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How Grace Justifies Us by the Righteousness of Christ*
Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586)  

Editorial Note: From time to time, Present Truth Magazine will be reprinting beacon lights of the past on justification by faith. Following is a most significant portion of material from the pen of Martin Chemnitz was the greatest pupil of Melanchthon and a prince among the Lutheran devines of his age. The Romanists called him a second Martin Luther. He brilliantly defended the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith against the Council of Trent. We here reprint a section from a translation of his book, Examination of the Council Trent (Concordia Publishing House), with kind permission from the publishers.


The Term "Grace"

1. The word 'grace' in Scripture often means favor, good will, or mercy; sometimes, indeed, it also means the gifts which are conferred from good will. However, the question is what in particular the term grace means in those passages in which Paul argues that we are justified freely through the grace of God.

Likewise: "You are saved by the grace of God." The testimonies are not obscure or ambiguous but clear, certain, and firm that the word "grace" is to be understood in this argument of the gratuitous mercy, goodness, good will, or favor, of God, who embraces in His grace and receives into grace the unworthy for the sake of His Son, the Mediator. For Paul, in Rom. 5, clearly distinguishes between 'grace' and the 'gift of grace," as grace and truth are distinguished in John 1. Both are indeed the gift of the Son of God, the Mediator. However, when Paul says that we are justified and saved by grace, he understands that grace which the Scriptures distinguish from the gift of grace, that is, he understands not our newness but the mercy of God, or the gratuitous acceptance. That is clear from this, that Paul, in the article of justification, places grace in opposition to good works, not to those only which reason performs without the Holy Spirit but also the works of Abraham, which are gifts and fruits of the Spirit, Rom. 4:4: "To one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due." And what he says in Rom. 3:24-28, we are justified by grace without the works of the Law, that he applies in Rom. 4 to the works of the regenerate Abraham. And thus he places justifying grace in opposition to Abraham's working through the renewal of the Spirit. For the statement in Rom. 11 :6 is general: "If it is by grace it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." And when Paul says, 2 Tim. 1:99 He has saved us, "not in virtue of our works but in virtue of His own purpose and the grace which He gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago," there certainly grace cannot mean anything inherent in us. For the grace of Christ was given us ages ago, when we did not yet exist, yes, when the foundations of the earth had not yet been laid.

2. Scripture clearly shows by means of other synonyms or equivalent words how it wants to have the word "grace" understood in these debates: In Titus 3:4 it speaks of "the goodness and loving kindness" by which God embraces the poor and lost race of men. In the same place it says: "In virtue of His own mercy He saved us . . . so that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs. . .of eternal life." And in Eph. 2:4: "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)." So also what is written in Heb. 2:9: "By the grace of God He might taste death for everyone," that Paul sets forth as follows, Rom. 5:8: "God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." And in Heb. 4:16 we read: "Let us draw ... near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." These things are so clear that both Thomas and Richard of Middleton confess that some of the ancients explained grace as the good pleasure and gratuitous love of God, by which He chooses, calls, justifies, and adopts us, according to Eph. I.


The Adverb "Gratis"

1. Paul added the little word gratis in order that he might illustrate more fully the specific and true meaning of the term "grace" in the article on justification and salvation and secure it against all corruptions: "Justified gratis by His grace." The meaning of the Hebrew word [insert here] ("gratis") is thus understood, for it is set in opposition to the payment of a price or satisfaction, Gen. 29:15: "Should you serve me for nothing (gratis)? Tell me, what shall your wages be?" Ex. 21:2: "He shall go out free, for nothing"; Num. 11:5: "The fish we ate ... for nothing"; 2 Sam. 24:24: "I will not offer burnt offerings ... which costs me nothing." It means also that something is done without cause, or without merit, beside or contrary to merit, as in Ps. 69:4: "They hate me without cause"; 74 Ps. 109:3: "They attack me without a cause"; Prov. 24:28: "Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause"; 75 I Sam. 19:5: "Why will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?" I Kings 2:31: "Take away ... the blood ... shed without cause"; Ezek. 6:10 and 14:23: "I have not done this evil without cause, says the Lord"; Jer. 15:13: "Your treasures will I give as spoil without price," that is, to those from whom you have not deserved such a thing; Lam. 3:52: "They have hunted me like a bird ... without cause," that is, those whom he gave no cause. In these examples the Greek interpreters always translated the Hebrew word [insert here] with the particle [dorean] ("gratis"), which is used in the New Testament as follows: 2 Cor. 11:7: "I preached the Gospel without cost (dorean) to you"; Rev. 21:6: "I will give water without price"; 2 Thess. 3:8: "We did not eat anyone's bread without paying, but with toil."

2. I have quoted these examples because they illustrate the meaning of the little word gratis. For the enemies of David are said to have hated and persecuted him gratis ("without a cause"), because there was in David no cause or desert why they should hate and persecute him; rather, they found cause in him why they should not have hated him, but the cause of the hatred was in the evil disposition of the enemies. And in Ezekiel God is said not to punish gratis ("without a cause"), that is, those in whom He finds no cause or desert of punishment. From this it can be understood why Paul in Rom. 3:24 adds to the word "grace" the particle "gratis." For in Gen. 39:4 the text says of Joseph: "He found grace in the sight of Potiphar." But there is the added note "because he was a prosperous man," that is, on account of the eminent gifts which he noticed in Joseph he loved him and made him great. Therefore, lest anyone think that we are justified and saved by the grace of God in the same manner, Paul adds the particle "gratis," which shows: (1) that the cause or merit that we are justified before God to life eternal neither is nor inheres in us; (2) that God finds in us many causes why He could condemn us; (3) that God receives into grace and accepts to life eternal the unworthy, who deserve something far different, out of pure goodness and mercy, for the sake of His Son. This is the same as what the psalm says, "He did not deal with us according to our sins nor reward us according to our iniquities," and what Daniel says, "Not according to our righteousness, but according to Thy mercy." Therefore we are justified freely (gratis) by the grace of God, not because we are or become perfectly just and without sin in this life but because the mercy of God forgives and covers the sins which it finds in us, for Christ's sake (Rom. 4). "For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor. 5:19). And through Christ there is proclaimed to us forgiveness of sins from everything from which we could not be justified by the Law (Acts 13:38-39). For this is "the knowledge of salvation ... in the forgiveness of their sins" (Luke 1:77). For "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins." For "if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ; and He is the expiation for our sins" (1 John 1:8--2:2). Therefore, to one who trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness without works. (Rom.4:5).


 What That Righteousness Is Which We Plead Against the Judgment of God in Justification.

1. What we have said above is clear, firm, and certain from the testimonies of the Scripture. But the question, the explanation of which will shed much light on this subject, is whether and how God justifies the ungodly who is without righteousness. For human courts often acquit a wicked man either through an error or through carelessness or through wickedness when wickedness is either ignored, or not heeded, or approved.

2. These things, however, neither can nor should be attributed to God in any way in the justification of a sinner. For in Prov. 11:15 and Isa. 5:23 God Himself pronounces it an abomination to justify the ungodly in this manner. Nor is it a right answer in this place if it is said that, because God is the freest of free agents, He acts justly even though He does what He Himself pronounces an abomination. For that norm of righteousness which is revealed in the Law is the eternal, immovable, and unchangeable will of God. For sins this norm requires the fullest satisfaction, and for righteousness it requires the most complete and pure fulfillment of the Law. But is God, when He justifies the ungodly gratis by grace, without the works of the Law, in conflict with and contrary to Himself, because He has revealed His will differently ii. the Law? Not at all! For in Mal. 3:6 He says: "I the Lord do not change," and in Num. 23:19: "God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?" Therefore Paul says, Rom. 3:31. that we do not overthrow the Law when we teach that a man is justified by faith without the works of the Law. On the contrary, we uphold it. And in Matt. 5:17-18, Christ says: "Think not that I have come to abolish the Law.. .. Truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." Therefore that sentence of the Law will remain firm and fixed, that satisfaction is required for sins, and not just any kind of satisfaction but one that is sufficient and worthy; and that for righteousness a fulfillment is required and an obedience that is in every way perfect and absolute. However, we cannot in this life render such a satisfaction and have such a righteousness. And yet it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than that one iota and one little dot of the Law should fall, which is not satisfied by the perfection that is owed. What then? Will therefore no man living be justified in the sight of God; will all be damned eternally?

Just this would happen if the outcome depended on us. But here the Gospel reveals to us that God in His secret council and surpassing mercy has found such a way and method that both the righteousness of God revealed in the Law might be satisfied and that man might be justified to life eternal gratis by the grace of God, through faith, without the works of the Law, namely, that the Son of God should be sent into the world and come into the flesh to deliver, justify, and save the human race. But how was this our Mediator made our Righteousness, our Deliverer and Savior? Was it by dissolving and destroying the sentence of the divine will revealed in the Law? The Son of God Himself certainly says that this opinion and persuasion is false, because this is impossible, according to Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 16:16-17. But He was for this reason made under the Law, not for Himself nor in His own name, but that He might redeem those who were under the Law (Gal. 4:4-5). Therefore He took on Himself in the place and in the name of us all the satisfaction for sins, the suffering of the penalties, and the fulfillment of the Law by means of the most perfect obedience. And for this reason He assumed our nature, that in that nature, which was under the Law, satisfaction and fulfillment might be made. However, because it had to be a satisfaction and fulfillment that would be adequate and sufficient for the sins and for the righteousness of the whole world, therefore it was necessary that the person of the Mediator should be both God and man, in order that the power and efficacy of the satisfaction and fulfillment might be infinite and sufficient for the whole world. But you say: "How does this relieve me, that another person made satisfaction to the Law, when it is I whom the Law presses down? 'You shall love!' 'You shall not covet!' And Rom. 2:8-9: 'Wrath and fury, tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil!' Yes, in Ezek. 18:20, God pronounces this sentence: 'The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.' Therefore, on account of a foreign righteousness he who is himself a sinner is not justified." I reply: It is certain that the Law requires righteousness of everyone, and from everyone such satisfaction and conformity as it requires. For it is not the teaching of the Law that we are redeemed and justified by a foreign satisfaction and righteousness; one man also cannot make satisfaction for another before God, as Ps. 49:78 says: "None can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him: for the redemption of his soul is costly." However, the Gospel reveals and declares this mystery, which was hidden for long ages, that since the human race could not make satisfaction to the Law and the Law could in no way be dissolved and destroyed, God made a transfer of the Law to another person (a matter which belongs to the article of justification) who should fulfill the Law both by satisfaction a~ obedience for the whole human race. And because that person is both God and man, therefore His satisfaction is the expiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), and hence Christ is the end of the Law for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom 10:4). And Him God sets before us through the ministry, that through His redemption, by faith in His blood, we may be justified gratis by the grace of God. (Rom. 3:25).

3. Because therefore (1) by the council of the entire Trinity the Son of God was sent into the world, made of a woman, made under the Law, that He might redeem them that were under the Law, that we might thus receive the adoption; and because (2) the satisfaction and obedience of Christ, the Mediator, God and man, is of such a nature and so great that it can be the expiation for the sins of the whole world and suffice for righteousness to every one who believes; and because (3) in the ministry Christ is set before us by God in order that we may be justified through His redemption by faith; therefore, when faith, in true contrition, lays hold of and applies to itself that satisfaction and obedience of Christ, then it possesses that which it can plead against the accusations of the Law in the judgment of God, and thus stand, that we may be justified.

