by John Calvin
THE doctrine of man’s Justification would be easily explained, did not the false opinions by which the minds of men are preoccupied, spread darkness over the clear light. The principal cause of obscurity, however, is, that we are with the greatest difficulty induced to leave the glory of righteousness entire to God alone. For we always desire to be somewhat, and such is our folly, we even think we are. As this pride was innate in man from the first, so it opened a door for Satan to imbue them with many impious and vicious conceits with which we have this day to contend. And in all ages there have been sophists exercising their pen in extolling human righteousness, as they knew it would be popular. When by the singular kindness of God, the impiety of Pelagius was repudiated with the common consent of the ancient Church, they no longer dared to talk so pertly of human merit. They, however, devised a middle way, by which they might not give God the whole in justification, and yet give something.
This is the moderation which the venerable Fathers adopt to correct the errors on Justification, which, they say, have arisen in our day. Such indeed is their mode of prefacing, that at the outset they breathe nothing but Christ; but when they come to the subject, far are they from leaving him what is his own. Nay, their definition at length contains nothing else than the trite dogma of the schools: that men are justified partly by the grace of God and partly by their own works; thus only showing themselves somewhat more modest than Pelagius was.
This will easily be shown to be the fact. For under the second head, where they treat of Original Sin, they declare that free-will, though impaired in its powers and biased, is not however extinguished. I will not dispute about a name, but since they contend that liberty has by no means been extinguished, they certainly understand that the human will has still some power left to choose good. For where death is not, there is at least some portion of life. They themselves remove all ambiguity when they call it impaired and biased. Therefore, if we believe them, Original Sin has weakened us, so that the defect of our will is not pravity but weakness. For if the will were wholly depraved, its health would not only be impaired but lost until it were renewed. The latter, however, is uniformly the doctrine of Scripture. To omit innumerable passages where Paul discourses on the nature of the human race, he does not charge free-will with weakness, but declares all men to be useless, alienated from God, and enslaved to the tyranny of sin; so much so, that he says they are unfit to think a good thought. (Romans 3:12; 2 Corinthians 3:5.) We do not however deny, that a will, though bad, remains in man. For the fall of Adam did not take away the will, but made it a slave where it was free. It is not only prone to sin, but is made subject to sin. Of this subject we shall again speak by and bye.
The third and fourth heads I do not touch. Towards the end of the fifth head they affirm that no transference to a state of grace takes place without Baptism, or a wish for it. Would it not have been better to say, that by the word and sacraments Christ is communicated, or, if they prefer so to speak, applied to us, than to make mention of baptism alone? But they have been pleased to exclude infants from the kingdom of God, who have been snatched away before they could be offered for baptism. As if nothing were meant when it is said that the children of believers are born holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14.) Nay, on what ground do we admit them to baptism unless that they are the heirs of promise? For did not the promise of life apply to them it would be a profanation of baptism to give it to them. But if God has adopted them into his kingdom, how great injustice is done to his promise, as if it were not of itself sufficient for their salvation! A contrary opinion, I admit, has prevailed, but it is unjust to bury the truth of God under any human error, however ancient. The salvation of infants is included in the promise in which God declares to believers that he will be a God to them and to their seed. In this way he declared, that those deriving descent from Abraham were born to him. (Genesis 17:7) In virtue of this promise they are admitted to baptism, because they are considered members of the Church. Their salvation, therefore, has not its commencement in baptism, but being already founded on the word, is sealed by baptism. But these definition-mongers thrust forward the passage, “Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit.” (John 3:3.) First, assuming with them that water means baptism, who will concede to them that it moreover means a wish to receive baptism? But were I to say that the passage has a different meaning, and were I following some ancient expositors to take the term water for mortification, they would not, I presume, be so bitter as therefore to judge me heretical. I interpret it, however, as added by way of epithet to express the nature and power of the Spirit. Nor can they make out that water here means baptism, any more than that fire means some sacrament, when it is said, “In the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11.) See on what grounds they arrogate to themselves supreme authority in interpreting Scripture!
In the sixth head, they assert that we are prepared by the grace of God for receiving Justification, but they assign to this grace the office of exciting and assisting, we ourselves freely co-operating; in other words, we are here treated with the inanities which the sophists are wont to babble in the schools. But I ask, Is it the same thing to excite a will, and aid it when in itself weak, as to form a new heart in man, so as to make him willing? Let them answer, then, whether creating a new heart, and making a heart of flesh out of a heart of stone, (both of which the Scripture declares that God does in us,) is nothing else than to supply what is wanting to a weak will. But if they are not moved by these passages, let them say whether he who makes us to be willing simply assists the will. Paul claims the whole work for God; they ascribe nothing to him but a little help. But for what do they join man as an associate with God? Because man, though he might repudiate it, freely accepts the grace of God and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. How greatly do they detract from the work of God as described by the Prophet! — “I will put my law,” says he, “in your hearts, and make you to walk in my precepts.” (Jeremiah 32:39; Ezekiel 36:27; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
Is this the doctrine delivered by Augustine, when he says, “Men labor to find in our will some good thing of our own not given us of God; what they can find I know not?” (Aug. Lib. de Precator. Merit. et Remiss. 2.) Indeed, as he elsewhere says, “Were man left to his own will to remain under the help of God if he chooses, while God does not make him willing, among temptations so numerous and so great, the will would succumb from its own weakness. Succor, therefore, has been brought to the weakness of the human will by divine grace acting irresistibly and inseparably, that thus the will however weak might not fail.” (Aug. de Corruptione et Gratia,) But the Neptunian fathers, in a new smithy, forge what was unknown to Augustine, viz., that the reception of grace is not of God, inasmuch as it is by the free movement of our own will we assent to God calling. This is repugnant to Scripture, which makes God the author of a good will. It is one thing for the will to be moved by God to obey if it pleases, and another for it to be formed to be good. Moreover, God promises not to act so that we may be able to will well, but to make us will well. Nay, he goes farther when he says, “I will make you to walk;” as was carefully observed by Augustine. The same thing is affirmed by Paul when he teaches, that, “it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The hallucination of these Fathers is in dreaming that we are offered a movement which leaves us an intermediate choice, while they never think of that effectual working by which the heart of man is renewed from pravity to rectitude. But this effectual working of the Holy Spirit is described in the thirty-second chapter of Jeremiah, where he thus speaks in the name of God, “I will put the fear of my name into their hearts, that they decline not from my commandments.” In short, their error lies in making no distinction between the grace of Regeneration, which now comes to the succor of our wretchedness, and the first; grace which had been given to Adam. This Augustine carefully expounds. “Through Christ the Mediator,” he says, “God makes those who were wicked to be good for ever after. The first man had not that grace by which he could never wish to be bad; for the help given him was of that nature that he might abandon it when he would, and remain in it if he would, but it was not such as to make him willing. The grace of the second Adam is more powerful. It makes us will, will so strongly and love so ardently, that by the will of the spirit we overcome the will of the flesh lusting against it.” A little farther on he says, “Through this grace of God in receiving good and persevering therein, there is in us a power not only to be able to do what we will, but to will what we are able.” (Aug. Lib. ad Bonif. 2, c. 8.) Although the subject is too long to be despatched thus briefly, I feel confident that my statement, though short, will suffice with readers of sense to refute these fancies.
But they pretend that they have also the support of Scripture. For when it is said, “Turn thou me, O Lord, and I shall be turned,” (Jeremiah 31:18,) they infer that there is a preventing grace given to men: and, on the other hand, out of the words, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,” they extract the power of free-will. I am aware that Augustine uses this distinction, but it is in a very different sense: For he distinctly declares, and that in numerous passages, that the grace of God so works in us as to make us willing or unwilling, whence he concludes that man does no good thing which God does not do in him. (Aug. Lib. ad Bonif. 3, c. 8.) What then, you will ask, does Augustine mean when he speaks of the freedom of the will? Just what he so often repeats, that men are not forced by the grace of God against their will, but ruled voluntarily, so as to obey and follow of their own accord, and this because their will from being bad is turned to good. Hence he says, “We therefore will, but God works in us also to will. We work, but God causes us also to work.” Again, “The good which we possess not without our own will we should never possess unless he worked in us also to will.” Again, “It is certain that we will when we are willing, but he makes us to be willing. It is certain that we do when we do, but he makes us to do by affording most effectual strength to the will.” (Aug. Lib. 2:de Bon. Persev. cap. 13; Lib. 2:23, de Graf. et Liber. Arbit.) The whole may be thus summed up — Their error consists in sharing the work between God and ourselves, so as to transfer to ourselves the obedience of a pious will in assenting to divine grace, whereas this is the proper work of God himself.
But they insist on the words of the Prophet, that in requiring conversion from us he addresses free-will, which he would do in vain (that is, in their opinion) unless free-will were something. I admit that expressions of this kind would be absurd if there were not some will in man, but I do not therefore concede that the free faculty of obeying may be thence inferred. Those venerable Fathers must be the merest of novices if they form their estimate of what man is able to do from the commandments given him, seeing that God requires of us what is above our strength for the very purpose of convincing us of our imbecility, and divesting us of all pride. Let us remember, therefore, that will in man is one thing, and the free choice of good and evil another: for freedom of choice having been taken away after the fall of the first man, will alone was left; but so completely captive under the tyranny of sin, that it is only inclined to evil.
Moreover, not to dwell longer here, I say that the doctrine here delivered by the Fathers of Trent is at open war with our Savior’s words, “Whosoever hath heard of the Father, cometh unto me.” (John 6:45.) For as Augustine wisely observes, it hence follows, that no man hears and learns of God without at the same time believing on Christ; and that the motion of the Holy Spirit is so efficacious that it always begets faith. They, on the contrary, place it in the option of man to listen to the inspiration of God, if he will! It is impossible to reconcile the two things — that all who have learned of God believe in Christ, and that the inspiration of God is not effectual and complete unless men of themselves assent to it. We have the Son of God, who is never at variance with himself, for the author of the former. To whom shall we ascribe the latter, which is utterly contrary to it, but to the father of lies?
After treating, under the seventh head, of The Mode of Preparation, so frigidly that every one but a savories Papist must feel ashamed of such senselessness, they at length, under the eighth head, when they come to define, set out with cautioning us against supposing that the justification of man consists in faith alone. The verbal question is, What is Justification? They deny that it is merely the forgiveness of sins, and insist that it includes both renovation and sanctification. Let us see whether this is true. Paul’s words are, “David describeth the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.” (Romans 4:6; Psalm 32:1.) If, from this passage of David, Paul duly extracts a definition of gratuitous righteousness, it follows that it consists in the forgiveness of sins. Paul interprets thus — David calls him righteous to whom God imputeth righteousness by not imputing sin, and the same Apostle, without appealing to the testimony of another, elsewhere says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses.” Immediately after, he adds, “He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:19.) Can anything be clearer than that we are regarded as righteous in the sight of God, because our sins have been expiated by Christ, and no longer hold us under liability?
There is no room for the vulgar quibble that Paul is speaking of the beginning of Justification; for in both places he is showing, not how men who had hitherto been unbelievers begin to be righteous, but how they retain the righteousness which they have once procured during the whole course of life; for David speaks of himself after he had been adopted among the children of God; and Paul asserts that this is the perpetual message which is daily heard in the Church. In the same sense also he says, “Moses describeth the righteousness of the law, that he who doeth these things shall live in them, (Leviticus 18:5;) but the righteousness of faith thus speaketh, He that believeth,” etc. (Romans 10:5.) We thus see that the righteousness of faith, which by no means consists of works, is opposed to the righteousness of the law, which so consists. The words have the same meaning as those which, as Luke tells us, Paul used to the people of Antioch, “By this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and every one who believeth in him is justified from all the things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38.) For justification is added to forgiveness of sins by way of interpretation, and without doubt means acquittal. It is denied to the works of the law; and that it may be gratuitous, it is said to be obtained by faith. What! can the justification of the publican have any other meaning (Luke 17) than the imputation of righteousness, when he was freely accepted of God? And since the dispute is concerning the propriety of a word, when Christ is declared by Paul to be our righteousness and sanctification, a distinction is certainly drawn between these two things, though the Fathers of Trent confound them. For if there is a twofold grace, inasmuch as Christ both justifies and sanctifies us, righteousness does not include under it renovation of life. When it is said, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? — It is God that justifieth” — it is impossible to understand anything else than gratuitous acceptance.
I would be unwilling to dispute about a word, did not the whole case depend upon it. But when they say that a man is justified, when he is again formed for the obedience of God, they subvert the whole argument of Paul, “If righteousness is by the law, faith is nullified, and the promise abolished.” (Romans 4:14.) For he means, that not an individual among mankind will be found in whom the promise of salvation may be accomplished, if it involves the condition of innocence; and that faith, if it is propped up by works, will instantly fall. This is true; because, so long as we look at what we are in ourselves, we must tremble in the sight of God, so far from having a firm and unshaken confidence of eternal life. I speak of the regenerate; for how far from righteousness is that newness of life which is begun here below?
It is not to be denied, however, that the two things, Justification and Sanctification, are constantly conjoined and cohere; but from this it is erroneously inferred that they are one and the same. For example: — The light of the sun, though never unaccompanied with heat, is not to be considered heat. Where is the man so undiscerning as not to distinguish the one from the other? We acknowledge, then, that as soon as any one is justified, renewal also necessarily follows: and there is no dispute as to whether or not Christ sanctifies all whom he justifies. It were to rend the gospel, and divide Christ himself, to attempt to separate the righteousness which we obtain by faith from repentance.
The whole dispute is as to The Cause of Justification. The Fathers of Trent pretend that it is twofold, as if we were justified partly by forgiveness of sins and partly by spiritual regeneration; or, to express their view in other words, as if our righteousness were composed partly of imputation, partly of quality. I maintain that it is one, and simple, and is wholly included in the gratuitous acceptance of God. I besides hold that it is without us, because we are righteous in Christ only. Let them produce evidence from Scripture, if they have any, to convince us of their doctrine. I, while I have the whole Scripture supporting me, will now be satisfied with this one reason, viz., that when mention is made of the righteousness of works, the law and the gospel place it in the perfect obedience of the law; and as that nowhere appears, they leave us no alternative but to flee to Christ alone, that we may be regarded as righteous in him, not being so in ourselves. Will they produce to us one passage which declares that begun newness of life is approved by God as righteousness either in whole or in part? But if they are devoid of authority, why may we not be permitted to repudiate the figment of partial justification which they here obtrude?
Moreover, how frivolous and nugatory the division of causes enumerated by them is, I omit to show, except that I neither can nor ought to let pass the very great absurdity of calling Baptism alone the instrumental cause. What then will become of the gospel? Will it not even be allowed to occupy the smallest corner? But baptism is the sacrament of faith. Who denies it? Yet, when all has been said, it must still be granted me that it is nothing else than an appendage of the gospel. They, therefore, act preposterously in assigning it the first place, and act just as any one who should call a mason’s trowel the instrumental cause of a house! Unquestionably, whosoever postponing the gospel enumerates baptism among the causes of salvation, by so doing gives proof that he knows not what baptism is, what its force, its office, or its use. What else I wish to say of the formal cause will be said on the tenth Canon. Here I wish only to advert to what belongs to the present place. For they again affirm that we are truly righteous, and not merely counted so. I, on the contrary, while I admit that we are never received into the favor of God without being at the same time regenerated to holiness of life, contend that it is false to say that any part of righteousness (justification) consists in quality, or in the habit which resides in us, and that we are righteous (justified) only by gratuitous acceptance. For when the Apostle teaches that “by the obedience of one many were made righteous,” (Romans 6:19) he sufficiently shows, if I mistake not, that the righteousness wanting in ourselves is borrowed elsewhere. And in the first chapter to the Ephesians, where he says that we are adopted to the predestination of sons of God, that we might be accepted in the Beloved, he comprehends the whole of our righteousness. For however small the portion attributed to our work, to that extent faith will waver, and our whole salvation be endangered. Wherefore, let us learn with the Apostle to lay aside our own righteousness, which is of the law, as a noxious impediment, that we may lay hold of that which is of the faith of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:9.) Of what nature this is we have abundantly shown; and Paul intimates in a single sentence in the third chapter to the Galatians, that the righteousness of the law, because it consists of works, has no congruity with the righteousness of faith.
But what can you do with men like these? For after they have enumerated many causes of Justification, forgetting that they were treating of the cause of justification, they infer that righteousness partly consists of works, because no man is reconciled to God by Christ without the Spirit of regeneration. How gross the delusion! It is just as if they were to say, that forgiveness of sins cannot be dissevered from repentance, and therefore repentance is a part of it. The only point in dispute is, how we are deemed righteous in the sight of God, and where our faith, by which alone we obtain righteousness, ought to seek it? Though they should repeat a thousand times, that we cannot share in the merit of Christ’s passion, without being at the same time regenerated by his Spirit, they will not make it cease to be a fundamental principle; that God is propitious to us because he was appeased by the death of Christ; and that we are counted righteous in his sight, because by that sacrifice our transgressions were expiated. “We have propitiation,” says Paul, “through faith in the blood of Christ.” (Romans 3:25; 5:11.) In fine, when the cause is inquired into, of what use is it to obtrude an inseparable accident? Let them cease then to sport with trifles, or trifle with quibbles such as — man receives faith, and along with it hope and love; therefore it is not faith alone that justifies. Because if eyes are given us, and along with them ears and feet and hands, we cannot therefore say that we either hear with our feet or walk with our hands, or handle with our eyes. Of the erroneous application of a passage of Paul I shall speak elsewhere.
Next follows their approbation of the worse than worthless distinction between an informal and a formed Faith. The venerable Fathers, indeed, are ashamed to use the very terms, but while they stammer out that man is not united to Christ by faith alone, unless hope and charity are added, they are certainly dreaming of that faith, devoid of charity, which is commonly called by the sophists informal. They thus betray their gross incapacity. For if the doctrine of Paul is true, that “Christ dwells in our hearts by faith,” (Ephesians 3:17) they can no more separate faith from charity than Christ from his Spirit. If “our hearts are purified by faith,” as Peter affirms, (Acts 15:9,) if “whosoever believeth hath eternal life,” as our Savior so often declares, (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:40; 20:31,) if the inheritance of eternal life is obtained by faith, (Romans 5:14,) faith is something very different from all forms of dead persuasion. They deny that we are made living members of Christ by faith. How much better Augustine, who calls faith the life of the soul, as the soul is the life of the body? (Aug. in Joan. c. 11,) although Augustine is not so much the authority to be quoted here as Paul, who acknowledges that he lives by the faith of Christ. (Galatians 2:20.) They should perhaps be pardoned this error, because they talk about faith as they might do of fabulous islands, (for who among them knows by the slightest experience what faith is?) were it not that they drag the miserable world along with them in the same ignorance to destruction!
Let us remember that the nature of Faith is to be estimated from Christ. For that which God offers to us in Christ we receive only by faith. Hence, whatever Christ is to us is transferred to faith, which makes us capable of receiving both Christ and all his blessings. There would be no truth in the words of John, that faith is the victory by which we overcome the world, (1 John 5:4,) did it not ingraft us into Christ, (John 16:33,) who is the only conqueror of the world. It is worth while to remark their stupidity. When they quote the passage of Paul, “Faith which worketh by love,” (Galatians 5:6) they do not see that they are cutting their own throats. For if love is the fruit and effect of faith, who sees not that the informal faith which they have fabricated is a vain figment? It is very odd for the daughter thus to kill the mother! But I must remind my readers that that passage is irrelevantly introduced into a question about Justification, since Paul is not there considering in what respect faith or charity avails to justify a man, but what is Christian perfection; as when he elsewhere says, “If a man be in Christ he is a new creature.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
It were long and troublesome to note every blunder, but there is one too important to be omitted. They add, “that when catechumens ask faith from the Church, the answer is, “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.’” (Matthew 19:17.) Wo to their catechumens, if so hard a condition is laid upon them! For what else is this but to lay them under an eternal curse, since they acknowledge with Paul, that all are under the curse who are subject to the law? (Galatians 3:10.) But they have the authority of Christ! I wish they would observe to what intent Christ thus spake. This can only be ascertained from the context, and the character of the persons. He to whom Christ replies had asked, What must I do to have eternal life? Assuredly, whosoever wishes to merit life by works, has a rule prescribed to him by the law, “This do, and thou shalt live.” But attention must be paid to the object of this as intimated by Paul, viz., that man experiencing his powers, or rather convinced of his powerlessness, may lay aside his pride, and flee all naked to Christ. There is no room for the righteousness of faith until we have discovered that it is in vain that salvation is promised us by the law. But that which the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God performed by his own Son, by expiating our sins through the sacrifice of his death, so that his righteousness is fulfilled in us. But so preposterous are the Fathers of Trent, that while it is the office of Moses to lead us by the hand to Christ, (Galatians 3:24,) they lead us away from the grace of Christ to Moses.
Lest they should not be liberal enough in preaching up the powers of man, they again repeat, under this head, that the Spirit of God acts in us according to the proper disposedness and co-operation of each. What disposedness, pray, will the Spirit of God find in stony hearts? Are they not ashamed to feign a disposedness, when the Spirit himself uniformly declares in Scripture that all things are contrary? For the commencement of grace is to make those willing who were unwilling, and therefore repugnant; so that faith, as well in its beginnings as its increase, even to its final perfection, is the gift of God; and the preparation for receiving grace is the free election of God, as Augustine says, (Lib. 1:de Praedest., Sanct. c. 9-11.) And the words of Paul are clear, “God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings, according as he hath chosen us in Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Ephesians 1:3.) By these words he certainly restrains us, while receiving so great a blessing from God, from glorying in the decision of our will, as Augustine again says. (Ibid. c. 8.) This which man ought to receive as at the hands of God, is he to oppose to him as a merit of his own? For whence is there a first disposition, unless because we are the sheep of Christ! And who dare presume so far as to say he makes himself a sheep? Accordingly, when Luke speaks of effectual calling, he tells us that not those who were disposed of themselves, but those who were pre-ordained to eternal life, believed. (Acts 13:48.) And Paul acquaints us whence a right disposition is, when he teaches that the good works in which we walk were prepared by God. (Ephesians 2:10.) Let us hear Augustine, whose doctrine is very different, rather than those babblers. “After the fall of man,” he says, (Lib. 2: de Bono Persev., c. 9,) “God was pleased that man’s approach to him should be the effect only of his grace, and that man’s not withdrawing from him should also be the effect only of his grace.” For it is he himself who promises that he will give us a heart that we may understand, and ears that we may hear. Wherefore it is His grace alone which makes the difference, as Paul reminds us. Let me conclude by again using the words of Augustine, “The human will obtains not grace by freedom, but freedom by grace, and in order that it may persevere, delectable perpetuity and insuperable fortitude,” (Lib. de Corrupt. et Grat. c. 8.)
In the ninth chapter, while they desire to show some signs of modesty, they rather betray their effrontery. Seeing that the doctrine of Scripture was obviously repugnant to their decrees, they, to prevent this from being suspected, first explain what it is for a man to be justified by faith, saying, that faith is the beginning of salvation, and the foundation of justification. As if they had disentangled themselves by this solution, they immediately fly off to another — that the Apostle teaches that we are justified freely, because all the things which precede justification, whether faith or works, do not merit it. Did they think they are engaged in a serious matter, would they perform it as giddily as if they were playing at see-saw? I say nothing of their disregard of the judgments of mankind, as if they had expected to put out the eyes of all by such a sacred dogma as this — Faith justifies, since it begins justification. First, this comment is repugnant to common sense. For what can be more childish than to restrict the whole effect to the mere act of beginning?
But let us see for a little whether the words of Paul allow themselves to be so easily wrested. “The gospel,” he says, (Romans 1:16) “is the, power of God to every one believing unto salvation; for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” Who sees not that here the beginning and the end are alike included? Were it otherwise, it would have been said, from “faith to works,” as they would finish what faith begins. To the same effect is the testimony of Habakkuk, “The just shall live by fairly.” (Habakkuk 2:4.) This would be improperly said did not faith perpetuate life. In the person of Abraham the chief mirror of justification is held forth. Let us see, then, at what time faith is declared to have been imputed to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6.) He was certainly not a novice, but having left his country, had for several years followed the Lord, so that he was no common exemplar of holiness and all virtue. Faith therefore does not open up an access to him to righteousness, in order that his justification may afterwards be completed elsewhere. And Paul at length concludes that we stand in the grace which we have obtained by faith. (Romans 5:2.) As far as a fixed and immovable station is from a transient passage, so far are they in this dogma of theirs from the meaning of Paul. To collect all the passages of Scripture were tedious and superfluous. From these few, I presume, it is already super-abundantly clear, that the completion, not less than the commencement of justification, must be ascribed to faith.
The second branch is, that Justification is said by Paul to be gratuitous, because no merit precedes it. What then? When Paul also exclaims that all glorying of the flesh is excluded by the law of faith, is he looking only to the merits of past life, and does he not rather remind us that men justified by faith have nothing in which they can glory to the very end of life? For when he asserts after David that righteousness is imputed without works, he declares what is the perpetual state of believers. (Romans 3:27; 4: 2.) In like manner David exclaims, that himself and all the other children of God are blessed by the remission of sins, not for one day, but for the whole of life. (Psalm 32:1.) Nor does Peter, in the Acts, speak of the justification of a single day, when he says, “We believe that through the grace of Jesus Christ we are saved, as did also our fathers.” (Acts 15:11.) The question under discussion was, whether observance of the law was to be exacted of the Gentiles. He says it ought not, because there is no other salvation in the Christian Church than through the grace of Christ, and there never was any other. (Acts 4:12.) And justly; for, as Paul says, the promise will not be secure unless it depends on the grace of God and on faith. (Romans 4:16.) Will they pretend that he is here, too, speaking of preceding merits? Nay, he declares that the greatest saints can have no assurance of salvation, unless it repose on the grace of Christ. He therefore abolishes faith who does not retain his as the only righteousness, which exists even until death.
We are justified freely, they say, because no works which precede justification merit it. But when Paul takes away all ground of glorying from Abraham, on the ground that faith was imputed to him for righteousness, he immediately subjoins by way of proof — where works are, there a due reward is paid, whereas what is given to faith is gratuitous. Let us observe that he is, speaking of the holy Patriarch. Paul affirms, that at the time when he renounced the world to devote himself entirely to God, he was not justified by any works. If these spurious Fathers object, that it was then only he began to be justified, the quibble is plainly refuted by the context of the Sacred History. He had for many years exercised himself in daily prayer to God, and he had constantly followed the call of God, wherein was contained the promise of eternal life. Must they not therefore be thrice blind who see no gratuitous righteousness of God, except in the very vestibule, and think that the merit of works pervades the edifice? But it is proper to attend to the gloss by which they attempt to cloak this gross impiety, viz., that in this way they satisfy the Apostle’s sentiment, “If it be of grace, then it is no more of works.” (Romans 11:5) But Paul ascribes it to Divine grace that a remnant is left, and that they are miraculously preserved by God from the danger of eternal destruction, even unto the end. Far, therefore, is he from restricting it to so small a portion, i.e., to the beginning alone.
It was indeed an absurd dream, but they are still more grossly absurd when they give it as their opinion, that none of all the things which precede Justification, whether faith or works, merit it. What works antecedent to Justification are they here imagining? What kind of order is this in which the fruit is antecedent in time to the root? In one word, that pious readers may understand how great progress has been made in securing purity of doctrine, the monks dunned into the ears of the reverend Fathers, whose part was to nod assent, this old song, that good works which precede justification are not meritorious of eternal salvation, but preparatory only. If any works precede faith, they should also be taken into account. But there is no merit, because there are no works; for if men inquire into their works, they will find only evil works.
Posterity will scarcely believe that the Papacy had fallen into such a stupor as to imagine the possibility of any work antecedent to justification, even though they denied it to be meritorious of so great a blessing! For what can come from man until he is born again by the Spirit of God? Very different is the reasoning of Paul. He exhorts the Ephesians to remember (Ephesians 2) that they were saved by grace, not by themselves nor by their own works. He subjoins a proof, not the one which these insane Fathers use, that no works which precede suffice, but the one which I have adduced, that we are possessed of no works but those which God hath prepared, because we are his workmanship created unto a holy and pious life. Faith, moreover, precedes justification, but in such a sense, that in respect of God, it follows. What they say of faith might perhaps hold true, were faith itself, which puts us in possession of righteousness, our own. But seeing that it too is the free gift of God, the exception which they introduce is superfluous. Scripture, indeed, removes all doubt on another ground, when it opposes faith to works, to prevent its being classed among merits. Faith brings nothing of our own to God, but receives what God spontaneously offers us. Hence it is that faith, however imperfect, nevertheless possesses a perfect righteousness, because it has respect to nothing but the gratuitous goodness of God.
In the tenth chapter, they inveigh against what they call The Vain Confidence of Heretics. This consists, according to their definition, in our holding it as certain that our sins are forgiven, and resting in this certainty. But if such certainty makes heretics, where will be the happiness which David extols? (Psalm 32) Nay, where will be the peace of which Paul discourses in the fifth chapter to the Romans, if we rest in anything but the goodwill of God? How, moreover, have we God propitious, but just because he enters not into judgment with us? They acknowledge that sins are never forgiven for Christ’s sake, except freely, but leaving it in suspense to whom and when they are forgiven, they rob all consciences of calm placid confidence. Where, then, is that boldness of which Paul elsewhere speaks, (Ephesians 3:12,) that access with confidence to the Father through faith in Christ? Not contented with the term confidence, he furnishes us with boldness, which is certainly something more than certainty. And what shall we say to his own occasional use of the term certainty? (Romans 8:37.) This certainty he founds upon nothing but a mere persuasion of the free love of God. Nay, they overthrow all true prayer to God, when they keep pious minds suspended by fear which alone shuts the door of access against us. “He who doubts,” says James, (James 1:6) “is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind.” Let not such think that they shall obtain anything of the Lord. “Let him who would pray effectually not doubt.” Attend to the antithesis between faith and doubt, plainly intimating that faith is. destroyed as soon as certainty is taken away.
But that the whole of their theology may be more manifest to my readers, let them weigh the words which follow under the same head. It ought not to be asserted, they say, that those who have been truly justified ought to entertain an unhesitating doubt that they are justified. If it be so, let them teach how plhrofori>a (full assurance) can be reconciled with doubt. For Paul makes it the perpetual attendant of faith. I say nothing as to their laying down as a kind of axiom what Paul regards as a monstrous absurdity. “If the inheritance is by the law,” he says, (Romans 4:14,) “faith is made void.” He argues that there will be no certainty of faith if it depends on human works — a dependence which he hesitates not to pronounce most absurd. And justly; seeing he immediately infers from it that the promise also is abolished.
I am ashamed to debate the matter, as if it were doubtful, with men who call themselves Christians. The doctrine of Scripture is clear. “We know,” says John, (1 John 4:6,) “that we are the children of God.” And he afterwards explains whence this knowledge arises, viz., from the Spirit which he hath given us. In like manner Paul, too, reminds us, (1 Corinthians 2:12) “That we have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which are given us of God.” Elsewhere it is said still more explicitly, “We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15.) Hence that access with confidence and boldness which we mentioned a little ago. And, indeed, they are ignorant of the whole nature of faith who mingle doubt with it. Were Paul in doubt, he would not exult over death, and write as he does in the eighth of the Romans, when he boasts of being so certain of the love of God that nothing can turn him from the persuasion. This is clear from his words. And he assigns the cause, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us.” By this he intimates that our conscience, resting in the testimony of the Holy Spirit, boldly glories in the presence of God, in the hope of eternal life. But it is not strange that this certainty, which the Spirit of God seals on the hearts of the godly, is unknown to sophists. Our Savior foretold that so it would be. “Not the world, but you alone in whom he abideth, will know him.” (John 14:17.) It is not strange that those who, having discarded the foundation of faith, lean rather on their works, should waver to and fro. For it is a most true saying of Augustine, (in Psalm 88,) “As the promise is sure, not according to our merits, but according to his grace, no man ought to speak with trepidation of that of which he cannot doubt.”
They think, however, that they ingeniously obviate all objections when they recommend a general persuasion of the grace of Christ. They prohibit any doubt as to the efficacy of Christ’s death. But where do they wish it to be placed In the air, so as to be only in confused imagination. For they allow none to apply grace to themselves with the firm assurance of faith, as if we had to no purpose received such promises as these, “Behold your king cometh;” “Ye are the heirs of promise;” “The Father is pleased in thee;” “The righteousness of God is unto all and upon all them that believe.” (Matthew 21:5; Zechariah 9:9; Acts 2:39; Luke 12:32; Romans 3:22.) Surely, if they admit that by faith we apprehend what God offers to us, Christ is not set before me and others, merely that we may believe him to have been the Redeemer of Abraham, but that every one may appropriate the salvation which he procured. And how improper is it to assert that “no man can know with certainty of faith that he has obtained the grace of God.” Paul and John recognize none as the children of God but those who know it. Of what knowledge can we understand them to speak, but that which they have learned by the teaching of the Holy Spirit? Admirably says Bernard, (Sermon 5 in Dedicat. Temp.,) “Faith must here come to our aid; here truth must lend us succor; that that which lies hid in the heart of the Father respecting us may be revealed by the Spirit, or the Spirit may persuade our hearts that we are the children of God; and persuade by calling and justifying us freely by faith.” But if Paul, when he exhorts the Corinthians to prove themselves whether they be in the faith, (2 Corinthians 13:5,) pronounces all reprobate who do not know Christ dwelling in them, why should I hesitate to pronounce them twice reprobate, who, not allowing the Church to enter on any such proof, abolish all certainty concerning the grace of God?
Under the eleventh, head, when they describe Increase of Righteousness, they not only confound the free imputation of righteousness with the merit of works, but almost exterminate it. Their words are, “Believers increase in righteousness by good works, through the observance of the commandments of God and the Church, and are thence more justified.” They ought at least to use the exception of Augustine. (De Civit. 19 c. 27.) “The righteousness of believers, while they live in the world, consists more in the forgiveness of sins than the perfection of virtues.” He teaches that no dependence at all is to be placed on righteousness of works, which he names with contempt. For he declares that the only hope of all the godly who groan under the weakness of the flesh is, that they have a mediator, Christ Jesus, who is the propitiation for their sins. (Lib. ad Bonif., 5 c. 5.) On the contrary, the Fathers of Trent; or rather the hireling monks, who, as a kind of Latin pipers, compose for them whatever tune they please, doing their utmost to call their disciples away from the view of grace, blind them by a false confidence in works. We, indeed, willingly acknowledge, that believers ought to make daily increase in good works, and that the good works wherewith they are adorned by God, are sometimes distinguished by the name of righteousness. But since the whole value of works is derived from no other fountain than that of gratuitous acceptance, how absurd were it to make the former overthrow the latter! Why do they not remember what they learned when boys at school, that what is subordinate is not contrary? I say that it is owing to free imputation that we are considered righteous before God; I say that from this also another benefit proceeds, viz., that our works have the name of righteousness, though they are far from having the reality of righteousness. In short, I affirm, that not by our own merit but by faith alone, are both our persons and works justified; and that the justification of works depends on the justification of the person, as the effect on the cause. Therefore, it is necessary that the righteousness of faith alone so precede in order, and be so pre-eminent in degree, that nothing can go before it or obscure it.
Hence it is a most iniquitous perversion to substitute some kind of meritorious for a gratuitous righteousness, as if God after justifying us once freely in a single moment, left us to procure righteousness for ourselves by the observance of the law during the whole of life. As to the observance of the Divine Commandments, they must, whether they will or not, confess this much, that all mortals are very far from accomplishing it perfectly. Let them now answer, and say whether any part of it whatever be righteousness, or a part of righteousness? They will strenuously maintain the latter. But it is repugnant to Scripture, which gives this honor to none but perfect obedience. “The man who doeth these things shall live in them;” “Cursed is he that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” (Galatians 3:10.) Again, “He who fails in one point is guilty of all.” (James 2:10.) There is no man who does not acknowledge, without one word from me, that we are all subject to the curse while we keep halting at the observance of the law, and that righteousness, since works cannot procure it, must be borrowed from some other quarter of the commandments of the Church, which they mix up with those of God, we shall speak elsewhere. My readers, however, must be informed in passing, that no kind of impiety is here omitted. Who can excuse their profanity in not hesitating to claim a power of justifying for their own inventions? Never did even Pelagius attempt this. He attempted to fascinate miserable men by the impious persuasion that they could, by the observance of the Divine law, acquire righteousness for themselves; but. to attribute this merit to human laws never entered his mind. It is execrable blasphemy against God for any mortal to give way to such presumption as to award eternal life to the observance of his own traditions.
But whither shall I turn? It is a Sacred Council that speaks, and it cannot err in the interpretation of Scripture. And they have passages of Scripture, the first out of Ecclesiasticus, “Fear not to be justified even until death.” I believe there is one way of getting myself out of the difficulty. Let my readers look at the passage, and they will find that the worthy Fathers have impudently corrupted it; for the writer says, “Be not forbidden, i.e., prevented until death,” although it ought rather to be rendered defer not; for this the Greek word means. He is inveighing against the slothfulness of those who put off their conversion to God. What was thus spoken of the commencement, these religious Fathers, not only in gross ignorance, but open malice, apply to progress. In the passage of James there is more plausibility. (James 2:24.) But any one who has read our writings knows well enough that James gives them no support, inasmuch as he uses justification to signify, not the cause of righteousness, but the proof of it. This plainly appears from the context. But they become more ridiculous when they infer that a man is justified by good works because the Church prays for increase of faith, hope, and charity. Who, if he is not too old to be a child, is not frightened at this thunder?
Under the twelfth head they renew the old anathema: Let none say that the Commandments of God are impossible to be observed by a justified man. It serves no purpose to dispute about the term impossible. It is enough for me, and should be enough for all who are pious, and not at all contentious, that no man ever lived who satisfied the law of God, and that none ever can be found. What! shall we accuse the Holy Spirit of falsehood, when he charges all men with the guilt of transgression, not those of our age only, but all who shall ever exist to the end of the world? “There is not a man upon earth,” saith Solomon, “who sinneth not.” (1 Kings 8:46.) And David had said, “In thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (Psalm 143:2.) If it be possible to find any one who can fulfill the law, let the Holy Spirit retract. But far from us be the devilish pride of making the eternal Author of truth a liar. Nay, even Paul’s argument would fail: “It is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law. Therefore, whosoever are under the law are under curse.” (Galatians 3:10.) It will be easy to object, that the law can be fulfilled. But the Apostle assumes as an acknowledged principle what these men stigmatize with anathema. Accordingly in another place, when deploring the bondage in which himself, in common with all saints, was held, he could find no other remedy than that of being freed from the body. (Romans 7:24.)
The Pelagians annoyed Augustine with the same quibble. He admits that God may, if he pleases, raise men to this pitch of perfection, but that he never had, and never would, because the Scriptures teach otherwise. I go farther, and assert, that what the Scriptures declare never shall be, is impossible; although, if we are to debate about a word, the very thing was expressed by Peter, (Acts 15.) when he spoke of the yoke of the law as that which none of their fathers could bear. It is an error to suppose that this refers only to ceremonies: for what so very arduous was there in ceremonies as to make all human strength fail under the burden of them? He undoubtedly means that all mankind from the beginning were, and still are, unequal to the observance of the law, and that therefore nothing remains but to flee to the grace of Christ, which, loosing us from the yoke of the law, keeps us as it were under free custody. And it is to be observed that he is speaking of the regenerate, lest the Fathers of Trent quibble, and say that he spoke of the weakness of the flesh when the assistance of the Spirit is wanting. For he affirms that prophets and patriarchs, and pious kings, however aided by the Spirit of God, were unable to bear the yoke of the law, and declares, without ambiguity, that the observance of the law was impossible.
But they also produce Scripture as a witness on the other side: for John says, that “his commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5:3.) I admit it, provided you exclude not the doctrine of the remission of sins, which he places before all the commandments. If it be not grievous to perform the law, you will find me several men without sin to make God a liar; as is said also by John. (1 John 1:8.) But these fools consider not that the facility of which John speaks depends on this, that the saints have a remedy in readiness to supply their defects — they flee for pardon. Hence, too, it is that Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light, because the saints feel an alacrity in their liberty while they feel themselves no longer under the law. Paul applies to them this best stimulus of exhortation. (Romans 6:12.) And David also teaches, “With thee is forgiveness, that thou mayest be feared.” (Psalm 130:4.) Take that hope of pardon from me, and the least commandment of the law will be a heavier load than AEtna. But what is this to idle monks, who have here touched with the little finger that observance of the commandments of the facility of which they so confidently prattle. Nay, they openly betray their irreligion by this one dogma. How? This admirable Apostle laments that he is held captive from inability to obey the law as is meet, and he cries out that the disease cannot be cured till death cure it. (Romans 7:23.) These sturdy doctors superdiously smile, and sing out that such complaints are causeless, because Christ’s burden is light. They afterwards add, “The disciples of Christ love him, and those who love him do his commandments.” (John 14:23.) This is all true. But where is the perfect love of Christ — love, I mean, with the whole heart, and mind, and strength? There only where the flesh lusteth not against the spirit, and therefore not in the world at all. The disciples of Christ love him with sincere and earnest affection of heart, and according to the measure of their love keep his commandments. But how small is this compared with that strict perfection in which there is no deficiency?
Let readers of sense now attend to the consistency of the dicta of these Fathers. After boldly asserting that the Law can be fulfilled by believers, they admit that even the most holy sometimes fall into light and daily sins. First I ask, whether there be any sin, however light, that is not inconsistent with the observance of the law? For what vicious thought will creep into the mind of man if it be wholly occupied with the love of God? The law is not satisfied unless God is loved with the whole heart. That men do not therefore cease to be righteous I admit. But why so, but just because they are blessed to whom sin is not imputed? If they insist on 117 Hence, too, it is that Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light, because the saints feel an alacrity in their liberty while they feel themselves no longer under the law. Paul applies to them this best stimulus of exhortation. (Romans 6:12.) And David also teaches, “With thee is forgiveness, that thou mayest be feared.” (Psalm 130:4.) Take that hope of pardon from me, and the least commandment of the law will be a heavier load than AEtna. But what is this to idle monks, who have here touched with the little finger that observance of the commandments of the facility of which they so confidently prattle. Nay, they openly betray their irreligion by this one dogma. How? This admirable Apostle laments that he is held captive from inability to obey the law as is meet, and he cries out that the disease cannot be cured till death cure it. (Romans 7:23.) These sturdy doctors superdiously smile, and sing out that such complaints are causeless, because Christ’s burden is light. They afterwards add, “The disciples of Christ love him, and those who love him do his commandments.” (John 14:23.) This is all true. But where is the perfect love of Christ — love, I mean, with the whole heart, and mind, and strength? There only where the flesh lusteth not against the spirit, and therefore not in the world at all. The disciples of Christ love him with sincere and earnest affection of heart, and according to the measure of their love keep his commandments. But how small is this compared with that strict perfection in which there is no deficiency? Let readers of sense now attend to the consistency of the dicta of these Fathers. After boldly asserting that the Law can be fulfilled by believers, they admit that even the most holy sometimes fall into light and daily sins. First I ask, whether there be any sin, however light, that is not inconsistent with the observance of the law? For what vicious thought will creep into the mind of man if it be wholly occupied with the love of God? The law is not satisfied unless God is loved with the whole heart. That men do not therefore cease to be righteous I admit. But why so, but just because they are blessed to whom sin is not imputed? If they insist on being righteous by works, on which their consciences can repose in the sight of God, they, in the first place, subvert faith, and do an insufferable wrong to the grace of God; and, in the second place, they bring no support to their impious doctrine as to possible observance of the law. If they consider what they call lighter lapses as nothing, the dreadful sentence of the Supreme Judge thunders forth, “He who shall despise one of these least commandments shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” Although I should like to know what sins they call light, (for so they speak by way of extenuation,) and why they say that the righteous fall into them sometimes rather than constantly, or ever and anon; for scarcely a moment passes in which we do not contract some new guilt. In their eyes all kinds of concupiscence which prompt us to evil are light sins, and also all kinds of temptations which urge us to blasphemy against God. Be this as it may, they are here placed in a manifest dilemma.
What afterwards follows under the same head is no more applicable than if one were to attempt to prove from the movement of the feet that the hands do not feel. They gather some exhortations to a pious life. What, pray, will they force out of these except what may be learned a hundred times better, and with very different effect, from our writings and discourses, and even daily conversation, viz., that “we are not called to uncleanness but to holiness,” that “the mercy of God hath appeared, that denying the lusts of the flesh, we may live piously and holily in the world,” that “we have risen with Christ to set our affections on things above:” (1 Thessalonians 4:7; Titus 2:11; Colossians 3:12.) But they seem to think they have done some great thing when they infer that it is in vain for those who are unwilling to be partakers of the sufferings of Christ, to glory in the heavenly inheritance. How much better we explain the matter let our readers judge. There is one difference, however: we teach that we are to share in the sufferings of Christ in order that we may attain to the fellowship of his blessed resurrection; (Romans 8:17;) we do not separate Christ from himself. They erroneously infer what does not at all follow — that men by suffering merit eternal life, and that part of their righteousness consisting therein, they do not depend entirely on the grace of God.
But they are still more absurd in their conclusion. For they infer that all are enemies to the Christian religion who teach that the righteous sin in every good work, at least venially. I should like to know what logic taught them to draw such an inference as this: “So run that you may obtain the reward” — ergo, In the good works of saints there is nothing that deserves blame. Must not men be thrice stupid when such fellows can persuade them that such follies proceeded from the Holy Spirit? But, passing this absurdity, let us look at the substance.
They must of necessity admit that works are to be judged from the internal affection of mind from which they emanate, and the end at which they aim, rather than from the external mask under which they appear to men: for God looketh on the heart, as was said to Samuel, and his eyes behold the truth, as Jeremiah reminds us. It is too plain, however, that we are never animated and actuated by a perfect love to God in obeying His just commands. Various passions withdraw us from our course, so that we scarcely walk when God enjoins us to hasten on with the greatest speed; we are scarcely lukewarm when we ought to be all ardor. Though from self-deception we are not sensible of this defect, God sees and judges: in his sight the stars are dim, and the sun shineth not. In short, the seventh chapter of the Romans disposes of this controversy. There Paul, in his own person and that of all the godly, confesses that he is far from perfection, even when his will is at its best. Wherefore let a man flatter himself as he may, the best work that ever was, if brought by God to judgment, will be found stained by some blemish. But these works are approved by God. Who denies it? We only maintain that they cannot please without pardon. But what is it that God pardons except sin? Hence it follows that there is nothing so very censurable in saying, that all good works whatever, if judged with strict rigor, are more deserving of eternal damnation than of the reward of life; for wherever sin, in however slight a degree, is found, no man of sound judgment will deny that there too the materials of death are found. Owing, however, to the boundless mercy of God, works have a recompense in heaven, though, they not only merited nothing of the kind, but would have the reward of eternal death were not the impurity with which they are otherwise defiled wiped away by Christ. I have moreover shown in many places how absurd the reasoning is which infers dignity or merit from the use of the term reward. The reason is obvious. The very recompense which the sophists assert to be founded on merit, depends on gratuitous acceptance.
Under the thirteenth head. if they only did what the title professes, I would give them my subscription. But since, while professing to obviate rashness and presumption, they make it their whole study to efface from the minds of the pious all confidence in their election, I am forced to oppose them, because they are plainly opposed by Scripture. For to what end does Paul discourse at such length in the first chapter to the Ephesians, on the eternal election of God, unless to persuade them that they were chosen by it unto eternal life? And there is no need of conjecture; for he repeatedly enjoins the Ephesians to hold it fixed in their minds, that they have been called and made partakers of the gospel, because they were elected in Christ before the foundation of the world. Likewise in the eighth chapter to the Romans, he expressly conjoins the doctrine of election with the assurance of faith.
I acknowledge, indeed, and we are all careful to teach, that nothing is more pernicious than to inquire into the secret council of God, with the view of thereby obtaining a knowledge of our election — that this is a whirlpool in which we shall be swallowed up stud lost. But seeing that our Heavenly Father holds forth in Christ a mirror of our eternal adoption, no man truly holds what has been given us by Christ save he who feels assured that Christ himself has been given him by the Father, that he may not perish. What! are the following passages mere verbiage? “The Father who has placed us under the protection and faith of his Son is greater than all.” “The Son will not allow anything to be lost.” (John 6:39; 10:28.) These things are said that all who are the sons of God may trust in such a guardian of their salvation, and feel safe in the midst of danger; nay, when beset with infinite perils, may trust that their salvation is secure because in the hand of God.
But they affirm, that it is impossible to know whom God has chosen except by special revelation. I admit it. And, accordingly, Paul says that we have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which are given us of God. The gift he elsewhere interprets as meaning the adoption, by which we are classed among his children, and which he holds to be so certain that we may with loud voice glory in it. But I am not unaware of what they intend by special revelation. I, however, mean that which our Heavenly Father specially deigns to bestow on his own children. Nor is this any fancy of my own. The words of Paul are well known, “Those things which are hidden from human sense God hath revealed unto us by his Spirit, who also searcheth the deepest things of God.” Again, “Who hath known the mind of God, or who hath been his counselor? But we have the mind of Christ.”
On the whole, then, we see that what the venerable Fathers call rash and damnable presumption, is nothing but that holy confidence in our adoption revealed unto us by Christ, to which God everywhere encourages his people. Under the fourteenth head they prohibit any one from feeling absolutely certain that God will bestow upon him the gift of Final Perseverance, and yet they do not disapprove of entertaining the strongest hope of it in God. But let them first show us by what kind of cement they can glue together things so opposed to each other as the strongest hope and a doubtful expectation. For certainly, he whose expectation of eternal life is not founded on absolute certainty, must be agitated by various, doubts. This is not the kind of hope which Paul describes, when he says that he is certainly persuaded that neither life nor death, nor things present, nor things to come, will dissolve the love with which God embraces him in Christ. He would not speak thus did not the certainty of Christian hope reach beyond the last hour of life. And what language do the promises speak? The Spirit not only declares that the just lives by faith, but that he shall live. (Habakkuk 2:4.) Thus far must hope reach. Paul even shows this when ]he describes hope as patiently waiting for things which are yet concealed.
But, it may be said, they do not take away hope, but only absolute certainty. What! is there any expression of doubt or uncertainty when Paul boldly asserts that a crown of righteousness is laid up for him? (1 Timothy 4:8.) Is there anything conditional in the words, when he declares that an earnest of our adoption has been given us, so that we can dare with loud voice to call God our Father? They take refuge in the frivolous quibble out of which I have already driven them, viz., that Paul had this by special revelation. But he claims nothing so special for himself as not to share it with all believers, when in their name as much as his own, he boldly exults over death and life, the present and the future. Nor does John claim for himself alone that knowledge in which he glories, when he says, “We know that we shall be like God, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2.) Nor Paul, when he says, “We glory in hope of the glory of God;” and again, “We know that when this earthly tabernacle falls, a mansion is prepared for us in heaven.” (Romans 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:1.)
They make a gloss of what is said in the tenth chapter of First Corinthians, “Let him who standeth take heed lest he fall.” Of this there is a twofold solution. Paul there only checks carnal arrogance, which has nothing to do with the assurance of hope; nor does he address believers only, but all of the Gentiles who had assumed the name of Christ, among whom there might be many puffed up with vain confidence. For the comparison which is there made between Jews and Gentiles, is not confined to the elect only, but comprehends all who belonged to the Church by name. I will be satisfied, however, with this one reply, as it is quite sufficient, viz., that the fear enjoined is not that which in the smallest degree impairs the certainty of faith or hope, but only that which keeps us solicitous in the fear of God. The regenerate are not yet in glory, but only in the hope of glory, and much of the contest still remains. Hence did they infer that torpor must be shaken off, and no overweening security indulged, there is no man of sense who would not subscribe to them. But when they employ the passage as a battering-ram to shake the firmness of our hope, and drive us headlong, their conduct is on no account to be tolerated. In qualifying Paul’s sentiment, and making it mean that the work of salvation which God has begun will be perfected in us only if we are not wanting to his grace, they act very ignorantly, not observing that one part of grace consists in having God present with us so as to prevent our being wanting to his grace. This doctrine ought not to give occasion to sloth; it ought only to make them recognize what they have received of God, and what they expect from him. I could like, if I durst, to pass many things without affixing a stigma to them. But what can I do? There is scarcely one line which does not contain some notable error or give indications of dishonest dealing. On the fifteenth head, where they treat of recovery after the fall, they say that Jerome gave an appropriate definition of repentance, when he called it the second plank after shipwreck. Were I disposed to criticize the dictum of Jerome, I would ask why he calls it the second plank, and not the third or fourth? for how few are there who do not during life make more than one shipwreck. Nay: what man was ever found whom the grace of God has not rescued from daily shipwrecks? But I have no business with Jerome at present.
The Fathers of Trent do not treat of Repentance, but of the Sacrament of Penitence, which they pretend to have been instituted by Christ. When? When he said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit; whose sins ye remit, they shall be remitted. (John 20:22.) First, because Christ gave the Apostles this authority, is it therefore a sacrament? Where is the sign? where the form? Secondly, who knows not that this office was assigned to the Apostles that they might perform it towards strangers? How asinine the Fathers must be to allow the absurd trifling of a dreaming monk thus to pass without opposition! Christ confirms the testimony which the Apostles were to bear to the world concerning the remission of sins. Such is the message which is conveyed by the gospel, and that, too, `Lo those who are not yet chosen into the Church. Some babbler among the monks who rule the Council having never perhaps looked at the passage, certainly never pondered it, read out his own commentary that there a formula is prescribed by which those who had fallen after baptism were to be restored to a state of grace. The stupid Fathers nodded assent. The passage itself, however, proclaims that it was Shamelessly wrested. They infer that the penitence of a Christian man after a lapse, is very different from baptismal penitence: as if Christ had only referred to one species, and not expressly required, as the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke informs us, that repentance as well as remission of sins should be preached in his name. They go farther, and say, that this Penitence with which they trifle consists not only in contrition of heart, but the confession of the mouth and the satisfaction of works: although not to appear unmerciful, they mitigate the rigor of their law when they allow’ themselves to be appeased by a wish to confess. Why should I begin a long discussion here? The point is the remission of sins: which is the knowledge of salvation. (Luke 1:77.) God promises it to us free in the blood, of Christ: of auricular confession he says not a word. These new lawgivers tie down forgiveness to a formula of confession, contrary to the command of God, and assert that it is redeemed by satisfaction. What will remain for miserable consciences, if they are forced to abandon the word of God and acquiesce in the decrees of men?
I am desirous to be assured of my salvation. I am shown in the word of God a simple way, which will lead me straight to the entire and tranquil possession of this great boon. I will say no more. Men come and lay hands on me, and tie me down to a necessity of confession from which Christ frees me. They lay upon me the burden of satisfaction, ordering me to provide at my own hand that which Christ shows me is to be sought from his blood alone. Can I long doubt what it is expedient to do? Nay, away with all hesitation, when attempts are made to lead us away from the only author of our salvation. Search as they may, not a syllable will be found by which Christ orders us to confess our sins into a human ear. All the promises relating to the remission of sins make not the smallest mention of such a thing. The law was wholly unknown to the Apostles. Throughout the Eastern Church it was scarcely ever used. Nay, the observance was everywhere free for more than a thousand years, till Innocent III., with a few of his horned crew, entangled the Christian people in this net, which the Fathers of Trent would now make fast;. What I say is abundantly testified by ancient history. Our books are filled with proofs. None of them are unknown to those who dictated this famous formula to the Council; and yet so impudent are they, that they would persuade us by one word that the door of salvation is closed, and can only be opened by the key of a fictitious confession. But who will grant them a license to restrict the promises of Christ, by imposing any condition they please?
I do not say at present how cruel an executioner to torture and excruciate consciences is that law of Innocent which they anew promulgate; how many it has driven headlong to despair; what a narcotic of hypocrisy it has been to lull others asleep; how many monstrous iniquities have sprung from it! Nay, let us even imagine, as they themselves falsely give out, that some advantage flows from it: it is nothing to the purpose. The question is asked, How are those who have fallen from divine grace restored to it? Scripture everywhere shows the method, but makes no reference to confession, which was long afterwards coined in human brains. What effrontery! to preclude access to the hope of obtaining pardon, unless the confession which they have been pleased to prescribe precedes. The question relates to repentance. Its whole force and nature are so frequently, so copiously, so clearly depicted by the Holy Spirit in the law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, that no doctrine is more lucidly explained. Of confession, such as they pretend, there is throughout a profound silence. Who, then, will believe them `when they affirm that no repentance is genuine without that appendage, nay, unless it be included in it? It is enough for me to know the two following things — first, that they devise a Repentance altogether different from that which is recommended to us in Scripture; and secondly, that they enact a condition for obtaining the remission of sins, from which he, to whom alone the power of remitting belongs, wished us to be free. The latter is just as if they were forbidding God to promise salvation without their permission, or at least were opposing his performance of the promise of salvation which he has given. For they do not permit him to pardon our sins, unless it be on the condition of our performing an observance which they alone make binding.
With regard to Satisfaction, they think they make a subtle distinction when they collect the dregs of the vile comments of the sophists, — that not eternal punishment, indeed, but temporal, is to be compensated by satisfaction. Who knew not that such was the prattle of the sophists? And yet, when they pretend that eternal punishment, together with guilt, is remitted to us by confession, or the wish to confess, what else do they mean than that we merit by works what God promises to give freely? But let us now see the force of the distinction. When the Prophets mention the gratuitous remission of sins, it is true they usually refer to its other effect, viz., that God would be appeased, and no longer avenge the sins of his people or visit them with his rod. Whoever is moderately versed in Scripture will acknowledge the strict accuracy of my statement, that the punishments which we deserved are mitigated, loosed, in fine, abolished, because God pardons us, not for any merit of our own, as if he were appeased by compensation, but because he is moved solely by his own mercy. The Babylonish captivity was a temporal punishment. Its termination in seventy years, when the Israelites deserved it much longer, God ascribes to his own free mercy. Whenever the chastisements which God had threatened are withdrawn, it is uniformly represented as the result of gratuitous reconciliation. It is certainly a relaxation of temporal punishment which God promises in these words, “Not on your account will I do it, but for my name’s sake.” And Isaiah, when he states, that the satisfaction or price of our peace was laid upon Christ, reminds us that we have not only been freed from punishment by his interposition, but that he bore on our account all the pains by which God is wont to avenge or chastise our sins, in order that we may, however unworthy, enjoy all the blessings of the present life also. (Isaiah 48:9; 53:5.) But God nevertheless still chastises believers. I admit it. But to what end? Is it that he, by inflicting punishment, may pay what is due to himself and his own justice? Not at all; but that he may humble them, by striking them with a dread of his anger, that he may produce in them an earnest feeling of repentance, and render them more cautious in future. But there are means by which they may avert these punishments; I mean, when they anticipate them of their own accord, there is no reason why God should as it were drag them violently. When is there occasion for the rod but just when voluntary correction is wanting? Accordingly, the Apostle tells us that those who shall have judged themselves shall not be judged by the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:31.)
But how preposterous to infer satisfaction from this? The greater part of believers have, by prayer, warded off the chastisement to which they had made themselves liable. Nay, even Ahab, when he humbles himself spontaneously, feels the hand of God fall lighter upon him. (1 Kings 21:29.) The deprecatory petitions which the saints employed are the most decisive witnesses to gratuitous satisfaction. But these Fathers, it seems, adduce nothing which they cannot prove by passages of Scripture; for Paul teaches, that the sorrow which is agreeable to God worketh: repentance unto salvation not to be repented of. (2 Corinthians 7:10.) What! does Paul here call us back to satisfaction? I hear no word of it. They are dishonestly deluding us. They do so still more in what follows, when they tell us that John must be understood to refer to the same penitence in saying, “Repent, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” (Luke 3:8.) But whom did John address in these terms? Was it not persons who offered themselves for baptism while not yet imbued with the faith of Christ? Somewhat different from this, and yet not less absurd, is their quotation from the second chapter of the Revelations, “Remember whence thou art fallen, and first do works;” whereas the proper reading is, “do the first works,” or the former works. The writer exhorts the Ephesians to return to their former state of life. With what face is this stretched to satisfaction? When they so pertly called black white, did they think there would be no eyes to detect their fraud? Lysander once said to deputies who had spoken in a meeting of allies more imperiously than they ought, that they had need of a city which would be very indulgent to them. These masters would need a herd of oxen if they wish to have an audience which they can persuade to believe what they please. Let them go and boast of being guided immediately by the Holy Spirit, while they are palpable falsifiers of holy writ.
To sum up the whole — Though believers ought to be constantly thinking of Repentance, these Holy Fathers imagine it to be an indescribable something of rare occurrence — though Scripture declares repentance to be a renewal of the whole man — though it points out its very source, fear excited by a true sense of the Divine judgment — though it enumerates its parts, self-denial, which consists in a hatred of sin and dissatisfaction with our own depravity, and renewal of life or regeneration of the spirit, which is nothing else than the restoration of the Divine image — though it carefully marks its effects, and explicitly defines its whole nature, — the venerable Fathers produce nothing but the flimsy inanities by which the doctrine of repentance has been corrupted under the Papacy. What was said by ecclesiastical writers concerning external discipline, which referred to the formal profession of repentance, they ignorantly wrest to the spiritual renovation which formed the subject of their discourse. Not to be tedious in reviewing each point, let any one compare their lucubrations with our writings, and he will find and acknowledge that they have turned light into darkness.
I have hitherto endeavored to censure without accusing; and impartial readers will observe, that I censure nothing unless compelled to do so. But there is not a sentence which does not extort more of it from me than I could wish. Of this nature is the assertion under the sixteenth head, that the grace of Justification is lost, not only by unbelief, but by any mortal sin. If they meant that we are ejected from the possession (enjoyment) of this great blessing by an evil conscience, I would not at all gainsay them, I mean as far as regards ourselves. For although God does not cast us off, yet an evil conscience is such a separation from him as excludes us from the enjoyment of a lively and justifying knowledge of his paternal love towards us. But they are preposterous, first, in recognizing no sin as mortal that is not gross and palpable:, whereas most inward sins wound the mind more grievously and even fatally; and, secondly, in not perceiving how a good conscience is the inseparable attendant of faith. Were it not so, how could it be said that our hearts are purified, by faith, that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, that it is the victory by which we overcome the world, the shield for repelling the assaults of the devil, and that we are kept by faith through the power of God unto salvation? (Acts 15:9; Ephesians 3:17; 1 John 5:4; Ephesians 6:16; 1 Peter 5:9; 1:5.) There is no doubt, therefore, that faith is overwhelmed and buried in a man whenever he has been overcome by any temptation so as to abandon the fear of God. For the Spirit of holiness cannot be separated from faith any more than can Christ himself. I do not assert, however, that when we forsake the fear of the Lord faith is altogether extinguished in us. But as the fear of God is oppressed by depraved lusts, so I say that faith is stifled, and for the time exerts its power no more than if it were in a manner dead. The holy Fathers craftily endeavor to burrow out a hole in which they may hide their impious dogma, that we are not justified by faith alone. Not succeeding in this they attempt another method.
We come now to the last head, which treats of The Merit of Works. Here there is no dispute between us as to the necessity of exhorting `believers to good works, and even stimulating them by holding forth a reward. What then? First, I differ from them in this, that they make eternal life the reward; for if God rewards works with eternal life, they will immediately make out that faith itself is the reward which is paid, whereas Scripture uniformly proclaims that it is the inheritance which falls to us by no other right than that of free adoption. But there is still greater ground for contradicting, when they are not ashamed to affirm that nothing is to prevent believers from satisfying the Law, at least in a degree proportioned to the present state, and meriting eternal life. Where then will be the blessedness of which David speaks, (Psalm 32,) and without which we are all thrice wretched? Woe to those miserable men who perceive not that he who has come nearest to perfection has not yet advanced half-way! All who have their conscience exercised feel the strict truth of Augustine’s sentiment, “The righteousness of saints in this life consists more in the forgiveness of sins than the perfection of virtues.” (Lib. de Civit. Dei, 19 c. 27.) Still more accurate is another passage which I quoted, that; “so long as they groan under the infirmity of the flesh, the only hope left them is, that they have a mediator in Christ by whom they are reconciled to God.” (Lib. ad Bon., 3. c. 5.)
It is not strange, however, that addle-pated monks who, having never experienced any struggle of conscience, and who, moreover, being intoxicated with ambition, or surfeiting and drunkenness, only desire to raise themselves in the estimation of their idol, should thus prate of the perfection of the Law. With the same confidence do they talk of a heaven for hire, while they themselves meanwhile continue engrossed with the present hire, after which they are always gaping. But in vain do they attempt to dazzle eyes not wholly blind with those fair colors which they afterwards employ when they prohibit any one from glorying or confiding in works, because they are the gifts of God. Not to mention that what they now confess to be gifts of God, they previously claimed in a greater degree for human ability, there are three errors in their decree which are not to be tolerated. Though they mention incidentally that the good works of the pious are meritorious by the merit of Christ, they omit the most necessary part, viz., that there is no work untainted with impurity, until it be washed away by the blood of Christ. Nay rather, they annex a false dignity to works, as if they could please without pardon. There is, indeed, a speciousness in the gloss that they all flow from the Spirit of Christ. But where will the absolute power of the Holy Spirit be found? Is it not distributed to every one in measure? (1 Corinthians 12:11.) They ought, therefore, to have observed, that it is always mixed with dross of ours which taints its purity. But while our inherent depravity renders every kind of work which proceeds from us vicious in the sight of God, the only thing left for our works is to recover the grace which they have not in themselves, by a gratuitous acceptance. This is done when works acknowledged to have no value in themselves borrow, and, as it were, beg their value from Christ.
It is, indeed, a gross and impious delusion, not to acknowledge that every work which proceeds from us has only one way of obtaining acceptance, viz., when all that was vicious in it is pardoned by paternal indulgence. Another delusion almost similar to this is their not reflecting, that even if we should have merited anything by any one work, the whole of the merit, be it what it may, is lost by contrary transgression. “He who offends in one point is guilty of all.” (James 2:10) What reward do you promise yourself when nothing is produced but liability to eternal death They are also in error when they do not flee to the only remedy, and assuming that there is some good thing in them, ask God of his goodness, to regard it with favor, by not imputing the evil things which far exceed it both in weight and number.
The third error, however, is by far the worst, I mean their making assurance of salvation depend on the view of works. At one time, indeed, they prohibit us from trusting in ourselves, but when they again tell us to look to our works that we may have a sure hope of salvation, what grounds of hope, can we find in them? Do they not plainly place our whole trust in ourselves? Accordingly, they add a clause which is fit only for such a doctrine. It is, that in this life we carry on a warfare of doubtful issue, and cannot attain certainty, until God render to every one according to his works. By this they overthrow all confidence in our faith, or to use Paul’s expression, make faith itself void. (Romans 4:14.) But Paul declares that he is not justified, because he is not conscious of anything in himself. (1 Corinthians 4:4.) This is true, and therefore, in order that our possession of righteousness may be stable and tranquil, our part is to omit all mention of works, and beseech our Judge not to enter into judgment with us. (Psalm 143:2.) We reach the haven of security only when God lays aside the character of Judge, and exhibits himself to us as a Father.
And yet those swinish men are not ashamed to thunder out a cruel denunciation to terrify the simple, that no man is capable of receiving righteousness who does not firmly adhere to whatever they prescribe. What! has a new method of Justification lately appeared? Or rather, as salvation is one, do we not all come to it by one way? What will become of the Prophets and Apostles who gave no heed to such masters? Therefore, paying no regard to the Council of Trent, let us hold that fixed faith which the Prophets and Apostles, by the Spirit of Christ, delivered to us, knowing whence we have learned it. But the venerable Fathers, as if to make it impossible for any man to doubt that they are of the number of those whose mouth, as David exclaims, (Psalm 4:7) is full of cursing and bitterness, proceed, with truculent bluster, to send forth almost as many anathemas as there are individuals among them, and give these the plausible and honorable name of Canons! Yet that I may not seem to act maliciously, as if I had forgotten the moderation I have hitherto observed, I willingly subscribe to the three first. To the rest I will affix brief censures.
ANTIDOTE TO THE CANONS OF THE COUNCIL OF TRENT.
To Canons 1, 2, and 3:, I say, Amen.
It is worth while to observe how dexterously they accommodate Scripture to their purpose. They say that the love which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit must not be excluded. Thus they corrupt one passage by another. The context shows that Paul does not there speak of our own love, but of the paternal love of God toward us; for he holds it forth as ground of consolation in all circumstances of adversity, that the Spirit suggests proof of the divine benevolence towards us. This swinish herd, on the contrary, twist it to mean, that we are not ashamed of hoping because we love God. And the moment they have given utterance to the words they insist on being regarded as oracles! With similar perversion they make justifying grace a habit, and deny that it proceeds from the free favor of God. The words of Scripture are clear as day against them. For when Paul says, that to believers reward is imputed not as of debt but of grace; and again, that the inheritance is of faith that it may be of grace, (Romans 4:4,) how is it possible in expounding it to give it any other meaning than that of free favor? What else is meant by a purpose of grace? One of the most striking passages is the first chapter to the Ephesians, where, going on word by word, he tells us that the Father hath made us acceptable to himself in the Son.
This article is used by permission of Dr. R. Scott Clark who is currently Associate Pastor at Oceanside United Reformed Church, Oceanside, California and Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California. His educational background; Bachelor of Arts, Political Science; Classics, English and History minors. University of Nebraska, May 1984, Master of Divinity, Westminster Theological Seminary, California. May, 1987, and Doctor of Philosophy, Theology. St. Anne’s College, Oxford University. November, 1998.
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