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What is it, Lord ?' And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are
come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter : he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea-side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.' And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour : and he became very hungry, and would have eaten ; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came voice to him, 'Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.' And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." This was done thrice : and the vessel was received up again into heaven.”
It must be remembered that the law of Moses gave many directions in reference to particular kinds of meat, calling those clean, which might lawfully be eaten, and those unclean, which might not. These rules were not intended to continue for ever, but
were designed to help in separating the Jews from the other nations of the earth, and to guard them against usages which were in days of old connected with idolatry. The removal of the difference between clean and unclean meats, was exactly like the abolition of the distinction between Jews and Gentiles; and as God's command made it lawful for Petec to eat what he had hitherto refrained from as unclean, so the same command made it lawful for men to keep company with men of any nation.
While Peter was considering what the vision meant, the messenger from Cornelius arrived at the door, and the Holy Spirit said unto him, “Behold, three men seek thee. Arise, therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.”
Peter being thus instructed went with the messengers, and having arrived at the house of Cornelius, found many that were come together. “And he said unto them, ' Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent
have sent for me?'” Cornelius then told Peter what had caused him to send to Joppa. “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, '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 with Him.'” And he proceeded to preach Jesus unto them, telling them how He had been anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with power, and had gone about doing
good, God being with Him; and how He had been crucified, and had risen again ; and how the apostles had been sent to declare His Resurrection, and to announce that through His name, whosoever should believe on Him should receive remission of sins. “ While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 'Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we ? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”
Thus did God show manifestly that it was no longer necessary for believers in Christ to observe the ceremonies of the Jewish law. It now began to appear in what sense Stephen had taught that Jesus of Nazareth would change the customs which Moses delivered to the children of Israel, as St. Paul was afterwards inspired to declare fully, “ There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” Colos. iii. 11.
The apostles and brethren at Jerusalem soon heard what Peter had done. But many were as yet unprepared for such a change. They had thought that in the Church of Christ, all the Jewish ceremonies were to be strictly observed ; that the Gentiles were first to become Jews, and then to be admitted into the Church. It was quite a new and strange thing that a man like Cornelius, who had merely renounced
idolatry, should at once be admitted to baptism ; and that Peter should apparently make no difference between such persons as the family of Cornelius, and the observers of the Jewish law. Some proceeded to question Peter's conduct, and laid a complaint against him. Then Peter explained the whole matter from the beginning, and told his brethren how God had expressly charged him to act as he had done. In particular, he alleged the testimony which had been borne by the miraculous gift of the Holy Ghost to Cornelius and his family, while Peter was addressing them. “ And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
Acts x. xi. 1-18.
THE CHRISTIANS AT ANTIOCH.
THE believers, who had been dispersed after the martyrdom of Stephen, had travelled beyond the limits of Palestine. They had gone to Phænice, a strip of land along the sea-coast to the north of the Holy Land, in which were Sidon and Tyre and other
cities rich and populous. They had visited Cyprus, an island lying off the coast of Asia Minor, and there had made known the name of Christ.
But the chief town, in which the gospel was thus published, was Antioch, a large and flourishing city in Syria, situated upon the banks of the river Orontes, about fifteen miles from the sea, and from its port Seleucia. Most of the dispersed believers preached only to the Jews; but there were some, who, when they came to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
We must observe that in the time of the apostles there were Jews living in almost every country in the known world; they and their families being settled in foreign lands, but still observing the Jewish law, and considering Jerusalem their native city. These Jews spoke the Greek language, which was commonly used by the people among whom they dwelt, and are sometimes called in the Acts of the Apostles Grecians, while the Jews that spoke Hebrew were called Hebrews. These were the Grecians who murmured against the Hebrews (Acts vi. 1), because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration; and the Grecians with whom Paul disputed (Acts ix. 29) on his first visit to Jerusalem.
The Grecians at Antioch (Acts xi. 20), to whom the dispersed spake, were not Jews at all, but Gentiles, like Cornelius. *
Thus the word was becoming known to Gentiles * The Greek Jews are called in the original Hellenists, the Greek Gentiles, Hellenes.