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Francis Turretin (1623-1687) - The Most Precise Theologian of the Reformation Era

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“Every decree of God is eternal; therefore it cannot depend upon a condition which takes place only in time. (2) God’s decrees depend on his good pleasure (eudokia) (Mt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 9:11). Therefore they are not suspended upon any condition outside of God. (3) Every decree of God is immutable (Is. 46:10; Rom. 9:11).”

The Scholastic Reformer explains what the surrounds the doctrine of sanctification for a Christian.

What is required that a work may be truly good? Are the works of the righteous such? We affirm.

I. When we speak of the truth of good works, we do not mean works simply moral as they are contra-distinguished from spiritual and supernatural by some. In this sense, those are called moral by them which are such as to external discipline or external act (which they commonly term the substance), constituting civil and external discipline or righteousness. Aristotle unfolds these in his Niconwchean Ethics. Spiritual are those which are such as much as to substance as with regard to circumstances. The former are called good equivocally (homonyms) and as to external appearance only; but the latter univocally (synonyms) and as to essence, inasmuch as they have in themselves a supernatural goodness truly pleasing to a reconciled God and Father and are ordained by him to receive the rewards of this as well as of the future life (of which we here treat).

II. In such works, the matter and form must be considered. The matter are all the actions of man depending upon his intellect and will and entertaining to the will (to thymikon) and the appetite (to epithymetikon); those which are said to be the first motions by philosophers, whether they are done without delay or with delay. These are commonly called morals – whether with pleasure or without it; whether with or without deliberation and with the consent of the will. The form is the accordance with the law and will of God, with respect to the substance of the action as well as with respect to its circumstances.

III. By the substance of an action, we do not mean only the act external to the inducement, but both the internal and external act at the same time (if indeed each is connected together); or the internal only, if the external cannot be held. These two acts are so mutually related that the external act is not properly good without the internal (as is apparent in hypocrites), but the internal can exist without an external because goodness is properly constituted in the will and intention. Again, the external does not increase the goodness of the internal by itself, but accidentally, inasmuch as it either continues or conserves the act of the will.

IV. By circumstances we mean all the modifications which attend actions of this kind, so that the work may not only be good, but also that it be done well according to the command of God. In this sense, it is commonly said, “God loves not so much the adjective as the adverb”; also good requires an entire cause, embracing not only the substance of the action, but also the circumstances. Hence a thing good in itself may still become evil and be turned into a sin, if it is not well done (as prayer, charity, etc.). However, to constitute this goodness, four things are required specially required: a principle, rule, mode, end. (1) That the work may be done from the faith of a renewed heart because “whatever is done without faith is sin” (Rom.14:23). (2) That it be done according to the prescription of the law and the will of God revealed in his word, which is the sole rule of faith and life. (3) That it be done in a lawful mode (i.e., not only externally, but also internally) because the law (which is spiritual, Rom. 7:14) regards not only the external motions of the body, but principally the internal actions of the mind. (4) That it be done to the glory of God, the sole object to which we ought always to look; and to which all things should be subordinated (1 Cor. 10:31) – not only with a virtual and habitual, but also with an actual intention. For since it is an intention, it ought to be the most explicit of the highest good and be interrupted by no other intention.

VI. Hence we infer (1) that the virtues of the Gentiles follows (however illustrious), still cannot be said to be good virtues of works, whatever the Pelagians formerly and the modem Socinians, Romanists and especially the Jesuits maintain. These are not willing that “the works of unbelievers should be sins or the virtues of philosophers should be vices,” as we read in the Bull of Pius V and of Gregory XIII (cf. “Bull 111.25,’ Magnum BullaTum Romanum [19651, v. IV, Pt. 3, p. 427) and in Bellarmine (“De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio,” 5.9 Opera [18581, 4:391-94) and Trininus (Theologiae elenchticae … controversiarum fidei, Cont. 12, no. 5 [1648], pp. 569-83). To these Jansen with his whole school strongly opposed himself in his Augustinus. For although they might have some external goodness (by reason of the external act and object, which was good), still they sinned in three things: (a) as to the principle, which was not a renewed but an impure heart, although imbued with some knowledge of virtue and vice from the dictation of the natural law; (b) as to the mode because the internal obedience of the heart was wanting; (c) as to the end because direction to the glory of God was required, which they did not have in view. Moreover no difference can be determined between the most wicked and the more virtuous of them (as between Fabricius and Cataline) because a difference always remained between them. “Not because the one was good,’ says Augustine, ‘but because the other was worse and Fabricius was less wicked than Cataline; not in having true virtues, but not deviating as much from true virtues” (Against Julian 4.3.25 [FC 35:190; PL 44.7511). There it was better for them to cultivate this civil virtue, than to loosen the reins to the appetite of the flesh, by which if they could not obtain the reward of glory, still they would have to expect a less severe punishment (as those failing only in the mode of acting, sinned less than others who sinned in the very substance of the deed). But because we have treated of this question in Volume 1, Topic X, Question 5, we add no more.

VII. Hence also it is evident that the Romanists err when they hold those to be good works which are obtruded upon God (not commanding and requiring) which Paul calls will-worship (ethelothreskeia) and condemns (Col. 2:23). For when it is treated of the worship of God, we must not only abstain from things forbidden, but also from things not commanded; nay, such works are forbidden just because they are not commanded: ‘What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Dr. 12:32); “Remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them: and seek not after your own heart” (Num. 15:39). He exclaims in Isa. 1:12, “Who has required this at your hands?” And: “In vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines, which are the precepts of men” (Isa. 29:13).

