Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 13
(... continued from part 12)
Chapter 12. 
12. Necessity of contemplating the judgment-seat of God, in order to 
be seriously convinced of the doctrine of gratuitous justification. 
    The divisions of this chapter are, - I. A consideration of the 
righteousness of God overturns the righteousness of works, as is 
plain from passages of Scripture, and the confession and example of 
the saints, sec. 1-3. II. The same effect produced by a serious 
examination of the conscience, and a constant citation to the divine 
tribunal, sec. 4 and 5. III. Hence arises, in the hearts of the 
godly, not hypocrisy, or a vain opinion of merit, but true humility. 
This illustrated by the authority of Scripture and the example of 
the Publican, sec. 6, 7. IV. Conclusion - arrogance and security 
must be discarded, every man throwing an impediment in the way of 
the divine goodness in proportion as he trusts to himself. 
1. Source of error on the subject of Justification. Sophists speak 
    as if the question were to be discussed before some human 
    tribunal. It relates to the majesty and justice of God. Hence 
    nothing accepted without absolute perfection. Passages 
    confirming this doctrine. If we descend to the righteousness of 
    the Law, the curse immediately appears. 
2. Source of hypocritical confidence. Illustrated by a simile. 
    Exhortation. Testimony of Job, David, and Paul. 
3. Confession of Augustine and Bernard. 
4. Another engine overthrowing the righteousness of works, viz., a 
    serious examination of the conscience, and a comparison between 
    the perfection of God and the imperfection of man. 
5. How it is that we so indulge this imaginary opinion of our own 
    works. The proper remedy to be found in a consideration of the 
    majesty of God and our own misery. A description of this 
6. Christian humility consists in laying aside the imaginary idea of 
    our own righteousness, and trusting entirely to the mercy of 
    God, apprehended by faith in Christ. This humility described. 
    Proved by passages of Scripture. 
7. The parable of the Publican explained. 
8. Arrogance, security, and self-confidence, must be renounced. 
    General rule, or summary of the above doctrine. 
    1. Although the perfect truth of the above doctrine is proved 
by clear passages of Scripture, yet we cannot clearly see how 
necessary it is, before we bring distinctly into view the 
foundations on which the whole discussion ought to rest. First, 
then, let us remember that the righteousness which we are 
considering is not that of a human, but of a heavenly tribunal; and 
so beware of employing our own little standard to measure the 
perfection which is to satisfy the justice of God. It is strange 
with what rashness and presumption this is commonly defined. Nay, we 
see that none talk more confidently, or, so to speak, more 
blusteringly, of the righteousness of works than those whose 
diseases are most palpable, and blemishes most apparent. This they 
do because they reflect not on the righteousness of Christ, which, 
if they had the slightest perception of it, they would never treat 
with so much insult. It is certainly undervalued, if not recognized 
to be so perfect that nothing can be accepted that is not in every 
respect entire and absolute, and tainted by no impurity; such indeed 
as never has been, and never will be, found in man. It is easy for 
any man, within the precincts of the schools, to talk of the 
sufficiency of works for justification; but when we come into the 
presence of God there must be a truce to such talk. The matter is 
there discussed in earnest, and is no longer a theatrical logomachy. 
Hither must we turn our minds if we would inquire to any purpose 
concerning true righteousness; the question must be: How shall we 
answer the heavenly Judge when he calls us to account? Let us 
contemplate that Judge, not as our own unaided intellect conceives 
of him, but as he is portrayed to us in Scripture, (see especially 
the Book of Job,) with a brightness which obscures the stars, a 
strength which melts the mountains, an anger which shakes the earth, 
a wisdom which takes the wise in their own craftiness, a purity 
before which all things become impure, a righteousness to which not 
even angels are equal, (so far is it from making the guilty 
innocent,) a vengeance which once kindled burns to the lowest hell, 
(Exod. 34: 7; Nahum 1: 3; Deut. 32: 22.) Let Him, I say, sit in 
judgment on the actions of men, and who will feel secure in sisting 
himself before his throne? "Who among us," says the prophets "shall 
dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with 
everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh 
uprightly," &c., (Isaiah 33: 14, 15.) Let whoso will come forth. 
Nay, the answer shows that no man can. For, on the other hand, we 
hear the dreadful voice: "If thou, Lord, shouldst mark our 
iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" (Ps. 130: 3.) All must 
immediately perish, as Job declares, "Shall mortal man be more just 
than God? shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Behold, he put no 
trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: How 
much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is 
in the dust, which are crushed before the moth? They are destroyed 
from morning to evening," (Job 4: 17-20.) Again, "Behold, he putteth 
no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight. 
How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity 
like water?" (Job 15: 15, 16.) I confess, indeed, that in the Book 
of Job reference is made to a righteousness of a more exalted 
description than the observance of the Law. It is of importance to 
attend to this distinction; for even could a man satisfy the Law, he 
could not stand the scrutiny of that righteousness which transcends 
all our thoughts. Hence, although Job was not conscious of 
offending, he is still dumb with astonishment, because he sees that 
God could not be appeased even by the sanctity of angels, were their 
works weighed in that supreme balance. But to advert no farther to 
this righteousness, which is incomprehensible, I only say, that if 
our life is brought to the standard of the written law, we are 
lethargic indeed if we are not filled with dread at the many 
maledictions which God has employed for the purpose of arousing us, 
and among others, the following general one: "Cursed be he that 
confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them," (Deut. 27: 
26.) In short, the whole discussion of this subject will be insipid 
and frivolous, unless we sist ourselves before the heavenly Judge, 
and anxious for our acquittal, voluntarily humble ourselves, 
confessing our nothingness. 
    2. Thus then must we raise our eyes that we may learn to 
tremble instead of vainly exulting. It is easy, indeed, when the 
comparison is made among men, for every one to plume himself on some 
quality which others ought not to despise; but when we rise to God, 
that confidence instantly falls and dies away. The case of the soul 
with regard to God is very analogous to that of the body in regard 
to the visible firmament. The bodily eye, while employed in 
surveying adjacent objects, is pleased with its own perspicacity; 
but when directed to the sun, being dazzled and overwhelmed by the 
refulgence, it becomes no less convinced of its weakness than it 
formerly was of its power in viewing inferior objects. Therefore, 
lest we deceive ourselves by vain confidence, let us recollect that 
even though we deem ourselves equal or superior to other men, this 
is nothing to God, by whose judgment the decision must be given. But 
if our presumption cannot be tamed by these considerations, he will 
answer us as he did the Pharisees, "Ye are they which justify 
yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which 
is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God," 
(Luke 16: 15.) Go now and make a proud boast of your righteousness 
among men, while God in heaven abhors it. But what are the feelings 
of the servants of God, of those who are truly taught by his Spirit? 
"Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no 
man living be justified," (Ps. 143: 2.) Another, though in a sense 
somewhat different, says, "How should man be just with God? If he 
will contend with him he cannot answer him one of a thousand," (Job 
9: 2, 3.) Here we are plainly told what the righteousness of God is, 
namely, a righteousness which no human works can satisfy which 
charges us with a thousand sins, while not one sin can be excused. 
Of this righteousness Paul, that chosen vessel of God, had formed a 
just idea, when he declared, "I know nothing by myself, yet am I not 
hereby justified," (1 Cor. 4: 4.) 
    3. Such examples exist not in the sacred volume only; all pious 
writers show that their sentiment was the same. Thus Augustine says, 
"Of all pious men groaning under this burden of corruptible flesh, 
and the infirmities of this life, the only hope is, that we have one 
Mediator Jesus Christ the righteous, and that he intercedes for our 
sins," (August. ad Bonif. lib. 3, c. 5.) What do we hear? If this is 
their only hope, where is their confidence in works? When he says 
only, he leaves no other. Bernard says, "And, indeed, where have the 
infirm firm security and safe rest, but in the wounds of the Savior? 
Hold it then the more securely, the more powerful he is to save. The 
world frowns, the body presses, the devil lays snares: I fall not, 
because I am founded on a firm rock. I have sinned a grievous sin: 
conscience is troubled, but it shall not be overwhelmed, for I will 
remember the wounds of the Lord." He afterwards concludes, "My 
merit, therefore, is the compassion of the Lord; plainly I am not 
devoid of merit so long as he is not devoid of commiseration. But if 
the mercies of the Lord are many, equally many are my merits. Shall 
I sing of my own righteousness? O Lord, I will make mention of thy 
righteousness alone. That righteousness is mine also, being made 
mine by God," (Bernard, Serm. 61, in Cantic.) Again, in another 
passage, "Man's whole merit is to place his whole hope in him who 
makes the whole man safe," (in Psal. Qui Habitat. Serm. 15.) In like 
manner, reserving peace to himself, he leaves the glory to God: "Let 
thy glory remain unimpaired: it is well with me if I have peace; I 
altogether abjure boasting, lest if I should usurp what is not mine, 
I lose also what is offered," (Serm. 13, in Cantic.) He says still 
more plainly in another place: "Why is the Church solicitous about 
merits? God purposely supplies her with a firmer and more secure 
ground of boasting. There is no reason for asking by what merits may 
we hope for blessings, especially when you hear in the prophet, 
'Thus saith the Lord God, I do not this for your sakes, O house of 
Israel, but for mine holy name's sake,' (Ezek. 36: 22, 32.) It is 
sufficient for merit to know that merits suffice not; but as it is 
sufficient for merit not to presume on merit, so to be without 
merits is sufficient for condemnation," (Bernard, Serm. 68.) The 
free use of the term merits for good works must be pardoned to 
custom. Bernard's purpose was to alarm hypocrites, who turned the 
grace of God into licentiousness, as he shortly after explains: 
"Happy the church which neither wants merit without presumption, nor 
presumption without merit. It has ground to presume, but not merit. 
It has merit, merit to deserve, not presume. Is not the absence of 
presumption itself a merit? He, therefore, to whom the many mercies 
of the Lord furnish ample grounds of boasting, presumes the more 
securely that he presumes not," (Bernard, Serm. 68.) 
    4. Thus, indeed, it is. Aroused consciences, when they have to 
do with God, feel this to be the only asylum in which they can 
breathe safely. For if the stars which shine most brightly by night 
lose their brightness on the appearance of the sun, what think we 
will be the case with the highest purity of man when contrasted with 
the purity of God? For the scrutiny will be most strict, penetrating 
to the most hidden thoughts of the heart. As Paul says, it "will 
bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest 
the counsels of the heart," (1 Cor. 4: 5;) will compel the reluctant 
and dissembling conscience to bring forward every thing, even things 
which have now escaped our memory. The devil, aware of all the 
iniquities which he has induced us to perpetrate, will appear as 
accuser; the external show of good works, the only thing now 
considered, will then be of no avail; the only thing demanded will 
be the true intent of the will. Hence hypocrisy, not only that by 
which a man, though consciously guilty before God, affects to make 
an ostentatious display before man, but that by which each imposes 
upon himself before God, (so prone are we to soothe and flatter 
ourselves,) will fall confounded, how much soever it may now swell 
with pride and presumption. Those who do not turn their thoughts to 
this scene may be able for the moment calmly and complacently to 
rear up a righteousness for themselves; but this the judgment of God 
will immediately overthrow, just as great wealth amassed in a dream 
vanishes the moment we awake. Those who, as in the presence of God, 
inquire seriously into the true standard of righteousness, will 
certainly find that all the works of men, if estimated by their own 
worth, are nothing but vileness and pollution, that what is commonly 
deemed justice is with God mere iniquity; what is deemed integrity 
is pollution; what deemed glory is ignominy. 
    5. Let us not decline to descend from this contemplation of the 
divine perfection, to look into ourselves without flattery or blind 
self-love. It is not strange that we are so deluded in this matter, 
seeing none of us can avoid that pestilential self-indulgence, 
which, as Scripture proclaims, is naturally inherent in all: "Every 
way of a man is right in his own eyes," says Solomon, (Prov. 21: 2.) 
And again, "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes," (Prov. 
16: 2.) What then? does this hallucination excuse him? No, indeed, 
as Solomon immediately adds, "The Lord weigheth the spirits;" that 
is, while man flatters himself by wearing an external mask of 
righteousness, the Lord weighs the hidden impurity of the heart in 
his balance. Seeing, therefore, that nothing is gained by such 
flattery, let us not voluntarily delude ourselves to our own 
destruction. To examine ourselves properly, our conscience must be 
called to the judgment-seat of God. His light is necessary to 
disclose the secret recesses of wickedness which otherwise lie too 
deeply hid. Then only shall we clearly perceive what the value of 
our works is; that man, so far from being just before God, is but 
rottenness and a worm, abominable and vain, drinking in "iniquity 
like water." For "who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not 
one," (Job 14: 5.) Then we shall experience the truth of what Job 
said of himself: "If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn 
me: if I say I am perfect, it shall prove me perverse," (Job 9: 20.) 
Nor does the complaint which the prophet made concerning Israel 
apply to one age only. It is true of every age, that "all we like 
sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way," 
(Isaiah 53: 6.) Indeed, he there comprehends all to whom the gift of 
redemption was to come. And the strictness of the examination ought 
to be continued until it have completely alarmed us, and in that way 
prepared us for receiving the grace of Christ. For he is deceived 
who thinks himself capable of enjoying it, until he have laid aside 
all loftiness of mind. There is a well-known declaration, "God 
resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble," (1 Pet. 5: 5.) 
    6. But what means is there of humbling us if we do not make way 
for the mercy of God by our utter indigence and destitution? For I 
call it not humility, so long as we think there is any good 
remaining in us. Those who have joined together the two things, to 
think humbly of ourselves before God and yet hold our own 
righteousness in some estimation, have hitherto taught a pernicious 
hypocrisy. For if we confess to God contrary to what we feel, we 
wickedly lie to him; but we cannot feel as we ought without seeing 
that every thing like a ground of boasting is completely crushed. 
