The rewards promised in the Scriptures to good works suppose the parties to be believers in Christ; and so, being accepted in him, their works also are accepted, and rewarded for his sake. That good works have the promise of salvation is beyond dispute. Nothing that God approves shall go unrewarded. The least expression of faith and love, even the giving of a cup of cold water to a disciple of Christ because he belongs to him, will insure everlasting life. But neither this nor any other good work can be a ground of justification, inasmuch as it is subsequent to it. For works to have any influence on this blessing, they require to precede it; but works before faith are never acknowledged by the Scriptures to be good. It was testified of Enoch that he pleased God; whence the apostle to the Hebrews infers that he was a believer, inasmuch as “without faith it is impossible to please God.” “It does not consist with the honour of the majesty of the King of heaven and earth to accept of any thing from a condemned malefactor, condemned by the justice of his own holy law, till that condemnation be removed.”* The Lord had respect “first to Abel,” and “then to his offering.” Even those works which are the expressions of faith and love have so much sinful imperfection attached to them that they require to be presented by an intercessor on our behalf. The most spiritual sacrifices are no otherwise acceptable to God than by Jesus Christ.
Perhaps I ought not to conclude this part of the subject without noticing the apparent opposition between Paul and James; the one teaching that “we are justified by faith, without the deeds of the law;” the other that “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” The words are, doubtless, apparently opposite; and so are those of Solomon, when he directs us, in one proverb, not to answer, and, in the next, to answer a fool according to his folly. In reconciling these apparently opposite counsels, we are led, by the reasons given for each, to understand the terms as used in different senses; the former, as directing us not to answer a fool in a foolish manner, for this would make us like unto him; the latter to answer him in a way suited to expose his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. In like manner the terms faith and justification were used by Paul and James in a different sense. By faith, Paul meant that which worketh by love, and is productive of good fruits; but James speaks of a faith which is dead, being alone. By justification, Paul means the acceptance of a sinner before God; but James refers to his being approved of God as a true Christian. “Both these apostles bring the case of Abraham in illustration of their principles; but then, it is to be observed, they refer to different periods and circumstances in the life of that patriarch. Paul, in the first instance, says of Abraham, that he was justified by faith, while yet uncircumcised: this was his justification in the sight of God, and was without any consideration of his works. James refers to a period some years subsequent to this, when, in the offering up of his son, he was justified by works also; that is, his faith was shown to be genuine by its fruits. Paul therefore refers to the acceptance of a sinner; James to the approbation of a saint.”†
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “Justification,” Sermon XVIII in Sermons and Sketches. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 287–288). Sprinkle Publications.