False Claims against Eternal Justification Cleared

Found this post on the PuritanBoard and thought I should pass it on:

False Claims against Eternal Justification Cleared

I came upon an article on Banner of Truth Trust that made some false claims on those who hold to the doctrine of eternal justification like me and others, and thought it useful to clear up the smoke before more name-calling of such accusations as “hyper-Calvinist” and “Antinomian” occurs.

First of all the doctrine of eternal justification is largely misunderstood by most Reformed Theologians who do not hold it. The article, which is found on Banner of Truth Trust General Articles is supposedly a summary statement of John Flavel’s arguments against it. I have inserted my comments in bold under the author’s words. For a proper understanding of the doctrine see John Gill’s body of doctrinal divinity on 5. Of Other Eternal and Immanent Acts in God, Particularly Adoption and Justification.. The article reads:

“[The doctrine of eternal justification, a chief tenet of Antinomian Hyper-Calvinism, is dealt a crushing blow by the Puritan John Flavel in an appendix to his Vindiciarum Vindex. Flavel rightly describes it as an attempt to fight against the free grace of God under grace’s own colours. Hence its success in deceiving the unwary. The following is a summary of his arguments against it, extracted from his general condemnation of Antinomianism. Ed.]

Flavel first concedes that the notion of justification from eternity is not as great an error as the Popish view, which depresses the righteousness of Christ and exalts inherent righteousness. He further believes that some 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, he sees it as dangerous teaching that needs to be exposed. Six of the grave errors connected with it are:

1. The elect were justified in eternity (or at the time of Christ’s death).
This is a half-truth, as the elects were justified when the covenant of redemption was ratified by Christ, which is from eternity because Christ is eternal in his divinity.
2. In justification the elect are persuaded of Christ’s love for them.
This is a straw-man. It is the cross that persuades me of Christ’s love.
3. We ought no more to question our faith than to question Christ.
Another straw-man.
4. Believers should not confess sin or pray for its forgiveness, because all their sins being pardoned from eternity, they are no longer sins.
A straw-man that also poses some problems for the standard reformed definition of justification too.
5. God sees no sin in believers, whatever sins they may commit.
Straw-man.
6. To say that God is angry with the elect is a reflection on His justice.
These, says 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.
This is a matter of semantics, as there is a sense where God hates the elects and loves the reprobate. See Dr. McMahon’s article: All house and no doors: A Brief Critique of Hypercalvinism,

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. Eternal justification and the decree of justification are one and the same. See John Gill’s definition of eternal justification as an immanent act of God: 5. Of Other Eternal and Immanent Acts in God, Particularly Adoption and Justification.Of course, justification is purchased at the cross and received by faith in Christ.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. Here the author speaks of vital union which indeed takes place in time. But Scriptures also speak of a union that is eternal and forms the basis of vital union. It is both irrational and unscriptural to imagine that men can be justified before they exist. Garbage. The same is said by Arminians in claiming that God cannot elect a ‘non-entity’, so election must be an act that takes place after conversion since God cannot elect a man before he exists.God’s purpose or intention to justify them is not the same as His actually justifying them. Then why does Scripture speaks of justification also as a deed of the past as in Romans 8:30?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. This verse speaks of one decree, not of a sequence of decrees. Moreover, Gill reponds to Turretin’s same argument as follows:

“2b7d. It is observed, that the apostle, reckoning up in order, the benefits which flow from the love of God to the elect, in his famous chain of salvation, sets calling before justification, as something antecedent to it, (Rom. 8:30) from whence it is concluded, that calling is in order of time, before justification. To which I reply, that the order of things in scripture is frequently inverted. The Jews have a saying[20], that there is nothing prior and posterior in the law; that is, that the order of things is not strictly observed; to put that first which is first, and that last which is last; but the order is changed, and therefore nothing strictly can be concluded from thence; even the order of persons in the Trinity is not always kept to, sometimes the Son is placed before the Father, and the Holy Spirit before them both; which, though it may be improved into an argument for their equality, yet not to destroy the order among them; and so with respect to calling, it may be observed, that it is sometimes placed before election, (2 Peter 1:10) but none but an Arminian would argue from thence, that it is really before it in order of time, or that men are not elected until they are called: on the other hand, salvation is placed before calling (2 Tim. 1:9). “Who hath saved us, and called us”, &c. from whence we might, with as great propriety, argue, that salvation, and so justification, precedes calling; as to argue, from the other text in Romans, that calling precedes justification, in order of time. Indeed, nothing is to be concluded with certainty, one way or another, from such modes and forms of expression. Justification, as a transient act, and declarative, follows calling; but as an immanent act in God, it goes before it, of which we are only speaking, as ought always to be remembered.

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. Gill points out that there is no more problems in speaking of justification before faith as in speaking of justification before satisfaction is made at the cross. If justification is the fruit of satisfaction, how is it that Abraham was justified before Christ died?Justification is not, therefore, from eternity.

Eternal justification does not teach that man was saved before he was lost, but that the Father regarded Christ’s death as being effectual from eternity. There is nothing derogatory to Christ here. The Father did not have to wait for Christ to do his work before justifying any sinner, for He knew Christ would keep His words and obey the will of His Father. As soon as the covenant of redemption was scealed by Christ, all the benefits of His death were made available. For Christ being fully God, could not fail in His mission.

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.”

Again, I do not hold this view, and shall not respond to this false charge.

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.

I agree with the author here.

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)

Those who hold to Flavel’s definition of justification place the act of justification immediately following, regeneration or saving faith. To make justification a single act following regeneration poses the same problem as to why sinners are called to confess their sins. Does it follow that sinners become unjustified every time they sin? No. The purpose of praying for forgiveness and remission of actual sin is not to maintain our justification but to be freed from actual guilt, and to communicate to God our sorrow and repentance. Besides, justification being an immanent act of God belong to His secret will, and needs not be pried into any more than election.

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.”

If sin is justified after confession, then it follows that we better be aware of all the sins we commit, lest there be one that we forgot to confess before our death and are not justified from.

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).

Again, I agree here with Flavel.

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.

I agree that there is a sense in which God may be angry with his elects, and that he lets them know of divine indisposition in time towards them. But to say that God is passionately frustrated by his elects because there are not living holier lives, I uterly deny. The sins that God has forseen in us to commit 10 years from now are just as grievious to Him as those we committed yesterday. That God punishes us after we commit sins in time is due to the cause-and-effect relationship of our physical existence in the presence of His eternal and spiritual existence. In eternity, God never responds to man; it is only in time that He may respond to us, as through our prayers.

We should be thankful for Flavel’s refutation of this dangerous error, for in some quarters there is a resurgence of it. Like the supralapsarianism to which it is linked, it derives not from Scripture, but from Plato, via Philo the neo-Platonist Jew and Polanus’s ‘Syntagma Theologiae Christianae’, a standard text-book among theological students after the Reformation. The Platonic archetypal theology it expresses forces Biblical truths concerning God’s way of salvation into a rigid strait-jacket that warps the way they are to be understood. Such archetypal theology belongs only to God, and is confined to the perfect knowledge He has of Himself. Into such realms we are forbidden to pry. And whenever the outcome of such prying imposes a restriction on the clear Gospel message of justification through faith in the precious blood of the only Redeemer of God’s elect, it both detracts from the free grace of God and closes the door of salvation to poor, needy souls. May we be warned. Theologians can devise subtle ways of excluding both themselves and others from the kingdom of God. There is only one answer to the momentous question: “What must I do to be saved?” It is: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13.39)

I am not a supralapsarian, and John Gill actually shows that eternal justification has nothing to do with supralapsarianism in the following article: 8. Truth Defendeed. Eternal justification was taught by many divines including Ames, Goodwin, Gill, Twisse, and Kuyper. John Gill writes that it “is no other than what many eminent divines of the highest character for learning and judgment, have asserted, as before observed; and it is to such as these Dr. Owen[21] refers, when he replied to Mr. Baxter, who charged him with holding eternal justification; “I neither am, nor ever was of that judgement; though as it may be explained, I know better, wiser, and more learned men than myself, (and he might have added, than Mr. Baxter,)that have been, and are.””

Flavel is merely over-reacting with respect to the semantics that much smarter theologians than him have used to define justification as an immanent act. In the end he was probably fighting against some ignorant street preachers of his day who thought to understand the true doctrine of eternal justification. Justification is the same as the decree of justification, just as election and the decree of election are one and the same. To call the doctrine “eternal justification” is simply to guard against the Arminian abuses of justification as being effected by faith rather than by God’s free grace. Since the Arminians believe that faith is a choice, they believe in justification by choice rather than justification by faith. To them there is no decree of justification and sanctification does not necessarily follow from justification as a basis. “

Jean-David Jutras
URCNA
Alberta

(end quote)

In the same thread THE CONCLUSIONS OF UTRECHT (1905)

B. Eternal Justification

In regard to the second point, eternal justification, Synod declares:

* that the term itself does not occur in the Confessional Standards but that it is not for this reason to be disapproved, any more than we would be justified in disapproving the term Covenant of Works and similar terms which have been adopted through theological usage;

* that it is incorrect to say that our Confessional Standards know only of a justification by and through faith, since both Gods’ Word (Rom. 4:25) and our Confession (Article XX) speak explicitly of an objective justification sealed by the resurrection of Christ, which in point of time precedes the subjective justification;

* that, moreover, as far as the matter itself is concerned, all our churches sincerely believe and confess that Christ from eternity in the Counsel of Peace undertook to be the Surety of His people; taking their guilt upon Himself as also that afterward He by His suffering and death on Calvary actually paid the ransom for us, reconciling us to God while were yet enemies; but that on the basis of God’s Word and in harmony with our Confession it must be maintained with equal firmness that we personally become partakers of this benefit only by a sincere faith.

Wherefore Synod earnestly warns against any view that would do violence either to Christ’s eternal suretyship for his elect, or to the requirement of a sincere faith to be justified before God in the tribunal of conscience.

(end quote)

Yours in the Lord,

j

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “False Claims against Eternal Justification Cleared

  1. Thank you for posting this. It is certainly true that “…the doctrine of eternal justification is largely misunderstood by most Reformed Theologians who do not hold it”. The false claims in this smoke screen, whether made intentionally (evasive motive) due to an inability to respond otherwise, or unintentionally due to misunderstandings (ignorance or lack of objective analysis) certainly need to be cleared up and swept aside. More could be said, to be sure, but we do not need to “reinvent the wheel” when those who have gone before us like Gill have ministered so remarkably on this issue. A doctrine of justification based on the human rather than the divine perspective inevitably will fall short of the revelation of God Himself concerning this fruit of His uniting us to His Son in the eternal decree.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: