Continuing with my series on future justification(s) in Reformed Orthodoxy, I would like to quote a lengthy passage from Herman Witsius. It needs to be reiterated, however, that in this discussion on inherent righteousness, Witsius is not opposing imputed righteousness. Like all of the Reformed doctors that I’ve written about, he affirmed the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. This concept of inherent righteousness and indeed, the justification that comes from it, is in addition to the justification based on imputed righteousness. Witsius sees himself standing in the tradition of Calvin, Bucer, and others, and indeed, we have seen similar language from Pictet and Diodati. We will also see it in Baxter and Polhill.
Here is Witsius:
XXI. Thus much for the declaration of God concerning the actions of men. On the other hand, his declaration as to their state is of several kinds. For either God considers them as they are in themselves, according to inherent qualities, either vicious through corrupt nature, or holy and laudable through reforming grace; or as they are reputed in Christ the surety.
XXII. God can neither consider nor declare men to be otherwise than as they really are. For “his judgment is according to truth,” Rom. ii. 2. and therefore they, who are still under the dominion of sin, and walk with delight, according to their depraved lusts, are judged and declared by God to be unregenerate, wicked, and slaves of the devil, as they really are; for, “by no means does he clear the guilty,” Exod. xxxiv. 7 but they who are regenerated by his grace, created anew after his image, and heartily give themselves up to the practice of sincere holiness, are by him absolved from the sin of profaneness, impiety, and hypocrisy, and are no longer looked upon as dead in sins, slaves to the devil, children of the world; but as true believers, his own children, restored to his image, and endowed with his life. It was thus he justified his servant Job, declaring, “that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man one that feareth God and escheweth evil,” Job i.8.
XXIII. And this is still the case of all believers. The devil indeed, who is the accuser of the brethren, frequently charges them with hypocrisy before God, as if they did not serve him in sincerity; and he not only thus accuses them before God, but he also disquiets their conscience, as if all their faith and piety were only a mask and outward shew, by which they have hitherto imposed not only on others, but also on themselves. In order to calm the consciences of believers, when thus shaken by the false accuser, they have need to be absolved from this accusation, and justified from this false testimony before God; which God also daily does, assuring the elect of the sincerity of their conversion, by the testimony of his Spirit, and thereby shewing, that “the praise of a true Jew is of him.” Rom. ii. 29. This justification is indeed very different from that other, of which we shall presently treat, wherein the person is absolved from sins, whereof he is really guilty, and which are forgiven him on Christ’s account. In this we are speaking of he is acquitted of sins, which he is not chargeable with, and is declared not to have committed.
XXIV. The foundation of this justification can be nothing but inherent holiness and righteousness. For, as it is a declaration concerning a man, as he is in himself: by the regenerating and sanctifying grace of God, so it ought to have for its foundation, that which is found in man himself: He that doth righteousness is righteous, says John, 1 John iii. 7. and Peter says, Acts x.34, 35. “of a truth, I perceive, that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with God.” And Luke in the name of God, gives this testimony to the parents of John the Baptist, that “they were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless,” Luke i.6. But yet inherent righteousness is not the foundation of his justification, from its own worthiness, or because it is a holiness exactly commensurate with the rule of law, but because it is the work of the Holy Spirit in the elect, which God cannot but acknowledge and delight in as his own, and because the failings with which it is always stained in this world are forgiven for Christ’s sake.
XXV. In this sense we think the apostle James speaks of justification in that much controverted passage, James ii. 21, 24. where he declares, that “Abraham was not justified by faith only, but also by works,” and insists upon it, that every man ought to be justified in this manner. For the scope of the apostle is to shew, that it is not sufficient for a Christian to boast of the remission of his sins, which indeed is obtained by faith only, but then it must be a living faith on Christ; but that besides he ought to labour after holiness, that being justified by faith only, that is, acquitted from the sins he had been guilty of, on account of Christ’s satisfaction, apprehended by faith, he may likewise be justified by his works, that is declared to be truly regenerated, believing and holy: behaving as becomes those who are regenerated, believing and holy. Thus our father Abraham behaved, who having been before now justified by faith only, that is, obtained the remission of his sins, was afterwards also justified by his works. For, when he offered up his son to God, then God said to him, “no I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me,” Gen. xxii. 12. And James insists upon it, that this last justification is so necessary to believers, that, if it be wanting, the first ought to be accounted only vain and imaginary.
XXVI. These things are evident from scripture: but lest any after the manner o the world should ridicule this, I inform the more unskillful, that this is no invention of mine, but that the most celebrated divines have, before me, spoken of such a “justification according to inherent righteousness and of works.” Bucerus in altero Colloquio Ratisbonensi, p. 313. says, “we think that in this begun righteousness is really a true and living righteousness, and a noble excellent gift of God; and that the new life in Christ consists in this righteousness, and that all the saints are also righteous by this righteousness, both before God and before men, ‘and that on account thereof the saints are also justified by a justification of works,’ that is, are approved, commended and rewarded by God.” Calvin teaches much the same, Instit. Lib. iii. c 17. §viii. which concludes with this words, “The good works done by believers are counted righteous, or which is the same, are imputed for righteousness.” The very learned Ludovicus de Dieu has at large explained and proved this opinion, in Comment. Ad Rom. viii. 4. And he quotes, as agreeing with him herein, Daniel Colonius, formerly regent or professor of the French college at Leyden. The same is also maintained by the Rev. Dr. Peter de Witte, that very able defender of the truth, in Controversia de justificatione adversus Socinianos. And Triglandius explains the passage of James to the same purpose with us, making use of the very same distinction, Examine Apologiae Remonstrantium, c. 21. p. 316.
~The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man Book III. Chap. VIII. 21-26