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PATIENT PERSEVERANCE URGED
James 5:7-59.5.8. Be patient, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
CHRISTIANITY, even in the apostolic age, was professed by multitudes who neither understood its doctrines nor obeyed its precepts. The great and fundamental doctrine of justification by faith was denied by some, and abused by others; who took occasion from it to “turn the grace of God into licentiousness,” and to “continue in sin that grace might abound.” To this latter class more especially St. James directed his epistle. He did indeed write to the unbelieving Jews also: for his epistle is addressed “To the twelve tribes who were scattered abroad:” and, as they were in no state to receive such affectionate salutations as are observable in the epistles which were addressed to Christians only, he contented himself with merely sending to them “greeting [Note: James 1:1.].” There were indeed many truly pious persons who were suffering for the truth’s sake; and these he sought to comfort and encourage. The foregoing part of this chapter seems addressed to the former; the text and following verses to the latter. We cannot conceive that the oppressive and murderous conduct which he lays to the charge of some, could admit of their being numbered with the Church of God. But their cruelties rendered the path of the true Christians who were among them far more difficult: and therefore, after warning those who were so grossly violating every principle of common morality, he encourages the suffering Christians to persevere in a patient discharge of their duty, and in an assured expectation of recompence at the coming of their Lord.
We shall consider the injunction which he gives them in a two-fold view;
In reference to the terms by which it is expressed—
These are strong and energetic. Twice he says, “Be patient;” that is, bear with all long-suffering the trials that are come upon you: and then he adds, “Stablish your hearts;” let them be so firmly fixed, that nothing may ever shake them.
Now from these expressions we gain a very considerable insight into Christianity: we see, that,
It exposes us to heavy trials—
[No man could profess Christianity at its first establishment, but at the peril of his life: thousands and myriads being called to seal the truth with their blood. If the same persecutions be not experienced at this day, let us not imagine that they have therefore ceased: for it is as true at this day as it was in the apostolic age, that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” And every man now, as well as then, must be prepared to lay down his life for Christ, if he will be acknowledged as “a disciple indeed.” Nor let it be thought that the persecutions of the present day are so very light. It is no easy thing for flesh and blood to withstand the hatred, and contempt, and ridicule to which he will be assuredly exposed, if he set himself in earnest to serve the Lord. The fear of these consequences is abundantly sufficient to deter multitudes from embracing the Gospel, and to turn back multitudes after they have embraced it. True it is, that all are not exposed to these things in an equal degree: but every follower of Christ must have his cross to bear, and be conformed to his Divine Master in sufferings, before he can be made like him in glory [Note: Romans 8:17.].]
It calls for great exertions—
[Religion is the same that it ever was, and calls for the same efforts on the part of all who embrace it. A race is not won at this day without exertion; nor does a wrestler overcome a strong antagonist without effort: nor a man engaged in warfare obtain a triumph without labour. Our spiritual enemies are as strong as ever: sin is not subdued and mortified by listless endeavours; nor is Satan defeated without much watchfulness and prayer. The whole man must be engaged. We must summon to the conflict all our faculties and powers; yea, such are the efforts required, that, if we be not strengthened by that same almighty power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead, we can never prevail [Note: Ephesians 1:19-49.1.20.].]
It requires incessant efforts even to the end—
[There is to be no period when we are to give way either to impatience or sloth. However long our trials may continue, we are “in patience to possess our souls:” and however difficult the path of duty may be, we are “never to be weary in well-doing.” God should be able to say of us, as he does of the Church of Ephesus, “Thou hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and not fainted [Note: Revelation 2:3.].” This in particular is intimated in our text. It is supposed that the trials are long, and heavy, and calculated to turn us from the faith: and hence it is necessary that we “be long-suffering,” and that our “souls be established with grace.” It is in this way only that we can finally prevail: for to those only who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, will eternal life be adjudged [Note: Romans 2:7.].]
To enter fully into the Apostle’s exhortation, we must consider it,
In reference to the comparison with which it is illustrated—
This Apostle seems particularly to affect easy and familiar illustrations. The whole epistle abounds with them. He compares certain hearers of the word to persons beholding themselves in a glass, and then forgetting what manner of persons they were. Those who have a dead and unproductive faith he compares to persons who speak kind words to an indigent brother or sister without relieving their necessities. Those who govern not their tongue he reproves, by contrasting their conduct with horses that obey the bit; with ships that are turned by a helm; with beasts, birds, and even fishes of the sea, all of which have been tamed by men: and by warning them, that as no fountain can send forth sweet water and bitter, and no tree bear both olives and figs, so they can be no true Christians, whilst such unworthy and inconsistent speeches issue from their mouths. Here in our text he brings to our view the husbandman, whose continued labours and patient expectations form a fit model for the Christian. Him we are called to resemble,
In a steady prosecution of the appointed means—
[Many are the discouragements which the husbandman meets with in the cultivation of his ground. Sometimes the weather is untoward: sometimes blights, or insects, or mildew, injure his crops: sometimes drought almost destroys all his hopes: but still he goes on from year to year, ploughing his ground, clearing it from weeds, manuring it, casting in his seed, and harrowing it; and this he does, not knowing for certain that a single grain which he casts into the furrows shall rise again. But he expects nothing without the use of means; and therefore he does his part; and that too as regularly and diligently as if every thing depended on himself. He well knows that God alone can give rain, or cause the sun to shine, or give power to the seed which he has sown to spring up: but still he labours, that he may not fail through any neglect of his own.
Now in this he is a pattern for all Christians. They have their work to do. True, they cannot ensure success: but they know that it is in the use, and not in the neglect, of the appointed means, that God will bless them: and therefore they are labouring as assiduously as if every thing depended on themselves. Behold them in secret: they read the Scriptures with diligence: they pray over them with earnestness: they set themselves to mortify their evil propensities, and to fulfil their duties both to God and man. Observe them at all times, and you will see, that they are in earnest for heaven. When you go into the fields, and see the husbandman ploughing, manuring, sowing, harrowing, weeding his ground, you will never hesitate a moment to say, that he has the harvest in view. So, see the Christian from day to day, and you will without fail remark, that he has heaven in view, and that he is preparing for a future harvest.]
In a patient expectation of the desired end—
[Many months intervene between the seed-time and the harvest: but the husbandman waits with patience. It is some time before the seed springs up from under the clods: but he waits for it, and for “the former rain,” which alone can call forth its vegetative powers. Its growth is afterwards impeded by drought: but still he waits for the latter rain, without which the corn can never come to maturity. There may be many alternations of hope and fear: but he commits the matter to the Lord, and waits the destined time, in expectation that God will give him to see, in an abundant increase, the fruit of his labours. So the Christian must wait upon his God: many things he will meet with to try his faith and patience: but he must commit them all to the Lord, not doubting but that God will give him “strength according to his day,” and cause “all events to work together for his good.” As the husbandman knows that a few months will bring the appointed harvest; so the Christian knows, that his Lord is quickly coming, and “will not tarry beyond the appointed time:” and for that time he must wait; fully assured, that the harvest which he shall then reap will amply repay all his cares and all his toil.
This then, Christian, is the pattern you are to follow: you must be “steadfast, and immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; and then you are assured, that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”]
Learn then from hence,
How to estimate your true character—
[The Apostle addresses those whom he is exhorting by the endearing name of “brethren:” for they are all children of one common Father, even of God himself. Now, whereinsoever they differ from each other, they all agree in this: the true child of God is engaged in a work, which demands, and in which he puts forth, all his energies. In it he is occupied throughout the year. He consults not the clouds, to know whether he shall plough and sow his ground: he knows that the work must be done, and he engages in it in a humble dependence on his God: and he looks to the future judgment, as the period when all his labours shall be compensated, and his hopes fulfilled. Now, I would ask, would every one that sees you, know you by these marks? The husbandman, without intending to attract notice, discovers to all, his views, his occupations, his desires. Are yours also in like manner apparent to all who behold your life and conversation! Doubtless your daily calls of duty are not so visible to every observer: but upon the whole, the great scope and end of your life is not a whit less visible to all who are round about you. Here then you may easily ascertain your own character. If eternity be not ever in your view; if all you do have not a reference to it; if you be not willing both to do and suffer every thing that may conduce to your future welfare; and if you be not “looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of Christ,” as to the period for the completion of all your wishes, you do not belong to this holy family: you may call yourselves Christians; but you are not Christians indeed. We read of those who “said that they were Jews, and did lie:” so you say that you are Christians; but your whole conduct gives the lie to your profession. If you are Christians in deed and in truth, “your works of faith, and labours of love, and patience of hope, are known to all;” and they vouch for you, that “you are the elect,” the children of the living God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:3-52.1.4.].]
How to anticipate your certain end—
[All imagine that they are going to heaven; and will not be persuaded to the contrary. But, if you have ears to hear, and hearts to understand, you shall know this day whether you are going to heaven or to hell. Ask yonder husbandman: ‘Have you been ploughing and sowing your ground this year?’ ‘No; I have had other things to do.’—‘And do you expect a harvest?’ ‘Yes, I shall have as good a crop as any of my neighbours.’—‘But do you think that you shall obtain the end without the means?’ ‘Tell me not about means and end: others give themselves a great deal of unnecessary trouble: and I shall have as good a crop as my neighbours: nor shall any one persuade me to the contrary.’
Now what, suppose you, will be the issue? Will the event accord with this man’s expectations? Will he not, when the time of harvest comes, find that his confidence has been delusive; and that his barns are empty, whilst the granaries of others are filled with store? Then I agree that you shall be your own judges. If you can form a doubt about the issue of that man’s confidence, especially when it is repeated for many years together, then I will be content that you shall buoy up yourselves with the hopes of heaven, though you never use any means to obtain it. But if you have no doubt about that man’s folly, then see in it a just picture of your own.
Behold then, I declare to all of you, that the means must be used in order to the end. You must repent, “ploughing up your fallow ground,” and “sowing in tears” of deep contrition. You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the only Saviour of sinners; and must look to him for “the former and the latter rain,” whereby alone the seed of the word can live and grow in your souls. Lastly, you must make it the one labour of your life to prepare for his second coming, that you may give up your account to him with joy and not with grief. If you thus “go on your way weeping, bearing precious seed, you shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you [Note: Psalms 126:5-19.126.6.]:” but if you act not thus, know that you shall reap according to what you sow. “He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; whilst he who soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting [Note: Galatians 6:7-48.6.8.].”]
NEARNESS OF JUDGMENT
James 5:9. Behold! the Judge standeth before the door.
OF the Day of Judgment there is frequent mention in the New Testament: and so strongly was the idea of it realized in the minds of the inspired writers, that they conveyed to the Church, unintentionally on their parts, an expectation of its speedy arrival. This arose indeed, in part, from our blessed Lord himself having blended his description of it with a prediction of the judgments which impended over Jerusalem, and which were to be inflicted upon it before that generation should have passed away [Note: Matthew 24:29-40.24.35.]. Yet, when there was no reference to the destruction of the Jewish polity, the language used respecting it was often exceeding strong. St. Paul, in his first Epistle to the Thessalonians, thus expresses himself: “This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we who are alive, and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:15-52.4.17.].” We wonder not that some should mistake his meaning, as we find they did, insomuch that, in his next epistle, he was constrained to rectify their misapprehension of his words, and to bring to their recollection, that he had before told them of many important events, which would occur previous to the arrival of that day [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-53.2.5.]. St. James speaks of that period in terms of similar aspect with those of the Apostle Paul: “The coming of the Lord draweth nigh [Note: ver. 8.]:” and again, “The Judge standeth before the door.” Whether, in these passages, St. James had any reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, I cannot exactly say: it is possible he might; because it would be some consolation to the suffering Christians to know that their oppressors would soon be disarmed of their power: but, beyond a doubt, he chiefly refers to the time appointed for the future judgment; when all the inequalities of this present state will be done away, and every person receive a suitable recompence, according to the injuries he has either inflicted or sustained. In this view, the Apostle says, “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned:” that is, vent not your indignation against an oppressor, no, not even in an inarticulate sound [Note: The word means “groan.” There is a certain vehement, though inarticulate sound, resembling a groan, by which we are apt to express an angry and indignant feeling against one whom we are unable to punish. This is the feeling forbidden in the text.], lest the same judgment come on you which you would be ready to inflict on him: but leave the matter to your Almighty “Judge, who standeth before the door,” ready to “award tribulation to those who trouble you; but to you, who are troubled, rest [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:6-53.1.7.].”
Let us consider,
The truth that is here suggested—
To enter into the full meaning of this awful truth, we must distinctly notice its two leading parts:
Death is at hand, to carry us before our Judge—
[This is an undoubted truth. The experience of every day attests it. Death lurks within us; and finds, in the disordered state of our bodies, ten thousand means of accomplishing our destruction. He lies in ambush, too, in every thing around us. There is not any thing which may not prove an instrument in his hands to bring us down. Nor is it by disease or accident alone that he can effect his purpose. In instances without number he inflicts the fatal stroke, without so much as employing any visible or acknowledged agent. If only he receive his commission from God, he is able to work either by means or without means. It need only be said, “This night shall thy soul be required of thee;” and with irresistible power he executes the decree; and transmits us, prepared or unprepared, into the immediate presence of our God.]
Our Judge is at hand, to pronounce our deserved doom—
[He is not afar off, that he must be sought after: nor is he so occupied with the cases of others, as not to be at liberty to consider ours. The instant we are brought before him, he is ready to pronounce his sentence. Of this, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a striking illustration. “All is naked and open before him,” at one view; and in one instant of time he can so present every thing before our minds, that we also may discern the equity of his sentence. If at night we wished to see a variety of objects, we must take a light, and view them in succession, one at a time: but if the sun be risen upon the earth, we can see ten thousand objects at once. Thus can the Judge of quick and dead, in one instant of time, present to our view the records of our whole life, to serve as a foundation of the sentence that he shall pass upon us. Some notion of this we may form from the account given us of the Samaritan woman. She had had some conversation with our Lord, who had made known to her one particular circumstance of her life: and with such power was that particular truth accompanied to her soul, that she went home and said, “Come, see a man who has told me all that ever I did [Note: John 4:29.].” Now this omniscient Judge is at the door, ready to pass sentence on us, the very instant we are brought before him: and, if our eyes were opened, as those of Elisha’s servant were [Note: 2 Kings 6:17.], we might see the throne of judgment already set; the Judge himself seated upon it; the books opened before him; the list of the prisoners, according as they are in succession to be brought before him; and the officers ready, both to summon them in their turn, and to execute on all the sentence awarded to them.]
To impress this solemn truth upon your minds, let me proceed to shew,
The attention it demands—
“Behold! the Judge standeth before the door:” mark it; contemplate it; act upon it. Surely the consideration of this awful truth should prevail upon us,
To seek without delay the pardon of our past sins—
[If we “die in our sins,” woe be to us! “it had been better for us never to have been born.” But through repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ all our past sins may be forgiven: they may all “be blotted out, as a morning cloud;” yea, though they may have been of a “scarlet or crimson dye, they may be made white as snow.” Should we, then, defer a moment to seek this inestimable blessing? When we know not but that the very next hour we may be summoned into the presence of our Judge, should we endanger the everlasting welfare of our souls by waiting for a more convenient season? Oh! “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way with him; lest the adversary deliver you to the Judge, and the Judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Verily, you shall not come out thence, till you have paid the utmost farthing [Note: Matthew 5:25-40.5.26.].”]
To guard with all diligence against the incursion of fresh sin—
[Remember, that whatever be the state of our souls at the moment of death, that will continue to be our state to all eternity. It may be said, “I have repented long since, and sought for mercy through Christ, and attained to a considerable measure of righteousness.” Be it so. Yet must I declare unto you, that “if you relapse into sin, your past righteousness shall not be remembered; but in the iniquity which you have committed, shall you die [Note: Ezekiel 33:13; Ezekiel 33:18.].” There cannot be a more fatal error, than to imagine that your past experience, whatever it may have been, shall avail you any thing, if you turn back to sin. So far will it be from screening you from the wrath of God, that it will rather render you obnoxious to it, in a tenfold heavier degree: “You only have I known of all the families of Israel; therefore will I punish you for your iniquities [Note: Amos 3:2.].” Hear how strongly God himself has cautioned you against this error: “Be not deceived: God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap: he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption: and he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting [Note: Galatians 6:7-48.6.8.].” When, therefore, you consider how suddenly you may be called into the presence of your Judge, it becomes you to “keep your garments clean,” and to “use all diligence that you may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”]
To watch in a more especial manner over the secret workings of your hearts—
[It is not our actions only that our God will call into judgment, but “every secret thing, whether it be good or evil.” There is much that is externally “good in the eyes of men, which yet is an abomination in the sight of God [Note: Luke 16:15.].” There may be in the best exercises of our religion much of pride and self-complacency; and in our most benevolent actions, also, a mixture of ostentation and vanity. Now “God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.].” How attentive then should we be to the secret workings of our minds! They are all discerned by God, as clearly as our overt acts: “He searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins:” “he weigheth the very spirits of men:” and thousands, who took credit to themselves for acting from the best of principles, will be found no better than hypocrites before him. Beloved, know of a truth, that if ever you would find acceptance with your Judge, you must be “Israelites indeed, and without guile.”]
To improve for your good every summons which is sent to those around us—
[You see in the circumstances now before you a striking illustration of our text [Note: Here the particular circumstances of the person’s death—if it be on account of an individual, or of the epidemic sickness, if that be the occasion—may be entered into at large.] — — — And does not this event speak to you? What if you had been the person summoned into the presence of your Judge: were you prepared to meet him? Would he have found you truly penitent for all your past transgressions; and watchful against every sin, yea, against every degree of evil, even in thought or desire? If not, what would have been your feelings at this moment? — — — Do you not tremble at the thought? Or, suppose that this night a similar summons should be sent to you, (and you have no security that there will not,) are you ready? Do not trifle, my beloved brethren, on the very brink of eternity: but “stand with your loins girt, and your lamps trimmed, as servants waiting for the coming of your Lord.” Then, “whether your Lord come in the morning, or in the evening, or at the cock-crowing, or at midnight,” it shall be well with you. In a word, learn to “die daily:” and then it will be a joy to you to reflect, that your Judge is at the door: for the door at which he stands shall no sooner be opened to summon you into his presence, than angels, as his ministering servants, shall bear you from his tribunal to the realms of bliss.]
THE PATIENCE OF JOB
James 5:11. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
ONE of the most singular ideas that can be suggested to a carnal mind, is that which occurs in the words immediately preceding the text; “We count them happy that endure.” An ungodly man sees, that it is better to bear afflictions patiently than to sink under them; but he can scarcely conceive how afflictions, under any circumstances, can become a ground of congratulation. This difficulty, however, is solved by taking into the account “the end” of those afflictions: and it admits of easy illustration from the case of Job.
In prosecuting the Apostle’s view of this subject, we shall consider,
The patience of Job under his afflictions—
Great and unparalleled were the afflictions of Job—
[The destruction of all his property, and all his servants, by bands of robbers, and by lightning, announced to him as it was in three different accounts, by different messengers in speedy succession, would of itself have been sufficient to overwhelm his mind, if he had not been endued with uncommon fortitude; since by this he was reduced in a moment from the height of opulence and grandeur to the lowest indigence and want [Note: Job 1:13-18.1.17.].
But, distressing as these events were, what an inconceivable aggravation must they have received from the tidings delivered by a fourth messenger, the sudden death of all his children! Had he heard of only one child dying, and that by any natural disorder, it would, to such a parent, have been a fearful addition to all his other burdens: but to hear of seven sons, and three daughters, all crushed in a moment by the falling of his house [Note: Job 1:18-18.1.19.], if it did not bereave him of his senses, we might well expect, that it should, at least, draw forth some murmuring, and unadvised expressions.
To all these calamities were added yet others, that affected more immediately his own person; and which, in such a conjuncture, must be beyond measure afflictive. Satan, having permission to try him to the uttermost, smote him from head to foot with the most lothesome ulcers, insomuch that he was constrained to sit down among the ashes, and to scrape himself with a potsherd [Note: Job 2:7-18.2.8.].
In the midst of all this trouble one might hope that he would have some comfort in the kind offices of neighbours, the compassion of friends, and the tender assiduities of his wife. But, alas! his servants turned their backs upon him [Note: Job 19:15-18.19.16.]: the children in the streets despised and mocked him [Note: Job 19:18.]: the very friends who came to comfort him, loaded him with the most unfounded accusations, and asserted, that his sufferings were indications of peculiar wickedness, which God was now disclosing and punishing [Note: Passim.]. His wife also derided his affiance in God, and counselled him to renounce it utterly, yea, to “curse God, and die [Note: Job 2:9.].”
Take any one of these trials separately, and it was great: but view them collectively, and they exceeded all that ever were endured by mortal man.]
They served however to call forth his most unrivalled patience—
[Mark his conduct when informed of all his accumulated misfortunes, and especially the loss of all his children: “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped; and said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord [Note: Job 1:20-18.1.21.].”
Behold him yet again after his body was so smitten, and when his wife gave him that desperate, that atheistical, advice: all was meekness still: his very reproof was mild, though firm: “He said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Thus “in all this he never once charged God foolishly, or sinned in the least respect [Note: Job 1:22; Job 2:10.].”
It is true that, after this, we find him “cursing the day of his birth,” and uttering some unwarranted expressions against God: nor would it become us either to conceal, or to extenuate, his guilt in these respects. Our blessed Lord alone was absolutely without sin. But though Job betrayed his infirmity in some hasty words, yet, on the whole, his argument was right in opposition to that of his friends: and God himself, as the arbiter of the dispute, declared, that “they had not spoken the thing that was right as his servant Job had [Note: Job 42:7.].” Moreover, the deep humility with which he acknowledged his offence, proved his title to the character which God had given him in the beginning, that he was the most perfect and upright of the sons of men [Note: Job 1:8; Job 2:3.].]
Having taken this view of Job’s afflictions, and of his patience under them, let us consider,
The design which God had in them—
We, who behold every part of this mysterious dispensation in one view, are enabled, from its catastrophe, to mark the design of God in every intermediate step of the plot: we see what God intended, by what he actually effected.
He confounded Satan—
[Satan had accused Job as a hypocrite, who, if he were brought into trying circumstances, would even curse God to his face: and he undertook to prove him such a character, if God would only suffer him to make the trial. God gave him this permission [Note: Job 1:9-18.1.12; Job 2:4-18.2.6.], and thereby afforded Satan an occasion to prove himself a liar, and to demonstrate that integrity, the existence of which he was so forward to deny.
Nor is this a small consolation to the people of God, whom Satan is ever ready to accuse and harass. When he would persuade them that they are hypocrites, they may recollect, that “he was a liar from the beginning.” When he, through Divine permission, assaults them either in body or mind, they may look back to this history, and see, that he can in no respect exceed his commission, or overthrow those who trust in God. He may toss them vehemently as in a sieve; but shall never destroy the smallest grain of solid wheat [Note: Luke 22:31. with Amos 9:9.].]
He exercised and improved the graces of Job—
[If “men do not light a candle, in order to put it under a bushel, but that it may give light to those who are in the house [Note: Matthew 5:15.],” we may be sure that God does not implant his grace in the heart, but with a view to call it into exercise. Now he had endued Job with such eminent patience, that the common events of life were not sufficient to call it forth: he therefore suffered Satan to exert all his power against him, in order that Job’s piety might be displayed, augmented, and confirmed. Behold the sufferer when coming out of his trial; how bright does he shine, when “abasing himself in dust and ashes!” How eminent does he appear, when God himself not only takes his part, but refuses forgiveness to his uncharitable friends, except as an answer to his intercession for them [Note: Job 42:8.]! Truly he lost nothing in the furnace but his dross; and “he came out of it purified as gold [Note: Job 23:10.].”]
He increased Job’s happiness both in this and in the eternal world—
[Doubtless the afflictions of Job were inexpressibly severe: yet was he no stranger to consolation even in his most distressing hours. If all his earthly comforts were dead, and he had lost all hope of happiness on this side the grave, still he saw that he had a Redeemer living; and he knew that the day was fast approaching, when he should enjoy an intimate and everlasting communion with him [Note: Job 19:25-18.19.27.].
But beyond all expectation he was raised from his low estate; his family was again increased to the very number he had before lost; his possessions were doubled; and his life, which probably at that time was somewhat advanced, was prolonged a hundred and forty years, that he might see his posterity even to the fourth generation [Note: Job 42:10; Job 42:13; Job 42:16.]. We must confess, therefore, that even in this life he was abundantly recompensed for the months of trouble that he had endured.
