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Kurt Marquart on Objective Justification

May 24th, 2012
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From time to time, I hear that there are still some Lutherans who are very confused about the doctrine of justification, specifically the aspect of it known as objective justification, the teaching that God was in the world reconciling it to Himself through the death of His Son. This was an issue of some moment years ago when a dear friend of my mentor, Kurt Marquart, had a member of his congregation that was unduly influenced by false teachers. He turned to Dr. Marquart for assistance in refuting errors regarding objective justification being spread by this layman. Dr. Marquart prepared this excellent response to errors concerning objective justification, which Pastor Mark Hendersen recently highlighted on his blog.

OBJECTIVE JUSTIFICATION

Having been asked by Trinity Church, Bridgeport, Missouri, for a theological analysis of certain papers by Mr. Larry Darby on the subject of “objective justification,” I herewith submit my findings first of all with profound regrets for the long delay, and secondly with the humble prayer that anything now said may still be of help to Christian consciences struggling with this issue.

Given the high level of conflict that has ensued in this matter, I have attempted scrupulously to restrict my remarks to matters of fact and theology, and to avoid inflammatory rhetoric or judgments about motives. I am conscious of no ill will or prejudice against anyone involved in this dispute.

By way of a basic frame of reference I shall first sketch out the standard Lutheran perspective on justification, as found above all in the Book of Concord itself, together with its biblical basis, and then evaluate Mr. Darby’s arguments in that context, spelling out specific agreements and disagreements with his theses.1

1. A Digression on Terminology

I agree with Henry Hamann that the terminology “objective/subjective justification” is less than ideal since “subjective justification . . . is every whit as objective as objective justification.”2

On the other hand, when Calvinists use the same terminology, it expresses their meaning very well: “Passive or subjective justification takes place in the heart or conscience of the sinner.”3 The Reformed reject universal grace, hence cannot mean general justification by “objective justification;” and “subjective justification” means for them something experiential—precisely what it does not mean for Lutherans. Biblically, justification is God’s act, which faith receives or believes, but does not feel or “experience.”

To avoid these problems, it would be best to retain the more traditional usage, which spoke of the “general justification” of the world in Christ and of the “personal justification” of individual sinners through faith alone. This corresponds exactly to the biblical distinction between God’s own completed reconciliation of the world to Himself in Christ (II Cor. 5:19) and our reconciliation to him by faith (v. 20).

If the sense is clear, one should not quarrel about words. The “visible/invisible” terminology in respect of the church is a case in point. Our Confessions do not use that language, but speak of the church in the “proper sense” and in the “wide sense.” Moreover, Calvinists mean something quite different and unbiblical when they speak of “visible” and “invisible” churches. Yet standard Lutheran theology since Gerhard has spoken of the church being “visible” and “invisible,” and meant the right, orthodox content by this terminology. Similarly one must assume—other things being equal—that when orthodox Lutheran theologians speak of “objective” and “subjective” justification, they mean to express biblical, confessional truth, and not Calvinist or other deviations.

2. The Standard Lutheran Pattern in Presenting Justification

The best starting point is Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration) III:25:

The only essential and necessary elements of justification are the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith which accepts these in the promise of the Gospel (Tappert, p. 543, compare Apology IV:53, p. 114).

We may put these essential ingredients of justification into a list, as follows:

The grace of God
The merit of Christ
The promise of the Gospel
Faith

The first three items constitute what was later called “objective justification.” The addition of faith completes the list, which thus defines justification in the full, normal biblical and ecclesiastical sense and usage. This ordinary sense of the word is labeled “subjective” (individual, personal) only in contexts requiring a distinction from the special usage of “objective” (general, universal) justification.
But why did such a distinction arise at all?

By stripping away the surrounding words, we obtain the following sequence in Augsburg Confession IV (German): “we receive forgiveness of sin . . . when we believe. . . that for [Christ’s] sake our sin is forgiven” (Tappert, p. 30).

Apology IV explains, repeatedly, that “when a man believes that his sins are forgiven because of Christ and that God is reconciled and favorably disposed to him because of Christ, this personal faith [fides specialis] obtains the forgiveness of sins and justifies us” (45, compare 48, 56, 62, 82, 103, 178, 195, 279, 299 [garbled in Tappert, p. 153], 345, 379, 381, 382, 386, and XII, 45, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63-65, 74, 76, 88, and XIII, 21).

The pattern is clear and consistent throughout: the Gospel or absolution offers not a conditional, future prospect, but a perfected, past and present reality. God already is gracious, merciful, propitious, reconciled in Christ, and freely offers this ready forgiveness or grace in the Gospel. To believe this Gospel or absolution is to believe oneself forgiven, justified, accepted. Forgiveness exists “objectively” already before faith. Faith does not create forgiveness but only receives, accepts, appropriates it. Absolution is prior to, and creates faith, not vice versa (Augsburg Confession XII, 5; Apology XII, 42). The Gospel “offers forgiveness and justification, which are received by faith” (Apology IV, 62). And: “forgiveness of sins is the same as justification” (IV, 76).

At just this point the Roman adversaries, particularly Cardinal Bellarmine, thought they had found a fatal flaw and self-contradiction in the Lutheran system: You say that you are justified by faith, they argued, yet you also say that faith must believe that one has been forgiven already; so when is one forgiven or justified then, before faith, or in faith? Surely both can’t be true.

This objection compelled the Lutherans to explain in what sense forgiveness exists already prior to faith, as its object, and to distinguish that from the actual reception, possession, and enjoyment of the pre-existing treasure, which happens only in faith. Calov’s classic commentary on the Augsburg Confession (1665) put it like this:

[Justification] is the object of faith in that it is offered by God in the Gospel; it is the effect [of faith], to put it thus, in so far as grace having been apprehended by faith, the forgiveness of sins happens to us by that very act.

John Benedict Carpzov’s Introduction to the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Churches spells this out in greater detail:

The forgiveness of sins is considered in a twofold manner. First, as it has been acquired by Christ and is offered as a benefit promised and intended by God for sinners, to be sought and had in the Word and Sacraments. Afterwards [forgiveness is considered] as it has already been accepted by faith, has been applied, and is possessed. . . In the first manner the forgiveness of sins is the object of faith insofar as it justifies. . .4

It is this necessary and fundamental distinction, without which it is not possible to explain “faith alone” and the proper function of faith in justification, which was always the point of all standard Lutheran talk about “objective” or general, and “subjective” or personal justification. The terms may be recent, but they express and safeguard nothing other than “the catechismal doctrine plain”:

The work is finished and completed, Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by His sufferings, death, and resurrection, etc. But if the work remained hidden and no one knew of it, it would have been all in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might not be buried but put to use and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure of salvation (Large Catechism, Creed, 38).

Although the work was accomplished and forgiveness of sins was acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. . . Now, the whole Gospel and the article of the Creed, “I believe one holy Christian church, the forgiveness of sins,” etc., are by the Word placed into this Sacrament and set before us. . . The treasure is opened and placed at everyone’s door, yes, upon everyone’s table, but what goes with it, is that you also attend to it and with certainty assent to it, as the words give [it] to you (Sacrament of the Altar, 31, 32, 35, slightly correcting Tappert’s text, p. 450).

3. The Biblical Basis of “Objective/Subjective Justification”

Rather than rehash “in-house” exegesis, let us look at the relevant biblical material as displayed by Hans Kueng, a world-class, liberal Roman Catholic New Testament scholar, who stands entirely outside any and all Lutheran debates. The following extended quotations are from chapter 29 of Kueng’s book Justification,5which seeks to reconcile the Council of Trent with Karl Barth! Not the slightest “Missourian” connection here! Although Barth had an enormous, yet not uncritical respect for Luther, the Council of Trent certainly did not. It is difficult to imagine a doctrinal stance more hostile to “objective justification” than that of the Council of Trent. Against this background Kueng’s reading of the biblical text, and his citation of other Roman Catholic exegetes in support, are all the more impressive (all emphases in original):

JUSTIFICATION IN CHRIST’S DEATH AND RESURRECTION
. . . But when is the sinner declared just? When does God’s gracious saving judgment of the sinner occur? . . . But for Sacred Scripture the real judgment of God is inexorably bound up with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the sinner is declared just: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3.21-26). We are “justified by his blood” (Rom. 5.9); Christ “was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4.25). . . (p. 222).

In reading texts which speak of justification in connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is striking to note that all of them referred emphatically to faith as well (for example, Rom. 4.5, 20-25). Only he who believes is justified. The task consequently is to relate the “objective” act of justification which happened on the cross with its “subjective” realization. On the one hand, the justification accomplished on the cross must not be separated from the process which reaches down to the individual man: this would in one way or another lead to apokatastasis [{universal}restoration, universalism, K.M.]. On the other hand, personal justification must not be separated from the general act of justification on the cross; this would in one way or another lead to predestinationism. Rather both must be seen as the two sides of a single truth: All men are justified in Jesus Christ and only the faithful are justified in Jesus Christ. The generic act of justification on the cross is the “permanently actual presence of salvation, accessible for personal appropriation” (Schrenk, S.V. “dikh” in TWNT [Theologisches Woerterbuch zum Neuen Testament], II, 220f.). The divine character of the declaration of divine justice and grace which took place on the cross once and for all and for all men, makes possible a relation between “objective” and “subjective” justification.

It is the task of this chapter to stress the “objective” aspect of justification. . .

This, therefore, is the event: In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s gracious saving judgment on sinful mankind is promulgated. Here God pronounces the gracious and life-giving judgment which causes the one just man to be sin and in exchange makes all sinners free in Him: “He [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5.21; cf. Gal. 3.13; Rom. 8.3). And in this (“objective”) sense we can say that through Jesus Christ all men are justified, because “one has died for all” (2 Cor. 5.14; cf. 1 Tim. 2.6). “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5.18-19; cf. 5.12-17; 8.32; 11.32). . . . (223-224).

In the Pauline perspective especially, justification never stands in isolation as a purely personal event; it has its place in the total framework of salvation history, of the redemption of all mankind. Those justified on the cross and in the resurrection are “the many,” the “all.” The object of justification, as the prophets proclaimed, is Israel, the people of God, and in the new Israel, all people on earth. In Jesus Christ all men were justified and thereby called to the Church and even germinally integrated into it. . . Through faith, the individual shares the general justification, and so justification, as it occurs in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is essentially ecclesiological in character. . .(224-225).

“The objective fact of justification is accomplished in the redemptive death of Christ, in connection, of course, with the resurrection. And so Rom. 5.9 can insist that we are justified in His blood, and by way of complement, in Rom. 4.25, that Christ was raised up for our justification” (Meinertz, Theologie des NT, II, 116). Catholic theologians do not normally speak of justification in connection with the death and resurrection of Christ. They prefer to the term “justification” (which is ordinarily understood as “subjective”) the terms “redemption,” “atonement,” and so forth. But we saw that the term “justification” is used here in perfect agreement with scripture, revealing a deep and ultimately indispensable meaning. . .(226).

. . . what Barth and with him many Protestants call “justification” largely coincides with what we Catholics call “redemption” and . . . many expressions that sound heretical ought to be understood as completely orthodox (e.g., “all men are justified in Christ,” although it agrees with Scripture may seem to Catholic ears to imply apokatastasis which Barth, however, categorically rejects. In ordinary Catholic usage—and in agreement with scripture—this would mean nothing other than the totally orthodox statement that “All men are ‘redeemed’ in or by Jesus Christ.”). . . Everything does indeed depend on the proper definition of the relationship between “objective” and “subjective” justification. . . (227-228).

Put without polemics then, the justification of the sinner means the declaration of justice by God who at the cross and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ declares all sinners free and just, and thereby makes them just, though this act can, for the Church, have its consequences in the individual only if the individual submits in faith to God’s verdict. . . Only thus is adequate weight given to the theocentricity of justification. It is not primarily a matter of a process of salvation taking place within man. . . Rather the primary issue is the wrath and grace of God, His divine act of gracious and judicial decision, of justification considered as active; it is not primarily “peace to men on earth,” but “glory to God in the highest.” It is not primarily the justification of man, whereby man receives justice, but the self-justification of God, whereby God, willing from eternity salvation and creation, is proven just.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned . . . among them; and the nations will know that I am the LORD, says the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezek. 36.22-23; cf. 36.31-32; Rom. 3.26).

Thus the accent is not on the “subjective” but on the “objective” aspect of justification. It is true that everything depends on this having its effect within individual men, on its realization in the individual, on human participation in it. It is true, too, that only he who believes is actually (subjectively) justified. Yet the decisive element in the sinner’s justification is found not in the individual but in the death and resurrection of Christ. It was there that our situation was actually changed; there the essential thing happened. What afterwards happened in the individual man would be impossible to conceive of in isolation. It is not man in his faith who originally changes the situation, who does the essential thing. It is not a matter of completion of the central salvation event in Jesus Christ, but rather an active acknowledgment, and this solely by the power stemming from the central event . . . In the death and resurrection of Christ, justification is established with final validity. It has happened once and for all and irrevocably [230-231].

When due allowance has been made in some details for Kueng’s captivity to the Council of Trent, one can hardly improve on his deployment of the biblical material to our topic.

Kueng’s reference to God’s self-vindication suggests especially I Tim. 3:15: “He was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit. . .” What can it mean that Our Lord was “justified”? Since He had no sins of His own, but had, as Lamb of God, died a criminal’s death for the sins of the world, He, and therefore that world in Him, was “justified” or “vindicated” by His holy Resurrection. Compare the very similar contrasts in I Peter 3:18: put to death/flesh—made alive/spirit.

While elsewhere the Apology “allegorizes” Col. 2:14, so as to apply it to “subjective” justification (IV, 350; XII, 48), in IV, 103 the text is clearly taken in its original sense, in which it refers to the world-embracing justification-event of the Cross: “when the Lord Jesus came He forgave all men the sin that none could escape and by shedding his blood canceled the bond that stood against us [Col. 2:14]. This is what Paul says, ‘Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’ [Rom. 5:20] through Jesus. For after the whole world was subjected, He took away the sin of the whole world, as John testified when he said [John 1:29], ‘Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world!’” This is quoted from St. Ambrose, with the comment that this one pronouncement [Tappert’s “sentence” is inaccurate] by St. Ambrose does more for the right understanding of St. Paul than all the opinions of illustrious scholastics put together!

Both the “objective” and the “subjective” aspects of the biblical understanding of justification are well captured in this balanced definition of the Formula of Concord, Art. III, 4:

Against both parties it was unanimously preached by the other teachers of the Augsburg Confession that Christ is our Righteousness not only according to the divine nature, and not only according to the human nature, but according to both natures, Who as God and Man has redeemed, justified, and saved us from our sins by His perfect obedience: so that the righteousness of faith is forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and that we are adopted as children of God for the sake of the sole obedience of Christ, which is imputed as righteousness to all who truly believe, only through faith, from pure grace, and they are absolved for the sake of the same from all their unrighteousness [my translation, as literal as I can make it].

True, without faith no one benefits one whit. But in the Bible, as Kueng reminded us, “the accent is not on the ‘subjective’ but on the ‘objective’ aspect of justification. . . . the decisive element in the sinner’s justification is found not in the individual but in the death and resurrection of Christ. . . . there the essential thing happened.” The Smalcald Articles faithfully reflect this:

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Moreover, “all have sinned,” and “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood” (Rom. 3:23-25).

Inasmuch as this must be believed and cannot be obtained or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that such faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom. 3:28), and again, “that he [God] himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised, even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed. For as St. Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “And with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

On this article rests all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world. Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubts about it. Otherwise all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all our adversaries will gain the victory (II/I, Tappert, p. 292).

Defensible Theses of Mr. Larry Darby:

That the “Kokomo” notions about Judas and other inmates of hell being declared “innocent” and granted “the status of saints,” are an absurd and reprehensible travesty of Lutheran doctrine.

It is mind-boggling that any Lutheran could ever have written such stuff, and Mr. Darby is completely right to denounce it as the mischievous nonsense which it is.

Here are the four “Kokomo” theses forced on some hapless Indiana Lutherans (Wisconsin Synod) in 1979, on pain of excommunication:

Objectively speaking, without any reference to an individual sinner’s attitude toward Christ’s sacrifice, purely on the basis of God’s verdict, every sinner, whether he knows it or not, whether he believes it or not, has received the status of a saint.
After Christ’s intervention and through Christ’s intervention, God regards all sinners as guilt-free saints.
When God reconciled the world to Himself through Christ, He individually pronounced forgiveness on each individual sinner whether that sinner ever comes to faith or not.
At the time of the resurrection of Christ, God looked down in hell and declared Judas, the people destroyed in the flood, and all the ungodly, innocent, not guilty, and forgiven of all sin and gave unto them the status of saints.6

Thesis 3 is perhaps the least offensive, although in its context it is thoroughly misleading. Thesis 1 confuses “objective” and “subjective” justification by saying of the former what may only be said of the latter, namely that sinners have “received” forgiveness. Objective justification means that forgiveness has been obtained for and is being offered to all in the Gospel—not that anybody has “received” it. The receiving can happen only through faith, sola fide. Thesis 2, that after Christ’s sacrifice “God regards all sinners as guilt-free saints” is simply false, St. Jn. 3:36; 1 Jn. 5:12. And Thesis 4 about hell’s human denizens being pronounced innocent, given “the status of saints,” etc. is fantasy. An unbiblical logic has driven biblical language senseless: what can it possibly mean to have (or, worse, receive!) “the status of saints” in hell? The grace and forgiveness which Christ obtained for all, had been offered to the dead during their life-time, in the means of grace (St. Lk. 16:29; Heb. 9:27), but are in no way given to the godless in hell, where there is no Gospel, hence no forgiveness (Large Catechism, Creed, 56).

The trouble with these repulsive “Kokomo” statements is that they ignore the pivotal significance of the means of grace and thereby abandon the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. That, too, in essence is what was wrong with Samuel Huber’s proposal, early in the 17th century, of a notion of “universal justification,” which was duly rejected by representative Lutherans at the time. The story is told in detail by Dr. Tom Hardt of Sweden, in the 1985 Festschrift for Robert Preus, A Lively Legacy.7 Hardt is a meticulous scholar who demonstrates in detail the difference between the wrong sort of “objective justification,” as taught by Huber, and the right sort, as found in C.F.W. Walther’s Easter preaching and theology.

In light of Mr. Darby’s citation of the late Dr. Siegbert Becker in support of the “Kokomo” theses (HD, p. 240), I now regret my editorial note (A Lively Legacy, p. 78) which attempted to shield Becker against criticism by Hardt on justification. However technically defensible my cavils may have been, the larger truth signaled by the “Kokomo” affair is that Hardt was right and I was wrong.

That God remains unchangeable, also in the Incarnation and the Redemption.

Pieper insists on this repeatedly, in connection with the Incarnation, for example when he argues that kenoticism, the notion that the Son of God gave up some divine attributes in His Incarnation, falls beneath the level even of the natural knowledge of God (II:223-224)!

When it comes to the Redemption, the simple but sublime words of St. John 3:16 define the irreversible order: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son. . .” The antecedent divine Love motivates the satisfaction of His own justice, not vice versa!

It was Huber’s bad theology which speculated about God’s inner essence, and an alleged change there; for Walther objective justification meant “an external act of God, the Father raising His Son,” thus “turning it toward the world” (Hardt, p. 66).

Pieper wrote that “a change of heart took place, not in men, but in God” (II:346). He meant the right thing, which was to safeguard the objectivity of the Redemption as an action taking place from God’s side, not from man’s, as the various subjective or “moral influence” theories of the atonement hold. Pieper’s sense is clear from the technical term he employs, “in foro divino” [in the divine forum or tribunal]. This is what Pieper meant by God’s “heart” here. But the language is unfortunate—as though there was a change in God’s inmost being.

The great Wisconsin Synod dogmatician, A. Hoenecke used more careful language, expressly rejecting the notion of a change in God. The relevant biblical texts, he wrote, “say nothing of a reversal of the sensibility or state of mind [Umstimmung des Gemuets] of God, but only of certain arrangements, judicial facts and activities.”8 The reconciliation of II Cor. 5:19, he said, means not “a changed position of His heart” but a changed “relation” (Verhaeltnis) between God and the world.

That the wrath of God did not simply cease with the death and resurrection of Christ.

This of course is a corollary of point (b), see HD, pp. 13,115, 248, and passim. God’s reconciliation with the world, the cessation of His wrath, hence “forgiveness, life, and salvation” are an accomplished fact and reality—in Christ (I Jn. 5:11, 12)! Outside of Christ and of the Gospel, God remains a “consuming Fire” (Deut. 4:24, Heb. 12:29). It is a matter of rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel:

“These are the two chief works of God in men, to terrify and to justify and quicken the terrified. One or the other of these works is spoken of throughout Scripture” (Apology, XII, 53). One is Law, which proclaims God’s wrath over sin, and the other is the Gospel, which imparts mercy and forgiveness. “Since the beginning of the world these two proclamations have continually been set forth side by side in the church of God with the proper distinction” (Formula of Concord, SD, V, 23, compare 11-15).

