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vision from heaven. As Ananias was prepared and instructed by a vision to carry the message of Christ's love and power to the praying persecutor of Tarsus, so Peter is prepared by a vision to carry the news of Christ's great salvation to the praying soldier at Cæsarea.
There seems to be special significance in the fact that Peter was singled out to render this ministry to Cornelius, for it is quite clear that an eminent servant of Christ was already on the spot. After the evangelist Philip had taught and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch he went to Cæsarea; and the words of the historian imply that he made his abode permanently in that city. “But Philip was found at Azotas : and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Cæsarea" (viii. 40). From that point his name drops out of the inspired narrative till many years afterwards, and then we find him still in the same city, and the way in which the fact is mentioned shows that he had made that city his settled home. “And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Cæsarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven ; and abode with him" (xxi. 8). From these two passages the inference seems quite clear that, after performing his special ministry in Samaria, Philip had permanently settled down in Cæsarea. And if so, he was there when Cornelius saw the vision in which he was directed to send to Joppa for Peter. The question presents itself, therefore, Why was Peter selected, and compelled to perform a journey of thirty miles, while a Christian teacher so competent to guide an inquirer into the truth of Christ as Philip had proved himself to be, was already on the spot ?
The true answer to this question is to be found in the peculiar importance of the conversion of Cornelius as opening a new era in the onward progress of the gospel. His conversion was not only a great mercy for himself, but an important lesson to the whole Church. Subsequent events prove that, receiving a heathen into the Christian Church who had not submitted to the rites of the Mosaic law was, rogarded as a great and dangerous innovation. Peter, even after his own scruples had been removed by a Divine vision, felt this, and for his own justification, when he went to Cæsarea, took with him six Jewish Christians, that they might be witnesses of all that took place. And when this visit bad been paid, and Cornelius and his household were baptized, and the news of the innovation had reached the ears of the apostles and brethren in Judæa, Peter had to go up to Jerusalem to defend himself against the charge of eating with men who were uncircumcised (xi. 1-18). Indeed, so great was the pertinacity with which the majority of the Jewish Christians held to the position that Gentile Christians should obey the law of Moses, that long afterwards, when Gentiles were brought into discipleship with Christ in larger numbers than Jews, this controversy was continually springing up and causing trouble in the Church.
It was in the highest degree important, therefore, that the act of openly receiving the first Gentile into the Church should be accomplished by the instrumentality, not of Philip, but of Peter. Had Philip himself a Hellenist-taught and baptized the Gentile convert, the whole proceedings would, very likely, have been repudiated by Jewish Christians. They would have said, in all probability, that he had made a mistake—that he had received no adequate authority for what he had done that he had gone beyond his commission; and thus the whole significance of the conversion of Cornelius would have been overlooked. Peter, on the contrary, was one of the twelve, at this time the most prominent and most energetic of the whole apostolate. Moreover, he had the strongest Jewish sympathies. When, long afterwards, the apostle Paul threw his energies exclusively into the work which Peter had begun, and became pre-eminent as the apostle of the Gentiles, Peter continued to be known as the apostle of the circumcision. It was not so much, therefore, for the sake of Cornelius as for the sake of the Church that Peter received the Divine commission to carry the glad news of the gospel of Christ to the Roman soldier. Other Christians might have taught and baptized the inquirer, but neither Philip nor any other of the first heralds of the gospel would have had so much weight in showing to the whole Church that it was indeed the will of Christ that the Gentiles should become fellow-heirs in the blessings of redeeming love.
And the same fact, that the conversion of Cornelius was intended as a great lesson for the Church, throws a flood of light upon the significance of the singular manner in which Peter was prepared to declare the truth of Christ to the Roman centurion. He was in the midst of most interesting work among the Jews at Joppa. Tabitha had been raised from the dead in answer to his prayer, and many were believing on the Lord. In an interval of labour among these converts at Joppa Peter had retired to the housetop—the most secluded and private place in an Eastern house and there upon the flat roof was engaged in prayer. He was, therefore, it may be remarked in passing, a man who mingled work with prayer; while attending to the spiritual wants of other men, he was not neglectful of his own.
In the vision seen by Peter and the directing voice that accompanied it there was a strange mingling of what was simply natural with what was clearly Divine. While the people of the house were preparing the midday meal he became very hungry, and in that state fell into a trance, in which he saw a vision which strangely coincided with his waking thoughts, and appealed to his sense of hunger. He saw a great sheet fastened at the four corners, let down from heaven, in which were all manner of animals, clean and unclean. Up to this point the dream might easily be interpreted on perfectly natural principles ; it might be simply the unconscious influence of his own sensations of bodily hunger. Even his hearing a voice directing him to kill and eat might be accounted for in this way. But his Jewish prejudices were stronger even than his bodily sensations. He said,
“Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." This vision was repeated thrice, and Peter awoke from his trance full of a strange wondering as to what the vision could mean.
Meanwhile the messengers of Cornelius had entered the city, and stood before the gate of the house inquiring for Peter. He received a special intimation that these men had been divinely guided to him ; and when he heard their story there remained no doubt in his mind that his vision had a great meaning. He was fully prepared to do what he would before have shrunk from as a sin. But even now, foreseeing that his act in going to the house of a heathen would be keenly canvassed by his own brethren, he took the precaution before mentioned of inviting certain brethren to accompany him. And so this strange company of Roman servants, Jewish Christians, started from Joppa on a mission which was the opening of a great campaign of mercy for the whole world. Since the coming of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, there had not been a more momentous event in the history of the Church than the vision of Peter and the result to which it led : that proved that the risen and glorified Saviour was the fountain of Divine life for sinful men ; this, that the streams of meroy from that fountain were destined to break through every artificial barrier and bless the whole world. The one proved that Jesus Christ was a true, spiritual King—that God had exalted Him to be a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance to Israel and remission of sinsthat He was indeed the Messiah of whom Moses and the prophets did write: the other, that His kingdom embraced the whole world, and that, irrespective of class, condition, or nationality, men of every race and of every clime were to receive the great invitation to share in the redeeming love. From this point onward the promise given to Abraham began to receive its widest fulfilment, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
We can hardly fail to see that this portion of the narrative teaches two great lessons of universal importance. It is not without deep significance, in the first place, that this revelation was given to Peter in such close connection with his own fellowship with the Lord in prayer. When Peter's vision is studied in the light of the events to which it led, it is at once seen to be of supreme importance in the Church's history. In regard to Peter himself, the result was twofold-it led bim into a new sphere of usefulness far beyond the range of any of his previous efforts; and it opened to his mind a conception of the power and the purpose of the gospel far grander than all his former ideas. Could any attitude of his mind be more eminently fitted to receive such a communication from the Lord than that of earnest prayer? Prayer keeps open the windows of the soul that the light of God's truth and love may shine in through them. He will get the largest knowledge of the purpose and grace of Christ who is most in fellowship with Christ. The breadth, and length, and depth, and height of Divine love in the gospel will never be fully proven, for
it is love that passes knowledge ; but he will know most of it who maintains vital communion with the Lord Himself. Waiting upon God makes the heart fit to receive the truth of God. How strongly Peter would feel this when afterwards he thought about his prayer upon the housetop of Simon the Tanner, and the vision he had seen there! Whatever may have been the subject of his prayer—and that is not recorded—it is certain that such an answer to it had never been anticipated. Probably he had prayed that God would open the hearts of more of the men of Joppa to receive the truth-that the gospel should even more rapidly and widely spread. Such prayer would have been perfectly in barmony with his position and with what we know of his desires. Then came the answer, surpassing all his previous thoughts, that not only Jews, but Gentiles-not one race only, but the whole world—might be received by repentance and faith into the kingdom of his Lord.
But not only was his knowledge of the purpose of Christ widened through this vision and its results ; his own share in making that purpose known was increased. He was to be the first to make known this wider gospel—the first to receive Gentiles into the Church. His prayer upon the housetop was the preparation for a wider field of effort than he had ever conceived. A great and effectual door had been opened by the providence of the Lord, and he was appointed to be the first to enter through it. He knew before that earnest prayer was the secret of successful labour, but now he was taught that prayer was the fitting preparation for a wider circle of Christian work.
And this experience of Peter's is only one example of a fact which is always true. Fellowship with God is ever the gateway to a wider knowledge of the truth of God, and wider usefulness in the service of God. Prayer sanctifies effort, and effort has its sustaining root in prayer. God honours men who honour Him. Out of our inward communion with the source of light and power there will ever come a deeper knowledge and a stronger life.
Then we may learn from this narrative, in the second place, the deep reality of God's regard for those who are devoutly seeking Him, and His wide resources of ministry for their help. There is an earnest man, living up to the light he possesses, and sincerely seeking for more, in Cæsarea; and there is another, equally in earnest in the desire to lead his fellow-men into the truth, at Joppa ; and the Divine eye is upon them both. The Lord knows the earnest seeker as well as the earnest minister. And in this case, by the exercise of unusual means, the two are brought together, so that the servant may do the work of bis Lord and the seeker rejoice in the knowledge of His truth and mercy. And may it not be taken as a truth, to which there is no exception, that every man who is prayerfully seeking for the light of God's love will find it ? He does not say to men, “ Seek ye me in vain." He satisfies the hungry with good things. He delighteth in mercy. He is more willing to bless than men are to receive His
blessing. Our Lord has given the divinest pledge of His deep desire for our salvation, in that He has purchased it with His own blood. There is no heart hungering for the bread of life which he is not able and willing to satisfy. The old words are always true : “ Then shall ye seek me and find me when ye shall search for me with all your heart. For I will be found of you,” saith the Lord. And there is a truth more precious even than that. The poor wandering sheep straying apon the mountains may, in a blind and dumb manner, be seeking for the Shepherd; but if that were all there would be but little hope of bis ever being enclosed within the fold: the higher and more blessed truth is, that the Shepherd is seeking for the sheep. Christ came to seek and to save the lost. And this is ever true. It is not merely that He receives those who are seeking Him, or that He comes halfway to meet them; He comes the whole way, reaches right down to the utmost need of men that he may lift them up to share in His light and love. And this story of Cornelius, and the means by which he received the knowledge of the truth, shows with unmistakable plainness the blessed truth that there is no earnest heart sincerely seeking for God whom God Himself is not seeking.
FOR THE YOUNG. It was the prettiest, daintiest winsome looks and words found little bit of lace, muslin, and em- their way to all hearts. broidery ever put together, with A proud and happy child was Kitty's own name in one corner, Kitty when she received that wonall twined about with tiny leaves, derful Christmas gift; and when flowers, and tendrils, which seemed she was dressed for church, and as if they must have been worked nurse had arranged the little handby fairy fingers; and it came tied kerchief in her mite of a pocket, so down by pink ribbons in “oh, such that the lace edge and embroidered a lovely box with four little boys, name might show, she felt rather without much clothes on them, finer and more elegantly dressed 'cept wings, carrying Christmas than she had ever felt in all her greens !"
little life before. For was not this Christmas morn- This was not the first time that ing? And had not Kitty, when Kitty had been to church; for asked by grandmamma a month three or four Sundays now she had since what she most wanted for a gone with her father and mother, Christmas present, answered, “A and so far she had been as quiet 'broidered hankerstuff? ”
and well-behaved as any little fiveYes, grandmamma was the good year-old girl could be. But, whether fairy whose skilful fingers had it was the new handkerchief, or all worked the dainty trifle, and it the other unusual excitements of would be hard to tell what pains the day, Kitty was far more restose loving fingers would not take less that Christmas morning than please the little maiden whose she had ever been before ; and by