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Lessons from the Story of Cornelius

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 28:
“The Word of God Grew and Multiplied”




Acts 10 recounts the story of Cornelius the centurion (a leader of 100 soldiers) who, we are told is (v. 2), ” A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.”

3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
6 He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
7 And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;
8 And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.

It is important to note here that Cornelius had this wonderful spiritual experience before he was ever a member of the Church. Some have mischaracterized the doctrine of the Church as indicating that we think we are the only ones who have spiritual experiences or revelation or visitation by angels, but the doctrine of the Church, found in the scriptures, explicitly contradicts this misrepresentation. We believe that those inside and outside the Church can receive a broad range of spiritual experiences including receiving a witness from the Holy Ghost, or even ministration from angels. The entire missionary program is indeed premised on this. It would be of little use to invite those who curious about the Church to read the scriptures and to take hold of Moroni’s promise, if we didn’t think the spiritual manifestations were available to those not yet members of the Church. Moroni 10:3-5 3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. 4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. 5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

A next point that is critical to understand in this account is that the angel does not contravene the established priesthood authority. He instead tells Cornelius to go find Peter, the presiding authority, and obtain further ministration, which will include baptism, from him. Paul will later counsel the Galatians (1:8), “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

Peter meanwhile, is shown a vision that prepares him to minister to Cornelius and his household. He is shown a vision three times that includes animals that cannot be eaten under the law of Moses and is told to Rise, kill, and eat. This presumably means he has been commanded to go hunting, which appears to be an allusion to missionary work using Jeremiah 16:14-16.

14 ¶ Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;
15 But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.
16 Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.”

Peter objects to the commandment because he knows that the animals are considered unclean under the law of Moses, but the voice which addresses him says, ” What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”

Verse 17 should be a source of encouragement for all of us, “Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate” Peter is pondering his vision and he initially has no idea what to do with it. That should be a source of comfort to all of us who have received communication from the Holy Ghost that were quite real, but that we weren’t immediately quite sure what to do with. Peter’s experience, though initially dramatic, requires a process of unpacking and pondering before he will fully understand it. As Elder David A. Bednar taught (“The spirit of revelation,”, “The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). Most frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation. Such communications from Heavenly Father gradually and gently “distil upon [our souls] as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45).” (See also Elder Scott’s excellent talk, “To acquire spiritual guidance,” Peter subsequently follows a further prompting of the Spirit to go with the men to visit Cornelius and, while acting in obedience to that prompting, the meaning of his prior vision becomes clear leading to his ministry to Cornelius and his household and their subsequent acceptance of the gospel.

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