Conversion in the Book of Acts

“Much the greater part of Acts may be resolved into a detailed history of cases of conversion, and of unsuccessful attempts at the conversion of sinners. If we extract from it all cases of this kind, with the facts and incidents preparatory to each and immediately consequent upon it, we will have exhausted almost the entire contents of the narrative. All other matters are merely incidental The events of the first chapter were designed to prepare the apostles for the work of converting men; the gift of the Holy Spirit to them and to others was to qualify them for it; the admission of the Gentiles was an incident connected with the conversion of Cornelius, and others after him; the conference, in the fifteenth chapter, grew out of these conversions; and the long account of Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem, Cesarea, and Rome, with sea-voyage and shipwreck, constitute but the connected history of his preaching to the mob in Jerusalem, to the Sanhedrin, to Felix to Festus, to Agrippa, and to the Jews and Gentiles in Rome. The episode in the twelfth chapter, concerning the persecutions by Herod, and his death, is designed to show that, even under such circumstances, the word of God ‘grew and multiplied.’ All the remainder of the history consists, unmistakably, in detailed accounts of conversions.

“Such being the work performed by the author, we may readily determine his design by inquiring, Why should any cases of conversion be put upon record? Evidently, it was that men might know how conversions were effected, and in what they consisted. The cases which are recorded represent all the different grades of human society; all the different degrees of intellectual and religious culture; all the common occupations in life, and all the different countries and languages of the then known world. The design of this variety is to show the adaptation of the one gospel scheme to the conversion of all classes of men.

“The history of a case of conversion necessarily embraces two distinct classes of facts: First, the agencies and instrumentalities effecting it; second, the changes effected in the individual who is the subject of it. In the pursuit of his main design, therefore, the author was led to designate specifically all these agencies, instrumentalities, and changes. He does so in order that the readers may know what agents are employed, and how they work; what instrumentalities must be used, and how they are applied; and what changes must take place, in order to the scriptural conversion of a sinner.”