Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XVIII

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 be 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.

De speranda æterna salute tantum in nomine Christi.

SUNT et illi anathematizandi, qui dicere audent unumquemque in lege aut secta quam profitetur esse servandum, modo juxta illam et lumen naturæ accurate vixerit, cum sacræ literæ tantum Jesu Christi nomen prædicent, in quo salvos fieri homines oporteat.

Section I. — History.

THE early fathers with great unanimity assert, that salvation is only to be had through Christ, and in the Church of Christ. So Ignatius says, “Let no one be deceived. Even heavenly beings and the glory of angels and principalities, visible and invisible, unless they believe in the Blood of Christ, even for them is condemnation.”[1] “If any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God.”[2]

Irenæus says, “The Church is the entrance to life, all who teach otherwise are thieves and robbers.”[3] “They are not partakers of the Spirit who do not come into the Church, but they defraud themselves of life.”[4]

Origen says, “Let no one deceive himself; out of this house, i. e. the Church, no one is saved.”[5]

Cyprian, in speaking of the unity of the Church, says, that “Whoever is separated from the Church is separated from the promise of the Church; that if a man have not the Church for his mother, he hath not God for his father; and that, as to be saved from the deluge it was needful to be in the ark, so to escape now, we must be in the Church.”[6]

Lactantius writes that, “if a person have not entered into, or have gone out of the Church, he is apart from salvation.”[7]

Statements in great number to the same purport might be quoted. The necessity of cleaving to Christ, of being baptized, and of belonging to the Church, is much and constantly dwelt upon; and so the rejection of baptism is often spoken of as excluding from life.

In the Recognitions of Clement, a spurious but still a very early work, we find it argued from St. Matthew, that “if a person is not baptized, not only will he be deprived of Heaven, but will not be without danger in the resurrection, however good his life may have been.”[8]

St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, “No one can be saved without baptism except the martyrs.”[9]

St. Gregory Nazianzen held, that infants who die without baptism “will neither be glorified, nor yet be punished.”[10]

And so the pseudo-Athanasius says, “it is clear that baptized children of believers go spotless and as believers into the kingdom. But the unbaptized and heathen children neither go to the kingdom nor yet to punishment, seeing they have not committed actual sin.”[11]

When the Pelagian controversy had arisen, the question was considerably agitated, as to how far it was possible for the unbaptized to be saved. And as the Pelagians underrated baptism, their opponents naturally insisted on it more strongly.

St. Augustine, the great anti-Pelagian champion, denounces, as a Pelagian error, the opinion that unbaptized infants could be saved.[12] He denies that any can be saved without Baptism and the Eucharist.[13] The Pelagians seem to have promised to infants unbaptized a kind of mean between Heaven and Hell. This Augustine utterly condemns;[14] and he himself positively asserts that no one apart from the society of Christ can be saved.[15] Baptized infants, he says, at death passed into eternal life, unbaptized into death.[16]

In the work of the pseudo-Ambrosius, which is generally attributed to a writer of the name of Prosper, who is evidently a follower of St. Augustine, we read of some infants as regenerate to eternal life, others, unregenerate passing to perpetual misery.[17]

The earlier fathers, however, though, as we have seen, strongly stating that baptism, faith in Christ, union with the Church, are the only appointed means of safety, held language far less severe than St. Augustine’s on the possibility of salvation to the heathen and the unbaptized. Justin Martyr, for instance, appears to have had the notion that ancient philosophers received some revelation from the Son of God, and so were led to oppose Polytheism.[18] Similar views must have occurred to Tertullian, who looked on Socrates as having some insight into Divine truth;[19] and thought that a kind of inspiration had reached the ancient philosophers.[20] Yet he seems to have believed the heathen generally under the dominion of the powers of darkness; and Bishop Kaye thinks his opinion of the necessity of baptism must, if he had entertained the question at all, have led him to decide against the salvability of the heathen.[21] There may, however, exist a strong persuasion of the necessity of baptism, without a decided dogmatizing on the condition of those to whom it has not been offered; and, in any case, on subjects so profound as this, we cannot always insist that any author shall be consistent with himself. Clement of Alexandria, whose sympathies were strong with the ancient philosophers, speaks of the Law as given to the Jews, and philosophy to the Greeks, before the coming of Christ. He considers philosophy as having borrowed much from Revelation, and thinks it was capable by God’s appointment of justifying those who had no opportunity of knowing better.[22]

This charitable hope concerning the salvability of the heathen, though naturally less entertained by divines who, like Augustine, were engaged in opposing Pelagianism, is not confined to the earliest fathers. St. Chrysostom, in commenting on St. Paul’s argument in the second chapter of Romans, verse 29, evidently implies, that the religious and virtuous Gentile might have been saved, whilst the ungodly Jew would be condemned.[23] On the contrary, St. Augustine, with reference to the same passage, understood by the Gentile which does by nature the things of the Law, not the uninstructed heathen, but the Gentile Christian, who does by grace the things of the Law.[24]

We have seen that Gregory Nazianzen and the pseudo-Athanasius believed in an intermediate state between Heaven and hell for heathens and infants unbaptized. In this they are followed by Pope Innocent III., and some of the schoolmen: and, no doubt, out of this arose the belief in a limbus for those children who die before baptism and before the commission of actual sin.

To proceed to the period of the Reformation: the Council of Trent anathematizes all who deny that baptism is necessary to salvation;[25] which however is not the same thing as deciding on the state of the unbaptized.

Among the foreign reformers, Zuinglius believed that all infants and heathens might partake of God’s mercies in Christ.[26] Luther denies in plain terms remission of sins to any without the Church.[27] But the Lutheran Confessions do not appear to say much on this head. Calvin, though appearing to think baptism the only means whereby elect infants could be regenerate and so saved, if they died,[28] yet argues forcibly against such as consign all unbaptized infants to damnation.[29] Still he says of the visible Church, that we have no entrance into life, unless she, our Mother, conceives us in her womb; and without her bosom is no remission of sins or salvation to be hoped for.[30]

Cranmer’s Catechism was published by him a. d. 1548. It was translated from the Latin of Justus Jonas, a Lutheran divine. Sometimes in the translation alterations were introduced by Archbishop Cranmer, or under his direction, which are peculiarly calculated to show his own opinions. One strong passage on the subject of this Article is translated literally and with all the force of the original: “If we should have heathen parents and die without baptism, we should be damned everlastingly.”[31] But another passage, which cannot be considered stronger, if so strong, is left out in the translation, apparently because Cranmer was unwilling so decidedly to dogmatize on this question.[32]

In the first Book of Homilies we read, “If a heathen man clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and do such other like works; yet because he doth them not in faith for the honour and love of God, they be but dead, vain, and fruitless works to him. Faith it is that doth commend the work to God; for, as St. Augustine saith, whether thou wilt or no, that work which cometh not of faith is nought; where the faith of Christ is not the foundation, there is no good work, what building soever we make.”[33]

Noel’s Catechism is a work drawn up long after the putting forth of the Articles, and therefore not, like the writings of Cranmer and Ridley or the first Book of Homilies, historically calculated to elucidate the Articles; yet from the approbation it received in the reign of Elizabeth, it has been looked on as of high authority in the Church of England. Its words on this subject are: —

M. Is there then no hope of salvation out of the Church?

A. Without it there can be nothing but damnation and death.”[34]

The above-cited passages show, that the English reformers strongly held the doctrine that without Christ, without baptism, apart from the Church, no salvation is offered to man, and that if we reject them, we have no right to look for it. It might even seem that they took the strong views of St. Augustine against the salvability of the heathen or of infants unbaptized, under any circumstances. Yet there are some indications of reluctance to assume so decided a position. It has already been observed, that it is very possible to assert strongly that no other means of salvation are offered, that no other hope is held out, without determining positively that all who are cut off from the means of grace, inevitably perish. Many of the fathers appear to have thought this a consistent view of the case. Calvin, as we have seen, denied salvation out of the visible Church, and yet would not allow that all unbaptized infants perish. And so Cranmer, though translating one strong passage from Justus Jonas, has left another out of his Catechism, probably because he would not pronounce definitely on the state of heathens and persons in ignorance.

As to the wording of the Article itself, it comes naturally and properly between the Article on God’s election of persons into His Church, and the Article which defines the Church itself. It condemns that latitudinarianism which makes all creeds and all communions alike, saying that all men may be saved by their own sect, so they shape their lives according to it, and to the law of nature. The ground on which it protests against this view of matters is, that the Scriptures set forth no other name but Christ’s whereby we may be saved. The opinion here condemned therefore is, not a charitable hope that persons who have never heard of Christ, or who have been bred in ignorance or error, may not be inevitably excluded from the benefit of His atonement; but that cold indifference to faith and truth which would rest satisfied and leave them in their errors, instead of striving to bring them to faith in Christ and to His Body the Church, to which alone the promises of the Gospel are made, and to which by actual revelation God’s mercies are annexed.

Section II. — Scriptural Proof.

The teaching of the Article will be sufficiently established, if we show: —

I. That Holy Scripture sets out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men may be saved.

II. That salvation is therefore offered only in the Church.

III. That accordingly, we have no right to say that men shall be saved by their own law or sect, if they be diligent to frame their life according to that law and the light of nature.

I. The first proposition appears from such passages as these, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John iii. 36). “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John xiv. 6). “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. iii. 11). “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. ii. 5, 6). “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John ii. 2). “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John v. 12). Compare Mark xvi. 15, 16; John i. 29; iii. 14, 15, 17; v. 40; x. 9; xx. 31; Acts xiii. 38; Rom. vii. 24, 25; 2 Cor. v. 18, 19; 2 Tim. i. 10; Heb. v. 9; xi. 6; xii. 2. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts iv. 12). “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts x. 43). “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts xvi. 30, 31).

II. The second proposition appears from this: —

When our Lord had offered the propitiation, by which He became the Saviour of mankind, He commissioned His Apostles to preach the Gospel and to found the Church; and “He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark xvi. 15, 16).

Accordingly, when St. Peter’s sermon at the feast of Pentecost had produced a wonderful effect on those that heard it, so that they cried, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts ii. 37, 38). And so, in like manner, whensoever persons were converted to the faith, they were at once baptized into the Church. Compare Acts viii. 12, 13, 36, 38; ix. 18; x. 47, 48; xvi. 33; xix. 5; xxii. 16, &c.

Hence, St. Peter (1 Pet. iii. 21) speaks of baptism as saving us, like the ark of Noah; for baptism places us within the Church, which, like Noah’s ark, is the place of refuge for Christ’s disciples in the flood of ungodliness around it. And St. Paul tells us, that, “As many as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. iii. 27). And as thus baptism, by placing us within the Church, puts us in a place of safety, a state of salvation, so it is the Church only which is said to be saved. Christ is called “the Head of the body the Church” (Col. i. 18), and so is said to be “the Saviour of the body” (Ephes. v. 23), of which He is the Head. He represents Himself as the Vine, and all members of His Church as branches of that Vine; and then says, “I am the Vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered” (John xv. 5, 6).

Again we read, that “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church:” &c. (Ephes. v. 25, 26, 27). And accordingly, when first God’s grace by the preaching of the Apostles was bringing men to Christ, and to the Christian faith, we are told that “the Lord added unto the Church daily such as were being saved” (τοὺς σωζομένους) (Acts ii. 47).

III. As to believe in Christ, to be baptized into His Name, and incorporated into His Church, are the appointed means to salvation; so to reject Him and continue in unbelief is the way to be lost. When the Gospel was to be preached, our Lord promised that those who believed so as to be baptized should be saved, or placed in a state of salvation; but He added, “He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark xvi. 16). So He said of those that rejected Him, “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the Name of the only-begotten Son of God; and this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John iii. 18, 19). “He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him at the last day” (John xii. 48). And to St. John He declared that “the unbelieving . . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. xxi. 8).

It is unnecessary to multiply proofs, that, as there is no salvation offered but by Christ and to those who believe and are baptized in His Name, so those who reject Him shall be rejected; and that therefore we cannot hold out the hope of salvation to those who adhere to another sect or law, as though they might be saved by that, if only they lived up to its requirements. If it were necessary to add more, we might refer to those passages in which it is declared that, after the Gospel was come, the Law of Moses, being done away, could never give salvation to those who lived under it, (see Rom. iii. 9, 23; ix. 31, 32; Gal. ii. 16, 21; iii. 21, 22; v. 2, 4, &c.) If the Law of Moses could not justify, a law which did come from God; much less can we believe that any other creed, of man’s device, could be safe for any to abide in.

The question concerning the salvability of the heathen need hardly be discussed. It is quite certain that Scripture says very little about them. Its words concern and are addressed to those who can hear and read them, not to those who hear them not. The fact appears to be, that no religion but Christ’s, no society but His Church, is set forth as the means of our salvation. Those who have these means proposed to them, and wilfully reject them, must expect to be rejected by Christ. Whether there be any mercy in store for those who, nursed in ignorance, have not had the offer of this salvation, has been a question; and it is not answered in this Article. If we have some hope that they may be saved, still we must certainly conclude, not that their own law or sect will save them, but that Christ, who tasted death for every man, and is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, may have mercy on them, even though they knew Him not.[35]


  1. Μηδεὶς πλανάσθω· καὶ τὰ ἐπουράνια, καὶ ἡ δόξα τῶν ἀγγέλων, καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες ὁρατοί τε καὶ ἀόρατοι, ἐὰν μὴ πιστεύσωσιν εἰς τὸ αἷμα Χριστοῦ, κᾳκείνοις κρίσις ἐστίν. — Ad. Smyrn. vi.
  2. ὰν μή τις ᾖ ἐντὸς τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, ὑστερεῖται τοῦ ἀρτοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ. — Ad. Ephes. v.
  3. “Hæc (h. e. ecclesia) est enim vitæ introitus; omnes autem reliqui fures sunt et latrones.” — Adv. Hær. III. 4.
  4. “Spiritus; cujus non sunt participes omnes qui non concurrunt ad ecclesiam, sed semetipsos fraudant a vita . . . . ubi enim ecclesia ibi et Spiritus Dei.” — Ibid. III. 40. See the whole chapter.
  5. “Nemo ergo sibi persuadeat, nemo seipsum decipiat; extra hanc domum, id est, extra ecclesiam, nemo salvatur.” — Homil. in Jesum Nave, III. num. 5.
  6. “Quisquis ab ecclesia segregatus adulteræ jungitur, a promissis ecclesiæ separatur. Nec pervenit ad Christi præmia, qui relinquit ecclesiam Christi. Alienus est, profanus est, hostis est. Habere jam non potest Deum Patrem, qui Ecclesiam non habet matrem. Si potuit evadere quisquam qui extra arcam Noe fuit, et qui extra ecclesiam foris fuerit, evadet.” — De Unitate Ecclesiæ. Oxf. 1682, p. 109.
  7. “Sola Catholica ecclesia est quæ verum cultum retinet. Hic est fons veritatis, hoc est domicilium fidei, hoc templum Dei: quo si quis non intraverit, vel a quo si quis exierit, a spe vitæ ac salutis æternæ alienus est.” — Lactant. Lib. IV. c. 30; see Pearson, On the Creed, p. 350.
  8. “Si quis Jesu Baptisma non fuerit consecutus, is non solum cœlorum regno fraudabitur, verum et in resurrectione mortuorum non absque periculo erit etiamsi bonæ vitæ et rectæ mentis prærogativa muniatur.” — Coteler. I. p. 501, c. 55; see also p. 551, c. 10.
  9. εἴ τις μὴ λάβῃ τὸ βάπτισμα, σωτηρίαν οὐκ ἔχει πλὴν μόνον μαρτύρων, οἳ καὶ χωρὶς τοῦ ὕδατος λαμβάνουσι τὴν βασιλείαν. — Cateches. III. 7.
  10. τοὺς δὲ μήτε δοξασθήσεσθαι, μήτε κολασθήσεσθαι περὶ τοῦ δικαίου Κριτοῦ, ὡς ἀσϕραγίστους μὲν, ἀπονήρους δὲ, ἀλλὰ παθόντος μᾶλλον τὴν ζημίαν ἢ δρασάντας. — Oratio XL. Tom. I. p. 653. Colon.
  11. τὰ δὲ ἀβάπτιστα καὶ τὰ ἐθνικὰ, οὔτε εἰς βασιλείαν εἰσέρχονται · ἀλλ’ οὔτε πάλιν εἰς κόλασιν. ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔπραξαν. — Quæstiones ad Antiochum, Quæst. CXIV.
  12. See De Gestis Pelagii, c. XI. Tom. X. p. 204.
  13. De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, Tom. X. p. 15.
  14. De Anima et ejus origine, c. 9, Tom. X. p. 343.
  15. De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, c. 11, Tom. X. p. 80.
  16. De Dono Perseverantiæ, c. 30, 31, Tom. X. p. 837.
  17. De Vocatione Gentium, Lib. I. cap. 7; Lib. I. cap. 8. Vossius attributes it to Prosper, bishop of Orleans in the sixth century, not to Prosper of Aquitaine, the disciple of St. Augustine.
  18. Οὐ γὰρ μόνονλλησι διὰ Σωκράτους ὑπὸ λόγου (i. e. ratione) ἠλέγχθη ταῦτα, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν βαρβάροις ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ τοῦ Λόγου μορϕωθέντος καὶ άνθρώπου γενομένου καὶησοῦ Χριστοῦ κληθέντος. — Apol. I. p. 56. Comp. Dial. pp. 218, 220.
  19. “Idem (Socrates) et quum aliquid de veritate sapiebat, deos negans,” &c. — Apolog. c. 46.
  20. “Taceo de philosophis, quos superbia severitatis et duritia disciplinæ ab omni timore securos, nonnullus etiam afflatus Veritatis adversus Deos erigit.” — Ad Nationes, Lib. I. c. 10. See Bishop Kaye’s Tertullian, pp. 174, 345.
  21. See as above, p. 345.
  22. ν μὲν οὖν πρὸ τῆς τοῦ Κυρίου παρουσίας εἰς δικαιοσύνηνλλησιν ἀναγκαία ϕιλοσοϕία. — Strom. I. p. 331. ϕιλοσοϕία δὲ ἡλληνική, οἷον προκαθαίρει καὶ προεθίζει τὴν ψυχὴν εἰς παραδοχὴν πίστεως. — Strom. VII. p. 839. εἰκότως οὖνουδαίοις μὲν νόμος, Ἑλλησι δὲ ϕιλοσοϕία μέχρι τῆς παρουσίας, ἐντεῦθεν δὲ ἡ κλῆσις ἡ καθολικὴ εἰς περιούσιον δικαιοσύνῃς λαόν. — Strom. VI. p. 823.
  23. Chrysost. Hom. VI. in Epist. ad Rom.
  24. De Spiritu et Litera, § 43, Tom. X. p. 108. Comp. Contra Julianum, Lib. IV. 23, 24, 25, Tom. X. p. 597.
  25. Sess. VII. Can. V. De Baptismo.
  26. See on this subject under Art. XVII.
  27. Catechismus Major. Op. Tom. V. p. 629.
  28. Institut. IV. xvi. 17.
  29. Ibid. IV. xvi. 26.
  30. “Non alius est in vitam ingressus nisi nos ipsa (h. e. visibilis ecclesia) concipiat in utero, nisi nos pariat, &c. Extra ejus gremium nulla est speranda peccatorum remissio, nec ulla salus.” — IV. i. 4.
  31. Cranmer’s Catechism, Oxford, 1829, p. 39 of the Latin, p. 51 of the English. See Preface, p. xvi.
  32. The passage is in the Latin, p. 106. “Et ut firmiter credamus has immensas, ineffabiles, infinitas opes et thesauros veros, primitias regni cœlorum et vitæ æternæ, tantum in ecclesia esse, nusquam alibi, neque apud sapientes et philosophos gentium, neque apud Turcicam illam tot millium hominum colluviem, neque apud papisticam illam et titulo tenus ecclesiam inveniri.” These words are omitted in page 125 of the English; yet the following words occur in the same page: “Without the Church is no remission of sin.” In the Confutation of Unwritten Verities (Works, IV. p. 510) Cranmer says, “To that eternal salvation cometh no man but he that hath the Head Christ. Yea, and no man can have the Head Christ which is not in His Body the Church.”
  33. First Part of Homily on Good Works. Compare the language of St. Augustine, Contra Julianum, Lib. IV. quoted under Art. XIII. p. 332.
  34. M. Nullane ergo salutis spes extra Ecclesiam? A. Extra eam nihil nisi damnatio exitium atque interitus esse potest.”
  35. Passages, such as Psalm ix. 17, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God,” are brought forward as proving that all heathen nations shall be damned. Yet hell in this case is Hades, not Gehenna; and on the other hand, Rom. ii. 11‒16, Acts xvii. 26, 27, 30, appear to prove that it is not impossible heathens may be capable of salvation. No doubt the reason why so little is said about them is, that it is impossible that what is said can reach them. “I hold it to be a most certain rule of interpreting Scripture that it never speaks of persons, when there is a physical impossibility of its speaking to them. . . . . So the heathen, who died before the word was spoken, and in whose land it was never preached, are dead to the word; it concerns them not at all; but, the moment it can reach them, it is theirs, and for them.” — Dr. Arnold’s Life and Correspondence, Letter LXV.

E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

'Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XVIII' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

(c) 2024 North American Anglican