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FRIENDSHIP OF THE WORLD IS ENMITY WITH GOD
James 4:4. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
THERE is a boldness of speech, which not only comports well with the character of God’s ambassadors, but is necessary to the faithful discharge of the ministerial office. To those who are unused to the figurative language of Scripture, the address of St. James to the professors of Christianity may appear coarse and severe. But the truth he delivered, needed to be strongly insisted on even in the apostolic age; so much did the practice of the Church fall short of the knowledge which was at that time generally diffused. As to the appellation which he gave the worldly temporizing Christians, it could not fail of being understood in its proper sense; because all knew that God called himself the husband of the Church; and consequently, that the violation of the people’s engagements to him justly entitled them to the name by which they were addressed.
To the Christians of this age the doctrine of the text should be very fully opened. It is indeed far from being calculated to please men: but we proceed to the consideration of it, in the hope that the word shall not go forth in vain.
We shall endeavour to shew,
What we are to understand by the friendship of the world—
[The “world” must be understood in its largest sense, as comprehending not only the people, but also the pleasures, riches, and honours of the world [Note: 1 John 2:15-62.2.16.]. To draw the precise limits of that which is here called “the friendship” of the world, is not so easy. Nevertheless we may ascertain this with as much accuracy as is necessary on the present occasion.
If we love any one person above all others, and strive to please him habitually, not only in common with others, but even in direct opposition to them, we certainly must be acknowledged to have a considerable degree of friendship for him. Let us inquire then,
Which do we love more, the world, or God? — — —
Which do we strive to please when their commands are irreconcileable with each other? — — —
If conscience testify that the world have in these respects a decided preference, we are, beyond all doubt, the friends of the world.]
In what respects it is enmity with God—
[This may seem a strong expression; but it does not exceed the truth. For the friendship of the world is, in fact, a denial of God’s excellency, since it declares that the world is a better portion than he — — — It is a contempt of his authority, seeing that when he says, “My son, give me thy heart,” it makes us reply with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord, that I should serve him? I know not the Lord, neither will I obey his voice” — — — It is also a violation of our most solemn engagements with him. He is our Husband; and we bound ourselves to him in baptism to “renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil,” and to be his, even his only. But by receiving the world to our bosom, we suffer that to invade his property, and, as the text intimates, are guilty of spiritual adultery — — — Moreover it is (as far as our influence extends) a banishing of the very remembrance of him from the earth. God himself testifies respecting the friends of the world, that “he is not in all their thoughts:” and it is certain that, while they can converse readily on every worldly subject, they like not to hear or speak of his name: and if there were not a few who stand forth as his witnesses upon earth, his very name would soon be blotted out of our remembrance — — —
If the friends of the world would view their conduct in this light, they would see an extreme malignity in the practices which they now maintain and justify: and they would tremble at the thought of being found enemies to him, who, as omniscient, sees; as holy, hates; as just, condemns; and, as almighty, will punish, such daring impiety.]
The state of those who cultivate it—
[Nothing can be more express than the declaration of the text: they are “enemies of God.” Whether they intend it or not, whether they think of it or not, they are enemies of God. However sober, modest, kind, generous, and amiable they may be in their deportment, they still are enemies of God. Exalt their characters ever so highly, so that they shall appear in the most enviable light, you must bring them down at last with this melancholy exception, but “they are enemies of God [Note: 2 Kings 5:1.]” — — —
Nor is this a matter that admits of doubt. St. James even appealed to the very persons whom he was condemning, and made them judges in their own cause; “Know ye not this?” can ye doubt of it one moment? does not the Scripture fully declare it? does not experience universally attest it?
But there is an emphasis in the text that marks this truth in the strongest manner. As an avowed desire to compass the death of the king is treason, though that wish should never be accomplished; so the determining to maintain friendship with the world, when God commands us to “come out from it and be separate,” is treason against the King of kings: the very willing to side in this manner with the world, constitutes [Note: Ὃς ἂν βουληθῇ καθίσταται.] us enemies of God.]
