The following quotes from the early Church Fathers clearly shows that they understood justification by faith differently than what was formulated at the time of the Protestant Reformation. They did not separate justification from obedience, righteousness and sanctification, but understood all as part and parcel of the life of faith. Keep in mind they read and understood the Greek of the Scriptures not only as their first language but as the very atmosphere in which they lived. To believe that the Church Fathers were unaware of some other “true” understanding of justification by faith is to believe that the most essential doctrine regarding man’s salvation was universally misunderstood or lost in a matter of one or maybe two generations.
For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he worked righteousness and truth through faith?
Let us, then, not only call Him Lord, for that will not save us. For He says, “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will be saved, but he that works righteousness.” For that reason, brethren, let us confess Him by our works, by loving one another.”
2nd Epistle of Clement (c. 150), 7.518.
Therefore, brethren, by doing the will of the Father, and keeping the flesh holy, and observing the commandments of the Lord, we will obtain eternal life.
2nd Epistle of Clement (c. 150), 7.519.
Therefore, let us not be ungrateful for His kindness. For if He were to reward us according to our works, we would cease to be.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, (c. 105, E), 1.63.
Faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor unbelief the works of faith.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, (c. 105, E), 1.53.
Being convinced at that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it is now, through the kindness of God, graciously given to us. Accordingly, it is clear that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God. However, through the power of God, we can be made able.
Letter to Diognetus (c. 125-200), 1.28.
Into this joy, many persons desire to enter. They know that “by grace you have been saved, not of works,” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ….But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise us also—if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness.
He will bestow on them the blessing which He has promised them, with much glory and joy, if only they will keep the commandments of God, which they have received in great faith. The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.10.
‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin’ (Ps. 32:2). That is, having repented of his sins, he can receive remission of them from God. But this is not as you [Jews] deceive yourselves, and some others who resemble you in this. For they say, that even though they remain sinners, the Lord will not impute sin to them, because they know God.
St. Justin the Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.270
For Abraham was declared by God to be righteous, not on account of circumcision, but on account of faith.
St. Justin the Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.245.
If men by their works show themselves worthy of His design, they are deemed worthy of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering. This is what we have received [from the Apostles]….Those who choose what is pleasing to Him are, on account of their choice, deemed worthy of incorruption and of fellowship with Him.
St. Justin the Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.165.
Each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions. St. Justin the Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.166.
Let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood not to be Christians, even though they profess with the lips the teachings of Christ. For it is not those who make profession, but those who do the works, who will be saved.
St. Justin the Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.168.
The Son of God has promised again to deliver us and invest us with prepared garments—if we do His commandments.
St. Justin the Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.1257.
The Lord Himself, who is Emmanuel from the Virgin, is the sign of our salvation. It was the Lord Himself who saved them. For they could not be saved by their own instrumentality. Therefore, when Paul explains human infirmity, he says, “For I know that there dwells in my flesh no good thing” [Rom. 7:18]. He thus shows that the “good thing” of our salvation is not from us, but from God. And again: “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?” [Rom. 7:24]….Here we see that we must be saved by the help of God, not by ourselves.
St. Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 180, E/W), 1.450 (disciple of St. Polycarp).
To believe in Him is to do His will.
Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.468.
Those who believe God and follow His word receive that salvation that flows from Him. On the other hand, those who depart from Him, and despise His teachings, and by their deeds bring dishonor on Him, who made them…heap up against themselves most righteous judgment.
Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.511.
No one, indeed, while placed out of the reach of the Lord’s benefits, has power to procure himself the means of salvation. So the more we receive His grace, the more we should love Him.
Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.450.
These men [the prophets] did not impute unto us [the Gentiles] our transgressions, which we did before Christ was manifested among us. Therefore, it is not right for us to lay blame upon those who sinned before Christ’s coming. For “all men fall short of the glory of God,” and are not justified of themselves. Rather, they are justified by the coming of the Lord—those who earnestly direct their eyes towards His light.
Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.499.
However, they [the Gnostics] keep silent with regard to His judgments and all those things which will come upon those who have heard His words, but have not done them. For it would be better for them if they had not been born.
Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.501.
When a man is grafted in by faith and receives the Spirit of God, he certainly does not lose the substance of the flesh, but changes the quality of the fruit of his works.
Irenaeus, (c. 180 E/W), 1.536.
Rightly, then, to those who have believed and obey, grace will abound beyond measure. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.196.
“Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith.” It is therefore of no advantage to persons after the end of life, even if they do good works now, if they do not have faith.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.308
This is what it means to “be drawn by the Father”: It means to become worthy to receive the power of grace from God, so as to run without hindrance.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.435.
“For by grace we are saved”— but not, indeed, without good works. Rather, we must be saved by being molded for what is good, acquiring an inclination for it. And we must possess the healthy mind that is fixed on the pursuit of the good. For this, we have the greatest need of divine grace, of right teaching, of holy susceptibility, and of the drawing of the Father to Himself.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.445.
The same from the foundation of the world is each one who at different periods is saved, and will be saved by faith.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.446.
Into the impure soul, the grace of God finds no entrance.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.595.
To him who directs his eye to salvation and desires it, asking with boldness and vehemence for its bestowal, the good Father who is in heaven will give the true purification and the changeless life.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.604.
“Now the just will live by faith,” which is according to the covenant and the commandments. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.230.
It is the will of God that he who repents of his sins and is obedient to the commandments should be saved.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.363.
And he does not believe God, who does not do what God has commanded.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.416.
When we hear, “Your faith has saved you,” we do not understand Him to say absolutely that those who have believed in any way whatever will be saved. For works must also follow. But it was to the Jews alone that He spoke this utterance. Those persons were Jews who kept the Law and lived blamelessly. All they lacked was faith in the Lord. No one, then, can be a believer and at the same time be licentious.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.505.
He who obtains the mastery in these struggles [against fleshly desires], and overthrows the tempter,…wins immortality….The one who has obeyed the directions of the trainer wins the day….We are born to obey the commandments, if we choose to be willing to be saved. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.528.
Salvation does not depend on external things—whether they are many or few, small or great, illustrious or obscure, esteemed or not esteemed. Rather, it depends on the virtue of the soul—on faith, hope, love, brotherliness, knowledge, meekness, humility, and truth, the reward for which is salvation.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.596.
It is for this reason that [the Gnostics] neither regard works as necessary for themselves, nor do they observe any of the calls of duty, eluding even the necessity of martyrdom on any pretense that may suit their pleasure.
Tertullian (c. 200 W), 3.517.
Some of the [heretics]…simply deny the Law and the Prophets for the sake of their lawless and impious doctrine. And under the pretense of grace, they have sunk down to the lowest abyss of perdition.
Eusebius, quoting Caius (c. 215, W), 5.602.
The passage declares that before God, no living being will be justified. This shows that in comparison with God—and the righteousness that is in Him—no one (even of the most perfect saints) will be justified. We might take an illustration from another scenario, saying that no candle can give light before the sun. By that, we do not mean that the candle will not give out light, but only that it will not be seen when the sun outshines it.
Origen (c. 223, E), 9.333.
Abraham believed in God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Assuredly, then, whoever believes in God and lives in faith is found righteous and is already blessed in faithful Abraham.
St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 250, W), 5.359.
To prophecy, to cast out devils, and to do great acts upon the earth—these are all certainly a sublime and an admirable thing. However, one does not attain the kingdom of heaven even though he is found in all these things, unless he walks in the observance of the right and just way.
St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 250, W), 5.426.
He that is freed owes obedience to his deliverer.
St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 250, W), 5.432.
If anyone follows unrighteousness and does those things that are contrary to the will of God—such a person will be considered by God the same as the disobedient unbeliever. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.391.
 According to early church historians Clement was a disciple of St. Paul, and is the Clement mentioned in Phil. 4:3, his Epistle was considered as Scripture by many in the early Church.
 Polycarp, the saintly Bishop of Smyrna, was a direct disciple of the Apostle John and was martyred for faith in Christ at age 86.