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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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Dear Mary,
Greetings in Christ.  Before anything further is said, I wish to lay down the chief questions that this doctrine of objective justification answers: What is faith and what does faith cling to?
In the following pages I will endeavor to show from Scripture, from the Confessions, and from the private writings of Luther that faith is merely the instrument through which we receive the forgiveness that Christ won for all on the cross.  And that is the very substance of ‘objective justification’, namely, that Christ forgave all the sins of mankind on the cross.  And the substance of ‘subjective justification’ is that we receive this forgiveness by faith alone, and apart from faith, no one can receive the benefits of justification, namely forgiveness of sins and salvation.  What is it that Baptism receives?  What does the Lord's Supper take hold of?  Where do the words of absolution find their authority?  What is it that faith clings to?  All these look to the cross. We receive the forgiveness of sins through these. This forgiveness must first have been given in order to latter be made efficacious in the believer. Faith does not cause justification, for justification and forgiveness for all was made on the cross, rather, faith personally receives justification through the Word and Sacrament.

Thesis I – Scripture teaches Objective Justification

 In good order, let us start with Scripture.  Throughout this letter, all words in ‘bold’ type are my emphasis and all Scripture quoted is in the King James Version.

Romans 5:12-19:
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
17 For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Paul here makes a few parallels which is the context of vs. 18-19.  One man’s sin brings death to all men.  And the like: one man’s righteousness brings justification to all life.  The righteousness Christ brought on the cross to all men was a complete reverse of the condemnation Adam’s sin brought to all men.  Verse 18 clearly says “all men unto justification of life” and does not say “some men…” or “came upon men of faith…”  Justification came on the cross to all men and is received by Christians through faith.
Those who deny objective justification will often point to the use of the word “many” in verse 19.  Does “many” many refer to just Christians, or to all men?  From the first half of verse 19 we can conclude “many” can refer to all people because it says “many were made sinners” and we know from Scripture that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  So “many” in the first half of the parallel refers to all men.  Paul’s pattern in previous verses show that the second “many” used in vs. 19 also means all men.  For verse 19 is reemphasis of verse 18, reaching the climax here.  For in the previous verses Law was preached, sin exposed, and the general feeling was of despair that all men have stumbled and are by nature doomed to condemnation, only to be uplifted by the announcement that Christ justified all men.
Verse 18 and 19 share the same message with synonymous terms with transgression and righteousness replaced by disobedience and obedience. What more needs to be said on the subject – the context clearly shows that “many” means “all.”  Paul used the word “many” to illustrate the vastness of both man’s disobedience and condemnation (vs. 12-19) in comparison to the vastness of God’s mercy and Christ’s righteousness (vs. 15-21).  Luther too shares this interpretation when he says:

“Isaiah here [53:11] uses the word “many” for the word “all,” after the manner of Paul in Rom. 5:15. The thought there is: One has sinned (Adam), One is righteous (Christ), and many are made righteous. There is no difference between “many” and “all.” The righteousness of Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, our Lord and Savior, is so great that it could justify innumerable worlds. “He shall justify many,” says he, that is to say, all. It should, therefore, be understood of all, because He offers his righteousness to all, and all who believe in Christ obtain it.” – Martin Luther (Explanation of Isaiah 53, quoted in What Luther Says [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959], p. 608)

2nd Corinthians 5:18-19
18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

2nd Corinthians 5:19 similar to the Romans 5 passage just discussed.  Paul says “reconciling the world…” “not imputing their trespasses against them…”  The “world” is a reference to all mankind.  Never in Scripture (to my knowledge) are Christians referred to as the world.  On the contrary, Christians are “holy” means “set apart.”  We Christians are made holy by Christ’s blood and are set apart from the world as “aliens and strangers” (1st Peter 2:11, Hebrews 11:13).  Reconciliation is not a part of the doctrine of sanctification (as some think), but rather this term is interchanged with “justification.”  Furthermore, God reconciling the world is coupled with His ‘not imputing’ sin.  This is further evidence that reconciliation and justification are describing one and the same thing, for St. Paul says in Romans 4:7-8,
Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Here the forgiveness of sin is coupled with the non-imputation of sin.  2nd Cor. 5:19 declares that the sins of all men (the world) are not imputed against them and Romans 4:7-8 associates the non-imputation of sin with the forgiveness of sins. So the connection between the sin not being imputed and the forgiveness of sins is quite inseparable.
While the doctrine being discussed here is called “objective justification”, it could equally be called “objective reconciliation” or “objective forgiveness” or a number of other terms that describe what Christ did for mankind on the cross.  And likewise, there is also the “subjective justification,” a “subjective reconciliation” and a “subjective forgiveness”, which all describe what faith receives.

Romans 5:10-11
10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
 Verse 10 shows that we were reconciled to God (objectively) while we were still enemies of God.  Verse 11 describes that we take joy since we have received, through faith (subjectively) that reconciliation.

1st Timothy 2:4-6,
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

What is a “ransom” in this case?  It is the payment or sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.  It is a done deed – it is not ‘pending’ some action on our part (turning faith into a puzzle piece in the doctrine of justification).

John 1:29
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
1 John 2:2
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.

 Christ here appeases the wrath of God through the sacrifice of Himself.  This word “propitiation” should be understood in the context of “justification” as it has the same Greek root as “propitiation” in Romans 3:25, “Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.”  1 John 2:2 describes the objective act of God to the world and Romans 3:25 describes the subjective act of receiving the forgiveness through faith.

2nd Timothy 2:13
If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

Romans 3:3
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect.

 Faith is turned into a work of man when it is treated as a requirement for justification, like some condition to be met, rather than the instrument by which to receive the justification that God has already offered to the whole world long ago.  God forgave us on the cross whether we believe it or not, and that is St. Paul is saying here in Romans 3, that ‘unbelief’ does not nullify God’s good gifts.

Acts 13:38
Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.

 In this verse Paul is preaching to Jews in a synagogue, and proclaiming to unbelievers that through Christ forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to them.  But of course it does not end there, he does not lead them to believe some universalistic worldview, for in the following verse (vs. 39) Paul tells them “by him all that believe are justified from all things.”  And this is the natural order of Scripture – Christ died to forgive all the sins of the world, and we receive that individually through faith by the means of Word and Sacrament.  The latter rests on the former.

Thesis II – The Lutheran Confessions teach Objective Justification

(I assume you own a Book of Concord – in this section I have used both Tappert’s translation and Bente’s as I use them rather interchangeable and I have electronic copies for ease of ‘copy and pasting’ – If you do not have the translation quoted, uses the Bente/Concordia Triglotta version and Tappert’s translation is available for reading on Google Books)

Our Lutheran Confessions also clearly teach God’s forgiveness and reconciliation of the whole world through Christ’s death.

But the Scripture is full of such testimonies. In some places it teaches the law; in others it teaches the promises of Christ, of the forgiveness of sins, and of our gracious acceptance for Christ’s sake.
There are similar statements here and there in the holy Fathers. In a letter to a certain Irenaeus, Ambrose says: “But the world was subjected to him through the law; for by the commandment of the law all are accused and by the works of the law none is justified, that is, by the law sin is recognized but its guilt is not relieved. The law would seem to be harmful since it has made all men sinners, but when the Lord Jesus came he forgave all men the sin that none could escape and by shedding his blood canceled the bond that stood against us (Col. 2:14). This is what Paul says, ‘Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’ (Rom. 5:20) through Jesus. For after the whole world was subjected, he took away the sin of the whole world, as John testified when he said (John 1:29), ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, 102-103 – Tappert pg. 121-122)

The following passage is one of the most succinct summaries of the relation of objective to subjective justification.

Therefore, when a man believes that his sins are forgiven because of Christ and that God is reconciled and favorably disposed to him because of Christ, this personal faith obtains the forgiveness of sins and justifies us. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, 45 – Tappert pg. 113)

1. That through Christ the human race has truly been redeemed and reconciled with God and that by his innocent obedience, suffering, and death Christ has earned for us “the righteousness which avails before God”2 and eternal life.
2. That this merit and these benefits of Christ are to be offered, given, and distributed to us through his Word and sacraments.
3. That he would be effective and active in us by his Holy Spirit through the Word when it is preached, heard, and meditated on, would convert hearts to true repentance, and would enlighten them in the true faith.
4. That he would justify and graciously accept into the adoption of children and into the inheritance of eternal life all who in sincere repentance and true faith accept Christ.
5. That he also would sanctify in love all who are thus justified, as St. Paul says (Eph. 1:4).
6. That he also would protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh, guide and lead them in his ways, raise them up again when they stumble, and comfort and preserve them in tribulation and temptation.
7. That he would also strengthen and increase in them the good work which he has begun, and preserve them unto the end, if they cling to God’s Word, pray diligently, persevere in the grace of God, and use faithfully the gifts they have received.
8. That, finally, he would eternally save and glorify in eternal life those whom he has elected, called, and justified. (The Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration, Article XI, 15-22 – Tappert pg. 619)

Notice the order.  Faith is not even mentioned until point three, and after that, faith is present.  God merited for all mankind the gifts promised in the Gospel, even eternal life – everything which follows depends on this.  However, forgiveness of sin is made "efficacious" through faith, which receives the promise given to all.
Our Confessions make clear that faith only receives, that is, it receives what has already been given to us. Forgiveness of sins is the object of faith.

"Since, as was mentioned above, it is the obedience of the entire person, therefore it is a perfect satisfaction and reconciliation of the human race, since it satisfied the eternal and immutable righteousness of God revealed in the law. This obedience is our righteousness, which avails before God and is revealed in the Gospel, upon which faith depends before God and which God reckons to faith, as it is written, "For as by one man's disobedience many will be made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5: 19), and "the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1 :7), and again, "The righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4)." (Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration, Article III, 57 – Tappert pg. 549)

So as seen in this last passage, faith depends ("upon which faith depends") on God's objective justification/reconciliation, and our faith is built on this fact, that Christ forgave us and redeemed us.
Of course Scripture and the Confessions speak continually of the necessity of faith, but such passages do not negate objective justification (or whatever other term one wants to call it).  This passage speaks of the “reconciliation of the human race.”  As I stated earlier, term ‘reconciliation’ is used in the same sense as ‘justification’ in Scripture.  The Confessions are no different, and here are a number of passages that show the interchangeableness of the terms ‘justification’ and ‘reconciliation.’  I should note here that most of the following passages primarily discuss subjective justification, but they also start with the premise that we receive/obtain what was previously given (i.e. “This special faith, therefore, by which an individual believes that for Christ’s sake his sins are remitted him…” - Apology, Art. IV (II) #45).

From this it is evident that we are justified before God by faith alone [i.e., it obtains the remission of sins and grace for Christ's sake, and regenerates us. Likewise, it is quite clear that by faith alone the Holy Ghost is received, again, that our works and this inchoate fulfilling of the Law do not by themselves please God. Now, even if I abound in good works like Paul or Peter, I must seek my righteousness elsewhere, namely, in the promise of the grace of Christ; again, if only faith calms the conscience, it must, indeed, be certain that only faith justifies before God. For, if we wish to teach correctly, we must adhere to this, that we are accepted with God, not on account of the Law, not on account of works, but for Christ's sake. For the honor, due Christ, must not be given to the Law or our miserable works.] because by faith alone we receive remission of sins and reconciliation, because reconciliation or justification is a matter promised for Christ's sake, and not for the sake of the Law. Therefore it is received by faith alone, although, when the Holy Ghost is given, the fulfilling of the Law follows. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article III: 61 – Concordia Triglotta, pg. 171-173)

First, that our works cannot reconcile God or merit forgiveness of sins, grace, and justification, but that we obtain this only by faith when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ’s sake, who alone has been set forth the Mediator and Propitiation, 1 Tim. 2, 5, in order that the Father may be reconciled through Him. (Augsburg Confession, Article XX: 9 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 53)

