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Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion Book3 Chapter15

Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion Book3 Chapter15

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(Doctrine of human merit in justification opposed by Augustine and
Bernard as well as by Scripture, 1-4)
Now we have disposed of the main issue in this discussion: If
righteousness is supported by works, in God\u2019s sight it must entirely

collapse; and it is confined solely to God\u2019s mercy, solely to communion
with Christ, and therefore solely to faith. But let us carefully note that this
is the chief turning pointF403 of the matter in order to avoid becoming
entangled in the common delusion, not of the common folk only, but also
of the learned. For as soon as there is a question concerning justification of

faith or of works, they rush off to those passages which seem to attribute to works some merit in God\u2019s sight. As if justification of works would be fully proved by showing that they have some value with God!

To be sure, we have clearly shown aboveF404 that works righteousness
consists solely in perfect and complete observance of the law. From this it
follows that no man is justified by works unless, having been raised to the
highest peak of perfection, he cannot be accused even of the least
transgression. There is consequently another separate question: Though
works may by no means suffice for justification, should they not yet
deserve favor with God?

I must first make these prefatory remarks concerning the term \u201cmerit\u201d:
whoever first applied it to men\u2019s works over against God\u2019s judgmentF405

provided very badly for sincere faith. Of course, I would like to avoid
verbal battles, but I wish that Christian writers had always exercised such
restraint as not to take it into their heads needlessly to use terms foreign to
Scripture that would produce great offense and very little fruit. Why, I
ask, was there need to drag in the term \u201cmerit\u201d when the value of good
works could without offense have been meaningfully explained by another
term? How much offense this term contains is clear from the great damage
it has done to the world. Surely, as it is a most prideful term, it can do
nothing but obscure God\u2019s favor and imbue men with perverse

I admit that the ancient writers of the church commonly used it, and would that they had not given posterity occasion for error by their misuse of one little word! Nevertheless, in some passages they also testify that they did not intend to prejudice the truth. For in one place Augustine speaks thus: \u201cLet human merits, which perished through Adam, here keep silence, and let God\u2019s grace reign through Jesus Christ.\u201d Again: \u201cThe saints attribute nothing to their merits; they will attribute all to thy mercy alone, O God.\u201d Again: \u201cAnd when man sees that all the good that he has, he has not from himself but from his God, he sees that all that is praiseworthy in himself arises not from his own merits but from God\u2019s mercy.\u201dF406 You see that Augustine, when he has denied to man the power of well-doing, also

overthrows any worth of merit. Moreover, Chrysostom says: \u201cOur

works, if there are any that follow the freely given call of God, are
repayment and debt, but God\u2019s gifts are grace and beneficence and great

But laying aside the term, let us rather look at the thing itself. Previously,
indeed, I cited a statement from Bernard: \u201cAs it is sufficient for merit not
to presume concerning merit, so to lack merits is sufficient for judgment.\u201d
But he immediately adds his interpretation, in which he sufficiently
softens the harshness of the utterance by saying: \u201cAccordingly, take care
to have merits. When you have them, know that they have been given.
Hope for fruit, the mercy of God, and you have escaped all peril of

poverty, ungratefulness, and presumption. Happy is the church that lacks
neither merits without presumption nor presumption without merits.\u201d
And a little before, he had abundantly shown the godly sense in which he
had used the word. \u201cFor why,\u201d he asks, \u201cshould the church concern itself
with merits when it has a firmer and more secure reason to glory in God\u2019s
purpose? God cannot deny himself; he will do what he has promised [cf.
<550213>2 Timothy 2:13]. Thus you have no reason to ask, \u2018By what merits

may we hope for benefits?\u2019 Especially since you hear: \u2018It is not for your sake... but for mine\u2019 [<263622> Ezekiel 36:22,32 p.]. For merit, it suffices to know that merits do not suffice.\u201dF408

Scripture shows what all our works deserve when it states that they

cannot bear God\u2019s gaze because they are full of uncleanness. What, then,
will the perfect observance of the law deserve, if any such can be found,
when Scripture enjoins us to consider ourselves unprofitable servants even
when we do everything required of us [<421710> Luke 17:10]? For to the
Lord we have given nothing unrequired but have only carried out services
owed, for which no thanks are due.

Yet those good works which he has bestowed upon us the Lord calls
\u201cours,\u201d and testifies they not only are acceptable to him but also will have
their reward. It is our duty in return to be aroused by so great a promise,
to take courage not to weary in well-doing [cf.<480609> Galatians 6:9;

<530313>2 Thessalonians 3:13], and to receive God\u2019s great kindness with

true gratefulness. There is no doubt that whatever is praiseworthy in
works is God\u2019s grace; there is not a drop that we ought by rights to ascribe
to ourselves. If we truly and earnestly recognize this, not only will all
confidence in merit vanish, but the very notion, we are not dividing the
credit for good works between God and man, as the Sophists do,F409 but
we are preserving it whole, complete, and unimpaired for the Lord. To
man we assign only this: that he pollutes and contaminates by his
impurity those very things which were good. For nothing proceeds from a
man, however perfect he be, that is not defiled by some spot. Let the
Lord, then, call to judgment the best in human works: he will indeed
recognize in them his own righteousness but man\u2019s dishonor and shame!
Good works, then, are pleasing to God and are not unfruitful for their
doers. But they receive by way of reward the most ample benefits of God,
not because they so deserve but because God\u2019s kindness has of itself set
this value on them. What unkindness it is that men are not content with

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