J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on ActsActs 10
Verses 1, 2
At first glance, it might appear strange that such a man should
need conversion. There are many men, at the present day, in whose
favor not so much can be said, who flatter themselves that their prospects
for eternity are good. They are honest in their business, honorable
in their intercourse with men, good husbands and fathers, generous
to their neighbors, and benevolent to the poor; what have they to
fear at the hands of a just and merciful God? They forget that their
obligations to God are infinitely higher than those to men, even to the
dearest friends on earth; and that, therefore, it is the most inexcusable
of all sins persistently refuse him the worship which is his due.
This offense takes the hue of the blackest ingratitude, when we remember
the blood which has been shed to touch our hearts, and to open
up to us the way of pardon and eternal life. Of this crime every man
is guilty who does not worship the living God, and submit to the ordinances
of Jesus Christ. But Cornelius was a praying man, a devout
worshiper of God, besides possessing every other virtue claimed by
self-righteous sinners; yet it was necessary for even him to hear "words
by which he might be
saved." [Acts 11:14.]
Until a man can claim for himself
something more than is here said of him, he may not flatter himself
with the hope of salvation.
Under the former dispensation, the piety and fidelity of Cornelius
would have given him an honorable place among the holy men of
God; but this alone could not suffice him now. Jesus the Christ had
stepped in between God and man, and opened, through the rent vail
of his flesh, the only access to God. All heaven had confessed his
authority, and the holy disciples on earth had come to the Father by
him. But Cornelius was still calling upon God, without the name of
Christ, and seeking to approach him by the old, not by the new and
living way. He was in the same condition with any pious but unbelieving
Jew of that or of our own age. It was necessary to his salvation
that he should believe in Jesus and obey him. This would
secure to him the pardon of his sins, which he had not and could not
secure by worshiping according to the law.
The scene changes from Joppa to Cæsarea, about thirty
miles northward along the Mediterranean shore; and we are introduced
to another case for conversion, a Gentile and a soldier.
(1) "There was a certain man in Cæsarea named Cornelius, a centurion
of the cohort called Italian,
(2) a devout man, and one who feared God with
all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God
We desire to examine, with great care, the process of this
man's conversion, and begin by noticing the present religious elements
of his character. He is a "devout man"--a man of deep religious
feelings. He is not a devout pagan, but he "fears God," the true God.
He must, then, be somewhat acquainted with the Jewish religion.
He is not identified with the Jews, being uncircumcised. He is not
a timid or unfaithful worshiper of God, but has taught all his family
the same worship. He gives much alms to the people, and is a praying
This defect in his religious character was not a fault; it was
only a misfortune. He was doing the best he knew how; and, if we
may infer what he prayed for, from what he obtained in answer to his
prayers, he was praying for additional knowledge, and perhaps for an
interest in the salvation offered through Christ. Such a prayer, offered
by such a man, is always acceptable to God. On a certain day he had
fasted till in the afternoon, and at three o'clock was praying within
his house, [10:30.]
(3) "He saw distinctly in a vision, about the ninth hour
of the day, an angel of God coming in to him and saying to him, Cornelius.
(4) He looked intently upon him, and was full of fear, and said,
What is it, Lord? He said to him, Thy prayers and thine alms have
come up for a memorial before God.
(5) And now, send men to Joppa,
and call for one Simon who is surnamed Peter.
(6) He is lodging with
a certain Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea-shore. He will tell
you what you ought to do."
Here is an unconverted man praying, and his prayer is answered.
But the circumstances of the man, the nature of the prayer, and the
answer given, are all essentially different from those of unconverted
men who are taught to pray by the Protestant sects of the present
day. The man was not instructed in a knowledge of the Redeemer,
and the way of salvation, and of his own interest in the same, but
neglecting his duty, as in the case with the modern sinner. Neither
was he praying for pardon, while postponing obedience to the gospel,
as in these cases; but his prayer was for a knowledge of his duty, and
he had no one by to instruct him. The answer to his prayer was
given, not, as is now so often pretended, by sending forth the Spirit
into his heart to speak his sins forgiven, but by sending an angel to
tell him where he can find a man who will guide him in the way of
In the case of the eunuch, an angel appeared to the preacher and
sent him to the inquirer.
In this case, the angel appears to the inquirer,
and tells him to send for the preacher. In both cases, the only
work of the angel was to bring the two men together, face to face.
Thus, again, we seen an insuperable necessity, in case of a scriptural
conversion, for the presence and co-operation of a human agent, showing
that the divine influences, whatever, and however numerous they
may be, reach the heart through the word of truth. The prayer of
Cornelius was answered, like that of Saul, by referring him to inspired
authorities within the Church. This shows how vain, at the present
day, must be every prayer for direct answers from heaven, in reference
to the pardon of sins. If a verbal answer to such prayers could be obtained,
we are bound to conclude, from these precedents, that it would
still be, "Go to Damascus and it shall be told you,"
or "Send men
to Joppa for Simon whose surname is Peter, and he will tell you what
you ought to do."
Peter and Ananias are before us now, with the
same instruction which they gave then, and it is useless for us to offer
for what we have in hand, prayers which Saul and Cornelius offered
for what had not yet been granted. The directions given by the two
teachers, in these cases, and by other inspired men, is all that God
granted to sinners then, and it is certainly all that we have a right to
ask for now.
The necessity for the spoken word in order to the conversion of
men is not only exhibited in these mission of angels, but it also
explains the occurrence, in the two cases of Cornelius and the eunuch,
of an agency not discernible in other cases. If no heavenly messenger
had been sent to Philip, he could not have known that there was an
Ethiopian on the road to Gaza, reading his Bible, and ready to hear
the gospel. And if no angel had appeared to Cornelius, he could not
have known that he had any interest in the blood of Jesus, or any
right to send for Peter. No human being could have informed him,
because all others, including Peter, were as ignorant of it as himself.
An interposition from heaven is necessary; but when it occurs, it provides
only for just such demands of the case as could not be supplied
without it. The multitude on Pentecost needed no such angelic aid,
for the preacher was before them, and each party was conscious of
the right to speak, on the one hand, and the right to obey, on the
other. So with us. When we wish any information, or the enjoyment
of any religious privilege, we have the apostles before us, face
to face. Their words are in our hands, and may be in our minds and
hearts. We have no need for heavenly apparitions or illuminations;
and if we expect them, we will be disappointed, or deluded. If a man
in ignorance prays for a knowledge of salvation, this incident in the
case of Cornelius, instead of encouraging him to pray on, actually answers
his prayer, by telling him to send for some man who understands
the gospel, and will guide him as Peter did Cornelius.
Before proceeding further in this case of conversion, we wish the
reader to observe that enough has occurred already to secure Cornelius'
recognition as a genuine convert, by the prevailing Protestant
parties of this day. Let any man come before the Church with such
an experience as his, saying, "I have been for many years a devout
man, worshiping God as well as I knew how, giving alms to the poor,
praying continually, and teaching all my family the fear of God. Yesterday
afternoon, at three o'clock, I was praying, according to my custom,
when suddenly a holy angel stood before me, and said, Thy
prayers and thine alms have come up for a memorial before God."
Who would doubt that he was "powerfully converted," or dare to insinuate
that there was anything else necessary in this case? He would
receive the right-hand of fellowship at once. Yet, so different was the
apostolic procedure, that the man was now only prepared to hear
words by which he
might be saved. How long will religious men
allow their inventions and traditions to nullify the word of God?
Verses 7, 8
(7) "And when the angel who spoke to Cornelius went away, he
called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of those who
(8) and having fully related all these things to them, he sent
them to Joppa."
The two servants are included in the household, who
with him feared God, and the soldier selected had also learned the
same great lesson. None but men of such character would be suitable
messengers in a case like this.
