On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew near to the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:…
1. We have here one of the great hinges on which history turns. Peter's vision opened up a new era; and here, too, as in every act of the human life drama, is made visible the hand of God. He stood by man in the dawn of his personal history, and spoke to Adam face to face; in the dawn of the patriarchal era, and spoke to Abraham as the Father of the family relationship; in the dawn of political life, and spoke to Moses the head of the nation as the God of nations; at last, at the dawn of the world's consciousness of its final vocation, God made the fact of the God-manhood the spring from which eternal progress should proceed.
2. The questions raised by the narrative are not met by the consideration of Peter's narrowness, nor of the liberal teachings of the vision. The apostle's views were narrow as the discipline of the school is narrow to the student, and that of the student to the man; but they were God's handiwork, and Peter was only pleading God's Word against another which seemed to be opposed to it. You will ever find some of the truest lovers of liberty among the partisans of ancient forms, while the man who throws up his cap and cries liberty is often the veriest tyrant at heart. Nathaniel was resisting the idea that good could come outer Nazareth when Jesus said, "Behold an Israelite indeed," etc. Note —
I. THE EXCLUSIONS OF THE MOSAIC LAW.
1. Here was the school in which Peter learned his prejudice (Leviticus 11:2-20; Deuteronomy 14:3-21). It is easy to speak of his proud and arrogant Judaism (Ezekiel 4:14 is a parallel case). But as we live and learn we get more distrustful of the so-called spirit of progress which cares not what it destroys, so that it may reach its Utopian goal. An intellect quick to seize novelties is mostly found in conjunction with a vain and shallow moral nature, and is sure to disappoint. The moral qualities are those which tell, and among the deepest of these is reverence; and one gets to bear with the slow movement of a reverent spirit for the sake of the great prizes it wins for mankind. The men who work most solidly at the construction of the new are men who are most deeply rooted in the old. You cannot build from balloons, but must have firm foundations.
2. Consider the philosophy of the Mosaic system. Man is a being of a double nature. An animal cannot go far wrong about food; he has an instinct which tells him what is good and what bad. But man is far more richly furnished with appetites, and with objects which gratify them. Why? Because God intended to teach him that appetite is not a sufficient guide, and that he must bring judgment into play. This remark applies far more widely than to matters of eating and drinking; our habits, associates, work, are to be by the elections of a will guided and governed by a reason which acquaints itself with the mind of the Creator. When man was in his first estate this was a simple "of course." Hence the liberty of Adam (Genesis 2:15-17) and of Noah (Genesis 9:1-3). But man again corrupted his way, and the wanton indulgence of appetite became the great bane and destroyer of mankind. So God took the Jewish people, and instructed them in the art of discernment of moral choice. His way with their food is but a specimen of His way in all the education of their souls. And men had to ask about everything — "Is it lawful?" The aim of the discipline being that they should ask, "Is it good?" and make their election accordingly. Pork is a harmless thing to us; eaten freely in the East, leprosy results. But the real question is, Why does not the law put the prohibition on the simple ground — it is not for your good? This leads me to another principle.
3. In the early stages of human culture nothing is strong enough to curb man's desires and to stimulate the exercise of discernment but religion. There is hardly one thing precious to man's secular life which has not been won for him by the force which religion has brought to bear on his natural powers. The knowledge of letters was kept alive solely by the desire of man to read and understand the Word of God and religious books. The desire to calculate rightly church festivals began all the investigations and triumphs of modern astronomy. Monks established the truce of God, and only by the strong hand o! religion could the horrors of war be mitigated. The right of our dead to undisturbed repose was secured by the cross of the Church under whose shadow the ashes of our ancestors lay. And God began from the beginning with the Jews, and made the simplest matters of right or prudence matters of religion from the very first. They were to eat, and fulfil every function of life "because the Lord their God" would have it so.
II. THE PROGRESS OF SOCIETY HAS TENDED TO RELEASE MEN FROM THESE BONDS, and to bring all that concerns man's welfare under the influence of the special faculties which have charge of the separate departments of life.
1. Of old men wrote books for the glory of God; and the religious guardians of men judged whether they fulfilled that purpose and might be safely read. Now men write books simply to tell what they know, and it is left to the taste of society to read them or not. Of old men abstained from meats because they were an abomination to God; now He leaves them free to judge and to choose that which they find to be for their good. Peter might still practise an abstinence which a Roman might regard as idle, but Peter would not be suffered to let that stand in the way of the conversion of the world. The child full-grown was to judge for himself where his legal tutor had hitherto judged for him. Paul fully understood this (Romans 14:1-9). And so it is with all things. A man may eat in England not what he likes, but what he finds to be for his good. So with fast and feast days services, places, etc.
2. But is this use of the natural faculties a less sacred religious duty than was of old obedience to a religious law? Certainly not. The secular duty becomes sacred to the spirit, and the whole life is brought under the broad religious obligation of a freeborn son to a gracious God. "Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid." The progress of Christianity tends to place all man's acts under the rule of his natural faculties given to him for this very end, and to make the right use of these faculties the most sacred duty of his life before God. First law, then liberty, in order to the discovery of the Diviner law, "the perfect law of liberty," wherein to continue is to be blessed. God has made all life sacred. He gives up some, to claim the whole; but to claim it, not peremptorily as a Master, but lovingly as a Father, who seeks not your works, but yourself.
3. God hath cleansed all things to the godly, but to the ungodly nothing is clean. There is nothing common or unclean but a common and unclean soul and its life. That is essential uncleanness, and only one Fountain can cleanse it, only one Spirit consecrate it.
(J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: