By Dudley Ross Spears
A gospel preacher named John S. Sweeney moved to Illinois in the fall of 1854. Shortly after his arrival, he debated a Methodist preacher called, “the Reverend Mr. Pattet.” The proposition for debate was simple. Mr. Pattet affirmed what was plainly written in the Methodist Discipline, viz., “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort” (Article IX, “Of the Justification of Man”). Brother Sweeney, with the full force of divine truth, denied and devastated such a false doctrine. He ended the short-lived debating activity of the “Reverend Mr. Pallet,” and evidently, other Methodist preachers have learned the same lesson. The entire Methodist Episcopal denomination has stopped defending their doctrine of justification “by faith only.”
The doctrine of “justification by faith only” is the offspring of the famous German reformer, Martin Luther. The Protestant Reformation was “born” as a result of the “discovery” Luther made of this false doctrine. It has become an ingrained part of every denomination that holds to the so-called Evangelical theology. They all proclaim that man is saved, justified and pardoned by “faith only.” Luther was so controlled by this idea that he took the liberty of adding the word allein (German for “alone”) to the word “faith” in Romans 3:28. Even though he was taken to task repeatedly for this unwarranted addition, he steadfastly refused to relinquish it. He explained, “that he was not translating words but ideas and that the extra word was necessary in German in order to bring out the force of the original” (Bainton, Roland H., Here I Stand, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, Nashville, pp. 332-334). No German translator would agree with Luther. In fact, the Swiss translations do not have the word that Luther added. Only the Genfer Bibel adds “only” and it is the Swiss equivalent of the German Luther translation.
Adding the word “alone” to the text of Romans 3:28 completely changes the meaning of Paul. Whereas Paul affirmed, “We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law,” the addition of “alone” limits justification to faith and excludes anything else. The Bible clearly shows that while “works of the law” are excluded, faith plus works are necessary for salvation or justification. There is a difference in saying, “a man is cured from disease by medicine, apart from `faith healers,”‘ and saying that “a man is cured from disease by medicine only, apart from `faith healers.”‘ In the first sentence, taking the medicine is not excluded, but in the second sentence taking the medicine is excluded. Just so Paul does not exclude works in general, but specifies “works of the law.”
There is no one who has read the Bible with any degree of profit who would deny that man is justified “by faith.” That fact is established clearly by divine revelation. Paul reaffirmed the proposition that man is justified “by faith” when he said, “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Both the books of Romans and Galatians set forth the principle that sinners are justified “by faith.” I seriously doubt that there is a man alive who believes in justification “by faith” any stronger than those of us who are members of churches of Christ.
But there is a vast difference in saying that man is “justified by faith” and then saying man is “justified by faith only.” The most outstanding difference is that one is taught in the Bible and the other is denied in the Bible. The Epistle of James has this statement: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (2:24, A.V.). Consider the following comparison.
|James 2:24||Methodist Discipline|
|“by works a man is justified
and not by faith only.”
|” . . . that we are justified by faith only is a
wholesome doctrine . . .”
There is no way these two statements can be reconciled. They state exact opposites. What the Bible says is not so, the Methodist Discipline calls a “wholesome doctrine.”
The word that James used for “only” is from the Greek word monos and is defined as, “alone, solitary” (W.E. Vine). It is interesting to read the words of a master linguist from the past. He is John A. Bengel and wrote, “Only – Here Scripture has prophetically stigmatized these degenerate disciples of Luther, who ever call for faith only, not that of Paul, but faith isolated from works.” (New Testament Word Studies, Vol. II, p. 710). Edwin T. Winkler, D.D., author of the Commentary on the Epistle of James, published by Judson Press, and known far and wide has this interesting commentary: “Both Paul and James recognize faith as a principle without which acceptable works cannot be performed and salvation cannot be attained” (An American Commentary on the New Testament, edited by Alvah Hovey, D.D,). This sounds strange coming from Baptist scholars. Yet, it is a truth that needs to be learned. “Faith only” will not justify; faith plus works will justify.
James used the same word (monos) once more in his letter. In James 1:22 he wrote, “But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only (monos).” The principle here is the same as in James 2:24. The hearer only does nothing. Therefore, the do-nothing hearer, the hearer who will not obey the Truth, is the one who wilt not be blessed. In exactly the same way, the individual with faith only, does nothing, obeys nothing and performs no works; therefore he is not justified or saved. God does not bless those who only hear and who only believe James describes an individual who has faith plus nothing, showing that such faith will not save. It is right odd to hear others say just the opposite, even sometimes from those who should know better.
Let it be clearly understood now, that faith does justify and save, but faith only does neither. It is not a question of whether faith justifies or is essential to salvation or not. The issue is whether faith alone will save. If, in the act of believing, nothing more is required by God, then “faith only is a wholesome doctrine,” but if the Bible teaches that faith plus works equals salvation, it is very unwholesome.
If the doctrine of “justification by faith only” is true, there are several consequences that must be faced. If all that God requires of sinners is that they believe, plus nothing, then there are some passages of Scripture that do not make much sense.
1. If one is saved by “faith only,” then James contradicts Paul. This is the position Martin Luther took in regard to James. He simply disregarded James and called it, “a right strawy epistle.” The truth is, of course, that James does not contradict Paul. Paul and James both teach that faith only will not save. Both teach that faith plus works equals salvation. Paul wrote the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision: but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). How could anyone charge Paul with denying works and affirming “faith only”?
2. If one is saved by “faith only,” then one can be saved without obedience to the gospel of Christ. One must believe the gospel to be saved (Mark 16:16). If, however, that is all that God requires, obedience to gospel commands plays no roll at all. But consider this statement in reference to Christ. “Though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him, the author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:8-9). But if one is saved by “faith only,” it matters very little whether one obeys Christ or not. Who is ready for such a consequence?
3. If one is saved by “faith only,” then one could be saved and never openly confess Christ. Notice, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue” (John 12:42). Here are some chief rulers of the Jews who believed “on Him.” Their faith cannot be questioned, but it did not overcome their fear of men. They would not confess Christ. Those who affirm that men are saved by “faith only” must accept the consequence that men can be saved with a silent faith, a faith that will not confess Christ openly. Who is ready for such?
4. If one is saved by “faith only,” then one can be saved before becoming a child of God. Consider the statement in John 1:11-12. “He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name.” The facts of this passage show clearly that those who receive Christ received the “right” to become children of God. John specifies those who receive Christ as, “even to them that believe on His name.” Those who believe on His name are those who receive Christ and they are the ones who have the right to become children of God. One cannot become what one already is. Therefore, one who believes and does not exercise the right to become a child of God, can be saved according to the doctrine of “faith only.” They must face the consequence of having a person saved, but not being a child of God. Are they willing to do so?
5. If one is saved by “faith only,” and saved before becoming a child of God, one is saved before being born again. One cannot be a child of God without the new birth. Jesus told Nicodernus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). All of God’s children are born into His family, but since the believer has the “right” to become a child of God, the doctrine of “faith only” would allow an individual to be saved, but not born again. Will the advocates of “faith only” accept this?
6. If one is saved by “faith only,” then one is saved with a dead faith. James said, “faith apart from works is dead” (2:17). Faith that has no works cannot save, unless one accepts the consequence that a dead faith will save. Furthermore, James said that works make faith perfect (2:22). Perfect faith is complete faith. If one can be saved by an imperfect dead faith, then perhaps the doctrine of “faith only” is a wholesome doctrine, but if not, it is anything but wholesome and comfortable.
Faith And Works
The basis of this paper is that faith must have works, else there is no justification or salvation. Faith plus works equals salvation. There are some who object to the expression, “faith plus . . . .” They claim it is “faith plus nothing” that saves. But inspired men speak differently. To put it as clearly as possible, there is not way that the expression “faith only” can be used, understood or interpreted so as to make it a Bible doctrine. Those who think differently, please try it once. “Only” means solely or alone. It means “exclusively.” To affirm that salvation comes “by faith only” is to affirm that faith exclusively saves. That rules out God’s love, His grace, hope, the blood of Christ, obedience, etc. There is no way that the doctrine of “faith only” can be expressed in biblical terms because it is denied by biblical fact.
In the passage previously studied from Galatians 5:6, Paul shows that it is “faith working through love” that avails. Faith must exist before it can work and it must work through love before it can avail anything. Those who believe that “faith only” will save a sinner are forced to the conclusion that faith avails salvation before it works through love. Again, they flatly contradict the Bible.
Not all works will justify or save the sinner. James does not affirm such. Paul identified the works he excluded as “works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). Works, in the New Testament, fall into three categories: (1) works revealed and required by the law of Moses, (2) works that human beings invent by their own wisdom, and (3) works that justify the sinner. One cannot deny that works of the Mosaic law have nothing to do with salvation, or that works human wisdom invents avail nothing. But still, James said that some kind of works justify the sinner.
Paul wrote, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, and not by the works of the law, for by the works of the law shall not flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16). Three times Paul specified “works of the law.” He did this to show the kind of works he had in mind which will not justify. Nothing in this passage of Scripture even hints that obedience to the commands of God are excluded. On the other hand, faith plus works may be included in the simple statement, might be justified by the faith of Christ.”
Again, Paul wrote Titus, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit. 3:5). Here, Paul once more specifies the works he says will not justify. He calls them works of righteousness “which we have done.” I can think of no more appropriate example of such works “which we have done” than the denominational idea of how men are saved. In their “revivals” they call on sinners to answer the “altar call” or come to the “mourner’s bench.” Sometimes they get people so excited and frantic that the sinners jerk, twitch, quiver, shout, roll in the aisles, jump the pews and act as if anything but the Holy Spirit is working on them. Who invented such an idea? Does it come from God? If so, what passage indicates such a thing? The answer, dear reader is “none!” This kind of “salvation” belongs to man’s wisdom and is excluded from God’s plan.
But, still there are some kind of works that James tells us will justify. “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” What kind of works are they? Consider what the disciples asked Christ. They wanted to know, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” (John 6:28). Here is another category, viz., “the works of God” and these are to be done by men. Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). Jesus said that believing on Him is a work of God. Why? Simply because it is the command of God. In John’s first letter, he wrote, “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ. . .” (1 John 3:23). God has commanded us to believe; therefore, believing is a work of God. It is not a work God must do, or will do for us, it is a work we must accomplish. The same is true with all of the things God commands us to observe.
Consider once more the passage from Titus 3:5. Here Paul said that we are not saved “by works of righteousness which we have done,” but that we are saved by God’s mercy, “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” God’s mercy is the incentive of our salvation. The washing of regeneration is the means of our obedience to His commands. The washing of this regeneration is the baptism that results in our being raised to a new life in Christ (Rom. 6:3-4). It is the “birth of water and of the Spirit,” that brings us into the family of God. Baptism in water, for the remission of sins, is not a work of righteousness which we have done. It is the work of God exactly like belief in Christ is a work of God. Baptism rests on the same authority that commands belief. Since Paul says we are not saved by works of righteousness which we have done, but that we are saved by the washing of regeneration, it is easy to see that baptism is not a work of human merit.
Faith plus baptism, the works that justify the sinner, equals salvation. In the words of Christ, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Dear reader, consider carefully how you stand with God. Do not be misled and deceived by the false idea that faith only will save. It will not save anyone, saint or sinner. It never will be acceptable to God. It is the cunning devise of Satan and has been proclaimed by his henchmen. Renounce it now and if you have not yet shown your faith by complying with the commands of God, do so before it is everlastingly too late.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 2, pp. 52-55
January 20, 1983