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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.: Chapter 22

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 22.—No Man Justified by Works.

What the difference between them is, I will briefly explain. What the law of works enjoins by menace, that the law of faith secures by faith. The one says, “Thou shalt not covet;” 802 the other says, “When I perceived that nobody could be continent, except God gave it to him; and that this was the very point of wisdom, to know whose gift she was; I approached unto the Lord, and I besought Him.” 803 This indeed is the very wisdom which is called piety, in which is worshipped “the Father of lights, from whom is every best giving and perfect gift.” 804 This worship, however, consists in the sacrifice of praise and giving of thanks, so that the worshipper of God boasts not in himself, but in Him. 805 Accordingly, by the law of works, God says to us, Do what I command thee; but by the law of faith we say to God, Give me what Thou commandest. Now this is the reason why the law gives its command,—to admonish us what faith ought to do, that is, that he to whom the command is given, if he is as yet unable to perform it, may know what to ask for; but if he has at once the ability, and complies with the command, he ought also to be aware from whose gift the ability comes. “For we have received not the spirit of this world,” says again that most constant preacher of grace, “but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” 806 What, however, “is the spirit of this world,” but the spirit of pride? By it their foolish heart is darkened, who, although knowing God, glorified Him not as p. 93 God, by giving Him thanks. 807 Moreover, it is really by this same spirit that they too are deceived, who, while ignorant of the righteousness of God, and wishing to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to God’s righteousness. 808 It appears to me, therefore, that he is much more “a child of faith” who has learned from what source to hope for what he has not yet, than he who attributes to himself whatever he has; although, no doubt, to both of these must be preferred the man who both has, and at the same time knows from whom he has it, if nevertheless he does not believe himself to be what he has not yet attained to. Let him not fall into the mistake of the Pharisee, who, while thanking God for what he possessed, yet failed to ask for any further gift, just as if he stood in want of nothing for the increase or perfection of his righteousness. 809 Now, having duly considered and weighed all these circumstances and testimonies, we conclude that a man is not justified by the precepts of a holy life, but by faith in Jesus Christ,—in a word, not by the law of works, but by the law of faith; not by the letter, but by the spirit; not by the merits of deeds, but by free grace.



Ex. xx. 17.


Wisdom 8.21.


Jas. i. 17.


2 Cor. x. 17.


1 Cor. ii. 12.


Rom. i. 21.


Rom. x. 3.


Luke 18:11, 12.

Next: Chapter 23

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