That a deterioration of conventional U.S. Lutheran theology has occurred in this century, such that the pervasive sentimentalism of popular culture blunts and blurs even the clear contours of the Law/Gospel distinction and of the pivotal position of the means of grace.

This formulation is of course my summary, not Mr. Darby’s own language. But I do not think that I have misrepresented him. He writes, for example:

Preaching is much less “Law” oriented.
Preaching against sin is very general when it does exist.
Outward peace and harmony are considered virtues per se. . .
Sermons are focused on living the Christian life, rather than continual instruction in doctrinal truth.
Our publications are focused on public relations and practical problem solving rather than explanation of doctrine.
The Seminary curriculum is far more practical and far less doctrinal. . .

If the central Law-Gospel message of the Church HAS been blurred, the only message which has the power to solve all other problems, then could that explain why sin and error hold no terror for the vast majority of modern Lutherans? Could that explain why modern Lutherans are so apathetic toward the doctrinal aberrations that go on all around them? Could that explain why modern “conservative” Lutherans participate in things that they were taught (as children) were sin and error? Are modern Lutherans overcoming their guilty conscience with some “comforting” justification such as: “Well, all sins are forgiven, so that includes these sins also”? (HD, p. 3).

Consider for example the fast growing Church Growth Movement in the “conservative” Lutheran church bodies. What message do you think they are proclaiming to get all those people in their doors?
Do you think the unchurched baby-boomers are hearing God’s LAW and WRATH above the guitar music?
Do you think the “me generation” keeps packing the meta-churches even though “Pastor Bob” specifically condemns their pet sins, sins like worldliness, coveting, gambling, lust and drunkenness?
Do you think that Church Growth Enthusiasts, focused on meeting the felt needs of their audience, are teaching that any willful, persistent sin expels saving faith?
Whether one likes the change or not, most honest Lutherans will admit that the de facto leading message of modern Lutheranism is “you are already forgiven” (p. 15).

And by breeding carnal security and neglect of the means of grace, the modern version of objective justification weakened the love of doctrine everywhere it spread (p. 178).

The decades following World War I marked a critical transition for the Missouri Synod, as it tried hard to escape its “German” image. By giving up the German language in the church, we effectively jettisoned our tremendous literary heritage, not least of which was Luther’s Bible, which had served orthodox Lutheranism for so long. Exciting dialogs now become possible with other church bodies (p. 178n).

The omission of the means of grace from this teaching shows that Rev. NN, like his mentors, may have drunk deeply from Reformed waters.

The Forgotten Efficacy and Sufficiency of the Means of Grace

The all important question is still this: when did the means of grace lose their efficacy and sufficiency to overcome the doubts that Christians occasionally experience? Are the means of grace the only solution to the problem? And what about the situation where our “weak and faltering faith” results from willful, persistent sin which destroys saving faith? Do we Christians live a life of daily repentance (contrition brought on by the Law and faith renewed/strengthened by the Gospel) or do we anesthetize our consciences by repeating the mantra “God has already forgiven the whole world, and I am certainly included in that”? Rev. NN’s teaching actually diverts people away from what is distinctly Lutheran:

Ongoing confession;
The efficacy and sufficiency of God’s words;
The means of grace (pp. 235-236).

The new generation had a different vision of the Missouri Synod that could be summarized as follows: “We already have the pure doctrine, now let us go out there [and] be EFFECTIVE!” This new generation of churchmen proved again and again their willingness to adjust or downplay doctrine to reach that goal. The modern version of objective justification also met the ecumenical spirit of the age because . . . at least we could agree with other churches that everybody is already forgiven. And after all, was not that enough in order to have church fellowship?. . .

Anyone who has ever tried to speak the words of God to an impenitent sinner knows that “you’re already forgiven” goes over a lot better than “you’re a wretched sinner on the road to hell.” . . .

When sin in our life troubles our conscience, when spiritual doubts arise in our hearts because of “pet” sins, what do we do? No other question has more urgency for the professing Christian. This is where the rubber meets the road in the life of a Christian. Does this weak faith, troubled conscience and spiritual doubt drive us deeper into the words of God, which then drive us to contrition, confession and faith-strengthening absolution? Or do we anesthetize our conscience by repeating the mantra of objective justification: “All sins are already forgiven. . . even Judas’ in hell. . . so that certainly includes this sin of mine that I do not really want to give up”? . . .

I encourage you to test the widespread acceptance of this doctrine for yourself: ask fellow professing Lutherans what they “do” when spiritual doubts arise. See if they talk about the means of grace, word and Sacrament, or the “fact” that all sins are already forgiven. Ask them what they “do” when they find themselves stuck in a particular sin . . . see whether their answer includes contrition, confession and absolution (pp. 251-252).

These are very astute and relevant observations. Given the self-indulgent outlook of the times, the “Kokomo” views are just the twisted sort of version of objective justification one would expect to arise. The undercutting of the means of grace is its chief theological flaw and spiritual peril. That is also why the ex-Calvinist Samuel Huber’s version of “universal justification” was rejected by orthodox Lutherans at the time (see references to Tom Hardt’s essay above). It appears that Mr. Darby’s entire work on the subject is motivated by his strong conviction that the “Kokomo” approach is inimical to faith and spiritual life as understood and confessed by the Lutheran Church. This conviction is not to be gainsaid. All criticism of Mr. Darby’s work, to be fair, ought to start with this basic acknowledgment.

One need not agree with all of Hermann Sasse’s criticisms of Missouri Synod theology and its 17th century Orthodox roots—I for one do not—in order to recognize the deep significance of his trenchant lament: “The Lutheran Confessions no longer play the role in the life and in the theological thinking of the Missouri Synod, in fact, of all of American Lutheranism by far which they played during the 19th century.”9

The reason for this fateful weakening of the Confessional paradigm in Lutheran theological thinking must be sought not in fanciful conspiracies but simply in the process of “acculturation” to the North American environment—which also helps to explain such conspiracies as no doubt did arise! Although Mr. Darby’s work seems to make much of the conspiratorial factor, he adds this sensible explanation: “I do not suggest this was a conspiracy of men stretching over 100 years, but rather a conspiracy of our real enemy, Satan, who is capable of using even small openings to introduce error into the once-orthodox Synodical Conference” (HD, p. 118). Fair enough.

That the sacramental dimension of Lutheran faith and piety is most at risk in this “acculturation” seems fairly obvious. There was not much of that in the English-language literature which filled the void of the lost German staples. Somewhere among my papers there is a little devotional booklet issued in the 1940’s by the Missouri Synod’s Army and Navy Board, as it was then called. The booklet offers various prayers, but not the morning, evening, and mealtime prayers from the Catechism. I do not recall whether there is a form for emergency baptism. There is, however, a model prayer for “receiving the Lord Jesus” into one’s heart!

Not to be discounted in the acculturating distortion of “objective justification” is the pervasive influence of Schleiermacher and his multitude of followers. Hoenecke put it like this:

According to Schleiermacher there is only a universal [allgemeinen] eternal decision [Ratschluss] of justification, which in turn is nothing else than the decision to send Christ, and in the end is nothing else than the decision to create the human race, insofar, that is, as only in Christ is human nature completed. In the decision of the Redemption is implied [liegt, lies] according to Schleiermacher already that mankind [die Menschen] are pleasing to God in His Son; there is no need for an individual temporal act of justification upon each individual [einzelnen] human being. It is necessary only that the individual human being become aware of this, that in God’s decision of the Redemption in Christ he has already been justified and made pleasing to God (III:355, my translation).

Cultural sentimentalism, the anti-sacramental “spirituality” of Reformed sectarianism, and the individualist-experiential bent of “respectable” theology in the wake of Schleiermacher, make up a potent brew, which—as Mr. Darby is quite right to point out—poses a formidable threat in our time and place to the right understanding (Augsburg Confession VII!) of justification and the means of grace.

Indefensible Theses of Mr. Larry Darby:

That there was “no distinct, divine judicial act around A.D. 30” (HD, p. 75).

This is one of the core components of Mr. Darby’s opposition to what he regards as the “new” and unacceptable version of objective justification. The basic logic is that God foreknew everything from eternity, that both His grace and His wrath are unchangeable, and that the eternal election has already determined the outcome. Therefore there can be “no distinct, divine judicial act around A.D. 30.”

When Mr. Darby concedes the terminology “objective reconciliation” or even “objective justification” he means no more by it than “the fact that God has always regarded mankind with grace (in addition to His burning wrath)” (HD, p. 131). The Law had been fulfilling its condemnatory function long before A.D. 30. The Law came along, so to speak, found this Man hanging on the cross on Whom lay the sins of the world, and it automatically subjected Him to the torments of hell, with the full foreknowledge and approval of the Father. No distinct judicial act was required to understand this matter, and since Scripture does not teach such an act, neither should we (p. 195).

The same goes for the Resurrection: It “can be seen quite Scripturally as the natural outcome of the fact that the Law had finished its work upon Him. . . No distinct judicial act was involved” (p. 195). Again: “We equate objective justification with Christ’s procurement of forgiveness for all men. This ‘transaction’ took place in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. We must not assert that there was a distinct, judicial act around A.D. 30 since that cannot be proved from Scripture” (p. 216).

Mr. Darby is grappling with a real conundrum: the eternal, unchangeable God acting in time, in human history. There is no logical, philosophical solution to this “problem.” Both paradoxical aspects must be fully maintained, as Scripture does, and neither may be sacrificed to the other. Yes, God foresaw everything, but this does not mean that He never does anything new: the creation happened in time, not in eternity; the Incarnation happened in time, not in eternity, and so did the Redemption and all other facets of Our Lord’s divine-human, high-priestly work of salvation. If there can be no distinct divine acts (why should only “judicial” ones be forbidden?) in time, then the creation and the Incarnation did not happen either.

Furthermore, if there can be no new “distinct judicial” acts, then what happens in personal justification through faith? When the ungodly person’s “faith is counted for righteousness” to him by God (Rom. 4:5), that is certainly a “distinct, divine judicial act.” There have been millions of such divine judicial acts in history. If God’s eternal foreknowledge does not forbid these millions of judicial acts, why should it forbid the one great world-embracing judicial act in the Cross and Resurrection, which is the real and objective basis for all the millions of individual “applicatory” judicial acts? Justification is by definition a judicial act.

As Hoenecke pointed out (see point 4b above), the specifying phrases in II Cor. 5:18-21, “not imputing trespasses,” “made Him to be sin,” describe not changes within God, but “only. . . certain arrangements, judicial facts and activities,” such that they “alter” the “relationship between God and [the world]” (Dogmatik, III:191)—in other words, “distinct judicial act[s] around A.D. 30.”

It is worth quoting here Pieper’s reply to the modern sentimentalists’ complaint that the notion of God’s reconciliation of the world with Himself through Christ’s substitutionary satisfaction is too “juridical” and not sufficiently “ethical.” To avoid the imprecise and lacklustre prose of the English version, I have translated the following from Pieper’s German Dogmatik (II:420-421, a passage which Mr. Darby unfortunately omits from his detailed treatment of Pieper):

Answer: That can hardly be changed, if we want to abide by Scripture. According to Scripture, as it happens, the process of world-reconciliation is in all its factors juridical. Of a decidedly juridical kind and nature is God’s law, in that it demands from men a perfect obedience, Mat. 22:37 ff. Unadulteratedly juridical is also the curse of the law, which extends over the transgressors of the law, Gal. 3:10. Purely juridical is the placement of Christ under the law given to men, Gal. 4:4, 5, since Christ for His own Person stood above the law, Mat. 12:8. Purely juridical is the divine transfer of human guilt and punishment upon Christ, since God made Him to be sin, Who for His own Person knew of no sin, 2 Cor. 5:21. Purely juridical is the execution of punishment upon Christ, since Christ had for His Person deserved no punishment, but in Him the Righteous suffered for the unrighteous, I Pet. 3:18. Purely juridical or an unadulterated actus forensis is the divine action whereby God then, when He reconciled the world with Himself, did not impute to men their sin . . ., 2 Cor. 5:19, and whereby through the Righteousness of the one Christ it came to justification of life for all men, Rom. 5:18. Of a purely juridical kind therefore is also “the word of reconciliation” (. . . 2 Cor. 5:19), that is of the reconciliation already effected through Christ, which makes known grace or the divine forgiveness of sins among all nations (Lk. 24:47) and awaits only acceptance through faith. In the purely juridical character of the Gospel, which proclaims grace or forgiveness of sins, lies the reason for the fact that the Gospel works faith in man (. . . Rom. 10:17), and that man is subjectively justified before God out of faith (sola fide), without any righteousness of his own (. . . Phil. 3:9). On these purely juridical occurrences—so Scripture instructs us further—rests now also all human ethics, about which the combatants against the juridical notion of world-reconciliation are so concerned (all emphases in original).

This excerpt, incidentally, shows how skillfully Pieper weaves actual biblical language into his argument—and how difficult therefore it is to translate his text without loss of subtle nuance and precision. I hope, too, that we shall not have to quibble about the differing terms “judicial,” “juridical,” and “forensic,” all of which mean the same thing in this context, being equivalent to the German “richterlich.”

The truly cosmic (Col. 1:20) change in our standing before God, though of course seen and willed by Him from eternity, was in fact brought about by the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ, and therefore in history and in time—not “once upon a time,” but “once for all” (e`fa,pax, Rom. 6:10; Heb. 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). Therefore also we have in Him a new, and better, and permanent Testament (II Cor. 3:6-18, and all of Hebrews).

It is a pity that for his treatment of the time/eternity paradox in Pieper, Mr. Darby [HD, pp. 131-134] chose to repair to the first volume of Christliche Dogmatik, and to by-pass the relevant discussion in volume two. I quote from the long footnote # 1041 against Ihmels (pp. 438-439):

So we must maintain on the one hand, on the basis of Scripture, that the decision to reconcile the world [Ratschluss der Weltversoehnung] through Christ belongs to eternity, which is unchangeable; on the other hand Scripture leads us to think of a change of attitude [Umstimmung] of God or a transformation [Umwandlung] of His wrath into grace, which has been effected [bewirkt] through Christ’s doing and suffering in the fullness of time 1900 years ago. Condescending to our human powers of comprehension Scripture presents the matter thus: At that [past] time [damals], when the Righteous One suffered and died for the unrighteous, we were reconciled with God through the death of His Son. At that time, when Christ was put under God’s law given to men and when He fulfilled it in the place of men, justification of life came about for all men through the one Righteousness. At that time, when God through Christ reconciled the world to Himself, He (God) did not impute their sin to the world of men, that means, with Himself [bei sich], “before His tribunal,” He let grace towards the world of men take the place of wrath. Whoever now, like Ihmels, while invoking the immutability of God, calls these thoughts “misleading,” . . . thereby renounces Scriptural [schriftgemaesse] thoughts of the Redemption, which has taken place through Christ in the fullness of time (my translation; all emphases in original).

As for God’s election of grace, it is quite out of place as an argument against universal justification (see HD, pp. 49-54, 209, passim). As Pieper points out, “in Scripture the doctrine of the election of grace is given not a central but an auxiliary position. It serves the presentation of the sola gratia” (Christliche Dogmatik III:535, my translation). Citing the very language from Formula of Concord XI to which Darby appeals in HD, p. 53, Pieper says: “Also the Lutheran Confession defines as purpose of the doctrine of election the confirmation of the sola gratia” (p. 556). And in II:497 Pieper had already pointed out that even in Rom. 9-11 St. Paul treats election “not as a central article, but as an auxiliary article to the doctrine of grace,” and that the Apostle opposes the election of grace “not to gratia universalis [universal grace], but to liberum arbitrium [free will].”

To marshal election against objective justification is really to direct it against universal grace. Although Mr. Darby wishes to maintain universal grace in obedience to I Tim. 2:4 (HD, p. 49), his foreknowledge/election logic relentlessly gets in the way. So at p. 82 he accepts that the Holy Spirit is “willing to work all this in every one who hears the Gospel” but objects to the (1991 Catechism) wording that He “earnestly wants to convert all people and bring them to salvation through the Gospel.” Is the universal grace of the Gospel then not serious grace, or is that Gospel not seriously offered to all mankind? One should read Pieper’s spirited defense of universal and serious grace—and even the English of Christian Dogmatics III:21-34 is quite clear and explicit enough on these crucial matters, to which he returns again and again in the rest of his work.

On p. 50 Mr. Darby makes this remarkable assertion: “Stoeckhardt is also right to reject the error that ‘As a consequence of reconciliation God pursues sinners further, calls them through the Gospel, and seeks to effect their conversion.’ This error clearly contradicts the perfect foreknowledge of God, His election, and His immutability.” Despite the professions of universal redemption and reconciliation that follow, the appeal to foreknowledge, election, and immutability here makes sense only if directed against universal grace, that is, God pursuing sinners with the Gospel, seeking to convert them.

The trouble is that our author has clearly misunderstood Stoeckhardt’s intent.10 Stoeckhardt was refuting the views of “positive” 19th century theologians like Thomasius and Luthardt, who downgraded world-reconciliation to forgiveness (=justification) as a mere possibility rather than an actual fact and reality. What Darby regards as too strong, saying too much, Stoeckhardt rejects as too weak, saying far too little. Stoeckhardt attacks the “positive” crowd of theologians not for saying that God pursues sinners with the Gospel, but for making that Gospel far too iffy and in need of completion by human responses—as though faith had to establish and bring about forgiveness rather than merely receive and accept it.

That the Resurrection of Christ was only one absolution among others, not THE absolution of the world (HD, pp. 101, 105, 113-114, etc.).

The devaluation of the resurrection here becomes downright offensive: “Pieper and Walther were willing to speak about the event of the resurrection as one actual absolution, never suggesting that it was anything more than a reminder of the first one spoken in the Garden of Eden. However, the English version speaks of this event as if it were the only absolution, as if it proves that God had just completed a divine judicial act” (p. 101). Easter only “one actual absolution” among others? Nothing “more than a reminder [!] of the first one spoken in the Garden of Eden”? If this were really Pieper’s original sense, then the English translation must be regarded as a vast improvement! Nor is this a casual slip in HD. We read again on p. 114:
Pieper’s use of “a” reminds us that Christ’s resurrection was not a unique event in time in regard to the way God regards sinful mankind, or a signal of a change in God. Similar absolutions have been spoken since the time of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. The English translators’ change to “the” implies that this event in time proves a change in God and the status of mankind brought about by a distinct, divine judicial act around A.D. 30.

A footnote on the same page adds the final indignity: “As a brief reminder of the proper application of Absolution, we also note that the manifestation of this particular Absolution (i.e. the resurrection) was only to Christ’s disciples, not to the impenitent.” So now the Resurrection becomes if not quite “a” private, then at least “a” semi-secret absolution! HD even criticizes “the teaching of universal, objective justification” for “revolv[ing] around the resurrection as the pivotal point in time in the process of salvation . . .” (p. 101).

This flies in the face of the whole New Testament economy of salvation, which culminates precisely in the Resurrection of our divine-human Redeemer. See the wealth of material in section 3 above. Given the centrality of the Resurrection as the founding fact of Christianity (Acts 17:30, 31; I Cor. 15!), which is celebrated therefore not just once a year but every week, on the “First” or “Lord’s” Day (St. John 20:19-29; Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10), it cannot possibly be just one of many items in any list! In 1893 Pieper put it like this, on behalf of the entire Synodical Conference:

With our sins upon him Christ entered into the prison-house of death; absolved from our sins he was set free in his resurrection. Hence it is seen that the resurrection of Christ actually involves an absolution of the whole world, and the absolution we pronounce is nothing but a repetition or echo of what God has long since pronounced.11

If there is any “echoing” to be done, then by other things “echoing” the resurrection—never the other way round! This also explains what is meant elsewhere by saying that the Resurrection was a “factual” [tatsaechliche] absolution. The implied contrast is not “fictitious” or anything like that, but simply “verbal.” Unlike all the absolutions in words, from Genesis to Revelation, and in the church from Pentecost till the end of days, the resurrection is absolution in the form of FACT or DEED, that unique culminating fact, fount, and source, out of which all verbal absolutions flow. Like Caiaphas before him (St. John 11:49-52), little did Rudolf Bultmann realize the true sense of his famous phrase that “Jesus is risen into the Gospel”! And of that, Holy Absolution is the concentrate.

It follows that the argument from the difference between the indefinite article in Pieper’s original German [“a factual absolution”] and the definite article in the English translation [“the actual absolution”] (HD, pp. 113-114) is an illusion. Although both English and German have definite and indefinite articles, the usage is not identical. Often, for instance, the definite article is natural in a German phrase, but unnatural in English (e.g., “Eindruck der Wirklichkeit” [Pieper II:436] must go into English without the article, as “impression of reality.” It cannot possibly be “impression of the reality” unless there were a further specification of the term, such as “impression of the reality of the transaction”). Although I am not a German language expert, I would venture to say that sometimes the indefinite article is used in preference to the definite for the purpose of stressing the qualitative content of the assertion. Such usage would parallel the omission of the definite article in Greek constructions like St. John 1:1, kai. qeo.j hv/n o` lo,goj. Here the lack of the definite article before “God” means not that “the Word was a god,” as Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain fraudulently, but precisely the opposite, that the very attribute of divinity is being stressed: “It was nothing short of God that the Word was.”

No inference may be drawn therefore from the presence or absence of articles, against the uniqueness of the Resurrection as the factual absolution (=justification) of the world. The semantic content of the assertions, regardless of articles, dictates the meaning. For instance: “Not a few regard the resurrection of Jesus Christ as no more than a beautiful addition, a brilliant decoration of the real salvatory acts of the Redeemer of the world, as a precious pearl in the crown of redemption, but not as that very crown itself. They do not know what to do with it. . .” Nor is there any hesitation to use the definite article when it fits: “That the resurrection of Christ is the [die] fully valid justification of all men” (Both examples are from C. F. W. Walther, quoted by Hardt, pp. 62 and 73, note 56, and 61 and 73, note 51, respectively. My emphases).

That only actual biblical words and expressions carry full divine, spiritual power.

Warnings against human theological reconstructions of Holy Scripture (“The Efficacy and Sufficiency of God’s Words,” HD, pp. 7-10) are certainly in order, especially nowadays when the sacred text is so often made to fit fashionable conceits like “gender-neutral language.” Yet the term “God’s Words” seems to be restricted unduly to verbatim biblical citations—everything else being “human” words and explanations. This point is driven to the extreme in the correspondence with Pastor Rolf Preus:

The real issue is whether there is something fundamentally unfaithful about trying to convey spiritual truth with our words instead of God’s explicit words. Man’s words have often confused or deceived . . . But God’s words have never deceived.
-I believe that God’s very words, preserved in Holy Scripture, say what they mean and mean what they say (what theologians like to call perspicuity). . .
-I believe that these very words alone have the power to convey truth—not just convey it to heads (knowledge and assent) but also to the heart and soul. This is what theologians like to call efficacy (OJ, p. 17).

By way of a first approach one should note that the biblicist anxiety about exact inspired wordings is not a normal or natural part of Lutheran piety. The Catechism, for instance—except in the Decalogue and the Lord’s Prayer—accustoms us to saying first a brief “human” summary of what the thing is, or means, or gives, and then, if necessary, asking, “Where is this written?” The devil tried to seduce the Lord with the ipsissima verba, the very words of God (St. Mt. 4:6)—so these can obviously be used deceitfully. Luther, on the other hand, habitually drove off Satan not with biblical citations—nothing wrong with those of course—but with sacramental defiance: “I am baptised!” Whereas Southern Baptists would presumably direct troubled souls to specific Scripture-texts, Lutherans direct them above all to the Absolution, and so to ecclesiastical, “human” wordings: “Upon this your confession I as a called and ordained servant [Slavonic: ‘His unworthy servant’] . . . forgive you all your sins . . .” Also, the meaning of the Third Commandment bids us attend to “preaching and His Word.” These are not two different things; the “and” is basically “epexegetical”—see the Latin version and the Large Catechism.

The underlying truth here is that of the “unity” of the Word of God (see Robert Preus, The Inspiration of Scripture, pp. 17 ff.). The divine efficacy attaches not to the “materia” (the [divinely chosen] letters and words in the human languages [Hebrew, Greek]) as such, but to the “forma,” the divine meaning or sense, which can be re-stated—also translated!—in different words without loss of truth or power. Preus:

The efficacy of the Word of God does not inhere in the letters and syllables and words as they are written. These are merely symbols, the vehicle (vehiculum) of the divine content, the forma, of the Word which alone is the Word of God, properly speaking. . . It is extremely important to bear in mind that the dogmaticians are never speaking of the Bible as a book, of the materia of Scripture, or of the materia of the Word of God in general, when they say that the Word of God is efficacious (p. 174).

The basic units of faith and theology are not so many biblical books as such [unlike the
Roman and Reformed confessions, the Lutheran Book of Concord does not specify exactly how many books make up the canon], but the divinely revealed “articles” that make up the Christian “doctrine” (in the New Testament true Christian “doctrine” occurs only in the singular—as opposed to the plural “doctrines” of men and of demons):

The first part of the Articles treats the sublime articles of the divine majesty. . .

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord “was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification,” Rom. 4.

The Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel (Smalcald Articles I; II/I/1; II/II/15).

These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth (Large Catechism, Creed, 66).

. . . agreed in the doctrine and in all its articles. . . (Formula of Concord, S.D., X, 31).

Exact biblical wording is crucial of course in determining the right content or doctrine—but it is that content or doctrine which for Luther is always the essential thing.

“Could you please show me,” writes Mr. Darby, “where the Bible describes itself as a ‘body of Christian doctrine’ or ‘living organism’?”

Well, there is first of all the “one faith” (Eph. 4:5, compare Jude 3). Then there is the one “doctrine” or even “pattern of doctrine” of Christ and the Apostles (St. John 7:16; Acts 2:42; Rom. 6:17; 16:17; I Tim. 4:16; Tit. 1:9; II John 9, etc.). Thirdly, there is the liberating truth, Word of truth, etc. (St. John 8:32; 17:17; Eph. 1:13; 4:21; II Tim. 2:15). Fourthly, there is the one living and life-giving Word or Gospel (St. Mk. 1:1; Acts 15:7; Rom. 1:16; I Cor. 15:1; Gal. 1:6-9; Phil. 1:7; II Tim. 1:10; Heb. 4:12; I Pet. 1:23-25). All these expressions imply not disjointed [articulus means “joint” or “member” of an organism, in Latin] bits and pieces, but one grand revealed unity, the “mystery” of salvation (Col. 1:26-27; 2:2-3; 4:3; I Tim. 3:16), its unifying, ordering Centre being the God-Man Himself (St. John 5:39; I Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20). The mysteries [plural, as in I Cor. 4:1] are the various particular aspects [“articles”] of the one saving truth—including the “sacraments” [=Latin for “mysteries;” see Apology XXIV, 80]. Here is a case where later ecclesiastical usage [“sacrament”] is much narrower than the biblical [“mystery”]. But, properly explained, this does not change the doctrine.
It is difficult to know what to make of Mr. Darby’s argument from, among other things, “Exegesis, rather than doctrine, is the main topic of discussion among pastors and teachers” to the conclusion: “In short, we have lost our zeal for God’s very words” (HD, p. 3). It would seem that “zeal for God’s very words” would impel one precisely towards exegesis, which occupies itself with “God’s very words” in the original languages. Yet Mr. Darby is right, I think, in sensing that something has gone awry in the turn from doctrine (content!) to “exegesis” (method). Ideally sound content and sound method go together.

Mr. Darby’s underlying claim here is that “objective justification” is a human theological construct which lacks support in the “pattern of healthy words” (II Tim. 1:13), that is, in express biblical texts. The major premise is of course sound: whatever cannot be proved from explicit biblical texts, may not be given out as Christian doctrine or teaching. Quod non est biblicum non est theologicum. Whatever is not biblical is not theological either. That is axiomatic. What is not sound is the minor premise, that “objective justification” in fact lacks the proper basis in express biblical texts. In addition to all the material already presented above, I urge close attention here to just a few concrete biblical specifics:

(1) The world’s Redeemer is said to have been “justified” (I Tim. 3:16)—obviously in the Resurrection. Since as Lamb of God He had no sins of His own, but only the world’s, it is clear that somehow the world was “justified” in Him when He was “justified.”

(2) In Eph. 1:7 and Col. 1:14 “redemption” and “forgiveness” are identified. But of course forgiveness=justification (Rom. 4:4-8).

(3) II Cor. 5:19 literally says that “God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing to them their trespasses.” The object of this non-imputation (=forgiveness=justification) was “the world,” not any subset of it.

(4) Although ND, p. 29, tries to contrast three different translations of Rom. 5:18, the differences prove to be purely verbal. In content all three say exactly the same thing. Since the verse contains no verb, one has to be supplied. Luther’s translation [which ND labels that of “Prof. Schmidt”] adds fewer words than the Authorized Version, and is thus more literal: “As now through the sin of one condemnation has come upon all men, so also through the righteousness of one justification of life has come upon all men.” Verbatim, “justification” [which lead to life] is connected here with “all men.” Of all verbs that might be supplied, “come upon” seems to be the most neutral or minimal, or the least intrusive. But what does the text mean? Much useless quarreling can be avoided by paying heed to the wise and modest explanation printed by Walther in 1871: “Both acts [Adam’s and Christ’s] have an equally general signification and validity. But as not all men are personally condemned, although the ‘judgment came upon all men to condemnation,’ so not all men are really and personally justified, although the justification has through Christ’s act ‘come upon all men’” (quoted in Hardt, pp. 65 and 75, note 67). As condemnation is objectively “there” for all in Adam, yet not everyone ends up actually condemned, so justification leading to life is “there” for all in Christ, even though not everyone ends up actually justified. And that is just what the distinction between “objective” and “subjective” justification is meant to express. Anything further (e.g. “Kokomo”) is of evil.

At the very least all this shows that there is a proper basis in actual biblical language for the “objective/subjective,” or better “universal/individual,” distinction with reference to justification. It is not true, therefore, that the “justification” terminology is used in Scripture so narrowly and exclusively of the personal imputation of righteousness through faith that no other, broader use of the terms is permissible. In normal usage, both biblical and ecclesiastical, “justification” includes the personal appropriation through faith. There is biblical warrant, however, for using that language also in the special sense of forgiveness as it has been acquired by Christ once and for all, and is offered to all in the Gospel.

Even if “objective justification” could be rightly understood, asks Larry Darby, “what good is it?” (HD, pp. 36-39). He argues that the various errors against which “objective justification” has been asserted can be met better and more directly from Scripture without this artificial “theological construction.” The fact is, however, that far from being some abstract “construction,” the real point and thrust of the term and teaching is none other than to safeguard the fullness of salvation as it has been given to the world in Christ. Roman Catholicism denies the intensive perfection of Christ’s reconciling work. According to the scheme of the Council of Trent, He earned for us not forgiveness and salvation as an outright gift, but only the opportunity to earn them with the aid of divine “grace”! Calvinism, on the other hand, denies the extensive perfection of His saving work. Yes, says Geneva, Christ has done everything for our salvation, but not for everyone, only for the elect. The Wittenberg Reformation alone remains faithful to Scripture by teaching both the intensive and the extensive perfection of the Saviour’s accomplished work—and that is what “objective, universal justification” is meant to express.

