Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 346 - March 1885
It was a serious moment for the apostle of the circumcision, prepared though he was by God's dealings with himself and with Cornelius. But there could be no doubt of the Lord's will, and the first step in the new departure must be taken then and there by himself.
"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. The word which He sent forth to the sons of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of a111)—ye know the matter that came to pass throughout the whole of Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached—Jesus of Nazareth, how that God anointed Him with [the] Holy Spirit and power; who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, because God was with Him. And we [are]2 witnesses of ell things which He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom also3. they slew, hanging [Him] on a tree. Him God raised on the third day and gave Him to be manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses that were chosen before by God, to us which ate and drank with Him, after He arose from [the] dead. And He charged us to preach to the people and testify that this is He that is ordained by God judge of living and dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that every one that believeth on Him shall receive remission of sins through His name " (ver. 34-43).
The coming and work of Christ have put all things in their true place. Only since then has God Himself been either manifested or vindicated; for during previous ages, since the flood or at least the law, God seemed the God of Jews only, and not of Gentiles also. Now it is made evident that He cares for Gentiles no less than Jews; but it never was evident in the fulness of the truth, till the Son of God was come and has given us air understanding that we may know Him that is true. Not till we know His Son Jesus Christ, can we say, This is the true God and eternal life. Nor had any one more difficulty to pierce through the cloud of Jewish prejudice than the instrument here employed; but God had cast the true light of the cross more fully on his soul; and now he could say, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons" (even were they Hebrews of the Hebrews); "but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him." Of this Cornelius and perhaps others of his house were already to a certain extent, a living but hidden example. The principle, however, was now to be extended immensely, and what had been comparatively hidden to be avowed and made public through the gospel. The very piety of Cornelius kept him from appropriating to himself as a Gentile what he knew God had sent forth to Israel, till grace sent it him also. Thus should the charge of the risen Lord, hitherto suspended as it were, be applied no longer partially but in all its wide extent: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." The law had been proved and declared powerless; and pretension to keep it unto life became the plain proof that no life was there. Christ is all. " He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, and he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." Peter understood all this as he never did before. Legal mist was passing away from his eyes. But nothing was farther from the truth than that there could be among Gentiles any more than Jews one to fear God or work righteousness without faith in Jesus. The Jewish feeling which denied to any nation save their own the possibility of the acceptableness with God, he declares to be unfounded. His mission on God's part to Cornelius was expressly to assert His indiscriminate grace, as well as to begin authoritatively, by one whom God set in the first place in the assembly, the sending of the gospel to every creature.
Cornelius and those with him already knew the word which God sent forth to the sons of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ. But Peter carefully adds that Jesus is Lord not of the Jews only but of all. That which was a thing spoken of throughout Judaea, beginning from despised Galilee of the Gentiles, after the baptism which John preached (as we read in Mark i. 14, 15, where the Lord Himself called men to repent and believe the Gospel), is the only salvation for Jew, or for Gentile when afterwards called as he now began to be. Jesus of Nazareth is the object of faith, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and power.4 He was come to whom all pointed that had ever been anointed of God. The love of God to sinful man was evident inn Him and that love effectual in deliverance; for He went abort doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, because God was with Him. He was the true Messiah, but both in Himself and in His work immeasurably more; and this came out into the brightest evidence on His rejection. Yet was there ample testimony to Him before that rejection; so that man was without excuse. "And we are witnesses of all things that He did both in the country of the Jews and iii Jerusalem; whom also they slew, hanging Him en a tree."
Whatever appearances may say, the will and word of God stand for ever; and faith knows it. "Him God raised on the third day and gave Him to be manifest, not to all the people but to witnesses that were chosen before by God, to us who did eat and drink with Him after He arose from the dead." The resurrection is the pivoting and clenching of the gospel. If unbelief hold out against its testimony, what clearer than that man hates both the love and the truth of God, and will not be saved at any price? The same resurrection of Jesus separates those who believe according to the value of Christ's death before God, making in their measure witnesses of Christ men who bowed to the testimony of the fore-appointed witnesses. Be whom they slew on a tree ate and drank with His own after He arose from the dead: not that He needed the food, but they needed the testimony that He was alive from the dead, a truly risen Man, who, having loved His own that were in the world, loved them to the uttermost.
He it was who charged His disciples to preach to the people and testify that this is He that is ordained of God judge of living and dead. Such a testimony clearly goes beyond Israel to take in all mankind within its scope, as the resurrection demonstrated beyond controversy. For if the Son of God deigned to be born of woman, born under law, His rejection by Israel, His death on the cross, broke all links with that people and left Him free for the display of sovereign grace in righteousness now while He is in heaven, as surely as He is determinately appointed by God judge of living and dead when He comes again in glory. What has the risen Man to do with one nation more than another? He is the divinely defined Judge of living and dead by and by, as He is now Saviour of all that believe be they who they may. Judgment and salvation are equally cleared by the gospel and concentrated in His person. The law made nothing perfect. The prophets, on the failure of all, bore their precious intermediate testimony; and Peter appeals to then. "To Him bear all the prophets witness flint through His name every one flint, believeth on Him shall receive remission of sins."
To he born again, as has often been remarked, is not a proper privilege of the gospel, as all the Catholic sects of Christendom suppose; for the new birth was always true for souls that believed (before, within, and without, Israel) since sin was in the world. The Old Testament saints were as truly begotten of God as any of the New. Remission of sins is the primary boon of the gospel; though of course the new birth attached by grace to the same persons, and the privileges of the gospel go far beyond that gracious beginning. Here all is confusion, especially in the Christian bodies which boast of antiquity. Nor were even the Reformers at all clear in this fundamental and necessary truth. Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and others, made baptism to be the means of life! either to all the baptised, Or to the elect among them. According to God's word, they are all wrong, and inexcusably se. For Scripture never treats baptism as the sign even of life-giving, but of death with Christ to sin, and of sins washed away, for such as are already quickened. Christian baptism is a blessed institution, as the initiatory sign of the peculiar though primary privilege of the gospel. Blinder than the Jews are they who pervert it into a quickening ordinance, denying too as generally they do that the life given in the Son is eternal life: so that sacerdotal pretension is as vain as the doctrine is false.
And so we find in this very context. " While Peter was yet speaking these sayings, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those that were hearing the word. And the faithful of the circumcision, as many as came with Peter, were amazed, because upon the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speaking with tongues, and magnifying God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptised, which received the Holy Spirit even as we? And he directed them to be baptised in the name of5 Jesus Christ. Then they entreated him to abide certain days" (ver. 44-48).
It is striking to notice the various ways of divine wisdom. At Pentecost the believing Jews had to be baptised before they received the gift of the Spirit. They must solemnly take the place of death with Christ to all they had previously trusted. And even to this day the Jews feel its force; for when one of them is baptised to Christ Jesus, he is viewed and treated as dead to them and their religion. And so do the Brahmins, Mahommetans, or any who are not indifferent to their own profession. But the believing Gentiles as we see received the Holy Spirit while hearing the word, as most—perhaps all of us—have done; and baptism follows. Who could refuse the outward sign to the manifest recipients of that divine seal? Their gifts in speaking with tongues and magnifying God proclaimed the mere precious and the ever-abiding gift of the Spirit. His seal is the true ground why those having it should be owned as members of Christ's body: not ecclesiastical intelligence in them; still less the will or the consent of other men. Our business is to honour God and obey, not to legislate. If ways unworthy of Christ be done and persisted in, there is the remedy of Scriptural discipline.
Here, whatever his old prejudices might have been, even Peter bowed. And they were baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, it would seem, not by Peter, but at his direction by one or more of the brethren who accompanied him. There was neither vanity nor superstition in getting it done by Peter, though he took care in obedience to the Lord that it was duly done. It was of moment that they of the circumcision should go thoroughly with the mighty work of God's grace, in sealing Gentile no less than Jew that believed. It was not too soon to be of moment that all should know that a simple brother may lawfully baptise even in a great apostle's presence, and that the act derives no value from office or gift. Only the evangelist should see that it be done after an orderly sort. No room was left for circumcision or the law. All is of grace reigning through righteousness.
1) Perhaps "of all things." The two accusatives λ. and ρ. are dependent on the verb οἴδατε, "ye know," the second being in apposition with the first.
4) It is amazing how intelligent Christians can repeat the ignorance of the Fathers, repeated by Petavius (Dogm. Theolog.) and others, confounding the action of the Spirit in the incarnation of our Lord with the anointing and seal at His baptism. But the operations of the Holy Spirit are sadly mistaken by most.
5) The older MSS. and Vv. omit "the Lord;" some give "the Lord," only; a few supply both.