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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.
I COME now to the second thing I proposed, which was, to answer an objection or two, to which the preaching of this kind of doctrine may seem liable.
First, That this is to advance and set up morality.
Secondly, That this seems to contradict St. Paul’s doctrine of “justification by the free grace of God in Jesus Christ, and by faith without the works of the law.” I shall endeavour to answer both these.
First, That this is to advance and set up morality. To which I answer two things:
I. That if by morality men mean counterfeit virtue, and the specious show of justice, and charity, and meekness, or any other virtue, without the truth and reality of them, without an inward principle of love to God and goodness, out of ostentation and vain-glory, or for some other bye and sinister end, such as probably were the virtues of many heathens, and it is to be feared of too many Christians; if this be that which the objectors mean by morality, then we do assure them, that we preach up no such morality, but those virtues only which are sincere, 17and substantial, and real, the principle and root whereof is the love of God and goodness, and the end the honour and glory of God, and a necessary ingredient whereof is sincerity and truth. It is “righteousness and true holiness,” the sincere love of God and our neighbour, real meekness, and patience, and humility, and sobriety, and chastity, and not the glittering show and appearance, the vain and affected ostentation, of any of these virtues, which we persuade and press men so earnestly to endeavour after.
Not that I believe that all virtues of the heathen were counterfeit and destitute of an inward principle of goodness; God forbid that we should pass so hard a judgment upon those excellent men, Socrates, and Epictetus, and Antoninus, and several others, who sincerely endeavoured to live up to the light and law of nature, and took so much pains to cultivate and raise their minds, to govern and subdue the irregularity of their sensual appetites and brutish passions, to purify and refine their manners, and to excel in all virtue and goodness. These were glorious lights in those dark times, and so much the better for being good under so many disadvantages, as the ignorance and prejudice of their education, the multitude of evil examples continually in their view, and the powerful temptation of the contrary customs and fashions of the generality of mankind.
Nor were they wholly destitute of an inward principle of goodness; for though they had not that powerful grace and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit which is promised and afforded to all sincere Christians (as neither had the Jews, who were the peculiar people of God, and in covenant with him), yet it is very credible, that such persons were under a 18special care and providence of God, and not wholly destitute of Divine assistance, no more than Job and his friends, mentioned in the Old Testament, and Cornelius in the New, who surely were very good men, and accepted of God, though they were gentiles, and “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise:” but yet not excluded from the blessing of the Messias, though they were ignorant of him, as many of the Jews likewise were, nor from the benefit of that great propitiation, which in the fulness of time he was to make for the sins of the whole world.
So that there is no need so uncharitably to conclude (as some of the ancients have done, not all, nor the most ancient of them neither), that there were no good men among the heathen, and that the brightest of their virtues were counterfeit, and only in show and appearance. For there might be several good men among the gentiles, in the same condition that Cornelius was before he became a Christian; of whom it is said, whilst he was yet a gentile, that “he was a devout man, and feared God, and that his prayer and his alms were accepted of God;” a certain sign that they were not counterfeit. And if he had died in that condition, before Christ had been revealed to him, I do not see what reasonable cause of doubt there can be concerning his salvation; and yet it is a most certain and inviolable truth, “that there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus; neither is there salvation in any other.” And good men in all ages and nations from the beginning of the world, both before the law, and under the law, and without the law, such as “feared God, and wrought righteousness,” were accepted of him 19in that name, and by the meritorious sacrifice of that Lamb of God, which, in respect of the virtue and efficacy of it, is said to have been “slain from the foundation of the world.”
II. But if by moral virtues be meant those which concern the manners of men, from whence they seem to have taken their name, and which are in truth the duties commanded and enjoined by the natural or moral law, and are comprehended under those two great commands (as our blessed Saviour calls them), the love of God, and our neighbour; I say, if this be the meaning of it, then we do advance this kind of morality, as that which is the primary and substantial part of all religion, and most strictly enjoined by the Christian. To which purpose our Saviour tells us, (Matt. v. 17.) that he was not “come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them.” And, (ver. 19.) “Whosoever therefore shall break one of the least of these commandments, and teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven;” that is, under the dispensation of the gospel. So that this is a principal part of the Christian religion, to teach and practise the duties of the moral law. This the pharisees were defective in, placing their religion in external and little things, but neglecting the great duties of morality, “the weightier matters of the law, mercy, and judgment, and fidelity, and the love of God.” And therefore he adds, (ver. 20.) “I say unto you, except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” It is not possible in more express and emphatical words to enjoin the observation 20of the duties of the moral law. And then for that great principle and rule of moral justice, “To do to all men, as we would have them to do to us;” our Saviour enjoins it as an essential part of religion, and the sum and substance of our whole duty to our neighbour, and of all the particular precepts contained in the law and the prophets. (Matt. vii. 12.) “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” And St. Paul most expressly declares, that he was so far from weakening or making void the obligation of the law by his doctrine of justification by faith, that he did thereby confirm and establish it: (Rom. iii. 31.) “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law.”
So that moral duties and virtues are the same with Christian graces, and with that holiness and righteousness which the gospel requires, and differ only in name and notion. They are called virtues, with relation to the intrinsical nature and goodness of them; and graces, with respect to the principle from which they flow, being the fruits and effects of the gracious operation of the Spirit of God upon our minds. And it hath been a very ill service to religion, to decry morality as some have done, not considering that moral duties are of primary obligation, and bound upon us by the law of nature; and that Christianity hath reinforced and seconded the obligation of them by more powerful motives and encouragements. But I proceed to the
Second objection; viz. That this discourse seems to be contrary to St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by the free grace of God in Jesus Christ, by faith, without the works of the law.21
To which I answer, that St. Paul, when he does so vehemently and frequently assert justification by the free grace of God, and by faith, without the works of the law, does not thereby exclude the necessity of works of righteousness, and obedience to the moral precepts of the gospel, as the condition of our continuance in the favour of God, and of our final and perfect justification and absolution by the sentence of the great day; but, on the contrary, does every where declare the necessity of a holy and virtuous life to this purpose. And this is most plainly the tenor and current of his doctrine throughout all his epistles. But whenever he contends that “we are justified by faith without works,” he denies one of these three things:
1. That the observation of the law of Moses is necessary to our justification and salvation. And this he does in opposition to those who troubled the Christian church, by teaching that it was still necessary to Christians to keep the law of Moses; and that unless they did so, they could not be saved; of which we have a full account given, Acts xv. And this for the most part is the meaning of that assertion, so frequent in his Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, that “we are not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Christ.” And this is very evident from the tenor of his reasoning about this matter, in which he does so frequently urge this argument, and insist so strongly upon it; viz. that men were justified before the law of Moses was given, for which he instances in Abraham, and therefore the observance of that law cannot be necessary to a man’s justification and salvation.
2. Sometimes he, in his discourse upon this argument, denies the merit of any works of obedience 22and righteousness to gain the favour and acceptance of God; so that we cannot challenge any thing of God “as of debt, and as a ground of boasting,” but we owe all to the free grace and mercy of God; and when we have done our best, have done but our duty. And this he likewise frequently insists upon in his Epistle to the Romans, in opposition to an arrogant opinion, common among the Jews, of the merit of good works, and that God was indebted to them for their obedience. In this sense, he says, (Rom. iv. 4.) “Now to him that worketh is the reward reckoned, not of grace but of debt;” that is, he that claims justification and the reward of eternal life, as due to him for his obedience, does not ascribe it to the free grace of God, but challengeth it as a debt due to him.
3. Sometimes he denies the necessity of any works of righteousness, antecedently to our first justification, and being received into a state of grace and favour with God; and asserts, on the contrary, that by the faith of Christ, and sincerely embracing the Christian religion, men are justified: and though they were never so great sinners before, all their past sins are forgiven, and God is perfectly reconciled to them. In which sense he says, (chap. iv. 5.) that “God justifies the ungodly” upon their believing. So that, whatever sins they were guilty of before, and though they never did any one good action in their lives, yet, if they sincerely embrace the Christian religion, and thereby engage themselves to reform their lives, and to obey the precepts of the gospel for the future, God will there upon receive them into his favour, and pardon the sins of their former lives. And in this Epistle to Titus, (chap. iii. 5. 7. immediately before the text) 23 “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and by the renewing of the Holy Ghost: that, being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life;” that is, though their former life had been very bad, (as he describes it before, ver. 3. “For we ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice, and envy, and hatred of one another;”) I say, notwithstanding this, though they had clone no works of righteousness, but on the contrary, yet, upon their solemn profession of Christianity at their baptism, and declaration of their repentance, and engagements to live better, they were justified freely by God’s grace, and saved by his mercy. But then he does not say, that, after this solemn profession of Christianity, works of righteousness were not necessary, to continue them in this state of grace and favour with God, but quite contrary; he plainly declares the necessity of them in the very next words; “This is a faithful saying,” &c.
