Thomas Goodwin on Justification By Works

Goodwin asserts that we can affirm a justification by works on the last day, for to do so is not materially different than to say that the judgment is according to works or that it is noting the evidence of faith. Neither of these could serve as an excuse for the lack of works, however. He believes that faith was always meant to be perfected, and its perfection is good works. Goodwin’s position is a combination of earlier views, as he will speak of a living faith and a true justification made on one’s deeds. He writes:

And in relation to this outward judgment at the latter day, our sentence of salvation is termed expressly a justification; and this very thing is asserted by Christ himself: Mat. xii. 36,37, ‘I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment; for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.’ Neither is it anywhere said, that God will judge men according to their faith only; nor will it be a sufficient plea at the latter day to say, Lord, thou knowest I believed, and cast myself at thy grace. God will say, I am to judge thee so as to every one shall be able to judge my sentence righteous together with me: 1 Cor. iv. 5, ‘Therefore, shew me they faith by thy works;’ let me know by them thou fearest me; for as I did judge Abraham, and gave thereupon a testimony of him, so I must proceed towards thee. And this God will do, to the end that all the sons of Israel, yea, the whole world, may know that he justified one hat had true faith indeed.

So then, Paul’s judging according to works, and James his justification by works, are all one, and are alike consistent with Paul’s justification by faith only. For in the same epistle where he argues so strongly for justification by faith without works, as Rom. iii.iv., he in chap. ii. also declares, that ‘he will judge every man according to his works.’ He doth so to the good: ver. 7, ‘To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life.’ As well as to the bad he pronounceth a contrary judgment: vers. 8, 9, ‘But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.’

~ Of Gospel Holiness in the Heart and Life Bk. 2 Chapt. 2.4 in The Works of Thomas Goodwin vol. 7 pg. 182-183

Goodwin goes on to explain James’ use of “faith perfected by works,” arguing that “perfection” is when something reaches its goal. Works are a fruit and an evidence of faith, but they are still nevertheless necessary and will be judged.

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This entry was posted in church history, justification by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, FL. He is also a founder and general editor of The Calvinist International. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), a full-time minister, and occasional classical school teacher, Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, and daughter.

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