Calvin: The Promise Of Grace Without Any Mention Of The Law

I do not want to pursue the individual testimonies that the stupid Sorbonnists of today have groundlessly torn from Scripture—whatever first came to hand—to fling at us. For some are so ridiculous that I could not mention them unless I wished to be justly accounted foolish. I shall terminate this matter after I have explained a statement of Christ’s, in which they take marvelous pleasure. For he answers the lawyer who asks him what is needed for salvation, “If you would enter into life, keep the commandments.” What more do we want, they ask, when we are bidden by the Author of grace to attain God’s Kingdom by observing the commandments? As if it were not evident that Christ did not accommodate his replies to those with whom he saw that he had to deal! Here a doctor of law asks about the manner of obtaining blessedness—and not simply that but by what deeds men may arrive at it. And the person of the speaker and the question itself prompted the Lord to answer thus. The lawyer, accustomed to the persuasion of law righteousness, blinded himself with confidence in works. Then he sought only what were works of righteousness whereby salvation is acquired. Therefore he is rightly sent back to the law wherein there is a perfect mirror of righteousness.

With a clear voice we too proclaim that these commandments are to be kept if one seeks life in works. And Christians must know this doctrine, for how could they flee to Christ unless they recognized that they had plunged from the way of life over the brink of death? How could they realize how far they had wandered from the way of life unless they first understood what that way is like? Only, therefore, when they distinguish how great is the difference between their life and divine righteousness that consists in accepting the law are they made aware that, in order to recover salvation, their refuge is in Christ.

To sum up, if we seek salvation in works, we must keep the commandments by which we are instructed unto perfect righteousness. But we must not stop here unless we wish to fail in mid-course, for none of us is capable of keeping the commandments. Therefore, since we are barred from law righteousness, we must betake ourselves to another help, that is, to faith in Christ. For this reason, as the Lord in this passage recalls to the law a teacher of the law whom he knew to be puffed up with empty confidence in works, in order that he may learn he is a sinner, subject to the dreadful judgment of eternal death, so elsewhere he comforts with the promise of grace without any mention of the law others who have already been humbled by this sort of knowledge: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will refresh you… and you will find rest for your souls.”

John Calvin | Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.18.9 (Battles edition)


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  1. Great post! Like Machen said, “Praise God for the active righteousness of Christ; no hope without it!”

  2. And the neonomians ceased to cry “Calvin is our Homeboy” and started to grumble and aver that “Northbahnsenrush is the only true prophet”.

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