“THEN Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.”
The above text is often used to sustain the idea of non-election and free will, but like all other Scripture it belongs to the household of faith, and teaches the doctrine believed and advocated by the Old School Baptists.
After referring briefly to the direct import we hope to establish by this very text the truth that God is a respecter of persons, and that the man respected of God has never had anything to do with the favor shown him, in the sense of meriting it.
Jesus said on one occasion to his disciples, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd. The disciples did not understand these words when they were spoken, but wore given to know them afterwards. It is sometimes said that Peter did not know, even on the day of Pentecost, that God would show mercy to the Gentiles. Perhaps he did not, but it will be remembered that in that wonderful sermon he said to his brethren (Jews), “The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” “Unto you, and to your children,” was as far as the promise extended to the Jews; they that were afar off were Gentiles, these God would call. Peter may not have known just then what the Spirit meant to signify by the words, “to all that are afar off,” but it pleased the Lord to give him a vision after this by which he was taught God’s purpose concerning the Gentiles. Peter went upon the housetop to pray, “and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet, knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth; wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.” Peter was a Jew, and had observed the law, hence no unclean beast or fowl had been partaken of by him. While the lamb, the kid and clean birds were in the sheet or vessel, they had become contaminated by the company of the unclean, hence Peter said all were common and unclean. He did not know at the moment what this vision meant, but doubted what it should mean. Just here we will call attention to the fact that this vessel with all therein was let down from heaven and received up into heaven again. Does God deal with unclean things? Yes, he does not deal with anything else. The things in the vessel show that all men by nature are unclean, the Jew as well as the Gentile: “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” But while by nature unclean, God through his Son hath cleansed them, hence we must not call God’s people common or unclean. This vision was for the express purpose, doubtless, to make known to his. servant Peter the secret that had been hid from the beginning of the world: that God had a people among the Gentiles. God’s ways are equal, hence before this experience of Peter upon the housetop God had appeared to a certain man in Caesarea, called Cornelius, who was a Gentile, and commanded him to send to Joppa for Peter. His messengers reached Joppa while Peter was wondering what the vision should mean, and told him their mission. God now commands Peter to go with them, doubting nothing. When he came to the house and heard Cornelius tell of God’s work he then said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” He then understood that God has a people among the Gentiles as well as among the Jews, and that all alike are cleansed by the blood of Christ; he then understood the language of Jesus: “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold;” he now understood the true import of his own words on the day of Pentecost: “to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” So far as nationality is concerned God is not a respecter of persons.
We will now take up the opposite view and endeavor to show by our text and its connection that God is a respecter of persons, that he ever has been a respecter of persons, and that the man respected never did merit God’s favor. The very fact that all manner of beasts and creeping things and fowls were in the vessel shows clearly that God is a respecter of persons or he would not have shown that he has a people in every nation, tongue and kindred. If God is not a respecter of persons why did he send Peter to Cornelius that he might hear his everlasting gospel? If God is not a respecter of persons why did he choose a people in Christ before the world began? To manifest his respect unto men he blessed Abel with faith, gave him to know that he (Abel) was righteous. This he did not do for Cain, though by nature there was no difference between them, both were sinners. It was to show him a respecter of persons even with the second born in the earth; strange as it may seem he manifested his choice in the second born or younger throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. When God caused the flood to come upon the earth he showed himself a respecter of person in that he saved Noah and his family, while death came to all other men. In the ark with Noah and his family were all manner of beasts and fowls of the air, and creeping things, exactly the same as were in the vessel which Peter, in vision, saw let down from heaven, and in the ark they represented the same truth that they did in the vision given to Peter.
God himself has preached his own everlasting gospel from the beginning of the world; he preached it to Adam in the garden of Eden, he preached it in Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and all the prophets, and in all the ordinances and sacrifices of the law. Election according to his purpose and grace, and conformity to the image of his Son according to his predestination, has ever been his doctrine, and it will stand when all worlds are passed away. God’s first sermon to man was salvation by grace through Jesus Christ. His second sermon was election according to his foreknowledge and will, made manifest in the choice of Abel, while Cain was left in his sins. The same is true in the case of Jacob; by nature there was no difference between him and his brother Esau, but according to God’s election there was a great difference, therefore God said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” This he said that his purpose according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, and this he said before the children were born, neither having done good or evil. This doctrine was preached by Paul, who said, By grace are ye saved, not of works, lest any man should boast. God loved Jacob in Christ before the world began, he loved him before he was born of the flesh, he loved him when he took advantage of his brother and obtained his birthright, he loved him when he deceived his old blind father, Isaac, and received the blessing intended for Esau. God did not love him because of his wickedness, but because of his own election or respect of persons according to his purpose and grace given him in Christ before the world began. For this same purpose he called Paul and Timothy with an holy calling, not according to their works, he did not hate Esau because of any evil performed by him, but because he was not included in his electing love and mercy. This is God’s right, and no man can say to him, Thou art unjust; we are the clay, he is our Potter. “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” The whole Bible is filled with this doctrine of God’s discriminating grace, which shows God to be a respecter of persons. Time would fail us to mention all places where it is declared and made manifest. But before we bring this feeble effort to a close let ns all examine our own experience in this matter. Many of ns have been separated from parents, brothers and sisters in the flesh, by this work of grace in our hearts, as we hope. We have also been separated from companions and friends and made to feel alone in the world. Is not this because God is a respecter of persons? In our own life this has been the case, not one of our father’s family is an Old Baptist; we are the youngest of the family; if God is not a respecter of persons why should we be where we are and what we are? We feel to say with Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” This every child of God will say.
May we all, dear brethren, be more and more confirmed in this doctrine of election which makes God a respecter of persons. O for hearts of gratitude for his abounding grace and mercy in calling us out of nature’s darkness into his marvelous light. May he give us to show forth his praises, and his name shall have all the glory.
We now leave the subject for your consideration. K.
Editorial – Elder H. C. Ker
Signs Of The Times
Volume 74, No. 13
July 1, 1906