Notes of an address by W. J. Hocking on Acts 10:42-43.
Published by F. E. Race, 1915.
“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” (Acts. 10:42, 43).
These words form the conclusion of the address of Peter to Cornelius the centurion, and to those assembled in his house. They were the special words in the Apostle's discourse which seem to have been for the centurion's personal benefit, though others show the blessing that ensued. They particularly suited his case. They brought him deliverance and enjoyment and peace in the Holy Ghost.
I want you to look this evening at the words as those addressed to a man who was seeking to know from God that which would settle, once and for ever, the great question of his own personal responsibility to his God. Cornelius was not a godless man. He was not a heathen man, in the sense of being a worshipper of false gods. He was a man who recognised that there was one God over all, and that He was the God of the Jews, and that God he most earnestly desired to know. We are told of him, in the commencement of this chapter, that he prayed to God alway, and gave alms to the people of God.
This is a striking witness to the character of the man. Cornelius was a Roman soldier, an officer, a man used to command, accustomed to enforce the strict military discipline which characterised the Roman army; but, in spite of the stern habits of his military life, he was a man who had been touched in his heart and conscience. He had seen and felt the follies and abominations of idol worship. He had been stationed in Palestine, the favoured land of Jehovah, where prophets had testified of God and His worship. He had been serving in that same land so recently trodden, as it had been, by the feet of the Son of God. And will it be too great a stretch of our imagination to suppose that he learned from that other fellow-soldier of his, that centurion of Capernaum, who loved the nation of the Jews, and had himself come to the lowly Prophet of Nazareth, and besought Him, with faith, such faith in his heart as had never before been known in Israel, that he might receive the words that would heal his sick one — would Cornelius have learned something of Jesus of Nazareth from him? And may he not also have heard some report from that other centurion whose duty it was to attend the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory, and see that all was done according to the law of that mighty Gentile empire which was holding God's people in a grip of iron at that time? This man was a personal witness of the extraordinary events of that day. He saw a meek and patient Sufferer, lifted up between two malefactors, and yet so different from them. He was indeed always so different from all men, but with what distinction did the Holy Son of man stand apart from those two robbers. This centurion was a witness to the supernatural darkness that covered the land at noonday. He heard, too, that bitter cry of anguish, “My God, my God, why bast thou forsaken me?” and the officer was smitten in his conscience, and confessed at the close that Jesus was a righteous man — the Son of God.
Cornelius must have heard something of these things. What he believed brought him on his knees to the living and true God. It caused him to love that people whom it was his business to govern in accordance with the exacting laws of his Emperor. For the centurion felt that the Jews were God's people, and he cared for their poor in a conspicuous manner; and yet the man was not at rest inwardly. There was that which was good and beneficent about him. There was that which showed that he had a care for holy things, and for holy persons, and yet the man kept on praying, being in need of something to satisfy the conscience within him, which told him that he had sinned against God, and that he could not escape the judgment of sin; and he craved to know how sins, his sins, the sins of a Gentile, might be forgiven. He knew God's word, and that he himself was not a lost sheep of the house of Israel, to whom the Messiah came. He might well have said: 'What part have I with the house of Israel? The Messiah is for them, but, alas! not for me.'
Yet Cornelius desired the blessing of God's forgiveness; he was a sinful man, but he prayed always, and he was heard.
Beloved friends, there are many persons in this country, no doubt there are some in this hall tonight, who have a sense that they, too, have sinned against the holy God. They feel that the past, with all its sins, is not quite extinct, but that it will be brought forth again to their condemnation, and they do not as yet see how that past will be dealt with otherwise than to their extreme ruin. They feel that they have sinned against God, and they cannot rest because they believe they must answer for sins in their bodies in the day which is to come. They love to hear of Jesus. They love to hear of the Christ of God. They confess that there is no other Saviour among men save Jesus of Nazareth, and yet they are not confident that He is their own Saviour; they do not know that their sins are forgiven. They resort to religious ceremonies — and yet they find no rest; the conscience within them will not be quiet. It accuses them again and again of their guilt before God.
Beloved friends, I honour a man who, in this matter, refuses to acquiesce in an authority not duly accredited. How can we rest the eternal destiny of our own souls upon our own feelings, or upon mere fancy? Shall we go to a mortal, failing man like ourselves, and rest upon his word for it? No; in our responsibility to God, we want the word of God as a valid ground of assurance.
There are, perhaps, many here seeking rest and finding none. There is a memory before me of a sight that I witnessed many years ago, which I shall never forget. I was in a well-known “place of worship,” one of the most famous in our great Metropolis, and I was inadvertently the witness of an early morning service. But what still lives before me is the figure of a man who was one of the communicants. He was a tall man, evidently in a state of physical weakness; but there was more than bodily infirmity: there was mental pain, there was a storm of sorrow and anguish depicted on the man's face as he left his pew with others and fell upon his knees. He received the bread and the wine. He then rose and went back to his place; and, dear friends, I shall never forget the look of unrest, of unhappiness and of intense agony of spirit written upon his face as he returned to his pew, threw himself upon the bench with his hands spread out, and his head bent upon his arms. He had evidently come there that morning to find in the ceremony something that would satisfy his heart. He had been through it, and, at the close, there was the sense that it was all of no use. The ceremony did not give him a solid basis on which to rest his soul.
The man was, no doubt, true, sincere and right in motive, but there was no need for his vain search after peace. The blessed Jesus was ready to speak the word of peace to him, only he was looking manward, to the outward ceremonial, to something that he could see and hear. All the while the gracious Saviour was saying to him, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The Saviour gives rest by His word, and it is only when you have His word coming to you personally that you can afford to dismiss the great question of your guilt, once and for ever, as a settled matter.
What was it that the blessed Master said to the woman who sought forgiveness of sins? “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” “Thy!” The same forgiveness was for everyone who was in Capernaum to find, if they sought it. The sinful woman sought it. And to her the Lord said, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”
Beloved friends, there is no other way of settling the great question. There is no other way of obtaining peace of soul, save by coming to the Lord Jesus Christ, and hearing His word to you.
Now, how was this man, Cornelius, to get such a word from Jesus? Jesus was gone. He had been here. He had left memories behind Him, sweet memories of His ministry, throughout Judea and Galilee. The savour of the Presence that had been was not lost. What could Cornelius do but pray to God? And his prayer rose up as a memorial to God, a sweet sacrifice, as it were, to Him. He was one anxious and desiring to know for himself the fulness of the salvation of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ; and the man who seeks such knowledge shall not be disappointed. The Lord Himself was no longer in Palestine; but His ambassadors were. As He was sent into the world, so He sent His emissaries — the apostles into the world to represent Him (John 17:18).
Accordingly, God sent His word to this man who was a Gentile, a Gentile soldier, one of the conquerors of God's ancient people. He sent the apostle Peter to speak the word to him that should clear his soul in its anxiety, and settle every doubt. Now, we know that Cornelius understood very definitely that Peter was coming to speak to him, that Peter was God's messenger to him, that he was directed to deliver God's word to him. Peter would be only the channel. The much-desired word was coming through him, and it would not be the word of a mere man. When the centurion met Peter, and had gathered together his friends, he said: “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.”
Dear friends, in the great question of the sin of a man's soul there are two persons concerned — the man himself and God. It is one of the cardinal truths of the gospel that in His grace the Saviour God comes down to meet this individual need. It is a device of Satan to adulterate and corrupt the gospel, and to introduce some medium between God and the sinner. No, beloved friends, there is but one Mediator between God and man; the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost. He sought the individual where he was, and now God is sending His word through the Scriptures to the individual.
There may be a word in my text tonight for some hearer personally. You may have a similar difficulty to Cornelius upon your heart. You know you have sinned, and want your sins forgiven, and you are asking, How am I to know that they are forgiven? On what ground? I do not know any possible trustworthy ground but God's holy word, and, having this, you need not fear all the powers of Satan. There is no power in this world, or under this world, which can destroy the imperishable word of God. The Lord said: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.”
