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V. Something from this doctrine we may learn for our INFORMATION in the truth, and something for our INSTRUCTION as to duty.
1. For the former, we see here,
(1.) How much the best of saints are beholden to the Lord Jesus Christ for purchasing life and glory for them, which by all their good works they could never have done, though they were a thousand times more than they -Had not Christ made the purchase, they could never have received the inheritance : had not he laid down the price, they could never have had a title or possession. They might work their hearts out of their bodies, ere they could work their souls into heaven. All the grace they ever have or act in this life, could never deserve the least degree of glory they receive. So fair an estate, so rich an inheritance, so weighty a crown, so transcendent a blessedness, is fit only for so great a Purchaser as the Lord Jesus Christ to buy out. They might as well purchase a kingdom in the world with a single penny, as everlasting glory with all their good works. Whatever title they have to a future happiness, whatever hopes of it, whatever rest and peace and joy they expect in it, they owe all to Christ, and are his debtors for all: they owe him more than a whole eternity of praises will ever recompense. How miserable would the best of saints have been, if Christ had not merited for them! How should they ever have obtained eternal life, got a place in heaven, or indeed have escaped everlasting burnings, had it not been for Christ's undertakings ? When they had been working and labouring all their days, they would have lost their labour at last. They might have prayed, and heard, and given their goods to feed the poor, and their bodies to feed the flames, they might have done all they could, and suffered all their enemies would, and yet have fallen short of a reward. One sin committed by them would have done more to shut heaven against them, than all their good works could to open it to them.
(2.) How unreasonable is their pride, how unpardonable is their folly, that boast of, and put confidence in, their own good works !—That ever men should think God to be their debtor, and that they have him in bonds to them ! That ever they should have such high thoughts of such pitiful things as their own works! Surely they have little knowledge of themselves that have such great conceits of themselves; know little of their ill deserts, that think they have any good ones ; they have cheap thoughts of God's grace and Christ's merits, that do so magnify their own performances. David and Paul and all the ancient saints were of another mind ; they durst not abide God's trial, por confront his judgment with the choicest of their works. (Job ix. 15; xl. 4; Psalm cxliii. 2.) They, belike, were saints of a lesser size, and their graces and good works of a lower allay : our Popish saints have over-topped them in holiness, are giapts to them : Suarez and Vasquez have got the start of Job and David, and have found out a way to heaven unknown to all that went formerly thither. Jacob, poor man! counted himself “less than the least of God's mercies ; (Gen. xxxii. 10 ;) but these count themselves worthy of the greatest of them. “ The four-and-twenty elders cast down their crowns before him that sits on the throne,” (Rev. iv.
10,) in token that they had received them from him ; but Papists scorn to do so; they think they have won them, and therefore may wear them ; and instead of giving glory, and honour, and thanks to him that liveth for ever, they take them to themselves,—at least, share them with him. The Lord tells the Israelites, that he gave them not that good land to possess it for their righteousness, (Deut. ix. 6,) speaking of the earthly Canaan ; but these audacious merit-mongers think that even the heavenly one is given them for theirs. Great saints no doubt they are, and well deserve to be canonized, when (if you will believe them) they deserve to be saved !
(3.) And yet more egregious is their folly, in expecting advantage by the merits of others, and thinking to eke out their own righteousness by borrowing of their neighbours.—If no good works of the saints merit any thing at God's hands, then the Popish treasury is quite empty, and his Holiness is a mere bankrupt, super-erogations fail, indulgences fail, and there is no borrowing from Peter to supply Paul. If the best have no merits at all, surely they have none superfluous, none to spare. The wise virgins have no more oil than will serve for themselves : (Matt. xxv.:) and are not they foolish ones that think to accommodate their friends ? and they yet more foolish that hope to borrow of them? The scripture speaks indeed of a "superfluity of naughtiness” in men's hearts ; (James i. 21 ;) but it nowhere speaks of a superfluity of goodness in their hearts or lives. A redundance of merit we acknowledge in Christ, “unsearchable riches,” (Eph. ii. 8,) “all fulness ;” (Col. i. 19;) but woe to them that seek for the like redundance of merit among men! Ask the old patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles, to lend you some of their merits, and they will all tell you [that] they never had any of their own ; [that] they were all beholden to Christ ; and to him you must go as well as they : the church store-house cannot furnish you.
2. For INSTRUCTION in point of duty. Learn hence,
(1.) To be humble, and acknowledge the insufficiency of all you do, to deserve any thing at God's hands.-Own yourselves as “ unclean things,” and your “righteousness as filthy rags.” (Isai. lxiv. 6.) Do but study your hearts, the workings and lustings, the inclination and temper, of
them; study your actions and ways, the best as well as worst, your · duties and choicest services ; and study God's law, the purity, holiness,
spirituality, and extensiveness of it, what it forbids, what it requires, how far it reaches ; and compare both together; and then be proud if you can ; boast if you can ; trust in your own works if you can; and, in one word to say all, be Papists if you can.
(2.) Learn to admire the grace of God in rewarding your works. It is much that he accepts them ; and what is it then that he rewards them? It is much that he doth not damn you for them, seeing they are all defiled, and have something of sin cleaving to them; and what is it then that he crowns them? You would admire the bounty and munificence of a man, that should give you a kingdom for taking up a straw at his foot, or give you a hundred thousand pounds for paying him a penny-rent you owed him : how then should you adore the rich grace and transcendent bounty of God in bo largely recompensing such mean services, in setting a crown of glory upon your heads, as the reward of
those works [which) you can scarcely find in your hearts to call good ones! You will even blush one day to see yourselves so much honoured for what you are ashamed of, and are conscious to yourselves [that] you have deserved nothing by. You will wonder then to see God recompensing you for doing what was your duty to do, and what was his work in you ; giving you grace, and crowning that grace ; enabling you to do things acceptable to him, and then rewarding you as having done them.* Take heed therefore now of rivalling God's grace, or Christ's merits ; of inverting his praises, and ascribing any thing to yourselves which belongs only to him. Set the crown upon the right head ; let him have the honour of the work that hath done it, the glory of your reward that hath purchased it. Say with yourselves, “What am I, and what are my services, that ever God should thus plentifully reward them? I never prayed but I sinned ; never confessed sin, never begged pardon of it, strength against it, but I did at the same time commit it. I never heard a sermon, received a sacrament, did any good duty, but with some mixture of coldness, deadness, distractedness. I never had any grace but what God gave me, nor acted any but what he stirred up in me. All the good I ever had or did I received from him ; and therefore I owe all to him. I am thousand ways his debtor :—for my life and being, for the good things of this life, for the means and offer of eternal life, for the knowledge of his will, conviction of sin, restraint from sin, the change of my heart, the reformation of my ways, the graces of his Spirit, the privileges of his children conferred upon me.
I am his debtor for all the evils he hath delivered ne from, all the good he hath offered me, wrought in me, done by me. And doth God take so much notice of such poor things? Will he indeed reward such weak endeavours, such lame performances ? Must I live in heaven, that never deserved to live on earth ? Must I wear the crown of righteousness, who never deserved any thing but the punishment of mine iniquities? Must eternal glory and honour be my portion, who have deserved nothing better than shame' and everlasting contempt ?' (Dan. xii. 2.) I have nothing to boast of, nothing to glory in. I must cry, 'Grace, grace.' (Zech. iv. 7.) All I have, and to eternity am to have,
The foundation of my salvation was laid in grace ; and so will the top-stone too. It was grace [that] sent Christ to redeem me ; and grace will send him at last fully to save me. I have received all from God; and therefore desire to return the praise of all to him: it is but just that all should be ascribed to him from whom all came.”
(3.) Labour 80 to exercise yourselves in and to good works, as yet to put all your confidence in God's grace.- I do not go about to cry down good works, or discourage the practice of them ; but [to) take you off from confidence in them : nor to dissuade you from that exercise of holiness whereby God may be glorified, and your souls advantaged ; but that sinful reliance on your own righteousness which is God's dishonour and your loss. Be as holy as you will, do as much good as you will, abound as much in the work of the Lord, and walk as circumspectly and closely with God, as you please ; (and the Lord make you abound more and
• Cùm Deus coronet merita nostra, nihil aliud coronat quim munera sua.- AUGUSTINUS Contra Pelug. epist.cv. “ When God crowns our merits, he crowns nothing else but his own gifts."— Edit.
more !) only, if you value your comforts, if you love your souls, if you are concerned for God's glory, take heed of putting any the least confidence in what you do, or expecting to merit a reward by your most laborious working. It is the great art and wisdom of a Christian to join the exercise of faith and holiness together, and yet distinguish their different relations to his salvation : not to give so much to the one as to exclude the other ; but so to believe as still to own the usefulness of works ; and so to work as to see the necessity of faitb : to believe like one that had no works, and to work like one that were to be saved by his works : in a word, to be diligent in good works, but not put confidence in them ; and so to acknowledge their necessity in their place, but not their meritoriousness. He is a believer of the right stamp, who neither contemns Christ's law, nor dishonours Christ's grace; but is alike an enemy to antinomian faith and antichristian works.
If you do trust in your good works, your best duties and services, consider that,
(i.) You do but lean upon a broken reed, build upon a sandy foundution ; which will at last fail you, disappoint you, undo you.—What a defeat will it be to expect to be saved by your merits, when, at last, it appears you bave no merits! to fancy yourselves worthy of a reward, when it appears you have been worthy of nothing! And as sure as the scripture is true, you can merit no more at God's hands by all your services, than a debtor can of his creditor, by paying him some small part of what he owes him ; and your very confidence in your works will bereave you of any benefit by Christ's merits : Christ alone must be trusted in, relied on, and glorified by you. You must not think to be parcel-saviours with him : either he will be your only Saviour, or not at all your Saviour ; your only righteousness, or not at all your righteousness. If you divide Christ's honour, you lose his help: your works cannot be your righteousness, and Christ will not ; and so you will “ lose those things which you have wrought,” (2 John 8,) by thinking to gain too much by them ; (you will] miss of the substance, while you catch at the shadow. (ii.) However you trust in your
works while you live, you will not dare to do it when you die.- When men come to die, and close the eyes of their bodies, usually those of their minds are most open ; and as their reflections are then most strong, so their prospect is most clear. The nearer they are to death and judgment and eternity, the truer apprehensions they have of them. They then best see how holy the Judge is, how impartial his search, how righteous his sentence. And how do they fear him then, with whom they made so bold before ! how doth the confidence of their lives shrink at their death! Alas! they did not think either God so strict as now they believe him, or their goodness so imperfect as now they come to find it. They see the necessity of grace, which before they slighted; and the insufficiency of works, which before they idolized. Mercy mercy indeed to a dying man ; and works are but works, and not merits. Let me see the face of the Papist that, when he is coming to the highest tribunal, dares trust to his good works, and put in his claim to the crown of glory upon the account of his merits, and tell God to his face,—“Lord, I have done all thy will, and done it as I should; or if I have fallen short in some things, I have out-done it in others. I have heard so many Masses said, so many Pater-nosters and Ave-Marias, observed so many canonical hours, made so many confessions, done so many penances, given so many alms, gone so many pilgrimages, fasted so many Lents, mortified my flesh with hard lodging and harder blows. And this is as much as heaven is worth : thou art now a debtor to me. I have done my work; I challenge my reward. Let justice be done me, and the crown be given me. I ask no more than I have laboured for, and deserved at thy hands. It is but just that I should be joint-heir with Christ, seeing I have been joint-purchaser with him.” I am persuaded there is not the Papist upon earth, unless he be most brutishly ignorant of the nature and law of God, and of his own heart, that will dare in a dying hour thus to bespeak him. And how foolish is it for men to boast of that now, which they will not dare to boast of then ; and build upon a foundation in their life, which they must be forced to relinquish at their death! Remember, Christians, there is a time to die, as well as to live ; a time to be judged in, as well as to act in; a day of recompense, as well as a day of service : and therefore bethink yourselves beforehand ; see [that] your confidence be rightly placed. Expect your salvation from Him only now, from whom you will expect it at last ; and put your souls into His hands now, into whose you would then most willingly commit them. Set aside your works, though not as to the practice of them, yet as to your confidence in them. Eye Christ alone as to the business of your justification, acceptance, reward. Labour for such a faith in Christ and free grace as will support you under the weakness and imperfections of your present righteousness, and encourage you against the terrors of approaching death. In a word : so believe and hope now that you are going on toward eternity, as you would do when you are stepping into it.
shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants : we have done that which was our duty to do.—Luke xvii. 10.
The truth that at this time lies efor me,
to prove and improve, is this,--that there are not any works of super-erogation. On that account, I have pitched on the words read; which are
an apodosis or epiphonema, the “inference” or “conclusion” which our Lord Jesus draws from his preceding parable.