The scene of the narrative now changes again, from Cæsarea
back to Joppa, and to the house of the tanner, where we left the Apostle
Peter. Leaving the messengers of Cornelius on the way, Luke
anticipates their arrival, and relates how Peter was prepared for
the favorable reception of their message.
(9) "Now, on the next day, while
they were on their journey, and were drawing near to the city, Peter went
up upon the house to pray, about the sixth hour.
(10) He was very hungry,
and desired to eat; but while they were preparing, he fell into a trance,
(11) and saw heaven opened, and saw a certain vessel descending, like a
great white sheet tied by the four corners, and let down to the earth;
(12) in which were all kinds of four-footed animals and wild beasts and
reptiles of the earth, and birds of the air.
(13) And there came a voice
to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat.
(14) But Peter said, Not so, Lord;
for I have never eaten any thing common or unclean.
(15) And the voice
spoke to him again the second time, What God has cleansed, do not you
(16) This was done three times, and the vessel was taken
up again into heaven."
In order to fully appreciate the necessity for this vision, we must
remember the prejudice of the Jews against uncircumcised Gentiles.
Previous to the Babylonish captivity, they had too great an inclination
to intimacy with their idolatrous neighbors; but that terrible
affliction cured them of idolatry, and when they returned to their
own land, they put away, at the instigation of Nehemiah, all the
idolatrous wives among
them. [Nehemiah 13:23-31.]
This was the beginning of a reaction
toward the opposite extreme, and such a state of feeling was finally
induced, that, in the traditions of the elders, it was regarded as a sin
even to go into the house of one who was uncircumcised. The disciples
of Jesus had been educated from their childhood to an intense
degree of this prejudice, and there were facts in the history of Jesus
calculated to foster rather than to eradicate it. They had heard him
say, "I am not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of
Israel." [Matthew 15:24.]
They had seen him work no miracle for a Gentile except under the
protest, "It is not proper to take the children's food and cast it to
And when he had sent them out on their first mission, he
had commanded them, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and
enter not into a city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the lost
sheep of the house of
It is true, that in their final commission
he had commanded them to disciple and immerse all nations;
but they very naturally interpreted this in the light of past experience,
and concluded that all nations were to be gradually absorbed
into the Jewish commonwealth by circumcision, and afterward brought
into the Church. They had not hesitated, therefore, to immerse proselytes,
and even to give them office in the
Church, [See Com.vi: 5.]
though they still
regarded it as a sin to enter the house of a Gentile who was
uncircumcised. [Acts 11:3.]
This fact in the mental state of the apostles shows that they were
not guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth at once, but their knowledge
was extended according to the demands of the occasion. It was
a prejudice, however, belonging to them as Jews, which had prevented
them, thus far, from perceiving the particular truth here
involved; and this involves the conclusion that prejudices previously
were capable of impeding the inspiring influence, so that
special measures were required for their eradication.
The time had now arrived when this prejudice must be uprooted
from the heart of Peter. If it were a part of the work of the indwelling
Spirit to act immediately upon the heart, then there need be nothing
more done with Peter than for the Spirit thus to act. But there
is not the slightest intimation of any such action. On the contrary,
influences of an entirely different nature are brought to bear upon
him, and to them the effect is plainly attributed. A series of significant
objects are presented to his eye, certain words are addressed
to his ear, and a combination of facts are brought to bear upon
his understanding. Falling into a trance, while hungrily awaiting
his noonday meal, he sees descending from heaven, and then
spread out before him, a great sheet full of animals, both clean and
unclean. This vision conveys no meaning, until he hears the words,
"Arise, Peter; kill and eat."
He now understands it as indicating
that he shall eat unclean animals. But this is so shocking to his
sense of propriety that he exclaims, in perplexity, even to the invisible
God who had spoken to him, "Not so, Lord; for I have never
eaten any thing common or unclean."
But he is commanded, "What
I have cleansed, do not you call common."
The vessel is brought
near to him, and the same words repeated three times. Then the
vision closes, and he recovers from the trance.
Restored now to his natural state of mind, Peter remains
upon the housetop, reflecting upon the vision, and wondering if there
was not some meaning in it besides that in reference to unclean animals.
The question was soon solved.
(17) "Now when Peter was
doubting in himself what this vision which he had seen could mean,
behold, the men who were sent from Cornelius, having inquired out the
house of Simon, were standing at the gate;
(18) and calling, they inquired
if Simon surnamed Peter was lodging there.
(19) But Peter
was still thinking of the vision, and the Spirit said to him, Behold, three
men are seeking you.
(20) Arise, therefore, and go down and go with
them, doubting nothing, for I have sent them."
In the skillful arrangements
of divine wisdom, all the separate influences which are to
remove Peter's prejudices are adjusting themselves for combined and
harmonious action. Those men have been on their journey two days,
but God had measured their steps to the house of Simon, and timed
the appearance of the vision to the motion of their feet, so that when
they reach the gate he is still on the house-top absorbed in reflection;
but ere they are admitted to the house, the Spirit has sent him down
to meet them, and to go with them.
Verses 21, 22
He knows nothing, as yet, of the nature of their mission,
neither does he yet understand any better than before the meaning
of the vision.
(21) "Then Peter went down to the men, and said, Behold,
I am he whom you are seeking. What is the cause for which you
(22) And they said, Cornelius, a centurion, a just man, and
one who fears God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews,
was warned from God by a holy angel to send for you into his house,
and to hear words from you."
Upon hearing these words, the whole
truth at once flashed upon the mind of Peter, and the agencies which
for two days had been preparing to uproot his prejudice, sprang
upon it with their combined force. No less than an angel from God
has sent these men to call me into the house of a Gentile, to preach
the gospel to him. My vision of clean and unclean beasts is
explained. God has cleansed the Gentiles, and I am no longer to call
them unclean. The Spirit has commanded me to go with these men,
without doubting. The authority of God, of an angel, of the Holy
Spirit, all impel me. I can resist no longer. His prejudice is gone,
and doubtless he feels a new thrill of joy as his heart tremulously
enlarges to take the whole world within the embrace of his philanthropy.
As the Spirit had directed, he does not hesitate as to the line
of duty, but at once announces to the messengers that the journey
shall begin to-morrow.
(23) "Then, calling them in, he lodged them; and on the next day
Peter went out with them, and certain brethren from Joppa went with
It was a wise precaution that he took other
brethren with him, so that the whole of this new movement might be
properly attested by competent and disinterested witnesses.
During the four days which had elapsed, Cornelius had made
no secret of the vision he had witnessed, but had communicated it to
such friends as were likely to take the same interest in it with himself.
Having presumed, with all confidence, that Peter would come,
and knowing the time that the journey would require, all was in
readiness for his arrival.
(24) "On the next day they entered into
Cæsarea. Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his
kinsmen and intimate friends."
These friends and relatives, it must
be remembered, and not the mere family of Cornelius, were the chief
part of the audience about to be addressed by Peter.
(25) "Now as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell
down at his feet and worshipped.
(26) But Peter raised him up, and said,
Stand up. I myself also am a man.
(27) And conversing with him,
he came in and found many who had come together."
It is not in keeping
with the character of Cornelius to suppose that he rendered to
Peter such worship as is due to God. But prostration was the common
attitude of approach to a superior, as it yet is in eastern countries,
and Cornelius was but complying with this custom. To Peter,
however, it appeared as if he intended something more, and hence the
Verses 28, 29
Upon entering the house of this Gentile, side by side with
him, and into the presence of others who were likewise uncircumcised,
Peter deemed it proper to inform them of his reason for thus departing
from a well-known Jewish custom.
(28) "And he said to them,
You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to attach himself to, or to come
into the house of one of another nation. Yet God has showed me that I
should not call any man common or unclean.
(29) Therefore, I came
without objecting when I was sent for. I ask, then, for what purpose you
sent for me?"
