Friday, August 25, 2006

Newman: Justification and Works

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2. Now let us proceed to the second part of the subject, the relation between Faith and Works, which, though quite distinct from the former, may be conveniently considered in connection with it.

St. Paul says that we are "justified by faith without the deeds of the Law;" and St. James, "not by faith only but by works;" are these statements inconsistent? Now, as I said before, to condemn works without faith is surely quite consistent with condemning faith without works. St. James says, we are justified by works, not by faith only; St. Paul implies, by faith, not by works only. St. Paul says, that works are not available before faith; St. James, that they are available after faith. And now I will make this clearer.

(1.) St. Paul says, we are justified without works; what works? "works of," or done under, "the Law," the Law of Moses, through which the Law of Nature spoke {289} in the ears of the Jews. But St. James speaks of works done under what he calls "the royal Law," "the Law of liberty," which we learn from St. Paul is "the Law of the Spirit of Life," for "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;" in other words, the Law of God, as written on the heart by the Holy Ghost. St. Paul speaks of works done under the letter, St. James of works done under the Spirit. This is surely an important difference in the works respectively mentioned.

Or, to state the same thing differently: St. James speaks, not of mere works, but of works of faith, of good and acceptable works. I do not suppose that any one will dispute this, and therefore shall take it for granted. St. James then says, we are justified, not by faith only, but by good works. Now St. Paul is not speaking at all of good works, but of works done in the flesh and of themselves "deserving God's wrath and damnation." He says, "without works;" he does not say without good works; whereas St. James is speaking of good works solely. St. Paul speaks of "works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of His Spirit;" St. James of "good works which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification." Faith surely may justify without such works as, according to our Article, "have the nature of sin," and yet not justify without such as "are pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ."

Now in proof of this distinction it is enough to observe, that St. Paul never calls those works which he says do not justify "good works," but simply "works,"—"works of the Law,"—"deeds of the Law,"—"works not in righteousness,"—"dead works;" what have these to {290} do with works or fruits of the Spirit? Of these latter also St. Paul elsewhere speaks, and by a remarkable contrast he calls them again and again "good works." For instance, "By grace are ye saved through faith, … not of works, lest any man should boast; for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." This surely is a most pointed intimation that the works which do not justify are not good, or, in other words, are works before justification. As to works after, which are good, whether they justify or not, he does not decide so expressly as St. James, the error which he had to resist leading him another way. He only says, against the Judaizing teachers, that our works must begin, continue, and end in faith. But to proceed; he speaks elsewhere of "abounding in every good work," of being "fruitful in every good work," of being "adorned with good works," of being "well reported of for good works," "diligently following every good work," of "the good works of some being open beforehand," of being "rich in good works," of being "prepared unto every good work," of being "throughly furnished unto all good works," of being "unto every good work reprobate," of being "a pattern of good works," of being "zealous of good works," of being "ready to every good work," of being "careful to maintain good works," of "provoking unto love and to good works," and of being "made perfect in every good work." [2 Cor. ix. 8. Eph. ii. 10. Col. i. 10. 2 Thess. ii. 17. 1 Tim. ii. 10; v. 10, 25; vi. 18. 2 Tim. ii. 21; iii. 17. Tit. i. 16; ii. 7, 14; iii. 8, 14. Heb. x. 24; xiii. 21.] Now surely this is very remarkable. St. James, though he means good works, drops the epithet, and only says {291} works. Why does not St. Paul the same? why is he always careful to add the word good, except that he had also to do with a sort of works with which St. James had not to do,—that the word works was already appropriated by him to those of the Law, and therefore that the epithet good was necessary, lest deeds done in the Spirit should be confused with them [Note 1]?

St. Paul, then, by speaking of faith as justifying without works, means without corrupt and counterfeit works, not without good works. And he does not deny what St. James affirms, that we are justified in good works.


Such has ever been the Catholic mode of reconciling the two Apostles together, and certainly without doing violence to the text of St Paul. But now, before proceeding, let us for a moment inquire, on the other hand, what attempts have been made on the side of Protestant writers to reduce the language used by St. James to a Lutheran sense.

"By works," says St. James, "a man is justified, and not by faith only." Now, let me ask, what texts do their opponents shrink from as they from this? do they even attempt to explain it? or if so, is it not by some harsh and unnatural interpretation? Next, do they not proceed, as if distrusting their own interpretation, to pronounce the text difficult, and so to dispose of it? yet who can honestly say that it is in itself difficult? rather, can words be plainer, were it not that they are forced into connection with a theory of the sixteenth century; and {292} then certainly they become as thick darkness, "as a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee; and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed." [Isaiah xxix. 11.] If St. James is difficult, is St. Paul plain? will any one say that St. Paul is plainer than St. James? Is it St. James in whose Epistles are "some things hard to be understood?" What then is this resolute shutting of the eyes to an inspired Apostle, but the very spirit which leads the Socinian to blot out from certain texts, as far as his faith is concerned, the divinity of Christ? If we may pass over "By works a man is justified, and not by faith only," why may we not also, "I and My Father are One"? Can we fairly call it self-will to refuse the witness of the latter text, while we arbitrarily take on ourselves to assign or deny a sense to the former? What is meant by maintaining the duty of a man's drawing his Creed from Scripture for himself, and yet telling him it is a deadly heresy to say, just what St. James says, and what St. Paul (to say the least) does not deny? But in truth, after all, men do not make up their mind from Scripture, though they profess to do so; they go by what they consider their inward experience. They fancy they have reasons in their own spiritual history for concluding that God has taught them the doctrine of justification without good works; and by these they go. They cannot get themselves to throw their minds upon Scripture; they argue from Scripture only to convince others, but you may defeat them again and again, without moving or distressing them; they are above you, for they do not depend on {293} Scripture for their faith at all, but on what has taken place within them [Note 2]. But to return:—


(2.) A clearer view of faith and works will be gained by considering that faith is a habit of the soul: now a habit is a something permanent, which affects the character; it is a something in the mind which develops itself through acts of the mind, and disposes the mind to move in this way, not in that. We do not know what it is in itself, we only know it in its results; relatively to us, it exists only in its results. We witness certain deeds, a certain conduct, we hear certain principles professed, all consistent with each other, and we refer them to something in the mind as the one cause of what is outwardly so uniform. When we speak of a bountiful man, we mean a man who thinks and does bountifully; and if we were to say that God will reward bountifulness, we should mean bountiful acts. In like manner then, when we speak of a believer, we mean a man who thinks and does,—that is, of a mind that acts,—believingly; and when we say that God justifies by faith on our part, we mean by acts of whatever kind, deeds, works, done in faith.

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