The Doctrine of Justification

by James Buchanan

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THE History of the Doctrine, as it has been discussed between various parties in successive ages of the Church, should serve to shorten and simplify the Exposition of it, as it is taught in Scripture. A comprehensive survey of the various controversies which arose in regard to it during the times that are past, and which are still renewed in the present day, enables us to bring out into clear and distinct prominence, all the leading principles which are involved in it, and to determine the precise points on which we should endeavour to concentrate the scattered rays of Scripture light, when we endeavour to illustrate and establish this part of revealed truth. The conflicting opinions of men must now give place to the authoritative testimonies of God; and these must be treated on sound exegetical principles, with the view of ascertaining their real meaning, apart from the controversies which have arisen in regard to them, except in so far as previous discussions may have served to define the language of Scripture, and to supply the defects, or correct the errors, of a partial or perverse interpretation. The substance of the doctrine will be stated in a short series of propositions, relating to each of the leading topics involved in it; and the proofs on which they severally depend will he briefly indicated, although they cannot be fully discussed in a mere outline. This unavoidable defect may be, in some measure, supplied by appending such references to Scripture, and the writings of approved divines, as will guide the reader in studying the subject for himself.

The best preparation for the study of this doctrine is—neither great intellectual ability, nor much scholastic learning,—but a conscience impressed with a sense of our actual condition as sinners in the sight of God. A deep conviction of sin is the one thing needful in such an inquiry,—a conviction of the fact of sin, as an awful reality in our own personal experience,—of the power of sin, as an inveterate evil cleaving to us continually, and having its roots deep in the innermost recesses of our hearts,—and of the guilt of sin, past as well as present, as an offence against God, which, once committed, can never cease to be true of us individually, and which, however He may be pleased to deal with it, has deserved His wrath and righteous condemnation. Without some such conviction of sin, we may speculate on this, as on any other, part of divine truth, and bring all the resources of our intellect and learning to bear upon it, but can have no suitable sense of our actual danger, and no serious desire for deliverance from it. To study the subject with advantage, we must have a heartfelt interest in it, as one that bears directly on the salvation of our own souls; and this interest can only be felt in proportion as we realize our guilt, and misery, and danger, as transgressors of God's Law. The Law is still, as it was to the Jewish Church, 'a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith;' and the Law must be applied to the conscience, so as to quicken and arouse it, before we can feel our need of salvation, or make any serious effort to attain it. It is the convinced, and not the careless, sinner, who alone will lay to heart, with some sense of its real meaning and momentous importance, the solemn question—'How shall a man be just with God?'

But more than this. As, without some heartfelt conviction of sin, we could have no feeling of personal interest in the doctrine of Justification, such as is necessary to command our serious attention in the study of it, so we should be scarcely capable of understanding, in their full scriptural meaning, the terms in which it is proposed to us, or the testimonies by which alone it can be established. The doctrine of Salvation, which is taught by the Gospel, presupposes the doctrine of Sin, which is taught by the Law; and the two together constitute the sum and substance of God's revealed truth. They are distinct, and even different, from each other; but they are so related that, while there may be some knowledge of sin without any knowledge of salvation, there can be no knowledge of salvation without some knowledge of sin. As this is true of the general doctrine of Salvation, which includes deliverance from the power, as well as from the punishment, of sin, so it is equally true of each of its constituent parts,—the special doctrines of Justification and Sanctification,—with this only difference, that, in the one case, we must have some knowledge of sin, in its legal aspect, as guilt already incurred, in the other, of sin, in its spiritual aspect, as an inveterate inherent depravity.

It might be shown, both from the general history of the Church and from the personal experience of individuals, that, in both cases alike, partial and defective views of sin have always been associated with partial and defective views of salvation. The whole history of Christian Doctrine, with all its vicissitudes and fluctuations, from the Apostolic age down to the present times, teaches this great lesson, that, invariably, among all parties, in all lands, and in all ages, the views which men held of the evils in their condition and character which required to be redressed, affected their views of the nature, necessity, and value of the remedy proposed to them in the Gospel; that their estimate of the guilt and power of sin determined their estimate of the freeness and efficacy of divine grace; and this in regard alike to their Regeneration by the agency of the Spirit, and their Justification by the Mediatorial work of Christ. A Pelagian or semi-Pelagian Anthropology has been the latent, but prolific, root underground of all the heresies respecting both, which have sprung up in those ages of declension, when conscience slumbered, and a sense of sin decayed; and every revival of sound evangelical doctrine has been accompanied, or preceded, by a work of conviction, produced by a closer application of the Law to the conscience. Such has been the experience of the Church as a collective body; and such also has been the personal experience of individuals. Their views of the nature, necessity, freeness, and efficacy of divine grace, have uniformly varied with their more or less vivid apprehensions of the evil and malignity of sin. No change is more striking or more instructive than that which is often produced instantaneously on all a man's views of the method of salvation, when from being a careless, he becomes a convinced, sinner. As a careless sinner, he presumed on mercy; as a convinced sinner, he can scarcely dare to hope for it: once he reckoned on pardon, or rather on impunity; now 'his own heart condemns him,' and he knows that 'God is greater than his heart:' formerly he imagined that reformation of life would be sufficient to secure his welfare; now he feels that a radical heart-change is necessary, such as he is altogether unable to work in himself,—and immediately on this change of his views in regard to sin, there follows a change in all his views of salvation, and those very doctrines of free and efficacious grace, which he once despised or rejected as 'foolishness,' are found to be the 'wisdom of God.'


Table of Contents




LECT. I. History of the Doctrine in the Old Testament

II. History of the Doctrine in the Apostolic Age

III. History of the Doctrine in the Times of the Fathers and Scholastic Divines

IV. History of the Doctrine at the Era of the Reformation

V. History of the Doctrine in the Romish Church after the Reformation

VI. History of the Doctrine as a subject of Controversy among Protestants

VII. History of the Doctrine in the Church of England




LECT. VIII. Justification; The Scriptural Meaning of the Term

IX. Justification; The Proper Nature of the Blessing

X. Justification; Its Relation to the Law and Justice of God

XI. Justification; Its Relation to the Mediatorial Work of Christ

XII. Justification; Its Immediate and only Ground, the Imputed Righteousness of Christ

XIII. Justification; Its Relation to Grace and Works

XIV. Justification; The Nature and Reason of its Connection with Faith

XV. Justification; Its Relation to the Work of the Holy Spirit




Notes to Lecture 1

Notes to Lecture 2

Notes to Lecture 3

Notes to Lecture 4

Notes to Lecture 5

Notes to Lecture 6

Notes to Lecture 7

Notes to Lecture 8

Notes to Lecture 9

Notes to Lecture 10

Notes to Lecture 11

Notes to Lecture 12

Notes to Lecture 13

Notes to Lecture 14

Notes to Lecture 15


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