Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 18
(... continued from part 17)
Chapter 17. 
17. The promises of the Law and the Gospel reconciled. 
    In the following chapter, the arguments of Sophists, who would 
destroy or impair the doctrine of Justification by Faith, are 
reduced to two classes. The former is general, the latter special, 
and contains some arguments peculiar to itself. I. The first class, 
which is general, and in a manner contains the foundation of all the 
arguments, draws an argument from the promises of the law. This is 
considered from sec. 1-3. II. The second class following from the 
former, and containing special proofs. An argument drawn from the 
history of Cornelius explained, sec. 4, 5. III. A full exposition of 
those passages of Scripture which represent God as showing mercy and 
favor to the cultivators of righteousness, sec. 6. IV. A third 
argument from the passages which distinguish good works by the name 
of righteousness, and declare that men are justified by them, sec. 
7, 8. V. The adversaries of justification by faith placed in a 
dilemma. Their partial righteousness refuted, sec. 9, 10. VI. A 
fourth argument, setting the Apostle James in opposition to Paul, 
considered, sec. 11, 12. VII. Answer to a fifth argument, that, 
according to Paul, not the hearers but the doors of the law are 
justified, sec. 13. VIII. Consideration of a sixth argument, drawn 
from those passages in which believers boldly submit their 
righteousness to the judgment of God, and ask him to decide 
according to it, sec. 14. IX. Examination of the last argument, 
drawn from passages which ascribe righteousness and life to the ways 
of believers, sec. 15. 
1. Brief summary of Chapters 15 and 16. Why justification is denied 
    to works. Argument of opponents founded on the promises of the 
    law. The substance of this argument. Answer. Those who would be 
    justified before God must be exempted from the power of the 
    law. How this is done. 
2. Confirmation of the answer ab impossibili, and from the testimony 
    of an Apostle and of David. 
3. Answer to the objection, by showing why these promises were 
    given. Refutation of the sophistical distinction between the 
    intrinsic value of works, and their value er parts. 
4. Argument from the history of Cornelius. Answer, by distinguishing 
    between two kinds of acceptance. Former kind. Sophistical 
    objection refuted. 
5. Latter kind. Plain from this distinction that Cornelius was 
    accepted freely before his good works could be accepted. 
    Similar explanations to be given of the passage in which God is 
    represented as merciful and propitious to the cultivators of 
6. Exposition of these passages. Necessary to observe whether the 
    promise is legal or evangelical. The legal promise always made 
    under the condition that we "do," the evangelical under the 
    condition that we "believe." 
7. Argument from the passages which distinguish good works by the 
    name of righteousness, and declare that man is justified by 
    them. Answer to the former part of the argument respecting the 
    name. Why the works of the saints called works of 
    righteousness. Distinction to be observed. 
8. Answer to the second part of the argument, viz., that man is 
    justified by works. Works of no avail by themselves; we are 
    justified by faith only. This kind of righteousness defined. 
    Whence the value set on good works. 
9. Answer confirmed and fortified by a dilemma. 
10. In what sense the partial imperfect righteousness of believers 
    accepted. Conclusion of the refutation. 
11. Argument founded on the Epistle of James. First answer. One 
    Apostle cannot be opposed to another. Second answer. Third 
    answer, from the scope of James. A double paralogism in the 
    term Faith. In James the faith said not to justify is a mere 
    empty opinion; in Paul it is the instrument by which we 
    apprehend Christ our righteousness. 
12. Another paralogism on the word justify. Paul speaks of the 
    cause, James of the effects, of justification. Sum of the 
13. Argument founded on Rom. 2: 13. Answer, explaining the Apostles 
    meaning. Another argument, containing a reduction ad 
    impossibili. Why Paul used the argument. 
14. An argument founded on the passages in which believers 
    confidently appeal to their righteousness. Answer, founded on a 
    consideration of two circumstances. 1. They refer only to a 
    special cause. 2. They claim righteousness in comparison with 
    the wicked. 
16. Last argument from those passages which ascribe righteousness 
    and life to the ways of believers. Answer. This proceeds from 
    the paternal kindness of God. What meant by the perfection of 
    1. Let us now consider the other arguments which Satan by his 
satellites invents to destroy or impair the doctrine of 
Justification by Faith. I think we have already put it out of the 
power of our calumniators to treat us as if we were the enemies of 
good works - justification being denied to works not in order that 
no good works may be done or that those which are done may be denied 
to be good; but only that we may not trust or glory in them, or 
ascribe salvation to them. Our only confidence and boasting, our 
only anchor of salvation is, that Christ the Son of God is ours, and 
that we are in him sons of God and heirs of the heavenly kingdom, 
being called, not by our worth, but the kindness of God, to the hope 
of eternal blessedness. But since, as has been said, they assail us 
with other engines, let us now proceed to demolish them also. First, 
they recur to the legal promises which the Lord proclaimed to the 
observers of the law, and they ask us whether we hold them to be 
null or effectual. Since it were absurd and ridiculous to say they 
are null, they take it for granted that they have some efficacy. 
Hence they infer that we are not justified by faith only. For the 
Lord thus speaks: "Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to 
these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord thy God shall 
keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy 
fathers; and he will love thee, and bless thee and multiply thee," 
(Deut. 7: 12, 13.) Again, "If ye thoroughly amend your ways and your 
doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his 
neighbor; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the 
widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after 
other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this 
place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever," 
(Jer. 7: 5-7.) It were to no purpose to quote a thousand similar 
passages, which, as they are not different in meaning, are to be 
explained on the same principle. In substance, Moses declares that 
in the law is set down "a blessing and a curse," life and death, 
(Deut. 11: 26;) and hence they argue, either that that blessing is 
become inactive and unfruitful, or that justification is not by 
faith only. We have already shown, that if we cleave to the law we 
are devoid of every blessing, and have nothing but the curse 
denounced on all transgressors. The Lord does not promise any thing 
except to the perfect observers of the law; and none such are any 
where to be found. The results therefore is that the whole human 
race is convicted by the law, and exposed to the wrath and curse of 
God: to be saved from this they must escape from the power of the 
law, and be as it were brought out of bondage into freedom, - not 
that carnal freedom which indisposes us for the observance of the 
law, tends to licentiousness, and allows our passions to wanton 
unrestrained with loosened reins; but that spiritual freedom which 
consoles and raises up the alarmed and smitten conscience, 
proclaiming its freedom from the curse and condemnation under which 
it was formerly held bound. This freedom from subjection to the law, 
this manumission, if I may so express it, we obtain when by faith we 
apprehend the mercy of God in Christ, and are thereby assured of the 
pardon of sins, with a consciousness of which the law stung and 
tortured us. 
    2. For this reason, the promises offered in the law would all 
be null and ineffectual, did not God in his goodness send the gospel 
to our aid, since the condition on which they depend, and under 
which only they are to be performed, viz., the fulfillment of the 
law, will never be accomplished. Still, however the aid which the 
Lord gives consists not in leaving part of justification to be 
obtained by works, and in supplying part out of his indulgence, but 
in giving us Christ as in himself alone the fulfillment of 
righteousness. For the Apostle, after premising that he and the 
other Jews, aware that "a man is not justified by the works of the 
law," had "believed in Jesus Christ," adds as the reason, not that 
they might be assisted to make up the sum of righteousness by faith 
in Christ, but that they "might be justified by the faith of Christ, 
and not by the works of the law," (Gal. 2: 16.) If believers 
withdraw from the law to faith, that in the latter they may find the 
justification which they see is not in the former, they certainly 
disclaim justification by the law. Therefore, whose will, let him 
amplify the rewards which are said to await the observer of the law, 
provided he at the same time understand, that owing to our 
depravity, we derive no benefit from them until we have obtained 
another righteousness by faith. Thus David after making mention of 
the reward which the Lord has prepared for his servants, (Ps. 25 
almost throughout,) immediately descends to an acknowledgment of 
sins, by which the reward is made void. In Psalm 19, also, he loudly 
extols the benefits of the law; but immediately exclaims, "Who can 
understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults," (Ps. 19: 
12.) This passage perfectly accords with the former, when, after 
saying, "the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep 
his covenant and his testimonies," he adds, "For thy name's sake, O 
Lord, pardon mine iniquity: for it is great," (Ps. 25: 10, 11.) 
Thus, too, we ought to acknowledge that the favor of God is offered 
to us in the law, provided by our works we can deserve it; but that 
it never actually reaches us through any such desert. 
    3. What then? Were the promises given that they might vanish 
away without fruit? I lately declared that this is not my opinion. I 
say, indeed, that their efficacy does not extend to us so long as 
they have respect to the merit of works, and, therefore, that, 
considered in themselves, they are in some sense abolished. Hence 
the Apostle shows, that the celebrated promise, "Ye shall therefore 
keep my statutes and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live 
in them," (Levit. 18: 5; Ezek. 20: 10,) will, if we stop at it, be 
of no avail, and will profit us not a whit more than if it were not 
given, being inaccessible even to the holiest servants of God, who 
are all far from fulfilling the law, being encompassed with many 
infirmities. But when the gospel promises are substituted, promises 
which announce the free pardon of sins, the result is not only that 
our persons are accepted of God, but his favor also is shown to our 
works, and that not only in respect that the Lord is pleased with 
them, but also because he visits them with the blessings which were 
due by agreement to the observance of his law. I admit, therefore, 
that the works of the faithful are rewarded with the promises which 
God gave in his law to the cultivators of righteousness and 
holiness; but in this reward we should always attend to the cause 
which procures favor to works. This cause, then, appears to be 
threefold. First, God turning his eye away from the works of his 
servants which merit reproach more than praise, embraces them in 
Christ, and by the intervention of faith alone reconciles them to 
himself without the aid of works. Secondly the works not being 
estimated by their own worth, he, by his fatherly kindness and 
indulgence, honors so far as to give them some degree of value. 
Thirdly, he extends his pardon to them, not imputing the 
imperfection by which they are all polluted, and would deserve to be 
regarded as vices rather than virtues. Hence it appears how much 
Sophists were deluded in thinking they admirably escaped all 
absurdities when they said, that works are able to merit salvation, 
not from their intrinsic worth, but according to agreement, the Lord 
having, in his liberality, set this high value upon them. But, 
meanwhile, they observed not how far the works which they insisted 
on regarding as meritorious must be from fulfilling the condition of 
the promises, were they not preceded by a justification founded on 
faith alone, and on forgiveness of sins - a forgiveness necessary to 
cleanse even good works from their stains. Accordingly, of the three 
causes of divine liberality to which it is owing that good works are 
accepted, they attended only to one: the other two, though the 
principal causes, they suppressed. 
    4. They quote the saying of Peter as given by Luke in the Acts, 
"Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in 
every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is 
accepted with him" (Acts 10: 34, 35.) And hence they infer, as a 
thing which seems to them beyond a doubt, that if man by right 
conduct procures the favor of God, his obtaining salvation is not 
entirely the gift of God. Nay, that when God in his mercy assists 
the sinner, he is inclined to mercy by works. There is no way of 
reconciling the passages of Scripture, unless you observe that man's 
acceptance with God is twofold. As man is by nature, God finds 
nothing in him which can incline him to mercy, except merely big 
wretchedness. If it is clear then that man, when God first 
interposes for him, is naked and destitute of all good, and, on the 
other hand, loaded and filled with all kinds of evil, - for what 
quality, pray, shall we say that he is worthy of the heavenly 
kingdom? Where God thus clearly displays free mercy, have done with 
that empty imagination of merit. Another passage in the same book, 
viz., where Cornelius hears from the lips of an angel, "Thy prayer 
and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God," (Acts 10: 4,) 
is miserably wrested to prove that man is prepared by the study of 
good works to receive the favor of God. Cornelius being endued with 
true wisdom, in other words, with the fear of God, must have been 
enlightened by the Spirit of wisdom, and being an observer of 
righteousness, must have been sanctified by the same Spirit; 
righteousness being, as the Apostle testifies, one of the most 
certain fruits of the Spirit, (Gal. 5: 5.) Therefore, all those 
qualities by which he is said to have pleased God he owed to divine 
grace: so far was he from preparing himself by his own strength to 
receive it. Indeed, not a syllable of Scripture can be produced 
which does not accord with the doctrine, that the only reason why 
God receives man into his favor is, because he sees that he is in 
every respect lost when left to himself; lost, if he does not 
display his mercy in delivering him. We now see that in thus 
accepting, God looks not to the righteousness of the individual, but 
merely manifests the divine goodness towards miserable sinners, who 
are altogether undeserving of this great mercy. 
    5. But after the Lord has withdrawn the sinner from the abyss 
of perdition, and set him apart for himself by means of adoption, 
having begotten him again and formed him to newness of life, he 
embraces him as a new creature, and bestows the gifts of his Spirit. 
This is the acceptance to which Peter refers, and by which believers 
after their calling are approved by God even in respect of works; 
for the Lord cannot but love and delight in the good qualities which 
he produces in them by means of his Spirit. But we must always bear 
in mind, that the only way in which men are accepted of God in 
respect of works is, that whatever good works he has conferred upon 
those whom he admits to favor, he by an increase of liberality 
honors with his acceptance. For whence their good works, but just 
that the Lord having chosen them as vessels of honor, is pleased to 
adorn them with true purity? And how are their actions deemed good 
as if there was no deficiency in them, but just that their merciful 
Father indulgently pardons the spots and blemishes which adhere to 
them? In one word, the only meaning of acceptance in this passage 
is, that God accepts and takes pleasure in his children, in whom he 
sees the traces and lineaments of his own countenance. We have else 
here said, that regeneration is a renewal of the divine image in us. 
Since God, therefore, whenever he beholds his own face, justly loves 
it and holds it in honor, the life of believers, when formed to 
holiness and justice, is said, not without cause, to be pleasing to 
him. But because believers, while encompassed with mortal flesh, are 
still sinners, and their good works only begun savor of the 
corruption of the flesh, God cannot be propitious either to their 
persons or their works, unless he embraces them more in Christ than 
in themselves. In this way are we to understand the passages in 
which God declares that he is clement and merciful to the 
cultivators of righteousness. Moses said to the Israelites, "Know, 
therefore, that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which 
keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his 
commandments, to a thousand generations." These words afterwards 
became a common form of expression among the people. Thus Solomon in 
his prayer at the dedication says, "Lord God of Israel, there is no 
God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest 
covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all 
their heart," (1 Kings 8: 23.) The same words are repeated by 
Nehemiah, (Neh. 1: 5.) As the Lord in all covenants of mercy 
stipulates on his part for integrity and holiness of life in his 
servants, (Deut. 29: 18,) lest his goodness might be held in 
derision, or any one, puffed up with exultation in it, might speak 
flatteringly to his soul while walking in the depravity of his 
heart, so he is pleased that in this way those whom he admits to 
communion in the covenant should be kept to their duty. Still, 
however, the covenant was gratuitous at first, and such it ever 
remains. Accordingly, while David declares, "according to the 
cleanness of my hands has he recompensed me," yet does he not omit 
the fountain to which I have referred; "he delivered me, because he 
delighted in me," (2 Sam. 22: 20, 21.) In commending the goodness of 
his cause, he derogates in no respect from the free mercy which 
takes precedence of all the gifts of which it is the origin. 
    6. Here, by the way, it is of importance to observe how those 
forms of expression differ from legal promises. By legal promises, I 
mean not those which lie scattered in the books of Moses, (for there 
many Evangelical promises occur,) but those which properly belong to 
the legal dispensation. All such promises, by whatever name they may 
be called, are made under the condition that the reward is to be 
paid on the things commanded being done. But when it is said that 
the Lord keeps a covenant of mercy with those who love him, the 
words rather demonstrate what kind of servants those are who have 
sincerely entered into the covenant, than express the reason why the 
Lord blesses them. The nature of the demonstration is this: As the 
end for which God bestows upon us the gift of eternal life is, that 
he may be loved, feared, and worshipped by us, so the end of all the 
promises of mercy contained in Scripture justly is that we may 
reverence and serve their author. Therefore, whenever we hear that 
he does good to those that observe his law, let us remember that the 
sons of God are designated by the duty which they ought perpetually 
to observe, that his reason for adopting us is, that we may 
reverence him as a father. Hence, if we would not deprive ourselves 
of the privilege of adoption, we must always strive in the direction 
of our calling. On the other hand, however, let us remember, that 
the completion of the Divine mercy depends not on the works of 
believers, but that God himself fulfill the promise of salvation to 
those who by right conduct correspond to their calling, because he 
recognizes the true badges of sons in those only who are directed to 
good by his Spirit. To this we may refer what is said of the members 
of the Church, "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall 
dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh 
righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart," &c., (Ps. 15: 
1, 2.) Again, in Isaiah, "Who among us shall dwell with the 
devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? 
He that walketh righteously," &c., (Isa. 33: 14, 15.) For the thing 
described is not the strength with which believers can stand before 
the Lord, but the manner in which our most merciful Father 
introduces them into his fellowship, and defends and confirms them 
therein. For as he detests sin and loves righteousness, so those 
whom he unites to himself he purifies by his Spirit, that he may 
render them conformable to himself and to his kingdom. Therefore, if 
it be asked, What is the first cause which gives the saints free 
access to the kingdom of God, and a firm and permanent footing in 
it? the answer is easy. The Lord in his mercy once adopted and ever 
defends them. But if the question relates to the manner, we must 
descend to regeneration, and the fruits of it, as enumerated in the 
fifteenth Psalm. 
    7. There seems much more difficulty in those passages which 
distinguish good works by the name of righteousness, and declare 
that man is justified by them. The passages of the former class are 
very numerous, as when the observance of the commandments is termed 
justification or righteousness. Of the other classes we have a 
description in the words of Moses, "It shall be our righteousness, 
if we observe to do all these commandments," (Deut. 6: 25.) But if 
you object, that it is a legal promise, which, having an impossible 
condition annexed to it, proves nothing, there are other passages to 
which the same answer cannot be made; for instance, "If the man be 
poor," "thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goes 
down:" "and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the Lord thy 
God," (Deut. 24: 13.) Likewise the words of the prophet, "Then stood 
up Phinehas, and executed judgment: and so the plague was stayed. 
And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations 
for evermore," (Psal. 106: 30,, 31.) Accordingly the Pharisees of 
our day think they have here full scope for exultation. For, as we 
say, that when justification by faith is established, justification 
by works falls; they argue on the same principle, If there is a 
justification by works, it is false to say that we are justified by 
faith only. When I grant that the precepts of the law are termed 
righteousness, I do nothing strange: for they are so in reality. I 
must, however, inform the reader, that the Hebrew word "chukim" has 
been rendered by the Septuagint, not very appropriately, 
"dikaiomata", justifications, instead of edicts. But I readily give 
up any dispute as to the word. Nor do I deny that the Law of God 
contains a perfect righteousness. For although we are debtors to do 
all the things which it enjoins, and, therefore, even after a full 
obedience, are unprofitable servants; yet, as the Lord has deigned 
to give it the name of righteousness, it is not ours to take from it 
what he has given. We readily admit, therefore, that the perfect 
obedience of the law is righteousness, and the observance of any 
precept a part of righteousness, the whole substance of 
righteousness being contained in the remaining parts. But we deny 
that any such righteousness ever exists. Hence we discard the 
righteousness of the law, not as being in itself maimed and 
defective, but because of the weakness of our flesh it nowhere 
appears. But then Scripture does not merely call the precepts of the 
law righteousness, it also gives this name to the works of the 
saints: as when it states that Zacharias and his wife "were both 
righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances 
of the Lord blameless," (Luke 1: 6.) Surely when it thus speaks, it 
estimates works more according to the nature of the law than their 
own proper character. And here, again, I must repeat the observation 
which I lately made, that the law is not to be ascertained from a 
careless translation of the Greek interpreter. Still, as Luke chose 
not to make any change on the received version, I will not contend 
for this. The things contained in the law God enjoined upon man for 
righteousness but that righteousness we attain not unless by 
observing the whole law: every transgression whatever destroys it. 
While, therefore, the law commands nothing but righteousness, if we 
look to itself, every one of its precepts is righteousness: if we 
look to the men by whom they are performed, being transgressors in 
many things, they by no means merit the praise of righteousness for 
one work, and that a work which, through the imperfection adhering 
to it, is always in some respect vicious. 
    8. I come to the second class, (sec. 1, 7, ad init.,) in which 
the chief difficulty lies. Paul finds nothing stronger to prove 
justification by faith than that which is written of Abraham, he 
"believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness," (Rom. 
4: 3; Gal. 3: 6.) Therefore, when it is said that the achievement of 
Phinehas "was counted unto him for righteousness," (Psal. 106: 30, 
Al,) we may argue that what Paul contends for respecting faith 
applies also to works. Our opponents, accordingly, as if the point 
were proved, set it down that though we are not justified without 
faith, it is not by faith only; that our justification is completed 
by works. Here I beseech believers, as they know that the true 
standard of righteousness must be derived from Scripture alone, to 
consider with me seriously and religiously, how Scripture can be 
fairly reconciled with that view. Paul, knowing that justification 
by faith was the refuge of those who wanted righteousness of their 
own, confidently infers, that all who are justified by faith are 
excluded from the righteousness of works. But as it is clear that 
this justification is common to all believers, he with equal 
confidence infers that no man is justified by works; nay, more, that 
justification is without any help from works. But it is one thing to 
determine what power works have in themselves, and another to 
determine what place they are to hold after justification by faith 
has been established. If a price is to be put upon works according 
to their own worth, we hold that they are unfit to appear in the 
presence of God: that man, accordingly, has no works in which he can 
glory before God, and that hence, deprived of all aid from works, he 
is justified by faith alone. Justification, moreover, we thus 
define: The sinner being admitted into communion with Christ is, for 
his sake, reconciled to God; when purged by his blood he obtains the 
remission of sins, and clothed with righteousness, just as if it 
were his own, stands secure before the judgment-seat of heaven. 
Forgiveness of sins being previously given, the good works which 
follow have a value different from their merit, because whatever is 
imperfect in them is covered by the perfection of Christ, and all 
their blemishes and pollutions are wiped away by his purity, so as 
never to come under the cognizance of the divine tribunal. The guilt 
of all transgressions, by which men are prevented from offering God 
an acceptable service, being thus effaced, and the imperfection 
which is wont to sully even good works being buried, the good works 
which are done by believers are deemed righteous, or; which is the 
same thing, are imputed for righteousness. 
    9. Now, should any one state this to me as an objection to 
justification by faith, I would first ask him, Whether a man is 
deemed righteous for one holy work or two, while in all the other 
acts of his life lie is a transgressor of the law? This were, 
indeed, more than absurd. I would next ask, Whether he is deemed 
righteous on account of many good works if he is guilty of 
transgression in some one part? Even this he will not venture to 
maintain in opposition to the authority of the law, which 
pronounces, "Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this 
law to do them," (Deut. 27: 26.) I would go still farther and ask, 
Whether there be any work which may not justly be convicted of 
impurity or imperfection? How, then, will it appear to that eye 
before which even the heavens are not clean, and angels are 
chargeable with folly? (Job 4: 18.) Thus he will be forced to 
confess that no good work exists that is not defiled, both by 
contrary transgression and also by its own corruption, so that it 
cannot be honored as righteousness. But if it is certainly owing to 
justification by faith that works, otherwise impure, unclean, 
defective, unworthy of the sight, not to say of the love of God, are 
imputed for righteousness, why do they by boasting of this 
imputation aim at the destruction of that justification, but for 
which the boast were vain? Are they desirous of having a viper's 
birth? To this their ungodly language tends. They cannot deny that 
justification by faith is the beginning, the foundation, the cause, 
the subject, the substance, of works of righteousness, and yet they 
conclude that justification is not by faith, because good works are 
counted for righteousness. Let us have done then with this 
frivolity, and confess the fact as it stands; if any righteousness 
which works are supposed to possess depends on justification by 
faith, this doctrine is not only not impaired, but on the contrary 
confirmed, its power being thereby more brightly displayed. Nor let 
us suppose, that after free justification works are commended, as if 
they afterwards succeeded to the office of justifying, or shared the 
office with faith. For did not justification by faith always remain 
entire, the impurity of works would be disclosed. There is nothing 
absurd in the doctrine, that though man is justified by faith, he is 
himself not only not righteous, but the righteousness attributed to 
his works is beyond their own deserts. 
    10. In this way we can admit not only that there is a partial 
righteousness in works, (as our adversaries maintain,) but that they 
are approved by God as if they were absolutely perfect. If we 
remember on what foundation this is rested, every difficulty will be 
solved. The first time when a work begins to be acceptable is when 
it is received with pardon. And whence pardon, but just because God 
looks upon us and all that belongs to us as in Christ? Therefore, as 
we ourselves when ingrafted into Christ appear righteous before God, 
because our iniquities are covered with his innocence; so our works 
are, and are deemed righteous, because every thing otherwise 
defective in them being buried by the purity of Christ is not 
imputed. Thus we may justly say, that not only ourselves, but our 
works also, are justified by faith alone. Now, if that righteousness 
of works, whatever it be, depends on faith and free justification, 
and is produced by it, it ought to be included under it and, so to 
speak, made subordinate to it, as the effect to its cause; so far is 
it from being entitled to be set up to impair or destroy the 
doctrine of justification. Thus Paul, to prove that our blessedness 
depends not on our works, but on the mercy of God, makes special use 
of the words of David, "Blessed is he whose transgression is 
forgiven, whose sin is covered;" "Blessed is the man unto whom the 
Lord imputeth not iniquity." Should any one here obtrude the 
numberless passages in which blessedness seems to be attributed to 
works, as, "Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord;" "He that has 
mercy on the poor, happy is he;" "Blessed is the man that walketh 
not in the counsel of the ungodly," and "that endureth temptation;" 
"Blessed are they that keep judgment," that are "pure in heart," 
"meek," "merciful," &c., they cannot make out that Paul's doctrine 
is not true. For seeing that the qualities thus extolled never all 
so exist in man as to obtain for him the approbation of God, it 
follows, that man is always miserable until he is exempted from 
misery by the pardon of his sins. Since, then, all the kinds of 
blessedness extolled in the Scripture are vain so that man derives 
no benefit from them until he obtains blessedness by the forgiveness 
of sins, a forgiveness which makes way for them, it follows that 
this is not only the chief and highest, but the only blessedness, 
unless you are prepared to maintain that it is impaired by things 
which owe their entire existence to it. There is much less to 
trouble us in the name of righteous which is usually given to 
believers. I admit that they are so called from the holiness of 
their lives, but as they rather exert themselves in the study of 
righteousness than fulfill righteousness itself, any degree of it 
which they possess must yield to justification by faith, to which it 
is owing that it is what it is. 
    11. But they say that we have a still more serious business 
with James, who in express terms opposes us. For he asks, "Was not 
Abraham our father justified by works?" and adds "You see then how 
that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only," (James 2: 
21, 24.) What then? Will they engage Paul in a quarrel with James? 
If they hold James to be a servant of Christ, his sentiments must be 
understood as not dissenting from Christ speaking by the mouth of 
Paul. By the mouth of Paul the Spirit declares that Abraham obtained 
justification by faith, not by works; we also teach that all are 
justified by faith without the works of the law. By James the same 
Spirit declares that both Abraham's justification and ours consists 
of works, and not of faith only. It is certain that the Spirit 
cannot be at variance with himself. Where, then, will be the 
agreement? It is enough for our opponents, provided they can tear up 
that justification by faith which we regard as fixed by the deepest 
roots: to restore peace to the conscience is to them a matter of no 
great concern. Hence you may see, that though they indeed carp at 
the doctrine of justification by faith, they meanwhile point out no 
goal of righteousness at which the conscience may rest. Let them 
triumph then as they will, so long as the only victory they can 
boast of is, that they have deprived righteousness of all its 
certainty. This miserable victory they will indeed obtain when the 
light of truth is extinguished, and the Lord permits them to darken 
it with their lies. But wherever the truth of God stands they cannot 
prevail. I deny, then, that the passage of James which they are 
constantly holding up before us as if it were the shield of 
Achilles, gives them the slightest countenance. To make this plain, 
let us first attend to the scope of the Apostle, and then show 
wherein their hallucination consists. As at that time (and the evil 
has existed in the Church ever since) there were many who, while 
they gave manifest proof of their infidelity, by neglecting and 
omitting all the works peculiar to believers, ceased not falsely to 
glory in the name of faith, James here dissipates their vain 
confidence. His intention therefore is, not to derogate in any 
degree from the power of true faith, but to show how absurdly these 
triflers laid claim only to the empty name, and resting satisfied 
with it, felt secure in unrestrained indulgence in vice. This state 
of matters being understood, it will be easy to see where the error 
of our opponents lies. They fall into a double paralogism, the one 
in the term faith, the other in the term justifying. The Apostle, in 
giving the name of faith to an empty opinion altogether differing 
from true faith, makes a concession which derogates in no respect 
from his case. This he demonstrates at the outset by the words, 
"What does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he has faith, 
and have not works?" (James 2: 14.) He says not, "If a man have 
faith without works," but "if he say that he has." This becomes 
still clearer when a little after he derides this faith as worse 
than that of devils, and at last when he calls it "dead." You may 
easily ascertain his meaning by the explanation, "Thou believest 
that there is one God." Surely if a11 which is contained in that 
faith is a belief in the existence of God, there is no wonder that 
it does not justify. The denial of such a power to it cannot be 
supposed to derogate in any degree from Christian faith, which is of 
a very different description. For how does true faith justify unless 
by uniting us to Christ, so that being made one with him, we may be 
admitted to a participation in his righteousness? It does not 
justify because it forms an idea of the divine existence, but 
because it reclines with confidence on the divine mercy. 
    12. We have not made good our point until we dispose of the 
other paralogism: since James places a part of justification in 
works. If you would make James consistent with the other Scriptures 
and with himself, you must give the word justify, as used by him, a 
different meaning from what it has with Paul. In the sense of Paul 
we are said to be justified when the remembrance of our 
unrighteousness is obliterated and we are counted righteous. Had 
James had the same meaning it would have been absurd for him to 
quote the words of Moses, "Abraham believed God," &c. The context 
runs thus: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he 
had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith 
wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the 
Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it 
was imputed unto him for righteousness." If it is absurd to say that 
the effect was prior to its cause, either Moses falsely declares in 
that passage that Abraham's faith was imputed for righteousness or 
Abraham, by his obedience in offering up Isaac, did not merit 
righteousness. Before the existence of Ishmael, who was a grown 
youth at the birth of Isaac, Abraham was justified by his faith. How 
thee can we say that he obtained justification by an obedience which 
followed long after? Wherefore, either James erroneously inverts the 
proper order, (this it were impious to suppose,) or he meant not to 
say that he was justified, as if he deserved to be deemed just. What 
then? It appears certain that he is speaking of the manifestation, 
not of the imputation of righteousness, as if he had said, Those who 
are justified by true faith prove their justification by obedience 
and good works, not by a bare and imaginary semblance of faith. In 
one word, he is not discussing the mode of justification, but 
requiring that the justification of believers shall be operative. 
And as Paul contends that men are justified without the aid of 
works, so James will not allow any to be regarded as justified who 
are destitute of good works. Due attention to the scope will thus 
disentangle every doubt; for the error of our opponents lies chiefly 
in this, that they think James is defining the mode of 
justification, whereas his only object is to destroy the depraved 
security of those who vainly pretended faith as an excuse for their 
contempt of good works. Therefore, let them twist the words of James 
as they may, they will never extract out of them more than the two 
propositions: That an empty phantom of faith does not justify, and 
that the believer, not contented with such an imagination, manifests 
his justification by good works. 
    13. They gain nothing by quoting from Paul to the same effect, 
that "not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers 
of the law shall be justified," (Rom. 2: 13.) I am unwilling to 
evade the difficulty by the solution of Ambrose, that Paul spoke 
thus because faith in Christ is the fulfillment of the law. This I 
regard as a mere subterfuge, and one too for which there is no 
occasion, as the explanation is perfectly obvious. The Apostle's 
object is to suppress the absurd confidence of the Jews who gave out 
that they alone had a knowledge of the law, though at the very time 
they where its greatest despisers. That they might not plume 
themselves so much on a bare acquaintance with the law, he reminds 
them that when justification is sought by the law, the thing 
required is not the knowledge but the observance of it. We certainly 
mean not to dispute that the righteousness of the law consists in 
works, and not only so, but that justification consists in the 
dignity and merits of works. But this proves not that we are 
justified by works unless they can produce some one who has 
fulfilled the law. That Paul had no other meaning is abundantly 
obvious from the context. After charging Jews and Gentiles in common 
with unrighteousness, he descends to particulars and says, that "as 
many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law," 
referring to the Gentiles, and that "as many as have sinned in the 
law shall be judged by the law," referring to the Jews. Moreover, as 
they, winking at their transgressions, boasted merely of the law, he 
adds most appropriately, that the law was passed with the view of 
justifying not those who only heard it, but those only who obeyed 
it; as if he had said, Do you seek righteousness in the law? do not 
bring forward the mere hearing of it, which is in itself of little 
weight, but bring works by which you may show that the law has not 
been given to you in vain. Since in these they were all deficient, 
it followed that they had no ground of boasting in the law. Paul's 
meaning, therefore, rather leads to an opposite argument. The 
righteousness of the law consists in the perfection of works; but no 
man can boast of fulfilling the law by works, and, therefore, there 
is no righteousness by the law. 
    14. They now retake themselves to those passages in which 
believers boldly submit their righteousness to the judgment of God, 
and wish to be judged accordingly; as in the following passages: 
"Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to 
mine integrity that is in me." Again, "Hear the right, O Lord;" 
"Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; 
thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing." Again "The Lord 
regarded me according to my righteousness; according to the 
cleanness of my hands has he recompensed me. For I have kept the 
ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God." "I 
was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity." 
Again, "Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in mine integrity;" "I 
have not sat with vain persons; neither will I go in with 
dissemblers;" "Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with 
bloody men; in whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full 
of bribes. But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity." I have 
already spoken of the confidence which the saints seem to derive 
simply from works. The passages now quoted will not occasion much 
difficulty, if we attend to their "peristasis", their connection, or 
(as it is commonly called) special circumstances. These are of two 
kinds; for those who use them have no wish that their whole life 
should be brought to trial, so that they may be acquitted or 
condemned according to its tenor; all they wish is, that a decision 
should be given on the particular case; and even here the 
righteousness which they claim is not with reference to the divine 
perfection, but only by comparison with the wicked and profane. When 
the question relates to justification, the thing required is not 
that the individual have a good ground of acquittal in regard to 
some particular matter, but that his whole life be in accordance 
with righteousness. But when the saints implore the divine justice 
in vindication of their innocence, they do not present themselves as 
free from fault, and in every respect blameless but while placing 
their confidence of salvation in the divine goodness only, and 
trusting that he will vindicate his poor when they are afflicted 
contrary to justice and equity, they truly commit to him the cause 
in which the innocent are oppressed. And when they sist themselves 
with their adversaries at the tribunal of God, they pretend not to 
an innocence corresponding to the divine purity were inquiry 
strictly made, but knowing that in comparison of the malice, 
dishonesty, craft, and iniquity of their enemies, their sincerity 
justice, simplicity, and purity, are ascertained and approved by 
God, they dread not to call upon him to judge between them. Thus 
when David said to Saul, "The Lord render to every man his 
righteousness and his faithfulness," (1 Sam. 26: 23,) he meant not 
that the Lord should examine and reward every one according to his 
deserts, but he took the Lord to witness how great his innocence was 
in comparison of Saul's injustice. Paul, too, when he indulges in 
the boast, "Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, 
that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but 
by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and 
more abundantly to you-ward," (2 Cor. 1: 12,) means not to call for 
the scrutiny of God, but compelled by the calumnies of the wicked he 
appeals, in contradiction of all their slanders, to his faith and 
probity, which he knew that God had indulgently accepted. For we see 
how he elsewhere says, "I know nothing by myself; yet am I not 
hereby justified," (1 Cor. 4: 4;) in other words, he was aware that 
the divine judgment far transcended the blind estimate of man. 
Therefore, however believers may, in defending their integrity 
against the hypocrisy of the ungodly, appeal to God as their witness 
and judge, still when the question is with God alone, they all with 
one mouth exclaim, "If thou, Lord, should mark iniquities, 0 Lord, 
who shall stand?" Again, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant; 
for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." Distrusting 
their own words, they gladly exclaim, "Thy loving-kindness is better 
than life," (Ps. 130: 3; 143: 2; 63: 3.) 
    15. There are other passages not unlike those quoted above, at 
which some may still demur. Solomon says, "The just man walketh in 
his integrity," (Prov. 20: 7.) Again, "In the way of righteousness 
is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death," (Prov. 12: 
28.) For this reason Ezekiel says, He that "has walked in my 
statutes, and has kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he 
shall surely live," (Ezek. 18: 9, 21; 23: 15.) None of these 
declarations do we deny or obscure. But let one of the sons of Adam 
come forward with such integrity. If there is none, they must perish 
from the presence of God, or retake themselves to the asylum of 
mercy. Still we deny not that the integrity of believers, though 
partial and imperfect, is a step to immortality. How so, but just 
that the works of those whom the Lord has assumed into the covenant 
of grace, he tries not by their merit, but embraces with paternal 
indulgence. By this we understand not with the Schoolmen, that works 
derive their value from accepting grace. For their meaning is, that 
works otherwise unfit to obtain salvation in terms of law, are made 
fit for such a purpose by the divine acceptance. On the other hand, 
I maintain that these works being sullied both by other 
transgressions and by their own deficiencies, have no other value 
than this, that the Lord indulgently pardons them; in other words, 
that the righteousness which he bestows on man is gratuitous. Here 
they unseasonably obtrude those passages in which the Apostle prays 
for all perfection to believers, "To the end he may establish your 
hearts unblamable in holiness before God, even our Father," (1 
Thess. 3: 13, and elsewhere.) These words were strongly urged by the 
Celestines of old, in maintaining the perfection of holiness in the 
present life. To this we deem it sufficient briefly to reply with 
Augustine, that the goal to which all the pious ought to aspire is, 
to appear in the presence of God without spot and blemish; but as 
the course of the present life is at best nothing more than 
progress, we shall never reach the goal until we have laid aside the 
body of sin, and been completely united to the Lord. If any one 
choose to give the name of perfection to the saints, I shall not 
obstinately quarrel with him, provided he defines this perfection in 
the words of Augustine, "When we speak of the perfect virtue of the 
saints, part of this perfection consists in the recognition of our 
imperfection both in truth and in humility," (August. ad Bonif. lib. 
3, c. 7.) 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 18

(continued in part 19...)

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