How much his eternal happiness was affected by it, it is impossible for us to say: but sure we are that his affliction was the means of greatly augmenting it. In this view, affliction was better to him than heaven itself would have been: for, if he had been removed to heaven at once, his state, though glorious, would have been for ever fixed: whereas his affliction was “working for him” as long as it continued: it was every moment increasing that weight of glory which he was to possess for ever [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17.]. Who does not see that it would be better for a man to be cut off and be cast into hell immediately, than to live only to “treasure up wrath against the day of wrath [Note: Romans 2:5.]?” for though his torments would come upon him a little sooner, yet the respite of a few months, or years, would bear no proportion to the increased weight of misery that he must eternally endure. And exactly thus the additional weight of glory which Job will eternally possess, will far overbalance the trials he suffered, or the short period of bliss, which, by an earlier removal, he might have enjoyed.]
To make the just improvement of this history, we must notice,
The general character of God, as it is exhibited in this particular dispensation—
This seems to be the more immediate object, to which St. James would direct our attention. Persons in the midst of their trouble are apt to entertain hard thoughts of God: but we who, in this instance, “have seen the end of the Lord,” may rest assured “that he is very pitiful, and of tender mercy,” however dark or painful his dispensations towards us may be. It is by love alone he is actuated,
In sending afflictions—
[He does “not willingly afflict his people [Note: Lamentations 3:33.].” He knows what we stand in need of; and he sends it for our good. He chastises us, not as earthly parents too often do, to indulge their own evil tempers, but purely “for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness [Note: Hebrews 12:10.].” And as he knows what we want, so he knows what we can bear; and will take care either to apportion our burden to our strength [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:13.], or to give us strength sufficient for our trials [Note: Deuteronomy 33:25.]. Besides, in all our afflictions he sympathizes with us [Note: Isaiah 63:9.]; he watches over us with the care of a refiner [Note: Malachi 3:3.], and the solicitude of a parent [Note: Psalms 103:13.]: and when he sees that his rod has produced its desired effect, he is glad to return to us in the endearments of love, and to confirm our confidence in him by the sweetest tokens of reconciliation and acceptance [Note: Jeremiah 31:20.].]
In multiplying afflictions—
[When our troubles, like those of Job, are many and various, we are ready to conclude that they are sent in wrath. But it is not for us to prescribe how many, or of what continuance, our afflictions shall be. We must consider God as a physician, who prescribes with unerring wisdom, and consults the benefit, rather than the inclination, of his patients. We must “walk by faith, and not by sight:” it will be time enough hereafter to see the reasons of God’s procedure [Note: John 13:7.]. Job was induced at last to account God his enemy: and they who beheld the afflictions of Christ, were ready to say, that “he was judicially stricken, and smitten of God” as the most abandoned of mankind [Note: Isaiah 53:4.]. But we know that, as Job was, so was Christ, beloved of the Father; and never more beloved than when crying in the depths of his dereliction, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Let not any then “write bitter things against themselves” on account of the greatness of their afflictions, but rather accept their trials as tokens of his love; for, “whom he loveth he chasteneth; and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth [Note: Hebrews 12:6.].”]
Let none be secure, as though affliction were far off from them—
[We may be to-day in affluence; to-morrow in want: to-day in health; to-morrow languishing on a bed of sickness: to-day enjoying the society of wife, or children; to-morrow lamenting their loss. Let us remember, that whatever we have is God’s; it is only lent us for a little while, to be recalled at any hour he shall see fit. Let us learn to hold every thing as by this tenure, that we may be ready at any moment to give up whatever he shall be pleased to require of us. Since “we know not what a day may bring forth,” we should stand girt for the service of our God, ever ready to do or suffer his righteous will.]
Let none be hasty in their judgments, when called to suffer—
[Jacob thought all his trials were against him; when, in fact, they were designed for the good of himself and of all his family [Note: Genesis 42:36. with 45:5, 7 and 50:20.]. And we know not but that the events we so deeply bewail, are indispensably necessary to our salvation. We have reason to think that, if we saw the end as God does, we, instead of regarding our losses or bereavements as afflictions, should adore God for them as much as for the most pleasing of his dispensations. Let us then wait till he shall have discovered to us the whole of his designs; and be content to form our judgment of him when all the grounds of judging are laid before us.]
THE EFFICACY OF FERVENT PRAYER
James 5:16. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
PRAYER and intercession are generally considered as duties: but, if viewed aright, they would rather be regarded as privileges; seeing that they are the means of obtaining for ourselves and others those blessings which no created being can bestow. In this point of view, the passage before us, together with the preceding context, affords us the greatest possible encouragement. It is to be regretted, however, that instead of making a due improvement of these gracious declarations, the Papists have made use of them chiefly, if not solely, to advance the temporal interests of their clergy, at the expense of the eternal welfare of the laity.
On the direction given to “pray over a sick person, and to anoint him with oil in order to his recovery [Note: ver. 14, 15. The forgiveness of sin here mentioned refers only to the removal of any particular judgment that had been inflicted on account of sin. See Joh 5:14 and 1 Corinthians 11:30.],” they have founded an ordinance, to be observed when a man is absolutely past recovery: and that which was designed of God as emblematic only of a miraculous power, given at that time for the restoration of bodily health, they have established as the essential means in all ages of saving the immortal soul.
Again; Because the saints are encouraged to “confess their faults one to another,” with a view to the augmenting of their mutual sympathy, and the directing of them in their mutual intercessions [Note: ver. 16.], these deceivers have required the laity to confess their sins to the clergy, in order to their obtaining the forgiveness of them at the hands of God: whereas, according to St. James, there is no such deference due to any particular order of men; but the confession is as much required from the clergy to the laity, as from the laity to the clergy.
We stop not however to notice these grievous errors, but pass on to that which more immediately concerns ourselves; and to point out to you,
The import of the assertion before us—
The preceding context certainly leads our thoughts chiefly to the work of intercession: yet since it is also said, “Is any afflicted, let him pray [Note: ver. 13.],” we must not confine our attention to prayer as offered for others, but must notice it also as offered for ourselves. We say then, that when “a righteous man” draws nigh to God, and presents before him prayers inspired and dictated by the Holy Ghost (whose peculiar office it is to “help our infirmities” in prayer [Note: Romans 8:26.], and to “make intercession for us [Note: Romans 8:27.]”), he shall prevail;
[Of this the instances are so numerous, that we can only give a short specimen of them: yet shall it be such a specimen, as will abundantly confirm the truth before us.
We will begin with Moses, who, when God was exceedingly wroth with his people for making and worshipping the golden calf, set himself to pray and intercede for them. But God, feeling, if I may so say, how impossible it would be for him to resist the importunity of his servant, said, “Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and,” if thou thinkest that my covenant with Abraham will be broken thereby, I assure thee it shall not; for “I will make of thee a great nation [Note: Exodus 32:10.].” But Moses would not “let him alone,” but pleaded for them with all imaginable earnestness and importunity: and the consequence was, “the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people [Note: Exodus 32:14.]”
My next instance shall be that of Joshua, who, desiring to prosecute the advantage which he had gained over the Amorites, and destroy them utterly, prayed that neither the sun nor moon might advance in their course, but continue to aid him with their light, till he had accomplished his desire. To effect this, the whole universe must be arrested in its career; and such a shock be given to it, as to endanger its utter dissolution. But whatever stood in the way, it must yield to his prayer. Accordingly, no sooner did this righteous man issue the command, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon,” than all the laws of nature were suspended, “and the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, till the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it, or after it, that the Lord so hearkened to the voice of a man [Note: Joshua 10:12-6.10.14.].”
Here we have seen all the material creation stopped by the voice of prayer.—Now we will refer to another instance, wherein heaven itself is moved, and an angel sent from thence to fulfil the petitions of two chosen servants. Jerusalem was besieged, and utterly incapable of holding out against the enemy who was come against it. But Hezekiah and Isaiah betook themselves to prayer. And what was the result? An angel was sent from heaven to destroy, in one single night, one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the besieging army: and the blaspheming monarch, who had boasted that nothing could withstand him, was forced to return immediately to his own country, where he was slain by his own sons, whilst in the very act of worshipping the senseless idol in which he had trusted for success. For this cause, says the historian, “Hezekiah the king, and the Prophet Isaiah the son of Amos, prayed and cried to heaven. And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword [Note: 2 Chronicles 32:20-14.32.21.].”
One more instance I will mention, in order to shew how immediately the prayer of a righteous man succeeds. Daniel had understood, from the prophecies of Jeremiah, that the time for the close of the Babylonish captivity was near at hand: and he set himself to seek more particular instruction from God respecting it, in order that he might be able to take advantage of such circumstances as might occur for the benefit of his nation. “I set my face,” says he, “unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: and I prayed unto the Lord my God.” And now behold the effect!—“And whiles I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin, and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yea, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation, and informed me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding: at the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth; and I am come to shew thee all that thou didst ask [Note: Daniel 9:3-27.9.4; Daniel 9:20-27.9.23.].” See what expedition was used, by God’s special command, to answer whilst in the very act of prayer; and to let him know, that, at the very commencement of his suit, his prayer was heard!
More on this subject is unnecessary: yet less could scarcely have been spoken, if we would in any degree do justice to it.]
[I mention this last, because it is, in reality, the greatest: for the prayers which are offered in behalf of others, prevail only for the obtaining of some temporal blessing: they cannot certainly procure for men the salvation of their souls: for, if they could, no creature would ever perish. When Stephen prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” it prevailed probably in behalf of Saul, and perhaps of some others: but it cannot be supposed that it succeeded in behalf of all. But for a man’s own self his prayer is sure to prevail. There is no limit to the benefits which he shall receive, provided only he ask according to the will of God. He may not be answered in the particular way that he may desire. The cup, for the removal of which the Lord Jesus Christ himself prayed, was not taken out of his hands; nor was the thorn for the extraction of which St. Paul cried with such eager importunity removed: but both he and his divine Master were answered in a way more consonant with the purposes of Jehovah. But in some way, and that the best, prayer shall most assuredly be answered to all who cry to God in sincerity and truth [Note: Jeremiah 29:13.]. Whatever they ask in Christ’s name, shall be given them [Note: John 14:13-43.14.14; John 15:7; Joh 16:23 and 1 John 3:22; 1 John 5:14-62.5.15.]. Let them “open their mouth ever so wide, it shall be filled [Note: Psalms 81:10.].” They may exhaust all the powers of language in their petitions, and may then extend their thoughts to the utmost limit of a finite conception; and they shall not only have all, but more than all, yea, “abundantly above all that they can ask or think [Note: Ephesians 3:20.].”]
The assertion in our text deserves the most attentive consideration on its own account; but more especially on account of,
The insight which it gives us into truths of the greatest importance—
From this we obtain an insight into,
The character of God—
[We think of God, for the most part, as a Being of infinite majesty, who, unless in matters of very extraordinary moment, does not trouble himself with the concerns of men: and hence, if a person were to speak of having received answers to his prayers, he would be accounted wild, visionary, and presumptuous. But let God be viewed as he is represented in the text: let him be viewed as noticing with the deepest interest the very least and meanest of his children; as attending to their every cry, and treasuring up in his vials their every tear [Note: Psalms 56:8.]. Not so much as a “breathing” of theirs escapes his notice; or a desire, of which they themselves perhaps are scarcely conscious [Note: Psalms 145:18-19.145.19. Lamentations 3:56.]. The highest archangel does not more engage his attention, than does a poor despised Lazarus: nor is he less concerned about every individual amongst his people, than if there were but one in the whole universe. This is the true light in which to view his condescension and grace; of which a mother’s feelings towards her first-born child afford but a slender and very inadequate idea [Note: Isaiah 49:15.].]
The Christian’s state—
[In respect of external appearance, there is no difference between a child of God and any other person: but in reality, as they are viewed by God, they are widely dissimilar. In the one God beholds his own image: in the other, the image of the wicked one. On the one he looks with pleasure and complacency: the other he views afar off, with utter disdain [Note: Psalms 138:6.]. To the one his ears are open, to hear their every request [Note: Psalms 34:15-19.34.16.]: “the sacrifices of the other are an abomination to him [Note: Proverbs 15:8.].” Look at Abraham, when interceding for Sodom: there you see the friend of God. Look at those who, merely under the pressure of some calamity, cry and plead for help, whilst yet they have no love to God in their hearts: there you see the contrast; for God “laughs at their calamity, and mocks at their fear [Note: Proverbs 1:24-20.1.28.].” And all this is but a prelude to that which will speedily be accomplished in them; when the one shall be called to his right hand, and be exalted to a throne of glory; and the other be turned to his left hand, and be cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. Ungodly men endeavour to persuade themselves that all this is nothing but a vain conceit: but the Jews, notwithstanding all their blindness, could see that this difference did exist: “We know” say they, “that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do his will, him he heareth [Note: John 9:31.].” Do ye then know it: for, whether ye will believe it, or not, so it is: nor are light and darkness, Christ and Belial, heaven and hell, further asunder, than are the children of God, and the children of the wicked one [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-47.6.16.].]
The use and excellency of the Gospel—
[It is the Gospel alone that can bring a man into this happy state. Nothing else can shew him how to draw nigh to God with acceptance, or to obtain reconciliation with him. This exhibits to us a Saviour; a Saviour, who bought us with his blood. This brings us into union with that Saviour, so that we are made “one spirit with him [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.],” and are entitled to a participation of all that he himself possesses; “of the love wherewith the Father loveth him [Note: John 17:23.];” of “the joy with which his soul is filled [Note: John 17:13.];” and “of the glory which the Father hath given to him [Note: John 17:22.].” Here is the true secret of the difference of which we have before spoken. The believer is viewed as in Christ; as washed in his blood; as clothed in his righteousness; as altogether “one with him, even as the Father and Christ are one [Note: John 17:21.].” This accounts for all which we have before mentioned of the believer’s peculiar and exalted privileges. Let me then entreat you, beloved, to embrace the Gospel without delay; seeing that through that alone you can have access to God, and obtain that fellowship with him which it is your privilege to enjoy.]
[Bear in mind to whom these privileges belong: they belong exclusively to “the righteous man.” The ungodly and the hypocrite have no part in them. Seek then to attain the character of the righteous: seek it by faith in the Lord Jesus; “by whose obedience you shall be made righteous [Note: Romans 5:19.],” and by whose all-powerful grace you shall “be renewed after the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:24.].” Then shall all these blessings be yours. You shall be “a people near unto God [Note: Psalms 148:14.]:” yea, you shall “have power with God, and shall prevail [Note: Hosea 12:4.]” in all your supplications: even for others you shall prevail to a great extent, but for yourselves you shall obtain all the blessings both of grace and glory.]
CONVERSION OF A SINNER A GREAT BENEFIT
James 5:19-59.5.20. Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one couvert him.; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
IN the apostolic age, the power of working miracles was vouchsafed to many; and was much coveted, not only on account of the benefit which it enabled its possessor to impart, but on account of the honour which it brought to him that exercised it. That power has long since been withdrawn, it being no longer necessary for the support and credit of the Christian cause. Nor need we regret its discontinuance; since there is yet communicated to every true Christian a power of infinitely greater value; namely, a power to instruct and save the souls of men. We cannot any longer by the prayer of faith save the sick, and raise him up from the bed of sickness, and remove the judgments that have been inflicted on him on account of his sins [Note: ver. 14, 15.]: but by instructing a sinner, and turning him from the error of his sins, we can now, no less than in the apostolic age, save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins. The miraculous power was in the hands of few, even of “the elders of the Church;” but this spiritual power, as my text intimates, is common to all, and is to be exercised by all.
From hence we see,
Our duty towards our erring brethren—
There are still, as formerly, many, who, whilst they are called Christians, do materially “err from the truth”—
[No one can read this epistle without seeing that very awful errors obtained in the Church, both in relation to faith and practice: and no one can know any thing of the Christian world, and not know, that Christianity amongst them is little more than a name. The very way of salvation, simple as it is, is very little understood. There is scarcely any one who is not expecting to be saved in whole, or in part, by some works of his own. The generality imagine that their repentance and reformation are to recommend them to God: and even those who acknowledge their obligations to the Lord Jesus Christ for what he has done and suffered for them, yet hope to obtain an interest in Him by their good works, or acceptance on account of their works through him. The simple life of faith is but little known: and frequently but little experienced, even where in terms the necessity of it is acknowledged.
The same may be said of men’s practice also. Look at the life and conduct of the whole Christian world, and say, what resemblance you see in it to the life of Christ. Christians are said to be “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.” But what more would you learn of the mind and will of Christ, from what you see in the Christian world, than from what you might find in the better sort of heathens? In the Lord Jesus Christ there was an entire superiority to the world: but in his professed followers you see an entire subjection to it. In the Lord Jesus Christ you find that “it was his meat and drink to do the will of his heavenly Father:” but in his professed followers you will see no such effort, no such determination to serve and honour God. Let all of you, who are here present, look at their own principles, and their own practice, and see whether they are founded altogether upon God’s revealed will, and altogether conformed to the pattern set before them in the Scriptures. The more candidly these matters be inquired into, the more clearly will you see, that the great mass of nominal Christians are “erring from the truth,” and need to “be converted from the error of their ways.”]
Towards these our duty is to use all possible means for their conversion—
[We are not all called to take upon us the ministerial office: but we all in our respective circles should exert ourselves for the edification of those around us. No man is at liberty “to put his light under a bed, or under a bushel:” no man is at liberty to ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Would any man, who should see a house on fire, be justified in saying, ‘It is no concern of mine?’ or, if the inhabitants were burnt to death through his unconcern, would there be a creature upon earth that would not execrate him for his inhumanity? Much more therefore, if we see immortal souls “erring from the truth,” and hastening to destruction, should we be inexcusable, if we neglected to warn them of their danger, and to shew them how their souls might be saved alive. We should warn those who are living in a wilful neglect of God: we should declare to them their guilt and danger: we should set before them what the Scriptures have spoken respecting “the death of the soul,” and should entreat them to “flee from the wrath to come.” In particular, we should, as far as our capacity admits of it, open to them “the truth as it is in Jesus.” We should make known to them the wonders of redeeming love: we should set the Lord Jesus Christ before them in all his endearing qualities; and shew them how “able, and willing, he is to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him.” We should encourage them to believe in him; and, by the holy violence of argument and entreaty, should “compel them” to accept his gracious invitations, and to sit down as guests at the marriage supper of the Lamb. In a word, we should do our utmost to enlighten, convert, and save their souls.]
