Acts 10
Expositor's Bible Commentary
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
Chapter 6


Acts 10:9-15THERE are two central figures in the conversion of Cornelius. The one is the centurion himself, the other is St. Peter, the selected and predestined agent in that great work. We have studied Cornelius in the last chapter, and have seen the typical character of all his circumstances. His time, his residence, his training. had all been providential, indicating to us the careful superintendence, the watchful oversight, which God bestows upon the history of individuals as well as of the Church at large. Let us now turn to the other figure, St. Peter, and see if the Lord’s providence may not be traced with equal clearness in the circumstances of his case also. We have found Cornelius at Caesarea, the great Roman port and garrison of Palestine, a very fitting and natural place for a Roman centurion to be located. We find Peter at this very same time at Joppa, a spot that was consecrated by many a memory and specially associated with a mission to the Gentiles in the times of the Elder Dispensation. Here we trace the hand of the Lord providentially ruling the footsteps of Peter though he knew it not, and leading him, as Philip was led a short time before, to the spot where his intended work lay. The sickness and death of Tabitha or Dorcas led St. Peter to Joppa. The fame of his miracle upon that devout woman led to the conversion of many souls, and this naturally induced Peter to make a longer stay in Joppa at the house of Simon the tanner. How natural and unpremeditated, how very ordinary and unplanned to the natural eye seem the movements of St. Peter! So they would have seemed to us had we been living at Joppa, and yet now we can see with the light which the sacred narrative throws upon the story that the Lord was guiding St. Peter to the place where his work was cut out when the appointed time should come. Surely the history of Peter and his actions has abundant comfort and sustaining hope for ourselves! Our lives may be very ordinary and commonplace; the events may succeed one another in the most matter-of-fact style; there may seem in them nothing at all worthy the attention of a Divine Ruler; and yet those ordinary lives are just as much planned and guided by supernatural wisdom as the careers of men concerning whom all the world is talking. Only let us take care to follow St. Peter’s example. He yielded himself completely to the Divine guidance, trusted himself entirely to Divine love and wisdom, and then found in such trust not only life and safety but what is far better, perfect peace and sweetest calm.

There is something very restful in the picture drawn for us of St. Peter at this crisis. There is none of that feverish hurry and restlessness which make some good men and their methods very trying to others. The notices of him have all an air of repose and Christian dignity. "As Peter went throughout all parts, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda"; "Peter put them all forth and prayed"; "Peter abode many days in Joppa"; "Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour." St. Peter, indeed, did not live in an age of telegrams and postcards and express trains, which all contribute more or less to that feverish activity and restlessness so characteristic of this age. But even if he had lived in such a time, I am sure his faith in God would have saved him from that fussiness, that life of perpetual hurry, yet never bringing forth any abiding fruit, which we behold in so many moderns.

This results a good deal, I believe, from the development-I was almost going to say the tyranny, the unwitting tyranny-of modern journalism, which compels men to live so much in public and reports their every utterance. There are men never tired of running from one committee to another, and never weary of seeing their names in the morning papers. They count that they have been busily and usefully employed if their names are perpetually appearing in newspaper reports as speaking, or at any rate being present, at innumerable meetings, leaving themselves no time for that quiet meditation whereby St. Peter gained closest communion with heaven. It is no wonder such men’s fussiness should be fruitless, because their natures are poor, shallow, uncultivated, where the seed springs up rapidly, but brings forth no fruit to perfection, because it has no deepness of earth. It is no wonder that St. Peter should have spoken with power at Caesarea and been successful in opening the door of faith to the Gentiles, because he prepared himself for doing the Divine work by the discipline of meditation and thought and spiritual converse with his Risen Lord. And here we may remark, before we pass from this point, that the conversion of the first Gentile and the full and complete exercise of the power of the keys committed to St. Peter run on lines very parallel to those pertaining to the Day of Pentecost and the conversion of the earliest Jews in one respect at least. The Day of Pentecost was preceded by a period of ten days’ waiting and spiritual repose. The conversion of Cornelius and the revelation of God’s purposes to St. Peter were preceded by a season of meditation and prayer, when an apostle could find time amid all his pressing cares to seek the housetop for midday prayer and to abide many days in the house of one Simon a tanner. A period of pause, repose, and quietness preceded a new onward movement of development and of action.

I. Now, as in the case of Cornelius, so in the case of St. Peter, we note the place where the chief actor in the scene abode. It was at Joppa, and Joppa was associated with many memories for the Jews. It has been from ancient times the port of Jerusalem, and is even now rising into somewhat of its former commercial greatness, specially owing to the late development of the orange trade, for the production of which fruit Jaffa or Joppa has become famous. Three thousand years ago Joppa was a favourite resort of the Phoenician fleets, which brought the cedars of Lebanon to King Solomon for the building of the temple. {2 Chronicles 2:16} At a later period, when God would send Jonah on a mission to Gentile Nineveh, and when Jonah desired to thwart God’s merciful designs towards the outer world, the prophet fled to Joppa and there took ship in his vain effort to escape from the presence of the Lord. And now again Joppa becomes the refuge of another prophet, who feels the same natural hesitation about admitting the Gentiles to God’s mercy, but who, unlike Jonah, yields immediate assent to the heavenly message, and finds peace and blessing in the paths of loving obedience. The very house where St. Peter abode is still pointed out. It is situated in the southwestern part of the town, and commands a view over the bay of Joppa and the waters of that Mediterranean Sea which was soon to be the channel of communication whereby the gospel message should be borne to the nations of the distant West. We remark, too, that it was with Simon the tanner of Joppa that St. Peter was staying. When a great change is impending various little circumstances occur, all showing the tendencies of the age. By themselves and taken one by one they do not express much. At the time when they happen men do not regard them or understand their meaning, but afterwards, and reading them in the light of accomplished facts, men behold their significance. Thus it was with Simon Peter and his visit to Simon the tanner of Joppa. Tanners as a class were despised and comparatively outcast among the Jews. Tanning was counted an unclean trade, because of the necessary contact with dead bodies which it involved. A tan-yard must, according to Jewish law, be separated by fifty yards at least from human dwellings. If a man married a woman without informing her of his trade as a tanner, she was granted a divorce. The whole trade of tanners was under a ban, and yet it was to a tanner’s house that the Apostle made his way, and there he lodged for many days, showing that the mind even of St. Peter was steadily rising above narrow Jewish prejudices into that higher and nobler atmosphere where he learned in fullest degree that no man and no lawful trade are to be counted common or unclean.

II. We note, again, the time when the vision was granted to St. Peter and the mind of the Lord was more fully disclosed to him. Joppa is separated from Caesarea by a distance of thirty miles. The leading coast towns were then connected by an excellent road, along which horses and vehicles passed with ease. The centurion Cornelius, when he received the angelic direction, forthwith despatched two of his household servants and a devout soldier to summon St. Peter to his presence. They doubtless travelled on horseback, leading spare beasts for the accommodation of the Apostle. Less than twenty-four hours after their departure from Caesarea they drew nigh to Joppa, and then it was that God revealed His purposes to His beloved servant. The very hour can be fixed. Cornelius saw the angel at the ninth hour, when, as he himself tells us, "he was keeping the hour of prayer". {Acts 10:30} Peter saw the vision at the sixth hour, when he went up on the housetop to pray, according to the example of the Psalmist when he sang, "In the evening and morning and at noon-day will I pray, and that instantly." St. Peter evidently was a careful observer of all the forms amid which his youthful training had been conducted. He did not seek in the name of spiritual religion to discard these old forms. He recognised the danger of any such course. Forms may often tend to formalism on account of the weakness of human nature. But they. also help to preserve and guard the spirit of ancient institutions in times of sloth and decay, till the Spirit from on high again breathes upon the dry bones and imparts fresh life. St. Peter used the forms of Jewish externalism, imparting to them some of his own intense earnestness, and the Lord set His seal of approval upon his action by revealing the purposes of His mercy and love to the Gentile world at the noontide hour of prayer. The wisest masters of the spiritual life have ever followed St. Peter’s teaching. We may take, for instance, Dr. Goulburn in his valuable treatise on Personal Religion. In the sixth chapter of the fourth part of that work he has some wise thoughts on living by rule in the Christian life, where he points out the use of rules and their abuse, strongly urging upon those who desire to grow in grace the formation of rules by which the practices Of religion and the soul’s inner life may be directed and shielded. There is, for instance, no law of Christ which ties men down to morning and evening prayer. Yet does not our own daily experience teach that, if this unwritten rule of the Christian life be relaxed under the pretence of higher spirituality, and men pray only when they feel specially inclined to communion with the unseen, the whole practice of private as well as of public prayer ceases, and the soul lives in an atheistic atmosphere without any recognition or thought of God. This danger has been recognised from the earliest times. Tertullian was a man of narrow views, but of the most intense piety. He was a devout student of the New Testament, and a careful observer of the example of our Lord and His Apostles. The early Christians adopted from the Jews the custom of prayer at the various hours of the day, and turned it into a practical rule of Christian discipline, acknowledging at the same time that there was no scriptural obligation in the rule, but that it was a mere wise device for the development of the spiritual life. This was the origin of what are technically called the Canonical Hours, Matins with Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, Nones, Evensong, and Compline, which can be traced back in germ to the age next after the Apostles, and were originally grounded upon the example of the Apostles themselves, and specially upon that of St. Peter’s practice at Joppa. Let us hear Tertullian on this matter. He wrote a treatise on prayer, in which he presses upon the men of his time the duty of earnestness and intensity in that holy exercise, and when doing so touches upon this very point: "As respecting the time of prayer the observance of certain hours will not be un-profitable-those common hours, I mean, which mark the intervals of the day-the third, sixth, ninth-which we find in Scripture to have been made more solemn than the rest. The first infusion of the Holy Spirit into the congregated disciples took place at the third hour. Peter saw his vision on the housetop at the sixth hour. Peter and John went into the Temple at the ninth hour when they restored the paralytic to his health." Tertullian then adds the following wise observations, showing that he quite grasped the essential distinction between the slavery of the law and the freedom of the gospel in the matter of external observances: "Albeit these practices stand simply without any Divine precept for their observance; still it may be granted a good thing to establish some definite rule which may both add stringency to the admonition to pray and may, as it were by a law, tear us out of our ordinary business unto such a duty. So that we pray not less than thrice in the day, debtors as we are to three-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-besides of course our regular prayers on the entrance of light and of night." The ecclesiastical practice of the Hours may be turned into a mere formal repetition of certain prescribed tasks; but, like all other ordinances which trace themselves back to primitive Christianity, the Hours are based on a true conception and a noble ideal of the prevailing and abounding place which prayer should occupy in the soul’s life, according to the Saviour’s own teaching when He spake a parable to His disciples to this end that men ought always to pray and not to faint.

III. We now arrive at the vision which Peter saw upon the housetop. The Apostle, having ascended upon the housetop commanding a view over the blue waters of the Mediterranean lying shimmering and sweltering beneath the rays of the noonday sun, became hungry, as was natural enough, because the usual time of the midday meal was drawing nigh. But there was a deeper reason for the Apostle’s felt need of refreshment, and a more immediate providence was watching over his natural powers and their action than ever before had been revealed. The natural hunger was divinely inspired in order that just at that instant when the representatives and delegates of the Gentile world were drawing nigh to his abode he might be prepared-to accord to them a fitting reception. To the mere man of sense or to the mere carnal mind the hunger of St. Peter may seem a simple natural operation, but to the devout believer in Christianity who views it as the great and perfect revelation of God to man, who knows that His covenants are in all things well-ordered and sure, and that in His works in grace as well as in His works in nature the Lord leaves nothing to mere chance, but perfectly orders them all down to the minutest detail, to such a one this human hunger of St. Peter’s appears as divinely planned in order that a spiritual satisfaction and completeness may be imparted to his soul unconsciously craving after a fuller knowledge of the Divine will. St. Peter’s hunger is, in fact, but a manifestation in the human sphere of that superhuman foresight which was directing the whole transaction from behind this visible scene; teaching us, in fact, the lesson so often repeated in Holy Scripture that nothing, not even our feelings, our infirmities, our passions, our appetites, are too minute for the Divine love and care, and encouraging us thereby to act more freely upon the apostolic injunction, "In everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God." If St. Peter’s hunger were taken up and incorporated with the Divine plan of salvation, we may be sure that our own wants and trials do not escape the omniscient eye of Him who plans-all our lives, appointing the end from the very beginning. St. Peter was hungry, and as food was preparing he fell into a trance and then the vision, answering in its form to the hunger which he felt, was granted. Vain questions may here be raised, as we noted before in the case of St. Paul, concerning the trance of the Apostle and the communications he held with the unseen world. They are vain questions for us to raise or to attempt to answer, because they belong to an unexplored land full, as many modern experiments show, of strange mysterious facts peculiar to it. This alone we can say, some communication must have been made to St. Peter which he regarded as a Divine revelation. The conversion and reception by St. Peter of the Gentile centurion are facts, the prejudices of St. Peter against such a reception are also undoubted facts. Hitherto he shared the opinion common to all the Twelve that such a reception was contrary to the Divine law and purposes. He must have received upon the housetop some kind of a heavenly communication which he regarded as equivalent in authority to that ancient rule by which he esteemed the promises and mercy of God limited to the seed of Abraham. But as for any endeavour to understand or explain the mode of God’s action on this occasion, it will be just as vain as attempts to pierce the mysteries of God’s action in creation, the Incarnation, or, to come lower still, in the processes by which life has been communicated to this world and is now sustained and continued thereon. We are in very deed living and moving amid mysteries, and if we refuse to learn or meditate till the mysteries we meet with, the very first step we take, be cleared, we must cease to think and be content to pass life like the beasts that perish. We know not, indeed, the exact manner in which God communicated with St. Peter, or for that matter with any one else to whom He made revelation of His will. We know nothing of the manner in which He spoke to Moses out of the bush, or to Samuel in the night season, or to Isaiah in the Temple. As with these His servants of the Elder Dispensation, so it was with St. Peter on the housetop. We know, however, how St. Luke received his information as to the nature of the vision and all the other facts of the case. St. Luke and St. Peter must have had many an opportunity for conversation in the thrilling, all-important events amid which they had lived. St. Luke too accompanied St. Paul on that journey to Jerusalem described in the twenty-first chapter, and was introduced to the Christian Sanhedrin or Council over which St. James the Just presided. But even if St. Luke had never seen St. Peter, he had abundant opportunities of learning all about the vision. St. Peter proclaimed it to the world from the very time it happened, and was obliged to proclaim it as his defence against the party zealous for the law of Moses. St. Peter referred to what God had just shown him as soon as he came into the centurion’s presence. He described the vision at full length as soon as he came to Jerusalem and met the assembled Church, where its power and meaning were so clearly recognised that the mouths of all St. Peter’s adversaries were at once stopped. And again at the council of Jerusalem, held as described in the fifteenth chapter, St. Peter refers to the circumstances of this whole story as well known to the whole Church in that city. St. Luke then would have no difficulty, writing some twenty years later, in ascertaining the facts of this story, and naturally enough, when writing to a Gentile convert and having in mind the needs and feelings of the Gentiles, he inserted the narrative of the vision as being the foundation-stone on which the growing and enlarging edifice of Gentile Christianity had been originally established. The vision too was admirably suited to serve its purpose. It based itself, as I have said, on Peter’s natural feelings and circumstances, just as spiritual things ever base themselves upon and respond to the natural shadows of this lower life, just as the Holy Communion, for instance, bases itself upon the natural craving for food and drink, but rises and soars far away, above and beyond the material sphere to the true food of the soul, the Divine banquet wherewith God’s secret and loved ones are eternally fed. Peter was hungry, and a sheet was seen let down from heaven, containing all kinds of animals, clean and unclean, together with creeping things and fowls of heaven. He was commanded to rise and slay and appease his hunger. He states the objection, quite natural in the mouth of a conscientious Jew, that nothing common or unclean had ever been eaten by him. Then the heavenly voice uttered words which struck for him the death-knell of the old haughty Jewish exclusiveness, inaugurating the grand spirit of Christian liberalism and of human equality-"What God hath cleansed, make thou not common." The vision was thrice repeated to make the matter sure, and then the heavens were shut up again, and Peter was left to interpret the Divine teaching for himself. Peter, in the light of the circumstances which a few moments later took place, easily read the interpretation of the vision. The distinction between animals and foods was for the Jew but an emblem and type, a mere object lesson of the distinction between the Jews and other nations. The Gentiles ate every kind of animal and creeping thing; the favourite food of the Roman soldiers with whom the Palestinian Jews came most in contact being pork. The differences which the Divine law compelled the Jew to make in the matter of food were simply the type of the difference and separation which God’s love and grace had made between His covenant people and those outside that covenant. And just then, to clinch the matter and interpret the vision by the light of divinely ordered facts, the Spirit announced to the Apostle, as "he was much perplexed in himself what the vision might mean," that three men were seeking him, and that he was to go with them doubting nothing, "for I have sent them." The hour had at last come for the manifestation of God’s everlasting purposes, when the sacred society should assume its universal privileges and stand forth resplendent in its true character as God’s Holy Catholic Church, -of which the Temple had been a temporary symbol and pledge, -a house of prayer for all nations, the joy of the whole earth, the city of the Great King, until the consummation of all things.

IV. The sacred historian next presents St. Peter at Caesarea. The Apostle rose up obedient to the Divine communication, admitted the men who sought him, lodged them for the night, departed back the next day along the same road which they had followed, and arrived at Caesarea on the fourth day from the original appearance to Cornelius; so that if the angel had been seen by the centurion on Saturday or the Sabbath the vision would have been seen at Joppa on the Lord’s Day, and then on Tuesday St. Peter must have arrived at Caesarea. St. Peter did not travel alone. He doubtless communicated the vision he had seen to the Church at Joppa at the evening hour of devotion, and determined to associate with himself six prominent members of that body in the fulfilment of his novel enterprise, that they might be witnesses of God’s actions and assistants to himself in the work of baptism and of teaching. As soon as the missionary party arrived at the house of Cornelius, they found a large party assembled to meet them, as Cornelius had called together his kinsmen and acquaintances to hear the message from heaven. Cornelius received St. Peter with an expression of such profound reverence, prostrating himself on the earth, that St. Peter reproved him: "But Peter raised him up, saying, Stand up: I myself also am a man." Cornelius, with his mind formed in a pagan mould and permeated with pagan associations and ideas, regarded Peter as a superhuman being, and worthy therefore of the reverence usually rendered to the Roman Emperor as the living embodiment of deity upon earth. He fell down and adored St. Peter, even as St. John adored the angel who revealed to him the mysteries of the unseen world, {Revelation 22:8} till reminded by St. Peter that he was a mere human being like the centurion himself, full of human prejudices and narrow ideas which would have prevented him accepting the invitation of Cornelius if God Himself had not intervened. Cornelius then describes the circumstances of his vision and the angelic directions which he had received, ending by requesting St. Peter to announce the revelation of which he was the guardian. The Apostle then proceeds to deliver an address, of which we have recorded a mere synopsis alone; the original address must have been much longer. St. Peter begins the first sermon delivered to Gentiles by an assertion of the catholic nature of the Church, a truth which he only just now learned: "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": a passage which has been much misunderstood. People have thought that St. Peter proclaims by these words that it was no matter what religion a man professed, provided only he led a moral life and worked righteousness. His doctrine is of quite another type. He had already proclaimed to the Jews the exclusive claims of Christ as the door and gate of eternal life. In the fourth chapter and twelfth verse he had told the Council at Jerusalem that "in none other than Jesus Christ of Nazareth is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men wherein we must be saved." St. Peter had seen and heard nothing since which could have changed his views or made him think conscious faith in Jesus Christ utterly unimportant, as this method of interpretation, to which I refer, would teach. St. Peter’s meaning is quite clear when we consider the circumstances amid which he stood. He had hitherto thought that the privilege of accepting the salvation offered was limited to the Jews. Now he had learned from heaven itself that the offer of God’s grace and mercy was free to all, and that wherever man was responding to the dictates of conscience and yielding assent to the guidance of the inner light with which every man was blessed, there God’s supreme revelation was to be proclaimed and for him the doors of God’s Church were to be opened wide.

St. Peter then proceeds, in his address, to recapitulate the leading facts of the gospel story. He begins with John’s baptism, glances at Christ’s miracles, His crucifixion, resurrection, and mission of the apostles, concluding by announcing His future return to be the Judge of quick and dead. St. Peter must, of course, have entered into greater details than we possess in our narrative; but it is not always noticed that he was addressing people not quite ignorant of the story which he had to tell. St. Peter begins by expressly stating, "The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)-that saying ye yourselves know." Cornelius and his friends were devout and eager students of Jewish religious movements, and they had heard in Caesarea vague reports of the words and doings of the great prophet who had caused such commotion a few years before. But then they were outside the bounds of Israel, whose religious authorities had rejected this prophet. The religion of Israel had illuminated their own pagan darkness, and they therefore looked up to the decision of the high priests and of the Sanhedrin with profound veneration, and dared not to challenge it. They had never previously come in personal contact with any of the new prophet’s followers, and if they bad, these followers would not have communicated to them anything of their message. They simply knew that a wondrous teacher had appeared, but that his teaching was universally repudiated by the men whose views they respected, and therefore they remained content with their old convictions. The information, however, which they had gained formed a solid foundation, upon which St. Peter proceeded to raise the superstructure of Christian doctrine, impressing the points which the Jews denied-the resurrection of Christ and His future return to judge the world.

In this connection St. Peter touches upon a point which has often exercised men’s minds. In speaking of the resurrection of Christ he says, "Him God raised up the third day, and gave Him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but unto witnesses that were chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead." From the time of Celsus, who lived in the second century, people have asked, Why did not the risen Saviour manifest Himself to the chief priests and Pharisees? Why did He show Himself merely to His friends? It is evident that from the very beginning this point was emphasised by the Christians themselves, as St. Peter expressly insists upon it on this occasion. Now several answers have been given to this objection. Bishop Butler in his "Analogy" deals with it. He points out that it is only in accordance with the laws of God’s dealings in ordinary life. God never gives overwhelming evidence. He merely gives sufficient evidence of the truth or wisdom of any course, and till men improve the evidence which He gives He withholds further evidence. Christ gave the Jews sufficient evidences of the truth of His work and mission in the miracles which He wrought and the gracious words which distilled like Divine dew from His lips. They refused the evidence which He gave, and it would not have been in accordance with the principles of Divine action that He should then give them more convincing evidence. Then, again, the learned Butler argues that it would have been useless, so far as we are concerned, to have manifested Christ to the Jewish nation at large, unless He was also revealed and demonstrated to be the risen Saviour to the Romans, and not to them merely, but also to each successive generation of men as they arose. For surely if men can argue that the apostles and the five hundred brethren who saw Christ were deceived, or were the subjects of a temporary illusion, it might be as justly argued that the high priests and the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem were in their turn deceived or the subjects of a hallucination which their longing desire for a Messiah had produced. In modern times, again, Dr. Milligan, in an able and acute work on the Resurrection, has argued that it was impossible, from the nature of the resurrection body and the character of the resurrection state, for Christ to be thus manifested to the Jewish nation. He belonged to a different plane. He lived now on a higher level. He could not now be submitted to a coarse contact with gross, carnal men. He was obliged therefore to depend upon the testimony of His chosen witnesses, fortified and confirmed by the evidence of miracles, of prophecy, and of the Holy Ghost speaking in them and working with them. All these arguments are most true and sound, and yet they fail to come home to many minds. They leave something to be desired. They fail in showing the wisdom of the actual course that was adopted. They leave men thinking in their secret hearts, would it not after all have been the best and most satisfactory course if the risen Lord had been manifested to all the people and not merely to witnesses chosen before of God? I think there is an argument which has not been sufficiently worked out, and which directly meets and answers this objection. The risen Saviour was not manifested to all the people because such a course would have wrecked the great cause which He had at heart, and defeated the great end of His Incarnation, which was to establish a Church on the earth where righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Ghost would find place and abound. Let us take it in this way. Let us inquire what would have been the immediate consequence had Christ been revealed to all the people gathered in their millions for the celebration of the Passover. They would either have rejected Him afresh or they would have accepted Him. If they rejected Him, they would be only intensifying their responsibility and their guilt. If they accepted Him as their long-expected Messiah, then would have come the catastrophe. In their state of strained expectation and national excitement they would have swept away every barrier, they would have rushed to arms and burst into open rebellion against the Romans, initiating a war which would have only ended with the annihilation of the Jewish race or with the destruction of the Roman Empire. The immediate result of the manifestation of the risen Saviour to the chief priests and the people would have been a destruction of human life of such a widespread and awful character as the world had never seen. This we know from history would have been infallibly the case. Again and again during the first and second centuries the Jews burst forth into similar rebellions, urged on by some fanatic who pretended to be the long-expected deliverer, and tens of thousands, aye, even hundreds of thousands of human lives, Jewish and Gentile, were repeatedly sacrificed on the altar of this vain carnal expectation.

We are expressly informed too that our Lord had experience in His own person of this very danger. St. John tells us that Christ Himself had on one occasion to escape from the Jews when they were designing to take Him by force and make Him a King; while again the first chapter of this Book of Acts and the query which the apostles propounded upon the very eve of the Ascension show that even they with all the teaching which they had received from our Lord concerning the purely spiritual and interior nature of His kingdom still shared in the national delusions, and were cherishing dreams of a carnal empire and of human triumphs. We conclude, then, on purely historical grounds, and judging from the experience of the past, that the course which God actually adopted was profoundly wise and eminently calculated to avoid the social dangers which surrounded the path of the Divine developments. I think that if we strive to realise the results which would have followed the manifestation of Christ in the manner which objectors suggest, we shall see that the whole spiritual object, the great end of Christ’s Incarnation, would have been thus defeated. That great end was to establish a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and humility; and that was the purpose attained by the mode of action which was in fact adopted. From the Day of Pentecost onward the Church grew and flourished, developing and putting in practice, however imperfectly, the laws of the Sermon on the Mount. But if Christ had revealed Himself to the unconverted Jews of Jerusalem after the Resurrection, it would not have had the slightest effect towards making them Christians after the model which He desired. Nay, rather, such an appearance would merely have intensified their narrow Judaism and confirmed them in those sectarian prejudices, that rigid exclusiveness from which Christ had come to deliver His people. The spiritual effects of such an appearance would have been absolutely nothing. The temporal effects of it would have been awfully disastrous, unless indeed God had consented to work the most prodigious and astounding miracles, such as smiting the Roman armies with destruction and interfering imperiously with the course of human society.

Then, again, it is worthy of notice that such a method of dealing with the Jews would have been contrary to Christ’s methods and laws of action as displayed during His earthly ministry. He never worked miracles for the mere purposes of intellectual conviction. When a sign from heaven was demanded from Him for this very purpose He refused it. He ever aimed at spiritual conversion. An exhibition of the risen Lord to the Jewish nation might have been followed by a certain amount of intellectual conviction as to His Divine authority and mission. But, apart from the power of the Holy Ghost, which had not been then poured out, this intellectual conviction would have been turned to disastrous purposes, as we have now shown, and have proved utterly useless towards spiritual conversion. The case of the Resurrection is, in fact, in many respects like the case of the Incarnation. We think in our human blindness that we would have managed the manifestations and revelations of God much better, and we secretly find fault with the Divine methods, because Christ did not come much earlier in the world’s history and thousands of years had to elapse before the Divine Messenger appeared. But, then, Scripture assures us that it was in the fulness of time Christ came, and a profounder investigation will satisfy us that history and experience bear out the testimony of Scripture. In the same way human blindness imagines that it would have managed the Resurrection far better, and it has a scheme of its Own whereby Christ should have been manifested at once to the Jews, who would have been at once converted into Christians of the type of the apostles, and then Christ should have advanced to of Rome, casting down the idols in His triumphant march, and changing the Roman Empire into the Kingdom of God. This is something like the scheme which the human mind in secret substitutes for the Divine plan, a scheme which would have involved the most extravagant interruptions of the world’s business, the most extraordinary interpositions on God’s part with the course of human affairs. For one miracle which the Divine method has necessitated, the human plan, which lies at the basis of the objections we are considering, would have necessitated the working of a thousand miracles and these of a most stupendous type. These considerations will help to show what bad judges we are of the Divine methods of action, and will tend towards spiritual and mental humility by impressing upon us the inextricable confusion into which we should inevitably land the world’s affairs had we but the management of them for a very few hours. Verily as we contemplate the Resurrection of Christ and the management of the whole plan of salvation, we gather glimpses of the supernatural wisdom Whereby the whole was ordered, and learn thus to sing with a deeper meaning the ancient strain, "Thy way, O God, is in the sea, and Thy paths in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known. Thou leddest thy people like sheep, by the hand of Moses and Aaron."

The sacred narrative then tells us that "while Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word." The brethren which came from Joppa, strict observers of the law of Moses as they were, beheld the external proofs of God’s presence, and were amazed, "because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost," which is further explained by the Words, "they heard the Gentiles speaking with tongues and magnifying God." The gift of the Holy Ghost takes the same and yet a different shape from that in which it was manifested on the Day of Pentecost. The gift of tongues on the Day of Pentecost was manifested in a variety of languages, because there was a vast variety of tongues and nationalities then present at Jerusalem. But it would seem as if on this occasion the Holy Ghost and His gift of speech displayed themselves in sacred song and holy praise: "They heard them speak with tongues and magnify God." Greek was practically the one tongue of all those who were present. The new converts had been inhabitants for years of Caesarea, which was now one of the most thoroughly Greek towns in Palestine, so that the gift of tongues as displayed on this occasion must have been of somewhat different character from that exercised on the Day of Pentecost, when a vast variety of nations heard the company of the disciples and apostles speaking in their own languages. There is another difference too between the original outpouring of the Holy Ghost and this repetition of the gift. The Holy Ghost on the first occasion was poured out upon the preachers of the word to qualify them to preach to the people. The Holy Ghost on the second occasion was poured out upon the persons to whom the word was preached to sanction and confirm the call of the Gentiles. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are confined to no rank or order. They are displayed as the common property of all Christian people, and indicate the freedom and the plenteousness wherewith God’s blessings shall be dispensed under the new covenant which was taking the place of the old Levitical Law.

And then comes the last touch which the narrative puts to the whole story: "Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptised, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ." What a corrective we here find of those ultra-spiritual views which make shipwreck of faith! We have known intelligent men speak as if the apostles laid no stress upon holy baptism, and valued it not one whit as compared with the interior gift of the Holy Ghost. We have known intelligent members of the Society of Friends who could not see that the apostles taught the necessity for what they call water baptism. For both these classes of objectors these words of St. Peter, this incident in the story of Cornelius, have an important lesson, They prove the absolute necessity in the apostolic estimation of the rite of Holy Baptism as perpetually practised in the Church of God. For surely if ever the washing of water in the name of the Holy Trinity could have been dispensed with, it was in the case of men upon whom God had just poured the supernatural gift of the Holy Ghost; and yet, even in their case, the divinely appointed sacrament of entrance into the sacred society could not be dispensed with. They were baptised with water in the sacred name, and then, cherishing that sweet sense of duty fulfilled and obedience rendered and spiritual peace and joy possessed which God bestows upon His elect people, they entered into that fuller knowledge and richer grace, that feast of spiritual fat things which St. Peter could impart, as he told them, from his own personal knowledge Of the life and teaching of Christ Jesus. It is no wonder that the history of this critical event should terminate with these words: "Then prayed they him to tarry certain days," expressing their keen desire to drink more deeply of the well of life thus lately opened to their fainting souls.

The Expositor's Bible

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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