Through Faith Alone

Now the reader sees how fairly the Sophists today cavil against our doctrine when we say that man is justified by faith alone (Rom 3:28). They dare not deny that man is justified by faith because it recurs so often in Scripture. But since the word “alone” is nowhere expressed, they do not allow this addition to be made. Is it so? But what will they reply to these words of Paul where he contends that righteousness cannot be of faith unless it be free (Rom 4:2 ff.)? How will a free gift agree with works? With what chicaneries will they elude what he says in another passage, that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:17)? If righteousness is revealed in the gospel, surely no mutilated or half righteousness but a full and perfect righteousness is contained there. The law therefore has no place in it. Not only by a false but by an obviously ridiculous shift they insist upon excluding this adjective. Does not he who takes everything from works firmly enough ascribe everything to faith alone? What, I pray, do these expressions mean: “His righteousness has been manifested apart from the law” (Rom. 3:21); and, “Man is freely justified” (Rom. 3:24); and, “Apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:28)?

Do they think that the apostle was raving when he brought forward these passages to prove his opinion? “The man who does these things will live in them” (Gal. 3:12), and, “Cursed be every one who does not fulfill all things written in the book of the law” (Gal. 3:10). Unless they have gone mad they will not say that life was promised to keepers of ceremonies or the curse announced only to those who transgress the ceremonies.

If these passages are to be understood of the moral law, there is no doubt that moral works are also excluded from the power of justifying.

These arguments which Paul uses look to the same end: “Since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20), therefore not righteousness. Because “the law works wrath” (Rom. 4:15), hence not righteousness. Because the law does not make conscience certain, it cannot confer righteousness either. Because faith is imputed as righteousness, righteousness is therefore not the reward of works but is given unearned (Rom. 4:4–5). Because we are justified by faith, our boasting is cut off (Rom. 3:27). “If a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But God consigned all things to sin that the promise might be given to those who believe.” (Gal. 3:21–22).

—John Calvin
Institutes, 3.11.19.