William Perkins On Justification


width="199"Samuel Clarke (1599–1682) told a story about the sixteenth-century English Reformed theologian William Perkins (1558–1602), who was engaged in prison ministry in a local castle jail early in his career.1 There was a young criminal who had a heavy expression of distress on his face, “as if hee had been half dead alreadie.”2 Perkins said to him, “What man? What is the matter with thee, art thou afraid of death?”And the prisoner replied, “Ah no, but of a worser thing.” Perkins responded, “[C]om down again man, and thou shall see what God’s grace will do to strengthen thee.”3 The criminal came down, Perkins proclaimed the gospel to him, and the criminal believed. Clarke wrote that the “black lines of all his sins were crossed and cancelled with the red lines of his crucified Saviour’s precious blood.”4.4 This was the aim of Perkins’ ministry in Elizabethan England: to win souls and to inculcate a morality grounded in the gospel instead of self-righteousness.5 He did not only repeatedly preach the free justification of sinners, he also defended the doctrine against his Roman Catholic and even some Protestant opponents. Yet, who was this champion of the confessional Protestant position?

The Marrow Men listed William Perkins as the first of “many eminent British divines.”6 Dutch Reformed theologian Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676) labelled Perkins the “Homer of practical Englishmen” who “stands above all.”7 Moreover, William Ames (1576–1633) and John Cotton (1585–1652) were converted under Perkins’s preaching.8 The Westminster Divine Thomas Goodwin (1600–80) said that Cambridge, where Perkins was a fellow at the University, “was then filled with the discourse of the power of Mr. Perkins, his ministry still fresh in men’s memories.”9 In Edward Millington’s (c. 1636–1703) Bibliotheca Oweniana (1684) which was, according to Crawford Gribben, an “auction catalogue of the contents of John Owen’s [1616–83] library,”10 we find in this library a copy of the 1631 complete folio volumes of Perkins, also his Treaties on the Cases of Conscience (1606), discourse on the Damnable Art of Witchcraft (1610), Warning against the Idolatry of the Last Times (1601), Reformed Catholic, against the Romanists (1601), Treaties of Christian Equity and Moderation (1604), Of Living and Dying Well, Grain of Mustard-Seed, Reformation of Covetousness, on the 6th of Matthew (1603), which shows the influence of Perkins had on the prince of puritans.11

This essay will discuss and describe an aspect of Perkins’ doctrine of justification against the background of the pre and post–Tridentine position with a focus on the Roman Catholic system of purgatory and final judgment.12

Rome’s System Of Purgatory: The Sacrifice of the Mass and Penance

Gerald O’Collins and Oliver P. Rafferty observe that the Spanish Jesuit Diego Lainez (1512–65) claimed that “imputed righteousness was in any case incompatible with the doctrine of purgatory.”13 Perkins would agree because Christ’s righteousness which consists in his active and passive obedience for the elect fully satisfied for all sins of commission and omission which made purgatory superfluous since God’s wrath had been fully satisfied by Christ, and life everlasting was completely gained by Christ’s fulfilling of the law in His active obedience for the sinner.14 The Church of Rome, according to Perkins, believed that sinners “must satisfy the justice of God for the temporal punishment of the offenses either on earth or in purgatory.”15 In the Twenty-fifth session of the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory was codified. Trent declared

[T]he sacred writing and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils and very recently in this ecumenical council that there is a purgatory, and that the souls are detained are aided by suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy council commands the bishops that they strive diligently to the end that the sound doctrine of purgatory, transmitted by the Fathers and sacred councils, be believed and maintained by the faithful of Christ, and be everywhere taught and preached.16

For Perkins’s Tridentine opponents, purgatory was an actual physical location in the upper part of hell where the sinner can finally be justified in the sight of God with the assistance of the faithful on earth.17 Trent connected the payment for venial sins in purgatory with the Roman sacrifice of the Eucharist, prayers, and the giving of alms.18 The Jesuit Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621), Perkins’s opponent, who according to Kenneth Baker, “was the chief Catholic theologian during the latter part of the 16th century and at the beginning of the 17th century,” argued that the sinner is not justified by faith alone nor good works alone but by a mixture of both through the increasing of one’s own inherent righteousness.19 For Bellarmine, it is by becoming actually, personally, inherently righteous that one ultimately stands justified before God’s tribunal.20

