05 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Part 2 of 3)

As I currently understand it, the argument for eternal justification proceeds thus: Election and justification are correlated as aspects of union with Christ (or the federal headship of Christ over the elect). Because union with Christ entails pretemporal election, union with Christ itself is something that is pretemporal, occuring in eternity past. Justification, then, being an aspect of union with Christ, must also be pretemporal. This means that the elect sinner is, in the courtroom of God, declared righteous before conversion. Gill conceded that the sinner does not enjoy his position in Christ until he is converted, but he has the position nonetheless.
This is a real error of John Gill. On the point of eternal justification he is inescapably clear, and, despite his considerable erudition and despite his steadfast defense of other gospel truths, he seems to have ignored or explained away the true force of texts like Romans 1:17, "The righteous shall live by faith." Also the force of Paul's argument in Romans 3:21-31 is that justification is gained for individual through the instrumentality of faith. While Paul's emphasis is disqualifying works from justification, his thought also makes clear that justification is consequent to conversion in a Biblical ordo salutis. Finally the aorist tenses of Romans 8:30 must not be taken to indicate that predestination, calling, justification, and glorification have all occured in the pretemporal past. If this were true, eternal glorification, not simply eternal justification, would need to be posited. While I grant that it sometimes difficult to understand the relationship between the eternal decree of God and the temporal acts of men, the Biblical chronology is clear: calling and conversion precede justification.
The scope of implications for the doctrine of eternal justification are beyond my ability to address systematically, but I have already hinted at one implication to which I now turn. Because, in Gill's mind, God has declared the sinner righteous before conversion, conversion cannot entail trusting Christ in order to be justified. Instead conversion entails trusting Christ that one has already been justified from before the foundation of the world. Therefore, the unconverted cannot be exhorted to trust Christ for salvation. Instead, gospel truth is announced, "Christ infallibly saves those who trust in him." And then it is assumed that the elect among the unconverted will turn to Christ in faith and believe that they have been justified from the foundation of the world. So at least part of the reason Gill refused to address the unconverted freely is his doctrine of eternal justification.

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