From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
In this opinion there are many great and pernicious errors that would be tedious to enumerate. Let the discreet reader consider only this: If this is Christian righteousness, what difference is there between philosophy and the doctrine of Christ? If we earn the remission of sins by these deceitful acts, of what benefit is Christ? If we can be justified by reason and the works of reason, of what need is Christ or regeneration? These opinions have caused the matter to come the point that many ridicule us because we teach that something other than philosophic righteousness must be sought. We have heard that some have set aside the gospel, and instead of a sermon, explain the ethics of Aristotle. Indeed, such men did not err if those things that the adversaries defend are true. For Aristotle wrote so learnedly about civil morals that nothing further concerning this is necessary. We see books in which certain sayings of Christ are compared with the sayings of Socrates, Zeno, and others, as though Christ had come for the purpose of delivering certain laws through which we might merit the remission of sins, as though we did not receive this freely because of his merits. Therefore, if we receive the doctrine of the adversaries—that by works of reason we earn remission of sins and justification—there will be no difference between philosophic—or certainly pharisaic—and Christian righteousness.
Pulling It Together
Do not suppose that Melancthon will not list some other errors as he develops this Article. By saying, "consider only this," he causes us to clearly see the main error that the Lutherans' opponents make. Their error was equating human philosophy with the work of God in Christ. If Christianity is simply another philosophy, then Christ and the cross offer no distinctive benefit to sinners. If one may earn a righteous standing before God through reason and philosophy, then why did God need to send his Son? If we may be justified with God by earning grace through reason then why do we hear that God gives grace freely? The error of the opponents reduces Christianity to pharisaism—one that makes a new law to keep, a law of reason and philosophy. But the Lutheran boast is in Christ and his cross alone, foolishness to the world but the very wisdom of God.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me trust in your work on the cross instead of my works and reason. Amen.
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