Theology, rationalism and ritualism in making man just (justification)

Here is an excerpt from “The doctrine of justification; an outline of its history in the church and of its exposition from Scripture” by James Buchanan.

It may be thought by some, writes James Buchanan 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. It is not necessary to say in reply to this, as some might be disposed to say, that what is new in Theology is not true, and what is true is not new;’ for we believe, and are warranted by the whole history of the Church in believing, that Theology, like every other science, is progressive,—progressive, not in the sense of adding anything to the truth once for all revealed in the inspired Word, but in the way of eliciting and unfolding what has always been contained in it,—of bringing out one lesson after another, and placing each of them in a clearer and stronger light,—and discovering the connection, interdependency, and harmony, of all the constituent parts of the marvellous scheme of Revelation. In this sense, Science and Theology are both progressive, the one in study of God’s works, the other in the study of God’s Word; and as human Science has not yet exhausted the volume of Nature, or reached the limit of possible discovery in regard to it, much less has human theology fathomed the depths of Scripture, or left nothing to reward further inquiry into the manifold wisdom of God.’ There may be room, therefore, for something new, if not in the substance, yet in the treatment, even of the great doctrine of Justification,—in the exposition of its scriptural meaning, and in the method of adducing, arranging, and applying the array of its scriptural proofs. But apart from this, and looking to the character of our current literature, 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. It was new to ourselves,— surprising, startling, and affecting us strangely, as if it were almost too good to,—when it first shone, like a beam of heaven’s own light, into our dark and troubled spirits, and shed abroad ‘ a peace which passeth all understanding.’ It will be equally new to our children, and our children’s children, when they come to know that they have sins to be forgiven, and souls to be saved; and to the last sinner who is convinced and converted on the earth, it will still be as * good tidings from a far country,’ —as ‘cold water to a thirsty soul.’ It can never become old or obsolete, for this obvious reason, that while it is  ‘the everlasting Gospel,’ and, as such, like its Author, unchangeable,—’the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,’—yet it comes into contact, in every succeeding age, with new minds, who are ignorant of it, but need it, and can find no peace without it; and when they receive it as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ came into the world to save sinners,’ they will learn from their own experience that the old truth is still the germ of * a new creation’—the spring of a new life, a new peace, a new hope, a new spiritual existence, to which they were utter strangers before. The free pardon of all sin, and a sure title to eternal life, conferred by the mere grace of God, and resting solely on the redemption and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ,—this, as the actual and immediate privilege of every sinner, on the instant when he begins to rely on Christ alone for salvation, as He is offered to him individually in the Gospel,—may come home, with all the freshness of new truth, even to many who bear the Christian name; and a realizing sense of them, in the conscious experience of their own souls, will be the best safeguard against the prevailing errors of the times, and the danger to which so many are at this moment exposed, of being tossed about two apparently opposite tendencies, which have been so strikingly developed in the present age as to constitute its most marked and characteristic features;—the one is the tendency towards Rationalism, whose final goal is a cheerless and dreary Scepticism; the other, the tendency towards Ritualism, which can only find its complete realization in the Church of Rome. The false security of the Rationalist arises, not from the knowledge and belief of Christ’s Gospel, but from ignorance or disbelief in regard to the demands and sanctions of God’s Law; and the doctrine of Justification, as it is taught in Scripture, is fitted to break up that false security, and to awaken every thoughtful man to a sense of his real condition in the sight of God. For, in its negative aspect, it teaches us, first of all, how we cannot be justified,—it excludes the possibility of pardon and acceptance, in the case of man fallen, on the ground of his own obedience, and insists on the necessity of a satisfaction to divine justice, such as shall be at once an adequate expression of God’s infinite abhorrence of sin, and an effectual means of securing all the ends of punishment under His moral government.

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