Abraham is not alone in the story of his justification. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” By that definition, Cornelius was justified before Peter preached to him.
As I have written:
In Acts 10.1-4 we have the introduction to the story of the gospel being preached to the Gentiles:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.”
Obviously, Cornelius is already regenerate and justified as we define those terms in our theological parlance. As Francis Turretin observes:
Although a Gentile by birth, Cornelius was yet a proselyte by religion. Although he could not believe that the Messiah had come and was that Jesus whom Peter preached, yet he could believe with the Jews from the oracles of the prophets that he would come. Thus he is not to be reckoned among the Gentiles, but among the patriarchs who looked for salvation from a Redeemer nor yet manifested. Hence by the advent of Peter, he did not receive a beginning, but an increase of faith.
We find the same thing in the case of Lydia,
And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16.13-15).
Lydia was, according to our theological definitions gleaned from the Bible as a whole, regenerate and justified before she ever met Paul. Paul worshiped with her because they worshiped the same God. God’s opening of her heart I think proves the necessity and reality of God’s effectual call by analogy and a forteriori argument, but the event shows first that even regenerate, justified, persons only pursue holiness and “increase of faith” by the Spirit’s monergistic work.
Just like Abraham was justified by faith before hearing about Christ, so was Cornelius. He needed to hear the good news but he was already a believer. Peter himself, by entering Cornelius’ house, was acknowledging that Cornelius was already right with God.
You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection…. Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Nevertheless, Peter describes what happened after he proclaimed the story of Jesus, thus
Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.
Given the importance of this counsel to issues in Romans and Galatians, it is quite certain that “cleansed… by faith” is the same as justified by faith. What Turretin calls not “a beginning, but an increase of faith,” Peter declares to have justified.
So, again, the similarity with Abraham is obvious. Both were justified believers. Both were given a message. Both believed that message. Both are described as justified by that believing in that instance.
TO BE CONTINUED