justified personally

Justification from eternity is considered to be a doctrine outside of the Reformed Confessions. Understood. I still believe it is biblical nonetheless. To my surprise I found an interesting twist, a different way to approach the doctrine that may settle the uneasiness that surrounds this dreaded doctrine. It seems Thomas Goodwin believed we are justified in our federal head from eternity by virtue of our surety’s promise and justified in time personally by faith.

Beeke and Jones explain Goodwin’s position in three points:

  1. Immanent in God towards us, as his Eternal love set and passed upon us, out of which He chose us, and designed this and all blessings to us;
  2. Transient, in Christ done for us; in all He did or suffered representing for us, and in our stead; or
  3. Applicatory, wrought in and upon us, in the endowing us with all those blessings by the Spirit; as calling, justification, sanctification, glorification.

“It is important to note that immanent works take place in eternity; transient works have in this context reference to work of impetration, (the part of salvation done by Christ as mediator) done in time; and God’s applicatory acts, which are existentially experienced, compete the process of redemption.” (Beeke & Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. page 135)

A change that the authors of the Savoy Declaration made to the Westminster Confession of Faith reflects the dynamics of Goodwin’s position on this point, though one should be careful not to read too much into the change, because Owen clearly sought to distance himself from any form of justification from eternity, Chapter 11.4 of the Westminster Confession reads: ‘God did, from all eternity, decree to justify 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 until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time actually apply Christ unto them.’ The Confession rejects a form of eternal justification that would make existential faith merely the realization or manifestation of what is already true. However, the Savoy Declaration adds a significant adverb to this statement, making it read like this: ‘God did from all eternity decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did in the fullness of time die for their sins, and raise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified personally, until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them’ (11.4, emphasis added). By adding ‘personally’ to 11.4, the Congregationalists, no doubt influenced by Goodwin, still reject justification from eternity, but leave open the possibility for Goodwin to hold that the elect are eternity justified in their Head, though not personally. (Beeke & Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. page 137)

I have yet to read Goodwin to any great extent but he’s approach seems to make good(win) sense.

Particular Baptists of the 17th century followed the language of the Savoy and left the word personally in Chapter 11.4.  I cannot help but wonder if any of the Baptists who framed and or signed the 1689 believed in justification from eternity.




  1. irishanglican ~ Fr. Robert · May 21, 2013

    Calvin wrote a piece in 1552 called: Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. This was later seen in the, or at least parts of it in the work, The Secret Providence of God. This is published by Crossway, 2010 and edited by Paul Helm.

    • jm · May 21, 2013

      Excellent! Thank you brother Robert. Helm is Anglican?

  2. John T. Jeffery · May 21, 2013

    This is very interesting! I am glad that Beeke and Jones brought this out. That being said I continue to maintain (in agreement with you, I am sure), that “justification in time” has no reference to the perspective of God. God is the one who justifies, and a forensic justification only has His satisfied pronouncement as a referent. Being chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), with our names written in the Lamb’s book of life “from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 17:8), crucified in union with Him (Gal. 2:20) who was slain “from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), to enter into the rest of God’s works finished “from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3), leaves no room for a justification that waits for a temporal pronouncement by the justifying God who transcends the temporal. Case in point: Abraham’s justification must not be seen as suspended until the Cross lest the argument of its timing relative to his circumcision fall to the ground, nor was this necessary from the perspective of the Holy One who inhabits Eternity. One of the problems I see with the theological “slicing and dicing” from Goodwin is the attempt to see justification as both forensic and experiential. Another is that the completion of the work of redemption appears to be left to our response of faith. Sometimes what appears to be solutions have the potential to create worse problems. In the case of Abraham and other Old Testament believers the “applicatory” (3) is seen as occurring prior to that which is referred to as the “transient” (2). This is not a problem with a God whose justifying decree is eternal and transcendant, but certainly should be to theologians who are not considering it from His perspective.

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