It has been manifestly declared to you, that no one can fulfil the Law of God, and therefore by the Law all are condemned. It therefore follows necessarily that some other thing should be required for our salvation than the Law: and that is, a true and a living faith in Christ, bringing forth good works, and a life according to God’s commandments. And you have also heard the ancient authors’ opinion of this saying, “Faith in Christ alone justifies a person”, so plainly declared. So you see that the very true meaning of this proposition or saying, “We are justified only by faith in Christ” (according to the meaning of the old ancient authors) is this: We put our faith in Christ, that we are justified by him alone, that we are justified by God’s free mercy, and the merits of our Saviour Christ alone. By no virtue or good works of our own that are in us, or that we are able to have or to do, can we deserve the same. Christ himself is the only meritorious cause of our justification.
Clarity amidst contention
Here you perceive many words are used, to avoid contention in words with those who delight to brawl about words; and also to show the true meaning, to avoid evil talking and misunderstanding. And yet, it is possible that all of this will not satisfy those who are contentious. Such people will always invent things to contend about, even when they have no reason to do so. We are more concerned with those who are most desirous to know the truth and to profit by it, than we are with those who (when it is plain enough) want to contend about it, and with contentious and critical complaining to obscure and darken it.
It is true that our own works do not justify us, to speak properly of our justification; that is to say, our works do not merit or deserve cancellation of our sins, and make we who are unrighteous, righteous before God. But God, of his own mercy, justifies us only through the merits of his Son Jesus Christ — not because we deserve it, but because he does. Nevertheless, faith directly sends us to Christ for cancellation of our sins (and that by faith given to us by God), so that we embrace the promise of God’s mercy, and of the forgiveness of our sins. None of our other virtues or works can properly do this; therefore Scripture says that faith without works justifies.
Since it is the same thing, in effect, to say “faith without works” and “only faith justifies us”, the old ancient fathers of the church from time to time spoke of our justification in this way: “only faith justifies us”, meaning nothing else than what St. Paul meant when he said faith without works justifies us (Romans 3:28). And because all this is brought to pass only through the merit and worthiness of our Saviour Christ, and not through our merits, or through the merit of any virtue that we have within us, or of any work that comes from us: therefore in respect of merit and deserving we forsake faith, works, and all other virtues. For our own imperfection is so great, through the corruption of original sin, that everything within us is imperfect — faith, charity, hope, dread, thoughts, words, and works — and therefore not able to merit or deserve any part of our justification for us. And we speak in this way, humbling ourselves to God, to give all the glory to our Saviour Christ, who is best worthy to have it.
You have heard about the role of God in our justification, and how we receive it from him freely, by his mercy, without deserving it, through true and lively faith. Now you shall hear the role and duty of a Christian to God, what we ought on our part to render back to God for his great mercy and goodness.
The duty of a justified Christian
Our role is not to pass the time of this present life unfruitfully and idly after we are baptised or justified, not caring how few good works we do to the glory of God and the profit of our neighbours. Much less is it our role, after we are once made Christ’s members, to live contrary to him, making ourselves members of the devil, walking after his enticements and after the suggestions of the world and the flesh, by which we know that we serve the world and the devil, and not God. For that faith which brings forth (without repentance) either evil works or no good works, is not a right, pure, and living faith, but a dead, devilish, counterfeit, and insincere faith, as Saint Paul and Saint James call it (2 Timothy 3:5, Titus 1:16, James 2:17-26).
For even the devils know and believe that Christ was born of a virgin, that he fasted forty days and forty nights without meat and drink, that he worked all kinds of miracles, showing himself to be truly God. They believe also that Christ, for our sakes, suffered a most painful death, to redeem us from eternal death, and that he rose again from death on the third day. They believe that he ascended into heaven, and that he sits on the right hand of the Father, and at the last end of this world he shall come again and judge both the quick and the dead. These articles of our faith the devils believe, and so they believe all things that are written in the New and Old Testament to be true. And yet, for all this faith, they are but devils, remaining still in their damnable state, lacking the very true Christian faith.
For the right and true Christian faith is not only to believe that holy Scripture and all these articles of our faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence in God’s merciful promises, to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ. From this follows a loving heart to obey his commandments. No devil has this true Christian faith, nor does any person who in the outward profession of their mouth and in their outward receiving of the sacraments, in coming to Church and in all other outward appearances, seems to be a Christian, and yet in their life and works shows the contrary. For how can someone have this true faith, this sure trust and confidence in God, that by the merits of Christ their sins are forgiven, and be reconciled to the favour of God, and be partaker of the kingdom of heaven by Christ, when they live an ungodly life and deny Christ in their deeds?
Surely no such ungodly person can have this faith and trust in God. For as they know Christ to be the only saviour of the world: so they know also that the wicked shall not possess the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5). They know that God hates unrighteousness, that he will destroy all those that speak untruly (Psalm 5:5-6), that those who have done good works (which cannot be done without a lively faith in Christ) shall come forth into the resurrection of life, and those that have done evil shall come to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29). They also know very well that to those who are contentious, and to those who will not be obedient to the truth but will obey unrighteousness, shall come indignation, wrath, and affliction, and so forth (Romans 2:8-9).
Consider all his benefits!
Therefore, to conclude: let us consider the infinite benefits of God, shown and given to us mercifully although we do not deserve them. Let us consider that God has not only created us out of nothing, and from a piece of vile clay, but of his infinite goodness has exalted us (as touching our soul) to his own image and likeness. We were condemned to hell, and death eternal, but he has given his own natural Son, being God eternal, immortal, and equal to himself in power and glory, to be incarnated, and to take our mortal nature upon him, with the infirmities of it, and in the same nature to suffer most shameful and painful death for our offences. He did this to justify us, and to restore us to life everlasting, so making us also his dear children, brethren to his only Son our Saviour Christ (Hebrews 2:11), and inheritors forever with him of his eternal kingdom of heaven.
These great and merciful benefits of God (if they are well considered) neither give us an excuse to be idle and to live without doing any good works, nor yet stir us up by any means to do evil things. On the contrary, if we are not desperate persons, and our hearts harder than stones, they move us to give ourselves wholly to God with all our will, hearts, might, and power, to serve him in all good deeds, obeying his commandments during our lives, to seek in all things his glory and honour not our sensual pleasures and vainglory, evermore dreading willingly to offend such a merciful God and loving redeemer, in word, thought, or deed. And these benefits of God deeply considered, move us for his sake also to be ever ready to give ourselves to our neighbours and, as much as lies in us, to study with all our endeavour to do good to everyone. These are the fruits of true faith, to do good as much as lies in us to everyone, and above all things and in all things to advance the glory of God, from whom alone we have our sanctification, justification, salvation, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30) — to whom be glory, praise, and honour forever, world without end. Amen.