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step to the succeeding one, in some sense the cause of it. But whenever the true cause is to be assigned, he does not direct us to take refuge in works, but confines our thoughts entirely to his mercy. For what does he teach us by the apostle? “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Why does he not oppose righteousness to sin, as well as life to death? Why does he not make righteousness the cause of life, as well as sin the cause of death? For then the antithesis would have been complete, whereas by this variation it is partly destroyed. But the apostle intended by this comparison to express a certain truth; That death is due to the demerits of men, and that life proceeds solely from the mercy of God. Lastly, these phrases denote rather the order of the Divine gifts, than the cause of them. In the accumulation of graces upon graces, God derives from the former a reason for adding the next, that he may not omit any thing necessary to the enrichment of his servants. And while he thus pursues his liberality, he would have us always to remember his gratuitous election, which is the source and origimal of all. For although he loves the gifts which he daily confers, as emanations from that fountain, yet, it is our duty to adhere to that gratuitous acceptance, which alone, can support our souls, and to connect the gifts of his Spirit, which he afterwards bestows on us, with the first cause, in such a manner as will not be derogatory to it.
Boasting of the Merit of Works, equally subversive of God’s Glory in the Gift of Righteousness, and of the Certainty of Salvation.
WE have now discussed the principal branch of this subject; that because righteousness, if dependent on works, must inevitably be confounded in the sight of God, therefore it is contained exclusively in the mercy of God and the participation of Christ, and consequently in faith alone. Now it must be carefully remarked that this is the principal hinge on which the argument turns, that we may not be implicated in the common delusion, which equally affects the learned and the vulgar. For as soon as justification by faith or works becomes the subject of inquiry, they have immediate recourse to those passages which seem to attribute to works some degree of merit in the sight of God; as though justification by works would be fully evinced, if they could be proved to be of any value before God. We have already clearly demonstrated that the righteousness of works consists only in a perfect and complete observance of the law. Whence it follows, that no man is justified by works, but he who, being elevated to the summit of perfection, cannot be convicted even of the least transgression. This, therefore, is a different and separate question, whether, although works be utterly insufficient for the justification of men, they do not nevertheless merit the grace of God. II. In the first place, with respect to the term merit, it is necessary for me to premise, that whoever first applied it to human works, as compared with the Divine judgment, shewed very little concern for the purity of the faith. I gladly abstain from all controversies about mere words, but I could wish that this sobriety had always been observed by Christian writers, that they had avoided the unnecessary adoption of terms not used in the Scriptures, and calculated to produce great offence but very little advantage. For what necessity was there for the introduction of the word merit, when the value of good works might be significantly expressed without offence by a different term? But the great offence contained in it, appears in the great injury the world has received from it. The consummate haughtiness of its import can only obscure the Divine grace, and taint the minds of men with presumptuous arrogance. I confess, the ancient writers of the Church have generally used it, and I wish that their misuse of one word had not been the occasion of error to posterity. Yet they also declare in some places that they did not intend any thing prejudicial to the truth. For this is the language of Augustine in one passage; “Let human merit, which was lost by Adam, here be silent, and let the grace of God reign through Jesus Christ.” Again; “The saints ascribe nothing to their own merits; they will ascribe all, O God, only to thy mercy.” In another place; “And when a man sees that whatever good he has, he has it not from himself but from his God, he sees that all that is commended in him proceeds not from his own merits, but from the Divine mercy.” We see how, by divesting man of the power of performing good actions, he likewise destroys the dignity of merit. Chrysostom says: “Our works, if there be any consequent on God’s gratuitous vocation, are a retribution and a debt; but the gifts of God are grace, beneficence, and immense liberality.” Leaving the name, however, let us rather attend to the thing. I have before cited a passage from Bernard; “As not to presume on our merits is sufficiently meritorious, so to be destitute of merits is sufficient for the judgment.” But by the explanation immediately annexed, he properly softens the harshness of these expressions, when he says; “Therefore you should be concerned to have merits; and if you have them, you should know that they are given to you; you should hope for the fruit, the mercy of God; and you have escaped all danger of poverty, ingratitude, and presumption. Happy the Church which is not destitute, either of merits without presumption, or of presumption without merits.” And just before he had fully shewn how pious his meaning was. “For concerning merits,” he says, “why should the Church be solicitous, which has a more firm and secure foundation for glorying in the purpose of God? For God cannot deny himself; he will perform what he hath promised. If you have no reason for inquiring, on account of what merits we may hope for blessings; especially when you read, ‘Not for your sakes, but for my sake;’ (m) it is sufficiently meritorious to know that merits are insufficient.” III. The Scripture shews what all our works are capable of meriting, when it represents them as unable to bear the Divine scrutiny, because they are full of impurity; and in the next Place, what would be merited by the perfect observance of the law, if this could any where be found, when it directs us, “when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants;” (n) because \ we shall not have conferred any favour on God, but only have performed the duties incumbent on us, for which no thanks, are due. Nevertheless, the good works which the Lord hath conferred on us, he denominates our own, and declares that he will not only accept, but also reward them. It is our duty to be animated by so great a promise, and to stir up our minds that we “be not weary in well doing,” (o) and to be truly grateful for so great an instance of Divine goodness. It is beyond a doubt, that whatever is laudable in our works proceeds from 1 the grace of God; and that we cannot properly ascribe the least I portion of it to ourselves. If we truly and seriously acknowledge this truth, not only all confidence, but likewise all idea of merit, immediately vanishes. We, I say, do not, like the sophists, divide the praise of good works between God and man, but we preserve it to the Lord complete, entire, and uncontaminated. All that we attribute to man, is, that those works which were otherwise good are tainted and polluted by his \ impurity. For nothing proceeds from the most perfect man, I which is wholly immaculate. Therefore let the Lord sit in judgment on the best of human actions, and he will indeed recognise in them his own righteousness, but man's disgrace and shame. Good works, therefore, are pleasing to God, and not unprofitable to the authors of them; and they will moreover receive the most ample blessings from God as their reward; not because they merit them, but because the Divine goodness has freely appointed them this reward. But what wickedness is it, not to be content with that Divine liberality which remunerates works destitute of merit with unmerited
rewards, but with sacrilegious ambition still to aim at more,
* (p) Eccles. Xvi. 14. (7) Heb. xiii. 16.