And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold…
Peter's bringing of the gospel to Cornelius, and Cornelius' subsequent baptism, seem very much matters of course to us; but they were revolutionary. They were like John Wesley's ordination of men to preach the gospel in America. Thenceforth he knew he had violated the canons of the Church of England. Thenceforth Peter knew that he had repudiated Judaism as a necessary preparative to Christianity.
I. CORNELIUS' PREPARATION. No man can make himself worthy of God's blessing. But one can so prepare himself for the Divine blessing, that it shall come more easily down and find a quicker acceptance. In this sense Cornelius had made ready for God. He says he was fasting at the time the special revelation came to him, and, indeed, it was at the very moment of prayer (ver. 30). God's ways of dealing with men conform to none of the laws which we might construct. We cannot say that religious exercises, in which Cornelius was engaged, offer the only occasions when God may come to men. We recall Balaam, addressed when on an ungodly mission; we recall Saul, converted while journeying to persecute the saints. But these revelations were not in congruity with the soul's antecedents. They came by crushing down opposition. Yet we are safe in saying that such is not God's usual way of granting insight into His truth. We cannot bind God by law; but conversely we can assert law of ourselves, and say confidently that prayer and all religious exercises are used by God in leading us into new visions of truth. The angel told Cornelius that his prayerful and upright life had commended him to God for His blessing (ver. 31). What God remembered was not Cornelius' worthiness of a blessing, but his fitness for a blessing, shown by the desire for it, witnessed to, by a prayerful and righteous life. Cornelius' life commended him to God not as accomplishment, but as a sign of aspiration. A good man is one who wants to be better. For such God's blessing is surely prepared. Being of such a temper of mind, it was natural that Cornelius showed an immediate acceptance of God's revelation and an immediate obedience toward it (ver. 33).
II. PETER'S ADDRESS was the fuller form of God's answer to Cornelius. The appearance of the angel, and the directions he gave, were only preliminary to something else. This was furnished by Peter; it was the revelation of Christ as a Saviour. Peter's address divides itself easily into three parts —
1. The introduction (vers. 34, 35) lays down the double statement that God is no respecter of persons, but that a good man, whatever his nationality, is accepted of Him. The special lesson needed by Peter and the other leaders of the Church then was that circumstantials make no difference to God. The passage has been immensely abused by misinterpretation. It has been supposed to teach that all religions are equally pleasing to God; from which has been deduced the inference that our duty is to let men alone in their religions, and not try to convert them to Christianity. But if Cornelius was already in the proper condition Godward, why did he need conversion? Again, the passage has been used to teach the doctrine that if one is a good man, and tries conscientiously to do his duty towards his fellow men, and reveres God, he is all right, is "accepted with Him," and needs nothing more. Faith in Christ is thus not enumerated among the things necessary to reconciliation with God. But if to fear God and to work righteousness were enough in Cornelius, why did Peter preach to him the gospel? The truth is, "accepted" here does not mean accepted as all he ought to be, but accepted as a proper subject for that work of conversion which tends to make one what he ought to be.
2. The main part of Peter's address describes the life and function of Jesus (vers. 36-42). The external facts of His career are touched upon in such a way as to show the solid grounding of His supernatural work upon indisputable material fact.
3. The application of Peter's address (ver. 43) makes the doctrines concerning Christ which he has just stated practical and pointed. Christ is given to men that "whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins." The other functions of Christ do not press so immediately upon us as His office as a Saviour. To miss this is to miss all that He would have us know.
III. THE BLESSING FROM ON HIGH CAME WHILE PETER WAS SPEAKING. The Holy Ghost fell upon them (ver. 44). No distinction of nationality was observed by the heavenly Visitor.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,