Reform Church

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
~ Luke 18:9-11

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
~ Romans 3:20

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
~ Romans 3:28

Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
~ Romans 9:32

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
~ Romans 10:3

And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
~ Acts 13:39

For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
~ Hebrews 12:17

And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
~ Luke 18:27

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
~ Galatians 2:21

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
~ 1 Timothy 6:3-5

The Necessity of Reforming the Church, by John Calvin. The following contains an excerpt from his work.

In the second principal branch of doctrine, viz., that which relates to the ground of salvation, and the method of obtaining it, many questions are involved: For, when we tell a man to seek righteousness and life out of himself, i.e., in Christ only, because he has nothing in himself but sin and death, a controversy immediately arises with reference to the freedom and powers of the will. For, if man has any ability of his own to serve God, he does not obtain salvation entirely by the grace of Christ, but in part bestows it on himself. On the other hand, if the whole of salvation is attributed to the grace of Christ, man has no thing left, has no virtue of his own by which he can assist himself to procure salvation. But though our opponents concede that man, in every good deed, is assisted by the Holy Spirit, they nevertheless claim for him a share in the operation. This they do, because they perceive not how deep the wound is which was inflicted on our nature by the fall of our first parents. No doubt, they agree with us in holding the doctrine of original sin, but they afterwards modify its effects, maintaining that the powers of man are only weakened, not wholly depraved. Their view, accordingly, is, that man, being tainted with original corruption, is, in consequence of the weakening of his powers, unable to act aright; but that, being aided by the grace of God, he has something of his own, and from himself, which he is able to contribute. We, again, though we deny not that man acts spontaneously, and of free will, when he is guided by the Holy Spirit, maintain that his whole nature is so imbued with depravity, that of himself he possesses no ability whatever to act aright. Thus far, therefore, do we dissent from those who oppose our doctrine, that while they neither humble man sufficiently, nor duly estimate the blessing of regeneration, we lay him completely prostrate, that he may become sensible of his utter insufficiency in regard to spiritual righteousness, and learn to seek it, not partially, but wholly, from God. To some not very equitable judges, we seem, perhaps, to carry the matter too far; but there is nothing absurd in our doctrine, or at variance either with Scripture or with the general consent of the ancient Church. Nay, we are able, without any difficulty, to confirm our doctrine to the very letter out of the mouth of Augustine; and, accordingly, several of those who are otherwise disaffected to our cause, but somewhat sounder in their judgments, do not venture to contradict us on this head. It is certain, as I have already observed, that we differ from others only in this, that by convincing man of his poverty and powerlessness, we train him more effectually to true humility, leading him to renounce all self-confidence, and throw himself entirely upon God; and that, in like manner, we train him more effectually to gratitude, by leading him to ascribe, as in truth he ought, every good thing which he possesses to the kindness of God. They, on the other hand, intoxicating him with a perverse opinion of his own virtue, precipitate his ruin, inflating him with impious arrogance against God, to whom he ascribes the glory of his justification in no greater degree than to himself. To these errors they add a third, viz., that, in all their discussions concerning the corruption of human nature, they usually stop short at the grosser carnal desires, without touching on deeper-seated and more deadly diseases; and hence it is, that those who are trained in their school easily forgive themselves the foulest sins, as no sins at all, provided they are hid.

The next question relates to the value and merit of works. We both render to good works their due praise, and we deny not that a reward is reserved for them with God; but we take three exceptions, on which the whole of our remaining controversy concerning the work of salvation hinges.

First, we maintain, that of what description soever any man’s works may be, he is regarded as righteous before God, simply on the footing of gratuitous mercy; because God, without any respect to works, freely adopts him in Christ, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to him, as if it were his own. This we call the righteousness of faith, viz., when a man, made void and empty of all confidence in works, feels convinced that the only ground of his acceptance with God is a righteousness which is wanting to himself, and is sorrowed from Christ. The point on which the world always goes astray, (for this error has prevailed in almost every age,) is in imagining that man, however partially defective he may be, still in some degree merits the favor of God by works. But Scripture declares, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” Under this curse must necessarily lie all who are judged by works — none being exempted save those who entirely renounce all confidence in works, and put on Christ, that they may be justified in Him, by the gratuitous acceptance of God. The ground of our justification, therefore, is, that God reconciles us to himself, from regard not to our works, but to Christ alone, and, by gratuitous adoption, makes us, instead of children of wrath, to be his own children. So long as God looks to our works, he perceives no reason why he ought to love us. Wherefore, it is necessary to bury our sins, and impute to us the obedience of Christ, (because the only obedience which can stand his scrutiny,) and adopt us as righteous through His merits. This is the clear and uniform doctrine of Scripture, “witnessed,” as Paul says, “by the law and the prophets,” (Romans 3:21;) and so explained by the gospel, that a clearer law cannot be desired. Paul contrasts the righteousness of the law with the righteousness of the gospel, placing the former in works, and the latter in the grace of Christ, (Romans 10:5, etc.) He does not divide it into two halves, giving works the one, and Christ the other; but he ascribes it to Christ entirely, that we are judged righteous in the sight of God.

There are here two questions; first, whether the glory of our salvation is to be divided between ourselves and God: and, secondly, whether, as in the sight of God, our conscience can with safety put any confidence in works. On the former question, Paul’s decision is — let every mouth “be stopped, and the whole world become guilty before God.” “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God — being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;” and that “to declare His righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus,” (Romans 3:19, etc.) We simply follow this definition, while our opponents maintain that man is not justified by the grace of God, in any sense which does not reserve part of the praise for his own works.

On the second question, Paul reasons thus:

“If they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.” Whence he concludes “it is of faith,” “to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed,” (Romans 4:14, 16.)

And again,

“Being justified by faith, we have peace with God,” (Romans 5:1;)

and no longer dread His presence. And he intimates that every one feels in his own experience, that our consciences cannot but be in perpetual disquietude and fluctuation, so long as we look for protection from works, and that we enjoy serene and placid tranquillity then only, when we have recourse to Christ as the only haven of true confidence. We add nothing to Paul’s doctrine; but that restless dubiety of conscience, which he regards as absurd, is placed by our opponents among the primary axioms of their faith.

The second exception which we take relates to the remission of sins. Our opponents, not being able to deny that men, during their whole lives walk haltingly, and often times even fall, are obliged, whether they will or not, to confess that all need pardon, in order to supply their want of righteousness. But then they have imaginary satisfactions, by means of which those who have sinned purchase back the favor of God. In this class, they place first contrition, and next works, which they term works of supererogation, and penances, which God inflicts on sinners. But, as they are still sensible that these compensations fall far short of the just measure required, they call in the aid of a new species of satisfaction from another quarter, namely, from the benefit of the keys. And they say, that by the keys the treasury of the Church is unlocked, and what is wanting to ourselves supplied out of the merits of Christ and the saints. We, on the contrary, maintain that the sins of men are forgiven freely, and we acknowledge no other satisfaction than that which Christ accomplished, when, by the sacrifice of his death, he expiated our sins. Therefore, we preach that it is the purchase of Christ alone which reconciles us to God, and that no compensations are taken into account, because our heavenly Father contented with the sole expiation of Christ, requires none from us. In the Scriptures we have clear proof of this our doctrine, which, indeed, ought to be called not ours, but rather that of the Church Catholic. For the only method of regaining the divine favor, set forth by the Apostle, is, that

“He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Corinthians 5:21.)

And in another passage, where he is speaking of the remission of sins, he declares that through it righteousness without works is imputed to us, (Romans 6:5). We, therefore, strenuously, yet truly, maintain that their idea of meriting reconciliation with God by satisfactions, and buying off the penalties due to his justice, is execrable blasphemy, in as much as it destroys the doctrine which Isaiah delivers concerning Christ — that

“the chastisement of our peace was upon Him,” (Isaiah 53:5)

The absurd fiction concerning works of supererogation we discard for many reasons; but there are two of more than sufficient weight — the one, that it is impossible to tolerate the idea of man being able to perform to God more than he ought; and the other, that as by the term supererogation, they for the most part understand voluntary acts of worship which their own brain has devised, and which they obtrude upon God, it is lost labor and pains, so far are such acts from having any title to be regarded as expiations which appease the divine anger. Moreover, that mixing up of the blood of Christ with the blood of martyrs, and forming out of them a heterogeneous mass of merits or satisfactions, to buy off the punishments due to sin, are things which we have not tolerated, and which we ought not to tolerate. For, as Augustine says, (Tract. in Joan. 84,) “No martyr’s blood has been shed for the remission of sins. This was the work of Christ alone, and in this work he has bestowed not a thing which we should imitate, but one we should gratefully receive.” With Augustine Leo admirably accords, when he thus writes, (Ep. 81, item, 97,) “Though precious in the sight of God has been the death of his many saints, yet no innocent man’s slaughter was the propitiation of the world; the just received crowns, did not give them, and the constancy of the faithful has furnished examples of patience, not gifts of righteousness.”

Our third and last exception relates to the recompence of works — we maintaining that it depends not on their own value or merit, but rather on the mere benignity of God. Our opponents, indeed, admit that there is no proportion between the merit of the work and its reward; but they do not attend to what is of primary moment in the matter, viz., that the good works of believers are never so pure as that they can please without pardon. They consider not, I say, that they are always sprinkled with some spots or blemishes, because they never proceed from that pure and perfect love of God which is demanded by the Law. Our doctrine, therefore, is, that the good works of believers are always devoid of a spotless purity which can stand the inspection of God; nay, that when they are tried by the strict rule of justice, they are, to a certain extent, impure. But, when once God has graciously adopted believers, he not only accepts and loves their persons, but their works also, and condescends to honor them with a reward. In one word, as we said of man, so we may say of works, — they are justified not by their own desert, but by the merits of Christ alone; the faults by which they would otherwise displease being covered by the sacrifice of Christ. This consideration is of very great practical importance, both in retaining men in the fear of God, that they may not arrogate to their works that which proceeds from his fatherly kindness; and also in inspiring them with the best consolation, and so preventing them from giving way to despondency, when they reflect on the imperfection or impurity of their works, by reminding them that God, of his paternal indulgence, is pleased to pardon it.

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