Eph_2:8-10. By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
ALL God’s works, of whatever kind they be, are designed to praise him. His works of creation proclaim his wisdom and his power: his works of providence display his goodness: his works of redemption magnify his grace. It is of these last that the Apostle is speaking in the preceding context, even of all that God has done for us in the Son of his love; and he declares that it was all done, “that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.” The Gospel is too rarely viewed in this light: it is by many scarcely distinguished from the law; being considered rather as a code of laws enforced with penalties, than as an exhibition of mercies confirmed with promises. But it is as an exhibition of mercy only that we ought to view it; precisely as it is set forth in the words before us: from which we shall take occasion to shew,
That salvation is altogether of grace—
By “salvation” I understand the whole work of grace, whether as revealed in the word, or as experienced in the soul: and it is altogether of grace:
It is so—
[Trace it to its first origin, when the plan of it was fixed in the council of peace between the Father and the Son [Note: Zec_6:13.]: Who devised it? who merited it? who desired it? It was the fruit of God’s sovereign grace, and of grace alone. Trace it in all its parts;—the gift of God’s only-begotten Son to be our surety and our substitute; the acceptance of his vicarious sacrifice in our behalf; and the revelation of that mystery in the written word: who will arrogate to himself the honour of haying acquired these, or of having contributed to the acquisition of them in the smallest degree?
It may be thought perhaps, that, because an interest in these things is obtained by faith, we may claim some honour on account of the faith which apprehends them; which, being exercised by us, may be considered in some respects as giving us a ground of glorying before God. But this also is the gift of God, no less than the plan of salvation itself: it is not in any man by nature; nor is it to be wrought in man by any human power: it is not the effect of reasoning: for then the acutest reasoners would be the strongest believers; which is frequently far from being the case: it is solely the gift of God: and hence they who have believed, are said to “have believed through grace [Note: Act_18:27.].” It is expressly said to be given us [Note: Php_1:29.]: and when Peter declared his faith in Jesus as the true Messiah, Jesus said to him, “Flesh and blood had not revealed this truth unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” This is the true reason why many believed the testimony of Christ and his Apostles, whilst others were hardened in unbelief: those “whose hearts God opened,” as he did Lydia’s, received the truth; whilst all others treated the word, either with open scorn, or secret indifference.]
It must be so—
[Salvation must either be of grace or of works: the two cannot be mixed together, or reconciled with each other: if it be of works in any degree, it is no more of grace [Note: Rom_11:6.]; and in whatever degree it is of works, it so far affords us an occasion of boasting; seeing that it is then a debt paid, and not a gift bestowed [Note: Rom_4:4.].
To avoid this conclusion, some will say, that salvation may be of works, and still be also of grace; because the works being wrought in us by God, he is entitled to all the glory of them. But, granting that they are wrought in us by God, yet, inasmuch as they are our works, they afford us a ground of glorying: and, to say that they do not afford us a ground of glorying, is directly to contradict the Apostle in our text, where he says, “It is not of works, lest any man should boast.” The same Apostle elsewhere says, “It is of faith, that it may be by grace [Note: Rom_4:16.]:” from both which passages it is evident, that, if it be of works, from whatever source those works proceed, it can no longer be by grace.
But here it may be asked, ‘If works, notwithstanding they are wrought in us by God, afford us a ground of glorying in ourselves, does not faith afford us the same ground of glorying?’ I answer, No: for it is of the very nature of faith to renounce all hope in ourselves, and to found our hopes solely on the merits of another: it disclaims all glorying in self, and gives all the glory to Him from whom it derives its blessings. In this it differs essentially from every other work: other works, though wrought in us by God, bring a glory to ourselves; but this, of necessity, transfers to God all the glory resulting from its exercise; and, consequently, neither does, nor can, nor desires to, arrogate any thing to itself.
Thus we hope that the point is clear,—salvation is altogether of grace from first to last. The plan of salvation as originally devised, the Saviour who wrought it out for us, the acceptance of his vicarious sacrifice in our behalf, and the faith whereby we are made partakers of his sacrifice, are all the gifts of free and sovereign grace: the foundation and the superstructure are wholly of grace: and, “when the headstone shall be brought forth, it must be with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it [Note: Zec_4:7.]!”]
If to this it be objected, that by such doctrines we subvert the very foundations of morality, we answer,
That, though good works are wholly excluded from all share in the office of justifying the soul, yet is the performance of them effectually secured—
Believers are “the workmanship of God” altogether, as much as the world itself is: and as the world was created by Christ Jesus, so are they “created anew in Christ Jesus.” But we are “created unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”
The concluding words of our text shew us,
That God has ordained good works as the path wherein we are to walk—
[This is an unquestionable truth: the whole of the moral law demonstrates it: every promise, every threatening in the whole Bible attests it. Not a word can be found in the whole sacred volume, that dispenses with the performance of good works: on the contrary, it is expressly said, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” The least idea of reaching heaven in any other path, is invariably reprobated as a most fatal delusion. The means and the end are indissolubly connected in the councils of heaven [Note: 2Th_2:13.]: and to hope that they shall ever be separated, is to deceive and ruin our own souls. If we are not careful to maintain good works, we entirely counteract all the purposes of God in his Gospel, and cut ourselves off from all hope of salvation [Note: Tit_2:4-8. Mark the eighth verse especially.].]
That God has prepared and fitted his people to walk in them [Note: This perhaps is, of the two, the more exact sense of the original.]—
[He has given to his people a new nature, and infused into their souls a new and heavenly principle, by which they “have passed from death unto life.” They have received from Christ “that living water, which is in them as a well of water springing up unto everlasting life [Note: Joh_4:14.].” They can no more sin in the way they did before [Note: 1Jn_3:9.]. Under the influence of the Holy Ghost, they move in a new direction, affecting the things of the Spirit, as formerly they affected the things of the flesh [Note: Rom_8:1-5 and Gal_5:17.]. They are created in Christ Jesus unto good works; and the impulse given them in this new creation they obey. The metaphor here used, may, if not pressed too far, illustrate the matter, and set it in a clear point of view. God, when he created the heavenly bodies, appointed them their respective paths in the regions of space. To each he gave its proper impulse, having previously fitted it for the performance of the revolutions assigned it: and in their respective orbits he has ever since upheld them, so that they all without exception fulfil the ends for which they were created. Thus in the new creation, God has appointed to all their destined course through the vast expanse of moral and religious duty. He has also, at the time of its new creation, given to each soul the impulse necessary for it, together with all the qualities and dispositions proper for the regulation of its motions according to his will: and he yet further, by his continual, though invisible, agency, preserves them in their appointed way [Note: Men fit themselves for perdition: but it is God alone who fits any for glory. See Rom_9:23. where the same word is used as in the text. See also Isa_26:12.]. But further than this the metaphor must not be pressed: for the heavenly bodies have neither consciousness nor volition; but we have both: they too carry with them nothing that can cause an aberration from their destined course; whereas we have innumerable impediments, both within and without: hence they fulfil their destinies without the smallest intermission; whilst we, alas! deviate from the path assigned us in instances without number. Still however, in the event, the purposes of God are at last accomplished, as with them, so with us also: and, notwithstanding, in the estimation of a self-righteous Pharisee, the chief reason for performing good works is taken away, yet are they performed, and shall be performed by every one that has “received the grace of God in truth.”]
Observe then from hence,
What need we have of humility—
[The pride of the human heart can never endure the doctrines of grace. So tenacious are men of every thing that may give them a ground of glorying in themselves, that they will rather perish in their own righteousness, than submit to be saved by the righteousness of another [Note: Rom_9:30-33; Rom_10:3.]? But, brethren, you must submit. God will not condescend to your terms. It is in vain to contest the matter with him: it is folly, it is madness, so to do. You know full well, that the fallen angels have no claim on God for mercy: and what have you more than they? But God, who has passed by the angels, has given a Saviour to you, yea, and salvation too, if you will receive it as a gift of grace. Let it not be a hard matter with you to accept the proffered benefit. Would the fallen angels, think you, refuse it, if a tender of it were made to them? O then, prostrate yourselves before your God, as deserving nothing but wrath; and let him glorify in you the unsearchable riches of his grace!]
The vast importance of faith—
[It is by faith alone that you can apprehend the Saviour, or be made partakers of his benefits. You must “be saved by grace, through faith.” Your whole life must be a life of faith, according to what St. Paul has said, “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.” But this faith you must receive from above. You can neither come to Christ, nor know Christ, except as you are taught and drawn by the Father [Note: Mat_11:27. Joh_6:65.]. Pray to him, saying, “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” Pray also to him to “increase your faith” yet more and more: for it is only by being strong in faith that you will approve yourselves to God, or abound, as you ought, in all the fruits of righteousness to his praise and glory.]
What obligations lie upon you to serve and glorify your God—
[Be it so; you are not to be saved by good works: but is there no other motive that you can find for the performance of them? Do you feel no obligation to Him who sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that you might live through him? When you know that God has “ordained that you should walk in the daily exercise of good works,” have you no desire to please him? And when you know that this is the only path in which it is possible for you ever to arrive at your Father’s house, will you wilfully turn aside from it? If gratitude will not constrain you, will you be insensible to fear? But further, it is by your works that men will judge of your principles: and, though they represent the doctrines of grace as leading to licentiousness, they will expect to see you more holy than others; and if they are disappointed in this, they will cast the blame upon your principles, and upon the Gospel itself. Will you then put a stumbling-block in the way of others, and cause “the name of your God and Saviour to be blasphemed?” No; “you have not so learned Christ, if so be ye have heard him and been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus.” See then that ye abound in every good word and work; and “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men by well-doing.”]