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Cornelius, taught by an Angel, sendeth for Peter. The Apostle is at the same time, taught by a Vision to obey the Call. He preacheth before Cornelius and his Household, and God the Holy Ghost blesseth his Ministry.
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, (2) A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. (3) He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. (4) And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. (5) And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: (6) He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. (7) And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; (8) And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. (9) On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: (10) And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, (11) 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: (12) Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. (13) And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. (14) But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. (15) And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. (16) This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
For the better apprehension of the subject contained in this chapter, it will be proper to consider the scriptural account of the Church of Christ, in relation to all the members of Christ's mystical body; and no less to notice, the very different views which the Jewish Church had conceived of it.
Nothing can be more evident, from the whole tenor of Revelation, than that the Church of Christ from everlasting is one. So Christ himself sweetly sings, and so, blessed be God, we know. My dove, my undefiled, (saith Jesus,) is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her, Song of Solomon 6:9 . Hence, both Jew and Gentile are included in this view, and both form but one and the same. And, although the Lord was pleased for wise and gracious purposes known to himself, to form Israel in the family of Abraham, with whom might be the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came: Romans 9:4-5 , yet these were subsequent transactions to the original and eternal gift of the Church to Christ by Jehovah. God the Father in his covenant-office and character, is said to have chosen the Church in Christ before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4 . And all the members of Christ's mystical body, were written in his book, when as yet there was none of them, Psalms 140:13 ; John 17:2 . And agreeably to these things, the Son of God in our nature, speaking by the spirit of prophecy, ages before his incarnation, yea, from the womb of eternity, is introduced to the Church, as calling upon his Church to listen to him, both Jew and Gentile, as Jehovah's salvation to the end of the earth. I pray the Reader before he prosecutes the subject further, that he would turn to the prophet Isaiah, in proof of this most blessed and important truth: See Isaiah 49:1-6 . Nothing can be more decisive in confirmation, that the Church of Christ everlastingly was, and is, and can be, but One. And however diversified in the after time-state of the Church, the distinct stock of Jew and Gentile might be formed; yet, under every state, both in time, and to all eternity, Christ hath but one Church, and both Jew and Gentile in their relationship to him, are but one fold. Indeed, as if to shew that oneness yet more decidedly, it is to be noted, that Abraham, the great father of the Jewish Church, when chosen of God for this purpose, was himself a Gentile, (that is, an heathen and idolater,) when called out of Ur of the Chaldees, Genesis 12:1; Genesis 12:1 . So that in fact, Abraham was a Gentile before he became a Jew, and thereby it plainly proves, that the name of the Elder brother given to the Jew, and the Younger to the Gentile, is the reverse of what was the case. See the note on Luke 15:32 . And in exact conformity to this statement, it is still worthy of further notice, that when Jesus himself, in the days of his flesh, was speaking on the same subject, and calling himself the shepherd, and his Church his sheep, he told his disciples, which were all Jews, that he had other sheep, which were not of this fold. Them also, (said the Lord,) I must bring, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. See John 10:16 and Commentary upon it.
Having taken this scriptural view of the Church of Christ, and, (as I venture to believe,) having clearly shewn, that that Church, formed in the divine mind before all worlds, was wholly one, and but one; though, in the after days of the time-state of the Church, was branched out into those two distinct families of Jew and Gentile; we shall now be the better prepared to enter into a proper apprehension of the subject, in what is related in this chapter, concerning the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile, to the faith in Christ.
It will be recollected then, that the whole Jewish nation, were, to a man, brought up in those high notions, that as the Messiah, when he came, was to spring from the stock of Abraham, he would only come for the deliverance of Israel, and all the nations of the earth were uninterested in his mission; hence, they expected him only in this character. And all the Apostles were as deeply tinctured with those opinions, as any of their countrymen. And, although, in the farewell commission which the Lord Jesus gave to his Apostles, he commanded them, that as soon as they were endued with power from on high, they should go in to all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: Mark 16:15 . yet, so little did they apprehend our Lord's meaning, and so riveted were they in the same Jewish principles, of the Lord's grace only to Israel, that when they attended Jesus on the Mount at his ascension, they put the question to Christ, Lord! wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? Acts 1:6 .
It should seem by the circumstances related in this Chapter, nothing short of a vision from heaven to Peter, and accompanied at the same time, with the message of an angel, and a command of the Holy Ghost, to him to obey, would have been competent to remove those narrow conceits from Peter's mind: and to teach him, and all the Jewish Church through him, that God had granted to the Gentiles, as well as to the Jews, repentance unto life, Acts 11:2
In the history of Cornelius, as related in this Chapter, the Lord was pleased to set forth this precious doctrine. This man, we are told, was a Centurion; that is, a Roman officer, commanding an hundred men. His character also is given. He was a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God continually. That is, he was a Proselyte of the Gate so called. He followed the stated hours of prayer, observed by the Jews, and feared the God of Israel. And to the love of God, as far as his knowledge led him, he added the love of man; and was of good report in the neighbourhood where he lived, for his alms, deeds, and charity. So that it appears, he was what the world would call a good man. And very certain it is, that the world at large would be a far different world from what it is, if it was composed of such characters. Happy would it be, for the peace and welfare of mankind, if we could look round, and behold men like Cornelius, in every neighbourhood. But with all these amiable qualities, as they relate to the intercourse with men, they fall short of what is essential to a friendship with God, And it should seem, that the Lord designed, in making choice of this very man, by way of declaring the necessity of salvation, plainly and decidedly to shew, that these things do not stand in account before God; and that without Christ, he must have perished everlastingly.
To accomplish this purpose, and to bring this honest Centurion into the way of learning by outward means, the knowledge of Christ, he is favored with a vision; and directions are given to him where to send, and from whom he should learn words, whereby he, and all his household should be saved, Acts 11:14 . I do not think it needful to dwell upon the particulars either of Cornelius's vision, or that of Peter. In the beautiful simplicity in which they are related in this Chapter, every circumstance is very plain and obvious. I rather wish to direct the Reader's attention to some of the striking things which arise out of the whole subject.
If I detain the Reader with a single remark on the vision of Cornelius, it shall only be to observe, the particularity of the hour; namely, the ninth hour: that is, three of the clock in the afternoon. That memorable, blessed, precious hour, to which every evening sacrifice, under the law, had respect. The hour, on which the Lord Jesus died on the cross: and by that one offering of himself once offered, perfected forever them that are sanctified, Hebrews 10:14 . See Exodus 12:6 ; 1 Kings 18:36 ; Daniel 9:21 ; Matthew 27:45-46 ; Hebrews 10:10 .
And if I venture to offer a single remark on visions in general, it shall be only to observe, from the fear with which it is here said that Cornelius looked on the angel; what a natural disposition there is in every man of flesh and blood, to shrink at the supposed sight of what as a spirit. We are so much occupied with earth, and earthly concerns, that a messenger from heaven, even though on an errand of mercy, like this angel to Cornelius, makes the heart draw back. And yet every child of God is in the habit, more or less, of daily, yea, hourly conversing at the throne of grace, with the Lord Jesus: and is not this a spiritual Communion and fellowship? 1 John 1:3 . Wherefore then should the mind be appalled, in the apprehension of the beloved object becoming visible? Why should any, who know the Lord, and love the Lord, and by grace and faith, keep up an holy acquaintance with the Lord, at his mercy seat, feel a somewhat of reluctancy in the idea of sight? I humbly ask the question, but speak not confidently, when I say, would it not be well in the Lord's redeemed ones, and to whom Jesus is dear, to familiarize these thoughts? Do I not know, that ere long, I shall be called upon to embark at once into the world of spirits, when my spirit shall be disembodied? And would it not be right now, and before that hour comes, (which cannot be far off, and may be near indeed,) to be sometimes walking as on the confines of the eternal world, and by faith communing with those spiritual objects which at death we instantly meet Yea, is it not certain, that we are now surrounded by them in their ministry and services; and are nearer to them, and they to us, than we are conscious? See 2 Kings 6:16-17 ; Psalms 34:7 ; Daniel 6:22 ; Hebrews 1:14 .
Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, (18) And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. (19) While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. (20) Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them. (21) Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? (22) And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by a holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. (23) Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. (24) And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends. (25) And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. (26) But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man. (27) And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together. (28) And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (29) Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me? (30) And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, (31) And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. (32) Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. (33) Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
If I detain the Reader at these verses, it is but to call upon him to remark with me, the gracious manifestation of God the Holy Ghost, in speaking to Peter. I never can say enough to myself nor to the Reader, in calling the attention of both to what we are so apt to over-look; the unceasing office of God the Spirit, in his Almighty ministry in the Church. Most certain it is, that from the beginning, when the Church was formed, the Holy Ghost presided over it. He that anointed the glorious Head, anointed all his members, John 3:34 ; Ephesians 4:7 ; Psalms 45:7 . All the services of the Old Testament dispensation, as types and shadows of Christ, were of his appointing, Hebrews 9:8 . All the Prophets were sanctified and ordained by him, Isaiah 6:8-9 ; Jeremiah 1:5 ; Ezekiel 2:2 ; 1 Peter 1:10-11 . All the Apostles from him received the unction of their Apostleship, John 7:39 ; Luke 24:49 ; John 14:26 ; Acts 2:1-4; Acts 2:1-4 . And without the Lord the Spirit ordains ministers to his service, in all ages of the Church, vain are the laying on of the hands of men. Acts 20:28; Acts 20:28 . It is very blessed to observe in this scripture, the Lord the Spirit speaking to Peter, See also Acts 16:6-7; Acts 16:6-7 ; 1 Timothy 4:1 . And I hope the Reader, from such palpable evidences to this great and leading truth of the Scriptures, will not fail to grant it due attention. Let him remember, that speaking, and sending, are personal acts, such as define real personal Being. And let him remember also, that when the Holy Ghost commanded Peter to go with the messengers of Cornelius, saying, I have sent them; and when Cornelius said to Peter: Thou hast done well that thou art come; now therefore all we are here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God : the service Peter was then called to, was God's service, and by God's command; and consequently this Scripture proves, the Person, Godhead, and Ministry, of God the Holy Ghost.
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: (35) But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (36) The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) (37) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; (38) How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (39) And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: (40) Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; (41) Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. (42) And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead. (43) To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
I beg the Reader's attention in a very particular manner, to the opening of this Scriptural sermon of the Apostles, as well as to the whole subject contained in it. Never, I believe, hath there been any part of the word of God twisted to speak the very reverse of what the Apostle meant, more than in this verse; and therefore it merits the closer attention.
The advocates for a general inoffensiveness of conduct, as, in their view, the first and only qualifications, for an appearance before God, both here and hereafter; are continually endeavouring to lessen the infinite importance of redemption by Christ, with harping upon this string, that God is no respecter of persons; and that it matters not, how men live, provided they live up to the light of nature, and the reason that is in them; for in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him. Whereas, both Peter's sermon, and Peter's journey to Cornelius, testified the very reverse of this interpretation of Peter's words. In the instance of this Gentile, the Lord decidedly declared, that neither his devotion, nor his charity, were of any account, in a way of justification before God: and that without a change of heart, in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he could not be saved. Else wherefore the expense of a vision to send men to Peter, to tell him words, whereby he and his might be saved? Wherefore Peter, receiving also the ministry of a vision, and a special command from God the Holy Ghost, to go to Cornelius, at such a distance, had Cornelius been in a salvable state before?
Let it be supposed, for argument's sake, that this honest Gentile had entertained such sentiments as these despisers of the Person and work of Christ do entertain; who, from being unacquainted with the plague of their own heart, think lightly of Christ, and his salvation: and when the angel had delivered his message of sending to call Peter, he had said, wherefore send for Peter? I am serving God to the best of my power. I do no wrong. I injure no one. I give much alms; and pray continually. I need no more. What can we reasonably conclude would have been the consequence? Would not the Lord's displeasure have been most justly called forth against such contumacy? Mistake me not. I am not for a moment supposing, Cornelius as at all liable to fall into such a temptation of arrogancy and presumption. He was better taught. The Lord, which gave him instruction to send for Peter, had at the same time inclined his heart to obey. But I am simply stating the case, in order to shew more pointedly the dangerous situation of those, who wrest the Scriptures of God to speak the reverse of what those Scriptures mean; and act upon that perversion. Very awful must it be in all who reject the council of God against their own souls, who rest satisfied with a general inoffensiveness of conduct, and live, and die, uninterested in the great salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And if Peter had not the most distant idea of such a perversion of words, when he thus delivered himself, and which his journey to Caesarea most plainly proves; what did the Apostle mean, when he 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? Nothing can be more evident, than that Peter meant to say, that all his Jewish prejudices were done away. He now discovered, what he knew not before, that the Jew and the Gentile as such, were equally the objects of divine favor in Christ. And, under these impressions, he hesitated not to declare openly the convictions of his mind; that the great redemption by Christ was not limited to the Jew; but his people, were equally to be found, among the other nations of the earth. Hence he exclaimed, God is no respecter of persons. An expression similar to that of Paul, Galatians 1:6 . God accepteth no man's person: meaning the same in both; that there is nothing in the person of any man, whether Jew or Gentile, to find respect, or acceptation; for both are only in Christ. He hath made us accepted in the beloved, saith the Church, Ephesians 1:6 .
And, to the same amount Paul speaks, when, under the influence of divine teaching, he crieth out: Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes! of the Gentiles also. Seeing, it is One God which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith, Romans 3:29-30 . God is no respecter of persons in Paul's view, no more than in Peter's. The God of the Jew, is the God of the Gentile, not only in nature and providence, but in grace and glory. God was in Covenant in Christ for his Gentile Church as well as his Jewish Church, before the Covenant of the law given by Moses on Mount Sinai: before the Covenant of Circumcision given to Abraham after the flood: before the Covenant transaction with Noah, before the flood: before the Covenant of promise, made at the fall, in the seed of the woman bruising the serpent's head: yea, before the foundation of the earth was laid. This is proved to us in what hath been before remarked, in the beginning of the observations in this Chapter. And the sending Peter to Cornelius, and the call of all the Church of the Gentiles in all ages, proves the same. The whole Church, both Gentile and Jew, were from all eternity, chosen in Christ; and in the time-state of the Church, all are called in Christ, adopted in Christ, justified in Christ, sanctified in Christ, and will be glorified in Christ, when they are all brought home from their present time-state on earth, to their eternal state in heaven. And all these blessings are the sole result of free, sovereign, and unconditional grace; Seeing it is One God existing in a threefold character of Persons, which shall justify; and justify in the same way, and by the same cause: not from human merit, but divine mercy; not from man's deserving, but God's free grace; the whole Church of his love, whether they be Jew or Gentile; whether they be bond or free. And this justification hath nothing in it derived from the Church; for it is wholly of God, The circumcision of the Jew, doth not in the least promote it; neither the uncircumcision of the Gentile, retard. All the sufficiency is of God. And the enjoyment by faith in the Jew, or through faith of the Gentile, is the same. The glorious comprehensive source of all justification, is as the Apostle closed his sermon, with observing, as all the Prophets witness that it is through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins. See Commentary, Acts 13:39 .
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. (45) And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. (46) For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, (47) Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? (48) And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
Think, Reader, what blessed seasons those were, when God the Spirit sent his word, and owned that word, and crowned the labors of his servants in that word, with the graces of his holy unction! What refreshment must it have been, both to the Lord's servants, and the Lord's people, when while the one was speaking, the Holy Ghost was descending upon the other, and both enjoying the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus in the heart. Almighty Lord of thy Church! do thou in the present hour manifest, that both the work, and the glory is thine. And when thou art mercifully pleased to send thy word to thy people, or to bring thy people to thy word; grant that the glorious Gospel of the ever blessed God, may indeed be preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven! 1 Peter 1:12 .
Reader! in the perusal of this blessed Chapter, let us pass by every lesser consideration, to attend to the one great and glorious truth, taught in it, and by it, how God the Spirit watches over, and is carrying on all the vast designs of his Almighty ministry! How blessedly hath the Lord here taught, that the Jewish and Gentile Church is but one: both branches equally dear to all the Persons of the Godhead, and equally calling forth the joint love, grace, and mercy, of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, And Reader! let not you and I forget, how infinitely important in the sight of Jehovah, is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, in his mediator-character; that all the devotion of this honest Centurion towards God, and his conscientious dealings with men, would not have procured him salvation. Oh! the preciousness of Jesus Christ.
Let all humble waiters upon the Lord, take courage from the grace manifested in this sweet history. The Lord knoweth them that are his. And Jesus will call his redeemed from all places of the earth, where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. When the Lord writeth up his people, even Caesarea will have her children, like Cornelius, to be numbered.
Blessed Spirit of all truth! in all ages thou hast manifested thy saving power. Do thou be pleased, O Lord, from the water of regeneration, until grace is consummated in glory, to carry on thy work with power in the heart of thy redeemed, until thou hast brought the nations of Christ's heritage to thy sceptre; and made every knee of the Lord's people to bend to Christ's name, and every tongue to confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father! Amen.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 10". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29