Grace for the Gentile

Cornelius, his kinsmen, and near friends are the first Gentiles to hear the glad tidings of the grace of God, and although Paul was the apostle who was pre-eminently sent to the nations, Peter is the one chosen to be the first to speak the word to them; and for this purpose he is brought the whole way from Joppa to Caesarea, that he may tell Cornelius words whereby he and all his house should be saved. This Gentile was a centurion in the Roman army. The scripture speaks of him as pious, and fearing God with all his house, and as one who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God continually. God had wrought in his heart a work which had made him a seeker after Himself.

Upon the rejection of Christ by the nation of Israel, a very great change had taken place in regard to the attitude of God toward the world. From the time that Abram was called to leave country, kindred, and father’s house, God had identified His name with him and with his descendants Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribes of Israel, and had winked at the times of the Gentiles’ ignorance. But Israel, having broken His laws, slain His prophets, murdered His Son, and refused the testimony of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, is set aside for the time being, and the Gentiles come into view for blessing, God looking out upon them in the kindness and love of His heart, and Christ is set to be a light for them, that He may be God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.

It is plain enough from scripture that all flesh is alike evil, and that whatever privileges the Jews might possess in the ways of God, they were no better than the Gentiles; indeed, their whole rebellious history demonstrated this fact. Nevertheless God had separated them from the nations, brought them relatively near to Himself, had committed to them His oracles, and had occupied Himself with them with a view to their good. They were in this way accounted clean while the Gentiles were unclean. They were the good olive tree which had received care and cultivation at the hand of God, while the Gentile was the wild olive left to grow as it pleased in the wilderness. But now the Jew was being set aside as to any distinctive position in the favour of God, and the hitherto neglected Gentile comes to light as an object of His goodness. The sphere of God’s operations in goodness is now no longer to be restricted to one favoured nation, in this sense that nation disappears, and the wide world comes up before God for blessing. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men has appeared.”

And Peter is made to learn this by the sheet let down from heaven, in which were all the quadrupeds, and the wild beasts, and the creeping things of the earth, and the fowls of heaven. He had still his national prejudices, and to him the Gentile was unclean, but his mind must be brought into agreement with the mind of God which was now propitious toward the Gentile.

It is not that man is morally altered. Indeed as to the flesh, alteration is altogether impossible. He has been tried, and now that the trial is ended, both the Jew and the Gentile have been proved to be under the dominion of sin. But Christ has come into the world on behalf of man, and has made propitiation. Sin has received at the hand of God its judgment. It has been condemned in the flesh where it had its seat, and flesh which was so obnoxious to God has been removed from His eye in the judgment of the cross. And in the removal of it, and by the sacrifice which removed it, and in the One who gave Himself to bear the judgment due to it, God has smelled a sweet savour. It is not now the stench of putrid and corrupt flesh which rises up to God from a rebellious and polluted earth, but the grateful odour from the sacrifice of Christ; neither is it man in his lawlessness and obstinacy with whom God occupies Himself, but Man, in the Person of His Own Son, alive from the dead, who was obedient unto death, who pleased not Himself but gave Himself on behalf of man an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour. It is Jesus Christ the righteous who is before the face of God, and no other; and He is there as the One who has accomplished righteousness, and made purification for sins, and as the One in whom all the delight of God centres, and the One in whom God addresses Himself to men in the kindness and love of His heart. It is as filled with what that Man is, and on the ground of that priceless blood which He shed for the remission of sins, so that remission of sins might be available for man, that it might be announced to Him as God’s gracious mind toward him, and that every man might hear of it, and in the light of this grace have power to repent and turn to God and receive both forgiveness and inheritance—it is thus God approaches this whole world of lost sinners.

Hence though in the sheet let down from heaven there might be everything that was obnoxious to the palate of a Jew, all was cleansed, for it was not now a question of what man in himself was, it was Christ who filled the vision of God, and it was the sacrifice of Christ which rose as incense before Him. The man who had been always obnoxious to God since the fall is no longer in view. Christ, who is ever the delight of God, and whom God delights to contemplate, is held out as a covering for all. The righteousness of God is unto all, and upon all them that believe.

What a triumph for God! “Rise, Peter, slay and eat.” His poor, weak, short-sighted servant is called to share the joy of God. He is learning to call no man common or unclean, and God is his Teacher. Nothing could be more abominable or filthy than man, but this applied equally to Jew and Gentile, but in the covering which God has provided for man, He approaches him, and the covering occupies Him, not the man who is to be covered, and when Peter comes to the house of Cornelius, he has got nothing to speak of but that covering.

“The word which God sent unto the children of Israel preaching peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” And being Lord of all, the Gentiles must come in, and Cornelius must hear of peace. God was preaching peace. He was setting weary, anxious, troubled hearts at rest. He was full of grace and truth, and when the people heard Him they wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of His mouth. He was not covering up the wickedness and sin of man. He was not there to wink at the iniquity of the human heart. Evil never had been exposed before as it was in His presence. I do not doubt more than one could have said, “He told me all that ever I did.” But there was no imputation. If the light was there to detect the sin, the grace was there to say that all was forgiven. Men had nothing to pay and the Creditor was there preaching forgiveness.

Man’s answer to that was the gibbet, and God’s answer to the gibbet was resurrection and glory. Christ is to judge the living and dead. All judgment is committed to Him. He knows the secrets of men, He is the Heart-searcher. Nothing can be covered up from His eye. Every idle word must come up as well as every murder. What a terrible prospect for His enemies! It has no terror for His friends. This day of judgment is fast approaching, but it has not yet arrived.

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Today God is preaching peace in His name, and not only this, but “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believes on Him shall receive remission of sins.”

Peter has delivered his message. Is God going to honour it? Will He accept the Gentiles as well as the Jews? Or will He keep up the distinction? Will He acknowledge the faith of the poor Gentile? As Peter spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word. God puts no difference between Jew and Gentile. Both are accepted in Christ and placed in relationship with God upon one footing by the gift of the Holy Ghost. Those who believe in Christ, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, are saved by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, for “The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men has appeared.”

  Send forth the gladsome sound,
  Let all the nations hear,
  Earth’s circuit vast around,
    In desert places drear,
    Wake every drowsy ear
  Wherever man is found.

  Bid the wide world abroad
    To deathless joys come in
  From darksome places, strawed
    With falsehood, lust, and sin:
    Hearts faithless, kindless, win
  To righteousness and God.

  Tho’ that devouring day
    Of judgment comes apace,
  It holds not yet the sway;
    Today in boundless grace,
    With mercy in His face,
  God looks the sinner’s way.

  Nor is there need to cry,
    While beating on the breast,
  “O God, to such as I,
  A sinner, sore distressed,
  Propitious be.” We rest
  In Him who is on high:

  Who in His matchless grace
    Came down to death, that He
  Might there before God’s face
    Propitiation be
    For Jews, and such as we
  Of all the Gentile race.

  So all the world must hear,
    Tho’ many may deride.
  Send forth the tidings clear!
    To none is grace denied.
    The erring footsteps guide
  To God’s salvation near.