Chapter 16: Of Good Works

  1. Good works are only those which God has commanded in his holy Word.1 Works which do not have this warrant [authority], devised [invented] by men out of blind zeal or upon any pretence of good intentions, are not good works.2

1 Mic 6.8; Heb 13.21 2 Mt 15.9; Is 29.13

  1. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and living faith.3 By these good works, believers manifest [demonstrate] their thankfulness,4 strengthen their assurance,5 edify [build up] their brothers, adorn [enhance] the profession of the gospel,6 silence the adversaries [opponents], and glorify God whose workmanship they are,7 created in Christ Jesus for good works,8 so that – bearing fruit leading to their holiness – they may reach the goal: eternal life.9

3 Jas 2.18, 22 4 Ps 116.12-13 5 1Jn 2.3, 5; 2Pt 1.5-11 6 Mt 5.16 7 1Tim 6.1; 1Pt 2.15; Phil 1.11 8 Eph 2.10 9 Rom 6.22

  1. The ability of believers to do good works does not in any way come from themselves, but comes wholly from the Spirit of Christ.10 In order that they may be enabled to do good works, they need – in addition to the graces that they have already received – an actual [real and active] influence of the same Holy Spirit to work in them to will and to do his good pleasure.11 Nevertheless, believers are not to grow negligent because of this, as if they were not bound [required] to carry out any duty without a special motion [particular or unusual impulse] of the Spirit. Instead, they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.12

10 Jn 15.4, 6 11 2Cor 3.5; Phil 2.13 12 Phil 2.12; Heb 6.11-12; Is 64.7

  1. Those who attain to the greatest height of obedience which is possible in this life are so far from being able to supererogate [carry out meritorious works beyond their duty], and to do more than God requires, that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound [required] to do.13

13 Jb 9.2-3; Gal 5.17; Lk 17.10

  1. We cannot by our best works merit [deserve] pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God. This is because of the great disproportion [lack of proper relation] that is between our works and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God. Our good works can neither bring profit [benefit] to God nor satisfy him for the debt of our former sins.14 Rather, when we have done all we can, we have only done our duty, and remain unprofitable servants. Furthermore, our works are good only insofar as they proceed from his Spirit;15 as they are carried out by us they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they cannot withstand the severity of God’s punishment.16

14 Rom 3.20; Eph 2.8-9; Rom 4.6 15 Gal 5.22-23 16 Is 64.6; Ps 143.2

  1. Nevertheless, because believers are accepted through Christ, their good works are also accepted in him.17 It is not that believers in this life are entirely beyond blame and reproof [rebuke] in God’s sight, but rather that God – looking upon them in his Son – is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, even though it is accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.18

17 Eph 1.6; 1Pt 2.5 18 Mt 25.21, 23; Heb 6.10

  1. Works done by unregenerate men may in themselves be things which God commands and of good use [beneficial] both to themselves and others.19 However, they do not proceed from a heart purified by faith,20 nor are they done in a right manner according to the Word,21 nor are they done with a right end [purpose] – the glory of God.22 Therefore, they are sinful and cannot please God, nor do they qualify a man to receive grace from God.23 Nevertheless, the neglect of good works is still more sinful and displeasing to God.24

19 2Kgs 10.30; 1Kgs 21.27, 29 20 Gen 4.5; Heb 11.4, 6 21 1Cor 13.1 22 Mt 6.2, 5 23 Am 5.21-22; Rom 9.16; Ti 3.5 24 Jb 21.14-15; Mt 25.41-43