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:
- 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;
- Transient, in Christ done for us; in all He did or suffered representing for us, and in our stead; or
- 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.