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10. Peter's Vision

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 3He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. 4And 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 before God. 5And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: 6He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. 7And 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; 8And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.

9On 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: 10And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, 11And 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: 12Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 13And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. 15And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 16This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. 17Now 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, 18And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.

19While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. 20Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them. 21Then 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? 22And 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 by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. 23Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends. 25And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. 26But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man. 27And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together. 28And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me? 30And 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, 31And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. 32Send 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. 33Immediately 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 all things that are commanded thee of God.

34Then 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 accepted with him. 36The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) 37That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38How 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. 39And we 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: 40Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; 41Not 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. 42And 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. 43To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

44While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45And they of the circumcision 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. 46For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

4. And he beheld, and was afraid. Luke expresseth his attentiveness in plain words, that we may know that it was no vain imagination which came upon the man as he was sleeping or doing some other thing. The fear wherewith he was taken 655655     “Terror quo correptus est,” the terror with which he was seized. proceeded from the perceiving of the majesty of God; 656656     “Ex sensu Divinae Majestatis,” from a sense of the Divine Majesty. for so soon as men conceive the presence of God, they must needs be afraid and cast down with fear. And whereas his words do no whit terrify us, that must be imputed to our sluggishness, because we do not know nor perceive that it is God which speaketh. But the godly, to whom God revealeth himself in his word, do tremble when they hear it, as Isaiah saith, (Isaiah 66:2, 5.) Furthermore, the sight of God is unto them terrible, not that they may always lie confounded, and be swallowed up of fear, but only that they may humbly address themselves to reverence him.

What is it, Lord? It appeareth plainly by this answer, that Cornelius’ mind was touched with religion; that he knew that he had to deal with God. Therefore the common translation hath it evil, 657657     “Haabet male,” is inaccurate. Who art thou, Lord? And it is likely that that which is there read was put in instead of this, forasmuch as in the Greek text there is no doubtfulness, whereby the interpreter might be deceived, and all the copies agree together in this reading, τι εστι. And assuredly, when Cornelius perceived that it is God, he submitteth himself to obey; as the answer is nothing but a commandment.

Thy prayers and alms. Because God seemeth to be after a sort deaf, unless he answer our petitions by and by, hence cometh that speech, that our prayers come unto him, and that he is mindful thereof. Furthermore, the angel assigneth this as the cause why God vouchsafeth to show to Cornelius the light of his gospel; because he hath heard his prayers and accepted his alms. Whence we gather that virtues and good works do not only please God, but that they are also adorned with this excellent reward, that he heapeth upon us and enricheth us with greater gifts for their sakes; according to that, “To him that hath shall be given,” (Matthew 13:12.) And again,

“Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will set thee over many things,”
(Matthew 25:21.)

For God doth after this sort extol his by a continual course of his gifts, as it were by certain steps, until he bring them to the top.

But the Papists abuse this place two ways; for because God respected the prayers and alms of Cornelius, so that he endued him with the faith of the gospel, they wrest that unto the preparations which they have invented, as if a man did get faith by his own industry and power, and did prevent 658658     “Antevertat,” anticipate. the grace of God by the merits of works. Secondly, they gather, generally, that good works are meritorious in such sort, that the graces of God are increased in every man as he hath deserved. In the former they are too childishly deceived, whilst that they feign that the works of Cornelius were acceptable to God before he was illuminate by faith. And we need not to fet [seek] a proof far to refute their ignorance; for he could obtain nothing by prayer unless faith went before, which only openeth the gate for us to pray; and Augustine weigheth that well and wisely, who derideth Pelagius, because he said that faith was obtained by prayers before it was in man in any measure: Who (saith he) will seek a physician save he who is already healed in some part? And it is the health of faith which teacheth us to knock. Furthermore, the fear of God and godliness do plainly prove that he was regenerate by the Spirit. For Ezekiel giveth 659659     “Vendicat,” claimeth. this praise to God alone, that he frameth the hearts of men to fear him, (Ezekiel 32:40 [sic].) And Isaiah saith, that the Spirit of the fear of God resteth in Christ, (Isaiah 11:2,) that we may know that he can be found no where save only in his members. Therefore it is too great folly to feign a man in the person of Cornelius, who, having nature for his guide, can attain unto eternal life, or endeavor to come thither. Therefore they reason blockishly, that we are able to prevent the grace of God with the merits of works.

As touching the second error, when as they imagine that every one of us is increased with greater graces as he hath deserved, it may easily be refuted. First, we deny that we have any good works which God hath not freely given us; secondly, we say that the right use of gifts cometh from him also and that this is his second grace, that we use his former gifts well. Thirdly, we deny that we deserve any thing by our works, 660660     “Conciliant,” procure. which are always lame and corrupt. Good works do indeed purchase for us the increase of grace, but not by their own desert. For they cannot be acceptable to God without pardon, which they obtain by the benefit of faith. Wherefore it is faith alone which maketh them acceptable. 661661     “Quae pretium illis statuit,” which gives them their value. Thus did Cornelius obtain more perfect knowledge of Christ by his prayers and alms, but in that he had God to be favorable and merciful to his prayers and alms, that did depend upon faith.

Furthermore, if good works be esteemed [estimated] by faith, it is of mercy, and not of merit, that God doth allow [approve] them. For because faith findeth no worthy thing in us whereby we can please God, it borroweth that of Christ which we want. And this is too perverse, that though the Papists have this word merit every now and then in their mouths, and cease not to puff up fools with a vain confidence, yet they bring nothing whereby the studies of men may be moved to do well. For they leave their consciences always in a doubt, and command men to doubt whether their words please God or not. Must not men’s minds need faint when they are possessed with such fear? But as for us, though we take merit from works, yet when as we teach that there is a reward laid up for them, we prick men forward with an excellent and sharp prick, to desire to live well. For we address ourselves then joyfully to serve God, when we are persuaded that we lose not our labor. And whereas there appeareth at this day no more plentiful abundance of the gifts of the Spirit, but that the more part doth rather wither away, we must thank our unthankfulhess for that. For as God did crown Cornelius’ prayers and alms, and holiness, with the most precious pearl of his gospel, so there is just cause why he should suffer us to starve, being brought unto hungry poverty, when as he seeth us abuse the treasure of his gospel wickedly and ungodlily.

Yet here may a question be asked, Whether faith require the knowledge of Christ, or it be content with the simple persuasion of the mercy of God? for Cornelius seemeth to have known nothing at all concerning Christ. But it may be proved by sound proofs that faith cannot be separated from Christ; for if we lay hold upon the bare majesty of God, we are rather confounded with his glory, than that we feel any taste of his goodness. Therefore, Christ must come between, that the mind of man may conceive that God is merciful. And it is not without cause that he is called the image of the invisible God, (Colossians 1:15;) because the Father offereth himself to be holden in his face alone. Moreover, seeing that he is the way, the truth, and the life, (John 14:6;) whithersoever thou goest without him, thou shalt be enwrapped on every side in errors, and death shall meet you [thee] on every side. We may easily answer concerning Cornelius. All spiritual gifts are offered unto us in Christ; and especially whence cometh regeneration, save only because we are ingrafted into the death of Christ, our old man is crucified? (Romans, 6:5, 6.) And if Cornelius were made partaker of the Spirit of Christ, there is no cause why we should think that he was altogether void of his faith; neither had he so embraced the worship of the true God, (whom the Jews alone did worship,) but that he had also heard 662662     “Quin aliquid simal... audesset,” without having at the same time heard. somewhat of the promised Mediator; though the knowledge of him were obscure and entangled, yet was it some. Whosoever came at that time into Judea he was enforced to hear somewhat of the Messiah, yea, there was some fame of him spread through countries which were far off. 663663     “Longe dissitas,” widely separated. Wherefore, Cornelius must be put in the catalogue of the old fathers, who hoped for salvation of the Redeemer before he was revealed. And it is properly 664664     “Improprie,” improperly. [improperly] said of Augustine, that Peter grounded his faith; whereas it had now before a firm foundation; although Augustine thinketh as we do in the thing itself, who affirmeth plainly, that Cornelius could not pray unless he had faith, in his Book of the Predestination of Saints, and other places.

5. Now send to Joppa. God dealt most favorably with Cornelius, in that he doth not command him to go himself, but to send messengers unto Peter, that he may stay quietly at home, and that Peter may endure the toil of the journey for his sake. But let us not wonder that Cornelius was so courteously handled, seeing that God thrusteth the ministers of his word daily upon the unwilling; so that he appeareth of his accord to those which do not seek him, as he saith by Isaiah, (Isaiah 65:1.) But why doth not the angel rather teach him? 665665     “Doctoris partes implet,” fulfill the office of teacher. For this seemeth an inconvenient 666666     “Parum rationi consentareum,” little accordant with reason. thing that he resigneth his office to a mortal man; for the oracle should have had greater authority than when the gospel is preached to him by a mortal man. As when Christ appeared to Paul by a vision, he set, notwithstanding, Ananias to teach him, that he might by such an example establish the ministry of the preaching of the gospel, which he committed to his Church; so now the angel giveth place to Peter, that he may execute the office committed unto him by Christ. Therefore, whosoever will be the disciple of Christ, and be illuminated by the (heavenly) light of the heavenly wisdom, let him not grudge to use attentiveness and docility toward the external voice of men, which Christ useth as an instrument, and whereunto he will have our faith annexed. And we see how sore God hath punished their furious pride, who, contemning preaching, have looked for 667667     “Captarunt,” have caught at, longed for. revelations from heaven. For since God will be heard in men, the ministers to whom he hath given his word 668668     “Apud quos verbum suum deposuit,” with whom he had deposited. cannot be contemned without contempt and reproach of him. Nevertheless, I confess that the spirits must be proved, (1 John 4:1,) that we hear not without choice whosoever do pretend that they are ministers of Christ. But because faith cometh by hearing, (Romans 10:17,) no man shall attain thereunto which shall refuse and despise the word when it is preached,


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