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Observe here, 1. The person described to whom St. Peter is sent to preach the gospel: by his name, Cornelius: by his occupation, a soldier; by his religion, a proselyte or converted Gentile, of which there were two sorts; some were proselytes of the covenant, that is, such Gentiles as submitted themselves to circumcision, and the whole Mosaical Paedagogy: 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 observe 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 to do as they would be done unto. Such a proselyte as this the Jews would not converse with, but counted unclean, being a Gentile, and such an one was this Cornelius; but though a Gentile, though a soldier, though a commission-officer, yet a pious, charitable, 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 measures of light received from him.
Observe, 2. The evidence which Cornelius gave of his religious fearing God; He feared God with all his house, he gave much alms, and prayed to God always. Cornelius was therefore really, because relatively, religious: he obligeth his family to fear God as well as himself, and together with himself, like Abraham, He commands his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, Genesis 18:19.
And thus the blessing of Abraham came upon this Gentile, Cornelius. He feared God with all his house; and his charity was as eminent as his piety: He gave much alms to the people: that is, to the people of the Jews, to whom alms was not unclean, though given by an heathen person.
It is further added, That He prayed to God always; He prayed to the true Gods not to idols; and he prayed to God always: that is, at every fitting season, and convenient opportunity for the duty.
We are said in scripture to do a thing continually, when we do it seasonably. Thus to pray always, to pray evermore, to pray without ceasing, is,
first, to keep the heart continually, as much as may be, in a praying frame and disposition;
and secondly, To embrace the proper seasons and opportunities for prayher.
The beauty of religion lies much in the harmonious performance of the duties of it; when one duty doth not interfere with another, but we prudently find time for all.
Thus did Cornelius here; He feared God with all his house, gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
Observe here, 1. The extraordinary favour afforded to Cornelius; namely, the vision of an holy angel. This devout man did not seek the face of God in vain; God sends him first an angel to comfort him, then an apostle, to instruct him: He saw in a vision an angel of God.
Observe, 2. The effect which the sight of the angel had upon Cornelius; He was afraid.
Learn hence, That whilst our soul's inhabit these mortal and sinful bodies, the appearance of angels is terrible and affrighting to them, and cannot be otherwise; partly upon a a natural, and partly upon a moral account: Upon a natural account, because the dread of spirits strikes our natural spirits, they shrink and tremble at the approach of spirits; both the spirits of men and beasts quail at it; witness the ass, Numbers 22:23 that Balaam rode upon: And also upon a moral account, because of our consciousness of guilt: wherever there is guilt, there will be a fear upon an extraordinary appearance of God to us, though it be but mediately by an angel.
Observe, 3. The joyful message which the angel brings to Cornelius; that his prayers and his alms were come up for a memorial before God.
Where note, That as God records all the prayers of his people, so he books all the acts of mercy which any of them at any time do exercise and shew unto his members: he takes notice of the person, of the action, of the time when, of the manner how, of the measure and degree, how much: if it be but a cup of cold water, given in love to Christ in his members, it shall not be forgotten, but recorded and rewarded.
Observe here, 1. That although God sent an angel to Cornelius, to acquaint him with his will; yet the angel was to direct him to the apostle, who was to instruct him in the faith. This, no doubt, God did, to put honour upon the ministers and ministry of the gospel; as also to let us understand and know, that we are not to expect extraordinary ways of teaching, when God affords us the use of ordinary means. Send to Joppa, and call for Peter, he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
Observe, 2. What an exact knowledge Almighty God has of particular persons, and particular places; he tells Cornelius, by the angel, in what town Peter was, in Joppa; in whose house he lodged, in Simon the tanner's; in what part of the town the house stood, by the sea-side.
It is matter of consolation, yea, of great consolation to the people of God, to know and remember that God knows them; He knows their persons, their purposes, their performances, their places of abode; he knows who they are, what they do, and where they dwell. So dear are the holy servants of God unto him, that he loves the very street in which they lodge, the house in which they dwell, the walls of their habitation are continually before him, and he delights perpetually to look upon them:
Oh let holiness to the Lord be writ in legible characters upon the walls of our houses! Zechariah 14:20. Then will God dwell where we dwell, and the beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him.
