Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,Almsgiving
Sermons on almsgiving aim at setting forth the rationale of giving to God; and they are not so frequent as they ought to be, considering the prominence given to the subject in Holy Scripture; because (a) they are unpopular. People who never forget themselves are apt to do so when asked for money. (b) There is a dread lest by preaching upon almsgiving the preacher should not appear to be preaching the Gospel; lest He should seem to attribute efficacy to something else besides the blood of Jesus.
I. Let us Appeal to Holy Scripture.—Our Lord taught this duty indirectly by parables, e.g. Dives and Lazarus; the steward; directly, 'Give alms of such things as ye have' (St. Luke 11:41). 'Sell that ye have and give alms' (St. Luke 11:33). In the Sermon on the Mount He alludes to it as an acknowledged duty. St. Paul says: 'Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him' (1 Corinthians 16:2). 'He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly, and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. God loveth a cheerful giver' (2 Corinthians 9:6-7; Ephesians 4:28). 'Charge them that are rich in this world that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute' (1 Timothy 6:17-18; Hebrews 6:10; Hebrews 13:16). Also, in solemn pictures of the Last Judgment, the virtue of showing mercy, sympathy, unselfishness, that is, in its broadest sense, almsgiving, is extolled by our Lord, and contrasted with its opposite, the vice of selfishness. From these passages we gather three things:—
(a) Our Lord does not command us to give alms, He assumes it as a duty: to assume is stronger than to command, for to command presupposes an indisposition to do what is commanded. 'When ye do your alms'; 'When ye pray'; 'When ye fast'. He assumes these duties and puts forward the pure motive for doing them.
(b) Almsgiving and prayer are mentioned side by side. 'When ye do your alms' and 'When ye pray'; 'Thy prayers and thine alms': not the one without the other, but the one as the correlative of the other, the alms as one wing of the prayers.
(c) A certain spiritual force is attributed to almsgiving—'Break off thine iniquities by showing mercy' (Daniel 4:27). 'Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven' (St. Matthew 6:20). 'Give alms of such things as ye have, and behold all things are clean unto you' (St. Luke 11:41). 'Provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens which faileth not' (St. Luke 12:33). 'God loveth a cheerful giver' (2 Corinthians 9:7).
II. How shall I Give?—Moved by strong appeals or by personal interest, we give; but why, as a rule, is it necessary to resort to bazaars, entertainments, charity dinners, and sermons to raise money for Christian objects? Because too many require to be amused, attracted, aroused, provided with something in return for their money, before they will give.
(a) We must give on principle and not on impulse. We must give systemically.
(b) What rule then shall we adopt in our almsgiving? We ought to give a fixed proportion of our income every year. This proportion will vary according to a man's means; to his own Master each of us must stand or fall.
(c) How shall I distribute my alms? First of all, poor relations: then sick and poor in your own parish; then the parochial funds, the Church fund; then the missions of the Church at home and abroad. Then the support of those institutions of the land which care for those who are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other infirmity.
There are two ways by which we can best carry out the duty of almsgiving: through the offertory, in secret, so that our left hand knows not what our right is doing; and by subscriptions, that we may exert the power of example, and stimulate those who are not giving as they should, and induce them to do so when they see our good works.
References.—X. 6.—J. Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 60. S. King, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. p. 262. X. 7.—E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts in Past Years, p. 295. X. 10.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 376.
The Vision of the Great Sheet
In this great sheet we see the winding-sheet of all that is transient, and ceremonial, and narrow. That meeting between Peter and Cornelius at Cæsarea was more than a casual meeting between two individuals; it was the union of the Jewish and Gentile races in that new Centre of humanity—Jesus Christ. Let us study together the Lessons of the Great Sheet.
I. The Divine Origin of Christianity.—We read that 'Peter saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him as it had been a great sheet, knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth'. The Gospel has not sprung up from the ground, it has come down to us from the skies. And it bears innumerable evidences of its Divine descent From this Gospel, as from a fountain of eternity, has flowed a living influence, carrying health, and freshness, and beauty, and blessedness wherever it has gone. But mark this: it is the Christianity of Christ that is going to renovate the world, and not the Christianity of Christendom. Alas! the Christianity of Christendom has not always been the Christianity of Christ, but its counterfeit. Let us go right back to the Fountain-head, for the world never longed so much for Christ, 'the flower of man and God,' as it does today.
