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where authority, animated with due zeal, will attempt that
And now, my Lord, may that God by whom princes and
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
and most obedient servant,
The Doctrine of Merit stated, and the Impossibility of Man's meriting of God
ON JOB XXII. 2.
PREACHED AT WESTMINSTER-ABBEY,
DECEMBER 5, 1697.
JOB xxii. 2.
Can a man be profitable to God? It 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 expectations 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.
St. 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 inwhich he affirms death to be as due to a sinner, as wages are to a workman, Romans vi. 23. Than which words nothing certainly can be more full and conclusive, that salvation proceeds wholly upon freegift, 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 here meant by 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,