This speech shows clearly that Peter had interpreted
the vision of unclean beasts as referring to men as well as to animal
(30) "Then Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until
this hour, and at the ninth hour I was praying in my house, and behold, a
man stood before me in bright apparel,
(31) and said, Cornelius, your
prayer is heard, and your alms are had in remembrance before God.
(32) Send, therefore, to Joppa, and call for Simon who is surnamed
He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea-shore. When he
comes he will speak to you.
(33) Immediately, therefore, I sent for you,
and you have done well that you have come. Now, then, we are all present
here before God to hear all things which are by God commanded you."
In this last remark Cornelius speaks for his friends who were assembled,
as well as for himself. As was becoming the occasion, he had
gathered in, to hear the expected messenger, only those who were willing
to hear him as a messenger of God. In the statement that they
were all present before God to hear what he had commanded, there
was an implied pledge to obey what they might hear, and there is no
doubt, from the sequel, that such was their purpose.
Verses 34, 35
The scene before Peter enlarges his conceptions of the purpose
of God; for he now sees that his mission is designed not for the
benefit of Cornelius alone, but for a large number of his Gentile
friends; and if for all these, then, there is to be no further national
limitation to the gospel. He gives utterance to this conception.
"Then Peter opened his mouth and said, In truth I perceive that God is
not a respecter of persons;
(35) but, in every nation, he that fears him
and works righteousness is acceptable to him."
This expansive thought
was sufficient to burst asunder all the exclusive bonds of the Mosaic
institution, and should be sufficient now to explode the equally injurious
theory of an arbitrary predestination of certain men and angels
to their eternal
destiny. [See Westminster Conf., ch. iii: sec. 5.]
It is a positive declaration that God respects not
fear him, and to
work righteousness, and
not any other distinction between persons, is the ground of acceptability
Cornelius has now related to Peter such an experience, as,
we have seen above, would secure him recognition as a genuine convert
to Christ among Protestant sects; but Peter was so far from regarding
it in this light, that he proceeds to preach to them as he
would to other sinners. We will consider his speech by the sections
into which it naturally divides itself.
(36) "You know the word
which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus
Christ (he is Lord of all,)
(37) the word which was published throughout
all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the immersion which John
(38) concerning Jesus of Nazareth, how that God anointed him
with the Holy Spirit and with power; who went about doing good and
healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him."
From this it appears that Cornelius and his friends were familiar with
the personal history of Jesus, and even with the message of peace
which God has caused him to preach to the children of Israel. The
information which they lacked, therefore, was only that which referred
to their own interests in that message.
Not content with assuming that these facts were familiar to
them, Peter gives them a surer foundation for their convictions, by presenting
the testimony upon which he relies to prove the facts.
we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews
and in Jerusalem, whom they slew, hanging him upon a tree."
of the fact that Cornelius had been "warned from God by a holy
to send for Peter and hear what he had to say, no confirmation
of this his testimony was needed. They were prepared to receive
everything he might say to them as a message from God.
Verses 40, 41
The crowning fact of the gospel comes next in the statement.
(40) "Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly,
not to all the people, to be witnesses chosen by God beforehand, even to us,
who did eat and drink with him after he arose from the dead."
Peter states, by way of commending to his hearers the evidence of the
resurrection, a fact which has been so differently construed by infidels,
as to be made a ground of objection to it; that is, that the witnesses
were chosen for the occasion. Whether Peter or the infidels are right
in judgment, depends entirely upon the grounds of the choice. If
they were chosen because of a dishonest desire to prove the fact, or
because of the ease with which they might be deceived into the belief
of a fact which had no real existence, then it may be rightly regarded
as a suspicious circumstance. But the reverse is true in both
particulars. Such was the situation of the witnesses, that there was
great danger both to property and person, in giving their testimony,
and therefore every motive to dishonesty prompted them to keep silent
rather than to testify. They were also the least likely of all the men
of Israel to be deceived, because of their long familiarity with the person
of him who was to be identified. Peter, then, was right; for the
fact that such witnesses were chosen beforehand is proof that no
was intended; while the fact that they "did eat and drink
with him after he arose from the dead," rendered it impossible for
them to be deceived.
Verses 42, 43
Having now followed the career of Jesus from the beginning
to his resurrection and exhibition of himself alive to the witnesses,
Peter proceeds in regular order to the next historical fact, the giving
of the apostolic commission.
(42) "And he commanded us to preach
to the people, and to testify that it is he who is ordained by God the judge
of the living and the dead.
(43) To him all the prophets testify that every
one who believes in him shall, through his name, receive remission of
The declaration that every one who believes in him shall receive
remission of sins has been construed as proof that remission of sins
is dependent on faith only. But the fact that Peter is here stating
what Jesus commanded the apostles to preach should prevent such a
construction of his words; for, in the commission to which he refers,
immersion is connected with faith, as a condition of pardon. His
words must be construed consistently with this fact. There is no difficulty
in doing this, for it is a common apostolic usage to employ faith
as an equivalent for the conditions of pardon. To deny that immersion
is for remission of sins, because, in a condensed statement like
this, it is not specifically mentioned, is not less subversive of the truth
than to deny that repentance is a condition because it is not mentioned.
It is not sufficient to reply to this, that repentance was always
implied in genuine faith; for it certainly was not more uniformly
upon faith than was immersion. It would be difficult to find,
in apostolic times, a penitent believer who was not immersed, without
unnecessary delay, as a genuine believer who was not penitent. All
believers who repented were invariably immersed. Of course, we exclude
from this remark all cases which occurred previous to the date
of the commission.
If any one, dissatisfied with this explanation, is disposed to insist
that Peter's declaration, that every one who believes in Jesus shall
receive remission of sins, must include those--if any there be--who
believe, but are not immersed, we have but to show the absurdity of
the assumption by referring to a parallel case in which there can be
no dispute. The Apostle John says: "Whosoever shall confess that
Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him, and he in
God." [1 John 4:15.]
who would conclude from this remark, that the only condition of
communion with God is to confess that Jesus is his Son, subverts the
truth no more than he who makes the assumption in question; for the
universality of the declaration is the same in both, and there is no
limitation expressed in either.
There is no one fact more distinctly stated in Acts that that believers
should repent and be immersed for the remission of
sins: [SeeActs 2:38.]
there can scarcely be a grosser perversion of the word of God than to
construe other statements of the Scripture so as to deny the truth of
this. A condition of pardon once stated can never be set aside by any
less than express divine authority.
It should be observed, further, that the statement in question is not
absolutely that "every one who believes in him shall receive remission
of sins;" but that he shall receive it "through his name." The
"through his name," was not thrown in here at random; for
the inspired apostles never spoke at random. It has a well-defined
meaning, and was intended to qualify the sentence of which it forms
a part. What we receive through his name certainly can not reach us
until we attain some connectionwith his name. But we are
into his name with that of the Father and the Holy Spirit; hence it
is at the time of this immersion, that the believer receives remission
of sins through his name.
We are next informed of a fact which is new to this narrative,
and was very surprising both to Peter and his companions.
"While Peter was yet speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all
those who were hearing the word,
(45) and the believers of the circumcision
who came with Peter were astonished, because on the Gentiles was poured
out the gift of the Holy Spirit.
(46) For they heard them speaking in
tongues, and magnifying God."
The matter of astonishment to the
Jewish brethren was not merely that these men received the Spirit;
for if Peter had gone on to finish his discourse, promising them the
gift of the Holy Spirit as he did on
and had then immersed
them, these brethren would have understood, as a matter of course,
that they received the Holy Spirit. And if, after this, he had laid
hands on them, as he did on the Samaritans,
even miraculous manifestations
of the Spirit could have created no surprise. The circumstances
which caused the astonishment were: First, That the Holy
Spirit was "poured out" upon them directly from God, as it had never
been before on any but the apostles; Second, That this unusual gift
was bestowed upon Gentiles.
In attempting to classify the manifestations of the Holy Spirit known
in this history, we are compelled to distinguish the case before us from
the gift of the Spirit enjoyed by all disciples in common, by the fact
that these parties "spoke in tongues;" and from the gift of the Spirit
bestowed on the Samaritans,
by the fact that it was bestowed without
prayer or imposition of hands. We have no event with which to
classify it except that which occurred on Pentecost.
That these two
events constitute a class by themselves is further evident from the fact
that these two parties alone are said to be "immersed
in the Holy Spirit." [Compare1:5; 11:16.]
These two are the only instances of immersion in the Holy Spirit on
record, and they are distinguished from other gifts of tongues, in that
they alone were bestowed without human agency.
There is only one passage of Scripture in even apparent conflict
with this conclusion, which, from the interpretation frequently given
to it, demands some notice in this connection. It is the statement of
Paul: "By one Spirit we were all immersed into one body, whether
Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and have all been made to drink
of one Spirit." [1 Corinthians 12:13.]
If the apostle intends by this to assert that all the disciples
"were immersed in the Holy Spirit," then this immersion was
not peculiar to the apostles and the house of Cornelius. The question
turns upon the reference of the word immerse; whether it is to immersion
in water or immersion in the Spirit. It is settled by the fact that
the immersion here spoken of is that which introduces "into the one
body." We know by the commission that immersion in water brought
its proper subjects "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Spirit." But when, and by whatever means, men were
brought into the relation expressed in these words, it is indisputable
that they were brought into the one body. It was immersion in water,
therefore, by which "all were immersed into one body."
the immersion in the Holy Spirit did not have this effect; for the
apostles were in the one body before they were immersed in the Spirit,
and Cornelius was immersed in the Spirit before he was immersed into
the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This makes it certain
that the passage in question is not in conflict with our conclusion. As
to Paul's assertion that the immersion into one body was "by one
Spirit," the words "by one Spirit" are a declaration that the immersion
had taken place under the direction of the one Spirit who was the
author of all the gifts mentioned in the connection in which the passage
The immersion of Cornelius and his friends in the Holy Spirit previous
to their immersion in water has been urged as proof that remission
of sins takes place before immersion. But it can furnish no
such proof unless it be first proved that the Holy Spirit could not be
imparted to a man who was yet unpardoned. If Cornelius had been
a man of gross wickedness, there would seem to be some incongruity
in such an impartation; but, in view of his real character, and the fact
that God had previously sent an angel to express his approbation of
his conduct, there appears no incongruity in this circumstance.
This incident in the conversion of Cornelius can not, in any way, be
held as a precedent for us; from the fact that it was a miraculous
gift, and therefore peculiar to the age of miracles. It may as well be
regarded as necessary to see the Lord as Saul did, in order to a genuine
conversion, as to be immersed in the Spirit as Cornelius was. It
is, therefore, a very gross deception to urge upon the people that they
should receive the Spirit, after the precedent of Cornelius, before they
Verses 47, 48
The true explanation of this unusual circumstance is given
in the following words, together with Peter's own explanation of it in
the eleventh chapter: [Acts 11:15.]
"Then Peter answered,
(47) Can any man forbid
water, that these should not be immersed, who have received the Holy
Spirit as well as we?
(48) And he commanded them to be immersed in
the name of the Lord. Then they requested him to remain some days."
The use that Peter made of it expresses the design of its occurrence.
That use was to remove all possible objection to the immersion of
the parties. In any other case which had occurred, or which occurred
after this, no such objection could have existed. The very fact, therefore,
which led to this unusual occurrence, was an exceptional circumstance,
which furnishes the strongest proof that this case is not a
precedent for imitation in this particular.
Before he was interrupted, Peter had already proceeded so far with
his discourse as to reach the subject of faith, and of remission of sins,
and immersion must have been the next word upon his lips, if he had
proceeded after the model of his sermon on Pentecost.
therefore, did not break the thread of his discourse, but enabled
him to proceed with greater confidence to the very conclusion which
he had intended. He first appeals to the brethren, to know if any objection
yet lingered in their minds, and finding none, he commanded them to be
immersed in the name of the Lord.
