“I will shew thee my faith by my works”, “Was not our father Abraham justified by work?”, “Seest thou how faith wrought by his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” (James 2: 18, 21-22)
The Apostle in that chapter speaks of a double faith.
One was a counterfeit faith, a shadow as it were, which bad the looks, but not the substance it was a dead faith, which hath the limbs, but not the soul and life. But how did it appear that this faith was dead? Did it not speak many good words? Yes, says Saint James, It gave good words, & praeterea nihil, no good works. It could say to the poor, “be ye clothed”, and “be ye warm”, but gave nothing to clothe or to fee, why? Says he, “this mans faith is vain” (that is) he hath not the true quality of faith, and it will stand him in no stead.
Another was a lively and justifying faith. It had in it the true nature and property of faith, but how did that appear? The apostle answers, “by works”. You know that there is a great difference between these two, viz. the justifying of a man’s person before God, and the justifying of a man’s faith before the world. That which justified my person before God, is only faith in Jesus Christ, and that which justified (as one particular) my faith before men, not to be a dead, but living faith, is the acting of good work. Hence that of Paul, “This is a faithful saying, and those things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works, these things are good and profitable unto men” (Titus 3:8). Tight is the speech of saint Augustine, “Sequuntur justificatum” though “non praecedunt justificandum”. As in a clock, the finger makes not the clock to go, but the clock it, and yet the motion of the finger without, shows whether the clock goes within.
So although works do not cause of infuse justifying faith, nor yet cause our justification, yet they do clearly manifest whether we have such a faith as doth indeed justify, or not.
Objection: You will say, the work of faith is to look up, and to come and to deal with God only; and therefore to breath out good works which respect men, seems not to be testimony of faith.
Solution: I answer,
1. The apostle there expressly distinguishes the lively and the dead faith by works (as if he had said) it is so
2. There is (if you will let me distinguish so) as it were a double act of faith. One is proper and personal, and this is circumscribed to that heavenly employment of receiving or presenting in and through Christ.
Another is grateful, and this is extended to the sending forth of good works. Not as if it were a work of supererogation, for faith finds the doing of good works under many commands, and also the rewards of them under many promises. But because faith see also a sweet and reasonable equity, that if God be good to me in Christ, I should be good to some for Christs’ sake. And surely, as the workless person doth not now own Christ by faith, so hereafter Christ will not own him by mercy, “depart from me”.
Objection: But yet you will reply, good works cannot be a sure testimony of faith, because many evil men may perform them, and some believers have not where-withall to do them.
Solution: I answer,
1. Good works may be so styled, either, First, materially because they are such things as may do good. Secondly, formally, being sealed with all the circumstances which are required to make them good, both for spiritual composition, and divine acceptation. Now though wicked men may perform works good materially, yet formally they do not, for to make a work formally good, there must be the concurrence of all circumstances, the person must have a good heart, and a good ground, and a good end, and a good Christ.
2. Though every believer cannot actually do every good work, yet some good works or other he can do, though he cannot give money, yet he can give prayer. Now think on this ye who have riches and wealth, and profess faith on Christ, and yet scarce a person, a poor distressed person can bless God for your fruitful faith. No, the very doing of a small good work, sometimes does even try all the faith in the soul. A man does many times believe he shall surely want, and improves his estate if he should be rich in good works.
(Obadiah Sedgwick, The Humbled Sinner Resolved, Pg. 104-106)