Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.
I forget not that we celebrate, to-day, the coming of the Holy Ghost; and I go not from it. You shall find in the next chapter, at the fifteenth, that to this text belongeth a coming of the Holy Ghost.
For at the uttering of these very words, as 'St. Peter began to speak to them, the Holy Ghost fell upon all that heard them.'
It is indeed the second solemn coming of the Holy Ghost. That in the second chapter was the first, and this the second that ever was.
Of which twain, this is the coming that comes home to us, and that two ways: 1. One, in respect of the parties on whom; 2. The other, in respect of the time when. The parties. [323/324] For those whom the Holy Ghost came on before, were Gentiles indeed, but yet proselytes that is, half Jews: 'out of every nation under Heaven;' but, 'that came to Jerusalem to worship.' And the same was the case of the eunuch in the eighth chapter, and not a right Gentile indeed, in puris naturalibus, such as we find and our fathers were; no proselytes ever. This centurion, the antesignanus, 'the standard-bearer' to us, and to all that were mere heathen men indeed; and this coming, our coming properly. Never in kind, never to very Gentiles indeed till now.
It is well sorted, you see. On the Jews and Proselytes, at Jerusalem, their city; on the Gentiles, at Cæsarea, Cæsar's city, and of the cities in Palestine, fitting the Gentiles best.
Well observed it is, about the calling of the Gentiles, that that in the Old, and this in the New Testament, they came both from one place, from Joppa both. Thence loosed Jonas to Nineveh, thence set out Peter to Cæsarea.
Secondly, that Cæsarea is the Nineveh, as it were, of the New Testament. Nineveh was the city 'of the great King' of the Gentiles at that time; Cæsarea, Cæsar's city, as great a King over the Gentiles as this, from whom went 'a commandment that the whole world should be taxed.'
Thirdly, that was performed by Jonas, this by 'Bar-jonas:' so is St. Peter called by our Saviour, when he made his confession, that 'Christ was the Son of God;' and that was at Cæsarea. Where, what he confessed then, he comes to preach now. That of Jonas as omen, as it were, of this here of St. Peter. Jonas, and Bar-jonas, from Joppa they went both; both from one place; both one end; both to convert the Gentiles, to shew that 'God had given them also repentance to life.'
Alway, this the better. For Jonas at Nineveh, he ends with 'Nineveh shall be destroyed.' Bar-jonas at Cæsarea, with acceptus est Illi; that the end of the text. Or, if you will go to the end of the sermon, the end is, 'shall obtain remission of sins,' as good as it every way.
So the parties fit well; the time as well. The Holy Ghost here came upon them as they were at a sermon, even as we [324/325] now are. 'Peter opened his mouth;' they stood attentive; the Holy Ghost came down. That to be here, is a disposition to receive the Holy Ghost. And it may please God, the like may befall us, being occupied now as they then were.
Of that sermon, these are the first words. Of which words, what can be said more to their praise, than that which the Angel said of them, the next chapter at the fourteenth verse; that Peter being sent for should, at his coming, 'speak words to Cornelius, by which both he and his household should be saved' Those words the Angel there spake of, that Peter should speak, are these I have read: God of His goodness send them the same effect!
In veritate comperi, shews they are a compertum est; and that is authentical with a test. So is this, teste Cornelio et totâ familiâ, 'witness he and his whole family and friends.' Such are most praised, for they are anima exemplo, 'have a soul put into them by an example.' Specially, when they be so reduced to a singular, as that singular afterwards is reduced to a general; both which are in this. Best preaching of a text, when the commentary stands before it, as here; for what is in the text propounded was fulfilled in the auditory, ere they went.
As fulfilled in them in particular, so extended to all in general, for it has an omni gente put to it; that nothing was done to him there, but the same will be done to any other. Any of any nation, who will be found in like sort disposed, as we find he was; that is, whose 'prayers and alms will come up into remembrance before God.' God will not be wanting to them, but provide them of further means requisite to their salvation.
It is a thing well befitting the providence of God; all His creatures, when He hath made them, to see them provided of such things as are needful for them. As He doth, saith the Psalm, for, 'the young ravens;' saith the Gospel, for the poor 'sparrows valued, two of them at a farthing: naturas rerum minimarum non destituit Deus, 'the smallest things that be, He leaves them not destitute.'
If not them, His half-farthing creatures, much less men, as He pleased to speak with the least, 'more worth than many sparrows.' So God argues with Jonas: if he made such ado [325/326] for his gourd, which 'sprung up in one night and withered in another, should not God spare Nineveh, wherein there were so many thousands that knew not their right hand from their left,' Gentiles though they were.
And if His care extend to all men, and He make 'His rain to fall and His sun to shine upon the evil and unkind,' shall He not bring the 'rain of His word,' as Moses calls it, to fall on them, and make His 'Sun of righteousness,' as Malachi calls it, to 'arise upon them that fear Him?' A view whereof we may take, in this family here, even of the Sun of righteousness, the white Sun, rising upon one that feared God with all his household, gave much alms and prayed to God daily.
Written by him, this; but not written for him only, that it was Whit-Sunday with him: but for us also, to whom it shall likewise be, if we be de gente Corneliâ, express and follow him in that which was accepted of in him.
Two points we have to proceed on. 1. The first here is a point newly perceived by St. Peter. 2. The second, what that was. A point newly perceived in these, 1. In veritate comperi, 'Of a truth I perceive.' 2. What the point was in these, 'that in every nation, &c.'
I . In that St. Peter saith, 'Truly I now perceive,' as if before he had not, as indeed he had not; for he was in the mind before that but in unâ gente, but now he perceives that in omni gente is the truer tenet; that even to St. Peter there were some things incomperta, something not perceived at first, that came to be perceived after.
II. Then an instance. What that was. And it was about God's accepting. Both ways: privative, what God accepts not; positive, what He accepts. Accepts no 'persons' that is once; but accepts of such as 'fear Him and work righteousness, of what nation soever--be he an Italian; of what condition soever--be he a centurion; all is one.
Of which two the one, fear, is an affection within, of the heart. The other, 'worketh righteousness,' is an action without, of the hand. Cornelius' heart and Cornelius' hand, these they be. Whence we shall learn three points more. 1. One, how we may be accepted to God, if we be as Cornelius here was; and I would we so were! 2. The [326/327] other, that when all is done, all is but accepting though. Except He could, to our fear and works both, and so is not bound; but accept He will though, of His grace and goodness, and as it follows immediately the next verse, for His word's sake which He sent, 'preaching peace by Jesus Who is Lord over all.'
The last, whereunto accepted; and that, as appeareth the forty-seventh verse, was to the Sacrament, and by it to the remission of sins, and to the receiving the Holy Ghost in a more ample measure. Opus diei, 'the proper of this day.'
'Of a truth I perceive,' He that saith 'Of a truth I perceive now,' in effect, as it were, saith before he did not so. For 'I perceive now,' is the speech of one that is come to perceiving of that which before he perceived not.
On this we pitch first. That so great an Apostle, for all Tu es Petrus, and rogavi pro te, and Pasce oves Meas, doth ingeniously confess that now he had found that which till now he had not; for, since the beginning of the chapter, he had not. So that all his comperis were not yet come in. By like his chair was not yet made, or he had not yet taken handsel of it. But how it comes to pass after, at Rome, I know not; at Cæsarea we see it was not so. And they that, in the next chapter, called him coram, to answer this sermon, sure they seem as then not to have been fully persuaded that St. Peter could perceive all things, and not miss in any.
Job, though in misery, yet in scorn saith to some in his time, 'indeed you, you are the only men, you perceive all.' Moses did not so. There was a case wherein he was nesciens quid do eo facere deberet, Moses 'knew not what he should do.' There was a case whereof Elisha was fain to say, Et Dominus non nunciavit mihi, 'God had not shewed it him.' But when God did, might not Moses and he both have said, as Peter doth here, 'Of a truth' before I did not, 'but now I do perceive?' Yea, but this is Old Testament.
And was it not in the New? there Caiaphas, he saith, 'Tush, you perceive nothing,'--he perceived all. But Cephas, he saith, he perceived all. For here he now saith he perceiveth something not all. For here he now saith he perceiveth something, and all his comperis came not at once. So saith Peter, and so Paul, 'all our knowledge is [327/328] in part,' and so is all 'our prophesying,' too, and puts himself in the number.
Of a truth then we perceive St. Peter comes nothing near his successor--that would be. He perceives all that is to be perceived at once; can have nothing added to his knowledge from the first instant he is set down in cathedrâ; can have no new comperi, his comperis come in all together; gets Caiaphas' knowledge by sitting in Cephas' chair.
They begin to scorn this themselves now, and pray him to get a good general council about him, and he shall perceive things never the worse.
But it is not this only they differ in, in something beside. For Peter took 'Cornelius up from the ground;' his successor let Cornelius' lord and master lie still hardly; not a captain of Cæsarea he, but even Cæsar himself. Of a truth we may perceive nothing like Cephas in this neither.
The woman at the well-side said, 'The Messias, when He comes He will tell us all.' Yet when He came He told them not all at once. Even to Tu es Petrus He said, Tu nescis modo, scies autem post hæc; and of those post hæcs they were not them able. And as it should be for them; for 'it was not for them to know all, not the times and seasons,' and such other things as 'the Father had put into His own power.'
I speak it for this, that even some that are far enough from Rome, yet with their new perspective they think they perceive all God's secret decrees, the number and order of them clearly; are indeed too bold and too busy with them. Luther said well that every one of us hath by nature a Pope in his belly, and thinks he perceives great matters. Even they that believe it not of Rome, are easily brought to believe it of themselves. And out they come with their comperis, with their great confidence propound them. But comperi is one thing; in veritate comperi, another comperie, they may say, and that may be doubted of, but in veritate comperi, that is it.
We may take up the text a point further. In veritate comperi will bear two senses. 1. One, I perceive that I did not before; 2. The other, I perceive that, the contrary whereof I did conceive before. Not to perceive is but to be ignorant; but St. Peter, in this, had not only been ignorant, but had [328/329] positively held quite contrary, ad appositum, Quod non ex omni gente at any hand. At the fourteenth verse before, for the Jewish meats, we see, he contests with God: Not I, Lord, no heathenish meat, I never eat any. And at the twenty-eighth, no less unlawful to eat with heathen men.
Ignorance is but privative; this is positive, and so an error. An error in the great 'mystery of godliness,' a part whereof was 'preached unto the Gentiles;' that they also had their part in Christ. And this is not his error alone; the Apostles and brethren seem to have been in the same; they convented him for his new comperi, and he was fain to answer for it. That for the time, general it was, this error; and for aught we know St. Stephen, who was stoned before this, departed the world in the opinion of in una, not omni gente; for then sure this truth was not perceived, not received publicly.
Then is not every error repugnant to God's election. Why every error, more every sin? God is able to pardon and not to impute error in opinion, as well as error in practice; and nonne errant omnes qui operantur malum, saith Solomon, 'Do not all err that do evil?' Yes sure. Did not the High Priest offer, as well for the errors, as for the transgressions of the people? And is not Christ made to us, by God, 'widsom' against the one, as well as 'righteousness' against the other? It was St. Peter's case here.
This only we are to look to, that with St. Peter we be not wilful, if there come a clear comperi; but as ready to relent in the one, as to repent of the other. That when we be shown our error, we open our eyes to perceive it; and when we perceive it with St. Peter here, we open our mouths to confess it. And that we do it with an open mouth, and not between the teeth but acknowledge it plainly, it was otherwise than we thought. 'I verily thought,' saith St. Paul, 'I ought to do,' that which now all the world should not make me to do. This is St. Paul's. I now 'comprehend,' or rather 'am comprehended,' for katalamb£uomai will bear both, of which before I could not. This is St. Peter's retraction. Conclude then, if we happen to be in some points otherwise minded, God will bring us to the knowledge even of them. 'Only in those whereto we are come, and whereof we are agreed on all sides, that we proceed by one rule,' make a [329/330] conscience of the practice of such truths as we agree of, 'and those we do not shall soon be revealed unto us,' and we shall say even of them, in veritate comperi
What was this that St. Peter formerly had not, but now did perceive? That 'God is no accepter of persons.' Let us take with us, what is meant by `persons.' For he who fears God is a person; Cornelius was a person; so were all the persons in his household. The word in all the three tongues is taken as we take it, when we set personal against real, oppose the cause to the person; under it comprehending whatsoever is beside the matter or cause. The Greek and Hebrew properly signify the face; that we know shews itself first, and if it shew itself well, is muta commendatio, carries us, though it say never a word; as in Eliab, the godliness of his person moved even Samuel. Under the face then we understand, as I may say, and as we use to call it in apparel, the facing; under the person, all by-respects that do personate, attire or mask any, to make him personable; such as are the country, condition, birth, riches, honour, and the like. And this person thus taken, of a truth we daily perceive that in omni gente men accept of this, and in a manner of nothing else but this; all goes by it. Well, with God it is otherwise, and with men it should be; God accepts them not, nor of any men, for them. This is the comperi.
And is this it? Why this was no news. Was Peter ignorant of this? It is not possible, I will never believe, but he had read the five books of Moses; why there it is expressly set down, totidem verbis. Why, by the very light of nature Elihu saw it, and set it down too. 'No not the person of princes.' In Samuel's choice of David, there it is. And King Jehoshaphat gave it in his charge, the second of Chronicles, the nineteenth chapter, and in other places beside; and how could he but know this?
You will say, St. Peter knew it before, but not with a comperi, as now he does. And indeed many things we know by book, by speculation, as we say, and in gross, which when we come to the particular experience of, we use to say, Yes now I know it indeed, as if we had not known it, at least not so known it before. The experimental knowledge is the true comperi in veritate, when all is done. Was this it?
[330/331] No; for had he not experience of this, and lay away his book? Have not all experience daily? that God, in dealing His gifts of nature; outward--beauty, stature, strength, activeness; inward--wit to apprehend, memory to retain, judgment to discern, speech to deliver; that He puts no difference, but without all respect of 'persons,' bestows them on the child of the mean, as soon as of the mighty? So is it in wealth and worldly preferment, 'He lifts the poor out of the dust'- nay, you will bear with it, it is the Holy Ghost's own term 'the dunghill, to set him with princes.' So is it in his judgments; which light as heavy, yea more heavy otherwhile on the great than on the small; and shew that that way and every way, there is with Him no 'respect of persons.' And no man had better experience of this than he that spake it, than Peter himself, that without any respect, of a poor fisherman, was accepted to be an Apostle, the chief of the Apostles. St. Paul saith well. 'What they were in times past, it makes no matter, God accepts no man's person,' this they are now.
What will we say then? that though he could not but know the general truth of this, yet was he once of the mind, that this general truth might admit of some exceptions; one at the least. Not of persons? true. But nations are not persons, it held not in them. Of one nation God accepted before others, and that nation was the Jews. 'You only have I known of all the nations of the earth,' saith God in Amos. And non talitere fecit omni nationi; which non taliter they took to be of the nature of an entail to Abraham's seed; that God was tied to them, and so to accept of in una gente, before and more than of all the rest.
This had run in St. Peter's head, and more than this. But now, here comes a new comperi; he perceives he was wrong. And if you ask how he perceived it? By relation of Cornelius' vision of the angel, and by conferring it with his own. He saw his vision was now come to pass; Moses' unclean birds and beasts are become clean all, all to be eaten now; and the Gentiles, whom he held for no less unclean, to be eaten with, and to be gone in unto. All in one great sheet; omni gente and all. That the nation also comes to be understood under the word 'person,' no less than the rest, and none [331/332] to be respected or accepted of God, for being in one corner of the sheet, that is, of one country more than of another; that in Christ neither Jew nor Gentile, all is one; and the black 'Ethiopian,' or the while 'Italian;' the 'Aeropagite' in his long robe, or the centurion in his short mantle, or military habit; all conditions, all nations, are in all 'persons.' 'God hath shut up all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.' And good reason for it, if it be but that of the Apostle's own framing. 'If the law which came four hundred years after could not disannul the covenant made with Abraham so long before,' by the same, nay, by a better consequence, neither could the covenant with Abraham make the promise of God of none effect; the promise that was made in Paradise more than four times four hundred years before that of Abraham's, to the woman and to her whole seed.
The vision St. Peter saw, was at Joppa; he was gone as far from Jewry as there was any land; hard to the sea-side, to the very parting place, where they loosed usually, when they went to the lands of the Gentiles. Jonas loosed thence. And in a tanner's house it was, that as to 'Simon the tanner,' it was all one, he made leather indifferently of the badger as well as of the sheep's skin; as the skins were to 'Simon the Tanner,' so the meat should be to Simon the Apostle. And it was a linen sheet, which very linen showed they were all clean; for in linen the Jews wrapped the first-born of their clean beasts, if any happened to die before they came to be offered, and so buried it; but at no hand, any unclean beasts ever in linen. But now in linen all; that if one clean, all; and so no person, calling, country excepted to, or accepted of, more than another.
Well then, no person. But we like not this destructive Divinity, that tells us what He doth not, and tells us not what He doth accept. If not the person, nor the person's nation,--what? accepts He of nothing? Yes, 'in every nation,' if any person there be 'that feareth God, and worketh righteousness'- he that brings these with him, is to God a person acceptable; such He will not let lie, but take them up, and lay them up, wherever He finds them.
Solomon in effect said as much long before, at the end of his long sermon, the Book of the Preacher. 'Will ye, saith [332/333] he, hear the sum of all sermons?' 'Fear God'--there is 'he that fears Him' 'and keep His commandments'--that is, 'he that works righteousness,' hoc est totum hominis read some, 'there is all man hath that God will accept of;' or, hoc est omnis homo. manifestum quod sinc hoc nihil est omnis homo, this is man, all that he is, for whatsoever besides this he is, is as if it were not; this is all things, for without this, with all his person and personableness, he is nothing in God's sight. This preached Solomon at Jerusalem to the Jew, and this Peter at Cæsarea to the Gentiles; Hoc est omnis homo, 'This is for all men,' saith Solomon; Omni gente, for 'every nation,' saith Peter.
'That feareth God, and worketh righteousness.' Both these, and not the one without the other. Neither fear, which is dull and works not, for of such He accepts not; nor works, if they come not from within, from our hearts, from His true fear in our hearts, but be personate only, as were those of the Pharisee. We begin then there, within; for anything that is personate in religion, and proceeds not from thence--St. Paul's 'mask or vizor of godliness,' St. Peter's, 'cloke' of Christian liberty--God plucks them off; He is so far from accepting them, as He casts them from Him, He cannot abide them.
I forgot to tell you, why not the person. God Himself tells Samuel, that He 'looks not as man looks;' man looks upon the outside, the face and the facing, God looks to that which is farthest from the person; to that which is within, at the centre, that is, the heart. The inwards were God's part in every sacrifice, reserved ever to Him alone. By reserving them He shows of what it is He chiefly accepts. We must then look to that first. He first looks at the heart, and in the heart to the affection, for the heart is the seat of affections; and of all affections, that of fear; and of all fears, to the fear of God.
