Reformation on faith and works

In his Introduction to Romans, Luther stated that saving faith is,

a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever...Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! []

This is what I have often said, if faith be true, it will break forth and bear fruit. If the tree is green and good, it will not cease to blossom forth in leaves and fruit. It does this by nature. I need not first command it and say: Look here, tree, bear apples. For if the tree is there and is good, the fruit will follow unbidden. If faith is present works must follow.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:340-341]

“We must therefore most certainly maintain that where there is no faith there also can be no good works; and conversely, that there is no faith where there are no good works. Therefore faith and good works should be so closely joined together that the essence of the entire Christian life consists in both.” [Martin Luther, as cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963], 246, footnote 99]

What Augustine says is indeed true: He who has created you without yourself will not save you without yourself. Works are necessary for salvation, but they do not cause salvation; for faith alone gives life. For the sake of hypocrites it should be said that good works are necessary for salvation. Works must be done, but it does not follow from this that works save… Works save externally, that is, they testify that we are just and that in a man there is that faith which saves him internally, as Paul says: ‘With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’.” [What Luther Says 3: 1509]. [Ewald M. Plass, “What Luther says,” page 1509]

“Thus faith casts itself on God, and breaks forth and becomes certain through its works. When this takes place a person becomes known to me and to other people. For when I thus break forth I spare neither man nor devil, I cast myself down, and will have nothing to do with lofty affairs, and will regard myself as the poorest sinner on earth. This assures me of my, faith. For this is what it says: "This man went down to his house justified." Thus we attribute salvation as the principal thing to faith, and works as the witnesses of faith. They make one so certain that he concludes from the outward life that the faith is genuine.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:341]

“Thus, faith must be exercised, worked and polished; be purified by fire, like gold. Faith, the great gift and treasure from God, must express itself and triumph in the certainty that it is right before God and man, and before angels, devils and the whole world. Just as a jewel is not to be concealed, but to be worn in sight, so also, will and must faith be worn and exhibited, as it is written in 1 Peter 1, 7: "That the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire," etc.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2:245-246]

In those therefore in whom we cannot realize good works, we can immediately say and conclude: they heard of faith, but it did not sink into good soil. For if you continue in pride and lewdness, in greed and anger, and yet talk much of faith, St. Paul will come and say, 1 Cor. 4:20, look here my dear Sir, "the kingdom of God is not in word but in power." It requires life and action, and is not brought about by mere talk.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:341-342]

“All believers are like poor Lazarus; and every believer is a true Lazarus, for he is of the same faith, mind and will, as Lazarus. And whoever will not be a Lazarus, will surely have his portion with the rich glutton in the flames of hell. For we all must like Lazarus trust in God, surrender ourselves to him to work in us according to his own good pleasure, and be ready to serve all men. And although we all do not suffer from such sores and poverty, yet the same mind and will must be in us, that were in Lazarus, cheerfully to bear such things, wherever God wills it.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:25]

“This is why St. Luke and St. James have so much to say about works, so that one says: Yes, I will now believe, and then he goes and fabricates for himself a fictitious delusion, which hovers only on the lips as the foam on the water. No, no; faith is a living and an essential thing, which makes a new creature of man, changes his spirit and wholly and completely converts him. It goes to the foundation and there accomplishes a renewal of the entire man; so, if I have previously seen a sinner, I now see in his changed conduct, manner and life, that he believes. So high and great a thing is faith.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:341]

Works are a certain sign, like a seal on a letter, which make me certain that my faith is genuine. [cf. 1Jn. 5:13] As a result if I examine my heart and find that my works are done in love, then I am certain that my faith is genuine. If I forgive, then my forgiving makes me certain that my faith is genuine and assures me and demonstrates my faith to me.” [Martin Luther, as cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963], 247, footnote 106]

“Hence the beginning of goodness or Godliness is not in us, but in the Word of God. God must first let his Word sound in our hearts by which we learn to know and to believe him, and afterwards do good works.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:339]

When works follow it becomes apparent that we have faith…” [Martin Luther, as cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963], 247, footnote 106

