Justification (some form of the verbs צָדִק δικαιόω), a forensic term equivalent to acquittal, and opposed to condemnation; in an apologetic sense it is often synonymous with vindication or freeing from unjust imputation of blame.
I. Dogmatic Statement. — This term, in theological usage, is employed to designate the judicial act of God by which he pardons all the sins of the sinner who believes in Christ, receiving him into favor, and regarding him as relatively righteous, notwithstanding his past actual unrighteousness. Hence justification, and the remission or forgiveness of sin, relate to one and the same act of God, to one and the same privilege of his believing people (Ac 13:38-39; Ro 4:5,8). So, also, "the justification of the ungodly," the "covering of sins," "not visiting for sin," "not remembering sin," and "imputing not inequity," mean to pardon sin and to treat with favor, and express substantially the same thing which is designated by "imputing or counting faith for righteousness." SEE PARDON. Justification, then, is an act of God, not in or upon man, but for him and in his favor; an act which, abstractly considered, respects man only as its object, and translates him into another relative state; while sanctification respects man as its subject, and is a consequent of this act of God, and inseparably connected with it. SEE REGENERATION.
The originating cause of justification is the free grace and spontaneous love of God towards fallen man (Romans 15; 3, 24; Titus 2:11; 3, 4, 5). Our Lord Jesus Christ is the sole meritorious cause of our justification, inasmuch as it is the result of his atonement for us. The sacrificial death of Christ is an expedient of infinite wisdom, by which the full claims of the law may be admitted, and yet the penalty avoided, because a moral compensation or equivalent has been provided by the sufferings of him who died in the sinner's stead (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Re 5:9). Thus, while it appears that our justification is, in its origin, an act of the highest grace, it is also, in its mode, an act most perfectly consistent with God's essential righteousness, and demonstrative of his inviolable justice. It proceeds not on the principle of abolishing the law or its penalty, for that would have implied that the law was unduly rigorous either in its precepts or in its sanctions. SEE ATONEMENT.
Faith is the instrumental cause of justification, present faith in him who is able to save, faith actually existing and exercised. SEE FAITH. The atonement of Jesus is not accepted for us, to our individual justification, until we individually believe, nor after we cease to live by faith in him. SEE IMPUTATION.
The immediate results of justification are the restoration of amity and intercourse between the pardoned sinner and the pardoning God (Ro 5:1; Jas 2:23); the adoption of the persons justified into the family of God, and their consequent right to eternal life (Ro 8:17); and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ac 2:38; Ga 3:14; Ga 4:6), producing tranquillity of conscience (Ro 8:15-16), power over sin (Ro 8:1) and a joyous hope of heaven (Ro 15:13; Ga 5:3). SEE SPIRIT, FRUITS OF.
We must not forget that the justification of a sinner does not in the least degree alter or diminish the evil nature and desert of sin. Though by an act of divine clemency the penalty is remitted, and the obligation to suffer that penalty is dissolved, still it is naturally due, though graciously remitted. Hence appear the propriety and duty of continuing to confess and lament even pardoned sin with a lowly and contrite heart (Eze 16:62). SEE PENITENCE.
II. History of the Doctrine. —
1. The early Church Fathers and the Latin Church. — Ecclesiastical science, from the beginning of its development, occupied itself with a discussion on the relation of faith to knowledge; but even those who attributed the greatest importance to the latter recognized faith as the foundation. A merely logical division into subjective and objective faiths and an intimation of a distinction between a historic and a rational faith (in Clemens Alexandrinus, Stromata. 2, 454; Augustine, De Trinitate, 13, 2), were of little consequence. Two conceptions became prevailing: Faith as a general religious conviction, particularly as confidence in God, and the acceptance of the entire doctrine of the Church, fides catholica. The formula that faith alone without the works justifies is found in the full Pauline sense in Clemens Romanus (1 ad Corinthios. c. 32) and is sometimes used by Augustine polemically in order to defend the freedom of grace and the priority of faith. More generally it is used as an argument against the necessity of the Jewish law (Irenaeus, 4:25 Tertullian, adv. Marcell. 5, 3). The oecumenical synods were instrumental in gradually giving to the conception of fides catholica the new sense that salvation could be found only by adherence to ecclesiastical orthodoxy. But as a mere acceptance was possible without a really, Christian sentiment, and as the Pauline doctrine was misused by heretics in an antinomian sense, it was demanded that faith, be proved by works. Church discipline developed this idea with regard to the sins of the faithful, so as to demand a satisfaction through penances and good works (Augustine, Serm. 151, 12). It became, therefore, the doctrine of the Church that such faith alone works salvation as shows itself in acts of charity, while to merely external works faith or charity is opposed as something accessory. Pelagius assumed only a relative distinction between naturally good works and the good works that proceed from faith; in opposition to which Augustine insisted that the difference is absolute, and that without faith no good works at all are possible. As salvation was thought to be conditioned by works also, it was, even when it was represented as being merely an act of God, identified with sanctification. The importance attributed to abstention created gradually a distinction between commands and advices, and the belief that through the fulfilment of the latter a virtue greater than required would arise (Hermas, Pastor Simil. 3, 5, 3; Origen, In Epistolam, ad Rom. 3; Ambrose, De Viduis, 4, 508).
2. The Greek Church. — Little discussion and little controversy has occurred on this doctrine in the Greek Church. Faith and works together are regarded as the conditions of salvation. The words of James are referred to first, yet faith is declared to be the stock from which the good works come as the fruits. The description of faith proceeds from the definition in the Epistle to the Hebrews to the acceptance of the entire ecclesiastical tradition. Man is said to participate in the merit of the Mediator not only through faith, but also through good works. Among the latter are comprised the fulfilment of the commandments of God and of the Church, and, in particular, prayers, fastings, pilgrimages, and monastic life. They are considered useful and necessary not only as a means of promoting sanctification, but also as penances and satisfaction.
3. Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. — The Scholastics regarded faith as an acceptance of the supersensual as far as it belongs to religion, differing both from intuition and from knowledge; and although essentially of a theoretic character, yet conditioned by the consent of the will; which, however, in the description of faith, is reduced to a minimum. Originally only God is an object of faith, but mediately also the holy Scriptures; as a summary of the Biblical doctrines, the Apostles Creed, and, as its explication, the entire doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. As an accurate knowledge of the doctrines of the Church cannot be expected from every one, the subjective distinction was made between fides implicita and explicita; the former sufficient for the people, yet with the demand of a developed belief in some chief articles. There was, however, a difference of opinion on what these articles were, and even Thomas Aquinas wavered in his views. Faith may, even upon earth, partly become a science, and appears in this respect only as the popular form of religion. It is a condition of salvation, but becomes a virtue only when love, as animating principle [forma], pervades it [fides formata]; with a mere faith [informis] one may be damned. The fides formata includes the necessity of the good works for salvation, but they must be founded in pious sentiment. All other works not proceeding from faith, are dead though not entirely useless. The necessity of good works is fully carried out only by the inculcation of penance as satisfactiones, but with constant reference to a union of the soul with Christ, and the moral effect of the good works. Justification, according to Thomas Aquinas, is a movement from the state of injustice into the state of justice, in which the remission of sins is the main point, though it is conditioned by an infusion of grace which actually justifies men. As an act of God which establishes in man a new state [habitus], it is accomplished in a moment. Among the people the Pelagian views prevailed, that man, by merely outward works, had to gain his salvation, and the Church became, especially through the traffic in indulgences, a prey to the immoral and insipid worship of ceremonies. In opposition to this corruption, many of the pious Mystics pointed to the Pauline doctrine of faith.
4. Doctrine of the Reformers of the 16th Century and the old Protestant Dogmatics. — The Reformation of the 16th century renewed the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone, emphasizing in the sense of Augustine, the entire helplessness of man, and made it the fundamental doctrine of the Reformed Church. This faith is represented as not merely an acceptance of historic facts, but is distinguished as fides specialis from the general religious conviction, arising amidst the terrors of conscience, and consisting in an entire despair of one's own merit and a confident surrender to the mercy of God in the atoning death of Christ. Worked by God, it does not work as virtue or merit, but merely through the apprehension of the merit of Christ. Its necessity lies in the impossibility of becoming reconciled with God through one's own power. Hence this reconciliation is impossible through good works, which are not necessary for salvation, though God rewards them, according to his promise, upon earth and in heaven; but, as a necessary consequence, the really good works will flow forth from faith freely and copiously. The opinion of Amsdorf, that good works are an obstacle to salvation, was regarded as an unfortunate expression, which may be taken in a true sense, though it is false if understood in a general sense. As man is unable to satisfy the law supererogatory works and a satisfaction through one's own works are impossible. Justification through love is impossible, because man cannot love God truly amidst the terrors of conscience. Hence justification is a divine judicial act, which, through the apprehension of the justice of Christ, apprehended in faith, accepts the sinner as just, though he is not just. This strict distinction between justification and sanctification was maintained on the one hand against Scholasticism, which, through its Pelagian tendencies, seemed to offend against the honor of Christ, and to be unable to satisfy conscience, and on the other hand against Osiander, who regarded justification as being completed only in sanctification. The works even of the regenerated, according to the natural side, were regarded by the Reformers as sins. The Reformed theology in general agreed with the doctrine of justification as stated above, yet did not make it to the same extent the fundamental doctrine of the whole theology. According to Calvin, justification and sanctification took place at the same time. The dogmatic writers of the Lutheran Church distinguished in faith knowledge, assent, and, confidence, assigning the former two to the intellect, the latter to the will. From the fides generalis they distinguished the justifying faith (specialis seu salvifica), and rejected the division into fides informis et formata. As a distinguishing mark, they demanded from a true faith that it be efficient in charity. For works they took the Decalogue as a rule; a certain necessity of works was strictly limited. But, however firmly they clung in general to the conception of justification as something merely external (actus forensis) and foreign (imputatio justitiae Christi), some dogmatic writers held that justification had really changed something in man, and indeed presupposed it as changed. Hollaz pronounced this doctrine openly and incautiously, while Quenstedt designated these preceding acts as merely preparatory to conversion.
5. Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation. — The Council of Trent, in order to make a compromise with the Pauline formula, recognized faith as the beginning and the foundation of justification, but the full sense which Protestantism found in it was rejected. This faith is the general belief in divine revelation, though in transition to a special faith, yet a mere knowledge which still gives room to mortal sins. Justification is remission of sins and sanctification, through an infusion of the divine grace, in as far as the merit of Christ is not merely imputed, but communicated. It is given through grace, but as a permanent state it grows through the merit of good works according to the commandments of God and the Church, through which works the justified, always aided by the grace of God in Christ, have to render satisfaction for the temporal punishment of their sins and to deserve salvation. Not all the works done before justification are sins, and to the justified the fulfilment of the commandments of God is quite possible, although even the saints still commit small, venial sins. A further development of this doctrine is found in the writings of Bellarmine. He admits faith only as fides generalis, as a matter of the intellect, yet as a consent, not a knowledge. Though only the first among many preparations for justification a certain merit is ascribed to faith. The Council of Trent had rejected the imputation of the merits of Christ only as the exclusive ground of justification; Bellarmine rejected it altogether. He explicitly proclaimed the necessity of good works for salvation, though only a relative salvation. "The opera supererogationis, which were not mentioned at Trent, though they remained unchanged in tradition and practice, are further developed by Bellarmine. According to him, they go beyond nature, are not destined for all, and not commanded under penalties.
6. Modern Protestantism. — Socinus denied any foreign imputation, also that of the merit of Christ. When supranaturalism in general declined, the points of difference from the Roman Catholic Church were frequently lost sight of Kant found in the doctrine of justification the relation of the always unsatisfactory reality of our moral development to the future perfection recognized in the intuition of God. De Wette declared it to be the highest moral confidence which is founded on the communion with Christ, and turns from an unhappy past to a better future. Modern mystics have often found fault with the Protestant doctrine as being too outward, and approached the doctrine of the Roman Church. The Hegelian School taught that justification is the reception of the subject into the spirit, i.e. the knowledge of the subject of his unity with the absolute spirit or, according to Strauss, with the concrete idea of mankind. According to Schleiermacher, it is the reception into the communion of life with both the archetypal and historical Christ, and the appropriation of his perfection. Justification and sanctification are to him only different sides of the carrying out of the same divine decree. Many of the recent dogmatic writers of Germany have again proclaimed this doctrine to be the essential principle of Protestantism, some (Dorner, Das Princip unserer Kirche, Kiel, 1841) taking justification in the sense of a new personality founded in Christ, others (Hundeshagen, Der deutsche Protestantismus. Frankft. 1847) in the sense that God, surveying the whole future development of the principle which communion with Christ establishes in the believer, views him as righteous. One of the last dogmatic manuals of the Reformed Church (Schweizer, 2, 523 sq.) distinguishes conversion and sanctification as the beginning and progress of a life of salvation, and assigns justification to the former. See Hase, Evangelische Dogmatik (Leipzic, 1850) p. 310 sq.; C.F. Baur, Lehrbuch der christlichen Dogmengeschichte (Stuttgart, 1847); Hahn, Das Bekenntniss der evangelischen Kirchengeschichte in seinem Verhaltniss zu dem der Romischen und Griechischen.
III. Literature. — See, for Roman Cath. views, Möhler, Symbolism, ch. 3; Willett, Syn. Pap. 8, 67 sq.; Cramp, Text-book of Popery, ch. 5; Bossuet,
Works, vol. 1 and 2 Stud. und Krit. 1867. vol. 2; D'Aubigne, Hist. Reformation, vol. 2; Forbes, Considerations, 1, 1; Nicene Creed; 1, 173; Hughes, Works, 1, 410. For Protestant views, see Buchanan, Justification (Edinb. 1867, 8vo; reviewed at length in Lond. Review, Oct. 1867, p. 179); Brit. and For. Evang. Rev. Oct. 1867, art. 6; Wesley, Works, 5, 255; 6, 106; Calvin, Instit. vol. 2; Cunningham, Reformers, p. 402; Planck, Hist. Prot. Theol. (see Index); Knapp, Theology (see Index); Wardlaw, System. Theology, 2, 67.8 sq.; Graves, Works, vol. 4; Monsell, 4, 232, 240; Waterland, Works, vol. 6; T. Goodwin, Works (see Index); Wilson, Apostol. Fathers (see Index); Martensen, Dogmatics, p. 390 sq.; Pye Smith, Introd. to Theol. (see Index); Burnet, On the 39 Articles (see Index); Carmich, Theol. of the Scriptures, vol. 2; Neander, Prot. and Cath. p. 131-146; Ch. Dog. 2, 66 sq.; Planting and Train. of Christian Church, vol. 2; Riggenbach, in the Stud. und Krit. 1863, 4:691; 1867, 1, 405, 2, 294; 1868, 2, 201; North Brit. Review, June, 1867; p. 191 sq.; Dr. Schaff, Protestantism, p. 54-57; Good Words, Jan. 1866 Heppe, Dogmatics, p. 392; Biblioth.-Sacra, 1863, p. 615; Bibl. Repos. 11, 448 Christ. Review, Oct. 1846; Jahrb. deutsch. Theol. 7, 516; Ware, Works, 3, 381; Journal of Sac. Lit. 21; 1869, 3, 545; Christian Monthly, 1845, Jan. p. 102; Feb., p. 231; New Englander (see Index); Hauck, Theolog. Jahresber. Jan. 1869, 59; 1867, p. 543; Bull. Theologique. 1, 25, 41; Brit. and For. Evang. Rev. July, 1868, p. 537; Brit. and For. Rev. Oct. 1868. p. 683, 692; Amer. Presbyt. Review, Jan. 1867. p. 69. 202; Evang. Quart. Rev. Oct. 1869, p. 48; British Quart. Rev. Jan. 1871, p. 144; Church Rev. Oct. 1870, p. 444, 462; Zeitschr. wissensch. Theol. 1871, 4.