VIII. Nor can the diluted comment of good intention favor this error, as if what is done contrary to or beyond God’s command can be a good work because it is done with a right intention. For that is falsely termed a good intention which is opposed to God’s intention. King Saul indeed pleaded a good intention when, being commanded to destroy the Amalekites utterly, he spared the king and reserved the fattest sheep for sacrifices; but this was not received as an excuse and Samuel testifies that God wished obedience, not sacrifice no matter with what good intention offered. This same good intention destroyed Uzzah, when he reached out his hand to support the ark shaking in the wagon. Christ, speaking of his persecutors, says, “They think that they do God service, whosoever killeth believers” (John 16:2). The worst religions applaud themselves in the highest degree and cover their works with a good intention.

IX. Further with regard to the question here agitated between us and the Romanists-whether the works of believers are and can be called truly good. We must distinguish between truly good and perfectly good. We have proved before that the latter cannot be ascribed to the works of the saints on account of the imperfection of sanctification and the remains of sin. But the former is rightly predicated of them because although they are not as yet perfectly renewed, still they are truly and unfeignedly renewed. While the Romanists are unwilling to make this distinction, they falsely charge us with denying that the works of believers are truly good because we maintain that they are imperfect, since the truth and perfection of works are notwithstanding most diverse and the former can be granted without the latter.

X. That the works of believers are truly good is proved: (1) because they are not performed only with the general concourse of God, but by a special motion and impulse of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the hearts of believers and excites them to good works. Hence these works are usually ascribed to him as the primary cause (Ezek. 36:27; Gal. 5:22; Rom. 8:9, 10; Phil. 1:6; 2:13). Nor are they done only by the Holy Spirit exciting and impelling, but also by the qualities of infused grace mediating (which overcome the order of nature). Hence Paul ascribes all his works to the grace of God (1 Cor. 15:10) and Christ asserts that we can do nothing without him (John 15:5). Now what is produced by the Spirit and the grace of Christ must be truly good. Nor does the flesh, which still remains in us, hinder this because its presence can indeed take away the perfection of sanctification, but not its truth. (2) Such works please God; therefore they are truly good. For what is properly and by itself sin, cannot please him. The passages are obvious (1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 11:4-6; 12:28; Rom. 12:1; 14:18; Phil. 4:18). I confess that the first cause of their acceptance is Christ, in whom we are pleasing to God (Eph. 1:6) because the person is rather pleasing to God and is reconciled to him by the Mediation. In this sense, God is said to have had respect to Abel rather than to his sacrifice (Gen. 4:4). But this does not hinder God from being pleased with the works also, on account of the true goodness which occurs in them (flowing from the regeneration of the heart and the restoration of the divine image). For wherever God beholds his own likeness, he deservedly loves and holds it in honor. Thus not without a cause is the life of believers (regulated according to holiness and righteousness) said to please him. (3) A reward is promised to them, which could not be done if they were not truly good. For although works have nothing in themselves which can deserve and obtain such a reward (which on this account is merely gratuitous, as will soon be shown), still they have a certain ordination and aptitude that they are ordained to a reward, both from the condition of the worker, who is supposed to be a believer (i.e., admitted into the grace and friendship of God), and from the condition of the works themselves, which although not having a condignity to the reward, still have the relation of disposition required in the subject for its possession. This condition being fulfilled, the reward must be given as, it being withheld, the reward cannot be obtained. For as without holiness, no one shall see God and, unless renewed by water and the Spirit, cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5; Heb. 12-.14); so, holiness being posited, glory is necessarily posited from the inseparable connection existing between them.

XIII. Our affirmation that all works (even the best) are not free from sin in this life does not destroy the truth of the good works of believers because although we affirm that as to mode they are never performed with that perfection which can sustain the rigid examination of the divine judgment (on account of the imperfection of sanctification), still we maintain that as to the thing they are good works. And if they are called sins, this must be understood accidentally with respect to the mode, not of themselves and in their own nature. So there always remains a difference between the works of the renewed and the unrenewed. The latter are essentially and specifically evil and so destitute of those circumstances and conditions which are requisite to the essence of a good work (which accordingly are only good as to sight and appearance). On the other hand, the former are essentially good works because they have all things from which the goodness of an action results and so are truly and not apparently such (although as to degree they may fail and have blemishes mixed up with them).

XIV. Although the works of the renewed are said to be sins, and so faith (by which we are justified) can be called a sin under a certain relation (schesei) (as also the prayer by which we seek the pardon of sins), it does not follow that man is justified by sin and by sin obtains the remission of sins. We do not say that the act of believing itself or of praying is a sin, but only that there are defects and blemishes connected with it. Thus the work of faith is not the instrument of justification with respect to such imperfections, but with respect to the act itself (which is produced by the Holy Spirit and under that reduplication). Nor by sin do we seek or obtain the remission of sin, as our opponents foolishly infer; but we seek it by and on account of the merit of Christ, the duty, not the fault of our prayer mediating as the condition required from us.

XV. Although it is granted that all the works of the renewed are tainted by some sin, the apostle could rightly say, “I am conscious of no evil,’ because he does not speak here of the course of his whole life, but concerning a ministry faithfully completed. Nor does he boast that the work of his ministry had been so completed by himself that no fault had interfered with it on the part of the flesh, but that he had done nothing deceitfully and impiously to wound his own conscience. For otherwise, he professes that he did not do the good that he would, but rather the evil he hated (Rom. 7:19).

XVI. Since God works in us all our good works as far as they have any goodness in them and not as far as they have any imperfection or taint in them (in which sense they spring from the flesh), we say truly that every good work is marred by some sin and yet we deny truly that God is the author of this faultiness or sin.

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