Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 8, 1955
NUMBER 31, PAGE 3-4b

Conversion Of Cornelius

Hoyt H. Houchen, San Antonio, Texas

The conversion of Cornelius, like the case of Saul, is first recorded by the historian and repeated twice thereafter. The 10th chapter of Acts is a record of the events in the conversion of this Roman officer; however, these events are not given in order. In the 11th chapter, Peter rehearsed the matter in order. Thus, by carefully observing the events of this conversion in order, false doctrines will be avoided.

For ten years the great commission had been in operation but there was no example of any Gentile convert. Although Jesus had said in Matt. 28:19, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," the apostles to whom this charge was given had a limited understanding — they believed that Jesus referred to the Jewish world; they could not comprehend that Jesus would include a Gentile. A series of miracles took place in order that this misconception would be removed. But we would point out that the miracles were the circumstances in the case of Cornelius and we are not to confuse them with the law of conversion, the same law that must be respected by everyone who would be saved from sin.

Cornelius lived in Caesarea and he was a centurion in the Roman army. As to his character: he was a devout man, one that feared God with all his house, one that gave much alms to the people; he prayed always, and he was a righteous man and well reported of by the nation of the Jews. (Acts 10:2, 22). Here was a man of high standing character. If there was ever anyone who could be saved by character it was Cornelius. Frequently we hear people say that it is not necessary to be baptized in order to be saved — they tell us that membership in the Lord's church is not necessary. They say, "Just live a good moral life." But this idea is nowhere expressed in the pages of Holy Writ. There is not a clearer example that good character in and of itself does not save a person than is the case of Cornelius. It is doubtful if any could say that he is any better than was Cornelius as far as the world looks upon character. Yet, it was necessary for him to obey the will of the Lord in order to be saved. (Acts 11:14). If his character could not save him, why should anyone expect "character" to save him now? But before he was saved, Cornelius was not only a good character, he was also a religious man. This is plain enough that there is more required by God than merely being religious. A person may be religious, but he may be religiously wrong. Jesus Christ did not come into the world to make it religious; he came into the world to make it religiously right. Remember that the Pharisees were religious but Jesus denounced their religion because it was wrong. (Matt. 15:8,9). Cornelius was not saved by his character and he was not saved simply because he was religious.

Before considering what Cornelius had to do in order to be saved, our attention is referred to three miracles which were recorded in our account. First, there was the visit of the angel whom Cornelius saw in his vision and which took place about the ninth hour or about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. What did the angel do? The angel told Cornelius to send for Peter who was lodging with Simon the tanner. The angel did not preach the gospel to theunsaved man. God has seen fit to preach his word through the agency of humanity. The angel put the man, Cornelius, in contact with the preacher, Peter.

The scene of the second miracle shifts from Caesarea to Joppa where Peter was. We read in Acts 10:9-16, "Peter went up upon the house top to pray, about the sixth hour: and he became hungry, and desired to eat: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance; and he beholdeth the heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending, as it were a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth: wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things of the earth and birds of the heaven. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common and unclean. And a voice came unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, make not thou common. And this was done thrice: and straightway the vessel was received up into heaven." What was the purpose of this vision? It was to convince Peter that he should go and preach to the Gentiles. That this was the purpose of the miracle is seen in verse 28 of Acts 10 where Peter said to Cornelius: "Ye yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come unto one of another nation; and yet unto me hath God showed that I should not call any man common or unclean." In connection with this miracle, the Spirit directed Peter to the house of Cornelius. The Spirit had a part in this conversion but he did not directly operate upon the heart of Cornelius and save him. The Spirit merely directed Peter to go, nothing doubting.

A third miracle in this case of conversion was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is confusing to many people because they do not understand that it was miraculous in its nature and like all miracles it was for the purpose of confirming the word of God. Now that the word of God has been completely revealed, and has been confirmed, people are not baptized with the Holy Spirit. But what was the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Negatively, it was not to give Cornelius and his household, faith. It was the gospel that Peter preached that produced faith. (Acts 15:7; Rom. 10:17). Neither was the baptism of the Holy Spirit given to Cornelius for the purpose of saving him, Cornelius was saved by the words which Peter spoke. (Acts 11:14). He was saved just like people are saved today; he was saved by the gospel. While Holy Spirit baptism was in effect, it was never intended to save anyone. Well, what was its purpose? It was to convince those six Jewish brethren who accompanied Peter that the Gentiles were entitled to the blessings of the gospel. When Peter gave the matter in order, as is recorded in Acts 11, he said in verse 15: "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning." The beginning referred to here no doubt refers to the day of Pentecost when the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Everything has begun with a miracle. Life began with a miracle but now life is made possible through God's natural laws. The church had a miraculous beginning on the day of Pentecost. Here we see the first reception of the gospel by the Gentiles and it began with a miracle, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

As in every case of New Testament conversion, a sermon was preached. What did Peter preach? He told the wonderful story of Jesus — his life and miracles, his cruel death and triumphant resurrection — his exaltation as "King of kings and Lord of Lords." As a result of this preaching, Cornelius and those with him believed. This we have learned from Acts 15:7. They repented. (Acts 11:18). They were baptized. (Acts 10:48). There is no record that they joined anything. They simply obeyed the gospel. When anyone does this, his past sins are washed away by the blood of Christ and he is a member of the church of the Lord.