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us, (though the imperfection thereof deserves damnation according to the rigour of the law,) but that it is ordained to be the way to our salvation : I mean, not its imperfection, but it, notwithstanding its imperfection.
Reader, if thou art a believer, till thy love to Jesus Christ prompts thee to a more suitable ejaculation, accept of this for a conclusion of this whole discourse :
“A saving eternity, Father of mercy, will be short enough to praise thee for Him who hath delivered us from those many millions of sins, the least whereof deserve a damning eternity. Dear Lord Jesus, who hast saved us from the least sin that ever we had or did, help us to serve thee with the greatest love that our souls can either admit or express. And as, through grace, the guilt of the least sin shall not lie upon us, so neither let the love of the least sin lodge within us. Thou who hast made our justification perfect, daily perfect what our sanctification wants. And never, Lord, let us put limits to our thankful returns for those satisfying sufferings of thine, that knew no bounds, no measure."
SERMON XIII. (XI.)
BY THE REV. EDWARD VEAL, B.D. OF CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD ; AFTERWARDS SENIOR FELLOW OF TRINITY COLLEGE,
THE GOOD WORKS OF BELIEVERS ARE NOT MERITORIOUS OF ETERNAL SALVATION.
WHETHER THE GOOD WORKS OF BELIEVERS BE MERITORIOUS OF ETERNAL SALVATION. NEGATUM EST.
Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy : for thou renderest to every man
according to his work.—Psalm lxii. 12.
THERE is scarcely any sin more natural to us than pride, and no pride worse than spiritual pride. It was the condemnation of the devil. And spiritual pride shows itself most of all in those high and overweening thoughts [that] we are apt to have of our own worth and excellency. Though when we have done evil we are filled with guilt, yet, if we but think [that] we have done well, we are tickled with conceit: one while we are conscious [that] we have offended God, another while we are ready to believe [that] we have obliged him. We can scarcely be enlarged in a duty, pray with any life or warmth, hear with attention and affection, but we are ready to take our Lord's words out of his mouth, and greet ourselves with a “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matt. xxv. 23.) And that too not only as if the work were wholly our own, but as if we had deserved something by it.
• “ The proposition is denied.”- Edit.
We commonly contend with the Papists about the antiquity of our religion ; they bear us in hand that theirs is the more ancient.
For my part, I readily grant it in this sense,—that Popery, as to several of the chief points of it, is plainly the religion of corrupt nature ; and nature hath the start of grace in the best of us. Men are generally born with a pope in their bellies ; and they can never be eased of him, till some powerful conviction of the insufficiency of their own righteousness, and the impossibility of meriting salvation by it, like strong physic, make them disgorge themselves, and bring him up. And if the doctrine of merits be in the Papists only their faith, yet it is in carnal Protestants their nature, and in saints themselves may sometimes be their temptation.* And therefore, Christians, though my present business lie mainly with them of the Romish religion, yet do not you look upon yourselves as altogether unconcerned; but remember, that the same arguments which conclude directly against the pope without you, may at the same time be levelled against the pope within you. And the truth of it is, that acquaintance with yourselves and the constitution of your own souls is the best way to establish you against the most dangerous errors of Popery; and the better you can deal with that little young Antichrist in your hearts, the better you will be able to defend yourselves against that great old one at Rome. And that I may help you so to do, as God shall enable me, I have chosen this text; which I the rather fix upon, because I find it in the head of a whole squadron of scriptures, pressed by Bellarmine into the pope's service. His Holiness's commission, you know, can compel any scripture to maintain the Catholic cause, though against its own consent. I shall endeavour, in the progress
discourse, to rescue both this and others from the injury of an involuntary warfare, in which they are forced to fight against that truth which God commissioned them to defend.
If we look into the body of this psalm, we shall find the royal penman of it once and again declaring and professing his faith and confidence in God, and him only, (Psalm lxii. 1, 2, 5—7,) in despite of all his enemies' opposition against him; over whose power he doth triumphantly insult, (verse 3,) as well as tax their malice; (verse 4 ;) and persuades others to the like fixing [of] their faith on God; (verse 8 ;) labouring to take them off from their false and ill-grounded confidences, whether in persons or things, either as wicked or vain ; (verses 9, 10;) and then lays down the reasons and grounds of the boldness of his faith,—God's power, (verse 11,) and his mercy: (verse 12 :) one showing his sufficiency and ability to overtop all those enemies, and effectually to save ; the other, his readiness so to do for all that do thus trust in him, and wait for him. The latter of these, God's mercy, he sets forth by a most eminent instance of it,—that most glorious retribution he makes to those that do believe and obey him : “ Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy : for thou renderest to every man according to his work.”
And so the words do both assert that great attribute of mercy in God, and prove it: the one in the former part of the verse : “ To thee, O
• The most violent assault (that) Mr. Knox ever had from Satan was at his dying hour, when he was tempted to think, that, by his faithfulness in his ministry, he had merited Leaven itself.-- Vide MELCHIOREM ADAMUM in litá knoxi.
Lord, belongeth mercy;” the other in the latter : “For thou renderest to every man according to his work." The great day of recompensing men according to what they have done in the flesh, will be the most ample proof, and illustrious manifestation, not only of the righteous but merciful nature of God.
Inquire we here what is meant by “ work,” and what by rewarding men according to it.
1. By “work” we are not to understand barely one individual work ; but (the singular number being put for the plural) a plurality or complection of works of the same kind, which, all together, make up one integral work. All the particular actions [that] men do of the same kind are but parts of the great work (which] they are doing, either for God or the devil ; and so are all included in it. And the miscarriages of God's children are so many baltings in their course, so many bunglings in their work ; which are blemishes in it, though not absolute interruptions of it.
But if it be farther inquired, “What kind of work or works is here intended ?” I answer : Good ones, especially : for in the rewarding of them it is that God's goodness and mercy so greatly appear ; when it is plainly enough his justice that is manifested in the recompensing of evil ones. Or we may thus paraphrase the words : “ To thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy, in that thou renderest to every man according to his work : not only evil to them that do evil, and have deserved it ; but good to them that do good, though they cannot challenge it.”
2. By rewarding men according to their works, (briefly, because I shall meet with it again,) I understand God's recompensing men according to the nature, or kind, or quality of their works : such as their works have been, such shall be their reward : “ Who will render to every man according to his deeds : to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.” (Rom. ii. 6—9.) And so the proportion is between the kind of work, and the kind of reward: where the work was good, the reward shall be suitable; and where the work was evil, the reward will be answerable : * natural good the reward of moral (good), as natural evil the reward of moral evil. If it be well with the righteous and ill with the wicked, who can say but the reward is according to their works, though the righteous man's reward be a thousand times greater than his work ? (Isai. iii. 10, 11.) “ Here is therefore a likeness of quality between the work and the reward, but not a proportion of equality." +
DOCTRINE. The truth then [which] we infer from the words thus explained is this : that the reward of good works is not deserved by them that receive it : or, that the best of men, by their best works, do not merit the reward that God gives them.
Quia tu reddis unicuique jurta opera sua ; bona bonis, mala malis : damnas peccatores, remuneras justos.-HIERONYMUS in Psal. lxii. qui apud illum est lxi. "Because thou renderest unto every man according to his works; good to the good, evil to the evil : thou damnest sinners ; thou rewardest the just.” – Edit. † Est igitur inter opera et premia similitudo qualitatis, non proportio æqualitatis.- DAVENANTIUs De Justitid actuali, cap. 60.
If the consequence of this doctrine from the text be questioned, it may thus be proved : That which is merely out of the mercy of the rewarder cannot be for the merit of the worker : “ And if it be by grace, then is it no more of works : otherwise grace is no more grace.
But if it be of works, then is it no more of grace: otherwise work is no more work : (Rom. xi. 6 :) But the Psalmist here affirms, that the reward of good works is out of the mercy of the Rewarder : And therefore it follows, that it is not for the merit of the worker. And so I come to the business in hand, to show you that good works do not merit eternal life, that being the reward spoken of by the penman of this psalm. Here we must,
1. Explain the terms of the question.
EXPLICATION OF THE TERMS.
ANSWER. Not to wrong our adversaries, they themselves do generally understand, such good works as are wrought by them that are furnished with truth of grace, or a supernatural principle suited to and productive of supernatural actions ; such good works as are the vital actions of the new man, the motions of that “divine nature” whereof believers are made “partakers.” (2 Peter i. 4.) And, indeed, those works which proceed not from such a principle, can be but equivocally called “good,” as not partaking of the nature of that which is truly, that is, supernaturally, good.* And of those only we are here to speak, and not of any such as are antecedent to the first grace, or conversion of the heart to God. But when we speak of these good works, we mean not only those of the second table, works of justice, charity, bounty, though the Papists like them best, at least when done to themselves ; (they must needs be eminently good, which bring-in good money to the popes' coffers, and good cheer to the priests' bellies ;) but we take them more largely and comprehensively for the duties of both tables; and those too not only external, or such as are performed by the outward man; but likewise for the inward actings of this supernatural principle which yet proceed no farther than the heart : † such as the inward workings of love, thankfulness, hope, joy, humility, patience, &c. ; and, in a word, all that good fruit of all kinds which grows upon this good root.
2. What we are to understand by meriting.—What is the original signification of the words mereri and meritum, I shall not stand to inquire; but that which is most in use in our present age, and which the Papists, for the advantage of their cause, make most use of, is expressed in English by deserving” and “ desert.” But if we look back to
• Bellarmine requires to a meritorious work, that it proceed from one who is amicus et gratus Deo, ["a friend of God and pleasing to Him,'') and then ex charitatis virtute [“ from the virtue of charity”).- De Justificatione, lib. v. cap. 10.
† This principle always accompanies faith, “ without which no works are to be called 'good."" Et si bona videatur facere, lamen quia sine fide fucit, nec bona sunt vocanda.- AUGUsTinus in Psalmum irri.
former times, we shall find these words taken in a far different sense by the ancient fathers, (to say nothing of heathen writers,) than by modern Papists. The fathers commonly take mereri, “to merit,” for the same as consequi, obtinere, “to obtain,” or “gain ;” and meritum, “merit,” for any good work which, according to God's appointment, is rewardable with eternal life; though in the other and more strict acceptation of the word it be no merit, as not being truly worthy of the reward : and so to merit eternal life is, in their sense, no more than to do those things which are the way wherein eternal life is to be obtained. And this is evident in that they apply the word “merit” to those actions in which any real desert or proper worthiness of the reward can never be rationally imagined. Thus Augustine frequently: one while he tells us that "the worshippers of devils are said to merit certain temporal comforts." Elsewhere, that "the Virgin Mary merited to conceive and bring forth Christ.” And again, that "Paul, by so many persecutions and blasphemies, merited to be called “a chosen vessel.” And yet again, that “ the people of Israel had a stiff neck; for that they merited to be delivered from their bondage by so many miracles.” *
And I find a passage cited of Austin which, if merit be taken in the present Popish notion, all the world cannot reconcile to sense : Nullis præcedentibus meritis per gratiam Dei meruimus templa Dei fieri : “By no antecedent merits, we by the grace of God merited to become the temples of God.” And can a man merit without merits ? deserve without deserts ? If he have no merits, properly so called, he cannot properly merit to become the temple of God: but without merits he may obtain this favour of God. And yet more strange is that expression, whoever is the author of it, which some tell us is still sung in the Roman rituals, where, speaking of Adam's sin, it is said to be felix culpa que tantum meruit habere Redemptorem, “a happy transgression which merited so great a Redeemer.” † And will any believe that Adam's sin deserved so well at God's hands? Was Christ's coming into the world to redeem sinners the reward of sin, or the remedy against it? And yet the reward of it it must be, if the word “meriting” be taken in its proper sense.
The same way the word is taken by others of the fathers. they," (that is, the Israelites,) saith Ambrose, “did not merit to come into the land, because they murmured against God; how shall we merit to come into heaven, when we live so like the Heathen?” I And Cyprian, speaking of Dorcas being raised from the dead : “She,” saith he, “who ministered help to the afflicted widows, that they might live, merited to be called back to life at the prayers of widows."$ In the same catachrestical way we sometimes find the word used in the Vulgar translation. In Joshua xi. 20, we read it, “That they might find no
Cultores dæmonum dicuntur mereri temporalia quædam solutia.- De Civitate Dei, lib. V. cap. 24. Maria concipere et parere meruit eum, quem constat nullum habuisse peccatum.
-De Naturd et Gratiá, cap. 36. Qui (de Paulo loquitur) pro tot persecutionibus et blasphemiis, vas electionis meruit nominari.— De Prædest. et Grat. cap. 16; et paulò ante : Dura cervix in illo populo qui ex omni mundo electus est, qui de servitute decem miraculis meruit liberari. † CHAMIERUS et Riveti Orthod. Cathol.
1 Si illi terram intrare non meruerunt, quia murmurati sunt contra Deum ; quomodo nos cælum merebimur intrare, indifferenter viventes, sicut Gentes ?--A MBROSIUS in Hebr. iv.
$ Quæ laborantibris viduis largita fueral subsidia vivendi, meruit ad vitam petitione viduarum revocari. -CYPRIANUS De Opere et Eleemosynis.