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Acts X. 1, 2.
There was a certain man in Cæsarea, called
Cornelius, a Centurion of the band called the Italian band: a devout man, and one that feared God with his whole house, which gave much alms unto the people, and prayed to God always.
W E have in this short account of the
Centurion Cornelius the picture of a very amiable and excellent, man, who, though not enlightened with the knowledge of Christianity, is highly deserving of the imitation of the most perfect Chris tians in every part of his conduct. If we consider him in his private character, the text tells us, “ he was a devout man;" devout, not only in the inward frame and temper of his soul, but also in the outward acts of religion; devout, not by sudden starts or transient raptures of piety, but by a regular and uniform constancy in devotion, for “ he prayed to God al" ways.” If we consider him as a father or master over his own houshold, we find him careful to diffuse his own religious principles through his whole family; for he was not only a devout man himself, but “ one that feared God, with all his house." And if we consider him in his relation to the rest of mankind, we find him animated by a warm philanthropy, which displayed itself in acts of liberality and charity: for “ he gave much alms to the people.”
Thus this good Centurion, though by his profession of arms exposed to all the temptations of rapine and extortion, so constantly then practised by the Roman soldiers, and to the corruption and immoralities so generally to be found amongst military men of all ages, was by his eminent and exemplary virtues excellently prepared for the reception of the gospel:
when God was pleased to make him as eminent an example of his favour, in the manner and order of his conversion to Christianity. For he had the honour, not only of being the first Gentile called to the Christian faith, but also of being called to it by the message of an angel, with this honourable testimony of his piety and charity, “ that his prayers and alms were “ come up for a memorial before God."
Having then so amiable a pattern before us, recommended by the sanction of God himself, it will be worth our while to consider the several parts of it more distinctly, that they may make a more lasting and forcible impression upon our minds and conduct.
1. The text first points out to us the singular piety of Cornelius. “ Now Cor“ nelius was a devout man, that prayed “ to God always :” he was one, who, by frequent meditation and regular acts of devotion, had wrought the habit of his mind into a religious and heavenly disposition. Not that it was possible for him VOL. IV.
in nature, or required by any law of religion, that he should pray without intermission. The words only imply, that this good man omitted no appointed or convenient season of prayer, and in the necessary intervals of devotion retained in his mind a just sense of his dependence on the God that made him, for every blessing; and therefore, in the estimation of God, and in the language of Scripture, is said to pray always. And thus ought every Christian, by frequent acts of devotion, and by a constant disposition to them, to keep alive in his mind an awful sense of God's majesty and his own weakness. His piety should resemble the fire of the altar under the Jewish law; which, though not always blazing out in the service of the Great Jehovah, was yet never suffered to be utterly extinguished, and, at least, was daily employed in the morning and evening sacrifice.
And as this religious temper of Cornélius does not oblige men to be always upon their knees, so neither does it warrant us to distinguish ourselves by a sad
and demure countenance, as the hypocrites do; nor to expose ourselves and our religion to contempt by raptures and unseasonable gestures; or by a sanctimonious ostentation of uplifted hands and eyes, in the markets and corners of the streets. For sure I am, that it is no way necessary for men to be ridiculous, in order to be religious. On the contrary, true piety, like true charity, neither behaves itself unseemly, nor wishes to be seen of men: it will rather direct us, when we pray, to enter into our closet or secret chamber, and when we have there excluded the inspection of men, to pray to our God, who seeth in secret. :').. i
Neither again does constancy in devotion, whether private or public, oblige, no, nor even allow, men to neglect the proper duties of their station or profession. Such notions indeed have in all ages been inculcated by men of weak and enthusiastic heads; but they have no foundation in Scripture, when rightly understood, as we may justly collect from the example before us; for the devout · L 2