Acts 10:4
And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
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(4) Are come up for a memorial before God.—The word so used was emphatically sacrificial and liturgical, as, e.g., in Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 2:16; Leviticus 5:12; Leviticus 6:15; Ecclesiasticus 45:16; and elsewhere. The words implied, therefore, that the “prayers and alms” were accepted as a true sacrifice, more acceptable than the blood of bulls and goats. If we ask, in the technical language of a later theology, how they could be accepted when they were offered prior to a clear faith in Christ, and therefore before justification, the answer is that the good works were wrought by the power of God’s grace already working in him. He was believing in the Light that lighteth every man, though as yet he did not identify that Light with its manifestation in Jesus as the Christ (John 1:9). He had the faith which from the beginning of the world has justified—the belief that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

10:1-8 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.And when he looked on him - Greek: Having fixed his eyes attentively on him.

He was afraid - At the suddenness and unexpected character of the vision.

What is it, Lord? - This is the expression of surprise and alarm. The word "Lord" should have been translated "sir," since there is no evidence that this is an address to God, and still less that he regarded the personage present as the Lord. Compare the notes on Acts 9:5. It is such language as a man would naturally use who was suddenly surprised; who should witness a strange form appearing unexpectedly before him; and who should exclaim, Sir, what is the matter?"

Are come up for a memorial - Are remembered before God. Compare Isaiah 45:19. They were an evidence of piety toward God, and were accepted as such. Though he had not offered sacrifice according to the Jewish laws; though he had not been circumcised; yet, having acted according to the light which he had, his prayers were hard, and his alms were accepted. This was done in accordance with the general principle of the divine administration, that God prefers the offering of the heart to external forms; the expressions of love to sacrifice without it. This he had often declared, Isaiah 1:11-15; Amos 5:21-22; 1 Samuel 15:22, "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams," Hosea 6:6; Ecclesiastes 5:1. It should be remembered, however, that Cornelius was not depending on external morality. His heart was in the work of religion. It should be remembered, further, that he was ready to receive the gospel when it was offered to him, and to become a Christian. In this there was an important difference between him and those who are depending for salvation on their morality in Christian lands. Such people are inclined to defend themselves by the example of Cornelius, and to suppose that as he was accepted before he embraced the gospel, so they may be without embracing it. But there is an important difference in the two cases. For:

(1) There is no evidence that Cornelius was depending on external morality for salvation. His offering was that of the heart, and not merely an external offering.

(2) Cornelius did not rely on his morality at all. His was a work of religion. He feared God; he prayed to him; he exerted his influence to bring his family to the same state. Moral people do neither. "All their works they do to be seen of men"; and in their heart there is "no good thing toward the Lord God of Israel." Compare 1 Kings 14:13; 2 Chronicles 19:3. Who ever hears of a man that "fears God," and that prays, and that instructs his household in religion, that depends on morality for salvation?

(3) Cornelius was disposed to do the will of God as far as it was made known to him. Where this exists there is religion. The moral man is not.

(4) Cornelius was willing to embrace a Saviour when he was made known to him. The moral man is not. He hears of a Saviour with unconcern; he listens to the message of God's mercy from year to year without embracing it. In all this there is an important difference between him and the Roman centurion; and while we hope that there may be many in pagan lands who are in the same state of mind that he was - disposed to do the will of God as far as made known, and therefore accepted and saved by his mercy in the Lord Jesus, yet this cannot be adduced to encourage the hope of salvation in those who do know his will, and yet will not do it.

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 (Re 8:4).

He was afraid; the angel appeared in so great splendour: all admiration hath some fear with it.

And said, "What is it, Lord?" This is equivalent to, "What wilt thou have me to do?" and shows that Cornelius was prepared to hear the message.

Thy prayers and thine alms; prayer and alms are joined together in our Saviour’s discourse concerning them, Matthew 6:1-7 and in the apostle’s order about them, 1 Corinthians 16:1: alms are our sacrifices now under the gospel, Philippians 4:18 Hebrews 13:16.

Are come up for a memorial before God; an allusion to the offering up of incense under the law; the smoke of the incense did ascend, and so David desires that his prayers might ascend toward God, Psalm 141:2: thus, under the gospel, prayers are resembled to incense, Revelation 8:3. That prayers are said to come up for a memorial, is but the pursuance of the same metaphor; for, Leviticus 2:2, the frankincense, &c. was the memorial there commanded to be burned; and all this only to represent unto us how well pleasing the prayers of his people are unto God through Christ, and that God keeps in remembrance all those things they thus desire of him, and in his time and measure (which are the best circumstances) bestows all upon them: but let not prayers and alms, which God here hath put together, be put asunder, and in due time we shall reap.

