Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 13, 1958
NUMBER 28, PAGE 2-3b

The Conversion Of Cornelius

O. C. Lambert

The nine cases of conversion specifically chronicled in the Book of Acts make crystal clear the important truth that every person, regardless of circumstances, is converted in the same way. The great commission was applied in every case and men heard the gospel, believed the gospel, repented, confessed Christ, and were buried in baptism. When they had obeyed this gospel, their sins were washed away and they were happy in Christ. But the thing that confuses a great many people is that the circumstances of the various cases differed widely. For instance: Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:5), but did not appear to any one in the other eight cases; an angel appeared to Cornelius (Acts 10:3), but did not come to any of the others; the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his company before they heard the word, and therefore before they believed (Acts 11:15), but did not do so in any of the other cases; there was an earthquake in the case of the Philippian jailor, but not so with any of the others.

If these incidental circumstances mentioned had been necessary parts of conversion, they would have occurred in every case. But since there were conversions which did not have these various phenomena, they were not necessary. So, whether the water of baptism is warm or cold, running or still, is unimportant.

Why Did The Angel Come To Cornelius?

The treasure of the gospel had been committed into the hands of certain men (II Cor. 4:7), and once that was done, Jesus himself did not preach the gospel to men, but sent a man to do it. Acts 22:10-16.) The angel, therefore, did not preach the gospel to Cornelius, but instead directed the praying centurion to send for the preacher — a man. This miracle was no part of the law of conversion but simply God's way, in this instance, of bringing the sinner and the preacher together. Cornelius was not saved by seeing an angel; but the angel informed him that the man for whom he was to send should tell him "words" (the gospel) by which he might be saved. (Acts 11:14.)

Good Moral People Are Lost Without The Gospel

It would be difficult to find a man in the Bible (or out of it) who was better morally than Cornelius, for it is said of him that he was "A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always," and "Cornelius the centurion, a just man and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews." (Acts 10:2,22.) Yet with all his goodness, he was unsaved (Acts 11:14), and this was why he needed to send for Peter. We do not need to see an angel, nor do we need to send for Peter in person, for we now have Peter's "words" in the New Testament and can read the message. But we must obey the same gospel Cornelius obeyed if we expect to be saved.

Why did the Holy Spirit fall on Cornelius?

First let us notice some of the reasons men give to account for it. Some insist that before a person can be a fit subject for water baptism he must be a saved man, or one whose sins are already forgiven. I am sure this cannot be true, for Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 6:16.) This puts salvation after baptism. Ananias said, "And now why Wriest thou? arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16.) This being true, our sins are not washed away before baptism. Since they received the Holy Spirit before baptism, and sins are washed away at baptism, they did not receive the Holy Spirit to take away their sins. Since wicked people (Num. 24:15-19; I Sam. 19:21-24; John 11:48; John 18:14) and even an animal (Num. 22:22-30) received the Holy Spirit, this is further evidence that the reception of the Holy Spirit did not make men better or remove their sins. I am sure, therefore, that Cornelius was not saved by the reception of the Holy Spirit. The angel did not say, "You will be saved by receiving the Holy Spirit," but he said, "Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter Who will tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." (Acts 11:14.) They were to be saved by words! These words were the gospel. (Eph. 1:13.) The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. (Rom. 1:16.)

If They Were Saved By Receiving The Holy Spirit, They Were Saved Before They Believed.

An unbeliever is in a state of condemnation. (Mark 16:16.) Faith comes by hearing the word. (Rom. 10:17.) Then a person cannot have faith before he has heard the word. But Peter says, "As I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning." (Acts 11:15.) For them to have been believers when they received the Holy Spirit, it would have been necessary for the Spirit to have fallen after Peter spoke — not as he began to speak.

Proves To Jews That The Gentiles Have A Right To The Gospel And Its Benefits.

Fortunately, we do not have to guess why the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and his party, for the Bible tells us. We know that reception of the Holy Spirit before water baptism was not necessary to conversion, or a prerequisite to baptism, for in other cases they received the Holy Spirit after baptism. (Acts 8:15,16; Acts 19:5,6.) Peter had carried six Jewish brethren with him who at first were probably skeptical concerning Peter's preaching to the Gentiles. But when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, enabling them to miraculously speak languages they had not known before, Peter said, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:47.) In his defense to the Jewish brethren at Jerusalem on his return from the visit to Cornelius, Peter said again, "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." (Acts 11:17,18.) Again Peter refers to the matter in the great meeting of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-9), "And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the words of the gospel, and believe. And God which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." So, according to these statements, the reception of the Holy Ghost was as a "witness" that the Gentiles were acceptable to God as subjects of the gospel.

In this case there were two baptisms — water baptism and Spirit baptism. But some years later when Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians there was but one baptism. (Eph. 4:5.) Between these two occasions one baptism had ceased. Since water baptism is the only one we can obey, the only one man can administer, and the one for the remission of sins, it is the one which remains. Stripped of all that was merely incidental, Cornelius's conversion was like that of all the rest: he heard the gospel, believed the gospel, and from the heart obeyed the gospel.