None Are Saved by Their Own Righteousness

Tuesdays with Edwards!

Almost exactly 286 years ago Jonathan Edwards preached this sermon based on Titus 3:5 (KJV), Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.

In this section Edwards gives an overview of his understanding of conversion, justification, and redemption.

You can read this sermon in its entirety at the Jonathan Edwards Center website. This selection is taken from, Sermons and Discourses, 1723-1729, ed. Kenneth P. Minkema, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 14 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997) pages 333-335.


There are none saved upon the account of any habitual excellency, either the excellency of the natural temper or any good qualification obtained by education, or any moral or religious habit obtained by frequent acts or any truly gracious habit. Nor upon the account of any labor, diligence, devotion or affection in religion, or any exactness or brightness of morality, any justice or charity, though they should give all their goods to feed the poor. Men are not saved at all upon the account of any such habits or works of righteousness.

There are these three things principally meant by being saved:

1. Conversion. There are some that God is pleased to make sensible of their miserable condition, of the great need they stand in of a savior, and to open their eyes, to discover the glory and fullness of Jesus Christ to them; to draw their hearts to him and persuade to give up themselves to God; to be devoted to his service; to choose him for their portion, and to sell all for Jesus Christ. And [God] quite changes their nature: takes away the heart of stone out of their flesh and gives them a heart of flesh, and makes them to live a new life.

And hereby God redeems them from bondage unto sin and captivity by Satan. He sets them at liberty from their cruel slavery, and gives them the liberty of the sons of God.

This is not at all upon the account of our own righteousness. God don’t bestow this great mercy upon some and not upon others because some are more deserving of it than others, because they are of a better disposition naturally, or because they done more good, han’t been so wicked in their lives as others. Those that are converted, before are as other men, under the same power of sin and living a sinful life. As the Apostle says in the third verse of the context, “We also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” God takes them out of the midst of their sins and makes them partakers of the divine nature. Romans 9:16, “‘Tis not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”

2. Justification. Those that God is pleased to convert and call unto Jesus Christ, them he justified. Romans 8:30, “Whom he called, them he also justified.” As soon as ever they accept of Jesus Christ and come to him, their sins are all blotted out. Whatsoever wickedness they have been guilty of, God remembers it no more, and they are released from punishment. And not only so, but they are taken into favor, and are adjudged to eternal life; they have a right given them to all those glorious blessings which Christ purchased.

Neither is this upon the account of any righteousness of ours. This is the very end of Christ’s righteous obedience and death, to justify us. If we were justified by our own righteousness, Christ would have been dead in vain [Galatians 2:21].

3. The actual bestowment, called “redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

But we will briefly give the reasons why we can’t be saved by our own righteousness.

I. ‘Tis not consistent with the honor of God’s majesty and authority that we should be saved in such a way. We have been guilty of sin, whereby we have affronted and despised God’s infinite majesty. We have violated the law and despised the authority of an infinite God.

Now if this contempt of divine authority and majesty may be allowed of, if he that governs the world tolerates [it] without some suitable manifestation of the evil of it by his opposition to it, and in his providence showing how dreadful a thing it is to affront such a majesty by punishing of it, it would be an obscuring of God’s majesty, and it would not appear such a dreadful thing to cast contempt upon it as it is. There would be no proper manifestation of the evil of the contempt of his majesty, and consequently no proper vindication or defense of God’s majesty itself.

So the honor of God’s authority would not be preserved if, when his authority was disregarded, and his law, enforced with threatening, should be violated, the violation should be tolerated and let pass without any manner of notice or manifestation of resentment. It would surely make his authority not appear so sacred.

A law without sanctions, that is, without being enforced with threatenings of punishment and promises of rewards, is no law at all; and therefore, if when God’s law thus enforced is violated and the violation suffered to pass unregarded and without any compensation, that would be the way to make God’s authority appear no authority at all, or at least his authority would not be sufficiently guarded. It is proper that when God doth exercise his authority, that he should make it to appear to be the authority of a God.

But men’s own righteousness can be no compensation at all, both because that all the works of unconverted, unjustified men have no goodness at all in them, being done from no good principle, and because those works that have some goodness in them, being done from a gracious principle, they can bear no proportion at all to the sin they are guilty of; yea, though they had been guilty but of one sin, because every sin is an infinitely aggravated evil. Much more when they have been guilty of so much sin.

II. That men should be saved for their righteousness is not consistent with the honor of God’s holiness and justice. ‘Tis the honor of God’s holiness that it should be manifested in its genuine effects. Now if God be infinitely holy, he infinitely abhors sin and wickedness; and therefore it is for the honor of that holiness that he should manifest that hatred of sin, not only by saying that he hates it, but by making of it appear in his providence. But it would not appear if God suffered sin to be in the world without taking any notice of it, by way of resentment of it, except there were some suitable compensation made.

Now in Jesus Christ God does manifest his resentment to the full, as much as if the sinner was eternally damned; he suffered in our stead, and the dignity of his person makes amends for the temporality of his sufferings. And Christ also offers compensation by his meritorious righteousness. But our own righteousness, as we said before, makes no compensation.

The honor of God’s justice won’t suffer sin to go unpunished. ‘Tis a dispute whether God’s absolute justice obliges him to punish sin; but his rectoral justice, as they call it, that is, as judge and governor of the world, requires it, and as it belongs to him to see to the order of it.

III. That eternal rule of righteousness which God has established will not allow of it. The rule of righteousness, which God never altered, which shall never pass away—the heaven and earth passes away, which is the law—fixes death as the wages of sin and perfect obedience as the only price of eternal life. And therefore, unless men could both die and satisfy for their past sins, and also perfectly obey the law of God, it will be in vain for them to seek to be saved by their own righteousness. Both which are impossible: he can’t die and satisfy and then have eternal life after that, because the death spoken of is eternal death or its equivalent. And then there is no man can perfectly obey the law of God in this world; yea, so far from that, that without being born again, he can’t perform one act of sincere obedience. But ’tis the obedience of heart that the law requires.

These things equally argue against the possibility of man’s being converted upon the account of our own righteousness, as of being justified or glorified. For if we suppose that God’s heart is inclined by the seeing of men’s goodness to convert them that they may be justified, supposes that they are justified already, at least in part; for unless God’s anger for sin was at least partly appeased, and he began to be inclined to their favor by their good works, he could not be inclined by them to convert them. If God were as angry as ever he was still, why then his heart would not be at all the more inclined to bring them out of a state of damnation.


  1. If I were saved by my own righteousness I’d be so screwed. I’m about as righteous as a peanut. Thank goodness I don’t need to rely on that for my eternal salvation.

    If humans relied on their own righteousness hell would be pretty full and heaven so sparse and god would be sad and alone. Glad this is not the case, you know I’m looking forward to a god hug! I bet those are worth the wait.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s