Cornelius: Basically a Simple Case of Conversion

By Larry Ray Hafley

Acts 10; 11:1-18; 15:7-11 describe the conversion of Cornelius and his household. The events in the text have a specific purpose. When the whole scene is seen, a plain illustration of the gospel system of salvation is set before us. True, there are exceptional miraculous occurrences, but these all pertain to conditions and situations which existed then but which do not inhere today.

Limited Happenings

1. The Appearance Of The Angel: The work and purpose of the angel of God was to bring Cornelius, the lost man, unto Peter, the preacher, who would tell him “words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:14). Observe that limited angelic function (Acts 10:3-7, 22, 30-32; 11:13, 14). The angelic appearance was not: (A) “To open his heart so he could believe.” The gospel preached by Peter did this (Acts 15:7); (B) To encourage him to “seek,” “get,” “feel,” or “experience” the Holy Spirit. The angel’s mission was to bring Cornelius and Peter together by telling Cornelius what to do-“send for Peter.” He fulfilled his duty. He departed and was not employed again in the conversion of Cornelius.

In Acts 8:26, an angel of the Lord spoke unto Philip. This was the reverse of Cornelius. In the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, the angel told the preacher to “arise and go.” In Acts 10, he told the sinner to send for the preacher. We need not, however, expect an angel to appear to one today. We have the word of the apostles in the New Testament (Eph. 3:3, 4; 2 Thess. 2:15); hence, there is no requirement for an angel to do the work he did when he warned Cornelius to send for Peter.

Take a good look at your life today. Be reminded that life is like a vapor and while traveling through it we are determining our destiny in the future life. We do not know what the future holds but we know who holds the future-God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

2. The Vessel Which Descended Unto Peter: You may read the account for yourself (Acts 10:9-17; 11:510). Peter did not know what this vision meant, but he soon learned. “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). This strange vision did not: (A) Convince Peter that Gentiles should be allowed to be baptized. The gift of the Holy Spirit accomplished that purpose as we shall see later in detail (Acts 10:44-48); (B) Give Peter a special plan by which Gentiles could be saved distinct from the means employed to save the Jews. The effecting of justification was the same to Jew and Gentile (Acts 10:47, 48; 11:18; 15:9, 11; Rom. 1:16). What then? The vision achieved what Acts 10:28 says it did; namely, “I should not call any man common or unclean.” Therefore, Peter concluded, I can lawfully “keep company” with a Gentile.

Does anyone demand such convincing today? Obviously not; so, we dare not assume that a “certain vessel” will descend unto a preacher today. The purpose of that descending vessel was completed once for all.

3. The Spirit Speaking To Peter: The Holy Spirit actively led and directed the course of a number of First Century evangelists. “The Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them . . . . So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost departed” (Acts 13:2, 4). “Now when they had gone throughout Phyrgia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bythinia: but the Spirit suffered them not” (Acts 16:6,7). “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot …. (and after the baptism of the man in the chariot) the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip that the eunuch say him no more” (Acts 8:30, 39).

The Spirit spoke to Peter, but what did He say? He instructed Peter to go with the men sent from Cornelius and not to have any reservation about going (Acts 10:19, 20; 11:12). That is all the Spirit said to the apostle. Note that the Holy Spirit did not: (A) “Speak to Cornelius’ heart;” (B) “Lay a special message on Peter’s heart to give to the Gentiles;” (C) Tell Peter to share his “thrilling Holy Ghost experience” with Cornelius and urge him and his house to “get it.”

4. The Pouring Out Of The Gift Of The Holy Ghost: On the Gentile household of Cornelius, the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out as it was on the apostles at the beginning as is recorded in Acts 2 (Acts 10:44, 45; 11:15). Before one assumes a position relative to this pouring out of the gift of the Holy Spirit, he needs to understand its meaning or purpose. Why was the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on the Gentiles? The importance of that question, and its answer, can hardly be overly emphasized. If one does not pause and ponder the purpose, he will soon find himself engulfed in a number of subjective ideas and doctrines.

First, when it occurred, what did Peter conclude? He – was there. Upon seeing the Holy Ghost fall on the Gentiles,’ he concluded, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47, 48). Should our immediate reaction upon reading the account of the occurrence be any different than Peter’s upon seeing it? To Peter it said, we cannot refuse to baptize Gentiles. This was its point to an apostle. How dare I conjecture more than an apostle of the Son of God?

Second, the Jewish brethren in Judea heard that Peter went in and ate with the uncircumcised Gentiles. They desired and deserved an explanation. Acts 11:1-18 is Peter’s answer as to why he dared eat with the Gentiles. Peter said that the falling of the Holy Ghost on the Gentiles, “anon us at the beginning” forced him to draw a conclusion. “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was 1, that I could withstand God” (Acts 11:17)? To refuse the Gentiles would have been tantamount to opposing God! Peter said the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles revealed that they, too, were accepted. The Jewish inquirers asked no further questions about Peter’s behavior. “When they heard this, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). That was their decision as to why the Spirit fell on the Gentiles. Why should we say it had a different goal? Indeed, how can we say there was another aim for it?

Third, in the great dissension and disputation about whether or not the Gentiles should be required to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-5), Peter referred to the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles (Acts 15:7-11). The fact that the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe is established because God “bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us.” Watch Peter’s use of the giving of the Holy Spirit. What did, it prove? Peter says it showed that the Gentiles should be saved through the grace of the Lord just as the Jews were.

Three times the gift of the Spirit on Cornelius’ house is used to prove that Gentiles are subject to the gospel. Does that point need to be founded again? No, because in Acts 11 and 15:7-11, Peter cited it. God did not pour out the Holy Spirit again in Acts 11 and 15 to establish the fact. Rather, Peter preached the purpose of it, and that is what we should do. We should not: (A) Encourage others do seek the same gift. Peter did not; (B) Say that what fell on Cornelius will also come to other believers. Peter did not; (C) Teach that the giving of the Spirit to Cornelius proves anything other than the fact that Gentiles are now saved by grace just as the Jews are (Rom. 10:1-13). Peter did not.

Unlimited Happenings

There are some things about the case of Cornelius that are true in every circumstance of New Testament conversion.

1. It is still true “that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34).

2. It is still true that men need to hear words whereby they can be saved (Acts 11:14). Faith is produced by the gospel (Acts 15:7; Rom. 10:17). Even the devil knows that (Lk. 8:12)!

3. It is still true “that through his (Jesus’) name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). John says that in believing we may have life through His name (Jn. 20:30, 31). Those who believe on Jesus’ name are given the right to become the sons of God (Jn. 1:12). Hearts are purified by faith (Acts 15:9). The faith that purifies is that which is obedient to the truth. “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22).

4. It is still true that we are commanded to be baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 10:48). In Acts 2:38, repentance and baptism were declared to be “in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins:” The command to be baptized in the name of the Lord will continue as long as men need to be saved (Mk. 16:16).

A Simple Conversion

When the miraculous elements of the narrative about Cornelius are rightly understood, we see a simple demonstration of salvation by grace through faith. The same is true of other conversions in the New Testament. Compare Acts 8:26-40 and 16:25-34. Let us not be carried away and led astray by fanciful reasonings regarding certain miraculous acts which are limited to the particular situation described in the text. Today, we should not expect an angel to appear to tell us to hear an apostle any more than we should expect an earthquake to take place in a conversion sequence as it did in Acts 16:26. But we must still hear, believe and obey the gospel in order to be saved (Matt. 7:21; Heb. 5:8, 9).

Truth Magazine, XX:1, p. 12-14
January 1, 1976