Here is the Bible. Here is God's word, but, beloved friends, you must receive it for yourself. You must be able to open this word and say 'I know that, if there is no other person in the wide world, God is speaking to me.' It is comforting to that extent to know that God is speaking to others, and a person may well be rejoicing in this fact, but it is a different matter if I feel He may leave me out of the blessing, and while other persons have their sins forgiven, I am not included in the company. What a loss for me! The case of the new blessing which others had recently received must have been known to Cornelius, for Caesarea was not so far from Jerusalem, and the news spread rapidly of the people who were receiving the gospel. They had come into the town in the fulness of their joy, and spoken of the joys of their salvation. The sight of their ecstasy led Cornelius to, pray, 'Oh, that I knew my sins were forgiven! Oh, that I might have the remission of my sins!' And God sent Peter to speak to him this particular point of anxiety.
We have not much time to look into details of the apostolic visit, but will pass on to the particular moment when the word met Cornelius. Peter is referring, in the two verses I have read, to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he speaks first of all of Him risen from the dead, and ordained of God to be Judge of quick and dead. What is the special relation of this fact to the anxious man? What did this mean to the soul of Cornelius? Jesus ordained to be the Judge of quick and dead! Have you ever thought seriously of this, beloved friends? It is admittedly a commonly received truth. We know that Jesus Christ is the One who is coming to judge the quick and the dead, but have you ever considered what the prediction involves? The One who was once on this earth, stretched out upon the cross, in the place of shame (so far as this world's judgment is concerned), is He who not only rose from the dead, but into whose hand is placed the responsibility of the eternal judgment of men and women, whether they be alive or dead.
Friends, in the interests of eternal justice there is before us the great work of examining the lives of men and women, and adjudicating upon their words and deeds, and administrating due punishment, and the Person into whose hands this work is committed is that Holy Man who suffered on Calvary's cross. Is it not wonderful to contemplate that He will sit on His throne, and that the nations of the earth shall be gathered before Him, and that out of His mouth shall proceed the sentence of judgment? It is so. The Man whom the world despises is the One into whose hands is committed all judgment. Man regenerate or unregenerate has never paid adequate regard to the Lord Jesus Christ. There is many a person who is losing his way in the things that pertain to spiritual life, because he is seeking joy and rest apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. No man can neglect the veneration of Christ without serious loss. And the gospel of the grace of God is the one that exalts Jesus, and puts Him in the highest heavenly glory — a present Saviour, a coming judge. Would you not, then, like to be on the side of that Judge? Would you not like to have Him for you? If He is for you, oh! how good and blessed! If He assures you now concerning the forgiveness of your sins, oh! how safe must you be in the day of wrath which is to come!
There are persons — possibly Cornelius was one of them — who have that great day of judgment ever before their minds. They think of that time so awful, when all the world will be assembled before the throne, and will be there to be judged. They dread lest they shall then hear the word, “Depart from me”; and they say, 'I can never rest until that day is past.'
I am considering the case of those who are really in earnest, and seeking the salvation of their souls, and who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, but are fearful of what is to come. But, beloved friends, think that it is Jesus who will be there, and that He speaks to you now! What does He say to you now? Does He not say unto you, “I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish”? Does He not say unto you, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life”? If the Judge Himself says to you, 'You shall not come into judgment!' you have this word for your reliance. If there is anyone who can speak to you about the time of judgment, surely it is the One who is ordained to judge the quick and the dead. And He says that the believer shall never come into judgment. Is this sufficient? Is this a word for you? Can you suppose for a moment that the robber on the cross, to whom the Lord said, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” — can you believe that this one shall yet be brought before the Lord as the Judge of quick and dead, to be judged, to decide whether heaven or hell shall be his eternal lot, he having been in the paradise of God now for some two thousand years? He had the Lord's word to him; and He said, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” It was to comfort and assure him in the last hours of his agony. And he passed in peace of heart into the presence of his Lord and Saviour.
And so we just come back to this concise test. Have you received the word of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving unto you assurance for the future, as well as the forgiveness of your past sins?
But it was not only the fact that Jesus was ordained to be the Judge that Peter advanced. The Apostle unfolded a further truth which Cornelius needed to know. He went on to says “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Jesus, risen from the dead, is Lord of all, not merely of the Jews. He is the Lord of all men and all things, for all things are put under His feet; and this too was meant to enlighten the centurion. Jesus, walking through this world, was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel; but, risen from the dead, there are for the Saviour no national limits. There is no Gentile or Jew beyond the grave. There are here geographical distinctions that mark men off from one another, but beyond the grave there are none, and that is where the Lord of glory is. The risen Christ spoke through Peter as the One who had come out from among the dead; and His grace was flowing out to all men, as the prophets of old had given witness, that whosoever believeth in Him should receive remission of sins.
Cornelius found himself within the scope of this message. That is where I come in. 'That is exactly the word that addresses me.' Such clearly was his belief.
The force of this word of God is such that wherever a man is, whatever a man is, should he believe, he will receive remission of his sins. It is not a question of his bowing to some ceremony. A man is not required to be circumcised, to keep the law of Moses and thus be saved; such is not the truth of God in the gospel. The truth of God is that, whatever a sinner may be, let him come to the Saviour as a sinner, and let him receive the remission of sins.
Then and there the word of the gospel entered Cornelius' heart, and he appropriated that word to himself. He said, 'It is for me,' and there were others with him, his household, his servants, all desirous to know the truth of God, and they found the same truth of God offered to them. “Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”
Beloved friends, I do earnestly beseech of you to consider upon what ground you are resting this night in this matter. Is it upon the word of God spoken directly to yourself? Have you at some point in your past history come to this position — that if God did not speak to you, if He did not clear away the doubts from your heart, no one else could, and then God in His word did come to you? Some particular text, some particular truth has flashed like a light from heaven to your soul, and you have known that God is for you. This knowledge God gives through His word. “We know” is the sincere language of faith. The man who believes the word of God is the man who knows it.
There are persons who affirm that it is presumption on man's part to say that his sins are forgiven. How can he know? Such knowledge would be impossible if God had not spoken. I do not think that we, who rejoice in God's word, rejoice sufficiently in this fact, that God has spoken to us in this Book. Amid all the uncertainties of this time and the great national struggle, causing men to wonder what lies beyond, oh! how we ought to thank God for that which never fails, His blessed, holy word! Here it is, as it was spoken of old. We have it now, in all its perfection, unchanged and unchangeable. It is for you and for me, but each heart must take hold of it.
I know that there are men who are proud of this book, that is, the book that is printed. They say there is no other book like it in the world. This is true. They say that it has made national history; but, beloved friends, there is another question, a deeper question than this, which it solves. Here am I, a responsible person, and where God has put me I have failed most miserably. I have despised God's precepts, and what is going to be the result of it? Is there not a word there for me, the erring and disobedient? It is very easy to speak of a Bible which is being sent forth to help and bless nations, and to bring men out of barbarism and into civilisation. But, a man may say, 'How about the sins of which I am guilty? God knows that I have despised His Son, and there are many sins I have committed, and I am responsible for them.'
Now this book speaks to the individual as the apostle Peter spoke to Cornelius. The word was for him, and, when received by him, the clouds dispersed, the doubts disappeared, and the man, gladdened by the sunshine of God's word, was a saved man in the full sense of the Scriptural term. To be saved, beloved friends, is not only to have the benefits procured by our Lord Jesus Christ, but to know that we have passed from death into life, and that whatever may come upon us, whatever may betide us in the future, all is well.
Have you observed the sequel to this preaching? The Spirit of God fell upon every person who was there, every man, every woman was sealed by the Holy Spirit. God thereby marked them out as His own, and they were subsequently baptised, and received into the company of God's people. This was not the admission of Gentile believers into the place of God's ancient people here upon earth. On the contrary, it was a new thing; Jews and Gentiles are now one — equally believing in Him, equally accepted by Him, equally rejoicing in His name, and equally possessed of His great salvation.
