Members of the Lord’s church have in Bible class abused Cornelius time and time again. And, too, he undergoes false accusation as well in sermons. How many times have you listened to someone trying to explain (1) how Cornelius received the Holy Spirit while (2) being a sinner? Imagine, the Holy Spirit entering the heart of someone presently practicing sin and thus bound for hell!
It is absurd. Cornelius was no sinner. How many times does Luke have to describe Cornelius for us until we finally admit his righteousness? See Acts 10: 2, 4, 15, 22, 28, 31, 35. Luke made seven attempts to describe Cornelius for us so that we would see that he was a righteous Gentile when the gospel reached him. How could he be? He was answerable to God through “Gentile-ism” or “Patriarchy” or “moral law-ism” (Romans 2:14-15). Remember the then Bible (law of Moses) had been given to Jews only (Psalm 147:19-20). The Gentiles up into the first century were answerable to God through moral law only. Had Cornelius died the day before Peter came to his house, he would have been bound for glory. Cornelius was a righteous Gentile just as much as Abraham in his own day had been.
Yes, but an objector replies that I am forgetting that Peter preached to him words whereby he would be saved (Acts 11:14). Indeed, but the salvation he received is not what most of us have taken it to be. He was saved in that he was delivered from “Patriarchy” which no longer for him would be operative as the divinely arranged system of religion for his people. Brother A. J. Freed, like most of us in the past, did not understand Holy Spirit baptism, but he did understand Cornelius’ condition. He correctly denied that Cornelius was an alien sinner, and he wrote, “He is told words by which he is saved from the sinking ship of patriarchy” (Sermons, Chapel Talks, and Debates). Amen! When the apostles, following Peter’s explanation of what happened at the house of Cornelius, concluded, “Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18), that was a summation statement regarding the general condition of the Gentile camp which was usually one of sin (cf. Acts 17:30-31). It was not a description of Cornelius, his household, nor his friends. This is proved by Luke’s description of Cornelius and by the fact that Cornelius and the other Gentiles with him were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15; 15:8). The first Gentiles to enter the kingdom were already living up to their spiritual obligations before the gospel reached them. Therefore, they were in a clean spiritual condition which allowed the Holy Spirit to enter them. After that they submitted to water baptism (Acts 10:47-48), but it was not for remission of sins in their case. It was, however, as per the words of Jesus in John 3:3-5, an absolute requirement (as was Holy Spirit baptism) to kingdom entry!
If, dear reader, you think I am abusing the word “saved” as applied to Cornelius (Acts 11:14), remember that we have to consider biblical words in their contextual use. Noah’s family was also “saved,” and it was even a salvation through water, but it was not salvation from sin (1 Peter 3:20). According to Paul, the unbelieving mate is “sanctified” in the believing mate, but the sanctification has nothing to do with the unbeliever’s salvation (1 Corinthians 7:15). We cannot impose a presupposed definition gleaned from other contexts onto a word in its own context that forbids the application of the presupposed definition. We have sadly done this in Acts 11:14, and abused Cornelius unmercifully!