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LECTURE 8 NOTE A.—P. 299.

THE GERM THEORY OF JUSTIFICATION.

This subtle theory of justification, according to which the manifoldly imperfect believer is accepted on the ground of his germinal holiness—“for in the first moment,” as Schleiermacher says, “the whole development is implicitly given” (p. 105),—is not without many advocates. Its phraseology is found in some who are far from wishing to remove the ground of acceptance from the doing and suffering of Christ; and it finds favour with others who reject this objective ground, and need another explanation.

Dr. M’Leod Campbell finds this view in Luther, whose doctrine he expounds thus—“secondly, because this excellent condition of faith is in us but a germ—a grain of mustard-seed—a feeble dawn, God, in imputing it as righteousness, has respect unto that of which it is the dawn—of which, as the beginning of the life of Christ in us, it is the promise, and in which it shall issue” (Nat. of Atonement, p. 34 (4th ed.)). There is no doubt that some of Luther’s expressions in the Commentary on Galatians give colour to this statement. E.g. “Wherefore Christ apprehended by faith, and dwelling in the heart, is the true Christian righteousness, for the which God counteth us righteous, and giveth us eternal life” (on ii. 16). “We conclude, therefore, upon these words, ‘It was imputed to him f or righteousness,’ that righteousness indeed beginneth through faith, and by the same we have the first-fruits of the Spirit; but because faith is weak, it is not made perfect without God’s imputation. Wherefore faith beginneth righteousness, but imputation maketh it perfect unto the day of Christ. . . . For these two things work Christian righteousness: faith in the heart, which is a gift of God, and assuredly believeth in Christ; and also that God accepteth this imperfect faith for perfect righteousness, for Christ’s sake, in whom I have begun to believe” (on iii. 6). No one can doubt, however, taking the general drift of the Commentary, that in Luther’s view the sole objective ground of the sinner’s pardon and acceptance is the cross and righteousness of Christ.

In a similar way Martensen expresses himself—“For faith is like the grain of mustard-seed, a small, insignificant but fructifying seed 465corn which contains within it the fulness of a whole future. In His gracious contemplation God beholds in the seed corn the future fruit of blessedness; in the pure will, the realised ideal of freedom” (Dogmatics, p. 392). Yet Martensen is emphatic in declaring—“The evangelical Church teaches that Christ alone, received by faith, is the Righteousness of man; and thus she leads man back from what is imperfect and multifarious to ONE who is Himself perfection; she brings him back from his wanderings in the desert to the pure Fountain where freedom springs from grace; to the holy centre where God looks upon man, not in the light of the temporal and finite, but in the light of Christ’s eternity and perfection” (p. 393).

There is no question of the truth of the view in itself that, as Martensen further says,” Justifying faith cannot possibly exist in the soul in a dead or merely stationary condition, but that, like the living, fruit-bearing seed corn, it contains within itself a mighty germinating power, which must necessarily beget a holy development of life” (p. 393), and that God sees in this germinal holiness all that is to proceed from it, and even, if we please, imputes to the believer anticipatively the yet future result. But confusion is introduced if we confound or exchange this with the sinner’s justification. The imputation in question is not in order to acceptance, but is a mode of contemplating the fruition of holiness in persons already accepted. It is an act of the divine complacency in and towards believers already justified and adopted on the sole and all-sufficient ground of Christ’s work done on their behalf.

This view, translated into their own peculiar phraseology, is naturally the one adopted by idealistic writers who treat of religion. Kant led the way here when, in rationalising the doctrine of justification, he represented it as meaning that, for the sake of our faith in the moral good, we are already held to be what, while on earth, and perhaps in any future world, we are no more than about to become (Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloss. Vernunft, Bk. II. sec. 3). I quote two illustrative passages from Mr. Bradley and Mr. T. H. Green.

“Justification by faith means,” says Mr. Bradley, “that, having thus identified myself with the object, I feel myself in that identification to be already one with it, and to enjoy the bliss of being, all falsehood overcome; what I truly am.- By my claim to be one with the ideal, which comprehends me too, and by assertion of the non-reality of all that is opposed to it, the evil in the world and the evil incarnate in me through past bad acts, all this falls into the unreal; I being one with the ideal, this is not mine, and so imputation of offences goes with the change of self, and applies not now to my true self, but to the unreal, which I repudiate and hand over to destruction. . . . Because the ideal is not realised completely and truly as the ideal, therefore I am not justified by the works, which issue from faith, as works; since they remain imperfect. I am justified solely and entirely by the ideal identification; the existence of which in me is on the other hand indicated and guaranteed 466by works, and iii its very essence implies them—Ethical Studies pp. 293,294.

Mr. Green says: “We most nearly approach the Pauline notion of imputed righteousness when we say that it is a righteousness communicated in principle, but not yet developed in act.”—Paper on Justification by Faith, in Works, iii. p. 202.

In the former of these extracts (as also in Mr. Green’s own view) we are away from the historical Christ altogether, and have to deal only with “ideals,” in relation to which we pass an act of judgment on ourselves in accordance with the metaphysical truth of things, and there is neither room nor need for a special justifying act of God.

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