“God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.” – John Calvin
Eternal justification is a belief held by some men who assert that in no small part due to God’s immutability, God has always, from eternity, regarded His elect as justified. John Gill held to this view, as did Abraham Kuyper. Today, Don Fortner and George Ella hold to this view.
My response here is not meant to exist as a complete response to the erroneous view of eternal justification (Lord willing that will come at a later time), but rather to identify and correct the interpretation of the verses and passages most used by those people who have and do now espouse the view of justification from eternity. In that regard, consider my response here a quick reference guide.
#1 Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Eternal justificationists argue that the words “every blessing” means justification, because justification is a blessing; therefore, since Paul places every blessing in the past tense, then justification too must be past tense, or from eternity.
But eternal justificationists are equivocating here. The text does not say “some spiritual blessings.” Rather, it says “every spiritual blessing.” And surely every spiritual blessings means EVERY spiritual blessing. This would include not only justification, but also regeneration, conversion . . . even resurrection!
Obviously, if we are to maintain some sense in our interpretation, then we must be willing to regard the fact that when Paul wrote “every spiritual blessing”, he didn’t mean that all these blessings have come to pass from eternity. Otherwise, we would have to conclude that the resurrection has already taken place in eternity. I don’t think any of us want to go there. Eternal justificationists try to impress upon this verse the idea that the word every must include justification, but the fact is that the word every just simply will not allow us to conclude that the blessing of justification is something applied to us from eternity.
#2 2 Timothy 1:9 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.
Eternal justificationists argue that since God had purposed our calling from eternity, therefore the application of His purpose is also to be found in eternity.
Here again, eternal justification equivocate. The text says, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling.” The word “called” and not just the word “saved” is directly referenced in the text. Eternal justificationists must blatantly ignore the fact that the text also says God called us. When we account for the fact that He both called and saved, then the plain meaning of the text becomes clear. Paul is definitely not speaking to eternity here. Rather, he is simply speaking about people who have been converted. He is not instead making a universal statement about all the elect. It would be the same if a pastor made certain reference to the people in his congregation. “God has saved us and called us”, he might say. He does not mean God has saved and called everyone. Rather, he is speaking particularly about the people in his congregation.
#3 Numbers 23:21 He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel.
This represents not so much a bad translation as much as a failure to conduct a more diligent study of the text. Even without the help of modern translations to straighten out the meaning of this text, the immediate context of the KJV translation cautions us against a misunderstanding.
The immediate passage shows us that Balak had hired the sorcerer Balaam to curse Israel. Instead of cursing Israel though, Balaam is forced by the Spirit of the Lord to pronounce a blessing on Israel, much to Balak’s consternation.
In the particular section where verse 21 appears, Balaam reports that there is no power or magic that can halt Israel in its path . . .
“For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel.” And again, “Behold a people! As a lioness it rises up, and as a lion it lifts itself: it does not lie down until it has devoured its prey.”
. . . Balaam’s prophecies are about the might and power of Israel. He is telling Balak that there is no power on earth, no army nor sorcery that can withstand Israel’s approach. With this in mind, the meaning of the verse becomes clear. The iniquity that Balaam mentions is not in reference to Israel’s iniquity, but rather in reference to an enemy’s iniquity. There is no result of an enemy’s iniquity (sorcery) to be found anywhere in Israel. Modern translations show this.
ESV Number 23:21 He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has He seen trouble in Israel.
The passage is not saying that God has not found legal guilt in Israel. The passage has nothing to do with legal guilt. Rather, God is telling us that no weapon of sin formed against Israel could cause so much as a single hair of an Israelite’s head to fall. It was an unstoppable army, just as the Spirit of the Lord had caused Balaam to say!
#4 2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
If Paul had meant to say in verse 19 that God had reconciled His elect from eternity, then he contradicts himself just two verses later by saying God made Christ to be sin so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God. Eternal justificationists ignore this. “Might become” is not “has always been”. The text does not say we were already the righteousness of God, or even that we were becoming the righteousness of God. Rather, it says might become, or a better way to say that is “so that we would become”.
Who is the we here? Is it all the elect, or some converted people who Paul knew personally?
When we account for the entirety of the text and not instead only a portion of the text, it becomes clear that Paul is not speaking about an act from eternity, but rather about what God was doing for Paul and the Corinthians in Christ when Christ went to the cross. He was not counting their sins against them. Why? Because He was counting them to Christ at the cross. Does this mean He had justified them at the cross? No!
#5 1 Peter 1:20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.
Eternal justificationists confuse the word “foreknown” for the idea of “has happened.” However, the text does not say the cross happened from eternity, but rather that it was foreknown from eternity.
Ahab was foreordained to listen to the lying spirit who infected the tongues of his false prophets (1 Kings 22). Does the fact that he was foreordained to do this mean also that he did it from eternity? Of course not.
God’s elect were also foreordained from eternity to be regenerated and resurrected. Here again, does the very fact they were foreordained to be regenerated and resurrected mean they already were? Of course not. If already cannot be applied to the foreordained in the case of regeneration and resurrection, or even in Ahab’s case, then neither can it be applied to foreordained in this one.
#6 Revelation 13:8 the lamb slain from the foundation of the world
Clearly the text does not mean Christ did not die 2000 years ago. Nor does the text indicate that God is confused about when Christ died! Galatians 4:4-5 reads, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Clearly, Revelation 13:8 is speaking to the idea of the cross being foreordained from eternity much the same way 1 Peter 1:20 does. Christ was foreordained from the foundation of the world to be the lamb slain in time for His people’s sins. Acts 4 makes this even more clear.
Acts 4:27-28 For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Predestined does not mean pre-happened.
#7 Romans 4:17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” – in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Eternal justificationists argue that since Abraham was made the father of many nations before he became a father, he was therefore made a father of many nations from eternity. The last part of the text is given undo stress – “who calls into existence the things that do not exist”. The argument is that God did not need Isaac to exist in order to make Abraham a father of many nations, therefore Abraham was made a father of many nations from eternity.
This argument ignores the complete testimony of Scripture.
When did God make Abraham a father of many nations? The Scriptures very clearly tell us when.
Genesis 12:1-3 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Genesis 17:5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
The Scriptures tell us plainly that when Abram set out from Canaan to the land God had promised him, he went with the promise that God would make him a father of many nations. Eleven years later, after Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, and while Sarah was still without a son, God entered into the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and there announced for the first time that Abraham was now the father of many nations.
So then, when did God make Abraham the father of many nations? When He entered into the covenant of circumcision with Abraham.
There is nothing in the Romans 4 text that denies this. Nowhere does Paul mention the when of Abraham’s fatherhood. He only states that faith was present when God made him the father of many nations.
Abraham had been foreordained from eternity to be the father of many nations. This does not mean he was born a father of many nations. While it is true that God did not need Isaac to exist in order to make Abraham the father of many nations, the text makes very clear that Abraham became what God had promised he would become when Abraham was brought to faith in God. Faith was not the cause, but faith was the when. As in all the previous cases, foreordained does not mean already is.