Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:…
I. A POINT NEWLY PERCEIVED. "Now." That so great an apostle should confess this shows that his Roman chain was not yet made, and that his brother apostles (chap. Acts 11) had no idea of his infallibility. Job in scorn said to some in his time, "You are the only men, you perceive all"; but Moses did not (Numbers 15:34), nor Elijah (2 Kings 4:27). But Caiaphas perceived all (John 11:49); not so Peter here, and Paul (1 Corinthians 13:9). Of a truth we perceive Peter comes not near his successor, who perceives all that is to be perceived at once, and gets Caiaphas' knowledge by sitting in Peter's chair. But it is not only this they differ in. For Peter took Cornelius up (ver. 26); his successor lets Cornelius's lord lie. The Samaritan woman said, "The Messiah when He is come will tell us all." Yet when He came He said even to Peter, "What thou knowest not now" (John 13:7). I speak this for some who are far enough from Rome but think they perceive all God's secret decrees. Luther well said that everyone has by nature a Pope within. Even they that believe it not of Rome are easily brought to believe it of themselves. "Of a truth I perceive" will bear two senses — "I perceive that I did not before," or "I perceive that the contrary whereof I conceived before." Not to perceive is only to be ignorant, but Peter had held quite contrary. Ignorance is but privative, this positive, and so an error — an error in the great mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16), a part whereof was preached to the Gentiles. And this error he held in common with his brethren. This only we are to look to, that with Peter we be not wilful, but ready to repent, when shown our error. Then we may conclude that if we be otherwise minded God will show it unto us (Philippians 3:15).
II. WHAT THAT POINT IS.
1. Privative — that "God is no respecter of persons" — i.e., in Greek and Hebrew "faces" which show themselves first (1 Samuel 16:6). Under the face we understand the facing; under the person everything that personates and makes personable — country, condition, birth, riches, etc. Men respect all this, but it is nothing to God. Was Peter, then, ignorant of this? No, for Moses had said it (Deuteronomy 10:17), and Elihu saw it by the light of nature (Job 34:19). And so Samuel (1 Samuel 16:7) and Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 19:7). The answer is that Peter knew it before, but not as now. We know many things by book and speculation, which, when we come to an experience of it, we say, "Yea, I know it indeed," as if we had never known it before. Experimental knowledge is knowledge in truth. Was this Peter's knowledge? No; for he, as we, have experience of it daily. God deals His gifts of nature — outward: beauty, strength, etc. — inward: wit, memory, judgment — without respect of persons. He bestows them on the child of the mean as soon as of the mighty. So it is in wealth and worldly preferment (Psalm 113:7), and in God's judgments. And no man had better experience of it than Peter, who, a poor fisherman, was accepted to be an apostle (Galatians 2:6). What shall we say then? Though he could not but know this general truth, yet he thought that there were exceptions, not of persons, but of nations, and that of all nations the Jews alone were accepted of God (Amos 3:2; Psalm 147:20). This had run in Peter's head, but he perceives he was wrong, and that by Cornelius' vision compared with his own.
2. Positive. "In every nation," etc. Solomon in effect said as much long before (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
(1) "Feareth" and "worketh" jointly. Not the one without the other — neither fear which works not, nor works which do not come from God's fear in our hearts. Pharisaic personations, Paul's "mask of godliness" (2 Timothy 3:5), Peter's "cloke" (1 Peter 2:16) God cannot accept. God Himself told Samuel (1 Samuel 16:7) that He "looks not as man looks." Man looks upon the outside, God looks within. The inwards were God's part in every sacrifice. He looks first at the heart, and in the heart to the affections; of all affections that of fear; of all fears that of God. How comes God to be feared? We fear evil, but there is no evil in God. Ans.: Not for any evil in Him, but for some evil we may expect from Him, if we fear not to offend Him, by doing that which is evil, which punishment is not evil but just. Paul, knowing the terror of this, persuades men (2 Corinthians 5:11). This fear to suffer evil for sin makes men fear to do the evil of sin or to forsake it (Job 1:1; Jonah 3:5).
(a) First, fear — because it is first; "the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). It was the first passion that was raised in Adam (Genesis 3:10). Then he began to play the wise man and forethink of the folly he had committed. Fear is a bridle to hold us in or turn us from evil (Proverbs 3:7). Another reason is, fear is most general. It goes through all — heathens, as is shown in the case of Nineveh; beasts, as in the ease of Balaam's ass. And this fear, if it have its full work to make us depart from evil, is wisdom complete (Job 28:28; Ecclesiastes 8:12); for of the seven spirits which are the divisions of one and the same Spirit, the last and chief is "the Spirit of the fear of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:2). Regard not them who say that this is no New Testament doctrine, for even there it abideth. There it is the dawning of the day (Malachi 4:2). It is as the court is to the temple, as the needle that first enters and draws after it the thread that sews all together. Not to fear is the next way to fear. The work of fear is to make us cease from sin; ceasing from sin brings with it a good life; a good life carries with it a good conscience; and a good conscience casts out fear. This for the introduction, and ever after, when faith is entered it is a sovereign means to preserve (Philippians 2:12; 1 Peter 1:17; Matthew 10:28). So, then, this fear is not Moses' song only (Revelation 15:3, 4).
(b) But works also. Is God all for within? Accepts He of nothing without? He accepts a good righteous work too if it proceed from His fear in the heart. God would have us begin with "fear," but not end there. For neither fear alone nor faith alone is accepted of Him. If it be true fear such as God will accept, it is not a dull, lazy fear, his fear that "went and digged his talent in the ground." God will have his talent turned above ground, and not have religion invisible within. And observe that it is not "that doeth," but "worketh righteousness," i.e., that makes it a trade. "Learn it," says Isaiah (Isaiah 1:17), as one would learn a handicraft to live by; learn it and make an occupation of it, after Christ's example (ver. 38). This "righteousness" is described in ver. 2.
III. GOD'S ACCEPTATION.
1. He will take them —
(1) Where they be to take; but where they are not He cannot take. Our "alms," alas! are shrunk up pitifully; "prayer" swallowed up with hearing, and feasting substituted for "fasting."(2) But it is said that there is no faith here, without which it is impossible to please God. But would Cornelius have spent his words and chastened his body without some faith? Would he have called upon a God in whom he did not believe? (Romans 10:14). Nay, he must have believed that God is, that He may be sought, and that He will not fail them that seek Him (Psalm 9:10; 2 Corinthians 8:12). The flax did but smoke, but Christ quenched it not, etc. He took him as He found him, and that in order to bring him nearer the ways of His salvation.
(3) But now, lest one error beget another, take this — that he was, and we shall be, accepted, gives us some heart; and that he was but accepted takes away all self-conceit. It is neither our fear nor our works, but God's gracious acceptation. God counts them worthy and so makes them worthy. His taking our works of righteousness well in work is their worth. There was another centurion whom the elders of the Jews dignified highly; but he indignified himself as lowly (Luke 7:4-6). So with Job (Job 1:8; 9:15; 10:15). See Ephesians 1:6. Our work is to get men to do well, but not to ween of their well-doing.
2. To what end accepted. The profession of religion by baptism.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: