Objective Justification: Affirming Sola Fide
One thing I have noticed about the opponents of Objective Justification is that they tend to say that we who hold to it teach justification “apart from faith” or “whether you believe it or not.” I would like to demonstrate that this is far from the truth. In fact Objective Justification affirms justification by faith alone. Distinguishing between Objective and Subjective Justification is like distinguishing between the visible and invisible church. Quenstedt calls such distinction an equivoque in its equivocate, or a distinction within one substance. We don’t turn them into two species. Rather, the concept of God justifying sinners (Objective) affirms justification by faith.
There are three main observations that come to mind. First, the fact that it is by faith proves that the promise in Christ is unconditional. Second, the Lutheran understanding of the Lord’s Supper demonstrates both the objectivity of God’s promise as well as the purpose of faith receiving the promises. Finally, I would like to discuss the purpose of the gospel. The fact that the gospel is meant for faith shows that its preaching should not hold anything back. That is to say, its preaching should be personal and unconditional.
Sola Fide proves the unconditional nature of the promise. Why? Because faith is a gift. And we don’t even need to find a proof passage for this. The Lutheran dogmaticians, for example, said that Paul’s words from Ephesians 2:8, “it is a gift of God,” refer specifically to faith, but the demonstrative pronoun (touto) is neuter while faith (pisteos) is feminine. The fact that it is by faith proves that the entire package is a gift. This is how Paul argues. We can see from his assertions that he understands faith as completely passive. He uses the fact that the promise is by faith to argue that it is a guaranteed promise of grace (Rom 4:16), and he uses the fact that it is a free gift to show that it is by faith (Rom 3:22-24). So when Paul explains that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, he sets up a major part of his argument by which he combats the involvement in any way of man’s will in justification (Rom 9:16). We could construct the logic as follows: Major premise: God justifies (Rom 4:5; 8:33). Minor premise: We are justified by faith (Rom 3:22, 26-28; 4:5; Gal 2:16). Therefore: The promise is a guarantee as a free gift of grace (Rom 3:22; 4:16). The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off (Acts 2:39).
The Lutheran teaching of the Lord’s Supper is all about faith! Allow me to discuss what David Hollaz taught concerning the purposes of the Lord’s Supper. Hollaz gives three purposes: 1) A confession of Christ’s death in faith and thanksgiving, 2) the seal of the grace of the gospel, and 3) the mutual love of the communicants. I would like to address the first and second purposes.
Hollaz cites the Apostle Paul: “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we confess the Lord’s death until He returns (1 Cor 11:26).” It is not only the oral eating and drinking that constitutes such a confession of Christ, but also the spiritual eating by faith (John 6:35ff), without which the oral eating does not grasp the salutary benefit or enjoyment (fructum) of the Supper, because “all spiritual benefits (beneficia spiritualia) are received by faith.” Hollaz by no means argues that the oral eating is contingent upon the spiritual eating, as if one does not receive the true substantial body and blood of Christ unless by faith. Rather, he only demonstrates that a true confession and a true faith go together. Unworthy recipients certainly receive the true body and blood. Luther confessed this against the heresy of people like Martin Bucer that even wicked Christians receive the body and blood of Christ (SA, III, 4, 1). Nevertheless, Christ’s Supper is still meant to be received with faith just as any other true proclamation of the gospel should be received and any true confession should be accompanied by faith. The Lord’s Supper is a public and corporal confession of Christ, His work, and His promises, which, as Luther taught, “requires all hearts to believe (SC, VI).”
