"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."—Acts 10:29
There was a little Pentecost that day in Cæsarea. It as a great mistake to suppose that the first Pentecost at Jerusalem was the end of blessing; it was only the beginning. There are some who tell us that we should not pray that the Holy Ghost may "descend" upon us, because the Holy Ghost has already come down once for all, and he cannot be expected to come down again. Is there not here, possibly, a grave mistake? It will be observed that the Holy Spirit, who descended upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, was also "received" by Samaritan converts, and likewise "fell on all those that heard the Word" that day in Cæsarea; and the same Holy Ghost came down also upon the disciples in Ephesus who had not before "heard whether there were a Holy Ghost or no." Now, if the Spirit of God could come down thrice in Apostolic days after the Pentecost at Jerusalem, why may the Holy Ghost not "come down" again this morning upon us who are here assembled.
There is a distinction between the work of the Holy Spirit in the conversion and sanctification of a human soul, and the work of the same Spirit upon us as the servants that have already received his power within. Those little prepositions, "in" or "within," and "on" or "upon," seem to be always used in the New Testament, and, indeed, in the whole Bible, with very great discrimination. The first two prepositions refer to that work of the Holy Ghost which is permanent in the soul of a child of God; but the other prepositions, "on" and "upon," refer to the temporary influence of the Spirit in bestowing the special endowment of power upon us during the period of our service. So that, while we may not expect or pray that the Holy Ghost will come down again in the sense of saving and sanctifying power within us, since he already dwells there, we may expect that he will come down in the sense of power for service, a. new anointing for the tongue of the minister of Christ, and a new anointing for the ear of the hearer. Let us seek to get hold of this thought at this time, for it is the key of whatever work I seek to do among you in the name of the Lord. I regard the Pentecost at Jerusalem as the type and the prophecy of Pentecosts all through the history of the church of God. That was a kind of "firstfruits"—a little gathered out of the harvest field—a specimen and a prophecy of the harvest that was to come, and not as ripe and fully developed as the whole harvest would be when it was perfectly matured. So, in this sense, we are justified in looking for other Pentecosts in history that shall not only be like the first Pentecost at Jerusalem, but greater than that in results, as that was greater in results than any work of the Spirit that went before.
If intelligent disciples were asked what is the greatest lack in the church of God to-day, I am sure the answer would be—the greatest lack is the loss of the power of the Holy Ghost. It is not so much a lack of ministers; some of them, doubtless, might as well not be ministers at all. It is not a lack of learning, for we have many learned ministers; and I have sometimes thought that a little of their learning might be dropped out without any damage. It is not a lack of churches, we have hundreds and thousands of them. Nor is it a lack of members, for we could drop a few out of our rolls without any harm to the church of God. What, then, is the lack? Why, it is the absence of spiritual power; the loss of that anointing of the Holy Ghost that makes the tongue of the minister of Jesus Christ most of all learned in the school of the grace of God. It is the lack of converting and sanctifying power attending the Word. In brief, it is the lack of the Spirit's gracious influences coming down like rain from above.
Now let us notice again that the laws of power are fixed laws. There are certain great powers of the universe that we call by the name of "forces." For instance, there is gravitation, the tendency of a falling body towards a centre. There is electricity; there is steam; there are light and heat; there are adhesion and cohesion. All these are powers in the natural world; and they all obey laws, that is, they move within certain limits on a fixed track, just as much as a train of railway carriages moves on its double lines of steel; and you can never utilize the power, off its track, any more than you can have an engine moving properly and effectively if it does not move on those steel rails.
There is one great law that pervades the universe of God; and I would emphasize that law by repetition, that you may write it down on the tablets of your memory, namely, that whenever you obey the law of the power, the power obeys you: but that whenever you disregard the law of the power, the power refuses to obey and serve you; and may sometimes not only oppose and defeat you, but absolutely destroy you. If you get into proper relations to the fire you are warmed and filled with its glow; but if you get into wrong relations to the fire, it burns and blisters and consumes you. If you get into right relations with steam you may harness the steam to your carriages on the land, or to your vessels on the deep, and they will bear you in safety to other parts; but if you disobey the law of the steam it not only refuses to serve you, but explodes with tremendous violence and tears you limb from limb. Just so about electricity; just so as to magnetism, and all other natural powers in the universe. Now, let it be reverently said, the Holy Ghost is the greatest of all the powers of the universe. The Holy Ghost acts according to the laws of his own power; and if you will obey those laws he will serve you, but if you transgress the laws by which that Power of God is evermore guided in his ministry among the saints, he will refuse to bless you. (Acts 5:32.)
