Confessing Our Faith In the Culture – Chapter 16

Of Good Works


7. Works done by unregenerate men although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use, both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner according to the word, nor to a right end the glory of God; they are therefore sinful and cannot please God; nor make a man meet to receive grace from God; and yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God. LBCF

A work commanded by God is good, considered in itself; but something more is requisite to make it good as performed by us. And no action is a good work in the sight of God, except it be formally as well as materially good [for a work to be materially good it must be a good thing done well]. What things are necessary to render a work formally good, may be learned from the subsequent sections of this chapter; but we judge it proper to state them briefly in this place. 1. They must be performed by a person who is justified by the righteousness of Christ, and renewed by his Spirit. 2. They must be done from a right principle–faith working by love. There must be faith or persuasion that what we do is commanded by God; and we must perform it from a respect to his authority.–Rom. xiv. 23. There must also be a faith of the acceptance of our works only through the mediation of Christ. Our obedience must likewise flow from love to God.–1 John v. 3. 3. They must be performed in a right manner. They must be done in the strength of promised grace, and in dependence upon the righteousness of Christ for acceptance–in the exercise of gratitude to God for all his benefits, and under a deep sense of our own unworthiness. 4. They must be directed to a right end. Our works cannot be accounted good, except our chief and ultimate end in doing them be the glory of God.–1 Cor. x. 31. Shaw, Commentary on the WCF (1845)

A. A good work is one done:

1. by a person in right standing

a. justified by the righteousness of Christ

b. renewed by his Spirit

2. from a right principle

a. faith working by love

i. persuasion that what we do is commanded by God

ii. confidence that our works will be accepted only through the mediation of Christ

b. out of respect to God’s authority

i. obedience must flow from love to God

3. in a right manner

a. done in the strength of promised grace

b. in dependence on the righteousness of Christ for acceptance

Our good works while we live here are imperfect and impure in themselves. They are not acceptable to God except in Christ. The works of the regenerate do not have any merit worthy of a reward obtained on the basis of justice. …The best works of the faithful have an imperfection which needs restoration, yet the works themselves are not sins. William Ames, Marrow of Divinity. 1576-1633

c. from gratitude to God for all his benefits

d. under a deep sense of our own unworthiness

4. to a right end

a. Our works cannot be accounted good, except our chief and ultimate end in doing them be the glory of God. Shaw

5. according to a good standard

This (pattern or good standard) is found when the act accords with the revealed will of God. The will of God, as it is apprehended (fully understood or grasped) by reason, informs a man’s action. Ames

B. God’s revealed will has a dual emphasis. Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 1:18; Ephesians 4:24; James 1:27

…the first part of theology, or faith in God; …observance toward God, the remaining part. Observance is the submissive performance of the will of God for the glory of God. It holds the will of God as a pattern and a rule. …It is concerned with the will of God which prescribes our duty. Things that are revealed have been revealed that we may do them. …It is called obedience when the will is made ready to bring the command of God, which has been heard or in some way perceived, into execution. Ames

1. Holiness

a. love God

b. Religion

i. doing those things which pertain to God’s honor

ii. pursuit of piety

2. Righteousness

a. love your neighbor

b. justice Isaiah 58:6-10 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

i. overcome oppression v. 6

ii. feed the hungry v. 7a

iii. house the homeless v. 7b

iv. clothe the naked v. 7c

v. show compassion v. 7d

vi. don’t show contempt v. 9b

vii. spend yourself for others v. 10

I must not give the impression that all Wilberforce cared about or worked for was the abolition of slavery. In fact, the diversity of the evangelistic and benevolent causes he labored to advance makes his devotion to abolition all the more wonderful. Most of us make the multiplicity of demands an excuse for not giving ourselves to any one great cause over the long haul. Not so with Wilberforce. There was a steady stream of action to alleviate pain and bring the greater social (and eternal!) good. “At one stage he was active in sixty-nine different initiatives.” His involvements ranged widely. He was involved with the British Foreign Bible Society, the Church Missionary Society, the Society for the Manufacturing Poor, and the Society for the Better Observance of Sunday. He worked for the alleviation of harsh child labor conditions (like the use of small boys by chimney sweeps to climb up chimneys), for agricultural reform that supplied affordable food to the poor, for prison reform and the restriction of capital punishment from cavalier use, and for the prevention of cruelty to animals. On and on the list could go. In fact, it was the very diversity of the needs and crimes and injustices that confirmed his evangelical conviction that one must finally deal with the root of all these ills if one is to have a lasting and broad influence for good. That is why, as we have seen, he wrote his book, A Practical View of Christianity. John Piper, the Roots of Endurance


See also these articles from the July-August 2007 Mission Frontiers magazine:

The Age of Wilberforce

The Wilberforce Legacy





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