by Peter Ditzel
The justification of the Old Testament patriarchs
Someone may ask, But is not the justification of the patriarchs before the atonement of Christ proof of justification before the Cross and, therefore, evidence of justification from eternity? In fact, Peter Meney writes, “Christ’s sin-bearing was in the eye of God from eternity. The patriarchs were justified during their lives but before the time of Christ’s death by being declared righteous on account of the future shed blood of their Redeemer (Job 19:25). Since God has Christ’s atoning work ever before His eyes it is clear that those atoned are also always before God’s eyes. The elect are justified from eternity.”
Oddly enough, Meney’s sentence, “The patriarchs were justified during their lives but before the time of Christ’s death by being declared righteous on account of the future shed blood of their Redeemer (Job 19:25),” answers why the patriarchs were justified and has no necessary connection to Meney’s conclusion, “The elect are justified from eternity.” The patriarchs were saved by their faith in God’s promises of a future Messiah, who, as Job expresses in the verse Meney cites, would be their Redeemer.
Let’s use Abraham as an example of an Old Testament patriarch. Romans 4:3 and 9 tell us “that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.” One would indeed have to be blinded to the meaning of Romans 4 and Galatians 3 to not see that God promised to Abraham that the coming Messiah would be born in his line of descent and that Abraham’s faith in this coming Messiah was “accounted to him for righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). Galatians 3:8 is perfectly clear: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” And notice Romans 4:19-25: “And being not weak in faith, he [Abraham] considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it [belief or faith] was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” Abraham was justified in the same way we are justified: through faith. Where is justification from eternity in these Scriptures? It is not to be found. It is a perverse doctrine that is totally foreign to these or any Scriptures!
Peter Meney also brings up another argument for justification from eternity that must be addressed. He says, “Justification does not require the instrument of faith: the elect who die in infancy have not exercised faith or fulfilled the act of believing, yet they are justified.” A proper response to this statement really requires a full article on the death of infants. I realize that this is an emotional issue for many people. It is often difficult to get people to focus on what the Scripture actually says when the issue is emotional. Nevertheless, I will try to state my answer succinctly.
I, and I hope everyone who reads this, trust that God knows what He is doing. I also trust that God has revealed His plan of salvation in Scripture, and I see nowhere in Scripture the idea that anyone can be saved apart from exercising faith. I also see nothing in Scripture of the death of elect infants. What I do see in Scripture is a God who is in complete control of the universe. God will bring all of His elect to salvation, and He has given abundant witness of the means in Scripture.
Why, then, does anyone think that an infant who dies in infancy is an exception? The Bible does not say so. The teaching may have its historical roots in the Catholic doctrine of the baptismal regeneration of sprinkled infants that results in their becoming children of God. But the reason this unscriptural teaching continues to flourish, even among Baptists, must be the consolation of the parents. Instead of consoling the parents by bolstering their faith in God’s sovereignty, many ministers have inexcusably led the parents to believe that the child was (or, at least, may have been) elect, and, if elect, then saved merely by election (or, in the case of some ministers, with the addition of the fabricated idea of justification from eternity).
Anyone who points out that the entire weight of Scripture is against this belief is immediately labeled as cruel and unfeeling. But isn’t it a greater cruelty to cause parents to believe such a fairy tale fib? The truth is that the Scriptures tell us that God is patient and waiting for all the elect to come to repentance and belief: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any [of us, that is, the elect] should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Truly, God is not willing that any of the elect perish. But how are they to not perish? They will come to repentance—the Greek word is metanoia, a change of mind. One way this change of mind displays itself is in faith. The Scripture gives us no loopholes: “by grace are ye saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
So, what about infants who die infancy? The Scripture leaves us with no other answer than that they must not be elect. Certainly, this is sad. But is it any sadder than for parents who, over many years of loving parenting, have raised their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord only to have the son or daughter in adulthood reject it all, live the life of a reprobate, and perhaps even die an early death as a result, thus removing all hope? I venture that these parents have an even tougher trial. But all can take comfort in God’s sovereignty.
Peter Meney’s argument for justification from eternity based on the supposed case of elect infants dying before they can exercise faith must be rejected because the Word of God says nothing of the possibility of such a thing.
More Scriptures cited by Dr. Ella
About 45 minutes into his talk, Dr. Ella rearranges Ephesians 1:3-4 to support his cause. This is what he says: “Ephesians 1:3 tells us, however, that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ, and surely justification is a spiritual blessing, before the foundation of the world.” But this is what Ephesians 1:3 actually says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” Ella has tagged “before the foundation of the world” onto Ephesians 1:3 where it does not belong. Of course, Ephesians 1:4 says, “According 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.” The blessings are not before the foundation of the world, the choosing is. Election is logically prior to the foundation of the world. His giving and our receiving of these blessings, including justification, take place in time.
Dr. Ella then correctly cites 2 Timothy 1:9, but, I propose, misinterprets its meaning. Notice God’s Word: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” Notice that the Scripture says that God’s purpose and grace to call and save us were given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. Is this saying that we were called and saved before the world began? No. We were called and saved in time according to God’s purpose and grace given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. The purpose of the verse is to emphasize that God determined our salvation before our works, before our birth, even before the world began by gifting His purpose to save and His grace to us, who did not yet exist, as in Christ Jesus. If we had an actual existence in eternity that coincided with this gifting, so that we could receive it then—so that we were actually justified then—it a) might have been according to our works and thus be contrary to the primary theme of the verse, and b) there would then be no need for justification to occur in time except to make real to our consciences what had already taken place in eternity. But if this were true, then Christ’s death and resurrection would also be unnecessary except that, once it becomes the object of our faith, it might inform our consciences of the justification that really took place in eternity. Thus we see that this teaching drains the Cross of Christ of any real effect except as a symbol to bring something to our minds and is only a hop, skip, and a jump from Peter Abelard’s idea that Christ simply set us a good example!
Even Gill does not dare use this verse the way Ella does. Gill sees it as referring to God giving grace to Christ as the covenant head of the elect, not to God giving grace to the elect directly in eternity, because they “did not then personally exist, yet Christ did, and he existed as a covenant head and representative of his people; and they were in him, as members of him, as represented by him, being united to him; and this grace was given to him for them, and to them in him; in whom they were chosen, and in whom they were blessed with all spiritual blessings.” What Gill writes does not have to be seen in the context of justification from eternity. It agrees with the biblical understanding that we have already seen that these gifts of grace do not become our possession until we exercise the gift of faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Copyright © 2009 Peter Ditzel