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Sovereign Grace and Good Works.

Brother Beebe: - Brother Jewett, in the Number of the Doctrinal Advocate for May, 1845, proposed that I, or some brother, should treat on the connection which may exist between the doctrine of Sovereign Grace and Good Works. When I first saw the proposition, I shrunk from it as a task less befitting me to undertake than others of our brethren, seeing that my practice or feelings seemed less corresponding with the gospel than was the case with others. But on further reflection, I thought that my experience in the case might have its use, and would be more consoling to some of the children of God than would a treatise from those who have been enabled more uniformly to keep under the awful corruptions of their nature; if indeed mine is the experience of a child of grace. I therefore commenced writing on the subject previous to brother Jewett's death; and I have since thought that perhaps what I had written might not be unacceptable to some of the readers of the Signs; I have therefore finished what I had to say on the subject, and changed the address to the Signs. I have no doubt that some positions which my experience will oblige me to occupy will astonish some brethren.

Brother Jewett rightly qualified this subject by defining it as a spiritual reception of the doctrine of Christ; for a mere theoretical reception of sound doctrine, or having only the natural judgment convinced of the truth of it, is but a dead faith, and of course brings forth no spiritual fruits. A connection between the doctrine of Sovereign Grace and Good Works was evidently understood by Paul, to exist; for after making a full representation of the sovereignty of God as manifested in the experience of salvation, (Titus 3:3-7,) he immediately adds, (verse 8,) "This is a faithful saying, and these things, I will, that thou affirm constantly, that they that have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works." He thus teaches not only that this doctrine has a tendency to good works, but also that this is the proper theme to excite believers to them. How different this, from the notion that this doctrine tends to licentiousness! When the natural judgment alone is convinced that salvation is by grace, and there is a reliance on that only for escaping future punishment, there may probably be a tendency to licentiousness. And it is no wonder that the opposers of this doctrine, who know nothing but natural reason as their guide, should view the doctrine of grace in this light. But we may be assured that whoever can deliberately draw such a conclusion and act under its influence, gives decisive evidence that he is ignorant of that hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory, even that mystery, that it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. I Cor.2:7 & Phil.2:13. Such know nothing of that implanted desire after holiness which belongs to the new man.

In coming more directly to the subject in view, I will first try to determine what good works are in a gospel sense. The old scholastic definition of good works, is, that they are such as are done from a right principle, by a right rule, and to a right end; but I would prefer a definition more simple. Indeed, good works do not require so much to be done by rule; they are not like positive institutions which require a strict observance of the letter of the command. Hence our Lord has resolved all rules upon this point into one, "Therefore all things that ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Mt.7:12. The term explains itself, for good works are such works as are kind and beneficial to others. Hence the Apostle defines them by saying, "These things are good and profitable unto men." Titus 3:8. Many seem to suppose that good works principally consist in religious exercises. Hence the great stress they lay upon a round of what they call duties, or upon a certain kind of bodily exercises; and being attentive to these, they are not careful to avoid covetousness, dishonesty, hatred, &c. They suppose that they are to do good to God, and that for this goodness He will reward them; as though if they kept the Sabbath strictly, or gave their money for religious purposes, God was thereby benefited. Even Eliphaz, the Temanite, had a better view than this of these things; he says, "Can a man be profitable unto God as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself?" So Elihu, "If thou sinnest, what doest thou against Him? or, if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto Him? If thou be righteous, what givest thou Him, or what receiveth He of thy hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man." Job 22:2 & 35:6-8. The Psalmist in evidently personating Christ says, "O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee; but to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight." Psalm 16:2-3. Religious exercises, such as waiting upon God, come more properly under the idea of privileges, than of works, though there is an obligation resting upon the believer to observe the institutions of the gospel, and to honor God in all his ways. Good works are set forth in the scriptures as a carrying out the spirit of the second table of the Decalouge. Thus Paul in his exhortations to the Romans, sums all up by saying, "Love is the fulfilling of the law." He before said, "For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, &c., and if there be any other commandment it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;" and adds, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor." Rom.13:9-10. By an examination of all that is said on this subject in the New Testament, we shall find they are presented to view as both positive and negative: that is, they consist in being beneficial to others, or in doing good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith, as we have opportunity, and also in a faithful discharge of the duties of every station and relation we may sustain in life, both civil and religious; as well as in refraining from whatever would be injurious to others. But then good works, in a gospel point of view, or as evidences of a gracious state, consist in something more than a mere performance of the act. Many acts which in themselves are beneficial to others, are performed in a spirit or from a motive that is not good, but evil. Such is the case manifestly with much of that display made of what they call charity, and self-denial, &c., by the religious multitude of this day. They are done either to be seen of men, or as a means of bringing those to whom they are done, in some way under their influence; or to make up a sum of righteousness on which to rest their hopes of salvation; or perhaps in a real infidel spirit, to show how good they can be and how much better human nature is, than those who believe the scriptures, describe it to be. There is a meekness, a kindness of feeling in doing good works, a fear of God and regard to the honor of His cause, in shunning to do wrong, which are more decisive evidences of a gracious spirit, than the mere doing or shunning the act. Yea, the humility and self-condemnation frequently manifested by the children of grace, for doing what they ought not to have done, and for not doing as they ought, gives more assurance to others of their true love to God, than would the not doing or doing the acts. The child of grace does nothing for mere ostentation and show, but from a sense of duty and a love to uprightness. Neither is a studied secretness, unless on some peculiar occasions, necessary. Some are so sly in what they do for the poor, and for the support of the gospel ministry, as almost to lead to the belief, that they are ashamed to have it known that their religious impressions disposed them to kindness to the one, or fellowship for the other.

But to come to the existing connection between a spiritual reception of the doctrine of Christ and good works; we will remark, First. That such reception of the doctrine of Christ, implies the being born again - not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible; consequently it implies that the law in its spirituality has been written in their hearts, or that the love of God has been implanted therein. In this change, is at once presented the principle of good works. Love to God leads to a desire to be like Him, and to a delight in His law after the inward man. This change also produces in equal proportion a loathing of sin and of ourselves on account of it, and consequently we desire not to be under its influence. But the inquiry looks to the idea, whether soundness of doctrine as received by faith tends to the maintaining of good works. Its direct tendency evidently is towards the maintaining of good works. The notions of conditional acceptance with God, by obscuring the holiness of God, in supposing that He can be pleased with impure or imperfect obedience, and by hiding the exceeding sinfulness of sin so as to make the creature satisfied with his imperfect and unholy performance of duties, tends to make him careless about motives, so long as he can keep up the appearance of religious devotion, and about the performance of good works or religious duties, any further that he expects to be rewarded for them, or than he supposes necessary to secure his acceptance.

But the doctrine of Christ gives such enlarged views of the holiness of God as to lead those who receive it so to feel the hidden abominations of their own hearts in contrast therewith as to destroy all confidence in any of their own acts, and to pant after more holiness in heart and life. In addition, sound doctrine gives such a view of the riches of the love and grace of God towards vile, unworthy sinners, that whenever faith gives a glimpse of it, every power of mind is captivated thereby, and they are made earnestly to desire to glorify God in their bodies and in their spirits which are His.

    Again; a belief in this doctrine, by giving us a deep sense of the deceitfulness of our hearts, and the depravity of our natures, leads us to be guarded against trusting to our own hearts, or depending on our own resolutions and strength, and to seek frequent supplies of grace and strength to resist temptations, and to overcome the corruptions of our nature, and to do that which is right. And what was Paul's experience, is the experience of every believer, "When I am weak, then am I strong." II Cor.12:10. And again, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Phil.4:13. Whenever we go forward carelessly or with self-confidence, we are sure to come short or fall; but none is ever confounded whilst, sensible of his weakness, his heart truly trusteth in God. Once more, that faith which receiveth and resteth upon the doctrine of Christ, is that which overcometh the world: "This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith." I John 5:4. Faith, taking hold of the immutability of God in His purpose and promises, leads us forward as disciples of Christ, to face the frowns and scoffs of the world; presenting to us the certainty and fullness of salvation in Christ Jesus, it shields us from the fiery darts of the adversary, and strengthens us to meet the sword and faggots of the persecutor; assuring us of the love and mercy of God to our poor souls, and the beauties of the Saviour, it drives away those death- chills which the world by its influence tends to throw over the graces of the Spirit and our soul's comforts; and presenting to our minds the declarations of God's word, it foils the tempter in his aims to ensnare us, as for instance, when Satan would persuade us that we might indulge in this gratification of the flesh, or that, without reproach to the cause of Christ, as it would not be known, &c., faith brings forward such antidotes as these, "Be sure your sin will find you out." Num.32:23. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities." Amos 3:2. Or as temptation is varied, so faith brings from the treasury that which meets it.

There are an abundance of inducements connected with the reception of sound doctrine, to maintain good works. 1st. As already noticed, the love and mercy of God towards us invites to gratitude, and a strong desire to show our love to Him by a denying of ourselves, and a walking in obedience to His ways. 2nd. From our love to the doctrine, the very reproach and opposition it meets with, tends to increase in us the desire to show forth its holy and beneficent nature in our lives and conversation, and to avoid occasioning reproach to it. 3rd. The promises of grace and strength, and of escape in the time of temptation, which this doctrine shows to be Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus, encourages us to pursue the path marked in the New Testament, regardless of the difficulties we may meet with. I will add, the fear of experiencing the frowns of our heavenly Father, and of being left to ourselves, and to mourn in darkness, is a strong inducement, to those who have known what it is to have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, to watchfulness and prayer against temptation. So that with these and the like inducements, the child born into gospel liberty needs not to go back to the letter and bondage of the law, to find in its demands and threats that which will excite him to good works.

I have thus sketched the direct tendency of sound doctrine to good works, and the consequent connection between them. But do we at this day see this connection fully manifest in ourselves and others generally, who, we hope, believe the doctrine of Christ? I think not; though in none is there as great a deficiency, perhaps, as in myself. How are we to account for the failure? I might briefly answer, from the weakness of our faith, and the prevalency of that sin which so easily besets us, namely: unbelief. But I wish to be indulged in some extended remarks on this point.

In the first place, we are to bear in mind, and we shall be often reminded of it to our sorrow, that whilst we are made partakers, if children of the kingdom, of a life that was created in Christ Jesus unto good works, and therefore in the new man delight in holiness, yet the old, the Adamic man is not changed, but is in itself as earthly, sensual, and devilish as ever. Hence the warfare in the believer, between the flesh and the spirit, between Christ and Adam. Here I wish, if I can, to present the subject of the warfare in its different bearings in a true light. For just here it is that the formalist who, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, bolsters himself up in his own self- importance, and trusting to his own self-taught belief of the doctrine of Christ, he walketh after the flesh without remorse of conscience. And here it is, that the child of grace finds an abundant source of doubts and fears.

The position I have above laid down, that there is no change in nature, is correct; but still the implanting in us of that life which is the light of men, has given us to know the hidden depravity of our hearts, has convinced our natural judgments, that the law is good, and that the commandment is holy, just and good, and that a departure from the principle of love to God and love to our neighbor, is evil and sinful. And we know, as men, that an indulgence in sin, and a neglect of our obligations as christians, brings darkness and sorrow, and convinced of the truth and consistency of the doctrine of Christ, and our minds and affections participate in the joys and sorrows of the new man. Yet after all this, our passions, appetites, self-love, &c., are left in their natural strength and depraved bias; and not only show themselves as such in the breast of the believer, but come forward with their demands for gratification. I am led to the conclusion, from the confidence which natural persons have in their power to keep themselves, and from the equanimity of mind and the strict morality that many such are able to maintain, contrasted with the bitter complaints the children of grace make of themselves, that the depravity in believers is frequently stirred up, and made in one shape or another, far more turbulent in their breasts, and impudent in its demands for gratification, than in others; so that if it were not for the opposition of the new man, and its leaning them in their straits to look to God for deliverance, they would be overwhelmed in their corruptions. Not only are their sins revived, stirred up at first by the demands of the law being set home, but God, as in the case of Israel in the wilderness, (Deut.8:2) will have His people from time to time know what is in their heart, and therefore suffers Satan to stir up their corruptions.

At one time a temptation will be presented for indulgence, under so much disguise, and with so much plausibility, and at another time it will come so suddenly and unexpectedly, that the poor believer is almost swept away by it, and would have been quite, had not the Lord made a way for his escape. At another time some temptation from without will unite with some inward corruption, and make and pursue its demand for indulgence in such an insinuating manner and with such perseverance, notwithstanding all the remonstrance of the judgment, and all the abhorrence of the spirit at the idea; and perhaps at times the spirit and judgment both appear to be asleep, and the affections seem to contemplate with pleasure the indulgence, so that when the mind is again aroused to a sense of the danger, the poor, ashamed, and confounded soul, concludes that he is gone, and carried away he must be by the temptation, and becomes discouraged, and almost arrives at the conclusion that it is no use any longer to contend against it. Perhaps in this state of the confusion of his mind Satan tempts him with the suggestion that the only way to escape being led into open sin, and from disgracing his profession, is to put an end to his existence.

Thus the believer is at times tossed in his little ark upon the billows of his corruptions, raised by the winds of temptation, and his Lord appearing to be asleep, or to care not for him, yet in the end, at the last extremity, he will be made to cry for help, and the Lord will appear to hush the storm and give peace. Hence I conclude that it is not grace, or the Spirit of life, in the believer, that will keep him from being overcome by his corruptions, and the temptations he meets with, but special grace is manifested in calling his faith into exercise, or otherwise encouraging and strengthening him to maintain the contest, or in some way providing for his escape. Hence the evidence of being a child of grace, though it is ground for hope that the Lord will keep him, is no just ground for the individual to conclude he can keep himself from falling; nor on the other hand, is his being tempted a just reason for him to conclude that he is not a child of grace. Watchfulness and prayer, and enduring hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, are important duties of believers - they are essential to his enjoying the consolations of the gospel, and to his glorifying God in his body and spirit. But still the believer's strength and security for living thus to God, is not in himself, but alone in God, and his having a spirit of prayer is as God is pleased to impart it.

I think I am sustained in my views above expressed, both by the experience of the believer and the language of scripture; thus, for instance: Rom.8:20 - "For the creature (the new creature)was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope." Also, John 15:5 - "For without me ye can do nothing."

In the second place, if the facts are so as we have endeavored to show from experience is the case, and this sustained by scripture, then the conclusion must be, that the present low and cold state of the churches, and the severe conflicts which many of the children of God are experiencing at this day, with the world, the flesh, and the devil, are God's appointment. Whether this be as a chastisement for their ingratitude in being kept from being swept away by the anti-christian flood, and for too great a disposition to yield to the influence of the world, or whether it be for the purifying of the churches, by separating from them all who are not kept by the power of God, and for disciplining the saints to a sense of their weakness and of their dependence on God to keep and sustain them, preparatory to the great struggle with the man of sin, which may be shortly approaching, or both, I am not prepared to say.

In conclusion, I would say that I would like to see some of our brethren on this subject, and particularly on the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, and of the believer's being kept not by any power in the new man, but by the power of God through faith, &c. Brother Barton knows something of fightings without and fears within, so does brother Buck, and others, if they would write.

In my former draught, I referred also to brother West, but his pen is laid silently by; being, happily for him, exchanged for a harp of glory, having passed victoriously through the great tribulation, having washed his robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Though we may miss the wholesome productions of his pen through the columns of the Signs, and many a scattered sheep grieve the loss of his ministerial labors, yet for him we have no ground to mourn. But will such be the case with some of us who are yet in Bochim? Yours, &c.,

Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia,
From: SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol.13 (1845)
S. Trott.

Select Works of Elder Samuel Trott.
pgs. 302 - 310