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of his sufferings and death, and of the great salvation thereby procured; how he had magnified the law and made it honourable, both by obedience and by suffering; how he had vindicated the perfections of his Heavenly Father, showing him to be a just God and a Saviour, just and the justifier of him that believeth ; so that God's wrath and displeasure are, in regard to the returning sinner, turned into love and favour. In short, Cornelius heard the message of reconciliation between God and
That God might be reconciled to the sinner, these things must be done and suffered by Christ. That the sinner may be reconciled to God, these things must be known by the sinner. He must know these things that he may have wortby views of God, of his holiness, righteousness and truth; so that, in pardoning, he is not acting unrighteously, but consistently with all his perfections. The sinner must know these things, that he may have confidence towards God, believe in his gracious intentions towards himself; believe that, having given his Son, he is ready to give the Spirit, and all things necessary to his salvation. The sinner must know these things that he may love God, who has first loved himn. In a word, this knowledge is necessary as the foundation of faith, from which all other graces spring. Peter shows that faith is the condition of salvation :-“ Througlı his name, whosoever believeth in him shall have remission of sins.” He must with the understanding heart, acquiesce in this method of salvation; and, in order to this, he must be made acquainted with it: that he may be brought into a state of peace with God, he must "know the things that belong unto his peace.”
As Cornelius listened, the Spirit accompanied the word with power. His mind was enlightened, his understanding was convinced, his heart was broken and melted, his will was subdued and submitted to the “Lord of all.” Christ was recognised as a personal Saviour. Cornelius believed and was saved; he bad found the pearl of great price, and was willing to part with all to obtain it; a free, full, sure salvation was revealed to him, and he embraced it, renouncing every other confidence. His prayers, his alms, his good deeds were all renounced as Saviours; through Christ's name, by believing in him, he sought for salvation, and found it. His faith was proved to be real by its fruits. He was saved by faith alone ; but not a faith which is alone; a faith which was the germ of a new life, made him a new creature.
“While Peter yet spake, the Spirit fell on all them who heard the word: and they of the Circumcision which believed were astonished, 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.” It would seem that, as on the eve of the Creation, the Spirit of God brooded over the dark waters, expecting the word, directing him to put forth his energy in creating a new world, the same Spirit had been brooding over this company of worshippers, expecting the justifying, peace. speaking words through which he conveys his grace; and while they were being spoken, entered with the word and effected a new Creation. We may hope that the same Spirit has been brooding over this assembly while the Gospel has been preached. He may, at this moment, be dealing personally with some sinner here present, carrying home the word with power; yea, entering with the word. Resist not the Spirit, grieve not the Spirit, quench not the Spirit !
III. The words are sanctifying, love-begetting words. Sanctification is the end of all preaching, and must have been the end of Peter's preaching on this occasion. He shows that the great distinction between one man and another is not the soundness of the man's creed, but the purity and holiness of his heart and life. “He that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of him." If a man have an unsanctified heart, the sounder his creed the more odious is he in the sight of God. None are accepted but those who fear God and work righteousness.
But do not the words imply that Cornelius feared God, and wrought righteousness already, before hearing Peter's discourse ? Yes, up to a certain point; but he requires to aim at a higher standard, and act froin purer motives. Cornelius feared God, but his fear was not true filial fear. His ignorance of God must have given a somewhat slavish character to his fear, and that must have affected the character of his obedience. He gave alms; but we can scarcely believe that he did so from the highest motives. Self-righteousness was the very essence both of heathenism and of Judaism at the time, and it is an instinct of human nature, at all times, till it is better taught; and it is most likely that Cornelius thought his alms would have some share in procuring his salvation. In that case he did not give alms, be sold them for heavenly blessings. Besides, though Cornelius gave alms, he had not given himself to God; and no less sacrifice was required of him. He must deny self, renounce his carnal delights, crucify the flesh, put off the entire old man, and put on the new. Cornelius had no idea, previously, that such a sacrifice was required of him, and no one of his teachers was qualified to point out the duty to him. Hence it was necessary that he should hear Peter's words, and to this end partly they were spoken.
Peter shows Cornelius that Christ is Lord of all. Hitherto Cornelius had been a good soldier of the Roman army, yielding implicit obedience to his superior officers, and faultless loyalty to the emperor.