Let us now recall the fact that Cornelius had been directed to send
for Peter to hear "words by which he and all his family might be
Peter has come, and delivered his message. He has told
him of Christ, in whom the man now believes. He has commanded
him to be immersed, and it has been done. This is the whole story of
the conversion. When it was accomplished, the painful anxiety which
he must have experienced during the last four days was removed, and
his present happiness is indicated by the cordiality with which he invited
Peter to remain with him some days.
We now have three individual cases of conversion before us, each
detailed with great minuteness. In some particulars they are precisely
alike; in others, they are quite different. But they are all three genuine
cases of conversion; and, therefore, the points in which they differ
are not essential to conversion, but are accidental circumstances arising
from the peculiarities of the individual case. Now, in order that
we may learn what is essential to conversion, and what among all the
cases on record, are accidental circumstances, we must be guided by
the following rule. Whatever is common to all cases is necessary to
a scriptural conversion; but whatever we find in one case which certainly
did not occur in all others, is a peculiarity of the individual
cases in which it occurs. The points in which all the recorded cases
agree are the points in which all subsequent conversions must agree
with them. The points in which they differ are points in which subsequent
conversions may differ from them. In order to determine that
certain features are not essential, it is only necessary to find cases in
which they do not occur. In order to determine that any one is essential,
we must find it in all cases, or find it prescribed in some general
law expressly designed to govern all cases.
While the three cases already before us are fresh in the memory,
and before points of difference become multiplied by additional cases,
so as to confuse the understanding, we propose to institute a comparison
between them, in the light of the rule just prescribed. Leaving
out of view the difference in character, occupation, and social position,
of the eunuch, Saul, and Cornelius, which show only that the gospel
is adapted to all men without regard to previous character or position,
we will only notice those differences which might form the ground of
erroneous conclusions. First, then, in the cases of the eunuch and
Cornelius, there was the visible appearance of an angel;
converts of modern times have related, as part of their experience in
conversion, similar apparitions. But there certainly was not in Saul's
case the appearance of an angel; therefore, such an appearance is not
necessary to conversion. Second, The Lord himself appeared to Saul
and conversed with him;
but he certainly did not to either the eunuch
or Cornelius. It is not necessary, then, to see the Lord. Third, Saul
mourned and prayed for three days after he believed, and before he
but Cornelius and the eunuch did not; therefore, protracted
sorrow and prayer are not necessary to conversion. Fourth,
Cornelius was immersed in the Spirit,
but Saul and the eunuch were
not; therefore, immersion in the Spirit is not essential, but a circumstance
arising from the peculiarity of a single case.
The points in which these cases agree are chiefly these: they all
heard the gospel preached, with miraculous evidence to sustain it;
they all believed what they heard;
they were all commanded to be
they were all immersed; and after immersion they were all
If, then, we do not hereafter encounter recorded cases from
which some of these items are certainly absent, we must conclude that
at least all of these are necessary to scriptural conversion. When
other cases are before us, we will institute further and more complete
We would be glad to know more of the history of Cornelius, so as
to determine how far, even in times of peace, the profession of arms
is compatible with the faithful service of the Prince of Peace. He is
the only soldier of whose conversion we have an account in the New
Testament, and of his subsequent career we know nothing. Whether,
amid the scenes of blood and desolation not many years after most
wickedly visited upon Judea by the army in which he was an officer,
he resigned his office, or made shipwreck of the faith, we can not
know till the great day. Let it be noted, however, that his is an instance
of a soldier becoming a Christian, not of a Christian becoming
a soldier. It furnishes a precedent for the former, but not for the latter.
Whether Peter instructed him to resign his position in the army
or not, is to be determined not by the silence of the historian in
to it, but by first determining whether military service is
compatible with the moral teachings of the New Testament. If Jesus and
the apostles had been, for more than thirty years previous to the publication
of Acts, teaching that Christians should not take the sword, it
was not at all necessary for Luke to say that Peter so instructed