top of page

"A Reformed Catholic", William Perkins (5), Justification of a Sinner

In this next chapter of A Reformed Catholic Perkins comes to the matter of Justification. It was termed by Luther as "the test of a standing or of a falling Church", and by Calvin as "the principal ground on which religion must be supported". Indeed if there were no other points of difference between us and Rome, this one alone is sufficient to keep us from the uniting of our religions.

In his exposition of the matter Perkins solemnly reminds us that this is a point of difference "... wherein we are to stand against them, even to death."


The Reformed Doctrine Touching the Justification of a Sinner

Our doctrine touching the justification of a sinner, I propound in four rules.

Rule 1

That, justification is an action of God, whereby he absolves a sinner, and accepts him to life everlasting for the righteousness and merit of Christ.

Rule 2

That, justification stands in two things: first in the remission of sins by the merit of Christ his death: secondly in the imputation of Christ his righteousness; which is an other action of God whereby he accounts and esteems that righteousness which is in Christ, as the righteousness of that sinner which believes in him. By Christ his righteousness we are to understand two things: first his sufferings specially in his death and passion, secondly his obedience in fulfilling the law; both which go together: for Christ in suffering obedience and obeying suffered. And the very shedding of his blood to which our salvation is ascribed, must not only be considered, as it is passive, that is, a suffering, but also as it is active, that is, an obedience, in which he shewed his exceeding love both to his father and us, and thus fulfilled the law for us. This point if some had well thought on, they would not have placed all justification in remission of sins, as they do.

Rule 3

That, justification is from God's mere mercy and grace, procured only by the merit of Christ.

Rule 4

That, man is justified by faith alone; because faith is that alone instrument created in the heart by the Holy Ghost, whereby a sinner lays hold of Christ his righteousness, and applies the same unto himself. There is neither hope, nor love, nor any other grace of God within man, that can do this, but faith alone.


The Doctrine of the Roman Church Touching the Justification of a Sinner.

They hold that before justification there goes a preparation; which is an action worked partly by the Holy Ghost and partly by the power of natural free will, whereby a man disposes himself to his own future justification.

In the preparation they consider the ground of justification, and things proceeding from it. The ground is faith, which they define to be a general knowledge, whereby we understand and believe that the doctrine of the word of God is true. Things proceeding from this faith are these; a sight of our sins, a fear of hell, hope of salvation, love of God, repentance, and such like: all which, when men have attained, they are then fully disposed (as they say) to their justification.

This preparation being made, then comes justification itself: which is an action of God, whereby he makes a man righteous. It has two parts: the first, and the second. The first is, when a sinner of an evil man is made a good man. And to effect this, two things are required: first the pardon of sin, which is one part of the first justification: secondly the infusion of inward righteousness, whereby the heart is purged and sanctified: and this habit of righteousness stands specially in hope and charity.

After the first justification, follows the second; which is, when a man of a good or just man, is made better and more just: and this, say they, may proceed from works of grace: because he which is righteous by the first justification, can bring forth good works: by the merit whereof, he is able to make himself more just and righteous: and yet they grant that the first justification comes only of God's mercy by the merit of Christ.

Now let us come to the points of difference between us and them touching justification.


I. Difference in the MATTER of Justification

The first main difference is in the matter thereof, which shall be seen by the answer both of Protestant and Papist to this one question. What is the very thing, that causes a man to stand righteous before God, and to be accepted to life everlasting? We answer, nothing but the righteousness of Christ, which consists partly in his sufferings, and partly in his active obedience in fulfilling the rigour of the law. And hear let us consider, how near the Papists come to this answer, and wherein they dissent.

Consent 1

They grant, that in justification sin is pardoned by the merits of Christ, and that none can be justified without remission of sins: and that is well.

Consent 2

They grant, that the righteousness whereby a man is made righteous before God, comes from Christ, and from Christ alone.

Consent 3

The most learned among them say, that Christ his satisfaction, and the merit of his death is imputed to every sinner that does believe, for his satisfaction before God (Bellar. de justif. lib. 2. cap. 7) and hitherto we agree.

The very point of difference is this, we hold that the satisfaction made by Christ in his death, and obedience to the law; is imputed to us and becomes our righteousness. They say, it is our satisfaction and not our righteousness whereby we stand righteous before God: because it is inherent in the person of Christ as in a subject. Now the answer of the Papist to the former question is on this manner: The thing (says he) that makes us righteous before God, and causes us to be accepted to life everlasting, is remission of sins, and the habit of inward righteousness, or charity with the fruits thereof. We condescend and grant that the habit of righteousness, which we call sanctification is an excellent gift of God: and has his reward of God: and is the matter of our justification before men: because it serves to declare us to be reconciled to God, and to be justified: yet we deny it to be the thing, which makes us of sinners to become righteous or just before God.

And this is the first point of our disagreement in the matter of justification: which must be marked, because if there were no more points of difference between us, this one alone were sufficient to keep us from uniting of our religions: for hereby the Church of Rome does destroy the very foundation.

Now let us see by what reasons we justify our doctrine: and secondly answer the contrary objections.

Our Reasons

Reason 1

That very thing which must be our righteousness before God, must satisfy the justice of the law, which saith, do these things and thou shalt live. Now there is nothing can satisfy the justice of the law but the righteousness or obedience of Christ for us. If any allege civil justice it is no∣thing: for Christ saith, Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. What? shall we say that works do make us just? that can not be: for all men's works are defective in respect of the justice of the law. Shall we say our sanctification, whereby we are renewed to the image of God in righteousness and true holiness? that also is imperfect and cannot satisfy God's justice required in the law: as Isaiah has said of himself and the people, all our righteousness is as a menstruous clothe. To have a clear conscience before God is a principal part of inward righteousness; and of it Paul in his own person saith thus, I am privy to nothing by myself, yet am I not justified thereby, 2. Cor. 4. 4. Therfore nothing can procure unto us an absolution and acceptance to life everlasting, but Christ's imputed righteousness. And this will appear, if we do consider, how we must come one day before God's judgement seat, there to be judged in the rigour of justice: for when we must bring some thing that may countervail the justice of God: not having only acceptation in mercy, but also approbation in justice: God being not only merciful, but also a just judge.

Reason 2

2. Cor. 5. 21. He which knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God which is in him. Whence I reason thus. As Christ was made sin for us, so are we made the righteousness of God in him: but Christ was made sin, or, a sinner by imputation of our sins, he being in himself most holy; therefore a sinner is made righteous before God, in that Christ's righteousness is imputed and applied unto him. Now if any shall say, that man is justified by righteousness infused; then by like reason, I say Christ was made sin for us by infusion of sin, which to say is blasphemy. And the exposition of this place by S.t Jerome is not to be despised. Christ (saith he) being offered for our sins, took the name of sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, NOT OURS NOR IN US. If this righteousness of God be neither ours nor in us, then it can be no inherent righteousness, but must needs be righteousness imputed. And Chrysostom on this place saith, It is called God's righteousness, because it is not of works, and because it must be WITHOUT ALL STAIN or want: and that cannot be inherent righteousness. Anselm saith, he is made sin as we are made justice: not ours but God's, not in us but in him: as he is made sin not his own but ours: not in himself, but in us.

Reason 3

Rom. 5. 19. As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners: so by the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous: mark here is a comparison between the first and second Adam. And hence I reason thus. As by the disobedience of the first Adam men were made sinners: so by the obedience of the second Adam, are we made righteous. Now we are not only made sinners by propagation of natural corruption, but by imputation. For Adam's first sin was the eating of the forbidden fruit: which very act is no personal offence, but is imputed to all his posterity, in whom we have all sinned. The Fathers (Iren. lib. 5. cap. 17. Chrysostom. homil. ad Neoph) call this very sin Adam's handwriting, making us debtors unto God. And therefore in like manner the obedience of Christ is made the righteousness of every believer, not by infusion but by imputation.

Reason 4.

A satisfaction made for the want of that justice or obedience which the law requires at our hands, is accepted of God as the justice itself. But Christ's obedience is a satisfaction made for the want of that justice or obedience which the law requires, as the Papists themselves avouch. Therefore this satisfaction is our justice. And methinks, the Papists upon this consideration have little cause to dissent from us. For if they make Christ's obedience their satisfaction, why should they not fully close hands with us, and make it their justice also.

Reason 5

The consent of the ancient Church.


Saith, epist. 190. The JUSTICE OF ANOTHER is assigned unto man: who wanted his own, man was indebted and man made payment. The SATISFACTION OF ONE IS IMPUTED to all. And, why may not justice be from an other as well as guiltiness is from an other.

In Cant. serm. 25. It suffices me, for all righteousness to have him alone merciful to me, against whom I have sinned. And, Not to sin is God's justice, MAN'S JUSTICE is the MERCIFULNESS OF GOD.

Serm. 61. Shall I sing mine own righteousness, Lord I vvill remember thy righteousness alone: for IT IS MINE ALSO: in that even thou art made unto me righteousness of God. What, shall I fear least that one be not sufficient for us both? it is not a short cloak that cannot cover two: it will cover both thee and me largely being both a large and eternal justice.


On Psalm 22. He prays for our faults, and has made our faults his faults, that he might make HIS JUSTICE OUR JUSTICE.

Objections of Papists

Objections of the Papists proving inherent righteousness to be the matter of our justice before God, are these.

Objection 1

It is absurd, that one man should be made righteous by the righteousness of another: for it is as much as if one man were made wise by the wisdom of another.


It is true, that no man can be made righteous by the personal righteousness of an other, because it pertains only to one man. And because the wisdom that is in one man, is his altogether wholly, it cannot be the wisdom of another; no more then the health and life of one body, can be the health of an other. But it is otherwise with the righteousness of Christ: it is his indeed, because it is inherent in him as in a subject: it is not his alone, but his and ours together by the tenor of the Covenant of Grace. Christ as he is a Mediator is given to every believer as really and truly, as land is given from man to man: and with him are given all things that concern salvation; they being made ours by God's free gift: among which, is Christ his righteousness. By it therefore, as being a thing of our own, we may be justified before God, and accepted to life everlasting.

Objection 2

If a sinner be justified by Christ his righteousness, then every believer shall be as righteous as Christ: and that cannot be.


The proposition is false: for Christ his righteousness is not applied to us according as it is in Christ; neither according to the same measure, nor the same manner. For his obedience in fulfilling the law, is above Adam's righteousness, yea above the righteousness of all angels. For they were all but creatures, and their obedience the obedience of creatures: but Christ his obedience is the obedience or righteousness of God; so termed Rom. 1. 17, 18, 2. Cor. 5. 21. not only because God accepted of it, but because it was in that person which is very God. When Christ obeyed, God obeyed: and when he suffered, God suffered: not because the godhead suffered or performed any obedience, but because the person which according to one nature is God, performed obedience and suffered. And by this means his righteousness is of infinite value, price, merit, and efficacy. Hence also it comes to pass, that this obedience of Christ serves not only for the justifying of some one person (as Adam's did) but of all and every one of the elect: yea it is sufficient to justify many thousand worlds. Now to come to the point, this righteousness that is in Christ, in this largeness and measure; is pertaining to us in a more narrow scantling, because it is only received by faith so farforth, as it serves to justify any particular believer. But they urge the reason further, saying: If Christ his righteousness be the righteousness of every believer, then every man should be a Saviour: which is absurd.

I answer as before, and yet more plainly thus: Christ his righteousness is imputed to the person of this or that man, not as it is the price of redemption for all mankind, but as it is the price of redemption for one particular man: as for example, Christ his righteousness is imputed to Peter, not as it is the price of redemption for all, but as it is the price of redemption for Peter. And therefore Christ his righteousness, is not applied to any one sinner in that largeness and measure, in which it is in the person of Christ: but only so far as it serves to satisfy the law for the said sinner, and to make his person accepted of God as righteous, and no further.

Objection 3

If we be made righteous by Christ his righteousness truly, then Christ is a sinner truly by our sins: but Christ is not indeed a sinner by our sins.


We may with reverence to his majesty in good manner say, that Christ was a sinner, and that truly: not by any infusion of sin into his most holy person; but because our sins were laid on him: thus saith the Holy Ghost, he which knew no sin was made sin for us, and he was counted with sinners, Isa 53. 13 yet so, as even then in himself he was without blot, yea more holy than all men and angels. On this manner said Chrysostom on 2. Cor. 3. God permitted Christ to be condemned as a sinner. Again, He made the just one to be A SINNER, that he might make sinners just.

Objection 4

If a man be made righteous by imputation, then God judges sinners to be righteous: but God judges no sinner to be righteous, for it is abomination to the Lord.


When God justifies a sinner by Christ his righteousness, at the same time, he ceases in regard of guiltiness to be a sinner and to whom God imputes righteousness them he sanctifies at the very same instant by his Holy Spirit; giving also unto original corruption his deadly wound.

Objection 5

That which Adam never lost, was never given by Christ: but he never lost imputed righteousness: therefore it was never given unto him.


The proposition is not true: for saving faith, that was never lost by Adam, is given to us in Christ: and Adam never had this privilege, that after the first grace should follow the second; and thereupon being left to himself, he fell from God: and yet this mercy is vouchsafed to all believers, that after their first conversion God will still confirm them with new grace: and by this means, they persevere unto the end. And whereas they say, that Adam had not imputed righteousness: I answer, that he had the same for substance, though not for the manner of applying by imputation.

Objection 6

Justification is eternal: but the imputation of Christ his righteousness is not eternal, for it ceases in the end of this life: therefore it is not that which justifies a sinner.


The imputation of Christ's righteousness is everlasting: for he that is esteemed righteous in this life by Christ his righteousness, is accepted as righteous for ever: and the remission of sins granted in this life, is for ever continued. And though sanctification be perfect in the world to come, yet shall it not justify: for we must conceive it no otherwise after this life, but as a fruit springing from the imputed righteousness of Christ, without which it could not be. And a good child will not cast away the first garment, because his father gives him a second. And what if inward righteousness be perfect in the end of this life, shall we therefore make it the matter of our justification? God forbid. For the righteousness whereby sinners are justified, must be had in the time of this life, before the pangs of death.

II. Difference about the MANNER of Justification.
The First Difference

All, both Papists and Protestants agree, that a sinner is justified by faith. This agreement is only in word, and the difference between us is great indeed. And it may be reduced to these three heads. First, the Papist saying that a man is justified by faith: understands a general or a catholic faith, whereby a man believes the articles of religion to be true. But we hold that the faith which justifies, is a particular faith whereby we apply to ourselves the promises of righteousness and life everlasting by Christ. And that our opinion is the truth: I have proved before: but I will add a reason or two.

Reason 1

The faith whereby we live, is that faith whereby we are justified: but the faith whereby we live spiritually, is a particular faith whereby we apply Christ unto ourselves, as Paul says, Gal. 2. 20 I live, that is, spiritually, by the faith of the son of God: which faith he sheweth to be a particular faith in Christ, in the very words following, who hath LOVED ME and given himself FOR ME, particularly: and in this manner of believing Paul was and is an example to all that are to be saved, 1. Tim. 1. 16. and Phil. 3. 15.

Reason 2

That which we are to ask of God in prayer, we must believe it shall be given us, as we ask it: but in prayer we are to ask the pardon of our own sins, and the merit of Christ's righteousness for ourselves: therefore we must believe the same particularly. The proposition is a rule of God's word, requiring, that in every petition we bring a particular faith, whereby we believe, that the thing lawfully asked, shall be given accordingly. Mark. 11. 24. The minor is also evident, neither can it be denied: for we are taught by Christ himself to pray on this manner, Forgive us our debts: and to it we say, Amen, that is, that our petitions shall without all doubt be granted unto us. (Aug. serm. de Temp. 182).

And here note, that the Church of Rome in the doctrine of justification by faith cuts off the principal part and property thereof. For in justifying faith two things are required: first KNOWLEDGE REVEALED in the word touching the means of salvation: secondly an APPLYING of things known unto ourselves, which some call affiance. Now the first, they acknowledge, but the second, which is the very substance and principal part thereof, they deny.

Reason 3

The judgement of the ancient Church.


I demand now, doest thou believe in Christ, O sinner? Thou saith, I believe. What believest thou? that all THY SINS may freely be pardoned by him. THOU HAST THAT WHICH THOU HAST BELIEVED, (de verbis Dei. serm. 7).


The Apostle thinks that a man is justified freely by faith. If thou believest that thy sins cannot be remitted but by him alone against whom they were committed: but go further and believe this too, that by him THY SINS ARE FORGIVEN THEE. This is the testimony which the Holy Ghost giveth in the heart, saying: thy sins are forgiven thee, (Serm. 1, de Annunc).


God promises thee immortality, when thou goest out of this world, and DOEST THOU DOUBT? This is indeed not to know God, and this is for a member of the church in the house of faith not to have faith. If we believe in Christ, let us believe his words and promises, and we shall never die, and shall come to Christ with JOYFUL SECURITY. with him to reign forever, (Serm. de Natal).

The Second Difference

The second difference touching faith in the act of justification, is this. The Papist saith, we are justified by faith, because it disposes a sinner to his justification after this manner: By faith (saith he) the mind of man is enlightened in the knowledge of the law and gospel: knowledge stirs up a fear of hell with a consideration of the promise of happiness, as also the love and fear of God, and hope of life eternal. Now when the heart is thus prepared, God infuses the habit of charity and other virtues, whereby a sinner is justified before God. We say otherwise, that faith justifies because it is a supernatural instrument created by God in the heart of man at his conversion, whereby he apprehends and receives Christ's righteousness for his justification.

In this their doctrine is a twofold error:

The First Error

That they make faith which justifies, to go before justification itself, both for order of nature as also for time: whereas by the word of God, at the very instant, when any man believes first, he is then justified and sanctified. For he that believes, eats and drinks the body and blood of Christ, and is already passed from death to life, John 6. 54.

The Second Error

The second is, that faith being nothing else with them but an illumination of the mind, stirs up the will; which being moved and helped, causes in the heart many spiritual motions: and thereby disposes man to his future justification. But this indeed is as much as if we should say, that dead men only helped, can prepare themselves to their future resurrection. For we are all by nature dead in sin, and therefore must not only be enlightened in mind, but also renewed in will, before we can so much as will or desire that which is good.

Now we (as I have said) teach otherwise: that faith justifies as it is an instrument to apprehend and apply Christ with his obedience; which is the matter of our justification. This is the truth, I prove it thus. In the Covenant of Grace two things must be considered; the substance thereof, and the condition. The substance of the covenant is, that righteousness and life everlasting is given to God's Church and people by Christ. The condition is, that we for our parts, are by faith to receive the aforesaid benefits: and this condition is by grace as well as the substance. Now then, that we may attain to salvation by Christ, he must be given unto us really, as he is propounded in the tenor of the foresaid covenant. And for the giving of Christ, God has appointed special ordinances, as the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments. The word preached is the power of God to salvation to every one that believes: and the end of the sacraments is to communicate Christ with all his benefites to them that come to be partakers thereof: as is most plainly to be seen in the supper of the Lord, in which the giving of bread and wine to the several communicants, is a pledge and sign of God's particular giving of Christ's body and blood with all his merits, unto them. And this giving on God's part cannot be effectual without receiving on our parts: and therefore faith must needs be an instrument or hand to receive that which God gives, that we may find comfort by this giving.

The Third Difference

The third difference concerning faith, is this: the Papist say, that a man is justified by faith; yet not by faith alone, but also by other virtues, as hope, love, the fear of God, &c. The reasons which are brought to maintain their opinion are of no moment:

I. Reason. Luke 7. 47. Many sins are forgiven her, BECAUSE she loved much. Whence they gather that the woman here spoken of, was justified and had the pardon of sins by love.

Answer: In this text, love is not made an impulsive cause to move God to pardon her sins, but only a sign to show and manifest that God had already pardoned them. Like to this is the place of John, who saith, 1. John 3. 14. We are translated from death to life, BECAUSE we love the brethren: where love is no cause of the change, but a sign and consequent thereof.

II. Reason. Gal. 5. 6. Neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision availeth any thing, but FAITH THAT WORKETH BY LOVE. Hence they gather that faith does justify together with love.

Answer. The property of true faith is, to apprehend and receive something unto itself: and love, that goes always with faith, as a fruit and an inseparable companion thereof, is of another nature. For it does not receive in, but as it were give out itself in all the duties of the first and second table towards God and man: and this thing faith by itself cannot do and therefore Paul says that faith worketh by love. The hand has a property to reach out itself, to lay hold of any thing: and to receive a gift: but the hand has no property to cut a piece of wood of itself without saw or knife, or some like instrument; and yet by help of them, it can either divide or cut. Even so it is the nature of faith, to go out of itself and to receive Christ into the heart: as for the duties of the first and second table, faith cannot of itself bring them forth; no more than the hand can divide or cut: yet join love to faith, and then can it practise duties commanded concerning God and man. And this I take to be the meaning of this text, which speaks not of justification by faith, but only of the practice of common duties, which faith puts in execution by the help of love.

III. Reason. Faith is never alone, therefore it does not justify alone.

Answer. The reason is nought, and they might as well dispute thus. The eye is never alone from the head, and therefore it sees not alone; which is absurd. And though in regard of substance the eye be never alone, yet in regard of seeing, it is alone and so though faith subsist not without love and hope and other graces of God, yet in regard of the act of justification it is a∣one without them all.

IV. Reason. If faith alone do justify, then we are saved by faith alone: but we are not saved by faith alone: and therefore not justified by faith alone.

Answer. The proposition is false: for more things are requisite to the main end then to the subordinate means. And the assumption is false: for we are saved by faith alone, if we speak of faith as it is an instrument apprehending Christ for our salvation.

V. Reason. We are saved by hope: therefore not by faith alone.

Answer. We are saved by hope, not because it is any cause of our salvation. Paul's meaning is only this; that we have not salvation as yet in possession, but wait patiently for it, in time to come to be possessed of us, expecting the time of our full deliverance: that is all, that can justly be gathered hence.

Our Doctrine to the Contrary

Now the doctrine which we teach on the contrary is, that a sinner is justified before God by faith: yea, BY FAITH ALONE. The meaning is, that nothing within man, and nothing that man can do either by nature or by grace concurs to the act of justification before God, as any cause thereof, either efficient, material, formal, or final, but faith alone. All other gifts and graces, as hope, love, the fear of God, are necessary to salvation, as signs thereof, and consequents of faith. Nothing in man concurs as any cause to this work but by faith alone. And faith itself is no principal but only an instrumental cause by we receive, apprehend, and apply Christ and his righteousness for our justification.

Reason I. John. 3. 14, 15. As Moses lift up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lift up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life. In these words Christ makes a comparison on this manner: when any one of the Israelites were stung to death by fiery serpents: his cure was not by any physical surgery, but only by the casting of his eye up to the brazen serpent, which Moses had erected by God's commandment: even so in the cure of our souls, when we are stung to death by sin, there is nothing required within us for our recovery, but only that we cast up and fix the eye of our faith on Christ and his righteousness.

Reason II. The exclusive forms of speech used in scripture prove this much. We are justified freely, not of the law, not by the law, without the law, without works, not of works, not according to works, not of us, not by the works of the law but by faith. Gal, 2. 16. All boasting excluded: only believe. Luke. 8. 50. These distinctions, whereby works and the law are excluded in the work of justification, do include this much: that faith alone does justify.

Reason III. Very reason may teach this much: for no gift in man is apt and fit as a spiritual hand to receive and apply Christ and his righteousness unto a sinner, but faith. Indeed love, hope, the fear of God and repentance, have their several uses in men, but none serve for this end to apprehend Christ and his merits; none of them all have this receiving property: and therefore there is nothing in man, that justifies as a cause but faith alone.

Reason IV. The judgement of the ancient Church.


On Rom. 4. They are blessed to whom WITHOUT ANY LABOUR OR WORK DONE, iniquities are remitted and sin covered: NO WORKS OF REPENTANCE required of them, but ONLY THAT THEY BELIEVE.

On Rom. 3. Neither working any thing, nor requiting the like, are they justified by FAITH ALONE through the gift of God.

On 1. Cor. 1. This is appointed of God that whosoever believeth in Christ, shall be saved without any work BY FAITH ALONE, freely receiving remission of sins, (de verbis Deus. ser. 40.)


There is ONE propitiation for all sins, to believe in Christ.


Grace which is of mercy is APPREHENDED BY FAITH ALONE, and not of works, (on Levit. lib. 1. c. 2.),


Whosoever is pricked for his sins and thirsts after righteousness, let him believe in thee, who justifies the sinner, and being justified by FAITH ALONE, he shall have peace with God. (supra Cant. serm. 22.)


On Gal. 3. They said, he which rests on faith alone, is cursed: but Paul shows, that he is blessed which rests ON FAITH ALONE.


Let man acknowledge himself to want true justice, and that he is justified ONLY BY FAITH in Christ, (Basil de humil).


On Rom. 3. We think that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law: and he saith that justification by faith alone suffices, so as a man only believing may be justified. And, therefore it lies upon us to search who was justified by faith without works. And for an example, I think upon the thief who being crucified with Christ cried unto him, Lord remember me when thou commest into thy kingdom: and there is no other good work of his mentioned in the Gospel: but for this alone faith, Jesus saith unto him, This night thou shalt be with me in Paradise.

III. Difference regarding Good Works

The third difference about justification is concerning this point, namely how far good works are required thereto.

The doctrine of the Church of Rome is, that there be two kinds of justification: the first and the second, as I have said. The first is, when one of an evil man is made a good man: and in this, works are wholly excluded, it being wholly of grace. The second is, when a man of a just man is made more just. And this they will have to proceed from works of grace: for (say they) as a man when he is once born can by eating and drinking make himself a bigger man, though he could not at the first make himself a man: even so a sinner having his first justification, may afterward by grace make himself more just.

Therefore they hold these two things:

I. That good works are meritorious causes of the second justification, which they term Actual.

II. That good works are means to increase the first justification, which they call Habitual.

Now let us see how far we must join with them in this point. Our consent therefore stands in three conclusions.

Conclusion 1

That good works done by them that are justified do please God, and are approved of him, and therefore have a reward.

Conclusion 2

Good works are necessary to salvation two ways: first, not as causes thereof, either conservant, adiuvant, or procreant: but only as consequents of faith: in, that they are inseparable companions and fruits of that faith, which is indeed necessary to salvation. Secondly they are necessary as marks in a way, and as the way itself directing us unto eternal life.

Conclusion 3

We hold and believe, that the righteous man, is in some sort justified by works: for so the Holy Ghost speaks plainly and truly, James 2. 21. that Abraham was justified by works.

This far we join with them: and the very difference is this. They say, we are justified by works, as by causes thereof: we say, that we are justified by works as by signs and fruits of our justification before God, and no otherwise: and in this sense must the place of St. James be understood, that Abraham was justified, that is, declared and made manifest to be just indeed by his obedience, and that even before God. Now that our doctrine is the truth, it will appear by reasons on both parts.

Our Reasons

Reason 1

Rom. 3. 28. We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law. Some answer, that ceremonial works be excluded here: some, that moral works: some, works going before faith. But let them devise what they can for themselves: the truth is, that Paul excludes all works whatsoever, as by the very text will appear. For v. 24. he says, We are justified FREELY by his grace: that is, by the mere gift of God: giving us to understand, that a sinner in his justification is merely passive, that is, doing nothing on his part whereby God should accept him to life everlasting and v. 27. he says, justification by faith excludes all boasting: and therefore all kind of works are thereby excluded; and specially such as are most of all the matter of boasting, that is, good works. For if a sinner, after that he is justified by the merit of Christ, were justified more by his own works, then might he have some matter of boasting in himself. And that we may not doubt of Paul's meaning, consider and read Eph. 2. 8, 9. By grace (saith he) you are saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works least any man should boast himself. Here Paul excludes all and every work, and directly works of grace themselves: as appears by the reason following, For we are his workmanship CREATED in Christ Jesus UNTO GOOD WORKS: WHICH GOD HATH ORDAINED that we should walk in them. Now let the Papists tell me, what be the works which God hath prepared for men to walk in, and to which they are regenerate, unless they be the most excellent works of grace: and let them mark, how Paul excludes them wholly from the work of justification and salvation.

Reason 2

Gal. 5. 3. If ye be circumcised, ye are bound to the whole law, and ye are abolished from Christ. Here Paul disputes against such men as would be saved partly by Christ, and partly by the works of the law: hence I reason thus. If a man will be justified by works he is bound to fulfil the whole law, according to the rigour thereof: that is Paul's ground. I now assume no man can fulfil the law according to the rigour thereof for the lives and works of most righteous men are imperfect, and stained with sin and therefore they are taught every day, to say on this manner; forgive us our debts. Again our knowledge is imperfect, and therefore our faith, repentance, and sanctification is answerable. And lastly the regenerate man is partly flesh and partly spirit: and therefore his best works are partly from the flesh, and in part only spiritual. Thus then for any man to be bound to the rigour of the whole law, is as much as if he were bound to his own damnation.

Reason 3

Election to salvation is of grace without works: therefore the justification of a sinner is of grace alone without works. For it is a certain rule, that the cause of a cause is the cause of a thing caused. Now grace without works is the cause of election, which election is the cause of our justification: and therefore grace without workes is the cause of our justification.

Reason 4

A man must first be fully justified before he can do a good work: for the person must first please God before his works can please him. But the person of a sinner cannot please God till he be perfectly justified: and therefore till he be justified, he cannot do so much as one good work. And thus good works cannot be any meritorious causes of justification, after which they are both for time, and order of nature. In a word, whereas they make two distinct justifications: we acknowledge that there be degrees of sanctification, yet so as justification is only one, standing in remission of sins and God's acceptation of us to life everlasting by Christ; and this justification has no degrees but is perfect at the very first.

Objections of Papists Answered
Objection 1

Psal. 7. 8. Judge me according to my righteousness. Hence they reason thus, if David be judged according to his righteousness then may he be justified thereby, but David desires to be judged according to his righteousness: and therefore he was justified thereby.


There be two kinds of righteousness, one of the person, the other of the cause or action. The righteousness of a man's person, is whereby it is accepted into the favour of God into life eternal. The righteousness of the action or cause is, when the action or cause is judged of God to be good and just. Now David in this psalm, speaks only of the righteousness of the action, or innocency of his cause, in that he was falsely charged to have sought the kingdom. In like manner it is said of Phineas, Psal. 166. 31. that his fact in killing Zimri and Cosbie, was imputed to him for righteousness not because it was a satisfaction to the law, the rigour whereof could not be fulfilled in that one work; but because God accepted of it as a just work, and as a token of his righteousness and zeal for God's glory.

Objection 2

The Scripture saith in sundry places, that men are blessed which do good works. Psal. 119. 1. Blessed is the man that is upright in heart, and walketh in the law of the Lord.


The man is blessed that endeavours to keep God's commandments. Yet is he not blessed simply, because he does so; but because he is in Christ, by whom he does so: and his obedience to the law of God is a sign thereof.

Objection 3

When man confesses his sins and humbles himself by prayer and fasting, Gods wrath is pacified and stayed: therefore prayer and fasting are causes of justification before God.


Indeed men that truly humble themselves by prayer and fasting, do appease the wrath of God: yet not properly by these actions, but by their faith expressed and testified in them, whereby they apprehend that which appeases God's wrath, even the merits of Christ, in whom the father is well pleased; and for whose sake alone he is well pleased with us.

Objection 4

Sundry persons in Scripture are commended for perfection: as Noe, and Abraham, Zacharie, and Elizabeth: and Christ bids us all be perfect; and where there is any perfection of works, there also works may justify.


There be two kinds of perfection: perfection in parts, and perfection in degrees. Perfection in part is, when being regenerate, and having the seeds of all necessary virtues, we endeavour accordingly to obey God, not in some few, but in all and every part of the law: as Josiah turned unto God according to all the law of Moses. Perfection in degrees is, when a man keeps every commandment of God, and that according to the rigour thereof, in the very highest degree. Now then whereas we are commanded to be perfected, and have examples of the same perfection in Scripture: both commandments and examples must be understood of perfection in parts, and not of perfection in degrees, which cannot be attained unto in this life; though we for our parts, must daily strive to come as near unto it, as possibly we can.

Objection 5

2. Cor. 4. 17. Our moment any afflictions work unto us a greater measure of glory: now if afflictions work our salvation, then works also do the same.


Afflictions work salvation, not as causes procuring it, but as means directing us thereto. And thus always must we esteem of works, in the matter of our salvation, as of a certain way, or a mark therein, directing us to glory, not causing and procuring it: as Bernard saith they are, VIAREGNI NON CAVSA*regnandi. The way to the kingdom, not the cause of reigning there.

Objection 6

Wee are justified by the same thing whereby we are judged: but we are judged by our good works: therefore justified also.


The proposition is false: for judgement is an act of God, declaring a man to be just that is already just: and justification is an other distinct act of God, whereby he makes him to be just, that is by nature unjust. And therefore in equity the last judgement is to proceed by works: because they are the fittest means to make trial of every man's cause, and serve fitly to declare whom God has justified in this life.

Objection 7

Wicked men are condemned for evil works: therefore righteous men are justified by good works.


The reason holds not for there is great difference between evil and good works. An evil work is perfectly evil, and so deserves damnation, but there is no good work of any man that is perfectly good: and therefore cannot justify.

Objection 8

To believe in Christ is a work, and by it we are justified: and if one work do justify, why may we not be justified by all the works of the law.


Faith must be considered two ways: first, as a work, quality, or virtue: secondly as an Instrument, or an hand reaching out itself to receive Christ's merit. And we are justified by faith, not as it is a work, virtue, or quality; but as it is an instrument to receive and apply that thing whereby we are justified. And therefore it is a figurative speech to say, We are justified by faith. Faith considered by itself makes no man righteous: neither does the action of faith which is to apprehend justify; but the obiect of faith, which is Christ's obedience apprehended.


These are the principal reasons common∣y used, which as we see, are of no moment. To conclude therefore we hold: that works concur to justification, and that we are justified thereby as by signs and effects, not as causes: for both the beginning, middle, and accomplishment of our justification is only in Christ: and hereupon John says, If any man (being already justified) sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ and he is the propitiation for our sins. And to make our good works means or causes of our justification, is to make every man a Saviour to himself.


Single post: Blog_Single_Post_Widget
bottom of page