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Justification

Justification was defined by John Wesley simply as 'forgiveness'. Together with sanctification it links Methodism with classical Reformation doctrine. 'Justification is what God does for us through his son,' whilst sanctification is what 'God works in us by his Spirit'. It is 'to be pardoned and received into God's favour; into such a state that, if we continue therein, we shall be finally saved.' Faith is the sole necessary condition of this justification: it does not depend on any human merit. God has responded through the sacrifice of his Son to our creaturely alienation, offering the pardon which reconciles us to him and restoring us in holiness. This is realisable through penitence and faith in the universal atonement of Christ. Former sins are pardoned, regeneration is begun and the sinner is freed from condemnation 'because the Son of his love hath suffered for him'. Perhaps not surprisingly, given his stress upon holiness, Wesley seems to have toyed with the idea of 'double justification', i.e. a present acceptance and forgiveness and a 'final justification' which includes being 'perfected in love'.

Early in its deliberations, the English Methodist-*Roman Catholic Committee, set up in 1972, considered the doctrine of justification. Justification: a Consensus Statement was published in 1988 and reissued in revised form in 1991. The different Roman Catholic and Protestant usages were recognized as leading to misunderstanding at the time of the Reformation, Catholics tending to use it of the whole process of salvation. But Catholic teaching on merit, purgatory and 'indulgences' remains a cause of divergence, requiring further examination.

Sources

  • J. Wesley, sermon on 'Justification by Faith'
  • Minutes, 1744
  • W.R. Cannon, The Theology of John Wesley (Nashville, 1946)
  • J.W. Deschner, Wesley's Christoplogy, an interpretation (Dallas, 1960) pp.181-96
  • Harmon L. Smith, 'Wesley's Doctrine of Justification', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, April 1964 pp. 120-28
  • R.L. Maddox, responsible Grace: John Wesley's Practical Theology (Nashville, 1994), pp.166-72
  • David M. Chapman, In search of the catholic spirit (Peterborough, 2004), pp.173-77
  • Kenneth J. Collins, 'The Doctrine of Justification: historic Wesleyan and contemporary understandings', in Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier (eds.), Justification: what's at Stake in the current debates (Downers Grove, 2004)

Entry written by: WP
Category: Subject

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