Calvin on Romans 2:13

I have edited this post from it’s original form. I want to be exceedingly careful in what I say about subjects in which I have a formed opinion, but that need to be refined through more study. I hope that this quote from Calvin on Romans 2:13 will suffice as an explanation of my defense of Rick Phillip’s interpretation of it here. Commenting on Romans 2:13, Calvin wrote:

For the hearers of the law, etc. This anticipates an objection which the Jews might have adduced. As they had heard that the law was the rule of righteousness, (Deuteronomy 4:1 ) they gloried in the mere knowledge of it: to obviate this mistake, he declares that the hearing of the law or any knowledge of it is of no such consequence, that any one should on that account lay claim to righteousness, but that works must be produced, according to this saying, “He who will do these shall live in them.” The import then of this verse is the following, — “That if righteousness be sought from the law, the law must be fulfilled; for the righteousness of the law consists in the perfection of works.” They who pervert this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works, deserve most fully to be laughed at even by children. It is therefore improper and beyond what is needful, to introduce here a long discussion on the subject, with the view of exposing so futile a sophistry: for the Apostle only urges here on the Jews what he had mentioned, the decision of the law, — That by the law they could not be justified, except they fulfilled the law, that if they transgressed it, a curse was instantly pronounced on them. Now we do not deny but that perfect righteousness is prescribed in the law: but as all are convicted of transgression, we say that another righteousness must be sought. Still more, we can prove from this passage that no one is justified by works; for if they alone are justified by the law who fulfill the law, it follows that no one is justified; for no one can be found who can boast of having fulfilled the law.

4 Responses

  1. Nick,

    So you do not believe that it is standard Reformed teaching to say that there will be a judgement according to works for believers in at least some sense (e.g. Calvin on 2 Cor 5:10)?

    If I misunderstood you, sorry.


  2. Mike,

    I am simply responding to Mark’s critique of Rick’s article. I think that Mark has missed the point of Rick’s piece. I should have also mentioned that Rick’s article is actually longer than appears on Reformation 21. The Ref21 people broke it up into three parts. So, to be fair to everyone I think that should be pointed out first. When you ask if I believe that there will be a “judgment according to works for believers,” I think that you need to be very claer about what you mean. The Westminster divines never speak of “justification” in an eschatological sense. That is a biblical theological construct of the 20th century. They do speak of an open vindication on the day of judgment. But to build an entire doctrine of a “future justification according to works” off of that statement would be pushing it, I think.

    The point of my post was to show that we need to be super careful when we say the “standard Reformed” this or that. We only know the Reformed standard by the Confessions. To point to one theologian, or to draw an assumption from one theologians’ comments on one portion of Scripture and then to say they would have believed that to be true of another portion of Scripture–without having any proof that they would–is dangerous at best and sloppy scholarship at worst.

    We need to read everything very carefully. This is why the first rule of scholarship is to read first sources.

    To answer your question in brief, I think that this is a very difficult issue. We know that we add nothing to our justification. So how can we say that there is an eschatologial justification according to our works. If you want to say that there is a justification before men (James 2) that is based on our works, fine. But when you want to then make that eschatological and bring it before God I have a problem.

  3. Mike,

    If you read Rick’s post again you will see that he affirms a eschatological justification, but that he believes it to be, in classic Reformed tradition, one and the same with present justification. The difference is that “that final vindication merely republishes present justification through faith alone.” Do you agree with Rick’s statement in the original post?

  4. Steve

    I think Jones was referring to how Reformed theologians have harmonized Paul and James as a standard Reformed view. Not all Reformed theologians have been as consistent in their view of Romans 2:13.

    Personally, I was glad to see Jones post what he did to show that Reformed theologians have not been shy to speak of Christians undergoing a final judgment. Phillips may agree with Gaffin, but his article didn’t show that to me.

    My two cents.

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