The Sacrifice of the Mass

Perkins objected to Rome’s sacrifice of the Mass. For him, this doctrine was attached to erroneous views of Christ, Christ’s propitiatory suffering unto death, and in turn to the doctrine of justification. One of Perkins’s clearest Christological statements is found in his treatise, A Warning Against the Idolatry of the Last Times (1601), where he wrote, “For He in one person is perfect God and perfect man, our only Redeemer all-sufficient in Himself, and therefore perfect king, priest, prophet; without either partner or fellow in the work of man’s salvation.”21 According to Perkins, Trent and Bellarmine differed from Protestants in their Christology because they demoted the threefold office of Christ.22 They robbed Christ of his prophetical office “in giving liberty to the pope, to make new laws, and to expound the Scriptures, as supreme judge.”23.23 Rome overturned Christ’s kingly office “by making the pope the head of the church.”24 Finally, they overshadowed Christ’s priestly office “by their massing priesthood, wherein they daily offer up an unbloody sacrifice, for the sins of the quick and the dead.”25 Perkins described their position as follows: “The Romish Church holds that the sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper is all one for substance, with the sacrifice which He offered on the cross.”26 In asserting this, the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass was either a continuation of the sacrifice that was begun at the cross, or else it was an alteration or repetition of that sacrifice on the cross.27 In both views the priest is the one who finished the work of sacrifice for sins that was begun by Christ at the cross. This would make the sacrifice imperfect because the satisfaction is incomplete.28 Perkins reasoned, “[T]o continue a thing until it be accomplished is to bring perfection unto it.”29 A continuation or a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice for sin would make Christ’s sacrifice imperfect, and what is imperfect cannot satisfy for the sinner.30 Perkins in objection referenced John 19:30 and claimed that the work of Christ in his satisfaction for sin as the penalty payer was fully accomplished when he said, “It is finished.”31 Rome overturned Christ’s priestly office, which was directly connected to Rome’s corruption not only of the active obedience of Christ, but also the passive obedience of Christ.32


For Perkins, the Tridentine teaching of purgatory was directly connected to the use of penance for the sinner’s increase of justification. The sinner in purgatory was to be assisted by those outside of purgatory participating in the sacrifice of the Mass, and it was a place where sinners were thought to purge their venial sins and where “final contrition and penance was performed” and the guilt of remaining sin “taken away with the aid of grace.”33 Perkins traced the foundation of the sacrament of penance back to Peter Lombard (c. 1096–60), and this was one of the reasons for Perkins’s strong opposition to the medieval theologian’s writings on the subject.34 He wrote in his Commentary on Galatians, “Eleven hundred years after Christ, men began to lay aside Moses, and the prophets, and the writings of the New Testament, and to expound the writings of men, as the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Hence ignorance, superstition, and idolatry come headlong into the world.”35 His major objection to penance was that Rome saw it as “a meritorious cause of remission of sins and of life everlasting.”36 This was to Perkins “flat against the Word of God. Paul says notably, ‘we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath sent to be a reconciliation by faith in his blood’ (Rom. 3:24–25).”37 The key text that Perkins’s opponents used for the system of penance was Matthew 3:8. Perkins observed, “This text is abused, for the word μετανοειτε [repent] signifies thus much, ‘change our minds from sin to God,’ and testify it by good works, that is, by doing the duties of the moral law; which must be done, not because they are means to satisfy God’s justice for man’s sin, but because they are fruits of that faith and repentance which lies in the heart.”38Μετανοειτε did not signify a means of satisfaction of God’s justice, instead it signified the fruit of the one whose sins had been satisfied by Christ’s passion and death. For Perkins, μετανοειτε in Matthew 3:8 and repentance in general were not a sacrament: “The gospel only prescribes repentance and the practice thereof, yet only as it is a fruit of our faith, and as it is the way to salvation in which we are to walk, and no otherwise.”39

Further, he explained that repentance had several uses in men, “but none serve for this end to apprehend Christ and His merits. None of them all have this receiving property, and therefore there is nothing in man that justified as a cause but faith alone.”40 According to Perkins, repentance were things wrought in believers and therefore could not make satisfaction because the believer was freely justified by grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus alone outside of the sinner.41

Rome’s system of purgatory along with the sacrifice of the Mass and penance made a man his own savior in part, and it taught that Christ’s work outside of the sinner was not enough.42 For Perkins, however, the full satisfaction of God’s wrath was placed on Christ in his passion and death for the sinner. This fact uprooted the very foundation of purgatory.43 and it was to this uprooting that Perkins appealed in his comments on Hebrews 9:15, 26 and Hebrews 10:10, which he regarded as clearly teaching that Christ offered himself “but once” so then there could be “no real or bodily offering” in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.44 Further, the last clause in Hebrews 1:3, that Christ purged our sins, “cuts the throat of all human satisfactions and merits. And it gives us to understand that whatsoever thing purges us from our sins is not to be found in us, but in Christ alone.45 This is what Perkins meant by Christ alone: it was nothing in us—not our repentance, love, works, hope, fear of God, or virtue that justifies, but the merits of Christ alone outside us.46 This is because repentance, love, works, hope, fear of God, and virtue “are signs thereof and consequences of faith.”47

Perkins On Final Judgment

In connection with Trent and Bellarmine’s stance on purgatory and the sacrifice of the Mass was Rome’s doctrine of a second justification. Bellarmine’s Scriptural basis for a second justification was Romans 3—which he saw as the first justification, and James 2—which he saw as the second justification.48 For Perkins James 2 was for the justified because of Christ “outward testimonies of the truth of our faith and profession, proving that the grace of our hearts is not in hypocrisy, but in truth and sincerity.”49 In other words, James 2 spoke not of justification in the same sense as Paul in Romans, but in a completely different sense, scope, and design, James 2:21 is in the demonstrative for Abraham’s “works did testify that his faith was true and sincere.”50

Further, he directly responded to Bellarmine’s second justification scheme in An Exposition on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: “But this is false, for the fruit makes not the tree a better tree, but if the tree increases in goodness, it proceeds from some other cause, not from the fruit thereof.”51 Perkins was clear that these good works never justify sinners before God, just as fire and water cannot be mingled together.52 He described the Roman teaching of a twofold justification as follows: “The first contains two parts: pardon of sin by the death of Christ, and the infused habit of charity. The second is by works, which (they say) do meritoriously increase the first justification and procure eternal life.”53 Both justifications according to Rome are connected wherein the first justification is increased to the second justification on judgment day.54 And if a person dies with venial sins he then will enter into purgatory. In Perkins polemics against this teaching he employed the Aristotelian causal model which provided precise theological formulation in his discussions regarding the final judgment and good works.55 This causal model enabled Perkins to distinguish between the cause and the way of salvation communicated in Holy Scripture. Perkins wrote, “Good works are necessary to salvation…not as causes thereof, either conversant, adjuvant, or procreant, but only as consequents of faith in that they are inseparable companions and fruits of that faith which is indeed necessary to salvation. Second, they are necessary as marks in a way, and as the way itself directing us unto eternal life.”56For example, in 2 Corinthians 4:17 affliction does not cause or merit eternal glory, yet affliction is a path and way to eternal glory.57 Further, affliction, repentance, virtues, works, and mortification of sin were not a cause, but a way giving direction in running the race.58

For Perkins, Christ’s finished work alone, outside us, justifies in God’s sight for everlasting life and therefore eliminates the second justification and purgatory altogether. Regarding the final judgment and the Christian, Perkins appealed to texts such as 2 Corinthians 5:10, Matthew 25:34–35, Galatians 3:11, the fourth petition in the Lord’s Prayer, and the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 the Apostle is speaking of a final judgment of all mankind: “We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that every man may receive the things which are done in his body according to that hath done, whether it be good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10).”59.59 This judgment according to works is not meritorious for justification because these works “are the outward signs of inward grace and holiness.”60 Perkins continued, “the last judgment does not serve to make men just that are unjust, but only manifest them to be indeed which are just before and in this life truly justified.”61 For Perkins, Matthew 25:34–35 was not a justification on the last day, but instead a “declaration of that justification which he had before obtained. Therefore, the last judgment must be pronounced and taken not from the cause of justification but from the effects and signs thereof.”62 Although Perkins did not employ the word, in substance he described 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Matthew 25:34–35 as vindication on the last day, and not justification. J. V. Fesko carefully interprets the Council of Trent, session six, chapters seven through eight as follows:

In historic Roman Catholic formulations, justification is not an eschatological reality because it hinges upon the believer’s good works (sanctification). A person is initially justified in baptism, and then through the infusion of habits and virtues, labor to become more just. The believer’s declaration of righteousness awaits the consummation, as God never declares a person righteous until he is actually righteous.63

For Perkins the final judgment of the justified person has moved into the present. In his comment on Galatians 3:11 the words in the sight of God indicate “that this judgment is already begun upon us, even in this life.”64 Moreover, according to Perkins it is “madness” to think that we can merit the kingdom of heaven by our works when in fact we are at the mercy of the Lord for daily bread as revealed in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.65 Further, Perkins saw the thief on the cross as an example that justification before God was not by works since there was no mention at all of the thief’s works, yet he was justified through faith alone on account of Christ alone.66 Perkins asked, “Do not good works then make us worthy of eternal life?” He answered, “No; for God, who is perfect righteousness itself, will find in the best works we do more matter of damnation than of salvation. And therefore we must rather condemn ourselves for our good works than look to be justified before God thereby.”67 He had hard words for his opponents—he called the Romish second justification a “mere fiction,” and “a satanical delusion” because “the Word of God does not acknowledge more but one justification at all, and that absolute and complete of itself.”68

Justification As Foundation

The doctrine of justification was not at the center of Perkins’s overall theology as a central doctrine from which his works may be logically deduced. Justification was a major teaching that he revisited most frequently against the backdrop of Roman Catholic teaching on the matter, however. Perkins believed that the doctrine of justification was foundational to the established true church of England, but it was also the foundation of true religion.69

In his Exposition of the Creed (1595), he used the analogy of a house. According to Perkins, the windows, roof, and walls of the house could be broken, making the house deformed, yet the house would still stand. When one “pulls up the foundation—the house itself falls and ceases to be a house.”70 He believed that the foundation of Protestantism was the doctrine of justification.71 In A Reformed Catholic (1597), which Porter calls the “the best of all his works,” Perkins summarized the Roman Catholic view of how one is accepted to everlasting life: “the remission of sins and the habit of inward righteousness, or charity with the fruits thereof.”72 Perkins stated, “And this is the first point of our disagreement in the matter of justification, which must be marked because if there were no more points of differences between us, this one alone were sufficient to keep us from uniting our religions. For hereby the Church of Rome razes the very foundation.73 Justification was clearly vital to Perkins, and were one to restore Rome’s doctrine of justification in the Church of England then it would be no true church at all. Therefore, uniting with the church of Rome was impossible because of their grave error on this doctrine: “for light and darkness cannot be reconciled, nor fire and water.”74 Further, in Perkins’s A Reformed Catholic, he wrote “we are to stand against them, even to death.”75

©Inwoo Lee. All Rights Reserved.


1 W. B. Patterson, William Perkins and the Making of a Protestant England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 41.

2 Samuel Clarke, The marrow of ecclesiastical historie, conteined in the lives of the fathers and other learned men and famous divines which have flourished in the Church since Christ’s time to this present age. Faithfully collected out of several autors and orderly disposed according to the centuries wherein they lived. Together with the livelie effigies of most of the eminentest of them cut in copper, (London: W. Du-gard, 1650), 417. I am indebted to Joel R. Beeke who first alerted and remarked on this event by Clarke.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 418.

5 William Perkins, The Calling of the Ministry, in The Works of William Perkins, ed. Joseph A. Pipa and J. Stephen Yuille (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020), 10:227, 238; Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:278.

6 The Marrow Men were James Hog (1658–1734), Thomas Boston (1676–1732), John Williamson, James Kid, Gabriel Wilson, Ebenezer Erskine (1680–1754), Ralph Erskine (1685–1752), James Wardlaw (d. 1742), Henry Davidson, James Bathgate, and William Hunter. Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, ed. Thomas Boston (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, repr. 2009), 364. Gisbertus Voetius, Selectae Disputationes Theologicae, in J. W. Beardslee, ed. and trans. Reformed Dogmatics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 273–74.

7 Gisbertus Voetius, Selectae Disputationes Theologicae, in Beardslee, Reformed Dogmatics, 273–74.

8 Ames wrote: “When being young I heard worthy Master Perkins so preach in a great assembly of students, that he instructed them soundly in the truth, stirred them up effectually to seek after godliness, made them fit for the kingdom of God; and by his own ensemble showed them, what things they should chiefly intend, that they might promote true religion in the power of it, unto God’s glory and others’ salvation.” William Ames, “To the Reader,” in, Conscience, with the Power and Cases Thereof, [n.p.], 1639. [F]ound in Barry Waugh, “William Perkins: Augustine Protege & Father of Puritan Theology,” in Confessional Presbyterian 11 (2015), 132; Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, “Practical divinity and spirituality,” in The Cambridge Guide to Puritanism, ed. John Coffey and Paul C. H, Lim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 192; M. M. Knappen, Tudor Puritanism, 390. Cf. Fesko, Covenant of Works, 76–79.

9 Memoir of Dr. Thomas Goodwin by his son, in Goodwin’s Works (1861–63), II, p. Iviii. Found in Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997), 197.

10 Crawford Gribben, “John Owen, Renaissance Man? The Evidence of Edward Millington’s Bibliotheca Oweniana (1684),” Westminster Theological Journal 72 (2010): 322.

11 Edward Millington, “Divinity in Folio,” in Bibliotheca Oweniana (London, 1684), 2; Millington, “Divinity in Octavo,” in Bibliotheca Oweniana, 18. Millington, “Divinity in Twelves,” in Bibliotheca Oweniana, 21.

12 Portions of this essay are abridged mostly from chapter 5 of Inwoo Lee, “Righteous Before God: William Perkins’ Doctrine of Justification in Elizabethan England” (MA Thesis, Westminster Seminary California, 2020).

13 Gerald O’Collins and Oliver P. Rafferty, “Roman Catholic View,” in Justification Five Views, ed. James K. Bailey and Paul Rhodes Eddy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2011), 279.

14 Ibid.

15 William Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in The Works of William Perkins, ed. Shawn D. Wright and Andrew S. Ballitch (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books), 7:58.

16 The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 217. Emphasis mine.

17 William Perkins, An Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in The Works of William Perkins, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 1:656.

18 Trent declared: “The bishops shall see to it that the suffrages of the living, that is, the sacrifice of the Mass, prayers, alms and other works of piety which they have been accustomed to perform for the faithful departed, be piously and devoutly discharged in accordance with the law of the church…” The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 217.

19 Kenneth Baker, “Foreword,” in Controversies of the Christian Faith, trans. Kenneth Baker (Saddle River: KTF Inc, 2016), 5. According to Carl R. Trueman, “Bellarmine was to be a significant polemical foil for British Protestant theologians from the sixteenth century to the nineteen century, such were the face and comprehensiveness of his arguments.” Carl R. Trueman, “Reformed Orthodoxy in Britain,” in A Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy, ed. Herman J. Selderhuis (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 269. Also see Muller, Grace and Freedom, 183. Further, Bellarmine was one of Perkins chief opponents for Perkins for Bellarmine is cited him twenty-nine times in the marginal notes in his An Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, and he is referred to over twenty-four times in Perkins’s A Reformed Catholic and The Problem of Forged Catholicism combined.

20 John A. Peltz, “Fides Justificans According to Saint Robert Bellarmine” (Master’s Thesis, Marquette University, 1989), 3; Robert Bellarmine, Controversies of the Christian Faith, 91.

21 Perkins, The Problem of Forged Catholicism, in Works, 7:421.

22 Bellarmine is mentioned in the marginal notes in a discussion of Rome’s distortion of the offices of Christ. Bellar. de Concil. author. l. 2. c. 15. 121. Perkins, An Exposition on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in Whole Works, 1:256. Perkins, An Exposition on Christ</is8″>s Sermon on the Mount, in Works, 1:661. Bellarmine is mentioned in the marginal notes: “Bellar. de Rom. Pont. l. 4. cap. 15–16.”

23 Perkins, An Exposition on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in Works, 1:256.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid. Emphasis mine.

26 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:95. See also, Robert Bellarmine, On the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, trans. Ryan Grant (Post Falls: Mediatrix Press, 2020), See also, Bellarmine, On Purgatory: The Members of the Church Suffering, trans. Ryan Grant (Post Falls: Mediatrix Press, 2017), and John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, Peabody: Massachusetts, repr. 2019), 931–44. Institutes, 4.18.1–18.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 Perkins in A Warning Against the Idolatry of the Last Times wrote that if Christ’s sacrifice was imperfect then there was “no sacrifice of the redeemer for sinners.” Perkins, A Warning Against Idolatry of the Last Times, in Works, 7:423. The repeated sacrifices of the animals in the Old Testament proved that they were imperfect, yet Perkins wrote as he echoed John Calvin (1509–1564), “But Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was fully perfected, as by His own testimony it appears when He said, Consummatum est, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, 7:95; See also Institutes 4.18.13.

31 Ibid.

32 Further for Perkins the Romanist doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass and transubstantiation did not only degrade Christ’s passive obedience, yet overturned Christology and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper turning Christ’s ascension into a disparition (the act of disappearing) “whereby His body, being visible becomes invisible….Indeed the opinion of the ubiquity of the body of Christ revives the condemned heresies of Eutychus and Nestorius, and it overturns by necessary consequent most of the articles of faith.…Transubstantiation is flat against an article of faith; for if Christ’s body be made of bread, and His blood of wine (which must needs be, if there be a conversion of the one into the other), then was not He conceived and born of the Virgin Mary–for it cannot both be made of baker’s bread and of the substance of the Virgin. Again, it abolishes the outward sign in the Lord’s Supper, as also the analogy between the sign and the thing signified, and so overturns the Sacrament.” Perkins, especially on the Romanist articles of justification and transubstantiation (which was different from), would not consider Roman Catholicism as the true church of God. Perkins objected to the Lutheran view of consubstantiation, but for Perkins this view “does not overturn the substance of any article of religion but only a main point of philosophy, which is that a body does occupy one only place at once.” Further, for both Lutherans and Protestants in Perkins’s time there is true receiving of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and both confess that Christ is present. The difference for Perkins “lies in the manner of receiving, we [Protestants] contenting ourselves with the spiritual receiving which is by the hand of faith; [Lutherans] adding there to the corporal, whereby they imagine themselves to receive Christ with the hand and mouth of the body.” Perkins, then considered “the churches of Germany commonly called the churches of the Lutherans, they are reputed of us as the true churches of God. Though their Augsburg Confession has not satisfied the expectation of the other reformed churches, yet have they all the same enemies in matter of religion and do alike confess the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and of the office of the Mediator, of faith and good works, of the Word, the church, and the magistrate, [we] are all of one judgment. They differ indeed from us in the question of the Sacrament, but it is no sufficient cause to induce us to hold them as no church.” Perkins, An Exposition of the Creed, 5:382–83. Perkins treatment of Rome’s denial of Christ’s active obedience of Christ is covered in chapter three of Lee, “Righteous Before God: William Perkins’ Doctrine of Justification in Elizabethan England.”

33 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:344; Muller, “purgatorium,” in Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 300.

34 Perkins, The Problem of Forged Catholicism, 7:338; Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7.146. Regarding penance he discredits the name of Peter Lombard, yet when it came to purgatory, Perkins traced this doctrine back to Tertullian and Origin (c. 184–c. 253). Origen spoke of purgatory not as a place after death, but something faced on earth. Perkins also pointed to the Montanists for the invention of Purgatory, see Perkins, The Problem of Forged Catholicism, 7:272. Perkins also quoted Augustine, Anselm (c. 1033–09), Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), Otho Frisingensis (c. 1114–58), and Peter Lombard to show that they wrote some things contrary to the notion of purgatory. See Perkins, The Problem of Forged Catholicism, in Works, 7:343–348.

35 Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:45-46. It is interesting, in contrast to Perkins, Bellarmine had a high regard for Lombard when he approvingly quoted Francis Stancarus (1501–74): “One Peter Lombard, he said, has more value than a hundred Luthers, two hundred Melanchthons, three hundred Bullingers, four hundred Peter Martyrs, and five hundred Calvins; all of these, if they were crushed together in a mortar, would not produce one ounce of true Theology.” Bellarmine, Controversies of the Christian Faith, 572.

36 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7.146.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid., 7:62.

39 Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:177.

40 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:45. Emphasis mine.

41 Ibid., 7.146.

42 Perkins, A Warning Against Idolatry of the Last Times, in Works, 7:423, Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:127.

43 In Perkins commented on 1 John 1:7 in which he stated that “the blood of Christ is a purgatory of our sins.”

44 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:94–95.

45 Ibid., 7:127. Emphasis mine. Other passages that Perkins dealt with was Bellarmine’s key text for purgatory, Matthew 5:25–26. “In the margin: Bellar. De purgat. Lib. 1. cap. 4.” Perkins, An Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in Works, 1:279. Cf. Byung Soo Han, Symphonia Catholica: The Merger of Patristic and Contemporary Sources in the Theological Method of Amandus Polanus (1561–1610), (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), 281–85. Perkins mentioned Bellarmine in the marginal notes of his comments on Matthew 5:25–26. This was a text upon which Rome built her doctrine of purgatory, as Romanists such as Bellarmine understood the judge to be Christ, the sergeant to be God’s angels, and the prison to be hell. Because there are many places in hell, the prison in this text is purgatory, and the “uttermost farthing” would be venial sins. According to Rome and Bellarmine, in this text angels cast sinners into purgatory and they remain there until their venial sins are satisfied. In response to this exegesis, Perkins gave his reasons why this meaning of the text cannot hold. First, the text was speaking about reconciliation between men rather than between man and God. Second, Rome’s exposition “overthrows the mediation and satisfaction of Christ for man to God, for if (as they say) man may and must satisfy for his venial sins, even to the uttermost, then Christ did not make a perfect satisfaction for man to God. For if He did, why should man satisfy for himself?”

Lastly, Perkins reasoned that to build a doctrine around this text would be to build on a “sandy foundation because one is going beyond the scope of the parable.” Perkins, An Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in Works, 1:279, Perkins, An Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in Works, 1:280.

46 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:45. When speaking against human satisfaction, Heidegger used the same language as Perkins on Romans 3:24–25. It is quite possible that Heidegger had A Reformed Catholic on his shelf. He wrote, “The same reason also cuts the throat of human satisfactions, both one’s own and foreign. For they are insulting to the redemption and righteousness of Christ which is the sole cause of remission of sins and life and is of infinite value. For “we are justified freely by the grace” of God ‘through the redemption in Christ Jesus’ who alone is ‘Propitiator in His blood’ (Rom. 3:24, 25).” Heidegger, The Concise Marrow of Theology, 156.

47 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:45.

48 Bellarmine, Controversies of the Christian Faith, 91. Also see Canisius’ teaching on final justification in Clark, Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant, 161–62.

49 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:240.

50 Perkins, An Exposition on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in Works, 1:240. Emphasis mine. These good works that evidence, demonstrate, and testify that ones faith is sincere are always for Perkins excluded from justification before God as we see also in his comments on Ephesians 2:8-10: And that we may not doubt of Paul’s meaning, consider and read Ephesians 2:8-9: ‘By grace,’ he says, ‘you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast himself.’ Here, Paul excludes all and every work and, directly, works of grace themselves, as appears by the reason following, ‘For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works; which God hath ordained that we should walk in them.’ Now let the papists tell me, what be the works which God has prepared for men to walk in, and to which they are regenerate, unless they be the most excellent works of grace? And let them mark how Paul excludes them wholly from the work of justification and salvation.” Perkins, A Reformed Catholic in Works, 7:47.

51 “In the margin: Bellarm. de justif. l. 4. c. 14.” Perkins, An Exposition on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in Works, 1:690.

52 Perkins, The True Gain, in Works, 9:61.

53 Perkins, The True Gain, in Works, 9:61. Cf. William Perkins, The True Gain, in Works, 9:65–66.

54 Anthony N. S. Lane, Regensburg Article 5 on Justification: Inconsistent Patchwork or Substance of True Doctrine? (New York, Oxford University Press, 2020), 129. Here Lane describes the Romanist position after the first justification. He writes, “The justified sinner now has the Spirit of God, is inwardly transformed and can perform works of faith and love, becoming more and more justified. In terms of sanctification, ‘Let the righteous be further justified.’ (Rev. 22:11 from the Vulgate variant reading).

55 Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 1:369.

56 Perkins, Reformed Catholic in Works, 7:46–47. We see this picked up by Ralph Erskine and the Marrow Men, who were influenced by Perkins (see footnote 16 in chapter one of this thesis). Erskine employed the same distinctions and language of cause and the way. See Erskine, A Collection of Sermons on Several Subjects Preached by the Rev. Ralph Erskine, 179. The Marrow Men made the same distinction. See Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, 358.

57 Perkins, A Golden Chaine, in Works, 6:236. Cf. Perkins, The True Gain, in Works, 9:73.

58 Perkins, The True Gain, in Works, 9:37; Perkins, Commentary on Hebrews 11, in Works, 3:103; Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2.177; Perkins, A Treatise on God’s Free Grace and Man’s Free Will, in Works, 6:408.

59 Perkins, An Exposition of the Creed, in Works, 5:296.

60 Ibid.

61 Perkins, An Exposition of the Creed, in Works, 5:296.

62 Perkins, A Golden Chain, in Works, 6:235. Emphasis mine.

63 J. V. Fesko, Beyond Calvin: Union with Christ and Justification in Early Modern Reformed Theology (1517–1700) (Bristol, CT: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 96.

64 Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:176. This was in line with Luther’s doctrine of justification and judgment. Fesko describes Luther’s view of judgment and the justified sinner: “God moved the final judgment for justified sinners into the present and declared them righteous on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ.” Fesko, “Infused Habits in Reformed Soteriology,” 252. Fesko also describes Juán de Valdés’ (1498-41) view as identical to that of Luther and Perkins. See Fesko, Beyond Calvin, 165.

65 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:165.

66 Ibid., 7:44–46.

67 Perkins, Foundation of Christian Religion, in Works, 5:503.

68 Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:177.

69 Ibid.

70 Perkins, An Exposition of the Creed, in Works, 5:379.

71 William Perkins, A Golden Chain, in The Works of William Perkins, ed. Joel Beeke and Greg A. Salazar (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Book, 2018), 6:234–35.

72 H. C. Porter, Puritanism in Tudor England, 267; William Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in The Works of William Perkins, ed. Shawn D. Wright and Andrew S. Ballitch (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Book, 2019), 7:36.

73 Ibid. Emphasis mine.

74 Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:143.

75 Perkins, Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:34.

©Inwoo Lee. All Rights Reserved.

William Perkins On Justification


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  • Inwoo Lee
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    Inwoo Lee (BA, UCSD) earned his MA (Historical Theology) in 2020 from Westminster Seminary California and is author of “Righteous Before God: William Perkins’ Doctrine of Justification in Elizabethan England” (MA Thesis, Westminster Seminary California, 2020). He lives in the Great Seoul area, in South Korea with his wife Holly.

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