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may say, all good religion, -- there can be no religion without this. It is all good religion with it. It was the religion of Abraham and saved him. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness ; it could not be otherwise. He stood justified by his faith. But what was the faith? It was faith which was an actuating principle of conduct, or real belief. He believed God, and the consequence was, that in obedience to the command of God he was ready to offer up his son Isaac. It was believing and doing, both in one, and he was accepted. And so everywhere, and in all times and places, he who first believes that God is, and requires a certain obedience, and gives it, is justified. Nothing else can be essential, neither form, nor rite, nor other doctrine. Such faith is itself a complete and necessary justification. If he believed in God, and that he requires a certain obedience, and did not give it, such faith surely could never justify and save. It would be just as if he did not believe at all. It would be a faith without works of the moral law, belief, that is, without believing, and would be unavailing, or rather a damning, faith ; it would be believing a truth and living a lie.
To illustrate this point. I believe, for example, that industry will save me from poverty. That is my faith. No matter what it is raises that belief in me, whether it come of instinct, or authority, or observation of life, it is enough that I believe that industry will save me from poverty. For if I am governed by that belief, if I act, that is, according to my belief, I am saved, or justified. If I did not act according to my faith, if I did not work, of course there would be no salvation ; I should remain as
poor as ever.
Faith without works is dead. It can save neither body nor soul, neither in this world nor the world to come. But faith that is followed or accompanied by works not only saves ; it is a NECESSARY principle of salvation ; it cannot help saving you ; no room remains for the operation of any other principle or doctrine. Such a doctrine as that of the Atonement cannot exist.
If I believe, no matter on what ground, but on some ground felt to be good and sure, that moderation and temperance will save me from disease, or, having fallen into it, will rescue me from it, and I act and live accordingly, I am saved ; my faith is a justifying or saving principle.
And that, when the term faith is used in this way (and in the New Testament whenever this subject is spoken of), it necessarily includes the idea of a certain action consequent upon the faith, is clear from this, that by excluding it the proposition becomes a self-contradictory one. I believe, for example, being in imminent danger of death, yet earnestly desiring life, that a certain medicine will save my life. But is this belief, if I do not take the medicine? We can hardly separate the idea of acting from that of believing. Can it be said that I believe in the power of the compass to guide me over the waste of waters, and in the darkness of night and storm, and give me safe deliverance, if I do not steer my vessel as it points, but according to my own will or conjecture ? But if I obey it, am I not, of necessity as it were, saved ?
Such as this principle of faith is, in these several instances, is it in religion. If I believe in God and Christ, and act accordingly, -or believe them also, believe what they say, - my faith will justify or save me. I shall be
held as just or right in what I have done. And here, as in the other instances, we cannot separate the idea of action from that of believing. It is a mere idle proposition to say I believe in God, or Christ, and do not act accordingly, do none of those things which I believe to be enjoined as essential ; just as it would be to say I believe that a draught of water will save my life, and yet not drink the water. His refusing to drink the water would show he did not believe, whatever he might say ; and the Christian asserting his faith, but refusing the obedience of the gospel, shows he does not believe, whatever he may say, and that his faith cannot justify or save. And so every Christian, naming the name of Christ, but denying him in his life, shows that he does not believe, and therefore cannot be saved. He says that he believes in the waters of life, yet does not drink them ; who dare say such an one believes. He does not believe. The only faith that justifies, is the faith that obeys.
Perbaps this particular phrase, justification by faith, would never have been used, so liable as it is to misconception, had it not been for the pertinacity of the Jewish converts in adhering (though they would fain be Christians) to the law of observances also. But for the necessity of opposing the Jews in this, and insisting that faith in Christ, with its natural concomitants, was enough, without superadding the ceremonial law, Paul, like his Master, might have spoken only of faith and holiness, of belief and righteousness, as the grounds of acceptance with God, without contrasting them with the works of the Jewish law, by which no man other than a Jew could be justified, and which, through a misconception of the sense
in which he used that phrase, laid the foundation of that astounding doctrine, that, in past ages, at least, has so much prevailed, - that good works, namely, or virtue, or holiness, are of no avail, are but as filthy rags, faith alone, and independently of such works, justifying a man in the sight of God. But no one can read the Epistles with attention, or understand the position and feelings of the Jews of that time, and not perceive how unavoidable it was that the Apostle should come forward, not only with his authority as an Apostle, but with his arguments as a man, to defend the new church and its doctrine against their aggressions, -against their pertinacious endeavours to engraft their old law of ceremonial works upon the new law of Christian faith.
Once more, afterward, in the Middle Ages, errors again grew up around this subject, and justification by faith, not indeed in the sense in which we are now explaining it, was again the reasserted doctrine of the Reformation, reasserted this time against the Romish dogma of merit, of laying claim to eternal life as what was justly due, and actually purchased and paid for by alms deeds, gifts to the treasury of the church, self-inflicted penances, mortification of the flesh, and so on.
The doctrine of justification by faith lays stress, indeed, upon all sorts of good works ; but it differs from the Romish doctrine in two particulars ; first, inasmuch as it does not admit that, perform as many virtuous acts as we please or can, we can ever lay claim to eternal salvation as our equal due, it is still, it maintains, of grace, - a gift far exceeding any human merit ; and secondly, inasmuch as it denies all merit to mere ceremonial or other acts, unless they are the fruit of a right principle. Acts of virtue flowing from any corrupt motive, outward forms of worship, how numerous soever, except they are the expression of a genuine piety, are vanity or worse. It is not and cannot be the works alone that justify or save ; but good works that are the fruit of a genuine faith, that proceed from a good principle. This is very obvious. For suppose I distributed largely of my substance to feed the poor, or was liberal in the support of the church, or filled the world with the noise of my zeal, or covered the earth with missionaries of the truth, but only because in these ways I turned apparent virtues to my own worldly account, the faith that issued in such works could never justify. The
must be good, or the fruit is corrupt. If these things are just and true, how, we may well ask, can there be any other doctrine in religion than this of justification by faith? It expresses the whole of religion in the briefest conceivable form and language. It appears to exhaust the whole of both speculative and practical religion.
How else, then, let us ask, first, than by this doctrine can a man be justified and saved ? and, secondly, how can it be that he shall not be justified by faith?
I. How else can a man be justified ?
How wonderful that it could ever be thought, that any other quality or possession could save the soul beside virtue, or holiness ! and that, if by a divine teacher salvation were ever ascribed to faith, in a single word, without further explanation, it could be supposed for a moment to be any faith but such as comprises virtue as a part of it ! How melancholy to consider that that great and blessed