200] Thirdly, how will conscience know when, by the inclination of this habit of love, a work has been done of which it may affirm that it merits grace de condigno? But it is only to elude the Scriptures that this very distinction has been devised, namely, that men merit at one time de congruo and at another time de condigno, because, as we have above said, the intention of the one who works does not distinguish the kinds of merit; but hypocrites, in their security, think simply their works are worthy, and that for this reason they are accounted righteous. On the other hand, terrified consciences doubt concerning all works, and for this reason are continually seeking other works. For this is what it means to merit de congruo, namely, to doubt and, without faith, to work, until despair takes place. In a word, all that the adversaries teach in regard to this matter is full of errors and dangers.
201] Fourthly, the entire [the holy, catholic, Christian] Church confesses that eternal life is attained through mercy. For thus Augustine speaks On Grace and Free Will, when, indeed, he is speaking of the works of the saints wrought after justification: God leads us to eternal life not by our merits, but according to His mercy. And Confessions, Book IX: Woe to the life of man, however much it may be worthy of praise, if it be judged with mercy removed. And Cyprian in his treatise on the Lord’s Prayer: Lest any one should flatter himself that he is innocent, and by exalting himself, should perish the more deeply, he is instructed and taught that he sins 202] daily, in that he is bidden to entreat daily for his sins. But the subject is well known, and has very many and very clear testimonies in Scripture, and in the Church Fathers, who all with one mouth declare that, even 203] though we have good works, yet in these very works we need mercy. Faith looking upon this mercy cheers and consoles us. Wherefore the adversaries teach erroneously when they so extol merits as to add nothing concerning this faith that apprehends mercy. For just as we have above said that the promise and faith stand in a reciprocal relation, and that the promise is not apprehended unless by faith, so we here say that the promised mercy correlatively requires faith, and cannot be apprehended without faith. Therefore we justly find fault with the doctrine concerning meritum condigni, since it teaches nothing of justifying faith, 204] and obscures the glory and office of Christ as Mediator. Nor should we be regarded as teaching anything new in this matter, since the Church Fathers have so clearly handed down the doctrine that even in good works we need mercy.
205] Scripture also often inculcates the same. In Ps. 143:2: And enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified. This passage denies absolutely, even to all saints and servants of God, the glory of righteousness, if God does not forgive, but judges and convicts their hearts. For when David boasts in other places of his righteousness, he speaks concerning his own cause against the persecutors of God’s Word; he does not speak of his personal purity; and he asks that the cause and glory of God be defended, as in Ps. 7:8: Judge me, O Lord, according to Thy righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me. Likewise in Ps. 130:3, he says that no one can endure God’s judgment, if God were to mark our sins: 206]If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? Job 9:28: I am afraid of all my sorrows [Vulg., opera, works]; Job 9:30: If I wash myself with snow-water, and make my hands never so clean, yet Thou shalt plunge me in the ditch. Prov. 20:9: Who can 207] say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? 1 John 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, etc. 208] And in the Lord’s Prayer the saints ask for the remission of sins. Therefore even the saints have sins. Num. 14:18: The innocent shall not be innocent [cf. Ex. 34:7). Deut. 4:24: The Lord, thy God, is a consuming fire. Zechariah 2:13 also says: Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord. Is. 40:6: All flesh is as grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it, i.e., flesh and righteousness of the flesh cannot endure the judgment of God. 209] Jonah 2:8 also says: They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy, i.e., all confidence is vain, except confidence in mercy; mercy delivers us; our own merits, our own efforts, do not. 210] Accordingly, Daniel, also prays, Dan. 9:18 sq.: For we do not present our supplications before Thee for our righteousnesses, but for Thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do it; defer not for Thine own sake, O my God; for Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name. Thus Daniel teaches us in praying to lay hold upon mercy, i.e., to trust in God’s mercy, and not to trust in our own 211] merits before God. We also wonder what our adversaries do in prayer, if, indeed; the profane men ever ask anything of God. If they declare that they are worthy because they have love and good works, and ask for grace as a debt, they pray precisely like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, who says: I am not as other men are. He who thus prays for grace, and does not rely upon God’s mercy, treats Christ with dishonor, who, since He is our High Priest, intercedes 212] for us. Thus, therefore, prayer relies upon God’s mercy, when we believe that we are heard for the sake of Christ, the High Priest, as He Himself says, John 14:13: Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. In My, name, He says, because without this High Priest we cannot approach the Father.
[All prudent men will see what follows from the opinion of the adversaries. For if we shall believe that Christ has merited only the prima gratia, as they call it, and that we afterwards merit eternal life by our works, hearts or consciences will he pacified neither at the hour of death, nor at any other time, nor can they ever build upon certain ground; they are never certain that God is gracious. Thus their doctrine unintermittingly leads to nothing but misery of soul and, finally, to despair. For God’s Law is not a matter of pleasantry; it ceaselessly accuses consciences outside of Christ, as Paul says, Rom. 4:15: The Law worketh wrath. Thus it will happen that if consciences feel the judgment of God, they have no certain comfort and will rush into despair.
