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§ 4. The Fruits of Sanctification, or Good Works.
The fruits of sanctification are good works. Our Lord says “A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a 232corrupt tree bring forth good fruit, For every tree is known by his own fruit: for of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.” (Luke vi. 43, 44.) By good works, in this connection, are meant not only the inward exercises of the religious life, but also outward acts, such as can be seen and appreciated by others.
There are three senses in which works may be called good, —
1. When as to the matter of them they are what the law prescribes. In this sense even the heathen perform good works; as the Apostle says, Romans ii. 14, “The Gentiles . . . do by nature the things contained in the law.” That is, they perform acts of justice and mercy. No man on earth is so wicked as never, in this sense of the term, to be the author of some good works. This is what the theologians call civil goodness, whose sphere is the social relations of men.
2. In the second place, by good works are meant works which both in the matter of them, and in the design and motives of the agent, are what the law requires. In other words, a work is good, when there is nothing either in the agent or in the act which the law condemns. In this sense not even the works of the holiest of God’s people are good. No man is ever, since the fall, in this life, in such an inward state that he can stand before God and be accepted on the ground of what he is or of what he does. All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. (Is. lxiv. 6.) Paul found to the last a law of sin in his members. He groaned under a body of death. In one of his latest epistles he says he had not attained, or was not already perfect, and all Christians are required to pray daily for the forgiveness of sin. What the Scriptures teach of the imperfection of the best works of the believer, is confirmed by the irrepressible testimony of consciousness. It matters not what the lips may say, every man’s conscience telis him that he is always a sinner, that he never is free from moral defilement in the sight of an infinitely holy God. On this subject the Form of Concord227227VI. 21; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit. Leipzig, 1846, p. 723. says, “Lex Dei credentibus bona opera ad eum modum præscribit, ut simul, tanquam in speculo, nobis commonstret, ea omnia in nobis in hac vita adhuc imperfecta et impura esse;” and228228VI. 7; Ibid. p. 719. “Credentes in hac vita non perfecte, completive vel consummative (ut veteres locuti sunt) renovantur. Et quamvis ipsorum peccata Christi obedientia absolutissima contecta sint, ut credentibus non ad damnationem imputentur, et 233per Spiritum Sanctum veteris Adami mortificatio et renovatio in spiritu mentis eorum inchoata sit: tamen vetus Adam in ipsa natura, omnibusque illius interioribus et exterioribus viribus adhuc semper inhæret.” Calvin229229Institutio, III. xiv. 9; edit. Berlin, 1834, part ii. p. 37. says, “Seligat ex tota sua vita sanctus Dei servus, quod in ejus cursu maxime eximium se putabit edidisse, bene revolvat singulas partes: deprehendet procul dubio alicubi quod carnis putredinem sapiat, quando numquam ea est nostra alacritas ad bene agendum quæ esse debet, sed in cursu retardando multa debilitas. Quanquam non obscuras esse maculas videmus, quibus respersa sint opera sanctorum, fac tamen minutissimos esse nævos duntaxat: sed an oculos Dei nihil offendent, coram quibus ne stellæ quidem puræ sunt? Habemus, nec unum a sanctis exire opus, quod, si in se censeatur, non mereatur justam opprobrii mercedem.”
Romish Doctrine on Good Works.
Against the doctrine that the best works of the believer are imperfect, the Romanists are especially denunciatory. And with good reason. It subverts their whole system, which is founded on the assumed merit of good works. If the best works of the saints merit “justam opprobrii mercedem” (i.e., condemnation), they cannot merit reward. Their argument on this subject is, that if the Protestant doctrine be true which declares the best works of the believer to be imperfect; then the fulfilment of the law is impossible; but if this be so, then the law is not binding; for God does not command impossibilities. To this it may be answered, first, that the objection is inconsistent with the doctrine of Romanists themselves. They teach that man in his natural state since the fall is unable to do anything good in the sight of God, until he receives the grace of God communicated in baptism. According to the principle on which the objection is founded, the law does not bind the unbaptized. And secondly, the objection assumes the fundamental principle of Pelagianism, namely that ability limits obligation; a principle which, in the sphere of morals, is contrary to Scripture, consciousness, and the common judgment of mankind. We cannot be required to do what is impossible because of the limitation of our nature as creatures, as to create a world, or raise the dead; but to love God perfectly does not exceed the power of man as he came from the hands of his maker. It is not absolutely, but only relatively impossible, that is, in relation of the thing commanded, to us not 234as men, but as sinners. Although it is essential to the Romish doctrine of merit, of indulgences, of works of supererogation, and of purgatory, that the renewed should be able perfectly to fulfil the demands of the law, nevertheless, Romanists themselves are compelled to admit the contrary. Thus Bellarmin says,230230De Justificatione, IV. xvii; Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. iv. p. 933, b. “Defectus charitatis, quod videlicet non faciamus opera nostra tanto fervore dilectionis, quanto faciemus in patria, defectus quidem est, sed culpa et peccatum non est. . . . . Unde etiam charitas nostra, quamvis comparata ad charitatem beatorum sit imperfecta, tamen absolute perfecta dici potest.” That is, although our love is in fact imperfect, it may be called perfect. But calling it perfect, does not alter its nature. To the same effect another of the leading theologians of the Roman Church, Andradius, says, “Peccata venalia per se tam esse minuta et levia, ut non adversentur perfectioni caritatis, nec impedire possint perfectam et absolutam legis obedientiam: utpote quæ non sint ira Dei et condemnatione, sed venia digna, etiamsi Deus cum illis in judicium intret.”231231See Chemnitz Examen, De Bonis Operibus, III. edit. Frankfort, 1574, part i. p. 209, a. That is, sins are not sins, because men choose to regard them as trivial.
Works of Supererogation.
But if no work of man since the fall in this life is perfectly good, then it not only follows that the doctrine of merit must be given up, but still more obviously, all works of supererogation are impossible. Romanists teach that the renewed may not only completely satisfy all the demands of the law of God, which requires that we should love Him with all the heart, and all the mind, and all the strength, and our neighbour as ourselves; but that they can do more than the law demands, and thus acquire more merit than they need for their own salvation, which may be made available for those who lack.
It is impossible that any man can hold such a doctrine, unless he first degrades the law of God by restricting its demands to very narrow limits. The Romanists represent our relation to God as analogous to a citizen’s relation to the state. Civil laws are limited to a narrow sphere. They concern only our social and political obligations. It is easy for a man to be a good citizen; to fulfil perfectly all that the law of the land requires. Such a man, through love to his country, may do far more than the law can demand. He may not only pay tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, and honour to whom honour; but he may 235also devote his time, his talents, his whole fortune to the service of his country. Thus also, according to Romanists, men may not only do all that the law of God requires of men as men, but they may also through love, far exceed its demands. This Möhler represents as a great superiority of Romish ethics over the Protestant system. The latter, according to him, limits man’s obligations to his legal liabilities, to what in justice may be exacted from him on pain of punishment. Whereas the former rises to the higher sphere of love, and represents the believer cordially and freely rendering unto God what in strict justice could not be demanded of him. “It is the nature of love, which stands far, even immeasurably higher than the demands of the law, never to be satisfied with its manifestation, and to become more and more sensitive, so that believers, who are animated with this love, often appear to men who stand on a lower level as fanatics or lunatics.”232232Möhler, Symbolik, 6th edit. Mainz, 1843, p. 216. But what if the law itself is love? What if the law demands all that love can render? What if the love which the law requires of every rational creature calls for the devotion of the whole soul, with all its powers to God as a living sacrifice? It is only by making sin to be no sin; by teaching men that they are perfect when even their own hearts condemn them; it is only by lowering the demands of the law which, being founded on the nature of God, of necessity requires perfect conformity to the divine image, that any man in this life can pretend to be perfect, or be so insane as to imagine that he can go beyond the demands of the law and perform works of supererogation.
Precepts and Counsels.
The distinction which Romanists make between precepts and counsels, rests upon the same low view of the divine law. By precepts are meant the specific commands of the law which bind all men, the observance of which secures a reward, and non-observance a penalty. Whereas counsels are not commands; they do not bind the conscience of any man, but are recommendations of things peculiarly acceptable to God, compliance with which merits a much higher reward than the mere observance of precepts. There are many such counsels in the Bible, the most important of which are said to be celibacy, monastic obedience, and poverty.233233Bellarmin, De Membris Ecclesiæ Militantis, lib. II. de Monachis, cap. 7, 8; Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. ii. pp. 363-365. No man is bound to remain unmarried, but if he voluntarily determines to do so for the glory of God, that is a great virtue. No 236one is bound to renounce the acquisition of property, but if he voluntarily embraces a life of absolute poverty, it is a great merit. Our Lord, however, demands everything. He saith, “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me, and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” “He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it.” (Matt. x. 31, 39.) “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke xiv. 26.) The law of Christ demands entire devotion to Him. If his service requires that a man should remain unmarried, he is bound to live a life of celibacy; if it requires that he should give up all his property and take up his cross, and follow Christ, he is bound to do so; if it requires him to lay down his life for Christ’s sake, he is bound to lay it down. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Nothing can go beyond this. There can be no sacrifice and no service which a man can make or render, which duty, or the law of Christ, does not demand when such sacrifice or service becomes necessary as the proof or fruit of love to Christ. There is no room, therefore, for this distinction between counsels and precepts, between what the law demands and what love is willing to render. And therefore the doctrine of works of supererogation is thoroughly anti-Christian.
They Sense in which the Fruits of the Spirit in Believers are called Good.
3. Although no work even of the true people of God, while they continue in this world, is absolutely perfect, nevertheless those inward exercises and outward acts which are the fruits of the Spirit are properly designated good, and are so called in Scripture. Acts ix. 36, it was said of Dorcas that she “was full of good works.” Ephesians ii. 10, believers are said to be “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” 2 Timothy iii. 17, teaches that the man of God should be “thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Titus ii. 14, Christ gave Himself for us that He might “purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” There is no contradiction in pronouncing the same work good and bad, because these terms are relative, and the relations intended may be different. Feeding the poor, viewed in relation to the nature of the act is a good work. Viewed in relation 237to the motive which prompts it, it may be good or bad. If done to be seen of men, it is offensive in the sight of God. If done from natural benevolence, it is an act of ordinary morality. If done to a disciple in the name of a disciple, it is an act of Christian virtue. The works of the children of God, therefore, although stained by sin, are truly and properly good, because, (1.) They are, as to their nature or the thing done, commanded by God. (2.) Because, as to the motive, they are the fruits, not merely of right moral feeling, but of religious feeling, i.e., of love to God; and (3.) Because they are performed with the purpose of complying with his will, of honouring Christ and of promoting the interests of his kingdom.
It follows from the fundamental principle of Protestantism, that the Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice, that no work can be regarded as good or obligatory on the conscience which the Scriptures do not enjoin. Of course it is not meant that the Bible commands in detail everything which the people of God are bound to do, but it prescribes the principles by which their conduct is to be regulated, and specifies the kind of acts which those principles require or forbid. It is enough that the Scriptures require children to obey their parents, citizens the magistrate, and believers to hear the Church, without enjoining every act which these injunctions render obligatory. In giving these general commands, the Bible gives all necessary limitations, so that neither parents, magistrates, nor Church can claim any authority not granted to them by God, nor impose anything on the conscience which He does not command. As some churches have enjoined a multitude of doctrines as articles of faith, which are not taught in Scripture, so they have enjoined a multitude of acts, which the Bible neither directly, nor by just or necessary inference requires. They have thus imposed upon those who recognize their authority as infallible in teaching, a yoke of bondage which no one is able to bear. After the example of the ancient Pharisees, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, and claim divine authority for human institutions. From this bondage it was one great design of the Reformation to free the people of God. This deliverance was effected by proclaiming the principle that nothing is sin but what the Bible forbids and nothing is morally obligatory but what the Bible enjoins.
Such, however, is the disposition, on the one hand, to usurp authority, and, on the other, to yield to it, that it is only by the constant assertion and vindication of this principle, that the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free can be preserved.238
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