There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,…
The promises of God to "Abraham and his seed for ever" are not going to be diminished now, but something of the extent of them is to be made more plain. Nothing shall be taken from the Jew which he is willing to have and to keep; but much is going to be given, with a manifestation unknown before, to the Gentile. With some form of vision, of dream, of angel-appearance, the covenant of long ages ago was made with the patriarch, and it seems that now, some nineteen centuries later, similar august realities shall be graciously put into movement, to inaugurate the abundant entrance of the whole Gentile world to the blessings of revealed religion. Multifarious as the detail of this chapter is, it is knit together by strongest bonds. It is one in spirit and in subject, and its impression is one. It is the moving drama-like representation of a very real and very significant transition in universal history. We are in the presence of a landmark that shall be seen far and wide and to the end of time. And we may observe -
I. IN WHOM THIS GREAT TRANSITION IS ILLUSTRATED. Confessedly indications of it had not been wanting, while Jesus lived on earth, in the eulogy he pronounced upon the faith of such as the centurion whose servant was ill, and the Syro-phoenician woman. And within the actual ministry of Peter as an apostle, the Ethiopian eunuch, his conversion and baptism, had given similar indications. But more than indications are now arrived. The time is ripe for manifestation. And the illustration, nay, the full and. distinct announcing, of the universal privileges and universal blessings of the gospel of Christ are made in the personal history of Cornelius.
1. He is a Roman. No larger, better type of the world could be chosen.
2. He is a Roman of the profession of arms. No profession could be chosen fitter to yield in fullest surrender to the message of the Prince of peace.
3. He is a man of large and liberal heart, of large and open eye. One detail after another of this history betrays it.
4. He is already of a religious and devout disposition. He is held in her our for his practical goodness among the people. His character as a religious man is regarded by them as a consistent character. But past these, he has been a genuine seeker after God in prayer. Though a Gentile, he had a soul like that of the true Israelite. His gaze was to the East; he would not bow down to the West. Some of the gospel's grandest triumphs are, and are set forth in Scripture as, over the worst lives. But signally the grandest revelations of truth and of things to come have been vouchsafed to the pure and the watchful, those devout in heart and devoted in life - ay, from Enoch to the shepherds of Bethlehem, and on by the Ethiopian and Cornelius to John of Patmos.
II. IN WHAT MANNER THIS GREAT TRANSITION IS FORMULATED. The one great effect is that we are impressed with the Divine initiative and the Divine conduct in even the details of what took place. The Divine purpose shall be carried out with Divine attention.
1. A vision, and an angel in the vision, appear to Cornelius. Instruction lies, no doubt, both in what is said to Cornelius in this vision, and what is left even to him to fill up.
(1) He is graciously and approvingly advised that his "prayers," though he was not of the favored nation, and his "alms" have been noticed of Heaven, and have been accepted. They have availed - even as though they had been "incense" and the "evening sacrifice."
(2) He is told to send to a certain place for "Peter," whose name, possibly enough, he had heard by this time; whom, however, it is evident he did not personally know, both from the mode in which the angel described him, and from what we read of the way in which Cornelius received him (vers. 5, 6, 25).
(3) He is left to gather that Heaven's own clock has signified that the time is ripe for some event on earth worthy of its marking, and, with exemplary promptitude, he does to the letter what he is commanded - and waits the issue. Let alone what was left to Cornelius to surmise, it is left to us also to imagine how this interval was passed by him - how devoutly he mused, how surely he expected what was divinely worth the having from the manner in which communication had been made to him, how he talked about it with any like-minded, and invited such together, that with himself they might share the privilege and responsibility of receiving the illustrious visitor, and hearing his mission.
2. A trance, and a vision in the trance, a voice distinctly repeated, and the direction of the Spirit (ver. 19), are given to Peter. These were to act as
(1) strong impulse to him;
(2) deeper instruction in the understanding of the one universal God and Savior, and one large family of mankind "of one blood," though spread among many a nation of the earth;
(3) literal guidance in the path of duty, and especially when the close of the trance and vision was timed to the hour of the arrival of the embassy from Cornelius. A wondering and awed and asking mind in Peter is in some measure satisfied as well as relieved by the errand and practical work to which he is immediately challenged by the three messengers. We may note that all this is mere myth and idle tale on the page of Scripture, or that it strongly begs our study of providence and a very grateful faith in such providence. Though the age of vision and trance be passed, the age of providence and of the Spirit has not passed and never will pass.
3. A designed and manifestly adapted meeting of instructor and instructed carries on what may be designated without irreverence the divinely planned program of the occasion. Companions and witnesses go with Peter, who has already entertained for one night in the same "lodging" with himself the strange messengers of Cornelius, and arrived at the abode of Cornelius the next day but one after the "trance." Peter finds a little congregation of Gentiles to see him and receive, not so much him, as God's Word by him. All these things must be viewed as the arrangements and preparation for that which was to follow, and to prove itself the great object in the Divine purpose. Forces long estranged are led toward one another in happiest and most impressive omens, and very soon they find themselves one in one "Lord of all." Often have there been larger congregations to hear Peter and brother apostles and the true successors of these to the present; rarely have there been more expectant or more rightly and devoutly prepared.
4. God's own great sermon to the world is now spoken by lips prepared to speak to hearts prepared to receive. The text is that God accepts every man who is ready "to walk humbly with him, to do justice and to love mercy" (Micah 6:8). And the real sermon consists of this, that Jesus Christ is the only way hereto. His Name, his anointing, his unwearied goodness, his oneness with God, his crucifying, his rising from the grave, his charge to the apostles in that mystic forty days that they now should preach him "to all the world," as, in fine, Judge of living and dead, - these are the touching, thrilling, inspiring heads of Peter's discourse, a summary of the way of life. And the practical exhortation in the conclusion amounts to this, that to Jesus all men are to have recourse - he, the one object of faith for the forgiveness of sins: "Every one that believeth on him shall through his Name receive remission of sins." With these words the errand of Peter was very nearly finished. The visions and the trance, the intimations of the Spirit, and the journeyings to and fro of messengers, the expectant Cornelius and friends, have all found their meaning face to face with one another. Men might little think today what lay in that brief address of Peter, or that matter of such precious import could lie in so simple a rehearsal. Yet it was so. Those few words of Peter were even burdened with the material of hope, comfort, joy. They were like the charter of liberty, of right, of wealth, to a household and a nation. They were really such a charter to the world.
III. THE SANCTION BY WHICH THIS GREAT TRANSITION IS CONFIRMED AND CROWNED. This consisted in the descent of the Holy Ghost, with his wondrous powers. It was another scene of Pentecost; nay, it was the other scene of Pentecost, its counterpart. Pentecost in its divinest significance, let us say, in the Divine eye itself, awaited this perfecting. The world, it is true, does not yet lie at the feet of Jesus, but "this day is salvation" proclaimed to the world, and "the Son of man" is announced as "come to seek and to save that which was lost," of whatsoever nation, tribe, tongue. Again, "there was great joy in that city" and in that house. Notice:
1. The stress that is laid on "those of the circumcision" being witnesses of the effects of the descent of the Holy Spirit "upon the Gentiles."
2. The respect shown to the administration of the initiatory rite of baptism.
3. The little stress that is laid upon the matter of who should be the administerers of that rite. It is only said that Peter uttered forth the deciding word that this congregation of Gentiles, upon whom the gift of the Holy Ghost had fallen, and who were showing manifestly forth his "gifts," "should be baptized in the Name of the Lord." We are reminded of the words of Paul, "I thank God I baptized none of you, save," etc. (1 Corinthians 1:14). The apparent abstinence on the part of Peter now, and the language of Paul subsequently, whatever else may possibly underlie them both, may certainly be justly understood to "magnify the office" and the work of preaching. In how little honor do we sometimes hold that which was now honored so highly alike by the anxious longing and attention of Cornelius and his friends; by the conduct of Peter; and by the Divine preparation of vision, trance, the Spirit, and some coincident providences! The "words" of Jesus are "spirit and are life." Near the fount itself they were sometimes honored as such. They spread light and life. They have lost nothing of their own force as time has gone on, nor ever will to time's end, though men may neglect or reject. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,