top of page

The Sinner Is Not Justified by Faith Alone

28. The sectarians say, that the sinner, by means of Faith, or confidence in the promises of Jesus Christ, and believing with an infallible certainty, that he is justified, becomes so, for the justice of Jesus Christ is extrinsically imputed to him, by which his sins are not indeed concealed, but covered, and are thus not imputed to him, and they found this dogma on the words of David: "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile" (Psalm xxxi, 1, 2).  

29. The Catholic Church, however, condemns and anathematizes the doctrine, that as man is absolved from his sins, by Faith alone, that he is justified. Hear the Council of Trent on this subject (Sess. vi, can. 14): " Si quis dixerit, hominem a peccatis absolvi, ac justificari ex eo quod se absolvi ac justificari certo credat; aut neminem vere esse justificatum, nisi qui credat se esse justificatum, et hac sola fide absolutionem, et justificationem perfici; anathema sit." The Church, besides, teaches, that in order that the sinner should become justified, it is necessary that he be disposed to receive Grace. Faith is necessary for this disposition, but Faith alone is not sufficient. The Council of Trent (Sess. vi, cap. 6), says, that acts of hope, of love, of sorrow, and a purpose of amendment are also necessary, and God then finding the sinner thus disposed, gives him gratuitously his Grace, or intrinsic justice (ibid. cap. 7), which remits to him his sins, and sanctifies him.

30. We shall now examine the points on which the supposition of our adversaries rests. In the first place, they say, that by means of faith in the merits and promises of Jesus Christ, our sins are not taken away, but are covered. This supposition is, however, totally opposed to the Scriptures, which teach that the sins are not alone covered, but are taken away and cancelled in a justified soul: "Behold the lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world" (John, i, 29); " Be penitent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts, iii, 19); " He will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea" (Micheas, vii, 19); "So also Christ was offered once, to exhaust the sins of many" (Heb. ix, 28). Now that which is taken away, which is blotted out, which is annihilated, we cannot say exists any longer. We are also taught that the justified soul is cleansed and delivered from its sins: "Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed, thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 1, 9); " You shall be cleansed from all your filthiness" (Ezech. xxxvi, 25); " And such some of you were, but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified" (I. Cor. vi, 11); " But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification" (Rom. vi, 22). It is on this account that Baptism, by which sin is remitted, is called regeneration and renovation: " He saved us by the laws of regeneration and renovation of the Holy Ghost" (Tit. iii, 5); " Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John, iii, 3). The sinner, therefore, when he is justified, is generated again, and re-born to Grace, so that he is changed in all, and renovated from what he was before.  

31. How is it, then, that David says our sins are covered? " Blessed are they whose sins are covered." St. Augustine, explaining this Psalm says, that wounds may be covered both by the sufferer and the physician; the sufferer himself only covers them, but the physician both covers them with a plaister and heals them: "Si tu tegere volueris erabescens (says the Saint) Medicus non sanabit; Medicus tegat, et curet." Our sins, by the infusion of Grace, are covered at the same time and healed, but the heretical opinion is, that they are covered, but not healed; they are covered only inasmuch as God does not impute them to the sinner. If sins remained in the soul as far as the fault was concerned should not God impute them to us? God judges according to truth: " For we know the judgment of God is according to truth" (Rom. ii, 2); but how could God judge according to the truth, judging that man not to be culpable, who is in reality culpable? These are truly some of Calvin’s mysteries which surpass our comprehension. The Scripture says, " To God the wicked and his wickedness are equal alike" (Wisdom, xiv, 9). If God hates the sinner on account of the sin that reigns in him, how can he love him as a child, because he is covered with the justice of Christ, while he is still a sinner all the while? Sin, by its very nature, is contrary to God, so it is impossible that God should not hate it as long as it is not taken away, and he must also hate the sinner as long as he retains it. David says: " Blessed is the man to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin." We understand by this not that God does not impute sin by leaving sin in the soul, and not pretending to see it, but that he does not impute it because he cancels and remits it, and hence David says, in the very same passage, " Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven." The sins that are forgiven to us are not imputed to us.  

32. They say, in the second place, that in the justification of a sinner intrinsic justice is not infused into him, but the justice of Christ alone is imputed to him, so that the wicked man does not become just, but remains wicked still, and is reputed just alone by the extrinsic justice of Christ which is imputed to him. This is, however, an evident error, for the sinner cannot become a friend of God if he does not receive justice of his own, which will renovate him internally, and change him from being a sinner to become one of the just, and as he was previously hateful in the eyes of God, now having acquired this justice, he is agreeable to him. Hence St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians to become renewed in spirit, " And be renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Eph. iv, 23). And hence the Council of Trent says that by the merits of Christ internal justice is communicated to us: " Qua renovamur spiritus mentis nostræ, et non modo reputamur, sed vere etiam justi nominanur, et sumus" (Sess. vi, cap. 7). The Apostle says in another place, that the sinner, by justification, " is renewed unto knowledge according to the image of him who created him" (Col. iii, 10); so that the sinner, by the merits of Christ, returns back to that state from which he fell by sin, and becomes sanctified as a temple in which God dwells, and hence the Apostle, admonishing his disciples, says: " Fly fornication know you not that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost" (I. Cor. vi, 18, 19). What is more surprising than all is, that Calvin himself knew that man never can be reconciled with God unless internal and inherent justice is given to him: " Nunquam reconciliamur Deo, quin simul donemur inhserente justitia" (1). These are his own words, and how can he afterwards say that through Faith alone we are justified with the imputative justice of Christ, which is not ours, nor is in us, neither does it belong to us, and is totally extern to us, and is merely extrinsically imputed to us, so that it does not make us just, only to be reputed just? This has been justly condemned by the Council of Trent (Sess. v, can. 10): " Si quis dixerit, homines sine Christi justitia, per quam nobis meruit, justificari; aut per eam ipsam formaliter justos esse; anathema sit." (Can. 11): "Si quis dixerit homines justificari vel sola imputatione justitiæ Christi, vel sola peccatorum remissione, exclusa gratia, et caritate, quæ in illis inhæreat anathema sit."  

33. They object, first, the text (Rom. iv, 5): " But to him that worketh not, yet belie veth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reputed to justice." We answer, briefly, that here the Apostle says that faith should be imputed to justice, to teach us that the sinner is justified, not by his own works, but by his faith in the merits of Christ; but he does not say, that in virtue of this faith the justice of Christ is extrinsically imputed to the sinner who, without being just, is reputed so.  

34. They object, secondly, that St. Paul says to Titus: "Not by the works of justice which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us by the labour of regeneration and renovation of the Holy Ghost, whom he hath poured forth upon us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Tit. iii, 5, 6). Therefore, they say, God justifies us by his mercy, and not by the works, which we allege are necessary for justification. We reply, that our works, as hope, charity, and repentance, with a purpose of amendment, are necessary to render us disposed to receive grace from God; but when the Almighty gives it to us, he does so not for our works, but through his mercy alone, and the merits of Jesus Christ. Let them particularly remark the words " renovation of the Holy Ghost, whom he hath poured forth abundantly upon us, through Jesus Christ our Saviour;" so that when God justifies us, he infuses upon us, not away from us, the Holy Ghost, who renews us, changing us from sinners unto Saints. (1) Calvin, l. de vera rat. Reform. Eccles.  

35. They object, thirdly, another text of St. Paul: " But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption" (I. Cor. i, 30). Behold, they exclaim, how Jesus Christ is made our justice. We do not deny that the justice of Jesus Christ is the cause of our justice; but we deny that the justice of Christ is our justice itself, no more than we can say that our wisdom is the wisdom of Christ; and as we do not become wise because of the wisdom of Christ imputed to us, neither do we become just because his justice is imputed to us, as the sectarians teach: " He is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification." All this is to be understood not imputatively, but effectively, that is, that Jesus Christ, by his wisdom, and justice, and sanctity, has made us become effectively wise, and just, and holy. It is in the same sense we say to God: " I will love thee, Lord, my strength" (Psalm xvii, 1); " For thou art my patience, O Lord" (Psalm lxx, 5); " The Lord is my light and my salvation" (Psalm xxvi, 1). How is God our strength, our patience, our light? is it imputatively alone? By no means; he is effectively so, for it is he who strengthens, enlightens, and renders us patient; and who saves us.  

36. They object, fourthly, that the Apostle says: " Put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth" (Ephes. iv, 24). Here, say they, it is plain that we, in the justification by faith, clothe ourselves with the justice of Christ as with a garment, which is extrinsic to us. Behold how all heretics boast of not following anything but the pure Scriptures, and will not listen to Tradition, nor the definitions of Councils, nor the authority of the Church. The Scripture, they cry, is our only rule of faith; and why so? Because they distort it, and explain it each after his own fashion, and thus render the Book of Truth a fountain of error and falsehood. In answer to the objection, however, we reply, St. Paul in that passage, does not speak of extrinsic, but intrinsic justice, and he, therefore, says: " Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man," &c, . (Ephes. iv, 23). He means that clothing ourselves with Jesus Christ, we should renew ourselves internally in spirit with intrinsic and inherent justice, as Calvin himself admitted; for, otherwise, remaining sinners, we could not renew ourselves. He says: " Put on the new man," because, as a garment is not properly a thing belonging to the body itself, or part of it, so grace or justice does not properly belong to the sinner, but is gratuitously given to him by the mercy of God alone. The Apostle says in another place: " Put on bowels of mercy" (Col. iii, 13). Now, as in this passage he does not speak of extrinsic and apparent mercy, but of that which is real and intrinsic, so when he says: " Put on the new man," he means that we should strip ourselves of the old vicious and graceless man, and put on the new man enriched not with the imputative justice of Jesus Christ, but with intrinsic justice belonging to ourselves, though given us through the merits of Jesus Christ.

bottom of page