Eternal Justification

Section II: Theology Proper (Study of God)
Chapter 8: Goodwin and Maccovius on Eternal Justification

The authors take the first half of this chapter defending Thomas Goodwin's reputation on the matter of eternal justification.  The main guardrail here is that we are justified when we believe, not before (according to Westminster Confession of Faith 11.4).  Goodwin apparently defined justification as made up of three parts: God's decree from eternity to justify us, Christ's death and resurrection for our justification, and the Spirit applying Christ to us (resulting in faith and union with Christ) and so effecting our justification.  Really, only the last of these is actually justification.  But defining it in these three stages, it's easy to see how some could say he held to eternal justification.

The danger of this view is that you could theoretically be justified without coming to faith, leading to anti-nomianism.  ("Who gives a rip about believing in Christ?  God has already justified who He will outside of time, so it doesn't matter what I believe or do.")

The authors interact briefly with contemporary reformed scholars, which provides a bit of interest.  Carl Trueman gets Goodwin partly wrong, but Michael Horton gets him right in his Ph.D. dissertation!

Second half of the chapter:
Maccovius believed justification took place at the first promise of a Justifier in history, in Genesis 3:15.  This is an unusual view, but the authors stress it is not outside the bounds of orthodoxy.  It isn't the position of justification from eternity, but takes place in history, with the elect considered collectively, not individually.

I'm all for granting room for various views on the details of doctrines like this, even major doctrines.  And we are definitely way into the scholastic weeds, here!  But John 3:36 and WCF 11.4 both seem fairly clear that Maccovius was off base.  Even for the elect, God's wrath is on them in a sense until they believe.  My hunch (totally uneducated!) is that Maccovius wanted so to emphasize the redemptive-historical proto-evangelium in Genesis 3:15 that he brought the big doctrinal gun of justification into it.  This was a mistake.

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