CHIEF ARTICLES OF THE FAITH
THE CAUSE OF SIN
77 The adversaries accept Article XIX. In it we confess that only God and He alone has created all nature and preserves all things that exist. Yet the cause of sin is the will of the devil and people turning away from God, according to the saying of Christ about the devil, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character” (John 8:44).
78 In Article XX, they clearly state that they reject and condemn our statement that people do not merit the forgiveness of sins by good works. ‹Mark this well!› They clearly declare that they reject and condemn this article. What more can be said on a subject so clear? 79 Here the framers of the Confutation display what spirit leads them. What is more certain in the Church than that the forgiveness of sins happens freely for Christ’s sake, that Christ, and not our works, is the Atoning Sacrifice for sins, as Peter says, “To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43)? We would rather give agreement to this Church of the prophets than to these godless writers of the Confutation, who so rudely blaspheme Christ. 80 There were writers who held that after the forgiveness of sins, people are righteous before God, not by faith, but by works themselves. Yet, they did not hold that the forgiveness of sins happens because of our works, not freely for Christ’s sake.
81 The blasphemy of assigning Christ’s honor to our works cannot be tolerated. These theologians are now entirely shameless if they dare to bring such an opinion into the Church. Nor do we doubt that His Most Excellent Imperial Majesty and many of the princes would not have allowed this passage to remain in the Confutation had they been advised about it. 82 Here we could cite countless passages from Scripture and from the Fathers. But we have said enough about this subject before. One who knows why Christ has been given to us, and who knows that Christ is the Atoning Sacrifice for our sins, needs no further proof. Isaiah says, “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). The adversaries, on the other hand, teach that God does not lay our offenses on Christ, but on our works. Neither are we inclined to mention here the sort of works that they teach. 83 We see that a horrible decree has been prepared against us, which would terrify us still more if we were arguing about doubtful or silly subjects. Our consciences understand that the adversaries condemn the clear truth, whose defense is necessary for the Church and increases Christ’s glory. Therefore, we easily look down on the terrors of the world, and we will bear with a strong spirit all suffering for Christ’s glory and the Church’s benefits. 84 Who would not joyfully die in the confession of these articles, that we receive the forgiveness of sins through faith freely for Christ’s sake, and that we do not merit the forgiveness of sins by our works? 85 The consciences of the pious will not have sure enough comfort against the terrors of sin and of death, and against the devil tempting with despair, if they do not know that their confidence lies in the forgiveness of sins freely for Christ’s sake. This faith sustains and enlivens hearts in that most violent conflict with despair.
86 The cause is so worthy that we should refuse no danger. To every one of you who has agreed to our Confession, “Do not yield to the wicked, but, on the contrary, go forward the more boldly.” Do not yield when the adversaries, by means of terrors and tortures and punishments, try hard to drive away from you that comfort presented to the entire Church in our article. 87 Those seeking Scripture passages to settle their minds will find them. As the saying goes, at the top of his voice, Paul cries out that sins are freely forgiven for Christ’s sake. “It depends on faith,” he says, “in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed” (Romans 4:16; see also Romans 3:24–25). If the promise were to depend upon our works, it would not be sure. If forgiveness of sins were to be given because of our works, when would we know that we had received it? When would a terrified conscience find a work that it would consider enough to reconcile God’s anger? 88 We spoke fully about this entire matter before. The reader can get the references there. The unworthy presentation of the subject has forced us not to discuss, but complain. They have clearly gone on record as disapproving of our article, that we receive forgiveness of sins not because of our works, but through faith and freely because of Christ.
89 The adversaries also add references to their own condemnation, and it is worthwhile to provide several of them. They quote from 2 Peter 1:10, “Be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure.” Now you see, reader, that our adversaries have not wasted any effort in learning logic, but have the art of concluding whatever pleases them from the Scriptures. For they conclude, “Make your calling sure by good works.” Therefore, they think that works merit the forgiveness of sins. This is a very nice way of thinking, if one would argue this way about a person whose death sentence had been pardoned: “The judge commands that from now on you stop stealing from others. Therefore, you have earned the pardon from the punishment, because you no longer steal from others.” 90 To argue in this way makes a cause out of no cause. Peter speaks of works following the forgiveness of sins and teaches why they should be done. They should be done so that the calling may be sure, that is, should they fall from their calling if they sin again. Do good works in order that you may persevere in your calling, in order that you do not lose the gifts of your calling. They were given to you before, and not because of works that follow, and which now are kept through faith. Faith does not remain in those who lose the Holy Spirit and reject repentance. As we have said before (Article XII 1), faith exists in repentance.
91 They add other references that make no more sense. Finally, they say that this opinion was condemned a thousand years before, in Augustine’s time. This also is quite false. For Christ’s Church always held that the forgiveness of sins is received freely. Indeed, the Pelagians were condemned. They argued that grace is given because of our works. 92 Besides, we have shown above well enough that we hold that good works should follow faith. “Do we then overthrow the law?” asks Paul. “On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31), because when we have received the Holy Spirit through faith, the fulfilling of the Law necessarily follows. Patience, chastity, and other fruit of the Spirit gradually grow by this love.