THIRTY-THIRD LORD’S DAY.
Question 91. But what are good works?
Answer. Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory, and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.
The doctrine concerning good works belongs properly to this Question of the Catechism, concerning which we must enquire particularly:
Good works are such as are performed according to the law of God, such as proceed from a true faith, and are directed to the glory of God. Three things, therefore, claim our attention in the exposition of this question: 1. The conditions necessary to constitute a work good in the sight of God. 2. The difference between the works of the regenerate and the unregenerate. 3. In what respect, or how far the moral works of the ungodly are sins.
First, that a work may be good and pleasing in the sight of God these three conditions are necessary: 1. It must be commanded by God. No creature has the right, or power to institute the worship of God. But good works (we speak of moral good) and the worship of God are the same. Moral good differs widely from natural good, inasmuch as all actions, in as far as they are actions, including even those of the wicked, are naturally good; but all actions are not morally good, or in accordance with the justice of God. This condition excludes all will-worship, as well as the figment of good intentions, as when men do evil that good may come, or when they perform works founded upon their own imaginations, which they endeavor to thrust upon God in the place of worship, which, indeed, are not evil in themselves, but yet are not commanded by God. It is not sufficient for the worship of God, that a work be not evil, or not prohibited: it must also be commanded by God, according to what the Scriptures declare, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” “Walk in my statutes.” “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (1 Sam. 15:22. Ez. 20:19. Matt. 15:9.)
But some one may object and say, that works of indifference, such as may be done, or left undone, are not commanded by God, and yet many of them are pleasing to him; to which we reply that they are not pleasing to God in themselves, but by an accident, in as far as they partake of the general nature of love, and in as far as they are performed for the purpose of avoiding offence, and for the sake of contributing to the salvation of our fellow men. In this respect they are commanded by God in general, although not specially.
2. That a work may be good it must proceed from a true faith, which rests upon the merit and intercession of Christ, and from which we may know that we, together with our works, are acceptable to God for the sake of the mediator. To do any thing from a true faith is, 1. To believe that we are acceptable to God for the sake of the satisfaction of Christ. 2. That our obedience itself is pleasing to God, both because it is commanded by him, and because the imperfection which attaches itself to it is made acceptable to God for the sake of the same satisfaction of Christ on account of which God is well pleased with us. Without faith it is impossible for any one to please God. Nor is the faith, by which any one may assure him self, that God wills and commands any particular work sufficient; for if this were all that is necessary, then the wicked, who know and do what God wills, would also act from faith. To act from a true faith, however, includes much more than this, because it includes in itself historical faith, and what is the most important of all, it applies unto itself the promise of .the gospel. The Scriptures speak of this true faith in the following references: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Rom. 14:23. Heb. 11:6.) Nor is it difficult to perceive the reason and force of what is here affirmed; because without faith there is no love to God, and consequently no love to our neighbor.
Every work now that does not proceed from love to God is hypocrisy, yea a reproach and contempt of God; for he who has the presumption to do any thing, whether it be pleasing to God or not, despises God, and casts a reproach upon him. Nor is it possible for us to have a good conscience without faith; and what is not done with a good conscience cannot please God.
3. That a work may be good, it must be referred principally to the honor and glory of God. Honor embraces love, reverence, obedience and gratitude. Hence, to do any thing to the honor of God, is to do it, that we may testify our love, reverence and obedience to God, and that for the sake of showing our thankfulness for the benefits which we have received. There is a necessity that our works, in order that they may be good and acceptable to God, should be referred to the divine glory, and not to our own praise or advantage; otherwise they will not proceed from the love of God, but from a desire to advance our own selfish interests, and will thus be mere hypocrisy. God must, therefore, be respected first whenever we do any thing: nor must we care what men may say, whether they praise or reproach us, if we have the assurance that we please God in what we do, according to what the Apostle says, “Do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31.) Yet we may at the same time lawfully and profitably desire and seek true glory, according as it is written, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16.)
Briefly, faith is required in good works, because if we are not firmly persuaded that our works are pleasing to God, they proceed from contempt of God. The divine command is necessary, because faith has respect to the word of God. Inasmuch, therefore, as there cannot be any faith apart from the word, there can likewise be no good works independent of it. Finally, it is necessary that whatever we do, be referred to the glory of God, because, if we seek our own praise, or advantage in what we do, our works cannot please God.
By these conditions we exclude from the category of good works all those works, 1. Which are sins in themselves, being contrary to the di vine law, and the will of God as revealed in his word. 2. Also those which are not opposed to the divine law, which in themselves are neither good nor evil, being actions of indifference, but which may, nevertheless, become evil by an accident. For works which are not opposed to the divine law, and which are not commanded by God, but by men, become evil and sinful when they are done with the conceit and expectation of worshipping God, or with offence and injury to our neighbor. Works of this character are deficient as it respects the first two conditions which we have specified as being indispensably necessary to constitute an action good in the sight of God. 3. Those works which are good in themselves, and which are commanded by God; but which, nevertheless, become sins by accident, in that they are not performed lawfully, not being done in the manner, nor with the design which God requires; that is, they do not proceed from a true faith, and are not done with the end that God may be glorified thereby. Works of this character are deficient in the last two conditions specified as necessary in order that our action may be pleasing to God.
Secondly , the works of the regenerate and the unregenerate differ, in this, that the good works of the regenerate are done according to the conditions which we have here specified; whilst those of the unregenerate, although God may have commanded them, do, nevertheless, not proceed from faith, and are not joined with internal obedience; but are done with out sincerity, and are, therefore, works of hypocrisy: and, as they do not spring from a right cause, which is faith, so they are nor directed to the glory of God which is the chief end to which all our actions ought to be referred. The actions of the unregenerate do not, therefore, deserve to be called good works.
Thirdly, the difference which exists between the works of the righteous and the wicked, goes to prove that the moral works of the wicked are sins, but yet not such sins as those which are in their own nature op posed to the law of God: for these are sins in themselves, and according to their very nature, whilst the moral works of the wicked are sins merely by an accident; viz., on account of some defect, either because they do not proceed from a true faith, or are not done to the glory of God. This consequence, therefore, is of no force: The good works of the heathen and such as are unregenerate, are sins. Therefore they are all to be avoided and condemned: this consequence, we say, is not legitimate, because it is only the defects which attach themselves to these works, that are to be avoided and guarded against, as we have shown, in the former part of this work, when treating the subject of sin.
II. HOW MAY GOOD WORKS BE PERFORMED?
The explanation of this question is necessary on account of the Pelagians, who affirm that the unregenerate may also, as well as the regenerate, perform good works; and also on account of the Papists and semi- Pelagians who imagine certain preparatory works of free-will. Good works are possible only by the grace and assistance of the Holy Spirit, and that by the regenerate alone, whose hearts have been truly regenerated by the Spirit of God, through the preaching of the gospel, and that not only in their first conversion and regeneration, but also by the perpetual and constant influence and direction of the same Spirit, who works in them a knowledge of sin, faith and a desire of new obedience, and also daily increases and confirms more and more the same gifts in them. St. Jerome endorses this doctrine when he says, “Let him be accursed, who says that it is possible to render obedience to the law, without the grace of the Holy Spirit” Without the grace and continual direction of the Holy Spirit, even the most holy persons on earth can do nothing but sin, as is evident from the examples of David, Peter, and others. Yea, without re generation, no part of any work that is good in the sight of God, can ever be begun, inasmuch as we are all by nature evil and dead in sin. (Matt. 7:11. Eph. 2:1.) “All our righteousnesses,” says the prophet Isaiah, in which declaration he comprehends both himself and the most holy amongst men, “are as filthy rags.” (Is. 64:6.) Now if nothing but sin is found before God in the saints, what will that be which is found in those who are unregenerated? What good these are able to perform, the apostle Paul describes in a most graphic manner, in the first and second chapters of his Epistle to the Romans. That the unregenerate are unable to perform such works as are acceptable to God, is also taught in the following passages of Scripture: “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” “Without me ye can do nothing.” “It is God, which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Matt. 7:18. Jer. 13:23. John, 15:5. Phil. 2:13.) Without the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, we are altogether unclean and abominable in the sight of God, and all our works are as dung. But the righteousness of Christ is not imputed unto us before our conversion. It is impossible, therefore, either that we, or our works should be pleasing to God before our conversion. Faith is the cause of good works. Faith comes from God: Therefore good works which are the fruits of faith, are from God; neither can they be before faith and conversion, or else the effect would be before its cause. It is asked by some, in connection with this subject, are there not works that are preparatory to conversion? To which we reply, that if by preparatory works are meant such as are the occasion of repentance, or which God uses for the purpose of effecting repentance in us, which may be said to be true of the outward deportment and discipline of the life, in as far as it is in accordance with the divine law; hearing, reading and meditating upon the word of God; also the cross, and adverse circumstances; if such works as these are meant, we may admit that there are such works as are preparatory. But if by preparatory works are meant works which are performed according to the law before conversion, by which, as by men s good efforts, God is enticed and moved to grant true conversion, as well as his other gifts, to those who do these things, we deny that there are any such works; because, according to the declaration of the Apostle Paul, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23.) The Papists call such works merits of congruity, as if they would say that they are indeed such as are imperfect in themselves and deserve nothing, but on ac count of which it may seem proper for the mercy of God to grant unto men conversion and eternal life. But God hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and not upon those who deserve mercy. (Rom. 9:18.) No one deserves anything of God, but punishment, and banishment from his presence. “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; for we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10.)
III. ARE THE WORKS OF THE REGENERATE PERFECTLY GOOD?
The works of the saints are not perfectly good or pure in this life: 1. Because even those who are regenerated do many things which are evil, which are sins in themselves, on account of which they are guilty in the sight of God, and deserve to be cast into everlasting punishment. Thus, Peter denied Christ thrice; David committed adultery, slew Uriah, at tempted to conceal his wickedness, numbered the children of Israel, &c. The law now declares, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” (Deut. 27:26.). 2. Because they omit doing many good things which they ought to do according to the law. 3. Because the good works which they perform are not so perfectly good and pure as the law requires; for they are always marred with defects, and polluted with sins. The perfect righteousness which the law requires is wanting, even in the best works of the saints. The reason of this is easily understood, inasmuch as faith, regeneration, and the love of God and our neighbor, from which good works proceed, continue imperfect in us in this life. As the cause is, therefore, imperfect, it is impossible that the effects which flow from this cause should be perfect. “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind.” (Rom. 7:23.) This is the reason why the works of the godly cannot stand in the judgment of God. “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” (Ps. 143:2. Deut. 27:26.) Inasmuch, there fore, as all our works are imperfect, it becomes us to acknowledge and lament our sinfulness and infirmity, and press forward so much the more towards perfection.
From what has now been said, it is evident that the figment, or conceit of the Monks in reference to works of supererogation by which they understand such works as are done over and above what God and the law require from them, is full of impiety; for it makes God a debtor to man. Yea, it is a blasphemous doctrine; for Christ himself has said: “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; for we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10.)
Obj. 1. But it is said, Luke 10:35: “Whatsoever thou spendest more, when I came again I will repay thee. 1 Therefore there are at least some works of supererogation. Ans. It is a sufficient reply to this objection to remark, that in the interpretation of parables we must be careful not to press every minute circumstance too closely: for that which is similar is not altogether the same. The Samaritan says, Whatsoever thou, spendest more, not in reference to God, but to the man that was bruised and. wounded.
Obj. 2. Paul says, 1 Cor. 7:25: “Concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, yet I give my judgment” Therefore judgment or advice may be given concerning things not commanded or required. Ans. But Paul s meaning is, I give my advice, that it is suitable and profitable for this life, but not that it merits eternal life.
Obj. 3. But Christ said, Matt. 19:21: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast,” &c. Therefore there are certain directions, which, being followed, make those who comply therewith perfect. Ana. This is a special command, by which Christ designed to call this proud young man to humility, to the love of his neighbor, and to the office of an apostle in Judea. We may also remark, that Christ did not require from him supererogation, but perfection; which requirement he made in order that he might bring him to see his great deficiency.
IV. HOW CAN OUR GOOD WORKS PLEASE GOD, SINCE THEY ARE ONLY IMPERFECTLY GOOD?
If our works were not pleasing to God, they would be performed to no purpose. We must, therefore, know in what way it is that they please God. As they are imperfect in. themselves, and defiled in many respects, they cannot of themselves please God, on account of his extreme justice and rectitude. Yet they are, nevertheless, acceptable to God in Christ the Mediator, through faith, or on account of the merit and satisfaction of Christ imputed unto us by faith, and on account of his intercession with the Father in our behalf. For just as we ourselves do not please God in ourselves, but in his Son, so our works being imperfect and unholy in themselves, are acceptable to God on account of the righteousness of Christ, which covers all their imperfection or impurity, so that it does not appear before God. It is necessary that the person who performs good works should be acceptable to God; then the works of the person are also accepted; otherwise, when the person is without faith, the best works are but an abomination before God, inasmuch as they are altogether hypocritical. As now the person is acceptable to God, so are the works. But the person is acceptable to God on account of the Mediator; that is, by the imputation of the merit and righteousness of Christ, with which the person is covered as with a garment in the presence of God. Hence the works of the person are also pleasing to God, for the sake of the Mediator. God does not look upon and examine our righteousness and imperfect works as they are in themselves, according to the rigor of his law in respect to which he would rather condemn them; but he beholds and considers them in his Son. It is for this reason that God is said to have had respect to Abel and his offering, viz: in his Son, in whom Abel believed; for it was by faith that he presented his sacrifice. (Gen. 4:4. Heb. 11:4.) So Christ is also called our High Priest, by whom our works are offered unto God. He is also called the altar, on which our prayers and works being placed, they are acceptable unto God, which otherwise would be detestable in his sight. It follows, therefore, that every defect and every imperfection respecting ourselves and our works is covered, and, as it were, repaired in the judgment of God, by the perfect satisfaction of Christ. It is in view .of this that Paul says, “That I may be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Phil. 3:9.)
V. WHY GOOD WORKS ARE TO BE DONE, OR WHY ARE THEY NECESSARY?
We have already, under the 86th question, enumerated certain moving causes of good works which properly belong here; such as the connection which holds necessarily between regeneration and justification, the glory of God, the proof of our faith and election, and a good example by which others are won to Christ. These causes may be very appropriately dwelt upon to a much greater extent, if, having reduced them to three principal heads, we say that good works are to be performed by us for the sake of God, ourselves and our neighbor.
1. Good works are to be done in respect to God, 1. That the glory of God our heavenly Father, may be manifested. The manifestation of the glory of God is the chief end why God commands and wills that good works should be performed by us, that we may honor him by our good works, and that others seeing them may glorify our Father which is in heaven, as it is said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16.)
2. That we may render unto God the obedience which he requires, or on account of the command of God. God requires the commencement of obedience in this life, and the perfection of it in the life to come. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another.” “This is the will of God even your sanctification.” “Being then made free from sin, ye be came the servants of righteousness.” “Yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” (John 15:12” 1 Thes. 4:3. Rom. 6:18, 13.)
3. That we may thus render unto God the gratitude which we owe unto him. It is just and proper that we should love, worship and reverence him by whom we have been redeemed, and from whom we have received the greatest benefits, and that we should declare our love and gratitude by our obedience and good works. God deserves our obedience and worship on account of the benefits which he confers upon us. We do not merit his benefits by anything that we do. Hence our gratitude, which shows itself by our obedience and good works, is due unto God for his great benefits. “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” “Ye are an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (Rom. 12:1. Pet. 2:5,9, 20.)
II. Good works are to be done on our own account, 1. That we may thereby testify our faith, and be assured of its existence in us by the fruits which we produce in our lives. “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.” “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, unto the praise and glory of God.” “Faith without works is dead.” (Matt. 7:17. Phil. 1:11. James 2:17.) It is by our good works, therefore, that we know that we possess true faith, because the effect is not without its own proper cause, which is always known by its effect; so that if we are destitute of good works and new obedience, we are hypocrites, and have an evil conscience instead of true faith; for true faith (which is never wanting in all the fruits which are peculiar to it,) as a fruitful tree produces good works, obedience and repentance; which fruits distinguish true faith from that faith which is merely historical and temporary, as well as from hypocrisy itself.
2. That we may be assured of the fact that we have obtained the forgiveness of sins through Christ, and that we are justified for his sake. Justification and regeneration are benefits which are connected and knit
together in such a way as never to be separated from each other. Christ obtained both for us at the same time, viz: the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit, who through faith excites in us the desire of good works and new obedience.
3. That we may be assured of our election and salvation. “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” (2 Pet. 1:10.) This cause naturally grows out of the preceding one; for God out of his mercy chose from everlasting only those who are justified on account of the merit of his Son. “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified.” (Rom. 8:30.) We are, therefore, assured of our election by our justification; and that we are justified in Christ, (which benefit is never granted unto the elect without sanctification,) we know from faith; of which we are, again, assured by the fruits of faith, which are good works, new obedience and true repentance.
4. That our faith may be exercised, nourished, strengthened and in creased by good works. Those who indulge in unclean lusts and desires against their consciences cannot have faith, and so are destitute of a good conscience and of confidence in God as reconciled and gracious; for it is only by faith that we obtain a sense of the divine favor towards us and a good conscience. “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” “I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee.” (Rom. 8:13. 2 Tim. 1:6.)
5. That we may adorn and commend our profession, life and calling by our good works. “I beseech you, that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” (Eph. 4:1.)
6. That we may escape temporal and eternal punishment. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” “If ye live after the flesh ye shall die.” “Thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity.” (Matt. 7:19. Rom. 8:13. Ps. 39:11.)
7. That we may obtain from God those temporal and spiritual rewards, which, according to the divine promise, accompany good works both in this and in a future life. “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8.) And if God did not desire that the hope of reward, and the fear of punishment should be moving causes of good works, he would not use them as arguments in the promises and threatenings which he addresses unto us in his word.
III. Good works are to be done for the sake of our neighbor , 1. That we may be profitable unto our neighbor, and edify him by our example and godly conversation. “All things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God,” &c. “Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” (2 Cor. 4:15. Phil. 1:24.)
2. That we may not be the occasion of offences and scandal to the cause of Christ. “Woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.” (Matt. 18:7. Rom. 2:24.)
3. That we may win the unbelieving to Christ. “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32.)
The question, whether good works are necessary to salvation, belongs properly to this place. There have been some who have maintained simply and positively, that good works are necessary to salvation, whilst others, again, have held that they are pernicious and injurious to salvation. Both forms of speech are ambiguous and inappropriate, especially the latter; because it seems not only to condemn confidence, but also the desire of performing good works. It is, therefore, to be rejected. The former ex pression must be explained in this way; that good works are necessary to salvation, not as a cause to an effect, or as if they merited a reward, but as a part of salvation itself, or as an antecedent to a consequent, or as a means without which we cannot obtain the end. In the same way we may also say, that good works are necessary to righteousness or justification, or in them that are to be justified, viz: as a consequence of justification, with which regeneration is inseparably connected. But yet we would prefer not to use these forms of speech, 1. Because they are ambiguous. 2. Because they breed contentions, and give our enemies room for caviling. 3. Because these expressions are not used in the Scriptures with which our forms of speech should conform as nearly as possible. We may more safely and correctly say, That good works are necessary in them that are justified, and that are to be saved. To say that good works are necessary in them that are to be justified, is to speak ambiguously, because it may be so understood as if they were required before justification, and so become a cause of our justification. Augustin has correctly said: “Good works do not precede them that are to be justified , but follow them that are justified” We may, therefore, easily return an answer to the following objection:
That is necessary to salvation without which no one can be saved. But no one who is destitute of good works can be saved, as it is said in the 87th question. Therefore, good works are necessary to salvation. We reply to the major proposition, by making the following distinction: That without which no one can be saved is necessary to salvation, viz: as a part of salvation, or as a certain antecedent necessary to salvation, in which sense we admit the conclusion; but not as a cause, or as a merit of salvation. We, therefore, grant the conclusion of the major proposition if understood in the sense in which we have just explained it. For good works are necessary to salvation, or, to speak more properly, in them that are to be saved (for it is better thus to speak for the sake of avoiding ambiguity,) as a part of salvation itself; or, as an antecedent of salvation, but not as a cause or merit of salvation.
VI. DO OUR GOOD WORKS MERIT ANY THING IN THE SIGHT OF GOD?
This question naturally grows out of the preceding one, as the fourth grew out of the third. For when we say that we obtain rewards from God by our own good works, men immediately conclude that our good works must merit something at the hands of God. We must know, therefore, that our good works are necessary, and that they are also to be done for the rewards which are consequent thereon; but that they are, nevertheless, not meritorious, by which we mean that they deserve nothing from God, not even the smallest particle of spiritual or temporal blessings. The reasons of this are most true and evident.
1. Our works are imperfect, both in respect to their parts and degrees. As it respects the parts of our works, they are imperfect, for the reason that we omit many good things which the law prescribes, and do many evil things which the law prohibits; and always mingle much that is evil with the good we do, as both Scripture and experience testify. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary, the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (Gal. 5:17.) Works, now, that are imperfect not only merit nothing, but are even condemned in the judgment of God. “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. (Deut. 27:26.) Our works are also imperfect in degree, because the best works of the saints are unclean and defiled in the sight of God, not being performed by those who are perfectly regenerated, nor with that love to God and our neighbor which the law requires. The prophet Isaiah declares even in reference to good works, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Is. 64:6.) So the apostle Paul passes the same judgment in regard to his own works, saying, “I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things; and do count them but dung that I may win Christ.” (Phil. 3:8.) It is in this way, now, that all the saints speak and judge concerning their own righteousness and merits.
2. No creature, performing even the best works, can merit any thing at the hand of God, or bind him to give any thing as though it were due from him, and according to the order of divine justice. The Apostle assigns the reason of this when he says, “Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again.” “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own.” (Rom. 11:35. Matt. 20:15. We deserve our preservation no more than we did our creation. God was not bound to create us; nor is he bound to preserve those whom he has created. But he did, and does, both of his own free-will and good pleasure. God receives no benefit from us, nor can we confer any thing upon our Creator. Now, where there is no benefit, there is no merit; for merit presupposes some benefit received.
3. Our works are all due unto God; for all creatures are bound to render worship and gratitude to the Creator, so that if we were even never to sin, yet we could not render unto God the worship and gratitude which is due from us. “When ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10.)
4. If we do any works which are good, these works are not ours, but God s, who produces them in us by his Holy Spirit. “It is God which work- eth in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” “What hast thou, that thou didst not receive?” (Phil. 2:13. 1 Cor. 4:7.) We are by nature the children of wrath dead in trespasses and sins evil trees, which cannot produce good fruit. (Eph. 2:1, 3. Matt. 7:18.) If we are by nature evil trees, God must by his grace make us good trees, and produce good fruit in us, as it is said; “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10.) Hence, if we perform any thing that is good, it is the gift of God, and not any merit on our part. It would, in deed, be foolish on the part of any one, if, when he were to receive a hundred florins as a present from a rich man, he should think he deserved a thousand for receiving the hundred, seeing that he is under obligations to the rich man for the gift which he has received, and not the rich man to him.
5. There is no proportion between our works, which are altogether im perfect, and those exceedingly great benefits which the Father freely grants unto us in his Son.
6. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31.) But if we deserve the remission of our sins by our good works, we should then have something whereof to glory; nor should we attribute the glory of our salvation to God, as it is said, “If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.” (Rom. 4:2.)
7. We are justified before we perform good works. “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger: As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Rom. 9:11-14.) We are, therefore, not justified before God at the time when we do good works, but we perform good works when we are justified.
8. The conceit of merit and justification by our good works is calculated to shake true Christian consolation, to disturb the conscience and lead men to doubt and despair in reference to their salvation. For when they hear the denunciation of the law, cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them, and consider their own imperfection, their conscience tells them that they can never perform all these things, so that they are continually led to cherish doubts, and to live in dread of the curse of the law. Faith, however, imparts sure and solid comfort to the conscience, because it grounds itself in the promise of God, which cannot disappoint the soul. “The inheritance is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.” (Rom. 4:16.)
9. If we were to obtain righteousness by our own works, the promise would then be made of none effect, and Christ would have died in vain.
10. If the conceit concerning the merit of good works be admitted, then there would not be one and the same method of salvation. Abraham and the Thief on the cross would have been justified differently, which might also be said of us. But there is only one way of salvation: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” “There is one Mediator between God and men.” “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.” “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (John 14:6. 1 Tim. 2:5. Eph. 4:5. Heb. 13:8. Acts 4:12.)
11. Christ would not accomplish the whole of our salvation, and thus would not be a perfect Saviour if any thing were to be added by us to our righteousness by way of merit; for there would be as much detracted from his merit as would be added thereto from our merit. But Christ is our perfect Saviour, as the Scriptures sufficiently testify. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” “Neither is there salvation in any other.” (Eph. 1:7; 2:8, 9. 1 John 1:7. Acts 4:12.)
Obj. Reward presupposes merit. God also calls those good things “which he promises, and grants unto them that perform good works, rewards. Therefore good works presuppose merit, and are meritorious in the sight of God. Ans. The major proposition, sometimes, holds true among men, but never with God; because no creature can merit any thing at the hands of God, seeing that he is indebted to no one. Yet they are, nevertheless, called the rewards of our good works in respect to God, because he, out of his mere grace, recompenses them. This recompense, however, is not due; for we can add nothing to God, neither does he stand in need of our works. Yea, something is rather added unto us by our good works; be cause they are a conformity of ourselves with God, and his benefits, by which we are bound to render gratitude to God, and not God to us. It is, therefore, not less absurd to say that we merit salvation at the hands of God, than if a certain one should say, Thou hast given me one hundred florins. Therefore thou oughtest to give me a thousand florins. Yet God commands us to perform good works, and promises a gracious reward to those who do them, as a father promises rewards to his children.
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