Philip Bliss wrote a song called “Dare to be a Daniel” around 1873 that had this refrain:
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known.
It can be a good thing to have a firm purpose and to stand alone, when necessary, to uphold it. But if our purpose only seems good, or feels good, but isn’t truly a good purpose, then really, what’s the point? How can we know whether our purpose is any good or not?
Cornelius was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). The trouble was, Cornelius had no idea who God was. If he had, he wouldn’t have fallen down and worshiped Peter (Acts 10:25). God sent Cornelius an angel who prompted him to fetch Peter, so that Peter could preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household. Having heard Peter’s preaching, Cornelius and his household were converted and baptized.
This was an extraordinary event, the sort of thing that happened in the earliest times of the Christian church. But things are different now. Someone may appear to be — and indeed feel very much as if he is — very devout and God-fearing, but may in fact be completely ignorant of who God is, what He requires of him, and what He has done for him. It’s a fact of the time in which we live that God will not send him an angel to prompt him to go and fetch a preacher. Why not? Because it is no longer necessary. We have the word of God, the Bible, the whole counsel of God, to instruct us; and part of its instruction is that correct understanding of God comes through preaching, the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:18; Romans 10:14, Titus 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15:11, Hebrews 10:25, to name a scant few places this is affirmed in the word of God).
All we are given to know about Cornelius and his household is that Peter’s preaching of the truth of the Gospel changed their eternal destiny (Acts 10:44).
An Ethiopian eunuch was reading aloud to himself from the book of Isaiah and Philip heard him and asked him whether he understood what he was reading (Acts 8:30). The Ethiopian eunuch was candid: “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31) Philip preached to the eunuch. The eunuch understood the message, asked to be baptized, and went away rejoicing (Acts 8:35-40). The only thing we know about the eunuch after this is that he attained eternal life. And, whether or not there is any direct connection, a few hundred years later, Augustine came to faith in North Africa and changed the prevailing worldview.
I was thinking about these things reading through Acts this time around, and thinking about all the people I know who think they are perfectly aligned and on track with God’s plan for their lives. A few of them think God whispers in their ear that He loves them; others think He delivers special truths to them in dreams. But they do not mobilize themselves to hear the word of God faithfully preached.
I hope they aren’t waiting around for an angel or a teleported evangelist. I hope they do violence to themselves in the manner that Puritan Thomas Watson teaches, and violently separate themselves from the fear, anxiousness, self-satisfaction, and lassitude that causes them to forsake the assembling together with others, where they would find love, good works, encouragement (Hebrews 10:24, 25), truth, and strengthened faith in the true God, who is the only object worthy of anyone’s faith.
There are very good reasons to forsake public assembly for worship — our flesh is superb at generating all sorts of reasons very easily, Lords day after Lord’s day. And for every reason they can offer, I know someone who has a better reason, but assembles anyway. And those are the people I love for encouraging me to show up, too.