A Laymen’s Commentary on the Smalcald Articles: The Chief Article


Treats of the Articles which Refer to the Office and Work of Jesus Christ, or Our Redemption.

Part II, Article I: The first and chief article.

1] That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25.

2] And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1:29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53:6.

3] Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freely, and without their own works or merits] by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3:23f

4] Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3:28: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. Likewise 3:26: That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ.

5] Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.

Justification is the beating heart of the Reformation and the chief article of Scripture.  Justification is the declaration of our righteousness by God due to Christ’s death on the cross for our sins.  By this death we are justified before God, namely, we are declared free from sin and blameless before the Judgment seat of the Most High.  Therefore the Lord cannot condemn us for our sins for they have been removed from us and all He sees is the perfection Christ has granted us by this great exchange (Romans 3-4).

Christ is the Sacrifice of Atonement.  We deserve nothing by death and Hell for our sin against God the Father.  This price must be paid as God is a just God who enforces His Law. Thus it was necessary if we were to be saved for a substitute to be prepared, some act to satisfy the demands of the Law.  Thus Christ, perfect God and perfect Man, was sent to our world to suffer and die. He took on all our sin and death and died in our place. This sacrifice fulfilled all the sacrifices of the Old Testament and was the one and only true Sacrifice of Atonement, that is the payment required by God to clear our debt to Him such that we may be made right with God (John 1:19-34).

This act was prophesied throughout the Law and the Prophets.  The entire Old Testament pointed forward to this sacrifice. The entire sacrificial system was an image of what God was going to do for us with His Servant Jesus Christ (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

Justification belongs to Christ alone.  We do not gain Justification by any work.  Rather faith trusts the promises of God and is justified.  This Justification was won objectively on the cross 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ and is now delivered to us subjectively via the Word and the Sacraments.  All of this is pure gift, with no merit or worthiness in us. We do nothing to earn this gift, this is not something we could ever hope to obtain on our own.

This is the central article of the faith.  The one on which the church stands or falls.  Without this article, all of Christianity is meaningless and void.

No one is saved outside of this faith. It is only by Christ and no other that we are saved. No other god saves like this, nor can any man hope to gain heaven by any other means (Acts 3-4).

We can compromise nothing of this Article. Everything depends on it.  This is the center and core of everything. Without it we are lost and our theology is in shambles.  If this article is lost, Satan wins. We must never capitulate or give an inch on the article of Justification.  This is the Chief Article of Faith.

1. Salvation unto us has come
By God’s free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.

2. What God did in His Law demand
And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.

3. It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
That sinners should themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.

4. From sin our flesh could not abstain,
Sin held its sway unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain,
Our gilt was e’er increasing.
None can remove sin’s poisoned dart
Or purify our guileful heart,-
So deep is our corruption.

5. Yet as the Law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and hath God’s anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He hath for us the Law obeyed
And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

6. Since Christ hath full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Thy grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Thy death is now my life indeed,
For Thou hast paid my ransom.

7. Let me not doubt, but trust in Thee,
Thy Word cannot be broken;
Thy call rings out, “Come unto Me!”
No falsehood hast Thou spoken.
Baptized into Thy precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.

8. The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes men conscience-stricken;
The Gospel then doth enter in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.

9. Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
Yet faith alone doth justify,
Works serve thy neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.

10. All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God that saved us by His grace,-
All glory to His merit!
O Triune God in heaven above,
Who hast revealed Thy saving love,
Thy blessed name be hallowed.

(LSB 555)

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