C. D. Maynard.
Christian Friend vol. 15, 1888, p. 127.
I wish to point out the difference between good works and what we might call more properly works of faith; that is, acts which in themselves prove that the doer of them has faith. To deeds of this sort James refers. "Show us thy faith," he says, "by thy works." Feeding the hungry would not necessarily show I had faith. But here is a man about to slay his son. "Dreadful," says natural conscience; but God has bidden him do it. - The doing it against nature showed that Abraham believed God. It was the obedience of faith - faith in the God of resurrection. But there is nothing in this act which the natural man could approve. It has nothing of the character of a good work commonly and properly so called. Again, here is a woman (Rahab) who sides with the destroyers of her city. By it she saves herself - nothing noble in that - and at the same time is enrolled among the worthies of faith. But her conduct was disgraceful among men on earth. Her justification was, that earth had revolted from the God of heaven and earth. This, however dimly, her faith recognized; for she says, "Jehovah your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath;" and she reverted to her (and our) true allegiance, thereby becoming a traitor in Jericho, but seeking and finding mercy with God. But there is nothing good, in the ordinary sense of the word, in her action.
So if you read down the famous list in Hebrews 11, among the heroes and sufferers of faith I do not think you will find one marked by good works. Not a Dorcas who clothed the naked, or one who gave her substance to feed the poor. That is to say, that those actions which demonstrate that a man has faith are not usually or necessarily good works in the ordinary sense, but are actions which, without faith, might be even bad actions, or would often be mad or foolish ones. For instance, for a father to slay his son; for a people to march into the sea, as Israel (Ex. 14:15); for soldiers to attempt to take a city by marching round it seven days. (Joshua 6.) Works of faith can only be appreciated by faith until God vindicates them. Then Abraham's dwelling in a tent as a stranger and pilgrim, instead of building a city, will not be vindicated until the resurrection. Nor the reason that dying Joseph should be anxious about the burial place of his bones, which was a finer act of faith than forgiving his brothers.
The natural man cannot appreciate faith. Not so with good works. These the natural man can appreciate fully, for man is benefited by them in his temporal interests. The present day is a day for good works in many quarters, for which we are thankful; but it is not a day for faith. It is a day of unbelief, of prudence, of sight. Combinations, like clubs and insurance societies, whereby men fortify themselves against the chances and changes of this mortal life - all this is sight. Now, how important it is to remember that what is pleasing to God is faith. "Without faith it is impossible to please Him." Faith believes that He is, and therefore relies on Him. Nature cannot help us here. A tender heart may sympathize with, and, where there are resources, succour the distressed. All beautiful, but it cannot help us to do a work of faith. Happily faith is not always being tested, though it ought always to be present. It may be tested sharply only a few times in our life. These are golden opportunities which we so often shrink from and so often, alas! fail in, but in which some win immortal honours. The great justification of faith - that is, what makes it right and rational to walk by faith - is the fact that God has raised up Jesus Christ from among the dead. He "raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God." (1 Peter 1:21.) Now, if God brought up that blessed Man of faith from the grave, there are no circumstances out of which He cannot bring us, and there is no pathway of obedience which we are not justified in treading.
But we may notice that we are not responsible to do works of faith. I mean, that we have not to seek in any way to display our faith. David does not seek a bear to slay. The gold does not seek the furnace. But when we come to good works it is quite different, for we are to be diligent to maintain them. It is responsibility. While some are very active at the present time in good works, I think there is a tendency in others rather to neglect them. This may be from the selfish slothfulness which is common to us; and also in part from the evil connections in which good works are often found, and the various motives from which they may flow.
So far from good works proving the existence of faith, they may be the fruit of unbelief itself, as when the Romanist, or Pharisee, rests on them as a ground of salvation, or a help towards it, instead of resting entirely upon the precious blood of Christ. Again, they may be the fruit of natural kindness of heart, though this is probably very rare, apart from the direct or indirect influences of Christianity. But let us remember that grace cannot exist in the heart and good works be absent. For instance, the very hour of the night in which the jailor is converted, and before he is baptized, he washes the stripes of Paul and Silas. What God looks for in the saints - that is, in justified sinners - is, that they should be good people. Of old He planted a vineyard to get fruit. That was Israel. We now are branches in the true vine in order to bear fruit. So in John 5, those who rise to life are those "that have done good." This of course shows that none can truly do good apart from faith and the new birth; but it makes manifest God's delight in those that do good. So again, in the judgment of Matt. 25 (where we know that the Church does not appear), only those are saved whose faith found practical expression in good works. "I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink," etc. See how the apostle presses good works on us in Titus 3: "Put them in mind . . . to be ready to every good work . . . . I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men." And again, "Let our's also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful." Would it not be much for the health of our souls if, when we had a little time, or strength, or money that we could spare, we looked round to see what good we could do? This kind of a soul Dorcas was. Her death was such a loss that she was given back again. People of this kind also adorned the corrupt church of Thyatira. See, too, what is said of the widow in 1 Tim. 5, "Well reported of for good works;" and "if she have diligently followed every good work;" and this woman had brought up children as well. Now we happily see people around us bearing this character. Here is one sitting up a night with a sick person. Another running in in a spare hour to make a dying saint's bed. Another taking charge of the little children to let a mother get to the meeting. There are numbers of such things to be done that would relieve many an honest groan, but could we be enrolled among those who have diligently followed every good work?
If we turn to the life of our Lord, both good works and acts of faith abound. "He went about doing good." Blessed story! And He was "the author and finisher of faith." He ran the whole race. The invisible joy of the glory was the crown before the eye of His faith, and for that "He endured the cross, despising the shame." This was faith. May the Lord grant us the grace to seek His footsteps, and to win His praise. C. D. M.