Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism

John L. Girardeau



The Calvinistic doctrine may be stated under three heads: first, the Ground of justification; secondly, its Constituent Elements, or Nature; thirdly, its human Condition or Instrument. 

1. The Ground of justification, or, what is the same, its Matter or Material Cause, is the vicarious righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer. This is the obedience of Christ, as the appointed Substitute of the sinner, to the precept and the penalty of the Moral Law: what Paul denominates the righteousness of God which is revealed from faith to faith. It is fitly termed the righteousness of God, not only because it was provided and accepted by God, but because it was wrought out by God himself in the person of his Incarnate Son. It is God's righteousness because God produced it. This is judicially imputed by God the Father to the believing sinner, who had no share at all in its conscious production. In that sense, it is not his, but another's righteousness - justitia aliena. But as Christ was his Surety and Representative and Christ's righteousness was imputed to him, it becomes, in this sense, his righteousness. It is his in law, before the divine tribunal; not his as infused and constituting a subjective character, but his as a formal investiture of his person. God, therefore, is just in justifying him since, although consciously and subjectively a sinner, he possesses in Christ a perfect righteousness, such as the law detnands in order to justification, and such as satisfies its claims. When the sinner by faith accepts Christ with this righteousness, he has an adequate ground of justification: consciously has it, so that he can plead it before God. 

2. The Constituent Elements of justification are, first, the pardon, or non-imputation, of guilt; secondly, the acceptance of the sinner's person as righteous, involving his investiture with a right and title to eternal life. Taken generally, justification may be said to consist of three things: first, the imputation of Christ's righteousness; secondly, the non-imputation of guilt, or pardon; thirdly, the acceptance of the sinner's person as righteous and the bestowal upon him of a right and title to eternal life. But taken strictly, justification is pardon and the eternal acceptance of the sinner's person. The ground and the constituent elements are not to be confounded. It is not: justification is the non-imputation of guilt and the imputation of righteousness, which would seem to be the natural antithesis; but first comes the imputed righteousness of Christ as the ground, and then the elements or parts, - namely, pardon, and acceptance with a title to indefectible life. 

3. The Condition on man's part, or the Instrument, of justification is Faith, and faith alone. In receiving Christ, as a justifying Saviour, it receives and rests upon Christ's righteousness, as the ground of justification. God imputes this righteousness and the sinner embraces it by faith. In describing faith as the condition of justification, an indispensable distinction is to be noted. The only meritorious condition of justification was performed by Christ. As the Representative of his people he undertook to furnish that perfect obedience to the precept of the Law which, under the Covenant of Works, was required of Adam as the representative of his seed and which he failed to render, and, in addition, to furnish a perfect obedience to the penalty of the violated law. Upon the fulfilment of this condition the justification of his seed was suspended. This condition he completely fulfilled in his life and in his death, and thus meritoriously secured justification for his seed. But in the application of redemption to the sinner, he is required to exercise faith in Christ and his righteousness, in order to his conscious union with Christ as a Federal Head, and his actual justification. In this sense, faith is to him the condition of his justification. It is simply an indispensable duty on his part - a conditio sine qua non. He cannot be consciously and actually justified without faith; but his faith has no particle of merit. All merit is in Christ alone. Faith involves the absolute renunciation of merit, and absolute reliance upon the meritorious obedience of Christ. Faith, then, is simply the instrument by which Christ and his righteousness are received in order to justification. It is emptiness filled with Christ's fulness; impotence lying down upon Christ's strength. It is no righteousness; it is not a substitute for righteousness; it is not imputed as righteousness. It is counted to us simply as the act which apprehends Christ's righteousness unto justification. All it does is to take what God gives - Christ and his righteousness: Christ as the justifying Saviour and Christ's righteousness as the only justifying righteousness. 

In discharging this instrumental office faith is entirely alone. It is followed, and in accordance with the provisions of the covenant of grace it is inevitably followed, by the other graces of the Spirit, and by good, that is, holy works; but they do not co-operate with it in the act by which Christ and his righteousness are received in order to justification. They are not concurring causes, but the certain results of justification. In a word, faith, while not the sole cause for the act of the Spirit uniting the sinner to Christ in regeneration is also a cause, is the sole instrumental cause on man's part of justification. Other graces, the existence of which is conditioned by faith may be superior to it in point of intrinsic excellence, love for example; faith has none. All the excellence it possesses is derived from its relation to Christ. Itself it confesses to be nothing, Christ to be everything. It is an exhausted receiver prepared by its very emptiness to be filled with the merit of Christ's righteousness. Hence, it is precisely suited to be the instrument, and the sole instrument, of justification. As all human works whatsoever are excluded from it, justification is seen to be altogether of grace. 

The statement of the doctrine in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is the same with the foregoing, except that the order of division is somewhat different, the constituent elements being placed before the ground. It is as follows: 

"Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth its as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone." 

The statements in the other parts of the Westminster Standards are fuller. That of the Confession of Faith is: 

"Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accountiug and accepting their persons as righteous: not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone: not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God." 

The Larger Catechism thus states the doctrine: "Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sin, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in His sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone." 

In his Lecture on justification, in his Systematic Theology, Dr. Charles Hodge makes a just and admirable statement of the doctrine.1 "It is frequently said," he remarks, "that justification consists in the pardon of sin and the imputation of righteousness. This mode of statement is commonly adopted by Lutheran theologians. This exhibition of the doctrine is founded upon the sharp distinction made in the 'Form of Concord' between the passive and active obedience of Christ. To the former is referred the remission of the penalty due to us for sin; to the latter our title to eternal life. The Scriptures, however, do not make this distinction so prominent. Our justification as a whole is sometimes referred to the blood of Christ, and sometimes to his obedience. This is intelligible, because the crowning act of his obedience, and that without which all else had been unavailing, was his laying down his life for us. It is, perhaps, more correct to say that the righteousness of Christ, including all he did and suffered in our stead, is imputed to the believer as the ground of his justification, and that the consequences of this imputation are, first, the remission of sin, and, secondly, the acceptance of the believer as righteous. And if righteous, then he is entitled to be so regarded and treated." 

The possibilities in regard to justification are thus clearly presented by Dr. Thornwell in his very able discussion of the validity of Romanist Baptism, when considering the form of the sacrament or its relatioy to the truths of the gospel: "To justify is to pronounce righteous. A holy God cannot, of course, declare that any one is righteous unless he is so. There are no fictions of law in the tribunal of Heaven - all its judgments are according to truth. A man may be righteous because he has done righteousness, and then he is justified by law; or he may be righteous because he has received righteousness as a gift, and then he is justified by grace. He may be righteons in himself, and this is the righteousness of works; or he may be righteous in another, and this is the righteousness of faith. Hence, to deny imputed righteousness is either to deny the possibility of justification at all, or to make it consist in the deeds of the law - both hypotheses involving a rejection of the grace of the gospel. There are plainly but three possible suppositions in the case: either, there, is no righteousness in which a sinner is accepted, and justification is simply pardon; or, it must be the righteousness of God, without the law; or, the righteousness of personal obedience; it must either be none, inherent, or imputed." He powerfully refutes the suppositions of no righteousness and inherent righteousness, and establishes that of imputed. 

Having given the Calvinistic statement of the doctrine, I proceed to compare with it the Evangelical Arminian, under three corresponding heads.


  1. Vol. iii. p. 161. Substantially the same is given by Owen, On Justification, Works, vol. v., pp. 173, 208.