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Northbend (KY) Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1842

By P. S. Bush
First Baptist Church, Covington


      Preserved by the kind providence of God, and permitted to meet again in holy convocation, we rejoice in the privilege of addressing to you our annual epistle. We have selected as the subject of our circular letter, the connexion between faith and works in the justification of a sinner. "Ye see then (says James) how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only," [James] ii, 24. It is not our intention to enter into the discussion of the alleged contradiction between Paul and James on the subject of justification, but to adopt that view which seems to us the most simple and consistent with scripture.
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Paul, in finishing his argument on the entire sinfulness of both Jew and Gentile, and the impossible of being justified by the works of the law, comes to this conclusion - "Therefore, we conclude that man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law," Romans iii, 28. Paul evidently means that faith alone interests the sinner in the mercy of God, through the righteousness of Christ. He elsewhere defines what he means by faith, and shows that it is an active principle, that it works by love, Galatians v, 6; I Thessalonians i, 3; II Thessalonians i, 11; Titus iii, 8; see Hebrews chapter xi. In Paul's estimation the design of the Gospel was, "that God might purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works," Titus ii, 14. When James says, "a man is justified by works and not by faith only," he means that that faith which was not productive of good works, could never justify the sinner before God - that a bare speculative assent, or inactive reliance on Christ, unattended by repentance, the use of means and holy obedience, was dead and unprofitable. Paul opposed those who objected to the doctrine of justification by faith, as alone interesting the sinner in the mercy of God through righteousness of Christ. James reasoned with those who perverted the doctrines of Paul, by denying the utility of works, as the fruit of faith. - In this view of the subject, we see not only that there is no contradiction between Paul and James, but also, that there is no discrepancy between faith and works in the justification of the sinner. They stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect. Faith, the cause of works, and works the effect of faith. The existence of the former being made evident by the latter, as its legitimate fruit - "By their fruits (says Christ) ye shall know them." When Paul said, "Abraham believed God and it was counted, or imputed unto him for righteousness," or justification, he did not suppose that faith could exist, without its legitimate effects, works. When James says a man is justified by works, and not by faith only, he was speaking of an effect, works, the invariable consequence of an efficient cause, vis. faith, "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." Before we proceed further, we will briefly define the term justification. It is a legal term. Its popular and scriptural sense are the same. It signifies pronouncing a person righteous, or just according to law. It produces no change of character. If a man is arranged before a human tribunal, tried, found innocent and pronounced just, according to the law by which he is tried, he is no more innocent, or just, than he was before the sentence was pronounced; so justification, spoken of in the word of God, which stands opposed to condemnation, is the sentence of the Judge, declaring the condition of a person in relation to the law, by which he is tried. It leaves character untouched. To say that it has any influence upon character, is to confound it with sanctification, which, though it always accompanies justification,
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is distinct from it, inasmuch as justification is instantaneous, sanctification progressive, and the work of the Holy Spirit. To avoid all misapprehension, we remark, that neither the act of faith, not obedience, is the ground of the sinner's justification before God; but the righteousness of Christ. The sinner is not justified on account of his faith, but by, or through his faith as an instrument or medium of the righteousness of Christ imputed to him. God accepts it on the sinner's behalf. It is a righteousness revealed to faith, Romans i, 17, "The just shall live by faith," Habakkuk ii, 1; see also Romans iii, 22; v, 1; iii, 25, 26, 27, 30; x,1; xi, 20; Galatians ii, 16; iii, 8, 9, 11; Philippians iii, 9; Hebrews x, 38, &c., &c. It is plain, from the passages of scripture already cited, that the sinner is justified by faith. But how does faith justify the sinner? This suggests another question. What is faith? - The answer to the latter question will prepare the way for an answer to the former. Faith, in its general acceptation, is belief in testimony. - Faith in God, is a belief in the declarations of his holy word. Faith in Christ, is an implicit reliance on him for salvation, founded on a belief of the declarations of scripture, as to His nature, offices and promises as the Savior of sinners. The answer to the question, how faith justifies, is now plain. Faith apprehends and receives the righteousness of Christ. A fountain is opened in the bosom of Christ. Faith apprehends, and as a medium, conducts a stream from the fountain to the heart of the sinner, which cleanses it from all sin. A new heart - a clean heart is created. In this new soil, new fruits will grow and ripen. Before he was a servant of sin, a child of wrath and of the Devil, and did most cheerfully the lust of his father. Now he is the child of God - a servant of righteousness, and shall not his fruit be unto holiness? He has new feelings, of which a prominent one is: love to God. How shall love to God, the most powerful incitement to action, which can be brought to bear on the human mind - the first born of faith, manifest itself? Let the Savior answer - Follow me - Take my example - Do as I have done. The life of Christ is most graphically expressed in the words - "Who went about doing good," Acts xvi, 38. He loved the Father. How did he manifest his love? "It is my meat to do the will of Him that sent me, and manifest His work." He loved his disciples - He prayed for them - instructed them - associated with them, and conversed with them familiarly upon those things which related to the Kingdom of God - He loved sinners; and "Jesus went about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom," Matthews ix, 35. He took the wisest means to win their attention and good will - He healed all manner of sickness, and all manner of diseases among people. Having gained their attention by acts of kindness, he preached repentance, and warned them, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." When they hardened their hearts, he
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wept over them. In these things, he says to Peter and all christians, "Follow me." Paul enforces the command, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus," Philippians ii, 5. "Let us not be weary in well doing. Let us do good unto all men," &c., Galatians vi, 9, 10. By his example he followed Christ - he loved God, and counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. He was ready, not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus. He loved the saints and without ceasing made mention of them always in his prayers - gave thanks to God always in their behalf - enlightened their ignorance - healed their divisions, and bore with their infirmities. For the good of sinners, he says, "I labored more abundantly that they all." He journeyed, preached, conversed, reasoned, wept, prayed, had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart for his brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh.

      Not only did the apostles show their faith by their works, but also those that were scattered abroad, after the death of Stephen, went every where preaching the Word. And who shall dare say that Paul's zeal was not according to knowledge, or that the persecuted disciples interfered with the work of God, because they went every where preaching the Word? - James enforces the same idea when he says Abraham was justified by works. Those works which can no more be separated from justifying and saving faith, than the effect can be separated from its cause. The faith of Abraham was a working faith. His faith co-operated with his works; and by his works his faith was made perfect. Its existence was proved, and he was called the friend of God. Christ said, "The Father hath not left me alone, for I do always the things that please him." John viii, 29. - So the faith of Abraham produced such works as please God and advanced him to the rank and title of "Father of the faithful."

      In view of this subject, we remark: 1st. That to engage us in every good work, we have the example of Christ, "who went about doing good, and his express command, "follow me."

      2d. That we have the example of the Apostles and their command, that we should always abound in the work of the Lord, for as much as we know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians xv, 58.

      3d. That reason, experience and observation, all testify to the utility of works as the fruit of faith.

      4th. That such examples and such commands, if properly weighed, ought to, and will, arouse every Christian to greater activity and zeal in every Good Work. The same cause will always produce the same effects. If the faith of Abraham was evinced and perfected by his works, so that he was called the "friend of God;" we also can show our faith in Christ, only by following him; and that we are his friends, only by doing whatsoever he hath commanded us.


[From Northbend Baptist Association Minutes, 1842, pp. 5-8; this is now known as the Northern Kentucky Baptist Association. P. S. Bush was a deacon at First Baptist Church, Covington. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall]

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