Lord?" You should even have contradicted the angel, and said, "Not so, Lord," and then further conversation would have ensued. Instead of that you continue to sleep, and in the morning ask if dreams come true! You had your chance and missed it. The night is full of crowds. In the infinite galleries of the night the angels walk, visiting the beloved of God. Dreams of your own causing are not the dreams we are now speaking about. Physical nightmare is one thing, spiritual vision is another.
2. But even apart from the ministry of the night we have in our day dreams events sufficiently spiritually mysterious to inspire the religious imagination. "How strange," say we, "that it should have been so." "How remarkable that our letters should have crossed." "Why, at the very time I was doing this you must have been coming to me! How singular!" This is an irreligious way of talking about human history and Divine issues, I want to cleanse my life of all mere accidents, and to feel that my down-sitting and my up-rising, and my out-going, my in-coming are matters of importance in heaven — that the very hairs of my head are all numbered! Why do we belittle our experience and deplete it of everything that could give nobility, and enlargement, and apocalypse to our highest nature? Rather be it mine to say the vision was from heaven, and an angel spake to me, than to vulgarise the universe and to find in it nothing that I cannot mark with plain figures.
IV. HERE WE HAVE A HIGHER LAW SWALLOWING UP A LOWER ONE — "God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." It requires God to show that to some men. This is nothing short of a Divine revelation — to see the man within the creature. I see the poor clothing, the unkempt body — there is something behind! I see the roughness, rudeness — there is something behind. A man! Said the murmuring multitude respecting Zacchaeus, "Christ hath gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." But Jesus called the sinner "a son of Abraham." Lord, open our eyes that we may see one another! Christianity has come to eat up and absorb all our little laws and to set us under a nobler legislation. Said Christ, "Who is My mother, and who are My brethren?" And turning to His disciples, He said, "Whosoever doeth the will of My Father that is in heaven, the same is My mother, and sister, and brother." We are under the foolish notion that a man is a brother because we were born of the same mother. Nothing of the kind. There may be no greater stranger in the universe than the one born of the same mother. They are brothers who are one in soul, one in conviction, one in hope!
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,