Justification by Faith
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia, 1960), Book III, Chapter 11, pp. 725-754
Justification by Faith: First the Definition of the Word and of the Matter
(Justification and regeneration, the terms defined, 1-4)
1. Place and Meaning of the Doctrine of “Justification”
I believe I have already explained above, with sufficient care, how for men cursed under the law there remains, in faith, one sole means of recovering salvation. I believe I have also explained what faith itself is, and those benefits of God which it confers upon man, and the fruits it brings forth in him.1 Let us sum these up. Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life. Of regeneration, indeed, the second of these gifts, I have said what seemed sufficient. The theme of justification was therefore more lightly touched upon because it was more to the point to understand first how little devoid of good works is the faith, through which alone we obtain free righteousness by the mercy of God; and what is the nature of the good works of the saints, with which part of this question is concerned.2 Therefore we must now discuss these matters thoroughly. And we must so discuss them as to bear in mind that this is the main hinge on which religion turns,3 so that we devote the greater attention and care to it. For unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God. But the need to know this will better appear from the knowledge itself.
2. The Concept of Justification
But that we may not stumble on the very threshold—and this would happen if we should enter upon a discussion of a thing unknown—first let us explain what these expressions mean: that man is justified in God’s sight, and that he is justified by faith or works. He is said to be justified in God’s sight who is both reckoned righteous in God’s judgment and has been accepted on account of his righteousness. Indeed, as iniquity is abominable to God, so no sinner can find favor in his eyes in so far as he is a sinner and so long as he is reckoned as such. Accordingly, wherever there is sin, there also the wrath and vengeance of God show themselves. Now he is justified who is reckoned in the condition not of a sinner, but of a righteous man; and for that reason, he stands firm before God’s judgment seat while all sinners fall. If an innocent accused person be summoned before the judgment seat of a fair judge, where he will be judged according to his innocence, he is said to be “justified” before the judge. Thus, justified before God is the man who, freed from the company of sinners, has God to witness and affirm his righteousness. In the same way, therefore, he in whose life that purity and holiness will be found which deserves a testimony of righteousness before God’s throne will be said to be justified by works, or else he who, by the wholeness of his works, can meet and satisfy God’s judgment. On the contrary, 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 God’s sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man.
Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
3. Scriptural Usage
There are many clear testimonies of Scripture to confirm this fact. First, it cannot be denied that this is a proper and most customary meaning of the word. But because it would take too long to collect all the passages and to compare them, let it suffice to have called them to our readers’ attention, for they will readily observe such of themselves. I shall bring forward only a few, where this justification of which we are speaking is expressly treated.
First, when Luke relates that the people, having heard Christ, justified God [Luke 7:29], and when Christ declares that “wisdom is justified by... her children” [Luke 7:35], Luke in the former passage (verse 29) does not mean that they confer righteousness. For righteousness always remains undivided with God, although the whole world tries to snatch it away from him. Nor does he, in 5:35, intend to justify the doctrine of salvation, which is righteous of itself. Rather, both expressions have the same force—to render to God and his teaching the praise they deserve. On the other hand, when Christ upbraids the Pharisees for justifying themselves [Luke 16:15], he does not mean that they acquire righteousness by well-doing but that they ambitiously seize upon a reputation for righteousness of which they are devoid. Those skilled in the Hebrew language better understand this sense: where not only those who are conscious of their crime but those who undergo the judgment of damnation are called “wicked.” For when Bathsheba says that she and Solomon will be wicked [1 Kings 1:21], she does not acknowledge any offense. But she complains that she and her son are going to be put to shame, to be counted among the wicked and condemned. Yet from the context it readily appears that this word, even when it is read in Latin, cannot otherwise be understood than relatively, but not so as to signify any quality.4a
But, because it pertains to the present case, when Paul says that Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith [Galatians 3:8], what else may you understand but that God imputes righteousness by faith? Again, when he says that God justifies the impious person who has faith in Christ [Romans 3:26 p.], what can his meaning be except that men are freed by the benefit of faith from that condemnation which their impiety deserved? This appears even more clearly in his conclusion, when he exclaims: “Who will accuse God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who will condemn? It is Christ who died, yes, who rose again... and now intercedes for us” [Romans 8:33-34 p.]. For it is as if he had said: “Who will accuse those whom God has absolved? Who will condemn those whom Christ defends with his protection?” Therefore, “to justify” means nothing else than to acquit of guilt him who was accused, as if his innocence were confirmed. Therefore, since God justifies us by the intercession of Christ, he absolves us not by the confirmation of our own innocence but by the imputation of righteousness, so that we who are not righteous in ourselves may be reckoned as such in Christ. Thus it is said in Paul’s sermon in the thirteenth chapter of the Acts: Through Christ is forgiveness of sins announced to you, and everyone who believes in him is justified of all things from which the law of Moses could not justify him [Acts 13:38-39]. You see that, after forgiveness of sins, this justification is set down, as it were, by way of interpretation. You see that it is plainly understood as absolution, you see that it is separated from the works of the law. You see it as the mere benefit of Christ, and you see that it is received by faith. You see finally that a satisfaction is introduced where he says that we are justified from our sins through Christ. Thus, when the publican is said to have gone down from the Temple justified [Luke 18:14], we cannot say that he achieved righteousness by any merit of works. This, therefore, is what is said: after pardon of sins has been obtained, the sinner is considered as a just man in God’s sight. Therefore, he was righteous not by approval of works but by God’s free absolution. Ambrose has, accordingly, fitly expressed it when he calls the confession of sins a lawful justification.5
4. Justification as Gracious Acceptance by God and as Forgiveness of Sins
And to avoid contention over a word, if we look upon the thing itself as described to us, no misgiving will remain. For Paul surely refers to justification by the word “acceptance” when in Ephesians 1:5-6 he says: “We are destined for adoption through Christ according to God’s good pleasure, to the praise of his glorious grace by which he has accounted us acceptable and beloved” [Ephesians 1:5-6 p.]. That means the very thing that he commonly says elsewhere, that “God justifies us freely” [Romans 3:24].
Moreover, in the fourth chapter of Romans he first calls justification “imputation of righteousness.” And he does not hesitate to include it within forgiveness of sins. Paul says: “That man is declared blessed by David whom God renders acceptable or to whom he imputes righteousness apart from works, as it is written: ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions have been forgiven’” [Romans 4:6-7 p.; Psalm 32:1]. There he is obviously discussing not a part of justification but the whole of it. Further, he approves the definition of it set forth by David when he declares those men blessed to whom free pardon of sins is given [Psalm 32:1-2]. From this it is clear that the righteousness of which he speaks is simply set in opposition to guilt. But the best passage of all on this matter is the one in which he teaches that the sum of the gospel embassy is to reconcile us to God, since God is willing to receive us into grace through Christ, not counting our sins against us [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]. Let my readers carefully ponder the whole passage. For a little later Paul adds by way of explanation: “Christ, who was without sin, was made sin for us” [2 Corinthians 5:21], to designate the means of reconciliation [cf. verses 18-19]. Doubtless, he means by the word “reconciled” nothing but “justified.” And surely, what he teaches elsewhere—that “we are made righteous by Christ’s obedience” [Romans 5:19 p.]—could not stand unless we are reckoned righteous before God in Christ and apart from ourselves. (Refutation of Osiander’s doctrine of “essential righteousness,” 5-22)
5. Osiander’s Doctrine of Essential Righteousness
But Osiander has introduced some strange monster of “essential” righteousness6 by which, although not intending to abolish freely given righteousness, he has still enveloped it in such a fog as to darken pious minds and deprive them of a lively experience of Christ’s grace. Consequently, before I pass on to other matters, it behooves me to refute this wild dream.
First, this speculation arises out of mere feeble curiosity. Indeed, he accumulates many testimonies of Scripture by which to prove that Christ is one with us, and we, in turn, with him7 —a fact that needs no proof. But because he does not observe the bond of this unity, he deceives himself. Now it is easy for us to resolve all his difficulties. For we hold ourselves to be united with Christ by the secret power of his Spirit.
That gentleman had conceived something bordering on Manichaeism, in his desire to transfuse the essence of God into men.8 From this arises another fiction of his, that Adam was formed to the image of God because Christ had already been destined as the prototype of human nature before the Fall.9 But because I am striving after brevity, I must concentrate on the present matter.
He says that we are one with Christ. We agree. But we deny that Christ’s essence is mixed with our own. Then we say that this principle is wrongly applied to these deceptions of his: that Christ is our righteousness because he is God eternal, the source of righteousness, and the very righteousness of God. My readers will pardon me if I now only touch upon what my teaching plan demands that I defer to another place. Although he may make the excuse that by the term “essential righteousness” he means nothing else but to meet the opinion that we are considered righteous for Christ’s sake, yet he has clearly expressed himself as not content with that righteousness which has been acquired for us by Christ’s obedience and sacrificial death, but pretends that we are substantially righteous in God by the infusion both of his essence and of his quality. For this is the reason why he contends so vehemently that not only Christ but also the Father and the Holy Spirit, dwell in us. Although I admit this to be true, yet I say that it has been perversely twisted by Osiander; for he ought to have considered the manner of the indwelling—namely, that the Father and Spirit are in Christ, and even as the fullness of deity dwells in him [Colossians 2:9], so in him we possess the whole of deity. Therefore, all that he has put forward separately concerning the Father and the Spirit tends solely to seduce the simple-minded from Christ.
Then he throws in a mixture of substances by which God—transfusing himself into us, as it were—makes us part of himself. For the fact that it comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit that we grow together with Christ, and he becomes our Head and we his members, he reckons of almost no importance unless Christ’s essence be mingled with ours. But in his treatment of the Father and the Holy Spirit he more openly, as I have said, brings out what he means: namely, that we are not justified by the grace of the Mediator alone, nor is righteousness simply or completely offered to us in his person, but that we are made partakers in God’s righteousness when God is united to us in essence.10
6. Osiander Erroneously Mixes Forgiveness of Sins with Rebirth
Suppose he had only said that Christ, in justifying us, by conjunction of essence becomes ours, not only in that in so far as he is man is he our Head, but also in that the essence of the divine nature is poured into us. Then he would have fed on these delights with less harm, and perhaps such a great quarrel on account of this delusion would not have had to arise. But inasmuch as this principle is like the cuttlefish,11 which by voiding its black and turbid blood hides its many tails, unless we would knowingly and willingly allow that righteousness to be snatched from us which alone gives us the confidence to glory in our salvation, we must bitterly resist. For in this whole disputation the noun “righteousness” and the verb “to justify”12a are extended in two directions; so that to be justified is not only to be reconciled to God through free pardon but also to be made righteous, and righteousness is not a free imputation but the holiness and uprightness that the essence of God, dwelling in us, inspires. Secondly, he sharply states that Christ is himself our righteousness, not in so far as he, by expiating sins as Priest, appeased the Father on our behalf, but as he is eternal God and life.
To prove the first point—that God justifies not only by pardoning but by regenerating—he asks whether God leaves as they were by nature those whom he justifies, changing none of their vices. This is exceedingly easy to answer: as Christ cannot be tom into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparable—namely, righteousness and sanctification. Whomever, therefore, God receives into grace, on them he at the same time bestows the spirit of adoption [Romans 8:15], by whose power he remakes them to his own image. But if the brightness of the sun cannot be separated from its heat, shall we therefore say that the earth is warmed by its light, or lighted by its heat? Is there anything more applicable to the present matter than this comparison? The sun, by its heat, quickens and fructifies the earth, by its beams brightens and illumines it. Here is a mutual and indivisible connection. Yet reason itself forbids us to transfer the peculiar qualities of the one to the other. In this confusion of the two kinds of grace that Osiander forces upon us there is a like absurdity. For since God, for the preservation of righteousness, renews those whom he freely reckons as righteous, Osiander mixes that gift of regeneration with this free acceptance and contends that they are one and the same. Yet Scripture, even though it joins them, still lists them separately in order that God’s manifold grace may better appear to us. For Paul’s statement is not redundant: that Christ was given to us for our righteousness and sanctification [1 Corinthians 1:30].13 And whenever he reasons— from the salvation purchased for us, from God’s fatherly love, and from Christs grace—that we are called to holiness and cleanness, he clearly indicates that to be justified means something different from being made new creatures.
When it comes to Scripture, Osiander completely corrupts every passage he cites. In Paul’s statement that “faith is reckoned as righteousness” not for the “one who works” but for the “one who believes in him who justifies the ungodly” [Romans 4:4-5 p.], Osiander explains “justify” as “to make righteous.” With the same rashness he corrupts that whole fourth chapter of Romans. And he does not hesitate to tinge with the same deceit a passage that we have recently cited:14 “Who will accuse God’s elect? It is God who justifies” [Romans 8:33]. There it is plain that the question is simply one of guilt and acquittal, and the meaning of the apostle depends on this antithesis. Therefore, both in that reason and in citing Scriptural evidence, Osiander proves himself an incompetent interpreter.
Also, he discusses the term “righteousness” no more correctly, holding that the faith of Abraham was imputed to him as righteousness after he, having embraced Christ—who is the righteousness of God and God himself—had excelled in singular virtues.15 From this it appears that he has incorrectly made one corrupt statement out of two sound ones. For righteousness, of which mention is there made, does not extend throughout the whole course of Abraham’s calling. Rather, the Spirit testifies— although the excellence of the virtues of Abraham was outstanding, and by persevering in them for a long time he at length increased them—that he pleased God only when he received in faith the grace offered in the promise. From this it follows that, as Paul skillfully contends, there is in justification no place for works.
7. The Significance of Faith for Justification
I willingly concede Osiander’s objection that faith of itself does not possess the power of justifying, but only in so far as it receives Christ. For if faith justified of itself or through some intrinsic power, so to speak, as it is always weak and imperfect it would effect this only in part; thus the righteousness that conferred a fragment of salvation upon us would be defective. Now we imagine no such thing, but we say that, properly speaking, God alone justifies; then we transfer this same function to Christ because he was given to us for righteousness. We compare faith to a kind of vessel; for unless we come empty and with the mouth of our soul open to seek Christ’s grace, we are not capable of receiving Christ. From this it is to be inferred that, in teaching that before his righteousness is received Christ is received in faith, we do not take the power of justifying away from Christ.
Yet, in the meantime, I do not admit the distorted figures of this Sophist when he says that “faith is Christ”16 —as if an earthen pot were a treasure because gold is hidden in it. For the reasoning is similar: namely, that faith, even though of itself it is of no worth or price, can justify us by bringing Christ, just as a pot crammed with money makes a man rich. Therefore, I say that faith, which is only the instrument for receiving righteousness, is ignorantly confused with Christ, who is the material cause and at the same time the Author and Minister of this great benefit. Now we have disposed of the problem as to how the term “faith” ought to be understood when justification is under consideration.
8. Osiander’s Doctrine That Christ Is, According to His Divine Nature, Our Righteousness
In the receiving of Christ, Osiander goes farther: that the inner word is received by the ministry of the outer word. By this he would lead us away from the priesthood of Christ and the person of the Mediator to his outward deity. Now we do not divide Christ but confess that he, who, reconciling us to the Father in his flesh, gave us righteousness, is the eternal Word of God, and that the duties of the Mediator could not otherwise have been discharged by him, or righteousness acquired for us, had he not been eternal God. But Osiander’s opinion is that, since Christ is God and man, he is made righteousness for us with respect to his divine nature, not his human nature. Yet if this properly applies to divinity, it will not be peculiar to Christ but common with the Father and the Spirit, inasmuch as the righteousness of one differs not from the righteousness of the other. Then, because he was by nature from eternity, it would not be consistent to say that he was “made for us.” But even though we should grant that God was made righteousness for us, how will this harmonize with what Paul interposes: that Christ was made righteousness by God [1 Corinthians 1:30]? This is surely peculiar to the person of the Mediator, which, even though it contains in it the divine nature, still has its own proper designation by which the Mediator is distinguished from the Father and the Spirit.
Osiander absurdly gloats over one word of Jeremiah, where he promises that Jehovah will be our righteousness [Jeremiah 51:10; cf. Jeremiah 23:6; Jeremiah 33:16]. But from this he shall deduce nothing but the fact that Christ, who is our righteousness, is God manifested in flesh [cf. 1 Timothy 3:16]. Elsewhere we have quoted from Paul’s sermon:17 “With his blood God purchased the church for himself” [Acts 20:28 p.]. If anyone should infer from this that the blood whereby sins have been expiated is divine and of the divine nature, who could bear such a foul error? Yet Osiander thinks that he has obtained all things by this very childish cavil; he swells up, exults, stuffs many pages with his bombast18 —while there is a simple and ready explanation of the words that Jehovah, when he should become the offspring of David, would be the righteousness of the godly. But Isaiah teaches in what sense this is so: “By knowledge of himself shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous” [Isaiah 53:11].
Let us note that it is the Father who is speaking; that he assigns to the Son the office of justifying; that he adds the reason—that he is righteous; and that he has lodged the mode and means, as they say, in the teaching whereby Christ becomes known. For it is more fitting to take the word t[d as a passive.19 Hence I gather that Christ was made righteousness when “he took upon him the form of a servant” [Philippians 2:7]; secondly, that he justifies us in that he has shown himself obedient to the Father [Philippians 2:8]. Therefore he does this for us not according to his divine nature but in accordance with the dispensation enjoined upon him. For even though God alone is the source of righteousness, and we are righteous only by participation in him, yet, because we have been estranged from his righteousness by unhappy disagreement, we must have recourse to this lower remedy that Christ may justify us by the power of his death and resurrection.
9. Justification as the Work of the Mediator
If Osiander should object that this work, by its very excellence, surpasses human nature, and for this reason can be ascribed only to divine nature, I grant the first point; in the second I say that he is grossly deluded. For even though Christ if he had not been true God could not cleanse our souls by his blood, nor appease his Father by his sacrifice, nor absolve us from guilt, nor, in sum, fulfill the office of priest, because the power of the flesh is unequal to so great a burden, yet it is certain that he carried out all these acts according to his human nature. For if we ask how we have been justified, Paul answers, “By Christ’s obedience” [Romans 5:19 p.]. But did he obey in any other way than when he took upon himself the form of a servant [Philippians 2:7]? From this we conclude that in his flesh, righteousness has been manifested to us. Similarly in other words—I am surprised that Osiander is not ashamed to cite that so often—Paul has established the source of righteousness in the flesh of Christ alone. “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God in him.” [2 Corinthians 5:21 p.] At the top of his lungs Osiander extols God’s righteousness, and sings a song of triumph as if he had confirmed that ghost of his of “essential righteousness.” Yet the words express something far different, that we are made righteous through the atonement wrought by Christ. Every schoolboy should know that God’s righteousness is to be understood as that righteousness which is approved of God, as in the Gospel of John where God’s glory is compared with men’s glory [John 12:43, RV; 5:44].20 I know that it is sometimes called the righteousness of God because God is its author and bestows it upon us. But discerning readers will recognize without my saying anything that this expression means only that we stand, supported by the sacrifice of Christ’s death, before God’s judgment seat.
And the word is not very important, provided Osiander agrees with us, that we are justified in Christ, in so far as he was made an atoning sacrifice for us: something that does not comport with his divine nature. For this reason also, when Christ would seal the righteousness and salvation that he has brought us, he sets forth a sure pledge of it in his own flesh. Now he calls himself “the bread of life” [John 6:48], but, in explaining how, he adds that “his flesh is truly meat, and his blood truly drink” [John 6:55]. This method of teaching is perceived in the sacraments;21 even though they direct our faith to the whole Christ and not to a half-Christ, they teach that the matter both of righteousness and of salvation resides in his flesh; not that as mere man he justifies or quickens by himself, but because it pleased God to reveal in the Mediator what was hidden and incomprehensible in himself. Accordingly, I usually say that Christ is, as it were, a fountain, open to us, from which we may draw what otherwise would lie unprofitably hidden in that deep and secret spring, which comes forth to us in the person of the Mediator. In this way and sense, I do not deny that Christ, as he is God and man, justifies us; and also that this work is the common task of the Father and the Holy Spirit; finally, that righteousness of which Christ makes us partakers with himself is the eternal righteousness of the eternal God—provided Osiander accept the firm and clear reasons that I have brought forward.
10. What Is the Nature of Our Union with Christ?
Now, lest Osiander deceive the unlearned by his cavils, I confess that we are deprived of this utterly incomparable good until Christ is made ours. Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union22 —are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body—in short, because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason, we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him. Thus is Osiander’s slander refuted, that by us faith is reckoned righteousness. As if we were to deprive Christ of his right when we say that by faith we come empty to him to make room for his grace in order that he alone may fill us! But Osiander, by spurning this spiritual bond, forces a gross mingling of Christ with believers. And for this reason, he maliciously calls “Zwinglian” all those who do not subscribe to his mad error of “essential righteousness” because they do not hold the view that Christ is eaten in substance in the Lord’s Supper. I consider it the highest glory to be thus insulted by a proud man, and one entangled in his own deceits; albeit he attacks not only me but world-renowned writers whom he ought modestly to have respected. It makes no difference to me, for I am not pleading my own private cause. I am the more sincerely pleading this case for the reason that I am free from all perverted motives.
The fact, then, that he insists so violently upon essential righteousness and essential indwelling of Christ in us has this result: first, he holds that God pours himself into us as a gross mixture, just as he fancies a physical eating in the Lord’s Supper; secondly, that he breathes his righteousness upon us, by which we may be really righteous with him, since according to Osiander this righteousness is both God himself and the goodness or holiness or integrity of God.
