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necessary uses* for which good works are to be maintained.
It is, notwithstanding, to be carefully observed, that neither our external obedience nor inherent holiness constitutes any part of that righteousness by which we are justified. Neither the one nor the other is the cause or condition of our acceptance with God. For, as before observed, that righteousness by which we are justified must be absolutely perfect. But our personal obedience is greatly defective even in the best of men, and in their most advanced state, while in the present life. So that if God were to enter into judgment with us on the footing of our own holiness or duties, none of us could stand in the awful trial. Our at. holiest tempers would be found far short of that perfection which the law requires, and our best duties could not answer for themselves, much less atone for our past transgressions. 'All our righteousness is as filthy rags,' and we have need of an high-priest' to bear the iniquity of our holy things.' For who among mortals dare say to the omniscient God,' Search and try this or the other duty performed by me; thou shalt not, on the strictest examination, find any defilement cleaving to it, nor any sinful defect attending it?' Who dare add, 'I am willing to risk my soul's eternal salvation on its absolute perfections, after such an exact scrutiny made?' The boldest heart must tremble at such a thought; nor dare the most upright make the solemn appeal, or venture his immortal all on such a foundation.
Hence the great teacher of the Gentiles, who was a most eminent saint, notwithstanding all his extraordinary gifts, his useful labours, exemplary conduct, and painful sufferings for the cause of truth and the honour of his divine Master, utterly disclaimed all pretensions to personal worthiness, and, when taking a prospect of the awful tribunal, earnestly desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, which was of the law,' consisting in his own ho
* Tit. iii. 14.
liness and righteous deeds, 'but that which is through the faith of Christ, even the righteousness of God by faith. This obedience, and this only, can support our hope, and comfort our hearts, when we think of standing before Him who is a consuming fire. It is that righteousness only, which was wrought out before we had a being, which is the ground of a full discharge before our final Judge; and being so, it is the source of all our comfort and all our joy as to that grand affair. If any person, therefore, solicitously inquire, How shall I appear before my Maker? the answer is, In the obedience of Christ, which is perfect in itself, and entirely free for the guilty. But if the inquiry be, How shall I express my thankfulness to God for his benefits, and glorify his name? then the answer evidently is, By living in conformity to his revealed will, and by devoting yourself, all that you are, and all that you have, to his honour and service. Thus provision is made, in the economy of grace, for the believer's peace and joy, by a direct view of the finished work of Christ; and for the exercise of every virtue, the performance of every duty, whether religious or moral, and all for the noblest end, even the glory of the blessed God.
Hence it is manifest, that though our good works are of no consideration at all in the article of justification, or in obtaining a title to life, yet they are. highly necessary on many other accounts; and it is an affair of the last importance to be rightly acquainted with the proper uses of good works and obedience; otherwise we shall inevitably run into one of those opposite and fatal extremes, Arminian legality or Antinomian licentiousness. The former will wound our peace, infringe on the honours of grace, and exalt self; the latter will turn the grace of God into wantonness, sear the conscience, and render us worse than infidels avowed. We should therefore be exceedingly careful rightly to distinguish between the foundation of our acceptance with God, and that superstructure *Philip. iii. 9.
of practical godliness which must be raised upon it. Let us once more hear the judicious Dr. Owen. Speaking to this point, he says, 'Our foundation in dealing with God is Christ alone, mere grace and pardon in him. Our building is in and by holiness and obedience, as the fruits of that faith by which we have received the atonement. And great mistakes there are in this matter, which bring great entanglements on the souls of men. Some are all their days laying the foundation, and are never able to build upon it, with any comfort to themselves, or usefulness to others. And the reason is, because they will be mixing with the foundation-stones that are fit only for the following building. They will be bringing their obedience, duties, mortification of sin, and the like, unto the foundation. These are precious stones to build with, but unmeet to be first laid, to bear upon them the whole weight of the building. The foundation is to be laid, as was said, in mere grace, mercy, and pardon in the blood of Christ. This the soul is to accept of, and to rest in, merely as it is grace, without the consideration of anything in itself, but that it is sinful and obnoxious to ruin. In this it finds a difficulty, and would gladly have, something of its own to mix with it: it cannot tell how to fix these foundation-stones, without some cement of its own endeavours and duty. And because these things will not mix, they spend a fruitless labour about it all their days. But if the foundation be of grace, it is not at all of works; for otherwise grace is no more grace. If anything of our own be mixed with grace in this matter, it utterly destroys the nature of grace, which if it be not alone, it is not at all.
'But doth not this tend to licentiousness? Doth not this render obedience, holiness, duties, mortification of sin, and good works needless? God forbid ! Yea, this is the only way to order them aright unto the glory of God. Have we nothing to do but to lay the foundation? Yes, all our days we are to build upon it, when it is surely and firmly laid. And these are
the means and ways of our edification. This, then, is the soul to do, which would come to peace and settlement. Let it let go all former endeavours, if it have been engaged in any of that kind; and let it alone receive, admit of, and adhere to mere grace, mercy, and pardon, with a full sense that in itself it hath nothing for which it should have an interest in them, but that all is of mere grace through Jesus Christ. Other foundation can no man lay.' Depart not hence until this work be well over. Surcease not an earnest endeavour with your own hearts to asquiesce in this righteousness of God, and to bring your souls into a comfortable persuasion that God, for Christ's sake, hath freely forgiven you all your sins. Stir not hence until this be effected. If you have been engaged in any other way, that is, to seek for the pardon of sin by some endeavours of your own, it is not unlikely but that you are filled with the fruit of your own doings; that is, that you go on with all kinds of uncertainties, and without any kind of constant peace. Return, then, again hither. Bring this foundationwork to a blessed issue in the blood of Christ, and when that is done, up and be doing.'*
It is greatly to be feared that the distinction so judiciously pointed out in the preceding quotation is but little known or considered, even by many who are earnestly concerned in a religious profession. And it is undeniably plain that there are great numbers that call themselves Christians, who, as they know nothing in reality concerning Christ, so in their conduct they are more like incarnate devils than real saints. Nor are there a few that perform a round of duties very exactly, and have an high opinion of their religious profession, who, notwithstanding, are far from possessing that holiness, and performing those good works, which are essential to the Christian character. View them in their respective places of worship, and in the performance of devotional duties; you see them
* Dr. Owen on the 130th Psalm, p. 307, 308.
assume a serious air, as if they were greatly concerned about their everlasting welfare. See them in their families, and in the common concerns of life; there they are full of levity, unsavoury and loose in their conversation. Some of these pretenders to religion will also attend that seminary of vice and profaneness, the playhouse, and other amusements of this licentious age, as far as their circumstances in life will permit. You may see them vain and extravagant in dress and show, while their poor Christian neighbours of the same religious community are, with all their industry, hardly able to acquire decent clothing. Nor need we wonder if these sons of carnal pleasure put them off with a Be ye warmed. They will be lavish enough at their own tables, while the poor among the people of God are ready to famish by their side; and such is their love to Christ and his members, they will think it an instance of great condescension if they vouchsafe to visit them and say, Be ye filled.
Or if these pretenders to piety be naturally of a more grave and serious disposition, view them in their trade and business; there you will find them covetous, griping, and oppressive; making it their chief aim to lay up fortunes for their dependents, and to raise their families in the world. These, like their forefathers, 'for pretence make long prayers;' even when, by usury, extortion, and oppression, they 'grind the faces of the poor, and devour widows' houses.' They lay up that in their coffers which of right belongs to the needy who labour under them; the rust of which shall bea swift witness against them another day, and shall eat their flesh as it were fire.'* Is not the gospel dishonoured, is not the church plagued by such professors, such sanctimonious wretches as these? Such persons, whether more light in their disposition and conduct, or more grave in their temper and behaviour, are alike the children of the devil and the slaves of sin-are on a level in the sight of God with the most profane. As
* James v. 3, 4.