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Article Three

Whether a Man in Grace can Merit Eternal Life Condignly

We proceed to the third article thus:

1. It seems that a man in grace cannot merit eternal life condignly. For the apostle says (Rom. 8:18): “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Now the sufferings of the saints seem to be the worthiest of all meritorious works. Hence no works of men can merit eternal life condignly.

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2. Again, a gloss by Augustine on Rom. 6:23: “the gift of God is eternal life,” says: “He could have said with truth ‘the wages of justice is eternal life.’ But he preferred to say ‘the gift of God is eternal life,’ in order that we might understand that God leads us to eternal life for his mercy’s sake, and not for the sake of our merits.” Now what is merited condignly is received for the sake of merit, not for mercy’s sake. It seems, therefore, that a man cannot merit eternal life condignly through grace.

3. Again, merit would seem to be condign if it is equal to the reward. But no action in this present life can be equal to eternal life. For eternal life transcends our knowledge and our desire, and even the charity and love of the wayfarer, just as it transcends nature. It follows that a man cannot merit eternal life condignly through grace.

On the other hand: that which is given in accordance with a righteous judgment would seem to be a condign reward. Now God gives eternal life in accordance with a righteous judgment, since it is said in II Tim. 4:8: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.” It follows that a man merits eternal life condignly.

I answer: a man’s meritorious work may be considered in two ways; in so far as it proceeds from his own free will, and in so far as it proceeds from the grace of the Holy Spirit. There cannot be condignity if a meritorious work is considered as it is in its own substance, and as the outcome of a man’s own free will, since there is then extreme inequality. There is, however, congruity, since there is a certain relative equality. For it seems congruous that if a man works according to his own, power, God should reward him according to the excellence of his power. But if we are speaking of a meritorious work as proceeding from the grace of the Holy Spirit, it merits eternal life condignly. For the degree of its merit then depends on the power of the Holy Spirit which moves us to eternal life, according to John 4:14: “. . . shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” A man’s work is therefore rewarded according to the worth of the grace by which he is made a partaker of the divine nature, and adopted as a son of God to whom the inheritance is due by right of adoption, according to Rom. 8:17: “. . . and if children, then heirs.”

On the first point: the apostle is speaking of the sufferings of the saints according to what they are in their own substance.

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On the second point: this gloss is to be understood as referring to the first cause of the attainment of eternal life, which is the mercy of God. Our merit is nevertheless the secondary-cause.

On the third point: the grace of the Holy Spirit which we have in this life is not equal to glory in actuality. But it is equal to it in power, like a seed which contains the power to become the whole tree. Thus does the Holy Spirit dwell in a man by grace as the efficient cause of eternal life, wherefore it is called the earnest of our inheritance in II Cor. 1:22.

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