Observe here, 1. That as Cornelius had a vision from God, to encourage him to send for Peter, so the apostle had likewise a vision to encourage him to go to Cornelius.
In which note, 1. The time when he had this vision, it was at the sixth hour, or high noon; which was one of the three hours of prayer: When we are upon our knees in prayer, then is the time for receiving gracious manifestations from God.
Note, 2. The place where he had this vision; when at prayer upon the house-top. The Jewish houses being flat-roofed, with battlements upon them, Peter went up to the house-top to pray, as a place of privacy and retirement, free from noise and distraction; as also to take advantage of the place for divine contemplation, and perhaps to look towards the temple, which was formerly a type of Christ. It teaches us that fitting places, as well as fitting seasons for prayer, are to be sought out and improved by us: Peter went up upon the house to pray.
Note, 3. The frame wherein St. Peter was as to his body, when he had this vision; namely, exceedingly hungry: God ordered it so, to fit him the more for this vision of dainty meat.
Oh taste and see how gracious the Lord is in sending down a dish of dainties from heaven to his hungry children, that are praying to him here on earth!
Note, 4. The manner how the vision was made to St. Peter: It was in the way of divine rapture or ecstasy; he fell into a trance; his soul was as it were abstracted out of the body, and absent from it: that is, drawn off from the perception of all earthly and sensible objects, and enabled unto a more entire attendance upon spiritual and heavenly matters and mysteries: To be sure it made him forget his dinner, and filled him with divine consolation: a soul fed and filled with divine dainties doth sometimes forget bodily hunger: We read no more of St. Peter's sharp hunger after this divine entertainment.
Note, 5. The division itself, or what was represented to St. Peter, first to his eye, then to his ear. To his eye first, He saw heaven opened, Acts 10:11.
Teaching, that although heaven had been shut to the children of men by the sin of the first Adam, yet now it was opened by the grace of the second Adam to all believers, both Jews and Gentiles.
Next, he saw a great vessel descending like a large sheet, with all sorts of meats in it, both clean and unclean; and he hears a voice from God, giving him a commission, though he was a Jew, to feed freely without distinction of clean and unclean; signifying to him thereby, that he might indifferently converse with Gentiles as well as Jews, and preach the gospel to one as well as the other.
Note, lastly, How St. Peter's Jewish principles made him startle at this large commission, looking upon the command as unlawful and impious, Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean Acts 10:14.
But mark the divine direction: What God hath cleansed, that call thou not common. His mistake was rectified by God, who gave him by this vision a clear intimation, that the distinction of meats was now taken away, and the difference between nation and nation was now removed by the death of Christ; and consequently, that he might go and preach the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile, without scruple or doubtfulness; the partition wall betwixt Jew and Gentile being now broken down.
Learn hence, That the doctrine of the conversion of the Gentiles came first from heaven, was revealed and made known by God himself, who was graciously declared, That there is neither Jew nor Greek; neither bond nor free, neither male nor female. For we are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 Thanks be to God, that the blessing of Abraham is come upon us, through Jesus Christ.
Here note, 1. How St. Peter sets himself to meditate upon what he had seen and heard from God: He pondered with himself what this vision, which he had seen, should mean. Whatever passes from God to man, either by the eye, or through the ear, ought to be the subject of our deepest meditation. We are to contemplate the excellencies and perfections which are in the word and works of God with an intellectual eye, and to dwell upon them in our serious thoughts.
Note, 2. The care which the Holy Spirit took to resolve satisfactorily the inward doubtings and reasonings of St. Peter's mind concerning this matter: I have sent them, says the Holy Spirit; therefore arise and go down, nothing doubting.
Where observe, Both the divinity and personality of the Holy Ghost: He that knows the thoughts, the doubtings and reasonings of man's heart, as the Holy Ghost here did St. Peter's, is truly and really God; and he that commands and forbids, is really person. So doth the Holy Spirit here: he commands St. Peter to go to Cornelius, and forbids his doubting of the lawfulness or success of his journey: Go with them, doubting nothing, for I have sent them.
Observe here, 1. The messengers whom Cornelius sent to St. Peter, two of his household-servants, and a devout soldier. All soldiers are not rude: but some are religious. Behold a devout soldier under a devout captain, and two household-servants whom their master's example had rendered humble and modest.
Observe, 2. The just and laudable, not false and flattering character, which they gave of their master Cornelius; That he was a just man, one that feared God, and one of Good report among all the nation of the Jews. It is both the duty and commendation of servants, give to their master's due honour: and, when called to it, their deserved character.
Observe, 3. How St. Peter's doubts being resolved, he disputes no further, delays no longer, but hastens immediately to Cornelius: When once God's command is plain, we must not dispute, but dispatch; we must no longer object, but obey.
Observe, 4. The reverence given by Cornelius to St. Peter; he fell down at his feet and worshipped him. It seems to be more than a civil reverence which he gave him: It looks as if Cornelius took him for an angel in human shape, or a person sent immediately from heaven to him; and accordingly he prostrates himself before the apostle: But St. Peter would by no means receive any undue honour or respect from him, assuring him, That he was but a man, and God's messenger sent unto him. Whatever Peter's pretended successor challenges as his due, of reverence and homage, St. Peter himself would not suffer Cornelius to lie at his feet, much less to kiss his feet: The ambassador would not run away with the honour which belonged to the prince that sent him.
Observe, 5. How St. Peter acquaints Cornelius, that that partition-wall betwixt the Jews and Gentiles, which was erected and set up by God's command, was now by the same authority pulled down and removed; and that no man is now unclean by any ceremonial uncleanness, because he is not circumcised: and might converse with, and be conversed with as freely as if born a Jew.
Since the coming of Christ, no person or nation is legally or ceremonially unclean; but every nation, or even person, by nature, morally unclean.
Observe here, 1. Cornelius relates the occasion of his sending for St. Peter, and the warrant he had for so doing: He declares that as he was fasting and praying in his family, he had a vision, in which an angel directed him to send for the apostle.
Where note, That Cornelius doth not talk of his fasting, praying, and alms giving, by the way of ostentation, to boast of himself, but only to give satisfaction to St. Peter, that he had certain advice from heaven for what he did in sending for him.
Observe, 2. The readiness of Cornelius's obedience in sending for St. Peter: Immediately therefore I sent to thee. Joppa from Cesarea is computed to be about forty miles; but no sooner did Cornelius receive the commandment, but without delay he put it in execution, and sent men to Joppa. When our call is clear, our obedience must be speedy.
Observe, 3. The kind reception which Cornelius gives St. Peter; Thou hast well done that thou art come; He doth not only approve of the apostle's coming, but thanks him for it.
Observe, 4. The preparation and readiness of Cornelius and his friends, to hear and receive the word of God from St. Peter's mouth: We are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
Where note, 1. He desires the same holy doctrine which the apostle came to preach, may be delivered to his family, his friends, and his kinsfolk, as well as himself. A good man would not go to heaven alone; but is desirous of the instruction, conversion, and salvation of others, as well as of himself: We are all here.
Note, 2. The place of God's pure worship is the place of his special presence; We are all here present before God.
Note 3. The end for which they were now come into the presence of God; it was to hear what God should speak, yea, to hear all things which God should command the apostle to speak:
Intimating to us, that as St. Peter himself was, so all the ministers of Christ are confined within their commission and must only speak what God commands; neither are hearers bound to receive anything else. Woe unto us, if when God sends us of his errand, we tell our own tale: The world is the counsel of God; now it is the cousel of God only, and the whole counsel of God also, that we are to declare, and our people are to hear; We are all present before God, to hear all things that are commanded us before God.
As if the apostle had said, "I now very plainly perceive, that the partion wall is broken down, and that national prerogatives, or personal excellencies, find no acceptance with God: But that any man, be he of what nation or family soever, if he feareth God, and worketh righteousness, shall find acceptance with him."
Observe here, 1. That no external qualifications, personal privleges and prerogatives, will procure favour and acceptance with God, who neither receives nor rejects men barely for outward respects; I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.
Observe, 2. The true character of a religious man: he is one that feareth God and worketh righteousness; that is, a strict observer of the duties of both tables, of piety towards God, and of justice and charity toward man; and the phrase of working righteousness, implies diligence, and delight, and perserverance in the ways and works of righteousness.
Observe, 3. The privilege of such a religious and truly righteous man: He is accepted with God.
Thence learn, That both the person fearing God, and his works of righteousness are accepted with him, of any nation under heaven, of any calling, sex or condition whatsoever; In every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.
Observe here, 1. The antiquity of the gospel, or of the doctrine of reconciliation by Jesus Christ; it was preached to the patriarchs, and by the prophets to the ancient Israelites: The word, which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ.
Thence learn, That there is but one way to salvation, namely, reconciliation with God through the blood of Christ: and this was declared to the children of Israel, as well as unto us: to them more darkly to us more clearly. They went to heaven then the same way that believers do now, namely, by faith in the Lamb of God, who was to be slain; we by faith in him as already slain.
Observe, 2. The dignifying title given to Christ: He is Lord of all.
1. He is Lord of all, as God together with the Father and the Holy Ghost: The absolute and supreme Lord of the whole creation, and unto whom all creatures are subject.
2. He is Lord of all, as Mediator, Lord of all men, whether Jews or Gentiles: He is Lord of his church, Lord over saints and sinners. Hypocrites and sincere Christians, all are his subjects by obedience unto his commands.
Observe, 3. The argument by which the apostle proveth Christ to be Lord of all; As mediator, namely, from his divine unction, How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost, and with power Acts 10:38; that is, endued the human nature of Christ with the fulness of the graces of his Holy Spirit, and consecrated him to the work and office of a Mediator.
Observe, 4. How Christ faithfully executed this office which he was anointed to: He went about doing good, all the time he was on earth, healing diseases, and casting out devils: for God was with him in the fullness of the Deity, as he was his eternal Son; and in power, grace, and favour, as he was man, and Mediator.
Here note, 1. The great work and business of our Saviour's life; it was to do good, namely, to the souls and the bodies of men, to promote the temporal happiness of the one, the spiritual and eternal happiness of the other.
Note, 2. Our Saviour's diligence and indefatigable industry in this work of doing good; he made it the great business and constant employment of his life: He went about doing good; that is, seeking out all opportunities of being useful and beneficial to mankind.
Observe, 5. The evidence and testimony which the apostle produces for all that he affirmed concerning Christ; We are witnesses of all things which he did in the land of Judea and in Jerusalem.
Christ took the twelve apostles as if it were into his family, that by their familiar converse, and constant conversation with him, they might be enabled to testify of him:
1. Touching his death, that he was slain and hanged on a tree; dying an ignominious and shameful, as well as a dolorous and painful death.
2. Concerning his resurrection, that God raised him from the dead: though he was laid, he was not lost in the dust; God would not suffer the Beloved of his soul to rot in a grave, but raised him up, and shewed him openly.
And, 3. As to the final judgment, the apostles were commanded to preach and testify to the people, that Jesus Christ was ordained of God to be the Judge both of quick and dead; that is, of all that are in their graves, and of all that shall be found alive at his coming.
Observe here, 1. What a miraculous power of the Holy Ghost did accompany St. Peter's ministry at this time, therby giving him an assurance of the future conversion of the Gentiles, to the great wonder and astonishment of the Jews, who thought the promise of sending down the Holy Ghost belonged only to the house of Israel.
Accordingly, while Peter was thus preaching to Cornelius and his family, the Holy Ghost, by his wonderful gift of tongues, descended on them, though Gentiles; at which the Jews marvelled.
Observe, 2. The conclusion which the apostle draws from this; forasmuch as the Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Ghost, he infers, that they ought to be baptized with water; and the argument runs thus: "They that have the grace signified by and promised in baptism; they have the inward part, or thing signified; why then should the outward sign be denied them? He that has the inheritance, may clain the writings, the seals, &c. belonging to the inheritance.
Observe, 3. The apostle without scruple baptized these Gentiles converts; Then commanded he them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus: That is, he either baptized them himself, or gave commandment to others to do it; and though only the name of the Lord Jesus be mentioned, yet this does not imply, but that they were baptized according to our Saviour's prescription, In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Matthew 28:19 This done, they desired him to stay some days with them, that they might be farther instructed, confirmed, and comforted by his ministry.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Acts 10". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30