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Showing How Our Works May Be Rendered Acceptable To God.
Delight thyself in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.—Ps. 37:4.
As man in his natural state is obnoxious to the wrath of God (Eph. 2:3), it follows, that all his natural works, how great and good soever they may appear in the eye of the world, are subject to it likewise. For, without the grace of God, we can do nothing that is acceptable in his sight; but if a man be in a state of grace, then all his works are acceptable to God; because it is the grace of God which works them in him.
2. Whence it appears, that all manner of gifts whatsoever, as St. Paul assures us, are to be ascribed to the grace of God, not to ourselves (1 Cor. 15:10), and that by our own works we can never be justified or saved. For though a man should suffer all the pains of martyrdom; though he should perform all the good actions that were ever done by all the saints from the beginning of the world, or that ever shall be done; though he should feed upon nothing but thorns, and suffer death, not once, but every day; yet could he not thereby, of himself, be able to procure the least grace. Depend not then upon thine own works, but upon the infinite mercies of God in Jesus Christ, with a resigned and humble spirit: and then be confident, 417 that the same Jesus will, of his free love and mercy, give thee whatever he shall see expedient for thee. This is the meaning of the saying of our Lord, “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.” Luke 17:10. O merciful God! how poor, how worthless in thy sight is our righteousness; it is no better than “filthy rags.” Isa. 64:6. For all the works of good men would be of no value for our justification. Enter then into thy purchased inheritance by the surest gate, even the meritorious work of thy blessed Saviour. Offer up to God his passion, for the punishments which thou hast deserved; his holy thoughts, for thy polluted imaginations; his many divine words, for thy vain speeches; in a word, all his works, his poverty, his patience, his meekness and charity, for all thy defects and omissions. Keep thine eyes fixed on the blessed Jesus, and thou shalt obtain grace and favor with God. With the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:20), return to thy offended Father, and he will receive and embrace thee. His mercies are unchangeably the same, ready to be communicated to every sincere penitent. This he freely offers to all, and nothing is more agreeable to him, than to show mercy to him that asks it in faith. For “his hand is not shortened, that it cannot save.” Isa. 59:1. And the more wretched and miserable thou appearest in his sight, the more welcome shalt thou be to Him, who is desirous to enrich thee out of his own treasures. The sins of the whole world, bear no more proportion to his infinite mercies, than a single drop of water does to the vast ocean. But as soon as thou art in a state of grace, all thy works wrought hence in thee, shall be made acceptable to God, through his only begotten Son, by whom alone we have access to his mercies. In this faith, in this union with the Son of God, thou shalt live. He is that living fountain that purifies all our uncleanness, and makes all our works acceptable in his sight. Zech. 13:1.
3. But still take heed to thyself, and remember that thou rest not even in thy spiritual privileges, which, as a child of God, are bestowed upon thee, but in God alone, the author and giver of them. Hence we are commanded, “to delight in the Lord” (Ps. 37:4); not in his gifts, but in his glory; that his will may be perfected in us. We must then refer all our gifts and graces to their munificent donor, even God. In order to use them aright, let this rule be deeply fixed in our minds. If thou hadst all the gifts and graces which God has bestowed, either in heaven, or on earth, with the good works of all the saints that have ever lived; as soon as thou beginnest to take an inordinate pleasure in them, and to delight in them as a property of thine own, they are immediately defiled with the stain and guilt of idolatry. For there is nothing either in heaven or earth, in which we ought to rest, but God alone. And when we do this, then God himself is our joy, our delight, our rest, our fulness, our treasure, and our refuge; and in this consists the fulness of blessing; we then become proper vessels of divine grace. For in proud spirits, which are the organs of the devil, God cannot operate; but “he giveth grace to the humble,” as St. Peter tells us (1 Pet. 5:5), and filleth their souls with his treasures. Inward pride is the fruitful root of all vices. By this the devil keeps his strongholds in the soul, which God alone has a right to inhabit. The vine, 418 as to its outward form, seems to be but a useless plant, fit for nothing but the fire; and yet, under that mean outside, conceals veins of most generous juice. So it is with all those godly persons, through whom the Spirit of God operates: they appear in the sight of men as vile and contemptible persons; their appearance is humble, and void of external grandeur; but within, they are full of invaluable treasures, even living streams of blessing flowing incessantly from the throne and presence of God. But they who are puffed up with their gifts, who make a show of their alms, who build altars in churches at their own cost, adorning them with their own names, arms, and titles of honor; these, by displaying so industriously their good deeds to the world, have indeed received their reward. In the same unhappy state also are they, whose mouths are full of their own wants and unworthiness, continually desiring others to pray for them; not considering that other alms, proceeding from an humble, sincere, and devout heart, are a more effectual prayer to God, than are all the intercessions of persons who know that these alms are given only for display.
4. If, then, thou wouldest have thy works to be sincere and acceptable before God, observe carefully these four general rules: 1. Think humbly of all thine actions, not respecting thyself, but God alone. 2. Let this humility be deeply rooted in thy soul, humbling thyself not only under the hand of God, but under every man, whether small or great, from a hearty sense of thine own unworthiness. 3. Look upon all that thou doest as unprofitable and worthless. 4. Have a profound dread of the secret judgment of God, not, indeed, as proceeding from any doubts about the mercies of God; but, regarding him as thy best friend, be careful to avoid everything that may disoblige or offend him. He that despises these four rules, renders even his best actions impure in the sight of God. But he that carefully attends to them as the rules of action, shall be like a green olive tree in the house of his God, bearing good fruit abundantly. Ps. 52:8.
5. And we must observe that even the most inconsiderable thing thou doest, if it promote the good of thy neighbor, is acceptable to God; whilst he that employs not his talent to that end, shall have a serious account to give at the last day. This is the only use and end of God's gifts, that we should readily and industriously employ them for the benefit of others. Every action, art, employment, and profession, were given by God for this only end. And these are the works which, as our Lord tells us, “are wrought in God” (John 3:21); that is, in faith and charity, directed solely to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbor, without any prospect of honor or advantage to ourselves, of which every man's own conscience is the proper judge. Consider then carefully with thyself the spring and motives of all thy actions, remembering that if thou neglect or refuse to employ the blessings of God for thy neighbor's benefit, thou must have the same punishment with the slothful servant, who was deprived of his talent which he had hid in the ground, and not employed, and saw it given to another that better knew how to use it. Matt. 25:26. Thus thou losest both the gift and the grace. No less foolish are they who pretend to things above their strength, who talk eloquently and fluently of what they neither practise nor understand. 419 Though these should confidently pretend to speak by the authority of the blessed Trinity, yet is all this nothing but empty boasting, unless they demonstrate that they experimentally know what they so magisterially inculcate.
6. Remember also, that no actions, how great and glorious soever in appearance, which proceed only from ostentation and vainglory, can be well pleasing to God. For as is the principle of our actions, such are also the actions proceeding from it. Whence it follows, that such as regard themselves only, are no better than impostors and hypocrites. Their best works are no better than painted sepulchres, which appear beautiful without, but within are full of nothing but corruption. There is in them no pure love of God, no desire to promote his glory; but only a certain carnal self-love and an insatiable thirst of vainglory.
7. The sum of all is this, that all our works, how specious soever they may appear, if they be directed to any other end but God, are nothing but vanity and idolatry. For he is truly an idolater, who proposes to himself any other end or aim but God. Wherefore, if thou hast any gifts, use them, but take heed that thy heart rest not in them; if it so rest, thou art guilty of idolatry.
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