Robert Rollock on the Merit of Christ

Robert Rollock was a 16th-century Scottish Reformed theologian, credited with developing the idea of a distinction between a covenant of works and a covenant of grace between God and man (aka “bicovenantalism”), and with helping bring Reformed theology to the British Isles. Although his work was influential for later mainstream Reformed theology, he was also a significant minority voice on certain doctrines related to the merit of Christ, as seen in the following quote:

It may be demanded, Had it not been sufficient for our good, and to the end he might redeem us, if he had only lived well and holily, and not also so to have suffered death for us? I answer, it had not sufficed. For all his most holy and righteous works had not satisfied the justice and wrath of God for our sins, nor merited the mercy of God, reconciliation, righteousness, and life eternal for us. The reason is, for that the justice of God did require for our breach of God’s covenant, that we should be punished with death eternal, according to the condition denounced and annexed to the promise of that covenant. Therefore, no good works of our own, or of any mediator for us, after the breach of that covenant of works, could have satisfied the justice of God, which of necessity after a sort required the punishment and death of the offender, or certainly of some mediator in his stead. If, then, all the good and holy works of the Mediator could not satisfy that wrath and justice of God for sin, it is clear they could not merit any new grace or mercy of God for us.

But you will say, that the good and holy works of Christ our Mediator have wrought some part at least of that satisfaction, whereby God’s justice was appeased for us, and some part of that merit whereby God’s favour was purchased for us? I answer, these works did serve properly for no part of satisfaction or merit for us: for that, to speak properly, the death of Christ and his passion only did satisfy God’s justice, and merited his mercy for us.

If any will yet farther demand, May we not divide the satisfaction and merit of Christ into his doings and sufferings, that we may speak on this manner, Christ by his death and passion hath satisfied God’s justice, and by his good and holy works he hath merited God’s mercy for us, that so satisfaction may be ascribed to his death, and merit to his works; that the righteousness wherewith we are justified before God may be partly the satisfaction which Christ performed by his death for us, partly the merits which he obtained by his works for us? I answer; to speak properly, the satisfaction and merit which is by the passion of Christ only, both was and is our righteousness, or the satisfactory and meritorious death of Christ, or the satisfaction which was by Christ’s death, or the merit of his death, or the obedience of Christ, as being obedient to his Father unto the death, the death also of the cross, to be short, that justice of Christ which he obtained when in his passion he satisfied his Father’s wrath–this is our righteousness. For we may say, that either the death of Christ, or his satisfaction, or his merit, or his obedience, or his righteousness, is imputed unto us for righteousness. For all these are taken for one and the same thing.

But here it may be replied, If the works of Christ cannot properly procure for us any satisfaction nor merit, nor any part of satisfaction or merit, then it may be demanded, What hath been, and what is the use of Christ’s works, or of his active obedience, or of the obedience of his life? I answer, that the holiness of the person of Christ, and of his natures, divine and human, and of his works, is the very ground or foundation of the satisfaction and merit which we have in the passion of Christ. That is, the excellency and worthiness of that person and of his works did cause that his passion was both satisfactory and meritorious: for if this person which suffered had not been so holy and excellent, as also his life so pure and godly, it is most certain that his passion could neither have satisfied God’s wrath nor merited mercy for us. For which cause the Apostle, (Heb. vii. 26,) speaking of this ground of his meritorious passion of Christ, saith that such an high priest it became us to have, which is holy, blameless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.

Robert Rollock, “A Treatise on God’s Effectual Calling,” in The Selected Works of Robert Rollock, vol. 1 (Woodrow Society, 1849), 53-55.

About Kyle Dillon

A teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), assistant pastor of theological instruction at Riveroaks Reformed Presbyterian Church, and theology/languages teacher at Westminster Academy in Memphis, Tennessee.

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