How things began
Starting around 1996 and continuing for some ten years, I wrote several books and a number of articles on the question of the timing of justification in its relation to faith, conversion, adoption, reconciliation, the forgiveness of sins and indeed all the blessings that God gives to His own in Christ which is our Heavenly inheritance and our lot for all eternity.
There was no great reaction to my writings as the topic did not appear to have been of great interest and, anyway, I was hardly known at the time. Indeed one of the few leading evangelical writers who thought it worthwhile to disagree with me, a man of little learning but with quite a large following, quite misrepresented my views and told his readers that I was an ignoramus of no education. It was only on my revealing my academic background, that he dropped this tactic. One harsh critic, who called me the son of a whore and worse, decorated his name with an MA title yet accused me of being too scholarly in my correspondence with him. When I pointed out that I wrote to him knowing that he was a scholar, he confessed that he had received the title honorary because he had played what the Americans strangely call ‘football’ for a college club. A leading Reformed speaker, now turned NCT, who had joked about my theology in an after dinner speech replied to a correction of mine through his assistant who told me I was a highly immoral man because of my standing on these issues. When I challenged him to outline my position, and show why it was ‘immoral’, he told me he had not read a word from my pen but he was entitled to his opinions. These writers still claim that I am an Antinomian in their conferences but when I give them my testimony and high view of the Law, they tell me (I quote verbatim), that they have no time for controversy as they are too busy preaching the gospel! Another writer of the same circle wrote two fanciful books against me, telling his readers that they should not allow me to speak for myself but read his version of me which was the truth, hinting, they would not get the truth from me. He maintained that my views on justification etc. led me not to preach repentance and faith, which was my life’s calling, but only bring the gospel to the already saved. In his many very long quotes, he either cut out my call to the unconverted to repent and believe, altered my words or told his readers what he thought I really meant which was, at times, blasphemous. My warning to those truth-tellers who receive adverse criticism is to say that such usually comes from prominent evangelicals who, due to their own prominence, think themselves know-alls and are merely bubbles just before they burst. Few or none of them appear to have the scholarly ability they claim they have.
Indeed, the doctrine of the justification of the elect in the eternal mind of God as the foundation of the eternal inheritance of the elect never seems to really interest these scandalmongers mentioned above though each of them occasionally preaches on the opening chapters of Ephesians which highlight the very truths I strive to put across but which they deny.
The main objection against justification from eternity is Arminianism
Most of those who disagree with my doctrine of justification from eternity, which I still hold to be the doctrine of both Testaments, the Early Church and the Reformation, do so on two grounds. First, they object to my teaching that justification is simultaneous with election and occurs simultaneous with the forgiveness of sins, adoption and the gift of faith and secondly, they disagree strongly with me concerning the relationship of time with eternity which I hold to be Scriptural. The corollary of this is, that they accuse me of teaching that justification is a fiat of God’s irrespective of a person’s moral and spiritual standing before God and that I believe that God justifies in what they mistakenly call ‘eternity past’. There is indeed much truth in their first assumption but none in the second.
A renewed and more enlightened study of justification
During the past few years, there has been a renewed interest in the old Reformed teaching on justification and a departure from the Melanchthonian doctrine and the idea that justification is not a decree of God’s from eternity but merely a pro-forma legal status given after the condition of faith is exercised in time. They disagree with the Reformed view that God makes His own righteous and teach that the saints’ righteousness is merely a fro-forma ‘as if’ status or sham. The positive result for me is that several of my former contestants have become good friends and a younger generation has shown by their correspondence with me that the old Reformed paths are once again being followed to a renewed and higher degree. I am being asked several times a month for advice and information on the subject. As my correspondence with NCT champion Peter Ditzel sparked off much of this new awareness of the doctrine of justification, I feel it is time to have a new look at the controversy which then raged between us and examine several features which in the give and take of rhetoric were not covered.
Peter Ditzel thought fit to challenged views I had outlined in a privately given talk he somehow managed to obtain on a video and the New Focus Magazine in an essay entitled ‘A Rebuttal to George M. Ella’s ‘John Gill and Justification from Eternity’1 and over half a dozen subsequent lengthy contributions to his web-site. Before going on to discuss my Scriptural evidence the writer prefaced an essay on what he felt was the poor logic and bad philosophy which I allegedly exhibited regarding my view of time and eternity.
He thus called my defence of Gill’s doctrine of justification ‘illogical’ and under the heading ‘A Philosophical Discussion of Time and Eternity’, strove to show how unphilosophical and illogical I am. Of course, it was not my intention to argue either ‘logically’ or ‘philosophically’ but Scripturally and I do not see why Ditzel seeks to prove that he is more logical and philosophical than I, especially as he emphasizes that his logic and philosophy are Scriptural. If I am to be rebuked, let it be on Scriptural grounds only as the logic and philosophy of individuals, whether as contenders or opponents, usually leaves much to be desired. But in reply to Ditzel’s first essay, we must ask what this writer’s ‘philosophy’ is and why does he argue that my position is ‘illogical’?
The agreements and disagreements between Ditzel and myself
It became apparent to me on first reading Ditzel’s articles that his criticism is based on his insufficient study of my arguments. He insists, for instance, that one cannot speak in such terms as ‘back in eternity’, ‘we are elect from eternity’ and ‘we are justified from eternity’ because he believes they ‘contradict the meaning of eternity’. Of course, I have never argued for a ‘back in eternity’ in my books and many articles on justification because eternity is neither governed by time nor can it be placed within a time-framework. The writer is thus quite correct to insist that eternity cannot be compassed by time and here has my full approval. He is, however, incorrect in claiming that such is my position. However, in spite of what he says to the contrary, the terms ‘elect from eternity’ and ‘justified from eternity’ do not contradict Ditzel’s own simple but rather restricted definitions that ‘eternity is timeless’ and that ‘eternity is outside of time’. This is because election and justification are not limited or governed by time but ruled by God who dwells in eternity and who elects and justifies us from His eternal throne in his eternal tribune, I thus still feel fully justified in speaking of ‘justification from eternity’. It is in eternity where God lives and has His being and from where He arranges our salvation.
Ditzel holds that God is not limited by time and that God sees all of time from the beginning to the end from his place in eternity. Here, of course, I agree but I am somewhat suspicious of his statements that ‘God is in eternity, and ‘eternity is outside of time’, because our eternal God is very immanent in time and it is in time that we experience our elect calling and justification. Because the writer juxtaposes time and eternity in this way and apparently sees no interaction from God’s side, he concludes that we ought to drop speaking of ‘justification from eternity’ and affirms ‘it is better to talk of ‘in eternity, elect in eternity, justified in eternity’ as if time plays no role in God’s plan of salvation.
Does God act within or without time?
To drop speaking of ‘from eternity’ and opt for ‘in eternity’ is not, I believe, a Scriptural, philosophical or linguistic necessity. It is also misleading concerning how God acts in time especially when Ditzel insists that God ‘is in eternity and eternity is outside of time.’ This would suggest that as God is in eternity, he is absent in time. God obviously deals from Heaven with mankind on earth. However, but equally obviously, He acts in time from eternity and controls every aspect of time, and involves Himself within the time that He has created. Whatever happens to the elect is governed from eternity. The elect, however, are in time until God from eternity calls them from it. Thus, to speak of ‘elect from eternity’ or ‘justified from eternity’ is quite legitimate. It would be wrong to believe that we are only elect or justified once we leave time.
Ditzel is rather confusing in the ‘very rough analogy’ of a DVD film he uses to illustrate his view of time and eternity and the fact that ‘God can see all of time while He remains in eternity’. After giving the example of ‘seeing the DVD all at once’ he says he means the DVD and not the film from start to finish, so the analogy is not ‘rough’ but non-existent. Obviously we cannot see the film all at once from beginning to end. So, too, I thought it rather odd for Ditzel to stress that God controls time to its ‘logical’ end, stressing in a further essay on the subject that I am ‘illogical’. Here, I would have expected a theological explanation. Next Ditzel strives to show that all which God determines for mankind is in eternity. He argues that in eternity we are still in our sins, indeed, we are not yet born and in eternity we are dead but also, he argues, we are regenerated and justified in eternity – but not from eternity. This reader, who after all was the subject of Ditzel’s criticism, felt that the writer quite ignored his biographical details of man in time and the purpose of time in relation to man and his justification from eternity.
Two brethren accusing each other of distortion
With this rather confusing distortion of eternity and man’s relationship to it whilst outside of it, Ditzel claims that my doctrine of justification from eternity ‘distorts our understanding of eternity’. So here we have two brethren thinking that the other is distorting truth. Ditzel disagrees with me because he feels that my ‘ordo salutis’, which he claims ought to be ‘a logical sequence of events’ speaks illogically of a justification prior to faith. He maintains that contrary to me, he believes that ‘God’s decree to justify is a decree to justify upon the exercising of the gift of saving faith in time.’ This would make Ditzel an Arminian, of course. I cannot accept this splitting up of justification and faith in Ditzel’s ‘logical’ ordo salutis on the Scriptural grounds that God justifies the ungodly. I also believe that God justifies the ungodly in that he gives them faith. Justification is a faith-giving action of God’s whereby Christ’s faith is given to the sinner thereby justifying Him. This is the clear gospel as outlined in Galatians 2:16-20. We are justified in Christ, the great I AM.
Ditzel back-peddles but uses two passages of Scripture to refute me
Now Ditzel takes back all he has said at length concerning eternity not being subject to time and that in eternity everything is present by quoting Ephesians 1:4 which I had used to back up my belief but now Ditzel interprets it to back up his. The well-known verse amongst Christians 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.’
Ditzel claims, ‘This verse shows election as logically prior2 to creation.’ We note that word ‘logically’ again for the umpteenth time. But I must ask what logic is there behind Ditzel’s affirmation and what has this to do with justification? Most commentators including Matthew Henry and John Gill follow the obvious interpretation that ‘before the foundation of the world’ cannot refer to a time period as there was no time to be recorded but the decision was taken ‘in the counsel of God from all eternity’3. The English word ‘before’ occurs twice in this verse though two different words are used in Greek, ‘pro’ and ‘catenoopion’. Though ‘pro’ as used in ‘before the foundation’ could be used as an adjective of time out of the context, it more usually denotes a preposition of place ‘in front of’ or ‘seen against the background of’ or ‘standing before’ or, often in its verbal form, to denote something being ‘far away’. The word ‘catenoopion’, as in ‘without blame before Him’, obviously refers to place. So, too, ‘pro’ here refers primarily to being placed in Christ and we are reminded of John 8:58 where Christ said ‘Before Abraham was, I am’, that is Christians are placed in the One without beginning and end. To be placed in Christ is to be given eternal life in eternal security. Most NT Greek students will be familiar with the great Greek scholar Fritz Rienecker’s study aids which take the student word for word through the Greek text. These aids accompanied me throughout all my graduate and post-graduate studies. Rienecker also teaches that ‘before’ does not refer to ‘a time when’ but to Christians being placed in Christ in eternity. Rienecker in his commentary on Ephesians 2 shows that this truth is emphasized ten times in these verses.
Ditzel’s conclusion here appears to be the very opposite of ‘logical’ as he deduces that what he says outlined above shows that justification is a product of time and not eternity, it is ‘an event in time’. Of course he is correct concerning the reception of justification but not concerning the giving of it which is from eternity where (not when) the elect person is placed in Christ. As Paul says here in verse 3 before going on to verse 4 ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with ALL spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ’. Verses 4 and 5, which are an expansion of this, explain how the truth uttered in verse 3 came to be. Verse 4 cannot be plucked out of the context and given a ‘logic’ of its own.
Altering Scripture to suit one’s theories
In an effort to explain that the whole scene of salvation is earth-bound and not Heavenly eternal, and in a further effort to argue against the doctrine of justification from eternity, Ditzel quotes Revelation 13:8 where we read:
‘And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world?
The writer argues that this contradicts the fact that Christ was slain in time so it must be a wrong translation. He therefore suggests the verse should read:
‘And all dwelling on the earth will worship it, those whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain.’
This very free translation might be possible if one were to reshuffle the words of the Greek which clearly give the word order as ‘the book of the life of the Lamb who was slain from the grounding of the world’. In Ditzel’s version, of course, he has cut out the word ‘foundation’ or ‘beginning’ or ‘grounding’ (catabolee) altogether. The word is used to describe a thing conceived or a child’s first spark of life in the womb. Ditzel goes in for abortion to root that life, our eternal life given us in eternity, out. He cannot argue that the King James translators used a corrupt or glossed text as the textual apparatus in my Novum Testamentum Graece does not list such a rendering as given by Ditzel. Here again, we find that our names were already found in the Book of Christ’s redemption at the beginning of time and just as we are elected and justified from eternity, so was Christ’s death activated from eternity to accomplish it. What a precious doctrine! Christ did not die ‘in time’ according to the Scriptures but ‘in the fullness of time’ which I take to mean that at Christ’s death the purpose of time in eternity was fulfilled. One might say eternity impinged on time. However, one may take Revelation 13:8 to mean what one will (I prefer the straight-forward literal version), either way does not rule out justification from eternity, especially as even Ditzel accepts that God planned everything in eternity from where he activated all things. It does appear that Ditzel is merely arguing for the sake of the argument and has, in fact, no argument whatsoever.
In concluding this section based on Ditzel’s first essay, I can only point out that I am in agreement with much of what Ditzel says concerning time and eternity but it is in their interdependence where we mainly and strongly differ and the fact that Ditzel uses alleged logical and philosophical arguments which are irrelevant to the problem due to their not being applicable to the subject and a misunderstanding of what the doctrine of justification from eternity, at least as outlined by Gill and myself, is all about. It is, however, very difficult to agree at all with Ditzel as he states his reasoning dogmatically, only to contradict it equally dogmatically as he develops his ideas. The result is a most undigested cuddle-muddle.
Ditzel adds another five parts to this ‘rebuttal’ and should time and health permit and the Lord tarries, I shall also deal with those as in them Ditzel promises to deal with my Scriptural evidence for the doctrine of justification from eternity. I cannot help but teasingly say: From where else would God justify us as He dwells in eternity? Yet we are part of earth-born time until the New Birth and death frees us from the shackles of time.