[Article XVIII(VIII): Of Free Will]

Written in Latin by Philip Melanchthon (1531)

Translated from the Latin into German by Justus Jonas (1531)

English Translation by Ambrose and Socrates Henkel (1851), Revised by W. F. Lehmann (1854)

Link to Bente/Dau Translation from Latin (1921)

[1(67)] Our opponents also accept the eighteenth article, concerning free will, although they quote some passages of Scripture, which are not applicable to the subject; they also loudly protest against overrating the freedom of the will as the Pelagians do; and against its depreciation in the manner of the Manichaeans. [2(68)] All this is very well said; but what is the difference between the Pelagians and our adversaries, while they both teach that, without the aid of the Holy Spirit, man can love God and keep his commandments, quoad substantiam actuum? That is to say, man is able to do such works by the power of natural reason, without the agency of the Holy Ghost, and thereby merits the grace of God.

[3(69)] How incalculable are the errors which grow out of these Pelagian doctrines! And yet they most zealously inculcate them in their schools. Augustine violently opposes these false doctrines on the authority of Paul, whose views we set forth above in treating of justification. [4(70)] We also affirm, that man has free will to a certain extent; for, in the things that are within the scope of reason, our will is free. We are able, in some measure, to lead an honorable external life,--to speak of God, to practice external worship and forms, to obey parents and superiors, to abstain from theft and murder.

For, as after the fall of Adam, natural reason still remains, and enables us to perceive good and evil in matters within the scope of our senses and reason, so we also have, to some extent, freedom of will to live honorably or dishonorably. The holy Scriptures call this the righteousness of the law, or of the flesh, which reason can in some measure attain, without the Holy Ghost; [5(71)] but yet the inborn unholy lust is so powerful, that men more frequently follow it, than the dictates of reason; and the devil, who, as Paul says, (Eph. 2:2) powerfully influences the ungodly, constantly incites our poor, feeble nature to all manner of sin.

And this is the ground why but few, even according to natural reason, lead an honorable life, as we see that but few philosophers, notwithstanding their zealous exertions, have led such a life. [6(72)] Now, it is a gross fiction to say that those who perform these works without grace, are without sin, or that such good works de congruo merit the forgiveness of sins and the grace of God. For those who have not the Holy Ghost, are destitute of the fear of God, of faith, and of confidence; they do not believe that God hears them, that he forgives their sins, that he assists them in the time of need; they are therefore ungodly.

Now, "a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit," Matt. 7:18; and "without faith it is impossible to please God," Heb. 11:6; [7(73)] therefore, even admitting that we are capable of performing such external works, we still affirm that the free will and the reason of man have no ability in spiritual matters; that is, truly to believe in God and confidently to trust that he is near us, that he hears us, forgives our sins, etc. For these are the true, noble, and exalted good works of the First Table in the Decalogue, which no man can perform without the light and grace of the Holy Spirit; as Paul says, 1 Cor. 2:14: "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God;" that is, without being enlightened by the Spirit of God, man cannot have the slightest conception, in his natural reason, of the will of God or divine things.

[8(74)] And men can perceive this, when they ask their hearts how they are disposed towards God's will, and whether they entertain the assurance that God observes and hears them. For, it is difficult even for saints, firmly to believe this, and implicitly to rely upon the invisible God, and, as Peter (1 Pet. 1:8,) says, to revere and love Christ whom we do not see; how then can it be easy for the ungodly? For we begin to exercise true faith, when our hearts have been alarmed and are comforted again through Christ, when we are born anew through the Holy Ghost, as shown above.

[9(75)] It is proper, therefore, to make this clear distinction, namely, that our reason and free will enable us, to some extent, to live outwardly honest, but that the new birth, and the formation of a new heart and mind in us, is solely the work of the Holy Ghost. Thus external civil discipline is preserved; for unbecoming, unbridled, and shameless conduct is incompatible with the will of God; and yet a proper distinction is thus made between outward worldly piety, and piety before God, which is not philosophical nor external, but in the heart.

[10(76)] This distinction has not been devised by us, but the holy Scriptures clearly make it. Augustine takes the same view, and recently also William of Paris in numerous essays. This important doctrine, however, has been shamefully suppressed by those who fancy that men can keep the law of God, without the Holy Ghost, and that the latter grants us grace in consideration of our merit.