Note on Lecture 12. On Good Works as the Remedy of Post-Baptismal Sin

{304} FROM what has been said, it would seem that, while works before justification are but conditions and preparations for that gift, works after justification are much more, and that, not only as being intrinsically good and holy, but as being fruits of faith. And viewed as one with faith, which is the appointed instrument of justification after Baptism, they are,—(as being connatural with faith and indivisible from it, organs through which it acts and which it hallows),—instruments with faith of the continuance of justification, or, in other words, of the remission of sin after Baptism. Since this doctrine sounds strange to the ears of many in this day, and the more so because they have been taught that the Homilies, which our Church has authoritatively sanctioned, are decidedly opposed to it, I make the following extracts from that important work, for the accommodation of the general reader who may not have it at hand. Deeply is it to be regretted that a book, which contains "doctrine" so "godly and wholesome and necessary for these Times," as well as for the sixteenth century, should popularly be known only by one or two extracts, to the omission of such valuable matter as shall now be quoted:—

"Our Saviour Christ in the Gospel teacheth us, that it profiteth a man nothing to have in possession all the riches of the whole world, and the wealth and glory thereof, if in the mean season he lose his soul, or do that thing whereby it should become captive unto death, sin, and hell-fire. By the which saying, he not only instructeth us how much the soul's health is to be preferred before worldly commodities, but it also serveth to stir up our minds and to prick us forwards to seek diligently and learn by what means we may preserve and keep our souls {305} ever in safety, that is, how we may recover our health if it be lost or impaired, and how it may be defended and maintained if once we have it. Yea, He teacheth us also thereby to esteem that as a precious medicine and an inestimable jewel, that hath such strength and virtue in it, that can either procure or preserve so incomparable a treasure. For if we greatly regard that medicine or salve that is able to heal sundry and grievous diseases of the body, much more will we esteem that which hath like power over the soul. And because we might be better assured both to know and to have in readiness that so profitable remedy, He, as a most faithful and loving teacher, showeth Himself both what it is, and where we may find it, and how we may use and apply it. For, when both He and His disciples were grievously accused of the Pharisees, to have defiled their soul in breaking the constitutions of the Elders, because they went to meat and washed not their hands before, according to the custom of the Jews, Christ, answering their superstitious complaints, teacheth them an especial remedy how to keep clean their souls, notwithstanding the breach of such superstitious orders; 'Give alms,' saith He, 'and behold all things are clean unto you.'

"He teacheth, then, that to be merciful and charitable in helping the poor, is the means to keep the soul pure and clean in the sight of God. We are taught therefore by this, that merciful almsgiving is profitable to purge the soul from the infection and filthy spots of sin. The same lesson doth the Holy Ghost also teach in sundry other places of the Scripture, saying, 'Mercifulness and almsgiving purgeth from all sins, and delivereth from death, and suffereth not the soul to come into darkness.' [Tobit iv.] A great confidence may they have before the high God, that show mercy and compassion to them that are afflicted. The wise Preacher, the Son of Sirach, confirmeth the same, when he saith, that 'as water quencheth burning fire, even so mercy and alms resisteth and reconcileth sins.' And sure it is, that mercifulness quaileth the heat of sin so much, that they shall not take hold upon man to hurt him; or if ye have by any infirmity or weakness {306} been touched and annoyed with them, straightways shall mercifulness wipe and wash them away, as salves and remedies to heal their sores and grievous diseases. And therefore that holy father Cyprian taketh good occasion to exhort earnestly to the merciful work, to giving alms and helping the poor, and then he admonisheth to consider how wholesome and profitable is it to relieve the needy and help the afflicted, by the which we may purge our sins and heal our wounded souls."

Such is the virtue of works, not before justification, but after, as the means of keeping and restoring, not of procuring it, as fruits of faith done in the grace of Christ and by the inspiration of His Spirit, not as dead works done in the flesh, and displeasing to God. Attention should be especially called to a parallelism between one sentence in this extract and what was quoted in Lecture X. (pp. 223, 224) from the Sermon on the Passion, as showing how our Reformers identified faith and works, not in idea, but in fact. The one Homily says "It remaineth that I show unto you how to apply Christ's death and passion to our comfort as a medicine to our wounds ... Here is the mean, whereby we must apply the fruits of Christ's death unto our deadly wound, ... namely, faith." The other speaks of alms as "a precious medicine, a profitable remedy," which we are to "use and apply," "salves and remedies to heal" our "sores and grievous diseases."

