Objective Justification and Rome

About a year ago one of my professors gave me the lecture notes of my grandfather, Robert Preus, from when he taught a course on Justification at St. Catharines back in the 80’s. According to Dr. Jackson, Preus was an adherent of Objective Justification at that time, but Jackson claims that he demonstrates in his essay “Justification and Rome” that he had a breakthrough and realized that this is not a Lutheran teaching. The lecture notes consist of twenty pages of quotes from the Lutheran Church Fathers on Justification, and most of these quotes are found in his “Justification and Rome.” One of the quotes comes from Abraham Calov’s Apodixis articulorum fidei (Lüneberg, 1684, p. 249), and Jackson cites this quote in Preus’ book as proof that he denied Objective Justification by the end of his life. Here is the quote (quoted in “Justification and Rome, 131, n74):

Although Christ has acquired for us the remission of sins, justification, and sonship, God just the same does not justify us prior to our faith. Nor do we become God’s children in Christ in such a way that justification in the mind of God takes place before we believe.

Now, Jackson also likes to point out what Preus wrote on page 72:

When does the imputation of Christ’s righteousness take place? It did not take place when Christ, by doing and suffering, finished the work of atonement and reconciled the world to God. Then and there, when the sins of the world were imputed to Him and He took them, Christ became our righteousness and procured for us remission of sin, justification, and eternal life. “By thus making satisfaction He procured and merited (acquisivit et promeruit) for each and every man remission of all sins, exemption from all punishments of sin, grace and peace with God, eternal righteousness and salvation.” [quoting Quenstedt] But the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner takes place when the Holy Spirit brings him to faith through Baptism and the Word of the Gospel. Our sins were imputed to Christ at His suffering and death, imputed objectively after He, by His active and passive obedience, fulfilled and procured all righteousness for us. But the imputation of His righteousness to us takes place when we are brought to faith. (72)

So Preus discusses here the distinction between procured and imputed righteousness. Jackson evidently does not see the procuring of Christ’s righteousness for all as part of Objective Justification. I suppose he is right that Quenstedt does not specifically say that God justified the world in Christ. Calov never used the term justification apart from faith. But this does not mean that they did not understand and teach the concept of Objective Justification. Preus gives a good explanation for the lack of outright Objective Justification language in the Lutheran Church Fathers. In his lecture notes, he writes (pg. 11):

Although the orthodox Lutherans do not make a great point out of a concept of universal justification, as they do against the Calvinists in the case of universal grace, universal atonement, redemption and reconciliation, they nevertheless do assert the doctrine when they believe the Scriptures demand it. Or they do so in passing when speaking in all sorts of contexts about the consequences of the work of Christ.

Preus then goes on to show that Sebastian Schmidt confesses the concept of Objective Justification in his Romans commentary (Hamburg, 1704, pg. 350). Schmidt, in discussing Romans 5:18, finds a distinction between dikaioma and dikaiosis. The former is a justifying righteousness which came to all men; the latter, set in opposition to katakrima (act of condemnation), is “the very act of justification whereby God justifies us.” Preus also quotes Schmidt in Latin earlier in his notes (pg. 8): “Christ was given up for the sake of the sins of the whole world. In like manner he was risen for the sake of our justification, hic est of the whole world.” (Schmidt 328) Christ became the righteousness of all; His resurrection proves it.

Jackson acts as if Preus had a huge breakthrough in his “Justification and Rome,” failing to realize that the Calov quote was in his lecture notes long before he wrote his essay; in these lecture notes he clearly confessed Objective Justification. If one believes Jackson that Robert Preus used this Calov quote in support of an apparent denial of Objective Justification, one would expect Preus to follow up this quote with such a denial. However, he instead shows the significance of what Calov is saying (“Justification and Rome” n74, pg. 131; c.f. Quenstedt Systema), showing that the Roman Catholics could not speak of forgiveness and righteousness as “objective realities which are offered in the Gospel.” For the Catholics, as opposed to the Lutherans, righteousness and forgiveness are only possibilities which become realities when one begins the process of justification/sanctification. The Gospel therefore is efficacious because it delivers that reality of righteousness and forgiveness already procured to all. Preus, then, demonstrates the reality of justification before faith, only that it is not imputed to me personally prior to faith. The only way one can conclude from “Justification and Rome” that Preus denied Objective Justification is if one reads it not in the context of his theological and scholarly life, but rather in light of one’s own presuppositions and reasoning.

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