Blog 123: 3.11.12 - 3.11.17

Paul Helm

After his refutation of Osiander, Calvin returns to his mainline exposition of justification, that the believer receives pardon and God's righteousness is reckoned to be the believer as the only ground of acceptance.  So are works of the law excluded? Certainly But what about the works of the regenerate, don't they count towards justification? No, not even these works count for justification, since Paul excludes works of all sorts.  'In the contrast between the righteousness of the law and of the gospel....all works are excluded, whatever title may grace them'. Any proposal of that sort confound justification and sanctification.

Calvin picks out the Roman doctrine of merit for special mention. Beginning with the early introduction of the idea of merit through Augustine, the idea of merit as a gift of God's grace has gradually degenerated until it has become a brand of works-righteousness, a form of Pelagianism. The biblical doctrine of justification through Christ's imputed righteousness is incompatible with this teaching and, in order to be clear, the term 'merit' should never be used as a description of the virtues of Christian sanctification.

Rather than offer our own merits, even the merits which are wholly the product of divine grace, we must instead 'look solely upon God's mercy and Christ's perfection'. For our graces are always imperfect. Rather disarmingly Calvin states that what he is discussing could be set forth better than he has managed, but that it does not much matter in what order these things are set out provided that we are clear on the essentials. NB students of the ordo salutis!