John Owen: Good Works Are Fruits And Evidences Of Salvation

These fruits, when they are brought forth, God approveth of, accepteth, and further blesseth them that bear them; which is the last thing in the words. Some think there is no use of these fruits, unless they are meritorious of grace and glory. But God’s acceptation of them here is called his benediction, his blessing of them that bring them forth. Now a blessing cannot be merited; it is an act of bounty and authority, and hath the nature of a free gift, that cannot be deserved. What doth a field merit of him by whom it is watered and tilled, when it bringeth forth herbs meet for his use? they are all but the fruits of his own labour, cost, and pains. The field is only the subject that he hath wrought upon, and it is his own. All the fruits of our obedience are but the effects of his grace in us. We are a subject that he hath graciously been pleased to work upon. Only he is pleased, in a way of infinite condescension, to own in us what is his own, and to pardon what is ours. Wherefore the blessing of God on fruit-bearing believers consists in three things:—[1.] His approbation and gracious acceptance of them. So it is said that “he had respect unto Abel and to his offering,” Gen. 4:4. He graciously accepted both of his person and of his sacrifice, owning and approving of him, when Cain and his were rejected. So “he smelled a savour of rest” from the sacrifice of Noah, Gen. 8:21. And to testify his being well pleased therewith, he thence took occasion to renew and establish his covenant with him and his seed. [2.] It is by increasing their fruitfulness. “Every branch” in the vine “that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit,” John 15:2. He “multiplieth the seed that is sown,” and “increaseth the fruits of their righteousness,” 2 Cor. 9:10. This is the constant way of God in his covenant-dealings with thriving, fruitful Christians; he so blesseth them as that their graces and fruits shall more and more abound, so as that they shall be flourishing even in old age, and bring forth more fruit unto the end. [3.] He blesseth them in the preparation he hath made for to give them an everlasting reward. A reward it is, indeed, of grace and bounty, but it is still a reward, “a recompence of reward.” For although it be no way merited or deserved, and although there be no proportion between our works, duties, or fruits, and it, yet, because they shall be owned in it, shall not be lost nor forgotten, and God therein testifies his acceptance of them, it is their reward.

John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 22, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1855), 113–14.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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