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All the Merits

24 October 2012 by Frank Turk

The Apostle, after having, with reasons abundantly strong, cast down men from their confidence in works, now triumphs over their folly: and this exulting conclusion was necessary; for on this subject, to teach us would not have been enough; it was necessary that the Holy Spirit should loudly thunder, in order to lay prostrate our loftiness. But he says that glorying is beyond all doubt excluded, for we cannot adduce anything of our own, which is worthy of being approved or commended by God. If the material of glorying be merit, whether you name that of congruity or of condignity, by which man would conciliate God, you see that both are here annihilated; for he treats not of the lessening or the modifying of merit, but Paul leaves not a particle behind. Besides, since by faith glorying in works is so taken away, that faith cannot be truly preached, without wholly depriving man of all praise by ascribing all to God’s mercy — it follows, that we are assisted by no works in obtaining righteousness.

Of works? In what sense does the Apostle deny here, that our merits are excluded by the law, since he has before proved that we are condemned by the law? For if the law delivers us over to death, what glorying can we obtain from it? Does it not on the contrary deprive us of all glorying and cover us with shame? He then indeed showed, that our sin is laid open by what the law declares, for the keeping of it is what we have all neglected: but he means here, that were righteousness to be had by the law of works, our glorying would not be excluded; but as it is by faith alone, there is nothing that we can claim for ourselves; for faith receives all from God, and brings nothing except an humble confession of want.

This contrast between faith and works ought to be carefully noticed: works are here mentioned without any limitation, even works universally. Then he neither speaks of ceremonies only, nor specifically of any external work, but includes all the merits of works which can possibly be imagined.

The name of law is here, with no strict correctness, given to faith: but this by no means obscures the meaning of the Apostle; for what he understands is, that when we come to the rule of faith, the whole glorying in works is laid prostrate; as though he said — “The righteousness of works is indeed commended by the law, but that of faith has its own law, which leaves to works, whatever they may be, no righteousness.”
--John Calvin, Commentary on Rom 3:27