Review: Buchanan, Justification

While dated in some respects, this volume has outstanding discussions of several knotty problems.  The first section is an historical overview.  The real value of that is in the post-Reformation discussions (especially relating to the church of England).  A few snippets will suffice:

Antinomian: tended to speak of the imputation of sin made Christ personally a sinner. They confused justification with eternal election.

Socinian: “flows as a corollary from their peculiar views–of God’s justice as a modification of his benevolence,–of man’s relation to God as universal Father,–of sin as a moral disease,—of the nature and end of punishment as corrective, rather than penal” (163).

Key question: what is the believer’s title to the new life, if not the righteousness of Christ (175)?

Neo-Platonist view (very similar to today’s Radical Orthodoxy): the mediatorial work of Christ is collapsed into the Incarnation (205ff). What is needed is not reconciliation but more “being.”

Section 2 is Buchanan’s positive case.

Prop. 1: Justification is a legal or forensic term (226).  It is contrasted with condemnation, which rules out any infusion of righteousness.

Prop. 2: Sometimes it is seen as the manifestation of our acceptance before God (233). Here Buchanan makes the distinction between actual justification (Paul) and declarative (James) justification.  The latter deals with evidences. This is also Prop. 3.

Prop. 4: Justification denotes either an act of God, or a privilege of his people (250).

Buchanan then gives a discussion of pardon.  It is an important part of the sinner’s justification but it is not a complete description (259ff).  The pardon of sin by itself gives me no positive righteousness.

Relation of Justification to the Mediatorial Work of Christ

Prop. 9: It was God’s eternal purpose to overrule the fall of man for his own glory (293).

The terms of the eternal covenant determined the whole plan of man’s salvation.  They contemplated the end which was to be accomplished (294). Therefore, it was not the mediatorial work of Christ that prompted God’s love; it was the free and sovereign purpose.  

And against Neo-Socinian writers who deny a full and perfect justification, Buchanan answers, “If it [the work of Christ] was rewarded, in his person, with an everlasting and universal dominion, in the exercise of which He has ‘all power in heaven and in earth’ to bestow the forgiveness of sin, and the gift of eternal life, why should it be inadequate for the immediate justification of any sinner who believes in his name” (309)?

On Imputation

Even the semi-Pelagian and Romanist believes in a form of imputation.  Those who believe in the merit of saints and Mary at least believe that that is imputable to them.  Merit, if it is by another, is by definition imputed (321).

Perhaps we should say what infusion actually is.  Infusion is an infusion of moral qualities (324). By contrast, if Christ bore our sins in his body, and if we get his righteousness (whatever that term may denote), then it can’t be by an infusion of moral qualities.  If it were, then God wouldn’t be said to “justify the ungodly.”

Grace and Works

Works of the law can’t be ceremonial markers, since Paul, in his condemnation of the Gentile world (Romans 1-3), wouldn’t be condemning them for failing to keep Jewish ceremonial markers.  There must be an underlying moral law, for “where there is no law, there is no transgression.”

But What About James 2?

If works are the effects of faith, then they cannot be the grounds of our justification (357).  Further, they cannot come “as an intervening cause or condition between faith and justification, for they follow after faith, whereas every believer is justified as soon as he is united to Christ” (358).


About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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