Old Mr. Well’s You Can, by John Leland, is excerpted from Miscellaneous Essays in Prose and Verse, published around 1810.
In my travels, and among my acquaintance, I have heard much said about a Saviour, by the name of Well’s you can; but have never yet seen him – the house where he lives, nor the man who entertains him: and am almost in despair of ever finding him below the sun. The accounts of him are these: “If I do as well as I can, I believe the Lord will accept of me, and if you do as well as you can, you will be saved.” If the salvation of the soul depends upon our doing as well as we can, who then can be saved? If a man faulters once in his life from doing as well as he can, the chance is over with him; and where is the man to be found, who can lay his hand upon his breast and conscientiously declare, that he has at all times, and in all cases done as well as he could? If such a man cannot be found, it follows that well as you can is only an ideal, not a real Saviour.
It is a saying replete with truth, that those men, who place the greatest hope for heaven on doing as well as they can, are more negligent in good works, than those who detest themselves as the vilest of the vile, and trust alone in the mercy of God, through the blood of the cross. Pharisees may boast of good works, but humble penitents perform them. Men, who are taught of God, instead of doing one good work to make atonement for a bad deed, see so much pollution in their best works, that they implore the pardoning blood of Christ to wash their works as well as their souls. There cannot be anything meritorious in the performance of the dependent creatures: the righteous law of God requires, of all rational creatures, the unceasing exertion of all their powers in loving and obeying their Maker. If any part of their time is otherwise employed, sin is committed, and guilt is contracted. If, after the failure, creatures could do more than the law requires, by this extra work (which would be meritorious) they might make amends for former deficiencies; but this extra work cannot be done, because the law requires the constant exercise of all their powers in his service. If, therefore, perfect and perpetual obedience is due to God, neither the whole, nor any parts of obedience, can be meritorious. And, as no after obedience can make satisfaction for a former failure, so, likewise, repentance for sin committed will not atone for guilt contracted. The conclusion of the whole is, that, when creatures have sinned, neither after obedience nor repentance will save their souls.