[Article XX(VIII): Of Faith and Good Works]

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(78)] In regard to the twentieth article, they say in plain terms:—That they reject and condemn our doctrine, which declares that men do not merit the remission of their sins by good works. Let each one carefully observe that it is this article they expressly reject and condemn. What need is there, then, of wasting words on this evident point? [2(79)] The illustrious doctors and framers of the Confutation, clearly show here by what spirit they are moved. For this is by no means an unimportant point in the Christian church, but rather the chief article, namely, that we obtain the remission of our sins, without our own merit, through Christ, and that he is the propitiation for our sins, not our works; as Peter says, Acts 10:43: "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins."

This strong testimony of all the holy prophets may justly be termed a decree of the universal Christian church. For even a single prophet is great in the estimation of God, and a most precious treasure. We should, moreover, rather believe that the unanimous voice of this holy church and all the prophets, than the ungodly, wicked sophists, who framed the Confutation, and so shamelessly blasphemed Christ. [3(80)] For, although some teachers asserted in reference to this subject, that after our sins are forgiven, we obtain grace, not through faith, but through our own works; yet they did not maintain that we obtain the remission of sin on account of our works, and not for Christ's sake.

[4(81)] It is, therefore, horrible blasphemy thus to give the honor of Christ to our human works. And we confidently trust to the exalted, noble virtue of his Imperial Majesty and other Princes, that, had they been apprised of it, they would not, in any way, have admitted into the Confutation things so evidently false and unfounded, blaspheming God and the Gospel before all the world. [5(82)] To prove the divine origin of this article, and its holy, heavenly truth, we could adduce numberless passages from the Scriptures, and from the writings of the Fathers. And there is scarcely a word or a page in the principal books of Holy Writ, which does not clearly state this. We have above dwelt largely on these subjects; and godly, pious men, who know why Christ was given, and who would not, for all the riches and kingdoms of the earth, lose Christ, our only Treasure, our only Mediator and Reconciler, must be shocked and alarmed at this manifest contempt and condemnation of the holy Word and truth of God by presumptuous man. The prophet Isaiah 53:6, says: "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." But our adversaries would make Isaiah and the whole Bible liars, by saying that the Lord laid our sins on us, and on our works and beggarly expiation. I shall, however, take no notice of their puerile works, their rosaries, pilgrimages, and the like.

[6(83)] We are well aware of the severe Mandate and Imperial Edict issued against us and our doctrine; and we should certainly feel alarmed at it, if our cause were unimportant or doubtful. But, God be praised! The divine Word gives our hearts the fullest assurance before God, that our adversaries condemn the plain truth of God, the genuine Gospel, the blessed and holy doctrine, without which the Christian church cannot exist, and which every Christian, to the extent and at the peril of life, is bound to acknowledge, maintain, and defend to the honor of God. We shall, therefore, not permit ourselves to be driven from this wholesome doctrine. [7(84)] For who does not wish to depart from this world, in the confession of doctrine that we obtain the remission of our sins through faith, by the blood of Christ, without our own merit or works!

[8(85)] Experience shows, and the monks themselves must confess, that conscience cannot be quieted or pacified except through faith in Christ; nor can men obtain true and abiding consolation in the severe agonies and trials of death, against the great terrors of death and sin, unless they cleave to the promises of grace in Christ. And they can have no enduring consolation against the devil, who, then especially, severely presses the soul, fills it with terror, incites it to despair, and in an instant, with a single blast, sweeps away all their works like dust, unless they firmly cling to the gospel doctrine that we obtain the remission of sin, without merit, by the precious blood of Christ. For faith alone revives and supports us in the great struggle and agonies of death, when no creature can aid us, when we must die, and be separated from this whole visible creation, and transferred to another state and another world.

[9(86)] This doctrine, then, is certainly worthy of notice, and for its sake every Christian should most cheerfully risk his all. All those who adhere to this Confession of ours, have no occasion to be alarmed or perplexed; let them joyfully trust in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ, and with all cheerfulness venture to confess this evident truth against all the world, all tyranny, wrath, menaces, and terrors, even in the face of all the tyrannical murder and persecution taking place every day. For who can suffer himself to be deprived of this great, nay, eternal consolation, on which the entire welfare of the whole Christian church depends!

[10(87)] If we take up the Bible and seriously read it, we soon discover that this doctrine is founded everywhere in the Scripture. Paul clearly says, Rom. 3:24, and 4:16, that sin is forgiven without merit, for the sake of Christ; he therefore tells us: We are justified through faith without merit, that the promise might be sure; that is to say: if the promise depended on our works, it would not be sure. If grace, or the remission of sins, were granted on account of our works, when could we be assured that we have obtained grace? When could our conscience find a work sufficient to appease the wrath of God? [11(88)] We have already said enough on this subject; each one may examine the passages of Scripture by which we have established this doctrine. The loud complaints I am now making were occasioned by the abominable, shameless, monstrous, premeditated wickedness of our adversaries, when they in plain terms repudiate the doctrine of this article, that we obtain the remission of sin, not through works, but without merit, through faith in Christ.

[12(89)] Our adversaries also adduce some passages of Scripture to justify their condemnation of this article; for example, they quote the language of Peter: "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure," through good works, etc. Here all can see that our adversaries did not spend their money in vain, when they studied dialectics; for they quote the Scriptures as it suits them, whether to the purpose or not. Thus, they reason: "Peter says, 'give diligence to make your calling and election sure,' through good works; therefore we merit the remission of sins through good works," This is a fine argument indeed! It is like saying of a reprieved culprit in the criminal court: The judge has commanded him henceforth to refrain from such evil deed; therefore, by abstaining from it, he has merited the prolongation of his life. To argue thus, is to make ex non causa causam (a cause of no cause). [13(90)] Peter is speaking of the good works and fruits following faith, and showing why they should be performed, namely, that we may make our calling sure; that is, that we may not fall from the Gospel by sinning again. He would say: Do good works, that you may continue in the Gospel, in your heavenly calling; that you may not fall away, become cold, and lose the Spirit and the gifts, imparted unto you by grace, through Christ, and not on account of the works which follow them; for we abide in our calling through faith; but faith and the Holy Spirit do not remain in those who lead a sinful life.

[14(91)] But they also cite other passages and testimony, no more applicable than the above. Besides, they have the boldness to affirm that this opinion was condemned a thousand years ago, in the days of Augustine. This is false, for the Christian church has always maintained that the remission of sins is granted to us without merit; and the Pelagians were condemned, because they asserted that we receive grace for the sake of our works.

[15(92)] We have sufficiently shown above that we teach that, where there is faith, good fruits and works must follow; for "we do not make void the law, but establish it," as Paul says, Romans 3:31. When we have received the Holy Spirit through faith, good fruits follow; and then we increase in love, in patience, in purity, and other fruits of the Spirit.