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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 3:21-22

21. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

21. Nunc autem sine Lege justitia Dei manifesto est, testimonio comprobata Legis et prophetarum;

22. Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

22. Justitia, inquam, Dei per fidem Iesu Christi, in omnes et super omnes credentes; non est sanè distinctio:

21. But now without the law, etc. It is not certain for what distinct reason he calls that the righteousness of God, which we obtain by faith; whether it be, because it can alone stand before God, or because the Lord in his mercy confers it on us. As both interpretations are suitable, we contend for neither. This righteousness then, which God communicates to man, and accepts alone, and owns as righteousness, has been revealed, he says, without the law, that is without the aid of the law; and the law is to be understood as meaning works; for it is not proper to refer this to its teaching, which he immediately adduces as bearing witness to the gratuitous righteousness of faith. Some confine it to ceremonies; but this view I shall presently show to be unsound and frigid. We ought then to know, that the merits of works are excluded. We also see that he blends not works with the mercy of God; but having taken away and wholly removed all confidence in works, he sets up mercy alone.

It is not unknown to me, that Augustine gives a different explanation; for he thinks that the righteousness of God is the grace of regeneration; and this grace he allows to be free, because God renews us, when unworthy, by his Spirit; and from this he excludes the works of the law, that is, those works, by which men of themselves endeavor, without renovation, to render God indebted to them. (Deum promereri -- to oblige God.) I also well know, that some new speculators proudly adduce this sentiment, as though it were at this day revealed to them. But that the Apostle includes all works without exception, even those which the Lord produces in his own people, is evident from the context.

For no doubt Abraham was regenerated and led by the Spirit of God at the time when he denied that he was justified by works. Hence he excluded from man's justification not only works morally good, as they commonly call them, and such as are done by the impulse of nature, but also all those which even the faithful can perform. Again, since this is a definition of the righteousness of faith, |Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven,| there is no question to be made about this or that kind of work; but the merit of works being abolished, the remission of sins alone is set down as the cause of righteousness.

They think that these two things well agree, -- that man is justified by faith through the grace of Christ, -- and that he is yet justified by the works, which proceed from spiritual regeneration; for God gratuitously renews us, and we also receive his gift by faith. But Paul takes up a very different principle, -- that the consciences of men will never be tranquillized until they recumb on the mercy of God alone. Hence, in another place, after having taught us that God is in Christ justifying men, he expresses the manner, -- |by not imputing to them their sins.| In like manner, in his Epistle to the Galatians, he puts the law in opposition to faith with regard to justification; for the law promises life to those who do what it commands, (Galatians 3:12;) and it requires not only the outward performance of works, but also sincere love to God. It hence follows, that in the righteousness of faith, no merit of works is allowed. It then appears evident, that it is but a frivolous sophistry to say, that we are justified in Christ, because we are renewed by the Spirit, inasmuch as we are the members of Christ, -- that we are justified by faith, because we are united by faith to the body of Christ, -- that we are justified freely, because God finds nothing in us but sin.

But we are in Christ because we are out of ourselves; and justified by faith, because we must recumb on the mercy of God alone, and on his gratuitous promises; and freely, because God reconciles us to himself by burying our sins. Nor can this indeed be confined to the commencement of justification, as they dream; for this definition -- |Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven| -- was applicable to David, after he had long exercised himself in the service of God; and Abraham, thirty years after his call, though a remarkable example of holiness, had yet no works for which he could glory before God, and hence his faith in the promise was imputed to him for righteousness; and when Paul teaches us that God justifies men by not imputing their sins, he quotes a passage, which is daily repeated in the Church. Still more, the conscience, by which we are disturbed on the score of works, performs its office, not for one day only, but continues to do so through life. It hence follows that we cannot remain, even to death, in a justified state, except we look to Christ only, in whom God has adopted us, and regards us now as accepted. Hence also is their sophistry confuted, who falsely accuse us of asserting, that according to Scripture we are justified by faith only, while the exclusive word only, is nowhere to be found in Scripture. But if justification depends not either on the law, or on ourselves, why should it not be ascribed to mercy alone? and if it be from mercy only, it is then by faith only.

The particle now may be taken adversatively, and not with reference to time; as we often use now for but. But if you prefer to regard it as an adverb of time, I willingly admit it, so that there may be no room to suspect an evasion; yet the abrogation of ceremonies alone is not to be understood; for it was only the design of the Apostle to illustrate by a comparison the grace by which we excel the fathers. Then the meaning is, that by the preaching of the gospel, after the appearance of Christ in the flesh, the righteousness of faith was revealed. It does not, however, hence follow, that it was hid before the coming of Christ; for a twofold manifestation is to be here noticed: the first in the Old Testament, which was by the word and sacraments; the other in the New, which contains the completion of ceremonies and promises, as exhibited in Christ himself: and we may add, that by the gospel it has received a fuller brightness.

Being proved [or approved] by the testimony, etc. He adds this, lest in the conferring of free righteousness the gospel should seem to militate against the law. As then he has denied that the righteousness of faith needs the aid of the law, so now he asserts that it is confirmed by its testimony. If then the law affords its testimony to gratuitous righteousness, it is evident that the law was not given for this end, to teach men how to obtain righteousness by works. Hence they pervert it, who turn it to answer any purpose of this kind. And further, if you desire a proof of this truth, examine in order the chief things taught by Moses, and you will find that man, being cast from the kingdom of God, had no other restoration from the beginning than that contained in the evangelical promises through the blessed seed, by whom, as it had been foretold, the serpent's head was to be bruised, and through whom a blessing to the nations had been promised: you will find in the commandments a demonstration of your iniquity, and from the sacrifices and oblations you may learn that satisfaction and cleansing are to be obtained in Christ alone. When you come to the Prophets you will find the clearest promises of gratuitous mercy. On this subject see my Institutes.

22. Even the righteousness of God, etc. He shows in few words what this justification is, even that which is found in Christ and is apprehended by faith. At the same time, by introducing again the name of God, he seems to make God the founder, (autorem, the author,) and not only the approver of the righteousness of which he speaks; as though he had said, that it flows from him alone, or that its origin is from heaven, but that it is made manifest to us in Christ.

When therefore we discuss this subject, we ought to proceed in this way: First, the question respecting our justification is to be referred, not to the judgment of men, but to the judgment of God, before whom nothing is counted righteousness, but perfect and absolute obedience to the law; which appears clear from its promises and threatenings: if no one is found who has attained to such a perfect measure of holiness, it follows that all are in themselves destitute of righteousness. Secondly, it is necessary that Christ should come to our aid; who, being alone just, can render us just by transferring to us his own righteousness. You now see how the righteousness of faith is the righteousness of Christ. When therefore we are justified, the efficient cause is the mercy of God, the meritorious is Christ, the instrumental is the word in connection with faith. Hence faith is said to justify, because it is the instrument by which we receive Christ, in whom righteousness is conveyed to us. Having been made partakers of Christ, we ourselves are not only just, but our works also are counted just before God, and for this reason, because whatever imperfections there may be in them, are obliterated by the blood of Christ; the promises, which are conditional, are also by the same grace fulfilled to us; for God rewards our works as perfect, inasmuch as their defects are covered by free pardon.

Unto all and upon all, etc. For the sake of amplifying, he repeats the same thing in different forms; it was, that he might more fully express what we have already heard, that faith alone is required, that the faithful are not distinguished by external marks, and that hence it matters not whether they be Gentiles or Jews.

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