But Peter tells him of a greater King than Cæsar, who has higher claims on his devotion than any earthly master, whom he must love and serve first of all, and in preference to all, rendering to him a complete, universal, heart-obedience through his own imparted grace. As Peter pointed out this glorious Being to Cornelius, the Spirit, accompanying the word, awakened a new feeling in his heart, loyalty to the King of kings, and prepared Cornelius for renouncing every other lord, and choosing Christ as his Lord; whose will henceforth must be his rule, whose glory must be his aim.
This Lord of all Peter further shows to be Judge of all; who will one day judge the world in righteousness, when he will confound his enemies and bestow the reward of grace on all his faithful followers. He is, therefore, One whose favour we must daily seek, with a view to the sentence, “ Well done good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” By pointing Christ out as Judge, Peter shows Cornelius, and he reminds us, that though justified by faith we shall be judged by works, and the greater our diligence and faithfulness now, the richer will be our rewards hereafter.
But it is not to the hope of rewards only or chiefly that Peter appeals. The great motive to obedience is the fact that this Lord of all and Judge of all, is the same Lord “whom they slew and hanged on a tree;" that this Lord and Judge subnitted to the death of the cross, that he might save his people from their sins, and bring them to “fear God and work righteousness." All this Cornelius heard, and felt too, for the first time, and we, who have been familiar with this history from our childhood, can scarcely conceive the intense emotion that must have filled the breast of this newly-enlightened man. With what wonder and interest he contemplates the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh; with what ecstatic joy he reflects that he is a ransomed sinner ; that, God helping him, his soul is safe for eternity. With what love and gratitude he begins to a comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of that love which passeth knowledge." "To him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood and hath made us kings and priests to God, to him be glory,” &c. Cornelius gave vent to bis feelings in a song of praise. He sang a new song—the utterance of a new heart, such as none but the Spirit of God could dictate. But the overpowering sentiment of his soul still was what shall I render to the Lord for all his mercies. He had nothing to render but himself; and that he did render, as a living sacrifice, and his after life was destined to be one continued song of praise to the God of bis salvation.
The chief lesson we learn from this subject is, that the Word of God, and not the sacraments, is the great means of conversion, and that it is is so because the Holy Spirit employs it as the instrument through which he conveys his grace to the soul. One word in conclusion to each of three classes --the reckless or desperate, the inquiring and the believer. To the first, I say Fear and hope ; to the second, Believe; to the third, Love.
1. To the reckless I say Fear. You have already heard the word of salvation and yet are not saved. Perhaps you have sat long under the preaching of the Gospel, and yet remain utterly unimpressed. In that case you have good reason to fear, lest the Gospel message should prove a word of salvation to others and not to you. The word has lost none of its power; to many it is daily becoming the instrument of salvation, but many of you are fast losing your susceptibility. Every appeal that you disregard, every salutary impression that you shake off, every good resolution that you break through, leaves you less likely to be savingly impressed another time: and, therefore, you may well “fear lest a promise being left you of entering into rest you should by any means come short of it.”
Fear, therefore, but do not despair. I would have you also to hope. After all that has been said perhaps some one may say, "I hope already, by the very constitu. tion of my nature, and hence it is that I trust all will be well with me yet, notwithstanding all you say to frighten me.” But this is not the hope that you ought to cherish, which leads to presumption. The hope you are to cherish is united to fear. “The Lord hath pleasure in those that fear him, that hope in his mercy." Your natural hope is not a “lively hope,” for you do not act on it. In spite of this hope, you really act as a desperate man. Suppose a man in business allows his affairs to get into disorder, and at last is afraid even to look into his books. This man still says, all will yet be well; I shall yet extricate myself from my difficul. ties. He still hopes, but it is hoping against hope ; practically he is a desperate man: else he would acquaint himself with the true state of his affairs. But suppose a friend writes him a letter, saying that he will let him have any amount of money, on condition of his balancing his books, and making out a statement of his affairs. The man would then begin to hope in a different way: he would then see his way out of his difficulties, and would not only take comfort from the prospect, he would act on it; comply with the conditions, and obtain the reward. The Gospel is such a letter addressed to you, sinner, not by name but by description; and in it the Saviour offers you a discharge in full, on condition of your coming to a reckoning with God. Here is his gracious proposal :-“Come, now, let us reckon together, though your sins have been as scarlet they shall be as snow; though red like crimson they shall be as wool.” Let your hope rest on such a declaration; trust implicity on him who makes it, and you will find yourself pardoned, justified, saved.
2. To the inquiring I say Believe. The words which we have been considering are words of salvation ; but only when they are believed and acted on. Cornelius met Peter as an inquirer ; but, immediately on receiving the information he sought, he acted on it; he heard the words and embraced the truth. So it ought to be in every case. An inquiring state ought never to be a permanent state. When a question has been answered the time for words is past; the time for action has
Yet many seem content to continue in an inquiring state during their whole lives. The question they ask is the right one—“What must I do to be saved ?” They have already got an answer to their question ; but, instead of acting on the information they have received, they go to have their question answered again by other lips, under other circumstances; and they hope that the eloquence of the preacher will produce such an impression on them as shall over. come their sloth and self-indulgence, and so convert them to God. This is a mistaken expectation: Human eloquence may do much; but it cannot change the heart of stone into the heart of flesh. This is the work of the Spirit of God alone ; and the instrument he employs is the truth as it is in Jesus—the truth which you know intellectually already. By all means continue to hear and read, as you have opportunity. Faith cometh by hearing, and you need more light; but you can hardly expect a blessing on your hearing till you make a better use of the light you have. Seek more grace, and use the grace already given to you. If you have now clear views of the way of salvation, enter ye in at the strait gate ;'if you assent to the truth, yield to it, and through it you will be saved.
3. To believers I say Love. All believers love; this is the evidence that they are believers. But none love as they ought; none love as they have been loved. “The love of many waxeth cold.” How is it to be increased, how is the expiring flame of love to be rekindled ? By that which kindled it at first. The truth that saves, is the truth that sanctifies. The words to which we bave been attending, are designed not only to convert sinners, but to stir up believers, and therefore, we ought to make them our meditation, that we may find fuel for our love. And we must show our love by obedience, by keeping Christ's commandments; especially by doing the offices of love to our fellow-men: seeking to benefit them for time and for eternity. If we have received the truth, we must not keep it to ourselves, but make it known to the multitudes who are perishing for lack of knowledge. • Try to commend and spread the Gospel, by your testimony, by your contributions, but espescially by your example and influence. Be "living epistles;" be the "salt of the earth;" be “the lights of the world,” and “cause your light so to shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, may gloryify your Father in heaven.”
THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN.
DELIVERED ON SABBATH MORNING, FEBRUARY 7, 1858, BY THE
“But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." Luke xv. 20.
All persons engaged in education will tell you that they find it far more difficult to make the mind unlearn its errors than to make it receive truth. If we could suppose a man totally ignorant of anything, we should have a fairer chance of instructing him quickly and effectually than we should have had if his mind had been previously stored with falsehood. I have no doubt you, each of you, find it harder to unlearn than to learn. To get rid of old prejudices and preconceived notions is a very hard struggle indeed. It has been well said, that those few words, “I am mistaken," are the hardest in all the English language to pronounce, and certainly it takes very much force to compel us to pronounce them: and after having done so, it is even then difficult to wipe away the slime which an old serpentine error has left upon the heart. Better for us not to have known at all than to have known the wrong thing. Now, I am sure that this truth is never more true than when it applies to God. If I had been let alone to form my notion of God, entirely from Holy Scripture, I feel, that with the assistance of his Holy Spirit it would have been far more easy for me to understand what he is, and how he governs the world, than to learn even the truths of his own Word, after the mind had become perverted by the opinions of others. Why, brethren, who is it that gives a fair representation of God? The Arminian slanders God by accusing him (not in his own intention, but really so) of unfaithfulness; for he teaches that Goa may promise what he never performs; that he may give eternal life, and promise that those who have it shall never perish, and yet they may perish after all. He speaks of God as if he was a mutable being, for he talks of his loving men one day, and hating them the next; of bis writing their names in the Book of Life one hour, and then erasing their names in the next. And the influence of such an error as that, is very baneful. Many children of God, who have imbibed these errors in early youth, have had to drag along their poor wearied and broken frames for many a day, whereas they might have walked joyfully to heaven if they had known the truth from the beginning. On the other hand, those who hear the Calvinistic preacher, are very apt to misinterpret God. Although we trust we would never speak of God in any other sense than that in which we find him represented in sacred Scripture, yet are we well aware that many of our hearers, even through our assertions, when most guarded, are apt to get rather a caricature of God, than a true picture of him. They imagine that God is a severe being, angry and fierce, very easily to be moved to wrath, but not so easily to be induced to love; they are apt to think of him as one who sits in supreme and lofty state, either totally indifferent to the wishes of his creatures, or else determined to have his own way with them, as an arbitrary Sovereign, never listening to their desires, or compassionating their woes. Oh that we could unlearn all these fallacies, and believe God to be what lie is! Oh that we could come to Scripture, and there look into