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Pictet on Justification

by Mark Horne

Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.

Much that would be of value to us is now out of print. Occasionally I stumble over such a treasure in the seminary library. Thus, I discovered Benedict Pictet’s Christian Theology translated from the original latin in the last century. Pictet was the nephew of Francis Turretin and the last orthodox pastor of Geneva. Tragically, his main opponent in his fight against a slide away from Reformed Theology was Jean-Alphonse, Turretin’s own son. Yet Pictet was no mere imitator of former days, but an original theologian in his own right.

Unfortunately, his work was expurgated by his translator in the chapter on reprobation, and useless footnotes trying to register disagreement with Pictet’s defense of the legitimacy of Roman Catholic baptism (i.e. converts from romanism need not be rebaptized) are inserted. My copy also had several torn pages. Nevertheless, reading Pictet was quite rewarding to me, and so I commend him to anyone interested in systematic theology. Of course, I have my disagreements (his sympathy for alleged Mary’s perpetual virginity, his vacuous view of the sacraments, his doctrine of the “spirituality” of God as he uses it to inveigh against “carnal” worship, etc), but I still think he is worth reading.

The excerpt below is from the chapter “Of the Justification of a Righteous Man,” which occurs after his chapter, “Of the Justification of a Sinner.” The italics are Pictet’s (or his translators?) and the boldfacing and underlining is done by me.]

We have spoken of the justification of man as a sinner; we must now speak of his justification as a righteous man, i.e. that by which he proves that he is justified and that he possesses a true justifying faith. Now this justification is by works, even in the sight of God , as well as of men; and of this James speaks when he declares that “by works a man is justified and not by faith only” (Jam 2:24). To illustrate this, we must remark that there is a twofold accusation against man. First, he is accused before God’s tribunal of the guilt of sin, and this accusation is met and done away by the justification of which we have already treated. Secondly, the man who has been justified may be accused of hypocrisy, false profession and unregeneracy; now he clears himself from this accusation and justifies his faith by his works-this is the second justification; it differs from the first; for in the first a sinner is acquitted from guilt, in the second a godly man is distinguished from an ungodly. In the first God imputes the righteousness of Christ; in the second he pronounces judgment from the gift of holiness bestowed upon us ; both these justifications the believer obtains, and therefore it is true that “by works he is justified and not by faith only.”

From these remarks it is plain that James is easily reconciled with Paul, especially if we consider, that Paul had to do with judiciaries, who sought to be justified by the law, i.e. by their own works, but James had to deal with a sort of Epicureans, who, content with a mere profession, neglected good works; it is no wonder then, that Paul should insist upon faith, and James upon works. Moreover, Paul speaks of a lively and efficacious faith, but James of a faith without works. Paul also speaks of the justification of the ungodly or sinner, James of that justification, by which a man as it were justifies his faith and proves himself to be justified . For it is his design to show that it is not enough for a Christian man to glory in the remission of sins, which is unquestionably obtained only by a living faith in Christ, but that he must endeavor to make it manifest by his works that he is truly renewed, that he possesses real faith and righteousness, and lives as becomes a regenerate and justified person. Hence it is plain, that Abraham is properly said to have been justified, when he offered up Isaac, because by this he proved that he had real faith, and cleared himself from every charge of hypocrisy, of which he might have been accused. In this sense that passage is explained: “He that is righteous, let him be righteous still” (Rev 22), i.e. let him show by his works that he is justified…


Francis Turretin

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol 2 17th TOPIC

Are good works necessary to salvation? We affirm.

II. There are three principal opinions about the necessity of good works…; The third is that of those who (holding the middle ground between these two extremes) neither simply deny, nor simply assert; yet they recognize a certain necessity for them against the Libertines, but uniformly reject the necessity of merit against the Romanists. This is the opinion of the orthodox.

III. Hence it is evident that the question here does not concern the necessity of merit, causality, and efficiency—whether good works are necessary to effect salvation or to acquire it by right. (For this belongs to another controversy, of which hereafter). Rather the question concerns the necessity of means, of presence and of connection or order—Are they required as the means and way for possessing salvation? This we hold.

IV. Although the proposition concerning the necessity of good works to salvation (which was thrust forward in a former century by the Romanists under the show of a reconciliation in the Intermistic formula, but really that imperceptibly the purity of the doctrine concerning justification might be corrupted) was rejected by various Lutheran theologians as less suitable and dangerous; nay, even by some of our theologians; still we think with others that it can be retained without danger if properly explained. We also hold that it should be pressed against the license of the Epicureans so that although works may be said to contribute nothing to the acquisition of our salvation, still they should be considered necessary to the obtainment of it, so that no one can be saved without them–that thus our religion may be freed from those most foul calumnies everywhere cast mot unjustly upon it by the Romanists (as if it were the mistress of impiety and the cushion of carnal licentiousness and security)…

VII. And as to the covenant, everyone knows that it consists of two parts: on the one hand the promise on the part of God; on the other the stipulation of obedience on the part of man… [emphasis added].


Does faith alone justify? We affirm against the Romanists.

III. But that the state of the question may be the more easily understood, we must remark that a twofold trial can be entered into by God with man: either by the law (inasmuch as he is viewed as guilty of violating the law by sin and thus comes under the accusation and condemnation of the law); or by the gospel (inasmuch as he is accused by Satan of having violated the gospel covenant and so is supposed to be an unbeliever and impenitent or a hypocrite, who has not testified by works the faith he has professed with his mouth). Now to this twofold trial a twofold justification ought to answer; not in the Romish sense, but in a very different sense. The first is that by which man is absolved from the guilt of sin on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and apprehended by faith; the other is that by which he is freed from the charge of unbelief and hypocrisy and declared to be a true believer and child of God; one who has fulfilled the gospel covenant (if not perfectly as to degree, still sincerely as to parts) and answered to the divine call by the exercise of faith and piety. The first is justifica- tion properly so called; the other is only a declaration of it. That is justification of cause a priori; this is justification of sign or of effect a posteriori, declaratively. In that, faith alone can have a place because it alone apprehends the righteousness of Christ, by whose merit we are freed from the condemnation of the law; in this, works also are requited as the effects and signs of faith, by which its truth and sincerity are declared against the accusation of unbelief and hypocrisy. For as faith justifies a person, so works justify faith.

IV. The question does not concern justification a posteriori and declaratively in the fatherly and gospel trial-whether faith alone without works concurs to it (for we confess that works come in here with faith; yea, that works only are properly regarded because it is concerned with the justification of faith, which can be gathered from no other source more certainly than by works as its effects and indubitable proofs). Rather the question concerns justification a priori, which frees us from the legal trial, which is concerned with the justification of the wicked and the perfect righteousness, which can be opposed to the curse of the law and acquire for us a tight to life-whether works come into consideration here with faith (as the Romanists hold) or whether faith alone (as we maintain).

V. (2) The question is not whether faith alone justifies to the exclusion either of the grace of God or the righteousness of Christ or the word and sacraments ( by which the blessing of justification is presented and sealed to us on the part of God), which we maintain are necessarily required here; but only to the exclusion of every other virtue and habit on our part. Hence the Romanists have no reason for accusing us of confusion (akatastasias) in this argument as if we ascribed justification at one time to the grace of God, at another to the blood of Christ and then again to faith. For all these as they are mutually subordinated in a different class of cause, consist with each other in the highest degree.


Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.

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