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Answering Flavel on Eternal Justification

    In the commonality of brotherhood and our Christian tradition there have been many opportunities for disagreement. I am of the mind to encourage that practice (as Scripture teaches 'iron sharpens iron') and to offer a dispute with our brother John Flavel who is even now, by his profession, in the bosom of our Lord.

    In his writing, our brother disputes the doctrine known as Justification from Eternity (or in that day, Eternal Justification). I will be answering specifically a summary of his critique and the subsequent arguments raised alongside it in defense of this glorious doctrine.

    First, allow me to compile his list of 6 'grievous errors' associated with the doctrine and respond to them individually and corporately: 

  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.
    In regards to some of these comments, I cannot speak to the context that Flavel lived in. Despite having little to do with the doctrine itself, it is possible that there were men who taught these. As such, points 3 and 4 are not in dispute. No honest Christian, regardless of his stance on the timing of Justification, teaches that Christians ought to abandon their duty of testing and growing their faith, or that sin should remain unconfessed and unrepented of. Regardless of the immanence of the Justification given to us in the work of Christ, our sins are no less sins, deserving of death and maring our continued walk in the faith. The issue under discussion is the nature of Justification as an eternal and immanent act of God and the ground and surety of our statis before the Throne of God.
 
    Likewise, issues 2 and 5 ought not to be contentious either. Surely our brothers can agree that it is the regenerate nature (our heart of flesh), responding in gratitude to the purchase Christ has made, that assures us of the love of Christ for us. We know that He comes for His own, laying down His life for His sheep, washing His bride in His precious blood. This is the promise that draws the regenerate heart unto Christ and gives us confidence in His eternal love for us. Any failing of our assurance or fault in our conscience is the result of our own imperfections and has no bearing on the perfection of Christ's work or our assurance in it. Similarly, Scripture teaches in many places that God remembers our sin no more, casting it farther than the east is from the west. We are hidden in Christ, clothed in His righteousness, and forever seen as sons instead of enemies. Both of these are confirmed in Scripture in places too numerous to document and ought not be problems for any believer to question. As with the points above, these have nothing to do with the issue at hand and can hardly be called objections to our point.
 
    And so, with finality we come to the issues that bear on the doctrine itself. The first point, that the elect were justified in eternity, is in essence the doctrine itself. To say that is a 'grave error' without argument is the intellectual equivalent of "nuh uh" and honestly requires little to no response. Our brother argues that our justification must be in time because it is applied in time at the moment of faith, as taught in places like Romans 5. He also points out that the union of believers with Christ occurs at faith and is based on His work, both of which take place in time. The most pointed contention is that men must be lost to be saved, meaning they must first be under the wrath or condemnation of sin before they could be redeemed. Each of these is essentially the same issue: Since the works that accomplish Justification occur in time, Justification itself must also occur in time. What these objections fail to realize is two-fold. First, this objection cuts both ways and is far more of an issue for the objector than us. If the cross is necessary in time before Justification can be realized, did any Old Testament saint know he was Justified? Does Scripture not teach that God overlooked the saints of old in view of their covenant status in Christ? How much more, since that Covenant was purposed before the world was, is that true of all the saints ever to live? But more importantly, These objections miss the point of the discussion entirely. Justification is an immanent act of God. It is in His court and before His throne that we are judged and found to be just. This occurs in the mind of God and has its surety in the purpose of God which He brings to pass without fail. Why could God not view us in light of His perfect decree? He who wrote history in His wisdom, unfolds it by His will, and secures it by His power has every ability to justify and condemn in accordance with that purpose. This is an issue of the grounds of justification, not the question of its application. We do not dispute that God applies our status at the moment of faith, nor that Christ came to accomplish it in time, nor even that our final declaration comes at the close of history. Our point is merely that none of these were ever in question, ever in doubt as to whether they would happen. They exist and have their form in the mind of God and flow from His will into completion and accomplishment as His hand guides. He accomplishes because He purposes, not the reverse.
 
    Our final point concerns the issue of God's wrath on His elect in time. Again, the question is begged by the assumption that time is a factor in the ground of Election and Justification. If Justification occurs in the mind of God, Election occurs before creation, and the surety of our salvation is grounded in the purpose of Christ's work, then God sees us only ever as His elect and beloved, regardless of our status at certain points in time. Did God hate David his whole life because he lived before Christ? Did God hate us before we were born since we had yet to believe? Did He view us as the sinners we would be born as, or the redeemed He purposed us to become? Did He view us as neutral, or as nothing at all, before our first breath? How else would God perceive His beloved bride then as she is in His mind? Our surety is not in our faith, or in time, but in the perfect purpose and decree of God before the world was. Our dear brother's challenge creates far too many problems in its endeavor to safeguard the faith of the elect. 
 
    Our purpose in thinking on this topic is to exalt the works and purpose of God. His perfect decree and sure work are the ground alone of our Justification and give us strength in the face of our difficulties. It grounds us in the knowledge that as vessels of mercy we have been purposed and shaped from our first to final breaths, focused not upon ourselves but on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The charge that we are Platonists, or that Justification from Eternity plumbs depths known to God are alone, have no grounds and ought to be rejected. We call our doctrines out of the Scriptures themselves and need not appeal to the philosophical whism of pagans. Let the man who challenges us (in the fellowship of love and brotherhood), examine his own answers to these questions and search the Scriptures for the truth. May we all continue to grow in grace and knowledge of the truth that God may raise us up even more in the image of our Elder Brother, doing the works to which we were called. Let our love of the brethren, pursuit of virtue, and strength of mind be our hallmarks, to the glory of God alone.
Topics: Hyper-Calvinism Gospel Distinctives
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