Steps in the Right Path
George Everard, 1885
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do!" Ephesians 2:8-10
I remember once an old clergyman very energetically giving me a bit of advice as to my work. He was very anxious that I should make everything plain in preaching to my flock. So he said more than once, "Show them the steps! Show them the steps!"
Since then I have often tried to follow his good counsel, and in this short paper I should like to do so again. The passage above will just answer my purpose in doing this. It is a perfect gem of divinity. It puts everything exactly in its right place. It lays a good foundation and then places a capital building and roof upon it. If you thoroughly understood and followed its teaching, and you were some day preaching in St. Paul's Cathedral, I feel sure you would give them a sound Gospel sermon. Look into it and study it for yourself, and never forget it as long as you live. It goes very much in a line with a few words I lately met with
"Faithless works God won't regard,
Workless faith He won't reward."
Beside this couplet put four other lines
Faith makes the Christian.
Life shows the Christian.
Trial tests the Christian.
Death crowns the Christian.
But I must be brief, so will go straight to the words of Paul. The one point I want you to notice, is the place of good works in the matter of salvation. You see he first utterly casts them out and then as plainly brings them in again. He rejects them without the least exception, from having any part in securing peace and salvation. Then he no less plainly shows that salvation always leads to them and that every believer must walk in them. Just as tiles and slates would never do for the foundation of a house, and, in fact, would make it thoroughly insecure and yet in their right place are most valuable, yes, absolutely necessary; for what can be the comfort of a house unless the roof is tight and good?
Bear in mind these two points. They will help you all through your Christian life.
Do you wish to be at peace with God, and to rejoice that sin is forgiven, and that you stand accepted and beloved with the Father?
As to all this, works have no place whatever. It is "not of yourself," "not of works." All the good deeds in the world will not help you a whit. Deeds of charity, self-denial, hours spent in worship or in prayer, Church-going, acts performed in truth and justice all most excellent in their place yet they must not be relied upon in the very least in your approach to God. Salvation is a free gift. The remission of sins is a gift. The grace of the Spirit is a gift. Eternal life is a gift, both in the present foretaste and in the fullness hereafter. All comes as a free, undeserved gift of God's tender loving-kindness through the work of the Lord Jesus. No goodness, no good feelings, no efforts of yours could have obtained it. It comes to you only on the footing of a free gift and your part is to stretch out the empty hand of faith and thankfully accept it.
But remember this: a gift is only yours when you have taken it. Have you in your heart thanked God for this gift and taken it? Have you cast aside past neglect of religion? Have you given up trying to earn peace by your better life? Have you believed God's love in thus giving you salvation? Have you trusted in Jesus for all you need? Then you are saved; or, as in the Revised Version, "You have been saved." You are forgiven, and accepted, and at peace with God.
But do not forget the other side of this passage. When a man is saved, he is a piece of God's workmanship. He is fashioned and formed of God, by the inworking of the Holy Spirit. He is new-created in knowledge, holiness, and love, that he may glorify God by the good works he will perform. Here is the path marked out for him of God. From his conversion to his death, he will find no comfort except as he steadfastly walks in it. He is not saved by works but unto works. Compare Titus 2:14, 3:4-8.
Be very careful, if you are Christ's indeed, to excel in every good word and work. Let the love of Christ rule in you, so that you walk in His footsteps. Do not wait for great opportunities. Be mindful about little things. Do not shrink from the trouble of a Sunday-school class. Redeem moments for prayer. Be kind and unselfish with schoolfellows. Put a stumbling-block out of a brother's way. Let your religion be seen at home. "Keep the lower lights burning." As a son, a brother, or "the young master," let your influence be felt for good. "Be zealous for good works."