I shall not labor much in refuting the Scriptural proofs that he brings forward, which he wrongly twists from the heavenly life to the present state. “Through Christ,” says Peter, “were granted to us precious and very great promises... that we might become partakers of the divine nature.” [2 Peter 1:4 p.] As if we now were what the gospel promises that we shall be at the final coming of Christ! Indeed, John then reminds us we are going to see God as he is because we shall be like him [1 John 3:2].23 I only wanted to give a small sample to my readers. Consequently, I purposely pass over these trifles. Not that it would be difficult to refute them, but I do not want to elaborate tediously and superfluously.
11. Osiander’s Doctrine of the Essential Righteousness Nullifies the Certainty of Salvation
But more poison lurks in the second phase, where Osiander teaches that we are righteous together with God. I have already sufficiently proved, I think, that this doctrine—even though it were not so pestilent, yet because it is cold and barren and is dissipated in its own vanity—ought rightly to be unsavory for intelligent and pious readers. To enfeeble our assurance of salvation, to waft us above the clouds in order to prevent our calling upon God with quiet hearts after we, assured of expiation, have laid hold upon grace—to do all this under pretense of a twofold righteousness24 is an utterly intolerable impiety.
Osiander laughs at those men who teach that “to be justified” is a legal term; because we must actually be righteous. Also, he despises nothing more than that we are justified by free imputation. Well then, if God does not justify us by acquittal and pardon, what does Paul’s statement mean: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing men’s trespasses against them” [2 Corinthians 5:19]? “For our sake he made him to be sin who had done no sin so that we might be the righteousness of God in him.” [verse 21 p.] First, I conclude that they are accounted righteous who are reconciled to God. Included is the means: that God justifies by pardoning, just as in another passage justification is contrasted with accusation. This antithesis clearly shows that the expression was taken from legal usage. Anyone moderately versed in the Hebrew language, provided he has a sober brain,25 is not ignorant of the fact that the phrase arose from this source, and drew from it its tendency and implication. Where Paul says that righteousness without works is described by David in these words, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven” [Psalm 32:1; 31:1, Vg.; Romans 4:7], let Osiander answer me whether this be a full or half definition. Surely, Paul does not make the prophet bear witness to the doctrine that pardon of sins is part of righteousness, or merely a concomitant toward the justifying of man; on the contrary, he includes the whole of righteousness in free remission, declaring that man blessed whose sins are covered, whose iniquities God has forgiven, and whose transgressions God does not charge to his account. Thence, he judges and reckons his happiness because in this way he is righteous, not intrinsically but by imputation.
Osiander objects that it would be insulting to God and contrary to his nature that he should justify those who actually remain wicked. Yet we must bear in mind what I have already said, that the grace of justification is not separated from regeneration, although they are things distinct. But because it is very well known by experience that the traces of sin always remain in the righteous, their justification must be very different from reformation into newness of life [cf. Romans 6:4]. For God so begins this second point in his elect, and progresses in it gradually, and sometimes slowly, throughout life, that they are always liable to the judgment of death before his tribunal. But he does not justify in part but liberally, so that they may appear in heaven as if endowed with the purity of Christ. No portion of righteousness sets our consciences at peace until it has been determined that we are pleasing to God, because we are entirely righteous before him. From this it follows that the doctrine of justification is perverted and utterly overthrown when doubt is thrust into men’s minds, when the assurance of salvation is shaken and the free and fearless calling upon God suffers hindrance—nay, when peace and tranquillity with spiritual joy are not established. Thence Paul argues from contraries that the inheritance does not come from the law [Galatians 3:18], for in this way “faith would be nullified” [Romans 4:14, cf. Vg.]. For faith totters if it pays attention to works, since no one, even of the most holy, will find there anything on which to rely.
This distinction between justification and regeneration, which two things Osiander confuses under the term “double righteousness,” is beautifully expressed by Paul. Speaking of his own real righteousness, or of the uprighteous that had been given him, which Osiander labels “essential righteousness,” he mournfully exclaims: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” [Romans 7:24]. But fleeing to that righteousness which is founded solely upon God’s mercy he gloriously triumphs over both life and death, reproaches and hunger, the sword and all other adverse things. “Who will make accusation against God’s elect,” whom he justifies [Romans 8:33 p.]? For I am surely convinced that nothing “will separate us from his love in Christ” [Romans 8:38-39 p.]. He clearly proclaims that he has a righteousness which alone entirely suffices for salvation before God, so that he does not diminish his confidence in glorying, and no hindrance arises from the miserable bondage, consciousness of which had a moment before caused him to bemoan his lot. This diversity is sufficiently known, and so familiar to all the saints who groan under the burden of iniquities and yet with victorious confidence surmount all fears.
But Osiander’s objection that this is out of accord with God’s nature topples back upon him. For, even though he clothed the saints with this “double righteousness,” like a furred garment, he is still compelled to confess that no one can please God without forgiveness of sins. But if this is true, let him at least grant that those who are not intrinsically righteous are reckoned righteous according to the fixed proportion:26 of imputation, as they say. But how far will a sinner parcel out this free acceptance which stands in place of righteousness? By the pound or by the ounce? Assuredly, he will hang uncertainly, wavering to this side and to that, for he will not be allowed to assume in himself as much righteousness as he needs for assurance. It is well that he who would lay down a law for God is not the judge of this case. But this saying will stand fast: “So that thou mayest be justified in thy words and mayest overcome when thou art judged” [Psalm 50:6, Vg.; cf. Psalm 51:4, EV].
How great presumption is it to condemn the supreme Judge when he freely absolves, so that this answer may not have full force: “I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy”? [Exodus 33:19.] And yet Moses’ intercession, which God restrains in these words, was not to the effect that he should spare no one but that he should wipe away the charge against them even though they were guilty, and absolve them all equally. And on this account, indeed, we say that those who were lost have their sins buried and are justified before God because, as he hates sin, he can love only those whom he has justified. This is a wonderful plan of justification that, covered by the righteousness of Christ, they should not tremble at the judgment they deserve, and that while they rightly condemn themselves, they should be accounted righteous outside themselves.
12. Refutation of Osiander
Yet my readers ought to be warned to pay careful attention to that mystery which Osiander boasts he does not wish to hide from them. For first he contends long and verbosely that we attain favor with God not by imputation of Christ’s righteousness alone, because it would be impossible (I use his words) for him to regard as just those who are not just. In the end, he concludes that Christ has been given to us as righteousness, not in respect to his human but to his divine nature. And although this can be found only in the person of the Mediator, still it is not a righteousness of man but of God. Now he does not weave his rope from the two kinds of righteousness but obviously deprives Christ’s human nature of the price of justifying. Moreover, it behooves us to understand how he fights. In the same place it is said that Christ has become wisdom for us [1 Corinthians 1:30], but this applies only to the eternal word. Therefore Christ the man is not righteousness. I reply: the only-begotten Son of God was indeed his eternal wisdom, but in a different way this name is applied to him in Paul’s letters, for in him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” [Colossians 2:3]. What he had with the Father [cf. John 17:5] he revealed to us. Hence what Paul says applies not to the essence of the Son of God but to our use, and rightly fits Christ’s human nature. For even though the light shone in the darkness before he assumed flesh [John 1:5], yet the light was hidden until Christ came forth in the nature of man, the Sun of Righteousness, and he therefore calls himself “the light of the world” [John 8:12].
Osiander also stupidly objects that the power of justifying is far above both angels and men, inasmuch as this depends not upon the dignity of any creature but upon God’s appointment. If the angels should wish to make satisfaction to God, they would achieve nothing, for they are not destined for this end. But this especially belonged to the man Christ, as he submitted to the law to redeem us from its curse [Galatians 3:13; cf. Galatians 4:4].
Also, those who deny that Christ is our righteousness according to his divine nature are by Osiander very basely accused of leaving only one part of Christ and—what is worse—making two Gods. For even though they confess that God dwells in us, they still claim that we are not righteous by the righteousness of God. For if we call Christ the author of life, seeing that he underwent death “that... he might destroy him who had the power of death” [Hebrews 2:14 p.], we do not thereby deprive the whole Christ of this honor, as he is God manifested in the flesh. Rather, we are only making clear how God’s righteousness comes to us that we may enjoy it. On this point Osiander has fallen into abominable error. We do not deny that what has been plainly revealed to us in Christ derives from God’s secret grace and power, nor do we contend over the fact that the righteousness Christ bestows upon us is the righteousness of God, which proceeds from him. But we steadfastly hold that in Christ’s death and resurrection there is righteousness and life for us. I leave out that shameful heap of passages with which, without discrimination and even without common sense, he burdened his readers, to the effect that whenever righteousness is mentioned one ought to understand it as “essential righteousness.” For example, when David calls upon God’s righteousness to help him, even though he does so more than a hundred times, Osiander does not hesitate to corrupt as many passages.
The other objection is not a whit stronger: that righteousness is properly and correctly defined as that by which we are moved to act rightly, but that “God alone is at work in us both to will and to perfect” [Philippians 2:13 p.]. I do not deny that God reforms us by his Spirit into holiness and righteousness of life. First, however, it must be seen whether he does this of himself and directly or through the hand of his Son, to whom he has entrusted the whole fullness of the Holy Spirit in order that by his abundance he may supply what is lacking in his members. Then, although righteousness comes forth to us from the secret wellspring of his divinity, it does not follow that Christ, who in the flesh sanctified himself for our sake [John 17:19], is righteousness for us according to his divine nature.
What he adds is no less absurd: that Christ himself was righteous by divine righteousness; for unless the will of the Father had impelled him not even he would have fulfilled the tasks enjoined upon him.27 For even though it was elsewhere said that all the merits of Christ himself flow solely from God’s good pleasure,28 this adds nothing to the fantasy wherewith Osiander bewitches his own eyes and those of the simpleminded. For who allows anyone to infer that because God is the source and beginning of our righteousness we are righteous in essence, and the essence of God’s righteousness dwells in us? In redeeming the church, says Isaiah, God “put on his own righteousness as a breastplate” [Isaiah 59:17]. Did he do this to deprive Christ of the armor that he had given him so that Christ might not be the perfect Redeemer? But the prophet only meant that God borrowed nothing outside himself, nor had he any help to redeem us. Paul has briefly indicated this in other words, saying, that he gave us salvation to show his righteousness [Romans 3:25]. But this in no way contradicts what he teaches elsewhere: that “we are righteous by the obedience of one man” [Romans 5:19 p.]. In short, whoever wraps up two kinds of righteousness in order that miserable souls may not repose wholly in God’s mere mercy, crowns Christ in mockery with a wreath of thorns [Mark 15:17, etc.]. (Refutation of Scholastic doctrines of good works as effective for justification, 13-20)
13. Righteousness by Faith and Righteousness by Works
But a great part of mankind29 imagine that righteousness is composed of faith and works.30 Let us also, to begin with, show that faith righteousness so differs from works righteousness that when one is established the other has to be overthrown. The apostle says that he “counts everything as dross” that he “may gain Christ and be found in him... not having a righteousness of [his] own, based on law, but one that is through faith in Jesus Christ, the righteousness from God through faith” [Philippians 3:8-9 p.]. You see here both a comparison of opposites and an indication that a man who wishes to obtain Christ’s righteousness must abandon his own righteousness. Therefore, he states elsewhere that this was the cause of the Jews’ downfall: “Wishing to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” [Romans 10:3 p.]. If by establishing our own righteousness we shake off the righteousness of God, to attain the latter we must indeed completely do away with the former. He also shows this very thing when he states that our boasting is not excluded by law but by faith [Romans 3:27]. From this it follows that so long as any particle of works righteousness remains some occasion for boasting remains with us. Now, if faith excludes all boasting, works righteousness can in no way be associated with faith righteousness. In this sense he speaks so clearly in the fourth chapter of Romans that no place is left for cavils or shifts: “If Abraham,” says Paul, “was justified.by works, he has something to boast about.” He adds, “Yet he has no reason to boast before God” [Romans 4:2]. It follows, therefore, that he was not justified by works. Then Paul sets forth another argument from contraries. When reward is made for works it is done out of debt, not of grace [Romans 4:4]. But righteousness according to grace is owed to faith. Therefore it does not arise from the merits of works. Farewell, then, to the dream of those who think up a righteousness flowing together out of faith and works.
14. Likewise, the Works of the Regenerated Can Procure No Justification
The Sophists, who make game and sport in their corrupting of Scripture and their empty caviling, think they have a subtle evasion. For they explain “works” as meaning those which men not yet reborn do only according to the letter by the effort of their own free will, apart from Christ’s grace. But they deny that these refer to spiritual works. For, according to them, man is justified by both faith and works provided they are not his own works but the gifts of Christ and the fruit of regeneration. For they say that Paul so spoke for no other reason than to convince the Jews, who were relying upon their own strength, that they were foolish to arrogate righteousness to themselves, since the Spirit of Christ alone bestows it upon us not through any effort arising from our own nature. Still they do not observe that in the contrast between the righteousness of the law and of the gospel, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all works are excluded, whatever title may grace them [Galatians 3:11-12]. For he teaches that this is the righteousness of the law, that he who has fulfilled what the law commands should obtain salvation; but this is the righteousness of faith, to believe that Christ died and rose again [Romans 10:5,9].
Moreover, we shall see afterward, in its proper place, that the benefits of Christ—sanctification and righteousness—31 are different. From this it follows that not even spiritual works come into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith. The statement of Paul where he denies that Abraham had any reason to boast before God—a passage that we have just cited32 —because he was not righteous by his works, ought not to be restricted to a literal and outward appearance of virtues or to the effort of free will. But even though the life of the patriarch was spiritual and well-nigh angelic, he did not have sufficient merit of works to acquire righteousness before God.
15. The Roman Doctrine of Grace and Good Works
Somewhat too gross are the Schoolmen, who mingle their concoctions. Yet these men infect the simple-minded and unwary with a doctrine no less depraved, cloaking under the disguise of “spirit” and “grace” even the mercy of God, which alone can set fearful souls at rest.33 Now we confess with Paul that the doers of the law are justified before God; but, because we are all far from observing the law, we infer from this that those works which ought especially to avail for righteousness give us no help because we are destitute of them.
As regards the rank and the of the papists or Schoolmen, they are doubly deceived here both because they call faith an assurance of conscience in awaiting from God their reward for merits and because they interpret the grace of God not as the imputation of free righteousness but as the Spirit helping in the pursuit of holiness. They read in the apostle: “Whoever would draw near to God must first believe that he exists and then that he rewards those who seek him” [Hebrews 11:6]. But they pay no attention to the way in which he is to be sought. It is clear from their own writings that in using the term “grace” they are deluded. For Lombard explains that justification is given to us through Christ in two ways. First, he says, Christ’s death justifies us, while love is aroused through it in our hearts and makes us righteous. Second, because through the same love, sin is extinguished by which the devil held us captive, so that he no longer has the wherewithal to condemn us.34 You see how he views God’s grace especially in justification, in so far as we are directed through the grace of the Holy Spirit to good works. Obviously, he intended to follow Augustine’s opinion, but he follows it at a distance and even departs considerably from the right imitation of it. For when Augustine says anything clearly, Lombard obscures it, and if there was anything slightly contaminated in Augustine, he corrupts it. The schools have gone continually from bad to worse until, in headlong ruin, they have plunged into a sort of Pelagianism. For that matter, Augustine’s view, or at any rate his manner of stating it, we must not entirely accept. For even though he admirably deprives man of all credit for righteousness and transfers it to God’s grace, he still subsumes grace under sanctification, by which we are reborn in newness of life through the Spirit.35
16. Our Justification According to the Judgment of Scripture
But Scripture, when it speaks of faith righteousness, leads us to something far different: namely, to turn aside from the contemplation of our own works and look solely upon God’s mercy and Christ’s perfection. Indeed, it presents this order of justification: to begin with, God deigns to embrace the sinner with his pure and freely given goodness, finding nothing in him except his miserable condition to prompt Him to mercy, since he sees man utterly void and bare of good works; and so he seeks in himself the reason to benefit man. Then God touches the sinner with a sense of his goodness in order that he, despairing of his own works, may ground the whole of his salvation in God’s mercy. This is the experience of faith through which the sinner comes into possession of his salvation when from the teaching of the gospel he acknowledges that he has been reconciled to God: that with Christ’s righteousness interceding and forgiveness of sins accomplished he is justified. And although regenerated by the Spirit of God, he ponders the everlasting righteousness laid up for him not in the good works to which he inclines but in the sole righteousness of Christ. When these things are pondered one by one, they will give a clear explanation of our opinion. However, they might be arranged in another order, better than the one in which they have been set forth. But it makes little difference, provided they so agree among themselves that we may have the whole matter rightly explained and surely confirmed.
17. Faith Righteousness and Law Righteousness According to Paul
Here we should recall to mind the relation that we have previously established between faith and the gospel. For faith is said to justify because it receives and embraces the righteousness offered in the gospel. Moreover, because righteousness is said to be offered through the gospel, all consideration of works is excluded. Paul often shows this elsewhere but most clearly in two passages. For in comparing the law and the gospel in the letter to the Romans he says: “the righteousness that is of the law” is such that “the man who practices these things will live by them” [Romans 10:5]. But the “righteousness that is of faith” [Romans 10:6] announces salvation “if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and that the Father raised him from the dead” [Romans 10:9 p.]. Do you see how he makes this the distinction between law and gospel: that the former attributes righteousness to works, the latter bestows free righteousness apart from the help of works? This is an important passage, and one that can extricate us from many difficulties if we understand that that righteousness which is given us through the gospel has been freed of all conditions of the law. Here is the reason why he so often opposes the promise to the law, as things mutually contradictory: “If the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise” [Galatians 3:18]; and passages in the same chapter that express this idea.
Now, to be sure, the law itself has its own promises. Therefore, in the promises of the gospel there must be something distinct and different unless we would admit that the comparison is inept. But what sort of difference will this be, other than that the gospel promises are free and dependent solely upon God’s mercy, while the promises of the law depend upon the condition of works? And let no one here snarl at me that it is the righteousness which men, of their own strength and free will, would obtrude upon God that is rejected—36 inasmuch as Paul unequivocally teaches that the law, in commanding, profits nothing [cf. Romans 8:3]. For there is no one, not only of the common folk, but of the most perfect persons, who can fulfill it. To be sure, love is the capstone of the law. When the Spirit of God forms us to such love, why is it not for us a cause of righteousness, except that even in the saints it is imperfect, and for that reason merits no reward of itself?
18. Justification Not the Wages of Works, but a Free Gift
The second passage is this: “It is evident that no man is justified before God by the law. For the righteous shall live by faith [cf. Habakkuk 2:4]. But the law is not of faith; rather, the man who does these things shall live in them” [Galatians 3:11-12, Comm., cf. Vg.]. How would this argument be maintained otherwise than by agreeing that works do not enter the account of faith but must be utterly separated? The law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because works are required for law righteousness. Therefore it follows that they are not required for faith righteousness. From this relation it is clear that those who are justified by faith are justified apart from the merit of works—in fact, without the merit of works. For faith receives that righteousness which the gospel bestows. Now the gospel differs from the law in that it does not link righteousness to works but lodges it solely in God’s mercy. Paul’s contention in Romans is similar to this: that Abraham had no occasion to boast, for faith was reckoned as righteousness for him [Romans 4:2-3]; and he adds as confirmation that the righteousness of faith has a place in circumstances where there are no works for which a reward is due. “Where,” he says, “there are works, wages are paid as a debt; what is given to faith is free.” [Romans 4:4-5 p.] Indeed, the meaning of the words he uses there applies also to this passage. He adds a little later that we on this account obtain the inheritance from faith, as according to grace. Hence he infers that this inheritance is free, for it is received by faith [cf. Romans 4:16]. How is this so except that faith rests entirely upon God’s mercy without the assistance of works? And in another passage he teaches, doubtless in the same sense, that “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although it is attested by the Law and the Prophets” [Romans 3:21 p.]. For, excluding the law, he denies that we are aided by works and that we attain righteousness by working; instead, we come empty to receive it.
19. Through “Faith Alone”
Now the reader sees how fairly the Sophists today cavil against our doctrine when we say that man is justified by faith alone [Romans 3:28].37 They dare not deny that man is justified by faith because it recurs so often in Scripture. But since the word “alone” is nowhere expressed, they do not allow this addition to be made. Is it so? But what will they reply to these words of Paul where he contends that righteousness cannot be of faith unless it be free [Romans 4:2 ff.]? How will a free gift agree with works? With what chicaneries will they elude what he says in another passage, that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel [Romans 1:17]? If righteousness is revealed in the gospel, surely no mutilated or half righteousness but a full and perfect righteousness is contained there. The law therefore has no place in it. Not only by a false but by an obviously ridiculous shift they insist upon excluding this adjective. Does not he who takes everything from works firmly enough ascribe everything to faith alone? What, I pray, do these expressions mean: “His righteousness has been manifested apart from the law” from. 3:21 p.]; and, “Man is freely justified” [Romans 3:24 p.]; and, “Apart from the works of the law” [Romans 3:28]?
Here they have an ingenious subterfuge: even though they have not devised it themselves but have borrowed it from Origen and certain other ancient writers, it is still utterly silly. They prate that the ceremonial works of the law are excluded, not the moral works.38 They become so proficient by continual wrangling that they do not even grasp the first elements of logic. Do they think that the apostle was raving when he brought forward these passages to prove his opinion? “The man who does these things will live in them” [Galatians 3:12], and, “Cursed be every one who does not fulfill all things written in the book of the law” [Galatians 3:10 p.]. Unless they have gone mad they will not say that life was promised to keepers of ceremonies or the curse announced only to those who transgress the ceremonies. If these passages are to be understood of the moral law, there is no doubt that moral works are also excluded from the power of justifying. These arguments which Paul uses look to the same end: “Since through the law comes knowledge of sin” [Romans 3:20], therefore not righteousness. Because “the law works wrath” [Romans 4:15], hence not righteousness. Because the law does not make conscience certain, it cannot confer righteousness either. Because faith is imputed as righteousness, righteousness is therefore not the reward of works but is given unearned [Romans 4:4-5]. Because we are justified by faith, our boasting is cut off [Romans 3:27 p.]. “If a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But God consigned all things to sin that the promise might be given to those who believe.” [Galatians 3:21-22 p.] Let them now babble, if they dare, that these statements apply to ceremonies, not to morals. Even schoolboys would hoot at such impudence. Therefore, let us hold as certain that when the ability to justify is denied to the law, these words refer to the whole law.
20. “Works of the Law”
If anyone should wonder why the apostle, not content with naming works, uses such a qualification, there is a ready explanation. Though works are highly esteemed, they have their value from God’s approval rather than from their own worth. For who would dare recommend works righteousness to God unless God himself approved? Who would dare demand a reward due unless he promised it? Therefore, it is from God’s beneficence that they are considered worthy both of the name of righteousness and of the reward thereof. And so, for this one reason, works have value, because through them man intends to show obedience to God. Therefore, to prove that Abraham could not be justified by works, the apostle declares in another place that the law was given fully four hundred and thirty years after the covenant was made [Galatians 3:17]. The ignorant would laugh at this sort of argument, on the ground that before the promulgation of the law there could have been righteous works. But because he knew that works could have such great value only by the testimony and vouchsafing of God, he took as a fact that previous to the law they had no power to justify. We have the reason why he expressly mentions the works of the law when he wants to take justification away from them, for it is clearly because a controversy can be raised only over them.
Yet he sometimes excepts all works without any qualification, as when on David’s testimony he states that blessedness is imparted to that man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works [Romans 4:6; Psalm 32:1-2]. Therefore no cavils of theirs can prevent us from holding to the exclusive expression39 as a general principle.
Also, they pointlessly strive after the foolish subtlety that we are justified by faith alone, which acts through love, so that righteousness depends upon love.40 Indeed, we confess with Paul that no other faith justifies “but faith working through love” [Galatians 5:6]. But it does not take its power to justify from that working of love. Indeed, it justifies in no other way but in that it leads us into fellowship with the righteousness of Christ. Otherwise, everything that the apostle insists upon so vigorously would fall. “Now to him who works the pay is not considered a gift but his due,” says he. [Romans 4:4.] “But to one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” [Romans 4:5.] Could he have spoken more clearly than in contending thus: that there is no righteousness of faith except where there are no works for which a reward is due? And then that faith is reckoned as righteousness only where righteousness is bestowed through a grace not owed? (Sins are remitted only through the righteousness of Christ, 21-23)
21. Justification, Reconciliation, Forgiveness of Sins
Now let us examine how true that statement is which is spoken in the definition, that the righteousness of faith is reconciliation with God, which consists solely in the forgiveness of sins.41 We must always return to this axiom: the wrath of God rests upon all so long as they continue to be sinners. Isaiah has very well expressed it in these words: “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you lest he hear” [Isaiah 59:1-2]. We are told that sin is division between man and God, the turning of God’s face away from the sinner; and it cannot happen otherwise, seeing that it is foreign to his righteousness to have any dealings with sin. For this reason, the apostle teaches that man is God’s enemy until he is restored to grace through Christ [Romans 5:8-10]. Thus, him whom he receives into union with himself the Lord is said to justify, because he cannot receive him into grace nor join him to himself unless he turns him from a sinner into a righteous man. We add that this is done through forgiveness of sins; for if those whom the Lord has reconciled to himself be judged by works, they will indeed still be found sinners, though they ought, nevertheless, to be freed and cleansed from sin. It is obvious, therefore, that those whom God embraces are made righteous solely by the fact that they are purified when their spots are washed away by forgiveness of sins. Consequently, such righteousness can be called, in a word, “remission of sins.”
22. Scriptural Proof for the Close Relation Between Justification and Forgiveness of Sins
Paul’s words, which I have already quoted,42 express both of these points very beautifully: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them, and has entrusted to us the word of reconciliation” [2 Corinthians 5:19, cf. Comm. and Vg.]. Then Paul adds the summation of Christ’s embassy: “Him who knew not sin he made to be sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Here he mentions righteousness and reconciliation indiscriminately, to have us understand that each one is reciprocally contained in the other. Moreover, he teaches the way in which this righteousness is to be obtained: namely, when our sins are not counted against us. Therefore, doubt no longer how God may justify us when you hear that he reconciles us to himself by not counting our sins against us. Thus, by David’s testimony Paul proves to the Romans that righteousness is imputed to man apart from works, for David declares that man “blessed whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered, to whom the Lord has not imputed iniquity” [Romans 4:6-8; Psalm 32:1-2]. Undoubtedly, he there substitutes blessedness for righteousness; since he declares that it consists in forgiveness of sins, there is no reason to define it differently. Accordingly, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sings that the knowledge of salvation rests in the forgiveness of sins [Luke 1:77]. Paul followed this rule in the sermon on the sum of salvation that he delivered to the people of Antioch. As Luke reports it, he concluded in this way: “Through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and every one that believes in him is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” [Acts 13:38-39 p.]. The apostle so connects forgiveness of sins with righteousness that he shows them to be exactly the same. From this he duly reasons that the righteousness that we obtain through God’s kindness is free to us.
And this ought not to seem an unusual expression, that believers are made righteous before God not by works but by free acceptance, since it occurs so often in Scripture, and ancient writers also sometimes speak thus. So says Augustine in one place: “The righteousness of the saints in this world consists more in the forgiveness of sins than in perfection of virtues.”43 Bernard’s famous sentences correspond to this: “Not to sin is the righteousness of God; but the righteousness of man is the grace of God.”44 And he had previously declared: “Christ is our righteousness in absolution, and therefore those alone are righteous who obtain pardon from his mercy.”45
23. Righteous—not in Ourselves but in Christ
From this it is also evident that we are justified before God solely by the intercession of Christ’s righteousness. This is equivalent to saying that man is not righteous in himself but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation—something worth carefully noting. Indeed, that frivolous notion disappears, that man is justified by faith because by Christ’s righteousness he shares the Spirit of God, by whom he is rendered righteous.46 This is too contrary to the above doctrine ever to be reconciled to it. And there is no doubt that he who is taught to seek righteousness outside himself is destitute of righteousness in himself. Moreover, the apostle most clearly asserts this when he writes: “He who knew not sin was made the atoning sacrifice of sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” [2 Corinthians 5:21 p.].47
You see that our righteousness is not in us but in Christ, that we possess it only because we are partakers in Christ; indeed, with him we possess all its riches. And this does not contradict what he teaches elsewhere, that sin has been condemned for sin in Christ’s flesh that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us [Romans 8:3-4]. The only fulfillment he alludes to is that which we obtain through imputation. For in such a way does the Lord Christ share his righteousness with us that, in some wonderful manner, he pours into us enough of his power to meet the judgment of God. It is quite clear that Paul means exactly the same thing in another statement, which he had put a little before: “As we were made sinners by one man’s disobedience, so we have been justified by one man’s obedience” [Romans 5:19 p.]. To declare that by him alone we are accounted righteous,48 what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own?
For this reason, it seems to me that Ambrose beautifully stated an example of this righteousness in the blessing of Jacob: noting that, as he did not of himself deserve the right of the first-born, concealed in his brother’s clothing and wearing his brother’s coat, which gave out an agreeable odor [Genesis 27:27], he ingratiated himself with his father, so that to his own benefit he received the blessing while impersonating another. And we in like manner hide under the precious purity of our first-born brother, Christ, so that we may be attested righteous in God’s sight.49x Here are the words of Ambrose: “That Isaac smelled the odor of the garments perhaps means that we are justified not by works but by faith, since the weakness of the flesh is a hindrance to works, but the brightness of faith, which merits the pardon of sins, overshadows the error of deeds.”50 And this is indeed the truth, for in order that we may appear before God’s face unto salvation we must smell sweetly with his odor, and our vices must be covered and buried by his perfection.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics, XX-XXI. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960.
3 On the primary importance of the doctrine of justification by faith, see Melanchthon, Loci communes (1535) (CR Melanchthon XXI. 420); Apology of the Augsburg Confession IV. 2 (Bekenntnisschriften der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche, pp. 158 f., 415: praecipuus locus doctrinae Christianae”; Concordia Trigtotta, pp. 120 f.); Doumergue, Calvin IV. 267-271; J. S. Whale, The Protestant Tradition, pp. 43 f.
6 Calvin here assails Osiander’s radical view of justification. See W. Niesel’s brief treatment of the issues between Osiander and Calvin, The Theology of Calvin, pp. 133 ff., and his study “Calvin wider Osianders Rechtfertigungslehre,” Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte XLVI (1927), 410-430. Osiander’s doctrine was set forth in his Disputation on Justification (1550), containing 81 propositions, and in his Confession of the Only Mediator and of Justification by Faith 532 (1551). A brief, clear account of the controversy within Lutheranism, which arose from these treatises and from his An filius Dei fuerit incarnandus (cf. I. 15. 3, note 8), is found in Concordia Triglotta, pp. 152-159. His view that Christ is our righteousness solely by his divine nature, whereby he imparts to us “essential righteousness,” was regarded as invalidating the Reformation doctrine of Christ’s sacrifice in the agony of the cross. Cf. sec. 8, below.
7 Osiander challenged Augustine’s view (De Trinitate X. 12. 19) that the image of God is in the mind of man, with its three parts, memory, intellect, and will: An filius Dei (appended essay, De imagine Dei) B 3a; Satan too has these (B 4a). The image of God was shut up (inclusa) in Christ’s humall nature (C 2a), which was from eternity in God (D 1b). Adam’s original righteousness is defined as the righteousness of God dwelling in Adam (F 4a).
8 Cf. Augustine, Sermons clxxxii. 4 (MPL 38. 986; tr. LF Sermons II. 956 f.); On Christ’s Agony 10. 11 (MPL 40. 297); City of God XI. 22 (MPL 41. 336; tr. NPNF II. 297); Against Two Letters of the Pelagians II. 2. 2 (MPL 44. 572; tr. NPNF V. 392); Unfinished Treatise Against Julian III. clxxxvi; II. clxxviii (MPL 45. 1325, 1f.); On Genesis, Against the Manichees II. 8. 11 (MPL 34. 202).
10 The points challenged above are advanced in Osiander’s Confession A 4b; G 1a. Calvin is anxious to refute the doctrine of essential righteousness in order to guard that of righteousness imparted solely through Christ’s sacrifice. Cf. sections 8 and 10, below.
11 The cuttlefish is described by Aristotle, Parts of Animals IV. 5 (LCL edition, pp. 318 f.), and by Pliny, Natural History IX. 29. 45 (tr. J. Bostock and C. H. Riley II. 497). The illustration is used by Tertullian, Against Marcion II. 20. 1 (CCL Tertullianus I. 497; tr. ANF III. 312 f.).
16 Osiander, op. cit., G 1b-2a. Various references to the same work can be traced in this section. See Cadlet, Institution III. 200, note 4; 202, note 9. In sections 8-12, Calvin is vigorously combatting a view that would confine the redemptive work of Christ to his divine nature, thus rendering meaningless his cross and resurrection.
20 At several points in this section the French text somewhat expands the Latin, evidently for clarification and simplification of the thought. Here the explanation is inserted: “meaning that those of whom he speaks have been swimming between two waters, for they love rather to keep their good reputation an the world than to be prized in God’s sight.”
21 Cf. IV. 17. 4. See also Cadier, Institution III. 2o1, note 4; R. S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, pp. 167 ff. The relation of the divine and the human in the Eucharist corresponds to the work of Christ as God and man in justification.
22 “Mystica . . . unio”; VG: “union sacrge.” Cf. “fellowship of righteousness” and “spiritual bond [conjunctio],” below. Cf. III. 2. 24; IV. 17. 8-12. Niesel notes that Calvin nowhere teaches “the absorption of the pious mystic into the sphere of the divine being”: The Theology of Calvin, p. 126; cf. pp. 144, 222.
24 Cf. section 6, above; section 11, below. Osiander’s Lutheran opponents commonly said, as Calvin does, that he confused justification with regeneration. Niesel has discussed the duplex iustitia in his article “Calvin wider Osianders Rechtfertigungslehre” (cited above, section 5, note 5), PP. 418f. Cf. “two kinds of grace” in section 6, above. 534
33 “These men” are sixteenth-century defenders of the medieval system who have gone beyond the Scholastics in their perverse treatment of justification and grace, concealing the divine mercy. See the references in OS IV. 198 f. to Faber, Cochlaeus, Schatzgeyer, Fisher, and Latomus. The important decree on justification of the Council of Trent, session 6 (January 13, 1547), with 33 canons anathematizing those who deviate from the doctrine, closed the debate from the Roman side. (Schaff, Creeds II. 89-118.) Gr. Melanchthon, Acta Concilii Tridentini anno MDXLVI celebrati (dated by Old Style calendar), especially his spirited reply to canon 9 of the series, which condemns justification by faith alone, n 7b ff.
37 Luther, in translating the New Testament, used the expression “by faith alone” in Romans 3:28. This is defended by Melanchthon, Apology of the Augsburg Confession IV. 73 (Bekenntnisschrifien der 535 Evangelisch-Luther. ischen Kirche I. 174; Concordia Triglotta, p. 141). Calvin, in defending sola fide, is aware that numerous attacks have been made on it, and that it has been roundly condemned by the Council of Trent (see note 31). Cf. Fisher, Confutatio, p. 60; Herborn, Enchiridion iv (CC 12. 27).
38 Apparently the reference to Origen is in error. It has been traced (OS IV. 203) to a quotation of Pelagius by Jerome, Commentary on Romans, ch. 3 (MPL 30. 66), and is found also in Pseudo-Ambrose, Commentary on Romans 3 (MPL 17. 79). It is employed by Herborn, Enchiridion iv (CC 12. 30), and other disputants.