Reviewing Gordon Wilson on Faith and Works

By Larry Ray Hafley

The church which meets at the Dunn Road Chapel, Hazelwood, Missouri, has long been under the influence of Carl Ketcherside’s cancerous errors (2 Tim. 2:17). That church’s “Winter Youth Study” for 1972 (complete with “the Melody Boys Quartet”) featured “Carl Ketcherside” and “Gordon Wilson.” “Rod Langston” and “Bernie Crum” also spoke. Brother Wilson’s dissimulation is long overdue in coming to light, and his remarks on faith and works long overdue in being reviewed (Gal. 2:13). Gordon is not the only one guilty of such compromise, but he must face his responsibility for such conduct lest others be “carried away with their dissimulation.”

Instead of reviewing brief quotations from Gordon’s speech, I am giving the reader the full text of his loose statements on faith and works. The following paragraphs have been transcribed (and checked several times) from a tape of that speech.

Transcription of the Part of Gordon Wilson’s Lesson Dealing With Faith and Works

“Then, again, we often consider in harmonizing a pair of contradictions, the time element that is involved in the making of apparently contradictory statements. You see, what is true at one time may not be true at another time. And visa-versa. There may be something that is true of a person in one condition or at one time in his life that would not be true of him in another condition or at another time in his life.

“An example of this is, the supposed discrepancy so often called to our attention between James and, Paul on the subject of faith and works. Of course, Paul said in Ephesians chapter 2, ‘By grace have you been saved through faith, that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works that no man should boast.’ While on the other hand; James said in James the second chapter, ‘You see then that man is justified by works and not by faith only.’ Now isn’t that a contradiction regarding justification between James and Paul?

“Well, I think not, because they are talking about two different time periods in the lives of the people who they addressed. When Paul writes his statement in Ephesians with reference to the fact that you’re saved by grace through faith, not of works, that no man should glory, he said, ‘For by grace have you been saved through faith.’ He’s talking about their salvation in the place and the time where they came into Jesus Christ. On the other hand, James, when he said that one is justified by works, is not addressing the alien sinner nor is he talking about what the alien sinner does. But, he’s addressing brethren in Christ Jesus and talking about that which justifies us in Christ as servants of the Lord responding to the salvation which is by faith.

“The word ‘works,’ Paul and James agree on. Neither man nor any other New Testament writer ever uses the word ‘works,’ with approval of the obedience of an alien sinner. Never! Look it up in your concordance, my friend. The Bible never speaks of works with approval as a means for salvation from sin. It isn’t there. It does speak of the obedience of faith. And it does talk about faith which means not merely believing evidence but submitting one’s whole life in submission and, obedience, with all that involved that is included in becoming a child of God. But when James says we’re justified by works, he’s talking about the only kind of works there are . . . (unintelligible phrase, possibly “for the Christian,” “for the child of God,” or the like). The Christian works in response to what God has given him and he works for the Lord. But human works didn’t save him, God’s grace through man’s exercised faith is what saved him.

“James and Paul agree one hundred percent. But they’re talking about two different times in a person’s life. And the time element makes the difference, and discounts the contradiction.”

James: “Works” for Saints Only?

First, faith, any faith, whether of an alien or a saved one, must be accompanied by “works” (obedience) or it is dead. Anyone who thinks otherwise is “vain” (Jas. 2:20). True, James is writing to Christians (Jas. 1:1,2; 2:1; 3:1; 5:12,19), but he is not writing specifically of the faith of a saint; but of all faith. Any faith that hath not works is dead, being alone. James uses demons for an example. May we not safely assume ‘they would classify as “alien sinners?” Well, James says their faith is dead because it is alone; that is, not accompanied by works, obedience.

Second, one is “justified by faith” in becoming a Christian (Rom. 5:1). One saved stands “by faith” (2 Cor. 1:24; Rom. 11:20). Both the one saved by faith and the one standing by faith must have “works” (obedience) or their faith is dead. The statement by Habakkuk is quoted by Paul and applied to the initial justification provided in Christ, not by the works of the law (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). But this same principle is inherent in the life of those who have been justified by faith. How do they continue to live? The Hebrew writer says, “Now the just shall live by faith” (Heb. 10:38). In this text he is talking to those who “were illuminated” (Heb. 10:32). So, the justification by faith, “the just shall five by faith,” is applicable to both saint and sinner (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).

Third, Gordon Wilson says no alien sinner is ever said to be justified by works. Well, if “Rahab the harlot” was not an alien sinner who is said to have been “justified by works,” then I have misread James 2:25. Look it up in your New Testament!

What’s the Difference Between “Exercised Faith” and “Works”?

Fourth, Brother, Wilson speaks of “exercised faith” on the part of the alien in becoming a Christian. What he calls “exercised faith,” James and I call a “working faith.” Observe a parallel quote of Gordon’s statement: “God’s grace through man’s, exercised (obedient, working) faith is what saved him.” I dare say it would take a good bit of “works” and “exercising” to explain the difference between an “exercised faith” and an “obedient or working faith.”

Fifth, Gordon Wilson’s fundamental error is that he thinks James and Paul are “talking about two different times in a person’s life.” It is not two different periods of time, but two different kinds of works that Paul and James are discussing. Both Paul and James quote Genesis 15:6. Paul says it proves justification without works (Rom. 4:1-5). James says it proves justification by works (Jas: 2:20-22). Is this two different times in the life of a person? No, it is the same time in the life of the same man (Abraham). It is two kinds of works, but it is not two different times.

Both Wrong and Inconsistent

In debate, Baptists have made the same argument Gordon has made here. Of course, their end (conclusion) was not the same, but that is only because Gordon is inconsistent with the general thrust of his argument. Baptists are wrong and consistent in their conclusions. Gordon is both wrong and inconsistent: A good Baptist debater could take Gordon’s claim that “works” never refers to an alien’s obedience, and whip him from pillar to post and back again!

Truth Magazine, XX:7, p. 9-10
February 12, 1976