« PreviousContinue »
and of the vale of Sharon, saw him, and turned to THE LORD, Acts ix. 32-35.
Proceeding to Joppa*, on the sea coast, about ten miles from Lydda, in compliance with a message brought by two of the disciples there, requesting he would come to them without delay; he restored to life a female disciple, called Tabitha in Hebrew, or Dorcas in Greek, (signifying the Gazel or Antelope, remarkable for its fine eyes) who was laid out in an upper chamber. For, excluding all the mourners, he fell on his knees, and prayed TO THE LORD, (πроσηvaro) and then turning to the body, said, Tabitha, arise! And she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, sate up. And giving her his hand, he raised her, and then calling the saints and the widows that had been cloathed by her bounty, he presented her alive. And this miracle was made known throughout all the region of Joppa, and many believed ON THE LORD. This spiritual harvest probably induced Peter to spend many days at Joppa, where he lodged with one Simon, a tanner, Acts ix. 36-43; and we may observe, in the neighbourhood of Jabneh or Jamnia, where the Sanhedrim sometimes sate; the very center of Judaism.
CONVERSION OF CORNELIUS.
This also forms a memorable epoch in the History of the Church as the first fruits of the conversion of the Gentiles to CHRIST. We may date it A.D. 41, with the Bible Chronology.
Cornelius was a devout Roman centurion of the Italian band, or cohort, which was probably the life guard of the Roman governor residing at Cæsarea; "who feared GOD with all his house; and gave much alms to the people of the Jews, not confining his bounty to his own countrymen, and prayed to GOD continually †," Acts x. 1, 2.
• Joppa was the nearest sea port to Jerusalem, and about 40 miles distant. It is now called Jaffa, recovering its ancient name, Japho, belonging to the tribe of Dan, Josh. xix. 46. As it lay between Azotus and Cæsarea, it was probably one of the towns in which Philip preached the Gospel, Acts viii. 40.
From the admirable character of this Roman, we are strongly inclined to suspect, (though the conjecture is unwarranted by any of the commentators) that this was the centurion who attended CHRIST's crucifixion; and was evidently converted thereby. See the foregoing remarks, p. 234 of this volume. It was only ten years after. And he might have been permanently stationed at Cæsarea, the seat of the Roman government. If so, we can humbly see an appropriate reason why he should be so highly distinguished and honoured by GOD on this occasion, after having been a blasphemer and
About the ninth hour of the day, or stated hour of evening prayer, he saw in vision plainly, an Angel of God entering into the house to him at his private devotions, and saying unto him, Cornelius! And he looking stedfastly at the Angel, and being possessed with fear, said, What is it, LORD? And he said, Thy prayers and thine alms are ascended like the fragrant incense, for a memorial before GOD, (Levit. ii. 2, Rev. v. 8;) and now send messengers to Joppa, and call for Simon, surnamed Peter; he lodgeth with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea side. He shall declare unto thee what thou oughtest to do [to attain eternal life] ver. 3-6.
When the Angel had departed, Cornelius accordingly sent two of his servants and a devout soldier of his band *, to Joppa, with the message; about thirty miles southward of Cæsarea; who arrived there next day about noon, ver. 7—9.
While they were approaching to the city, Peter went up on the house top to pray, about the sixth hour of noon, fasting. And after he had finished his devotions, he was hungry and wished to take some refreshment; but while the family were preparing it, he fell into an ecstacy, or trance; and beheld the heaven opened, and a certain vessel or receptacle, resembling a great square sheet, tied with four cords †, let down upon the earth, wherein were all sorts of tame and wild beasts, reptiles, and birds. And there came a voice to him saying, Arise, Peter, sacrifice, and eat. But Peter said, By no means, LORD; for I never did eat any thing common or unclean. And the voice again said to him a second time, What GOD hath purified, count not thou common. This was done thrice. And the vessel was taken up again into the Heaven, ver. 9-16. While Peter was perplexed in himself, what could be the de
persecutor in ignorance, like Saul himself. To him, only, an Angel appeared, perhaps Gabriel, Dan. viii. 16, Luke i. 19.
The original expression, των προσκαρτερούντων αυτά, "of those that adhered to him" in his belief and practice, is very remarkable; and tends to justify the foregoing conjecture, by pointing out this devout soldier also as one of the Roman guard, attendant on the crucifixion, who was then converted, p. 234 of this volume.
† Τεσσαρσιν αρχαις. Diodorus Siculus uses the phrase, αρχας στυπινας, hempen strings," or cords, in describing the mode of harpooning the Hippopotamus, eɩ0' ¿vi TWV εμπαγέντων ενάπτοντες αρχας στυπινας, αφίασι, μέχρις αν παραλυθῇ, Edit. Rhod. p. 32, as ingeniously noticed by Wakefield. If apxais signified "corners,” (as in the English Bible) the article raiç should be prefixed, as in Matt. xxiv. 31, TWV TEσσupwv aveμwv. Middleton, p. 400.
sign of this allegorical vision, and was ruminating thereon, THE HOLY SPIRIT, as soon as the messengers of Cornelius arrived, and enquired for Peter; desired him to arise, descend, and go with the three men that sought him, without hesitation; for that they were sent by HIMSELF. Then Peter descended, and having asked the reason of their coming, and received their message, he entertained them hospitably that day; and went with them the next, accompanied by six of the brethren from Joppa, (Acts xi. 12,) ver. 17—23, a prudent precaution, not only consistent with his apostolic rank, which made it improper that he should go unattended; but also, that they might be joint witnesses of what might happen, and advisers of what ought to be done in such a singular and unprecedented case.
In SACRED HISTORY, no circumstance, even apparently the slightest, is insignificant. "From Joppa, the prophet Jonah was sent to preach to the Gentiles at Nineveh; and from thence the Apostle Peter, (probably his descendant) was sent to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles of Cæsarea;" according to the ingenious analogy noticed by Benson.
When Peter and his attendants, who had stopped by the way on the third night, were entering into Cæsarea, the fourth morning, Cornelius, (having received notice of his approach,) came to meet him, through respect, accompanied by his kinsmen and intimate friends; and falling at his feet, was going to worship him, as more than mortal; a most extraordinary instance of veneration from those proudest of mortals, the Romans; but Peter stopped and raised him, saying, I also myself am a He then freely conversed with him, entered into his house, and found many others there assembled, ver. 24-27.
And Peter said unto them, Ye know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with a foreigner; but GOD hath shewed me to call no man common or unclean. Therefore, also, without gainsaying, came I, when sent for. I ask, therefore, upon what account ye sent for me? ver. 28, 29. Though Peter knew beforehand, by the messengers, upon what account in general; yet he wished to learn the particulars more fully, both for his own and his companions' information.
Cornelius then recounted all the circumstances of the vision; and concluded with his thanks to Peter for coming, and a solemn request to receive divine instruction from him. "Thou hast well done in coming hither. Now, therefore, are all we
here present, ready and desirous to hear all GOD's commands to thee respecting us," ver. 30—33.
Then Peter opened his mouth with much solemnity, and said, In truth, “I now comprehend, that GOD is no respecter of persons; but in every nation, whosoever feareth HIM, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable unto Him,” ver. 34, 35.
This noble declaration of the impartiality of GOD, seems to have been a new light or unexpected illumination suddenly bursting upon his mind, to dispel the mists of his national prejudices. For though CHRIST had commissioned his Apostles to discipline and baptize all nations, in his final instructions; yet, several circumstances had prevented them from comprehending the spirit of the Gospel hitherto.
1. OUR LORD himself had early declared, that "salvation was of the Jews;" and, according to their narrow interpretation, confined to the Jews. 2. He also declared, that "he was not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel;” to “feed the children, not the dogs;" and 3. He charged his disciples, on their first circuit during his ministry, neither to go into the way of the Gentiles, nor enter into any city of the Samaritans, but rather, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and 4. in his last instructions, to be HIS witnesses in Judea and Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth, they might have understood "the earth" in the limited sense of the Holy Land. And that they did, indeed, so understand him, is evident; 1. from the conduct of Peter himself, and of the Apostles at Jerusalem, who preached only to their own nation; 2. and of the Disciples and Evangelists dispersed by the first persecution of Stephen, in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, who preached the word to none but Jews only, Acts xi. 19; and 3. from the equal surprize expressed by Peter's company, and the rest of the Apostles, and Mother Church as Jerusalem, at the effusion of the HOLY SPIRIT upon these first fruits of the Gentile converts before their baptism, putting no difference between them and the Jews themselves on the day of Pentecost; for so Peter remarked and pleaded in his apology. "And when they of Jerusalem heard the whole account, they were silent; and glorified GOD, saying, Then (apa) hath GOD granted to the Gentiles also repentance unto life eternal!" xi. 18, as a matter of surprize and astonishment. The same, indeed, is the purport of Peter's declaration; "I now at length comprehend, what I did not,
before I had seen the allegorical vision, as now explained by the application of these Gentiles for information respecting that perfect rule of faith, prescribed in THE GOSPEL; that GOD hath not confined his mercies to a particular nation only, but that all are capable of receiving the higher privileges of the GOSPEL, even eternal life, who are duly prepared, by the fear of GOD, and the practice of righteousness; upon the conditions of repentance toward GOD, faith toward JESUS CHRIST, as THEIR LORD, and baptism in the name of THE TRINITY."
The speech of Peter was worthy of the exordium; but it bears unequivocal marks of unusual agitation of mind in the involution, or embarrassed construction of its first periods, so different from the concise simplicity of his former speeches; this rather resembles Paul's style.
"The word, (Tov λoyov) or Gospel, which GOD sent forth to the children of Israel, publishing peace, by JESUS CHRIST, (who is LORD OF ALL) ye know; [namely,] the oracular word (To onua), (that was [spread] through all Judea, beginning from Galilee; after the baptism which John proclaimed) [concerning] JESUS OF NAZARETH: how GOD anointed him with THE HOLY SPIRIT and with POWER. Who went about doing good, and healing all those that were tyrannized over by the Devil : because GOD was with Him.
"And we are witnesses of all that He did in the country of the Jews [Judea and Galilee,] and in Jerusalem; whom they [of Jerusalem] hanged upon a cross, and slew.
"THIS same GOD raised up, the third day; and shewed Him openly not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses previously chosen by GOD, who did eat with him and drink with him, after his resurrection from the dead.
"And He commissioned us to proclaim to the people, [of the Jews,] and to testify thoroughly, that it is He himself who is ordained by GOD, JUDGE of quick and dead.
"To HIM, testify all the prophets; that every one who believeth on Him, [whether Jew or Gentile,] shall receive, through his name or religion, remission of sins,” ver. 36–43.
1. In this speech, Peter appeals to the general knowledge even of the Gentiles, in the regions through which the GOSPEL was preached, of the active benevolence and miracles of mercy performed by JESUS CHRIST, in the course of his ministry, as the surest test that GOD was with him.