Christ’s Merits Affirmed And Ours Denied In The Reformed Confessions

Christ’s Merit For Us Affirmed

  1. “only for the sake of Christ’s merits” (Heidelberg Catechism 21)
  2. “for the sake of Christ’s merits” (Heidelberg Catechism 84)
  3. “if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior” (Belgic Confession, art. 24)
  4. “nor the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ” (Canons of Dort 5.8)
  5. “We are accounted righteous before god only for the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Thirty Nine Articles 11)
  6. “upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ” (Savoy Declaration ch. 17)
  7. “accounted righteous for the merit of our Lord and Saviour  Jesus Christ, applied by faith…” (Irish Articles, Art. 34).
  8. “in Christ, their Guarantor and sole Mediator. And on account of his merit” (Helvetic Consensus Formula, canon 4)
  9. “Christ himself is also included in the gracious decree of divine election, not as the meritorious cause, or foundation prior to election itself, but as being himself also elect (I Pet 2:4, 6).” (Helvetic Consensus Formula, canon 5)
  10. “Mediator, and our first born Brother, whose precious merit God determined to use” (Helvetic Consensus Formula, canon 5)
    ” [We also cannot affirm the teaching! that he obtained for all a salvation, which, nevertheless, is not applied to all, and by his death merited a salvation and faith for no one individually but only removed the obstacle of divine justice” (Helvetic Consensus Formula, canon 16)
  11. “Author and Finisher of our faith and salvation; they make his cross of none effect, and under the appearance of exalting his merit, they, in reality diminish it.” (Helvetic Consensus Formula, canon 16)

Our Merit Denied

  1. “without any merit of mine” (Heidelberg Catechism 60)
  2. “The reward comes not of [our] merit” (Heidelberg Catechism 63)
  3. “but nor for merit—for what could we merit” (Belgic Confession, art. 24)
  4. “not to any merit of their own” (Canons of Dort 2.7)
  5. “we cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin” (Westminster Confession of Faith 16.5)
  6. “upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Christ” (Westminster Confession of Faith 17.2)
  7. “the merit of his obedience” (Westminster Larger Catechism 55)
  8. “nor we to merit” (Westminster Larger Catechism 193)
  9. “without all respect to any merit proceeding from us” (Scots Confession ch. 12)
  10. “we [do not] merit the pardon of sins…” (2nd Geneva Catechism 100)
  11. “the works of men so vile and valueless that they cannot merit favor with God” (2nd Geneva Catechism 113)
  12. “not on account of any merit of ours” (Second Helvetic Confession ch. 10)
  13. “not from any merit of ours” (Second Helvetic Confession ch. 15)
  14. “we do not ascribe this reward, which the Lord gives, to any merit of the man” (Second Helvetic Confession ch. 16)
  15. “a means of giving [to us] merit” (Second Helvetic Confession ch. 21)
  16. “much less that a man should hope to merit” (Second Helvetic Confession ch. 24)
  17. “we cannot by our best works merit pardon” (Savoy Declaration ch. 16)
  18. “without any consideration of the merit of our works” (Geneva Confession art. 10)
  19. “without any prevision of the merit of works or of faith” (Helvetic Consensus Formula, canon 4)
  20. “without claiming any virtue or merit” (French Confession, art. 18)
  21. “and all such things by which they hope to merit forgiveness” (French Confession, art. 24)
  22. “These things we reject, not only for the false idea of merit which is attached to them” (French Confession, art. 24)

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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One comment

  1. Hello Dr. Clark,

    While you’re discussing merit, I have a question on the subject. I apologize for the lenghty setup to the question. Hopefully, it only requires a brief reply.

    I’ve heard you emphasizing that Christ’s merit is condign merit, by which I’ve understood you to mean that it is merit that is truly worthy of recognition, and thus condign merit is simply a synonym for “worthy of honor”.

    I recently read a description about two types of merit in traditional Reformed theology: strict merit and covenant merit. Strict ontological merit was defined as being “morally perfect in its conception and performance” and as being performed by “one whose being or essential nature is equal to God.” But “covenant merit is merit deemed to be meritorious because of the gracious, condescending provisions of God’s covenantal interactions with His people.” Thus far, that seems to make sense to me.

    Then Adam’s required/potential obedience and Christ’s actual obedience were contrasted by saying that Adam’s was unto covenant merit, since he was a mere creature, but that Christ’s was unto strict merit, since in his Person he is One who is equal to the Father.

    I’m struggling with that differentiation. I fully recognize that Jesus, as both God and Man, is ontologically equal with the Father according to his divine nature and in his Person, since it is the Person of God the Son. But I thought the point of Christ’s perfect obedience in fulfillment of the covenant of works for our salvation was that it is meaningful for him as the federal head of a new humanity, because he did it as a true man, i.e. according to his human nature. That, to me, does not seem like it would or should be ontologically meritorious, because it’s fulfilling the covenant of works as a man, not as God. However, a friend also pointed out to me the repeated language of “how much more” in the comparison between Adam and Christ in Romans 5, which seems to affirm something greater about Christ’s work compared to Adam’s—that the fact that it is the Person of God the Son at work in that man that makes it implicitly greater.

    So, my question: The condign merit of Christ, of which you often speak—do you think it’s strictly ontological merit or condescending covenant merit? Or would you not dig down into it that far?

    Thanks and Blessings,

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