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Robert Rollock’s Treatise on Justification

(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

ROBERT ROLLOCK (1555–1599), the first Regent and Principal of the University of Edinburgh, is best known to present-day students of historical theology for the role he purportedly played in the development of Reformed federalism by virtue of the relatively unprecedented, mature treatment of a pre-Fall covenant of works discovered in his writings.

Breno Macedo provides some interesting biographical information and discussion of Rollock’s doctrine of the Covenant of Works in a 2015 GPTS Conference lecture. Aaron Clay Denlinger and Noah Phillips translated Rollock’s short Treatise on Jusitification and published it in 2016 edition of the Mid-America Journal of Theology. A few points are worth noting.

He defines justification as

a pronouncement of God our Judge, delivered in keeping with his authority, by which, in keeping with his grace and according to sinful and believing man’s faith in Christ, he remits sins and imputes his own righteousness to man, to the end of man’s own eternal life as well as the glory of his grace and that righteousness of his that he freely imputes to man.

He then notes “At this point it may be asked whether justification is perfectly completed in this life?” He answers

[T]hose [benefits] which we have said do not inhere in man are perfected and summed up in this life itself. “We are already,” 1 John 3:2 says, “sons of God.” We have then already been predestined. We have then already been justified. But those benefits which we have said do inhere in man are not completely perfected in this life, even if they have begun. From these considerations it is surely clear that justification is perfected and summed up in this present life, but is not fully manifested in the same.

The question remains whether Christ will in the future, on the day of judgment, justify those who have believed in this life? And if so, is it not true that justification is actually perfected in the life to come rather than in this life? I respond that Christ will not, on that day of judgment, justify believers. He will, rather, declare on the basis of their works that they have believed and have been justified in this life. Indeed, the verb “justify” sometimes has the meaning of “declare justified.” James uses the word in this very sense when he speaks of the man who is justified according to his works…

But justification, someone will say, is a judicial sentence of life. And life is not perfected until Christ’s second coming. Is it not the case, therefore, that justification itself will not be perfected until Christ’s second coming? I respond that it is one thing for the judicial sentence of life to be complete, and another thing for life itself to be perfected. The sentence of life is surely complete already in this life, but life itself will not be perfected until Christ’s second coming. This argument, therefore, is fallacious and captious.

Second, regarding union with Christ, Rollock acknowledges that at a certain point in time, Christ is applied to us so that we may be regenerated, after which we are justified. Thus we are united to Christ prior to faith, though this union is completed by our restipulation in faith.

The benefits of God that are given to us in Christ in time are effectual calling, justification (which comprehends adoption), and, finally, regeneration or glorification. Each of these benefits comes to us through the application to us of Christ and his grace; or rather, each of these benefits constitutes an application of Christ and his grace to us. The application of Christ to us has a twofold character: there is, first of all, God’s application of Christ to us; secondly, there is our application to ourselves of Christ, who has already been applied to us by God. The first application, therefore, is God’s; the second is our own. The application which we ourselves make of Christ to us is generally called faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit is always yoked with God’s application of Christ to us. Through the Spirit, God works in us our own act of application, or rather the instrument of that application—that is, our faith…

In regeneration (about which we also now speak), finally, God’s work consists in an even closer application of Christ to us, uniting us to him just as a body is joined to its head. With this work of God the Holy Spirit is once again joined. In this work of application God unites us, first of all, to Christ in his death, for the mortification of our own flesh. He further unites us to Christ in his resurrection from death, for the vivification of our spirits. Our own work of application in regeneration consists in laying hold—by that faith stirred up in us through the Holy Spirit—of that Christ who has been united to us in his death and in his life. In this twofold work of application—first of God, then of us—by which Christ is joined to us as a head to its body, our regeneration is seen. For by one and the same work Christ is united to us as our head and we are regenerated or renewed.

Compare with Union with Christ is the New Covenant.

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