Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

Hemmingsen on Good Works

I previously posted on “legal justice” and “evangelical justice” (or “righteousness according to the Law” and “righteousness according to the Gospel”) in the Lutheran Niels Hemmingsen’s Enchiridion TheologicumThat post focused mainly on iusticia legalis. Here, I include as passage on the secundus ordo testimoniorum de iustificatione et bonis operibus, namely the “evangelical” ordo. For Hemmingsen, there are seven such testimonia.

In the third, translated below, he makes a couple of careful distinctions: first, between the power works have per se, on the one hand, and, on the other, the role they play in one who has already been justified by faith (one may recall that he had previously said that one of the “legal” justice was to cause us to seek justice elsewhere, outside of ourselves, in Christ). Considered in and of themselves, fallen man’s works are indigna in God’s sight. Thus he makes another distinction between “merit” (meritum) and “value” (aestimatio): works never have merit, but in the regenerate, they have “value” in God’s sight, due to the prior acceptance of the person himself once he has put faith in Christ. Mark well the order: because God accepts the person, from his gratuitous goodness the believer’s good works have “value,” and for that reason are reckoned as just or righteous. The language here is strikingly similar to Westminster Confession of Faith 16.6: “Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreproveable in God’s sight; but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.”

Text and Translation

Tertia, Aliud est disputare, quid per se valeant bona opera, aliud quo loco post stabilitam iusticiam fidei habenda sint. Si de operibus statuendum est pro sua dignitate, indigna sunt, quae in conspectum Dei prodeant. Sed quatenus considerantur, ut sequuntur iusticiam fidei, non a suo merito aestimationem habent, sed a gratuita bonitate Dei recipientis opera propter personam. Hac ratione quae fiunt a fidelibus bona opera, iusta censentur, ac in iusticiam imputantur. (Enchiridion Theologicum, pp. 121-2)

Third, it is one thing to discuss what power works have in and of themselves, another the place they should be considered to have once the justice of faith has been established. If one must make a determination about works in keeping with their own worth, they are unworthy to come into the sight of God. But in so far as they are considered as following the justice of faith, they have value [aestimationem] not from their own merit, but from the gratuitous goodness of God, who accepts the works on account of the person. For this reason, the good works that are done by believers [fidelibus] are reckoned just, and are accounted for justice.1

  1. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.