March 18th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 10, 11
3-18-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are with us in heart and spirit and prayer and listening ear to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Preaching Christ. It is an exposition of the tenth and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts.
The story is told in great detail; the story of the conversion of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, and his household. It is as though the Holy Spirit said, "Watch this people. They are not brought together by familiar habit or long-attended custom; nor are they adventitiously, accidentally congregated. But the arm of the Lord has guided them and brought forth this preacher and this audience and this message." The story is told in minute detail and covers two whole chapter, almost, in the Book of Acts. So when we turn to it, we find a blessed and tremendous and meaningful message for our souls and our churches and our pulpits today. It begins:
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian Band. He was a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, and gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
Now I would submit that in any man’s judgment and in any language that the description of this centurion, Cornelius, is the description of a splendid, wonderful, God-blessed, good man. I read it again: "He was 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]. You could not find a finer description of a good man than that. And yet he was lost. In the next chapter, verse 14, when he is commanded to send down to Joppa for one Simon, it is said to this Cornelius that, "This man Simon, whose surname is Peter, shall come and tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" [Acts 11:13-14].
Now, I submit it to you. Look at it. That is an astonishing appraisal! He is a devout man, one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the needy, and prayed to God always [Acts 10:2]. But he was lost! He was good, but not good enough. I see in this the first fundamental, primary presupposition of the Christian faith, and it is this: the gospel message of Christ presupposes a lost world – all of us, this devout man, this praying man, this liberal man, this good man, but a lost man. That is astonishing! And yet as we read the revelation of the Word of God in this Holy Book, always in the background is that primary, fundamental proclamation: we are lost without atoning grace [Ephesians 2:12]. We need to be saved. We need to be born again; however fine we are, however honest we are, however good we are; we must be born again [John 3:7]. We are lost without Christ. "Send to Joppa for one Simon Peter, who will come and tell thee words, whereby thou and thy house may be saved" [Acts 11:13-14].
That background of being lost is the primary, fundamental presupposition of the presentation of the atoning work of Christ [Matthew 20:28; Luke 19:10; Hebrews 2:17]. It is because of this that there was a necessity for that. And without this, there was no necessity for that [Hebrews 10:4-14]. In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, the great prophet said, "All we, all of us, all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way," [Isaiah 53:6]. In Romans, chapter 3:10 and 23, "There is none righteous, no, not one [Romans 3:10]. For all have sinned; all of us. For all have sinned, all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" [Romans 3:23].
In this little book that we give to these that come forward confessing their faith in the Lord Jesus, there are four little chapters in it, each one followed by a catechism. And the first chapter; "What It Means to be Saved"; and the first question in the catechism is this: If Jesus is the Savior, He must necessarily save us from something. What does He save us from? And the answer is: From our sins [Mark 2:1-11; Matthew 26:28; 1 John1:7]. Question number two: What is sin? Sin is the breaking of the law of God [1 John 3:4]. Question number three: Who has sinned? And the answer is: All of us, all of us, all of us. We are all alike, sinners [Romans 3:10, 23]. And we need to be saved. The best of us as well as the worst of us; we must be born again [John 3:7].
You know the old-timers call that total depravity. We never hear the expression anymore; nor is it ever preached on anymore. But our forefathers spoke on it often and preached on it zealously – the doctrine of total depravity. The doctrine is not that we are as vile and as evil as we could be, or can be, or might be, or may be; but the doctrine is that sin has entered all of our faculties, and that we are a fallen people. My mind, my heart, my soul, my thinking, the work of my hands, the deeds of my life; all of them are characterized by mistake, and shortcoming, and frailty, and sin, and transgression. Total depravity; that sin has affected all of our faculties. Now that doctrine has come upon a difficult time in our generation. For in the academic background of the world in which we live is that serious, evil, mistaken doctrine teaching of evolution, of inevitable progress – that we are getting better and better and better. And give us time and finally we will become angels or archangels. And that sin is nothing but the drag of our ancestry, our ape forbearers. Then again, in theology, the doctrine of total depravity has come upon an evil day because we are somehow, in this modern, theological world, party to the good influence theory of the atonement: that the death of Christ was not necessarily an atonement for sin, but it was a fine, noble example. The atonement of the cross is not the washing away of our sins, but the exemplarily deportment of a noble and heroic man.
So the concomitant, the deduction, is if you’ll not teach people that they are sinners, they won’t be sinners. We just need magnificent examples, such as that set in the example of Jesus, in the crucifixion of our Lord, in the heroic giving of His life for a great cause. And we just follow the example of Jesus, and we teach men not that they are lost, but that we make them aware that they are saved, and that we need to cultivate the noble and the pure and the good within us. This is a diametric opposite of what the Scriptures teach. For the Word of God brings to us the message that we are lost [2 Corinthians 4:3-4]; however good we are, however noble we think ourselves to be, whatever the fine deeds of our lives; we are a fallen humanity. We are a dying race. And there must be expiation, atonement, forgiveness of our sins if ever we are to see the face of God [Romans 6:23].
So beginning with that great, fundamental, primary presupposition, the tenth chapter opens with the description of Cornelius: "He was a devout man, one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, who prayed to God always" [Acts 10:2]. But he was lost. He was without God’s hope and saving grace. He was lost! And it would only be by divine revelation that such a thing as that would be taught to the world, for the world is just the opposite of that. This man doesn’t need salvation. He doesn’t need regeneration. He doesn’t need to be born again. He doesn’t need the confession of his sins. He doesn’t need the bowing in the presence of God, the beating on his breast, crying that God will save this poor sinner [Luke 18:13-14]. That’s not in the thinking of the modern world! But it is in the thinking of God, and it is in the judgment of the Lord.
You remember one time; I spoke of something that I heard from Dr. Lee R. Scarborough, our great preacher in Texas and president of the Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. In the revival meeting, he said that there came forward a little boy, a little junior boy.
And he said to the evangelist, said to Dr. Scarborough, "I want to be saved."
So Dr. Scarborough sat down by his side, and as he did so, his Sunday school teacher, the little boy’s Sunday school teacher, sat down on the other side of him. And Dr. Scarborough said to the little lad, "Do you realize that you are a lost sinner?"
And the Sunday school teacher broke in and said, "Dr. Scarborough, you don’t realize; this is the finest boy in my class. This is my best little boy."
Dr. Scarborough paid no attention and said to the little boy again, "Son, do you realize that you are a lost sinner and that you need Jesus; that you need to be saved?"
And the teacher broke in again and said, "Dr. Scarborough, I realize that you are a stranger to our community and you don’t know this family. This is my finest little boy. He is an excellent little boy."
Dr. Scarborough said, "Son, would you move over here on the other side of me?" So the little lad moved over and Dr. Scarborough sat between the boy and his Sunday school teacher. Then he turned to the little lad and said, "Son, do you realize that you are a lost sinner, that you need Jesus?" And Dr. Scarborough said in no time at all, the little boy was led into the kingdom of God. He was born into the family of Christ. What that great preacher said in that sermon that day is universally true. However fine the little boy is, he has in him the sentence of death. And however fine our people are, they are lost and need the atoning grace of Jesus Christ.
"He was 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]. But he was lost! Now, we have here in the continuing of the story Cornelius gathering all of his household together; his soldiers, his servants, all of them there, present. Then God, having provided a preacher who had been taught he was to spurn no man [Acts 10:15, 28], but that all were precious in the sight of God and that Jesus had died for all the souls that were ever born of whatever kind or description [1 John 2:2] – the lesson that came to Simon Peter by the letting down of the sheet from heaven with all of those unclean animals on the inside [Acts 10:10-11], and he was to eat [Acts 10:12-13]. Peter says, "Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean in my life" [Acts 10:14]. But the Lord said, "Rise, kill, and eat" [Acts 10:13], then when it became known to him in spiritual lesson that he was to call no man common or unclean [Acts 10:15-16], so he follows the servants of Cornelius up to Caesarea [Acts 10:17-23]. And standing there in the presence of the Roman centurion and all of the band in the household that had been assembled together, Cornelius explains to him what had happened; that in a vision, God had appeared to him and told him to send down to Joppa for one Simon Peter, who would come and tell him words whereby he and his house might be saved [Acts 10:24-32]. Then Cornelius says, "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" [Acts 10:33]. That is the purpose of the convocation and the assembly of the Lord’s people.
Now therefore are we all here; in the balcony round, here in the choir, the press of people on this lower floor. "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" [Acts 10:33]. That’s why we come to church; that’s why the assembly of God’s people. It is a strange thing that in the development of ecclesiastical history, there is ever present the tendency to change all that: the pulpit and the preacher is taken out of the center of the assembly, and he’s put over here on the side somewhere, or he’s put up there somewhere, and then in the center, why, you have altars, and crosses, and candles, and embroidery, drapery work, and the table and all kinds of things. But the pulpit is taken to the side and the minister is hidden away. No! What was central here in the Bible must always be central: the man preaching the Word of God! "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" [Acts 10:33]. As the king said to Jeremiah, the prophet, "Is there any word from the Lord?" [Jeremiah 37:17]. Does God say anything to us? We hear what the commentator says. We hear what the editorial writer says, and we hear what the politician says. And we hear what the Congress says, and we hear what the legislature says and the council says. And the bedlam of voices in the world, we hear what they say. We hear it on the radio, we hear it on television, we read it in the newspapers. But does God say anything? Is there a word from the Lord?
The minister in his pulpit; never worry about these things out there that are discussed in legislative assemblies, and in halls of justice, and in the editorial columns of the paper, and discussed by the commentators on the radio and television; never worry about that. The people listen to it day after day after day. They read it day after day after day. But is there something that can save our souls from hell? Is there something that can forgive our sins? Is there something by which we can be new men and new women? Does God have anything to say to us? And that is the great mandate and assignment of the preacher of Christ. Is there a word from the Lord? Is there something that can save us in the hour of our need and in the hour of our death? Is there someone who can stand by us before the great judgment bar of Almighty God. Is there? "Preacher, if there is a word from God, what is it?" What does God say? "Now therefore are we all present here before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" [Acts 10:33].
Now the next verse: "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said," [Acts 10:34]. With great boldness and courage and conviction, God’s man stood in the presence of Cornelius, and his band, and his household, and the assembled people, and preached in the power of the Holy Spirit [Acts 10:34-43]. Isn’t it wonderful to see a man of tremendous courage and conviction stand before the people proclaiming the Word of the Lord?
Let me read something that I copied out of [British intern] Blonsberg’s history. Where is he? Over here? This is from your country, and it’s from a history book, and it’s about Hugh Latimer and Henry VIII. Now you listen to it:
Hugh Latimer had 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 for the offense he had given. So after reading his text, the preacher thus began his sermon.
Now the history book quotes how he began his sermon before His Majesty, Henry VIII:
Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou are 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 was later burned at the stake –
,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; upon whose message thou art 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!
Now the next sentence in the history book:
Hugh Latimer then proceeded with the same sermon he had preached the preceding Sunday, only with more energy and conviction.
How do you like that? I tell you; oh, men like that thrill your soul! Wouldn’t it be great if we could stand in that tradition?
"Then Peter opened his mouth and preached" [Acts 10:34]. And what did he preach? He preached Jesus and the remission of sins [Acts 10:35-43]. Why man, I go back. You don’t mean to tell me that you’re going to preach Christ and Him crucified, the atonement for our sins [1 Corinthians 2:2]. You’re not going to preach that to 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]. You’re not going to preach to him Jesus crucified and the remission of our sins in His blood atonement [Acts 10:34; 1 Corinthians 2:2]. Yes, if you are a God called, New Testament, Bible preacher, that’s what you’ll be preaching. "There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" [Acts 4:12]. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" [1 Corinthians 1:21].
This is the gospel, and if somebody ever asks you, "What is the gospel," Paul defines it by inspiration in the first verses of the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, "Brethren, I declare unto you, I make known unto you, the gospel wherein ye are saved, namely, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, and the third day He was raised for our justification according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:1-4]. When a man preaches the gospel, that’s what he preaches; that we are sinners [Romans 3:23], that Jesus died to save us [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:2], and that He was raised to stand in the presence of God to declare us righteous, all of us who look by faith to Him [Hebrews 7:25]. That’s the gospel, and that’s what Peter preached in the household of Cornelius. And then a marvelous thing happened: "And while Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word" [Acts 10:44]. Now that’s God. When a man preaches the gospel, the Holy Spirit is working with him.
Whenever you talk to a man about Jesus, just remember, on the inside of that man’s heart, the Holy Spirit of God is working with you. And when I stand here in this pulpit and preach Jesus and make appeal for faith in Him, I have the assurance from heaven that in the great throng beyond me, the Holy Spirit is pulling, and convicting, and wooing, and working. God is in it. "Well, pastor, did you ever have an experience like that; while you were preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on them which heard the word?" Let me give you one instance.
I was preaching at the Cane Road Baptist Church in Hong Kong. They had a high pulpit, and I was standing in that pulpit preaching the gospel the best I could – preaching through an interpreter. And while I was preaching, a Chinese man came down and stood there as close to the pulpit as he could get, with his hands folded like this and his head bowed. He was just standing there in front of me. And as I continued to preach, there was another Chinese who came and folded his hands; beautifully, respectfully, reverently like that; and bowed his head and stood down there right in front of me. And then another and another and another, and finally, I counted seventeen; seventeen grown Chinese men and women who were standing there like that. And by that time, I could not hide my face from it any longer. So I turned to the interpreter – I stopped preaching – I turned to the interpreter, and I said, "Sir, would you be thus kind? Why are these Chinese men and women standing here, seventeen of them, why are they standing here?" And He said to me, he said, "Glory, glory!" he said, "Thank God!" He said, "Glory!" He said, "These are Chinese men and women who can’t wait until you’re done with your sermon, but they have accepted Jesus as their Savior, and in token of that avowal, they are standing down there with their hands folded in reverence and their heads bowed before God in adoration." Why, you could just shout all over God’s heaven looking at something like that. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit. "And the Holy Spirit fell on them which heard the word" [Acts 10:44].
Now I must close, but let me read one other verse. "Then Simon Peter turned to his brethren and said, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?" [Acts 10:47]. So many times am I asked, "Why do you have the people vote in the church when they come forward?" Well, the answer is this. Just like Simon Peter there, when these come forward and say, "We have found the Lord, and we want to be baptized," or, "We’ve found the Lord, and we followed Him through the waters of baptism, and we want to be in the church," I turn to my brothers and sisters in the faith and say – I might put it in different words. Different ministers have different ways of doing it, but it’s this – "Is there any objection that these be received, who have found the Lord as we have? Are you happy to receive them? Is it your heart and your voice and your vote, thus to welcome them? If so" – and in our particular church, I say – "would you raise your hand and say, ‘Amen’?" I don’t know how Simon Peter did it here. It doesn’t say how he had them answer, but I know they answered affirmatively. They glorified God, and they were baptized, these new converts; Cornelius and his household [Acts 10:47-48]. And the Spirit of the Lord blessed them in the service and ministry of our dear Jesus.
Oh, what a hope, and what a blessing, and what a comfort, and what a dearness and nearness, when we open our hearts to the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus! And that’s the appeal we would lay upon your hearts this morning. We are not quite off of the radio yet. If in your living room, or bedroom, or driving along the highway, you have listened to the message; if God makes an appeal to your heart, turn in faith. Bow in His presence. Say, "Lord Jesus, save me! Write my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:15, 21:27]. Forgive my sins. Make me a child of God."
And in the throng present here today; in the balcony round, you; on the lower floor, you; a family, "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today"; a couple you, or just one somebody you, make the decision now for Christ, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down one of these stairways or walking into the aisle and here to the front, "I’ve made the decision, pastor, and here I come. Here I am. God bless me, I’m on the way!" Do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
Acts 10, 11
A. Roman centurion from
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)