Of Justification by Faith and Works

I believe that we are saved by grace through faith and that our works as Christians come as a natural result of our faith being lived in our daily interactions. I recently read Of Justification by Faith and Works by William Law and was challenged to think harder about the relationship between faith and works.

Of Justification by Faith and Works: A Dialogue between a Methodist and a Churchman was written by William Law in 1760. You can find the complete text at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library with this link. Law’s best known work is A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, which was a deep influence on John Wesley and others in the Evangelical revival. (Wikipedia contributors, “William Law,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=William_Law&oldid=227402439 (accessed August 11, 2008).

Of Justification by Faith and Works is written in a dialogue format with a Methodist providing questions and a churchman replying with lengthy responses. The content is primarily around the relationship of faith and works in the doctrine of salvation. The Methodist accuses the churchman of preaching “soul-destroying doctrine” of “salvation partly by faith, and partly by works; or justification by faith and works.” The churchman uses several lines of thought in response to the Methodist including:

  • Faith is the whole gospel system, including the call to works.
  • “It is true of the savior to say, that he is freely given of God, to be the savior of all men; but it is not true to say of salvation, that it is freely given to all men.”
  • Repentance and faith are works.
  • Christ’s work within us allow us to do any good works at all.

I appreciated the dialogue in which Law chose to write this content. It helped provide a small but important counterpoint to the assertions that he was making. This technique also increased the effetiveness of his argument. In the end, I disagree with several of the conclusions that Law draws in this dialogue, but it made me think harder about justification, faith and works than I have in a long time. I recommend this text to someone interested in thinking seriously about justification and how it relates to faith and / or works. Be prepared for theological engagement and english from the 18th century.