Saving Faith and Good Works

by Ebenezer Erskine

FIRST, WHAT BELIEVING IN GOD IMPORTS: It imports the knowledge of God, in a suitableness to the revelation which He hath made of Himself to us, through Christ, in the Gospel. I do own that the very heathens may know His eternal power by the things that are seen. But there is no saving knowledge of God by a guilty sinner, but as He is in Christ: “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Co 4:6). And whatever fine notions or speculations people may have of God and of His excellencies, as discovered in the works of creation and providence, yet, if their notions of Him be not regulated by the Gospel revelation, and if this revelation of a God in Christ be not opened by the Spirit of wisdom, rending the veil of ignorance and unbelief that is upon the mind by nature, there can be no saving, satisfying, or sanctifying knowledge of God and consequently no true faith or believing…Only a saving illumination of the mind with the knowledge of a God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, can produce a saving faith. And this knowledge is so essential to faith, or believing, that we find it frequently in Scripture called by the name of knowledge: “This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (Joh 17:3).

To believe in God implies a firm and steady assent unto the truth and veracity of God speaking in His Word. It is to believe and credit what He says on His own testimony. This is called a “receiving the record of God, a setting to the seal that God is true, a believing of the report of the Gospel.” When the man hears “the word of the truth of the Gospel,” he is ready to cry out with the Apostle, “It is a faithful saying.” This Word is established in the heavens; yea, heaven and earth shall pass away, but this Word of God endureth forever...

I proceed now to inquire what influence this faith hath upon good works:

True faith unites the soul to Christ, Who is the very root and fountain of all holiness. “From me (saith the Lord), is thy fruit found. Except ye abide in me, and I in you,” to wit, by faith, “ye cannot bring forth much fruit.” Indeed, a person in a state of nature may bring forth many fruits that are morally and materially good; but, without union with Christ, we can do no work that is spiritually good and acceptable; for “as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (Joh 15:4). We may as well gather grapes off thorns or figs off thistles as expect works that are spiritually good from a person out of Christ . . .

Faith works by love, and love is the fulfilling of the Law. Love to God in Christ is the next and immediate fruit of true and saving faith. Now, the heart being oiled with the love of God in Christ, this makes the man to abound in good works: “The love of Christ constraineth us,” says the Apostle (2Co 5:14). Love makes a man to keep God’s commandments. Love will make a man to run through fire and water for Him. “Many waters cannot quench love” (Song 8:7). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8:35).

Faith applies the promises of the New Covenant and fetches grace from thence for obeying the precept of the law. Faith, as it were, travels between the precept and the promise: it carries the man from the precept unto the promise and from the promise to the precept. As for instance, when the law says, “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deu 6:5; Luk 10:27), faith runs to the promise, where God hath said, “God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God” (Deu 30:6)…Does the law say, “Thou shalt know the Lord?” (Hos 2:20). Well, faith looks to the promise, “I will give them an heart to know me” (Jer 24:7). Does the law oblige us to keep all His commandments? Faith runs to the promise and applies it, “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Eze 36:27).

Faith hath influence on good works, as it beholds the authority of a God in Christ interposed in every commandment of the Law.The eye of natural reason may see, as was hinted, the authority of a God-creator, as is plain in the case of the heathens; but it is only the eye of that faith, which is of God’s operation, that can behold the authority of a God in Christ and receive the Law out of His hands...O! when a God in Christ is viewed by faith, the soul cannot but cry out, “He is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth: His commandments are not grievous, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. For I see it no more a covenant of works to me, but a rule of obedience, sweetened with redeeming love and grace.” Thus, you see what influence faith hath upon good works.

Excerpt From “The Necessity and Profitableness of Good Works Asserted.”

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