[Article IV(II): Of Justification]

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)

How One Is Justified Before God.

[1] The adversaries condemn the doctrine taught in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and twentieth articles of our Confession, that believers obtain the remission of their sins through Christ, by faith alone, without any merit of their own; and insolently reject these two tenets; first, that we deny that man can obtain remission of his sins through his own merit; and secondly, that we hold, teach, and confess that no one is reconciled to God, or obtains remission of his sins, but through faith in Christ alone.

[2] Now, since this controversy concerns the principal and most important article of the whole Christian doctrine, and as much indeed depends upon this article, which contributes especially to a clear, correct apprehension of all the holy Scriptures, and which alone shows the way to the unspeakable treasure and the true knowledge of Christ; yea, which is the only key to the whole Bible, and without which the poor conscience can have no true, invariable, fixed hope, nor conceive the riches of the grace of Christ;--we therefore pray your Imperial Majesty, graciously to hear us concerning these great, momentous, and all-important subjects, as the nature of the case demands. [3] For, as our adversaries do not understand or know, what is meant in the Scriptures by remission of sin, by faith, grace and righteousness, they have miserably defiled this noble, indispensable, and leading article, without which no one can know Christ; they have entirely suppressed the invaluable treasure of the knowledge of Christ, of his kingdom, and of his grace; and robbed our poor consciences of this noble and great treasure and of this eternal comfort, so valuable and important to them.

[4] But in order to confirm our Confession, and to refute what our adversaries have adduced, we shall, in the first place, show the foundation and reasons upon which both doctrines rest, so that each may be the more clearly understood.

[5] All the Scriptures, both of the Old and New testaments, are divided into, and teach, these two parts, namely, the law and the divine promises. In some places they present to us the law, and in others they offer us grace through the glorious promises of Christ; for example, the Old Testament, when it promises the coming Christ, and through him offers eternal blessings, eternal salvation, righteousness, and eternal life; or the New, when Christ, after his advent, promises in the Gospel, the remission of sins, eternal righteousness and life.

[6] In this place, however, we call the law the Ten Commandments of God, wherever they appear in the Scriptures. It is not our purpose here to speak of the ceremonies and judicial laws.

[7] Now, of these two parts our adversaries choose the law. For since the natural law, which agrees with the Law of Moses or the Ten Commandments, is inborn and written in the hearts of all men, and human reason is therefore able, in some measure, to comprehend and understand the Ten Commandments, it imagines that the law is sufficient, and that remission of sin can be obtained through it.

[8] But the Ten Commandments require not only an honorable life, or good works, externally, which reason can to some extent produce; they demand much higher things, beyond all human power and the reach of reason: namely, the law requires us to fear and love God with all sincerity, and from the bottom of our hearts; to call upon him in every time of need, and place our trust in nothing else.

Again, the law demands, that we neither doubt nor waver, but conclude with the utmost certainty in our hearts, that God is with us, hears our prayers, and grants our petitions; it demands, that in the midst of death we expect life and all manner of consolation from God; that in all our troubles we conform entirely to his will; that we shall not flee from him in death and affliction, but be obedient to him, and bear and suffer willingly, whatever may befall us.

[9] Here the scholastics have followed the philosophers; and when they attempt to define, how man is justified before God, they teach only the righteousness and piety, of a correct external deportment before the world, and of good works, and in addition devise the dream, that human reason is able without the aid of the Holy Ghost, to love God above all things. For it is true, undoubtedly, that when the human heart is at ease and free from trouble and temptation, and does not feel the wrath and judgment of God, it may imagine that it loves God above all things and does much good and many works for God's sake; but this is mere hypocrisy. Yet in this manner our adversaries have taught, that men merit the remission of sins, if they do as much as lies in their power; that is, if reason regrets sin, and elicits also a willingness to love God.

[10] Since men are naturally inclined to the idea, that their merits and works are of some value in the sight of God, this false principle has bought forth innumerable, perverted methods of worship in the church: for example, monastic vows, the abuse of Masses, and the like, without number; new modes of worship being constantly devised out of this error. [11] And in order that such confidence in our merits and works might be still farther disseminated, they impudently maintained, that the Lord God must of necessity give grace unto those who do such good works; not indeed, that he is compelled, but because this is the order, which God will not transgress or alter.

[12] In these opinions, in this very doctrine, many other gross, pernicious errors, and horrid blasphemies against God are embraced and hidden; to state all of which now, would require too much time. But we beg every Christian reader to consider for God's sake: If we can be justified before God and become Christians through such works, I would like to hear, (and we pray all of you to make every effort to reply,) what the difference would be between the doctrines of the philosophers and of Christ; if we can obtain the remission of sins through such works of ours, what benefit, then, is Christ to us? If we can become holy and pious in the sight of God, by natural reason and our own good works, what need have we then of the blood and death of Christ, or to be born anew through him? As Peter says in his first Epistle 1:3. [13] This dangerous error (taught publicly in the schools and from the pulpit) has, alas, led even eminent theologians at Lyons, Paris, and other places, to recognize no Christian piety or righteousness, but that taught in philosophy; although every letter and syllable of Paul teaches differently; yet, while this ought reasonably to surprise us, and we could justly deride their views, they laugh at us, yea, ridicule Paul himself.

[14] So greatly has this shameful, abominable error prevailed! I myself heard a reputable minister, who did not mention Christ and the Gospel, but preached the ethics of Aristotle, (Aristotelis ethicos). Is not such preaching puerile and foolish among Christians? If, however, the doctrine of our adversaries be true, then are these ethics (ethici,) an invaluable collection of sermons, and a fine new bible. For it is not easy for anyone to write better than Aristotle, with regard to an external, honorable life.

[15] We see, that some learned men have written books, in which they endeavor to show, that the words of Christ and the sayings of Socrates and Zeno harmonize beautifully, as if Christ had come to give us good laws and commandments, through which to merit the remission of our sins; instead of proclaiming to us the grace and peace of God and imparting the Holy Spirit, through his own merits and blood.

[16] Hence, if we receive the doctrine of our adversaries, that we can merit the forgiveness of our sins, by the powers of natural reason and our own works, we are Aristotelians and not Christians, and there is no difference between an honorable Heathen, a Pharisaic, and a Christian life, between philosophy and the Gospel.

[17] Now although our adversaries, in order not to pass by the name of Christ in total silence, as barbarous, impious heathens, speak of faith as being a knowledge of the history of Christ; and although they do tell us something of Christ--namely, that he has gained for us a habitum, or, as they term it, primam gratiam, the first or original grace, which they regard as an inclination, or a desire, by which we are enabled to love God more easily, than we could otherwise; yet a very weak and insignificant influence would thus be exerted by Christ, or by this habitus.

Nevertheless they say, that the operations of our reason and will, before this habitus exists, as well as afterwards, when the habitus is present, are ejusdem speciei, that is, one and the same thing, before as well as after.

For they maintain that our reason and human will are of themselves able to love God; but that the habitus creates a desire, which enables reason to accomplish, with greater ease and pleasure, what it before had the power to do.

Hence they also teach, that this habitus must be merited or earned by our previous works, and that, through the works of the law, we merit an increase of this good inclination and eternal life.

[18] Thus these men conceal Christ from us, and bury him anew, so that it is impossible for us to recognize him as a Mediator; for they bury in silence the doctrine, that we obtain remission of our sins through him, by grace alone, without any merit of our own; and even set up their dreams, that we can merit forgiveness of our sins by good works and the works of the law; although the whole Bible teaches, that we are unable to keep or fulfil the law. And as human reason performs no part of the law, except external works, and does not really fear God, so it neither believes, that it is observed of God. Although they speak thus concerning the habitus, it is certain, that, without faith in Christ, real love to God cannot exist in the heart; nor can anyone comprehend, what love to God is, without faith.

[19] In devising a distinction however between merito congrui (in school divinity,--The good actions which are supposed to render it meet and equitable that God should confer grace on those who perform them. The merit of congruity is a sort of imperfect qualification for the gift and reception of God's grace.--MILNER) and merito condigni, (in school divinity,--The merit of human actions which claims reward, on the score of justice--MILNER) they are playing with and contending about words only, in order that they may not appear openly as Pelagians. For if God must of necessity confer his grace as a reward for congruity, then it is not really congruity, but an actual duty, it is justice or condignity. They themselves do not know, however, what they say; for they invent and dream, that when the "habitus" of the love of God (of which mention is made above) is present, a man merits the grace of God de congruo; and yet they admit that no one can be certain of the presence of this habitus.

Pray, how then, or when, do they know, to what extent they earn the Lord's grace; whether by congruity or by condignity, in part or in whole? [20] But, alas, merciful God! These are all the cold thoughts and dreams of idle, wicked, and inexperienced men, who do not often make use of the Bible; who do not know nor experience, what a sinner feels, what the attacks of death and the devil are; who do not know at all, how entirely we forget all our merit and works, when the heart feels the wrath of God, or when the conscience is filled with terror. Secure, inexperienced men constantly pass on in the delusion, that they merit grace by their works de congruo.

For it is implanted in us by nature, highly to esteem ourselves and our works. But when the heart truly feels its sins and wretchedness, then all levity and frivolous thoughts give way to real and great seriousness; then the heart and conscience will not be quieted or satisfied, but will seek works upon works, and desire to have certainty, a foundation on which to stand and rest firmly. But these alarmed consciences deeply feel, that they can merit nothing either de condigno or de congruo, and soon sink into hopelessness and despair, unless a doctrine different from the law be preached to them; namely, the Gospel of Christ, proclaiming that he was given for us.

Thus it is related of the Barefoot monks, that they, after vainly praising, for a long time, their order and good works to several pious persons in the hour of death, were at last obliged to be silent about their order and St. Franciscus, and to say, "Dear friend, Christ hath died for thee." This afforded relief in trouble; this alone brought peace and consolation.

[21] Thus our adversaries teach nothing but the external piety of external good works, which Paul calls the piety of the law; and thus, like the Jews, they see the veiled face of Moses, only strengthening security and hardness of heart in some hypocrites; they lead men upon a sandy foundation, upon their own works, by which means Christ and the Gospel are despised, and give many miserable consciences cause for despair; for they do good works relying upon false conceits, and, never experiencing the great power of faith, they at last sink into despair.

[22] We, however, hold and assert of external piety, that God requires and demands such an external correct life; and that on account of God's commandment, we must perform the good works prescribed in the Ten Commandments. For the law is our schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24) and is given for the unrighteous (1 Tim. 1:9). It is the will of the Lord, our God, that gross sins should be restrained by external discipline; and for this purpose, he has given laws, established governments, provided men of learning and wisdom, who are fitted to govern. [23] Human reason can, to some extent, by its own powers, produce an honorable external deportment like this; although it is often hindered in doing so, by innate weakness and the arts of the devil.

[24] Now, although I am willing to allow to this external life and such good works, all the praise that is properly due them;--for in this life and in worldly matters, there is nothing better than honesty and virtue, as Aristotle says: "Neither the morning nor the evening star is more lovely and beautiful than honesty and righteousness," God himself rewarding such virtues with temporal gifts,--yet, we should not extol good works and such a deportment so as to bring contumely on Christ. [25] The opinion that we must merit the remission of our sins by our works, is certainly a fiction and an error.

[26] It is likewise false and untrue, that a man can become righteous and pious before God by his own works and by external piety.

[27] It is unfounded and false, that human reason is able of itself to love God above all things, to keep his commandments, to fear him, to be assured that he hears our prayers, to thank and obey him in afflictions, and in other things enjoined in his law, such as, not to covet the goods of others, etc. For all this, human reason is not able to accomplish, although it can in some degree produce an honorable life externally, and perform good works.

[28] To say that those are without sin, who keep God's commandments externally only, without the Spirit and grace in their hearts, is also untrue and deceptive, and a blasphemy against Christ.

[29] This conclusion is attested, not only by the holy Scriptures, but also by the ancient Fathers. Augustine treats of this subject largely, in contending against the Pelagians, that grace is not given on account of our own merits. And in his book on Nature and Grace, (de Natura et Gratia,) he says: "If our natural strength is sufficient, by freewill, both to teach us how to live, and how to live aright, then Christ died in vain."

[30] Why should I not here exclaim with Paul, Gal. 5:4, Rom. 10:3-4? Yea, I may justly exclaim with him: "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law: ye are fallen from grace." "For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." For as Christ is the end of the law, so also is Christ the Savior of corrupted nature. [31] Again, John 8:36: "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."

Therefore we cannot become free from our sins, or merit their remission, through reason or good works. Again, it is written, John 3:5: "Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

Now if it be necessary to be born again of the Holy Ghost, our good works or our own merit will not justify us before God; nor can we keep or fulfil the law. [32] Again, Rom. 3:23: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" that is, they are wanting in the wisdom and righteousness which avail in the sight of God, and through which they rightly know, honor, and praise him. Again, Rom. 8:7-8: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God."

[33] These passages of Scripture are so exceedingly clear and plain, that they require no very keen intellect to understand them; we need only to read them and properly examine the plain words. As Augustine says on this subject: "If human reason and being carnal minded constitute enmity against God, then, without the Holy Ghost, no man can love God with his whole heart. Again, if to be carnal minded is enmity against God, then indeed are even the best works of the children of Adam impure and sinful; for if the flesh cannot be obedient to the law of God, then in truth does a man commit sin, even when performing noble, lovely, and excellent works, which the world highly esteems."

[34] Our adversaries consider only the commandments of the Second Table of Moses which treats of external honesty, a virtue which human reason more readily comprehends; and they imagine, that by these external good works they keep God's law. But they do not consider the First Table, which requires us to love God with our whole heart, firmly to believe that God is wroth on account of sin, sincerely to fear God, and to be fully assured that God is near us and hears our prayer, etc.

Now we are all so constituted from Adam, previous to our being born again through the Holy Ghost, that our hearts, in their security, despise God's wrath, judgment, and threats, and hate and oppose his judgments and penalties. [35] Now if all the children of Adam are born so deeply in sin, that we naturally despise God, and doubt his Word, his promises, and his threats; then indeed must the best of our good works, performed previous to our being born anew through the Holy Ghost, be sinful and condemned in God's sight, although to the world they may appear lovely; for they proceed out of a bad, ungodly, and impure heart; as Paul says, Rom. 14:23: "Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." For all such self- righteous men perform works without faith, despise God in their hearts, and believe as little as Epicurus, that God takes care of them. Their contempt of God within, must necessarily make their works impure and sinful, although they may appear beautiful before men; for God searches the heart.

[36] Finally, it is extremely foolish and improper, on the part of our adversaries, to contend that even those, who deserve eternal wrath, obtain forgiveness of sin through love, or actum elicitum dilectionis, self-selected works of love; whereas it is clearly impossible to love God, until the heart has taken hold of the remission of sins through faith.

For a heart, filled with anxiety, and truly feeling the wrath of God, can never love him, until he gives it relief and comfort, and assures it of his grace. For while he terrifies and assails us, as if he would cast us off in eternal wrath, into everlasting death, our poor, feeble nature must lose all courage and hope, and tremble before the great anger, which terrifies, and punishes so fearfully; and it cannot feel a spark of love, until God himself comforts and relieves it.

[37] The idle and inexperienced may indeed devise for themselves a dream of love; hence they contend so frivolously, that one who is guilty even of mortal sin, can yet love God above all things; for they have never fully realized what a burden sin is, or how great a torment it is to feel the wrath of God.

But pious hearts that have experienced this, in real strife against Satan, and in real distress of conscience, know well that such words and thoughts are nothing but fancies and dreams. [38] Paul, Rom. 4:15, says: "The law worketh wrath." He does not say that men obtain remission of their sins through the law; for the law always accuses the conscience and terrifies.

The law, therefore, justifies no one in the sight of God; for an alarmed conscience flees from God and his judgments. Hence those are in error, who would merit the remission of their sins by their works, or the law.

[39] Let this suffice concerning the righteousness of reason, or of the self-righteous, as taught by our opponents. When we shall come presently to speak of the piety and righteousness which are acceptable to God and proceed from faith, the subject will of itself lead to the quotation of more passages from the Scriptures, which will equally serve to overthrow the above-named errors of our adversaries.

[40] Since no man is able, then, by his own strength to keep the law of God, and all under sin are doomed to eternal wrath and death, we cannot, through the law, be released from sin or become just in the sight of God; but remission of sins and righteousness are promised through Christ, who was given for us to atone for the sins of the world, and is the only Mediator and Redeemer. [41] Now this promise is not: through Christ ye shall have grace, salvation, etc., if ye merit it; but through grace alone he offers the remission of sins, as Paul says, Rom. 11:6: "If the remission of sins be of works, then it is no more grace." And in another place, Rom. 3:21: "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifest;" that is, remission of sins is offered gratuitously, or without price.

Therefore it is not through our merit, that we are reconciled to God; [42] for if it depended upon our merit, and if reconciliation to God and remission of sin came of the law, then were all lost, and slightly indeed should we be united and reconciled to God. For we do not keep the law, nor have we power to keep it; consequently we should never obtain the promised grace and reconciliation.

For thus Paul concludes, Rom. 4:14: "For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect." Now, were the promise founded upon our merit and the law, it would follow, since we cannot keep the law, that the promise would be vain.

[43] But if we are made just before God, solely through the grace and mercy promised in Christ, it follows, that we do not become just through our works. For what necessity would there be then for the glorious, divine promises, and how could Paul so highly praise grace and exalt it?

The Gospel therefore recommends, preaches, and applauds the righteousness which proceeds from faith in Christ and is not of the law. The law does not teach it; it is far superior to the righteousness of the law. [44] For the law requires our works, and demands that we should be upright internally, at heart, and perfectly righteous.

But the divine promises offer to us, who are overcome by sin and death, help, grace, and reconciliation for Christ's sake, which no man can obtain through works, but alone through faith in Christ. This faith offers or presents to the Lord God no works, no merit of its own, but builds upon pure grace only, and knows of no other consolation or trust, than the mercy promised in Christ. [45] Now this faith alone, when each one believes individually that Christ is given for him, obtains remission of sins for Christ's sake, and justifies us in the sight of God.

And since this faith exists, wherever there is true repentance, and raises up our hearts when sunk in the terrors of sin and death, we are regenerated by it, and through it we receive the Holy Ghost into our hearts, who renews them, and thus enables us to keep the law of God, to fear and love him truly, and firmly to trust that Christ was given for us, that he hears our cries and prayers, and that we can commend ourselves joyfully to God's will, even in the midst of death. [46] That faith is therefore true and genuine, which receives and obtains remission of sins without price, through grace, and does not oppose to the wrath of God its own merits and works, which would be a mere feather against a tempest, but presents Christ the Mediator; and this faith is the true knowledge of Christ.

He who thus believes, rightly apprehends the great, beneficent work of Christ, and becomes a new creature; and prior to the existence of such faith in the heart, no one can fulfil the law. [47] Of this faith in Christ and this knowledge of him, there is not a syllable, not a tittle, in all the books of our adversaries.

We therefore censure our adversaries, for teaching only the law, concerning our works, and not the Gospel, which tells us that we are justified if we believe in Christ.

What the Faith Is, Which Justifies Us Before God.

[48] Our adversaries think, that faith consists in a knowledge of, or an acquaintance with, the history of Christ; hence they teach that we can believe, even when sunk in mortal sin.

Accordingly they neither know nor say anything of the true Christian faith, by which, Paul invariably says, we are justified before God. For those that are just and holy in the sight of God, are surely not in mortal sin. Therefore the faith, which justifies us before God, consists not only in a knowledge of the history of Christ, his birth, sufferings, etc., (for this even the devils have,) but it is the conviction, the fixed, firm confidence of our hearts, fully trusting in the promises of God, which, without our merit, offer us the remission of sin, grace, and full salvation, through Christ the Mediator. And that no one may suppose it to be a mere historical knowledge, I add that faith is the acceptance of this treasure with our whole heart, and this is not our own act, present or gift, our own work or preparation; but the heart must be assured and fully trust, that God presents and gives to us, and not we to him; that he pours out upon us the whole treasure of grace in Christ.

[49] From this it is easy to perceive the difference between faith, and the piety produced by the law. For faith is a divine worship and service, (latria,) in which we are the recipients of gifts; but the righteousness of the law is a worship which offers our works to God. Accordingly, God requires us to worship him through faith, that we may receive from him what he promises and offers.

[50] Faith, however, is not a mere historical knowledge, but a conviction which firmly cleaves to the divine promises, as Paul fully shows, when he says, Rom. 4:16: "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed."

Here Paul so connects the two, that faith, etc., must follow promises; so, on the other hand, where promises are given, God also requires faith.

[51] But we can show even more plainly, what justifying faith is, by referring to our own Creed and Faith; for the Symbol says: I believe in the remission of sin. Hence it is not enough for us to know or believe that Christ was born, that he suffered and rose from the dead, but we must also believe the article which sets forth the final object of all this, namely, "I believe that my sins are forgiven me." To this article all the rest must be referred, namely, that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, and not on account of our merit. [52] For why should God give Christ for our sins, if our merit could atone for them?

[53] Therefore, whenever we speak of justifying faith, (fide justificante,) it includes first, the divine promises; secondly, that they offer grace freely and without our merit; thirdly, that the blood of Christ and his merits are the treasure which atones for our sins. The promises are received through faith; but as they offer grace without merit, all our worthiness and merit fall to the ground, and grace and boundless mercy alone are praised. The merit of Christ is the treasure; for that must indeed be a treasure and a noble pledge, which pays for the sins of the whole world.

[54] All the Scriptures, of the Old and New Testaments, when speaking of God and faith, often use the expressions--goodness, mercy; and in all their writings the holy Fathers teach, that we are saved by grace, goodness, and forgiveness. [55] Now whenever we find the word mercy in the Scriptures, or in the writings of the Fathers, we must remember, that it refers to faith, which embraces the promise of such mercy. Again, whenever the Scriptures speak of faith, they mean the faith which is based upon grace alone. [56] For faith does not justify us before God, as though it were in itself our work, and our own, but solely because it receives the grace, promised and offered without merit and presented out of the rich treasures of mercy.

[57] Such faith and trust in the mercy of God are extolled, particularly in the Prophets and Psalms, as the highest and the most holy worship of God. For although the law does not, like the Gospel, chiefly preach grace and the remission of sin, yet the promises respecting the coming Christ were handed down from one Patriarch to the other, and they knew and believed, that God would give blessings, grace, comfort, and salvation, through Christ, the blessed seed.

Hence, if they understood that Christ was to be the treasure, paying for our sins, they knew that our works could never pay off so great a debt. They therefore received grace, salvation, and remission of sin, without any merit, and were saved through faith in the divine promises and the Gospel of Christ, as well as we, or the saints in the New Testament.

[58] Hence the frequent repetition of the words mercy, goodness, faith, in the Psalms and Prophets; as, in Psalms 130:3-6: "If thou, LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, O LORD, who shall stand?" Here David confesses his sins, and boasts of no merit; but continues: "But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared." Now he is comforted again, relies on grace and mercy, trusts in the divine promises, and says: "My soul waiteth for the Lord, and in his word do I hope." And again: "My soul waiteth for the Lord;" that is, as thou hast promised forgiveness of sin, I will hold to thy Word; I will trust and rely upon thy gracious promises. [59] Thus the holy Patriarchs were justified in the sight of God, not by the law, but by the promises of God and by faith.

It must indeed be surprising to everyone, that our opponents teach so little (or nothing at all) of faith, when they see in almost every syllable of the Bible, that faith, is praised and extolled as the most noble, holy, and acceptable, the greatest and best service of God. Thus in Psalm 50:15, he says: "Call upon me in the day of trouble; and I will deliver thee." [60] In this way, then, would God be known to us; thus he would be honored, that we may receive and accept from him grace, salvation, and every blessing, as gifts of grace, and not as a reward for our merit. This is a most precious knowledge, a powerful consolation in every affliction, bodily and spiritual, in life or in death, as the pious well know. But our opponents deprive the poor conscience of this noble, precious, and sweet consolation, when they treat faith so coldly and contemptuously, and instead of it plead their own miserable, beggarly works and merits before the supreme God.

We Are Justified by Faith in Christ.

[61] In order that no one may think we are speaking of a mere knowledge of the history of Christ, we must state, in the first place, in what manner the heart begins to believe, and how it attains faith. Afterwards we shall show, that this faith justifies before God, and how this is to be understood; and we shall endeavor, properly, clearly and fully to refute the arguments of our adversaries. [62] Christ, Luke 24:47, commands the preaching of repentance and remission of sins. The Gospel also charges all men with being born in sin, and being worthy of eternal wrath and death, and offers them remission of sin and righteousness through Christ, which are received through faith.

For the preaching of repentance, or the call of the Gospel: to reform, repent,--when it truly penetrates into the heart, strikes the conscience with alarm, and is not a jest, but great terror, in which the soul feels its wretchedness and sins, and the wrath of God. While in this terror, the heart should again seek consolation, which takes place when we believe in the promise of Christ, that, through him, we receive remission of sin. The faith, which, in such fear and terror, cheers the heart and consoles it, receives and experiences remission of sin, justifies us and brings life; for this strong consolation is a new birth and a new life.

[63] This is simple and clear language; the pious know it to be true; we have examples in the church, showing that this applies to all the saints from the beginning, as in the conversion of Paul and Augustine. Our opponents have no certainty, nor can they correctly tell us, or state, in clear and intelligible terms, how the Holy Spirit is given. They dream, that by the simple bodily reception and use of the Sacraments, ex opere operato, (that is, when merely the external act is performed,) we obtain grace and receive the Holy Ghost; although the heart be entirely absent, as if the light of the Holy Ghost were so worthless, weak, and futile.

[64] When we speak of faith, as being not an idle fancy, but a new light, life, and power in the heart, that renews the heart and disposition, transforms man into a new creature, namely, a new light and work of the Holy Ghost--everyone knows, that we do not mean faith accompanied by mortal sin, as our opponents speak of it. For how can light and darkness exist together? Faith, wherever, and while it exists, bears good fruit, as we shall hereafter show.

[65] This is certainly a clear and simple exposition of the sinner's true conversion, and of regeneration. Now we defy all the Sententiaries to produce, from their innumerable commentaries, glossaries, and writings on doctrinal opinions, even one, that in the least correctly sets forth the conversion of the sinner. [66] When they speak of love, or of their habitu dilectionis, they introduce their own dreams, that men earn or merit this habitum by their works; but do not say a word about God's promises and Word, like the Anabaptists of the present time.

[67] Now we cannot barter with God; he cannot be known, sought, or comprehended, except in and through his Word alone; as Paul says, Rom. 1:16: "The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth;" again, Rom. 10:17: "Faith cometh by hearing." This, of itself, shows clearly enough, that we are justified before God by faith alone. For, if we come to God and are justified alone through his Word, and if no one can comprehend that Word, except by faith, it follows, that faith justifies. [68] There are other considerations, however, that better illustrate this subject.

Thus far, I have endeavored to show, how we are born anew, and what the faith, of which we speak, is and is not.

[69] We shall now show, that this faith, and nothing else, justifies us before God. First I would remind the reader, that as the truth, that Christ is our only Mediator, must and shall always stand, irrefutably, so also no one can deny, that through faith we are justified without works. For how can Christ be and remain the Mediator, unless, through faith, we hold to him as the Mediator, and thus become reconciled to God; unless we firmly believe, that for his sake we are just before God? Now this is faith, to confide in and rely on the merits of Christ, that for his sake God will assuredly be merciful to us. [70] As clearly as the Scriptures say, that besides the law the promises of Christ are necessary for salvation, they also teach that faith justifies. The law does not preach remission of sin through grace. Again, we cannot fulfil or keep the law, till we receive the Holy Ghost.

Accordingly we must insist, that the promises of Christ are necessary to salvation, and no one can comprehend or receive them except through faith alone. Those therefore, who teach that we are not justified before God through faith, suppress Christ and the Gospel, and teach the law.

[71] Some, perhaps, when we say that faith justifies before God, apply this merely to the beginning; namely, that faith is only the beginning of, or preparation for justification; not that faith itself makes us acceptable to God, but rather the love and works that follow it. They imagine that faith is commended in the Scriptures, simply because it is a beginning of good works,--as much always depends upon the beginning. But this is not our view, for we hold, on this subject, that we become acceptable to God through faith itself.

[72] And as the word justificari (to be justified, made just,) is used in two different ways, namely, to designate being converted or born again, and again in the sense of being esteemed just, we shall first show, that we are converted from evil, impious ways, born anew, and justified by faith alone.

[73] Some earnestly contend against the word sola, alone; yet Paul clearly says Rom. 3:28: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Again, Ephes. 2:8: "It is the gift of God, not of yourselves, not of works, lest any man should boast;" and the same in Rom. 3:24.

Now if this word, this exclusiva sola, (the expression alone, which excludes everything else,) is so objectionable to some, they may erase these words also, wherever found in the epistles of Paul: "through grace" --"not of works"--"the gift of God," etc., "lest any man should boast," and the like; for they are very decidedly exclusive (exclusivæ). The words, "through grace" exclude merit and all works whatsoever.

And by the word sola, when we say that faith alone makes us righteous, we do not exclude the Gospel and the Sacraments, and that by holding that faith alone accomplishes all, invalidate the Word and the Sacraments, as our opponents misinterpret our views on all subjects; but we exclude our own merit. We have plainly stated above, that faith comes through the Word. We therefore exalt the ministry and the Word more highly than our adversaries do, [74] and say, besides, that love and works must follow faith.

We do not therefore, exclude works by the word sola, or hold that they should not follow; but it is the confidence in our own merit or works that we exclude; and say that they do not merit remission of sins. This we shall hereafter show more fully and clearly.

That We Obtain Remission of Sins Through Faith Alone in Christ.

[75] We think our opponents must acknowledge, that above all things remission of sins is necessary to justification; for we are all born in sin. Hence we infer:

[76] That, when we obtain remission of sin, we are righteous and pious in the sight of God; according to Psalm 32:1, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven."

[77] But solely through faith in Christ, not through love, nor on account of love or works, do we obtain the remission of sin, although love follows faith.

[78] It must follow therefore, that we are justified by faith alone. For the sinner's justification means, that he is changed into a pious being, and born anew by the Holy Ghost. (This is the first or major proposition; and now follows the minor, i. e., the other proposition of the preceding argument.) [79] But we shall presently endeavor to show that we obtain remission of sin by faith alone (as the minor says,) and not through love.

Our opponents have been trifling with these important things. They ask, whether the remission of sin and the infusion of grace are one change, or two. It seems impossible for these idle, ignorant men to treat these things properly; for, to have a real sense of sin and of the wrath of God, is not an unimportant or trifling subject; nor is the consciousness of the remission of sin a feeble consolation.

Thus Paul says, 1 Cor. 15:56-57: "The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." That is, sin alarms the conscience; this is done by the law, which shows us the earnest zeal and wrath of God against sin; but through Christ we conquer. How is this effected? When we believe--when our hearts are lifted up by the promises of grace through Christ, and rely upon them. [80] Thus we prove, that we obtain remission of sins, by faith in Christ, and not by works; that is, God cannot be reconciled or his wrath appeased by our works, but Christ alone is the Mediator and Conciliator, for his sake alone is the Father merciful to us.

Now, by works no one can embrace Christ as Mediator; but only by believing the Word which proclaims him a Mediator.

Therefore, when our souls are comforted and lifted up by the divine promises made to us for Christ's sake, we obtain the remission of sin by faith alone. [81] For Paul says, Rom. 5:2, that through him we have access to the Father; and he adds expressly--by faith.

In this way, and no other, are we reconciled to the Father, receiving the remission of our sins, when we are encouraged to hold fast to the promise, in which grace and mercy are held out to us through Christ.

Our opponents hold respecting Christ, the Mediator and Conciliator, that he earns love, or the habitum dilectionis, for us. They do not say, that he must be our only Mediator, but rather bury him again, and pretend that we have access to God through our works, that through these works we merit the habitum, and can then come to God, by means of love.

This is indeed burying Christ anew, and taking away the whole doctrine of faith. But Paul, on the contrary, clearly teaches that we have access, that is, are reconciled to God through Christ. In order to show how this is effected, he adds that we have this access through faith, obtain remission of our sins by faith, through the merit of Christ, and cannot appease God's anger, except through Christ. It is therefore very clear, that we do not merit forgiveness by our works or love.

[82] Secondly, it is certain that sins are remitted, for the sake of the Propitiator Christ, Rom. 3:25: "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation" or Conciliator; and it is expressly added--"through faith." Accordingly we can avail ourselves of the Conciliator's work, by embracing the promises of mercy through faith, and setting it up against the wrath and judgment of God. And the same is written in Heb. 4:14-15, We have a High Priest Christ, etc. Let us go to him with joyfulness. The Apostle tells us to approach God, not relying on our own works, but trusting in the High Priest Christ. He therefore clearly requires faith.

[83] Thirdly, 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." How could Peter have expressed himself more clearly? He says, we receive remission of sin through his name; that is, we receive it through him not through our merit, not through our repentance (or attrition,) not through our love, not by our own service of God, not by our human ordinances or works; and he adds--if we believe in him.

He therefore requires faith to exist in the heart. For that reason he says: "To him give all the Prophets witness." This, it seems to me, is truly appealing to the Christian or universal church; for if all the holy Prophets bear witness, their decision and testimony are truly glorious, grand, excellent, and forcible; but of this passage we shall speak more hereafter.

[84] Fourthly, remission of sin is promised for Christ's sake. Therefore, no one can obtain it, unless by faith alone. For no one can take hold of the promise or participate in it, except through faith only. Rom. 4:16: "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure." Precisely as if he should say, that if our salvation and righteousness depended on our own merit, the promise of God would yet be uncertain and useless to us; for we could never know it with certainty, when our merits would suffice. The pious heart and Christian conscience know this full well, and would not for a thousand worlds that our salvation depended upon ourselves. Paul agrees with this view, Gal. 3:22: "The Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." Here Paul casts aside all our merit; for he says we are all worthy of death, and concluded under sin; he calls to mind the divine promise, by which alone we can obtain the forgiveness of sin; and further adds how we become participants of the promise, namely, by faith. This argument, drawn by Paul from the very nature of the divine promise, namely, that as God's promise is certain and must remain sure, (as it will not fail to do,) remission of sin cannot proceed from our merit; else it would be uncertain, and we could not know when our merits would suffice; yes, I say, this argument, this foundation, is a firm rock; it is almost the strongest in the whole of Paul's writings, and is very often repeated and quoted in all the epistles.

