Caspar Olevianus on "Final Justification" and "Spirit-Wrought Sanctity"

119 Q. Why the next article, “From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead”?

A. As a further encouragement to our faith. Christ sits in heaven at the right hand of the Father and exercises His royal power and judgment first of all to protect His own people—always keeping them under the cross and all sorts of enemy zealotry to curb the remaining sin in them. He does so,* secondly, to overcome and punish the ungodly, but in such a way that there is much that He leaves unpunished in this life so that He might demonstrate to them His patience and longsuffering. Therefore, lest we become exhausted by the misery that remains and by the cross under which Christ wishes to keep us in this life for our dying away to sin (and hence for our good); and lest we become overly frightened of the threats and insolence of the ungodly,* He desires that we lift up our heads and hearts and look forward to His blessed coming. He will not allow the ungodly to wield their power against believers forever,* but when they least expect it, He will take revenge upon them and completely rescue His own people. Every tear shall be wiped from their eyes (Isa. 35). As 1 Peter 3[:13–15] says, “Who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? And even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” See also Isaiah 8[:12–14]: “Do not be afraid of how they act, nor be troubled. The Lord of Hosts, Him shall you hallow. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. He will be as a sanctuary.”

120 Q. Can you also prove that there has to be a last judgment, since the Apostle Peter teaches that scoffers will appear in the last days [2 Pet. 2:1ff.]?

A. I can prove that there has to be a Last Judgment, on two grounds in particular. The first is the righteousness of God, to which the apostle refers when he says in 2 Thessalonians 1[:5–7], “It is manifest evidence that God will judge righteously, and you will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.…” With these words St. Paul is grounding his teaching in the immutable righteousness of God; note how he says [in verse 6], “since it is a righteous thing with God.” The righteousness of God, however, demands two things (as Paul expressly states): that it be well with the godly and that the ungodly who persecute them be fully punished. Now experience shows that, for the most part, things go badly for the godly in this life, whereas for the ungodly who oppress them they generally go better. This, then, is “manifest evidence,” as the apostle puts it, of the just judgment of God that has to follow afterward when He brings about the promised quickening of the godly and well-deserved punishment of the ungodly. Otherwise God would have to deny His righteousness, which is impossible.
The other ground is derived from the pericope about the destruction of Jerusalem in Luke 21. There Christ the Lord prophesies about both the destruction of Jerusalem and the Last Judgment and ties them together to show that the former is to be manifest proof of the latter and a prefigurement of the terrible wrath that will be vented against unbelievers at the Last Judgment. Just as surely as the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem was fulfilled, the prophecy of the Last Judgment will also be fulfilled—a future event as long as the Lord keeps patience. And just as in the Old Testament the Lord often reminded the Jewish people of the kindness He had shown them in their redemption from the land of Egypt, an event that prefigured eternal redemption from the power of the Devil through Christ, so also the destruction of Jerusalem and dispersion of the Jews, which prefigured the wrath of God at the Last Judgment, ought to be held just as often before the people of God today. Thus they can prepare themselves with true faith and conversion for the day of the Lord.

121 Q. Now explain the meaning of this article, “From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”

A.* With my eyes turned to the heavens and my heart at peace in all distress, persecution, and rumors of war, I believe in and await the coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. I am fully confident that as He came the first time to earn our salvation, He will come again to impart to us the full fruit and enjoyment of that salvation He earned, in order that, as it is written, “having now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved from wrath by His life. For if when we were still enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5[:9, 10]).

122 Q.* Does this article then bring you comfort rather than terror?

A. Since all the Articles of Faith have been composed for our comfort, this one too is here certainly not to trouble us but to comfort and delight us.
Second, Christ too bids us to delight in His coming in Luke 21[:28]: “Be of great cheer and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” How then can it be proper for us to turn into sadness something that Christ wants to serve our highest joy?
Third, the Father too gave the Son all judgment (John 5[:22]) and authority to judge (because He is the Son of Man) in order to pacify our consciences. For we know that* the very One with all power to judge assumed our role as the guilty party before the judgment seat of God in all His suffering and death, completely paid for us the severe penalty imposed by God, and promised that “he who believes in me is not condemned” (John 3[:18]). Indeed, as members of Christ who will themselves pronounce judgment, believers will help Christ pass sentence against the disloyal angels and against the world. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6[:2, 3], “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” “… Do you not know that we shall judge angels?”

123 Q. But what do you need to do to really delight in the coming of Christ, as He bids us?

A. First, I must have a strong foundation for my faith. Second, I must exercise my faith with the fruits of a true faith.
The foundation of my faith, however, is not my merit—not even a part of the foundation; it is Jesus Christ alone. He gave Himself for me.* He stood trial in my place before God in the court of Judge Pontius Pilate, in order that I might never have to experience the judgment of damnation. He removed the whole of my curse from me and laid it upon Himself on the cross, a death cursed by God so that I might never hear the terrifying words, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the ever lasting fire” [Matt. 25:31]. Instead, I can be filled with the eternal blessing of the Father and be made an heir of the Kingdom of God, prepared for us not by ourselves, who were not yet born, but by Christ before the foundation of the world. This alone is my foundation, as also St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3[:11]: “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” It is the body of Christ in which the whole of my curse was paid for and removed and in which the eternal blessing was obtained for and freely given me by grace through the Word of truth, the holy Gospel. Because I have this foundation and will look at the body of Christ with my own eyes, I have a love and a yearning for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Second, being confident in my heart through faith that I am one of Christ’s blessed lambs, whom He “redeemed not with corruptible things, like gold or silver … but with His precious blood” [1 Pet. 1:18, 19], I shall be zealous to possess the marks with which Christ by His Holy Spirit normally identifies His lambs: the various exercises and fruits of faith. I can do this, for example, by giving Christ (hungry and thirsty members of His) food and drink; by providing Him (the stranger) with lodging; by clothing Him (His naked members); by visiting Him (His sick members); by refreshing Him (His imprisoned members) with visits, assistance, and money [Matt. 25:35, 36]; indeed, by “showing good to all but especially to the household of faith” [Gal. 6:10]. However, we ought not to think that we merit our status that way; Christ alone merited it and has given it to us freely by grace. He Himself had pointed out just a little earlier in Matthew 25 that this foundation and merit exist in Him alone. In that passage [Matt. 25:34], He uses three proofs. First, He says, “Come, you blessed of my Father.” Now we were not blessed by ourselves, nor did we become His children by our merit (Eph. 1). This happened through Christ, who became a curse for us (Gal. 3[:13]; 1 Cor. 1[:30]). Second, He says, “Inherit.” Since there is an inheritance, it too is given freely by grace through the promise and not by the merit of word (Gal. 3:18). Third, He says, “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” We could not have prepared it by our merit because we did not yet exist (Eph. 1:4–7, 11; Rom. 9:11, 12, 16; Eph. 2:1, 5).
I should be zealous to do good works to show that I honor God the Lord and to show that I have a true, not a counterfeit faith. Such faith manifests itself in thankfulness to the Lord for the blessing of the heavenly Father given us by grace as a free gift (Gal. 3) in the blessed seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.116 In faith we are also thankful for the inheritance He graciously gives to us as well as to Christ, the natural heir, and for the Kingdom that He has prepared for us in Christ from the foundation of the world—before our birth, without any of our merit. And since Christ does not need our works of mercy, He has entrusted to us instead all who are afflicted and distressed. When someone purchases a lamb with silver or gold and then brands it, the lamb does not belong to him because of the brand but because of the money he paid for it. In the same way the bloodshed or suffering and death of Christ alone is the foundation and complete payment for us His lambs, as He Himself says in John 10[:15], “I lay down my life for my sheep” (Cf. 1 Pet. 1; 1 Cor. 6). There is no other payment either in heaven or on earth (Acts 10). “Therefore the inheritance is of faith so that it might be according to grace and that the promise might be sure” (as St. Paul says in Rom. 4[:16]). Otherwise we would always have to be doubting whether it would be fulfilled in us, if it rested on our merits. But after Christ bought His lambs at a great price, He also “branded” them with His Holy Spirit, who engenders their trust in Christ the Shepherd alone and motivates them to true thankfulness (2 Pet. 3:12–14; 1 Thess. 4:14, 17; 5:4–6, 8–10; Luke 12:37). By grace God also rewards our thankfulness, since we are already His children through Christ and He has graciously pardoned our sins. He is like a father who graciously and abundantly bestows gifts upon his child, the heir to all his property, even though the child’s obedience has not merited them and such great gifts are beyond comparison.

124 Q. Now give a clear summary and order of the benefits we derive from this article.

A. This article is beneficial both as a comfort and as an admonition. We are comforted, first, by the person of the judge, because in the united body and soul of that judge, our* curse has been removed and the blessing has been obtained.
Second, we are comforted by the command of the judge when He instructs us to delight in His coming (Luke 21[:28]). “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled,” says Christ (Matt. 24:6).
Third, we are comforted by Christ’s promise, “Whoever believes in me shall not come into judgment (damnation), but has passed through death into life” [John 5:24]. See also Luke 22[:30], where it says that believers shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel; 1 Corinthians 6[:2, 3], where it says that believers shall judge the world and the angels; 1 Thessalonians 4[:17]: “We shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord”; and 1 Thessalonians 5[:9, 10]: “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.” That is why Scripture calls this day the day of redemption [Eph. 4:30]. For although we have been redeemed in body and soul by the suffering of Christ, belong to Him from now on, and have received the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, there are still many sins and afflictions, physical death included, that remain in us and prevent us from fully enjoying our salvation (Rom. 8:19, 23, 26).
Fourth, we are comforted by the purpose of Christ’s return that is included in the promises: not first and foremost to punish the ungodly but to rescue His church or faithful people from the residue of sin and from the cross and affliction that weigh them down because of this residual sin.* The other reason for His coming in judgment is to take His church, that is, all believers, to Himself as His bride and to adorn her with eternal glory and radiance. As it says in Eph. 5[:25–27], “Christ loved His church and gave Himself for it, that he might sacntify it, and cleansed it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (see also vv. 29–32). Likewise 1 John 3[:2]: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when it is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is”; John 14[:3]: “I will come again and receive you to myself”; and John 17[:24]: “Father, I desire that they also whom you gave me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.” This desire of Christ continues on into our day. It will not change at the Last Judgment but will in fact be completely fulfilled.
These are the four parts, then, of the first benefit, the comfort that we derive from the return of Christ in judgment.

125 Q. What is the other benefit?

A. The return of Christ also serves to admonish us—first of all, to live temperately, as Christ the Lord says in Luke 21[:34, 35]: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all who dwell on the earth.”
Second, it admonishes us to engage in diligent prayer, as the Lord says in the same passage [Luke 21:36]: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” By these words He teaches that through prayer believers will escape the innumerable punishments that will take place before the Last Judgment. Such punishments will be partly removed from them and partly mitigated, so believers will escape and thereby attain the end of their faith, namely, salvation (1 Pet. 1[:9]).
Third, the return of Christ admonishes us to exhibit the kind of genuine trust in Him and Christ-like living that, with conscience unblemished, expects His return at any hour. For it is a deadly deception of Satan that persuades us that it is not really necessary to expect Christ’s return at any hour, that the Last Judgment is still a long way off. The command of Christ (Matt. 24:42, 44–45) and the example of the apostle indicate otherwise. The holy apostle looks upon the return of Christ as something that should happen within his lifetime, for he writes in 1 Thessalonians 4[:15–17]: “This we say to you as a word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who are asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them and thus always be with the Lord.” From these words it can be seen that the holy apostle expected Christ the Lord to return within his lifetime. For the hour is not known to any holy apostle, angel, or other creature, in order that we might always be watchful and ready (1 Thess. 5:1, 2; see also 2 Pet. 3[:10–15]).

Finally, the second coming of Christ admonishes us especially to separate ourselves, body and soul, from the idolatry of the Roman Anti-Christ and to exercise great patience (Rev. 14[:7–12]). At the second coming the selling of souls by the Anti-Christ of Rome and his merchants (Rev. 18[:4, 5, 8–13]) will cease. See also Revelation 21[:4–8]. At the end of Revelation we read, “And there shall be no more night there: they need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever” [Rev. 22:5]. And a little while later, “But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” [Rev. 22:15]. Thus the Lord warns us with His judgment about the lies and idolatry of the city of Rome, which He describes in Revelation 17:9 as having seven hills, and which sells human souls. The holy fathers of old, like Tertullian 1200 years ago and Jerome after that, understood these passages to refer to none other than Rome. The texts obviously teach this, experience bears it out, and St. Paul confirms it in 2 Thessalonians 2[:3ff.], which deals with the god on earth who has established himself in the place of God and introduced idolatry against God into the church. At the conclusion, St. John writes, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Rev. 22:20].

Caspar Olevianus, A Firm Foundation: An Aid to Interpreting the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. Lyle D. Bierma, Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought (Carlisle, United Kingdom; Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster Press; Baker Books, 1995), 81–89.

These questions and answers apply well to the the distinction some are trying to make between an “initial” justification sola gratia, sola fide,  and a final justification which is determined, at least in part, by “Spirit-wrought,” intrinsic or inherent sanctity or righteousness. If we substitute “Spirit-wrought sanctity” for “good works” we can deduce Olevianus’ answer to the question and there’s good warrant for making such a substitution. His explanation of what he means by “good works” makes it clear that it includes “Spirit-wrought sanctity.” For Olevianus, as for the rest of the orthodox Reformed, as for the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Standards, the role of Spirit-wrought sanctity is to serve as evidence and fruit of justification. This is why the Council of Trent condemned that view, because they rightly understood that was THE Protestant (or evangelical as they would have said then) view. Thank Kyle, for posting this edifying reminder.

For the reasons Olevianus gave in the sections Kyle quotes the URCs adopted Nine Points in 2007 one of which says: We reject the errors of those:

“9. who teach that there is a separate and final justification grounded partly upon righteousness or sanctity inherent in the Christian (HC 52; BC 37).”

Here are some posts where this question is discussed:

Justification and Vindication

What Henk Navis Means to Me

A Review of Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant of Grace

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One comment

  1. Thanks for this post. With the modern attacks on justification, it is salve to my soul to read the biblical, historic confession of justification by faith alone.

    You referenced Trent in your post.

    Just for a point of comparison, contrast a few of Trent’s conclusions (which I posted below) with our confessional beliefs. I don’t believe most current day Christians understand the nature of the Reformation and exactly what was at stake. And as the historic, reformed, biblical doctrine of justification continues to be attacked today, the defense continues.

    Thanks be to God for Christ and His work, and thanks for men like Olevianus.

    Council of Trent
    6th Session: Justification

    CANON IV. If any one shall affirm, that man’s freewill, moved and excited by God, does not, by consenting, cooperate with God, the mover and exciter, so as to prepare and dispose itself for the attainment of justification; if moreover, anyone shall say, that the human will cannot refuse complying, if it pleases, but that it is inactive, and merely passive; let such an one be accursed”!

    CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

    CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

    CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

    CANON XVIII.-If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema

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