The sovereign grace of God toward an men was about to have another and yet more conclusive formal seal. It was not enough that the scattered Hellenists were preaching the gospel in the free action of the Holy Spirit or that Philip in particular had evangelized Samaria. It was not enough that Saul of Tarsus had been called from his persecutions to bear Christ's name before the Gentiles no less but more than before the sons of Israel. The apostle of the circumcision must now openly act on the grand principle of Christianity which knows no distinction between Jew and Greek. As the cross proves them alike sinful and lost (Rom_3:22-23), the gospel meets them alike where they are (Rom_10:12), and proclaims the same One to be Lord of all and rich unto all that call upon Him. This was now to be publicly demonstrated by Peter's preaching to the Gentiles, and their entrance into the privileges of the gospel on precisely the same terms of gratuitous, unconditional, and everlasting salvation by the faith of Christ as to the Jews at and since Pentecost. Henceforth there is no distinction for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved
The circumstances of a change so momentous bore the unequivocal marks of divine authority; though, long before, the Lord Himself had announced it (Luk_24:47) to the unwilling and therefore unintelligent ears of his disciples, and Peter had in terms affirmed it (Act_2:39), however little he seems to have as yet apprehended the force of what he then uttered. Indeed we are here and now carefully shown how reluctantly he set his hand to the work of indiscriminate grace till God left excuses no longer possible. But He would have the activity of His grace tarry no longer for the dull sons of men: His message of love to the lost must run forth in power; and the great apostle of the circumcision must be the one formally to open the gates of the kingdom not to Jews only but to Gentiles also. The moment was come; the man with whom to begin appears.
'Now a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of a cohort that was called Italian, pious and fearing God with all his house 1giving much alms to the people, and entreating God continually, saw in a vision manifestly about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in unto him and saying to him, Cornelius. But he, gazing on him and being affrighted, said, What is it, Lord? And he said to him, Thy prayers and thine alms have gone up for a memorial before God. And now send men unto Joppa, and fetch [one]2 Simon, who is surnamed Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea. And when the angel that spoke to him had departed, he called two of his domestics and a pious soldier of those in close attendance, and, having recounted all to them sent them to Joppa' (vers. 1-8).
1 τε 'both' is In Text. Rec. which LP support with most cursives, et al., but the most ancient and best reject.
2 Authorities are divided, so that 'one' is here hardly certain.
The Spirit of God is thus careful to make known the godly life of Cornelius. He was already a converted man, though a Gentile. But he did not know salvation proclaimed in the gospel. Therefore was Peter to be sent for, as Peter himself afterwards explained (Act_11:13-14): else he could only have hoped for his soul in the mercy of God. But now the gospel is to teach sinful man, without distinction; and it seemed good to the all-wise God to bless thereby such a one as this devout Roman, as He had already in the same grace paid honour to the crucified Saviour by converting as well as filling with peace the penitent robber who hung by His side. They were as different tributes to the grace which came by Him as could well be conceived; but each was seasonable, each to the glory of Jesus, each a display of what God can afford to do through redemption. The pious centurion was only entitled to know his sins remitted on God's message of grace through the blood of Jesus.
The evangelical school, ignorant of the new and peculiar privileges of the gospel, were wont to regard Cornelius as a self-righteous philanthropist, because they did not distinguish between conversion and the known forgiveness of sins or salvation. But this was their ignorance. Even Bede knew better, when he said, albeit in dubious phraseology, that he came through faith to works, but through works was established in faith. Had Bede said through the gospel, instead of 'through works,' it would have been more in accordance with the truth; but those who cite him approvingly seem not more intelligent than our venerable light of the dark ages. It was really God putting honour on the accomplished sacrifice of Christ; and now that the Jews nationally had rejected their Messiah calling by the gospel Gentiles into equal privilege with believing Israelites.
But the known godly character of Cornelius was suited to silence the prejudices of the ancient people of God. He looked to God and served Him in faith before He knew present salvation. If it were too much to say as Calvin does that, before Peter came, he had a church in his house, we are told on the highest authority that he was devout and feared God with all his household: no idol, we may be sure, was tolerated there. Instead of the rapacity of a Roman abroad, with contempt unbounded for the Jew, Cornelius abounded in alms-giving to 'the people' in their low estate, and this in Caesarea where Gentiles predominated. Best of all he entreated God continually. To suppose all this in one destitute of life is absurd. Cornelius was born of God and walked accordingly, though he had not yet peace; and God was now about to meet the wants and longings of his soul by the full revelation of His grace in the gospel.
An angel of God he sees in a vision not of the night. It was broad daylight, in the afternoon; nor was he asleep, but inquiring learns that God, not unmindful of his prayers and alms,1 bids him fetch Simon Peter from Joppa. As the great apostle of the uncircumcision wrote at the end to instruct the slow mind of the believing Hebrews, so the great apostle of the circumcision was to be employed at the beginning in evangelizing at God's command the Gentiles. Does this beautiful interlacing offend you? If so, it proves how little you have entered into the divine ways which cut off all room or excuse for human independence. Neither in Judea nor in Rome (pace Eusebii)2 nor anywhere else was there to be, if God were obeyed, the unseemly suicidal sight of a Jewish church distinct from a Gentile church. The assembly was on God's part meant to be on earth, let there be ever so many assemblies, the saints composing but one assembly, of which in due time it could be said, even when Corinthians were splitting into divisions, 'all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas' (1Co_3:21-22). Here, however, it was a question of getting the gospel, as necessarily this is the true order, though the church follows in its proper course: individual blessing must be known before collective privilege and responsibility.
1 It is not without interest to note the difference of Scripture from the Apocrypha. For in Tobit 12: 12 the angel is made to bring the memorial of prayer before God. in the Acts the prayers and the alms rise up there without intervention, whether or not an angel brings the answer. Canon Humphrey has well reminded us of this.
2 'The reference is to Eusebius (A.D. 264 340), Bishop of Caesarea, who wrote The History of the Christian Church. He has been called the 'Father of Church History' - Editor.
On the other hand, while these messengers were approaching Joppa, about noon of the next day, Peter retired to pray and, growing hungry saw in a trance, into which he fell, a sheet of striking significance, which he soon learnt to apply.
'And on the morrow, when they were journeying and drawing near to the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray about the sixth hour, and he became hungry and desired to eat, and while they made ready, a trance came over him, and he beholdeth the heaven opened and a certain vessel descending2 as a great sheet by four corners let down upon the earth in which were all the quadrupeds and reptiles of the earth and [the]3 birds of the sky. And there came a voice unto him, Arise, Peter, slay and eat. But Peter said, By no means, Lord; because never did I eat anything common and unclean. And a voice [came] again a second time unto him, What God cleansed deem not thou common. And this was done thrice; and straightway4 the vessel was taken up into heaven' (vers. 9-16).
2 Text. Rec. (supported by LP and most cursives) adds 'upon him' - I suppose from Mat_3:16, Mar_1:10, Luk_3:22, Joh_1:32-33, and, very strangely contrary to the best MSS., Versions, et al.
3 The article here is doubtful, though its insertion in Text. Rec. has ancient authority as well as numbers.
4 The best MSS., et al., sustain 'straightway' as against the Text. Rec. which gives 'again'.
Peter had not departed from that condition of dependence on God which he had expressed on the occasion of choosing 'the seven' to their diaconal service in Jerusalem. 'It is not fit that we [the twelve] should forsake the word of God and serve tables. Look ye out therefore . . . but we will give ourselves closely to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' (Act_6:2-4). So he assuredly was doing now when a special mission was being assigned him by God. He had withdrawn to be alone before Him. It was no question of repairing to the temple as once, or even to an oratory. The housetop sufficed; but it is well, when forms vanish, if the Spirit abides and grows stronger as here. We cannot afford to be slack in that which God honours in the apostle. The needy should not grow weary in telling out their need to Him and in counting on Him to act worthily of His great Name.
Peter receives a threefold testimony of God's purifying the Gentiles by faith, instead of separating Israel by circumcision. The cross had changed all, and put no difference between believers, Jew or Gentile. The former had lost thereby their old superiority according to flesh; both were now open alike to incomparably better blessings in Christ by faith. It was no question now of the law or of becoming a proselyte, or even of laying hold of the skirt of a Jew. From the open heaven light streamed on the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, and grace declared the uncleanness gone which Sinai had denounced for a while with rigour. For all was over with the first man under the law. The Saviour speaks from heaven where such a distinction as Jews or Gentiles has no place, and acts on the efficacy of that blood which has procured everlasting redemption for all believers equally, be they Jew or Greek, barbarian or Scythian, male or female, bond or free. A Jew hitherto could no more eat of an unclean animal than he could eat with a sinner of the Gentiles. But the sheet, which came down from heaven and was taken up there, taught Peter in due time the immense change which hinges on the cross, answers to the glory of Christ on high, and drew from him on a later day even in Jerusalem itself the gracious confession. 'We believe that we shall be saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, even as they also': not merely the Gentiles as the Jews, but the Jews in like manner as the Gentiles.
How far the saints or even the apostles anticipated the grace of the gospel must be evident to the least attentive reader of the inspired narrative. Even up to this hour Peter had no thought of, and ventured to object in the vision to, what the voice commanded from heaven. So little was the special character of the gospel in its free grace indebted to the hearts or minds of its most blessed preachers; so incontrovertibly does the word of God prove that what concerns us incalculably above all else for time and eternity proceeded from God alone, feeling and acting for Christ in His own love and to His own glory, though for these very reasons to our best and surest blessing also.
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 inquiring 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 I 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 unto 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' (vers. 17-23).
1 Such is the true construction, not 'in himself' separated from the verb, as by G. Wakefield and Valckenaer (like the Codex Bezae).
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 to 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 (vers. 19, 20). It must be a divine impulse, and not a mere deduction of reasoning: for us and all this is a lesson 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 outward 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 doubt, 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 that 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 unmistakable significance. Men were largely employed, as they were concerned in the deepest way, but so as to demonstrate to every upright mind that God was the moving spring in it all. The 'devout soldier' with 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 characterized 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 stern 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 (vers. 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' (vers. 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 preacher 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.
Oh, 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 unbaptized 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',1 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'!
1 So testifies an eye-witness, Mr. Thompson of Banchory.
'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 Pour 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 all the things that have been commanded thee of the Lord' (vers. 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 all 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 common 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 come thereon '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 blood. 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 not fasting also (for the reading is seriously questioned); on 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 in the line is peculiarly to be regarded. See how readily he comes, without a word to say against it, at Cornelius' request. Ah! it is not 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.
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 all1) - 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 all things which he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem, Whom also1 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 rose 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' (vers. 34-43).
1 Perhaps 'of all things". The two accusatives λόγον and ῥῃμα are dependent on the verb οἲδατε 'ye know', the second being in apposition with the first.
2 'Are' is wanting in the best copies, which read 'also' omitted in the Text. Rec. 'We' here is emphatic, contradistinguished from the 'ye', also emphatic, in ver. 37.
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 fullness of the truth till the Son of God was come Who has given us an 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 anyone 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 was 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 to 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 baptized shall be saved, and he that disbelieveth shall be condemned' (Mar_16:16). 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 real living faith. The Jewish feeling which denied to any nation save their own the possibility of this 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 Judea, beginning from despised Galilee of the Gentiles, after the baptism which John preached (as we read in Mar_1:14-15, 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.1 He was come to Whom all pointed that had in figure been anointed of God. The love of God to sinful man was evident in Him, and that love effectual in deliverance; for He went about 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 in Jerusalem, Whom also they slew, hanging Him on a tree.'
1 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.
Whatever appearances may say, the will and word of God stands 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 rose from the dead.' The resurrection is the pivoting and clenching of the gospel. If unbelief hold out against its testimony, what is 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. He 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 them. 'To Him bear all the prophets witness that through His name every one that believeth on Him shall receive remission of sins.'
To be born again, as has often been remarked, is not a proper privilege of the gospel, as all the ritualistic 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 O.T. 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 baptized or to the elect among them. According to God's word they are all wrong, and inexcusably so. 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 baptized, which (οἳτινες received the Holy Spirit even as we? And he directed them to be baptized in the name of l Jesus Christ. Then they entreated him to abide certain days' (vers. 11 48).
1 The older MSS. and Versions omit 'the Lord'; some give 'the Lord', only; a few supply both.
It is striking to notice the various ways of divine wisdom. At Pentecost the believing Jews had to be baptized 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 baptized to Christ Jesus, he is viewed and treated as dead to them and their religion. And so do the Brahmins, Mohammedans, 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 more 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 to 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 baptized 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 (ver. 48). 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 may know that a simple brother may lawfully baptize even in a great apostle's presence, and that the act derived 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. But a disciple is not on the external ground of a Christian till he is baptized. It is a privilege conferred on him who confesses Christ, and a sign of salvation through His death and resurrection.