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Cornelius immediately replied that on the fourth day before that, having been fasting all day until the hour in the afternoon at which they were then speaking, he was afterwards privately engaged in prayer at three o'clock, when there appeared before him one whose dress shone brightly, who calling him by his name, told him that God had heard his prayer and had been called to remembrance by his acts of charity. He bid him therefore send to Joppa and invite to his house a man named Simon with the surname of Peter, whom he should find there residing in the house of a tanner of the same name, who lived by the sea side. The angel had added that when this man should come, he would give him some instruction. Having related this, Cornelius added that he had immediately sent for Peter, and he thanked him for coming so readily. He then told Peter that he and his friends were gathered with a solemn feeling of the presence of God, in order to receive all the information which God might have commanded Peter to convey to them.
Upon hearing this Peter broke forth in an earnest exclamation, that truly he now found that it was not national or external privileges, to which God had respect in imparting his favor, but that whether amongst Jews or Gentiles, whoever was influenced by sincere piety according to the light given him, and brought forth its consistent fruits of good conduct, is equally received by Him. The persons to whom he spoke must (he said) have known of the doctrine recently set forth to the Jews, in which God had given the gospel of peace by Jesus Christ, who is equally Lord of all, whether Jew or Gentile. That doctrine had been published throughout the whole of Judea, having begun from Galilee after the preaching of John the Baptist, whose baptism was preparatory to it. It taught that God had given the Holy Ghost in fulness of power to Jesus of Nazareth, who had occupied the time of his ministry upon earth in doing good, and in saving people from the oppressive power of the devil by whom they were possessed, God himself being with him. Peter and the other apostles were the living witnesses of all the miracles which he had done, whether in Jerusalem itself or in the Jewish country. This Anointed One had been slain with the
painful death of crucifixion, and God had raised him up from the grave on the third day after his death. He was seen openly, not indeed by every body, but by those persons whom God had selected beforehand, to be the witnesses to his resurrection. The Apostles were of this number, and had been permitted to eat and drink with him after his resurrection. He had given them instructions to proclaim the gospel to the people publicly, and to declare that this Jesus is he who has from the beginning been appointed by God to be the judge both of those who shall be living when he returns to the earth, and those who shall have died. It is to this Christ that all the prophets bear witness, so that through his name all who believe on him shall receive the pardon of their sins.
As Peter was concluding his address, the Holy Spirit came upon all those who heard it. We are not told, whether this was marked by the rushing noise and the flames of fire, which accompanied the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost; though we may gather that something of that kind did happen, from Peter's afterwards saying, that the Holy Ghost then fell on these Gentiles,
as on the apostles at the beginning.” The only token of the gracious gift which is mentioned is, that Cornelius and his friends were enabled at once to speak in foreign languages, (as had been the case on the day of Pentecost), and that they magnified God for his mercy. The six christian Jews who had accompanied Peter from Joppa were greatly surprised, to find that the wonderful gift of the Holy Ghost was imparted to the gentiles; from which it appears that they had not yet admitted into their minds the possibility of such a thing. Peter asked whether any could object to these Gentiles receiving the seal of baptism appointed by the Lord Jesus, since they had received that of which the water of baptism was but the outward sign, even the Holy Spirit. No such objection could possibly be made, and Peter therefore desired his christian companions to proceed at once in administering baptism to these Gentiles, in the name of the Lord Jesus. After this the newly admitted christians entreated Peter to remain with them for some days, to which we may gather that he consented.
1. As this chapter contains the particulars of that great step which was taken in the advancement of the kingdom of God's grace, when the door was opened to admit the nations of the earth who had not been before in covenant with God, every one of us Gentiles is more especially interested in its details. The person chosen to be first admitted was prepared by the influence of the Holy Spirit upon his character, before that blessed One took possession of him altogether; and it is therefore important that we should mark the particulars of this preparatory condition of Cornelius. He is stated to be a devout man, and one that feared God; which is a form of expression commonly used to point out those who had become acquainted with the true God, without being joined in covenant with him. His piety was of a nature to influence his whole conduct, and he led his family in the knowledge and practice of what he knew himself. He was liberal in disposing of his property for the good of others--he was earnest in his worship of God by prayer—and he was self-denying under conviction of sin, for to his prayer he added fasting. It would be contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture to imagine that, had he refused to come to Christ, these works would have availed Cornelius in the judgment day; and the course of conduct which he adopted was rather the fruit of that Spirit, who began these good works in him, and then led him on until he received the fulness of the blessing. It is necessary to be very particular in observing this, because many have fallen into the mistake of supposing that the character given of Cornelius will be a sufficient standard for themselves to attain to ; whereas, if they do not receive the Spirit of Christ as Cornelius did, they can have no warrant to suppose that they can be safe, because of the prayers or the alms which Cornelius offered before he received that Spirit. Christians may be encouraged to hope for others in whom they see such conduct as that of Cornelius; but no one can be justified in considering himself in a safe state because of such alms and prayers; since the result in the case of Cornelius shewed, that he who had thus acted, stood yet in need of being taught the gospel.
Am I resting my hope of reward hereafter upon my kindly charity or frequent prayers ? Am I acquainted with any
who have that kind of dependance upon their works? If so, do I strive to instruct them in the gospel of Jesus Christ, of which they must be ignorant ?
2. There is scarcely anything which cleaves more to the nature of man, even in his regenerate state, than the tendency to depend upon special privileges ; and to consider those who do not possess them as excluded from the advantages which we ourselves possess. Perhaps the strongest instance of it, is that exclusive notions of the Jewish privileges should have lasted for so long a period after the descent of the Holy Ghost; more especially as the apostles had been sent forth by Christ himself, with the commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. They seem to have understood this command to mean no more than to preach to Jews in every nation under heaven. Eleven years passed from the day of Pentecost until the conversion of Cornelius; during which time none were admitted as members of the church of Christ but Jews, or those who had previously adopted the religion of the Jews and circumcision. So settled was the mind of Peter on this point, that it needed an express revelation from heaven, to satisfy him that he was not doing wrong in holding familiar intercourse with Gentiles; and such a revelation was given to him, in the most suitable and convincing manner. He who had originally made the distinction of the Jewish family from the rest of mankind, and had appointed the difference of clean and unclean, special and common, for the purpose of keeping up that distinction, the same Almighty One informed Peter that those differences were done away with ; and that when God was pleased to give his cleansing Spirit, the distinction was not to be kept up by man. Peter knew how to apply this, when he saw the preparatory marks of the Spirit's influence on Cornelius; and we must follow his example, in readily foregoing the prejudices which may have separated us from any, as soon as we perceive hopeful signs that they are not separated from God.
QUESTION. Do I entertain any prejudices either against a class of persons, or individuals? If so, how far are they removed, with respect to those persons in whom I am able to discern hopeful marks of christian life?
3. In the case of the conversion of the Ethiopian under the teaching of Philip (see page 96), some evidence was given of the combined operation of God's providence with his grace, of his angels with his Spirit; but in the case of Cornelius there are still more striking details, which are very remarkable, with respect to the exact precision in point of time and circumstance with which these operations were carried on. The earliest step that we can trace is, that while Cornelius was in the act of prayer after fasting, an angel was sent to direct him how to proceed. This is the utmost extent of the angelic office, in reference to the conversion of men; that great act upon the soul is reserved for the work of the Spirit of God himself, and (when he pleases to make use of instruments) for the instrumentality of those fellow-sinners with whom the convert is to become a fellow-saint. The ready obedience of Cornelius sent forth his servants, but the angels of providence prepared the circumstances in which Peter was to be found by them ; and the Holy Spirit informed the mind of the appointed minister, precisely when the messengers appeared before the door. He who has been pleased to reveal this detail for our instruction, has worked with similar precision unnumbered times, in producing the circumstances and preparing the instrumentality, by which converts have been added to the Church ever since.
QUESTION. Do I recognize the combined work of grace and of providence in the arrangement of those events by which I have been brought to Christ, and kept within his fold? Do I depend upon such a combined work for my safety at present and in future?