The Great Exchange

The Great Exchange and Forensic Justification in the Early Church Fathers

by Craig Truglia of Orthodox Christian Theology
The Great Exchange

Some Catholics and Eastern Orthodox like to say Martin Luther invented the concept of the “Great Exchange.” The Great Exchange, in short, teaches that Christ bore the punishment for our sins, thus satisfying God’s need for justice, but at the same time credited us Christ’s righteousness.

A graphic representation of what 2 Cor 5:21 amongst other Scriptures teaches about the Great Exchange.

The Scripture is abundantly clear that Chris bore the penalty for our sins:

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed (Is 53:7).

My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities (Is 53:11).

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors (Is 53:12).

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col 3:13, 14).

To doubt that Christ bore our iniquities and paid their penalty on the cross, is in my mind, is completely unthinkable. Being that there are Catholic apologists that for whatever reason reject this plain statement of fact, my response to them is that this is not an idea Luther invented.

The Epistle to Diognetus, written in the second century, understood the ramifications of Christ baring the burdens of our sins, if not also crediting us His righteousness:

He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors (Chapter 9)!

The underlined is where we may infer that the Epistle taught the positive imputation of Christ’s righteousness. However, because it is inferred it is not convincing to Catholics or Eastern Orthodox who find it hard to believe that unrighteous men like us can really be credited fully righteous as Christ.

It is not an idea that is explicit in the Scripture. We may infer it from passages that speak of us being “in Christ” and others such as Eph 5:31-32 which speak of the Church’s literal union with Christ. The idea is, if the Church (with its believers) are literally one with Christ, they my be accounted as righteous as Christ upon judgment.

Indeed, this is an interpretative stretch, but one that appears justified by 2 Cor 5:21 which states, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Christians are not merely made righteous or credited as righteous in a theoretical sense, but really “become the righteousness” specifically “of God” and not their own, an “alien righteousness.”

Now, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox reject this for legitimate interpretive reasons, but also because of its ramifications. If believers are in union with Christ, and this happens upon faith in Christ, then good works wrought in holiness really do not make one more righteous in any way. Instead, it is Christ’s righteousness that really makes us righteous, not us conforming or doing something in accord with Christlikeness. Hence, we can be really unchristlike, but be accounted fully as righteous as Christ due to our union with Him.

This does not mean that by necessity all Christians achieve equal awards in heaven. The Scripture mitigates against this as does the interpreters of the early church, specifically Jerome in his letters against Jovanian.

However, it does mean that our justification is a completed act because of what Christ done, not an ongoing event. Our union with Christ does not increase in time, rather it gets consummated specifically upon Christ’s second coming.

This is why Protestants teach “Forensic Justification,” which in short means that justification is a completed and not a ongoing act. We simply can point to Scripture that uses the words “believed” and “justified” in the past tense to show that the event already occurred. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox accuse of of preaching a novelty. However, let our argument be based upon the Scripture and not tradition, because we are not the first to traditionally to espouse the idea. Cyril of Jerusalem writes:

Oh the great loving-kindness of God! For the righteous were many years in pleasing Him: but what they succeeded in gaining by many years of well-pleasing , this Jesus now bestows on you in a single hour. For if you shall believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved, and shall be transported into Paradise by Him who brought in there the robber. And doubt not whether it is possible; for He who on this sacred Golgotha saved the robber after one single hour of belief, the same shall save you also on your believing (Catechetical Lecture 5, Chap 10).

Chrysostom concurs in his exegesis of Rom 3:26:

He does also make them that are filled with the putrefying sores of sin suddenly righteous. And it is to explain this, viz. what is declaring, that he has added, That He might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus. Doubt not then: for it is not of works, but of faith: and shun not the righteousness of God (Homily 7 on Romans).

Now, because all of this seems a great deal more theoretical than the negative imputation of our sins onto Christ, Catholics and Orthodox will accuse us Protestants of coming up with an innovation. I must respectfully disagree.

For one, Augustine interpreted 2 Cor 5:21 as teaching the positive imputation of Christ’s righteousness:

He does not say, as some incorrect copies read, He who knew no sin did sin for us, as if Christ had Himself sinned for our sakes; but he says, Him who knew no sin, that is, Christ, God, to whom we are to be reconciled, has made to be sin for us, that is, has made Him a sacrifice for our sins, by which we might be reconciled to God. He, then, being made sin, just as we are made righteousness (our righteousness being not our own, but God’s, not in ourselves, but in Him); He being made sin, not His own, but ours, not in Himself, but in us, showed, by the likeness of sinful flesh in which He was crucified, that though sin was not in Him, yet that in a certain sense He died to sin, by dying in the flesh which was the likeness of sin; and that although He Himself had never lived the old life of sin, yet by His resurrection He typified our new life springing up out of the old death in sin (Chapter 41, Handbook on Hope, Faith, and Love).

Many Protestant interpreters like to say that Jesus Christ was fully obedient to the letter of the Jewish Law, henceforth fulfilling the Law and its righteous requirements on our behalf. Not all ECFs affirmed this idea, but Athanasius did and he writes specifically that it is this righteousness that is credited to the Church:

It is necessary therefore it is necessary to believe the Holy Scriptures to confess him who is the first fruit of us to celebrate the philanthropy of him who assumed our nature to be struck with wonder at the great dispensation to fear not the curse which is from the Law for Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law Hence the full accomplishment of the Law which was made through the first fruit must be imputed to the whole mass (Athan Synops Sacr Script lib vii in Epist ad Rom Oper vol ii p 125, see link here).

Jerome concurs:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law being made a curse for us Properly He was not under the curse because in all things He perfectly fulfilled the Law And therefore in the matter of debt our debt has been paid off by his curse so that He should set free from all obligation those who pass over to faith (Comment in Epist ad Galat iii, see link here).

Chrysostom also concurs, stating in his comments on Rom 8:4–

For the righteousness of the Law, that one should not become liable to its curse, Christ has accomplished for you.

Now there is more on the topic, but I think I have shown enough from both the Scriptures to justify Protestant doctrine and tradition to show that our doctrine is not an innovation. In fact, I would say that the burden of proof is on those that would teach that righteousness is infused into a believer and not a completed event:

An eternal rest remains to those who in the present life have wrestled legitimately which rest is given not according to the debt of works in way of just retribution but is bestowed to the grace of an abundantly bountiful God to who have hoped in Him(Basil, Homily on Psalm 104, see link here).

An eternal rest remains. It is a completed state, it is not a state that continues and grows over time. To God, the author and perfecter of our faith, be the glory forever. Amen.


The Difference Between John Gill’s Free Declaration of the Gospel to Sinners and the B of T’s ‘Free Offer’

Posted in 2011:

“What is the difference betwewarhol_gillen Gill’s ‘free declaration of peace and pardon, righteousness, life and salvation to poor sinners’ and the ‘free offer’ and ‘duty faith’ of those who deny outright that Gill appealed to all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel?” [Read more here.]

What’s a Hypo-Calvinist? [here]

A History of Hypo-Cavlinism [here]

Union with Christ

philpotYou will observe, then, that when the apostle speaks of these Corinthian believers as being “in Christ Jesus, ” he intends thereby to set forth their personal standing in the Son of God under two distinct points of view:

1. As originating in eternity;

2. As taking place in time. In other words, every believer has a twofold union with Christ; one from all eternity, which we may call, an eternal, or election-union; the other in time, through the Spirit s operation in his heart, which we may call a time, or regeneration-union. Let us attempt to unfold these two kinds of union separately.

1. Every soul, then, that ever had, has now, or ever will have a standing in Christ, had this standing in Him from all eternity. Just in the same way as the vine, according to the Lord s own figure, puts forth the branches out of the stem; not a single branch comes out of the stock but what previously was in the stock: so, not a single soul comes manifestatively into spiritual existence which had not first an invisible and eternal union with the Son of God. This eternal, immanent, and invisible union with the Person of Christ, God blessed his people with before all worlds, by his eternal purpose, and according to his own eternal counsel.

2. Now, out of this eternal and immanent union springs the second union that we have spoken of, which is a time union -a union in grace: a vital union betwixt a living soul and a living Head. Until the Lord quickens elect vessels of mercy they have eternal union, but they have not time union. Their eternal union never can be altered: that never can be dissolved: that accompanies them all through their unregenerate state: but their vital, spiritual, and experimental union takes place in time, through the teaching, and under the operations of the blessed Spirit.

But what a mercy it is for God’s people that before they have a vital union with Christ, before they are grafted into him experimentally, they have an eternal, immanent union with him before all worlds. It is this eternal union that brings them into time existence. It is by virtue of this eternal union that they come into the world at such a time, at such a place, from such parents, under such circumstances, as God has appointed. It is by virtue of this eternal union that the circumstances of their time-state are ordained. By virtue of this eternal union they are preserved in Christ before they are called; they cannot die till God has brought about a vital union with Christ. Whatever sickness they may pass through, whatever injuries they may be exposed to, whatever perils assault them on sea or land, fall they will not, fall they cannot, till God s purposes are executed in bringing them into a vital union with the Son of his love. Thus, this eternal union watched over every circumstance of their birth, watched over their childhood, watched over their manhood, watched over them till the appointed time and spot, when “the God of all grace,” according to his eternal purpose, was pleased to quicken their souls, and thus bring about an experimental union with the Lord of life and glory.

But this time union, this vital, experimental union, we may speak of also under two distinct points of view.

– J. C. Philpot

What kind of love it is.

God loves us eternally,

“The love of God in itself is the eternal purpose and act of his will. This is no more changeable than God himself: if it were, no flesh could be saved; but it changeth not, and we are not consumed. What then? loves he his people in their sinning?

Yes; his people, — not their sinning.

Alters he not his love towards them? Not the purpose of his will, but the dispensations of his grace.

He rebukes them, he chastens them, he hides his face from them, he smites them, he fills them with a sense of [his] indignation; but woe, woe would it be to us, should he change in his love, or take away his kindness from us! Those very things which seem to be demonstrations of the change of his affections towards his, do as clearly proceed from love as those which seem to be the most genuine issues thereof. “But will not this encourage to sin?” He never tasted of the love of God that can seriously make this objection. The doctrine of grace may be turned into wantonness; the principle cannot. I shall not wrong the saints by giving another answer to this objection: Detestation of sin in any may well consist with the acceptation of their persons, and their designation to life eternal.” Of Communion with the Triune God, chp. 3

johnowenOwen on God’s love toward His people,

“It was fixed on us before the foundation of the world. Before we were, or had done the least good, then were his thoughts upon us, — then was his delight in us; — then did the Son rejoice in the thoughts of fulfilling his Father’s delight in him, Prov. viii. 30. Yea, the delight of the Father in the Son, there mentioned, is not so much his absolute delight in him as the express image of his person and the brightness of his glory, wherein he might behold all his own excellencies and perfections; as with respect unto his love and his delight in the sons of men.

So the order of the words require us to understand it: “I was daily his delight,” and, “My delights were with the sons of men;” — that is, in the thoughts of kindness and redemption for them: and in that respect, also, was he his Father’s delight. It was from eternity that he laid in his own bosom a design for our happiness. The very thought of this is enough to make all that is within us, like the babe in the womb of Elisabeth, to leap for joy. A sense of it cannot but prostrate our souls to the lowest abasement of a humble, holy reverence, and make us rejoice before him with trembling.” Of Communion with the Triune God, chp. 4


Job Hupton:

