Justification in the Early Church – 03 – Clement of Rome

200 Early Church picWelcome to this series of posts giving a survey of what the early church fathers have written about justification and works of law with reference to Paul. Click this link to go to the first post with the contents of the whole.

In today’s post we look at Clement of Rome. Clement died in c.e. 101. He is believed to be a co-worker with Paul the apostle. He wrote three statements concerning justification. One of which is fairly well known.

200 Early Church Fathers - Apostles

Clement of Rome is known by scholars as a friend and coworker of Paul. The general opinion is that Paul refers to him in Phil 4.3;

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Php 4:2–3)

Justified by our works

In his first letter to the Corinthians Clement writes:

CHAP. XXX.—LET US DO THOSE THINGS THAT PLEASE GOD, AND FLEE FROM THOSE HE HATES, THAT WE MAY BE BLESSED.

Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride.

“For God,” saith [the Scripture], “resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” (Jas 4.6; cf. Prov 3.34)

Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being JUSTIFIED by our works, and not our words.

For [the Scripture] saith, “He that speaketh much, shall also hear much in answer. And does he that is ready in speech deem himself RIGHTEOUS? Blessed is he that is born of woman, who liveth but a short time: be not given to much speaking.”

Let our praise be in God, and not of ourselves; for God hateth those that commend themselves. Let testimony to our good deeds be borne by others, as it was in the case of our RIGHTEOUS forefathers. Boldness, and arrogance, and audacity belong to those that are accursed of God; but moderation, humility, and meekness to such as are blessed by Him.

(Clement of Rome. (1885). The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe, Eds.) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (p. 13f). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.)

Clement uses two statements of interest to us. ‘Justified by our works’ and ‘deem himself righteous’.

These statements are very much like James’ statements when he says ‘justified by works and not by faith alone’ (Jas 2.24). Note the ease in which he speaks about justification by works as James does.

Abraham blessed through faith

CHAP. XXXI.—LET US SEE BY WHAT MEANS WE MAY OBTAIN THE DIVINE BLESSING.

Let us cleave then to His blessing, and consider what are the means of possessing it. Let us think over the things which have taken place from the beginning.

For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? was it not because he wrought RIGHTEOUSNESS and truth through faith?

Isaac, with perfect confidence, as if knowing what was to happen, cheerfully yielded himself as a sacrifice. 10

Jacob, through reason of his brother, went forth with humility from his own land, and came to Laban and served him; and there was given to him the sceptre of the twelve tribes of Israel. (ibid)

Mention of Abraham’s ‘righteousness and truth’ ‘through faith’. Likewise Isaac yielding himself as a sacrifice and Jacob going forth in humility.

In each case he is speaking about a persons outworking of their faith.

Justified by that faith by which God has justified all men

CHAP. XXXII.—WE ARE JUSTIFIED NOT BY OUR OWN WORKS, BUT BY FAITH.

Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognise the greatness of the gifts which were given by him.

For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also [was descended] our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him [arose] kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah.

Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.” (ibid)

Note the repetition of ‘from him’.

  • From him sprung priests and levites.
  • From him our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • From him kings, princes and rulers.

The him is God. Clement says God is the origin, the source, the reason why these men lived and behaved as they did. These statements set the context of what follows.

All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great,

not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the RIGHTEOUSNESS which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. (ibid)

The men became priests, kings, princes and rulers were highly honoured and made great in the world. Clement is talking about the status, power and role of these men in the world. They became like this not for their sake or for what they had done. Rather they were highly honoured and made great because of God’s will.

And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not JUSTIFIED by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart;

but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has JUSTIFIED all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (ibid, p 13)

Might be helpful to show a table comparing what Clement has said.

Priests, kings, princes and rulers We too, being called by his will
Highly honoured and made great Justified (made, identified)
Not for their sake, their works or righteousness they wrought Not by ourselves, our wisdom, understanding, godliness, or works
But through the operation of his will But by that faith, through which, Almighty God …

They were called and made great through the operation of God’s will. God’s sovereign will. Even though they performed many commendable works and were recognised for their righteousness. Clement says the ultimate reason they were honoured is because of God’s will.

In the same vain he then says, we were ‘not justified by ourselves’. Listing a series of qualities which only the righteous possess as ‘gifts given from God’.

He says, ‘but by that faith through which …  Almighty God has justified all men’. He is not clear what he means by ‘faith’ in this important statement. Is it God’s own faith (faithfulness)? Or the faith of these people? Or perhaps a combination of the two?

Clement seems to be using faith in the sense that God uses it to work in the lives of the righteous – justifying them. i.e. God is making them highly honoured, great and righteous in the sight of others. There doesn’t seem to be the idea they were sinners and are being made righteous. Rather it seems to involve the process during their spiritual lives.

Rendering according to works

CHAP. XXXIII.—BUT LET US NOT GIVE UP THE PRACTICE OF GOOD WORKS AND LOVE. GOD HIMSELF IS AN EXAMPLE TO US OF GOOD WORKS.

What shall we do, then, brethren? Shall we become slothful in well-doing, and cease from the practice of love? God forbid that any such course should be followed by us! But rather let us hasten with all energy and readiness of mind to perform every good work. For the Creator and Lord of all Himself rejoices in His works.

For by His infinitely great power He established the heavens, and by His incomprehensible wisdom He adorned them. He also divided the earth from the water which surrounds it, and fixed it upon the immoveable foundation of His own will. The animals also which are upon it He commanded by His own word into existence. So likewise, when He had formed the sea, and the living creatures which are in it, He enclosed them [within their proper bounds] by His own power.

Above all, with His holy and undefiled hands He formed man, the most excellent [of His creatures], and truly great through the understanding given him—the express likeness of His own image. For thus says God:

“Let us make man in Our image, and after Our likeness. So God made man; male and female He created them.”

Having thus finished all these things, He approved them, and blessed them, and said, “Increase and multiply.”

We see, then, how all RIGHTEOUS men have been adorned with good works, and how the Lord Himself, adorning Himself with His works, rejoiced. Having therefore such an example, let us without delay accede to His will, and let us work the work of RIGHTEOUSNESS with our whole strength.

CHAP. XXXIV.—GREAT IS THE REWARD OF GOOD WORKS WITH GOD. JOINED TOGETHER IN HARMONY, LET US IMPLORE THAT REWARD FROM HIM.

The good servant receives the bread of his labour with confidence; the lazy and slothful cannot look his employer in the face.

It is requisite, therefore, that we be prompt in the practice of well-doing; for of Him are all things. And thus He forewarns us:

“Behold, the Lord [cometh], and His reward is before His face, to render to every man according to his work.” (Ps 62.10; Rom 2.6)

He exhorts us, therefore, with our whole heart to attend to this, that we be not lazy or slothful in any good work. Let our boasting and our confidence be in Him. Let us submit ourselves to His will. Let us consider the whole multitude of His angels, how they stand ever ready to minister to His will.

For the Scripture saith,

“Ten thousand times ten thousand stood around Him, and thousands of thousands ministered unto Him, and cried, Holy, holy, holy, [is] the Lord of Sabbath; the whole creation is full of His glory.”

And let us therefore, conscientiously gathering together in harmony, cry to Him earnestly, as with one mouth, that we may be made partakers of His great and glorious promises. For [the Scripture] saith,

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which He hath prepared for them that wait for Him.” (ibid, pp. 13–14)

Clement is encouraging his audience to do good works. To adorn themselves with good works. His exhortation to do good works is in light of the future judgment and ‘rendering according to works’. His use is consistent with Paul in Romans 2.6-11 quoting from Ps 62.12.

In the next post we look at Justin Martyr (c.e. 103-165). He is quite well known as an early church father and is famous for defending the Christian faith to Caesar during times of great persecution. He wrote important statements concerning justification.


Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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