The Denial of All Our Own Righteousness (Witsius)

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain In his book on the controversies surrounding law, gospel, and grace in England around the year 1700, Herman Witsius (d. 1708) gave an excellent defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, based on God’s grace alone.  At one point he talked about the errors of legalism, the Judaizers, and non-Christian views.  Following those paragraphs, he wrote this:

All these errors together, Paul impugns and confutes: proving, at large, that there is none, neither Gentile, nor Jew, who by any work done, either according to the law of nature, or the law of Moses, or devised by men themselves, can acquire, either in whole or in part, an immunity from punishment, and a right to life and salvation: but that with the denial of all our own righteousness, all these things must be sought in Christ alone, to whom we are not united but by faith.

He then noted the righteousness of God as Paul talked about it in Romans 1:16-17.  Here are  his comments:

Now this righteousness is from faith. It is revealed, offered, and conveyed by the gospel, as the hand of God exhibiting it: it is accepted by faith, as the hand of the soul apprehending it. Further, it is so from faith, that it is also to faith. It is from faith, whereby I believe the testimony of God the Father concerning his Son, and the life which is in him; whereby I draw near unto him, that I may claim the right of the sons of God; whereby, I flee to him as the strong-hold of my salvation; whereby, in summary, I receive him to be my Savior.

But why was it necessary that the righteousness which is from faith should be revealed by the gospel? For this reason, because neither Gentiles nor Jews have any righteousness of their own, by which they can obtain expiation of sins and a title to life.   …Further, this righteousness is not placed in the observation of the duties prescribed by the gospel, as if that were not obtained by it, …for we are said to be justified freely, without any cause of justification being in us.   But it is placed in the grace of God, and in the redemption which is in Christ, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood. In fine, all things tend to this, that the glory of our salvation should be wholly transferred to God and Christ, and our boasting entirely banished.

 Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 82.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015