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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Friday, February 11, 2011

D. Broughton Knox: Justification by Faith Alone: A Legal Fiction?

[You will need to download and install Bible Works fonts to see the Greek terms in their original forms].

In my re-reading of the biographical sketch of D. Broughton Knox in the Selected Works: Volume I, I came across the contention by Marcus Loane that D. Broughton Knox advocated that the doctrine of justification by faith alone was a legal fiction.  Now since this is often a term of derision by the Anglo-Papists I wondered if this was how Loane intended the term?  So I looked up Sanday and Headlam's view of justification by faith as a legal fiction in Google Search.  The search results were intriguing to say the least.  I got a hit in Google Books which pointed me to The Expository Times, 1899.  Apparently The Expository Times was published by Harvard Divinity School as part of their theological education.  At any rate, D. Broughton Knox was an Evangelical, although not exactly an orthodox Reformed thinker.  Knox advocated Amyraldianism, which is a departure from classical Reformed and Protestant theology.  The following quote by Marcus Loane shows that Loane has an inadequate understanding of both Knox and the doctrine of justification by an "imputed" righteousness.  As we will see below, Loane has an inadequate understanding of Sanday and Headlam's view and therefore misunderstands Broughton Knox's view as well:

Broughton's teaching was all rooted in his understanding of the integrity and authority of Holy Scripture as God's Supreme written revelation of truth.  He was never a blind adherent of Calvin, or Cranmer, or any other Reformation Divine; he carved out his own very independent line of approach.  He admired Calvin rather than Calvin's more extreme disciples, and he followed Amyraldus rather than the latter in his view of predestination.  He was not at ease with the doctrine  of imputed righteousness, but followed Sanday and Headlam in treating it as a legal fiction.  This led him to prefer the concept of reconciliation rather than of justification as the criterion for a standing or falling church.   Marcus Loane, "David Broughton Knox."  D. Broughton Knox:  Selected Works:  Volume I:  The Doctrine of God.  Ed. Tony Payne.  (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2000).  P. 17.

It became apparent to me that Loane thinks that Knox rejected the definition of justification as an imputed righteousness when that is precisely the view advocated by Sanday and Headlam as will be shown below.  Also, one can cite from Volume III that Broughton Knox did indeed hold to the view of justification as an imputed righteousness and of a forensic nature.  That is, justification is a "legal fiction" because it does not consider the actual morality of the sinner as good or bad but only the legal standing of the sinner before God in God's courtroom of divine moral law.  In other words, justification is a legal declaration of "not guilty".  It does not make anyone actually righteous nor does it infuse righteousness into the heart.  Loane seems to misunderstand Knox at this point, although there is some evidence that Knox emphasized reconciliation it seems to me that Knox did not reject the doctrine of justification by faith alone as a legal and forensic declaration.  In fact, Knox clearly says that no one meets God's standards for moral righteousness and that only Christ himself rendered perfect obedience.  (Selected Works: Volume III, pp. 63-65).

A direct quote here is helpful:

To put it in a word, God's standard is perfection.  He is perfect in holiness, in love and in righteousness, and he gives his approval only to those who reflect his perfections.  His command is simple:  "Be thou perfect", and it is inconceivable that he should set any standard of conduct lower than this, for he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.  He cannot look on perverseness..  The least deviation from perfection evokes his disapproval.  P. 63

. . . the Scripture steadily testifies to the fact that we are very far gone from God's standard of righteousness.  This is not a fact that we could have arrived at from observation.  We do not naturally think this to be the case and we are not likely to accept this description as a fact unless we are willing to recognize revelation.  But it is the plain teaching of the Scriptures.  P. 65

 It is clear from the Scripture that God's standard of judgement is higher than we imagine, being nothing less than perfection, and that our true condition in his eyes is worse than we had hoped.  It requires little reflection to draw the conclusion that, by nature, none of us is approved by God--none justified--but that all are under God's condemnation.  All are disapproved by God as he looks at us moment by moment.  All will be condemned when they stand before him at the final day.  And this conclusion is irrespective of the moral attainment of any individual.  P. 65  D. Broughton Knox:  Selected Works:  Volume III:  The Christian Life.  Eds. Tony Payne and Karen Beilharz.  (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2000).  P. 65.

Although Loane is correct that Knox never mentions imputation directly, it is clear that Knox does not reject the doctrine of justification as a pardon or forgiveness of actual guilt before God.  Reconciliation would be impossible without such a legal pardon or declaration of not guilty since Knox acknowledges that God does not grade on a curve.  He really does expect absolute moral perfection.  Therefore the only way to for God to be reconciled to us is a reconciliation initiated by God Himself.  We are helplessly enslaved by sin and only God can supernaturally intervene.  The golden chain of salvation begins with election.  But after regeneration and effectual calling our status before God must be changed legally since our actual condition before God is still sinful.  In fact, we remain sinners until we die since God's standard is perfection, not some lower standard we think we can meet.  This is why sanctification is not the basis of our standing with God.  Sanctification is always imperfect.  As you can see below, Sanday and Headlam also advocate justification as a legal declaration:

One of the features of the new American Journal of Theology is entitled 'Critical Notes.' The title is used with a comfortable largeness of meaning. For of the three Critical Notes in the second number—the number for the present quarter—one is an examination of Schaff's way with Servetus, one is a plea for a new theology, and one is an intelligible exposition of a central Pauline phrase.

The author of the exposition is Professor W. A. Stevens of Rochester. The phrase is ' the righteousness of God.' It occurs elsewhere, but Professor Stevens has it specially in mind as it occurs in Romans 3:21-22.

It will be remembered that Sanday and Headlam, in their commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, devote a 'detailed note' to the meaning of this phrase. There they come to the conclusion that the grand Pauline idea of the Righteousness of God is a forensic idea. That is to say, God's righteousness is seen in its 'going forth,' and it goes forth not to make men righteous, but to account them so. And when they have come to that conclusion, they abide in it. 'To this conclusion we feel bound to adhere,' they say, 'even though it should follow that the state described is (if we are pressed) a fiction, that God is regarded as dealing with men rather by the ideal standard of what they may be than by the actual standard of what they are.' For the facts of language are inexorable; 'justify' and 'justification' (dikaiou/n or dikaioun and dikaiwsu,nh dikaiosune) are rightly said to be 'forensic'; they have reference to a judicial verdict, and to nothing beyond.

Professor Stevens takes his departure there. He accepts the forensic sense. He says it is a commonplace of Protestant exegesis, if not of biblical philology, that di,kaioj, (dikaios) 'just,' and all its cognates, have more or less often in St Paul a forensic sense. But he says that what that forensic sense precisely is, it is by no means a matter of agreement yet.

For there are more forensic senses than one. Forensic means simply 'legal.' It is that which belongs to the forum or court of justice. And when in the Pauline thought the sinner is justified, it simply means that he is pronounced by the judge to be just. He is not made just—a judge has no such function to perform as that. But if the sinner is pronounced just when he is actually not just, is it not a transaction on paper? Is it not a legal fiction? It depends on what you mean by 'just'.

By 'just' or 'righteous' you probably mean virtuous or good. St. Paul did not mean that. A Jew of the Jews, he could not mean that. To him to be just was to be acquitted. He stood before God's law. He was 'under the law ' before God (u`po,dikoj tw/|/ qew|/ or hupodikos to theo). No doubt he was bad also—vicious, unclean, whatever you will. And he would not deny that he was. But it was not his uncleanness that troubled him; it was his condemnation. It was not his moral condition, it was his legal standing that disturbed this Pharisee of the Pharisees. To be right with God's law, to have its condemnation removed,—in short, to be justified,—that was his passionate longing.

Thus it is almost absurd to suggest that in the mind of St. Paul righteousness (dikaiwsu,nh or dikaiosune) was goodness, or to be justified (dikaiou/sqai or dikaiousthai) was the same as to be made just. The point is that righteousness was not even imputed goodness, nor was justify to impute or reckon good. That were a legal fiction indeed. If the former is forbidden by the inexorable demands of language, the latter is forbidden by the inexorable laws of the human mind. Nor has this notion ever been able to escape the bite of the old sarcasm, that the God who pronounces a sinner good when he is not good is a very proper God for such a sinner.

In the mind of St. Paul, to justify was simply to acquit. Whether the person was good or bad belongs to another place. Here the question is one of legal standing. Man is u`po,dikoj (hupodikos), under God's law. He must be taken from under the law, justified or made just. Yes; made just. For now that we see that the matter is not of man's moral character, but here only of his relation to the law of God, we are no longer afraid to speak of him as made just. We know it simply means that he is no longer under the law's condemnation —that, so far as the law is concerned, God has in Christ made him a just man.

A recent writer has spoken of the Jewish 'passion for pardon.' It was the Jewish passion for pardon that gave the world its great doctrine of Justification by Faith. Your passion and mine may be for morality. St. Paul's was also for morality afterwards; but his earliest passion was for pardon. And it is just pardon he means when he says that 'the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.'  From:  Sanday and Headlam:  Justification a Legal Fiction
It is apparent from the above evidence that we are not to view justification as anything other than a legal declaration, a legal "fiction" if you prefer.  We remain unrighteous but we receive a verdict of not guilty.  Salvation truly is undeserved and we can in no wise merit anything from God except hell (Romans 6:23).  Salvation is from beginning to end a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-10).  It seems to me that Knox advocated the doctrine of imputed righteousness but that he avoided certain terminology so that critics could not use the pejorative term "legal fiction" as a basis for rejecting the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.  We are not accounted as good but we are accounted "not guilty".  (Romans 4:4-8).  I highly recommend reading Broughton Knox's article on justification by faith alone in Volume III of the Selected Works, pp. 63-90.  Knox's view is not a rejection of declared righteousness per se but rather a change in emphasis to relationship and reconciliation.  For Knox only the active obedience and merits of Christ could fulfill the law's demand for perfect obedience on our behalf and only the sacrifice of Christ could pay the penalty for our sins. 

There could of course be no assurance if our justification depended partly on our own works and merits.  For it would be arrogant and impious presumption to assume in our minds that our efforts were adequate or our merits acceptable with God.  But since Scripture is clear that we are accounted righteous before God only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we have a sure basis for assurance of our salvation.  We know that his merits are accepted and we know that their benefits are extended to all who ask.  Knox, Volume III, p. 73.

In Christ who has died for law-breakers we are rescued from the demands and claims which the law makes for our condemnation.  And so we are justified in Christ by faith without reference to the degree we have kept the law.  But the revelation of the law of God has still an important part to play in the subsequent life of the believer.  The law contains within itself the obligation to keep it, for it is known to us as the will of our Creator and its character is approved in our consciences both before and after justification.  Man is always under absolute obligation to do God's will but, after justification, the believer sincerely desires to do it above everything else.  This is the result of the new creation that the Spirit brings about in the believer, taking away his stony heart and writing God's law on his heart.  Ibid., p. 85.
As you can see, Loane's comment does not take into consideration the wider view of justification by faith alone as a declared righteousness.  I'm not sure what Loane meant in his comment about the legal fiction.  However, the term "legal fiction" is often used pejoratively by Arminians and Anglo-Catholics.  The implications of the soteriological aspects for Christian fellowship cannot be ignored.  Some on the Anglo-Catholic/Tractarian side of the divide in the Anglican tradition insist that we only need to adhere to the Anglican Quadrilateral or the three ecumenical creeds.  But if Scripture is the final authority as the Thirty-nine Articles advocate, then it follows that, as Martin Luther contended,  the doctrine of justification by faith alone is indeed the doctrine by which the church stands or falls, and that directly contradicts Marcus Loane's departure from both Knox's theology and from the Anglican Formularies on this point.

May the peace of God be with you,

Charlie

Postscript:

People. Lord, have mercy upon us, and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee.  


--
Reasonable Christian Blog Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. 1662 Book of Common Prayer

1 comment:

Charlie J. Ray said...

Many do not know that J.I. Packer was a student of D. Broughton Knox at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

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