Good Stuff From John Gill on Eternal Union By Election

This is from John Gill’s God’s Everlasting Love to His Elect, and Their Eternal Union with Christ. I stop the quotation where I begin to disagree with Gill, when he argues that legal justification is eternal also.

“What we are most likely to differ about, is, when God’s elect are united to Christ, and what is the bond of their union to him. It is generally said that they are not united to Christ until they believe, and that the bond of union is the Spirit on Christ’s part, and faith on ours.

I am ready to think that these phrases are taken up by divines, one from another, without a thorough consideration of them. It is well, indeed, that Christ is allowed any part or share in effecting our union with him; though one should think the whole of it ought to be ascribed to him, since it is such an instance of surprising love and grace, than which there cannot well be thought to be a greater.

Why must this union he pieced up with faith on our part? This smells so prodigious rank of self, that one may justly suspect that something rotten and nauseous lies at the bottom of it. I shall therefore undertake to prove, that the bond of union of God’s elect to Christ, is neither the Spirit on Christ’s part, nor faith on their part.

1. It is not the Spirit on Christ’s part. The mission of the Spirit into the hearts of Cod’s elect, to regenerate, quicken, and sanctify them, to apply the blessings of grace to them, and seal them up to the day of redemption, and the bestowing of his several gifts and graces upon them, are in consequence, and by virtue of a previous and antecedent union of them to the Person of Christ.

They do not first receive the Spirit of Christ, and then by the Spirit are united to him; but they are first united to him, and, by virtue of this union, receive the Spirit of him… A person is first joined, glued, closely united to Christ, and then becomes one Spirit with him; that is, receives, enjoys, and possesses in measure, the same Spirit as he does, as the members of an human body do participate of the same spirit the head does, to which they are united: he that is joined unto the Lord, is one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17).

The case is this; Christ, as the Mediator of the covenant, and Head of God’s elect, received the Spirit without measure, that is, a fullness of the gifts and graces of the Spirit: These persons being united to Christ, as members to their Head, do, in his own TIME receive the Spirit from him, though in measure. They are first chosen in him, adopted through him, made one with him, become heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; and then, as the apostle says, Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Gal. 4:6).

Besides, the Spirit of God, in his personal inhabitation in the saints, in the operations of his grace on their hearts, is the evidence, and not the bond of their union to God or Christ, and of their communion with them: For hereby we know, says the apostle John (1 John 3:24), that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us…

2. Neither is faith the bond of union to Christ. Those who plead for union by faith, would do well to tell us whether we are united to Christ, by the habit or principle of faith implanted, or by the act of faith; and since there are different acts of faith, they should tell us by which our union is, and whether by the first, second, third, &c. acts of believing…

if we are united to Christ by faith, as an act of ours, then we are united to Christ by a work, for faith, as an act of ours, is a work; and if by a work, then not by grace; for, if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace; but if it be of works, then is it no more grace, otherwise work is no more work (Rom. 11:6).

I have often wondered that our divines should fix upon the grace of faith to be the bond of union to Christ, when there is nothing in it that is of a cementing and uniting nature: it is not a grace of union but of communion. Had they pitched upon the grace of love, as the bond of union, it would have appeared much more plausible; for love is of a knitting and uniting nature; it is the bond of friendship among men…

Faith is no uniting grace, nor are any of its acts of a cementing nature. Faith indeed looks to Christ, lays hold on him, embraces him, and cleaves unto him; it expects and receives all from Christ, and gives him all the glory; but then hereby a person can no more be said to be united to Christ, than a beggar may be said to be united to a person to whom he applies, of whom he expects alms, from whom he receives, and to whom he is thankful.

Faith is a grace of communion, by which Christ dwells in the hearts of his people, which is an act (of) fellowship, as a fruit of union, by which believers live on Christ, receive of his fullness, grace for grace, and walk on in him as they have received him. Union to Christ is the foundation of faith, and of all the acts of believing, as seeing, walking, receiving, &c. A man may as well be said to see, walk, and receive without his head, or without union to it, as one can be said to believe, that is, to see, walk, and receive in a spiritual sense, without the head, Christ; or as an antecedent to union to him, or, in order to it.

To talk of faith in Christ before union to Christ, is a most preposterous, absurd, and irrational notion…

There must be a principle of spiritual life before there can be any faith, or the exercise of it. There must be first a vital union to Christ, before there can be any believing in him. This is fitly and fully exemplified in the simile of the vine and branches, which Christ makes use of to express the union of his people to him: Abide in me, and I in you, says he (John 15:4, 5), as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 1 am the Vine, ye are the branches he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.

Now faith is a fruit of the Spirit, which grows upon the branches, that are in Christ the Vine; but then these branches must first be in the vine, before they bear this fruit; for the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit (Prov. 12:12). The branches of the wild olive tree must first be engrafted into the good olive tree, become one with it, and so partake of the root and fatness of it, before they can bring forth good fruit. Could there be the fruit of faith in Christ’s people before their union to him, then the branches would bear fruit without the vine, without being in it, or united to it, contrary to our Lord’s express words.

From the whole, it may safely be concluded, that union to Christ is before faith, and therefore faith cannot be the bond of union; no, not on our part. Vital union is before faith. There always was a fulness of life laid up and reserved for all those who were chosen in Christ; there was always life in Christ the Head for all his members, which he, when it pleases him, in regeneration, communicates to them, and implants in them, though there is no activity or exercise of this life until they believe.

The everlasting love of God, the Father, Son, and Spirit, is the bond of the elect’s union to the sacred Three. What may he said of the three divine Persons in general, is true of each of them in particular. They have all three loved the elect with an everlasting love, and thereby have firmly and everlastingly united them to themselves. Christ has loved them with an everlasting and unchangeable love.

This is that cement which will never loosen, that union knot which can never be untied, that bond which can never be dissolved, from whence there can be no separation; for who shall separate us from the love of Christ? I am persuaded, says the apostle (Rom. 8:35, 38, 39), that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is an election-union in Christ from everlasting: God hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).This is an act and instance of everlasting love, by which the persons chosen are considered in Christ, and one with him. Christ was chosen as an head, his people as members with him.

Arminius and his followers, the Remonstrants, have frequently urged the text now mentioned in favor of election from faith foreseen, and their argument upon it is this: “None are chosen to salvation but in Christ; none are in Christ but believers, who are engrafted into Christ, and united to him by faith, therefore none are chosen to salvation, but those who are believers in sin Christ, are engrafted into him, and united with him.”

For they had no other notion of being in Christ, but by faith. But then, they have been told by the Anti-Remonstrants, “That it is certain that we are chosen and regarded in Christ before we were believers; which is fully proved from several places of scripture, which plainly make it appear, that the elect have some existence in Christ, even before they believe; for unless there had been some kind of union between Christ and the members, Christ would not have been their head, nor could he have satisfied for them.”

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10 Comments on “Good Stuff From John Gill on Eternal Union By Election”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    From a little later in Gill: It may be further objected, that God’s elect, while in a state of nature, are children of wrath, even as others, and therefore cannot be the objects of God’s love and delight; for how can they be children of wrath, and yet objects of love at one and the same time? To which I reply, that “a person may be the object of love and delight, and of displeasure and wrath, at one and the same time, in a different respect.” It is said of the Jews (Rom. 11:28), as concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.

    But this will be bettor exemplified in the instance of Jesus Christ, “who standing in two different relations, and sustaining two “different capacities, was at one and the same time the object of his Father’s love and wrath; as he was the Son of God, he was always the object of his love and delight; but as he was the sinner’s surety, and while bearing the sins of his people in his own body on the tree, he was the object of his displeasure and wrath, which he sensibly felt, and therefore it is said (Ps. 89:38), Thou hast cast off and abhorred; thou heat been wrath with thine anointed. And yet even then, when he poured out his wrath to the uttermost on him, on the account of his people’s sins, when he ordered justice to draw its sword, and sheath it in him, his love towards him, as his Son, was not in the last abated.”

    Thus the elect of God, being considered in different views, may be truly said to be children of wrath, and objects of love at one and the same time; consider them in Adam, and under the covenant of works, they are children of wrath, they are deserving of the wrath of God, and are exposed to the curse of the law; but then as considered in Christ, and under the covenant of grace, they always were, and ever will be, the objects of God’s love and delight.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Justification is not only a matter of epistemology (knowledge communicated and revealed to us) but is ontological (real and objective before God and in God’s mind). We really were born under the wrath of God, and it’s not only that we think so. And that’s what we need to tell lost people: not only that they need to be born again, not only that they need to know something (both those things are true) but also that imputation is so real and so legal and so objective before God that when Jesus Christ was imputed with the sins of the elect, that meant that Jesus Christ really had to die in time and space for those sins.

    History is not pretend, not a show. History is God’s actions. And even though justification is not an act God does in the elect sinner, justification is nevertheless an act that has effects in reality so that when God declares a ungodly person to be righteous, the result is life and all the other blessings of salvation.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    I am “credobaptist” but I don’t make a big deal about it, because I don’t see water when I see the word “baptism”. And no, that doesn’t make me a Bullingerite or a gnostic, but I am simply trying to explain my indifference to much debate about “sacrament”. Even though I am five point Calvinist, I don’t call myself “Reformed” and am perfectly willing to say that only those paedobaptists (who use Zwingli’s argument from circumcision) should use that label. I guess that means I think Lutherans are not Reformed, and that anabaptists are not “non-magistrate” reformers.
    Also, I have agreed that Calvin put a non-forensic “union” before justification.

    You’re asking if I like Spurgeon only reminds me why I don’t like to use the “baptist” or “reformed baptist” category. Spurgeon did a lot of double-talking and was a very compromised Calvinist. Not that you have to be a baptist to do that!.

    mark: 1. Horton’s book on “Covenant Union”, the third volume in his 4 volume drama series. Also the collection from Modern Reformation:Justified, which includes essays by Preus, David Gordon, and also the very important essay by George Hunsinger (American Tragedy: Jonathan Edwards on Justification”.
    2. Bruce Mcormack’s What’s At Stake in the Current Debates on Justification, in the Ivp (20040) collection from the Wheaton Theology Conference. I regard this essay as the single most important essay on imputation written in recent years. Horton refers to it often in his Covenant Union. Of course I do not agree with MCormack’s Barthian view of election and the atonement, the “actualism” and the “decree is present election” and “God becoming God”, but as a matter of historical reflection on what Calvin said (and didn’t say), it should not be ignored.
    3. Edward Boehl’s The Reformed Doctrine of Justification came out in 1946. The preface by Berkhof is interesting, because it shows that this current accusing some Reformed guys of being too “Lutheran” is not a new thing. Boehl came out of a Lutheran background, and brought some very good points with him that were not overcome by views that “condition” (in some way) justification on regeneration.
    4. Abraham Booth is an old baptist who loved John Owen and who fought the neo-nomianism of the New England theology of Andrew Fuller, Jonathan Edwards JR, Bellamy etc. And Booth did this without falling into the eternal justification ditch of John Gill and Tobias Crisp. I would recommend his Glad Tidings and especially Divine Justice Essential to the Divine Character, even though he is most famous for “The Reign of Grace”


    My conclusion to one who teaches “eternal justification” —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. Bit it seems to me that you must say to them what I say about election–you already are or are not—and yet you say this to them about justification. You say, you are already justified or you are not, but you just don’t know which. (I would assume that you would say that some of the justified know that they are, but that none of them can now know that they are not justified). 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.


    Casey: not believing does not make us condemned, but only gives evidence of our condemnation

    mark: i agree, but since we unbelief is a result and evidence of condemnation, and since the elect are born without belief in the gospel, this shows that the eternally elect are not eternally justified

    I Cor 6:11 I Cor 6:11 And such WERE some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    II Cor 5: 16 From NOW ON, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we ONCE regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus NO LONGER 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

    ROMANS 5: 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have NOW received reconciliation.

    Andrew Fuller (and many infralsparians) do say that condemnation is a result of unbelief

    But in what sense is a person who has never heard the gospel in unbelief of the gospel? in the sense that the person who never heard is still nevertheless self-righteous?

    Andrew Fuller: Faith is necessary to justification, not as being the ground or basis of justification, nor is justification a reward because of faith as a virtue, but without faith we cannot be united to a living Redeemer….If union with Christ were ‘acquired’ by faith, then such an union would be inconsistent with free justification, but if the necessity of faith merely rises from the nature of things–that is, fitness to unite…and if faith itself is a gift of God, no such consequence follows, because the union-though we be active in it–is in reality created by God.” Gospel Worthy, p 184


    Bavinck: As the internal call directly and immediately,without a time lapse, results in “habitual faith,” so also does this faith include from the very beginning of its existence the assurance that not only to others but to me also forgiveness of sins has been granted. This assurance does not need to be added through a special revelation, as asserted by Rome.

    When the Scriptures say of this justification in “a concrete sense” that it takes place by and through faith, it does not intend to say that it is produced and wrought through that faith, since Jesus Christ is all our righteousness and all benefits of grace are the fruits of his labor and of his labor alone; they are entirely contained in his person and are not in any need of any addition on our part. Saving faith directs our heart from the very beginning away from ourselves and unto God’s mercy in Christ.

    Many have in later years, when the confessional power of the Reformation weakened, entered the way of self-examination, in order to be assured of the sincerity of their faith and their salvation. Thus was the focus shifted from the promise of God to the experience of the pious.

    It is not we who approach the judgment of God, after self-examination, with the sincerity of our faith, in order to receive there the forgiveness of our sins; God does not sit in judgment by himself in heaven to hear the parties and to pronounce sentence…God himself comes to us in the gospel. The foundation of faith lie outside ourselves in the promise of God; whoever builds thereupon shall not be ashamed.

    It is possible for us to conceive of faith at the same time as a receptive organ and as an active force. If justification in every respect comes about after faith, faith becomes a condition, an activity, which must be performed by man beforehand, and it cannot be purely receptive. But if the righteousness, on the ground of which we are justified, lies wholly outside of us in Christ Jesus, then faith is not a “cause.”

    Faith is not an instrument of justification, for it stands in relation to justification not as, for example, the eye to seeing or the ear to hearing. Faith is not a condition, upon which, nor an instrument or organ, through which we receive this benefit, but it is the acceptance itself of Christ and all his benefits, as He presents Himself to us through word and Spirit, and it includes therefore also the consciousness, that He is my Lord and I am his possession.

    Faith is therefore not an instrument in the proper sense, of which man makes use in order to accept Christ, but it is a sure knowledge and a solid confidence which the Holy Spirit works in the heart and through which He persuades and assures man that he, not withstanding all his sins, has part in Christ and in all his benefits.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    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

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Gill- But here I was assaulted with an objection, which the Reverend Minister of the parish was pleased to move from Rom. 16: 7, where Paul speaking of Andronicus and Junia, saith, they “were in Christ before me;”from whence he would infer, that none are in Christ, or, united unto Christ, before they do believe. Whereunto I returned no answer, but humbly desired him to leave the management of the conference, unto him that had preached. I did, the rather pass it over, in regard that there is so little difficulty therein, for it is evident, the Apostle speaks there, not of their spiritual union with Christ, which is invisible to man, for God only knows who are His; but of such a being in Christ, as is by external profession and Church communion; in which respect, the whole visible Church is called Christ; {I Cor. 12: 12;} and hypocrites, as well as the elect, are said to be in Christ, and to be branches in him; {Jn. 15: 2,3;} and thus it is acknowledged, that one is in Christ, before another, according as they are called, and converted, whether really, or in appearance. {See Diodati on Romans 16: 7}[ 14] It doth not follow, that the union of the elect to Christ is successive, or that it is an act done in time, depending upon conditions performed by them.” -Eyre

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