Mr. Darby is quite right, as we have seen, to denounce a simplistic, “Kokomo”-style “comfort” that “since all people are forgiven, even Judas in hell, I am certainly included” (p. 37). Given Judas’ actual fate it is difficult to detect any comfort in this sentiment. But that only by the way. Mr. Darby rightly argues that Christians should be pointed to the means of grace, not to the alleged sainthood of Judas. It is just here, however, that “universal justification” is so indispensable: without it, there can be no objective, reliable means of grace at all! The logic is not, “I am forgiven because all are forgiven,” but: “I can rely on forgiveness in the Gospel and Sacraments, because it is there for all.” If forgiveness did not exist in Christ and His Gospel objectively for all mankind, how could I possibly presume to think that I receive it in the means of grace? I would then, as in Calvinism, need prior information about my election, by “experiencing” the Holy Spirit in my heart (!), before I could know whether the Gospel applied to me! That way lies a tragic return to the pre-Reformation “monstrum incertitudinis” (monster of uncertainty). A few samples will show the real means-of-grace rationale of “objective justification”:

HOENECKE: “The underscoring of the universal justification is necessary in order to
preserve the real content of the Gospel” (Dogmatik III:355; my translation).

C. F. W. WALTHER: “What now is actually the doctrine on which—to put it that way—absolution rests? We Lutherans teach about this briefly the following:

That Christ, the Son of God, took all sins of all sinners upon Himself and let them be imputed to Himself as if they were His own. Hence John the Baptist, pointing to Christ with his finger, says: ‘Behold, this is God’s Lamb, which bears the world’s sin.’ We teach:
That Christ by His poor, wretched life, by His suffering, by His crucifixion, by His dying has wiped out all people’s sin and won [erworben] forgiveness of the same. No human being in the world is excepted, from Adam on down to the last [person] to be born into this world. For St. Paul writes 2 Cor. 5, 21. . . And already Isaiah says, Is. 53, 5. . . We teach:
That God the Father has . . . by the Raising of Christ publicly attested before heaven and earth, before angels and men: ‘This my beloved Son cried out from the Cross: “It is finished!”—and I declare hereby: Yes, it is finished [vollbracht, accomplished]! You sinners are redeemed! Here is forgiveness of sins for every one! It is already there! . . .’ We teach:
That Christ, in commanding that the Gospel be preached to every creature, has thereby simultaneously commanded to preach forgiveness of sins to all men . . . ‘Oh, everything has already happened! Nothing more is to be done. You have only to believe what has happened, then you are helped.’ We teach:
That Christ did not only in general command His apostles and those who were to succeed them in office to preach the Gospel, thus the forgiveness of sins, but also to speak the consolation to every single [one] who asks it of them: ‘You are reconciled with God!’ For if the forgiveness of sins has been won for all, then it has been won also for everyone individually. . . We teach:
That because now the forgiveness of sins, as already noted, has been won, not only the preacher in a special commission can proclaim it, but also every Christian man, also every Christian woman, yes, every child. . . . the issue is not: ‘what can the person [do]?’ but: ‘what has happened through Christ?’” (Die rechte Unterscheidung von Gesetz und Evangelium [1901], pp. 158-159. For the sake of precision I have given as literal a translation as I could. The English version of Law and Gospel [1929] is not exact enough for our purposes. It also gratuitously introduces that bloodless word “plan,” beloved of Calvinists [see Pieper, Dogmatics III:247-248], in point 2 above. And in point 6 Walther’s original sense regarding the “special commission” is not correctly reproduced).

F. PIEPER: “In the presentation of the doctrine of the means of grace one must start with the universal objective reconciliation or justification. So we find it in the Scripture. . . With the denial of the gratia universalis there disappear, consistently, also the means of grace” (Dogmatik III:123, 141; my translation).

“It should be borne in mind that God has already absolved the whole world in laying the sins of the whole world on Christ and in raising up Christ from the dead. With our sins upon him Christ entered into the prison-house of death; absolved from our sins he was set free in his resurrection. Hence it is seen that the resurrection of Christ actually involves an absolution of the whole world, and the absolution we pronounce is nothing but a repetition or echo of what God has long since pronounced. . . Faith, indeed, is necessary on the part of man; not, however, to render God fully propitious, . . . but to accept of [sic] the forgiveness already earned by Christ and now offered in the Gospel. . . It is of great importance to maintain this true conception of the Gospel, viz., that forgiveness of sins exists for every sinner before his conversion and faith. For, how could man obtain forgiveness of sin by faith, i.e., by laying hold on it by faith, if this forgiveness did not actually exist for him in Christ and were not offered to him in the Gospel?. . . Absolution is founded on two facts, first, that God is perfectly reconciled through Christ to every sinner; secondly, that God has commanded this Gospel to be preached in the world. . . . Christ has already perfectly acquired forgiveness of sins for all men, and . . . this forgiveness is offered and exhibited to men through the means of grace, to wit, the Gospel and the Sacraments. . .” (Distinctive Doctrines, pp. 147-148, 150, 151).

(h) That the objective/subjective justification distinction is an unnecessary and
misleading novelty, which Pieper’s German Christliche Dogmatik tolerated [“condone(d),”HD, p. 100)] and explained in an orthodox sense, but which the English translation [Christian Dogmatics] and the Missouri Synod’s Catechism of 1991 materially falsified in the direction of the “Kokomo” excesses.

The 1872 Synodical Conference Essay and “Prof. Schmidt”

In my translation of this essay, which I entitled Justification—Objective and Subjective (Ft. Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1982), I offered the conjecture that Prof. F. A. Schmidt was the author. I did this on the basis of consultation with “informed sources.” The result, however, was no more than an “informed guess.” Some have even suggested to me that Walther himself was the author.

Pieper commended the essay’s treatment of objective justification without reservations (Dogmatik II:611, note 1420; Dogmatics II:508, note 12). If this essay really had been a devious attempt on the part of “Prof. Schmidt” to introduce “error” by means of “subterfuge” (HD 20 ff.), would not some prominent Missouri Synod theologian have noticed it and offered some hint of criticism or reservation somewhere? On the contrary, the essay stands as a monument of soundness and sagacity in doctrinal discourse.

Mr. Darby is quite right to note that my translation and publication of the essay occurred at a time when this very matter was being debated again in our circles (HD, pp. 19-20). My aim, to mix metaphors, was not to fan the flames but to calm the troubled waters by offering what I regarded as a truly balanced, moderate (in the good sense!), and responsible treatment of the subject. Hence my choice of title. It seemed to me that in our own discussions at the time, the topic was being distorted (as that of the ministry is to-day) by over-statements and over-reactions. The judicious, painstaking treatment in that first Synodical Conference Convention essay seemed—and still seems—to me to supply an ideal antidote and a sound, traditional model or modus docendi (mode of teaching).

Roots in Lutheran Orthodoxy, Not “Made in America”

Mr. Darby himself recognizes that objective justification “has deeper roots than 1872” (OJ, p. 49). Only he is quite wrong in stating that “Adolph Hoenecke traced it to Schleiermacher.” What Hoenecke traced to Schleiermacher was not the truth of objective justification—which he vigorously defended throughout—but a sentimental caricature and conceit which eliminates the need for any actual, historical act(s) of justification (see p. 13 above). Pieper too complains of the “weakening of ‘the historical work of Christ’” which “permeates the whole presentation of the modern ‘positive’ theologians” (Dogmatik II:475, note 1096). Ironically therefore Mr. Darby’s sustained polemic against a “judicial act around A.D. 30” sides with the Schleiermacher/”positive” camp, not with its orthodox Lutheran critics!

Our Synodical founding fathers consciously eschewed innovation. They were anxious to preserve dogmatic continuity with the orthodox church of earlier times. If they charitably corrected some weaknesses in the approaches of their illustrious predecessors, then not from newer, but from older, more genuine sources. Pieper quotes Walther as follows:

Highly as we value the immense work done by the great Lutheran dogmaticians of [the 17th century], still they are not in reality the ones to whom we returned; we have returned, above all, to our precious Concordia and to Luther. . . The dogmatic works of the 17th century, though storehouses of incalculably rich treasures of knowledge and experience, so that with joy and pleasure we profit from the day and night, are nevertheless neither our Bible nor our confession; rather, do we observe in them already a pollution of the stream that gushed forth in crystal purity in the sixteenth century (Dogmatics I:166).

The 1872 essay itself documented its continuity with standard-bearers like Quistorp, Gerhard, “Rohrberg” (which Hardt, p. 77, corrects to “Norborg”) and others (my translation, pp. 21 ff.). Hoenecke was right: “Of universal justification our dogmaticians do not treat separately [besonders], but they do [treat of it] occasionally” (Dogmatik III:354).12

It is impossible to dispose of universal justification as a recent innovation.

Luther and Universal Justification

Darby (HD, pp. 29, 59, 61-63) is right in arguing that Luther’s usual interpretation of Rom. 5:18 is not that of Stoeckhardt, for instance. Tom Hardt’s scholarship supports this conclusion (Hardt, pp. 68-69, note 11). To say only this, however, would be misleading in our context. Several qualifications must be spelt out:

First, Luther’s actual translation (used but not invented by “Prof. Schmidt,” HD, p. 29) of Rom. 5:18 is that “justification of life has come upon [ueber] all men.”

Secondly, in his treatment of the references to Rom. 5:18 in the German St. Louis edition of Luther’s works, even Dr. Hardt seems to have overlooked the following from a sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (St. Louis edition, vol. XII, c. 850):

So also St. Paul speak in Rom. 5, 17. 18, where he contrasts Adam and Christ. Adam, he says, was also a wellspring, who by his disobedience in paradise filled the world with sins and death, so that through the sin of this one [man] condemnation has come upon all men. Yet again Christ with His obedience and righteousness has also become for us a Spring and Fullness, so that we also become righteous and obedient out of it. And this Fullness is of such a nature that it runs much more richly and lavishly than the other one. For although by one sin of one man sin and death came [gegangen, went] upon all men, and the Law came in addition, through which sin became much mightier and stronger; but against that the grace and gift in Christ is so surpassingly rich and mighty, that it overflows and wipes out not only one sin of the one Adam (which had previously immersed all men into death), but all sin, so that now much rather those who receive the fullness of grace and gift (says he) to righteousness, reign in life through the one Jesus Christ, etc.

Although the decisive importance of actual reception (by faith) is rightly stressed here, the surpassingly rich, objectively accomplished and fully existing Adam-antidote in Christ clearly covers “all sin,” and is no less universal than Adam’s poison—exactly the point of universal justification.

Thirdly, Luther teaches this universality explicitly:

He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: “Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.” . . . By this deed the whole world is purged and expiated form all sins, and thus it is set free from death and from every evil. . .

If the sins of the entire world are on that one man, Jesus Christ, then they are not on the world. But if they are not on Him, then they are still on the world. . . Not only my sins and yours, but the sins of the entire world, past, present, and future, attack Him, try to damn Him, and do in fact damn Him. . . Thus in Christ all sin is conquered, killed, and buried; and righteousness remains the victor and the ruler eternally (Luther’s Works, vol. 26, pp. 280-281).

Fourthly, Luther expressly distinguishes forgiveness (which always equals justification) as won in Christ then and there, and as offered and given to our faith here and now in the Gospel:

We treat of the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. But he has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the supper or sacrament. There he has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the gospel, where it is preached. He has won it once and for all on the cross. But the distribution takes place continuously, before and after, from the beginning to the end of the world (Luther’s Works, vol. 40, pp. 213-214).

St. Ambrose and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession

HD (pp. 25-28) makes much of the alleged “subterfuge” of the 1872 Synodical Conference essay in the way the citation from St. Ambrose in Apology IV:103 is handled. The citation is said to have been taken out of context, and wrongly to have attributed to the Apology as such what was only St. Ambrose’s opinion. In addition, the translator is faulted for using the Tappert version rather than the Triglotta.

To start with the last point, Tappert was used simply because it is the most readable and accessible English version today. The original 1872 text followed the German of Mueller’s edition. Tappert follows the Latin text of the Apology, which is the original for that document. Interestingly enough, the Latin original is even stronger than the German version used in 1872: According to the Latin, the Lord Jesus forgave “sin to all,” whereas in German He forgave “sin to us.”

The main complaint is that by ending the citation before the references to Baptism and faith, the false impression is created that Ambrose and the Apology were arguing for universal justification when in fact they were arguing for personal justification by faith, against works. But this is a total misunderstanding, as though to argue for the one were to argue against the other! On the contrary, every proper argument for justification by faith is an argument for the objective justification which it necessarily presupposes, and every argument for objective justification is an argument for justification by faith as its proper goal and conclusion. If justification indeed consists of the four constitutive elements the Formula of Concord (S.D. III:25) names, God’s grace, Christ’s merit, the Gospel, and faith, then an argument for point four can never be an argument against the first three! To argue for the one is to argue for the others. So our entire Lutheran dogmatical tradition has understood the matter—against Rome and Geneva, which take out or weaken this or that constituent element.

Further, it is fallacious to argue that the citation in question is being given only as an example of a Church Father’s personal opinion. Clearly the Apology wholeheartedly endorses the Ambrosian citation, since the latter is taken to do more for the correct understanding of St. Paul than all the scholastics with their vainglorious titles (par. 105).

Finally, Mr. Darby does not seem to notice that his own citation (p. 27) from the Triglotta (“He took away the sin of the whole world”) as “the real thing,” does precisely what elsewhere he regards as forbidden: “you do not have the liberty to change Bible to past tense: (‘Jesus has taken away the sin of the world.’)” (OJ, p. 24).

C. F. W. Walther and Universal Justification

It is quite impossible to relegate Walther’s consistent teaching of objective, universal justification to “[o]ne excerpt from an Easter Sermon—which was not even published until years later!” (OJ, p. 48). See Hardt’s scholarly work (cited earlier and appended to the present paper) for evidence of Walther’s uniform and strongly expressed Easter theology of universal justification/absolution. Walther’s enlarged edition of Baier’s textbook, Compendium Theologiae Positivae, for instance, deliberately adds many orthodox testimonies to the universal justification in Christ (III:271-273). Also see the extended excerpts in Hardt (appended) from the 1860 Missouri Synod Convention essay on the relation between absolution and justification, and the 1871 Lehre und Wehre article on the dispute about objective justification. Walther was at the height of his powers and leadership then, and it is inconceivable that these essays would have appeared had they deviated from his theology.

It is fitting to cite in conclusion, from the earlier (1878), shorter (only 13 theses) version of Gesetz und Evangelium (St. Louis, 1893), Walther’s confession of objective justification, which at the same time warns against the very pitfalls which Mr. Darby’s work is rightly intended to oppose. It is clear, however, that Walther’s warning is not some sort of “qualification” to make a dubious “construction” seem plausible and acceptable! It is rather a case of rightly dividing Law and Gospel in presenting a central and indispensable truth, and demonstrates the real, proper, and intended meaning of “objective justification”:

So also it is with the doctrine of the objective justification, of the objective reconciliation and redemption. That is after all a surpassingly precious, delightful doctrine. It is a world full of comfort that lies in it. But this doctrine wants to be taught in such a way that the poor people don’t get the idea: Christ has reconciled me, now all is well [nun hat es gute Wege]. If you rightly underscore what an inexpressible comfort lies in this, that the redemption and reconciliation of the whole human race is an accomplished fact, that by the Raising of Christ all mankind was justified, then you must always add, that this has happened on the part of God, but that in man something must first happen before it becomes his property. For if someone gives [schenkt] me something, that is still no proof that I have it. If I do not accept it, then it doesn’t help me that it has been given to me. So it is also here. The dear God has gifted us all with what Christ has won for us, but only he who has come to faith has it, because only he has accepted it.—Take heed to yourselves then, that you do not comfort falsely (pp. 83-84; my translation, emphases in original).

Pieper in German and English

At the outset let me grant that the English version sometimes takes unwarranted liberties with the original German. In twenty years of teaching dogmatics from Pieper’s volumes, I have noticed that students’ misunderstandings and misgivings most often occur at points where the translators have improvised something that is not in Pieper’s original German. For example, here is a point that arose in class only last week: Dogmatics II:432 asserts: “Justifying faith is in every instance fides actualis, that is, the apprehension of the divine promises of the Gospel by an act of the intellect and will.” But this directly contradicts p. 444: “It is a grave error to define faith as the conscious acceptance of the grace of God.” It turns out that Pieper’s original says nothing about “intellect and will,” which imply something “conscious.” It says rather: “Because faith, insofar as it puts [one] into possession of forgiveness, has for its object the promise of the Gospel, it is always fides actualis, that means, [an] act of grasping [Ergreifens, taking hold of], and that not only in the case of adults but also in that of children” (Dogmatik II:517; my translation).

The trouble is that Pieper’s German original, though delightfully precise and expressive, abounds in the convoluted sentences typical of scholarly German syntax. English translations therefore must always break this prose up into shorter sentences, in order to achieve a readable English style. Clearly also Pieper’s translators worked at a lower level of theological precision and comprehension than did the master. They “cut corners” and made the text more popular. Something was inevitably lost in the process. But that is all. There are no material—certainly no intentional—doctrinal changes or perversions evident in the translation, only clumsy infelicities of expression here and there. That applies also to the treatment of objective and subjective justification.

The wedge that HD attempts to drive between Pieper and Stoeckhardt, for instance, is entirely imaginary. Regarding the “universal or so-called objective justification” Pieper appeals without any reservations to Stoeckhardt’s commentary on Romans, and precisely to the pages (Roemerbrief, pp. 213 ff. and 262 ff.) which expound objective justification most strongly, on the basis of Rom. 4:25 and 5:18, 19 (Pieper, Dogmatik II:612, note 1421).

The claim that Pieper only reluctantly “condoned” the term “objective justification” (HD, pp. 100, 128), is without merit or basis in fact, as even Mr. Darby’s own citations show. We have already seen that the alternate uses of definite (“the”) or indefinite (“a”) articles here make no difference whatever. Incidentally, all references to objective justification in the original German index volume, under “Rechtfertigung,” include the definite article, i.e. “die objektive Rechtfertigung.” And under “Auferstehung Christi” [Resurrection of Christ] the German index says: “Therefore the Resurrection THE factual [actual] absolution of the whole world of sinners, 2, 380. 412” (my translation and emphases). And there is nothing hesitant or concessive about statements like these:

The [reconciling] designates not a relation but a doing, and the immediately following [not imputing to them their trespasses] likewise designates a doing: God did not impute to men their sin, that means, He justified men [die Menschen], forgave them their sins (Rom. 4:6-8) = objective justification of the whole world of sinners (Dogmatik II:437, note 1040; my translation; emphases in original).

Ca,rij designates of course the gracious disposition of God for Christ’s sake, favorem Dei, the forgiveness of sins, justification, absolution [die Rechtfertigung, die Absolution]. Just so the proclaimed eivrh,nh designates the objective peace which God has made with the world through Christ and [which He] makes known to the world as completed fact through the Gospel (II:475-476, note 1098).

It is futile to try to make anything else of this than the standard, traditional understanding of objective justification. The effort to demonstrate doctrinal variance on the subject between Pieper’s original and the translation, fails at all decisive points, when examined dispassionately. Some of the particulars (articles, resurrection, judicial act in time) have already been treated. The others also turn out to rest on misunderstanding or even self-contradiction:

