William Perkins On Justification (2)

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.”56 For 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 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″>69″>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

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William Perkins On Justification (1)


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.

49Perkins, 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.

646464 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.


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