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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.: Chapter 50

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 50 [XXIX.]—Righteousness is the Gift of God.

Let no man therefore boast of that which he seems to possess, as if he had not received it; 972 nor let him think that he has received it merely because the external letter of the law has been either exhibited to him to read, or sounded in his ear for him to hear. For “if righteousness is by the law, then Christ has died in vain.” 973 Seeing, however, that if He has not died in vain, He has ascended up on high, and has led captivity captive, and has given gifts to men, 974 it follows that whosoever has, has from this source. But whosoever denies that he has from Him, either has not, or is in great danger of being deprived of what he has. 975 “For it is one God which justifies the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith;” 976 in which clauses there is no real difference in the sense, as if the phrase “by faith” meant one thing, and “through faith” another, but only a variety of expression. For in one passage, when speaking of the Gentiles,—that is, of the uncircumcision,—he says, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen by faith;” 977 and again, in another, when speaking of the circumcision, to which he himself belonged, he says, “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed in Jesus Christ.” 978 Observe, he says that both the uncircumcision are justified by p. 105 faith, and the circumcision through faith, if, indeed, the circumcision keep the righteousness of faith. For the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith, 979 —by obtaining it of God, not by assuming it of themselves. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. And why? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by works 980 —in other words, working it out as it were by themselves, not believing that it is God who works within them. “For it is God which worketh in us both to will and to do of His own good pleasure.” 981 And hereby “they stumbled at the stumbling-stone.” 982 For what he said, “not by faith, but as it were by works,” 983 he most clearly explained in the following words: “They, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” 984 Then are we still in doubt what are those works of the law by which a man is not justified, if he believes them to be his own works, as it were, without the help and gift of God, which is “by the faith of Jesus Christ?” And do we suppose that they are circumcision and the other like ordinances, because some such things in other passages are read concerning these sacramental rites too? In this place, however, it is certainly not circumcision which they wanted to establish as their own righteousness, because God established this by prescribing it Himself. Nor is it possible for us to understand this statement, of those works concerning which the Lord says to them, “Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition;” 985 because, as the apostle says, Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.” 986 He did not say, Which followed after their own traditions, framing them and relying on them. This then is the sole distinction, that the very precept, “Thou shalt not covet,” 987 and God’s other good and holy commandments, they attributed to themselves; whereas, that man may keep them, God must work in him through faith in Jesus Christ, who is “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” 988 That is to say, every one who is incorporated into Him and made a member of His body, is able, by His giving the increase within, to work righteousness. It is of such a man’s works that Christ Himself has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” 989



1 Cor. iv. 7.


Gal. ii. 21.


Ps. 68:18, Eph. 4:8.


Luke 8:18, Luke 19:26.


Rom. iii. 30.


Gal. iii. 8.


Gal. 2:15, 16. [The discussion turns on the difference in the Latin prepositions ex and per, representing the Greek κ and δια.—W.]


Rom. ix. 30.


Rom. 9:31, 32.


Phil. ii. 13.


Rom. ix. 32.


Rom. ix. 32.


Rom. 10:3, 4.


Mark vii. 9.


Rom. ix. 31.


Ex. xx. 17.


Rom. x. 4.


John xv. 5.

Next: Chapter 51

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