What does it profit, my brothers, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him?…
There are two main errors in religion which it is the duty of Christ's ministers frequently and fully to point out. the one, that we can be righteous by our own deservings; the other, that whereas works are not meritorious, they may be neglected.
I. THAT FAITH MUST BE PROVED BY SOME TEST; and —
II. THAT THE TEST ESPECIALLY PROPOUNDED OF IT IS SCRIPTURE IS THAT OF HOLY WORKS.
I. That a mere profession of belief is useless must appear very evident to any one who chooses to give the matter the slightest consideration. For there are numerous examples in Scripture of those who rightly professed, but whose heart nevertheless was not right with God. The fact is that there are various kinds of faith spoken of in Scripture, which have each its appropriate fruit, but of which one kind only leads to close union with Christ, and consequently to eternal life.
1. There is an historical faith. We read the Scripture narrative, and we credit it. As well might it be imagined that the belief in the existence of water would quench our thirst, the knowledge of a remedy would cure a disease. No: to believe in Christ in this way has no more saving virtue than to believe the record given of any other being.
2. There is another faith of which the Scripture speaks. Our Lord told His disciples that if they had faith as a grain of mustard seed, they might bid a ponderous mountain be removed, and it should move at their word (Matthew 17:20). And it cannot be doubted that, in the earlier days of Christianity, there were those who cast out devils in the Saviour's name, and in His name did many mighty works, who yet were not His friends, or savingly converted to Him. The faith whereby miracles are wrought has its appropriate effect. And what is this? Why, the benefit (supposing it to he cure of diseases) is to those on whom the cure is performed. It benefits not the soul of the man who works the wonder, unless you would imagine that, by the administering of a medicine to the patient the physician therein cures also himself.
3. There is a third kind of faith which the Scriptures describe. Perhaps I should not err in calling it the faith of the passions. It is the belief which is grounded upon fear or admiration — any passing emotion of the mind. Hence it produces effects wholesome it would appear for the time, but of a most limited character. Such was the faith of Lot's wife. She believed the coming ruin of Sodom. She quitted the devoted city. But the lingering love of her ancient home returned: her faith faltered. Such a faith was that of Herod. tie believed the plain truths which the prophet of the desert proclaimed to him. He began a reformation. But his faith lasted not long. As soon as lust was attacked, it summoned all its powers, quenched in the monarch's breast his feeble belief of the Baptizer's mission. And so you see there are kinds and degrees of faith which save not the soul. Is not the inference inevitable, that we must try and prove our faith and bring it to the touchstone? that we must ascertain if ours be the genuine faith of God's elect?
II. Whether that which is proposed in Scripture is not the evidence of holy works. Our Lord's declaration seems precise enough: "By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (Matthew 7:16, 20). This test, then, we must adopt. It must be carefully observed that by good fruits, good works, I do not mean merely moral conduct. For, though where this exists not there can be no genuine faith or real religion, yet the life may be to the eye unblamable, and yet there be in the heart none of that spiritual principle or influence which God requires. Each part of Christian doctrine, if I may so speak, will be exhibited by its appropriate proof. Genuine faith, receiving the sad truth of man's corruption, will be evidenced by a real, not a merely professed, humiliation before God. Now, though certainly love may exist when it is but professed, yet surely the best proof of its existence is the actual exhibition of it. Desire is in the same way best shown by men's really making exertions to obtain that which they say they long for. Fear is most clearly exhibited when we actually shrink from that which we say we dread. If, then, the best proof of the existence of all these passions or principles be the really doing that which they, if actually felt, would naturally prompt to, so we may conclude it is in spiritual things: the best proof of repentance is an earnest endeavour to be freed from the power and punishment of that sin which we say we mourn for. And, further, genuine faith receiving the record which God has given of His Son will be manifested in an actual resorting to Christ for forgiveness and a cordial affection to His person, work, and offices. Practice is the proper fruit of every gracious affection: it is the proper proof of the true knowledge of God: "Hereby," says the apostle, "we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3). Practice is the proper fruit of real repentance. Hence John the Baptist required the Jews to "bring forth fruits meet for repentance." Practice is the proper evidence of genuine faith. It was by actually complying with God's command to offer up his son that Abraham showed his real belief in the Lord's word. Practice is the proper evidence of a true closing with Christ for salvation. This is evident from the different reception, as we read in the Gospels, Christ's calls met with. By some they were declined or deferred: "Suffer me first to go and bury my father." Practice is the proper evidence of real thankfulness to God. And that this test is the true one is proved by what we see to be the dealings of God with men. We find that He tries, or, as it is sometimes called in Scripture, He "tempts" men, i.e., He brings them into situations where natural principles and affections run counter to the requirements of His Word. Thus Abraham was tried to see whether paternal affection would prevail over his trust in God's declarations. Thus Hezekiah was tried to see whether natural vainglory would overcome humble gratitude for God's mercy. Thus Peter was tried to see whether the fear of man were stronger than love to Jesus Christ. This test, let me further observe, is needed for the individual himself. Some mistakenly deny this. They allow that, to others, the proper proof of a man's profession is his actually walking in the fear and good ways of the Lord; but they say that he, for himself, as if by intuition, knows whether he has really laid hold on Christ, whether he really loves God. Do not these men understand that the human heart is "deceitful above all things"? Do they not remember that there is such a thing as self-deception, a persuasion of the mind that we desire, love, fear that which, on proof, we desire not, love not, fear not? David, sensible of this, entreated the Lord to examine and prove him, and to try his reins and his heart (Psalm 26:2). And so every humble believer will desire. He will not be content with notions: he must have things. He is not satisfied with a religion of the lips or of the thoughts: he must see it influencing the whole man. He relies not on any conduct as the ground of acceptance in God's sight: he does look at it for evidence whether or no he has laid hold upon the things which make for his eternal peace, whether or no he has truly come to Christ for salvation. And now, seeing these things are so, let me seriously, in concluding the subject, ask you what proof you are giving of the reality of your profession?
(J. Eyre, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?