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FAITH IN HIS NAME
THE rarity of the mention of Jesus in this Epistle must strike every attentive reader; but the character of the references that are made is equally noticeable, and puts beyond doubt that, whatever is the explanation of their fewness, lower thoughts of Jesus, or less devotion to Him than belonged to the other New Testament writers, are not the explanation. James mentions Christ unmistakably only three times The first occasion is in his introductory salutation, where, like the other New Testament writers, he describes himself as the slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’; thus linking the two names in closest union, and proffering unlimited obedience to his Master. The second ease is that of my text, in which our Lord is set forth by this solemn designation, and is declared to be the object of faith. The last is in an exhortation to patience in view of the coming of the Lord, to be our Judge.
So James, like Peter and Paul and John, looked to Jesus, who was probably the brother of James by birth, as being the Lord, whom it was no blasphemy nor idolatry to name in the same breath as God, and to whom the same absolute obedience was to be rendered; who was to be the object of men’s unlimited trust, and who was to come again to be our Judge.
Here we have, in this remarkable utterance, four distinct designations of that Saviour, a constellation of glories gathered together; and I wish now, in a few remarks, to isolate, and gaze at the several stars - ‘the faith of our Lord - Jesus - Christ - the Lord of glory.’
I. Christian faith is faith in Jesus.
We often forget that that name was common, wholly undistinguished, and borne by very many of our Lord’s contemporaries. It had been borne by the great soldier whom we know as Joshua; and we know that it was the name of one at least of the disciples of our Master. Its disuse after Him, both by Jew and Christian, is easily intelligible. But though He bore it with special reference to His work of saving His people from their sins, He shared it, as He shared manhood, with many another of the sons of Abraham. Of course, Jesus is the name that is usually employed in the Gospels. But when we turn to the Epistles, we find that it is Comparatively rare for it to stand alone, and that in almost all the instances of its employment by itself, it brings with it the special note of pointing attention to the manhood of our Lord Jesus. Let me just gather together one or two instances which may help to elucidate this matter.
Who does not feel, for example, that when we read ‘let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith,’ the fact of our brother Man having trodden the same path, and being the pattern for our patience and perseverance, is tenderly laid upon our hearts? Again, when we read of sympathy as being felt to us by the great High Priest who can be ‘touched with a feeling of our infirmities, even Jesus,’ I think we cannot but recognise that His humanity is pressed upon our thoughts, as securing to us that we have not only the pity of a God, but the compassion of a Man, who knows by experience the bitterness of our sorrows.
In like manner we read sometimes that ‘Jesus died for us,’ sometimes that ‘Christ died for us’; and, though the two forms of the statement present the same fact, they present it, so to speak, from a different angle of vision, and suggest to us different thoughts. When Paul, for example, says to us, ‘If we believe that Jesus died and rose again,’ we cannot but feel that he is pressing on us the thought of the true manhood of that Saviour who, in His death, as in His resurrection, is the Forerunner of them that believe upon Him, and whose death will be the more peaceful, and their rising .the more certain, because He, who, ‘forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood likewise took part of the same,’ has thereby destroyed death, and delivered them from its bondage. Nor, with loss emphasis, and strengthening triumphant force, do we read that this same Jesus, the Man who bore our nature in its fulness and is kindred to us in flesh and spirit, has risen from the dead, hath ascended up on high, and is the Forerunner, who for us, by virtue of His humanity, hem entered in thither. Surely the most insensitive ear must catch the music, and the deep significance of the word which says, ‘We see not yet all things put under him i.e., man, but we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour.’
So, then, Christian faith first lays hold of that manhood, realises the suffering and death as those of a true humanity, recognises that He bore in His nature ‘all the ills that flesh is heir to,’ and that His human life is a brother’s pattern for ours; that, He having died, death hath no more terrors for, or dominion over, us, and that whither the Man Jesus has gone, we sinful men need never fear to enter, nor doubt that we shall enter, too.
If our faith lays hold on Jesus the Man, we shall be delivered from the misery of wasting our earthly affections on creatures that may be false, that may change, that must be feeble, and will surely die. If our faith lays hold on the Man Jesus, all the treasures of the human love, trust, and obedience, that are so often squandered, and return as pain on our deceived and wounded hearts, will find their sure, sweet, stable object in Him. Human love is sometimes false and fickle, always feeble and frail; human wisdom has its limits, and human perfection its flaws; but the Man Jesus is the perfect, the all-sufficient and unchangeable object for all the love, the trust, and the obedience that the human heart can pour out before Him.
II. Christian faith is faith in Jesus Christ.
The earliest Christian confession, the simplest and, sufficient creed, was, Jesus is the Christ. What do we mean by that? We mean, first and plainly, that He is the realisation of the dim figure which arose, majestic and enigmatical, through the mists of a partial revelation. We mean that He is, as the word signifies etymologically, ‘anointed’ with the Divine Spirit, for the discharge of all the offices which, in old days, were filled by men who were fitted and designated for them by outward unction - prophet, priest, and king. We mean that He is the substance of which ancient ritual was the shadow. We mean that He is the goal to which all that former partial unveiling of the mind and will of God steadfastly pointed. This, and nothing less, is the meaning of the declaration that Jesus is the Christ; and that belief is the distinguishing mark of the faith which this Hebrew of the Hebrews, writing to Hebrews, declares to be the Christian faith.
Now I know, and ‘I am thankful to know, that there are many men who earnestly and reverently admire and obey Jesus, but think that they have nothing to do with these old Hebrew ideas of a Christ. It is not for me to decide which individual is His follower, and which is not; but this I say, that the primitive Christian confession was precisely that Jesus was the Christ, and that I, for my part, know no reason why the terms of the confession should be altered. Ah, these old Jewish ideas are not, as one great man has called them, ‘Hebrew old clothes’; and I venture to assert that they are not to be discarded without woefully marring the completeness of Christian faith. The faith in Jesus must pass into faith in Christ; for it is the office described in that name, which gives all its virtue to the manhood. Glance back for a moment to those instances which I have already quoted of the use of the name suggesting simple humanity, and note how all of them require to be associated with this other thought of the function of Christ, and His special designation by the anointing of God, in order that their full value may be made manifest.
For instance, ‘Jesus died.’ Yes, that is a fact of history. The Man was crucified. What is that to me more than any other martyrdom and its story, unless it derives its significance from the clear understanding of who it was that died upon the Cross? So we can understand that significant selection of terms, when the same Apostle, whose utterances I have already Been quoting in the former part of this sermon, varies the name, and says, ‘This is the gospel which I declared unto you, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.’
Again, suppose we think of the example of Jesus as the perfect realised ideal of human life. That may become, and I think often does become, as impotent and as paralysing as any other specimen without flaw, that can be conceived of or presented to man. But if we listen to the teaching that says to us, ‘Christ died for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps,’ then the ideal is not like a cold statue that looks down repellent even in its beauty, but is a living person who reaches a hand down to us to lift us to His own level, and will put His spirit within us, that, as the Master is, so may also the servants be.
Again, if we confine ourselves to the belief that the Man named Jesus has risen again, and has been exalted to glory, then, as a matter of fact, the faith in His Resurrection and Ascension will not long co-exist with the rejection of anything beyond simple humanity in His person. If, however, that faith could last, then He might be conceived of as filling a solitary throne, and there might be no victory over death for the rest of us in His triumph. But when we can ring out as the Apostle did, ‘Now is Christ risen from the dead,’ then we can also say, ‘and is become the first-fruits of them that slept.’
So, brethren, lift your faith in Jesus, and let it be sublimed into faith in Christ. ‘Whom say ye that I am?’ The answer is - may we all from our hearts and from our minds make it! - ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God: III. Christian faith is faith in Jesus Christ the Lord.
Now, I take it that that name is here used neither in its lowest sense as a mere designation of politeness, as we employ ‘sir,’ nor in its highest sense in which, referred to Jesus Christ, it is not unfrequently used in the New Testament as being equivalent to the ‘Jehovah’ of the Old; but that it is employed in a middle sense as expressive of dignity and sovereignty.
Jesus is Lord. Our brother, a Man, is King of the universe. The new thing in Christ’s return to ‘the glory which He had with the Father before the world was’ is that He took the manhood with Him into indissoluble union with the divinity, and that a man is Lord. So you and I can cherish that wonderful hope: ‘I will give to him that overcometh to sit with Me on My throne.’ Nor need we ever fear but that all things concerning ourselves and our dear ones, and the Church and the world, will be ordered aright; for the hand that sways the universe is the hand that was many a time laid in blessing upon the sick and the maimed, and that gathered little children to His bosom.
Christ is Lord. That is to say, supreme dominion is based on suffering. Because the vesture that He wears is dipped in blood, therefore there is written upon it, ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords.’ The Cross has become the throne. There is the basis of all true rule, and there is the assurance that His dominion is an everlasting dominion. So our faith is to rise from earth, and, like the dying martyr, to see the Son of Man at the right hand of the majesty of the heavens.
IV. Lastly, Christian faith is faith in Jesus Christ, ‘the Lord of glory.’
Now, the last words of my text have given great trouble to commentators. A great many explanations, with which I need not trouble you, have been suggested with regard to them. One old explanation has been comparatively neglected; and yet it seems to me to be the true one. ‘The Lord’ is a supplement which ekes out a meaning, but, as I think, obscures the meaning. Suppose we strike it out and read straight on. What do we get? ‘The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory.’
And is that not intelligible? Remember to whom James was writing - Jews. Did not every Jew know what the Shekinah was, the light that used to shine between the Cherubim, as the manifest symbol of the divine presence, but which had long been absent from, the Temple? And when James falls back upon that familiar Hebrew expression, and recalls the vanished lustre that lay upon the mercy-seat, surely he would be understood by his Hebrew readers, and should be understood by us, as saying no more and no other than another of the New Testament writers has said with reference to the same symbolical manifestation - namely, ‘The Word became flesh tabernacled among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’ James’s sentence runs On precisely the same lines as other sentences of the New Testament, For instance, the Apostle Paul, in one place, speaks of ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, our hope.’ And this statement is constructed in exactly the same fashion, with the last name put in opposition to the others, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory.’
Now, what does that mean? This - that the true presence of God, that the true lustrous emanation from, and manifestation of, the abysmal brightness, is in Jesus Christ, ‘the effulgence of His glory and the express image of His person.’ For the central blaze of God’s glory is God’s love, and that rises to its highest degree in the name and mission of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Men conceive of the glory of the divine nature as lying in the attributes which separate it most widely from our impotent, limited, changeable, and fleeting being. God conceives of His highest glory as being in that love, of which the love of earth is kindred spark; and whatever else there may be of majestic and magnificent in Him, the heart of the Divinity is a heart of love.
Brethren, if we would see God, our faith must grasp the Man, the Christ, the Lord, and, as climax of all names - the Incarnate God, the Eternal Word, who has come among us to reveal to us men the glory of the Lord.
So, brethren, let us make sure that the fleshy tables of our hearts are not like the mouldering stones that antiquarians dig up on some historical site, bearing has obliterated inscriptions and ‘fragmentary names of mighty kings of long ago, but bearing the many-syllabled Name written firm, clear, legible, complete upon them, as on some granite block from the stonecutter’s chisel. Let us, whilst we cling with human love to the Man ‘that was born in Bethlehem, discern the Christ that was prophesied from of old, to whom all altars point, of whom all prophets spoke, who was the theme end of all the earlier Revelation. Let us crown Him Lord of All in our own hearts, and let us, beholding in Him the glory of the Father, He in His Light until we are changed into the same image. Be sure that your faith is a fullorbed faith; grasp all the many sides of the Name that is above every name. And let us, like the apostles of old, rejoice if we are counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name. Let us go forth into life for the sake of the Name, and, whatsoever we do in word or deed, let us do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory.
FAITH WITHOUT WORKS
JAMES thrice reiterates his point in this passage, and each repetition closes a branch of his argument. In verse 17 he draws the inference from his illustration of a worthy sympathy which does nothing; in verse 20 he deduces the same conclusion from the speech put into the mouth of an imaginary speaker; in verse 24 he draws it from the life of Abraham. We shall best get hold of the scope of these verse, by taking them three parts separately.
I. Now, most misconceptions of a writer’s meaning are due to imperfect definition of terms.
James was no metaphysician, and he does not stop to put precisely what he means by’ faith.’ Clearly he meant by it the full evangelical meaning of trust when he used it in the earlier part of the letter Jam_1:3 ; Jam_1:6 ; Jam_2:1-5. As clearly he here means a mere intellectual belief of religious truth, a barren orthodoxy. If that undeniable explanation of his terminology is kept steadily in view, much of the difficulty which has been found in bringing his teaching into harmony with Paul’s melts away at once. There is a distinct difference of tone and point of view between the two, but they entirely agree in the worthlessness of such a ‘faith,’ if faith it can be called. Probably Paul would not have called it so, but James accepts the ‘saying’ of the man whom he is confuting, and consents to call his purely intellectual-belief faith. And then he crushes it to atoms as hollow and worthless, in which process Paul would gladly have lent a hand. We may observe that verse 14 begins with supposing the case of a mere lip ‘faith,’ while verse 17 widens its conclusion to include not only that, but any ‘faith,’ however real, which does not lead to works. The logic of the passage would, perhaps, hang better together if verse 14 had run ‘if a man have faith’; but there is keen irony as well as truth in the suggestion that a faith which has no deeds often has abundant talk. The people who least live their creeds are not seldom the people who shout loudest about them. The parslysis which affects the arms does not, in these cases, interfere with the tongue. James had seen plenty of that kind of faith, both among Pharisees and Jewish Christians, and he had a holy horror of loose tongues Jam_3:2-12. That kind of faith is not extinct yet, and we need to urge James’s question quite as much as he did: ‘Can that faith save?’ Observe the emphasis on ‘ that’ which the Revised Version rightly gives.
The homely illustration of the very tender sympathy which gushes inwards, and does nothing to clothe naked backs or fill empty stomachs, perhaps has a sting in it, Possibly the very orthodox Jewish Christians with whom James is contending were less willing to help poor brethren than were the Gentile Christians.
But, in any case, there is no denying the force of the parallel. Sympathy, like every other emotion, is meant to influence action. If it does not, what is the use of it? What is the good of getting up fire in the furnace, and making a mighty roaring of steam, if it all escapes at the waste-pipe, and drives no wheels? And what is the good of a ‘faith’ which only rushes out at the escape-pipe of talk? It is ‘dead in itself.’ Rom_2:17-29 shows Paul’s way of putting the same truth. Emotion and beliefs which do not shape conduct are worthless Faith, if it have not works, is dead.
II. The same conclusion is arrived at by another road in verses 18-20.
James introduces an imaginary speaker, who replies to the man who says that he has faith. This new interlocutor ‘says’ his say too. But he is not objecting, as has been sometimes thought, to James, but to the first speaker, and he is expressing James’s own thought, which the Apostle does not utter in his own person, perhaps because he would avoid the appearance of boasting of his own deeds. To take this speaker as opposing James brings hopeless confusion, What does the new speaker say? He takes up the first one’s assertion of having ‘faith’; he will not say that he himself has it, but he challenges the other man to show his, if he can, by any other way than by exhibiting the fruits of faith, while he himself is prepared and content to be tested by the same test. That is to say, talk does not prove the possession of faith; the only possible demonstration that one has it is deeds, which are its fruits. If a man has true faith, it will mould his conduct. If he has nothing to produce but his bare assertion, then he cannot show it at all; and if no evidence of its existence is forthcoming, it does not exist.
Motion is the test of life. A ‘faith’ which does nothing, which moves no limb, is a corpse. On the other hand, if grapes grow ruddy and sweet in their clusters, there must be a vine on which they grow, though its stem and root may be unseen. ‘What is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.’ True faith will be fruitful. Is not this Paul’s doctrine too? Does not he speak of ‘faith that worketh by love?’ Is it not his principle, too, that faith is the source of conduct, the active principle of the Christian life, and that if there are no results of it in the life, there is none of it in the heart?
But the second speaker has a sharp dart of irony in his quiver verse 13. ‘You plume yourself on your monotheistic creed, do you, and you think that that is enough to make you a child of God’s? Well, that is good, as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. You have companions in it, for the demons believe it still more thoroughly than you do; and, what is more, it produces more effect on them than on you. You do nothing in consequence of your belief; they shudder, at any rate - a grim result, but one showing that their belief goes deeper than yours. The arrow gains in point and keenness if we observe that James quotes the very words which are contained in the great profession of monotheism which was recited morning and evening by every Jew Deu_6:4 , etc.. James seems, in verse 20, to speak again in his own name, and to reassert his main thought as enforced by this second argument.
III. He has been arguing from the very nature of faith, and the relation between it and conduct.
Now he turns to history and appeals to Abraham’s case. In these verses he goes over the same ground as Paul does in Romans 5., and there is a distinct verbal contradiction between verse 24 here and Rom_3:28 ; but it is only verbal. Are the two apostles writing in ignorance of each other’s words, or does the one refer to the other, and, if so, which is the earlier? These are interesting questions, to deal with which satisfactorily would more than exhaust our space.
No doubt the case of Abraham was a commonplace in rabbinical teaching, and both Paul and James had been accustomed to hear his history commented upon and tortured in all sorts of connections. The mere reference to the patriarch is no proof of either writer having known of the other; but the manner of it raises a presumption in that direction, and if either is referring to the other, it is easier to understand Paul if he is alluding to James, than James as alluding to Paul.
Their apparent disagreement is only apparent. For what are the’ works’ to which James ascribes justifying power? Verse 22 distinctly answers the question. They are acts which spring from faith, and which in turn, as being its fruits, ‘perfect’ it, as a tree is perfect when it has manifested its maturity by bearing. Surely Paul’s doctrine is absolutely identical with this He too held that, on the one hand, faith creates work, and on the other, works perfect faith. The works which Paul declares are valueless, and which he calls ‘the works of the law,’ are not those which James asserts ‘justify.’ The faith which James brands as worthless is not that which Paul proclaims as the condition of justifying; the one is a mere assent to a creed, the other is a living trust in a living Person.
James points to the sacrifice of Isaac as ‘justifying’ Abraham, and has in mind the divine eulogium, ‘Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me,’ but he distinctly traces that transcendent act of an unquestioning devotion to the ‘faith’ which wrought with it, and was perfected by it. He quotes the earlier divine declaration Gen_15:6 as ‘fulfilled’ at that later time, By which very expression is implied, not only that the root of the sacrifice was faith, but that the words were true in a yet higher sense and completer degree, when that sacrifice had ‘perfected’ the patriarch’s faith.
The ultimate conclusion in verse 24 has to be read in the light of these considerations, and then it appears plainly that there is no contradiction in fact between the two apostles. ‘The argument.., has no bearing on St. Paul’s doctrine, its purport being, in the words of John Bunyan, to insist that "at the day of doom men shall be judged according to their fruit." It will not be said then, Did you believe? but, Were you doers or talkers only?’ Mayor, Epistle of St.. James, LXXXVIII.
No doubt, the two men look at the truth from a somewhat different standpoint. The one is intensely practical, the other goes deeper. The one fixes his eye on the fruits, the other digs down to the root. To the one the flow of the river is the more prominent; to the other, the fountain from which it rises, But they supplement, and do not contradict, each other. A shrewd old Scotsman once criticised an elaborate ‘Harmony’ of the Gospels, by the remark that the author had ‘spent a heap of pains in making four men agree that had never cast [fallen] out.’ We may say the same of many laborious reconciliations of James, the urgent preacher of Christian righteousness, and Paul, the earnest proclaimer that ‘a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.’
When and by whom was he so called? There are two passages in the Old Testament in which an analogous designation is applied to the patriarch, but probably the name was one in current use amongst the people, and expressed in a summary fashion the impression that had been made by the history of Abraham’s life. A sweet fate to have that as the brief record of a character, and to be known throughout the ages by such an epitaph. As many of us are aware, this name, ‘the Friend,’ has displaced the proper name, Abraham, on the Lips of all Mohammedan people to this day; and the city of Hebron, where his corpse lies, is commonly known simply as ‘the Friend.’
‘My object in this sermon is a very simple one. I merely wish to bring out two or three of the salient elements and characteristics of friendship as exercised on the human level, and to use these as a standard and test of our religion and relation to God.
But I may just notice, for a moment, how beautiful and blessed a thought it is which underlies this and similar representations of Scripture - viz., that the bond which unites us to God is the very same as that which most sweetly and strongly ties men to one another, and that, after all, religion is nothing more or less than the transference to Him of the emotions which make all the sweetness of human life and society.
Now, I shall try to bring out two or three points which are included in that name, ‘the Friend of God,’ and to ask ourselves if they apply to our relations to Him.
I. First, friends trust and love one another.
Mutual confidence is the mortar which binds the stones in society together, into a building. It makes the difference between the herding together of beasts and the association of men. No community could keep together for an hour without mutual confidence, even in regard of the least intimate relationships of life. But it is the very life-blood of friendship. You cannot say, ‘A.B. is my friend, but I do not trust him.’ If suspicion creeps in, like the foul malaria of tropical swamps, it kills all friendship. Therefore ‘he was called the Friend of God’ is by James deduced from the fact that ‘he believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.’ You cannot make a friend of a man that you do not know where to have. There may be some vague reverence of, or abject reluctant submission to, ‘the unknown God,’ the something outside of ourselves that perhaps makes for righteousness; but for any vivid, warm throb of friendship there must be, first, a clear knowledge, and then a living grappling of that knowledge to my very heart, by my faith. Unless I trust God I cannot be a friend of God’s. If you and I are His friends we trust Him, and He will trust us. For this friendship is not one-sided, and the name, though it may be ambiguous as to whether it means one whom I love or one who loves me, really includes both persons to the compact; and there are analogous, if not identical, emotions in each. So that, if I trust God, I may be sure that God trusts me, and, in His confidence, leaves a great deal to me; and so ennobles and glorifies me by His reliance upon me.
But whilst we know that this belief in God was the very nerve and centre of Abraham’s whole character, and was the reason why he was called the friend of God, we must also remember that, as James insists upon here, it was no mere idle assent, no mere intellectual conviction that God could not tell lies, which was dignified by the name of belief, but that it was, as James insists upon in the context, a trust which proved itself to be valid, because it was continually operative in the life. ‘Faith without works is dead.’ ‘And Abraham, our father, was he not justified by works?’
And so the Epistle to the Hebrews, if you will remember, traces up to his faith all the chief points in his life. ‘By faith he went out from the land where he dwelt; by faith he dwelt in tabernacles,’ in the promised land, believing that it should be his and his seed’s; ‘by faith’ he offered up his son on the altar.
Thus we come to this, that the heavenly and the earthly friend, like friends on the low levels of humanity, love each other because they trust each other, I have said that the words ‘My friend’ may either mean one whom I love or one who loves me, but that the two things are in the present connection inseparable. Only let us remember where the sweet reciprocation and interchange of love begins. ‘We love Him because He first loved us.’ ‘When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.’ And so we have to turn to that heavenly Friend, and feel that as life itself, so the love which is the life of life, has its beginning in Him, and that never would our hearts have turned themselves from their alienation, unless there had poured down upon them the attractive outflow of His great love. It was an old fancy that, wherever a tree was struck by lightning, all its tremulous foliage turned in the direction from which the bolt had come. When the merciful flash of God’s great love strikes a heart, then all its tendrils turn to the source of the life-giving light, and we love back again, in sweet reverberation to the primal and original love. Dear brethren, I lay upon your heart and mine this thought, that friends trust and love each other. Do we trust and love our God?
II. Friends have frank, familiar intercourse with one another.
Let us turn to the illuminatlve example in our text, and remember God’s frankness with Abraham. ‘Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I will do?’ Let us cap that-as we can, marvellous and great as the utterance is - by another one, ‘I call you not servants, but friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I declare unto you.’ So much for God’s frankness. What about Abraham’s frankness with God? Remember how he remonstrated with Him; how he complained to Him of His dealings; how he persisted with importunity, which would have been presumptuous but for the friendship which underlay it, and warranted the bold words. And let us take the simple lesson that if we are friends and lovers of God, we shall delight in intercourse with Him. It is a strange kind of religion that does not care to be with God, that would rather think about anything else than about Him, that is all unused to quiet, solitary conversation and communion with Him, but it is the religion of, I wonder, how many of us to-day. He would be a strange friend that never crossed your threshold if you could help it; that was evidently uncomfortable in your presence, and ill at ease till he got away from you, and that when he came was struck dumb, and had not a word to say for himself, and did not know or feel that he and you had any interests or subjects in common. Is that not a good deal like the religion of hosts of professing Christians? ‘He was called the friend of God,’ and he never, all his days, if he could help it, thought about Him or went near Him!
If we are friends of God, we shall have no secrets from Him. There are very few of those who are dearest to us to whom we could venture to lay bare all the depths of our hearts. There are black things down in the cellars that we do not like to show to any of our friends. We receive them upstairs, in the rooms for company. But you should take God all through the house. And if there is the trust and the love that l have been speaking about, we shall not be afraid to spread out all our foulness, and our meanness, and our unworthy thoughts of, and acts towards, Him, before His ‘pure eyes and perfect judgment,’ and say, ‘Nobody but my best friend could look at such a dungheap, but I spread it before Thee. Look at it, and Thou wilt cleanse it; look at it, and it will melt away. Look at it, and in the knowledge that Thou knowest, my knowledge of it will be less of a torment, and my bosom will be cleansed of its perilous stuff.’
Tell God all, if you mean to be a friend of His. And do not be afraid to tell Him your harsh thoughts of Him, and your complaints of Him. He never resents anything that a man who loves Him says about Him, if he says it to Him. What He resents - if I might use the word - is our huddling up grudges and murmurings and questionings in our own hearts, and saying never a word to the friend against whom they offend. Out with it all, brethren! Complaints, regrets, questionings, petitions, hot wishes, take them all to Him; and be sure that instead of their breaking, they will, if spoken, cement the friendship which is disturbed by secrecy on our parts.
If we are God’s lovers, He will have no secrets from us. ‘The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.’ There is a strange wisdom and insight, sometimes amounting even to prophetic anticipation, which creeps into a simple heart that is knit closely to God. But whether the result of our friendship with Him be such communication of such kinds of insight or no, we may be sure of this, that, if we trust Him, and love Him, and are frank with Him, He will in so far be frank with us, that He will impart unto us Himself, and in the knowledge of His love we shall find all the knowledge that we need.
III. Friends delight to meet each other’s wishes.
Let us go back to our story again. The humble, earthly friend of God did as God bade him, substantially all his life, from the day when he made the ‘ Great Refusal,’ and left behind him home and kindred and all, until the day when he went up the sides of Moriah to offer there his son. Abraham met God’s wishes because Abraham trusted and loved God. And what about the Divine Friend? Did He not meet Abraham’s wishes? You remember that wonderful scene, which presents, in such vivid and dramatic form, the everlasting truth that the man who bows his will to God, bows God’s will to his, when he pleaded for Sodom, and won his case by persistence and importunity of lowly prayer. And these historical notices on both sides are for us the vehicles of the permanent truth that, if we are God’s lovers and friends, we shall find nothing sweeter than bowing to His will and executing His commandments. As I dare say I have often said to you, the very mark and signature of love is that it delights to divine and fulfil the desires of the beloved, and that it moulds the will of each of the parties into conformity with the will of the other.
Ah, dear brethren I what a commentary our religion is. upon such thoughts! To how many of us is the very notion of religion that of a prohibition of things that we would much like to do, and of commands to do things that we had much rather not do? All the slavery of abject submission, of reluctant service, is clean swept away, when we understand that friendship and love find their supreme delight in discovering and in executing the will of the beloved. And surely if you and I are the friends of God, the cold words, ‘duty,’ ‘must,’ ‘should,’ will be struck out of our vocabulary and will be replaced by ‘delight,’ ‘cannot but; ‘will.’ For friends find the very life - I was going to say the voice-of their friendship in mutual obedience.
And God, the heavenly Friend, will do what we wish. In that very connection did Jesus Christ put the two thoughts of friendship with Him and His executing His disciple’s behests; saying in one breath, ‘Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you,’ and in the next, ‘Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.’ This conformity of will, so that there is but one will in, the two hearts, which is the very consummation and superlative degree of human friendship and love, applies as truly to the friendship between man and God.
IV. Friends give gifts to each other.
Let us go back to our story. What did Abraham give God? ‘Forasmuch as he hath not withheld his only son from Me, I know that he fears Me.’ And what does God give to His friends? ‘He that spared not His own Son, but freely delivered Him up to the death for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?’ Abraham’s gift of his son to God was but a feeble shadow of God’s gift of His Son to men. And if the surrender on the part of the human friend was the infallible token of his love, surely the surrender on the part of the heavenly Friend is no less the infallible sign of His love to all the world. Generalise these thoughts and they come to this. If we are God’s lovers God will give us Himself, in so far as we can receive Him; and all other gifts in so far as they are good and needful. If we are God’s friends and lovers we shall give Him, in glad surrender, our whole selves. And, remember, if you feel that you have separate interests from Him, if you keep things and do not let Him say, ‘These are mine’; if you grudge sacrifice, and will not hear of self-surrender, and are living lives centred in, ruled by, devoted to, self, you have little reason to call yourself a Christian. ‘Ye are My friends if ye’ - not only ‘do whatsoever I command you,’ but ‘if you give yourself to Me.’ Yield yourselves to God, and in the giving of yourselves to Him, you will get back yourselves glorified and blessed by the gift. There is no friendship if self shuts out the friend from participation in what is the other’s. As long as ‘mine’ lies on this side of a high wall, and ‘thine’ on the other, there is but little friendship. Down with the wall, and say about everything ‘Ours’; and then you have a right to say ‘I am the friend of God.’
V. Lastly, and but a word. Friends stand up for each other.
‘I am thy shield; fear not, Abraham,’ said God, when His friend was in danger from the vengeance of the Eastern kings whom he had defeated; and all through life the same strong arm was cast around him. Abraham, on his part, had to stand up for God amidst his heathen neighbours.
If we are God’s ‘friends and lovers He will take up our cause. Be sure that if God be for us, it matters not who is against us. If we are God’s friends and lovers we have to take up His cause. What would you think of a man who, in going away to a far-off country, said to some friend, ‘I wish you would look after so and so for me as long as I am gone’; and the friend would say ‘Yes!’ and never give a thought nor lift a finger to discharge the obligation? God trusts His reputation to you Christian people; He has interests in this world that you have to look after. You have to defend Him as really as He has to defend you. And it is the dreadful contradiction of religious people’s profession of religion that they often care so little, and do so little to promote the cause, to defend the name, to adorn the reputation, and to further what I may venture to call the interests, of their heavenly Friend in the world.
Dear brother, looking at these things, can you venture to say that you are a friend of God? If you cannot, what are you? Our relations to men admit of our dividing them into three - friends, enemies, nothings. We may love, we may hate, we may be absolutely indifferent and ignorant. I am afraid the three states cannot be transferred exactly to our relations to God. If not His friend, what are you? Have you only a far-off, bowing acquaintance with Him? Well, then, that is because you have neglected, if you have not spurned, His offered friendship. And, oh! how much you have lost! No human heart is a millionth part so sweet, and so capable of satisfying you as God’s. All friendship here has its limits, its changes, its end. God’s is boundless, immutable, eternal All things are the friends of God’s friend; and all things are arrayed against him who rejects God’s friendship.
I beseech you, let Him woo you to love Him; and yield your hearts to Him. ‘If when we were "enemies," we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son,’ much more, being friends, all the fulness of His love and the sweetness of His heart will be poured upon us through the living Christ.
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on James 2". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter