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§ 49. Of Good Works.

Renovation makes itself known by good works. [1] By these we understand such acts as are performed by the regenerate 492in accordance with the divine will, [2] whether they be outward visible acts or inward acts, impulses, and movements in man. [3] They are called good works, not as though they were good and perfect in themselves, [4] for such cannot be performed by sinful men, [5] but because they are the outgrowth of a good disposition, well pleasing to God, and because they proceed from the faith of one who is reconciled to God. [6] They cannot be produced, therefore, until man has been regenerated, because not until then does such a disposition, wrought by the Holy Ghost and well pleasing to God, dwell in man, and not until then has he become able to do what is good; [7] wherefore, even those acts of the unregenerate which externally correspond with the divine Law cannot at all be called good works. [8] Such good works, however, must be wrought by the regenerate; not, indeed, as though they had thereby to justify themselves before God, or to merit their salvation (for unless they were already justified, they could not perform good works), but because they thereby show their obedience toward God, whose will it is that He be honored by a holy life and good deeds, and at the same time, through them, demonstrate the actual existence of such a believing disposition. Where this exists it inwardly impels to the performance of good works with the same necessity with which the good tree produces good fruits. [9] This necessity is, therefore, no compulsion imposed from without upon man, nor does it destroy his Christian liberty; rather, this exhibits itself by the very fact that man now, with the inward pleasure, and under promptings of his own, can accomplish what the Law of God demands of him. [10] And for this he has a right, too, to expect reward from God; but this is a gracious reward, and the prospect of such reward is not the leading motive for the performance of such good works. [11]

[1] BR. (607): “To the doctrine concerning renovation belongs 493that of good works, which partly are related to renovation as an end and effect, and partly have respect to its formal reason.”

[2] HOLL. (1190): “Good works are free acts of justified persons, performed through the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit, according to the prescription of the divine Law, true faith in Christ preceding, to the honor of God and the edification of men.”

[3] AP. CONF. (III, 15): “We profess, therefore, that there is a necessity for the Law to begin in us and to increase more and more. And we embrace both together, viz., spiritual emotions and external good works.” HOLL. (1190): “By works here are understood not only external visible actions (which proceed from the hand or tongue), but internal affections of the heart and movements of the will, and thus the entire obedience and inherent righteousness of the regenerate. A distinction is, therefore, to be made between internal and external good works. The former are seen by the eyes of God alone, and comprise the inner thoughts of the mind, the movements of the will, and the pure affections of the heart (such as love, the fear of God, confidence towards God, patience, humility). The latter are seen not only by God, but likewise by man, and manifest themselves by outward demeanor, words, and actions. It has seemed good to holy men of God to use the appellation of works rather than habits or affections, as all the praise of true virtue consists in action, and as external works are more known than internal qualities and affections; finally, as the works of the regenerate alone are deserving of the praise of good works.” QUEN. (IV, 306): “A good work is that which God commands, and which is done with the disposition, manner, and purpose for which it has been commanded.” HOLL. (1198) adds also: “A good intention is to be accounted among good internal works.”

[4] HOLL. (1190): “The works of regenerate and justified men are called good, not absolutely, as if they were perfectly good, but in their kind, because (a) they derive their origin from the good Spirit of God, Ps. 143:10; (b) they proceed from a good heart, Matt. 12:35; (c) they are in some degree conformed to the good will of God, expressed in the Law, Rom. 12:2; And (d) they design a good end, the glory of God.” QUEN. (IV, 306): “The works of the regenerate, in themselves considered, are not perfectly good, but are rendered sordid and polluted by the stain of sin; but in Christ they are perfectly good, and in such a sense that what is not done in them is pardoned through and on account of Christ, and what is wanting to their perfection is compensated for by the imputation of the most perfect obedience of Christ.”


[5] Much more, all good works are imperfect. HOLL. (1199): “The good works of regenerated and renovated men do not reach that degree of perfection that they cannot increase (Eph. 4:15), nor do they perfectly correspond to the divine Law (Rom. 7:14), nor are they so complete that they can sustain the rigid scrutiny of divine justice (Ps. 143:2), but they are imperfect (James 3:2).” BR. (612): “Since sin has entered the world, and adheres tenaciously even to regenerate men, so that the flesh constantly strives against the Spirit, it happens that we do not do the things that we would (Gal. 5:17). And so, sometimes, in the circumstances of good actions, we err and stumble, or do not operate with that promptitude and alacrity which are due, but with diminished zeal; or we pollute our works, however good, by an inordinate self-love attending or following.” In this is already embraced the rejection of works of supererogation (works not due, to which man is not bound by the divine precept). HOLL. (1202): “As the works of the regenerate, to the performance of which they are bound by the divine Law, are not perfect, much less are those which they are not bound to do performed in a perfect manner.”

[6] HOLL. (1191): “The source through which the renewed man performs good works is true and living faith in Christ (Gal. 5:6), which is called the cause of good works by emanation (Matt. 5:16).” The form or formal reason of good works is, therefore, “when they are considered absolutely and in themselves, the εννομια or conformity with the Law of God (which is the rule and canon of good works); but, when reference is had relatively to the special favor of God, so far as, although they may not exactly correspond to the Law, they nevertheless please God, their form is faith in Christ.” (Id. 1193.)

GRH. (VIII, 14): “Since the works of even the regenerate are imperfect and impure, therefore, that they may please God, it is necessary that faith in Christ should be added, on account of whom apprehended by faith, not only the person, but likewise the good works, of the regenerate please God. Hence it is said that faith is the form of good works in the regenerate.” AP. CONF. (III, 68): “’Works,’ which although they are performed in the flesh not yet entirely renovated, which retards the motions of the Holy Spirit and imparts some of its own impurity, nevertheless on account of faith are holy and divine works, the offerings and administration (politia) of Christ, showing His kingdom before the world.” HOLL. (1193): “Although these works are imperfect and impure, they are nevertheless acceptable to God, because their stains are covered with the veil of Christ’s most perfect obedience, which the 495regenerate apply to themselves and make their own by faith.” As the adequate and infallible rule of good works is designated: “The divine Law, comprehended in the Decalogue, which perfectly and sufficiently commands the things to be done, and prohibits the things that are to be shunned, Deut. 12:32.” HOLL. (1192): But the conscience of the renewed (1 Cor. 4:4) is discarded as a primary and simply infallible rule; much more the dictates of right reason, and the law of nature, though the former may have authority as a secondary norm, so far as it applies the divine Law to a particular or single action, and shows what is to be done here and now. Even the Gospel is not the norm or directive principle of good works, but rather a conferring principle (because it confers the Holy Spirit, through whose impulses, and communication of strength and co-operation we do good), and productive (because it produces faith, the basis of every good action). Comp. FORM. CONC. (Sol. Dec., VI, 10 sq.): “It is distinctly to be explained, what the Gospel contributes to the new obedience of believers, and what (as to the good works of believers) is the office of the Law. For the Law teaches that it is the will and command of God, that we should lead a new life; but it does not give us strength and faculties with which we can commence and afford the new obedience. But the Holy Spirit, who is given and received by the preaching not of the Law but of the Gospel, renews the heart of man. Afterwards the same Spirit uses the ministration of the Law, that by it He may teach the regenerate, and show them in the Decalogue what is that good and acceptable will of God (Rom. 12:2), that they may know what good works are to be observed, as those which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).”

[7] AP. CONF. (III, 4): “Because faith brings the Holy Spirit and produces a new life in the heart, it is necessary that it should produce spiritual affections in the heart. After we are justified by faith and regenerated, we begin to fear God, to love, to ask and expect assistance of Him . . . we begin likewise to love our neighbors, because our hearts have spiritual and holy emotions. These things cannot take place unless, being justified by faith and regenerated, we receive the Holy Spirit . . . . Likewise, how can the human heart love God while it perceives Him to be dreadfully angry, and to be oppressing us with temporal and perpetual calamities? But the Law always accuses us, and constantly shows that God is angry. Therefore, God is not loved till after we have obtained mercy through faith.”

[8] FORM. CONC. (IV, 8): “Although those works which tend 496to the preservation of external discipline (such as are performed also by unbelievers and men not converted to God, and are indeed required of them) have their dignity and praise before men, and are honored by God with temporal rewards in this world, yet as they do not proceed from true faith, they are really sins before God, that is, contaminated with sin, and are reputed as sins and impurity by God, on account of the corruption of human nature, and because the individual is not reconciled to God, Matt. 7:18; Rom. 14:23.”

HOLL. (1193): “The upright works of unregenerate men (whether they be out of the Church or have an external connection with it, GRH. (VIII, 6)), which contribute to external order and the preservation of society, are civilly and morally to some extent good; but they are not good theologically and spiritually, nor do they please God; and, therefore, inasmuch as they are destitute of the constituents of really good works, they are properly called splendid sins.” When, for instance, on the basis of Rom. 2:14, it is conceded, that even the unregenerate may do the things of the Law, this is thus restricted: “The will of man can in some measure attain civil righteousness, or the righteousness of works; can speak of God; can worship God in an external manner, obey the magistrate, and parents in the selection of worldly pursuit; can restrain the hands from slaughter, from adultery, from theft.” AP. CONF. (VIII, 70). But spiritually good works are thus characterized: “(1) They are the fruits of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22. (2) They are performed by persons reconciled to God through Christ. (3) They proceed from a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned. 1 Tim. 1:5. (4) They are spontaneous and free actions. (5) They are directed to the glory of God.” (HOLL., 1194.) The requisites of truly good works are wanting, therefore, in the works of the unregenerate, and in addition, “This defect of their actions is not supplied by the imputation of another’s righteousness, since the unregenerate do not accept and apply to themselves by faith the vicarious obedience of Christ.” HOLL. (ib.). Further it is admitted, that such an action is not only in its outward manifestation good and right, but that in addition good is done by it, yet it is not really good on the account, as it is not produced in the right spirit. QUEN. (IV, 312): “Although, therefore, some of the actions of unregenerate men are not vicious in themselves and as to their substance, they are nevertheless, by way of accident vicious, viz., because they are devoid of the requisites of really good works before God. Wherefore, when even the virtuous actions of unbelievers are called sins by Augustine, Luther, and 497others, it is not in respect to the very matter or substance of the actions, nor so far as they are undertaken and performed according to the views of right and wrong remaining in this corrupt nature since the Fall (for in this manner we grant that they are good), but in respect to the efficient, formal, and final cause of works, by which their good or bad quality is to be estimated in God’s judgment, to wit, because their works are polluted and contaminated by sins, as they are not performed by a person reconciled to God, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, nor to the glory and honor of God.”

[9] AP. CONF. (III, 68): “The works are to be done on account of the command of God; likewise, for the exercise of faith; further, on account of confession and giving of thanks.” QUEN. (IV, 308): “Good works are not indifferent or arbitrary, but evidently necessary for every man, particularly for the regenerate, though not by a necessity of constraint. Good works should be spontaneous and free, not constrained. For they are necessary, neither to acquire salvation (as a means), nor to earn salvation (as a merit), nor to attain salvation (as an indispensable condition or cause), nor to reach it (as a mode of coming to a final goal), nor, finally, to preserve it (as a conserving cause). But we hold good works to be necessary, by the necessity, (1) of the divine command, Mal. 1:6; Matt. 5:44; (2) of our duty, or of gratitude due for the benefits of creation, redemption, etc.; (3) of presence (that believers may not lose the grace of God and faith, and fall from the hope of the inheritance, although not by reason of an efficacy of the work to obtain righteousness and salvation); (4) of a divinely appointed order and sequence to justification and faith because as effects they necessarily follow their cause.” The FORM. CONC. (Epit. IV) decides in regard to the expressions: “Good works are necessary to salvation;” “good works are injurious to salvation,” thus: “This is our belief, doctrine, and confession, I. That good works as surely and undoubtedly follow true faith as the fruits of a good tree. II. That good works are to be entirely excluded, not only when justification by faith is the subject, but even when our eternal salvation is discussed. III. All men indeed, especially when they are regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit, are under obligation to do good works. IV. And in this statement the words necessary, due, ought, are used correctly, for they do not conflict with regeneration and the form of sound words. V. But by the words necessity, necessary, when, for instance, the subject is the regenerate, constraint is not to be understood, but only that due obedience, which true believers, inasmuch 498as they are regenerate, perform, not by compulsion or by the force of the Law, but with a free and spontaneous spirit . . . . VI. We confess that, when it is said, that the regenerate do good works with a free and spontaneous spirit, this is not to be taken in such a sense as though it were left in the will of regenerate man to do good or evil, as he thinks proper, and nevertheless to retain his faith although he may intentionally remain in sin.” The two expressions (good works are necessary, injurious to salvation) are rejected as liable to misapprehension.

[10] HOLL. (1203): “Good works are not actions free from the necessity of obligation or duty, but are said to be actions free from the necessity of constraint (because they are not extorted by the threats of punishment, or externally, and in appearance, performed contrary to the will), and of immutability (since the will is no longer determined to the constant thought and perpetration of evil, as before conversion; but can freely choose, and do good works by supernatural strength, received from the Holy Spirit; can likewise choose evil works by the remains of the flesh, still adhering to it, since it is not determined to good as the angels are); and are performed by the regenerate, freed from the servitude of sin by the Holy Spirit (John 8:36; Rom. 6:18; 2 Cor. 3:17).”

[11] AP. CONF. (III, 73): “We teach that rewards are proposed and promised to the works of believers. We teach that good works are deserving, not of pardon, grace, or justification (for we obtain these solely by faith), but of other bodily and spiritual rewards in this and a future life.”

HOLL. (1215): “The regenerate have respect in the performance of good works, first, to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31); second, they may have respect with filial affection to the remunerations of this and a future life, not as a due reward or master’s compensation, but as gratuitous gifts and divine blessings, to terminate ultimately in the glory of God (1 Tim. 4:8).”

REMARKS — The greater part of the divines add further an article on the performance of good works, which QUEN. has most fully developed. (IV, 309): “The performance of good works in its widest extent can be called the Christian warfare. For the life of the faithful Christian is a continual spiritual warfare, Job 7:1; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:3. He fights by faith, hope, and patience. — The enemies against whom he must fight are the devil, the world, and the flesh. — The arms of the spiritual warfare are described, 2 Cor. 10:4, 5; Eph. 6:10-17; 1 Pet. 5:8. — The standard under which we fight is the banner of the cross, Matt. 16:24. — Definition: This Christian warfare is a daily contest, and an eternal enmity 499to everything which is opposed to the will of God and His kingdom.” Upon this follow the chapters, “(1) on the cross, which is painful suffering, sent by God, as a merciful Father, to believers for a limited time, to the glory of the author and the salvation of the sufferer (351); (2) on prayer, a religious act, by which the Christian calls as a suppliant on the Triune God and Christ the God-man, . . . with true confidence of heart, relying on the merit of the Mediator alone and His intercession, to the glory of God and his own and others’ salvation.” (354) (HOLL. treats only of prayer, BR. of neither.)

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