Colquhoun: Repentance Does Not Give Us Title To Eternal Life

How then can his repentance atone for his iniquities, or entitle him to the favour of God and to the happiness of heaven? How can that evangelical repentance, which he is incapable of exercising till after his sins be all forgiven on the ground of an infinite atonement imputed to him, make atonement for them? How can that true repentance, which he cannot exercise until in justification he be already entitled to eternal life, entitle him to eternal life? Does not the consummate righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed for justification, entitle the believer fully to it? What need is there, then, that his repentance should entitle him? How can that exercise of repentance which is the consequence of pardon, afford a previous title to pardon? or that which is a part of eternal life be a ground of right to eternal life?

—John Colquhoun, Evangelical Repentance (pp. 103–04). Monergism Books. Kindle Edition. (HT: HB Reader Dustin)

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Amen! And as he says in his treatise on the law and the gospel, good works are not necessary to obtain a right to eternal life in heaven. Yet, he does say that good works are necessary, in addition to being evidence and confirmation of faith, “as they are our walking in the way which leads to heaven.” (p. 299)

    • Haven’t some folks in this discussion been defending the proposition that good works give us “title” to heaven, i.e., the means/instrument by which we come into possession of eternal life?

  2. Sad to say, the reference to the Anselm argument marks Colquhoun out as not belonging to this century, though it was from a Scottish Free Presbyterian minister, praise God still with us, that I first heard it some twenty years into my Christian life.

    The other day I walked to a bank to cash a £20,512.24 cheque. It turned out that the cheque was for money owed to the builder down the road and had been made out to me in error and stopped. It’s not fair. I had made the effort of walking to the bank. I had made the effort of presenting the cheque. How DARE they say I was not entitled to the money! (Excuse me while I seek cosmetic surgery to shorten my nose)

  3. Scott,

    Well, there is an important Reformed distinction between title of salvation and possession of salvation/eternal life. Saying that good works are the means to the possession of salvation is not saying that they are the means to the title of salvation/eternal life.

    For example, Rutherford says that keeping God’s commandments is a “mean, and way, not to the right of salvation, but to the actuall possession of it.” And Witsius says, ““The practice of Christian piety is the way to life, because thereby we go to the possession of the right obtained by Christ.”

    Here is a short post on this distinction with an illustration from Pilgrim’s Progress:

  4. As usual, Calvin is helpful. He denies that works are, properly speaking, in any sense the cause of our salvation, yet he does concede that they may be said to possess a kind of “inferior causality,” but only in the sense that they precede eternal life in the order of administration. The “true cause” is always and only to be found in God’s mercy. Following is his denial that works are a cause of salvation:

    But if we attend to the four kinds of causes which philosophers bring under our view in regard to effects, we shall find that not one of them is applicable to works as a cause of salvation. The efficient cause of our eternal salvation the Scripture uniformly proclaims to be the mercy and free love of the heavenly Father towards us; the material cause to be Christ, with the obedience by which he purchased righteousness for us; and what can the formal or instrumental cause be but faith? John includes the three in one sentence when he says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). The Apostle, moreover, declares that the final cause is the demonstration of the divine righteousness and the praise of his goodness. There also he distinctly mentions the other three causes; for he thus speaks to the Romans: “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace,” (Rom. 3:23, 24). You have here the head and primary source–God has embraced us with free mercy. The next words are, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;” this is as it were the material cause by which righteousness is procured for us. “Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith.” Faith is thus the instrumental cause by which righteousness is applied to us. He lastly subjoins the final cause when he says, “To declare at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” (Institutes 3.14.17)

    Now here is Calvin’s discussion of the sense in which works can be spoken of as “inferior causes”:

    Moreover, when Scripture intimates that the good works of believers are causes why the Lord does them good, we must still understand the meaning so as to hold unshaken what has previously been said–viz. that the efficient cause of our salvation is placed in the love of God the Father; the material cause in the obedience of the Son; the instrumental cause in the illumination of the Spirit, that is, in faith; and the final cause in the praise of the divine goodness. In this, however, there is nothing to prevent the Lord from embracing works as inferior causes. But how so? In this way: Those whom in mercy he has destined for the inheritance of eternal life, he, in his ordinary administration, introduces to the possession of it by means of good works. What precedes in the order of administration is called the cause of what follows. For this reason, he sometimes makes eternal life a consequent of works; not because it is to be ascribed to them, but because those whom he has elected he justifies, that he may at length glorify (Rom. 8:30); he makes the prior grace to be a kind of cause, because it is a kind of step to that which follows. But whenever the true cause is to be assigned, he enjoins us not to take refuge in works, but to keep our thoughts entirely fixed on the mercy of God; “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life,” (Rom. 6:23). Why, as he contrasts life with death, does he not also contrast righteousness with sin? Why, when setting down sin as the cause of death, does he not also set down righteousness as the cause of life? The antithesis which would otherwise be complete is somewhat marred by this variation; but the Apostle employed the comparison to express the fact, that death is due to the deserts of men, but that life was treasured up solely in the mercy of God. In short, by these expressions, the order rather than the cause is noted. (Institutes 3.14.21)

Comments are closed.