Michael Horton on Justin Martyr
Michael Horton, in his book Putting Amazing Back into Grace, writes the following in the appendix (link):
Not only does Scripture speak definitively in proclaiming God’s electing grace; the historic, catholic, apostolic church affirms these truths as the truly orthodox position of the church of Jesus Christ. To substantiate this claim, I have also prepared an abbreviated historical sketch from church fathers to the present, including church creeds, that clearly affirms the doctrines of grace.
Horton, unlike other Reformers, does not see in the early church the confusion and lack of certainty on this subject, but rather a “definitive affirmation” of the doctrines of grace (aka TULIP and meticulous sovereignty).
Unfortunately, the quotes Horton uses from the early church to substantiate his claim do not contain citations making them difficult to find and read within their full context. Far worse is the fact that many of the quotes have been shown to be spurious. One should check out Jack Cottrell’s assessment of this appendix, which he calls “extremely poor scholarship”, for more details (link).
Since we are focusing on Justin Martyr, let’s examine one of Horton’s quotes attributed to him. The intent of the author is to show readers that Justin affirmed total depravity and irresistible grace.
Yet, if one were to search Justin’s works for the text “Free will has destroyed us” it can’t be found. Nor for that matter can the rest of this quote. However, as noted in Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free, we find that it was actually written by Tatian (and can be read in its context here).
Reading this passage in context, it is clear that Tatian was not rejecting free will, as Horton would have us believe. In fact it is teaching the opposite. Tatian is explaining, to the Greeks he is addressing, that because we have free will and abuse it, choosing to do evil instead of good, that we will perish. People have the ability to both choose evil and to reject it (ie choose good). He even writes the following in an earlier chapter:
the power of the Logos, having in itself a faculty to foresee future events, not as fated, but as taking place by the choice of free agents, foretold from time to time the issues of things to come; … (chapter 7)
This quote further establishes that Tatian both rejected determinism and understood foreknowledge as God knowing ahead of time what the choice of an individual would be in the future. This would seem to weaken any idea that he also affirmed irresistible grace. Taken together this writings do not seem like Calvinism in an “embryonic form”, let alone a definitive declaration of it. What Tatian has written would contradict the view of foreknowledge taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which asserts that God knows the future because He has decreed it, not because He has foresight (see chapter 3.2).
John Calvin more clearly affirms what Tatian denies:
he foresees the things which are to happen, simply because he has decreed that they are so to happen, … it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree (Institutes Book 3, chap 23)
Let’s return to Justin Martyr and some of Horton’s other claims. In a mashup of two quotes from Dialogue with Trypho, Horton also tries to assert that Justin held to a limited atonement as understood by the Reformers. In this view Jesus did not die for the sins of the whole world, making salvation possible for everyone, but rather died only for those whom God unconditionally elected.
These partial quotes in the appendix are taken from chapters 41 and 134. Needless to say, that is hardly letting context shape meaning. But it gets worse. Chapter 41 (link) is on the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which is “prescribed in remembrance of the suffering which He endured on behalf of those who are purified from all iniquity.” It is difficult to see how this should be taken as a “definitive affirmation” of an atonement rooted in unconditional election.
In chapter 134 (link), Justin is exploring the idea that Jacob and his wives were types. Leah was a type representing the nation Israel, while Rachel represented the Church. Jacob represents Christ who died on the cross for both groups. While Justin says Christ died “for men of every kind”, it is clear from the context that he is trying to show the reader that Christ died for both Gentiles and the Jewish people. It would be hard to see this as referring to an atonement rooted in unconditional election, unless one comes to the text with that idea in mind and pushes it on the text.
Consider these statements further, in light of what Justin writes in chapter 95 (link), in which he notes that Christ died for “the whole human family”.
For the whole human race will be found to be under a curse. … the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up,
… His Father wished Him to suffer this, in order that by His stripes the human race might be healed …
These statements assert that the atonement was for the “whole human family”. Limiting the phrase “whole human family” to only those who are unconditionally elect would be challenging. Justin uses this phrase first to describe those under a curse and then immediately after that to describe those whom God the Father wanted Christ to die for.