ARTICLE XVIII. Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ.
They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ whereby men must be saved.
It is remarkable that every canon recording a decision of the Council of Trent ends with the words “Let him be anathema.” The word only occurs once in the Latin of Article XVIII and is translated “They also are to be had accursed.”
An equally strong expression finds a place in Article XXXI which describes the sacrifices of Masses” as ‘‘‘blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.” This is not an accident. The Reformers were very jealous of the honour of our Lord Jesus Christ and hence they denounced with added vigour any opinion which in their judgment trenched on the glory of His person and work.
Article XVIII is directed against an error which we fear is very prevalent today. Many people think and say that “all that is necessary is to lead a good life. If you are sincere in what you believe and do God will look with favour upon you and forgive you any sins you may commit.” The Reformers, quite rightly, regarded such an attitude as wholly dishonouring to our Lord Jesus Christ. If I can be saved by my own sincerity why was it necessary for God to send His Son into the world to bear my sin?
At the time of the Reformation many strange opinions were aired, just as they are aired today. The Renaissance, with its revival of learning, had upset very many cherished beliefs. The result, the same as that which happened when Greek thought flourished, was that frequently the bewildered individuals felt that nothing was stable. They could not readily distinguish between fixed settled truth and fluctuating unstable human tradition and so they shaped new fancies for themselves. New ideas, even if they are merely the restoration of old ideas, very frequently occasion these mental ferments. The Article insists that, as the older heading to it expresses it, “Only in the name of Christ is eternal salvation to be expected.”
It is worth noticing the cautious language of the Article. It does not say “in the Church of Jesus Christ” nor even “in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” Some expositors are not so wary. Thus Beveridge in his anxiety to table the Fathers on his side quotes “St. Augustine or Fulgentius” as saying, “Firmly believe, and doubt not at all, but that not only all pagans, but also all Jews, heretics, and schismatics, that end this present life without the Catholic Church shall go into eternal fire, which is prepared for the Devil and his angels.” Indeed he goes further and cites the fourth Council at Lateran as saying expressly, “But there is one universal Church of the faithful, out of which there is none at all saved.” A literal interpretation of these passages, and others like them, led to the horror of the Inquisition and the slaughter of many innocent servants of God.
Bishop Burnett, after a much more lengthy exposition, presents, we believe, the essential meaning of the Article much more clearly. He concludes: “So, in a word, all that are saved are saved through Christ; but whether all these shall be called to the explicit knowledge of him is more than we have any good ground to affirm.”
The Name of Jesus
It is of the utmost importance, in view of the two erroneous conclusions which have been drawn concerning the way of salvation, that we should adhere very closely to the text of the Article. The emphasis is laid on “the Name of Jesus Christ.” A careful reading of the New Testament makes clear that “name” stands for “the person and work.” As Dr. Davidson puts it: “Among the Hebrews the name was never a mere sign whereby one person could be distinguished from another. It always remained descriptive; it expressed the meaning of the person or thing designated. The name bore the same relation to the significance of the thing or person designated as a word does to a thought,” (A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, p. 46). When the Article, therefore, says that we obtain salvation only in the Name of Jesus Christ, it asserts explicitly that, apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ, no human being can ever obtain eternal life.
The appeal to Holy Scripture is abundantly justified. Peter, shortly proclaimed to the company of priests and scribes assembled to try him, “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). St. Paul emphasised the same truth in his speech on Mars Hill. God, he told the Greeks, “had appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by in that man whom he hath ordained, whereby he hath given assurance unto all men that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31).
Can Sincerity Save?
There is no occasion to multiply passages. It is made abundantly clear that it is only through the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ that salvation can be obtained. “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). To suggest that sincerity can save us, or a diligent observance of those religious practices in which we have been nurtured, is to contradict the express teaching of God’s Word.
The Article does not say that all who are saved must have an explicit knowledge of God’s complete purpose. To do so would seem to contradict the testimony that the ancient followers of God had the same spirit of faith as we have. The Article does not presume to set up an earthly tribunal before which men can be tested as to their adherence to Christ. But wisely, and within the strict limits of revelation, it points out that all salvation springs from Christ Jesus. Out of him, man cannot be saved.
From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, September 26, 1957. This article is part of our Articulate series, listening to T.C. Hammond unpack the 39 Articles one by one.