The friends of the world—
[It is to be feared that even in a Christian assembly the doctrine of the text will be called in question; and that many, whose conduct in other respects is unexceptionable, impute no blame to themselves for their attachment to the world. Yea, so ignorant of their duty are the generality of Christians, that instead of saying, “Know ye not,” we must rather say to them, “Know ye that the friendship of the world is enemity with God?” For, alas! few in this day seem to know it, or even to suspect it: and their reply to us would be, ‘No, I neither know it, nor believe it; nor shall any thing that you can say persuade me to receive a sentiment so unreasonable, and so contrary to common sense.’ But, brethren, so it is, whether ye know it or not. Let none therefore deceive themselves, or attempt to unite the friendship of the world with friendship with God; for that is impossible, as our Lord has plainly told us: “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”]
The friends of God—
[It is a great mercy to be “delivered from the love of this present world.” But we may mistake our experience with respect to this. Age, sickness, poverty, disappointment, and other trials may render us apparently indifferent to the world, while yet, under other circumstances, our old attachment to it would revive. Let us take care therefore that, as an evidence of our friendship with God, our delight in him proportionally increase. This must of necessity accompany our deadness to the world. As one scale descends, the other must rise. We must guard also against a relapse; for the world is ever soliciting a place in our affections; and if we be not on our guard, we shall, like Demas, forsake the path of self-denial for the more enchanting one of earthliness and self-indulgence [Note: 2 Timothy 4:10.].]
REPENTANCE URGED [Note: For Ash-Wednesday.]
James 4:8-59.4.10. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
THE season of Lent has been set apart by the Church for the purpose of calling all her members to deep humiliation of soul before God: and, were it observed according to the intention of those who destined it to this holy use, there can be no doubt but that it would tend exceedingly to the advancement of religion in the world. So, at least, the reformers of our Church judged; as appears from the peculiarly solemn service which is appointed for the day with which this season commences. And I cannot but think, that, whilst we value ourselves on an increased freedom from the errors of superstition, we have reason to fear that we have suffered loss in respect of real piety; since, with the forms of religion, we have relinquished also, in no small degree, the spirit of it. Not that a becoming reverence for this season has altogether ceased. On the contrary, a discourse which was not pertinent to the occasion would very generally be deemed unseasonable and indecorous: so that I have at least your prejudices and your expectations in my favour, whilst I propose to your consideration the solemn subject before us.
In the Apostle’s exhortation we see,
An encouragement to repentance—
A person under conviction of sin is ready to fear that God will not receive him to mercy—
[Nor is this without reason, when we consider how awfully we have all departed from our God. Though “in him we live and move and have our being,” and are bound by all possible ties to obey and honour him, we have altogether “contemned [Note: Psalms 10:13.]” his authority, and “lived without him in the world [Note: Ephesians 2:12.].” We have in our hearts said to him, “Depart from me; for I desire not the knowledge of thy ways [Note: Job 21:14.].” We have altogether “forgotten him [Note: Jeremiah 2:32.],” and wished that there were “no God [Note: Psalms 14:1.],” or, at least, that, as to his claims upon us, he might be “made to cease from before us [Note: Isaiah 30:11.].” Would it be wonderful, therefore, if God, in his righteous indignation, should execute on all, what he certainly will execute on every impenitent offender, a sentence of utter and everlasting exclusion from his presence [Note: Proverbs 1:24-20.1.31.]? — — — This is merited by all; and therefore might well be apprehended by all, if God, of his unbounded mercy, had not assured us of his willingness to receive returning penitents.]
But God has declared, that, “if we draw nigh to him, he will draw nigh to us”—
[He will not despise the prayer of the poor destitute [Note: Psalms 102:17.],” or “cast out any who come unto him” in his Son’s name [Note: John 6:37.]. However great or long-continued their sins may have been, he will not withhold his mercy from them [Note: Isaiah 1:18.]. No, in truth: “he will incline his ear unto them, and hear them:” he will “look down upon them from the habitation of his holiness and his glory [Note: Isaiah 63:15.];” yea, “he will rend the heavens, and come down [Note: Isaiah 64:1.];” and “at their cry he will answer, Here I am [Note: Isaiah 58:9.].” Even “before the supplication is well uttered, he will answer; and whilst they are yet speaking, he will hear [Note: Isaiah 65:24.].” No language can express the depth of the condescension which he will manifest to the poor suppliant, or the riches of that grace which he will impart to the believing penitent. Pardon, peace, holiness, glory, are not too great for him to bestow on the most unworthy of men, who call upon him with their whole hearts.]
But, that we may not miscarry in the exercise of this duty, the Apostle gives us,
A direction for the acceptable performance of it—
Our repentance must be attended with,
A sincere renunciation of all evil—
[Oh! “cleanse your hands, ye sinners;” and think not to find acceptance with God, whilst ye “hold fast iniquity” of any kind. Hear what God said to his people of old: “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hands, to tread my courts?&.hellip; When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash ye; make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes: cease to do evil: learn to do well [Note: Isaiah 1:12-23.1.16.].” In truth, “the very prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord [Note: Proverbs 21:27; Proverbs 28:9.],” Look, I pray you, to all the habits of your past life; your conduct in your respective trades and callings, no less than in your common intercourse with mankind: and, as God enjoins you to “shake your hands from holding of bribes,” so I would say, Shake your hands from holding of unjust gains of any kind, and from retaining any evil which you have been wont to perpetrate [Note: Isaiah 33:15.].
Nor is this sufficient: you must put away evil from the heart, as well as in the act: for “if you regard iniquity in your heart, the Lord will not hear you [Note: Psalms 66:18.].” “Your heart must be right with God [Note: Psalms 78:37.],” who demands the whole of it for himself [Note: Proverbs 23:26.], and will not accept “a divided heart [Note: Hosea 10:2.].” “Purify your hearts then, ye double-minded:” for “ye cannot serve God and mammon too [Note: Matthew 6:24.].” You must “not love the world, nor any thing that is in it,” if you would approve yourselves to God [Note: 1 John 2:15-62.2.16.]: the very desire to retain friendship with the world is constructive treason, and a decisive proof of enmity against God [Note: ver. 4. See the Greek.]. See, then, that ye be “Israelites indeed, in whom is no allowed guile [Note: John 1:47.].” Then, whether it be “under the fig-tree,” or in any place whatever, God will behold you with complacency; and not only listen to your prayers, but exceed in his answers your largest petitions or desires [Note: John 1:48-43.1.51. with Ephesians 3:20.].]
A deep contrition for all your past iniquities—
[A forsaking of sin is not sufficient. There are many grounds on which some lust may be subdued: a change of age, or even of our circumstances in life, may operate to the abstaining from some sins, whilst yet the evil of them may never have been truly felt. Sin, of whatever kind, is hateful in the sight of God; and must become so in our eyes. “Be afflicted therefore, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness: humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, if ever ye would be lifted up.” It is “the broken and contrite heart, which God will not despise [Note: Psalms 51:17.]:” and all repentance that falls short of that, will only prove “a repentance that must itself be repented of [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:10-47.7.11.].” But, if ye come to God with a holy and ingenuous shame, even though you had been as wicked as Manasseh himself, you shall not be rejected: for “all manner of wickedness shall be forgiven unto men [Note: Matthew 12:31.];” nor will God ever suffer any human being to “seek his face in vain [Note: Isaiah 45:19.].” No, verily; if he see one prostrating himself before him in dust and ashes, he will “lift him up,” just as the father in the parable did his prodigal son; testifying over him the joy with which he will restore him, not to his favour only, but to all the blessedness that he himself is able to impart [Note: Luke 15:20-42.15.24.]. He that thus sows in tears, shall surely “reap in joy [Note: Psalms 126:6.]:” and “he who thus humbles himself, shall surely be exalted [Note: Luke 18:14.].”]
It may be, that some amongst you doubt the necessity of such a repentance—
But who amongst you is not “a sinner” before God? or, who amongst you has not been “double-minded,” giving at least a portion of his heart to the creature, when the whole of it should have been fixed on God? — — — I accuse not any one amongst you of gross sin: but as corresponding with the character drawn in my text, I must accuse every child of man, I grant there is a great diversity in the guilt of different men: but there is no man so innocent as not to need repentance, and repentance too of the very kind that is here required. I pray you therefore, brethren, not to rest satisfied with a few faint acknowledgments of your guilt; but to abase yourselves before God, even as holy Job did, in dust and ashes — — —]
There may possibly be others, also, who doubt its efficacy—
[You may perhaps have sought the Lord for some time, and not yet have obtained an answer of peace. But does this discourage you? Think, I pray you, how long God sought after you, and followed you with his invitations and entreaties to return unto him. Think, I say, of this; and then you will acknowledge, that, if you cried to him for a hundred years, and yet obtained an answer only at the last hour, you would have no reason to complain. But God has gracious designs in delaying the manifestations of his favour towards you. He desires to humble you the more deeply before him, and to prepare you more fully for the due reception of his favour. St. Peter says, “Humble yourselves under his mighty hand, and he will exalt you in due time [Note: 1 Peter 5:6.].” And who is the best judge what “the due time” is? Surely you may well leave this matter to Him who cannot err; and who, “having given you his dear Son, will surely with him also freely give you all things [Note: Romans 8:32.].” You yourselves do not give to your child a thing the instant that he cries for it, but judge of the fittest season wherein to give it. Wait, then, the Lord’s leisure; assured, that “the vision, though delayed, shall not tarry” beyond the period which you yourselves, if you saw things as clearly as God does, would be the foremost to assign for it [Note: Habakkuk 2:3.].]
THE FOLLY OF UNDUE SECURITY
James 4:13-59.4.14. Go to now, ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
RELIGION has ever a tendency to decline. Sin has pre-occupied the ground: and though religion expels it for a time, it is ever watching, as it were, for an opportunity to return, and to regain its former ascendant over the soul. Even in the Apostolic age manifold declensions were found, not only in individuals, but in whole Churches: and St. James, with the utmost fidelity and earnestness, set himself to counteract the fatal evil. Amongst the various evils which he had to reprove, was that of undue security, or of presuming on the success of our plans for future advancement, without any becoming reference to the shortness and uncertainty of life: and there being still but too much reason to complain of this habit in the Christian world, I shall distinctly mark,
The habit which is here censured—
The Apostle does not intend to condemn all forethought and contrivance; for then we should all be as weak and foolish as children: nor, indeed, if prospective plans were unlawful, would any one branch of agriculture or commerce, or even of liberal education, be carried forward. It is the proud reliance on our own wisdom, and the confident expectation of time to come, that is here condemned; and this is,
A great evil—
[What is it but an entire forgetfulness of our dependence upon God? For who is it that can give success to any plans, but God himself? And, if we could command success, who can tell whether that which we seek as a blessing, may not prove to us the greatest curse? Even an unqualified desire of the things themselves, without a reference to the wisdom of God to choose for us, and his will to bestow them on us, is highly sinful. It contravenes that express command, “Thou shalt not covet,” and is, in fact, an usurpation of God’s prerogative to direct and govern the affairs of men. Besides, such a confident expectation of life is of itself most offensive to God: for it is “he who holdeth our souls in life:” “in him we live, and move, and have our being:” and the contemplation of life, irrespective of his agency, is no other than practical atheism.]
