IV - Good Works

A disagreement has also occurred among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession concerning good works, one part employing the following words and manner in speaking of them: Good works are necessary for salvation; it is impossible to be saved without good works; likewise, no one has been saved without good works; because, they say, good works are required of true believers as fruits of faith, and faith without love is dead, although such love is no cause of salvation.

The other part, however, contended, on the contrary, that good works are indeed necessary; however, not for salvation, but for other reasons; and that on this account the aforecited propositiones, or expressions, which have been used (as they are not in accord with the form of sound doctrine and with the Word, and have been always and are still set by the Papists in opposition to the doctrine of our Christian faith, in which we confess that faith alone justifies and saves) are not to be tolerated in the Church, in order that the merit of Christ, our Savior, be not diminished, and the promise of salvation may be and remain firm and certain to believers.

In this controversy also the following controverted proposition, or expression, was employed by some few, that good works are injurious to salvation. It has also been argued by some that good works are not necessary, but are voluntary [free and spontaneous], because they are not extorted by fear and the penalty of the Law, but are to be done from a voluntary spirit and a joyful heart. Over against this the other side contended that good works are necessary.

This [latter] controversy was originally occasioned by the words necessitas and libertas, that is, necessary and free, because especially the word necessitas, necessary, signifies not only the eternal, immutable order according to which all men are obliged and in duty bound to obey God, but sometimes also a coercion, by which the Law forces men to good works.

But afterwards there was a disputation not only concerning the words, but the doctrine itself was attacked in the most violent manner, and it was contended that the new obedience in the regenerate is not necessary because of the above-mentioned divine order.

In order to explain this disagreement in a Christian way and according to the guidance of God’s Word, and by His grace to settle it completely, our doctrine, faith, and confession are as follows:

First, there is no controversy among our theologians concerning the following points in this article, namely: that it is God’s will, order, and command that believers should walk in good works; and that truly good works are not those which every one contrives himself from a good intention, or which are done according to traditions of men, but those which God Himself has prescribed and commanded in His Word; also, that truly good works are done, not from our own natural powers, but in this way: when the person by faith is reconciled with God and renewed by the Holy Ghost, or, as Paul says, is created anew in Christ Jesus to good works, Eph. 2:10.

Nor is there a controversy as to how and why the good works of believers, although in this flesh they are impure and incomplete, are pleasing and acceptable to God, namely, for the sake of the Lord Christ, by faith, because the person is acceptable to God. For the works which pertain to the maintenance of external discipline, which are also done by, and required of, the unbelieving and unconverted, although commendable before the world, and besides rewarded by God in this world with temporal blessings, are nevertheless, because they do not proceed from true faith, in God’s sight sins, that is, stained with sin, and are regarded by God as sins and impure on account of the corrupt nature and because the person is not reconciled with God. For a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, Matt. 7:18, as it is also written Rom. 14:23: Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. For the person must first be accepted of God, and that for the sake of Christ alone, if also the works of that person are to please Him.

Therefore, of works that are truly good and well-pleasing to God, which God will reward in this world and in the world to come, faith must be the mother and source; and on this account they are called by St. Paul true fruits of faith, as also of the Spirit. For, as Dr. Luther writes in the Preface to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Thus faith is a divine work in us, that changes us and regenerates us of God, and puts to death the old Adam, makes us entirely different men in heart, spirit, mind, and all powers, and brings with it [confers] the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good without ceasing. Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done; but before the question is asked, it has wrought them, and is always engaged in doing them. But he who does not do such works is void of faith, and gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and knows neither what faith nor what good works are, yet babbles and prates with many words concerning faith and good works. [Justifying] faith is a living, bold [firm] trust in God’s grace, so certain that a man would die a thousand times for it [rather than suffer this trust to be wrested from him]. And this trust and knowledge of divine grace renders joyful, fearless, and cheerful towards God and all creatures, which [joy and cheerfulness] the Holy Ghost works through faith; and on account of this, man becomes ready and cheerful, without coercion, to do good to every one, to serve every one, and to suffer everything for love and praise to God, who has conferred this grace on him, so that it is impossible to separate works from faith, yea, just as impossible as it is for heat and light to be separated from fire.

But since there is no controversy on these points among our theologians, we will not treat them here at length, but only explain ourselves, part against part, in a simple and plain manner regarding the controverted points.

And first, as regards the necessity or voluntariness of good works, it is manifest that in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology these expressions are often used and repeated that good works are necessary. Likewise, that it is necessary to do good works, which also are necessarily to follow faith and reconciliation. Likewise, that we necessarily are to do and must do such good works as God has commanded. Thus also in the Holy Scriptures themselves the words necessity, needful, and necessary, likewise, ought and must, are used concerning what we are bound to do because of God’s ordinance, command, and will, as Rom. 13:5; 1 Cor. 9:9; Acts 5:29; John 15:12; 1 John 4:21.

Therefore the expressions or propositions mentioned [that good works are necessary, and that it is necessary to do good] are unjustly censured and rejected in this Christian and proper sense, as has been done by some; for they are employed and used with propriety to rebuke and reject the secure, Epicurean delusion, by which many fabricate for themselves a dead faith or delusion which is without repentance and without good works, as though there could be in a heart true faith and at the same time the wicked intention to persevere and continue in sins, which is impossible; or, as though one could, indeed, have and retain true faith, righteousness, and salvation even though he be and remain a corrupt and unfruitful tree, whence no good fruits whatever come, yea, even though he persist in sins against conscience, or purposely engages again in these sins, all of which is incorrect and false.

But in this connection the following distinction must also be noted, namely, that the meaning must be: necessitas ordinis, mandati et voluntatis Christi ac debiti nostri, non autem necessitas coactionis (a necessity of Christ’s ordinance, command, and will, and of our obligation, but not a necessity of coercion). That is: When this word necessary is employed, it should be understood not of coercion, but only of the ordinance of the immutable will of God, whose debtors we are; thither also His commandment points that the creature should be obedient to its Creator. For in other places, as 2 Cor. 9:7, and in the Epistle of St. Paul to Philemon 14, also 1 Pet. 5:2, that is termed of necessity which is wrung from one against his will, by force or otherwise, so that he acts externally for appearance, but nevertheless without and against his will. For such specious [hypocritical] works God does not want [does not approve], but the people of the New Testament are to be a willing people, Ps. 110:3, and sacrifice freely, Ps. 54:6, not grudgingly or of necessity, but are to be obedient from the heart, 2 Cor. 9:7; Rom. 6:17. For God loveth a cheerful giver, 2 Cor. 9:7. In this understanding and in such sense it is correctly said and taught that truly good works should be done willingly or from a voluntary spirit by those whom the Son of God has made free, even as it was especially for [confirming] this opinion that the disputation concerning the voluntariness of good works was engaged in by some.

But here, again, it is well to note also the distinction of which St. Paul says, Rom. 7:22f.: [I am willing] and delight in the Law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, that is not only unwilling or disinclined, but also warring against the law of my mind. And as regards the unwilling and rebellious flesh, Paul says, 1 Cor. 9:27: I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, and Gal. 5:24; Rom. 8:13: They that are Christ’s have crucified, yea, slain, the flesh with its affections and lusts. But it is false, and must be censured, when it is asserted and taught as though good works were free to believers in the sense that it were optional with them to do or to omit them, or that they might or could act contrary thereto [to the Law of God], and none the less could retain faith and God’s favor and grace.

Secondly, when it is taught that good works are necessary, it must also be explained why and for what reasons they are necessary, which reasons are enumerated in the Augsburg Confession and Apology.

But here we must be well on our guard lest works are drawn and mingled into the article of justification and salvation. Therefore the propositions are justly rejected, that to believers good works are necessary for salvation, so that it is impossible to be saved without good works. For they are directly contrary to the doctrine de particulis exclusivis in articulo iustificationis et salvationis (concerning the exclusive particles in the article of justification and salvation), that is, they conflict with the words by which St. Paul has entirely excluded our works and merits from the article of justification and salvation, and ascribed everything to the grace of God and the merit of Christ alone, as explained in the preceding article. Again, they [these propositions concerning the necessity of good works for salvation] take from afflicted, troubled consciences the comfort of the Gospel, give occasion for doubt, are in many ways dangerous, strengthen presumption in one’s own righteousness and confidence in one’s own works; besides, they are accepted by the Papists, and in their interest adduced against the pure doctrine of the alone-saving faith. Moreover, they are contrary to the form of sound words, as it is written that blessedness is only of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Rom. 4:6. Likewise, in the Sixth Article of the Augsburg Confession it is written that we are saved without works, by faith alone. Thus Dr. Luther, too, has rejected and condemned these propositions:

  1. In the false prophets among the Galatians [who led the Galatians into error].

  2. In the Papists, in very many places.

  3. In the Anabaptists, when they present this interpretation: We should not indeed rest faith upon the merit of works, but we must nevertheless have them as things necessary to salvation.

  4. Also in some others among his own followers, who wished to interpret this proposition thus: Although we require works as necessary to salvation, yet we do not teach to place trust in works. On Gen. 22.

Accordingly, and for the reasons now enumerated, it is justly to remain settled in our churches, namely, that the aforesaid modes of speech should not be taught, defended, or excused, but be thrown out of our churches and repudiated as false and incorrect, and as expressions which were renewed in consequence of the Interim, originated from it, and were [again] drawn into discussion in times of persecution, when there was especial need of a clear, correct confession against all sorts of corruptions and adulterations of the article of justification.

Thirdly, since it is also disputed whether good works preserve salvation, or whether they are necessary for preserving faith, righteousness, and salvation, and this again is of high and great importance,–for he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved, Matt. 24:13; also Heb. 3:6-14: We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end,–we must also explain well and precisely how righteousness and salvation are preserved in us, lest it be lost again.

Above all, therefore, the false Epicurean delusion is to be earnestly censured and rejected, namely, that some imagine that faith and the righteousness and salvation which they have received can be lost through no sins or wicked deeds, not even through wilful and intentional ones, but that a Christian although he indulges his wicked lusts without fear and shame, resists the Holy Ghost, and purposely engages in sins against conscience, yet none the less retains faith, God’s grace, righteousness, and salvation.

Against this pernicious delusion the following true, immutable, divine threats and severe punishments and admonitions should be often repeated and impressed upon Christians who are justified by faith: 1 Cor. 6:9: Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, etc., shall inherit the kingdom of God. Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5: They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Rom. 8:13: If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die. Col. 3:6: For which thing’s sake the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience.

But when and in what way the exhortations to good works can be earnestly urged from this basis without darkening the doctrine of faith and of the article of justification, the Apology shows by an excellent model, when in Article XX, on the passage 2 Pet. 1:10: Give diligence to make your calling and election sure, it says as follows: Peter teaches why good works should be done, namely, that we may make our calling sure, that is, that we may not fall from our calling if we again sin. “Do good works,” he says, “that you may persevere in your heavenly calling, that you may not fall away again, and lose the Spirit and the gifts, which come to you, not on account of works that follow, but of grace, through Christ, and are now retained by faith. But faith does not remain in those who lead a sinful life, lose the Holy Ghost, and reject repentance.” Thus far the Apology.

But, on the other hand, the sense is not that faith only in the beginning lays hold of righteousness and salvation, and then resigns its office to the works as though thereafter they had to sustain faith, the righteousness received, and salvation; but in order that the promise, not only of receiving, but also of retaining righteousness and salvation, may be firm and sure to us, St. Paul, Rom. 5:2, ascribes to faith not only the entrance to grace, but also that we stand in grace and boast of the future glory, that is, the beginning, middle, and end he ascribes all to faith alone. Likewise, Rom. 11:20: Because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Col. 1:22: He will present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight, if ye continue in the faith. 1 Pet. 1:5. 9: By the power of God we are kept through faith unto salvation. Likewise: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

Since, then, it is manifest from God’s Word that faith is the proper and only means by which righteousness and salvation are not only received, but also preserved by God, the decree of the Council of Trent, and whatever elsewhere is set forth in the same sense, is justly to be rejected, namely, that our good works preserve salvation, or that the righteousness of faith which has been received, or even faith itself, is either entirely or in part kept and preserved by our works.

For although before this controversy quite a few pure teachers employed such and similar expressions in the exposition of the Holy Scriptures, in no way, however, intending thereby to confirm the above-mentioned errors of the Papists, still, since afterwards a controversy arose concerning such expressions, from which all sorts of offensive distractions [debates, offenses, and dissensions] followed, it is safest of all, according to the admonition of St. Paul, 2 Tim. 1:13, to hold fast as well to the form of sound words as to the pure doctrine itself, whereby much unnecessary wrangling may be cut off and the Church preserved from many scandals.

Fourthly, as regards the proposition that good works are said to be injurious to salvation, we explain ourselves clearly as follows: If any one should wish to drag good works into the article of justification, or rest his righteousness or trust for salvation upon them, to merit God’s grace and be saved by them, to this not we say, but St. Paul himself says, and repeats it three times, Phil. 3:7ff , that to such a man his works are not only useless and a hindrance, but also injurious. But this is not the fault of the good works themselves, but of the false confidence placed in the works, contrary to the express Word of God.

However, it by no means follows thence that we are to say simpliciter and flatly: Good works are injurious to believers for or as regards their salvation; for in believers good works are indications of salvation when they are done propter veras causas et ad veros fines (from true causes and for true ends), that is, in the sense in which God requires them of the regenerate, Phil. 1:20; for it is God’s will and express command that believers should do good works, which the Holy Ghost works in believers, and with which God is pleased for Christ’s sake, and to which He promises a glorious reward in this life and the life to come.

For this reason, too, this proposition is censured and rejected in our churches, because as a flat statement it is false and offensive, by which discipline and decency might be impaired, and a barbarous, dissolute, secure, Epicurean life be introduced and strengthened. For what is injurious to his salvation a person should avoid with the greatest diligence.

However, since Christians should not be deterred from good works, but should be admonished and urged thereto most diligently, this bare proposition cannot and must not be tolerated, employed, nor defended in the Church [of Christ].

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