William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

The Inability of All Duties to Save

by Thomas Shepard
The Sincere Convert

Therefore behold the insufficiency of all duties to save us; which will appear
in these three things which I speak, that you may learn hereafter never to rest
in duties:

First. Consider, your best duties are tainted, poisoned, and mingled with some
sin, and therefore are most odious in the eyes of a holy God, (nakedly and
barely considered in themselves,) for, if the best actions of God's people be
filthy, as they come from them, then, to be sure, all wicked men's actions are
much more filthy and polluted with sin; but the first is true"All our
righteousnesses are as filthy rags;" for as the fountain is so is the stream;
but the fountain of all good actions (that is, the heart) is mingled partly with
sin, partly with grace; therefore every action participates of some sin, which
sins are daggers at God's heart, even when a man is praying and begging for his
life; therefore there is no hope to be saved by duties.

Secondly. Suppose you could perform them without sin; yet you could not continue
in doing so. (Is. 40:6,) "All flesh and the glory thereof is but grass." So your
best actions would soon wither if they were not perfect; and if you cannot
persevere in performing all duties perfectly, you are forever undone, though you
should do so for a time, live like an angel, shine like a sun, and, at your last
gasp, have but an idle thought, commit the least sin, that one rock will sink
you down even in the harbour, though never so richly laden. One sin, like a
penknife at the heart, will stab you; one sin, like a little burning twig in the
thatch, will burn you; one act of treason will hang you, though you has lived
never so devoutly before, (Ezek. 18:24;) for it is a crooked life when all the
parts of the line of your life be not straight before Almighty God.

Thirdly. Suppose you should persevere; yet it is clear you have sinned
grievously already; and do you think your obedience for the time to come can
satisfy the Lord for all those previous obligations, for all those sins past?
Can a man that pays his rent honestly every year satisfy hereby for the old rent
not paid in twenty years? All your obedience is a new debt, which can not
satisfy for debts past. Indeed, men may forgive wrong and debts, because they be
but finite; but the least sin is an infinite evil, and therefore God must be
satisfied for it. Men may remit debts, and yet remain men; but the Lord having
said, "The soul that sins shall die," and his truth being himself, he can not
remain God, if he forgive it without satisfaction. Therefore duties are but
rotten crutches for a soul to rest upon.

But to what end should we use any duties? Can not a man be saved by his good
prayers, nor sorrows, nor repentings? Why should we pray any more then? Let us
cast off all duties, if all are to no purpose to save us; it is as good to play
for nothing as to work for nothing.

Though your good duties can not save you, yet your bad works will damn you. You
are, therefore, not to cast off the duties, but the resting in these duties. You
are not to cast them away, but to cast them down at the feet of Jesus Christ, as
they did their crowns, (Rev. 4:10,11,) saying, If there be any good or graces in
these duties, it is yours, Lord; for it is the prince's favor that exalts a man,
not his own gifts: they came from his good pleasure.


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