“Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit.”
Have you ever observed how much emphasis the Word of God places on our works, the bringing forth of fruit? We find it on ever so many pages. When Jesus began his walk among his people in his message that is called the Sermon on the Mount, he says: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” This is a very large order, touching on all the relations of life. A little farther on he warns; “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” And finally he makes the distinction between the wise man who heard the sayings of Jesus and did them, whose house would stand, and the foolish man, who heard them and did them not, whose house would fall.
In his general epistle James makes it very plain that “faith without works is dead” when he asks: “Was not Abraham our fat her justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?” And he concludes that “by works a man is justified and not only by faith”, coming to this conclusion : “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead” (James 2).
In the awe-inspiring picture of the judgment day in Matthew 25 Jesus says to his sheep: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” And when the righteous answer that they are unaware of having performed any of these services to him , he explains to them that “inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.” And then also the goats are condemned to “go away into everlasting punishment” for having done none of these things.
I don’t know how the reading of this great judgment scene affects you. But I always feel ashamed of having fallen so far short of what I could have done and should have done.
Another instance of a strong emphasis on works is found in Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians (II Corinthians 5); “For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad.” In the parable in Luke 19, the nobleman entrusts each of his servants with a pound and tells them: “Trade ye herewith till I come.” The first had gained ten pounds, the second five pounds, but a third had refused to do anything, wherefore his pound was taken away from him.
In Luke 13 we find another instance of the emphasis on fruit-bearing. The fig tree, normally a good tree, did not bear any fruit and at the request of the keeper of the garden is given one more year of trial with special care and attention, after that to be judged according to results, “If it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down.” To this agrees also the saying of Jesus, when he pictures himself as the true vine: “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, the Father taketh away.” And: “he is cast forth as a branch and is withered, and men gather them, and they are burned.”
When the apostle Paul made his defense before King Agrippa (Acts 26) he told the king that he had not been disobedient to the heavenly vision, but that he had declared first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles that they should “repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance.” Also John the Baptist admonishes the Pharisees and Sadducees to “bring forth fruit meet for repentance and not to say within themselves: we have Abraham to our father.”
What I have written here is a warning for me and you that our sanctification, Our life as adopted children of God, must consist of more than words. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus warns us: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Our worship must have its citadel and center of affection in the heart and not only in the mind. If we try to make our position as children of God strong by claiming that God has given us faith to believe in Him for the forgiveness of our sins; if we place equally strong emphasis on the fact of our justification; if our minds like to dwell chiefly on what God has done for us, we are apt to forget that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” This makes it very plain that the good works mentioned are very necessary as fruits of our faith. It makes it equally plain that the unrepentant cannot do these good worKs mentioned, for they are a fruit of our faith, and where there is no faith the fruits of faith are excluded.
This does not mean that the unregenerate man cannot do civic good. This is not the fruit of saving faith, but the result of the common grace of God. And to our shame we must admit that sometimes the worldly neighbor excels us in doing good to his fellow-men. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus pictures the priest and the Levite as refusing help to the man who was robbed and wounded; but one of the Samaritans, long-standing enemies of the Jews, had compassion and helped him unstintingly. We must remember that it is not for us to judge the motive with which a good work is being done. It is only God who can do that, for he only knows the hearts. And Jesus warns us: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Every good deed we must call good, and God will reward both this and the other.
In the wonderful book of Jonah we find that God rewarded the repentance of the Ninevites from vice to virtue and saved the city from destruction against the desire of Jonah. Far from condemning the good which the man of the world does, may we be provoked to jealousy, to excel in good. works, not for our own glory, but for the glory of Him “who caned us out of darkness into his marvelous light,” that we should show forth his praises. Lest, if the reaper come and find no fruit, we shall be “cut down as a branch and cast into the fire” (John 15).
But for those who are weak in faith but have the love of God in their hearts, the s e words of the prophet are comforting: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.” Yet it should be our goal and we shall honor our Creator more when it can be said of us: “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree; and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”