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Christianity as true, while they discern nothing of its beauty, and taste nothing of its excellence. If this knowledge were unattainable, then men would have some excuse, seeing that they would labour in vain, and spend their strength for nought. But God has promised success to persevering diligence; "Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord." Let us not then give way to pride or indolence: but let us search the scriptures with an humble, teachable spirit, and beg of God to enlighten the eyes of our understanding: so shall we be "guided into all truth," and be made "wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus."]
2. Whence it is that they, who have attained some knowledge of Christ, are not made more holy, and more happy by it
[To maintain a steady uniform course is no easy matter. To follow on, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth unto that which is before, requires more humility and zeal than the greater part even of real Christians possess. Hence their attainments in joy and holiness are small, in comparison of what they might possess. Instead of minding uniformly the one thing needful, they suffer themselves to be distracted with worldly cares and pleasures. Instead of resisting their adversary, they yield to him; and give way to desponding thoughts, when they should renew their exertions with more abundant diligence. If they followed on as they ought, their success would not only be certain and gradual, but would be accompanied with a proportionable increase of joy and holiness. Let us not then turn aside to earthly vanities, or waste our time in fruitless lamentations and complaints; but let us "be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises;" that so our " path may be as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day."]
DXXXII. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LEADING
Acts x. 43. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
FOR the space of two thousand years the knowledge of the true God was confined to one nation. But from the beginning it was God's intention in due time to reveal himself to the Gentiles also, and to incorporate them with the Jewish church. This was frequently de
clared by the prophets," and insisted on by our Lord:b yet such was the force of prejudice, that the Apostles themselves, notwithstanding the instructions they had received from their divine Master, and the express commission given them to preach the gospel to every creature, could not conceive that the partition wall was to be broken down,, For six years after the day of Pentecost they continued to preach to Jews only; and when they heard that Peter had gone to speak to a Gentile they were filled with indignation, and called him to an account for what they deemed a most unwarrantable proceeding.d
It had been foretold to Peter, that he should have the keys of the kingdom of heaven, or of the gospel dispensation. He had already opened the door to the Jews on the day of Pentecost:' and now he was sent of God to open it to the Gentiles. The manner in which his doubts were removed will be noticed in another place: at present we observe, that his high commission was executed in the ever memorable words which we have just read: in elucidating which, we shall consider I. The doctrines contained in them
The Apostle's address to his Gentile audience was concise; but it was clear, and energetic. The two leading points in which all men need to be informed were laid down with precision, namely, that salvation is
1. Through Christ as the author
[To see the force and propriety of the Apostle's words, we must consider the occasion of them, and the character of the person to whom they were addressed.
The person who had sent for him was "Cornelius, a centurian of the Italian band." He was a Gentile, but had renounced idolatry, and was a worshipper of the true God. He was singularly pious and "devout:" he was extremely liberal even to that very "people" who held him in abhorrence: and he was careful to bring up his family also in the fear of God. This man, on a day that he had set apart for solemn fasting and prayer," was visited by an angel, who directed him to send for Peter to shew him the way of salvation.i
See Rom. ix. 25-27. and x. 18-20.
b Matt. viii. 11, 12. and John x. 16.
< Matt. xxviii. 19. and Mark xvi. 16.
e Acts xi. 2, 3.
f Acts ii. 14, 38, 41.
d Matt. xvi. 19. 5 Acts x. 1, 2. Ib. ver. 30. It is not improbable that he was engaged in prayer with his family at the very time God sent the angel to aim. Compare Tx in ver. 2. and ver. 30. i Ib. ver. 32.
Now it was to this man that Peter spake, when he said, that remission of sins was to be obtained " through the name of Christ." We must therefore understand him as saying, that, however Cornelius might be a worshipper of Jehovah, and not of idols; however sincerely he might fear God, however eminent he might be in respect of abstinence and devotion, of liberality and attention to the spiritual welfare of his family, salvation was not to be obtained by any of these things under the gospel dispensation, but was to be sought through the name and merits of Jesus Christ. Christ was sent to make atonement for our sins, and to reconcile us unto God; and through him only, through him exclusively, we must find acceptance with God.]
2. By faith as the means
[Here again our best illustration of the subject will be from the context, Had Peter simply told Cornelius that he must seek remission of sins through the name of Christ, Cornelius might have thought, that he was to recommend himself to Christ by the very means which he had hitherto used to recommend himself to God, namely, by prayer, almsdeeds, &c. St. Peter prevents the possibility of such a mistake, by telling him, that "whosoever believeth in Christ shall receive the remission of sins;" not, whosoever obeyeth him, but whosoever believeth in him. This shewed Cornelius that he must come to Christ as a sinner, to obtain the remission of his sins freely through his blood and righteousness: that he must not bring his own good deeds with him to purchase this blessing, but must receive it " without money and without price."k
We do not mean to say, that Cornelius could be saved if he lived in wilful disobedience to God; but, that he was neither to be accepted of the Father for the merit of his obedience, nor to obtain an interest in Christ on account of his obedience: the meritorious cause of his salvation must be the death of Christ, and the instrumental cause, or means, of his salvation must be a reliance on Christ. His obedience must follow the remission of sins as a fruit and effect; but it must not precede the remission of sins in any wise as a cause.]
In the text we may yet further notice II. The importance of those doctrines
We can scarcely conceive any thing more strongly marked than this.
1. All the prophets bear witness to them
[All the prophets are not equally full and explicit upon this subject; but we have the assurance of God himself that
k Isai. lv. 1.,
they were unanimous in their opinions upon it, and that they all bear testimony to these blessed truths. Consult Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah, Joel, and ask them how we are to obtain remission of sins? they will all say, CHRIST must be your righteousness: it is HE alone that can make an end of sin: call therefore upon HIM;" look unto HIM; glory in HIM: there is no Saviour besides HIM."
What greater proof can we have of the importance of these doctrines, than that which arises from this harmony and concurrence of so many prophets, who lived at periods so distant from Christ, and from each other?]
2. God wrought many miracles, in order to draw men's attention to them
[In the first place he sent an angel to Cornelius, to inform him where he might find a minister capable of instructing him in these points. Then he vouchsafed a vision to Peter, in order to remove his scruples about going to him; and, to render it the more effectual, he renewed that vision thrice." Then when the messengers were come from Cornelius, and Peter was yet doubting what his vision should mean, the Holy Ghost himself spake to him, and bade him go, doubting nothing.
Can we suppose that all this had respect to a matter of indifference, or of trifling import? or indeed that any thing but that which was essentially necessary to the salvation of every man was the ground of such singular and repeated interpositions?]
3. The Holy Ghost himself set his seal to the truth of them
[While Peter was delivering the very words of the text, the Holy Ghost fell on the whole company, both Jews, and Gentiles, as he had done on the Apostles six years before. By this he set his seal to the truth of what was delivered. And it is an indisputable fact, that no other doctrine is ever made effectual to the conversion of men; and that wherever these doctrines are preached with fidelity, there sinners are converted from the error of their ways: the Holy Ghost bears testimony to the word delivered; and, though he imparts not to any his miraculous powers, he does enlighten the minds of men, and sanctify their hearts.
What shall we say then? that the doctrines, thus attested, were of small importance, and, that it is of little consequence whether we receive or reject them?]
Jer. xxiii. 6.
m Dan. ix 24.
• Isai. xiv. 22-25. and xliii. 11.
g Ib. ver. 12.
P Acts xi. 5-10,
n Joel ii. 32. with
r Ver. 44. & ch. xi. 15.
4. No man, under the gospel dispensation, can be saved, unless he cordially receive them
[What might have been the eternal state of Cornelius, if he had been out of the reach of the gospel, it is needless for us to enquire. He lived in an age when the gospel was preached, and might, notwithstanding the prejudices of the apostles, have been admitted to a participation of all its blessings, by submitting to circumcision first, and afterwards to baptism, provided he had really believed in Christ. There is reason therefore to fear that, notwithstanding his eminent attainments in natural religion, he could not have been saved without faith in Christ; because the angel that bade him send for Peter, informed him, that Peter should "tell him words whereby he and all his house should be saved." And when the apostles heard of his conversion to Christ, they exclaimed, "Then hath God to the Gentiles also granted repentance, unto life." If then so devout, so abstemious, so charitable, so zealous a worshipper of the true God, needed to believe in Christ in order to obtain the remission of his sins, how much more must we, who possess not half his virtues! Even the apostle Paul, who was, " as touching the righteousness of the law, blameless," 99.66 counted it all but loss for Christ:"x moreover, he renounced his evangelical, no less than his legal, righteousness, that he might be accepted through Christ alone. We therefore may be well assured, that we must do the same: for in his conduct with respect to this, he has given us an example which all must follow, if they would obtain salvation.
How strongly does this thought illustrate and confirm the importance of the doctrines contained in the text!]
5. Every person who truly receives them, shall certainly be saved
[Here the text is plain and express. The word "whosoever" is of unlimited import: there is no exception: whether a man be a Jew or a heathen; whether he have been more or less wicked; whether he have a longer or a shorter time to live; whether he have a deeper insight into the mysteries of the gospel, or be but just initiated into its fundamental truths; he shall assuredly receive though Christ the remission of his sins, the very instant he is enabled to believe in Christ. Whoever he be that desires to obtain salvation, there is but one direction to be given to him, and that is the direction given by Peter to Cornelius, and by Paul to the affrighted
Acts xi. 14.
u Ib. ver. 18.
y lb. ver. 8, 9.