Earlier today, Rev. Webber commented with reference to the doctrine of “Objective Justification” that, “these are times for fraternal and patient discussion, to seek clarification, in the spirit of what Gerhard says.” In a previous comment, he noted that this doctrine has seen protracted and confusing controversy in the recent past. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that such continues to be the case. Our discussion in this forum is neither unusual nor out of place (although some would prefer that the “heat” be turned down a little), and as evidenced by the fact that laymen and clergymen continue to turn discussion to this topic, and the generally high interest and passionate discussion this topic generates, it is one which is very much on the minds of fellow Lutherans.
The following is the notes I had composed, originally intending it as a comment in the previous blog post. After discussion with the other moderators, we decided to make it a full post. Although it is addressed to Rev. Webber (as the comment initially was intended), commentary on this blog post is certainly not limited to him. It is intended as a starting point for a general dialogue on the topic.
Thank you for weighing in on this discussion – I'll repeat what Rev. Rydecki stated, that your opinion definitely has value among us at Intrepid Lutherans. I am also pleased to hear it admitted that there had been continued protracted and confusing controversy regarding the doctrine of justification, and not just by "fanatics" on either end of the spectrum, but among respected theologians like Marquart, Preus and Maier.
You approvingly quoted Marquart as follows:
- A contemporary clarification of justification would have to begin with what the Formula of Concord calls 'the only essential and necessary elements of justification,' that is, (1) the grace of God, (2) the merit of Christ, (3) the Gospel which alone offers and distributes these treasures, and (4) faith which alone receives or appropriates them (SD III.25). The first three items define the universal/general dimension of justification (forgiveness as obtained for all mankind on the cross, proclaimed in the resurrection [see Rom 4:25 and 1 Tim. 3:16] and offered to all in the means of grace), and the fourth, the individual/personal dimension. No one actually has forgiveness unless and until he receives it by faith.
- (major premise) "If righteousness has been proclaimed upon humanity's substitute, then righteousness has in fact been proclaimed upon humanity"
(minor premise) "In the resurrection of Christ, as he stood in the place of all humanity, he was justified. That is, he was declared to be righteous...
(conclusion) "...and was vindicated as the representative of all humanity. This means that in him, and in his resurrection, all humanity was thereby justified. In him all humanity was declared to be righteous and was vindicated".
Moreover, I really don't see the necessity that Christ be the bearer of "our" righteousness, rather than His own, and therefore also the necessity of invoking a syllogism over the plain meaning of Scripture to arrive at this conclusion. Supposedly, it is necessary that God see all individuals as sinless, regardless of whether they have faith, if the Doctrine of Justification is to remain monergistic and confer true hope and comfort. Well, it isn't necessary that God see all individuals as sinless prior to faith, and it is a good thing because it isn't true. It is necessary that Christ has atoned for the sins of the whole world, and that Christ now offers to all men the promise of forgiveness of sins, spiritual life and eternal salvation, and freely gives man the faith to believe this promise through the Means of Grace. Man is entirely passive. Scripture testifies to these facts with abundant clarity. We receive these promises through the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8), and faith clings to them as accomplished facts – even though they remain objects of hope until the Day our "redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:25-28), in which we will finally receive the righteousness we hope for (Gal. 5:5) and "the end of our faith, the salvation of our souls" (1 Pet. 1:3-9). This is why the Scriptures exhort the believer to "endure to the end" (Matt. 24:8-14) – for apart from faith, we have no forgiveness of sins, no righteousness and no salvation, and in our sin remain "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:1-3).
"But do I have faith?", it is asked. Have I been baptized? Then I, in this outward objective act, have been crucified with Christ – which atoned for my sin – and thus in this death have been freed from sin's condemnation; and I, in this outward objective act, have been buried with Christ and raised with Him into spiritual life as a new creature – and sharing in Christ's Resurrection share also in the declaration of righteousness that He earned (Rom. 6:3-11). In this outward, objective "washing," in which I am entirely passive, I am quickened (1 Pet. 3:17-22), I receive the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39) and am declared righteous, I am regenerated (Titus 3:3-7). And having "become righteous" in this way, the promise of God in the Doctrine of Conversion is given full potency. Ezekiel records directly from the lips of God:
- But if the wicked man will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live (Ezk. 18:21-22)
- For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people... For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more (Heb. 8:10-12)
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin (Heb. 10:16-18)
It is no wonder to me that the Concordists point out that
- "[regeneration] is sometimes used to mean only the forgiveness of sins and that we are adopted as God's sons [as opposed to forgiveness of sins plus the succeeding renewal worked by the Holy Spirit]. It is in this ...sense that the word is used much of the time in the Apology, where it is written that justification BEFORE GOD is regeneration" (SD 3:19, Reader's Edition).
Maier, Marquart, Preus and company may have come to "an agreement" of sorts. Fine. Political factors swirl about that episode in ways that would leave any objective person suspicious. Who really knows what factors were involved? For myself, I find the Confessions and Scripture to be much more compelling.
But do the Confessions teach “Objective Justification”? You stated regarding this question:
- By the way, I do not concede that the "objective" side of justification is not taught in the Confessions. With the understanding that forgiveness and justification are essentially synonymous in meaning, the quotation from St. Ambrose quoted approvingly in Apology IV:103 teaches it most clearly.
-  ...For Ambrose says in his letter to a certain Irenaeus: Moreover, the world was subject to Him by the Law for the reason that, according to the command of the Law, all are indicted, and yet, by the works of the Law, no one is justified, i.e., because, by the Law, sin is perceived, but guilt is not discharged. The Law, which made all sinners, seemed to have done injury, but when the Lord Jesus Christ came, He forgave to all sin which no one could avoid, and, by the shedding of His own blood, blotted out the handwriting which was against us. This is what he says in Rom. 5:20: "The Law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Because after the whole world became subject, He took away the sin of the whole world, as he [John] testified, saying John 1:29: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." And on this account let no one boast of works, because no one is justified by his deeds. But he who is righteous has it given him because he was justified after the laver [of Baptism]. Faith, therefore, is that which frees through the blood of Christ, because he is blessed "whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered," Ps. 32:1,  These are the words of Ambrose, which clearly favor our doctrine; he denies justification to works, and ascribes to faith that it sets us free  through the blood of Christ. (AP:IV:103ff, Triglotta)
But let’s look at St. Ambrose’s letter to Irenaeus. Did Ambrose intend at all to teach “Objective Justification” to Irenaeus, or was this clause merely incidental to some other topic he was addressing? Well, I found the letter. It was a very short letter in which St. Ambrose addressed the question of why God gave His Law, since it only caused further hardship for the condition of man. He was not developing a Doctrine of Justification. Here is the concluding, and pertinent, section:
- At first Moses' Law was not needed; it was introduced subsequently, and this appears to intimate that this introduction was in a sense clandestine and not of an ordinary kind, seeing that it succeeded in the place of the natural Law. Had this maintained its place, the written Law would never have entered in; but the natural Law being excluded by transgression and almost blotted out of the human breast, pride reigned, and disobedience spread itself; and then this Law succeeded, that by its written precepts it might cite us before it, and every mouth be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Now the world becomes guilty before God by the Law, in that all are made amenable to its prescripts, but no man is justified by its works. And since by the Law comes the knowledge of sin, but not the remission of guilt, the Law, which has made all sinners, would seem to have been injurious.
But when the Lord Jesus came, He forgave all men that sin which none could escape, and blotted out the handwriting against us by the shedding of His own Blood. This then is the Apostle's meaning; sin abounded by the Law, but grace abounded by Jesus; for after that the whole world became guilty, He took away the sin of the whole world, as John bore witness, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Wherefore let no man glory in works, for by his works no man shall be justified, for he that is just hath a free gift, for he is justified by the Bath. It is faith then which delivers by the blood of Christ, for Blessed is the man to whom sin is remitted, and, pardon granted.
Letter LXXIII: Ambrose to Ireneaus, who enquired why the Law was even given
In his letter, St. Ambrose properly concluded a discussion of Law with a preachment of the Gospel. Though this preachment was imperfect, this imperfection was inconsequential to the point the Confessors were trying to make by including it in the Apology.
So, there it is. Let the fraternal dialogue continue!