By E.J. Waggoner
The Bible holds out no promise of a reward for laziness. In God's plan no provision is made for idleness. Heaven is pictured before us as a place of activity, and heavenly beings as untiring workers. The Saviour said, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17); and again, "I must work the works of Him that sent Me." John 9:4. Of the angels we read that they are all "ministering spirits sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation." Heb. 1:14, R.V.
This being the case, it cannot be thought that those who are to inherit salvation should be idle. The apostle Paul laboured with his hands, as an example to the believers, and left on record the Divine commandment, "If any will not work, neither let him eat." 2 Thess. 3:10, R.V. But the frequent exhortation to work is with special reference to spiritual things, rather than physical. Jesus said, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." John 6:27. So the apostle Paul says that the reward will be given to those who patiently continue in well doing (Rom. 2:7); and the Saviour says: "Behold I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be." Rev. 22:12.
Again we read that Christ "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a people for His own possession, zealous of good works." Titus 2:14, R.V. And again, the Holy Spirit, through the apostle James, puts a premium upon good works, in these words: "But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing." James 1:25. Many other texts might be quoted to show that the Christian life is to be one of activity, and that good works are not only necessary, but are the one indispensable requisite.
Works, and works alone, in the judgement, will determine a man's condition for eternity. God "will render to every man according to his "works:" Rom. 2:6. The question which the judgement will settle will not be, "What has this man believed?" nor "How has he felt?" but, "What are his works?" There is no place for the cavil of those who think that they are enunciating a principle of which the Bible is ignorant, when they say, "God will not damn a good man for his opinions nor for his belief." People are neither condemned nor saved because of their opinions, but because of their deeds.
"What!" exclaims one, "are you going to deny the doctrine of justification by faith?" Not by any means. I would go so far as to claim that the doctrine of justification by faith is the one great theme of the Scriptures, and that all others things are but parts of it. But the thing to be emphasised by the above remarks and quotations, is that faith works. See Gal. 5:6. No truer statement was ever made than this, that "faith is not a sedative, but a stimulant." Faith is intensely active, and the source of all spiritual activity. While it is true that only a man's works will be considered in the judgement, it is equally true that the character of his works will be determined by his faith. Where there is no faith, there can be no enduring works.
The works which are acceptable to God are "good works." But perfect goodness resides in God alone. See Mark 10:18. The righteousness which we must have is God's righteousness. Matt. 6:3. Of His own ways God says: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Isa. 55:9. Who, then, can hope to present to God the good works that will be equal to His? None but those who, like Paul's brethren, are ignorant of God's righteousness, would be presumptuous enough to think such a thing possible. Only God can do the works of God. Therefore when the Jews said to Christ, "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" He replied, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." John 6:28, 29.
The words of Paul to the Philippians, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" are often quoted by those who forget the words immediately following, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." Phil. 2:12, 13. God Himself does the good works which when exhibited in the lives of men, render them pleasing to Him. So the Saviour said: "But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." John 3:21.
How, then, do they appear in men? This is the "mystery of godliness." It is the mystery of "God manifest in the flesh." "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." John 1:1, 14. This was done to demonstrate the possibility of God's dwelling in human flesh. The mystery of the works of God being manifested in the lives of men, is simply the mystery of the incarnation.
In Christ dwelleth "all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily." Col. 2:9. Therefore when Christ in His completeness dwells in the heart by faith, that person will be "filled with all the fullness of God." Eph. 3:17-19.
What words could be more full of comfort, and more suggestive of the infinite possibilities of the Christian life than these in Ps. 31:19: "Oh how great is Thy goodness which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men!" Think of it! God Himself has wrought the good works with which we are to appear before His throne. And how are we to get them?--Simply by trusting Him; by appropriating those good works by faith. God Himself comes to dwell with those who believe His word, and He lives out His own life in them. This thought is enough to fill every soul with love and joy and confidence.
The Christian life means an actual life. But life means activity. To live a godly life, therefore, means the living of a life in which the acts of God Himself are manifested. The apostle Paul said: "But by the grace of God I am what I am; and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all;" and then he added, "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." 1 Cor. 15:10. And again: "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Gal. 2:20.
The secret of the whole matter is to acknowledge that in us dwells no good thing; and that God alone is good; that we are nothing, but that He is everything; that we are weakness, but that power belongs to God, and that God has the power to manifest Himself in the flesh today as well as eighteen hundred years ago, if we will but let Him; and to submit ourselves to the righteousness of God. Exaltation comes only through self-abasement. Christian activity comes only through passive submission to God, as the clay is passive in the hands of the potter. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy and for Thy truth's sake."