THESE words are a part of Peter's testimony concerning the Gentiles. He had been very loath to go among them to preach the gospel. Some might have condemned him for it, but God did not. Before that, the Lord had said, "Go not in the way of the Gentiles;" and he did not like to go until God spoke to him again and opened his mind to him further, and blessed him. I like that religion, not to be moved by what people say, but to abide by what God has said till he speaks again, and hold fast to his testimony. There is "one Lord." See the condescension of God to this man. He went up to the housetop to pray, and became very hungry, and fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened, and, as it were, a great sheet let down to him, wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts, wild beasts, creeping things, and fowls of the air; and there came a voice to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." (Acts 10:11-13) But Peter said, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean;" as if he said, "I have stopped according to thy commandment, Lord." And the voice came again, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." Then the sheet was taken up, and again let down while this hunger and trance were upon him; and again he said, "Not so, Lord." See the teaching of God, what a wonderful effect it has on the man that is taught. He is not easily moved to and fro; he must abide by what God has said. And the sheet was taken up and let down a third time, and again Peter said, "No so, Lord," and the voice answered, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men seek thee...go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them." Three men sent from Cornelius were at the door, asking for Peter; and they told Peter how Cornelius had been warned of God by a holy angel to send for him.
See how tender God's teaching makes a man. I like that tenderness and filial fear far better than a man saying at once, "I can go." This is a great distinction between the religion of the world and of the Lord Jesus. Who had more authority than Moses to carry up the people to the promised land? Yet he said, "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence." He would rather stay in the wilderness than go without the Lord. If you and I have living faith, we shall have stops in our way; we cannot make haste as other people do. "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong;" but "the lame take the prey." (Isa. 33:23) Hannah said, "By strength shall no man prevail." God takes all that out of us, and makes us
"Poor dependents on his grace,
Whom men disturbers call."
These are the people God teaches; and they will say, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth's sake." (Ps. 115:1)
Peter took six brethren with him, and went down to Caesarea. He wanted witnesses; for he was entering on a new path in preaching to the Gentiles, which concerned all the church. Cornelius was waiting for him; see, again, how diligent and earnest the Holy Ghost makes a man. Though he had had an answer and God had said, "Thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God," yet he was not satisfied. People start off in religion with half that now-a-days. The teaching of the Lord opens the heart, humbles, strips, mortifies, and makes the man needy. "O that I might know him! Lead me in thy truth and teach me!" Why all that exercise? Because he cannot be satisfied short of finding Christ. 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," and he preached peace by Jesus Christ. While he was yet speaking, "the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word." What a blessed interposition of the Triune God in that assembly, after all their fears, trials, and waiting! When the Holy Ghost thus fell on the Gentiles, Peter and the six brethren participated in the blessing. "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs with us."
About 10 years after this, some teachers from Jerusalem went down to Antioch and taught, saying, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." (Acts 15:1) As the church could not agree, they determined to send Paul and Barnabas to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem about this question. And when their answer was received, the Gentile church rejoiced for the consolation; that the gospel put no difficult task upon them, no works were required, only to receive it in the heart, and when they had received it, to hold it fast in faith and love. "I put upon you none other burden; but that which ye have already, hold fast till I come." An open heart for the gospel the Lord gives to his people, to receive it without money, fee, or reward. Then,
"Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him;
This he gives you,
'Tis the Spirit's rising beam."
Now many here are feeling their need of the righteousness and atonement of Christ? That is the sinner that is partaker of the Holy Ghost; it is his rising beam in your heart; you will never be lost. See how close he is to you to move your heart after himself. How sweet is salvation to a needy sinner.
Our text is a part of Peter's testimony when the church were gathered together at Jerusalem about his question, to show God had "put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." Peter knowing they themselves were purified likewise by living faith in Jesus Christ.
You see, then, a living faith purifies the heart; that is how you may know it. You may have faith in all the doctrines of grace, live in all moral, consistent practice of the gospel, be able to split hairs in divinity, and have nothing but dead faith all the time. Evidently Judas had this faith; he was among the apostles and preached the gospel; and so had Demas; but it lasted but for a while. It did not purify their hearts; therefore it was not saving. The workings of living faith always sanctify the heart that has them, more or less; but false faith never alters it. The foolish virgins had a faith, but they took no oil with them; they had no wisdom, no purifying faith; and at the end they had nothing but foolishness in their hearts. If that has not tried you, it has me exceedingly. What a question is this: "How shall I know whether I shall endure? How shall I be certified that I have saving faith in my heart? The text leads us to inquire into this very thing.
This faith begins to purify at the right place at once. If a man's hands are made clean, he will not steal; if his feet are clean, he will walk morally; but he will not be saved by that. We read, "Blessed are the pure in heart;" that is it, and as sure as the Lord gives us this purifying faith in the heart, our hands, feet, and tongue will not run into iniquity. Hence it is written, "The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." (Titus 2:11,12) "Teaching us," not as we teach our children. Suppose a child is dull of learning, perhaps we cannot put our teaching into him; we may leave it outside and the child be ignorant after all. God's teaching is not like that; he teaches by invincible grace in the heart. "That denying ungodliness"--that is, hating it, and hating ourselves on account of it.
"Holiness in all its parts, affections placed above,
Self-abhorrence, contrite hearts, humility, and love."
everything is included in this teaching. Peter says, "They think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot." Has grace wrought a difference in your heart and mine from what we were by nature, and brought us out? How certain I am that saving faith purifies the heart, and "without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
We will speak of this faith in its operations. "Purifying their hearts by faith." A medicine that has no operative principle does no good; it would leave a person afflicted in all his afflictions as he was before. Just so it is in religion. If faith does not purify a man's heart, it leaves him in his sins where he was before. This faith is the gift of God, which he bestows on his own elect; and by this may be proved your election and predestination. "By their fruits ye shall know them." "Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good also." Two men may do the same thing before men, and one be accepted, the other be a stench in God's nostrils. Cain and Abel both brought an offering, and offered it alike in outward appearance to the Lord. Thousands are deluded this way; the Lord grant you and I may not be.
Some think because we do not put works first, we are enemies to good works. Not so; but we dare not put the works of the creature before the holy merits and sufferings of the Son of God. He is Lord of all, to be exalted in our salvation from first to last. "It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13) Then all boasting is excluded but in the suffering, crucified Redeemer. There the soul may boast and triumph in redeeming love over all the powers of sin and darkness.
The first effect of faith in purifying the heart is, you will have a feeling sense at times of your sinnership, how powerless before God you are to do anything acceptable to him, how prayerless, how callous your heart is, how fallen and carnal. None but a purified heart has feeling pangs of these things. If you were to lay a burden on a corpse, it would not feel it; but a living man would. Sin is a weight, darkness a weight, absence from God a weight, transgression a weight, a carnal heart a grievous weight to a living soul. It binds you down in your wretched, helpless state; and were it not for God's unlimited mercy to his children, you would be hopeless. You are hopeless in yourself.
Whatever a sinner has an experimental knowledge of by the enlightening power of the Spirit, he believes in, and it stops his mouth from boasting. It purifies the heart from struggling in a legal way to please God; he knows he cannot. "Thy commandment is exceeding broad," reaching to the thoughts and intents of the heart. If you are practicing a godly act and a base thought comes in while you are in it, if a foolish thing runs in and occupies your mind in secret prayer, you feel it has all a stinking savor; like a dead fly in a pot of ointment. Did you ever come off your knees guilty? It is far better to be guilty this way than to be wrapped up in self-sufficiency and thing you have something to bring before God. Faith purifies the heart from that. All true believers become sensible sinners before a holy God, without the power to act or will in themselves. Then to put a fallen, polluted worm or his works beside the Creator of all things is a most solemn and important mistake. This faith purifies the heart from that error.
Again. Saving faith will separate you from your past course of life, whatever it was, and bring your heart and conscience to be subject to the truth.
Every soul that has this faith would have God to reign over him, and especially at first he is afraid his infidelity and wretched heart, which is so obnoxious in his own sight, will prevent it. If you are there, you can feelingly say, "Do let grace reign to subdue my iniquities," though you are afraid he will not. But mark, God was willing before you were. If grace had not conquered your heart, you would never have been willing; one springs from the other.
Thus this blessed principle of faith purifies the heart from the leaven of self-righteousness and self-ability, and brings you to feel,
"Here's my claim and here alone,
None a Saviour more can need;
Deeds of righteousness I've none;
No, not one good work to plead,
Not a glimpse of hope for me,
Only in Gethsemane."
That is the sinner that has faith; and those that have it want to feel it strong enough to enter into the atonement, to rejoice in the merits and righteousness of Jesus. They believe God is well pleased in him for his righteousness' sake, and want faith to bring him into the soul. That is the desire of their lives; because they believe he is the Propitiation and the only acceptable sacrifice by which God and a guilty sinner can stand together in righteousness, peace, equity. So faith purifies the heart from the man's past life, whether it was religious, like that of Saul of Tarsus, or whether it was profane, like that of the woman who was a sinner. It makes a man loathe it and hate it; yes, and he will go a step further. This faith will purify his heart from his present life of faith. He cannot lay his head on that pillow and say, "What a pure walk and conversation mine has been before God." He will say,
"My best is stain'd and dyed with sin,
My all is nothing worth."
Then what an unspeakable redemption God has provided for his people, for sins past, present, and to come. "Ah!" say some, "do you know that doctrine leads to sin?" "God forbid!" Paul says, "How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?" (Rom. 6:2) If a man lives in sin and rests on the doctrines of grace, he will not sin cheaply. Your proud heart may teach you to sin, not these doctrines; we must not reproach our Maker if we sin. I say this faith purifies the heart from all erroneous doctrines; and wherever this purifying work is in the heart, there is faith to believe in proportion.
Another effect of faith is obedience to the Word. God's people are called to unity, not to division. Peter says, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently" (1 Pet. 1:22)--not with a dissembled love, a little love outside and backbiting behind. Faith purifies from that. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "For I fear when I come, I shall not find you such as I would...lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults." (2 Cor. 12:20) Why? Because faith had not purified their hearts from it. Faith makes a man honest; he cannot speak smooth words to another man's face and reproach him behind his back. Hear David: "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly and worketh righteousness and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue." (Ps. 15:1-3) If you watch minutely the dictates of this faith in your conscience, it will bring you in guilty sometimes a thousand times a day. You will cry for the atonement, and never think of standing before God but in the name and merits of Jesus Christ. Some call this legal; but I say, you listen to those dictates in your conscience. Under this teaching and chastening of the Spirit, you will find such a holy, reverential fear rise up, you will say at times, "How can I do this wickedness and sin against God?"
This faith brings obedience. Again, it is said, "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward." Let your heart have to do with the God of heaven and earth; certainly this is the result where faith is; and let not their frowardness pervert your soul from obedience to God. The three Hebrews could not fall down to Nebuchadnezzar's image, as no doubt numbers of Israelites did. How singular these three were from the rest of their brethren; they had to do with God. Certainly faith will work obedience to him and separate you from the world; and when it does, God will be sure to receive you. When the man that was born blind had received his sight, "they cast him out," because he spoke of Jesus; and the Lord Jesus found him and made himself known to him. If you and I are enabled to stand, and do not say, "A confederacy" with the world, he will open a way for us. The Lord grant you may have to do with him in trouble, and never use unlawful means to get out. If you are in oppression, never use harsh words, backbiting, or railing; fall into the hands of God, and then if God brings it, you will have a righteous deliverance.
Now to take up the text where I left it. I have something in my heart continually telling me what a poor preacher I am and what a little I say from a text. But what is said is true; and if the Lord applies only a little, it will do you good. 1. We will look a little further at purifying faith in two or three particulars. 2. At the object of faith. 3. At the trial of faith. If faith is not tried, it is unsound; and frequently an untried faith makes a man most confident. "The fool rageth and is confident."
"Ifs, buts, and hows are hurl'd
To sink us with the gloom
Of all that's dismal in this world,
Or in the world to come."
We think, "If such a thing had not occurred, if this had not come--but how can this work for good?" O what a gloom that makes!
What a gloom I had in my soul last Friday afternoon and Friday night. Ifs, buts, and hows were hurled upon me, and I felt as guilty as a creature could feel before God, not in outward sin, but in wretched infidelity, carnality, and inconsistency, and I did not see much hope for me; but I poured out my soul in sighs and tears to God. As soon as I was up in the morning I thought, "You have come to the end of it now;" but in a little while such a spirit of repentance, godly sorrow, and contrition flowed into my heart that everything I had was too much for me; friends were too much; I had mercies in the house, in the church, in the world. I deserved nothing but frowns, and I had nothing but mercies; and I felt, "I can never serve and praise thee, Lord, according to the mercies bestowed upon me."
"'Tis a safe though deep compunction
Thy repenting people feel;
Love and grief compound an unction
Both to cleanse our wounds and heal."
and this brokenness of spirit lasted all day. But as Saturday drew on, all this left me. I seemed bereft of everything holy, and I feel asleep that night with no text, no religion. Do you know what such a state is? But when dressing this morning, this text came: "Purifying their hearts by faith;" and my spirit hung there directly.
1. A few things more about this purifying faith, how it purifies a man from his former life and sins. Saul never persecuted the saints again. The woman at Jesus' feet never pursued her former life again. This faith not only turns the feet, but the heart. The foolish virgins had the love of sin in the heart all the way, and missed heaven at last. The poor sinner with saving faith hates his own life; and here he is in this helpless state, sometimes in prayer comes off his knees guilty, and can feelingly say,
He wants to feel his mercies applied to his soul. This faith purifies the heart from an empty profession, and makes a man esteem others better than himself. Many condemn others' sins and excuse their own; as one said to me once, "You find some carry other people's sins in a bundle in front of them, and their own in a little patch behind; and they seldom see or feel them." There is a great truth in that. This faith makes a man practically obedient in the ways of God. "As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance." These obey in spirit, however short they feel to come. The weakest believer on earth has obedience in spirit. As Abraham when he was called to go out obeyed, and as Moses chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, so this purifying faith makes the soul loyal and subject to the God of heaven. What is more blessed than that? Not with the terrors of a slave or the fears of hell, but with the affections brought over to love God and long to serve him; as Saul's were, "What wilt thou have me to do?" You long to serve him, though without the power to do it, and cry,
"Give power and will, and then command,
And we will follow thee."
This is the soul that has faith; and do you think he will miss of eternal glory? "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath." Lord, inspire us with that blessed will, that we may walk in it.
The obedience of faith is wrought in a man by the Holy Ghost; it is not in our own hands but in God's, and our security rests upon his faithfulness. Hark: "That we might have a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us," (Heb. 6:18) he has "confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie,"--what a blessed anchorage this poor sinner has that has faith. There is little faith as well as great faith; and the smallest believer is really partaker of all the new covenant blessings; nay, he is named first. "He will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great." No soul ever feared the Lord without living faith. How could a man fear him if he did not believe in him? and the reverse, how could he believe and not fear him?
Where this fear is, holiness is there, God is there in his glorious majesty; and where his fear is not, God is not. Where it is, you can never part the Lord and it. If you have it, you have him, such a polluted worm as you are; is not that a mercy? that ever his gracious Majesty should deign to dwell in such worms as we are? Where there is not the fear of God, there is nothing a man may not do in temptation.
"The fear of the Lord preserves us from death,
Enforces his word, enlivens our faith;
It regulates passion, and helps us to quell
The dread of damnation and terrors of hell."
The heart that believes is preserved from the alluring, attracting things in the world, and there are not a few of them. This faith will strengthen you to stand against the entanglements of your position; not to go that way to please friend or foe. It will prevent you from indulging in universal charity, or moving along with those who do not come to close points, who take things for granted, and talk of man's ability and works. And when the flowings of the spirit of love enter your heart, the delight of your soul will be to walk in practical obedience; at other times as well, but now you have power. When it pleased the Lord to pardon my sins, I had this feeling; that if there was not another man in all the world who would walk in his ordinances, I would; that I could go through all opposition and face death in the way calmly. "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." (Ps. 69:9) I would not condemn such a spirit, because when zeal is
"Extinguish'd to a spark,
Life is very low,
All my evidences dark,
And good works I've none to show."
That spirit is very different from a Pharisaical one, that makes pretensions to holy things without faith in the atonement. Works without faith profit little; but "godliness is profitable to all things."
If you have faith in the Lord Jesus, you have adoption, holiness, heaven, Christ, and all.
"We first after Jesus reach,
And richly grasp the whole."
Faith turns out the love of the world, the love of the creature, Satan and all his kingdom, dethrones him, and enthrones the God of heaven, the Lord Jesus, as your King. The weakest believer enthrones the Lord; therefore he serves the Lord Christ. All these are the purifying effects of this blessed, glorious principle in a sinner's heart.
2. This leads us to look at the object of this faith. The Lord does not put up various things to steer his church by. She has only one Object in view, one Pilot, one way; and all others
The Lord Jesus is the great Object of faith, in his complex Person, as the great Creator of all things, visible and invisible, and as the Babe laid in a manger and carried in the arms of a poor, weak woman, for want of power. We cannot comprehend him; yet it is true. Faith has to do with this mystery, and feeds on it. It has hold of his divinity as well as his humanity, believes in him as the Ancient of days, the First and the Last, and as a poor, hungry Man, with not a place to lay his head, yet the Lord of heaven at the same time. He is the Object of faith. "Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:6-8) Faith believes in him hanging on the cross, a dying Victim, that at that moment he was the everlasting Jehovah that upheld heaven and earth; faith believes that that Jesus who was crucified on Calvary's tree can save a guilty, hell-deserving sinner and bring him to heaven. You recollect how early the women came to the sepulcher, and Mary said, "They have taken away my Lord," signifying she had no other but him. So when the Father "bringeth in the First-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him." To worship a creature would be idolatry. His glorious Majesty lay in the tomb, and the women waited by faith around the tomb. Then when Mary saw him, she said, "Sire, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus saith unto her, "Mary." She turned herself, and saith unto him, "Rabboni;" which is to say, "Master." "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." (John 20:17) You see what faith will do. It follows this holy Lord Jesus whether on the cross, in the grave, or in heaven's glory. He is the Object of living faith. That made David say, "The Lord is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever."
We might dwell long on this blessed theme; but we must touch on the virtue flowing from his blessed Majesty wherever there is faith in him. When he came into certain parts, whole multitudes sought to touch him; for virtue went out of him, and all that touched were made perfectly whole. Do you know what it is to be in trouble and want one touch of his power and virtue in your soul to bring you out? You know that would be sure to do it. Then your heart is loyal and fixed on this glorious Object whom angels adore. You can feelingly say,
Your heart fulfills this admonition: "Make mention that his name is exalted." "He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high;" and the higher he is in your soul, the less influence temptation or the world will have over you. There is such an efficacy in his name when it is enthroned in the heart it will subdue the power of death, hell, and sin, which nothing else will. Then we may say,
"Faith in the bleeding Lamb,
O what a gift is this!"
Look at his precious, atoning blood. On the great day of atonement, Aaron was directed to sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times before the mercyseat; he was not to dip his hand into it, only his finger. Some of God's people are sadly perplexed because there is not more of this sprinkling on the conscience; but this figure is to show that where there is the least touch, all sin is purged away. The whole church with a little of the blood of sprinkling is all clean. We read of her: "Elect unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." (1 Pet. 1:2) When we come to the throne of grace, there is this blood sprinkled there, and through that an answer of peace comes into your heart and mine.
3. Now the trial of faith in two or three particulars. Seeing this redemption is so full and complete, your anxious inquiry often is, "How is it I have not more of the efficacy of it in my heart?" Because faith must be tried. If Joseph had listened to an interpreter of his dream, who had said to him, "You will go to Egypt and be locked up in prison for years to come, and will go from one sorrow to another," he would have said, "But I have such sweetness in the dream." The faith he had then must be tried. Take a pattern from our great Head. It was promised him, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged, and the isles shall wait for his law." "The enemy shall not exact upon him, nor the son of wickedness afflict him." "He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." Now see what came to his blessed Majesty; see him forsaken of men and crying, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Says infidelity, "Scripture contradicts itself." No, it does not. As soon as reason touches the mystery of Christ, it is lost. The great wisdom of God in him is deeper than our finite capacities can reach.
"Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will."
Suppose you have a very clear, precious glass, and a mist comes upon it, some may say, "The glass is marred; we cannot see through it now." But let the sun shine upon it, the mist is gone. So with the sufferings of Christ. When his death was perfected and his covenant engagement fulfilled, the beams of his immortality shone forth again, a glorious light was shed upon the trial, and not one scripture broken. But O the mystery of a crucified Redeemer! O the depths! The enemy could not afflict him one jot further than the decrees and purposes of God determined. Then
Here we see the shallowness of all those minds that credit nothing but what they comprehend and see. Faith will be tried; and if my faith did not go farther than I can see, I should not have a ray of hope at times.
"'Tis to credit contradictions,
Talk with him one never sees,
Cry and groan beneath afflictions,
Yet to dread the thoughts of ease."