Let us, therefore, hold fast to this which the Church confesses, namely, that we are saved by mercy. And lest any one may here think: "If we are to be saved by mercy, hope will be uncertain, if in those who obtain salvation nothing precedes by which they may be distinguished from those who do not obtain it," we must give him a satisfactory answer. For the scholastics, moved by this reason, seem to have devised the meritum condigni. For this consideration can greatly exercise the human mind. We will therefore reply briefly. For the very reason that hope may be sure, for the very reason that there may be an antecedent distinction between those who obtain salvation, and those who do not obtain it, it is necessary firmly to hold that we are saved by mercy. When this is expressed thus unqualifiedly, it seems absurd. For in civil courts and in human judgment, that which is of right or of debt is certain, and mercy is uncertain. But the matter is different with respect to God's judgment; for here mercy has a clear and certain promise and command from God. For the Gospel is properly that command which enjoins us to believe that God is propitious to us for Christ's sake. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved, John 3, 17.18. As often, therefore, as mercy is spoken of, faith in the promise must be added; and this faith produces sure hope, because it relies upon the Word and command of God. If hope would rely upon works, then, indeed, it would be uncertain, because works cannot pacify the conscience, as has been said above frequently. And this faith makes a distinction between those who obtain salvation, and those who do not obtain it. Faith makes the distinction between the worthy and the unworthy, because eternal life has been promised to the justified; and faith justifies.
But here again the adversaries will cry out that there is no need of good works if they do not merit eternal life. These calumnies we have refuted above. Of course, it is necessary to do good works. We say that eternal life has been promised to the justified. But those who walk according to the flesh retain neither faith nor righteousness. We are for this very end justified, that, being righteous we may begin to do good works and to obey God's Law. We are regenerated and receive the Holy Ghost for the very end that the new life may produce new works, new dispositions, the fear and love of God, hatred of concupiscence, etc. This faith of which we speak arises in repentance, and ought to be established and grow in the midst of good works, temptations, and dangers, so that we may continually be the more firmly persuaded that God for Christ's sake cares for us, forgives us, hears us. This is not learned with out many and great struggles. How often is conscience aroused, how often does it incite even to despair when it brings to view sins, either old or new, or the impurity of our nature! This handwriting is not blotted out without a great struggle, in which experience testifies what a difficult matter faith is. And while we are cheered in the midst of the terrors and receive consolation, other spiritual movements at the same time grow, the knowledge of God, fear of God, hope, love of God; and we are regenerated, as Paul says, Col.3, 10 and 2 Cor.3, 18, in the knowledge of God, and, beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, i.e., we receive the true knowledge of God, so that we truly fear Him, truly trust that we are cared for and that we are heard by Him. This regeneration is, as it were, the beginning of eternal life, as Paul says, Rom.8, 10: If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And 2 Cor.5, 2.3: We are clothed upon, if so be that, being clothed, we shall not be found naked. From these statements the candid reader can judge that we certainly require good works, since we teach that this faith arises in repentance, and in repentance ought continually to increase; and in these matters we place Christian and spiritual perfection, if repentance and faith grow together in repentance. This can be better understood by the godly than those things which are taught by the adversaries concerning contemplation or perfection. Just as, however, justification pertains to faith, so also life eternal pertains to faith. And Peter says, 1 Pet.1, 9: Receiving the end, or fruit, of your faith, the salvation of your souls. For the adversaries confess that the justified are children of God and coheirs of Christ. Afterwards works, because on account of faith they please God, merit other bodily and spiritual rewards. For there will be distinctions in the glory of the saints.
But here the adversaries reply that eternal life is called a reward, and that therefore it is merited de condigno by good works. We reply briefly and plainly: Paul, Rom.6, 23, calls eternal life a gift, because by the righteousness presented for Christ's sake, we are made at the same time sons of God and coheirs of Christ, as John says, 3, 36: He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. And Augustine says, as also do very many others who follow him: God crowns His gifts in us. Elsewhere indeed, Luke 5, 23, it is written: Your reward is great in heaven. If these passages seem to the adversaries to conflict, they themselves may explain them. But they are not fair judges; for they omit the word gift. They omit also the sources of the entire matter [the chief part, how we are justified before God, also that Christ remains at all times the Mediator], and they select the word reward, and most harshly interpret this not only against Scripture, but also against the usage of the language. Hence they infer that inasmuch as it is called a reward, our works, therefore, are such that they ought to be a price for which eternal life is due. They are, therefore, worthy of grace and life eternal, and do not stand in need of mercy, or of Christ as Mediator, or of faith. This logic is altogether new; we hear the term reward, and therefore are to infer that there is no need of Christ as Mediator, or of faith having access to God for Christ's sake, and not for the sake of our works! Who does not see that these are anacoluthons? We do not contend concerning the term reward. We dispute concerning this matter, namely, whether good works are of themselves worthy of grace and of eternal life, or whether they please only on account of faith, which apprehends Christ as Mediator. Our adversaries not only ascribe this to works, namely, that they are worthy of grace and of eternal life, but they also state falsely that they have superfluous merits, which they can grant to others, and by which they can justify others, as when monks sell the merits of their orders to others. These monstrosities they heap up in the manner of Chrysippus, where this one word reward is heard, namely: "It is called a reward, and therefore we have works which are a price for which a reward is due; therefore works please by themselves, and not for the sake of Christ as Mediator. And since one has more merits than another, therefore some have superfluous merits. And those who merit them can bestow these merits upon others." Stop, reader; you have not the whole of this sorites. For certain sacraments of this donation must be added; the hood is placed upon the dead. [As the Barefooted monks and other orders have shamelessly done in placing the hoods of their orders upon dead bodies.] By such accumulations the blessings brought us in Christ, and the righteousness of faith have been obscured. [These are acute and strong arguments, all of which they can spin from the single word reward, whereby they obscure Christ and faith.]
We are not agitating an idle logomachy concerning the term reward [but this great, exalted, most important matter, namely, where Christian hearts are to find true and certain consolation; again, whether our works can give consciences rest and peace; again, whether we are to believe that our works are worthy of eternal life, or whether that is given us for Christ's sake. These are the real questions regarding these matters; if consciences are not rightly instructed concerning these, they can have no certain comfort. However, we have stated clearly enough that good works do not fulfil the Law, that we need the mercy of God, that by faith we are accepted with God, that good works, be they ever so precious, even if they were the works of St. Paul himself, cannot bring rest to the conscience. From all this it follows that we are to believe that we obtain eternal life through Christ by faith, not on account of our works, or of the Law. But what do we say of the reward which Scripture mentions?] If the adversaries will concede that we are accounted righteous by faith because of Christ, and that good works please God because of faith, we will not afterwards contend much concerning the term reward. We confess that eternal life is a reward, because it is something due on account of the promise, not on account of our merits. For the justification has been promised, which we have above shown to be properly a gift of God; and to this gift has been added the promise of eternal life, according to Rom.8, 30: Whom He justified, them He also glorified. Here belongs what Paul says, 2 Tim.4, 8: There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me. For the crown is due the justified because of the promise. And this promise saints should know, not that they may labor for their own profit, for they ought to labor for the glory of God; but in order that they may not despair in afflictions, they should know God's will, that He desires to aid, to deliver, to protect them. [Just as the inheritance and all possessions of a father are given to the son, as a rich compensation and reward for his obedience, and yet the son receives the inheritance, not on account of his merit, but because the father, for the reason that he is his father, wants him to have it. Therefore it is a sufficient reason why eternal life is called a reward, because thereby the tribulations which we suffer, and the works of love which we do, are compensated, although we have not deserved it. For there are two kinds of compensation: one, which we are obliged, the other, which we are not obliged, to render. I.e., when the emperor grants a servant a principality, he therewith compensates the servant's work; and yet the work is not worth the principality, but the servant acknowledges that he has received a gracious lien. Thus God does not owe us eternal life, still, when He grants it to believers for Christ's sake, that is a compensation for our sufferings and works.] Although the perfect hear the mention of penalties and rewards in one way, and the weak hear it in another way; for the weak labor for the sake of their own advantage. And yet the preaching of rewards and punishments is necessary. In the preaching of punishments the wrath of God is set forth, and therefore this pertains to the preaching of repentance. In the preaching of rewards, grace is set forth. And just as Scripture, in the mention of good works, often embraces faith, -- for it wishes righteousness of the heart to be included with the fruits, -- so sometimes it offers grace together with other rewards as in Is.58, 8 f., and frequently in other places in the prophets. We also confess what we have often testified, that, although justification and eternal life pertain to faith, nevertheless good works merit other bodily and spiritual rewards [which are rendered both in this life and after this life; for God defers most rewards until He glorifies saints after this life, because He wishes them in this life to be exercised in mortifying the old man] and degrees of rewards, according to 1 Cor.3, 8: Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. [For the blessed will have reward, one higher than the other. This difference merit makes, according as it pleases God; and it is merit, because they do these good works whom God has adopted as children and heirs. For thus they have merit which is their own and peculiar as one child with respect to another.] For the righteousness of the Gospel, which has to do with the promise of grace, freely receives justification and quickening. But the fulfilling of the Law, which follows faith, has to do with the Law, in which a reward is offered and is due, not freely, but according to our works. But those who merit this are justified before they do the Law. Therefore as Paul says, Col.1, 13; Rom.8, 17, they have before been translated into the kingdom of God's Son, and been made joint-heirs with Christ. But as often as mention is made of merit, the adversaries immediately transfer the matter from other rewards to justification, although the Gospel freely offers justification on account of Christ's merits and not of our own; and the merits of Christ are communicated to us by faith. But works and afflictions merit, not justification, but other remunerations, as the reward is offered for the works in these passages: He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully, 2 Cor.9, 6. Here clearly the measure of the reward is connected with the measure of the work. Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land, Ex.20, 12. Also here the Law offers a reward to a certain work. Although, therefore, the fulfilling of the Law merits a reward, for a reward properly pertains to the Law, yet we ought to be mindful of the Gospel, which freely offers justification for Christ's sake. We neither observe the Law nor can observe it, before we have been reconciled to God, justified, and regenerated. Neither would this fulfilling of the Law please God, unless we would be accepted on account of faith. And because men are accepted on account of faith, for this very reason the inchoate fulfilling of the Law pleases, and has a reward in this life and after this life. Concerning the term reward, very many other remarks might here be made derived from the nature of the Law, which as they are too extensive, must be explained in another connection.
But the adversaries urge that it is the prerogative of good works to merit eternal life, because Paul says, Rom.2, 5: Who will render to every one according to his works. Likewise v.10: Glory, honor, and peace to every man that worketh good. John 6, 29: They that have done good [shall come forth] unto the resurrection of life. Matt.25 36: I was an hungred and ye gave Me meat etc. In these and all similar passages in which works are praised in the Scriptures, it is necessary to understand not only outward works, but also the faith of the heart, because Scripture does not speak of hypocrisy, but of the righteousness of the heart with its fruits. Moreover, as often as mention is made of the Law and of works, we must know that Christ as Mediator is not to be excluded. For He is the end of the Law, and He Himself says, John 16, 5: Without Me ye can do nothing. According to this rule we have said above that all passages concerning works can be judged. Wherefore, when eternal life is granted to works, it is granted to those who have been justified, because no men except justified men, who are led by the Spirit of Christ, can do good works; and without faith and Christ, as Mediator, good works do not please, according to Heb.11, 6: Without faith it is impossible to please God. When Paul says: He will render to every one according to his works, not only the outward work ought to be understood, but all righteousness or unrighteousness. So: Glory to him that worketh good, i.e., to the righteous. Ye gave Me meat, is cited as the fruit and witness of the righteousness of the heart and of faith, and therefore eternal life is rendered to righteousness. [There it must certainly be acknowledged that Christ means not only the works, but that He desires to have the heart, which He wishes to esteem God aright, and to believe correctly concerning Him, namely, that it is through mercy that it is pleasing to God. Therefore Christ teaches that everlasting life will be given the righteous, as Christ says: The righteous shall go into everlasting life.] In this way Scripture, at the same time with the fruits, embraces the righteousness of the heart. And it often names the fruits, in order that it may be better understood by the inexperienced, and to signify that a new life and regeneration, and not hypocrisy, are required. But regeneration occurs, by faith, in repentance.
