The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 12 - JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS

JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS.

"WAS not Abraham our father justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Thou seest how faith wrought with his works, and by works faith was made perfect. "And so," says many a one, closing the book, "we see how the Scripture which says "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, is guarded and explained." "And so," continues the Apostle James, "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."

Justification by works, as an article of man's religion, is opposed to justification by faith, and therefore it denies the grace of God, and dishonours the blood of Christ. Justification by works, according to the Epistle of James, is the complement, so to speak, of justification by faith. It owns grace, and does homage to the blood.

But "it is of faith that it may be by grace" and grace puts works, and merit in every phase of it, out of court altogether. What then if a man regard his faith as a meritorious thing? He thereby denies grace entirely. He makes a saviour of his own faith; and "can faith save him?" It is no longer a question between God's grace on the one side, and the sinner's merit on the other ; but merely a rivalry between faith and works. The Epistle to the Romans is essentially doctrinal, and the practical is based upon the doctrine. The Epistle to the twelve tribes scattered abroad," is essentially practical, the doctrinal element being purely incidental. Paul's Epistle unfolds the mind and purposes of God, revealing His righteousness and wrath. The Epistle of James addresses men upon their own ground. The one deals with justification as between the sinner and God, the other as between man and man. In the one, therefore, the word is, To him that worketh not, but believeth." In the other it is, "What is the profit if a man say he hath faith, and have not works?" Not "If a man have faith," but "If a man say he hath faith"
proving that, in the case supposed, the individual is not dealing with God, but arguing the matter with his brethren. God, who searches the heart, does not need to judge by works, which are but the outward manifestation of faith within; but man. can judge only by appearances.

Faith identifies a sinner with a Saviour God. But it is nothing in itself. A man cannot show another his faith, any more than he can show him his charity. One who says he has faith, but whose conduct is not that of a believer, is like a man who says he has charity, but does no charitable actions who dismisses a starving beggar with kind words and nothing more. "Even so," says the Epistle. just in the same sense, "faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." You believe in one God. Well, quite right so do the devils ; and what comes of it? They tremble, and so ought you. Believing cannot, therefore, be in itself a meritorious thing. But if it be indeed, to use a favourite metaphor, a laying hold of God, it will declare itself by results. Abraham's case is an instance. He believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness. That is, Abraham believed and God blessed him, "He was holden for righteous, in virtue of faith." Well, the result was that Abraham acted God discerned the faith; man judged of the acts. He believed, and God declared he was righteous. He acted, and man acknowledged he was righteous. He was justified by faith when judged by God, for God knows the heart. He was justified by works when judged by his fellow-men;, for man can only read the life. And just as faith is made perfect, or fulfilled, by works, so the Scripture which says "He was justified by faith," is made perfect, or fulfilled, by the declaration, "He was justified by works."

So then, though in onc sense a man is justified by faith without works, in another sense we see "how by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Justified by faith before God ; justified by works before men. This is not mere assertion nor is it a plausible piece of sophistry. It is not only that these Scriptures admit of no other explanation, but that this explanation is thoroughly in keeping with the respective characters of the two epistles. And, moreover, just as in the 23rd verse, the Apostle James guards the truth of justification by faith; so, in the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul alludes to the, aspect of the truth here insisted on- "If Abraham were justified by works," he declares, "he hath whereof to glory, but not before God."