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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Justification (2)

I. Biblical doctrine.

1. The OT and Pharisaic doctrines.

2. The Pauline doctrine.

II. Historical.

1. The Catholic doctrine.

2. The Protestant doctrine.

3. Modern theories.

III. Constructive treatment.

I. Biblical doctrine

1. The OT and Pharisaic doctrines.—The doctrine of justification through faith in Christ owes its origin to St. Paul, and is the outcome of two factors, his Jewish training on the one hand, and his Christian experience on the other. The idea of justification itself was derived by the Apostle from the Rabbinic theology, whose doctrine of justification by the works of the Law is at once the antithesis and the necessary background of his own. The Rabbinic doctrine again rested upon an OT basis. We can trace the development of the idea of righteousness before God in the prophets, who from the first judge Israel by the standard of the absolutely righteous demands of Jahweh. In the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the idea is brought into connexion with the individual (Jeremiah 20:12, Habakkuk 1:4; Habakkuk 1:13; Habakkuk 2:4, Ezekiel 3:20-21; Ezekiel 18:19 ff; Ezekiel 33:12 ff.). Further, this age being also that of the development of the Law, whose authors aimed at embodying the demands of Jahweh in a practical form, we find the idea connected with the fulfilment either of the Law as a whole (Deuteronomy 6:25), or of a single commandment contained in it (Deuteronomy 24:13). Finally, in the post-exilic period the idea receives a great development. God is characterized as the righteous Judge (Psalms 9:7-8; Psalms 50:6; Psalms 94:2; Psalms 96:10; Psalms 96:13 etc.), whose righteousness results in the punishment of sinners (Psalms 1:5-6, Psalms 9:16, Psalms 11:5-6 etc.). The actual positive recognition of the righteousness of the righteous is said in Psalms 62:12 to depend on the Divine grace; the latter term, however, is practically synonymous with righteousness in its beneficent aspect (Psalms 33:5, Psalms 36:6-7, Psalms 48:9-10, Psalms 145:17). Sinners God can justify so far as they are at bottom righteous (Job 33:26). But the godless He may not justify (Psalms 69:27). The general idea is, further, that the recognition of righteousness by God is manifested by outward good fortune; just as His displeasure is shown by outward calamity (Isaiah 65:13-14, Malachi 4:2-3, Psalms 37:19-20 etc.; cf. Wellhausen, IJG [Note: JG Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte.] 5 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] p. 220, n. [Note: note.] 1). In the later post-exilic literature, however, the idea that the righteous is always rewarded and the wicked always punished in this life, is abandoned, and there appears the conception that the final justification or condemnation takes place after death (Job 19:25-26, Daniel 12:2-3). This conception is henceforth predominant, as in the Pharisaic theology, to which we now turn.

The Pharisaic conception of the relation of man to God was purely legal, and based upon the idea of the Law as a contract between God and man. The idea of grace which qualifies the legalism of the OT sinks altogether into the background. The Pharisaic doctrine implies that the Divine demands expressed in the Law can be satisfied, and that the fulfilment of them gives a claim to reward. It is the recognition of this claim that is now meant by ‘justification.’ The conception is further carried out into detail in that the Law is regarded atomically as the sum of the commandments it contains (cf., however, Deuteronomy 6:25). Every act of obedience is entered by God in the heavenly books, as is also every act of transgression. The decision is according to the preponderance. If this is on the side of the good, the Divine sentence of justification follows, which consists in the declaration that the man is righteous. The account is finally made up at death (Weber, Jud. Theol.2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] 1897, p. 277 ff.).

It will be apparent that the whole idea, both in the OT and still more distinctly in the Pharisaic theology, is forensic. With this, again, agrees the derivation of the group of technical terms used in the OT in connexion with the idea of justification (צְדִקָה צֶדֶק ‘righteousness,’ צַדִּיק ‘righteous,’ הִצְדִּיק ‘justify’). This group has almost universally a forensic sense. The words are so used secularly, and are therefore naturally applied with this meaning in religion (Smend, Alttest. Religionsgeschichte2, 1899, p. 388 f.). In the LXX the equivalents are δικαιοσύνη, δίκαιος, δικαιόω. On the constant forensic use of δικαιόω in the LXX (OT and Apocr.), also in the pseudepigraphic books, see Sanday-Headlam, ‘Romans’ in Internat. Crit. Com. p. 31. In Talmudic theology צֶדֶק is replaced by זְבוּח ‘innocence,’ and הִצְדִּיק by זַכּוֹח; וֶבִה also appears for צַדִּיק, but the latter is maintained in use along with it (Weber, p. 277 f.).

It is finally to be observed that, both in the OT and in the Rabbinic theology, righteousness before God and justification, whether looked for from the Divine grace or on the ground of human merit, are religious ideas. Righteousness is not sought for its own sake, as a moralist might seek it, but always as the condition of acceptance with God, and the blessings which flow from this, in this world or the next. It is at this point that the Pauline conception of justification by faith links itself on to the older theologies. What St. Paul has in view is always the question of acceptance with God, and his doctrine is the answer of his Christian experience to a problem set in the terms of the Pharisaic theology.

