Perkins: We Are Not Justified By Our Works Either Before Or After Our Justification

"Cooperation Is Not In The Act Of Justification, Nor In The Work Of Our Salvation"

“[I] answer, that not only works done before faith are excluded, but also works that follow faith and are done in the estate of grace. For Paul here reasons thus: If no flesh be justified by works, then not we believers; but no flesh at all is justified by works; therefore not we believers. David reasons of the same manner: “No flesh shall be justified in thy sight” (Ps. 143:2); therefore I cannot, though otherwise I be Thy servant in keeping Thy commandments. When Abraham was the father of all the faithful, and was come to the highest degree of faith, and abounded in good works, yet was he not then justified by works (Rom. 4:1–2). Paul kept “a good conscience before God and men” (Acts 23), and yet was he “not justified thereby” (1 Cor. 4:4). And he says that “we are not saved by the works which God hath ordained, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:9–10). And the works that God has ordained for us to walk in are the best works of all, even works of grace. Again, he says that ‘we are not saved by works of mercy’ (Titus 3:5). It may be objected that there is a cooperation of works and faith (James 2:22). I answer that this cooperation is not in the act of justification, nor in the work of our salvation, but in the manifestation of the truth and sincerity of our faith without hypocrisy. And for the declaration and approbation of this, faith and works jointly concur. Here then we see it is a pestilent and damnable doctrine of the papists when they teach justification by the works of the law. Let us here be warned to take heed of it.”

William Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:112–13 (HT: Inwoo Lee).


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  1. John xvii . 25 : “ O righteous Father , the world hath not known Thee , ” etc. Our Lord bases His intercession on the rectitude or justice of God , when He prays that they who had been given Him might be with Him in His glory . Though there is a gracious reward conferred upon the saints for every work done , these words of Christ cannot refer to any recompense of that nature , because it is not of strict justice . But our Lord can appeal to justice when He asks the eternal glorification of His redeemed and their fellowship with Him where He is ; for He merited eternal life for them , and at the costly price of His passion . It is righteous that the people of Christ should reign in life with Him and through Him . As the justice of God was displayed on Christ and satisfied by Him ; as He had met the demand , “ This do , and thou shalt live , ” He can appeal to the rectitude of God that His people may be put in possession of the reward . And this presupposes the necessary demand of the atonement.

    Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Atonement, p. 63.

  2. Hello Dr. R. Scott Clark, my name is Ethan. I’m a 24 year old from Colorado. I just wanted to express my immense gratitude to you. Please allow me to explain.

    I grew up in a small church of Christ denomination where I was taught pure legalism. After being baptized in water at 11 years old, they threw me in the pulpit and I began to teach and defend a works based salvation. From 12 to 18 I was convinced that I was one of very few who had eternal life because I was part of the “one true church” and had performed the correct steps to obtain salvation. But when I was 18, I was struggling with lust and came to the conclusion that because I had “willfully” sinned, there no longer remained any of Christ’s sacrifice for me (I based this upon my misunderstanding of Hebrews 10:26).
    From 18 to 20 years old I would continue to just “try my best” and hopefully grace would cover me in the end.
    It wasn’t until I was 20 years old when I was studying repentance when the Holy Spirit revealed to me that redemption had already been accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ, and that I could have assurance of my salvation because He fulfilled the Law for me and paid the penalty for my sin. Through faith alone in Christ alone, I was justified. What glorious bliss it was! I had experienced what Christ said when He declared, “Come unto me all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
    After conversion, I was very excited to pursue the Lord, but didn’t have much guidance. From 20 to 23 years old I became heavily involved in “Free Grace Theology”, being taught by men like Zane Hodges and Robert Wilkins. During this time, they exposed me to the “Lordship Salvation Controversy” and Reformed Theology/Calvinism, condemning it as a works based salvation. Because of this, I discarded the idea of learning any more about Reformed beliefs. But throughout my time with the Free Grace movement, the Holy Spirit kept revealing to me their absurd interpretations of passages. I knew something was wrong (I’m still 23 at this time), so by God’s grace I began to learn about Calvinism. My first exposure to Reformed preaching was you and Pastor John Fonville in Florida. To my pleasant surprise, Calvinism was not at all what the Free Grace movement had taught me it was! I was hearing beautiful, Gospel preaching that was not works based salvation.
    So as a 23 year old I left the Free Grace movement and began to get involved in the Reformed community. It didn’t take long before I was exposed to John Macarthur (whom I had heard quite a bit about during my time with Free Grace), so I began to study Scripture with him as my guide.
    Well, I will just speak plainly. It didn’t take long before I began to lose the assurance of my salvation. His teaching caused me to look to the fruit in my life to know if I was truly indwelt by the Holy Spirit or not. I went back and forth many times, convincing myself that I was most definitely a child of God on my good days, but on my bad days I would have horrible doubts… terrifying doubts. Was I doing enough in my service to God? Maybe I wasn’t a true Christian? Yes it was true that I hated my sin and struggled with it and loved God’s Law, but I still could find no solid peace as I was looking to the subjective work of the Spirit in my life for assurance instead of the objective, finished work of Christ.

    And this is where I wish to tell you thank you, my friend. I am now 24 years old and am once again experiencing the immense joy and peace that I had when the Holy Spirit first caused me to be born again. Your post on October 22, 2019 called “The Gospel According to Jesus, Grace, Salvation, And Sanctification” has impacted me greatly. I remember reading it and watching the video in it while I was Free Grace, but it didn’t mean much to me then.
    But I watched it again yesterday and was left in tears! Thank you so much! I realize now, by the grace of God, that Macarthur and his dispensational lordship salvation view does not properly distinguish the Law from the Gospel. He turns it into a soft Law that is possible to achieve for the Christian. His blurring of justification with sanctification left me in a state of introspection, essentially turning the Covenant of Grace into another Covenant of Works of sorts. Soft Law preaching doesn’t help me one bit. I’m a Christian not because I love Christ. I’m a Christian because Christ loved me. HALLELUJAH!
    So I thank you, brother, for properly preaching Law/Gospel to me. It is my desire to share the glorious Gospel of Christ with all, for it is indeed GLORIOUS! May the Lord bless you and your ministry as the Holy Spirit gives spiritual life to the spiritually dead, for the glory of His great name.

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