We come to the last article in the series examining Edwards’ arguments in his classic treatise, Religious Affections, and a second possible objection to Christian practice as the chief sign of true religious affections: Does the principle of works as evidence of God’s grace in the heart contradict the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone? Does it elevate works at the cost of “the glory of free grace”? 
Edwards views the objection as “altogether without reason.” Scripture teaches that works as the price to purchase God’s favor negates the free grace of salvation, not works as the evidence of God’s favor. “Surely the beggar’s looking on the money he has in his hands, as a sign of the kindness of him who gave it to him, is in no respect inconsistent with the freeness of that kindness.”  The Scriptural doctrine of justification by faith recognizes our works as unacceptable to God as payment for sin and unable to move God to give us eternal life, but never denies their importance as the fruit of God’s grace. 
New life in Christ necessarily produces a changed life, but to claim that a necessary result of salvation must therefore be its cause is illogical and unbiblical. Christian works follow but never merit salvation—Christ alone satisfied the sinless perfection and penalty required by God’s justice for eternal life. Even faith does not justify as a meritorious work, but as that which unites us to Christ who earned salvation for us. God justifies the ungodly by the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness to those united to Him by faith. In Christ we have every benefit of His life, death, and resurrection. In Christ we have justification and new life. 
If Christian practice as a vital sign of God’s grace denies salvation by free grace, then every fruit of God’s work in the heart denies salvation by free grace. For instance, love and loyalty to God; joy, humility, and the desire to exalt and give all glory to Christ, each give important evidence of new life.
To make light of works because we are not justified by works, is the same thing in effect as to make light of all religion, all grace and holiness, yea, true evangelical holiness, and all gracious experience; for all is included, when the Scripture says, we are not justified by works; for by works in this case, is meant all our own righteousness, religion, or holiness, and every thing that is in us, all the good we do, and all the good which we are conscious of, all external acts, and all internal acts and exercises of grace, and all experiences, and all those holy and heavenly things wherein the life and power and the very essence of religion do consist, all those great things which Christ and His apostles mainly insisted on in their preaching, and endeavoured to promote, as of the greatest consequence in the hearts and lives of men, and all good dispositions, exercise and qualification of every kind whatsoever; and even faith itself, considered as part of our holiness. We are justified by none of these things; and if we were, we should, in a Scripture sense, be justified by works. 
Yet, Scripture portrays these things as essential, as evidence of true faith and new life in Christ. Again, if good works cannot be an inevitable fruit of saving faith and a vital and necessary part of the Christian life without compromising justification by faith alone, then neither can any fruit of God saving and sanctifying us. Anything we have or do to merit the benefits of Christ’s saving work contradicts free grace—godly practice as the fruit and evidence of saving faith does not. Thus, Abraham’s works justified or gave evidence of his faith as true, even as he was justified by grace through faith alone. 
Scripture often speaks of holy practice and free grace in the same breath.
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless; Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow. ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool’ (Isa. 1:16-18 NAS).
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev 3:20-21 NAS). “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son” (Rev 21:6-7 NAS). “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).
For Edwards, we should no more reject “works” as vital to the Christian life than we should reject “holiness, godliness, grace…and even faith itself.” To make any of these meritorious or a basis of our justification contradicts free grace, but all serve as evidence of God’s work in the heart. 
As finite and fallible, we cannot see into the depths of another man’s soul, and our judgments cannot be fully trusted. Moreover, the natural and supernatural influences on human affections are so “innumerable and unsearchable” that “no philosophy or experience will ever be sufficient to guide us safely through this labyrinth and maze” without the direction God provides in Scripture. 
God knows everything. He knows every heart. He knows what is best for us, what allowances should be made for the differences between people, how natural affections can imitate and intermingle with grace, how our imagination influences our affections, and how our thoughts and imagination can mix with the Spirit’s work of illumination. Knowing another’s heart is a complex and messy business, and we are easily deceived. But God has given us the best rules to make sense of the confusion.
We create big problems when we de-emphasize or second-guess that which Scripture calls evidence of true faith in Christ, under the mistaken belief that stressing such things nullifies grace.  Wisdom examines others and ourselves by God’s standards, not our own. And God’s way brings blessing, including the conviction of deceived people professing Christ who have yet to truly know Him.  It promotes godly works over excessive boasting about our experiences, removing barriers to faith as we speak and demonstrate the truth of the Gospel, rather than hardening unbelief by hypocritical displays of talk without deeds. In this way, the light of Christ in believers “would so shine before men, that others, seeing their good works, would glorify their Father which is in heaven.”  To Him be glory forever, Amen.
Scriptures marked NAS are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, copyright© 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
 BT, 375: Yale, 455.
 BT, 376; Yale, 455.
 New life always accompanies justification, but new life never justifies. Justification of sinners is solely by the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness, the only righteousness that satisfies God’s unchanging justice and requirement for eternal life. For an in-depth exposition of Edwards’ understanding of the merit of Christ’s righteousness as the sole basis of salvation, see Biehl, The Infinite Merit of Christ: The Glory of Christ’s Obedience in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards.
 BT, 377; Yale, 456-7.
 BT, 378; Yale, 457. No contradiction exists between the reality of Abraham’s faith as displayed by the works it produced, as presented in James 2:18-26, and Abraham as justified before God by faith alone, apart from works, as explained in Romans 4. In any event, God does not contradict Himself, though our dim and limited perspective often hinders our understanding.
 BT, 380; Yale, 459.
 BT, 380-1; Yale, 459.
 BT, 380; Yale, 459.
 BT, 381; Yale, 460-1.
 BT, 382; Yale, 461. Cf. Matt. 5:16.
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© 2018 Craig Biehl, author of God the Reason, The Box, The Infinite Merit of Christ, and Reading Religious Affections
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