Doctrine Of Justification Essay

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Justification: The Joint Declaration

Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., S.T.D., is Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University, Bronx, New York. His latest book is The New World of Faith (Our Sunday Visitor, 2000).*

comes up with a mediating formulation to which Catholics can hardly object:


1. The Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church, Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000); also published in Origins 28 (July 16, 1998): 120-127.

2. The figures are variously reported. I here follow the tally given by Aidan Nichols in his "The Lutheran-Catholic Agreement on Justification: Botch or Breakthrough?" New Blackfriars 82 (September 2001): 377-78.

3. The number of signers is likewise variously reported. I take the total from Nichols, 378. Some of these signatures were added after the document was issued.

4. Doctrinal Congregation, Unity Council, "Official Catholic Response to Joint Declaration," Origins 28 (July 16, 1998): 130-132.

5. Ibid., Clarifications, no. 5, p. 131.

6. Ibid., Clarifications, no. 1, p. 130.

7. These three documents may be found in Origins 29 (June 24, 1999): 85-92. The "Official Common Statement" and the "Annex" are also in the Eerdmans publication of the Joint Declaration

8. The "Official Catholic Response" (Clarifications, no. 4, p. 131) notes that the recovery of lost righteousness in the sacrament of penance is not adequately treated.

9. Joint Declaration, no. 4.

10. Joint Declaration, nos. 16, 25.

11. Chapter 7; DS 1528.

12. Joint Declaration, no. 22.

13. Joint Declaration, no. 26.

14. Annex, no. 2A.

15. Joint Declaration, no. 22, says that Lutherans and Catholics can confess together that when people receive new life in Christ through faith, "God no longer imputes to them their sin." I do not see how Catholics can say this in fidelity to their magisterial teaching.

16. Joint Declaration, no. 30, quoting Trent, DS 1515.

17. Joint Declaration, no. 28.

18. Joint Declaration, no. 29.

19. Joint Declaration, no 21.

20. Annex, no. 2C.

21. Luther, in his 1535 Commentary on Galatians 3:10, distinguishes between faith in the abstract and concrete, embodied faith. Of the latter he writes: "It is no wonder, then, if merits and rewards are promised to this incarnate faith, such as the faith of Abel, or to faithful works" (Luther's Works, vol. 26 [St. Louis: Concordia, 1963], 265).

Melanchthon in his Apology for the Augsburg Confession declares: "We teach that good works are meritorious -- not for the forgiveness of sins, grace, or justification (for we obtain these only by faith) but for other physical and spiritual rewards in this life and in that which is to come" (Apol. 4:194; Book of Concord [quarto edition] [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959], 133; cf. 4:367, p. 163). In another edition (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), the Book of Concord states: "Since therefore works constitute a kind of fulfillment of the law, they are rightly said to be meritorious, and it is rightly said that a reward is owed to them" (4:358, p. 171).

22. Joint Declaration, no. 38.

23. DS 1530-31.

24. See, for example, Luther's "The Freedom of a Christian," in Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 603-604.

25. Joint Declaration, no. 25.

26. Joint Declaration, no. 26.

27. Ibid.

28. Joint Declaration, no. 31.

29. DS 1568.

30. Joint Declaration, no. 34.

31. "Official Catholic Response," Clarifications, no. 2, pp. 130-131.

32. Joint Declaration, no. 26.

33. DS 1580.

34. Joint Declaration, no. 5.

35. Joint Declaration, no. 41.

36. Joint Declaration, no. 40.

EndorsementsRead More ↓

From the Introductory Essay

‘The doctrine of Justification by faith is like Atlas: it bears a world: it bears a world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace. The doctrines of election, of effectual calling, regeneration, and repentance, of adoption, of prayer, of the church, the ministry, and the sacraments, have all to be interpreted and understood in the light of justification by faith. When justification falls, all true knowledge of the grace of God in human life falls with it, and then as Luther said, the church itself falls.

The value of Buchanan’s book today is that it will help us to understand this message better, and so to preach it in the full and comprehensive way in which the modern world needs to hear it.’– J.I. PACKER

‘There is a reason why James Buchanan’s treatment of the Doctrine of Justification is a Christian classic. It puts to rest forever the notion that the magisterial reformers of the 16th Century introduced a novelty in their declaration that justification is by faith alone. Buchanan’s careful and comprehensive survey of church history shows clearly that the doctrine is the historic and Biblical doctrine.’– R.C. SPROUL

‘James Buchanan on Justification is as wise and profound in its biblical, historical, and theological analyses today as it was 150 years ago. Indeed it may be more valuable and necessary for Christians and churches now than even it was then.’– ROBERT GODFREY

‘Buchanan’s treatment of justification is the classic nineteenth century statement of the Reformed doctrine that lies at the heart of the Protestant understanding of the gospel. It lays out clearly all of the key concepts: the covenant of works and of grace; the imputation of Christ’s righteousness; and the instrumentality of faith. It is an excellent distillation of the Reformed faith’s wisdom on the topic.’– CARL TRUEMAN

‘James Buchanan was a distinguished member of one of the greatest faculties of theology ever assembled in the English-speaking world. In keeping with that this work is a classic treatment of a doctrine which, as Calvin noted, is “the main hinge on which religion turns.” Justification is an absolute must read, especially for students and ministers of the gospel.’– SINCLAIR FERGUSON

‘Let no one say that the doctrine of justification is a trifle of divisive theological debate. On the contrary, justification by faith in Christ alone is the bread and honey of our souls. Buchanan’s classic work on justification is a honeycomb of sweet doctrine gathered from the fair flowers of Reformation theology that sprang from the Word of Christ. Like Jonathan’s staff, this book brightens the eyes and strengthens weary souls in our spiritual combat against the accuser of the brethren.’– JOEL BEEKE

‘This masterful work by James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification, is the gold standard on the doctrine of justification. Towering over the centuries, this treatise has earned its rightful place in the pantheon of defenses of this cardinal doctrine. Here is the definitive treatment of this cornerstone truth at every level: historically, biblically, theologically, and polemically.’– STEVE LAWSON

‘James Buchanan’s The Doctrine of Justification remains the single most important work on justification by faith alone since the Reformation itself. Now, 150 years after the great work was first published, it remains the essential text on the central evangelical doctrine. I am very thankful for this new edition and I encourage a new generation of Christians to read this book, study it carefully, and teach its truth boldly.’– AL MOHLER

‘For an “old” and in my mind, biblical perspective on Justification, the gold standard is the work of James Buchanan (complete with the almost ubiquitous introductory essay by J. I. Packer). It ought to rank as compulsory reading and re-reading on an annual basis.’– DEREK THOMAS

Book Description

From the Author’s Introduction

‘It may be thought by some that the subject of justification is trite and exhausted; that, as one of the ‘commonplaces’ of theology, it was conclusively determined and settled at the era of the Reformation; and that nothing new or interesting can now be introduced into the discussion of it.

But … may it not be said that, to a large class of minds in the present age, nothing could well be more new than the old theology of the Reformation? The gospel is older than Luther; but to every succeeding generation it is still new—good news from God—as fresh now as when it first sprung from the fountain of Inspiration.

… The doctrine of justification, by grace, through faith in Christ, is the old doctrine of the Reformation, and the still older doctrine of the gospel; yet the vivid apprehension of its meaning and the cordial reception of its truth must be a new thing in the experience of everyone when he is first enabled to realize and to believe it.’

Table of Contents Expand ↓

Introductory Essay by J I Packervii
Short Account of the Authorxvii
1History of the Doctrine in the Old Testament17
2History of the Doctrine in the Apostolic Age45
3History of the Doctrine in the Times of the Fathers and Scholastic Divines73
4History of the Doctrine at the Era of the Reformation95
5History of the Doctrine in the Romish Church after the Reformation119
6History of the Doctrine as a Subject of Controversy among Protestants141
7History of the Doctrine in the Church of England179
8Justification: the Scriptural Meaning of the Term211
9Justification: the Proper Nature of the Blessing233
10Justification: Its Relation to the Law and Justice of God249
11Justification: Its Relation to the Mediatorial Work of Christ271
12Justification: Its Immediate and Only Ground,— the Imputed Righteousness of Christ291
13Justification: Its Relation to Grace and Works315
14Justification: the Nature and Reason of Its Connection with Faith339
15Justification: Its Relation to the Work of the Holy Spirit359
Appendix of Notes to Each Lecture383
Index to the Lectures489

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