The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,Chapter 28
Almighty God, thou hast shewn us great and marvellous things in thy Word today. We have read a noble Psalm, and have heard of One who shall come down like rain upon the mown grass and as showers that water the earth We have heard of One coming who shall save the poor and the needy, and be the helper of him that hath no friend. Our hearts have risen to this sublime music, and our expectation has heightened as we have looked for him in whom all nations shall be blessed. Behold, he is amongst us, even now. We have seen the prints of the nails in his hands, and we have thrust our hands into his side. We know now of whom the Psalmist spake; surely not of his own son, but of a greater still, the Son of God, the Solomon of the Universe, the Wisdom Divine. He said he would give us rest. He had the tongue of the learned that could speak a word in season to him that was weary. He bore our sins and carried them in his own body on the tree. He was wounded for our transgressions. From his lips we heard the Beatitudes, than which there are no tenderer words in all thy heaven. He gave himself for us, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us unto God. We would run unto him. We would outstretch our arms to him in token of waiting, and needing, and loving. May we this day find him as we have never found him before; with some new beauty shining on his countenance, and some new tone of music sounding and thrilling in his voice. We have come to seek Jesus, assured that we shall find him. We love him because he first loved us. We do not seek him, for he has himself come to seek and to save the lost. We are lost. We have turned every one to his own way. We have run greedily in paths forbidden, and have done the evil work with both hands earnestly, but Jesus Christ has come after us. He will find us, and the Universe for which he died shall live for him. We will think of thy mercy till our hearts glow with fire that cannot consume them. Thy compassions are new every morning. As for thy tears of pity, they are more than the dews of the night. Thy heart goeth out after us; through all cloud, and mist, and darkness of gloom. Thou dost love us and live for us, and continually send thine angels after us. What is man that thou art mindful of him? Is not his breath in his nostrils? and is he not blown away by the scornful wind? Doth he not live to die? We bless thee for all Christian hope. We thank thee for the light within the light, the glory hidden behind the dawn. Thou hast yet more light to shed upon our life, and thou wilt give it beam by beam as our poor vision may be able to receive it. Oh, give us light! Lord, spare not the gift of light! Lord, help us to walk in the light! Enable us at all times to be as the children of the day, and may thy glory burn in us and shine forth from us upon all by whom we are encircled.
Thou knowest our heart's great hunger. The mystery of our spirit is an open revelation to thine eyes. How poor we are, frail, and faint, and naturally infirm. There is no strength in us. Help us, therefore, knowing our weakness, to abide in Christ, and to seek in him that which we have not in ourselves.
We lovingly commend one another to thy blessing. Hear the strong praying for the weak. Listen to those who form an altar of light, pray for those who are wandering in great darkness. Hear the mother's prayer for the castaway child. See the father's dumb entreaty written upon every line of his face as he thinks of one for whom he dares no longer pray. The Lord hear the praises of the glad, and the sighing of those who are ill at ease. As for the little children, take them up in thine arms, and one embrace of thine shall be the benediction of a lifetime. Dry the tears, no other hand can touch. Lead the blind by a way that they know not, with great comfortings from heaven; consolation upon consolation, like wave upon wave; cause us to forget our sorrows and our daily grief.
Thy Kingdom come, O Christ! Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven, thou God and Father of us all! Amen.
1. There was a certain man in Cæsarea [the usual residence of the Roman Procurator, and consequently garrisoned by Roman troops] called Cornelius, a centurion [commanding the sixtieth part of a legion] of the band called the Italian band.
2. A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people [to the Jews of Cæsarea, as distinct from the Gentiles], and prayed to God alway.
3. He saw in a vision evidently [the adverb here is most important] about the ninth hour [when the evening sacrifice was offered in the temple] of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
4. And when he looked on him he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial [emphatically a sacrificial and liturgical word] before God.