Gospel justification is an act of the gracious will of God, by which the elect are constituted completely and immutably just, or righteous, in Christ Jesus, by the imputation of his righteousness to their persons. Union with the glorious Mediator is the basis upon which it rests; as no man is justified who is not united to him, so no man is unjustified who is united to him. We have no authority whatever in the Holy Scriptures, to say either that a person who is not in him is righteous, or that one who is in him is unrighteous : it is in him that all the seed of Israel are justified ; because in him they have righteousness. THOUGHTS UPON THE DATE OF JUSTIFICATION

Eternal Union & Tobias Crisp

John Gill:john_gill

The only writers, in the times referred to, that I have met with, who assert even union before faith, are Richardson (Answer to Dr. Homes, p. 111-12), and Crisp (Christ Alone Exalted, Vol. I, Sermon VII, p. 104, Vol. III, Sermon VII, p. 597, 599, 600; Sermon VIII p. 609, 614-617), who yet speak not a word of eternal union; neither do they, or the writers above-mentioned, professedly treat of the doctrine of union in any sense, but only take notice of it as it falls in their way. I read their books with greedy expectation of frequently meeting with the doctrine of eternal union, in hopes of finding arguments for the confirmation of it, and of receiving more light into it, which I believe to be an eternal truth. Eternal union was so far from being a subject much insisted on in those times, as you say, that I do not find it was insisted on at all.
As to the notion of sin’s doing a believer no harm, Eaton, Saltmarsh, Simpson, and Town, say nothing of it; nor have they any thing like it, that I have met with, in their writings; and I could easily fill up whole pages with passages out of them in which they express their abhorrence and detestation of sin, and their great regard to a holy life and conversation.

Richardson and Crisp are the only writers, in those times, that I have observed to make use of any expressions of this kind. As for Richardson, he has but one single passage which looks any thing like this notion, that sin does a believer no harm; which is this (Justification by Christ Alone, p. 21): “If all things work together for our good, then, says he, all falls, pains, diseases, crosses, afflictions, &c. do us no hurt, but work for our good; all things work for our good (Rom. 8:28).” And yet this is no more than what many sound divines have said, who never were charged with Antinomianism; when they assert, that all things, even the sins of God’s people, are overruled by a kind and good Providence for their good, as their afflictions and crosses are; and by falls into sin doing no hurt, he means the hurt of punishment, as is evident from the whole of his reasoning and argument in that place. He clearly hints, in many places, at the hurt that comes by sin, with respect to a believer’s peace and comfort, the damage it does to others, and the dishonor it brings to God; “Be afraid to sin, says he (Counsels, p. 98), and use means to prevent it; consider God hath forbidden it (Rom. 6). Consider sin in the nature of it, in the root and fruit of it: it is the price of blood; there is no true sweetness in sin, no contentment no satisfaction in it, why you should desire it? it fills the soul with wounds, sorrow, bitterness, shame; let experience speak.” And, in another place, he says (Counsels, p. 150-51): “We should be afraid to sin, 1. because it is forbidden by God. 2. It is dishonorable to him. 3. It encourageth others to sin. 4. It will fill our souls with sorrow to sin against so loving a Father and to dishonor him, &c. Having sinned, if but in the least measure, we should be so fain from covering it with any pretence or excuse, that we should abhor it, and ourselves for it, with the greatest detestation?” And elsewhere he says (Divine Consolations, p. 245); “Be sure ye allow yourself in no sin, but in the strength of God hate and abhor, with the greatest indignation, all sin, and the appearance of it; it is better to die than to sin. There is that which accompanieth sin, which strikes at a believer’s peace and comfort; it will damp, straiten, and oppress the soul; it will hinder their comfort, joy, and peace in God, unless God doth wonderfully strengthen their faith in him; we find by experience, that sin is a lett to our faith and comfort, it having often unsettled and disquieted us in our peace and comfort, though we ought not to he so.”

Crisp is the only writer that expresses himself freely and largely on this subject:, and with the least guard (Christ Alone Exalted, Vol. I. Sermon X, p. 157; Vol. III. Sermon I, p. 509-14; Sermon II, p. 528-29; Sermon III, p. 46, &c.); and yet when he says, that “believers need not be afraid of their sins, his meaning is not, that they need not be afraid of sins committed, as Hoornbeeck, Witsius, and Chaunecy, have justly observed; and when he says, that “the sins of believers can do them no hurt: by hurt he means, the hurt of punishment, penal evil, or the penal effects of sin which believers are freed from, and therefore shall never enter into a state of condemnation, Christ having bore their sins, and made satisfaction to justice for them; but then he speaks of sin, in its own nature, as odious and dreadful to believer’s, and of bitterness and evil, as the certain fruits of it. The Doctor, I verily believe, used these expressions in a sound sense, and with a good design; not to encourage persons in sin, but to relieve and comfort the minds of believers, distressed with sin; yet, I must confess, I do not like the expressions, but am of opinion they ought to be disused.

And now surely, Sir, this single author’s using of this expression, and that not in the gross and vile sense of it, cannot be sufficient to bear you out, in saying, that sin s doing a believer no harm, was much insisted on in those times: I can hardly think you have any reference to Archer’s book, called Comfort for Believers about their Sin and Troubles; in which the author exhorts believers not to be oppressed and perplexed for their sins: though he acknowledges that godly sorrow and true shame become them, and says, that till they have it, God will not own them. He asserts in so many words, “that we may safely say, that God is, and hath an hand in, and is the author of the sinfulness of his people.” (Horresco referens!) and what is enough to make one shudder at the reading of, he says, that “all the sins which believers are left to, they are through and because of the covenant of grace left to them; and the covenant implies a dispensation of sinning to them, as well as other things:” And adds, “By sins are they as much nurtured and fitted for heaven, as by any thing else.” All which is blasphemous, vile and abominable; and for which if I mistake not, the book was ordered to he burnt by the common hangman. I say, I can hardly think you can have reference to this author; for though he asserts this notion in the grossest sense, and in the vilest manner, yet it unhappily falls out for you, that this man was not for eternal union, but for union by faith; he frequently observes, that faith immediately unites to Christ, and is the bond of union to him, and what brings the Holy Ghost into the soul. If you had this author and his book in your eye, you should rather have said, that “union by faith, and sin’s doing a believer no harm, were much insisted on in those times.” – source

General Call or Free Offer?

General Call of the Gospel, free

“Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel” (II.5) Canons of Dort

Free Offer or Well Meant Offer of the Gospel,

“God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate.” Orthodox Presbyterian Church statement

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.
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

(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,


Preserving Grace Before Regeneration

“To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” Jude 1philpot

What a mercy it is for God’s people that before they have a ‘vital union’ with Christ—before they are grafted into Him experimentally—they have an ‘eternal, immanent union’ with Him before all worlds. It is by virtue of this eternal union that they come into the world—at such a time, at such a place, from such parents, under such circumstances—as God has appointed.

It is by virtue of this eternal union that the circumstances of their lives are ordained. By virtue of this eternal union they are preserved in Christ before they are effectually called. They cannot die until God has brought about a vital union with Christ! Whatever sickness they may pass through—whatever injuries they may be exposed to—whatever perils assault them on sea or land—die they will not, die they cannot—until God’s purposes are executed in bringing them into a vital union with the Son of His love.

Thus, this eternal union watched over every circumstance of their birth—watched over their childhood—watched over their manhood—watched over them until the appointed time and spot, when “the God of all grace,” according to His eternal purpose, was pleased to quicken their souls, and thus bring about an experimental union with the Lord of life and glory. – J. C. Philpot

Eternal Counsel of Redemption

Abraham's Seed

Whenever we consider the sovereign Providences of God which were planned before time and brought to fruition in time; a key Scripture passage that should orient our minds in the way of truth is Ephesians 1:4-11, which states (in part):

According as he [Christ] hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will…In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will

He Works ALL THINGS According to the Counsel of His Will

In this text, Paul teaches us that Christ has chosen “us” to be redeemed “through his blood”, which is “the forgiveness of sins” (vs 7)…

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