JUSTIFICATION IN ETERNITY – A SERIOUS MISTAKE!
[The article is gleaned from the writings of the Puritan John Flavel and A.W. Pink]
The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689 say this concerning Justification –
“God did from all eternity decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did in the fullness of time die for their sins, and rise again for their justification; nevertheless, they are not justified personally, until the Holy Spirit doth in time due actually apply Christ unto them.
( Galatians 3:8; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Timothy 2:6; Romans 4:25; Colossians 1:21,22; Titus 3:4-7 )
This is the accurate exegesis concerning Justification and one which is in full accord with Scripture.
The question at hand is when were the Elect justified? In eternity or at the Cross or when they first believed? This is a point on which some eminent Calvinists have erred, or at least, have expressed themselves faultily. Some of the older theologians, when expounding this doctrine, contended for the eternal justification of the elect, affirming that God pronounced them righteous before the foundation of the world, and that their justification was then actual and complete, remaining so throughout their history in time, even during the days of their unregeneracy and unbelief; and that the only difference their faith made was in making manifest God’s eternal justification in their consciences. This is a serious mistake, resulting (again) from failure to distinguish between things which differ.
Many who hold this error in their heads have the truth in their hearts, a fact which thankfully “will not suffer them to reduce their own opinions into practice.”
Nevertheless it is a dangerous teaching that needs to be exposed. The errors connected with it are:
1.The elect were justified in eternity (or at the time of Christ’s death).
2. In justification the elect are persuaded of Christ’s love for them.
3. We ought no more to question our faith than to question Christ.
4. Believers should not confess sin or pray for its forgiveness, because all their sins being pardoned from eternity, they are no longer sins.
5. God sees no sin in believers, whatever sins they may commit.
6. To say that God is angry with the elect is a reflection on His justice.
These, according to the Puritan John Flavel, are principal errors, and are “of a very dangerous nature.”
Despite the whole “scope and current of Scripture” and the “experience and practice of the saints” being against them, they nevertheless gain great sway over people.
1. That the elect are not justified from eternity is clear, because although their justification is purposed in eternity, it is not purchased and applied until time. We are justified by Christ’s blood and by faith. (Rom. 5.9,1) The elect sinner is not freed from condemnation nor justified till he is united to Christ, which union is by faith, and takes place during the elect’s life-time. It is both irrational and unscriptural to imagine that men can be justified before they exist. God’s purpose or intention to justify them is not the same as His actually justifying them. Besides, John 3.18 expressly declares that only “he that believeth in Him (Christ) is not condemned.” Furthermore, in the great chain of salvation mentioned in Romans 8.30, the elect are first predestined and called before they are justified. Lastly, it is highly derogatory to Christ to teach eternal justification, for men had to be lost before He could save them. Justification is the fruit of His meritorious death and satisfaction given to justice. Justification is not, therefore, from eternity.
2. That justifying faith is not assurance that Christ loves us is evident, because many who believe on Christ for salvation lack such assurance. This is clear both from Isaiah 50.10, which describes a child of light walking in darkness, and from the cases of Job, David, Heman and Asaph. It is receiving Christ, not being persuaded that He loves us, which entitles us to become children of God. (John 1.12) Besides, many are convinced that Christ loves them who are still unconverted. (Luke 18.9; Rev 3.17) Furthermore, this error confuses two kinds of faith that must always be kept distinct: dogmatic faith and saving faith. It is one thing to believe the proposition that God laid the iniquities of us all on Christ. It is another to rest on Christ as our Sin-bearer. The assent of the understanding is not the consent of the heart. As James says: “Thou believest there is one God, thou dost well; the devils also believe, and tremble.” (2.19) Lastly, only saving faith, or cleaving to Christ, can support us when we do not know that “He died intentionally for me.”
3. That believers should never doubt or question their faith is also untrue, because examining our faith is an expressly “commanded Scripture duty.” “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith” (2 Cor 13.5), “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet 1.10) and “Look to yourselves, that we lose not the things which we have wrought” (2 John 8) are only a few such commands. This “snare of the devil laid for the souls of men” is all the more dangerous because it leaves no way out for them to recover from their error. “It cuts off all means of conviction or better information, and nails them fast to the carnal state in which they are.” What is more, it makes the strong persuasion that we are saved as infallible as the foundation truths of Christianity. It is not enough to believe either that Christ died for sinners, or that He bore away our iniquities. Our hearts are deceitful enough to cheat us on this vital point. We must actually believe on Christ and test our faith for genuineness by the clear marks of Scripture.
4. That believers are not bound to confess their sin, nor pray for its forgiveness, because it was pardoned in eternity, and pardoned sin is no longer sin, is manifestly false, because it implies that there is no sin in believers; whereas Scripture says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1.8) It also says: “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not.” (Eccl. 7.20) and “In many things we offend all.” (James 3.2) While it is true that the blood of Christ has removed the guilt of believers’ sin, its “stain and pollution” remains in them till glory, “even in their justified state.” Indeed, there is “considerable evil” in their sins. They “greatly wrong and offend their God” (Psa 51.4) and hinder their communion with Him. (Rom. 7.21) Furthermore, God has expressly declared it to be His will that His people confess their sins before Him (1 John 1.9) and mourn for them (Isa 22.12; Matt 5.4). Paul, Ezra, Daniel and other saints, though justified, all do this. (1 Tim 1.13; Ezra 9; Dan 9)
To the objection that these sins were committed before they were justified, Flavel replies that it makes no difference when they were committed if they were all pardoned from eternity. Besides, Paul’s complaints in Romans 7 were “after he was a sanctified and justified person.” In short, “the greatest favourites of heaven have freely confessed and heartily prayed for the remission of sin.”
5. That God sees no sin in believers, whatever sins they commit, is false, even when claimed under the colour of Scripture. For in Numbers 23.21- “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, nor seen perverseness in Israel”, the original reads: “He hath not beheld wrong against Jacob, nor hath He seen grievance against Israel.” That is, says Gataker, God did not approve of the wrongs done by others to His people. The whole context, and especially Balaam’s advice to Balak, to draw them into sin so that God would forsake them, confirms this. As for Jeremiah 50.20 – “The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found” – it means that even their sins shall not lead God to punish them forever.
Besides, God sees everything about us all, both good and evil. (Prov 15.3) Furthermore, He is highly displeased with His people’s sins; witness David’s adultery and murder (2 Sam 11.27) and presumptuous attendance at the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. (1 Cor 11.32).
6. To claim that God’s anger with the elect reflects on His justice, because He has already justified them in eternity, is false, because God hates sin in them just as much as in others. Christ’s sacrifice did not abolish God’s hatred of sin in believers. It merely took away His hatred to their persons. “His hatred to their sins and love to their persons are not inconsistent.” Those who would abolish God’s anger towards His people fail to distinguish between His judicial, vindicatory wrath and His paternal displeasure. Scripture everywhere speaks of Him laying the rod of chastisement on His wayward children. (Heb 12.8; Job 5.6; 2 Sam 12.9-14; Exod 4.13-14) Indeed, His children themselves acknowledge their sin as the cause of their chastisements. (Lam 3.39-40; Psa 38.3,5; Mic 7.9; Job 22.5-6) Such “fatherly correction of His saints” is fully consistent with God satisfying His justice with the blood of Christ for all their sins. (Psa 89.30-33) Christ never shed His blood to “abolish God’s displeasure against sin, in whomsoever it be found.” Indeed, it would be unjust of God not to chastise His people when they sin.
But to return to the question on hand – Were God’s elect justified in eternity? We may say as an immanent act of God’s mind, in which all things (which are to us past, present, and future) were cognized by Him, the elect might be said to be justified from all eternity. And, as an immutable act of God’s will, which cannot be frustrated, the same may be predicated again. But as an actual, formal, historical sentence, pronounced by God upon us, not so. We must distinguish between God’s looking upon the elect in the purpose of his grace, and the objects of justification lying under the sentence of the law: in the former, He loved His people with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3); in the latter, we were “by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3). Until they believe, every descendant of Adam is “condemned already” (John 3:18), and to be under God’ condemnation is the very opposite of being justified.
In his ponderous treatise on justification, the Puritan Thomas Goodwin made clear some vital distinctions, which if carefully observed will preserve us from error on this point.
“1. In the everlasting covenant. We may say of all spiritual blessings in Christ, what is said of Christ Himself, that their ‘goings forth are from everlasting.’ Justified then we were when first elected, though not in our own persons, yet in our Head (Eph. 1:3).
2. There is a farther act of justifying us, which passed from God towards us in Christ, upon His payment and performance at His resurrection (Rom. 4:25, 1 Tim. 3:16).
3. But these two acts of justification are wholly out of us, immanent acts in God, and though they concern us and are towards us, yet not acts of God upon us, they being performed towards us not as actually existing in ourselves, but only as existing in our Head, who covenanted for us and represented us: so as though by those acts we are estated into a right and title to justification, yet the benefit and possession of that estate we have not without a farther act being passed upon us.”
Before regeneration we are justified by existing in our Head only, as a ‘feoffee’ (one who is given a grant), held in trust for us, as children under age. In addition to which, we “are to be in our own persons, though still through Christ, possessed of it, and to have all the deeds and evidences of it committed to the custody and apprehension of our faith. We are in our own persons made true owners and enjoyers of it, which is immediately done at that instant when we first believe; which act (of God) is the completion and accomplishment of the former two, and is that grand and famous justification by faith which the Scripture so much inculcates—note the ‘now’ in Romans 5:9, 11; … God doth judge and pronounce His elect ungodly and unjustified till they believe” (Ibid.)
God’s elect enter this world in precisely the same condition and circumstances as do the non-elect. They are “by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3), that is, they are under the condemnation of their original sin in Adam (Rom. 5:12, 18, 19) and they are under the curse of God’s Law because of their own constant transgressions of it (Gal. 3:10). The sword of divine justice is suspended over their heads, and the Scriptures denounce them as rebels against the Most High. As yet, there is nothing whatever to distinguish them from those who are “fitted to destruction.” Their state is woeful to the last degree, their situation perilous beyond words; and when the Holy Spirit awakens them from the sleep of death, the first message which falls upon their ears is, “Flee from the wrath to come.” But how and whither, they, as yet, know not. Then it is they are ready for the message of the Gospel.
If the elect were justified in eternity, then it would be a misnomer to term them as ‘ungodly’! But who is it whom God justifies? The holy, the faithful, the fruitful? no, the very reverse: “Him that justifieth the ungodly.” [Rom 4:5] What a strong, bold, and startling word is this! It becomes yet more emphatic when we observe what precedes: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly.” They are denominated, and considered as ungodly when the sentence of justification is pronounced upon them. The mere sinner is the subject on which grace is magnified, toward which grace reigns in justification!
In the sight of God’s law every one whom God justifies is “ungodly” until Christ’s righteousness is made over to him. The awful sentence “ungodly” rests as truly upon the purest virgin as much as it does upon the foulest prostitute until God imputes Christ’s obedience to her.
THE ELECT ARE JUSTIFIED NOT IN ETERNITY, OR AT THE CROSS BUT WHEN IN FAITH THEY BELIEVE IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST!