If the Heathen, and those who are strangers to the true knowledge of God, do those things which by the powers of nature they are enabled to do, God will not condemn them, but will reward these their works by a more enlarged knowledge, by which they may be bought to salvation.
This was never uttered by me, nor indeed by Borrius, under such a form, and in these expressions. Nay, it is not very probable, that any man, how small soever his skill might be in sacred things, would deliver the apprehensions of his mind in a manner so utterly confused and indigested, as to beget the suspicion of a falsehood in the very words in which he enunciates his opinion. For what man is there, who, as a stranger to the true knowledge of God, will do a thing that can in any way be acceptable to God? It is necessary that the thing which will please God, be itself good, at least, in a certain respect. It is further necessary, that he who performs it knows it to be good and agreeable to God. |For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin,| that is, whatsoever is done without an assured knowledge that it is good and agreeable to God. Thus far, therefore, it is needful for him to have a true knowledge of God, which the Apostle attributes even to the Gentiles. (Rom. i, 18-21, 25, 28; ii, 14, 15.) Without this explanation there will be a contradiction in this enunciation. |He who is entirely destitute of the true knowledge of God, can perform something which God considers to be so grateful to Himself as to remunerate it with some reward.| These, our good brethren, either do not perceive this contradiction; or they suppose, that the persons to whom they ascribe this opinion are such egregious simpletons as they would thus make them appear.
Then, what is the nature of this expression, |if they do those things which the powers of nature enable them to perform?| Is |nature,| when entirely destitute of grace and of the Spirit of God, furnished with the knowledge of that truth which is said to be |held in unrighteousness,| by the knowledge of |that which may be known of God, even his eternal power and Godhead,| which may instigate man to glorify God, and which deprives him of all excuse, if he does not glorify God as he knows Him? I do not think, that such properties as these can, without falsehood and injury to Divine Grace, be ascribed to |nature,| which, when destitute of grace and of the Spirit of God, tends directly downward to those things which are earthly.
If our brethren suppose, that these matters exhibit themselves in this foolish manner, what reason have they for so readily ascribing such an undigested paragraph to men, who, they ought to have known, are not entirely destitute of the knowledge of sacred subjects? But if our brethren really think that man can do some portion of good by the powers of nature, they are themselves not far from Pelagianism, which yet they are solicitous to fasten on others. This Article, enunciated thus in their own style, seems to indicate that they think man capable of doing something good |by the powers of nature;| but that, by such good performance, he will |neither escape condemnation nor obtain a reward.| For these attributes are ascribed to the subject in this enunciation; and because these attributes do not in their opinion, agree with this subject, they accuse of heresy the thing thus enunciated. If they believe that |a man, who is a stranger to the true knowledge of God,| is capable of doing nothing good, this ought in the first place, to have been charged with heresy. If they think that no one |by the powers of nature,| can perform any thing that is pleasing to God, then this ought to be reckoned as an error, if any man durst affirm it. From these remarks, it obviously follows, either that they are themselves very near the Pelagian heresy, or that they are ignorant of what is worthy, in the first instance or in the second, of reprehension, and what ought to be condemned as heretical.
It is apparent, therefore, that it has been their wish to aggravate the error by this addition. But their labour has been in vain; because, by this addition, they have enabled us to deny that we ever employed any such expression or conceived such a thought; they have, at the same time, afforded just grounds for charging them with the heresy of Pelagius. Thus the incautious hunter is caught in the very snare which he had made for another. They would, therefore, have acted with far more caution and with greater safety, if they had omitted their exaggeration, and had charged us with this opinion, which they know to have been employed by the scholastic divines, and which they afterwards inserted in the succeeding Seventeenth Article, but enunciated in a manner somewhat different, |God will do that which is in Him, for the man who does what is in himself.| But, even then, the explanation of the schoolmen ought to have been added, |that God will do this, not from (the merit of) condignity, but from (that of) congruity; and not because the act of man merits any such thing, but because it is befitting the great mercy and beneficence of God.| Yet this saying of the schoolmen I should myself refuse to employ, except with the addition of these words: |God will bestow more grace upon that man who does what is in him by the power of divine grace which is already granted to him, according to the declaration of Christ, To him that hath shall be given,| in which he comprises the cause why it was |given to the apostles to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,| and why |to others it was not given.| (Matt. xiii.11, 12.) In addition to this passage, and the first and second chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, which have already been quoted, peruse what is related in the Acts of the Apostles, (10, 16, 17,) about Cornelius the Centurion, Lydia, the seller of purple, and the Bereans.