Theses on the Article of Justification: A Refutation of the aclc’s Critique: Part Four
Part Four: Treating Calov with respect by following his argument and paying attention to his words, Part 1
While the ACLC cites the Lutheran Fathers like Gerhard and Calov in search of proof passages for “Objective Justification,” we are interested in reading their writings in context and following their argumentation. This is why, in our last post, we included the context of the Calov quote heralded by the ACLC as proving that the Lutheran Church has always taught “Objective Justification.” In this post, we will walk through Calov’s words and demonstrate the fallacy of the ACLC’s claims.
Verse 25. ὃς παρεδόθη
By God the Father. Into death, of course, which we likewise understand in 8:32. (See also our commentary on Matthew 18:22). He has in view the Greek version of Isaiah 53:6. κύριος παρέδωκεν αὐτὸν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἡμῶν.
διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν καὶ ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν.
He could have said, “…who both died and rose again so that He might justify or free us from sins.” But since he loves to employ contrasts, he combined sins with death, since they are the death of the soul. And he combined the obtaining of righteousness with resurrection, since righteousness is the resurrection of the soul. He wondrously brings us away from sins and leads us to righteousness, for we see that Christ was not afraid to die as a testimony to His teaching against sins and calling us to righteousness. And He was raised by God so that the ultimate authority might be established for that teaching. See 1 Pet. 1:3.
To summarize this first section, Calov sees the death and resurrection of Christ, first of all, as a martyrium or testimony to His teaching. Christ died and rose again as the ultimate Martyr, sealing His teaching with His blood and confirming His truthfulness by His resurrection. He taught against sin. He taught in favor of righteousness. He died and rose again for the purpose of “justifying or freeing us from sins,” that is, in order to convince us to turn away from sin and to turn toward righteousness. There is certainly nothing here in Calov’s understanding of Romans 4:25 that suggests he taught that all sinners had already been justified before God when Christ rose from the dead.
But this understanding of Christ’s death and resurrection as martyrium is not the only teaching, or even the main teaching Calov sees in Romans 4:25. He goes on to explain:
In what way did Christ die for the sake of our sins?
The death of Christ is not viewed only as a martyrium or testimony to His teaching, sealed with His death, but as a satisfaction for sins, as Grotius himself pointed out against Socinus in the defense of the Catholic faith de Satisfactione Christi, and as pointed out extensively by us in Socinismo Profligato. Nor is it only the bravery of Christ that brings us away from sin and leads us to righteousness in that He was not afraid to die for the sake of the testimony of His teaching against sins and calling us to righteousness. It wouldn’t have been necessary for the only-begotten Son of God Himself to undergo death in order to accomplish that, for such things have been witnessed in the case of many martyrs who were certainly not afraid to die as a testimony to their teaching. But the very death of Christ was a payment and ransom price for our sins, because they were laid upon Him; sins were the meritorious cause of His death. “Christ was delivered over to death for us, so that one might die for all” (2 Cor. 5:15). Nor is this referring to the bringing away from sins, but to the expiation of our sins made by the death of Christ, that is, the satisfaction furnished for our sins, which is the meritorious cause of our justification, not only a “cause that motivates us morally” to stop sinning.
Indeed, the martyrium given by the death of Christ was great, but Calov explains here that many faithful Christians have died as martyrs and given testimony to the truth through their death, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps. Giving a testimony was not enough of a reason for the very Son of God to die. Rather, Calov refers to the death of Christ as “a satisfaction for sins,” as the “payment and ransom price for our sins,” as that which made the “expiation of our sins,” the “satisfaction furnished for our sins.” He does not equate “satisfaction” with “justification,” nor does he say anywhere that the satisfaction furnished by Christ produced the immediate justification of all sinners.
Calov refers in this section to sins as the “meritorious cause of His death.” It might be helpful to take a moment to discuss what is meant by “meritorious cause.”
The meritorious cause of something is the reason why something deserves to happen. It is the thing that merits or earns something for someone, whether good or bad. For example, the meritorious cause of a murderer’s execution is the crime he committed. That is the thing that earns for him a death sentence, the reason why he deserves to die (cf. Genesis 9:6). In fact, the moment he commits the murder, he deserves to die, even before the authorities find out about it, even before his trial date is set, even before he enters the courtroom where the judge will examine the evidence. He has earned death for himself; the meritorious cause of his death is in place. For his deed of murder, he deserves to die, even if he is later, for some reason, acquitted.
Calov says that our sins were “laid upon” Christ, that is, imputed to Christ, and so became the “meritorious cause of His death,” that is, the reason why He “deserved” to die. Our sins, imputed to Christ, made Him “worthy” of death, according to God’s gracious will to count or impute sins to “Him who knew no sin,” (2 Cor. 5:21) in order to save us sinners.
Likewise, says Calov, that very satisfaction furnished for our sins by the death of Christ is the “meritorious cause of our justification.” Christ’s death for our sins is the thing that has earned an acquittal from the divine Judge for all sinners. Nothing else in all creation earns the justification of the sinner—not our works, not our suffering, not our faith. Only the “satisfaction furnished for our sins by the death of Christ.” The meritorious cause of our justification is now in place.
But the meritorious cause—earning something—does not ipso facto cause the thing to happen. The fact that a murderer has earned the death penalty for himself with his crime does not, by itself, cause his execution to occur. The police have a role. The law has a role. The judge has a role. The hangman has a role, as does the hangman’s noose. If any of these is lacking, then the murderer will not actually be condemned and executed, in spite of the fact that the meritorious cause of his death was present.
Similarly, Calov’s words in no way imply that the divine court has already convened and adjourned, or that a verdict of justification upon all men has already been rendered. Just as the meritorious cause of a murderer’s death sentence—that is, the crime he committed—may not result in an actual death sentence from the judge (or in a trial at all, if he is not apprehended), so also the meritorious cause of our justification—that is, Christ’s innocent death in the place of all men—has not resulted in the actual justification of all men. (If “Objective Justification” merely meant that the meritorious cause of Justification were already in place—as some wrongly think that it means—this whole discussion would be unnecessary.) As Jesus says, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). The Word of God and faith each have an essential role in the sinner’s justification, without either of which justification does not occur. Nevertheless, nothing can change the fact that Christ’s death earned the justification of all sinners, so that anyone and everyone who is brought into God’s courtroom trusting in Christ is actually declared by God to be righteous. The moment Christ died, He earned this gift for us all. This is what is meant by “meritorious cause” as Calov uses the term, and as it was also used by Chemnitz and Gerhard before him.
In what way was Christ raised for the sake of our righteousness?
Again, the Apostle does not say that Christ was raised by God so that authority might be established for His teaching, which could have been sufficiently established for it by miracles and by the testimony from heaven, if the Jews had not been so hardened. But διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν, for the sake of our righteousness. And if the only-begotten Son of God was delivered over to death and raised from death only for the sake of confirming His teaching by the testimony of His death and by the miracle of the resurrection so that others might be set free from sin and death by His teaching, the same surely could have been accomplished by the death and resurrection of other martyrs, even as some of the early believers were raised and appeared to many, as St. Matthew testifies in 27:53. Why, then, would it have been necessary for the Son of God Himself—God, who is blessed forever and ever—to be delivered over to death and raised for this reason?
As above, concerning the death of Christ, Calov points out here that the martyrium given by the resurrection of Christ was great, but he explains that there is much more to Christ’s resurrection than a testimony to His authority and power. What is the chief significance of Christ’s death and resurrection? He goes on to explain:
No, the Apostle teaches something far different, that the death of Christ surely took place, not only because of our sins, not merely for the sake of confirming the teaching of Christ which brings us away from sins, but on account of what our sins had deserved, for the words διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν καὶ ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν infer the meritorious cause of the death of Christ, that He was delivered over, that, by divine counsel and decree, He sustained the penalty of our sins in such a way as to free us from them.
As noted above, Calov emphasizes our sins as that which deserved death for us. Christ willingly took these upon Himself and suffered what we had earned and deserved with our sins, and thus He earned freedom for all sinners.
This is amply taught in Isaiah 53, that we have been reconciled to God by the death of Christ, and that we are justified, and consequently, just as the death of Christ was the motivating cause or reason for announcing to us the remission of sins, justification and salvation, so we are not justified before God nor do we obtain salvation in any other way but by laying hold of the satisfaction of the death of Christ. This is the goal of the apostolic teaching and instruction in this chapter. This is why he describes faith as he does, which is imputed to us for righteousness, that it is placed in God, who raised Jesus from the dead, just as He was delivered over on account of our sins.
Calov has written thus far about the death of Christ as that which merited justification. Now he begins to describe the application of what Christ merited as he explains the “how” of justification, namely, “by laying hold of the satisfaction of the death of Christ,” by which he means, “faith.” Calov uses exclusive language here: “…so that we are not justified before God…in any other way but” by faith. He links the remission of sins, justification and salvation as those gifts which have been earned by Christ and are received only by faith—faith that is “imputed to us for righteousness.” The notion of “Objective Justification,” that God has declared righteous the whole sinful world, without imputing to the whole world the righteousness of Christ, is blasphemous (cf. Num. 14:18, Prov. 17:15). Likewise, the notion sometimes proposed by those who adhere to “Objective Justification” that God has “objectively imputed” the righteousness of Christ to the world not by faith is unscriptural.
Notice also what Calov says faith lays hold of as its object: not the supposed fact that all men have already been justified and declared righteous by God (as claimed by “Objective Justification”), but by laying hold of “the satisfaction of the death of Christ.” The object of faith is not presented as the Easter Absolution, a la Walther. Faith, he says, is “placed in God, who raised Jesus from the dead…,” paraphrasing the apostle in Romans 4:24.
For that resurrection from the dead is the infallible proof of the complete satisfaction and expiation of our sins and of the reconciliation with God made through the death of Christ. If this reconciliation had not been made, then God would never have raised this Mediator and Bondsman of ours, who gave Himself as a ransom (1 Tim. 2:4), from the dead so that He might communicate and distribute His righteousness to us, that is, our justification.
“Objective Justification” teaches that Christ’s resurrection from the dead proves that “the whole world of sinners has been declared righteous by God.” But they have no advocate in Calov. He speaks of the resurrection of Christ as proof—of the complete satisfaction and expiation of our sins and of the reconciliation with God made through the death of Christ. To say that “reconciliation with God has been made through the death of Christ” is not synonymous with “Objective Justification”‘s claim that “God has declared the whole world to be righteous.” Calov is using the word reconciliation as the Confessions use it in Apology:IV:81, “Paul on the contrary, teaches that we have access, i.e., reconciliation, through Christ. And to show how this occurs, he adds that we have access by faith. By faith, therefore, for Christ’s sake, we receive remission of sins. We cannot set our own love and our own works over against God’s wrath.”
None of Calov’s phrases here can be construed to teach that “all people in heaven, in hell, and on earth have been absolved by God, declared righteous and reconciled with God,” especially when that which is necessary for “our justification,” as Calov says, has not taken place for all people in heaven, in hell, and on earth, namely, the communication and distribution of the righteousness of Christ.
What does Christ’s resurrection from the dead have to do with the communication and distribution of His righteousness? Calov says that Christ was raised from the dead “so that He might communicate and distribute His righteousness to us.” This is a key purpose of Christ’s resurrection and a chief emphasis of both Calov and Gerhard. Whereas “Objective Justification” teaches that Christ’s resurrection was God’s declaration that all men are righteous in His sight, Calov taught that Christ’s resurrection was for the purpose of the living Christ communicating and distributing His righteousness to us, which is done through the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, with our justification being, not an act of God that occurred at the time of Christ’s resurrection, but as the very goal and purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection, namely, that Christ should justify all men by sending His Spirit in the Word and Sacraments to bring people to faith in the crucified and risen Christ.
(Part 2 in this excursus on Calov in context will follow shortly.)