Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 8, 1949
NUMBER 18, PAGE 1,8a

Why Did The Spirit Fall On Cornelius?

J. A. Thompson

There has been much discussion on the operation of the Holy Spirit, and particularly so on the question as to why the Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household. There should be no mystery, however, on that question.

If we give careful study to the Bible, we can be assured of the one, and only one, reason why Cornelius and those with him received this outpouring of the Holy Spirit.


Consider some of the things that were not accomplished by this action of the Holy Spirit:

1. It was not to save Cornelius. The scripture plainly says that Peter was to speak unto Cornelius "words, whereby thou shalt be saved." (Acts 11:14) This "words" was the gospel of Christ; it is the "engrafted word" spoken of by James: Cornelius was saved by the "words" of the gospel of Christ, just like we are.

2. It was not to purify his heart. Some years later, Peter, speaking of this very experience said, "God... made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith." (Acts 15:9) What did the purifying? Was it the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? The answer is plain. Peter says it was faith that cleansed their hearts.

3. It was not to give faith. We are taught that "without faith it is impossible" to please God; and that "faith comes by hearing" the word of God. In his prayer to the Father Jesus said, "for the words which thou gayest me, I have given them." (Jno. 17:8) God gave the words to Christ; Christ, in turn, gave them to the apostles; and Peter, being an apostle, gave them to Cornelius. Cornelius' faith came from hearing the word that Peter spoke, not as any "gift" from the Holy Spirit.

4. Not to purify the soul. We all agree that one must have his soul purified in order to be accepted with God. Was this the thing accomplished for Cornelius by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Let the same apostle, Peter, give the answer, "Seeing you have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth." (I Pet. 1:22) The words Peter spoke to Cornelius were truth; Cornelius obeyed the commands of those words. His soul was purified "by obedience" to that truth. Again, it was Christ who said; "Now ye are clean through the "word" that I have spoken to you." (Jno. 15:8)

5. Not to sanctify him. Every Christian is "sanctified." Paul told the Corinthian church that they were "sanctified in Christ Jesus." (I Cor. 1:2) But how are Christians sanctified? Christ prayed to his Father, "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." (Jno. 17:17) Sanctification (the setting apart to a holy purpose) is accomplished through the word of God's truth, not by some miraculous intervention if divine power.

6. Not to give remission of sins. This same Peter who preached to Cornelius declared, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins." (Acts 2:38) Remission of sins comes as a result of obedience to the gospel of Christ. To Cornelius and his company he said, "To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:43) It was through faith in Christ—not through a miracle—that remission was to come.

7. Not to convert him. God made no exception at the house of Cornelius in his law of conversion. From all ages of the past men had been, and have been, and still are converted by the law of the Lord. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." (Psa. 19:7)

8. Not to produce the new birth. Christ said, "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (Jno. 3:5) Was this what happened when Cornelius received the Spirit? Certainly not. Since being "born of water and the Spirit" is baptism, it is perfectly obvious that this did not happen until after the reception of the Holy Spirit.


Peter was convinced by the miracle of the sheet let down from heaven that he should go to the Gentiles. (Acts 11:1-8) When he began that journey, he took with him six of his Jewish brethren who were believers in Christ. (verses 12-18) Now these Jewish Christians were not convinced that the Gentiles were to be the recipients of the blessings of the gospel of Christ; they were not fully persuaded that it was God's plan to include the Gentiles under the provisions of the New Covenant.

But when Peter preached to Cornelius and his household, and they saw the Holy Spirit poured out on these assembled Gentiles, then all doubt was removed from their hearts. The Holy Spirit was given to Cornelius and his friends to convince the Jews that the Gentiles should be admitted into the fellowship of God's kingdom.

The Holy Spirit was given first to the apostles to "guide them into all truth." Cornelius did not receive the power for this purpose. For if that had been so, then would he have had no need for Peter to "speak... words" whereby he and his household might be saved. He would have known the words himself; Peter's mission would have been without point or purpose.

Peter told Cornelius that he must work righteousness before God would accept him. (Acts 10:35) But Paul says that "righteousness" is revealed in the gospel. (Rom. 1:17) Hence, Cornelius must obey that gospel in order to work the righteousness which would make him acceptable to God. He did not do that, and could not do that, until he had given full obedience to the commandments of that gospel It was for this reason that Peter "commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts 10:48) They obeyed the "words" of Peter; and according to the promise the angel had made, were then saved, sanctified, cleansed, purified, and made acceptable in the sight of God.

That this outpouring of the Holy Spirit was solely to convince Peter and his Jewish brethren that the Gentiles were to receive the gospel is very evident from the report that was given of these incidents when Peter reported back to the church in Jerusalem. He told in detail about the experience that had induced him to go to Cornelius' house; and how he had taken the six brethren with him. Then, speaking of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his company, he said, "If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did also unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? And when they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life." (Acts 11:17, 18)