We have here the meeting between Peter the apostle, and Cornelius the centurion. Though Paul was designed to be the apostle of the Gentiles, and to gather in the harvest among them, and Peter to be the apostle of the circumcision, yet it is ordered that Peter shall break the ice, and reap the first-fruits of the Gentiles, that the believing Jews, who retained too much of the old leaven of ill-will to the Gentiles, might be the better reconciled to their admission into the church, when they were first brought in by their own apostle, which Peter urges against those that would have imposed circumcision upon the Gentile converts (Acts 15:7), You know that God made choice among us that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel. Now here,
I. Peter is directed by the Spirit to go along with Cornelius’s messengers (Acts 10:19, 20), and this is the exposition of the vision; now the riddle is unriddled: While Peter thought on the vision; he was musing upon it, and then it was opened to him. Note, Those that would be taught the things of God must think on those things; those that would understand the scriptures must meditate in them day and night. He was at a loss about it, and then had it explained, which encourages us, when we know not what to do, to have our eyes up unto God for direction. Observe, 1. Whence he had the direction. The Spirit said to him what he should do. It was not spoken to him by an angel, but spoken in him by the Spirit, secretly whispering it in his ear as it were, as God spoke to Samuel (1 Sam. 9:15), or impressing it powerfully upon his mind, so that he knew it to be a divine afflatus or inspiration, according to the promise, John 16:13. 2. What the direction was. (1.) He is told, before any of the servants could come up to tell him, that three men below want to speak with him (Acts 10:19), and he must arise from his musings, leave off thinking of the vision, and go down to them, Acts 10:20. Those that are searching into the meaning of the words of God, and the visions of the Almighty, should not be always poring, no, nor always praying, but should sometimes look abroad, look about them, and they may meet with that which will be of use to them in their enquiries; for the scripture is in the fulfilling every day. (2.) He is ordered to go along with the messengers to Cornelius, though he was a Gentile, doubting nothing. He must not only go, but go cheerfully, without reluctance or hesitation, or any scruple concerning the lawfulness of it; not doubting whether he might go, no, nor whether he ought to go; for it was his duty “Go with them, for I have sent them: and I will bear thee out in going along with them, however thou mayest be censured for it.” Note, When we see our call clear to any service, we should not suffer ourselves to be perplexed with doubts and scruples concerning it arising from former prejudices or pre-possessions, or a fear of men’s censure. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind, and prove his own work.
II. He receives both them and their message: He went down to them, Acts 10:21. So far was he from going out of the way, or refusing to be spoken with, as one that was shy of them, or making them tarry, as one that took state upon him, that he went to them himself, told them he was the person they were enquiring for. And 1. He favourably receives their message; with abundance of openness and condescension he asks what their business is, what they have to say to him: What is the cause wherefore you are come? and they tell him their errand (Acts 10:22): “Cornelius, an officer of the Roman army, a very honest gentleman, and one who has more religion than most of his neighbours, who fears God above many (Neh. 7:2), who, though he is not a Jew himself, has carried it so well that he is of good report among all the people of the Jews—they will all give him a good word, for a conscientious, sober, charitable man, so that it will be no discredit to thee to be seen in his company—he was warned from God,” echrematisthe—“he had an oracle from God, sent to him by an angel” (and the lively oracles of the law of Moses were given by the disposition of angels), “by which he was ordered to send for thee to his house (where he is expecting thee, and ready to bid thee welcome), and to hear words of thee: they know not what words, but they are such as he may hear from thee, and not from any one else so well.” Faith comes by hearing. When Peter repeats this, he tells us more fully, they are words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved, Acts 11:14. “Come to him, for an angel bade him send for thee: come to him, for he is ready to hear and receive the saving words thou hast to bring to him.” 2. He kindly entertained the messengers (Acts 10:23): He called them in, and lodged them. He did not bid them go and refresh and repose themselves in an inn at their own charge, but was himself at the charge of entertaining them in his own quarters. What was getting ready for him (Acts 10:10) they should be welcome to share in; he little thought what company he should have when he bespoke his dinner, but God foresaw it. Note, It becomes Christians and ministers to be hospitable, and ready, according as their ability is, and there is occasion for it, to entertain strangers. Peter lodged them, though they were Gentiles, to show how readily he complied with the design of the vision in eating with Gentiles; for he immediately took them to eat with him. Though they were two of them servants, and the other a common soldier, yet Peter thought it not below him to take them into his house. Probably he did it that he might have some talk with them about Cornelius and his family; for the apostles, though they had instructions from the Spirit, yet made use of other information, as they had occasion for it.
III. He went with them to Cornelius, whom he found ready to receive and entertain him. 1. Peter, when he went with them, was accompanied by certain brethren from Joppa, where he now was, Acts 10:23. Six of them went along with him, as we find, Acts 11:12. Either Peter desired their company, that they might be witnesses of his proceeding cautiously with reference to the Gentiles, and of the good ground on which he went, and therefore he invited them (Acts 11:12), or they offered their service to attend him, and desired they might have the honour and happiness of being his fellow travellers. This was one way in which the primitive Christians very much showed their respect to their ministers: they accompanied them in their journeys, to keep them in countenance, to be their guard, and, as there was occasion, to minister to them; with a further prospect not only of doing them service, but of being edified by their converse. It is a pity that those who have skill and will to do good to others by their discourse should want an opportunity for it by travelling alone. 2. Cornelius, when he was ready to receive him, had got some friends together of Cesarea. It seems, it was above a day’s journey, nearly two, from Joppa to Cesarea; for it was the day after they set out that they entered into Cesarea (Acts 10:24), and the afternoon of that day, Acts 10:30. It is probable that they travelled on foot; the apostles generally did so. Now when they came into the house of Cornelius Peter found, (1.) That he was expected, and this was an encouragement to him. Cornelius waited for them, and such a guest was worth waiting for; nor can I blame him if he waited with some impatience, longing to know what that mighty thing was which an angel bade him expect to hear from Peter. (2.) That he was expected by many, and this was a further encouragement to him. As Peter brought some with him to partake of the spiritual gift he had now to dispense, so Cornelius had called together, not only his own family, but kinsmen and near friends, to partake with him of the heavenly instructions he expected from Peter, which would give Peter a larger opportunity of doing good. Note, We should not covet to eat our spiritual morsels alone, Job 31:17. It ought to be both given and taken as a piece of kindness and respect to our kindred and friends to invite them to join with us in religious exercises, to go with us to hear a sermon. What Cornelius ought to do he thought his kinsmen and friends ought to do too; and therefore let them come and hear it at the first hand, that it may be no surprise to them to see him change upon it.
IV. Here is the first interview between Peter and Cornelius, in which we have, 1. The profound and indeed undue respect and honour which Cornelius paid to Peter (Acts 10:25): He met him as he was coming in, and instead of taking him in his arms, and embracing him as a friend, which would have been very acceptable to Peter, he fell down at his feet, and worshipped him; some think, as a prince and a great man, according to the usage of the eastern countries; others think, as an incarnate deity, or as if he took him to be the Messiah himself. His worshipping a man was indeed culpable; but, considering his present ignorance, it was excusable, nay, and it was an evidence of something in him that was very commendable—and that was a great veneration for divine and heavenly things: no wonder if, till he was better informed, he took him to be the Messiah, and therefore worshipped him, whom he was ordered to send for by an angel from heaven. But the worshipping of his pretended successor, who is not only a man, but a sinful man, the man of sin himself, is altogether inexcusable, and such an absurdity as would be incredible if we were not told before that all the world would worship the beast, Rev. 13:4. 2. Peter’s modest and indeed just and pious refusal of this honour that was done him (Acts 10:26): He took him up into his arms, with his own hands (though time was when he little thought he should ever either receive so much respect from or show so much affection to an uncircumcised Gentile), saying, “Stand up, I myself also am a man, and therefore not to be worshipped thus.” The good angels of the churches, like the good angels of heaven, cannot bear to have the least of that honour shown to them which is due to God only. See thou do it not, saith the angel to John (Rev. 19:10; 22:9), and in like manner the apostle to Cornelius. How careful was Paul that no man should think of him above what he saw in him! 2 Cor. 12:6. Christ’s faithful servants could better bear to be vilified than to be deified. Peter did not entertain a surmise that his great respect for him, though excessive, might contribute to the success of his preaching, and therefore if he will be deceived let him be deceived; no, let him know that Peter is a man, that the treasure is in earthen vessels, that he may value the treasure for its own sake.
V. The account which Peter and Cornelius give to each other, and to the company, of the hand of Heaven in bringing them together: As he talked with him—synomilon auto, he went in, Acts 10:27. Peter went in, talking familiarly with Cornelius, endeavouring, by the freedom of his converse with him, to take off something of that dread which he seemed to have of him; and, when he came in, he found many that were come together, more than he expected, which added solemnity, as well as opportunity of doing good, to this service. Now,
1. Peter declares the direction God gave to him to come to those Gentiles, Acts 10:28, 29. They knew it had never been allowed by the Jews, but always looked upon as an unlawful thing, athemiton—an abomination, for a man that is a Jew, a native Jew as I am, to keep company or come unto one of another nation, a stranger, an uncircumcised Gentile. It was not made so by the law of God, but by the decree of their wise men, which they looked upon to be no less binding. They did not forbid them to converse or traffic with Gentiles in the street or shop, or upon the exchange, but to eat with them. Even in Joseph’s time, the Egyptians and Hebrews could not eat together, Gen. 43:32. The three children would not defile themselves with the king’s meat, Dan. 1:8. They might not come into the house of a Gentile, for they looked upon it to be ceremonially polluted. Thus scornfully did the Jews look upon the Gentiles, who were not behindhand with them in contempt, as appears by many passages in the Latin poets. “But now,” saith Peter, “God hath shown me, by a vision, that I should not call any man common or unclean, nor refuse to converse with any man for the sake of his country.” Peter, who had taught his new converts to save themselves from the untoward generation of wicked men (Acts 2:40), is now himself taught to join himself with the towardly generation of devout Gentiles. Ceremonial characters were abolished, that more regard might be had to moral ones. Peter thought it necessary to let them know how he came to change his mind in this matter, and that it was by a divine revelation, lest he should be upbraided with it as having used lightness. God having thus taken down the partition-wall, (1.) He assures them of his readiness to do them all the good offices he could; that, when he kept at a distance, it was not out of any personal disgust to them, but only because he wanted leave from heaven, and, having now received permission, he was at their service: “Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for, ready to preach the same gospel to you that I have preached to the Jews.” The disciples of Christ could not but have some notion of the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, but they imagined it must be only to those Gentiles that were first proselyted to the Jewish religion, which mistake Peter acknowledges was not rectified. (2.) He enquires wherein he might be serviceable to them: “I ask, therefore, for what intent you have sent for me? What do you expect from me, or what business have you with me?” Note, Those that desire the help of God’s ministers ought to look well to it that they propose right ends to themselves in it, and do it with a good intention.
2. Cornelius declares the directions God gave to him to send for Peter, and that it was purely in obedience to those directions that he had sent for him. Then we are right in our aims, in sending for and attending on a gospel-ministry, when we did it with a regard to the divine appointment instituting that ordinance and requiring us to make use of it. Now,
(1.) Cornelius gives an account of the angel’s appearing to him, and ordering him to send for Peter; not as glorying in it, but as that which warranted his expectation of a message from heaven by Peter. [1.] He tells how this vision found him employed (Acts 10:30): Four days ago I was fasting until this hour, this hour of the day that it is now when Peter came, about the middle of the afternoon. By this it appears that religious fasting, in order to the greater seriousness and solemnity of praying, was used by devout people who were not Jews; the king of Nineveh proclaimed a fast, Jonah 3:5. Some give these words another sense: From four days ago I have been fasting until this hour; as if he had eaten no meat, or at least no meal, from that time to this. But it comes in as an introduction to the story of the vision; and therefore the former must be the meaning. He was at the ninth hour praying in his house, not in the synagogue, but at home. I will that men pray wherever they dwell. His praying in his house intimates that it was not a secret prayer in his closet, but in a more public room of his house, with his family about him; and perhaps after prayer he retired, and had this vision. Observe, At the ninth hour of the day, three of the clock in the afternoon, most people were travelling or trading, working in the fields, visiting their friends, taking their pleasure, or taking a nap after dinner; yet then Cornelius was at his devotions, which shows how much he made religion his business; and then it was that he had this message from heaven. Those that would hear comfortably from God must be much in speaking to him. [2.] He describes the messenger that brought him this message from heaven: There stood a man before me in bright clothing, as Christ’s was when he was transfigured, and that of the two angels who appeared at Christ’s resurrection (Luke 24:4), and at his ascension (Acts 1:10), showing their relation to the world of light. [3.] He repeats the message that was sent to him (Acts 10:31, 32), just as we had it, Acts 10:4-6. Only here it is said, thy prayer is heard. We are not told what his prayer was; but if this message was an answer to it, and it should seem it was, we may suppose that finding the deficiency of natural light, and that it left him at a loss how to obtain the pardon of his sin and the favour of God, he prayed that God would make some further discoveries of himself and of the way of salvation to him. “Well,” saith the angel, “send for Peter, and he shall give thee such a discovery.”
(2.) He declares his own and his friends’ readiness to receive the message Peter had to deliver (Acts 10:33): Immediately therefore I sent to thee, as I was directed, and thou hast well done that thou hast come to us, though we are Gentiles. Note, Faithful ministers do well to come to people that are willing and desirous to receive instruction from them; to come when they are sent for; it is as good a deed as they can do. Well, Peter is come to do his part; but will they do theirs? Yes. “Thou art here prepared to speak, and we are here prepared to hear,” 1 Sam. 3:9, 10. Observe, [1.] Their religious attendance upon the word: “We are all here present before God; we are here in a religious manner, are here as worshippers” (they thus compose themselves into a serious solemn frame of spirit): “therefore, because thou art come to us by such a warrant, on such an errand, because we have such a price in our hand as we never had before and perhaps may never have again, we are ready now at this time of worship, here in this place of worship” (though it was in a private house): “we are present, paresmen—we are at the business, and are ready to come at a call.” If we would have God’s special presence at an ordinance, we must be there with a special presence, an ordinance presence: Here I am. “We are all present, all that were invited; we, and all that belong to us; we, and all that is within us.” The whole of the man must be present; not the body here, and the heart, with the fool’s eyes, in the ends of the earth. But that which makes it indeed a religious attendance is, We are present before God. In holy ordinances we present ourselves unto the Lord, and we must be as before him, as those that see his eye upon us. [2.] The intention of this attendance: “We are present to hear all things that are commanded thee of God, and given thee in charge to be delivered to us.” Observe, First, Peter was there to preach all things that were commanded him of God; for, as he had an ample commission to preach the gospel, so he had full instructions what to preach. Secondly, They were ready to hear, not whatever he pleased to say, but what he was commanded of God to say. The truths of Christ were not communicated to the apostles to be published or stifled as they thought fit, but entrusted with them to be published to the world. “We are ready to hear all, to come at the beginning of the service and stay to the end, and be attentive all the while, else how can we hear all? We are desirous to hear all that thou art commissioned to preach, though it be ever so displeasing to flesh and blood, and ever so contrary to our former notions or present secular interests. We are ready to hear all, and therefore let nothing be kept back that is profitable for us.”