To any one in our time, with a little acquaintance with the Scriptures, it is a matter of profound astonishment that from the time of the calling of Abraham till the transaction recorded in the tenth chapter of Acts, not a living man ever understood that the promise to Abraham, or, rather, that the benefits and blessings contained in that promise were intended to be extended beyond the seed of Abraham. All during this entire period believed that "the good things to come," the blessings contained in that promise, were limited by flesh and blood; intended for one nation or People exclusively--the family of Abraham alone. But there was one divine mind that penetrated down through the ages, that had determined the matter in his eternal and immutable purpose, that did not limit these benefits to the family of Abraham, but intended them for all the families of the earth. While the minds of men, the greatest and best of men, were limiting them and confining them to the one nation or family, and never saw beyond that, the Infinite One frequently uttered expressions showing that he intended them for all nations.
The promise itself says: "In thee shall all nations be blessed." This unquestionably looked to the Gentiles, or to the nations, which means the same. Paul says: "The gospel was preached to Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed." This shows beyond a doubt that that promise contained the gospel, or that the gospel was in it. It contained precisely the same that was in "the eternal purpose." It was the promise of the Messiah, and, in him, the gospel and all heavenly blessings in Christ. It was the gospel in promise. Before this it was the gospel in purpose, but now it was embodied in a promise, or the gospel in promise. Now the astonishing part of it is that no one saw that it extended beyond the family of Abraham! How did they interpret a promise to all nations; all the families of the earth, so as to mean only one family, or one nation? One would have thought that the first thing in it that would have caught their attention would have been, "all the families of the earth." Still, not a man of them understood this!
The prophet Isaiah, seven hundred and fifty years before the Lord came, said, concerning him: "He shall be set for salvation to the ends of the earth." This was a prominent Scripture among the Jews, read in their synagogues and quoted thousands of times by their rabbis, but never understood. "Set for salvation to the ends of the earth," with them, extended no further than the seed of Abraham. Their ideas were all limited in that narrow circle, and never reached beyond it. They were God's elect, and to them the oracles of God were committed, and the whole matter was to begin and end with them. Even the clear expression of the prophet, "In him shall the Gentiles trust," was overlooked, or not at all understood.
That grand expression of the prophet Joel, that we have all quoted ever since we knew the Scriptures, was never understood by them: "It shall come to pass in the last days, says the Lord, that I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh." How did they limit the expression, "all flesh," so as to mean the seed of Abraham? This appears almost incomprehensible to us. We think we should have seen all nations in that, and that the blessings of the promise, or the gospel, were for all nations and peoples of the earth; but we should have been as they were--we should not have seen all this.
Look also at the language of the angel, when the Lord was born: "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." How did they limit the words, "to all people," so as only to mean the Jewish people, the seed of Abraham according to the flesh? Still they did this, and did it most persistently, and saw not beyond this narrow view. This was not simply the case with a few of the more unenlightened, but the masses, and those of the most enlightened classes and the best. The first followers of Jesus, and the disciples of John the Immerser, were not exceptions. They all entertained the same view. They believed the promise to Abraham, believed on Christ, and were looking for the hope of Israel, the good things to come, but supposed they were intended only for the seed of Abraham according to the flesh.
But, more wonderful still, they limited and applied the last commission in the same way. They never understood its clear language--to "teach all nations," to "go into all the world," to "preach the gospel to every creature," but limited all these, expressions to the Jews--to the family of Abraham. Not only is this true of the masses of the people--the Jewish people--or the first followers of Christ, but it is true of the apostles themselves. True, the Apostle Peter said, on Pentecost, or the Spirit said it by him, that "the promise is to you," the Jews, "and to your children," or your descendants, "and to all them that are afar off." "All them that are afar off," beyond a doubt, meant the nations, the Gentiles, the families of the earth, and we see not how they failed to understand it; but not one of the apostles understood it, and it required a miracle some eight years after to open the eyes of Peter and make him see it and exclaim that "God has shown me that I should call no man common." This grand secret, or mystery, was hid in God--"in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be follow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." This tells what the mystery, or the secret, is--that "the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel."
We have a very summary way of explaining this. We say, "They were blinded." That will do when we are talking about Jews; but how are we to explain some things in our time? Are there any things in our time hid from our eyes, or from the eyes of the teachers of religion in our day, that are as clearly revealed in Scripture as the great truth was that God intended the Gentiles to be of the same body with the Jews? And, if there are, how shall we explain it? It won't do to say of our enlightened people, in this refined and cultivated age, so advanced by the spirit of the times, that they are blinded! We may talk thus about Jews and Pagans, but not of the people of a Christian nation! To thus talk. would be an insult.
Please, then, consider a few items. There is nothing lying more directly in the path, in a practical matter, of every soul that turns to the Lord and becomes a Christian, than the answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" and there is nothing clearer in the revelation from God to man than the answer to that question. This matter is so clear that children a dozen years old; or "little children," as John the apostle styles them; or "little ones that believe on me," as the Lord describes them, not only can, but do understand it, comply with the answer, and obtain the salvation of their souls. The preachers everywhere come to this question, in their efforts to turn sinners to the Lord. Thousands of times they refer to it, and the occasions on which it came from the lips of inquiring souls. They see the question, understand its import, and have the right associations in their mind in reference to the persons seeking salvation. At no period, in the whole existence of a human being, is it of more importance to have proper instruction than when the sinner is coming to the Savior. When he inquires, "What must I do to be saved?" it is of the highest importance that he shall have an answer from the Lord.
In the word of God, where this question is found in several different forms, the answer follows in the connection so clear that one would think that a child could not miss it. There is nothing wanting only to humbly follow the clear record, and give the answer as found in the record. But notice that great revivalist when he comes to that point! Does he follow the record? Does he give the answer of the Lord? No; he has another practice, with another set of ideas--a different course of procedure from anything found in the record. You press him to tell you why he does not give the answer given by the holy teachers, whose practice and teaching are laid before us for our guide. When sinners cry out: "What shall we do?" why not answer them as the apostles did? Who can tell why? No living man. The answer is there as clear as the question! Why do not the preachers find it? It will not do to say, "They are blinded," as we do of Jews and Pagans. They are educated men, of culture and refinement, in an advanced and an enlightened age, and certainly not blinded! Why call they not see that which a child can see? Why can they not see that which is printed and placed before their eyes?
Take another example: The Lord says, "There shall be one fold and one Shepherd." "Fold" here stands for body, or Church. There shall be one body, kingdom, or Church. But now we have many bodies, acting independently, with different creeds, names and rules, not in any fellowship with each other, and we have the preachers shouting: "It is a wise providence of God;" that is, "there are varieties in nature, and the Lord has raised many bodies so that all the people can be suited;" that "we can not all see alike," etc. The Lord prayed that we all may be one, as he and his Father are one, that the world may believe that the Father sent him. Does the modern preacher see this Scripture? Does he see this prayer of the Lord? Does his soul enter into union with, the Lord in this prayer? Does be pray "that they all may be one," as Jesus and his Father are one? Not one word of it; but he says, "We can not be one"--that we can not see alike, and talks of a wise providence of God; that we are divided; that we have so many ways, etc.
Paul says, "Are you not carnal, and walk as men?" On what does he ground the question, "Are you not carnal?" He had heard that there were divisions among them, and he partly believed it. Some were shouting, "I am of Paul;" others, "I am of Apollos." This he took as an evidence of carnality. The following is his remedy for all this: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." The modern preacher, with this right before his eyes, exclaims: "We can not be of the same mind and of the same judgment;" "it is a wise providence of God that we have so many churches." Paul says, "We are all baptized into one body," but a modern preacher will have it that we are baptized into many bodies, and so he practices.
We read in the clearest language in Holy Writ that there is "one foundation," one building of God, one body, one faith, one immersion, one kingdom of God, and that God broke down the middle wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles, and took it out of the way, and of the two, the Jews and Gentiles, he made one new man, or one new body. How does any man, with this before him, fail to see that the Lord intended his people all to be united in one body? Yet the modern preacher can not or will not see it, but thinks there is something wise in our being divided and having so many parties!
The chief men in the matters now coming before us are the Apostle Peter, on the one side, and Cornelius, on the other. Nothing need be said about the Apostle Peter. All who know anything of the Scriptures know who he was. The name of Cornelius is not so familiar. He was a captain and had command of a hundred soldiers in. the Roman army, and belonged to the Italian Band in that army. His position was among the Jews, and a principal matter in his department was to prevent any disorders or insurrectionary movements among the Jews who then existed as a Roman province, and under a state of military rule. He was a proselyte to Judaism, and permitted to occupy the court of the Gentiles in the Jewish worship. As a proselyte to Judaism, he believed in the God of Abraham, or the God of the Jews, as the other nations phrased it, and received the law of Moses. As such he was a good man, but not a Christian. It is said of him that "he was a devout man," but devout only as a proselyte, or a Jew, and not a Christian. "He gave much alms to the people." He was a liberal man, and his hand was open to the cry of the poor. Such a man, simply as a man, to say nothing of Jew or Christian, stands far above the narrow-minded, the parsimonious, the hard-hearted and stingy. He had a great and noble heart, that could be moved by the appeals of the suffering. It is also said of him that he "prayed to God always." This would put many Christians to shame. How wonderful that a mere proselyte to Judaism should be more devout than those who have received the Christ--the "better covenant," with the "better promises!" It is still further said of Cornelius that "he was of good report throughout all the nation of the Jews." So noble was his deportment, and honorable was his bearing, that though his position was an unthankful one among the Jews, "he was of good report among all the nation of the Jews."
Cornelius appears not to have been contented. He was evidently in an unsettled state of mind. It may not be possible for us, at this great distance from the scene, to see what gave rise to his unsettled state of mind. It may be that he thought of the vast number of the Jews that were daily going over to Christ, and the fact that their nationality was comparatively gone; that their glory had departed. He could not have failed to see, to some extent, the calamity that was coming on them and the prospect that their temple and worship would soon be buried in ruins. Their worship was the only worship that he had any connection with, and the prospect was that it would soon be overthrown. It is not safe to conclude that he certainly saw all this, and that he was disturbed by it. But he may have seen something of it, and it may have had something to do in producing the discontent seen in his mind. At all events, he certainly acted very wisely for an uninspired man, and a man without any gospel light. "He fasted and prayed in his house." He evidently only prayed as a Jew, or as a proselyte to Judaism, and not through Christ, as he did not know that he had any interest in Christ, and, it may be, had no confidence in him.
What wonderful things have transpired in all ages with devout men, men that feared God, though much in the dark! This man "fasted and prayed in his house," about the ninth hour, or about three o'clock in the afternoon, as we count time, the hour the Jews were accustomed to go up to the temple for prayer, and as he fasted and prayed he saw an angel coming in to him, who said: "Cornelius, thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God." You say he must have been a Christian, as his prayers and alms had come up for a memorial before God. He certainly was not, but was in a fair way to become one. Hear the angel, as he proceeds to instruct him. The angel did not appear to him to convert him, to preach the gospel to him, change his heart or pardon his sins. If we would learn what the angel appeared to him for, we must give heed to what he did. Listen to his words: "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 seaside."
In former years men taught that the Scriptures were a mystery and could not be understood. That can not be true of what this angel said. He certainly intended his language to be understood. Hear him: "Send men to Joppa." There was but one Joppa, and there was no danger of going to the wrong city. But who shall we call for? "One Simon." There might be more than one Simon in Joppa, and how shall we know which one? Send for "one Simon whose surname is Peter." But there might be more than one Simon whose surname is Peter. The Simon you are to call for "lodgeth with one Simon." There possibly might be more than one Simon, whose surname is Peter, lodging with one Simon. But this Simon with whom he lodges is a tanner, and, to put the matter beyond mistake, he lives down by the seaside. These directions were intended to be understood, were understood and carried out.
What was this man Simon to do when he came? The angel said: "He shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do;" or, as it is in another place: "Words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." You can see that he was not a Christian, or he would not have needed to hear words whereby he should be saved, or whereby he should be converted to Christ, or really become a Christian. What simplicity of manner we see on the part of this man, and what child-like willingness to be led in the way of the Lord! We find not an evasion, not a cavil. He does not inquire, "Can I not be saved without words?" Nor does he begin to get up difficulties in the way of doing as commanded. He does not inquire, "Might I not die while men are going to Joppa, some forty miles distant from Caesarea?" or, "Can I not be saved some other way?" Nor does he set up a theory of self-righteousness, insisting that his prayers and alms had come up in remembrance before God, and that was sufficient for him. Not a word of it. He must have the man of whom the angel told him, and hear words from him.
He called two household servants and a devout soldier, laid the matter before them, and sent them to Joppa. What anxiety of mind and suspense he must have experienced while the messengers went for Peter! What conjectures He must have had as to the words whereby he should be saved--what those words would be, what he would be required to do, etc. But he waited for Peter.
As the men he had sent journeyed on their way, and came near the city, Peter, knowing nothing of the matter so far, went up on the housetop to pray, about twelve o'clock the next day. It is said that many of the ancients constructed their houses with flat roofs and little battlements in the center, where devout persons could retire from public view to engage in private devotions. These ancient preachers prayed in secret; but then it was in secret, where none but God could see them, and not on the steps of a pulpit before an audience. While Peter was engaged in those devotions, "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 four-footed 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." This was new to Peter, Here, in this mass, are unclean beasts. Peter looks on and deliberately replies, "Not so, Lord." Why do you object, sir, when the Lord commands? He replies, "For I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." Is that a good reason for declining to do what God commands? What is the substance of that reason? It is simply--I can not do as commanded because I never have done so! He might have added: "My father was a good man, and he never did so." What is the answer of God? "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." This occurred three times, and the vessel was received up again into heaven. Peter doubted in himself what all this meant, and the men from Cesarea appeared at the gate and inquired for Peter. While Peter was thinking of the matter, the Spirit came to do his part of the work. Many in our time would hardly recognize what he did as the work of the Spirit at all; it was so different from the work they ascribe to him. The Spirit did not go to the man to be converted, but to the preacher; and not to operate on him in some mysterious way that he could tell nothing about, but in a very clear and intelligible way. Luke records it in the following words: "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." He could understand this operation of the Spirit, did understand it, and did what the Spirit commanded.
When Peter went down, he explained that he was the man they were seeking, and inquired of the men the purpose of their coming. They explained to him that Cornelius, the centurion, a just man, and one that feared God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by a holy angel to send for him that he might hear words of him. Peter heard their account of the matter, called them in and lodged them: This was new ground for the apostle, and he did not rush into it unadvisedly. He determined to leave no room for his character to be injured, without anybody to testify what was done, and took with him six Jewish brethren from Joppa, that they might see and hear all that was said and done. The next day the Apostle Peter, the three messengers and six brethren, a company of ten in all, journeyed on their way till they arrive in Cesarea.
Cornelius had not been idle all this time, while he had waited for their arrival, but had called together his kinsmen and near friends. As he was coming in Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. If Peter had been pope, as the Papists think he was, he would have considered Cornelius a first-rate subject for his holiness when he saw him fall and worship him. But the ancient Peter, here spoken of, had never heard of a pope and had no popish ideas in his head. He took Cornelius up and bid him, "Stand up; I myself also am a man." He had not come to receive divine homage, and was not an object of worship. "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 showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." He added: "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?" Cornelius replied, by referring to the angel that visited him and commanded him to send for him, and that he had accordingly sent, and closed by saying: "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."
No man could desire a better audience than that; one ready to hear all things commanded of God. This opened the way for Peter; but it brought him into a new position and brought some new light to his eyes. He could not say, as men do sometimes, that he had not changed a whit, but stood precisely where he did twenty years before. On the other hand, he had to admit that he perceived of a truth what he never saw before. Up to this time he had been a kind of predestinarian. He had regarded the Jews as God's elect, the favorites of heaven, and supposed all other nations were passed by and left without Christ, to die in their sins. But he had now learned that "God is no respecter of persons." Do you say he will then save us all? No; that was not the deduction made by the apostle. His deduction is that "in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him." He never saw that his commission extended to every nation before. He did not know that God intended to have mercy upon all nations, but supposed that his commission was limited to the seed of Abraham. It required a miracle to break off the spell from his eyes, and show him that he should call no man common or unclean. This he now sees and understands, that not only among the Jews, but among all nations, "he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him." This he lays before Cornelius by way of explanation and introduction.
He is now ready to commence preaching the gospel to his Gentile audience. He was to tell Cornelius words whereby he and his house should be saved. We may expect him to commence with the word. He begins: "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 Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached." Notice, it is not the word that John preached, nor the baptism of John, but the word that began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached. What was that word? "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." This is entering into the subject at once, and brings the Lord before his new audience as the Person on whom they were to believe.
Here he introduces another important item: "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." He did not mean that all Christians are his witnesses, or that any in our day are, but himself and the other apostles. This is clear from what follows: "Him God raised up the third day, and showed 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." These were his witnesses "of all things which he did in the land of the Jews;" those to whom God "showed him openly," not those to whom he did not show him openly; to those "who did eat and drink with him," and not those who did not eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. What did he command these witnesses to do? He proceeds: "He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify." This is certainly the business of a witness to testify, and to testify what he has seen and heard. But what did he command them to preach and testify? That he "was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead."
This brings the word before them, and the Lord by whom it was first spoken, and the apostles as his witnesses. But the apostle proceeds to bring another important class of witnesses into view. He says: "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." We have now the following: 1. The word first spoken by the Lord; 2. The Lord himself, the Judge of quick and dead; 3. The apostles his witnesses of all things that he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem; 4. The testimony of the prophets, that through his name whoever believes on him shall receive remission of sins.
Some one exclaims: "I want the testimony of the Spirit!" All right; that is the next thing as we proceed in the history. "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word." What did that mean? "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 Spirit." They did not guess at this, but "heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God." What was the purpose of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles? We have seen the effect it had on the Jewish brethren who came with Peter. They were astonished, not simply at the outpouring of the Spirit, but that it should be on the Gentiles the same, as on the Jews. This gives us something of a clew to the object--that it was intended to operate on the minds of Peter and his Jewish brethren who came with him. This is more fully seen in Peter's vindication of what he had done in receiving the Gentiles, after his return. He said to the Jewish brethren: "As I began to speak" (to the Gentiles), "the Holy Spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning." What does he make of that? Hear him further on: "Forasmuch then as God gave them" (the Gentiles) "the like gift as he did unto us" (the Jews), "who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I, that I could withstand God?" Any one can see from this that he is giving his reasons for receiving the Gentiles, and that when he sees that the Holy Spirit was poured out on them as it was on the Jews, that he must receive them or withstand God. He understood, then, that this outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles was intended to convince him and his brethren that God was willing to receive them, and he must receive them or withstand God.
This perfectly agrees with what follows. Peter says, evidently intended for his Jewish brethren: "Call any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?" This completed the matter. Peter had seen the vision on the housetop, in which God showed him that he must call no man common or unclean, no matter of what nation, or without regard to blood, and that "in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him;" and that God has given the same evidence of his willingness to receive the Gentiles as the Jews, and he now puts the matter to his Jewish brethren: "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? "Water" is put here as a metonymy, a part for the whole. As all were received in baptism, the water here comprehends the whole. They came not without the faith, nor without the repentance, nor without everything else; but those who come in faith, in penitence, and the very best state of heart, are received in the water of baptism, or when immersed into Christ; the water includes the whole idea of receiving them. Can any man object to receiving these Gentiles, the same as Jews, when they have the same evidence of God's willingness to receive them as we Jews--"the like gift" as that imparted to us?
The Jewish brethren were silent; they could not object. The history proceeds: "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." "He did not say 'for the remission of sins,'" shouts some man. What if he did not? He did say that precisely once: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." If you can get round this one place, where he did say, "Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins," you can get round another place, or fifty other places, just as well. When the Lord, tells you in one place what baptism is for, it does not set that one place aside if you find baptism mentioned in fifty places where you are not told what it is for. The one place tells what it is for in every place, or simply what it is for any place and all the time. When the Lord tells us what faith is for in one place, he tells what it is for in every place, or in any place, and all the time. When he tells us once, what any thing is for, we should remember that wherever we find it, and never forget what it is for. It is not to be imagined, therefore, because he commanded them to be baptized, and did not tell them what for, that the baptism in that instance had some other design, or was for something else. If any one does imagine this, what is that something else that it is for? There is the trouble--when we depart from the divine appointment, and get something else in view, we are out at sea, and no man can tell what that something else is.
There are some things quite evident and satisfactory about this matter. A few of these may be instanced here as sufficient.
1. The Lord says, in the commission: "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved." Any one can see that believing and being baptized, in this passage, are in view of, or look to the same thing--being saved. Saved, here, is deliverance from sin, or pardon. Two things are to be done in view of, or in order to the same end--salvation. The words of Peter on Pentecost are simply carrying out the same thing; the only difference being that the persons addressed already believed, and were still commanded to do two other things in view of, or in order to the same thing. Those two things were to "repent and be baptized." They were to be done in view of the same thing--remission, or salvation from sins. This is what they were in order to.
