The Visible Churches Warned
By JC Ryle
2. I ask my readers to observe that in every epistle the Lord Jesus says, ‘I know your works’.
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 your labor and patience’, to another, ‘your tribulation and poverty’, to a third, ‘your charity and service and faith’. But to all He uses the words I now dwell on ‘I know your works’. It is not ‘I know your profession, your desires, your resolutions, your wishes’ — but ‘your works’. ‘I know your 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 that 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 I 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 (Proverbs 15:3).
You never did an action, however private — but Jesus saw it.
You never spoke a word, no, not even in a whisper — but Jesus heard it.
You never wrote a letter, even to your dearest friend — but Jesus read it.
You never thought a thought, however secret — but Jesus was familiar with it.
His eyes are as a flaming fire. The darkness is no darkness with Him. All things are open and manifest before Him. He says to every one, ‘I know your works’.
a. The Lord Jesus knows the works of all impenitent and unbelieving souls — and will one day punish them. They are not forgotten in Heaven, though they may be upon earth. When the great white throne is set, and the books are opened, the wicked dead will be judged ‘according to their works’.
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. He discerns how much is done for His sake, and how much is done for the sake of personal praise. Alas, not a few things are done by believers, which seem very good to you and I — but are rated very low by Christ.