Abraham Justified by Both Faith and Works

 •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 9
When the Apostle Paul is elucidating God's way of salvation "on the principle of faith," he asks the question, "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Rom. 4:1-31What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Romans 4:1‑3). The Apostle's appeal to Scripture (Gen. 15:66And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)) is conclusive, and stills every human reasoning or argument. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted [or reckoned] for righteousness." Rom. 4:55But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:5). And the blessedness which ensues is celebrated by David in Psa. 32, and is known to the soul as "forgiveness.”
On referring back to the scripture in Gen. 15, we note that all this matter passed between God and Abraham alone. Some thirty years, perhaps forty years, afterward, this faith of Abraham's was tested by a call from God to surrender the very son promised on the previous occasion, and of whom God had distinctly said, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." So that quite apart from the consideration of parental affections, the offering up of Isaac really involved putting back into God's hand every promise, every hope for the future, every experience gained, in all his past life, of God's faithful goodness, which had shone out brightly above his own failures. This request Abraham obeyed without hesitation, and the result for him was an entrance into God's thoughts about Christ, and a depth of communion with God which never could have been possible without the trial. He received Isaac back again from the dead "in a figure" (Heb. 11:17-1917By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Hebrews 11:17‑19)), and the Lord Jesus said of him, "Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad." John 8:5656Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. (John 8:56). To this trial of faith, and its remarkable result, contrary to all human thoughts and methods, James refers in his Epistle, when he speaks of Abraham being "justified by works." James 2:2121Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (James 2:21).
Paul gives God's testimony to Abraham, that upon which faith is founded; James speaks of an act of which everybody can judge, and by which faith is proved.
A familiar illustration of this difference has been offered. A man wished to have a certain pear, highly spoken of, produced in his own garden. In order to make sure of obtaining it, he applied to a famous gardener for the tree, and received the gardener's assurance that it was the right one. He had nothing to rest on but the word of the gardener. After waiting a year or so without seeing any fruit, the man grew impatient, and anxious to be quite sure he had the right tree, consulted another reliable gardener. Showing him the tree and begging him to examine it, he asked him if he could assure him that he had been given the right tree. Well, said the second gardener, when you show me the ripe fruit produced by this tree, I shall be able to tell you, but not until then. The first gardener is Paul; the second, James.
W. Lowe