“..that alone can be called Christian faith, which believes without wavering that Christ is the Saviour not only to Peter and to the saints but also to you....Such a faith will work in you love for Christ and joy in him, and good works will naturally follow. If they do not, faith is surely not present: for where faith is, there the Holy Ghost is and must work love and good works.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:21-22]

“For it is impossible for him who believes in Christ, as a just Savior, not to love and to do good. If, however, he does not do good nor love, it is sure that faith is not present. Therefore man knows by the fruits what kind of a tree it is, and it is proved by love and deed whether Christ is in him and he believes in Christ. As St. Peter says in 2 Pet. 1, 10: "Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble," that is, if you bravely practice good works you will be sure and cannot doubt that God has called and chosen you.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:40]

“But here we must take to heart the good example of Christ in that he appeals to his works, even as the tree is known by its fruits, thus rebuking all false teachers, the pope, bishops, priests and monks to appear in the future and shield themselves by his name, saying, "We are Christians;" just as the pope is boasting that he is the vicar of Christ. Here we have it stated that where the works are absent, there is also no Christ. Christ is a living, active and fruit- bearing character who does not rest, but works unceasingly wherever he is. Therefore, those bishops and teachers that are not doing the works of Christ, we should avoid and consider as wolves.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:93]

Christ is the priest, all men are spiritual lepers because of unbelief; but when we come to faith in him he touches us With his hand, gives and lays upon us his merit and we become clean and whole without any merit on our part whatever. We are therefore to show our gratitude to him and acknowledge that we have not become pious by our own works, but through his grace, then our course will be right before God...[Sermons of Luther 1:152]

For if your heart is in the state of faith that you know your God has revealed himself to you to be so good and merciful, without thy merit, and purely gratuitously, while you were still his enemy and a child of eternal wrath; if you believe this, you cannot refrain from showing yourself so to your neighbor; and do all out of love to God and for the welfare of your neighbor. Therefore, see to it that you make no distinction between friend and foe, the worthy and the unworthy; for you see that all who were here mentioned, have merited from us something different than that we should love and do them good. And the Lord also teaches this, when in Luke 6:35 he says: "But love your enemies, and do good unto them, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil." [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:101]

“We must, of course, also have the Holy Spirit, faith, godly speech, and works, if we are to be saved. - Dr. Martin Lutherís Preface to the Wittenberg edition of Lutherís German writings;

“Therefore we must close our eyes, not look at our works, whether they be great, small, honorable, contemptible, spiritual, temporal or what kind of an appearance and name they may have upon earth; but look to the command and to the obedience in the works. Do they govern you, then the work also is truly right and precious, and completely godly, although it springs forth as insignificant as a straw. However, if obedience and God’s commandments do not dominate you, then the work is not right, but damnable, surely the devil’s own doings, although it were even so great a work as to raise the dead...And St. Peter says, Ye are to be as faithful, good shepherds or administrators of the manifold grace of God; so that each one may serve the other, and be helpful to him by means of what he has received, 1 Peter 4:10. See, here Peter says the grace and gifts of God are not one but manifold, and each is to tend to his own, develop the same and through them be of service to others.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:244]

In addition, upon hearing that he was being charged with rejection of the Old Testament moral law, Luther responded,

And truly, I wonder exceedingly, how it came to be imputed to me, that I should reject the Law or ten Commandments, there being extant so many of my own expositions (and those of several sorts) upon the Commandments, which also are daily expounded, and used in our Churches, to say nothing of the Confession and Apology, and other books of ours. Martin Luther, ["A Treatise against Antinomians, written in an Epistolary way",]

The Westminster Confession of Faith states:

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love. [Westminster Confession of Faith, CHAPTER XI. Of Justification.]

The classic Methodist commentator Adam Clarke held,

The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law: but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.[Adam Clarke Commentary, Gal. 5:13]

Likewise on on Titus 1:16 ("They profess that they know God; but in works they deny, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." KJV):

Full of a pretended faith, while utterly destitute of those works by which a genuine faith is accredited and proved. [Adam Clarke Commentary, Titus 1]

To which the Presbyterian commentator Mathew Henry concurs: "There are many who in word and tongue profess to know God, and yet in their lives and conversations deny and reject him; their practice is a contradiction to their profession." [Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Titus 1]

Contemporary evangelical theologian R. C. Sproul writes,

The relationship of faith and good works is one that may be distinguished but never separated...if good works do not follow from our profession of faith, it is a clear indication that we do not possess justifying faith. The Reformed formula is, “We are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone.”[[“Essential Truths of the Christian Faith,” Google books]

Present day evangelical Calvinist Oxford theologian Alister McGrath points out, “It can be shown that a distinction came to be drawn between the concepts of merit and congruity; while man cannot be said to merit justification by any of his actions, his preparation for justification could be said to make his subsequent justification' congruous' or 'appropriate.'” “Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification,” vol. L; p. 110

Also, rather than the easy believism Rome associates with sola fide, in Puritan Protestantism there was often a tendency to make the way to the cross too narrow, perhaps in reaction against the Antinomian controversy as described in an account ( of Puritans during the early American period that notes,

“They had, like most preachers of the Gospel, a certain difficulty in determining what we might call the ‘conversion level’, the level of difficulty above which the preacher may be said to be erecting barriers to the Gospel and below which he may be said to be encouraging men to enter too easily into a mere delusion of salvation. Contemporary critics, however, agree that the New England pastors set the level high. Nathaniel Ward, who was step-son to Richard Rogers and a distinguished Puritan preacher himself, is recorded as responding to Thomas Hooker’s sermons on preparation for receiving Christ in conversion with, ‘Mr. Hooker, you make as good Christians before men are in Christ as ever they are after’, and wishing, ‘Would I were but as good a Christian now as you make men while they are preparing for Christ.’”

Justifying faith is not faith plus works (as in Roman Catholicism), nor is it faith without works (as in antinomianism); it is faith that works. The works, however, are not works of merit, but of necessity. Saving faith will “necessarily” produce good works, because justification and sanctification are inseparable. The Genevan Reformer, John Calvin, stressed the importance of both justification and sanctification (which involves “necessary” good works). —

the Lord freely justifies His own in order that He may at the same time restore them to true righteousness by sanctification of His Spirit.” — Institutes, III:16:1; III:3:19

**Calvin, also states in his Institutes, "With good reason, the sum of the gospel is held to consist in repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31)" (p. 592); and, "surely no one can embrace the grace of the gospel without betaking himself from the errors of past life into the right way, applying his whole effort to the practice of repentance" (Book III, p. 593). "Repentance has its foundation in the gospel, which faith embraces" ( Book III, Chapter 3, p. 593)

And in his Commentaries, Calvin understands that, “The proposition that faith without works justifies by itself is false, because faith without is void.” (John Calvin, Commentaries, Volumes I-XXII (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), Commentary on Ezekiel 18:14-17)

To repent of sin and to believe in Christ as a Savior from sin are really two aspects of one and the same spiritual transaction...Some recognition of Christ and some measure of appropriating faith must thus be involved in all true repentance On the other hand such recognizing and appropriating faith seems to require as its condition some deep consciousness of sin and guilt and impending doom such as will impel the convicted soul to look away unto Jesus for the deliverance it needs.

The practical fact is no one repents worthily except in the sight and vision of as a possible Savior from sin nor does any one truly attain sight and vision of Christ without finding his wicked nature subdued within him and his eyes filled with penitential tears. Whether therefore we place faith first and repentance subsequent as the Symbols do or reverse the order of the two elements should never forget that both are in reality parts of the gracious experience logically set in a certain procession chronologically and spiritually one and inseparable. So we ever interpret the tender injunction so often repeated in the Testament Repent and Believe.

The biblical conception of acceptable repentance is well in the language 87 of the [Westminster] Shorter Catechism a saving whereby a sinner out of a true sense of his sin and of the mercy of God in Christ doth with grief and hatred of sin turn from it unto God with full purpose of and endeavor new obedience. The Larger Catechism 76 expands the in terms but adds nothing except that this saving grace is to be wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word God. The [Westminster] Confession emphasizes the sense of the filthiness odiousness of sin as contrary to the holy nature and righteous of God and defines the scope of repentance in the declaration the penitent soul is henceforth resolved to walk with God in the ways of his commandments. Other descriptive phrases in the Minutes 279 and elsewhere Such an experience is course to be radically differentiated from all experiences might seem to be in any way related to it from natural arising from some perception of the loss or other harmful consequence providential or retributive that may be following indulgence in transgression from moral remorse the sting outraged conscience in view not so much of evil results from a sinful course but rather of the intrinsic wrong the of wickedness in the sight of the personal reason and judgment that must rise up occasionally in every soul not seared and deadened by personal sin also from what may be termed penitence

Calvin has comprehensively defined acceptable repentance as a true conversion of our life to God proceeding from a sincere and serious fear of God and consisting in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man and in the vivification of the Spirit.

The Augsburg Confession Art XII says Repentance consisteth properly of two parts one is contrition or terrors stricken into the conscience through the acknowledgment or recognition of sin the other is faith which is conceived by the Gospel and doth believe that for the sake of Christ sins be forgiven and comforteth the conscience and freeth it from terrors.

The Catechism of Heidelberg defines repentance as twofold the dying of the old man and the quickening of the new heartfelt sorrow for sin on the one side causing us to hate it and turn from it always more and more heartfelt joy in God on the other side causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works.

The Second Helvetic Conf teaches that repentance is a change of heart produced in a sinner by the word of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit and includes a knowledge of native and actual depravity a godly sorrow and hatred of sin and a determination to live hereafter in virtue and holiness.

Repentance say the Irish Articles 40 is a gift of God whereby godly sorrow is wrought in the heart of the faithful for offending God their merciful Father through their former transgressions together with a constant resolution for the time to come to cleave unto God and to lead a new life One of the Confessions embodies the whole in the simple declaration that true repentance is turning to God and all good and turning away from the devil and all evil Nearly all of the Protestant creeds contain similar definitions though with some confusion in many cases between repentance and faith on one hand and repentance and conversion as a consequence of faith on the other.” — THE WESTMINSTER SYMBOLS, pp. 482-83 by Edward D Morris D D LL D Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology In Lane Theological Seminary, 1900

Thomas Watson, an old Puritan, said in The Doctrine of Repentance, "Two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven." “Christians, do you have a sad resentment of other things and not of sin? Worldly tears fall to the earth, but godly tears are kept in a bottle (Ps. 56.8). Judge not holy weeping superfluous. Tertullian thought he was born for no other end but to repent.” “It is a bad sign when a man on his death­bed bequeaths his soul to God and his ill­gotten goods to his friends. I can hardly think God will receive his soul. Augustine said, 'Without restitution, no remission'. And it was a speech of old Latimer, If ye restore not goods unjustly gotten, ye shall cough in hell.”

When God begins to draw me to Himself, the problem of my will comes in immediately. Will I react positively to the truth that God has revealed? Will I come to Him? To discuss or deliberate over spiritual matters when God calls is inappropriate and disrespectful to Him. When God speaks, never discuss it with anyone as if to decide what your response may be (see Galatians 1:15-16). Belief is not the result of an intellectual act, but the result of an act of my will whereby I deliberately commit myself. But will I commit, placing myself completely and absolutely on God, and be willing to act solely on what He says? If I will, I will find that I am grounded on reality as certain as God’s throne.

In preaching the gospel, always focus on the matter of the will. Belief must come from the will to believe. There must be a surrender of the will, not a surrender to a persuasive or powerful argument. I must deliberately step out, placing my faith in God and in His truth. And I must place no confidence in my own works, but only in God. Trusting in my own mental understanding becomes a hindrance to complete trust in God. I must be willing to ignore and leave my feelings behind. I must will to believe. But this can never be accomplished without my forceful, determined effort to separate myself from my old ways of looking at things. I must surrender myself completely to God. — My Utmost for His Highest (The Golden Book of Oswald Chambers;1992, “The Drawing of the Father”)

Eph. 2:10 A regenerated sinner becomes a living soul; he lives a life of holiness, being born of God: he lives, being delivered from the guilt of sin, by pardoning and justifying grace. All is the free gift of God, and the effect of being quickened by his power. It was his purpose, to which he prepared us, by blessing us with the knowledge of his will, and his Holy Spirit producing such a change in us, that we should glorify God by our good conversation, and perseverance in holiness. None can from Scripture abuse this doctrine, or accuse it of any tendency to evil. All who do so, are without excuse. — Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible

James 2:14 In order to a proper interpretation of this passage, it should be observed that the stand-point from which the apostle views this subject is not before a man is converted, inquiring in what way he may be justified before God, or on what ground his sins may be forgiven; but it is after a man is converted, showing that that faith can have no value which is not followed by good works; that is, that it is not real faith, and that good works are necessary if a man would have evidence that he is justified. Thus understood, all that James says is in entire accordance with what is taught elsewhere in the New Testament. — Albert Barnes (1798-1870), Notes on the Bible

Jas 2:14 From Jam. 1:22, the apostle has been enforcing Christian practice. He now applies to those who neglect this, under the pretence of faith. St. Paul had taught that "a man is justified by faith without the works of the law." This some began already to wrest to their own destruction. Wherefore St. James, purposely repeating (Jam. 2:21, Jam. 2:23, Jam. 2:25) the same phrases, testimonies, and examples, which St. Paul had used, Rom. 4:3, Heb. 11:17, Heb. 11:31, refutes not the doctrine of St. Paul, but the error of those who abused it. There is, therefore, no contradiction between the apostles: they both delivered the truth of God, but in a different manner, as having to do with different kinds of men. — John Wesley

James 2:14-26 6. We are taught that a justifying faith cannot be without works, from two examples, Abraham and Rahab. Those who would have Abraham's blessings must be careful to copy after his faith: to boast of being Abraham's seed will not avail any, if they do not believe as he did... [2.] Those works which evidence true faith must to works of self-denial, and such as God himself commands (as Abraham's offering up his son, his only son, was), and not such works as are pleasing to flesh and blood and may serve our interest, or are the mere fruits of our own imagination and devising. — Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714), Commentary on the Whole Bible

Jas 2:14-26 Those are wrong who put a mere notional belief of the gospel for the whole of evangelical religion, as many now do. No doubt, true faith alone, whereby men have part in Christ's righteousness, atonement, and grace, saves their souls; but it produces holy fruits, and is shown to be real by its effect on their works; while mere assent to any form of doctrine, or mere historical belief of any facts, wholly differs from this saving faith. A bare profession may gain the good opinion of pious people; and it may procure, in some cases, worldly good things; but what profit will it be, for any to gain the whole world, and to lose their souls?...True believing is not an act of the understanding only, but a work of the whole heart. — Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible

Jas 2:17 If it hath not works, is dead - The faith that does not produce works of charity and mercy is without the living principle which animates all true faith, that is, love to God and love to man. — Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., (1715-1832), Commentary on the Bible

Jas 2:14-18 Even so faith. Faith that has no power to bring one to obedience and to sway the life is as worthless as good wishes which end in words. — The People's New Testament (1891) by B. W. Johnson

Jas 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. It is like a lifeless carcass, a body without a soul, Jam. 2:26 for as works, without faith, are dead works, so faith, without works, is a dead faith, and not like the lively hope and faith of regenerated persons: — Dr. John Gill (1690-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible

If the works which living faith produces have no existence, it is a proof that faith itself (literally, ‘in respect to itself’) has no existence; that is, that what one boasts of as faith, is dead.” “Faith” is said to be “dead in itself,” because when it has works it is alive, and it is discerned to be so, not in respect to its works, but in respect to itself. — Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Jas 2:17 So likewise that faith which hath not works is a mere dead, empty notion; of no more profit to him that hath it, than the bidding the naked be clothed is to him. — John Wesley

Even so faith; that which they boasted of, and called faith. Is dead; void of that life, in which the very essence of faith consists, and which always discovers itself in vital actings and good fruits, where it is not hindered by some forcible impediment; in allusion to a corpse, which plainly appears to have no vital principle in it, all vital operations being ceased. It resembles a man’s body, and is called so, but in reality is not so, but a dead carcass. — Matthew Poole (1624 -1679)