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Theological Book Reviews – The Doctrine of Justification
Reviewed by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of its History in the church and of its Exposition from Scripture
by James Buchanan
The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA: 1991
514 Pages, Hardback
Just as if I’d never sinned? No, not really. Upon the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone, the church stands or falls. Without the doctrine clearly understood, the Christian knows little about his redemption. If we were to walk into the contemporary church, and asked the average attendee what Justification was, and if they could explain it, in most cases the answers would cause our hearts to sink, and our eyes to weep. Buchanan has given us an excellent work in this book on the doctrine. It helps the Christian understand where this doctrine came from and what the doctrine teaches; for surely, if the doctrine is that which either supports or destroys the church, then it is an important doctrine of know. In relation to any textbook on the subject, as J.I. Packer states in the introduction, it is “still the best textbook on its subject, from the standpoint of the classic covenant theology.”
There are two sections to this work: Part 1 is a History of the Doctrine of Justification; Part 2 is the exposition of the doctrine itself. In Part 1 Buchanan covers the doctrine through the OT, the Apostolic Age, the Scholastic Divines, the Reformation, in the Church of England and within the Protestant ranks. Part 2 covers the scriptural meaning of the term, its relation to the law and justice of God, its relation to the Mediatorial work of Christ, its relation to grace and works, and more.
This was the textbook we used in seminary under the tutelage of RC Sproul. It is an extremely helpful book, not too difficult to follow. Buchanan does not set out to teach us something new, but rather to state what has already been said and systematize it in a responsible fashion. However, the doctrine of Justification is often set in the bigger context of systematic theology and systematic theology books. Here Buchanan writes an entire book on the doctrine itself which is refreshing. It is not popular reading, or something you would read while running on the treadmill at the gym. Rather, it would be most helpful during morning devotions or family worship; or even used in a small group setting.
When I peruse my library I still look to this book as one of the most prominent, definitive works on the subject.
“By Justification we mean – man’s acceptance with God, or his being treated as righteous in His sight – as the object of His favor, and not of His wrath; of His blessing, and not of His curse.”
“The breach of the Law in its covenant form by the sin of our first parents, rendered it for ever impossible that either they, or any of their descendants, should be justified on the ground of their personal righteousness.”
“…in the Protestant sense of the term, the Romish Church may be said to have no doctrine of Pardon at all.”
“The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are revealed as concurring together in the whole purpose and plan of man’s redemption; but as sustaining, each of them, a distinct office, and undertaking a different part of the work, in carrying that purpose and plan into effect.”