(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 5)
... Continued from Part 4

Lecture One Hundred and Tenth. 
    The Prophet taught us yesterday, that we ought to allow God his 
right of speaking to us, and of sustaining us by his own word, until 
the ripe time shall come, when he shall really fulfil what he has 
promised. Then an exhortation follows, added at the close of the 
verse - that we are to exercise patience; and the Apostle also, 
referring to this passage in Heb. 10: 38, makes a similar 
application. He indeed quotes what we shall find in the next verse, 
'The just by his faith shall live;' but he had in view the whole 
context; and at the same time he reminds us of the Prophet's object 
here in exalting the authority of God's word. The exhortation, then, 
is briefly this - that though God may keep us in suspense, we yet 
ought not to cast away hope, for he knows when it is expedient for 
us that he should stretch forth his hand. And as there are two 
clauses, as I said yesterday, which seem at first sight to be 
inconsistent the one with the other, the Prophet very fitly joins 
them together, and considers them to be in perfect harmony; for 
though God may appear to delay, yet he is not slower than what is 
necessary and expedient. Let us then be fully persuaded that there 
is in God prudence and wisdom enough to assist us as soon as it may 
be needful. The Prophet now reminds us that it is no wonder if God 
seems to us to delay, for we are too hasty in our desires. Let 
therefore this fervour be restrained, so that we may subject our 
feelings to the providence and purpose of God. Let us now proceed - 
Habakkuk 2:4 
Behold, his soul [which] is lifted up is not upright in him: but the 
just shall live by his faith. 
    This verse stands connected with the last, for the Prophet 
means to show that nothing is better than to rely on God's word, how 
much soever may various temptations assault our souls. We hence see 
that nothing new is said here, hut that the former doctrine is 
confirmed - that our salvation is rendered safe and certain through 
God's promise alone, and that therefore we ought not to seek any 
other haven, where we might securely sustain all the onsets of Satan 
and of the world. But he sets the two clauses the one opposed to the 
other: every man who would fortify himself would ever be subject to 
various changes, and never attain a quiet mind; then comes the other 
clause - that man cannot otherwise obtain rest than by faith. 
    But the former part is variously explained. Some interpreters 
think the word "upelah" to be a noun, and render it elevation, which 
is not unsuitable; and indeed I hesitate not to regard this as its 
real meaning, for the Hebrews call a citadel "ophel", rightly 
deriving it from "aphal" to ascend. What some others maintain, that 
it signifies to strengthen, is not well founded. Some again give 
this explanation - that the unbelieving seek a stronghold for 
themselves, that they may fortify themselves; and this makes but 
little difference as to the thing itself. But interpreters vary, and 
differ as to the meaning of the sentence; for some substitute the 
predicate for the subject, and the subject for the predicate, and 
elicit this meaning from the Prophet's words - "Every one whose mind 
is not at ease seeks a fortress, where he may safely rest and 
strengthens himself;" and others give this view - "He who is proud, 
or who thinks himself well fortified, shall ever be of an unquiet 
mind." And this latter meaning is what I approve, only that I retain 
the import of the word "upelah" as though it was said - "where there 
is an elation of mind there is no tranquillity." 
    Let us see first what their view is who give the other 
explanation. They say that the unbelieving, being obstinate and 
perverted in their minds, ever seek where they may be in safety, for 
they are full of suspicions, and having no regard to God they resort 
to the world for those remedies, by which they may escape evils and 
dangers. This is their view. But the Prophet, as I have already 
said, does here, on the contrary, denounce punishment on the 
unbelieving, as though he had said - "This reward, which they have 
deserved, shall be repaid to them - that they shall always torment 
themselves." The contrast will thus be more obvious; and when we say 
that God punishes the unbelieving, when he suffers them to be driven 
here and there, and also harasses their minds with various 
tormenting thoughts, a more fruitful doctrine is elicited. When 
therefore the Prophet says that there is no calmness of mind 
possessed by those who deem themselves well fortified, he intimates 
that they are their own executioners, for they seek for themselves 
many troubles, many sorrows, many anxieties, and contrive and mingle 
together many designs and purposes; now they think of one thing, 
then they turn to another; for the Hebrews say that the soul is made 
right when we acquiesce in a thing and continue in a tranquil state 
of mind; but when confused thoughts distract us, then they say that 
our soul is not right in us. We now perceive the real meaning of the 
    Behold, he says: by this demonstrative particle he intimates 
that what he teaches us may be clearly seen if we attend to daily 
events. The meaning then is, that a proof of this fact exists 
evidently in the common life of men - that he who fortifies himself, 
and is also elated with self confidence, never finds a tranquil 
haven, for some new suspicion or fear ever disturbs his mind. Hence 
it comes that the soul entangles itself in various cares and 
anxieties. This is the reward, as I have said, which is allotted by 
God's just judgement to the unbelieving; for God, as he testifies by 
Isaiah, offers to us rest; and they who reject this invaluable 
benefit, freely offered to them by God, deserve that they should not 
only be tormented in one way, but be also harassed by endless 
agitations, and that they should also vex and torment themselves. It 
is indeed true that he who is fortified may also acquiesce in God's 
word; but the word "upelah" refers to the state of the mind. 
Whosoever, then, swells with vain confidence, when he finds that he 
has many auxiliaries according to the flesh, shall ever be agitated, 
and will at length find that there is nowhere rest, except the mind 
recumbs on God's grace alone. We now understand the import of this 
    It follows, but the just shall live by his faith. The Prophet, 
I have no doubt, does here place faith in opposition to all those 
defences by which men so blind themselves as to neglect God, and to 
seek no aid from him. As men therefore rely on what the earth 
affords, depending on their fallacious supports, the Prophet here 
ascribes life to faith. But faith, as it is well known, and as we 
shall presently show more at large, depends on God alone. That we 
may then live by faith, the Prophet intimates that we must willingly 
give up all those defences which are wont to disappoint us. He then 
who finds that he is deprived of all protections, will live by his 
faith, provided he seeks in God alone what he wants, and leaving the 
world, fixes his mind on heaven. 
    As "emunah" is in Hebrew truth, so some regard it as meaning 
integrity; as though the Prophet had said, that the just man has 
more safety in his faithfulness and pure conscience, than there is 
to the children of this world in all those munitions in which they 
glory. But in this case they frigidly extenuate the Prophet's 
declaration; for they understand not what that righteousness of 
faith is from which our salvation proceeds. It is indeed certain 
that the Prophet understands by the "emunah" that faith which strips 
us of all arrogance, and leads us naked and needy to God, that we 
may seek salvation from him alone, which would otherwise be far 
removed from us. 
    Now many confine the first part to Nebuchadnezzar, but this is 
not suitable. The Prophet indeed speaks to the end of the chapter of 
Babylon and its ruin; but here he makes a distinction between the 
children of God, who cast all their cares on him, and the 
unbelieving, who cannot go forth beyond the world, where they seek 
to be made secure, and gather hence their defences in which they 
confide. And this is especially worthy of being observed, for it 
helps us much to understand the meaning of the Prophet; if this part 
- "Behold the proud, his soul is not right in him," be applied to 
Nebuchadnezzar, the other part will lose much of its import; but if 
we consider that the Prophet, as it were, in these two tablets, 
shows what it is to glory in our own powers or in earthly aids, then 
what it is to repose on God alone will appear much more clear, and 
this truth will with more force penetrate into our minds; for we 
know how much such comparisons illustrate a subject which would be 
otherwise obscure or less evident. For if the Prophet had only 
declared that our faith is the cause of life and salvation, it might 
indeed be understood; but as we are disposed to entertain worldly 
hopes, the former truth would not have been sufficient to correct 
this evil, and to free our minds from all vain confidence. But when 
he affirms that all the unbelieving are deceived, while they fortify 
or elate themselves, be cause God will ever confound them, and that 
though no one disturbs them outwardly, they will yet be their own 
tormentors, as they have nothing that is right, nothing that is 
certain; when therefore all this is said to us, it is as though God 
drew us forcibly to himself, while seeing us deluded by the 
allurements of Satan, and seeing us too inclined to be taken with 
deceptions, which would at length lead us to destruction. 
    We now, then, perceive why Habakkuk has put these two things in 
opposition the one to the other - that the defences of this world 
are not only evanescent, but also bring always with them many 
tormenting fears - and then, that the just lives by his faith. And 
hence also is found a confirmation of what I have already touched 
upon, that faith is not to be taken here for man's integrity, but 
for that faith which sets man before God emptied of all good things, 
so that he seeks what he needs from his gratuitous goodness: for all 
the unbelieving try to fortify themselves; and thus they strengthen 
themselves, thinking that anything in which they trust is sufficient 
for them. But what does the just do? He brings nothing before God 
except faith: then he brings nothing of his own, because faith 
borrows, as it were, through favour, what is not in man's 
possession. He, then, who lives by faith, has no life in himself; 
but because he wants it, he flies for it to God alone. The Prophet 
also puts the verb in the future tense, in order to show the 
perpetuity of this life: for the unbelieving glory in a shadowy 
life; but the Lord will at last discover their folly, and they 
themselves shall really know that they have been deceived. But as 
God never disappoints the hope of his people, the Prophet promises 
here a perpetual life to the faithful. 
    Let us now come to Paul, who has applied the Prophet's 
testimony for the purpose of teaching us that salvation is not by 
works, but by the mercy of God alone, and therefore by faith. Paul 
seems to have misapplied the Prophet's words, and to have used them 
beyond what they import; for the Prophet speaks here of the state of 
the present life, and he has not previously spoken of the celestial 
life, but exhorted, as we have seen, the faithful to patience, and 
at the same time testified that God would be their deliverer; and 
now he adds, the just shall live by faith, though he may be 
destitute of all help, and though he may be exposed to all the 
assaults of fortune, and of the wicked, and of the devil. What has 
this to do, some one may say, with the eternal salvation of the 
soul? It seems, then, that Paul has with too much refinement 
introduced this testimony into his discussion respecting gratuitous 
justification by faith. But this principle ought ever to be 
remembered - that whatever benefits the Lord confers on the faithful 
in this life, are intended to confirm them in the hope of the 
eternal inheritance; for however liberally God may deal with us, our 
condition would yet be indeed miserable, were our hope confined to 
this earthly life. As God then would raise up our minds to the hopes 
of eternal salvation whenever he aids us in this world, and declares 
himself to be our Father; hence, when the Prophet says that the 
faithful shall live, he certainly does not confine this life to so 
narrow limits, that God will only defend us for a day or two, or for 
a few years; but he proceeds much farther, and says, that we shall 
be made really and truly happy; for though this whole world may 
perish or be exposed to various changes, yet the faithful shall 
continue in permanent and real safety. Hence, when Habakkuk promises 
life in future to the faithful, he no doubt overleaps the boundaries 
of this world, and sets before the faithful a better life than that 
which they have here, which is accompanied with many sorrows, and 
proves itself by its shortness to be unworthy of being much desired. 
    We now perceive that Paul wisely and suitably accommodates to 
his subject the Prophet's words - that the just lives by faith; for 
there is no salvation for the soul except through God's mercy. 
    Quoting this place in Rom. 1: 17, he says that the 
righteousness of God is in the gospel revealed from faith to faith, 
and then adds, "As it is written, The just shall live by faith." 
Paul very rightly connects these things together that righteousness 
is made known in the Gospel - and that it comes to us by faith only; 
for he there contends that men cannot obtain righteousness by the 
law, or by the works of the law; it follows that it is revealed in 
the Gospel alone: how does he prove this? By the testimony of the 
Prophet Habakkuk - "If by faith the just lives, then he is just by 
faith; if he is just by faith, then he is not so by the works of the 
law." And Paul assumes this principle, to which I have before 
referred - that men are emptied of all works, when they produce 
their faith before God: for as long as man possesses anything of his 
own, he does not please God by faith alone, but also by his own 
    If then faith alone obtains grace, the law must necessarily be 
relinquished, as the apostle also explains more clearly in the third 
chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians: 'That righteousness,' he 
says, 'is not by the works of the law, is evident; for it is 
written, The just shall live by faith, and the law is not of faith.' 
Paul assumes that these, even faith and law, are contrary, the one 
to the other; contrary as to the work of justifying. The law indeed 
agrees with the gospel; nay, it contains in itself the gospel. And 
Paul has solved this question in the first chapter of the Epistle to 
the Romans, by saying, that the law cannot assist us to attain 
righteousness, but that it is offered to us in the gospel, and that 
it receives a testimony from the law and the Prophets. Though then 
there is a complete concord between the law and the gospel, as God, 
who is not inconsistent with himself, is the author of both; yet as 
to justification, the law accords not with the gospel, any more than 
light with darkness: for the law promises life to those who serve 
God; and the promise is conditional, dependent on the merits of 
works. The gospel also does indeed promise righteousness under 
condition; but it has no respect to the merits of works. What then? 
It is only this, that they who are condemned and lost are to embrace 
the favour offered to them in Christ. 
    We now then see how, by the testimony of our Prophet, Paul 
rightly confirms his own doctrine, that eternal salvation is to be 
attained by faith only; for we are destitute of all merits by works, 
and are constrained to stand naked and needy before God; and then 
the Lord justifies us freely. 
    But that this may be more evident, let us first consider why 
men must come altogether naked before God; for were there any 
worthiness in them, the Lord would by no means deprive them of such 
an honour. Why then does the Lord justify us freely, except that he 
may thereby appear just? He has indeed no need of this glory, as 
though he could not himself be glorified except by doing wrong to 
men. But we obtain righteousness by faith alone for this reason, 
because God finds nothing in us which he can approve, or what may 
avail to obtain righteousness. Since it is so, we then see that to 
be true which the Holy Spirit everywhere declares respecting the 
character of men. Men indeed glory in a foolish conceit as to their 
own righteousness: but all philosophic virtues, as they call them, 
which men think they possess through free-will, are mere fumes; nay, 
they are the delusions of the devil, by which he bewitches the minds 
of men, so that they come not to God, but, on the contrary, 
precipitate themselves into the lowest deep, where they seek to 
exalt themselves beyond measure. However this may be, let us be 
fully convinced, that in man there is not even a particle either of 
rectitude or of righteousness; and that whatever men may try to do 
of themselves, is an abomination before God. This is one thing. 
    Now after God has stretched forth his hand to his elect, it is 
still necessary that they should confess their own want and 
nakedness, as to justification; for though they have been 
regenerated by the Spirit of God, yet in many things they are 
deficient, and thus in innumerable ways they become exposed to 
eternal death in the sight of God; so that they have in themselves 
no righteousness. The Papists differ from us in the first place, 
imagining as they do, that there are certain preparations necessary; 
for that false notion about free-will cannot be eradicated from 
their hearts. As then they will have man to be endued with free- 
will, they always connect with it some power, as though they could 
obtain grace by their own doings. They indeed confess that man of 
himself can do nothing, except by the helping grace of God; but in 
the meantime they blend, as I have said, their own fictitious 
preparations. Others confess, that until God anticipates us by his 
grace, there is no power whatever in free-will; but afterwards they 
suppose that free-will concurs with God's grace, as it would be by 
itself inefficient, except received by our consent. Thus they always 
reserve for men some worthiness; but a greater difference exists as 
to the second subject: for after we have been regenerated through 
God's grace, the Papists imagine that we are justified by the merits 
of works. They confess, that until God anticipates us by his grace, 
we are condemned and cannot attain salvation except through the 
assisting grace of God; but as soon as God works in us, we are then, 
they say, able to attain righteousness by our own works. 
    But we object and say, that the faithful, after having been 
regenerated by the Spirit of God, do not fulfil the law: they allow 
this to be true, but say that they might if they would, for that God 
has commanded nothing which is above what men are capable of doing. 
And this also is a most pernicious error. They are at the same time 
forced to confess, that experience itself teaches us that no man is 
wholly free from sin: then some guilt always remains. But they say, 
that if we kept half the law, we could obtain righteousness by that 
half. Hence, if one by adultery offended God and thus becomes 
exposed to eternal death, and yet abstains from theft, he is just, 
they say, because he is no thief. He is an adulterer, it is true; 
but he is yet just in part, because he keeps a part of the law; and 
they call this partial righteousness. But God has not promised 
salvation to men, except they fully and really fulfil whatever he 
has commanded in his law. For it is not said, "He that fulfil a part 
of the law shall live;" but he who shall do these things shall live 
in them. Moses does not point out two or three commandments, but 
includes the whole law (Lev. 18: 5.) There is also a declaration 
made by James, 'He who has forbidden to commit adultery, has also 
forbidden to steal: whosoever then transgresses the law in one 
particular, is a transgressor of the whole law' (James 2: 8, 11): he 
is then excluded from any hope of righteousness. We hence see that 
the papists are most grossly mistaken, who imagine, that men, when 
they keep the law only in part, are just. 
    Were there indeed any one found who strictly kept God's law, he 
could not be counted just, except by virtue of a promise. And here 
also the Papists stumble, and are at the same time inconsistent with 
themselves; for they confess that merits do not obtain righteousness 
for men by their own intrinsic worth, but only by the covenant of 
the law. But as soon as they have said this, they immediately forget 
themselves, and say what is contrary, like men carried away by 
passion. Were then the Papists to join together these two things - 
that there is no righteousness except by covenant, and that there is 
a partial righteousness they would see that they are inconsistent: 
for where is this partial righteousness? If we are not righteous 
except according to the covenant of the law, then we are not 
righteous except through a full and perfect observance of the law. 
This is certain. 
    They go astray still more grievously as to the remission of 
sins; for as it is well known, they obtrude their own satisfactions, 
and thus seek to expiate the sins of men by their own merits, as 
though the sacrifice of Christ was not sufficient for that purpose. 
Hence it is that they will not allow that we are gratuitously 
justified by faith; for they cannot be brought to acknowledge a free 
remission of sins; and except the remission of sins be gratuitous, 
we must confess that righteousness is not by faith alone, but also 
by merits. But the whole Scripture proves that expiation is nowhere 
else to be sought, except through the sacrifice of Christ alone. 
This error, then, of the Papists is extremely gross and false. They 
further err in pleading for the merits of works; for they boast of 
their own inventions, the works of supererogation, or as they call 
them, satisfactions. And these meritorious works, under the Papacy, 
are gross errors and worthless superstitions, and yet they toil in 
them and lacerate themselves, nay, they almost wear out themselves. 
If they mutter many short prayers, if they run to altars and to 
various churches, if they buy masses, in a word, if they accumulate 
all these fictitious acts of worship, they think that they merit 
righteousness before God. Thus they forget their own saying, that 
righteousness is by covenant; for if it be by covenant, it is 
certain that God does not promise it to fictitious works, which men 
of themselves invent and contrive. It then follows, that what men 
bring to God, devised by themselves, cannot do anything towards the 
attainment of righteousness. 
    There is also another error which must be noticed, for in good 
works they perceive not those blemishes which justly displease God, 
so that our works might be deservedly condemned were they strictly 
examined and tried. The Papists rightly say, that we are not 
justified by the intrinsic worthiness of works, but afterwards they 
do not consider how imperfect our works are, for no work proceeds 
from mortal man which can fully answer to what God's covenant 
requires. How so? For no work proceeds from the perfect love of God, 
and where the perfect love of God does not exist, there is 
corruption there. It hence follows, that all our works are polluted 
before God; for they flow not except from the impure fountain of the 
heart. Were any to object and say, that the hearts of men are 
cleansed by the regeneration of the Spirit, we allow this; but at 
the same time much filth always remains in our hearts, and it ought 
to be sufficient for us to know that nothing is pure and genuine 
before God except where the perfect love of him exists. 
    As, then, the Papists are blind to all these things, it is no 
wonder that they with so much hostility contend with us about 
righteousness, and can by no means allow that the righteousness of 
faith is gratuitous, for from the beginning this figment about free- 
will has been resorted to - "if men of themselves come to God, then 
they are not freely justified." They, then, as I have said, imagine 
a partial righteousness, they suppose the deficiency to be made up 
by satisfactions, they have also, as they say, their devotions, that 
is, their own contrived modes of worship. Thus it comes, that they 
ever persuade themselves that the righteousness of man, at least in 
part, is made up by himself or by works. They indeed allow that we 
are justified by faith, but when it is added, by faith alone, then 
they begin to be furious; but they consider not that righteousness, 
if obtained by faith, cannot be by works, for Paul, as I have shown 
above, reasons from the contrary, when he says, that righteousness, 
if it be by the works of the law, is not by faith, for faith, as it 
has been said, strips man of everything, that he may seek of God 
what he needs. But the Papists, though they think that man has not 
enough for himself, do not yet acknowledge that he is so needy and 
miserable, that righteousness must be sought in God alone. But yet 
sufficiently clear is the doctrine of Paul, and if Paul had never 
spoken, reason itself is sufficient to convince us that men cannot 
be justified by faith until they cast away every confidence in their 
own works, for if righteousness be of faith, then it is of grace 
alone, and if by grace alone, then it cannot be by works. It is 
wholly puerile in the Papists to think, that it is partly by grace 
and partly by the merits of works; for as salvation cannot be 
divided, so righteousness cannot be divided, by which we attain 
salvation itself. As, then, faith acquires for us favour before God, 
and by this favour we are counted just, so all works must 
necessarily fall to the ground, when righteousness is ascribed to 
Grant, Almighty God, that as the corruption of our flesh ever leads 
us to pride and vain confidence, we may be illuminated by thy word, 
so as to understand how great and how grievous is our poverty, and 
be thus taught wholly to deny ourselves, and so to present ourselves 
naked before thee, that we may not hope for righteousness or for 
salvation from any other source than from thy mercy alone, nor seek 
any rest but only in Christ; and may we cleave to thee by the sacred 
and inviolable bond of faith, that we may boldly despise all those 
empty boastings by which the ungodly exult over us, and that we may 
also so cast ourselves down in true humility, that thereby we may be 
carried upward above all heavens, and become partakers of that 
eternal life which thine only begotten Son has purchased for us by 
his own blood. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 6...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-05.txt