« PreviousContinue »
a power to do works pleasant and acceptable to himself; works so performed must have something to do with a sinner's pardon and acceptance with God. I do not say that they will be the meritorious cause of his salvation, nor indeed any cause at all, taking the word strictly as productive of a certain effect; for no works performed by man at any time, could set up a claim of right to eternal life, as the wages for service performed; whilst at the same time they may be a consideration, on account of which God will be pleased, under the Gospel covenant, to accept a fallen, repentant, and obedient sinner, for the sake of what an all-gracious Saviour has done and suffered for him. For after all that Jesus Christ has done and suffered for man, he is still "the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him."
Our reformers, if I mistake not, in The Erudition of a Christian Man, published in 1543, spake still more strongly on this point; when, under the Article good works they say, "forasmuch as they be done in the faith of Christ, and by the virtue and merits of his passion their imperfectness is supplied, the merciful goodness of God accepteth them as an observation and fulfilling of his law; and they be the very service of God, and be meritorious towards the attaining of everlasting life.”+
From the foregoing premises our conclusion is, that the distinction between the covenant of works and covenant of grace, between the law and the Gospel, so frequently though incautiously made,
* Heb. v. 9.
Vindicia, c. 6, p. 272; Hom. on good Works.
when considered with reference to eternal life, is certainly an incorrect one. We know of no covenant or dispensation under which man has been ever placed, according to the tenor of which a claim of right to eternal life on the score of works, could be maintained. And St. Paul, with an eye to the law, says expressly, "if there had been a law given, which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law."*. When, therefore, mention is made of the law giving life as the reward of obedience, the law of Moses is to be understood; and by life, the attainment only of temporal promises; for with respect to eternal life, the law could never give it. Under the first dispensation in Paradise the law could not give it, because, as it has been above observed, eternal life was originally the free gift of God, suspended on a condition suited to man in his state of innocence. Subsequent to the fall the law could not give it, because the promise had given it before; for, as the Apostle argues, had the law given it, the promise of God in Christ, made four hundred and thirty years before, must have been made of none effect. Considering, then, the Jewish dispensation as a peculiar one, designed only for a temporary pur pose, and to be introductory to the accomplishment of God's general plan for the salvation of man through Jesus Christ; we have to observe, that with respect to any claim of right to eternal life, man has stood on the same footing from the beginning. To Adam, eternal life, as the gift of God, was promised on the condition of his abstinence *Gal. iii. 21. + Gal. iii, 17.
from the forbidden tree. Under the Gospel dis-
You, and your friend Mr. Wilberforce, (for now I understand that you both speak the same language) seem perfectly agreed in decrying good works. It is not meant that such is the object you really have in view, but that your language, for want of its being sufficiently marked, is calculated to lead the reader to such conclusion. Far be it +John iii. 16.
*Rom. vi. 23.
from me, Sir, not to give both Mr. W. and yourself full credit for your zeal on this occasion; at the same time I say, I trust without offence, that to me it appears to be injudicious; because, as the subject strikes me, it has led to a partial representation of the Gospel plan of salvation. You both speak the truth, but, as I conceive, not the whole truth; thereby promoting that deception, which has at all times more or less prevailed among Christian professors. When placing the Gospel in opposition to the law, (which by the bye never should be done, because such opposition is calculated to lead into error) you describe it thus: "That man is to believe and be saved; and that obedience to the moral law has nothing to do with his pardon and acceptance with God." Mr. Wilberforce, after making mention of that tremendous day, when according to the declaration of our Saviour, "He shall judge every man according to his works,"* concludes with the following strange application, "Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy;" and with the view of fixing in the reader's mind the idea meant to be conveyed by it, he refers him to a part of scripture, where our Saviour, speaking upon a very different subject, says, "This is the work of God, that ye
believe in Him whom he hath sent."
If the reader will take the trouble to turn to his Bible, he will find that our Saviour upon this occasion, in addressing himself to the multitude that followed him for the loaves and fishes, took advantage of their eagerness for the gratification of the cravings of the body, to remind them of the provision necessary to be made for the wants of the * Matt. xvi. 27; and Rev. xx. 13,
soul.Labour not (says he) for the meat which
Now, to place this passage as it were in opposition to a plain declaration of our Saviour's, delivered upon a different occasion, respecting the final judgment of the world, appears to be not so much to explain scripture, as to confuse and misrepresent it.
God requires, as an essential condition of salvation, that we "believe in him whom he hath sent.", Our Saviour declares, that every man shall be judged according to his works. These two passages are certainly not at variance, and therefore ought not to be brought to oppose each other. By the first we are informed, that we must believe in Christ to be saved. By the second we are given to understand, that by the fruits of the spirit, manifested in a holy and religious life, man's everlasting condition will be determined.
The other passage which Mr. Wilberforce has brought forward, with a view of destroying what he calls the flimsy webb, which he would give the * John vi. 27, &c, + Matt. xvi. 27; and Rev. xx. 13.