When I write of justification before God, from the dreadful curse of the law, then I must speak of nothing but grace, Christ, the promise, and faith. But when I speak of our justification before men, then I must join to these, good works. For grace, Christ and faith, are things invisible, and so not to be seen by another, otherwise than through a life that becomes so blessed a gospel as has declared unto us the remission of our sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. He then that would have forgiveness of sins, and so be delivered from the curse of God, must believe in the righteousness and blood of Christ: but he that would show to his neighbours that he hath truly received this mercy of God, must do it by good works; for all things else, to them, is but talk. As for example; a tree is known to be what it is, namely, whether of this or that kind, by its fruit. A tree, it is without fruit; but so long as it so abideth, there is ministered occasion to doubt what manner of tree it is.
A professor is a professor, though he hath no good works; but that, as such, he is truly godly, he is ‘foolish’ that so concludeth (Matt. 7:17, 18; Jam. 2:18). Not that works make a man good; for the fruit maketh not a good tree; it is the principle, that is, Faith, that makes a man good, and his works that show him to be so (Matt. 7:16; Luke 6:44).
What then? Why, all professors that have not good works flowing from their faith are naught; are bramble bushes; are ‘nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned,’ (Heb. 6:8). For professors by their, fruitlessness declare, that they are not of the planting of God; not the wheat, but tares, and ‘children of the wicked one.’ (Matt. 13:37, 38).
Not that Faith needeth good works as a help to justification before God. For in this matter, Faith will be ignorant of all good works, except those done by the person of Christ. Here then the good man ‘worketh not, but believeth,’ (Rom. 5:3, 4, 5) for he is not now to carry to God, but to receive at his hand the matter of his justification by faith. Nor is the matter of his justification before God aught else but the good deeds of another man, namely, Christ Jesus. But is there, therefore, no need at all of good works, because a man is justified before God without them? or can that be called a justifying faith, that has not for its fruit, good works? (Job 22:2, 3; Jam. 2:20, 26). Verily good works are necessary, though God need them not, nor is that faith, as, to justification with God, worth a rush, that abideth alone, or without them.
There is therefore a twofold faith of Christ in the world, and as to the notion of justifying righteousness, they both concur and agree, but as to the manner of application, there they vastly differ.
The one, namely, ‘the non-saving faith, standeth in speculation and naked knowledge of Christ, and so abideth idle: but the other truly sees, and receives him, and so becometh fruitful.’ (John 1:12 ; Heb.. 11:13; Rom. 10:16). And hence the true justifying faith, is said to receive, to embrace, to obey the Son of God, as tendered in the gospel: by which expressions is showed both the nature of justifying faith, in its actings in point of justification, and also the cause of its being full of good works in the world. A gift is not made mine by my seeing it, or because I know the nature of the thing so given: but then it is mine if I receive and embrace it; yea, and as to the point in hand, if I yield myself up to stand and fall by it. Now he that shall, not only see, but receive, not only know, but embrace the Son of God, to be justified by him, cannot but bring forth good works; because Christ who is now received and embraced by faith, leavens and seasons the spirit of this sinner (through his faith) to the making of him capable so to do. (Acts 15:9; Chron. 26:18, 19; Heb. 11:11). Faith made Sarah receive strength to conceive seed, and we are sanctified through faith, which is in Christ. For faith hath joined Christ and the soul together, and being so joined, the soul is one spirit with him: not essentially; but in agreement, and oneness of design. Besides, when Christ is truly received and embraced to the justifying of the sinner, in that man’s heart he dwells by his word and Spirit, through the same faith also. Now Christ, by his Spirit and Word, must needs season the soul he thus dwells in. So then the soul being seasoned, it seasoneth the body; and body and soul, season the life and conversation.
We know it is not the seeing, but taking of a potion, that maketh it work as it should; nor is the blood of Christ a purge to this or that conscience, except received by faith (Heb. 9:14). Shall that then be counted right believing in Christ unto justification, that amounts to no more than to an idle speculation, or naked knowledge of him? Shall that knowledge of him, I say, be counted such, as only causes the soul to behold, but moveth it not to good works? No, verily (2 Cor. 3:18). For the true beholding of Jesus to justification and life, changes from glory to glory. Nor can that man that hath so believed, as that by his faith he hath received and embraced Christ for life before God, be destitute of good works. For, as I said, the Word and Spirit come also by this faith, and dwell in the heart and conscience. Now, shall a soul where the Word and Spirit of Christ dwell be a soul without good works? Yea, shall a soul that his received the love, the mercy, the kindliess, grace and salvation of God through the sorrows, tears, groans, cross and cruel death of Christ, be yet a fruitless tree!—God forbid. The faith is as the salt which the prophet cast into the spring of bitter water; it makes the soul good and serviceable forever (2 Kings 2:19-22).
If the receiving of a temporal gift naturally tends to making us move our cap and knee, and binds us to be the servant of the giver, shall we think that faith will leave him who by it has received Christ, to be as unconcerned as a stock or stone; or that its utmost excellency is to provoke the soul to a lip-labor, and to give Christ a few fair words for his pains and grace, and so wrap up the business? No, no; the love of Christ constraineth us thus to judge that it is but reasonable, since he gave his all for us, that we should give our all for him (2 Cor. 5:14).
Let no man then deceive himself, (as he may and will if he takes not heed) with true notions, but examine himself concerning his faith, first; Whether he hath any? and if some, Whether of that kind that will turn to account in the day when God shall judge the world.
I told you before that there is a twofold faith, and now I will tell you that there are two sorts of good works; and a man may be shrewdly guessed at with reference to his faith, even by the work that he chooseth to be conversant in. There are works that cost nothing, and works that are chargeable. And observe it the unsound faith will choose to itself the most easy works it can find. For example, there are reading, praying, hearing of sermons, baptism, breaking of bread, church fellowship, preaching, and the like; and there be mortification of lusts, charity, simplicity, openheartedness, with a liberal hand to the poor, and their like also. Now the unsound faith picks and chooses, and takes and leaves, but the true faith does not so.
There are a great many professors now that have nothing to distinguish them from the worst of men, but their praying, reading, hearing of sermons, baptism, church-fellowship, and breaking of bread. Separate them but from these, and every where else they are as black as others, even in their whole life and conversation. Thus they have chosen to them the most easy things to do them; but love not to be conscientiously found in the practice of the other; a certain sign their faith is naught, and that these things, even the things they are conversant in, are things attended to of them, not for the ends for which God has appointed them, but to beguile and undo themselves withal.
Praying, hearing, reading; for what are these things ordained, but that we might by the godly use of them, attain to more of the knowledge of God, and be strengthened by his grace to serve him better according to his moral law? Baptism, fellowship, and the Lord’s supper, are ordained for these ends also. But there is a vast difference between using these things, and using them for these ends. A man may pray, yea pray for such things, had he them, as would make him better in morals, without desire to be better in morals, or love to the things he prays for. A man may read and hear, not to learn to do, though to know; yea he may be dead to doing moral goodness, and yet be great for reading and hearing all his days. The people then among all professors that are zealous of good works are the peculiar ones to Christ (Tit. 2:14). What has a man done that is baptized, if he pursues not the ends for which that appointment was ordained? The like I say of fellowship, of breaking of bread, &c. For all these things we should use to support our faith, to mortify the flesh, and strengthen us to walk in newness of life by the rule of the moral law. Nor can that man be esteemed holy, whose life is tainted with immoralities, let him be what he can in all things else. I am of that man’s mind, as to practical righteousness, who said to Christ, upon this very question, ‘Well, master, thou hast said the truth; for to love the Lord our God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength; and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices’ (Mark. 12:28, 33). To love my neighbour as myself, to do as I would be done unto, this is the law and the prophets. And he that is altogether a stranger to these things, how dwelleth the love of God in him? or how will he manifest to another, that his faith will save him?
Satan is afraid that men sbould hear of justification by Christ, lest they should embrace it. But yet if he can prevail with them to keep fingers off, though they do hear and look on, and practise lesser things, he can the better bear it; yea he will labor to make such professors bold to conclude they shall by that kind of faith enjoy him, though by that they cannot embrace him, nor lay hold of him. For he knows that how far soever a man engages in a profession of Christ with a faith that looks on, but cannot receive nor embrace him, that faith will leave him to nothing but mistakes and disappointments at last.
The gospel comes to some in word only, and the faith of such stands but in a verbal sound: but the Apostle was resolved not to know or take notice of such a faith (1 Thess. 1:4, 5; 1 Cor. 4:18, 19, 20). ‘For the kingdom of God (saith he) is not in word, but in power.’ He whose faith stands only in saying, ‘believe,’ has his works in bare words also, and as virtual is the one as the other, and both insignificant enough. ‘If a brother or a sister be naked, or destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them ‘Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled;’ notwithstanding you 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’ (Jam. 2:16, 17). This faith, therefore, Satan can allow, because it is somewhat of kin to his own (Ver. 19).
Besides, what greater contempt can be cast upon Christ than is cast upon him by such wordy professors? These are the men that by practice say, ‘the gospel is but an empty sound.’ Yea, the more they profess, the louder they proclaim it thus to be, to his disgrace; while they, notwithstanding their profession of faith, hold and maintain their league with the devil and sin.
The Son of God was manifest that he might destroy the works of the devil; but these men profess his faith, and yet keep these works alive in the world (1 John 3). Shall these pass for such as believe to the saving of the soul? For a man to be content with this kind of faith, and to look to go to salvation by it, what to God is a greater provocation? The devil laugheth here, for he knows he has not lost his vassal by such a faith as this; but that rather he hath made use of the gospel, that glorious word of life, to secure his captive, through his presumption of the right faith, the faster in his shackles.
It is marvellous to me to see sin so high amidst the swarms of professors that are found in every corner of this land. Nor can any other reason be given for it, but because the gospel has lost its wonted virtue, or because professors want faith therein. But do you think it it because of the first? No, the word of our God, shall stand in its strength for ever. The faith of such, therefore, is not right. They have for shields of gold, made themselves shields of brass; or instead of the primitive faith, which was of the operation of God, they have got to themselves a faith that stands by the power, and in the wisdom of man (2 Chron. 12:9, 10; Col. 2:12; 1 Cor. 2:4, 5).