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These messengers went to Joppa on the next day after the vision of Cornelius, and reached it at another hour of prayer used among the Jews, and Peter at that moment was praying, and fell into a trance; that is, he lost all sense of what was doing here, and felt as if he were a happy spirit, departed from the body; and he saw heaven opened, and a large sheet let down to earth and spread out before him as a table-cloth, in which were wild beasts and creeping things, as well as tame beasts and fowls ; and a voice desired him to kill and eat. Peter, who had strictly observed the Jewish law, had never eaten any thing which it forbade and called unclean, and he hesitated to touch the offered food. The voice then said, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." This vision seems to have been repeated three times, to impress his mind the more strongly. Peter, on coming to himself, could not think what all this could mean; but while he was thinking upon it, the messengers from Cornelius arrived at his door, and he was urged by a secret impression of God's Spirit, to meet them, and go with them.
When Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius, the good man hadi assembled his relatives and friends, supposing that some blessing from God would attend this extraordinary meeting, and he wished them to enjoy it as well as himself.
On seeing Peter, Cornelius fell at his feet “and worshipped him," or paid him reverence. He was not a foolish heathen, who paid him worship as if he had been a god, but he paid him very high respect as a servant of God, sent to instruct him. Peter, however, thought that he paid him more reverence than he ought, and fearing he might rob Christ of the honour which was alone due to him, he “ took him up, saying, Stand up, I myself also am a man."
And now Peter saw the plain meaning of the sheet, with the unclean creatures of which he was to eat. This was a sign to teach him, that though he was a Jew, yet he was now to unite with those who would believe in Christ of all nations; and he said to the company, “ Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew, to keep company, or came unto one of another nation ; but God hath shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean."
Cornelius now told Peter for what reason he had sent for him, and that his little company were assembled to hear from him any words which God might speak through his lips.
Peter then preached to this Gentile company the same truths which he
had preached to the Jews, and encouraged them to believe in Jesus as a Saviour, assuring them, that “ in every nation he that feareth " God, “and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him ;” and that whosoever believed in Jesus, should receive remission, or enjoy the putting away of their sins, so that they should not be brought against them in the day of judgment.
While this honoured apostle was preaching, the Holy Ghost also came upon these Gentiles, as on the Jews assembled on the day of Pentecost. They also were now filled with zeal for the honour of Christ, and could speak in tongues they had never learned, so as to explain to all they might meet, of any country, the great things about their salvation. “They of the circumcision,” that is, the Jews, who were present, were astonished; for they had no notion that the Gentiles would receive the Spirit, but thought that this blessing was to belong to the Jews only. These persons having received the Spirit were also baptized, to show that they were the disciples of Christ.
The apostles, who were scattered at the time of the persecution of Stephen, still continued “preaching the word;" but they confined their labours to the Jews only, and to the Grecians, or Jews which spake the Greek language, commonly called Hellenist Jews, which means Grecian Jews. These apostles preached at Phenice, Cyprus, Antioch, and elsewhere: “ and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” And Barnabas being sent from Jerusalem, paid a visit to the new disciples, at Antioch, where he was much delighted, for he “ saw the grace of God," in its holy and happy effects, in the lives and dispositions of the people, and this made him “glad;" and while he preached, “much people” were also “added unto the Lord.” Barnabas also got Saul of Tarsus to help him, and they laboured together for a whole year, “ and taught much people.”
It was at this time that “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
The eleventh chapter closes by telling us about a kind act of the Christians at Antioch, in sending needed comforts to their brethren in Judea. At this time Agabas, who was endowed with the spirit of prophecy, foretold that a famine would shortly take place all over the world, “which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cæsar,” a Roman emperor. The Christians at Antioch, which was a fine city in Syria, had some reason to believe that their brethren at Jerusalem would suffer much from this famine, and so they made no hesitation, but sent them what money they could spare to meet their wants, when the time of need should come.
The Apostle Peter's Imprisonment, and miraculous Escape
Herod's miserable Death.
The Herods were all bad men. Herod the Great slew the infants at Bethlehem, Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist, and Herod Agrippa “ killed James, the brother of John, with the sword,” which was one of the modes of putting to death among the Jews that was considered very disgraceful, and was especially inflicted on those who deceived the people.
As he saw that the wicked Jews were pleased at his murder of one of our blessed Lord's apostles, he proceeded next to persecute Peter, and by his orders this faithful servant of Christ was thrown into prison, and carefully guarded by “four quarternions of soldiers," that is, sixteen-a quarternion consisting of four; and these quarternions relieved each other's guard, and so watched him by turns, night and day. It was impossible that he could escape but by some miracle, for his hands were chained, and when he slept at night, he had two soldiers lying by him, one on each side, and the chain on each hand was fastened to a hand of each soldier.
But nothing can withstand the power of God; and when the Christians met together to pray for Peter's deliverance, God heard their prayers, and sent his angel to set him free. The very night that this happened was to have been Peter's last night in prison ; for on the next morning, Herod intended to have exposed him to the people, and to have put him to death, as he did James. When the angel appeared surrounded with brightness, which illuminated the prison, he awoke Peter by touching his side, and raising him up, “his chains fell from off his hands ;" and having put on his girdle and his sandals, he followed the angel out of the prison. All this was so sudden and surprising, that Peter scarcely believed it was real, and thought he must be dreaming. When they had passed the first and second ward, or watch, they had to escape through the strongest gate of the prison, a gate made of iron, and through which they could enter directly into the city. This gate opened of its own accord, and so Peter escaped from the hands of his enemies. What was the state of the guards during this time is not said : perhaps a deep sleep came over them, or their sight was darkened so much as to be unable clearly to distinguish objects at the moment.
The angel having left Peter in the street, he began to recover from his astonishment, and comforted himself that God had really interposed to save him. Then, without loss of time, he hastened to his fellow-Christians, who were just then met together for prayer at the house of “Mary, the mother of John, whose surname was Mark.” Having knocked for admission, a young woman, named Rhoda, or Rose—for that is the meaning of Rhoda-coming to the gate asked from within who was there, and on hearing Peter's voice, was so overcome with joy, that she ran in and told the company instead of stopping to let him in. Though they were praying, and no doubt praying for his release, yet they could hardly believe that it happened so soon, and they said to the young woman; “ Thou art mad ;” and when she assured them it was true that Peter was at the gate, they said, “ It is his angel :" they thought it was some heavenly messenger that had assumed his form, to bring them some news about him.
As Peter continued knocking, they went and opened the door, and, to their astonishment, they saw Peter himself, and he then told them how he had escaped.
When daylight came, Peter being missed from the prison, the soldiers were all in alarm; and Herod, on being told what had happened, was so enraged, that he ordered the poor soldiers to be put to death, or executed, as we say, for their negligence.
Herod now left Jerusalem, and went on a journey to Cesarea, a city about seventy-five miles from it. Here he was visited by some persons of importance, who were sent from the people of Tyre and Sidon, to reconcile him after some offence which he had taken, and on account of which they feared he would make war against them. This would have been ruin to them, for they lived by merchandise, which they could not then so extensively sell ; and as they were not accustomed to the labours of the field, they were also “ nourished by the king's country ;" that is, received their food from it, especially their corn. Herod appointed a day to receive the supplicants, as he sat on his throne, and being, very splendidly dressed with robes, which Josephus, the Jewish historian, says were richly worked with silver, that sparkled brilliantly in the sun, he delivered a speech to the ambassadors of Tyre and Sidon, in the presence of a great multitude of people. The foolish people, in order to compliment the king, cried out, “ It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.” The more foolish king was delighted with this praise, and instead of reproving them for their blasphemy, in so extolling a poor dying mortal like themselves, he silently heard and rejoiced in their
flattery. But God can punish kings that offend him, as well as poor men; and while this impious king was setting himself up for a god, an angel secretly smote him, “because he gave not God the glory,” in reproving the profane people," and he was eaten of worms," and died.
The Travels, Sufferings, and Success of Paul and
ACTS XIII, XIV.
In this chapter we find Barnabas and Paul travelling about together to preach the gospel. They went to Seleucia, a city of Syria, and thence " they sailed to Cyprus," an island in the Mediterranean Sea. There they visited Salamis, a chief city of Cyprus; and thence they proceeded to Paphos, on the same island.
We are here told, that Saul was also called Paul. It was common to have two names of these kinds ; for Saul was the Hebrew name by which this apostle was known among the Jews, but Paul was his Roman name.
From Paphos they next " came to Perga, in Pamphylia," a country in Asia, of which Perga was the chief city; and from Perga “ they came to Antioch in Pisidia,” so called to distinguish it from Antioch in Syria. Here they went into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day, and were invited by the rulers to speak; and Paul preached a sermon to the people, the design of which was to show that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, for whom the Jews had long looked ; that he was of the seed of David, as foretold by the prophets ; that though he had died, he had also risen again, and that now they were come to preach salvation in his name.
The people were so struck with this sermon, that they wanted to hare another on the next Sabbath ; but the rulers would not allow of it, for they were jealous because the preacher had attracted so much attention. Then Paul and Barnabas told them, that since they had refused to hear any more about Christ, they should carry the glad tidings to the Gentiles or heathen, which the heathen, at Antioch, were glad to learn; and many of them heard the holy preachers and believed.
The Jews then raised a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and got some women who had gained fame as devout women from their attention