Is there a meritorious cause of eternal rewards?

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
This question is raised after reading Aquinas on merit here: https://www.newadvent.org/summa/2114.htm#article1 He argues that "Merit and reward refer to the same, for a reward means something given anyone in return for work or toil, as a price for it".

In my reading of the Reformed, they agree that eternal life itself may be called a reward for our works (the works being a dispositional cause of the possession of eternal life), but the meritorious cause of eternal life (that which procures the right to it) is always Christ's obedience.

But what if we were to apply this paradigm to eternal rewards themselves (not eternal life itself, but the rewards graciously bestowed upon us in accordance with our obedience). Does it make sense to refer to our works as a type of meritorious cause of eternal rewards insofar as the reward is given in return for the work as Aquinas says? Both Aquinas and the Reformed agree that the eternal rewards we receive are not based upon the merit of the rewards considered in themselves, but only on the faithfulness of God who promises to reward them (thus Aquinas says "but there may be a certain manner of justice, as when we speak of a father's or a master's right (Ethic. v, 6), as the Philosopher says. And hence where there is justice simply, there is the character of merit and reward simply. But where there is no simple right, but only relative, there is no character of merit simply, but only relatively, in so far as the character of justice is found there, since the child merits something from his father and the slave from his lord"). Can not then our works be considered a sort of meritorious cause as far as eternal rewards go, on analogy with how Adam's works would be a meritorious cause for eternal life itself in the sense that both arise out of a consideration of the means to an end, an obtaining of the right to a reward, but are not based simply on the merit of the works considered in themselves?

Or if we deny that this is so, then what is the meritorious cause of our eternal rewards, if any? Does it make sense to say it is Christ's obedience as well? But this seems strange, for Christ would then have merited differing levels of rewards for people (without consideration of their own obedience, but only from His). Or ought we to deny altogether that it is even necessary for there to be a meritorious cause of eternal rewards? But what then is the relation and efficacy of our works to the relative rewards?
 
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MChase

Puritan Board Freshman
XXVI. God will give “according to works” (kata ta erga), not “on account of” (dia), to denote the proportion of quality, not of equality—that it may be well with the good, evil to the wicked, as it is explained in Rev. 22:12: “I will give to every man according as his work shall be” (hōs to ergon autou estai). Yet that the work will not be commensurate with the promised reward by condignity. Gregory the Great observes this: “It is one thing to give according to works; another on account of them. For in this expression ‘according to works,’ the very quality of the works is understood, so that his retribution is glorious whose works have appeared to be good” (“Psalm 7.11,” In Septem Psalmos Poenitentiales [PL 79.651]).


Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 719.

Nor does he freely crown our merits, but his own gifts, gratuitously given. Now it is one thing to give a crown according to the righteousness of veracity and of goodness according to a promise (by which he is veracious and faithful); another to give it according to the righteousness of obligation and debt (by which he is bound from the performance of men).

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 721.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
XXVI. God will give “according to works” (kata ta erga), not “on account of” (dia), to denote the proportion of quality, not of equality—that it may be well with the good, evil to the wicked, as it is explained in Rev. 22:12: “I will give to every man according as his work shall be” (hōs to ergon autou estai). Yet that the work will not be commensurate with the promised reward by condignity. Gregory the Great observes this: “It is one thing to give according to works; another on account of them. For in this expression ‘according to works,’ the very quality of the works is understood, so that his retribution is glorious whose works have appeared to be good” (“Psalm 7.11,” In Septem Psalmos Poenitentiales [PL 79.651]).


Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 719.

Nor does he freely crown our merits, but his own gifts, gratuitously given. Now it is one thing to give a crown according to the righteousness of veracity and of goodness according to a promise (by which he is veracious and faithful); another to give it according to the righteousness of obligation and debt (by which he is bound from the performance of men).

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 721.
Yes, this is what my 3rd paragraph articulates and thus why the question is raised.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore

LORD’S DAY 24​


62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?​

Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God, must be perfect throughout and entirely conformable to the divine law,[1] but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.[2]

[1] Deut 27:26; Gal 3:10; [2] Isa 64:6; Php 3:12; Jas 2:10

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63. Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?​

The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.[1]

[1] Mt 5:12; Lk 17:10; Rom 11:6; 2 Tim 4:7-8; Heb 11:6
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman

LORD’S DAY 24​


62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?​

Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God, must be perfect throughout and entirely conformable to the divine law,[1] but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.[2]

[1] Deut 27:26; Gal 3:10; [2] Isa 64:6; Php 3:12; Jas 2:10

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63. Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?​

The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.[1]

[1] Mt 5:12; Lk 17:10; Rom 11:6; 2 Tim 4:7-8; Heb 11:6
Thanks, this is all true of course, but does not answer the question here.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
Let me see if I can try to put the question another way. It does not regard whether we may say that our works are meritorious in the sense that they deserve reward in and of themselves. This the Reformed and Aquinas deny. It regards whether our good works operate as that which secures the legal right to an award based upon a certain condescension of God by which He graciously wills to reward our works (and in that sense operate as a meritorious cause).

For instance, I was recently speaking with a Roman Catholic Thomist who referred to our good works as "covenantal merit". The Reformed, of course, have a category for ex pacto merit, but they apply it to Adam's reward in the CoW by which he would merit eternal life, not because of the inherent worthiness of the reward, but because of God's condescension by which He willed to crown His gifts in Adam so that his works would secure the right to eternal life by reason of the covenant. The Thomist saw the analogy here between Adam's works, which are not meritorious in themselves but crowned, and our works, which also are not meritorious in themselves, but crowned. I can see, therefore, why he would refer to our good works as "covenantal merit". But it seems to me (and Turretin explicitly states this) that the Reformed deny that our good works operate as a meritorious cause (again this is different from proper merit, which both the Reformed and Thomists deny) as far as different levels of rewards go. So the question becomes: how do we differentiate the situation of Adam and his gracious reward from us and our gracious reward? And if we deny that our good works operate as the meritorious cause of the rewards we receive, the question then becomes, what exactly is the meritorious cause of these rewards (and if it is denied that one is necessary, why?)?
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Sophomore
Are you essentially asking whether works, although not the meritorious cause of salvation in themselves, may be meritorious in respect of God being pleased to accept them by making them a condition of the covenant of grace? If so, no - faith alone is the condition of the covenant of grace, which again is not meritorious, but God has enjoined it for receiving the benefits of the covenant and is pleased to accept it for that. If works were any part of the condition then it would be a covenant of works.

Durham is very good on this, demonstrating the point. Read his two dissertations in his commentary on Revelation 3 on covenanting with God and on repentance.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
Are you essentially asking whether works, although not the meritorious cause of salvation in themselves, may be meritorious in respect of God being pleased to accept them by making them a condition of the covenant of grace? If so, no - faith alone is the condition of the covenant of grace, which again is not meritorious, but God has enjoined it for receiving the benefits of the covenant and is pleased to accept it for that. If works were any part of the condition then it would be a covenant of works.

Durham is very good on this, demonstrating the point. Read his two dissertations in his commentary on Revelation 3 on covenanting with God and on repentance.
"Are you essentially asking whether works, although not the meritorious cause of salvation in themselves, may be meritorious in respect of God being pleased to accept them by making them a condition of the covenant of grace?"

This is close to the question, yes, but it needs a bit more precision. Works as a "condition of the covenant of grace" would be a consequent condition in this scenario: a condition within the covenant as far as their efficacy in relation to eternal rewards go, but not a condition as far as being in the covenant goes. However, even this isn't precise enough, as all sides agree that good works are a consequent condition within the covenant of grace that stand in some efficacious relation to eternal rewards. The question is about what precisely the nature of this relation is.

"If so, no - faith alone is the condition of the covenant of grace"

In one sense, this is true, but in another sense, it is false, again due to consequent (as opposed to antecedent) covenant conditions. Turretin is very helpful here. Again, we need to be precise in our language here so we don't run into equivocation here about what we mean by something being a "condition".

"which again is not meritorious, but God has enjoined it for receiving the benefits of the covenant and is pleased to accept it for that. If works were any part of the condition then it would be a covenant of works".

I know you are speaking of faith here, but it does give me an interesting idea: perhaps the answer to the way to differentiate our position from the Thomist position is that we can say that our good works do not operate as a meritorious cause of the eternal rewards (and thus we never have any legal right to them granted to us through them), but only as an instrumental cause? But once again, it just seems strange to me to say that I have no legal right to the eternal rewards God has promised to grant to me and thus I am stuck trying to differentiate Adam's works, which are not meritorious in themselves but crowned, and our works, which also are not meritorious in themselves, but crowned so as to leave Adam's works a meritorious cause, but ours not.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks, this is all true of course, but does not answer the question here.
I don't see how it doesn't. The question is, do our works merit eternal rewards. The answer is no. Would you ever be comfortable in heaven looking around and saying "I deserve this."? That is what the word merit implies. It is impossible, all the benefits we receive are of grace. Everything is unmerited. Even if you consider our own obedience after conversion, it is still God working in us for his purposes. In God's sovereignty he works varying levels of obedience in his children, and yet in such a way that we can never say "God held me back from being a better Christian". Every reward we earn is by grace from God, in spite of our own failings. To think otherwise doesn't even compute in my line of thinking.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I don't see how it doesn't. The question is, do our works merit eternal rewards. The answer is no. Would you ever be comfortable in heaven looking around and saying "I deserve this."? That is what the word merit implies. It is impossible, all the benefits we receive are of grace. Everything is unmerited. Even if you consider our own obedience after conversion, it is still God working in us for his purposes. In God's sovereignty he works varying levels of obedience in his children, and yet in such a way that we can never say "God held me back from being a better Christian". Every reward we earn is by grace from God, in spite of our own failings. To think otherwise doesn't even compute in my line of thinking.
This issue is how we distinguish our position from Aquinas' (assuming there is a real difference). Aquinas can affirm everything you just said, it's just that he would still use the term "merit". Again, think in terms of prelapsarian Adam. He would not "merit" life in a strict sense, but only in the sense that God obliged Himself to reward Adam's obedience. Thus, his reward would be of grace.
 
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