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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Catholicity; God Continued...; Religion; Respect of Persons; Thompson Chain Reference - Discernment-Dullness; God; Impartiality, Divine; Insight; Justice-Injustice; Opportunity; Perception, Spiritual; Universal; The Topic Concordance - Favoritism; Fear; God; Righteousness; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Gentiles;
Verse 34. God is no respecter of persons — He does God esteem a Jew, because he is a Jew; nor does he detest a Gentile because he is a Gentile. It was a long and deeply rooted opinion among the Jews, that God never would extend his favour to the Gentiles; and that the descendants of Jacob only should enjoy his peculiar favour and benediction. Of this opinion was St. Peter, previously to the heavenly vision mentioned in this chapter. He was now convinced that God was no respecter of persons; that as all must stand before his judgment seat, to be judged according to the deeds done in the body, so no one nation, or people, or individual, could expect to find a more favourable decision than another who was precisely in the same moral state; for the phrase, respect of persons, is used in reference to unjust decisions in a court of justice, where, through favour, or interest, or bribe, a culprit is acquitted, and a righteous or innocent person condemned. See Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:16-17; Deuteronomy 16:19. And as there is no iniquity (decisions contrary to equity) with God, so he could not shut out the pious prayers, sincere fasting, and benevolent alms-giving of Cornelius; because the very spring whence they proceeded was his own grace and mercy. Therefore he could not receive even a Jew into his favour (in preference to such a person) who had either abused his grace, or made a less godly use of it than this Gentile had done.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/acts-10.html. 1832.
European converts (10:1-48)
In the Roman regiment based in Caesarea was a centurion named Cornelius, a man who was such a sincere God-fearer that all his household followed his faith. In response to his expressions of faith and acts of kindness, God promised to send Peter to tell him the good news of Jesus Christ by which he could be saved (10:1-8; cf. 11:14).
First, however, God wanted to teach Peter certain lessons. God gave him a vision to show him that the old Jewish food laws were of no further use. There was no longer a distinction between clean foods and unclean foods, and therefore Peter was free to eat all foods (9-16). While Peter was thinking about the meaning of the vision, God told him to go to Caesarea to meet the Roman, Cornelius (17-23a). By the time Peter left for Caesarea the next day, he had learnt the meaning of the vision. If certain kinds of food were not unclean, neither were certain kinds of people. Peter was not to be afraid of mixing with the Gentiles (23b-29).
After Cornelius welcomed him (30-33), Peter began his address. He emphasized at the outset that, although Israel was God’s means of sending the Saviour Jesus, in the matter of personal salvation God did not favour one nation above another (34-36). Peter then summarized the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (37-42), and concluded by repeating that forgiveness was available to people of any nationality (43).
Cornelius and his household, being already prepared for the gospel, readily believed when they heard it. Immediately, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit direct from God, without an apostle doing anything at all. It was like a repeat of the Pentecost events, but this time with Gentiles, not Jews (44-46; cf. 11:15-17). Peter saw clearly that God had accepted these Gentiles and he had no hesitation in baptizing them (47-48).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/acts-10.html. 2005.
And 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 acceptable to him.
Peter opened his mouth ... This is the same expression found at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1), where it is related that "Jesus opened his mouth, etc." This indicates formal preparation and the deliberate presentation of significant truth. Bruce said that such an expression "is used to introduce some weighty utterance." Peter's first sentence swept away the racial prejudice of centuries.
The first sweeping declaration that God's salvation was available to people of "every nation" was perhaps the only thing in Peter's sermon that was any different from the sermons he had been preaching throughout Palestine for years prior to the events here; and, as might have been expected, the sermon following this epic opening remark took the form which "the message" always took in Peter's preaching. That oral message, reduced here to writing by the evangelist Luke, had been available for years prior to the conversion of Cornelius, and was available throughout Peter's lifetime. There would have been no problem whatever in Luke's procurement of a "verbatim" record of that formalized apostolic sermon. He might have procured it either from Peter or from Paul, or from any one of a thousand Christians throughout the world of that period, all of whom had long ago committed the last syllable of it to memory.
That period, prior to the New Testament writings, in which the gospel was orally proclaimed, was, in the historical sense, so brief as to be negligible. To refer to Peter's speech recorded here as "traditional" is ridiculous; and, although the form of Peter's presentation of the message had probably jelled into something of a pattern, it was, nevertheless, Peter's eye-witness account of experiences and information in which he had participated personally. As Paul noted, "the greater part (of those witnesses and participants) remain until now" (1 Corinthians 15:6). If one wishes to know what the [@kerygma] really was, let him read the New Testament; it is the [@kerygma]!
Before passing to a consideration of the rest of Peter's speech, an event, the chronology of which is given in the next chapter, should be noticed:
And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning (Acts 11:14).
Acts 10:44, says that "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word."
While Peter yet spake ... does not contradict Peter's own statement that the Holy Spirit fell upon them as he "began to speak." Thus the truth appears that it was at the beginning of Peter's message when the Holy Spirit fell upon that company, thus disconnecting the event from the message of salvation that Peter delivered. The importance of this distinction will appear later.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/acts-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Then Peter opened his mouth - Began to speak, Matthew 5:2.
Of a truth - Truly, evidently. That is, I have evidence here that God is no respecter of persons.
Is no respecter of persons - The word used here denotes “the act of showing favor to one on account of rank, family, wealth, or partiality arising from any cause.” It is explained in James 2:1-4. A judge is a respecter of persons when he favors one of the parties on account of private friendship, or because he is a man of rank, influence, or power, or because he belongs to the same political party, etc. The Jews supposed that they were especially favored by God. and that salvation was not extended to other nations, and that the fact of being a Jew entitled them to this favor. Peter here says that he had learned the error of this doctrine, and that a man is not to be accepted because he is a Jew, nor to be excluded because he is a Gentile. The barrier is broken down; the offer is made to all; God will save all on the same principle; not by external privileges or rank, but according to their character.
The same doctrine is elsewhere explicitly stated in the New Testament, Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25. It may be observed here that this does not refer to the doctrine of divine sovereignty or election. It simply affirms that God will not save a man because he is a Jew, or because he is rich, or learned, or of elevated rank, or on account of external privileges; nor will he exclude a man because he is destitute of these privileges. But this does not affirm that he will not make a difference in their character, and then treat them according to their character, nor that he will not pardon whom he pleases. That is a different question. The interpretation of this passage should be limited strictly to the case in hand - to mean that God will not accept and save a man on account of external national rank and privileges. That he will not make a difference on other grounds is not affirmed here, nor anywhere in the Bible. Compare 1 Corinthians 4:7; Romans 12:6. It is worthy of remark further, that the most strenuous advocate for the doctrines of sovereignty and election - the apostle Paul - is also the one that labored most to establish the doctrine that God is no respecter of persons - that is, that there is no difference between the Jews and Gentiles in regard to the way of salvation; that God would not save a man because he was a Jew, nor destroy a man because he was a Gentile. Yet in regard to “the whole race viewed as lying on a level,” he maintained that God has a right to exercise the prerogatives of a sovereign, and to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. The doctrine may be thus stated:
(1) The barrier between the Jews and Gentiles was broken down.
(2) All people thus were placed on a level none to be saved by external privileges, none to be lost by the lack of them.
(3) All were guilty Rom. 1–3, and none had a claim on God.
(4) If any were saved, it would be by God showing mercy on such of this common mass as he chose. See Romans 3:22; Romans 10:12; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6; compare with Romans 9:0; and Ephesians 1:0:
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/acts-10.html. 1870.
34. Opening his mouth. We have already said, that the Scripture useth this phrase when it doth signify that there was any grave or weighty oration or speech made. In the fifth of Matthew, (Matthew 5:1,) it is said that Jesus opened his mouth when he would preach to his disciples, and intreat of most weighty matters, as if a man should say in Latin, he began to speak, having first well bethought himself what he would speak.
In truth I find. Καταλαμβανεσθαι is to apprehend, or to gather by reasons, signs, and conjectures. Cornelius was a Gentile born, yet God heareth his prayers; he vouchsafeth to show him the light of the gospel; he appointed and sendeth an angel to him particularly; thereby doth Peter know that, without respect of persons, those do please God which live godly and innocently. For before, (being wholly possessed with this prejudice, that the Jews alone were beloved of God, as they alone were chosen out of all people,) [nations,] he did not think that the grace of God could come unto others. He was not, indeed, so gross that he thought that godliness and innocency of life were condemned because they were in a man that was a Gentile; but, seeing he did simply snatch at that, (696) that all those were estranged from the kingdom of God, and were profane, which were uncircumcised, he entangleth himself unawares in that so filthy an error, that God did despise his pure worship and an holy life, where there was no circumcision; because uncircumcision made all virtues unsavory to the Jews. By which example, we are taught how greatly we ought to beware of prejudices, which make us oftentimes judge amiss.
Furthermore, we must note what the word person doth signify, because many are thereby deceived, whilst that they expound it generally, that one man is preferred before another. So Pelagius denied in times past that some are chosen and some are [re]proved (697) of God; because God did not accept persons. But by this word we must understand the external state or appearance, as they call it; and whatsoever is about man himself, which doth either bring him in favor, or cause him to be hated; riches, nobility, multitude of servants, honor, do make a man to be in great favor; poverty, baseness of lineage, and such like things, make him to be despised. In this respect, the Lord doth oftentimes forbid the accepting of persons, because men cannot judge aright so often as external respects do lead them away from the matter. (698) In this place, it is referred unto the nation; and the meaning is, that circumcision is no let, but that God may allow (699) righteousness in a man that is a Gentile. But it shall seem by this means that God did respect persons for a time. For, when as he did choose the Jews to be his people, passing over the Gentiles, did he not respect persons? I answer, that the cause of this difference ought not to be sought in the persons of men, but it doth wholly depend upon the hidden counsel of God. For, in that he rather adopted Abraham, that with him he might make his covenant, than the Egyptians, he did not this being moved with any external respect, but (all) the whole cause remained in his wonderful counsel. Therefore, God was never tied to persons.
Notwithstanding, the doubt is not as yet dissolved, (700) because it cannot be denied but that circumcision did please God, so that he counted him one of his people who had that token of sanctification. But we may easily answer this also that circumcision followed after the grace of God, forasmuch as it was a seal thereof. Whereupon it followeth that it was no cause thereof. Nevertheless, it was unto the Jews a pledge of free adoption; in such sort, that uncircumcision did not hinder God, but that he might admit what Gentiles he would unto the society of the same salvation. But the coming of Christ had this new and especial thing, that after that the wall of separation was pulled down, (Ephesians 2:14,) God did embrace the whole world generally. And this do the words in every nation import. For so long as Abraham’s seed was the holy inheritance of God, the Gentiles might seem to be quite banished from his kingdom; but when Christ was given to be a light of the Gentiles, the covenant of eternal life began to be common to all alike.
(696) “ Illud arriperet,” laid hold of the fact.
(697) “ Reprobari,” reprobated.
(698) “ Judicem a causa abducunt,” lead the judge away from the cause.
(699) “ Gratam habeat ac probet,” may approve and be pleased with.
(700) “ Nondum tamen soluta est difficultas,” the difficulty, however, is not yet solved.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/acts-10.html. 1840-57.
In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus said to His disciples, "But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" ( Acts 1:8 ).
Jesus had commanded His disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, and he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. So the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all men, regardless of nationality, ethnic background. And we watched the movement in the book of Acts as they began first in Jerusalem, bearing witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and multitudes being added to the church daily.
Then upon persecution, we saw where Stephen went up into Samaria. Other disciples were spread throughout Judea, and little pockets of believers began to spring up in the second part of that prophecy of Jesus, in Judea and in Samaria. With the continued persecution of the church and with the increased number of converts who traveled freely in the Roman Empire, we saw how that the Gospel began to spread into all the world.
It is interesting that Paul the apostle, thirty years after the birth of the church, was able to write to the church in Colosse saying that the Gospel, "Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world" ( Colossians 1:6 ). So the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus as they had carried the Gospel by thirty years into all the world. But we see that the movement was gradual. They began in Jerusalem; they spread to Judea, then into Samaria.
Now beginning in chapter 10, we get the next movement of the spread of the Gospel as it is now being proclaimed to the Gentiles. And the Gospel came to the Gentiles in a very interesting way.
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band that is called the Italian band ( Acts 10:1 ),
That doesn't mean they had a mandolin and a guitar and a soloist. The Roman legions had approximately six thousand men and then they had their companies, which would be equivalent to our battalions, which were about six hundred men, because there were ten companies in a legion. And then the companies were divided down, and over a hundred men there was a officer equivalent to our master sergeant, who was called a centurion, inasmuch as he was over one hundred men.
And there are some very interesting requirements that have been found in the Roman record for a centurion. And one of them was a man of great courage and bravery. If he was outnumbered, he must stand with his men and fight until he falls, and he had to be a man of that kind of courage. He wasn't to go looking for trouble, but he was always to meet trouble with resolute courage.
It is interesting that in the Bible we are introduced to other centurions, and in every case in being introduced to a centurion they were all commendable men. You remember that the centurion came to Jesus and requested that Jesus would heal his servant who was dying. And Jesus said, "I will come to your house." And he said, "Oh, no, Lord. I'm not worthy that You should come under my roof. But I understand authority because I am a man under authority and I have under me men. And I can say to this one, 'Go' and he goes. And I can say to this one, 'Come over here' and he will come. I understand what authority is about. And I know that all You have to do is say the word and my servant will be healed." And Jesus marveled at his faith and He said, "I have not found this much faith in all of Israel." And He marveled at the faith of this centurion.
Now we're introduced to another centurion, Cornelius. He was over the Italian garrison there in Caesarea, which was the Roman capitol city of that area. And he was, according to the record here, verse Acts 10:2 ,
A very devout man, and one that feared [or reverenced] God ( Acts 10:2 )
Many of the Romans were tired of the multiplicity of gods that were worshipped by the Romans or by the Greeks. You remember Paul the apostle when he came to Athens said, "I can see that you people are very religious, for as I have been walking through your streets, I have found altars inscribed to so many different gods." And it is true that the Greeks had such a multiplicity of gods. In fact, they had a god for each emotion: a god of love, a god of hate, a god jealousy, a god of wrath, and a god of peace, a god of war, and a god for everything.
And some Greeks came up with the idea, "We may have missed one. We surely don't want to slight him and get him angry with us." And so he built an altar and he inscribed it to the unknown god, "Whoever you are, wherever you are, don't feel slighted, we want to recognize you too." And so Paul said, "I saw this altar to the unknown god, and this is the God I would like to declare unto you, because He is the One who created the heaven and the earth and everything that is in them." And so he declared unto them the true and the living God.
Now many of the Romans and Greeks did not believe in the multiplicity of gods, and many of them after their experience in Israel became convinced of the one true and living God. Cornelius was such a man.
he feared God with all his house, and he gave much alms to the people ( Acts 10:2 ),
He was a man of prayer. Now here was a man who was walking in the light that he had. And it is so important that we walk in the light that we possess. Unto whom much is given, much is required. Unto whom little is given, little is required. Luke's gospel tells us in chapter 12 that a man will be judged according to the knowledge and the light that he has received. "For that servant, that knew the will of the father, and did not accordingly will be beaten with many stripes. Yet he who did things worthy of many stripes, because he did not know the will of the father shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whom much is given, much is required. Unto whom little is given, little is required." ( Luke 12:47-48 ). But we are always required to walk in the light that we have. And if we will walk in the light that we have, it always follows that God will then give us more light and understanding.
And so it's important that we walk in the light that we have. Just how much light that Cornelius had, we do not know. He did know of God. He reverenced God; he feared God and he prayed unto God continually. He gave alms to the needy, much alms to the people.
He saw a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day ( Acts 10:3 ),
So he was probably observing the three o'clock afternoon prayer hour of the Jews.
[He saw] an angel of God coming in unto him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Your prayers and your alms are come up for a memorial before God ( Acts 10:4 ).
God is aware of your prayers; God is aware of your giving. They have come up before God.
And now send men to Joppa ( Acts 10:5 ),
Which was one of the ancient seaports along the Mediterranean. The area of Caesarea was also a seaport, but it was built by Herod the Great. It was not a natural seaport. But Herod the Great built a breakwater there and it is still a beautiful little harbor today. And it's a great place for skin diving because you can find Roman coins on the sandy floor of the beach within the harbor there at Caesarea. But Joppa was south from Caesarea about twenty miles, which means a two day journey in those times, because an average day's journey was ten miles. So he is told,
That there in Joppa, he is to inquire for a man by the name of Simon, whose surname is Peter: he will tell you what you ought to do ( Acts 10:5-6 ).
So he is lodging with Simon who is a tanner whose house is by the seaside, and he will come and tell you what to do. Walls are tumbling. The Jew had many walls built up, nationalistic walls, inasmuch as a Jew would really have no dealings with a Gentile in close contact. They would not eat with Gentiles, they would not invite a Gentile into their home, nor would they go into the house of the Gentile, for the Gentiles were considered unclean. And to touch a Gentile would make you unclean and you'd have to go through quite a ritual of cleansing before you could go back into the temple if you touched a Gentile.
Now the Pharisees were so particular about this that when they walked down the street they would wrap their robes very tightly around them. Their robes they would wrap them very tight so that their robes wouldn't swish. They didn't want their robes swishing and actually touching a Gentile. For if they did, they would be unclean and actually go through this cleansing right before they could worship God again. And so you see the Pharisee, his robe wrapped tight around him, small steps going down the street, careful that his robe doesn't swish out and careful that he doesn't come into physical contact with the Gentiles.
Now another person who was an outcast was a tanner. For under the Mosaic law, anybody who touched a dead body of an animal or of a person was also unclean. And so a tanner would be considered a man who was constantly unclean, and therefore, you would also be careful not to touch a tanner for that would constitute your becoming unclean. So the very fact that Peter is in the house of Simon the tanner indicates that walls are already beginning to come down in Peter's heart, as Paul tells us in Ephesians, chapter 4, that Jesus Christ has broken down that middle wall of partition that used to exist between the Jew and the Gentile. So in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free, but Christ is all, and in all. He has broken down these racial barriers between men. So Peter was there at the house of Simon the tanner.
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; and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa ( Acts 10:7-8 ).
So he called his servants, and as you recall the one centurion said to Jesus, "I also am a man under authority. I can say to one, go, and he goes." And so he is exercising again his authority that was given to him, and he is commanding these fellows to go to Joppa to bring back this man Peter.
Now God always works on both ends. Know that. My son, Chuck Junior, who used to be on staff here years ago, and whom I would readily admit is a very handsome young man, had great difficulty while he was single in the ministry. For many a beautiful young lady felt that God had revealed to them by an angel or dream or some other means that they had been chosen by God to be his helpmate. And it actually got to the place where it began to bug him after a while, he became shy and asked the girls, "Please don't send any young girls over for counseling." But God works on both ends, and they come in a tell how God had revealed that he was to marry them and all, and he would say, "Well, God hasn't revealed that to me yet." But God does work on both ends.
If God is guiding you to a particular project to go and to get someone to come and help you do something, you can be sure that God has already worked on the other end and is also speaking to them about going. God always works on both ends. And I would not venture out into any venture for God until God had first spoken to me. If someone should come up and say, "Well, God has revealed to me that you're to resign Calvary and you're to go to Cucamonga and start a fellowship out there and buy a grape vineyard," I would say to them, "Well, I'll wait upon the Lord to see if God speaks to my heart upon this issue." I would not go upon what God has spoken to someone else. I would wait for God to speak to me and I encourage you to follow the same example.
If someone comes up and they've had a tremendous revelation, they saw colored lights in the sky, they went into a trance and the angel of the Lord appeared unto them and told them that they were to come unto you and tell you that you're to sell everything you have and move to Hawaii. As much as that appeals to your flesh, you had better wait upon God to speak to your own heart about that, or your move to Hawaii could be disaster and you find yourself as Jonah, probably intercepted somewhere in between.
God works on both ends. So as God was speaking to Cornelius, He also was speaking to Peter there in Joppa. So we see now the other side of the coin and God working in Peter's heart. Now it was on the next day and there's a day's difference here. So,
On the next day, as they were on their journey, and they were getting near to the city [of Joppa], Peter went up on the housetop to pray about the sixth hour ( Acts 10:9 ):
So he was still following the Jewish pattern of prayer, which they prayed at the third hour at nine o'clock in morning, the sixth hour noon, and the ninth hour three o'clock in the afternoon, were the Jewish hours of prayer.
And so it was lunchtime, it was noon, and Peter had gone up on the rooftop to pray. And that sounds strange to us, but if you've ever been to Israel, that kind of a mystery would soon disappear, because the rooftops there in Israel are part of the living quarters of the family. And usually they have flat roofs and you'll see little patios with gardens and potted plants and you'll see them hanging their clothes out there on the rooftops. And it is just a standard part of the house. Because of the limited space, they don't have yards and so their yards and play area are oftentimes the roof of the house. And so you call your kids, "Come down off the roof and eat your lunch!" And the kids jump off the roof or come on down and eat there. But it's a part of the living quarters there. So it is not at all unusual that Peter would go up on the rooftops to pray. And because it was noon,
And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they were preparing his lunch, he fell into a trance ( Acts 10:10 ),
Now I really don't know much about trances. I've never had one. That is not to say that I am opposed. In fact, I would find probably going into a trance probably a very interesting experience. And if God wants to put me in a trance to reveal something to me, that's all right. I'll buy that. I want to be open to any way God wants to communicate to me. I would imagine that it would be sort of in a dream state.
Now I just about go into trances sometimes as I'm sitting listening to people talk and I've been up half of the night. And my eyes get glassy and I sort of drift off and you sort of come to. And I think that sort of in between that sleep and awake state is probably the trance state. And however it may be and whatever it may be, in this trance,
He saw the heavens open, and a certain vessel descending unto him, it was like a great sheet ( Acts 10:11 )
And that word in the Greek is used for sails. Now he's right there on the seashore, so he sees this great sheet or sail,
knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: and on it were all manner of fourfooted beasts ( Acts 10:11-12 ),
Now according to the law, they could only eat the animal that chewed the cud or had a cloven hoof. But on this sheet there were all kinds of animals.
fourfooted beasts, and there were creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him and said, Rise, Peter, kill; and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean ( Acts 10:12-14 ).
I would like to draw your attention to Peter's response as being a perfectly inconsistent statement, but one that is very familiar to all of us, "Not so, Lord." Impossible! That is total inconsistency. How can you say, "Not so, Lord"? If the Lord has asked you to do something, the only possible response is, "Yes, my Lord." If He is indeed your Lord, how can you say, "Not so"? So Peter could have said, "Not so, buddy." "Not so, friend." But you can't say, "Not so, Lord." Completely inconsistent. God, free us from that inconsistency in our own speech. For so often we find ourselves arguing with God, and God is challenging us to do something. "Oh, Lord, I can't do that. Oh Lord, not me. I don't want to do that Lord." And it puts me then in the driver's seat. You see, I'm putting myself in the position of lord. So Peter's inconsistency of speech, "Not so, Lord. I've never eaten anything that is not kosher. I've never eaten anything that is common or unclean." Now in the mind of the Jew, the Gentile was both common and unclean.
And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God has cleansed, do not call common. This was done three times: and the vessel was received up again into heaven ( Acts 10:15-16 ).
So this experience three times over, and I suppose Peter was inconsistent three times over, and then the vessel was taken back up into heaven. But the Lord was preparing Peter's heart.
Now while Peter was wondering in his mind what this vision should mean, [What in the world is that all about? Those pigs on there; kill them and eat them. What can that mean?] behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and they were standing before the gate ( Acts 10:17 ),
Now that's all the further they could come. According to the Jewish customs, they would not dare to come in beyond the gate because that would make the house of Simon the tanner more unclean than it was already. Being a tanner, it was unclean, but it would be doubly unclean at that point. So they stood at the gate.
And they called, and asked ( Acts 10:18 )
They were calling in. They wouldn't come in; they just called through the gate and said, "Is there a Simon Peter around here?"
While Peter was wondering about the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, there are three men who are seeking you. Arise, and get down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them. Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am the man you are looking for: what is the cause for which you have come? And they said, Cornelius the centurion, is a just man, and he is one who reverences God, he is of good report among all the nation of the Jews, and he was warned from God by an holy angel to send for you into his house, and to hear words from you. Then Peter invited them in. [The walls of tumbling. Peter is inviting these gentiles to come on into the house.] And on the next day Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And on the next day after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his family and close friends. And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man ( Acts 10:19-26 ).
Peter refused to receive the worship. He didn't let him kiss his toe, but ordered the man to stand up because, "I also am a man." It is interesting how that people seek to elevate the servant of God many times to a position of almost worship. This was something that the apostles had to guard against. Paul the apostle with Barnabas, when they were in Lystra, found the people coming down the street with the priest of Jupiter who was dragging an ox behind him. And he was going to sacrifice unto Paul because they were amazed of the healing of the lame man. Paul had to strip off his clothes and said, "Hey, I'm not a god; I'm a man. Don't do this. Worship God."
So Peter is refusing to receive worship from this man, honor, glory. All of the honor, all of the glory belongs to Jesus Christ. We make a mistake when we hold persons up in high esteem, and the Bible actually warns us about being a respecter of men's persons. If someone comes into the assembly and is wearing a Rolex watch and diamond rings and all, you say, "Oh, come on down here to this nice seat, soft cushion, comfortable, where you get a good view." Where someone comes in in Levi's that are dirty, bare feet. You say, "Sit back there in the corner. Don't get the carpet dirty. After all..."
And James says, "Look, you are showing respect unto persons just because the way the fellow is dressed." He said that is not right, you should not do that. We are not to be respecters of men's persons. We are to give honor and glory unto God and respect Him. So Peter refused to receive the worship of Cornelius, but he took him up and he said, "Stand up. For I myself am only a man."
And when he talked with him, he went into the house ( Acts 10:27 ),
Walls are still crumbling. Peter now goes into the house of a Gentile. He's had the Gentiles in the house there in Joppa. Now he enters into the house of the Gentile.
and found many people that were come together ( Acts 10:27 ).
Hungry hearts there in Caesarea. Now, here's an interesting thing, and I don't have the answer for it; I only have the puzzle. How God works. There was living in Caesarea at this time Philip the evangelist. Why didn't God send Cornelius over to Philip's house? Since Caesarea isn't that big, he couldn't have lived that far from Cornelius. Why would God have him send all the way down to Joppa to get Simon Peter? Probably because Philip was not a leader in the early church, but only a deacon. And had Philip gone to the house of Cornelius and God worked by His Holy Spirit in the lives of the people, they would have booted him out of the church immediately, and he wouldn't have even had a hearing. At least they were ready to give Peter a hearing because of his position in the church.
They were upset when they heard that Peter went into the house of a Gentile. They really got shook back in Jerusalem, and when Peter got back, they called him on the carpet. They contended with him. "What are you doing? Taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Terrible." So the Lord, no doubt, chose Peter because of his position of authority, leadership in the early church, and at least he was able to have a hearing before the brethren before they kicked him out.
And he said unto them, You know that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; [Now you know that what I am doing is illegal, according to the law of the Jews you know that what I'm doing is illegal,] but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I to you without gainsaying [without arguing], as soon as I was sent for: I ask for what purpose did you call me? 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, and he said, Cornelius, your prayer is heard, and your alms have been brought in remembrance in the sight of God. 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 comes, shall speak unto thee. 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 to you by God. Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons [man is, but God isn't]: but in every nation he that reverences God, and works righteousness, is accepted with him ( Acts 10:28-35 ).
That God does not limit His work to any nationality. What an eye-opener this was for Peter. What a difficult truth this was for the rest of the church to receive. That a man could be saved without becoming a Jew. They felt that a man had to become a Jew before he could be saved. And when there were many Gentiles who came to the Lord in Antioch and word came back to the church in Jerusalem concerning the Gentiles being saved, there were certain of those who came up from Jerusalem and they said to them, "Look, you guys can't be saved until you are circumcised and you keep the law of Moses." And they created quite a big stir there in Antioch with this premise.
So Peter said, "I realize that God is no respecter of persons, but He will accept any nationality who will fear Him or reverence Him and do the works of righteousness."
The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)( Acts 10:36 )
Now up until this point the centurion probably only knew of God through Judaism, and now he's being introduced to the fuller revelation that God has fulfilled His promise and sent the Messiah and he is preaching peace unto all men through Jesus Christ. For He is the Lord of all.
That word, I say, you know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached ( Acts 10:37 );
"Now you've heard of Jesus. You've all heard of Him." You remember when Paul was facing Herod in Caesarea, he said, "Hey, Agrippa, you know all about this. This thing wasn't done in a corner. You know about Jesus; you've heard about Him. He didn't just go stand in a corner some place. Everybody knows about him." So Peter recognizes that you've heard about Jesus Christ, the works He did beginning in Galilee.
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 as with him ( Acts 10:38 ).
So he is testifying now to the works of Jesus Christ.
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: Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly ( Acts 10:39-40 );
So again, the testimony of the resurrection by Peter. But He showed him,
Not all the people, but unto witnesses who were chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead ( Acts 10:41 ).
So we remember that Jesus had the fish prepared by the seaside and He said, "Come and dine." And He ate fish with them and He drank with them. So after His resurrection He was both eating and drinking with them.
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 ( Acts 10:42 ).
Christ has been given by God that authority of standing in judgment of men. Now it is interesting that Jesus was judged by men. He was brought before Pilate and He was judged by Pilate. But there's a paradox here. For Pilate said, "What shall I do with this man Jesus who was called Christ?" The crowd said, "Crucify Him!" He said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they cried all the louder, "Crucify Him!" "Shall I crucify the king of the Jews?" "We have no king but Caesar." So Pilate delivered Him over into their hands to do what they please. But he said to Jesus, "Don't you realize I have power to release you, set you free, or to order You to the cross?" Jesus said, "You don't have any power except that which has been given to you by my Father. But don't worry about it, those that turn Me over to you have a greater guilt than you have." And Pilate sought to release Him, and Pilate was frightened at that statement. But in reality, Pilate was judging himself.
Now every man must face the same question Pilate faced. What am I going to do with Jesus who is called Christ? You must make a judgment of what you're going to do with Him. But in reality, the one being judged is you by the judgment that you make. You see, if you reject Him, then you are declaring your own judgment. You will be rejected of God. If you deny Him, then you're declaring your own judgment because you will be denied by God. So every person really has to stand in judgment of Jesus, but the person who is affected by the decision that they make is really themselves. Everyone is determining their own destiny by how they judge Jesus Christ. God has made Him to be the judge both of those who are alive and those who are dead. And we read of this judgment in II Corinthians 5 , and Revelation 20 .
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins ( Acts 10:43 ).
He declares that this is something that the prophets all spoke about, that God would grant the remission of sins through their believing in Jesus Christ. And, of course, we can go back in the Old Testament and we can find these hundreds of prophecies that related to Jesus Christ. And the central message of the prophets is that God would send His Son. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given" ( Isaiah 9:6 ). But that His Son would be despised and rejected of men, but all of our sins would be laid upon Him. Those who believe in Him shall be saved. So Peter refers to the prophecies.
While Peter was saying these things [while he was preaching his sermon] the Holy Spirit interrupted him and he fell on all of those who heard the word ( Acts 10:44 ).
Now Peter didn't coach them and say to them, "Now say, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba." He didn't coach them how to speak in tongues, it just happened simultaneously to all of them through the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.
I am a little leery about these sessions when a person is coached and taught how to speak in an unknown tongue. I believe in that sovereign work of God's Holy Spirit. Some instruction is needed and necessary, but yet, the work that is to be wrought should be wrought by the Spirit of God.
Now you remember some came down with Peter from Joppa. In fact, there were six that came with Peter; Peter made the seventh.
And they that were of the circumcision who believed [that is the Jews that had come with Peter who were believers] they were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost ( Acts 10:45 ).
How can this be that God would put His Holy Spirit upon an unclean Gentile? They were astonished at the sovereign work of God that the Gentiles had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. How did they know?
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God ( Acts 10:46 ).
Now that's exactly what was happening back in the second chapter of Acts when the Holy Spirit fell upon the church. In the beginning they were speaking in these other dialects, magnifying God, declaring the glorious works of God. The same thing is happening here. The people are speaking in unknown tongues, magnifying God.
Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? ( Acts 10:46-47 )
Now up until this time, they would not baptize any Gentile into the church. But Peter says, "Hey, what can we do? God's given the Holy Spirit. We might as well go ahead and baptize them."
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry for a few days ( Acts 10:48 ).
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/acts-10.html. 2014.
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.
In this one momentous statement, Peter wipes away the privileged position the Jews have held under the Mosaic covenant. This verse should also eliminate the erroneous doctrine of an arbitrary predestination for certain men. In this inspired pronouncement, we learn that God respects not persons as such but rather those persons who"fear him, and work righteousness."
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/acts-10.html. 1993-2022.
"Opening his mouth" is a phrase that typically introduces something very important (cf. Acts 8:35; Acts 18:14; Matthew 5:2; Matthew 13:35).
". . . in Luke’s eyes what Peter was about to say was indeed momentous in sweeping away centuries of racial prejudice." [Note: Longenecker, p. 392.]
What Peter confessed he now understood was something God had revealed throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Amos 9:7; Micah 6:8) but that most Jews had not grasped due to centuries of ill-founded pride. God had now clarified this revelation.
Since God is not one to show partiality (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Job 34:19), certainly Christians should not do this either. Peter proceeded to prove that God deals with all people equally through His Son (cf. Acts 10:36; Acts 10:38; Acts 10:42-43), not on the basis of their race (cf. John 10:16). Whenever Christians practice racial discrimination they need to reread Acts 10.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/acts-10.html. 2012.
Peter’s message to Cornelius 10:34-43
Peter’s sermon on this occasion is the first sermon in Acts addressed to a Gentile audience (cf. Acts 14:15-17; Acts 17:22-31). It is quite similar to the ones Peter preached in Acts 2:14-40 and Acts 3:11-26 except that this one has more information about Jesus’ pre-crucifixion ministry. This emphasis was appropriate since Peter was addressing Gentiles who would have known less about Jesus’ ministry than the Jews did. Also this speech contains no quotations from the Old Testament, though there are many allusions to the Old Testament.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/acts-10.html. 2012.
A DEVOUT SOLDIER ( Acts 10:1-8 )
10:1-8 There was a man in Caesarea called Cornelius. He was a centurion in the battalion called the Italian battalion. He was a devout man and a God-fearer with all his household. He did many an act of charity to the people and he was constant in prayer to God. About three o'clock in the afternoon in a vision he clearly saw the angel of God coming to him and saying, "Cornelius." He gazed at him and he was awe-stricken. He said, "What is it, sir?" He said to him, "Your prayers and your works of mercy have gone up to God for a memorial; so now, send men to Joppa, and send for a man called Simon who is also called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is on the sea-shore." When the angel who was speaking to him went away, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his orderlies. He told them everything and despatched them to Joppa.
Acts 10:1-48 tells a story that is one of the great turning points in the history of the Church. For the first time a Gentile is to be admitted into its fellowship. Since Cornelius is so important in church history let us gather together what we can learn about him.
(i) Cornelius was a Roman centurion stationed at Caesarea, the headquarters of the government of Palestine. The word which we have translated battalion is the Greek word for a cohort. In the Roman military set-up there was first of all the legion (see legeon, G3003) . It was a force of six thousand men and therefore was roughly equal to a division. In every legion there were ten cohorts. A cohort therefore had six hundred men and comes near to being the equivalent of a battalion. The cohort was divided into centuries and over each century there was a centurion. The century is therefore roughly the equivalent of a company. The parallel to the centurion in our military organization is a company sergeant-major. These centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. An ancient historian describes the qualifications of the centurion like this, "Centurions are desired not to be overbold and reckless so much as good leaders, of steady and prudent mind, not prone to take the offensive to start fighting wantonly, but able when overwhelmed and hard-pressed to stand fast and die at their posts." Cornelius therefore was a man who first and foremost knew what courage and loyalty were.
(ii) Cornelius was a God-fearer. In New Testament times this had become almost a technical term for Gentiles who, weary of the gods and the immoralities and the frustration of their ancestral faiths, had attached themselves to the Jewish religion. They did not accept circumcision and the Law; but they attended the synagogue and they believed in one God and in the pure ethic of Jewish religion. Cornelius then was a man who was seeking after God, and as he sought God, God found him.
(iii) Cornelius was a man given to charity; he was characteristically kind. His search for God had made him love men, and he who loves his fellow men is not far from the kingdom.
(iv) Cornelius was a man of prayer. Perhaps as yet he did not clearly know the God to whom he prayed; but, according to the light that he had, he lived close to God.
PETER LEARNS A LESSON ( Acts 10:9-16 )
10:9-16 On the next day, when they were on the way and when they were getting near the city, about midday Peter went up to the housetop to pray. He became hungry and he wanted something to eat. When they were preparing the meal a trance came upon him. He saw the heavens opened and he saw a kind of vessel coming down. It was like a great sheet and it was let down by the four corners to the earth. On it there were all four-footed animals, all animals that creep on the earth and all that fly in the air. A voice came to him, "Rise, Peter, kill and eat." But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, because I have never eaten anything common or unclean." And the voice spoke again the second time, "What God has cleansed, do not you reckon common or unclean." This happened three times; and thereupon the sheet was taken up into heaven.
Before Cornelius could be welcomed into the Church, Peter had to learn a lesson. Strict Jews believed that God had no use for the Gentiles. Sometimes they even went the length of saying that help must not be given to a Gentile woman in childbirth, because that would only be to bring another Gentile into the world. Peter had to unlearn that before Cornelius could get in.
There is one point which shows that Peter was already on the way to unlearning some of the rigidness in which he had been brought up. He was staying with a man called Simon who was a tanner ( Acts 9:43; Acts 10:5). A tanner worked with the dead bodies of animals and therefore he was permanently unclean ( Numbers 19:11-13). No rigid Jew would have dreamed of accepting hospitality from a tanner. It was his uncleanness that made it necessary for Simon to dwell on the sea-shore outside the city. No doubt this tanner was a Christian and Peter had begun to see that Christianity abolished these petty laws and tabus.
At midday Peter went to the roof to pray. The house-roofs were flat and, since the houses were small and crowded, people often went up to the roof for privacy. There he had a vision of a great sheet being let down. Perhaps above the flat roof there stretched an awning to ward off the heat of the sun; and maybe the awning became in Peter's trance the great sheet. The word for sheet is the same as for a ship's sail. Maybe on the roof Peter was looking out on the blue waters of the Mediterranean and saw the ships' sails in the distance and they wove themselves into his vision.
In any event the sheet with the animals on it appeared to him and the voice told him to kill and eat. Now the Jews had strict food laws, recorded in Leviticus 11:1-47. Generally speaking the Jew might eat only animals which chewed the cud and whose hoofs were cloven. All others were unclean and forbidden. Peter was shocked and protested that he had never eaten anything that was unclean. The voice told him not to call what God had cleansed unclean. This happened three times so that there could be no possible mistake or dodging of the lesson. Once Peter would have called a Gentile unclean; but now God has prepared him for the visitors who would come.
THE MEETING OF PETER AND CORNELIUS ( Acts 10:17-33 )
10:17-33 When Peter was at a loss in his own mind to know what this vision could mean, look you, the men who had been sent by Cornelius had asked their way to Simon's house and stood at the door. They spoke and asked if Simon who was also called Peter was lodging there. When Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Look you, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and go with them without any hesitation, because it is I who sent them." So Peter came down to the men and said, "Look you, I am the man you are looking for. Why have you come?" They said, "Cornelius, the centurion, a good man and a God-fearer, one to whose worth the whole nation of the Jews bears witness, was instructed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to listen to the words you would give him." So he asked them in and gave them hospitality.
On the next day he rose and went with them and some of the brethren from Joppa came with him. On the next day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had invited along his kinsmen and his closest friends. When Peter was going to come in Cornelius met him and fell at his feet and worshipped him. Peter raised him up and said, "Rise; I, too, am a man." So he went in, talking with him as he went. He found many who had assembled there and he said, "You know that it is against the law for a man who is a Jew to have contact with or to visit one of another race. But God has shown me not to call any man common or unclean. So I came without any objection when you sent for me." So Cornelius said, "Four days ago from this time, I was praying in my house at three o'clock in the afternoon, and, look you, a man stood before me in shining clothes and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your deeds of charity have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and send for Simon who is also called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, on the sea-shore.' Immediately I sent to you; and I am most grateful that you have come. Now then we are all present before God to hear all that God has enjoined you to tell."
In this passage the most surprising things are happening. Once again let us remember that the Jews believed that other nations were quite outside the mercy of God. The really strict Jew would have no contact with a Gentile or even with a Jew who did not observe the Law. In particular he would never have as a guest nor ever be the guest of a man who did not observe the Law. Remembering that, see what Peter did. When the emissaries of Cornelius were at the door--and knowing the Jewish outlook, they came no farther than the door--Peter asked them in and gave them hospitality ( Acts 10:23). When Peter arrived at Caesarea, Cornelius met him at the door, no doubt wondering if Peter would cross his threshold at all, and Peter came in ( Acts 10:27). In the most amazing way the barriers are beginning to go down.
That is typical of the work of Christ. A missionary tells how once he officiated at a communion service in Africa. Beside him as an elder sat an old chief of the Ngoni called Manly-heart. The old chief could remember the days when the young warriors of the Ngoni had left behind them a trail of burned and devastated towns and come home with their spears red with blood and with the women of their enemies as booty. And what were the tribes which in those days they had ravaged? They were the Senga and the Tumbuka. And who were sitting at that communion service now? Ngoni, Senga and Tumbuka were sitting side by side, their enmities forgotten in the love of Jesus Christ. In the first days it was characteristic of Christianity that it broke the barriers down; and it can still do that when given the chance.
THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL ( Acts 10:34-43 )
10:34-43 So Peter opened his mouth and said, "In truth I have come to understand that God has no favourites; but that in every nation he who fears him and acts righteously is acceptable to him. As for the word which God sent to the sons of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ--this is he who is Lord of all you all know the affair that happened all over Judaea, after the baptism which John preached--you know about Jesus of Nazareth, about how God anointed him with the Spirit and with power, about how he went about healing all who were under the sway of the devil because God was with him; we are witnesses of all he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they took him and hanged him on a tree. It was he whom God raised up on the third day and made him evident, not to all the people but to the witnesses elected beforehand by God, to us who were with him and who ate with him and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he gave us orders to preach to the people and to testify that this is he who was set apart by God, to be the judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets testify that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
It is clear that we have here but the barest summary of what Peter said to Cornelius which makes it all the more important because it gives us the very essence of the first preaching about Jesus.
(i) Jesus was sent by God and equipped by him with the Spirit and with power. Jesus therefore is God's gift to men. Often we make the mistake of thinking in terms of an angry God who had to be pacified by something a gentle Jesus did. The early preachers never preached that. To them the very coming of Jesus was due to the love of God.
(ii) Jesus exercised a ministry of healing. It was his great desire to banish pain and sorrow from the world.
(iii) They crucified him. Once again there is stressed for him who can read between the lines the sheer horror in the crucifixion. That is what human sin can do.
(iv) He rose again. The power which was in Jesus was not to be defeated. It could conquer the worst that men could do and in the end it could conquer death.
(v) The Christian preacher and teacher is a witness of the resurrection. To him Jesus is not a figure in a book or about whom he has heard. He is a living presence whom he has met.
(vi) The result of all this is forgiveness of sins and a new relationship with God. Through Jesus the friendship which should always have existed between man and God, but which sin interrupted, has dawned upon mankind.
THE ENTRY OF THE GENTILES ( Acts 10:44-48 )
10:44-48 When Peter was still saying these things the Holy Spirit fell upon those who were listening to his word. All the Jewish believers who had come with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles too, for they heard them speaking with tongues and magnifying God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone stop water being brought? Can anyone stop those who have received the Holy Spirit, as we too received him, from being baptized?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus. Then they asked him to wait with them for some days.
Even as Peter was speaking things began to happen against which even the Jewish Christians could not argue; the Spirit came upon Cornelius and his friends. They were lifted out of themselves in an ecstasy and began to speak with tongues. This to the Jews was the final proof of the astonishing fact that God had given his Spirit to the Gentiles too.
There are two interesting sidelights in this passage.
(i) These Gentile converts, as always in Acts, were baptized there and then. In Acts there is no trace of one set of people only being able to administer baptism. The great truth was that it was the Christian Church which was receiving these converts. We would do well to remember that in baptism today it is not the minister who is receiving a child; it is the Church which is receiving the child on behalf of Jesus Christ and accepting responsibility for him.
(ii) The very last phrase is significant. They asked Peter to wait with them for some days. Why? Surely in order that he might teach them more. The taking upon ourselves of church membership is not so much the end of the road as the beginning.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-10.html. 1956-1959.
Then Peter opened his mouth,.... :-
And said, of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; which is to be understood, not of the substances of men, but of the outward state and condition, circumstances and qualities of men; he respects the proper persons of men themselves, but not because of their outward appearances; he does not prefer or despise men, because of their being of this or the other nation, as Jews or Gentiles; or because they are circumcised, or not circumcised; or because they are high or low, rich or poor, free or bound, or the like: the true sense here is, that God valued no man the more, because he was a Jew and circumcised, nor anyone the less, because he was a Gentile and uncircumcised; and this the apostle found to be a most certain truth, of which he was fully persuaded; partly by the vision which he himself saw, and partly by that which Cornelius had, and which the more confirmed him in this matter: these words do not at all militate against the doctrines of personal election and reprobation; and indeed, those acts in God, are not according to the outward state and condition of men, or any circumstances that attend them, or any qualities they have, internal or external; but entirely proceed from the sovereign will of God; :-
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-10.html. 1999.
|Peter Preaches in the House of Cornelius.|
34 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 Judæa, 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.
We have here Peter's sermon preached to Cornelius and his friends: that is, an abstract or summary of it; for we have reason to think that he did with many other words testify and exhort to this purport. It is intimated that he expressed himself with a great deal of solemnity and gravity, but with freedom and copiousness, in that phrase, he opened his mouth, and spoke,Acts 10:34; Acts 10:34. O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open to you, saith Paul, 2 Corinthians 6:11. "You shall find us communicative, if we but find you inquisitive." Hitherto the mouths of the apostles had been shut to the uncircumcised Gentiles, they had nothing to say to them; but now God gave unto them, as he did to Ezekiel, the opening of the mouth. This excellent sermon of Peter's is admirably suited to the circumstances of those to whom he preached it; for it was a new sermon.
I. Because they were Gentiles to whom he preached. He shows that, notwithstanding this, they were interested in the gospel of Christ, which he had to preach, and entitled to the benefit of it, upon an equal footing with the Jews. It was necessary that this should be cleared, or else with what comfort could either he preach or they hear? He therefore lays down this as an undoubted principle, that God is no respecter of persons; doth not know favour in judgment, as the Hebrew phrase is; which magistrates are forbidden to do (Deuteronomy 1:17; Deuteronomy 16:19; Proverbs 24:23), and are blamed for doing, Psalms 82:2. And it is often said of God that he doth not respect persons, Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Job 34:19; Romans 2:11; Colossians 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17. He doth not give judgment in favour of a man for the sake of any external advantage foreign to the merits of the cause. God never perverts judgment upon personal regards and considerations, nor countenances a wicked man in a wicked thing for the sake of his beauty, or stature, his country, parentage, relations, wealth, or honour in the world. God, as a benefactor, gives favours arbitrarily and by sovereignty (Deuteronomy 7:7; Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 9:6; Matthew 20:10); but he does not, as a judge, so give sentence; but in every nation, and under ever denomination, he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of him,Acts 10:35; Acts 10:35. The case is plainly thus--
1. God never did, nor ever will, justify and save a wicked Jew that lived and died impenitent, though he was of the seed of Abraham, and a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and had all the honour and advantages that attended circumcision. He does and will render indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil; and of the Jew first, whose privileges and professions, instead of screening him from the judgment of God, will but aggravate his guilt and condemnation. See Romans 2:3; Romans 2:8; Romans 2:9; Romans 2:17. Though God has favoured the Jews, above other nations, with the dignities of visible church-membership, yet he will not therefore accept of any particular persons of that dignity, if they allow themselves in immoralities contradictory to their profession; and particularly in persecution, which was now, more than any other, the national sin of the Jews.
2. He never did, nor ever will, reject or refuse an honest Gentile, who, though he has not the privileges and advantages that the Jews have, yet, like Cornelius, fears God, and worships him, and works righteousness, that is, is just and charitable towards all men, who lives up to the light he has, both in a sincere devotion and in a regular conversation. Whatever nation he is of, though ever so far remote from kindred to the seed of Abraham, though ever so despicable, nay, though in ever so ill a name, that shall be no prejudice to him. God judges of men by their hearts, not by their country or parentage; and, wherever he finds an upright man, he will be found an upright God, Psalms 18:25. Observe, Fearing God, and working righteousness, must go together; for, as righteousness towards men is a branch of true religion, so religion towards God is a branch of universal righteousness. Godliness and honesty must go together, and neither will excuse for the want of the other. But, where these are predominant, no doubt is to be made of acceptance with God. Not that any man, since the fall, can obtain the favour of God otherwise than through the mediation of Jesus Christ, and by the grace of God in him; but those that have not the knowledge of him, and therefore cannot have an explicit regard to him, may yet receive grace from God for his sake, to fear God and to work righteousness; and wherever God gives grace to do so, as he did to Cornelius, he will, through Christ, accept the work of his own hands. Now, (1.) This was always a truth, before Peter perceived it, that God respecteth no man's person; it was the fixed rule of judgment from the beginning: If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And, if not well, sin, and the punishment of it, lie at the door,Genesis 4:7. God will not ask in the great day what country men were of, but what they were, what they did, and how they stood affected towards him and towards their neighbours; and, if men's personal characters received neither advantage nor disadvantage from the great difference that existed between Jews and Gentiles, much less from any less difference of sentiments and practices that may happen to be among Christians themselves, as those about meats and days,Romans 14:1-23. It is certain the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; and he that in these things serveth Christ is accepted of God, and ought to be approved of men; for dare we reject those whom God doth not? (2.) Yet now it was made more clear than it had been; this great truth had been darkened by the covenant of peculiarity made with Israel, and the badges of distinction put upon them; the ceremonial law was a wall of partition between them and other nations; it is true that in it God favoured that nation (Romans 3:1; Romans 3:2; Romans 9:4), and thence particular persons among them were ready to infer that they were sure of God's acceptance, though they lived as they listed, and that no Gentile could possibly be accepted of God. God had said a great deal by the prophets to prevent and rectify this mistake, but now at length he doth it effectually, by abolishing the covenant of peculiarity, repealing the ceremonial law, and so setting the matter at large, and placing both Jew and Gentile upon the same level before God; and Peter is here made to perceive it, by comparing the vision which he had with that which Cornelius had. Now in Christ Jesus, it is plain, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision,Galatians 5:6; Colossians 3:11.
II. Because they were Gentiles inhabiting a place within the confines of the land of Israel, he refers them to what they themselves could not but know concerning the life and doctrine, the preaching and miracles, the death and sufferings of our Lord Jesus: for these were things the report of which spread into every corner of the nation, Acts 10:37; Acts 10:37, c. It facilitates the work of ministers, when they deal with such as have some knowledge of the things of God, to which they may appeal, and on which they may build.
1. They knew in general, the word, that is, the gospel, which God sent to the children of Israel: That word, I say, you know,Acts 10:37; Acts 10:37. Though the Gentiles were not admitted to hear it (Christ and his disciples were not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel), yet they could not but hear of it: it was all the talk both of city and country. We are often told in the gospels how the fame of Christ went into all parts of Canaan, when he was on earth, as afterwards the fame of his gospel went into all parts of the world, Romans 10:18. That word, that divine word, that word of power and grace, you know. (1.) What the purport of this word was. God by it published the glad tidings of peace by Jesus Christ, so it should be read--euangelizomenos eirenev. It is God himself that proclaims peace, who justly might have proclaimed war. He lets the world of mankind know that he is willing to be at peace with them through Jesus Christ; in him he was reconciling the world to himself. (2.) To whom it was sent--to the children of Israel, in the first place. The prime offer is made to them; this all their neighbours heard of, and were ready to envy them those advantages of the gospel, more than they ever envied them those of their law. Then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them,Psalms 126:2.
2. They knew the several matters of fact relating to this word of the gospel sent to Israel. (1.) They knew the baptism of repentance which John preached by way of introduction to it, and in which the gospel first began, Mark 1:1. They knew what an extraordinary man John was, and what a direct tendency his preaching had to prepare the way of the Lord. They knew what great flocking there was to his baptism, what an interest he had, and what he did. (2.) They knew that immediately after John's baptism the gospel of Christ, that word of peace, was published throughout all Judea, and that it took its rise from Galilee. The twelve apostles, and seventy disciples, and our Master himself, published these glad tidings in all parts of the land; so that we may suppose there was not a town or village in all the land of Canaan but had had the gospel preached in it. (3.) They knew that Jesus of Nazareth, when he was here upon earth, went about doing good. They knew what a benefactor he was to that nation, both to the souls and the bodies of men; how he made it his business to do good to all, and never did hurt to any. He was not idle, but still doing; not selfish, but doing good; did not confine himself to one place, nor wait till people came to him to seek his help, but went to them, went about from place to place, and wherever he came he was doing good. Hereby he showed that he was sent of God, who is good and does good; and does good because he is good: and who hereby left not himself without witness to the world, in that he did good,Acts 14:17; Acts 14:17. And in this he hath set us an example of indefatigable industry in serving God and our generation; for we came into the world that we might do all the good we can in it; and therein, like Christ, we must always abide and abound. (4.) They knew more particularly that he healed all that were oppressed of the devil, and helped them from under his oppressing power. By this it appeared not only that he was sent of God, as it was a kindness to men, but that he was sent to destroy the works of the devil; for thus he obtained many a victory over him. (5.) They knew that the Jews put him to death; they slew him by hanging him on a tree. When Peter preached to the Jews, he said whom you slew; but now that he preached to the Gentiles it is whom they slew; they, to whom he had done and designed so much good. All this they knew; but lest they should think it was only a report, and was magnified, as reports usually are, more than the truth, Peter, for himself and the rest of the apostles, attested it (Acts 10:39; Acts 10:39): We are witnesses, eye-witnesses, of all things which he did; and ear-witnesses of the doctrine which he preached, both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, in city and country.
3. They did know, or might know, by all this, that he had a commission from heaven to preach and act as he did. This he still harps upon in his discourse, and takes all occasions to hint it to them. Let them know, (1.) That this Jesus is Lord of all; it comes in in a parenthesis, but is the principal proposition intended to be proved, that Jesus Christ, by whom peace is made between God and man, is Lord of all; not only as God over all blessed for evermore, but as Mediator, all power both in heaven and on earth is put into his hand, and all judgment committed to him. He is Lord of angels; they are all his humble servants. He is Lord of the powers of darkness, for he hath triumphed over them. He is king of nations, has a power over all flesh. He is king of saints, all the children of God are his scholars, his subjects, his soldiers. (2.) That God anointed him with the Holy Ghost and with power; he was both authorized and enabled to do what he did by a divine anointing, whence he was called Christ--the Messiah, the anointed One. The Holy Ghost descended upon him at his baptism, and he was full of power both in preaching and working miracles, which was the seal of a divine mission. (3.) That God was with him,Acts 10:38; Acts 10:38. His works were wrought in God. God not only sent him, but was present with him all along, owned him, stood by him, and carried him on in all his services and sufferings. Note, Those whom God anoints he will accompany; he will himself be with those to whom he has given his Spirit.
III. Because they had had no more certain information concerning this Jesus, Peter declares to them his resurrection from the dead, and the proofs of it, that they might not think that when he was slain there was an end of him. Probably, they had heard at Cesarea some talk of his having risen from the dead; but the talk of it was soon silenced by that vile suggestion of the Jews, that his disciples came by night and stole him away. And therefore Peter insists upon this as the main support of that word which preacheth peace by Jesus Christ. 1. The power by which he arose is incontestably divine (Acts 10:40; Acts 10:40): Him God raised up the third day, which not only disproved all the calumnies and accusations he was laid under by men, but effectually proved God's acceptance of the satisfaction he made for the sin of man by the blood of his cross. He did not break prison, but had a legal discharge. God raised him up. 2. The proofs of his resurrection were incontestably clear; for God showed him openly. He gave him to be made manifest--edoken auton emphane genesthai, to be visible, evidently so; so he appears, as that it appears beyond contradiction to be him, and not another. It was such a showing of him as amounted to a demonstration of the truth of his resurrection. He showed him not publicly indeed (it was not open in this sense), but evidently; not to all the people, who had been the witnesses of his death. By resisting all the evidences he had given them of his divine mission in his miracles, they had forfeited the favour of being eye-witnesses of this great proof of it. Those who immediately forged and promoted that lie of his being stolen away were justly given up to strong delusions to believe it, and not suffered to be undeceived by his being shown to all the people; and so much the greater shall be the blessedness of those who have not seen, and yet have believed--Nec ille se in vulgus edixit, ne impii errore, liberarentur; ut et fides non præmio mediocri destinato difficultate constaret--He showed not himself to the people at large, lest the impious among them should have been forthwith loosed from their error, and that faith, the reward of which is so ample, might be exercised with a degree of difficulty.--Tertul. Apol. cap. 11. But, though all the people did not see him, a sufficient number saw him to attest the truth of his resurrection. The testator's declaring his last will and testament needs not to be before all the people; it is enough that it be done before a competent number of credible witnesses; so the resurrection of Christ was proved before sufficient witnesses. (1.) They were not so by chance, but they were chosen before of God to be witnesses of it, and, in order to this, had their education under the Lord Jesus, and intimate converse with him, that, having known him so intimately before, they might the better be assured it was he. (2.) They had not a sudden and transient view of him, but a great deal of free conversation with him: They did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. This implies that they saw him eat and drink, witness their dining with him at the sea of Tiberias, and the two disciples supping with him at Emmaus; and this proved that he had a true and real body. But this was not all; they saw him without any terror or consternation, which might have rendered them incompetent witnesses, for they saw him so frequently, and he conversed with them so familiarly, that they did eat and drink with him. It is brought as a proof of the clear view which the nobles of Israel had of the glory of God (Exodus 24:11), that they saw God, and did eat and drink.
IV. He concludes with an inference from all this, that therefore that which they all ought to do was to believe in this Jesus: he was sent to tell Cornelius what he must do, and it is this; his praying and his giving alms were very well, but one thing he lacked, he must believe in Christ. Observe,
1. Why he must believe in him. Faith has reference to a testimony, and the Christian faith is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, it is built upon the testimony given by them. (1.) By the apostles. Peter as foreman speaks for the rest, that God commanded them, and gave them in charge, to preach to the people, and to testify concerning Christ; so that their testimony was not only credible, but authentic, and what we may venture upon. Their testimony is God's testimony; and they are his witnesses to the world. They do not only say it as matter of news, but testify it as matter of record, by which men must be judged. (2.) By the prophets of the Old Testament, whose testimony beforehand, not only concerning his sufferings, but concerning the design and intention of them, very much corroborates the apostles' testimony concerning them (Acts 10:43; Acts 10:43): To him give all the prophets witness. We have reason to think that Cornelius and his friends were no strangers to the writings of the prophets. Out of the mouth of these two clouds of witnesses, so exactly agreeing, this word is established.
2. What they must believe concerning him. (1.) That we are all accountable to Christ as our Judge; this the apostles were commanded to testify to the world, that this Jesus is ordained of God to be the Judge of the quick and dead,Acts 10:42; Acts 10:42. He is empowered to prescribe the terms of salvation, that rule by which we must be judged, to give laws both to quick and dead, both to Jew and Gentile; and he is appointed to determine the everlasting condition of all the children of men at the great day, of those that shall be found alive and of those that shall be raised from the dead. He hath assured us of this, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:31; Acts 17:31), so that it is the great concern of every one of us, in the belief of this, to seek his favour, and to make him our friend. (2.) That if we believe in him we shall all be justified by him as our righteousness, Acts 10:43; Acts 10:43. The prophets, when they spoke of the death of Christ, did witness this, that through his name, for his sake, and upon the account of his merit, whosoever believeth in him, Jew or Gentile, shall receive remission of sins. This is the great thing we need, without which we are undone, and which the convinced conscience is most inquisitive after, which the carnal Jews promised themselves from their ceremonial sacrifices and purifications, yea, and the heathen too from their atonements, but all in vain; it is to be had only through the name of Christ, and only by those that believe in his name; and those that do so may be assured of it; their sins shall be pardoned, and there shall be no condemnation to them. And the remission of sins lays a foundation for all other favours and blessings, by taking that out of the way which hinders them. If sin be pardoned, all is well, and shall end everlastingly well.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Acts 10:34". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/acts-10.html. 1706.
We are now arrived at a turning-point in the history, not merely of the church, but of the unfolding of the truth of God, and the manifestation of His ways. The death of Stephen, therefore, has in various points of view a great significance. And no wonder. His was the first spirit that departed to be with Christ after the Holy Ghost was given. But it was not merely one who departed to be with the Lord, which was far better; it was by the act of the Jews in the infuriate spirit of persecution. The very same people had done it who had so lately received with the utmost favour (not the truth, nor the grace of God, which is inseparable from His truth, but), at any rate, the mighty impress of the grace as well as of the truth which had produced unwonted largeness of heart, unselfishness of spirit, and joy and liberty, that struck the minds of the Jews accustomed to the coldness of death in their own system.
But now all was changed. What was most sweet soon became bitter, as it often is in the things of God. And when they understood the bearing of that which God had wrought here below that it judged man; that it gave no countenance to the religiousness in which they boasted; that it showed most convincingly, and so much the more bitterly because convincingly, what God all through His testimony with them had expressly intimated, by the prophets as well as in the types of the law itself, that He had deeper purposes; that nothing on earth could satisfy Him; that it was in His mind, on the proved ruin of Israel, to bring in heaven and its things for a heavenly people even while here below: now that this was made manifest, above all, in the testimony that Stephen had rendered to the very man that they had rejected and crucified, seen in glory at the right hand of God, it was unbearable. Could it be otherwise, when, spite of proud unbelief and conceit of distinctive privilege, they were forced to feel that they were none the less the constant resisters of the Holy Ghost like their fathers, who had been guilty themselves, and suffered the consequence of their guilt in their prostration to the Gentiles; to feel now that they themselves were no better, but rather worse; that there was the same unbelief bringing out its effects even more tremendously; that they were guilty of the blood of their own Messiah, who was now risen and exalted in the highest seat of heaven? All these things were pressed home by Stephen; indeed, I have simply touched on a very small part of his most telling address.
But the close lets us see more than this. There was the revelation now of Christ as an object for the Christian in heaven, and the revelation of Him too in a way entirely outside the narrow boundaries of Judaism. Stephen speaks of Him as Son of man. This is an essential feature of Christianity. Unlike the law, it addresses all; there is no narrowness in a rejected heavenly Christ. By the Holy Ghost there is imparted all the firmness of a divine bond, and all the intimacy of a real living relationship of the nearest kind. At the same time, along with this is seen universality in the going out of both the truth and grace of God, which could not but be foreign to the law. And although its character had to be yet more brought out by another and far greater witness of divine things who was still in the blindness of Jewish unbelief at this very moment himself taking his own miserable part, though with a good natural conscience, in the death of Stephen, all told powerfully upon the Jews, but lacerated their feelings to the utmost.
I have already touched upon the practical effects, and therefore will not enlarge on these now. My object, of course, is simply to give a sketch of the important book now before us, endeavouring to connect (as, indeed, evidently the chapter does connect) what was coming with what was past. Saul was consenting unto Stephen's death, and Saul was the expression of Jewish feeling in its best aspect. It was now guilty of resisting unto blood, not merely as their fathers had done, but the heavenly testimony of Jesus. Nevertheless the God that vindicated the honour of the crucified Jesus did not forget the martyred Stephen; and though there was an outburst of persecution, which scattered abroad throughout the region of Judea and Samaria all the believers that were in Jerusalem except the apostles, devout men were not wanting who carried Stephen to his burial. Clearly they were not Christians; but God has all hearts in His keeping. And they "made great lamentation over him." This was suitable to them. Theirs was not the joy that saw into the presence of God. They felt in a measure, and justly, the tremendous deed that had been done. And as there was reality at least in their feeling, they made suitable lamentation. But "as for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and dragging off men and women, committed them to prison." Religious persecution is invariably ruthless and blind even to the commonest feelings of humanity.
"Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word;" for the God who not only has hearts at His command, but controls all circumstances, was now about to accomplish that which He had always at heart, making the disciples to be witnesses of Jesus to the very ends of the earth, though first of all to Judea and Samaria. Accordingly we find, as the testimony had gone forth throughout Jerusalem at least, so now the old rival of Jerusalem comes within the dealings of God. Philip, who had been appointed by the apostles at the choice of the multitude of the disciples to care for the distribution to the poor, goes down to the cities of Samaria preaching Christ. This did not at all flow from his ordination. His appointment was to take care of the tables. His preaching Christ was the fruit of the Lord's call. Where man chooses for human things, we have the Lord recognising it. He would have His people, where they give, to have a voice. He would meet them in grace, stopping complaints, and showing that He honours and confides in their suitable choice. But not so in the ministry of the word or testimony of the Lord. Here the Lord alone gives, alone calls, alone sends forth. Philip, besides being one of the seven, was an "evangelist," as we are told expressly in another part of this very book (Acts 21:8). It is important to distinguish between the two things one, the charge to which man appointed him; the other, the gift which the Lord conferred. (Ephesians 4:1-32) I merely make the remark in passing; though it will not be needed for most here, it may be for some.
Philip goes down, then, preaching Christ; "and the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did." But the testimony of miracles is apt to act upon the flesh. They are, indeed, a sign to unbelievers, and that such is the result we find shown us by the Spirit of God in the chapter before us. However graciously given of the Lord as a token to attract the careless minds of men, they are dangerous when they are made the resting-place and the object of the mind; and this was the fatal mistake made then, and not merely there but by many millions of souls from that day to this. Faith never rests on any other ground than God's word. All else is vain, and apt to accredit. as well as entice man. There was indeed the unmistakable action of the Spirit of God on this occasion the power that cast out unclean spirits and healed the sick, as well as the means of spreading joy throughout that city for the souls of men. Evidently it was power in external display, then so richly manifested, which acted on the fleshly mind of Simon, himself having the reputation of a great one, and before this the vessel of some kind of demoniacal power the miserable power of Satan, with which he dazzled the eyes of men. But now finding himself eclipsed, like a wily man, his object was to avail himself of this superior energy if it were possible. His aim was not Christ; it was all for himself. He wished to gain fresh influence, not to lose his old: why not, by this new method, if possible, turn things to his own account?
Accordingly, among the train of those that received the gospel and were baptized, Simon is found. Philip had not the discernment to see through him: evangelists are apt to be sanguine. It may be that the Lord had not allowed the true character of Simon to be manifested to every eye at that moment. It did not escape the discerning eyes of Peter a little afterward. But as we are told here, "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women; and Simon himself believed also." Scripture does show, though it does not sanction as divine, a faith that is founded on evidence. And it continues still. So John often speaks of it; and the very one that tells us most of the divinely given character of true faith who most of all lets us into its secret power and blessedness, even eternal life as bound up with it, that same John is the one who more than any other furnishes instances of a mere humanly produced faith. Such was the faith of Simon. The gospel of Luke also describes what is similar; that is to say, a faith not insincere but human, not wrought of the Spirit but founded on the mind yielding to reasons, proofs, evidences, which are to it overpowering; but there is nothing of God in it: there is no meeting between the soul and God. Without this, faith is good for nothing, nor is God Himself honoured in His own word. Power was what struck Simon's mind himself a devotee of power, who in times past had sunk indeed low, even to the enemy of God and man in order from any source to be the vessel of a power beyond man. He could not deny the might that proved itself without effort superior to anything he had ever wielded. This was what attracted him; and, as it is said here, "he continued with Philip" (there was no other bond of connection), "and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done." A believer would have wondered more at the grace of God, and bowed in adoration before Him. Conscience would have been searched by the truth of God; and the heart would have been filled with praise at the grace of God. Neither one nor other ever entered into the thoughts or feelings of Simon.
And "when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John." It was of the greatest importance that unity should be kept up practically, not merely that there should be proclaimed the truth that there is unity, but that there should be the maintenance of it in practice. Accordingly Peter and John, two of the chiefs among the apostles, come down from Jerusalem. But there was another reason too. It was so ordered of God that the Holy Ghost should not at first be conferred on the disciples at Samaria: I do not mean merely on such as Simon or false brethren, but even on those that were true. Undoubtedly they could not have believed the gospel, had there not been the quickening operation of the Holy Ghost; but we must distinguish between the Holy Ghost giving life and the Holy Ghost Himself given.
Another thing too let me again and again remark: the gift of the Holy Ghost never means those mighty wonders of power which had acted on the greedy and ambitious mind of Simon Magus. The gift of the Spirit is not at all the same thing as the gifts. These gifts, at least such as were of an extraordinary sort, were the outward signs of that gift in early days; and it was of great importance that there should be a decisive palpable testimony to it. The presence of the Holy Ghost was a new and quite unexampled thing even among believers. Hence it is there were mighty powers that wrought by those who were employed by the Holy Ghost; as, for instance, by Philip himself; afterwards also by the disciples, when Peter and John came down and laid their hands upon them with prayer. The Holy Ghost came upon them, not merely, it will be observed, certain spiritual powers, but the Holy Ghost Himself. They had not those powers only, but this divine person given to them. Scripture is clear and unequivocal as to the truth of the case. I can understand difficulties in the minds of believers; and no one would wish to force or hurry the convictions of any; nor would it be of the slightest value to receive even a truth without the faith that is produced, and exercised, and cleared by the word of God. But at the same time to my own mind it seems to be only homage to God's word to affirm positively that of which I am sure.
I therefore must say that the gift of the Holy Ghost here is, in my judgment, clearly distinct from anything in the way of either a spiritual gift for souls or a miraculous power, as it is called. There followed also such signs, or outward powers; but the Holy Ghost was given Himself, according to the Lord's word the promise of the Father, a promise which, as all know, was in the first instance assured to those who were already believers, and which was made good to them because they were believers, not to make them so. When redemption was accomplished, it was the seal of the faith and the life which they already had. There can be no doubt that the facts at Samaria were analogous; but this remarkable feature is to be noticed, that the Holy Ghost was here conferred by (not, as at Jerusalem, apart from) the laying on of the hands of the apostles. Of this we heard nothing in the divine history of the day of Pentecost; and I think that scripture is abundantly plain that there could have been nothing of the kind then and there. First of all, the apostles and the disciples themselves received it as they were waiting. The Holy Ghost came down upon them suddenly, with no previous sign whatever, except that which was suitable to the Holy Ghost when sent down from heaven the mighty rushing wind, and then the tokens of His presence upon each were manifested. Yet there was no such requirement as imposition of hands in order to be the medium of it. But it would seem that special reasons operated at Samaria to make it necessary there. It was of all moment to keep up the links practically between a work which might have looked to many there, as now, not a little irregular. It was wrought not by those that had previously been always the great spiritual witnesses; for we hear of none ministering but the apostles, and indeed not even of all the apostles speaking, though it may be that they did. But here we have clearly a man who had been chosen for another and an external purpose by the church, but whom the Lord uses elsewhere for a new and higher purpose, for which He had qualified him by the Holy Ghost.
Nevertheless, care was taken to hinder all appearance of independence or indifference to unity. There was the freest action of the Holy Ghost, sovereignly free, and it is impossible to maintain this too stringently; and there was the utmost care that all should be left open for the Holy Ghost to act according to His own will, not only within the church, but also by evangelizing outside. For all that God took precaution to bind up together the work at Samaria with that which He had wrought at Jerusalem. Hence though Philip might preach and they receive the gospel, the apostles come down, and with prayer lay their hands upon them, and then they receive the Holy Ghost. To a reflecting believer it will be plain that the reasons for this do not hold at the present time. I merely make this remark lest any should draw from this the inference that there is a necessity for men commissioned from God to lay on hands now in order to confer such a spiritual blessing.
The fact is, that the notion of imposition of hands being a universal medium of conveying the Holy Ghost is certainly a mistake. On the greatest occasions, when the Holy Ghost was given, we have no ground to believe that hands were laid on any. There were two exceptional occasions on which one or more of the apostles so acted, but at times of more general interest and importance nothing of the sort was heard of. Take, as the most solemn moment of all, the day of Pentecost. Who that honours scripture can pretend that hands were laid on any then? Yet the Holy Ghost was given in especial power on that day. But what is more to the purpose for us Gentiles, when Cornelius and his household were brought in, not only no appearance of it is visible, but positive proof to the contrary. Peter was present, but he certainly laid no hand of his on a single soul that day before the Holy Ghost was given. So far from it, as we shall find by and by inActs 10:1-48; Acts 10:1-48, the Holy Ghost was given while he was yet speaking, before they were so much as baptized. On the day of Pentecost they were baptized first, and then they received the gift of the Holy Ghost. At Samaria they had been baptized for some time, as we know. On believing they were baptized, as we are told in Acts 8:1-40; but they received the Holy Ghost after an interval, through the action of the apostles.
I refer to this just to show how far scripture is from countenancing the cramped ideas of men, and that the only way of truth is to believe all the word of God, searching out the special principle of God by which He instructs us in the different characters of His action. Surely He is always wise and consistent with Himself. It is we who by confounding matters lose consequently the blessedness and beauty of the truth of God.
Now the reason, as it appears to me, why divine wisdom led to this striking difference at Samaria, was the necessity of hindering that independence to which even Christians are so liable. There was special exposure to this evil which called for so much the greater guard against it at Samaria. How painful must it be to the Spirit of God if the old pride of Samaria were to rise up against Jerusalem! God would cut off the very appearance of this. There was the free action of His Spirit towards Samaria without the apostles, but the Holy Ghost was given by the laying on of their hands. This solemn act was not merely an ancient sign of divine blessing, but of identification also. Such, I suppose, therefore, was the principle that lay at the bottom of the difference of the divine action on these two occasions.
Then we find Simon struck not so much by an individual's endowment with miraculous power, as by the fact that others received it by the apostles' laying on of hands. At once, with the instinct of flesh, he sees a good 'opportunity for himself, and, judging of others' hearts by his own, presents money as the means of acquiring the coveted power. But this detects the man. How often our words show where we are! How continually too where we least think they do! It is not only in cases of our judgment (for there is nothing that so often judges a man as his own judgment of another); but also where the desire goes out after that which we have not got. How all-important for our souls that we should have Christ before us, and that we should have no desire but for His glory! Not a ray of the light of Christ had entered the heart of Simon, and so Peter at once detects the false heart. With that energy which characterized him he says, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God." At the same time there is the pity that belongs to one who knew the grace of God, and saw the end of all in His judgment. "Repent, therefore, of this thy wickedness, and pray God if, perhaps, the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee; for I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner. Simon can only answer, "Pray ye to the Lord for me." He had no confidence in the Lord for himself not a particle; for just as those who have confidence in the Lord have not an atom in man, his sole hope of blessing for his soul lay in the influence of another man, not in Christ's grace. "Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of those things which ye have spoken come upon me."
The apostles then, after preaching in the various villages of the Samaritans, return to Jerusalem. But not so the word of God. The gospel goes forth elsewhere; it is in no way bound to Jerusalem. On the contrary, the grand bearing of this chapter is that now the tide of blessing is flowing away from Jerusalem. The holy city had rejected the gospel. It was not enough that they had rejected the Messiah, nor even that He was made Lord and Christ on high. They refused utterly the Holy Ghost's testimony to the Son of man glorified in heaven, and slew or scattered the witnesses, Who then was specially used as the instrument of the free action of the Holy Ghost elsewhere, without plan, without thought of man, and apparently the simple result of circumstances, but in truth God's hand directing all? Philip is told by the angel of the Lord to arise and go towards the south towards "Gaza, which is desert." "And he arose and went." Strikingly, beautiful it is to see the devoted simplicity with which he answers to the call of his Master. I will not pretend to say that it cost him little, but am sure it would have been a heavy trial to many a man of God to leave that which was so bright, where He had wrought powerfully in using himself for His own glory. But he is truly a bondman, and at once is ready to go at the bidding of the Lord, who had given him to reap in joy where He had Himself tasted the firstfruits in the days of His own ministry here below. Samaria, which had held out against the truth, was now yielding the harvest that a greater than Philip had sown; and there was joy in that very Samaria where greater works were now done according to His own word.
But this was not enough for God. A man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the queen of the Ethiopians, was returning after having gone up to Jerusalem to worship. He was going, back without the blessing that his earnest heart yearned after. He had gone up to the great city of solemnities, but the blessing was no longer to be found there. Jehovah's house had been left doubly desolate; Jerusalem had this added to her other sins that, when the blessing had come down from heaven, she would not have it. She despised the Holy Ghost as she had despised the Messiah; and no wonder therefore that he who had gone up to Jerusalem to worship was returning with the yearnings of his heart still unsatisfied. And not the angel but the Spirit guides now. The angel had to do with providential circumstances, but the Spirit with that which directly deals with spiritual need and blessing. So says the Spirit to Philip, "Go near and join thyself to this chariot." Philip acts at once, with alacrity hears the eunuch read the prophet Isaiah, and puts the question whether he understood what was read. The answer is, "How can I, except some man should guide me?" Thereon Philip is invited to come up and sit with him, Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 53:1-12 being, as we know, the portion in question; and the eunuch asks of whom the prophet spoke these words "of himself or some other man?" so gross was his darkness even as to the general point of the chapter. "Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the very same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus." It was enough. That one name, through faith in it, what could it not accomplish? The facts were notorious; but of this we may be sure, that never had they been put together before the mind of the Ethiopian as then, never connected with the living Word and His grace. They were now put in contact with his wants, and all was instantly light in his soul. Oh, what a blessing it is to have and know such a Saviour! What a joy to be warranted to proclaim Him to others without stint, even to a soul as dark as the Ethiopian, who was then and there baptized!
Remember that verse 37 is only an imaginary conversation between him and Philip. The man just now so ignorant is not the channel that God was about to use for bringing out the remarkable confession that is introduced prematurely here. It was reserved for another of whom we shall read in the next chapter. This scene does show the stranger discovering the predicted Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah suffering, no doubt, but accomplishing atonement. Certainly the Ethiopian received the truth; but verse 37 had better be passed by in your minds, at least in this connection. All who are informed in these matters are aware that the best authorities reject the entire verse.
"He went on his way rejoicing." Though the Spirit of the Lord catches away Philip, so full is his heart of the truth that we may be sure all that occurred confirmed it in his eyes. How could anything seem too great and good to him whose heart had just made the acquaintance of Jesus? Did he not feel so much the more settled in Jesus as there was no other object now before his soul? It was the Lord that had brought Philip, and it was His Spirit that bad taken him away; but it was He too who had given him and left him Jesus for ever. Philip is found at Azotus, and passing through he preaches elsewhere.
At this point we come to the history of the call of another and yet more honoured witness of divine grace and Christ's glory. Saul of Tarsus was yet breathing out his threats and slaughter when the Lord was pursuing His onward gracious work among the Samaritans and strangers. The returning treasurer of Queen Candace was a proselyte, I suppose, from the Gentiles, living among them, not as a Gentile himself, but practically a Jew, whatever the place of his birth and residence. The time for the call of the Gentiles strictly was not yet come, though the way is being prepared. The Samaritans, as you know, were a mongrel race; the stranger may have been possibly a proselyte from among the Gentiles; but the apostle of the Gentiles is now to be called. Such is the unfolding of the ways of God at this point.
Acts 9:1-43. Saul in his zeal had desired letters giving him authority to punish the Christian Jews, and was found on his way journeying near the Gentile city that he sought. "Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord?" All depended upon this. "And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." What a revolution this word caused in that mighty heart! Confidence in man, in self, was overthrown to its foundations all that his life had been zealously building up. "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." It was the Lord undoubtedly, and the Lord declared He was Jesus, and Jesus was Jehovah. He dared not doubt longer: to him it was self-evident. If Jesus was Jehovah, what then had his religion been? what had high priest or Sanhedrim done for him? Was it not then God's high priest, God's law? Unquestionably it was. How then could so fatal an error have been committed? It was the fact. Man, Israel, not merely Saul, was altogether blinded: the flesh never knows God. The despised and hated name of Jesus is the only hope for man, Jesus is the only Saviour and Lord. His glory burst on the astonished eyes of Saul, who surrenders immediately. It was not without the deepest searching of heart, though smitten down at once; for how could there be a question as to the divine power? How could its reality be doubted? As little could there be a question as to the grace exercised toward him, though the manner was not after that of man. The light that shone suddenly on him was from heaven. But it was God's way. The voice that said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" was from Jesus. "Who art thou, Lord?" he cried, and hears, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." How could he resist the heavenly vision?
Observe that, although the next words are beyond a question scriptural, and so far the case differs from verse 37 referred to in the last chapter, the last clause of verse 5 and the first of verse 6 belong properly speaking to two other chapters (Acts 22:1-30, Acts 26:1-32) rather than to this. I do not therefore comment upon these additions here: they will remain for their own real and suitable places. But Saul does arise from the earth. "And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man." But he had heard the voice of His mouth, and His words were spirit and life, eternal life, to his soul. Three days and nights he neither eats nor drinks. The profound moral work of God proceeded in that converted heart. Nevertheless even he, apostle though he were, must enter by the same lowly gate as another. And so we have the story of Ananias, and the ways of the Lord, not of some great apostle, nor even of Philip, but a disciple at Damascus named Ananias, to whom the Lord spoke in a vision. And he goes, the Lord communicating another vision to the apostle himself, in which he sees Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him that he might receive his sight.
The Spirit puts us in presence of the freedom of the servant, as he pleads with the Lord, for neither man nor even the child of God ever reaches up to the height of His grace. Ananias, wholly unprepared for the call of such an enemy of the gospel, slow of heart to believe all, expostulates, as it were, with the Saviour. "Lord," says he, "I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name." But the Lord said unto him, "Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel."
Even here the intimation is sufficiently plain that the Gentiles were in the foreground of the work designed for Saul of Tarsus. But this was not all. It was to be emphatically a witness of grace in suffering for Christ's name: "For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." And so it was. Ananias goes, puts his hand on him, addresses him by the sweet title of relationship Christ began, consecrated, and has given, telling him how the Lord, even Jesus, had appeared unto him. How confirmatory it must have been to the apostle's heart to learn that Ananias was now sent by the same Lord Jesus, without the slightest intimation from without, whether of Saul himself or any other man! "The Lord hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." And every word was made good. "Saul arose and was baptized, and when he had received meat he was strengthened, and remained with the disciples for some time."
In due time follows the further development of the truth as to Christ in testimony. "He preached in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God." Such was the emphatic and characteristic presentation of His person assigned to the apostle, and this at once. It was not that Peter did not know the same, we are all aware how blessedly he confessed Him to be (not Messiah only, but) the Son of the living God while Jesus was here below. Nor is it that the other disciples had not the same faith. Surely it was true of all who really believed and knew His glory. Nevertheless "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh;" and he who loves to present the Lord in the depth of His personal grace, and the height of His glory, has surely a spiritual fitness for the expression of the heart's joy in that which faith has created within. Thus, although the others no doubt had the same Saviour taught them by the Holy Ghost, still there was not in every case the same measure of entrance or appreciation. Paul had it not more suddenly than with a heavenly splendour which was peculiar to himself; and thus there was a vast work soon wrought. There was a bringing out of that which belonged to Christ, not merely the place which Christ took, but that which He is from all eternity, consequently that which is most of all intrinsically precious. He preached Him, and this boldly in the synagogue too, "that he is the Son of God." All that heard were amazed. "But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews that dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ." The doctrine of His Sonship did not in the smallest degree, of course, set aside the Messiahship. This remained; but he preached Him rather in His own personal glory, not as the Son of David, the servant, which was the great burden of Peter's preaching, made Lord and Christ; not that He was the Son of man in heaven, as Stephen witnessed; but that this Jesus, the Christ, is the Son of God, clearly therefore more particularly bound up with the divine nature, or godhead glory of Himself.
After this comes no slight discipline for Saul. As the Jews watched the gates to kill him, the disciples took him by night and let him down the wall in a basket. Thus we find the utmost simplicity and quietness. There is no show of doing great things; nor do we read of daring in any way: what is there of Christ in the one or the other? Contrariwise, we see that which outwardly looks exceedingly weak; but this was the man that was in another day to say that he gloried in his infirmities. He acts on that of which he afterwards wrote. He was led of God.
Then we learn another important lesson. "When Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple." God did not clothe him with such overwhelming influence that doors were thrown open to him though the greatest of the apostles. Oh why should any confessor of Christ why should any child of God shrink from rendering godly satisfaction to those that seek it? Why so much haste and impatience? Why should there be unwillingness to meet and submit to others when it is a question of reception? What earnest desire should there not be to bow to all that which is. due to the church of God? Here we find not even the apostle Paul was above it.
Not on the other hand that there ought to be a spirit of suspicion or distrust in the church or any Christian. I am far from saying that it was comely on their part to indulge in hesitation touching this wondrous display of divine grace. But what I want to press for our profit, beloved brethren, is that at any rate he who is the object of grace can afford to be gracious. Nor is there a more painful want of it than that kind of restiveness which is so ready to take offence at the smallest fear or anxiety on the part of others. Surely to shrink from their enquiries is nothing but self on our part. If Christ were the object of our souls, we should bow as one did called of God with incomparably better tokens of the Lord's favour than any other, this blessed man, Saul of Tarsus. But if the church were distrustful, the Lord was not unmindful, and knew how to give courage to the heart of His servant. There was among them a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, of whom we have had a happy report before, as we shall hear many (though not altogether unmingled) good tidings to the end. For indeed he was but man. Nevertheless, being a good man and full of the Holy Ghost, he seeks out and takes Saul to the apostles when others stood aloof, and declared unto them "how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus; and he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem." Grace can credit grace easily, understands the ways of the Lord, and disarms suspicion. it is beautiful to see how the Lord thus, even in the history of that which was unprecedented and might seem to lie outside Christian wants, provides in His blessed word for the every day difficulties we have to prove in such a day of weakness as ours.
After this wonderful working of God the church had rest. I say, "the church; " for there need be no doubt, I think, that such is the true form* of what is given us in verse 31. The common text and translations have "the churches;" but I believe that this faulty form crept in here, because the sense of the oneness of the church so speedily passed away. Hence people could not understand that it was one and the same church throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria. It was plain enough to see the Christian assembly in a city, even if it were as numerous as in Jerusalem, where it must have met in not a few different localities and chambers. The church, not merely in a city but in a province or country, is intelligible enough to man; but it soon became more difficult to see its unity in various and differing provinces. The change of reading here seems to prove it was too much for the copyists of this book. The reading sanctioned by the best and most ancient authorities is the singular not the churches, but "the church." "Then had the church rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria." Undoubtedly throughout these districts churches existed; but it was all one and the same church too, and not different bodies.
* The external authority is very decidedly for the singular against the plural. Thus all the first-rate Uncials, the Sinai, Vatican, Alexandrian, and Palimpsest of Paris, supported by some of the best cursives and all the best ancient versions, oppose the vulgar reading.
The following extract from the late Dr. Carson's Letters in reply to Dr. John Brown's Vindication of Presbyterianism will show how far an able and excellent man went astray in defending Congregationalism through not knowing that his argument was based, not on God's word, but on man's corruption of it. I quote from the original edition (Edinburgh, 1807): "Acts 11: 31. 'Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria,' etc.
Here I would be glad to know how this can be interpreted upon any other principle than that church in the single number was solely appropriated to a single congregation, when applied to an assembly of Christ's disciples. It is not the church of Judea, the church of Galilee, and the church of Samaria, but the churches of Judea, etc. Way, more, had these been Presbyterians, all under the same government, the phraseology would not have been even the church of Judea, and the church of Galilee, and the church of Samaria, but all these would have been in one church, and even then but a small part of a church. This phraseology would have been somewhat like this, 'The church had rest throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria,' i.e., the part of the church that lies in these countries." (p. 378.) How startled this good man but excessively keen controversialist must have been, had he learnt that, beyond all just question, the only tenable text here is destructive of the notion of independent churches, and in reality gives the appellation to the entire body of the disciples throughout these regions, as standing on one common ground, and enjoying full intercommunion, though in these different districts. But that branch of criticism which consists in a full knowledge of the sources, a nice discrimination of the various readings, and a sound judgment in deciding the preferable text, as it is rarely found, so it certainly was not the forte of Dr. C. One hundred and fifty years ago, Dr. E. Wells, in his "Help for the more easy and clear understanding of the Scriptures" (Oxford, 1718), not only adopted the singular in his Greek text and his English paraphrase, but pointed out in his Annotations the great weakness of the argument drawn by dissenters from the plural ἐκκλησίαι , as if it favoured their system of separate churches.
The end of the chapter shows us the progress of Peter. He visits round about. It was no longer a question of Jerusalem only even for Peter, but without being called to the same largeness of work practically as the apostle Paul, he nevertheless passes throughout "all quarters" of Palestine, and comes down to the saints at Lydda, and is seen by those of Saron. At Joppa too was wrought a still more striking miracle of the Lord in Tabitha's case, already dead, than in that of Eneas, who had been paralysed for years. On these I need only remark how grace used them for the spread of the testimony. "All that dwelt in Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord." "It was known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord." But at this point a still more important step was about to be taken; and the Lord enters on it with due solemnity, as we shall see in the following chapter. (Acts 10:1-48)
Little did the great apostle of the circumcision anticipate what was before him as he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner. For hence the Lord called him to a new sphere a task which, to a Jewish mind, was beyond measure strange. It would be a mistake to suppose that God had not wrought on the heart of Gentiles. We see such in the gospels. Cornelius was one of those who, among the Gentiles, had abandoned idolatry; but more than this was sometimes found. There were Gentiles who truly looked to the Lord, and not to self or man; who had been taught of Him to look for a coming Saviour, though they quite rightly connected that Saviour with Israel; for such was the burden of the promise. As there was a Job in the Old Testament, independent of the law and perhaps before it, so we find a Cornelius before the glad tidings in the New Testament had been formally sent to the nations. All know that there were Jews waiting for the Saviour. It is of interest to see, and should be better known, that among the Gentiles were not wanting such as worshipped no idols but served the true and living God. No doubt their spiritual condition was defective, and their outward position must have seemed anomalous; but Scripture is decisive that such godly Gentiles there were.
It is a fallacy then to suppose that Cornelius had no better than merely natural religion. He was assuredly, before Peter went, a converted man. To regard him as unawakened at that time is to mistake a great deal of the teaching of the chapter. Not that one would deny that a mighty work was then wrought in Cornelius. We must not limit, as ignorant people do, the operation of the Holy Spirit to the new birth. No man in his natural state could pray, nor serve God acceptably, as Cornelius did. One must be born again; but, like many others who had really been quickened in those days (and it may be even now, I presume), a soul might be born again, and yet far from resting in peace on redemption, far indeed from a sense of deliverance from all questions as to his soul. There is this difference, no doubt, between such cases now and that of Cornelius then, that, before the mission of Peter, it would have been presumptuous for a Gentile to have pretended to salvation; now it is the fruit of unbelief for a believer to question it. A soul that now looks to Jesus ought to rest without question on redemption; but we must remember that at this time Jesus was not yet publicly preached to the Gentiles not yet freely and fully proclaimed according to the riches of grace. Therefore, the more godly Cornelius was, the less would he dare to put forth his hand for the blessing before the Lord told him to stretch it out. He did what, I have no doubt, was the right thing. He was truly in earnest before God. As we are told here and the Spirit delights to give such an account "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 alway."
Such was the man to whom God was about to send the gospel by Peter. Thus we must carefully remember that the gospel brings more than conversion to God. It is the message of life, but it is also the means of peace. Before the gospel was preached to every creature, a new nature was communicated to many a soul; but till then there was not and could not be peace. The two things are both brought us in the gospel life brought to light, and the peace preached that was made by the blood of the cross. At the same time scripture shows there might be and often was an interval after the gospel did go forth. So from experience we know there is many a man that you cannot doubt to be truly looking to the Lord, yet far from resting in the peace of God. Cornelius, I apprehend, was just in this case. He would no more have perished, had it pleased God to have taken him away in this state, than any Old Testament saint, whether Jew or Gentile. No believer could be so ignorant of God and His ways of old as to imagine there ought to be any doubt about those who nevertheless were full of anxieties and troubles, and through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Even now, although it is the gospel that God sends out, we know well how many, through a misuse of Old Testament teaching, plunge themselves into distress and doubt. God does not suggest a doubt of His own grace to them, or of the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice for them: unbelief does. It was not so with Cornelius. He was not entitled to take the peace of the gospel till God warranted Peter to bring it to him. This was precisely what God was now doing; and the remarkable fact appears, that God did not wait for the apostle of the Gentiles to bring the good news to Cornelius. Is not this interlacing after a divine sort? It was not to be done by mere systematic rule of a human pattern. But just as the great apostle of the Gentiles was the one that wrote the final word of testimony to the Christian Jews in the epistle to the Hebrews, so the great apostle of the Jews was the one sent to fling open the door to the Gentile. It was Peter, not Paul, who was sent to Cornelius. The chapter itself proves that he had to be forced to go. He seems to have lost sight of the words of the Lord Jesus that he was told by Jesus risen from the dead to preach the gospel to every creature. There was to be a testimony to an the nations. The promise was not merely to them and to their children, but to all "afar off, as many as the Lord their God should call." At any rate, the Lord now graciously interferes, and as he gives Cornelius to see a vision most instructive to him, so next day also there is to Peter another vision from the Lord.
Answering to the vision, messengers bring the apostle to the household of Cornelius, and Peter opens his mouth to the following effect: "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. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) that word, I say, ye know." I call your attention to this. Cornelius was not in ignorance of the gospel going out to the children of Israel, but it was precisely because he was a lowly-minded believer that he did not therefore arrogate the blessing to himself. The very essence of faith is that you do not run before God, but receive what and as He sends to you. God had published it already to the sons of Israel, and the good man rejoiced in it. But for himself and his household, what could he do but pray till the rich blessing came? He valued the ancient people of God; nor is he indeed the only centurion that loved their nation. We are told of another who also built for the Jews their synagogue. Thus Cornelius was aware that God had sent the gospel to the Jews; but there was precisely where he necessarily stopped short. Was that word for him?
"That word ye know," says Peter, "which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 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 . . . whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly" (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. And he commanded us to preach unto the people." Clearly the Jew is meant. "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. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever," etc.
Here comes the telling word for him that feared the Lord and bowed to His word, though he was a Gentile. "Whosoever believeth on him shall receive remission of sins." Peter had not long learnt it himself. Had he not read or heard those words in the prophets? No doubt he had read them many a time, but no better than we have read them, and many other words likewise; and how little we understood any of them to profit until the mighty power of God gave it efficacy in our souls! In this case Peter had God's own direct warrant in the vision, not of the church (for this was not the meaning of the sheet let down from heaven), but decidedly of the call of the Gentiles. It was the obliterating of mere fleshly distinction between Jew and Gentile. God was meeting sinners as such, whatever they might be, giving no doubt a heavenly character to what had a heavenly source with a heavenly result. But there is not yet the revealed truth of the body, though involved in the word of the Lord to Saul of Tarsus when he said, "Why persecutest thou me?" Here it is not this, but simply the indiscriminate. grace of God to sinners of the Gentiles as certainly as to the Jews to those who, in the judgment of the Jews, were nothing but refuse, vile, and unclean.
Peter then, with this new-born conviction in his soul, reads the prophets with entirely fresh light and other eyes. Full of the truth himself, he speaks with the utmost simplicity to Cornelius, who with his household hears the blessed word. "To him give all the prophets witness." It was one concurrent evidence. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him." There is no question of a Jew, but "Whosoever believeth in him." Alas! the Jews did not believe in Him; but whosoever did, let him be Jew or Gentile, "shall receive remission of sins." This precisely Cornelius had not known, nor could any one have known it till the work of redemption was done. The Old Testament saints were just as safe before the work of Christ as they were afterwards, but this work put them on a ground of conscious salvation before God. It was not a question of being saved in the day of judgment; nor is this the meaning of the term "salvation" in the New Testament. Salvation means that the heart enters into deliverance by grace as a present known public standing in the world. Nobody could have this till the gospel, and even after its publication God Himself sent specifically to the Gentiles; for He has His ways, as well as His times and seasons. God will always be Himself, and cannot be other than Sovereign.
Thus we see God had allowed things apparently to take their course. Israel had the truth presented to them as it was afterwards to all. It was their responsibility now as ever to accept the gracious offer of God. If Israel would have received, the Lord would have given. It was even, and urgently, pressed on them, but they refused with disdain the message, and rejected the messengers to blood. Accordingly the rejection of the very witness of Christ, speaking by the Holy Ghost the rejection of Him to heaven becomes the turning-point; and then by the Lord from heaven is now called forth the witness of grace as well as of the glory of Christ. Finally, after the call of Saul of Tarsus, Peter himself (as well for other reasons as in order to cut off the semblance of discord in the various instruments of His grace) is brought in to show the perfect balance of divine truth and the wonderful harmony of His ways. Thus the church would still retain its substantial character, and the testimony of God still bear the same common likeness, while room was left for whatever speciality of form God might be pleased to give the truth, and the unfolding of the ways in which God might employ one or another. Peter was the one then, not Paul, that announced the gospel to Cornelius, who by the Holy Ghost received it, and was not merely safe but saved. It was no longer simply a cleaving to a God of goodness who could not deceive and would not disappoint the soul that hoped in His mercy, "but the conscious joy of knowing his sins all one, and himself distinctly put on the ground of accomplished redemption as a known present thing for his own soul in this world. Such is salvation.
"While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 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." Thus on the great Gentile occasion, as before on the Jewish at Pentecost, the medium of man completely disappears. It was as thoroughly according to God that the apostle should not lay his hands on any this day, as it was according to His wisdom that they should lay their hands on the Samaritans. It is granted that man sees difficulty in this: there is what he cannot reconcile; but be assured that the great point is, first, to believe. Settle it invariably that God is wiser than we. Is this too much to ask? After all, though it seems so simple as to be a truism, though nothing can well be conceived more certain; nevertheless, practically it is not always the plainest and surest truth that carries all before it in our souls. But to believe is the secret of real growth in the revealed wisdom of God.
On this occasion they of the circumcision see that the Gentiles receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; for they hear them speak with tongues and magnify God, and they were astonished. Then Peter says to them, "Can any man forbid water?" It was a public privilege he was warranted to confer on the Gentiles thus baptized of the Spirit. Water baptism is neither slighted nor is it put forward as a command or condition. The previous gift of the Spirit without the intervention of any human hand was the most effectual stopper on the mouths of the brethren of the circumcision who were ever prone to object, and would surely have forbidden water, if God had not undeniably given them the unspeakable gift of the Spirit. But this manifestation and fruit of gracious power silenced even the unruly and hard spirits of the circumcision. "And he commanded them to be baptized."
It may be observed passingly, that thus plainly baptizing is in no way a necessarily ministerial act. It may be all right and in perfect keeping that one preaching the gospel should baptize; but occasion might well arise where he who preached would avoid it himself. We know that Paul thanked God that so it was with himself at Corinth; and we see that Peter here did not baptize, but simply "commanded them to be baptized." God is always wise. It is too familiar how soon human superstition perverted this blessed institution of the Lord into a sacramental means of grace, duly administered by one in the line of succession.
The next chapter (Acts 11:1-30) shows us Peter having to give an account of himself before those who had not witnessed the effects of the mighty power of God in the house of Cornelius. When the matter is rehearsed, the great argument is this, "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?" This brought the question to a simple issue; but here again, let it be noticed that the gift of the Holy Ghost belongs to those that believe. It is not His operation in enabling souls to believe, but a precious boon given to such as believed. "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." The Spirit of God alone quickens a person by faith in Christ. Without the action of the Holy Ghost faith is impossible; but this capacitating power and the gift of the Holy Ghost are two very different things, and the latter consequent on the former. If God had given them the Holy Ghost, as was manifest in sensible results, it was very evident that they must have by God's grace had repentance unto life. The Spirit given to the believer was a privilege over and above faith, and supposed, therefore, their repentance unto life.
Then follows another grave fact. It appears that the scattered men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who had gone in consequence of the persecution everywhere, and among other places to Antioch, preaching the word to none but the Jews, took courage now and spoke (not to the Grecians - for this had been done long ago, but) unto the Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus." Those to whom they addressed themselves were really Gentiles. The word "Grecians" does not mean "Greeks," but rather Greek-speaking Jews; to whom the gospel had been preached long before, as the cases of Stephen, for instance, and Philip clearly testify. Acts 6:1-15; Acts 6:1-15 shows us the party in question murmuring. They were in the church already. But the point here is lost in our English version. There is a mistake, not only in our vernacular Bible, but also in the common Greek text which is equally faulty as the authorized version. The true text,* which has sufficient if not the most ancient authority, tells us that they spoke to Greeks or Gentiles. Thus we see the Lord was working, and, as so constantly happens, it was not only that He called out Paul for the Gentiles; it was not only that He sent Peter to a Gentile; but now these men, who might have been despised as irregular labourers, were in the current of the same work of God, even if they knew nothing of it, save by divine instinct.
*The copyists of old seem to have confounded in writing, as the Latin and most other ancient translators did in rendering, Ἕλληνας (Greeks) and Ἑλληνιστὰς (Hellenists), here and elsewhere. Thus it might seem incredible, if it were not the notorious fact, that the only two known manuscripts in favour of that which is here most certainly requisite are the Alexandrian and the Cambridge Graeco-Latin of Beza. The Vatican and all others, uncial and cursive (as far as collated and known), support the error. Of the fathers, Eusebius among the Greek, and Cassiodorus among the Latins, are in favour of the true; others are in strange conflict, their text having the wrong reading (perhaps through mistaken scribes), and their comment correcting it. The reading of the Sinai MS. ( εὐαγγελιστὰς ) is a mere blunder, not uncommon in that most ancient but not very accurate document, arising from confusion through a contiguous word; it would give the sense of "unto the preachers, preaching the Lord Jesus." But the correction confirms the true reading.
The importance of closer attention to the text is well shown by Calvin's remarks on this verse. He was led into no small perplexity by the reading current in his day, and, to the shame of Christendom, still tolerated as the received reading. Yet his masculine good sense held to the truth, though he did not know the solid basis on which it here stands. I cite from the Calvin Tr. Society's edition of his Comm. on the Acts, i. pp. 466, 467. "Luke doth at length declare that certain of them brought this treasure even unto the Gentiles. And Luke calleth these Grecians not Ἑλληνες but Ἑλληνισται [?]. Therefore some say that those came of the Jews, yet did they inhabit Greece [and these would be right if the reading had been really Ἑλληνιστὰς and not Ἑλληνὰς ]; which I do not allow. For seeing the Jews, whom he mentioned a little before, were partly of Cyprus, they must needs be reckoned in that number, because the Jews count Cyprus a part of Greece. But Luke distinguisheth them from those, whom he calleth afterward Ἑλληνιστας [this is precisely where he is mistaken; his reasoning is sound, but his knowledge defective]. Furthermore, forasmuch as he had said that the word was preached at the beginning only by the Jews, and he meant those who, being banished out of their own country, did live in Cyprus and Phenice, correcting this exception, he saith that some of them did teach the Grecians. This contrariety doth cause me to expound it of the Gentiles." Quite right: only the true text delivers from the need of wresting the force of a word, and is as simply as possible Greeks, not Grecians, and means Gentiles without the smallest difficulty or discussion.
But it is still more strange as evidence of the slipshod criticism of the Reformers that Beza, who was more of a scholar than his predecessors, uniformly edits Ἑλληνιστὰς , and writes a blundering note to the effect that it is here used in the sense of Ἑλληνάς . And yet he had in his possession that famous Graeco-Latin Uncial (D) which he presented to the University of Cambridge in 1581, which MS. supports the Alexandrian.
How blessed it is to see the free activity of the Holy Ghost without any kind of communication of man! It is always thus in the ways of God. It is not only that God uses one and another: this He does and we may bless Him that so He does; but the God who employs means is also above them, and He needs now only to draw out by circumstances the souls of some simple Christian men who had faith and love to seek the Gentiles without requiring the same vigorous and extraordinary means, under His mighty hand, as even the apostle did. Great workman as Peter was, he required the intervention of God in a vision to send him to do a work that these unnamed brethren undertook in their confidence of His grace, without any vision or sign whatsoever. It seems to have been the working of divine grace in their souls, and nothing else. At first they were more timid; they spoke only to Jews. By and by the power of the gospel and the action of the Holy Ghost fill their souls with desires as to the need of others. The Gentiles were sinners: why should they not dare to speak to the Gentiles? "And the hand of the Lord was with them," as we are told, "and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord." But what a rebuke is this to those that would make the church to be merely a creature of government, or in any wise to be of man's will, which is still worse, How blessed to see that it is a real organic whole, not only a living thing, but that He who is the spring of its life is the Holy Ghost Himself a divine person, who cannot but answer to the grace of the Lord Jesus whom He is come down to glorify.
Next we find Barnabas stirred up to another and a characteristic enterprise. He had before this delivered Saul from the effects of undue anxiety and distrust in the minds of the disciples. He would have Saul to return good for what I may venture to call a measure of evil towards him. As there was need in the church at Antioch, he goes and finds him. He had a conviction that this was the instrument the Lord would use for good. Thus we see that, while we have the angel of the Lord in certain cases, the Spirit of the Lord expressly in others, we have also simply the holy judgment of the gracious heart. This is all quite right. It is not to be treated as mere human arrangement. It was not only right, but recorded of God that we might see and profit by it. Barnabas was quite justified in seeking Saul. "And it came to pass that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." The place once so famous for its nicknames was now to give a name that will never perish a name of incalculable sweetness and blessing, connecting Christ as it does with those that are His. It was, no doubt, a Gentile title. There would be no particular force in giving it to Jews, for all Jews professed to be looking for Christ. What a wonderful change for these poor Gentiles to know Christ for themselves, and to be called after Christ! All was ordered of God.
Then we find that if the church at Jerusalem had become impoverished, the Gentiles minister of their carnal things to them. Saul (as he is still called) and Barnabas are made the channels of bringing the contributions to the elders not named before. How these elders were appointed, if indeed they were so formally, does not appear. Among the Gentiles we know that they were installed, as we shall see a little later, by apostolic choice. Whether this was the ease among the Jews scripture does not say; but that there were persons who had this responsible place among them, as among the Gentile churches afterwards, we see clearly.
Finally, and in few words (for I do not intend to say more on Acts 12:1-25 tonight), we have the completing of this second part of our narrative in this chapter. We are given a striking prefiguration of the evil king that will be found in the latter day; he that will reign over the Jews under the shadow and support of the Gentiles as Herod was, and not less but more than his prototype bent on the murder of the innocents, and with his heart full of evil for others who will be rescued by the goodness of the Lord.
James sheds his blood, as Stephen had before; for this Peter was destined by man, but the Lord disappointed him. The disciples gave themselves to prayer, yet they little believed their own prayers. Nevertheless we learn hence that they had prayer-meetings in those days; and so they gave themselves up to this special prayer for the servant of the Lord, who did not fail to appear by an agent of His providential power. All this confirms its having a Jewish aspect, regarded as a type, and was very natural in James and Peter, who had to do specially with the circumcision.
It is needless now to dwell on the scene, more than just to point out that which is familiar, no doubt, to many that are here the manner in which the Lord judged the apostate; for Herod owned shortly after by the people whom he had sought to please, disappointed in one place, but exalted in another was hailed as a god; and at that moment the angel of the Lord deals with his pride, and he is devoured of worms a sad image of the awful judgment of God that will fall upon one who will sit "in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God."
In the portion which follows we shall see the manner of the Spirit of God's working by the great apostle of the Gentiles.
It may be interesting to many readers to read as follows from Mr. Edward A. Litton's work on "The Church of Christ in its Idea, Attributes, and Ministry; with a particular reference to the Controversy between Romanists and Protestants." There are, of course, imperfect expressions, inasmuch as the truth itself is but partially apprehended; but one is glad to see views so decidedly in advance of ordinary evangelicalism, with equal decision against more churchism.
"In the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, the Christian dispensation is seen in actual operation; for that with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that dispensation properly commences will probably be admitted by all parties. Moreover, in these chapters the Church of Christ is first spoken of as in actual existence. What in our Lord's discourses is a matter of anticipation or prophecy, here appears as a matter of fact. Though not at first fully aware of the great change which had taken place in their religious standing, still less of its ultimate consequences, the first believers at once formed a separate community in the bosom of the Jewish theocracy; a community having, for its distinctive marks, adherence to the twelve Apostles, baptism in the name of Christ, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper.* Thenceforth the Church becomes a matter of history; and its history is nothing less than that of the vicissitudes, prosperous and adverse, which the kingdom of God upon earth has in the lapse of ages passed through.
*Is it not distressing to find, in this thoughtful production of one in much above the traditions of men and the bias of party, the palpable omission of the grandest and most momentous distinction of the church, namely, the presence of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven? Unbelief here is alas! characteristic of Christendom.
"It has already been remarked that, far from intending to establish a mere invisible fellowship of the Spirit, our Lord contemplated His Church as having a visible existence, His followers as collected into societies [that society called the Church or assembly of God]. With this view He Himself instituted certain external badges of Christian profession, to come into use when they should be needed, and took measures to qualify a small and select company of believers, by attaching them constantly to His person while His earthly ministry lasted, and giving them a formal commission with extraordinary powers, when He left the world, to preside over the affairs and direct the organisation of Christian societies. These essential conditions of the existence of any regular society we find from the very first in being in the Church: the Apostles were the officers, and, collectively, the organ of the community; members were admitted into it by baptism; and they testified their continuance therein by participating in the sacrament of Christ's body and blood. As we advance farther in the inspired history, we find additions made to these simple elements of social fellowship; the organisation of the Christian society becomes more complex and systematic; questions of polity and order occupy no small portion of the apostolic epistles; and we have every reason to believe, if not from Scripture alone, yet from the unanimous voice of authentic history, that towards the close of the apostolic age Christianity had almost everywhere crystallised itself into a certain, definite, and well known form of ecclesiastical polity" (pp. 192, 193).
"St. Paul, in chap 14 of the first epistle to the Corinthians, presents us with a graphic picture of the mode in which Christians in the first age of the Church celebrated public worship. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper constituted the visible symbol of their profession, and the pledge of their union with Christ and with each other; but the governing function in the assembly was the ministry of the Word, whether it assumed the extraordinary forms of 'tongues' or a 'revelation,' or 'prophecy,' or 'the interpretation of tongues,' or consisted of the stated instruction of regular pastors and teachers. Among the various spiritual gifts then common in the Church, the chief place was to be assigned to prophecy; 'for he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.' Of any typical or sacrificial element, St. Paul makes no mention: the whole service, with the exception of the Lord's Supper, was manifestly homiletic or verbal. That the gifts mentioned in the chapter were, for the most part, extraordinary, and in process of time were to cease, makes no difference as regards the argument; for it is the essential character of Christian worship, not the particular vehicle of its expression, that is the point now under consideration" (pp. 256, 257),
"The Church of Christ was not properly in existence before the day of Pentecost; much less did she, before that era, go forth on her mission to evangelize* the world. A body of believers indeed had been by Christ gathered out of the Jewish people to be the first recipients of the Pentecostal effusion; but before that event, this body could not be called distinctively His Church. It is, then, nothing but the fact, that the invisible Church, or rather that which in the Church is invisible, preceded that which is visible. The spiritual power which wrought so wonderful a change in the Apostles must first descend from heaven, and give to the Church its inner form as its spiritual characteristic! afterwards the Apostles preach and organize. First, there are saints, or men in whom Christ is formed by an invisible operation of His Spirit, whose origin, however, is not unknown; then these saints proceed to execute their appointed mission" (p. 272).
* It is well to avoid a figure which churchism has ever turned to its own aggrandisement and the Lord's dishonour. The Church neither preaches nor teaches, but Christ sends those who evangelize the world and teach the Church.
"Were the question put to a person of plain understanding, unacquainted with the controversies which have arisen on the subject, What, according to the Apostolic Epistles, is a Christian Church, or, how is it to be defined? he would probably, without hesitation or difficulty, reply, that a Christian Church as it appears, for example, in St. Paul's epistles is a congregation or society of faithful men or believers, whose unseen faith in Christ is visibly manifested by their profession of certain fundamental doctrines, by the administration and reception of the two sacraments, and by the exercise of discipline. He would direct attention to the fact, that the ordinary greeting of St. Paul, at the beginning of each epistle, is to the 'saints and faithful brethren' constituting the Church of such a place, fellow-heirs with himself of eternal life; and that throughout these compositions, the members of the Church are presumed to be in living union with Christ, reasonings and exhortations being addressed to them, the force of which cannot be supposed to be admitted, except by those who are led by the Spirit of God; in short, that the members of the Corinthian or the Ephesian Church are addressed as Christians; and a Christian is one who is in saving union with Christ."
"In proportion to the apparent simplicity of the question, would be his surprise to hear it affirmed that he is mistaken, and that, in addressing a Christian society as a congregation of Christians, St. Paul merely regards it as a society of men professing the same faith, and participating outwardly in the same sacraments (it being immaterial to the idea whether they possess saving faith or not); a society invested with spiritual privileges, but not necessarily realizing those privileges, and that, consequently, we must lower the import of the terms, 'saints' and 'faithful in Christ Jesus,' to signify outwardly dedicated to God, and professing with the lips the doctrines of Christianity . . . . . That the mode of interpretation alluded to involves a deviation from the obvious meaning of the New Testament phraseology is not, indeed, sufficient reason for at once rejecting it; but it does warrant us in requiring that the necessity for such deviation shall be clearly made out. And in the present case this requirement is the more reasonable from the circumstance that the Apostles uniformly identify themselves, as regards their Christian standing and hopes, with those to whom they write. 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ;' 'that I may be comforted by the mutual faith both of you and me;' did St. Paul, when he thus wrote, regard himself as but nominally interested in the blessings of redemption? Was his faith nothing more than a profession of Christian doctrine? If he must have meant something more than this; if his own faith and his own sanctity were living and real, the effect of the Holy Spirit's operation; then, inasmuch as he makes no distinction as regards this point between himself and those whom he addresses, we must suppose that he looked upon them also as real saints and believers. The language of the inspired writers of the New Testament is the expression of that Christian experience, or conscious participation in the blessings vouchsafed through Christ, which the Holy Ghost had shed abroad in their hearts: their idea therefore of a saint, or a believer, being derived from their own spiritual consciousness, must have been the highest of which the words will admit. But in the sense in which they supposed themselves to be Christians, do they, to all appearance, apply that title to those to whom they write" (pp. 280-283).
To the argument drawn from the use of similar terms under the Mosaic covenant in a merely national and external sense to prove that they mean the same, and nothing more, under the gospel., our author answers, "Here, in fact, is the real source of the error. While the typical character of the Mosaic institution in general is recognised, it has not been sufficiently borne in mind that the Jewish nation itself in its external or political aspect, was a type, and nothing more, of the Christian Israel . . . . . . We have only to extend this undoubted principle of interpretation to the Jewish people itself in its national that is, its legal-character, to perceive that the terms by which, in the Old Testament, its privileges are expressed, assume, when applied to Christians, a different meaning, or rather betoken the spiritual realities of which the former were but the types" (pp. 286, 287).
"To all this, however, it will be replied, that the nature of a visible church, which we know must in all cases be a body of mixed character, as well as the actual state of several of the churches to whom St. Paul addressed his epistles, forbid the supposition that, in terming them communities of saints and believers, he could have used these words in their highest signification. This is the second difficulty which it is conceived lies in the way of our interpreting the apostle's language literally. But a moment's reflection will show that the difficulty is only imaginary. We must recollect that in the Apostolic Church an effective discipline the very idea of which seems to be lost amongst us existed. By means of this discipline, they having been separated from the society whose overt acts were contrary to their Christian profession, the apostle, not being endowed with the divine prerogative of inspecting the heart, was compelled to take the rest at their profession, and to deal with them as real Christians so long as there was no visible, tangible proof to the contrary . . . . . Without pronouncing upon the state of individuals in the sight of God, he assumed the whole body to be what they professed to be a body of real Christians. For it must be remembered that, however far his profession may be from being a true one, every professor of Christianity professes to be a true, not a mere nominal, Christian. Except on this assumption the apostle could not have proceeded to enforce Christian duties by Christian motives" (pp. 298, 299).
"Nor is there any weight in the objection that many of these primitive Churches were very defective in doctrine or in, practice, or in both; that St. Paul speaks of the Corinthians as being, on account of their divisions, 'carnal,' and not 'spiritual,' as 'babes in Christ,' and sharply reproves them for their laxity of discipline in the case of the incestuous person, and their want of discipline in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. For it is not maintained that the first Christians, any more than those of our own day, were or could be perfect; and all that can be fairly gathered from what St. Paul says of the Corinthians is, that they were imperfect and inconsistent. In the remarks sometimes made upon this subject it seems to be assumed that there is no medium between our affirming of persons that they are not perfect Christians, and that they are not Christians at all; whereas in fact there is no Christian, however holy, who comes up to the ideal of Christian practice. . . . To return to the case of the Corinthians: on what principle, let us ask, did St. Paul reprove them for their inconsistencies? Did he address them as absolutely destitute of the vital principle of grace, or as possessing it, but needing exhortation to walk conformably thereto? The latter is, unquestionably, the ground which he takes" (pp. 302, 303).
"Christianity, as it appears in the New Testament, knows nothing of the atomistic theory of modern independentism. There can be little doubt that, even in the apostolic age, the church of each considerable city such as Rome or Ephesus consisted, not of one congregation, but of several, who were collectively styled the church of that place; certain it is that such was the case towards the close of the first century. It could not be otherwise. The expansive power of Christianity called it to break forth on all sides; and speedily the original congregation, or in modern language the mother church, of each city gave birth to other societies of Christians in the surrounding neighbourhood. . . . No notion is more at variance with the spirit of apostolic Christianity than that of societies of Christians existing in the same neighbourhood, but not in communion with each other, and not under 'common government'" (pp. 449, 450).
It is a perilous mode of reasoning and likely to lead to universal scepticism, to maintain, for the sake of theoretical consistency, that the visible fruits of the Spirit do not possess a sufficiently distinctive character to enable us to pronounce where they are and where they are not: not to mention that the sin of denying the evident operation of the Holy Spirit is spoken of by our Lord in terms far too awful not to make us tremble at the thought of verging towards it. The fruits of the Spirit, whether they be produced within our own inclosure or beyond it, are always the same, and always to be recognized; otherwise our Lord would never have given us the simple test whereby we are to distinguish false from true prophets 'by their fruits ye shall know them.' If men profess themselves not to be able to do so, they simply profess that they have neither consciences nor moral sense." [Alas! the power of the Spirit to this end is lost sight of.] . . .
"One visible manifestation, then, of the sanctity of the Church is the holy walk and conversation of individual Christians; but there is another, and more formal, mode in which she professes herself to be holy, and that is, by the exercise of discipline. The personal holiness of the Christian is a property of the individual, not of the society as such; hence a professing Christian society, however large a proportion of holy men it may contain, does not predicate of itself that it is a part of Christ's holy Church as long as it exercises no formal official act implying that assumption. The exercise of discipline is the true and legitimate expression of the sanctity of a visible Church considered as a society. Hence the great importance of discipline. It is not merely that the absence of it operates injuriously upon the tone and standard of piety within the Church; it affects the claims of the society as such to be a legitimate member of the visible Church Catholic. A Christian society which should openly profess to dispense with discipline, and tolerate on principle open and notorious evil doers [or still worse heretics, Antichrists, or their abettors] within its pale, would thereby renounce its title to one of the essential attributes of the Church; it would sever all ostensible connection between itself and the true Church [or rather Christ and His sacrifice: see1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 ], of which sanctity is an inseparable property; in short, it would unchurch itself. For every particular church is so, called on the supposition of its being a manifestation, more or less true, of the one holy Church the body of Christ. . . . How essential to the idea of a Church the exercise of discipline is, may be seen from the embarrassing contrarieties between theory and practice which the virtual suspension of it in the Church of England is constantly occasioning" (pp. 515-517).
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Acts 10:34". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/acts-10.html. 1860-1890.
the Sixth Week after Easter