Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 345 - Feburary 1885
Very careful is the Spirit of God to give us full details: so grave a change as the reception of Gentiles on the same footing as a Jew was not made or owned lightly.
"And as Peter was perplexed1 in himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that had been sent by Cornelius, having sought out the house of Simon, stood at the gate, and having called were enquiring whether Simon surnamed Peter lodged there. Now while Peter was pondering over the vision, the Spirit said to him, Behold, three men seek thee; but arise, go down, and journey with them, nothing doubting, because 1 have sent them. And Peter went down unto the men and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause for which ye are here? And they said, Cornelius a centurion, a man righteous and fearing God, and attested by the whole nation of the Jews, was divinely warned by a holy angel to send for thee onto his house: and to hear words from thee. Having therefore called them in he lodged [them]. And on the morrow he arose and went off with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa went with him " (ver. 17-23).
Men were employed throughout after the angelic mission to Cornelius; but God is apparent in every part to disarm prejudice, own righteousness, display grace, and put honour on the name of Jesus to the blessing of man and His own glory, for all which weighty ends the law, of which Israel boasted, had proved altogether unavailing. The great apostle Peter was indebted under God to the Gentile's invitation, to solve the problem of his vision. But the Spirit is the agent of all blessing, intelligence and power in the believer; and so His place is made conspicuous here (ver. 19, 20). It must be a divine impulse, and not a mere deduction of reasoning: a lesson for us and all of inestimable value. At first no doubt, sensible signs and extraordinary power ushered in His presence and manifested the new truth of His action in man; but the reality abides, as He abides with us, for ever, though o1rtward signs in divine wisdom are no longer vouchsafed. This draws greater importance than ever to Scripture in these last days when unbelievers turn from it more and more to unprofitable and mischievous fables.
It was thus made plain, beyond doubt, that God it was, not man nor yet the church, nor even the apostles, who opened the door to the nations, equally as to the Jews. So the gospel intrinsically wrought and proclaimed; but even the believer is dull to appreciate the full import of what he has really received, and is wholly dependent on God's word and Spirit to give him growth and progress. The hour was come for the formal and public owning of believing Gentiles in the enjoyment of full gospel privileges. And it was meet that he who was beyond none of the twelve should be the one employed, rather than he who, already called, was designated to be the apostle of the uncircumcision. Thus was the uniting bond of the Spirit best maintained in peace. But it was of all moment that man's will should be excluded as well as man's wisdom. What could be more effectual to this end than the vision of Cornelius on the one hand and of Peter on the other? The character of each gave special weight to what they saw and heard; and their concurrence, as attested by the "three men" from Caesarea as well as the "six brethren" that accompanied Peter from Joppa, was of high value and unmistakeable significance. Men were largely employed, as they were concerned in the deepest way, bat so as to demonstrate to every upright mind that God was the moving spring in it all. The " devout soldier" with the two domestics has his lowly but valuable place and was soon to share the blessing as well as the devout centurion on whom he waited closely: a blessing which is as distinctly characterised by the power of grace that brings down far higher than Cornelius, and lifts up far lower than the Roman soldier, uniting all believers even here below in one heavenly and indissoluble relationship to Christ.
The message delivered by the men from Caesarea was to the point. For a Roman officer in a garrison town to have the good report of the whole nation of the Jews was no small thing; but it was more for his own household to bear witness that he was a righteous man and God-fearing, as his soldier-attendant evidently was also. And the prevalence of Jewish Sadduceanism did not lead to any toning down of the divine communication which was calmly affirmed by men accustomed to frank uprightness. Cornelius, they said, "was oracularly warned by a holy angel to fetch thee unto his house and hear words from thee."
What a clear communication to Peter when his vision was followed up by the Spirit's application of it! Nor can anything be plainer than the divine authority with which the Spirit speaks and acts here as elsewhere. "I have sent them:" He is God.
How vividly too is set forth the value of "words" in the gospel! Let the law demand "works" of man to prove his powerlessness and that the offence may abound, so as to overwhelm him with despair of himself and cast him only upon Christ. The gospel makes known in its "words" the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and is thus the means of life eternal to every one that believes. The .Jew might claim the law as imposed on His people in the solitude of Sinai; not so God's gospel concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, dead, risen, and glorified in heaven, which is now as open to the Gentile as to the Jew, but to neither save by the faith of Christ and His redemption.
Peter then set out with the rest from Joppa. "And on the morrow he entered into Caesarea; and Cornelius was awaiting them, having called together his kinsmen and his near friends " (ver. 24).
Dear reader, have you nothing to learn from the zeal now, as well as the habitual piety and devotedness we saw before (ver. 2, 22), in the Roman centurion? Are we to be less zealously affected because we are more familiar with the wondrous grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ? Sorrowful fruit, not indeed of better light, but of fleshly indifference and worldly ease, which hinder the due activity of divine affections that others may live, as well as our own souls grow, by the knowledge of God.
"And when it came to pass that Peter entered, Cornelius met him and, falling at his feet, did homage; but Peter raised him, saying, Rise up, I myself also am a man " (ver. 25, 26). It was the more remarkable, as a Roman in general never offered the salaam of prostration to a stranger. But the lowly and pious mind of Cornelius was wrought to such a pitch of expectation by the angelic message that he failed to sever the preέcher from the truth he was sent to make known, and was thus disposed to pay more than honour meet to him whom God had directed him to send for. On the other hand the dignity which accompanies the truth is not only compatible with the deepest humility but produces and increases it in proportion to the power which grace acquires over the soul. Impossible not to be humble, if we are consciously in God's presence; and this the gospel is calculated above all things to make good habitually, as it does in the measure of our faith and spirituality. Peter refused such mistaken homage at once.
O you who claim to be Peter's peculiar and exclusive successor, are you not ashamed? Why are you of all men the most distant from his ways, the most opposed to his spirit? Silver and gold you have, which he had not; but the faith he preached you deny and corrupt, and the lowliness he practised even to an unbaptised Gentile pronounces the most solemn rebuke on your pride, when you (installed as Pope) seat yourself "on the very spot where the pyx containing the host usually stands,"2 and the cardinal princes of the empire repeatedly adore you, each prostrating himself before you and kissing the slippered toe as well as the covered hand. Can contrast be more complete? And this is succession!
"And conversing with him he entered and findeth many come together; and he said to them, Yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to join himself or come unto one of another race. And me God showed to call no man common or unclean.: wherefore also without gainsaying I came when sent for. I ask then on what account ye sent for me. And Cornelius said, Four days ago till this hour I was fasting and the ninth [hour] praying in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and says, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms had in remembrance before God: send then unto Joppa, and call for Simon who is surnamed Peter. He lodgeth in the house of Simon a tanner by [the] sea. Forthwith then I sent unto thee, and thou hast done well in arriving. Now then we are all here before God to hear the things that have been commanded thee of the Lord" (ver. 27-33).
Peter, after entering not only the house but the apartment where Cornelius had his company waiting to hear the gospel, explains first what they mill knew, then what God had just shown to himself. For their part, they were aware that for a Jew to be familiar with a Gentile was unlawful; he on his had it shown of God that he was not to call any man condemn or unclean. Now that the true light shines, the old distinction is gone. It was not so at the beginning; it is no longer in force. If God was entitled to institute such a difference, He was no less free to annul it; and so He had shown Peter in special preparation for Cornelius whom God had directed to send for Peter, who had thereon come "without gainsaying," as became him. For what has faith to do in such circumstances but to obey? If Christ Himself was beyond all the Obedient Man, the apostles differed from others not more in their gift and power than in the measure of their obedience. And to this is every saint sanctified by the Spirit—to the obedience of Jesus Christ, as distinctly as to the sprinkling of His blond. Let us exhort one another to this, and so much the more as we see the day approaching.
Cornelius then in answer explains why he sent for Peter. It was not without divine authority. He had been four days also praying, if net fasting also (for the reading is seriously questioned); en that afternoon an angel in a man's guise told him that his prayer was heard, and that he was to call to him Peter, who had well done-in coming, as they were all there to hear all the Lord's commands through him.
Hear it, you that desire to honour Peter truly, that you may be saved from the destructive superstitions of his false successors. Were there succession, surely the first and head is peculiarly to be regarded. See how readily he comes, without a word to say against it, at Cornelius' request. Ah! it is net Peter who demanded or received worldly pomp and human honour; it is you who have lost the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and are under the dominion of dark and evil traditions which make God's word of none effect, and play into the hands of the god of this age who has blinded the minds of the unbelieving that the light of the gospel of Christ's glory should not dawn on them. Listen to Peter, I beseech you, and learn, not merely your error in departure from the living God, but the precious truth which is able to save your souls.
1) Such is the true construction, not "in himself" separated from the verb, as by G. Wakefield and Valckenaer (like the Codex Bezae).
2) So testifies an eye-witness, Mr. Thompson of Banchory.