Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?—Proverbs 20.6

 
David Dickson's

Truth's Victory Over Error

Chapter. XVI.

Of Good Works.

QUESTION I.

"ARE good works only such as God hath commanded in his holy word, and not such as without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, upon any pretence of good intention?"

Yes; Micah 6.8. Rom. 12.2. Heb. 13.21. Matt. 15.9. with 1 Sam. 15.21-23. Isa. 29.13. 1 Pet. 1.18. Rom. 10.2.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, That not only such works are good, which are done according to the will and law of God, but others also, which are commanded by the public authority of the church, though over and above what the law of God requires. And that those also are good works, which are done out of a good intention to advance God's glory, or to perform worship to him, though they be not commanded by God?

Yes.

Do not likewise the old and late Libertines err, who maintain, That the difference between good works and evil, depends only upon the private and particular opinion of every man, For they think, that no work ought to be called evil, but in so far, as he that doth it, thinks it evil?

Yes.

By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because good works are described by the apostle to be such as God before hath ordained, that we should walk in them, Eph. 2.10.

2d, Because God expressly commands, that every man must not do that which seems good in his own eyes, but only such works as he hath commanded, and must neither add thereto, nor diminish from it, Deut. 12.8,32. Josh. 1.7. Prov. 30.6. Rev. 22.18.

3d, Because the Lord openly testifies that in vain do they worship him, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, not requiring that will worship, which fantastic men would give him. Isa. 1.13. Matt. 15.9. Micah 6.6-8. Col. 2.23.

4th, Because the Scribes and Pharisees are severally rebuked by Christ, that made the commandments of God of no effect, by their traditions, Matt. 15.6. And it is often mentioned in the books of Kings and Chronicles as a fault in the kings of Judah, that the high-places were not taken away. And how severely were the Israelites punished, for their worshipping of the golden calf, Exod. 32. and for worshipping the calves, which Jeroboam set up at Dan and Bethel, all know, 1 Kings 12.28.

5th, Because the law of God is the perfect rule and square of good works, to the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them, Isa. 8.20.

6th, Because without faith it is impossible to please God, Heb. 11.6. But faith hath always a respect to the word of God.

Quest. II. "Are good works done in obedience to God's commandments, the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith?"

Yes; James 2.18,22.

Well then do not the Antinomians and Libertines err, who deny, That believers ought to make evident to themselves and others, the truth of their justification by good works as fruits of a true and lively faith?

Yes.

By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because Christ says, By their fruits ye shall know them; for a good tree bringeth forth good fruit, Matt. 7.16-18.

2d, Because we are commanded, to make sure our calling and election by good works, as by the fruits of faith, 2 Pet. 1.5,6,10,11.

3d, Because in scripture there are delivered many undoubted and sure marks of regeneration, taken from the fruits of faith and good works, 1 John 1.6,7. and 2.3. and 1 John 3.9,10,14.

Quest. III. "Is our ability to do good works, wholly from the spirit of Christ, and not at all from ourselves."

Yes.

And that we may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces already received, is there not required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure?

Yes; John 15.4,6. Ezek. 36.26,27. Phil. 2.13.  2 Cor. 3.5.

Well then do not the Pelagians err, who maintain, "That good works done by the strength of our free-will, are conform to the law of God, and worthy of the kingdom of heaven?"

Yes.

Do not likewise the Papists err, who maintain, That good works may be done by a mere general and common influence from God?

Yes.

Do not, lastly, the Arminians err, who maintain, That good works flow only from God as a moral cause?

Yes.

By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because Christ says, Ye can do nothing without me, John 15.5.

2d, Because of ourselves we are not able to think a good thought, 2 Cor. 3.5.

3d, Because it is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure, Phil. 2.13.

Quest. IV. "Are they who are regenerated, to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty, unless by special motion of the Spirit?"

No.

Ought they not to stir up diligently the grace of God which is in them?

Yes; Phil. 2.12. Heb. 6.11,12. 2 Pet. 1.3,5,10. Isa. 64.7. 2 Tim. 1.6. Acts 26.6,7. Jude 20-22.

Well then, do not the Quakers, Familists, and other giddy-headed persons err, who maintain, That believers ought not to perform any duty in religion unless the Spirit within move and excite them to those duties; and that we ought to forbear when this is wanting?

Yes.

By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because the Holy Ghost forbiddeth us to be slow in performing such duties; nay, commands us to stir up the gift which is in us, and use all diligence to perform duties commanded by himself, Phil. 2.12. Jude 20.

2d, Because the prophet confesseth that as the great sin of the Lord's people, that there is none that calleth upon his name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of him, Isa. 64.7.

3d, Because to neglect the worshipping of God, is an evident sign and token of an atheist, Psalm 14.4. Psalm 53.4.

4th, Because the Lord hath threatened to pour out his fury upon the heathen that know him not, and upon the families that call not on his name, Jer. 10.25.

5th, Because the twelve tribes which hoped to come to the promise made to the fathers, instantly served God day and night, Acts 26.6,7. And the apostles gave themselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word, Acts 6.4.

6th, Because Christ himself, who had always the Spirit, was very frequent in all those exercises and duties, as all the histories of the four evangelists do testify. Those fanatic Recusants, either have the Spirit of God in them, or they want it. This last they will not grant. If then they have it, why do they refuse to perform the duties of religion more than our blessed Saviour did, when opportunity and occasion did call him. They have the Spirit, but want the impulse. But contrariwise, this impulse is never wanting when there is a call. But the Spirit's call is never wanting when opportunity is offered.

7th, Because Christ will have the gospel preached to every creature, Mark 16.15. And hath commanded the administration of the Lord's supper, even to his second coming, 1 Cor. 11.26. And will have the work of the ministry to continue in his church, for the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, &c. Eph. 4.11-13.

8th, Because we are commanded to pray without ceasing; 1 Thess. 5.17. That is upon all opportunities, and in all our necessities.

9th, Because we are commanded to trust in him at all times, Psalm 62.8.

10th, If we shall forbear outward duties, as prayer, and such like, then ought we to forbear inward exercises, as acts of faith, love, and fear, till we be moved thereunto, which is most absurd: for we are commanded, as was cited, to trust in him always.

11th, What assurance can men have, the next hour, or to-morrow, more than in the present time of the Spirit's motion on their souls; or that they shall be thus at a greater advantage by putting off the duty, till they have some inward motion and impulse thereunto, than by waiting on the ordinary call of the word or of providence?

Quest. V. "Are they who in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, so far from being able to supererrogate, and to do more than God requires, that they fall short of much, which in duty they are bound to do?"

Yes; Luke 17.10. Neh. 13.22. Gal. 5.17. Job 9.2,3.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, That a man regenerated cannot only fulfill the law of God perfectly, but may do also more good than the law of God requires of him? This is their mad fancy of the works of supererrogation.

Yes.

By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because no man living is able to fulfill the whole law of God, Psalm 143.2. Isa. 64.6. 1 John 1.8. Far less is any man able to do more than the law requires.

2d, Because we are obliged to seek remission of sins every day, Matt. 6.12. But to seek pardon of sin every day, and to perform works of supererrogation, are inconsistent together.

3d, Because Christ says, When you 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, Luke 17.10.

4th, Because, according to this doctrine of works of supererrogation, we must accuse the Scripture or law of God, of imperfection, as if they were not a perfect rule of life and manners, which is contrary to the Psalmist, Psalm 19.8. And contrary to 2 Tim. 3.15-17. Deut. 4.2.

5th, Because whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, these are commanded as things necessary to all men: Therefore, either the works which the Papists call works of supererrogation, are true, honest, just, and pure; and if they be such, they are commanded by God in Scripture, and not works of supererrogation: Or they are unhonest, impure, unjust, and if such, then no man is so made as to call them good works, much less works of supererrogation, Phil. 4.8.

Quest. VI. "Can our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hands of God?"

No; Rom. 3.20. Rom. 4.2,4,6. Eph. 2.8,9. Titus 3.5-7. Rom. 8.18. Psalm 16.2. Job 22.2,3.

Well then, do not the Papists, and some of the Quakers err, who maintain, That the good works of regenerate men, do truly and properly merit, and deserve eternal life?

Yes.

By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because there is no proportion between our imperfect work and life eternal; between the work and the reward, 2 Cor. 4.17. For our light affliction worketh for us, that is, brings forth, not of any merit, but of mere grace, for Christ's sake, see Rom. 8.18. and 3.28.

