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§ 6. Relation of Good Works to Reward.
On this subject the Romanists make a distinction between works done before, and those done after regeneration. Works as to the matter of them good, when performed from mere natural conscience, have no other merit than that of congruity. They are necessarily imperfect, and constitute no claim on the justice of God. But works performed under the control of gracious principles infused in baptism, are perfect; they have therefore real merit, i.e., the merit of condignity. They give a claim for reward, 242not merely on the ground of the divine promise, but also on the divine justice. To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. (Rom. iv. 4.) On this subject the Council of Trent,237237Sess. vi. canon 32; Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, vol. i. p. 37. says: “Si quis dixerit, hominis justificati bona opera ita esse dona Dei, ut non sint etiam bona ipsius justificati merita; aut ipsum justificatum bonis operibus, quæ ab eo per Dei gratiam, et Jesu Christi meritum cujus vivum membrum est, fiunt, non vere mereri augmentum gratiæ, vitam æternam, et ipsius vitæ æternæ, si tamen in gratia decesserit, consecutionem, atque etiam gloriæ augmentum; anathema sit.” Bellarmin238238De Justificatione, v. i.; Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. iv. p. 949, a. says: “Habet communis catholicorum omnium sententia, opera bona justorum vere, ac proprie esse merita, et merita non cujuscunque premii, sed ipsius vitæ æternæ.”
The conditions of such meritorious works, according to Bellarmin, are: (1.) That they be good in their nature. (2.) Done in obedience to God. (3.) By a man in this life. (4.) That they be voluntary. (5.) That the agent be in a state of justification and favour with God. (6.) That they be prompted by love. (7.) That some divine promise be attached to them.
Refutation of this Romish Doctrine.
1. This whole doctrine of merit is founded on the assumption that justification, their term for regeneration, removes everything of the nature of sin from the soul; that works performed by the renewed being free from sin are perfect; that a renewed man can not only fulfil all the demands of the law, but also do more than the law requires. As these assumptions are contrary to Scripture, and to the experience of all Christians, the doctrine founded on them must be false.
2. The doctrine is inconsistent, not only with the express declarations of the word of God, but also with the whole nature and design of the Gospel. The immediate or proximate design of the plan of salvation, as the Scriptures abundantly teach, is the manifestation of the grace of God, and therefore it must be gratuitous in all its parts and provisions, to the entire exclusion of all merit. Unless salvation be of grace it is not a revelation of grace, and if of grace it is not of works.
3. The doctrine is so repugnant to the inward teachings of the Spirit, as well as to the teachings of his word, that it cannot be practically believed even by those who profess it. The children 243of God, in spite of their theories and their creeds, do not trust for their salvation, either in whole or in part, to what they are or to what they do; but simply and exclusively to what Christ is and has done for them. In proof of this, appeal may be made to the written or recorded experience of all the great lights of the Latin Church. If every Christian is intimately convinced that he is unholy in the sight of God; that all his best acts are polluted; and that in no one thing and at no time does he come up to the standard of perfection; it is impossible that he can believe that he merits eternal life on the ground of his own works.
4. As the doctrine of merit is opposed to the nature and design of the Gospel, and to the express declarations of Scripture that we are not justified or saved by works, but gratuitously for Christ’s sake, so it is derogatory to the honour of Christ as our Saviour. He gave Himself as a ransom; he offered Himself as a sacrifice; it is by his obedience we are constituted righteous; it is, therefore, only on the assumption that his ransom, sacrifice, and obedience are inadequate that the merit of our works can be needed or admitted. The Romanists attempt to evade the force of this objection by saying that we owe to Christ the grace or spiritual life by which we perform good works. Had He not died for our sins, God would not in baptism wash away our guilt and pollution and impart those “habits of grace” by which we are enabled to merit eternal life. This does not help the matter; for salvation remains a debt as a matter of justice on the ground of our good works. It is this which is so contrary to Scripture, to the intimate conviction of every Christian, and to the glory of Christ, to whom the whole honour of our salvation is due.
Doctrine of the older Protestant Divines.
The older theologians, in order the more effectually to refute the doctrine of merit, assumed that a work, to be meritorious, must be (1.) “Indebitum,” i.e., not due. Something which we are not bound to do. (2.) Our own. (3.) Absolutely perfect. (4.) Equal, or bearing a due proportion to the recompense. (5.) And, therefore, that the recompense should be due on the gound of justice, and not merely of promise or agreement. On these conditions, all merit on the part of creatures is impossible. It is, however, clearly recognized in Scripture that a labourer is worthy of his hire. To him that worketh, says the Apostle, the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt. It is something due in justice. This principle also is universally recognized among 244men. Even on the theory of slavery, where the labourer himself his time, and strength, and all he has, are assumed to belong to his master, the servant has a claim to a proper recompense, which it would be unjust to withhold from him. And in every department of life it is recognized as a simple matter of justice, that the man who performs a stipulated work, earns his wages. The payment is not a matter of favour; it is not due simply because promised; but because it has been earned. It is a debt. So in the case of Adam, had he remained perfect, there would have been no ground in justice why he should die, or forfeit the favour of God; which favour is life.
The passage in Luke xvii. 10, is relied upon as proving that a creature can in no case perform a meritorious act, i.e., an act which lays a claim in justice for a reward. Our Lord there says, “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.’” This does not teach that the labourer is not worthy of his hire. The passage is part of a parable in which our Lord says, that a master does not thank his servant for merely doing his duty. It does not call for gratitude. But it does not follow that it would be just to withhold the servant’s wages, or to refuse to allow him to eat and drink. God is just, and being just, He rewards every man according to his works, so long as men are under the law. If not under the law, they are dealt with, not on the principles of law, but of grace.
But although Protestants deny the merit of good works, and teach that salvation is entirely gratuitous, that the remission of sins, adoption into the family of God, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are granted to the believer, as well as admission into heaven, solely on the ground of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ; they nevertheless teach that God does reward his people for their works. Having graciously promised for Christ s sake to overlook the imperfection of their best services, they have the assurance founded on that promise that he who gives to a disciple even a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. The Scriptures also teach that the happiness or blessedness of believers in a future life, will be greater or less in proportion to their devotion to the service of Christ in this life. Those who love little, do little; and those who do little enjoy less. What a man sows that shall he also reap. As the rewards of heaven are given on the ground of the merits of Christ, and as He has a right to do what He will with his own, there 245would be no injustice were the thief saved on the cross as highly exalted as the Apostle Paul. But the general drift of Scripture is in favour of the doctrine that a man shall reap what he sows; that God will reward every one according to, although not on account of his works.
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