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EPHESIANS ii. 8, 9.
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.
IN my former discourse upon these words, I
endeavoured to shew, first, that faith in Christ is the only mean through which we can hope for salvation; and secondly, that true Christian faith cannot be attained without the assistance of God's holy spirit.
To prove the former of these two heads, I shewed you from the Holy Scriptures, that by the fall of Adam sin entered into the world, and corruption overspread the face of the whole earth; that this corruption called loudly upon the justice of God for satisfaction; which it was not in the power of man to give; that the only methods of atonement, which the wit of man could possibly
think of, were repentance and sacrifice, and that both these were totally insufficient to procure salvation that God, however, of his infinite mercy provided us with an effectual remedy, by sending his blessed Son from heaven, to make a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world; and consequently, that faith and confidence in his merits is the only medium, through which we can hope to obtain everlasting life.
To prove the latter of these heads, I shewed you, that as the heart of man is originally corrupt, and the will inclined unto evil continually, Christ must have died for us in yain, without some farther assistance; since it could have been of little service to us to be reinstated in God's favour, unless we were at the same time enabled to preserve that favour: that this assistance God has afforded to all Christians, by giving us his holy Spirit; to correct the wrong bias of our wills, to instruct and enlighten our hearts, to dispose them to faith and obedience, to strengthen them against the force of temptations, and to carry all these purposes into execution by co-ope rating with our prayers, and interceding for their acceptance at the throne of grace.
I now proceed, thirdly, to shew, that our works have no merit in themselves, and therefore all confidence in them, absolutely considered, is vain and presumptuous; agreeably to the doctrine of the text, "by grace are ye saved, through "faith: not of works, lest any man should "boast." Now to clear up this point, let us consider what is to be understood by the merit of an action: for an action to be meritorious, that is, to have a right to demand a reward from the hands of any being, it must be such an one as is not strictly due to that being; it must be of some service to him; it must be as profitable to him, as the expected reward is to us; or, at least, it must be a perfect work. If therefore we can make it appear, that our best works are due unto God, are of no manner of service to him, and of consequence bear not the least proportion to the reward proposed, and are too in themselves at best imperfect, then must all merit be absolutely excluded from the actions of men towards God. Now all of these particulars are as manifest from the light of nature, as they are from the declarations of Scripture itself.
As for the first; our Blessed Saviour instructs "when we have done all those things which are commanded us, to say, we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our
"duty to do." And surely, if we will listen to her dictates, reason teaches us the same lesson. For when we reflect, that God was under no obligation to call us forth into being at all; that when he had called us forth, all that could be required of his justice was to assign us as great a portion of happiness as misery, and to suffer no man to be positively unhappy, unless through his own fault; when we farther consider, that God is graciously pleased to superintend us with his providence; that he has furnished us with all the means of living comfortably in this world; has provided us with such powers and faculties as are peculiarly adapted to our present state; has so admirably calculated his whole creation, as to render it of the utmost advantage to us; "when we behold his heavens, even the works "of his fingers, the moon and the stars which " he has ordained;" shall we not say, "Lord, "what is man, that thou art mindful of him, "and the Son of man that thou visitést him?” Ought we not, even supposing no state after this, even in the last extremities, to cry out with holy Job, "the Lord hath given and the Lord hath "taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord ?" And are we not also in strict duty bound, so long as he is pleased to continue us in being, to exert all the faculties of our souls and bodies in expressions of gratitude for such undeserved bene
fits? For what hast thou, O man, that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive, how canst thou glory in thy abilities, as though thou hadst not received them? For of God, and through God, and to God are all things; and thy abilities to do good amongst the rest in his service therefore he has a right to expect that thou shouldst employ them; and that, not only for the sake of future expectations, but on account of the great things which he hath done for thee already.
Thus it appears, that our best works are strictly due to God, by reason of prior obligations. Nor is it a task of more difficulty to shew, in the second place, that our works are of no manner of service to the Almighty. For the very notion which we have of God, is that of an infinite and independent being; a being who has every perfection in the highest degree within itself, and, consequently, that can receive no communication of happiness from any other whatever. "Who
"hath first given unto God, and it shall be re"compensed to him again." Nay, though we should be so absurd as to suppose the Deity not thus infinitely perfect, yet even then, since man is the work of his hands, he must have received all gifts wherewith he is endowed, whether corporeal or spiritual, from the Deity; and as man