And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold…
Is it true that it was composed of men who were neither Jews nor Christians, and that it met in the first century of the Christian era; yet there are many points in which it might be an example to nineteenth century Christian congregations. They were present —
I. EVERYONE. When was it ever said of a modern congregation, "We are all here present"? Naturally, all cannot be; but how many are absent, who might have been present, if animated by the spirit of Cornelius and his friends!
II. PUNCTUALLY. When Peter arrived, Cornelius met him with the announcement, "We are all here." Want of punctuality is an evil in our services. Some are always late. They lose part of the services; they disturb the minister and congregation. In many cases it is a mere habit, that could be overcome by a little attention.
III. WITH A DEFINITE PURPOSE. "To hear." How many motives influence attendance nowadays! Some are present to see, some to criticise, some from habit, some to while away the time, some from curiosity.
IV. WITH PREPARED HEARTS. "Now, therefore." We are here expectantly. If the minister ought to prepare to speak, not less ought the people to prepare to hear. Our Lord solemnly warns us: "Take heed how ye hear."
V. WITH REVERENT SPIRITS. "Present before God." This was an act of solemn worship. They did not come to sit at the feet of some popular preacher. "The worship of Dr. — will be resumed next Sabbath," said an usher to some persons who were leaving the church, upon learning that their favourite minister was not to preach that day.
VI. WITH ATTENTIVE EARS. How many absent-minded men there are in our congregations! They could not say, "We are all present." Wandering thoughts are servants of the devil. This congregation expected "to hear all things that were commanded of God." There were, evidently, no sleepers among them. A parishioner, upon his deathbed, confessed to his pastor that he had not heard a sermon for years — his thoughts had habitually reverted to his business as soon as the text was announced. Worshippers ought not to have their bodies in the house of God, and their hearts, with the fool's eyes, in the ends of the earth.
VII. WITH ONE MIND. No divisions in this congregation. They were all, with one accord, in one place.
VIII. WITH A RIGHT IDEA OF THE PREACHER. They wished to hear the things that God commanded him to speak. They cared more for the message than the messenger. If some of our congregations would think more of God's deliverance and less of man's delivery, it would tend to their spiritual edification.
IX. TO HEAR THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD. They wished to hear all things that God commanded. A modern congregation must have some fortitude before it asks for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
X. WITH A SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE. The word which we translate "to hear" oftentimes, as in this case, means "to hear and obey." It is well to be ready to hear all of God's commands; better to be ready to obey them.Results:
1. The gospel was faithfully preached (ver. 34). Faithful hearers make faithful preachers.
2. The Holy Ghost was giver (ver. 44). "Peter yet spake these words presence and the Word: —
I. THE GREAT FACT AND TRUTH REALISED by Cornelius: "Now, therefore, are we all here present before God."
II. THE DEVOUT AND SINCERE PURPOSE OF HEART EXPRESSED: "To hear all things," etc.
1. "Now therefore," etc. Evidently spoken by a man who had before recognised and felt God's presence in his life and ways. We are of a truth alway in God's presence if we knew it: but there are times when the reality breaks forth with special power for special purposes. But there are other times and ways beside those in which we are met together for public worship, when we may be made feel that we are "present before God." All time and place, thought and feeling, are sacred when this great and holy truth is impressed upon us, "the Lord God is there."(1) Have we never felt we were present before God, in our own soul and conscience? Have we never felt within, that there was another Presence besides our own, that penetrated and searched our inmost thoughts?
(2) We may feel we are present before God in His works.
(3) In the course of the Divine providence, its ways and dealings. Behind and above all these busy outward actors, scenes of engagement, there is the Divine Seer and Actor, and His hand is outstretched upon every man, woman and child. Were our eyes opened to see the greatest truth and reality of this scene of our existence and probation, we should feel no words were so true as these; "Now, then, are we all here present before God."(4) Again in the dispensation of truth and privilege vouchsafed to us, God is and comes very near to us. What in fact is Divine truth but the immediate touch, teaching, and reality of God?
(5) Our parents, specially if pious parents, are they not witnesses to us of God's presence, authority and grace, seeing they are given and appointed to represent Him and lead us to Him?
II. We must have regard to the SINCERE DEVOUT PURPOSE OF HEART EXPRESSED: "To hear all things that are commanded thee of God." Here are three things to be noted: the preacher; his message and its source; the receptive state of mind and heart among the hearers.
1. The preacher was Peter the apostle, who, when Cornelius would have worshipped him, on entering his house, said, "Stand up, I myself also am a man" (ver. 26). It has been well and wisely observed, not the angel but the man must preach the gospel to Cornelius. Even salvation itself came to us through the man Christ Jesus, God laying hold of us through the medium of our own nature. Peter had all the experiences of an ignorant, weak, failing, sinful man, and of a man forgiven, converted, transformed, consecrate, Divinely taught and led. Such experiences, with their vital, soul thrilling power, could never proceed from the tongues of angels.
2. Next Peter's message and its source: "All things that are commanded thee of God." Cornelius had no idea of any self-made or man-made gospel. We now come —
3. To the state of mind and heart in the hearers: "To hear all things that are," etc., that are commanded us also, through thee as the Divine organ and representative. The mind of Cornelius was not passive, but as the whole chapter shows, was in intense action and engagement; and he knew and felt by the present living testimony of God's Spirit and truth in his own spirit, that the things which Peter spake came from God and were commanded of God. It is God Himself who calls us to the obedience of His gospel. It is not man's gospel, but His, commanding us in His name, on His authority. Let man stand aside, that God may be heard and obeyed.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,