« PreviousContinue »
ven, as bad ones deserve hell; whereas this, terms! Merit, mercy. If it be of mercy, how is an opinion peculiar to only some of their is it meritorious? If it be meritorious, how is divines; it has been censured and condem- it of mercy? If by grace, then is it no more ned by a bull of Pius V. and Gregory XIII. of works: but if it be of works then is it no as one of our most celebrated divines has more grace,' Rom. xi. 6. You know the lanproved, whom, although his pious design of guage of St. Paul. conciliating our disputes may have made him rather exceed his evidence in some of his affirmations, we cannot contradict on this article, because he proves it by incontestable evidence. But the second opinion is professedly that of the whole church of Rome. This canon, which I am going to repeat to you, is the decision of the council of Trent. Eternal life is to be proposed to the children of God both as a gift mercifully offered to them through Jesus Christ, and as a promised reward equitably rendered to their merits and good works in virtue of this promise.'t
2. This opinion furnishes a pretext to hu man pride, and whether this be not sufficiently evident, let experience judge. Do we not often see people, who not being capable of entering into these theological distinctions, which are contained in the writings of their teachers, think by their good works, and of ten by their superstitions, so to merit eternal felicity, that God cannot deprive them of it without subverting the laws of justice? Has not the church of Rome other doctrines, which lead to this error? Is not supereroga tion of this kind? According to this a man may not only fully perform all his engage ments, but he may even exceed them. Is not the doctrine, that excludes merit, considered by many of the Roman community as a mark of heresy? If we believe an anecdote in the life of Charles V. it was principally for having written on the walls of his room several passages of Scripture excluding the merit of works, that he was suspected of adhering to our doctrines, and that the inquisi tion deliberated on punishing him after his death as a heretic. The inquisitors would certainly have proceeded against him, had not Philip II. been given to understand that the son of a heretic was incapable of succeed. ing to the crown of Spain.*
We oppose our system against both these opinions. To say, with the first of these divines, that good works merit heaven, as bad works deserve hell, is to affirm a proposition, which Rome itself denies. What! works that bear no proportion to objects of our hope, a few meditations, a few prayers, a few almsdeeds! What would the sacrifice of our whole selves merit that 'eternal weight of glory,' which is to be revealed in us? What! can works, that are not performed by our power, works, that proceed from grace, works, which owe their design and execution to God, who' worketh to will, and to do,' as St. Paul expresses it, Phil. ii. 13, can these attain, do these deserve a weight of glory' for us? Does not the whole that we possess Against this system we oppose that which come from God? If we know the doctrines of we have established. We consider Jesus revelation, is it not because the Father of Christ, Jesus Christ alone, as the meritori glory hath enlightened the eyes of our under- ous cause of our justification. If faith justistanding? Eph. i. 17, 18. If we believe his fies us, it is as an instrument, that of itself decisions, is it not because he gave us faith? can merit nothing, and which contributes to If we suffer for his gospel, is it not because our justification only as it capacitates us for he gives us strength to suffer?' Phil. i. 29. participating the benefits the death of What! works, that are of themselves insepa- Christ. These were the ideas of the ancient rably connected with our stations, and there- church. The divines of primitive times fore duties, indispensable engagements, debts, taught that men were righteous, who ac and debts, alas! which we discharge so knowledged their guilt, and that they had badly, can these merit a reward? God for- nothing of their own but sin, and who, albid we should entertain such an opinion! though they were saints, yet attributed no Even Cardinal Bellarmine, after he had en- thing to their own merit. On those prindeavoured more than any other writer to es- ciples, we find, in an ancient work attribut tablish the merit of good works, with one ed to Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, stroke of his pen effaced all his arguments, the sick were comforted in this manner. for, said he, on account of the precariousness Dost thou trust in the merit of Jesus Christ of our own righteousness, and the danger of alone for salvation? The sick person repli vainglory, the safest method is to have re-ed, I do. The assistant then added, Praise course to the mercy of God, and to trust in God to the last moment of your life; place his mercy alone.‡ all your confidence in him; and, when the Supreme Judge of the world calls you to his tribunal, say to him, Lord! I interpose between thy righteous judgment and myself the death of thy Son, and I ascribe no merit to any good work of my own.'
But we oppose also the other opinion, that we have mentioned. For, although it may seem to be purified from that venom, which we have remarked in the first, yet it is attend ed with two inconveniences.
Thus we oppose the merit of works. But it is dangerous for those, who preach to people prone to one extreme, to express themselves so as to seem to favour the opposite extreme. Although all our divines unanimously connect faith and holiness together, yet there is great reason to fear, our people carry their aversion against the doctrine of merit so far that they lose sight of this
* L'Abbe de S. Real, Histoire de Don Carlos.
1. It is contradictory in terms. A work, that derives its value from the mercy of God is called meritorious. What an association of
See the Theses of M. Louis Le Blanc.
Proponenda est vita eterna, et tanquam Gratia filiis dei per Christum Jesum, misericorditer promissa et tanquam mercies ex ipsius Dei promissione, bonis ipsorum operibus et meritis fideliter reddendar. Conc. Trid. Sess. vi. c. 16.
Card. Bell. Controvers. T. iv. De Justificatione Lib. 1.
THE LIFE OF FAITH.
union of faith and obedience. A man, whose | vation to one of these virtues, it does not great labours in the church prevent our men- consider it separately, as subsisting in a distioning his name, while we reprove his error, tinct subject, but it considers it as flowing bas affirmed these propositions--the gospel from that general principle, which acquiesces consists of promises only-Jesus Christ gave in the whole gospel. no precepts-we are under no other obligations than those of gratitude to obey the laws of religion-our souls are in no danger if we neglect them.
praises which are given to it in Scripture. 4. Justifying faith must merit all the What encomiums are bestowed on faith! It it were, with him, it raiseth us up together,' unites us to Jesus Christ and makes us sit together with him in heaIt crucifies us as venly places,' in a word, it makes us one with him as he is one with the Father,' Gal. ii. 20; Eph. ii. 6, and John xvii 20. But devoid of obedience to him, is this to be cruthe bare desire of salvation by Jesus Christ cified with Jesus Christ? Is this to be risen with him? Is this to sit in heavenly places with him?
Against these ideas we again oppose our system of justification. We affirm, that justifying faith is a general principle of virtue and holiness; and that such a recourse to the mercy of God, as wicked Christians imagine, does not justify in any sense. does not justify as the meritorious cause of our salvation; for to affirm this is to maintain a heresy. We have said Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ alone, is the foundation of our salvation, and our most ardent desire to participate the benefits of it is incapable of deserving them. It does not justify as a condition. To affirm, that to have recourse to the grace of Jesus Christ is the only condition that the gospel requires, is to mutilate the gospel, apparently to widen beyond all Scriptural bounds the way to heaven, and really to open a large and spacious road to eternal perdition.
If there be one in this assembly so unacquainted with Christianity as to suppose that he may be justified before God by a fruitless desire of being saved, and by a barren recourse to the death of Christ, let him attend to the following reflections.
1. Justifying faith is lively faith, a believer cannot live by a dead faith: but faith without works is dead,' James ii. 20. Consequently the faith that gives life is a faith containing, at least in principle, all vir
2. Justifying faith must assort with the genius of the covenant to which it belongs. Had the gospel no other design than that of pardoning our sins, without subduing them, faith might then consist in a bare act of the mind accepting this part of the gospel: but if the gospel proposes both to pardon sin. and to enable us to renounce it, faith, which has to do with this covenant of grace, must needs involve both these articles. who will pretend to say, the gospel has not Now, both these blessings in view? And consequently, who can deny, that faith consists both in trusting the grace, and in obeying all the laws of the gospel?
3. Justifying faith must include all the virtues, to which the Scripture attributes justification and salvation. Now, if you consult the oracles of God, you will perceive Scripture speaks a language that will not comport with the doctrine of fruitless faith. Sometimes salvation is attributed to love, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom, for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat,' Matt. xxv. 34. Sometimes it is attributed to hope, Hope maketh not ashamed,' Rom. v. 5. Sometimes to faith, Whosoever believeth in himn shall have eternal life,' John iii. 15. I ask now, to which virtue, strictly speaking, does salvation belong? to love, to hope, or to faith? Or rather, is it not clear, that, when Scripture attributes sal
spirit of the mystery, that acquires justifica5. Justifying faith must enter into the tisfaction of Jesus Christ. What is the systion for us; I mean the mystery of the safaction? Some divines among us have ventured to affirm, that God was entirely free tem of our churches on the mystery of satiseither to exact the punishment due to sin, or to release mankind from all obligation they, because of its greater fitness to exto suffer it. He required a satisfaction, say press to the whole universe his just abhorrence of sin.
us, is, that although God was entirely free
nor allege the motives of our embracing one
What! has God, think ye, so much love for
gard to those who embrace the general sysThe demonstration is equally clear in retem of our churches. How can a man per suade himself, that the love of order is so essential to God, that he cannot without contradicting himself pardon the sinner, and not punish the sin; how, I say, can such a man persuade himself that such a faith as we have exploded can enable us to participate the pardoning benefits of the death of Christ?
Is it not evident, that these two supposi
tions make a God contradictory to himself, and represent his attributes as clashing with each other? In the first supposition, a God s conceived, to whom sin is infinitely odious; in the second a God is imagined, to whom sin is perfectly tolerable. In the first a God is conceived, who naturally and necessarily requires a satisfaction; in the second a God is imagined, who by a pliable facility of nature esteems a sinner although he derives from the satisfaction no motives to renounce his sin. In the first, God is conceived as placing the strongest barriers against sin, and as sacrificing the noblest victim to express his insuperable aversion to vice; in the second, God is imagined as removing all obstacles to sin, and protecting men in the practice of it, nothing contributing more to confirm wicked men in sin than the vain opinion, that, carry vice to what pitch they will, they may be reconciled to God by the mediation of Jesus Christ, whenever they wish for the benefits of his sacrifice.
stroying one part of his thesis, while he establishes another part of it, But, after all, there is no real difference among your ministers on this article. Whatever method they take, they all agree, that no man can be a truc Christian, who does not receive Jesus Christ as his prophet, priest, and king; that as faith unites us to Jesus Christ, it is impossible for the members of a head so holy to continue in sin. Now does not all this amount to a demonstration that saving faith transforms the heart?
Let us examine the objections which are made against this doctrine.
Is it pretended, that the design of excluding holiness from the essence of faith is to elevate the merit of the death of Christ? But, O vain man! Do not we enervate the merit of the death of Christ, we, who place it in our system as the only foundation; the alone cause of the salvation of man, excluding works entirely, however holy they may be?
Dost thou say, thy design is to humble man? But, O vain man! What can be more proper to humble man than our system, which shows him that those works are nothing, which do not proceed from the assistance of God; and that if God condescends to accept them, he does so through mere mercy, and not on account of their merit?
To all these considerations, add one more on the unanimous opinion of all your ministers. In vain do you attempt to seek pretexts for sin in those scholastic disputes, and in those different methods which divines have struck out in establishing the doctrines of faith, and justification. Your divines, I grant, have used expressions capable of very different meanings, on these articles. They Dost thou add, that our system is contrary are men, their geniuses, like those of the rest to experience, and dost thou allege the exof mankind are finite, and they have discover- amples of many, who have been justified withed in the far greater part of all their systems out performing one good work, and by the the narrow limits of their minds. Intelligences, bare desire of being saved by Jesus Christ, as confined like ours, are necessarily stricken the converted thief, and many others, who with a first truth more than with another have turned to God on a death-bed? But O rain truth, no less important and clear than the man! What have we been establishing? first. Every science, every course of study, Have we said, that a faith, which had not afford proofs of the truth of this remark; but produced good works, was not a true faith? the present subject of our inquiry abounds with No, we have only affirmed, that a true faith evidence of this sort. Some have been more must necessarily be a principle of good works. struck with the necessity of believing the It may happen, that a man may have this truths of speculation, than with that of per- principle and may not have any opportunity forming the duties which belong to these of expressing it by practice, and of bringing truths. Others have been more affected with it into action; he has it, however, in intention. the necessity of performing the duties of re- In this sense we admit the maxims of St. ligion, than with that of adhering to the spe- Augustine, and if he did not understand it in culative truths of it. Some, having lived our sense, it ought to be understood so; among people believing the merit of works, Good works,' says he, do not accompany have turned all their attention against the justification; but they follow it. The thier, doctrine of merit, and have expressed them in one sense, strictly speaking, did no good selves perhaps without design, in a manner, work: but in another sense, he did all good that seemed to enervate the necessity of good works. We say of him, as we say of Abraham, works. Others on the contrary having lived he did all in heart, in intention. Abraham, among libertines, who did not believe, or who from the first moment of his vocation, was acaffected not to believe the necessity of good counted to have abandoned his country, saworks, have turned all the point of their ge- crificed his son Isaac, and wrought all those nius against this pernicious doctrine, and n heroical actions of Christian faith, which their turn have expressed themselves, per-made him a model for the whole church. In haps without design, in a manner that seem- like manner, the converted thief visited all ed to favour the notion of merit. Nothing the sick, clothed all the naked, fed all the is so rare as a genius comprehending at hungry, comforted all the afflicted, and was once the whole of any subject. As nothing accounted to have done all the pious actions, in the military art is so rare as that self-pos- of which faith is the principle, because he session, which enables a general to pervade would infallibly have done them, had God afa whole army, and to be present, so to speak, forded him opportunity. in every part of the field of battle; so in the sciences, nothing is so uncommon as that kind of comprehensive attention, which enables a man always to think and speak in per-embracing the gospel in time? But, O rain fect harmony with himself, and so to avoid de
Dost thou say, our justification and salvation flow from a decree made before the foundation of the world, and not from our
man! Do we deny the decree by showing the
manner of the accomplishment of it? Do we destroy the end by establishing the means? If your side can prove, without injuring the doctrine of decrees, that man is justified by a bare desire of being justified, can we injure the same doctrine by asserting, that this desire must proceed from the heart, and must needs aim to please God, as well as to be reconciled to him, and to share his love?
Dost thou still object, that, although our system is true in the main, yet it is always dangerous to publish it; because man has always an inclination to'sacrifice unto his own net, and burn incense unto his own drag,' Hab. i. 16, that by pressing the neces sity of works, occasion is insensibly given to the doctrine of merit? But, allow me to ask, Is there no danger in the opposite system? If ours seem to favour one vice, does not the opposite system favour all vices? If ours seem to favour pride, does not the opposite system favour that, and with that all other vices, revenge, calumny, adultery, and incest? And, after all, should the abuse of a holy doctrine, prevent the use of it? Where, pray, are the men among us, who think to merit heaven by their good works? For our parts, we protest, my brethren, that having examined a great number of consciences, we find the general inclination the other way; people are in general more inclined to a careless reliance on a kind of general grace than to an industrious purchase of happiness by good works. What is it, after all, that decoys thousands before our eyes into the broad way of destruction? Is it an opinion, after they have been very charitable, that they merit by charity? Is it an opinion, after they have been very humble, that they merit by humility? Ah! my brethren! the greatest part of you have so fully proved by your indisposition to piety, that you have no idea of the merit of good works, that there is no fear of ever establishing this doctrine among you. But, to form loose actions of obedience, to mutilate the covenant of grace, to render salvation the easiest thing in the world, to abound in flattering ourselves with hopes of salvation, although we live without love, without humility, without labouring to be saved; these are the rocks against which we split; these are the dangers from which we would free you; this is the monster that we would never cease to attack, till we have given it its death-wound.
I would then abhor myself, deplore my frailty, blush at the remembrance of my best duties, cast myself into the arms of divine mercy, and own all my felicity derivable from grace. I would own, it is grace that elects; grace which calls; grace that justifis; grace which sanctifies; grace that accepts a sanctification always frail and imperfect but at the same time, I would watch over myself, I would arouse myself to duty, I would work out my salvation with fear and trembling,' Phil. ii. 12, and, while I acknowledge grace does all, and my works merit nothing, I would act as if I might expect every thing from my own efforts.
Verily, Christians! these are the two dispositions, which, above all others, we wish to excite in your minds and hearts. These
are the two conclusions that you ought to draw from this discourse; a conclusion of humility and a conclusion of vigilance: a conclusion of humility, for behold the abyss into which sin had plunged you, and seo the expense at which you were recovered from it. Man had originally a clear judgment, he knew his Creator, and the obedience that was due to him from his creatures. The path of happiness was open to him, and he was in full possession of power to walk in it. All on a sudden he sins, his privileges vanish, his knowledge is beclouded, and he is deprived of all his freedom. Man, man, who held the noblest dominion in nature, falls into the most abject of all kinds of slavery. Instantly the heavens 'reveal his iniquity, the earth rises up against him,' Job xx. 27, lightnings flash in his eyes, thunders roll in his ears, and universal nature announces his final ruin. In order to rescue him from it, it was necessary for the mercy and justice of God to shake heaven and earth,' Heb. xii. 26. God must take upon him the form of a servant,' Phil. ii. 7, the most excellent of all intelligent beings must die in order to save him from eternal death.
This is not all. Even since Jesus Christ has said to us, this is the path to paradise; that is the broad way to destruction; a fatal charm still fascinates our eyes, a dreadful propensity to misery yet carries us away. Here again the nature and fitness of things require the assistance of Heaven. Grace, that revealed salvation, must dispose us to accept it, and must save us, if
may be allowed to speak so, in spite of our own unhappy disposition to vice and misery. After so many crimes, amidst so many errors, in spite of so many frailties, who, who dare lift up his head? Who can presume to trust himself? Who can imagine himself the author of his own salvation, and expect to derive it from his own merit?
Hide, hide thyself in the dust, miserable man! smite thy breast, fix thine eyes on the ashes, from which thou wast taken. Lift up thy voice in these penitential cries, If thou, Lord! shouldst mark iniquities: O Lord! who shall stand? Ps. cxxx. 3. 'O Lord! righteousness belongeth unto thee; but unto us confusion of face,' Dan. 9. 7. God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,' Gal. vi. 14. Lay thy pretensions, thy virtues, thy merits, at the foot of this cross. Divest thyself of thyself, and tear from thy heart, if possible, the last fibre of that pride, which would obstruct thy salvation, and ensure thy destruction.
But, my brethren! shall this be the whole of your religion? will you acknowledge no other engagement? Does this short system, think you, include the whole of a Christian's calling? Let us add to this, brethren, watchfulness. As no vices are so dangerous as those which present themselves to us under the ideas of exalted virtues, such as hatred under a colour of zeal, pride under an appearance of severity and fervour, so no errors slide more easily into our minds than those
which conceal themselves under the names of Christ?' Phil. i. 23. Is thy soul athirst the great truths of religion. To plead for for God? Dost thou 'pant after him, as the human innocence, to deny the satisfaction of hart panteth after the water-brooks?' Ps. Christ, to pretend to elevate our good works xlii. 1, 2. so high as to make them the price of eternal felicity, are errors so gross, and so diametrically opposite to many express declarations of Scripture, that a little love for truth, and a small study of religion, will be sufficient to preserve us from them. But under pretence of venerating the cross of Christ, and of holding fast the doctrine of human depravity, with the pious design of humbling man, un der, I know not what, veils of truth and orthodoxy, to widen the way to heaven, and to lull whole communities of Christians into security; these are the errors, that softly and imperceptibly glide into our souls, as, alas! were not the nature of the subject sufficient to persuade you, experience, the experience of most of you would easily convince you.
But you have heard the maxim of St. James, faith without works is dead,' chap. ii. 21. This maxim is a touchstone by which you ought to try yourselves.
One of you believes there is a God: 'faith without works is dead.' Art thou penetrated with veneration for his perfections, admiration of his works, deference to his laws, fear of his judgments, gratitude for his boun ties, and zeal for his glory?
Another believes, Christ died for his sins: 'faith without works is dead. Dost thou abhor thy sins for shedding his blood, for preparing his cross, for wounding his person, for piercing his side, for stirring up a war between him and divine justice, for making him cry in the bitterness of his soul, Now is my soul troubled,' John xii. 27. My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,' Matt. xxvi. 38. My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?'
Thou believest there is a future state: 'faith without works is dead.' Dost thou place thy heart where thy treasure is? Dost thou anticipate by faith and hope the blessed period of thine admission to future felicity? Dost thou desire to depart and to be with
Ah formidable maxim! Ah dreadful touchstone! We wish God had not only fitted religion, so to speak, to our frailties and infirmities; we want him also to accommodate it to our inveterate vices. We act as if we desired, that the sacrifice, which was once offered to free us from the punishment of sin, and to merit the pardon of it, had been offered again to free us from the necessity of subduing it, and to merit a right for us to commit it. What madness! From the days of Adam to this moment conscience has been the terror of mankind; and this terror, excited by an idea of a future state, and by the approach of death, has inclined all men to seek a remedy against this general and formidable evil. Philosophers, divines, libertines, worldly heroes, all have failed in this design. Jesus Christ alone has succeeded in it. Only Jesus Christ presents to us this true remedy so ardently desired, and so vainly sought; and we still refuse it, because our vices, fatal as they have been to us, are still the objects of our most eager desires.
But do you know what all these objects of our contemplation suppose? Conscience, if we listen to its voice, death and futurity, if we attend to them, the doctrine, the humbling doctrine of justification, that we have been preaching to you, all suppose that we are criminals, that the wrath of Heaven is kindled against us, that the eternal books, in which our actions are registered, are opening, that our Judge is seated, our trial coming on, our final doom preparing, and that there remains no refuge from all these miseries but Jesus Christ, whose name is announced, that we may escape the wrath to come, and be saved. To him let us flee. To him let us resign our minds, our hearts, and our lives. God give us grace to do so. To him be honour and glory for ever, Amen.
2 CORINTHIANS vii. 10.
Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the
sorrow of the world worketh death.
THE words we have read, and with which we propose to cherish your devotion in this exercise, are connected, not only with the preceding verses, but also with a part of that Our apostle had scarcely planted the gos epistle which St. Paul had written to Co-pel at Corinth, and formed the professors of rinth before this. This connexion is the it into a Christian church, before one of the properest comment on the sense of the text; most atrocious crimes was committed in the
with this therefore, we begin, and this part of our discourse will require your particular attention.