It is claimed that in German, though not in English, the term “so-called” has a “negative connotation” (HD, p. 104). No, it need not, but it can, and that in both English and German. For instance, when Hoenecke quotes Burk saying that “the relation of the universal justification to the otherwise so-called [sogenannten] justification can be expressed to the effect that it is just in the latter that the appropriation of the former occurs” (III:354-355; my translation), no one can possibly hold that a “negative connotation” is being suggested here for the term “justification”! The same holds true for the Pieper-quotation in question: “Dikai,wsij designates here the act of the divine justification, which took place through the act of the Raising of Christ from the dead, hence the so-called objective justification of the whole world of sinners” (Dogmatik II:380, my translation—note all the definite articles, as in original). Pieper continues at once: “This is the truth, of which especially Walther again emphatically reminded [people] in this country. . .” Pieper could not possibly have intended to put a “negative connotation” on a term designating a “truth” stressed by Walther!
On the same Pieper-page the translators are said to have smuggled in the term “now,” thus “falsely introduc[ing] the element of time and change” (HD, p. 102). No, the error is in HD’s version (p. 99), which skips the “now [nun]” which is in the original German, p. 380.
On HD’s pp. 102-103 the translators are blamed for the phrase “‘reconciliation and justification,’ as if these two terms were synonymous;” yet on p. 130 they are accused of “deliberate efforts . . . to obscure” the fact that Pieper “equated objective reconciliation . . . with objective justification”!
HD, p. 156, claims that Pieper used “the term ‘objective justification’ guardedly” but “did not use subjective justification to describe what the Bible simply calls ‘justification.’” Yet on p. 134 just that use of “subjective justification” by Pieper (in the original German) is documented and noted.
According to HD, p. 126, there is for Pieper “no meaningful sense in which everyone is ‘justified.’” According to p. 128, Pieper “acknowledged that in this sense, there was ‘a’ justification before faith.”
On p. 136, HD rightly states that “both Pieper and [the 1872 essay] taught: ‘ God regards the world as righteous.’” But on pp. 32, 35, 168-175 it is argued: “’In Christ’ clearly means those who believe in Christ!” (p. 169). The “ambiguous half-sentence of the 1932 Brief Statement” [“Scripture teaches that God has already declared the whole world to be righteous in Christ, Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom. 4:25”] is then re-interpreted accordingly (p. 175). Indeed: “A more precise definition (of those who are ‘in Christ’) is God’s elect, since God already knows who the believers are. . . He also knows which current ‘believers’ will fall permanently away . . .” (p. 169, note 359). All this is quite impossible, as has been amply shown above. In the context of objective justification “in Christ” means exactly what it means in II Cor. 5:19: “God was IN CHRIST reconciling the world to Himself.” It was done for the whole world, not only for believers, or even only the elect—although only believers actually receive the benefit. It can easily be shown that by God regarding the world “in Christ” or “outside of Christ” the 1872 Synodical Conference essay meant not the difference between believers and unbelievers, as HD, p. 169, fancies, but the difference between Law and Gospel, both of them being addressed to all mankind! “The law always accuses us and thus always shows us an angry God,” says the Apology (IV, 295). In the Law we all, believers and unbelievers, confront the wrath of God—and the Gospel of His grace and mercy is intended for and offered to all, but only believers accept and receive it.

The 1991 Missouri Synod Catechism

As a member of the task force charged with revising the 1943 explanation of the Small Catechism I can honestly say that apart from the specific Synodical directions to take notice of current issues (evolution, abortion, historical criticism), our one intention was to be faithful to Luther’s original, also to its popularity and simplicity. The Large Catechism was allowed to interpret the Small Catechism, and citations from the Book of Concord were deliberately added where appropriate. There was never any question of changing the theology. This is not to say that the wording chosen was always the best or is beyond criticism. The criticism in HD, pp. 75-94, however is neither fair nor factual:

Much is made (pp. 76-79) of the change from “redeemed” to “rescued” in respect of death and the devil (Q. 136 and 137). Now, in the original German Catechism the same word [erloeset] is used both in the meaning of the Second Article, and in the answer to the question, What does Baptism give or profit? In the latter case we are quite used to the English version, “delivers from death and the devil.” The word “rescue” is simply the best contemporary and vivid equivalent of “deliver.” It also reflects the Latin verb liberare, liberate, used in both places indicated. Far from “push[ing]” the “work of the Holy Ghost and the means of grace . . . into the background” (p. 77), the new Catechism has considerably strengthened the stress on the means of grace (see for instance the new Questions 164, 236, 237, 238, 252).

The new Catechism is criticized (p. 78) for suggesting “a benefit to us solely from the Redemption,” by its Q. 139: “How does this work of redemption benefit you?” Neither the question nor the answer, however, in any way suggests that the Holy Spirit, the means of grace, and faith may be dispensed with. In its “central” (9th) thesis, on the means of grace, Walther’s Gesetz und Evangelium (1897) cites Luther: “So this then is the benefit [Nutz] of the suffering and Resurrection of Christ, that He has done this not for Himself, but for the whole world, that he has trodden underfoot the devil and my sin, which hung upon Him on Good Friday, so that the devil also flees before the Name of Christ. If now you want to make use of these great benefits [Gueter]: very well, He has already made a gift of them to you” (p. 164).

The change from “willing to work all this in every one who hears the Gospel” to “want to do this in the lives of all people” (Q. 167, HD, p. 82) merely simplifies the language and incorporates the truth that the Gospel is intended for all humanity. HD wrongly uses the doctrine of election to limit the universality of the Gospel.
I concede (HD, pp. 83 ff.) that the new Questions 180 and 182 on forgiveness are formulated somewhat unguardedly. In retrospect, I prefer the 1943 wordings. However, the following questions make it quite clear that forgiveness is given only in the Gospel, and received only through faith. HD, p. 87, appeals to “the key word promise” in an earlier Catechism, but the new Q. 185 stresses the same “key word.” Unlike a misconstrued (“Kokomo”) version of objective justification, which indeed “undermines the concept of promise” (p. 87), the 1991 Catechism, by its stress on the Gospel and Sacraments, uplifts and celebrates the divine promises in Christ.

Conclusion

If it is granted, on the one hand, that “No orthodox Lutheran disputes the fact that Christ’s vicarious satisfaction reconciled God toward all men, since that is the clear language of Scripture itself,” that “the forgiveness of sins is ‘universal,’ as long as that is understood to mean only that Christ’s vicarious satisfaction procured this forgiveness for all mankind” (HD, pp. 123, 234), and that objective justification may rightly be understood as the assertion of grace alone against Rome, of universal grace against Geneva, and of the means of grace against both (p. 39); and if, on the other hand, it is granted that the “Kokomo” version of objective justification is an aberration, and that the proper distinction of Law and Gospel requires the teaching both of the wrath of God and of the pivotal, indispensable role of the means of grace, then a great deal of common ground exists for pursuing a genuine meeting of the minds.

In these interests I have attempted, to the best of my ability, to sort out the issues without rancour. It is difficult for us humans to put aside pain and bitterness, but the Lord never ceases to invite us to this grace of “following in His steps” (I Pet. 2:21). May He bless all who love His saving truth, with mutual forbearance, humility, and charity. That is my earnest plea and prayer. “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133)!

Epiphany II, 1998 ++++++++++++ Respectfully submitted, K. Marquart, C.T.S., Ft. Wayne, IN

1 I shall be referring to two works by Mr. Darby: The Historical Development of “Objective Justification” (published by the author, no date); and Objective Justification, correspondence with the Rev. Rolf Preus, published in late 1997. I shall abbreviate the first as HD and the second as OJ.

2 Henry P. Hamann, Justification by Faith in Modern Theology, Graduate Study No. 2 (St. Louis: School for Graduate Studies, Concordia Seminary, 1957), p. 60.

3 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 517.

4 I have covered this ground in “The Reformation Roots of ‘Objective Justification,’” in K. Marquart, J. Stephenson, B. Teigen, eds., A Lively Legacy: Essays in Honor of Robert Preus [Ft. Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary, 1985], pp. 117-130. The quotations are, respectively, from Abraham Calov, Exegema Augustanae Confessionis (Wittenberg, 1665), p. 4, and from John Benedict Carpzov, Isagoge in Libros Ecclesiarum Lutheranarum Symbolicos (Leipzig, 1675), pp. 208 ff., cited in Walther-Baier, Compendium Theologiae Positivae (St. Louis: Concordia, 1879), vol. III, p. 285.

5 Hans Kueng, Justification. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981. The original German work appeared in 1957.

6 HD, p. 226.

7 “Justification and Easter: A Study in Subjective and Objective Justification in Lutheran Theology,” pp. 52-78.

8 A. Hoenecke, Evangelisch-Lutherische Dogmatik (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1912), vol. III, p. 191.

9 Jeffrey J. Kloha and Ronald R. Feuerhahn, eds., Scripture and the Church: Selected Essays of Hermann Sasse. Concordia Seminary Monograph Series No. 2 (St. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1995), p. 205.

10 The quote appears on the first page of George Stoeckhardt, “General Justification,” translated by Otto F. Stahlke, Concordia Theological Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 2 (April 1978), pp. 139-144.

11 F. Pieper, “The Synodical Conference,” in The Distinctive Doctrines and Usages of the General Bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society, 1893 and 1902), p. 148.

12 The words quoted immediately follow upon these crisp definitions: “Justification is an action of God, which occurs in time and with every single sinner individually. But there is also a universal justification, which happened [ergangen] in time upon all men, namely in Christ’s passion and Resurrection” (my translation).

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  1. Jonathan Trost
    May 24th, 2012 at 10:16 | #1

    Thanks for that good (but lengthy) article re: “justification”, Pastor!

    As a layman, I was unfamiliar with the theologians’ distinction between “general (objective) justification” and “personal (subjective) justifcation”.

    I do recall, however, having learned as a youth the difference between “redemption” and “justification”. To distinguish them, our pastor used St. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son (redemption), that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (justification) Both redemption and justification are effected by God’s grace, and the object of both is Christ. That’s the way we learned it, anyway. So, if my understanding is correct, what I learned to be “redemption”, the 12th and last footnote in the article refers to as “universal justification”.

    I’ve long found it curious that, although the word “Redeemer” appears several times in the OT (mostly in Isaiah), I don’t see it anywhere in the NT. Reference to Christ as “Savior” and “Lord” appears all over the NT; but, as “Redeemer”, nowhere.

    Not far distant from our congregation (“The Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word”) is another (ELCA) congregation whose formal name is: “The Ev. Lutheran Church of the Holy Redeemer”. I thinkI like its name as much as I do our own.

  2. Jonathan Trost
    May 24th, 2012 at 12:04 | #2

    Thanks for that article, Pastor.

    As a Lutheran layman, the theologians’ distinction between “objective (universal) justification” and “subjective (personal) justification” are new terms to me.

    Rather, our pastor taught us to distinguish between “redemption” and “justification”, both of which are effected by God’s grace, and have Christ as their sole object. He used St. John’s Gospel at 3:16 as the teaching context. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son (redemption), that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (justification).

    God’s redemption (deliverance from sin and its consequences achieved by Christ’s sacrifice offered up for sinners) is universal, for all mankind, inasmuch as “God so loved the world….”, but justification is personal to “whosoever believeth in him… ” God initiates both.That what we were taught, anyway.

    I’ve always found it curious that, although the word “Redeemer” appears several times in the OT (primarily in Isaiah), it is totally absent in the NT.

    Nonetheless, near our congregation (“The Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word”), is another (ELCA) congregation whose formal name is “The Ev. Lutheran Church of the Holy Redeemer”. I think I like its name as much as I do our own.

  3. Rev. Roger D. Sterle
    May 24th, 2012 at 19:18 | #3

    Certainly did enjoy reading this article again for a second time in a couple of weeks. If I loose my copy then I will know where to find it again. I do hope that the guys in the circuit will be willing to give this a study next year.

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