And the consideration of this will fully reconcile the seeming difference between St. Paul and St. James, in this matter of justification. St. Paul affirms, that a sinner is at first justified and received into the favour of God, by a sincere profession of the Christian faith, without any works of righteousness preceding. St. James affirms, that no man continues in a justified state, and in favour with God, whose faith doth not bring forth good works, and that it is not a true and lively faith which doth not approve and shew itself to be so, by the works of obedience and a good life. (James ii. 14.) “What doth it profit a man, my brethren, if a man say that 24he hath faith, and hath not works; can faith save him?” And, (ver. 17.) “Faith if it have not works is dead, being alone.” And (ver. 20.) he repeats it again, “Know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead.” And (ver. 22.) speaking of Abraham, “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” And, (ver. 26.) “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” The sum and result of all which is this: that though we be justified at first by faith without works preceding, yet faith without good works following it will not finally justify and save us; nay, indeed, that faith which does not bring forth the fruits of a good life, was never a true, and living, and perfect faith; but pretended, and dead, and imperfect, and therefore can justify no man; and he that hath only such a faith does but make an empty and ineffectual profession, but is really destitute of the true faith of the gospel.
And this is agreeable to that explication which was given by our first reformers here in England, of the nature of justifying faith. “That it is not a mere persuasion of the truths of natural and revealed religion, but such a belief as begets a submission to the will of God, and hath hope, love, and obedience to God’s commandments joined to it. That this is the faith which in baptism is professed, from which Christians are called the faithful; and that, in those Scriptures where it is said we are justified by faith, we may not think that we be justified by faith, as it is a separate virtue from hope and charity, the fear of God and repentance; but by it is meant faith, neither only nor alone, but with the aforesaid virtues, containing an engagement of obedience to the whole doctrine and religion of Christ. 25And that although all that are justified, must of necessity have charity as well as faith, yet neither faith nor charity are the worthiness and merit of our justification, but that is to be ascribed only to our Saviour Christ, who was offered upon the cross for our sins, and rose again for our justification;” as may be seen more at large in a treatise published at the beginning of our Reformation, upon this and some other points. And I do not see what can be said upon this point with more clearness and weight.
All the application I shall make of this discourse shall be briefly this; that if we be convinced of the necessity of the virtues of a good life to all that profess themselves Christians, we would seriously and in good earnest set about the practice of them; if “this be a faithful saying,” then I am sure it greatly concerns us to be careful of our lives and actions, and that “our conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ;” because if this be true there is no possible way to reconcile a wicked life, no, nor a wilful neglect and violation of any of the du ties and laws of Christianity, with the hopes of heaven and eternal life. In this the Scripture is positive and peremptory, that “every man that hath this hope in him, must purify himself even as he is pure;” that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord:” but “if we have our fruit unto holiness, our end shall be everlasting life.”
And here I might particularly recommend to your careful practice, the great virtues of Christianity; those which St. Paul tells us are the proper and genuine “fruits of the Spirit of Christ, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, temperance,” But I have not time to insist particularly upon them. I shall content myself 26 briefly to mention those duties, which the apostle in this Epistle doth more especially press upon the several conditions and relations of men. Those who are teachers and instructors of others, that they would not only be careful to “preach sound doctrine,” but “in all things to shew themselves patterns of good works.” Those who are subject to others, and under their government, that they would pay all duty and obedience to their superiors, as children to their parents, servants to their masters; that they may “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things,” as the apostle speaks, (chap. ii. ver. 10.) And so likewise, those who are subjects, that they live in all peaceable and humble obedience to princes and magistrates. This our apostle speaks of as a great duty of Christian religion, and reckons it among good works; (chap. iii. 1.) “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates, and to be ready to every good work.”
And then those who are of an inferior condition, that they labour and be diligent in the work of an honest calling, for this is privately good and profitable unto men and to their families; and those who are above this necessity, and are in a better capacity, to maintain good works, properly so called, works of piety, and charity, and justice; that they be careful to promote and advance them, according to their power and opportunity, because these things are publicly good and beneficial to mankind. “And besides this, (as St. Peter exhorts, 2 Pet. i. 5, 6, &c.)—And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; 27and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren, nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins;” that is, doth not consider that the design of Christianity is to renew and reform the hearts and lives of men. “Wherefore the rather, brethren (as he goes on), give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
I will conclude all with that excellent saying of St. Paul in this Epistle to Titus, which so fully declares to us the great design, and the proper efficacy of the Christian doctrine upon the minds and manners of men; (chap ii. 11-13.) “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness, and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world: looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearance of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
“To whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all glory and honour now and for ever. Amen.”28
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