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cites in the Acts; “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that worketh righteousness is accepted with him.” (k) And hence they conclude, what appears to admit of no doubt, that if a man by rectitude of conduct conciliate to himself the favour of God, the grace of God is not the sole cause of his salvation: moreover, that God of his own mercy assists a sinner in such a manner, as to be influenced to the exercise of mercy by his works. But we cannot by any means reconcile the Scriptures with themselves, unless we observe a twofold acceptance of man with God. For God finds nothing in man, in his native condition, to incline him to mercy, but mere misery. If then it is evident that man is entirely destitute of all good, and full of every kind of evil, when he is first received by God; by what good qualities shall we pronounce him entitled to the heavenly calling? Let us reject, therefore, all vain imagination of merits, where God so evidently displays his unmerited clemency. The declaration of the angel to Cornelius in the same passage; “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God;" they most wickedly pervert to prove that the practice of good works prepares a man to receive the grace of God. For Cornelius must have been already illuminated with the Spirit of wisdom, since he was endued with the fear of God, which is true wisdom; and he must have been sanctified by the same Spirit, since he was a follower of righteousness, which the apostle represents as one of the Spirit's most certain fruits. (1) It was from the grace of God, then, that he derived all these things in which he is said to have pleased him; so far was he from preparing himself to receive it by the exercise of his own powers. There cannot indeed be adduced a single syllable of the Scripture, which is not in harmony with this doctrine; That there is no other cause for God's reception of man into his love, than his knowledge that man, if abandoned by him, would be utterly lost; and because it is not his will to abandon him to perdition, he displays his mercy in his deliverance. Now we see that this acceptance is irrespective of the righteousness of man, but is
an unequivocal proof of the Divine goodness towards miserable sinners, who are infinitely unworthy of so great a favour. .
V. After the Lord hath recovered a man from the abyss of perdition, and separated him to himself by the grace of adoption; because he hath regenerated him and raised him to a new life, he now receives and embraces him, as a new creature, with the gifts of his Spirit. This is the acceptance mentioned by Peter, in which even the works of the faithful after their vocation are approved by God; for the Lord cannot but love and accept those good effects which are produced in them by his Spirit. But it must always be remembered, that they are accepted by God in consequence of their works, only because, for their sakes and the favour which he bears to them, he deigns to accept whatever goodness he hath liberally communicated to their works. For whence proceeds the goodness of their works, but from the Lord's determination to adorn with true purity those whom he hath chosen as vessels of honour? And how is it that they are accounted good, as though they were free from all imperfection, except from the mercy of their Father, who pardons the blemishes which adhere to them? In a word, Peter intends nothing else in this passage, but that God accepts and loves his children, in whom he beholds the marks and lineaments of his own countenance: for we have elsewhere shewn that regeneration is a reparation of the Divine image in us. Wherever the Lord contemplates his own likeness, he justly both loves and honours it. The life of his chil. dren, therefore, being devoted to holiness and righteousness, is truly represented as pleasing to him. But as the faithful, while they are surrounded with mortal flesh, are still sinners, and all their works are imperfect, and tainted with the vices of the flesh, he cannot be propitious either to their persons or to their works, without regarding them in Christ rather than in them. selves. It is in this sense that those passages must be understood, which declare God to be merciful and compassionate to the followers of righteousness. Moses said to the Israelites: “ The Lord thy God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments, to, a thousand generations:" (m) a sentence which was afterwards in frequent
(m) Deut. vii. 9.
use among that people. Thus Solomon, in his solemn prayer; “ Lord God of Israel, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart.”(n) The same language is also repeated by Nehemiah. (0) For as, in all the covenants of his mercy, the Lord stipulates with his servants for integrity and sanctity in their lives, that his goodness may not become an object of contempt, and that no man, infected with a vain confidence in his mercy, (p) may bless himself in his mind while walking in the depravity of his heart; so he designs by these means to confine to their duty all that are admitted to the participation of his covenant; yet nevertheless the covenant is originally constituted and perpetually remains altogether gratuitous. For this reason, David, though he declares that he had been rewarded for the purity of his hands, does not overlook that original source which I have mentioned; “ He delivered me, because he delighted in me;" (9) where he commends the goodness of his cause, so as not to derogate from the gratuitous mercy, which precedes all the gifts that originate from it.
VI. And here it will be useful to remark, by the way, what difference there is between such forms of expression and the legal promises. By legal promises I intend, not all those which are contained in the books of Moses, since in those books there likewise occur many evangelical ones, but such as properly pertain to the ministry of the law. Such promises, by whatever appellation they may be distinguished, proclaim that a reward is ready to be bestowed, on condition that we perform what is commanded. But when it is said that “the Lord keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him," this rather designates the characters of his servants, who have faithfully received his covenant, than expresses the causes of his beneficence to them. Now this is the way to prove it; As the Lord favours us with the hope of eternal life, in order that he may be loved, reverenced, and worshipped by us, therefore all the promises of mercy contained in the Scriptures are justly directed to this end, that we may revere and worship the Author of
our blessings. Whenever, therefore, we hear of his beneficence to them who observe his laws, let us remember that the children of God are designated by the duty in which they ought always to be found; and that we are adopted as his children, in order that we may venerate him as our Father. Therefore, that we may not renounce the privilege of our adoption, we ought to aim at that which is the design of our vocation. On the other hand, however, we may be assured, that the accomplishment of God's mercy is independent of the works of the faithful; but that he fulfils the promise of salvation to them whose vocation is followed by a correspondent rectitude of life, because in them who are directed by his Spirit to good works, he recognises the genuine characters of his children. To this must be referred what is said of the citizens of the Church, “ Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, “and worketh righteousness,” &c. (r) And in Isaiah, “ Who shall dwell with the devouring fire? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly,” &c.(s) For these passages describe, not the foundation which supports the faithful before God, but the manner in which their most merciful Father introduces them into communion with him, and preserves and confirms them in it. For as he detests sin, and loves righteousness, those whom he unites to him he purifies by his Spirit, in order to conform them to himself and his kingdom. Therefore if it be inquired what is the first cause which gives the saints an entrance into the kingdom of God, and which makes their continuance in it permanent, the answer is ready; Because the Lord in his mercy hath once adopted and perpetually defends them. But if the question relate to the manner in which he does this, it will then be necessary to advert to regeneration and its fruits, which are enumerated in the Psalm that we have just quoted.
VII. But there appears to be much greater difficulty in those places, which dignify good works with the title of righteousness, and assert that a man is justified by them. Of the former kind there are many, where the observance of the commands is denominated justification or righteousness. An example of the
other kind we find in Moses; “ And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments.” (t) If it be objected that this is a legal promise, which, having an impossible condition annexed to it, proves nothing; there are other passages which will not admit of a similar reply, such as, “ In case thou shalt deliver him the pledge, &c. it shall be righteousness unto thee before the Lord.” (u) Similar to this is what the Psalmist says, that the zeal of Phinehas in avenging the disgrace of Israel, “was counted unto him for righteousness.” (w) Therefore the Pharisees of our day suppose that these passages afford ample ground for their clamour against us. For when we say that if the righteousness of faith be established, there is an end of justification by works; they argue, in the same manner, that if righteousness be by works, then it is not true that we are justified by faith alone. Though I grant that the precepts of the law are termed righteousness, there is nothing surprising in this; for they are so in reality. The reader, however, ought to be apprised that the Hebrew word Dipn (commandments) is not well translated by the Greek word dixulwuata (righteousness). But I readily relinquish all controversy respecting the word. Nor do we deny that the Divine law contains perfect righteousness. For although, being under an obligation to fulfil all its precepts, we should, even after a perfect obedience to it, only be unprofitable servants; yet since the Lord hath honoured the observance of it with the title of righteousness, we would not detract from what he hath given. We freely acknowledge, therefore, that the perfect obedience of the law is righteousness, and that the observance of every particular command is a part of righteousness; since complete righteousness consists of all the parts. But we deny that such a kind of righteousness any where exists. And therefore we reject the righteousness of the law; not that it is of itself defective and mutilated, but because, on account of the debility of our flesh, (x) it is no where to be found. It may be said, that the Scripture not only calls the Divine precepts righteousnesses, but gives this appellation also to the works of
(1) Deut. vi. 25.
(u) Deut. xxiv. 13.