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CHRIST RIGHTLY AND PROPERLY SAID TO HAVE MERITED GOD’S GRACE AND SALVATION FOR US
1. CHRIST’S MERIT DOES NOT EXCLUDE GOD’S FREE GRACE, BUT PRECEDES IT By way of addition this question also should be explained. There are certain perversely subtle men f459 who — even though they confess that we receive salvation through Christ — cannot bear to hear the word “merit,” for they think that it obscures God’s grace. Hence, they would have Christ as a mere instrument or minister, not as the Author or leader and prince of life, as Peter calls him [<440315> Acts 3:15]. Indeed, I admit, if anyone would simply set Christ by himself over against God’s judgment, there will be no place for merit. For no worthiness will be found in man to deserve God’s favor. Indeed, as Augustine very truly writes: “The clearest light of predestination and grace is the Man Christ Jesus, the Savior, who brought this to pass by the human nature that was in him, through no preceding merits of works or of faith. Answer me, I beg of you, whence did that man deserve to be the only-begotten Son of God, and to be assumed into unity of person by the Word co-eternal with the Father? We must therefore recognize our Head as the very foundation of grace — a grace that is diffused from him through all his members according to the measure of each. Everyone is made a Christian from the beginning of his faith by the same grace whereby that Man from his beginning became the Christ.” f460 Likewise, in another passage: “There is no more illustrious example of predestination than the Mediator himself. For he who made righteous this man of the seed of David, never to be unrighteous, without any merit of his will preceding, of unrighteous makes righteous those who are members of that Head,” f461 etc. In discussing Christ’s merit, we do not consider the beginning of merit to be in him, but we go back to God’s
ordinance, the first cause. For God solely of his own good pleasure appointed him Mediator to obtain salvation for us. Hence it is absurd to set Christ’s merit against God’s mercy. For it is a common rule that a thing subordinate to another is not in conflict with it. For this reason nothing hinders us from asserting that men are freely justified by God’s mercy alone, and at the same time that Christ’s merit, subordinate to God’s mercy, also intervenes on our behalf. Both God’s free favor and Christ’s obedience, each in its degree, are fitly opposed to our works. Apart from God’s good pleasure Christ could not merit anything; but did so because he had been appointed to appease God’s wrath with his sacrifice, and to blot out our transgressions with his obedience. To sum up: inasmuch as Christ’s merit depends upon God’s grace alone, which has ordained this manner of salvation for us, it is just as properly opposed to all human righteousness as God’s grace is. 2. SCRIPTURE COUPLES GOD’S GRACE AND CHRIST’S MERIT This distinction is inferred from very many passages of Scripture. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish.” [<430316> John 3:16.] We see how God’s love holds first place, as the highest cause or origin; how faith in Christ follows this as the second and proximate cause. Suppose someone takes exception that Christ is only a formal cause. He then diminishes Christ’s power more than the words just quoted bear out. For if we attain righteousness by a faith that reposes in him, we ought to seek the matter of our salvation in him. Many passages of Scripture clearly prove this. “Not that we first loved God, but that he first loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation f462 for our sins.” [<620410> 1 John 4:10.] These words clearly demonstrate this fact: that nothing might stand in the way of his love toward us, God appointed Christ as a means of reconciling us to himself. The word “appeasing” f463 is very important. For, in some ineffable way, God loved us and yet was angry toward us at the same time, until he became reconciled to us in Christ. This is the import of all the following statements: “He is the expiation for our sins” [<620202> 1 John 2:2]. Again, “God was pleased …through him to reconcile to himself all things …making peace in relation to himself by the blood of his cross,” etc.
[ Colossians 1:19-20.] Again, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” [<470519> 2 Corinthians 5:19, cf. Comm. and Vg.] Again, “He …bestowed his grace on us in his beloved Son.” [<490106> Ephesians 1:6.] Again, “That he …might reconcile us both …in one man through the cross.” [<490215> Ephesians 2:1516, cf. Vg.] The explanation of this mystery is to be sought in the first chapter of the letter to the Ephesians. There, after Paul has taught us that we were chosen in Christ, he adds at the same time that we acquired favor in the same Christ [<490104> Ephesians 1:4-5]. How did God begin to embrace with his favor those whom he had loved before the creation of the world? Only in that he revealed his love when he was reconciled to us by Christ’s blood. God is the fountainhead of all righteousness. Hence man, so long as he remains a sinner, must consider him an enemy and a judge. Therefore, the beginning of love is righteousness, as Paul describes it: “For our sake he made him to be sin who had done no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” [<470521> 2 Corinthians 5:21]. This means: we, who “by nature are sons of wrath” [ <490203> Ephesians 2:3, cf. Vg.] and estranged from him by sin, have, by Christ’s sacrifice, acquired free justification in order to appease God. But this distinction is also noted whenever Christ’s grace is joined to God’s love. From this it follows that Christ bestows on us something of what he has acquired. For otherwise it would not be fitting for this credit to be given to him as distinct from the Father, namely, that grace is his and proceeds from him. 3. THE MERIT OF CHRIST IN THE WITNESS OF SCRIPTURE By his obedience, however, Christ truly acquired and merited grace for us with his Father. Many passages of Scripture surely and firmly attest this. I take it to be a commonplace that if Christ made satisfaction for our sins, if he paid the penalty owed by us, if he appeased God by his obedience — in short, if as a righteous man he suffered for unrighteous men — then he acquired salvation for us by his righteousness, which is tantamount to deserving it. But, as Paul says, “We were reconciled, and received reconciliation through his death” [<450510> Romans 5:10-11 p.]. But reconciliation has no place except where an offense precedes it. The meaning therefore is: God, to whom we were hateful because of sin, was appeased by the death of his Son to become favorable toward us. And we
must diligently note the antithesis that follows shortly thereafter. “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many are made righteous.” [<450519> Romans 5:19.] This is the meaning: as by the sin of Adam we were estranged from God and destined to perish, so by Christ’s obedience we are f463a received into favor as righteous. The future tense of the verb does not exclude present righteousness, as is apparent from the context. For, as Paul had said previously, “the free gift f464 following many trespasses is unto justification” [<450516> Romans 5:16]. 4. THE SUBSTITUTION OF CHRIST But when we say that grace was imparted to us by the merit of Christ, we mean this: by his blood we were cleansed, and his death was an expiation for our sins. “His blood cleanses us from all sin.” [<620107> 1 John 1:7.] “This is my blood … which is shed … for the forgiveness of sins.” [<402628> Matthew 26:28; cf. <422220> Luke 22:20.] If the effect of his shedding of blood is that our sins are not imputed to us, it follows that God’s judgment was satisfied by that price. On this point John the Baptist’s words apply: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” [<430129> John 1:29]. For he sets Christ over against all the sacrifices of the law, to teach that what those figures showed was fulfilled in him alone. We know what Moses often says: “Iniquity will be atoned for, sin will be blotted out and forgiven” [cf. <023407> Exodus 34:7; <031634> Leviticus 16:34]. In short, the old figures well teach us the force and power of Christ’s death. And in the Letter to the Hebrews the apostle skillfully using this principle explains this point: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” [<580922> Hebrews 9:22]. From this he concludes that “Christ has appeared once for all … to wipe out sin by the sacrifice of himself” [<580926> Hebrews 9:26]. Again, “Christ was offered … to bear the sins of many” [ <580928> Hebrews 9:28]. He had previously said: “He entered once for all into the Holy Place not through the blood of goats and calves but through his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” [<580912> Hebrews 9:12]. He now reasons on this wise: “If the blood of a heifer sanctifies unto the cleanness of the flesh, much more does the blood of Christ … cleanse your consciences from dead works” [<580913> Hebrews 9:13-14 p.]. This readily shows that Christ’s grace is too much weakened
unless we grant to his sacrifice the power of expiating, appeasing, and making satisfaction. As he adds a little later: “He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred meanwhile which redeems them from the preceding transgressions that remained under the law” [<580915> Hebrews 9:15 p.]. It is especially worthwhile to ponder the analogy set forth by Paul: “Christ … became a curse for us,” etc. [<480313> Galatians 3:13]. It was superfluous, even absurd, for Christ to be burdened with a curse, unless it was to acquire righteousness for others by paying what they owed. Isaiah’s testimony is also clear: “The chastisement of our peace was laid upon Christ, and with his stripes healing has come to us” [<235305> Isaiah 53:5 p.]. For unless Christ had made satisfaction for our sins, it would not have been said that he appeased God by taking upon himself the penalty to which we were subject. The words that follow in the same passage agree with this: “I have stricken him for the transgression of my people” [<235308> Isaiah 53:8 p.]. Let us add the interpretation of Peter, which will remove all uncertainty: “He …bore our sins …on the tree” [<600224> 1 Peter 2:24]. He is saying that the burden of condemnation, from which we were freed, was laid upon Christ. 5. CHRIST’S DEATH THE PRICE OF OUR REDEMPTION The apostles clearly state that he paid the price to redeem us from the penalty of death, “being justified... by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ …, whom God put forward as a propitiation f465 through faith which is in his blood” [<450324> Romans 3:24-25 p.]. Paul commends God’s grace in this respect: for God has given the price of redemption in the death of Christ [<450324> Romans 3:24]; then he bids us take refuge in Christ’s blood, that having acquired righteousness we may stand secure before God’s judgment [<450325> Romans 3:25]. Peter’s statement means the same thing: “You were ransomed …not with …silver and gold, but with the precious blood …of a lamb without blemish” [<600118> 1 Peter 1:18-19]. This comparison would not apply unless satisfaction had been made for our sins with this price. This is why Paul says that we “were bought with a price” [<460620> 1 Corinthians 6:20]. His other statement also would not stand, “One mediator …who gave himself as a ransom” f466 [<540205> 1
Timothy 2:5-6], unless the penalty that we deserved had been cast upon him. For this reason the apostle defines the redemption in Christ’s blood as “the forgiveness of sins” [<510114> Colossians 1:14]. It is as if he were saying, “We are justified or acquitted before God, because that blood corresponds to satisfaction for us.” Another passage agrees with this: “In the cross he canceled the written bond which stood against us” [<510214> Colossians 2:14 p.]. He notes there the payment or compensation that absolves us of guilt. And these words of Paul’s are very weighty: “If we are justified through the works of the law, then Christ died for nothing” [<480221> Galatians 2:21 p.]. From this we infer that we must seek from Christ what the law would give if anyone could fulfill it; or, what is the same thing, that we obtain through Christ’s grace what God promised in the law for our works: “He who will do these things, will live in them” [<031805> Leviticus 18:5, cf. Comm.]. This is no less clearly confirmed in the sermon delivered at Antioch, which asserts that by believing in Christ “we are justified from everything from which we could not be justified by the law of Moses” [<441339> Acts 13:39; cf. Vg., ch. 13:38]. For if righteousness consists in the observance of the law, who will deny that Christ merited favor for us when, by taking that burden upon himself, he reconciled us to God as if we had kept the law? What he afterward taught the Galatians has the same purpose: “God sent forth his Son …subject to the law, to redeem those who were under the law” [<480404> Galatians 4:4-5 p.]. What was the purpose of this subjection of Christ to the law but to acquire righteousness for us, undertaking to pay what we could not pay? Hence, that imputation of righteousness without works which Paul discusses [Romans ch. 4]. For the righteousness found in Christ alone is reckoned as ours. Surely the only reason why Christ’s flesh is called “our food” [<430655> John 6:55] is that we find in him the substance of life. Now that power arises solely from the fact that the Son of God was crucified as the price of our righteousness. As Paul says, “Christ …gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice.” [<490502> Ephesians 5:2.] And in another place: “He was put to death for our sins and rose for our justification” [<450425> Romans 4:25]. From this we conclude: not only was salvation given to us through Christ, but, by his grace the Father is now favorable to us. For there is no doubt that there is perfectly fulfilled in him what God declared through Isaiah in a figure: “I shall do this for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David” [ <233735> Isaiah 37:35 p.]. The apostle is the
best witness of this when he says, “Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” [<620212> 1 John 2:12]. For even though the name “Christ” is not mentioned, John designates him, as is his custom, by the pronoun [aujto>v]. The Lord also speaks in this sense: “As I live because of the Father, so …you too will live because of me” [<430657> John 6:57 p.]. Paul’s statement accords with this: “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ f467 you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” <500129> [ Philippians 1:29]. 6. CHRIST ACQUIRED NO MERIT FOR HIMSELF But to ask whether Christ merited anything for himself, as Lombard and the Schoolmen f468 do, is no less stupid curiosity than their temerity in making such a definition. What need was there for God’s only Son to come down in order to acquire something new for himself? God, in setting forth his own plan banishes all doubt. For it is said not that the Father provided, in his Son’s merits, for the needs of the Son; but that he delivered him over to death, and “did not spare him” [<450832> Romans 8:32] because he “loved the world” [<430316> John 3:16 p.; cf. <450835> Romans 8:35,37]. And we should note the prophets’ expressions: “To us a child is born” [<230906> Isaiah 9:6]. “Rejoice, …O daughter of Zion! …Lo, your king comes to you” [ <380909> Zechariah 9:9, cf. Comm.]. Also, that confirmation of love which Paul commends would otherwise be barren: that Christ suffered death for his enemies [cf. <450510> Romans 5:10]. From this we conclude that he had no regard for himself; as he clearly affirms, “For their sake I sanctify myself” [ <431719> John 17:19]. For he who gave away the fruit of his holiness to others testifies that he acquired nothing for himself. And this is indeed worth noting: to devote himself completely to saving us, Christ in a way forgot himself. But they absurdly apply Paul’s testimony to this: “Therefore the Father has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name,” etc. [<502609> Philippians 2:9 p.]. f469 By what merits, they ask, could a man become judge of the world and head of the angels, acquire God’s supreme dominion, and have abiding in himself that majesty, when all the power and virtue of men and angels cannot attain even a thousandth part of it? But there is a ready and full answer: Paul is not there discussing the reason why Christ was exalted, but, for our example, is merely showing how Christ’s exaltation follows his
humiliation. And this means nothing else than what is said elsewhere: “It was necessary that the Christ should suffer …and so enter into the glory of the Father” [<422426> Luke 24:26 p.].
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