Last week together, we looked at the Scottish theologian whose life spanned the nineteenth century, James Buchanan. This week we’ll take a look at his book that I mentioned briefly, his big book. It was titled The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture. It was first published in 1867.

In the introduction he says justification, this old theology of the Reformation, is actually new. Well, let’s jump in to see what he means.

The gospel is older than Luther; but to every succeeding generation, it is still new—good news from God—as fresh now as when it first sprung from the fountain of Inspiration. It was new to ourselves—surprising, startling, and affecting us strangely, as if it were almost too good to be true—when it first shone, like a beam of heaven’s own light, into our dark and troubled spirits and shed abroad ‘a peace which passeth all understanding.’ It will equally be new to our children and our children’s children when they come to know that they have sins to be forgiven and souls to be saved; and to the last sinner who was convinced and converted on the earth it will still be as ‘good tidings from a far country,’ as ‘cold water to a thirsty soul.’ It can never become old or obsolete for this obvious reason, that while it is ‘the everlasting gospel’ and, as such, like its Author, unchangeable—’the same yesterday, and today, and for ever’—yet it comes into contact in every succeeding age with new minds who are ignorant of it, but need it, and can find no peace without it; and when they receive it as ‘a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ they will learn from their own experience that the old truth is still the germ of ‘a new creation’—the spring of a new life, a new peace, a new hope, a new spiritual existence, to which they were utter strangers before.

Buchanan knows how to write doesn’t he? And he tells us that this old doctrine of justification is new. It is new when we are impacted by it. It is new when that gift of faith is delivered to us. Buchanan adds this:

The doctrine of justification, by grace, through faith in Christ, is the old doctrine of the Reformation, and the still older doctrine of the gospel; yet the vivid apprehension of its meaning and the cordial reception of its truth must be a new thing in the experience of everyone when he is first enabled to realize and to believe it.

In addition to this “newness of its experience and of our apprehension of it,” the book also unfolds something else that is new. There are new challenges. There are new positions of opposition to this cardinal, central, and essential doctrine of justification. In every generation of the church there arises hostility and challenge to the doctrine of justification.

As Buchanan continues in his introduction, he identifies two such poles that present opposition to this doctrine. The one pole was Rationalism. This had been ricocheting across Europe since the days of the Enlightenment and there in Scotland, and especially in the Scottish university where Buchanan taught, Rationalism was alive and well.

There was also ritualism. It was not just in the Roman Catholic church; Buchanan also observed it in the Church of Scotland. In fact, that’s why he, and so many other ministers, left that church and formed the Free Church. Both of these, Rationalism and ritualism, Buchanan contends, stem from a fundamental problem that is of not seeing ourselves as sinful, as utterly helpless. The doctrine of justification as it is taught in Scripture and as this great Scottish theologian, James Buchanan, shows us in his book from 1867, the doctrine of justification exactly fits the bill to every challenge in every age in the church and it is for us, the new old doctrine.

That’s Buchanan’s book and I’m Steve Nichols. Thanks for joining us for 5 Minutes in Church History.