“FOR as the body Without the spirit is dead, so faith Without works is dead also.”
We shall try to write upon this Scripture at the request of Mrs. E. F. Reed, of Williamsville, Missouri. This friend of the SIGNS is at present a member of the Methodist denomination, but has for a long time been dissatisfied with the teachings and practices of that body of people, and wishes to unite with the Old School Baptists, but lives nowhere near any of our people. If any one who reads this article knows of any Old Baptists living in Wayne County, Missouri, we ask that one to please notify Mrs. Reed of same at her address given above. Mrs. Reed’s letter to us is withheld from publication at her request, much to our regret, as it shows she is surely taught of the Lord in a wonderful way.
Coming directly to our subject, we wish to say that the expression, “The body without the spirit,” means the body without the breath. The word “spirit” refers not to God’s Spirit, but to the breath which is in every human being. When the breath leaves the body the body is dead. James uses this to illustrate faith without works. As the breath is the life of our mortal bodies, and manifests itself in action, so works are the activity of faith. James means that where faith is, there works will be. Works do not, cannot bring about that faith which is the gift of God, but when God imparts his divine faith in the life of the believer, that faith will show itself in results which he calls “works.” If there are no actions or works of faith, then the faith is not there. God does not operate by his Holy Spirit in the believer and allow that work not to show itself. Wherever the Spirit of God is in operation it will show itself outwardly in “works.” Old School Baptists are often accused of not believing in works, but this is utterly false. We do assuredly believe in works, not works which bring about salvation, but salvation which brings about works. We believe, because the Bible so teaches, that good works are the effect of grace; we do not believe that works bring about grace. Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans of justification by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; James writes in his letter of justification by works, yet there is not the shadow of a conflict between the doctrine of Paul and the doctrine of James. Paul is speaking of that which justifies the sinner in the sight of God: the resurrection of Christ from the dead. James writes of that which justifies us in the sight of our brethren in our church relationship here in the world. The works or acts of the believer do not justify him in God’s sight at all, but our works, "which are the issue of our faith, do show to our brethren whether our profession is a dead or a living one. No matter how much we might profess to our brethren that we love them, if we do not show by our actions that we love them, how are they to really know that we love them? Where the walk does not consist with one’s profession, that one’s profession or faith lacks vitality, just as the body without the breath is dead. You see, therefore, Paul is treating of the doctrine of justification from God’s viewpoint, while James is thinking and writing of that same matter from the viewpoint of the brethren. Just as the resurrection of Christ from the dead justifies all the elect in the sight of God, so does the power or spirit of that same resurrection in the life of the child of God here in the world bring about certain activities or “works” that justify him in the sight of the church here in the world. God gave Abraham this gift of faith, which is the fruit of his Spirit. This faith in Abraham caused Abraham to do certain things which justified or proved the faith that was in him. It caused him to take his son Isaac, the child of promise, without staggering, or doubting the promise of God, and to be about to offer the child upon the altar. Here the renunciation of Abraham’s paternal affection at God’s command proves or justifies the character of Abraham’s faith in God. His offering Isaac did not produce that faith, but the faith produced the obedience. Likewise, Rahab the harlot proved the faith that was in her when she hid the messengers, or spies, from Israel, and sent them out another way. Read Joshua, second chapter. Rahab was literally a stranger to these men that came from Israel, and they were strangers to her, nevertheless she knew “the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.” Now how did this woman, naturally a stranger to Israel and to Israel’s God, know that the God of Israel was the only true God? She knew it because God had given her faith to know it. “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” This faith in Rahab caused her to hide the spies which came from Israel. and to send them away in safety. The hiding these spies did not bring about the faith, but the faith caused her to do the deed, the “work.” It is not what we say that makes us followers of Christ; our actions or the life that we live cause our brethren to have or not to have confidence in our profession. What profit is it to say that we have faith if our works do not Show that we have faith? Gan faith save us? That is, can mere profession establish or confirm us in the eyes of the church as being a child of God? If one is saved by grace, he is saved by grace all the time. He has not been saved by grace, nor he shall not be saved by grace, but he “is” saved by grace all the way along. “By grace are ye saved,” says the apostle, putting it in the present tense. Thus God’s effectual grace in the life of the believer works an effect that is seen by the church, so that he is seen to be saved by his “works;” that is, his works manifest to the brethren that he is saved by grace. Then, too, “if a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” That is, if we love not our brother whom we have seen, what evidence have we that we love God invisible? The evidence that we love God is that we love that which is begotten of God, and if we do love the people of God we need not to be telling them of it all the time; they will know by our actions whether we love them or not. Actions speak louder than words. Our works will prove our love for them, and so will we be justified before them by our works. which shall be the fruit of our faith. Can the fig tree bear olive berries? Can the vine bear figs? The figs do prove. that it is a fig tree, the olives that it is an olive tree, the grapes that it is a vine, and so on. Likewise do love and humility and prayerfulness prove that the faith divine of God is in one’s life. Where this faith is, there will contrite repentance be; there also will be hungerings and thirstings after righteousness, sincere soul-pantings after God. These are the works of faith, and by these, and many such works, is the believer proved or justified in the esteem of all other believers. When the humble believer comes in fearfulness and trembling before the church to seek the ordinance of baptism and a home with other believers, it is not so much what that one says that gives the brethren confidence in his experience as the manner of his coming. His humility and sincerity are more eloquent than words, and do show in the forehead the mark of the lowly Galilean. The fact that our friend Mrs. Reed is inquiring for the Old School Baptists with a desire to cast in her lot with them is a favorable “work,” manifesting the nature of the faith that is in her. A person is often known by the company he or she keeps. If one loves Old School Baptists and fellowships their preaching, that one will most likely be found around where Old Baptists are. He will be moved to hunt them up and to enjoy their company. Such a “work” would beautifully justify the faith of that one. Among the churches that we are trying to serve here in Virginia, we have in the different congregations a few who never say much, but show by their actions year after year that they are taught of God and have been with Jesus. We have no doubt that the churches here would be willing to receive these for baptism without hesitation, even if they themselves were not able to express much in words, should they come before the church. Their works have long proved or justified the faith that is in them, and are more satisfactory than words could ever be. L.
Elder H. H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 17.
September 1, 1916.