Louis Le Blanc on the Relationship between Good Works and Eternal Life Theses 1-6
Theses Theologicae [...] (London, 1683), pgs. 588-89
Theological Theses concerning the relationship of good works to eternal life. Part one in which the view of the Reformed church is expounded.
1. The doctors of the Roman school are accustomed to attribute to the doctors of the Reformed church that they teach that the good works of the faithful have no relationship to salvation and eternal life, whether as merits or causes or even as conditions or some other similar thing. So it seems with Bellarmine in his work On Justification, book 4 chapter 7. “Our adversaries,” he says, “agree on this, that good works are not necessary to salvation, except by a necessity of presence. The meaning of this view is that good works ought to be done because otherwise faith would be neither a living nor true faith unless good fruits were performed, just as a fire is not a fire unless it burns. Nevertheless, good works do not have any relation to salvation, as merits, causes, conditions, etc. In this, they say faith ought to be distinguished from works, because faith has a relation to salvation, because it apprehends salvation, and therefore faith is said to be necessary to salvation, but works have absolutely no relation [to salvation], and therefore are indeed necessary, but not to salvation.”
2. But those who write against Bellarmine protest that at this point he has either not sufficiently understood or not honestly explained the Protestant doctrine, as, e.g., Pareus says in the cited book: “It is false,” he says, “that we teach that works are necessary only by a necessity of presence; and that good works have absolutely no relation to salvation, not even as conditions—this, I maintain, is false. For even if they have no causal relation, nevertheless they have, or are able to have, a relation of succession [relatio ordinis], as a means to an end, antecedent to consequent, a necessary condition [sine qua non] to an effect, the presence of that condition cannot indeed effect [salvation], but its absence is able to impede salvation. For example, fighting is necessary for victory, and victory is necessary for a crown, but fighting does not effect by itself victory (for both sides fight!), nor does victory effect by itself a crown (for it is graciously given, according to a promise). Yet, the absence of a fight is able to impede both a victory and a crown.”
3. Similarly, Ames in Bellarminus Enervatus, Book 6 Ch. 6, says this to the same words of Bellarmine: “We do not deny that good works have any relation to salvation: For they have the relation of an adjunct which follows and is an effect of the salvation that has [already] been obtained. And it is [also] an antecedent adjunct, fit for obtaining salvation. And they even have the relation of a confirming argument for our confidence and hope of salvation. But we deny the possibility that any of our works are a mediatorial cause of justification and salvation.”
4. But in order that the doctrine of the Reformed school might be better known and, if possible, every opening for some accusation about what follows might be closed off, we have thought it very important to explain a little more distinctly and extensively what the Reformed think about the relation of good works to salvation according to the doctrine of Scripture.
5. Firstly, then, it is certain that good works are a condition without which celestial glory is not able to be obtained, and without which one can in no way avoid eternal destruction. For “without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” And, “Unless,” Christ says, “your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the heavenly kingdom.” Similarly, “every tree which does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
6. Nor are good works simply some condition which is supposed in those who ought to gain eternal life. Instead, they are the way which leads to it, and the means ordained by God whereby one is led certainly and efficaciously to eternal blessedness. For, as the Apostle says in Rom. 2: “tribulation and distress for every soul who does evil: but glory, honor, and peace for those who do good. And for those who by patience in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, God will give eternal life; but for those who are contentious, and who do not assent to the truth, but believe unrighteousness, there will be wrath and anger.” To this point also pertains that passage of the same Apostle in Romans 8: “If you live according to the flesh, you will die. But if, by the Spirit, you put to death the flesh, you will live.” Whence it is that the Scripture says that through good works are calling and election is made certain, and our entry into the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is given to us. “Be diligent,” Peter says, “that you make your calling and election sure through good works. For in doing these things, you will never go wrong. For so an entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly given to you.” And what James says in the first chapter of his epistle makes the same point: “The one who looks into the perfect law of liberty, and remains in it, being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of works, this person will be blessed in his doing.”