We preach Christ crucified
Section 2, which deals with the doctrine of salvation.
VI — Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation
The first part of this Article deals with a very important point, namely the identity of the source of our faith. We are told here that the Bible alone is the source of our faith, the place in which we can discover all that we must believe in order to be saved. We are not to worry if someone comes along with a new teaching, for no matter what they may claim for it, unless they can show it to be biblical, we can safely — and correctly — ignore it. Of course, the reverse is also true, so that all that may be shown to be scriptural is to be believed, no matter how much we may wish it were not so. It is not up to us to pick and choose which doctrines we will hold. Rather, we are to take them all, since they are all taught in the Bible.
But what is the Bible? It is a collection of sixty-six books, ‘of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church’. The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament are then listed, and they are called ‘canonical’. A canon is a list, and those which are listed are those which the Church has always recognised as proper. In the case of the Old Testament these are the holy books of the Jews.
Comment is made about the ‘other Books’, meaning those we call the Apocrypha. These are read ‘for example of life and instruction in manners’, and anyone who has looked at the Lectionary at the beginning of the Prayer Book will know that some of these are set to be read from the lectern. In practice we do not, since the doctrine of inspiration does not deem to include those writings which fall outside the canonical books. However, there is much of interest in most of them, especially in 1 Maccabees, which fills in Jewish history between the testaments.
As Anglicans, therefore, we take our doctrine only from the inspired Scriptures, confessing that it alone teaches the way of salvation, and omits nothing.
VII — Of the Old Testament
Having dealt with the matter of Scripture, it may seem odd for the Articles to go on and have a separate section on the Old Testament. Historically, however, it has been necessary. In the middle of the second century AD a man named Marcion taught that Christianity stood in opposition to all other divine revelations, including that of the Old Testament. In other words there was no continuity between the two testaments, and so nothing good to be had from the Old. This view was revived by some Anabaptists. It is in many ways a modern heresy, since it is not uncommon to hear Christians dismiss things as ‘too Old Testament’.
The Article continues to say something about the place of the Law. It accepts the temporary nature of the Ceremonies and Rites, and notes that the Civil precepts do not govern Christians. However, it maintains the duty of all Christians to obey the Moral Law, which is defined as the Commandments, meaning the Ten. Anglicans, therefore, are not governed by misunderstanding the Old Testament, but see rather continuity between the two, as well as discontinuity. We are bound to obey God’s moral law; we are not lawless.
VIII – Of the Three Creeds
Having declared that our doctrine comes only from the whole Bible, the question must be asked, how do we know what that doctrine is? It is not within the means of every Christian to so study the Bible that we can know all, or even most, of the things it teaches. In answer to this, we can turn to the Creeds, of which we recognise three. (We are alone in this, since no other Reformed Church uses the Athanasian Creed.)
The Creeds (from the Latin Credo, ‘I believe’), give us a useful and concise summary of what we believe concerning salvation. We have in all three the doctrine of God, of Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. As the Article says, they may be proven by most certain warrant of holy Scripture, meaning that they can be easily shown to be true to the Bible’s teaching. When we recite them, therefore, we are declaring our acceptance of and faith in that teaching.
IX — Of Original or Birth Sin
Having dealt with the source of our doctrine, and the summary of it, the Articles now turn to more specific matters. The first of these concerns Original Sin.
Original sin is defined as the ‘fault and corruption’ of human nature, and is shown to stem from our being the offspring of Adam. This whole doctrine is gravely threatened if Adam is not an historical figure but merely a type or a useful literary device to explain the origins of human life.
The corruption engendered by original sin places everyone under the wrath of God, because none can avoid that evil to which our nature is inclined. God must punish us for it, so that none are naturally innocent before him.
The Article goes on to deal with the state of the regenerate, in whom the old nature and the new exist together. This means that the regenerate person, the child of God by faith, is yet subject to the motions of the flesh, so that there is a continual battle between the regenerate nature and the unruly will of the flesh in the matter of obedience to God’s will. The Article recognises the problem which we all face, and with which we must deal, and offers us this comfort, that ‘there is no condemnation to them that believe and are baptized’. However, this is not to excuse us, merely to keep us from despair over our failure to obey God in all things.
Those who reject this definition of original sin, who believe it to be either nonexistent, or who define it in a lesser way, must explain why it is that Christians do things they know to be wrong, even when they intend not to do them. The reality of original sin gives us a biblical explanation, and shows us our need of forgiveness and a new nature through our Lord Jesus Christ.
X — Of Free Will
Allied to false views of original sin is the view of some regarding free will. This next Article gives the Anglican and Scriptural doctrine of this subject.
The thrust of the Article to show how helpless we are in the face of original sin. We cannot choose God, we cannot do any good works, we cannot prepare ourselves to receive grace. Instead we are utterly dependent on ‘the grace of God by Christ preventing us’ (that is, going before us). Our good works do not go before grace, but grace goes before our good works, being the very cause of them, as fruits of faith.
One of the effects of this teaching is to show how foolish and wrong those people are who call on their hearers to ‘make a decision for Christ’. Although it may seem to us that the moment came when we chose faith over unbelief, this Article teaches that such a thing is impossible. It is not for us to choose God or Christ, but for them to choose us, and for us to respond in faith. Those who think they have chosen life by themselves often turn out to be those who decide later to reject it. Those who know themselves to be the objects of a work of grace are those who remain faithful to the One who called them.
The Article by no means rejects the notion of a ‘good will’, a hearty desire to serve God as we should. However, it shows that such a thing can only come about by the intervention of God who gives us such a will, and who must work with us in order for that will to operate according to his will.
XI — Of the Justification of Man
This brief Article is one of the most important, since it explains how a sinner is able to be called righteous. We are ‘accounted righteous before God, which means our status has changed from that of unrighteous to righteous in God’s sight (the only place it matters). The reason why this is so is ‘for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, and not of our doing. We have earned nothing. But how do we gain the benefit of his merit? ‘By Faith, and not for our own works or deservings.’ That is, through trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith that he has conquered sin and death, rather than in anything we can do or have done. This doctrine, the Article concludes, is ‘a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort’, because it causes us to look outside ourselves for salvation to the One appointed by God to procure it on our behalf. It is only when we look to Christ, knowing that he alone can save, and that he is willing to if we are truly penitent, that we can know peace with God, and be accounted righteous before him.
The reader is pointed to the Homily on Justification for further help. The First Book of Homilies contains no such title, but it does have one ‘Of The Salvation of all Mankind’, followed by one each on ‘True and Lively Faith’ and ‘Good Works’. These, read together, give the Protestant Reformed teaching on this most glorious of doctrines.
XII — Of Good Works
Since our salvation comes only by the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we must have a real and lively faith, it follows that we did nothing to merit that salvation, and can do nothing to keep in with God’s favour. There is to be no trust whatsoever in our deeds.
Yet for all that, the Scripture commands us to be fruitful in all good works. How can this be so? This Article explains that our good works are the ‘fruits of faith, and follow after Justification’, and do not come before. They cannot put away sin, and will be subject to God’s judgment. However, we are still commanded to do them for ‘they are pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ’—that is, for Christ’s sake. They ‘spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith’, for none can do good works in Christ unless he has that living faith. ‘By them a lively Faith may be discerned’ since they are its fruit. The one who is fruitful in good works for Christ’s sake demonstrates the true state of his heart.
XIII – Of Works before Justification
What, then, of our good deeds done before we came to faith in Jesus Christ? ‘Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not from faith in Jesus Christ’. In other words, God does not consider them to be good; it is only our judgment that makes them so, and since we were sinners under wrath at the time, our judgment is not to be trusted!
Since God does not find such works to be pleasant, it follows that they are not the basis on which grace came to us. God did not look at the world’s population, see who was trying their best, and so save them. He set his love on sinners, while they were sinners, and chose them in Christ before the creation of the world. That is grace, and again means we are to look outside ourselves for salvation, to Jesus Christ.
XIV — Of Works of Supererogation
If works done before faith are not pleasant, and if works done after faith are only acceptable for Christ’s sake, it follows that none can perform more than their duty. This next Article covers what were once called ‘Works of Supererogation’, that is, good deeds that exceed our duty—as if we could do more than God requires! The Bible, and experience, teaches that we can never do even a fraction of what we ought, never mind do more. The Article drives home this point by quoting St Luke 17:10. We are indeed unprofitable servants.
XV — Of Christ alone without Sin
The preceding Articles have shown that salvation comes only through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are sinners, and that is why we need salvation, and why our good works are not considered to be such by God. So how is Jesus Christ able to be our Saviour? We are taught here that it is because he is without sin, the only perfect One the world has ever known. He neither committed sin, nor was sin in any way part of him. He came to take sin away, sin that even those who have been baptized continue to commit. We must confess him to be sinless, and ourselves to be sinful. Otherwise we will not see our basic need to Christ in order to bring us faultless before God.
XVI — Of Sin after Baptism
Having mentioned sin and baptism the Articles continue to deal with the matter of post-baptismal sin. If baptism is for the remission of sins, and if we sin after baptism, is there any hope for us? The answer is given here. The answer begins; ‘Not every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable.’ There is quite a lot in this brief sentence.
First, there is the classing of sins as ‘deadly’. Bishop Beveridge comments that ‘every sin is deadly’, while the Church of Rome divides between mortal (deadly sins) and venial (pardonable). The only unpardonable sin is that against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31f). Since the Article goes on to say that ‘the grant of Repentance is not to be denied such as fall into sin after Baptism’, it is clear that the sin against the Holy Spirit is not included here by the Article. While this does not explain what the sin against the Holy Spirit is, it does leave us with hope, for it speaks of the availability of ‘the grant of Repentance’, and so we are encouraged so ask God to forgive all our sins, as often as necessary (which is daily, at least).
The reason why regular confession and the seeking of forgiveness is needed is stated next. ‘After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again and amend our lives.’ Note that departure from God’s grace is only put right by that same grace, driving home the point that we must look outside ourselves for salvation, to Jesus Christ the Redeemer. Such is the grace of God that we are not offered forgiveness once only, and have no hope regarding any further sins. Rather, as our Lord taught his disciples, Matt. 18:21f, we are to forgive others as often as necessary, and in the Lord’s Prayer we pray, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’
It may be asked, why would anyone ever think that there could be no forgiveness for sins committed after baptism? The answer is that, since baptism is for the remission of sins, Acts 2:38, 22:16, by what means can later sins be forgiven, since we are baptized only once? So a doctrine of late baptism arose, and many began to be baptized on their death-beds so that the opportunity to sin was removed—or so they hoped. This Article, however, shows that such a view is wrong, and that we are not condemned to remain in our sins, but always have access to the grace of God by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that all our sins may be confessed and forgiven.
XVII — Of Predestination and Election
This is the longest Article, and deals with one of the most controversial subjects among Christians. The doctrine of Predestination has often proved unpopular, and there have always been those who have tried to argue for a more man-centred doctrine. Thomas More was one, and he found himself on the receiving end of a critique penned by John Frith, colleague of William Tyndale and martyr under Henry VIII. In his A Mirror, or Glass, to Know Thyself, written while a prisoner in the Tower in 1532, he said this:
Furthermore, the most glorious gifts concerning our souls, come from God even of his mere mercy and favour, which he showeth us in Christ and for Christ, as predestination, election, vocation, and justification; and albeit M. More, with his painted poetry, and crafty conveyance, do cast a mist before your eyes, that you might wander out of the right way, endeavouring himself to instruct you, that God hath predestinated and chosen us before the beginning of the world, because he knew that we should do good works, yet will I set you up a candle which shall shine so bright, and so clearly dispel his mist and vain poetry, that you shall plainly perceive him dancing naked in a net, which, notwithstanding, thinketh himself to go invisible. And although there be Scriptures enough (both Tit. iii. and Rom. ii.), to prove the same true, yet will I let that pass, and allege for me, St. Austin, which is the candle that I speak of, which shall disclose his juggling, and utter his ignorance; for St. Austin saith, Some man will affirm that God did choose us, because he saw before that we should do good works; but Christ saith not so, which saith, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you; for, (saith he,) if he had chosen us because he saw before that we should do good works, then should he also have seen before, that we should first have chosen him, which is contrary to the words of Christ, and mind of the Evangelist. Here may you see how evidently St. Austin confuteth M. More’s poetry, and openeth his serpentine deceit.
Finally, St. Paul saith (Ephes. ii.) that we are saved through grace, and that it cometh not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, and cometh not of works, lest any man should boast himself: which words M. More might be ashamed to hear if he were not another Lucian, neither regarding God nor man. But St. Austin addeth thus much more unto it: Non erit gratia ullo modo nisi fuerit gratuita omni modo; that is to say, that it can in no wise be grace or favour except it be always free. And therefore I may conclude, that it is neither of the works going before, nor of the works coming after, but only of the free favour of God.
And this are we sure of, that whomsoever he chooseth, them he saveth of his mercy; and whom he repelleth, them of his secret and unsearchable judgment he condemneth. But why he chooseth the one, and repelleth the other, enquire not, saith St. Austin, if thou wilt not err. Insomuch, that St. Paul could not attain to the knowledge thereof, but cried out, Oh! the depth of the riches and wisdom of the knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgments, and how incomprehensible are his ways! But M. More had lever aloud to lie, and far to err, than to let God alone with his secrets, or to acknowledge his ignorance in any thing.
And, to be short, St. Paul saith, What hast thou that thou hast not received? If thou hast received it, why dost thou avaunce thyself as though thou hadst not received it? So we may conclude, that all goodness cometh of God, and all sin or mischief of our own poisoned nature. Insomuch, that we may say with the prophet Daniel: Tibi Domine gloria, nobis autem confusio faciei, all glory be unto thee, Lord, and unto us shame and confusion, so that he that rejoiceth, may rejoice in the Lord.
This Article preserves us from two extremes, The first is the Hyper-Calvinistic view which so over-emphasises the secret decrees of God in the matter of election that no room is left for human responsibility. The effect of this position, taken logically, is to teach that, so long as a person is elect, it will make no difference what they do, for they must be saved. Similarly, if a person is not elect, not amount of crying to Christ for salvation will achieve anything. The other extreme, which is dealt with by John Frith, is what we call Arminianism, and is the belief that we choose Christ and he then accepts us. Both views, being contrary to Scripture, are to be avoided at all cost.
The other matter raised concerns the effect of the doctrine on those who are not elect. It says that to have this doctrine ‘continually before their eyes … is a most dangerous downfal’. It seems there was a real problem at the time of the Reformation when some, learning of the doctrine, decided that it no longer mattered how they lived, for if saved they would be saved come what may, while others, fearing that they were not elect, gave way to despair. Of course, the fault here does not lie in the doctrine, but in the failure of those who hear of it to learn what the final paragraph says, namely that we must be taught by Scripture. It is there we learn both our true status as sinners, the mercy of God in opening salvation, and manner of receiving it, namely by faith and repentance, leading to a life of holiness and obedience.
XVIII — Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ
The notion that all who follow their religion faithfully will be received by God is not just a manifestation of the modern inter-faith movement, but is a heresy that has been around for a long time. Salvation is by the name of Jesus only, Acts 4:12.
Bishop Hooper wrote of ‘such libertines and wretches who are daring enough … not only to deny that Christ is Messiah and Saviour of the world, but also to call that blessed Seed a mischievous fellow and deceiver of the world’. He meant one of the Anabaptist groups, who taught that if a person is predestined to life then they would be saved whether they had any faith or none, whether they accepted Christ or not. Such a view can have no place in any true Christian.
Commenting on this Article, Bishop Beveridge wrote, ‘though many Christians may go to hell, yet none but Christians can ever go to heaven; many that profess Christ may not be saved, yet all that deny Christ are certain to be damned: for it is by Christ, and Christ alone, that we are saved’ (The Doctrine of the Church of England, William Beveridge, Oxford, 1846, p 353).
What this Article does is set forth Jesus Christ as the only Saviour. It places him at the pinnacle and centre of our faith, so that without him there is no hope, in this world or the next.
WH Griffith Thomas provides a useful summary of the Articles. He notes that in this section Article XVII gives us the Ground of our salvation, namely God’s predestinating and electing love, and Article XVIII the Source, being Jesus Christ as the Divine Redeemer.
This concludes the section on salvation.