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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
William Cathcart, D.D.
From The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881
In the Catholic Church some of the saints, it is supposed, performed more acts of obedience and charity than God demanded; these, for that reason, were called works of supererogation, and it was imagined that the grand aggregate of such good works constituted a treasury of merits, which the popes, as heads of the church, could transfer by indulgences to those whose guilty lives created a demand for them.
Among Mohammedans, it is taught that on the Day of Judgment the good works of a true believer will be placed in one scale and his sins in another, and if the former outweigh the latter the man will be saved. Among the Burmese, the chief business of a pious man is to acquire merit; for this object he gives alms, attends to religious duties, and subjects himself to much self-denial.
Without reference to motives, almsgiving, patriotism, patience, kindness to the sick, and the worship of God seem good works; but to be sure of their real character we must know that they come from worthy motives. There can be no doubt about the excellency of the works that spring from affection to Jesus; he says, "If ye love me keep my commandments."
If, because we cherish him in our hearts, we hearken to his teachings, obey his precepts, and bear the fruits of "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," then are we led by the Spirit of God. The Christian's controlling motive should ever be supreme love to the Lord Jesus. This will give the royal stamp of divine approbation to his works.
Good works are necessary to prove the new birth of a believer, and his freedom from the dominion of iniquity. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit," says Jesus, "he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." The heavenly husbandman, when he saw that the barren fig-tree in his vineyard was fruitless for the third year, said, "Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?"
The good works of a Christian have no part in his justification, "Therefore, we conclude," says Paul, "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." This inspired conclusion of the great apostle is infallible. "It is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy He saves us."
The sufferings of Jesus are the Christian's justification,—his complete salvation. There can be no works of supererogation,—works beyond what God demands; where much is given much will be required. Jesus claims the love of our whole heart, and soul, and strength, and mind. We ought to be living sacrifices, lying every moment upon his altar, and wholly consecrated to him. We owe him this, and no work or woe of ours can ever exceed his constant claims.