Brother Beebe: - In heading this communication as "My Thoughts," I have only reference to the fact known to many of the Old School brethren that I differ in my views from them on this important article of gospel doctrine, or at least in my manner of treating the subject. Whether these views are thoughts of my own hatching, or whether I have received them from Him whose office it is to guide the disciples into all truth I leave for my brethren to judge for themselves.
I have for some time intended, as soon as opportunity would serve, to communicate my views on this subject. My wish for doing so has arisen from the circumstance that in occasionally touching this subject in preaching, my brethren have discovered a difference, without perhaps being able to discover, wherefore and wherein, I thus chose to make myself singular in departing from the beaten trail of our Old School brethren on this point. And I freely admit that my brethren have on their side all the true advocates for the doctrine of Sovereign grace, who have published anything on this subject, perhaps for the last hundred years; that is, so far as I have been acquainted with their writings. On the other hand, I have met with no human author who has advanced my views on this doctrine. But though I thus stand alone on this point, if it should be that my views, weak as I am, are sustained by the Scriptures of truth, they will stand the test.
I am further induced to publish my views from the circumstance that the fact of a difference on this subject having existed has been brought to the notice of the readers of the Signs through your Baltimore correspondent, (Signs, Vol.5, #13, pg.103). I would here just reply to our esteemed Baltimore friend that the correspondence between brother Hezekiah West and myself was not designed for publication, but merely for a free interchange between ourselves of the reasons of our different views on this point.
Lengthy as my apologies have already been touching this communication, I have still another one to offer, before I can enter upon the subject before me; that is, for coming out with this communication so soon after the publication of the recent Circular of the Licking Association lest any should suppose that I had the vanity to design this as an attack upon that ably written Letter. As I have already remarked, I have for some time had this communication in view; and I had intended writing it as soon as I had done with Mr. Giddings. Another inducement has pressed upon my mind for not delaying it, which I will not mention. Perhaps, however, it is quite as well on a general scale, though not so pleasant to me, that the two pieces should appear near together, as our brethren at large can thus conveniently compare the two, and see more clearly wherein the difference of our views consist and thus be able more clearly to judge of the correctness or incorrectness of my grounds for differing from my brethren on this point. I will now drop apologies and come to my subject.
My first objection to the term "Eternal Justification" as used by my brethren, or to the sentiment that the justification of the elect was an act of God passed in eternity, grows out of that prominent sentiment embraced in our Old School stand, namely: that a "Thus saith the Lord" is requisite to justify us in what we believe as well as in what we practice. I do not mean by this that the doctrine must always be expressed in the Scriptures in so many identical words. The doctrine of the "eternal union" of Christ and His people is not, that I know of, declared in just so many words in the Scriptures, yet I think this doctrine is therein clearly revealed. For instance compare Heb.2:11, "For both He that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified are all of one for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren," with Rom.8:29, "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the first-born among many brethren," and they show that the oneness or the union is of as old a date as the predestinating decree of God; and that we know that from Eph.1:4 & 5, to have been from before the foundation of the world. Inference is thus plain, because according to Heb.2:11, Christ recognized His people as brethren on the ground of their oneness with Him; and according to Romans 8:29, the predestinating decree of God recognized them as the many brethren among whom Christ was first-born. This doctrine is also taught by the several figures by which the union is illustrated in the Scriptures. For instance, in the figure of the creation of Adam and Eve. As Eve was of Adam's body, of his flesh, and of his bones, so the church is of Christ. (See Eph.5:25-32) Eve was created in Adam in his original creation. Gen.5:1 & 2. That the figure as used by the Apostle may hold good, we must therefore admit that the church was brought forth and set up in Christ, her head, when He was brought forth from everlasting, when there were no depths, &c. Prov.8:23,24. The same is further confirmed by the general doctrine of the gospel such as that they were chosen in Him, &c. Eph.1:4. I would here remark that the doctrine contained in this text is not that they were chosen into Christ; but chosen in Him. Neither does it sustain Doctor Watts in the following couplet:
"Christ be my first-elect he said,
Then choose our souls in Christ our head."
These lines found in that otherwise excellent hymn of Dr. Watts, 54th, 1st book, are in my estimation an entire departure from the Scripture doctrine; both in reference to the idea that our being chosen was an after act, and as to the notion of our souls being chosen in Christ. But to return to the subject, if there are any passages of Scripture having reference to justification, which thus represent it or bring it to view as an act passed in eternity, I have never discovered them, neither have the advocates of that sentiment, as far as I have seen, brought them forward. Besides there are texts which, so far as I understand them, plainly contradict that idea. As Rom.4:25, "Who was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification." If the sentence of justification in behalf of the church of Christ was actually passed in eternity I cannot conceive how Christ only eighteen hundred years ago was raised for our justification. We needed not to be twice justified before God. "For by one offering He (Christ) hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." (Heb.10:14) Remember, it was by one offering He perfected. They could not be justified from all things without being perfected, and the one offering which perfected them was that making His soul an offering for sin; that offering of His body once for all, which He has accomplished on Calvary, as a time act. (Isa.53:10 & Heb.10:10).
Again, according to Rom.3:24, we are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." This justification must be the act of God, being "freely by His grace," and it is through the "redemption that is in Christ Jesus." If so, the act of justification cannot be considered as actually passed until the redemption was actually made. Redemption is "through His blood." (Eph.1:7 & Col.1:14). Again, "In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son made of a woman and made under the law to redeem them that were under the law." (Gal.4:4,5). Hence, as redemption is so manifestly a time act for those who before "were under the law," I cannot believe that the act of justification was passed until Christ was raised again. It is true Christ is said in Heb.9:12, "To have obtained eternal redemption for us;" but a moment's reflection on the passage and its connection will, I think, convince any one that the redemption is here called eternal, not because it existed from eternity, but because it shall be, in its effects, of eternal or everlasting duration. The fact of Christ's obtaining it denies its having eternally been, as well as the connection.
I will not multiply testimonies upon this point seeing that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established. I will just ask how it is, if justification was designed to be received as an eternal act of God that it is never thus declared in the Scriptures? The choice and predestination of God are revealed as being before the foundation of the world; also that the "purpose and grace of God" were given in Christ before the world began.
I pass to a second objection, namely: That the sentiment of eternal justification as contended for perverts the plain Scriptural use and design of the term "justification." To justify and justification are terms which have special reference to legal proceedings as admitted by all writers on the subject, and signify the act of pronouncing a person clear from charges which may have been exhibited against him. In this sense these terms are evidently used in the Scriptures. We find them connected with law, Acts 13:39, with offences, Rom.4:25, with redemption, which, of course, refers to law, Rom.3:24. It is true that as taught in the gospel, justification has a more extensive bearing as used in other cases. The decisions of human judges whether in relation to the Sinai or other laws cannot embrace futurity; but the justification which the gospel reveals embraces all futurity, as well as past transgressions; it is a clearance from all the demands of the law past, present and to come; it is a judicial pronouncing of those whom Christ hath redeemed from under the law, as legally perfect, and that forever, as Christ "by His own offering hath forever perfected them." Hence justification is in this sense, as is the redemption obtained by Christ, eternal; that is, eternal in its duration. If then the meaning of the term "justification" refers exclusively to legal proceedings, and if it is uniformly so used in the scriptures, what can it have to do with any period before the foundation of the world? Before creatures had an actual existence and before therefore the obligations of law had any place? "Where no law is, there is no transgression" so of course no charge? How then can a legal sentence of justification be passed in the absence of all charge, of all law? It will be asked, had not the children of God an existence before the foundation of the world? I answer "yes" as is evinced by that I have said of the union of Christ and His people? They existed in Christ, as His seed, His bride, His body; as Adam's bride and posterity existed in him in his original creation. But this existence was as distinct from their existence in Adam and his posterity as Christ is distinct from Adam. And the Covenant under which they were set up and existed in Christ was equally distinct from the law under which Adam was created. This Covenant was "ordered in all things and sure;" had no requisitions to make excepting of Christ as its surety. (Heb.7:22). This existence therefore opened no room for the requisition of a legal justification. A legal righteousness could just as soon be required of the Son in order to His enjoying the love of the Father, as it could be required of His seed and bride as they thus stood in Him, heirs with Him, to the same inheritance. Herein, I cannot help imagining that my brethren have confounded, or at least, have not kept clearly in view the distinction between the headship of Christ and Adam, and between the law and the everlasting covenant. Herein also I object to the system of my brethren upon this point as transposing the act of justification from its relation to the law, to a provision to meet a demand of the everlasting covenant.
Should any say that they do not view the sentence of justification as actually passed in eternity, but only existing in purpose to meet the predetermined event of the elect's being created in a fallible head, and being left to fall into sin, &c., I would remark that I believe in the pre-existence of such a purpose, as strongly as any of my brethren do; and not only that such purpose existed in the Divine mind, but also that God made sure and full provision in Christ as the surety of the better testament to meet all the demands of law and justice, that, should stand against the elect, as they were to be related in time to the earthly head, Adam. But why confound language by representing that which existed only in the predeterminate purpose of God as being actually past in eternity? The creation of man was as much predetermined and stood as present to the view of God as did the justification of the elect. But I have heard of none who pretended to say that man was created in eternity. Why then say that the elect were justified in eternity? By this confusion of language will you not lead men to think that when you say that the people of God were elected in eternity you mean only that God proposed to elect them in time?
I will now notice some of the arguments used to support the sentiment of eternal justification. 1st. The argument drawn from the everlasting love of God to His people. This argument is that God could not have loved them as sinners, and therefore that He must have previously justified them that He might love them. But really if these premises were correct I do not see how this provision of justification would help the difficulty any. For according to this argument God must have extended His electing love to a people who were not then fit objects of His love, and provided for them a redemption in His Son, the strongest possible expression of His love, in order to justify them, and this done, that He might love them.
The premises, however, on which this, to me, absurd conclusion rests is wrong. Christ and not Adam is the channel through which the love of God flows to His people. Viewed in Christ their Head, and in that life which they had in Him, I may confidently ask what sin was then in Him as their Head to bar the love of the Father from them? And what love was there to charge a failure upon Him? Christ speaks of the Father having "loved them (His people) as He had loved Him." John 17:23. The Father loved Him as His only begotten Son, and not as having a legal righteousness to justify Him. And if He loved them as He loved Him, He loved them in Christ as His children and joint heirs with Christ; and above what a legal righteousness could entitle them to. The truth is, Christ as the only begotten Son of God and Head of the church, had a glory with the Father before the world was, which no law servitude, no legal obedience could add to; and when about finishing His servitude under the law as the Redeemer of His people, He prays the Father to restore Him to that same glory. And what is more, He says to the Father, "the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them." (John 17:5 & 22). And surely, if Christ had given them, through their union with Him, that glory which He had with the Father, nothing which the law could impart could be necessary to make them lovely in the sight of God. Again, although it pleased the Father that the members of Christ's body should have an earthly existence, as such be under the law and fall under its curse; yet that law with all its divine rigor could no more destroy the love which God in eternity had placed upon them in His Son, than the Sinai law thundering its curses from Mount Ebal (Deut.27:13-26) against the posterity of Abraham, could disannul the promise which had been confirmed only four hundred and thirty years before, of God in Christ, that is, to Abraham. (Gal.3:16,17).
As another plea for the doctrine of eternal justification, it is asked, if we admit that the sentence of justification was passed eighteen hundred years ago in behalf of the whole church of Christ, why not admit that it was passed before the foundation of the world? I answer, for two of the best possible reasons. First, because eighteen hundred years ago, Christ completed the redemption of His church, by which they were cleared from all the demands of the law in Him, it was therefore fitting that the sentence of justification should then be declared in their favor, in and through Him their Head. But previous to Christ's being made of a woman and made under the law, the redemption of His church from under the law was not actually paid, and the sentence of justification could not therefore previously be passed in their favor, without clearing Him, as He stood as their Head through whom the sentence must pass, and as one with them, from His obligation to suffer the penalty of the law, and without making void the law. Second, the Scriptures declare that Christ, eighteen hundred years ago, was raised for our (the church's) justification, but they no where declare that she was justified antecedent to His redemption. Again it is argued from the doctrine of imputation that the church was justified in eternity. To carry this out it has been said that it was in consequence of the sins of the elect having been imputed to Christ, and His righteousness, which if it had remained His own, would have sustained Him under the load of their guilt, having been imputed to them, that He was subjected to fall under the curse of the law. But this is not the way I have read the Scriptures. If I have read them right, this position must fall. First, it calls for a double righteousness; for if Christ originally had such a righteousness as the sins of His people called for, to shelter them, He needed it not, only as He was one with them; and if therefore it sheltered them it must equally have sheltered Him as one with them, so that the curse could not have troubled either, the Head or the body. In the second place, the Scriptures teach me that Christ had not originally such a righteousness as was called for by the sins of His people to cover them. What righteousness was this? Remember that their sins were altogether sins under the law, the righteousness therefore which could counterbalance them could be nothing other than a perfect actual obedience to the law, a complete honoring it as a transgressed law. This righteousness, holy and pure as He was before, Christ had not actually, until He was made under the law, took upon Him the form of a servant, became obedient unto death, &c. Let us see how the Scriptures read upon this point. "For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering." (Heb.5:9). Hence, there was a perfection, a completing, wanting in Christ as He stood connected with His people in their apostasy, and as their deliverer from sin, until He was "made perfect through suffering." Again, "He made Him to be sin for us," not because we had been made the righteousness of God out of Him - but, "that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." II Cor.5:21. More I need not repeat, but read for yourselves.
Another argument in support of eternal justification is drawn from the fact of the Old Testament Saints having been accounted righteous, or justified. The conclusion drawn is that if the sentence of justification was not passed until the resurrection of Christ, all that lived before His coming must have remained under the condemnation of the law. If there was nothing brought to light touching this point in the Scriptures, the above would appear a very plausible conclusion. Justification as presented to view in the Scriptures is in a two-fold relation.
The first is the public declaration from the throne of God of the justification of the whole body of Christ collectively, though having reference to every individual member thereof. This transaction was wholly with and through Christ as the Husband, and surety of His church. Her sins were laid on Him, law and justice looked to Him for satisfaction; He met the demand in that nature from which the law required it, and having in His death fully satisfied the demand, was raised again for the justification of His people. In the resurrection of Jesus by the power of God, in the same body in which He was delivered for the offenses of His people, not only was justice declared to be satisfied, and therefore their justification made manifest in Him; but also the righteousness of God was made manifest in justifying whosoever believeth in Jesus and also in the remission of sins that were past, or previous to the coming of Christ. Rom.3:35,26 & Heb.9:15. Here, therefore in this public declaration of justification, there was a reference to the individual justification of the saints under the former dispensation, as though that had been done in anticipation of the great sacrifice to be offered by Christ.
The second relation is the experimental justification of individuals. This is at the bar of the believer's conscience, faith is the medium by which this act of justification is communicated. "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom.5:1). This justification is necessary to our enjoying peace with God, and secures it. As it is by that faith which "is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen;" and as Christ was set forth from the beginning as the object of faith; hence said to the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," (Rev.13:8) I see not why the Old Testament Saints might not realize something of this justification and peace which we experience. But that they did not experience it in the same perfection I shall have occasion shortly to show. By Christ's being the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," I presume no one will contend that He was then actually sacrificed, and by the expression, "from the foundation of the world," I do not understand the act of appointing Christ, by the Father to be the sacrifice of His people, intended for that was from before the foundation of the world, I consider the expression as having special reference to the fact of His being set forth from the first introduction of sin; in promises, types, &c., as the Lamb which God had provided for sacrifice, and as the object of faith. Thus Abel offered his lamb in faith, (Heb.11:4) not faith in His sacrifice, but in the bloody sacrifice of the Lamb of God as showed forth by his. "For without the shedding of blood there is no remission," (Heb.9:22) consequently no justification. How does this stand with eternal justification?
My brethren, I think, ought to admit that if the act of justification in behalf of the saints was passed before the foundation of the world, the faith of all must look back to that act to find their justification in experience, seeing this is no other than a receiving and applying by faith the justification as found in Christ. According to the notion of eternal justification, Abel's faith must have had the same back and perfect view of justification as have ours. And we to find peace with God must not stop in our view by faith at Calvary. If then the Scriptures show that the faith of the Old Testament saints looked forward instead of backward for this justification, it is proof positive against the notion of their justification having been in eternity. Not to multiply proofs where one case in point is sufficient, I will just cite to Abraham's faith, the object of which "was accounted to him for righteousness;" and ask was that in a revelation which God made to him for something past? Or was it in the promise of something future? The apostle says, and that settles the point, "that God gave it to Abraham by promise." (Gal.3:18). See also Romans 4:20, 24, and notice the difference brought to view in this passage, in the manner in which the object of faith is presented to Abraham from what it is to us. Abraham believed that God "was able to perform that which He had promised." We believe He has performed it in that He "has raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." I will also notice one instance of prophetic faith, namely: Isa.45:25, "In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified and shall glory." This surely presents justification of something then future. Other passages will be found to correspond with the above, as this is the name whereby "He shall be called the Lord our Righteousness." (Not was called.)(Jer.23:6). Hence the Apostle's account of those worthies who went before (Heb.11:39,40), "And these all having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." They received a good report - the report of good to come, but the manifestation of this promised good they received not. This text not only manifests that the faith of the ancients was in anticipation of good to come, but it also shows that there was an imperfection connected with their faith which nothing but the coming of the gospel day could do away. "That they without us should not be made perfect." Hence it is no wonder that the prophets enquired - "searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory which should follow." (I Peter 1:10,11). There is a glory connected with the full manifestation of justification, which they had not. For though as the redeeming Lamb, Christ was "foreordained before the foundation of the world," yet He was not manifested until these last times, for those that believe. (I Pet.1:19-21). If these texts consist with the idea that the justification of the elect was completed in eternity, I must confess my utter inability so to understand them.
