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§ 5. Necessity of Good Works.

On this subject there has never been any real difference of opinion among Protestants, although there was in the early Lutheran Church some misunderstanding. First. It was universally admitted that good works are not necessary to our justification; that they are consequences and indirectly the fruits of justification, and, therefore, cannot be its ground. Secondly, it was also agreed that faith, by which the sinner is justified, is not as a work, the reason why God pronounces the sinner just. It is the act by which the sinner receives and rests upon the righteousness of Christ, the imputation of which renders him righteous in the sight of God. Thirdly, faith does not justify because it includes, or is the root or principle of good works; not as “fides obsequiosa.” Fourthly, it was agreed that it is only a living faith, i.e., a faith which works by love and purifies the heart, that unites the soul to Christ and secures our reconciliation with God. Fifthly, it was universally admitted that an immoral life is inconsistent with a state of grace; that those who wilfully continue in the practice of sin shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The Protestants while rejecting the Romish doctrine of subjectve justification, strenuously insisted that no man is delivered from the guilt of sin who is not delivered from its reiguing power; that sanctification is inseparable from justification, and that the one is just as essential as the other.

The controversy on this subject was due mainly to a misunderstanding, but in a measure also to a real difference of opinion as to the office of the law under the Gospel. Melancthon taught that repentance was the effect of the law and anterior to faith, and used forms of expression which were thought to imply that good works, or sanctification, although not the ground of justification, were nevertheless a “causa sine qua non” of our acceptance with God. To this Luther objected, as true sanctification is the consequence, and in no sense the condition of the sinner’s justification. We are not justified because we are holy; but being justified, we are rendered holy. Agricola (born in Eisleben, 1492, died 1566), a pupil of Luther, and greatly influential as a preacher, took extreme ground against Melancthon. He not only held that repentance was not due to the operation of the law, and was the fruit of faith, but also that the law should not be taught under the Gospel, and that good works are not necessary to salvation. The believer is entirely free from the law, 239is not under the law but under grace; and being accepted for what Christ did, it is of little consequence what he does. Luther denounced this perversion of the Gospel, which overlooked entirely the distinction between the law as a covenant of works demanding perfect obedience as the condition of justification, and the law as the revelation of the immutable will of God as to what rational creatures should be and do in character and conduct. He insisted that faith was the receiving of Christ, not only for the pardon of sin, but also as a saviour from its power; that its object was not merely the death, but also the obedience of Christ.234234See Dorner, Geschichte der protestantischen Theologie, Munich, 1867, pp. 336-344.

The controversy was renewed not long after in another form, in consequence of the position taken by George Major, also a pupil of Luther and Melancthon, and for some years professor of theology and preacher at Wittenberg. He was accused of objecting to the proposition “we are saved by faith alone” and of teaching that good works were also necessary to salvation. This was understood as tantamount to saying that good works are necessary to justification. Major, indeed, denied the justice of this charge. He said he did not teach that good works were necessary as being meritorious, but simply as the necessary fruits of faith and part of our obedience to Christ; nevertheless, he maintained that no one could be saved without good works. How then can infants be saved? And how can this unconditional necessity of good works be consistent with Paul’s doctrine that we are justified by faith without works? Whom God justifies He glorifies. Justification secures salvation; and, therefore, if faith alone, or faith without works, secures justification, it secures salvation. It is very evident that this was a dispute about words. Major admitted that the sinner was in a state of salvation the moment he believed, but held that if his faith did not produce good works it was not a saving faith. In his sermon “On the Conversion of Paul,” he said: “As thou art now justified by faith alone, and hast become a child of God, and since Christ and the Holy Ghost through that faith dwell in thy heart, so are good works necessary, not to obtain salvation (which thou already hast as a matter of grace, without works, through faith alone on the Lord Jesus Christ), but to hold fast your salvation, that it be not lost, and also because if thou dost not produce good works, it is an evidence that thy faith is false and dead, a mere pretence or opinion.” Amsdorf, the chief representative 240of the extremists in this controversy, laid down his doctrine in the following propositions: (1.) Etsi hæc oratio: bona opera sunt necessaria ad salutem in doctrina legis abstractive et de idea tolerari potest, tamen multæ sunt graves causæ, propter quas vitanda, et fugienda est non minus, quam hæc oratio: Christus est creatura. (2.) In foro justificationis hæc propositio nullo modo ferenda est. (3.) In foro novæ obedientiæ post reconciliationem nequaquam bona opera ad salutem, sed propter alias causas necessaria sunt. (4.) Sola fides justificat in principio, medio, et fine. (5.) Bona opera non sunt necessaria ad retinendam salutem. (6.) Synonyma sunt et æquipollentia, seu termini convertibiles, justificatio et salvatio, nec ulla ratione distrahi aut possunt aut debent. (7.) Explodatur ergo ex ecclesia cothurnus papisticus propter scandala multiplicia, dissensiones innumerabiles et alias causas, de quibus Apostoli Act. xv. loquuntur.

The “Form of Concord,” in which this and other controversies in the Lutheran Church were finally adjusted, took the true ground on this subject, midway between the two extreme views. It rejects the unqualified proposition that good works are necessary to salvation, as men may be saved who have no opportunity to testify to their faith by their works. On the other hand, it utterly condemns the unwarrantable declaration that good works are hurtful to salvation; which it pronounces to be pernicious and full of scandal. It teaches that “Fides vera nunquam sola est, quin caritatem et spem semper secum habeat.235235Epitome, III. xi.; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit. 1846, p. 586.

The same doctrine was clearly taught in the Lutheran Symbols from the beginning, so that the charge made by Romanists, that Protestants divorced morality from religion, was without foundation, either in their doctrine or practice. In the “Apology for the Augsburg Confession” it is said: “Quia fides affert Spiritum Sanctum, et parit novam vitam in cordibus, necesse est, quod pariat spirituales motus in cordibus. Et qui sint illi motus, ostendit propheta, cum ait: ‘Dabo legem meam in corda eorum.’ Postquam igitur fide justificati et renati sumus, incipimus Deum timere, diligere, petere, et expectare ab eo auxilium. . . . . Incipimus et diligere proximos, quia corda habent spirituales et sanctos motus. Hæc non possunt fieri, nisi postquam fide justificati sumus et renati accipimus Spiritum Sanctum. . . . . Profitemur igitur, quod necesse est, inchoari in nobis et subinde magis magisque fieri legem. Et complectimur simul utrumque videlicet spirituales motus et externa bona opera. Falso igitur 241calumniantur nos adversarii, quod nostri non doceant bona opera, cum ea non solum requirant, sed etiam ostendant, quomodo fieri possint.236236III. iv., v., xv.; Hase, pp. 83, 85.


Antinomianism has never had any hold in the churches of the Reformation. There is no logical connection between the neglect of moral duties, and the system which teaches that Christ is a Saviour as well from the power as from the penalty of sin; that faith is the act by which the soul receives and rests on Him for sanctification as well as for justification; and that such is the nature of the union with Christ by faith and indwelling of the Spirit, that no one is, or can be partaker of the benefit of his death, who is not also partaker of the power of his life; which holds to the divine authority of the Scripture which declares that without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Heb. xii. 14); and which, in the language of the great advocate of salvation by grace, warns all who call themselves Christians: “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. vi. 9, 10.) It is not the system which regards sin as so great an evil that it requires the blood of the Son of God for its expiation, and the law as so immutable that it requires the perfect righteousness of Christ for the sinner’s justification, which leads to loose views of moral obligation; these are reached by the system which teaches that the demands of the law have been lowered, that they can be more than met by the imperfect obedience of fallen men, and that sin can be pardoned by priestly intervention. This is what logic and history alike teach.

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