It must be observed, moreover, that though faith is the appointed means of pleading Christ's merits, and so of cleansing (as it were) works done in faith from their adhering imperfection, yet that after all those works, though mixed with evil, are good in themselves, as being the fruit of the Spirit. Hence, in the passage which follows what has been quoted, very slight mention is made of faith, and the grace of God is made all in all, as "working in us both to will and to do," and "giving us power to get wealth;" [Deut. viii. 18.] the contrast lying not between faith and works, but between God's doings and man's doings. Nay, even when the image of the tree and fruit is introduced, it is interpreted of the grace of God the Holy Ghost in us, and of the effects in us of His gracious Indwelling. {307}

"But here some one will say unto me, If alms-giving and our charitable works towards the poor be able to wash away sins, to reconcile us to God, to deliver us from the peril of damnation, and make us sons and heirs of God's kingdom, then are Christ's merits defaced, and His blood shed in vain, then are we justified by works, and by our deeds may we merit heaven; then do we in vain believe that Christ died for to put away our sins and that He rose for our justification, as St. Paul teacheth." Now, here let us observe, this is the very objection urged against our Divines, such as Bishop Wilson, for words far short of those admitted by the Homily as true. Let us see how the writer answers it. "But ye shall understand, dearly beloved, that neither those places of Scripture before alleged, neither the doctrine of the Blessed Martyr Cyprian, neither any other godly and learned man,"—for instance, those excellent writers now so unworthily censured,—"when they, in extolling the dignity, profit, fruit, and effect of virtuous and liberal alms, do say that it washeth away sins and bringeth us to the favour of God, do mean, that our work and charitable deed is the original cause of our acceptation before God, or that for the dignity or worthiness thereof our sins be washed away, and we purged and cleansed from all the spots of our iniquity; for that were indeed to deface Christ, and to defraud Him of His glory. But they mean this, and this is the understanding of these and such like sayings, that God, of His mercy and especial favour towards them whom He hath appointed to everlasting salvation, hath so offered His grace especially, and they have so received it fruitfully, that although, by reason of their sinful living outwardly, they seemed before to have been the children of wrath and perdition, yet now the Spirit of God mightily working in them, unto obedience to God's will and commandments, they declare by their outward deeds and life, in the showing of mercy and charity (which cannot come but of the Spirit of God and His special grace), that they are the undoubted children of God appointed to everlasting life ... For as the good fruit is not the cause that the tree is good, but the tree must first be good before it can bring forth good fruit, so the good deeds of man are not the cause that maketh {308} man good, but he is first made good by the Spirit and grace of God that effectually worketh in him, and afterward he bringeth forth good fruits … As the true Christian man, in the thankfulness of his heart for the redemption of his soul, purchased by Christ's death, showeth kindly by the fruit of his faith his obedience to God, so the other, as a merchant with God, doth all for his own gain, thinketh to win heaven by the merit of his works, and so defaceth and obscureth the price of Christ's blood, who only wrought our purgation. The meaning then of these sayings in Scripture, 'alms-deeds do wash away our sins,' and 'mercy to the poor doth blot out our offences,' is, that we doing these things according to God's will and our duty, have our sins indeed washed away and our offences blotted out, not for the worthiness of them, but by the grace of God which worketh all in all, and that for the promise that God hath made to them that are obedient unto His commandments, that He which is the Truth might be justified in performing the truth due to His true promise." (This seems an allusion to a statement of St. Austin's):"Alms-deeds do wash away our sins, because God doth vouchsafe then to repute us as clean and pure" (that is, justify), "when we do them for His sake, and not because they deserve or merit our purging, or for that they have any such strength and virtue in themselves … The godly do learn that when the Scriptures say that by good and merciful works we are reconciled to God's favour, we are taught then to know what Christ by His intercession and mediation obtaineth for us of His Father when we be obedient to His will; yea, they learn, in such manner of speaking, a comfortable argument of God's singular favour and love, that attributeth that unto us, and to our doings, that He by His Spirit worketh in us, and through His grace procureth for us ... Thus they humble themselves and are exalted of God; they count themselves vile, and of God are counted pure and clean; they condemn themselves, and are justified of God; they think themselves unworthy of the earth, and of God are thought worthy of heaven."—Sermon of Alms-deeds, Part II.

To add passages to this most striking testimony would be {309} unnecessary, were it not important to show that our Formularies consistently put forth the doctrine contained in it. For instance, in the first Sermon on the Passion, justification is said to be gained through forgiveness of injuries and mutual forbearance: "Let us then be favourable one to another, and pray we one for another that we may be healed from all frailties of our life, the less to offend one the other; and that we may be of one mind and one spirit, agreeing together in brotherly love and concord, even like the dear children of God. By these means shall we move God to be merciful to our sins; yea, and we shall be hereby the more ready to receive our Saviour and Maker in His blessed Sacrament, to our everlasting comfort and health of soul." Again, soon afterwards: "Unless we forgive other, we shall never be forgiven of God. No, not all the prayers and good works of other can pacify God unto us, unless we be at peace and at one with our neighbour. Not all our deeds and good works can move God to forgive us our debts to Him except we forgive to other.' Now it is presumed the word "move," used in these passages, implies that forgiveness of injuries is an immediate means or instrument of our forgiveness at God's hand; not indeed mere forgiveness accorded from any motive, but forgiveness which is of faith.

Again, at the end of the Sermon of Charity:—"If we thus direct our life by Christian love and charity, then Christ doth promise and assure us, that He loveth us, that we be the children of our heavenly Father, reconciled to His favour, very members of Christ."

To the same purpose surely are such exhortations as the following from the Sermon on the Resurrection:—"Apply yourselves, good friends, to live in Christ, that Christ may still live in you, whose favour and assistance if ye have, then have ye everlasting life already within you, then can nothing hurt you." Godly and holy living was the immediate tenure of Christ's inward presence, or of justification in God's sight.

On turning to the Prayer Book, what first calls for remark is the collection of introductory Sentences prefixed to the Exhortation. {310} It is quite evident that these Sentences are intended to proclaim God's forgiveness of sin, as a fit introduction to the Confession. They are a sort of gospel herald, inviting all who hear to come to Christ. Now is faith mentioned as the mean by which pardon and acceptance after sinning may be obtained? by a singular chance (so to speak) it is not mentioned in any one of them; most singular and observable indeed, considering the Sentences are the selection of the Reformers, who, if any men, were alive to the necessity of faith in order to justification. Nothing can show more clearly that, while they considered it the only instrument of justification, they considered also that good works (of whatever kind) were in fact the coming to God, and the concrete presence of faith. Certainly, the view of religion popular in this day would have confined itself to such texts as are most impressively cited in the Communion Service [Note], instead of putting forth the profitableness of "turning away from the wickedness we have committed," of "acknowledging our transgressions," and of "a broken spirit." Contrition, confession, humiliation, deprecation, repentance, and amendment, are separately urged upon us; faith is omitted,—not as unnecessary, but as being implied in all of these.

In like manner in the Exhortation we are enjoined to confess our sins "with a humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart, to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same." Why are we not told to "come in faith, and to apprehend and appropriate the free gift?"

Again, in the Collect for Ash Wednesday, we pray God to "create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain perfect remission and forgiveness." Are not renewal, contrition, and confession, here represented as the immediate causes or instruments, on our part, of justification?

So again, in the Visitation of the Sick, the directions given to the sick person in order to the forgiveness of his sins, are "accusing and condemning himself of his own faults," "believing the Articles of our Faith," "repenting of his sins," "being in charity {311} with all the world," "forgiving all persons that have offended him," "asking forgiveness, if he have offended any other," "making amends for injuries and wrongs," and, if of ability, "being liberal to the poor." Faith as an act apprehending and appropriating Christ is not once mentioned, or the notice of it even approached.

Lastly, in the Commination Service, recovery of the state of justification is promised to us who "return to our Lord God with all contrition and meekness of heart, bewailing and lamenting our sinful life, acknowledging and confessing our offences, and seeking to bring forth worthy fruits of penance;" "if with a perfect and true heart we return to Him;" "if we come unto Him with faithful repentance, if we submit ourselves unto Him, and from henceforth walk in His ways; if we will take His easy yoke and light burden upon us, to follow Him in lowliness, patience, and charity, and be ordered by the governances of His Holy Spirit, seeking always His glory and serving Him duly in our vocation with thanksgiving; this if we do, Christ will deliver us from the curse of the Law." How different from the popular Protestant doctrine, which says, "If you have sinned, go to Christ in faith, look upon Him who has borne the sins of the world, cast your burden upon Him, apprehend Him, apply His merits to your soul, believe you are justified, and you are justified, without anything else on your part."

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Note

John iii. 16, etc.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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