Monday, March 15, 2010

Actual and Declarative Justification

There has been so much in James Buchanan's book that I would love to comment upon, but time does not allow. So I will have to pass over some lectures. In the eighth lecture/chapter, Justification; The Scriptural Meaning of the Term, Buchanan offers some very helpful insights.

If you hold to the Protestant doctrine of Justification, sooner or later someone will raise the James 2 passage which states that Abraham was justified by works in opposition to Paul's teaching in Romans 4 that a man is justified without works. More often than not, this will come from our "Popish" counterparts.

On page 228, Buchanan again states the problem,
The real question at issue is,--not whether Justification be judicial or moral,--for it must be judicial even when it rests on moral grounds,--but whether a sinner is accepted on the ground of a righteousness vicarious and imputed, or of a righteousness infused and inherent?
Buchanan then offers proofs for the forensic or judicial meaning of the term. These proofs alone dismantle the Romanist errors. However, the second proposition takes the Protestant position even further.
While 'Justification' is a forensic or judicial term, it is used in Scripture to denote, sometimes the acceptance of a sinner as righteous in the sight of God,--sometimes the manifestation or proof of his acceptance, by which it is attested and made sure: and this variety in the application of it is the ground of an important theological distinction,--the distinction between Actual and Declarative Justification.
Buchanan is careful to remind his reader that there is never more than one Justification being taught in Scripture. He simply makes a helpful distinction between two facets of the same thing. A passage of Scripture that he adduces to support his argument is from Luke 7:
And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, "Say it, Teacher."

"A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?"

Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more."

And He said to him, "You have judged correctly."

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven."

Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?" And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Buchanan then argues,
This case brings out very clearly both the distinction between actual and declarative Justification, and also the two distinct methods in which the justification of a believer may be manifested and proved. The woman was forgiven before, but now she obtained the assurance of her forgiveness; and that assurance was conveyed to her mind in two ways--first by means of an experimental evidence of her having that 'faith which worketh by love;' and secondly, in addition to this experimental evidence, by means of an authoritative testimony from the lips of her Lord Himself.
Now the obvious counter-argument would be that the text does not state specifically when she was forgiven. However, Buchanan seems to rely on the fact that Jesus said, "had been forgiven" prior to His proclamation of this forgiveness.

It is this argument that Buchanan uses to show that James is doing the same thing. Buchanan states the usual Protestant argument that James is simply showing Abraham to be "justified before men" is in fact a shallow argument. Instead Buchanan states that James is arguing for Abraham's justification from the aspect of "declarative" justification and Paul in Romans 4 is arguing for Abraham's actual justification. Both are the one and same justification before God. Therefore there is no discrepancy between these texts of Scripture or between Paul and James and Jesus.

Why does Scripture present both facets of Justification? Buchanan concludes in the last paragraph,
The two Apostles were combating two opposite errors, and sought to check two opposite tendencies. Paul contended against Legalism, and the self-righteous tendency which leads men 'to go about to establish their own righteousness,' and to seek Justification by the works of the Law. James contends against Libertinism, or the Antinomian tendency which leads men to pervert the Gospel itself, and to 'turn the grace of God into licentiousness.'
Buchanan rightly sees both authors as being harmonious.
"He [Abraham] was Actually justified before; but there was here a divine Declaration of his acceptance, which expressly referred to his obedience, as the fruit and manifestation of his faith. The fact that he was accepted at an earlier, and declared to be accepted at a later, period, while in both cases he is spoken of as 'justified,' has an important application to our present argument; for it shows the same term is used to denote both his actual and his declarative justification.
In conclusion the Christian should not be so arrogant as to assume he is "saved" because he said a prayer.
2Pe 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
On the other hand the "Romish" position is an equal error. For no matter how you argue it, an infused righteousness leads to a salvation by works.
2Ti 1:9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity...

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