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Peter and Cornelius


In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called.

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1. Luke passeth over now unto a worthy 643643     “Memorabilem,” memorable. history, to wit, that God vouchsafeth to advance a stranger, and one uncircumcised, unto singular honor above all the Jews, because he doth both send his angel unto him, and for his sake bringeth Peter to Cesarea, that he may instruct him in the gospel. But first of all Luke showeth what manner of person this Cornelius was, for whose cause an angel descended from heaven, and God spake to Peter in a vision. He was a captain [centurion] of the Italian band; a band [cohort] did consist upon [of] a thousand footmen, and he which was chief captain was called a tribune, (or marshal.) Again, every hundred had a captain. A legion had for the most part five bands. That band was called the Italian band, because the Romans did choose soldiers oftentimes from amongst those which dwelt in the provinces; but they had the strength of the army 644644     “Robur exercituum,” the flower of their armies. out of Italy; therefore, Cornelius was an Italian born; but he was at Cesarea with his hundred, to guard the city. For the Romans were wont so to distribute their places of abode, 645645     “Stationes,” stations. that every city of renown might have a garrison to stay sudden uproars. A rare example that a soldier was so devout towards God, so upright and courteous towards men! For at that time the Italians, when as they were carried into the provinces to live in warfare, ran to and fro like hungry wolves to get some prey; they had for the most part no more religion than beasts; they had as great care of innocency as cutthroats; for which cause the virtues of Cornelius deserve the greater commendation, in that leading a soldier’s life, which was at that time most corrupt, he served God holily, and lived amongst men without doing any hurt or injury. And this is no small amplification of his praise, in that casting away superstition wherein he was born and brought up, he embraced the pure worship of God; for we know what account the Italians made of themselves, and how proudly they despised others. And the Jews were at that time in such contempt, that for their sakes pure religion was counted infamous, and almost execrable. Seeing that none of these things could hinder Cornelius, but that forsaking his idols he did embrace the true worship of the true God alone, it must needs be that he was endued with rare and singular sincerity. Moreover, he could find scarce any thing amongst the Jews wherewith he could be allured unto the study of godliness, because there was then scarce one amongst a thousand which had even some small smattering of the law; and, undoubtedly, Cornelius had lighted upon some good worshipper of God, who being sound from corrupt opinions, did expound unto him the law faithfully, without mixing any leaven therewith; but because Luke giveth him many titles of commendation, we must note them all [singly.]

2. He saith that he was a godly man, and one that feared God; secondly, that like a good householder he had a care to instruct his families; he praiseth him afterward for the offices of love, because he was beneficial [beneficent] toward all the people; and, lastly, that he prayed [to] God continually. The sum is this, that Cornelius was a man of singular virtues, wherein the integrity of the godly consisteth, so that his life was framed, in all points, according to the rule which God prescribeth unto us. And because the law is contained in two tables, Luke commendeth, in the former place, Cornelius’ godliness; secondly, he descendeth unto the second part, that he exercised the offices of love toward men. This is very profitable to be marked, because we have a way to live well described in his person.

Wherefore, in ordering the life well, let faith and religion be the foundation, which being taken away, all other virtues are nothing else but smokes. Luke reckoneth up the fear of God and prayer as fruits and testimonies of godliness and of the worship of God, and that for good causes. For religion cannot be separated from the fear of God and the reverence of him, neither can any man be counted godly, save he who acknowledging God to be his Father and Lord, doth addict himself wholly to him. And let us know that voluntary fear is commended in this place when those men submit themselves to God willingly and from their heart, who duly consider themselves what is due to him.

Moreover, because a great part of the world doth, with reigned trifles, corrupt and deprave the worship of God, Luke added, for good causes, that Cornelius prayed continually; whereby he doth signify, that he proved not his godliness only with external ceremonies, but that he worshipped God spiritually, when as he exercised himself in prayer. We must also note the continuance of his prayer; whence we gather, that he did not pray only coldly, after the common custom, but that he was earnestly bent to prayer, as the continual benefits of God do exhort us and prick us forward thereunto, and the force of faith ought there to show itself. Wherefore let every one of us exhort himself to persevere in prayer by the example of Cornelius.

