A Laymen’s Commentary on the Augsburg Confession: Repentance

This is part 13 of 30 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Augsburg Confession

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)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon


A Laymen’s Commentary on the Augsburg Confession: Repentance — 5 Comments

  1. Dear Dr. Edmon:
    There are some fundamental flaws in the teaching about Repentance in the Book of Concord that, unfortunately, make it impossible to portray a truly Scriptural view of the subject. The whole matter revolves about the teaching in the following sentence:
    “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).”
    It is indisputable that, according to the Book of Concord, faith is the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, strictly speaking, when we lose faith, we do not lose “our” faith, but the faith we have received as a gift, through the Holy Spirit. This is “the Sin against the Holy Spirit,” which will not be forgiven.
    Did David, St. Peter or the Prodigal Son “lose” the faith they had received as a gift? If they did, then they would have committed “the Sin against the Holy Spirit,” for which there is no forgiveness. This is confirmed by Hebrews 6:4-6, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”
    It is impossible to gauge the harm done by the erroneous teaching that David and St. Peter (I am not going to argue about a person in a parable) “lost faith” and then regained it. How many people have doubted their faith because of this teaching, when there was no reason to? Nowhere does Scripture teach this. How ridiculous is it to argue that, since David, in Psalm 51, asks God not to take the Holy Spirit from him, that God had taken the Holy Spirit from him. Since faith is a gift from God, only He can determine who has it, and who does not. We have been given the clear teaching of Scripture just before the teaching about “the Sin against the Holy Spirit, Matthew 12:31, “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
    David committed a terrible sin. It is not that adultery can be overlooked, but here is what God said to David, after telling David that He, God, had given David his master’s wives, 2 Samuel 12:8, “and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.” It was the fact that David had used his power as king, to take the life of the husband of the woman he wanted. As bad as it was, it was a sin against the Fifth, Sixth and Tenth Commandments, not a “Sin against the Holy Ghost.”
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  2. @George A. Marquart #1

    So George, what is your view? You often contend with the Lutheran view of certain doctrines, but I can’t remember seeing clearly and simply what you yourself believe. I’m sure you’ve stated it, but to be honest it’s the critiques of the Book of Concord and comments here and there that might offer a glimpse into what you believe that I remember.

    For example, sometimes you sound like you believe in “once saved always saved.” But I seem to remember that you deny that viewpoint. No problem.

    Here today it seems like you might believe that there can come a time when one loses the Holy Spirit and that’s it, it’s gone forever. There’s a certain way of understanding that, which I believe is Scriptural. I think the problem with the Novatians was that they believed it was something they could judge, rather than God alone. And that’s where they erred. But I could be wrong and I’m certainly open to correction.

    I don’t see how this viewpoint as any more comforting at all than what’s in the Book of Concord. According to this viewpoint I’d walk around all day long fearing for that one time I screw up and it’s over.

    Since it’s not anymore comforting I’m guessing that also isn’t what you believe and I may be misunderstanding.

    So again, if you don’t mind. Could you spell out what you hold to as far as this topic is concerned?

    Thanks so much!

  3. @T-rav #2

    Thank you for your comments, T-rav.
    First of all, what I believe is what Scripture clearly teaches, and not anything different. It is not a matter of what I believe or do not believe, it is a matter of what Scripture clearly teaches. Using my posting above, I will state in simple postulates what I believe Scripture teaches, or for that matter does not teach:
    1. Scripture nowhere teaches that David or St. Peter lost faith and the Holy Spirit. It should be noted, and I do not want to complicate the matter, but the clear teaching of Scripture compels me, that the relationship between the Holy Spirit and members of the Mosaic Covenant is different from that in the New Covenant. This is clearly shown in two sayings of our Lord, John 7: 37, “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified,” and, John 14: 16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” That happened to the Apostles on Easter Sunday, and to us when we were baptized.
    2. There is not a single instance in Scripture, where anyone is said to have received the Holy Spirit more than once.
    3. There is not a single instance in Scripture, where anyone has received “more” of the Holy Spirit; that is , “additional amounts” of the Holy Spirit.
    4. The Book of Concord’s teaching about mortal sin and venial sin is based on several verses from the Epistles of St. John. This is a simple misunderstanding, because where St. John speaks of mortal sin, he simply means “the Sin against the Holy Spirit,” as our Lord taught it.
    That’s it, except that I would like to address your statement, “I don’t see how this viewpoint as any more comforting at all than what’s in the Book of Concord. According to this viewpoint I’d walk around all day long fearing for that one time I screw up and it’s over.” First, I cannot adjust what Scripture teaches so that it will be more or less comforting to you. You are first going to have to decide whether what the Book of Concord asserts, in this case, is Scriptural, regardless of its comfort value. Whether you believe Scripture or the Book of Concord, the comfort is essentially the same. It has to do with what it means to be a member of the Kingdom of God, in terms of our Lord and the Holy Spirit guarding us from the arrows of the Evil One. When Luther was assailed by doubt (“Anfechtungen” he called them. Usually the word is translated as “temptations”, but it literally means “to attack with an épée.”), he would say, “I am baptized.” That means he is a child of God, and he trusts God to bring him safely into His heavenly kingdom. In addition to this, I also remember what St. Paul wrote, 1 Cor. 12: 3, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” So when doubts assail me, besides using Luther’s remedy, I say “Jesus is Lord,” and I know all is well with my soul. So as to comfort value, if you commit a mortal sin, and allegedly faith and the Holy Spirit leave you, what is the guarantee that they will return? The Book of Concord is silent on that part, except to assert, without Scriptural proof, that in the case of David they did.
    Finally thank you for remembering that I do not believe “once saved, always saved.” From what our Lord clearly taught about “the Sin against the Holy Spirit,” such a belief would be unscriptural.
    Peace and Joy
    George A. Marquart

  4. @T-rav #4

    T-rav: here is a definition of Novatianism, admittedly taken from Wikipedia, but it will do for our purposes:
    “While Novatian had refused absolution to the “lapsi” (those who had renounced their Christianity under persecution but later wanted to return to the church), his followers extended this doctrine to include all “mortal sins” (idolatry, murder, and adultery, or fornication). Most of them forbade second marriage.”
    The Church eventually decided, and rightly so, that lapsed Christians, even those who had sacrificed to the Roman gods, should be readmitted, with certain conditions. Augsburg Confession, Article XII, “Of Repentance”, “9] The Novatians also are condemned, who would not absolve such as had fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance.”
    Therefore, the fundamental sin of the Novatians was that they limited the Gospel contrary to Scripture. Judging what only God could judge was part of it, but that is a generalization, which probably cannot be found in the historical record. It is enough to know the specifics of their beliefs, to oppose them.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

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