A Laymen’s Commentary on the Augsburg Confession: Repentance

Article XII: Of Repentance.

1] Of Repentance they teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism there is remission of sins whenever they are converted 2] and that the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to repentance. Now, repentance consists properly of these 3] two parts: One is contrition, that is, 4] terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of 5] the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts 6] the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance.

To all who are repentant, absolution is freely given.  To those who are not Baptized and repentant, Baptism should be given as soon as possible.  We are to be free with God’s gifts as they are given to all who have a troubled conscience (Jeremiah 3:6-25).

There are two parts of Repentance.  Contrition, that is being condemned by the Law and struck with the terrors of the Law.  The second part is faith which trusts the promise of God to be merciful. That is, for Christ’s sake your sins are forgiven (Romans 10:5-21).

Repentance is passive in its reception of Absolution.  It trusts the promise of God and the proclamation of that promise by the Pastor.  Afterwards good works follow faith (Galatians 5:22-23). However, our forgiveness is not predicated on our good works following.  Just because we continue sinning does not mean that God did not forgive us the first time or every time we flee to him.

7] They condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified can lose the Holy Ghost. Also those who contend that some may attain to such 8] perfection in this life that they cannot sin.

The Anabaptists believe that you cannot lose faith or the Holy Spirit after conversion.  They also say that if you did lose your faith it means that you never had it in the first place. This is similar to the Calvinist belief of the Perseverance of the Saints. Anabaptists also teach, similar to the Methodists and Nazerenes, that you can obtain a state of perfection in this life.

Both of these are condemned by the Reformers.  Scripture teaches the Parable of the Sower with regards to losing faith (Matthew 13). Also, we have Romans 7 where Paul speaks of Simul Iustus Et Peccator (simultaneously justified and sinner) with regards to Christian perfectionism.

9] The Novatians also are condemned, who would not absolve such as had fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance.

The Novatians (AD 200-258) taught that once you lost your faith you could never return.  This is condemned by the Reformers.  For Scriptural proof see David and Bathsheba (1 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51), the denial of St. Peter (John 18, 21) as well as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).

10] They also are rejected who do not teach that remission of sins comes through faith but command us to merit grace through satisfactions of our own.

Finally, we have the Roman abuses of requiring penance to acquire the forgiveness of sins.  As has been previously established, the forgiveness of sins is to be given freely without works required.  That is not to say that penance is not useful or should not be assigned, but rather that forgiveness should not be predicated on it.  We are justified by Christ’s work alone, not by our own. We receive that justification as a free gift, no matter how many times we fall.

The Confutation disapproves of this article.  They say that repentance has three parts: confession, contrition, and satisfaction.  They also say that faith comes before repentance.

On the subject of whether faith is included in Repentance Melancthon responds:

1] In the Twelfth Article they approve of the first part, in which we set forth that such as have fallen after baptism may obtain remission of sins at whatever time, and as often as they are converted. They condemn the second part, in which we say that the parts of repentance are contrition and faith [a penitent, contrite heart, and faith, namely, that I receive the forgiveness of sins through Christ]. [Hear, now, what it is that the adversaries deny.] They [without shame] deny that faith is the second part 2] of repentance. What are we to do here, O Charles, thou most invincible Emperor? The very voice of the Gospel is this, that by faith we obtain the remission of sins. [This word is not our word, but the voice and word of Jesus Christ, our Savior.] This voice of the Gospel these writers of the Confutation condemn. We, therefore, can in no way assent to the Confutation. We cannot condemn the voice of the Gospel, so salutary and abounding in consolation. What else is the denial that by faith we obtain remission of sins than to treat the blood and death of Christ with scorn? 3] We therefore beseech thee, O Charles, most invincible Emperor, patiently and diligently to hear and examine this most important subject, which contains the chief topic of the Gospel, and the true knowledge of Christ, and the true worship of God [these great, most exalted and important matters which concern our own souls and consciences, yea, also the entire faith of Christians, the entire Gospel, the knowledge of Christ, and what is highest and greatest, not only in this perishable, but also in the future life: the everlasting welfare or perdition of us all before God]. For all good men will ascertain that especially on this subject we have taught things that are true, godly, salutary, and necessary for the whole Church of Christ [things of the greatest significance to all pious hearts in the entire Christian Church, on which their whole salvation and welfare depends, and without instruction on which there can be or remain no ministry, no Christian Church]. They will ascertain from the writings of our theologians that very much light has been added to the Gospel, and many pernicious errors have been corrected, by which, through the opinions of the scholastics and canonists, the doctrine of repentance was previously covered.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XIIa (V) 1-3

 

59] But as the adversaries expressly condemn our statement that men obtain the remission of sins by faith, we shall add a few proofs from which it will be understood that the remission of sins is obtained not ex opere operato because of contrition, but by that special faith by which an individual believes that sins are remitted to him. For this is the chief article concerning which we are contending with our adversaries, and the knowledge of which we regard especially necessary to all Christians. As, however, it appears that we have spoken sufficiently above concerning the same subject, we shall here be briefer. For very closely related are the topics of the doctrine of repentance and the doctrine of justification.

60] When the adversaries speak of faith, and say that it precedes repentance, they understand by faith, not that which justifies, but that which, in a general way, believes that God exists, that punishments have been threatened to the wicked [that there is a hell], etc. In addition to this faith we require that each one believe that his sins are remitted to him. Concerning this special faith we are disputing, and we oppose it to the opinion which bids us trust not in the promise of Christ, but in the opus operatum of contrition, confession, and satisfactions, etc. This faith follows terrors in such a manner as to overcome them, and render the conscience pacified. To this faith we ascribe justification and regeneration, inasmuch as it frees from terrors, and brings forth in the heart not only peace and joy, but also a new life. We maintain [with the help of God we shall defend to eternity and against all the gates of hell] that this faith is truly necessary for the remission of sins, and accordingly place it among the parts of repentance. Nor does the Church of Christ believe otherwise, although our adversaries [like mad dogs] contradict us.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XIIa (V) 59-60

It is clear from this that the Roman Catholics and the Reformers have two different definitions of faith.  As has been clearly demonstrated previously, faith, which is the trust in the promises of God, is necessary for salvation.  We must believe. Else, what will hold on to the Absolution? Confession and Absolution go together.

On the subject of Satisfactions (penance):

16] And from this rite of public repentance there has been left the word “satisfaction.” For the holy Fathers were unwilling to receive the fallen or the notorious, unless, as far as it was possible, their repentance had been first examined into and exhibited publicly. And there seem to have been many causes for this. For to chastise those who had fallen served as an example, just as also the gloss upon the decrees admonishes, and it was improper immediately to admit notorious men to the communion [without their being tested]. These customs have long since grown obsolete. Neither is it necessary to restore them, because they are not necessary for the remission of sins before God. 17] Neither did the Fathers hold this, namely, that men merit the remission of sins through such customs or such works, although these spectacles (such outward ceremonies] usually lead astray the ignorant to think that by these works they merit the remission of sins before God. But if any one thus holds, he holds to the faith of a Jew and heathen. For also the heathen had certain expiations for offenses through which they imagined 18] to be reconciled to God. Now, however, although the custom has become obsolete, the name satisfaction still remains, and a trace of the custom also remains of prescribing in confession certain satisfactions, which they define as works that are not due. We call them canonical satisfactions. 19] Of these we hold, just as of the enumeration, that canonical satisfactions [these public ceremonies] are not necessary by divine Law for the remission of sins; just as those ancient exhibitions of satisfactions in public repentance were not necessary by divine Law for the remission of sins. For the belief concerning faith must be retained, that by faith we obtain remission of sins for Christ’s sake, and not for the sake of our works that precede or follow [when we are converted or born anew in Christ]. And for this reason we have discussed especially the question of satisfactions, that by submitting to them the righteousness of faith be not obscured, or men think that for the sake of these works they obtain remission of sins. 20] And many sayings that are current in the schools aid the error, such as that which they give in the definition of satisfaction, namely, that it is wrought for the purpose of appeasing the divine displeasure.

21] But, nevertheless, the adversaries acknowledge that satisfactions are of no profit for the remission of guilt. Yet they imagine that satisfactions are of profit in redeeming from the punishments, whether of purgatory or other punishments. For thus they teach that in the remission of sins, God [without means, alone] remits the guilt, and yet, because it belongs to divine justice to punish sin, that He commutes eternal into temporal punishment. They add further that a part of this temporal punishment is remitted by the power of the keys, but that the rest is redeemed by means of satisfactions. Neither can it be understood of what punishments a part is remitted by the power of the keys, unless they say that a part of the punishments of purgatory is remitted, from which it would follow that satisfactions are only punishments redeeming from purgatory. And these satisfactions, they say, avail even though they are rendered by those who have relapsed into mortal sin, as though indeed the divine displeasure could be appeased by those who are in mortal sin. 22] This entire matter is fictitious, and recently fabricated without the authority of Scripture and the old writers of the Church. And not even Longobardus speaks in this way of satisfactions. 23] The scholastics saw that there were satisfactions in the Church; and they did not notice that these exhibitions had been instituted both for the purpose of example, and for testing those who desired to be received by the Church. In a word, they did not see that it was a discipline, and entirely a secular matter. Accordingly, they superstitiously imagined that these avail not for discipline before the Church, but for appeasing God. And just as in other places they frequently, with great inaptness, have confounded spiritual and civil matters [the kingdom of Christ, which is spiritual, and the kingdom of the world, and external discipline], the same happens also with regard to satisfactions. 24] But the gloss on the canons at various places testifies that these observances were instituted for the sake of church discipline [should serve alone for an example before the Church].

Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XIIb (VI) 16-24

The church can require penance but only for the sake of discipline.  Forgiveness should never be predicated on penance being accomplished.  Rather, penance should be done to curb the flesh. Penance, however, is not required by God’s Law.  Melancthon goes on to rehash many previous arguments so we will leave the rest of the Apology on this topic as an exercise for the reader.

1 When in the hour of deepest need
We know not where to look for aid;
When days and nights of anxious thought
No help or counsel yet have brought,

2 Then is our comfort this alone
That we may meet before Your throne
To You, O faithful God, we cry
For rescue from our misery.

3 For You have promised, Lord, to heed
Your children’s cries in time of need
Through Him whose name alone is great,
Our Savior and our Advocate.

4 And so we come, O God, today
And all our woes before You lay;
For sorely tried, cast down, we stand,
Perplexed by fears on ev’ry hand.

5 O from our sins, Lord, turn Your face;
Absolve us through Your boundless grace.
Be with us in our anguish still;
Free us at last from ev’ry ill.

6 So we with all our hearts each day
To You our glad thanksgiving pay,
Then walk obedient to Your Word
And now and ever praise You, Lord.

(LSB 615)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.