Sanctification and Perseverance

by Herman Bavinck

The following excerpt is from Reformed Dogmatics (4 Volume Set) by Herman Bavinck, Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church and New Creations

From the beginning God’s plan of redemption included sanctification and glorification. Israel was called to be a holy people; purity of heart and act was the goal, beyond mere proper cultic conformity. Having been forgiven, the disciple of Jesus is called to follow him, deny self, and take up a cross. Jesus uses the idea of reward as an incentive to spur us on to faithfulness; nonetheless, all rewards are a free gift of grace. God’s children in Christ, for his sake, are holy; therefore they are commanded to become holy. We are God’s workmanship.

The postapostolic church continued to insist on holiness of life but had to contend with the reality of postbaptismal sin, even grave sin. Distinctions began to be made among sins, with less serious ones addressed by legalistic works of penance as the way to forgiveness. A twofold morality—one for ordinary believers and the other for “saints”—contributed to the growth of the eremetic and monastic life. Regular precepts were supplemented by “counsels of perfection,” namely, the three virtues of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The latter were deemed especially meritorious, and the church followed a semi-Pelagian line. The good works of the saints add to the “treasury of merit” that the church, through indulgences, can dispense to the faithful.

The Reformation repudiated this entire scheme and took its position on the doctrine of Justification by faith alone. Better said, it is through faith that the believer receives Christ the Savior, who justifies the sinner. Though the theologians of the Reformation, especially the Reformed, understood this faith as a living faith rooted in the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, Reformation sectarians and mystics wanted more. Among Pietists and Methodists, Justification had to be followed by sanctification unto perfection, a constant communion with God in love and obedience. Though this emphasis can lead to eccentricities and to ascetic legalism, it has also, to its credit, produced great works of mission and philanthropy.

Christ is our holiness in the same sense in which he is our righteousness. Logically, Justification, which clears our guilt, precedes sanctification, which cleanses us from our pollution. Furthermore, Justification is a juridical act, completed in an instant, while sanctification is an ethical process that continues throughout our lives. Though Justification and sanctification are distinct, they must never be separated. They are united in the power and work of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification as well as Justification is a gift, purely of grace.

God’s people are holy and called to be holy, set apart by God to be conformed to his Son and to live to his glory. The gift is also a call to active continued repentance on the part of the Christian. We are to die to sin and “present our members as instruments of righteousness.” We are grafted into Christ the vine and also told that we must bear fruit. This duality has been misunderstood by nomists and antinomians alike. The former insist that good works are necessary conditions for salvation; the latter are indifferent to repentance, prayer for forgiveness, and good works, since Christ’s perfect sacrifice made them superfluous. Lutherans had special difficulty with this tension and engaged in bitter debates over it. Reformed theologians had less difficulty, speaking of good works as necessary not in the sense of merit but in the sense of presence. The presence of good works is a sign of God’s work of grace in a believer.

Good works in the strict sense are those done out of true faith, in conformity with God’s law, and to his glory. The virtues of the pagans are not good works. It is out of faith working through love that believers seek to do God’s will as expressed in the Ten Commandments. Both nomists and antinomians forget that the law of God is rich and full and cannot be reduced to “precept upon precept, line upon line.” The commandments must be understood in their augmentation and application by the prophets and by our Lord. In addition, sanctification is both gift and task. The renewing power of the Holy Spirit puts us to work, and in our life of obedience there is also freedom for individual believers to apply the deeper life of love to their own circumstances and contexts. Both the adiaphora and the counsels of perfection must be seen within the unity and universality of the moral law. A legalistic double morality often leads to perfectionism and works righteousness.

Perfectionism is a heresy. It is important to maintain the Reformational understanding of Rom. 7 that sees the tension of sin and grace continuing in the life of the regenerate. We face a clear choice: If our works are imperfect and incomplete, all meritoriousness of our works disappears. This is the Reformation’s answer to Rome. On the other hand, all notions of possible perfection in this life require a weakening of the law’s demands and adaptation to existing practice. In both cases the organic unity of God’s moral law is lost and therefore also the unity of the work of Christ. The Methodist separation of sanctification from Justification as an isolated benefit obtained by a special act of faith (the “double cure”) misconstrues the life of faith. Faith in Christ is a unitary act that actively appropriates the whole Christ and his benefits. In Christ, we are forgiven and holy; we grow more and more into Christ our head until we reach the fullness of our life in him and see him face to face. That is our reward, itself a gift of grace.

Preservation of the saints is also both gift and task. The New Testament repeatedly admonishes believers to remain faithful, to stay true to their Savior and Lord. At the same time Scripture clearly teaches that the covenant of grace does not depend on human obedience but on God’s faithfulness. God has bound himself to the covenant with a solemn oath; he cannot and will not abandon his people. Faith will never disappoint us.

Holiness as Gift and Reward

[477] Since the redemption that God grants and works out in Christ is meant to accomplish complete deliverance from sin and all its consequences, it includes sanctification and glorification from the very beginning, along with Justification. In Adam, God already made a covenant with humanity for the purpose of leading it to victory over the serpent’s offspring. As soon as God had established his covenant with Abram, he commanded him to walk before him in all blamelessness (Gen. 17:1). He gave his people Israel a law that can be summed up by saying that Israel had to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6; Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7, 26). This sanctification extended to the people as a whole and applied to all aspects of life—religious and moral, civil, and social—and under the Old Testament dispensation bore a specifically ceremonial character. For it implied that Israel, having been separated from the [heathen] nations and placed in a special relationship with YHWH, would live in this new state in keeping with the laws laid down for it. These laws were in part wholly moral but partly also civil and ceremonial in character.1

Soon, however, the people overstressed the value of this cultic purity and boasted of its external privileges. But prophecy opposed this tendency, deflated cultic worship, and highlighted the religious-ethical elements in the law. Obedience, the prophets said, is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). The Lord delights in steadfast love and not sacrifice, in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (Hos. 6:6). What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Mic. 6:8)? And when, on account of its devious heart and moral impotence (Jer. 13:23; 17:9), Israel failed to meet this requirement of the covenant and was deserving of judgment, the prophets announced that God nevertheless would not forget his people and break his covenant with them, but in the last days would establish a new covenant in which he would forgive all their iniquities, form a new heart and a new spirit within them, and cause them to walk in his ways. Just as in the case of the forgiveness of sins, sanctification would be his work and his gift.2

But after the exile, Israel increasingly opted for the way of self-righteousness and regarded its relationship with God in such a consistently nomistic way that there was no longer any room for grace, and the whole of life, both that of the individual and that of humankind, was controlled by the scheme of work-andreward.3 Jesus, therefore, returned to the spiritual sense of the law as it had been explained by prophecy. The righteousness of the kingdom of heaven was different from that of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20; Luke 18:10–14). God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Matt. 9:13). The tree must first be sound before it can bear good fruit (7:17). What matters before all else is the purification of the heart, from which flow all sorts of iniquities (5:8; 15:18–19; 23:25). The demand of the law is nothing less than perfection, just as our Father in heaven is perfect (5:48), a perfection that especially includes mercy (Luke 6:36; 10:37); a willingness to forgive (Matt. 6:14; 18:35); love for God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love for one’s neighbor as for oneself (Mark 12:33). But a person obtains such perfection only by conversion, faith, regeneration (Mark 1:15; John 3:3), leaving everything behind for Jesus’s sake, taking up one’s cross, and following him (Matt. 5:10ff.; 7:13; 10:32–39; 16:24–26). Jesus himself leads the way for his disciples. He left them his example (11:28–30). He is their Master and Lord (Matt. 10:24; 23:10–11; John 13:16). He laid down his life for his friends (John 15:10ff.). He gave up his soul for them in death (Matt. 20:28; 26:26, 28). By this act, he not only won for them the forgiveness of sins; his self-offering, his death, was also a total consecration to the Father, a perfect act of obedience to his will, a sanctification of himself that by his word they too might be sanctified in the truth (John 17:17, 19).

Although before long he will physically leave them, he nevertheless continues to live in their midst (Matt. 18:20; 28:20), represents himself to them by his Spirit, whom he will send from the Father and who will remain in them (John 14:16–17), and grafts them into himself as branches in the vine (15:1–10). In these ways they are enabled to bear fruits that glorify the name of the Father (15:8), to—by faith—do the works that he did (14:12), to keep his commandments and to remain in his love (14:15, 24; 15:5, 10). Among these good works that the disciples of Jesus have to accomplish, those of self-denial and crossbearing are undoubtedly foremost. With a view to the hatred and persecution that Jesus himself experienced and that would also be experienced by his disciples (15:18–19), things indeed could not be otherwise. Those who wanted to rally to Jesus’s side and follow him had to be prepared to give up everything: marriage (Matt. 19:10–12), the love of family members (10:35–36), their wealth (19:21), indeed even their lives (10:39; 16:25).

But positive elements are not lacking either. Jesus himself was not an ascetic but took part in weddings and banquets (Matt. 11:19; John 2:2). Nor did he even condemn all wealth (Matt. 26:7–13). He did not impose on his disciples abstinence from marriage, food, or drink (6:16; 9:14) but viewed love as the fulfillment of the law (5:43–48; 22:37–40), was not content with the sloganeering of “Lord, Lord” but sought the fulfillment of the will of God (7:21; 12:50), called for conscientious stewardship of the talents entrusted to a person (25:15–30), insisted on faithfulness and caution (wisdom, prudence) in life (7:24; 10:16; 24:15–18), and said he would one day judge everyone according to their works.

He even repeatedly presents the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as a reward (Matt. 19:29; 25:34, 46) that is already stored up in heaven now (5:12; 6:20; 19:21; Luke 6:23) and will be distributed at the resurrection (14:14). And that reward will be paid for all sorts of works: for enduring persecution and disgrace (Matt. 5:10–12), loving one’s enemies (5:46), giving alms (6:4), perseverance (10:22), confessing Jesus’s name (10:32), service to his disciples (10:41–42), giving up everything and leaving it behind (19:21, 29), working in the vineyard (20:1–16), faithfulness in one’s vocation (24:45–47), careful management of the goods entrusted to us (25:14–30), mercy toward the disciples of Jesus (25:32–46), and so forth. There is therefore no doubt whatever that Jesus uses the idea of reward as an incentive to spur his disciples toward faithfulness and perseverance in the pursuit of their calling. But he stated with equal forcefulness that those who do something to show off to others have already lost their reward from God (6:2, 5, 16); that the reward, which consists in the kingdom of God, far exceeds in magnitude all the labor and toil we have given it (5:46; 19:29; 20:1ff.; 25:21–23; Luke 12:33); that righteousness, forgiveness, and eternal life are benefits bestowed by God (Matt. 6:33; 26:28; Mark 10:30; Luke 1:77; 24:47), not to the righteous but to the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:1ff., 9:13; 18:3, 11; and so forth); that believers themselves view and receive these benefits as something that comes to them undeserved (25:37ff.); that they are unprofitable servants who only did what they were supposed to do (Luke 17:10); that the reward depends on God’s free disposition (Matt. 20:14–15); that for all participants in the kingdom of heaven and its benefits this reward is the same (20:1–15); and finally that this kingdom is not purely a state of happiness consisting in external blessings but includes being a child of God and having purity of heart (5:8, 9, 45, 48, and so forth).

After Christ completed his work on earth, he was glorified at the right hand of God and by the Spirit communicated himself to his church on the day of Pentecost. Initially the Spirit was mainly the author of extraordinary gifts and powers, but from the beginning he also called into being in the church diverse virtues of faith and patience, comfort and joy. In later apostolic instruction he was increasingly presented as the One who establishes and maintains communion between Christ and his church, and who brings Christ himself to live and work in the church.4 Believers are people who by the grace of God have not only received the forgiveness of sins but by their baptism have also been brought into fellowship with Christ, who died and rose again (Rom. 6:3–11), have been transferred out of darkness into the light (Col. 1:13), and now constitute an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9). They have received Christ not only as righteousness but also as ἁγιασμος (hagiasmos)—not holiness, as ἁγιοτης (hagiotēs) or ἁγιωσυνη (hagiōsynē), but sanctification—so that what is in view here is not the result but the progression of sanctification or consecration to God (cf. Rom. 6:22; 1 Thess. 4:4; 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14). They have been transferred into a state of holiness (1 Thess. 4:4, 7; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 2:9) and were therefore washed and sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11), are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16), with whom they were marked with a seal for the day of redemption (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13; 4:30), made new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10), children of God not only by adoption but also by regeneration (John 1:12–13; 1 John 1:3), saints (Rom. 1:7; etc.) and sanctified (Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:2; Heb. 2:11; 10:10, 14). Sanctification, accordingly, is in the first place a work of God (John 17:17; 1 Thess. 5:23; Phil. 1:6), more specifically of Christ and his Spirit (Rom. 8:4, 9–11; 1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11; Eph. 5:27; Col. 1:22; 2 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 2:11; 9:14; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12; 1 Pet. 1:2).

It is precisely for that reason, since God enables them both to will and to work, that believers must work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12–13; 2 Pet. 1:10). They must keep their entire spirit, soul, and body blameless in sanctification until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4; Phil. 2:15; 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23). Though they are in the flesh and continually have to battle against the flesh (1 Cor. 3:1; Gal. 5:17)—Paul himself in fact has not yet attained perfection (Phil. 3:12) and only expects it with the redemption of this “body of death” (Rom. 7:24; 8:23)—still they are called to purify themselves from all pollution of flesh and spirit, to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1), to crucify the flesh with all its passions and desires, to present their members as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:13; Gal. 5:24), not to sin but to overcome the world, to keep God’s commandments, to purify themselves, and to walk in the light (1 John 1:7; 2:1; 3:6, 9; 5:4; etc.). They sum up all these commandments in the practice of love (Rom. 12:10; 13:8–10; 1 Cor. 13; Eph. 1:4; 5:2; Col. 3:14; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 John 3:11ff.; 4:8; and so forth) and exclude all merely human precepts and self-willed religion (Matt. 15:9; Col. 2:18, 20–23; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:23; Heb. 13:9; Rev. 2:14–15). Though in some circumstances marriage may be inadvisable and undesirable (1 Cor. 7:8; 20ff.), the prohibition to marry and the injunction to abstain from foods is a teaching of those who have departed from the faith (1 Tim. 4:3). For nothing is unclean of itself (Matt. 15:11; Rom. 14:14); every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4–5); grace does not suspend nature (1 Cor. 7:20–23), and no one ever hates his own body but nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church (Eph. 5:29).

Christians are indeed called to follow a simple lifestyle (1 Tim. 2:9; Titus 2:3; 1 Pet. 3:3) and to flee the desires of the world (1 John 2:15–17). While physical training is of some value, the main thing is godliness (1 Tim. 4:7–8) in conjunction with righteousness and self-control (Titus 2:12).

With many compelling reasons believers are urged to live this holy kind of life. They are obligated to this because God has first loved them, has had compassion on them, and has shown his love to them in Christ (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 8:9; 1 John 4:19). They owe it to God because with Christ they have died to sin and been raised to a new life (Rom. 6:3–13; Col. 3:1–2); because they are not under the law but under grace and belong to Christ so as to bear fruit for God (Rom. 6:14; 7:4; Gal. 2:19); because they do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit and are temples of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:5; 1 Cor. 6:15ff.); because they are children of light and must walk in the light (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:8; 1 John 1:6; etc.). A complete summary of these compelling reasons is impossible because there are so many. Among them, however, the reward of future glory occupies a significant place as well. All the benefits that believers enjoy or will obtain are gifts of the grace of God (Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 8:9; Eph. 2:8; etc.), yet everyone is rewarded according to his works (Rom. 2:6–11; 14:12; 1 Cor. 3:8; 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:5; Rev. 2:23; 20:12). Godliness holds promise for this life and also for the life to come (1 Tim. 4:8). The thought of future glory spurs them on to patience and perseverance (Rom. 8:18; 1 Cor. 15:19; 2 Cor. 4:10, 17; Rev. 2:7, 10–11, 17; etc.). For God rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6, 26). He distributes a just penalty for all transgression and disobedience (2:2), but also rewards generosity (1 Tim. 6:19), confidence of faith (Heb. 10:35), self-denial (Heb. 11:26), and the labor of his servants (1 Cor. 3:8, 14; 9:18; Col. 3:24; 2 Tim. 4:8; etc.).

In a few places, there is even mention of a special reward, because—according to 1 Cor. 3:12–15—those who on the foundation “Christ” build a work that endures will receive a reward, but if the work they build is burned up in the fire on the day of judgment, then though they themselves will be saved, they will suffer loss and lose their reward. And in 1 Cor. 9:16–17 Paul says that, because he preached the gospel not of his own free will but on account of a divine commission (necessity was laid on him!), he has not been paid a living. However, he also says that preaching the gospel free of charge and not using the right to accept an income has given him a claim to reward. To a couple of special cases, both passages apply the general idea that God will reward everyone according to one’s works. Although salvation is granted to all believers, there will be differences in glory among them, depending on their works (Matt. 10:41; 18:4; 20:16; 25:14ff.). In Scripture, therefore, both in the New and in the Old Testament, there is a close connection between sanctification and glorification. What is sown here is harvested in eternity (Matt. 25:24, 26; 1 Cor. 15:42ff.; 2 Cor. 9:6; Gal. 6:7–8). Without sanctification no one will see God (Matt. 5:8; Heb. 12:14). This law of the kingdom is not nullified by grace but made serviceable to its structure. Believers are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Eph. 2:10). As children we are also heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ (Rom. 8:17). Precisely because, whatever their task, they work with enthusiasm, as serving the Lord and not humans, they also know that they will receive from the Lord the reward of their inheritance, for they serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:23–24).

Rigorism and a Double Morality

[478] The high moral admonitions we encounter in the New Testament are repeated in the postapostolic era. All the Apostolic Fathers and apologists vie with one another in insisting on a holy way of living and a practical Christianity. They put no less stress on life than on doctrine. Any number of virtues are recommended and put into practice, which aroused even the admiration of pagans.5 Prominent among them were faithfulness in confession, patience in time of oppression, purity in conduct, mercy toward the wretched, and truth and honesty in one’s profession. Christians themselves were aware that by these virtues they were distinguishing themselves from the world and called themselves the people of God, the seed of Abraham, the true Israel, the Israel according to the Spirit, the elect, believers, brothers, and saints. But just as already in the time of the apostles all sorts of error and sin occurred in the church, so this evil continued to exist and later even worsened from the second half of the second century onward when the church expanded and was influenced by the surrounding world. At that juncture the church faced a difficult problem. Initially the idea prevailed that members of the church who had been admitted through baptism would not commit grave sins such as idolatry, murder, robbery, theft, fornication, and witchcraft. Since in baptism only sins committed in the past were forgiven, the church, it was believed, could no longer reckon with sins committed subsequently and forgiveness could no longer be obtained for them. Reality, however, soon taught otherwise: cases of a gravely offensive nature definitely did occur. The church then excommunicated members who had committed such sins, in some cases refused to readmit them to membership, and delivered them up to the mercy of God.

Gradually, however, a less rigorous practice emerged, which later led to the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance. Even so, the difficulty of less serious sins committed daily by believers remained. They could not be so grave that the church could take disciplinary measures against them. Still they were sins that required forgiveness. The problem became more and more serious, insofar as the grave sins that called for excommunication were limited in number (apostasy, murder, fornication), and it seemed impossible to solve, inasmuch as the grace of baptism pertained only to sins committed prior to the reception of this sacrament.

Thus, little by little, also under Jewish and Stoic influences, the idea arose that forgiveness for these lighter offenses could only be secured by doing good works, by repentance, confession (private or public), prayer, patience under the chastisements of God, fasting, alms, and so forth.6 It was believed that the gospel of grace actually had continuing effect only until baptism. Those who still sinned after receiving baptism fell under the law and had to work out their own salvation. Faith, ever increasingly viewed as “bare assent,” led to baptism, but was later replaced by love or good works. Ethics, taking its cue from Cicero, became a theory of duties, like the one Ambrose, for example, wrote for pastors. This nomistic tendency, which construed the gospel as a new law, was significantly reinforced by the authoritarian and hierarchical development that the church experienced. To the degree that the authority of Scripture came to be shouldered by the church and the church could issue injunctions that bound people in their consciences, obedience to the church became the one all-inclusive virtue, and religion as well as morality began increasingly to consist in the observance of the duties imposed by it.

Naturally linking up with this nomism was the emergence of a twofold morality. We already find it in Stoicism in the distinction between “the things pertaining to duty and the things pertaining to virtuous conduct, the morally proper and the morally perfect,”7 and in the apocryphal book Tobit (12:8), where prayer, fasting, and alms are praised as extraordinary virtues.8 This distinction soon found its way into the Christian church, where it was favorably received. In the postapostolic period, as in the New Testament, the negative virtues became very prominent. In the Greco-Roman world, there was much from which Christians had to abstain—polytheism, emperor worship, theaters, and so forth—because as a matter of principle they could not participate in them. The situation was such that Christians were more intent on fleeing from the world than on winning it. All this could still have been coupled with principle-based opposition to asceticism, but the practice of life led in another direction. The rigorism that was observed in countless circles outside the Christian church—among Gnostics, Marcionites, Montanists, Jewish and pagan sects—was imitated in their own way by many Christians who envied them.

Men and women who had demonstrated greatness in self-denial and selfsacrifice—not only the apostles but also martyrs and confessors—became admired models. On their gravestones and in their chapels, people began gradually to venerate them with strong devotion. On them was bequeathed the name “saints,” which in earlier times was a predicate of all believers. The observance of certain days of fasting and of set times for prayer, abstinence from luxury in food and drink and clothing, abstinence especially from marriage, and avoidance of the world in general, accordingly, from ancient times—in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers and apologists, such as Shepherd of Hermas, Ignatius, Didache, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and so forth—were glorified as special Christian virtues.9 And when in the second and third centuries the secularization of the church increased, many of its members fled and practiced their beliefs outside the church. This is how first the eremitic and later the monastic life began.

Now the distinction between two kinds of morality easily aligned itself with this practice. Hermas already taught that those who abstained from a second marriage gained abundant honor and great glory for themselves from the Lord,10 and that those who do something good “beyond the Lord’s commandment” enjoy greater honor with God than if they only adhered to the commandment.11 Similarly, commenting on Rom. 3:3, Origen wrote that what Paul recommends in 1 Cor. 7:25 is “a work surpassing the precept.” Tertullian translated 1 Cor. 7:25 into Latin with the words: “I do not have a precept [praeceptum] of the Lord, but I offer [this] advice [consilium]” and thereby introduced the fixed terminology for this distinction. This led to a doctrine that was further developed by Tertullian, as well as by Cyprian, Ambrose, Pelagius, and Augustine, and that, though never formally enacted by the church,12 nevertheless constitutes an indispensable element and occupies a supremely important place in Catholic doctrine and practice. Gradually, the “counsels” (consilia), which surpass the “precepts” (praecepta), were construed (in line with the sins prohibited in 1 John 2:16) as the three virtues of chastity (abstention from marriage; Matt. 19:11–12; 1 Cor. 7:7ff.), poverty (Matt. 19:21; 1 Cor. 9:14), and obedience (Matt. 16:24; Luke 14:26ff.), but frequently this trio was expanded and augmented with counsels derived from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:16, 29–30, 34–37, 39–41, 44; 6:31; 7:1; etc.). The Catholic Church, therefore, besides upholding the duties that apply to everyone, keeps open a place for the free practice of virtue. Alongside the things that are commanded, it assumes the existence of an area for things that are desirable and praiseworthy. Over and above the practical life, it ascribes great value to the ascetic and contemplative life. The counsels furnished in the New Testament as “the law of liberty” have been added to the Old Testament “law of bondage.” While the precepts are necessary for people to obtain eternal life, the counsels are free and optional but have the advantage that they enable people to reach this goal “better and more expeditiously.”13

In addition, this nomistic trend, which characterized the thinking of the church, led automatically to the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works. This doctrine too was already an element in Jewish theology, which casts the whole relationship between God and humanity in the scheme of do ut des (I give that you may give). Those who serve God and keep his commandments can claim a right to reward and all the more as these commandments are heavier and harder to keep.14 This Jewish viewpoint exerted great influence in Christian circles, especially as a result of the apocryphal books included in the Septuagint. In the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, it is already said that the baptized, who received forgiveness for the sins committed earlier, must henceforth acquire eternal life by keeping the commandments of Christ.15 Tertullian then gave this idea a rigorously juridical character by his theory of merit: if Christians do good works or offer “satisfactions” for sins still being committed, they make God into their debtor (“put God under obligation”) and obligate him to reward them according to their merits on the day of judgment.16 Augustine admittedly held a view that was theologically more sound and ascribed the genesis and progress of good works to divine grace, so that one could not really speak of merits in the case of humans, and God did not reward our merits but his own gifts.17 The church, however, increasingly followed a semi-Pelagian line of thought and made the meritoriousness of good works an article of faith.

According to Rome, then, this doctrine implies the following propositions:

1.     Since the will has indeed been weakened by sin but not deprived of all liberty, the natural human person can, under the guidance and with the help of God’s providence, also still do naturally good works.18

2.     Those who make good use of these natural powers and do what is within themselves to do, can, according to today’s most prevalent view, in no way make themselves worthy of infused grace and can prepare themselves for that grace only in the negative sense that they pose no obstacle to its reception.19

3.     Positive preparation is possible only with the aid of prevenient (actual) grace, which consists in the illumination of the mind and the immediate incitement of the will. But, if with the help of this grace people prepare themselves for infused grace, they make themselves worthy of a merit of congruity.20

4.     Those who following that preparation (or as children born in the church, immediately after birth) are baptized receive in this sacrament infused grace, that is, “a quality inhering in the soul” that delivers them from all the guilt and pollution of sin, renews them inwardly, and imparts the divine nature. It serves not only to heal persons but also to elevate them to the supernatural order and was therefore also granted to Adam in the form of the superadded gift.21

5.     Added to this infused grace are the three theological virtues—faith, hope, and love 22—which are not human but superhuman, or divine, virtues and therefore differ from human virtues. The latter are by nature present in human beings aptitudinally and inchoately but not according to perfection, and are differentiated as intellectual virtues (wisdom, science, understanding, prudence, art), as moral, or cardinal, virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance), and have as their object the final and supreme goal, a supernatural end.23

6.     By this grace, with the theological virtues that follow it, humans are enabled to do supernaturally good works and by it to merit, according to a merit of condignity, an increase of grace, eternal life in the vision of God, and within that setting a lower or higher degree of glory (crown or nimbus). The Council of Trent, accordingly, states that the one justified “by the good works he performs truly merits an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace, the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase in glory.”24 This merit, therefore, is a merit in the true sense, inasmuch as good works, proceeding from a supernatural principle, correspond to supernatural glory, and humans by their own free will accept and cooperate with the “habitual” and “actual” grace received. But it does not nullify grace since the entire juridical relationship between God and man rests on a free divine decree, and all human merit presupposes the merits of Christ and the gift of grace.25

7.     Belonging to the good works that merit such a great rew ard are especially those works that are not strictly commanded by the law but go beyond it, such as praying and fasting at set times, renouncing earthly possessions, abstaining from marriage, independence, and freedom, devoting oneself to works of mercy and mission, meditation, asceticism, contemplation, self-torture, martyrdom, and so forth. In the eyes of Rome, those who do these things are saints and “religious” par excellence.26 They do far more than they are obligated to do. They belong to the class of the “perfect,”27 store up a great treasure of merits in heaven, and by their works of supererogation 28 also acquire merits that, added to the superabundance of Christ’s satisfaction, make up the “thesaurus” of the church. And the church, out of the fullness of this treasury, can distribute merits as it sees fit. It can, by means of indulgences, transfer the merits of those who had a surplus to those who are deficient, for all the members of the church are members of one body.29

Justification and Its Discontents

[479] The Reformation attacked this entire nomistic system at the roots when it took its position in the confession that sinners are justified by faith alone. By this act, after all, it all at once reversed the entire order of things. Communion with God came about not by human exertion, but solely on the part of God, by a gift of his grace, so that religion was again given its place before morality. If human beings received the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, adoption as children, and eternal life through faith alone, by grace, on account of the merits of Christ, then they did not need to exert themselves to earn all these benefits by good works. They already possessed them in advance as a gift they had accepted by faith. The gratitude and joy that filled their hearts upon receiving all these benefits drove them to do good works before the thought that they had to do them even crossed their mind. For the faith by which they accepted these benefits was a living faith, not a dead one, not a bare agreement with a historical truth, but a personal heartfelt trust in the grace of God in Christ Jesus. In Justification that faith of course manifested itself only from its receptive side because in this connection everything depended on the acceptance of the righteousness offered and bestowed in Christ. Yet, from its very inception, and at the same time as it justified, it was also a living, active, and forceful faith that renewed people and poured joy into their hearts. Actually, therefore, it was not faith that justified and sanctified, but it was the one undivided and indivisible Christ who through faith gave himself to believers for righteousness and sanctification, who was imputed and imparted to us on the part of God, and whom we therefore from the beginning possess in that faith as Christ for us and in us. From its very beginning, faith was two things at once: a receptive organ and an active force; a hand that accepts the gift offered but also works outwardly in the service of the will; a bond to invisible things and a victory over the visible world; at once religious and ethical.

In Reformed theology this was realized and upheld even better than in Lutheran theology, for faith, in Reformed theology, arose from regeneration and was accompanied by constant repentance. Accordingly, in doing those good works believers did not strive for extraordinary things in order thus to make their merits and reward greater. Basically, all asceticism is nothing other than self-willed religion. It consists in the accomplishment of a series of counsels that have not been enjoined by God but were instituted by human and ecclesiastical consent. True childlike obedience, the obedience of faith, consists in doing the will of our heavenly Father as it is concisely laid down for us in the Ten Commandments. These commandments confront us with our duties toward God and our neighbor. Alongside the commandments, prayer also occupies a prominent place in the Christian’s life of gratitude. Religion and morality, accordingly, remain distinct. In Protestant theology, the discipline of ascetics emerged alongside ethics,30 and as everywhere else, so also in the Lutheran and Reformed churches the hearts of some tended more in one direction and some in the other. Yet in the first period they were united and did not confront each other as adversaries.

However, when Melanchthon gradually returned to philosophy, he began to treat ethics and politics under the guidance of Aristotle and became the reason why philosophical ethics stood in the way of the emergence of a Christian and theological ethics, why the influence of Christianity was restricted to the interior life of the soul, and why the exterior life of the Christian came to be dualistically detached from it and continued to live out of a natural principle of its own. Calvin proceeded from another principle. In his description of the Christian life, he does not lose himself in a wide-ranging exposition of all sorts of virtues and duties but conceives all of life as a unity controlled by one universal rule.31 Calvin derives this from Rom. 12:1, where the apostle indicates that it is the duty of believers to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. The entire life of the Christian is dedicated to the worship of God—we are not our own; we are God’s. We belong to God completely and always, in life and in death.

Starting from this principle, Calvin then pictures the Christian life as expanding in three directions as he finds them described in Titus 2:12: Christians renouncing irreligion and worldly passions have to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this present world—soberly in relation to ourselves, justly in relation to others, and devoutly in relation to God. In Calvin’s description of the Christian life, the negative virtues—self-denial, crossbearing, and meditation on the future life—are strongly emphasized,32 but the positive virtues are not lacking either.33 In Calvin’s writings and later in the thinking of Reformed believers, these positive virtues were powerfully operative in church and state, in the life of the home and the workplace, but were less influential in science and art. Here humanism retained its hegemony.

From this humanism, accordingly, the Reformation experienced increasingly more vigorous opposition. Following a period of florescence, the history of humanism greatly resembles a process of fragmentation, in which reason emancipated itself from faith, and various areas of life were withdrawn from the dominion of the theology and the influence of Christianity. This process led to the shallow rationalism and moralism of the eighteenth century, in which, while Kant with his moral rigorism and succeeding philosophers with their idealistic systems indeed introduced some uplift, they did so in such a way that the direction of the movement was continued. Philosophical ethics to this day has pushed and still pushes aside theological morality; nowadays it is the former that poses the problems, examines numerous issues, gives guidance to human minds and direction to human life.

No less damage was done to the Reformation from another direction. From its very beginning there were those who accused it of halfhearted conservatism and were especially uncomfortable with the confession of Justification by faith alone. These were the people who still lived from or returned to the mysticism of the Middle Ages, construed a sharp contrast between the internal and the external word, the spirit and the flesh, the church and the world, grace and nature. They viewed regeneration as the infusion of a new substance and described sanctification primarily in negative terms as avoidance of the world. When Protestant churches lapsed into doctrinalism, these mystical Anabaptist ideas resonated with many hearts.

All the sects that arose in Protestant churches more or less proceeded from the idea that the confession of Justification by faith was, if not incorrect, at least defective and incomplete and had to be augmented with sanctification. Pietism prescribed a specific method of conversion and then gathered the devout in small sealed-off circles [conventicles] that were “extramundane” and marked by a rigorous but also in many respects narrowly defined moral life.34 Methodism not only advanced a specific method of conversion but also gradually arrived at a special doctrine of sanctification. John Wesley not only distinguished Justification from sanctification but separated the two. Although in a sense the latter is an immediate fruit of the former, in Wesley’s opinion, it is nevertheless a special gift of God and of a very different character. Humans can no more do any good works after Justification than before. But if God then tells us: “Be pure!” and regenerates and sanctifies us, the root of evil is removed from our hearts, and sin no longer exists. Hence this perfect sanctity is a second gift after Justification by faith; it is a second change, but of a very different nature. It constitutes “a real change” whereas that of Justification is only “a relative change.”35 It is true that Wesley sometimes also viewed sanctification as a process and that, especially when he became older, no longer saw it as removing all sin, but his deepest conviction nevertheless was that, after Justification, complete holiness was at once obtainable by faith, for God wanted it and Christ was mighty and ready to grant it in an instant.36

This doctrine of Christian perfection, alongside of that of conversion, occupies such a prominent place in Methodism that it has frequently been called the formal principle, the great, all-controlling idea of Methodism, and the central idea of Christianity. It mainly comes down to the following:

1.     The forgiveness of sins, which is received by faith, though an important benefit, is not the only one and has to be followed by a second. Christ, after all, is a complete Savior, who not only delivers us from the guilt and punishment of sin but also from its pollution and power. He accomplishes the first in Justification, the second in the new birth, or sanctification. Among Methodists, there is disagreement over the connection between these two benefits. Some view sanctification as a continuation of the renewal that has already begun in Justification. Others completely separate it from Justification and regard it as a second benefit, a second change or blessing that has to follow the first and may occur much later. Still others drive this doctrine of sanctification to such extremes that they question, or even flatly deny, the salvation of those who, though they were regenerated and justified, have not yet attained Christian perfection.

2.     This sanctification consists in complete deliverance from the pollution and power of sin. On this matter too there is some disagreement. Some assume a complete eradication of sinful corruption; others believe that in this sanctification Christians receive such spiritual power that they can control and suppress every thought of and desire for sin that still spontaneously arises in them. They may then still have sin, but they no longer commit it. Wesley initially viewed perfection in the strict sense, but later moderated it, saying that it did not include the power “never to think a useless thought nor speak a useless word,” for such perfection would “be inconsistent with a corruptible body”; indeed it is compatible “with a thousand nervous disorders.”37 If people wanted to raise the perfection he preached to too great a height, they would in fact run the risk of driving it out of the world altogether.38

Nevertheless all of them viewed Christian perfection as “a constant communion with God, which fills the heart with humble love,” as perfect love in doctrine and conduct, as a complete submission of our will to the will of God, as the impartation of the whole Savior, as a reception of the Holy Spirit in a special sense, or as the elevation to a higher level of faith.39 While the preaching of Pearsall Smith in the so-called Oxford-Brighton-Keswick Convention movement was aimed at the conversion of the unconverted, it was aimed with at least the same sense of urgency at the conversion of the [already] justified and regenerate to complete sanctification. He augmented Luther’s slogan “being righteous by faith alone” with the following: “as well as being completely holy by faith alone.”40

3.     This perfection can be obtained by faith but this faith is then given a special meaning. It is the conviction that God is mighty and willing to grant this complete holiness—which he consistently calls for in the law and brought about in Christ—now at this very moment and here at this very place, also to me personally. He can and will do this already in this life, at home as well as in the open air, now, in the body, as well as at the time of death. What counts is to believe this. The moment a person seizes this faith, the moment they bow completely before God and yield themselves totally and unconditionally to him, God says: “Let it be according to your faith!” and cleanses them from all iniquity. It is of the greatest importance, therefore, to believe in the immediacy and personal character of the gift of the Spirit, for those who are certain that the gift of the Holy Spirit lies ready for them, here and now, in Christ also receive it. Those who believe in me, says Jesus, rivers of living water will flow from their hearts. The Father gives the Spirit to everyone who asks him for it. The apostles imparted the Spirit during the laying on of hands. Whatever we ask for in prayer, believing that we have received it (in an alternate reading), will become ours (Mark 11:24). “Faith is not only expectation; there is a faith that counts the thing that it asks as having been given.”41

4.     The reception of the Spirit is often accompanied by deep emotions and strong physical tremblings. Sometimes it manifests itself in the distribution of those special charismata that were already bestowed on believers on and after the day of Pentecost and to which especially speaking in tongues (glossolalia) and the gift of healing belong.42 Methodists sometimes speak of the bestowal of the Spirit observed in their circles as a second day of Pentecost in the church of Christ. The Johannine age of love has come. The great time of peace promised to Christ’s church on earth has begun; tremendous events are at hand; the Pentecost of the nations is approaching; throughout the earth a movement toward Christ has begun; the Lord is near and is coming soon. This faith often leads to all sorts of eccentricities, to disdain for one’s ordinary earthly occupation, to an elevation of the so-called direct works of the kingdom of God, to a devaluation of the church and confession, the offices and sacraments. The fruits of the Spirit are frequently found in abstention from the use of tobacco, wine, beer—not to mention strong liquors—in the avoidance of all adornment and luxury and in wearing a simple, uniform dress. That same faith, however, also frequently enables people to do great works. All active Christianity, as it manifests itself today in the church and in society, in philanthropy and missions, is directly or indirectly due to Methodism.43

Sanctification Is Also in Christ

[480] To understand the benefit of sanctification correctly, we must proceed from the idea that Christ is our holiness in the same sense in which he is our righteousness. He is a complete and all-sufficient Savior. He does not accomplish his work halfway but saves us really and completely. He does not rest until, after pronouncing his acquittal in our conscience, he has also imparted full holiness and glory to us. By his righteousness, accordingly, he does not just restore us to the state of the just who will go scot-free in the judgment of God, in order then to leave us to ourselves to reform ourselves after God’s image and to merit eternal life. But Christ has accomplished everything. He bore for us the guilt and punishment of sin, placed himself under the law to secure eternal life for us, and then arose from the grave to communicate himself to us in all his fullness for both our righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). The holiness that must completely become ours therefore fully awaits us in Christ. Many people still acknowledge that we must be justified by the righteousness that Christ has acquired but believe or at least act in practice as if we must be sanctified by a holiness we bring about ourselves. If that were the case, we would not—contrary to the apostolic witness (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 4:31; 5:1, 13)—live under grace and stand in freedom but continue always to be under the law. Evangelical sanctification, however, is just as distinct from legalistic sanctification as the righteousness that is of faith differs from that which is obtained by works. For it consists in the reality that in Christ God grants us, along with righteousness, also complete holiness, and does not just impute it but also inwardly imparts it by the regenerating and renewing working of the Holy Spirit until we have been fully conformed to the image of his Son.

Justification and sanctification, accordingly, while distinct from each other, are not for a moment separated. They are distinct; those who mix them undermine the religious life, take away the comfort of believers, and subordinate God to humanity. The distinction between the two consists in the fact that in Justification the religious relationship of human beings with God is restored, and in sanctification their nature is renewed and cleansed of the impurity of sin. At bottom the distinction rests on the fact that God is both righteous and holy. As the Righteous One, he wants all his creatures to stand in the relation to him in which he put them originally—free from guilt and punishment. As the Holy One, he demands that they will all appear before him pure and unpolluted by sin. The first person, therefore, was created after God’s image in righteousness and holiness and needed neither Justification nor sanctification, though he had to be obedient to the law to be justified by the works of the law and to receive eternal life (legal Justification). But sin has loaded us down with guilt and rendered us impure before God’s face. In order, therefore, to be completely freed from sin, we must be freed from guilt and cleansed of its stains. And that is what happens in Justification and sanctification. Hence, the two are equally necessary and are proclaimed in Scripture with equal emphasis. Logically Justification comes first in this connection (Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:30), for it is an evangelical kind of Justification, an acquittal on the basis of the righteousness of God granted in faith and not on the basis of the works of the law. It is a juridical act, completed in an instant. But sanctification is ethical: it is continued throughout the whole of life and, by the renewing activity of the Holy Spirit, gradually makes the righteousness of Christ our personal ethical possession. Rome’s doctrine of grace or “infused righteousness” is not incorrect as such; wrong, only, is that it makes infused righteousness the ground for forgiveness and thus builds religion on the basis of morality. But believers do indeed obtain the righteousness of Christ by infusion. Justification and sanctification, accordingly, grant the same benefits, rather, the entire Christ; they only differ in the manner in which they grant him. In Justification Christ is granted to us juridically, in sanctification, ethically; by the former we become the righteousness of God in him; by the latter he himself comes to dwell in us by his Spirit and renews us after his image.

So, though Justification and sanctification are distinct in character, it is important that we continue to bear in mind the close connection between the two. Those who separate them undermine the moral life and make grace subservient to sin. In God righteousness and holiness cannot be separated. He totally hates sin, not only when it makes humans guilty but also when it renders them unclean. The acts of God performed in Justification and sanctification are inseparably connected. Those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom. 8:30). Justification brings life in its train (5:18). Those who have been justified by God and adopted as his children at once share in his favor and begin immediately to live. Moreover, Christ has not only endured sin and fulfilled the law on behalf of his own, but was able to do this only because he had entered into a covenant relationship with them and was therefore their head and mediator. In him all his own were incorporated; with and in him they themselves died, were buried, raised up, and seated with him in heaven (Rom. 6:2–11; 2 Cor. 5:15; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:5–6; Col. 2:12; 3:1; and so forth). Christ is their righteousness (δικαιοσυνη, dikaiosynē) but in the same sense also their sanctification (ἁγιασμος, hagiasmos; 1 Cor. 1:30; that is, not their holiness [ἁγιοτης, hagiotēs; ἁγιωσυνη, hagiōsynē], but their sanctification). Christ, that is, by his suffering and death has not only accomplished the righteousness on the basis of which believers can be acquitted by God; he has similarly secured the holiness by which he can consecrate them to God and purify them from the stains of sin (John 17:19). His obedience to the point of death was aimed at redemption in its entire scope (ἀπολυτρωσις, apolytrōsis), not only as redemption from the legal power of sin (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14) but also as deliverance from its moral domination (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:14; 4:30). To that end Christ gives himself to them, not only objectively in redemption, but also imparts himself subjectively in sanctification and unites himself with them in a spiritual and mystical manner.

Lutherans always viewed this mystical union from its anthropological aspect, and in that case it naturally comes into being only after Justification and regeneration in an active faith.44 But the theological approach of the Reformed led to another view. The mystical union starts already in the pact of redemption (pactum salutis). The incarnation and satisfaction presuppose that Christ is the head and mediator of the covenant. The covenant is not established after Christ’s coming or after the convicting and regenerative activities of the Holy Spirit, but Christ was himself a member of the covenant, and all the activity of the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ occurs within and in terms of the covenant. There is after all no participation in the benefits of Christ apart from communion with his person. The imputation and granting of Christ to his own comes first, and our incorporation into Christ again precedes our acceptance of Christ and his benefits by faith. Heartfelt sorrow over sin, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, taking refuge in Christ, and so forth, are acts and activities that presuppose life and, hence, the mystical union and flow from it.

On the one hand this union of believers with Christ is not a pantheistic mingling of the two, not a “substantial union,” as it has been viewed by the mysticism of earlier and later times, nor on the other hand is it mere agreement in disposition, will, and purpose, as rationalism understood it and Ritschl again explained it.45 What Scripture tells us of this mystical union goes far beyond moral agreement in will and disposition. It expressly states that Christ lives and dwells in believers (John 14:23; 17:23, 26; Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17), and that they exist in him (John 15:1–7; Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 1:10ff.). The two are united as branch and vine (John 15), as are head and members (Rom. 12:4; 1 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 1:23; 4:15), husband and wife (1 Cor. 6:16–17; Eph. 5:32), cornerstone and building (1 Cor. 3:11, 16; 6:19; Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:4–5).46 This mystical union, however, is not immediate but comes into being by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the connectedness between Justification and sanctification is also firmly grounded in the Spirit. For the Spirit whom Jesus promised to his disciples and poured out in the church is not only a Spirit of adoption, who assures believers of their status as children, but also the Spirit of renewal and sanctification. This Spirit equipped Christ himself for his work, leading him from his conception to his ascension. By his humiliation Christ was exalted to the right hand of the Father, glorified into life-giving Spirit, the acquisitor and dispenser of the Spirit who is now his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. By this Spirit he now also shapes and equips his church. The very first gift that believers receive is already communicated to them by the Spirit, who takes everything from Christ (John 16:14). It is he who regenerates them (John 3:5–6, 8; Titus 3:5); gives life to them (Rom. 8:10); incorporates them into fellowship with Christ (1 Cor. 6:15, 17, 19); brings them to faith (2:9ff.; 12:3); washes, sanctifies, and justifies them (6:11; 12:13; Titus 3:5); leads them (Rom. 8:14); pours out God’s love into their hearts (5:5); prays in them (8:26); imparts to them an array of virtues (Gal. 5:22–23; Eph. 5:9) and gifts (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4), especially the gift of love (1 Cor. 13); prompts them to live by a new law, the law of the Spirit (Rom. 8:2, 4; 1 Cor. 7:9; Gal. 5:6; 6:2); and renews them in intellect and will, in soul and body (Rom. 6:19; 1 Cor. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Thess. 5:23). In a word, the Holy Spirit dwells in them and they live and walk in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:1, 4, 9–11; 1 Cor. 6:19; Gal. 4:6; and so forth).47

Passive and Active Sanctification

[481] In this sense sanctification as much as Justification is a gift and a work of God, attributed in turn to the Father (John 17:17; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20–21), to the Son as life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45; Eph. 5:26; Titus 2:14) and particularly also, as we saw a moment ago, to the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:2). In this connection believers are passive; they are sanctified (John 17:19; 1 Cor. 6:11), they died with Christ and were raised with him (Rom. 6:4ff.), they are sanctified in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2), God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10), creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), the work of God (Rom. 14:20); all this is from God (2 Cor. 5:18).

This sanctification consists first of all in the fact that believers are set apart from the world and placed in a special relationship with God. In the Old Testament, “holiness” marks that relationship of God with his people and of the people with God that is described and regulated in the various laws.48 Also in the New Testament, the term “holy” has retained this sense of a relationship. One reads of a holy city (Matt. 4:5), a holy place (24:15), a holy covenant (Luke 1:72), holy prophets (Luke 1:70), holy ground (Acts 7:33), Holy Scripture (Rom. 1:2), holy sacrifice (Rom. 12:2), and a holy mountain (2 Pet. 1:18). Of Christ we read that, though he was without sin, he sanctified himself, that is, offered himself up in death to God as a holy sacrifice on behalf of his own (John 17:19). Similarly, believers are regularly described as “saints,” because by being called (cf. Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2: “called to be saints”) they stand in a special relationship with God and, taking the place of the old Israel, they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet. 2:9).

But this relationship is not merely an external one. It was not just external even under the Old Testament dispensation, for it was by virtue of that holiness that God undertook to give Israel his covenant and law, to save or to chastise it, and Israel was obligated “to walk in God’s statutes.” Now, in the New Testament, the law has been fulfilled in Christ. It therefore no longer regulates the holiness relationship that exists between God and his people. Now Christ has come in the place of the law; in and through him God regulates the relationship between him and his people. Believers are being “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2); and Jesus sanctifies his people by the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:11), who as such is now called the Holy Spirit and is the prime agent in sanctification. This sanctification certainly does not only consist in the fact—as many people presently picture it 49—that Christians have been set apart from the world and appropriated for God in an external cultic sense, but has profound ethical significance. For, as Scripture testifies, the Holy Spirit regenerates, purifies, renews (John 3:3; 1 Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:5). For believers “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) begins with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This newness of life forms a contrast to their early “walk” in all sorts of sins and iniquities (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 2:1). Now they are new persons (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10; 4:24; Col. 3:10) who live for God and present their members as instruments of righteousness for sanctification (Rom. 6). The consequence of this relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit is that believers are freed from all the guilt of sin, but no less from all its pollution. Consequently, sanctification in the New Testament consists fully in believers being conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:19). To that extent sanctification coincides with glorification. The latter does not just start in the afterlife but is initiated immediately with the calling. “Those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”—in that very same moment (Rom. 8:30). And this glorification is continued throughout the Christian life (2 Cor. 3:18) until it is completed in Christ’s return (1 Cor. 15:49, 51ff.; Phil. 3:21; Col. 3:4).

Sanctification, however, is not exhausted by what is done for and in believers. Granted, in the first place it is a work and gift of God (Phil. 1:5; 1 Thess. 5:23), a process in which humans are passive just as they are in regeneration, of which it is the continuation. But based on this work of God in humans, it acquires, in the second place, an active meaning, and people themselves are called and equipped to sanctify themselves and devote their whole life to God (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:3; Heb. 12:14; and so forth). In fact, this active sanctification coincides with what is called “continued repentance,” which, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, consists in the dying-away of the old self and the coming-to-life of the new self. But while in repentance it is the negative side of the process that stands out, in active sanctification it is the positive side that comes to the fore. People themselves are active in both and can be active because, by regeneration at the outset and by positive sanctification later on, believers receive the power of the Holy Spirit to “present all their members as instruments of righteousness.” Scripture always holds on to both facets: God’s all-encompassing activity and our responsibility. Just as in the preaching of the gospel, faith is a gift of God and yet people are responsible for their attitude toward God (e.g., Rom. 9:1–29 and 9:30–10:21), so here the possession of all the benefits of the covenant (forgiveness, adoption, life, salvation) is secured before any kind of work, yet over and over and with great urgency there is an insistence on good works as if those benefits can only be obtained by these works. The kingdom of God is a gift granted by God according to his good pleasure (Matt. 11:26; 16:17; 22:14; 24:22; Luke 10:20; 12:32; 22:29), yet it is also a reward, a treasure in heaven, which has to be aggressively sought and gained by labor in the service of God (Matt. 5:12, 20; 6:20; 19:21; 20:1ff.; and so forth). Believers are branches in the vine who cannot do anything apart from Christ, yet at the same time they are admonished to remain in him, in his word, in his love (John 15). They are a chosen people, and still have to be zealous to confirm their call and election (2 Pet. 1:10). By a single offering of Christ they have been sanctified and perfected (Heb. 10:10, 14). God effects in them that which is good (13:21), yet they must still persevere to the end (3:6, 14; 4:14; 6:11–12). They have put on the new self and must continually clothe themselves with the new self (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). They have crucified the flesh with its desires, and must kill its members who are on earth (Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:10). They are saints and sanctified in Christ Jesus, and must nevertheless become holy in all their conduct (1 Pet. 1:15; 2 Pet. 3:11), pursuing and perfecting their sanctification in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 3:13; 4:3), for without it no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

Many authors have seen a conflict between this all-encompassing activity of God in grace and the self-agency of people maintained alongside of it. They have charged Scripture with self-contradiction and have for themselves sacrificed the one group of pronouncements to the other. On the one hand, it was stated that grace only serves to restore human willpower for good and to put humans themselves to work. Good works, in that case, were definitely necessary for salvation, whether by a necessity of merit (Rome) or by a necessity of causality and effectiveness (Remonstrants).50 And from the antinomian side it was said objectively that the righteousness and holiness of Christ remained completely external to a person, not only in Justification but also in sanctification, so that repentance, conversion, prayer for forgiveness, and good works were totally unnecessary, bore a legalistic character, and failed to do justice to the perfect sacrifice of Christ.51

Lutherans tried to avoid both extremes and conducted a long-lasting and vehement debate on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the proposition “Good works are necessary to salvation.” Some defended good works, but others considered them detrimental and went so far as to say that good works are harmful to and pernicious for salvation. The Formula of Concord condemned both positions and stated only that good works are “signs of eternal salvation,” inasmuch as it is God’s will and express command that believers should do good works, which the Spirit works in their hearts and which God accepts and rewards for Christ’s sake in this life and the life to come.52

The Reformed were more moderate in their judgment, regarded the Lutheran debate as a dispute over words, and could not see the big difference between the rejected formula “Good works are necessary to salvation” and another that some Lutherans (like Quenstedt and Buddeus) had approved: “It is impossible to be saved without good works.” They had no objection to calling good works necessary to salvation provided this did not imply a “necessity of causality or merit or effectiveness” but implied a necessity of presence of the means and ways to obtain eternal salvation.53 Voetius even believed that in a sense good works can be called “the cause of eternal life,” that is, not a “meritorious” but a “preparatory” and “dispositional” cause.54

Speaking along these lines, they undoubtedly had Scripture on their side. For Scripture definitely insists on sanctification, both its passive and active aspects, and proclaims both the one and the other with equal emphasis. It sees no contradiction or conflict between them but rather knits them together as tightly as possible as when it says that, precisely because God works in them both to will and to do, believers must work out their own salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12–13). They are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared for them to walk in (Eph. 2:10). God and humanity, religion and morality, faith and love, the spiritual and the moral life, praying and working—these are not opposites. Dependence, here, coincides with freedom. Those who are born of God increasingly become the children of God and bear his image and likeness, because in principle they already are his children. The rule of organic life applies to them: Become what you are! Jesus and the apostles derive the most compelling reasons for spurring them on to a holy life from what believers now already are by grace through faith in Christ: Jesus is the vine, his disciples are the branches. Those who remain in him bear much fruit, for without him they can do nothing (John 15:5). Members of the church have died with Christ to sin but are alive to God in him (Rom. 6:11). They are not under the law but under grace, and sin therefore may not have dominion over them (6:14). By the law they have died to the law and belong to Christ in order that they may bear fruit for God (7:4; Gal. 2:19). They are not in the flesh but in the Spirit and must therefore walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:5). The night is far gone, the day is near; the works of darkness must therefore be laid aside, and the armor of light must be put on (13:12). The bodies of believers are members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit; hence they must flee the sin of fornication (1 Cor. 6:15). They have been bought at a high price; so then they must glorify God in their bodies and spirits, which belong to God (1 Cor. 6:20). They stand in the freedom with which Christ has made them free; and in Christ, nothing has any power, except faith working through love (Gal. 5:1, 6). About Christ they have heard and through him they have learned that they must put away the old self and put on the new self, which is created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:21ff.). As beloved children, they must be imitators of God (5:1). They must live in love as Christ has loved them (5:2). They are light in the Lord and therefore they must walk as children of light (5:8). In a word: not law but gospel, the salvation granted and received in Christ, is the one mighty motive for a holy walk of life. Whether the apostles address men or women, parents or children, masters or slaves, wives or female servants, authorities or subjects—they admonish them all in the Lord (5:22ff.; 6:1ff.; Col. 3:18ff., 1 Pet. 2:13ff.; 3:1ff.). God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness” (2 Tim. 2:19).

Good Works

[482] Sanctification manifests itself in good works, which according to the Heidelberg Catechism arise from the principle of a true faith, conform to the law of God, and are done for his glory. They are therefore distinct from the virtues of the pagans and the virtues of all who do not have such saving faith. The Reformed have always fully acknowledged the existence and moral value of such virtues.55 Since after the fall people have remained human and continue to share in the blessings of God’s common grace, they can inwardly possess many virtues and outwardly do many good deeds that, viewed through human eyes and measured by human standards, are greatly to be appreciated and of great value for human life. But this is not to say that they are good in the eyes of God and correspond to the full spiritual sense of his holy law. To the degree that human beings subject their own thoughts, attitudes, and actions to more precise scrutiny, they are all the more deeply convinced of their sinfulness. Not only Scripture teaches this, but the experience of all ages and the observations of all good judges of human character confirm this witness.56 The truly spiritually good, the good in the highest sense as it can only exist in the eyes of God, can in the nature of the case be accomplished only by those who know and love God and, moved by that love, keep his commandments, that is, by those who truly believe. After all, for as long as we are on earth and cannot see God face-to-face, faith is the only means of accepting his revelation and of knowing him as he truly is. But, according to the Protestant confession, this faith is not intellectual assent to a historical truth but a practical knowledge of the grace that God has revealed in Christ, a heartfelt trust that he has forgiven all our sins and accepted us as his children. For that reason this faith is not only needed at the beginning in Justification, but it must also accompany the Christian throughout one’s entire life, and also play a permanent and irreplaceable role in sanctification. In sanctification, too, it is exclusively faith that saves us.

For if righteousness and holiness were through the law, we would have to bring about both by doing good works. But in the gospel they are a gift of God granted us in the person of Christ (John 1:17; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:3; Col. 2:3, 9). As Christ with all his benefits can be given us on God’s part only through and in the Spirit, so on our part he can only be received and enjoyed by faith. It is by faith that Christ dwells in our hearts (Eph. 3:17), that we live in Christ (Gal. 2:20), that we become children of God (3:26) and obtain the promise of the Spirit (3:14), and that we receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (John 3:16; Rom. 4:7). To live by faith is the flip side of the reality that Christ is in us (2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20). Faith, accordingly, is the one great work Christians have to do in sanctification according to the principles of the gospel (John 6:29); it is the means of sanctification par excellence. Faith is also competent to do this by virtue of its very nature. Having first received, it can now also give. It opens our heart to the grace of God, to communion with Christ, to the power of the Holy Spirit, and thereby enables us to do great things. Faith breaks all self-reliance and fastens on to God’s promise. It allows the law to stand in all its grandeur and refuses to lower the moral ideal, but also refrains from any attempt, by observing it, to find life and peace; it seizes upon God’s mercy and relies on the righteousness and holiness accomplished in Christ on behalf of humans. It fosters humility, dependence, and trust and grants comfort, peace, and joy through the Holy Spirit; it generates gratitude in our hearts for the benefits received and incites us to do good works. It prompts the believer to say with Paul: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). In a word, the faith that receives the love of God that the Holy Spirit pours out in our hearts (Rom. 5:5) works through love (Gal. 5:6; 1 John 4:19). What is unknown remains unloved, but those who know the name of the Lord put their trust in him (Ps. 4:8).

By faith working through love, therefore, good works are born that have their standard in the will of God as it is concisely expressed in the Ten Commandments. But these Ten Commandments must then be well understood. What Israel, upon receiving the Decalogue, understood of it is one thing, and what God intended with it is another. Again, it makes a difference whether one takes the Ten Commandments in their literal meaning or whether one interprets them in the rich sense God gave to them in the course of his revelation by prophets and psalmists, by Christ and his apostles. It is in this latter sense that they have been understood in the Christian church and were made the foundation of its catechetical instruction and ethics.57 However, by no means everyone followed the church in that direction. From the days of Paul already there existed an antinomian school of thought that, while considering the law of value for Old Testament believers, denied all validity to it for the life of Christians. According to this school, the law came from a lesser god and belonged to a lower level of functioning. Christians were above it and no longer had anything to do with it. They were no longer under the law but under grace; they walked in freedom and were led only by the impelling force of the Spirit.

This antinomianism occurs not only in the Christian church or in the sphere of religion but also frequently manifests itself in science and philosophy. In our time it achieved its greatest triumph in Friedrich Nietzsche, who advocated the transvaluation of all values, called good evil and evil good, and enthroned moral anarchism. This anarchism in morality, preceded by anarchy of thought and followed by anarchy of action, however, bore such pernicious fruit in practice that it could not be recommended as a universal rule of life.

Usually, therefore, antinomianism restrains and moderates itself: the law was not only of value in the past but remains so also in the present and the future for all those people who cannot elevate themselves to the supreme position of anarchism. Thus it remains in force for the common people who still need discipline and have to be governed by law and authority. But those who are really “in the know” (γνωστικοι, gnōstikoi), intellectuals and artists, geniuses and heroes, are above it and live freely and merrily as they see fit. Even Nietzsche himself really considered his morality to be fit only for “supermen.” Hence there are two kinds of morality: one for inferior people and another for aristocrats of the intellect.

Although nomism is diametrically opposed to this antinomianism, it nevertheless—according to the rule that extremes meet—shows some kinship with it. As is evident from its development in Judaism and Romanism (and so forth), it has led to a similar, though differently elaborated, dualism in morality. According to Rome, the law that God gave in the Old Testament, though it is wise and holy and good and offers a rule of life for all Christians, is nevertheless capable of augmentation. Christ and his apostles, accordingly, have in fact augmented it. They are not only preachers of the gospel but also “new legislators”: the gospel is a new law, not only in the sense that it counts faith (in contrast to the works of the law) as righteousness, but also in the sense that it has added to the “precepts” of the law “evangelical counsels,” which are not binding for all Christians but may be followed by some who have been given the talents and strength for them, and which greatly increase their moral merits. We encounter a similar distinction in Pietism, Methodism, and related religious movements. Even though it is not theoretically elaborated, it does occur. For although these movements always start with the intention of bringing about the necessary reformation only within the church and not outside of it or against it, they soon proceed to form a “little church” (ecclesiola) in the church (ecclesia), look down on the official churches and ordinary Christians, and locate the hallmark of the Christian life in so-called “kingdom activities” and in arbitrary avoidance or abstinence.

In this double morality lies a truth that in Protestantism has not sufficiently come into its own. This is already evident from the mere fact that all of us, however many theoretical reservations we may have, practically and spontaneously deeply admire and look up to the men and women who with total self-denial and extraordinary dedication devote themselves to the cause of Christ. It is very easy to say that the renunciation of all earthly goods, abstention from marriage, avoidance of the world, and enduring all sorts of misery and pain all arise from a desire for merit and reward, but it is hard to prove it and even harder to follow this example, if not in form then in substance.

But there is something else as well: the moral law that confronts us in the Decalogue, in the Sermon on the Mount, and further throughout the Old and New Testaments is not a case of “precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little” [Isa. 28:10, 13] but comprises universal norms, great principles, that leave a lot of room for individual application and summon every believer to examine what in a given situation would for them be the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).58 Since the moral law is not a code of articles we merely have to look up in order, from moment to moment, to know exactly what we must do, there is in its domain a freedom that may not be curbed by human ordinances but must—precisely to safeguard the character of the moral life—be recognized and maintained. On the one hand that freedom includes the permissible, the adiaphora, and on the other what Rome calls the “counsels.” Error begins in both schools of thought when the adiaphora and the counsels are located outside or alongside of, below or above, the moral law and are therefore detached from the moral life. There is no right or reason for this either in the one or in the other case. There are cases in which what is in itself permissible becomes impermissible (Rom. 14:21, 23; 1 Cor. 8:13; 10:23); and there also are circumstances in which abstention from marriage (Matt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:7), giving up remuneration (1 Cor. 9:14–19), the renunciation of all earthly goods (Matt. 19:21), or the like is a duty. But in “doing” these good works one is not accomplishing anything that is outside of the moral law or surpasses it. For there is a difference between a law that furnishes universally valid rules and a duty that is inferred from that law in a given case for everyone personally. Those who lose sight of this and assume the existence of a series of good works that really lie outside of and surpass the moral law fail to honor its unity and universality and degrade it.

The Perfectionist Heresy

[483] For that matter, this becomes evident in the case of all advocates of a double morality in that sooner or later they all arrive at the doctrine of the perfectibility of the saints, the meritoriousness of good works, and the transferability of merits. Perfectionism is a characteristic of almost all nomists 59 and in recent years, at least as far as the teaching of Scripture is concerned, received support from an unexpected quarter. Ritschl was the first to observe that Paul himself, after being converted, had no consciousness of being imperfect and also in no way reflects on that consciousness in believers in general.60 Other scholars, working out this idea, even accused the apostle of an impractical idealism that, under the impression of Christ’s imminent return, completely overlooked the presence of sin in the life of believers.61

There is an element of truth in this assertion that may not be denied. Scripture can scarcely find words enough to describe the glory of the people of God. In the Old Testament, Israel is called a priestly kingdom, chosen by God, the object of his love, his very own possession and inheritance, his son and servant, made perfect in beauty by the glory of God (Exod. 19:5–6; Deut. 7:7ff.; 32:6, 8–9, 18; Isa. 41:8; Ezek. 16:14; etc.); and in the New Testament believers are called the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13), the light of the world (v. 14), born of God and his children (John 1:12–13), his elect race and royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9–10), sharing in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), anointed with the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20), made kings and priests by Christ (Rev. 1:5), unable to sin (1 John 3:9; 5:18ff.), and so forth. Those who reject the teaching of Scripture about sin and grace can only see hyperbole in all these expressions. Given these descriptions, a radical change like regeneration and sanctification is neither necessary nor comprehensible. But Scripture judges otherwise. It assigns a high position to the church, calls it by the most splendid names, and ascribes to it a holiness and glory that render it godlike. However, this glorification of the church, which starts with regeneration, is as much an object of faith as Justification. That in Christ the church stands free of guilt before the face of God is as hard to believe as the idea that by the Holy Spirit it has in principle been sanctified, glorified, and conformed to the image of the Son. Both are equally in conflict with the appearance of things; both belong to those things that one does not see and that are certain only to the eyes of faith. Also Scripture itself is aware of this. Despite its splendor-filled description of the state of believers, it nevertheless views them as sinners and does not conceal their transgressions and their confessions of sin. Examples are Abraham (Gen. 12:11ff.), Isaac (26:7), Jacob (26:35), Moses (Num. 20:7–12; Ps. 106:33), David (Ps. 51, etc.), Solomon (1 Kings 8:46; Prov. 20:9), Isaiah (Isa. 64:6), Daniel (Dan. 9:4), and so forth.

Also Paul knows that when he wants to do what is good, evil lies close at hand (Rom. 7:21). He is increasingly conscious, certainly, of the great transformation that has occurred in his life. With Christ he has been crucified to the world, and now it is no longer he that lives but Christ who lives in him. He is free from the law, righteous before God, assured of his sonship, glories in the grace by which he can do all things, offers himself as an example, praises the quality of his apostolic labor, and is conscious of his faithful conduct in office (see, e.g., Rom. 15:17; 1 Cor. 4:3; 9:15; 15:30–31; 2 Cor. 1:12; 6:3; 11:10; Phil. 2:16; 1 Thess. 2:10, 19). Still, he confesses that he lives in the flesh (Gal. 2:20), that what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit (Gal. 5:17), that nothing good dwells in his flesh (Rom. 7:18), and that he has not attained perfection (Phil. 3:12).

Romans 7:7–25 is especially important in this respect.62 However much the Reformation exegesis of this text has largely been abandoned in modern times, the expositors who did so did not know what they were doing. Wernle, though he exaggerated, is not unreasonable when he says: “In fact the return to the ancient (Greek) tradition of Romans 7 means a much harder blow to our dogmatics than its practitioners usually sense. As a rule expositors concede that Romans 7 does not focus on the regenerate but they do not notice that by this concession Paulinism has been rendered useless to us.”63 Still this is not the strongest reason for maintaining the Reformation interpretation of Rom. 7. That reason lies in the text itself. The present tense Paul uses here can only be understood of the present. “In reality one turns the Apostle into a comedian if one believes he could only speak as he does here in the recollection of a state he left behind years before,” says Clemen, who, however, sees no way to harmonize Rom. 7 with the other pronouncements of Paul and therefore writes: “It must spring from a particularly gloomy mood of the apostle, not from the predominant disposition he reveals elsewhere.”

Added to this sin and this consciousness of sin in the lives of the saints of the Old as well as the New Testament is that Scripture everywhere proceeds from the assumption that sin remains a reality in believers to the very end of their lives. They are in permanent need of the prayer for forgiveness (Matt. 6:12–13) and confession of sins (1 John 1:9). All the admonitions and warnings in Scripture presuppose that believers only have a small beginning of perfect obedience. They all make many mistakes every day (James 3:2). If they say they have no sin, they deceive themselves (1 John 1:8). Paul’s judgment of believers is no different. He esteems them very highly, calls them “elect,” “called,” “saints”; he notes with delight the Christian virtues that come to expression in them, and he readily and repeatedly speaks of them with high praise. In doing this the apostle is certainly not exaggerating. The transformation must have been tremendous if he could testify of Gentile Christians that in the past they lived in all sorts of horrible sins but were now washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 6:11). He nevertheless sees very clearly the sins that still cling to believers. The Corinthians are still carnal (3:1–4); the Galatians are disobedient (Gal. 5:7ff.); while the good work has been begun in the life of the Colossians, it is not complete (Col. 1:6); in fact their lives are still hidden with Christ in God (3:3). In Rom. 6, while Paul does not say that believers are sinless, he does say that faith in Christ is not compatible with a life in sin, and for that reason especially admonishes them to present their members as instruments of righteousness (6:13). Without harking back each time to the Justification that at one time occurred in and through faith, he urges believers to reveal and demonstrate their new state in a life lived according to the Spirit.

In this connection we further need to note that Scripture, though always presupposing the imperfection of believers, nevertheless never weakens the demand of the law nor adapts it to existing practice. The proponents of perfectionism can never maintain it; they degrade the moral law and make a distinction between mortal and venial sins, or between committing and harboring sin, and similarly between earthly and heavenly, relative and absolute perfection. But Scripture does not take this line; it maintains the full and irreducible demand of the law: “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16); “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48; James 1:4). Believers must follow Christ, who committed no sin (1 Pet. 2:21ff.; Eph. 5:1–2), and in the day of Christ they must be blameless, pure, without blemish, irreproachable (1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:10; 2:15; Col. 1:22; 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23). They are, accordingly, unceasingly admonished in all seriousness to live a holy life. The admonitions that occur throughout Scripture and especially in the letters of the apostles to the churches are the strongest proof that they at no time hold to a theory of believers’ sinlessness but always presuppose their deficiency and shortcomings. As long as they live in this life, they must fight against Satan, the world, and their own flesh; the desires of the flesh are opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh, and these are opposed to each other so that they do not do what they want (Gal. 5:17).64

With this doctrine of the perfectibility of believers in this life also the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works and of the transferability of merits in principle collapses. For if good works are all imperfect, if even the best work is still in some way deficient, and if the whole of the Christian life remains a striving after perfection, one can hardly speak of merit or reward and even less of a surplus of merits for others. In addition, however, this theory of the meritoriousness of good works is based on an atomistic view of the Christian life that is flatly contradicted by Scripture. In the first place, the moral law, which in its normative or didactic use (not as a law of the covenant of works) remains in force for believers,65 is a single whole. While it comprises several commandments, it is nevertheless a single organism, which, when one of its parts is violated, is violated in its entirety (James 2:10–11). Corresponding to it in us is the one virtue, love, which, in whatever direction it develops and on whatever persons it is focused, always remains one and as such is the fulfillment of the whole law and the bond of perfection. In the second place, there is certainly an imputation, a transfer of Christ’s merits to our account. But one must be careful to understand this transfer correctly. For Christ cannot be divided. One cannot possess a few of his merits without possessing all the others, nor all of them together without his person. Neither in Justification nor in sanctification can one participate in his benefits without being in communion with his person. To whomever he is imputed and granted, he is imputed and granted totally. Those who believe in him are united with him, also possess righteousness and eternal life in him, and are at once children and heirs of God. When Methodism separates sanctification and sealing from Justification and faith, and considers the possession of the latter possible apart from that of the former, it overlooks this weighty truth of Christ’s unity and indivisibility. Christ himself in his own person by faith and from the beginning is our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification, our redemption.

In the third place, Methodism goes astray even farther when it considers this isolated benefit suddenly and fully communicable and obtainable by a special act of faith shortly or long after Justification. For in so doing it misconstrues the nature of faith as well as that of sanctification. For from the very beginning, even where in Justification it is considered from a passive perspective, faith is a living and active faith, which immediately appropriates the whole Christ. It can indeed increase and grow in that appropriation, but it nevertheless always has for its object the whole Christ and can never isolate him from his benefits nor can it isolate one benefit from the others. Sanctification, accordingly, both from the divine and the human side, is an organic process. The more Christ indwells us, the more we are strengthened in faith; and the more our faith increases, the more Christ communicates himself to us. In the church of Christ, therefore, there are lambs and sheep who nurse them (Isa. 40:11); those with little and those with great faith, first and last (Matt. 11:11; 20:16); those who are little and those who are great in faith (Matt. 6:30; 8:10, 26; 14:31; 15:28; 16:8); weak and strong (Rom. 14:1ff.; 15:1; 1 Cor. 8:7ff.; 9:22; 10:25); carnally minded and spiritually minded (1 Cor. 3:1, 3; Gal. 6:1); beginners and mature believers (1 Cor. 2:6; 3:2; 14:20; Phil. 3:15; Heb. 5:12, 14; 1 Pet. 2:7); young men and fathers (1 John 2:12–14). To each is given a personal measure of faith (Rom. 12:3); everyone has a place of their own in the body of Christ (Rom. 12:4–5; 1 Cor. 12:12ff.). All members must grow up together in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).

In the fourth place, therefore, the Christian life cannot be atomistically split up, neither can the works be separated from the person, nor one work from another. It is one organism, arising from one principle, regulated by one norm, and reaching out to one goal. This goal cannot be located on earth, in this life, in any particular creature, for if that were the case, all other creatures would be subordinated to that one creature and thus robbed of their relative independence. Philosophical ethics, which, as a consequence of its rejection of all revelation, cannot find any principle and norm for moral conduct, is also unable to indicate the final goal toward which all human conduct must be oriented. For such a goal it looks in turn to the state or society, the individual or the community, to material or ethical, to intellectual or aesthetic culture, and then sacrifices all the others to that one goal. But the final goal of moral conduct can be found only in God, who is the origin and hence also the final goal of all things, the supreme good that encompasses all goods, the Eternal One to whom all finite things return. Directed to that final goal, all things receive their own specific place in creation: prayer and commandment, religion and morality, an earthly and a heavenly calling, nature and culture. Each creature has its own relative independence, and all together they are subordinate and subservient to the glory of him from whom, through whom, and to whom all things exist. This is how Calvin in principle viewed the Christian life. In this matter he may have been somewhat too negative, puritanical, and rigoristic; but ascetic and dualistic he was not. Believers do not belong to themselves but to God, and they must therefore live moderately, justly, and piously in this present world.

Finally, and in the fifth place, this organic view sheds light on the connection that exists between this life and the future life, which is frequently presented in Scripture in the schematic image of work and wages. There is no room here for wages in the literal sense, wages such as are paid, and have to be paid, by a boss to his employees. Rome, too, acknowledges this when it bases the connection between work and wages in the domain of morality, not on the nature of things but on a free disposition of God. Even subject to this restriction, however, the wages here considered cannot be viewed in a literal sense but have to be regarded as figurative. Even in this earthly life, there are numerous relations between people that do not fit the category of work and wages but that do, on the one hand, include a service and, on the other, a reward. When a son helps his father in a given job, when a physician heals a seriously ill patient, when soldiers give their lives for their fatherland, when artists heighten the fame of their country and people, when inventors and discoverers make themselves useful to humankind, they receive honor and are frequently rewarded with expressions of thanks and praise, with badges of honor and statues. But no one thinks in this connection of work and wages in the economic sense. Hence when this category is transferred to the moral domain, it automatically gains a different meaning—and all the more when it is applied to the Creator-creature relationship. For God cannot and need not be served by human hands, since he himself gives to all humans life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25; cf. Job 42:1; Rom. 11:35; 1 Cor. 4:7). What pleasure would it give the Almighty if we were righteous? What would he gain if our ways were blameless (Job 22:3)? If we had done everything we were supposed to do, we would still be “unworthy slaves,” slaves who gave the master more trouble than profit (Luke 17:10).

But now that not even this is the case, now that the most saintly people have only a small beginning of perfect obedience, now that even their best works are still defective and impure, and they owe everything they are, own, and do as believers to the grace of God, now all notions on their part of a reward, of merit, which would give them a right to reward in the true sense of the word, are out of the question. What child of God would have the nerve to let such an idea arise in one’s mind and express it before the judgment seat of God? The situation is very different, however, if God on his part wants to picture the salvation and glory he desires to give to his children using the imagery of wages and reward. And that indeed is what he does throughout the Scriptures. He does that to spur on, to encourage, and to comfort his children, who being his children, are also already his heirs. He represents heavenly blessedness to them in the form of many images—of a city, a fatherland, eternal rest, a crown, an inheritance, an athletic prize, wages. But now who would dare to exploit this last image to their own advantage and boast of their own merit? The imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance, which is kept for us in heaven, is not a wage paid out to employees in proportion to what they have earned but a reward that the Father in heaven grants to his children out of sheer grace. That reward is one of the many incentives for moral conduct, but by no means a rule or law, for it arises from God’s will alone. It may, however, be an additional motive, because—according to the witness of the human conscience—there is a close inner connection between virtue and happiness, holiness and salvation, as also Kant admits. In salvation even holiness itself attains its most sublime and richest development.66

Perseverance of the Saints

[484] Scripture speaks of the perseverance of the saints in the same way it does about sanctification. It admonishes believers to persevere to the end (Matt. 24:13; Rom. 2:7–8); to remain in Christ, in his word, in his love (John 15:1–10; 1 John 2:6, 24, 27; 3:6, 24; 4:12ff.); to continue in the faith, not shifting (Col. 1:23; Heb. 2:1; 3:14; 6:11); to be faithful to death (Rev. 2:10, 26). Sometimes it speaks as if apostasy is a possibility: “If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12); it warns against superciliousness and threatens heavy punishment for unfaithfulness (Ezek. 18:24; Matt. 13:20–21; John 15:2; Rom. 11:20, 22; 2 Tim. 2:12; Heb. 4:1; 6:4–8; 10:26–31; 2 Pet. 2:18–22). It even seems to name various persons in whose lives there was a falling away: David in committing adultery, Solomon in his idolatry, Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:19–20; 2 Tim. 2:17–18), Demas (2 Tim. 4:10), false prophets and teachers who deny the Lord who bought them (2 Pet. 2:1), believers who have fallen away from grace and the faith (Gal. 5:4; 1 Tim. 4:1). On the basis of these texts, Pelagians, Roman Catholics, Socinians, Remonstrants, Mennonites, Quakers, Methodists, and so forth, and even Lutherans have taught the possibility of a complete loss of the grace received.67 Augustine, on the other hand, arrived at the confession of the perseverance of the saints. However, since he deemed uncertainty and fear with respect to salvation beneficial in the life of believers, he held that those who had been born again in baptism could lose the grace they had received, but if they belonged to the number of the predestined, they would in any case receive it back before their death. Hence while believers could totally lose the grace received, the elect could not finally lose it. In the Catholic and later Roman church, many theologians, in earlier and later times, agreed with him; still the Reformed, and the Reformed alone, maintained this doctrine and linked it with the assurance of faith.68

Now the question with respect to this doctrine of perseverance is not whether those who have obtained a true saving faith could not, if left to themselves, lose it again by their own fault and sins; nor whether sometimes all the activity, boldness, and comfort of faith actually ceases, and faith itself goes into hiding under the cares of life and the delights of the world. The question is whether God upholds, continues, and completes the work of grace he has begun, or whether he sometimes permits it to be totally ruined by the power of sin. Perseverance is not an activity of the human person but a gift from God. Augustine saw this very clearly. Only he made a distinction between two kinds of grace and considered possible a grace of regeneration and faith that by itself was amissible and that, for its continued existence, had to be augmented from without by a second grace, the grace of perseverance. That second grace, then, is a superadded gift, has no connection with the first, and has in fact no influence whatever outside the Christian life. Among the Reformed the doctrine of perseverance was very different. It is a gift of God. He watches over it and sees to it that the work of grace is continued and completed. He does not, however, do this apart from believers but through them. In regeneration and faith, he grants a grace that as such bears an inamissible character; he grants a life that is by nature eternal; he bestows the benefits of calling, Justification, and glorification that are mutually and unbreakably interconnected. All of the above-mentioned admonitions and threats that Scripture addresses to believers, therefore, do not prove a thing against the doctrine of perseverance. They are rather the way in which God himself confirms his promise and gift through believers. They are the means by which perseverance in life is realized. After all, perseverance is also not coercive but, as a gift of God, impacts humans in a spiritual manner. It is precisely God’s will, by admonition and warning, morally to lead believers to heavenly blessedness and by the grace of the Holy Spirit to prompt them willingly to persevere in faith and love. It is therefore completely mistaken to reason from the admonitions of Holy Scripture to the possibility of a total loss of grace. This conclusion is as illegitimate as when, in the case of Christ, people infer from his temptation and struggle that he was able to sin. The certainty of the outcome does not render the means superfluous but is inseparably connected with them in the decree of God. Paul knew with certainty that in the case of shipwreck no one would lose one’s life, yet he declares, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved” (Acts 27:22, 31).

As for the examples Scripture is said to cite as instances of real apostasy, it is impossible to prove that all these persons (1) either had truly received the grace of regeneration (Hymeneus, Alexander, Demas, persons referred to in 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pet. 2:1); (2) or really lost it in their fall and later received it back again (David, Solomon); (3) or really did receive it but never got it back (Heb. 6:4–8; 10:26–31; 2 Pet. 2:18–22). These last texts seem to present the most formidable obstacle to the confession of the perseverance of the saints. Still this is an illusion. For, also those who hold to the possibility of falling away have to accept that the reference here is to a very particular sin. Even according to themselves, while grace is amissible, it can be regained after total loss. The opinion of Montanists and Novatians, who infer from these passages that the lapsed may never be readmitted to membership in the church, has been universally rejected by Christian churches. When Scripture expressly states that it is impossible to restore to repentance those who are in view in these texts (Heb. 6:4; 10:26; 2 Pet. 2:20; 1 John 5:16), it cannot be denied that the reference is to a sin that carries with it a judgment of hardening and that makes repentance impossible. And of such a sin—also according to the confession of those who hold to the impossibility of a falling away—there is only one, namely, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.69 Now if this is true, then the doctrine of the falling away of saints leads to the conclusion that either the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit can be committed also, or even perhaps only, by those who are born again,70 or the above-mentioned texts lose all their evidential value against the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But this is not all. For those who consider total apostasy a possibility have to make a distinction between the sins by which the grace of regeneration is lost and other sins by which it is not lost. In other words, they are compelled to resort to the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins, unless they would hold that that grace is lost by every—even the most minor—sin. But by adopting this view, they would falsify the whole of morality, misconstrue the nature of sin, and introduce an oppressive casuistry that would ensnare the believer’s conscience. Furthermore, on this view one cannot arrive at the assurance of faith, achieve the ability to work in peace, and experience the quiet development and growth of the Christian life. Continuity can be lost at any moment. Hollaz tries to argue that regeneration can be lost three, four, or more times and still be recovered.71 Finally, the doctrine of the possible apostasy of the saints is so far from escaping the difficulties it seeks to avoid that it rather magnifies and increases them. For if in this connection it holds on to the immutability of God’s foreknowledge, then finally only those are saved whom God has eternally known would be, and the human will cannot undo the certainty of this outcome. Or it must proceed to deny predestination and foreknowledge in every sense of these terms, thus making everything uncertain and unstable, including the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. God may have manifested his love; Christ may have died for sinners; the Holy Spirit may have implanted rebirth and faith in the heart of people; the believer may be able to say with Paul: “I delight in the law of God in my inmost self” (Rom. 7:22). Yet ultimately, right up until the hour of one’s death—indeed, why not also on the other side of the grave?—the human will remains the decisive and all-controlling power. Everything will be as that will determines it will be.

Scripture, however, teaches a very different doctrine. The Old Testament already clearly states that the covenant of grace does not depend on the obedience of human beings. It does indeed carry with it the obligation to walk in the way of the covenant but that covenant itself rests solely in God’s compassion. If the Israelites nevertheless again and again become unfaithful and adulterous, the prophets do not conclude from this that God changes, that his covenant wavers and that his promises fail. On the contrary: God cannot and may not break his covenant. He has voluntarily—with a solemn oath—bound himself by it to Israel. His fame, his name, and his honor depend on it. He cannot abandon his people. His covenant is an everlasting covenant that cannot waver. He himself will give to his people a new heart and a new spirit, inscribe the law in their inmost self, and cause them to walk in his statutes. And later, when Paul confronts the same fact of Israel’s unfaithfulness, his heart filled with grief, he does not conclude from this that the word of God has failed, but continues to believe that God has compassion on whom he will, that his gifts and calling are irrevocable, and that not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel (Rom. 9–11).

Similarly, John testifies of those who fell away: they were not of us or else they would have continued with us (1 John 2:19). Whatever apostasy occurs in Christianity, it may never prompt us to question the unchanging faithfulness of God, the certainty of his counsel, the enduring character of his covenant, or the trustworthiness of his promises. One should sooner abandon all creatures than fail to trust his word. And that word in its totality is one immensely rich promise to the heirs of the kingdom. It is not just a handful of texts that teach the perseverance of the saints: the entire gospel sustains and confirms it. The Father has chosen them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), ordained them to eternal life (Acts 13:48), to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). This election stands (Rom. 9:11; Heb. 6:17) and in due time carries with it the calling and Justification and glorification (Rom. 8:30). Christ, in whom all the promises of God are Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20), died for those who were given him by the Father (John 17:6, 12) in order that he might give them eternal life and not lose a single one of them (6:40; 17:2); he therefore gives them eternal life and they will never be lost in all eternity; no one will snatch them out of his hand (6:39; 10:28). The Holy Spirit who regenerates them remains eternally with them (14:16) and seals them for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). The covenant of grace is firm and confirmed with an oath (Heb. 6:16–18; 13:20), unbreakable like a marriage (Eph. 5:31–32), like a testament (Heb. 9:17), and by virtue of that covenant, God calls his elect. He inscribes the law upon their inmost being, puts his fear in their heart (Heb. 8:10; 10:14ff.), will not let them be tempted beyond their strength (1 Cor. 10:13), confirms and completes the good work he has begun in them (1 Cor. 1:9; Phil. 1:6), and keeps them for the return of Christ to receive the heavenly inheritance (1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:4–5). In his intercession before the Father, Christ acts in such a way that their faith may not fail (Luke 22:32), that in the world they may be kept from the evil one (John 17:11, 20), that they may be saved for all times (Heb. 7:20), that their sins will be forgiven them (1 John 2:1), and that they may all be where he is to behold his glory (John 17:24). The benefits of Christ, which the Holy Spirit imparts to them, are all irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). Those who are called are also glorified (8:30). Those who are adopted as children are heirs of eternal life (8:17; Gal. 4:7). Those who believe have eternal life already here and now (John 3:16). That life itself, being eternal, cannot be lost. It cannot die since it cannot sin (1 John 3:9). Faith is a firm ground (Heb. 11:1), hope is an anchor (6:19) and does not disappoint us (Rom. 5:5), and love never ends (1 Cor. 13:8).

From Reformed Dogmatics (4 Volume Set) by Herman Bavinck, Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church and New Creations




1 H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 218–21 (#205).

2 Ibid., III, 493–95 (#410).

3 Ibid., III, 495–99 (#411).

4 Ibid., III, 499–506 (##412–13).

5 Cf. A. von Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity, trans. J. Moffatt, 2 vols. (New York: Harper, 1908), I, 216ff.; II, 98ff.

6 Cf. above, 142 (#460).

7 E. Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen, 3rd ed., 3 vols. in 5 (Leipzig: Fues’s Verlag [L. W. Reisland, 1875]), IV, 264ff. Ed. note: ET: Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; New York: Humanities Press, 1969).

8 Cf. F. W. Weber, System der altsynagogalen palästinischen Theologie (Leipzig: Dörflling & Franke, 1880), 318.

9 C. E. Hooykaas, Oud-Christelijke ascese (Leiden: A. W. Sijthoff, 1905).

10 Shepherd of Hermas, Mandates IV, 4.

11 Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudes V, 3.

12 The “counsels of perfection” received only incidental support at the Council of Trent (sess. XXIV, can. 10), where celibacy and virginity are pronounced better and more blessed than marriage. Ed. note: This canon is provided in H. Denzinger, ed., The Sources of Catholic Dogma, trans. from the 30th ed. by R. J. Deferrari (London and St. Louis: Herder, 1955), #980.

13 T. Aquinas, Summa theol., II, 1, qu. 106–8; R. Bellarmine, “De monachis,” in Controversiis, II, c. 7, 13; A. Lehmkuhl, Theologia moralis, 2 vols. (Freiburg i.B.: Herder, 1898), I, 295ff.; J. E. Pruner, Lehrbuch der katholische Moraltheologie, 2nd ed. (Freiburg i.B.: Herder, 1883), 71ff.; A. M. Weiss, Apologie des Christentums, 5 vols. in 7 (Freiburg i.B.: Herder, 1894–98). Ed. note: Bavinck erroneously cites this as Weisz. P. Höveler, Professor A. Harnack und die katholische Ascese (Düsseldorf: L. Schwann, 1902).

14 H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 496 (#411).

15 2 Clement 8; Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 1.3.

16 K. H. Wirth, Der “Verdienst”-Begriff in der christlichen Kirche nach seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung, 2 vols. in 1 (Leipzig: Dörflling & Franke, 1892–1901); J. W. Kunze, “Verdienst,” in PRE3, XX, 502.

17 Cf. J. Kunze, “Verdienst,” in PRE3, XX, 502–3.

18 T. Aquinas, Summa theol., II, 1, qu. 109, art. 2–5; Council of Trent, sess. VI, c. 1, can. 5–7.

19 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 514–17 (#416).

20 T. Aquinas, Summa theol., II, 1 qu. 109, art. 6; Council of Trent, sess. VI, c. 5–6.

21 H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 515–17 (#416).

22 According to the catechism of the Council of Trent, “This grace is accompanied by a most splendid train of all the virtues, which are divinely infused into the soul along with grace” (Roman Catechism, II, ch. 2, qu. 50); ed. note: Bavinck erroneously cites this as qu. 39. The post-Vatican II edition titled The Roman Catechism (trans. Robert I. Bradley, SJ, and Eugene Kevane [Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1985]) drops the enumeration of the introduction so that chapter 1 begins the section on baptism. In this annotation, the proper reference would be II, ch. 1, qu. 51.

23 On the doctrine of the virtues in Roman Catholic theology, see T. Aquinas, Summa theol., II, 2; Theologia Wirceburgensis, 3rd ed., 10 vols. in 5 (Paris: Berche & Tralin, 1880), VIII; P. G. Antoine, Theologia moralis universa, 6 vols. in 3 (Venice: Balleoniana, 1792), III; Cesare Manzoni, Compendium theologiae dogmaticae, 4 vols. (Turin: Berruti, 1909), III, 348ff.; A. Lehmkuhl, Theologia moralis, I, 173ff.; J. E. Pruner, Lehrbuch der katholische Moraltheologie, 96ff.

24 Council of Trent, sess. VI, can. 32.

25 Council of Trent, sess. VI, can. 16; T. Aquinas, Summa theol., qu. 114; R. Bellarmine, “De justif.,” in Controversiis, V, 1–22. In Roman Catholic theology, the doctrine of grace is usually discussed in three parts: actual grace (gratia actuali) is considered first; then habitual, or justifying, grace (gratia habituali [justificante]); finally, the fruit of grace or concerning merits (fructu gratiae seu de merito): Theologia Wirceburgensis, VII, 467ff. M. J. Scheeben and L. Atzberger, Handbuch der Katholischen Dogmatik, 4 vols. (Freiburg i.B.: Herder, 1933 [orig. pub., 1874–98]), IV, 1, 92ff.; J. B. Heinrich and G. Konstantine, Dogmatische Theologie, 2nd ed., 10 vols. (Mainz: Kirchheim, 1881–1900), VIII, §§473ff.; J. Pohle, Lehrbuch der Dogmatik, rev. M. Gierens, 10th ed., 3 vols. (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1931), II, 556ff. (ed. note: Bavinck cites the 4th edition). C. Pesch, Praelectiones dogmaticae, 9 vols. (Freiburg i.B.: Herder, 1902–10), V, 209ff.

26 T. Aquinas, Summa theol., II, 2 qu. 81, art. 1, ad 1; and, in addition, qu. 180ff., where Thomas discusses the contemplative life.

27 T. Aquinas, Summa theol., II, 2 qu. 183, art. 4, distinguishes the states of beginning (incipientes), progressing (proficientes), and perfect (perfecti), judging that while absolute perfection is not possible, it is possible to achieve such a high level of perfection that someone “removes from the affections all that is contrary to charity” (see qu. 184, art. 2). According to the Council of Trent, VI, c. 11, can. 18, the righteous can fully keep the law. Cf. also, R. Bellarmine, among others, in C. Vitringa, Doctrina christiana religionis, 8 vols. (Leiden: Joannis le Mair, 1761–86), III, 397. Ed. note: To be more accurate to the sense of the main text, this note and the next one are in reverse order from Bavinck’s original.

28 The term “supererogation” is derived from Luke 10:35, where the word προσδαπανησῃς has been translated into Latin by supererogaveris.

29 Cf. above, 143ff. (#461).

30 G. Voetius, Exercitia pietatis (Gorichem: Paul Vink, 1664); H. Heppe (Geschichte des Pietismus und der Mystik in der reformirten Kirche [Leiden: Brill, 1879], 23ff.) names other works as well.

31 J. Calvin, Institutes,–x.

32 M. Schulze, Meditatio futurae vitae (Leipzig: Dieterich, 1901); idem, Calvins Jenseits-Christentum in seinem Verhältnisse zu den religiösen Schriften des Erasmus untersucht (Görlitz: Rudolf Dülfer, 1902). Ed. note: Bavinck incorrectly cites this as Schultze. Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 522–28 (#419); and above, 201 (#471).

33 See H. Bavinck, “Calvin and Common Grace,” Princeton Theological Review 7/3 (July 1909): 437–65. Important recent works include M. Weber, “Die protestantische Ethik und der ‘Geist’ des Kapitalismus,” in Archiv für Sozialwissenschaff und Sozialpolitik (1905): 1–54; (1906): 1–10; ed. note: ET: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. T. Parsons (New York: Scribner, 1958). E. Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, 2 vols. (1931; repr., Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992); cf. also, idem, Protestantisches Christentum und Kirche in der Neuzeit (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1922); idem, Die Bedeutung des Protestantismus für die Entstehung der modernen Welt (Munich and Berlin: R. Oldenbourg, 1906); *idem, “Die Kulturbedeutung des Calvinismus,” Internationole Wochenschrift 3 (1910): 449ff., 501ff.

34 H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 535–40 (#422).

35 Ed. note: “Real change” and “relative change,” in English, are Bavinck’s own terms, though he provides no direct quotation or source.

36 H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 536–40 (#422); R. Southey, The Life of John Wesley (London: Hutchinson, 1903), 234–64; F. Loofs, “Methodismus,” in PRE3, XII, 799.

37 Ed note: The words in quotation marks, in English, are Bavinck’s own, though once again he provides no direct quotations or sources.

38 R. Southey, Life of John Wesley, 244.

39 Ed note: The words in quotation marks, in English, are Bavinck’s own, though once again he provides no direct quotations or sources.

40 Ed. note: Bavinck refers to the so-called Oxford movement, which is a potentially confusing reference since the term is usually applied to the Tractarian renewal movement in nineteenth-century Anglicanism led by Newman, Keble, and Pusey. We have chosen the admittedly awkward term “Oxford-Brighton-Keswick Convention” to make the historical reference clear. Bavinck himself notes the two extended gatherings at Oxford and Brighton in 1874 but fails to note the continuation of the “higher life” tradition at Keswick still to this day. For a full treatment of the background and subsequent history of this movement, see Steven Barabas, So Great Salvation: The History and Message of the Keswick Convention (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1952). The Oxford Convention, led by Robert Piersall Smith, met from August 29 to September 7, 1874, and was followed by a gathering in Brighton on May 29, 1875, attended by many clergy and congregants from Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Attempts were made to carry these kinds of meetings into the Netherlands at such locations as Neerbosch, Amsterdam, Zwolle, and so on, though they did not catch on among the Dutch people. See R. P. Smith, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, 1874 (London: Daldy, Isbitter, 1874); F. Lion Cachet, Tien dagen te Brighton (Utrecht: Kemink & Zoon, 1875). A balanced and fair critique is given by Johannes Jüngst, Amerikanischer Methodismus in Deutschland und Robert Pearsall Smith (Gotha: F. A. Perthes, 1875); and A. M. Bronsveld, Uit het hoogd (Utrecht, 1876).

41 R. A. Torrey, The Holy Spirit: How to Obtain Him in Personal Experience, How to Retain Him (Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1900–1928), 23.

42 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 501–3 (#412).

43 J. L. Nuelsen, “Methodismus in Amerika,” in PRE3, XIII, 14; all these points on Methodism are based on J. Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1925). In Germany, this doctrine gained significant entry thanks to the work of Theodor Jellinhaus, Das völlige gegenwärtigen Heil durch Christum, 5th ed. (Berlin: Thormann & Goetsch, 1903). It was embraced by many representatives of the so-called Gemeinshafts- and Pfingstbewegung. See C. F. Arnold, Gemeinschaft der Heiligen und Heiligungs-Gemeinschaften (Gr. Lichterfelde, Berlin: E. Runge, 1909); P. Fleisch, Die moderne Gemeinschaftsbewegung in Deutschland, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: H. G. Wallmann, 1906); idem, Die innere Entwicklung der deutschen Gemeinschaftsbewegungen in der Jahren 1906 en 1907 (Leipzig: H. G. Wallmann, 1908); idem, Zur Geschichte der Heiligungsbewegung (Leipzig: H. G. Wallmann, 1906); M. Schian, Die moderne Gemeinschaftsbewegung (Stuttgart: Greiner & Pfeiffer, 1909); idem, “Die moderne deutsche Erweckungspredigt,” Zeitschrift für Religionspsychologie 10 (1908): 11.

44 M. Schneckenburger and E. Güder, Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformirten Lehrbegriffs, 2 vols. (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1855), I, 185–225.

45 A. Ritschl, Theologie und Metaphysik (Bonn: A. Marcus, 1881); idem, The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, trans. H. R. Mackintosh and A. B. Macaulay (Clifton, NJ: Reference Book Publishers, 1966), III, 109, 584ff.; idem, Geschichte des Pietismus in der reformierten Kirche, 3 vols. (Bonn: A. Marcus, 1880), passim; W. Herrmann, Der Verkehr des Christen mit Gott, 6th ed. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1908); J. Gottschick, “Luthers Lehre von der Lebensgemeinschaft des Gläubigen mit Christus,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 8 (1898): 406.

46 On the mystical union in Reformed thought, apart from Pierre de Bouquin (1510–82), see H. Heppe, Dogmatik des deutschen Protestantismus im sechzehnten Jahrhundert, 3 vols. (Gotha: F. A. Perthes, 1857), II, 372; J. Calvin, Institutes, III.xi.5; P. Martyr Vermigli, Loci communes, ed. R. Massonius (London, 1576), 259; A. Polanus, Syntagma theologia christianae (Hanover, 1609; Geneva, 1617), VI, 35; W. Ames, The Marrow of Theology, I.26 (pp. 157–60); G. Voetius, Selectae disputationes theologicae, 5 vols. (Utrecht, 1648–69), II, 459; P. van Mastricht, Theoretico-practica theologia (Utrecht: Appels, 1714), VI, c. 5; H. Witsius, Miscellaneorum sacrorum, 4 vols. (Utrecht: F. Halman, 1692), II, 788; C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 78; A. Comrie, Stellige en practikale verklaring van den Heidelbergschen catechismus (Barneveld: Van Horssen, 1976), qu. 20–23; A. Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, trans. H. de Vries (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), 333ff.; O. Pfleiderer, Der Paulinismus: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der urchristlichen Theologie, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: O. R. Reisland, 1890), 214ff.; A. Krebs, De unionis mysticae (Marburg, 1871); H. Weiss, “Über das Wesen des persönlichen Christenstandes,” Studien und Kritiken 54 (1881): 377–417; G. A. Deissmann, Die neutestamentliche Formel “in Christo Jesu” (Marburg: N. G. Elwert, 1892). Ed note: Pierre de Bouquin was born in France, trained in theology at Bourges, and a prior of a monastery before converting to Protestantism. He served as a professor of theology in Heidelberg from 1557 to 1578, when he moved to Lausanne. He is noted for his polemical writing against Jesuits and against the Lutheran understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

47 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 504–6 (#413); see above, 87–88 (#445); O. Pfleiderer, Der Paulinismus, 225ff.; H. J. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der neutestamentlichen Theologie, 2 vols. (Freiburg i.B. and Leipzig: Mohr, 1897), II, 143ff.

48 H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 216–21 (#205).

49 Cf. P. Wernle, Die Anfänge unserer Religion (Leipzig: J. C. B. Mohr, 1901), 31, 39, 62; ed note: ET: The Beginnings of Christianity, trans. G. A. Bienemann, 2 vols. (London: Williams & Norgate; New York: Putnam, 1903–4).

50 C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 369–74.

51 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 528–31 (#420); and above, 201ff. (#471). To what extent Kohlbrugge himself embraced these antinomian sentiments is extensively and impartially examined by J. H. van Lonkhuijzen, Hermann Friedrich Kohlbrügge en zijn prediking (Wageningen: “Vada,” 1905), 437–513. Since Kohlbrügge consistently understood sanctification as being placed in the sphere of grace, in the framework of God’s glory (see H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 351–56 [#379], 399–402 [#390]), he was unable clearly to distinguish justification and sanctification, change of status and condition. Even when he speaks of an inner sanctification, this always remains an external power outside of and over against the human “I.” The human person was and remained ungodly. Here it is also appropriate to be reminded of those who follow Ritschl and consider justification as a “religious experience” (religiöses Erlebnis) and relate the joy and peace of this experience to regeneration. See above, 70ff. (#443), 199 (#470).

52 Joseph T. Müller, Die symbolischen Bücher der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 8th ed. (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1898), 632ff.; ed. note: This specific reference is to the Formula of Concord, “Solid Declaration,” art. 4, “Concerning Good Works,” in The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 574ff.

53 C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 359, 367ff.

54 G. Voetius, Select. disp., V, 675ff.

55 The Pelagians obliterated the distinction between virtues and good works, between pagan religions and the Christian faith. They believed that the law of nature, the Mosaic law, and the law of Christ were essentially the same. The Romans distinguished natural good works and supernatural good works and judged even fallen humanity capable of the former. But Tertullian (The Apology, c. 45–46) and Augustine (Against Julian, trans. M. A. Schumacher, vol. 16 of Writings of St. Augustine [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1984], IV, c. 3, §§17, 25, 33) judged otherwise. Reformed thinkers readily acknowledged the virtues of the pagans and considered them for the most part an example that should shame believers. However, they did not lose sight of the fundamental difference between these virtues and the good works of believers. See J. Calvin, Institutes, II.ii.12ff.; II.iii.3ff. (cf. H. Witsius, Twist des Heeren met zijnen wijngaard [1699], 5th ed. [Utrecht: Jacob van Poolsum, 1719], 214–50, esp. 234; M. Schneckenburger and E. Güder, Vergleichende Darstellung, I, 231; P. Lobstein, Die Ethik Calvins in ihren Grundzügen entworfen [Strassburg: C. F. Schmidt, 1877], 6ff.); H. Alting, Theologia problematica nova (Amsterdam: J. Jansson, 1662), VIII, 9–10; G. J. Vossius, Historiae de controversiis, quas Pelagius eiusque reliquiae moverunt, libri septem, 2nd ed. rev. (Amsterdam: L. & D. Elzevirii, 1655), III, 3; J. Trigland, Antapologia (Amsterdam: Joannam Janssonium et al., 1664), c. 17; P. Wittewrongel, Oeconomia Christiana (Amsterdam: Marten Jansz. Brant & Abraham van den Burgh, 1661), I, 288–99; F. Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. G. M. Giger, ed. J. T. Dennison, 3 vols. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1992), X, 5; B. de Moor, Commentarius … theologiae, 6 vols. (Leiden: J. Hasebroek, 1761–71), IV, 826–29; C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 353.

56 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 123 (#327).

57 Paul Rentschka, Die Dekalogkatechese des heiligen Augustinus: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Dekalogs (Kempten: Jos. Kösel’schen Buchhandlung, 1905); E. Chr. Achelis, Der Dekalog als katechetisches Lehrstück (Giessen: Alfred Töppelmann, 1905).

58 Herein is the validity of casuistry, often misused, as ethicists seek to determine what obligations are faced by moral agents in a specific circumstance. This effort naturally leads to probabilism, equiprobabilism, probabiliorism, and tutiorism, and degenerates into the art of turning the conscience into an arbiter of possible moral obligation. Ed. note: For a helpful discussion of these terms, see the listings in Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. O. Zöckler, “Probabilismus,” in PRE3, XVI, 67.

59 Cf. above, 237–40 (##478–79); B. de Moor, Comm. theol., IV, 805ff.; C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 385–414; L. Lemme, “Vollkommenheit,” in PRE3, XX, 733; O. Zöckler, “Perfectionisten of Oneida-Kommunisten in Amerika,” in PRE3, XV, 130.

60 A. Ritschl, Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, 4th ed., 3 vols. (Bonn: A. Marcus, 1895–1903), II, 365.

61 H. Scholz, “Zur Lehre vom ‘Armen Sünder,’ ” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche (1896): 463ff. C. Clemen, Die christliche Lehre von der Sünde (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1897), I, 109ff. H. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der neutestamentlichen Theologie, II, 150; and especially P. Wernle, Der Christ und die Sünde bei Paulus (Freiburg and Leipzig: J. C. B. Mohr, 1897); however, Wernle has changed his mind. When H. Windisch (Die Entsündigung des Christen nach Paulus [Leipzig: Hirschfeld, 1908]; and Taufe und Sünde im ältesten Christentum bis auf Origenes [Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1908]) adopted his theory and developed it further, Wernle himself wrote a critique, acknowledging that the theory was not true to life’s experience and failed to take into account the practical character of early Christian writings. P. Wernle, “Windisch, Taufe und Sünde im ältesten Christentum bis auf Origenes,” Theologische Literaturzeitung 34 (1909): 586–90; cf. also, L. Ihmels, Die tägliche Vergebung der Sünden, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: Dörflling & Franke, 1916; ed. note: Bavinck cites the 1901 edition). M. Meyer, Der Apostel Paulus als armer Sünder (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1903).

62 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 81–82 (#317).

63 C. Clemen, Die christliche Lehre von der Sünde, I, 112, who also refers to W. C. van Manen, De brief aan de Romeinen (Leiden: Brill, 1891), 71.

64 On this cf. H. Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, trans. H. Zylstra (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 492ff.; and also the literature cited by C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 412.

65 Cf. below, ch. 8, “The Spirit’s Means of Grace: Proclamation.”

66 C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 373–84; Kirn, “Lohn,” in PRE3, XI, 605–14; V. Kirchner, Der “Lohn” in der alten Philosophie, im bürgerlichen Recht, besonders im Neuen Testament (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1908); C. Stange, “Der eudämonistische Gedanke der christliche Ethik,” Neue kirchliche Zeitschrift 18 (1907): 135–56; *Freytag, “Der Lohngedanke im Evang.,” Die Studierstube (January–February 1909). Cf. for the Roman Catholic point of view also P. Kneib, Die “Heteronomie” der christlichen Moral (Vienna: Mayer, 1903); idem, Die “Lohnsucht” der christlichen Moral (Vienna: Mayer, 1904); idem, Die “Jenseitsmoral” im Kampfe um ihre Grundlagen (Freiburg i.B.: Herder, 1906).

67 C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 415ff.

68 U. Zwingli, Opera, 8 vols. in 7 (Turici: Schulthessiana, 1842), IV, 121; J. Calvin, Institutes, II.iii.11; II.v.3; III.xxiv.6–7; A. Polanus, Synt. theol., VI, 43; Heidelberg Catechism, Q 1, 53–54; Canons of Dort, V; J. Trigland, Antapologia, c. 39–41; F. Gomarus, Opera theologica omnia (Amsterdam: J. Jansson, 1644), II, 280; D. Chamier, Panstratiae catholica (Geneva: Roverianis, 1626), III, 13, c. 20–22; B. de Moor, Comm. theol., IV, 387; V, 158; C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 415; F. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, ed. H. R. MacIntosh and J. S. Steward (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1928), §111; A. Schweizer, Die christliche Glaubenslehre nach protestantischen Grundsätzen dargestellt, 2 vols. in 3 (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1863–72), II, 368, 509; J. H. Scholten, De leer der Hervormde Kerk in hare grondbeginselen, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Leiden: P. Engels, 1850–51), II, 505ff.; J. J. van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics, trans. J. Watson and M. Evans, 2 vols. (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, 1874), §121.

69 Cf. H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III, 155–57 (#334).

70 J. Quenstedt, Theologia, II, 157.

71 David Hollaz, Examen theologicum acroamaticum (Rostock and Leipzig: Russworm, 1718), 883 (ed. note: Bavinck erroneously cites this as Hollax). M. Schneckenburger and E. Güder, Vergleichende Darstellung, I, 233ff.


By Topic


By Scripture

Old Testament









1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles








Song of Solomon


















New Testament







1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians





1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy





1 Peter

2 Peter

1 John

2 John

3 John



By Author

Latest Links