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.

About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have five children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, Robert, and Marian.


Objective Justification and Rome — 154 Comments

  1. I apologize if I offended, Andrew. I have great respect for him and his book Justification and Rome. It validated…even galvanized my perception on justification in the midst of what I was going through about a year ago in WELS. So it means a lot to me and so does your grandfather. My current pastor and I came to a consensus over the book and we joined LC-MS because of it. If that had not happened, I’m not sure what our family would be doing now. I’m still not sure where the disconnect seems to be…you say tomato and I say tomato…I’ll leave it there. Blessings, Joe

  2. I just don’t get the huge issue that the “other side” made of the “”pixelated picture”” (their words).

    How on earth does a low resolution picture show disrespect? It was obviously the best picture available at the time; I’d rather see it than not see a picture of him at all!

  3. I believe that those who have a difficult time conceiving of “objective justification” are those who have a difficult time connecting some dots, – no matter how intellectually or theologically academic and / or gifted they might be. Their (myopic) over-emphasis is on Christ’s finished work upon the Cross and upon the believer’s faith, in that once-for-all universal and supreme blood bought, sacrifice.

    But, be that as it may, objective justification can be best understood when the Holy Spirit is given His due in the whole overall process.

    Even though Christ died for human sin (s) – past, present and future, which does in no way procure for the sinful person, salvation, no more than a cookie jar portends the contents of it, being, cookies. The Holy Spirit is the One who initiates the faith to believe and accept Christ’s finished work, and the personal implication of that work, upon a particular soul’s life. Hence, the “born from above” experience which Christ referenced to Nicodemus in John 3.3-8. Perhaps, a simple short topical message of mine can help better underscore what I am attempting to convey:

    “God is not your heavenly father unless you are one of His children:”


    Andrew: I was privileged to know, hear, and admire your grandfather while I was attending seminary. It was a tense time (then) while I was there, as your grandfather was apparently shoved aside and interim president Mueller presided in the Office of President. There were many students then who felt sympathetic toward Robert, as it seemed strange that his office was under lock and key. However, it did not bother some of us students to be sitting in the Commons having coffee with Robert Preus, even though we knew that we might be labeled, and suspect, of being somewhat renegade.

    Your grandfather was an inspiration to me, as little did I then know that I would share a similar fate of being thrown off the LCMS ecclesiastical bus, years later. Back then, LCMS was big on, professing grace, but short on its (tolerant) practice, unless, you happened to be part of the in-crowd.

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