We have in these [manifold Bible quotes on justification that preceded this section] a most ample testimony of the whole sacred Scriptures. By these I have evidently enough declared, that God hath appointed, that whosoever doth believe in Christ, being cleansed from his sins, shall be made heir of life everlasting.
This will I make more evident yet, by declaring how that faith alone, that is, that faith for itself, and not for any works of ours, doth justify the faithful. For itself I say, not in respect that it is in us a quality of the mind, or our own work in ourselves; but in respect that faith is the gift of God’s grace, having in it a promise of righteousness and life; and in respect that, naturally, of itself, it is a certain and undoubted persuasion resting upon God, and believing that God, being pacified by Christ, hath through Christ bestowed life and all good things on us. Therefore faith for Christ, and by the grace and promise of God, doth justify: and so faith, that is, that which we believe, and wherein our confidence is settled, God, I say, himself by the grace of God doth justify us through our redemption in Christ: so that now our own works or merits have no place left to them at all, I mean, in justification: for otherwise good works have their place in the faithful…. For Paul, the teacher of the Gentiles, doth in the way of opposition compare Christ with Adam, and sheweth that of Adam, so of our own nature and strength, we have nothing but sin, the wrath of God, and death. And this doth he shew under the name of Adam, to the intent that no man should seek for righteousness and life in the flesh. And again, on the other side, he declareth that we by Christ have righteousness, the grace of God, life, and the forgiveness of all our sins. In this opposition, he doth earnestly urge and often repeat this word, “of one” [Rom. 5:12, etc.] to no other end verily, but that we should understand, that faith alone doth justify.
To the Galatians he doth very evidently use this kind of argument. “To the last will and testament of a man, if it once be proved, nobody doth add or take any thing away.” Reason therefore doth rightly require, that no man put to or take away any thing from the testament of God. But this is the testament which God confirmed; that his will is, to bestow the blessing upon Abraham’s seed, not in many, or by many, but through one. “For he saith not, And to the seeds, as though he spake of many; but as speaking of one he saith, And to thy seed, that is, Christ.” [Gal. 3:16] Therefore, it is a detestable thing to augment or diminish any thing in this testament of God. Christ alone is the only Saviour still: men can neither save themselves nor other.
Again, in the same epistle to the Galatians he saith: “We know that man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ; insomuch as no flesh shall be justified by the works of the law” [Gal. 2:16]. This is now the third time that Paul saith, that men are not justified by the works of the law: in the which clause he comprehendeth all manner of works of what sort soever. So then, no kind of works do justify. But what is it then that justifieth? Faith in Christ, and that verily alone. For what else can those words import, “We know that man is not justified but by faith in Christ”? For the force of these two speeches is all one, “Faith alone doth justify”; and, “It is certain that we are not justified but by faith in Jesus Christ.” He addeth the example of the apostles: “And we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by the works of the law.” In like manner also Peter argueth by an example in the Acts of the Apostles, and saith: “We believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” [Acts 15] Moreover, in the very same chapter to the Galatians he saith: “I despise not the grace of God; for if righteousness come of the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” For, if we in ourselves had had anything whereby we might be saved, what needed the Son of God to take our flesh, to suffer, and to die? But because the Son of God, being incarnate, did suffer and die, and died not in vain; therefore in our flesh there was nothing that could obtain salvation for mankind. Wherefore the only Son of God is our Saviour for ever, and by true faith maketh us partakers of his salvation.
Paul in the very beginning of his epistle to the Romans doth prove that all men are sinners; that in men there remaineth no strength for them to be saved by; and that the law of God itself doth dig up the knowledge of offenses that is, doth apply them, bring them to light, and make them manifest, but doth not take them away, blot them out, or utterly extinguish them; and that therefore God, for his own goodness’ sake, to the end that the work that he hath made should not altogether perish, doth justify the faithful freely by faith in Jesus Christ. I will rehearse a few of the apostle’s own words. “The righteousness of God,” saith he, “is declared without the law, being witnessed notwithstanding by the law and the prophets; the righteousness of God, I say, cometh by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe. For there is no difference: for all have sinned, and have need of the glory of God, but are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” [Rom. 3:21-25] These words of the apostle, I suppose, are most manifest to them that believe. He plucketh justification from our own merits and strength, and attributeth it to grace, whereby the Son of God is given to the world unto the punishment of the cross, that all they that believe that they are redeemed by the blood of the Son of God may be justified. Again the apostle immediately after addeth: “Therefore we hold, that man is justified by faith without the works of the law.” Upon the neck of this again he argueth thus: “Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, even of the Gentiles also. For it is one God that shall justify circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.” [Acts 5:28-30] To be God, is nothing else but to be life and salvation. But God is the God of the Gentiles also, and not of the Jews alone: therefore God is the life and salvation of the Gentiles. This life and salvation he doth communicate to us, not by the law or through circumcision, but by faith in Christ; therefore faith alone doth justify. This may be proved by the example of Cornelius the centurion, who, as soon as St. Peter had preached unto him, and he once believed, was by and by justified, when as yet he had not received circumcision, or the law; when as yet he had not sacrificed, nor merited righteousness by any work that he did: for he was freely justified in faith through Jesus Christ. For Peter concluded his sermon to him in these words: “To this Christ do all the prophets give witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” [Acts 10:43]
After all this, the apostle Paul bringeth forth that notable and singular example of our father Abraham, teaching by what means our father Abraham was justified. For, this being once truly declared, it cannot choose but be plain and manifest to every one, by what means God’s will is to justify all men: for the sons cannot be justified any other way than the father before them was justified. Abraham therefore was not justified by circumcision, or receiving of the sacrament; for it is said that he was justified before he was circumcised. Afterward was added the signs of circumcision, as “the seal of the righteousness of faith,” that is, the sign or sealing that all the seed of Abraham is justified by faith. [Rom. 4:10-12] The same our father Abraham was not justified by the law: for the law was four hundred and thirty years [Gal. 3:17] added to the promise, not to take away sin or to work justification, but to make sin appear, and to make us altogether empty; and, when we are once made empty, to send, and as it were compel us to fly, to Christ. Again, Abraham was not justified by his works: and yet, in that most excellent patriarch are found to be good works; yea, and those too good works of true faith, which are both notable and many in number, such and so many as you shall scarcely find in any other. Nevertheless yet the apostle saith: “What shall we say then that Abraham our father as pertaining to the flesh (who, I say, is our father touching the flesh) did merit or find”? …For, “if Abraham were justified by…works, then hath he to boast; but not before God.” For God is only just, and he that only justifieth: all men are corrupt; yea, even Abraham is a sinner, and every man standeth in need of the glory of God. For which cause also the prophet did plainly forbid to boast in any thing, but in the mercy of God. Wherefore Abraham boasted not against God; he acknowledged himself to be a sinner, and that he was to be justified freely, and not for his own merits’ sake. The apostle goeth forth and saith: “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed in God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.” Two things are here affirmed: first, that Abraham believed in God; secondly, that that was imputed to him for righteousness. By this it followeth, that Abraham was justified by faith, and not by works. And that doth the apostle prove after this manner: “To him that by works doth merit righteousness righteousness is not imputed. But to Abraham is righteousness imputed: therefore he merited not righteousness by works.” Again: “To him verily that worketh not, but believeth, his faith is counted for righteousness. But Abraham believed in God; therefore his faith was reckoned for righteousness.” [Rom. 4:1-5]
In the same chapter the same apostle bringeth forth other arguments, altogether as strong as these, to prove that faith justifieth without works. “If they,” saith he, “which are of the law be heirs, then is faith but vain, and the promise made of none effect.” [Rom. 5:14] They are of the law, which seek to be justified by the works of the law. But faith resteth upon the mercy of God. What place then shall grace and the mercy of God have left unto them, if we by works do merit justification? What shall I need to believe, that by the blood of Christ I shall be justified, if God by my works be at one with me again, who for my sins was angry with me? Finally, salvation and righteousness are promised of God. But then the promise endeth, when our own merits begin to come in place. For the apostle to the Galatians saith: “If inheritance be of the law, then is it not now of the promise. But God gave the inheritance to Abraham by promise.” [Gal. 3:18, 22] Therefore that the promise might remain stable, faith justifieth, and not merits.
Again, in the fourth chapter to the Romans he saith: “Therefore by faith is the inheritance given, that it might be by grace, that the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only that is of the law, but to that also that is of the faith of Abraham.” He rehearseth here two causes, for which he attributeth justification to faith, and not to works. The first is, that justification may be of free gift, and that the grace of God may be praised. The latter is, that the promise and salvation may remain stedfast, and that it may come upon the Gentiles also: but it should not be given to the Gentiles, if it were due only to the law and circumcision, because the Gentiles lack them both. Finally, the hope of our salvation ought to be stedfastly established: but it should never be surely grounded, or safely preserved, if it were attributed to our own works or merits; for in them is always something wanting. But in God and in the merit of the Son of God can nothing be lacking. Therefore our salvation is surely confirmed, not to be doubted of, and assuredly certain, if that we seek for it by faith in the Son of God, who is our righteousness and salvation.
To all these I will yet add another testimony out of St. Paul, which is indeed both most evident and easy to be perceived. In his epistle to the Ephesians he saith: “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast himself. For we are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus into good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” [Eph. 2:8-10]
More than this I will not say, neither will I at large expound the words of Paul. For these testimonies are more clear than the noon-day, and do most evidently testify, that we are justified by faith, and not by any works.
…Ye have heard, dearly beloved, that true faith is the justification of the church or faithful of God; that it is, I say, the forgiveness of all sins, a receiving into the grace of God, a taking by adoption into the number of the sons of God, an assured and blessed sanctification [beatificationem, in the Latin, referring to a state of blessedness, as in Rom. 4:6, 7], and finally, the well-spring of all good works. Let us therefore in true faith pray to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he will vouchsafe to fill our hearts with this true faith; that in this present world, being joined to him in faith, we may serve him as we ought; and, after our departure out of this life, we may for ever live with him in whom we believe. To him be praise and glory for ever. Amen.