No one on earth will ever be able to devise, invent, or contrive anything, by which this argument alone, if there were no other, can be overthrown. [85] Nor will the pious and conscientious Christian by any means permit himself to be led away from the position, that we receive remission of sins by faith alone, for the sake of Christ's merits. For in this we have a sure, firm, and eternal consolation against sin and the devil, death and hell; while everything else rests on a sandy foundation, and is insufficient in the hour of temptation.

[86] Now, as we obtain remission of sin, and receive the Holy Ghost, through faith only, faith alone justifies us in the sight of God. For those who are reconciled to God, are righteous in his sight, and are his children; not on account of their purity, but because of God's mercy, if they accept and embrace it through faith.

Therefore, the Scriptures testify, that we are justified before God by faith. We shall now cite passages which clearly state, that by faith we are made pious and righteous--not that our faith is a work so precious and pure, but solely because by faith, and by no other means, we receive the mercy offered.

[87] In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul treats particularly of the manner in which we are justified before God; and arrives at the conclusion, that all those who believe that God is merciful to them through Christ, are justified before God by faith, without merit. And this forcible conclusion, this proposition, in which is comprehended the main subject of the whole epistle, yea, of all the Scriptures, he lays down clearly and unequivocally in the third chapter to the Romans and the 28th verse, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law."

Our adversaries here contend, that Paul excluded only the Jewish ceremonies, not other virtuous works. Paul, however, does not speak of ceremonies only, but properly and assuredly of all other works, and of the whole law, or Ten Commandments. For in the 7th verse of the 7th chapter he afterwards quotes the passage from the Decalogue, "Thou shalt not covet." Now if we could obtain remission of sin by works, which are not embraced in the Jewish ceremonies, and thus merit righteousness, what need would there be of Christ and his promises? Everything that Paul said in various places concerning the promises, would be overthrown at once. He would be in error, when writing to the Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works." Again, in the Epistle to the Romans, chap. 4:1-6, Paul alleged of Abraham and David:--They had received a commandment from God concerning circumcision. Now if any works justify before God, then the works, which God had commanded at that time, must also have justified.

But Augustine clearly maintains, that Paul is speaking of the whole law; and he argues at length, in his work concerning the spirit and the letter, (de Spiritu et Litera,) when he finally says: "Having now weighed and treated this subject, according to the strength which God has given us, we arrive at the conclusion, that no man is justified by the precepts enjoining a good life, but by faith in Jesus Christ."

[88] Let no one, however, suppose, that Paul's declaration--"Man is justified by faith alone"--was made inadvertently; for he teaches this doctrine at length in the fourth chapter to the Romans, verses 4 and 5, and repeats it in all his epistles. [89] In the fourth chapter he says: "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt; but to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."

It is evident, from these words, that faith is the same thing that he calls the righteousness of God; and he adds, that it is reckoned of grace, and that it could not be counted to us of grace, if works or merit had anything to do with it. For this reason, undoubtedly, he excludes all works and all merit, not only Jewish ceremonies, but all other good works also; for if we were justified before God by these works, faith would not be counted to us for righteousness without works, as Paul explicitly says. [90] And he adds: "We say that Abraham's faith was counted unto him for righteousness." [91] Again, chapter 5:1: "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"--that is, our consciences have joy and peace before God.

[92] Rom. 10:10: "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." Here he calls faith the righteousness of the heart.

[93] Gal. 2:16: "We have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law."

Eph. 2:8: "For 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."

[94] John 1:12-13: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

[95] John 3:14-15: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish."

[96] John 3:17: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned."

[97] Acts 13:38-39: "Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him, all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses." How could he have been more explicit in regard to the kingdom of Christ and justification? He says that the law could justify no one; and that Christ was given that we should believe that we are justified through him. He says in plain terms, that the law can justify no man; therefore righteousness is accounted to us through Christ, if we believe that God is gracious unto us through him.

[98] Acts 4:11-12: "This is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

We cannot, however, believe on the name of Christ, except by hearing his merit preached, and by embracing it. By faith in the name of Christ, therefore, and not by confidence in our own works, are we saved. For the word, name, here signifies the cause through and for which salvation comes. Therefore, the praise and confession of the name of Christ, signifies trust in him, who alone is called, who is Christ, being the cause of our salvation and the treasure by which we are redeemed.

[99] Acts 15:9: "He purified their hearts by faith." Hence the faith, spoken of by the Apostles, is not a mere historical knowledge, but a powerful and vigorous operation of the Holy Ghost, which changes the heart.

[100] Hab. 2:4: "The just shall live by his faith." Here we are told in the first place, that the just are made just by faith, if they believe that God is merciful through Christ; and secondly, that faith produces life. Faith alone gives peace and joy to the heart and conscience, and eternal life, which begins here on earth.

[101] Isa. 53:11: "By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many." Now what is the knowledge of Christ, but a sense of his benefits and his promises, which he preached and made known to the world? To have a knowledge of these benefits is, to believe truly in Christ, to believe that God will certainly give what he has promised through Christ. [102] But the Scriptures abound with such declarations and testimony. They treat of both, the law of God and his promises. Now the promises speak of the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of God through Christ.

[103] And in the writings of the Fathers we find many similar declarations. Thus Ambrose writes to Irenæus: "But the whole world is therefore subject to God, subdued by the law; for, by the commandments of the law, we are all accused; but by the works of the law, no one is justified. Through the law sin is made known to us, but guilt is removed by faith. It appears, indeed, as if the law had done harm, by including all under sin; but Christ the Lord has come, and remitted our sins which we could not avoid; and has blotted out the hand-writing, by the shedding of his blood. This is what Paul says to the Romans, 5:20: 'The law entered, that the offence might abound: but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound' through Jesus. For, inasmuch as the whole world is guilty, he has taken away the sins of the whole world; as John testifies, John 1:29: 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' Therefore no one should boast of his works, because no one is justified by his own deeds; but he that is just, is made so in Baptism, in Christ, since he became justified. For it is faith that releases us, through the blood of Christ, and blessed is he, whose sins are forgiven him, and to whom grace is come."

[104] These plain words of Ambrose evidently coincide with our doctrine. He says that works do not justify us, and that faith redeems us through the blood of Christ. [105] All the high-titled Sententiaries, (some are styled angelici, others subtiles, others again irrefragabiles, this is, doctors who are infallible,) together with all their works, throw less light on the meaning of Paul, than this single paragraph from Ambrose.

[106] In this sense Augustine also has written much, in opposition to the Pelagians, and in his work: Of the Spirit and Letter (de Spiritu et Litera) he says: "The law, with its righteousness, is set before us, in order that he, who keeps it, may live by it, and that all, when they know their infirmity, may come to God, who alone justifies, not through their own strength, nor the letter of the law, which we cannot fulfil, but through faith. No one can do a truly good work, unless he first be righteous and godly; but righteousness is attained through faith alone." Here he plainly says that God, who alone blesses and sanctifies us, is reconciled through faith, and that faith makes us pious and just in the sight of God.

Again, immediately afterwards: "The law works fear, but through faith we hope and trust in God. From those who fear the penalty, grace is concealed. In this fear, when a man is in anxiety, etc., through faith he must flee to the mercy of God, that He may give what he has commanded in the law, and grant his grace." Thus he teaches, that by the law the heart is terrified, and through faith consoled again.

[107] It is really strange, that our adversaries can be so blind, and overlook so many plain passages which clearly state that we are justified by faith and not by works. What can these deluded men be thinking of? [108] Do they suppose, that the Scriptures so often and so plainly repeat these things without design? Do they imagine, that the Word of the Holy Spirit is doubtful and inconsiderate, or that he knows not what he says?

[109] On this subject these ungodly men have fabricated the sophistry, that the passages of Scripture which speak of faith, must be applied to fide formata, which is to say, that faith makes no one godly or righteous, except on account of love or works. In short, according to their view, it is not faith that justifies us, but love alone; for they say, that faith is compatible with mortal sin. [110] What is this but overthrowing all the promises of God and the pledges of grace, and preaching works and the law?

If faith obtains grace and the remission of sins on account of love, the forgiveness of sin must always be uncertain; because we never love God as fervently as we ought; nay, we cannot love God, until we are assured that our sins are remitted. Hence, when our opponents teach us to rely on such love to God as we are capable of, and upon our works, they entirely set aside the Gospel, which preaches the forgiveness of sins, while no one can really feel or understand such love to God, except he believe, that by grace he obtains remission of sins through Christ, without price.

[111] We also say, that love must follow faith, as Paul tells us, Gal. 5:6: "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith, which worketh by love." [112] But we must not, therefore, put our trust in love, or build upon it, as if we obtain the remission of sins and reconciliation with God on account of love or through it. Neither do we obtain forgiveness of sins for the sake of other works which follow, but through faith alone. The promises of God cannot be taken hold of by works, but by faith alone. [113] Faith, properly speaking, or fides proprie dicta, is, when our hearts and the Holy Ghost in us, declare that the promises of God are true and certain; this is the faith, of which the Scriptures speak. [114] Now, before we perform or accomplish anything, faith does nothing but receive and accept gifts; it is therefore counted to us for righteousness, as it was to Abraham, before we love, before we keep the law, or do any work.

[115] Nevertheless it is true, that fruits and works follow, and that faith is not a mere historical knowledge, but a new light in the heart, and an energetic operation of the Holy Spirit, by which we are regenerated, and which gives comfort and life to the affrighted conscience. [116] Since this faith alone obtains remission of sin, and renders us acceptable in the sight of God, it is accompanied by the Holy Ghost, and it should be styled, rather than the love which follows, gratia gratum faciens; that is, the grace which renders acceptable.

[117] We have hitherto presented abundant testimony from the Fathers and the Scriptures, for the purpose of showing more clearly, that through faith alone we obtain the remission of sin for Christ's sake and are justified; that is, that the unrighteous are sanctified and regenerated. [118] Pious souls may observe here, that this doctrine of faith is indispensable; for by it alone we learn to know Christ and his benefits, and in it alone the heart and conscience find true and indubitable rest and consolation. [119] If there is to be a Christian church, and a Christian faith, they must preach and teach a doctrine, which places the soul, not upon error or sand, but on a foundation, on which it may firmly rely and trust.

Our adversaries, therefore, are truly unfaithful bishops, preachers, and doctors; they have hitherto given evil advice to men, and still continue to do so, by advancing doctrines, which leave them in doubt and suspense, as to the remission of their sins. For how is it possible, that those, who have not heard or do no not know this important doctrine of Christ--who yet waver, and doubt whether they have forgiveness of their sins--should sustain themselves in the peril of death, and in the last gasp and agony? [120] Again, if there is to be a Christian Church, the Gospel of Christ must ever remain in it, namely, the divine promise that our sins are remitted without merit, for Christ's sake. Those, who do not inculcate the faith of which we have been speaking, suppress this holy Gospel entirely.

[121] Now it is shocking to hear, that the scholastics have not written a particle about faith. And these our adversaries follow, rejecting this most important doctrine of faith; and they are so hardened and blind, as not to perceive, that they are thus trampling under foot the whole Gospel, the divine promises concerning the remission of sins, and Jesus Christ himself.

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