2. The Pauline doctrine.—There is no doubt that St. Paul’s idea of justification is essentially the same as the Pharisaic, and, like it, forensic. In the fundamental passage Romans 3:19 ff. the whole setting is forensic. Note the words ἵνα πᾶν στόμα φραγῇ, ὑπόδικος (Romans 3:19); ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ. (Romans 3:20). Mankind is arraigned before the judgment-bar of God, and the justification which follows must be forensic. So in Romans 4:5 justification is connected with imputation, a distinctly legal conception: λογίζεται = ‘is reckoned,’ i.e. in the heavenly account-books. See, further, Sanday-Headlam, i.e. p. 30, who decide on general philological grounds that δικαιοῦν means to pronounce righteous: ‘It has relation to a verdict pronounced by a judge.… It cannot mean to make righteous.’ So far, then, St. Paul is in agreement with the Pharisees. But the deeper insight of his conscience will not allow him to suppose that God can be satisfied with a mere preponderance of performance over transgression. For him to attain righteousness by the works of the Law would involve the complete fulfilment of it. But this is impossible; for all are sinners (Romans 3:23). Hence St. Paul concludes that ‘by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in God’s sight’ (Romans 3:20).

Here is the point where St. Paul introduces his doctrine, based on his own personal experience, of a new method of justification (Romans 3:21 ff.), of which the principle on God’s side is grace (χάρις). i.e. the free unmerited love of God (Romans 3:24), and on man’s side faith (Romans 1:17, Romans 4:5). As proceeding from the Divine grace, justification by faith is totally opposed to justification by works, which depends on merit (Romans 4:4). Instead of attaining a righteousness by his own efforts, the believer submissively receives a righteousness which is wholly of God, and His gift (Romans 5:17, Romans 10:3, Philippians 3:9). This casts light upon the Pauline conception of faith. It is the method by which the grace of God is subjectively appropriated. In so far as the believer, instead of acting on his own initiative, allows himself to be determined by God (Romans 10:3), faith is a species of obedience; thus St. Paul speaks of the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5). But as correlative to grace, or the free love of God, faith is psychologically trust, a believing ‘on God’ (Romans 4:24).

The revelation of the Divine grace which awakens faith takes place, according to St. Paul, in the Person of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19) and in His work, more especially in His death, but also in His resurrection. Christ’s death was the work of the Divine grace in that God ordained it as an expiatory sacrifice for sin, Christ dying instead of sinners, that in the act of justification He might not appear indulgent of sin (Romans 3:25; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:8). Christ’s resurrection is also included in the revelation by which God’s grace to sinners is made known (Romans 4:25; Romans 8:34; Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 15:17), but St. Paul does not define its exact place in it. In fact, Christ’s resurrection, as the object of faith, is hardly separable from the Risen Christ. It is God’s act by which He presents Christ alive, in spite of His death (Romans 4:24; Romans 10:9), as the object of faith.

It is to be observed, finally, that justification requires for its complete explanation both sides of the correlation, grace and faith, which in St. Paul’s mind are associated in the closest possible manner. Thus he speaks of the revelation of the righteousness of God through faith (Romans 1:17, Romans 3:22): the whole is really one idea. Only thus can we explain the remarkable interchange of language which the Apostle uses with respect to the two sides of the correlation. Justification is generally associated more closely with faith, or the subjective side (Romans 3:26, Romans 5:1). But in 2 Corinthians 5:19 St. Paul says that God was in Christ, not imputing to men their trespasses, which last phrase is synonymous with ‘justifying men’; so that here justification is associated with the objective side, or the revelation of grace (cf. Romans 3:24). So also in Romans 5:16, if δικαίωμα be rightly translated ‘sentence of justification’ (so Sanday-Headlam, l.c. p. 141), then St. Paul here represents this sentence as falling once for all at the death of Christ. On the other hand, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ belongs to the objective side of the correlation; yet St. Paul speaks of Christ in Romans 3:25 as propitiatory through faith in His blood. Evidently, then, grace and faith are so organically related that the one implies the other, and is properly understood only through its correlative.

We must now return to the form in which St. Paul has expressed his doctrine of justification. It is, as we have seen, determined by his Pharisaic training, and is that of a forensic judgment. But the form is all that the Apostle has in common with the Pharisaic idea. The judgment of justification in his conception is extra-judicial, i.e. God has regard in it to considerations outside the Law. The righteousness of faith is ‘apart from law’ (χωρίς νόμου, Romans 3:21). The Law as such takes account only of merit, as St. Paul himself testifies: ‘He that doeth them shall live in them’ (Galatians 3:12). But the Divine sentence of justification takes account of faith, which is a consideration beyond the purview of the Law: ‘The law is not of faith’ (ib.). In fact, in justification the Law is transcended by grace, which reckons faith for righteousness (Romans 4:4-5). St. Paul does not mean that faith is a work, and that grace simply reckons the work of faith instead of the works of the Law. This would be, after all, half legalism. With the Apostle, as we have seen, faith is not a work, but a receiving; not a second principle of justification over against grace, but simply the reflex of Divine grace in man. Grace therefore sees in faith simply this reflex of itself, and in justifying the sinner by faith in reality justifies on the ground of itself (cf. Isaiah 43:25).