Paul says: Whatsoever is not of faith is sin, Rom. 14:23. But those persons can do nothing from faith who are first to attain to this that God is gracious to them only when they have at length fulfilled the Law. They will always quake with doubt whether they have done enough good works, whether the Law has been satisfied, yea, they will keenly feel and understand that they are still under obligation to the Law. Accordingly, they will never be sure that they have a gracious God, and that their prayer is heard. Therefore they can never truly love God, nor expect any blessing from Him, nor truly worship God. What else are such hearts and consciences than hell itself, since there is nothing in them but despair, fainting away, grumbling, discontent, and hatred of God, and yet in this hatred they invoke and worship God, just as Saul worshiped Him.
Here we appeal to all Christian minds and to all that are experienced in trials; they will be forced to confess and say that such great uncertainty, such disquietude, such torture and anxiety, such horrible fear and doubt follow from this teaching of the adversaries who imagine that we are accounted righteous before God by our own works or fulfilling of the Law which we perform, and point us to Queer Street by bidding us trust not in the rich, blessed promises of Grace, given us by Christ the Mediator, but in our own miserable works. Therefore, this conclusion stands like a rock, yea, like a wall, namely, that, although we have begun to do the Law, still we are accepted with God and at peace with Him, not on account of such works of ours, but for Christ’s sake by faith; nor does God, owe us everlasting life on account of these works. But just as forgiveness of sin and righteousness is imputed to us for Christ’s sake, not on account of our works, or the Law, so everlasting life, together with righteousness, is offered us, not on account of our works, or of the Law, but for Christ’s sake, as Christ says, John 6:40: This is the Father’s will that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life. Again, John 6:47: He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. Now, the adversaries should be asked at this point what advice they give to poor consciences in the hour of death: whether they comfort consciences by telling them that they will have a blessed departure, that they will be saved, and have a propitiated God, because of their own merits, or because of God’s grace and mercy for Christ’s sake. For St. Peter, St. Paul, and saints like them cannot boast that God owes them eternal life for their martyrdom, nor have they relied on their works, but on the mercy promised in Christ.
Nor would it be possible that a saint, great and high though he be, could make a firm stand against the accusations of the divine Law, the great might of the devil, the terror of death, and, finally, against despair and the anguish of hell, if he would not grasp the divine promises, the Gospel, as a tree or branch in the great flood, in the strong, violent stream, amidst the waves and billows of the anguish of death; if he does not cling by faith to the Word, which proclaims grace, and thus obtains eternal life without works, without the Law, from pure grace. For this doctrine alone preserves Christian consciences in afflictions and anguish of death. Of these things the adversaries know nothing, and talk of them like a blind man about color.
Here they will say: If we are to be saved by pure mercy, what difference is there between those who are saved, and those who are not saved? If merit is of no account, there is no difference between the evil and the good, and it follows that both are saved alike. This argument has moved the scholastics to invent the meritum condigni; for there must be (they think) a difference between those who are saved, and those who are damned.
We reply, in the first place, that everlasting life is accorded to those whom God esteems just, and when they have been esteemed just, they are become, by that act, the children of God and coheirs of Christ, as Paul says, Rom. 8:30: Whom He justified, them He also glorified. Hence nobody is saved except only those who believe the Gospel. But as our reconciliation with God is uncertain if it is to rest on our works, and not on the gracious promise of God, which cannot fail, so, too, all that we expect by hope would be uncertain if it must be built on the foundation of our merits and works. For the Law of God ceaselessly accuses the conscience, and men feel in their hearts nothing but this voice from the fiery, flaming cloud: I am the Lord, thy God; this thou shalt do; that thou art obliged to do; this I require of thee. Deut. 5:6ff No conscience can for a moment be at rest when the Law and Moses assails the heart, before it apprehends Christ by faith. Nor can it truly hope for eternal life, unless it be pacified before. For a doubting conscience flees from God, despairs, and cannot hope. However, hope of eternal life must be certain. Now, in order that it may not be fickle, but certain, we must believe that we have eternal life, not by our works or merits, but from pure grace, by faith in Christ.
In secular affairs and in secular courts we meet with both, mercy and justice. Justice is certain by the laws and the verdict rendered; mercy is uncertain. In this matter that relates to God the case is different; for grace and mercy have been promised us by a certain word, and the Gospel is the word which commands us to believe that God is gracious and wishes to save us for Christ’s sake, as the text reads, John 3:17: God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned.
Now, whenever we speak of mercy, the meaning is to be this, that faith is required, and it is this faith that makes the difference between those who are saved, and those who are damned, between those who are worthy, and those who are unworthy. For everlasting life has been promised to none but those who have been reconciled by Christ. Faith, however, reconciles and justifies before God the moment we apprehend the promise by faith. And throughout our entire life we are to pray God and be diligent, to receive faith and to grow in faith. For, as stated before, faith is where repentance is, and it is not in those who walk after the flesh. This faith is to grow and increase throughout our life by all manner of afflictions. Those who obtain faith are regenerated, so that they lead a new life and do good works.
Now, just as we say that true repentance is to endure throughout our entire life, we say, too, that good works and the fruits of faith must be done throughout our life, although our works never become so precious as to be equal to the treasure of Christ, or to merit eternal life, as Christ says, Luke 17:10: When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants. And St. Bernard truly says: There is need that you must first believe that you cannot have forgiveness of sin except by the grace of God; next, that thereafter you cannot have and do any good work, unless God grants it to you; lastly, that you cannot earn eternal life with your works, though it is not given you without merit. A little further on he says: Let no one deceive himself; for when you rightly consider the matter, you will undoubtedly find that you cannot meet with ten thousand him who approaches you with twenty thousand. These are strong sayings of St. Bernard; let them believe these if they will not believe us.
In order, then, that hearts may have a true, certain comfort and hope, we point them, with Paul, to the divine promise of grace in Christ, and teach that we must believe that God gives us eternal life, not on account of our works, but for Christ’s sake, as the Apostle John says in his Epistle, 1 John 5:12: He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.]
213] Here belongs also the declaration of Christ, Luke 17:10: So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants. These words clearly declare that God saves by mercy and on account of His promise, not that it is due on account of the value 214] of our works. But at this point the adversaries play wonderfully with the words of Christ. In the first place, they make an antistrophe and turn it against us. Much more, they say, can it be said: “If we have believed all things, say, We are unprofitable servants.” 215] Then they add that works are of no profit to God, but are not without profit to us. See how the puerile study of sophistry delights the adversaries, and although these absurdities do not deserve a refutation, nevertheless we will reply to them in a few words. The antistrophe is defective. 216] For, in the first place, the adversaries are deceived in regard to the term faith; because, if it would signify that knowledge of the history which is also in the wicked and in devils, the adversaries would be correct in arguing that faith is unprofitable when they say: “When we have believed all things, say, We are unprofitable servants.” But we are speaking, not of the knowledge of the history, but of confidence in the promise and mercy of God. And this confidence in the promise confesses that we are unprofitable servants; yea, this confession that our works are unworthy is the very voice of faith, as appears in this example of Daniel 9:18, which we cited a little above: We do not present Our supplications before Thee for our righteousnesses, etc. 217] For faith saves because it apprehends mercy, or the promise of grace, even though our works are unworthy; and, thus understood, namely, that our works are unworthy, the antistrophe does not injure us: “When ye shall have believed all things, say, We are unprofitable servants;” for that we are saved by mercy, we teach with the entire Church. 218] But if they mean to argue from the similar: When you have done all things, do not trust in your works, so also, when you have believed all things, do not trust in the divine promise, there is no connection. [The inference is wrong: “Works do not help; therefore, faith also does not help.” We must give the uncultured men a homely illustration: It does not follow that because a half-farthing does not help, therefore a florin also does not help. Just as the florin is of much higher denomination and value than the half-farthing, so also should it be understood that faith is much higher and more efficacious than works. Not that faith helps because of its worth, but because it trusts in God’s promises and mercy. Faith is strong, not because of its worthiness, but because of the divine promise.] For they are very dissimilar, as the causes and objects of confidence in the former proposition are far dissimilar to those of the latter. In the former, confidence is confidence in our own works. In the latter, confidence is confidence in the divine promise. Christ, however, condemns confidence in our works; He does not condemn confidence in His promise. He does not wish us to despair of God’s grace and mercy. He accuses our works as unworthy, 219] but does not accuse the promise which freely offers mercy. And here Ambrose says well: Grace is to be acknowledged; but nature must not be disregarded. We must trust in the promise of grace and not 220] in our own nature. But the adversaries act in accordance with their custom, and distort, against faith, 221] the judgments which have been given on behalf of faith. [Hence, Christ in this place forbids men to trust in their own works; for they cannot help them. On the other hand, He does not forbid to trust in God’s promise. Yea, He requires such trust in the promise of God for the very reason that we are unprofitable servants and works can be of no help. Therefore, the knaves have improperly applied to our trust in the divine promise the words of Christ which treat of trust in our own worthiness. This clearly reveals and defeats their sophistry. May the Lord Christ soon put to shame the sophists who thus mutilate His holy Word! Amen.] We leave, however, these thorny points to the schools. The sophistry is plainly puerile when they interpret “unprofitable servant,” as meaning that the works are unprofitable to God, but are profitable to us. Yet Christ speaks concerning that profit which makes God a debtor of grace to us, although it is out of place to discuss here concerning that which is profitable or unprofitable. For “unprofitable servants” means “insufficient,” because no one fears God as much, and loves God as much, and believes God as much 222] as he ought. But let us dismiss these frigid cavils of the adversaries, concerning which, if at any time they are brought to the light, prudent men will easily decide what they should judge. They have found a flaw in words which are very plain and clear. But every one sees that in this passage confidence in our own works is condemned.
223] 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. 224] 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. 225] 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 226] 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.