Calvin: It Is Not Faith That Is Imputed To Us But Christ’s Righteousness

Whence it follows, that the merit of works ceases when righteousness is sought by faith; for it is necessary that this righteousness should be freely given by God, and offered in his word, in order that any one may possess it by faith. To render this more intelligible, when Moses says that faith was imputed to Abram for righteousness, he does not mean that faith was that first cause of righteousness which is called the efficient, but only the formal cause; as if he had said, that Abram was therefore justified, because, relying on the paternal loving-kindness of God, he trusted to His mere goodness, and not to himself, nor to his own merits. For it is especially to be observed, that faith borrows a righteousness elsewhere, of which we, in ourselves, are destitute; otherwise it would be in vain for Paul to set faith in opposition to works, when speaking of the mode of obtaining righteousness. Besides, the mutual relation between the free promise and faith, leaves no doubt upon the subject.

John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses…, 1.407

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  1. Can you please explain the difference between material and formal causation? Is it right to say faith is imparted as a fruit of the Spirit’s internal work of regeneration?

    • I would rather have said it was the instrumental cause but formal means “gives shape to.”

      Yes, faith is the fruit, result of the Spirit’s sovereign, regenerating work.

    • Amen. We are His workmanship. We are nothing but dead bones, miraculously regenerated for God’s glory, by His grace alone. If we make faith antecedent to justification and salvation, we make it the condition of a covenant of works.

    • Exactly!!! I find it absolutely mind blowing that God planned our salvation before all worlds and that even now, we are, in a manner of speaking, seated with Him in the heavenly places!!! Because, just as He promised to Abraham and his children, God would perform all that the covenant of works requires, and pay the death penalty for our transgressions. And now God is at work IN us, conforming us in the image of His Son!!! Eph. 2:6-8


  2. Is it also correct to deduce from the covenant of redemption that all of salvation is the fruit of sovereign election? Is it a stretch to say from it springs the intention and particularity of the atonement itself, calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, intercession, sanctification and glorification as Rom 8:29-30 implies?

    • “…election is the source of each of the benefits of salvation. Faith, holiness, and the other saving gifts, and at last eternal life itself, flow forth from election as its fruits and effects. As the apostle says, ‘He chose us’ (not because we were, but) ‘so we should be holy and blameless before him in love’ (Eph. 1:4).” Canons of Dort First Head of Doctrine, Article 9

      • Thanks Angela. It seems the atonement itself is from the well springs of electing grace since it seems to have sprung from the Pactum Salutis. Jn 6 goes into Jesus’ mission to come to redeem those given to him by the Father.

  3. Amen sister. Preach it! Like Eph 2:7 says right after telling us we’re seated with Christ in the heavenlies.” so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 2:7
    His grace is so vast even eternity can’t exhaust it.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    This question isn’t related to the post, but I was wondering if you could recommend some resources on the puritans’ views on civil government. I will soon write my thesis for an undergraduate degree at a secular university and would enjoy writing on a topic like this. The reformers’ views on civil government would be helpful as well, although I don’t plan to focus on that. Thanks for what you do to defend the Gospel!

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