No sane man can judge otherwise, neither do we here affect any idle subtilty, so as to separate the fruits from the righteousness of the heart; if the adversaries would only have conceded that the fruits please because of faith, and of Christ as Mediator, and that by themselves they are not worthy of grace and of eternal life. For in the doctrine of the adversaries we condemn this, that in such passages of Scripture, understood either in a philosophical or a Jewish manner, they abolish the righteousness of faith, and exclude Christ as Mediator. From these passages they infer that works merit grace, sometimes de congruo, and at other times de condigno, namely, when love is added; i.e., that they justify, and because they are righteousness they are worthy of eternal life. This error manifestly abolishes the righteousness of faith, which believes that we have access to God for Christ's sake, not for the sake of our works, and that through Christ, as Priest and Mediator, we are led to the Father, and have a reconciled Father, as has been sufficiently said above. And this doctrine concerning the righteousness of faith is not to be neglected in the Church of Christ, because without it the office of Christ cannot be considered, and the doctrine of justification that is left is only a doctrine of the Law. But we should retain the Gospel, and the doctrine concerning the promise, granted for Christ's sake.
[We are here not seeking an unnecessary subtilty, but there is a great reason why we must have a reliable account as regards these questions. For as soon as we concede to the adversaries that works merit eternal life, they spin from this concession the awkward teaching that we are able to keep the Law of God, that we are not in need of mercy, that we are righteous before God, that is, accepted with God by our works, not for the sake of Christ, that we can also do works of supererogations namely, more than the Law requires. Thus the entire teaching concerning faith is suppressed. However, if there is to be and abide a Christian Church, the pure teaching concerning Christ, concerning the righteousness of faith, must surely be preserved. Therefore we must fight against these great pharisaical errors, in order that we redeem the name of Christ and the honor of the Gospel and of Christ, and preserve for Christian hearts a true, permanent, certain consolation. For how is it possible that a heart or conscience can obtain rest, or hope for salvation, when in afflictions and in the anguish of death our works in the judgment and sight of God utterly become dust, unless it becomes certain by faith that men are saved by mercy, for Christ's sake, and not for the sake of their works, their fulfilling of the Law? And, indeed, St. Laurentius, when placed on the gridiron, and being tortured for Christ's sake did not think that by this work he was perfectly and absolutely fulfilling the Law, that he was without sin, that he did not need Christ as Mediator and the mercy of God. He rested his case, indeed, with the prophet, who says: Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified, Ps.143, 2. Nor did St. Bernard boast that his works were worthy of eternal life, when he says: Perdite vixi, I have led a sinful life, etc. But he boldly comforts himself, clings to the promise of grace, and believes that he has remission of sins and life eternal for Christ's sake, just as Psalm 32, 1 teaches: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. And Paul says, Rom.4, 6: David also describeth the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness without works. Paul, then, says that he is blessed to whom righteousness is imputed through faith in Christ, even though he have not performed any good works. That is the true, permanent consolation, by which hearts and consciences can be confirmed and encouraged, namely that for Christ's sake, through faith, the remission of sins, righteousness, and life eternal are given us. Now, if passages which treat of works are understood in such a manner as to comprise faith, they are not opposed to our doctrine. And, indeed, it is necessary always to add faith, so as not to exclude Christ as Mediator. But the fulfilment of the Law follows faith; for the Holy Ghost is present, who renews life. Let this suffice concerning this article.]