Oh, beloved friends, ask you whether you know for yourself the salvation of God. In order to do so you have to come, personally, individually, with your sins, to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not sufficient, however, to come to Him. It is necessary that you should continue in the attitude of expectation and entreaty until you meet God, and learn the truth about yourself on the authority of God's holy word. Do not trust a man like yourself. Do not trust a fellow mortal. Do not let anyone deceive you. Lay hold of God's word for yourself. A man, wittingly or unwittingly, may lead you astray. You can only trust One; that One is the Lord Jesus Christ. He speaks through this holy Book to you, and He who died for your sins, He who suffered for you on the tree, He is the One who says to you, “Thy sins are forgiven.”
Let me say just one further word before parting. Some may have this difficulty which I will specify. And it is a difficulty which the more earnest Christian is not unlikely to have. There are many who start with a fervent determination that henceforward they will please Him at all costs, live for Him, shine for Him, be His good soldiers in this world. They seek to find from the Scripture what they must do, and everything seems joyous and happy and bright, and they can hardly believe the truth about themselves, they are so full of joy, and they are full of desire that everybody may be like them, just resting and trusting on the Lord Jesus Christ; and then something untoward happens. One day there is a disaster. From their mouths something comes which is so unexpectedly evil. They say, 'Surely, I cannot be a true disciple of Christ, or I should not have said or done this.' However, they try again, and find that a similar thing occurs before long, and they become very sorrowful and downcast, after vainly struggling again and again, and they have to confess themselves more prone to fall than they could have conceived. They know that they have done wrong. They say, 'Well, it is worse for me now than when I knew nothing of Christ. I know there is no love like His; He died for me, and, knowing that He died for me, I still go contrary to His will, and I do really what I do not want to do. I cannot seem to help myself.' And then they think they are lost after all, and are plunged into a gulf of darkness and despair. They felt when they came to the Lord, that their sins, and all the past, were obliterated, but now, after receiving the forgiveness of sins, they have gone wrong. What about that terrible disaster in their Christian pilgrimage? How about these sins? Satan says, 'Your sins are now very different from what they were once, for you now know His love and yet you have sinned against Him.' Satan says, 'There is no hope for you. The salvation is for the sinner who does not know God's will.'
Beloved friends, such a state is true of thousands. They are clear as daylight as to the sins they committed before their conversion, but stumbled because of present failure. But, remember, there is one Person who will deal with all your sins. This is the One who died for your sins. You will have to come to Him and confess your sins to Him. You will have to own, with shame, that, having known His love, you have despised it. And you will find that His love and forgiveness will come to you sweeter than ever. You will find that another word of His will come to you, and say that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”
Dear friends, the remission of sins is the Divine act which covers everything. 'Oh, but,' you say, 'my sin is after my conversion.' That is true, but when the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, God knew, not only what you would commit up to the time of your conversion, but He also knew what you would be after your conversion. It is a sad thing that you should be so weak and wilful, and that after knowing His love, and tasting something of the sweetness of His salvation, such a grievous failure should be true of you; but there is the grave fact, which God knew before He sent out the sweet invitation of His love to you.
Therefore, beloved friends, if you are on the way to God, to that bright place above, and if your face is towards Him who died upon the cross, who is now there, the Lord Jesus Christ will receive you and forgive you in spite of all your failure, if you will but come to Him and believe in Him. The truth is just this. “Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” It does not mean that we just believe on the Lord Jesus Christ one day in our history. There was a day when we first looked to the Lord Jesus Christ, a day of days in our history; but His gospel that we believe is to put away all doubts, once and for ever. The terms are “Whosoever believeth,” that is, yesterday, today, and throughout life. You have to continue to believe. You have to look in faith, and not to take your eyes away from Him, who is the Source of strength to those who conquer, and of forgiveness to those who fail.
I just leave this passage with you. “Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Is that word for you personally? Take it home to yourself, and in the light of God's holy presence, do you know, and are you certain, positive, within your own soul, that God therein speaks to you? It is no use looking at the matter from any other than a personal standpoint in order to get peace for your heart. You can rejoice over the conversion of other people, but first of all it must be realised in your own soul, and then, standing on redemption ground for yourself, you can rejoice with a deeper joy in the blessing, as it goes out to others. May God bless His word. W. J. H.