Cornelius, and What He Had to Do
Upon reading the tenth chapter of Acts, we see that God determined to "visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name". He graciously resolved to invite men of all the nations of the Roman territory to accept honour, glory, and immortality, in the kingdom and empire about to be established on the ruins of all others. Hitherto He had only invited His own people Israel to this high destiny; but now He was about to extend the gospel call to the nations also.
Before this, however, could be accomplished according to the principles laid down in God's plan, it was necessary to prepare Peter for the work. Although an apostle, he was still a Jew, and had all the prejudices of the Jew against the Gentile. He considered it "unlawful for him to keep company, or come unto one of another nation". The Jews had no more social dealings with the Gentiles than with the Samaritans. And if any had suggested the propriety of his going and preaching the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus to the Gentiles, he would have positively refused. If, however, he had been ever so willing, he could not have done it for various other reasons.
In those days, no one could preach effectually unless he were sent; and, as he had not been sent of God, his mission would have been a failure. Then, he did not know whether God would accept the Gentiles on the same conditions as the Jews, if, indeed, He would admit them to a joint-heirship at all. But, the law was a sufficient wall of separation to keep Jewish preachers and Gentiles apart until God's time should arrive to do it away, and to bring them together into "one body".
Peter, then, had to be prepared for the work. The narrative of his preparation is contained in the tenth chapter of Acts. A direct attack was made upon his prejudices. He became very hungry about 12 o'clock in the day. While waiting for something to eat on the housetop, an amazement came over him. In this state, he saw a great sheet full of all sorts of unclean creatures, fit and appropriate emblems of the moral condition,of the Gentiles. At this crisis, the spirit said, "Rise, Peter, kill and eat". But Peter preferred hunger to defilement; and would not consent, until it was repeated for the third time, that the legal distinction between clean and unclean was done away: - "What God hath cleansed, call not thou common", or unclean .
The impression made upon Peter by this vision is best expressed in his own words. "God hath showed me", said he, "that I should not call any man common, or unclean. Therefore came I to you, Gentiles, as soon as I was sent for." In this way the second key of the kingdom was imparted to him. Its use was to make known the Fellowship of the Mystery.
As soon as Peter's preparation was complete, even while he was debating within himself the meaning of the vision, three Gentile messengers from Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian regiment, arrived from Caesarea, to request him to visit him. The Spirit told Peter to go with them, nothing doubting, for He had sent them.
Now, while God was prepanng Peter's mind for a ready obedience, He had sent a messenger to tell Cornelius to send for Peter. It would be well for the reader to reflect on the character of Cornelius before the angel visited him. He was not a pagan Gentile, or a wicked sinner in danger of hell fire; but a proselyte of righteousness, or an outer-court worshipper. "He was a just and devout man, and one that feared God with all his house; gave much alms to the Jews, among whom he was of good report; and he prayed to God always." No better man, lay or clerical, can be produced from any modern sect than Cornelius. He was a Godfearing, "pious", and generous-hearted man. He was not a perverse, hot-headed, ignorant disciple of some sect; but a man approved of heaven, whose prayers and alms ascended before God as a memorial of him.
But why dwell so on the character of this excellent man? Because a special messenger was sent from heaven to tell even this good man, this just and devout Gentile, to send for the apostle Peter, that he might come from Joppa, and tell him what he ought to do. But, as though this were not explicit enough, the angel stated that "Peter should come and tell him words, whereby he and his house might be saved". Now it is worthy of especial note by the religionists of this self-complacent generation, that this just person was not in a saved state under the new order of things: that he had both to hear words and to do something for his salvation which he had then as yet neither heard nor done. And let it be observed, furthermore, that the angel of God was not permitted to preach the gospel to Cornelius; or, in other words to tell him what he ought to do; or "the words by which he and his house might be saved". He was only allowed to tell him to send for Peter.
From the testimonies before us, then, we learn:
1. That "piety" and morality alone, will not save men;
2. That good and pious men must believe certain things, and do certain others, for salvation;
3. That these things, indispensably necessary to salvation, are set forth in Peter's words spoken to his contemporaries;
4. That Peter's words are the keys to the mystery, and fellowship, of the gospel of the kingdom;
5. That there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles in relation to this mystery;
6. That God hath appointed men, and not angels, to preach the gospel;
7. That Peter was to be sent for, because to him alone the keys were given;
8. That, though piety and morality alone cannot save; neither can faith, unaccompanied by fruits meet for repentance, give a man inheritance in the kingdom of God.
Peter having arrived at the house of Cornelius, announced to all present, "the things which God had commanded him to speak". Having stated the great discovery made to him by the spirit, how that "God was no respecter of persons; but that in every nation he that fears him and works righteousness is accepted of him": - he directed their attention to "that WORD which God sent unto the children of Israel by Jesus Christ", preaching peace. He told them that they were acquainted with that word; for it was published throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after John's proclamation. As they knew it, he did not occupy time in repeating it in detail. The reader knows what the word was that God sent to Israel by Jesus Christ, for we have already spoken of it; but, lest it should have escaped him, we will reiterate it.
"I was sent", says Jesus, "to preach the kingdom of God." This was his message to Israel. Hence, he styles it in the parable of the sower, "the word of the kingdom". This word was so notorious to all that sojourned in the land of Israel, that it was as familiar as any question could possibly be. It was known also to every one, how that Jesus was anointed, or christened, with the Holy Spirit at his immersion in the Jordan by John; and how he went about doing good and healing the infirmities of the people; and none knew better than Roman centurions, that he was slain and hanged on a tree. These were matters of household notoriety and belief. A far more comprehensive faith than that of the moderns; but yet impotent to the justification of Cornelius and his house. More words were yet to be reported to them.
Peter therefore affirmed that God had raised him from the dead; and shown him openly, not to the public in general, but to certain witnesses previously chosen for the purpose, even to the apostles, who could not possibly have been deceived, because they ate fish and bread with him, and drank with him, after he rose froru the dead. These things they heard and believed. The next thing he declared to them was, that God has commanded them to preach to the people Israel, and to testify, that Jesus was he that is appointed of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. Now said Peter, and this was the fellowship of the mystery, "To him give all the prophets witness, that WHOSOEVER believeth in him SHALL RECEIVE REMISSION OF SINS THROUGH HIS NAME".
This was new doctrine to Gentiles. They had heard of it before as preached to Jews; but they heard it now for the first time, that "whosoever believed", whether Jew or Gentile, should receive remission of sins through his Name. Peter had made a very straightforward and simple statement of truth to them. This he called preaching "repentance and remission of sins in the name of Jesus". There was no sermonizing, or text-weaving; no scratching of itching ears; every thing was delivered in a concise and dignified manner, which carried the impress of truth upon its very front. But, he not only opened the mystery of the Gospel of the Kingdom to these Gentiles, but he "preached the gospel to them with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven", for, "while he yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them who heard the Word". When the six Jewish Christians, who accompanied Peter, saw this, they were astonished, because that on the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit as on the apostles themselves on the day of Pentecost. They could make no mistake about this, for "they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God".
Here, then, was the Word preached, and the Word confirmed by the Lord working with Peter. No one that heard the account of these things could doubt for a moment, whether "God had purified their hearts by faith", and accepted them. But still there was something wanting. Peter had told them of remission of sins through the name of Jesus to every one that believes in him; but he had not informed these believers, how they could avail themselves of this omnipotent Name. How were they to be washed, sanctified, and justified by this Name? How were they to take it upon them? In what manner was it to be named upon them? The apostle says, that when the Spirit fell upon them, he had only "begun to speak". If he had not been interrupted by this extraordinary effusion, he would doubtless have fully explained himself upon this point; for, he was not only commanded to preach the name of Jesus, but to command believers to be immersed "INTO THE NAME of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mat. 28:19).
Here, then, is a great matter. The NAME OF JESUS is placed in the institution of immersion, based on an intelligent, child-like belief of "the things of the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ". God has always placed His name in His institutions. Under the law He placed it in the Tabernacle, and afterwards in the Temple at Jerusalem; but, under grace, He has placed it in such a baptism as we have just defined in conformity to which we can "worship him in spirit and in truth", without going to Jerusalem or Samaria. Cornelius and his household were in Caesarea, and in a private house. Peter did not require them to go to Jerusalem, or to a synagogue, in order to worship, or do homage, to God, in spirit and in truth. They had believed the truth spoken by the Spirit through Peter; and they awaited the command of the Spirit as to the manner in which they might work the righteousness of God. Peter, feeling his way with caution, because of his six brethren of the circumcision who accompanied him, inquired, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be immersed, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?"
From this question we learn that there were cases in those days in which the use of water was forbidden, or considered as improper. The apostles did not preach water to the people as the moderns do. They permitted no one to have access to the water unless they believed he was a proper subject. They were sometimes deceived, but that was not their fault; they did their best to discharge their duty faithfully. If a man did not believe the gospel of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they would not immerse him; for it was commanded them that "he that believeth not should be condemned", i.e., should not be unloosed from his sins in the name of Jesus.
The paidorhantists do well to refuse to be immersed; and the Baptists do wrong to urge it upon them. For the sprinklers do not believe the gospel of the kingdom, and neither have they the spirit of the gospel; and therefore, they are not fit to be immersed. The institution of God's name ought not to be desecrated by the immersion of such misbelievers into its formula. Water should be forbidden them. It is not water, but faith, they need at present that one, heart-purifying faith, such as Cornelius and his household possessed, and "without which it is impossible to please God".
It cannot be said that the paidorhantists (that is, infant sprinklers) make too little of water; one great offence against high heaven which they commit is making infinitely too much of it. The efficacy the apostles put in the heart-purifying faith and conscience-cleansing name of Jesus, they place in a few drops of "holy" or common, water, and a physical regeneration of a hypothetic principle in the flesh! They require no faith, no repentance, no confession to qualify their subjects for the water and formula of the Name. They ask only a suckling of eight days, with godfathers and godmothers, whose characters are not even inquired into, to answer questions, which oftentimes they do not understand, and oftener have no intention to conform to the requirements of; or, dispensing with these godless gods, give them the infant with a proxy parental faith in dogmas of a sect, and it will suffice. Paidorhantist "ministers", with solemn mockery of the holy and august name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, will sprinkle the face of the mindless weakling, and impiously proclaim to the people that such is the "one baptism" of the religion of Christ! Is it not wonderful, that God has witnessed this blasphemy for ages, and not rent the heavens with indignation upon them? Great indeed, is the forbearance of the Most High; but the time shall at length come when His patience will have an end. How astounding is the presumption of such! "The people of the Lord", say they, "are we! Wisdom will die with us!" Yet they are faithless of the words of Peter, for they do them not; and have changed the ordinance of God, and made it contemptible. A rhantized, but unbaptized, community is the vast majority of the professing world; and therefore "without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope (no true one) and without God in the world". Them that honour God, He will honour, but they who seek honor one of another, and desecrate His name, are fattening their hearts for the day of slaughter; and are fit only for capture and destruction.
Cornelius and his household differ from these in toto. They all believed the words of Peter, awaiting his commands. He had inquired if there were any present who could, in the face of what they saw and heard, "forbid water that they should not be baptized". He doubtless paused a reasonable time that objections might be urged if any could possibly exist. But all Jewish prejudices were abolished by "the demonstration of the spirit", and they held their peace. Things being brought to this crisis, it only remained for the Spirit of God to pronounce the word. Therefore Peter opened his mouth, and COMMANDED them to be BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF THE LORD.
After this manner Peter used the keys of the kingdom of heaven given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ. When he had accomplished this work, he no longer retained the power of the keys. They were transferred to the multitude of the believing Jews and Gentiles. The spirit had revealed the mystery of the kingdom, and the fellowship of the mystery, by the mouth of Peter on Pentecost and at Caesarea, so that the keys became the common property of all believers. The Lord "who hath the key of David, hath opened and no man can shut" (Rev. 3:7-8). He hath set before the Gentiles "an open door, and no man can close it", so long as the scriptures are in the hands of the people. The false prophet may dangle keys at his girdle, and affect the power of the Son of God; but so long as THE LAW AND THE TESTIMONY are accessible whosoever is athirst may come; and whosoever will may take the water of life freely. The scriptures contain the keys. Popes, priests, clergy and ministers may suppress, torture, and garble the truth, and throw hindrances in the way; but the man who discards their authority, and thinks for himself, may, by the enlightening efficacy of the living word, become " wise unto salvation by the faith which is in Jesus Christ". Let the people then help themselves, if they would that God should aid them.
Source: Elpis Israel