35But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. [Notice it does not say fear a nation; it says fear God]
(December 1, 1798 – December 24, 1870)
Albert Barnes’ Notes on Acts 10:34-35:
Then Peter opened his mouth – Began to speak, Matthew 5:2.
Of a truth – Truly, evidently. That is, I have evidence here that God is no respecter of persons.
Is no respecter of persons – The word used here denotes “the act of showing favor to one on account of rank, family, wealth, or partiality arising from any cause.” It is explained in James 2:1-4. A judge is a respecter of persons when he favors one of the parties on account of private friendship, or because he is a man of rank, influence, or power, or because he belongs to the same political party, etc. The Jews supposed that they were especially favored by God. and that salvation was not extended to other nations, and that the fact of being a Jew entitled them to this favor. Peter here says that he had learned the error of this doctrine, and that a man is not to be accepted because he is a Jew, nor to be excluded because he is a Gentile. The barrier is broken down; the offer is made to all; God will save all on the same principle; not by external privileges or rank, but according to their character.
The same doctrine is elsewhere explicitly stated in the New Testament, Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25. It may be observed here that this does not refer to the doctrine of divine sovereignty or election. It simply affirms that God will not save a man because he is a Jew, or because he is rich, or learned, or of elevated rank, or on account of external privileges; nor will he exclude a man because he is destitute of these privileges. But this does not affirm that he will not make a difference in their character, and then treat them according to their character, nor that he will not pardon whom he pleases. That is a different question. The interpretation of this passage should be limited strictly to the case in hand – to mean that God will not accept and save a man on account of external national rank and privileges. That he will not make a difference on other grounds is not affirmed here, nor anywhere in the Bible. Compare 1 Corinthians 4:7; Romans 12:6. It is worthy of remark further, that the most strenuous advocate for the doctrines of sovereignty and election – the apostle Paul – is also the one that labored most to establish the doctrine that God is no respecter of persons – that is, that there is no difference between the Jews and Gentiles in regard to the way of salvation; that God would not save a man because he was a Jew, nor destroy a man because he was a Gentile. Yet in regard to “the whole race viewed as lying on a level,” he maintained that God has a right to exercise the prerogatives of a sovereign, and to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. The doctrine may be thus stated:
(1) The barrier between the Jews and Gentiles was broken down.
(2) all people thus were placed on a level none to be saved by external privileges, none to be lost by the lack of them.
But in every nation … – This is given as a reason for what Peter had just said, that God was no respecter of persons. The sense is, that he now perceived that the favors of God were not confined to the Jew, but might be extended to all others on the same principle. The remarkable circumstances here – the vision to him, and to Cornelius, and the declaration that the alms of Cornelius were accepted – now convinced him that the favors of God were no longer to be confined to the Jewish people, but might be extended to all. This was what the vision was designed to teach, and to communicate this knowledge to the apostles was an important step in their work of spreading the gospel.
In every nation – Among all people. Jews or Gentiles. Acceptance with God does not depend on the fact of being descended from Abraham, or of possessing external privileges, but on the state of the heart.
He that feareth him – This is put for piety toward God in general. See notes on Acts 9:31. It means that he who honors God and keeps His Law; he who is a true worshipper of God, according to the light and privileges which he has, is approved by him, as giving evidence that he is his friend.
And worketh righteousness – Does what is right and just. This refers to his conduct toward man. He that discharges conscientiously his duty to his fellow-men, and evinces by his conduct that he is a righteous man. These two things comprehend the whole of religion, the sum of all the requirements of God – piety toward God, and justice toward people; and as Cornelius had showed these, he showed that, though a Gentile, he was actuated by true religion. We may observe here:
(1) That it is not said that Cornelius was accepted on accouter of his good works. Those works were simply an evidence of true piety in the heart; a proof that he feared and loved God, and not a meritorious ground of acceptance.
(2) he improved the light which he had.
(3) “he embraced the Saviour when he was offered to him.” This circumstance makes an essential difference between Cornelius and those who depend on their morality in Christian lands. They do not embrace the Lord Jesus, and they are, therefore, totally unlike the Roman centurion. His example should not be pled, therefore, by those who neglect the Saviour, for it furnishes no evidences that they will be accepted when they are totally unlike him.