And the apostles and brothers that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.…
1. This differs from the previous speeches of the apostle (except the first), in that it is not an appeal to men to become Christians, but an explanation to Christians of a fresh course of action taken in the service of Christ.
2. While Peter tarried at Caesarea the apostles and brethren heard with surprise of this unexpected victory of the gospel. He was well aware of the necessity for a full explanation, and therefore went straight to Jerusalem, and with excellent judgment took the six Jewish Christians from Joppa who had baptized the believing Gentiles, who could corroborate his story.
3. "They that were of the circumcision contended with him," not apparently about the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, or even their baptism, but about his eating with them. They were displeased that an apostle had broken a tradition of strict Judaism.
4. Such a condition of mind we regard with wonder and pity; and yet something very like it is far too common in modern Christendom. Who has not seen Christian faith miserably united with small-minded prejudices? And this also we see, that narrowness of sympathy goes with dulness of perception. These Jews could not see anything more important than the question whether Peter did well or ill in sitting at table with the uncircumcised. So now: the more that men make of external restriction in religion, the more they incapacitate their minds for appreciating what is spiritual and permanent. Note —
I. THE POSITION TAKEN BY EVEN THE LEADING APOSTLE.
1. The name of Peter has been used to cover the claim of supremacy advanced by the Pope. But here we see that the brethren were not afraid to "contend with him"; and he made no attempt to silence the objectors by dint of authority, but patiently explained his action till he won their approval. Is it not plain that there was no such thing as Popedom known to St. Peter? There was not even oligarchic government by the apostles. The Church had leaders and guides; but the wisdom of Christ was imparted to the whole body, not to a few conspicuous members only.
2. It is not well that anyone should reckon himself above question from the brethren. It is quite possible that they may find fault through ignorance; but in such a case Christ's servant must not give way to irritation, but calmly explain what they have misunderstood. Let him tell the unvarnished truth, and leave it to the heavenly Master to vindicate him.
II. THE BEST WAY TO REMOVE MISUNDERSTANDINGS AMONG BRETHREN.
1. Nine-tenths of the fault finding comes of defective information. The objectors here knew but very partially what Peter's conduct had been, and none of the reasons. They heard that he had been living among Gentiles, but nothing of the visions or of the spiritual results. They certainly laid themselves open to a sharp reproof. But the apostle did not even make complaint. He wished to conciliate their better judgment, and preserve peace in the Church.
2. This, too, conveys, a most valuable lesson to those who find their course of action called into question. It will be often found that fault finders proceed on most inaccurate information; and, by doing so, they lay themselves open to retort. But the object of Christ's servant should be not to triumph over an unreasonable brother, but to gain victories for the truth and maintain peace and charity.
III. THE MOST EFFECTIVE ANSWER TO STICKLERS ON POINTS OF ORDER.
1. St. Peter did not enter into an argument upon the permanence of those restrictions which had separated the Jews from the Gentiles. He was himself scarcely prepared for such an argument, though a new light had been cast into his mind by the vision. No such light, however, had fallen on those at Jerusalem; and it would have been worse than useless to argue. Peter took them on ground which no Christian could call in question. As the Word of life was being preached to the Gentiles the Holy Ghost fell on them, just as on the Jews at Pentecost. Did not that one momentous fact settle all questions, overcome all misgivings?
2. This way of handling a difficulty makes short work with many Church controversies about holy orders, correct ritual, and the like. In ways that we consider exceptional, and through the labours of persons whose ordination has but an uncertain validity, thousands have been converted from sin to righteousness. This seems to us to be matter of fact which only a desperate bigotry can ignore? Surely when we see that sinners are turned from their evil ways our simple duty is to acknowledge the work of God whenever and wherever He pleases to work and give Him thanks.
IV. THE TRUE PLACE AND JUSTIFICATION OF BAPTISM. The Gentiles at Caesarea having been baptized with the Holy Ghost, it was impossible to deny to them baptism with water. Indeed, there are not two baptisms, but one, having an outer form and inner sense. The former requires water, the latter the grace of the Holy Spirit. Superstition holds that the former always involves the latter, and therefore urges people to be baptized, or to have their infants baptized, in order that by that rite they may receive the Holy Ghost. This is "Christening" of which the Bible knows nothing. It is enough to trace the dispensation of baptism through these early chapters. At Jerusalem they that received the Word of salvation were baptized. At Samaria they that believed the good tidings were baptized. On the road to Gaza the Ethiopian treasurer first received Philip's preaching of Jesus, and then was baptized. At Damascus, Saul, through the intervention of Ananias, was filled with the Holy Ghost. Then "he arose, and was baptized." So here. Conclusion:
1. Peter's speech had a marked success. The Jewish brethren "glorified God, saying, Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance into life." Would that they had cherished this mood! What controversies would have been avoided! What trouble might have been spared to Paul!
2. These disciples had a clear conception of repentance —
(1) In its origin as the gift of God's grace;
(2) in its issue as "unto life." And with this doctrine ought "the fallow ground" of men's hearts to be broken. It is God's command; it is God's gift; it is God's encouragement: "Turn ye; why will ye die?"
(D. Fraser, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.