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God (a).”—“They that are in the flesh (that is, who are not purified by the spiritual religion of Christ) cannot please God (b).”
Bishop Burnet makes a distinction, which sets the doctrine of this article in a clear point of view: “ A great difference is here to be made between an external action, as it is considered in itself, and the same action as it was done by such a man. An action is called good from the morality and nature of the action itself: so actions of justice and charity are in themselves good, whatsoever the doer of them may be; but actions are considered by God with relation to him that does them in another light; his principles, ends, and motives, with all the other circumstances of the action, come into this account; for unless all these be good, let the action in its own abstracted nature be ever so good, it cannot render the doer acceptable or meritorious in the sight of God.”
Nor can these works possess such degree of merit, as of themselves to MAKE MEN MEET, or worthy, TO RECEIVE GRACE, OR (AS THE SCHOOL AUTHORS SAY) GRACE OF CONGRUITY. All grace is the free gift of our heavenly Father, for “ the love of God our Saviour towards man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he
- saved ra) Heb. c. 11. v.6. (6) Rom. c. 8. v.8.
saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (c).” The school divines, or schoolmen, as they are called, speak of two sorts of merit, the merit of condignity and the merit of congruity; the former they ascribe to works which men do by the assistance of grace, and to which they assert that a reward is in justice due; the latter they ascribe to such works as men do by mere strength of free-will, and which are to be rewarded only out of liberality (d). We find no such distinction in the Scriptures; they teach us in general to consider man as incapable of doing any thing which shall be entitled to reward, except through the mercy of God, and for the sake of Christ.
Indeed, so great and universal a depravity is introduced into the dispositions of men in consequence of the fall of Adam, that they can in no instance of themselves act as their Creator originally commanded; and therefore, as in all their works performed without divine assistance, there is a departure from the will of God, WE
DOUBT (c) Tit. c. 3. v.4 and 5.
(d) Mereri ex condigno, est mereri sic, ut secundum justitiam sibi debeatur, ita quod injustum esset non reddi mercedem merito ex condigno. Opus cui ex justitia non debetur merces, sed tantum ex congruitate quadam, vel ex sola acceptantis liberalitate. Caietan.
DOUBT NOT BUT THEY HAVE THE NATURE OF SIN.
It is the will of God that we should act upon the motives which Christianity proposes to our actions, and no others; and every resistance to his will and command hath surely “ the nature of sin.” It is a principle of morals and legislation universally admitted, that actions are as their motives, and upon this principle the article now under consideration chiefly turns. Besides, it is not likely that if our motives be wrong, our actions should continue right, though they may incidentally be so. Actions are of a transitory, motives of a permanent, nature.
It is evident that this article, which is founded upon the general doctrine of original sin, explained in the ninth article, applies also to all persons who have not lived under the Gospel dispensation. But though their works, as being DONE BEFORE THE GRACE OF CHRIST, AND THE INSPIRATION OF HIS SPIRIT, could not have been perfectly pleasing to God, and could not have risen to the standard of merit, yet as men, even in their natural condition, may, in some measure, resist the lusts of the flesh, withstand temptations to evil, and do things good and laudable when compared with their powers and faculties, we may rest assured that such
conduct will be favourably accepted by a just and merciful God, who will judge mankind according to the degrees of instruction, and opportunities of improvement, which have been respectively afforded them; “ If there be a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that a man hath not (e).” And, therefore, though all the actions of all persons, who have not been brought to the know. ledge of Christ, are here pronounced to have the nature of sin, it by no means follows that these actions will, in all cases, exclude men from pardon and salvation. Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and not solely for that small portion of it, which has been favoured with the light of his religion. Millions who never heard the name of Jesus, but who have been “ a law unto themselves (f ),” will be redeemed and blessed for ever through the merits of his death, while those who have professed themselves his disciples, but“ have held the truth in unrighteousness (8),” will suffer“ indignation and wrath, .tribulation and anguish, denounced against every soul of man that doeth evil (h),” whether he be Jew, Gentile, or Chris
(e) 2 Cor. c. 8. v. 12. (f) Rom. c. 2. v. 14. (g) Rom. c. 1. v. 18. (h) Rom. c. 2. v. 8 and 9.
tian; and all this is consistent with the opinion, that the true church of Christ will hereafter be rewarded with appropriate blessings. But we must ever bear in mind, that to whom much is given, of him much will be required: a more exalted virtue, and a greater purity of heart, will be expected from Christians, in proportion to the advantages which they have enjoyed. We are to be“ a peculiar people, zealous of good works;" we are to “ sanctify ourselves as the temples of God;" we are to “ depart from all iniquity;" and to aim at being “ perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect.” And this degree of superiority, which requires incessant watchfulness and constant energy, will be rewarded by “ the prize of our high calling in Christ.”