Cornelius directed to send for Peter. (1-8) Peter's vision. (9-18) He goes to Cornelius. (19-33) His discourse to Cornelius. (34-43) The gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out. (44-48)
Verses 1-8 Hitherto none had been baptized into the Christian church but Jews, Samaritans, and those converts who had been circumcised and observed the ceremonial law; but now the Gentiles were to be called to partake all the privileges of God's people, without first becoming Jews. Pure and undefiled religion is sometimes found where we least expect it. Wherever the fear of God rules in the heart, it will appear both in works of charity and of piety, neither will excuse from the other. Doubtless Cornelius had true faith in God's word, as far as he understood it, though not as yet clear faith in Christ. This was the work of the Spirit of God, through the mediation of Jesus, even before Cornelius knew him, as is the case with us all when we, who before were dead in sin, are made alive. Through Christ also his prayers and alms were accepted, which otherwise would have been rejected. Without dispute or delay Cornelius was obedient to the heavenly vision. In the affairs of our souls, let us not lose time.
Verses 9-18 The prejudices of Peter against the Gentiles, would have prevented his going to Cornelius, unless the Lord had prepared him for this service. To tell a Jew that God had directed those animals to be reckoned clean which were hitherto deemed unclean, was in effect saying, that the law of Moses was done away. Peter was soon made to know the meaning of it. God knows what services are before us, and how to prepare us; and we know the meaning of what he has taught us, when we find what occasion we have to make use of it.
Verses 19-33 When we see our call clear to any service, we should not be perplexed with doubts and scruples arising from prejudices or former ideas. Cornelius had called together his friends, to partake with him of the heavenly wisdom he expected from Peter. We should not covet to eat our spiritual morsels alone. It ought to be both given and taken as kindness and respect to our kindred and friends, to invite them to join us in religious exercises. Cornelius declared the direction God gave him to send for Peter. We are right in our aims in attending a gospel ministry, when we do it with regard to the Divine appointment requiring us to make use of that ordinance. How seldom ministers are called to speak to such companies, however small, in which it may be said that they are all present in the sight of God, to hear all things that are commanded of God! But these were ready to hear what Peter was commanded of God to say.
Verses 34-43 Acceptance cannot be obtained on any other ground than that of the covenant of mercy, through the atonement of Christ; but wherever true religion is found, God will accept it without regarding names or sects. The fear of God and works of righteousness are the substance of true religion, the effects of special grace. Though these are not the cause of a man's acceptance, yet they show it; and whatever may be wanting in knowledge or faith, will in due time be given by Him who has begun it. They knew in general the word, that is, the gospel, which God sent to the children of Israel. The purport of this word was, that God by it published the good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ. They knew the several matters of fact relating to the gospel. They knew the baptism of repentance which John preached. Let them know that this Jesus Christ, by whom peace is made between God and man, is Lord of all; not only as over all, God blessed for evermore, but as Mediator. All power, both in heaven and in earth, is put into his hand, and all judgment committed to him. God will go with those whom he anoints; he will be with those to whom he has given his Spirit. Peter then declares Christ's resurrection from the dead, and the proofs of it. Faith has reference to a testimony, and the Christian faith is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, on the testimony given by them. See what must be believed concerning him. That we are all accountable to Christ as our Judge; so every one must seek his favour, and to have him as our Friend. And if we believe in him, we shall all be justified by him as our Righteousness. The remission of sins lays a foundation for all other favours and blessings, by taking that out of the way which hinders the bestowing of them. If sin be pardoned, all is well, and shall end well for ever.
Verses 44-48 The Holy Ghost fell upon others after they were baptized, to confirm them in the faith; but upon these Gentiles before they were baptized, to show that God does not confine himself to outward signs. The Holy Ghost fell upon those who were neither circumcised nor baptized; it is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing. They magnified God, and spake of Christ and the benefits of redemption. Whatever gift we are endued with, we ought to honour God with it. The believing Jews who were present, were astonished that the gift of the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the Gentiles also. By mistaken notions of things, we make difficult for ourselves as to the methods of Divine providence and grace. As they were undeniably baptized with the Holy Ghost, Peter concluded they were not to be refused the baptism of water, and the ordinance was administered. The argument is conclusive; can we deny the sign to those who have received the things signified? Those who have some acquaintance with Christ, cannot but desire more. Even those who have received the Holy Ghost, must see their need of daily learning more of the truth.
Acts 10:1-48 . ACCESSION AND BAPTISM OF CORNELIUS AND HIS PARTY; OR, THE FIRST-FRUITS OF THE GENTILES.
We here enter on an entirely new phase of the Christian Church, the "opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles"; in other words, the recognition of Gentile, on terms of perfect equality with Jewish, discipleship without the necessity of circumcision. Some beginnings appear to have been already made in this direction and Saul probably acted on this principle from the first, both in Arabia and in Syria and Cilicia. But had he been the prime mover in the admission of uncircumcised Gentiles into the Church, the Jewish party, who were never friendly to him, would have acquired such strength as to bring the Church to the verge of a disastrous schism. But on Peter, "the apostle" specially "of the circumcision," was conferred the honor of initiating this great movement, as before of the first admission of Jewish believers. upon the stage was to eclipse this "chiefest of the apostles."
1, 2. Cæsarea--(See on Ac 8:40 ).
the Italian band--a cohort of Italians, as distinguished from native soldiers, quartered at Cæsarea, probably as a bodyguard to the Roman procurator who resided there. An ancient coin makes express mention of such a cohort in Syria. [AKERMAN, Numismatic Illustrations of the New Testament.]
2. A devout man, &c.--an uncircumcised Gentile proselyte to the Jewish faith, of whom there were a very great number at this time; a distinguished proselyte, who had brought his whole household establishment under the hallowing influence of the Jewish faith and the regular observance of its principal seasons of worship.
gave much alms to the people--that is, the Jewish people, on the same principle as another centurion before him ( Luke 7:5 ); thinking it no "great thing," if they had "sown unto him spiritual things, that they should reap his carnal things" ( 1 Corinthians 9:11 ).
prayed to God alway--at the stated daily seasons.
3-6. saw . . . evidently--"distinctly."
the ninth hour of the day--three o'clock, the hour of the evening sacrifice. But he had been "fasting until that hour" ( Acts 10:30 ), perhaps from the sixth hour ( Acts 10:9 ).
4. What is it, Lord?--language which, tremulously though it was uttered, betokened childlike reverence and humility.
Thy prayers and thine alms--The way in which both are specified is emphatic. The one denotes the spiritual outgoing of his soul to God, the other its practical outgoing to men.
are come up for a memorial before God--that is, as a sacrifice well-pleasing unto God, as an odor of a sweet smell ( Revelation 8:4 ).
5. send to Joppa . . . for one Simon,
7, 8. when the angel . . . was departed, he called--immediately doing as directed, and thereby showing the simplicity of his faith.
a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually--of the "soldiers under him," such as the centurion at Capernaum had ( Matthew 8:9 ). Who this "devout soldier" was, can only be matter of conjecture. DA COSTA [Four Witnesses] gives a number of ingenious reasons for thinking that, having attached himself henceforth to Peter--whose influence in the composition of the second Gospel is attested by the earliest tradition, and is stamped on that Gospel itself--he is no other than the Evangelist Mark.
9-16. upon the housetop--the flat roof, the chosen place in the East for cool retirement.
the sixth hour--noon.
10. a trance--differing from the "vision" of Cornelius, in so far as the things seen had not the same objective reality, though both were supernatural.
12. all manner of four-footed beasts, &c.--that is, the clean and the unclean (ceremonially) all mixed together.
14. Not so, Lord--See Marginal reference.
I have never eaten anything that is common--that is, not sanctified by divine permission to eat of it, and so "unclean." "The distinction of meats was a sacrament of national distinction, separation, and consecration" [WEBSTER and WILKINSON].
15. What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common--The ceremonial distinctions are at an end, and Gentiles, ceremonially separated from the chosen people ( Acts 10:28 ), and debarred from that access to God in the visible ordinances of His Church which they enjoyed, are now on a perfect equality with them.
16. done thrice--See Genesis 41:32 .
17-24. while Peter doubted . . . what this should mean, behold, the three men . . . stood before the gate . . . and asked--"were inquiring," that is, in the act of doing so. The preparations here made--of Peter for his Gentile visitors, as of Cornelius for him--are devoutly to be noted. But besides this, at the same moment, "the Spirit" expressly informs him that three men were inquiring for him, and bids him unhesitatingly go with them, as sent by Him.
21. I am he whom ye seek--This seems to have been said without any communication being made to Peter regarding the men or their errand.
22. they said, Cornelius . . . a just man, &c.--fine testimony this from his own servants.
of good report among all the nation of the Jews--specified, no doubt, to conciliate the favorable regard of the Jewish apostle.
to hear words of thee--(See on Ac 11:14 ).
23. called them in and lodged them--thus partially anticipating this fellowship with Gentiles.
Peter went . . . with them, and certain brethren--six in number ( Acts 11:12 ).
from Joppa--as witnesses of a transaction which Peter was prepared to believe pregnant with great consequences.
24. Cornelius . . . called together his kinsmen and near friends--implying that he had been long enough at Cæsarea to form relationships there and that he had intimate friends there whose presence he was not ashamed to invite to a religious meeting of the most solemn nature.
25-29. as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him--a mark of the highest respect.
fell down at his feet, and worshipped him--In the East this way of showing respect was customary not only to kings, but to others occupying a superior station; but among the Greeks and Romans it was reserved for the gods. Peter, therefore, declines it as due to no mortal [GROTIUS]. "Those who claim to have succeeded Peter, have not imitated this part of his conduct" [ALFORD] (therein only verifying 2 Thessalonians 2:4 , and compare Revelation 19:10 , 22:9 ).
28. Ye know it is . . . unlawful . . . for . . . a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation, &c.--There was no express prohibition to this effect, and to a Certain extent intercourse was certainly kept up. (See the Gospel history, towards the end). But intimate social fellowship was not practiced, as being adverse to the spirit of the law.
29. I ask therefore, &c.--The whole speech is full of dignity, the apostle seeing in the company before him a new brotherhood, into whose devout and inquiring minds he was divinely directed to pour the light of new truth.
30-33. Four days ago--the messengers being despatched on the first; on the second reaching Joppa ( Acts 10:9 ); starting for Cæsarea on the third; and on the fourth arriving.
33. we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God--Beautiful expression of entire preparedness to receive the expected divine teaching through the lips of this heaven-commissioned teacher, and delightful encouragement to Peter to give free utterance to what was doubtless already on his lips!
34, 35. Peter opened his mouth--(See on Mt 5:2 ).
Of a truth I perceive--that is, "I have it now demonstrated before mine eyes."
that God is no respecter of persons--Not, "I see there is no capricious favoritism with God," for Peter would never imagine such a thing; but (as the next clause shows), "I see that God has respect only to personal character and state in the acceptance of men, national and ecclesiastical distinctions being of no account."
35. But in every nation--not (observe), in every religion; according to a common distortion of these words.
he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness--This being the well-known phraseology of the Old Testament in describing the truly godly man, within the pale of revealed religion, it cannot be alleged that Peter meant it to denote a merely virtuous character, in the heathen sense; and as Peter had learned enough, from the messengers of Cornelius and from his own lips, to convince him that the whole religious character of this Roman officer had been moulded in the Jewish faith, there can be no doubt that the apostle intended to describe exactly such saintship--in its internal spirituality and external fruitfulness--as God had already pronounced to be genuine and approved. And since to such "He giveth more grace," according to the law of His Kingdom ( 4:6 , Matthew 25:29 ), He sends Peter, not to be the instrument of his conversion, as this is very frequently called, but simply to "show him the way of God more perfectly," as before to the devout Ethiopian eunuch.
36-38. the word . . . sent unto the children of Israel--for to them (he would have them distinctly know) the Gospel was first preached, even as the facts of it took place on the special theater of the ancient economy.
preaching peace by Jesus Christ--the glorious sum of all Gospel truth ( 1 Corinthians 1:20-22 ).
he is Lord of all--exalted to embrace under the canopy of His peace, Jew and Gentile alike, whom the blood of His Cross had cemented into one reconciled and accepted family of God ( Ephesians 2:13-18 ).
37. That word . . . ye how--The facts, it seems, were too notorious and extraordinary to be unknown to those who mixed so much with Jews, and took so tender an interest in all Jewish matters as they did; though, like the eunuch, they knew not the significance of them.
which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee--(See Luke 4:14 Luke 4:37 Luke 4:44 , 7:17 , 9:6 , 23:5 ).
after the baptism which John preached--(See on Ac 1:22 ).
38. Now God anointed Jesus of Nazareth--rather, "Jesus of Nazareth (as the burden of that 'published word'), how God anointed Him."
with the Holy Ghost and with power--that is, at His baptism, thus visibly proclaiming Him MESSIAH, "the Lord's Christ." See Luke 4:18-21 . For it is not His unction for personal holiness at His incarnation that is referred to--as many of the Fathers and some moderns take it--but His investiture with the insignia of the Messianic office, in which He presented Himself after His baptism to the acceptance of the people.
went about doing good--holding up the beneficent character of all His miracles, which was their predicted character ( Isaiah 35:5 Isaiah 35:6 , &c.).
healing all that were oppressed of the devil--whether in the form of demoniacal possessions, or more indirectly, as in her "whom Satan had bound with a spirit of infirmity eighteen years" ( Luke 13:16 ); thereby showing Himself the Redeemer from all evil.
for God was with him--Thus gently does the apostle rise to the supreme dignity of Christ with which he closes, accommodating himself to his hearers.
39-43. we are witnesses of all . . . he did--not objects of superstitious reverence, but simply witnesses to the great historical facts on which the Gospel is founded.
slew and hanged--that is, slew by hanging.
on a tree--So Acts 5:30 (and
40-41. showed him openly; Not to all the people--for it was not fitting that He should subject Himself, in His risen condition, to a second rejection in Person.
but unto witnesses chosen before of God . . . to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose, &c.--Not the less certain, therefore, was the fact of His resurrection, though withholding Himself from general gaze in His risen body.
he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead--He had before proclaimed Him "Lord of all," for the dispensing of "peace" to all alike; now he announces Him in the same supreme lordship, for the exercise of judgment upon all alike. On this divine ordination, see John 5:22 John 5:23 John 5:27 , Acts 17:31 . Thus we have here all Gospel truth in brief. But, forgiveness through this exalted One is the closing note of Peter's beautifully simple discourse.
43. To him give all the prophets witness--that is, This is the burden, generally of the prophetic testimony. It was fitter thus to give the spirit of their testimony, than to quote them in detail on such an occasion. But let this apostolic statement of the evangelical import of the Old Testament writings be devoutly weighed by those who are disposed to rationalize away this element in the Old Testament.
whosoever believeth in him--This was evidently said with special reference to the Gentile audience then before him, and formed a noble practical conclusion to the whole discourse.
44, 45. While Peter yet spake . . . the Holy Ghost fell--by visible and audible manifestation ( Acts 10:46 ).
45. they of the circumcision . . . were astonished . . . because that on the Gentiles also was poured out, &c.--without circumcision.
46. heard them speak with tongues and magnify God--As on the day of Pentecost it was no empty miracle, no mere speaking of foreign languages, but utterance of "the wonderful works of God" in tongues to them unknown ( Acts 2:11 ), so here; but more remarkable in this case, as the speakers were perhaps less familiar with the Old Testament songs of praise.
46-48. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water . . . which have received the Holy Ghost, &c.--Mark, he does not say, They have received the Spirit, what need have they for water? but, Having the living discipleship imparted to them and visibly stamped upon them, what objection can there be to admitting them, by the seal of baptism, into the full fellowship of the Church?
47. which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we--and are thus, in all that is essential to salvation, on a level with ourselves.
48. he commanded them to be baptized--not doing it with his own hands, as neither did Paul, save on rare occasions ( 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 ; compare Acts 2:38 , John 4:2 ).
prayed . . . him to tarry certain days--"golden days" [BENGEL], spent, doubtless, in refreshing Christian fellowship, and in imparting and receiving fuller teaching on the several topics of the apostle's discourse.