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10. Peter's Vision

1Now there was a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. 3He saw in a vision openly, as it were about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in unto him, and saying to him, Cornelius. 4And he, fastening his eyes upon him, and being affrighted, said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are gone up for a memorial before God. 5And now send men to Joppa, and fetch one Simon, who is surnamed Peter: 6he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side. 7And when the angel that spake unto him was departed, he called two of his household-servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; 8and having rehearsed all things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. 9Now on the morrow, as they were on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour: 10and he became hungry, and desired to eat: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance; 11and he beholdeth the heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending, as it were a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth: 12wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts and creeping things of the earth and birds of the heaven. 13And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. 14But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common and unclean. 15And a voice came unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, make not thou common. 16And this was done thrice: and straightway the vessel was received up into heaven. 17Now while Peter was much perplexed in himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood before the gate, 18and called and asked whether Simon, who was surnamed Peter, were lodging there. 19And while Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. 20But arise, and get thee down, and go with them, nothing doubting: for I have sent them. 21And Peter went down to the men, and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? 22And they said, Cornelius a centurion, a righteous man and one that feareth God, and well reported of by all the nation of the Jews, was warned of God by a holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words from thee. 23So he called them in and lodged them. And on the morrow he arose and went forth with them, and certain of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24And on the morrow they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his kinsmen and his near friends. 25And when it came to pass that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. 26But Peter raised him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man. 27And as he talked with him, he went in, and findeth many come together: 28and he said unto them, Ye yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come unto one of another nation; and yet unto me hath God showed that I should not call any man common or unclean: 29wherefore also I came without gainsaying, when I was sent for. I ask therefore with what intent ye sent for me. 30And Cornelius said, Four days ago, until this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house; and behold, a man stood before me in bright apparel, 31and saith, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. 32Send therefore to Joppa, and call unto thee Simon, who is surnamed Peter; he lodgeth in the house of Simon a tanner, by the sea side. 33Forthwith therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all things that have been commanded thee of the Lord. 34And Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him. 36The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all.) -- 37that saying ye yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. 39And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree. 40Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, 41not to all the people, but unto witnesses that were chosen before of God, even to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. 43To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins. 44While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word. 45And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. 46For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

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Peter's Vision.

9 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:   10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,   11 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:   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; for I have never eaten any thing that is common 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: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.   17 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,   18 And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.

Cornelius had received positive orders from heaven to send for Peter, whom otherwise he had not heard of, or at least not heeded; but here is another difficulty that lies in the way of bringing them together—the question is whether Peter will come to Cornelius when he is sent for; not as if he thought it below him to come at a beck, or as if he were afraid to preach his doctrine to a polite man as Cornelius was: but it sticks at a point of conscience. Cornelius is a very worthy man, and has many good qualities, but he is a Gentile, he is not circumcised; and, because God in his law had forbidden his people to associate with idolatrous nations, they would not keep company with any but those of their own religion, though they were ever so deserving, and they carried the matter so far that they made even the involuntary touch of a Gentile to contract a ceremonial pollution, John xviii. 28. Peter had not got over this stingy bigoted notion of his countrymen, and therefore will be shy of coming to Cornelius. Now, to remove this difficulty, he has a vision here, to prepare him to receive the message sent him by Cornelius, as Ananias had to prepare him to go to Paul. The scriptures of the Old Testament had spoken plainly of the bringing in of the Gentiles into the church. Christ had given plain intimations of it when he ordered them to teach all nations; and yet even Peter himself, who knew so much of his Master's mind, could not understand it, till it was here revealed by vision, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, Eph. iii. 6. Now here observe,

I. The circumstances of this vision.

1. It was when the messengers sent from Cornelius were now nigh the city, v. 9. Peter knew nothing of their approach, and they knew nothing of his praying; but he that knew both him and them was preparing things for the interview, and facilitating the end of their negotiation. To all God's purposes there is a time, a proper time; and he is pleased often to bring things to the minds of his ministers, which they had not thought of, just then when they have occasion to use them.

2. It was when Peter went up upon the house-top to pray, about noon. (1.) Peter was much in prayer, much in secret prayer, though he had a great deal of public work upon his hands. (2.) He prayed about the sixth hour, according to David's example, who, not only morning and evening, but at noon, addressed himself to God by prayer, Ps. lv. 17. From morning to night we should think to be too long to be without meat; yet who thinks it is too long to be without prayer? (3.) He prayed upon the house-top; thither he retired for privacy, where he could neither hear nor be heard, and so might avoid both distraction and ostentation. There, upon the roof of the house, he had a full view of the heavens, which might assist his pious adoration of the God he prayed to; and there he had also a full view of the city and country, which might assist his pious compassion of the people he prayed for. (4.) He had this vision immediately after he had prayed, as an answer to his prayer for the spreading of the gospel, and because the ascent of the heart to God in prayer is an excellent preparative to receive the discoveries of the divine grace and favour.

3. It was when he became very hungry, and was waiting for his dinner (v. 10); probably he had not that day eaten before, though doubtless he had prayed before; and now he would have eaten, ethele geusasthaihe would have tasted, which intimates his great moderation and temperance in eating. When he was very hungry, yet he would be content with a little, with a taste, and would not fly upon the spoil. Now this hunger was a proper inlet to the vision about meats, as Christ's hunger in the wilderness was to Satan's temptation to turn stones into bread.

II. The vision itself, which was not so plain as that to Cornelius, but more figurative and enigmatical, to make the deeper impression. 1. He fell into a trance or ecstasy, not of terror, but of contemplation, with which he was so entirely swallowed up as not only not to be regardful, but not to be sensible, of external things. He quite lost himself to this world, and so had his mind entirely free for converse with divine things; as Adam in innocency, when the deep sleep fell upon him. The more clear we get of the world, the more near we get to heaven: whether Peter was now in the body or out of the body he could not himself tell, much less can we, 2 Cor. xii. 2, 3. See Gen. xv. 12; Acts xxii. 17. 2. He saw heaven opened, that he might be sure that his authority to go to Cornelius was indeed from heaven—that it was a divine light which altered his sentiments, and a divine power which gave him his commission. The opening of the heavens signified the opening of a mystery that had been hid, Rom. xvi. 25. 3. He saw a great sheet full of all manner of living creatures, which descended from heaven, and was let down to him to the earth, that is, to the roof of the house where he now was. Here were not only beasts of the earth, but fowls of the air, which might have flown away, laid at his feet; and not only tame beasts, but wild. Here were no fishes of the sea, because there were none of them in particular unclean, but whatever had fins and scales was allowed to be eaten. Some make this sheet, thus filled, to represent the church of Christ. It comes down from heaven, from heaven opened, not only to send it down (Rev. xxi. 2), but to receive souls sent up from it. It is knit at the four corners, to receive those from all parts of the world that are willing to be added to it; and to retain and keep those safe that are taken into it, that they may not fall out; and in this we find some of all countries, nations, and languages, without any distinction of Greek or Jew, or any disadvantage put upon Barbarian or Scythian, Col. iii. 11. The net of the gospel encloses all, both bad and good, those that before were clean and unclean. Or it may be applied to the bounty of the divine Providence, which, antecedently to the prohibitions of the ceremonial law, had given to man a liberty to use all the creatures, to which by the cancelling of that law we are now restored. By this vision we are taught to see all the benefit and service we have from the inferior creatures coming down to us from heaven; it is the gift of God who made them, made them fit for us, and then gave to man a right to them, and dominion over them. Lord, what is man that he should be thus magnified! Ps. viii. 4-8. How should it double our comfort in the creatures, and our obligations to serve God in the use of them, to see them thus let down to us out of heaven! 4. He was ordered by a voice from heaven to make use of this plenty and variety which God had sent him (v. 13): "Rise, Peter, kill and eat: without putting any difference between clean and unclean, take which thou hast most mind to." The distinction of meats which the law made was intended to put a difference between Jew and Gentile, that it might be difficult to them to dine and sup with a Gentile, because they would have that set before them which they were not allowed to eat; and now the taking off of that prohibition was a plain allowance to converse with the Gentiles, and to be free and familiar with them. Now they might fare as they fared, and therefore might eat with them, and be fellow-commoners with them. 5. He stuck to his principles, and would by no means hearken to the motion, though he was hungry (v. 14): Not so, Lord. Though hunger will break through stone walls, God's laws should be to us a stronger fence than stone walls, and not so easily broken through. And he will adhere to God's laws, though he has a countermand by a voice from heaven, not knowing at first but that Kill, and eat, was a command of trial whether he would adhere to the more sure word, the written law; and if so his answer had been very good, Not so, Lord. Temptations to eat forbidden fruit must not be parleyed with, but peremptorily rejected; we must startle at the thought of it: Not so, Lord. The reason he gives is, "For I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean; hitherto I have kept my integrity in this matter, and will still keep it." If God, by his grace, has preserved us from gross sin unto this day, we should use this as an argument with ourselves to abstain from all appearance of evil. So strict were the pious Jews in this matter, that the seven brethren, those glorious martyrs under Antiochus, choose rather to be tortured to death in the most cruel manner that ever was than to eat swine's flesh, because it was forbidden by the law. No wonder then that Peter says it with so much pleasure, that his conscience could witness for him that he had never gratified his appetite with any forbidden food. 6. God, by a second voice from heaven, proclaimed the repeal of the law in this case (v. 15): What God hath cleansed, that call thou not common. He that made the law might alter it when he pleased, and reduce the matter to its first state. God had, for reasons suited to the Old-Testament dispensation, restrained the Jews from eating such and such meats, to which, while that dispensation lasted, they were obliged in conscience to submit; but he has now, for reasons suited to the New-Testament dispensation, taken off that restraint, and set the matter at large—has cleansed that which was before polluted to us, and we ought to make use of, and stand fast in, the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and not call that common or unclean which God has now declared clean. Note, We ought to welcome it as a great mercy that by the gospel of Christ we are freed from the distinction of meats, which was made by the law of Moses, and that now every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused; not so much because hereby we gain the use of swine's flesh, hares, rabbits, and other pleasant and wholesome food for our bodies, but chiefly because conscience is hereby freed from a yoke in things of this nature, that we might serve God without fear. Though the gospel has made duties which were not so by the law of nature, yet it has not, like the law of Moses, made sins that were not so. Those who command to abstain from some kinds of meat at some times of the year, and place religion in it, call that common which God hath cleansed, and in that error, more than in any truth, are the successors of Peter. 7. This was done thrice, v. 16. The sheet was drawn up a little way, and let down again the second time, and so the third time, with the same call to him, to kill, and eat, and the same reason, that what God hath cleansed we must not call common; but whether Peter's refusal was repeated the second and third time is not certain; surely it was not, when his objection had the first time received such a satisfactory answer. The trebling of Peter's vision, like the doubling of Pharaoh's dream, was to show that the thing was certain, and engage him to take so much the more notice of it. The instructions given us in the things of God, whether by the ear in the preaching of the word, or by the eye in sacraments, need to be often repeated; precept must be upon precept, and line upon line. But at last the vessel was received up into heaven. Those who make this vessel to represent the church, including both Jews and Gentiles, as this did both clean and unclean creatures, make this very aptly to signify the admission of the believing Gentiles into the church, and into heaven too, into the Jerusalem above. Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers, and there we shall find, besides those that are sealed out of all the tribes of Israel, an innumerable company out of every nation (Rev. vii. 9); but they are such as God has cleansed.

III. The providence which very opportunely explained this vision, and gave Peter to understand the intention of it, v. 17, 18. 1. What Christ did, Peter knew not just then (John xiii. 7): He doubted within himself what this vision which he had seen should mean. He had no reason to doubt the truth of it, that it was a heavenly vision; all his doubt was concerning the meaning of it. Note, Christ reveals himself to his people by degrees, and not all at once; and leaves them to doubt awhile, to ruminate upon a thing, and debate it to and fro in their own minds, before he clears it up to them. 2. Yet he was made to know presently, for the men who were sent from Cornelius were just now come to the house, and were at the gate enquiring whether Peter lodged there; and by their errand it will appear what was the meaning of this vision. Note, God knows what services are before us, and therefore how to prepare us; and we then better know the meaning of what he has taught us when we find what occasion we have to make use of it.