Therefore, when you hear from the prophets "thou wilt save the 
afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks" (Ps. 28: 27,) 
consider, first, that there is no access to salvation unless all 
pride is laid aside and true humility embraced; secondly, that that 
humility is not a kind of moderation by which you yield to God some 
article of your right, (thus men are called humble in regard to each 
other when they neither conduct themselves haughtily nor insult over 
other, though they may still entertain some consciousness of their 
own excellence,) but that it is the unfeigned submission of a mind 
overwhelmed by a serious conviction of its want and misery. Such is 
the description every where given by the word of God. When in 
Zephaniah the Lord speaks thus, "I will take away out of the midst 
of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be 
haughty because of my holy mountain. I will also leave in the midst 
of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the 
name of the Lord," (Zeph. 3: 11, 12,) does he not plainly show who 
are the humble, viz., those who lie afflicted by a knowledge of 
their poverty? On the contrary, he describes the proud as rejoicing, 
such being the mode in which men usually express their delight in 
prosperity. To the humble, whom he designs to save, he leaves 
nothing but hope in the Lord. Thus, also, in Isaiah, "To this man 
will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and 
trembleth at my word," (Isaiah 66: 2.) again, "Thus saith the high 
and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell 
in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and 
humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the 
heart of the contrite ones," (Isaiah 57: 15.) By the term contrition 
which you so often hear, understand a wounded heart, which, humbling 
the individual to the earth, allows him not to rise. With such 
contrition must your heart be wounded, if you would, according to 
the declaration of God, be exalted with the humble. If this is not 
your case, you shall be humbled by the mighty hand of God to your 
shame and disgrace. 
    7. Our divine Master, not confining himself to words, has by a 
parable set before us, as in a picture, a representation of true 
humility. He brings forward a publican, who standing afar off, and 
not daring to lift up his eyes to heaven, smites upon his breast, 
laments aloud, and exclaims, " God be merciful to me a sinner," 
(Luke 18: 13.) Let us not suppose that he gives the signs of a 
fictitious modesty when he dares not come near or lift up his eyes 
to heaven, but, smiting upon his breast, confesses himself a sinner; 
let us know that these are the evidences of his internal feeling. 
With him our Lord contrasts the Pharisee, who thanks God "I am not 
as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this 
publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I 
possess." In this public confession he admits that the righteousness 
which he possesses is the gift of God; but because of his confidence 
that he is righteous, he departs from the presence of God unaccepted 
and abominated. The publican acknowledging his iniquity is 
justified. Hence we may see how highly our humility is valued by the 
Lord: our breast cannot receive his mercy until deprived completely 
of all opinion of its own worth. When such an opinion is 
entertained, the door of mercy is shut. That there might be no doubt 
on this matter, the mission on which Christ was sent into the world 
by his Father was "to preach good tidings to the meek," "to bind up 
the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the 
opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the 
acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to 
comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion to 
give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the 
garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness," (Isa. 69: 1-3.) In 
fulfillment of that mission, the only persons whom he invites to 
share in his beneficence are the "weary and heavy laden." In another 
passage he says, " I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners 
to repentance," (Matth. 11: 28; 9: 13.) 
    8. Therefore if we would make way for the call of Christ, we 
must put far from us all arrogance and confidence. The former is 
produced by a foolish persuasion of self-righteousness, when a man 
thinks that he has something in himself which deservedly recommends 
him to God; the latter may exist without any confidence in works. 
For many sinners, intoxicated with the pleasures of vice, think not 
of the judgment of God. Lying stupefied, as it were, by a kind of 
lethargy, they aspire not to the offered mercy. It is not less 
necessary to shake off torpor of this description than every kind of 
confidence in ourselves, in order that we may haste to Christ 
unencumbered, and while hungry and empty be filled with his 
blessings. Never shall we have sufficient confidence in him unless 
utterly distrustful of ourselves; never shall we take courage in him 
until we first despond of ourselves; never shall we have full 
consolation in him until we cease to have any in ourselves. When we 
have entirely discarded all self-confidence, and trust solely in the 
certainty of his goodness, we are fit to apprehend and obtain the 
grace of God. "When," (as Augustine says,) "forgetting our own 
merits, we embrace the gifts of Christ, because if he should seek 
for merits in us we should not obtain his gifts," (August. de Verb. 
Apost. 8.) With this Bernard admirably accords, comparing the proud 
who presume in the least on their merits, to unfaithful servants, 
who wickedly take the merit of a favor merely passing through them, 
just as if a wall were to boast of producing the ray which it 
receives through the window, (Bernard, Serm. 13, in Cant.) Not to 
dwell longer here, let us lay down this short but sure and general 
rule, That he is prepared to reap the fruits of the divine mercy who 
has thoroughly emptied himself, I say not of righteousness, (he has 
none,) but of a vain and blustering show of righteousness; for to 
whatever extent any man rests in himself, to the same extent he 
impedes the beneficence of God. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 13

(continued in part 14...)

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