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banishment becomes his preferment, his rags his trophies, his nakedness his ornament; and so long as his innocence his repast, he feasts and banquets upon bread and water. He has disarmed his afflictions, unstrung his miseries; and though he has not the proper happiness of the world, yet he has the greatest that is to be enjoyed in it.
And for this, we might appeal to the experience of those great and good men, who, in the late times of rebellion and confusion, were forced into foreign countries, for their unshaken firmness and fidelity to the oppressed cause of majesty and religion, whether their conscience did not, like a fidus Achates, still bear them company, stick close to them, and suggest comfort, even when the causes of comfort were invisible; and, in a word, verify that great saying of the apostle in their mouths; "We have nothing, and yet we possess all things."
For it is not barely a man's abridgment in his external accommodations which makes him miserable; but when his conscience shall hit him in the teeth, and tell him, that it was his sin and his folly which brought him under these abridgments. That his present scanty meals are but the natural effects of his former over-full ones. That it was his tailor and his cook, his fine fashions and his French ragouts, which sequestered him, and, in a word, that he came by his poverty as sinfully as some usually do by their riches; and consequently, that Providence treats him with all these severities, not by way of trial, but by way of punishment and revenge. The mind surely, of itself, can feel none of the burnings of a fever; but if my fever be occasioned by a surfeit, and that surfeit caused by my sin, it is that which adds fuel to the fiery disease, and rage to the distemper.
Secondly, Let us consider also the case of calumny and disgrace; doubtless, the sting of every reproachful speech is the truth of it; and to be conscious, is that which gives an edge and keenness to the invective. Otherwise, when conscience shall plead not guilty to the charge, a man entertains it not as an indictment, but as a libel. He hears all such calumnies with a generous unconcernment; and receiving them at one ear, gives them a free and easy passage through the other; they fall upon him like rain or hail upon an oiled garment; they may make a noise indeed, but can find no entrance. The very whispers of an acquitting conscience will drown the voice of the loudest slander.
What a long charge of hypocrisy, and many other base things, did Job's friends draw up against him! but he regarded it no more than the dunghill which he sat upon, while his conscience enabled him to appeal even to God himself; and, in spite of calumny, to assert and hold fast His integrity.
And did not Joseph lie under as black an infamy, as the charge of the highest ingratitude and the lewdest villainy could fasten upon him? Yet his conscience raised him so much above it, that he scorned so much as to clear himself, or to recriminate the strumpet by a true narrative of the matter. For we read nothing of that in the whole story: such confidence, such greatness of spirit, does a clear conscience give a man; always making him more solicitous to preserve his innocence, than concerned to prove it. And so we come now to the
Third, and last instance, in which, above all others, this confidence towards God does most eminently shew and exert itself; and that is at the time of death, which surely gives the grand opportunity of trying both the strength and worth of every principle. When a man shall be just about to quit the stage of this world, to put off his mortality, and to deliver up his last accounts to God; at which sad time, his memory shall serve him for little else, but to terrify him with a sprightful review of his past life, and his former extravagances stripped of all their pleasure, but retaining their guilt. What is it then, that can promise him a fair passage into the other world, or a comfortable appearance before his dreadful Judge, when he is there? Not all the friends and interests, all the riches and honours under heaven, can speak so much as a word for him, or one word of comfort to him in that condition; they may possibly reproach, but they cannot relieve him.
No, at this disconsolate time, when the busy tempter shall be more than usually apt to vex and trouble him, and the pains of a dying body to hinder and discompose him, and the settlement of worldly affairs to disturb and confound him, and, in a word, all things conspire to make his sick bed grievous and uneasy, nothing can then stand up against all these ruins, and speak life in the midst of death, but a clear conscience.
And the testimony of that shall make the comforts of heaven descend upon his weary head, like a refreshing dew or shower upon a parched ground. It shall give him some lively earnests and secret anticipations of his approaching joy. It shall bid his soul go out of the body undauntedly, and lift up its head with confidence before saints and angels. Surely the comfort which it conveys at this season, is something bigger than the capacities of mortality; mighty and unspeakable, and not to be understood, till it comes to be felt.
And now, who would not quit all the pleasures, and trash, and trifles, which are apt to captivate the heart of man, and pursue the greatest rigours of piety and austerities of a good life, to purchase to himself such a conscience, as, at the hour of death, when all the
friendships of the world shall bid him adieu, and the whole creation turn its back upon him, shall dismiss his soul, and close his eyes with that blessed sentence, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!”
For he, whose conscience enables him to
look God in the face with confidence here, shall be sure to see his face also with comfort hereafter.
Which God of his mercy grant to us all; to whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
TO THE MOST REVEREND FATHER IN GOD,
NARCISSUS, LORD ARCHBISHOP OF DUBLIN, HIS GRACE.*
THE particular acquaintance and friendship which your Grace was pleased to honour me with while you lived at Oxford, have imboldened me to address myself to your Lordship at this great distance of place, and greater of condition, in hopes that by your Grace's advancement to so high a station in the Church, that, which before was only friendship, may now improve into patronage and protection. And yet, as ambitious as I am of so ennobling a patronage, and as singular a value as I have for your Grace's favour, I must needs own, that the design of my present application to your Grace, is not so much to crave a favou. as to pay a debt; and, in answer to the many obligations I lie under, to congratulate your Grace on that height of dignity and greatness to which Providence has so happily raised you, and your own worth so justly entitled you; and so, without your seeking (and much less sneaking) for it, made you, to your great honour, to be sought for by it; there being (as from my heart I believe) few examples in the world of so much merit and so much modesty in conjunction.
It is, indeed, no small infelicity to the Church of England to have parted with so extraordinary a member; but none at all, I conceive, to your Grace, that you are placed where you are, especially if your Grace shall consider the present estate of our Church here, as through the arts of her enemies she stands divided against herself, and that only by two or three odd new terms of distinction maliciously invented, and studiously made use of for that base purpose; such a sovereign, or at least such a peculiar method, have some found out for preserving our Church, if the best way to preserve a body be by cutting it asunder. For those of the ancienter members of her communion, who have all along owned and contended for a strict conformity to her rules and sanctions, as the surest course to establish her, have been of late represented, or rather reprobated, under the inodiating character of high churchmen, and thereby stand marked out for all the discouragement that spite and power together can pass upon them; while those of the contrary way and principle are distinguished, or rather sanctified, by the fashionable endearing name of low churchmen, not from their affecting, we may be sure, a lower condition in the church than others, (since none lie so low but they can look as high,) but from the low condition which the authors of this distinction would fain bring the Church itself into, a work in which they have made no small progress already. And thus by these ungenerous, as well as unconscionable practices, a fatal rent and division is made amongst us; and being so, I think those of the concision who made it, would do well to consider whether that, which our Saviour assures us will destroy a kingdom, be the likeliest way to settle and support a church. But I question not but these dividers will very shortly receive thanks from the Papists for the good services they have done them; and, in the meantime, they may be sure of their scoffs.
Never certainly were the fundamental articles of our faith so boldly impugned, nor the honour of our Church so foully blemished, as they have been of late years; while the Socinians have had their full uncontrolled fling at both; and the Tritheists have injured and exposed them more by pretending to defend them against the Socinians, than the Socinians themselves did or could do by opposing them. For surely it would be thought a very odd way of ridding a man of the plague by running him through with a sword; or of curing him of a lethargy by casting him into a calenture, a disease of a contrary nature indeed, but no less fatal to the patient, who equally dies, whether his sickness or his physic, the malignity of his distemper or the method of his cure, despatches him. And in like manner must it fare with a church, which, feeling itself struck with the poison of Socinianism, flies to Tritheism for an antidote.
But at length happily steps in the royal authority to the Church's relief, with several healing injunctions in its hands, for the composing and ending the disputes about the Trinity then on foot; and those indeed so wisely framed, so seasonably timed, and (by the king, at least) so graciously intended, that they must, in all likelihood, (without any other Irenicon,) have restored peace to the Church, had it not been for the importunity and partiality of some, who having by the awe of these injunctions endeavoured to silence the opposite party, (which by their arguments they could not do,) and withal looking upon themselves as privileged persons, and so above those ordinances which others were to be subject to, resolved not to be silent themselves, but renewing the contest, partly by throwing Muggleton and Rigaltius, with some other foul stuff, in their adversaries' faces, and partly by a shameless reprinting (without the least reinforcing) the same exploded tritheistic notions again and again, they quite broke through the royal prohibitions, and soon after began to take as great a liberty in venting their innovations and invectives as ever they had done before, so that he who shall impartially consider the course taken by these men, with reference to those engaged on the other side of this controversy about the Trinity, will find that their whole proceeding in it resembles nothing so much as a thief's binding the hands of an honest man with a cord much fitter for his own neck.
But, blessed be God, matters stand not so with you in Ireland, the climate there being not more impatient of poisonous animals than the Church of poisonous opinions, an universal concurrent orthodoxy shining all over it, from the superior clergy who preside to the inferior placed under them, so that we never hear from thence of any presbyter, and much less of any dean, who dares innovate upon the faith received; and least of all (should such a wretch chance to start up among you) can I hear of any bishop likely to debase his style and character so low as either to defend the man or colour over his opinions. Nor, lastly, do we find that in the judgment of the clergy there, a man's having wrote against one sort of heresy or heterodoxy ought to justify or excuse him in writing for another, and much less for a worse.
* This dedication refers to the twelve Sermons next following,
The truth is, such things as these make the case with us here in England come too near that of Poland about a hundred and twenty or a hundred and thirty years ago,* where the doctrine of three distinct infinite spirits began and led the dance, and was quickly followed (as the design was laid) by Socinianism, whereupon their old popery got a firmer establishment and more rigorous imposition than before, (the government preferring a less pure and perfect Christianity before the most refined Turkism.) This was the method taken there, and I wish it may not have the like issue here.
But on the contrary, amongst you, when a certain Mahometan Christian, (no new thing of late,) notorious for his blasphemous denial of the mysteries of our religion, and his insufferable virulence against the whole Christian priesthood, thought to have found shelter amongst you, the parliament, to their immortal honour, presently sent him packing, and, without the help of a fagot, soon made the kingdom too hot for him; a sufficient argument, doubtless, how far we are from needing those savage executions used by the Papists to rid the church of heretics and blasphemers, where authority, animated with due zeal, will attempt that worthy work by other more humane but not less effectual means. Nothing certainly but power, as the world now goes, can keep the Church in peace.
And now, my Lord, may that God, by whom princes and prelates govern, and churches stand, long preserve your Grace, and that excellent Church which you are so eminent a pillar of and ornament to, and which, by her incomparable courage and faithfulness lately shewn in preserving that great depositum, the holy religion committed to her trust, has gotten herself a name which will never die; and such a solid well-founded reputation, as no bending this way or that way, no trimming or tricking it, ever could or can give so ample and so considerable a body; for it is lead only that bends to almost every thing, which the nobler metals cannot do, and the nobler sort of minds will not.
But I fear I trespass too far upon your Grace's time and business, and therefore, humbly imploring your Grace's blessing, I lay these poor papers at your feet, infinitely unworthy, I confess, of the acceptance of so great a person, and the perusal of so judicious an eye, but yet at present the best pledges I can give your Grace of those sincere respects and services which your Grace ought always to claim, and shall never fail to receive from, my Lord, your Grace's ever faithful and most obedient servant, ROBERT SOUTH.
WESTMINSTER, April 30, 1698.
THE DOCTRINE OF MERIT STATED, AND
PREACHED AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY, DECEMBER 5, 1697.
"Can a man be profitable to God?"-JOB, xxii. 2
Ir is a matter of no small moment certainly for a man to be rightly informed upon what terms and conditions he is to transact with God, and God with him, in the great business of his salvation. For by knowing upon what terms he must obtain eternal happiness hereafter, he will know also upon what grounds he is to hope for and expect it here; and so be able to govern both his actions and expestations according to the nature of the thing he is in pursuit of; lest otherwise he should chance to fail of the prize he runs for, by mistaking the way he should run in.
Saint Paul, as plainly as words can express a thing, tells us, that "eternal life is the gift of God;" and consequently to be expected by us only as such: nay, he asserts it to be a gift in the very same verse in which he affirms death to be as due to a sinner, as wages are to a workman, (Rom. vi. 23.) Than which words nothing certainly can be more full and conclusive, that salvation proceeds wholly upon free gift, though damnation upon strict desert.
Nevertheless, such is the extreme folly, or rather sottishness of man's corrupt nature, that this does by no means satisfy him. For though indeed he would fain be happy, yet
fain would he also thank none for it but himself. And though he finds, that not only his duty, but his necessity brings him every day upon his knees to Almighty God for the very bread he eats; yet when he comes to deal with him about spirituals, (things of infinitely greater value,) he appears and acts, not as a suppliant, but as a merchant-not as one who comes to be relieved, but to traffick. For something he would receive of God, and something he would give him; and nothing will content this insolent, yet impotent creature, unless he may seem to buy the very thing he begs. Such being the pride and baseness of some spirits, that where they receive a benefit too big for them to requite, they will even deny the kindness, and disown the obligation.
Now this great self-delusion, so prevalent upon most minds, is the thing here encountered in the text. The words of which (by an usual way of speech) under an interrogation couching a positive assertion, are a declaration of the impossibility of man's being "profitable to God," or (which is all one) of his meriting of God; according to the true, proper, and strict sense of merit. Nor does this interrogative way of expression import only a bare negation of the thing, as in itself impossible, but also a manifest, undeniable evidence of the said impossibility; as if it had been said, that nothing can be more plainly impossible, than for a man to "be profitable to God;" for God to receive any advantage by man's righteousness; or to gain any thing by his making his ways perfect: and consequently, that nothing can be more absurd, and contrary to all sense and reason, than for a man to entertain and cherish so irrational a conceit, or to affirm so gross a paradox.
And that no other thing is ere meant by
* See a learned Tract in 8vo. entitled, "The Growth of Error," &c. sect. 8, printed in the year 1697.
a man's being "profitable to God," but his meriting of God, will appear from a true state and account of the nature of merit ; which we may not improperly define, a right to receive some good upon the score of some good done, together with an equivalence or parity of worth between the good to be received and the good done. So that although, according to the common division of justice into commutative and distributive, that which is called commutative be employed only about the strict value of things, according to an arithmetical proportion, (as the schools speak,) which admits of no degrees; and the other species of justice, called distributive, (as consisting in the distribution of rewards and punishments,) admits of some latitude and degrees in the dispensation of it; yet, in truth, even this distribution itself must so far follow the rules of commutation, that the good to be dispensed by way of reward, ought in justice to be equivalent to the work or action which it is designed as a compensation of; so as by no means to sink below it, or fall short of the full value of it. From all which (upon a just estimate of the matter) it follows, that, in true philosophy, merit is nothing else but an instance or exemplification of that noted saying or maxim, that one benefaction or good turn requires another; and imports neither more nor less than a man's claim or title to receive as much good from another as he had done for him.
able to merit of God, or be " him." The truth of which will appear from these two considerations,
First, That it is natural for them to place too high a value both upon themselves and their own performances. And that this is so, is evident from that universal experience, which proves it no less natural to them to bear a more than ordinary love to themselves; and all love, we know, is founded in, and results from, a proportionable esteem of the object loved so that, look in what degree any man loves himself, in the same degree it will follow, that he must esteem himself too. Upon which account it is, that every man will be sure to set his own price upon what he is, and what he does, whether the world will come up to it or no, as it seldom does.
That speech of Saint Peter to our Saviour is very remarkable, (Matt. xix. 27,) "Master," says he, "we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” In which words he seems to be upon equal terms with his Lord, and to expect no more of him, as he thought, but what he strictly had deserved from him; aud all this from a conceit that he had done an act so exceedingly meritorious, that it must even nonplus his master's bounty to quit scores with him by a just requital. Nay, so far had the same proud ferment got into the minds of all the disciples, that neither could their own low condition, nor the constant sermons of that great example of self-denial and humility, whom they daily conversed with, nor, lastly, the correctives of a peculiar grace, totally clear and cure them of it. And therefore no wonder if a principle so deeply rooted in nature works with the whole power of nature; and, considering also the corruption of nature, as little wonder is it, if it runs out with an extravagance equal to its power, making the minds of men even drunk with a false intoxicating conceit of their own worth and abilities. From whence it is, that as man is, of all creatures in the world, both the most desirous and the most unable to advance himself; so, through pride and indigence, (qualities which usually concur in beggars,) none is so unwilling to own the benefactions he lives by, and has no claim to, as this weak and worthless self-admirer, who has nothing to be admired in him, but that he can, upon such terms, admire himself. For, "Naked came I into the world, and naked shall I go out again," ought to be the motto of every man when born, the history of his life, and his epitaph when dead: his emptiness and self-consciousness together, cannot but make him feel in himself (which is the surest way of knowing) that he has indeed nothing, and yet he bears himself as if he could command all things; at the same time low in condition, and yet lofty in opinion; boasting, and yet
depending; nay, boasting against Him whom he depends upon. Which certainly is the foulest solecism in behaviour, and two of the worst qualities that can be in conjunction. But,
persons, which such princes avow a claim to, and by virtue of which transcendent right something is God's which can never be theirs; and even what is theirs is still by a much higher title his: I say, if we consider this, the absurdity and inconsequence of all such discourses about the relation between God and man, as are taken from what we see and observe between man and man, as governing and governed, is hereby more than sufficiently proved; and yet, as absurd, as fallacious, and inconsequent as this way of discoursing is, it is one of the chief foundations of the doctrine of merit, and consequently of the religion of too great a part of the world: a religion tending only to defraud men of their true Saviour, by persuading them that they may be their own. And thus much for the first particular, the thing supposed in the words, to wit, That men are naturally very prone to persuade themselves, that they are able to merit of God, or be "profitable to him.”
Secondly, A second consideration, from whence we infer this proneness in men to think themselves able to merit of God, or to be "profitable to him," is their natural aptness to form and measure their apprehensions of the supreme Lord of all things, by what they apprehend and observe of the princes and potentates of this world, with reference to such as are under their dominion. And this is certainly a very prevailing fallacy, and steals too easily upon men's minds, as being founded in the unhappy predominance of sense over reason; which, in the present condition of man's nature, does but too frequently and fatally take place. For men naturally have but faint notions of things spiritual, and such as incur not into their senses; but their eyes, their ears, and their hands, are too often made by them the rule of their faith, but almost always the reason of their practice. And therefore, no marvel if they blunder in their notions about God-a being so vastly above the apprehensions of sense- - while they conceive no otherwise of him at best, but as some great king or prince, ruling with a worldly majesty and grandeur over such puny mortals as themselves: whereupon, as they frame to themselves no other idea of him, but such as they borrow from the royal estate of an earthly sovereign, so they conceive also of their own relation to him, and dependence upon him, just as they do of that which passes between such a sovereign and his subjects; and consequently, since they find that there is no prince upon earth so absolute, but that he stands in as much need of his subjects for many things, as they do or can stand in need of him for his government and protection, (by reason whereof there must needs follow a reciprocal exchange of offices, and a mutual supply of wants between them, rendering both parties equally necessary to one another :) I say, from these misapplied premises, the low, gross, undistinguishing reason of the generality of mankind presently infers that the creature also may, on some accounts, be as beneficial to his Creator, as such a subject is to his prince; and that there may be the like circulation of good turns between them; they being, as they think, within their compass, as really useful to God, as God, for his part, is beneficial to them; which is the true notion of merit, or of being profitable to God." A conceit that sticks so close to human nature, that neither philosophy nor religion can wholly remove it and yet, if we consider the limited right which the greatest prince upon earth has over his meanest slave, and that absolute, boundless, paramount right, which God has over the very same things and
I proceed now to the
Second particular, in which we have something expressed, namely, That such a persuasion is utterly false and absurd, and that it is impossible for men to merit of God, or be "profitable to him." And this I shall evince by shewing the several ingredients of "merit," and the conditions necessary to render an action meritorious. Such as are these four that follow; as,
First, That an action be not due; that is to to say, it must not be such as a man stands obliged to the doing of, but such as he is free either to do, or not to do, without being chargeable with the guilt of any sinful omission in case he does it not. It being no ill account given of merit by Spanhemius,* elder, that it is " opus bonum indebitum faciens præmium, debitum ex indebito." For otherwise, if that which is due may also merit, then, by paying what I owe, I may make my creditors my debtors; and every payment would not only clear, but also trans
fer the debt.
Besides, that in all the benefactions passing from Almighty God upon such as serve him the best they can, there could be no such thing as liberality; which can never take place but where something is given, which the receiver cannot challenge: nay, very hardly could there be any such thing as gift. For if there be first a claim, then, in strictness of speech, it is not so properly gift as payment. Yea, so vast would be the comprehension of justice, that it would scarce leave any object for favour. But God's grace and bounty being so prevented by merit, would be spectators rather than actors in the whole work of man's salvation. Nor would our obedience to God's positive precepts only,
Dub. Evang. parte iii. pag. 782.