From the remarks which I have interspersed with my objections to the doctrine of eternal justification, it will be discovered that my thoughts concerning justification are that as it is presented in the Scriptures, it is altogether a legal transaction; though a gospel or gracious provision that has to do with the people of God, only as they stood connected with Adam, and under the law; and with Christ, as He was involved by His union with them in the demand of the law. That its use is to manifest their clearance by the redemption of Christ from under the law, and the righteousness of God in bestowing upon them, encompassed as they are with humanity and sin, the adoption of children. It is, I think, altogether a mistaken notion that justification is what entitles the saints to heaven. Equally erroneous is the notion that Christ by His death purchased heaven for His people. This union to Christ as His bride, His body, and being the children of God, is what entitles them to the heavenly glory. Justification could no more entitle them to heaven than the law could give life. (Gal.3:27). Hence, my view of justification is that it was a provision made for the people of God in Christ, and which they needed, wholly as they are creatures of time, and from the nature of it, that it is altogether a time act, though appointed and provided for in the counsel of eternity, as were all other time things.
In reference to the eternal standing of the elect before God, as they were set up in Christ, they forever possessed in Him a spiritual beauty, excellency, and glory which nothing arising from their connection with Adam and the law could ever add to, or diminish from, excepting on the one hand this connection was till they were delivered from it, an insuperable barrier to their inheriting the kingdom prepared for them, and indeed to their being manifested as the sons of God; and on the other hand the experimental knowledge which they thereby have of the evil and misery of sin, and of the grace, love and mercy of God, manifested in delivering them from their thralldom and sin, will enhance to them the excellency and enjoyment of their heavenly inheritance.
I have thus given a summary of my thoughts upon this subject. If they are wrong, it is because I have a wrong understanding of the Scriptures upon this point. If they are right, it is because God has graciously given me to understand the Scriptures concerning this doctrine, for I certainly never learned it from men. Were it not that the Scriptural account of this doctrine appears to me so clearly to support my views concerning justification being a law, and time transaction, the circumstance that so many more excellent, and more gifted brethren differ from me in their judgment concerning it, together with the reflection, what am I that I should be made thus to differ; would lead me much to doubt the correctness of my views. As it is, I must retain them, till I am led to see some direct Scriptural authority for the doctrine of eternal justification.
With love to the brethren, and a hope that I may be found to share with them in the perfection there is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I subscribe myself yours,
P.S. I wish not my apologies, with which I commenced this communication, construed as a plea with my brethren not to answer my objections if they see fit. As I wish on this and all other religious subjects to see eye to eye with them, if any of them can give a more correct view of this subject founded upon direct Scriptural authority, I shall be glad to see it. I would further remark that perhaps some may think the view I have given of justification, and especially from my remarks being especially designed to illustrate those views in distinction from the sentiment of eternal justification, are calculated to diminish the importance of this gospel doctrine. I do not view it, as presented in the Scriptures, in a light any less important by its standing so immediately and intimately connected with the actual obedience of the Son of God unto death; an obedience yielded especially to bring about the accomplishment of this act, than though it was revealed as, like predestination, an absolute act of the Divine Mind, or as being passed in anticipation of the obedience of Christ. The fact is, the grace, love and mercy of God is far more displayed in the act of justification by viewing it as thus involving, as essential to it, the actual obedience unto death of the Son of God, than they could be, by separating the act in any measure from the obedience and sufferings of Christ. And it can be no less precious to the believer by viewing it as coming to him, a poor, guilty, law-condemned sinner of Adam's race, alone through the righteousness of Christ brought in by His actual substitution of his law place. And as they are made to view it, in their experience, whatever may be said of their having been eternally justified.
Fairfax C.H., Virginia,
Nov. 22nd, 1837,
From: SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol 5 (1837)
Select Works of Elder Samuel Trott
pgs. 102 - 114