Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 19
(... continued from part 18)
Chapter 18. 
18. The righteousness of works improperly inferred from rewards. 
    There are three divisions in this chapter, - I. A solution of 
two general objections which are urged in support of justification 
by works. First, That God will render to every one according to his 
works, sec. 1. Second, That the reward of works is called eternal, 
sec. 2-6. II. Answer to other special objections derived from the 
former, and a perversion of passages of Scripture, sec. 6-9. III. 
Refutation of the sophism that faith itself is called a work, and, 
therefore, justification by it is by works, sec. 10. 
1. Two general objections. The former solved and explained. What 
    meant by the term working. 
2. Solution of the second general objection. 1. Works not the cause 
    of salvation. This shown from the name and nature of 
    inheritance. 2. A striking example that the Lord rewards the 
    works of believers with blessings which he had promised before 
    the works were thought of. 
3. First reason why eternal life said to be the reward of works. 
    This confirmed by passages of Scripture. The concurrence of 
    Ambrose. A rule to be observed. Declarations of Christ and an 
4. Other four reasons. Holiness the way to the kingdom, not the 
    cause of obtaining it. Proposition of the Sophists. 
5. Objection that God crowns the works of his people. Three answers 
    from Augustine. A fourth from Scripture. 
6. First special objection, viz., that we are ordered to lay up 
    treasure in heaven. Answer, showing in what way this can be 
7. Second objection, viz., that the righteous enduring affliction 
    are said to be worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Answer. What 
    meant by righteousness. 
8. A third objection founded on three passages of Paul. Answer. 
9. Fourth objection founded on our Savior's words, "If ye would 
    enter into life, keep the commandments." Answer, giving an 
    exposition of the passage. 
10. Last objection, viz., that faith itself is called a work. Answer 
    - it is not as a work that faith justifies. 
    1. Let us now proceed to those passages which affirm that God 
will render to every one according to his deeds. Of this description 
are the following: "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of 
Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, 
according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad;" "Who will 
render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient 
continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and honor, and 
immortality, eternal life;" but "tribulation and anguish upon every 
soul of man that does evil;" "They that have done good, unto the 
resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the 
resurrection of damnation;" "Come, ye blessed of my Father;" "For I 
was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me 
drink," &c. To these we may add the passages which describe eternal 
life as the reward of works, such as the following: "The recompense 
of a man's hands shall be rendered unto him;" "He that feareth the 
commandment shall be rewarded;" "Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for 
great is your reward in heaven;" "Every man shall receive his own 
rewards according to his own labour." The passages in which it is 
said that God will reward every man according to his works are 
easily disposed of. For that mode of expression indicates not the 
cause but the order of sequence. Now, it is beyond a doubt that the 
steps by which the Lord in his mercy consummates our salvation are 
these, "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he 
called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also 
glorified" (Rom. 8: 30.) But though it is by mercy alone that God 
admits his people to life, yet as he leads them into possession of 
it by the course of good works, that he may complete his work in 
them in the order which he has destined, it is not strange that they 
are said to be crowned according to their works, since by these 
doubtless they are prepared for receiving the crown of immortality. 
Nay, for this reason they are aptly said to work out their own 
salvation, (Phil. 2: 12,) while by exerting themselves in good works 
they aspire to eternal life, just as they are elsewhere told to 
labour for the meat which perisheth not, (John 6: 27,) while they 
acquire life for themselves by believing in Christ; and yet it is 
immediately added, that this meat "the Son of man shall give unto 
you." Hence it appears, that working is not at all opposed to grace, 
but refers to pursuit, and, therefore, it follows not that believers 
are the authors of their own salvation, or that it is the result of 
their works. What then? The moment they are admitted to fellowship 
with Christ, by the knowledge of the gospel, and the illumination of 
the Holy Spirit, their eternal life is begun, and then He which has 
begun a good work in them "will perform it until the day of Jesus 
Christ," (Phil. 1: 6.) And it is performed when in righteousness and 
holiness they bear a resemblance to their heavenly Father, and prove 
that they are not degenerate sons. 
    2. There is nothing in the term reward to justify the inference 
that our works are the cause of salvation. First, let it be a fixed 
principle in our hearts, that the kingdom of heaven is not the hire 
of servants, but the inheritance of sons, (Eph. 1: 18;) an 
inheritance obtained by those only whom the Lord has adopted as 
sons, and obtained for no other cause than this adoption, "The son 
of the bond-women shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman," 
(Gal. 4: 30.) And hence in those very passages in which the Holy 
Spirit promises eternal glory as the reward of works, by expressly 
calling it an inheritance, he demonstrates that it comes to us from 
some other quarter. Thus Christ enumerates the works for which he 
bestows heaven as a recompense, while he is calling his elect to the 
possession of it, but he at the same time adds, that it is to be 
possessed by right of inheritance, (Matth. 25: 34.) Paul, too, 
encourages servants, while faithfully doing their duty, to hope for 
reward from the Lord, but adds, "of the inheritance," (Col. 3: 24.) 
You see how, as it were, in formal terms they carefully caution us 
to attribute eternal blessedness not to works, but to the adoption 
of God. Why, then, do they at the same time make mention of works? 
This question will be elucidated by an example from Scripture, (Gen. 
15: 5; 17: 1.) Before the birth of Isaac, Abraham had received 
promise of a seed in whom all the families of the earth should be 
blessed; the propagation of a seed that for number should equal the 
stars of heaven, and the sand of the sea, &c. Many years after he 
prepares, in obedience to a divine message, to sacrifice his son. 
Having done this act of obedience, he receives the promise, "By 
myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this 
thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in 
blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy 
seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the 
sea-shore, and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and 
in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because 
thou hast obeyed my voice," (Gen. 22: 16-18.) What is it we hear? 
Did Abraham by his obedience merit the blessing which had been 
promised him before the precept was given? Here assuredly we see 
without ambiguity that God rewards the works of believers with 
blessings which he had given them before the works were thought of, 
there still being no cause for the blessings which he bestows but 
his own mercy. 
    3. And yet the Lord does not act in vain, or delude us when he 
says, that he renders to works what he had freely given previous to 
works. As he would have us to be exercised in good works, while 
aspiring to the manifestation, or, if I may so speak, the fruition 
of the things which he has promised, and by means of them to hasten 
on to the blessed hope set before us in heaven, the fruit of the 
promises is justly ascribed to those things by which it is brought 
to maturity. Both things were elegantly expressed by the Apostle, 
when he told the Colossians to study the offices of charity, "for 
the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before 
in the word of the truth of the gospel," (Col. 1: 5.) For when he 
says that the gospel informed them of the hope which was treasured 
up for them in heaven, he declares that it depends on Christ alone, 
and not at all upon works. With this accords the saying of Peter, 
that believers "are kept by the power of God through faith unto 
salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time," (1 Pet. 1: 5.) 
When he says that they strive on account of it, he intimates that 
believers must continue running during the whole course of their 
lives in order that they may attain it. But to prevent us from 
supposing that the reward which is promised becomes a kind of merit, 
our Lord introduced a parable, in which he represented himself as a 
householder, who sent all the laborers whom he met to work in his 
vineyard, some at the first hour of the day, others at the second, 
others at the third, some even at the eleventh; at evening he paid 
them all alike. The interpretation of this parable is briefly and 
truly given by that ancient writer (whoever he was) who wrote the 
book De Vocatione Gentium, which goes under the name of Ambrose. I 
will give it in his words rather than my own: "By means of this 
comparison, our Lord represented the many various modes of calling 
as pertaining to grace alone, where those who were introduced into 
the vineyard at the eleventh hour and made equal to those who had 
toiled the whole day, doubtless represent the case of those whom the 
indulgence of God, to commend the excellence of grace, has rewarded 
in the decline of the day and the conclusion of life; not paying the 
price of labor, but shedding the riches of his goodness on those 
whom he chose without works; in order that even those who bore the 
heat of the day, and yet received no more than those who came last, 
may understand that they received a gift of grace, not the hire of 
works," (Lib. 1, cap. 5.) Lastly, it is also worthy of remark, that 
in those passages in which eternal life is called the reward of 
works, it is not taken simply for that communion which we have with 
God preparatory to a blessed immortality, when with paternal 
benevolence he embraces us in Christ, but for the possession, or, as 
it is called, the fruition of blessedness, as the very words of 
Christ express it, "in the world to come eternal life," (Mark 10: 
30,) and elsewhere, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the 
kingdom," &c., (Matth. 25: 34.) For this reasons also, Paul gives 
the name of adoption to that revelation of adoption which shall be 
made at the resurrection; and which adoption he afterwards 
interprets to mean, the redemption of our body, (Rom. 8: 23.) But, 
otherwise, as alienation from God is eternal death, - so when man is 
received into favor by God that he may enjoy communion with him and 
become one with him, he passes from death unto life. This is owing 
to adoption alone. Although after their manner they pertinaciously 
urge the term reward, we can always carry them back to the 
declaration of Peter, that eternal life is the reward of faith, (1 
Pet. 1: 9.) 
    4. Let us not suppose, then, that the Holy Spirit, by this 
promise, commends the dignity of our works, as if they were 
deserving of such a reward. For Scripture leaves us nothing of which 
we may glory in the sight of God. Nay, rather its whole object is to 
repress, humble, cast down, and completely crush our pride. But in 
this way help is given to our weakness, which would immediately give 
way were it not sustained by this expectation, and soothed by this 
comfort. First, let every man reflect for himself how hard it is not 
only to leave all things, but to leave and abjure one's self. And 
yet this is the training by which Christ initiates his disciples, 
that is, all the godly. Secondly, he thus keeps them all their 
lifetime under the discipline of the cross, lest they should allow 
their heart to long for or confide in present good. In short, his 
treatment is usually such, that wherever they turn their eyes, as 
far as this world extends, they see nothing before them but despair; 
and hence Paul says "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we 
are of all men most miserable," (1 Cor. 15: 19.) That they may not 
fail in these great straits, the Lord is present reminding them to 
lift their head higher and extend their view farther, that in him 
they may find a happiness which they see not in the world: to this 
happiness he gives the name of reward, hire, recompense, not as 
estimating the merit of works, but intimating that it is a 
compensation for their straits, sufferings, and affronts, &c. 
Wherefore, there is nothing to prevent us from calling eternal life 
a recompense after the example of Scripture, because in it the Lord 
brings his people from labour to quiet, from affliction to a 
prosperous and desirable condition, from sorrow to joy, from poverty 
to affluence, from ignominy to glory; in short, exchanges all the 
evils which they endured for blessings. Thus there will be no 
impropriety in considering holiness of life as the way, not indeed 
the way which gives access to the glory of the heavenly kingdom; but 
a way by which God conducts his elect to the manifestation of that 
kingdom, since his good pleasure is to glorify those whom he has 
sanctified, (Rom. 8: 30.) Only let us not imagine that merit and 
hire are correlative terms, a point on which the Sophists absurdly 
insist, from not attending to the end to which we have adverted. How 
preposterous is it when the Lord calls us to one end to look to 
another? Nothing is clearer than that a reward is promised to good 
works, in order to support the weakness of our flesh by some degree 
of comfort; but not to inflate our minds with vain glory. He, 
therefore, who from merit infers reward, or weighs works and reward 
in the same balance, errs very widely from the end which God has in 
    5. Accordingly, when the Scripture speaks of "a crown of 
righteousness which God the righteous Judge shall give" "at that 
day," (2 Tim. 4: 8,) I not only say with Augustine, "To whom could 
the righteous Judge give the crown if the merciful Father had not 
given grace, and how could there have been righteousness but for the 
precedence of grace which justified the ungodly? how could these be 
paid as things due were not things not due previously given?" 
(Angust. ad Valent. de Grat. et Lib. Art.;) but I also add, how 
could he impute righteousness to our works, did not his indulgence 
hide the unrighteousness that is in them? How could he deem them 
worthy of reward, did he not with boundless goodness destroy what is 
unworthy in them? Augustine is wont to give the name of grace to 
eternal life, because, while it is the recompense of works, it is 
bestowed by the gratuitous gifts of God. But Scripture humbles us 
more, and at the same time elevates us. For besides forbidding us to 
glory in works, because they are the gratuitous gifts of God, it 
tells us that they are always defiled by some degrees of impurity, 
so that they cannot satisfy God when they are tested by the standard 
of his justice; but that lest our activity should be destroyed, they 
please merely by pardon. But though Augustine speaks somewhat 
differently from us, it is plain from his words that the difference 
is more apparent than real. After drawing a contrast between two 
individuals the one with a life holy and perfect almost to a 
miracle; the other honest indeed, and of pure morals, yet not so 
perfect as not to leave much room for desiring better, he at length 
infers, "He who seems inferior in conduct, yet on account of the 
true faith in God by which he lives, (Hab. 2: 4,) and in conformity 
to which he accuses himself in all his faults, praises God in all 
his good works, takes shame to himself, and ascribes glory to God, 
from whom he receives both forgiveness for his sins, and the love of 
well-doing, the moment he is set free from this life is translated 
into the society of Christ. Why, but just on account of his faith? 
For though it saves no man without works, (such faith being 
reprobate and not working by love,) yet by means of it sins are 
forgiven; for the just lives by faith: without it works which seem 
good are converted into sins," (August. ad Bonifac., Lib. 3, c. 5.) 
Here he not obscurely acknowledges what we so strongly maintains 
that the righteousness of good works depends on their being approved 
by God in the way of pardon. 
    6. In a sense similar to the above passages our opponents quote 
the following: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of 
unrighteousness; that when ye fail, they may receive you into 
everlasting habitations," (Luke 16: 9.) "Charge them that are rich 
in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain 
riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to 
enjoy: that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to 
distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for 
themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may 
lay hold on eternal life," (1 Tim. 6: 17-19.) For the good works 
which we enjoy in eternal blessedness are compared to riches. I 
answer, that we shall never attain to the true knowledge of these 
passages unless we attend to the scope of the Spirit in uttering 
them. If it is true, as Christ says, "Where your treasure is, there 
will your heart be also," (Matth. 6: 21,) then, as the children of 
the world are intent on providing those things which form the 
delight of the present life, so it is the duty of believers, after 
they have learned that this life will shortly pass away like a 
dream, to take care that those things which they would truly enjoy 
be transmitted thither where their entire life is to be spent. We 
must, therefore, do like those who begin to remove to any place 
where they mean to fix their abode. As they send forward their 
effects, and grudge not to want them for a season, because they 
think the more they have in their future residence, the happier they 
are; so, if we think that heaven is our country, we should send our 
wealth thither rather than retain it here, where on our sudden 
departure it will be lost to us. But how shall we transmit it? By 
contributing to the necessities of the poor, the Lord imputing to 
himself whatever is given to them. Hence that excellent promise, "He 
that has pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord," (Prov. 19: 17; 
Matth. 25: 40;) and again, "He which soweth bountifully shall reap 
also bountifully," (2 Cor. 9: 6.) What we give to our brethren in 
the exercise of charity is a deposit with the Lord, who, as a 
faithful depositary, will ultimately restore it with abundant 
interest. Are our duties, then, of such value with God that they are 
as a kind of treasure placed in his hand? Who can hesitate to say so 
when Scripture so often and so plainly attests it? But if any one 
would leap from the mere kindness of God to the merit of works, his 
error will receive no support from these passages. For all you can 
properly infer from them is the inclination on the part of God to 
treat us with indulgence. For, in order to animate us in well-doing, 
he allows no act of obedience, however unworthy of his eye, to pass 
    7. But they insist more strongly on the words of the apostle 
when, in consoling the Thessalonians under their tribulations, he 
tells them that these were sent, "that ye may be counted worthy of 
the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer; seeing it is a 
righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that 
trouble you; and to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the 
Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels," (2 
Thess. 1: 6-7.) The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, "God 
is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye 
have showed towards his name, in that ye have ministered to the 
saints, and do minister," (Heb. 6: 10.) To the former passage I 
answer, that the worthiness spoken of is not that of merit, but as 
God the Father would have those whom he has chosen for sons to be 
conformed to Christ the first born, and as it behaved him first to 
suffer, and then to enter into his glory, so we also, through much 
tribulation, enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, while we suffer 
tribulation for the name of Christ, we in a manner receive the marks 
with which God is wont to stamp the sheep of his flock, (Gal. 6: 
17.) Hence we are counted worthy of the kingdom of God, because we 
bear in our body the marks of our Lord and Master, these being the 
insignia of the children of God. In this sense are we to understand 
the passages: "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the 
Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in 
our body," (2 Cor. 4: 10.) "That I may know him and the power of his 
resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made 
conformable unto his death," (Phil. 3: 10.) The reason which is 
subjoined is intended not to prove any merit, but to confirm our 
hope of the kingdom of God; as if he had said, As it is befitting 
the just judgment of God to take vengeance on your enemies for the 
tribulation which they have brought upon you, so it is also 
befitting to give you release and rest from these tribulations. The 
other passage, which speaks as if it were becoming the justice of 
God not to overlook the services of his people, and almost 
insinuates that it were unjust to forget them, is to be thus 
explained: God, to arouse us from sloth, assures us that every 
labour which we undertake for the glory of his name shall not be in 
vain. Let us always remember that this promise, like all other 
promises, will be of no avail unless it is preceded by the free 
covenant of mercy, on which the whole certainty of our salvation 
depends. Trusting to it, however, we ought to feel secure that 
however unworthy our services, the liberality of God will not allow 
them to pass unrewarded. To confirm us in this expectation, the 
Apostle declares that God is not unrighteous; but will act 
consistently with the promise once given. Righteousness, therefore, 
refers rather to the truth of the divine promise than to the equity 
of paying what is due. In this sense there is a celebrated saying of 
Augustine, which, as containing a memorable sentiment, that holy man 
declined not repeatedly to employ, and which I think not unworthy of 
being constantly remembered: "Faithful is the Lord, who has made 
himself our debtor, not by receiving any thing from us, but by 
promising us all things," (August. in Ps. 32, 109, et alibi.) 
    8. Our opponents also adduce the following passages from Paul: 
"Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have 
not charity, I am nothing," (1 Cor. 13: 2.) Again, "Now abideth 
faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is 
charity," (1 Cor. 13: 13.) "Above all these things put on charity, 
which is the bond of perfectness," (Col. 3: 14.) From the two first 
passages our Pharisees contend that we are justified by charity 
rather than by faith, charity being, as they say, the better virtue. 
This mode of arguing is easily disposed of I have elsewhere shown 
that what is said in the first passage refers not to true faith. In 
the second passage we admit that charity is said to be greater than 
true faith, but not because charity is more meritorious, but because 
it is more fruitful, because it is of wider extent, of more general 
service, and always flourishes, whereas the use of faith is only for 
a time. If we look to excellence, the love of God undoubtedly holds 
the first place. Of it, however, Paul does not here speak; for the 
only thing he insists on is, that we should by mutual charity edify 
one another in the Lord. But let us suppose that charity is in every 
respect superior to faith, what man of sound judgment, nay, what man 
with any soundness in his brain, would argue that it therefore does 
more to justify? The power of justifying which belongs to faith 
consists not in its worth as a work. Our justification depends 
entirely on the mercy of God and the merits of Christ: when faith 
apprehends these, it is said to justify. Now, if you ask our 
opponents in what sense they ascribe justification to charity, they 
will answer, Being a duty acceptable to God, righteousness is in 
respect of its merit imputed to us by the acceptance of the divine 
goodness. Here you see how beautifully the argument proceeds. We say 
that faith justifies not because it merits justification for us by 
its own worth, but because it is an instrument by which we freely 
obtain the righteousness of Christ. They overlooking the mercy of 
God, and passing by Christ, the sum of righteousness, maintain that 
we are justified by charity as being superior to faith; just as if 
one were to maintain that a king is fitter to make a shoe than a 
shoemaker, because the king is infinitely the superior of the two. 
This one syllogism is ample proof that all the schools of Sorbonne 
have never had the slightest apprehension of what is meant by 
justification by faith. Should any disputant here interpose, and ask 
why we give different meanings to the term faith as used by Paul in 
passages so near each other, I can easily show that I have not 
slight grounds for so doing. For while those gifts which Paul 
enumerates are in some degree subordinate to faith and hope, because 
they relate to the knowledge of God, he by way of summary 
comprehends them all under the name of faith and hope; as if he had 
said, Prophecy and tongues, and the gift of interpreting, and 
knowledge, are all designed to lead us to the knowledge of God. But 
in this life it is only by faith and hope that we acknowledge God. 
Therefore, when I name faith and hope, I at the same time comprehend 
the whole. "Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;" that is, 
how great soever the number of the gifts, they are all to be 
referred to them; but "the greatest of these is charity." From the 
third passage they infer, If charity is the bond of perfection, it 
must be the bond of righteousness, which is nothing else than 
perfection. First, without objecting that the name of perfection is 
here given by Paul to proper union among the members of a rightly 
constituted church, and admitting that by charity we are perfected 
before God, what new result do they gain by it? I will always object 
in reply, that we never attain to that perfection unless we fulfill 
all the parts of charity; and will thence infer, that as all are 
most remote from such fulfillment, the hope of perfection is 
    9. I am unwilling to discuss all the things which the foolish 
Sorbonnists have rashly laid hold of in Scripture as it chanced to 
come in their way, and throw out against us. Some of them are so 
ridiculous, that I cannot mention them without laying myself open to 
a charge of trifling. I will, therefore, conclude with an exposition 
of one of our Savior's expressions with which they are wondrously 
pleased. When the lawyer asked him, "Good Master, what good thing 
shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" he answers, "If thou wilt 
enter into life, keep the commandments," (Matth. 19: 16, 17.) What 
more (they ask) would we have, when the very author of grace bids us 
acquire the kingdom of heaven by the observance of the commandments? 
As if it were not plain that Christ adapted his answers to the 
characters of those whom he addressed. Here he is questioned by a 
Doctor of the Law as to the means of obtaining eternal life; and the 
question is not put simply, but is, What can men do to attain it? 
Both the character of the speaker and his question induced our Lord 
to give this answer. Imbued with a persuasion of legal 
righteousness, the lawyer had a blind confidence in works. Then all 
he asked was, what are the works of righteousness by which salvation 
is obtained? Justly, therefore, is he referred to the law, in which 
there is a perfect mirror of righteousness. We also distinctly 
declare, that if life is sought in works, the commandments are to be 
observed. And the knowledge of this doctrine is necessary to 
Christians; for how should they retake themselves to Christ, unless 
they perceived that they had fallen from the path of life over the 
precipice of death? Or how could they understand how far they have 
wandered from the way of life unless they previously understand what 
that way is? Then only do they feel that the asylum of safety is in 
Christ when they see how much their conduct is at variance with the 
divine righteousness, which consists in the observance of the law. 
The sum of the whole is this, If salvation is sought in works, we 
must keep the commandments, by which we are instructed in perfect 
righteousness. But we cannot remain here unless we would stop short 
in the middle of our course; for none of us is able to keep the 
commandments. Being thus excluded from the righteousness of the law, 
we must retake ourselves to another remedy, viz., to the faith of 
Christ. Wherefore, as a teacher of the law, whom our Lord knew to be 
puffed up with a vain confidence in works, was here directed by him 
to the law, that he might learn he was a sinner exposed to the 
fearful sentence of eternal death; so others, who were already 
humbled with this knowledge, he elsewhere solaces with the promise 
of grace, without making any mention of the law. "Come unto me, all 
ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "Take 
my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: 
and ye shall find rest unto your souls," (Matth. 11: 28, 29.) 
    10. At length, after they have wearied themselves with 
perverting Scripture, they have recourse to subtleties and sophisms. 
One cavil is, that faith is somewhere called a work, (John 6: 29;) 
hence they infer that we are in error in opposing faith to works; as 
if faith, regarded as obedience to the divine will, could by its own 
merit procure our justification, and did not rather, by embracing 
the mercy of God, thereby seal upon our hearts the righteousness of 
Christ, which is offered to us in the preaching of the gospel. My 
readers will pardon me if I stay not to dispose of such absurdities; 
their own weakness, without external assault, is sufficient to 
destroy them. One objection, however, which has some semblance of 
reason, it will be proper to dispose of in passing, lest it give any 
trouble to those less experienced. As common sense dictates that 
contraries must be tried by the same rule, and as each sin is 
charged against us as unrighteousness, so it is right (say our 
opponents) that each good work should receive the praise of 
righteousness. The answer which some give, that the condemnation of 
men proceeds on unbelief alone, and not on particular sins does not 
satisfy me. I agree with them, indeed, that infidelity is the 
fountain and root of all evil; for it is the first act of revolt 
from God, and is afterwards followed by particular transgressions of 
the law. But as they seem to hold, that in estimating righteousness 
and unrighteousness, the same rule is to be applied to good and bad 
works, in this I dissent from them. The righteousness of works 
consists in perfect obedience to the law. Hence you cannot be 
justified by works unless you follow this straight line (if I may so 
call it) during the whole course of your life. The moment you 
decline from it you have fallen into unrighteousness. Hence it 
appears, that righteousness is not obtained by a few works, but by 
an indefatigable and inflexible observance of the divine will. But 
the rule with regard to unrighteousness is very different. The 
adulterer or the thief is by one act guilty of death, because he 
offends against the majesty of God. The blunder of these arguers of 
ours lies here: they attend not to the words of James, "Whosoever 
shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty 
of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not 
kill," &c., (James 2: 10, 11.) Therefore, it should not seem absurd 
when we say that death is the just recompense of every sin, because 
each sin merits the just indignation and vengeance of God. But you 
reason absurdly if you infer the converse, that one good work will 
reconcile a man to God notwithstanding of his meriting wrath by many 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 19

(continued in part 20...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvin3-19.txt