Thus they bury Christ, so that men may not avail themselves of Him as a Mediator, and believe that for His sake they freely receive remission of sins and reconciliation, but may dream that by their own fulfilment of the Law they merit the remission of sins, and that by their own fulfilment of the Law they are accounted righteous before God; while, nevertheless, the Law is never satisfied, since reason does nothing except certain civil works, and, in the mean time, neither [in the heart] fears God, nor truly believes that God cares for it. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV (II): Of Justification: 18 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 125)

And this promise has not the condition of our merits [it does not read thus: Through Christ you have grace, salvation etc., if you merit it], but
freely offers the remission of
sins and justification
as Paul says Rom. 11, 6:
If it be of works, then is it no more grace
. And in another place, Rom. 3, 21:
The righteousness of God without the Law is manifested
., the remission of sins is freely offered.
Nor does reconciliation depend upon our merits.
 (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV (II): Of Justification: 41–
Concordia Triglotta
 pg. 131-132)

For the Law requires of us our works and our perfection. But the Gospel freely offers, for Christ’s sake, to us, who have been vanquished by sin and death, reconciliation which is received not by works, but by faith alone.  This faith brings to God not confidence in one’s own merits, but only confidence in the promise… (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV (II): Of Justification: 44 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 133)

This special faith, therefore, by which an individual believes that for Christ’s sake his sins are remitted him, and that for Christ’s sake God is reconciled and propitious, obtains remission of sins and justifies us. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV (II): Of Justification: 45 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 133)

But since we receive remission of sins and the Holy Ghost by faith alone, faith alone justifies, because those reconciled are accounted righteous and children of God, not on account of their own purity, but through mercy for Christ’s sake, provided only they by faith apprehend this mercy. Accordingly, Scripture testifies that by faith we are accounted righteous, Rom. 3, 26. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV (II): Of Justification: 86 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 147)

Therefore it is necessary that faith [alone] reconciles and justifies. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law: 29 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 163)

In this promise timid consciences ought to seek reconciliation and justification; by this promise they ought to sustain themselves and be confident that for Christ’s sake, because of His promise, they have a gracious God. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law: 59 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 171)

Conscience however, cannot be pacified before God, unless by faith alone, which is certain that God for Christ’s sake is reconciled to us, according to Rom. 5, 1: Being justified by faith, we have peace, because justification is only a matter freely promised for Christ’s sake, and therefore is always received before God by faith alone. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law: 96 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 179)

Therefore those alms please God which follow reconciliation or justification, and not those which precede. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law: 157 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 199)

We say also quite clearly: Just as the terrors of sin and death are not only thoughts of the intellect, but also horrible movements of the will fleeing God’s judgment, so faith is not
only knowledge in the intellect, but also confidence in the will,
., it is to wish and to receive that which is offered in the promise, namely,
reconciliation and remission of sins
. Scripture thus uses the term “faith,” as the following sentence of Paul testifies, Rom. 5, 1:
Being justified by faith, we have peace with God
. Moreover, in this passage, to justify signifies, according to forensic usage, to a
cquit a guilty one and declare him righteous, but on account of the righteousness of another, namely, of Christ, which righteousness of another is communicated to us by faith.
 Therefore, since in this passage our righteousness is the imputation of the righteousness of another, we must here speak concerning righteousness otherwise than when in philosophy or in a civil court we seek after the righteousness of one’s own work, which certainly is in the will. Paul accordingly says, 1 Cor. 1, 30:
Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption
. And 2 Cor. 5, 21:
He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him
. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law: 183-186 –
Concordia Triglotta
 pg. 205-207)

Faith, however, reconciles and justifies before God the moment we apprehend the promise by faith. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law: 212 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 213)

We believe, however, that we must not trust that the merits of the saints are applied to us, that on account of these God is reconciled to us, or accounts us just, or saves us. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXI (IX): Of the Invocation of Saints: 29 – Concordia Triglotta pg. 351)

My hope in citing the above passages is twofold – first to show the role of faith, and second to show that the word “reconcile,” “reconciled,” and “reconciliation,” is used alongside “justify,” “justified,” and “justification” when speaking about God’s proclamation of forgiveness and righteousness.  So when the Confessions and Scripture speak of God’s work of reconciliation to the world, it must be understood in the objective sense and it must be understood in the context of justification.

