Of Ethicks or Moral Philosophy, that it leads not to Salvation; And that the Moral Vertues of Temperance, Fortitude, Justice, Liberality, &c. are not Grace.
ROM. 2. 15.
I Shall at this time finish the matter I intended out of this Text, which was to shew, That all the Moral excellency and worth, a man by nature can attain unto, deserveth not to be called Grace and Godliness. The onely thing consi∣derable, that remaineth to be discussed, is, Whether those Moral Vertues, the choicest Heathens are so exact in describing of, and pressing to, are Grace: For there is nothing seemeth to be so like godliness, as those Moral Vertues, Fortitude, Temperance, Justice, Liberality, &c. and seeing the Scripture commands the same things, that those Authors do so commend, it may justly be doubted, whe∣ther to have those Moral Vertues that do so excellently civilize a man, and order∣ly regulate all his actions, that the Church and Commonwealth where he liveth, receiveth much good by him, be not enough to Salvation. This is a point of great concernment, for who doth not think, if he attain to such a well-temper∣ed life, that he is in the necessary way to salvation? For the better discovery of the truth in this point, consider these things:
First, That the Heathens were right in this, in commending Moral Philosophy above all other Arts, because the end of it was to make men civilly good, and Page 356〈1 page duplicate〉Page 357〈1 page duplicate〉Page 358 orderly to govern their actions: Therefore Seneca said well, The other Arts are called Liberal, because they are worth the study of a free and ingenuous man; but this is called Liberal, because it makes a man free, and sets him at liberty from his passions and vices. All the Sciences lie in Contemplation and Specula∣tion, but this endeavoreth to bring a man to the injoyment of some good, which is his end. The former were onely invented Ut. Exercitia ingenii, not Remedia animi, but this to be a medicine and cure of the soul. Hence when they com∣pared all the Arts together, sometimes they resembled them to a field; Natural Philosophy they made the plants and roots that grew therein; Logick the hedge that inclosed the field; but Moral Vertue was the fruit growing thereon: At other times they compared them to an Egg; the yolk or substance, was Mo∣ral Philosophy; the shell was Logick. Thus far they did well, that they thought it more excellent to reform a mans manners, to better his conversation, then to know the Motions of the Heavens, or to dispute subtilly: Therefore they called it the musick of the soul, as that which did tame and quiet mens unruly passions, and regulate their crooked lives; and herein they will certainly at the day of judgement condemn many Christians, who labor more for knowledge, and how to get skill and understanding in those matters which have applause in the world, then to live soberly and righteously.
Secondly, Howsoever Plato and other Heathens, have labored much in laying down Doctrines and Precepts to cure mens lives, yet Aristotle hath the more general approbation, for describing of Ethical Doctrine; Indeed Plato hath more Divine matter in his works, but Aristotle methodizeth it; therefore one said, That all things lay confused, till Aristotle came, who put them unto order. As the great Army of the M•des was confused and tumultuous, till Cyoxares their General regulated them. Yet the Fathers, they generally were most addicted to Plato, from whom also they sucked in some corrupt opinions, which their Christianity did not quite wash away; and because of their former life and opi∣nions, it is an usual thing with them to call the Christian Doctrine, and the Christian Religion, Philosophy: But afterwards Aristotle began to be admired, whom Averroes called the Rule and Example, which Nature had found out, to demonstrate the ultimate perfection of a man; yea, some Popish Writers have thought him a glorified Saint in Heaven: But whatsoever excellent Doctrine he might propound to make men civil, and externally vertuous, yet the Christi∣an Religion doth reveal a far more excellent and noble way; and therefore if we take Solomons Proverbs, which we may call Solomons Ethicks; how infinitely doth he transcend Aristotle, for though both may prescribe the same Moral duty, yet Solomon still carrieth us out to God, and sets up a sure light to direct our feet in a good and upright way.
Thirdly, That which we call Ethicks, or moral Philosophy, is a doctrine informing us how to regulate our actions, according to honesty and righteousness, that so we might be happy: For although Heathens miserably erred, and were con∣founded, about what happiness was, and the chiefest good, yet they all con∣cluded, there was such a thing, and that the way thereunto was onely by ver∣tuous actions: The nature of which they described to be in keeping of an ex∣cellent Mean, so that a man do not fail in excess or defect; and all this was to be done for vertues sake, out of love to it; as for example, they made Tempe∣rance a vertue, but when and how? even when a man had got an habit of this sobriety rooted in him; not excessive in any things of pleasure, nor yet defective in things convenient and necessary; and all this he doth not for applause sake, or to preserve his health, but out of a love to vertue: This therefore they press, that he who would be happy, he must be a vertuous man; and certainly, this may seem an high point, that they held none vertuous, but such who did vertuous actions, for vertues sake: This laid down, it will be very profitable to know whether this be not Grace: whether any men need to do any more: would it Page 359 not be well, if many amongst us were thus far moralized? The answer is nega∣tive, All such vertues, let men attain to never so much loveliness and come∣liness in them, yet are not the Grace God requireth of those who would be saved: Their Temperance, their Meekness, their Justice, is far different from that Temperance, Meekness and Righteousness, which the spirit of God works in us; therefore there are some Divines that say, The Scripture never useth ver∣tue in that sense, as the Philosophers do; neither (say they) is Grace ever cal∣led vertue: But I cannot say this latter is true, for the Scripture saith, A ver∣tuous woman, Prov. 30. 10. that is, A gracious godly woman; and the Apostle speaking of the chain of Graces, saith, Adde to faith, vertue; and to vertue know∣ledge, 1 Pet. 1. 5. It is true, to deliver such matter as this, as to love a good and honest action for honesties sake, seemeth to be very high, and we may justly question, whether ever any Heathen was so vertuous in that respect; they were onely notions, delivered by men in Books, not realities practised in mens lives; but grant all this were so, and we have many men amongst us, who are admirably moralized, prudence and reason hath wonderfully civilized them, that they abhor any gross sins, as that which is against the nature of a man, and makes him become bruitish; but yet none of these are yet in a state of Grace. And consider well the grounds of this point, that at last thou mayest be provoked to true godliness:
First, This civilized Vertue falls short, because it hath not been built upon a sure, deep and humble foundation; which is, the acknowledgement of our natural cor∣ruption * and the horrible stain that is now throughout the whole man: They were also ignorant of the sinfulness of those inward motions, and first suggesti∣ons to sin, which Paul doth so bemoan and bewail himself for, as a miserable captive. Now if a man build never so fair an Edifice, upon a slighty and weak foundation, when any storm ariseth, all will fall presently to the ground. All men indeed, have acknowledged vertue hard and difficult to flesh and blood, they placed it upon an high hill, to which it was hard climbing, but yet they did not make it impossible to flesh and blood. Some of the Heathens conceived, the seeds and foundations of vertue were in our nature, as sparks of fire are in a flint stone, which are stricken out, though with an hard blow; but man is said To be dead, not asleep in sin, Ephes. 2. and our Regeneration is called a Resur∣rection, not an awakning from evil ways. Grace is not sowed in an heart, as seed in the ground, which the earth brings forth by a natural power, and in∣bred strength; but as Sarah did conceive, wholly by the power of God: Thus doth the heart of a man bring forth the fruits of righteousness. Here then is the certain ground of mens mistakes, they lay not a sure foundation at first; they think not sin hath made such a deep and inward wound upon a mans soul, and therefore they seek not out for such a deep and inward cure: Oh know then! that although thy life be never so externally vertuous, yet if thou hast not begun with this principle of Debasement, all the work of grace is to begin a new in thee.
Secondly, This Moral Vertue is not Godliness, because they erred in the maner*also of obtaining it: They looked upon vertue, as that which was acquired by their own industry and customary actions; they call them acquired habits, not infused: They thought by often actions of Temperance, Meekness and Righte∣ousness, to get the habits of them; but in Christianity it is far otherwise, God first makes the tree good, then the fruit will be good: First he infuseth into our souls supernatural principles, inabling us to walk holily, and then we walk in his Commandments; this is called, The taking away of an heart of stone, and giving an heart of flesh, Ezek. 32. and Writing his Law in our hearts, Jer. 31. so that when we are righteous, temperate, in a Christian way, it is not because we often accustomed our selves to such actions before, but because God first sanctified our natures thereunto; whereas all Moral Vertue is obtained by a studious and Page 360〈1 page duplicate〉Page 361〈1 page duplicate〉Page 360 diligent exercise of our selves in such ways; therefore they called this Art or Doctrine, Ethicks, from 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Custom, because they did frequently use them∣selves to such maners; And how common is this amongst us? Have men been formerly given to such and such vicious and sinful courses? if they recover out of these, they do it by an humane power, they stint themselves in such and such a maner: All this is well done, but still they must look higher, they must ex∣pect and beg for grace, to be infused in their hearts by Gods spirit, not obtain∣ed by their own labors: Therefore men thus moralized, and no more, are ne∣ver zealously affected with the Grace of God converting them; they never are admiring, as you see Paul is, sometimes to ravishment, of the riches of Gods grace, and his unspeakable love to them: Nor have they such discovery of Grace in them, as to be often speaking of, and affected with the original of it.
Thirdly, This Moral Vertue is therefore insufficient, because it is not guided by a sure and standing rule, which is the word of God: For seeing that is true, which is affirmed * by them, That vertue is in a golden Mediocrity, moderating against excess and de∣fect; there must be some standard or immoveable rule to go by, that we erre neither on the right hand or the left. Now that which they prescribed, was one∣ly the dictate and resolution of a prudent man; Sicut vir prudens judicabit, As a prudent man shall judge: But alas? no man can be a rule to a vertue, but ver∣tue must regulate him: This were to have the Sun follow the Clock, as they say; therefore these did onely grope in the dark, not knowing how to order their steps; they were like ships in the sea, without any Pilot. But to that which is truly grace and godliness, the word of God is a sure rule; that onely regu∣lateth our actions, that informeth us how to moderate our passions, how to bound and limit our affections; as also, what motives and attractives should in∣large our desires to what is good: Therefore the Word of God is so often called a Light and a Lamp, Psal. 119. and the Apostle calls it the Rule, Gal. 6. 16. ac∣cording to which we must direct and order our steps: That is not grace, which the thoughts of a wise man shall determine, but what Christ and the Word of God shall conclude; and indeed, hence arise all mistakes about God∣liness, that the Scripture is not made the Judge of it. That which to our apprehensions, to our prudential thoughts, we think to be right and Reli∣gious, that presently we imbrace, and go no further: But the nature of true godliness, is as much above thy thoughts, and beyond thy expectation, as any mystery of Faith. A man would as hardly believe, that Grace is such a supernatural mysterious work, as the Doctrine of the Trinity, or Christs Incarnation is incredible to a Natural man: Look therefore to have true Grace, a farre other thing, then thy Natural Prudence would con∣clude.
Fourthly, This Moral Vertue is not Grace, because suppose the utmost and highest which they attained in this way, viz. To love a vertuous action, for vertues*sake, not for vain glory, or self-ends, but meerly because vertue is lovely, and comely, and consonant to right reason: Yet because they staid in this, and did not refer all to God, placed their trust and happiness in this, and not in God; therefore these Vertues were indeed Vices. Hence the Apostle, 1 Corinth. 6. 1. calls all their Magistrates and Governors in their Publique Courts, unjust: Do any of you go to Law before the unjust, and not before the Saints: Though they had a Civil Justice, and were a terror to the wicked; yet because this was not referred to Gods glory, the Scripture calls them unjust. But you see, the godly who have true Grace in them, and the fruits of Gods Spirit, yet rest not in this, look not to be justified or made hap∣py hereby, but go out of them all to the favor of God through Christ: Thus Paul accounteth his Righteousness dung and dross, in comparison of the Righteousness by Faith, Philip. 3. 8. Paul, furnished with so many gracious Page 361 abilities, yet as a meer Beggar, runs to Gods Grace for covering, lest his nakedness appear: So that if our Graces, which yet are wrought in us by Gods Spirit, may have no confidence put in them; much less may those Civil Vertues: And for this reason, Austin puts those glorious Vertues in the Catalogue of Vices. Those vertues, saith he, which a man seemeth to him∣self to have, by which he hath power and dominion over vices, unless they be referred to God, they are vices rather then vertues; for although of some they are then thought to be true and honest vertues, when they are referred to themselves, and not desired for any thing else, yet even then they are swelling and proud, and therefore are not vertues but vices: For as that is not flesh, but above flesh, which makes flesh live, so that is not of a man, but above man, which makes man to live happily: thus Austin. So then this Civil vertue can make none godly, because it makes a man stay in himself, and rest in those apprehended perfections, not at all going out to God; whereas Grace in its proper effects, still makes us to eye God, and look out to him.
Fifthly, As a Consectary from the former, therefore this Moral Vertue*is not godliness, because it is not a life of faith, which yet is the soul and heart of all godliness. The just shall live by faith, Romans 1. 17. Now this life of faith is not onely in Justification, whereby we lay hold upon Christ for his Righteousness, that so Christ may be all in all; but also in Sancti∣fication, whereby Christ dwelling in our hearts, we receive Power, Life and Motion from him, to walk in all godliness: Thus Romans 11. By faith we stand as branches in the Olive Tree, and receive of its fatness: The life of Grace in a godly man is not an entire independent and absolute life of it self, but a partial dependent one, such as the branch is of a tree; or a member of the body; or the childes life in the womb. As therefore when the root is withered, the branches must; or as sweet flowers, pulled off their root, presently lose their life and fragrancy; so doth a godly man, if he could be separated from Christ: But civil vertue is not a life of faith, depending upon another; its a life of works, wherein we are a kinde of absolute Lords, not fetching power from without us. Hence it is, that these moralists are never much in prayer, earnest in supplications; they please themselves with custom and formality, and lasie devotions, not feeling the constant need of Christ, and the daily supply which they should have from him; yea, they are wholly strangers to the life of faith, they know not what it means; they have no ex∣ercises or temptations in it: Therefore do not thou judge of thy good condi∣tion by thy Morality, by thy external Righteousness, but by thy faith; Dost thou know what it is to believe? to lie sucking at the breasts of Gods pro∣mise daily? to be drawing out of the wells of Salvation continually? This is the great part of Grace.
Sixthly, This Moral life is not a gracious life, because here is nothing of Christ in it; who yet inableth onely to what is godly, and makes that godliness ac∣ceptable: *There is no other name to be saved by, but by Christ; and no other way, but by faith in that Name, Acts 4. 12. Therefore Christ calls himself The Way, the Truth and the Life, John 14. 6. The way, so that whatsoever glory and dig∣nity any action may have, yet if it be not through him, its out of the way; and the faster a man runs, if it be out of the way, the greater loss it is. Then he is the Truth, all actions not done in his name, are but lyes and vanities: Thy Religion is a lye, thy Righteonsness is a lye, if it be not done in and through him. And then he is the Life, let thy conversation be never so resplendent, so glorious, yet it is but a dead glory; there is no supernatural life of grace, but where Christ is. Now a Moral man, if a Christian, though he may in profes∣sion acknowledge Christ, yet he doth not live as one that daily receiveth in∣fluence from him: Christ is not really in his thoughts, in his duties, in his af∣fections; Page 362 he doth not pathetically and heartily, cry out, How vain are all these duties without Christ? How undone were I, if not for Christ?
Seventhly, This Moral Vertue is not a life of Grace, because it is many times a dreadful opposer, and a cursed enemy to it. Those Stoicks, which were the chiefest * of Heathens, and had the sublimest notions about vertue, That would not have a man love vertue, not for the sweetness and delight it brings, they thought that too base, and an unworthy respect, but onely for vertues sake; yet how desperately did they set against Paul, Acts 17. 18. like loves its like; and therefore if Moral vertue were grace, it would love, respect and honor it wheresoever it findes it: Those onely should be chief in our affections, who are in piety.
But you may say, What? is there no difference then to be made between a vicious man, and a civilized man; between these outwardvertuous actions, and gross prophaneness?*
Yes, very much; for First, God hath commanded the prophane, gross man to be cast out of the Church Assemblies, till he be reformed: If one that*is a brother, be a fornicator, drunkard, &c. not to eat with such an one; and cast out from among you that wicked person, 1 Cor. 5. such gross sinners are no more to be suffered in holy Assemblies, then Swine in your garden, then Toades in your dishes, then dead Flies in a box of ointment; but a Christian civilized, though not regenerated, hath no such censure to be inflicted upon him; and although this Morality be no qualification for heaven, yet it keeps men from being spots and blemishes, reproaches and scandals to that holy name which is called upon by us: Therefore its great matter of praise and blessing of God, if these restraints are put upon men, and they do not like Swine wallow in all mire and filth.
2. This Moral vertue is profitable both to others, and to themselves also. To*others; Thus the Righteousness, Fortitude, and other noble Qualifications a∣mong the Romans, were a great advantage to the publique, and while those humane vertues flourished, Rome was the Queen and Head of the world; but (as their own Authors observe) when that strictness and justice was dissolved, and in the room thereof Avarice, Pleasures, and all corrupt administrations, then she became so sick, that she could neither indure her diseases, nor yet her remedies: And then they are profitable to those that do them, partly be∣cause their condemnation will be lesser, their punishments more mitigated; and partly because God doth bestow many outward temporal rewards upon them. Ahab for external humiliation, had the publique judgements of the Land removed for that season; and industry, frugality and righteous dealings, have temporal blessings following them.
Use. To inform how far they are off from all grace, and so all hopes of glory, who live in gross and prophane ways: What? if such Righteousness doth not avail? shall thy unrighteousness? If such temperance and sobriety? shall thy voluptuous and unclean courses? If copper be not found to be gold? shall dung be thought to be gold? Therefore let such be ashamed and con∣founded, and never open their mouthes with any confidence. But
2. This sheweth the excellency of the word of God, which discovers those things as contemptible and unworthy, which among men are so admired: What is more amiable? then to see a man of a sober, temperate, chast and just con∣versation? yet the Scripture sheweth a more excellent way; not that it takes these away, but lifts them up to an higher nature. It makes a man go further, and do those things upon spiritual and supernatural grounds, which were done upon humane and inferior motives before.