CHRIST OUR BENEFACTOR.
A SERMON ON
ACTS x. 33.
Who went about doing good.
THE apostle Peter said this of our Lord Jesus Christ. The occasion of his saying it shows us that the Spirit of God works upon the minds of men, and inclines them to serve him, even before they know how to serve him in a right manner. In this case, they are very glad and thankful to be taught the will of God. Do you, brethren, wish to know how you may please God, and become "wise to salvation?" If we did not wish to do you good we should not come to you. The Lord is altogether good, and is always doing good. We may surely hope he will do us good now, if we are truly desirous of knowing his will.
We find from this chapter that the words of the text were spoken by Peter to Cornelius, who was an officer in the Roman army, and had been brought up a heathen and an idolater. He was quartered among the Jews, who were the only nation at that time that knew there is only one God, who is eternal and holy. Cornelius learned from them this doctrine, which is the ground of all true religion; and he prayed to God, as everybody should do who believes there is a God. If you do not pray to God you are worse than the heathens, for they do not know there is a God to pray to. Besides this, we are told that Cornelius feared God with all his house. Do you try to lead your families and friends to know and serve God? If not, you see that, instead of being true Christians, you come far short of what Cornelius did before he ever heard of the gospel of Christ.
They who do not pray to God are without excuse, because God assures us in his Word that he hears and answers prayer. The history of Cornelius gives a proof of it. The apostle Peter was preaching the gospel at a place about forty miles distant from the town where Cornelius lived. The Lord informed Cornelius of this, and told him to send for Peter to come and instruct him. Peter accordingly came, and preached Jesus Christ to all who had met on the occasion; showing them how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power—who went about doing good. He told them also much more about Jesus Christ; and, indeed, if he had not preached about Christ he need not have come there. "Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life;" by whom alone a sinner can find mercy with God. Wherever the apostles went they preached Christ. This is one mark by which you may know who they are that preach most like the apostles. If you hear little or nothing about Christ, you are likely to get little or no good.
The apostle Peter informed Cornelius and his family, that the doctrines he had to deliver was the same which they must have heard of, as it had been published throughout all the neighbouring country of Judea; and had, indeed, been first preached in Galilee, the country where they then were. You perhaps may think it strange that Cornelius had not inquired about it sooner; but the reason probably was, that Christianity was then everywhere spoken against; the apostles and disciples of Christ were suspected—even by their own countrymen, the Jews—to be either mad or wicked men, because they worshipped God in a way different from that which was established by law, and because they continued preaching Christ to their neighbours, when it was opposed and forbidden by the great people and rulers. If you read the book of the Acts you will see this was the case; and you will not be surprised at it if you consider that Jesus Christ himself was crucified (which is like being hanged in our country), for both the rulers and the mob accused him of the vilest crimes. But the prejudices of Cornelius were now removed, and it was an excellent disposition which he discovered when he said to the apostle, "Now, therefore, we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God." May the Lord give us now the same disposition.
One thing which Peter told Cornelius concerning Jesus Christ was, that "he went about doing good." If Cornelius had heard anything of Christ before, it might be that he went about doing harm. Christ had been charged by the Jews with treason and blasphemy. He had been tried, condemned, and executed as a malefactor. Cornelius was likely, from the common report, to have a very bad opinion of Christ. He determined, however, to hear all that Peter had to say in behalf of Christ, and then to judge for himself. Let us all be careful how we take matters upon hearsay, especially about religion and religious people.
Peter convinced Cornelius that Jesus Christ went about doing good. So far as you know the history of Christ, you are doubtless convinced that he did not go about to hurt people, but to do them good. Even those ignorant and foolish persons who deny that Christ was sent from heaven, own that he did good in some respects. But what we shall desire to know is, Whether he can, and will, do us good? If we do not obtain good from Christ in this life, and in that to come, we might as well never have heard of him.
