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12. If any man ask how he could see a great multitude of living creatures at once, the question is easily answered. For Luke saith, All manner, because there were there divers kinds mixed one with another. Therefore he beginneth not at the first kind, that he may prosecute the number unto the last. Again, we must not measure this seeing according to the manner of men, because the trance gave Peter other eyes. But before we go any farther we must know the end of the vision. Some dispute more subtilely about the same than the place requireth, in my judgment. Therefore, I think that it is generally showed to Peter that the difference which God had made in times past is now taken away. And as he had put difference between living creatures, so, having chosen to himself one people, he counted all nations unclean and profane.
Now the difference between living creatures being taken away, he teacheth by the consequent that there is no such disagreement among men any longer as there was in times past, and that there is no difference between the Jew and the Grecian. Hereby Peter is admonished that he do not abhor the Gentiles as being unclean. Undoubtedly, God meant to encourage Peter to come to Cornelius without fear; but he had separated one people to himself from the rest, as saith Moses in his song, when as the Most High did distribute the nations, he put his lot in Jacob, etc., (Deuteronomy 32:9;) therefore he called it his inheritance and peculiar people.
According to this order, it had not been lawful to Peter to bring the covenant of salvation unto the Gentiles; for that was to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs, (Matthew 15:26,) unless, peradventure, they would be circumcised, and embrace the Jewish religion; for it was lawful to receive such as did yield themselves. Wherefore, when as the apostles were sent before to preach the gospel, they were forbidden to turn in unto the Gentiles, (Matthew 10:5.) And forasmuch as the preaching of the gospel is a most holy and weighty matter, Peter ought not to have attempted any thing therein with a doubting and wavering mind. Therefore, to the end he may be assured of his calling, God showeth manifestly, as in a picture, that the legal difference between the clean and unclean is abolished; whence he may gather that the wall which was heretofore between the Jews and the Gentiles is now pulled down. And Paul saith, that it is a mystery hid from the beginning of the world, that the Gentiles are made partakers of the same salvation with the people of God, and ingrafted into one body, (Ephesians 2:16; Ephesians 3:6.)
Therefore Peter durst never have opened the gate of heaven unto the Gentiles, unless God himself had made a plain way and entrance for all men, by taking away the wall of separation. I said even now that there was no time wherein it was not lawful to admit the Gentiles unto the worship of God, so they were circumcised; but so long as they continued in uncircumcision they were strangers with God. But now God made the covenant of life common to all the whole world, which he had shut up in one nation, as in a treasure. Whence we gather that this vision is not a little profitable for us; for, when as it teacheth that the difference between Jews and Gentiles continued only for a season, it is as much as if God should pronounce from heaven that he receiveth all people of the world into favor, that he may be God over all. Finally, we have an evident proclamation from heaven, which putteth us in hope of eternal life.
But some men will object that Peter was taught before concerning this matter; for he and the rest were commanded to preach the gospel throughout the whole world, (Mark 16:15.) Therefore, he was either ignorant of his calling, or else this vision was superfluous. I answer, that there was such and so great difficulty in the novelty itself, that they could not acquaint themselves therewith by and by. They knew both the prophecies of the prophets, and the late commandment of Christ concerning the calling of the Gentiles by the gospel; but when they come to the push, they doubted nevertheless, being stricken with the strangeness of the thing. Wherefore, it is no marvel if the Lord confirm Peter with a new sign, concerning which thing we must also say somewhat as yet in the next chapter.