By Harry Bultema
We want to consider the first 20 verses of Acts Chapter 10. It is divided into two divisions: (1) the man, and (2) his memorial.
Cornelius was one of the many soldiers of ancient Rome. It was his gruesome task to drive the cold steel into the heart of his fellow men. He had 100 soldiers under him whom he had to tell how to do this in the most effective manner. Many believers are cordial and conscientious objectors when called upon to participate in warfare, and no wonder for war is such a nasty, bloody business. It is a wholesale butchery of the bloom of the nation, mass madness, the revelry of Hell, a burning greed for power, and scientific assassinations. Yet, we find that Christ and His Apostles have never told believers not to be soldiers. We meet several Army Officers on the sacred page who are believers and Cornelius is one of them. Conscience, however, is an unassailable sanctuary. If a Christian has sacred and insuperable scruples and is a conscientious objector, no State or government has a right to compel him to serve in its armed forces.
Cornelius, the Man. How should we look upon Cornelius? Is he a saved or an unsaved man? Let’s see what the Bible says: He is called, first of all, a devout man. But we ought to say a word as an introduction to our study of this man’s character that would be a consideration of the context of the portion of Scripture we have before us. Shem, Ham and Japheth are pictured in Acts and their salvation is described. The Ethiopian eunuch from Africa represents Ham. Saul, of course, was from Shem, while Cornelius was from the sons of Japheth.
The Book of Acts is really a continuation of the historical record of the four Gospels. It records the fulfillment of the Savior’s promise concerning the Holy Spirit Who is mentioned not less than 60 times in its pages. This book is a record of the acts of the glorified Christ acting through His Spirit and His people. It forms the most valuable connecting link between the Gospels and the Epistles, giving the fulfillment of the Gospel promises and the founding of the churches to which later the letters were sent. It records the preaching in Jerusalem, in Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. It can never be repeated too often in the regime of the earth. It can never be repeated too often in the regime of the Acts period. Is not the regime we have today as clearly appears from the many visions, angelic visits and deliverances, mass healings by shadow and girdle, resurrections, trances, tongues, sudden judgments, prophecies, etc. that are recorded of that time. We have Kingdom ground in the Acts and they are not the ground of grace and long suffering kindness that we enjoy. It is well to see this because from the general misinterpretation of the acts proceed 80% of our modern religious fads, cults, isms and vagaries of our day.
It is also said of Cornelius that he was not only a devout man but “he feared God.” He is a God-fearing man. All heathen nations are filled with fear for their gods or demons but this was not the fear of Cornelius. He feared not one of the 30,000 gods and goddesses of ancient Rome. He feared the living and true God. He knew not what it was to fear any man for he was an officer of authority stationed in Caesarea, a city 30 miles north of Joppa. He wasn’t an officer of colonial troops but regulars from the motherland, therefore, called the “Italian band.” Though a heathen by birth and state relations, Cornelius turned his back upon it and now feared the God of Israel Who had made Heaven and earth. The question has often been asked, “Was he a proselyte of the gate or a proselyte of righteousness?” The preponderance of weight is clearly in favor of the latter.
There were many heathen in that day whose hearts were empty. Everything had disappointed them: their gods and goddesses, their priests and oracles, their philosophy and sophistry. Their hearts were hungrily yearning for something that would satisfy. They were without the only true God and, therefore, without hope. They were drifting rudderless and stale, with a chart on the dark sea of despair. Many destroyed themselves counting that life was not worth living. Skepticism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism, the three main philosophies of Cornelius’ time, could not fill the chasms in the empty hearts and rather contributed to the black hopelessness of that day. In such a condition, it need not surprise us that many found refuge in Judaism, preferably far above the despairing paganism of the time. Cornelius seemed to have been one of those that had found a haven of refuge in the truth of Israel. When he heard of the one true God, Who had made Heaven and earth, he feared Him, not with a slavish and foolish fear, but with a reverential fear.
Cornelius feared God “with all his house,” i.e., with all his family. A man is responsible for his family and if his piety does not affect his wife and children, then it is only a sentimental affair hardly worth having. Many children have no respect for the piety of their parents. They know that it lacks reality as they have not seen the truth exemplified in their lives. They see the big gap between walk and talk, between Sunday and Monday, between say and pay, and the result inevitably is that the hearts of the children grow hard, cold and indifferent. The soldiers of the Italian Band knew that their chief had something and they were impressed by their leader’s reverential bearing. Do you fear God? And do you fear Him with all your house?
