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Lectures on the Augsburg Confession

by Theological Seminary of the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States


"Our churches likewise teach, that since the fall of Adam, all men who are naturally engendered are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God or confidence towards him, and with sinful propensities; and that this disease, or original sin, is truly sin, and still condemns and causes eternal death to those who are not born again by baptism and the Holy Spirit.

"They condemn the Pelagians and others, who deny that natural depravity is sin, and who, to the disparagement of the glory of Christ's merits and benefits, contend that man may be justified before God by the powers of his own reason."

THE subject of the second Article of the Augsburg Confession is one of the most important and difficult within the whole range of theological thought. The connection of the fall of Adam with the universality of sin in his posterity, though always shrouded in mystery for human speculation, will never lose its practical bearing upon human conduct.

The Confession itself is the expression of a renewed experience of the great facts of sin and grace—a re-assertion of the cardinal doctrines of the gospel. The statements in this Article are evidently made in the interest of the great subject of gratuitous justification and sanctification, through the mediation of the blessed Saviour and the agency of the Holy Spirit. Luther was led, by personal experience, down into the depths of consciousness, where the thoughts accuse, or excuse, one another, and up to the heights of divine light, where the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness of men. The sinfulness and condemnation, the helpless guilt and hopeless depravity of man, were to him facts of consciousness; the freeness and fulness of the divine salvation, matters of personal experience. As his experience was of the same marked kind with that of Augustine, so is there a similarity between his anthropological views and those of this distinguished father in the Church. And as the Reformation started from a practical point of view, so is the Augsburg Confession a practical expression of the cardinal doctrines involved in this great spiritual revolution of Christendom.

The Papacy had appropriated the ecclesiastical errors of Augustine and the anthropological errors of Pelagius. The scholastic theology had degenerated into the superstition of the Augustinian ecclesiasticism, and the scepticism of the Pelagian anthropology— the mere opus operatum of the one, and the mere external morality of the other. The Reformers rejected the errors of both; but they adopted the great fundamentals of the Augustinian anthropology. A deep consciousness of sin led Luther to receive the doctrine of organic connection with Adam in the fall; to pronounce natural depravity a positive corruption of human nature, an inborn enmity to God; to ascribe to man, as the consequence of it, an entire impotency to the divine life, a helpless exposure to the divine wrath— and from it, as the root, to derive all other sins. Hence the Augsburg Confession describes the state into which men, by natural propagation, are born, as the want of the fear of God and of confidence in God, and the presence of evil lust (concupiscentid); and regards this mass of corruption, as really sin, on account of which all who are not born again by baptism and the Holy Ghost, are condemned, and liable to eternal punishment.

The article requires attention to the origin, the contents, the character, the consequences, of this sin.

1. The origin of it, is clearly indicated in the name by which they designate it: Peccatum OriginisErbsuende. By this they mean the one original sin—the sin of origin—the inherited sin—the sin transmitted to us with the human nature—the sin received with the origin of our being. In teaching the fundamental doctrine of the Latin anthropology, they naturally use the words of Augustine, by whom it received its full enunciation. Pelagius said, that all good and evil —all praise-worthiness or blame-worthiness is in actual sin—is in actual obedience or transgression. Sin, therefore, cannot come by birth, but only from acts of free-will. Adam could not originate sin, once for all; but each individual sinner must originate the first sin in his own case—the first sin of the human nature which is in him. Augustine, on the contrary, said, that Adam, in his free self-determination, had by one sin—a peculiar sin—a sin which only the Protoplast, the First Man, could commit—a sin which could never have been committed by any of his successors in human nature—a sin which could not be repeated even by himself—a sin of which his subsequent acts of transgression, and the sins of other men, are only manifestations and developments;—had, by this one act, corrupted the human nature which was in his person, and which is in all the individuals of his posterity. It is, therefore, Peccatum OriginisErbsuende—the first sin in the world, the first sin in evtryman; the sin inherited from Adam, by every individual man, naturally engendered " since the fall." By Peccatum Originis they point to the mode and character of the origin of individual men, since the fall, as distinguished from that Jusiitia Originis, with which the individual Adam, and the human nature which was in him, came originally from the hand of God; the former, by generation, from the sinful Adam; the latter, by creation, from the holy God—the one sinful, the other holy. This sin did not begin with the origin of the human nature itself in creation. Man, generically and individually, was created holy; human nature, as a species, was created holy, and it was good, as it existed in individuals by creation; Adam was created righteous and Eve was created pure, out of the holy human nature which was in Adam. The Confessors would distinguish, with Augustine, between substance and quality in human nature, regarding the former, as coming from the immediate agency of God; the latter, as resulting from the free act act of man—would, with the framers of the Formula of Concord at a later day, have declared original sin an accident, inseparable, indeed, during the period between the sinful birth on earth, and the holy glorification in heaven, but still only an accident to human nature, and not a constituent element of its substance. Hence they do not call it Peccatum naturale, nor Peccatum naturce, but Peccatum Originis. They refer not to the mere fact of the possession of the common human nature; for that, being the result of creation, is good; nor to the mere fact of the possession of an individual human nature, for this, also, is a pure creation of God in the first individuals; but to the manner in which, since the fall, all men become partakers of the common human nature, and receive their individual being—to the fact that all men naturally engendered, since the fall, spring not by creation, but by birth from the human nature which, in and through Adam, apostatized, after it had been created in righteousness and true holiness. This is the Pcccatum Originis, the beginning and the source of all sin. This distinction is made still more clear by the phrase, "Since the fall of Adam"—no sin in created man before; nothing but sin, in the generated man, while unregenerate, after. It is, indeed, Peccatum OriginisErbsuende—for it is inherited, received at the moment of our origin—received with nature, not merely in connection with nature, or without the corruption of nature, but in such a way that it is inherent in our nature. We received it from our progenitors, they from theirs, and so on, back through all generations, until we come to Adam, who inherited nothing, and especially no sin; for he had neither father nor mother —was created, and created holy. Adam could not inherit sin from him who made him; for God would not originate sin, and he could not create it. Man, the free creature, could, and, by an act of self-determination, did originate sin, and entailed it, with its consequence, death, upon all his children. They are heirs, and it is the sin in which he involved himself and the entire human nature which was in him, that is the deplorable heritage which they all have received. "Since the fall, all men naturally engendered are born in sin;" they do not and cannot originate sin; only Adam could originate it, and only by that one sin. Not from the state of the human nature before the fall, which Adam received holy from the hand of creation, which he should have propagated holy, and which, but for that one sin, he would have propagated holy; not from the state of the human nature in which men would have been, if Adam had not fallen; but in consequence of the state of the human nature: "Since the fall of Adam, all men, naturally engendered, are begotten and born in sin;" have inherited from that original progenitor, an "inherent disease and natural depravity; are full of evil lust and inclination, destitute of true fear of God, and of true faith in him ;" and are immutably fixed in this lamentable condition, until haply they "are born again by baptism and the Holy Ghost."

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