II. The Divine Origin of the Human Race.—The sheet, with its miscellaneous contents, came down from above, and this suggests to us the Divine origin of all men. The Gospel that gave the world a new conception of God has also given it a nobler conception of man. In its respect for man, as man, the Gospel stands alone among the great religious systems of the world.
III. The Universality of the Gospel.—The 'sheet' was a great one, fastened at the four corners; or, as Dean Alford has it, 'held by four rope-ends'. All other religions are little sheets, because territorial; but the Gospel is a great sheet, because universal. It will have the whole Pantheon to itself, so that it is at one and the same time the most universal, and yet the most exclusive, of all religions. Truth is truth in all the worlds of God, and it must be disseminated at all cost. True religion, like true art, knows no frontiers.
IV. Man is the Heaven-sent Ambassador to Man.—In this story, we have Cornelius sending to Joppa for Peter. And God expects every saved soul to be a soul-saviour. We must be finders of men. The incoming blessing must be followed by the outgoing energy. It is an undeniable truth that a Church grows downward in firmness and upward in holiness, in proportion as it grows outward in Divine compassion. Kepler once said that he was thinking over again the thoughts of God; and we must feel over again the feelings of Christ.
—J. Ossian Davies, Old, Yet Ever New, p. 159.
References.—X. 14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1823. X. 22.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 223. X. 28.—F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 148. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 147. X. 29.—E. G. Gange, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 153. X. 30.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 350; ibid. (5th Series), vol. i. p. 15. X. 33.—J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. ii. p. 208. X. 34.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 50. X. 34, 35.—F. B. Woodward, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 37. X. 34-43.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 122. X. 35.—R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 353. X. 36.—B. J. Snell, The Widening Vision, p. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 952. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 190.
The Good Physician
There are many beautiful titles which at various times have been ascribed to Jesus Christ, but there is none perhaps more beautiful and more appropriate than that of The Good Physician'. This title is not, indeed, directly bestowed on our Lord by any New Testament writer; yet it is inevitably suggested, not only by several isolated passages—as, for example, the saying, 'They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance'—but also by the general tenor of the Gospel narrative. Our Lord is there consistently depicted as the Physician of mankind. His life was an epic of healing. Wherever He went He radiated health. The sick bodies were made sound, the feeble souls grew strong, the doors of God were opened to the spirits about to perish. Such was the historic manner of the epiphany of Christ, of His manifestation to His own contemporaries. 'He went about,' records the first Evangelist, 'preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing.' 'Who went about doing good and healing,' says St. Peter.
I. Now when the Gospel of the Good Physician went out into the Roman world, that world in a curious way had been made ready to receive it. For in the age of the Cæsars the people, it would seem, were much taken up with the question of healing. They had somehow become distractingly aware of sickness. They felt that they were ill; ill in body, ill in soul; mortally ill. And they longed to be made well. So they turned in their need to religion, and (as Harnack has pointed out) there took place about this time a great revival of the cult of Æsculapius, the pagan god of healing. Men made pilgrimages to his temples as they travel to sanatoria and watering-places today. They brought gifts to the god and dedicated their lives to him. In their physical and spiritual infirmities they prayed to him as one who was 'most loving toward men,' as 'God the Saviour'. Do you remember a passage in the Epistle to Titus which speaks of 'the kindness of God our Saviour and His love toward men'? The phraseology is interesting, since the title 'God the Saviour' was the familiar name for the healer Æsculapius, while the adjective of the noun translated 'love toward men' was the peculiar, standing epithet of that heathen deity. Into this sick Roman world, then, with its terrible sense of disorder and its feverish quest for health, Christianity made its way. It adapted itself deliberately to the necessities of the time. Deliberately it presented itself as the religion of recovery, as the means, the sole genuine means, of sanity and salvation. It offered the sick world health. The Church was declared the hospital of invalid humanity; its doctrines and observances were the salutary remedies: its sacred books- -how full they are of medicinal expressions!—held the prescriptions for all cures. And in the wards of the great infirmary, attending on the patients, the faith of the early Christians saw a Good Physician—no quack doctor like Æsculapius, but a true Physician—imparting new life, new joy, new hope, to body and mind alike new energy and power. 'There is hut one Physician,' St. Ignatius cries, 'Jesus Christ our Lord.' 'The Word of the Father,' says Clement of Alexandria, 'is the only Physician for human infirmities and the Holy Charmer for the sick soul.'
