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4. Upon every occasion on which the preaching of the apostles has been reported to us, we find the essential truths of the righteousness of God-the atonement of Christ-and the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, put forth with plainness; and especially we find the fact of the resurrection of Jesus, and the doctrine of his future judgment, declared and insisted on. These things are witnessed to us by God's word, and his Spirit working with it applies it now, as it was applied when Peter preached to Cornelius; and although the miraculous evidences of the Spirit's presence are not now vouchsafed, yet the ordinary effects of these truths, produced by the same Spirit, bring forth evident fruits in the holy course of life that marks a true child of God.
As I profess to believe all that Peter declared to Cornelius, do I manifest the spiritual effect of such truths in my life and conversation?
O gracious' God, who art of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, thou knowest the sinfulness that cleaveth to my best works; pardon the iniquity of even my holy things, and for the sake of Christ receive me graciously. Let me not be deceived by the appearance of goodness which any works of mine may put forth; and make me to feel the blessing of fulfilling those duties that thou hast appointed for me to walk in-as thou workest in me to will and to do of thy good pleasure. Thou, who hast given us great and precious promises, whereby we may be made partakers of the divine nature, remember my great need, and be mercifully pleased to fufil those promises to me according to that need. Bestow upon me the gift of the Holy Ghost; and let me have grace so to put thee in remembrance that thou hast said " ask and it shall be given thee,” that I may daily increase in that Holy Spirit more and more. Teach me, heavenly Father, to love others as thou hast loved me in Christ Jesus, to feel the sinfulness of resisting thy sovereignty. Enable me to discern with charity the tokens of thy Spirit in persons of every class; and to receive as brethren all whomsoever
thou hast manifested as thy children. I praise thee, gracious God, and magnify thy name, that thou hast been pleased to give thine angels charge concerning those things which have tended to my peace in Christ Jesns; and hast thyself wrought in me the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. Teach me to trust thee now and for ever, in all the ways in which thou mayest be pleased to lead me; and grant that I may ever follow the direction of thy Spirit, and so be sure that I am under the guardianship of thy providence. Guide me, gracious Lord, in thy way holiness. Uphold me with thy power; and give me grace that while I name thy name, O Christ, I may be able to depart from all iniquity, and to shew myself thy servant, zealous of good works. AMEN.
Peter's defence before the Church.
TIME.-Spring, A.D. 41.
May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, give me the Holy Spirit, that I may understand this portion of His Holy Word, and profit by it.
ACTS, chap. XI. verses 1 to 18.
And the apostles and brethren that were in Judæa heard that the 2 Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, "Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with 4 them." But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and ex5 pounded it by order unto them, saying, "I was in the city of Joppa praying and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it 6 came even to me: upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and 7 creeping things, and fowls of the air. And I heard a voice saying unto 8 me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.' But I said, 'Not so, Lord: for
nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.' 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, 'What God hath cleansed, 10 that call not thou common.' And this was done three times and all
were drawn up again into heaven. And, behold, immediately there were 11 three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Cæsarea unto me. And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. 12 Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house and he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, 13 which stood and said unto him, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and 14 all thy house shall be saved.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost 15 fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word 16 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 17 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 18 these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." .
The extraordinary fact that a Roman officer, with all his family, had been admitted into the christian church at Cæsarea, was speedily brought to the ears of the apostles and christians at Jerusalem and the neighbouring country. As soon therefore as Peter returned to that city, his brethren there (who being all born Jews were strongly impressed with the same feelings that had before influenced himself) found great fault with him, for having mixed with uncircumcised persons; and for having even acted so contrary to the customs and regulations of the Jews, as to join these Gentiles at a meal.
Peter answered their accusations, by giving a simple narrative of the circumstances that had taken place. He began at the beginning, and explained to them the whole course of events regularly. He told them how he had been engaged in prayer when at Joppa, and had been entranced for a time, during which he had seen the heavenly vision. He described the manner in which the sheet, gathered up at the corners, had come from heaven to him the variety of animals which it contained-and the voice which he heard calling upon him to kill of these animals and satisfy his hunger. He then informed his brethren, how he had given vent to the same feelings that they were then entertaining; and had protested that he had never defiled himself by eating anything common or
unclean; and how upon this an answer had come from heaven, forbidding him to call anything common, which God had been pleased to cleanse. He mentioned the repetition of this three times, and the fact that the animals were then all taken up into heaven.
Then he related the coincidence of the arrival of the three messengers from Cæsarea precisely at that moment, and the command of the Holy Spirit to go with them without uncomfort of conscience. He mentioned the six christian brethren whom he had taken with him as witnesses; and who having come with him afterwards to Jerusalem, were then present to confirm his statement. Then he gave an account of what had occurred at Cæsarea ;-how Cornelius had informed him of the angel's visit and direction to send for Peter. He stated that the angel had given Cornelius to understand, that when Peter came, he would tell him of things by which he and all his family would be saved. Then Peter mentioned the result which followed his address to the assembled family of the centurion; describing the descent of the Holy Ghost upon them, as it had come upon those who received it on the first day of Pentecost.
Peter stated that when this took place, it brought to his remembrance what they had heard the Lord say just before his ascension (see page 2), that the baptism used by John the Baptist was an outward washing of water, but that his disciples should be baptized with the Holy Ghost. (Acts i. 5.) As God had been pleased evidently to bestow upon these Gentiles the same baptisin of the Spirit as He had given to the Jewish disciples, Peter asked his brethren how it was possible that such a one as he should dare to object to the act of God.
This plain statement of facts had the effect of convincing the church at Jerusalem: they not only withdrew all opposition to Peter's conduct, but they gave praise and glory to God for what appeared to them to be so astonishing an instance of His mercy. It was plain that God had been pleased to bestow the gift of repentance even to those who were not Jews, by which they passed from death unto life.
1. It is extremely interesting to perceive the difference
between the temper manifested by the christians at Jerusalem upon Peter's arrival, and the feeling of love which may be seen in their manner of receiving his explanation. In the first instance they spoke under the power of a mistaken prejudice, which belonged to the infirmity of their original nature, still cleaving to the renewed man; but as soon as they had plain and satisfactory evidence of God's purpose and will it was enough: and though the consequence was one calculated to shock their pride in all their cherished privileges, yet the power of grace, which made the testimony of the fact convincing to their minds, enabled them also cordially to receive it in their hearts. Such ought always to be the result of an humble search into the word of God, in order to ascertain the divine will upon any point concerning which we may entertain any prejudice. The effect of education and of the habits of early life are often seen, in the fixed notions which seem to us essentially correct, however unscriptural they may really be. It is a great blessing, whenever we are enabled to lay aside such pre-conceived mistakes in the spirit of love, which was shewn upon this occasion.
Are there any opinions or doctrines, on which Christians differ, that I myself hold with strong feeling? If so, have I diligently searched in God's word to ascertain his will concerning them? and how do I conduct myself towards those of an opposite opinion?
2. In what took place upon this occasion, we may perceive the advantage which may be gained by a plain statement of simple evidence, rather than a discussion of doctrines. Peter might have gone at large into arguments, abundantly sufficient to prove that he had acted according to the spirit of the gospel, and the commission they had received from the Lord; but the argument of Peter would very naturally have drawn out the opinions of his brethren. As however God himself had decided the question, the simple reference to His decision took all matters of hindrance out of the way. Whenever a similar reference can be made to the authority of God in his word, all discussion and controversy becomes a dangerous snare and an en