2d, If by our good works, we deserved the pardon of sin, we might have whereof to boast, for if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God, Rom. 4.2. But the Scripture saith, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord, 1 Cor. 1.31.

3d, Because no creature, performing the most excellent works, can deserve any favour from God, or oblige him to give any thing as due. And according to the order of God's justice, he can receive no favour from us, nor any creature confer any benefit on him, Psalm 16.2. Job 22.2,3. Truly, where there is no favour done, there can be no merit; For merit presupposeth a benefit accepted.

4th, Because our works are imperfect, as well as to parts, as to degrees, Gal. 5.17. Isa. 64.7. Deut. 27.26. A perfection of parts is, when we have a part of every grace, and are renewed in some measure in every power and faculty of the whole man, though we be not come to the just and due measure in any of them. A perfection of degrees, consists in the complete measure of our conformity, and our exact correspondence to the law of God, in respect of all whatsoever it requires.

5th, Because Christ says, So likewise ye, when ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do, Luke 17.10.

6th, Because the good works which we do are not ours, but it is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do, 1 Cor. 5.6. Gal. 5.22. Phil. 2.13.

7th, Because that heavenly blessedness which is to be given to the saints is expressly attributed to the mercy and pity of God, Psalm 103.4. Matt. 5.7. Titus 3.5. Eph. 4.6,7,8.

8th, Because when the apostle proclaims death to be the wages of sin, he doth not affirm life eternal to be the reward of good works, but the free and gracious gift of God, which we obtain by Christ, even in our sanctification, whereof the apostle here, Rom. 6.23. Which free gift hath for its end, eternal life, not that it merits this, for then it should not be a gracious gift, but because Christ hath merited this for us, and shall of free grace give it to us, as the following words, Through Jesus Christ our Lord, shew.

9th, Because God will have us to buy, without money or price, wine, milk, honey; that is, to receive all things requisite and necessary for our spiritual life, for nothing, and eternal life itself, Isa. 55.1-3.

10th, Because Christ should not be a perfect Saviour, if any thing from us were to be added to the righteousness of his merit, but Christ is a perfect Saviour, Eph. 1.7. and 2.7-9. 1 John 1.7. Acts 4.12.

11th, Because our best works have such a mixture of corruption and sin in them, that they deserve his curse and wrath; so far are they from meriting, Isa 64.6. But we are all, saith the prophet, as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.

12th, If the works of regenerated men did deserve eternal life, then should the whole contrivance of the gospel be subverted, and the same very way of life laid down which was in the covenant of works, as is clear from 2 Cor. 5.21. The gospel is so contrived, by the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, that there is a judicial transferring of our sins, as a debt on Christ the cautioner, and a translation of his righteousness and merit to be imputed to us, for our justification, without the least respect to our works.

Quest. VII. "Are works done by the unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use, both to themselves and others, are they, I say, sinful, and cannot please God?"

Yes; Hag. 2.14. Titus 1.15. Amos 5.21,22. Hos. 1.4. Rom. 9.16. Titus 3.5.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, That not only all the works of unregenerate men are not sinful, but also that some of their works do indeed merit and deserve somewhat from God, namely, as they speak, by merit of congruity, that is, as they are agreeable to the law of God?

Yes.

[Do not the Papists further err, in that they maintain, that] There is also, as they say, a merit of condignity, by which the works of regenerate, which follow justification, deserve eternal life, not from the imputation of Christ's righteousness, but from their own intrinsic worth, and proportionableness to the reward?

Yes.

By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because as a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt rotten tree bring forth good fruit, Matt. 7.18.

2d, Because all unregenerate men are dead in trespasses and sin, Eph. 2.1.

3d, Because all the works of unregenerate men are done without faith, and so cannot please God, Heb. 2.6. Rom. 14.23.

4th, Because if unregenerate men were able to do good works, or perform any duty which deserved somewhat from God, then would it follow, that a man were able to do some good of himself, which is contrary to John 15.5. Phil. 2.13.

5th, Because it is clear from Scripture, that before renewing grace, all are the children of wrath; who of themselves cannot have a good thought, nor any active concurrence, or putting themselves forth to the utmost for their own conversion, 2 Cor. 3.5. Therefore [there can be] no plea for merit, by any improvement of men's natural abilities, see Rom. 9.15,16.