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92

CHAPTER V.

THE FIRST GENTILE CONVERT.

"Now there was a certain man in Cæsarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision openly, as it were about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in unto him, and saying to him, Cornelius. And he, fastening his eyes upon him, and being affrighted, said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are gone up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and fetch one Simon, who is surnamed Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side."—Acts x. 1-6.

We have now arrived at another crisis in the history of the early Church of Christ. The Day of Pentecost, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the call of Cornelius, and the foundation of the Gentile Church of Antioch are, if we are to pick and choose amid the events related by St. Luke, the turning-points of the earliest ecclesiastical history. The conversion of St. Paul is placed by St. Luke before the conversion of Cornelius, and is closely connected with it. Let us then inquire by what events St. Luke unites the two. German commentators of the modern school, who are nothing unless they are original, have not been willing to allow that St. Luke's narrative is continuous. They have assigned various dates to the conversion of Cornelius. Some have made it precede the conversion of St. Paul, others have fixed it to the93 time of Paul's sojourn in Arabia, and so on, without any other solid reasons than what their own fancies suggest. I prefer, however, to think that St. Luke's narrative follows the great broad outlines of the Christian story, and sets forth the events of the time in a divinely ordered sequence. At any rate I prefer to follow the course of events as the narrative suggests them, till I see some good reason to think otherwise. I do not think that the mere fact that the sacred writer states events in a certain order is a sufficient reason to think that the true order must have been quite a different one. Taking them in this light they yield themselves very naturally to the work of an expositor. Let us reflect then upon that sequence as here set forth for us.

Saul of Tarsus went up to Jerusalem to confer with St. Peter, who had been hitherto the leading spirit of the apostolic conclave. He laboured in Jerusalem among the Hellenistic synagogues for some fifteen days. A conspiracy was then formed against his life. The Lord, ever watchful over His chosen servant, warned him to depart from Jerusalem, indicating to him as he prayed in the Temple the scope and sphere of his future work, saying, "Depart: for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles" (see Acts xxii. 21). The Christians of Jerusalem, having learned the designs of his enemies, conveyed Saul to Cæsarea, the chief Roman port of Palestine, whence they despatched him to Cilicia, his native province, where he laboured in obscurity and quietness for some time. St. Peter may have been one of the rescue party who saved Saul from the hands of his enemies escorting him to Cæsarea, and this circumstance may have led him to the western district of the country. At94 any rate we find him soon after labouring in Western Palestine at some distance from Jerusalem. Philip the Evangelist had been over the same ground a short time previously, and St. Peter may have been sent forth by the mother Church to supervise his work and confer that formal imposition of hands which from the beginning has formed the completion of baptism, and seems to have been reserved to the Apostles or their immediate delegates. Peter's visit to Western Palestine, to Lydda and Sharon and Joppa, may have been just like the visit he had paid some time previously, in company with St. John, to the city of Samaria, when he came for the first time in contact with Simon Magus. St. Luke gives us here a note of time helping us to fix approximately the date of the formal admission of Cornelius and the Gentiles into the Church. He mentions that the Churches then enjoyed peace and quietness all through Palestine, enabling St. Peter to go upon his work of preaching and supervision. It may perhaps strike some persons that this temporary peace must have been attained through the conversion of Saul, the most active persecutor. But that event had happened more than two years before, in the spring of 37 A.D., and, far from diminishing, would probably have rather intensified the hostility of the Jewish hierarchy. It was now the autumn of the year 39, and a bitter spirit still lingered at Jerusalem, as Saul himself and the whole Church had just proved. External authorities, Jewish and Roman history, here step in to illustrate and confirm the sacred narrative.

The Emperor Caius Caligula, who ascended the throne of the empire about the time of Stephen's martyrdom, was a strange character. He was wholly95 self-willed, madly impious, utterly careless of human life, as indeed unregenerate mankind ever is. Christianity alone has taught the precious value of the individual human soul the awful importance of human life as the probation time for eternity, and has thereby ameliorated the harshness of human laws, the sternness of human rulers, ready to inflict capital punishment on any pretence whatsoever. Caligula determined to establish the worship of himself throughout the world. He had no opposition to dread from the pagans, who were ready to adopt any creed or any cult, no matter how degrading, which their rulers prescribed. Caligula knew, however, that the Jews were more obstinate, because they alone were conscious that they possessed a Divine revelation. He issued orders, therefore, to Petronius, the Roman governor of Syria, Palestine, and the East, to erect his statue in Jerusalem and to compel the Jews to offer sacrifice thereto. Josephus tells us of the opposition which the Jews offered to Caligula; how they abandoned their agricultural operations and assembled in thousands at different points, desiring Petronius to slay them at once, as they could never live if the Divine laws were so violated. The whole energies of the nation were for months concentrated on this one object, the repeal of the impious decree of Caligula, which they at last attained through their own determination and by the intervention of Herod Agrippa, who was then at Rome.966363   See the whole story told at length in Josephus, Antiquities, Book XVIII., ch. viii., 8, and in his Wars, Book II., ch. x. This story, which is little known to Bible students, is most interesting. It fully explains the repose from persecution which the Church enjoyed at the time of the conversion of Cornelius and helps us to fix its date. In the year 39 Petronius, the prefect of Syria, received orders from the Emperor Caligula to set up his statue as a god in the Temple. He advanced to fulfil the Emperor's command with two legions and a number of auxiliary troops, and came as far as Ptolemais, a maritime town of Galilee, which is mentioned in Acts xxi. 7 as a place where St. Paul visited a Church, of which we hear nothing else. The Jewish nation met the prefect there in tens of thousands, entreating him to desist or else to put them to immediate death. He halted his army and appointed a further conference at Tiberias, where the people met him and continued their entreaties for fifty days, though it was seed-time and a famine might result from their neglect of the spring operations. Petronius suspended his operations for the time, and wrote back to the Emperor an account of the Jewish opposition. Herod Agrippa too, who was then at Rome and in high favour with the Emperor, lent his assistance, and obtained a temporary respite for the Jews by a timely and expensive banquet which he prepared for him. Towards the close of A.D. 40 Caligula, however, determined to set out and personally compel the obedience of the Jews. But his assassination in January 41 relieved their apprehensions, and freed the world from Caligula's mad freaks. During that period of anxiety, lasting fully a year and a half, the Jews had neither time nor thought for the new sect, which was opposed as strongly as themselves to the Emperor's impious projects and whose members doubtless flung themselves as heartily into the opposition. The Jews at Alexandria suffered at the same time a terrible persecution, of which Philo and Josephus tell: see Mommsen's Provinces of the Roman Empire, vol. ii., pp. 190-96 (Dickson's Translation). This is one of those incidental touches which prove the wonderful accuracy of this book of the Acts. Dr. Lightfoot has remarked (Essays on Supernatural Religion) that no book of the Bible has so many points of contact with current history and politics as the Acts, and can therefore be more easily tested. This special case is an interesting illustration of the learned bishop's view. It was during this awful period of uncertainty and opposition that the infant Church enjoyed a brief period of repose and quiet growth, because the whole nation from the high priest to the lowest beggar had something else to think of than how to persecute a new sect that was as yet rigorously scrupulous in observing the law of Moses. During this period of repose from persecution St. Peter made his tour of inspection "throughout all parts," Samaria, Galilee, Judæa, terminating with Lydda, where he healed, or at least97 prayed for the healing of, Æneas,6464   Perhaps it is well to note that this is not the classical word Æneas, which in Greek would be represented by Αἰνείασ, but a different name with a short e, and is written in Greek Αἰνέας. The latter is found in Thucydides and Xenophon: see Meyer in loco. and with Joppa, where his prayer was followed by the restoration of Tabitha or Dorcas, who has given a designation now widely applied to the assistance which devout women can give to their poorer sisters in Christ.

We thus see how God by the secret guidance of His Spirit, shaping his course by ways and roads known only to Himself, led St. Peter to the house of Simon the tanner, where he abode many days waiting in patience to know God's mind and will which were soon to be opened out to him. We have now traced the line of events which connect the conversion of Saul of Tarsus with that of Cornelius the centurion of Cæsarea. Let us apply ourselves to the circumstances surrounding the latter event, which is of such vital importance to us Gentile Christians as having been the formal Divine proclamation to the Church and to the world that the mystery which had been hid for ages was now made manifest, and that the Gentiles were spiritually on an equality with the Jews. The Church was now about to burst the bonds which had restrained it for five years at least. We stand by the birth of European Christendom and of modern civilisation. It is well, then, that we should learn and inwardly digest every, even the slightest, detail concerning such a transcendent and notable crisis. Let us take them briefly one by one as the sacred narrative reports them.

I. I note, then, in the first place that the time of this conversion was wisely and providentially chosen. The time was just about eight years after the Ascension and98 the foundation of the Church. Time enough therefore had elapsed for Christianity to take root among the Jews. This was most important. The gospel was first planted among the Jews, took form and life and shape, gained its initial impulse and direction among God's ancient people in order that the constitution, the discipline, and the worship of the Church might be framed on the ancient Jewish model and might be built up by men whose minds were cast in a conservative mould. Not that we have the old law with its wearisome and burdensome ritual perpetuated in the Christian Church. That law was a yoke too heavy for man to bear. But, then, the highest and best elements of the old Jewish system have been perpetuated in the Church. There was in Judaism by God's own appointment a public ministry, a threefold public ministry too, exercised by the high priest, the priests, and the Levites. There is in Christianity a threefold ministry exercised by bishops, presbyters or elders, and deacons.6565   I do not intend to raise any disputed question as to Church polity and government in this book, and so I may point out, without compromising my own views in the least, that even a Presbyterian may agree in this statement, as he may hold that his own teaching elder or minister corresponds to the primitive bishop, his ruling elders to the presbyters, and his own deacons to the ancient deacons. Presbyterianism claims thus a threefold ministry as well as Episcopacy. There were in Judaism public and consecrated sanctuaries, fixed liturgies, public reading of God's Word, a service of choral worship, hymns of joy and thanksgiving, the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism in a rudimentary shape; all these were transferred from the old system that was passing away into the new system that was taking its place. Had the Gentiles been admitted much earlier all this might not have so easily happened. Men do not easily change99 their habits. Habits, indeed, are chains which rivet themselves year by year with ever-increasing power round our natures; and the Jewish converts brought their habits of thought and worship into the Church of Christ, establishing there those institutions of prayer and worship, of sacramental communion and preaching which we still enjoy. But we must observe, on the other hand, that, had the Gentiles been admitted a little later, the Church might have assumed too Jewish and Levitical an aspect. This pause of eight years, during which Jews alone formed the Church, is another instance of those delays of the Lord6666   What a fine subject for historical study the delays of the Lord would prove. The delay of the Incarnation till the world was ready is a supreme instance of them. The delay of the triumph of Christianity, of the break up of the Roman Empire, of the Reformation so often attempted but never effected till the invention of printing and the revival of learning,—these and numerous other illustrations fling light upon the darkness which still surrounds the Divine methods and dispensations amid which we live. which, whether they happen in public or in private life, are always found in the long run to be wise, blessed, and providential things, though for a time they may seem dark and mysterious, according to that ancient strain of the Psalmist, "Wait on the Lord, ... and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, upon the Lord."6767   This and several other thoughts in this chapter will be found worked out in a sermon of Bishop Jebb, a well-known preacher of the last generation who is now almost forgotten. Yet he published several volumes of sermons and other theological works, which had no small influence in laying the foundations of the Oxford movement. His sermons are full of matter, though not composed in a modern style. This cannot be wondered at when we find from his well-known correspondence with Alexander Knox that a single sermon sometimes was the work of several months, if not even years. The leisurely character of even busy lives in the opening years of this century is strikingly illustrated by the correspondence between these learned men. Bishop Jebb preached a sermon in 1804 on the well-known Vincentian rule of faith, "Quod semper, quod ubique, etc." This sermon he elaborated till 1815, and then published it. It played no small part in religious controversies between 1815 and 1840, as a reference to the Christian Observer, the Christian Examiner, and other religious periodicals of that time will show.

II. Again, the place where the Church burst its Jewish shell and emerged into full gospel freedom is noteworthy. It was at Cæsarea. It is a great pity that people do not make more use of maps in their study of100 Holy Scripture. Sunday evenings are often a dull time in Christian households, and the bare mechanical reading of Scripture and of good books often only makes them duller. How much livelier, interesting, and instructive they would be were an attempt made to trace the journeys of the apostles with a map, or to study the scenes where they laboured—Jerusalem, Cæsarea, Damascus, Ephesus, Athens, and Rome—with some of the helps which modern scholarship and commercial enterprise now place within easy reach. I can speak thus with the force of personal experience, for my own keen interest in this book which I am expounding dates from the Sunday evenings of boyhood thus spent, though without many of the aids which now lie within the reach of all. This is essentially the modern method of study, especially in matters historical. A modern investigator and explorer of Bible sites and lands has well expressed this truth when he said, "Topography is the foundation of history. If we are ever to understand history, we must understand the places where that history was transacted."6868   See Ramsay's Historical Geography of Asia Minor, pp. 51, 52. The celebrated historians the late Mr. Freeman and Mr. Green worked a revolution in English historical methods by teaching people that an indefatigable101 use of maps and a careful study of the physical features of any country are absolutely needful for a true conception of its history. In this respect at least secular history and sacred history are alike. Without a careful study of the map we cannot understand God's dealings with the Church of Christ, as is manifest from the case of Cæsarea at which we have arrived. The narratives of the Gospels and of the Acts will be confused, unintelligible, unless we understand that there were two Cæsareas in Palestine, one never mentioned in the Gospels, the other never mentioned in the Acts. Cæsarea Philippi was a celebrated city of North-eastern Palestine. It was when our Lord was within its borders that St. Peter made his celebrated confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," told of in St. Matthew xvi. 13-16. This is the only Cæsarea of which we hear in the Gospels. It was an inland town, built by the Herods in joint honour of themselves and of their patrons the Emperors of Rome, and bore all the traces of its origin. It was decorated with a splendid pagan temple, was a thoroughly pagan town, and was therefore abhorred by every true Jew. There was another Cæsarea, the great Roman port of Palestine and the capital, where the Roman governors resided. It was situated in the borders of Phœnicia, in a north-westerly direction from Jerusalem, with which it was connected by a fine military road.6969   The most detailed account of Cæsarea-on-the-Sea, its ruins and present state, will be found in the Memoirs of the Survey of Western Palestine, vol. ii., pp. 13-29. It is accompanied with plans and maps, which show that ancient Roman Cæsarea was ten times the size of the mediæval city which the Crusaders occupied. Geikie's The Holy Land and the Bible, ch. iv., gives a very interesting account of the ancient and modern state of Cæsarea. This Cæsarea had been originally built102 by Herod the Great. He spent twelve years at this undertaking, and succeeded in making it a splendid monument of the magnificence of his conceptions. The seaboard of Palestine is totally devoid to this day of safe harbours. Herod constructed a harbour at vast expense. Let us hear the story of its foundation in the very words of the Jewish historian. Josephus tells us that Herod, observing "that Joppa and Dora are not fit for havens on account of the impetuous south winds which beat upon them, which, rolling the sands which come from the sea against the shores, do not admit of ships lying in their station; but the merchants are generally there forced to ride at their anchors in the sea itself. So Herod endeavoured to rectify this inconvenience, and laid out such a compass toward the land as might be sufficient for a haven, wherein the great ships might lie in safety; and this he effected by letting down vast stones of above fifty feet in length, not less than eighteen in breadth and nine in depth, into twenty fathoms deep."7070   See Josephus, Antiquities, XV. ix. 6; Wars of Jews, I. xxi. Mr. Lewin, in his Life of St. Paul, vol. ii., ch. iv., spends several pages in an elaborate discussion of the buildings and plan of Cæsarea, to which it must here suffice to refer. The Romans, when they took possession of Palestine, adopted and developed Herod's plans, and established Cæsarea on the coast as the permanent residence of the procurator of Palestine. And it was a wise policy. The Romans, like the English, had a genius for government. They fixed their provincial capitals upon or near the sea-coast that their communications might be ever kept open. Thus in our own case Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Capetown, Quebec, and Dublin are all seaport towns. And so in ancient times Antioch, Alexandria, Tarsus, Ephesus, Marseilles,103 Corinth, London, were all seaports and provincial Roman capitals as Cæsarea was in Palestine. And it was a very wise policy. The Jews were a fierce, bold, determined people when they revolted. If the seat of Roman rule had been fixed at Jerusalem, a rebellion might completely cut off all effective relief from the besieged garrison, which would never happen at Cæsarea so long as the command of the sea was vested in the vast navies which the Roman State possessed. Cæsarea was to a large extent a Gentile city, though within some seventy miles of Jerusalem. It had a considerable Jewish population with their attendant synagogues, but the most prominent features were pagan temples, one of them serving for a lighthouse and beacon for the ships which crowded its harbour, together with a theatre and an amphitheatre, where scenes were daily enacted from which every sincere Jew must have shrunk with horror. Such was the place—a most fitting place, Gentile, pagan, idolatrous to the very core and centre—where God chose to reveal Himself as Father of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews, and showed Christ's gospel as a light to lighten the Gentiles as well as the glory of His people Israel.