That we may the more readily engage in this duty, let us consider,
Our encouragement to perform it—
We may doubtless find much of our labour to be in vain. But, if in any single instance we succeed,
We shall “save a soul from death”—
[Unconverted sinners, whatever they may imagine, are hastening to death: for the “wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;” and the soul that sinneth, it shall die. And let not any one imagine, that this death consists in a mere annihilation: no; the soul, as to its existence, shall never die: but it will endure a misery of which we can form no conception, a torment in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is called in Scripture “the second death.” From this however, if we are made the happy instruments of converting a soul to God, we deliver it. What a wonderful thought is this! to deliver a soul from “everlasting burnings!” If we laboured throughout our whole lives, and succeeded but in one instance to accomplish our desire, how richly should we be recompensed! What if the great mass of those whose welfare we had sought, had derided us as weak enthusiasts? the thought of saving one soul from everlasting perdition would compensate all the obloquy that ever could be cast upon us. The truth is, we can form no idea what it must be to spend eternity in weeping and wailing and gnashing our teeth in the regions of despair, and under the wrath of an offended God. But, if we could form any conception of it, we should need no other inducement to labour day and night in endeavours to guide men into the way of truth, and to save their souls alive.]
We shall hide a multitude of sins—
[Who can ever count the sins of an unconverted soul? Yet shall they all be hidden, hidden from the sight of Almighty God, “out of the book of whose remembrance they shall be blotted,” and from before whose face they shall pass away “as a morning cloud:” yea, God himself will “cast them behind his back into the very depths of the sea,” and “will remember them against the sinner no more.” Hear the declaration of God upon this subject: “The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve [Note: Jeremiah 50:20.].”
Now consider this: consider an immortal soul laden with iniquities more numerous and weighty than the sands upon the sea-shore; and liberated from its burthen through your offices of love! Methinks, the most distant hope of conferring such a benefit is enough to turn you all into heralds and ambassadors of the Most High God. Yet let me not be misunderstood. It is not to the office of public instructors that I would call you; for that should be undertaken by none but those who are called to it by God himself: but to the office of private instructors, I would invite you; and would urge you with all importunity to engage in it: for it is not of ministers that the Apostle speaks in my text, but of private Christians; every one of whom he encourages to engage in this labour of love, saying, “Let him know, whoever he be that converts a sinner from the error of his ways, let him know, that he saves a soul from death, and hides a multitude of sins.”]
See then, beloved,
What is the true end of the ministry—
[The whole world is out of course: all are erring from the fold of Christ, and wandering like sheep that know not how or whither to return. That they may not irremediably perish, God has appointed ministers, to go forth, as under shepherds, to search out the wandering sheep, and to bring them back to his fold. This is the one object of our lives; to shew you how far you “have erred from the truth;” to convert you from the error of your ways; and thus eventually to save your souls. In our execution of this office we perhaps appear to some to be uncharitable and harsh. But if we do believe that death, even the death of your immortal souls, will be the end of your wanderings, does it not become us “to lift up our voice like a trumpet, and to shew to the house of Israel their sins” with all fidelity? Suppose a person taking the soundings of a ship in full sail, were to find, on a sudden, that the ship were running upon rocks or shoals, and would speedily, if the helm were not instantly turned, be irremediably lost; would he not feel it his duty to apprise the pilot of his danger? or would the passengers, whose lives were in such imminent peril, be offended with him, if he spake as one who believed what he said, and as one who had the safety of the crew at heart? Methinks, if there were somewhat of vehemence in his words and manner, all would readily excuse it; and not excuse it only, but applaud it also, as the proper effect of fidelity and love. Then consider us as placed in that situation by Almighty God. You are all embarked on board the vessel, and we are appointed by God to take the soundings: and we do declare unto you, that, unless your course be changed, you must inevitably and eternally perish. If you doubt it, take the line in your own hands, and examine the chart by which you are to steer. We do not wish you to take our word, but to see and judge for yourselves: and, if our testimony be true according to the written word, then be thankful for our labours; and, instead of being offended at our fidelity, adore your God, who has appoined us “to watch for your souls,” and has connected our welfare with yours: for it is only by a faithful discharge of our duty to you that “we can save ourselves, or them that hear us [Note: 1 Timothy 4:16.].”]
What should be your view in attending on the ordinances of the Gospel—
[You should not come to be amused, but to be instructed and edified. You should come desirous of knowing wherein you have erred, and how you may get safely into the way of truth. Your minds should he open to conviction. You should be aware of the danger of self-deception. You should beg of God to instruct his ministers how to speak most to your edification; and should entreat him to accompany the word with power from on high, and to render it effectual for the salvation of your souls. You should bear in mind, that, “though Paul should plant, and Apollos water, it is God alone that can give the increase;” and you should judge of your profiting, not by the pleasure with which you heard, but by the insight which you have gained into the evils of your own heart, and the ability that has been imparted to rectify your errors. As God in the appointment of ordinances seeks the conversion of your souls, so should you in attending on them; “receiving with meekness the engrafted word,” and praying that, as it is able, so also it may be effectual, to save your souls alive [Note: James 1:21.].]
What should be the one object of your whole lives—
[What is there of any importance, compared with the salvation of the soul? I do not hesitate to say, that the care of the soul is the “one thing needful.” If there were no future state, men might go on in their own ways without much concern. But, when there is an eternity awaiting us,—an eternity, either of happiness in heaven, or of misery in hell; when our destination to the one or other of these depends entirely on our conduct in this present life; and when no man knows that he has another day to live; I see not how any doubt can exist in the mind of a rational being, that the care of his soul should infinitely outweigh all the concerns of time and sense. True it is, that when men act according to this truth, they are derided as enthusiasts: but there is no man who, in his deliberate judgment, does not see, that “the fear of the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom.” Regard not then the scoffs of foolish and ungodly men; all of whom, if not in this life, yet in the next at least, will applaud your wisdom. As for the angels, they, though in the very presence of their God, will not be so occupied with the glories of heaven, but they will have their joys augmented when they shall behold you turning into wisdom’s ways. I pray you then to be in earnest about the salvation of your souls. If God has appointed an order of men on purpose to promote your welfare, and has suspended their salvation on their fidelity to you, and has taught them to consider success in one single instance as a rich recompence for the labour of their whole lives, surely it does not become you to be careless and indifferent. I pray you, awake to a sense of your condition: think how great a work you have to do, and how short and uncertain is the time wherein you have to do it: and now, ere it be too late, “turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on James 5". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany