That the Roman Catholic Church, by its doctrine of justification, means an infused rather than an imputed righteousness is also plain from the following:

“For, whereas Jesus Christ himself continually infuses His virtue into the said justified,—as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,—and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God,—we must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified, to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained also in its (due) time, if so be, however, that they depart in grace: seeing that Christ, our Savior, saith: If anyone shall drink of the water that I will give him, he shall not thirst forever; but it shall become in him a fountain of water syringing up unto life everlasting. Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ. Neither is this to be omitted,—that although, in the sacred writings, so much is attributed to good works, that Christ promises, that even he that shall give a drink of cold water to one of his least ones, shall not lose his reward; and the apostle testifies that, That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; nevertheless God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that he will have the things which are his own gifts be their merits. And forasmuch as in many things we all offend, each one ought to have before his eyes, as well the severity and judgment as the mercy and goodness of God; neither ought anyone to judge himself, even though he be not conscious to himself of anything; because the whole life of man is to be examined and judged not by the judgment of man, but of God, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart, and then shall every man have praise from God, who, as it is written, will render to every man according to his works.

“After this Catholic doctrine on Justification, which whoso receiveth not faithfully and firmly cannot be justified, it hath seemed good to the holy Synod to subjoin these canons, that all may know not only what they ought to hold and follow, but also what to avoid and shun.” Caput XVI.

The canons that follow these decrees very severely condemn the doctrine of justification by faith. In Canon IX we read: “If anyone saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified, in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will: let him be anathema.”

And in Canon XI we read: “If anyone saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.”

And again, in Canon 12: “If anyone saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema.”

This, then, is the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification. Christ merits for us the right to infuse a righteousness into our hearts. By the power of that infused righteousness, we can perform good works. And these good works are meritorious, and are worthy of eternal life.

In opposition to this Roman Catholic doctrine the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes: 1. That our only righteousness is the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to us of mere grace. 2. That we can appropriate this righteousness only by faith, which is a gift of sovereign grace. 3. And that our good works have absolutely no part in this righteousness, even as all our sins cannot possibly detract from it.

This does not mean, however, that sanctification and walking in all good works have no relation to justification except in the way of faith, through regeneration and sanctification. We must come back to this in connection with the last question and answer of this present Lord’s Day. But it does mean that, objectively considered, justification is first. We are not justified because we are sanctified, but we are sanctified and are the recipients of all the blessings of salvation, because we are justified. Justification must necessarily be first, before we receive any blessings of salvation at all. God is righteous. He loves the righteous only. He cannot have any fellowship with sin, or with sinners. He hates all the workers of iniquity, and they are no objects of His grace whatever. Hence, His favor is only upon the righteous. The grace of righteousness, therefore, must necessarily precede all other blessings of salvation. And who are the righteous? They are those only that are judicially in Christ, eternally in His counsel of election, and in time by faith.

This truth the Catechism emphasizes in question and answer 62.

Good works cannot possibly be meritorious.

Mark you well, they could not have any merit, even if they were perfect. The whole idea of merit must be rooted out. The notion of merit can be applicable only to the relation of man to man, never to the relation of Cod to man. For when is any work worthy of merit? I can speak of merit only when I have something to offer, whether it be time, talent, strength or power or anything else, which someone else does not have and to which he has in himself not the right. But how could this possibly be applicable to the relation between God and man? God is God, man is a creature. The creature owes everything to God alone: time, talent, power and means, yea, his very being. Hence, he is obligated before anything else to serve and to love Him with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. And when he has done all, he may, as far as God’s being obligated to him is concerned, say: I am but an unprofitable servant. Besides, it is a privilege to serve God, a gift of grace to him, never the reverse. The whole idea of serving God for wages is corrupt. God does not want wage-earners in His house, but free sons to serve Him. And the service of the living God has its own reward.

Besides, how could all our good works merit the forgiveness of one sin? We certainly cannot work overtime for God, for we owe Him all to start with. If once we are behind in loving Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, we can never make good again. And even one sin is sufficient for our eternal condemnation.

How then can our good works merit eternal life? This is evidently forever impossible!

But we must still consider another question. For we have proceeded from the assumption that our good works are perfect, and that is not true. It is especially from this point of view, that the Heidelberg Catechism stresses the fact that our good works, either the whole of them or part of them, can never be our righteousness before God.

In this connection the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us two things: first of all, that the righteousness which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect, and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and, secondly, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and polluted with sin. The first of these statements is self-evident. Righteousness is to be right. And the sole standard’ or criterion of righteousness is the divine law, which is the expression of the living will of an absolutely holy God. Just as the plumb-line is the criterion by which it is determined whether or not a wall is perpendicular, so the law of God is the sole standard of righteousness. And conform to that law must be all our works and our whole nature, if we are to be declared perfectly righteous before the tribunal of God.

We must remember and emphasize that there is nothing relative about the idea of righteousness. One cannot be satisfied and imagine that God is satisfied with the promise that he will do the best he can. Neither is it possible that one gradually approach righteousness. Righteousness is absolute. One is either righteous or unrighteous. There is nothing in between.

And if we are to be perfectly righteous before God, our nature as well as all our works must be conform to the law of God. That our nature is conform to the law of God means that our very heart functions m harmony with that law, which demands that we love Him. And that our works must be conform to the law does not mean that they can be outwardly in harmony with it merely, but implies that from their hidden motives to their outward manifestation, from their root in the heart to their visible fruit in our everyday walk and life, they are pure, and perfectly motivated by the love of God.

Only such perfect righteousness is acceptable to God. Nothing else and nothing less can be pleasing to Him.

Now, the Catechism teaches that all the works of the Christian are defiled with sin. This is a very strong statement indeed.

This does not deny the fact that they who are justified are also sanctified. They are saints in Christ Jesus. In principle, they are new creatures, old thing^ are passed away, and all things are become new.

But it does mean, first of all, that in many things they do not live from the principle of the new man but from that of the old. Oh, it is true, that even in respect to their sins they do not live like natural men. Always they are new creatures, always old things have passed away, even in regard to their own sins. They hate sin and condemn it. They are sorry after God, they repent in dust and ashes, they cry for forgiveness, and they can never rest until they have the testimony m their heart that their sins are forgiven them in the blood of Jesus Christ and that they are righteous before God in spite of the sins they have committed. Always they are of the party of the living God even over against their own sins. Never can they walk in sin, or live any longer therein. But this does not alter the fact that often they fall into sin, and their sin is damnable before God. As far as their sin is concerned, they are worthy of eternal punishment. And they can have rest and perfect peace only in the righteousness of Christ which is imputed to them and which they appropriate by faith only. But even so, all is not said. For the situation is not thus, that some of our works are indeed sinful, and others are perfect and conformable to the divine law; but all our works without exception are defiled with sin. Even the very best of our works are not perfect before God. Sin cleaves to them, and pollutes them entirely.

Such is the emphatic teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism.

This truth, that all our good works are defiled with sin, the Roman Catholics and all Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians consistently deny. They hate this doctrine and condemn it very severely. They claim that one who is justified can keep the commandments of God perfectly. This is evident from Chapter 11 of the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent: “But no one, how much soever justified, ought to think himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one ought to make use of that rash saying, one prohibited by the fathers under an anathema,—that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified. For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou art able, and to pray for what thou art not able to do, and aids thee that thou mayest be able.”

And after some Scriptural passages are quoted, the same chapter continues: “From which it is plain, that those are opposed to the orthodox doctrine of religion, who assert that the just man sins, venially at least, in every good work; or, which is yet more insupportable, that he merits eternal punishment; as also those who state, that the just sin in all their works, if, in those works, they, together with this aim principally that God may be glorified, have in view also the eternal reward, in order to excite their sloth, and to encourage themselves to run in the course.”

And in Canon XXV, an anathema is pronounced upon all who teach that all the works of the Christian are polluted with sin. In that Canon we read: “If anyone saith, that, in every good work, the just sins venially at least, or—which is more intolerable still—mortally and consequently deserves eternal punishment; and that for this cause only he is not damned, that God does not impute those works unto damnation: let him be anathema.”

Yet, according to both Scripture and the experience of every true child of God, the Heidelberg Catechism states the truth, when it declares, that in this life all our works are polluted with sin.

As to Scripture, I but have to refer you to that remarkable passage in Romans 7 where the apostle speaks of his own experience as an example of the experience of every Christian.

There we read: “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

We are well aware of the fact that many commentators and theologians would explain this passage as having reference, not to the regenerated child of God, but to the natural man. This explanation is plainly untenable. For, on the one hand, there is nothing in the whole passage which the child of God cannot take upon his own lips. What true child of God does not admit that, in himself, he is carnal, sold under sin, that in his flesh there dwelleth no good thing, and that the evil, which he hates, he performs? And, on the other hand, no mere natural man can declare of himself, nor is he willing to do so, what the apostle, in this passage, expresses to be a matter of his own experience. The person that is speaking here is keenly conscious of an awful inner conflict between Spirit and flesh. He finds a law in himself, that, when he would do good, evil is ever present with him, vs. 21. He speaks of the inward man, a term that is applied in Scripture, only to the new man in Christ, and according to that inward man, he has a delight in the law of God, vs. 22. But he sees another law in his members, which wars against the law of his mind, and which brings him into captivity to the laws of sin which is in his members. He is conscious of the sad fact that in his flesh there dwelleth no good thing, though the will to do good is present with him. The result is that he does not accomplish the good which he would, but commits the evil, which he would not. Nevertheless, he hates the evil which he does, and he loves to do that which is good. And in the end, he cries out, as if in despair: “O wretched man that I am!” Yet, he does not despair. He looks for a deliverer, who shall save him from the body of this death. And he is confident that he shall have the victory through Jesus Christ his Lord. And it is this same man, who looks for complete deliverance from the body of this death, who thanks God for the victory which he has in Christ, that concludes: “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God: but with the flesh the law of sin.”

Surely, it is quite impossible to apply all this to the natural man. He knows of no such a conflict between the Spirit and the flesh, between the inward and the outward man. No man, by nature, earnestly longs for deliverance from the “body of this death:” no regenerated man ever looks to Jesus Christ as the deliverer from the power of sin; nor does he hope for the final victory in this conflict, and give thanks to God for it.

The whole tenor of this passage is expressive of the experience of the regenerated man in Christ.

Besides no true Christian, who knows himself at all, can assume a critical attitude over against the statement of the Heidelberger that all our good works are defiled with sin.