A common evil—
[We imbibe these atheistical sentiments from our earliest infancy. Scarcely any other ever meet our ears. Our very parents are constantly speaking to us of what is to be gained us in future years in consequence of our own care and industry. As we grow up, we buoy up ourselves with the same unqualified hopes and expectations: from youth to manhood, and from manhood to old age, we still continue to speak of future events as depending on ourselves, rather than on God; and seldom, if ever, have any direct reference in our minds to the superintending and all-directing providence of God. Indeed, it is from hence that our exertions principally arise: and so gratifying to our minds is this corrupt habit, that our chief happiness in life arises from it: for it is a well-known fact, that the fond dreams of hope almost invariably exceed the pleasures of actual enjoyment.]
Such is the evil which the Apostle censured in the words before us: which, however, lead us yet further to consider,
The folly of it—
There is nothing in reality at our command, or under our controul. We cannot by any means secure,
The success of our labours—
[“We cannot tell what shall be on the morrow:” we cannot tell how soon circumstances may arise to make us view that as an evil, which we just before coveted as a good. The fact is, that there is scarcely a man living, who has not as much reason to bless God for the dispensations by which his desires have been thwarted, as for those by which they have been gratified. How foolish then is it to take the disposal of events out of God’s hands, instead of committing it to him, whose wisdom cannot err, and whose power cannot be counteracted! We may, like Israel, cause him “in wrath to give us” the object of our inordinate desires, and constrain him to inflict upon us the judgment denounced against his disobedient people; “I will curse their blessings.”]
The continuance of our lives—
[“What is our life? it is a vapour that appeareth but a little time, and then vanisheth away.” This is a truth which all acknowledge; and which, if duly considered, would abate the ardour of our earthly pursuits, and moderate our too sanguine expectations. Who has not seen persons in the bloom of youth, when promising themselves years of prosperity and joy, cut off suddenly, even as the flower of the grass, which in the morning looks gay and flourishing, and in the evening is cut down, dried up, and withered? Yes, a light, airy, unsubstantial vapour is but too just an image of life, which in its best estate is vanity, and in the twinkling of an eye may pass away for ever. Is it wise then to be either looking forward to future joys, or resting too confidently in joys possessed, when for aught that we know, the decree may have already gone forth, “This year,” this month, this very day, “shalt thou die [Note: Here any instances of hopes disappointed by sudden death may be referred to.]?”]
Let us learn from this subject,
To have a direct reference to God in all things [Note: ver. 15, 16.]—
[God will govern all things, whether we acknowledge him or not: and, if we refer all to him, he will govern all things for our good. Not a hair of our head shall fall to the ground without his special permission.]
To be moderate in our anticipations of earthly bliss—
[What a lesson is taught us by the fate of him who said to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry.” The reply of God to him was, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.” The true way to avoid disappointment from earthly things, is, to regard them as vanity and vexation of spirit, and to be contented with such a measure of them as God sees to be best for us.]
To bend all our attention to the concerns of eternity—
[These will never disappoint our hopes: we shall never seek eternal happiness in vain. Our desires in reference to them cannot be too large, nor our expectations from them too sanguine. Who, on coming to our blessed Saviour, was ever cast out? In what instance did the blood of Christ ever prove insufficient to justify, or his grace to save? As for life, the cutting short of that will not deprive us of any blessing which we have ever sought: on the contrary, it will bring us to the speedier possession of all good. We must indeed, in spiritual as well as carnal things, place our hope in God alone; because God alone can “give us either to will or to do;” and in the bestowment of his blessings he will consult only “his own will and pleasure:” but if we look steadfastly to him, and rely confidently on him alone, “we shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.”]
SINS OF OMISSION CONSIDERED
James 4:17. To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
THERE is not any thing of which men are more convinced, than the shortness and uncertainty of life: yet in the habit of their minds they live as if they were certain of many months and years to come. They form their plans and projects as if they were sure of living to see them executed. Of this the Apostle complains in the preceding context, because it altogether overlooks God in the government of the world, and is nothing less than practical atheism.
Having pointed out the evil of such a habit, the Apostle deduces from it this general position; that, as the person who in theory acknowledges the providence of God, and practically denies it, sins; so, whoever omits to do any other thing which he knows to be right, sins also.
It is my intention,
To confirm this truth—
Let us consider what such conduct manifests. It argues,
An insensibility in the conscience—
[God has given to every man a conscience, to be, as it were, his vicegerent in the soul. It is designed by him to check us, when we are in danger of committing any evil, and to stimulate us continually to whatever is pleasing in his sight. But if, when we know what is good, we do it not, we shew that we have silenced the voice of conscience, or have rendered ourselves incapable of attending to its suggestions. And is this no sin? Is a sentinel who sleeps at his post guilty of no crime, when through his unwatchfulness a camp or city is surprised? And is not a minister, who, when he seeth the sword of God’s vengeance uplifted to strike his people, neglects to warn them, justly chargeable with their blood [Note: Ezekiel 33:6.]? Shall not guilt then attach to you, who lull your consciences asleep, and say to yourselves, “I shall have peace, notwithstanding I walk after the imagination of my own evil heart [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19-5.29.20.]?” The very heathen were charged with guilt, because, “when from the works of creation they knew God, they glorified him not as God [Note: Romans 1:21.]:” depend upon it, therefore, that your neglect of known and acknowledged duties cannot but involve your souls also in much guilt.]
An indifference to the welfare of our own souls—
[It is by our works that we shall be judged in the last day. We are as servants that have talents committed to us: they who make a good improvement of them will have a proportionable reward: but those who hide them in a napkin will be dealt with as wicked and unprofitable servants [Note: Luke 19:15-42.19.27.]. What then do you say, in fact, when you neglect an acknowledged duty? You say, in reality, ‘I care not for my soul; I care not whether it is happy in a future world, or not: I know that by a diligent attention to all God’s commands, I might advance its eternal interests: and I know that by inattention to his will I shall involve it in misery: but let me have present ease; let me be excused the trouble of doing what does not suit my taste and inclination: let me have the world with its pleasures and interests: and if through my love to present things I must lose my soul, be it so: I consent to “the exchange [Note: Matthew 16:26.]:” “I will sell my birth-right for a mess of pottage [Note: Hebrews 12:16.].” ’ Tell me now, Is there nothing criminal in this? May not such persons be justly charged with “loving death, and wronging their own souls [Note: Proverbs 8:36.]?” Yes: whether a man do a thing of which he doubts the lawfulness, or neglect to do a thing of which he admits the necessity, he is equally “a sinner against his own soul:” for, as “whatsoever is not of faith, is sin [Note: Romans 14:23.],” so to know what is good and to neglect it, is sin also.]
A contempt of Almighty God—
[Whatever obedience a man may pay to all other commandments, if there be one which he knowingly violates, or wilfully neglects, he is a rebel against God, and a contemner of his Divine Majesty [Note: Psalms 10:13.Luke 10:16; Luke 10:16.]. For the same authority that enjoins one, enjoins all: and if it be disregarded in one, it is in reality disregarded in all [Note: James 2:10-59.2.11.]: for it is impossible to have a due regard to it in any thing, if we have not a regard to it in every thing. And is it no sin to cast off the yoke of God, and to say, “As for the word that has been spoken to me in the name of the Lord, I will not hearken unto it [Note: Jeremiah 44:16.]?” Our blessed Lord has told us what he will say to such persons in the last day: “Bring hither those that were mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me.” “Those who knew not their Lord’s will,” and sinned through ignorance, are chargeable with guilt, and will be visited with punishment; because they had the means of instruction, and did not diligently improve them: but if “the servant who knew not his Lord’s will shall be beaten with few stripes, be assured, that the servant who knew his Lord’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes [Note: Luke 12:47-42.12.48.].”]