This introduction is necessary that we should get to the doorway of this great theme. Here we have power from heaven falling upon all those that heard the Word, so that they were immediately brought to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and were baptized into the company of the faithful. So seldom do we behold any such manifestations of the Holy Ghost in our modern assemblies that we might almost say that such power has been withdrawn from the. church at large, at least in great manifestations, and it is only here and there, and now and then, that the Spirit of God is exhibited after the manner of the original Pentecost.
The vital question arises—What are the laws or conditions of this divine power? What is the track along which the Spirit of God moves when he bears such blessing to the souls of men? It will repay us richly if, at the outset of this brief period of service among you, having asked what is your intent in sending for me, we all, as spiritually-minded disciples, seek an answer according to the Word to that other question concerning the conditions of blessing.
Let us, looking at this incident, see what were the conditions of this power as here illustrated. God is the same: he never changes. It is man that changes. Suppose you have a fixed object here, and you move around it, the object does not change; it is in the same place and plane; it preserves the same attitude and position; but you change your position, and, therefore, your relative position with regard to the object Now God is the one great fixed Being of the universe. He is eternally and unchangeably the same; and if he appears different, and is relatively different to us at different times, it is because of our different attitude and position with respect to him; so that if we can find out the conditions of power in this tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and can reproduce those conditions this very day in this Tabernacle of God, we have reason to expect such a manifestation of the Holy Ghost as they had in the house of Cornelius the centurion. May the Lord, therefore, guide us as we explore this great question, and show us the obvious conditions of the Holy Spirit's power! We must not only examine these conditions, but must carefully keep out any other admixture if we want this power, In chemistry, when you try to analyze certain substances, if you introduce some foreign matter, whether it combines with the rest or not, you may neutralize the effect of the other substances. Now, if we mingle with these conditions of power some foreign element, as it were, we might neutralize the power, or prevent its exercise. So let us be very careful and follow the lead of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of God.
I. In the first place we have here a messenger with a message and a prepared mind and heart.
There was a messenger. Mark who he was. Peter, a man, a very frail man, who dared not stand up before a maid and say—"I am Jesus' follower," but three times—and the second and third time with increasing emphasis of oath and blasphemy—declared that he did not know the man. The messenger was Peter.
Why not an angel? There is an angel in the narrative. In the beginning of this chapter we read that an angel appeared to Cornelius. Why should not that angel have told the centurion about the way of salvation? He was there; Peter was in Joppa; at least a day and a half's journey from Caesarea. Why take those three days to send men to Joppa, to lodge over-night and bring back Peter with them, when the angel of God was there on the spot, and could have taught Cornelius "words whereby he and his house might be saved"? Although the angel came into that house, there was a limit to angelic ministry. All he was permitted to say was, "Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter"—the very disciple that denied his Lord—"and he shall tell thee words whereby thou and thy house shall be saved." Do you not suppose that the angel would have been glad to have told the good tidings to Cornelius? But the Lord would not allow it. I say that advisedly, because, whenever an angel appears in the New Testament, he is never permitted to tell the story of redeeming love. In the eighth chapter of the Acts, we read that the angel said to Philip, "Go and join thyself to the chariot of the eunuch." Why did he not go himself? Again, in the twenty-seventh chapter, we find that the angel appeared to Paul in a vision of the night, and said, "God hath given thee all them that sail with thee." Why did not the angel appear to the crew and make that same announcement?
"Never did angels taste above
Redeeming grace and dying love."
The Lord wants testimony, and hence witnesses; and because the angels never sinned and never fell, and so were never saved by Jesus Christ, God crowds the angels back, and thrusts you and me forward. However poor a preacher, I can preach the gospel better than Gabriel can, because Gabriel cannot say what I can say, "I am a sinner saved by grace." So any believer may preach better than he. And Peter could preach better, for the very fact that he had denied his Lord, and been forgiven for his denial; the poor backslider could preach better to other backsliders because he had had that experience. So the Lord says, "When thou art converted"—or brought back to the way of duty—"strengthen thy brethren," that are liable to fall in the same way that you fell. The Lord wants witnesses. "What is a witness? That Saxon word "Witan," from which the word "witness" comes, means to know. If you only know, and have a tongue with which to tell what you know, the Lord says, "You can be my witness"; and if you know never so much, but know not what it is to be saved by grace, God will not have you for a witness. You could not witness if He would, for you have nothing to witness. And one reason why so few, even of disciples, appear to have any real witness for God is because they know so little about the Lord themselves. Our knowledge limits our testimony. A herald is the mouth of a message, but a witness is the mouth of an experience. Lord, give us not only the message, but the experience, that we may be true witnesses for thee!
Peter had a mind prepared to deliver his message. Peter was a kind of ecclesiastical aristocrat. He felt that all people, outside those Jews to whom he belonged, were a kind of barbarians, just as Thales, the wisest and best of the Greeks, thought of all people outside Greece. In other words, Peter had what we sometimes call caste. You know what the caste spirit is. "The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans," as the woman of Samaria said to Jesus. "No dealings": that meant that a Jew would not show a lost traveller his way, or point him to a spring when he was athirst, if he was a Samaritan. That is the caste spirit on the broadest scale. Peter was an aristocrat; and it became necessary that God should take his aristocracy out of him, and break his caste spirit, before he could go and preach the gospel to these Gentile Romans in the palace of the Cæsars. A sheet was let down from heaven by four corners, and in it were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and fowls of the air; and Peter was told to "rise, kill, and eat." But he said, "Not so, Lord; I am a Jew, and nothing that is common or unclean ever entered my mouth." The Lord said thrice, in order that he might learn the lesson: "What God hath cleansed that call not thou common." Did you ever see anything of this kind of churchly aristocracy and caste spirit in our own day? Did you ever see any of those high-minded people who look down with scorn and contempt on what they call "the working classes," "the masses," or the "outcasts,'" or "the people in the slums"? We can never preach the gospel with power until we get over the caste spirit. Let me say to every Christian worker in this great congregation, if you do not get cured of your spiritual aristocracy, God never will give you the power of the Holy Ghost in reaching souls. Peter could not go down to that household in Cæsarea and preach the gospel with power to them until he had learned that any man, woman, or child in the wide world to whom God sends the message of his gospel is, before God, on an equality of right and privilege with the proudest nobles of the earth.
II. We turn from the messenger with his message and his prepared mind to the people who heard the message. In the first place, there were none of the ordinary conditions associated with power. There may be thousands of people in this Tabernacle this morning, and we are wont to connect power with a multitude; but here was a Pentecost when there was just a handful of the people gathered together, the kinsmen and near friends of Cornelius. Yet there was in one respect a greater display perhaps than on the day of Pentecost We are not told that at the Pentecost in Jerusalem all those that heard the Word were converted; but we are told here that the Holy Ghost fell on "all those that heard the Word"—the men, women, and children gathered together there—every one of them received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Then notice, again, that these hearers had also a prepared mind for the message. That is especially important. When Peter came in, Cornelius said to him, "Now, we are all here present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of God." Was there ever another minister of Jesus Christ who had an audience that addressed him in that fashion? Suppose I should hear from this great assembly to-day in this Tabernacle one unanimous voice, "Here we are all present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of God." It would not be possible even for so weak and unworthy a messenger to preach gospel tidings without power, if you would all give such audience as that! Did it ever occur to you what a contribution a hearer makes to the eloquence of the preacher? A great deal is said and written about power in the pulpit, but we do not hear much about power in the pew. Mr. Gladstone says that eloquence is the pouring back on the audience in a flood what the speaker first gets from the audience in vapour. A beautiful definition of eloquence! The sun draws water from the little pools; from the open cup of every little flower that holds the dew there goes up vapour. It arises into the upper atmosphere where it is colder, and the vapour is condensed first into clouds, and then into rain; and then it comes down in a flood on the dry and thirsty earth. So the preacher of the gospel, when he speaks with power, draws from the hearts of the hearers, whom he addresses, the dewdrops, which come to him as in vapour, and he condenses the vapour and pours it back upon them in a flood of sacred eloquence. So many a minister who does not know whence his power comes owes it to praying, sympathetic, loving hearers. Charles H. Spurgeon owes to this people under God much of the inspiration of his ministry. I remember when I preached here incidentally on the 7th December, 1889, I was met beforehand by these dear brethren that surround me on this platform, and one who is no more with us but is in the glory, and there for twenty minutes they besought God in prayer that he would help me in preaching the gospel to this people; and I felt the sense of being divinely uplifted and upborne by those prayers. A man cannot help preaching a good sermon when the people are thus praying for him, and when their hearts are open to receive the Word, and they can say in the presence of God, "Here we are before the Lord, all waiting to hear whatever is. commanded thee of God." How different the conditions when people come together, with critical and itching ears, demanding of the minister that he should say only what their prejudices or prepossessions incline them to hear; who want "smooth things" delicately said, not the sword of the Spirit sharp on the edge and piercing on the point; who like to hear something in place of the gospel, some discourse on good roads, or good laws, or good magistrates, or sanitary regulations, or the Czar of Russia, the Sultan of Turkey, or some such theme, instead of the precious Gospel! Even a mighty man of God has little power in a congregation whose hearts and minds are not ready for the reception of the truth. For observe God never forces the citadel of a human heart. May I repeat that? God never forces the citadel of a human heart. He will stand and knock, but there must be a hand within that opens, there must be a receptive mind and an obedient will, or God enters not to take possession.
Notice another thing: these hearers, few in number as they were, who had their hearts and their minds prepared for the Word of God, had introduced into their little assembly nothing, the nature of which was calculated to divert attention from the truth of the living God. There was simply a room in the house of Cornelius. They came for one purpose—to hear what Peter had to say in God's name. There seems nothing to divert or distract their minds, or hinder the power of the Spirit. Can you not understand why there is so little power in some churches of God to-day? You go into one assembly, for instance, and find, instead of the primitive apostolic praise in which the whole congregation join, an operatic quartette choir, with perhaps a very costly organ, with star singers, such as you hear in the concert hall, singing without spirit and without understanding, having no sympathy with what they sing, and simply conducting a performance in the name of worship. You go into another congregation where the minister delivers an essay, or oration, or lecture, and it would take ten thousand such, condensed and boiled down, to give you one single drop of gospel essence. The Holy Ghost never tolerates idols in his courts. If you will import into the place of worship that which takes the place of Almighty God, his praise, prayer, message of the gospel, and the single mind that looks to him for a blessing, you forfeit the blessing because you do not obey the law of the power. I owe it, as a tribute to the work of God in the Tabernacle, to say that I believe the success of this great church is owing to nothing more than to this, that the man who preaches the gospel here never preached anything else for forty years. Moreover every time a hymn is sung the people sing, and even if the rear part of the congregation chases the fore part of the congregation in a vain attempt to keep up in time, the question is how do these mingling voices salute the ears of the Lord God of hosts. If such singing offends the canons of art it does not violate the beauty of holiness; if you do transgress the laws of what some cultivated people call "æsthetics," you do not transgress the laws of the power of the Holy Ghost; and so important is this testimony to simple worship, that it were better that some calamity happen to this Tabernacle itself than that it should ever be perverted to an unsanctified, a secularized art.
If we really desire to keep out of divine worship everything that turns attention from God, or hinders the power of the Holy Ghost, we are divinely taught what to do. Moses, on behalf of God, gave the Israelites a command that they should not lift up the tool of iron on his altar, but that they should worship with an altar of unhewn stone. And so even the altar of burnt sacrifice, put into the Temple courts by Solomon, was extremely simple in its whole construction. Ahaz, that idolatrous king, looked on that altar, and said, "This is very bald, this is a very bare kind of worship"; and when he went to Damascus and saw there one of the carved altars of Assyria, he said, "I will displace the plain brazen altar of sacrifice in the Temple courts, and will have this beautiful æsthetic altar of Damascus in its place." So he brought it and put it there, and crowded God's plainer altar to one side. But remember this, the Holy Ghost left the holiest place when the Damascus altar came into the courts of the Temple. I can take you to-day into more than one nominal place for the worship of God where such a Damascus altar is found with its secular and profane art in place of the unhewn altar of God, and you may penetrate to the innermost recesses of those churches, and the pillar of cloud and fire is not there, and the Shekinah of glory does not there shine. And I can take you on the western prairies of America to a little log hut that is used as a place of worship, where nothing but the gospel is preached, and nothing but the praise of God is sung, and where prayer arises from stammering lips into the ears of the Lord God, and I will show you a congregation where the Lord adds "daily to the church such as shall be saved." The church of God is doing the maddest thing that the church of God" could do—trying to make up for the lack of the Holy Ghost by the presence of a worldly fashion, art, architecture, furniture, garniture, and secular influence, and she can never make up for that lack by any such substitutes. An angel came down at a certain season and troubled the pool of Bethesda, and, after the troubling of the waters, whoever first stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. Now, suppose the angel had not troubled the pool, and that the Jerusalemites, anxious that the healing properties should still be found in the water, had called all the quack doctors of Jerusalem together, and had said, "Now, drug these waters. Pour in your medicine, and let us make up for the absence of the angel by the presence of your drugs!" That is what the church of God does, when, instead of waiting for God's angel to come down and trouble her pool, or when the angel refuses to come because idols are found in God's courts, the doctors of the world are called in to drug the waters, and make them healing waters; but it is all in vain.
My fellow disciples, you have called a very frail man from the other side of the sea to preach for a little season to you the gospel of the grace of God. I do not know anything but Jesus Christ, and I want to know nothing else. Now the question is, for what intent have ye sent for me? Let me ask you three questions, and answer them in your own hearts: first, are you prepared for a blessing yourselves? secondly, are you expecting a blessing yourselves? and thirdly, are you depending upon the Holy Ghost, and on him alone, for the blessing?
A story is told about Mr. Spurgeon—and I have no doubt of its truth—that one Sabbath morning after the service was over, and the people came forward to shake hands with this beloved man of God, one young minister of the gospel came and said to him, "Mr. Spurgeon, I should like to ask you a personal question." "Well, what is it?" "I am a minister of Christ, and I have been preaching for several years, but I have not had much fruits of my preaching. Yet I believe I preach the truth in a right spirit, but the Lord does not give me souls." "Well," said Mr. Spurgeon, "you do not expect that every time you preach the gospel the Holy Ghost is coming down upon the people to turn some soul to Jesus Christ, do you?" "Why, of course not." "Well, that is just what I thought," said Mr. Spurgeon; "according to your faith be it unto you." Do you expect a blessing? then you will prepare your heart for it. May I say that I expect a blessing? I never would have come those three thousand miles across the stormy Atlantic, and have left all the work in America that was at my hands, to preach in this Tabernacle, had I not been confident that God called me, and meant, through this poor ministry of mine, to second the glorious testimony of Pastor Spurgeon, and that I should come to a prepared people. And I want solemnly to say that, if we do not have a blessing, it will be our own fault; for God is great and rich in mercy, and the Holy Ghost is even now hovering over this assembly like a dove at a window; and if we will open the window the Holy Dove will come in.
There are some unsaved souls here this morning: may I say one closing word to you? What is the reason you are not saved? If there is one of you that has come here to hear whatever is commanded of God for your soul, and you will at this moment open your hearts to the incoming of His message, you will go out of this place saved. Let us try the sacred experiment. I will read, as the conclusion of this address, Peter's sermon on that day in Cornelius's house: and so we will have the same message in prayerful dependence upon the same Spirit; and, while I read these few words, let all of you that love Jesus Christ, and are his disciples, in your hearts send up prayer to God that every unconverted soul in this house may hear these words whereby such hearers may get a present salvation.
"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. And 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: him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to those, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. 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.
"While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word." In the eleventh chapter, at the fifteenth verse, he tells us, "As I began to speak the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us at the beginning." That is to say, Peter never finished that sermon. He got far enough to declare the conditions of salvation, and the Holy Ghost—may I say it with reverence!—was so divinely impatient to bless those hearers that he would wait no longer. He crowded Peter aside, as though he would say to him, "You have said enough: the gospel is given to these people," and immediately "the Holy Ghost fell on them that heard the word. Now the same gospel is preached in your ears. How simple it is to receive it!
In the Jerry McAuley mission in New York, at 316, Water Street, there is a man who has been for years conducting with great success this mission among the outcast drunkards and thieves of that degraded portion of the city. I heard him tell the story of his own dissipation, how he went from an occasional wine-bibber down to an habitual drunkard, and then, as a hopeless sot, frequenting the lowest class of drinking-houses till, having no more money, he was kicked out of doors. One night he found his way into a low haunt, where they simply tolerated him because the rest of them were so drunk that they could not eject him from the premises. He sat on an empty whiskey barrel in the corner of that drink-shop. The curse of twenty years of dissipation was so telling upon him that he felt as though he were dying; and he thought of what he had heard years before, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He had not enough sobriety to conduct a process of thought or of reason; he could not pray intelligently, for he could not put incoherent and babbling words into prayer; but he thought to himself, "I have heard it said, if one will only look to Jesus, he is so desirous to save a poor sinner, that he will take the look for a prayer"; and he yearned to look towards Jesus, but thought, "Where shall I find him?" He felt himself falling from the hogshead to the floor, and he said, "I will fall towards the cross"; and that fall towards the cross saved him! My friend, if you get so much willingness in you heart this morning to be saved, as that if you were falling you would fall towards the cross, then there is salvation for you; and now, just now, in your heart say unto, the blessed Saviour, "I do open my heart, and take thee in as my Redeemer from the curse and condemnation of my sin!"