III. Then, again, the person chosen as the channel of this revelation is a striking character. He was "Cornelius by name, a centurion of the band called the Italian band."7171   Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian band. This is another of the accidental coincidences which attest the genuineness of the Acts. The Roman army was divided into two broad divisions, the legions and the auxiliary forces. Now the legions were never permanently quartered in Palestine till the great war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, which began in A.D. 66 and ended in A.D. 70. A legion was then for the first time stationed with a fixed camp upon the site of the Holy City: see Mommsen's Roman Provinces, ii. 218. The auxiliary forces were a kind of militia raised upon the spot. Palestine was made a province of the second rank in A.D. 6, and from that time to the year 66 was garrisoned, like all second-rank provinces, exclusively by auxiliary troops, the headquarters of which were at Cæsarea. These auxiliaries, recruited amongst the Samaritans and Syrian Greeks, numbered one ala and five cohorts, about three thousand men: see Mommsen, loc. cit., p. 186. It would not have been prudent, however, to have a garrison in Palestine exclusively composed of troops locally recruited, even though restricted to Samaritans and Syrians, just as no prudent English government would garrison Ireland with a militia drawn from Ulster Orangemen alone. The Roman Government therefore mingled with the garrison of Cæsarea an auxiliary cohort composed of Italians. There were thirty-two Italian auxiliary cohorts which were thus used as a salutary precaution against treachery on the part of the local militia. See, on this interesting point, Marquardt, L' Organisation Militaire chez les Romains, p. 189 (French Edition), where this learned German writer often quotes the Acts of the Apostles to illustrate the military arrangements in Palestine during the first sixty years of the first century. Such was the military organisation of Palestine from A.D. 6 to 66. After that period Palestine was ruled in the sternest military manner, and treated like a border province subject to martial law with legionaries scattered all over it. Now if the Acts were written in the beginning of the second century, a writer would almost certainly have missed the correct description of the troops stationed at Cæsarea as St. Luke gives it in this passage. See also the article "Exercitus" in the new edition of Smith's Dictionary of Roman and Greek Antiquities; Mommsen, on the Roman Legions, in Ephemeris Epigraphica, vol. v. and Pfitzner, Geschichte der Römischen Kaiserlegionen. Here, then, we note first of all that104 Cornelius was a Roman soldier. Let us pause and reflect upon this. In no respect does the New Testament display more clearly its Divine origin than in the manner in which it rises superior to mere provincialism. There are no narrow national prejudices about it like those which nowadays lead Englishmen to despise other nations, or those which in ancient times led a thorough-going Jew to look down with sovereign contempt on the Gentile world as mere dogs and outcasts. The New Testament taught that all men were equal and were brothers in blood, and thus laid the foundations105 of those modern conceptions which have well-nigh swept slavery from the face of civilised Christendom. The New Testament and its teaching is the parent of that modern liberalism which now rules every circle, no matter what its political designation. In no respect does this universal catholic feeling of the New Testament display itself more clearly than in the pictures it presents to us of Roman military men. They are uniformly most favourable. Without one single exception the pictures drawn for us of every centurion and soldier mentioned in the books of the New Testament are bright with some element of good shining out conspicuously by way of favourable contrast, when brought side by side with the Jewish people, upon whom more abundant and more blessed privileges had been in vain lavished. Let us just note a few instances which will illustrate our view. The soldiers sought John's baptism and humbly received John's penitential advice and direction when priests and scribes rejected the Lord's messenger (Luke iii. 14). A soldier and a centurion received Christ's commendation for the exercise of a faith surpassing in its range and spiritual perception any faith which the Master had found within the bounds and limits of Israel according to the flesh. "Verily I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel," were Christ's almost wondering words as He heard the confession of His God-like nature, His Divine power involved in the centurion's prayer of humility, "I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed" (cf. Matt. viii. 5-13). So was it again with the centurion to whom the details of our Lord's execution were committed. He too is painted in a favourable light. He had an open mind, willing to receive evidence.106 He received that evidence under the most unfavourable conditions. His mind was convinced of our Lord's mission and character, not by His triumphs, but by His apparent defeat. As the victim of Jewish malice and prejudice yielded up the ghost and committed His pure, unspotted soul to the hands of His heavenly Father, then it was that, struck by the supernatural spirit of love and gentleness and forgiveness—those great forces of Christianity which never at any other time or in any other age have had their full and fair play—the centurion yielded the assent of his affections and of his intellect to the Divine mission of the suffering Saviour, and cried, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (Matt. xxvii. 54). So it was again with Julius the centurion, who courteously entreated St. Paul on his voyage as a prisoner to Rome (Acts xxvii. 3); and so again it was with Cornelius the centurion, of the band called the Italian band.

Now how comes this to pass? What a striking evidence of the workings and presence of the Divine Spirit in the writers of our sacred books we may find in this fact! The Roman soldiers were of course the symbols to a patriotic Jew of a hated foreign sway, of an idolatrous jurisdiction and rule. A Jew uninfluenced by supernatural grace and unguided by Divine inspiration would never have drawn such pictures of Roman centurions as the New Testament has handed down to us. The pictures, indeed, drawn by the opposition press of any country is not generally a favourable one when dealing with the persons and officials of the dominant party. But the apostles—Jews though they were of narrow, provincial, prejudiced Galilee—had drunk deep of the spirit of the new religion. They recognised that Jesus Christ, the King of the107 kingdom of heaven, cared nothing about what form of government men lived under. They knew that Christ ignored all differences of climate, age, sex, nationality, or employment. They felt that the only distinctions recognised in Christ's kingdom were spiritual distinctions, and therefore they recognised the soul of goodness wherever found. They welcomed the honest and true heart, no matter beneath what skin it beat, and found therefore in many of these Roman soldiers some of the ablest, the most devoted, and the most effective servants and teachers of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Verily the universal and catholic principles of the new religion which found their first formal proclamation in the age of Cornelius met with an ample vindication and a full reward in the trophies won and the converts gained from such an unpromising source as the ranks of the Roman army. This seems to me one reason for the favourable notices of the Roman soldiers in the New Testament. The Divine Spirit wished to impress upon mankind that birth, position, or employment have no influence upon a man's state in God's sight, and to prove by a number of typical examples that spiritual conditions and excellence alone avail to find favour with the Almighty.

Another reason, however, may be found for this fact. The Scriptures never make light of discipline or training. "Train up a child in the way he should go" is a Divine precept. St. Paul, in his Pastoral Epistles, lays down as one great qualification for a bishop that he should have this power of exercising discipline and rule at home as well as abroad: "For if he knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?" (1 Tim. iii. 5). By discipline, the discipline of Egypt and the wilderness, did God108 prepare His people for Canaan. By the discipline of captivity and dispersion, by the discipline of Greek philosophy spreading novel intellectual ideas, by the discipline of Roman dominion executing mighty public works, carrying roads and intercommunication to the remotest and most barbarous nations, did God prepare the world for the revelation of His Son. By the discipline of life, by joy and sorrow, by strife and suffering, by parting and by loss, does God still prepare His faithful ones for the beatific vision of eternal beauty, for the rest and joy of everlasting peace. And discipline worked out its usual results on these military men, even though it was only an imperfect and pagan discipline which these Roman soldiers received. Let us note carefully how this was. The world of unregenerate man at the time of our Lord's appearance had become utterly selfish. Discipline of every kind had been flung off. Self-restraint was practically unknown, and the devil and his works flourished in every circle, bringing forth the fruits of wickedness, uncleanness, and impurity in every direction. The army was the only place or region where in those times any kind of discipline or self-restraint was practised. For no army can permit—even if it be an army of atheists—profligacy and drunkenness to rage, flaunting themselves beneath the very eye of the sun. And as the spiritual result we find that this small measure of pagan discipline acted as a preparation for Christianity, and became under the Divine guidance the means of fitting men like Cornelius of Cæsarea for the reception of the gospel message of purity and peace.7272   "The Roman camps were also the best training-schools for the old-fashioned virtues of faithfulness, straightforwardness, and hardihood; and in them were to be found the best types of the old Roman character, which, as moralists complained, were to be found elsewhere no more. If the funds of a country town had fallen into disorder, or uprightness was needed for a special post, the curator chosen by the Government was often an old soldier, who had long been tried and trusted; and early Christian history throws, incidentally, a favourable light upon the moral qualities of the Roman officer. These qualities were mainly formed by thoroughness of work and discipline."—W. W. Capes, The Early Empire, p. 210.

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But we observe that Cornelius the centurion had one special feature which made him peculiarly fitted to be God's instrument for opening the Christian faith to the Gentile world. The choice of Cornelius is marked by all that skill and prudence, that careful adaptation of means to ends which the Divine workmanship, whether in nature or in grace, ever displays. There were many Roman centurions stationed at Cæsarea, yet none was chosen save Cornelius, and that because he was "a devout man who feared God with all his house, praying to God always, and giving much alms to the people." He feared Jehovah, he fasted, prayed, observed Jewish hours of devotion. His habits were much more those of a devout Jew than of a pagan soldier. He was popular with the Jewish people therefore, like another centurion of whom it was said by the Jewish officials themselves "he loveth our nation and hath built us a synagogue." The selection of Cornelius as the leader and firstfruits of the Gentiles unto God was eminently prudent and wise. God when He is working out His plans chooses His instruments carefully and skilfully. He leaves nothing to chance. He does nothing imperfectly. Work done by God will repay the keenest scrutiny, the closest study, for it is the model of what every man's work in life ought as far as possible to be—earnest, wise, complete, perfect.

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IV. Again, looking at the whole passage we perceive therein illustrations of two important laws of the Divine life. We recognise in the case of Cornelius the working of that great principle of the kingdom of God often enunciated by the great Master: "To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly," "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine"; or, to put it in other language, that God always bestows more grace upon the man who diligently uses and improves the grace which he already possesses; a principle which indeed we see constantly exemplified in things pertaining to this world as well as in matters belonging to the spiritual life. Thus it was with Cornelius. He was what was called among the Jews a proselyte of the gate. These proselytes were very numerous. They were a kind of fringe hanging upon the outskirts of the Jewish people. They were admirers of Jewish ideas, doctrines, and practices, but they were not incorporated with the Jewish nation nor bound by all their laws and ceremonial restraints. The Levitical Law was not imposed upon them because they were not circumcised. They were merely bound to worship the true God and observe certain moral precepts said to have been delivered to Noah.7373   See the article on "Proselytes" in Schaft's Encyclopædia of Theology. Such was Cornelius whom the providence of God had led from Italy to Cæsarea for this very purpose, to fulfil His purposes of mercy towards the Gentile world. His residence there had taught him the truth and beauty of the pure worship of Jehovah rendered by the Jews. He had learned too, not only that God is, but that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Cornelius had set himself, therefore,111 to the diligent discharge of all the duties of religion so far as he knew them. He was earnest and diligent in prayer, for he recognised himself as dependent upon an invisible God. He was liberal in alms, for he desired to show forth his gratitude, for mercies daily received. And acting thus he met with the divinely appointed reward. Cornelius is favoured with a fuller revelation and a clearer guidance by the angel's mouth, who tells him to send and summon Peter from Joppa for this very purpose. What an eminently practical lesson we may learn from God's dealings with this earliest Gentile convert! We learn from the Divine dealings with Cornelius that whosoever diligently improves the lower spiritual advantages which he possesses shall soon be admitted to higher and fuller blessings.

It may well have been that God led him through successive stages and rewarded him under each. In distant Italy, when residing amid the abounding superstitions of that country, conscience was the only preacher, but there the sermons of that monitor were heard with reverence and obeyed with diligence. Then God ordered the course of his life so that public duty summoned him to a distant land. Cornelius may have at the time counted his lot a hard one when despatched to Palestine as a centurion, for it was a province where, from the nature of the warfare there prevalent, there were abundant opportunities of death by assassination at the hands of the Zealots, and but few opportunities of distinction such as might be gained in border warfare with foreign enemies. But the Lord was shaping his career, as He shapes all our careers, with reference to our highest spiritual purposes. He led Cornelius, therefore, to a land and to a town where the pure worship of Jehovah was practised and the elevated112 morality of Judaism prevailed. Here, then, were new opportunities placed within the centurion's reach. And again the same spiritual diligence is displayed, and again the same law of spiritual development and enlarging blessing finds a place. Cornelius is devout and liberal and God-fearing, and therefore a heavenly visitor directs his way to still fuller light and grander revelations, and Cornelius the centurion of the Italian band leads the Gentile hosts into the fulness of blessing, the true land flowing with milk and honey, found only in the dispensation of Jesus Christ and within the borders of the Church of God. This was God's course of dealing with the Roman centurion, and it is the course which the same loving dealings still pursues with human souls truly desirous of Divine guidance. The Lord imparts one degree of light and knowledge and grace, but withholds higher degrees till full use has been made of the lower. He speaks to us at first in a whisper; but if we reverently hearken, there is a gradual deepening of the voice, till it is as audible in the crowd as it is in the solitude, and we are continually visited with the messages of the Eternal King.

Now cannot these ideas be easily applied to our own individual cases? A young man, for instance, may be troubled with doubts and questions concerning certain portions of the Christian faith. Some persons make such doubts an excuse for plunging into scenes of riot and dissipation, quenching the light which God has given them and making certain their own spiritual destruction. The case of Cornelius points out the true course which should in such a case be adopted. Men may be troubled with doubts concerning certain doctrines of revelation. But they have no doubt as to the dictates of conscience and the light which natural113 religion sheds upon the paths of morals and of life. Let them then use the light they have. Let them diligently practise the will of God as it has been revealed. Let them be earnest in prayer, pure and reverent in life, honest and upright in business, and then in God's own time the doubts will vanish, the darkness will clear away, and the ancient promises will be fulfilled, "Light is sown for the righteous," "The path of the just shineth more and more unto the perfect day," "In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death."

But the example of Cornelius is of still wider application. The position of Cornelius was not a favourable one for the development of the religious life, and yet he rose superior to all its difficulties, and became thus an eminent example to all believers. Men may complain that they have but few spiritual advantages, and that their station in life is thickly strewn with difficulties, hindering the practices and duties of religion. To such persons we would say, compare yourselves with Cornelius and the difficulties external and internal he had to overcome. Servants, for instance, may labour under great apparent disadvantages. Perhaps, if living in an irreligious family, they have few opportunities for prayer, public or private. Men of business are compelled to spend days and nights in the management of their affairs. Persons of commanding intellect or of high station have their own disadvantages, their own peculiar temptations, growing out of their very prosperity. The case of Cornelius shows that each class can rise superior to their peculiar difficulties and grow in the hidden life of the soul, if they but imitate his example as he grew from grace to grace, improving his scanty store till it grew into a114 fuller and ampler one, till it expanded into all the glory of Christian privilege, when Cornelius, like Peter, was enabled to rejoice in the knowledge and love of a risen and glorified Redeemer.7474   I owe a great many of the devout thoughts dealing with the latter portion of this subject to a volume of sermons preached by the celebrated Golden Lecturer, the eloquent Henry Melville, styled Voices of the Christian Year. Melville is now as a preacher quite forgotten, and yet he deserves to be gratefully remembered, for he was the first of the old Evangelical school to break through the traditional repetition of commonplaces which formed the main part of the preaching of the leading popular orators of fifty years ago. From a preacher's point of view his sermons will still repay study. His sermons, for instance, on the less known characters of Scripture, will teach a young divine how to extract edification and instruction out of most unpromising materials, and to apply the essential principles of the Bible to the changed circumstances of modern life. And assuredly this is the real object of a pastor's preaching in a Christian congregation, not the mere repetition of the first elements of Christianity, but an application of its great principles, first proclaimed in the language of the East, to the actions and lives of the men of the West. Preaching of that kind need never be dull and uninteresting.


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