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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(ἔργα ), "works, or deeds, of the law," is equivalent to the works which the law requires, or the entire performance of those works which the moral law, whether written or unwritten, i.e., law in general, whether applicable to Gentile or Jew, demands (Romans 2:15; Romans 3:20; Romans 9:12; Romans 9:32; Romans 10:6; Romans 11:3; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5; Galatians 3:10; Ephesians 2:9). On the ground of works, i.e., of perfect obedience and therefore of merit, none can be justified, because "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." If, then, any are justified at all, it must be of grace; but this grace, although freely bestowed and without any just claims on the part of the sinner, is still not unconditionally bestowed. Faith in him who died to save sinners is requisite to prepare one for the reception of pardon; and he who is justified in this way, as a consequence of his faith, is still justified in a manner altogether gratuitous. The reader will mark the difference between the phrase "works of the law," in the above passages, and the expression "work of faith" or "good works" (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:10; 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Timothy 5:25; 1 Timothy 6:18; 2 Timothy 3:17; Titus 1:6; Titus 2:7; Titus 2:14; Titus 3:1; Titus 3:8; Titus 3:14).
In the writings of Paul, works of the law always designates the idea of perfect obedience, i.e., doing all which the law requires. But works of faith or good works are the fruits of sanctification by the Spirit of God; the good works which Christians perform, and which are sincere, are therefore acceptable to God under a dispensation of grace, although they do not fulfil all the demands of the law. On the ground of the first, Paul earnestly contends, at length, in his epistles to the Romans and Galatians, that no one can be justified. The latter he everywhere treats as indispensable to the Christian character. So also the apostle James, when disputing with those who make pretensions to Christian faith, and mere pretensions, maintains that no man has any good claim to the faith of a Christian who does not at the same time exhibit good works; in other words, he avers that a mere speculative faith is not a real Christian faith (James 2:14-26). In a word, Paul has taught us that justifica tion is not on the ground of merit, but of grace: James has taught us that a faith which will entitle one to hope for justification must be accompanied with evangelical obedience. Both are true and faithful teachers; the doctrines of both are equally the doctrines of the gospel. Good works, in the gospel sense of these words, are an essential condition of our acceptance with God; but on the ground of perfect obedience to the divine law, no one ever was or ever will be accepted. (See JUSTIFICATION).
In an evangelical sense, good works are those actions which spring from pure principles, and are conformable to truth, justice, and propriety; whether natural, civil, relative, moral, or religious. The phrase is often used of acts of charity. The qualities of a good work, in the Scriptural sense of the term, are,
(1) That it be according to the will of God; (2) that it spring from love to God (1 Timothy 1:5); (3) that it be done in faith (Romans 14:23); (4) that it be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 1:11).
The causes of good works are,
(1) God himself (Hebrews 13:21); (2) union with Christ (Ephesians 2:10); (3) through faith (Hebrews 11:4; Hebrews 11:6); (4) by the word and spirit (Isaiah 3:3; Luke 8:15; 2 Timothy 3:16).
As to the nature and properties of good works in this world,
(1) They are imperfect (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Revelation 3:2; (2) not meritorious (Luke 17:10; Titus 3:5); (3) yet found only in the regenerate (Matthew 7:17). The necessary uses of good works,
(1) They show our gratitude (Psalms 116:12-13); (2) are an ornament to our profession (Titus 2:10); (3) evidence our regeneration (Job 15:5); (4) are profitable to others (Titus 3:8). See Gill, Body of Div. volume 3, book 4.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Works'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/w/works.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.