Verily this is a solemn truth, and deeply to be weighed by every child of man. Let me therefore proceed,
To suggest some reflections arising out of it—
Who that duly considers it must not see,
What ground we all have for humiliation before God—
[I will suppose that we have never committed any enormous sin, and that in respect of the letter of the law we have been as blameless as ever Paul was previous to his conversion: still, are we not sinners? There has been no doubt on any of our minds whether we had occasion for the acknowledged duties of repentance, faith, and obedience: but have we diligently performed these duties? Have we from day to day humbled ourselves before God, and wept in dust and ashes? Have we laboured to find out all our past transgressions, to spread them before God with penitential sorrow, and to implore with all earnestness the remission of them? — — — Have we fled to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge, as to the hope that is set before us? Have we pleaded before God the merit of his sacrifice, and sprinkled our souls with his all-atoning blood? Is this the daily habit of our minds; and the only source of peace to our souls? — — — And have we given up ourselves to God without reserve, to fulfil his every command, and to live altogether to his glory? Do we for this end study his blessed word with all diligence, that we may know his mind? and do we labour incessantly to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God?” We have known these things to be right; but have we done them? Can we appeal to the heart-searching God, that this has been, and yet is, the daily tenour of our lives? Must we not rather acknowledge, that no one day of our lives has been so occupied with these duties as it ought to have been? Then we are sinners, “sinners before the Lord exceedingly [Note: Genesis 13:13.]:” and, if we turn not to God in newness of life, we shall speedily become monuments of his wrath and fiery indignation.]
The folly of seeking salvation by any righteousness of our own—
[I will not only grant, as before, that we are free from any gross sins, but I will admit, that we have done a great deal that was good and praiseworthy. But how shall we get rid of this immense load of guilt which we have contracted by our wilful and habitual neglects? Our good deeds, admitting that we have performed some, have been only occasional: whereas our neglects have been continual, from the first moment that we began to be capable of acting. Our good deeds have all been marred with imperfections; but our neglects have had in them no mixture of good: they were pure and unmixed evil; and in comparison of them, any good that we do is lighter than dust upon the balance. In truth, no man who reflected a moment on my text could any more entertain a hope of being justified by any righteousness of his own, than he could form a purpose to create a world. He would see, that, whilst he was doing those very works on which he was inclined to build his hopes, the weakness and defectiveness of his exertions infinitely outweighed any merit which they might be supposed to have; and rendered his works a just ground for condemnation, rather than of justification before God. Bear in mind then the declaration before us; and limit not your views to sins of commission, but extend them to sins of omission: and then you will no longer hesitate to renounce all hope in yourselves, but will say with the Apostle Paul, “I desire to be found in Christ, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith [Note: Philippians 3:9.].”]
The improvement which we should make of divine ordinances—
[We should not come to the house of God merely to satisfy conscience and to perform a duty, but really to get instruction respecting the mind and will of God. A mariner about to navigate a ship, and having the assistance of a skilful builder to examine whether she was in a state fit for sea, would not listen to his observations as a mere matter of curiosity or amusement, nor would he shut his eyes to any defects that were pointed out: his object would be, to find out defects, in order to their being remedied: and if only a doubt were suggested, he would endeavour to ascertain how far there was any foundation for it. He would say, I am about to commit my life and property to this vessel, and I must not stay till I am got into the midst of the ocean before I search into her state: it will be too late to do that when I am in the midst of a storm: I must do it now, before I go on board. Precisely in this way should you come up to the house of God. You are about to embark for eternity: and the instructions given by your minister are intended to point out every defect in your vessel, in order to its being remedied in time. Shut not then your ears to his instructions; and close not your eyes to your defects: but bless God for every assistance which you can obtain in a matter of such infinite importance, and endeavour to improve it for the salvation of your soul. In particular, search out your defects; and cry mightily to God to pardon them for the Redeemer’s sake, and to repair them by the influences of his good Spirit: so may you hope to navigate in safety this tempestuous ocean; and in due season to “have an abundant entrance” into the haven of eternal bliss.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on James 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany