ARTICLE XX. – OF FAITH AND GOOD WORKS.
We are falsely accused of having prohibited good works; but our writings on the Ten Commandments and other subjects, show that we have given good and useful instructions and admonitions in respect to various Christian relations, duties, and works; respecting which, prior to this time, little had been taught, but almost every sermon urged continually the necessity of puerile and needless works, – as rosaries, worship of saints, monastic vows, pilgrimages, stated fasts, holidays, fraternities, &c. Works so needless, even our opponents do not extol so highly now as formerly; besides, they have also learned to treat of faith now, concerning which in former times they preached nothing at all; they teach now, however, that we are not justified before God by works alone, but add faith in Christ, saying faith and works justify us before God, – a doctrine which may afford more consolation than one teaching confidence in works alone.
Now the doctrine concerning faith, which is the principle article in the Christian Creed, not having been inculcated for so long a time, as all must confess, but the doctrine concerning works alone having been preached every where, the following instructions on this subject are offered by our divines:
First, that our works cannot reconcile us to God and merit grace, but these things are effected through faith alone, if we believe that our sins are forgiven us for Christ’s sake, who alone is the Mediator reconciling the Father. He, therefore, that expects to effect this reconciliation by works, and to merit grace, contemns Christ and seeks a way of his own to God, contrary to the Gospel.
This doctrine of faith is clearly and explicitly inculcated by Paul in many places, especially in Ephes. 2, 8, 9: “By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast,” &c. And that a new signification is not introduced here, may be shown from Augustine, who has treated this subject carefully, and who in like manner teaches, that we obtain grace and are justified before God, through faith in Christ, and not by works, as his whole book, “De Spiritu et Litera,” clearly shows. Although this doctrine is despised very much by the thoughtless, yet it will be found that it is very consoling and salutary to timid and alarmed consciences; for our consciences cannot secure tranquility and peace by works, but through faith alone, when they feel in themselves an assurance, that for Christ’s sake they have a merciful God, as Paul says, Rom. 5, 1: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Heretofore this consolation was not administered in sermons, but the wretched consciences of men were driven upon works of their own, and various works were taken in hand; for conscience drove some into monasteries, with the hope of acquiring grace there by a monastic life; others devised works of another kind, for the purpose of meriting grace and of making satisfaction for sins. Many of these have experienced, that peace could not be secured by these things. It was, for this reason, necessary to preach and enforce with diligence this doctrine of faith in Christ, that it might be known that through faith alone, without merit, the grace of God is secured.
It is also inculcated, that the faith here spoken of, is not the faith which devils and the ungodly possess, who believe the historical fact, that Christ has suffered and risen from the dead; but it is the true faith, – the faith which believes that we obtain grace and the forgiveness of sins through Christ. And hence, whoever knows that he has a merciful God through Christ, knows God, calls upon him, and is not without God, like the Gentiles. For the devil and the ungodly do not believe the article concerning the remission of sins; for this reason they are enemies to God, unable to call upon him, or to hope for any thing good from him; and, as just now shown, the Scripture speaking of faith, does not style faith such a knowledge as devils and wicked men possess; for it is taught concerning faith, in Hebrews 11, 1, that to have merely a knowledge of the facts of history is not faith, but to have confidence in God that we shall receive his promises. And Augustine also reminds us, that we should understand the word faith in Scripture, to mean a confidence in God that he is merciful to us, and not a mere knowledge of the fact, – a knowledge which devils also possess.
It is taught further, that good works should and must be performed, not with a view of placing confidence in them as meriting grace, but in accordance with his will, and for the glory of God. Faith alone constantly secures grace and forgiveness of sins. And because the Holy Spirit is given through faith, the heart becomes qualified to perform good works. For before this, while it is without the Holy Spirit, it is too weak; besides it is in the power of Satan, who urges frail human nature to many sins: as we see among the philosophers, who resolving to live honorably and unblamably, were unable to effect it, and fell into many great and open sins. So it happens with all men who attempt, without true faith and without the Holy Spirit, to govern themselves by their own strength alone. Wherefore, the doctrine concerning faith does not deserve censure as discouraging good works, but should much rather be applauded as teaching the performance of good works, and as offering assistance by which good works may be performed. For without faith, and out of Christ, the nature and ability of man are much too weak to do good works, to call upon God, to have patience in sufferings, to love his neighbor, faithfully to execute commissions, to be obedient, to avoid evil lusts. Such exalted and righteous works cannot be performed without the assistance of Christ, as he himself says, John 15, 5: “Without me, ye can do nothing.”