Of God? why, how comes God to be feared? Fear is not but of some evil; and evil in God there is none. Not for any evil in Him; but for some evil we may expect from Him, if we fear not to offend Him, by doing that which is evil in [333/334] His sight. Which punishment yet is not evil of itself, for punishment is the work of justice; but we call it as we feel it, malum poenæ. And if we fear, and Him for it, or any that can inflict it.
Power and justice are, of themselves, fearful; power to all men, justice to evil men. But justice armed with power, that keeps all in awe. Now in God there is power: God's power is manifest even to heathen men. It is a part of the guwstÕu toß eoß, 'that which may be known of God, His power;' and go no farther but to the work of creation, saith the Apostle. Every man fear the mighty: for what he will do, we know not; what he can do we know, and that ever presents itself first.
And in God there is justice, and the voice of justice, 'If you do evil, fear.' Which justice of God is manifest likewise without Scriptures, by 'the Law written in our hearts,' the hearts even of the heathen themselves, saith the same Apostle, whereby they are either 'a law to themselves' (the better sort of them, Cornelius here) or, if not, 'their own thoughts accuse them for it, and their consciences bear witness against them,' and at sessions held in their hearts, they condemn themselves, which sessions is a forerunner of the great general sessions that is to ensue.
Scientes igitur terrorem hunc, saith St. Paul still, 'knowing then this fearful judgment, we persuade men,' and men are persuaded either to eschew evil yet undone, or to leave it if it be done, that it be not found in our hands, nor taken about us.
This fear to suffer evil for sin, malum poenæ, makes men fear to do the evil of sin, malum culpæ; what they fear to suffer for, they fear to do. Keeps them from doing evil at all makes them avoid it; or keeps them from doing evil still, makes them forsake it. It prevailed not only with Job in the Old, but with the Ninevites. It prevailed not only with Cornelius in the New, but even with Felix; made him 'tremble,' though it had not his full work, for he was not so happy as to hear Paul out, but put if off till another time, which time never came.
First fear; and why fear first? Because it is first. It is [334/335] called, and truly, for so truly it is, 'the beginning of our wisdom,' when we begin to be truly wise. In Adam it was so. The first passion we read of, that was raised in him, that wrought upon him after his fall was, 'I heard Your voice in the garden and I was afraid.' There began his wisdom, in his fear; there began he to play the wise man, and to forethink him of his folly committed. Fear is fimÒj fÚsewj, as it is well called, 'of the nature of a bridle to our nature,' to hold us in to refrain from evil, if it may be; if not, to check us and turn us about, and make us turn from it. Therefore 'fear God, and depart from evil,' lightly go together, as the cause and the effect; you will seldom find them parted. So then, because it is first, it is to stand first, and first to be regarded.
Another reason is, because it is most general. For it goes through all, heathen and all. It goes to omni gente; for in omni gente there is qui timet. For that they have so much faith as to fear, appears by the Ninevites plainly. Nay, it goes not only to omni gente, but even to omni animante, to beasts and all, yes, to the dullest beast of all, to Balaam's beast; he could not get her (smite her, spur her, do what he could to her) to run upon the point of the Angel's sword; that they are in worse case than beasts that are void of it. So first it riseth of all, and farthest it reacheth of all.
And this fear, I would not have men think meanly of it. It is, we see, 'the beginning of wisdom;' and so both father and son, David and Solomon call it. But if it have his full work, to make us 'depart from evil,' it is wisdom complete, and that from God's own mouth, Job the twenty-eighth. Therefore Esay bids us make a 'treasure' of it; and, 'blessed is the man,' that is ever wise, 'that fears always'--it is Solomon. For howsoever the world go, 'this I am sure of,' saith he, 'it will go well with him who fears God, and carries himself reverently in His presence.'
And care not for them that talk, they know not what, of 'the spirit of bondage.' Of the seven Spirits, which are the divisions of one and the same Spirit this day here sent down, the last the chiefest of all is 'the Spirit of the fear of God.' So it is the Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end. First and last, I am sure, there is sovereign use of it.
Nor regard them not that say it pertains not to the New [335/336] Testament, fancying to themselves nothing must be done but out of pure love. For even there it abideth, and two sovereign uses there are still of it, those two which before we named; 1. one to begin, 2. the other to preserve.
1. To begin. We set it here as an introduction, as the dawning is to the day. For on them that are in this drawing, 'that fear His name, on them shall the Sun of righteousness arise.' It is Malachi saith it, it is Cornelius here sheweth it. As the base court to the temple; not into the temple at first step, but come through the court first. As the needle to the thread, and that sews all fast together.
Where there happens a strange effect, that not to fear the next way is to fear. The kind work of fear is to make us 'cease from sin.' Ceasing from sin brings with it a good life; a good life, that ever carries with it a good conscience; and a good conscience casts out fear. So that, upon the matter, the way not to fear is to fear; and that God Who brings light out of darkness, and glory out of humility, He it is That also brings confidence out of fear.
