by James Buchanan
AT the period of our Lord's advent, there existed amongst the Jews the same diversities of opinion and character as are found amongst ourselves at the present day, and the men to whom he preached were in very different states of preparation for the Gospel of the kingdom. There were Sadducees then, as there are sceptics now, who doubted or disbelieved the truth as it had been revealed by Moses and the prophets; there were Pharisees then, as there are formalists now, who rested in the form, whilst they denied the power of godliness; there were Pilates, who asked, 'What is truth? and Gallios, who 'cared for none of these things.' But there were also not a few whose hearts the Lord had touched, and who waited, in faith and hope, for 'the consolation of Israel.' There were such men both among the Jews and Gentiles. Among the Jews we read of Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth, 'who were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless;' and Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose song breathes the spirit of genuine piety when she exclaimed, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour;' and Simeon, of whom it is said, that 'the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him;' and Anna the prophetess, 'a widow of about fourscore and four years, who departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day, and spake of Christ to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem;' and Nathanael, of whom our Lord himself said, 'Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!' And among the Gentiles, we read of the Ethiopian who came up to Jerusalem to worship, and on his return read in his chariot the Book of Isaiah the prophet; and of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and a devout soldier who waited upon him, 'a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.' In these cases we have a most precious exemplification of the spiritual life which still existed in the bosom of the Jewish Church, and of the blessed fruits which had sprung from the faith of the Old Testament; and it is delightful to discover such instances of genuine piety in the retired walks of private life, at a time when their national character had been sadly deteriorated, and the scribes and rulers and Pharisees had made the commandment of God of none effect by their traditions. There was still amongst them a blessed remnant, a peculiar people, who cherished the faith and walked in the footsteps of faithful Abraham. And it is deeply interesting to mark that as they were prepared, on the one hand, by their spiritual acquaintance with the truth as it had been revealed in the Old Testament, for the reception of any other revelation which God might be pleased to make; so God was pleased to manifest the utmost care for them, and to give them the earliest and best opportunities of acquiring a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, thereby fulfilling the law of his spiritual administration, 'To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly, while from him that hath not shall be taken away that which he seemeth to have.'
Of this we have a very remarkable instance in the narrative which relates to the experience of Cornelius, at the time when he was made acquainted with the full truth of the Gospel, and a change was wrought upon him, which cannot, I think, be considered as a case of conversion, for he was already a devout believer, but as a case of advancement, or of translation from the lower form of the Jewish to the higher form of the Christian faith, but still in the same school and under the same teacher. This will become apparent, if we consider,
His state and character previous to the time when this change occurred. He was by birth a Gentile, by profession a soldier; but notwithstanding the disadvantages to which he was thus subjected, he had become a proselyte to the Jewish faith, and believed in and worshipped 'the one only, the living and true God.' His character is thus described: 'A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway;' and again, 'A just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews.' I need not dwell on the proof, which these words afford of his being a believer in the Jewish religion, and a worshipper of the true God. Suffice it to say, that such language is never applied in Scripture to any idolater or heathen; and that his was not a mere natural religion appears from its being incidentally mentioned that 'at the ninth hour of the day he was praying in his house,' the hour of evening sacrifice among the Jews, when such as were not present at the temple prayed at home, as we read, 'Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.' And as he conformed to the Jewish worship, so it is evident that his prayers were addressed to the God of Israel; and not only so, but that they were accepted of him, for the angel said to him, 'Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God,' whence we infer that he must have been a genuine believer and a justified man, since 'without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.' He was acquainted, then, with God's revealed truth, as it had been made known by Moses and the prophets, and had embraced it with a lively faith which led him to fast and pray, and to care for the religious instruction of his family. And loving God, he loved his neighbour also, for he 'gave much alms to the people;' nay, it would seem that he was not altogether ignorant of the Gospel itself, although he had not been fully instructed or firmly established in the belief of its truth, for when Peter came to him, he said, 'The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all): that word ye know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached.' We are to consider him, I apprehend, as a Gentile proselyte to the Jewish faith, who, without submitting to the rite of circumcision - for we learn that he was uncircumcised, from the objection to Peter's conduct which was afterwards founded on this consideration - did nevertheless embrace the faith of the Jewish Church, and