March 18th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 10, 11
3-18-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas our worship of the Lord and our preaching of the gospel of Christ, which is the title of the sermon today. Now the title of the message is Preaching Christ. And it is an exposition of the tenth and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts. The story in those two chapters is told in great detail. It is the story of the conversion of a Roman centurion Cornelius and his household. And it is related in such detail twice; once in the tenth chapter, and another again in the eleventh chapter. It is as though the Holy Spirit were saying, “Watch this, people.” They are assembled together, not by familiar custom or adventitious accidental circumstance, but the guiding arm of the Lord hath brought forth this, the preacher and the audience and the message. God seemingly holds up in an eternal light the story of the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius.
And it begins like this: “There was a certain man in Caesarea.” That is the Roman capital of the province of Judea. “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian Band” [Acts 10:1]. Being the Roman provincial capital, it was guarded and its decrees were authenticated by the Roman legion. So this soldier, the centurion, those men who were at the very heart of the effectiveness of the Roman army, this man Cornelius lives in Caesarea.
Then he is described as “A devout man, one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always” [Acts 10:2]. Now I submit that to any fair judgment. You could not read a more complimentary description of any man than God’s words describe Cornelius. Cornelius was “A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the needy, and prayed to God always” [Acts 10:2]; a magnificent man, a good man, a liberal-hearted man, a praying man, a worshiping man—but a lost man! That is an astonishing presentation and revelation in the Holy Scriptures! This man, who was devout, who feared God, who was generous in supporting those in need, and who prayed to God always; he is a lost man.
In the course of the story, when the Lord appears to him and tells him to “send down to Joppa for one Simon Peter” [Acts 11:13], who will come, and now I quote, the eleventh chapter, and the fourteenth verse: “Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” [Acts 11:14]. This is an overwhelming revelation in the Word of God! This man—who is devout, who fears the Lord, who gives to the needy, and who prays to God always—he is a lost man and is directed by God to send for one Simon Peter, who will come and tell him words whereby he and all of his house may be saved.
We learn here, to begin with, the great fundamental presupposition of the Christian faith and message, which is this, “that men are lost without Christ”—all men, not just the bad man. But the so-called good man, and fine man, and respectable man, and acceptable man, he also is lost without Christ. The presupposition upon which the entire Christian message is built is this—”That we are lost, dying, facing an eternal condemnation and judgment.” Isaiah 53 will say, “All we, all, all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” [Isaiah 53:6]. The third chapter of Romans and the tenth and the twenty-third verses will say, “All have sinned.” All have sinned—all; “We have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]; “for there is none righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10]. This good man Cornelius is not good enough in himself, he has a sentence of death. He is a lost man; and this is the great presupposition of the whole, entire, complete Christian faith, that we are lost and dying!
In this little book that I have written—that we give to these who come forward confessing their faith in the Lord Jesus—the little book entitled On Joining the Church, it had four little chapters, each one followed by a catechism. The first chapter, “What It Means to Be Saved”; the second chapter, “What It Means to Be Baptized”; the third chapter, “What It Means to Take the Lord’s Supper”; and the fourth chapter, “What It Means to Be a Good Church Member.”
Now, how does it start? How does it begin? It begins like this: in the first chapter, “What It Means to Be Saved.” “If Jesus is the Savior, He of necessity must save us from something. What does He save us from?” And the catechetical answer: “from our sins” [Mark 2:1-11, Matthew 26:28, 1 John 1:7]. Second question, “What is sin?” “Sin is disobedience to the law of God” [1 John 3:4]. Third question, “And who has sinned?” And the answer: “All have sinned, all of us” [Romans 3:10, 23]. And the fourth question, “What is the penalty of our sin?” “The penalty of our sin is eternal death [Ezekiel 18:4], it is separation from God” [Romans 6:23]. And there is no such thing as Christ being a Savior unless we are lost and need saving.
The great presupposition and foundational primary revelation of God is this—”that we are lost and must be saved.” And if this is not true, that cannot be true. If I am not lost; Christ cannot be a Savior to me, for I do not need a Savior. But if I am lost, however I may be, good or bad in the sight of men, if I am lost, then Christ can be to me my hope, my life, my Advocate, my Intercessor, and my Savior. “A good man, a devout man, one that feared God with all of his house, generous to the needy, prayed to God always” [Acts 10:2], but lost.
