The Hopeless Futility of Trying to Be Saved by “Good Works”

I Corinthians 15:3; Ephesians 2:8,9
       Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.
       By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.

AUGUSTINE (354-430): “Good works,” as they are called, in sinners, are nothing but splendid sins.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): This is true of the best works of the best man, who is out of Christ, they are nothing but splendid sins—varnished sins—Nothing is a good work unless it is done with a good motive; and there is no motive which can be said to be good but the glory of God. He who performs good works with a view to save himself, does not do them from a good motive, because his motive is selfish.

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): Unless a man is already a believer and a Christian, his works have no value at all. They are foolish, idle, damnable sins, because when good works are brought forward as the ground for justification, they are no longer good…Jesus Christ never died for our works. They were not worth dying for. But He gave Himself for our sins, according to the Scriptures.

C. H. SPURGEON: And, next, I think it will be admitted by all, that the way of salvation by good works would be self-evidently unsuitable to a considerable number. I will take a case. I am sent for on an emergency, and it is the dead of night. A man is dying. I go to his bedside, as requested. Consciousness remains; but he is evidently in mortal agony. He has lived an ungodly life, and he is about to die…Shall I tell him that he can only be saved by good works? Where is the time for works? Where is the possibility of them? Almost while I am speaking, his life is struggling to escape him. He looks at me in the agony of his soul, and he stammers out, “What must I do to be saved?” Shall I read to him the moral law? Shall I expound to him the Ten Commandments, and tell him that he must keep all these? He would shake his head, and say, “I have broken them all; I am condemned by them all.”
      But if salvation be of works, what more have I to say? I am of no use here…The man is utterly lost. There is no remedy for him…There is no whisper of hope for a dying man in the hard and stony doctrine of salvation by works. If salvation had been by works, our Lord could not have said to the thief, dying at his side, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise,” Luke 23:43. That man could do no works. His hands and feet were fastened to the cross, and he was in the agonies of death. No, it must be of grace, all-conquering grace; and the modus operandi must be by faith, or else for dying men the gospel is a mockery…Is it not clear that the gospel of works is unsuitable in such a case as that? Now, a gospel which is unsuitable to anybody is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

MARTIN LUTHER: The gospel preaches nothing of the merit of works; he that says that the gospel requires works for salvation, I say flat and plain, is a liar.

C. H. SPURGEON: Yes, I put it plainly―there is no other present salvation except that which begins and ends with grace.

MARTIN LUTHER: Nobody has died for our sins but Jesus Christ the Son of God…and if it be He alone who takes away sin, it cannot be ourselves with our works.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Remember, there are no works that can merit anything—but the work of Christ.

WILLIAM TYNDALE (1490-1536): If thou trust in thy works, there is no rest. Thou shalt think, I have not done enough. Have I done it with so great love as I should do? I have left this or that undone; and such like. If thou trust in confession, then thou shalt think, Have I told all? Have I told all the circumstances? Did I repent enough? Had I as great sorrow in my repentance for my sins, as I had pleasure in doing them?

J. C. RYLE: Remember there is no priest who can truly absolve—but Christ…Hold fast the truth of God about justification, and be not deceived. Listen not to anything you may hear about other mediators and helpers to peace.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714):There one mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Timothy 2:5. There is one Mediator, and that Mediator gave Himself a ransom for all.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): This excludes all other mediators, as saints and angels, whom the Papists set up.

C. H. SPURGEON: I have no doubt that all of us who know anything of true religion are of the same opinion as that celebrated Scotch divine, old David Dickson, who was asked when dying, what was the principal subject on which his thoughts were engaged. And he answered, “I am gathering up all my good works, and all my bad works, tying them into one bundle, and throwing them all alike down at the foot of the cross, and am resting alone upon the finished work of Jesus.”

WILLIAM TYNDALE: Remember, Christ is the end of all things. He only is our resting-place, and He is our peace. For as there is no salvation in any other name, so is there no peace in any other name. Thou shalt never have rest in thy soul, neither shall the worm of conscience ever cease to gnaw thine heart, till thou come at Christ; till thou hear the glad tidings, how that God for His sake hath forgiven thee all freely.

J. C. RYLE: This is the one true way of peace—justification by Christ. Beware lest any turn you out of this way and lead you into any of the false doctrines of the Church of Rome. Remember there is no mediator but one—Jesus Christ. Remember there is no purgatory for sinners but one—the blood of Christ. Remember there is no sacrifice for sin but one—the sacrifice once made on the cross.

C. H. SPURGEON: No one in the Church of Rome claims to be now saved—completely and eternally saved. Such a profession would be heretical. Some few Catholics may hope to enter heaven when they die, but the most of them have the miserable prospect of purgatory before their eyes. We see constant requests for prayers for departed souls, and this would not be if those souls were saved, and glorified with their Saviour. Masses for the repose of the soul indicate the incompleteness of the salvation Rome has to offer. Well may it be so, since Papal salvation is by works, and even if salvation by good works were possible, no man can ever be sure that he has performed enough of them to secure his salvation.

GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): Works? Works? A man get to heaven by works? I would as soon think of climbing to the moon on a rope of sand.

MARTIN LUTHER: If salvation could be attained only by working hard, then surely horses and donkeys would be in heaven…I have preached justification by faith so often, and I feel sometimes that you are so slow to receive it that I could almost take the Bible and bang it about your heads.


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