One great advantage as an Anglican is the fixed order of public worship and daily prayer. In the same way a Dutch Reformed believer is refreshed by the Heidelberg Catechism in their evening worship every Lord's Day, the Anglican is strengthened in the liturgy that sets our worship and public prayer in the Articles of Religion. Continuing through the Thirty-Nine Articles, the next section is on the believer's response to God's graciously giving himself to his people in justification. An Anglican rejoices that the truly good news of the gospel is that we are brought into God's house, we enter his courts, and we will dwell with him forever by the meritorious work of Christ alone. As a necessary corollary then, Articles 12, 13, and 14 set out to define biblically and to expose the errors of our gratitude displayed in our good works.
XII—Of Good Works
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s Judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
Archbishop Parker added this article in 1563. The summary we have here may find fuller expression in the Anglican Homilies (4 and 5) that concern our faith and its fruit in our good works in Christ. The article describes our good works after justification as being the fruits of faith in our sanctification. But they are unable to put away our sins and endure the severity of God’s judgment. In other words, we must not confuse our justification with our sanctification. Our good works cannot put away our sins. There is no merit in them. But the more tender conscience may be encouraged to know that what we do “in Christ” is pleasing and acceptable to our heavenly Father.
Notice also how faith and good works assumes this union: insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit. Time and again the Homilies underline that our faith does not lie idle in our hearts, but it is “lively” and “fruitful” that is, an absence of good works after justification is contrary to his or her new nature in Christ. Homily 5 goes into greater detail concerning what manner of good works this lively faith produces is in no sense to be considered the same as the “papistical superstitions and abuses” that are meant to bestow merit. Rather the moral law of the Ten Commandments summarizes the manner of our good works. As we read in article 7 on the Old Testament that “…no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.” It is for this reason that Cranmer in his order for the Lord’s Supper in the Book of Common Prayer clearly distinguished between the sacrifice of Christ in our justification there, that is on Calvary, the offering of our obedient sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our sanctification in Christ in his prayers of oblation, or self-offering now, that is after we have received his sacrament symbolizing Christ’s death:
And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.
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 works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
There is great comfort in these prayers to know God has planned the good works in which He wants us to walk because they then remind us why we were created and the purpose for which we were redeemed (Eph. 2.8-10). Our lives are not random and meaningless. At every point, there is a good work for us to walk in. God needs no one and no thing to make him glorious. He is the origin and author of his glory. But it is his work of redemption that is the most amazing way in which he manifests his glory in creation. Because he glorifies himself by calling us, by calling you and me, sinful as we are, to participate in his glory. God glorifies his people and enables them to reflect his glory through their worship and obedience in their lives each day.
The bond between God and his people in union with Christ that is set out so well in Cranmer’s order for the Lord’s Supper and here in article 12, also sets the logical order to our good works. There are many benefits that are ours in God’s house that we have through Christ. But there are many things that must happen to afford those benefits to us. We must be justified. We must be sanctified. We must be adopted in his family. There is an essential distinction then, between our justification due to the grace of God alone and our sanctification, which is being affected by the inward working of the Holy Spirit as we are progressively being transformed, growing in holiness or Christ-likeness.
As a reformed evangelical I stand between the Westminster Directory for Public Worship and the 1552/1662 Book of Common Prayer. The exhortations in the DPW that set out the heart of the minister of the gospel in prayer, preaching and the administration of the sacraments Anglicans should know better. The place of our good works in the prayers of humble gratitude before our heavenly Father set by the 1552/1662 Prayer Book should be better known as well.
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)
- Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 2 (Art. 10)
- Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 3 (Art. 11)