Thesis III – Luther teaches Objective Justification
While none of us consider Luther to be inerrant, I like to think that he does not teach falsely in the chief doctrine of the Christian faith: Justification.  That said, I will let our great doctor speak for himself:

Here you see clearly that no work of satisfaction or sacrifice of reconciliation is of any use; only faith in the given body and the shed blood reconciles.  Not that faith does the reconciling in and of itself, but it lays hold on and obtains the reconciliation which Christ has performed for us.  [Luther’s Works, Vol. 36: Word and Sacrament II, pg. 177]

To him alone belongs the glory of being the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He washes and justifies all with his blood. [Luther’s Works, Vol. 44, pg. 294]

That is the true sacrifice. Once and for all it takes away the sins of all the world and brings an everlasting reconciliation and forgiveness. It deserves to be praised to the utmost and to have every honor given to it, especially over against those other false, lying sacrifices of our own works, which were invented to deny and blaspheme this sacrifice. [Luther’s Works, Vol. 13, Selected Psalms, Psalm 110:5]

Christ came and removed the sin of the world so completely that it is entirely deleted, entirely forgiven. But to refuse the Helper, to refuse to hear the Man who abolishes sin, and, more than this, to want to kill Him and to persevere in sin—that is vile and base. It is terrible to hear this proclamation, which brings remission of sin and release from death, maligned as heresy and to see this Helper persecuted. We preach this every day, and that is what goes on. I did not suck these words out of my finger; no, you hear that this is spoken by Christ Himself.  Nevertheless, it is decried as heresy.  (Luther’s Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: John 3:20)

The preaching of the holy gospel itself is principally and actually an absolution in which forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in general and in public to many persons, or publicly or privately to one person alone. Therefore absolution may be used in public and in general, and in special cases also in private, just as the sermon may take place publicly or privately, and as one might comfort many people in public or someone individually in private. Even if not all believe [the word of absolution], that is no reason to reject [public] absolution, for each absolution, whether administered publicly or privately, has to be understood as demanding faith and as being an aid to those who believe in it, just as the gospel itself also proclaims forgiveness to all men in the whole world and exempts no one from this universal context. Nevertheless the gospel certainly demands our faith and does not aid those who do not believe it; and yet the universal context of the gospel has to remain [valid]. – Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon (Luther’s Works, Vol. 50, pgs. 76-77)

But if you speak as the factious spirits and sophists do: “After all, many hear of the binding and loosing of the keys, yet it makes no impression on them and they remain unbound and without being loosed. Hence, there must exist something else beside the Word and the keys. It is the spirit, the spirit, yes, the spirit that does it!” Do you believe he is not bound who does not believe in the key which binds? Indeed, he shall learn, in due time, that his unbelief did not make the binding vain, nor did it fail in its purpose. Even he who does not believe that he is free and his sins forgiven shall also learn, in due time, how assuredly his sins were forgiven, even though he did not believe it. St. Paul says in Rom. 3[:3]: “Their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God.” We are not talking here either about people’s belief or disbelief regarding the efficacy of the keys. We realize that few believe. We are speaking of what the keys accomplish and give. He who does not accept what the keys give receives, of course, nothing. But this is not the key’s fault. Many do not believe the gospel, but this does not mean that the gospel is not true or effective. A king gives you a castle. If you do not accept it, then it is not the king’s fault, nor is he guilty of a lie. But you have deceived yourself and the fault is yours. The king certainly gave it.
Well, you say, here you yourself teach that the key fails. For the keys do not accomplish their purpose when some do not believe nor accept. Well, friend, if you call this failing, then God fails in all his words and works. For few accept what he constantly speaks and does for
all. This means doing violence to the proper meaning of words. I do not call it a failure or a mistake if I say or do something, and somebody else despises or ignores it. (
Luther’s Works
 Vol. 40, pgs. 366-367)

A note on these last two excerpts: denial of objective justification leads to other doctrinal errors which Luther here touches upon.  Luther connects God’s forgiveness to all mankind to the doctrine of absolution.  One former LCMS Lutheran pastor I know (Bill Grunow) who rejected objective justification took his belief to its logical end and also rejected public absolution (i.e. the absolution on page 16 of The Lutheran Hymnal), for in public absolution the minister is potentially proclaiming forgiveness to those who do not believe in the forgiveness.  But Luther here points out that it doesn’t matter whether or not they believe it or not, for absolution is based on Christ’s forgiveness of sins to the world and not dependant on our faith – our faith merely receives it.  Luther speaks similarly in the Large Catechism concerning infant baptism:

Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and command of God.  This now is perhaps somewhat acute, but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is, when the Word is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word. (Large Catechism, Part IV: Of Baptism: Of Infant Baptism, 52-53 – Concordia Triglotta, pg. 745)

Recent references:

 I mentioned to you this last Sunday that C.F.W. Walther too was a strong advocate of objective justification, although I do not think the term ‘objective justification’ had become popularized at that time, but the teaching, nevertheless, was the same.  Allow me to demonstrate his beliefs with a few quotes, just for the sake of giving a little historical background as to where the Synodical Conference stood:

Not until God the Father had acknowledged the work of Christ’s reconciliation and redemption, not until He had absolved Christ, and in Him all men, by raising Christ from the dead, have we mortals become justified in saying to fellow-man: “Be of good cheer, all thy sins are forgiven and their record wiped out.  Only believe!”  This declaration is based on the fact that God the Father has glorified Christ, our Proxy, and therewith has proclaimed in the presence of heaven and earth that all men are redeemed and reconciled and their sins forgiven. (The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, C.F.W. Walther, pg.  186-187)

“By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead God has absolved the entire world of sinners from their sins.  Is it not horrible for men to say that this is a fact, but that a person may not yet believe it?  Does not that mean to charge God with lying and to deny the resurrection of Christ from the dead?  Furthermore, this teaching is also contrary to the doctrine of absolution.” (The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, C.F.W. Walther, pg.  374)

And from Franz Pieper in the early 20th Century,

We know God's heart, for He has revealed it to us in the gospel. He has revealed that He is reconciled with each and every individual through Christ. There is, therefore, not one single person anywhere in the world to whom it would be a lie if we were to say, "God forgives your sins." We find, then, that this objection, too, rests on dire ignorance of the gospel.
Many do not know, they do not believe, that the gospel is the message of God's consummate reconciliation with man. They believe that forgiveness of sins is based on man's merits when actually it depends singly and solely on the historical event which took place over 1,900 years ago. Namely, the gospel reveals that God through Christ is reconciled to the whole world and that it is His will to have this good news proclaimed to all the world. (The Lutheran Doctrine of Justification, Franz Pieper, pg. 73)

And finally an excerpt from the Brief Statement, the official position of the CLC (and LCMS).

Holy Scripture sums up all its teachings regarding the love of God to the world of sinners, regarding the salvation wrought by Christ, and regarding faith in Christ as the only way to obtain salvation, in the article of justification. Scripture teaches that God has already declared the whole world to be righteous in Christ, Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom. 4:25; that therefore not for the sake of their good works, but without the works of the Law, by grace, for Christ's sake, He justifies, that is, accounts as righteous, all those who believe, accept, and rely on, the fact that for Christ's sake their sins are forgiven. (A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod [Adopted 1932], paragraph 17)


To restate the opening question: What is faith and what does faith cling to?

I hope these pages here have demonstrated from Scripture and our Confessions that faith is the passive instrument by which we receive that which was won for all on the cross.  For whatever we receive must first be given to us.  And also I hope that it was shown that justification, non-imputation of sin, declaring righteous, reconciliation, forgiveness, taking away sin, etc., are all different words describing the same thing, and that each can be understood in the objective and subjective depending on context.  This is not the first step toward universalism, for one doctrine rests on the other, and furthermore, the Lutheran teachings on the Means of Grace are integrally tied to the reconciliation and forgiveness that Christ won on the cross for all mankind.

In Christ,

Timothy Blank

P.S. – You are free to share what I have written with whomever you wish.