Blog 126: 3.12.6 - 3.13.3
For Calvin, the only possible way to receive God's mercy is with absolute humility, which he defines as "an unfeigned submission of our heart, stricken down in earnest with an awareness of its own misery and want."
Without such humility, we remain persuaded of our own righteousness, when in fact we ought to be confident only in the mercy of God. We will never find sufficient consolation in Christ, Calvin observes, "unless we have already experienced desolation in ourselves." But when we are truly humbled before God, our hearts are open to receive the free gift of his justifying grace.
Chapter 12 begins by noting two goals that the biblical doctrine of justification achieves: first, it preserves God's undiminished glory, and second, it blesses the sinful conscience with full peace and assurance.
Calvin seeks to promote the glory of God at every possible point in his theology, but never more so than in his doctrine of free justification. As long as we insist on saying something in our own defense--giving some credit to our own righteousness--we detract from God's glory. "Whoever glories in himself," Calvin insists, "glories against God."
Justification begins, therefore, with the recognition that we do not have even one single crumb of our own true righteousness. Whatever righteousness we possess comes as a gift from God, who thus retains all the praise for our justification.
In addition to preserving God's glory to himself, the doctrine of free justification has the further benefit of providing the believer with full assurance of faith. Because it comes from God--not from ourselves--justifying righteousness supports the believer with steadfast confidence before the judgment of God.