Chrysostom on Justification

Suppose someone should be caught in the act of adultery and the foulest crimes and then be thrown into prison. Suppose, next, that judgment was going to be passed against him and that he would be condemned. Suppose that just at that moment a letter should come from the Emperor setting free from any accounting or examination all those detained in prison. If the prisoner should refuse to take advantage of the pardon, remain obstinate and choose to be brought to trial, to give an account, and to undergo punishment, he will not be able thereafter to avail himself of the Emperor's favor. For when he made himself accountable to the court, examination, and sentence, he chose of his own accord to deprive himself of the imperial gift. This is what happened in the case of the Jews. Look how it is. All human nature was taken in the foulest evils. "All have sinned," says Paul. They were locked, as it were, in a prison by the curse of their transgression of the Law. The sentence of the judge was going to be passed against them. A letter from the King came down from heaven. Rather, the King himself came. Without examination, without exacting an account, he set all men free from the chains of their sins. All, then, who run to Christ are saved by his grace and profit from his gift. But those who wish to find justification from the Law will also fall from grace. They will not be able to enjoy the King's loving-kindness because they are striving to gain salvation by their own efforts; they will draw down on themselves the curse of the Law because by the works of the Law no flesh will find justification. (Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Discourse I:6-II:1)

What does this mean? That he has justified our race not by right actions, not by toils, not by barter and exchange, but by grace alone. Paul, too, made this clear when he said: “But now the justice of God has been made manifest apart from the Law.” But the justice of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ and not through any labor and suffering. (Discourses Against Judaising Christians, Discourse VII:2)

"To declare His righteousness." What is declaring of righteousness? Like the declaring of His riches, not only for Him to be rich Himself, but also to make others rich, or of life, not only that He is Himself living, but also that He makes the dead to live; and of His power, not only that He is Himself powerful, but also that He makes the feeble powerful. So also is the declaring of His righteousness not only that He is Himself righteous, but that He doth also make them that are filled with the putrefying sores (katasapentai) of sin suddenly righteous. And it is to explain this, viz. what is "declaring," that he has added, "That He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Doubt not then: for it is not of works, but of faith: and shun not the righteousness of God, for it is a blessing in two ways; because it is easy, and also open to all men. And be not abashed and shamefaced. For if He Himself openly declareth (endeiknutai) Himself to do so, and He, so to say, findeth a delight and a pride therein, how comest thou to be dejected and to hide thy face at what thy Master glorieth in? But what is the "law of faith?" It is, being saved by grace. Here he shows God's power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only. (Homily on Romans 3:19ff.)

They said that he who adhered to faith alone was cursed; but he, Paul, shows that he who adhered to faith alone is blessed. (First Corinthians, Homily 20, PG 61.164)

For you believe the faith; why then do you add other things, as if faith were not sufficient to justify? You make yourselves captive, and you subject yourself to the law. (Epistle to Titus, Homily 3, PG 62.651)

After speaking of the wages of sin, in the case of blessings, he has not kept to the same order: for he does not say, the wages of your good deeds, but the gift of God: to show, that it was not of themselves that they were freed, nor was it a due they received, neither yet a return, nor a recompense of labors, but by grace all these things came about. And so there was superiority for this cause also, in that He did not free them only, or change their condition for the better, but that He did it without any labor or trouble upon their part: and that He not only freed them, but also gave them more than before, and that through His Son. (Epistle to the Romans, Homily 12, Rom 6:23)

And if any were to cast in prison a person who owed ten mites, and not the man himself only, but wife and children and servants for his sake; and another were to come and not to pay down the ten mites only, but to give also ten thousand talents of gold, and to lead the prisoner into the king’s courts, and to the throne of the highest power, and were to make him partaker of the highest honour and every kind of magnificence, the creditor would not be able to remember the ten mites; so hath our case been. For Christ hath paid down far more than we owe, yea as much more as the illimitable ocean is than a little drop. (Epistle to the Romans, Homily X, Rom 5:17)

For all have sinned, and are under the curse. However he does not say this yet, lest he should seem to lay it down of himself, but here again establishes his point by a text which concisely states both points; that no man has fulfilled the Law, (wherefore they are under the curse,) and, that Faith justifies. What then is the text? It is in the book of the prophet Habakkuk, "The just shall live by faith," (Hab. ii: 4) which not only establishes the righteousness that is of Faith, but also that there is no salvation through the Law. As no one, he says, kept the Law, but all were under the curse, on account of transgression, an easy way was provided, that from Faith, which is in itself a strong proof that no man can be justified by the Law. For the prophet says not, "The just shall live by the Law," but, "by faith:" (Homily on Galatians 3)

God does not wait for time to elapse after repentance. You state your sin, you are justified. You repented, you have been shown mercy. (Homily 7 On Repentance and Compunction, p. 95 in FOTC, vol. 96)

Is it possible, Scripture says, for one to repent and be saved? It is absolutely and most certainly the case. What, though, if I have wasted my life in sins and then repent: will I be saved? Yes, indeed! What source indicates this? The philanthropy of your Master. Can I take courage from your repentance? Could it be that your repentance has the power to wipe clean so many evils? If it were only up to repentance, then assuredly be afraid. However, since repentance is mixed together with the philanthropy of God, take courage. For God’s philanthropy is immeasurable, nor can any word provide the measure of his goodness. Your wickedness is measurable, but the medicine is immeasurable. Your wickedness, whatever it may be, is human wickedness; but God’s philanthropy is ineffable. Have courage because it surpasses your wickedness. Just think of one spark that fell into the sea; could it stand or be seen? What one spark is in comparison to the sea, so wickedness is before the philanthropy of God; not even this much, but much more so. For the sea, even though it is vast, has limits; but God’s philanthropy is unlimited. (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, FOTC: vol 96, p. 112,113)

“First tell your transgressions so you may be justified.” O the philanthropy of the Master! He did not say, “so you may not be punished,” rather, “so you may be justified.” It was not enough for him that You do not punish him, for You even made him righteous? Certainly. But pay great attention to the discourse. I make him just. In what circumstance did He do this? To the Thief, so that he might only say to his companion: “Do you not fear God? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds.” The Savior tells him: Today you shall be with me in paradise. He did not say: “I deliver you from damnation and from punishment”; rather He puts him into paradise as a righteous man. Did you see that he became righteous through confession? God is a great lover of man. He did not hesitate to surrender His Son as prey in order to spare His servant. He surrended His only-begotten to purchase hard-hearted servants. He paid the blood of His Son as the price. O the philanthropy of the Master! And do not tell me again, “I sinned a lot; how can I be saved?” You cannot save yourself, but your Master can, and to such a great degree as to obliterate your sins. Pay attention very carefully to the discourse. He wipes out the sins so completely that not a single trace of them remains. (Homily Eight on Repentance, FOTC: vol 96, pp. 116,117)

And he well said, "a righteousness of mine own," not that which I gained by labor and toil, but that which I found from grace. If then he who was so excellent is saved by grace, much more are you. For since it was likely they would say that the righteousness which comes from toil is the greater, he shows that it is dung in comparison with the other. For otherwise I, who was so excellent in it, would not have cast it away, and run to the other. But what is that other? That which is from the faith of God, i.e. it too is given by God. This is the righteousness of God; this is altogether a gift. And the gifts of God far exceed those worthless good deeds, which are due to our own diligence. (Homily on Philippians 3)

"He that believes in the Son, is not judged." He that "believes," not he that is over-curious: he that "believes," not the busybody. But what if his life be unclean, and his deeds evil? It is of such as these especially that Paul declares, that they are not true believers at all: "They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him." ( Tit. i. 16.) (comments on John 3:18)

Listen to the Scripture, which says, "Say not, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins." (Ecclus. v. 6.) He does not forbid us to say, "His mercy is great." This is not what He enjoins; rather he would have us constantly say it, and with this object Paul raises all sorts of arguments, but his object is what follows. Do not, he means, admire the loving-kindness of God with this view, with a view to sinning, and saying,"His mercy will be pacified for the multitude of my sins." For it is with this object that I too discourse so much concerning His goodness, not that we may presume upon it, and do any thing we choose, because in that way this goodness will be to the prejudice of our salvation; but that we may not despair in our sins, but may repent. For "the goodness of God leads you to repentance," (Rom. ii. 4.) not to greater wickedness. (comments on Eph. 2:10)


Saint John Chrysostom

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