I am unable to express this article, concerning sanctification, in better terms, (as we have already stated,) than simply to say, that by it the office of the Holy Ghost is indicated and described, namely, that his province is to sanctify. We must insist, therefore, that the term Holy Spirit is the most expressive that can be employed. For there are various spirits made mention of in the Scriptures; as for instance, human spirits, heavenly spirits, and evil spirits; but the Spirit of God alone is called Holy Spirit; that is, who has sanctified us and still sanctifies. For as the Father is called Creator, the Son Redeemer, so also should the Holy Spirit, on account of his office, be called a Sanctifier, or one who sanctifies. But how is this sanctification accomplished? Reply:– In the same manner as the Son obtains dominion, by gaining us through his nativity, death, resurrection, &c., the Holy Spirit accomplishes this sanctification, through the following means, namely, through the communion of saints or the Christian church, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life; that is, he first leads us into his holy communion, and lays us in the bosom of the church, through which he teaches us and leads us to Christ.
For neither I nor you could ever know any thing of Christ or believe in him, and approach the Lord, if it were not offered and freely given to us through the preaching of the Gospel by the Holy Ghost, through whom this work is performed and accomplished; for Christ gained and obtained this treasure by his suffering, death, and resurrection. But if it should remain in obscurity, unknown to any one, it would be vain and utterly lost. But in order that this treasure might not remain buried in obscurity, but that it might be applied and enjoyed, God sent forth his Word to be preached and revealed to all; in which Word the Holy Ghost is given to bring home unto us this treasure, this redemption, and to appropriate it to us. Wherefore, this act of sanctification is nothing else but bringing us to Christ the Lord, for the purpose of receiving this blessing, to which we are unable to arrive by our own powers.
Learn, then, to understand this article in the clearest manner, so that when you are asked what you understand by the words, I believe in the Holy Ghost, you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost sanctifies or makes me holy, as the name implies. But by what means does he do this? or what is the method and medium employed in accomplishing it? Answer:– Through the Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life. For in the first place, he has his own church in the world, which is the mother that bears and nourishes every Christian through the Word of God, which the Holy Ghost reveals and enforces,– animating and enlightening the hearts of men, so that they may comprehend and embrace it, adhere and cleave to it.
For if he does not have it preached, and awaken it in the heart, so as to be understood, it is of no avail, as was the case under the Papacy, where faith was wholly suppressed, and no one acknowledged Christ as Lord, or the Holy Ghost as the Power that sanctifies; that is, no one believed Christ to be that Lord who obtained this treasure for us, and reconciled us to the Father, without our works and merits. Wherein was the deficiency? In this, that the Holy Ghost, who might have revealed and preached these things, was absent; but human and evil spirits attended, who taught us to obtain grace and to be saved through our works. It was, therefore, no Christian church; for wherever Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Ghost constituting and assembling the Christian church, without whom no one can come to Christ the Lord. Let this suffice, then, concerning the sum and substance of this article; since, however, the parts enumerated in it, are not altogether clear to the inexperienced, we shall also consider them.
The Creed calls the holy Christian church Communionem Sanctorum, a communion of saints,– terms perfectly equivalent. But formerly the latter clause was not employed; and it is also unhappily and unintelligibly rendered in German eine Gemeinschaft der Heiligen, a communion of saints. If we should render it clearly, we must express it quite differently according to the German idiom; for the Greek word Ecclesia signfies strictly an assembly; but we are accustomed to the little word Kirche, church, which the illiterate do not understand as referring to an assembled multitude, but to the consecrated house or edifice; however, the sacred house should not be called a church, unless because a multitude of persons convene in it. For we who assemble, make and assign for ourselves a particular place, and designate the house by the name of the multitude.
Thus the little word Kirche, church, properly signifies nothing else but a common assembly; and it is not of German, but of Greek origin (as also the word ecclesia); for they call it in their language , as it is called also in Latin curia. It should therefore be called eine Christliche Gemeine oder Sammlung, a Christian community or congregation, or most appropriately and clearly, eine heilige Christenheit, a holy Christianity.
Wherefore, also the word communio, which is attached, should be interpreted, not Gemeinschaft, communion, but Gemeine, community. And this is nothing else but a definition by which some one wished to explain what the Christian church is. That word some among us, unacquainted both with the German and the Latin language, rendered Gemeinschaft der Heiligen, communion of saints, when at the same time no dialect of the German is thus spoken or understood. But to speak proper German, it should be called eine Gemeine der Heiligen, a community of saints, that is, a community in which there are pure saints; or still more clearly, eine heilige Gemeine, a holy community. These remarks I make, in order that the words Gemeinschaft der Heiligen, communion of saints, may be understood; for, since they have thus obtained currency, it would be difficult to abolish them; and, on the other hand, to change a word, would instantly be branded with heresy.
The following, however, is the true import of the words which were added,– Communion of saints:I believe that there is a holy congregation and community on earth, of pure saints, under one head Christ, called together through the Holy Ghost, in one faith, mind, and understanding, with various gifts– yet concordant in love, free of heresy and dissension. I also believe that I am a part and member of these, a participant and copartner of all the blessings which they have,– brought in and incorporated with them, by the Holy Ghost, through my having heard, and still continuing to hear the Word of God,– which is the first step towards entering into this community. For before we had come to this, we were entirely the subjects of Satan, as those who knew nothing of God and Christ. Thus until the last day, the Holy Ghost will remain with this holy community or Christian church, through which he persuades us, and which he uses for the purpose of promulgating and exercising the Word; by which he effects sanctification, extending the church, so that it daily increases, and becomes stronger in faith and the fruits which he produces.
We, moreover, further believe that in this Christian church we have forgiveness of sins; which takes place through the holy sacraments and absolution, and besides, through all consolatory passages of the whole Gospel. All, therefore, that is to be taught concerning the sacraments; in short, the whole Gospel, and all the offices of the Christian church, which are also necessary to be exercised continually, here find their application. For, although the grace of God is obtained through Christ, and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Ghost, through the Word of God, in the unity of the Christian church; yet we are never free from sin, in consequence of our flesh, with which we are still encumbered.
All things in the Christian church, therefore, are so arranged that we may daily obtain full remission of sins through the Word and the signs, instituted for the purpose of consoling and elevation our consciences, while we continue in this life. Thus the Holy Ghost procures this happy end for us that, even if we are contaminated with sins, they still cannot injure us, since we are in the Christian church; in which there is full remission of sins, both because God forgives us, and because we forgive one another, mutually bearing with each other, and assisting one another. Out of the Christian church, however, where the Gospel does not exert its influence, there is no forgiveness of sins, and, consequently, there can be no holiness. Therefore, all those have separated and excluded themselves from this church, who wish to seek and merit holiness, not through the Gospel and the remission of sins, but through their own works.
But inasmuch as sanctification is commenced, and daily increases, we are awaiting the time when our flesh shall have perished, with all its imperfections, and when it shall have been raised again in complete holiness, in a new and eternal life. For now we exist only partially pure and holy; and it is necessary for the Holy Ghost continually to operate on us through the Word, and daily to impart forgiveness, till we, in a future life, in which there will be no more forgiveness, but completely and entirely pure and holy persons full of piety and righteousness, removed and freed from sin, death, and every misfortune, shall enjoy a new, immortal, and glorious life.
Behold, all this is the office and work of the Holy Ghost, who begins our sanctification here upon earth, and daily increases it by these two agencies,– the Christian church, and forgiveness of sins. But when we shall pass into the future life, in the twinkling of an eye, he will perfect it by the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, and he will preserve us eternally in that holiness.
This is the article, then, which should continually prevail and continue in operation. For we now have creation complete; and so is redemption also accomplished: but the Holy Ghost exerts his agency without intermission, until the final day; and for that purpose he has ordained a community or church upon earth, through which he speaks, and performs all things; for he has not yet brought together all his followers, nor entirely imparted remission. For this reason, we believe in him, who daily advances us in holiness through the Word, and gives us faith, increasing and strengthening it through this same word and remission of sins; in order that, when all this shall have been accomplished, and we remain steadfast, and die unto the world and all evil, that he may finally make us entirely and eternally holy; for which, through the Word, we now await in faith.
Behold, here you have the whole essence, the will, and operation of the Divinity, portrayed wtih great elegance, and yet in very few but expressive words. In this consists all our wisdom; it transcends all the wisdom and the intelligence of man. For all this wisdom of the world, although every effort were made to discover what God is, what he has in view, and what he is doing, is still unable to obtain a proper view of either of these. But here you enjoy it all in rich abundance; here in these three articles, he himself has opened and unfolded the depths of his paternal heart– his own pure ineffable love. For he has created us for the very purpose of redeeming and sanctifying us; and besides placing in our possession all that is in heaven and on earth, he has also given us his Son and the Holy Spirit, through whom he brings us unto himself. We could never (as we have shown above) be able to perceive the favor and grace of the Father, unless it should be through Christ the Lord, who is a mirror of his Father's benevolence, and without whom we see nothing but a wrathful and a terrible Judge; nor could we know any thing of Christ, if he were not revealed to us by the Holy Ghost.
These articles of the Creed separate and distinguish Christians from all other persons on earth. For those who are not in the Christian church, no matter whether they be Pagans, Turks, Jews, or hypocrites, even if they believe in, and worship only one true God, still do not know what his will towards them is; neither can they look to him for any love or kindness: wherefore they remain under perpetual wrath and condemnation. For they have not Christ the Lord, and besides, they are not enlightened and favored with any gifts through the Holy Ghost.
Hence you perceive, that the doctrine of the Creed is quite different from that of the Ten Commandments. For these teach, indeed, what we are to do; but the former states what God does for us, and what he gives unto us. The Ten Commandments are also inscribed on the hearts of all men; but the Creed no human wisdom is able to comprehend, and it must be taught by the Holy Ghost alone. The doctrine of the former is, therefore, insufficient to make Christians; for the wrath and indignation of God even yet remain upon us, because we are unable to observe that which God requires of us; but the latter confers upon us pure grace, making us pious and acceptable in the sight of God. For through this knowledge we are disposed to love all the commandments of God, because in it we perceive how God gives himself wholly and entirely, with all that he has and possesses, for aid and assistance in observing the Ten Commandments– the Father with all his creatures, Christ with all his works, the Holy Spirit with all his gifts. Let this suffice, in reference to the Creed for the present, to lay a foundation for the inexperienced, so as not to overburden them; in order that, after having learned to understand the sum and substance of it, they may pursue the study of this subject to a greater extent themselves, and refer to it whatever they may have learned in the Scriptures, ever increasing and growing in a more enlarged understanding. For by teaching and studying these things daily, while we remain here in this life, scarcely ever shall we sufficiently learn or teach them.