Friday, November 17, 2017

Lest There be any Confusion as to Grace, Works, Faith, and Salvation... C. Hodge: "Salvation is in no sense, and in no degree, of works"

It's rhetorical, man...
How many works are necessary for final salvation? There are some out there who might be prone to see this question as indicating a legal spirit in the questioner. Well, inasmuch as the question relates to the recent discussions of "final salvation" or "final justification" they would be wrong. Rather, the question is asked not to pin down a quantifiable number of good works needed, but posed rhetorically to make the very important point that when it comes to the question, the answer is NONE. In the same way, one could ask, how sincere or of what quality must our evangelical works be in order to secure final salvation? If the answer is this or that level then, as the marine in the movie Aliens said, 'Game over, man! Game over!'

And as Charles Hodge wrote, 'Salvation is in no sense, and in no degree, of works.' 

Let me repeat what has already been asserted countless time by many others, including myself. Good works are indeed necessary in a believer's life. We are called to obedience in Christ. Good works are believing in Christ (John 6:29). Good works are fighting (mortifying) sin through the blood of Christ and repentance. Good works are loving and serving others. In short, good works are our obedience and duty to God. But to what purpose are these works necessary in the one who trusts in Christ for salvation? They are necessary in that our obedience shows forth a true and lively faith. Good works or the fruit of faith is how one judges the presence of a saving faith (James 2:18). Yet those necessary works which follow after faith are not necessary works as a means or ground for the securing or ensuring of one's salvation. The weight of that burden was willingly taken for us by the One who was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:8; Matt 11:28-30). When it comes to works, faith, and acceptance by God it doesn't get any clearer than this:
XII. Of Good Works. (39 Articles of Religion)
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
All those whose names are written in the Book of Life (btw, written before the foundation of the world) will necessarily possess goods works (Eph 2:10) as evidence of their trust in Christ alone for eternal life - yet even more - evidence of Christ having chosen them not they having chosen him (John 15:16). So, the admonition to all is: Trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Know that you are called to obedience by him and in him. Know that you are by nature a sinner who sins. Daily walk the path of faith alone in Christ joined by a ready repentance for your sins. And seek to live obediently in a manner worthy of your Lord and Savior.

Now to Hodge:
Ephesians 2:8-9...
The manifestation of the grace of God is the great end of redemption. This is plain, for salvation is entirely of grace. Ye are saved by grace; ye are saved by faith and not by works; and even faith is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. We have then here a manifold assertion, affirmative and negative, of the gratuitous nature of salvation. It is not only said in general, ye are saved by grace,' but further that salvation is by faith, i.e. by simply receiving or apprehending the offered blessing. From the very nature of faith, as an act of assent and trust, it excludes the idea of merit. If by faith, it is of grace; if of works, it is of debt; as the apostle argues in Rom. 4: 4-5. Faith, therefore, is the mere causa apprehendens, the simple act of accepting, and not the ground on which salvation is bestowed. 
Not of works. The apostle says works, without qualification or limitation. It is not, therefore, ceremonial, as distinguished from good works; or legal, as distinguished from evangelical or gracious works; but works of all kinds as distinguished from faith, which are excluded. Salvation is in no sense, and in no degree, of works; for to him that worketh the reward is a matter of debt. But salvation is of grace and therefore not of works lest any man should boast. That the guilty should stand before God with self-complacency, and refer his salvation in any measure to his own merit, is so abhorrent to all right feeling that Paul assumes it (Rom. 4:2) as an intuitive truth, that no man can boast before God. And to all who have any proper sense of the holiness of God and of the evil of sin, it is an intuition; and therefore a gratuitous salvation, a salvation which excludes with works all ground of boasting, is the only salvation suited to the relation of guilty men to God.
Charles Hodge. Commentary on Ephesians 


  1. John Gill-- The Papists finding they could not maintain with success their notion, that good works were meritorious of salvation, instead of the phrase, meritorious of salvation, substituted the other phrase, necessary to salvation, as being a softer one, in order to gain upon incautious minds; when one and the same thing were designed by both. And the Lutheran George Major was thought to be the instrument they made use of for this purpose. But however this be, certain it is, that the broaching of this doctrine by him gave great offence, and occasioned much disturbance.
    This gave Major himself some concern; and Major declared in so many words, that “whereas he saw that some were offended, for the future he would no more make use of that proposition.” Among the chief of his opposers was Nicolaus Amsdorfius, who in great heat and zeal asserted, in contradiction to Major’s notion, that “good works were hurtful and dangerous to salvation ;” a position not to be defended unless when good works are put in the room of Christ, and are trusted to for salvation: But it is not doing of them, that is or can be hurtful to salvation, but depending on them when done.
    This controversy raised great troubles in the churches and gave Melancthon a good deal of uneasiness; who at first was ensnared into the use of the phrase, though he afterwards rejected it, as improper and dangerous. . Melancthon at length allowed that “good works were not necessary to salvation;” nor did he dare to assert it: “For these reasons,” says he, “we teach that good works; or new obedience, are necessary; yet this must not by any means be tacked to it, that good works are necessary to obtain salvation and eternal life.” In his answer to the pastors of Saxony, he has these words: “Nevertheless, let us not use this phrase, good works are necessary to salvation.” And, in another place, “Verily I say, that I do not make use of this phrase, good works are necessary to salvation; but I affirm, that these propositions are true, and properly and without sophistry thus to be declared; new obedience is necessary, or good works are necessary; because obedience is due to God, according to that saying, Debtors we are.”

    1. I believe Ursinus writes essentially the same thing as Melancthon. Mel is in good company...

  2. Hello. I just now ran into your blog. You have some interesting comments concerning Anglicanism. I'm 36 and I've had a wide range of experiences within Christianity. I grew-up Methodist and Episcopalian. I left the Episcopal Church when I was 23 because of the direction it was going. I participated in a prayer ministry. Left and then joined a PCA church with expository preaching. I decided to go to seminary and I'm attending Trinity School for Ministry. I am one of those reformed leaning Anglicans. There aren't very many of us but we are here.

    I think it would be interesting to hear your story. If you have an email, I would love to talk to you sometime.

    , Tim

    1. Hi Tim,
      I wrote a reply the other day and now see that it didn't post. I'd be more than happy to converse with you via email as to my history and anything else pertaining to your walk through various church traditions. My email link is on the side bar right below the Follower section > Send An Email - Jack Miller


  3. Jack, what evangelical much less what reformed believer makes works the final ground of salvation? OK, there are a few fringe types. But what is going on across the reformed church? Not those groups, existent tho they may be.

    There exists a much greater danger in others who confuse in their wrestling with these truths: 1)The incredible wonder of a new life brought by regeneration. 2) The definitive certainty of multiple avenues of recognizing that God commands obedience, even holiness. 3) The totally undeniable need for grace to hear, to understand, and then to obey. 4) The multiple clues that those who do not do 3 are very possibly not regenerate (the outline of the Epistles, the idea of discipline, the explicit statements of Jesus, the warnings of Hebrews, the warnings of Rev 2-3, any biblically aware reader can provide many more.

    In this there is mystery, where on the one hand or from one perspective, all is of God, while on the other, all happens because a person chooses. Just like the mystery of that work of believing, of exercising faith (see what I did?). Some simply scorn the mystery. We call the Arminians, or Hyper-Calvinists when talking about hearing and responding to the Gospel. And we may correctly recognize that the same sort of error takes place among those thinking about sanctification. In their zeal to flee from justification by works, flee from the pernicious error, they bite into and consume a different apple.

    In their resultant confusion these folks do not merely tend to think of sanctification passive. They do so with gusto, with pulpits openly denying that God demands holiness, when preaching sequentially simply skipping those passages that detail obedience, minimizing the reality that the Lord chastens disobedience.

    Roy Kerns

    1. Hi Roy,

      The conflation of faith and works when it comes to justification and salvation is far from a fringe error. Since the Reformation one can trace it from Arminius (thus the Canons of Dort) to Baxter (Owen's book on Justification was in part a refutation of Baxter's teaching) to Wesley, and more recently those who adhere to Federal Vision and its offshoots. The most current expression of this controversy was triggered by the teachings of John Piper and the support lent to him by Mark Jones. I think Dr. Jones has somewhat muddied the clear waters of Scripture as in the above quote of Hodge. That quote sums up what one needs to hear about necessity of good works FOR salvation, i.e. none. That being said, I agree with your run down on the need to hear teaching regarding the necessity of good works as our obedience to the Lord as well as warnings to all believers given our weaknesses and slothfulness expressed in our natural neglect of obedience and taking sin too lightly.