The Spirit of the Word


     In the last paper we considered principally the subject, faith; in this one, we will take up works; and then, with both sides of the question in mind, we shall be the better prepared to understand some future thoughts on faith in a future paper. The question then for consideration is,


by which faith is made perfect, and without which faith is dead? (Jas. 2:17). There seems to be a most positive contradiction between Paul and James. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works?" asks the latter apostle, and then adds, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." But Paul says, "If Abraham were justified by works he hath whereof to glory, but not before God; for what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness; now to him that worketh now, but believeth on him that justified the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness;" furthermore Paul teaches most positively that we are justified by faith and not by works. There seems to be a very manifest contradiction here between the two apostles; but all appearance of contradiction vanishes when we see that Paul is talking about one kind of works and James is talking about another kind.  The former apostle is referring to the works of the law and declares that by such works no flesh can be justified; this truth we noticed in the last paper; we are justified by faith (Rom.5:1) "without the works of the law," for "the law is not of faith."  On the other hand James refers to works that do justify, works that manifest a living faith and make it perfect.  These are the works we need to know and understand; these are the works we desire to do that we may stand complete at last. What are these works? I answer, works in harmony with the purpose of God and the "present truth."  Let me explain this answer.  I will take the case of Noah as an illustration. Noah lived at a wonderful era in the world's history; it was a transition period between "the world that was before the flood," and "the heavens and the earth which are now." (2 Pet. 3:6,7) We read that because of the corruption of mankind, God had determined to destroy them; a fearful calamity was impending, involving the total destruction of the entire human race, and the world "knew not until the flood came and took them all away" (Matt. 24:39).  But did no one know? Did God warn no one of the impending ruin? It would have been altogether contrary to his rule of action had he not done so. When he was about to destroy  Sodom and the wicked cities of the plain he told his "friend;" (Gen. 18:17,18) and "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secrets unto his servants, the prophets" (Amos 3:7).  So at this time God told Noah of what he had determined to do, and gave him directions how to act that he might save himself and family. Noah believed God; he had perfect faith in his word;  but what would that have amounted to if he had not gone to work and built the ark? "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" Noah, with all his faith would not have been saved any more than "the world of the ungodly," if he had not built the ark.  But, becoming acquainted with God's plan, being in the light and "knowing what his Lord was doing" he believes, and then acts according to that faith, and so is saved. "By faith, Noah being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house by which he condemned the world, and become heir of the righteousness which is by faith" (Heb. 11:7).  Here then is the true doctrine concerning faith and works. Zealous Christians are always very much exercised about doing something for the Lord, and they have a great deal to say about faith without works being dead, etc.  This is very true, but what kind of works? The common idea is that the works that should accompany a living faith are deeds of charity and benevolence, reading the Bible, praying, speaking in religious meetings, trying to save souls, etc., etc.;  but all these are not of the slightest account as justifying works; they are very good in their way if engaged in intelligently, with the right motive, and in a proper manner; but they do not make us one bit better, or raise us a hair's breadth towards God, or have any effect whatsoever on our  justification, unless, as is often the case, they cause us to stumble in the way of life and to "fall from grace."  I noticed in the last paper the relationship of such works to the Christian life; these are not the sort of works that James refers to as making our faith perfect, and by which we are justified; this word rendered justified means literally to make right. Now what are the works that make us right with God?  Works in harmony with God's plan and the "present truth," I reply again. We can see how clearly this is illustrated in the case of Noah as reviewed above. The work that made him right was the building of the ark; he was a "preacher of righteousness," but his preaching would not have made him right at that time; there was need of something else; he had faith; he was "established in the present truth;" (2 Pet. 1:12), the special truth that was due at that time; the ark was the thing needed then; and he and his house were saved thereby.  But the works that made him right will never make anyone else right;  there has never been any  need of an ark since and never will be again.  How then shall we know what are justifying works in our day, so that we may be made right and demonstrate ourselves the possessors of a living faith? By walking in the truth, I reply; (3 John 3,4), by knowing what our Lord is doing (John 15:15), as Noah and Abraham did; in short, by working in harmony with God; by being a "laborer together with Him.."

     Now we will notice further how this view is confirmed by the apostle James; he illustrates justifying works by the works of Abraham and Rahab; in both cases it will be seen at once that their works made them right because they were in harmony with God's purpose and the present truth, i.e. the truth due just at that time. They were not works of charity or benevolence, or religious observances, or anything of the kind called "good works" in these days by most Christians. When Abraham was called upon to offer up Isaac, God was `'trying" him, but more especially God was working out a wonderful allegory that in future ages should teach his children great and momentous truths.  Abraham was a type of God; (Rom. 4:17, margin).  Isaac his son, his "only son," (Gen. 22:2), was a type of Christ,  the Son of God, the "only begotten;" Abraham's offering up Isaac was a type of the Father's offering up "his only begotten Son," etc.; thus we can see how wonderfully woven into God's plan was the work of Abraham, by which the apostle tells us his faith was made perfect. The case of Rahab  was similar to that of Noah's, a terrible ruin was impending over her people; their cup of iniquity was full and overflowing, and God was about to visit awful retribution upon them; there was only one way of escape, viz., by making friends with God's people, the chosen instruments of that retribution; in some way Rahab knew this and believed it (Josh. 2:8-13), and acting in harmony with that faith, she, like Noah, did the only thing possible for the salvation of herself and house; hence she "perished not with them that believed not." (Heb. 10:31).  Her works were the outgrowth of her faith, which faith was founded upon knowledge, a knowledge of what God was doing just at that time, and hence her works were justifying works, works that made her right for "the time then present."

     Now all this is most fully set forth in Heb. 11; this chapter is a perfect sermon on faith and works. Read the chapter and you will find that the faith in every case was founded upon a knowledge of the "present truth;" the works were in accordance with that faith and therefore "these all obtained a good report through faith."  This eleventh  chapter of Hebrews fully harmonizes Paul and James on the subject of faith and works. In the first place we are told what faith is, as I noticed in the last paper, and then the subject of works is fully amplified, and the relation between the two; just read this chapter through on this subject and note the kind of works each one performed, and you will understand the works that justify or make us right.  Notice how it reads: by faith a certain person did a certain thing; in every case the work he performed was the natural outgrowth of his faith; and his faith was founded upon a knowledge of God's purpose, especially the purpose of grace. Here then is a plain, inspired and infallible  explanation of this whole subject. You need not misunderstand the scriptural doctrine of faith and works if you will only thoroughly study this chapter.

     Now then in the light of this view what is the first thing to be done in order that we may have a living faith accompanied by justifying works?  We must  have a knowledge of God's Word. "Faith  comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God," a faith that is not established upon truth is good for nothing, no matter how  strong or sincere it may be.  How could Abel have had the proper kind of faith and works if he had not first had knowledge? What would Noah's faith have amounted to without a knowledge of the "present truth," the truth that was due then, viz.: the coming of the flood? So with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the worthies who "died in faith."   Thus founded, our faith will grow. Whereby it is plain that a strong faith comes, not by a tremendous effort to inflate our credulity to extra-ordinary dimensions by mere will power, but by a calm, sensible study of the truth of God; a comprehension of his wonderful plan, and especially by keeping up with the development of that plan, so as to be "established in the present truth." exceedingly," and be the source of works that will be in harmony with God, thus constituting us "Laborers together with Him  (1 Cor. 3:9).  When we labor with God we accomplish something, though we ourselves are very weak; "our sufficiency is of God."  When we labor out of God's order, no matter how good the motive, nor how zealously we work, we are simply "as one that beateth the air," "there shall be no might in thine hand" (Deut. 28:32 ).  Take a Bible illustration.  King David purposed in his heart to build a temple to the Lord (2 Sam. 7); it was a worthy  purpose prompted by the best of motives. But the Lord said, no, thou shalt not build me a house, but Solomon thy son shall build it. Now suppose David had persisted in undertaking to build the temple, would the Lord have been pleased?  Surely not; it would have been a good work, but out of God's order, and hence wrong.  "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken, than the fat of rams."  So the apostle says of the Jews in his day, "I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." This passage again teaches the importance of knowledge as a foundation; zeal has to do with works, "but wisdom is profitable to direct" (Eccl. 10:10). A misdirected zeal, doing anything and everything, in any way and time, out of order and out of season, is worse than doing nothing at all.  It is not enough that we see to it that the work we undertake is good in itself. we should be sure: that it is in God's order; otherwise it is a bad work in its results, however good it may be in itself. The church today is making the same mistake that the Jews made in the days of the apostle; they have a zeal but it is not according to knowledge; they are trying to do great things, and good things too, but out of God's order, hence we see many failures: falling from present truth, and spiritual decay all around us. How shallow  the work in her so-called revivals!  How superficial the experience of most of her members! How inconsistent their lives! How helpless is the church against the giant evils of the day!  How worldly in her afflictions and methods!  How pitifully small the results in comparison to the amount expended of labor, money, time, and machinery! What is the trouble? "God's people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hos. 4:6). There is a "famine in the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11) .

     There is considerable zeal among the churches, but very little knowledge. Many are very busily engaged in so-called good works; ministering to the poor, laboring in the temperance cause, attending church services, engaging in religious observances, etc., but all these things may be done and yet not one particle of living faith.  In fact such works may be the certain indication of a total lack of faith.  Oftentimes Christians try to make up in miscellaneous doing, their lack of faith and confidence in God; they seem to think that the Lord must not expect much of them in the line of faith and trust, but they will do all they can to help the cause along, and pay the bills; and such persons are oftentimes very zealous, and active and liberal.  All such doing in such a spirit and with such a motive is worse than useless, it is absolutely harmful; the individual after a while makes this doing a substitute for all religious exercises and lapses into a confirmed state of carnal legality; such doing is practically of the law; it is the practicing of that sort of good works that the law enjoins, and when such works are performed as a means to an end or as a substitute for faith, "without which it is impossible to please God," it indicates that we are not Christians, "under grace," but altogether "under the law."  Furthermore such works cannot  justify us nor perfect our faith. These are the very kind of works that Paul says cannot justify us.  If the apostle James meant such works, then he would be in flat contradiction to the apostle Paul; the only way we can reconcile the two is by recognizing the fact that they are talking about different kinds of works; Paul is talking about legal doing as I have noticed above; James refers to such works as are the outgrowth of a faith founded upon a knowledge of "what our Lord is doing" for the time being; and the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, as I have also noticed, is a perfect explanation and full illustration of such faith and works.  I would not be understood as disparaging good works of any kind; all deeds of kindness and Christian benevolence, of self denial and religious service are good if they are the spontaneous outgrowth of a heart of love for God and our brother (1 John 4:21).  But what are they good for? Not, as the means of advancing us in the way of life, much less as a means of recommending us to God's favor, or increasing our credit with heaven, or as a substitute for a spiritual life in heart and practice; but they are good simply because thereby we make ourselves channels through which God's blessings, as they come to us, flow onward to others, to gladden their hearts and enrich their lives. The moment we become self conscious of such works, and begin to congratulate ourselves on their number and magnitude, or feel complacent and self-satisfied because of them or still further, when we begin to excuse ourselves for a lack of spiritual power, or laxity in daily life or indifference to heavenly things, or undue pleasure in worldly things, on the ground that we are doing so much for the cause of God, then is it evident that our doing is a snare and a curse to us; and we had far better remain idle than engage in such works with such motives.

     The true doctrine of faith and works would lead us first to study the Bible, to get acquainted with God and his plan; as we thus come to know God, we begin to trust him. Faith springs up and increases more and more; we learn that God has a "due season" and a "present truth," and we begin to inquire what is God's present truth now? In the days of Noah the present truth was the impending destruction of the race by the flood; in the days of Rahab the present truth was the impending destruction of her people: in the days of John the Baptist the present truth was "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;" in the days of the Lord Jesus the present truth was the presence of the long-looked-for Messiah (Lu. 19:44); in the days of Martin Luther and the reformers the present truth was the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, in opposition to the abuses and corruptions of the Romish church; in our day the present truth is, what? The apostle James expresses it when he says, "The Judge standeth at the door."  The "Signs of the times" and the "Scripture of truth" indicate that the period in which we live is more momentous than any other since the world began. We are living in another transition period, "as it was in the days of Noah;" between the "Heavens and the earth which are now," and the "New heavens and new earth;" glorious as well as aweful events are impending, and the sole protection of "the man of God" in these evil days is "the Whole Armour of God" (Eph. 6:13). "His Truth shall be thy shield and buckler" (Psa.91:4). A  living faith is not simply believing, but believing the truth, and that too the present truth. Learn what that truth is, and let thy faith be founded thereon, and thy works correspond thereto, and thou shalt obtain a part in that "better resurrection" (Heb.11:35), with Jesus and all God's saints.

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