We are not, therefore, on this topic contending with the adversaries concerning a small matter. We are not seeking out idle subtilties when we find fault with them for teaching that we merit eternal life by works, while that faith is omitted which apprehends Christ as Mediator. For of this faith which believes that for Christ's sake the Father is propitious to us there is not a syllable in the scholastics. Everywhere they hold that we are accepted and righteous because of our works, wrought either from reason, or certainly wrought by the inclination of that love concerning which they speak. And yet they have certain sayings, maxims, as it were, of the old writers, which they distort in interpreting. In the schools the boast is made that good works please on account of grace, and that confidence must be put in God's grace. Here they interpret grace as a habit by which we love God, as though, indeed, the ancients meant to say that we ought to trust in our love, of which we certainly experience how small and how impure it is. Although it is strange how they bid us trust in love, since they teach us that we are not able to know whether it be present. Why do they not here set forth the grace, the mercy of God toward us? And as often as mention is made of this, they ought to add faith. For the promise of God's mercy, reconciliation, and love towards us is not apprehended unless by faith. With this view they would be right in saying that we ought to trust in grace, that good works please because of grace, when faith apprehends grace. In the schools the boast is also made that our good works avail by virtue of Christ's passion. Well said! But why add nothing concerning faith? For Christ is a propitiation, as Paul, Rom.3, 25, says, through faith. When timid consciences are comforted by faith, and are convinced that our sins have been blotted out by the death of Christ, and that God has been reconciled to us on account of Christ's suffering, then, indeed, the suffering of Christ profits us. If the doctrine concerning faith be omitted, it is said in vain that works avail by virtue of Christ's passion.
And very many other passages they corrupt in the schools because they do not teach the righteousness of faith and because they understand by faith merely a knowledge of the history or of dogmas, and do not understand by it that virtue which apprehends the promise of grace and of righteousness, and which quickens hearts in the terrors of sin and of death. When Paul says, Rom.10, 10: With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation, we think that the adversaries acknowledge here that confession justifies or saves, not ex opere operato, but only on account of the faith of the heart. And Paul thus says that confession saves, in order to show what sort of faith obtains eternal life; namely, that which is firm and active. That faith, however, which does not manifest itself in confession is not firm. Thus other good works please on account of faith, as also the prayers of the Church ask that all things may be accepted for Christ's sake. They likewise ask all things for Christ's sake. For it is manifest that at the close of prayers this clause is always added: Through Christ, our Lord. Accordingly, we conclude that we are justified before God, are reconciled to God and regenerated by faith, which in repentance apprehends the promise of grace, and truly quickens the terrified mind, and is convinced that for Christ's sake God is reconciled and propitious to us. And through this faith, says Peter, 1 Ep.1, 5, we are kept unto salvation ready to be revealed. The knowledge of this faith is necessary to Christians, and brings the most abundant consolation in all afflictions, and displays to us the office of Christ because those who deny that men are justified by faith, and deny that Christ is Mediator and Propitiator, deny the promise of grace and the Gospel. They teach only the doctrine either of reason or of the Law concerning justification. We have shown the origin of this case, so far as can here be done, and have explained the objections of the adversaries. Good men, indeed, will easily judge these things, if they will think, as often as a passage concerning love or works is cited, that the Law cannot be observed without Christ, and that we cannot be justified from the Law, but from the Gospel, that is, from the promise of the grace promised in Christ. And we hope that this discussion, although brief, will be profitable to good men for strengthening faith, and teaching and comforting conscience. For we know that those things which we have said are in harmony with the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, with the holy Fathers, Ambrose, Augustine and very many others, and with the whole Church of Christ, which certainly confesses that Christ is Propitiator and Justifier.
Nor are we immediately to judge that the Roman Church agrees with everything that the Pope, or cardinals, or bishops, or some of the theologians, or monks approve. For it is manifest that to most of the pontiffs their own authority is of greater concern than the Gospel of Christ. And it has been ascertained that most of them are openly Epicureans. It is evident that theologians have mingled with Christian doctrine more of philosophy than was sufficient. Nor ought their influence to appear so great that it will never be lawful to dissent from their disputations, because at the same time many manifest errors are found among them, such as, that we are able from purely natural powers to love God above all things. This dogma, although it is manifestly false, has produced many other errors. For the Scriptures the holy Fathers, and the judgments of all the godly everywhere make reply. Therefore, even though Popes, or some theologians, and monks in the Church have taught us to seek remission of sins, grace, and righteousness through our own works, and to invent new forms of worship, which have obscured the office of Christ, and have made out of Christ not a Propitiator and Justifier, but only a Legislator, nevertheless the knowledge of Christ has always remained with some godly persons. Scripture, moreover, has predicted that the righteousness of faith would be obscured in this way by human traditions and the doctrine of works. Just as Paul often complains (cf. Gal.4, 9; 5, 7; Col.2, 8, 16 sq.; 1 Tim.4, 2 sq., etc.) that there were even at that time those who, instead of the righteousness of faith, taught that men were reconciled to God and justified by their own works and own acts of worship, and not by faith for Christ's sake; because men judge by nature that God ought to be appeased by works. Nor does reason see a righteousness other than the righteousness of the Law, understood in a civil sense. Accordingly, there have always existed in the world some who have taught this carnal righteousness alone to the exclusion of the righteousness of faith; and such teachers will also always exist. The same happened among the people of Israel. The greater part of the people thought that they merited remission of sins by their works they accumulated sacrifices and acts of worship. On the contrary, the prophets, in condemnation of this opinion, taught the righteousness of faith. And the occurrences among the people of Israel are illustrations of those things which were to occur in the Church. Therefore, let the multitude of the adversaries, who condemn our doctrine, not disturb godly minds. For their spirit can easily be judged, because in some articles they have condemned truth that is so clear and manifest that their godlessness appears openly. For the bull of Leo X condemned a very necessary article, which all Christians should hold and believe, namely, that we ought to trust that we have been absolved not because of our contrition, but because of Christ's word, Matt.16, 19: Whatsoever thou shalt bind, etc. And now, in this assembly, the authors of the Confutation have in clear words condemned this, namely, that we have said that faith is a part of repentance, by which we obtain remission of sins, and overcome the terrors of sin, and conscience is rendered pacified. Who, however, does not see that this article that by faith we obtain the remission of sins, is most true, most certain, and especially necessary to all Christians? Who to all posterity, hearing that such a doctrine has been condemned, will judge that the authors of this condemnation had any knowledge of Christ?
And concerning their spirit, a conjecture can be made from the unheard-of cruelty, which it is evident that they have hitherto exercised towards most good men. And in this assembly we have heard that a reverend father, when opinions concerning our Confession were expressed, said in the senate of the Empire that no plan seemed to him better than to make a reply written in blood to the Confession which we had presented written in ink. What more cruel would Phalaris say? Therefore some princes also have judged this expression unworthy to be spoken in such a meeting. Wherefore, although the adversaries claim for themselves the name of the Church, nevertheless we know that the Church of Christ is with those who teach the Gospel of Christ, not with those who defend wicked opinions contrary to the Gospel, as the Lord says, John 10, 21: My sheep hear My voice. And Augustine says: The question is, Where is the Church! What, therefore, are we to do? Are we to seek it in our own words or in the words of its Head our Lord Jesus Christ? I think that we ought to seek it in the words of Him who is Truth, and who knows His own body best. Hence the judgments of our adversaries will not disturb us, since they defend human opinions contrary to the Gospel, contrary to the authority of the holy Fathers, who have written in the Church, and contrary to the testimonies of godly minds.