Recently, I came across a long essay in six parts entitled, ‘A Rebuttal to George M. Ella’s ‘John Gill and Justification from Eternity’ on a website named Word of His Grace. The writer, Peter Ditzel, had obtained a part-copy of an armchair talk I gave to my host and friends on justification in Minnesota some years ago. The author claims that in rebutting me, he is also rebutting Peter Meney’s New Focus article ‘Ten Arguments for Justification from Eternity’.

     I commenced my talk by referring to Romans 4:5 on God’s justification of the ungodly, thus opening a discussion on the timing of justification. Ditzel claims that before rebutting my Scriptural application, he must explain what time and eternity mean ‘philosophically’. Ditzel’s ‘philosophy’ is that eternity is neither past not future time but timeless. This tells us what eternity is not, but not what it is. The author then claims I ought to speak about ‘justification IN eternity’ and not FROM eternity. My topic, however, was God’s actions IN time FROM eternity. Ditzel has difficulty with this concept. He cannot envisage God’s omnipresence bridging time and eternity in his ‘philosophy’. Ditzel’s problem is not merely how God acts in eternity but how His actions impinge on time from eternity. How can a timeless God act in time?

     What then is ‘time’ in Ditzel’s ‘philosophy’? He claims that time is simply creation. This is insufficient. There are three different creations chronologically in Scripture: the perfect Edenic creation; the fallen creation, and the New Creation for eternity. Time, in its decaying duration from human birth to death is only present in the fallen world and it is in this fallen world that God justifies us from eternity.

     After affirming that eternity is timeless, Ditzel argues throughout that God determines His future actions in the past. He cannot imagine God determining in eternity and acting simultaneously from there in time. Ditzel fetters God’s eternal, omnipotent and omnipresent action by temporal events. God is always limping behind time. Ditzel’s timing is always inconsequent. For instance, he claims that when God says let there be light, there is light.  He then disagrees that this applies to justification also. In justification, time must wait until God catches up with it. Peter Meney and I say that time does not rule the Eternal God but the Eternal God rules time.

    Ditzel now, at last, quotes Scripture, Ephesians 1:4 on being chosen in Christ from eternity. This he interprets ‘logically’, arguing that God elects us from sin in eternity but cannot justify us from sin from eternity. However, is it not just as ‘logical’ for God to elect directly from eternity as it is for Him to justify from eternity and are not the components of justification such as election, adoption, atonement, forgiveness of sins and salvation logically inseparable? What Christian lives by Ditzel’s arbitrary logic rather than God’s Word and Works? What point is there in discussing saving doctrine as a mass of unconnected illogical entities?

     Ditzel promises a deeper Scriptural examination but gets side-tracked in history. Of the stalwarts I list who believe God justifies from eternity, he picks out one, Benjamin Keach, claiming he rejected the doctrine, as if this proves all the others wrong. Whether Keach accepted this doctrine or not does not affect Scriptural truths but Ditzel’s portrayal of a word duel between an Antinomian and Keach in his The Travels of True Godliness as a parallel to Ditzel and myself is not very helpful. Which of us is the Antinomian and which is Keach? True, Keach portrays an Antinomian in the book mentioned, a copy of which I have, who would not pray for the pardon of sin, did not teach conversion but merely trusted in effectual calling and sanctification and leaned on justification from eternity as a warrant for his Antinomianism. This Antinomian, however, confuses justification FROM eternity with justification IN eternity, just like Ditzel. What has this to do with Peter Meney and George Ella? Furthermore, basing Keach’s doctrine of justification on one book only which is not an in-depth study of the subject is blind-alley scholarship. There are several excellent works on justification by Keach which attack Ditzel’s eternity-time mix-up. There are those who feel they can easily ‘prove’ that Calvin was an Arminian or an Antinomian or a Hyper-Calvinist or an Amyraldian or a Calvinist from isolated quotes. Some even call John Gill an Arminian. The newsletter Outside the Camp claims hypocoristically that I am an Hypo-Calvinist and a friend of Arminianism. Some call me a Hyper-Calvinist, others an Anti-Calvinist. Here, Ditzel fails to distinguish between Keach’s teaching on ‘virtual justification’ and ‘actual justification’. In The Child’s Delight, he teaches that we were justified when we were placed in Christ as our Head and Representative which becomes personal in time. This is Gill’s actus immanens and actus transiens. Keach distinguished, as Gill, between our justified standing in Christ and its outworking in the faith and life of the believer. Though Gill simplified Keach’s complicated doctrine of justification, the two are far nearer each other than they are to Ditzel.  So, too, in Betwixt Two Extremes, Keach defends a believer in justification from eternity from the false charge of Antinomianism and himself against the false charge of Arminianism. Indeed, here Keach clearly teaches that one is justified first and faith is then given as the hand which receives and apprehends it. He then refutes Ditzel’s doctrine of justification. See also Keach’s A Postscript Containing a Few Reflections upon Some Passages in Mr Clark’s New Book entitled Scriptural Justification.

