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CHAP. II.-OF THE PROXIMATE CAUSES OF GOOD WORKS.
THE primary efficient cause of good works, as has been stated above, is God.
The PROXIMATE CAUSES OF GOOD WORKS are naturally, in ordinary cases at least, good habits, or, as they are called, VIRTUES ; in which is comprised the whole of our duty towards God and man. Philipp. iv. 8. “if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise.” 2 Pet. i. 5. “add to your faith virtue." These are partly general, or such as pertain to the whole duty of man ; and partly special, or such as apply to the particular branches of that duty.
The general virtues belong partly to the understanding, and partly to the will.
Those which belong to the understanding are WISDOM and PRUDENCE.
WISDOM IS THAT WHEREBY WE EARNESTLY SEARCH AFTER THE WILL OF GOD, LEARN IT WITH ALL DILIGENCE, AND GOVERN ALL OUR ACTIONS ACCORDING TO ITS RULE.
THE WILL OF GOD. Deut. iv. 6. “ keep therefore and do them, for this is your wisdom— Psal. cxix. 66. “teach me good judgement and knowledge, for I have believed thy commandments.” v. 98—100.“ thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies.... than my teachers. ... than the ancients." Prov. xxviii. 5. “they that seek Jehovah, understand all things." XXX. 5, 6. “
every work of God is pure. ... add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” Rom. xii. 2. “ be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” xvi. 19. “I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” Eph. v. 15. "see that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” James iii. 13. “who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” v. 17. “ the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” 1 John ii. 3. “hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” Hence the fear of the Lord is called wisdom, Job xxviii. 28. Psal. xxv. 14. “ the
that diligently seek him.” v. 26. “he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” xii. 2. "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross." THE EDIFICATION OF OUR NEIGHBOUR.
Hence we are admonished so to act, that we may become examples to others. 2 Sam. xxi. 11, 12. “it was told David what Rizpah had done,” &c. 2 Cor. viii. 24. “wherefore show ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf.” Rom. xii. 17. “provide things honest in the sight of all men.” 1 Tim. iv. 12. “ be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Tit. ii. 4. “that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children." v. 7. "in all things showing thyself a pattern of good works." 1 Pet. ii. 12. “ that whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." For a virtuous example excites, in the virtuous, an emulation of that virtue ; Rom. xi. 14. “ if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them :” a vicious example, on the contrary, is productive of vicious emulation ; Prov. xxiii. 17. “ let not thine heart envy sinners ;” xxiv. 7. “be not thou envious against wicked men;" as well as of offences, by which the strong are scandalized, and the weaker brethren, if not absolutely led into sin, rendered more remiss in the performance of good works. I Cor. x. 32, 33. “give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God; even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” Matt. xviii. 6, 7. “ whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him," &c. See also Mark ix. 42. Rom. xiv. 21. “it is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or offendeth, or is made weak.” In this sense a man is said to be a stumbling-block to himself, when he indulges himself in any vice to which his nature inclines him. Matt. v. 29, 30.
if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out," &c. See also xviii. 7, 8,
Where however the offence does not proceed from any fault of ours, but from the frowardness or malignity of the
other party, the guilt rests not with him who gives, but with him who takes the offence. Matt. xv. 12, 13. “ knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended after they heard this saying ? but he answered and said, Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up : let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind.” Thus Christ did not break off his intercourse with the publicans through fear of scandalizing the Pharisees, but contented himself with giving reasons for his conduct: Matt. ix. 10, &c. “ they that be whole need not a physician—" Luke xix. 7, &c. “ the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” xx. 18. “whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” See Book I. chap. xxvii. on Christian Liberty.
As to what the Papists call works of supererogation, whereby more is done than the law prescribes, insomuch that some of the saints, through the superabundance of their works, have been enabled to purchase eternal life not only forthemselves, but for others, such works are clearly impossible. For since we are commanded, under the gospel as well as under the law, to love and serve God with all our strength and with all our mind, and our neighbour as ourselves, and since, conquently, there can be no excess in piety and charity, it follows that no act which we are capable of performing can be of such excellence as to fulfil, still less to transcend the requisitions of duty. Luke xvii. 10. “when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do." Those counsels of the gospel, therefore, which the Papists affirm to be of a higher nature than its precepts, insomuch that if a man follow them, not being compelled so to do, he performs a work of supererogation, are not in reality counsels, as distinguished from precepts, nor of a higher nature than
6 Founded upon 1 Cor. vii. 6, 25, 26, 40. 2 Cor. viii. 8, 10. See Mosheim, Century II. chap. Iil, sec. 11-14. Hey's Lectures, Boo iv, Art. 14, Sect. 2. Barbeyrac on Grotius De Jure 1. 2.9. Hill's Lectures, III. 251. These counsels of perfection, as they are called by the Papists, are commonly reduced to three ; voluntary poverty, a vow of perpetual chastity, and of regular obedience; and to these three Milton alludes in
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the latter ; but are to be considered as particular precepts, given, not to all mankind, but to certain individuals, for speciai reasons and under special circumstances. Thus we are told, Matt. xix. 11. that it is good for those who have the gift of continence and can receive the saying, not to marry, whenever by remaining single they can more effectually promote the glory of God and the good of the church. Again, v. 21. whether the words of Christ are to be considered as precept or as simple counsel, it is certain that, had the young man to whom they were addressed fulfilled them in their utmost extent, he would bave done nothing beyond what duty required, any more than Abraham when he led forth his son to sacrifice : for the commands of God, whether addressed to mankind in general, or to a particular class, or to an individual, are equally obligatory on the kind, or class, or individual to whom they are addressed. In the example just cited, obedience to the general precept of loving God above all things was singled out as an instance of duty to be required from the self-sufficient young man, for the purpose of exposing his folly and unfounded confidence, and of showing him how far he was from the perfection to which he pretended. For it was not the selling all he had, which has been done without charity, but the leaving his possessions and following Christ, which was to be the test of his perfection. With regard to the other instance of celibacy, 1 Cor. vii. this is neither made expressly a matter of precept nor of counsel, but is left free to the discretion of individuals, according to seasons and circumstances. To the above may be added, that, if there be any such works as are here described, those precepts must needs be imperfect, which require to be amended by supplementary admonitions. If, moreover, these latter are, as is alleged, of a higher order of excellence than the precepts themselves, who shall be sufficient to fulfil them ? seeing that no one is able to perform entirely even the requisitions of the law. Not to mention, that the name of counsels is sometimes applied to precepts of universal application, and of the most imperative necessity; as Rev. iii. 18. “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire.” Lastly, that prayer for forgiveness, wbich by Christ's command we all daily offer, is utterly irreconcileable with the vain boasting of works implied in this doctrine
It is true that in matters of choice and Christian liberty, one work may be more perfect than another : 1 Cor. vii. 38. “ he doeth well. ... he doeth better.” 2 Cor. xi. 23. “ they ministers of Christ? I am more ;” but it is not less the duty of every one to do whatever may most effectually promote the glory of God and the edification of his neighbour. St. Paul, had he so chosen, needed not have preached the gospel without charge, 1 Cor. ix. 7, &c. but believing, as he did, that a gratuitous service would be less open to suspicion, and tend more to the edification of the church, he did nothing more than his duty in preaching gratuitously. No work of supererogation was performed by Zaccheus, when he voluntarily gave half his goods to the poor, Luke xix. 8. nor by the poor widow, when she cast into the treasury all that she had, Mark xii. 42. nor by the disciples, when they sold their lands and divided the produce among the brethren, Acts iv. 34 ; those who did such actions only proved that they loved their neighbours, and especially the believing part of them, as themselves. They were not however under any absolute obligation to give such extraordinary proofs of their love, Acts v. 4. for although perfection is proposed to all men as the end of their endeavours, it is not required of all.
Hence may be easily discerned the vanity of human merits ; seeing that, in the first place, our good actions are not our own, but of God working in us; secondly, that, were they our own, they would still be equally due ; and, thirdly, that, in any point of view, there can be no proportion between our duty and the proposed reward. Rom. vi. 23. "the gift of God is eternal life. viii. 18. “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Hence although Hezekiah asserts his uprightness in the sight of God, Isai. xxxviii. 3. “remember now, O Jehovah, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which was good in thy sight,” he is so far from considering this as constituting any claim to reward, that he acknowledges himself indebted to the free mercy
of God for the pardon of his sins : v. 17. “ thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption, for thou hast cast all my sins behind my back.” So likewise Nehemiah xiii. 22. “ remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and