And when he looked on him, he was afraid,.... What with the brightness of his clothing, Acts 10:30 and the lustre of his countenance, and the majestic form in which he appeared, he perceived there was something uncommon and divine in this vision, and therefore was filled with awe and reverence, yea, with something of a panic fear; as it was usual, even with good persons, as the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, Zacharias, the Virgin Mary, and others; from a sense of the greatness of the divine majesty, which they supposed to be near, or this to be an emblem of it, and from a notion that, at the sight of God, they should die.

And said, what is it, Lord what is the matter? what is to be said or done? What is the reason of this unusual appearance? Some of the Latin copies, and the Ethiopic version, read, "who art thou, Lord?" but by the angel's answer, not this, but the former was the question: for it follows,

and he said unto him, thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God; that is, the prayers which he had put up in faith, for himself and family, and the charitable actions he had performed from a principle of love, were like sacrifices upon the altar, which ascended to God with acceptance; so these sacrifices of prayer and beneficence came up with acceptance from off that altar which sanctities the gift, or were acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ; these were taken notice of, approved by God, and remembered by him, and the fruits and effects he was shortly to enjoy; for that Cornelius was a believer, need not be questioned; since he was not only a devout and religious person, but one that feared God, which includes the whole of religion, internal and external; and so faith in Christ, without which he could not pray aright: there is no doubt of it, but he had read the prophecies of the Old Testament, attended the synagogues of the Jews, and believed in the Messiah to come, though he did not know that he was come, and that Jesus of Nazareth was he; so that his faith was of the same kind with that of the saints before the coming of Christ; and in this faith he did all the good works he did, which became acceptable to God through Christ, and without which it is impossible to please him.

And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, {c} What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are {d} come up for {e} a memorial before God.

(c) What do you want with me Lord? For he prepares himself to hear.

(d) This is a borrowed kind of speech which the Hebrews used very much, taken from sacrifices and applied to prayers: for it is said of whole burnt sacrifices that the smoke and smell of them goes up into God's nostrils, and so do our prayers, as a sweet smelling sacrifice which the Lord takes great pleasure in.

(e) That is, in as much that they will not allow God as it were to forget you: for so the Scripture often talks childish with us as nurses do with little children, when they prepare their tongues to speak.

Acts 10:4. Εἰς μνημόσυνον ἐνώπ. τ. Θεοῦ] is to be taken together, and denotes the aim or the destination of ἀνέβησαν (comp. Matthew 26:13): to be a mark, i.e. a token of remembrance, before God, so that they give occasion to God to think on thee. Comp. Acts 10:31. The sense of the whole figurative expression is: “Thy prayers and thine alms have found consideration with God; He will fulfil the former[255] and reward the latter.” See Acts 10:31.

ἈΝΈΒΗΣΑΝ is strictly suited only to ΑἹ ΠΡΟΣΕΥΧΑΊ, which, according to the figurative embodiment of the idea of granting prayer, ascend from the heart and mouth of man to God (comp. Genesis 18:2; Exodus 2:23; 1Ma 5:31); but it is by a zeugma referred also to the alms, which have excited the attention of God, to requite them by leading the pious man to Christ. The opinion (Wolf, Bengel, Eichhorn, and others) that ἈΝΈΒ. is based on the Jewish notion (Tob 12:12; Tob 12:15; Revelation 8:4) that prayers are carried by the angels to the throne of God, is as arbitrarily imported into the text as is the view (Grotius, Heinrichs, and others) that ΕἸς ΜΝΗΜΌΣΥΝΟΝ signifies instar sacrificii (comp. on the idea, Psalm 141:2), because, forsooth, the LXX. express אַזְכָּרָה by ΜΝΗΜΌΣΥΝΟΝ, Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 2:16; Leviticus 5:12; Leviticus 6:15; Numbers 5:26; comp. Sir 32:7; Sir 38:11; Sir 45:16. In all these passages the sense of a memorial-offering is necessarily determined by the context, which is not the case here with the simple ἈΝΈΒΗΣΑΝ.

On the relation of the good works of Cornelius to his faith, Gregory the Great, in Ez. Hom. 19, already correctly remarks that he did not arrive at faith by his works, but at the works by his faith. The faith, however cordial and vivid it was, was in his case up till now the Old Testament faith in the promised Messiah, but was destined, amidst this visitation of divine grace, to complete itself into the New Testament faith in Jesus as the Messiah who had appeared. Thus was his way of salvation the same as that of the chamberlain, chap. 8. Comp. also Luther’s gloss on Acts 10:1.

[255] Assuredly from the heart of the devout Gentile there had arisen for the most part prayers for higher illumination and sanctification of the inner life; probably also, seeing that Christianity had already attracted so much attention in that region, prayers for information regarding this phenomenon bearing so closely on the religions interests of the man. Perhaps the thought of becoming a Christian was at that very time the highest concern of his heart, in which case only the final decision was yet wanting.