With all his house. We must not lightly pass over this commendation that Cornelius had a church in his house. And, surely, a true worshipper of God will not suffer so much as in him lieth God to be banished from his house. For how unmeet a thing is it for him to maintain his own right stoutly, that his wife, children, servants, and maids may obey him, and not to regard that God is disobeyed. It shall sometimes fall out so that a godly man cannot have even his wife to be of his mind; yet he, which ruleth others, must endeavor by all means to have God obeyed; and there is nothing more meet than that we should consecrate all ours to God as ourselves. Therefore, if a godly man have children which are unlike him, or a wife of evil conditions, or lewd and wicked servants, let him not wink, nor yet suffer his house to be polluted through his slothfulness. The diligence of Cornelius is not so much commended as the blessing of God, whereby it came to pass that he had his house obedient unto him in godliness. And we must not omit the circumstance, that he instructed his family in the fear of God, setting light by the fear of danger, which did hang over his head therefore. For the Jewish religion was in great contempt; 646646     “Valde... exosa,” exceedingly hated. and no citizen of Rome might freely 647647     “Impune,” with impunity. receive any strange religion, as they called it. Wherefore, although the sincere profession of the gospel be evil spoken of in the world, yet is it too corrupt frightfulness 648648     “Timiditas,” timidity or cowardice. if that unjust hatred hinder any man from offering his family to God for a sacrifice, by godly instruction.

Giving alms. There is also the figure synecdoche in this member, [clause.] For as it was said, even now, that the worship of God was proved by prayers, so now, when Luke speaketh of love, he maketh choice of one kind; whereby he showeth that Cornelius was a liberal and bountiful man. For our godliness ought so to appear to men, that we declare that we fear God by using bountifulness and justice. The word alms is translated unto those external good works wherewith we help the poor, (Isaiah 58:7,) forasmuch as misericordia, or mercy, is the inward affection of the heart properly. For from this fountain springeth true and well ordered bountifulness, if the troubles and sorrows of our brethren do move us to compassion; if, considering the unity which is amongst us, we foster and cherish them as we would cherish our own flesh, and study to help them as we would help our own members. Hypocrites are, indeed, sometimes liberal, or at least bountiful; but howsoever they waste all, 649649     “Ut omnia profundant,” how profuse soever they be. yet no relief which they shall bestow upon the poor shall be worthy to be called by the name of alms. For we must hold that of Paul, He which hath no love is nothing, though he give all his goods to the poor, (1 Corinthians 13:3.) Let us, therefore, learn by this word, that God doth then allow our liberality, if we relieve the poverty of the poor, being moved with compassion, and if, as it were, with open bowels we bestow that which the liberality of God doth give.

Whereas Luke saith that he gave alms to all the people, it signifieth as much as everywhere to the poor; for there were not a few rich men to whom to have given had been an absurd thing. But whereas he bestowed so liberally upon the Jews, he declared how he agreed with them in religion; in which respect Luke saith, shortly after, that he was allowed of 650650     “Probatum,” approved by. all the Jews. And if so be it he was such an excellent mirror of godliness and holiness, even when he had but a small smattering of faith, although he were letted so many ways, 651651     “Quum tam multa offendicula occurrerent,” when so many obstacles or offenses stood in the way. ought not we to be ashamed who will be accounted most Christian doctors, and are yet so cold in the exercises of godliness? If a small sparkle of faith prevailed so much in him, what ought the full brightness of knowledge to work in us? But howsoever we boast of Christ with full mouth, yet how far are we, for the most part, from the example of the holy man, so that there appeareth scarce a small shadow of those virtues wherewith he was replete? For how loose 652652     “Quantus... torpor,” how great our torpor or sluggishness. are we in prayer? How slow and sluggish to do the duties of mercy? Yea, many are not only letted with filthiness and covetousness from giving liberally so much of their own as they ought, but they are so inflamed with a desire 653653     “Insana cupidine,” an insane desire. to have, they are become so beastly through cruelty, 654654     “Tanta crudelitate efferati sunt,” so rage with cruelty. that they are not afraid to rob the poor of their substance, and to eat their very flesh.