Posts Tagged ‘Good Works’


When, therefore, the saints by innocence of conscience strengthen their faith and take from it occasion to exult, from the fruits of their calling they merely regard themselves as having been chosen as sons by the Lord. Accordingly, the statement of Solomon: “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence” [Proverbs 14:26], and the fact that in order to be heard by him the saints sometimes use this calling of God to witness that they have walked before him in uprightness and simplicity [cf. Genesis 24:40; 2 Kings 20:3] are matters that have no place in laying a foundation to strengthen the conscience but are of value only when taken a posteriori. For there is nowhere that fear which is able to establish full assurance. And the saints are conscious of possessing only such an integrity as intermingled with many vestiges of the flesh. But since they take the fruits of regeneration as proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, from this they are greatly strengthened to wait for God’s help in all their necessities, seeing that in this very great matter they experience him as Father. And they cannot do even this unless they first apprehend God’s goodness, sealed by nothing else than the certainty of the promise. For if they begin to judge it by good works, nothing will be more uncertain or more feeble; for indeed, if works be judged of themselves, by their imperfection they will no less declare God’s wrath than by their incomplete purity they testify to his benevolence.

In sum, they so proclaim God’s benefits as not to turn away from God’s freely given favor, in which, as Paul testifies, there is set “length, breadth, depth, and height” [Ephesians 3:18]. It is as if he said: “Wherever the minds of the godly turn, however high they mount up, however far and wide they extend, still they ought not to depart from the love of Christ but should apply themselves wholly to meditating upon it. For in itself it embraces all dimensions.” Therefore, he says that it excels and overtops all knowledge, and that when we acknowledge how much Christ loved us we are “filled with all the fullness of God” [Ephesians 3:19]. As elsewhere, while Paul boasts that the godly are victors in every contest, he soon adds the reason: “on account of him who loved us” [Romans 8:37 p.].

– Calvin’s Institutes

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So the question then arises: what of our good works? How do we view them? What about 1 John 3:19 and the idea of good works helping our assurance of salvation?


Now the saints quite often strengthen themselves and are comforted by remembering their own innocence and uprightness, and they do not even refrain at times from proclaiming it. This is done 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 adversaries. Or, without comparison with others, while they examine themselves before God, the purity of their own conscience brings them some comfort and confidence.

We shall look at the first reason later. Now concerning the second, let us briefly explain how what we said above agrees with it: that under God’s judgment we must not put any trust in works, or glory in any esteem of them. The agreement lies in this: that the saints, when it is a question of the founding and establishing of their own salvation, without regard for works turn their eyes solely to God’s goodness. Not only do they betake themselves to it before all things as to the beginning of blessedness but they repose in it as in the fulfillment of this. A conscience so founded, erected, and established is established also in the consideration of works, so far, that is, as these are testimonies of God dwelling and ruling in us. Inasmuch, therefore, as this reliance upon works has no place unless you first cast the whole confidence of your mind upon God’s mercy, it ought not to seem contrary to that upon which it depends. Therefore, when we rule out reliance upon works, we mean only this: that the Christian mind may not be turned back to the merit of works as to a help toward salvation but should rely wholly on the free promise of righteousness. But we do not forbid him from undergirding and strengthening this faith by signs of the divine benevolence toward him. For if, when all the gifts God has bestowed upon us are called to mind, they are like rays of the divine countenance by which we are illumined to contemplate that supreme light of goodness; much more is this true of the grace of good works, which shows that the Spirit of adoption has been given to us [cf.  Romans 8:15].
– Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ book three

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