Works Required for Salvation During Past Dispensations?

by Jerry Shugart

The Errors of the Berean Bible Society

Cornelius Stam

I take no pleasure as I undertake this study because the writings of Cornelius Stam, the founder of the Berean Bible Society, have greatly enhanced my understanding of the Word of God. With that in mind please understand that my following comments are written in the spirit of Paul's words found in his second epistle to Timothy:

"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth" (2 Tim.2:24-25).

Noted Mid Acts dispensational teacher J.C. O'Hair wrote that he remembered "hearing a great man of God, Paul Rader, make this statement, 'there is a pronounced weakness in every great man; and it seems the greater the man, the more pronounced the weakness.' "

If Pastor Stam had a pronounced weakness it was surely his teaching in regard to how a believer was eternally saved during past dispensations. He believed that "works" of one kind or another were required for salvation prior to the "dispensation of gace". The rapid growth of this idea in the Mid Acts community is now proving to be the primary reason why many true believers will not even consider the Mid Acts view. Therefore, I follow Paul when he said that he "kept back nothing that was profitable unto you and "I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:20, 27).

Things That Differ

In the book Things that Differ we can find Pastor Stam's basic teaching in regard to his ideas of how a sinner obtained salvation in other dispensations. He writes:

"Note carefully that while God refuses works for salvation today, He required them under other dispensations" (Stam, Things That Differ, [Berean Literature Foundation, Twelfth Printing, 1985], p.21).

The word "require" means "to impose need or occasion for; make necessary or indispensable."

This meaning practically mirrors the definition of the word "essential": "absolutely necessary; indispensable."

Therefore Pastor Stam is saying that in other dispensations works were "essential" in order to be saved. But then he turns around and writes:

"We have no illusions as to man's utter inability to please God by works as such in any age. Man has always been saved essentially by the grace of God, through faith. There could be no other way to be saved " [emphasis added] (Ibid,, p.15).

If works were "essential" for salvation during earlier dispensations then that means that men were not saved "essentially by the grace of God through faith" but instead "essentially by works". That is because if "works" are "essential" in order to be saved then that salvation can not be described as being of "grace". Pastor Stam understands this principle when he wrote:

"Grace is not grace if mingled with works. The two principles are mutually exclusive (Rom. 4:4,5). Thus in salvation there is no 'your part' to perform; it is the gift of God's love, to be received in simple faith (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8,9)" (Stam, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, [Berean Literature Foundation, Second Printing, 1984], p.87).

Expressions of Faith

Stam attempts to justify his ideas in regard to works being required for salvation in past dispensations by saying:

"Faith would most assuredly approach God in God's way at any time, and to seek to gain acceptance with Him in any other way would, of course, be unbelief and self-will. Thus, while works never did or could save as such, they did once save as expressions of faith" (Stam, Things That Differ, p.15).

"...Does this mean that works will be efficacious in themselves? No. They will avail only as the expression and evidence of faith" (Stam, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, p.89).

The Lord knows the heart of man and therefore he does not have to rely on "expressions of faith" as "evidence" of one's faith in order to know whether or not a person has faith:

"...for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart" (1 Sam.16:7).

It is certain that a man's "expressions of faith" do not serve as "evidence" as to whether a man has faith or not in the eyes of the Lord . Let us examine Stam's own teaching in regard to the salvation of David, a man who lived under the Law, to see if "expressions of faith" were required for salvation:

"Now in the cases of Abraham and David, works were required for salvation, whereas in our case works for salvation are distinctly forbidden..." (Ibid., p.17).

Stam then turns around and says the following:

"David lived under the law. How was he justified? "David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works" (Rom. 4:6)" (Ibid., p.16).

If David was justified "without" works then it is certain that works were not "required" for his salvation. So we can see that Stam contradicts himself. At one place he says that "works" were "required" for David's salvation then he says that David was justified "without works".

Stam also wrote that "In Rom. 4:1-8 the Apostle uses Abraham and David to demonstrate the validity of his argument for justification by faith, apart from works" [emphasis added] (Stam, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, p.87).