Augsburg Confession – Article 18 – Free Will

Articles 17 & 18 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 17, click here.)

Regarding free will, this is what we teach: Humans have a free will to a certain extent. They have the ability to live an outwardly honorable life and can make choices among those things that pertain to reason.1 But without the grace, help, and working of the Holy Spirit they are not capable of becoming pleasing to God, of fearing or believing God from the heart, or of expelling the innate, evil inclinations from their hearts. This rather takes place through the Holy Spirit, who is given through God’s word. For Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2, “The natural man understands nothing from the Spirit of God.”2

And so that it may be recognized that we are not teaching anything new and strange, we include here the clear words of Augustine on free will, from the third book of his Hypognosticon:3

We concede that there is a free will in all people, for all of them have natural, innate understanding and reason. We are not saying that they are capable of dealing with God in some respect, such as loving and fearing God from the heart; only in the outward works of this life do they have freedom to choose good or evil. By “good” I mean what their nature is capable of, such as working in the field or not, eating or drinking, going to see a friend or not, putting on or taking off a piece of clothing, taking a wife, pursuing a trade, and doing something useful and good of that sort. Of course without God none of these exists or continues; everything is from him and through him. On the other hand, man can also undertake something evil by his own choice, such as bowing down to an idol, committing a murder, etc.

(To continue to Article 19, click here.)

Notes

1 Some examples of such choices are provided in the quote at the end of the article. Cf. also Wade Johnston, An Uncompromising Gospel (Irvine, CA: New Reformation Publications, 2016), pp. 13-14: “[In his Heidelberg Disputation] Luther…addressed the problem of free will—the existence, or lack of existence, of free will in matters of salvation. Here Americans bristle, but we must remember that Luther isn’t talking about whether or not we can choose Big Macs or Whoppers, vanilla or chocolate custard, but whether or not we can decide to be saved, whether we can choose to do what is necessary for us to be righteous.”

2 For more proof passages, see Genesis 6:5 (before the Flood); 8:21 (after the Flood); John 3:5,6; 8:31-36; 15:16; Romans 8:6-8.

3 Like the quote from Ambrose in Article 6 (see Note 2 there), this quote from Augustine is not actually from Augustine. It is usually attributed to Pseudo-Augustine, a title that can apply to a number of as-yet unidentified authors. However, the work is ancient; it was already being falsely attributed to Augustine in the 800s AD, and it was obviously preserved because it was thought to be of value. The work is usually called Hypognosticon or Hypomnesticon contra Pelagianos et Coelestianos, which means An Instructive Letter Against the Pelagians and Coelestians. The original Latin quote can be found in col. 1623 (Book 3, Chapter 4, par. 5) here.

Here is a supporting quote actually taken from Augustine: “A man’s free-will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he knows not the way of truth… God’s ‘love is shed abroad in our hearts,’ not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but ‘through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us’” (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 3, par. 5; original Latin quote in col. 203 here).

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