As to the power of Christ to do us good, we have reason to trust in it, from the wonderful power he had to do good to all, as long as he was upon earth. His works were such as no man ever did before nor since. He satisfied the hunger of many thousands of people, with a very few small loaves and fishes. By merely touching, or even speaking to weak and sick persons, he cured them of the most desperate diseases. He raised up several people from death to life; one man who had been buried some days, was restored to his afflicted relations. In that age of the world, when God was so little known, the devil was worshipped by many; and he was permitted to torment the bodies of mankind in a shocking manner; but no wicked spirit could keep possession of any person who was brought to Christ for relief. One word from him was enough to restore any one to perfect health and reason. The power of Christ was also shown in preserving his disciples in a dreadful storm at sea. He said to the winds and the waves "Be still," and they became perfectly calm in a moment. But it is not possible now to tell you a hundredth part of the proofs that Jesus gave of his power to do good to those around him. The four gospels are full of such accounts; yet, at the close of the last, St. John says, "there were also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." People in general are fond of reading and hearing wonderful things. Now there is no true history, nor scarcely any story that contains things so wonderful as those things which Jesus did for the good of mankind. Yet they are all certainly true, for they were written by four different persons, who saw what they relate; who were honest and good men: who did good like their Master; and suffered themselves to be put to death rather than deny what they knew to be true, or keep silence about it. You would do well, as often as you can, to take up your bibles, and read the history of Jesus Christ; and also consider when ever you read it, what was his reason for doing good in such surprising ways? Why was the history of his actions written over and over again, and handed down to us, so many hundreds of years after? the whole must surely have been meant for our good. It would be tantalizing you to tell you of his doing so much good to others, if you could get no good from him. You suffer pains and wants; your relations and neighbours are afflicted; if Christ was now upon earth, he might do them the same good he formerly did to others. But if you read the scriptures with care, you may see that Jesus took more pains to teach people than to heal them. He performed all these miracles to gain their attention, and their belief of what he taught. His doctrine could do them much greater good then the healing of their diseases. If you could be certain that God forgave all your sins, and would give you eternal life, would you not think it a greater benefit than merely to be cured of a bodily complaint? The doctrine of Christ was, that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life." And, accordingly, he healed one man of the palsy, on purpose to show that he could forgive his sin. When the poor creature was brought to our Lord, his first words to him were, "Son thy sins are forgiven thee." Some who were present murmured at his pretending to forgive sin; but he soon silenced them. "That ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins," said he, turning to the poor man, "I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and go to thine house.'' And immediately he arose, took up his bed, and went forth before them all. See Mark ii.
Now, brethren what think ye of the power of Christ to do good? Nothing could be more true and just than the principle upon which the Jews reasoned among themselves—"Who can forgive sins but God only?" But you see our Lord Jesus Christ did forgive sins; and proved his power to do so, by working a miracle. It is plain, therefore, that Jesus Christ is God. All of you have, probably, been told so from your infancy; but now you see it cannot be otherwise. On this account, the scriptures call him "Immanuel," which signifies "God with us;" they also call him "the Son of God;" having the same nature with his Father; and they declare that "all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father," for He and the Father are one: they also call him "the word of God," and then say "the word was God."
Now, as our Lord Jesus Christ is "God over all, blessed for evermore," his power to do good must be boundless, and always the same. You have seen that he worked a miracle to prove that whilst on earth he had power to forgive sins; and surely now he is exalted to heaven, he must have the same power. If, whilst he was on earth, in the form of a servant, he had this power, you cannot reasonably doubt that, now he reigns in heaven, king of the world, "he is able even to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him."
And do you not all need his pardoning mercy? Have you not transgressed his holy law? Remember it is written, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things commanded in the book of the law to do them." Galatians iii. 10. If you have obeyed it in some respects, or even in most things, this will not excuse you for having disobeyed or neglected it in others. The law of God admits of no composition; and makes no allowance for any failure whatever. The apostle James assures us, chap.ii. verse 10, that "whosoever shall keep the whole law, excepting in one point, and offend in that, he is guilty of all." And the reason he gives for this is, that it is the same authority which enforces each of the commandments; so that whoever disobeys any one of them tramples upon all the authority of God. Instead, therefore of inquiring who can forgive sins but God, it might be asked, How can God himself forgive sins committed against that law which he himself hath given to mankind for the rule of their conduct, and by which he has appointed that men should be judged?—This question must for ever have perplexed a convinced sinner, if the gospel had not told us that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them:" for "God made him to be a sin offering for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." 2 Cor. v. 19, 21. On this ground there is encouragement to hope for pardon. "There is forgiveness with God, that he may be feared." Yea, "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." So that, if any of you have been distressed and terrified on account of your sins, you see it is not right for you to despair of forgiveness. Christ was crucified, that he might bear the punishment due to your sins; and, after being buried, he performed the greatest miracle of all, in raising up his own body, by his own power, from the grave; in order that he might prove he had fully discharged the debt which sinners had incurred. He afterwards ascended up to heaven; and, in some of his last words to his disciples, said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptised, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Mark xvi. 15, 16. We are all under condemnation; for all have sinned. No obedience that we can pay in future to the law of God can make amends for past sins. But Christ has power to forgive them, "For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." When a certain person came to Christ on earth, he seemed to doubt his power to help, saying, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus said unto him, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." “Lord," answered the poor man, with tears, "I believe; help thou mine unbelief." So, under the fears about the possibility of your sins being forgiven, go to Jesus by prayer; plead that he has said, "He that believeth shall be saved," and cry, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief."
I hope you are now satisfied as to the power of Jesus to do you good. If so, it should be your chief concern to know whether he is willing also to do you good, and all the good that you need. May the Spirit of Christ make you as earnest on this point as reasonable creatures, with the Word of God before them, ought to be. What would it profit you, if you could gain the whole world and should lose your own souls? You think perhaps but little of this now. But you are near the hour of death; you don't know how near. And if you have reason then, you will wonder how you could have been so stupid through your lives, as not to be concerned, above all things, to know whether Christ was willing to save your souls. It may then be too late, and you would in vain give the whole world for a few minutes time like those which we yet have to spend together. But "now," I have to declare to you from the scriptures, "now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation." "O seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near."
You have heard that Jesus Christ is the ever blessed God; be assured then, from the gracious character in which God has revealed himself in his Word, that he will not despise any soul that is truly humbled and contrite on account of his sin. "The tender mercy of God is over all his works." You see every day what compassion he shows to the evil and unthankful. His rain descends, and his sunbeams shine on the land of the wicked, as well as on that of the good. And has he less compassion on your souls than on your bodies? By no means. "He desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live." "Turn ye," said the Lord to the rebellious house of Israel, "turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?" How long already has God delayed avenging himself upon us for sins? Why? "Not that he is slack concerning his promise, but that he is longsuffering to us-ward; not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance:" "For except we repent we must all perish;" but a godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation.
You have heard that God was manifested in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ. Astonishing as it is, it is certain that he took upon him the form of a servant, suffered infirmity, want, contempt, persecution, and a shameful, miserable death. So wonderful an event must answer some good purpose. The prophecies of the Old Testament concur with the sayings of our Lord himself and his apostles in the New Testament, to teach us what was the design of the sufferings and death of Christ. "He bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows; was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all." lsa. liii. 4, 6. "I am the good shepherd," said Jesus; "I lay down my life for the sheep. They shall never perish, but I give unto them eternal life." John x. "Whom God hath set forth," says the apostle Paul, "to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." Rom. iii. 25, 26. And can any one believe that Jesus humbled himself as a man, and suffered as if he had been a malefactor, for the sole purpose of saving sinners, and yet suspect that he will refuse salvation to those who seek it from him? It was for "the joy" of saving sinners that he "endured the cross, disregarding the shame." Well may it then be said, that "there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth." May you now believe in Christ, that he may "see of the travail of his soul," in your salvation, "and be satisfied."
Consider what is said in the text, "He went about doing good." He not only never rejected one request for help of all the numberless persons who applied to him, but he went about in order to "seek and save that which was lost." He travelled for this purpose on foot with much weariness and faintness, from one end of the land of Canaan to the other, again and again. He compares himself to a shepherd, who seeks far and wide for a poor wandering sheep, that never could have found its way back to the fold. So his willingness to do good to sinners is still proved, by his command to those who are intrusted with the gospel, that they should preach it to all mankind; by his providence, in sending his disciples throughout all the world, without which, the gospel would to this day have been unknown in England; and by the influence of his Spirit upon the hearts of all them who are made willing in the day of his power, to lay hold on the hope set before them; for what but the sovereign grace of God makes any of you, who long for his salvation, to differ from the rest, who reject it to their everlasting destruction. If we feel any love to God, it is "because he first loved us;" and he hath said, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
Brethren, the scriptures inform us that, beside the two great purposes for which, as we have observed, Christ came into this world, there was a third. He came, not only to declare to us the will of God, and to offer himself up for the pardon of our sins, but also "To leave us an example that we might walk in his steps." "He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." We are unworthy to be called Christians if we do not imitate him. Let us set his bright and blessed example before us, as the text holds it forth. Let us do all the good we can to those around us, both to their bodies and their souls; yea, even to "our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers;" but especially to our relations and friends, and to those who serve God.—Let us remember Christ's labour and patience in going about to do good to those, who either could not or would not come to him to receive it. We are humbly trying to follow our Lord Jesus Christ in coming here to do you good. Our consciences bear us witness that we earnestly desire your welfare, and have no other end in view. We know nothing that can do you greater good, than to lead you to think more of God and eternity, and to promote in you the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. We hope that God is visiting you by our means; and that he will, by his Spirit, make this meeting useful to your souls.
If you remain strangers and enemies to God, it is not for want of the power or willingness of Christ to do you good. Do not forget what has been said to you on this subject. "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God , that ye present yourselves living sacrifices to him, holy and acceptable, which is your reasonable service." If you do not, every mercy you have received, and this very means of instruction you have now had, must appear against you at the day of judgment.
But, if your hearts are now seriously affected with what you have heard; if you feel yourselves to be guilty and helpless creatures; if you earnestly desire the pardon of your sins, through the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to have your minds renewed, and made like the mind that was in him, these things should encourage you to pray to Christ, to depend upon his grace, and to rejoice in the fulness of his salvation. We shall be extremely glad to find that this is the case with any among you; for we know, that "he who begins a good work in you will perform it until the day of Christ."—"Now, to Him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy: to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen."