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Bible Commentaries
Acts 10

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-48

Acts 10:1 . Cornelius, a centurion. The person to whom St. Peter is sent to preach the gospel is described by name, Cornelius. By his occupation, a soldier. By his religion, a proselyte or converted gentile. Of these there were two sorts; some were proselytes of the covenant, that is, such gentiles as submitted themselves to circumcision, and the whole Mosaical pedagogy. These were counted as jews, and freely conversed with as such. Others were called proselytes of the gate; these were not circumcised, nor did they conform to the Mosaic rites, but were obliged only to serve the seven precepts of Noah; namely, to worship the true God, and not idols; to abstain from blood, from fornication, from robbery; to administer justice impartially, and do as they would be done unto. Such a proselyte as this, the jews would not converse with, but counted unclean, being of the gentiles; and such a one was this Cornelius. But though a gentile, though a soldier, a commissioned officer, he was a pious, charitable, and good man. In all nations, in all places, of all employments, God has a number of holy and gracious persons, to honour him in the world, according to their present measure of light received from him.

The evidence which Cornelius gave of his religious state and condition. He “feared God with all his house, gave much alms, and prayed to God always.” Cornelius was therefore really, because relatively, religious. He obliges his family to fear God as well as himself. Like Abraham, he commands his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord. Genesis 18:19. Thus the blessing of Abraham came upon this gentile. Cornelius “feared God with all his house.” His charity was as eminent as his piety: he “gave much alms to the people,” to the people of the jews, to whom alms was not unclean, though given by a heathen. It is further added, that he “prayed to God always.” He prayed to the true God, not to idols; and he prayed to God always, that is, at every fitting season, and convenient opportunity for the duty. We are said to do a thing continually, when we do it seasonably. Thus to “pray always, to pray evermore, and to pray without ceasing,” is to keep the heart continually, as much as may be, in a praying frame. The beauty of religion lies much in the harmonious performance of duties. See the notes on Luke 18:1.

The Italian band. The Romans had various ways of distinguishing their military bands. Sometimes numerically; they were called the first, or the second band, according to their precedency. Sometimes, from the countries they were quartered in; so the German, the Panonian legions, because they were there in service. Sometimes from the commander they were under; the Augustan, the Claudian band, because persons of their name had the command of them. Sometimes from their own behaviour; so victrix, ferrea, the conquering, the iron band, because of the emergencies they had appeared in. Sometimes from the parts they were gathered from; so this is here called “the Italian band,” because raised out of that country.

Acts 10:2 . Gave much alms. When a man’s heart is open to the poor, it is a good symptom of God’s mercy to him. When Cornelius gave alms, his cutting was near. When speaking of ceremonial cleanness under the law, our Lord says, “Give alms, and all things are clean unto you.” Luke 11:41. St. James also describes this as a part of the moral purity required under the gospel; for “pure religion and undefiled before God, is to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.” James 1:27. Cornelius “gave much alms;” much, not only with respect to his rank and fortune, or to his religion, being at most but a proselyte of the gate, but much, considered in itself; for it is said he gave much alms to the people, which must imply an enlarged generous bounty. To give alms, might have argued a sense of religion; but to give much, implies zeal and fervency. To give alms might have argued in him humanity and tenderness of nature, but to give much alms shows a heavenly disposition and greatness of mind made so by faith. Something he might have done for reputation, something out of compliance and decency; but to give much alms, in a person of his circumstances, was an unquestionable proof of sincerity. Prayer and alms are powerful solicitations with God, one assists the other. Alms give wings to prayer, that it may ascend more swiftly to heaven; and prayer gives strength to alms, to enable them to follow.

Acts 10:4 . For a memorial before God. The word μνημοσυναν , rendered a memorial, is used both of the incense offered up with the sacrifice, and of a part or handful of the mincha offered up to God. Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 5:12. Numbers 5:15; Numbers 5:18; Numbers 5:26. In these places no incense was to be admitted, it being an offering for sin, or a memorial for iniquity; so that there, not the incense or perfume, but part of the mincha, or oblation put upon the altar, is called astharah, a memorial. Now, seeing alms are the christian sacrifices, being so called by the apostle, Philippians 4:18; and seeing our prayers and our praises are said to ascend as incense, Revelation 5:8; seeing they are our sacrifice of praise, Hebrews 13:15-16, and our alms the odour or sweet savour, Philippians 4:18, the allusion here may very fitly relate to both. That God hears prayer, is an expression common to all writers; but that prayers ascend up to heaven as a sweet-smelling savour, is a Hebrew form of speech not less vigorous or applicable. It is indeed a beautiful allusion to the odour and fragrance of sacrifice and incense ascending to the skies; grateful to God as his own appointment, and a proper expression of the duty and obedience of his pious worshippers.

Acts 10:6 . He shall tell thee. Notwithstanding the extraordinary piety and devotion of Cornelius, who was certainly a great moralist, yet he had something still to do, which as yet he did not know of, and without which he could never get to heaven. He must send to Simon Peter to be instructed in the faith of Christ, which is doubtless as clear a demonstration as can be desired, that all the devotion and good works imaginable can never bring us to heaven without Christ, Acts 4:12; and therefore, although it be indispensably necessary that we do good works, yet we must not trust in them, but only in Christ for happiness and salvation. God does not send Cornelius to St. Peter, but commands Peter to come to his house, that he may not take Cornelius away from the place where duty required his presence; and that this mercy may extend to his relations and friends.

Acts 10:34 . God is no respecter of persons. Respect of persons, in matters judicial, is showed when men judge others not according to the merits of the cause, but according to outward respects, as the greatness, the riches, the meanness and poverty of the person, or from motives of friendship or affection. So in spiritual things, to accept persons is to respect them and their services, not on account of any thing that makes them more fit to be regarded than others, or more acceptable in the sight of God, but on account of the nation to which they belong, or the ancestors from whom they were descended. Thus, because God had chosen the jews to be his people, and to perform his promise made to them, the jews imagined that God would accept them and their services on that account; that they were of the jewish nation, of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh; and that he would not accept the persons, or regard the services of the gentiles, for want of these things; but these false conceptions are amply refuted by the apostles of our Lord.

Paul shows that not the jews only, but men of any other nation may be accepted, there being but one God, who “is rich to all that call upon him,” whether jew or gentile. Romans 10:12. He being the God, not of the jews only, but also of the gentiles, is ready to justify them both through faith. Romans 3:29-30. Peter also shows that God accepts such men, not on account of their descent, or circumcision, but because they fear him and work righteousness. Thus Cornelius being one that feared God, and gave much alms, his prayers and alms came up before God for a memorial. It is therefore evident that some of other nations owning the true God, not only might, but actually did fear him and work righteousness; otherwise they ill deserved the title given to the proselytes of the gate. Nor could St. Peter perceive that God was “no respecter of persons” on account of a thing which never did or could happen. But glory, honour, and peace, shall be to every one that doeth good, to the jew first, and also to the gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God. Romans 2:10-11.

Acts 10:46 . They heard them speak with tongues. Partly Greek, and partly Latin, for the love of God which filled their heart gave them wonderful utterance to make their meaning understood in reciting scripture expressions of praise to God.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 10". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/acts-10.html. 1835.
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