2. Baptism was not to make them members of some denomination of Christians, but members of Christ; not to make them members of some branch of the Church, but branches of Christ--"I am the vine, ye are the branches"--not to make them members of some branch of the body of Christ, but members of the body itself; not to induct them into a branch of the body, but into the body itself; not to induct them into a sectarian name, but "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;" not to induct them into man, or some institution of man, but "into Christ"--the institution of Christ; not to induct them into a party of the kingdom, but into the kingdom of God itself. Hence there is not an intimation that any one was in Christ, in the one body, in the kingdom, or in the Church, who had not been baptized. Hence, too, we read of "baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," being "baptized into Christ," "baptized into one body." Hence, too, the Lord says, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God."
3. It can not be that baptism is not for the remission of sins; for then it would read, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, not for the remission of sins." We dare not interpolate this little word "not." It was tried once and had death in it. It was interpolated in the words, "God knows you shall not surely die." It is a dangerous interpolation, and should be avoided by all good people.
4. Baptism is not the efficacious power that makes Christians, and, in itself, it may be that it has no power; but it is the visible line between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God, those out of Christ and those in Christ, the world and the body of Christ. All must cross that line to enter into Christ, into the body or kingdom, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
God made no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, but purified their hearts by the faith of Christ and made them one. The Gentiles obeyed the commandment, and were baptized in the name of the Lord; brought into one body; united with Christ and all that are in Christ. The great congregation in Antioch was raised up, as we are informed, at one time, to the enormous number of one hundred thousand, about half Jews and half Gentiles, but now neither Jews nor Gentiles; all one in Christ--all Christians. "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
Several important lessons are now before us of immense practical value, if rightly considered and used:
1. The division wall between the Jews and Gentiles was placed there by divine wisdom--God himself made it. Circumcision was the mark designating those on this side and those on that. They were designated the circumcision and the uncircumcision. This gave a force and significance to this division that never existed between any other, except that between the Church and the world. It could always be argued in its favor that God made it.
2. It was of the longest standing of any other. From the calling of Abraham, down through the ages, till the transactions commented on here occurred, that clear line, drawn by the finger of God between the seed of Abraham, or the circumcision--the Jews, and all other nations, or the uncircumcision, stood as an impassable wall--God himself forbidding that any man should cross it.
3. It was supported by as deep-rooted and as completely settled prejudices as any other that ever existed, both political, fleshly and religious.
What a wonder-working power was that which could melt down such mountains of prejudice, wipe it out, revoke, set aside and do away forever a division which God had made; which had stood and been strictly observed for nearly two thousand years, and make the same people thus divided one; set them down together at the feet of Jesus to be instructed by him, to love, adore and honor him; to talk of his last words and commemorate his last sufferings; to "do this" as he commanded "in memory of me"--"till I come!" The party feeling died away; the enmity ceased; the prejudice disappeared; the faith of Christ possessed their hearts; they were filled with the love of Christ; they lost sight of flesh and blood, and were filled by the Spirit of God. The old temple, the altars, victims, priests and synagogues, vanished away out of the view of the Jew; the Pagan god, the idol of the Gentile, the images, temples, shrines, with all the ceremony and show accompanying them, vanished from the view of the Gentile and sank away into nothing, compared with the religion of Christ--the mighty power that creates men and women anew; makes them alive to God; unites them with God; puts the life of God and the Spirit of God into them, and turns them away from the world, and sin, and folly, to the true and living God. This mighty power they found displayed in themselves--it was no idle dream. Every man knew in himself that the old man with his deeds was put off, and that the new man was put on; that the love and attachment for the former things were done away, and that the affections had been changed; set on things above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God; that his delight in the former things had passed away, and that his soul was enraptured with the new and better way--the better covenant, with better promises.
What may not be done in our day if the hearts of the people shall be lifted up to that one religion of Christ, and make it the supreme and the absolute religion; let it fill the whole land, and let everything else melt away like snow before the summer's sun, and let the people be one in Christ? That is what is now wanting. We have one religion from God, and but one--we are all agreed about that. It is simply what is set forth in Scripture; nothing else is of divine authority; here is the ground for union. It is union in Christ, with the Father and with the Son, with the whole family in heaven and on earth. We need go no further, then, to find it, but accept the ground of union on which the Jews and Gentiles united; unite on it and be made one, and then turn round and spread this union from the rivers to the ends of the earth, till the nations under the whole heaven shall come and give the blessing, and the glory, and the honor, to our God and to the Lord forever and ever. Can any good man fail to give it his support? May the spirit of union that has gone forth go on, and may the desire for it become deeper and deeper, till every partisan in the world shall be so changed that he will be willing to surrender everything not from God, and accept everything that is from God, for the sake of the union of the true Israel of God!