I Know Thy Works
To make justification in any way contingent on works would be no less than heresy. But to deny that works have any necessary connection to faith would be a great error, as well. Reading the book of Revelation, J. C. Ryle notes that “in every epistle [to the seven churches] the Lord Jesus says, I know thy works” (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). This cannot be insignificant.
That repeated expression is very striking. It is not for nothing that we read these words seven times over.
To one Church the Lord Jesus says, I know thy labour and patience—to another, thy tribulation and poverty—to a third, thy charity, and service, and faith. But to all, He uses the words I now dwell on: ‘I know thy works.’ It is not, ‘I know thy profession—thy desires—thy resolutions—thy wishes,’—but thy works. ‘I know thy works.’
The works of a professing Christian are of great importance. They cannot save your soul. They cannot justify you. They cannot wipe out your sins. They cannot deliver you from the wrath of God. But it does not follow because they cannot save you, that they are of no importance. Take heed and beware of such a notion. The man who thinks so is fearfully deceived.
I often think I could willingly die for the doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law. But I must earnestly contend, as a general principle, that a man’s works are the evidence of a man’s religion. If you call yourself a Christian, you must show it in your daily ways and daily behaviour. Call to mind that the faith of Abraham and of Rahab was proved by their works (James 2:21–25). Remember it avails you and me nothing to profess we know God, if in works we deny Him (Titus 1:16). Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘Every tree is known by its own fruit’ (Luke 6:44).
But whatever the works of a professing Christian may be, Jesus says, ‘I know them!’ ‘His eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good’ (Prov. 15:3). . . . The darkness is no darkness with Him. All things are open and manifest before Him. He says to every one, ‘I know thy works.’
(a) The Lord Jesus knows the works of all impenitent and unbelieving souls, and will one day punish them. . . .
(b) The Lord Jesus knows the works of His own people, and weighs them. ‘By Him actions are weighed’ (1 Sam. 2:3). He knows the why and the wherefore of the deeds of all believers. He sees their motives in every step they take. . . .
(c) The Lord Jesus knows the works of all His own people, and will one day reward them. . . . If you love the Lord Jesus and follow Him, you may be sure your work and labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. . . .
But it is all very wonderful. I can well understand the righteous in the day of judgment saying, ‘Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered and fed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink? When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick or in prison, and came unto Thee?’ (Matt. 25:37–39). It may well seem incredible and impossible that they can have done anything worth naming in the great day! Yet so it is. Let all believers take the comfort of it. The Lord says, ‘I know thy works.’ It ought to humble you. But it ought not to make you afraid.
—J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 310–311, 313.
What It Means to Be a Christian
What I Believe