Acts 10:4. Κορνήλιε, cf. 1 Samuel 3:10. Of Cornelius the words of the Evangelical Prophet were true, Isaiah 43:1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine”.—ἀτενίσας, see above on Acts 1:10.—ἔμφοβος: four times in St. Luke, twice in Gospel, twice in Acts, and always with second aorist participle of γίγνομαι as here, only once elsewhere in N.T., Revelation 11:13 (with ἐγένοντο); cf. Sir 19:24 (21), of the fear of God; and in 1Ma 13:2 both ἔντρομος and ἔμφοβος are apparently found together, cf. Acts 7:32; Acts 16:29, but in classical Greek the word is used properly actively, formidolosus.—τί ἐστι, Κύριε; the words, similar to those used by Paul at his conversion, reveal the humility and the attentive attitude and readiness of Cornelius.—αἱ προσ., cf. Acts 2:22, with article: of regular prayers.—ἀνέβησαν: tanquam sacrificia, cf. Psalm 141:2, Php 4:18, Hebrews 13:15, and for the word, 2 Kings 3:20, Job 20:6, Ezekiel 8:11, 1Ma 5:31.—εἰς μνημόσυνον: in Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 2:16; Leviticus 5:12; Leviticus 6:15, Numbers 5:26 cf. Sir 38:11; Sir 45:16), the word is used as a translation of the Hebrew אַזְכָּרָה, “a name given to that portion of the vegetable oblation which was burnt with frankincense upon the altar, the sweet savour of which ascending to heaven was supposed to commend the person sacrificing to the remembrance and favour of God,” a remembrance offering. The words at all events express the thought that the prayers and alms of Cornelius had gained the favourable regard of God, and that they would be remembered, and are remembered accordingly (see notes by Wendt, Felten and Holtzmann), the alms being regarded by zeugma as ascending like the prayers. With this passage cf. Tob 12:12; Tob 12:15, and Mr. Ball’s note in Speaker’s Commentary, i., p. 231. “O quam multa in terrain cadunt, non ascendunt” Bengel, and cf. Hamlet, Act iii., Sc. 3: “My words fly up,” etc.: see Book of Enoch, xlix., 3, for a striking parallel to the thought of raising prayers as a memorial to God, Charles’ edition, pp. 70, 284.

4. And when he looked on him] Literally, “having fastened his eyes on him.” The angel is called (Acts 10:30) “a man in bright clothing.” Such a sight would rivet the centurion’s gaze at the first, and then the heavenly nature of the visitor made itself evident, and he was afraid.

What is it, Lord?] His language expresses his readiness to perform what shall be commanded, and his question implies, “What wilt thou have me to do?”

Thy prayers and thine alms are come [have gone] up] The idea is that of the prayers, like incense, when offered ascending up to God. Cp. Revelation 8:3-4, also Acts 10:8, “vials full of odours which are the prayers of saints.” Cf. Psalm 141:2.

for a memorial before God] They have been such as to be remembered before God, and now He is about to answer them. The portion of the meal offering which the priest was commanded to burn upon the altar to be an offering of a sweet savour unto the Lord (Leviticus 2:2) was called a “memorial,” and the allusion is to the offerings of this kind. Cp. the words of the angel (Tob 12:12), “I did bring the remembrance of your prayers before the Holy One,” where the Greek word for “remembrance” is that which is here rendered “memorial.”

Acts 10:4. Ἔμφοβος γενόμενος, becoming struck with fear) owing to the brightness of the angel: Acts 10:30.—Κύριε, Lord, or Sir) So he calls the angel, as one unknown to him.—προσευχαὶ, thy prayers) These precede: the alms follow, though in respect to men they are the more conspicuous of the two [and therefore are put first in]: Acts 10:2.—ἀνέβησαν, have come up) The angel does not say that he presented them: Acts 10:31. Yet they did ascend, like a sacrifice: Revelation 8:4. Angels are not said to be ἱερεῖς, but yet they are λειτουργοί. A joyful message. O how many things fall upon the earth, not ascend!—εἰς μνημόσυνον, as a memorial) We should pray and do good, even though we do not immediately feel (perceive) the effect. [With what sweet sensations may we suppose Cornelius to have been profusely filled upon receiving this announcement!—V. g.]

Verse 4. - He, fastening his eyes upon for when he looked on, A.V. (ἀτενίσας, as Acts 3:4, etc.); and being affrighted for he was afraid and, A.V.; gone for come, A.V. For a memorial; i.e. thy prayers and thine alms are set is the sight of God, and are the cause of his now remembering thee and sending this message to thee. Cornelius's good works were the fruit of his faith in God as revealed in the Old Testament. Acts 10:4When he looked (ἀτενίσας)

Rev., more accurately, fastening his eyes. Compare Acts 7:55; and see on Luke 4:20.

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