Now the old-timers call that the doctrine of total depravity. The doctrine is this, not that we are as vile and as evil as we can be, but that sin has entered into all of our faculties, and we are a fallen family. My emotions, my mind, my thinking, my intellect, the deeds of my life fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. I am not perfect. I am fallen in all of my faculties and in all of my emotions. And the sign of that fall is the judgment of death. I am a dying man. Against the background of that total depravity—that sin has entered all of the sections, and pieces, and parts, and expressions, and faculties, and emotions of my life—against that background, God presents Christ as the Savior of the world [Romans 5:6, 6:23]. Now that doctrine that our old-time forefathers used to preach, we rarely preach it anymore. That doctrine of total depravity has come upon evil days in our modern generation. For you see, the academic background against which our people are taught today is this: that we are rising in the evolutionary scale. We are getting better and better and better and better, and by and by, the day will come when we shall be angels and maybe archangels. And then again, in the theological world that doctrine is come upon evil days because of the moral influence theory of the atonement—which is “that Christ did not die for our sins as such. And there is no atoning efficacy or power or saving in His blood, but Christ died as a great exemplar. He is a marvelous hero; and what we find in Christ is an upward pull of the nobility, the hero, the heroic that is in each one of us. And what we need is a fine example. And we find it in Jesus, and what the man needs is not to be told that he is a sinner, but that he is saved, and he needs to be aware of the nobility in his stature and in his capabilities and prospects. And if you don’t tell a man he is a sinner, he won’t be a sinner. So he cultivates the good in him and the good in him. And the marvelous influence and moral example of Jesus, pouring out His life in a sacrificial death for a great cause, is a noble, inspiring example for the nobility in each one of us.” That is a theological background of the modern world.
But God said just the opposite, God says we do not progress into perfection, and we do not progress evolutionary into heaven. And God says that the death of Christ was not that of a hero—like a Socrates, or a Julius Caesar, or an Abraham Lincoln—but the death of Christ was propitiatory! [1 John 2:2]. It was an expiation! [Hebrews 10:5-14]. It was an atonement! [Romans 5:11]. It was vicarious [2 Corinthians 5:21]. It was for us that we might be forgiven our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], that we might live and not die, that we might face God face to face and live if His presence [Revelation 22:3-5]. The sacrifice of Christ had to do with our sins, that we all might be saved.
“A devout man, one that feared God with all His house,” liberal, supporting the needy, “prayed to God always” [Acts 10:2], but he was lost like all of the rest of us, whoever, however we are, dying sinners; lost [Romans 3:23; Colossians 2:13]. And God, in His mercy and in His great, gracious goodness, God appeared to Cornelius in Caesarea and said, “You send down to Joppa. I have a man prepared to deliver you the message of hope and life” [Acts 10:5. 11:13-14].
Down there in Joppa, at the top of a house, God prepared Simon Peter—letting down the great sheet, held at four corners; on the inside all kinds of unclean creatures—God said to him, “Kill and eat” [Acts 10:9-13]. Simon Peter replied, “Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean.” God said, “What I have cleaned call not thou unclean. Eat” [Acts 10:14-16]. While Peter thought on that unusual vision, there came knocking at the door that hour the emissaries from Cornelius, saying God hath sent them. And so Simon Peter, thinking on the vision, listened to the voice of God, and when he walked into the household of the Roman soldier, he said, “God hath taught me not to call any man unclean,” [Acts 10:17-28]. All of them, however vile, or unworthy, or untaught, or uneducated, or darkened—all of them are men for whom Christ died; a universal atonement. Not just for us, for the whole world [John 3:16; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2]. And Simon Peter says, “God has taught me that I am not to call any man base or unclean or unworthy. I am here. Now wherefore hast thou sent for me” [Acts 10:28-29]. So Cornelius relates to him the vision that he saw and the direction of the angel [Acts 10:30-32]. And he says, “Immediately I sent for thee. Now,” he said, “therefore are we all here present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” [Acts 10:33].
That is God’s definition of the purpose of the assembly and the convocation of His people. Now therefore, we are all here present before God; in the balcony round, filling the choir, on the lower floor. “Now therefore are we all here present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” [Acts 10:33]. Does God have anything to say? That is the purpose of the assembly of the people before the Lord, to hear what God has to say. You know, in the development of the Christian faith, there has been a constant moving away from that. The pulpit is taken out of the middle of church. The preacher is taken out of the center of the congregation. And the pulpit will be way over on the side somewhere, or way up there somewhere; anything just to get rid of him. Put him over there. Some of the great historical churches, he is put behind a solid wall—astonishing when you say it, but there is a great faction of Christianity, the churches that put him behind a solid wall. And instead of the pulpit and the messenger of God, we have crosses, and candles, and altars, and embroidered draperies, and all kinds of things. But what was central here ought always to be central in the convocation of God’s people, namely, to hear the things that are commanded of God! [Acts 10:33]. “It pleased God,” the apostle wrote, “to save the world by the foolishness of preaching” [1 Corinthians 1:21]. And again did the apostle write, “Faith cometh by”—what? Genuflection? Litany? Incense burning? “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of the Lord” [Romans 10:17]. “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” [Acts 10:33].
Does God say anything? Does He have any word for us? As the king sent for the prophet Jeremiah and asked him, “Is there any word from the Lord?” [Jeremiah 37:17]. Does God speak? Does He? Does God say anything? Does He? If God speaks, what are the words of the Lord? What does God say? We don’t need to worry about what the legislature says; what the judiciary says; what the Congress says; what the commentator says; what the editorial writer says. We read that every day of the week. We hear that on television, radio, times every day of the week. What we want to know is did God say anything? Does God speak? If He does, what does God say? “Now therefore are we here all present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” [Acts 10:33]. What can save our souls from hell? What can deliver us from death and damnation? What can open heaven for our souls? What can save us? Who can deliver us? Is there a message from God? Is there any hope, any life, any light? Is it? Does God speak? That is the purpose of the gathering together of the convocation of the assembly of the people of the Lord—to hear all things that are commanded us of God.
Then the next verse, “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said,” [Acts 10:34]. And standing there as God’s man with God’s message, he preached to Cornelius the centurion and to the Roman Band and to the household. He preached the glorious message of the Son of God with boldness and with courage [Acts 10:34-43]. Oh, that’s the finest sight in the earth and what a marvelous tradition in which to stand. Not in the succession of the laying on of hands or of the Episcopal order or a priestly consecration, but standing in the true order of the succession of the apostles in declaring the Word of the Lord—boldly, fearlessly, courageously.
I copied this out of an ecclesiastical history book. It concerns Hugh Latimer, who is one of the predecessors of Locke’s works over here; Hugh Latimer had preached before King Henry VIII. Now, I read from the history book:
Hugh Latimer has greatly displeased His Majesty by his boldness in a sermon preached before the king. And was ordered to preach again on the following Sunday and to make apology before the king for the event he had given.
So, when the next Sunday came, after reading his text, Hugh Latimer thus began his sermon. “Hugh Latimer dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest.”
And as you know, Hugh Latimer, later was burned at the stake. Here to preach today before his high majesty:
“. . . who can take away thy life if thou offendest. Therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease. But then consider well, Hugh. Dost thou not know from whence thou comest and upon whose message thou are sent? Even by the great and mighty God who is all present and who beholdeth all thy ways and who is able to cast thy soul into hell; therefore take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.
[from “Eccentric Preachers,” Charles H. Spurgeon]
Now, I read the next sentence out of that history book. “Hugh Latimer then proceeded with the same sermon he had preached the preceding Sunday, only with considerable more zeal and energy.” How do you like that? Oh, you cannot help but just thank God for such a preacher.
“Then Peter opened his mouth and said…” [Acts 10:34] “Jesus opened his mouth and said . . .” in the fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew [Matthew 5:2]. In the [sixteenth] chapter of the Book of Acts, it says, “And Paul cried with a loud voice” [Acts 16:28]. Then the third chapter of the Book of Matthew, “In those days came John the Baptist kerussō!” [Matthew 3:1]. You could hear him clear to Jerusalem. He is down there in the Jordan River, kerussō—proclaiming, heralding in the wilderness of Judea. Those men were bold and courageous. They were like lions!
You know, this choir, once in a while they will say, “We are going to sing the Messiah”—Handel’s Messiah. And when they get to this—Oh, I like it. They are singing in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah and they get to this verse:
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judea, Behold thy God!”
And it is just like that—just as loud as you can do it. That’s great! “And then Peter opened his mouth, and said . . .” [Acts 10:34]. And he began preaching about Jesus and His death for our sins, and how in Him we shall receive the remission of sins [Acts 10:34-43]. Well, you don’t preach to a man like Cornelius about the cross and about the remission of his sins; why, this is a good man, a devout man, a liberal man, and a praying man [Acts 10:2]. Yet, it says here in the text that Simon Peter stood before him and preached about Jesus, and about His death on the cross, and that through His name whosoever believed in Him shall receive remission of sins [Acts 10:34-43].
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
[“Are You Washed In The Blood?” Elisha A. Hoffman]
Preaching to Cornelius the remission of sins in the atoning death of the Son of God [Acts 10:42-43].
“And while Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word” [Acts 10:44]. Any man who preaches the gospel of the Crucified Christ can always know that the Holy Spirit is working with him and for him. When you talk to a man personally, know that. And when the man, the pastor stands in the pulpit, know that. In your heart, pastor, that when you are standing here preaching the cross of Christ, out there in every heart, the Holy Spirit is wooing and confirming and authenticating. God works with that man who delivers the message of the crucified [Matthew 27:32-50], risen [Matthew 28:1-7], and coming Lord [Acts 1:10-11]. “And while Peter spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all of them which heard the word” [Acts 10:43-44].
Did I ever have any experience like that? Let me take one. I was preaching in the Caine Road Baptist Church in Hong Kong. And while I was up there pouring out my heart the best I knew how, preaching the gospel of the Son of God through an interpreter, while I was up there preaching, in the middle of my sermon, right in the middle of it, there stood up a Chinese gentleman, and he came down and stood right there in front of the pulpit, folded his hands like that, and bowed his head, and just stayed there. In a moment or two, another man came, and then a woman came, and others came with their hands folded so gracefully and their heads bowed—just standing there. There were seventeen of them, I counted. Between the time I would say something and the interpreter interpreted, I counted them. There were seventeen grown men and women standing down there. And finally, not being able to contain any longer, I turned to the interpreter and quit preaching, and I said, “Before I go on, I want you to tell me what are these people doing here? What are they doing there, standing there; seventeen of them standing there?” And he replied to me, “Glory, glory,” he said, “Praise God,” he said. He said, “These are men and women who cannot wait! They cannot stay until you are done with your sermon. And they have accepted the Lord. They have found Jesus as their Savior, and they are standing down here in token and in sign and in public confession that they have received the Lord Jesus into their hearts. They have accepted Him. And that is their way, folding their hands and bowing their heads, of their public commitment of Christ.”
Isn’t that a glorious thing? Stand there in the pulpit, while the sermon is being delivered, and these people being saved, all over the congregation of Chinese. “While he yet spake, the Holy Spirit fell on them which heard the word” [Acts 10:44]—and they were wondrously born into the kingdom of God [Acts 10:43-48, 11:15-18].
Let me take just one minute more and I will be done. Simon Peter, looking at them said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should [not] be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?” [Acts 10:47] Many times I am asked, “Why do you vote on people in the church? They come down here and accept the Lord, want to be baptized, or they come down this aisle and bring their families and want to be members of the church. Why do you vote on them?” I’m just doing what the Book says. When these came forward, Simon Peter turned to the brethren who had accompanied him from Joppa and said, “Is there any objection to receiving these as candidates for baptism?” [Acts 10:45-47].
There are many ways that you can say the word—put the question. The way I do it here is this, I say, “All of you that are happy in the Lord and thus praise God for the harvest that He has given us today, and receive them by baptism, by letter, or by consecration,” the way I do it is this: “Would you raise your hand and say, Amen?” I don’t know how Simon Peter did it; how he put the question here. I don’t know exactly. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, “All of you in favor, stand on your head.” That would be just as good as any other way. All of you in favor hold up your right hand. All of you in favor hold up your left hand. All of you in favor say, “Aye.” All of you in favor hold up your hands and say, “Hallelujah.” It doesn’t matter.
What matters is Simon Peter turned to his brethren and said, “My brethren, these have accepted the Lord as their Savior, and if it is in your heart thus to receive them” [Acts 10:47], and whatever he did, would you say amen, or would you stand up, or would you glorify God by clapping your hands—it doesn’t matter. And that’s what we are doing in our church. When God gives us a harvest, I could just go on. But I rather do it like it is in the Bible. All of you that are happy and are glad, and thus instruct the pastor to baptize his converts and to rejoice over the harvest, all of you that are like that in heart with the preacher, would you raise your hand and say amen? That’s why we do it in the church.
Sweet people, we must close. Isn’t it blessed? Just learning, looking, seeing how God speaks to our hearts. Does He speak to your heart? Does God say something to you? If He does, would you answer with your life? “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” You in the balcony round, there is a stairway at the front and back and on either side, and there is time and to spare, come, come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, come. A family, a couple, or just you, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up walking down that stairway. Stand up coming down this aisle. “Here I am, pastor, I make it this morning.” Do it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
Acts 10, 11
1. Devout, feared
God, charitable, prayed always
2. But he was
lost(Acts 11:14, 18)
Christianity presupposes men are lost without Christ (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:10, 3:23)
Old-time doctrine of total depravity vs. modern theology
II. God makes a way for his salvation
A. Prepared Simon Peter
– vision of the clean and unclean(Acts 10:10-17)
B. Prepared the
of the assembly of God’s people – to hear what God has to say(1 Corinthians 1:21, Romans 10:17, Acts 10:33)
has been a constant moving away from that purpose
III. The message
“opened his mouth”, preached glorious message of Son of God(Acts 10:34)
– proclaiming the Word of the Lord(Matthew 3:1, 5:2,
Acts 14:14, Isaiah 40:9)
of sins and atoning death of the Son of God(Acts
IV. The result
A. Holy Spirit fell on
them (Acts 10:44-48, 11:17)
B. They were baptized(Acts 10:47)