Our Best Works (Witsius)

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain I’ve been enjoying Herman Witsius’ discussion of antinomianism and neonomianism in Britain during the 17th century.  The full title is a mouthful: Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain.  Below is a section near the end where Witsius talks about a believer’s good works and why they cannot be part of or count in our justification:

When Paul testifies in Philippians 3:8 that he “counts all things but loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, and that he might gain Christ” by these words he excludes, as to justification before God, all works, whether previous to faith, or following it (as is excellently observed by Beza). For the elucidation of which point, it is proper to make the following remarks:
1. The graces of the sanctifying Spirit flow clear and pure from their fountain.
2. But running through the channels of our hearts, infected with corruption, from their filth, they contract uncleanness.
3. And hence it is that all our best duties and exercises are polluted.
4. And consequently they cannot be reckoned for our righteousness before God’s tribunal.
5. There is therefore no reason why we should glory in duties well performed, or on their account commend ourselves to God; but that rather being covered with shame, we should implore pardon.
6. Whatever proceeds from us, compared with the most immaculate holiness of God, and in respect of the imperfection cleaving to it, a rising from a mixture of sin dwelling in us, causes that the duties performed by us, if considered in themselves, are nothing but dung.
7. Nevertheless by faith in Christ all the filthiness of our sins is washed away by him, who presents to God these duties cleansed by his blood alone, and makes them pleasing and acceptable to him: which he does not, except we entirely renounce ourselves and our own righteousness, and count it all but loss and dung.
8. In fine [summary], since we ourselves, and the spiritual sacrifices which we offer unto God, are not acceptable to him but by Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5) it is unlawful to presume so much upon our own holiness, however great, as to ask that on its account, considered in itself, and separately from Christ, we may please God.

Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 157–158.

shane lems


2 comments on “Our Best Works (Witsius)

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