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Thread: Eternal Justification and the Early Church Writers

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    Eternal Justification and the Early Church Writers

    I know this is an old topic. I believed in justification from eternity for a while, but I stopped believing because I couldn't find any record of it in the earliest of church writers. I see that the scripture could be interpreted both ways, either for or against eternal justification, and since I can't find this belief before the 16th-17th century, I assume it is more probably a later invention of men. Honestly, nothing brought me more joy than believing in J from E. So, if anyone can provide me reason to believe it despite what I wrote above, I would be absolutely thrilled.

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    Hi Alex, I remember our long discussions a couple summers ago. Yes, the doctrine of Justification from Eternity is such a comforting doctrine. I can point you to a person who believed in it. The Apostle Paul. Gottschalk of Orbais may also have believed it from the middle ages.. Approx 800 AD. I don't know for sure though....

    "... Therefore, if God gave His Son even for all of the reprobate, then He has given to them with Him all good things, and through this also eternal life. But He has not given them with Him all good things. Therefore, He did not give Him up for them ... Therefore, if Christ died even for the reprobate, then the reprobate too, having been justified in His blood, will be saved from wrath through Him. But the reprobate will not be saved from wrath through Him. Therefore, Christ did not die for the reprobate. (Answers to Various Questions - translation Genke & Gumerlock)"

    ... the one who says that the Lord suffered generally for all, for the salvation and redemption of both the elect and reprobate, contradicts God the Father Himself (Tome to Gislemar - translation Genke & Gumerlock)

    Indeed, just as He [God] predestined all of the elect to life through the gratuity of the free grace of His kindness, as the pages of the Old and New Testaments very clearly, skillfully, and soberly show those seeking wisdom on this matter, so also He altogether predestined the reprobate to the punishment of eternal death, of course, through the most righteous judgment of His immutable justice. (Fragment from Hincmar of Rheims, De pradestinatione, 5 [PL 121, p. 365 - translation Genke & Gumerlock]; similar comments are found in Godescalc's own Longer Confession).

    This man suffered widely for his beliefs. The people who you HOPE also believed it probably put this man to death. And if he wrote about it - they probably burned it. Anyway, you DO NOT KNOW what was believed by who throughout history. For you to base your belief on the faithfulness of MAN is a very shaky foundation. I believe God and His word - not what some popish churchmen might say. - Brandan

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    I would just like to chime in here and add this:

    Eph.1:3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
    4According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
    5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
    6To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
    7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
    8Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
    9Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
    10That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
    11In 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:
    12That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
    What exactly does Paul mean in verse 3 and for that matter verse 4, if he's not talking about EJ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander
    Honestly, nothing brought me more joy than believing in J from E. So, if anyone can provide me reason to believe it despite what I wrote above, I would be absolutely thrilled.
    I would stick to scripture and not rely on the lack of the early church fathers holding to a particular doctrine to form your views. Scripture is clear and the opinions of man is irrelevant. If you look at some of the doctrines from the 2nd - 16th centuries that these so called "church fathers" held to that are now rejected as error why would we look to any of them to confirm and validate our beliefs.

    2 Timothy 1:8-12 "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, (9) who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, (10) and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, (11) for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, (12) which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me."

    Titus 1:1-3 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, (2) in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began (3) and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

    Romans 9:19-24 "You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (20) But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (21) Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (22) What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, (23) in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (24) even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?"

    Also check out "Justification as an Eternal and Immanent Act of God" by John Gill.

    https://www.pristinegrace.org/media.php?id=354

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    2 Tim. 1:8-12 is so clear and unmistakable in what it teaches that I can't imagine anyone denying justification from eternity. God not only purposed this great Grace to occur once we were given faith, he actually GAVE it to us in His own eternal disposition, in the purposed Person and Work of Christ, for all ages independent of space, time, law, and sin. This letter is Paul's only ''last will and testament" before his execution that we have! --Bro. Bob
    Last edited by Bob Higby; 01-11-19 at 09:08 PM. Reason: typo correction

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    Since Paul prophesied to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 that the great apostasy against the gospel, with lying teachers at the helm in charge, who were even now 'among them', the writings of the 'fathers' from 70 A.D. onward have no authority whatsoever unless their teaching is in harmony with the apostolic gospel (most of it is not). The one-bishop rule in assemblies that affirmed 'all church power is of God' started in the late first century. --Bro. Bob

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    I think this article by Nicholas (I miss him...) hits the spot too... Alex, I really think you should read this article called "Reality Check" from our good friend and former contributor to this website, Nicholas Laurienzo.

    https://www.pristinegrace.org/media.php?id=1176

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    I think it's how we define justification from eternity that we need to dismantle.

    In one sense, I personally believe there's no biblical merit for it if viewed through a lens that we were simply "born" justified in the sight of God because, for me, this lacks depth and further evaluation. This line of reasoning negates the necessity of a penal, substitutionary atonement.

    With that said, I think there's a way to understand Justification from Eternity that congeals perfectly with what the bible says about salvation. If we make an appeal to the objective and subjective trajectories of redemption it becomes a little easier to bring the issue into focus.

    Firstly, from God's perspective (objectively speaking), there was never a time when the elect was facing the 'dangers of hellfire' as it were. As Forester pointed out from 2nd Timothy, this grace was given to us, in Christ, before the ages began. Obviously, we didn't exist at that point in time, so the thrust of Paul point is focused elsewhere. What Paul is doing here is using language to communicate the reality of God's 'steadfast-lovingkindness' for His people, in Christ, and His eternal plan for their redemption, reconciliation, and restoration; the choosing of "few" from among a group of "many" before the creation of the universe.

    Secondly, from our perspective (subjectively speaking) - a perspective of being temporal creatures whos experience of existence is linear in nature - our perception of reality is that once we were estranged from God, dead in our trespasses and sin. This horrifying reality was unbeknownst to us until we encountered the living Christ through the preaching of His Good News. Where we once were blind, we now see. He truly did save us. This is the subjective nature of the experience of justification.

    To reconcile the two with simplicity, I think Brandan once said it best (of which I've quoted many times since), so I'll paraphrase him again;

    "The decree is issued in eternity, consummated at the cross, and applied to the elect in time".

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    The way I have resolved this issue in past discussions is to recognize the tri-dimensional nature of justification as taught in scripture--justification purposed (in eternity transcendent of time), justification constituted (at the completion of the saving work of Christ on Earth), justification declared (when faith is given after regeneration). So we are not 'justified by faith' in the progress of actual history until God creates such faith in us personally by the Holy Spirit. The declared aspect extends from that point forward to all eternity future, including especially at the final judgment (vindication of the elect before all of resurrected mankind). Those who deny justification from eternity also generally deny justification at the cross (the constituted aspect historically for all the elect). Personal justification for the elect beyond the cross was declared first with the gift of faith this, is important to note. Christ uttered each of our names publicly (before the angels and saints in heaven and to our own consciences) when faith was first given. --Bob

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    It’s a confusing thing, eternity, especially in relationship to time.

    I find it helpful to compare God's love to his people from eternity, with the idea of justification from eternity. After all, almost everybody of a Reformed persuasion agrees that God loves his people from eternity.

    When we read, in scripture, that God loves his people from eternity, I assume we would all agree that the object of his love does not exist from eternity. Nobody that I know of claims that human beings exist from eternity. In other words, in loving his people from eternity, God loves a people who exist in time. From eternity, God's people are not "yet" born, so to speak; but he still loves them. God's love from eternity reaches "forward" (so to speak) to those existing in time.

    So in one sense, you could say, God does not love his people from eternity, in the sense that he doesn't love anyone who actually exists from eternity. But nobody speaks like this. When people say that God loves his people from eternity, they're not saying "there are people who exist from eternity, whom God loves." They're saying, instead, that there are people who exist in time, whom God loves from eternity.

    Now let's apply the same language to "justification." In one sense, it doesn't work to say anyone is justified from eternity, because nobody exists from eternity, other than God. Nobody is justified from eternity because nobody is anything from eternity. But again, nobody speaks like this. When people say that God justifies his people from eternity - or counts them righteous from eternity - they mean that God, from eternity, looks upon a people who exist in time, and counts them righteous in Christ. In this sense, it is right to speak of eternal justification, I believe. How else is God, from eternity, going to look upon his (righteous) people, clothed in his righteousness, in Christ, in time? Is he going to think they're wicked? That would be wrong, because they aren't. They are created in Christ Jesus, begotten of the Spirit of God, as Paul said, "ye have been washed, but ye have been sanctified, but ye have been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11).

    In another sense, we could say that God's people are justified from the moment they believe. Have you ever wondered, when God's people are born again, of the Spirit of God, "who/what exactly gets born?" Well, it’s a believer. The new man of righteousness is a man who, by nature, trusts in God his saviour. Therefore, when we say that the people of God are counted righteous (justified) we're saying that believers are counted righteous. In this sense, it doesn't make sense to speak of justification apart from faith. On the flip side, it makes perfect sense to speak of justification apart from works, as new born babes in Christ are not born with good works. Sola fide.

    As for the early church "fathers," does it really matter what they said? I mean, I know they were closer to the apostle's time, but they didn't get everything right, and it seems to me they got quite a lot wrong, including some basic matters of translation.

    I hope this helps. If you disagree, please let me know. I don't get everything right and I like to hear other opinions. I don't like being corrected, but don't worry about that, do it anyway. I'll get over it.
    Last edited by alt731; 01-15-19 at 05:31 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by alt731
    I assume we would all agree that the object of his love does not exist from eternity. Nobody that I know of claims that human beings exist from eternity. In other words, in loving his people from eternity, God loves a people who exist in time. From eternity, God's people are not "yet" born, so to speak; but he still loves them. God's love from eternity reaches "forward" (so to speak) to those existing in time.
    I think this depends on perspective. God is outside of time. In Genesis 1:1, God created the heavens and the earth and thus created time. God is separate from time and is not bound within its constraints. God sees the beginning and the end of time all at the same time (Rev 22:13). Eternity is essentially outside of time as well. So from God's perspective, humans beings exist both in time (God's Creation) and from eternity (as viewed from God). Check out Ecclesiastes 3:11-15.

    Ecclesiastes 3:11-15 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (12) I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; (13) also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. (14) I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. (15) That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.


    I think verse 15 is very interesting. "That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been.." God is not within time as we are. He sees creation, Christ's death, and today all the same along the timeline. To God, any event in our human timeline, is not past, present or future, it is eternity. Something that is quite difficult for us to comprehend.

    God is said to inhabit eternity (Isaiah 57:15). It is outside of time. It is not linear. Sounds like some sort of science fiction movie when you think about it but it is what it is. It is how God describes it. Psalms 90 gives us a good view of how we should think about it.

    Psalms 90:1-4 A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. (2) Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (3) You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” (4) For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.


    This is man's best attempt to describe eternity. God's sees it all at once. Also see Psalms 93; Psalms 103 and many others. So when you look at is from God's perspective, we are actually justified from eternity. This is where God dwells and is outside time. It is applied and consummated at the cross by Christ within time and is applied to the elect within time, as they are bound to a specific point in creation and the timeline. Sometimes it helps me to think of all of creation of a bubble within the timeless eternity of God. God created this time bubble. (Obviously I watch a bunch of Star Trek). God sees everything in the time bubble (the beginning and the end) at once. God can intervene at any point within the bubble as he sees fit. It is His creation. When you look at Christ's death, even though it happened in time, it was applied in an everlasting / eternal way as Christ is God. Christ's death saved all elect throughout all time. For the old testament elect and new testament onwards. The power of the Christ's blood is eternal. Those pre-Christ's death look forward in the promise of a savoir and those after look at the reality of Christ. See Gen 3:14-15 for the first promise of a savoir from God.

    I wrote this article many years ago now to try to explain this. https://www.pristinegrace.org/media.php?id=1172

    Isaiah 45:15-25 Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. (16) All of them are put to shame and confounded; the makers of idols go in confusion together. (17) But Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. (18) For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other. (19) I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the LORD speak the truth; I declare what is right.


    2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
    Last edited by Forester07; 01-15-19 at 01:15 PM.

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