In 1960 Cawdray said, “As the apple is not the cause of the apple tree, but a fruit of it: even so good works are not the cause of our salvation, but a sign and a fruit of the same.”
Likewise did Luther write, “If so be that a Christian doth good works, whereby he showeth love to his neighbor, he is not therefore made a Christian, or righteous; but he must needs be a Christian and righteous before. He doth good works, indeed; but they do not make a Christian: the tree bringeth forth and giveth fruit, and not the fruit the tree. So none is made a Christian by works, but by Christ.”
Calvin, in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, declares, “We do not justify men by works before God; but we say, that all who are of God are regenerated and made new creatures, that they may depart from the kingdom of sin into the kingdom of righteousness; and that by this testimony they ascertain their vocation, and, like trees, are judged by their fruits.”
To these quotations many others could readily be added that clearly expose as false the oft raised claim that the Reformed faith has no place for the doctrine of good works. Those that raise this claim erroneously conceive of the substance of the Reformed faith to consist of no more than a mere formal and rather abstract declaration of the sovereign, eternal and, therefore, unchangeable decree of Predestination. Accordingly, the destiny of all men is fixed before they are born. Whether one will spend eternity enjoying the glories of heaven or suffer in inexpressible misery in hell is established by Divine decree and, so it is reasoned, it makes no difference whether one’s works are good or evil since these cannot affect or alter one’s status anyway. Once elect, always elect and if not elect, we can do nothing about it. To them the preaching of the doctrine of absolute predestination is incompatible with the maintenance of the doctrine of good works and since they are then confronted with a choice, they readily abandon the former and try to convince themselves that they are faithful to the gospel of Christ when they proclaim the good that sinners must do.
This is a serious error!
Many, even in Reformed circles, are confused with respect to this matter. They tell you that the Scriptures teach that we are “saved through faith without works” but they hasten to add that the same Bible instructs us that “by works a man is justified and not by faith only.” Rather than diligently studying the Scriptures in an attempt to resolve this difficulty, they profess to accept bot the doctrine of salvation by grace and salvation by works, ignoring the Scriptural declaration that “if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:6). Oh, they want to hold that “salvation is from God” but they also are insistent that man must add his “contribution” and without the latter the former is made ineffectual. God offers but man must accept. God establishes the terms of His covenant and man must comply with these terms. God fixes the conditions which man must fulfill.
We may readily admit that the Reformed faith has no place for the doctrine that man’s good works are the cause, basis or reason for his salvation. We also do not deny that the cor ecclesia is the beautiful, God-glorifying, comforting truth of sovereign and absolute predestination. However, it is seriously wrong to conceive of this truth as a mere formal declaration or an abstract doctrine. Furthermore, that there is a conflict between the truth of predestination and that of good works is most emphatically denied by those who know and love the truth.
The fallacy in the reasoning of those who oppose the truth in this respect is twofold: (1) they fail to take into account the whole body of truth revealed in Scripture, and (2) they misconstrue the relation between good works and salvation.
Failing on the first county they do not acknowledge that all men are dead in their sins, incapable of doing any good and prone to all evil. The truth of total depravity, taught throughout Scripture, means fundamentally that if God did offer, man could not accept; if He stipulated terms, man could not meet them; and if He proffered a conditional salvation, man could not fulfill the necessary conditions. Such is the hopelessness of the helpless state into which man has willfully plunged himself. His mind is full of enmity, his will is perverse and his nature is altogether corrupt.
Realizing this truth, we understand that salvation involves the wonder of God’s grace whereby the dead are brought to life. Only when that work has been performed can we envision the possibility of good works. Only when that work has been performed can we envision the possibility of good works. Only when the tree is alive can it bear fruit. Only when the heart is regenerated can it love and glorify God. When God makes of the dead sinner a new creation in Christ Jesus can the works of righteousness, holiness and faith come to manifestation.
In that light we can also understand the correct relation between these good works that are always necessary I the Christian and his ultimate salvation. That relation then cannot be such that he is saved because of his works, i.e., because he believes or keeps the law of God, etc. Nor must he do good works in order to be saved. But the truth declares that we must do good works because “Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit, after His own image; that so we may testify, buy the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for His blessings, and that He may be praised by us; also, that everyone may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation, others may be gained to Christ” (Heid. Cat. Q. 86).
We do good works because we are saved!
Salvation precedes good works!
Blessed fruit of grace!
Wonderful evidence of salvation!
Marvelous and comforting assurance of His unfailing love!
Originally Published in:
Vol. 19 No. 6 August-September 1959