Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
An angel appears to Cornelius, a centurion, and directs him to send to Joppa, for Peter, to instruct him in the way of salvation, Act 10:1-6. He sends accordingly, Act 10:7, Act 10:8. While the messengers are on their way to Joppa, Peter has a remarkable vision, by which he is taught how he should treat the Gentiles, Act 10:9-16. The messengers arrive at the house of Simon the tanner, and deliver their message, Act 10:17-22. They lodge there that night, and on the morrow Peter accompanies them to Caesarea, where they find Cornelius and his friends assembled, waiting the coming of Peter, Act 10:23, Act 10:24. Peter makes an apology for his coming, and inquires for what purpose Cornelius had sent for him, Act 10:25-29. Cornelius answers, Act 10:30-33. And Peter preaches unto him Jesus, as the Savior of the world, and the Judge of quick and dead, Act 10:34-43. While he speaks the Holy Ghost descends on Cornelius and his company; and they speak with new tongues, and magnify God, Act 10:44-46. Peter commands them to be baptized in the name of the Lord, Act 10:47, Act 10:48.
I have already observed (see the conclusion of the preceding chapter) that hitherto the apostles confined their labors among the Jews and circumcised proselytes, not making any offer of salvation to the Gentiles; for they had fully imbibed the opinion that none could enter into the kingdom of God, and be finally saved, unless they were circumcised, and became obedient to the law of Moses. This prejudice would have operated so as finally to prevent them from preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, had not God, by a particular interposition of his mercy and goodness, convinced Peter, and through him all the other apostles, that he had accepted the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and would put no difference between the one and the other, purifying their hearts by faith, and giving the Gentiles the Holy Ghost, as he had before given it to the Jews. The means which he used to produce this conviction in the minds of the apostles are detailed at length in the following chapter.
There was a certain man in Caesarea - This was Caesarea of Palestine, called also Strato's Tower, as has been already noted, and the residence of the Roman procurator.
A centurion - Ἑκατονταρχης, The chief or captain of 100 men, as both the Greek and Latin words imply. How the Roman armies were formed, divided, and marshalled, see in the notes on Mat 20:16 (note). A centurion among the Romans was about the same rank as a captain among us.
The band called the Italian band - The word σπειρα, which we translate band, signifies the same as cohort or regiment, which sometimes consisted of 555 infantry, and 66 cavalry; but the cohors prima, or first cohort, consisted of 1105 infantry, and 132 cavalry, in the time of Vegetius. But the cavalry are not to be considered as part of the cohort, but rather a company joined to it. A Roman legion consisted of ten cohorts; the first of which surpassed all the others, both in numbers and in dignity. When in former times the Roman legion contained 6000, each cohort consisted of 600, and was divided into three manipuli; but both the legions and cohorts were afterwards various in the numbers they contained. As there were doubtless many Syrian auxiliaries, the regiment in question was distinguished from them as consisting of Italian, i.e. Roman, soldiers. The Italian cohort is not unknown among the Roman writers: Gruter gives an inscription, which was found in the Forum Sempronii, on a fine table of marble, nine feet long, four feet broad, and four inches thick; on which are the following words: -
l. maesio. l. f. pol.
rvfo. proc. avg.
trib. mil. leg. x.
coh. mil. ITALIC. volunt.
qvae. est. in. syria. praef.
See Gruter's Inscriptions, p. ccccxxxiii-iv.
This was probably the same cohort as that mentioned here by St. Luke; for the tenth legion mentioned in the above inscription was certainly in Judea, a.d. 69. Tacitus also mentions the Italica legio, the Italic legion, lib. i. c. 59, which Junius Blaesus had under his command in the province of Lyons. We learn, from the Roman historians, that the fifth, tenth, and fifteenth legions were stationed in Judea; and the third, fourth, sixth, and twelfth in Syria. The Italic legion was in the battle of Bedriacum, fought, a.d. 69, between the troops of Vitellius and Otho; and performed essential services to the Vitellian army. See Tacitus, Hist. lib. ii. cap. 41. The issue of this battle was the defeat of the Othonians, on which Otho slew himself, and the empire was confirmed to Vitellius.
Wherever he sees it necessary, St. Luke carefully gives dates and facts, to which any might have recourse who might be disposed to doubt his statements: we have had several proofs of this in his Gospel. See especially Luk 1:1 (note), etc., and Luk 3:1 (note), etc., and the notes there.
A devout man - Ευσεβης, from ευ, well, and σεβομαι, I worship. A person who worships the true God, and is no idolater.
One that feared God - Φοβουμενος τον Θεον, One who was acquainted with the true God, by means of his word and laws; who respected these laws, and would not dare to offend his Maker and his Judge. This is necessarily implied in the fear of God.
With all his house - He took care to instruct his family in the knowledge which he himself had received; and to establish the worship of God in his house.
Gave much alms - His love to God led him to love men; and this love proved its sincerity by acts of beneficence and charity.
Prayed to God alway - Felt himself a dependent creature; knew he had no good but what he had received; and considered God to be the fountain whence he was to derive all his blessings. He prayed to God alway; was ever in the spirit of prayer, and frequently in the act. What an excellent character is this! And yet the man was a Gentile! He was what a Jew would repute common and unclean: see Act 10:28. He was, therefore, not circumcised; but, as he worshipped the true God, without any idolatrous mixtures, and was in good report among all the nation of the Jews, he was undoubtedly what was called a proselyte of the gate, though not a proselyte of justice, because he had not entered into the bond of the covenant by circumcision. This was a proper person, being so much of a Jew and so much of a Gentile, to form the connecting link between both people; and God chose him that the salvation of the Jews might with as little observation as possible be transmitted to the Gentiles. The choice of such a person, through whom the door of faith was opened to the heathen world, was a proof of the wisdom and goodness of God. The man who was chosen to this honor was not a profligate Gentile; nor yet a circumcised proselyte. He was a Gentile, amiable and pure in his manners; and, for his piety and charitableness, held in high estimation among all the nation of the Jews. Against such a person they could not, with any grace, be envious, though God should pour out upon him the gift of the Holy Spirit.
He saw in a vision evidently - The text is as plain as it can be, that an angel of God did appear to Cornelius. This was in a vision, i.e. a supernatural representation; and it was φανερως, manifestly, evidently made; and at such a time too as precluded the possibility of his being asleep; for it was about the ninth hour of the day, answering to our three o'clock in the afternoon, (see note on Act 3:1 (note)), the time of public prayer, according to the custom of the Jews, and while Peter was engaged in that sacred duty. The angelic appearance to Cornelius was something similar to that made to Daniel, Dan 9:20-23, and that especially to Zachariah, the father of John Baptist, Luk 1:11, etc.
Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial - Being all performed in simplicity and godly sincerity, they were acceptable to the Most High.
Come up for a memorial: This form of speech is evidently borrowed from the sacrificial system of the Jews. Pious and sincere prayers are high in God's estimation; and therefore are said to ascend to him, as the smoke and flame of the burnt-offering appeared to ascend to heaven.
These prayers and alms came up for a memorial before God: this is a manifest allusion to the meat-offering, which, in Lev 2:16, is said to be אזכרה azkerah, a memorial, (speaking after the manner of men), to put God in remembrance that such a person was his worshipper, and needed his protection and help. So the prayers and alms of Cornelius ascended before God as an acceptable sacrifice, and were recorded in the kingdom of heaven, that the answers might be given in their due season.
Simon a tanner - See the note on Act 9:43.
What thou oughtest to do - From this it appears that matters of great moment had occupied the mind of Cornelius. He was not satisfied with the state of his own soul, nor with the degree he possessed of religious knowledge; and he set apart a particular time for extraordinary fasting and prayer, that God might farther reveal to him the knowledge of his will. Perhaps he had heard of Jesus, and had been perplexed with the different opinions that prevailed concerning him, and now prayed to God that he might know what part he should take; and the answer to this prayer is, "Send to Joppa for Simon Peter, he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do." This clause, so explanatory, is wanting in almost every MS. and version of note. Griesbach and some others have left it out of the text. But see Act 11:14, where it stands in substance.
And a devout soldier - It has already been remarked that Cornelius had taken care to instruct his family in Divine things; and it appears also that he had been attentive to the spiritual interests of his regiment. We do not find that it was then, even among the Romans, considered a disgrace for a military officer to teach his men lessons of morality, and piety towards God, whatever it may be in some Christian countries in the present time.
He sent them to Joppa - It has been properly remarked, that from Joppa, Jonah was sent to preach to the Gentiles of Nineveh; and from the same place Peter was sent to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles at Caesarea.
On the morrow, as they went on their journey - From Joppa to Caesarea was about twelve or fifteen leagues; the messengers could not have left the house of Cornelius till about two hours before sunset; therefore, they must have traveled a part of the night, in order to arrive at Joppa the next day, towards noon. - Calmet. Cornelius sent two of his household servants, by way of respect to Peter; probably the soldier was intended for their defense, as the roads in Judea were by no means safe.
Peter went up upon the house-top to pray - It has often been remarked that the houses in Judea were builded with flat roofs, on which people walked, conversed, meditated, prayed, etc. The house-top was the place of retirement; and thither Peter went for the purpose of praying to God. In Bengal, some of the rich Hindoos have a room on the top of the house, in which they perform worship daily.
He became very hungry - It seems that this happened about dinner-time; for it appears that they were making ready, παρασκευαζοντων, dressing the victuals for the family. The dinner among the ancients was a very slight meal; and they had no breakfast: their supper was their principal meal. And, in very ancient times, they ate only once in the day. Supper was the meal at which they saw their friends, the business of the day being then finished.
He fell into a trance - Επεπεσεν επ' αυτον εκϚασις, An ecstasy fell upon him. A person may be said to be in an ecstasy when transported with joy or admiration, so that he is insensible to every object but that on which he is engaged. Peter's ecstasy is easily accounted for: he went up to the house-top to pray: at first he felt keen hunger; but, being earnestly engaged with God, all natural appetites became absorbed in the intense application of his soul to his Maker. While every passion and appetite was under this Divine influence, and the soul, without let or hinderance, freely conversing with God, then the visionary and symbolical representation mentioned here took place.
And saw heaven opened - His mind now entirely spiritualized, and absorbed in heavenly contemplation, was capable of discoveries of the spiritual world; a world which, with its πληρωμα, or plenitude of inhabitants, surrounds us at all times; but which we are incapable of seeing through the dense medium of flesh and blood, and their necessarily concomitant earthly passions. Much, however, of such a world and its economy may be apprehended by him who is purified from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and who has perfected holiness in the fear of God. But this is a subject to which the enthusiast in vain attempts to ascend. The turbulent working of his imagination, and the gross earthly crudities which he wishes to obtrude on the world as revelations from God, afford a sufficient refutation of their own blasphemous pretensions.
A great sheet, knit at the four corners - Perhaps intended to be an emblem of the universe, and its various nations, to the four corners of which the Gospel was to extend, and to offer its blessings to all the inhabitants, without distinction of nation, etc.
All manner of four-footed beasts, etc. - Every species of quadrupeds, whether wild or domestic; all reptiles, and all fowls. Consequently, both the clean and unclean were present in this visionary representation: those that the Jewish law allowed to be sacrificed to God, or proper for food; as well as those which that law had prohibited in both cases: such as the beasts that do not chew the cud; fish which have no scales; fowls of prey and such others as are specified in Lev 11:1, etc., where see the notes.
Rise, Peter, kill and eat - Θυσον και φαγε, Sacrifice and eat. Though this verb is sometimes used to signify the slaying of animals for food, yet, as the proper notion is to slay for the purpose of sacrifice, it appears to me to be better to preserve that meaning here. Animals that were offered in sacrifice were considered as given to God; and, when he received the life, the flesh was given to those who offered the sacrifice, that they might feed upon it; and every sacrifice had in it the nature of a covenant; and covenants were usually made by eating together on the flesh of the sacrifice offered on the occasion, God being supposed to be invisibly present with them, and partaking of the feast. The Jews and Gentiles are certainly represented by the clean and unclean animals in this large vessel: these, by the ministry of the Gospel, were to be offered up a spiritual sacrifice to God. Peter was to be a prime instrument in this work; he was to offer them to God, and rejoice in the work of his hands. The spirit of the heavenly direction seems to be this: "The middle wall of partition is now to be pulled down; the Jews and Gentiles are called to become one flock, under one shepherd and bishop of souls. Thou, Peter, shalt open the door of faith to the Gentiles, and be also the minister of the circumcision. Rise up; already a blessed sacrifice is prepared: go and offer it to God; and let thy soul feed on the fruits of his mercy and goodness, in thus showing his gracious design of saving both Jews and Gentiles by Christ crucified."
Common or unclean - By common, κοινον, whatever was in general use among the Gentiles is to be understood; by ακαθαρτον, unclean, every thing that was forbidden by the Mosaic law. However, the one word may be considered as explanatory of the other. The rabbins themselves, and many of the primitive fathers, believed that by the unclean animals forbidden by the law the Gentiles were meant.
What God hath cleansed - God, who made at first the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, has a right to remove it, whenever and by whatever means he pleases: he, therefore, who made the distinction, for wise purposes, between the clean and the unclean, now pronounces all to be clean. He had authority to do the first; he has authority to do the last. God has purposed that the Gentiles shall have the Gospel preached to them: what he therefore has cleansed, "that call not thou common."
This was done thrice - For the greater certainty, and to make the deeper impression on the apostle's mind.
And the vessel was received up again into heaven - Both Jews and Gentiles came equally from God; and to him, both, by the preaching of the Gospel, shall again return.
While Peter doubted - the men - stood before the gate - In all this we find an admirable display of the economy of Providence. Cornelius prays, and has a vision which prepares him to receive instruction from Peter: Peter prays, and has a vision which prepares and disposes him to give instruction to Cornelius. While he is in doubts and perplexity what the full meaning of the vision might be, the messengers, who had been despatched under the guidance of an especial Providence, came to the door; and the Holy Spirit gives him information that his doubts should be all cleared up by accompanying the men who were now inquiring for him. How exactly does every thing in the conduct of Providence occur; and how completely is every thing adapted to time, place, and occasion! All is in weight, measure, and number. Those simple occurrences which men snatch at, and press into the service of their own wishes, and call them providential openings may, indeed, be links of a providential chain, in reference to some other matter; but unless they be found to speak the same language in all their parts, occurrence corresponding with occurrence, they are not to be construed as indications of the Divine will in reference to the claimants. Many persons, through these misapprehensions, miscarrying, have been led to charge God foolishly for the unsuccessful issue of some business in which their passions, not his providence, prompted them to engage.
Which were sent unto him from Cornelius - This clause is wanting in almost every MS. of worth, and in almost all the versions.
Behold, I am he whom ye seek - A sudden, unexpected speech, like the address of Aeneas to Dido; when the cloud in which he was involved suddenly dissipated, and he appeared with the exclamation,
- coram, quem quaeritis, adsum!
Aen. lib. i. 595.
What is the cause therefore ye are come? - He still did not know the full import of the vision; but being informed by the Holy Spirit that three men were seeking him, and that he should go with them, without scruple, he instantly obeyed; and finding them at the door, desired to know why they sought him.
Cornelius the centurion, etc. - They gave him the simple relation which they had received from their master. For the character of Cornelius, see the comment on Act 10:2 (note).
To hear words of thee - But of what kind they could not as yet tell.
Then called he them in, etc. - They had already walked a long journey in a short time, and needed refreshment; and it was thought expedient they should rest that night with Simon the tanner.
Certain brethren from Joppa - They were six in number, as we learn from Act 11:12. It was necessary that there should be several witnesses of the important transactions which were about to take place; as on no slight evidence would even the converted Jews believe that repentance unto life, and the Holy Spirit, should be granted to the Gentiles.
His kinsmen and near friends - Συγγενεις, His, relatives, and αναγκαιους φιλους , his necessary friends; but the Syriac makes αναγκαιους an epithet as well as συγγενεις, and thus the passage may be read, his kinsmen, his domestics, and his friends. It appears that he had collected the whole circle of his intimate acquaintance, that they also might profit by a revelation which he expected to come immediately from heaven; and these amounted to many persons; see Act 10:27.
Fell down at his feet, and worshipped him - As Peter's coming was announced by an angel, Cornelius might have supposed that Peter himself was an angel, and of a superior order; seeing he came to announce what the first angel was not employed to declare: it was, probably, in consequence of this thought that he prostrated himself before Peter, offering him the highest act of civil respect; for there was nothing in the act, as performed by Cornelius, which belonged to the worship of the true God. Prostrations to superiors were common in all Asiatic countries. The Codex Bezae, and the later Syriac in the margin reads this verse differently from all other MSS. and versions; thus, But as Peter drew nigh to Caesarea, one of the servants ran before, and told that he was come: then Cornelius leaped up, and met him, and, falling at his feet, he worshipped him. This is a very remarkable addition, and relates circumstances that we may naturally suppose did actually take place.
I myself also am a man - "I am not an angel; I am come to you simply, on the part of God, to deliver to you the doctrine of eternal life."
And as he talked with him - Cornelius had met Peter at some short distance from his house, and they conversed together till they went in.
Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing, etc. - He addressed the whole company, among whom, it appears, there were persons well acquainted with Jewish customs; probably some of them were Jewish proselytes.
But God hath showed me, etc. - He now began to understand the import of the vision which he saw at Joppa. A Gentile is not to be avoided because he is a Gentile; God is now taking down the partition wall which separated them from the Jews.
I ask - for what intent ye have sent for me? - Peter had been informed of this by the servants of Cornelius, Act 10:22; but, as all the company might not have been informed of the circumstances, he, as it were, invites him to tell his story afresh, that his friends, etc., might be the better prepared to receive the truth, which he was about to dispense, in obedience to his Divine commission.
Four days ago I was fasting until this hour - It was then about three o'clock in the afternoon; and it appears that Cornelius had continued his fasts from three o'clock the preceding day to three o'clock the day following; not that he had fasted four days together, as some supposes for even if he did fast four days consecutively, he ate one meal on each day. It is however necessary to remark that the word νηϚευων, fasting is wanting in ABC, one other; the Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Vulgate; but it has not been omitted in any edition of the Greek Testament.
Thy prayer is heard - See the note on Act 10:4. Cornelius prayed, fasted, and gave alms. It was in this way he looked for salvation; not to purchase it: a thought of this kind does not appear to have entered into his mind; but these were the means he used to get his soul brought to the knowledge of the truth. The reader must recollect that in the case of Cornelius there was no open vision; he used the light and power which God had already given; and behold how mightily God increased his gifts! He that hath, i.e., that uses what he has, shall receive; and no man can expect any increase of light or life, who does not improve the grace already given.
Are we all here present before God - Instead of before God, the Codex Bezae, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Vulgate, read before Thee. The people were all waiting for the preacher, and every heart was filled with expectation; they waited as before God, from whose messenger they were about to hear the words of life.
God is no respecter of persons - He does God esteem a Jew, because he is a Jew; nor does he detest a Gentile because he is a Gentile. It was a long and deeply rooted opinion among the Jews, that God never would extend his favor to the Gentiles; and that the descendants of Jacob only should enjoy his peculiar favor and benediction. Of this opinion was St. Peter, previously to the heavenly vision mentioned in this chapter. He was now convinced that God was no respecter of persons; that as all must stand before his judgment seat, to be judged according to the deeds done in the body, so no one nation, or people, or individual, could expect to find a more favorable decision than another who was precisely in the same moral state; for the phrase, respect of persons, is used in reference to unjust decisions in a court of justice, where, through favor, or interest, or bribe, a culprit is acquitted, and a righteous or innocent person condemned. See Lev 19:15; Deu 1:16, Deu 1:17; Deu 16:19. And as there is no iniquity (decisions contrary to equity) with God, so he could not shut out the pious prayers, sincere fasting, and benevolent alms-giving of Cornelius; because the very spring whence they proceeded was his own grace and mercy. Therefore he could not receive even a Jew into his favor (in preference to such a person) who had either abused his grace, or made a less godly use of it than this Gentile had done.
But in every nation he that feared him, etc. - In every nation he who, according to his light and privileges, fears God, worships him alone, (for this is the true meaning of the word), and worketh righteousness, abstains from all evil, gives to all their due, injures neither the body, soul, nor reputation of his neighbor, is accepted with him. It is not therefore the nation, kindred, profession, mode or form of worship, that the just God regards; but the character, the state of heart, and the moral deportment. For what are professions, etc., in the sight of that God who trieth spirits, and by whom actions are weighed! He looks for the grace he has given, the advantages he has afforded, and the improvement of all these. Let it be observed farther, that no man can be accepted with this just God who does not live up to the advantages of the state in which providence has placed him. Why was Cornelius accepted with God while thousands of his countrymen were passed by? Because he did not receive the grace of God in vain; he watched, fasted, prayed, and gave alms, which they did not. Had he not done so, would he have been accepted? Certainly not; because it would then appear that he had received the grace of God in vain, and had not been a worker together with him. Many irreligious men, in order to get rid of the duties and obligations of Christianity, quote this verse in their own favor, while they reject all the Gospel besides; and roundly assert, as they think on the authority of this text, that they need neither believe in Jesus Christ, attend to his Gospel, nor use his ordinances; for, if they fear God and work righteousness, they shall be infallibly accepted with him. Let such know that if they had been born and still were living in a land where the light of the Gospel had never shone, and were there conscientiously following the glimmering ray of celestial light which God had granted, they might, with some show of reason, speak in this way; but, as they are born and live under the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God, the just Judge, will require that they fear him, and work righteousness, According to the Light afforded by that very Gospel. The sincerity, watching, praying, fastings and alms-giving of Cornelius will not be sufficient for them who, as it may be justly said, live in splendours of Christianity. In such a state, God requires that a man shall love him with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength; and his neighbor as himself. In the face of such a requisition as this, how will the poor heathen virtue of one born in the pale of Christianity appear? And if God requires all this, will not a man need all the grace that has been brought to light by the revelation of Jesus Christ to enable him to do it?
