Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 15
(... continued from part 14)
Chapter 14. 
14. The beginning of justification. In what sense progressive. 
    To illustrate what has been already said, and show what kind of 
righteousness man can have during the whole course of his life, 
mankind are divided into four classes. I. First class considered, 
sec. 1-6. II. Second and third classes considered together, sec. 7, 
8. III. Fourth class considered, sec. 9 to end. 
1. Men either idolatrous, profane, hypocritical, or regenerate. 1. 
    Idolaters void of righteousness, full of unrighteousness, and 
    hence in the sight of God altogether wretched and undone. 
2. Still a great difference in the characters of men. This 
    difference manifested. 1. In the gifts of God. 2. In the 
    distinction between honorable and base. 3. In the blessings of 
    he present life. 
3. All human virtue, how praiseworthy soever it may appear, is 
    corrupted. 1. By impurity of heart. 2. By the absence of a 
    proper nature. 
4. By the want of Christ, without whom there is no life. 
5. Natural condition of man as described by Scripture. All men dead 
    in sins before regeneration. 
6. Passages of Scripture to this effect. Vulgar error confounding 
    the righteousness of works with the redemption purchased by 
7. The second and third classes of men, comprehending hypocrites and 
    Christians in name only. Every action of theirs deserves 
    condemnation. Passage from Haggai. Objection. Answer. 
8. Other passages. Quotations from Augustine and Gregory. 
9. The fourth class, viz., the regenerate. Though guided by the 
    Spirit, corruption adheres to all they do, especially when 
    brought to the bar of God. 
10. One fault sufficient to efface all former righteousness. Hence 
    they cannot possibly be justified by works. 
11. In addition to the two former arguments, a third adduced against 
    the Sophists, to show that whatever be the works of the 
    regenerate, they are justified solely by faith and the free 
    imputation of Christ's righteousness. 
12. Sophism of the Schoolmen in opposition to the above doctrine. 
13. Answer explained. Refutation of the fiction of partial 
    righteousness, and compensation by works of supererogation. 
    This fiction necessarily falls with that of satisfaction. 
14. Statement of our Savior, viz., that after we have done all, we 
    are still unprofitable servants. 
15. Objection founded on Paul's boasting. Answer, showing the 
    Apostle's meaning. Other answers, stating the general doctrine 
    out of Chrysostom. Third answer, showing that supererogation is 
    the merest vanity. 
16. Fourth answer, showing how Scripture dissuades us from all 
    confidence in works. Fifth answer, showing that we have no 
    ground of boasting. 
17. Sixth answer, showing, in regard to four different classes, that 
    works have no part in procuring our salvation. 1. The efficient 
    cause is the free love of the Father. 2. The material cause is 
    Christ acquiring righteousness for us. 3. The instrumental 
    cause is faith. 4. The final cause the display of the divine 
    justice and praise of the divine goodness. 
18. A second objection, founded on the glorying of saints. An 
    answer, explaining these modes of expression. How the saints 
    feel in regard to the certainty of salvation. The opinion they 
    have of their own works as in the sight of God. 
19. Another answer, viz., that the elect, by this kind of glorying, 
    refer only to their adoption by the Father as proved by the 
    fruits of their calling. The order of this glorying. Its 
    foundation, structure, and parts. 
20. Conclusion. The saints neither attribute anything to the merits 
    of works, nor derogate in any degree from the righteousness 
    which they obtain in Christ. Confirmation from a passage of 
    Augustine, in which he gives two reasons why no believer will 
    presume to boast before God of his works. 
21. A third objection, viz., that the good works of believers are 
    the causes of divine blessings. Answer. There are inferior 
    causes, but these depend on free justification, which is the 
    only true cause why God blesses us. These modes of expression 
    designate the order of sequence rather than the cause. 
    1. In farther illustration of the subject, let us consider what 
kind of righteousness man can have, during the whole course of his 
life, and for this purpose let us make a fourfold division. Mankind, 
either endued with no knowledge of God, are sunk in idolatry; or, 
initiated in the sacraments, but by the impurity of their lives 
denying him whom they confess with their mouths, are Christians in 
name only; or they are hypocrites, who with empty glosses hide the 
iniquity of the heart; or they are regenerated by the Spirit of God, 
and aspire to true holiness. In the first place, when men are judged 
by their natural endowments, not a iota of good will be found from 
the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, unless we are to 
charge Scripture with falsehood, when it describes all the sons of 
Adam by such terms as these: "The heart is deceitful above all 
things, and desperately wicked." "The imagination of man's heart is 
evil from his youth." "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man that 
they are vanity." "They are all gone aside: they are altogether 
become filthy; there is none that does good, no, not one." In short, 
that they are flesh, under which name are comprehended all those 
works which are enumerated by Paul; adultery, fornication, 
uncleanness, lasciviousness idolatry witchcraft, hatred, variance, 
emulation, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, 
drunkenness, revellings, and all kinds of pollution and abomination 
which it is possible to imagine. Such, then, is the worth on which 
men are to plume themselves. But if any among them possess an 
integrity of manners which presents some semblance of sanctity among 
men, yet because we know that God regards not the outward 
appearance, we must penetrate to the very source of action, if we 
would see how far works avail for righteousness. We must, I say, 
look within, and see from what affection of the heart these works 
proceed. This is a very wide field of discussion, but as the matter 
may be explained in few words, I will use as much brevity as I can. 
    2. First, then, I deny not, that whatever excellent endowments 
appear in unbelievers are divine gifts. Nor do I set myself so much 
in opposition to common sense, as to contend that there was no 
difference between the justice, moderation, and equity of Titus and 
Trojan, and the rage, intemperance, and cruelty of Caligula, Nero, 
and Domitian; between the continence of Vespasian, and the obscene 
lusts of Tiberius; and (not to dwell on single virtues and vices) 
between the observance of law and justice, and the contempt of them. 
So great is the difference between justice and injustice, that it 
may be seen even where the former is only a lifeless image. For what 
order would remain in the world if we were to confound them? Hence 
this distinction between honorable and base actions God has not only 
engraven on the minds of each, but also often confirms in the 
administration of his providence. For we see how he visits those who 
cultivate virtue with many temporal blessings. Not that that 
external image of virtue in the least degree merits his favor, but 
he is pleased thus to show how much he delights in true 
righteousness, since he does not leave even the outward semblance of 
it to go unrewarded. Hence it follows, as we lately observed, that 
those virtues, or rather images of virtues, of whatever kind, are 
divine gifts, since there is nothing in any degree praiseworthy 
which proceeds not from him. 
    3. Still the observation of Augustine is true, that all who are 
strangers to the true God, however excellent they may be deemed on 
account of their virtues are more deserving of punishment than of 
reward, because, by the pollution of their heart, they contaminate 
the pure gifts of God, (August. contra Julia. Lib. 4.) For though 
they are instruments of God to preserve human society by justice, 
continence, friendship, temperance, fortitude, and prudence, yet 
they execute these good works of God in the worst manner, because 
they are kept from acting ill, not by a sincere love of goodness, 
but merely by ambition or self-love, or some other sinister 
affection. Seeing then that these actions are polluted as in their 
very source, by impurity of heart, they have no better title to be 
classed among virtues than vices, which impose upon us by their 
affinity or resemblance to virtue. In short, when we remember that 
the object at which righteousness always aims is the service of God, 
whatever is of a different tendency deservedly forfeits the name. 
Hence, as they have no regard to the end which the divine wisdom 
prescribes, although from the performance the act seems good, yet 
from the perverse motive it is sin. Augustine, therefore, concludes 
that all the Fabriciuses, the Scipios, and Catos, in their 
illustrious deeds, sinned in this, that, wanting the light of faith, 
they did not refer them to the proper end, and that, therefore, 
there was no true righteousness in them, because duties are 
estimated not by acts but by motives. 
    4. Besides, if it is true, as John says, that there is no life 
without the Son of God, (1 John 5: 12,) those who have no part in 
Christ, whoever they be, whatever they do or devise, are hastening 
on, during their whole career, to destruction and the judgment of 
eternal death. For this reason, Augustine says, "Our religion 
distinguishes the righteous from the wicked, by the law, not of 
works but of faith, without which works which seem good are 
converted into sins," (August. ad Bonif. Lib. 3, c. 5.) He finely 
expresses the same idea in another passage, when he compares the 
zeal of such men to those who in a race mistake the course, (August. 
Praef in Ps. 31.) He who is off the course, the more swiftly he runs 
is the more distant from the goal and, therefore, the more unhappy. 
It is better to limp in the way than run out of the way. Lastly, as 
there is no sanctification without union with Christ, it is evident 
that they are bad trees which are beautiful and fair to look upon, 
and may even produce fruit, sweet to the taste, but are still very 
far from good. Hence we easily perceive that every thing which man 
thinks, designs, and performs, before he is reconciled to God by 
faith, is cursed, and not only of no avail for justification, but 
merits certain damnation. And why do we talk of this as if it were 
doubtful, when it has already been proved by the testimony of an 
apostle, that "without faith it is impossible to please God?" (Heb. 
11: 6.) 
    5. But the proof will be still clearer if divine grace is set 
in opposition to the natural condition of man. For Scripture 
everywhere proclaims that God finds nothing in man to induce him to 
show kindness, but that he prevents him by free liberality. What can 
a dead man do to obtain life? But when he enlightens us with the 
knowledge of himself, he is said to raise us from the dead, and make 
us new creatures, (John 5: 25.) On this ground we see that the 
kindness of God toward us is often commended, especially by the 
apostle: "God," says he, "who is rich in mercy, for his great love 
wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened 
us together with Christ," (Eph. 2: 4.) In another passage, when 
treating of the general call of believers under the type of Abraham, 
he says, "God quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be 
not as though they were," (Rom. 4: 17.) If we are nothing, what, 
pray, can we do? Wherefore, in the Book of Job the Lord sternly 
represses all arrogance in these words, "Who has prevented me, that 
I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine," 
(Job 41: 11.) Paul explaining this sentence applies it in this way, 
- Let us not imagine that we bring to the Lord any thing but the 
mere disgrace of want and destitution, (Rom. 11: 35.) Wherefore, in 
the passage above quoted, to prove that we attain to the hope of 
salvation, not by works but only by grace, he affirms that "we are 
his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God 
has before ordained that we should walk in them," (Eph. 2: 10;) as 
if he had said, "Who of us can boast of having challenged God by his 
righteousness, seeing our first power to act aright is derived from 
regeneration? For, as we are formed by nature, sooner shall oil be 
extracted from stone than good works from us. It is truly strange 
how man, convicted of such ignominy, dares still to claim any thing 
as his own. Let us acknowledge, therefore, with that chosen vessel, 
that God "has called us with an holy calling, not according to our 
works, but according to his own purpose and grace;" and "that the 
kindness and love of God our Savior toward men appeared not by works 
of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he 
saved us;" that being justified by his grace, we might become the 
heirs of everlasting life, (2 Tim. 1: 9; Tit. 3: 4, 5.) By this 
confession we strip man of every particle of righteousness, until by 
mere mercy he is regenerated unto the hope of eternal life, since it 
is not true to say we are justified by grace, if works contribute in 
any degree to our justification. The apostle undoubtedly had not 
forgotten himself in declaring that justification is gratuitous, 
seeing he argues in another place, that if works are of any avail, 
"grace is no more grace," (Rom. 11: 6.) And what else does our Lord 
mean, when he declares, "I am not come to call the righteous, but 
sinners to repentance?" (Matth. 9: 13.) If sinners alone are 
admitted, why do we seek admission by means of fictitious 
    6. The thought is ever and anon recurring to me, that I am in 
danger of insulting the mercy of God by laboring with so much 
anxiety to maintain it, as if it were doubtful or obscure. Such, 
however, is our malignity in refusing to concede to God what belongs 
to him until most strongly urged that I am obliged to insist at 
greater length. But as Scripture is clear enough on this subject, I 
shall contend in its words rather than my own. Isaiah, after 
describing the universal destruction of the human race, finely 
subjoins the method of restitution. "The Lord saw it, and it 
displeased him that there was no judgment. And he saw that there was 
no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his 
arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained 
him" (Isaiah 59: 15, 16.) Where is our righteousness, if the prophet 
says truly, that no man in recovering salvation gives any assistance 
to the Lord? Thus another prophet, introducing the Lord as treating 
concerning the reconciliation of sinners, says, "I will betroth thee 
unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, 
and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies." "I will 
have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy," (Hosea 2: 19, 23.) 
If a covenant of this kind, evidently forming our first union with 
God, depends on mercy, there is no foundation left for our 
righteousness. And, indeed, I would fain know, from those who 
pretend that man meets God with some righteousness of works, whether 
they imagine there is any kind of righteousness save that which is 
acceptable to Him. If it were insane to think so, can any thing 
agreeable to God proceed from his enemies, whom he abominates with 
all their deeds? Truth declares that we are all the avowed and 
inveterate enemies of God until we are justified and admitted to his 
friendship, (Rom. 5: 6; Col. 1: 21.) If justification is the 
beginning of love, how can the righteousness of works precede it? 
Hence John, to put down the arrogant idea, carefully reminds us that 
God first loved us, (1 John 4: 10.) The Lord had formerly taught the 
same thing by his Prophet: "I will love them freely: for mine anger 
is turned away from him," (Hosea 14: 4.) Assuredly he is not 
influenced by works if his love turns to us spontaneously. But the 
rude and vulgar idea entertained is, that we did not merit the 
interposition of Christ for our redemption, but that we are aided by 
our works in obtaining possession of it. On the contrary, though we 
may be redeemed by Christ, still, until we are ingrafted into union 
with him by the calling of the Father, we are darkness, the heirs of 
death, and the enemies of God. For Paul declares that we are not 
purged and washed from our impurities by the blood of Christ until 
the Spirit accomplishes that cleansing in us, (1 Cor. 6: 11.) Peter, 
intending to say the same thing, declares that the sanctification of 
the Spirit avails "unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of 
Jesus Christ," (1 Pet. 1: 2.) If the sprinkling of the blood of 
Christ by the Spirit gives us purification, let us not think that, 
previous to this sprinkling, we are anything but sinners without 
Christ. Let us, therefore, hold it as certain, that the beginning of 
our salvation is as it were a resurrection from death unto life, 
because, when it is given us on behalf of Christ to believe on him, 
(Phil. 1: 29,) then only do we begin to pass from death unto life. 
    7. Under this head the second and third class of men noted in 
the above division is comprehended. Impurity of conscience proves 
that as yet neither of these classes is regenerated by the Spirit of 
God. And, again, their not being regenerated proves their want of 
faith. Whence it is clear that they are not yet reconciled, not yet 
justified, since it is only by faith that these blessings are 
obtained. What can sinners, alienated from God, produce save that 
which is abominable in his sight? Such, however, is the stupid 
confidence entertained by all the wicked, and especially by 
hypocrites, that however conscious that their whole heart teems with 
impurity, they yet deem any spurious works which they may perform as 
worthy of the approbation of God. Hence the pernicious consequence, 
that though convicted of a wicked and impious minds they cannot be 
induced to confess that they are devoid of righteousness. Even 
acknowledging themselves to be unrighteous, because they cannot deny 
it, they yet arrogate to themselves some degree of righteousness. 
This vanity the Lord admirably refutes by the prophet: "Ask now the 
priests concerning the law, saying, If one bear holy flesh in the 
skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, 
or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests 
answered and said, No. Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a 
dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests 
answered and said, It shall be unclean. Then answered Haggai, and 
said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the 
Lord; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer 
there is unclean," (Haggai 2: 11-14.) I wish these sentiments could 
obtain full credit with us, and be deeply fixed on our memories. For 
there is no man, however flagitous the whole tenor of his life may 
be, who will allow himself to be convinced of what the Lord here so 
clearly declares. As soon as any person, even the most wicked, has 
performed some one duty of the law, he hesitates not to impute it to 
himself for righteousness; but the Lord declares that no degree of 
holiness is thereby acquired, unless the heart has previously been 
made pure. And not contented with this, he declares that all the 
works performed by sinners are contaminated by impurity of heart. 
Let us cease then to give the name of righteousness to works which 
the mouth of the Lord condemns as polluted. How well is this shown 
by that elegant similitude? It might be objected, that what the Lord 
has commanded is inviolably holy. But he, on the contrary, replies, 
that it is not strange that those things which are sanctified in the 
law are contaminated by the impurity of the wicked, the unclean hand 
profaning that which is sacred by handling it. 
    8. The same argument is admirably followed out by Isaiah: 
"Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; 
the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away 
with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and 
your appointed feasts my foul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I 
am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands I will 
hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not 
hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put 
away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes," (Isaiah 1: 
13-16, compared with ch. 58) What is meant by the Lord thus 
nauseating the observance of his law? Nay, indeed, he does not 
repudiate any thing relating to the genuine observance of the law, 
the beginning of which is as he uniformly declares the sincere fear 
of his name. When this is wanting, all the services which are 
offered to him are not only nugatory but vile and abominable. Let 
hypocrites now go, and while keeping depravity wrapt up in their 
heart, study to lay God under obligation by their works. In this way 
they will only offend him more and more. "The sacrifice of the 
wicked is an abomination to the Lord; but the prayer of the upright 
is his delight," (Prov. 15: 8. ) We hold it, therefore, as 
indubitable, indeed it should be notorious to all tolerably verdant 
with Scriptures that the most splendid works performed by men, who 
are not yet truly sanctified, are so far from being righteousness in 
the sight of the Lord, that he regards them as sins. And, therefore 
it is taught with perfect truth, that no man procures favor with God 
by means of works, but that, on the contrary, works are not pleasing 
to God unless the person has previously found favor in his sight. 
Here we should carefully observe the order which scripture sets 
before us. Moses says that "the Lord had respect unto Abel and to 
his offering," (Gen. 4: 4.) Observe how he says that the Lord was 
propitious (had respect) to Abel, before he had respect to his 
works. Wherefore, purification of heart ought to precede, in order 
that the works performed by us may be graciously accepted by God: 
for the saying of Jeremiah is always true, "O Lord, are not thine 
eyes upon the truth?" (Jer. 5: 3.) Moreover the Holy Spirit declared 
by the mouth of Peter, that it is by faith alone the heart is 
purified, (Acts 15: 9.) Hence it is evident, that the primary 
foundation is in true and living faith. 
    9. Let us now see what kind of righteousness belongs to those 
persons whom we have placed in the fourth class. We admits that when 
God reconciles us to himself by the intervention of the 
righteousness of Christ, and bestowing upon us the free pardon of 
sins regards us as righteous, his goodness is at the same time 
conjoined with mercy, so that he dwells in us by means of his Holy 
Spirit, by whose agency the lusts of our flesh are every day more 
and more mortified while that we ourselves are sanctified; that is 
consecrated to the Lord for true purity of life, our hearts being 
trained to the obedience of the law. It thus becomes our leading 
desire to obey his will, and in all things advance his glory only. 
Still, however while we walk in the ways of the Lord, under the 
guidance of the Holy Spirit, lest we should become unduly elated, 
and forget ourselves, we have still remains of imperfection which 
serve to keep us humble: "There is no man that sinneth not," saith 
Scripture, (1 Kings 8: 46.) What righteousness then can men obtain 
by their works? First, I say, that the best thing which can be 
produced by them is always tainted and corrupted by the impurity of 
the flesh, and has, as it were, some mixture of dross in it. Let the 
holy servant of God, I say, select from the whole course of his life 
the action which he deems most excellent, and let him ponder it in 
all its parts; he will doubtless find in it something that savors of 
the rottenness of the flesh, since our alacrity in well-doing is 
never what it ought to be, but our course is always retarded by much 
weakness. Although we see theft the stains by which the works of the 
righteous are blemished, are by no means unapparent, still, granting 
that they are the minutest possible, will they give no offense to 
the eye of God, before which even the stars are not clean? We thus 
see, that even saints cannot perform one work which, if judged on 
its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation. 
    10. Even were it possible for us to perform works absolutely 
pure, yet one sin is sufficient to efface and extinguish all 
remembrance of former righteousness, as the prophet says, (Ezek. 18: 
24.) With this James agrees, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, 
and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all," (James 2: 10.) And 
since this mortal life is never entirely free from the taint of sin, 
whatever righteousness we could acquire would ever and anon be 
corrupted, overwhelmed, and destroyed, by subsequent sins, so that 
it could not stand the scrutiny of God, or be imputed to us for 
righteousness. In short, whenever we treat of the righteousness of 
works, we must look not to the legal work but to the command. 
Therefore, when righteousness is sought by the Law, it is in vain to 
produce one or two single works; we must show an uninterrupted 
obedience. God does not (as many foolishly imagine) impute that 
forgiveness of sins once for all, as righteousness; so that having 
obtained the pardon of our past life we may afterwards seek 
righteousness in the Law. This were only to mock and delude us by 
the entertainment of false hopes. For since perfection is altogether 
unattainable by us, so long as we are clothed with flesh, and the 
Law denounces death and judgment against all who have not yielded a 
perfect righteousness, there will always be ground to accuse and 
convict us unless the mercy of God interpose, and ever and anon 
absolve us by the constant remission of sins. Wherefore the 
statement which we set out is always true, If we are estimated by 
our own worthiness, in every thing that we think or devise, with all 
our studies and endeavors we deserve death and destruction. 
    11. We must strongly insist on these two things: That no 
believer ever performed one work which, if tested by the strict 
judgment of God, could escape condemnation; and, moreover, that were 
this granted to be possible, (though it is not,) yet the act being 
vitiated and polluted by the sins of which it is certain that the 
author of it is guilty, it is deprived of its merit. This is the 
cardinal point of the present discussion. There is no controversy 
between us and the sounder Schoolmen as to the beginning of 
justification. They admit that the sinner, freely delivered from 
condemnation, obtains justification, and that by forgiveness of 
sins; but under the term justification they comprehend the 
renovation by which the Spirit forms us anew to the obedience of the 
Law; and in describing the righteousness of the regenerate man, 
maintain that being once reconciled to God by means of Christ, he is 
afterwards deemed righteous by his good works, and is accepted in 
consideration of them. The Lord, on the contrary, declares, that he 
imputed Abraham's faith for righteousness, (Rom. 4: 3,) not at the 
time when he was still a worshipper of idols, but after he had been 
many years distinguished for holiness. Abraham had long served God 
with a pure heart, and performed that obedience of the Law which a 
mortal man is able to perform: yet his righteousness still consisted 
in faith. Hence we infer, according to the reasoning of Paul, that 
it was not of works. In like manners when the prophet says, "The 
just shall live by his faith," (Hab. 2: 4,) he is not speaking of 
the wicked and profane, whom the Lord justifies by converting them 
to the faith: his discourse is directed to believers, and life is 
promised to them by faith. Paul also removes every doubt, when in 
confirmation of this sentiment he quotes the words of David, 
"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is 
covered," (Ps. 32: 1.) It is certain that David is not speaking of 
the ungodly but of believers such as he himself was, because he was 
giving utterance to the feelings of his own mind. Therefore we must 
have this blessedness not once only, but must hold it fast during 
our whole lives. Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with 
God is not promulgated for one or two days, but is declared to be 
perpetual in the Church, (2 Cor. 5: 18, 19.) Hence believers have 
not even to the end of life any other righteousness than that which 
is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the 
Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death, viz., 
ablution, satisfaction, expiation; in short, perfect obedience, by 
which all our iniquities are covered. In the Epistle to the 
Ephesians, Paul says not that the beginning of salvation is of 
grace, but "by grace are ye saved," "not of works, lest any man 
should boast," (Eph. 2: 8, 9.) 
    12. The subterfuges by which the Schoolmen here endeavor to 
escape will not disentangle them. They say that good works are not 
of such intrinsic worth as to be sufficient to procure 
justification, but it is owing to accepting grace that they have 
this effect. Then because they are forced to confess that here the 
righteousness of works is always imperfect, they grant that so long 
as we are in this life we stand in need of the forgiveness of sin in 
order to supply the deficiency of works, but that the faults which 
are committed are compensated by works of supererogation. I answer, 
that the grace which they call accepting, is nothing else than the 
free goodness with which the Father embraces us in Christ when he 
clothes us with the innocence of Christ, and accepts it as ours, so 
that in consideration of it he regards us as holy, pure, and 
innocent. For the righteousness of Christ (as it alone is perfect, 
so it alone can stand the scrutiny of God) must be sisted for us, 
and as a surety represent us judicially. Provided with this 
righteousness, we constantly obtain the remission of sins through 
faith. Our imperfection and impurity, covered with this purity, are 
not imputed but are as it were buried, so as not to come under 
judgment until the hour arrive when the old man being destroyed, and 
plainly extinguished in us, the divine goodness shall receive us 
into beatific peace with the new Adam, there to await the day of the 
Lord, on which, being clothed with incorruptible bodies, we shall be 
translated to the glory of the heavenly kingdom. 
    13. If these things are so, it is certain that our works cannot 
in themselves make us agreeable and acceptable to God, and even 
cannot please God, except in so far as being covered with the 
righteousness of Christ we thereby please him and obtain forgiveness 
of sins. God has not promised life as the reward of certain works, 
but only declares, "which if a man do, he shall live in them," (Lev. 
18: 5,) denouncing the well-known curse against all who do not 
continue in all things that are written in the book of the Law to do 
them. In this way is completely refuted the fiction of a partial 
righteousness, the only righteousness acknowledged in heaven being 
the perfect observance of the Law. There is nothing more solid in 
their dogma of compensation by means of works of supererogation. For 
must they not always return to the proposition which has already 
been disproved, viz., that he who observes the Law in part is so far 
justified by works? This, which no man of sound judgment will 
concede to them, they are not ashamed to take for granted. The Lord 
having so often declared that he recognizes no justification by 
works unless they be works by which the Law is perfectly fulfilled, 
- how perverse is it, while we are devoid of such works, to endeavor 
to secure some ground of glorying to ourselves; that is not to yield 
it entirely to God, by boasting of some kind of fragments of works, 
and trying to supply the deficiency by other satisfactions? 
Satisfactions have already been so completely disposed of, that we 
ought never again even to dream of them. Here all I say is, that 
those who thus trifle with sin do not at all consider how execrable 
it is in the sight of God; if they did, they would assuredly 
understand, that all the righteousness of men collected into one 
heap would be inadequate to compensate for a single sin. For we see 
that by one sin man was so cast off and forsaken by God, that he at 
the same time lost all power of recovering salvation. He was, 
therefore, deprived of the power of giving satisfaction. Those who 
flatter themselves with this idea will never satisfy God, who cannot 
possibly accept or be pleased with anything that proceeds from his 
enemies. But all to whom he imputes sin are enemies, and, therefore, 
our sins must be covered and forgiven before the Lord has respect to 
any of our works. From this it follows, that the forgiveness of sins 
is gratuitous, and this forgiveness is wickedly insulted by those 
who introduce the idea of satisfaction. Let us, therefore, after the 
example of the Apostle, "forgetting those things which are behind, 
and reaching forth unto those things which are before," "press 
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus 
Christ," (Philip. 3: 13, 14.) 
    14. How can boasting in works of supererogation agree with the 
command given to us: "When ye shall have done all those things which 
are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done 
that which was our duty to do?" (Luke 17: 10.) To say or speak in 
the presence of God is not to feign or lie, but to declare what we 
hold as certain. Our Lord, therefore, enjoins us sincerely to feel 
and consider with ourselves that we do not perform gratuitous 
duties, but pay him service which is due. And truly. For the 
obligations of service under which we lie are so numerous that we 
cannot discharge them though all our thoughts and members were 
devoted to the observance of the Law; and, therefore, when he says 
"When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you," 
it is just as if he had said that all the righteousness of men would 
not amount to one of these things. Seeing, then, that every one is 
very far distant from that goal, how can we presume to boast of 
having accumulated more than is due? It cannot be objected that a 
person, though failing in some measure in what is necessary, may yet 
in intention go beyond what is necessary. For it must ever be held 
that in whatever pertains to the worship of God, or to charity, 
nothing can ever be thought of that is not comprehended under the 
Law. But if it is part of the Law, let us not boast of voluntary 
liberality in matters of necessary obligation. 
    15. On this subject, they ceaselessly allege the boast of Paul, 
that among the Corinthians he spontaneously renounced a right which, 
if he had otherwise chosen, he might have exercised, (1 Cor. 9: 15;) 
thus not only paying what he owed them in duty, but gratuitously 
bestowing upon them more than duty required. They ought to have 
attended to the reason there expressed, that his object was to avoid 
giving offense to the weak. For wicked and deceitful workmen 
employed this pretence of kindness that they might procure favor to 
their pernicious dogmas, and excite hatred against the Gospel, so 
that it was necessary for Paul either to peril the doctrine of 
Christ, or to thwart their schemes. Now, if it is a matter of 
indifference to a Christian man whether or not he cause a scandal 
when it is in his power to avoid it, then I admit that the Apostle 
performed a work of supererogation to his Master; but if the thing 
which he did was justly required in a prudent minister of the 
Gospel, then I say he did what he was bound to do. In short, even 
when no such reason appears, yet the saying of Chrysostom is always 
true, that everything which we have is held on the same condition as 
the private property of slaves; it is always due to our Master. 
Christ does not disguise this in the parable, for he asks in regard 
to the master who, on return from his labour, requires his servant 
to gird himself and serve him, "Does he thank that servant because 
he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not," (Luke 17: 
9.) But possibly the servant was more industrious than the master 
would have ventured to exact. Be it so: still he did nothing to 
which his condition as a servant did not bind him, because his 
utmost ability is his master's. I say nothing as to the kind of 
supererogations on which these men would plume themselves before 
God. They are frivolities which he never commanded, which he 
approves not, and will not accept when they come to give in their 
account. The only sense in which we admit works of supererogation is 
that expressed by the prophet, when he says, "Who has required this 
at your hand?" (Isaiah 1: 12.) But let them remember what is 
elsewhere said of them: "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which 
is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?" 
(Isaiah 55: 2.) It is, indeed, an easy matter for these indolent 
Rabbis to carry on such discussions sitting in their soft chairs 
under the shade, but when the Supreme Judge shall sit on his 
tribunal, all these blustering dogmas will behave to disappear. 
This, this I say, was the true question: not what we can fable and 
talk in schools and corners, but what ground of defense we can 
produce at his judgment-seat. 
    16. In this matter the minds of men must be specially guarded 
against two pestiferous dogmas, viz., against putting any confidence 
in the righteousness of works, or ascribing any glory to them. From 
all such confidence the Scriptures uniformly dissuade us when they 
declare that our righteousness is offensive in the sight of God 
unless it derives a sweet odour from the purity of Christ: that it 
can have no other effect than to excite the divine vengeance unless 
sustained by his indulgent mercy. Accordingly, the only thing they 
leave to us is to deprecate our Judge with that confession of David: 
"Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no 
living be justified," (Psalm 143: 2.) And when Job says, "If I be 
wicked, woe unto me: and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up 
my head," (Job 10: 15.) Although he refers to that spotless 
righteousness of God, before which even angels are not clean, he 
however shows, that when brought to the bar of Gods all that mortals 
can do is to stand dumb. He does not merely mean that he chooses 
rather to give way spontaneously than to risk a contest with the 
divine severity, but that he was not conscious of possessing any 
righteousness that would not fall the very first moment it was 
brought into the presence of God. Confidence being banished, all 
glorying must necessarily cease. For who can attribute any merit of 
righteousness to works, which instead of giving confidence, only 
make us tremble in the presence of God? We must, therefore, come to 
what Isaiah invites us: "In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be 
justified, and shall glory," (Isaiah 45: 25;) for it is most true, 
as he elsewhere says, that we are "the planting of the Lord, that he 
might be glorified," (Isaiah 61: 3.) Our soul, therefore, will not 
be duly purified until it ceases to have any confidence, or feel any 
exultation in works. Foolish men are puffed up to this false and 
lying confidence by the erroneous idea that the cause of their 
salvation is in works. 
    17. But if we attend to the four kinds of causes which 
philosophers bring under our view in regard to effects, we shall 
find that not one of them is applicable to works as a cause of 
salvation. The efficient cause of our eternal salvation the 
Scripture uniformly proclaims to be the mercy and free love of the 
heavenly Father towards us; the material cause to be Christ, with 
the obedience by which he purchased righteousness for us; and what 
can the formal or instrumental cause be but faith? John includes the 
three in one sentence when he says, "God so loved the world, that he 
gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should 
not perish but have everlasting life," (John 3: 16.) The Apostle, 
moreover, declares that the final cause is the demonstration of the 
divine righteousness and the praise of his goodness. There also he 
distinctly mentions the other three causes; for he thus speaks to 
the Romans: "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, 
being justified freely by his grace," (Rom. 3: 23, 24.) You have 
here the head and primary source - God has embraced us with free 
mercy. The next words are, "through the redemption that is in Christ 
Jesus;" this is as it were the material cause by which righteousness 
is procured for us. "Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation 
through faith." Faith is thus the instrumental cause by which 
righteousness is applied to us. He lastly subjoins the final cause 
when he says, "To declare at this time his righteousness; that he 
might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." 
And to show by the way that this righteousness consists in 
reconciliation, he says that Christ was "set forth to be a 
propitiation." Thus also, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, he tells 
us that we are received into the favor of God by mere mercy; that 
this is done by the intervention of Christ; that it is apprehended 
by faith; the end of all being that the glory of the divine goodness 
may be fully displayed. When we see that all the parts of our 
salvation thus exist without us, what ground can we have for 
glorying or confiding in our works? Neither as to the efficient nor 
the final cause can the most sworn enemies of divine grace raise any 
controversy with us unless they would abjure the whole of Scripture. 
In regard to the material or formal cause they make a gloss, as if 
they held that our works divide the merit with faith and the 
righteousness of Christ. But here also Scripture reclaims, simply 
affirming that Christ is both righteousness and life, and that the 
blessing of justification is possessed by faith alone. 
    18. When the saints repeatedly confirm and console themselves 
with the remembrance of their innocence and integrity, and sometimes 
even abstain not from proclaiming them, it is done in two ways: 
either because by comparing their good cause with the bad cause of 
the ungodly, they thence feel secure of victory, not so much from 
commendation of their own righteousness, as from the just and 
merited condemnation of their adversaries; or because, reviewing 
themselves before God, even without any comparison with others the 
purity of their conscience gives them some comfort and security. The 
former reason will afterwards be considered, (chap. 17, sec. 14, and 
chap. 20, sec. 10;) let us now briefly show, in regard to the 
latter, how it accords with what we have above said, that we can 
have no confidence in works before the bar of God, that we cannot 
glory in any opinion of their worth. The accordance lies here, that 
when the point considered is the constitution and foundation of 
salvation, believers, without paying any respect to works, direct 
their eyes to the goodness of God alone. Nor do they turn to it only 
in the first instance, as to the commencement of blessedness, but 
rest in it as the completion. Conscience being thus founded, built 
up, and established is farther established by the consideration of 
works, inasmuch as they are proofs of God dwelling and reigning in 
us. Since, then, this confidence in works has no place unless you 
have previously fixed your whole confidence on the mercy of God, it 
should not seem contrary to that on which it depends. Wherefore, 
when we exclude confidence in works, we merely mean, that the 
Christian mind must not turn back to the merit of works as an aid to 
salvation, but must dwell entirely on the free promise of 
justification. But we forbid no believer to confirm and support this 
faith by the signs of the divine favor towards him. For if when we 
call to mind the gifts which God has bestowed upon us, they are like 
rays of the divine countenance, by which we are enabled to behold 
the highest light of his goodness; much more is this the case with 
the gift of good works, which shows that we have received the Spirit 
of adoption. 
    19. When believers therefore feel their faith strengthened by a 
consciousness of integrity, and entertain sentiments of exultation, 
it is just because the fruits of their calling convince them that 
the Lord has admitted them to a place among his children. 
Accordingly, when Solomon says, "In the fear of the Lord is strong 
confidence," (Prov. 14: 26,) and when the saints sometimes beseech 
the Lord to hear them, because they walked before his face in 
simplicity and integrity, (Gen. 24: 10; 2 Kings 20: 3,) these 
expressions apply not to laying the foundation of a firm conscience, 
but are of force only when taken a posteriori. For there is no where 
such a fear of God as can give full security, and the saints are 
always conscious that any integrity which they may possess is 
mingled with many remains of the flesh. But as the fruits of 
regeneration furnish them with a proof of the Holy Spirit dwelling 
in them, experiencing God to be a Father in a matter of so much 
moment, they are strengthened in no slight degree to wait for his 
assistance in all their necessities. Even this they could not do, 
had they not previously perceived that the goodness of God is sealed 
to them by nothing but the certainty of the promise. Should they 
begin to estimate it by their good works, nothing will be weaker or 
more uncertain; works, when estimated by themselves, no less proving 
the divine displeasure by their imperfection, than his good-will by 
their incipient purity. In short, while proclaiming the mercies of 
the Lord, they never lose sight of his free favor, with all its 
"breadth and length, and depth and height," testified by Paul, (Eph. 
3: 18;) as if he had said, Whithersoever the believer turns, however 
loftily he climbs, however far and wide his thoughts extend, he must 
not go farther than the love of Christ, but must be wholly occupied 
in meditating upon it, as including in itself all dimensions. 
Accordingly, he declares that it "passeth knowledge," that "to know 
the love of Christ" is to "be filled with all the fulness of God," 
(Eph. 3: 19.) In another passage, where he glories that believers 
are victorious in every contest, he adds the reason, "through him 
that loved us," (Rom. 8: 37.) 
    20. We now see that believers have no such confidence in works 
as to attribute any merit to them, (since they regard them only as 
divine gifts, in which they recognize his goodness, and signs of 
calling, in which they discern their election;) nor such confidence 
as to derogate in any respect from the free righteousness of Christ; 
since on this it depends, and without this cannot subsist. The same 
thing is briefly but elegantly expressed by Augustine when he says, 
"I do not say to the Lord, Despise not the works of my hands; I have 
sought the Lord with my hands, and have not been deceived. But I 
commend not the works of my hands, for I fear that when thou 
examinest them thou wilt find more faults than merits. This only I 
say, this asks this desire, Despise not the works of thy hands. See 
in me thy work, not mine. If thou sees mine, thou condemnest; if 
thou sees thine own, thou crownest. Whatever good works I have are 
of thee," (August. in Ps. 137.) He gives two reasons for not 
venturing to boast of his works before God: first, that if he has 
any good works, he does not see in them any thing of his own; and, 
secondly, that these works are overwhelmed by a multitude of sins. 
Whence it is, that the conscience derives from them more fear and 
alarm than security. Therefore, the only way in which he desires God 
to look at any work which he may have done aright is, that he may 
therein see the grace of his calling, and perfect the work which he 
has begun. 
    21. Moreover, when Scripture intimates that the good works of 
believers are causes why the Lord does them good, we must still 
understand the meaning so as to hold unshaken what has previously 
been said, viz., that the efficient cause of our salvation is placed 
in the love of God the Father; the material cause in the obedience 
of the Son; the instrumental cause in the illumination of the 
Spirit, that is, in faith; and the final cause in the praise of the 
divine goodness. In this, however, there is nothing to prevent the 
Lord from embracing works as inferior causes. But how so? In this 
way: Those whom in mercy he has destined for the inheritance of 
eternal life, he, in his ordinary administration, introduces to the 
possession of it by means of good works. What precedes in the order 
of administration is called the cause of what follows. For this 
reason, he sometimes makes eternal life a consequent of works; not 
because it is to be ascribed to them, but because those whom he has 
elected he justifies, that he may at length glorify, (Rom. 8: 30;) 
he makes the prior grace to be a kind of cause, because it is a kind 
of step to that which follows. But whenever the true cause is to be 
assigned, he enjoins us not to take refuge in works, but to keep our 
thoughts entirely fixed on the mercy of God; "The wages of sin is 
death; but the gift of God is eternal life," (Rom. 6: 23.) Why, as 
he contrasts life with death, does he not also contrast 
righteousness with sin? Why, when setting down sin as the cause of 
death, does he not also set down righteousness as the cause of life? 
The antithesis which would otherwise be complete is somewhat marred 
by this variation; but the Apostle employed the comparison to 
express the fact, that death is due to the deserts of men, but that 
life was treasured up solely in the mercy of God. In short, by these 
expressions, the order rather than the cause is noted. The Lord 
adding grace to grace, takes occasion from a former to add a 
subsequent, so that he may omit no means of enriching his servants. 
Still, in following out his liberality, he would have us always look 
to free election as its source and beginning. For although he loves 
the gifts which he daily bestows upon us, inasmuch as they proceed 
from that fountain, still our duty is to hold fast by that 
gratuitous acceptance, which alone can support our souls; and so to 
connect the gifts of the Spirit, which he afterwards bestows, with 
their primary cause, as in no degree to detract from it. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 15

(continued in part 16...)

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