Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our Works

Yesterday's reading contained a discussion about supererogatory works, or works that are above and beyond what is required by God. We continue this morning with Calvin's case against supererogation.

Some have apparently argued that 1 Corinthians 9:12 shows that Paul considered certain actions to be supererogatory.  Calvin, of course, thought otherwise.  He wrote, "But if this was duly required of a prudent servant of the gospel, I say that he did what he ought."  The theologian Chrysostom wrote, "all our belonging s have the same status as the possessions of slaves, which by right belong to their master himself."  In other words, our good works - no matter how much effort we put into them - belong to God.  I think this is especially true of God's people because they willingly submit everything to Him.  Calvin then explains that works of supererogation are not commanded by God, approved by God, nor will they be accepted by God as such.

"We must not put any confidence in the righteousness of works, and we must not ascribe to works any glory."  God's mercy is what is important, not man's works.  Calvin tells us that works are only capable of arousing "God's vengeance unless they be sustained by his merciful pardon."  The first half of Job 10:15 reads, "If I am wicked, woe to me; Even if I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head." In this one sentence Job stated his recognition for the need of God's mercy and not his own works.

Philosophers considered four causes contained in Scripture for the outworking of things.  In regards to salvation Calvin notes that none have anything to do with works.  The first cause is the "efficient cause of our obtaining eternal life" which is God's mercy.  The second cause is the "material cause" which is "Christ, with his obedience, through which he acquired righteousness for us."  The third cause is the "formal or instrumental cause" which is faith.  Calvin notes that these three causes can all be found in John 3:16.  The fourth and final cause is the "proof of divine justice and in the praise of God's goodness."  Calvin then compares all four causes to Romans 3:23-26.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Now after all this discussion about how works amount to nothing, Calvin then adjusts just a little.  He writes that the saints recall their own uprightness in two ways.  "either comparing their good cause with the evil cause of the wicked, they thence derive confidence of victory, not so much by the commendation of their own righteousness as by the just and deserved condemnation of their own righteousness as by the just and deserved condemnation of their adversaries.  Or, without comparison with others, while they examine themselves before God, the purity of their own conscience brings them some comfort and confidence."  Calvin only discusses the second way in the following section, but he is very clear that the saints do not rely one bit on their own works for salvation but solely upon God's goodness and mercy.  This "purity of their own conscience" gives them assurance that God is working through them, not that they do anything good on their own.  Knowing this, they then feel God's love for them and have assurance of their salvation.  These good works are not the cause but simply the effect of God's mercy.  Calvin continues this idea in the next section where he calls works "fruits of the call."  These good works are a sign of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

Works are gifts of God which we "may recognize his goodness and as signs of the calling by which [we] realize [our] election."  In no way do these works take away from the free righteousness that we attain in Christ.  Calvin quotes Augustine from his commentary on Psalm 137:18.  He is asking God to look upon his works, but at the same time he says. "For whatever good works are mine are from thee."  He knows that his multitude of sins overwhelm his good works.  Calvin writes, "From this it comes about that his conscience feels more fear and consternation than assurance.  Therefore, he would like God to look upon his good deeds only that, recognizing the grace of his own call in them, he may finish the work he has begun."

In the final section of chapter 14, Calvin notes that sometimes Scripture speaks of good works as being a reason for divine benefits.  He restates the four causes from earlier, but then Calvin states, "These do not prevent the Lord from embracing works as inferior causes."  "Those whom the Lord has destined by his mercy for the inheritance of eternal life he leads into possession of it, according to his ordinary dispensation, by means of good works."  He proposes an order of dispensation.  First, God's choosing.  Second, God's justifying.  Third, man producing good works.  Last, God glorifying in the good works (eternal life).  It is God alone who saves.  He is the true cause of choosing and justifying His people.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.15.1-3.15.4

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