The Protestant Reformed Deny the Need for Conversion

David Engelsma, in The STandardBearer (1/15/1991) writes:

“To the brash, presumptous question sometimes put to me by those of a revivalist, rather than covenantal, mentality, When were you converted?, I have answered in all seriousness, When was I not converted?”

“As a Reformed minister and parent, I have no interest whatever in conversion as the basis for viewing baptised children as God’s dear children, loved of him from eternity, redeemed by Jesus, and promised the Holy Spirit, the author of faith. None!”

By the way of preface, I want to say that I am not reformed. I believe that Jesus Christ was imputed with all the sins of all the elect in Christ, and that Christ died for all their sins, so that all these elect a. will not pay for their sins and b. will be converted from unbelief to belief in the true gospel. Because of Christ’s work, all the elect are entitled not only to the forgiveness of sins but also to receiving conversion (faith in the gospel)

But please don’t call me “Reformed” for believing this gospel. Many, even most,  “Reformed” people believe that Jesus Christ also died for the non-elect in some way so as to make their “free offer” sufficient to further condemn the non-elect.

Even some of those “Reformed” (like Englesma) who know that God loves nobody apart from election in Christ go on to deny the need for conversion to have assurance. Let not the Protestant Reformed congratulate himself on not being conditional like his Reformed colleagues. 

We must not follow the Protestant Reformed in their thinking about water baptism, even if it is a reaction to any idea of law-covenant.  One, the Mosaic covenant was a conditional covenant.  Two, even though God is one, God has more than one covenant and not all the covenants can be collapsed into one covenant.

Every time some who believe the gospel indicate that the elect were justified eternally, or that the elect were justified at the cross, they are adding to the confusion which denies the need for conversion.  The cross-work (the righteousness) of Christ not only entitles the elect to justification (even before they are justified) but also  entitles the elect to conversion (even before they are converted). 

Even before they believe the gospel, the elect are entitled (because of Christ’s work) to the converting work of the Holy Spirit. What what does the application of Christ’s work mean? First, it means that God imputes that work (not only the reward, but the righteousness) to the elect. Before the cross, God imputed the work to some of the elect. After the cross, God continues to impute the work to some of the elect. 

So there is a difference (not only in time) between the work and the imputation of the work. For example, Romans 6 describes being placed into the death of Christ.  There is a difference between the union of all the elect in Christ before the beginning of the world and the legal union of the elect with Christ when they are justified.

Second, the application (purchased by Christ for the elect, and thus now their inheritance) includes the conversion which immediately follows the imputation.  We could go to every text in the New Testament about the effectual calling into fellowship, but let us think now of only two.  Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come…so that we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

And here’s a second text which teaches us that regeneration and conversion immediately follow the imputation. Romans 8:10–“but if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Because the work (righteousness) is imputed, the next result will not only be forensic life but also the life  the Holy Spirit gives by means of the gospel, so that the elect understand and believe, and are converted.

As II Peter 1:1 starts, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Christ did not die to forgive any elect person of the final sin of unbelief of the gospel. Christ died to give every elect person faith in the gospel and conversion.

Christians do disbelieve even in their faith, and Christ died for all the sins of all Christians including all sins after they are converted. But no elect person dies unconverted, because Christ died to give them the new birth and the conversion which follows. Christ did not need to die for final disbelief by the elect because Christ died instead that the elect will not finally disbelieve.

Romans 5: 17 speaks of “those who receive the free gift of righteousness” and how they reign in life through the one man Christ Jesus. This receiving is not the sinner believing. It is not an “exercise of faith” (if you check the commentaries, Murray is right here about the passive and Moo is wrong). It certainly is not “appropriating” (an ugly ambigous Arminian word which ought never to be used in any context).  The elect “receive” the righteousness by God’s imputation.

The elect do not impute their sins to Christ. Nor do the elect impute Christ’s righteousness to themselves. God is the imputer. But the receiving of the righteousness is not the same as the righteousness.  The imputation is not at the same time as Christ earned the righteousness.  God declaring the elect to be joint-heirs with Christ in that righteousness is not the same as the righteousness. There is a difference  between imputation and righteousness.

Certainly the act of faith is not the righteousness. But neither is the imputation, nor the new birth which follows, the righteousness.  This is not the four-pointer double-talk about a difference between redemption and atonement.  Rather, it is a recognition of the biblical difference between the atonement and justification. The difference is not that the elect do something to get justified. The difference is that, in justification, God imputes the atonement to the elect. But the elect are not justified until God imputes the righteousness to them.

I do not now want to get into all the harmful consequences of watering infants.  I want to challenge the notion that the best way to counter salvation conditioned on the sinner is to teach eternal justification, so that conversion becomes only knowing that you were converted. In other words, the idea that  since I was always elect, I was always “saved”, I was never not converted.

The safest and best place to be is not the most extreme away from what the Arminians say. The safest and best place to be is what the texts of the Bible says.

I have no big problem with saying that the elect were “in some sense” always saved, but only if this “sense” is that they are elect. In other words, from God’s perspective, the elect are never in danger of perishing. The gospel does not tell anyone: you are elect. The gospel tells everyone: God loves the elect and Christ’s death will save the elect.  Where the Arminian wants to tell everyone that God loves them, some of “Reformed” want to tell some of the unconverted that God loves them. But the Bible does not encourage this idea.

I Thessalonians 1:4 “For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to not only in word but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

To insist on the necessity of conversion is not to be a “revivalist”. I don’t want to see what goes by the name of revival. I do want to see conversions, in which sinners come to understand and believe the gospel, and repent of the false gospels.

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15 Comments on “The Protestant Reformed Deny the Need for Conversion”

  1. mark Says:

    I agree that there was a time when God was not incarnate. This is why it is silly for you to deny that there was a time when Abraham was justified.
    Romans 4 teaches that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Abraham was justified in time.

    You can do a double talk about this only being a “subjective” justification, but that is not how the Bible explains it. The elect who are not yet justified are entitled to be justified because of Christ’s work done for them.

    A “subjective” justification is saying that the elect were never under the wrath of God, but only thought they were. And that would be very much like
    saying that the propitiation was subjective, so that Christ was never under sin or under the law for imputed sins, but only looked like he was. Romans
    6 is clear: He died to sin. By legal imputation (union by imputation), the elect are placed into that death.

    You write: There was a point (from a temporal perspective) before time existed (eternity).

    mark: do you have Bible texts which say any such thing, or is this only your Plato talking? What Bible word for “eternity” do you mean?

    you: This is not the same as saying that the elect will exist for the REST of eternity with Christ while the reprobate will exist for the REST of
    eternity suffering the torment of the lake of fire.

    mark: The God of the age to come is also the God of all ages. So I agree with the sentence above, since it is using a non-biblical concept (“eternity”). I certainly do not think that the non-elect will continue to sin after the second death, or that God will continue to torture them.

    you:God “sees” things in the eternal “now” -all things simultaneous.

    mark: Again, I have to ask for Bible for this way of saying it. God sees the past and the future. God does not think that the past is the same as
    the future. God does not think that the past is now. God does not think that the future is now.
    Unless you are God (or have Bible verses), you need to be careful how you explain how God thinks differently than you do.

    you: God IS eternal (no beginning–no end). This is the doctrine of immutability.

    mark: The antecedent of “this”? You have two doctrines at least here, but
    the equivalence you would need to explain.

    you:Time is a measurement of change; tell me–do you think God changed with his creation of time or is changing as time passes?

    mark: That’s a little like asking me if I changed when beating my wife. I deny that God “created time” in the way your platonic philosophy assumes.
    Or is it Gordon Clark that you got it from?

    I want to leave you with a verse to think about. See if you can explain it without saying it’s only subjective or that “it only looks that way”.

    I Cor 15:45–“The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam BECAME life-giving Spirit.”

  2. a j Says:

    The Sin of Unbelief
    “And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” [John 8:45-47] There is a faith which is commanded in the law. It is a duty in the law to believe the gospel when it is preached to you. Someone might deny that it is. The question that I would ask them is… How is this disbelief of the gospel not a sin? 1 John 3:4 says that sin is the transgression of the Law. How is this sin of unbelief not a deed and work of the law when sin is the transgression of the law? All should admit that it is a sin, that it is transgression of the law, that it is a work of the law, and that it is a deed of the law. “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” [Matthew 21:32] “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” [John 8:24] “Of sin, because they believe not on me.” [John 16:9] “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” [Acts 13:40-41] “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” [Titus 1:15-16

    • markmcculley Says:

      p79-80, Stillman, Dual Citizens–“In the evangelical mindset, the threshold through which a sinner-turned-saint passes is conversion, and this conversion is usually a cataclysmic and powerful experience. To believers from the Reformation tradition, on the other hand, this is not necessarily the case. While adults coming out of pagan backgrounds may indeed experience a seismic shift in loyalties, this is the exception rather than the rule. The Christian faith, normally speaking, is passed on from parent(s) to
      child(ren) by means of infant baptism…”

  3. markmcculley Says:

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/problems-with-prca-covenant-theology/

    the PRCA’s commitment to both an overarching covenant of grace consisting of numerous covenantal dispensations or administrations and to the concept of an unconditional covenant cannot account for the clear teaching of covenant breaking.

    They cannot ignore this teaching, so they deal with it as best they can: covenant breaking is only really covenant breaking from man’s perspective.

    There are some who have sought to harmonize the teaching of Scripture concerning the unbreakableness of God’s covenant with those passages of Scripture that speak of the sin of covenant breaking by teaching a conditional covenant. According to these people all of the children born to believing parents are in the covenant, possess the promise of the covenant, and receive covenant grace. But through their own sin, they fall out of the covenant, relinquish the promise of the covenant, and frustrate the operations of Gods covenant grace.

    This teaching of a conditional covenant, however, has serious difficulties, and raises more problems than it resolves. The teaching of a conditional covenant ought to go against the grain of every truly Reformed man or woman. It is a teaching that involves a denial of God’s sovereignty, at least in the salvation of the children of the covenant. It is a denial of the preservation of the saints, of the irresistibility of grace, and of the total depravity of the children of believers. This is not a teaching that harmonizes the unbreakableness of God’s covenant with covenant breaking, but throws out the window the unbreakableness of God’s everlasting covenant.

    Covenant breaking is the sin of someone within the sphere of the covenant. It is the sin of one who has been born into the covenant, born to believing, covenant parents.

    …Does this at all contradict the teaching of the unbreakableness of God’s covenant? Does this destroy the everlasting character of the covenant of grace? Does this in any way imply that these people were ever actually genuine members of God’s covenant? Not at all. Scripture describes the sin of these people from their point of view.

    But is this true? Is Jeremiah 31:31-33 written from a human, covenant-breaker’s perspective? No. It is written from God’s perspective. God says Israel broke His covenant, not that they appeared to break His covenant.

    The PRCA cannot account for covenant breaking as described in the Bible.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Hoeksema attempted to soften the blow by saying that covenant breaking is really the same as law breaking (since the opposite is covenant keeping – ie law keeping), and does not mean the covenant bond was severed. But the real solution to this logical roadblock was on the tips of his fingers:

    Finally, let me point out that in the New Testament the expression is not found. I pointed out earlier that the Old Testament usage of this terminology stands connected undoubtedly with the fact that at Sinai the law was imposed upon the promise. But in the new dispensation we are not under the law, but under grace. Only once is the expression “covenant breakers” found in the New Testament, in Romans 1:31. But there the expression has nothing to do with the covenant of grace between God and His people, but rather with man-to-man relationships. (About Covenant Breakers in the New Dispensation)

    But because of his commitment to the one covenant of grace under multiple administrations view, he was unable to draw the obvious conclusion: the old covenant was breakable (and broken) while the new is not

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon Adams: If Reformed folks were willing to abandon their commitment to the one substance multiple administrations view, all 3 of their problems would be resolved and they would retain the biblical teaching of the unconditional …. new covenant

    First, it removes the problem of covenant breaking. Scripture never says the New Covenant is or can be broken (though both the Abrahamic and Mosaic can).

    Second, it solves the irreconcilable difficulty of Ishmael. The covenant of circumcision is not the covenant of grace. Being circumcised was not a sign or seal or promise that the individual is sanctified in Christ. Ishmael was circumcised because he was the offspring of Abraham, not because he might be elect and therefore the promise of salvation might apply to him. The Abrahamic Covenant is not the New Covenant and circumcision is not baptism.

    But what are we to make of Romans 9 if the organic principle of an elect kernel and reprobate shell is rejected? Well, it’s not rejected. It’s refined. There are two Israels. One of the flesh, the other of the promise. Both are considered the people of God, but are so constituted on a different covenantal basis.

    Israel according to the flesh is constituted a people on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant – typical of the true Israel of God, constituted on the basis of the New Covenant. And both of these covenants and people flow out of the Abrahamic Covenant, as Galatians 4:21-31 says. Hoeksema was right. There is a two-fold seed. But he was wrong that the children of the flesh were outside of any covenant with God.

    Romans 9 would then be Paul applying a typological interpretation of the Old Testament, rather than just correcting a misreading of the Old Testament. When God says he will establish His covenant with Isaac instead of Ishmael, He is not commenting one way or the other on Ishmael’s salvation. He is simply saying that the Messiah will be born through the line of Isaac, not Ishmael. https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/problems-with-prca-covenant-theology/

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon Adams–The account in Genesis 17 and 21 refer to whom the promised seed will proceed through. When God says He will establish His covenant with Isaac instead of Ishmael, He is not commenting on the salvation of either because He is not talking about the covenant of grace, but the covenant of circumcision. Paul uses the example of God sovereignly choosing through whom the promised seed will come in the covenant of circumcision and applies it to the question of individual salvation…..

    It would be eisegesis to read Romans 9 and conclude that Paul is making a statement about distinctions between being in covenant and being in the sphere of the covenant. Nowhere does Paul ever say this. Paul is making distinctions between national Israel, to whom belong the covenants (they are/were actually in covenant with God), and true, spiritual Israel, to whom belong the ultimate fulfillment of those previous covenants. They are not all [spiritual] Israel (the church) who are descended from Israel (the nation).

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/problems-with-prca-covenant-theology/

  7. markmcculley Says:

    P1 God promises to save the elect children born of Christian parents.
    P2 God promises to save the elect children not born of Christian parents
    (John 1:13; Gal 3:7-9; Rom 9:7-8, 11, 24-26; 10:11-13; 11:17; Eph 1:4-10,)
    C1 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
    P3 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
    P4 God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save the elect.
    C2 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s covenantal faithfulness. Brandon Adams, they are equivocating on what the promise is, precisely. Is it to the elect, or is it to all our children generally?
    P4 God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save those who he has promised to save.
    P5 God has promised to (among others) save the children of believers.
    C God shows His faithfulness (among other ways) when He saves (among others) the children of believers.
    In which case, there is nothing unique about the salvation of the children of believers since God’s faithfulness is also demonstrated (“among other ways”) when he saves the children of non-believers

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/gods-covenant-unfaithfulness/

  8. markmcculley Says:

    to one who teaches “born justified” —You say to unbelievers, you may already be justified, but just don’t know it. I say to unbelievers, if you do not believe the gospel, then you can know now that you are not yet justified. You are still in your sins. You can’t know if you are elect or not now, before believing the gospel. But if you do not yet believe the gospel, then you know for sure that you are now both unregenerate and not justified.

    Now we can debate about which one of us is correct. But the one thing we CAN’T SAY is that we have the same gospel, but just a different way of saying it.

    I say to unbelievers, God has an elect and all those people will become regenerate and believe the gospel, but this believing is not what causes them to become regenerate and this believing is not what causes God to impute to them Christ’s death.

    What do you say to unbelievers? I don’t know if you tell them they might already be regenerate. You shouldn’t. But it seems to me that you must say to them what I say about election–you already are or are not. You say, you are already justified or you are not, but you just don’t know which. But I say, if you are justified already now, then you know it already now. If you know that you now believe the gospel, then you know that you are now justified. On the other hand, if you know that you now don’t believe the gospel, then you know now that you are not justified.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Westminster does not teach that the sacraments are signs and seals of grace to and for everyone who uses the sacraments. They signify the same truth to all, but they do not signify that the truth of the sacrament–grace–is for all who use the sacrament.

    David J. Engelsma

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Those who hold to this false doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s Righteousness to the elect in eternity do not deny the necessity of God not only purposing a thing but also actually accomplishing this purpose by Christ’s incarnation and death and resurrection. But logically their position on the eternal justification of elect sinners should also teach the eternal justification of Christ Himself. If indeed elect sinners were never under the wrath of God, then how could it e said that Christ was ever under the wrath of God for the sins of the elect imputed. If elect sinners were justified in eternity, then these elect never needed to be placed into Christ’s death. And if Christ Himself was eternally justified, and never came under God’s wrath, then Christ Himself never needed to die under the law.

    Eternal purpose was not enough. Christ took into union with His Divine nature that perfect, sinless humanity. Christ became incarnate in time, not in some timeless eternity. Christ in time came under the condemnation of the law for sins imputed. Christ in time by His death and resurrection was justified in time, not only in God’s purpose or God’s timeless eternity.

    God’s imputation is so real and legal , that when the Father imputed the elects sins to Christ He Who was innocent was accounted GUILTY, and the Father was JUST and RIGHT to punish Christ as their SUBSTITUTE and pay Christ the wages of their sins i and make the PROPITIATION to God’s justice for their sins, so much so that none for whom Christ died can perish.

    Romans 6: 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death NO LONGER has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died HE DIED TO SIN once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

    Christ was never under grace and is still not under grace. Christ was under the law because of the imputed sins of the elect. Romans 6 is about Christ’s condemnation by the law and His death as satisfaction of that law. Christ after His resurrection is no longer under law. Christ’s elect, after their legal identification with Christ’s death, are no longer under law.

    The death of the justified elect is the SAME legal death that Christ died. The “definitive resurrection” of the elect in Romans 6 is the result of being set apart with Christ (and His death) from being under law.

    Christ was never under the power of sin in the sense of being unable not to sin. Christ was always unable to sin. The only way Christ was ever under the power of sin is by being under the guilt of sin. The guilt of the elect’s sin was legally transferred by God to Christ. Christ’s death to sin was death to the guilt of sin, and since the elect are united with His death, the death of the elect is also a death to the guilt of sin. Romans 6:7: “For one who has died has been justified from sin.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Here are the possible implications of this unscriptural doctrine of righteousness imputed to the elect in a timeless eternity

    1. It makes the incarnation and death of Christ unnecessary.At best the death of Christ becomes a teaching event, merely to make people aware of something which has always been. Instead of a historical accomplishment which results in “objective merit” when can be legally transferred to elect sinners, it becomes only a demonstration of timeless truth. But the Bible teaches that there is a before and after to Christ’s great priestly work, and that Christ once for all time offered and fnished a sacrifice on earth before ever ascending back into heaven.

    2. Eternal renders understanding and assenting to the form of the doctrine of the Gospel (the power unto salvation) unnecessary for justification and only something needed for the new birth. it says that we can have justified sinners who do not know or agree with the gospel. It says that righteousness can be imputed to a sinner for a very long time before that sinner ever has the spiritual life and understanding and will to believe which comes with life.
    .
    JOHN 5:2424 Verily, verily, I say unto you*, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passedom death unto life.

    Glorious passing, a one time trip from death to life! ALL because of the imputation of the Righteousness of ONE, the LAST ADAM, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.

  12. markmcculley Says:

    Father, the Just Judge of all, is the Imputer of God the Son’s Righteousness God gives one of His elect faith when He imputes Christ’s Righteousness to his or her person. Before this act of imputation occurs that sinner is in a “STATE OF CONDEMNATION” a “servant of sin” (Rom. 6:17-23)

    17 But God be thanked, that ye werethe servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine whereto ye were delivered
    18 Being THEN made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

    “BEING THEN” not “BEFORE THEN!” Under that form of doctrine God imputed His Sons Righteousness to your person and your STATE WAS FOREVER CHANGED from a state of condemnation (servant of sin) having sin imputed to you, to a glorious STATE OF JUSTIFICATION, NOT GUILTY, JUSTIFIED BY GOD-GIVEN FAITH in Christ’s Righteousness IMPUTED TO YOU THEN. Sin never again being imputed to you, your STATE was forever changed BY GOD.

  13. markmcculley Says:

    2 Peter 1: 1 To those who have obtained a faith of equal privilege with ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ
    Romans 8:10–”Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin,the Spirit is life BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
    Galatians 4:– And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

    Ursinus: At first view it seems absurd that we should be justified by anything without us, or by something that belongs to another. We explain how the satisfaction of Christ becomes ours. Unless Christ’s righteousness be applied unto us, we cannot be justified by it, . God himself applies Christ’s righteousness unto us, that is, God makes the righteousness of Christ over unto us, and accepts of us as righteous on account of Christ’s righteousness.

    A. A. Hodge–In Protestant Soteriology, there is– 1st. clear distinction between the change of relation signalized by justification, and the change of character signalized by regeneration. . 2nd. The change of relation, the remission of penalty, and the restoration to favor involved in justification, necessarily precedes, and makes certain the change expressed by regeneration. The continuance of judicial condemnation precludes the exercise of grace. Remission of punishment must precede the work of the Holy Spirit. We are pardoned in order to be good, never made good in order to be pardoned.

    Election is not the Atonement, but God’s election decided for whom Christ Atoned. (God does not love the elect because of Christ’s death, Christ’s death for the elect was because of God’s love). The atoning death is not the justification, but all for whom Christ died have been or will be justified.

    Romans 4: Righteousness will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up because of our trespasses and raised because of our justification.

    ”Raised” is not the cause of the justification of the last elect person to be justified, but the justification of that last elect sinner is the cause of “raised”. Abraham’s justification while he was not yet circumcised is also the cause of “raised”

    One point of clarification. I deny that anybody is justified before God without believing the gospel, as I deny that any non-elect are in the new covenant. The elect are not born justified. The elect are not “eternally justified”. Christ’s righteousness is not justification. God’s imputation of righteousness results in faith. Nobody is justified (logically or temporally) before faith in the gospel. I do not teach two kinds of justification.

    Bavinck–Under the influence of…. Amyraldianism, there developed the neonomiam representation of the order of redemption which made forgiveness of sins and eternal life dependent on faith and obedience which man had to perform in accordance with the new law of the gospel. Parallel with this development, Pietism and Methodism arose which, with all their differences, also shifted the emphasis to the subject, and which either demanded a long experience or a sudden conversion as a condition for obtaining salvation.

    Bavinck–As a reaction against this came the development of anti-neonomianism, which had justification precede faith, and antinomianism which reduced justification to God’s eternal love. Reformed theologians usually tried to avoid both extremes, and for that purpose soon made use of the distinction between “active” and “passive justification.” This distinction is not found in the reformers; as a rule they speak of justification in a “concrete sense.” They do not treat of a justification from eternity, or of justification in the resurrection of Christ, or in the gospel, or before or after faith, but combine everything in a single concept.

    Bavinck–Efforts were made to keep both elements as close together as possible, while accepting only a logical and not a temporal distinction. However, even then, there were those who objected to this distinction inasmuch as the gospel mentions no names and does not say to anyone, personally: Your sins have been forgiven. Therefore it is not proper for any man to take as his starting point the belief that his sins have been forgiven.

    Bavinck– There is no reason to recommend speaking of eternal justification. If one says that “justification as an act immanent in God” must of necessity be eternal, then it should be remembered that taken in that sense everything, including creation, incarnation, atonement, calling, regeneration, is eternal. Whoever would speak of an eternal creation would give cause for great misunderstanding. Besides, the proponents of this view back off themselves, when, out of the fear of antinomianism, they assert strongly that eternal justification is not the only, full, and complete justification, but that it has a tendency and purpose to realise itself outwardly. This amounts really to the usual distinction between the decree and its execution. The counsel of God and all decrees contained therein as a unit are without doubt eternal “immanent acts”, but the external works of God, creation, preservation, governing, redemption, justification, etc., are in the nature of the case “transient acts.” As works they do not belong to the plan of God’s ordering but to the execution of it


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