worship the God of Israel, being encouraged, doubtless, by the gracious provision which had been made for the admission of strangers to a participation in its privileges (2 Kings 8:41; Isaiah 56:6); and as a devout and conscientious man, who acted up to the light he had, and waited for more, listening to the reports which had reached him of the miracles and preaching of Jesus, but without having yet arrived at a clear apprehension or certain belief of the Gospel. And on the whole, he may be regarded as a believer, in the same sense in which Abraham was a believer, or the cloud of witnesses mentioned in the 11th of the Hebrews, who 'all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth;' and being a believer, he was justified and accepted, as they were, by faith in God's covenant promise; nay, as many were who, like himself, were not Jews, but sinners of the Gentiles, for there was a promise before the law was given, even the first promise, that 'the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head;' and that promise, with the accompanying rite of sacrifice which prefigured 'the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,' afforded a sufficient object of faith, and a solid ground of hope, to many who had no natural connection with Abraham and his family. By this faith Melchizedek was justified, and Jethro the father-in-law of Moses, and Rahab before she had any interest in Israel; nay, Abraham himself, before he was circumcised; for, says the apostle, 'Faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised, that righteousness might be imputed unto them also; and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.' Such seems to have been the state of Cornelius previous to the events, which are recorded in the chapter before us. But here a question may arise: If he was already a believer and a justified man, what necessity existed for any change such as is here described, and especially for the employment of agency so various and so extraordinary as is said to have been put in motion for his instruction and improvement? Some have supposed that, had he died in his present state, he must have perished, 0 founding mainly on an expression which occurs in the following chapter, where Peter, rehearsing what had occurred, represents the angel as having said to Cornelius, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter, who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.' Hence it has been inferred that he had not yet acquired a saving knowledge of divine truth, nor entered on a state of acceptance with God; but I apprehend the expression admits of being understood in a sense which does not necessarily imply what is thus ascribed to it, while the whole description which is given of his character seems very plainly to imply the reverse. 0 The centurion, we believe, was at that time in a state of transition from the Jewish to the Christian faith; and the change, which now occurred in his views, ought to be regarded as his advancement from an imperfect to a more perfect state, rather than as his first conversion to God. He underwent precisely the same change, which was wrought on all the devout Jews who 'looked for redemption in Jerusalem' and 'waited for the consolation of Israel,' when, having long expected the promised messiah, they were led to believe that Jesus was he. That God would send a deliverer, was the subject of their faith as Jews; that 'Jesus was the Christ,' became the subject of their faith as Christians. Before he knew Christ, and while as ye under the influence of prejudice, and saying, 'Can any good thing come out of Galilee? Nathanael was 'an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile;' but when Jesus spoke to him, and convinced him of his omniscient knowledge by a few simple words, he believed and exclaimed, 'Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.' Just such was the change which was wrought on Cornelius, the devout Gentile believer, and it was needful that such a change should be effected, for two reasons, one of which was personal to himself, the other of a more public nature. It was necessary for himself that he should now believe the truth as it is in Jesus; it was no longer true that God would send a deliverer - the Deliverer had already come; and from the time of his advent it became necessary to believe and acknowledge that 'Jesus is the Christ.' Had he died before Christ's advent, or even after his advent, but before he had any sufficient information on the subject, he might have been saved as Abraham was, and all the faithful children of Abraham were, by the faith of what God had promised to the fathers; but had he rejected Christ, or refused to believe in him, when he had been fully informed of all that he did and taught, his unbelief would have been fatal, not only because it rejected the Saviour, but also because it indicated the absence of that spirit of faith in the true meaning of the Old Testament itself, which, wherever it existed; was invariably found to embrace the Gospel when it was first proclaimed. There was an affinity betwixt the faith of a spiritual Jew or proselyte, and the faith of the New Testament, in virtue of which the one led on to the other, and found in it, not a new creed, but the completion, the perfecting of the old one. But the events which are recorded in this chapter were not designed exclusively, nor, perhaps, chiefly, for the personal benefit of Cornelius and his family; they were designed to subserve an end of the highest importance, and of a public nature, with reference to the Church at large; to make it manifest that the 'middle wall of partition,' which had long divided the Jews from the Gentiles, had been taken down; that in Christ 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor uncircumcision, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all;' and that the Christian Church was to be truly catholic, as comprehensive of all nations and peoples and tongues, the Gentiles being admitted on an equal footing with the Jews to a participation of its holiest privileges, and a share in its highest hopes.
This leads me to consider the circumstances, which accompanied, and the means which effected the change in the centurion's views and profession, when, from being a Jewish proselyte, he became a Christian convert. In the accompanying circumstances, many of which were miraculous, we have a beautiful example of the concurrence of various means towards the accomplishment of one end, such as affords a most interesting illustration of the working of God's providence. For one day at Cæsarea, about 75 miles from Jerusalem, a vision appeared to Cornelius, instructing him to send messengers to Joppa, and to call for one Simon, whose surname was Peter. Next day, while the messengers were on their way, Peter went up to the house-top to pray, about the sixth hour, and he had the vision as it were of a great sheet descending from heaven, and containing all manner of beasts, accompanied with the command, 'Arise, Peter, kill and eat;' and when he objected, saying, 'Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten any thing common or unclean,' the voice answered, 'What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common:' this was done thrice, and the vessel was received up again into heaven. And while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, the messengers arrived, and furnished, unconsciously, a key for its explanation; for their words seem immediately to have suggested to his mind the true meaning of the vision, as appears from his language, when he said to Cornelius and his friends, 'Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.' And when, after he declared the Gospel, 'the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word,' so that 'they began to speak with tongues and magnify God,' the whole purpose of God in this series of visions was made clear, even that the Gentiles should be admitted, as well as the Jews, to the privileges and hopes of the Christian Church. All this was implied in the vision of the sheet which descended from heaven and contained all manner of four-footed beasts, for the distinction betwixt clean and unclean animals had been purposely adopted as a mark of separation betwixt the Jews and the Gentiles, as we learn from the law of Moses: 'I am the Lord your God, who have separated you from all other people. Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.' So long as the distinction subsisted betwixt the clean and the unclean beasts and fowls, a wall of partition interposed to divide and separate the Gentile from the Jew; but when the sheet descended, containing all manner of beasts, and creeping things, and fowls, and Peter was commanded to kill and eat - and when, in answer to his objection that 'he had never eaten any thing common or unclean,' he was told, 'What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common,' he was thereby significantly informed, not merely that the distinction of meats should now cease, but that the Old Testament dispensation was passing away, and that the separation betwixt Jew and Gentile, which that distinction marked and tended to perpetuate, was now to be completely and for ever abolished. And this great lesson was taught by a series of successive events, all distinct and independent of each other, but concurring by a most marvellous coincidence to the accomplishment of the same end, insomuch that the apostle's mind must have been as much impressed by the leadings of God's providence as by the express declaration of his will, with the belief of the great catholic truth, that the Christian Church was to comprehend both Jew and Gentile, and that they were all 'one in Christ.'
While these circumstances accompanied, and were subservient to the change which was wrought on his views and sentiments, the means by which it was properly effected was the truth declared by the apostle and applied by the Holy Spirit. The message, which Peter delivered, was in all respects suitable to his case. It contained (1) an unequivocal recognition of Cornelius, and other believing Gentiles, as belonging to the Church of God and accepted of Him. 'Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him.' In these words the apostle clearly intimates the delightful truth, that the Church of God is catholic, and comprehends all believers, of whatever country, colour, or clime, - a truth which the Jews and the apostles themselves were slow to entertain, and which probably had first been carried home to the mind of Peter by the memorable incidents recorded in the chapter before us. Peter was employed on that occasion, and was the appointed agent in effecting a great change in the constitution of the Church, by the admission of Gentiles to the privilege of baptism; so that were the words of our Lord, when he said, 'Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her,' considered as having some reference to the person, as well as to the confession, of that apostle, we should find a sufficient fulfilment of the prediction in the fact, that Peter was actually employed to found the Catholic Church, and had thus a distinguished preeminence, although he could claim no primacy over the rest of the apostles. But however this may be, it is clear that Peter now understood and declared the great truth, that the middle wall of partition betwixt Jews and Gentiles was removed, and that 'in every nation he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him.'
His words, however, on this memorable occasion have been grievously perverted; and several false inferences have been drawn from them. Some, considering Cornelius as a Gentile, and founding on his declared acceptance with God, have inferred the sufficiency of mere natural religion, and the indifferency or non-importance of all varieties of creeds, provided only they who profess them be sincere. This monstrous heresy, which prevails so extensively in the world, and which has sometimes been presented, with the fascinations of poetry, to the public mind - as when it is said,
'For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight,
He can't be wrong whose life is in the right'
- this grievous error is utterly repudiated by every Christian mind which really believes the truth, and appreciates the value of the Gospel. The Church of England does not hesitate to say, in her Articles, 'that they are to be held accursed who presume to say, that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law, and the light of nature;' and most assuredly, the sentiment which is here so pointedly denounced derives no support or countenance from the case of Cornelius. For the religion of Cornelius was not derived solely, nor even chiefly, from the volume of Nature: it was drawn from the revelation of God's truth in the Old Testament Scriptures, with which he had become acquainted during his residence in Palestine, and which had already converted him from the Gentile to the Jewish faith; and so far from representing the knowledge and belief of the truth as a matter of indifference, the narrative shows with what solicitude and care God provided for the further instruction of Cornelius, with a view to his advancement, when he vouchsafed a series of supernatural visions, and employed the ministry of Peter, and granted the gift of the Holy Ghost, in order that the Jewish proselyte might become a Christian convert, a baptized professor of the Gospel. When, therefore, the apostle said, 'Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him,' he did not mean to intimate that the privileges of salvation were extended indiscriminately to all men without reference to their religious creed, as if they might be safe under any form of natural religion, while they were ignorant of the Gospel; but simply that these privileges, and the knowledge and faith with which they are inseparably connected, were not confined to the nation of the Jews, but extended to true converts from every nation under heaven.
Still less does the narrative afford any countenance to another erroneous opinion which it has sometimes been employed to support, the opinion that a moral life will render a man acceptable to God, independently of religion; and that it matters little whether he be religious or no, provided only his conduct be decent and exemplary. For whatever virtues are here ascribed to Cornelius - his justice, his charity, and his social respectability - were the fruits of religious principle, and inseparably combined with the fear of God, and the faith of divine truth, and the habit of prayer; so that those men of mere morality, who, from taste or education or the influence of worldly prudence, or the example of others, maintain a decent exterior, while they are utterly irreligious and live without prayer and without God in the world, cannot justly found any hope of acceptance on the case of Cornelius, of whom it is said, that he was a devout or godly man, 'and one that feared God with all his house, and gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God allay.'
Nor does this narrative afford any countenance to the legal or self-righteous doctrine which represents the graces and virtues of a man's character as the ground of his acceptance with God. It is true that the angel refers to the devotion, and the alms, and the prayers of Cornelius, and declares 'that they had come up for a memorial before God,' just as we learn that, at the last day, the Judge will refer to the conduct of his believing people in feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, as the proper fruit and evidence of their faith and love; but the sole ground of their acceptance is the redemption of Christ; and surely no one can imagine that the good qualities which are here ascribed to Cornelius were the meritorious cause of his salvation, when Peter was sent to speak to him as a sinner, and to tell him that, 'through Christ's name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.' The prayers and the alms of Cornelius are not referred to as being the grounds of his pardon, for that rested solely on the redemption of Christ, but as being the evidences of his faith in the promise of a Saviour; a faith which God graciously rewarded by making known to him the fulfilment of that promise in the person of Christ.
The message of Peter, while it contained an unequivocal recognition of Cornelius and other Gentile believers as belonging to the Church of God, presented also to his mind (a)a summary of Gospel truth, accompanied with its appropriate evidence, with the view of convincing him that 'what God had promised to the fathers,' he had so fulfilled in the person of Christ. The Gospel properly consists in the doctrine of Christ, in his person, offices, work, and reward; and all these points of Gospel truth are presented in the short but comprehensive statement of the apostle. He intimates the personal dignity of Christ: 'He is Lord of all;' his humiliation, as 'Jesus of Nazareth;' his divine mission, for 'God sent the lord unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ;' his divine unction with the Holy Ghost, whereby he became the Christ, the Lord's Anointed, for 'God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost, and with power;' his holy life and beneficent ministry, 'Who lent about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with him;' his miraculous power, 'For we are witnesses of all things which he did, both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem;' his ignominious and painful death, Whom they slew, and hanged on a tree;' his resurrection from the dead, and manifestation to his disciples, 'Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly, not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God; even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead;' his commission to the apostles, 'He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he who was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead;' and, finally, the sum and substance of the Gospel, the same Gospel which had been preached beforehand to Abraham, but was now more fully unfolded, 'To him gave all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.' Even this brief analysis, without any detailed exposition of Peter's address, may suffice to show how pregnant it is with all Gospel truth, and how admirably suitable to the case of Cornelius. He was a devout man, a proselyte to the Jewish faith, and one that waited for the consolation of Israel. He had even heard - for the apostle speaks of him as 'knowing' - the lord which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ; but probably he had not had an opportunity of satisfying himself as to the truth of the Gospel, and was waiting, in a prayerful spirit, for further instruction and clearer light. And while he waited and prayed, God sent this message, and prepared the lay for it by those visions, first to himself and afterwards to Peter, which afford such an affecting proof of God's solicitude and care for every humble inquirer. And the message was in every respect suited to his case; for it made known to him the meaning and substance of the Gospel, of which it contains two brief but most comprehensive summaries, being described in the one as God's proclamation of peace through Jesus Christ (verse 36), and in the other as a message which declares 'that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins;' and, secondly, it made known to him the evidence by which the truth as it is in Jesus is certified as of divine and infallible authority; for he appeals to God's testimony, who 'anointed him with the Holy Ghost,' and who was with him in his mighty works; to the testimony of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses of his miracles, and conversed with him after his resurrection; and to the concurrent witness of ancient prophecy, for 'the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.' And when this reference to the evidence which arises from God's testimony, and that of his inspired apostles and prophets, was immediately followed up by the descent of the Holy Ghost, insomuch that 'while Peter yet spake, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the lord; so that they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost; for they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God,' need we wonder that Cornelius at once embraced the Gospel, and entered, by baptism, into the Christian Church?
The Holy Spirit was the agent by whom Cornelius was convinced and established; partly by his miraculous gifts, which are no doubt intended in the narrative, and which afforded evidence on which his faith might securely rest; but partly, also, by his spiritual grace, accompanying the preaching of the Word, by which he was enabled to believe to the saving of his soul.
As to the nature of the change which was now wrought on the mind of Cornelius, and its practical results in his life and conversation, it properly consisted in his being enabled to believe that the Messiah whom God had promised to the fathers, and whom, as a believer in Old Testament prophecy, he had long expected, had actually come, and that Jesus of Nazareth was he. The whole of Peter's message is directed to the establishment of this great truth, that 'Jesus is the Christ;' and the cordial reception of that truth in its full Gospel import constituted the change, which now passed on the mind of the devout centurion.
In the case of one who had previously been so conscientious, and whose whole character was consistent with his profession as a Jewish proselyte, there was no room for such a striking manifestation of the change which is wrought by conversion, as in the case of the Philippian gaoler, or even of Saul of Tarsus. But it was doubtless attended, even in his experience, with a very great and happy change; for not only is it said that 'he was baptized,' in token alike of his faith in Christ and his submission to Christ's command, but that he and his household 'glorified God.'
We have here a beautiful exemplification of the way in which the providence of God works in different places, on the same plan, and for the same object. Simultaneously at Joppa and at Cæsarea God's agency was at work, and the coincidence or concurrence of events demonstrated the interposition of Him 'who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.' We have also an interesting example of personal and family religion under the less perfect dispensation of the Old Testament, and one which may well put to shame many a professor enjoying far higher privileges amongst ourselves. Cornelius was a godly man, and he carried his religion into his family, caring for the souls of those who were committed to his care: 'he feared God with all his house,' 'he prayed in his house,' he had 'a devout soldier' for his servant, and he collected his whole household to listen to the apostle, saying, 'Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.' Again, the case of Cornelius affords a memorable proof of the efficacy of prayer, and how much prayer is concerned in the advancement of believers, as well as in the conversion of sinners. Cornelius was praying when 'the man in bright clothing stood before him;' Peter was praying when the sheet descended from heaven; and the centurion's kinsfolk and friends were assembled for the same purpose when Peter arrived. But the great end of all the visions and events recorded in this chapter was to declare the abolition of all distinctions betwixt Jew and Gentile, so that both were alike welcome to share in the blessings of the Gospel, and that no man should now be called common or unclean. The instruction of Cornelius and his family, important as it was, was not the only, nor even the chief object of God in this wonderful interposition. It was designed to remove the prejudice, which the Jews, and even the apostles themselves, still entertained against the Gentiles, and to open the door for their admission into the Christian Church. The narrative teaches us to cherish a catholic spirit, first, as it represents Cornelius as a true believer, although a Gentile by birth, and a Jewish proselyte by profession; and, secondly, as it shows that every one on whom the Holy Spirit is bestowed, be it in his miraculous gifts or in his renewing grace, is to be recognized and received as a member of the Church of Christ. 'Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?'
Excerpt from from The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit (free eBook)