Olevianus: Good Works Contribute Nothing To Our Justification But They Do Have Three Purposes

170 Q. You are not saying, then, that good works are useless?

A. They do not serve to make us right with God, either wholly or in part, but they do serve this purpose: after we have been freely and graciously justified through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we show with good works that we are thankful to God the Lord, so that God might be praised through us. That is the reason we were originally created and then redeemed, as Zachariah teaches in Luke 1 [:74, 75]: “That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness that is pleasing to him all the days of our life.” Good works are also useful because by them as the fruit of faith it is confirmed that we have not a hypocritical but a true faith. Third, they are useful because by the example of our good works we win others to Christ and keep those already won from falling away. The longer they are kept close to Christ, the more they are built up.

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 UK; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 116–17.


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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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  1. This portion of the quote from the above article caused me to pause and to think if a rephrase may have been a better explanation of the thought intended to be expressed :

    “Third, they are useful because by the example of our good works we … keep those already won from falling away.”

    The writer surely would not mean to imply, even obliquely, a negation of the ‘P’ in ‘T.U.L.I.P.’?
    That would be rather a shade of Heb 6:6 … but …. without that vital ‘If’ at the beginning of Heb 6:6!

    So given that the negation of the ‘P’ of ‘TULIP’ was not intended, then possibly the author must have meant that the mutual encouragement of the elect of one another, also works, by God’s design, to prevent His elect from falling away, which too is considered by God, as a ‘good work’ being done by those already ‘elected’.

    I wonder if this is the rather ‘long-hand’ version of what was really meant?

    In Christ Jesus,

    • Tony,

      Olevianus learned his Reformed theology from Calvin and Beza and was a stout preacher of the gospel and defender of the Reformation in Heidelberg. I suppose this is a problem inherent in the quotation format but I assure you that were you to read this passage in the context of the volume, the title of which is Firm Foundation, it never entered into Olevianus’ mind that any of the elect could ever fall away nor did he have in mind, as the Remonstrants (Arminians) did and the Federal Visionists today do, that there are two kinds of election nor did he agree with the Lutherans that grace is resistible and that one who is elect might fall away.

      He was describing the existential experience of the Christian. We regard all those who credibly profess faith, who are members of the visible church, as those for whom Christ died. We regard them as those whom he has won. Sadly, we do sometimes professors of faith fall away. The whole section to which you refer says:

      Third, they are useful because by the example of our good works we win others to Christ and keep those already won from falling away. The longer they are kept close to Christ, the more they are built up.

      His intent is that we seek to edify fellow professors of the faith, as fellow believers. Our good works have that function. We may speak without embarrassment of “winning” others to Christ even though we know that it is not we who win them but it is the Holy Spirit who draws them and regenerates them and grants them faith and union with Christ. So too, we may speak of keeping some from falling even though we know that ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who does these things. We speak this way because we believe that God uses means to accomplish his purposes.

      Remember too that Olevianus published this in 1567, more than 40 years before the controversy with the Remonstrants in the Netherlands. He did not have to think, “might this give aid and comfort to the Remonstrants?” as we might today.

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