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for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (z) And, diffident of their own works, they gladly sing, “Thy loving-kindness is better than life.” (a) XV. There are likewise other places, similar to the preceding, on which some person may yet insist. Solomon says, “The just man walketh in his integrity.” (b) Again, “In the way of righteousness there is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death.” (c) Thus also Ezekiel declares, that he who “doth that which is lawful and right, shall surely live.” (d) We neither deny nor obscure any of these. But let one of the sons of Adam produce such an integrity. If no one can, they must either perish from the presence of God, or flee to the asylum of mercy. Nor do we deny, that to the faithful their integrity, however imperfect, is a step toward immortality. But what is the cause of this, unless it be that when the Lord hath admitted any persons into the covenant of his grace, he does not scrutinize their works according to their intrinsic merit, but embraces them with paternal benignity? By this we mean, not merely what is taught by the Schoolmen, “that works receive their value from the grace which accepts them;” for they suppose, that works, otherwise inadequate to the attainment of salvation by the legal covenant, are rendered sufficient for this by the Divine acceptance of them. But I assert, that they are so defiled, both by other transgressions and by their own blemishes, that they are of no value at all, except as the Lord pardons both; and this is no other than bestowing on a man gratuitous righteousness. It is irrelevant to this subject, to allege those prayers of the apostle, in which he desires such perfection for the faithful, that they may be unblameable and irreprovable in the day of Christ. (e) These passages, indeed, the Celestines formerly perverted, in order to prove a perfection of righteousness in the present life. We think it sufficient briefly to reply, with Augustine, “that all the pious ought indeed to aspire to this object, to appear one day immaculate and guiltless before the presence of God; but since the highest excellency in this life is nothing more than a progress towards perfection, we shall never
(2) Psalm crliii. 2. (a) Psalm lxiii. 3. (b) Prov. xx. 7. (c) Prov. xii. 28. (d) Ez. xxxiii. 14, 15. (e) 1 Thess. iii. 13. et alibi.
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attain it, till being divested at once of mortality and sin, we shall fully adhere to the Lord.” Nevertheless, I shall not pertinaciously contend with any person who chooses to attribute to the saints the character of perfection; provided he also defines it in the words of Augustine himself: who says, “When we denominate the virtue of the saints perfect, to this perfection itself belongs the acknowledgment of imperfection, both in truth and in humility.”
justification by Works not to be inferred from the Promise of a Reward.
LET us now proceed to those passages which affirm, that “God will render to every man according to his deeds:” (f) that “every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (g) “Tribulation and anguish upon every soul that doeth evil; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good.” (h) And, “All shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (i) “Come, ye blessed of my Father, for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink,” &c. (4) And with these let us also connect those which represent eternal life as the reward of works, such as the following; “The recompence of a man's hands shall be rendered unto him.” (I) “He that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.” (m) “Rejoice and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.” (n) “Every one shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour.” (o) The declarations, that God will render to every one according to his works,
(f) Rom. ii. 6. Matt. xvi. 27. (g)2 Cor. v. 10. (h) Rom. ii. 9, 10. (i) John v. 29. (4) Matt. xxv. 34–36. (1) Prov. xii. 14. (m) Prov. xiii. 13. (n) Matt v. 12. Luke wi. 35. (o) 1 Cor. iii. 8.
are easily explained. For that phrase indicates the order of events; rather than the cause of them. But it is beyond all doubt, that the Lord proceeds to the consummation of our salvation by these several gradations of mercy: “Whom he hath predestinated, them he calls; whom he hath called, he justifies; and whom he hath justified, he finally glorifies.” (p) Though he receives his children into eternal life therefore of his mere mercy; yet since he conducts them to the possession of it through a course of good works, that he may fulfil his work in them in the order he hath appointed; we need not wonder if they are said to be rewarded according to their works, by which they are undoubtedly prepared to receive the crown of immortality. And for this reason, they are properly said to “work out their own salvation,” (q) while devoting themselves to good works they aspire to eternal life: just as in another place they are commanded to “labour for the meat which perisheth not,” when they obtain eternal life by believing in Christ; and yet it is immediately added, “which the Son of man shall give unto you.” (r) Whence it appears that the word work is not opposed to grace, but refers to human endeavours; and therefore it does not follow, either that the faithful are the authors of their own salvation, or that salvation proceeds from their works. But as soon as they are introduced, by the knowledge of the gospel and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, into communion with Christ, eternal life is begun in them. Now “the good work which” God “hath begun in" them, “he will perform until the day of Jesus Christ.” (s) And it is performed, when they prove themselves to be the genuine children of God by their resemblance to their heavenly Father in righteousness and holiness. II. We have no reason to infer from the term reward, that good works are the cause of salvation. First, let this truth be established in our minds, that the kingdom of heaven is not the stipend of servants, but the inheritance of children, which will be enjoyed only by those whom the Lord adopts as his children, and for no other cause than on account of this adoption. “For the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the
(p) Rom. viii.30. (q) Phil. ii. 12. (r) John vi. 27. (s) Phil. i. 6.
free woman.” (t) And therefore, in the same passage in which the Holy Spirit promises eternal life as the reward of works, by expressly denominating it “an inheritance,” he proves it to proceed from another cause. Thus Christ enumerates the works which he compensates by the reward of heaven, when he calls the elect to the possession of it; but at the same time adds, that it is to be enjoyed by right of inheritance. (v) So Paul encourages servants, who faithfully discharge their duty, to hope for a reward from the Lord; but at the same time calls it “the reward of the inheritance.” (w) We see how they, almost in express terms, caution us against attributing eternal life to works, instead of ascribing it to Divine adoption. Why then, it may be asked, do they at the same time make mention of works? This question shall be elucidated by one example from the Scripture. Before the nativity of Isaac, there had been promised to Abraham a seed in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, a multiplication of his posterity, which would equal the stars of heaven and the sands of the sea, and other similar blessings. (x) Many years after, in consequence of a Divine command, Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son. After this act of obedience, he receives this promise: “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” (y) What? did Abraham by his obedience merit that blessing which had been promised him before the command was delivered? Here then it appears beyond all doubt, that the Lord rewards the works of the faithful with those blessings which he had already given them before their works were thought of, and while he had no reason for his beneficence, but his own mercy. III. Nor does the Lord deceive or trifle with us, when he says that he will requite works with what he had freely given
previously to the performance of them. For since it is his pleasure that we should be employed in good works, while aspiring after the manifestation or enjoyment of those things which he hath promised, and that they constitute the road in which we should travel to endeavour to attain the blessed hope proposed to us in heaven, therefore the fruit of the promises, to the perfection of which those works conduct us, is justly assigned to them. The apostle elegantly expressed both those ideas, when he said that the Colossians applied themselves to the duties of charity, “for the hope which was laid up for them in heaven, whereof they heard before in the word, of the truth of the gospel.”(z) For his assertion, that they knew from the gospel, that there was hope laid up for them in heaven, is equivalent to a declaration that it depended not on any works, but on Christ alone: which perfectly accords with the observation of Peter, that the faithful “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.” (a) When it is said that they must lsbour for it, it implies, that in order to attain to it, the faithful have a race to run, which terminates only with their lives. But that we might not suppose the reward promised us by the Lord to be regulated according to the proportion of merit, he proposes a parable, in which he has represented himself under the character of a householder, who employs all the persons he meets in the cultivation of his vineyard; some he hires at the first hour of the day, others at the second, others at the third, and some even at the eleventh hour; in the evening he pays them all the same wages. (b) A brief and just explanation of this parable is given by the ancient writer, whoever he was, of the treatise “On the calling of the Gentiles,” which bears the name of Ambrose. I shall adopt his words in preference to my own. “By the example of this comparison (says he) the Lord hath shewn a variety of manifold vocation pertaining to the same grace. They who, having been admitted into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, are placed on an equality with them who had laboured the whole day, represent the state of those whom, to magnify the excellence of grace, God in his mercy hath re
(2) Col. i. 4, 5. (a) 1 Peter i. 5. (b) Matt. xx. 1, &c.