« PreviousContinue »
doctrines of grace to encourage themselves in a careless licentious life, does at large convince them of the necessity of holiness, as the fruit and evidence of a true and saving faith, and the means to qualify them for the kingdom of heaven. He therefore puts them upon examining into the truth of their faith, and foundation of their hope, and shows them, by the arguments already considered, what alone will justify their profession of faith, and give them good grounds to conclude the safety of their state.
They, therefore, who over-magnify works, and depend upon them as the condition of their justification before God, are admonished by the apostle Paul to consider, that they are building upon the sand, and that they must renounce their false confidence, or perish. “For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified: and if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." This solemn truth does indeed, Sir, call for your earnest attention.
On the other hand, they who depreciate good works, and neglect them as of no consequence to eternal salvation, are called upon by the apostle James to consider, how empty their profession, how dead their faith, and how vain their hope of salvation is. For if men may go to heaven without holipess, why may not the devils go there too, who have faith, such as it is, as well as they? We must have a living faith, or a dead hope. Our faith must purify our hearts, and renew our conversations, or leave us among the impure and ungodly for ever. cerns every one, therefore, “ so to speak, and so to do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty."
Upon the whole, then, as you are taught by the one Apostle how dangerous it is to build upon any other foundation than Christ only; for Christ Jesus is our hope; and “ other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus:" so are you admonished by the other Apostle, that you can have no interest in Christ, nor title to his salvation, but by a faith which purifies the heart, works by love, and is justified by a subsequent life of holiness and new obedience.
The extremes, on both sides of the question, are equally dangerous. He that joins good works with faith as equally the terms of justification before God, virtually rejects the Saviour's sufficiency, substitutes his own righteousness in the room of the righteousness of God, and consequently his expectations must perish. He that separates good works from faith, in his life and conversation, as though they were not requisite to salvation, will be found very unfit for the heavenly world, when the decree brings forth, “ He that is filthy, let him be filthy still.”
Suffer me, then, to conclude, Sir, with an earnest entreaty, that, as you love your soul, you would leave off unprofitable disputes, and not distract your mind, and carry away your thoughts from practical godliness, by such an earnest application to these controverted points: but see to it, that you come to the footstool of divine grace, as a lost, unworthy, perishing sinner; that you depend only upon the riches of God's free sovereign grace to draw you to Christ, and give you an interest in him; that you look to Christ Jesus alone for righteousness and strength, and cheerfully trust in him as a safe foun
dation of confidence and hope. See to it, that the life which you live in the flesh be by the faith of the Son of God; and as you look to his righteousness only for the safety of your state, so likewise repair by faith to his fulness for all supplies of grace, whereby you may make a progress in holiness.
See to it, that you do not quiet your conscience with a dead faith ; but always remember, that “he who hath this hope in Christ, purifies himself even as he is pure;” and that as your person cannot be justified but by faith in Christ, so your faith cannot be justified but by a careful diligence in maintaining good works. Having, therefore, “ with the heart believed unto righteousness," be you, in an humble dependence upon Christ, "steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; and your labour will not be in vain in the Lord.”
That you may be kept by the power of God through faith, and receive the end of your faith, the salvation of your soul, is the prayer of,
IN WHAT RESPECT GOOD WORKS ARE NECESSARY,
AND OUR OBLIGATIONS TO THEM REPRESENTED
Your observation is just, that “ it would be unsuitable and upseasonable to make apologies for this
further trouble, (as you are pleased to call it), after I have given you so many assurances of my
cheerful readiness to contribute all in my power to your best interest." Indeed, Sir, I have found nothing troublesome in the whole progress of our correspondence, excepting some dark apprehensions of late, lest you would "frustrate the grace of God," in "seeking righteousness, not by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law." But it now greatly animates my endeavours to serve you, to find those fears on my part so happily removed, by finding “ the difficulties on your part obviated, in that important point, and you satisfied with respect to the foundation of your hope." I am sensible that the principles which I have been pleading for, are “commonly loaded with opprobrious invectives, as being destructive of a holy life, and subversive of morality and godliness.” But I think I have already given you sufficient evidence, that all these insinuations are mere calumnies; and that there is no other possible foundation, than what I have represented to you, for a life of true holiness and piety. I appeal to your own observation and experience, whether in general there be any that live more holy lives, and more honour their profession, than they who most strictly adhere to the doctrine of special grace, and depend upon Christ alone for righteousness and strength : and whether they, on the contrary, who depend upon their good works for a title to the divine favour, do not too commonly show the weakness of their foundation, by the carelessness and unfruitfulness of their lives.
The question which you propose is, however,
worthy of a distinct consideration :- How far and in what respects are our good works necessary to salvation ?"
In order to give you a proper view of this case, it will be needful to answer this question both negatively and positively; or to show you wherein our good works ought to have no place, nor be at all looked to or depended upon; and then to show you wherein good works ought to have place, and in what respect they are necessary to every Christian indeed, that would 'entertain a well-grounded hope of eternal life.
In my negative answer to this question, I must first observe, that we are not to do good works in order to change God's purposes and designs towards us, or to excite bis benevolence and compassion to
I suspect it is too common a.case, for men to depend upon their penitent frames, their duties, their reformations, their works of charity, or other religious exercises, as what will excite affections, passions, or compassions in the glorious God, correspondent to what they find in themselves; and thence, when conscience upbraids the sinner for his past provocations to God, he hopes to appease his displeasure by his remorse, by his duties, or by his more careful future conduct; and now 6 he is delivered to do all these abominations,” his account is balanced, and he begins upon a new score.
Thence it is, that his hopes and fears bear proportion to his frames and carriages. Every serious pang, every religious duty or moral practice, which his conscience approves, will raise his dejected hopes, and give him comforting expectations of the divine favour. But