The Ministry of Peter
PETER, in pursuance of his work, visited the
saints at Lydda. There he healed Aeneas, who had been confined to his bed for eight years
with the palsy. "And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole:
arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron
saw him, and turned to the Lord."
Joppa was near Lydda, and at that
time Tabitha--called Dorcas by interpretation--lay there dead. She had been a worthy
disciple of Jesus Christ, and her life had been characterized by deeds of charity and
kindness to the poor and sorrowful, and by zeal in the cause of truth. Her death was a
great loss; the infant church could not well spare her noble efforts. When the believers
heard of the marvelous cures which Peter had performed in Lydda, they greatly desired him
to come to Joppa. Messengers were sent to him to solicit his presence there.
"Then Peter arose and went with
them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood
by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with
them." Peter had the weeping and wailing friends sent from the room. He then knelt
down and prayed fervently to God to restore life and health to
the pulseless body of
Dorcas; "and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes:
and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when
he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive." This great work of raising
the dead to life was the means of converting many in Joppa to the faith of Jesus.
"There was a certain man of
Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man,
and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed
to God alway." Though Cornelius was a Roman, he had become acquainted with the true
God and had renounced idolatry. He was obedient to the will of God and worshiped Him with
a true heart. He had not connected himself with the Jews, but was acquainted with, and
obedient to, the moral law. He had not been circumcised, nor did he take part in the
sacrificial offerings; he was therefore accounted by the Jews as unclean. He, however,
sustained the Jewish cause by liberal donations, and was known far and near for his deeds
of charity and benevolence. His righteous life made him of good repute among both Jews and
Cornelius had not an understanding
faith in Christ, although he believed the prophecies and was looking for Messiah to come.
Through his love and obedience to God, he was brought nigh unto Him, and was prepared to
receive the Saviour when He should be revealed to him. Condemnation comes by rejecting the
light given. The centurion was a man of noble family and held a position of high trust and
honor; but these circumstances had not tended to subvert the noble
attributes of his
character. True goodness and greatness united to make him a man of moral worth. His
influence was beneficial to all with whom he was brought in contact.
He believed in the one God, the
Creator of heaven and earth. He revered Him, acknowledged His authority, and sought
counsel of Him in all the business of his life. He was faithful in his home duties as well
as in his official responsibilities, and had erected the altar of God in his family. He
dared not venture to carry out his plans, and bear the burden of his weighty
responsibilities, without the help of God; therefore he prayed much and earnestly for that
help. Faith marked all his works, and God regarded him for the purity of his actions, and
his liberalities, and came near to him in word and Spirit.
While Cornelius was praying, God
sent a celestial messenger to him, who addressed him by name. The centurion was afraid,
yet knew that the angel was sent of God to instruct him, and said, "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
Here again God showed His regard for
the gospel ministry, and for His organized church. His angel was not the one to tell the
story of the cross to Cornelius. A man, subject as himself to human frailties and
temptations, was to instruct him concerning the crucified, risen, and ascended Saviour.
The heavenly messenger was sent for the express purpose of putting
Cornelius in connection
with the minister of God, who would teach him how he and his house could be saved.
Cornelius was gladly obedient to the
message, and sent messengers at once to seek out Peter, according to the directions of the
angel. The explicitness of these directions, in which was even named the occupation of the
man with whom Peter was then making his home, evidences that Heaven is well acquainted
with the history and business of men in every grade of life. God is cognizant of the daily
employment of the humble laborer, as well as of that of the king upon his throne. And the
avarice, cruelty, secret crimes, and selfishness of men are known to him, as well as their
good deeds, charity, liberality, and kindness. Nothing is hidden from God.
Immediately after this interview
with Cornelius the angel went to Peter, who, very weary and hungry from journeying, was
praying on the housetop. While praying he was shown a vision, "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 a voice to him,
Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing
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 again into heaven."
Here we may perceive the workings of
God's plan to set the machinery in motion, whereby His will may
be done on earth as it is
done in heaven. Peter had not yet preached the gospel to the Gentiles. Many of them had
been interested listeners to the truths which he taught; but the middle wall of partition,
which the death of Christ had broken down, still existed in the minds of the apostles, and
excluded the Gentiles from the privileges of the gospel. The Greek Jews had received the
labors of the apostles, and many of them had responded to those efforts by embracing the
faith of Jesus; but the conversion of Cornelius was to be the first one of importance
among the Gentiles.
By the vision of the sheet and its
contents, let down from heaven, Peter was to be divested of his settled prejudices against
the Gentiles; to understand that, through Christ, heathen nations were made partakers of
the blessings and privileges of the Jews, and were to be thus benefited equally with them.
Some have urged that this vision was to signify that God had removed His prohibition from
the use of the flesh of animals which he had formerly pronounced unclean; and that
therefore swines' flesh was fit for food. This is a very narrow and altogether erroneous
interpretation, and is plainly contradicted in the Scriptural account of the vision and
The vision of all manner of live
beasts, which the sheet contained, and of which Peter was commanded to kill and eat, being
assured that what God had cleansed should not be called common or unclean by him, was
simply an illustration presenting to his mind the true position of the Gentiles; that by
the death of Christ they were made fellow heirs with the Israel of God. It conveyed to
Peter both reproof and instruction. His labors had heretofore been confined entirely to
the Jews; and he had looked upon the Gentiles as an unclean race, and excluded from the
God. His mind was now being led to comprehend the world-wide extent of the
plan of God.
Even while he pondered over the
vision, it was explained to him. "Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision
which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made
enquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, and called, and asked whether Simon,
which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. While Peter thought on the vision, the 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."
It was a trying command to Peter;
but he dared not act according to his own feelings, and therefore went down from his
chamber and received the messengers sent to him from Cornelius. They communicated their
singular errand to the apostle, and, according to the direction he had just received from
God, he at once agreed to accompany them on the morrow. He courteously entertained them
that night, and in the morning set out with them for Caesarea, accompanied by six of his
brethren, who were to be witnesses of all he should say or do while visiting the Gentiles;
for he knew that he should be called to account for so direct an opposition to the Jewish
faith and teachings.
It was nearly two days before the
journey was ended and Cornelius had the glad privilege of opening his doors to a gospel
minister, who, according to the assurance of God, should teach him and his house how they
might be saved. While the messengers were on their errand, the centurion had gathered
together as many of his relatives as were accessible, that they, as well as he, might be
instructed in the truth. When
Peter arrived, a large company were gathered, eagerly
waiting to listen to his words.
As Peter entered the house of the
Gentile, Cornelius did not salute him as an ordinary visitor, but as one honored of
Heaven, and sent to him by God. It is an Eastern custom to bow before a prince or other
high dignitary, and for children to bow before their parents who are honored with
positions of trust. But Cornelius, overwhelmed with reverence for the apostle who had been
delegated by God, fell at his feet and worshiped him.
Peter shrank with horror from this
act of the centurion, and lifted him to his feet, saying, "Stand up; I myself also am
a man." He then commenced to converse with him familiarly, in order to remove the
sense of awe and extreme reverence with which the centurion regarded him.
Had Peter been invested with the
authority and position accorded to him by the Roman Catholic Church, he would have
encouraged, rather than have checked, the veneration of Cornelius. The so-called
successors of Peter require kings and emperors to bow at their feet, but Peter himself
claimed to be only an erring and fallible man.
Peter spoke with Cornelius and those
assembled in his house, concerning the custom of the Jews; that it was considered unlawful
for them to mingle socially with Gentiles, and involved ceremonial defilement. It was not
prohibited by the law of God, but the tradition of men had made it a binding custom. Said
he, "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. Therefor came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was
sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me."
Cornelius thereupon related his
experience, and the words of the angel that had appeared to him in vision. In conclusion
he said, "Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art
come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are
commanded thee of God. 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." Although God had favored the Jews above all
other nations, yet if they rejected light and did not live up to their profession, they
were no more exalted in His esteem than other nations. Those among the Gentiles who, like
Cornelius, feared God, and worked righteousness, living up to what light they had, were
kindly regarded by God, and their sincere service was accepted.
But the faith and righteousness of
Cornelius could not be perfect without a knowledge of Christ; therefore God sent that
light and knowledge to him for the further development of his righteous character. Many
refuse to receive the light which the providence of God sends them, and, as an excuse for
so doing, quote the words of Peter to Cornelius and his friends: "But in every nation
he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him." They maintain
that it is of no consequence what men believe, so long as their works are good. Such ones
are wrong; faith must unite with their works. They should advance with the light that is
given them. If God brings them in connection with His servants who have received new
truth, substantiated by the Word of God, they should accept it with joy. Truth is onward.
Truth is upward. On the other hand, those who claim that their faith alone will save them
are trusting to a rope of sand, for faith is strengthened and made perfect by works only.
Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit
Peter preached Jesus to that company
of attentive hearers; His life, ministry, miracles, betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection,
and ascension, and His work in heaven, as man's Representative and Advocate, to plead in
the sinner's behalf. As the apostle spoke, his heart glowed with the Spirit of God's truth
which he was presenting to the people. His hearers were charmed by the doctrine they
heard, for their hearts had been prepared to receive the truth. The apostle was
interrupted by the descent of the Holy Ghost, as was manifested on the day of Pentecost.
"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. Then prayed they
him to tarry certain days."
The descent of the Holy Ghost upon
the Gentiles was not an equivalent for baptism. The requisite steps in conversion, in all
cases, are faith, repentance, and baptism. Thus the true Christian church are united in
one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Diverse temperaments are modified by sanctifying grace,
and the same distinguishing principles regulate the lives of all. Peter yielded to the
entreaties of the believing Gentiles,
and remained with them for a time, preaching Jesus
to all the Gentiles thereabout.
When the brethren in Judea heard
that Peter had preached to the Gentiles, and had met with them and eaten with them in
their houses, they were surprised and offended by such strange movements on his part. They
feared that such a course, which looked presumptuous to them, would tend to contradict his
own teachings. As soon as Peter visited them, they met him with severe censure, saying,
"Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them."
of the Church Enlarged
Then Peter candidly laid the whole
matter before them. He related his experience in regard to the vision, and pleaded that it
admonished him no longer to keep up the ceremonial distinction of circumcision and
uncircumcision, nor to look upon the Gentiles as unclean, for God was not a respecter of
persons. He informed them of the command of God to go to the Gentiles, the coming of the
messengers, his journey to Caesarea, and the meeting with Cornelius and the company
collected at his house. His caution was made manifest to his brethren from the fact that,
although commanded by God to go to the Gentile's house, he had taken with him six of the
disciples then present, as witnesses of all he should say or do while there. He recounted
the substance of his interview with Cornelius, in which the latter had told him of his
vision, wherein he had been directed to send messengers to Joppa to bring Peter to him,
who would tell him words whereby he, and all his house, might be saved.
He recounted the events of this
first meeting with the Gentiles, saying, "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?"
The disciples, upon hearing this
account, were silenced, and convinced that Peter's course was in direct fulfillment of the
plan of God, and that their old prejudices and exclusiveness were to be utterly destroyed
by the gospel of Christ. "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and
glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto
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The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.
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