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his sight. He baptized him, and the Holy Ghost descended on him.
That the descent was marked by the peculiar symbol of the Comforter, and consequently conferred on him gifts of the highest order, has been before pointed out, as an inference fairly to be drawn from the sacred records of his ministry. Ananias's declaration alone may be taken as strong presumption of the fact. “ The Lord hath sent me that thou mayest receive thy sight,” and “be filled with the Holy Ghost.” It is in itself, we say, a strong presumption of the fact, because independently of the consideration that he did possess extraordinary gifts) the latter expression does not ever seem to have been extended to a communication of the Spirit by the imposition of hands. St. Luke, to whose writings it is peculiar, uses it from the first only on those occasions when the immediate agency of God is his subject, e.g. the appointment of John the Baptist, and the baptism and manifestation of Christ. Observing this same phrase in his account also of the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, his sparing use of it subsequently, and the very remarkable occasions on which it does occur, the conclusion is inevitable.
PREACHING TO JEWS AND DEVOUT GENTILES.
From A.D. 41-45.
CONVERSION OF CORNELIUS.
HITHERTO the messengers of Christ and of the Holy Spirit had Acts x. been sent only to the Jews, to "the lost sheep of the house of Matt. x. 6; Israel,” or to those to whom they had communicated their privileges and hopes.
Hitherto all who had been baptized were, either by birth or proselytism, members of that society which God had set apart as “his own,” had elected, sanctified, taught, and governed. Meanwhile the Divine Dispenser was preparing, by a bold and unexpected innovation, to extend his sphere of operation. Among the unsanctified and unclean, of those who belonged not to the Mosaic covenant, and held no interest in its promises, a portion was now to be invited on equal terms into the kingdom of the Messiah.
Saul had been converted, and was engaged in a course of duty which might train him for still hardier efforts in his peculiar and more important commission. By his removal from the persecuting faction at Jerusalem, too, “ the churches throughout all Judæa and Acts ix. 31. Galilee and Samaria” were left unmolested. All was ripe, then, for the counsel of God to take effect.
In one sense this change was not unexpected. It had been too The often and too plainly intimated by our Lord, for his apostles, at of the least, to have misunderstood him. In those remarkable parables, Gentiles had especially, of the great supper, and of the labourers in the vineyard, predicted the very circumstance of the gradual admission of the Gentiles is by Christ. unfolded. Nevertheless, they were far from comprehending the Matt. xx. I. exact import of these hints and declarations, and seem in this instance, as on the subject of Christ's death, to have received them in humble faith, expecting still that some unforeseen method would be devised, to reconcile the truth of their Master's assertions with their own preconceived views. Few points in the general character of the apostles is more worthy of attention than this uncertainty, this vague surmise, with which they received so many important objects of faith. It is thoroughly in keeping, not as a feature of
of St. Peter in the
Judaism merely, but of human nature; and explains to us why our Lord so often repeated his admonition to them to believe. Belief under such circumstances formed their chief trial during his abode on earth.
It was the trial under which Judas sank, Peter wavered, and all forsook him and fled. Ill fares it with the Christian, when he attempts to force the doctrine of his Master into an unnatural accordance with prejudices however sanctified.
So it was, then, that nothing less than an express and particular revelation, corroborated by a train of circumstances equally extraordinary, was found requisite to induce the apostle chosen for this new ministry to engage in an enterprise so strange and revolting to the whole church. Doubtless, he (and so also the Jews) conceived that God regarded with some difference of favour those “devout Gentiles” who, having forsaken idolatry, worshipped him in spirit and in truth; but that this favour should be so far extended, as to make them fellow-heirs with the Israelites of the promises of the Messiah's reign, promises which they had ever considered as pecu
liar and unalienable, this was as yet quite incomprehensible. Early Up to this period in the history of the infant church, we may prominence observe that Peter occupies the chief, almost the whole attention of
the sacred historian. Whatever of an extraordinary nature is to be Apostolic History. done, whatever implies a more immediate intercourse with the Holy
Spirit, is committed to Peter, either alone, or as the principal agent. It is he who first rouses the drooping brethren to exertion. It is he whose inspired preaching on the day of Pentecost works conviction in three thousand souls. It is he who passes the sentence of the Holy Ghost on Ananias and Sapphira ; it is he whose prayer is made effectual for the lame, the palsied, and the dead—whose shadow is deemed holy, and whose very garments convey virtue in their touch. It is Peter who is prominent, and first in every gift and endowment of the Spirit, and in none more than in that "bold
or“ freedom of speech 1295 before the people of the Sanhedrim, which was an especial and high characteristic of an apostle. 30
One cannot help perceiving in all this, and in the attention which the sacred writer has directed to it, that some object must have been intended by the Holy Spirit in thus selecting for a time one apostle for repeated communications, instructions, and powers, and also in leaving a record of this preference, whilst the contemporary labours of the others are scarcely noticed. Peter was evidently going through a course of discipline and preparation for this peculiar and trying office. It was—or we should rather say it might have beennecessary thus to accustom him to the frequent instructions of the Spirit, in order that he might be so familiar with the heavenly vision, as to entertain no momentary doubt as to its reality, however much the import of its message should astonish and confound him.
