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that, in true philosophy, merit is nothing else but an instance or exemplification of that noted saying or maxim, that one benefaction or good turp 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.
Thus much therefore being premised, as an explication of the drift or design of the words, (the words themselves being too plain and easy to need any further exposition,) we shall observe and draw from them these four particulars.
First, Something supposed or implied in them, viz. That men are naturally very prone to entertain an opinion or persuasion, that they are able to merit of God, or be profitable to him.
Secondly, Something expressed, namely, That such an opinion or persuasion is utterly false and absurd ; and that it is impossible for man to merit of God, or to be profitable to him.
Thirdly, Something inferred from both the former, to wit, That the forementioned opinion or persuasion is the very source or foundation of two of the greatest corruptions that have infested the Christian church and religion. And,
Fourthly and lastly, Something objected against the particulars discoursed of, which I shall endeavour to answer and remove; and so conclude this discourse.
Of each of which in their order : and,
First, for the first of them. The thing supposed or implied in the words, namely, That men are naturally very prone to entertain an opinion or persuasion, that they are able to merit of God, or be profitable to 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 St. Peter to our Saviour is very remarkable, in Matt. xix. 27. Master, says he, we have forsook 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; and 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,
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 dependance 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 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 be. tween 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.
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 ac