The second point of this article overlaps a bit with the third point, namely that the purpose of the gospel is faith. Just as with the Lord’s Supper, all promises of God intend a believing heart. Faith is always the goal of the gospel; it was written that we might believe (John 20:31). Forgiveness does not depend upon faith, but faith is still required. The word of promise delivers the goal of faith (Rom 10:17), and this is the central point for both doctrine and practice. Melancthon emphasizes this in AC XV on rites and ceremonies. In the Apology, (XV, 10), he writes: “Therefore the law removed, and traditions removed, [Paul] contends that the remission of sins has been promised not on account of our works, but freely on account of Christ, that we might receive it only by faith.” The Triglotta translates the latter part, “if only by faith we receive it.” This can possibly be misunderstood, as though the remission of sins is promised on the condition that we only believe it. But the Latin simply reads, “modo ut fide accipiamus eam,” denoting a purpose or consequence of the promise, not a condition. The purpose is faith, and traditions created by men that do not proclaim the gospel cannot possibly intend faith. Pure church practice is an instrument for preserving and increasing faith. Thus, Hollaz contends that the oral eating is a means for promoting the enjoyment and spiritual eating of Christ’s body.
In explaining the second purpose of the Lord’s Supper, Hollaz discusses regenerating grace, justifying grace, and indwelling grace. He explains that through regenerating grace, God promised to give faith to all (Acts 17:31), and in the Lord’s Supper, God confirms, strengthens, and increases faith. Through justifying grace God remits sins, so in the eating and drinking of the body and blood given and shed for the remission of sins, Hollaz says that God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the believing recipient.
So it is all about faith. I will say it again. It is all about faith! But why? How? Because it is all about Jesus. If Christ’s true body and blood given and shed for our forgiveness are not substantially present in, with, and under the bread and the wine — that is to say as Christ says that the bread is His true body and the wine His true blood — then there cannot be any benefits of faith. We primarily hold to the real presence because the Bible tells us so. But it follows that such real presence carries with it spiritual benefits received by faith.
So how is it that the inseparable unity to faith necessitates an unconditional preaching of the gospel? Because pastors preach the gospel to those who need it. Walther says that there are those who need to hear the law and those who need to hear the gospel. Those who need to hear the law are hard-hearted self-righteous and secure legalists and antinomeans alike who need the law to crush them and kill them inside. But those who need to hear the gospel are those who have been humbled by the just accusations of the law (Matt 23:12). So when a pastor preaches the forgiveness of sins, he should preach it with the full intent of faith, not bothering himself with the notion that those who are crushed might not be crushed enough. If he has done his job by preaching the law, he should not let the possibility (and probability) that some are still not repentant stop him from preaching the pure and free forgiveness of sins in Christ. This is the only sufficient way to preach faith.
Faith is personal. By faith, the Christian applies the promise of the gospel to himself. This is crucial for the discussion of Objective Justification, because it clearly exhibits the role of Objective Justification in preaching. It isn’t preached merely by stating that Christ died for all and rose for all, so therefore He must have died and risen for you too. That is all fine and good to say! But Objective Justification finds its place most clearly in preaching when the preacher preaches it for you. Your sin is forgiven on account of Christ! Jesus died for you! This promise is for you! It is when preachers apply the unconditional gospel to their hearers when hearers can with confident faith apply the promise to themselves.
J. A. Quenstedt. The church. Translated by Luther Polloet from the 3rd edition, 1696, of Theologia Didactico Polemica, Part IV, Chapter XV: De ecclesia. Molone, TX: Repristination Press. 54. Print.
David Hollaz. Examen Theologicum Acroamaticum. Leipzig: 1707. Part III, Chap V, 1132-1134
ASSOCIATE EDITOR’S NOTE: The discussion that follows in the comments gets into some very particular points. This is a discussion that needs to happen for the sake of the Gospel, so we at BJS are letting it happen here. Please note that some of the commenters are very zealous over this issue and that is sometimes reflected in heated language. As Lutherans, we have a long history of heated language do to the seriousness of the Faith and great damage that error can due both to the Faith and also the faith of Christians. Those making comments are reminded to temper their words and deal with the substance of the debate, not the personalities involved.
UPDATED NOTE: I have moderated a lot of comments out of the posting. The admonition I gave in the above paragraph was not heeded by many commenters, and as a result fruitful discussion around Scripture and Confessions became impossible. Maybe in the future we may be able to try again.