This article is concerned with the every day life of a believer and reads as follows:
"Although good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of Gods judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known, as a tree discerned by its fruits."
The following Scriptures support the article: Matthew 5:16; Matthew 7: 16-20; John 15:8; Romans 3:20; 4:2; 4:6; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 1:11; Titus 3:5; James 2:18, 22; 1 Peter 2:9, 12.
This article first appeared in Parkers revision of the Articles of Religion in the early years of Elizabeths reign. The first clause was, no doubt, taken from the Confession of Wurtemberg, but the phrase "follow after justification" was taken from a treatise by Saint Augustine.
The object of the Article was two fold, to combat the extremes taught by Rome and Luther.
The Roman Church taught that good works were a means to justification from sin. The Roman Churchs teaching is definitely stated in the following assertion: "We must needs believe that to be justified nothing further is wanting, but that they may be accounted to have, by those very good works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and truly to have merited eternal life, to be obtained also in due time if they shall have departed in Grace.
The Roman Church also stated in its Canon: "I fancy one shall say that the good works of a man that is justified are in such wise the gift of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified, or that the said justified, by the good works which are performed by him through the Grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life, if so be, however, that he depart in grace, and moreover, an increase of glory--let him be anathema."
Luther in his teachings went to the opposite extreme. He declared that any and all of mans efforts were sinful. He said, "Even the best work is a venial sin." The result was that, in the case of Luther, all good works were depreciated and Antinomianism and Solifidianism were widely spread.
Both of these groups taught that as long as one believed in Christ, he could do as he pleased, yet, would merit, by faith alone, eternal life. However, they failed to teach that when a man is truly born again in Jesus Christ, that while he is free to do as he pleases, he pleases to do Gods will.
John Fletcher, vicar of Madalay, and contemporary with Wesley refuted this teaching in his famous work, "Checks to Antinomianism." The heresy of Antinomianism is prevalent today and it would be well to read the writings of Fletcher again. A new edition of these checks is much needed for this purpose.
It was to protect the Church against both errors that this article was inserted. It is so worded as to guard against false views on either side.
The main statements of the Article may be summed up in the following statements:
1. Good works are the fruits and the results of faith, and the evidence of it. Ephesians 2:10; James 2:18-26.
2. They follow after justification. Ephesians 2:10.
3. They have not merit in themselves, and cannot endure the severity of Gods judgment.
4. Yet they are acceptable to God in Christ.
The Roman and Lutheran divines looked at good works from opposite sides, and were consequently led into exaggerated statements in different directions. The Anglican Article by its balanced statements endeavors to do justice to both sides of the whole truth on the subject of which it treats, and seems to recognize that in every "good work" there are two factors, a human and a Divine. In so far as the doer of the work is following the leading of grace it is good; in so far as he is not, there is an element of sinfulness in the work.
Good works cannot be excluded as a proof of justification as both Paul and James taught and this in accordance with the teachings of Christ. However, good works are not a substitute for grace and cannot exclude the necessity of Christs atonement. Good works should be the natural expression and the fruit of the invoking of the Holy Spirit which we received when we believed.
If we were to perform all evangelical duties to the utmost of our powers, aided by Gods Spirit, when we have done our best, Christ tell us to count ourselves as unprofitable servants. (Luke 17:10; Luke 19:17). We have no claim upon the favours of God because of our good works, but through the merits of Jesus Christ alone.
However, Scripture does teach that when we do these good works out of love for Christ and to His glory we shall receive a full reward. (I Corinthians 3:10-16). Likewise, this passage also teaches that works done in the flesh for praise or reward, will be destroyed, and we shall suffer loss.
Good works are a result of the fruits of justification and not a means to it. We are saved by grace alone through faith in
Jesus Christ. But we prove that faith, by working the works of Him who called us, which are, to the world, a proof of our
justification in Christ.