And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold…
I. THE AUDIENCE.
1. Before the preacher began this "innovation" takes place — the audience spoke up to the preacher, the pew to the pulpit. It was a splendid audience, though not very large. How earnestly they came together! What a solidarity there was! No wandering thought or eye, but all was focused; calm and purposeful both in body and soul; so that ere the preacher began, one man could speak for all, "Now therefore are we all here present before God." May this audience bring its contribution to the preacher, while it expects the preacher to bring his! The contribution he has a right to expect is, that the people should come united, full of expectation, led into the temple like Simeon by the Spirit of God, at the very moment when Jesus came. No chance, no haphazard in this gathering. We have not come here to spend an idle hour. When asked, "Where have you been this morning?" — it is wrong to answer "Oh, I dropped in to Regent Square." You did not drop in nor drop out. The Lord's providences for the whole of the week have been hedging up your way, and securing that you should be here. Fall in with God's arrangement.
2. I like to dwell on the word all. The people were invited, and they came. This morning the very hour invites us. I know there are many excuses. You can tell me about young children, sickness, waiting on the sick, fogs, east winds, long distances, wet days, etc. In many families, at ten o'clock on the Sabbath morning, attendance at church is still an open question. It is no open question on the Monday morning, "John, will you go to work today?" "Oh," said a farmer in Scotland, when a minister rebuked him for not attending church, and said, "You know, John, you are never absent from the market." "Oh," was the reply, "we maun gang to the market." Unconsciously it came out. To come to the house of God was not so urgent. But when we look at this audience we see the benefit of setting ourselves the task of coming with a purpose to God's house. It will need planning and self-denial. Some of you are here today only because you have trampled upon a hundred obstacles. And some are not here because they have given way to things which will not be allowed to stand in the way of tomorrow's engagements.
3. And then when we all come —
(1) The Lord marks how we have pressed forward to meet Him. I think there is no sweeter sight to His holy eyes than to see the people wending their way to His house. "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."(2) And when you come in this expectant way, how it helps the reception of the sermon! How we have all suffered from coming to the house of God in a disorderly, hurried way, both as regards body and soul! Then you look up to the preacher and expect him to work miracles on your higgledy-piggledy soul.
4. "We are all here present before God."(1) Try to realise God's presence; get past outward and temporal things, and call upon your soul to pass into the secret place of the tabernacle of the Most High. Compel your soul to grasp the thought — "Surely God is in this place"; and instead of saying, "I knew it not," let us say, "We know it, and wait for a clearer revelation of His presence." This is holy ground. Where you are sitting God has converted men ere now. Canst thou come where God has done His mightiest work, carelessly, heedlessly, and merely as a matter of custom and routine? Thou art occupying the room of men and women who today are before the eternal throne. This word is true: "We are all present before God" — and therefore let there be nothing unworthy of such a Presence and such a place.
(2) And how the thought of God's presence will help to focus our attention; to take our eyes off each other, and off the preacher! How it will help to prepare us to receive God's Word! How it will reduce to a minimum the over-critical spirit! Said a preacher to myself, "I notice when I give out my text, my people settle down and settle back; but, I am afraid, not so much to hear what I have to say as to watch how I get through."
5. "To hear all things that are commanded thee of God." They came to hear God's Word. You know that today there is a tendency to say, "Hearing has been too much magnified. What I come to God's house for is to worship. The preacher gets far too much space." There may be something in that, but it is exaggerated. What was central here, and what must always be central in a gathering of saints or sinners is the preaching of God's Word, and the attending thereto by the hearer. That is worship at its highest. All the powers of the soul get their highest use and their fullest freedom when God's Word is faithfully and lovingly proclaimed. Faith cometh by hearing.
II. THE PREACHER.
1. I have been speaking straightly to you, but now your turn comes. The pew has a right to say to the preacher, "Now, give us what God has told you. There are many things that might interestingly occupy an hour; give us, however, the thing that brought us here." And this is needful, for we get so immersed in favourite lines of reading which unconsciously colour our utterances, so that we need from the audience — "Now, preacher, God's Word and truth; all things from Him today, and nothing else. Never mind about reconciling science and revelation; we can get that in our magazines and read it at home. Give us today what really concerns us, 'All things commanded thee of God.'" Peter needed that. He was a narrow, bigoted Jew, and he would never, of himself, have preached to Cornelius and his company the sermon they needed. At the best we are but men, and of narrowness and prejudice we have our share. Therefore there is tremendous need that the preacher should be in God's hand, and come from God's presence with his soul and voice attuned to a large, full, free, and glorious utterance of the gospel of the grace of God. Leave as to ourselves, and there may be some little glimmering light in our preaching, but only a little: there may be light from every quarter, to use the phrase of the day, save the Sun! The Lord blow out all our penny candles. His light has come. We need to come forth from God, He having poured into us something of the fulness of His mind and heart.
2. "Then Peter opened his mouth." Do not run over that phrase and say, "Of course." A number of us cannot open our mouths when we preach — it is the most piteous mumbling. Sabbath school teacher, preacher, "Open your mouth, and teach the people, as your Lord did and His chief apostle." Let it be seen in the very manner of our speech that our mouth is open, for our heart is enlarged; that it comes, not feebly and faint and constricted, but glad and full and free, for the Lord is with us. Do not say, "I have no eloquence; I have a stammering tongue." Who made man's mouth? "Have not I the Lord? Open thy mouth; behold I put My words into thy mouth." What does Isaiah say? "Lift up," he says — and how much it is needed in this namby-pamby, over-refined, hypercritical age — "Lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up; be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God." "Peter opened his mouth." He lifted up his head, and let go! We put down ours, and hold on!
III. THE SERMON. It was the old gospel. It was new and fresh then. That is one thing that one does sometimes envy the first preachers for; for they had seen Him and His glory. Peter preached Christ, not theology, not a creed; but Jesus, sent for a particular purpose by God; how that, carrying out that purpose, He had died on the Cross and risen again, and that through Him is preached forgiveness of sins. That is where the gospel began then, and where it begins today — forgiveness of sins to a devout man, and one that feared God, and made prayers, and gave alms. People would have said today, "with an audience like that, what you want to do is not to take them to the Cross. Show them Christ, of course; but Christ as the great ideal and embodiment of all that is good, and a devout, God-fearing man like Cornelius will be enamoured with Him and make Him his Leader and Pattern." "No," says Peter; "We preach the Christ who died for sin to everybody." A French officer, whose ship had been taken by Nelson, was brought on board Nelson's vessel, and he walked up to the great admiral and gave him his hand. "No," said Nelson; "your sword first, if you please." That is the gospel.
IV. THE RESULT. There is a new name brought in here. I have talked of Cornelius, of Peter, of Jesus, of God the Father, but here is another name. While Peter yet spake these words about Jesus, "The Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the Word." Cornelius possibly had heard of Jesus as a name of reproach and blasphemy. Now, Jesus leapt up into his heart as his Friend and Saviour, and God. That is the miracle of the Gospel. That is what the Holy Ghost does. If you know Jesus Christ, flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto you. Peter was there, as the preacher is here; and the sermon; but the Holy Ghost gives the increase and blesses the Word, and without Him fruit cannot be.
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,