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We must however be careful not to represent men, even in their most improved state, as deserving of positive reward at the hands of their Almighty Creator. The obnoxious and unfounded doctrine of human merit, held by the church of Rome, fosters pride and presumption. The equally erroneous and baneful doctrine of moral incapa. city, in the extent unhappily adopted by Calvin, tends to produce hopeless melancholy, or hardened profligacy (8). The former exalts too high, the latter depresses too low, the powers of man. Our Church, with its usual accuracy and judgment, avoids both these errors, by considering men as ca. pable of contributing in some degree to their own moral and religious improvement, through the influence of God's preventing grace; and by maintaining that their constant and zealous exertions to purify their hearts and minds, will be furthered by more ample supplies of divine assistance; not because of their own deserts, but for the sake of their blessed Redeemer. Obedience is commanded, and it is therefore our duty; our practicable duty, or it would not have been commanded. We are expressly told, that when we have done all those things which are commanded us,” we are still
(8) Non equidem nego quin multi audientes nihil esse boni in nobis, sibi in suis vitiis liberius indulgeant, Calv, in Phil. c. 2. V, 13.
“ unprofitable servants (h);" we can have no right to reward; and an eternal reward, as a matter of right, ought not even to be nained among us. But who can say, he has done all ? What man liveth and sinneth not? In many things we all offend; and pardon is the object of the daily petitions which our Lord himself enjoined. Where then is boasting? It is excluded and disclaimed. It is one thing to say, that such an action, performed from a sincere desire to obey the will of God, is partly the effect of our own voluntary exertion; and another, to boast of the action as in itself meritorious. It is one thing to trust to the goodness of God, as declared in Scripture, for the effectual assistance of the Holy Spirit; and another to assert, that from our own intrinsic merit we have a right to divine favour here, and to reward hereafter. The “ promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (1),” the means of grace, and the hope of glory, we owe solely to the undeserved mercy of God through the merits and mediation of his blessed Son. It is not possible for man, with reference to the original connexion between the creature and his Creator, to have any merit towards God; for whatever powers and qualifi
(h) Luke, c. 17. V. 10.
(i) 1 Tim. C. 4. v. 8.
cations he possesses, he has received them all froint God; and God has a right to every exertion which inan can make. But God has been pleased to enter into a covenant with man, subsequent to the rules and directions which he gave him at his creation, and to promise certain privileges and blessings, upon the performance of certain conditions. This new Dispensation, so far from being the consequence of any right conduct in man, is founded in his misconduct, the first intimation of future redemption being given immediately after the Fall, at the moment God was denouncing punishment upon the disobedience of Adam. It is to be acknowledged in all its parts as entirely gratuitous, as proceeding solely from the free mercy of God; and our performance of the required conditions is not to be considered as constituting any merit in us, or conferring any right to reward, independent of his promises. If the conditional offer of spiritual aid in this world, and of eternal happiness in the next, had not been 'made, the same conduct in us, supposing that possible, would have given no claiin to favour or reward from God here or hereafter, a right to any recompence from God being absolutely impossible. I am here speaking upon the ground of strict justice, and upon no other ground can the abstract question of merit be argued. The question
becomes becoines of a totally different nature where promises, arising solely from kindness and mercy, are concerned (l). We know that, “he who hath promised is faithful (m);" and therefore we rely upon his promises, without feeling that we had any reason to expect them. We entertain a
blessed (1) Non aliquid debendo, sed omnia promittendo, Deus se facit debitorem. August. “ Faithful promise makes due debt. This was all that the antient church did ever understand by the name of Merits : Let Petavius bear witness, Antiqui patres omnes, et præ cæteris Augustinus, cumque iis consentiens Romana et catholica pietas agnoscit merita eo sensu, nimirum ut neque Dei gratiam ulla antecedant merita, et hæc ipsa tum ex gratia, tum ex gratuita Dei pollicitatione tota pendeant. . . . It is an easy thing for a wrangling sophister to dispute of merits in the schools, or for a vain orator to declaim of merits out of the pulpit: but when we come to lie upon our death beds, and present ourselves at the last hour before the tribunal of Christ, it is high time both for you and us to renounce our own merits, and to cast ourselves naked into the arms of our Saviour. That any works of ours (who are the best of us but unprofitable servants) which pro. perly are not ours, but God's own gifts; and if they were ours, are a just debt due unto him, setting aside God's free promise and gracious acceptation, should condignly by their own intrinsic value deserve the joys of heaven, to which they have no more proportion than they have to satisfy for the eternal torments of hell ; this is that which we have renounced, and which we never ought to admit.” Abp. Bramhall, p. 37.
(m) Heb. C, 10. V, 23.
blessed hope, that “ among all the changes and chances of this mortal life we shall ever be defended by God's most gracious and ready help, and finally by his mercy obtain everlasting life,” without pretending to any right inherent in ourselves, any merit from our own performances which could entitle us to such blessings; indeed we feel a sort of presumption even in disclaiming every thing of this nature, every species and degree of merit. The Pelagian doctrine therefore, Gratiam secundum merita nostra dari, which is so justly reprobated by Augustine (m), is equally condemned by us. But we contend, that God is pleased so far to reward the right use of baptismal grace, and to accept our sincere, though feeble, endeavours after righteousness, as to give us the farther assistance of his Holy Spirit. For this “increase of grace” we pray in our Litany; and knowing that “God is able to make all grace abound towards us (n),” in humble confidence and grateful acknowledgment that “our sufficiency is of God (o)," " not as though we were already perfect, but forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, we press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (p).”
(m) Vol. 5. p. 12. Vol. 10. p. 244. et sæpe in aliis locis. (n) 2 Cor. c. 9. v. 8.
(0) 2.Cor. c. 3. v. 5. (P) Phil. c. 3. v. 12, 13 & 14.