Page images

promote the welfare and happiness of his fellow men, who fears and who serves the God who made him, and who endeavours to regulate all his conduct by the divine laws, possesses merit, is entitled to commendation and reward, when compared with the wicked man, with the selfish, abandoned sinner, who has no object but the gratification of his passions, and who in the pursuit of this object, violates the laws both of God and man. The one is the object of execration and of punishment; the other of applause and honour. This is the judgment which we pronounce, when we compare them with each other in reference to the principles which regulate their conduct, and to the effect of those principles on themselves and on the world.

But there is also relative merit among good men. He whose goodness is more pure and elevated than that of others with whom he may be compared, whose conduct is more strictly conformed in all respects to the dictates, of virtue and the law of God, may be said to possess more merit than others. And his merit will be enhanced by the temptations which he has encountered, by the sufferings which he has sustained, and by the difficulties which he has overcome, in rising to those heights of virtue which he has attained.

[ocr errors]

Nor do we deny that virtue is deserving of praise and of reward. Virtue consists in acting agreeably

1. To explain this doctrine.

II. To prove it. And

III. Lastly, to state its practical results.
I. The explanation of the doctrine.

[ocr errors]

Is it impossible then that man can possess merit ? Are not virtuous performances meritorious? Does not the universal language of mankind, which is no fallacious evidence of truths that are founded in the reason and nature of things, assign merit to certain actions and individuals? To assert that this language is incorrect, that in reality there can be no merit in man or in his deeds would not this be to confound vice and virtue, and to detract from the lustre of those Benefactors of nations, who now shine forth in the page of history, and command the applause of the world?

It is necessary, in order to obtain correct ideas on this subject, that we ascertain in what merit, strictly speaking, consists.

: Merit consists in doing something by his own power, which entitles the agent, on the ground of the performance, to reward.

There are certain senses in which men may be said to possess relative merit.

They may possess merit when compared with one


Thus, the righteous man, he who does his duty in the station in which Providence places him, who seeks by every mean in his power to

[ocr errors]

possibly impose an obligation on God to reward him. He cannot do any thing which on the ground of the performance, independently of the covenant of grace in the Gospel, can entitle him to favour or to reward.

This is the proposition which I now proceed to prove.

II. The proofs of the truth that man has not any absolute merit in the sight of God-any thing which on the ground of the performance, independently of the covenant of grace in the Gospel, can entitle him to favour or reward, may be drawn from the following considerations.

He is a creature dependent upon God who made him.

He is a sinner, obnoxious to God's justice. His redemption is only by the blood of Christ, His good works are wrought only through divine grace.

They are at best imperfect, and cannot stand the scrutiny of divine holiness and justice.

1. Man can have no merit, can perform no good works which can entitle him to claim reward, because he is a creature dependent on the God who made him.

It is a first principle resulting from the very nature of the relation which subsists between them, that a creature cannot claim any thing from its Creator on the ground of absolute right. Every thing that the one possesses is given by the

other. All possibility of absolute merit is thus excluded. Shall a creature deriving every thing that he possesses from his Creator claim merit and reward at the hands of that Creator! The supposition involves a gross absurdity. Whence has man derived the endowments on which he boasts himself? From God his Maker. By whose power are those endowments preserved in exercise? By the power of his Almighty Sovereign. And shall man presume to claim reward for his performances on the ground of their absolute merit from that very Being whose creating and preserving power brought him into existence, sustains him in life, and preserves in vigour those faculties by which he lives and acts? The claim would be as impious as it is absurd.

But again. For the gift of his being, man has incurred a debt of gratitude, which will for ever exclude all claims to absolute merit. In proportion to the excellence of his endowments, and of his gifts, of his capacity for high attainments, and noble and magnificent deeds; is the return of gratitude due to Him who has thus elevated him in the scale of being. Those splendid performances then on which he would erect his. claim to merit, only add to his debt of gratitude, and thus destroy this claim. No possible services on the part of man can be an adequate return for the goodness of his Creator, in the gift of a Being but little lower than that of the

Angels, capable of rising to almost equal heights of knowledge and felicity, and destined, not only with angels, but with God himself, to be blessed and happy for evermore.

2. The absurdity of the claim to merit appears still stronger, if we consider that man is a sinner, obnoxious to God's justice.

He has wilfully transgressed; he has incurred the penalty of wilful transgression; and is subject to God's just displeasure. A sinner talk of merit! A criminal at the bar of eternal justice-the sentence of wrath issuing against him, lay claim to reward! O God! it is of thy mercy that he is not consumed.

3. Man's claim to merit is destroyed by the fact, that his redemption is only through the blood of Christ.

"Ye are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ," is the language of the Apostle, and "there is salvation in no other." But if there is merit, why should there be redemption? Redemption implies a state of guilt and bondage, for deliverance from which there is a price paid. But if man could claim reward on the ground of absolute merit, he must have been capable of freeing himself from this state of guilt and bondage, of paying himself the price of his redemption. Why then should so great a price have

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »