10 And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;
Worship in Relation to the Alien
As the case of Cornelius is cited in opposition to the principles enunciated in the foregoing, a review of it will not be out of place. It is assumed that that God-fearing man occupied a position parallel to that of the religious alien of to-day. And that as the prayers of the one were heard, so those of the other will be. But are these assumptions justifiable? Let us see. Cornelius is described as a "just" and "devout" man, "one that feared God with all his house, and prayed to God always;" as being "of good report among all the nation of the Jews," and, as having known the "Word," which God sent unto the children of Israel (Acts 10:36, 37).
The narrative further implies that he was not only a man of prayer but of fasting (30 v.) These particulars at once suggest the thought that Cornelius may have been a proselyte. Surely a God-fearing man, and one acquainted with Christ's teaching, would have complied with the requirements of the law, which included circumcision. Especially in view of the fact that until this latter enactment had been observed, no part nor lot could be attained in Israel's common wealth.
If Cornelius was a proselyte, it may be said, why was it necessary for Peter to go and instruct him in the way whereby he and his house could be saved? (11:14). The circumstances of the time supply the reason-it was a time of transition. Immersion into the resurrected and glorified Christ was now the appointed way for remission of sins and eternal life. The recognition of this was required from both Jews and proselytes. This is clear from the cases of the Eunuch (8:1-5).
The reference to "uncircumcised" may apply to the "many"-"the kinsmen and near friends"-who had assembled to meet the Apostle. Although Peter's vision of clean and unclean may present a difficulty at the first glance, it may mean the following, and nothing more, viz.:-That Peter was to understand that the time had arrived when Jew and Gentile were upon a level in regard to the way of salvation; that the destinction that had existed hitherto was now no more; that the Gentiles were no longer to be esteemed unclean in the sense of the provisional difference that God had previously made between Israel and the other nations-
"In every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him."
Peter's hesitancy in visiting Cornelius may be accounted for by remembering that Christ had said "Go not into the way of the Gentiles" (Matt. 10:5), coupled with the great repugnance that existed is associating with Gentiles. And Cornelius, it must be noted, was a commander of a cohort of Roman soldiers.
It is thought by some that we should take neutral ground upon this subject-that whilst we should not encourage worship upon the part of the alien, we should not discourage it. This, however, is hardly a satisfactory position. If there existed an absence of direct testimony upon the subject, then silence perhaps would be commendable. But positive commands have been given as to the way in which God is to be approached. Let divine revelation concerning Christ as the medium of approach be clearly apprehended, and neutrality will be out of the question.
"He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully" (Jer. 23:28; 2. Tim. 2:2; 2. Thes. 2:15; Tit. 1:9).
One of the many charges Deity brought against Israel's religious instructors was that they "put no difference between the holy and the profane" nor "shewed difference between the clean and unclean" (Ezek, 22:26 and Lev. 10:10). Here is a lesson for Christ's servants of this dispensation. They occupy a position somewhat analogous to Israel's priests, and it rests with them to point out faithfully and fearlessly the distinction God has made among the sons of men (1. Cor. 1:30; 6:11; Jno. 15:3).
As God is particular, so let us be particular. The jealous watchfulness of God over His appointments is forcibly illustrated in the punishment of Nadab (Num. 3.), of Korah (Num. 16.), of Uzzah (2. Sam. 6.), and of Uzziah (2. Chron. 26.) Laxity or disregard of the divine word also brought condemnation on Israel (Hos. 8:12, 13; 9:3). Let us take heed!
"These things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come.'
How brethren should act at public meetings, at meal times when aliens are present, and with their children, are matters which call for a remark or two before concluding. With regard to children, the task will be comparatively simple. Their chief source of knowledge upon such subjects being their parents, it will be but necessary to teach them that they are not in a position to approach God, and that His first requirements are: a knowledge of His will and obedience to His commands. At the same time informing them that God's blessing and guidance are sought by their parents on their behalf.
The case of the adult stranger is, however, different. He is invariably under the impression that it is both his privilege and duty to worship God. Now as there is no common ground upon which to offer prayer, supplication, or thanks, the saints dare not unite with the alien in either. It is incumbent upon the former that they studiously avoid compromising the truth, either by word or action.
At meal times, it would be inconsistent to give thanks in a collective form when the alien are present, unless the relative positions have been explained to them. The exigencies of such a situation may be met by those in the truth returning thanks silently. Respecting meetings for the proclamation of the truth, worship should form no part of them, or if it did, the president should announce that the brethren and sisters would engage in singing or prayer.
This may by some be deemed over-scrupulous, but is it? Let us be consistent and scriptural. It is right to supplicate God's blessing on our work in the truth, but there is a time and a place for everything. It is extremely questionable if a meeting convened for the purpose of reforming and enlightening sinners, is the time and place for singing and praise.
Is it not distressing to witness young brethren and sisters, through lack of moral courage, or non-realisation of their separate condition, handing books to strangers, thus tacitly inviting their co-operation in the praises? Is it in the fitness of things to institute a service wherein (frequently) the major portion of those who are lustily singing and affirming "Amen" is not in a position to render acceptable worship?
A public lecture is a time for the Word to work-for the Word to influence and convince, and if worship is introduced it should be done with the greatest care and discrimination. It is an unworthy and unwarrantable argument which says that worship should be resorted to as a means of giving tone and interest to a meeting.
"Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few." (Ecc. 5:1, 2).
Bro AT Jannaway
The Christadelphian, Aug 1886