Good Works in Their Proper Scriptural Place

Ephesians 2:8; James 2:14-26
       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.
       What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
       Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): Does not James here contradict Paul’s doctrine in the matter of justification?

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): James never intended, for a moment, nor do any of his words lead us into such a belief, that there can be any merit whatever in any good works of ours. After we have done all, if we could do all, we should only have done what we were bound to do. Surely there is no merit in a man’s paying what he owes; no great merit in a servant who has his wages for doing what he is paid for…The fact is, James and Paul are perfectly reconcilable, and they are viewing truth from different standpoints.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): The justification of which Paul speaks is different from that spoken of by James; the one speaks of our persons being justified before God, the other speaks of our faith being justified before men: “Show me thy faith by thy works,” says James―“let thy faith be justified in the eyes of those that behold thee by thy works;” but Paul speaks of justification in the sight of God, who justifies those only that believe in Jesus, and purely on account of the redemption that is in Him. Thus we see that our persons are justified before God by faith, but our faith is justified before men by works. This is so plainly the scope and design of the apostle James that he is but confirming what Paul, in other places, says of his faith, that it is a laborious faith, and a “faith working by love,” Galatians 5:6; I Thessalonians 1:3; Titus 3:8; and many other places.

WILLIAM GURNALL (1617-1679): We must come to good works by faith, and not to faith by good works.

R. L. DABNEY (1820-1898): While our works are naught as a ground of merit for justification, they are all-important as evidences that we are justified.

C. H. SPURGEON: Good works are useful as evidences of grace. The Antinomian says, “But I do not require evidences; I can live without them.” This is unreasonable. Do you see yonder clock? That is the evidence of the time of day. The hour would be precisely the same if we had not that evidence. Still, we find the clock of great use. So we say, good works are the best evidence of spiritual life in the soul. Is it not written, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren?” Loving the brethren is a good work. Again, “If any man abide in me, he shall bring forth fruit.” Fruits of righteousness are good works, and they are evidences that we abide in Christ…Our good works must flow from our union with Christ by virtue of our faith in Him.

HUGH LATIMER (1483-1555): We must first be made good before we can do good; we must first be made just before our works can please God―for when we are justified by faith in Christ, then come good works.

SAMUEL RUTHERFORD (1600-1661): When God’s children are once planted in Christ, they begin then to bud. When Matthew was converted, he followed Christ; he made a feast to Christ, there is his bounty; he invited the publicans and sinners to Christ, there is his charity. So Job feared God, and eschewed evil. Cornelius prayed, and, with his prayers, his alms-deeds ascended up to heaven. Dorcas was a disciple full of good works.

JOHN GILL (1697-1771): Dorcas was constantly employed in doing good…she was very kind and beneficent to the poor, she wrought with her hands much for their sakes.

GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): Good works have their proper place. They justify our faith, though not our persons; they follow it, and evidence our justification in the sight of men.

JOHN GILL: Ye see then how that by works a man is justified.”―Not as causes procuring his justification, but as effects declaring it.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): There is, therefore, no contradiction between the apostles.

C. H. SPURGEON: Secondly, we think good works are the witnesses or testimony to other people of the truth of what we believe…and a new-born creature—the man created in Christ—must preach Jesus Christ wherever he goes. This is the use of good works. He will preach, not with his mouth always, but with his life. The use of good works is, that they are a Christian’s sermon. A sermon is not what a man says, but what he does. You who practice are preaching; it is not preaching and practising, but practising is preaching. The sermon that is preached by the mouth is soon forgotten, but what we preach by our lives is never forgotten. There is nothing like faithful practice and holy living, if we would preach to the world…Faith shows itself by good works, and therefore is no dead faith. God’s house is a hive for workers, not a nest for drones.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): It is faith alone that justifies, but the faith that justifies is not alone.

C. H. SPURGEON: The faith which does not produce good works is not saving faith: it is not the faith of God’s elect: it is not faith at all in the Scriptural sense.


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