What does it profit, my brothers, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him?…
Religion may be described in general terms as consisting of knowledge and practice, the first of which is no farther useful than as it tends to produce and encourage the second. The Almighty has not revealed to us the knowledge of Himself and His will merely for the improvement of our understanding, but for the amendment of our lives; not to entertain our. minds with abstract speculations, but to govern our actions and to form our souls to virtue. Faith, indeed, is not, like the moral virtues, destroyed by a simple omission of its proper acts; yet, by continued negligence, it will imperceptibly die away, and give place to infidelity; not perhaps to open and declared infidelity, but to a secret kind, which seems to be the most prevailing sin of this age. The progress of this decay is easily traced through all its steps and degrees. By intermitting the practice of those religious duties which faith binds us to we lose all taste and affection for them; soon after they become the objects of weariness and disgust, feelings which excite us powerfully to throw them off entirely by secretly renouncing that faith which imposeth so heavy a load. The substance of faith being corrupted, there remains no more than an empty shadow, worse in the sight of God than pagan infidelity, because it is infidelity raised upon the rocks and ruins of Divine faith. It must be confessed that a habit of faith may exist in the soul without acting, but still no wise man will depend on such a faith for his justification. A thousand enemies wage eternal war against it; and when it lays aside good works, which are its only weapons of defence, it must of necessity be vanquished. Besides, if we consider faith in another view, as a supernatural grace bestowed by God, its connection with good works will still appear more evident. For, faith being given us only for action, all its virtue is reduced to this — that it is proper for raising in the soul a desire for those good things which it reveals: its only employment being to support man in the execution of his Christian duties; when it produceth nothing of this kind, the Almighty is concerned even for His own glory to withdraw it. It is thus that we may sometimes see the most sublime geniuses, the most penetrating and soaring spirits, fall into the grossest errors, and wander in utter darkness, acknowledging neither God, nor faith, nor law. Thus the neglect of good works, we see, brings on the extinction of faith; and so far, therefore, they appear absolutely necessary. But we may farther observe that good works, sincerely and fervently practised, are the only means to arrive at the perfection of faith, or to strengthen a faith that is weak and languishing; and this second truth is capable of illustration, both from reason and authority. I give a remarkable example of it, in the person of the centurion Cornelius, who, from an obscure and confused belief which he had of the mysteries of God, arrived at the clear, distinct, and perfect faith of a Christian. God had regard to the works of piety and mercy which Cornelius continually performed, and sent an apostle to instruct him, and prepare him for baptism. Let us, like him, be pious, zealous, honest, and charitable; and we shall see whether that God, who is ever faithful in His promises, will not by His Holy Spirit increase and strengthen our faith. We cannot, perhaps, at present serve God, nor fulfil His law, with that vivacity and assurance of faith which all His saints have shown; but we can interest the Almighty in our favour. By regulating our family; by doing justice to all the world; by inspiring the love of virtue among our friends; by employing other and more powerful intercessors, which are the poor and the needy; we may incline God to restore us that spirit of religion which is well-nigh lost. Every charitable action we perform, every assistance we bring to the ruined or afflicted, every prayer we breathe to Heaven, will serve to rekindle our wavering faith. We have always sufficient faith to enable us to begin this work, and sufficient to condemn us, indeed, if we begin it not. What was it inspired Cornelius with so much fervour in his prayers and his charities? He believed in a God, the rewarder of virtue and avenger of vice; and this made him conclude that, being rich, he was obliged to be charitable; that, being a father, he was obliged to teach his children the duties of religion; that, being a master, he was obliged to give good example to his domestics; that, being a man and a sinner, he was obliged to pray and to perform works of penitence. Do we not, like him, believe in a God? and, in the profoundest abysses of libertinism, do we not still preserve that ray of light which nature herself affords to point out the existence of a Deity? We have then sufficient faith for a beginning, and sufficient to engage us in the duties of piety and charity, in the accomplishment of which our faith shall be infallibly perfected. Let us then address our prayers to God, to beg His assistance in our works of faith; and, aided by Him, let us go on with increasing ardour and activity. Moved by our filial confidence, He will hearken to our prayers; our weak and cold faith shall revive within us, and we shall revive with it. By superior diligence our former losses shall be repaired, and our light grow clear in proportion to our good works. In the end we shall be found worthy of this sentence from our Judge — "As thou hast believed, so be it unto thee." Thou hast improved the talent which was intrusted to thy care; thou hast "shown thy faith by thy works": come and receive thy reward. Thou hast trod with firm perseverance the path which thy faith traced out, and still had an eye to the recompense which it discovered to thee: come, take possession of the heavenly kingdom, and enjoy eternal felicity.
Parallel VersesKJV: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?