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Journal: Westminster Theological Journal

Volume: WTJ 71:1 (Spring 2009)

Article: John Calvins Subordinate Doctrine Of Justification By Works
Author: Steven R. Coxhead
John Calvins Subordinate Doctrine Of Justification By Works
Steven R. Coxhead
Steven R. Coxhead is a Part-time Lecturer at the Presbyterian Theological Centre and Visiting Lecturer in
Hebrew at the Sydney Missionary and Bible College in New South Wales, Australia.
I. Introduction
An important aspect that needs clarification in the current debate over justification in Reformed circles is the
relationship of justification by works and justification by faith in Gods plan of salvation. In a previous article, I
argued that John Calvins explanation of the concept of personal righteousness in Ezek 18 clearly shows
that Calvin accepted the idea of a legitimate doctrine of justification by works that functioned in parallel with
but subordinate to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
My findings in that article supported the
observation of Peter Lillback that Calvins law/spirit hermeneutic allowed him to identify a subordinate
righteousness . . . that is imputed to the believers works, which operates in tandem with the righteousness
of Christ yet in no way detracts from justification by faith alone.
Lillbacks assertion of a subordinate doctrine of justification by works in Calvins system of theology has
been opposed by a certain number of scholars of Reformed persuasion, and has even been labeled by
some as heretical. David Engelsma, for example, asserts that Lillback makes Calvin teach the heresy of
justification by faith and works.
Mark Karlberg, in speaking of Lillbacks thesis on Calvin, has also stated
that in the teaching of the new Westminster school, justification is attained by faith and works.
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Where then does the truth lie in this important issue? What did Calvin teach about justification by works? It
would seem best to let Calvin speak for himself, which is what I will attempt to do in the discussion below.
The conclusion that emerges may be surprising to some but hopefully edifying to all.
II. Personal Righteousness In Calvins Institutes And In His Commentaries
Our concern in this section is to examine Calvins teaching on human righteousness in the 1559 edition of
the Institutes and in his commentaries.
It will be seen that Calvins teaching on personal righteousness in
these texts is consistent with his explanation of the concept of righteousness that has been observed
previously in his teaching on Ezek 18. Although it is true that the emphasis in the Institutes is very much
upon justification by faith alone, the idea of a subordinate doctrine of justification by works is clearly present
in the Institutes and also in Calvins commentaries.
1. Calvins Concept Of Righteousness
1. The meaning of iustitia. Given that Calvin conducted his most important theological work in Latin, it is
necessary to investigate his use of the Latin word iustitia, which was commonly utilized in his teaching on
righteousness. Calvin does not often define what he means by the term iustitia but generally assumes that
his readers are familiar with its meaning. In terms of its semantic range, the word iustitia can carry the
related senses of justice, fairness, and uprightness.
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All of these senses of the term iustitia can be found in Calvins Institutes and in his commentaries, as the
discussion below will illustrate.
There has been a fair amount of discussion on the history of the concept of righteousness and the use of
the term iustitia in western theology. Alister McGrath in particular argues that there has frequently been an
implicit equation of Hebraic and western concepts of righteousness . . . in [western] theological works,
which has resulted in western concepts of justice coming to be employed in the articulation of the
Christian doctrine of justification.
If true, this is obviously problematic to the extent that the semantics of
the original OT concepts of righteousness may have been overridden by the semantic information
associated with the word iustitia and related terminology from the Latin linguistic context. Indeed, McGrath
argues that by the second century AD, the Latin term iustitia had acquired well-established juristic
connotations which were to exert considerable influence over future theological interpretation of biblical
righteousness concepts.
He also points out that the Ciceronian definition of iustitia as reddens unicuique
quod suum est . . . had become normative by this time.
McGrath is of the opinion that the Ciceronian
definition of iustitia encapsulates the western concept of iustitia distributiva, the due of each person being
established through the iuris consensus, and embodied in ius.
McGraths observations are relevant to our
discussion of Calvins use of the term iustitia below.
2. Righteousness as justice and equity. Given that iustitia can convey the idea of righteousness as well as
that of justice, it is not surprising to find a number of examples where Calvin interprets OT righteousness
concepts in terms of iustitia in the sense of justice. For example, in his explanation in the Institutes of the
phrase justice and righteousness ( ) in Jer 22:3, Calvin explains the Hebrew term in
terms of justice, where justice means to receive into safekeeping, to protect, vindicate, and free the
In addition to the idea of justice, Calvin often explains biblical concepts of righteousness in terms of aequitas
(i.e., equity). A clear example from the Institutes
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is found in his discussion on self-denial in Titus 2:12 where he states that righteousness embraces all the
duties of equity in order that to each one be rendered what is his own.
It is to be noted that the wording of
this proposition in the Latin is virtually identical to the Ciceronian concept of iustitia as defined by McGrath.
Further evidence for a strong conceptual link between iustitia and aequitas in Calvins thinking is found in his
expositions of iustitia in his commentaries. For example, commenting on the phrase in Gen
18:19, Calvin says that this phrase properly denotes the duties of the Second Table . . . of the Law rather
than Gods law as a whole.
While he acknowledges that the phrase is used in this particular
context in Genesis to denote the whole of Gods law, this only happens by way of synecdoche.
Significantly, he explains the meaning of the phrase in terms of that equity, by which to every
one is given what is his own, from which he derives the meaning of as denoting the rectitude and
humanity which we cultivate with our brethren, when we endeavour to do good to all, and when we abstain
from all wrong, fraud, and violence.
The mention of equity in connection with at this point is
particularly significant in that it strongly suggests that Calvins understanding of OT righteousness concepts
has been influenced by the western concept of iustitia distributiva.
Other examples where Calvin draws a close link between justice and equity include his comments on Ps
15:2. Here Calvin effectively interprets in terms of the second table of the Ten Commandments:
justice is a matter of doing good to others and abstaining from evil.
In Ps 45:6, he speaks of Solomons
love of uprightness and equity.
Calvins interpretation of the phrase in Mic 6:8 is also
relevant at this point. Although he translates here by the Latin word iudicia, iudicia is closely related
to iustitia in his thinking, as can be seen from the fact that he also explains iudicia in terms of the second
table of the Ten Commandments: to do justice [is] to observe what is equitable towards men, and also to
perform the duties of mercy.
Evidence from the book of Ezekiel also confirms the close connection between iustitia and aequitas in
Calvins thinking. For example, iustitia and aequitas are found paralleled in Calvins comments on Ezek 7:23
and 14:23.
Also relevant here is Calvins definition of in his comments on Ezek 18:5, where
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he says that justice is nothing but equity, fidelity, integrity, when we abstain altogether from fraud and
violence, and deal with our brethren as we wish them to deal with us.
Calvin understands that the idea of righteousness as equity is taught in Gods law. This is evident in his
comments in the Institutes on the moral law, where he states that the law . . . enjoins us to observe right
and equity toward men.
He also understands the prophetic call to repentance in terms of equity (among
other things).
The examples mentioned above, where Calvin links righteous behavior to the second table
of the Ten Commandments, also shows how Calvin understands the idea of justice as equity as being
taught in the law. Commenting on the terms and in Isa 56:1, Calvin again makes reference to
the second table of the Ten Commandments and explains that the sense of the terms and
includes all the duties which men owe to each other, and which consist not only in abstaining from doing
wrong, but also in rendering assistance to our neighbours.
His exegetical comments on Luke 1:75 also
link righteousness with equity: Righteousness covers all the duties of charity, for God asks nothing else of
us in the second table of the Law, but to render each man his due.
The language of rendering to each
person what he or she is due or owed parallels the Ciceronian concept of justice as equity.
It is also significant in the light of the observations presented above that the idea of righteousness as justice
and equity is not merely employed by Calvin for the relationship of human beings to each other but also for
the relationship of human beings with God. When it comes to our relationship with God, righteousness is
also a matter of giving to God what is his due. For Calvin, the beginning and foundation of righteousness is
found in the proper worship of God.
Indeed, the chief part of righteousness is to render to God his right
and honor, of which he is impiously defrauded when we do not intend to subject ourselves to his control.
Once again, the words suum ius . . . reddere that appear in the original Latin of the previous quotation
clearly recall the so-called Ciceronian definition of iustitia. Likewise, in his comments on Deut 6:25 Calvin
speaks of uprightness in terms of exercis[ing] equity one towards
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another and giving God His right.
It is apparent, therefore, that Calvins understanding of righteousness
has been influenced by the sense of iustitia distributiva which was common in western philosophical thought
of the time.
From the evidence presented above, we may conclude that righteousness in Calvins thinking is closely
connected with the idea of equity. Iustitia involves equity in human relationships and equity in the exercise of
Furthermore, in the light of the evidence, it is clear that the concept of iustitia distributiva is very
strong in Calvins conceptual framework and that iustitia in his thinking frequently has the ideas of justice
and equity at its core.
3. Righteousness as perfect uprightness. While justice or fairness in the sense of rendering to each person
what is his or her right can be considered to be the core semantic component of iustitia in Calvins thinking,
it is also true that he uses the term iustitia to express the idea of uprightness or right behavior. He
acknowledges, for example, the theoretical possibility of acquiring righteousness by acting properly.
idea of righteousness as right behavior is typically expressed in terms of obedience to Gods law. For Calvin,
the standard for determining proper behavior is Gods will. Gods will is the most perfect rule of all justice.
Furthermore, God has revealed his will in the law.
The law has been divinely handed down to us to
teach us perfect righteousness . . . which conforms to the requirements of Gods will.
Thus, the precepts
of the law are called righteousnesses, and all its commandments are righteous-nesses.
The law as a
whole in itself contains perfect righteousness and is the doctrine of perfect righteousness.
In this way,
the law functions as the standard of righteousness. Hence, Calvin states that everlasting righteousness is
not comprehended elsewhere than in Godslaw.
In addition, Calvin acknowledges that Scripture not only calls the precepts of the law righteousness, but it
also applies this term to the works of the saints.
Because Gods law is the doctrine of perfect
righteousness, it follows that human obedience to the law is also righteousness. Calvin notes in particular
the teaching of Deut 6:25, where he explains that the keeping of the Law is in itself righteousness.
states in regard to Ps 119:144 that, in addition to the righteousness of Gods law, there exists a clearer
definition of righteousness,
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which is, that righteousness consists in our keeping ourselves within the bounds of the law.
Calvin also
acknowledges that there are passages of Scripture that grace good works with the title of righteousness
and that speak of observances of commandments in terms of justifications or righteous-nesses.
admits that the word righteousness often has the same effect in Scripture as observance of the Law.
Adam, for example, was supposed to practice righteousness by obeying Gods commandments.
It is clear from the evidence cited above that Calvin acknowledges that righteousness is frequently to be
defined in terms of obedience to the law; but it also needs to be noted at this juncture that, as far as Calvin
is concerned, only perfect obedience to the law counts as true righteousness.
The idea of complete or
perfect obedience to Gods law can helpfully be designated by the terms absolute righteousness or absolute
obedience. The concept of absolute righteousness is very prominent in Calvins system of theology, as the
following evidence from the Institutes makes clear.
Calvin frequently states that only the complete observance of the law counts as righteousness.
observes that the Lord often testifies that he recognizes no righteousness of works except in the perfect
observance of his law.
Calvin argues that if it is true that in the law we are taught the perfection of
righteousness, then it also follows that the complete observance of the law is perfect righteousness before
No other righteousness than the complete observance of the law is allowed in heaven.
concept of absolute righteousness is particularly evident when he says that even if it were possible for us to
have some wholly pure and perfect works, yet . . . one sin is enough to wipe out and extinguish every
memory of that previous righteousness.
Thus, the law . . . announces death and judgment to all who do
not maintain perfect righteousness in works.
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In Calvins thinking, the promises of eternal life that are offered in Gods law are conditional upon absolute
obedience to the law. Invoking the teaching of Deut 30:19, Calvin states that it cannot be denied, that the
reward of eternal salvation, as promised by the Lord, awaits the perfect obedience of the Law.
he acknowledges that the promises of the law, in so far as they are conditional, depend upon perfect
obedience to the law.
In the precepts of the law, God is but the rewarder of perfect righteousness.
Other places in the Institutes where Calvin teaches the necessary condition of absolute obedience to the law
include 2.7.15; 3.12.1; 3.17.1, 13; and 3.18.10.
The concept of absolute righteousness is also prominent in Calvins commentaries. In fact, the term
absolute righteousness appears in his comments on Rom 2:13.
In his commentaries, Calvin teaches that
doing the law is not to obey in part, but to fulfil everything that belongs to righteousness.
righteousness of the law consists in the perfection of works.
What is required [for righteousness] is
obedience, perfect and complete in all its parts, according to the promise [of Lev 18:5].
Because the law
justifies him who fulfils all its commands, being accounted righteous before God is only where we render
perfect obedience to the law.
That perfect obedience to the law is righteousness and carries the reward
of eternal life derives from God, who declares that they who have fulfilled it shall live.
The law promises
life only on the . . . condition of perfect obedience, and salvation is promised only for perfect obedience of
the Law.
The law requires of us perfect righteousness, and pronounces death on all who have
transgressed any part of it.
It is significant at this juncture to note how Calvin understands the condition for Israels keeping of the
Mosaic covenant as being her absolute obedience to the law of Moses. For example, in the introduction to
his discussion of Exod 19:1-8, Calvin divides the revelation delivered via Moses into two parts: on the
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one hand, there is the general doctrine that testifies of Gods gratuitous adoption and salvation by mercy;
on the other hand, there is the special command that gives to the Mosaic covenant the peculiar property
of its conditionality.
Corresponding to these two aspects of Mosaic revelation, Moses has two main
functions: whenever he prescribes expiatory rites, Moses speaks of Gods mercy; but whenever the
commands of the law are in view, we are dealing with the separate office that was placed upon Moses,
whereby he demand[ed] perfect righteousness of the people.
It is also relevant at this point to note that
Calvin characteristically interprets the Mosaic warnings on the necessity of doing all of the torah in absolute
terms. As Calvin puts it in his comments on Deut 28:58: Perfect obedience is required by the words, to do
all the words that are written in the Law.
4 . The general impossibility of perfect uprightness. Calvin is open in acknowledging that he willingly
confess[es] that perfect obedience to the law is righteousness; but obviously, on the level of righteousness
defined absolutely, he must and does deny that such righteousness exists in any human being (apart from
He denies, for example, that perfect righteousness exists anywhere . . . not because [the law] is
defective and mutilated of itself, but because, due to the weakness of our flesh, it is nowhere visible.
Calvin is clearly aware that it is one thing to acknowledge a concept of law righteousness but another thing
whether we can live up to such obedience.
It is precisely when this question is posed that the feebleness
of the law shows itself, and therefore because [such] observance of the law is found in none of us, we are
excluded from the promises of life that are offered in the law.
For Calvin, the teaching of the law is far
above human capacity such that we can only view from afar the proffered promises and derive [no]
benefit from them.
The problem is that there is no one, not only of the common folk, but of the most
perfect persons, who can fulfill [the law].
Because perfection is
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not possible in this life, then the law in and of itself can only accuse and condemn.
The following passage
captures Calvins understanding of the matter.
The observance of the law is impossible. . . . I call impossible what has never been, and what
Gods ordination and decree prevents from ever being. If we search the remotest past, I say
that none of the saints, clad in the body of death . . . has attained to that goal of love so as to
love God with all his heart, all his mind, all his soul, and all his might. . . . I further say that
there will be no one hereafter who will reach the goal of true perfection without sloughing off the
weight of the body.... The law cannot be fulfilled in this life of the flesh.
Other passages from the Institutes that speak of the impossibility of keeping the law include 3.2.1; 3.12.1;
3.15.3; 3.17.1, 3; and 3.18.9.
Similar teaching is found in Calvins commentaries. Commenting on Deut 30:11, he states that the keeping
of [the law] is impossible, on account of its extreme rigour.
Discussing Hab 2:4, he says: If we are not
righteous except according to the covenant of the law, then we are not righteous except through a full and
perfect observance of the law.
Reflecting on Luke 10:26, he makes the point that it is impossible for us to
fulfil [the laws] commands.
Speaking about Acts 15:10, he says that human strength is not able to cope
with the keeping of the Law.
In his commentary on Romans, he states: We do not deny that absolute
righteousness is prescribed in the law, but since all men are convicted of offense, we assert the necessity of
seeking for another righteousness . . . [for] no one is justified by works.
Likewise, in his commentary on
Galatians he writes: None is righteous by the works of the law, because there is none who does them. We
admit that the doers of the law, if there were any, would be righteous. But since that is a conditional
agreement, all are excluded from life because none offers the righteousness that he ought.
quotations from Calvins commentaries confirm his teaching in Ezek 18 that no perfect observer of the law
can be found.
It is obvious, therefore, in the light of the evidence presented above, that righteousness is frequently thought
of by Calvin in absolute terms. Calvins view on absolute righteousness as it applies to humanity can be
summarized in the following words: The Lord promises [no blessing] except to perfect keepers of his law,
and no one of the kind is to be found.
The clarity of Calvins teaching on this issue, along with the relative
frequency of such teaching in the
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Institutes and in his commentaries, shows how prominent the concept of absolute righteousness is in
Calvins system of theology.
5. Righteousness as relative holiness. Even though the concept of absolute righteousness is a key element
in Calvins system, it would be a mistake to conclude on the basis of this fact that absolute righteousness is
all there is to his understanding of righteousness. An investigation of his Institutes and commentaries shows
that he also believes in a relative form of righteousness that operates in the context of Gods covenant
mercy. This concept will be referred to in this article as covenant righteousness or covenant obedience.
Covenant righteousness is the right standing before God that a member of the covenant enjoys on the basis
of covenant obedience or loyalty, which consists of a genuine commitment to living ones life in accordance
with Gods word.
Even though Calvin stresses the idea of absolute righteousness in his system of theology, it is nevertheless
highly significant that he acknowledges a concept of relative righteousness which is performed by believers
in the context of covenant grace. When he says that it is said with good reason that the lives of believers,
framed to holiness and righteousness, are pleasing to [God] and that in all covenants of his mercy the
Lord requires of his servants in return uprightness and sanctity of life, lest his goodness be mocked, he
effectively gives expression to a concept of covenant righteousness.
When he says that it is necessary
ever [to] strive in the direction of our calling in order not to renounce our right of adoption, a similar idea
Calvin acknowledges, therefore, a form of righteousness that consists of holy living and which is
necessary for the eschatological salvation of believers in the outworking in history of Gods covenants of
Further evidence of righteousness as relative holiness is found in the Institutes, 3.17.10. In this section
Calvin argues that the sense in which the title righteous, which is customarily applied to believers, ought
to be understood is that even though believers are called righteous on the basis of their holiness of life,
this righteousness is subordinate to the righteousness of faith, because the righteous rather lean to the
pursuit of righteousness than actually fulfill righteousness itself.
It could be argued that Calvins language
appears to be a touch convoluted at this point, but effectively what he is saying is that believers in and of
themselves do not possess absolute righteousness; rather, they possess the absolute righteousness of
Christ through faith, but also, as a result of this, a relative form of personal righteousness, which is due to
the work of Gods Spirit
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and which is treated by God in the context of covenant grace as worthy of reward. As Calvin puts it: For
believers uprightness, albeit partial and imperfect, is a step toward immortality.
A concept of covenant
righteousness exists, therefore, in Calvins thinking; and such righteousness is understood by Calvin as
being ordinarily a necessary element in the process of salvation by which God leads the elect into the full
possession of eternal life.
Elsewhere Calvin speaks of covenant righteousness in terms of a form of righteousness that God rewards in
a manner not strictly related to equity. In his discussion in the Institutes on the significance of Heb 6:10,
which is a verse that implies that God rewards the works of believers, Calvin again identifies a relative form
of works righteousness that operates in the context of covenant grace. As part of the free covenant of
[Gods] mercy, God has promised to reward the labor of his servants, so that however unworthy our
services, a reward will not be lacking from Gods generosity.
In this context, Gods justice refers more to
the truth of the divine promise than to the equity of rendering what is due.
In other words, the works of
believers are rewarded in the context of the grace of the forgiveness of sins that is offered within the
covenant relationship.
Turning now to Calvins commentaries, in explaining the sense in which Noah was a righteous man, Calvin
acknowledges that Noah is declared to have been acceptable to God, because, by living uprightly and
holily, he kept himself pure from the common pollutions of the world.
Noah is thus an example of the fact
that, in the Scriptures, certain people are called just and upright, not who are in every respect perfect, and
in whom there is no defect; but who cultivate righteousness purely, and from their heart.
Calvin goes on
to explain that this acknowledgment of righteousness stems from the fact that God does not act towards his
own people with the rigour of justice, as requiring of them a life according to the perfect rule of the Law; for,
if only no hypocrisy reigns within them, but the pure love of rectitude flourishes, and fills their hearts, he
pronounces them, according to his clemency, to be righteous.
A further example of righteousness as relative holiness is found in Calvins discussion of the nature of the
righteousness of Noah, Daniel, and Job in Ezek 14:14. How is it that these three men can be described as
saving themselves
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through their own righteousness? Once again Calvin resorts to Gods gratuitous favour as the explanation:
Because God pardons his sons . . . hence he accepts their works: so he acknowledges them also as just.

Calvin notes that the beginning of [this kind of ] righteousness . . . is a gratuitous reconciliation by which
all the faults of the faithful are buried: whence it happens also that their integrity, although not perfect, is still
pleasing to God.
Calvins explanation of the righteousness of Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke 1:6 is another case in point.
Calvin understands the righteousness of Zacharias and Elizabeth in terms of devout and righteous living.
The righteousness ascribed to them was theirs not on account of their merit, but on account of the grace
of Christ, but it was because the Lord did not impute their sins to them, that He granted their holythough
imperfectlives the distinction of righteousness.
The righteousness of Zacharias and Elizabeth,
therefore, involved a genuine though imperfect commitment to doing Gods will in the context of covenant
grace. According to the covenant that God makes with his people, whose first article is free reconciliation,
and daily forgiveness . . . [m]en are reckoned righteous and blameless, because their whole life testifies that
they are devoted to righteousness.
Calvin also says that we should not neglect this definition, that the
righteous are those who form their lives according to the precepts of the Law.
This quotation captures
Calvins definition of covenant righteousness, which involves a person seeking to model the whole of ones
life in accordance with Gods will as revealed in his law and in the context of covenant grace.
Other examples that are worthy of mention at this point include Calvins interpretation of Peters use of the
term in 1 Pet 4:18. Here Calvin makes the point that the righteous [are] not those who are
altogether perfect in righteousness, but who strive to live righteously.
Likewise, in explaining the idea of
walking in the light in 1 John 1:7, Calvin says that this idea is not to be understood in terms of total purity;
rather, it is an expression that is accommodated to the grasp of men.
He is said to be like God who
aspires after His likeness, however distant from it he may yet be . . . he who in sincerity of heart spends
every part of his life in Gods fear and service and worships Him faithfully, may be regarded as walking in
the light, for he keeps to the right way, even though in
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many things he may err and groan under the burden of the flesh.
Commenting on the idea in 1 John 2:17
that the doers of Gods will abide forever, Calvin says that John is not dealing here with the perfect keeping
of the Law, but with the obedience of faith, which, although imperfect, is nevertheless approved by God.
Finally, in what is a particularly interesting comment, Calvin acknowledges, in the context of Pauls teaching
on justification by faith in Rom 4:6, that in other parts of Scripture works, and other blessings also, are
sometimes stated to be imputed for righteousness.
2. Calvins Concept Of Justification
According to McGrath, The concept of justification (Latin, iustificatio) is inextricably linked with that of
righteousness (Latin, iustitia), both semantically and theologically.
In agreement with this statement, it is
necessary to consider briefly Calvins understanding of justification. As one would expect, the pattern of
justification that emerges in Calvins teaching neatly corresponds to the pattern that we have seen above
with respect to the concept of righteousness.
1 . The general meaning of justification . On the general concept of justification, Calvin understands
justification to mean acquittal from sin. Because iniquity is abominable to God, so no sinner can find favor in
[Gods] eyes in so far as he is a sinner and so long as he is reckoned as such.
To justify a person,
however, means nothing else than to acquit of guilt him who was accused, as if his innocence were
Applying this to the situation of being justified in the sight of God, a person is justified who is
reckoned in the condition not of a sinner, but of a righteous man.
Calvin also describes justification as
the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men.
Calvins mention in this
context of coram Dei tribunali and his speaking of God in judicial terms shows that justification is
fundamentally forensic in nature in his understanding.
Being deemed or reckoned as righteous is the
core, therefore, of what it means to be justified. Calvin also notes that Paul speaks of justification in terms of
acceptance and the imputation of righteousness.
In discussing justification in further detail, he
distinguishes between two forms of justification, namely, justification by faith and justification by works.
2. Justification by faith. The importance of justification by faith for Calvin can be seen in the way that he
opens his defining chapter on justification in the Institutes, when he says that mans only resource for
escaping from the curse of the
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law, and recovering salvation, lies in faith.
Justification by faith is necessary precisely because we
cannot be justified by works.
In other words, because no ordinary human being can meet the standard
of perfect obedience to Gods law, a solution must be found that does not involve our works before God;
hence the necessity of justification by faith. For Calvin, the person who is justified by faith is he who,
excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in
it, appears in Gods sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man.
Justification by faith consists in the
remission of sins and the imputation of Christs righteousness.
On the question as to what constitutes faith, Victor Shepherds finding that faith in Calvins thinking is
primarily a knowledge of Gods mercy in Jesus Christ but which includes the other aspects of Gods word
under the divine promise of mercy is corroborated by the evidence in Calvins Institutes.
Calvins discussion in the Institutes, 3.2.1-43, faith is defined as a knowledge of Gods will towards us,
perceived from his Word.
But what, strictly speaking, is it that faith knows about Gods will? Calvin
identifies Gods benevolence or . . . mercy as the core epistemological component of faith.
Thus, faith is
ultimately a firm and certain knowledge of Gods benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the
freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy
Faith is, in effect, a sure confidence in divine benevolence and salvation.
Even though the
knowledge of Gods mercy or the freely given promise of God is the core or the foundation of faith, Calvin
denies that the knowledge of Gods mercy is the only component of faith.
Faith is [also being] certain
that God is true in all things whether he command or forbid, whether he promise or threaten; and it also
obediently receives his commandments, observes his prohibitions, heeds his threats. Nevertheless, faith
properly begins with the promise, rests in it, and ends in it.
Calvins reason for emphasizing the promise
of mercy is because life [can] not be found in commandments or declarations of penalties.
conditional promise that sends us back to our own works cannot give life.
Thus, for Calvin, faith is
supremely the knowledge of Gods mercy in Christ as made known through Gods word.
WTJ 71:1 (Spring 2009) p. 16
3 . Justification by works. Calvin speaks of justification by works on two levels: where righteousness is
defined absolutely, there only exists a hypothetical doctrine of justification by works for sinful human beings.
But where the righteousness of individuals is viewed in the context of justification by faith already applied,
then a legitimate but subordinate doctrine of justification by works emerges.
On the level of absolute righteousness, Calvin teaches that a person is justified by works if in his life there
can be found a purity and holiness which merits an attestation of righteousness at the throne of God, or if by
the perfection of his works he can answer and satisfy the divine justice.
In other words, absolute
righteousness is the necessary condition for a person to be justified by works. Given the fact, however, that
all human beings (apart from Christ) commit sin, then it follows that the doctrine of justification by works
cannot help the mass of humanity.
It is to be noted, however, that Calvins system of theology does not simply contain a hypothetical doctrine of
justification by works on condition of absolute righteousness. It is significant that Calvin observes that it is
one thing to discuss what value works have of themselves, another, to weigh in what place they are to be
held after faith righteousness has been established.
In Calvins thinking, the fact that we . . . receive a
double grace through union with Christ through faith (i.e., reconciliation and regeneration) means that the
good works of believers are also imputed to them as righteousness.
Even though the idea of a legitimate
doctrine of the imputation of a believers good works as righteousness is viewed by some Reformed
scholars as heretical, Calvin clearly believed in such a concept:
After forgiveness of sins is set forth, the good works that now follow are appraised otherwise
than on their own merit. For everything imperfect in them is covered by Christs perfection....
Therefore, after the guilt of all transgressions that hinder man from bringing forth anything
pleasing to God has been blotted out, and after the fault of imperfection, which habitually
defiles even good works, is buried, the good works done by believers are accounted righteous,
or, what is the same thing, are reckoned [i.e., imputed] as righteousness.
In Calvins thinking, a person can be accepted by God solely on the basis of the absolute righteousness of
Christ; but because faith goes together with spiritual renewal and because the imperfect works of believers
are sanctified by the righteousness of Christ, then works righteousness also exists for the believer.
WTJ 71:1 (Spring 2009) p. 17
That is to say, because justification by faith is true, then a gracious justification by works is also true, or as
Calvin puts it: works righteousness . . . depends upon the justification of faith.
Thus, it follows from
justification of faith that works otherwise impure, unclean, half done, unworthy of Gods sight, not to mention
his love, are accounted [i.e., imputed as] righteousness.
At the same time, however, this legitimate
doctrine of justification by works is to be subordinated to the logically prior truth of justification by faith. As
Calvin states: Works righteousness . . . depends upon faith and free justification, and is effected by this
and ought to . . . be subordinated to [faith] . . . as effect to cause.
The picture that emerges from Calvins commentaries confirms his teaching in the Institutes. Two examples
will suffice at this point. Commenting on Luke 1:6, Calvin says that the righteousness of works flows from
the righteousness of faith and should be dependent and secondary to it, that is, subordinated . . . so as
not to conflict with the [righteousness of faith].
The second example concerns 1 John 2:17, where Calvin
says, The will of God is first shown to us in the Law. But as no one satisfies the Law, no happiness can be
hoped for from it. But Christ meets the despairing with a new aid, for He not only regenerates us by His
Spirit so that we may obey God, but also brings it to pass that our endeavour, of whatever kind, obtains the
praise of perfect righteousness.
There is, therefore, in Calvin a legitimate doctrine of justification by
works that is subordinate to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
The significance of the truth of this subordinate doctrine of justification by works in Calvins system is that
the doctrine of justification by faith alone does not nullify the promises of the law or render them fruitless.
Calvin argues that the promises of the law are in a sense abolished when considered in themselves; but
when they are substituted by the promises of the gospel . . . which proclaim the free forgiveness of sins,
these latter promises not only make us acceptable to God but also render our works pleasing to him; and
thus the Lord also extends to [our works] the blessings which under the covenant were owed to the
observance of his law.
In this way, what the Lord
WTJ 71:1 (Spring 2009) p. 18
has promised in his law to the keepers of righteousness and holiness is paid to the works of believers.
is also for this reason that Calvin can go so far as to speak of works as inferior causes of salvation, in the
sense that the Lord ordinarily brings the elect into possession of the inheritance of eternal life . . . by means
of good works.
In a nutshell, Calvins view is that the unattainable absolute righteousness of works forces everyone to flee
to the absolute righteousness of Christ through faith, which in turn enables the original doctrine of
justification by means of the works of the law to have validity for the believer. Therefore Calvin can say: Let
him . . . who so wishes enlarge upon the recompense said to await the keeper of the law, provided he at the
same time ponder that our depravity makes us experience no benefit therefrom until we have obtained
another righteousness from faith.
No matter what weaknesses there may be with this theological
construction, it should nevertheless be acknowledged that Calvins understanding of justification represents
a remarkable synthesis of biblical teaching.
III. Conclusion
Calvins teaching on the concept of righteousness in the 1559 edition of the Institutes and in his
commentaries is rather complex, but a number of conclusions can be made on the basis of the evidence
presented above. Reflecting a Ciceronian definition of iustitia, the ideas of justice and equity are frequently
in Calvins mind when he speaks about righteousness. More importantly, however, Calvin defines
righteousness in terms of Gods will as revealed through his law. In this regard, the concepts of
righteousness as perfect uprightness and righteousness as a relative holiness co-operate in the experience
of the believer, although the latter is clearly subordinate to the former. The teaching on righteousness that
appears in Calvins Institutes and commentaries is thoroughly consistent, therefore, with Calvins
explanation of the concept of the righteousness of obedience to the law that appears in Ezek 18.
Furthermore, the evidence cited above corroborates Lillbacks opinion that Calvin taught a subordinate
[works] righteousness . . . that is imputed to the believers works, which operates in tandem with justification
by faith alone.
Those who assert
WTJ 71:1 (Spring 2009) p. 19
that Lillback makes Calvin teach the heresy of justification by faith and works have missed the point of
Lillbacks observation and, more importantly, have failed to understand Calvins teaching on this matter. It is
true that Calvin strongly rejects a doctrine of justification involving an admixture of faith and works, but the
evidence cited above proves that Calvin did teach a doctrine of justification that operates on two levels. In
Calvins thinking, justification by faith alone operates on the level of absolute righteousness, and justification
by works on the level of Gods gracious covenant. Those who deny that Calvin taught a subordinate and
legitimate doctrine of justification by works have arguably not understood the genius of Calvins teaching on
this issue.
See Steven R. Coxhead, John Calvins Interpretation of Works Righteousness in Ezekiel 18, WTJ 70
(2008): 303-16.
Peter A. Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvins Role in the Development of Covenant Theology (Grand
Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 188-89; see also p. 205.
David J. Engelsma, The Recent Bondage of John Calvin: A Critique of Peter A. Lillbacks The Binding of
God, Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 35 (November 2001): n.p., Online: http:// (accessed 17 January 2008).
Mark W. Karlberg, Gospel Grace: The Modern-Day Controversy (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2003), 219-
Calvins understanding of righteousness as it applies to God is not in focus in this article, but it is important
to note that Calvin believed that God is the fountainhead of all righteousness ( John Calvin, Institutes of
the Christian Religion [ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; 2 vols.; Philadelphia: Westminster,
1960], 1:530 [2.17.2]. All quotations from Calvins Institutes in this article will be from the Battles translation
unless specified otherwise.) The concept iustitia Dei has three basic meanings in Calvins thinking. Firstly, it
can denote the righteousness of God himself either in his spotless character(Inst. 1:783 [3.14.16]), or as
revealed through the blamelessness of his actions (Inst. 1:311 [2.4.2]), or in the sense of his faithfulness
and mercy which he shows in defending and preserving his people (e.g., John Calvin, Commentary on the
Book of Psalms [trans. James Anderson; 5 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948], 1:59; see also Psalms,
1:92, 389, 499; 2:13, 229-30, 302-3; 3:90, 93), or Gods just government of the world (Psalms, 1:159, 169;
2:9-10). Secondly, it can denote the standard of perfection that is alone acceptable to God (Inst. 1:354
[2.7.6]; and also 1:265 [2.2.8]; 1:340 [2.5.19]; 1:736 [3.11.9]; 1:756 [3.12.2]), to which believers are
conformed in the process of spiritual renewal (Inst. 1:601 [3.3.9]; 1:684 [3.6.1]). Thirdly, it can denote the
purity of Christ (Inst. 1:730 [3.11.5]), in which believers are clothed (Inst. 1:508 [2.16.5]; 1:510 [2.16.6];
1:742 [3.11.12]; 1:753 [3.11.23]). In addition, iustitia Dei can be understood in a number of derivative or
combined senses: the righteousness that is bestowed upon believers, of which God is the author (Inst.
1:736 [3.11.9]); Gods righteous character and his work of justifying believers (Inst. 1:763 [3.13.1]); Gods
righteous standard of morality as revealed in his law (Psalms, 4:430, 456-57; 5:21-22, 35, 40); or eventhe
holiness manifested in the life that is so well-pleasing to [God] (Psalms, 3:73).
These meanings of iustitia are cited from Collins Latin Dictionary Plus Grammar (Glasgow: Harper Collins,
1997), 120.
Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Doctrine of Justification (3d ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2005), 7.
Ibid., 16.
Ibid. McGrath cites D. H. van Zyl, Justice and Equity in Cicero (Pretoria, S.A.: Academica Press, 1991), as
evidence for Ciceros view of iustitia (Iustitia Dei, 16). He also quotes from Cicero himself: Iustitia virtus est,
communi utilitate servata, suam cuique tribuens dignitatem (ibid.). According to Braden J. Hosch, the so-
called Ciceronian definition of iustitia actually goes back to Simonides (Hosch, Truth in Our Practice:
Representing Justice in Miltons Poetry and Prose [Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 2003], 45).
Simonides definition of justice appears in Plato, Resp. 1.331d332c, in Socrates discussion with
Polemarchus: (Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes [LCL;
ed. G. P. Goold et al.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978], 5:20 [1.331e]).
McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 17.
Inst. 2:1497 (4.20.9). The Latin reads: Iustitia quidem est, innocentes in fidem suscipere, complecti, tueri,
vindicare, liberare ( John Calvin, Institutio Christianae Religionis cum brevi Annotatione atque Indicibus
locupletissimis ad Editionem Amstelodamensem accuratissime exscribi curavit A. Tholuck [Berlin: Gustaf
Eichler, 1834], 2:482).
Inst. 1:692 (3.7.3): Iustitia autem omnia aequitatis officia complectitur, ut reddatur unicuique quod suum
est (Institutio, 1:446). Other places in the Institutes where iustitia and aequitas are closely linked include
sections 3.14.2 and 4.20.9, 15.
John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (trans. John King; 2 vols.; Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 1:482.
Psalms, 1:206.
Ibid., 2:179.
John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets (trans. John Owen; 5 vols.; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1948), 3:343.
John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Twenty Chapters of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (trans.
Thomas Myers; 2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 1:268; 2:83.
Ezekiel , 2:220.
Inst. 1:417 (2.8.53): in Lege nobis tantum praescribi iuris et aequitatis inter homines observantiam
(Institutio, 1:272).
Inst. 1:416 (2.8.52): For almost every time the prophets exhort men to repentance they omit the First
Table, and urge faith, judgment, mercy, and equityNam fere quoties hortantur ad poenitentiam, omissa
priore tabula, fidem, iudicium, misericordiam et aequitatem urgent (Institutio, 1:272).
John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (trans. William Pringle; 4 vols.; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1947), 4:175-76.
John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke (Calvins New Testament Commentaries
1-3; ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance; trans. A. W. Morrison and T. H. L. Parker; 3 vols.;
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 1:48.
Inst. 1:377 (2.8.11): Principium ergo et fundamentum iustitiae vocamus Dei cultum (Institutio, 1:246).
Inst. 1:599-600 (3.3.7): praecipua iustitiae pars est, suum ius et honorem Deo reddere, quo impie
fraudatur, ubi nobis propositum non est, subiicere nos eius imperio (Institutio, 1:388).
John Calvin, Commentaries on the Last Four Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony
(Calvins Commentaries 2-3; trans. Charles William Bingham; 4 vols; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 1:363.
For equity as fairness in justice, see Inst. 2.8.19; 3.23.9; 4.20.4.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (trans. Henry Beveridge; 2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1970), 2:38 (3.11.3): acquirere iustitiam recte agendo (Institutio, 2:7).
Ezekiel, 1:315.
Inst. 1:422 (2.8.59).
Ibid., 1:372 (2.8.5): Legem nobis esse divinitus traditam, quae nos perfectam iustitiam edoceret: illic non
aliam iustitiam doceri, nisi quae ad praescriptum divinae voluntatis exigatur (Institutio, 1:242).
Inst. 1:810 (3.17.7): Ut dem Legis praecepta vocari iustitias, nihil mirum and iustitiae sunt singula eius
mandata (Institutio, 2:59).
Inst. 2:1267 (4.13.13): in se contineat Lex perfectam iustitiam and [Lex est] perfectae iustitiae doctrina
(Institutio, 2:344).
Psalms, 5:22.
Inst. 1:810 (3.17.7).
The Last Four Books of Moses, 1:363.
Psalms, 5:22.
Inst. 1:809 (3.17.7): At vero plus longe difficultatis esse videtur in his locis, qui et bona opera iustitiae titulo
insigniunt, et hominem illis asserunt iustificari. Plurimi sunt prioris generis, ubi mandatorum observationes,
iustificationes vocantur seu iustitiae (Institutio, 2:58).
Harmony of the Gospels , 1:130.
Inst. 1:246 (2.1.4): nihil melius esse, quam Dei mandatis parendo colere iustitiam (Institutio, 1:166).
The phrase perfect obedience, which appears as either perfecta obedientia or absoluta obedientia in the
Latin, is found in sections 2.7.3-4; 3.14.11; 3.17.7; 3.18.10; and 4.13.6, 13 of the Institutes.
The phrase the complete observance of the law , i.e., absoluta observatio, is found in Inst. 2.7.3.
Inst. 1:780 (3.14.13): Toties testificatur Dominus nullam se agnoscere operum iustitiam, nisi in perfecta
Legis suae observatione (Institutio, 2:39).
Inst. 1:351 (2.7.3): Si verum est perfectionem iustitiae in Lege nos edoceri: istud etiam con-sequitur,
absolutam eius observationem perfectam esse coram Deo iustitiam (Institutio, 1:230).
Inst. 1:780 (3.14.13): non alia iustitia admittitur in coelis quam integra Legis observatio (Institutio, 2:39).
Inst. 1:777 (3.14.10): etiamsi fieri posset, ut aliqua nobis essent omnino pura absolutaque opera, unum
tamen peccatum satis est ad delendam exstinguendamque omnem memoriam prioris iustitiae (Institutio,
Inst. 1:777 (3.14.10): Lex . . . mortem ac iudicium omnibus denuntiet, qui non integram iustitiam opere
praestiterint (Institutio, 2:38).
Inst. (trans. Beveridge), 1:302 (2.7.3): Nec refragari licet, quin iustam Legis obedientiam maneat aeternae
salutis remuneratio, quemadmodum a Domino promissa est (Institutio, 1:230).
Inst. 1:352 (2.7.4): promissiones Legis, quatenus conditionales sunt a perfecta Legis obedientia
depende[nt] (Institutio, 1:230).
Inst. 1:357 (2.7.8): Deus enim in Legis praeceptis nonnisi perfectae iustitiae . . . remunerator (Institutio,
Absolute righteousness is prescribed in the law ( John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the
Romans and to the Thessalonians [Calvins New Testament Commentaries 8; ed. David W. Torrance and
Thomas F. Torrance; trans. Ross Mackenzie; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], 47).
John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians
(Calvins New Testament Commentaries 11; ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance; trans. T. H. L.
Parker; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 55.
Romans, 47.
Ibid., 87.
Galatians, 54, 51.
Ibid., 38.
John Calvin, The Acts of the Apostles (Calvins New Testament Commentaries 6-7; ed. David W. Torrance
and Thomas F. Torrance; trans. John W. Fraser and W. J. G. McDonald; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977),
Romans, 130.
Last Four Books of Moses , 1:313.
Ibid., 3:262. This conclusion is not controversial, but it confirms Lillbacks observation that, for Calvin, the
condition of the covenant from the human side is perfect obedience (Lillback, The Binding of God , 186).
Inst. 1:810 (3.17.7): Fatemur ergo libenter, absolutam Legis obedientiam esse iustitiam (Institutio, 2:59).
Inst. 1:810 (3.17.7): Sed exstare usquam talem iustitiae formam negamus. Atque ideo Legis iustitiam
tollimus, non quod manca per se sit ac mutila: sed quod ob carnis nostrae debilitatem nusquam compareat
(Institutio, 2:59).
Inst. 1:351-52 (2.7.3).
Ibid., 1:352 (2.7.3): Legis imbecillitas se profert: nam quia in nullo nostrum illa Legis observantia
deprehenditur, a vitae promissionibus exclusi in solam maledictionem recidimus (Institutio, 1:230).
Inst. 1:352 (2.7.3): quum enim longe supra humanam facultatem sit Legis doctrina, potest quidem homo
eminus spectare appositas promissiones, non tamen fructum ex iis aliquem colligere (Institutio, 1:230).
Inst. 1:747 (3.11.17): quia nemo est qui impleat, non tantum ex vulgo, sed ex perfectissimis quibusque
(Institutio, 2:18).
Inst. 1:777 (3.14.10).
Ibid., 1:353-54 (2.7.5).
Last Four Books of Moses, 1:414.
Minor Prophets, 4:80.
A Harmony of the Gospels, 3:35.
Acts, 2:37.
Romans, 47.
Galatians, 54-55.
Ezekiel, 2:236.
Inst. 1:803 (3.17.1): Non enim promittit Dominus quippiam, nisi perfectis Legis suae cultoribus, qualis nemo
reperitur (Institutio, 2:55).
Inst. 1:807-8 (3.17.5): non sine causa dicitur illi placere fidelium vita, ad sanctitatem et iustitiam
composita.... Siquidem ut in omnibus misericordiae suae pactis integritatem ac sanctimoniam vitae vicissim
a servis suis Deus ludibrio sit sua bonitas (Institutio, 2:57).
Inst. 1:809 (3.17.6): Ne ergo ipsi adoptionis iure nos abdicemus, huc semper enitendum, quo tendit nostra
vocatio (Institutio, 2:58).
Inst. 1:814 (3.17.10):Multo iam minus rationis est, cur nos conturbare debeat appellatio iustorum, quae
fidelibus plerumque tribuitur. Iustos certe a vitae sanctimonia nuncupari fateor: sed quum in iustitiae studium
magis incumbant quam iustitiam ipsam impleant, qualemcunque hanc iustitiam, fidei iustificatione cedere
par est (Institutio, 2:61).
Inst. 1:820 (3.17.15): Neque interim negamus quin fidelibus sua integritas, dimidiata licet ac imperfecta,
gradus sit ad immortalitatem (Institutio, 2:65).
Inst. 1:787 (3.14.21).
Ibid., 1:829 (3.18.7): Semper meminerimus, hanc promissionem . . . nihil fructus nobis allaturam, nisi
praecederet gratuitum misericordiae foedus, cui tota salutis nostrae certitudo incumberet. Eo autem freti,
confidere secure debemus, obsequiis etiam nostris quamlibet indignis non defuturum a Dei liberalitate
praemium (Institutio, 2:71).
Inst. 1:829 (3.18.7): Iustitia igitur ista magis ad divinae promissionis veritatem, quam ad reddendam debiti
aequitatem refertur (Institutio, 2:71).
Genesis, 1:251.
Ibid., 1:251-52.
Ibid., 1:252.
Ezekiel , 2:74.
Harmony of the Gospels , 1:6.
Ibid., 1:7.
Ibid., 1:6.
John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St Peter
(Calvins New Testament Commentaries 12; ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance; trans. William
B. Johnston; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 312.
John Calvin, The Gospel according to St John 11-21 and The First Epistle of John (Calvins New
Testament Commentaries 5; ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance; trans. T. H. L. Parker; Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 238.
The First Epistle of John , 238.
Ibid., 255.
Romans, 86 (my emphasis).
McGrath, Iustitia Dei , 6.
Inst. 1:726 (3.11.2).
Ibid., 1:728 (3.11.3).
Ibid., 1:726 (3.11.2).
Ibid., 1:727 (3.11.2).
Institutio, 2:6 (3.11.2).
Inst. 1:728-29 (3.11.4). The terms that Calvin uses in the Latin are acceptio and iustitiae imputatio (Institutio,
Inst. (trans. Beveridge), 2:37 (3.11.1).
Galatians, 38.
Inst. 1:726-27 (3.11.2).
Ibid., 1:727 (3.11.2).
Victor A. Shepherd, The Nature and Function of Faith in the Theology of John Calvin (National Association
of Baptist Professors of Religion Dissertation Series 2; Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1983), 10, 14-
Inst. 1:549 (3.2.6).
Ibid., 1:550 (3.2.7): i.e., Gods benevolentia and misericordia (Institutio, 1:357).
Inst. 1:551 (3.2.7).
Ibid., 1:561 (3.2.15).
Ibid., 1:575 (3.2.29).
Inst. (trans. Beveridge), 2:38 (3.11.2).
Inst. 1:802-6 (3.17.1-3).
Ibid., 1:811 (3.17.8) (my emphasis): Sed aliud est disputare, quid per se valeant opera, aliud quo loco post
stabilitam fidei iustitiam habenda sint (Institutio, 2:59).
The quotation is from Inst. 1:725 (3.11.1): [Christi] participatione duplicem potissimum gratiam recipiamus
(Institutio, 2:6). Calvins discussion of the legitimate biblical doctrine of works righteousness is found in
sections 3.17.8-10 of the 1559 edition of the Institutes.
Inst. 1:811-12 (3.17.8) (my emphasis): Praeposita peccatorum remissione, quae iam sequuntur bona
opera aliam quam a suo merito aestimationem habent: quia quicquid in illis est imperfectum, Christi
perfectione contegitur.... Obliterata igitur omnium transgressionum culpa, quibus impediuntur homines ne
quicquam Deo gratum proferant, sepulto etiam imperfectionis vitio, quod bona quoque opera foedare solet:
quae fiunt a fidelibus bona opera, iusta censentur, vel (quod idem est) in iustitiam imputantur (Institutio,
Inst. 1:812 (3.17.9): si a fidei iustificatione dependet qualiscunque tandem censetur operum iustitia, non
modo per hanc nihil imminui, sed potius confirmari (Institutio, 2:60).
Inst. 1:812 (3.17.9): Quodsi constat a iustificatione fidei proficisci, ut opera impura alioqui, immunda,
dimidiata, indigna Dei conspectu, nedum amore, iustitiae imputentur (Institutio, 2:60). In the context, the
subjunctive flavor of this protasis speaks of a real condition.
Inst. 1:813 (3.17.10): Iam si ista qualiscunque operum iustitia a fide et gratuita iustificatione pendet, et ab
ea efficitur: debet sub ea includi, et tanquam effectus causae suae (ut ita loquar) subordinari (Institutio,
Harmony of the Gospels, 1:7.
The First Epistle of John, 255.
This teaching is commonly known as double justification. That Calvin taught a doctrine of double justification
is acknowledged by T. H. L. Parker and Anthony Lane, among others. See T. H. L. Parker, Calvins
Doctrine of Justification, EvQ 24 (1952): 105; and A. N. S. Lane, Justification by Faith in Catholic-
Protestant Dialogue: An Evangelical Assessment (London: T&T Clark, 2002), 33-36.
Inst. 1:804-5 (3.17.2-3).
Ibid., 1:805 (3.17.3): si [promissiones Legis] in se considerentur, quodammodo aboleri.... Sed dum
promissiones Evangelicae substituuntur, quae gratuitam peccatorum remissionem denuntiant, non efficiunt
modo ut ipsi Deo accepti simus, sed ut operibus quoque nostris sit sua gratia: neque hoc tantum, ut ea
Dominus grata habeat, sed benedictionibus etiam, quae ex pacto debebantur Legis suae observationi,
prosequatur (Institutio, 2:55-56).
Inst. 1:805 (3.17.3): Fateor ergo fidelium operibus rependi, quae iustitiae et sanctitatis cultoribus in Lege
sua Dominus promisit (Institutio, 2:56).
Inst. 1:787 (3.14.21): i.e., causae inferiors (Institutio, 2:43-44).
Inst. 1:804 (3.17.2) (my emphasis).
It is possible to argue, for example, that Calvins concept of nuda lex is problematic in that it abstracts
Mosaic and Messianic law from its gracious covenantal context. Calvins understanding of justification by
faith and justification by works as being abstract principles that operate in parallel throughout salvation
history is also problematic from the perspective of those who argue that the Pauline distinction between
these two forms of justification is strictly salvation historical or covenantal in nature, corresponding to the
distinction between the old and new covenants.
Lillback, The Binding of God, 185-93, 205.
current : : uid:851 (institution)