While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.…
I. SOME CIRCUMSTANCES THAT PRECEDED THIS DESCENT.
1. The time of the miracle — "While Peter was speaking." The Holy Ghost cannot go at a slow pace; it is the devil in the serpent that creeps, but the Spirit as a dove flies. As regards the centurion we may say, "When God teaches, how fast a godly man learns." Christ did His miracles in an instant. It is true that there is a growth in knowledge, and ignorance is overcome by degrees; but when the Holy Ghost takes a man into His school, He deals not with him as a painter who makes an eye, an ear, etc., and passes his pencil a hundred times over every muscle and hair, and in many sittings make up one man, but He deals as a printer that in one strain delivers a whole story. The time, then, was when Peter prepared by the Holy Ghost was to prepare others for the Holy Ghost. "When he spoke," i.e. —
2. Preached to them. For to him who has a spiritual taste no honey is so sweet as the Word of God preached according to His ordinance. If a man taste a little of this as Jonathan did, though he think his eyes enlightened, it may be to his death (1 Samuel 14:27). If a man read the Scriptures a little, superficially, he 'thinks he sees everything clear as the sun: but he may find wormwood in this honey,' because he finds "the wages of sin is death," and he will take no more of the honey, viz., that "when a sinner repents he shall find mercy." As the Essential Word, the Son is Light of light, so is the written Word — one place takes light of another: and if thou wilt so read and hear that thine affections mislead thee; if thou hear sermons so that thou art glad when sins are rebuked that thou art free from, and art deaf when thine own sins are declaimed against, thou wilt take so little of this honey that Jonathan's case will be thine. The Scriptures are made to agree with one another, but not to agree with thy particular humour. But yet the counsel is good on the other side too (Proverbs 25:16). Content thyself with reading and hearing what is clear and profitable, and perplex not thyself with those things which God has not revealed.
3. "Whilst he yet spake." The Spirit did not leave them to future meditations, but spoke at once to their consciences. As a gardener takes every bough, and places it against a wall where it will produce most fruit, so the Holy Ghost places the words of the preacher, one upon an usurer, another on an adulterer, another on an ambitious person, another on a briber, when the preacher knows of none of these.
4. Nay, it is not only "whilst he was yet speaking," but as St. Peter says in the next chapter, "As I began to speak." It was then when, whilst, and as soon as, he preached; but Peter had some preparation as we know from the vision, and with the subject of his preaching he was well acquainted (ver. 43). So while his manner was extemporal, his matter was prepared.
II. THE DESCENT itself.
1. The Person who fell. As the Trinity is the most mysterious part of our religion, so in the Trinity the Holy Ghost is the most mysterious Person. But these mysteries are not to be chewed by reason, but to be swallowed by faith. We professed the three Persons in one God at our baptism, and have sealed that contract in the other sacrament: and this is bur eternal life. There is a Holy Ghost, and He falls down on those who hear the Word.
2. It is as wonderful that He should fall down from heaven and yet be in heaven. "How art thou fallen" (Isaiah 14:12) was asked of a being who should never return. But the Spirit fell so from, that He remained in heaven. This Dove did more than that which was sent from the ark (Genesis 8:7).
3. But there is more than a descent, even an earnest communication, a throwing, a pouring out of Himself. He falls as waters that cover that it falls on, as an army which conquers and governs that on which it falls. But He falls otherwise on the ungodly; on him He falls like hail, and leaves him in impenitence because be hath despised the Holy Ghost. But when the Spirit puts on the nature of a dove, and a dove with an olive branch, and that in the ark — i.e., testimonies of our peace and reconciliation with God, in His Church — He falls as that kind of lightning which melts swords and hurts not scabbards — He shall melt thy soul, and not hurt thy body.
4. Further, this falling of the Holy Ghost was not such an insinuation that He conveyed Himself into these particular men for their salvation, but such a powerful and diffusive falling as made them work for others. A great doubt was removed by them whether it were lawful to receive Gentiles. So this falling was not an infusion of justifying grace merely, but also such an infusion of gifts as might edify others. Good hearers, then, became good preachers.
(J. Donne, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.