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"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 differ