05 January 2007

Continuous Justification

I had occasion to write to a friend recently about this topic, so I thought: why not blog it?

This past year I read Eduard Preuss' little book on justification from cover to cover. VERY good read - first recommended to me by Pastor Robert Schaibley. Why had I never read it in seminary? Let alone heard of it, and it's famous story? You see, it was shortly after writing this masterpiece on justification that Eduard left his position at Concordia Seminary and swum the Tiber. What a scandal that caused! Especially since his work on justification is really without par.

But his personal history aside, one thing he spoke of that I very much appreciated was "continuous justification." His point was that we shouldn't say or think "faith justifIED" me before God but that "faith justifIES" me. Certainty of salvation can be spoken of, he would argue, but only in the present, because that's where the faith lives that holds to the glorious promises of God in Christ. It doesn't hold onto them as an act that was once for all time, but clings to them daily for dear life. He clearly allows for the reality of the fall from faith - for those in our Lord's parable "who believed for a while"- and yet Preuss' presentation succeeds in not robbing the Christian of comfort, while at the same time not providing an iota of comfort to our rebellious flesh.

I bring the whole thing up because I think it is an area that Lutherans could very profitably recover in their teaching. The book is so worth reading - if you can get your hands on a copy. Fort Wayne has reprints of it, I believe.


Chaz said...

Lutheran Legacy Press has put together a new edition of Preuss' tome with a preface by Roland Ziegler.

They also corrected and updated footnotes, etc. I think it'll be available at Symposia.

ptmccain said...

I can't remember where I read this, but some old Lutheran once wrote that daily the Old Man is drowned and dies, and the New Man daily arises. Kind of a whole continual justificatino thing, I think.

DRB said...

Could you provide the book's citation (title, year, etc.)? I would like to obtain a copy. Is it currently sold anywhere or only available in the library?

William Weedon said...


I don't have my copy (loaned it out), but I believe it was just a reprint from the Concordia Seminary Fort Wayne Press. A phone call to their bookstore could probably obtain a copy - or you could wait for that new version that Charlie mentioned.

solarblogger said...

It is clear that we can speak of justification in the past tense. I would cite Romans: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God throug our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1 KJV). It's an aorist passive participle. Many translators place it in the past. If an argument can be made for the present only, I'd like to hear it. But I don't want to hear it merely asserted.

I also don't like discussion of this in terms of its practical implications. As if the doctrine of Justification had been concocted primarily with a view as to whether it stopped people from sinning. The answer to that question is Romans 6:1. We have died to sin, so how can we live in it any longer. Not we must hold on each moment or our flesh will sink us.

Kobra said...

Exactly, Rick. To borrow Forde's terminology, trying to make "have died" into "dying" reaks of a rampart against grace. The flesh of us all prattles piously onward.

William Weedon said...


I don't think that the argument was that the past tense was off-limits; nor the future for that matter.

In the most profound sense, all justification happens in the past: for He was raised for our justification! But the point that Preuss makes is that certainty resides in the present hold of faith to the promises of God in Christ.

I wish I had the book with me to show his approach in his own words. I'm operating on memory here. But if ever anyone paid attention to the grammar, it was he.

The similarity with the salvation verbs and Baptism comes to mind. Gerhard wrote about this and I thought it quite helpful:

He SAVED us through the washing of regeneration.
Baptism now SAVES us through the resurrection of Christ.
He who believes and is baptized WILL BE SAVED.

As to the "practical implication" as if the doctrine of justification had been concocted with a view as to wether it stopped people from sinning - well, that strikes me as very odd indeed. St. John did write: "I write these things to you that you may not sin." The things He was writing, of course, was that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and JUST to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Does God want to set His people free from the damage of sin? Of course He does. He does it by both forgiving the sinner and giving the gift of the Spirit who begins the warfare against the flesh. A Christian life that has no battle against sin is not the life described in either Scripture or the Lutheran Confessions.


"Have died" indeed, but do not neglect what else St. Paul says: "put to death therefore." It is no compromise to grace to recognize the very grave reality that one can fall from it by one's own fault, so that, in the words of the great Johann Gerhard "Never and nowhere is such security [against falling] possible." (Sacred Meditations XXIX - a glorious collection of pious prattlings that I heartily recommend - mostly because it so slays my flesh!)


Kobra said...

Pastor, I may be misunderstanding, but I think you are viewing sanctification in moral terms. If you say that one can fall away by failing to behave according to God's law you end up placing a person back under law. Even when we say that "Well, the sin will make them stop believing" it strikes me as careless. Frankly, if Moses himself came down from Heaven and told me to obey I'd give him a fine Scottish welcome and kick his arse! If that's what it takes to keep the law from sneaking into the Christian's conscience so be it. I hope I'm just misunderstanding you.

William Weedon said...


I view santification mostly in terms of the mystical union - but there is no way you can deny a "moral" component. The Lutheran Symbols clearly assert:

We profess that the work of the law must be begun in us, and that it must be kept continually more and more. (Ap. IV:15)

Christ has overcome the devil, and has given to us the promise and the Holy Spirit, in order that - by divine aid - we ourselves may also overcome. So 1 John 3:8 says, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." (Ap. IV:18, 19)

Likewise, the faith of which we speak exists in repentance.... Therefore, it cannot exist in people who live by the flesh, who are delighted by their own lusts and obey them. ... Paul is writing about faith that receives forgiveness of sins in a terrified heart and flees from sin. Such faith does not remain in those who obey their desires, nor does it dwell with mortal sin. (Ap. IV:21-23)

Pablo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
solarblogger said...

we shouldn't say or think "faith justifIED" me before God but that "faith justifIES" me. Certainty of salvation can be spoken of, he would argue, but only in the present

That conversation is all about tenses. And the justification, even subjectively, can be spoken of in the past tense. And that past act has a present consequence: peace. And St. Paul draws future conclusions: "much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Romans 5:9).

The text does not confine itself to present hope. While it does not speak one way or the other of whether we can fall away, I think that to limit our language to present tense because of that possibility means to use it differently from how St. Paul used it.

What of Preuss's justification when he decided to swim the Tiber? Will we see faith in objective terms, where it is faith if Christ is the object? Or will we see it in moral terms, where so long as he was fighting sin, his opinions on these matters were of little consequence?

Pablo said...

If I am fleeing from sin in order to remain saved doesnt that mean I am trusting in my works rather than Christ. How is this different from the Roman Catholic view? Justification in the beginning is a work of God but once that is over you must keep yourself in
God's favor.

William Weedon said...


Only one question: Is it possible for one who had believed and been justified to be lost?


We must remain under God's pardon until the end, because our incipient keeping of the law is not perfect, and will never be perfect as long as we have the sinful flesh. This, however, does not negate the truth of SA III:3:43-45. Our obedience is to be real and growing, but it will never be perfect.

solarblogger said...

Pastor Weedon,

Short answer: Yes, one may be justified and later lose salvation through unbelief.

I'm not arguing Calvinism here. I'm trying to put up a guard against views of Justification that end up making faith into a moral category. Since there IS some correlation between sin and unbelief, it is easy to allow this to slip into a formulation where any sin is a sign of unbelief. You are only secure while you are not sinning.

I think St. Paul allows more confidence than that.

Chaz said...

Paul allows confidence, but he does not allow security.

Sin is unbelief. I don't think that's an overstatement. Sin is always ultimately an act of autolatreia because it replaces the Lord's will with self-will.

And so, all sinners are idolaters, and all idolaters are in unbelief.

By the Lord's mercy Christians are also saints with all that entails. They are holy, pure, blameless, and perfect without defect or blemish. They are incapable of sin.

Both are fully true. The first (sinner) guards us against security. The second (saint) guards us against despair.

Together we have confidence. The Lord is Savior enough to save a sinner such as I, and I am too pathetically weak of a sinner to stop him.

Chaz said...

To clarify:

We are sinners who are incapable of sin, and we sin all the time.

We are saints who are incapable of righteousness, and we do good all the time.

William Weedon said...


Bang on.


The point of the original blog entry was to recommend reading a book. Chaz informs us that it is being reissued in a new format. My suggestion? Pick up the book and read it. And THEN we can return to the discussion. Meanwhile, another book to read on this topic is the Book of Concord - paying especial attention to Apology IV. And one last suggestion: read in Gerhard's *Sacred Meditations* BOTH Meditation VIII (Certainty of Our Salvation) and Meditation XXIX (False Security). To be Lutheran at all is to live within the tension of both - it is the only way not to fall into despair over the persistence of sin in your life nor to fall into indifference regarding it. Either is spiritually deadly.


Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Finally, Pr. Weedon recommends something I have! :) I got Gerhard's Sacred Meditations for Christmas. I'll have to pick it up next after I finish with Elert's Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries.

solarblogger said...

I accept the book recommendation. I was more troubled by what I thought was the cavalier mention of Preuss's poping in the context. And I would have even let that go, except all the comments seemed to receive as acceptable points that need to be proven, not merely asserted.

When I saw how Fr. Fenton had drifted to Eastern Orthodoxy over years, and how everyone got weepy over it rather than fighting mad, I resolved to make sure that the necessary Scriptural arguments came up. Perhaps they can be met. But the way many discussions on this topic unfold, we would never know whether they could or not.