Turretin on a priori and a posteriori Justification

Francis Turretin does speak of varying senses of justification, though he is much less comfortable with affirming “double justification.” He indeed reconciles James and Paul, arguing that they are talking of different types of justification, but his interpretation is somewhat different from his fellow Genevans, Diodati and Pictet.

He writes:

XXII. Since Paul and James were inspired by the same Spirit, they cannot be said to oppose each other on the doctrine of justification, so that one should ascribe justification to faith alone and the other to works also. The reconciliation is not difficult, if the design of each be considered and the natures of faith and of justification (concerning which both treat) be attended. Paul disputes against the Pharisees, who urged the merits of works; James disputes against the Libertines and Epicureans, who, content with a profession of faith alone, denied not only the merits of works, but also their necessity. Against the former, Paul rightly urges faith alone for justification. Against the latter, James properly commends the necessity of works for the confirmation of justification. Paul speaks of a living and efficacious faith; James of an idle and dead faith which cannot be demonstrated by works (2:18); Paul of justification a priori and constitutively; James of the same a posteriori and declaratively; Paul properly constitutes the former in faith alone; James rightly places the latter in works, by which the reality of our faith and justification is declared not only before men, but also before God. Therefore, when faith is said “to have wrought with works in Abraham, and by works to have been made perfect” (v. 22), this ought to be understood in relation to the efficacy of faith, which exerted itself by works and by which also it was consummated and made perfect. It ought not to be understood essentially, for this has by its own nature (but declaratively) because it is proven to be perfect and sincere; just as “the power of God” is said the be “made perfect in our weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), i.e., known and declared to be perfect. See what else belongs to this point in our “Disputatio… De Concordia Pauli et Jacobi,” Opera (1848), 4:731-52.

~ Institutes of Elenctic Theology Vol. 2 16th topic, Q. 8

Notice the many qualifying terms. Turretin does use the term “living faith,” but he also adds a priori justification and a posteriori justification, as well as constitutive and declarative justification. This later justification is an open manifestation of the original secret one, though it is before God as well as men. Turretin’s position is complicated and does not easily fit in the other two categories that I have been recording. I think it would be truer to say that he is in a third category which will become more prominent in later years. We can get a fuller understanding of his position by examining two more statements.

When addressing the justification on the last day, Turretin makes a distinction between the actual justification and the declaration of it. He writes:

VII. But as justification cannot be conceived to have taken place from eternity before the ages, so neither ought it to be thrown forward to the consummation of the world as others hold- as if God only then exercises properly the act of Judge, both in the pardon of believers and in the condemnation of the wicked. For thus the declaration of justification is falsely confounded with justification itself. For although we are told the heavenly Judge will then sit on his throne of glory to exercise the last solemn act of judgment (as much in grace as in justice, in the sight of heaven and earth), this does not prevent that judgment from commencing in the present life. Nay, this must necessarily be supposed, since that final judgment is nothing else than a public and solemn manifestation of preceding judgments. And as Scripture everywhere sets before us the examples of God’s judgments, public as well as private over the wicked and rebellious (such as the flood, the destruction of Sodom, the overthrow of the Egyptians and the like), to refer these to mere chastisements of God, tending towards the improvement and salvation of those upon whom they were sent, is to contradict the whole tenor of Scripture and rashly to confound the medicinal chastisements of believers (which are sent upon them for instruction [paideian] by God as a merciful Father) with the punishments of the wicked (which are inflicted by God as an angry Judge, to punish [timorian] and avenge himself of their sins)- which has thus far been unheard-of in theological schools. So that he is evidently a stranger to the Scriptures who does not know that God is often set forth as justifying believers in this life; as is evident from the examples of Abraham (Gen. 15:6), or David (Ps. 32:1, 2, 5; Rom. 4:6, 7), of the sinful woman (Lk. 7:48), of the publican (Lk. 18:14) and of all believers (Rom. 5:1). Not to say now that that opinion is hurtful to the consolation of believers, which springs from no other source more certainly than from a sense of the grace of God and his justification. For how else could they have the confidence in which they glory and exult on account of their justification and enjoy unspeakable (aneklaleto) peace and joy?

16th topic, Q. 9

He also adds:

…Or [justification] may be viewed in general as to the state of the believer when he is first called; or in particular as to the act when he obtains the pardon of particular sins; or as to the sense and certainty of it, arising in us from a reflex act of faith (called consolatory); or finally, as to its declaration, which should be made immediately after death (Heb. 9:27) and publicly on the last day (which is not so much justification, as a solemn declaration of the justification once made and an adjudication of the reward, in accordance with the preceding justification).

16 topic, Q. 9 XI.

So, even as we may be able to find the substance of other double justification views in Turretin’s thought, we see that his goal is to distinguish justification itself, which takes place upon initial union with Christ, and subsequent declarations of the already-made justification at all later dates.

This entry was posted in church history, justification by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

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