Article 10 is the second part of the Thirty-Nine Article’s explanation of our guilt. Article 9 describes our actual condition before God regarding our total depravity. It also makes it clear that while sin persists in the believer, God's work in Christ does not condemn the believer. Article 10 continues the same theme in setting the limitations on our free will and our need of God’s grace. Indwelling sin binds the will of fallen humanity thereby making them unable to chose God or to respond to the gospel by their strength.
X— Of Free-Will
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.
Archbishop Parker added the first clause from the text of the Württemberg Confession, a confession of faith in 35 articles compiled by Johannes Brenz (1499-1570) for presentation to the Council of Trent in 1552. But we should not draw the conclusion that Brenz’s influence makes our articles more Lutheran than Reformed, as some Anglicans suggest. As the later Harmony of the Confessions of Faith (1581) shows, both the Württemberg and the Articles are used in defense of Reformed doctrine against the Roman Catholic and Lutheran. Archbishop Cranmer took the second clause of the original article almost word-for-word the Latin from St. Augustine’s De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio (Chapter 33).
Article 10 teaches four doctrines, the subsequent three based upon the first, our spiritual helplessness: “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God.” We are powerless to do God’s will. Sin is not, as the Roman Catholic taught, merely a tendency or a weakness towards doing wrong things, but was a status of death. And a dead man or woman can make no effort at all.
The article next underlines our need of God’s grace and mercy. The second doctrine is God’s response to our helplessness: “Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ.” God’s mercy was manifested, established, demonstrated in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here then is our comfort. The believer, however, could stand before a holy God as a righteous person if he threw himself upon God’s mercy and grasped Christ by faith and was clothed with Christ’s righteousness.
The third head of doctrine is in how the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ must be the primary work. We are unable to want it or even of understanding God’s grace in the Lord Jesus Christ until we receive it as a gift: "The grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will.” “Prevent” being used here in the older sense of “precede.” There needed to be a transformation of the heart, so when God works in our lives, he gives us a right understanding of what is good according to his will. And we gain a desire to do it.
The fourth doctrine is in the continual working of God’s grace in our sanctification: “and working with us when we have that good will.” When we compare Article 10 with the other historical formularies, we find that The Book of Common Prayer makes repeated reference in the pattern of Anglican worship to our day-to-day need of God’s grace through the work of the Holy Spirit.
- In the services of morning and evening prayer the minister prays: “O God, make clean our hearts within us.” The people then answer: “And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.”
- The Collect (Public Prayer) for Easter Day says: “As by thy special grace preventing us… so by thy continual help.”
- Then on the Lord’s Days after Trinity Sunday: “We, who cannot do anything that is good without thee” (9th); “Make us love that which thou dost command” (14th); “The frailty of man without thee cannot but fall” (15th); “Thy grace may always prevent and follow us” (17th); “Without thee we are not able to please thee” (19th).
- The second Prayer of Oblation after Holy Communion likewise says: “And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good work as thou hast prepared us to walk in.”
- And in one of the Collects that follow it, we read: “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help.”
The First and Second Book of Homilies teach these same doctrines.
“For it is the Holy Ghost, and no other thing, that doth quicken the minds of men, stirring up good and godly motions in their hearts, which are agreeable to the will and commandment of God, such as otherwise of their own crooked and perverse nature they should never have… As who should say, Man of his own nature is fleshly and carnal, corrupt and naught, sinful and disobedient to God, without any spark of goodness in him, without any virtuous or godly motion, only given to evil thoughts and wicked deeds: as for the works of the Spirit, the fruits of faith, charitable and godly motions, if he have any at all in him, they proceed only of the Holy Ghost, who is the only worker of our sanctification, and maketh us new men in Christ Jesu.”
“We are all become unclean: but we all are not able to cleanse ourselves, nor to make one another of us clean. We are by nature the children of God’s wrath: but we are not able to make ourselves the children and inheritors of God’s glory. We are sheep that run astray: but we cannot of our own power come again to the sheepfold; so great is our imperfection and weakness.”
"If after our fall we repent, it is by him that we repent, which reacheth forth his merciful hand to raise us up. If any will we have to rise, it is he that preventeth our will, and disposeth us thereto. If after contrition we feel our conscience at peace with God through remission of our sin, and so be reconciled again to his favour, and hope to be his children and inheritors of everlasting life, who worketh these great miracles in us? Our worthiness? our deservings and endeavours? Our wits and virtue? Nay verily: St. Paul will not suffer flesh and clay to presume to such arrogancy, and therefore saith, “All is of God, which hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ; for God was in Christ when he reconciled the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5.18-19).
God’s grace and mercy is an astonishing fact for those whom he loves. He loves those who if left to themselves, would continue hating him. When we see what we are truly, as articles 9 and 10 set out, we see what God is truly. And we know what our response must be: “Remember, I say once again, your duty of thanks: let them be never to want: still join yourself to continue in thanksgiving: ye can offer to God no better sacrifice; for he saith himself, It is the sacrifice of praise and thanks that shall honour me” (Psalm 50.23) [ibid].
For previous articles in this series, see:
- One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
- The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
- The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
- The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
- The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
- The Rule of Faith: Part 2 (Art. 7)
- The Rule of Faith: Part 3 (Art. 8)
- Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 1 (Art. 9)