II. So much for the past. Let us look now to the present. Let us see, if we can, in what manner Jesus Christ is already, or may become, the Good Physician of the suffering men and women of our day. Now, into the subject of physical healing I cannot here enter in detail. Yet a very few words in passing I desire to say. Our Lord, I ask you to notice, was in the habit of healing not only the souls but also the bodies of men. The Apostles, again, in the Spirit of the Lord, healed not only the souls but also the bodies of men. And both our Lord and His Apostles very evidently anticipated that physical healing would be one of the results of the working of Christ's Spirit in the Christian Church. Nor even now, among the children of that Church, has the belief in Christ's action on men's bodies quite died out; in our own Communion, at least, on every occasion that the Eucharist is administered the formula is said, 'The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ that was given for thee, preserve thy body'—thy body—'and soul unto everlasting life'. Ana after all, is not this doctrine that the Good Physician cures even physical diseases intrinsically reasonable? It is right without doubt to pay homage to the science and skill of our doctors; but it is simple folly not to reckon with the truth that there is in recovery a spiritual as well as a material factor, and that no one so effectively as Jesus Christ can get in motion this curative force. Yes, even today Christ does in a real sense heal the bodies of men; nor, I think, do we receive the full Gospel of the Good Physician so long as that comforting fact be not acknowledged.
III. But the healing of the body, after all, is secondary. Our chief and most pressing interest is the restoration of the soul. This is our foremost business. This is our great concern. Here is the sphere in which the whole process of healing must of necessity begin. Now it seems to me that the men of the twentieth century, no less than the men of the Roman imperial era, are keenly alive to the fact that their soul is in need of healing. 'Humanity up to this day,' writes Maeterlinck, 'has been like an invalid tossing and turning on his couch in search of repose'. We are conscious in our nature of a radical disorder. Our music is out of tune. Our flowers have lost colour and fragrance. Our sunshine is flecked with shadow. Maxim Gorky, speaking of the histories of his Russian outcasts, writes: 'Each story was unfolded before us like a piece of lace in which black threads predominated'. And the description might, perhaps, not unfairly be applied to all the story of the modern spirit. The black predominates. Through the sweetest melody of modern poetry, through the grandest achievements of modern art, through the deepest utterances of modern science and philosophy, through the manifold different expressions of the spirit of the age, there run those threads—those gloomy strands of ruin and of wrong. Can we really deny, then, that the soul of us is sick? Surely the old lament of such a one as St Bruno has not lost its force. 'It is not merely the weaker part of my nature which fails me,' he cries. 'It is the very strongest. My understanding, will, and firmness, my spiritual might, all that is or may be virtue, is by my sin enfeebled.' But for us, as for the men of old, the Good Physician waits. For us, as for them, is the healing power of God put forth in Jesus Christ. Let us never forget that God wills us to be well. His purpose for us is perfection and life; His work is salvation. 'This,' says Clement of Alexandria, 'is the greatest and most royal work of God, the saving of mankind.'
—F. Homes Dudden, The Guardian, 14th January, 1910.
References.—X. 38.—E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 252. Bishop Perowne, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 56. Bishop Alexander, Verbum Crucis, p.. 129. Newman Smyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol xlv. p. 387. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 655, and vol. xvi. No. 929. W. Sinclair, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 187. H. C. Wallace, ibid. vol. lxxiii. p. 172. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 250; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 57. X. 40, 41.—W. J. Hills, Sermons and Addresses, p. 36. X. 41.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 504. X. 42.—J. M. Whiton, Beyond the Shadow, p. 141. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1476. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 404. X. 42, 43.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1540. X. 43.—Bishop Alexander, Verbum Crucis, p. 129. Bishop Browne, Messiah as Foretold and Expected, p. 1. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 422. X. 44.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 201. X. 44, 45.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 103. X. 48.—Ibid, (6th Series), vol. v. p. 43. XI. 2.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 295. XI. 15.—F. B. Meyer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 363. XI. 16.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 14. XI. 17.—F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 160. XI. 18.—H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 235. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 44. XI. 19-26.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 246. XI. 20.—Ibid. vol. iv. p. 60. XI. 20-26.—Ibid. vol. vii. p. 457. XI. 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1282. XI. 22, 23.—J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 234.
A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;
And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate,
And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.
While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.
Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?
And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.
Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.
And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.
And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?
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,
And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.
Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)
That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;
How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:
Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;
Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.