The word which God sent, etc. - Few verses in the New Testament have perplexed critics and divines more than this. The ancient copyists seem also to have been puzzled with it; as the great variety in the different MSS. sufficiently proves. A foreign critic makes a good sense by connecting this with the preceding verse, thus: In every nation he that feared him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him, according to that doctrine which God sent unto the children of Israel, by which he published peace (i.e. reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles) by Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all; and, because Lord of all, both of Jews and Gentiles, therefore he must be impartial; and, because impartial, or no respecter of persons, therefore, in every nation, whether Judea, Greece, or Italy, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
I believe τον λογον, the word, in this verse, should be translated, that doctrine; and probably ῥημα, which we translate that word in Act 10:37, should be omitted as it is in the Codex Bezae, and its Itala version; and if ὁν, which is in Act 10:36, be even left out, as it is in ABC, Coptic and Vulgate, the whole may be literally read thus: As to the doctrine sent to the children of Israel, preaching the glad tidings of peace (ευαγγελιζομενος ειρηνην) by Jesus Christ, he is Lord of all, ye know what was done (το γενομενον) through all Judea, beginning after the baptism which John preached. Jesus, who was from Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with mighty power (δυναμει) went about doing good, and healing all that were tyrannically oppressed (καταδυναϚευομενους) by the devil, for God was with him. Critics have proposed a great variety of modes by which they suppose these verses may be rendered intelligible; and the learned reader may see many in Wolfius, Kypke, Rosenmuller, and others. Kypke contends that the word Κυριος, Lord, is to be understood adjectively, and ought to be referred to λογος, and the 36th verse will then stand thus: The word which he sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ, that word has authority over all. This amounts nearly to the same sense with the expositions given above; and all proclaim this truth, which the apostle labored to establish, namely, that God intended the salvation of all men by Jesus Christ; and therefore proclaimed reconciliation to all, by him who is Lord, maker, preserver, redeemer, and judge of all. And of this the apostle was now more convinced by the late vision; and his mission from him who is Lord of all to Cornelius, a heathen, was a full illustration of the heavenly truth; for the very meeting of Peter, once a prejudiced Jew, and Cornelius, once an unenlightened Gentile, was a sort of first fruits of this general reconciliation, and a proof that Jesus was Lord of All.
That word - ye know - This account of Jesus of Nazareth ye cannot be unacquainted with; because it has been proclaimed throughout all Judea and Galilee, from the time that John began to preach. Ye have heard how he was anointed with the Holy Ghost, and of the miracles which he performed; how he went about doing good, and healing all kinds of demoniacs and, by these mighty and beneficent acts, giving the fullest proof that God was with him. This was the exordium of Peter's discourse; and thus he begins, from what they knew, to teach them what they did not know.
St. Peter does not intimate that any miracle was wrought by Christ previously to his being baptized by John. Beginning at Galilee. Let us review the mode of Christ's manifestation.
1. After he had been baptized by John, he went into the desert, and remained there forty days.
2. He then returned to the Baptist, who was exercising his ministry at that time at Bethany or Bethabara; and there he made certain disciples, viz., Andrew, Bartholomew, Peter, and Philip.
3. Thence he went to the marriage at Cana, in Galilee, where he wrought his first miracle.
4. And afterwards he went to Capernaum in the same country, by the sea of Galilee, where he wrought many others. This was the manner in which Christ manifested himself; and these are the facts of which Peter presumes they had a perfect knowledge, because they had been for a long time notorious through all the land.
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth - Here the apostle refers to Christ as the promised Messiah; for, as Messiah signifies the anointed one, and Christ has the same signification in Greek, and the Messiah, according to the prophets, and the expectation of the Jews, was to work miracles, Peter proclaims Jesus as the Messiah, and refers to the miracles which he wrought as the proof of it. This delicate, but forcible allusion is lost by most readers.
We are witnesses of all - In this speech St. Peter may refer, not only to the twelve apostles, but to the six brethren whom he had brought with him.
Whom they slew - As the truth of the resurrection must depend on the reality of the death of Christ, it was necessary that this should be stated, and shown to rest on the most indubitable evidence.
Him God raised up the third day - He lay long enough under the power of death to prove that he was dead; and not too long, lest it should be supposed that his disciples had time sufficient to have practiced some deceit or imposture; and, to prevent this, the Jews took care to have the tomb well guarded during the whole time which he lay there.
Not to all the people - In the order of Divine providence, the public were to be no longer instructed by Jesus Christ personally; but it was necessary that those who were to preach redemption in his name should be thoroughly furnished to this good and great work; therefore, the time he spent on earth, after his resurrection, was devoted to the instruction of his disciples.
Witnesses chosen before of God - That is, God chose such men to attest this fact as were every way best qualified to give evidence on the subject; persons who were always to be found; who might at all times be confronted with those, if any such should offer themselves, who could pretend to prove that there was any imposture in this case; and persons who, from the very circumstances in which they were placed, must appear to have an absolute conviction of the truth of all they attested. The first preachers of the Gospel must be the witnesses of its facts; and these first preachers must be put in such circumstances as to demonstrate, not only that they had no secular end in view, nor indeed could have any, but also that they should be able to evince that they had the fullest conviction of the reality of the eternal world, and of their Master's existence in glory there; as they carried their lives continually in their hands, and regarded them not, so that they might fulfill the ministry which they had received from their Lord, and finish their course with joy.
But why was not Christ, after his resurrection, shown to all the people!
1. Because it was impossible that such a thing could be done without mob and tumult. Let it only be announced, "Here is the man who was dead three days, and who is risen from the dead!" what confusion would be the consequence of such an exposure! Some would say, This is he; others, He is like him; and so on; and the valid testimony must be lost in the confusion of the multitude.
2. God chose such witnesses whose testimony should be unimpeachable; the men who knew him best, and who by their depositions in proof of the fact should evidently risk their lives. And,
3. as multitudes are never called to witness any fact, but a few selected from the rest, whose knowledge is most accurate, and whose veracity is unquestionable, therefore, God showed not Christ risen from the dead to all the people, but to witnesses chosen by himself; and they were such as perfectly knew him before, and who ate and drank with him after his resurrection, and consequently had the fullest proof and conviction of the truth of this fact.
And he commanded us to preach - By thus assuring them that Jesus Christ was appointed to judge the world, he at once showed them the necessity of subjection to him, that they might stand in the day of his appearing.
The Judge of quick and dead - The word quick we retain from our ancient mother tongue, the Saxon, to live, and from this our quicks, quick-set hedges, fences made of living thorns, etc. By quick and dead we are to understand:
1. All that had lived from the foundation of the world till that time; and all that were then alive.
2. All that should be found alive at the day of judgment, as well as all that had died previously.
To him give all the prophets witness - See Isa 9:6; Isa 52:7; Isa 53:5, Isa 53:6; Isa 59:20; Jer 31:34; Dan 9:24; Mic 7:18, etc.; and Zac 13:1. As Jesus Christ was the sum and substance of the law and the Mosaic dispensation, so all the prophets bore testimony, either directly or indirectly, to him; and, indeed, without him and the salvation he has promised, there is scarcely any meaning in the Mosaic economy, nor in most of the allusions of the prophets.
Remission of sins - The phrase, αφεσις ἁμαρτιων, means simply the taking away of sins; and this does not refer to the guilt of sin merely, but also to its power, nature, and consequences. All that is implied in pardon of sin, destruction of its tyranny, and purification from its pollution, is here intended; and it is wrong to restrict such operations of mercy to pardon alone.
While Peter yet spake - It in not very likely that the words recorded by St. Luke are all that the apostle spoke on this occasion; but, while he continued to discourse with them on this subject, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word; and his descent was known by their being enabled to speak with different kinds of tongues. In what manner this gift was bestowed we cannot tell; probably it was in the same way in which it had been given on the day of pentecost; for as they spake with tongues, which was the effect of the descent of the Spirit as flaming tongues on the heads of the disciples on the day of pentecost, it is very likely that the same appearance now took place.
They of the circumcision - were astonished - Because it was a maxim with them that the Shechinah or Divine influence could not be revealed to any person who dwelt beyond the precincts of the promised land. Nor did any of them believe that the Divine Spirit could be communicated to any Gentile. It is no wonder, therefore, that they were amazed when they saw the Spirit of God so liberally given as it was on this occasion.
And magnify God - They had got new hearts as well as new tongues; and, having believed with the heart unto righteousness, their tongues made confession unto salvation; and God was magnified for the mercy which he had imparted.
Can any man forbid water - These had evidently received the Holy Ghost, and consequently were become members of the mystical body of Christ; and yet St. Peter requires that they shall receive baptism by water, that they might become members of the Christian Church. In other cases, they received baptism first, and the Spirit afterwards by the imposition of hands: see Act 19:4-6, where the disciples who had received only the baptism of John were baptized again with water in the name of the Lord Jesus; and, after even this, the apostles prayed, and laid their hands on them, before they were made partakers of the Holy Ghost. So we find that Jesus Christ had his water baptism as well as John; and that even he who gave the baptism of the Holy Ghost required the administration of water baptism also. Therefore the baptism of the Spirit did not supersede the baptism by water; nor indeed can it; as baptism, as well as the supper of our Lord, were intended, not only to be means of grace, but standing, irrefragable proofs of the truth of Christianity.
To be baptized in the name of the Lord - That is, in the name of Jesus Christ; which implied their taking upon them the public profession of Christianity, and believing on Christ Jesus as their Savior and Sovereign; for, as they were baptized in his name, they professed thereby to be his disciples and followers.
Then prayed they him to tarry certain days - They felt the necessity of farther instruction, and prayed him to continue his ministry a little longer among them; and to this he no doubt consented. This was properly speaking, the commencement of the Christian Church, as composed of Jews and Gentiles, partaking of the same baptism, united under the same Head, made partakers of the same Spirit, and associated in the same aggregate body. Now was the middle wall of partition broken down, and the Gentiles admitted to the same privileges with the Jews.
1. God is wonderful in all his works, whether they be works of creation, providence, or grace. Every thing proclaims his power, his wisdom, and his goodness. Every where we learn this truth, which is indispensably necessary for all to know who desire to acknowledge God in all their ways that "there is nothing which concerns their present or eternal welfare in which God does not interest himself." We often, to our great spiritual detriment, lose sight of this truth, because we think that the Majesty of God is too great to be occupied with those common occurrences by which we are often much affected, in things which relate, not only to our present, but also to our eternal interests. This is impossible; for God is our father, and, being every where present, he sees our state, and his eye affects his heart.
2. Let the reader examine the chain of Providence (composed indeed of very minute links) brought to light in the conversion of Cornelius, the instruction of Peter, and opening the door of faith to the Gentiles, and he will be convinced that "God has way every where, and that all things serve the purposes of his will." We have already seen how particularly, both by gracious and providential workings, God prepared the mind of Cornelius to receive instruction, and the mind of Peter to give it; so that the receiver and giver were equally ready to be workers together with God. This is a general economy. He who feels his want may rest assured that, even then, God has made the necessary provisions for his supply; and that the very sense of the want is a proof that the provision is already made. Why then should we lose time in deploring wretchedness, for the removal of which God has made the necessary preparations? Mourning over our miseries will never supply the lack of faith in Christ, and very seldom tends even to humble the heart.
3. As the eye of God is ever upon us, he knows our trials as well as our wants; and here, also, he makes the necessary provision for our support. We may be called to suffer, but his grace will be sufficient for us; and, as our troubles increase, so shall the means of our support. And even these trials and temptations will be pressed into our service, for all things work together for good to them that love God, Rom 8:28.
4. We must beware neither to despise outward rites in religion, nor to rest in them. Most people do either the one or the other. God gives us outward helps, because he knows we need them. But do we not sometimes imagine ourselves to be above that which, because of our scantiness of grace, is really above us? We certainly may over-rate ourselves, and under-rate God's bounties. He who is taught by the Spirit of God will be saved from both.