Reasons for this.
38 II ceper,oice.
36 See Acts i. 15; ii. 14; v. 15, 16, 29; ix. 34, 36; iv. 13.
“Rise and go with them, nothing doubting, because I have sent thee;" I, the voice with which thou art familiar. For the better assurance of the church, that the apostle had not been deluded, it might have been requisite that they should be accustomed to regard him as the chief agent of the Spirit, and the great worker of miracles. With their strong disposition to revolt against the unexpected turn which the new dispensation was taking, it might have been necessary that he who was the agent in so unpopular a work, should, by this course of eminent ministry, and especially by acting as the mainspring in the regulation of such affairs as were left to their uninspired decision, acquire an authority and weight of official character, which might of itself repress or soften down the spirit of murmuring. That all this might have been requisite, the event proves. For although it was Peter who converted the first Gentile convert; although he pleaded in his defence an express revelation; although that revelation had received a counterpart in a vision to the devout Gentile, who was to be the first-fruits of his order; although the Holy Spirit had, as it were, reproved his backwardness, by descending before baptism on the destined converts: still, on this subject, there long lurked in the bosoms of the elder members of the church a stubborn and implacable feeling. This ill-suppressed jealousy at length showed itself in the disputes at Syrian Antioch, Gal ii. 11. concerning the conformity of these converts to the Jewish law, and subsequently so far prevailed over the firmness of their own apostle, as to subject him to the well-known rebuke of St. Paul.
Some few circumstances attending this opening of the Gospel commission to the devout Gentiles will be now considered. At the same time, in confirmation of the remarks which have just been made on the preparatory discipline of Peter for this work, it
be observed, that with the conversion of Cornelius, all that exclusive or peculiar regard to him in the narrative of the Acts ceases. Henceforward It he is not represented as taking a more prominent part in the apostolic ministry than others. The object of his having been made to do so was accomplished, and with the same view the remainder, and by far the greater portion, of the Acts is occupied with St. Paul. In his ministry was henceforth developed the mystery of godliness, and is to trace the progressive stages of which is the main object of St. attributed Luke's history Merely judging from the result of their collective ministry, we know that th other apostles and ministers of the Spirit must have been actively engaged, each in his own course of duty; but St. Paul's line was the main road in the course of Christianity, into which St. Peter's gradually widened, and to which therefore the brief historian of the Holy Spirit's progressive
37 His imprisonment is indeed subse- sion on all parties. Herod imprisoned quently recorded in full detail, but only, him, and designed to take away his life, it would seem, in order the more fully to because he saw that it was pleasing to illustrate the effect of his new commis- the Jews.-Acts xii. 3. H.
Revelation of the admission of
dispensation naturally and judiciously confined the residue of his narrative.
I have remarked that St. Peter, at the time he was sent to the
devout Gentiles, had no more intimation than the great body of the the Dievout Church, that the Gospel was ever to be preached to the idolatrous
Gentiles also. It may be observed, that Cornelius is particularly described as a devout Gentile, “ who feared God with all his house. The representation under which he was announced to Peter, is that of “a righteous man, and one who feared God, and could appeal for his character to the whole nation of the Jews. Peter, knowing all this, and having communicated personally with the good centurion, yet prefaces his address to those assembled in his house by saying, that he had hitherto considered such as he shut out from communion with God's people ; but that God having declared 30 the contrary, by telling him to call no man common or unclean, he had come to them without scruple. This shows that he understood his revelation as intended only to remove the barrier between the Jew and the proselyte of the gate, or mere believer in Jehovah. That he certainly considered the extension as proceeding no further, may be made more clear from the words which he exultingly uttered on the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Cornelius and his household -words spoken in the rapture of the moment, and therefore the more likely to convey the liveliest impression which his mind had conceived of the liberality and unreservedness of the Spirit's dispensation. “ Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted by him.” This unquestionably limits his view to those of the Gentiles who had already renounced idolatry—in short, the devout Gentiles. It explains, also, in what sense he had understood the Divine communication made to him, that “what God had cleansed, it was not for him to call common;" namely, that, in every nation he who already feared God, and worked righteousness, and he only, had been cleansed and accepted by God. With the same
sentiment, the Church of Jerusalem received his statement of what Acts xi. 18. had taken place, “ glorifying God and saying, Then hath God also
granted even to the Gentiles repentance unto life.” In this sense, then, it will be necessary to consider the admission of the Gentiles to be spoken of, until the period when it shall appear that the Church became acquainted with the design of the Holy Spirit to offer baptism to the idolatrous Gentiles also.
38 Μαρτυρούμενος υπό όλου του έθνους των and circumstances; e.g. that he was Ιουδαίων.
anxiously careful of his household, and
was held in very high estimation by the 39 "Edge. Is there not some probability Jews. Otherwise, too, it seems strange, that Cornelius, and the centurion, whose that nothing further should have been sick servant Jesus healed, were one noticed of one so promising, as to receive and the same? Several points in the the Saviour's praise, “I have not found brief description of the latter coincide so great faith, no, not in Israel.”—Matt. very closely with Cornelius's character viii. 10.