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OF THE NECESSITY OF GOOD WORKS.
This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.—Tit. iii. 8.
FROM these words I have proposed to handle these two points:
First, The certain truth or credibility of this saying or proposition, That they which have believed in God ought to be careful to maintain good works. This I have spoken to, and come now to the
Second, The great fitness and necessity of inculcating frequently upon all that profess themselves Christians, the indispensable necessity of the practice of the virtues of a good life. In the handling of this point, I shall do these two things:
First, I shall shew the great fitness and necessity of pressing upon people the indispensable necessity of the virtues of a good life. And,
Secondly, Answer an objection or two, to which the preaching of this kind of doctrine may seem liable. I begin with the2
First of these, viz. To shew the great fitness and necessity of inculcating and pressing upon all Christians the indispensable necessity of the virtues of a good life. And this will appear to be very fit and necessary upon these two accounts:
I. Because men are so very apt to deceive themselves in this matter, and so hardly brought to that wherein religion mainly consists, viz. the practice of real goodness.
II. Because of the indispensable necessity of the thing to render us capable of the Divine favour and acceptance, and of the reward of eternal life and happiness.
I. Because men are so very apt to deceive themselves in this matter, and so hardly brought to that wherein religion mainly consists, viz. the practice of real goodness. They are extremely desirous to reconcile (if it be possible) the hopes of eternal happiness in another world, with a liberty to live as they list in this present world: they are loath to be at the trouble and drudgery of mortifying their lusts, and subduing and governing their passions, and bridling their tongues, and ordering their whole conversation aright, and practising all those duties which are comprehended in those two great commandments, the love of God and our neighbour. They would fain get into the favour of God, and make their calling and election sure, by some easier way, than by “giving all diligence, to add to their faith, virtue, and knowledge, and temperance, and patience, and brotherly kindness, and charity.”
The plain truth of the matter is, men had rather religion should be any thing, than what indeed it is, the thwarting and crossing of our vicious inclinations, 3the curing of our evil and corrupt affections; the due care and government of our unruly appetites and passions, the sincere endeavour and constant practice of all holiness and virtue in our lives; and, therefore, they had much rather have some thing that might handsomely palliate and excuse their evil inclinations, than to extirpate them and cut them up: and rather than reform and amend their vicious lives, make God an honourable amends and compensation for them in some other way.
This hath been the way and folly of mankind in all ages, to defeat the great end and design of religion, and to thrust it by, by substituting something else in the place of it, which they hope may serve the turn as well, and which hath the appearance of as much devotion and respect, and perhaps of more cost and pains, than that which God requires of them. Men have ever been apt thus to impose upon themselves, and to please themselves with a conceit of pleasing God full as well, or better, by some other way, than that which he hath pitched upon and appointed for them; not considering that God is a great king, and will be observed and obeyed by his creatures in his own way; and that obedience to what he commands is better and more acceptable to him than any other sacrifice that we can offer, which he hath not required at our hands; that he is infinitely wise and good, and therefore the laws and rules which he has given us to live by, are more likely and certain means of our happiness, than any inventions and devices of our own.
Thus, I say, it hath been in all ages. The old world, after that general deluge which God sent to punish the raging wickedness and impiety of 4men, by sweeping all mankind from off the face of the earth, excepting only one family, which was saved to be the seminary of a new and better race of men; I say, after this, the world in a short space fell off from the worship of the true God to the worship of idols and false gods; being unwilling to bring themselves to a conformity and likeness to the true God, they chose false gods like themselves, such as might not only excuse, but even countenance and abet, their lewd and vicious practices.
And when God had made a new revelation of himself to the nation of the Jews, and given them the chief heads and substance of the natural law written over again with his own finger in tables of stone, and many other laws concerning religious worship, and their civil conversation, suited and adapted to their present temper and condition; yet, how soon did their religion degenerate into external observances, purifications and washings, and a multitude of sacrifices, without any great regard to the inward and substantial parts of religion, and the practice of those moral duties and virtues, which were in the first place required of them, and with out which all the rest found no acceptance with God. Hence are those frequent complaints in the prophets, that their religion was degenerated into form and ceremony, into oblations and sacrifices, the observance of fasts, and sabbaths, and new-moons; but had no power and efficacy upon their hearts and lives; was wholly destitute of in ward purity and holiness, of all substantial virtues, and the fruits of righteousness in a good life. Thus God complains by the prophet Isaiah: (chap. i. 11, &c.) “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me, saith the Lord? Bring no more 5vain oblations. Incense is an abomination unto me, the new-moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet,” &c. Upon these terms God declares himself ready to be reconciled to them, and to have mercy on them. But all their external services and sacrifices, separated from real goodness and righteousness, were so far from appeasing God’s wrath, that they did but increase the provocation. And to the same purpose, (chap. lxvi. 2, 3.) “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. He that killeth an ox, is as if he slew a man: he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighted in their abomination.” (Jer. vi. 19, 20.) “Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it. To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba; and the sweet cane from a far country? Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me.” They thought to please God with costly in cense and sacrifices, whilst they rejected his law. And, (chap. vii. 4-6.) “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple 6of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these. For if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place.” And, (ver. 8-10.) “Behold, ye trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?” This was to add impudence to all their other impieties, to think that the worship of God, and his holy temple, did excuse these gross crimes and immoralities. (Micah vi. 6-8.) There God represents the Jews as desirous to please God at any rate, provided their lusts and vices might be spared, and they might not be obliged to amend and reform their lives: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, and with ten thousand rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” All this they would willingly do: but all this will not do without real virtue and goodness. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
And in the time of our blessed Saviour, those who pretended to be most devout among the Jews, 7were wholly busied about their pretended traditions of washing of hands, and the outsides of their cups and dishes, and about the external and lesser things of the law, the tithing of mint, and anise, and cummin, and all manner of herbs, omitting in the mean time “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith, and the love of God,” as our Saviour describes their religion, (Matt. xxiii. 23.)
And after the clear revelation of the gospel, the best and most perfect institution that ever was, in the very beginning of Christianity, what licentious doctrines did there creep in, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and releasing men from all moral duties, and the virtues of a good life; “by reason whereof the way of truth was evil spoken of,” as St. Peter and St. Jude expressly tell us concerning the sect of the gnostics. And St. John, like wise, describes the same sect by their arrogant pretence to extraordinary knowledge and illumination, whilst they “walked in darkness,” and allowed themselves in all manner of wickedness of life; they pretended to perfection and righteousness, without keeping the commandments of God.
And in the next following age of Christianity, how was it pestered with a trifling controversy about the time of the observation of Easter, and with endless disputes and niceties about the doctrine of the trinity, and the two natures and wills of Christ! by which means the practice of Christianity was greatly neglected, and the main end and design of that excellent religion almost quite defeated and lost.
After this, when the mystery of iniquity began to shew itself, in the degeneracy of the Roman church from her primitive sanctity and purity, and in the affectation of an undue and boundless 8power over other churches, the Christian religion began to be overrun with superstition, and the primitive fervour of piety and devotion was turned into a fierce zeal and contention about matters of no moment and importance; of which we have a most remarkable instance here in our own nation, when Austin the monk arrived here to convert the nation, and preach the gospel amongst us, as the church of Rome pretended; but against all faith and truth of history, which assures us, that Christianity was planted here among the Britons several ages be fore, and perhaps sooner than even at Rome itself; and not only so, but had got considerable footing among the Saxons before Austin the monk ever set foot amongst us; I say, when Austin the monk arrived here, the two great points of his Christianity were to bring the Britons to a conformity with the church of Rome in the time of Easter, and in the tonsure and shaving of the priests, after the manner of St. Peter, as they pretended, upon the crown of the head, and not of St. Paul, which was by shaving or cutting close the hair of the whole head, as from some vain and foolish tradition he pretended to have learned: the promoting of these two customs was his great errand and business, and the zeal of his preaching was spent upon these two fundamental points; in which, after very barbarous and bloody doings, he at last prevailed. And this is the conversion of England, so much boasted of by the church of Rome, and for which this Austin is magnified for so great a saint; when it is very evident, from the history of those times, that he was a proud, ignorant, turbulent, and cruel man, who, instead of first converting the nation to the faith of Christ, confounded the purity and simplicity of the Christian 9religion, which had been planted and established among us long before.
In latter ages, when the man of sin was grown up to his full stature, the great business of religion was the pope’s absolute and universal authority over all Christians, even kings and princes, in order to spiritual matters; ecclesiastical liberties and immunities; and the exemption of the clergy, and all matters belonging to them, from the cognizance of the secular power; the great points which Thomas a Becket contended so earnestly for, calling it the cause of Christ, and in the maintenance whereof he persisted to the death, and was canonized as a saint and a martyr. And among the people, their piety consisted in the promoting of monkery, and founding and endowing monasteries: in infinite superstitions, foolish doctrines, and more absurd miracles to confirm them; in purchasing indulgences with money, and hearing of masses for the redemption of souls out of purgatory; in the idolatrous worship of saints and their relics and images, and especially of the blessed Virgin, which at last grew to that height, as to make up the greatest part of their worship and devotion both public and private. And in deed they have brought matters to that absurd pass, that one may truly say, that the whole business of their devotion is to teach men to worship images, and images to worship God. For to be present at Divine service and prayers celebrated in an unknown tongue, is not the worship of men and reasonable creatures, but of statues and images, which, though they be present in the place where this service is performed, yet they bear no part in it, being void of all sense and understanding of what is done. And indeed in their whole religion, such as it is, they 10drive so strict a bargain with God, and treat him in so arrogant a manner by their insolent doctrine of the merit of good works, as if God were as much beholden to them for their service and obedience, as they are to him for the reward of it, which they challenge as of right and justice belonging to them. Nay, so high have they carried this doctrine, as to pretend not only to merit eternal life for themselves, but to do a great deal more in works of supererogation, for the benefit and advantage of others; that is, when they have done as much as in strict duty they are obliged to, and thereby paid down a valuable consideration for heaven, and as much as in equal justice between God and man it is worth, the surplusage of their good works they put as a debt upon God, as so many bills of credit laid up in the treasury of the church, which the pope, by his pardons and indulgences, may dispense and place to whose account he pleaseth. And thus by one device or other they have enervated the Christian religion to that degree, that it hath quite lost its virtue and efficacy upon the hearts and lives of men, and instead of the fruits of real goodness and righteousness, it produceth little else but superstition and folly; or if it bring forth any fruits of charity, it is either so misplaced upon chimeras (as hiring of priests to say so many masses for the dead, to redeem their souls out of purgatory), that it signifies nothing; or else the virtue of it is spoiled by the arrogant pretence of meriting by it. So apt have men always been to deceive themselves by an affected mistake of anything for religion, but that which really and in truth is so! And this is that which the apostle St. Paul foretold would be the great miscarriage of the last times, that under a great pretence of religion 11men should be destitute of all goodness, and abandoned to all wickedness and vice, “having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it,” (2 Tim. iii. 5.)
And though things have been much better since that happy reformation from the corruptions and errors of popery, yet even among protestants the malice and craft of the devil hath prevailed so far, as to undermine, in a great measure, the necessity of a good life, by those luscious doctrines of the antinomians concerning free grace, and the justification of a sinner merely upon a confident persuasion of his being in a state of grace and favour with God, and consequently that the gospel dischargeth men from obedience to the laws of God, and all manner of obligation to the virtues of a good life; which doctrines, how false and absurd soever in themselves, and pernicious in their consequences, did not only prevail very much in Germany, a little after the beginning of the Reformation, but have since got too much footing in other places, and been too far entertained and cherished by some good men, who were not sufficiently aware of the error and danger of them. But blessed be God, the doctrine of our church, both in the articles and homilies of it, hath been preserved pure and free from all error and corruption in this matter on either hand, asserting the necessity of good works, and yet renouncing the merit of them in that arrogant sense in which the church of Rome does teach and assert it; and so teaching justification by faith, and the free grace of God in Jesus Christ, as to maintain the indispensable necessity of the virtues of a good life.
And thus I have done with the first reason, why 12it is so fit and necessary to press frequently upon Christians the indispensable necessity of the virtues of a good life; viz. because men are and ever have been so very apt to deceive themselves in this matter, and so hardly brought to that wherein religion mainly consists, viz. the practice of real goodness. I shall be brief upon the
II. Second reason; namely, Because of the indispensable necessity of the thing to render us capable of the Divine favour and acceptance, and of the reward of eternal life. And this added to the former, makes the reason full and strong. For if men be so apt to deceive themselves in this matter, and to be deceived in it be a matter of such dangerous consequence, then it is highly necessary to inculcate this frequently upon Christians, that no man may be mistaken in a matter of so much danger, and upon which his eternal happiness depends. Now, if obedience to the laws of God, and the practice of virtue and good works, be necessary to our continuance in a state of grace and favour with God, and to our final justification by our absolution at the great day; if nothing but holiness and obedience can qualify us for the blessed sight of God, and the glorious reward of eternal happiness; then it is matter of infinite consequence to us, not to be mistaken in a matter of so great importance; but that we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and give all diligence to make our calling and election sure,” by adding “to our faith and knowledge the virtues of a good life; that by patient continuance in well-doing, we seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, and eternal life;” and that we so demean ourselves “in all holy conversation and godliness,” as that we may, with comfort 13and confidence, “wait for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearance of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” That this is indispensably necessary to our happiness, I have in my former discourse shewn at large, from the great end and design of religion in general, and of the Christian religion in particular, from the whole design and doctrine of the gospel, from the constant tenor of the Bible, and from the nature and reason of the thing.
I know it hath been the great design of the devil and his instruments, in all ages, to undermine religion, by making an unhappy separation and divorce between godliness and morality, between faith and the virtues of a good life; and by this means, not only to weaken and abate, but even wholly to destroy, the force and efficacy of the Christian religion, and to leave men as much under the power of the devil and their lusts, as if there were no such thing as Christianity in the world. But let us not deceive ourselves; this was always religion, and the condition of our acceptance with God, to endeavour to be like God in purity and holiness, in justice and righteousness, in mercy and goodness, “to cease to do evil, and to learn to do well.” And this you will find to be the constant doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, from the beginning of the Bible to the end. (Gen. iv. 7.) “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” (Psalm xv. 1, 2.) “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell upon thy holy hill? he that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth from his heart.” (Psal. l. 23.) “To him that ordereth his 14conversation aright, will I shew the salvation of God.” (Isa. i. 16-18.) “Wash ye, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isa. iii. 10, 11.) “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” (Micah vi. 8.) “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
And our blessed Saviour, in his sermon upon the mount, tells us plainly what manner of persons we must be, if ever we hope to be happy, and to enter into the kingdom of God; and wherein his religion consists, in righteousness, and purity, and meekness, and patience, and peaceableness; and declares most expressly, that if we hope for happiness upon any other terms than the practice of these virtues, we build upon the sand. (Acts x. 34.) “Of a truth I perceive, (says St. Peter there,) that God is no respecter of persons; but, in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Gal. vi. 7, 8.) “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.” (Eph. v. 6.) “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh 15the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” (1 John iii. 7.) “Little children, let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” And here in the text, “This is a faithful saying,” &c. “These things are good and profitable to men,” acceptable to God, and honourable to religion, and the only way and means to eternal life, through the mercy and merits of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord, and Saviour.16
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