In another stroke of the pen we are told that “he gave much alms.” Cornelius was not like the Dead Sea, always taking in and never giving out; rather, He was like the River Jordan which receives its waters from the Lebanon Mountains and in turn pours it into the Dead Sea. We continually receive from God Who has blessed us richly (Eph. 1:3). Let us give as He continually prospers us. Cornelius gave alms and much alms to the people always; i.e., to Israel. Another Centurion built a synagogue for Israel and his deed was rewarded. In our text also we find that God blessed those that bless His people.
This brave and noble Centurion “prayed to God always.” This includes and presupposes many things. It includes his seeking after God, his dependence upon God, his belief in God’s power and willingness to help. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). It presupposes His yearning for the living God. Surrendered and subdued at heart, Cornelius turned constantly to God even as the sunflower turns to the sun. Note that he did not pray to one of the 30,000 gods and goddesses of Rome but only to the living God of Israel – Who is omniscient so that He understands, omnipotent so that He can help, merciful so that He is willing to help. He prayed to God always. This is surpassingly beautiful.
He was always thirsting for the living God of Israel. He really went beyond David and Daniel who prayed morning, noon and night. He was in line with the precepts concerning prayer taught by Christ and the Apostles. In this connection, I have an earnest question to ask you, beloved. “Do you, like poor and needy Cornelius, pray always?” This is a solemn, searching and soul-subduing question. No, I do not ask if you constantly sit with owed head and closed eyes for this is not the only attitude of prayer. We can pray at all times: at our work, during our leisure, yea, even at war, IF our hearts are in touch with the living God. If God’s children today would pray as much as Cornelius did, there would e a burning Holy Spirit revival tomorrow.
The Lord is ever waiting to bless, but He wants to be asked for it. He likes to see His people on their faces before Him. He loves to see the broken heart and the contrite spirit before Him. “What am I? cried Tennyson, “An infant crying in the night; an infant crying for the light, and with no language but a cry … that man is praying who doth press with might out of his darkness into God’s light.”
In light of Cornelius’ much alms and his devout reverential fear of God, combined with his constant prayer, it seems nothing short of ridiculous to ask whether or not he was a saved man. I would like to ask you Christians a few questions, by way of contrast.
- Can it be said of you that you are devout and pious, men/women devoted to God with a reverential fear, men/women of prayer and consecrated giving?
- Do you fear the Lord with our whole house? Where, then, are your children this morning? In bed?
Ah, if Cornelius had lived in Muskegon, he would have been in church with his whole family to hear what the Spirit has to say to churches. Every church in this city would welcome him into membership. He would not be one to shirk work or responsibility. The Finance Committee would have him as Chairman. He would be a valuable asset to any congregation. He would never miss a prayer meeting. We all admit these things mentioned of him, and yet doubt our own salvation. With our life on a far lower level, far less spiritual, far more carnal, worldly and indifferent, we ought to doubt our own salvation if we dare to doubt his. Is it not hypocritical to do so? Does it not remind you of the mote and the beam? We need not doubt or be worried about his salvation. It beamed from his eye, it spread its fragrance in his home, it was made evident from his purse, it groaned and rejoiced in his prayer life, and it sparkles from the pages of Holy Writ.
He was saved upon the same ground as the pious Jew was saved. But at this point, we are apt to hear an object which seems, at first glance, to be insurmountable. It is said in Acts 11:14, that Peter was to tell Cornelius words whereby he and all his house were to be saved; hence, objectors would say, “He must have been unsaved.” But this is wrong reasoning. He was saved as a pious Jew was saved under the Law and under the Old Covenant, but now he was saved unto Christ, the crucified and resurrected Lord and had obtained the spiritual status of a Hebrew Christian.
His Memorial. And we now come to the consideration of his memorial. Most people get their memorials in the form of marble slabs and blocks later after death but Cornelius got his while he lived and prayed. He was praying at the ninth hour of the evening sacrifice. This was the recognized hour of prayer throughout Israel even during the Acts period. In Acts Chapter 3 we find Peter and John entering the Temple at the hour of prayer. God was pleased to answer prayers very often in the Acts period with heavenly visits and visions. He said of Saul to Ananias,
Behold, he prayeth.” Suddenly as Cornelius prayed, there stood a man in bright clothing in the officer’s presence. This man from Heaven was not a created angel, but the Lord as the messenger of the Covenant. He, the Sent-One of God Who had touched the lives of the Patriarchs and Prophets. Cornelius rightly called him “Lord” and no one can truthfully address Him as such but by the Holy Spirit. Listen to the message of the Angel of the Lord: “Thy prayers and thy alms are come up for a memorial before God.” two things then, according to this Divine message, greatly pleased God: this man’s praying and his paying. Both were an index to the officer’s love for God. The memorial means that God hears and remembers prayers and love gifts. This is touching and teaching in the highest degree. God hears the prayers of those that diligently seek Him. As the little birds of spring open wide their mouths to receive food from the parent birds, so let us open wide our hearts to receive that which our Heavenly Father has for us. When the godly remnant sought Jehovah in the days of Malachi, we read that He priced His ears and heard and wrote in the Book for remembrance.
Many prayers ascend no higher than the ceiling of the room in which they are uttered but Cornelius’ prayers came up before God. He contacted God. Faith makes the real connection between God and man. Faith, therefore, is the missing link these days, for without faith in the Blood and the Word, there is no approach to God. Men have a form of godliness but there is no power because there is no faith. In the Acts period, God often answered prayers suddenly and miraculously, but He doesn’t do this today. He never answers us in a vision, a dream, or an angelic vision. In every chapter of Acts we have ample proof that God worked then with many Kingdom signs and wonders such as have not occurred for the last 1,900 years and are not happening at this time. Your prayers and mine have been answered time and time again but never with such miraculous apparition from Heaven as Cornelius received.
God greatly rewarded Cornelius by sending him the Angel of the Lord Himself, i.e., the Angel of the Covenant. In reality, we have in this visit of the Angel strong proof that Cornelius is not regarded as a Gentile but as a Jew, since God never sent His Angel nor any angel to the Gentiles but always exclusively to the Jews. This implies that he had been identified with Israel as a proselyte of righteousness. If Gentiles, such as Pharoah, Nebuchadnezzar, and Naaman received a bit of revelation, they were not able to grasp it until the young Jews: Joseph, Daniel, and the little servant girl enlightened them concerning it.
The Angel did not preach the Gospel to Cornelius. Peter was called upon to do this for he, who had denied his Lord three times, could preach the Gospel of Grace better than the celestial messenger. At any rate, the Lord, in His sovereign will, is pleased to use frail and feeble man for the tremendous task of preaching. It brought Peter into considerable trouble, since, according to the Law, it was not lawful for a Jewish man to go into the house of a Gentile.
God remembers His promise of blessing to His people Israel. Those that bless Israel shall be blessed. God said it in the Abrahamic Covenant, and He had shown it time and time again throughout sacred history of His people Israel. Here he revealed it to Cornelius. Let us, like Cornelius, and the other Centurion of the Gospel record, seek the welfare of Jerusalem. Cursed are those that curse Israel. Blessed are all those, likewise, who seek Israel’s good.
We do not know what it was that Cornelius prayed but we do not guess amiss if we say that he was interceding for others. God wants intercessors today when the world at large is in the process of committing suicide. Intercession rises up to Him as sweet incense and He loves it. All the great prophets were intercessors. Christ, also, lives to make intercession for His own.
“Many are walking the broad way of sin;
Ceaselessly, restlessly, no peace within.
Forward they rush, on to gloom and despair.
Won’t you remember their souls in your prayer?
Yonder a brother has fallen in sin;
Near you a sister is struggling to win;
Fierce is the strife with the Prince of the air,
Won’t you remember their strife in your prayer?
Out in the darkness of heathendom’s sin,
Brave ones are toiling to let the light in.
Many their needs, but the greatest need there,
Is that you help with the importunate prayer.
Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, dear friend? He is wonderful. He loves you. He will take you in. Accept His love in simple faith. Own Him and His atoning work for you as your very own. Do this now, ‘ere it be forever too late.