Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.
Touching our hope which we have concerning the performance of God's promises the Apostle saith [the writer to the Hebrews], that unto 'the full assurance of hope' there must be 'diligence' shewed, and that we are to prepare ourselves to receive Christ, and also having received Him with all His benefits to strive to hold Him fast, and never suffer our hope to be taken from us.
Upon which points, the doctrine that is to be delivered out of this Scripture doth follow by good consequence, for of these points of holding fast our faith in Christ two questions may arise, which may be answered by the Apostle's words in this place, where it may be demanded first, Whether we be able of our own strength to shew forth that diligence that is required to assure us of our hope. The Apostle resolveth us of that doubt in saying, 'We are not able of ourselves to think any good of ourselves.'
Secondly, because it may be objected, If we be not able of ourselves, from whence then may we receive ability? he addeth, that 'our sufficiency is of God,' from Whose goodness it cometh that we are able to do any good thing whatsoever; to the end when God stands without, knocking [301/302] at the door of our hearts for the performance of such duties as please Him, we, in regard that of ourselves we cannot do the least thing that He requireth, should knock at the gate of His mercy, that He will minister to us ability to do the same according to His promise, 'Knock, and it shall be opened to you.' That as by preaching of the Law there was opened unto us 'the door of faith,' and as the Creed is unto us 'a door of hope,' so the consideration of our own insufficiency might open unto us a door unto prayer, by which we may sue unto God for that ability which we have not of ourselves. So this Scripture hath two uses, first, to preserve us from error, that we seek not for that in ourselves which cannot be found in us; secondly, for our direction, that seeing all ability cometh from God, we should seek for it where it is to be found.
Both these things are matter very necessary to be known: the first serveth to exclude our boasting; we ought not to boast of our ability, because we have none. The second is a means to provoke us to call upon God by prayer, that from Him we may receive that which is wanting in ourselves.
To speak first of the negative part, both heathen and holy writings do commend to us that saying, Tuîqi seautÕn, but in a diverse sense. The heathen use it as a means to puff up our nature, that in regard of the excellency which God hath vouchsafed us above other creatures we should be proud thereof; but Christian religion laboureth by the knowledge of ourselves and of our misery to 'cast down every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and to bring into captivity all imaginations to the obedience of Christ.'
Whereas heathen philosophers will us to consider the excellent virtues wherewith man's nature is endued, the Scriptures all along put us in mind of our insufficiency, and tell us, that 'if any man seem to himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth' himself in his own fancy. And 'if any man thinketh that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.'
Amongst the places of Scripture which the Holy Ghost useth to shew our insufficiency, none doth so much disable our nature as this place of the Apostle, which denieth unto [302/303] us all power ever to conceive a good thought, so far are we off from fulfilling that good which we ought.
In this negative we are, first, to consider these words, whereby the Holy Ghost doth disable us: 'We are not able to think any thing;' secondly, the qualification in these words, 'as of ourselves.'
In denying our ability he setteth down three things: 1. 'not able to think;' 2. 'any thing;' 3. this want of ability is imputed not to the common sort of men only, but even to the Apostles themselves, who of all other seemed to be most able. The Apostle to shew our insufficiency telleth us, 'we are not able' so much as 'to think any thing;' therefore much less are we able fully to perform that good which is enjoined us. For whereas there are seven degrees to be considered in the effecting of any thing to think that which is good is the least and lowest degree; which being denied unto us, doth plainly shew what is our imperfection.
The first thing to be observed in undertaking any good, is the accomplishing of it; secondly, the working or doing of the thing required; thirdly, the beginning to do it; fourthly, to speak that which is good; fifthly, to will and desire it; sixthly, to understand; seventhly, to think. But the Scripture doth deny all these unto us. The perfecting or bringing to pass of that which is good, is not in ourselves. 'To will is present with us,' sed bonum perficere non invenio. Deus est, &c. 'It is God which enableth us to perform.'
This we find by experience to be true in things that are evil. The brethren of Joseph, when they sold him to the Egyptians, had a purpose to work their brother's hurt, but they had no power to perform their wicked attempts, for God turned their wicked purpose to good. When Paul was going to Damascus with purpose to persecute the Church, it pleased God in the way to stay his purpose so that he could not perform that evil which he intended. Thus much the Wise Man sheweth, when by an example he proveth that the strongest doth not always carry away the battle.
The heathen themselves say that heroical virtues are in the mind of man, but if any singular tbing be done, it is the gods that give that power; and the Pelagian saith, though we be [303/304] able to begin a good work, yet the accomplishment is of God.
Secondly, we are not facere, no more than we were able to effect, for so saith Christ, Sine Me nihil potestis facere. The Prophet saith, Scio quod viri non est via ejus. If it be not in man's power to order this way and to rule his own steps, much less is he able to hold out to his journey's end. but it is God That ordereth and 'directeth man's steps.' Therefore St. Paul saith, 'The good I would do, I do not;' and if we do any good, that it be not effected, yet it is the work of God in us, as the Prophet [Isaiah] confesseth:Domine, omnia opera nostra operatus es in nobis.
Thirdly, the inchoation or beginning of that which is good is denied us: though we purpose in our hearts to perform those duties of godliness that are required, yet we have not the power to put them in practice. Fili vererunt ad partum, et non sunt vires pariendi, 'The children are come unto the birth, and there is no strength to bring forth.' If we begin to do any good thing, it is Deus Qui coepit in nobis bonum opus. In consideration of which place Augustine saith of the Pelagians, Audiant qui dicunt a nobis esse coeptum, a Deo esse eventum; 'Here let them learn of the Apostle that it is the Lord That doth begin and perform the good work.'
Fourthly, the power to speak that which is good is not in us, for as the Wise Man saith, 'A man may well purpose a thing in his heart, but the answer of the tongue cometh from the Lord.' Whereof we have often experience. They that have the office of teaching in the Church, albeit they do beforehand prepare what to say, yet when it comes to the point, are not able to deliver their mind in such sort as they had purposed; as on the other side, when God doth assist them with His Spirit, they are enabled on a sudden to deliver that which they had not intended to speak.
Fifthly, as the ability of effecting was attributed to God, so is the will.
Sixthly, for understanding, the Apostle saith, 'The natural man perceiveth not the things that are of the spirit of God. For the wisdom of the flesh is enmity with God.'
Seventhly, the power of thinking the thing that is pleasing to God is not in us, so far are we from understanding or [304/305] desiring it, as the Apostle in this place testifieth. And therefore when the Prophet speaketh generally of all men, 'The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men, that they are but vain;' the Apostle affirmeth that to be true of the wise men of the world that are endued only with wisdom of the world and the flesh, that 'their thoughts are vain,' also.
Secondly, that we should not think that the want of ability standeth only in matters of difficulty and weight, the Apostle saith not we are unable to think any weighty thing, but even that without the special grace of God's spirit we cannot 'think any thing.' So Augustine understandeth Christ's words, John the fifteenth, where He saith not, Nihil magnum et difficile, but Sine Me nihil potestis facere.
This is true in natural things, for we are not able to prolong our own life one moment; the actions of our life are not of ourselves but from God, in Whom 'we live, move and have our being.' Therefore upon those words of Christ's Ego a Meipso non possum facere quiicquam niso quod video Patrem, 'I of myself can do nothing but what I see My Father do,' &c. Augustine saith, Ei tribuit quiquid fecit,a Quo est Ipse Qui facit.
But the insufficiency of which the Apostle speaketh, is not in things natural, but in the ministration of the Spirit. So he saith, that God of his special grace hath made them 'able Ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit:' his meaning is, that no endeavour of men can endue us with the grace of repentance, with faith, hope, and Christian charity, except the inward working of the God's Spirit.
As the Apostle speaks of the gift of tongues, of the understanding of secrets, and of all knowledge without charity, Nihil mihi prodest; so all our endeavours are unprofitable to us, unless God by His Spirit do co-operate with us; for 'He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit, that is, the fruit of righteousness, the end whereof is eternal life.'
Thirdly, the persons whom he chargeth with this want of ability, are not the common sort of 'natural' men that are not yet regenerate by God's Spirit, but he speaketh of himself and his fellow Apostles. So these words are an answer to that question, 'Unto these things [305/306] who is sufficient?' he answereth himself, Not we, for we are not able of ourselves to be means by whom God should manifest the savour of His knowledge in every place; so that which Christ spake, John the fifteenth, He spake it to His disciples, who albeit they were more excellent persons than the rest of the people, yet He telleth them, Sine Me nihil potestis facere.
The negative being general, we may make a very good use of it: if the Apostles of Christ were unable, how much more are we. If Jacob say, 'I am unworthy of the least of Thy blessings;' if John Baptist say, 'I am not worthy;' if St. Paul confess, 'I am not worthy to be called an Apostle:' much more may we say with the prodigal son that had spent all, 'I am not worthy to be called Thy son;' and with the centurion, 'I am not worthy Thou shouldest come under my roof.'
The reason of this want of ability is, for that the nature of men cannot perform that which the Apostle speaks of, neither as it is in an estate decayed through the fall of Adam, and that the general corruption that he hath brought into the whole race of mankind; nor as it is restored to the highest degree of perfection, that the first man had at the beginning. Adam himself, when he was yet perfect, could not attain to this, for he but 'a living soul;' the second Adam was 'a quickening spirit.' And it is not in the power of nature to elevate and lift itself up to conceive of hope of being partaker of the blessedness of the life to come, to be made 'partakers of the Divine Nature,' and of the heavenly substance: if men hope for any such thing, it is the Spirit of God That raiseth them up to it.
As the water can rise no higher than nature will give it leave, and as the fire giveth heat only within a certain compass, so the perfection which Adam had was in certain compass, the light of nature that he had did not reach so high as the stir him up to the hope of the blessedness to come; that was without the compass of nature, and comes by the supernatural working of grace.
As we are corrupt, it neverth cometh into our minds to hope for the felicity of the life to come; 'for all the thoughts of man's heart are only evil, and that all the day long.'
[306/307] That is true which the Apostle witnesseth of the Gentiles, 'That they by nature do the things of the Law,' if we understand it of moral duties, for the very light of nature doth guide us to the doing of them. But as the Prophet saith, 'My goodness doth not extend to Thee;' so whatsover good thing we do by the direction of natural reason, it is without all respect of God, except He enlightens us before. Therefore in our regeneration not only the corruption of our will is healed, but a certain divine spark of fire and zeal of God's Spirit is infused into us, by which we are holpen to do those duties of piety, which otherwise naturally we have no power to do.
Now follows the qualification of this general negative sentence. For where the Apostle hath saith, 'We are not able to think any thing of ourselves,' the Scripture recordeth divers good purposes that came into the hearts of God's servants. The Lord Himself saith of David : 'Whereas it was in thine heart to build an house to My name, thou didst well in thinking so to do.' The Apostle saith of unmarried folks, 'that they care for the things that belong to the Lord, how they please the Lord.' But the Apostle sheweth, that if we have any such thoughts at any time, they do not proceed from us.
By which words the Apostle no doubt maketh this distinction, that there are some things that come of us, and are of ourselves; again, there are other things that come from us and yet are not of us.
That is from and of ourselves, that groweth in us naturally: that is said to be from ourselves but not of ourselves, which is engrafted in us. It is the true olive that, from itself and of itself, yieldeth fatness; and the wild olive being engrafted in it, doth from itself yield fatness but not of itself, but as it is by insition made partaker of that fatness which naturally is in the true olive.
Figmenta cogitationis are from and of ourselves; but if any divine and spiritual thoughts come into our hearts, the Lord God is the 'potter' that frames them in us.
The Apostle saith, Scio quod in me, hoc est, in carne meâ, non habitat bonum. But 'sin dwells in me:' therefore sin that dwells in us, is from us and of us; but the grace of God's [307/308] Spirit, which dwells not in us but doth tarry guest-wise, is that which is from us but not of us.
Our Saviour saith, 'Why do thoughts arise in your hearts?' Such thoughts are from us and of us; but those thoughts that come from 'the Father of lights,' are from ourselves but not of us.
All that we have by the strength of nature, is said to be of ourselves and from ourselves, but the power wherewith we are endued from above to the doing of heavenly and spiritual things, is of ourselves but not from ourselves. Perditio tua ex te, Israel-that is from us and of us: Tantum modo salus ex Me-that is neither of us nor from us.
The Apostle saith, 'I persecuted the Church:' that was from himself and of himself; but when he saith, 'yet, I laboured more than the all,' he correcteth that and saith, 'yet, not I, but the grace of God with me;' because that was of himself, but not from himself but from the grace of God which do co-operate with him.
Sins are of ourselves and from ourselves, but not good actions. Hoc piarum mentium est, ut nihil sibi tribuant, 'This is the part of godly souls, that they attribute nothing to themselves.' It is a dangerous to ascribe too little to the grace of God for then we rob Him of His glory, but if we ascribe too little to ourselves there is no danger; for whatsoever we take from ourselves, it cannot hinder us from being true Christians; but if we ascribe that to the strength of our own nature which is the proper work of Grace, then do we blemish God's glory.
The affirmative part is, 'Our sufficiency is of God.' So that albeit in regard of themselves he said, 'Who is sufficient to these things?' yet having ability from God he is bold to say, Omnia possum in Eo Qui me confortat.
The Apostle willeth Titus to choose sufficient men, such as God hath made able: so he speaks of all in general, that 'God the Father hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.'
As none are meet but such as are made meet, so there are none 'worthy,' but ¢xwq_ntej, 'such as are made worthy' The Apostle saith, 'I was indeed to come to you, that ye [308/309] might receive a second grace.' Whereby he sheweth that to be true which St. Paul affirmeth, 'That the grace of God is manifested.' And so much we are to understand by the words of the Evangelist, when he saith 'That from the fulness of Christ we received grace for grace.'
As Noah is reported to have 'found grace in the sight of God,' so many do find grace with God. First, He worketh grace in men by the means of His word, when before they were void of grace; 'The grace of God hath appeared to all, teaching them.' Also by the means of the cross, and by that He worketh a second grace that is inherent, whereby they are enabled to do the duties of holiness.
In which respect as He said to give grace, Humilibus dat gratium, so we receive grace. After God by His Spirit hath thus enabled us, we are said to be able and meet to do those things which are commanded, so that though our righteousness be but menstrualis justitia, He will not reject it; though our zeal in godliness be but as 'smoking flax,' or the 'bruised reed,' He will not quench nor break it; and though the measure of our charity exceed not the 'cup of cold water,' yet we shall not 'lose our reward.' And though 'the afflictions of this life' which we suffer for Christ's sake 'be not worthy of the glory that is to be revealed,' yet as the Evangelists speaks kataxiwq»sontai, 'for if we suffer together with Christ, we shall be glorified with Him.'
So the, the sum of all cometh to this: Where the Apostle exhorteth, 'Let us have grace,' the question is, from whence we may have it? It is certain we have it not of ourselves, for it is a divine thing, therefore we must have it from Him That is the well of grace. If we come to Him, 'out of His fulness we shall receive grace for grace.'
He is not a well locked up, but such as one standeth open that all may draw out of it. Therefore the Apostle saith that the grace of God is c£rij ferom_nh. And as Solomon saith, Bonus vir haurit gratiam.
The means to obtain this grace at the hands of God is by prayer. For He hath promised to 'give His Holy Spirit to them that ask it.' And having received grace from God, we shall likewise have bonam spem per gratiam. He hath promised that 'those that seek shall find.'
[309/310] If in humility we seek for grace from God, knowing that we have it not of ourselves, we shall receive it from God, for He 'giveth grace to the humble.'
Seeing then that in us there is no ability, no not so much as 'to think any thing,' and all ability cometh from God, we are to learn from hence that if God say, turn to Me, and I will turn to you, we must pray, Convert Thou us, O Lord, and we shall be converted. If He say to us, 'Make you clean hearts,' because that is not in us we must pray, 'Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.
When Christ saith, 'Believest thou this?' forasmuch as faith 'is the gift of God,' we are to pray with the disciples, Domine, adde nobis fidem. When the Apostle exhorteth, Perfecte sperate, we should say with the Prophet, 'Lord my hope is even in Thee.' And where our duty is to love with all our hearts, because we cannot perform this without the assistance of God's Spirit, we are to pray that 'the love of God may be shed in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.'