     Ditzel accuses me of confusing Jean Alphonse Turretin (usually called Alphonse) 1671-1737 with his father Francis Turretin 1623-1685. I am very familiar with three generations of that family. When I spoke of Alphonse, I meant Alphonse. Francis did follow Melanchthon rather than Luther, Bullinger and Calvin on Justification but he stood firmer against Amyraldianism than his son. I see Alphonse as being more in error on justification than his father. Furthermore, Ditzel says I do not prove that the Reformers believed in Justification from Eternity but I was speaking briefly to New Focus readers who were familiar with my evidence. However, in refuting my remarks concerning our first generation Reformers, Ditzel quotes second and third generation ‘Puritans’ and Baptists’ only, not all of whom followed the Reformers. So, too, the fact that the Holy Spirit actualises Justification in time, as in Ditzel’s Westminster Confession quote, in no way contradicts the fact that such a justification is a direct act from eternity. The Father sends the Spirit from Heaven to accomplish the Triune Will on earth. However, it is well-known that the WA members held to different views of justification as the minutes show, hence the compromise. Next Ditzel quotes Galatians 3:8; Colossians 1:21-22; Titus 3:4-7, Romans 3:21-22,26,28; Romans 5:1, 6; Galatians 2:16 and Philippians 3:9 to prove that there is no such thing as justification from eternity, even though he has to alter the A. V.. These verses are used by Peter Meney and myself to illustrate how God justifies the ungodly. All teach that justification and faith are direct heavenly gifts of God.

     Next, Ditzel returns to his analogy of faulty logic. He sees an example in Gill’s statement:

‘as God’s will to elect, is the election of his people, so his will to justify them, is the justification of them; as it is an immanent act in God, it is an act of his grace towards them, is wholly without them, entirely resides in the divine mind, and lies in his estimating, accounting, and constituting them righteous, through the righteousness of his Son; and, as such, did not first commence in time, but from eternity.’

Using the analogy of marriage where a man wills to marry a woman but his willing is not the marriage itself, Ditzel feels that he has revealed the weakness in Gill’s argument. However, he is judging God by man’s standards. When God willed that Christ should have a Bride, His will was the binding of the Bride to Christ. When God willed to place our names in the book of the elect, our names were put in. The earthly bride may say, ‘let us postpone the wedding until Auntie Jessica comes from Australia’, but unlike Auntie Jessica, God is always there.

     Now Ditzel deals evasively with the verse I started with and says, ‘Do these men (Gill, Meney and Ella) really believe that “God justifieth the ungodly” means God justified us in eternity before we, or even Adam, sinned and became ungodly? To justify the ungodly, God must work in time, taking an elect sinner, giving him faith, and justifying him. One may most certainly still be ungodly before he exercises his God-given faith, but he cannot be called ungodly after being justified.’ To this we retort that we do not belong to those who believe that God decreed man to sin and thus authored it, so the Fall is a farce. We are Sub-lapsarians who believe that God’s plan of salvation is enacted from eternity when there is a need for it. Here Ditzel with his way-off logic is saying that justifying the ungodly means first giving the sinner faith, then waiting until the sinner exercises that faith godlily in actively believing, then God justifies the sinner on his testimony of godly faith. Why cannot Ditzel believe that justification and coming to faith are one divine fiat of God direct from eternity and exercised on God’s enemies?

     Now Ditzel claims Gill is illogical in teaching that our being eternally elected in Christ means that we are eternally accepted and justified in Him. It is like saying, he complains, ‘If I have dogs in my house, it is because I have given them to my son. I have given dogs to my son, therefore I must have dogs in the house.’ The Bible teaches, however, that when God elects me to salvation, He elects me to all its blessings, too. Whatever God gives us, it is so that we can partake of all God’s blessings in His Heavenly abode, our eternal Mansion. There is no coming and going of blessings (dogs) in God’s House. Furthermore, Ditzel cannot envisage being placed in union with Christ from eternity. Election means put under the benefits of Christ’s saving work – all of them.

     Ditzel again attacks me for being illogical because I have ‘cooked up a justification by decree’. The cooking is not mine but the Lord’s. His decree is our justification. God has given us more abundant fare than that which satisfies Ditzel’s meagre logical diet. Now, however, Ditzel really becomes confused and complains that he does not know where to start in correcting me. He tries by criticising my belief in the two natures of man. Being in condemned Adam which means physical death and being in Christ in whom we find eternal life. He cannot envisage my being in Adam physically, though in Christ spiritually. He is so confused by this time that he fills a lengthy paragraph, giving an imaginary account of what I mean. He appears to believe that Old Man is non-existent and we are purely New Men in Christ. Why then does Ditzel, and we all have such a struggle with the flesh? Now again Ditzel quotes scriptural condemnations and blessings in Christ which I believe in and experience, but which Ditzel seems to think I reject. Is it because he thinks I am an Antinomian because I believe in justification from eternity?

     In his final complaint, Ditzel accuses me of misrepresenting John Murray by quoting his words, ‘Justification is not the eternal decree of God with respect to us.’ I take this to mean that Murray does not believe that justification is a decree of God from eternity. Ditzel, again telling his readers what I am supposed to mean instead of taking me at my word, says, ‘Ella interprets this to mean that Murray is saying that God in eternity has nothing to do with our justification.’ This cannot possibly be deduced from my words or thoughts. Ditzel now claims that my logic is like his saying ‘that loving a woman is not actually marrying her; and then someone (me) came along and misrepresented me (Murray?) as saying that loving a woman has nothing to do with marrying her.’ Of course, I would never ‘come along’ and say anything of the sort! What polemic advantage does Ditzel hope to gain by judging scripture and a brother’s behaviour by his most abortive attempts to gain a ‘logical’ point? After further long and weird speculation about my criticism of Murray’s list of what he says justification is not but not what it is and to crown all, Ditzel says in closing, ‘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.’ Here Ditzel has again confused me with his Antinomian opponent. I have never, ever, written words that departed from my firm conviction that justification by faith is through the merits of Christ’s righteousness imputed to me. I believe in true imputation of my sins to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to me. Besides this is not the issue but the timing of justification and the mode and means. I say, God in his abundant mercies and everlasting grace placed me in Christ from eternity. Of course, Christ came from Heaven in the fullness of time when eternity impinged on time to secure our salvation. All God’s blessings come from God who dwells in eternity. After all, where else could they come from?