2. This for the introduction. And ever after, when faith is entered and all, it is a sovereign means to preserve them also. There is, as I have told you, a composition in the soul, much after that of the body. The heart in the body is so full of heat, it would stifle itself and us soon, were it not God hath provided the lungs to give it cool air, to keep it from stifling. Semblably, in the soul, faith is full of spirit, ready enough of itself to take an unkind heat, save that fear is by God ordained to cool it and keep it in temper, to awake our care still, and see it sleep not in security. It is good, against saying in one's heat, Non movebor, saith the Psalm. Good, against Esti omnes, non ego--St. Peter found it so. Good, saith St. Paul, against Noli altum sapere. And these would mar all but for the humble fear of God; by that all is kept right.
Wherefore, when the Gospel was at the highest, 'work out your salvation with fear and trembling,' saith St. Paul, 'pass the time of your dwelling here in fear,' saith St. Peter. Yea, our Saviour Himself, as noteth St. Augustine, when He had taken away one fear, Ne timete, 'Fear not them who can kill the body, and when they have done that, have done all, and [336/337] can do no more;' in place of that fear puts another, 'but fear Him That when He hath slain the body, can cast soul and it into hell fire;' and when He had so said once, comes over again with it to strike it home, Etiam dico vobis; 'Yea, I say unto you, fear Him.'
So then, this of fear is not Moses' song only, it is 'the song of Moses and the Lamb' both. Made of the harmony of the one as well as the other. A special strain in that 'song of Moses and the Lamb,' you shall find this 'Who will not fear Thee, O Lord?' He that will not may sibi canere, make himself music; he is out of their choir, yea the Lamb's choir; indeed, out of both.
This have I a little stood on, for that, methinks, the world begins to grow from fear too fast: we strive to blow the Spirit quite away; for fear of carnificina conscientiae, we seek to benumb it, and to make it past feeling. For these causes, fear is, with God, a thing acceptable, we hear; and that the Holy Spirit came down where this fear was, we see. So it is, St. Peter affirms it 'for certain of a truth:' so it is, St. Peter protests it. Let no man beguile you to think otherwise. No, no, but Fac, fac, vel timore poenae, si nondum potes amore justitiae; 'Do it man, I tell you, do it, though it be for fear of punishment, if you cannot get yourself to do it for love of righteousness.' One will bring on the other; A timore Domini concepimus Spiritum salutis--it is Esay. By it we shall conceive that which shall save us. These very words shall save us, said the Angel, and so they did; here in Cornelius, we have a fair precedent for it. And so, now I come to the other.
For, I ask, is God all for within? accepts He nothing without? Yes, that He doth. Of a good righteous work too, if it proceeds from fear in our hearts. Fear is not all then: no, for it is but 'the beginning,' as we have heard; God will have us begin, but not end there. We have begun with qui timet Eum; we must end with et operatur justitiam, and then comes acceptus est Illi, and not before. For neither fear, if it be fear alone; nor faith, if it be faith alone, is accepted of Him; but timet and operatur here with Peter, and fides quae operatur there with Paul; fear and faith both that works and none else. If it be true fear, if such as God will [337/338] accept, it is not timor piger, 'a dull lazy fear,' his fear that feared his Lord, and 'went and dug his talent into the ground,' did nothing with it. Away with his fear and him 'into utter darkness!' God will have his talent turned, have it above the ground. He will not have his religion invisible within. No; 'shew me thy faith,' saith St. James; thy fear' saith St. Peter here, by some works of righteousness. Else, talk not of it. He will have it made appear, that men may see it, and glorify Him for it, Who has such good and faithful servants.
And they observe that it is not, 'that doeth,' but 'that worketh righteousness.' Not facit, but operatur. And what manner of work? St. Peter's word is ergaxÒmeuoj here; and for ergaxÒmeuoj rgou will not serve; it must be ergasia, which is a plain 'trade.' Discite bene agere, saith Esay, learn it, as one would learn a handicraft, to live by; learn it, and be occupied in it; make 'an occupation' of it. Christ's own occupation, Who, as St. Peter tells us straight after, pertransiit benefaciendo, 'went up and down, went about doing good,' practising it and nothing else; for that is errg£xessqai, 'Worketh righteousness.' This 'righteousness,' to know what it is--besides the common duties of our calling, either as Christians in general; or particular, as every man's vocation lies--we cannot better inform ourselves of it, than from this party he speak of, from Cornelius, and what the works were he did. And they are set down at the second verse, where, after St. Luke had said, 'he feared God,' to shew his works of righteousness he adds, 1. 'he gave much alms,' 2. 'prayed to God continually,' and at the thirteenth verse, that he was found 3. 'fasting at the ninth hour,' that is, three at afternoon. In these three; 1. 'alms,' 2. 'prayer,' and 3. 'fasting,' stood his works of righteousness--in these three; for besides these we find not any other. They be the same, and in the same order, as they were figured in the three oblations of the Magi, first fruits of the Gentiles, there in the Gospel, as the Fathers allot them: 1.'Gold,' that is for 'alms;' 2. 'incense,' that is 'prayer;' and 3. 'myrrh,' bitter myrrh, for works of mortification, as 'fasting,' and such like; as bitter to the flesh, as myrrh to the taste; both bitter, but wholesome [338/339] both. But without all figure they are the same three, and stand just in the same order that here they do, where our Saviour teacheth them literally, and that, under the name of righteousness. 1. 'Alms,' first: that He begins with at the first verse, and so here it is first. 2. Then, to 'prayer' next, at the fifth verse; 3. and after that, to 'fasting,' even as it is here too. Cornelius' works were three: 1. 'Gave alms;' 2. 'prayed' duly; 3. was found at his 'fast' by the Angel. This is all we find, more we find not specified; and these are enough, these would serve, if we would do them. These in him were, the same is us will be accepted.
And now of God's acceptation. Accepting is but a quaint term borrowed from the Latin. It is no more than receiving or taking. 1. First then, clear it is He will take them; but, where they be to take. But where they are not, take them He cannot. In vain shall we look for acceptation of that which is not. We are then to see there be some given, some for Him to take. Take us He cannot, if there be not Cornelius' hand to take us by; 'come up in remembrance,' they cannot, if none were done to remember; for memoria est praeteritorum, and all ours are yet to come I fear, in phantasia rather than in memoria. Our 'alms,' alas, they are shrunk up pitifully; 'prayer,' swallowed up with hearing lectures; and for the third, feast if you will continually, but 'fast' as little as may be; and of most I might say, not at all. The want of these, the bane of our age. He stretcheth out His hands, to receive 'alms;' He boweth down His ear, to receive 'prayer;' He beholdeth with His eyes, to take us 'fasting:' there is none to give them, and so He cannot receive them. But, by this acceptus est here, we see how we might be accepti.
It is beside the text; yet if you ask, here is fear, and here are works, where is faith all this while, 'without which it is impossible to please God,' or 'to be accepted of Him?' Had he no faith? Yes, he would not have spent his goods, or chastened his body, without some faith; at least, 'call' upon God he could not, on Whom he 'believed' not.
Therefore he believed sure, the Gentiles' creed at least, that a God there is; that sought He will be; that He will not fail them that seek Him, but both regard and reward them.
[339/340] The Ninevite's creed at least, in whose fear there was faith and hope too. Quis scit, 'Who can tell, whether God may not turn,' and spare, and accept of a poor gentile? There is nothing known to the contrary, and there be precedents for it. And so he turned and set himself to seek God, by the three ways remembered. 'And Thou Lord, never failest them that seek Thee,' but 'acceptest them, not according to that they have not, but according to that they have,' though it be but 'a willing mind,' they have. God forbid but concupiscence should be of equal power to good, that it is to evil. If you will reach it further to faith in Christ, living in garrison among the Jews he could not choose but have heard somewhat of Him, to move him to throw himself down before Him, and He took him up, Acceptus est Illi.
The flax did but 'smoke,' Christ 'quenched it not.' Cracks there were in the reed, but 'He brake it not' though, but kindled the one, and bound up the other; and in that little strength He had, took him as He found him, and took order thus to bring him nearer the ways of His salvation.
But now, lest one error beget another, and the last prove worse than the first, take this with you. When all is said that can be said, all is but accepting, for all this. That he was, and we shall be 'accepted,' that gives us some heart; and that it is but 'accepted,' that takes away all self-conceit of ourselves. For I know not how, if we but 'accepted,' we take upon us straight, and fall into a fancy, that well worthy we were, or else we should not. Altum sapere comes, and we swell straight; insomuch as we cannot be gotten to accept of this acceptus est, to accept of any acceptation, but grow to a high strain of merit and condignity, and I wot not what. To prick this bladder, all is shut up with this dektÒj. Out of which word, we are to take notice of this; it is neither our fear, nor our works, all is but God's gracious acceptation.
And it is not, as they well observe, dekt_ooj, but dektÕj, not dekt_oj, acceptandus, 'is to be accepted' of Him, as if God could neither will nor choose; no, it is dektÕj only, that is, but acceptabilis at most, but a capacity that he may be; lays no necessity that he must be accepted.
The Schoolmen express it well at times by non deerit Deus, [340/341] 'God will be not wanting' to such, will accept them; but non tenetur Deus, 'He is not so bound' but, if He would, He might refuse; and that He does not, is but of His mere goodness: all are but 'accepted.'
The Fathers thus: I name St. Augustine for the Latin. Hoc habet, non pondus, humani meriti, sed ordo consilii divini: 'that thus it is, it is no weight or worth of man's merit, it is but the very order and course of God's dealing,' His favourable dealing, that and nothing else, that there is any accepting at all. The Greek Fathers, thus;--I name Chrysostom for them. It is kataxiwsij, not.¢xia, that is dignatio, not dignitas; dignatio acceptantis, not dignitas operantis. Digni habetuntur, saith the Gospel, and the Epistle both: the Gospel, Luke the twentieth; the Epistle, second of Thessalonians, the first chapter. God counts them worthy, and His so counting makes them worthy; makes them so, for so they are not of themselves, or without it, but by it so they are. His taking our works of righteousness well in worth, is their worth.
There was another centurion beside this in the Apostle, the centurion in the Gospel; the Elders of the Jews were at dignus est about him, dignified him highly; but he indignified himself as fast, was at his non sum dignus twice, neither worthy that Christ should come to him, nor that he to Christ. And even thus it was ever with all from the beginning. Job, another timens Deum, 'his like was not upon earth,' yet thus he: Esti justus fuero, non levabo caput, 'All were he just, he would down with his crest' for all that; and what? Et deprecabor Judicem meum, and plead nothing, stand upon no terms, but deal only by way of supplication; and that is the safest way. And why so? For verebar omnia opera mea, saith he, he durst not trust any of them. And why not? For the continual dropping of our corruption upon the web of our well-doing stains it so as, if he would stand straining them, He that now doth accept them, might justly except to them, many exceptions there lie against them. He that takes them might let them lie, as not worth the taking up; for if He should ransack them, they would scarce prove worth the taking up; but yet take them up He doth, and reward them; both, for 'the praise of the glory of His grace.' To the glory of the praise of which grace be all this spoken.
[341/342] All which tends to this--for our work is this, our labour this, this is all in all, to get men to do well, and yet not ween well of their well-doing--to join first timet and operatur, to fear, and yet to do good; and when we have done good, yet to fear with Job for David's reason, cognoscimus imperfectum nostrum. Then to join again operatur, and acceptus est. For that is it, if we could hit on it. We cannot, but that is it though. For think you we can get men to this? No; do we evil, we shall not know it, we excuse, we lessen it. Do we well, we know it straight; nay, we over-know, and over-praise it. No remedy, merit it must be, and hire it must be; reward we cannot skill of. Acceptus est is nothing, 'accepted of merit or of grace. Fond men! so we be 'accepted,' though of 'grace,' are we not well? What desire we more, but to be taken and not refused? The Law, that saith, 'Say not, it for my righteousness.' The Prophets say, 'It is not for your sakes.' The Apostle saith, 'If you seek to establish your own righteousness,' you are gone. Yea, Christ Himself saith, If you talk much of it with the Pharisee, 'Lord,' this I am, and this I do, there is not the poorest 'publican' that goes by the way, but he will be `justified' before you. And therefore be entreated, I pray you, to accept of acceptus est. That sets all safe, that brings all to God, and there leaves it.
For, if this fearer, this worker be 'accepted,' and not in himself, in whom then? who is it? The Apostle tells us directly, 'He hath made us accepted in His Beloved,' His beloved Son:--so Paul. And St. Peter immediately in the very next words that follow upon these: 'You know the word,' the word of the Word That was in the beginning and made all, and 'That in the fulness of time was sent and healed all;' misit Verbum et sanavit eos. In Him and through Him all are 'accepted' that have had, or shall have, the honour and happiness ever so to be. In Whom then we are 'accepted,' we see.
Now lastly, to what; and so an end, that being so 'accepted' or received, whether you will, both or one, you may receive what? Plain it is, it follows, the Sacrament. But they to receive the first Sacrament, that of Baptism for they were yet in their paganism, unbaptized. But they that [342/343] are Christians already, and past the first, there remains for them to receive none but the second. And that then is it. And that bound they are to receive. For though by special privilege some are aspersi Spiritu quos aqua mystica non tetigit, so'sprinkled with the Holy Ghost, before they had the sprinkling of water,' of which number was Cornelius, and these in the text; though while they were at the sermon, the Holy Ghost came upon them, yet to the Sacrament they came though, we see. That was to them and is to us all the seal of God's acceptance. That first was theirs, but the chief and last is this of ours.
For this is indeed the true receiving, when one is received to the table, to eat and drink, to take his repast there; yes as accipiendum in Quo acceptus est, to take, and take into him 'that body, by the oblation whereof we are all sanctified,' and that blood 'in which we have all remission of sins.' In that ended they, in this let us end.
And this accepting we desire of God, and desiring it in an acceptable time, He will hear us; and this is 'acceptable time.' For if the year of Pentecost, the fiftieth year, were 'the acceptable year,' as Luke the fourth and nineteenth, then the day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day, this day, is 'the acceptable day' for the same reason. Truly acceptable, as the day whereon the Holy Ghost was first received, and whereon we may receive Him now again; whereon acceptus est is fulfilled both ways; we of Him received to grace, and He of us, His flesh and blood, and with them His Spirit. He receiveth us to grace, and we receive of Him grace, and with it the influence of His Holy spirit, which shall still follow us, and never leave us till we be accepti indeed, that is, received up to Him in His kingdom of glory; whither blessed they who will be received.