What, then, is the essential point in the Pauline presentation of justification as forensic? It is, to use philosophic language, that justification is a synthetic, not an analytic judgment. It is not based on anything in the believer—not even on his faith, which comes into view only so far as the Divine grace is reflected in it. In justification God ‘justifies the ungodly’ (Romans 4:5): the words are evidently chosen by St. Paul with a clear sense of the paradox involved, as the deliberate opposition of language to the OT shows (cf. Exodus 23:7, Deuteronomy 25:1, Proverbs 17:15, Isaiah 5:23). God does not, in justification, recognize the presence of any attribute in the sinner; on the contrary, He adds to him an attribute while he is still a sinner, viz. that of righteousness. It is evident that the paradoxical character of this doctrine created misunderstanding even in St. Paul’s time (Romans 3:8; cf. Romans 6:1); and it has done so ever since. The paradox, however, resolves itself at once as soon as we remember that it is ‘righteousness,’ not in the ethical, but in the religious sense, as the condition of acceptance with God, which is meant. The OT taught that righteousness was the condition of acceptance with God; the Pharisees sharpened this into the doctrine that the performance of the Law was the condition. St. Paul’s language is determined by this form in which he found the problem of acceptance with God stated; his meaning simply is that God accepts the sinner on the ground of His mere grace, apart from all question of merit. It is consequently ‘only another, though less difficult, expression for the same act of the Divine judgment’ when St. Paul speaks of adoption (υἱοθεσία, Galatians 4:5), or the reception of the sinner into the position of a child of God (Holtzmann, Neutest. Theol. ii. p. 134). Adoption is also formally a judicial act, and really a synthetic act of the Divine judgment. The possible objection to this identification of justification and adoption, viz. that justification is the act of God as Judge, but adoption His act as Father, falls to the ground as soon as it is remembered that justification is really an extra-judicial judgment, proceeding from the Divine grace (Ritschl, Justification and Reconciliation3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ’, iii., English translation p. 86 ff.).

Finally, we get still further light on St. Paul’s meaning as to justification from the fact that in Romans 4:7 he introduces, as synonymous with the imputation of righteousness or justification, the OT idea of the forgiveness of sins (cf. also Ephesians 1:7), which links his teaching on at once to that of Christ Himself; and it appears that the Pauline conceptions of justification and adoption are simply the equivalent of the Fatherly forgiveness taught by Jesus (Kaftan, Dogmatik 3, 4, p. 523). The idea that forgiveness is something merely negative, while justification conveys a positive status, turns on an inadequate conception of the Biblical idea of forgiveness.

So far we have considered justification as a Divine operation; it now remains to consider its practical issues, when it takes effect in the admission of the sinner to fellowship with God. Faith now conies into view, not simply as the reflexion of grace, but in its psychological nature as trust, including the submission of the will to God; and the practical effects of justification appear as the unfolding of this trust in its various aspects. The first of these is the sense of present peace with God (Romans 5:1), or the consciousness of acceptance with Him. Here appears a strong contrast with the Pharisaic theology, which, teaching not the justification of the sinner, but only of him who has kept the precepts, defers justification till the hour of death, and consequently demands in the present a condition of anxious fear lest in the end justification should not be attained (Weber, l.c. pp. 284, 334 ff.; cf. Romans 8:15). Along with present peace goes patience in all present suffering (Romans 5:2-3; Romans 5:5), in the belief that it is Divinely ordered for the best ends (Romans 8:28), while there is at the same time a consciousness of the Divine love (Romans 5:5, Romans 8:35-39). Here appears a contrast to the OT point of view, from which temporal sufferings appeared as signs of the Divine displeasure. This contrast is strikingly brought out by comparing St. Paul’s triumphant use of the quotation in Romans 8:36 with its original despondent meaning in Psalms 44:22. While St. Paul finds it impossible that persecution should separate the believer from the love of God, the Psalmist sees in it a proof that God has cast off His people (cf. Psalms 44:9). Finally, there is no fear of final punishment (Romans 5:9), but rather a joyful hope, nay certainty, of ultimate salvation (Romans 5:2; Romans 5:10, Romans 6:23, Romans 8:30; Romans 8:38-39). The sum of all these things, in fact the whole consequence of justification, St. Paul expresses by saying that, for the believer, ‘There is now no condemnation’ (Romans 8:1), or that he is not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:15). From this point of view the work of Christ appears as a redemption from the curse of the Law. Christ, in His death, bore its curse, and its power is therefore at an end (Galatians 3:13). St. Paul refers in this passage to the Jewish Law, as the antithesis with Galatians 3:14 shows: ‘Christ redeemed us [Jews] from the curse of the law … that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus.’ But his idea of freedom from the Law is not to be limited to freedom from the Jewish Law. Though, historically, this special case was of the greatest importance, St. Paul means that the Christian religion is a religion not of law, but of grace. He also expresses the same idea in terms of the parallel conception of adoption, by saying that the believer has received, in place of the spirit of bondage, leading to fear, the spirit of adoption, ‘whereby we cry, Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15).

The doctrine of the Epistle of James on justification, whether the author has the Pauline doctrine or abuses of it in view or not [on the critical question connected with the Epistle see Moffatt, Historical NT2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 576, for a good statement of the alternatives; also Sanday-Headlam, ‘Romans,’ p. 104; and W. Patrick, James the Lord’s Brother], raises an important problem in connexion with it. It is to be noted, first, that the idea of faith in the Epistle is quite different from St. Paul’s. When the author teaches that justification is not by faith only, but by works also, the faith he has in view is a mere intellectual assent to Christian truth, especially to the doctrine of the Divine unity (James 2:19). Further, his idea of works is not that of meritorious performance deserving reward, but of practical morality. He solves the problem of justification in reality by going back behind the legalism of the Pharisees, and behind the Law altogether, to the position of the OT prophets, in so far as they demanded practical righteousness as the condition of acceptance with God. His doctrine and St. Paul’s, therefore, touch nowhere except in language; in thought they are altogether apart. At the same time, the Epistle of James serves forcibly to raise the question, which St. Paul’s doctrine is always liable to provoke, viz. what safeguard it offers, while satisfying the religious needs of man, for his moral interests. Reference has already been made to the passage in which St. Paul speaks of opposition to his teaching; it was its apparent antinomianism that provoked this opposition (Romans 3:8; cf. Romans 6:1).

We have thus to return to St. Paul, and ask how he met this difficulty. He does it by opening a new line of argument, in which he presents a fresh view of the death and resurrection of Christ, where these acts appear in the ethical sense of a death to sin and a resurrection to a new life unto God (Romans 6:10), and where, further, Christ in His death and resurrection appears as inclusive of all for whom He died (2 Corinthians 5:14). In correspondence with this view, faith also takes on a new significance. It is still a receptivity and an obedience; but as that which it receives is different, it appears with new powers, as establishing a mystic union with Christ in His death and resurrection, the outward symbol of which is baptism (Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:1-6, Colossians 2:11), from which union St. Paul draws the ethical consequence, that the believer being dead with Christ to sin, and alive with Him to God, should live accordingly (Romans 6:4; Romans 6:11-13, Colossians 3:1; Colossians 3:5). A parallel line of argument presents the view of the Risen Christ as the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17), and faith correspondingly as involving the endowment of the Spirit (Galatians 3:2, cf. Romans 8:1-11), by which the believer is transformed into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). But again, the possession of the Spirit demands a life according to the Spirit (Galatians 5:25, Romans 8:12-13). Along these lines, then, St. Paul makes provision for Christian morality. He presents, as we see, his total thought on the salvation of the individual through the work of Christ in two hemispheres—the former doctrine of justification and this further doctrine which corresponds to the ecclesiastical doctrines of regeneration and sanctification. St. Paul passes continually from the one hemisphere to the other in a way that shows that he feels them to be vitally related; and there are not wanting points of contact between them, amongst which we may note especially the fact that the idea of faith is common to both hemispheres, as is also that of the Spirit, who appears in connexion with justification and adoption as diffusing the consciousness of the love of God (Romans 5:5) and as witnessing to our adoption (8:16), as well as in connexion with regeneration and sanctification as the potency of the new life. Further, there is a cycle of passages in which there appears a tendency to the unification of the two hemispheres of thought, by making justification conditional on regeneration and sanctification, and thus still future aod the object of effort (Romans 8:17, Galatians 2:17, 1 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 9:24; 1 Corinthians 9:27, Philippians 3:10; Philippians 3:14). See on the whole subject Holtzmann, Neutest. Theol. ii. p. 137 ff. In the main, however, St. Paul keeps the two hemispheres apart. Holtzmann (p. 137, n. [Note: note.] 1) quotes Pfleiderer, who, using another figure, speaks of ‘the two streams which unite in Paulinism in one bed, without, however, inwardly blending.’

II. Historical

1. The Catholic doctrine.—St. Paul’s doctrine of justification remained after his death in practical abeyance, until it was revived at the Reformation. There is little trace of it in the NT outside of his own Epistles (i.e. of the specific Pauline form of the doctrine of forgiveness). Only uncertain echoes of it are found in the post-Apostolic age, and under the régime of Catholicism, both ancient and mediaeval, it remained practically a dead letter. Common Catholicism, in fact, returned substantially to the Pharisaic doctrine of salvation by merit, against which St. Paul had fought, with its accompanying atmosphere of fear of coming short at last. According to Gregory the Great, who is here typical, assurance is the mother of indolence, and the fear of Divine judgment is the only fit attitude for the Christian till his last day on earth (Harnack, Dogmengeschichte3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , iii. p. 250, n. [Note: note.] 1). In such an atmosphere the words of the Pauline vocabulary necessarily lost their original meaning, and took on a new significance. Faith came to mean, not trust, but intellectual assent to revealed truth; grace, not the unmerited love of God, but the Holy Spirit, as sacramentally communicated or infused (so Tertullian; see Loofs, Leitfaden, p. 104). It was the work of Augustine to create a new doctrine of justification by the combination of these ideas. First he interpreted the word ‘justification’ itself to mean not ‘a declaring righteous,’ but ‘a making righteous’; what else is justificati than justi facti? (de Sp. ct Litt. 26, 45). Then, further, he combined the idea of justification in this sense with that of ‘infused’ grace. Augustine teaches that it is this infused grace which justifies or makes righteous by renewing the nature. He is able thus, with St. Paul, to conceive righteousness as a gift; the gift, however, is not of forensic, but of inherent righteousness. This idea of justification by infused grace, it is to be noted, lacks that immediate and necessary connexion with the work of Christ which lies at the base of the Pauline doctrine. Augustine, indeed, regards the forgiveness of sins as an effect of grace, parallel with the renewal of the nature; but faith is not brought into the connexion. The idea of faith remains with Augustine simply the common Catholic idea of assent to revealed truth; so that faith is no more than a presupposition of salvation. Only as it is completed by hope and love through the infusion of grace, is it Christian and saving faith (Seeberg, Dogmengeschichte, i. 276). It is obvious how far Augustine is here from St. Paul, though he constantly uses the Apostle’s formula ‘justification by faith’ (Seeberg, p. 277). The climax of his departure from Pauline doctrine, however, is reached when the idea of merit is drawn into the scheme. The combination is thus effected. Grace alone renders merit possible. God in His condescension accepts as meritorious the works which are really His own gifts: ‘what are called our merits are His gifts’ (de Trinitate, xiii. 10, 14).

In Western Catholicism the doctrine of justification remains substantially that of Augustine. The Roman Catholic doctrine was finally formulated in opposition to Protestantism at the Council of Trent. It is necessary to refer to two points only. The first is that, in the Middle Ages, Duns Scotus taught a modification of the Augustinian doctrine, which makes still wider room for the idea of merit. He avails himself of a distinction already found in Thomas Aquinas between merit of congruity (meritum de congruo) and condign merit (meritum de condigno).The former is based upon the idea of the Divine equity, to which it is congruous to reward every one who works according to his power after the excellency of the Divine power. The latter is based on the idea of strict justice, which rewards according to desert (Seeberg, l.e. ii. 105). According to Duns, the first grace itself can he merited de congruo by attrition, i.e. such repentance as is possible without grace. The second point to be observed is that the Council of Trent draws a natural consequence from the Augustinian idea of justification, by teaching that justification is progressive, and can and ought to receive continual increment (Sess. vi. cap. x.).

The great contrast between the Catholic doctrine and that of St. Paul is obvious at the first glance. A second look, however, might suggest that perhaps the contrast was not so great after all. For the Catholic doctrine of justification corresponds, though by no means exactly, to St. Paul’s doctrine of regeneration and sanctification. It might, therefore, appear as if the difference were really one of language. Nevertheless, in the end the contrast remains unmitigated by this seeming possibility of reconciliation; as Ritschl has acutely observed (op. cit.3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] iii. 36). Catholicism still remains in opposition to St. Paul’s idea of justification. What the Apostle calls ‘justification,’ viz. acceptance with God, including the assurance of eternal life (Romans 5:10; Romans 6:23; Romans 8:30; Romans 8:33; Romans 8:39), Catholic doctrine includes under the conception of hope. So Conc. Trid. Sess. vi. cap. xiii.: Christians ‘ought to fear, knowing that they are regenerated unto the hope of glory, and not yet unto glory.…’ No one, indeed, can be absolutely certain even of present grace (cap. ix.). It is true that within Catholicism the practical attitude of trust for salvation to the Divine mercy alone, apart from all merits, and the consequent sense of assurance, are to be found, as to some extent in Augustine (Harnack, op. cit. iii. p. 85 f.), but preeminently in Bernard of Clairvaux. In this attitude is the true harbinger of the return to St. Paul at the Reformation (Ritschl, op. cit.3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] i. 109 ff.). But we are now concerned with the Catholic doctrine, not with an attitude maintained in spite of it.

2. The Protestant doctrine.—With the Reformation we have a return to the Pauline idea of justification. The absolutely fundamental character for the Christian religion of the Pauline conception is firmly seized. As is well known, Luther called justification by faith ‘the article of a standing and falling Church.’ The Protestant doctrine, however, assumes a special form, in antithesis to the interim Catholic development, and St. Paul’s formula is sharpened into the still more definite shape ‘justification by faith alone.’

We have to note, first of all, a reversion to the original Pauline ideas of grace, faith, and justification. Luther, indeed, especially in his earlier period, remained somewhat entangled with the Catholic conception of the last, making the term include both a forensic and a real justification. This, however, was merely a matter of terminology, and has only a historical significance. Practically Luther held the Pauline view: the emphasis with him falls on the forensic aspect of justification. Moreover, the somewhat confused terminology of Luther was corrected by Melanchthon, who says decidedly that justification with the Hebrews was a forensic word, and opposes the idea of a real justification (Loci Theologici: ‘De gratia et justificatione’).

The Protestant theology, further, like St. Paul, found the revelation of the Divine grace in Christ, and His work for sinners. Here, however, a considerable development takes place, based upon the mediaeval development of the doctrine of the Atonement due to Anselm. The latter had viewed the death of Christ in the first place as a satisfaction to God’s honour, which liberated Him from the necessity of punishing sinners, and in the second place as a merit or work of supererogatory obedience, which could be made available for His followers. The Protestant theology accepted both these ideas, but with such modifications as made it possible to combine them with the forensic idea of justification. The death of Christ was viewed not as a satisfaction to God’s honour, but to the penal sanctions of His Law. To this was added His active obedience to the Law in His life as a satisfaction to its positive requirements. The whole was summed up as Christ’s active and passive obedience or merit, and regarded as a provision of the Divine grace with a view to the justification of sinners. Justification consists in the gracious imputation of this twofold merit or obedience to the sinner on the sole condition of faith, so that he becomes not only guiltless before the Law, but also totally free from its claims. This conception is common to both the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches. It did not grow up all at once; but the roots of it can be traced in the earlier Reformers, and it finally established itself firmly in both Churches. It is completely stated in the Formula of Concord (pars ii. Solida Declaratio, iii. 14, 15).

The change from the Pauline doctrine is marked by the alteration of his formula, the imputation of faith for righteousness, into that of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It is not merely one of language. The conception of Christ’s death as a satisfaction to the penal sanctions of the Divine law, on the ground of which God forgives sinners, may, indeed, be accepted as a natural interpretation of the Pauline conception of Christ’s death as an expiatory sacrifice for sin, if this conception is to be translated into terms of law. Whether, however, such translation is desirable, is questionable; as we saw that the forensic point of view is only formally and not materially regulative for the Pauline conception of justification. Thus, instead of seeking to translate related conceptions into legal terminology, we ought rather to seek such an explanation (or, if need be, modification) of them as accords with the material element in St. Paul’s idea of justification, viz. that it is entirely the work of grace, ‘apart from law.’ The Protestant theology, in fact, misinterprets Paul by taking his legal phraseology as essential, and seeking to systematize his whole view of justification and its presuppositions under legal ideas. The attempt of the Protestant doctors to conceive the whole process of salvation in legal forms, made them introduce into theology a number of axioms which are in no way part of the Christian view of the world. Such an axiom is that all sin must he punished; whereas the Christian religion teaches that it can be forgiven, and forgiveness and punishment are mutually exclusive (cf. W. N. Clarke, Christian Theology, p. 330). Another axiom is that the punishment of sin may he transferred from one person to another; whereas the very essence of the idea of punishment is its connexion with guilt. The vicarious suffering of the innocent for the guilty is not punishment. A third axiom is that merit may similarly be transferred from one person to another; whereas the moral result of a life, which is what is meant, is personal, and while it may result in the good of others, cannot possibly be separated from the person of its author, and treated as a commercial asset. That the Protestant doctors had to hase their theology on axioms like these, plainly shows that they were on the wrong line in attempting to translate the doctrine of salvation into legal terms. We may no doubt recognize behind the forms of the Protestant theology the intention to show that the Divine grace itself is the grace of a Holy and a Righteous God. But the immediate identification of the Divine Righteousness with its expression in law is fatal to a full and complete view of grace. St. Paul might have taught a better conception of law as a temporary and preparatory manifestation of the Divine righteousness, whose end is fulfilled in a higher way by grace (Galatians 3:24).

This defect in the view of the revelation of the Divine grace in Christ does not, however, prevent the Protestant theology from being true in the main to the Pauline conception of justification. Over against Catholicism, Protestant theology teaches justification by God’s grace appropriated by faith alone, and apart from all question of human merit. Moreover, in the total view the emphasis, at any rate with the earlier Reformers, does not fall on the supposed legal forms of the Divine revelation in Christ, but on the idea of grace itself. A remarkable proof of this is to be found in the fact that in Melanchthon’s Loci Theologici there is no locus devoted to the doctrine of Christ’s satisfaction. Even so late as Gerhard in the early part of the 17th cent., the doctrine is treated by him simply as a part of the locus de justificatione.

After this critical excursus we return to the Protestant theology itself, in order next to describe the positions by which it further defined its conception of justification as over against Catholicism. As regards what the Catholics call ‘justification,’ but the Protestants ‘regeneration,’ it is taught that the latter is the necessary accompaniment and logical (the later Lutheran theology says, temporal) consequence of justification. Its objective principle is the gift of the Holy Spirit, its subjective manifestation the activity of faith in good works.

On some further points the two Evangelical Churches diverge not only from Catholicism, but from one another. The first of these has to do with the question of assurance. The Lutherans teach that the believer’s consciousness of justification is in itself an immediate certainty of the reality of justification, operated by the Holy Ghost (fides divina). Where, however, doubt enters, recourse must be had to the Word and the Sacraments, that the Holy Ghost, who works through the Word, may rekindle faith. The Reformed theologians teach that the guarantee of the reality of justification is God’s eternal predestination to salvation, which manifests itself subjectively in perseverance in the state of grace. Hence the assurance of justification cannot be gathered directly from faith itself, but by a reference to its evidence in its fruits (syllogismus practicus). [See Lipsius, Dogmatik3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 675 f.].

The second difference between the Protestant Churches is that the Lutherans make the moment of justification, alike in earth and heaven, the moment when saving faith comes into being. The Reformed, on the other hand, regard justification as accomplished in the resurrection of Christ for the whole Church as His mystical body (justificatio activa), but as regards individual believers based on the decree of justification, which accompanies their eternal election, and realized when saving faith arises (justificatio passiva). It is to be noted that the objective justification, which is accomplished for believers in Christ’s resurrection, depends only upon their ideal incorporation in His mystical body. The Reformed doctrine does not therefore, as has sometimes been said, make justification dependent on regeneration. Christ’s resurrection is regarded as the acceptance of His satisfaction, made for believers, and thus as ideally their justification in Him (cf. Lipsius, Dogmatik, p. 677 f.; Ritschl, op. cit.3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] i. 293 ff.).

The third difference is as to the doctrine of perseverance. The Lutherans teach that a man may fall from faith, and thus from grace, but that he may regain his position by renewed repentance and faith. On the contrary, the Reformed teach that the members of Christ’s body cannot fall, but must persevere in faith to the end. A faith that does not endure, is not real faith; and the consciousness of justification it may bring is only self-deception (Lipsius, p. 679).

Reference must now be made to certain views within Protestantism which deviate from the orthodox conception. The first of these is that of Osiander, who, attaching himself to many expressions in the teaching of Luther, attempted once more to teach a real justification, and yet avoid introducing the Catholic conception of salvation by merit. In opposition to the idea of justification by the mere external imputation of Christ’s righteousness, he taught that the essential ground of justification is Christ’s righteousness as really communicated to us; though at the same time he regards this indwelling righteousness of Christ not as our own, but as an alien righteousness, and in so far as an imputed righteousness (Lipsius, p. 668).

Another line of thought is opened by the Socinian theology. A criticism of the legal forms of the ecclesiastical doctrine of reconciliation leads to the complete rejection of it. Socinus, however, retains a doctrine of justification by faith, regarded as including not only trust in God as revealed by Christ, but consequent obedience to His will. There is no justification by works without faith; but, on the other hand, works are not merely the fruit of faith, but its execution and perfection, and in so far the works which follow faith justify (Socinus, de Fide et Operibus, Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, 1656, tom. i. p. 623). But as works done in faith are not perfect, justification is also said to be by faith in opposition to works, because the mercy of God imputes righteousness to the believer (de Jesu Christo Servatore, p. iv, c. 11). In other words, faith is here considered as the principle of active righteousness, and the doctrine of justification comes to mean that God judges not by the outward work, but by the inward disposition. This conclusion is distinctly drawn by the Rationalism of the German Illumination (Lipsius, p. 684).

3. Modern theories.—The most important forms in which the doctrine of justification has been stated in modern theology, so far as that does not simply repeat older points of view, owe their origin chiefly to Kant and Schleiermacher, particularly the latter. Kant took up the subject where it had been left by the Illumination, but in view of his deeper ethics stated it as an ethico-religious problem, viz. how a man conscious of guilt could obtain power to live a new life. The solution is to be found in the conception of faith in the ideal. On the one hand, this appears as the principle of a good life; on the other, it affords the principle of acceptance with God, in so far as God judges men by the ideal they follow, though their realization of it may be imperfect. The Kantian theologian Tieftrunk further pointed out that from a psychological point of view the operation of the Divine grace is absolutely necessary, if a man, in spite of his consciousness of guilt, is to be able joyfully to fulfil the moral law; so that it is required from the point of view of the law itself, in so far as it looks for fulfilment (Lipsius, p. 685; Ritschl3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , i. p. 429 ff.).

The defect of the Kantian conception, from the point of view of the Christian religion, is its lack of organic connexion with the historical revelation of God in Jesus Christ. In the system of Schleiermacher, however, the fundamental character for Christianity of this revelation is fully recognized, while at the same time, instead of a return to the standpoint of the older Protestant dogmatics, there is introduced a new and fruitful theological principle. Schleiermacher demands that all conceptions concerning Divine operations shall be verified by their correspondence with Christian experience, not indeed the experience of an individual, but of the Christian community as a whole (Der christliche Glaube5 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , i. § 30. p. 162).

From this point of view Schleiermacher treats justification. He begins with the Christian consciousness of redemption and reconciliation through Christ. ‘The Redeemer receives believers into the power of His God-consciousness, and this is His redeeming activity’ (ii. § 100. p. 94). ‘The Redeemer receives believers into the fellowship of His undisturbed happiness, and this is His reconciling activity’ (ii. § 101. p. 102). Schleiermacher thus views the work of Christ through the total impression of His character and life. Only as a part of the latter do His sufferings come into question (ii. § 101. 4, p. 108). In accordance with this groundwork follow a the doctrine of justification. Justification and conversion are the two inseparable parts of regeneration or assumption into union with Christ. ‘Assumption into union with Christ is, viewed as an altered relation of man to God, his justification; viewed as an altered form of life, his conversion’ (ii. § 107. p. 165). Justification is by faith, and includes the forgiveness of sins and adoption into Divine sonship (ii. § 109. p. 190). All these things flow naturally and inseparably from union with Christ, which alters alike the will and the contemplative consciousness. In particular, the consciousness of forgiveness follows from the fact that the new man in Christ has no relation to the sins of the old man or their penalties. Present suffering he regards simply as evil, not as punishment, and of future suffering he has no fear (ii. § 109. 2, p. 193). Finally, when passing over from our own consciousness we view justification as a Divine act, it is not to be separated from the effective working of Christ in conversion. The Divine act of justification, moreover, is one with the sending of Christ into the world. There is no ‘declaratory act’ apart from this: only figuratively can such he spoken of. As regards the justification of the individual, the case is simply that the one Divine decree of justification in Christ is realized in successive points of time. Finally, faith is not to be described as the instrumental cause, or the ὅργανον ληττικόν of justification. We bring nothing to the Divine grace in Christ but our mere receptivity (ii. § 109. 3, p. 195 f.). Faith is awakened wholly by the operation of Christ (ii. § 108. 6, p. 186).

The influence of the Reformed theology is plainly visible in the position of Schleiermacher, that justification is, as a Divine act, to be viewed as realized first of all in Christ, and then successively in believers. Compare what is said above, also Turretin (Inst. Theol. Elcncticae, Loc. xvi. Qu. ix. 12), who says that justification is one from the point of view of God, though from our point of view it appears in successive acts, viz. God’s eternal decree of justification, the realization of it in Christ’s work, the application of it in experience, and the declaration of it at the last day. But, further, the correspondence of this point of view with the tendency previously noted in St. Paul to bring the objective and subjective sides of justification into close and indeed inseparable relation, may also be remarked. Schleiermacher, however, brings the principle which underlies this tendency to clear consciousness, and bases on it his theological method, for which, as we saw, the continuity of Divine operation and human experience is fundamental.

Schleiermacher’s doctrine of justification has been differently understood. Most theologians have considered that he means to make justification conditional on a real union with Christ (cf. Lipsius, p. 686 ff.). Ritschl, however, thinks that only an ideal union is referred to (iii.3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] p. 559). Two different developments, therefore, have taken place, starting from either view of Schleiermacher’s position.

In the first place, one of the commonest views in modern theology makes justification dependent on a real union with Christ, breaking down the sharp distinction between justification and regeneration, and treating them simply as aspects of the same process. Faith, on this view, is to be regarded in justification not simply as the reflex of Divine grace, but as comprehending the spiritual content of union with Christ, and of the gift of the Spirit, which is the basis of the ethical life of the Christian. Hence this view of justification is claimed to be ‘ethical’; justification according to it being a recognition of what really is in the believer his new life, as well pleasing to God. A reconciliation with the forensic view is found in the Kantian thought that God judges by the ideal; so that justification appears as a prophetic judgment, which sees in the first germ of the new life its whole fruit.

This view is closely akin to Osiander’s. It has undoubtedly points of contact with the broader use of the word ‘faith’ in St. Paul, who, as Pfleiderer points out, often uses it as practically equivalent to the whole of Christianity (Urchristenthum2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , i. p. 250; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:9 f., 1 Corinthians 16:13). It is further along the line developed in the cycle of passages like Romans 8:17, Galatians 2:17, 1 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 9:24; 1 Corinthians 9:27, Philippians 3:10-14, as previously explained. But it does not represent St. Paul’s main line of thought with respect to justification, and the objection to it further is that in the end it bases justification either upon the imperfect realization of Christ in us, or, in so far as the imperfection is counterbalanced by a reference to the ideal, upon what is still future, thus resembling the Catholic view. This view does not, therefore, meet the religious need of a firm and unshakable ground of trust as to acceptance with God.

In opposition to it, therefore, Ritschl develops the doctrine of Schleiermacher along the other line, which he takes to be its real meaning, giving in his theology also prominence to a conception which with Schleiermacher is in the background—that of revelation. The idea of justification is consequently construed directly through the idea of the Divine grace as revealed in Christ, and faith is thought of as of a piece with this revelation and the realization of it in human lives. Justification is thus in the first instance through grace, but by faith. Ritschl’s way of expressing this is by saying that justification is the act of God as Father, and further that the sentence of justification falls in the first instance on the religious community founded by Christ as a whole, to which God imputes the position towards Him of Christ its Founder, and on individuals as by faith in the Gospel they attach themselves to this community; justification thus becoming effective for them. Faith is simply obedience to God and trust in the revelation of His grace in Christ. Its functions are religious, not moral (iii.3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] p. 139: cf. also p. 70). As regards the effects of justification, the comprehensive description of them is that it is ‘the acceptance of sinners into fellowship with God, in which their salvation is to be realized and carried out into eternal life.’ In particular, the consciousness of guilt is removed, in so far as the element of mistrust of God, which is the essence of it, is removed (p. 85). Assurance of justification can be obtained only by the exercise of faith in patience or ‘lordship over the world.’ Finally, the course of moral action is conditioned by justification; but the direct aim of the latter is not the product of moral action, but the bestowal of eternal life, which is realized here and now in lordship over the world (pp. 192, 534 f., 670).

III. Constructive treatment.—It appears to the present writer that a correct modern interpretation of the Pauline conception of justification must move generally along the lines suggested by Ritschl. Perhaps it may be necessary to observe that such an interpretation is required, and that it is not sufficient simply to rest in the Pauline statement as it stands. In the first place, we have seen that St. Paul suggests more than one point of view, and we have to settle which is to be regarded as determinative. Then, again, there are gaps in the Pauline presentation which require to be filled up, especially in view of the points raised by later theological controversies. Finally, the Pauline theology is only one among the early Christian presentations of the Christian salvation, and it is necessary in some points to modify his conceptions in o

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Justification (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/j/justification-2.html. 1906-1918.

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