A Laymen’s Commentary on the Smalcald Articles: Sin

This is part 7 of 9 in the series A Laymen's Commentary on the Smalcald Articles

THE THIRD PART OF THE ARTICLES.

Concerning the following articles we may [will be able to] treat with learned and reasonable men, or among ourselves. The Pope and his [the Papal] government do not care much about these. For with them conscience is nothing, but money, [glory] honors, power are [to them] everything.

If the previous four articles are accepted by the council or at least if the discussion can get beyond them, then the following articles can be discussed with those who have cooler heads and are learned.  Luther is pessimistic about that being the case, yet he goes on to write Part III.  In this part he will walk through the rest of Christian faith, confessing what he has taught and what the Lutherans believe.

Part III, Article I. Of Sin

1] Here we must confess, as Paul says in Rom. 5:12, that sin originated [and entered the world] from one man Adam, by whose disobedience all men were made sinners, [and] subject to death and the devil. This is called original or capital sin.

Sin entered the world by one man Adam.  With that sin it brought death to all of creation and made us subjects of Satan.  This is the curse of original sin. This fact alone rules out evolution as a possibility for Christians as evolution only works by death and death did not exist until Adam fell.  Not only that but it is almost impossible to have a single Adam be the origin of an entire species in evolutionary theory as evolution is a gradual process.  Thus Justification itself breaks down if original sin does not exist and Adam is not its origin (Romans 5:12-21).

2] The fruits of this sin are afterwards the evil deeds which are forbidden in the Ten Commandments, such as [distrust] unbelief, false faith, idolatry, to be without the fear of God, presumption [recklessness], despair, blindness [or complete loss of sight], and, in short not to know or regard God; furthermore to lie, to swear by [to abuse] God’s name [to swear falsely], not to pray, not to call upon God, not to regard [to despise or neglect] God’s Word, to be disobedient to parents, to murder, to be unchaste, to steal, to deceive, etc.

Furthermore the fruit of this original sin is further transgressions against the Ten Commandments.  Original Sin is the origin of actual sin.  We sin because we are sinners. It is an ontological state.  This does not mean that humans are sin as will be discussed in the Formula of Concord (Galatians 5:16-26).

Notice that Luther here focuses on the First Table of the Law, leaving the Second Table as a brief statement at the end.  This is because, as detailed in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the papists did not really consider the First Table of the Law as important with regards to actual sin.  They certainly would confess that sins against the First Table are sins, but they would say that a noble heathen could be saved and could do good works. This contradiction is something that the Reformers point out reminding us that the First Table is more important than the second. For even if one were to do all civil good it would still mean nothing without believing and worshiping the one true God.

3] This hereditary sin is so deep [and horrible] a corruption of nature that no reason can understand it, but it must be [learned and] believed from the revelation of Scriptures, Ps. 51:5; Rom. 6:12ff ; Ex. 33:3; Gen. 3:7ff

This sin is so corrupting that we cannot even comprehend it.  Rather sin is an article of faith. Recall how hard it is for us to think of children as sinful, or see others who seem like good people condemned to Hell.  All of this is a misunderstanding of how deep sin is ingrained in us (Genesis 3, Psalm 51, Romans 6).

So far is our corruption.  By natural reason we think we are good and try to self justify.  We think that we can attain moral perfection by our own works and reason. However reason does not correctly discern how utterly fallen we truly are. Rather divine revelation is necessary to show us the depth of the corruption of our nature.  For the Lord demands perfection in all things which we are not able to accomplish by our corrupted natural powers (Matthew 5).

Hence, it is nothing but error and blindness in regard to this article what the scholastic doctors have taught, namely:

4] That since the fall of Adam the natural powers of man have remained entire and incorrupt, and that man by nature has a right reason and a good will; which things the philosophers teach.

5] Again, that man has a free will to do good and omit evil, and, conversely, to omit good and do evil.

6] Again, that man by his natural powers can observe and keep [do] all the commands of God.

7] Again, that, by his natural powers, man can love God above all things and his neighbor as himself.

8] Again, if a man does as much as is in him, God certainly grants him His grace.

9] Again, if he wishes to go to the Sacrament, there is no need of a good intention to do good, but it is sufficient if he has not a wicked purpose to commit sin; so entirely good is his nature and so efficacious the Sacrament.

10] [Again,] that it is not founded upon Scripture that for a good work the Holy Ghost with His grace is necessary.

11] Such and many similar things have arisen from want of understanding and ignorance as regards both this sin and Christ, our Savior, and they are truly heathen dogmas, which we cannot endure. For if this teaching were right [approved], then Christ has died in vain, since there is in man no defect nor sin for which he should have died; or He would have died only for the body, not for the soul, inasmuch as the soul is [entirely] sound, and the body only is subject to death.

All of the above statements (paragraphs 4-10) by the scholastics are rejected as false.  Some of them we have heard even in our time. After all the same heresies occur time and time again (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

All of these stem from a failure to comprehend how broken we are.  We are spiritually dead. Just as dead as a dead corpse. When God said “You will surely die”, we did.  Spiritually we are dead and our body soon follows. To say otherwise makes Christ’s death for naught. We would be able to save ourselves.  Or Christ at least only died for the body, for the soul would be considered undefiled. To think the above is fundamentally gnostic and Plegian.  We cannot free ourselves from our sin, Christ alone is our Savior, both body and soul.

1. All mankind fell in Adam’s fall,
One common sin infects them all;
From sire to son the bane descends,
And over all the curse impends.

2. Through all man’s powers corruption creeps
And him in dreadful bondage keeps;
In guilt he draws his infant breath
And reaps its fruits of woe and death.

3. From hearts depraved, to evil prone,
Flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone;
God’s image lost, the darkened soul
Nor seeks nor finds its heavenly goal.

4. But Christ, the second Adam, came
To bear our sin and woe and shame,
To be our Life, our Light, our Way,
Our only Hope, our only Stay.

5. As by one man all mankind fell
And, born in sin, was doomed to hell,
So by one Man, who took our place,
We all received the gift of grace.

6. We thank Thee, Christ; new life is ours,
New light, new hope, new strength, new powers:
May grace our every way attend
Until we reach our journey’s end!

(LSB 562)

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

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