5. And now send men to Joppa [about thirty miles off], and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
6. He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
7. 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;
8. And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
9. On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop [the house of the tanner was an upper room] to pray about the sixth hour:
10. And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance [an ecstasy].
11. And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners [bound by four ends], and let down to the earth:
12. Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
13. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
14. But Peter said, Not so, Lord [a resistance characteristic of Peter—Luke 22:32]; for I have never eaten anything that is common [in the sense of defiled] or unclean.
15. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
16. This was done thrice [the mystic token of a complete ratification]: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
17. Now while Peter doubted [was much perplexed] 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 [porch].
18. And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.
19. [Now. The original has this conjunction.] While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.
20. Arise, therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
21. Then [and] Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? [The last seven words are not in the oldest Greek texts.]
22. And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God [there is no Greek for "from God," but the verb is constantly used of messages from above] by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.
23. Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren [six in number] from Joppa accompanied him.
24. And the morrow after they entered into Cæsarea. [Their road lay all the way along the coast.] And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.
25. And as Peter was coming in [that is, before he entered], Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him [the extremest form of eastern homage].
26. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up: I myself also am a man.
27. And as he talked with him [implying a conversation of some length], he went in [so that the previous part of the interview had been without], and found many that were come together.
28. And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing [from the standpoint of traditional pharisaism] for a man that is a Jew to keep company [to join himself], or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
29. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for; I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?
30. And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing [Revelation 15:6].
31. And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had for remembrance in the sight of God.
32. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee [those words are not in the oldest manuscript].
33. 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 [in this word there is implied the intention to obey] all things that are commanded thee of God.
34. Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive [I am fully convinced] that God is no respecter of persons:
35. But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him [acceptable unto him].
36. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace [Isaiah 52:7] by Jesus Christ: (He is Lord of all):
37. That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee [where Christ's ministerial life commenced] after the baptism which John preached:
38. How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
39. And we [a form of speech which has the force of emphatic addition] are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:
40. Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly [gave him to be manifest];
41. Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
42. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
43. To him give all the prophets witness [He is not an invented Christ], that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
44. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
45. And they of the circumcision [the six Jewish Christians mentioned, Isaiah 11:12] 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.
46. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
47. Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
48. And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
The Conversion of the Gentiles
YOU have noticed no doubt how many dramatic chapters there are in the sacred record. There are three that stand out with special prominence, and to my mind, singular significance. Take, for example, the first chapter of Genesis. What movement, what continual and growing excitement! How worlds are made, and light is parted, and arrangements are completed as if some stupendous event were about to transpire! There is no chapter in the Scriptures more intensely dramatic than the very first chapter in the Bible. There is no rest in it. It is from end to end all palpitation, movement, expectancy, and high color. Something is going to happen! The secret is revealed in these words, and God said, "Let us make MAN." Thus one creation prepares for another, and even necessitates another, because it would without that other be incomplete and self-dissatisfied. Take, again, the first chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. There you have the same chapter repeated under more human and historic conditions. The first chapter of Matthew is the first chapter of Genesis turned into human history. There again you have that movement, urgency, and great rapidity. Things are happening every moment. Surely we shall hear upon the door a hand, the very knocking of which may imply that the KING is not far off. The reading of the genealogical record means something. The secret is revealed in the statement that JESUS was born to save His people from their sins. But notice how intensely dramatic both the chapters are, and how as you read both you feel that you are being prepared for something that is ahead, and if you finished your reading one verse too soon you would feel as if the chapter were a broken column or an incomplete anthem. The heart would say, What is the rest? What more? This cannot be all. But when the Man in the first chapter of Genesis stands up, we say, "This is the explanation!" And when in the first chapter of Matthew One is called EMMANUEL, heaven has kissed earth in token of reconciliation and blessing yet to come. The third chapter, which is in worthy succession, is the tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. What movement, what dreaming and visioning and singular combination of events! What novelty of thought, what audacity of progress! What is the meaning of it all? Having read the first chapter of Genesis, I felt that something was going to happen, and the first chapter of Matthew, that a great event was going to be ushered into history; and now in the tenth chapter of the Acts 1 feel that all these visions and trances must lead to something. What is it? The secret is revealed in these words—worthy to be written with a sunbeam on heaven's most cloudless blue!—"God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him." In all the three dramatic chapters, therefore, I find a result which explains the process and satisfies the imagination.
What unconscious preparations are proceeding in life! We cannot tell what we do. No occasion ends in itself as a separate and independent event. We know not what a day may bring forth, but to-morrow will certainly bring forth the seed of today. "What I say unto one," said Christ, "I say unto all, watch." Always know that you are being prepared for some Divine issue. Your coming to church today may be the making of you! The introduction to a friend this morning may change every aspect of your coming history! The grave you dug but yesterday may be the altar at which your first heart-prayer was uttered! How wondrously Simon Peter was prepared for this marvellous outcoming of Divine purpose. We read in the preceding chapter, in the very last verse of it, that Simon Peter "tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner." He has got so far on the road to the Gentiles. A Jew of Peter's temper who could lodge with a tanner, may to-morrow go to convert a Gentile. God fixes lodgings. Here we cannot but recall what we have read in Jewish history regarding the relation of the superior Jews to the occupation of a tanner. Modern writers have related instances of a prejudice which to the western mind must be simply preposterous. We have not, however, to judge things from our own historical standpoint, but from the civilization to which they specially belong. Now, consider the relation of the superior Jews to the occupation of a tanner. We are indebted to modern writers for our instances. An ancient Rabbi said, "It is impossible that the world can do without tanners, but woe unto that man who is a tanner." This is the fact upon which your reasoning must be based. Not what you think of the occupation of a tanner, but what the Jews thought of it, and then remember that Simon Peter, primate of the Apostles, the senior disciple, lodged with one Simon a tanner! The address is vaguely given—"whose house is by the seaside." The reason being that the Jews would not have tanneries in the towns. Tanneries were a necessity—a hated and detested necessity—but they must be kept as far out of the town as possible—in the sea, if the imperious Jews could have had their way! The tanner was not allowed to have his place of business within fifty cubits of a town. He was kept at a greater distance still if he happened to pursue his trade at the west end of a town. If a man married without telling his bride that he was a tanner, she could instantly demand release from the nuptial vow. The law which provided that the childless widow was to marry the brother of a deceased husband was actually set aside in the event of that brother following the occupation of a tanner. You see then how stubborn were the prejudices which the higher Jews entertained against the occupation of tanning, and yet we read as if it involved no extraordinary principle or secret, that Peter lodged or "tarried many days with one Simon a tanner." It means everything, there is a revolution in these words. There is nothing sublimer in history than is implied in the very last verse of the ninth chapter, "He tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner." This makes a breach in the wall, a stone wall, iron-bound, buttressed with the traditions of generations; this is a breach in the wall that will widen until the whole falls, and man will everywhere hail man as brother!
The point to be observed in this particular study is, how unconsciously men are being prepared for higher communications, wider services, deeper suffering, nobler sympathy. God leads us on step by step. He will send a stubborn Jew who had never eaten anything common or unclean to lodge with one Simon a tanner. Having got him so far on the road, He will send him to a Gentile called Cornelius. The tanner is on the road towards the Centurion! We do not jump to conclusions in Divine Providence. We go forward a step at a time, and we never know how far we have advanced until we come to the last step, and find that it is but a step. Measured from the starting point it is a line longer than miles, but measured by the very last thing we did, it is only a step. This is God's way. This is how He trains you, dear young children, for the last step which we now call death. Now in this early morning of your young life you do not want to die. But little by little, day by day, suffering by suffering, trial by trial, loss by loss, a time will come when even you will say, "I have a desire to depart." God deals thus gradually and gently with us. Sometimes His providences seem to be abrupt and even violent, but in reality they move along a gradation settled and adjusted by the tenderest love. Things that are impossible to you today will be the commonplaces of to-morrow. You do not speak to the farthest-off man at once; he could not hear you; your voice would be strained in the abortive effort to reach him at that great social distance; but you speak to the man who is next to you, and then to the one following, and so a man at a time, you move on until the distance is traversed and he who was once far off has been brought nigh! Upon this daily and inevitable process rests your confidence that prejudice of the most stubborn kind shall be broken down. Boundaries which separate man from man shall be obliterated. Tradition shall go down before the advancing tide of philanthropy, and one day—golden day—we shall know that every land is home and every man is brother!
What mysterious combinations of experiences and events are con tinually taking place. Cornelius "saw in a vision evidently," "an angel of God coming in to him." Peter fell into a trance and heard a voice. That is our daily life. We cannot be shut up within the four corners of a rude and vulgar materialism. God has still over us the mysterious reign of dreams. We have before had occasion to say that dreams enlarge our life. Why wonder if dreams will come true, when dreams are true? You had the dream. Why ask if it will come true? You have forgotten the purpose and mission of dreams. You should have spoken to the angels, you should have said, "What is it, Lord?" You should even have contradicted the angel, and said, "Not so, Lord," and then further conversation would have ensued. Instead of that you continue to sleep, and in the morning ask if dreams come true! You had your chance, and missed it. The night is full of crowds. In the infinite galleries of the night the angels walk, visiting the beloved of God. Dreams of your own causing are not the dreams we are now speaking about. Physical nightmare is one thing, spiritual vision and clairvoyance, the sight of the soul, is another. But even apart from the ministry of the night, the secret coming, and shining, and talking of the angels, we have in our daydreams events sufficiently spiritually mysterious to touch the sentiment that inspires the religious imagination. "How strange," say we, "that it should have been so." "How remarkable that our letters should have crossed." "Why at the very time I was doing this you must have been coming to me. How singular!" You may call it merely singular if you please, but that is an irreligious way of talking about human history and divine issues. It was not an accident. I want to cleanse my life of all mere accidents, and to feel that my downsitting and my uprising, and my outgoing, my incoming are matters of importance in heaven,—that the very hairs of my head are all numbered! Why do we belittle our experience and deplete it of everything that could give nobility, and enlargement, and apocalypse to our highest nature? Rather be it mine to say the vision was from heaven, and an angel spake to me, than to vulgarize the universe and to find in it nothing that I cannot mark with plain figures.
Here we have a higher law swallowing up a lower one, "God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." It requires GOD to show that to some men. This is nothing short of a Divine revelation—to see the man within the creature. I see the figure, but there is something behind it; I see the poor clothing, the unkempt body—there is something behind! I see the roughness, rudeness—there is something behind. A MAN! Said the murmuring multitude respecting Zacchæus, "Christ hath gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." But Jesus called the sinner, "a son of Abraham." He saw the figure within the figure, the ideal within the factual, the spiritual within the material. Through the window of the eye he saw the guest of the house, beautiful as a lost angel, worthful as a creation of God! Lord, open our eyes that we may see one another!
Christianity has come to eat up and absorb all our little laws and to set us under a nobler legislation. Said Christ, "Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?" And turning to His disciples, he said, "Whosoever doeth the will of my Father that is in heaven, the same is my mother, and sister, and brother." We are under the foolish notion that a man is a brother because we were born of the same mother. Nothing of the kind. There may be no greater stranger in the universe than the one born of the same mother. They are brothers who are one in soul, one in conviction, one in hope! The others are but animals, a blood relationship that may be dissolved because of moral considerations, but no man can repudiate intellectual brotherhood, the masonry of the soul, the joy that is felt in a common prayer and a common obedience. This lesson is not fitted for today. Only he that hath ears to hear can hear it. At present it will have no popularity—yea, it will only have partial acceptance; yet I would write it down, and commit it to the judgment of the future, that brotherhood is spiritual not physical, and that the true relationship is one of sympathy and of religious unity—a common feeling of common loyalty to a common Lord.