Misinterpreting John Murray
Something that must be addressed in this article is the fact that Dr. Ella in his talk most obviously misinterprets John Murray. I don’t want to be misunderstood here as either defending John Murray or of accusing Dr. Ella of purposefully misrepresenting John Murray’s position. Nevertheless, Ella quotes Murray in a quote taken from the Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 2, 202-203, and makes observations about what Murray says that misconstrue the plain meaning of Murray’s words.
Dr. Ella states: “Murray says in his work on justification, ‘Justification is not the eternal decree of God with respect to us,’ so God in eternity has nothing to do with our justification.” Notice that Murray says that justification is not the eternal decree of God, but Ella interprets this to mean that Murray is saying that God in eternity has nothing to do with our justification. This is a serious misrepresentation. It is as if I said that a baseball is not a homerun, and someone then claimed that I said that a baseball has nothing to do with a homerun. Or, to use similar terms to those I used earlier, it is as if I said that loving a woman is not actually marrying her; and then someone came along and misrepresented me as saying that loving a woman has nothing to do with marrying her. I trust you see the difference.
Continuing with Ella’s quote of Murray: “‘nor is it the finished work of Christ for us, when once-for-all he reconciled us to God by his death,’ so,” interprets Ella, “it is not the finished work of Christ that justifies us,” and then going back to the quote of Murray, “‘nor is it the regenerative work of God in us, nor is it any activity on our part in response to and embrace of the gospel, but it is an act of God, accomplished in time wherein God passes judgment with respect to us as individuals.’” Ella then interprets Murray: “So, God has not decreed our justification in eternity, He has not justified us through the saving work of Christ, He has only justified us when He finds that we happen to believe and because of that belief we gain or earn our justification.”
Notice: Ella claims that Murray is teaching that God has not decreed our justification in eternity, when, in fact, Murray says no such thing. Next, Ella avers that Murray teaches that God has not justified us through the saving work of Christ, when, in fact, Murray says Christ’s finished work is not justification. Then Ella alleges that Murray teaches that God justifies us when He finds that we “happen to believe” and because of that belief we “gain or earn” our justification, when, in fact, Murray says that justification is not “any activity on our part in response to and embrace of the gospel, but it is an act of God, accomplished in time wherein God passes judgment with respect to us as individuals.” This does not at all say what Ella interprets it to say. Murray makes no mention of “happen to believe,” and he says nothing of “gain or earn.” This is serious misrepresentation. I will not belabor the point, but will mention that Ella goes on in his talk to make further allegations about Murray’s position that he does not substantiate from Murray’s own words.
I do not know why Dr. Ella implies that justification by faith alone (as opposed to justification from eternity) is incompatible with the imputation of real righteousness in Christ. Why cannot one believe in justification by faith alone while also believing in the imputation of real righteousness in Christ? Our righteousness or justification is real because it is His righteousness, and we are in Him. Again, when we are declared “not guilty” and “righteous,” it is real because of the imputation of Christ’s passive and active obedience to us. Ella gives no necessary reason why our actual justification must be from. Why must we be justified from eternity for Christ’s atonement to truly remove our guilt? Why must we be justified from eternity for Christ’s fulfillment of the law to be our fulfillment of the law? In fact, Christ’s death has caused us to be dead to the law so that we can never be guilty again (Romans 7:4). But Dr. Ella fails to show what any of this has to do with his assertion that justification must be from eternity.
Dr. Ella says that justification is antecedent to faith, and that we do not believe in order that we are given the right to be justified. Naturally, to say the latter would make faith a work that earns justification. But Dr. Ella seems to fail to see that, if both faith and justification were gracious gifts of God (as they are), then the exercising of the one (faith) would not be the earning of the other (justification). We have no right to either, but faith is merely the antecedent gift to the gift of justification. Ella states: “Effects follow causes, therefore, justification must be before faith.” But this is founded on the assumption, not found in the Bible, that justification is the cause of faith.
Gill, like Ella and Meney, also says that faith “is the effect of justification.” Yet, as we have seen, Scripture clearly reverses this order, so there is no reason to believe it. Notice that Galatians 2:16 says, “…we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ….” It does not say that we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we could become conscious of the faith we already have. Nor does it say that we have believed in Jesus Christ because the justification we have had from eternity has caused us to believe. Wherever we turn, we find that this doctrine of justification from eternity is contradicted by Scripture.
Questions for the Advocates of Justification from Eternity
How can someone who is already justified from eternity incur sin that can be imputed to Jesus Christ? In other words, what sins are there to be imputed to Jesus Christ if we are justified from eternity?
If God’s elect are justified from eternity, and must therefore have never had sin, for whose sin did Jesus die?
On the other hand, if we are both justified from eternity and condemned under sin at the same time, as Dr. Ella says, what kind of justification is this? Surely, it would be at best a phantom justification.
If the only difference our faith makes is in making manifest God’s eternal justification in our consciences, why does the Bible time and again say that we are justified, not just experience justification in our consciences, by faith?
To say, as does John Gill, that justification “is an immanent act in God” that “entirely resides in the divine mind” sounds like something more worthy of Mary Baker Eddy than John Gill. Peter Meney follows Gill in this error. He states: “Justification is an act which begins and ends in God and takes place outside of time. It is an immanent, internal act, initiated in the eternal will of God, acceptable to His grace and justice, consistent with His love, conducive to His glory. All this God ‘purposed in himself’ (Ephesians 1:9).” But everything is an immanent act in God’s mind. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to take place in time for us mortals. My death is an immanent act in God’s mind, but I’m not dead yet. Why, then, should a sinner’s justification as an immanent act in God’s mind mean that he is justified before he believes? Ephesians 1:9 says, “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.” This in no way supports the idea that “Justification is an act which begins and ends in God and takes place outside of time.”
Justification from eternity as taught by John Gill, George Ella, and Peter Meney is based on the false assumption that God’s will in eternity to justify is justification. Scripture proves this false time and again. Justification from eternity is also logically invalid. Justification from eternity confuses the ordo salutis, makes the gift of faith in Christ’s death instrumental in receiving only an awareness of a justification we already had, is internally inconsistent in saying that we are both justified and under condemnation at the same time, and, in the end makes justification to be nothing more than a phantom. Justification from eternity is a Christ-dishonoring doctrine that lowers the purpose of His atonement to the procuring for us of only the knowledge of a justification God has already given us by decree from eternity. Thus, justification from eternity misrepresents God’s plan of salvation. It can only mislead and confuse God’s people. For this reason, it is my prayer that the purveyors of this deceptive teaching will see that it is contrary to Scripture, repent, and cease teaching the human fabricated notion that God’s decree to elect in eternity is the actual justification of the elect from eternity.
Further Reading on the Web
For justification from eternity:
Justification as an Eternal and Immanent Act of God by John Gill
A Defense of the Doctrine of Eternal Justification by John Brine
Against justification from eternity:
The Doctrine of Eternal Justification: A Critique by Fred G. Zaspel
The Doctrine of Justification, 7. Its Objects by A. W. Pink
Eternal Justification by Louis Berkhof
Copyright © 2009 Peter Ditzel