The believers have, indeed, from the renewing by the Holy Ghost also an inherent righteousness; but because this is only begun, imperfect, and as a result of the flesh still defiled in this life, therefore we cannot by means of it stand in the judgment of God, nor does God justifies us because of it, that is, absolve us from sins, receive us into grace, and accept us to life eternal, as has been shown above from Scripture, Indeed, the satisfaction and obedience of Christ, by which He fulfilled the Law for us, is that righteousness, which is both sufficient and worthy to be pronounced just in the Judgment of God. And this is imputed through faith to the believers, so that through it and because of it they can stand in the judgment of God, in no other way, yes, in a much better way, than if they themselves had by perfect obedience made satisfaction to the Law. For they have by imputation a righteousness which is both God's and man's. Therefore, on account of the satisfaction and obedience of Christ, imputed to us by God through faith, the believers are justified, that is, they receive remission of sins, are absolved from the sentence of damnation, are received into grace, adopted as sons, and accepted to everlasting life.

4. We do not, therefore, teach that believers are justified without righteousness, a justification of the ungodly which God pronounces an abomination in Prov. 11:15 and Is. 5:23, but we say that it is necessary that in justification a righteousness should come in and intervene, and indeed, not just any kind of righteousness but one which is sufficient and worthy in the judgment of God to be declared suitable for eternal life. However, our inherent righteousness, which is begun in the renewal through the Holy Spirit, is not such on account of the adhering imperfection and impurity of the flesh. Therefore a different righteousness is necessary, by which, when it enters in and intercedes, we may be justified before God to life eternal. This indeed is the satisfaction and obedience, that is, the righteousness of Christ, the Mediator, which is offered through the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments, is apprehended by faith, and is imputed by God to the believers, so that we can interpose it between the judgment of God and our sins, so that we are protected under it as under a shield from the divine wrath which we have deserved, so that "covered by it we may now boldly and securely stand before the divine tribunal and thus be pronounced righteous to life eternal." These are words of Pighius, who, though he is otherwise a most bitter opponent of our doctrine, is nevertheless compelled by the evidence of the truth to acknowledge and confess this statement as true, godly and in harmony with Scripture.

5. With respect to Christ, therefore, who makes satisfaction to the Law for us, it is redemption, merit, and righteousness; but with respect to us, it is grace or undeserved mercy, because the judgment of God does not find in us, even in the regenerate, in this life an inherent righteousness that is sufficient and worthy that we may be justified on account of it to life eternal. Rather, it finds in us, even in the regenerate, some, yes, many and varied, sins which we do not sufficiently know, on account of which, if He wanted to enter into judgment with us according to the severity of the Law, He could condemn us. Therefore it is by free grace that we unworthy and undeserving ones are justified. The obedience of Christ, indeed, is the merit on account of which we are justified. However, that God sent His Son into the world and that the Son of God, the Mediator, made satisfaction to the Law for us, this no worthiness of ours, no merit of ours, has brought about; but when we had deserved something far different, God decreed and bestowed this out of pure grace and mercy.

Neither do we merit by any worthiness of our own that the righteousness of Christ should be imputed to us, but it is imputed without works, gratis, by the grace of God to the believers (Rom. 4:16) Thus with respect to ourselves it is solely the pure gratuitous grace, goodness, love, and mercy of God when we are justified before God to eternal life. This explanation shows that the entire doctrine of justification is simple and clear.

6. But we do not ourselves devise this teaching, that Christ the Mediator has fulfilled the Law for us by the fullest satisfaction of the punishments and by the most perfect obedience and that this righteousness of the Mediator is imputed to the believers, that by it they may be justified before God to life eternal. But this is the specific and perpetual doctrine of the Gospel, of which we shall note down only a few clear statements.

Gal. 3:13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us......that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles." You hear that the Gentiles obtain the blessing by which they are delivered from the curse on account of the redemption of Christ, by which He was made a curse for us.

Gal. 4:4-5: "God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." Therefore we are adopted as sons on account of the satisfaction and obedience of Christ.

2 Cor. 5:21: "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." But how was Christ made sin? Certainly by imputation. And thus we are made the righteousness of God in Him.

Rom. 8:3-4: "For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do; sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us." This most beautiful statement the Latin translation obscures; for what can that mean, de peccato damnare peccatum? However, the phrase is taken from the Septuagint, which translated "sacrifice for sin" perfectly and skillfully [peri hamartias] ("for sin") and [to tes hamartias] ("the sin offering"). Therefore the meaning is that a sacrifice for sin was required to expiate sin; but the sacrifice of a ram, calf, goat, a bird of the turtle or the common doves could not work that expiation. For the Law accuses and condemns not the nature of quadrupeds or birds but the nature of man, which is corrupted through sin. For this reason God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, that is, in the flesh by which He should be like His brethren in all things except sin; that He might "for sin," that is, with such a sacrifice for sin, in which the sacrificial victim was His own body, which owed nothing to sin, condemn sin in that same human flesh which sin had subjected to condemnation. And because He is the Son of God and was sent by God to become the offering for us, therefore His sacrifice has such power and efficacy, as Paul says, that the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in us. But how? That we might be justified by the Law? By no means! For Paul sharply contends that we are not justified by the Law, but that the righteousness of the Law, that is, the most absolute righteousness which the Law demands and requires of us, may be fulfilled not by us but in us, because Christ, who has fulfilled the Law for us, is in us; that is, He dwells in us through faith (Eph. 3:17) However, that fulfillment of the Law which takes its beginning from us does not belong here but in another place, as Paul says: "Christ is not in those who do not have the Spirit of Christ." Therefore, he says, "Who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." And in Matt. 20:28 we read: "The Son of man came ... to give His life as a ransom for many."

1 Tim. 2:6: "He gave Himself as a ransom for all." Rom. 10:4: "Christ is the end of the Law that everyone who has faith may be justified." In Rom. 5:9, Paul says that we are justified through the blood of Christ. And in explanation of this he says that we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). But how? Paul answers in Rom. 4:5: "Because faith is reckoned as righteousness." Not because faith is in itself such a virtue but because it lays hold of, accepts, embraces, and possesses Christ, who is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For this is the righteousness which God imputes without our works to those who are made blessed. For through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus we are justified (Rom. 3:24). Jer. 23:6: "This is the name by which He will be called: 'The Lord is our righteousness.'" 1 Cor. 1:30: "Him God made... our righteousness." 2 Cor. 5:21: "That in Him we might become the righteousness of God." Is. 53:5, 6, 11: "Upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed." "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." By His knowledge shall the righteous One ... make many to be accounted righteous."

Rom. 4:23, 24: "It was written for our sakes. It will be reckoned to us who believe in Him that raised up from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

You hear both things, that God imputes something to the believers, and what it is He imputes; namely, that Christ was put to death for our sins and that He was raised for our righteousness. Rom. 5:21: "Grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." Christ is, however, our righteousness. (Jer. 23:6; 1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 10:4).

But how can we be justified to life eternal through this foreign righteousness? I reply, as Paul says, Gal. 3:27: "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." At the same time we have been clothed also with His righteousness. Rom. B:32: "With His Son God gives us all things." But Christ has a perfect fulfillment of the Law, or righteousness, for us. Therefore the Father gives that to the believers that they may be justified on account of it.

7. What I have here briefly related is the constant teaching of the prophetic and the apostolic Scripture in the Old and in the New Testament concerning the justification of man before God to life eternal. On this we should, and safely can, place our trust that we may be justified on its account, that is, that we may receive remission of sins, be absolved from the deserved sentence of damnation, be received by God into grace, be adopted as sons, and finally be received to eternal life.


*From Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I, by Martin Chemnitz, translated by Fred Kramer. copyright 1971 by Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission.
This significant book can be obtained from Concordia Publishing House. 3558 South Jefferson Avenue, St Louis, Missouri 63118.
74 All editions have "Ps. 54'." However, the passage is found in the Vulgate in Ps. 88:5, in the RSV in Ps. 69:4.
75 In this passage the Vulgate text has frustra instead of gratis for the Hebrew.