Peter's Ministry in Acts 10

Acts 10  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Listen from:
In what various forms the grace of God shines on the pages of Scripture! At times the eye catches some fresh image of this, and looks at it with admiration. An instance of the way of grace will be found in this chapter.
It is the record of a piece of spiritual husbandry. In the narrative which it gives us, we have the soil that is about to be cultivated; then the sower, and the seed, and the lord of the harvest presiding over the whole work from first to last.
Cornelius and his household are the soil, now under the husbandry of God. Peter is the sower; and the words which he spoke in the house of Cornelius are the seed. This is all plain and simple. But the chief thing to be noticed, we may say, is the hand, the divine band, that presides over and orders all this interesting action.
And in this action we get witnesses of grace in its tenderness, in its strength, and in its glory.
We have two visions, one to Cornelius and one to Peter.
Cornelius, at the time when this scene opens, was a piece of fallow-ground which had already been under the action of the plow. He was prepared for the sower by the hand of God, as all " good ground" is. He had been under certain exercises of conscience. The Father, I may say, had been drawing him. He was not at ease. He did many things religiously, and did them with a heart that would fain bow to God and seek Him. God had found him, but he had not found God. But here, grace shines in its tenderness-for such a condition of soul as this is of price in His sight; so that a special message is now sent from heaven to guide it in the way of peace. The angel tells Cornelius that he had a memorial with God, and that he himself had been sent expressly to put him in the way of hearing words of salvation.
Now this is full of tender grace. The first throbbings of an awakened soul are precious with God-surely so. The parable of the prodigal son witnesses this. The love which the Lord felt for the rich young ruler in Mark 10 may also, I believe, witness this. So, His words on the publican in the temple in Luke 18, and the answer He gives the scribe in Mark 12. The first stirrings of a convicted conscience in the Samaritan of John 4, and so to this day, all such motions in all hearts are known to Him and by Him. And sweet and rich is that grace which takes such a form of condescending tenderness, and exercises that considerateness of love which listens to these feeblest and earliest cries of infancy. But as it is His own visitation that has awakened them, so does He wait on them to bring them to fruitfulness.
Peter, in this scene, was the minister of Christ. He was the sower, according to the figure I have used. He was the servant of the Lord Jesus in the gospel of God; but his heart needed to be enlarged. It was not of the same measure as the Master's; the Lord, therefore, has to send a message to him. A vision and a voice address him, while in a trance, to prepare him for a sowing time among the Gentiles. He was not up to this. He does not understand it, and he resents it. He must be right of course, and his Master wrong. "Not so, Lord," he says. His eye had never surveyed such distant fields as these, save with scorn, as no part of God's vineyard, or within the range of His husbandry. But the Lord is peremptory, as of old He had been with Jonah, and lately with Ananias. Peter must go with the seed where God had already been with the plow-yea, where He had been, in counsel, ere the world began; for even then He had "cleansed" the Gentiles.
Thus, by the strong and the tender hand of God, the ground and the sower are found together. What forms of grace! Peter is made to visit this Gentile plow-land, this distant field, already broken up, but not as yet sown. Grace, as we saw, in its tenderness had valued the throbbings of a freshly awakened, uneasy conscience; and grace, as we have seen, in its strength and decision, rebukes and overrules the slow-hearted servant, who knew not the riches and the largeness of that truth which had been entrusted to him. Accordingly, these two visions, the one to Cornelius and the other to Peter, have different secrets in them, each very blessed. On the authority of the one, we may tell every convicted, trembling soul, that its trouble is known and marked by God; on the authority of the other, we may tell every sower of the seed, that he may go to the ends of the earth with that which he has, and bear the tidings of full forgiveness and acceptance to every sinner that will, by faith, use Jesus and His salvation.
Light and consolation are here, surely. These two visions turn to blessed testimony; and as we have two visions in this chapter, so have we one seal. The seed of the sower is sanctioned in a glorious manner.
Peter's sermon, so to call it, is the seed. He tells the house of Cornelius, and all gathered then and there, (all were alike welcome to hear,) that Jesus had come preaching peace, had been slain by men, raised by God, and that His resurrection was set in the eyes of all men, both for judgment and salvation; for judgment on the world, for salvation, full remission of sins, to all who would believe in Him. The Holy Ghost then falls on all them that heard the word. He had fallen on the disciples assembled at Jerusalem at the appointed Jewish Pentecost, sealing the great fact of the exaltation and glory of Jesus; now, He falls on a distant Gentile household, sealing the word of salvation as upon the ends of the earth.
What glorious grace was this, I may say. If we saw the tenderness of grace in the vision or mission that visited Cornelius, and the strength, or decision and largeness of grace in the voice and the vision that addressed themselves to Peter, here we see nothing less than the glory of grace; the Holy Ghost, who had before sealed the fact of the exaltation of Christ, now seals the truth of the salvation of every poor sinner all the world over, who will believe in Him!
Very blessed, surely. The Spirit endued the disciples at Pentecost, giving them words of life for all the nations of the earth; the Spirit now seals those words of life in this first-fruits of the nations.
May I not, therefore, say, that this chapter gives us the sight of a precious piece of divine husbandry? We see the ground that was to be tilled, and then the sower, the seed, and the hand of the Lord of the harvest, presiding over all in ways of tender, earnest, and glorious grace; and all this to bring sinners back and home to God. It was not to put the Gentile and the Jew together, Cornelius and Peter, but to put God and the sinner together, that all this august and interesting action takes place; and to put them together under such a seal, as no malice or force of earth or hell can ever cancel. And there is no rest for us till this is reached; for our relation to God is, indeed, the great circumstance.
And on the authority of this chapter I may say, with what earnest personal zeal the Lord is seen to apply Himself to the work of salvation; for this chapter illustrates that. Visions, oracles, missions of angels, the presence of the Holy Ghost Himself, here tell us of His zeal. "I will do it," says Jehovah, by His prophet, speaking of the redemption of Israel in the last day. "Assuredly with my whole heart and my whole soul." What words! " The zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall perform this," says another of the prophets, when prophesying of the kingdom; and in the day of the redemption of Israel out of Egypt, as we read in Ex. 2;3, we hear and see the same-the Lord so earnestly listens to the cry of Israel's sorrow. " Their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage, and God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant, and God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them." It is all God, and God in deep personal affection. And then, the vision of the burning bush is the same. It tells us that God was already in Egypt, in the midst of His people's sorrows there, ere He rose to send Moses there.
All Scripture abounds with the witness of this intense personality, so to express it, with which the blessed God gives Himself to the work of salvation. The whole of Luke 15 again shows it to us. The personal toil of the Shepherd, the personal diligence of the woman, the personal affection of the Father, in the three parables there, bespeak this. So, also, the whole of what is seen and heard in Luke 1, All heaven is there earnestly occupied with that great mystery, the birth of Jesus, or the incarnation of the Son, which, as we know, was the preparing of the way for the salvation of God to enter this world of sin and death. Gabriel, chief among those who wait in God's presence, is sent on special messages. Hosts of angels are there, and the glory fills the fields of Bethlehem. Old men and babes, matrons and maidens, youths and widows, shepherds and priests, all are summoned to take their place in the common joy.
Surely we may let our hearts know that God is a cheerful giver. He does not send His blessings, He brings them rather; and brings them not merely in His hand, but with His heart.
Surely, after meditating on this chapter we may say, with what tenderness and strength did God grant "repentance unto life" to the Gentiles! With what a vigorous hand did He " open the door of faith" to them! (See Acts 11:18; 14:2718When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. (Acts 11:18)
27And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. (Acts 14:27)
.) He does His things, blessed be His name, like Himself, in ways that tell us it is Himself that is doing them. Such an entrance did He make, in the day of this chapter, upon the nations of the earth, with the grace of His gospel; so that we, sinners of the Gentiles, may sit in His presence, and no longer talk of the crumbs under the table, but take of the full feast on the table-take of it as our's by title written and sealed by His own hand.