The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness
William S. Plumer, 1853
"We believe it is through the grace of our
Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11
WHY GOOD WORKS ARE NECESSARY
The Church of Christ has uniformly insisted upon good
works as being pleasing and honorable to God, as being the evidences of
faith and the fruits of love, and as being profitable to our neighbor. The
Scriptures are as careful to insist that good works be performed, as they
are to warn us against trusting in them for justification before God. They
are often commanded in the plainest terms. "Depart from evil and do good."
Psalm 34:14. "Trust in the Lord and do good." Psalm 37:3. "Let your light so
shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father
who is in heaven." Matt. 5:16. "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and
strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against
your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse
you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day
he visits us." 1 Peter 2:11-12. "Herein is my Father glorified, that you
bear much fruit, so shall you be my disciples." John 15:8. "Walk worthy of
the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work." Tit. 3:1.
"These things I will that you affirm constantly, that those who have
believed in God, might be careful to maintain good works. These things are
good and profitable unto men." Tit. 3:8. "Let ours also learn to maintain
good works for necessary uses." Tit. 3:14.
These are but specimens of scores of texts of Scripture,
which assert the necessity of good works in all, who would glorify God, be
useful to their generation, or evince a true Christian character. There is
no substitute for a life of holiness. Nothing is a good work unless it is
something commanded by God. Human inventions may please men, win the
applause of the ignorant, and build up in us a vain self-confidence. But
"who has required this at your hand?" is a solemn challenge from God to all
who follow such devices. It was a great complaint of God against some,
"These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of
rules taught by men." Isaiah 29:13. And Christ said of some; "In vain do
they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Matt.
The confessions of the various Churches of Christ are
remarkably clear and harmonious on the subject of works. Here is the
testimony of the Confession of Sueveland: "We are so far from rejecting good
works, that we do utterly deny that any man can fully be saved except that
he be thus far brought by the Spirit of Christ—that he finds no lack at all
in him, touching those good works whereunto God has created him." "Without
faith it is impossible to please God." "Without holiness no man shall see
the Lord." The Confession of Wirtemburg says "that good works, commanded of
God, are necessarily to be done." The Confession of Saxony says: "Obedience,
and the righteousness of a good conscience, must be begun in this life; and
this obedience, although it be very far from that perfection, which the law
requires, is nevertheless, in the regenerate, acceptable to God, for the
Mediator's sake: who makes request for us, and by his merit covers our great
and unspeakable miseries." The Confession of Scotland says, "That God has
given to man his holy law, in which not only are forbidden all such works as
displease and offend his godly majesty, but also, are commanded all such as
please him, and as he has promised to reward. And these works be of two
sorts. The one are done to the honor of God, the other to the profit of our
neighbors." The Confession of England says, "Though we say we have no
shelter at all in our own works and deeds, but appoint all the means of our
salvation to be in Christ alone; yet say we not, that for this cause men
ought to live loosely and dissolutely: nor that it is enough for a Christian
to be baptized only, and to believe; as though there were nothing else
required at his hand. For true faith is lively, and can in no wise be idle.
Thus therefore teach we the people: that God has called us, not to follow
riot and wantonness, but as Paul says, 'unto good works, to walk in them;'
Ephes. 2:10; that we are delivered from the power of darkness, (Col. 1:13);
to the end that we should serve the living God, (Heb. 9:14); to cut away all
the remnants of sin, and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling,
(Phil. 2:12); that it may appear that the Spirit of sanctification is in our
bodies, and that Christ himself dwells in our bodies." The Confession of
France says: "So far is faith from extinguishing the desire to live well and
holily, that it does rather increase and kindle it in us: whereupon good
works do necessarily follow." The Confession of Bohemia having quoted at
length 2 Pet. 1:5-8, 2 Cor. 3:10, 2 Pet. 1:11, 12, Luke 6:36, 38, and 12:33,
and 14:13, 14, says, "By these it is plain and manifest that those works
which proceed from faith, do please God, and are rewarded with abundant
grace: to wit, with the recompense of all kind of good things and blessings,
both in this life and in the life to come."
The Heidelberg Catechism under the head of
Thankfulness thus speaks:
"86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace through
Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works? "Because
that Christ, having redeemed us and delivered us by his blood, also renews
us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; so that we may testify, by the
whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he
may be praised by us; also, that everyone may be assured in himself of his
faith, by the fruits thereof; and that by our godly conversation others may
be gained to Christ.
"87. Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing in their wicked and
ungrateful lives, are not converted to God? "By no means; for the holy
Scripture declares that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief,
covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like, shall inherit
the kingdom of God.
"88. In how many parts does the true conversion of man consist? "In two
parts; in the mortification of the old, and in the quickening of the new
"89. What is the mortification of the old man? "It is a sincere sorrow of
heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and
flee from them.
"90. What is the quickening of the new man? "It is a sincere joy of heart in
God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will
of God in all good works.
"91. But what are good works? "Only those which proceed from a true faith,
are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory, and not such as
are founded on our imagination or the institutions of men."
The Confession of Basle says: "The faithful do work, not
to atone for their sins, but only that they may in some sort show themselves
thankful unto God our Lord for the great benefits bestowed upon us in
Christ." The former Confession of Helvetia says, "This is indeed the only
true worship of God: namely, a faith most fruitful of good works, and yet
not putting any confidence in works." The latter Confession of Helvetii
says, "We condemn all those, who despise good works, and babble that they
are needless, and not to be regarded." Again, "Works do necessarily proceed
from faith." The Church of England says that "good works are the fruits of
faith and follow after justification," and that "they are pleasing and
acceptable to God in Christ, and necessarily spring out of a true and lively
faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known, as a
tree is discerned by the fruit." The Church of Ireland uses almost the very
same words and in the same connection. The Westminster Confession says, "The
persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also
are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable
and unreprovable in God's sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son,
is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied
with many weaknesses and imperfections."
So that unless men intend to abandon themselves to
wickedness, despise God's authority, and fly in the face of the testimony of
all true Christians, they must lead lives of holiness and obedience. Indeed
the uniform teaching of Scripture is that while no man shall be saved for
the merit of his works, yet men shall be judged and treated according to
their works. The wicked deserve all that shall come upon them by lack of
good works and their performance of evil works. The righteous do not indeed
deserve any good thing, yet of his mercy and grace, God will at last reward
them, as though they deserved much. Thus we read: "The work of a man will
God render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways." Job
34:11. "You render to every man according to his work." Psalm 62:12. "Tell
the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of
their deeds. Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid
back for what their hands have done." Isaiah 3:10, 11. "I the Lord search
the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct,
according to what his deeds deserve." Jer. 17:10. "The Son of man shall come
in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then he shall reward every
man according to his works." Matt. 16:27. God "will render to every man
according to his deeds." Romans 2:6. See also 2 Cor. 5:10; Col. 6:7; Eph.
6:8; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 2:23, and 20:12, and 22:12. So the doctrine is clear.
He who sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly, while he
who sows bountifully shall reap also bountifully. He, who cared
comparatively little for the cause of Christ, and did but little for it,
shall have a comparatively small reward, while he who gave up all and lived
and died for Christ shall be very glorious. "One star differs from another
star in glory. So also is the resurrection from the dead." To render mistake
on this doctrine impossible, let it never be forgotten that the works of
believers will not be the cause, but only the occasion of their many rich
blessings; the measure, but not the merit of their reward. Nor is there
anything in this contrary to the doctrine of gratuitous salvation; for these
very works themselves are the fruit of God's mercy and love. He works in us
both to will and to do of his good pleasure, and then kindly takes occasion
from our obedience to measure out to us, of his own love and bounty, richer
and vaster blessings still.
That our works themselves are from God the Bible
everywhere teaches. "From me is your fruit found." Hos. 14:8. "Lord, you
will ordain peace for us: for you also have wrought all our works in us."
Isaiah 26:12. "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you,
always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work."
2 Cor. 9:8. In fact Jesus Christ "gave himself for us that he might redeem
us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of
good works." Titus 2:14. "Faith if it has not works is dead, being alone."
James 2:17. And here precisely is what the apostle James meant whet he said
we are justified by works. His meaning is that we are justified in making
our profession of faith, we establish our sincerity and consistency, we
prove to all the world and to God himself that we are what we profess to be
and ought to be, when our lives show forth the glory of God.
Christian brethren, let us not be weary in well-doing,
for in due time we shall reap if we faint not. Let us abound unto every good
word and work. How dishonorable to religion it would be—if it were
otherwise. Is not all religion an entire failure, if it does not bring us
into conformity to God? "Grace is an immortal seed, cast into an immortal
soil, which brings forth immortal fruit."